In Camberwall, London, Robert Browning was born to Robert and Sarah Ann Browning on 7 May 1812. His mother Sarah was a devout Evangelical faithful. She was likewise an accomplished pianist. His father Robert Senior was a clerk in the Bank of England. Robert Senior opted to live, marry and raise his family on such meager salary instead of abiding by the wishes of the much senior Browning to tend to the family’s sugar plantation in West Indies. It is because slavery is so practiced that the Browning scion found so unacceptable. Because of his defiance, Robert Senior was then disinherited by the much elder Robert.
Robert Senior is the inspiration of the young poet Robert. The family was able to build a personal library of 6,000 volumes and there the habit of reading has become an imbedded norm. Their family is considered to be a solid and middle class family that is interested in letters and poetry. Therefore most of the education and knowledge of the young poet Robert started there. He naturally became a very wide and avid reader, learning all the 50 volumes of Biographie Universelle. From a young age, the young Robert has been “crammed with all kinds of knowledge…..” (Chesterton, 2003). He has already learned about the Greek poets; the Provencal Troubadours; the Jewish Rabbi; world history. Nevertheless he attended early school in Peckham School when he turned 8 years old, still home study gave him the better of pleasures. He has already learning Italian, Greek, French and Latin by his 14th birthday. He lived a life appreciating and being pleased with knowledge and the continuing pursuing and learning of everything and anything about life.
It was in 1828 that the University of London first opened and the young Robert was among its first students. However, he only attended one semester. He was expecting more from his studying and since it considered it not sufficient, he instead returned home and continued his own studying through their own collection of books. He stayed at home to do his readings, studying, writing, publishing – until he turned 30 years.
Robert Browning the poet met an actor in 1830. He is William Macready. Robert the poet tried to write verse drama for stage plays. However, he did not meet any success in such medium. In 1833, he publishes an anonymous work – “Pauline, A Fragment of a Confession”. The work did not auger well and did not sell at all. Then Robert Browning went on a journey across Europe until St. Petersburg and returns home in 1835. That year he published “Paracelsus”. This work earned praise among the literary circles and caused the beginning of his friendship with Carlyle, W. S. Landor and other poets, critics and men of letters. Robert Browning also produced and published series of plays like “Strafford” in 1837. Again, these plays were not successful.
Robert Browning decided to visit Italy in 1838. There he publishes “Sordello” in 1840. It was badly received because it was criticized a narrative poem presented as a dramatic monologue that is meaningless. His series of books “Bells and Pomegranates” and “Pippa Passes” were published in 1841 and “Dramatic Lyrics” (that includes the highly acclaimed “My Last Duchess”) was published in 1842.
Then in 1845 he read the “Poems” by Elizabeth Barrett. Robert met Elizabeth and found love in each other. Despite the strict control of Elizabeth’s father over her, Robert and Elizabeth was able to get married in September 1846 and later eloped to Italy.
Living in Florence brought them very happy days. They were so in love and they cherished each other tremendously. They are both so inspired in their work. Elizabeth wrote about her love for Robert in the “Sonnets from the Portuguese”. Conversely, Robert wrote about his love for Elizabeth in “Men and Women”. Robert and Elizabeth Browning sired a son, Robert Barrett-Browning (nicknamed “Pen). He was born in 1849.
In 1850, Robert successfully published “Christmas Eve” and “Easter Day”. He visited Paris and London the year thereafter. He was well accepted among the literary and artistic circles in those cities. He made friends with Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Charles Kingsley and Alfred Lord Tennyson. The work of Robert Browning on “Men and Women” included his best works such as “Fra Lippo Lippi” and “Andrea del Sarto”
Even though Elizabeth is more like and popular as a poet, people began to appreciate Robert after her death in 1861. Robert’s writing became more intense because he was truly devastated by her death. Robert critically acclaimed “Collected Poems” in 1862 and “Dramatis Personae” in 1863. He became more popular when he wrote in 1869 “The Ring and the Book”. It is a masterpiece that dwells on greed, deception and murder. Sadly though the book is not widely patronized despite it being highly acclaimed.
After the death of Elizabeth, Robert decided to move back to London, together with their son, Pen. Together with Alfred Tennyson, Robert Browning are considered to be the foremost poets of their times. Even if Robert Browning continued to write even after his career peaked in the late 1860’s.
In 1869, Robert Browning proposed marriage to Lady Ashburton. Many considered this as an act of “social climbing” which earns him embarrassment. People also considered such proposal as an infidelity to Elizabeth Barrett-Browning. Therefore, Lady Ashburton refused to accept his proposal.
The remaining two decades of his life saw further publications of unrecognized works. These includes “Red-Cotton Nightcap Country”; “Dramatic Idyls”; and “The Inn Album”. Nevertheless, Robert Browning, together with one of his patron, Dr. F. J. Furnival, founded the Browning Society in 1881. It is an group that believes in the works of Robert Browning and therefore studies them.
Robert Browning died in Venice on 1889, on the very day that “Asolando”, as his final volume was published. His remains are in the Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey.
Chesterton, G.K. Robert Browning
Kessinger Publishing, 2003