Arabella Moulton-Barrett

Arabella Barrett Moulton-Barrett (1813–68)

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 1, 291.

Born at Hope End, 4 July 1813, Arabella was the sixth child and fourth daughter of Edward and Mary Moulton-Barrett. She was named after her grandmother, Arabella Graham-Clarke. Her ties with EBB were extremely close. On 4 July 1831 EBB wrote (Diary, p. 42): “Dearest Arabel’s birthday. She is 18; and an interesting intelligent amiable feeling girl. I should love her even if she were not my sister; & even if she did not love me.” The two were, however, separated during part of Arabella’s childhood, because she spent considerable time with Minny Robinson from early 1817 through 1820, first at Ramsgate and then at Worthing, both seaside resorts, where she took cures for an illness caused by a leech being placed on an artery. In family letters written during this early period, she was often referred to as “Babes.” When EBB herself lived at Torquay for health reasons, Arabella was present during much of the time. There, according to a hint in a letter by EBB to their brother George, dated 17 June 1840, she was involved, at least briefly, in a romance. Be that as it may, she never married, devoting herself instead to artistic interests, religion, the care of her father, and social service. EBB and RB helped her with efforts on behalf of the poor by contributing a sixteen-page pamphlet, which was sold at a bazaar for sixpence a copy. Entitled Two Poems, it was their only joint production. EBB’s poem was “A Plea for the Ragged Schools of London”; RB’s, “The Twins.” In the mid-1840’s at the Wimpole Street house, Arabella became quite aware of her sister’s clandestine courtship, though she—along with others—was kept in the dark as to wedding plans. After the marriage and the flight to Italy, intensive correspondence developed between these two sisters. In fact, EBB’s letters to Arabella surpassed in total volume those sent to any other person. (She wrote more letters to Mary Russell Mitford, but those to Arabella were longer.) On EBB’s trips to London after her marriage, she sometimes visited Arabella at the Wimpole Street house. That is where the latter continued to live until the household was broken up after the 1857 death of her father, from whose estate she received about £11,000. She then took up residence at 7 Delamere Terrace. She was nurse and companion to her sister Henrietta during the latter’s fatal illness in 1860. When RB and Pen returned to London after the death of EBB, they settled near Arabella. Her Delamere Terrace home served as a gathering place for the Moulton-Barrett clan. Deeply devoted to RB, she died in his arms on 11 June 1868. She was buried at Kensal Green Cemetery.

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