The Life of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning

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Robert Browning

English poet, noted for his mastery of dramatic monologue. Robert Browning was long unsuccessful as a poet and financially dependent upon his family until he was well into adulthood. In his best works people from the past reveal their thoughts and lives as if speaking or thinking aloud.

"Be sure I looked up her eyes

--Happy and proud; at last I knew

Porphyria worshipped me; surprise

--Made my heart swell, and still it grew

--While I debated what to do.

That moment she was mine, mine, fair,

--Perfectly pure and good; I found

A thing to do, and all her hair

--In one long yellow string I wound

--Three times her little throat around,

And strangled her. No pain felt she;

--I am quite sure she felt no pain."

(From 'Porphyria's Lover' in Dramatic Lyrics, 1842)

Robert Browning was born in Camberwell, south London, as the son of Robert Browning, a wealthy clerk in the Bank of England, and Sarah Anna Wiedemann, of German-Scottish origin.

Robert Browning Senior had spent in his youth some time on the Caribbean island of St Kitts, where he becomes disgusted at the slaves' treatment. Back at England, he thought of a career of an artist, but eventually accepted his job at the bank. Sarah Anna loved music and gardening. The historian Thomas Carlyle called her "the true type of a Scottish gentlewoman".

Browning received scant formal education. However, his father encouraged him to read and he had access to his large (6,000 vols) library. The book collection filled most of the third storey at the family's house at New Cross. In his teens, Browning discovered Shelley, adopting the author's confessionalism in poetry. His first poems Browning wrote under the influence of Shelley, who also inspired him to adopt atheist principles for a...