Robert Browning (1812-1889)

Robert Browning was born on May 7, 1812, in Camberwell, England, the son of an accomplished pianist mother and a wealthy bank clerk and bibliophile for a father. It was from his father that he received the bulk of his education, becoming proficient in reading and writing English by the time he was five and knowledgable in Latin, Greek, and French by the time he was fourteen.

At the age of thirteen, Robert was introduced to Percy Bysshe Shelley by a cousin and was so taken with the poet that he immediately requested his entire collection to devour, declaring himself an atheist and vegetarian in emulation of his new idol. Despite this, however, Robert appears not to have written any poetry of his own until he was twenty. In the meantime, he joined the University of London at the age of sixteen (after being barred from Oxford and Cambridge) but remained there only one year, preferring to education himself at his own pace. By the age of twenty, he declared that he would become a great poet, if not the great poet, and with the support of his father's wealth began to pursue his ambition.

He first published Pauline: A Fragment of a Confessions anonymously that year, but it received little praise save the attention of John Stuart Mill. He travelled to Russia the next year and Italy four years later, finally returning with the publication of Paracelsus, a poem about the Swiss alchemist of the same name, in 1835. Paracelsus was received well in England and earned him the opportunity to publish several stage plays over the next ten years, where he became acquainted with the likes of Charles Dickens, Thomas Carlyle, and Alfred Lord Tennyson. These plays were widely recognized at the time and gave him the chance to practice writing the dramatic monologues for which he is best known today.

He continued to write and publish poetry between 1841 and 1846, mostly collections which included his most famous poetry. During this period he began a correspondence with the poet Elizabeth Barrett, beginning with a thank-you for a flattering mention of his work in a poem of hers and a declaration of love. He finally met her face-to-face in 1845 and married her in 1846. They moved to London, but most of their marriage was spent in Italy where the warmer climate helped her worsening lung condition. He spent far more time in these years watching over her bedside than producing poetry, although he did finally publish a collection of short poems titled Men and Women in 1855 (which included "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came"). She died on June 28, 1861, fifteen years into their marriage and survived by their son Robert Wiedemann Barrett Browning.

From Elizabeth's death until his own, Browning continued to write much of his best poetry ever, including Dramatis Personae (1864), The Ring and the Book (1868), the collection The Inn Album (1875) and a translation of Aeschylus' Agamemnon. (1877) The Browning Society was founded in 1881 in recognition of his contributions to literature. He died on December 12, 1889 in his son's house in Venice. He requested burial in Florence, but various difficulties prevented this and he was finally interred in Westminster Abbey back in England. His last book, Asolando, was published on the day of his death.


Some noded works by Robert Browning:

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