English Literature Of The 19th Century:
Mrs. E. B. Browning
Historical Literature Of The Early Victorian Period
Henry Thomas Buckle
Sir Archibald Alison
Henry Hart Milman
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Mrs. E. B. Browning
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
By universal consent Mrs. Browning is the first of England's women poets. She had reached fame before her husband seemed ever likely to do so. Born Elizabeth Barrett at Carlton Hall, in Durham, in 18o6, she was taught Greek early and wrote poetry. But the breaking of a blood-vessel weakened her frame and when sent to the sea-shore she was shocked by the drowning of her brother. Unable to be removed, she lay there a year, and when at last taken to her father's house in London, she was a confirmed invalid, doomed to a darkened room. Yet she studied in many languages and composed poems, full of feeling. "The Seraphim and Other Poems" (1838) and "The Romaunt of the Page" (1839) showed her classic taste and bore some resemblance to Shelley. The two volumes of "Poems" (1844) were more original. In "A Vision of Poets," seeking to set forth the relation of suffering to genius, she gave brief description of "the dead kings of melody" from Homer to Byron.
The public, who loudly welcomed the woman singer, gave preference to the romantic "Rhyme of the Duchess May," the pathetic "Bertha in the Lane," and the grand sacred lament of "Cowper's Grave." A report of the condition of children in the factories stirred the weak invalid to rouse the slumbering humanity of England with "The Cry of the Children." The long narrative of "Lady Geraldine's Courtship," in which she alluded flatteringly to Browning's "Pomegranates," had a romantic sequel in fact. The robust young poet called to express his thanks, was permitted to see the invalid on her sofa, be-came a frequent visitor, and persuaded the prisoner to marry him even against her family's wishes. Restored by love to unexpected strength, she went with him to Florence. Full expression of her passionate love to her husband was given in her pretended translations, called "Sonnets from the Portuguese :"
A mystic shape did move
The revolutionary movements in Italy excited the poet's interest, and her feeling at what she witnessed is expressed in "Casa Guidi Windows." Other political poems followed, but more labor was devoted to the long novel in blank verse, "Aurora Leigh" (1856). The chief characters are an Italian girl, highly endowed by nature, but trained in the English method, and an English gentle-man compelled to forfeit her love because of his guilt toward a young countrywoman. In spite of its fervid energy, the poem could not long maintain its hold on popular sympathy. The gifted author died in June, 1861.
While Mrs. Browning by her pathetic sentiment early won general favor, critics who admired her poetic genius could not overlook her faults. She possessed an original metrical faculty and must have been a careful observer of nature before she was confined to her sick-room. But she allowed her fluency to carry her poems to excessive length, and used strange and superfluous words. She was careless about rhyme, not only using mere vowel rhyme, but compelling vulgar or ridiculous pronunciation. Her greatest failure was her attempt to put a whole novel into verse. Yet Swinburne has lately in his energetic fashion, declared again his high admiration for "Aurora Leigh." But this and many of her shorter pieces are forgotten by the public, while memory lingers on her lyrical and narrative poems.