Romanticism and Victorianism seen throughout Lord Byron and Robert Browning




These two poets, which I am going to compare are Robert Browning and Lord Byron.

Although they belong to two different periods in the English History they are not as different as we may think they are. Lord Byron belongs to the Romantic period whereas Robert Browning to the Victorian one.

Lord Byron was born on the 22nd January, 1788 and died on the 19th April, 1824. Although he was really young when he died, since he was only 36 years old, he was regarded as one of the greatest European poets and remains widely read.

Lord Byron lived and developed all his poetry style in the Romantic period. It is pretty difficult to find the exact definition of Romanticism since it depends so much on the point of view. According to Wikipedia, Charles Baudelaire defined The Romanticism like this: `` Romanticism is precisely situated neither in choice of subject nor exact truth, but in a way of feeling´´.

 The Romantic period was mainly characterised by the French and Industrial Revolution, what affected in a very negative way the life of the English people. This is a fact that is widely reflected in any poem of any romantic poet. William Blake told us about the Chimney Sweeper, an unhappy boy who felt abandoned by his mother, and Charles Dickens described the filthy and dirty streets of London. On the one hand the Industrial Revolution was affecting negatively the society, but on the other hand Europe was being given another chance to improve its situation. Like a Phoenix Europe had to rise from the ashes and take advantage and nourish from the modern ideas of the French Revolution.

The Romantic period was artistically very active, either in the music field or in the visual art or literature.

In music three widely famous composers, Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven are the so called ``Romantic Composers´´.

Other important composers at this time were Frederic Chopin, Richard Wagner, Schumann, Schubert and Felix Mendelssohn.

The topics these composers are going to deal with are inevitably related to the characteristics of the French and Industrial Revolution, that is, all these values such freedom, nationalism and the nature´s elements that were rising up. There were significant changes in the paintings and literature too.

Again we see the same topics: an emphasis in women, children and nature. A very important German writer developed a great part of his work in the Romantic period, Johann Wolfgang Goethe, and one of his most famous works is The sorrows of young Werther. Goethe´s works helped German people to recover the sense of nationalism that had been lost.

But if we go to the British literature the Romantic period was developed few years later. It has its base in the poets William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who were very close friends and co-authored Lyrical Ballads, in which they use a more direct speech. These two poets were involved in social and utopian topics and ideas, what is going to characterize the Romantic poets and what is going to influence the Victorian poets too.

William Blake, who was born in London and this is a very significant fact since it is going to influence not only his life but also his work. He was the most representative English Romantic poet and a clear example of the British Romantic sensibility who claimed in his world wide famous statement: `` I must create a system or be enslaved by another man´s´´

William Blake was an artist who embraced the painting too. He is influenced by medieval illuminated books. He used to illustrate his works, for instance a Bible, since he was very Catholic. His poems mainly talk about children who are oftenly described as innocent creatures. Blake didn´t have children so this might me a reason why he loves them so much. Definitely, William Blake was a very complete artist.

Other important and famous painters in this period were William Turner and John Constable.

In poetry, Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley and John Keats belong to another stage in the Romanticism in Britain. We must not forget the pre-Raphaelite brotherhood that represents the last step of the Romanticism before the Victorianism.

According to wikipedia, William Butler Yeats, born in 1865, referred to his generation as ``the last Romantics´´

In other European countries, mainly in those of Roman Catholic countries such as Portugal, Italy or Spain, the Romanticism was less accentuated and pronounced than in Germany and Britain.

In France, a very important and meaningful painting is Eugene Delacoix´s Liberty leading the people. It represents the nationalism and patriotism feeling, the freedom and the independence. In Spain there was Francisco de Goya. We cannot say that he was very important and his paintings were very relevant because actually they were not in the Romantic period since he was a misunderstood and ignored artist.

Nowadays, centuries after his death we can claim that he was important once we have interpreted and analysed his work.  

On the other hand Robert Browning lived and developed all his work in the Victorian Era. The Victorian era lasted 64 years, from 1837 until 1901 under the reign of Queen Victoria.

This was a period characterised by the progress in culture, politics, economics etc.

During the queen Victoria´s reign the country witnessed many important social changes, for instance the expansion of network of railway lines, women´s rights.

Socially, there was a subdivision into four different groups that represented the different social classes. On the top of what we could call a pyramid there is the church, secondly the aristocracy, thirdly the middle class and finally the working class.

The top class, known as the aristocracy, included the church and nobility and had great power and wealth. It included the royal family, lords spiritual and temporal, the clergy and great officers of the state. These people were privileged and avoided taxes.

The middle class or bourgeoisie was made up of factory owners, bankers, shopkeepers…These people could be sometimes extremely rich but were not privileged.

The British lower class was divided into two sections: the working class and the poor.

Prostitution was a big problem the society had to deal with. Many people were against the prostitution because of the religious and moral issues, the negative image of London that was being displayed and also because of the contagious diseases. There were more women than men, so a great number of women remained unmarried and the society did not know what to do with them.

Science was also present in the Victorian era. Gas lighting, photography, electric lights which were introduced to London streets, although it took many years before they were installed everywhere.

Poetry was still very important in the Victorian period. Many important poets lived and wrote about everything that was surrounding them and was taking place at the time they lived. For the first time we have women that are socially recognised as writers and not just as housewives.

These important poets, who developed an own and different style were: Lord Tennyson, Robert and Elizabeth Browning, Mathew Arnold and Gerard Manley Hopkins. The brother and sister Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Christina Rossetti, William Morris, Algernon Charles Swinburne, Oscar Wilde and William Butler Yeats are just the most relevant poets.

And finally, just as a curiosity, the famous serial killer Jack the Ripper who used to kill the prostitutes in the streets of London lived in the Victorian era too.


Robert Browning

Robert Browning was born in Camberwell, in London. Like many other poets of the Victorian era, Browning used to travel all around Europe, especially to Italy, where The ring and the book, his most famous work takes place in. This was a huge success. His poems mainly talk about love and women.

He lived in Italy for so many years. First in Pisa and then in Florence and finally in Venice, where he died. During that period Robert Browning became very interested and fascinated by the art and atmosphere of Italy. He also claimed once that `` Italy was my university´´

He is mainly recognised for his dramatic monologues in poetry.

In his personal life he was secretly married to Elizabeth Barrett and went to live to Italy. She was a poetess too. But in 1861 his wife Elizabeth died and he returned to London.

They had a son, Pen, and he never remarried again.

Robert Browning not only shared the typical Victorian characteristics. He was of course another poet out of his time who could not be completely understood. He was also very influenced by the seventeenth century poet John Donne because of  his abrupt openings, colloquial phrasing and irregular rhythms. Furthermore, he is said to be the descendant of Percy Shelly because of his conceit, puns and verbal play.

According to wikipedia it says that: `` His is a modern sensibility, all too aware of the arguments against the vulnerable position of one of his simple characters, who recites: ``God´s in His Heaven; All´s right with the world´´

Other important poems of Robert Browning are: Heap cassia, sandal - buds and stripes, A lover´s quarrel, Another way of love, Any wife to any husband and A pretty woman.


A light woman

So far  as our story approaches the end,

Which do you pity the most of us three?

My friend, or the mistress of my friend

With her wanton eyes, or me?


My friend was already too good to lose,

And seemed in the way of improvement yet,

When she crossed his path with her hunting-noose

And over him drew her net


When I saw him tangled in her toils,

A shame, said I, if she adds just him

To her nine-and-ninety other spoils,

The hundredth for a whim!


And before my friend be wholly hers,

How easy to prove to him, I said

An eagle´s the game her pride prefers,

Though she snaps at a wren instead!


So, I gave her eyes my own eyes to take

My hand sought hers as in earnest need,

And round she turned for my noble sake

And gave me herself indeed


The eagle I am, with my fame in the world,

The wren is she, with his maiden face.

You look away and your lip is curled?

Patience, a moment´s space!


For see, my friend goes shaling and white,

He eyes me as the basilisk

I have turned, it appears, his day to night,

Eclipsing his sun´s disk


And I did it, he thinks, as a very thief

``Though I love her--- that, he comprehends—

`` One should master one´s passions, (love, in chief)

``And be loyal to one´s friends´


And she, --- she lies in my hand as tame

As a pear late basking over a wall;

Just a touch to try and off it came;

`Tis mine, --- Can I let it fall?


With no mind to eat it, that´s the worst!

Were it thrown in the road, would the case assist?

´Twas quenching a dozen blue-flies´ thirst

when I gave its stalk a twist


And I, --- what I seem to my friend, you see

What I soon shall seem to his love, you guess:

What I seem to myself, do you ask of me?

No hero, I confess


´Tis an awkward thing to play with souls

and matter enough to save one´s own

Yet think of my friend, and the burning coals

He played with for bits of stone!


One likes to show the truth for the truth;

That the woman was light is very true:

But suppose she says, --- Never mind that youth!

What wrong have I done to you?


Well, any how, here the story stays

So far at least as I understand

And, Robert Browning, you writer of plays

Here´s a subject made to your hand!




Lord Byron

Lord Byron was a romantic poet. He was born in London and his family was very wealthy and famous. He also used to travel a lot all around Europe, and mainly to the Mediterranean countries.

Byron is highly recognised and famous by his Byron hero. The Byronic hero had much to do with Byron´s life and so many times is seen as the poet himself.

The Byronic hero presents an idealised but flawed character whose attributes include:

  • Having great talent
  • Exhibiting great passion
  • Having a distaste for society and social institutions
  • Expressing a lack of respect for rank and privilege
  • Rebelling
  • Suffering exile
  • Arrogance

The most striking characteristic about Byron´s poetry is its strength and masculinity.

He disliked and detested Wordsworth and Coleridge’s poetry.

He used to use simple and touching language. He made little use of imagery and did not aspire to write of things beyond this world.

According to Wikipedia, the Victorian critic John Ruskin wrote of him: `` He spoke only of what he had seen and known; and spoke without exaggeration, without mystery, without enmity, and without mercy´´

Other important poems of Lord Byron are: Darkness, On this day I complete my thirty sixth year, Don Juan, Prometheus and When we two parted.


She walks in beauty

She walks in beauty, like the night

Of cloudless climes and starry skies

And all that´s the best of dark and bright

Meet in her aspect and her eyes

Thus mellow´d to that tender light

Which heaven to gaudy day denies

One shade the more, one ray the less

Had half impair´d the nameless grace

Which waves in every raven tress

Or softly lightens o´er face

Where thoughts serenely sweet express

How pure, how dear their dwelling-place


And on that cheek, and o´er that brow

So soft, so calm, yet eloquent

The smiles that win, the tints that glow

But tell of days in goodness spent

A mind at peace with all below

A heart whose love is innocent






In this poem Byron is obviously talking about beauty. Talking about beauty is in the Romantic period a very common thing. He is said to have written this poem after he met his cousin Lady Ann Wilmot Horton. He is comparing the way she walks like the night because she was wearing dark clothes because of her mourning, she was a widow.

She is described and seen as an innocent and pure woman, as if she belonged to a Botticcelli´s painting.

Although the poem deals with beauty, this does not mean that talks about love. Byron never says a word about love in She walks in beauty, he is just impressed by her beauty and therefore he is just admiring her.

In the other poem, A light woman, Robert Browning is talking about an infidelity. His loved girl was unfaithful with his friend. He is comparing her to an eagle. She is seen as a cold and capricious woman. His friend was just a whim to her, and Browning was deeply in love with her.

The main difference of both poems is that one is talking about beauty, and the other one is a deeper poem which talks about love, friendship and betrayal, although Browning seems to be not really worried about this. Furthermore, in a light woman Browning includes some short dialogues and some rhetorical questions, as if he was talking to the readers, for instance: `` But suppose she says, --- Never mind that youth! What wrong have I done to you´ This poem seems to be like a story, at least so he himself refers to it.


Personal opinion

I have enjoyed reading and discovering these poems although I most liked the R.Browning´s one. I have chosen these poems to compare because I liked the topic, love and beauty. I find it more interesting and more elaborated. She walks in beauty seems not to show anything new, furthermore this poem can be dedicated to every single lover Lord Byron used to have, since he had lots and lots of lovers, so in my opinion that does not make it especial at all. I acknowledge that it still make wonder whether Lord Byron was in love with the protagonist of She walks in beauty or not. But anyway, what was love for him? I furthermore think that from my point of view he was not one of the most important romantic poets. He was mainly famous because of his scandals, and was not brave enough to stay in Britain to face them. He just went away. He was not an artist very worried about all these issues surrounding him like Blake did, who was very worried about children and their childhood, who had to work hard for hours and hours.

I think these people can be seen and called as great artists, for instance William Blake who was a poet but also a painter and liked to illustrate his works. In the renaissance this was very typical, for instance in Leonardo da Vinci too. They were people who could invent, who knew how to read and write, several languages, studied Greek and Latin, science, astronomy, medicine, read the Greek and Latin classics…Nowadays the vast majority of people is only specialized in a field.


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