Robert Browning

Browning, Robert (1812-1889), English poet, especially noted for perfecting the dramatic monologue (literary composition in which the speaker reveals his or her character). Browning was born in Camberwell (now part of London). He had almost no formal education after the age of 14 and was largely self-taught. His first volume of poetry, Pauline, appeared in 1833 without signature. It was followed by a dramatic poem, "Paracelsus" (1835), that brought him into prominence among the literary figures of the day. "Paracelsus" was the first poem in which Browning used a Renaissance setting, a familiar motif in his later work. During the next few years, Browning wrote several unsuccessful plays. From 1841 to 1846, a series of poems under the title Bells and Pomegranates appeared, including "Pippa Passes,""My Last Duchess," and "The Bishop Orders His Tomb." His Dramatic Lyrics (1842) included "The Pied Piper of Hamelin," and Dramatic Romances and Lyrics (1845) included "How We Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix."

In 1846, Browning married the poet Elizabeth Barrett (see Elizabeth Barrett Browning). Because of her ill health, worsened by the English climate, they made their home in Florence, Italy, in the palace later made famous by Elizabeth's poem, Casa Guidi Windows. There he wrote Christmas Eve and Easter-Day (1850) and a series of dramatic monologues, published collectively as Men and Women (1855), which included "Fra Lippo Lippi" and "Andrea del Sarto," studies of Renaissance artists.

Following Elizabeth's death in 1861, Browning returned to London, where he wrote Dramatis Personae (1864) and what is regarded as his masterpiece, The ring and the Book (4 volumes, 1868-1869). Concerning the events of a 17th-century Italian murder trial, the Ring is an extended dramatic monologue among a number of characters and has been praised as a perceptive psychological study. This was the first poem that brought Browning widespread fame. 

In 1878, Browning returned to Italy, where his only son made his home. During this last period, he wrote the prose narrative Dramatic Idylls (1879 and 1880) and Asolando, which appeared on December 12, 1889, the day he died in Venice. Although his wife's reputation as a poet was greater than his own during his lifetime, Robert Browning today is considered one of the major poets of the Victorian era. He is most famous for the development of the dramatic monologue, for his psychological insight, and for his forceful, colloquial poetic style.

To some critics, like George Santayana, Browning was keenly aware that he was writing poetry in an age of science, of vigorous technology, and of prose, particularly prose fiction.

He made poetry compete with prose in these conditions, and the curiosity and delight in detail that were part of his temperament fitted to do so.
Where other poets, notably Tennyson, wrote in a style that moved apart from and above preoccupations of daily living, Browning delighted in the idiom of ordinary speech and in peculiarities of mind and objects.

He was not the only practitioner of the dramatic monologue, but he is especially associated with it; he chose characters out of history or invented them and made them think aloud so as to display their distinctive mentalities. Browning easily arouses and engages the reader by the pithiness of his moral judgement, the liveliness of his historical fancy. It is obvious that we are in the presence of a great writer, of a great imagination force of a master in the expression of emotion. 

A chief support of Browning's popularity is that he is, for many an initiator into the deeper mysteries of passion, a means of escaping from the moral poverty of their own lives and of feeling the rhythm and compulsion of the general striving.

His imagination, like the imagination we have in dream was merely a vent for personally preoccupations. His art was inspired by purposes less simple and universal than the ends of imagination itself. His play of mind consequently could not be free or pure. The creative impulse could not reach its goal or manifest in any notable degree its own organic ideal.