Edward Moulton-Barrett (brother)

Edward Barrett Moulton-Barrett (1807-40)

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 1, 289–290.

Born at Coxhoe Hall, 26 June 1807, a country estate leased by his father south of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, he was the second child and first son of Edward and Mary Moulton-Barrett. An early nickname “Buff” soon gave way to “Bro,” by which he was known thereafter. On 1 August 1807, not long after the birth of this first son, his father wrote to Jamaica (SD79) and suggested a holiday for the plantation slaves. There is no evidence of any similar suggestion in the previous year when EBB was born. Most of Bro’s childhood was spent at Hope End, where EBB eagerly participated in Greek and Latin lessons that he received from tutor Daniel McSwiney. Bro possessed artistic and poetic talent, but artist William Artaud wrote from Hope End on 29 March 1818 (SD283) that “tho by no means deficient” this brother had “no chance in competition” with EBB. Whatever his abilities may have been, Bro’s chief claim to fame is as EBB’s favourite brother—perhaps her favourite of all people. The hero of her Aurora Leigh is thought by some to have been modelled after him. The two were separated during Bro’s stay at Charterhouse, the prestigious London boarding school, from 1820 to 1826, but he kept her amply supplied with humorous and needling letters, which give an interesting picture of English schoolboy life in that period. Bro was away in Jamaica for a while in the mid-1830’s, helping his uncle Sam with readjustment problems relating to the emancipation of plantation slaves. When EBB went to Torquay for health reasons in 1838, Bro accompanied her. It was not intended that he should stay, but, because of EBB’s urgent pleading, he was allowed to. Reportedly he had a romance there, but was frustrated by the well-known family pressures against marriage. On 11 July 1840 Bro went on a cruise in Babbacombe Bay in La Belle Sauvage belonging to Carter Godfrey. With him were Capt. Clarke, Mr. Vanneck, and a boatman, William White. When two or three miles off Teignmouth the boat capsized in a squall, all being drowned. The bodies of all but Vanneck were recovered. On 6 August they were buried in Torre Churchyard, but the graves cannot now be identified. Bro’s death was a shattering event in the life of EBB; she could never put this tragedy out of her mind. Moreover, feeling that it would not have happened had she not insisted on his staying with her, she never ceased to blame herself. She was scarcely able to mention the event—or Bro as an individual—even to RB. She became extremely upset when the episode was described in an 1852 book, Recollections of a Literary Life, written by her friend Mary Russell Mitford.

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