Elizabeth Barrett was born in 1806, the eldest child of a prosperous merchant family that owned a large estate in Herefordshire, England. In her early youth she distinguished herself by her devotion to poetry, literature, and classical studies. Largely self-educated, she began reading and writing verse at the age of four, and by the time she was ten, she had read the works of Shakespeare, Pope, and Milton, as well as histories of England, Greece, and Rome. In the ensuing years she went on to read the works of the principal Greek and Latin authors, Racine, Moliere, and Dante, all in their original languages, as well as the Old Testament in Hebrew. At the age of eleven she composed her first long poetic work, a verse epic in four books, which was privately printed by her father in 1820. When she was fifteen she suffered an injury to her spine while attempting to saddle her pony, and seven years later a blood vessel burst in her chest, leaving her with a chronic cough; she would suffer from the effects of these two conditions for the rest of her life. At the age of twenty Barrett published her first volume of poetry anonymously; it went nearly unnoticed by the public. At this time, she made the acquaintance of one of her most important friends, Hugh Stuart Boyd, a blind, middle-aged scholar who had published several volumes of translations from Greek texts. Under his influence Barrett renewed her study of classical Greek literature, reading Homer, Pindar, the great tragic writers, Aristophanes, Plato, Aristotle, Isocrates, Xenophon, and the works Boyd had translated. In 1832, due to serious financial losses incurred at the Jamaican sugar plantations where her father had made his fortune, the Barrett family was forced to auction their country estate and take up temporary residence in the south of England, moving in 1835 to a house in Wimpole Street, London.
In 1838 Barrett published her first major work, The Seraphim and Other Poems, for which she received critical acclaim. Reviewers acknowledged her as one of England's most gifted and original poets. Due to poor health, she moved to Torquay, on the south coast of Devonshire, at the advice of her physician. She spent three years living there as an invalid. During her stay at Torquay her favorite brother and constant companion Edward drowned on July 11, 1840. She considered his death the greatest sorrow of her life; she never spoke of the loss even with those closest to her. When she returned to Wimpole Street from Devonshire Barrett resigned herself to life confined to her bedroom as an invalid. Despite her sickness, Barrett enjoyed fortunate circumstances: she was freed to pursue her studies and writing by generous inheritances from her grandmother and uncle that made her independently wealthy, and her physical weakness excused her from the taxing household chores that would ordinarily have fallen to an eldest daughter. She resumed her literary career and began producing a steady output of poems, essays, and translations, for which critics in England and the United States praised her as one of England's greatest living poets. In January 1845 she began exchanging letters with Robert Browning, who first wrote to her to express admiration for her poems. The following year they married and moved to Florence, Italy, hoping that the warmer climate would help Barrett Browning to recover her health. Their son, Robert Wiedemann Barrett Browning, was born in 1849. Until her death in Florence in 1861 from complications of a severe cold, Barrett Browning continued producing works that earned her the admiration of English and American readers. At the time of her death, obituary notices appeared in many respected journals on both sides of the Atlantic. Comments that appeared in The Edinburgh Review reflected the prevailing view that Barrett Browning was unequalled in the literature of any country: "Such a combination of the finest genius and the choicest results of cultivation and wide-ranging studies," the magazine asserted, "has never been seen before in any woman."
Source: Exploring Poetry, Gale.