September 12th, 1846 – The Secret Wedding of Poets

Today-In-History

The 1844 publication of Poems by Elizabeth Barrett made her one of the most popular writers in Britain at the time. Her poems inspired Robert Browning to write to her, telling her how much he loved her work. He had admired her poetry for a long time and wrote “I love your verses with all my heart, dear Miss Barrett” praising their “fresh strange music, the affluent language, the exquisite pathos and true new brave thought.” Robert Browning finally met Elizabeth on May 20th, 1845 which began one of the most famous courtships in literature, and on September 12th, 1846 the pair eloped.

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The courtship and marriage between Robert Browning and Elizabeth were carried out secretly as she and her siblings were convinced that their father would disapprove. Six years his elder and an invalid, she could not believe that the vigorous and worldly Robert Browning really loved her as much as he professed. After a private marriage at St. Marylebone Parish Church, they honeymooned in Paris. Browning then imitated his hero Shelley by spiriting his wife off to Italy, in September 1846, which became their home almost continuously until her death. Elizabeth’s loyal nurse, Wilson, who witnessed the marriage, accompanied the couple to Italy.

Mr. Barrett disinherited Elizabeth, as he did each of his children who married. Elizabeth had foreseen her father’s anger but had not anticipated her brothers’ rejection; they saw Browning as a lower-class gold-digger and refused to receive him socially. As Elizabeth had some money of her own, the couple were reasonably comfortable in Italy, and their relationship together was harmonious. The Brownings were well respected in Italy, and even famous. Elizabeth grew stronger and in 1849, at the age of 43, between four miscarriages, she gave birth to a son, Robert Wiedeman Barrett Browning, whom they called Pen. Their son later married but had no legitimate children.


 

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