How Do I Love Thee?

elizabeth-barrett-browningElizabeth Barrett Browning wrote those most famous words that are still whispered when our own words of love fail to be spoken.

I had read those words when I was a young girl who had never been in love and who was more of a tomboy than a young lady. But that one question had me wanting to feel a love like that and to one day have someone love me with such emotion that one simple question poured with that sentiment. Of course, I read the rest of the poem then I read it again. Then I had to learn more about the author named Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

Elizabeth Barrett and I shared only two things in life but her story and poems have always stayed with me. Elizabeth was the eldest of twelve children. She was a smart child who read at four and started writing poetry at six years old. At 15, she fell seriously ill and the laudanum prescribe had adverse effects on her health.

In 1838, Elizabeth published her first collection of poems. Her most prolific years were between 1841 and 1844. These poems would change her life.

Her 1844 volume of poems were read by another writer named Robert Browning. Her words stirred him so that he had to write to Elizabeth. Robert wrote, “I love your verses with all my heart, dear Miss Barrett.”

Robert Browning was six years younger than Elizabeth and a poet in his own right as well a playwright. Though he did not have the success Elizabeth had, he had some promise. robert-browning-9228980-1-402

For nearly two years, they communicated through letters, falling in love in the pages until they finally met in May 1845.  Elizabeth couldn’t believe that this strong, worldly man loved her— a woman of frail health and older than himself. Their courtship was carried out in secret since Elizabeth knew her father would disapprove. During the two years of their courtship, Elizabeth wrote the most famous question though they were not yet published.

However, in 1846, Robert and Elizabeth married in a private ceremony at St. Maryleborne. And in September 1846, Robert spirited his wife away to the warmer climate of Italy and many believe that benefitted his bride and prolonged her life.  Mr. Barrett disinherited her as he did all his children who married without his consent. However, Elizabeth kept the Barrett surname as was required of all the children.

Now in Italy, Elizabeth suffered numerous miscarriages but in 1849 she gave birth to a son named Robert Barrett Browning or Pen Browning as he was known. Besides, their child, Elizabeth published Sonnets from the Portuguese.  This book republished her earlier poems and also included the poetry from their courtship. Elizabeth thought them too personal but Robert convinced her to include them and she included Sonnet 43.
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’s 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 breadth,

Smiles, tears, of all my life; and if God choose,

I shall but love thee better after death.

In that same year, Elizabeth was a candidate for poet laureate after Wordsworth’s death and was a rival for the position with Tennyson, who would claim it in the end.

On June 29, 1861, the love story ended with Elizabeth’s death in Florence. Robert continued to write but most believe his best years of his writings were years he shared with his wife. Robert died on 12 December 1889.

*Once a month I will be telling the love story of a true historical couple.

 

 

A Royal Love Affair

Queen Victoria

Queen Victoria is remembered as the stern-faced queen dressed in her widow weeds. But beneath her frown and black satins was a woman of passion. In 1836, Victoria was a seventeen-year-old girl who would one day sit upon the British throne. She had a sad, lonely childhood and her world consisted of the walls of Kensington Palace. Many crowns of Europe desired her little hand (she was five feet) but one man, her cousin Albert, captured her heart.

Albert Saxe-Coburg

Albert was the second son of Ernest I, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and Princess Louise Saxe-Gotha-Attenburg. His parents divorced when he was young and from all accounts he never saw his mother again after her banishment from court. Much like his cousin, his childhood was a sad one as well.

The two great loves first met when Albert traveled to England with his father and his brother (both named Ernest) in 1836. Of her two cousins, Albert captured her attention. “Albert, who is just as tall as Ernest but stouter, is extremely handsome; his hair is about the same colour as mine; his eyes are large and blue, and he has a beautiful nose and a very sweet mouth with fine teeth; but the charm of his countenance is his expression; which is most delightful c’est a la fois full of goodness and sweetness and very clever and intelligent.”

During his visit, details about Albert received more attention from her pen than his brother. She calls him dearest Albert and writes paragraphs about their time together. Victoria’s heart soared. As they were to depart, Victoria wrote,  “…I love Ernest and Albert more than them, oh yes, much more.” 

So much more that when she wrote her uncle she said, “I must thank you, my beloved Uncle, for the prospect of great happiness, you have contributed to give me, in the person of dear Albert. Allow me, then, my dearest Uncle, to tell you how delighted I am with him, and how much I like him in every way. He possesses every quality, that could be desired to render me perfectly happy. He is so sensible, so kind, and so good, and so amiable too. He has besides, the most pleasing and delightful exterior and appearance, you can possibly see.”

Victoria’s life returned to one of isolation under her mother’s rule. On June 20, 1837, the King, William IV died. The crown now sat upon her head. But their uncle, the King of the Belgians desired this political match. But for Albert and Victoria, it was a love match first and foremost. But Albert had to wait for Victoria to make the move.

While Albert waited in his home country, Victoria enjoyed her independence and would not rush into marriage.  It took two years before Victoria sent for Albert. But upon being in his presence, the queen knew that Albert was the man for her. Five days after his arrival, Victoria proposed to Albert. Being Queen, she had to pop the question. She wrote “that it would make me too happy if he would consent to what I wanted (that he should marry me). We embraced each other over and over again, and he was so kind and so affectionate.”

Albert returned to his home country to deal with his affairs. “I need not tell you that since we left, all my thoughts have been with you at Windsor, and that your image fills my whole soul. Even in my dreams I never imagined that I should find so much love on earth. How that moment shines for me when I was close to you, but with your hand in mine! Those days flew by so quickly, but our separation will fly equally so. Ernest wishes me to say a thousand nice things to you. With promises of unchanging love and devotion, your ever true Albert.”

On February 10, 1840, Albert and Victoria married at St.James’ Palace. “Albert repeated everything very distinctly. I felt so happy when he placed the ring on my finger. As soon as the Service was over, the Procession returned as it came, with the exception that dearest Albert led me out!…”  It was a grand affair with people crowding the streets and cheering the couple with the greatest of joy.  “Oh! this was the happiest day of my life!”

They were a passionate couple whose fights rang out and whose sexual passion resulted in nine children. Victoria hated being pregnant but she wouldn’t banish Albert from her bed. She loved her husband and the passion they shared. Albert became a great consort to the queen and added to the greatness of the Victorian Era.

On December 14, 1861, the two lovers were parted when Albert died. Victoria turned into the widow-weed wearing monarch we remember. The second longest reigning monarch of Great Britain passed on January 22, 1901, and was buried in her white dress and her wedding veil.