Elizabeth before Robert: A Brief Chronology

1806: EB was born on March 6, probably at Coxhoe Hall, Durham, England (the residence of her father and mother for some time after their marriage in 1805.)

Her father was Edward Moulton Barrett (who added the Barrett surname on the death of his maternal grandfather, whose estates in Jamaica he inherited).

EB’s mother was Mary Graham-Clarke, daughter of J. Graham-Clarke of Fenham Hall, Newcastle-on Tyne.

1808: EB was christened on February 10, 1808, leading to some later confusion as to her actual birth date and age.

At about this time, Edward Moulton Barrett, quite rich due to the estates in Jamaica, bought 500 acres at Hope End (a “hope” is an enclosed valley), near the Malvern Hills; EB was still an infant. He had a splendid new mansion built there, in the “Turkish style.” EB enjoyed an active, largely happy childhood at Hope End.

EB was the eldest of 11 surviving children (one died in infancy); she lived at Hope End until she was 26 years old.

She began writing at a very early age, creating short plays for herself, her brother Edward (“Bro”, born 1807), sister Henrietta (born 1809) and other siblings to perform.

ca. 1812: Determined to become a poet, the precocious EB read widely in English literature, and began at six or seven to study French, Latin and Greek. Delighting in learning, she ignored the tradition that the “learned languages” were reserved for boys. Her parents encouraged her efforts.

1818: EB, at twelve, was writing short novels and plays, translating, and experimenting with different forms of poetry.

1820: EB wrote “The Battle of Marathon,” a long poem on the ancient war between the Greeks and Persians. Her father had the poem privately printed for her fourteenth birthday.

1821: In April all three of the Barrett sisters, EB, Henrietta and Arabel (born 1813) became ill with headaches and convulsions. Henrietta and Arabel quickly recovered; EB did not. In July of that year EB also developed measles; she was sent to recover at the Spa Hotel, Gloucester. She stayed there for ten months while the doctors disagreed on diagnoses and treatment. She was forced to rest and was prescribed the alcoholic tincture of opium poppies, laudanum. At that time, it was not understood how addictive laudanum was.

Early 1820’s: Despite her health problems, EB continued to write poetry, much of which was published in periodicals.

1824: The Goodin-Barretts (cousins of Edward Moulton-Barrett) successfully sued for ownership of the estates and slaves in Jamaica. The Moulton-Barretts remained wealthy but not as extraordinarily wealthy as they had been.

1825, spring: EB completed the ambitious poem “An Essay on Mind.”  It and other of her poems were published in 1826 to critical acclaim.

1832: EB’s father had to sell Hope End.

1832, August: The Moulton-Barretts moved to Sidmouth on the Devon coast.

1835: The family moved to London, to 74 Gloucester Place.

1836, May:  EB met fellow writer Mary Russell Mitford and, despite Mitford’s being 18 years older, they became good friends.

1837, autumn: EB’s health began to decline once more. Her father sent her to Torquay to recover. Her beloved brother Edward (“Bro”) accompanied her.

1838: The Moulton-Barretts moved to 50 Wimpole Street in April.

1838: (EB continued to publish widely). Her collection The Seraphim and Other Poems was published in this year. Her reputation as a fine poet continued to develop.

1840, July: “Bro”, three friends and a boatman went sailing on Tor Bay in perfect conditions and were drowned. EB was seriously ill for several months. Mary Russell Mitford gave her Flush, a cocker spaniel and son of Mitford’s dog of the same name.

1841, autumn: EB finally convinced her father to let her return to Wimpole Street by easy stages. Despite her frailty, she continued to write poems and prose studies.

1842: EB produced two extensive, intelligent prose studies–Some Account of the Greek Christian Poets and The Book of the Poets (English poets since the middle ages).

1843: EB’s health began to improve steadily.

1844: EB’s two-volume Poems was published to critical acclaim and general popularity. Robert Browning read and was enthusiastic about EB’s collection of poems. This and the encouragement of John Kenyon led him to write his first letter to EB (January 1845).

1845, May 20: EB and RB finally met in her rooms at Wimpole Street– to discuss poetry. Over the next 20 months, RB visited more than 90 times, and the two poets exchanged 574 letters.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning was one of the most prominent poets of the Victorian era. Her poetry was widely popular in both England and the United States during her lifetime.[1] A collection of her last poems was published by her husband, Robert Browning, shortly after her death. Her Sonnets from the Portuguese remain well-known. Scholarly interest in her life and poetry has undergone a great resurgence in the last 30 to 40 years.


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