Robert Browning

Advanced Search

Robert Browning (1812-1889), English playwright and master of dramatic dialogue poetry wrote “A Death in the Desert”, “My Last Dutchess”, and “A Grammarian’s Funeral”;

That low man seeks a little thing to do,
Sees it and does it;
This high man, with a great thing to pursue,
Dies ere he knows it.
That low man goes on adding one to one,—
His hundred’s soon hit;
This high man, aiming at a million,
Misses an unit.
That has the world here—should he need the next,
Let the world mind him!
This throws himself on God, and unperplexed
Seeking shall find him.

For many years Browning struggled to find his voice in the Victorian literary world. Charles Darwin had published his controversial theory of natural selection in The Origin of Species (1859) which was challenging orthodox beliefs; the world of religion, science, and art was in a state of change. Sometimes overshadowed by his wife Elizabeth Barrett Browning's success, Robert Browning produced collections of poetry and dramatic works for the stage, but it was not until his The Ring and The Book (published in four separate volumes between 1868 and 1869) that he finally gained financial and literary success. His profound contributions to the development of poetry through his psychological portraits and use of diction and rhythm however have long inspired poets into the twentieth century including Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, and Robert Frost.

Robert Browning was born on 7 May, 1812 in Camberwell, south-east London, England. He was the eldest child of Sarah Wiedemann, of German-Scottish descent, and Robert Browning, a wealthy clerk with the Bank of England who was also a scholar and collector of books; his massive library would be a great source of study for young Robert. Both his parents encouraged him to study and write; as early as the age of twelve Browning was writing poetry. In his literary pursuits, they would support him financially for many years. They also had a daughter, Sarianna, who would be devoted to her brother for the rest of her life.

Up to the age of sixteen Browning was tutored at home, learning French, Greek, Hebrew, Latin, and Italian, as well as studying music (his mother was an accomplished pianist), horsemanship and drawing. At the age of sixteen, he attended the University College in London but a year later left to pursue learning at his own pace. (He would later earn honorary degrees from Oxford and Edinburgh Universities, in 1882 and 1884 respectively). Browning was also studying natural history and the romantic poets like Lord George Gordon Byron, John Keats, and Percy Bysshe Shelley.

In 1833 Browning's Shelley-inspired confessional poem Pauline: A Fragment of a Confession was published anonymously by his family, though many years later he was embarrassed by its naďveté and noted “twenty years’ endurance of an eyesore seems long enough” when he revised it in 1888. In 1834 he traveled to Russia and made his first of many forays to Italy.

Paracelsus (1835);

I see my way as birds their trackless way.
I shall arrive,—what time, what circuit first,
I ask not; but unless God send his hail
Or blinding fire-balls, sleet or stifling snow,
In some time, his good time, I shall arrive:
He guides me and the bird. In his good time
.—Part i.

was Browning’s next major effort, published under his own name this time. A series of poetical monologues between Swiss alchemist, physician, and occultist Paracelsus (1493-1541) and his friends, it was a promising critical success for Browning, praised by such men of letters as Thomas Carlyle and William Wordsworth.

It was a brief taste of acclaim however, for Browning’s next publications in his Bells and Pomegranates series, including the verse drama for the stage Strafford (1837), and his narrative poem Pippa Passes (1841), were largely ignored. Aldous Huxley would later sardonically use the lines from Pippa, “God's in his heaven, All's right in the world!” in Brave New World (1932). Browning's historical poem Sordello (1840) brought an onslaught of criticism that lasted for many years. Around this time Browning also met fellow playwright and author Charles Dickens.

Dramatic Lyrics (1842) includes “Porphyria’s Lover”;

The rain set early in to-night,
The sullen wind was soon awake,
It tore the elm-tops down for spite,
And did its worst to vex the lake:
I listen'd with heart fit to break.
When glided in Porphyria; straight
She shut the cold out and the storm,
And kneel'd and made the cheerless grate
Blaze up, and all the cottage warm;

Dramatic Romances and Lyrics (1845) was another collection of his poems that would only years later be considered among his finest. Other works published around this time were the plays A Blot in the `Scutcheon: A Tragedy (1843), The Return of the Druses (1843), and A Soul’s Tragedy (1846).

In 1846 Browning married fellow English poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861). They had started a now-famous correspondence a year earlier after Browning had read and admired her Poems (1844). “I love your verses with all my heart, dear Miss Barrett,—and this is no off-hand complimentary letter that I shall write,” —January 10, 1845. “I thank you, dear Mr. Browning, from the bottom of my heart.” — January 11, 1845. The marriage was against her father’s wishes partly because he was so protective of Elizabeth and, since her teens she had suffered a lung ailment and treated as an invalid. Despite her frail health, the happy couple settled in Florence, Italy. They were devoted to each other, “for after their marriage they were never separated” writes their son in his introduction to The Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Barrett, Vol. 1 (of 2) 1845-1846. Elizabeth’s health improved and she went on to write many highly acclaimed works. The few works Browning produced in the next fifteen years or so include Christmas Eve and Easter Day (1850). Dedicated to his wife, Browning’s Men and Women (1855) includes a poem inspired by Edgar from William Shakespeare’s King Lear (and which later inspired Stephen King's Dark Tower series), “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came”;

If at his counsel I should turn aside
Into that ominous tract which, all agree,
Hides the Dark Tower. Yet acquiescingly
I did turn as he pointed, neither pride
Now hope rekindling at the end descried,
So much as gladness that some end might be.

After the death of his beloved wife Elizabeth `Ba’ , he moved back to London to live with his son Robert “Pen” Barrett Browning (1849-1912). Embraced by London’s literary circle again, Browning’s Dramatis Personae (1864) was followed by The Ring and The Book. It is a blank verse poem consisting of twelve volumes and 21,000 lines. In various voices it narrates the 1698 trial of Count Guido Franceschini of Rome who murdered his wife Pompilia Comparini and her parents. It was a best selling work during Browning’s lifetime.

When his father died in 1866 Browning lived with his sister Sarianna. In the 1870’s he continued to focus on longer works including the poems Balaustion's Adventure (1871), Fifine At The Fair (1872), and Red Cotton Night-Cap Country (1873). He also produced shorter collections including The Inn Album (1875) and Pacchiarotto and How He Worked in Distemper (1876) which includes thinly veiled attacks on his critics. His anthology The Agamemnon of Aeschylus was published in 1877.

In 1881 the Robert Browning Society was founded by enthusiasts in England and America. Parleyings with Certain People of Importance in Their Day (1887) is Browning writing in his own voice, consisting of a series of dialogues with literary, artistic and historical figures. Asolando: Fancies and Facts (1889) was published the same day that Robert Browning died at his son’s home `Ca’ Rezzonico’ in Venice, Italy, on 12 December, 1889. His wishes were to be buried beside Elizabeth in the English Cemetery in Florence, but by that time it was closed to new burials, so he rests in Poet’s Corner, Westminster Abbey, London, England, nearby Poet Laureate Lord Alfred Tennyson.

In 1889, inventor Thomas Edison had recorded Browning reading “How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix”. In 1903 Gilbert Keith Chesterton wrote his biography, Robert Browning.

Other Browning works include;

Dramatic Idyls (1879),
Dramatic Idyls: Second Series (1880), and
Jocoseria (1883).


Bells and Pomegranates. No. II - King Victor and King Charles (1842),
Balaustion's Adventure, Including a Transcript from Euripides (1871),
Prince Hohenstiel-Schwangau, Saviour of Society (1871), and
Aristophanes' Apology (1875).

Biography written by C.D. Merriman for Jalic Inc. Copyright Jalic Inc. 2006. All Rights Reserved.

The above biography is copyrighted. Do not republish it without permission.

Recent Forum Posts on Robert Browning

Quotes about Browning for the bicentennial

Robert Browning is one of my favorite poets, so I'm going to be making some posts at my blog for his bicentennial (May 7th). I'm looking for quotes about him from other writers, critics, academics or even eloquent lay readers, to make something like this lovely tribute to Dickens. If you know of any quotes, or would just like to comment on Browning, please reply.

The Man and his Work

One of the things that I so enjoy about Brownings work is the fact that it ends to lean toward the dark side so to speak. There is a haunting aspect of mystery to his work, and a suggestion of the sinsister, or just down right disturbing, and yet there is still a certain charm I find in his work. His poetry is full of murder, and deciet, and plots, and the dark side of the mind and yet his seems to go completely against his disposistion. Browning the man was a hopeless Romantic whom was completely dependent upon his wife Elizabeth and it has been said that he would often spend time just sitting with his head within her lap. So where did he get his inspiration for his work? Was he expressing some alter ego within his poetry? Or was it a way for him to express and act out agianst his nautre, and to do things he could never really do, or be something he could not be. Or was he just cynical about the state of man and mankind?

The Laboratory

I love this poem and find it quite delightful. The Laboratory ANCIEN RGIME. I. Now that I, tying thy glass mask tightly, May gaze thro' these faint smokes curling whitely, As thou pliest thy trade in this devil's-smithy--- Which is the poison to poison her, prithee? II. He is with her, and they know that I know Where they are, what they do: they believe my tears flow While they laugh, laugh at me, at me fled to the drear Empty church, to pray God in, for them!---I am here. III. Grind away, moisten and mash up thy paste, Pound at thy powder,---I am not in haste! Better sit thus, and observe thy strange things, Than go where men wait me and dance at the King's. IV. That in the mortar---you call it a gum? Ah, the brave tree whence such gold oozings come! And yonder soft phial, the exquisite blue, Sure to taste sweetly,---is that poison too? V. Had I but all of them, thee and thy treasures, What a wild crowd of invisible pleasures! To carry pure death in an earring, a casket, A signet, a fan-mount, a filigree basket! VI. Soon, at the King's, a mere lozenge to give, And Pauline should have just thirty minutes to live! But to light a pastile, and Elise, with her head And her breast and her arms and her hands, should drop dead! VII. Quick---is it finished? The colour's too grim! Why not soft like the phial's, enticing and dim? Let it brighten her drink, let her turn it and stir, And try it and taste, ere she fix and prefer! VIII. What a drop! She's not little, no minion like me! That's why she ensnared him: this never will free The soul from those masculine eyes,---Say, ``no!'' To that pulse's magnificent come-and-go. IX. For only last night, as they whispered, I brought My own eyes to bear on her so, that I thought Could I keep them one half minute fixed, she would fall Shrivelled; she fell not; yet this does it all! X. Not that I bid you spare her the pain; Let death be felt and the proof remain: Brand, burn up, bite into its grace--- He is sure to remember her dying face! XI. Is it done? Take my mask off! Nay, be not morose; It kills her, and this prevents seeing it close; The delicate droplet, my whole fortune's fee! If it hurts her, beside, can it ever hurt me? XII. Now, take all my jewels, gorge gold to your fill, You may kiss me, old man, on my mouth if you will! But brush this dust off me, lest horror it brings Ere I know it---next moment I dance at the King's!

My Last Duchess

My Last Duchess That's my last Duchess painted on the wall, Looking as if she were alive. I call That piece a wonder, now: Fr Pandolf's hands Worked busily a day, and there she stands. Will't please you sit and look at her? I said ``Fr Pandolf'' by design, for never read Strangers like you that pictured countenance, The depth and passion of its earnest glance, But to myself they turned (since none puts by The curtain I have drawn for you, but I) And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst, How such a glance came there; so, not the first Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, 'twas not Her husband's presence only, called that spot Of joy into the Duchess' cheek: perhaps Fr Pandolf chanced to say ``Her mantle laps ``Over my lady's wrist too much,'' or ``Paint ``Must never hope to reproduce the faint ``Half-flush that dies along her throat:'' such stuff Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough For calling up that spot of joy. She had A heart---how shall I say?---too soon made glad, Too easily impressed; she liked whate'er She looked on, and her looks went everywhere. Sir, 'twas all one! My favour at her breast, The dropping of the daylight in the West, The bough of cherries some officious fool Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule She rode with round the terrace---all and each Would draw from her alike the approving speech, Or blush, at least. She thanked men,---good! but thanked Somehow---I know not how---as if she ranked My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name With anybody's gift. Who'd stoop to blame This sort of trifling? Even had you skill In speech---(which I have not)---to make your will Quite clear to such an one, and say, ``Just this ``Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss, ``Or there exceed the mark''---and if she let Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse, ---E'en then would be some stooping; and I choose Never to stoop. Oh sir, she smiled, no doubt, Whene'er I passed her; but who passed without Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands; Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands As if alive. Will't please you rise? We'll meet The company below, then. I repeat, The Count your master's known munificence Is ample warrant that no just pretence Of mine for dowry will be disallowed; Though his fair daughter's self, as I avowed At starting, is my object. Nay, we'll go Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though, Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity, Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!

Robert Browning.

Anyone like him...?

A Lovers's Quarrel.

Poems by Robert Browning: 4 / 138 next poem >> A Lovers' Quarrel I. Oh, what a dawn of day! How the March sun feels like May! All is blue again After last night's rain, And the South dries the hawthorn-spray. Only, my Love's away! I'd as lief that the blue were grey, II. Runnels, which rillets swell, Must be dancing down the dell, With a foaming head On the beryl bed Paven smooth as a hermit's cell; Each with a tale to tell, Could my Love but attend as well. III. Dearest, three months ago! When we lived blocked-up with snow,--- When the wind would edge In and in his wedge, In, as far as the point could go--- Not to our ingle, though, Where we loved each the other so! IV. Laughs with so little cause! We devised games out of straws. We would try and trace One another's face In the ash, as an artist draws; Free on each other's flaws, How we chattered like two church daws! V. What's in the `Times''?---a scold At the Emperor deep and cold; He has taken a bride To his gruesome side, That's as fair as himself is bold: There they sit ermine-stoled, And she powders her hair with gold. VI. Fancy the Pampas' sheen! Miles and miles of gold and green Where the sunflowers blow In a solid glow, And---to break now and then the screen--- Black neck and eyeballs keen, Up a wild horse leaps between! VII. Try, will our table turn? Lay your hands there light, and yearn Till the yearning slips Thro' the finger-tips In a fire which a few discern, And a very few feel burn, And the rest, they may live and learn! VIII. Then we would up and pace, For a change, about the place, Each with arm o'er neck: 'Tis our quarter-deck, We are seamen in woeful case. Help in the ocean-space! Or, if no help, we'll embrace. IX. See, how she looks now, dressed In a sledging-cap and vest! 'Tis a huge fur cloak--- Like a reindeer's yoke Falls the lappet along the breast: Sleeves for her arms to rest, Or to hang, as my Love likes best. X. Teach me to flirt a fan As the Spanish ladies can, Or I tint your lip With a burnt stick's tip And you turn into such a man! Just the two spots that span Half the bill of the young male swan. XI. Dearest, three months ago When the mesmerizer Snow With his hand's first sweep Put the earth to sleep: 'Twas a time when the heart could show All---how was earth to know, 'Neath the mute hand's to-and-fro? XII. Dearest, three months ago When we loved each other so, Lived and loved the same Till an evening came When a shaft from the devil's bow Pierced to our ingle-glow, And the friends were friend and foe! XIII. Not from the heart beneath--- 'Twas a bubble born of breath, Neither sneer nor vaunt, Nor reproach nor taunt. See a word, how it severeth! Oh, power of life and death In the tongue, as the Preacher saith! XIV. Woman, and will you cast For a word, quite off at last Me, your own, your You,--- Since, as truth is true, I was You all the happy past--- Me do you leave aghast With the memories We amassed? XV. Love, if you knew the light That your soul casts in my sight, How I look to you For the pure and true And the beauteous and the right,--- Bear with a moment's spite When a mere mote threats the white! XVI. What of a hasty word? Is the fleshly heart not stirred By a worm's pin-prick Where its roots are quick? See the eye, by a fly's foot blurred--- Ear, when a straw is heard Scratch the brain's coat of curd! XVII. Foul be the world or fair More or less, how can I care? 'Tis the world the same For my praise or blame, And endurance is easy there. Wrong in the one thing rare--- Oh, it is hard to bear! XVIII. Here's the spring back or close, When the almond-blossom blows: We shall have the word In a minor third There is none but the cuckoo knows: Heaps of the guelder-rose! I must bear with it, I suppose. XIX. Could but November come, Were the noisy birds struck dumb At the warning slash Of his driver's-lash--- I would laugh like the valiant Thumb Facing the castle glum And the giant's fee-faw-fum! XX. Then, were the world well stripped Of the gear wherein equipped We can stand apart, Heart dispense with heart In the sun, with the flowers unnipped,--- Oh, the world's hangings ripped, We were both in a bare-walled crypt! XXI. Each in the crypt would cry ``But one freezes here! and why? ``When a heart, as chill, ``At my own would thrill ``Back to life, and its fires out-fly? ``Heart, shall we live or die? ``The rest. . . . settle by-and-by!'' XXII. So, she'd efface the score, And forgive me as before. It is twelve o'clock: I shall hear her knock In the worst of a storm's uproar, I shall pull her through the door, I shall have her for evermore! Robert Browning

Spirit of the age

‘My Last Duchess’ by Robert Browning is a prefect dramatic monologue. There is a suggestion that the poem relates to the Duke Alfonso II of Ferrara and the last Duchess to the wife of Alfonso II, Lucrezia de Medici. However, the poem is an imaginative genius of a highly talented poet of the Renaissance values. The dramatic monologue is appropriate for psychological analysis. The character’s words reveal his personality, mind and nature. The poem is short. Just fifty six lines are used to give a concentrated picture of a whole life time. It shows Browning’s genius for condensation. The poem is a brilliant study of the Italian Renaissance, which was marked by intrigue, avarice, hypocrisy and an exquisite taste for the arts. According to me the spirit of the age is captured through the words of a single speaker. What do you think?

Again walks, is only the world terminus at most

Loves the Li silk elder sister: Today very already gets up Rides the bicycle to go to the library Has borrowed five consciences Neo-Confucianism book Is about the personality psychology Ancient and mystical "nine columns charts" Is not willing to believe the humanity meets the type But looked after discovered the prophet already was people Opens knew oneself with understands others' key In this kind of knowledge our country already was familiar with Was only has not examined the table at that time Today has made the examination Knew oneself is belongs to the artist The second disposition is a thinker Other scores comparatively are high all are What is worth mentioning I tend to the health in the artist center direction Is walking towards the innovation direction Good is really happy yo I thought you looked the person are many Own also should understand very much oneself Why does that also have to look pursues a goal with determination book The present person most likes looking at any light Dai Ch'enchih They have written any Really has that attracts the person Looked that five has originally lain down on the bed rests Listens to not the note specially Again drinks cup of coffee Is really mysterious Listens while to drink time Outside the window flies two birds Psst grasps calls to be lovable well They on the one hand call on the other hand to hit the bat Looks like the bird also to have the hand to resemble I was merry extremely Looks like realizes the mystical feeling Did not know they are like listening to not the note specially Or likes hearing the coffee Or likes this Simultaneously has not the note special humor Also simultaneously has the coffee elegantly I They Should not be able to be the lover at a honeymoon To you said the sound morning greetings And wishes you has one day joyfully Chen Paida 2001/7/31

Robert Browning

How about some of his poetry, like the Bishop orders his tomb at saint praxed church?

Post a New Comment/Question on Browning

Quizzes on Robert Browning

Please submit a quiz here.

Related links for Robert Browning

Here is where you find links to related content on this site or other sites, possibly including full books or essays about Robert Browning written by other authors featured on this site.

    Sorry, no links available.

Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Sonnet-a-Day Newsletter
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.