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ROBERT BROWNING

1812-1889
English

"So, fall asleep love, loved by me... for I know love, I am loved by thee."

Robert Browning was born on 7th May 1812 in Camberwell, England, the first son of Robert and Sarah Anna Browning. His father was a well-paid clerk for the Bank of England, earning about £150 per year. Browning’s paternal grandfather was a wealthy slave owner in St Kitts, West Indies, but Browning’s father was an abolitionist. Browning's father had been sent to the West Indies to work on a sugar plantation. Revolted by the slavery there, he returned to England. Browning’s mother was a musician.

By twelve, Browning had written a book of poetry which he later destroyed when no publisher could be found. After attending several private schools, he began to be educated by a tutor, having demonstrated a strong dislike for institutionalized education. Browning was a good student, and by the age of fourteen he was fluent in French, Greek, Italian and Latin. He became a great admirer of the Romantic poets, especially Shelley. Following the precedent of Shelley, Browning became an atheist and vegetarian, both of which he gave up later. At the age of sixteen, he attended University College London but left after his first year.

Browning's poetry was known to the cognoscenti from fairly early on in his life, but he remained relatively obscure as a poet till his middle age. In Florence he worked on the poems that eventually comprised his two-volume Men and Women, for which he is now well known; in 1855, however, when these were published, they made little impact. It was only after his wife's death, in 1861, when he returned to England and became part of the London literary scene, that his reputation started to take off.

In 1868, after five years work, he completed and published the long blank-verse poem The Ring and the Book, and finally achieved really significant recognition. It is based on a convoluted murder-case from 1690s Rome, and is composed of twelve books, essentially ten lengthy dramatic poems narrated by the various characters in the story, showing their individual perspectives on events, bookended by an introduction and conclusion by Browning himself. Extraordinarily long, even by Browning's own standards (over twenty thousand lines), The Ring and the Book was the poet's most ambitious project and has been praised as a tour de force of dramatic poetry. Published separately in four volumes from November 1868 through to February 1869, the poem was a huge success both commercially and critically, and finally brought Browning the renown he had sought and deserved for nearly forty years.

In the remaining years of his life Browning travelled extensively. After a series of long poems published in the early 1870s, of which Fifine at the Fairand Red Cotton Night-Cap Country were the best-received, Browning again turned to shorter poems. He died at his son's home Ca' Rezzonico in Venice on 12 December 1889, the same day Asolando was published.

TITLES BY ROBERT BROWNING

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