Elizabeth Barrett (1806-1861)
Flush, the dog and the subject of this poem, offered companionship to Elizabeth Barrett while she was confined to her sickbed with tuberculosis in London, and was given a starring role in her correspondence with her future husband Robert Browning.
First published in 1844, Barrett, a self-confessed "philo-dogist", believed her cocker spaniel to possess a remarkable intelligence and even the capacity for literacy. Flush could recognize the letters A and B, and it was only a matter of patience according to his mistress, before he mastered the rest of the alphabet.
Robert Browning was not terribly fond of the dog because it bit him the first time he called on Elizabeth, but was wise enough to hold his tongue. Flush was a close observer of Barrett's clandestine romance with Browning and their elopement to Italy. Kidnapped three times Flush was no stranger to his own drama and a common occurrence in the 1840's of London dogs of the genteel classes, and Barrett had to pay a heavy ransom.
So interesting was little Flush's life Virginia Woolf wrote a parody called Flush: A Biography (1933).
Woolf found that "the figure of their dog made me laugh so I couldn't resist making him a Life".
Barret's mystical, opium-inspired (because they used opium at the time to treat her tuberculosis) sentimental voice in this poem was the beginning of what would become a part of the body of work that established Barrett as a major Victorian poet.
*Elizabeth Barrett notes: This dog was the gift of my dear and admired friend, Miss Mitford, and belongs to the beautiful race she has rendered celebrated among English and American readers. The Flushes have their laurels as well as the Cæsars, -- the chief difference (at least the very head and front of it) consisting, according to my perception, in the baldhead.
for Cosmo, Kiki, and Sam.
Public domain text taken from