Robert Browning one of the major poets of the Victorian Age was born in a rich family in London. He chose poetry as his vocation; but his early poems attracted little attention. In 1846 he married the poet Elizabeth Barrett and went to live with her in Italy, where he wrote most of his great poems.
But after his wife’s death in 1861, he returned to England and settled down to a quiet uneventful life wholly devoted to literature. Fame and recognition came to him gradually, and by the time he died in 1889, he was acknowledged as one of the greatest poets of the nineteenth century. Browning has been described as a poet among philosophers and a philosopher among poets.
His father and paternal grandfather were bank clerks, his maternal grandfather was a merchant and they were dissenters in religion. Browning combined several racial strains of blood, but, what is more important, his immediate progenitors, though engaged in financial and commercial employments, were people of marked intellectuality and individuality. He was not sent to any of the public schools nor to either of the universities and is thus one of the exceptions in the great body of English writers. He was, however, carefully educated at home, and in 1827 attended for a short time the Greek class at the University of London. He had heard of Shelley and begged his mother to procure his poems, and it is a noteworthy fact that when she inquired for them none of the local booksellers knew of the name. She was able, however, after some search, to procure everything Shelley had written.
A born optimist, he had firm faith in God and belief in the immortality of the soul. He held that a man should hitch his wagon to the stars, for the nobility of life lies not in achievement but aspiration. He was also a great poet of love who projected this passion as the highest elevating experience available to man in this world. He had a psychologist’s interest in men and women and he sought to present his work in the fascinating drama of the human mind. His poetry excels in a wealth of ideas, in dramatic quality and psychological insight, but it suffers from obscurity and harshness of language.
In 1832 Browning published a poem, “Pauline”, which, though immature, received some slight appreciative notice, and in 1835 the young poet, published a longer blank-verse poem, “Paracelsus”, a work of decided original force. It was many years before Browning received any public recognition of his prowess. As his income was sufficient for his support and he was cheered by the approval of a few appreciative judges, he continued to write. A drama from his pen on the fate of Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford, was brought out on the stage with indifferent success. In 1840 he published “Sordello,” a semi epic poem of great length, depicting the career of an artistic soul. This is generally regarded as the most obscure and, enigmatical of his poems.
Between 1841 and 1846 a publisher Moxon by name, brought out eight numbers of the series of pamphlets entitled “Bells and Pomegranates”-Browning frequently exhibited a perverse originality in giving titles to his poems-the first of which contained the beautiful, semi-dramatic poem, “Pippa Passes” and the others, much of his best work, including “My Last Duchess”, “Waring”, “Count Gismond, “An Incident of the French Camp,” and the “Pied Piper of Hamelin.” His dramas, written with some reference to stage production, appeared in the same series- “Colombe’s Birthday” and “A Blot in the Scutcheon” are great poems and the others, “Luria”, the “Return of the Druses”, and “King Victor and King Charles”, are powerful, if slightly enigmatical.
Browning was also the inventor and chief exponent of the dramatic monologue. It is a kind of soliloquy through which a character reveals himself to a silent auditor in a dramatic situation or moment of his life. Andrea del Sarto, Abt Vogler, Rabbi Ben Ezra, and One Word More are some of Browning’s great poems in this literary form. The Last Ridetogether was first published in 1855 in the volume called Men and Women. Later it was included in Dramatic Romances (1863)
It is one of Browning’s greatest poems on love and one of the best of his dramatic monologues. It presents before us a rejected lover who has been given the privilege of a last ride with the lady he loves. As they ride side by side, the lover muses on his situation. He compares his lot with that of statesmen, soldiers, poets, musicians and sculptors and finds that his failure is just one among many. He realizes that failure is bound to come in great enterprises, and that it does not matter, for the failure of this nature is rewarded with success in heaven. Thus the poem deals with one of Browning’s favorite ideas, which “life may succeed in that it seems to fail”. All the characteristics of Browning’s art are present in this work. In fact, it is one of those poems where “Browning philosopher, the psychologist and the singer join hands”.
In 1846 he married the poet, Elizabeth Barret, and till her death in 1861 resided in Italy. The marriage was a happy one – indeed, quite ideally so-and their home in Florence was a center of poetic and refined influences. He published “Christmas Eve” and “Easter Day” in 1850, and “Men and Women” in 1855, and the long poem, “Ring and the Book”, in 1869. From I871 to 1884 he wrote a great deal, his last volume, “Asolando’, appearing in 1889, but a short time before his death.