When Louis Napoleon is found to cut the knot instead of untying it - Ba approves - I demur. Still, one must not be pedantic and overexacting, and if the end justifies the beginning, the illegality of the step may be forgotten in the prompt restoration of the law - the man may stop the clock to set it right…. Ba says…the parishioners, seven million strong, empowered him to get into the steeple and act as he pleased - while I don’t allow that they were… at liberty to speak their judgment.
(Letter of Browning to George Barrett, 4 February 1852) 1
In 1846 Browning married Elizabeth Barrett and became an ex-patriot poet, living in Italy until her death in 1861. Men and Women (1855) might suggest, therefore, a decisive break with the past. The old radical formation is left behind. Politics are displaced by aesthetics, public drama by private lyrics of love. Idiosyncratic, bizarre, arcane, the language and structure of the poems could signify a retreat into privacy. But, as the above quotation suggests, Browning and his wife were intensely committed to politics, European politics. In their perpetual political disagreements, Browning always took a more radical line, as in the dispute over the coup of Louis Napoleon in 1852. It is this ‘European’ progressivism which made conservative critics in England uncomfortable.
Mr Browning has lived the greater part of his literary life in Italy. The colouring of his mind and the colouring of his work are alike Italian…. If Mr Browning had studied England and the English character as faithfully and successfully as he has studied Italy and Italian character, his position as an English poet would have been other than it now is.
This was how Walter Bagehot saw Browning, reviewing The Ring and the