Robert Browning was born, in 1812, at Camberwell; and after a careful education, not at either of the universities, (for he was a dissenter,) he went at the age of twenty to Italy, where he eagerly studied the history and antiquity to be found in the monasteries and in the remains of the mediaeval period. He also made a study of the Italian people. In 1835 he published a drama called Paracelsus, founded upon the history of that celebrated alchemist and physician, and delineating the conditions of philosophy in the fifteenth century. It is novel, antique, and metaphysical: it exhibits the varied emotions of human sympathy; but it is eccentric and obscure, and cannot be popular. He has been called the poet for poets; and this statement seems to imply that he is not the poet for the great world.
In 1837 he published a tragedy called Strafford; but his Italian culture seems to have spoiled his powers for portraying English character, and he has presented a stilted Strafford and a theatrical Charles I.
In 1840 appeared Sordello, founded upon incidents in the history of that Mantuan poet Sordello, whom Dante and Virgil met in purgatory; and who, deserting the language of Italy, wrote his principal poems in the Provencal. The critics were so dissatisfied with this work, that Browning afterwards omitted it in the later editions of his poems. In 1843 he published a tragedy entitled A Blot on the ’Scutcheon, and a play called The Dutchess of Cleves. In 1850 appeared Christmas Eve and Easter Day. Concerning all these, it may be said that it is singular and sad that a real poetic gift, like that of Browning, should be so shrouded with faults of conception and expression. What leads us to think that many of these are an affectation, is that he has produced, almost with the simplicity of Wordsworth, those charming sketches, The Good News from Ghent to Aix, and An Incident at Ratisbon.
Among his later poems we specially commend A Death in the Desert, and Pippa Passes, as less obscure and more interesting than any, except the lyrical pieces just mentioned. It is difficult to show in what manner Browning represents his age. His works are only so far of a modern character that they use the language of to-day without subsidizing its simplicity, and abandon the old musical couplet without presenting the intelligible if commonplace thought which it used to convey.
OTHER POETS OF THE LATEST PERIOD.
Reginald Heber, 1783-1826: a godly Bishop of Calcutta. He is most generally known by one effort, a little poem, which is a universal favorite, and has preached, from the day it appeared, eloquent sermons in the cause of missions—From Greenland’s Icy Mountains. Among his other hymns are Brightest and Best of the Sons of the Morning, and The Son of God goes forth to War.