ROBERT BROWNING was born in 1812 in Camberwell, south London. His father, Robert Browning Senior was a man of considerable sensitivity and artistic talent who supported his son's ambitions to be a poet. His mother was Sarah Anna Wiedemann, of German and Scots extraction; she, too, loved the arts, music and gardening. She was called by Thomas Carlyle, a "true type of Scottish gentlewoman."
THE YOUNGER BROWNING displayed talent for writing early on, and was recognized by such Victorian men of letters as Carlyle and John Ruskin; at first, however, popular success eluded him. He had slight formal education but access to his father's library of over 6,000 volumes of books. In his teens, Browning became acquainted with the work of the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. For a brief time, Browning attended London University.
STILL IN HIS TWENTIES, Browning visited Italy, its culture, history and landscape would remain a major influence on his life and writing. He is credited with the creation of a new form in poetry, the "dramatic monologue," narrated lyrics that take the voice of a speaker whose conflicts and character are revealed as the poems unfold.
IN EARLY 1845, Browning began a correspondence with the well-known poet Elizabeth Barrett after her cousin, John Kenyon, sent Robert one of her poems that contained an admiring reference to his work. They corresponded for several months, until an invitation ensued to visit Elizabeth at her father's house in Wimpole Street. Elizabeth--an invalid likely suffering from tuberculosis--was six years Robert Browning's senior, yet their friendship blossomed into a passionate romance. For eighteen months they exchanged letters--rich in references and personal detail--that have won a beloved place in the English literary canon. Edward Moulton Barrett, Elizabeth's father, was a classic Victorian petty tyrant who refused to allow his eleven grown sons and daughters even to consider marriage. The courtship was carried out cautiously right under his nose; had suspicions been aroused, Browning woudl have been denied access to the house and Elizabeth.
AS ELIZABETH'S HEALTH improved, they decided to elope. A secret marraige in the parish church near the Barrett home took place in 1846 and was followed by a few days of preparation until they escaped to the European continent. For fifteen years, they lived motly in Florence, Italy, in a community of other English expatriates. The weather did Elizabeth great good; after three years, she gave birth to Robert Wiedemann Browning, a son they called "Peni" or "Pen." Subsequent miscarriages followed Pen's birth, weakening Elizabeth until she finally succumbed to her chronic illness in June 1861.
EMOTIONALLY DEVASTATED, Browning fled Italy. "I shall live out the remainder of my life," he said, "in her direct influence, endeavoring to complete mine, miserably imperfect now." He returned to England with his son and spent the remaining three decades, becoming (along with Alfred Lord Tennyson) one of the most respected late-Victorian poets. In 1881, a group of admirers led by F. J. Furnivall formed the London Browing Society to promote Robert Browning's work. Browning died in 1889 while visiting his son in Venice; his body was rturned to England and interred in Westminster Abbey.
WORKS BY ROBERT BROWNING
1833 Pauline: A Fragment of a Confession
1841 Pippa Passes
1841-46 Bells and Pomegranates
1842 Dramatic Lyrics
1842 King Victor and King Charles
1842 The Return of the Druses
1843 A Blort on the 'Scutcheon'
1844 Colombe's Birthday
1845 Dramatic Romances and Lyrics
1845 Dramatic Lyrics and Romances
1846 Luria and a Soul's Tragedy
1850 Christmas-Eve and Easter-Day
1855 Men and Women
1864 Dramatis Personae
1868-69 The Ring and the Book
1871 Balaustion's Adventure
1871 Prince Hohenstiel-Schwangau
1872 Fifine at the Fair
1873 Red Cotton Night-Cap Country
1875 The Inn Album
1875 Aristophanes' Apology
1877 Translator: "Agamemnon" by Aeschylus
1878 La Saisiaz
1878 The Two Poets of Croisic
1879-80 Dramatic Idylls
1884 Ferishtah's Fancies
1887 Parleyings with Certain People of Importance in Their Day
1845-46 The Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning (Two Volumes, edited by Robert B. Browning)