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A History of Nineteenth Century Literature (1780-1

And Asolando contained several


to this time, the thirty-first year from the publication of _Pauline_, Browning's work, though by no means scanty, could hardly be called voluminous as the result of half a lifetime of absolute leisure. A little before _Dramatis Personae_--itself not a long book, though of hardly surpassed quality--the whole of the poems except _Pauline_ had been gathered into three small but thick volumes, which undoubtedly did very much to spread the poet's fame--a spread much helped by their immediate successors. The enormous poem of _The Ring and the Book_, originally issued in four volumes and containing more than twenty thousand verses, was published in 1869, and, the public being by this time well prepared for it, received a welcome not below its merits. Having at last gained the public ear, Mr. Browning did not fail to improve the occasion, and of the next fifteen years few passed without a volume, while some saw two, from his pen. These, including translations of the _Alcestis_ and the _Agamemnon_ (for the poet was at this time seized with a great fancy for Greek, which he rendered with much fluency and a very singular indulgence in a sort of hybrid and pedantic spelling of proper names), were _Balaustion's Adventure_ and _Prince Hohenstiel-Schwangau_ (1871), _Fifine at the Fair_ (1872), _Red Cotton Night-Cap Country_ (1873), _Aristophanes' Apology_ and _The Inn Album_ (1875), _Pacchiarotto and how he Worked in Distemper_ (1876), _La Saisiaz_ (1878), _Dramatic Idylls_, two volumes (1879-80),
_Jocoseria_ (1883), and _Ferishtah's Fancies_ (1884). The five remaining years of Browning's long life were somewhat less fruitful; but _Parleyings with Certain People of Importance_ came in 1887, and at the end of 1889, almost simultaneously with his death in Italy, _Asolando_, which some think by far his best volume since _Dramatis Personae_, a quarter of a century older. These volumes occasionally contained a few, and _Asolando_ contained several, of the lovely lyrics above referred to. But the great bulk of them consisted of the curious blank verse, now narrative, now ostensibly dramatic monologue, which the poet had always affected, and which he now seemed to affect more and more. In them, too, from _The Ring and the Book_ onwards, there appeared a tendency stronger than ever to an eccentric and almost burlesque phraseology, which at one time threatened to drown all his good qualities, as involution of thought had threatened to drown them in the _Sordello_ period. But this danger also was averted at the last.

Critical estimate of Browning's poetry was for years hampered by, and cannot even yet be said to have been quite cleared from, the violent prepossessions of public opinion respecting him. For more than a generation, in the ordinary sense, he was more or less passionately admired by a few devotees, stupidly or blindly ignored by the public in general, and persistently sneered at, lectured, or simply disliked by the majority of academically educated critics. The sharp revulsion of his later years has been noticed; and it amounted almost to this, that while dislike to him in those who had intelligently, if somewhat narrowly, disapproved of his ways was not much affected, a Browning _cultus_, almost as blind as the former pooh-poohing or ignoring, set in, and extended from a considerable circle of ardent worshippers to the public at large. A "Browning Society" was founded in 1881, and received from the poet a kind of countenance which would certainly not have been extended to it by most English men of letters. During his later years handbooks solemnly addressed to neophytes in Browningism, as if the cult were a formal science or art, appeared with some frequency; and there has been even a bulky _Browning Dictionary_, which not only expounds the more recondite (and, it is fair to say, tolerably frequent) allusions of the master, but provides for his disciples something to make up for the ordinary classical and other dictionaries with which, it seemed to be presumed, their previous education would have made them little conversant.

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