Robert Browning

Robert Browning

Biography of Robert Browning

Robert Browning was an English poet and playwright whose mastery of the dramatic monologue made him one of the foremost Victorian poets. His poems are known for their irony, characterization, dark humour, social commentary, historical settings, and challenging vocabulary and syntax.

His mother was an accomplished pianist and a devout evangelical Christian. His father, who worked as a bank clerk, was also an artist, scholar, antiquarian, and collector of books and pictures. His rare book collection of more than 6,000 volumes included works in Greek, Hebrew, Latin, French, Italian, and Spanish. Much of Browning’s education came from his well-read father. It is believed that he was already proficient at reading and writing by the age of five. A bright and anxious student, Browning learned Latin, Greek, and French by the time he was fourteen. From fourteen to sixteen he was educated at home, attended to by various tutors in music, drawing, dancing, and horsemanship. At the age of twelve he wrote a volume of Byronic verse entitled Incondita, which his parents attempted, unsuccessfully, to have published. In 1825, a cousin gave Browning a collection of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poetry; Browning was so taken with the book that he asked for the rest of Shelley’s works for his thirteenth birthday, and declared himself a vegetarian and an atheist in emulation of the poet. Despite this early passion, he apparently wrote no poems between the ages of thirteen and twenty. In 1828, Browning enrolled at the University of London, but he soon left, anxious to read and learn at his own pace. The random nature of his education later surfaced in his writing, leading to criticism of his poems’ obscurities.

In 1833, Browning anonymously published his first major published work, Pauline, and in 1840 he published Sordello, which was widely regarded as a failure. He also tried his hand at drama, but his plays, including Strafford, which ran for five nights in 1837, and the Bells and Pomegranates series, were for the most part unsuccessful. Nevertheless, the techniques he developed through his dramatic monologues—especially his use of diction, rhythm, and symbol—are regarded as his most important contribution to poetry, influencing such major poets of the twentieth century as Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, and Robert Frost.

After reading Elizabeth Barrett’s Poems (1844) and corresponding with her for a few months, Browning met her in 1845. They were married in 1846, against the wishes of Barrett’s father. The couple moved to Pisa and then Florence, where they continued to write. They had a son, Robert “Pen” Browning, in 1849, the same year his Collected Poems was published. Elizabeth inspired Robert’s collection of poems Men and Women (1855), which he dedicated to her. Now regarded as one of Browning’s best works, the book was received with little notice at the time; its author was then primarily known as Elizabeth Barrett’s husband.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning died in 1861, and Robert and Pen Browning soon moved to London. Browning went on to publish Dramatis Personae (1863), and The Ring and the Book (1868). The latter, based on a seventeenth-century Italian murder trial, received wide critical acclaim, finally earning a twilight of reknown and respect in Browning’s career. The Browning Society was founded while he still lived, in 1881, and he was awarded honorary degrees by Oxford University in 1882 and the University of Edinburgh in 1884. Robert Browning died on the same day that his final volume of verse, Asolando, was published, in 1889.

Poems by Robert Browning

  1. A Death in the Desert
  2. A Face
  3. A Grammarian’s Funeral
  4. A Serenade at the Villa
  5. A Toccata of Galuppi's
  6. Abt Vogler
  7. Among the Rocks
  8. An Epistle Containing the Strange Medical Experience of Karshish, the Arab Physician
  9. Andrea del Sarto
  10. Caliban upon Setebos
  11. Cleon
  12. Confessions
  13. Count Gismond—Aix in Provence
  14. Epilogue
  15. Fra Lippo Lippi
  16. Home-Thoughts, from Abroad
  17. Home-Thoughts, from the Sea
  18. Life in a Love
  19. Love among the Ruins
  20. Love in a Life
  21. Meeting at Night
  22. Memorabilia
  23. My Last Duchess
  24. My Star
  25. Never the Time and the Place
  26. Now
  27. Over the Sea our Galleys Went
  28. Parting at Morning
  29. Porphyria's Lover
  30. Prospice
  31. Protus
  32. Rabbi Ben Ezra
  33. Song
  34. The Bishop Orders His Tomb at Saint Praxed's Church
  35. The Laboratory
  36. The Lost Leader
  37. The Lost Mistress
  38. The Pied Piper of Hamelin
  39. The Real and True and Sure
  40. Two in the Campagna
  41. Up at a Villa—Down in the City
  42. Youth and Art