A Browning Handbook

A Browning Handbook

A Browning Handbook

A Browning Handbook

Excerpt

When the first edition of this Browning Handbook was projected, twenty-five years ago, a smaller and more general book was planned. But a closer view of the scholarship which had been done upon Browning's poetry convinced me that the subject required above all else a complete and detailed treatment. An excellent biography of the poet had been written, a great number of the poet's letters had been collected, and a fair number of special studies, some of excellent quality, had been made of Browning's ideas and of separate poems. But the treatment was uneven; many of the ideas and poems were inadequately dealt with, and others were not accounted for at all. The results, moreover, were scattered in a hundred different places. Browning scholarship, in short, was not mature in the sense that the scholarship upon Chaucer, Spenser, Shakespeare, Milton, or even Wordsworth, was mature. I became convinced that what Browning scholarship needed most of all was the assembling and arrangement of all the pertinent facts concerning each one of the poems; and to accomplish this was the aim of the work. The task was too huge to be done perfectly, but it was done painstakingly. The book would serve, I hoped, as a convenient collection of materials towards the interpretation of Browning and his works, and as a point of departure for further investigations.

Factual and specific as the book aimed to be, however, I was unwilling to ignore the larger aspects of the problem, the development of the mind of Robert Browning. In my treatment of the poems I therefore adopted the chronological order of their publication -- which with Browning follows closely the order of writing -- in preference to the poet's later and somewhat arbitrary grouping of his poems. Charles Lamb's judgment upon Wordsworth's comparable attempt to build his poems into larger unities still seems to me to have been a good one: "There is only one good order, and that is the order . . .

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