Robert Browning was a famous English poet of the Victorian Age. He was born on May 7, 1812 in Camberwell in south-east London. His father, Robert Browning with whom the poet shared his name was a scholar and by profession a clerk with the Bank of England. His mother, Sarah Anna Wiedemann, a woman of German-Scottish origin, was a sensitive artist. Instead of attending any regular school, Browning received his education mainly in his father’s library. Gradually, he became interested in literature and arts.
He learnt Greek poetry and elementary painting, as well as riding, boxing, and dancing. He wrote Incondita, a volume of lyric poems when he was only twelve. By the age of fourteen, he acquired fluency in French, Greek, Italian and Latin. When he was sixteen, he went to study Greek at University College, London. But he left after the first year and returned home.
His first published poem, Pauline, appeared in 1833. He also wrote some plays, but he was not as successful as a playwright. Paracelsus (1835) was a critical success, as a result of which Browning formed several important friendships, nota-
bly with John Forster and William Macready, who persuaded him to write for the stage; he also met Thomas Carlyle, Charles Dickens, and Alfred Tennyson. In 1837 his play Strafford was produced at Covent Garden. The obscurity of his next published poem, Sordello (1840), led to a hostile reception that eclipsed his reputation for over twenty years. Bells and Pomegranates was completed by 1846.
He began corresponding with Elizabeth Barrett in January 1845 when, after returning from his second trip to Italy, he read and admired her 1844 Poems. He met her first in 1845; their relationship had to be kept a secret from her father, and they finally married and eloped to Italy in September 1846. They lived mainly in Italy (first in Pisa and then in Florence) until Elizabeth’s death in 1861. They had one child, Robert Wiedemann Barrett Browning (Pen’, 1849-1913). In 1845, he met Elizabeth Barrett after reading her Poems. In 1846, they got married and fled to Italy, and lived there until Elizabeth’s death in 1861. After that Browning moved to London.
In his pursuit of a new form of poetry, Browning came up with a form known as ‘dramatic monologue‘ which brought him fame. During his lifetime, he was much honoured. The Browning Society was founded in 1881. He was awarded Honorary Degrees by the Oxford University in 1882 and the University of Edinburg in 1884. His last volume of verse, Asolando, was published on the day of his death. He died in Venice on December 12, 1889.
Browning’s poetic career can be divided into four periods.
1st Period (1832-1846):
In this period, Browning was in search of a new form of literary style to express his thoughts in writing. Major works of this period are Pauline (1833), Paracelsus (1835), Strafford(1837), Sordello (1840), Bells and Pomegranates (1841-46), Dramatic Romances and Lyrics (1845).
2nd Period (1846-1869):
This is the period of his most fruitful works. In this phase, he wrote Christmas-Eve and Easter Day (1850), Men and Women (1855), Dramatis Personae (1864), The Ring and the Book (1868-69).
3rd Period (1869-1876) :
In this period, Browning is a thinker. Major works of this period are Balaustion’s Adventure (1871), Prince Hohenstiel- Schwangau (1871), Fifine at the Fair (1872), Red Cotton Night-cap Country (1873), Aristophanes’ Apology (1875), The Inn Album (1875), etc.
4th Period (1876-1889):
The best work of this period is Asolando (1889).
Also read: Robert Browning’s Last Ride Together as a Dramatic Monologue