AN ANGEL`S GRACE OF STAINLESS FAME

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To George Sand: A Desire

by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Thou large-brained woman and large-hearted man,

Self-called George Sand! whose soul amid the lions

Of thy tumultuous senses, moans defiance

And answers roar for roar, as spirits can:

I would some mild miraculous thunder ran

Above the applauded circus, in appliance

Of thine own nobler nature`s strength and science,

Drawing two pinions, white as wings of swan,

From thy strong shoulders, to amaze the place

With holier light! that thou to woman`s claim

And man`s, mightst join beside the angel`s grace

Of a pure genius sanctified from blame

Till child and maiden pressed to thine embrace

To kiss upon thy lips a stainless fame.

To say that Elizabeth Barrett Browning was an extraordinary woman is probably an understatement: born in 1806 to a family whose wealth was based upon the slave trade, as soon as she could think for herself and see the way of the world, she fiercely repudiated and opposed the family business. Although she was extremely well read, according to her husband, Robert Browning, she was largely self taught, which seems a fair bench-mark of her mighty intellectual strength. Elizabeth poured her great heart and soul into her poems through those large moral abstractions Victorians loved to use, and freely conveyed her feelings of love so common among her contemporaries. Yet, she struggled against ill-health throughout her life: not wishing to disparage her in any way, many middle-class Victorian ladies often complained of continuous ill-health and frequently took to their beds for years at a time–Florence Nightingale is a famous example. Whatever, at the age of 15, she fell from a horse, injuring her nervous system, after which, she assumed the life of an invalid, with her doctor desperately trying to persuade her to give up writing, having told her that  “Poetry is a fungus on the brain.” Despite being brought up an upper-middle class lady wrapped in cotton wool, she was not unaware of the plight of the poor who created the wealth which made the lives of their rich masters so pampered and tolerable. The Cry of the Children was the poet looking at the dreadful plight of children working in the mines and factories and her cry for human rights and freedom from exploitation. It is not an over statement to say that the Industrial Revolution was partly made possible by child labour being used to not only work, but to dive in and out of the unprotected machinery of the giant looms in the textile mills as it moved back and forth at lightning speed. It was highly dangerous and poorly paid work which small children were ideally suited for, and what did it matter to a mill owner if a few children were lost along the way, as long as his profit margins were maintained and increased. The poor were expendable assets. Elizabeth Barrett Browning was not blind to this, and forcefully made known her views. On June 29, 1861, she died from complications to a lung disease which was probably consumption, with her beloved husband, Robert by her side, and was buried in Florence where her splendid tomb can still be seen and admired. She was a woman with a passionate heart and a warm, loving soul. If you wish to know who she was, then look no further than her poems, for their tender humanity speak well of her.
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