This July 12 1852 entire to England ‘pr Andromache’ has the ‘Half-Length’ 3d blue QV stamp of Victoria [SG 7] with an illegible Barred Numeral, and it has a rating in black ink of ‘8′. It is addressed to E.M. Barrett who was of a family with a large land holding in Jamaica, and was a rum merchant, but more importantly the father of the English poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning (Figure 1).
The reverse has a red London 27 November 1852 reception mark which obscures a red Melbourne July 12 1852 transit postmark (Figure 2).
The address of the Barrett family in Wimpole Street, London became the name of the film celebrating Elizabeth Barrett and her husband Robert Browning (Figure 3).
An enormous amount of research has been performed on the Barrett family property in Jamaica, and what follows is a minuscule part of what exists. The Barrett family, some of which were part creole, had lived for centuries in Jamaica, where they owned sugar plantations and relied on slave labour. Edward chose to raise his family in England whilst his fortune grew in Jamaica. He had married Mary Grahame Clarke and Elizabeth was the eldest of 12 children of this marriage, eleven who survived to adulthood. The Grahame-Clarke family wealth was as great as the Barrett family wealth.
Elizabeth was born on March 6, 1806 in Cohoe Hall in County Durham, England, and she was educated at home and attended lessons with her brother’s tutor. Edward, her father was active in Bible and Missionary services, and she had great respect for him, in spite of his domineering and controlling character. Her first poem was written at either age 6 or 8, and her father paid for publication of her long Homeric poem, The Battle of Marathon, when she was 14. At the age of 20 Elizabeth began a battle with a lifelong painful illness, and she became addicted to morphine. Elizabeth also suffered from lung problems, anorexia nervosa, and a number of other illnesses, and spent a great deal of time seeking cures.
In spite of her ill health and addiction, she was a brilliant self-taught student, who could read complicated texts in their original languages when she was as young as ten. She read the entire Old Testament in Hebrew, as well as Dante’s Inferno, and passages from Paradise Lost and other historic works. She maintained a lifelong interest in metaphysics and religion.
Why didn’t Edward Barrett Moulton Barrett want his children to marry? One reason given has been that he desired to keep his children at home and under his control. This was certainly true. Another has been that he had an unease about his children’s sexuality. A father who insists on his daughters’ purity is not an unfamiliar type. One who insists that his sons not marry is an unique type.
The absolute consequence of not allowing your children to marry is having no legitimate grandchildren, no legal heirs. It seems that what Edward did not want to do was to carry on the Moulton Barrett line. What we have by the time the children were adults is the singularly peculiar fact that a Victorian father and the surviving heir of Cinnamon Hill not only wished his daughters to be spinsters, but wished all of his sons to remain bachelors. He did not want them to have, in terms of his grandfather’s will, legitimate heirs. Why? Moulton Barrett might very well have either learned after his children were born or become increasingly concerned with the possibility that he had mixed blood. Certainly, during the long years of the contested will, Edward was brought in daily remainders of the mixed blood in the Barrett line, the underside of the system that brought him wealth.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s most famous work is the sonnet, “How Do I Love Thee?” “How do I love thee?” it begins. “Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach. “
In 1828, her mother died. When she was 26, in 1832, she moved with her family to Sidmouth, Devon, and in 1836 they moved again to London. While living there she wrote for several magazines. In 1825 her first published work, “The Rose and Zephyr,” was published in Literary Gazette. In 1826 her first collection of poems, “An Essay on Mind”, was published anonymously but received no critical attention.
In 1845 she got a telegram from an admirer named Robert Browning. He wrote, “I love your verses with all my heart, dear Miss Barrett. I do, ….and I love you too.” The two met that summer. This was the beginning of a secret courtship, held …. (by) frequent letters back and forth, that were kept from the overbearing Edward Barrett, who did not approve of the marriages of any of his children. “Sonnets From The Portugese” was published in 1850, and expressed her love for Robert, as well as a certain reticence about marriage to this man six years her junior.
They did marry, however, on Sept. 12, 1846, but Elizabeth Barrett Browning continued to live at home for another week, unable to break the news to her father. As soon as he learned, the elder Barrett promptly disinherited her, and never forgave her. He died a decade after their marriage in 1856.
The marriage was a happy one and Robert Browning fawned over his wife, encouraging her work and taking care of her. After their marriage the Barretts moved to Pisa, Italy, and it was there that Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote, “The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim’s Point”, in protest of slavery in the United States. They moved to Florence, Italy in 1849 and their only child, Robert Wiedemann Barrett, was born there that year.
Toward the end of her life, Browning became interested in the occult and spiritualism. She also developed an obsession with Italian politics and took a romanticized approach to it. She wrote a book entitled “Casa Guidi Windows” about that subject. Her last work was a collection published in 1860 called “Poems Before Congress”. It contained a poem entitled, “A Curse For A Nation”. It was misinterpreted as an attack on England, but it was in fact an attack on the United States system of slavery.
On June 29, 1861, Elizabeth Barrett Browning suffered “a chill” and died at the age of 55 in the arms of her husband. A picture of her is seen as Figure 4.