Countries of the East, 1820; Beloe's Sexagenarian, vol. ii.]
BROWNING, ELIZABETH BARRETT (1809–1861), poetess, was born at Burn Hall, Durham, on 6 March 1809. She was the eldest daughter of Edward Moulton, and was christened by the names of Elizabeth Barrett. Not long afterwards Mr. Moulton, himself succeeding to some property, took the name of Barrett. In after times Mrs. Browning signed herself at length as Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Her mother was Mary Graham, the daughter of a Mr. Graham, afterwards known as Graham Clarke of Feltham in Northumberland. Soon after the child's birth her parents brought her southwards to Hope End, near Ledbury in Herefordshire, where Mr. Barrett possessed a considerable estate, and had built himself a country house, with Moorish windows and turrets. It is described by one of his family as standing in a lovely park among trees and sloping hills all sprinkled with sheep. The house, too, was very beautiful, and this same lady remembers the great hall with the organ in it, and more especially 'Elizabeth's room,' a lofty chamber with a stained glass window casting lights across the floor, and upon little Elizabeth as she used to sit propped against the wall with her hair falling all about her face, a childlike fairy figure. Elizabeth was famed among the children for her skill with her white roses; she had a bower of her own all overgrown with their sprays. The roses are still blooming for the readers of the 'Lost Bower,' 'clear as once beneath the sunshine.'
Another favourite device of the child's was that of a man of flowers laid out in beds upon the lawn; a huge giant wrought of spade, 'eyes of gentianella's azure, staring, winking at the skies' (see 'Hector in the Garden'). Elizabeth's gift for learning was extraordinary; at eight years old she had a tutor and could read Homer in the original, holding her book in one hand and nursing her doll on the other arm. She has said herself that in those days 'the Greeks were her demi-gods.' 'She dreamed more of Agamemnon than of Moses her black pony.' At the same age she too began to write poems. When she was about eleven or twelve her great epic of the 'Battle of Marathon' was written in four books, and her father had it printed; 'papa was bent upon spoiling me,' she writes. A cousin remembers a certain ode, which the little girl recited to her father on his birthday about this time. This cousin used to pay visits to Hope End, where their common grandmother would also come and stay. The old lady did not approve of these readings and writing, and used to say she had far rather see Elizabeth's hemming more carefully finished off than hear of all this Greek. Elizabeth was growing up meanwhile under happy influences. She had brothers and sisters in her home, her life was not all study, she had the best of company, that of happy children, as well as of all bright and natural things. She was fond of riding, she loved her gardens, her woodland playground. As she grew older she used to rive a pony and go further afield. A child of those days flying in terror along one of these steep Herefordshire lanes, perhaps frightened by a cow's horns beyond the hedge, still describes being overtaken by a young girl in a pony carriage with a pale spiritual face and a profusion of dark curls, who suddenly caught her up into safety and drove rapidly away with her. All these scenes are turned to account in 'Aurora Leigh.' One day, when Elizabeth was about fifteen, the young girl, impatient for her ride, tried to saddle her pony alone, in a field, and fell with the saddle upon her, in some way injuring her spine so seriously that she was for years upon her back.
She was about twenty when her mother's last illness began, and at the same time some money catastrophe (the result of other people's misdeeds) overtook Mr. Barrett. He would not allow his wife to be troubled or told of this crisis in his affairs, and compounded at an enormous cost with his creditors, materially diminishing his income for life, so as to put off any change in the ways at Hope End until change could trouble the sick lady no more. After Mrs. Barrett's death, when Elizabeth was a little over twenty, they came away, leaving Hope End among the hills for ever. 'Beautiful, beautiful hills,' Miss Barrett wrote long afterwards from her closed sick room in London, 'and yet not for the whole world's beauty would I stand among the sunshine and shadow of them any more: it would be a mockery, like the taking back of a broken flower to its stalk' (see Letters of E. B. Browning to R. H. Horne).
The family spent two years at Sidmouth and then came to London, where Mr. Barrett bought a house at 74 Gloucester Place. Elizabeth Barrett had published the 'Essay on Mind' at seventeen years of age, 'Prometheus' and other poems at twenty-six; she was twenty-seven when the 'Seraphim' came out. Her continued delicacy kept her for months at a time a prisoner to her room, but she was becoming known to the world. 'Prometheus' is reviewed in the 'Quarterly Review' for 1840, and there Miss Barrett's name comes second among a list of the most