Tribute to poet Robert Browning

English poets and playwrightRobert Browning was born7 May 1812  and his mastery of dramatic verse, especially dramatic monologues, made him one of the foremost Victorian poets.Robert Browning was born in Camberwell – a district now forming part of the borough of Southwark in South London, EnglandSarianna, also gifted, became her brother’s companion in his later years, after the death of his wife in 1861. His father encouraged his children’s interest in literature and the arts.[1]By twelve, Browning had writen a book of poetry which he later destroyed when no publisher could be found. After being at one or two private schools, and showing an insuperable dislike to school life, he was educated at home by a tutor via the resources of his father’s extensive library.By the age of fourteen he was fluent in French, Greek, Italian and Latin. He became a greatdmirer of the Romantic poets, especially Shelley. Following the precedent of Shelley, Browning became an atheist and vegetarian, both of which he gave up later. At the age of sixteen, he studied Greek at University Collge London but left after his first year. His parents’ staunch evangelical faith prevented his studying at either Oxford University or Cambridge University, both then open nly t members of the Church of England.] He had inherited substantial musical ability through his mother, and composed arrangements of various songs. He refused a formal career and ignored his parens remonstrations, dedicating himself to poetry. He stayed at home until the age of 34, financially dependent on his family until his marriage. His father sponsored the publication of his son’s poems.

In March 1833, Pauline, a fragment of a confession was published anonymously by Saunders an Otley at the expense of the author, the costs of printing having been borne by an aunt, Mrs Silverthorne. It is a long poem composed in homage to Shelley and somewhat in his style. Originally Browning considered Pauline as the first of a series written by different aspects of himself, but he soon abandoned this idea. The press noticed the publication. W.J. Fox writing in the The Monthly Repository of April 1833 discerned merit in the work. Allan Cunningham praised it in the The Athenaeum. Some years later, probably in 1850, Dante Gabriel Rossetti came across it in the Reading Room of the British Museum and wrote to Browning, then in Florence to ask if he was the author. John Stuart Mill, however, wrote that the author suffered from an “intense and morbid self-consciousness”.Later Browning was rather embarrassed by the work, and only included it in his collected poems of 1868 after making substantial changes and adding a preface in which he asked for indulgence for a boyish work. In 1834 he accompanied the Chevalier George de Benkhausen, the Russian consul-general, on a brief visit to St Petersburg and beganParacelsus, which was published in 1835.The subject of the 16th century savant and alchemist was probably suggested to him by the Comte Amédée de Ripart-Monclar, to whom it was dedicated. The publication had some commercial and critical success, being noticed by Wordsworth, Dickens, Landor, J.S. Mill and others, including Tennyson (already famous). It is a monodrama without action, dealing with the problems confronting an intellectual trying to find his role in society. It gained him access to the London literary world.As a result of his new contacts he met Macready, who invited him to write a play.  Strafford was performed five times. Browning then wrote two other plays, one of which was not performed, while the other failed, Browning having fallen out with Macready.In 1838 he visited Italy, looking for background for Sordello, a long poem in heroic couplets, presented as the imaginary biography of the Mantuan bard spoken of by Dante in the Divine Comedy, canto 6 of Purgatory, set against a background of hate and conflict during the Guelph-Ghibelline wars. This was published in 1840 and met with widespread derision, gaining him the reputation of wanton carelessness and obscurity. Tennyson commented that he only understood the first and last lines and Carlyle claimed that his wife had read the poem through and could not tell whether Sordello was a man, a city or a book.]

Browning’s reputation began to make a partial recovery with the publication, 1841-1846, of Bells and Pomegranates, a series of eight pamphlets, originally intended just to include his plays. Fortunately his publisher, Moxon, persuaded him to include some “dramatic lyrics”, some of which had already appeared in periodicalsIn 1868, after five years work, he completed and published the long blank-verse poem The Ring and the Book. Based on a convoluted murder-case from 1690s Rome, the poem is composed of twelve books, essentially ten lengthy dramatic monologues narrated by the various characters in the story, showing their individual perspectives on events, bookended by an introduction and conclusion by Browning himself. Long, even by Browning’s own standards (over twenty thousand lines), The Ring and the Book was the poet’s most ambitious project and arguably his greatest work; it has been praised as a tour de force of dramatic poetry.Published separately in four volumes from November 1868 through to February 1869, the poem was a success both commercially and critically, and finally brought Browning the renown he had sought for nearly forty years.] The Robert Browning Society was formed in 1881 and his work was recognised as belonging within the British literary canonIn Florence, probably from early in 1853, Browning worked on the poems that eventually comprised his two-volume Men and Women, for which he is now well known;[ in 1855, however, when these were published, they made relatively little impact.In the remaining years of his life Browning travelled extensively. After a series of long poems published in the early 1870s, of which Balaustion’s Adventure and Red Cotton Night-Cap Country were the best-received.The  volume Pacchiarotto, and How He Worked in Distemper included an attack against Browning’s critics, especially Alfred Austin, later to become Poet Laureate. According to some reports Browning became romantically involved with Louisa, Lady Ashburton, but he refused her proposal of marriage, and did not re-marry. In 1878, he revisited Italy for the first time in the seventeen years since Elizabeth’s death, and returned there on several further occasions. In 1887, Browning produced the major work of his later years, Parleyings with Certain People of Importance In Their Day. It finally presented the poet speaking in his own voice, engaging in a series of dialogues with long-forgotten figures of literary, artistic, and philosophic history. The Victorian public was baffled by this, and Browning returned to the brief, concise lyric for his last volume, Asolando (1889), published on the day of his death.

Browning sadly passed away at his son’s home Ca’ Rezzonico in Venice on 12 December 1889. He was buried in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey; his grave now lies immediately adjacent to that of Alfred Tennyson.Browning was awarded many distinctions. He was made LL.D. of Edinburgh, a life Governor of London University, and had the offer of the Lord Rectorship of Glasgow. But he turned down anything that involved public speaking.In his introduction to the Oxford University Press edition of Browning’s poems 1833-1864[19 Ian Jack comments that Thomas Hardy,Rudyard Kipling, Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot “all learned from Browning’s exploration of the exploration of the possibilities of dramatic poetry and of colloquial idiom”.In 1930 the story of Browning and his wife Elizabeth was made into a play The Barretts of Wimpole Street, by Rudolph Besier. The play was a success and brought popular fame to the couple in the United States. The role of Elizabeth became a signature role for the actress Katharine Cornell. It was twice adapted into film. It was also the basis of the stage musical Robert and Elizabeth, with music byRon Grainer and book and lyrics by Ronald Millar.In The Browning Version (Terence Rattigan’s 1948 play or one of several film adaptations), a pupil makes a parting present to his teacher of an inscribed copy of Robert Browning’s translation of The Agamemnon of Aeschylus.Stephen King’s The Dark Tower was chiefly inspired by the poem “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came” by Robert Browning, whose full text was included in the final volume’s appendix.