“God is the perfect poet, Who in his person acts his own creations.”
Robert Browning was born on May 7, 1812 in Camberwell, London. His father was a bank clerk for the Bank of England and his mother was a religious woman with great love for music. Browning’s father kept a large library where Browning spent a lot of his time. Although he went off to study at a boarding school close to Cambridge, and was a student for a short while at the University of London, Browning preferred educating himself in his home library. He loved to read and was tutored in everything from foreign languages to boxing.
Browning’s first published poem was Pauline, printed in 1833 when he was twenty-one. He had modeled the poem after the works of Percy Bysshe Shelley, a hero of his. Pauline was a very confessional poem, with Browning exposing his true feelings through the narrator. When John Stuart Mill reviewed Pauline, he noted that the young Browning was suffering from an “intense and morbid self-consciousness.” Browning was very embarrassed by that statement and attempted to never self-disclose himself in his works ever again.
He began writing plays for the London stage. The first play he ever wrote was titled Strafford which was shown for four days. He ended up not being too successful in the theater business, but theater did lead him to discover something else he was good at : writing dramatic monologues. He composed a book made up of the many dramatic monologues he began to write and called it Dramatic Lyrics. It was published in 1842.
Browning met his wife Elizabeth Barrett Browning in 1845. They later eloped to Italy. Browning’s book of poems, Men and Women, is about the time he spent in Italy with his love. When Elizabeth died in 1861, Browning moved back to London with his son. There he published another book of dramatic monologues called Dramatis Personae in 1864. Four years later, he published his longest poem, The Ring and the Book, inspired by a true murder story. He died in 1889 and was buried in Westminster Abbey. He was remembered by his close friends as an eccentric man that was interested in many subjects. Thomas Hardy went so far as to deem him “the literary puzzle of the nineteenth century.”
Relationship with Elizabeth Barrett Browning
In 1845, Robert Browning wrote a letter to Miss Elizabeth Barrett, admiring her writing. From that point on, Robert and Elizabeth exchanged approximately 600 letters. They met in person later that year and fell in love. It seemed like an unlikely match at first since Elizabeth was six years older than Robert, was a semi-invalid, and was ordered by her father never to be married. In 1846, however, they eloped and were married at St. Marylebone Parish Church. They then moved to Italy together to try and help a lung condition that Elizabeth suffered from. In 1849, in Florence, Italy, Elizabeth gave birth to their son Robert Weidermann Barrett Browning.
The Voice of Robert Browning
A phonograph recording of Robert Browning’s voice was made in 1889. Browning was at a dinner party of his artist friend, Rudolf Lehmann, when he was offered the chance to say a few words. The following is a copy of the original recording. In it, Browning recites his poem “How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix” from memory. He stops reciting after a few lines because he can not remember all of it.
A transcription can be found below the recording.
“I sprang to the saddle, and Joris, and he;
I galloped, Dirck galloped, we galloped all three;
‘Speed’ echoed the wall to us galloping through . .
‘Speed’ echoed the . . .
Then the gate shut behind us, the lights sank to rest. . .
I’m terrible sorry but I can’t remember me own verses, but one thing that I shall
remember all me life is the astonishing [inaudible] by your wonderful invention.
Hip, hip, hooray.
Hip, hip, hooray.
Hip, hip, hooray.
Here is a link to the full text of “How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix.”
1. Image 1: <http://images-cdn01.associatedcontent.com/image/A2189/218981/300_218981.jpg>.
2. Image 2: <http://www.browningguide.org/>.
3. Image 3: Beerbohm, Max. . <http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/mb/browning.html>.
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7. “Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning elope.” 2008. The History Channel website. 8 Dec. 2008, <[[http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do? action=Article&id=4089|http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=Article&id=4089]]>.
8. “Robert Browning.” Poetry Archive. 2005. 10 Dec. 2008, <http://www.poetryarchive.org/poetryarchive/singlePoet.do?poetId=1545>.
9. “How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix- An Extract.” Poetry Archive. 2005. 10 Dec. 2008, <http://www.poetryarchive.org/poetryarchive/singlePoem.do?poemId=1546>.