Sue Young Histories

Robert Browning 1812 - 1889

October 07, 2008

Robert Browning 1812 - 1889 was an English poet and playwright.

Robert Browning started taking homeopathic remedies for his biliousness (Katherine H Porter, Through a glass darkly: spiritualism in the Browning circle, (University of Kansas Press, 1958). Pages 52 and 114).

Robert Browning was enthusiastic about homeopathy (William Irvine, Park Honan (Eds.), The book, the ring, & the poet: a biography of Robert Browning, (McGraw-Hill, 1974). Page 351) and he took homeopathic remedies (Maisie Ward, Robert Browning and his world, Volume 1, (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1967). Page 263) and he studied homeopathy (Jacob Korg, Browning and Italy, (Ohio University Press, 1983). Page 144), and he also sent books on homeopathy to his friends (Robert Browning, New letters of Robert Browning, (Yale University Press, 1950). Page 286). His wife Elizabeth Barrett Browning was an advocate and a user of homeopathic remedies (Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Arabella Barrett, Scott Lewis (Eds.), The letters of Elizabeth Barrett Browning to her sister Arabella, Volume 2, (Wedgestone Press, 2002). Page 189), as was her sister Arabella (Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Arabella Barrett, Scott Lewis (Eds.), The letters of Elizabeth Barrett Browning to her sister Arabella, Volume 2, (Wedgestone Press, 2002). Page 258). Elizabeth was also a patient of John Elliotson (Alex Owen, The Darkened Room: Women, Power, and Spiritualism in Late Victorian England, (University of Chicago Press, 15 Apr 2004). Page 20-21).

Robert Browning was a friend of John Stuart Blackie,

The Brownings were also interested in Emanuel Swedenborg, Spiritualism, Mesmerism and hydrotherapy. (See Stephen McNeilly, In search of the absolute: essays on Swedenborg and literature, (The Swedenborg Society, 2004). Page 28. In the summer of 1855, Browning and his wife spent an evening at the Ealing home of solicitor John Snaith Rymer to witness the skills of Daniel Dunglas Home 1833 - 1886Robert Browning was disgusted and unimpressed by this experience).

Robert Browning knew a great number of homeopaths and homeopathic supporters, including Moncure Daniel Conway, William James Linton, Francis William Newman, Elizabeth von Arnim, Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon, Catharine Crowe, John Ruskin, Edwin Henry Landseer, Coutts Lindsay 2nd Baronet Trotter of Westville, James John Garth Wilkinson (Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Arabella Barrett, Scott Lewis (Ed.), The letters of Elizabeth Barrett Browning to her sister Arabella, Volume 2,(Wedgestone Press, 2002). Page 208. A copy of James John Garth Wilkinson’s, Improvisations of the Spirit, (originally published 1857, reprinted by Kessinger Publishing, 2004) was found as an unspecified lot in the Browning Collection Reconstruction A2465), Dante Gabriel Rossetti and George MacDonald.

Robert Browning also knew John Chapman who was also a friend of Moncure Daniel Conway, Alexander Bain, Charles DickensErasmus Alvey Darwin, Thomas Carlyle, Charles Babbage, Charles Darwin, Harriet Martineau, George Everest and his brother, homeopath Thomas Roupell Everest, Robert Everest (?brother of George Everest and Thomas Roupell Everest - a geographer who lived in India). George Henry Lewes and his wife George Eliot, Charles Lyell and Thomas Henry Huxley were also part of this group.

In America, Robert Browning was a frequent visitor to publisher James T Fields, one of America’s most famous publisher of American writers, and a partner in Ticknor and Fields, had a bookstore known as Parnassus Corner on Old Corner.

James T Fields literary salon was packed with the influential people of the time, including Matthew Arnold, Edwin Thomas Booth, William Cullen Bryant, George William Curtis, Horace Greeley, Bayard Taylor, Benjamin Edwards Sawyer, Louisa May Alcott, John Greenleaf Whittier, Thomas Bailey Aldrich, James Russell Lowell, Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Julia Ward Howe, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, William Makepeace Thackeray, Charles DickensHenry Wadsworth Longfellow, George Palmer Putnam, William Dean Howells, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Bret Harte, Bayard Taylor, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Mark Twain and Nathaniel Parker Willis who described Parnassus Corner as ‘the hub in which every spoke of the radiating wheel of Boston intellect had a socket.. ‘.

In 1845, Browning met Elizabeth Barrett, who lived as a semi-invalid and virtual prisoner in her father’s house in Wimpole Street. Gradually a significant romance developed between them, leading to their secret marriage and flight in 1846. (The marriage was initially secret because Elizabeth’s father disapproved of marriage for any of his children.)

From the time of their marriage, the Brownings lived in Italy, first in Pisa, and then, within a year, finding an apartment in Florence which they called Casa Guidi (now a museum to their memory).

Their only child, Robert Wiedemann Barrett Browning, nicknamed “Penini” or “Pen”, was born in 1849.

In these years Browning was fascinated by and learned hugely from the art and atmosphere of Italy. He would, in later life, say that ‘Italy was my university’. The Brownings also bought a home in Asolo, in the Veneto outside Venice, and in a cruel irony the poet Browning died on the day that the Town Council approved the purchase.

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 the middle of the century, Alfred Lord Tennyson was much better known).

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. Based on a convoluted murder case from 1690s Rome, the poem is composed of twelve books, essentially comprising ten lengthy dramatic poems narrated by the various characters in the story showing their individual take on events as they transpire, 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 hailed 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 of work.

In the remaining years of his life he traveled extensively and frequented London. Few of his later poems gained the popularity of The Ring and the Book, and they are largely unread today. However, Browning’s later work has been undergoing a major critical re-evaluation in recent years, and much of it remains of interest for its poetic quality and psychological insight.

After a series of long poems published in the early 1870s, of which Fifine at the Fair and Red Cotton Night-Cap Country were the best-received, Browning again turned to shorter poems. The volume Pacchiarotto, and How He Worked in Distemper included a spiteful attack against Browning’s critics, especially the later Poet Laureate Alfred Austin.

According to some reports Browning became romantically involved with Lady Ashburton, but did not re-marry. In 1878, he returned to Italy for the first time in the seventeen years since Elizabeth’s death, and returned there on several occasions.

The Browning Society was formed for the appreciation of his works in 1881.

In 1887, Browning produced the major work of his later years, Parleyings with Certain People of Importance In Their Day. It finally presented the poet speaking in his own voice, engaging in a series of dialogues with long forgotten figures of literary, artistic, and philosophic history. Once more, the Victorian public was baffled by this, and Browning returned to the short, concise lyric for his last volume, Asolando (1889).

He died at his son’s home Ca’ Rezzonico in Venice on 12 December 1889, the same day Asolando was published, and was buried in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey; his grave now lies immediately adjacent to that of Alfred Lord Tennyson.


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