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Outlines of English and American Literature
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
by Long, William J.

Among the lesser poets of the age the most famous was Elizabeth Barrett, who eloped in romantic fashion with Browning in 1846. Her early volumes, written while she was an invalid, seem now a little feverish, but a few of her poems of childhood, such as "Hector" and "Little Ellie," have still their admirers. Later she became interested in social problems, and reflected the passion of the age for reform in such poems as "The Cry of the Children," a protest against child labor which once vied in interest with Hood's famous "Song of the Shirt." Also she wrote Aurora Leigh, a popular novel in verse, having for its subject a hero who was a social reformer. Then Miss Barrett married Robert Browning after a rather emotional and sentimental courtship, as reflected in certain extravagant pages of the Browning Letters.


In her new-found happiness she produced her most enduring work, the Sonnets from the Portuguese (1850). This is a collection of love songs, so personal and intimate that the author thought perhaps to disguise them by calling them "From the Portuguese." In reality their source was no further distant than her own heart, and their hero was seen across the breakfast table every morning. They reflect Mrs. Browning's love for her husband, and those who read them should read also Browning's answer in "One Word More." Some of the sonnets ("I Thought How Once" and "How Do I Love Thee," for example) are very fine, and deserve their high place among love poems; but others, being too intimate, raise a question of taste in showing one's heart throbs to the public. Some readers may question whether many of the Sonnets and most of the Letters had not better been left exclusively to those for whom they were intended.


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