May 7

This Day in History

Literary

May 7, 1812:

Robert Browning is born

Poet Robert Browning is born on this day in 1812 in Camberwell, outside London.

The son of a bank clerk and a musical, religious mother, Robert Browning attended boarding school and studied briefly at the University of London before returning to his parents' home to continue his education with tutors. He read extensively, learned foreign languages as well as boxing and horsemanship, and began writing poetry. However, his early poetry, based on Shelley's confessional style, was harshly criticized, and he abandoned poetry for drama.

Browning found no more success as a playwright than as a poet, but he did encounter a new form, the dramatic monologue, the form that his most successful poetry would take. Although Browning began to associate with well-known poets, his Dramatic Lyrics (1842) failed to win the critics' hearts. His poetry did win praise, however, from the respected poet Elizabeth Barrett.

Browning wrote Barrett to express gratitude for her public praise and to ask if they could meet. Despite her initial reluctance, the two eventually met and fell in love. However, the sickly Barrett was held a virtual prisoner by her tyrannical father. The couple eloped in 1846 to Italy, where they lived happily for 15 years, writing poetry and producing a son. During her lifetime, Elizabeth Barrett Browning's reputation as a poet overshadowed that of her spouse, who was sometimes referred to as "Mrs. Browning's husband." Elizabeth died in her husband's arms in 1861, and he returned to England with their son.

In England, Browning became an avid socialite, frequently dining out with friends. By now, his poetry had gained recognition and renown. In 1868, he published a remarkable 12-volume poem called The Ring and the Book, about a real 17th century murder trial in Rome. The book included monologues from many different points of view. Browning died in 1889.

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