Mary Moulton-Barrett

Mary Moulton-Barrett (1781–1828)

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 1, 286.

She was born 1 May 1781 at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, daughter of John and Arabella Graham (later Graham-Clarke). Her father was a wealthy merchant who, through involvement in West Indies trade, had developed ties with the Barrett family. As a result of this connection, Mary Graham-Clarke and Edward Moulton-Barrett became acquainted and, on 14 May 1805, were married. She is consistently described as very beautiful. At the time of marriage, she was twenty-four years old and Edward was not quite twenty. At first Edward’s guardian, James Scarlett, opposed the match, possibly because of the age difference, but after becoming acquainted with her he reportedly said: “I can hold out no longer—she is far too good for him.” The couple leased and settled at Coxhoe Hall, where EBB and Bro were born. By 1809, after a temporary stay in London, they had moved south to the Hope End estate in Herefordshire. From 1806 to 1824, Mary Moulton-Barrett gave birth to twelve children. Only one (Mary, at age three) died before reaching maturity, in a period when childhood deaths were common; this testifies to the good care that the Moulton-Barrett children apparently received. The mother took pride in her children’s accomplishments, especially those of EBB, and spent much time copying their poems and other literary endeavours. Undoubtedly they were helped along by her own writing talents. While she did not write professionally, she expressed her thoughts capably in long and chatty personal letters. A journal which she kept during an 1815 trip to France and a subsequent letter to her mother (SD235 and SD236) show her as a keen observer and commentator. She was an accomplished artist. Comments in EBB’s childhood writings leave no doubt that Mary Moulton-Barrett gave careful attention to the children’s schooling, at home on the Hope End estate. It appears also that she played a sort of game with EBB, serving as “publisher” for some of the latter’s juvenilia. But despite the satisfaction with her children, Mary Moulton-Barrett’s family situation was not entirely a pleasant one. Family correspondence shows her as somewhat subservient to her husband, who did not always consult her about his plans. (See for instance letter 224.) In a letter to RB dated 27 August 1846, EBB wrote of her as follows: “A sweet, gentle nature, which the thunder a little turned from its sweetness—as when it turns milk—One of those women who never can resist,—but, in submitting & bowing on themselves, make a mark, a plait, within, .. a sign of suffering. Too womanly she was—it was her only fault.” Mary Moulton-Barrett lived only about four and a half years after the birth of Octavius, her youngest child. Her health was failing by the mid-1820’s; rheumatoid arthritis was a contributing factor. In the autumn of 1828 she felt well enough for a trip to Cheltenham to take medical treatment (see letter 321), but she died there on 7 October. She was buried in a vault near the altar of the Parish Church of St. Michael and All Angels, Ledbury, with her daughter Mary.

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