Friday, May 7, 2010

Notes For May 7th, 2010

This Day In Writing History

On May 7th, 1812, the famous British poet and playwright Robert Browning was born in Camberwell, London, England. His father was a well-paid clerk for the Bank of England who had amassed a collection of around 6,000 books, most of them rare. Thus, Browning was raised in an intellectual family with a passion for literature.

When he was twelve years old, Browning wrote his first book of poetry. Unable find a publisher, he destroyed it. He attended private schools, but soon developed a fierce hatred of institutionalized education. He was then educated at home by tutors. An outstanding student, he became fluent in French, Greek, Italian, and Latin by the age of fourteen. At sixteen, he enrolled at University College, London, but left after his first year.

In 1845, Browning met poet Elizabeth Barrett. Six years his senior, her health problems (chronic lung disease) had left her a semi-invalid. She lived in her father's house on Wimpole Street. Despite her poor health, she and Browning fell in love. The following year, Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett secretly eloped (her father had forbade all of his children from marrying) and fled to Italy, living first in Pisa, then in Florence.

Three years later, Elizabeth gave birth to their only child, Robert Barrett Browning, known by his childhood nickname, Pen. Robert Browning loved Italy and was fascinated by its art and literature. While living in Florence, he worked on the poems that would appear in his first major poetry collection, the two-volume Men and Women (1855). The collection would include classic poems such as Love Among the Ruins and Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came, which would inspire horror master Stephen King to write his Dark Tower series of fantasy novels featuring Roland of Gilead, the Last Gunslinger.

Around this time, while Robert Browning's name was known by the cognoscenti, (he had written plays in verse and dramatic monologues) he remained an obscure poet until 1861, when he returned to England following the death of his wife. He became part of the London literati and his reputation took off. By 1868, after five years of work, he completed and published The Ring and the Book, an epic blank verse poem comprised of twelve "books."

Based on a real crime that took place in Rome in 1698, the story, which is narrated by various characters, tells of an impoverished nobleman, Count Guido Franceschini, who is convicted of murdering his wife and her parents. The Count supposedly committed the murders as an act of revenge after discovering that his wife Pompilia was having an affair with a young priest, Father Giuseppe Caponsacchi. Despite the Count's protests of innocence, he is found guilty and sentenced to death. He appeals to Pope Innocent XII to overturn the conviction, but the pontiff denies his request.

Steeped deep in philosophy, psychology, and spiritual insight, The Ring and the Book was rightfully considered a work of genius - a masterpiece of dramatic verse. It was also Browning's best selling work during his lifetime - a huge commercial and critical success that brought him the renown he had sought for 40 years.

Browning spent his last years traveling extensively. He continued to write, publishing a series of long poems, then returning to collections of shorter verse. His last major work, Parleyings with Certain People of Importance In Their Day, was published in 1887. In it, the poet speaks in his own voice as he engages in a series of dialogues with long forgotten figures from the worlds of art, literature, and philosophy. Highly regarded today, Parleyings baffled Browning's Victorian readers.

For his last published work, Asolando, Robert Browning returned to traditional form and wrote another collection of short poems. The book was published on the day he died, December 12th, 1889. He was 77 years old.

Quote of the Day

"Ignorance is not innocence, but sin." - Robert Browning

Vanguard Video

Today's video features a reading of Robert Browning's classic poem, Porphyria's Lover. Enjoy!

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