Love Letter from Elizabeth Barrett to Robert Browning
(10 January 1846)
Dear Robert Browning,
…Do you know, when you have told me to think of you, I have been feeling ashamed of thinking of you so much, of thinking of only you--which is too much, perhaps. Shall I tell you? It seems to me, to myself, that no man was ever before to any woman what you are to me--the fullness must be in proportion, you know, to the vacancy...and only I know what was behind--the long wilderness without the blossoming rose...and the capacity for happiness, like a black gaping hole, before this silver flooding. Is it wonderful that I should stand as in a dream, and disbelieve--not you--but my own fate?
Was ever any one taken suddenly from a lampless dungeon and placed upon the pinnacle of a mountain, without the head turning round and the heart turning faint, as mine do? And you love me more, you say? Shall I thank you or God? Both, indeed, and there is no possible return from me to either of you! I thank you as the unworthy may…and as we all thank God. How shall I ever prove what my heart is to you? How will you ever see it as I feel it?…
Elizabeth Moulton Barrett (1806 - 1861) was born near Durham, England, the eldest of twelve children to a wealthy family whose fortune came from Jamaican sugar plantations. Elizabeth was 39 years old and was already an established poet when Robert Browning (1812-1889), a great Victorian poet, began to correspond with her. Robert, born in London, was the son of a clerk in the Bank of England. He was educated by his father, who paid for the printing of his first poems.
Elizabeth’s widowed father was neurotically possessive and forbade his adult children to marry. So Elizabeth and Robert married in secret and settled in Florence, Italy. Their only child, son Robert Wiedemann Barrett (known as ‘Pen” for short), was born in Florence in 1849.
Gradually illness overwhelmed Elizabeth and she died in Florence, Italy, on June 29, 1861at the age of 55. Robert had abandoned his writing to care for his adored wife. After her death, he turned again to poetry and became a literary giant. He died in Venice, Italy in the winter of 1889.
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