On September 12th, 1846, a studious man of 33 married a woman in delicate health six years his senior at St Marylebone Parish Church. The wedding was secret, as her father had forbidden her (or any of his twelve children) ever to marry; afterwards she returned to the family home alone and lived there for a week while arrangements were made before eloping to Italy with her new husband. Her father never spoke to her again and the many letters she wrote to him were returned unopened.
During this time Elizabeth wrote her 'Sonnets from the Portuguese' ('Portuguese' was his pet name for her) which trace the joy and doubts of their courtship, although Robert Browning had to convince her to make them public. They include probably her best-known poem, 'How Do I Love Thee?':
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.'
Yours, missing the romance of old-fashioned letters,
Girl About Town xx