Robert Browning: Letters, poems and plays

RobertBrowningThe English poet and playwright Robert Browning was born on 7th May, 1812, in Camberwell, London. His father was a clerk in the Bank of England and a keen literary collector, owning more than 6000 books. His mother was an accomplished musician.

By the age of twelve, Robert had written his first poetry book, and by the time he was fourteen he was fluent in French, Greek, Italian and Latin. Robert was an admirer of the Romantic poets, especially Shelley, Byron and Keats.

When he was only sixteen, Robert went to the University College in London, but a year later left to concentrate on his poetry. In 1833 his Shelley-inspired confessional poem Pauline: A Fragment of a Confession was published anonymously by his family. Robert’s next poem, Paracelsus, didn’t receive general popularity, but it was critically acclaimed by Thomas Carlyle, Wordsworth and other known poets, which quickly made Browning a name in the poetic circles of London.

Robert’s subsequent publications were less popular (such as Bells and Pomegranates, Pippa Passes) and were largely ignored. However, Dramatic Romances and Lyrics, which followed in 1845 would eventually be considered among his finest. He also began to publish plays around this time, including A Blot in the `Scutcheon: A Tragedy (1843), The Return of the Druses (1843), and A Soul’s Tragedy (1846).

In 1846 Robert Browning married fellow English poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861). They had started a now-famous correspondence a year earlier after Robert had read and admired her work. “I love your verses with all my heart, dear Miss Barrett,—and this is no off-hand complimentary letter that I shall write…” Although their marriage wasn’t to be long, due to Elizabeth’s poor health, they had one son.

Now fully embraced by London’s literary circle, Robert Browning’s Dramatis Personae (1864) was followed by The Ring and The Book. This was a blank verse poem consisting of twelve volumes and 21,000 lines, and was a bestselling work during Browning’s lifetime.

In 1881 the Robert Browning Society was founded by enthusiasts in England and America.
Robert’s final work, Asolando: Fancies and Facts, was published on the day that he died, at his son’s home, `Ca’ Rezzonico’ in Venice, Italy, on 12 December, 1889, before being brought to Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey, where he lies next to Poet Laureate Lord Alfred Tennyson.

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Dr Kathryn Bates is a graduate of archaeology and history. She has excavated across the world as an archaeologist, and tutored medieval history at Leicester University. She joined the administrative team at Oxford Open Learning twelve years ago. Alongside her distance learning work, Dr Bates is a bestselling novelist, and an itinerant creative writing tutor for primary school children.

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