Reading through the Browning love letters, the opening and closing formulas are particularly interesting, since they change from more formal ones to more informal ones in the course of time. Examples for formal opening and closing formulas are the following ones:
- ‘Dear Mr Browning’ and ‘Your obliged and faithful Elizabeth B Barrett’ in a letter by Elizabeth Barrett Browning from 11th of January 1845
- ‘Dear Miss Barrett’ and ‘Yours ever faithfully, Robert Browning’ in a letter by Robert Browning from 10th of January 1845
Examples for informal closing formulas are these ones:
- ‘Dearest’ and ‘Ever & ever your Ba-‘ in a letter from 10th of September 1846 by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
- ‘my own Ba-‘ and ‘Bless you, my very own, only Ba-my pride, and joy, and utter comfort. I kiss you and am ever your own RB’ in a letter by Robert Browning from 13th of September 1846.
One particular closing formula, however, caught my eye immediately, knowing that it is a very unusual one in the 19th century: good bye. I found it in one letter from 14th of September 1846 from Robert to Elizabeth and in one letter from 16th of September 1846, also from Robert to Elizabeth. In detail, the conclusions are:
- ‘Good bye, my own-very own Ba, from your RB’ (letter from 14th of September 1846)
- ‘Goodbye, dearest dearest,-I continue quite well .. I thank God, as you do, and see his hand in it. My poor mother suffers greatly, but is no worse .. rather, better I hope. They (all here) will leave town for some quiet place at the beginning of October for some three weeks at least- Dear, kind souls they are. Kiss me as I kiss you, dearest Ba,-I can bring you no flowers but I pluck this bud and send it with all affectionate devotion. Your own RB-‘ (letter from 16th of September 1846)
In another post on this blog by Ingrid Tieken, it is already stated that Julia Maitland and Jane Austen also make use of this uncommon closing formula. Additionally, we learned in class that the formula could only be used in more intimate letters, since ‘good bye’ was no standard closing formula recommended by letter writing manuals, or the like. Thus, it is no surprise that Robert Browning uses ‘good bye’ in two of the last letters he writes to Elizabeth. At this point in time, the two are secretly married to each other and have a very close relationship. Although I did not read through all the letters from the beginning of their relationship, I can state that no ‘good bye’ can be found in at least the first 10 letters the two have written to each other. Thus, it can be assumed that ‘good bye’ is indeed quite an informal ending for a letter in the 19th century.
Armstrong Browning Library. 2012. The Browning Letters. http://digitalcollections.baylor.edu/cdm/search/collection/ab-letters/collection/ab-letters