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Robert Browning

(1812—1889) poet

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received his education mainly in his father's large and eclectic library. The contrasting influences of his boyhood were those of his reading (particularly of Shelley, Byron, and Keats) and of his mother's strong Nonconformist piety. His first published poem, Pauline (1833), attracted little notice. Browning travelled to Russia in 1834 and made his first trip to Italy in 1838. Paracelsus (1835) was a critical success and Browning formed several important friendships, notably with J. Forster and Macready, who persuaded him to write for the stage. In 1837 his play Strafford was produced at Covent Garden. He next published Sordello (1840), whose hostile reception eclipsed his reputation for over twenty years, and Bells and Pomegranates (1841–6). He began corresponding with Elizabeth Barrett (see Browning, E. B.) in Jan. 1845, after reading and admiring 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 Sept. 1846. They lived mainly in Italy until Elizabeth's death in 1861. They had one child, Robert Wiedemann Barrett Browning (‘Pen’, 1849–1913). In 1850 Browning published Christmas‐Eve and Easter‐Day and in 1855 the masterpiece of his middle period, Men and Women, which, together with Dramatis Personae (1864), began to revive his reputation; the revival was completed by the triumph of The Ring and the Book (1868–9). Meanwhile he had returned to England. He was awarded an honorary fellowship by Balliol College, Oxford, whose master Jowett was a close friend. The Browning Society was founded in 1881. Browning's publications after The Ring and the Book were: 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), Pacchiarotto…with Other Poems (1876), The Agamemnon of Aeschylus (1877), La Saisiaz and The Two Poets of Croisic (1878), Dramatic Idyls (1879), Dramatic Idyls, Second Series (1880), Jocoseria (1883), Ferishtah's Fancies (1884), Parleyings with Certain People of Importance in Their Day (1887) and Asolando (1889). Browning issued collections of his work in 1849, 1863, 1868, and 1888–9. The most recent collected edition (1981) contains his fugitive pieces, of which the most notable are the fine unfinished poem known as ‘Aeschylus' Soliloquy’, the sonnet ‘Helen's Tower’, ‘Gerousios Oinos’, the sonnet ‘Why I am a Liberal’, and the sonnet ‘To Edward FitzGerald’ (a savage attack after Browning read a disparaging reference to his wife in one of Fitzgerald's posthumously published letters). Browning's only prose works of importance are two ‘essays’ on Chatterton (1842) and Shelley (1852). His correspondence with Elizabeth Barrett has been published, along with other separate volumes of letters. Browning died in Venice and is buried in Westminster Abbey.

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