For the last few weeks, I’ve been reading through the letters of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and discovered something odd: Barrett Browning was seemingly obsessed with portraits of William Wordsworth.
Writing to her friend Mrs. Martin in a letter dated December 7, 1836, Barrett Browning articulates the joy she felt upon first seeing an engraving of Wordsworth: “Papa has given me the first two volumes of Wordsworth’s new edition. The engraving in the first is his own face. You might think me affected if I told you all I felt in seeing the living face.” Several years later, in a similar letter to Mrs. Martin dated October 22, 1842, Barrett Browning dramatically claimed, “I write under the eyes of Wordsworth. Not Wordsworth’s living eyes…but this Wordsworth who looks on me now is Wordsworth in a picture.” The “picture” Barrett Browning alludes to is Haydon’s famous portrait of Wordsworth musing upon Helvellyn.