ROBERT BROWNING stands, in respect to his origin and his career,
in marked contrast to the two aristocratic poets beside whose dramas
his "Blot in the 'Scutcheon" is here printed. His father was a bank
clerk and a dissenter at a time when dissent meant exclusion
from Society; the poet went neither to one of the great public schools
nor to Oxford or Cambridge; and no breath of scandal touched his name.
Born in London in 1812, he was educated largely by private tutors,
and spent two years at London University, but the influence of his
father, a man of wide reading and cultivated tastes, was probably
the most important element in his early training. He drew well,
was something of a musician, and wrote verses from an early age,
though it was the accidental reading of a volume of Shelley
which first kindled his real inspiration. This indebtedness
is beautifully acknowledged in his first published poem, "Pauline"
Apart from frequent visits to Italy, there is little of incident
to chronicle in Browning's life, with the one great exception
of his more than fortunate marriage in 1846 to Elizabeth Barrett,
the greatest of English poetesses.
Browning's dramatic period extended from 1835 to the time of his
marriage, and produced some nine plays, not all of which, however,
were intended for the stage. "Paracelsus," the first of the series,
has been fairly described as a "conversational drama," and
"Pippa Passes," though it has been staged, is essentially a poem
to read. The historical tragedy of "Strafford" has been impressively
performed, but "King Victor and King Charles," "The Return of the
Druses," "Colombe's Birthday," "A Soul's Tragedy," and "Luria,"
while interesting in many ways, can hardly be regarded as successful
stage-plays. "A Blot in the 'Scutcheon" was performed at Drury Lane,
but its chances of a successful run were spoiled by the jealousy
of Macready, the manager.
The main cause of Browning's weakness as a playwright lay in the fact
that he was so much more interested in psychology than in action.
But in the present tragedy this defect is less prominent than usual,
and in spite of flaws in construction, it reaches a high pitch
of emotional intensity, the characters are drawn with vividness,
and the lines are rich in poetry.