Monday 7 May 2012

Robert Browning, 200 Years Old

Today is the bicentenary of the birth of Robert Browning, an occasion doomed to be all but unnoticed in the blaze of celebration surrounding 2012's other literary bicentennial boy, 'the Inimitable', Charles Dickens. I suppose Browning was never popular in the way Dickens was, despite a clutch of well loved poems - and with the passage of time, he has become more of a writers' writer, enjoyed by a discerning few. The sheer volume of his output, and the length of many of his best poems, is in itself off-putting, but he's worth the effort - at least the poetry of his prime is, and in particular the great dramatic monologues. This was a form he more or less invented, and he brought it to a high pitch of perfection. Here is one of the best, in which the Florentine painter Fra Lippo Lippi (that's a self-portrait - probably - above) is caught in an embarrassing position and, after talking himself out of trouble, launches into a wide-ranging, supple, vividly worded meditation on Life and Art, God and the nature of Beauty. It's long, but hurl yourself in and keep going - reading it, as with so much of Browning at his best, is a bracing, cheering and enriching experience...
'If you get simple beauty and naught else,
You get about the best that God invents.'


  1. "I'm terribly sorry but I can't remember me own verses..."
    An 1889 cylinder recording of Browning is available at the Public Domain Review:

  2. Frank - that is truly wonderful! Thank you.