Robert Browning is considered to be one of the most important poets of the Victorian era. The 19th-century English wordsmith was celebrated for the way he addressed universal themes, such as the human condition.
Like many poets, Browning’s verse was influenced by other writers. Through his exposure to the works of Percy Bysshe Shelley and John Keats, Browning developed a distinctive poetic style that pushed literary boundaries.
Robert Browning’s poetry often embraced the form of dramatic monologues, allowing him to delve deep into the psyche of his characters. Through these introspective and emotionally charged monologues, he explored a vast array of human experiences.
His eventual relationship with Elizabeth Barrett Browning became a significant factor in his life. Their combined fame has made for one of the most iconic literary couples.
About Robert Browning
Robert Browning was born on May 7th of, 1812, in London, England. He called Camberwell his home, which was a middle-class suburb of the English capital. Browning was an only son to his mother, Sarah Anna Weidemann Browning, and his father of the same name, Robert Browning. His mother was of German and Scottish descent and cared greatly for Robert, while his father was a successful bank clerk for the Bank of England.
Browning’s formal education began at the age of five when he attended the private school of William G. Pelham. Although his time there was relatively brief, it laid the foundation for his love of verse, literature, and the arts.
It was during his spell of homeschooling that he developed a real love for literacy and poetry. His father owned a personal library of over 6000 books. It was due to his father that he was introduced to a whole host of iconic poetry. One of the most notable was Alexander Pope’s translation of the Iliad.
In his adolescence, Browning briefly attended the University of London, where he studied a wide array of languages such as Greek, Latin, French, and music. However, his stint at the university was cut short when he decided to leave in pursuit of more specialized knowledge.
It was during his teenage years that Robert Browning’s love for poetry began to flourish. Browning published his first poem at the age of 12, signaling the start of a poetic journey of constant evolution and craftmanship. Throughout his career, he was responsible for the creation of a number of iconic works and received critical acclaim along the way.
He began composing his own poems, which took great inspiration from the works of Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley. However, it wasn’t too long until Elizabeth Barrett came into his life after an encounter that would leave a lasting mark on his life.
In 1845, Browning received a letter from Elizabeth Barrett, who went on to praise his collection of poems, ‘Paracelsus.’ The admiration blossomed into a successful relationship, despite Barrett’s ill health and her reclusive nature. Browning’s intense devotion eventually led to their secret marriage in September 1846, after which they escaped to Italy.
The two poets supported and influenced each other’s work, with their correspondence serving as a testament to their shared passion for literature and their significant contributions to the literary landscape. They became a couple of great literary power.
Browning’s time in Italy influenced his poetry profoundly. New life was given to his verses by the surrounding Italian landscape and culture. During this period, Browning produced some of his most important works, including, ‘Men and Women,’ from 1855 and ‘Dramatis Personae,’ published in 1864.
One of Browning’s most notable achievements was his mastery of dramatic monologue, a form that he utilized often. Through this technique, Browning gave voice to a range of characters, allowing readers to explore their inner thoughts. This stylistic innovation became a hallmark of his work and showcased his psychological depth and understanding of human nature.
The English poet’s most famous poem, ‘The Pied Piper of Hamelin,’ remains a beloved and widely read piece of literature. Published in 1842, the poem tells the story of a piper who, after ridding the town of Hamelin of rats, seeks retribution when the townspeople refuse to pay him. The poem possesses an engaging narrative, driven by vivid imagery whilst instilling moral undertones that have sat with readers for generations.
‘My Last Duchess,’ a dramatic monologue in which a Duke reveals his true character and his possessive attitude towards his deceased wife, is another iconic work of Browning. This poem showcases his ability to create complex characters and explore the darker aspects of human psychology.
Robert Browning’s literary career earned him several notable awards and achievements that solidified his reputation as a prominent figure. In 1850, he received the Royal Medal for Poetry from the Royal Society of Literature, recognizing his significant contributions to English literature.
Later Life and Death
Robert Browning continued to contribute significantly to the literary world long into his later life. This brought consistent success.
After the death of his wife, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, in 1861, Browning left Italy and returned to England with their only child, Pen, where they settled in London. It was during this period that he experienced a surge in popularity and critical acclaim.
‘The Ring and the Book‘ was released in 1868, which has long been considered one of his most notable achievements, his magnum opus. The long narrative poem was centered around a 17th-century murder case that occurred in Rome. Many critics believe that this iconic work showcases Browning’s mastery of dramatic storytelling and his ability to speak from a variety of perspectives. It remains one of his most ambitious and complex works, displaying his intellectual and poetic prowess.
Another significant work from this period was published in 1864 in the form of the excellent collection ‘Dramatis Personae.’ Some of Browning’s most famous poems were contained within this collection, including ‘Fra Lippo Lippi,’ ‘Andrea del Sarto,’ and ‘Caliban upon Setebos.’
During his later life, Browning also enjoyed literary honors and recognition. In 1881, he was awarded the Oxford Professorship of Poetry, a prestigious position that highlighted his standing as a distinguished poet. He also received honorary degrees from several universities, including Oxford and Cambridge.
Tragically, Browning’s life came to an end on December 12, 1889, when he passed away in Venice, Italy. His death marked the conclusion of a remarkable literary career that spanned over five decades. Browning was forever cemented in the realm of literary greats as he was buried at Westminster Abbey at Poets’ Corner. This is an honor that only the greatest literary figures attain.
Robert Browning was responsible for writing a plethora of iconic works. His most famous poems and collections include:
- ‘Pauline: A Fragment of a Confession‘
- ‘Porphyria’s Lover‘
- ‘The Pied Piper‘
- ‘My Last Duchess‘
- ‘Red Cotton Night-Cap Country‘
- ‘The Inn Album‘
- ‘Prince Hohenstiel-Schwangau‘
- ‘Fifine at the Fair‘
- ‘Balaustion’s Adventure‘
- ‘Aristophanes’ Apology‘
- ‘Pacchiarotto and How He Worked in Distemper‘
- ‘Ferishtah’s Fancies‘
- ‘Asolando: Fancies and Facts‘
- ‘Parleyings with Certain People of Importance in Their Day‘
- ‘Men and Women‘
Browning was inspired by many poets that came before him and went on to influence many literary greats that came after him.
One of Browning’s earliest and most profound influences was the Romantic poets, particularly William Wordsworth and Percy Bysshe Shelley. Their emphasis on the power of the imagination, introspection, and the exploration of human emotions resonated deeply with Browning. From Wordsworth, he absorbed the importance of nature as an element of the human condition.
William Shakespeare, like many poets, inspired Browning and gave him access to the fundamentals of poetry.
Browning’s travels to Italy exposed him to the works of Italian poets such as Dante Alighieri and Petrarch.
It is safe to say that Browning drew inspiration from the dramatic monologues of his wife, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, as he spent so much of his life with her.
Robert Browning was best known for his mastery of dramatic monologues, which became his signature style. Through these monologues, he delved into the minds and psyches of complex characters, exploring their inner thoughts and motivations.
Robert Browning’s political beliefs leaned towards liberalism and progressive ideas. He was critical of social injustices and advocated for political and social reform. His poetry often reflected his concerns for equality and the betterment of society.
Robert Browning’s writing style is characterized by his use of dense and complex language, vivid imagery, and psychological depth. He employed dramatic monologues, where the speaker reveals their thoughts and emotions, allowing readers to delve into the complexities of human nature.
One of Robert Browning’s most famous poems is ‘The Pied Piper of Hamelin.’ It tells the story of a piper who rids the town of Hamelin of a rat infestation but faces betrayal and rejection by the townspeople. The poem showcases Browning’s skill in crafting narrative poetry with a moral undertone.
Robert Browning faced criticism during his lifetime, particularly from conservative critics who found his poetry unconventional and challenging. Some critics deemed his language obscure and criticized his experiments with form and structure. However, his works also had a devoted following of admirers who appreciated his unique style and exploration of human psychology.