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On this day in history in 1889, died Robert Browning.
Browning was a Nineteenth Century poet who became famous not only for his poetical works but also his romance with poetess Elizabeth Barrett.
Browning received little by way of formal education but he did have access to his father’s library of some 6000 volumes from which he gained some knowledge of Latin and Greek and a smattering of English literature. After leaving London University after half a session, Browning took to writing plays and poetry. His early work was a complete failure. John Stuart Mill savaged one piece as ‘intense and morbid self-consciousness’.
In 1845, Browning met the poetess, Elizabeth Barrett, an invalid under the care of her overbearing and over-protective father. Browning visited Elizabeth on several occasions, at her home in Wimpole Street, Marylebone, and, unbeknown to Elizabeth’s father, their love for each other blossomed. When Elizabeth was advised by a doctor to travel to Italy for her health’s sake, Mr Barrett refused to countenance the idea. Browning conceived a plot to elope and the pair left the Barrett household in the dead of night and were married secretly and fled to Pisa.
The Brownings lived happily in Italy for many years. They had a son, Robert (known as Pen). They produced only a moderate supply of verses. Browning wrote a piece on his nostalgia for home beginning:--
‘Oh, to be in England, now that April’s there’
Elizabeth’s clinical condition was improved by her sojourn in a Mediterranean climate but the recovery did not last. In 1861, she became suddenly ill and died in her husband’s arms. Browning and his young son returned to London.
On his return home, Browning published his wife’s last poems and then, having nothing else to fill his time, began writing himself. Browning had written little of merit before his marriage and practically nothing whilst he was married. During widowhood he became prolific. His great masterpiece, The Ring and The Book, occupied four volumes. His last work, Asolando, was published on the day of his death.
Browning is buried in Westminster Abbey. Elizabeth is buried in Florence (Protestant Cemetery). Browning was the first person to have his voice heard posthumously. Eddison recorded Browning reading one of his own works in 1889 and replayed it to an audience shortly after his death.
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