“I love your verses with all my heart, dear Miss Barrett . . .” So begins the first love letter to 19th-century poet Elizabeth Barrett by a great admirer, Robert Browning. Barrett, one of the best-known Victorian era poets, had a chronic illness and was in her late 30s when Browning first wrote in 1845 to tell her that he admired her work. They met for the first time in their fifth month of correspondence. After more than a year and 573 love letters, they wed in secret in September 1846, defying her father’s forbiddance. They fled from London to Italy, where doctors had said her health might improve. Her father disinherited her and never spoke to her again.
Until Valentine’s Day, 2012, the handwritten letters could be seen only at Wellesley College, where the collection has been kept since 1930. Readers can see them on line just as they were written thanks to a collaboration between Wellesley and Baylor University in Waco, Texas, which houses the world’s largest collection of books, letters and other items related to the Brownings. “It’s the fact that she defied her father, she was in ill health, they fell in love through letters, she left with hardly anything,” said Wellesley’s curator of special collections, Ruth Rogers. “If you want a perfect romance, just read the letters.’
One of the greatest romantic poems of all time was inspired by this love affair.
How Do I Love Thee?
By Elizabeth Barrett
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.
Sonnet XLIII from Sonnets From the Portuguese, 1845
In this era of Facebook relationships and Twitter/Text communication, I am finding that there is a large percentage of our young adult generation that has forgotten the art of chivalry. The reality is that in a high tech world, there can still be high romance. Dating for Life is where it begins.