Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning elope - HISTORY
Year
1846

Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning elope

On this day in 1846, Elizabeth Barrett eloped with Robert Browing.

Barrett was already a respected poet who had published literary criticism and Greek translations in addition to poetry. Her first volume of poetry, The Seraphim and Other Poems, appeared in 1838, followed by Poems by Elizabeth Barrett Barrett (1844). Born in 1806 near Durham, England, at her father’s 20-bedroom mansion, she enjoyed wealth and position, but suffered from weak lungs and tended to be reclusive in her youth. She became even more so after the death of her beloved brother in 1940. However, her poetry was well received, and she met with Wordsworth and other renowned poets.

Meanwhile, Robert Browning, the son of a bank clerk, had studied at the University of London and continued his education at his parents’ home, reading extensively and writing poetry. His early work was harshly criticized. While trying his hand at drama, he discovered the dramatic monologue, which he adapted to his own poetry in Dramatic Lyrics (1842). While most critics rejected the work, Elizabeth Barrett defended it. Browning wrote to thank her for her praise and asked to meet her.

She hesitated at first but finally relented, and the couple quickly fell in love. Barrett’s strict father disliked Browning, whom he viewed as an unreliable fortune hunter, so most of the courtship was conducted in secret. On September 12, 1846, while her family was away, Barrett sneaked out of the house and met Browning at St. Marylebone Parish Church, where they were married. She returned home for a week, keeping the marriage a secret, then fled with Browning to Italy. She never saw her father again.

The Brownings lived happily in Italy for 15 years. Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s weak health improved dramatically, and the couple had a son in 1849. She published her best-known work, Sonnets from the Portuguese, in 1850. The sonnets chronicled the couple’s courtship and marriage. In 1857, her blank-verse novel Aurora Leigh became a bestseller, despite being rejected by critics. During her lifetime, Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s reputation as a poet overshadowed that of her spouse, who was sometimes referred to as “Mrs. Browning’s husband,” but his work later gained recognition by critics. Elizabeth died in her husband’s arms in 1861. He returned to England with their son, where he became an avid socialite. In 1868, he published The Ring and the Book, a 12-volume poem about a real 17th-century murder trial in Rome. Browning died in 1889.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Khrushchev elected Soviet leader

Six months after the death of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, Nikita Khrushchev succeeds him with his election as first secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.Born into a Ukrainian peasant family in 1894, Khrushchev worked as a mine mechanic before joining the Soviet ...read more

Violence in Boston over racial busing

In Boston, Massachusetts, opposition to court-ordered school “busing” turns violent on the opening day of classes. School buses carrying African American children were pelted with eggs, bricks, and bottles, and police in combat gear fought to control angry white protesters ...read more

Steven Biko dies

Steven Biko, leader of South Africa’s “Black Consciousness Movement,” dies of severe head trauma on the stone floor of a prison cell in Pretoria. Six days earlier, he had suffered a major blow to his skull during a police interrogation in Port Elizabeth. Instead of receiving ...read more

JFK marries Jacqueline Bouvier

Senator John Fitzgerald Kennedy of Massachusetts marries Jacqueline Lee Bouvier, a photographer for the Washington Times-Herald, at St. Mary’s Church in Newport, Rhode Island. More than 750 guests attended the ceremony presided over by Boston Archbishop Richard Cushing and ...read more

Lascaux cave paintings discovered

Near Montignac, France, a collection of prehistoric cave paintings are discovered by four teenagers who stumbled upon the ancient artwork after following their dog down a narrow entrance into a cavern. The 15,000- to 17,000-year-old paintings, consisting mostly of animal ...read more

The Laconia is sunk

On this day in 1942, a German U-boat sinks a British troop ship, the Laconia, killing more than 1,400 men. The commander of the German sub, Capt. Werner Hartenstein, realizing that Italians POWs were among the passengers, strove to aid in their ...read more

Situation deteriorates in South Vietnam

North Vietnamese Premier Pham Van Dong tells the French Consul: “You must remember we will be in Saigon tomorrow.” In November, he would tell the Canadian Commissioner: “We will drive the Americans into the sea.” The U.S. Embassy in Saigon eventually passed these remarks along ...read more

Sugar Ray Robinson wins back belt

On September 12, 1951, former middleweight champion Sugar Ray Robinson defeats Randy Turpin to win back the belt in front of 61,370 spectators at the Polo Grounds in New York City. Robinson, a New York City native, had lost the belt to Turpin two months prior in Turpin’s native ...read more

Barry White is born

Born in Galveston, Texas, on this day in 1944, Barry White–or “the Maestro”–went on to stunningly successful career as a pop singer that spanned five decades, and made him a star of the disco era.Having written several new songs and recorded his vocals for demo purposes only, ...read more

Hurricane Gilbert slams Jamaica

Hurricane Gilbert slams into Jamaica, killing hundreds of people, on this day in 1988. The storm went on to cause death and destruction in Mexico and spur a batch of tornadoes in Texas.On September 10, Gilbert attained hurricane status west of the Dominican Republic. ...read more

Tyco execs indicted

Three former executives from Tyco International, including the CEO and CFO, are indicted in New York on charges that they stole hundreds of millions of dollars from the company. Two of the men, CEO Dennis Kozlowski and CFO Mark Swartz, were later convicted and given lengthy ...read more

German occupation rights are relinquished

Representatives from the United States, Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union sign an agreement giving up all occupation rights in Germany. The largely symbolic action cleared the way for East and West Germany to reunite. In 1945, the Allied Powers–America, England, France, ...read more