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Browning, Robert

Browning, Robert (1812-1889), English poet, noted for perfecting the dramatic monologue (literary composition in which the speaker reveals his or her character). Browning was born in Camberwell, London. He had almost no formal education after the age of 14 and was largely selftaught. Browning's unremarkable first collection, Pauline: A Fragment of a Confession, appeared anonymously in 1833. It was noticed in a few journals, particularly by John Stuart Mill who remarked on the author's intense and morbid self-consciousness. It was followed by a dramatic poem, Paracelsus (1835), that brought him into prominence among the literary figures of the day. Paracelsus was based on the life of the German-Swiss alchemist Philippus Paracelsus and 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, and his work was often criticized for its obscurity. Alfred, Lord Tennyson is reported to have said that he could only understand two lines in Browning's early poem Sordello (1840), and that both of them were lies: Who will may hear Sordello's story told and Who would has heard Sordello's story told. Between 1841 and 1846 Browning published a series of eight pamphlets with the collective title

Bells and Pomegranates, and in poems such as My Last Duchess and The Bishop Orders His
Tomb at Saint Praxed's Church it was clear that he was beginning to develop his distinctive, mature stylestill dense and compressed, yet with a profound understanding of complex human motives. His Dramatic Lyrics (1842) include the popular The Pied Piper of Hamelin, while

Dramatic Romances and Lyrics (1845) is remembered for How They Brought the Good News from
Ghent to Aix, and Home-Thoughts, from Abroad, with its famous lines: Oh, to be in England! Now that April's there, And whoever wakes in England Sees, some morning, unaware, That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf, While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough In England - now! In 1846 Browning married the poet Elizabeth Barrett after correspondence in praise of her poetry led to their meeting and courtship. 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, Browning wrote Christmas Eve and Easter-Day (1850) and a series of
dramatic monologues, published collectively as Men and Women (1855), which includes Fra Lippo Lippi and Andrea del Sarto, studies of Renaissance artists, as well as perhaps his most famous and certainly one of his most difficult poems, the richly symbolic Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came, which Browning claimed came to him in a kind of dream.

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 vols., 18681869) which finally gained him the recognition of a wider audience. 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. Browning published numerous other collections and in 1878 returned to Italy, where his only son had 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. Many readers, both now and during Browning's lifetime, have found difficulty with his deliberate roughness of metre, his use of archaisms, and his sometimes tortuous syntax, yet his experiments in form, as well as his considerable technical skill, have greatly influenced modern poets, in particular T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound. According to the critic Lord David Cecil, Browning may be looked upon as the original English ancestor of the modernist school of English poetry. He will certainly be remembered for his bursts of brilliant phrase-making, many of his coinages and expressions having passed into common currency: Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, Or what's a heaven for? (Andrea del Sarto); But, thanks to wine-lees and democracy,/ We've still our stage where truth calls spade a spade! (Aristophanes' Apology); It was roses, roses, all the way (The Patriot). Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia. 1993-2004 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.