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Robert Browning   By: (1843-1913)

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Edited by Dugald Macfadyen, M.A.

Robert Browning

[Illustration: Robert Browning, from a portrait in oil, for which he sat to R.W. Curtis at Venice 1880. ]



LITT.D., D.C.L., LL.D.



If I, too, should try and speak at times, Leading your love to where my love, perchance, Climbed earlier, found a nest before you knew, Why, bear with the poor climber, for love's sake.

Balaustion's Adventure .

Editor's Preface

"In the case of those whom the public has learned to honour and admire, there is a biography of the mind the phrase is Mr Gladstone's that is a matter of deep interest." In a life of Robert Browning it is especially true that the biography we want is of this nature, for its events are to be classed rather among achievements of the human spirit than as objective incidents, and its interest depends only in a secondary sense on circumstance or movement in the public eye. The special function of the present book in the growing library of Browning literature is to give such a biography of Browning's mind, associating his poems with their date and origin, as may throw some light on his inward development. Browning has become to many, in a measure which he could hardly have conceived possible himself, one of the authoritative interpreters of the spiritual factors in human life. His tonic optimism dissipates the grey atmosphere of materialism, which has obscured the sunclad heights of life as effectually as a fog. To see life through Browning's eyes is to see it shot through and through with spiritual issues, with a background of eternal destiny; and to come appreciably nearer than the general consciousness of our time to seeing it steadily and seeing it whole. Those who prize his influence know how to value everything which throws light on the path by which he reached his resolute and confident outlook.

It is almost possible to count on the fingers of one hand the few men who could successfully write a book of this character and scope. The Editor believes that, in the present case, one of the very few has been found who had the qualifications required. Much of the apparent obscurity of Browning is due to his habit of climbing up a precipice of thought, and then kicking away the ladder by which he climbed. Dr Dowden has with singular success readjusted the steps, so that readers may follow the poet's climb. Those who are not daunted by the Paracelsus and Sordello chapter, where the subject requires some close and patient attention, will find vigorous narrative and pellucid exposition interwoven in such a way as to keep them in intimate and constantly closer touch with the "biography of Browning's mind."



An attempt is made in this volume to tell the story of Browning's life, including, as part of it, a notice of his books, which may be regarded as the chief of "his acts and all that he did." I have tried to keep my reader in constant contact with Browning's mind and art, and thus a sense of the growth and development of his genius ought to form itself before the close.

The materials accessible for a biography, apart from Browning's published writings, are not copious. He destroyed many letters; many, no doubt, are in private hands. For some parts of his life I have been able to add little to what Mrs Orr tells. But since her biography of Browning was published a good deal of interesting matter has appeared. The publication of "The Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning" has enabled me to construct a short, close knit narrative of the incidents that led up to Browning's marriage. From that date until the death of Mrs Browning her "Letters," edited by Mr Kenyon, has been my chief source. My method has not been that of quotation, but the substance of many letters is fused, as far as was possible, into a brief, continuous story... Continue reading book >>

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