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Robert Browning:

Self Made Poet Of Romance

The Browning family can be traced back to the time of Henry VII. Robert Browning, the first child of Robert Browning and Sarah Anna Wiedemann, was born on May 7, 1812 in Camberwell, England. He was followed twenty months later by his sister, Sarianna. Young Robert was introduced to poetry and ancient literature at a young age because his father was collector of books and pictures totaling more than 6,000 items.

Robert was self educated and spent his life studying art, science, history, theology, politics, and philosophy. Although he spent a brief time at the University of London, he was content to stay at home and be supported by his father while attempting to make a career of writing.

One of Browning's major influences was Percy Bysshe Shelley, a contemporary of Browning's. In 1825, a cousin gave Browning a collection of Shelley's poetry and he was so taken by the work that he wanted as much of it as he could consume. Shelley's and Browning's lives contrasted in so many ways, however.

First, Shelley was antireligious and was thrown out of the university for writing a pamphlet on atheism. Robert Browning's family were fundamental and firm believers in Christianity. Secondly, Shelley was an extreme liberal while Browning's family lived a comfortable, religious, suburban life. In 1852, Browning wrote the preface for a collection of letters written by Shelley and in that preface he makes a famous distinction between the "objective" and the "subjective" writer.

Browning published his most famous work, Pauline, at age nineteen. It was a traditional Romantic confessional poem. The work was personal and detailed. It received some harsh reviews, which led Browning to write a series of characters that were distinctly different from himself.

Robert Browning also wrote several plays between 1837 and 1847, but many of them were considered "practical failures." Though the plays did not work well on the stage, they were received as workshops for great dramatic monologues in "Men and Women" and "Dramatis Personae," which did achieve some success.

From 1845-1846, Browning courted the poet Elizabeth Barrett and the two were married on September 12, 1846. They immediately fled to Italy. Many scholars think that Elizabeth controlled the relationship, a result of Robert's need to be dominated by a woman. His mother played that role until her death in 1840 and Robert replaced her with Elizabeth.

Robert and Elizabeth Browning had a son named Robert "Pen" Browning in the same year that Robert's collection of poems, Men and Women, was published (1855). He dedicated the collection to Elizabeth Browning. It was not well received, however, and Robert Browning is known mostly as the husband of the more famous Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

When Elizabeth died in 1861, Robert and Pen moved to London. Robert Browning went on to publish Dramatis Personae in 1863 and The Ring and the Book in 1868. The latter was based on a seventeenth century Italian murder trial and received wide critical acclaim. Finally, Browning earned respect in the career that he had spent pursuing his entire life.

The Browning Society was founded in 1881 while Robert Browning was still alive. He was awarded honorary degrees by Oxford University in 1882 and the University of Edinburgh in 1884. Robert Browning died in Venice on December 12, 1889.

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