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The Pied Piper of Hamelin Robert Browning

The Pied Piper of Hamelin
Robert Browning


English poet, playwright, and essayist.

The following entry presents criticism on Browning's poem The Pied Piper of Hamelin (1842) through 1988.


A perennial favorite in the English-speaking world, Browning composed The Pied Piper of Hamelin as a gift for the son of his friend and benefactor William Macready—the poem was published later in the author's Dramatic Lyrics (1842). Reputedly based on a retelling of a medieval legend in Nathaniel Wanley's Wonders of the Little World (1678), the poem tells a story of civic venality and retribution surrounding a piper hired by the citizens of Hamelin to rid the town of rats. Generations have since delighted in Browning's cautionary tale, which—due to the author's inventive wordplay, engaging characters, and moralistic message—has become ensconced as a canonical work of children's literature.


As The Pied Piper opens, the town of Hamelin is grappling with an infestation of rats. Desperate to rid the city of the vermin, the corrupt and repulsively corpulent mayor is surprised when a musician arrives—dressed in unusual, multicolored clothing—and offers to eliminate all of the rats in exchange for a payment of one thousand guilders. The mysterious piper explains that he can charm the rats with his instrument, hypnotizing them into a state where they will follow him out of town. The town leaders agree, and the piper plays his tune, attracting the attention of every rat in Hamelin. The rats follow the piper past the town limits, where he leads them into the river Weser. All of the rats drown, except for one who was strong enough to swim across the river. The surviving rat returns to "rat-land" to tell his cautionary tale, explaining to his brethren that the piper's tune gave him visions of tripe, sugar, and other delicacies. With the rats destroyed and their nests blocked up, the mayor and town council of Hamelin feel secure in reneging on their agreement with the piper and refuse to pay him the thousand guilders he demands. They now only offer the piper fifty guilders, with the mayor explaining that the piper cannot bring the rats back to life. In response, the piper plays a second tune, which enchants all of the children in Hamelin. The children follow the piper into the mountains, specifically to Koppelberg Hill, where "a wondrous portal" appears. The piper and the children march through the portal, which eventually closes, and the children are never heard from again. The citizens of Hamelin learn the fate of their offspring from one lame child who was not fast enough to pass through the opening before it closed. The child, saved by his physical limitations, parallels the rat who survived destruction by its superior fitness and serves a similar function of revealing the secret of the piper's song, which had promised an idyllic world of play for all who followed. The Hamelin city officials offer rewards and send search parties in all directions to find the missing children, but to no avail. However, Browning does note the existence of a pocket of Saxons in Slavic Transylvania that may be descended from the lost children of Hamelin. The poem concludes with the moral that promises should be kept "with all men—especially pipers."


Browning plainly states the overall thematic message of The Pied Piper of Hamelin—agreements, once made, should be honored. On one level, The Pied Piper is a simple, poetic morality tale, though many have viewed the work as a commentary on death, desire, and the role of the artist in society. Scholars assert that the piper and the disappearance of Hamelin's children can be seen as clear metaphors for death, which is further perpetuated by the memorials erected to the lost children by the townspeople. The children travel into the ground, led by the Piper, which has connotations both of burial and entering the underworld. Some have argued that these occurrences parallel the experiences of some villages during the advent of the bubonic plague, where whole generations of children could be lost to illness. Other critical interpretations have focused on the role of the musician in the poem, with some viewing the poem as Browning's commentary on the value of the arts. In this sense, the narrator's comment that debts should be paid to everyone, "especially pipers," could suggest that artists had been marginalized by society at the time and their contributions to the common good should not be underestimated. This is further exemplified by the poem's lampooning of the town bureaucracy, which is only concerned with material wealth and excess. These interpretations are given additional weight by the growing class conflict during the nineteenth century.


Since its initial publication, The Pied Piper of Hamelin has attracted generally favorable critical assessments, most notably from the prominent Victorian critic John Forster. However, several other Victorian critics disliked Browning's predilection for outrageous rhyme schemes and his excessive use of single rhymes, as in the vivid account of the rat infestation that opens The Pied Piper. Scholars have argued that many of the aspects that reviewers historically disliked in Browning's adult verse functioned as the most attractive elements in The Pied Piper, such as his atypical rhymes and tendency toward exaggeration. Commentators have viewed the work as an ideal example of children's verse, noting the importance of the poem's lyrical vitality and moralistic themes. Although Browning himself did not place much value in The Pied Piper, it has become an established and iconic part of the children's literature canon.


Pauline: A Fragment of a Confession [published anonymously] (poetry) 1833

Paracelsus (poetry) 1835
Strafford: An Historical Tragedy (play) 1837
Sordello (poetry) 1840

*Pippa Passes (play) 1841

*King Victor and King Charles (play) 1842

*Dramatic Lyrics (poetry) 1842

*The Return of the Druses: A Tragedy in Five Acts (play) 1843

*A Blot in the 'Scutcheon: A Tragedy in Five Acts (play) 1843

*Colombe's Birthday: A Play in Five Acts (play) 1844

*Dramatic Romances and Lyrics (poetry) 1845

*Last Luria, and A Soul's Tragedy (play) 1846

Christmas-Eve and Easter-Day (poetry) 1850

Two Poems [with Elizabeth Barrett Browning] (poetry) 1854

Men and Women. 2 vols. (poetry) 1855

Dramatis Personae (poetry) 1864

The Poetical Works of Robert Browning. 6 vols. (poetry) 1868

The Ring and the Book. 4 vols. (poetry) 1868-1869

Balaustion's Adventure, Including a Transcript fromEuripides (poetry) 1871

Prince Hohenstiel-Schwangau, Saviour of Society (poetry) 1871

Fifine at the Fair (poetry) 1872

Red Cotton Night-Cap Country; or, Turf and Towers (poetry) 1873

Aristophanes' Apology, Including a Transcript fromEuripides: Being the Last Adventures of Balaustion (poetry) 1875

The Inn Album (poetry) 1875

Pacchiarotto and How He Worked in Distemper, withOther Poems (poetry) 1876

La Saisiaz, and the Two Poets of Croisic (poetry) 1878

Dramatic Idyls. 2 vols. (poetry) 1879-1880

The Pied Piper of Hamelin (poem) 1882

Jocoseria (poetry) 1883

Ferishtah's Fancies (poetry) 1884

Parleyings with Certain People of Importance inTheir Day (poetry) 1887

§An Essay on Percy Bysshe Shelley (essay) 1888

Asolando: Fancies and Facts (poetry) 1889

Complete Poetic and Dramatic Works of RobertBrowning [edited by G. W. Cooke and H. E. Scudder] (poetry and plays) 1895

New Poems [with Elizabeth Barrett Browning] (poetry) 1914

*these titles comprise the eight-pamphlet series bells and pomegranates (1841-1846) and are listed in order of publication. dramatic works in this series are chronologized by date of publication rather than first performance.

†men and women includes the poem "how it strikes a contemporary."

‡the pied piper of hamelin was first published in dramatic lyrics.

§this work was first published in 1852 as an introductory essay to letters of percy bysshe shelley.


Arthur Dickson (essay date July 1926)

SOURCE: Dickson, Arthur. "Browning's Source for The Pied Piper of Hamelin." Studies in Philology 23, no. 3 (July 1926): 327-36.

[In the following essay, Dickson discusses several earlier texts that may have influenced The Pied Piper of Hamelin, arguing that Richard Verstegen's Restitution of Decayed Intelligence in Antiquities appears to be Browning's primary source of inspiration.]

Furnivall's Bibliography of Robert Browning, of which the "Forewords" are dated July 31 and October 1, 1881, tells us on page 113 that the story of The Pied Piper of Hamelin "is taken from one of the famous Familiar Letters of James Howell," and the letter is printed. In the Additions, however, dated December 31, 1881, this statement is much modified. Furnivall there prints (page 158), as "the earliest English authority," the account of the story given in Richard Verstegen's Restitution of Decayed Intelligence in Antiquities (Antwerp, 1605), and adds:

Verstegan, then, is nearer Browning's story than Howel, tho the poet had never seen V. before his poem was written. He got the story from North Wanley's Wonders of the Little World (fol. 1678) and the authorities there cited. In the new edition of Wanley, 1774, the tale is told shortly at p. 632, col. 2, and the authorities quoted, are Wier. de praestig. Daemon. li. 1, c. 16, p. 47: Schot. phys. curios. li. 3, c. 24, p. 519: Howel's Ep. vol. 1, § 6, epist. 59, p. 241.

It is fairly clear that the earlier statement, that about Howell, was a guess on Furnivall's part; that he subsequently came upon Verstegen's account, and was struck by its similarity to Browning's poem; that he then applied to Browning for information; and that the result is embodied in the second note. In other words, Furnivall's statement that Browning "had never seen V. before his poem was written," and that he got the story from Wanley's Wonders "and the authorities there cited," must rest upon the authority of the poet himself. Furnivall passes the information on, but prints Verstegen, and remarks that the latter is "nearer Browning's story than Howel"—Howell, one of these very "authorities." We cannot help asking, Are Wanley and his other authorities—"Wier." and "Schot."—any closer to Browning than is Howell? Or, was Verstegen really Browning's source, in spite of what is evidently a statement by Browning himself to the contrary? I cannot find that any answer has been attempted to these questions.

The passage from Verstegen begins on page 85 of the 1605, 1628, and 1634 editions, and is the same in all three, except for differences in spelling; it is reprinted in full in Furnivall's Bibliography, and, with the omission of the concluding paragraph about Transylvania, in Chambers' Book of Days under July 22, and in Cooke's Guide-Book, page 293. It is here reprinted from the first English edition (London, 1628):

And now hath one digression drawne on another, for being by reason of speaking of these Saxons of Transiluania, put in mind of a most true and maruelous strange accident that hapned in Saxonie not manie ages past, I cannot omit for the strangenesse thereof briefely here by the way to set it downe. There came into the towne of Hamel in the countrie of Brunswicke an old kind of companion, who for the fantasticall coate which he wore being wrought with sundrie colours, was called the pide Piper; for a Piper he was, besides his other qualities. This fellow forsooth offered the townse-men for a certain somme of money to rid the towne of all the rats that were in it (for at that time the Burgers were with that vermine greatly annoyed) The accord in fine being made; the pide Piper with a shrill pipe went piping through the streets, and forthwith the rats came all running out of the houses in great numbers after him; all which hee led into the riuer of Weaser and therein drowned them. This done, and no one rat more perceiued to bee left in the towne; he afterward came to demand his reward according to his bargaine, but being told that the bargain was not made with him in good earnest, to wit, with an opinion that euer he could bee able to doe such a feat: they cared not what they accorded vnto, when they imagined it could neuer bee deserued, and so neuer to be demanded: but neuerthelesse seeing he had done such an vnlikely thing indeed, they were content to giue him a good reward; and so offered him farre lesse then he lookt for: but hee therewith discontented, said he would haue his full recompence according to his bargain, but they vtterly denying to giue it him, he threatened them with reuenge; they bade him doe his worst, whereupon he betakes him againe to his pipe, and going through the streets as before, was followed of a number of boyes out at one of the gates of the Citie, and comming to a little hill, there opened in the side thereof a wid hole, into the which himselfe & all the children being in number one hundreth and thirtie, did enter; and being entred, the hill closed vp againe, and became as before. A boy that being lame and came somewhat lagging behind the rest, seeing this that hapned, returned presently backe and told what he had seene, foorthwith began great lamentation among the Parents for their children, and men were sent out withall diligence, both by land and by water to inquire if ought could be heard of them, but with all the enquirie they could possibly vse, nothing more then is a foresaid could of them be vnderstood. In memorie whereof it was then ordained, that from thence-foorth no Drumme, Pipe or other instrument, should be sounded in the street leading to the gate through which they passed; nor no Osterie to be there holden. And it was also established, that from that time forward in all publike writings that should bee made in that towne, after the date therein set downe of the yeare of our Lord, the date of the yeare of the going foorth of their children should bee added, the which they haue accordingly euer since continued. And this great wonder hapned on the 22. day of Iuly in the yeare of our Lord, 1376.

The occasion now why this matter came vnto my remembrance in speaking of Transiluania, was, for that some do report that there are diuers found among the Saxons in Transiluania that haue like surnames vnto diuers of the Burgers of Hamel, and will therby seeme to inferre, that this Iugler or pide Piper, might by negromancy haue transported them thither, but this carrieth litle appearance of truth; because it would haue beene almost as great a wonder vnto the Saxon of Transiluania to haue had so many strange children brought among them, they knew not how, as it was to those of Hamel to lose them: and they could not but haue kept memorie of so strange a thing, if indeed any such thing had there hapned.

Certain parts of Browning's story are evidently not in Verstegen; and others, which are, are not important for our purpose. I would ask the reader to note, however, that the following things are common to the two accounts:

  1. The date of the occurrence—July 22, 1376.
  2. The invitation to the piper, at the climax of the controversy, to "do his worst" ("You threaten us, fellow? Do your worst, Blow your pipe there till you burst!").
  3. The statement that there was a little boy who was lame and couldn't keep up with the rest.
  4. The statement that no tavern was allowed in the street.
  5. Concluding remarks about the possibility of the children's having been carried off into Transylvania.

Now Howell's account, which is contained in a letter of October 1, 1643 (Epistolae Ho-Elianae, 5th ed., 1678, p. 272; reprinted in Furnivall, p. 113, and in Cooke's Guide-Book, p. 292), lacks all five of these points, nor has it any other special similarity to the poem, except in one detail: the name of the town, which in Verstegen is Hamel, but in Howell, Hamelen. It is interesting to note that Browning's father, in the poem he wrote on the subject (of which the opening lines are given by Griffin and Minchin, Life, page 21), calls the town Hammelin. For this detail, then, and this detail alone, Browning seems to have been indebted to Howell, either directly or through his father.

Turning now to Nathaniel1 Wanley's Wonders of the Little World (London, 1678, bk. 6, ch. 19, ¶ 28; in the editions of 1774 and 1806, bk. 6, ch. 26, ¶ 23; reprinted in Cooke's Guide-Book, page 291), we note two points of agreement with Browning which are lacking in Verstegen and Howell. Wanley says that the children "perished" at "a hill called Koppen" ("Koppelberg hill," B.), and that the story is "kept by them in their annals . . . and painted in their windows and churches" ("On the great churchwindow painted," B.). On the other hand, Wanley, like Howell, lacks all of the five points in which Browning agrees with Verstegen.

What, now, as to "Wier." and "Schot."?

The treatise of Dr. Johann Wier, De Praestigiis Daemonum, went through several editions in the sixteenth century, of which I have been able to consult five. The first edition (Basileae, 1564) seems to have no mention of the Pied Piper. The third (Basileae, 1566) has a short notice in book 1, chapter 13. But since Wanley refers to "li. 1 c. 16," his source must be a still later edition, like that which bears the imprint Basileae 1583, and which contains the following account in the sixteenth chapter of the first book:

Tibicen quidam Hammelae Brunswicorum ad eliciendos glires conductus, sequenti rependit facinore ingratitudinem, cum illi ex pacto non satisfieret. Anno siquidem millesimo ducentesimo octuagesimo quarto, die vicesimosexto Iunii, hunc tibicinem Omnicolorem nuncupatum ob vestis varietatem, centum et triginta pueri per plateam inde nomen, ut audies, sortitam, non procul extra civitatem usque ad Calvariae locum sub Koppen nuncupatum, ad viam communem Boream versus situm, sequuti periere, nec unquam postea apparuere. Haec ita in annalibus conscripta, Hammelae in archivis religiose custodiuntur: leguntur et in libris templi sacris, atque in eiusdem vitris picta conspiciuntur: cuius rei oculatus equidem testis sum. Vetustior praeterea Magistratus in historiae huius confirmationem suis codicillis publicis inscribere solet coniunctim, Anno Christi, etc. et exitus puerorum anno, etc. Observatur vero in hunc usque diem ad perpetuam rei gestae memoriam, quod tympani sonitus nunquam in eadem admittatur platea, per quam egressi pueri, si forte isthinc aliqua educitur sponsa, donec ex illa exierit: nec etiam choreae in eadem ducuntur. Hinc et nomen consequuta est platea, Burgelosestrass. Mane post septimam horam contigisse hoc fertur, et fuisse in puerorum numero consulis filiam iam plenis nubilem annis, quae simul evanuit. Puer vero quidam nonnihil sequutus, necdum vestitus, volens suas adferre vestes, rediit domum: interea autem evanuere omnes in exigua fovea colliculi, quae mihi ostensa est. En diabolum tibicinem sanguinarium.

The German version of Wier's book published at Frankfort in 1586 gives the same account (page 43), with one or two additional details which are of no consequence to us; and even closer is the French translation of 1579, as reprinted in the Bibliothèque Diabolique (J. Wier, Histoires, disputes et discours etc., Paris, 1885, liv. 1, ch. 16; vol. 1, p. 84).

It may be noted that Wier has what looks like an earlier version of Verstegen's story of the lame boy; here, a boy who returned home to finish dressing! But there is nothing else in his account that calls for remark. We look in vain to Wier (at any rate, in these five editions) for any of the five points of agreement between Verstegen and Browning, or any other characteristic detail lacking in Verstegen, except those already noted in Wanley.

Now for the Physica Curiosa of G. Schott (Herbipoli, 1622, page 519). It tells a good story, even if not Browning's:

De pueris Hammelensibus seductis a Mago.—Inter Mirabilia hominum merito numerari potest exitus atque seductio puerorum Hammeliae, quod oppidum est inferioris Saxoniae ad Visurgim fluvium situm. Historiam narrant quam plurimi Auctores. . . . Cum dicti oppidi indigenae eo anno [1284, the usual date] ingentibus murium agminibus infestarentur, malumque in tantum cresceret, ut nihil fere sive fructuum, sive segetum, quod eorum rosionibus non esset obnoxium, reperiretur; vir quidam invisus ante hac, et staturae prodigiosae comparuit; qui quicquid murium eo in oppido, eiusque districtu esset, confestim sublaturum se, dummodo de certa pecuniae summa secum paciscerentur, pollicitus est. Nec segnius quam promisit, effecit. Nam promissa mercede, dictus vir ex pera, qua cinctus erat, fistulam (utriculus is erat) extraxit: et simul atque eam inflavit, ingentia murium agmina ex omnibus domorum angulis ac foraminibus prorupere, et aulaedum2 illum praeeuntem extra oppidum ad flumen usque sunt secuta. Ibi aulaedum succincta veste flumen ingredientem sorices secuti, una omnes spontanea submersione perierunt. Hoc peracto, vir ille condictam mercedem exposcit. Verum cum cives de pecunia promissa solvenda tergiversarentur, minacibus illos verbis increpuit, asseruitque, nisi mercedem darent, futurum, ut aliam exigeret mercedem multo promissa graviorem. Minae cum risu acceptae sunt. Vertente igitur anno, die 26. Junii, circa meridiem denuo vir dictus comparuit habitu venatoris, vultu terribili, purpureo inusitatae compositionis pileo; fistulamque aliam longe a priori diversam simul ac insonuit; ecce pueri ac puellae numero 130. derepente confluunt, et ludionem extra oppidum tripudiantes sequuntur. Est extra oppidum mons, seu potius collis, quem Calvariae montem (Köpffelberg dicunt incolae loci illius) vocant, et in monte caverna sat ampla, iumentorum stabulationi apta. In hanc cavernam una secum omnes pueros duxit venator. Atque ab eo tempore nullus unquam puerorum comparuit amplius, nec unquam rescitum deinde, quid de iis factum, aut quo abierint. Unica puella, quae infantem brachiis gestabat, et praeuntes assequi non poterat, rem a longe aspexit, et regressa oppidanos monuit; qui agminatim omnes egressi, per loca omnia, et omnes angulos, liberos, sed frustra, quaesiverunt.

Historiam hanc omnes Hammelenses, traditione a majoribus accepta, veram esse testantur. Eandem exhibet pictura minuta in fenestra quadam Parochialis Ecclesiae oppidi. . . . Plurima alia in eodem oppido, et extra illud, extant vestigia. . . . Addunt multi, oppidanos, ab illo tempore, quo res tam insolens et funesta contigit, annos suos in instrumentis publicis computare solitos ab anno Exitus puerorum suorum.

There are some minor agreements here with Browning's version. The piper is "staturae prodigiosae" ("he himself was tall and thin"?); the piper's words ("futurum, ut aliam exigeret mercedem multo promissa graviorem") are certainly closer to Browning's "folks who put me in a passion May find me pipe after another fashion," than is Verstegen's simple statement "He threatened them with revenge"; the children follow "tripudiantes" ("Tripping and skipping"); and Köpffelberg is more like Koppelberg than is Wanley's "hill called Koppen." It is possible, then—I think, hardly more—that Browning used Schott. But we still lack all of the five points of agreement with Verstegen, including the date.

But another question now presents itself. Did the poet perhaps use some source which has not yet entered the discussion? In search of an answer, I have examined the following accounts, comprising, not all those which Browning might possibly have consulted, but all those easily available here, and, I think, a sufficient number for the purpose:

A. Fretaghius, a letter dated 1580, quoted in Schott: Magia Universalis (Herbipoli, 1657), p. 201.

J. Pomarius: Chronica der Sachsen und Nidersachsen (Wittenberg, 1588), p. 419.

An anonymous rhyming chronicle of the end of the sixteenth century, quoted in Dörries: Der Rattenfänger von Hameln (in Zsch. des hist. Vereins für Niedersachsen, Jahrg. 1880), p. 171.

J. Lampadius: Mellificii Historici Pars 3 (Marpurgi, 1617), p. 365.

P. Camerarius: Operae Horarum Subcisivarum (Francofurti, 1620), p. 48.

R. Burton: Anatomy of Melancholy, part 1, sec. 2, mem. 1, subs. 2; 5th ed. (London, 1638), p. 52.

A. Kircher: Musurgia Universalis (Romae, 1650), vol. 2, p. 232.

H. More: An Antidote against Atheism (2nd ed., London, 1655), p. 184.

G. Schott: Magia Universalis (Herbipoli, 1657), p. 199.

P. Heylyn: Cosmographie (5th ed., London, 1677), pp. 1: 401, 2: 168.

H. Meibom: Rerum Germanicarum Tomi III (Helmaestadii, 1688), vol. 3, p. 80.

J. Addison: Spectator, no. 5 (March 6, 1711; Works, London, 1804, vol. 1, p. 19).

M. H. Bünting and J. Letzner: Braunschweig-Lüneburgische Chronica (Braunschweig, 1722), vol. 1, p. 521.

J. and W. Grimm: Deutsche Sagen (3rd ed., Berlin, 1891), no. 245.

P. Mérimée: Chronique du temps de Charles IX (first published 1829; Bruxelles, 1835, p. 39).3

The results of my comparison, to refer again to our five points, are these:

  1. The date July 22, 1376, is given only by Pomarius and Heylyn; 1376, by Lampadius, in a short notice (An. 1376. Pueri Hamelensis egressi scribuntur, ad Calendas Graecas redituri).
  2. "Do your worst," and
  3. the lame boy, are everywhere lacking.
  4. The statement that no tavern was allowed in the street is in Pomarius only.
  5. Concluding remarks about Transylvania are in Fretaghius, Kircher, Mérimée, and elsewhere; but not in Pomarius.

Thus none of these other versions agrees with Verstegen in more than two of his characteristic details. Pomarius, who agrees in points 1 and 4, is evidently one of Verstegen's sources; Verstegen quotes him on the preceding page (84) and takes from him four of his cuts of the "Saxon gods" (Pomarius, pp. 28, 43, 45, 49; Verstegen, pp. 78, 74, 70, 69). For the parallel we may compare, e.g.:

Als bald hat dieser ebentewrer ein helles Pfeifflein geblasen / da seind die Ratzen aus allen gassen und heusern hauffen weise herfür gelauffen / und haben sich zusammen gethan / welche er denn in die Weser gefüheret vnd erseuffet hat (Pomarius).

The pide Piper with a shrill pipe went piping through the streets, and forthwith the rats came all running out of the houses in great numbers after him; all which hee led into the riuer of Weaser and therein drowned them (Verstegen).

But Pomarius passes rapidly over the scene of the quarrel, which Verstegen amplifies, using here some version like that of Schott, from which also he takes the information about Transylvania. Heylyn, who is the only other writer on our list who gives the full 1376 date, admittedly takes his short account from Verstegen. The upshot of all this is, that Browning either (1) repeated, after Verstegen and with very similar results, the process of combining Pomarius with another account, and happened to invent the lame boy, and to write, "Do your worst"; or (2) used some account not on our list, which embodied Verstegen's five characteristic details; or (3) used Verstegen.

The second of these possibilities is suggested by Griffin and Minchin, who give (Life, pp. 20-21) as the sources of the poem Wanley, Howell, and the oral communication of the poet's father. We know that the latter was interested in the story, and wrote a poem on the subject, as pointed out by Griffin and Minchin (page 21). It is possible, then, that Browning's father gave him an oral, or a written, account of the story, containing the details characteristic of Verstegen's account, which Browning then incorporated in his poem. The evidence, at any rate, is convincing that he knew Verstegen, either in this indirect manner, or directly.

In either case, how are we to account for his statement to Furnivall? Very simply; the poet was mistaken in his recollection of the circumstances. Between the publication of the poem in 1842, and the statement to Furnivall in 1881, a period of time had passed which may well excuse such a lapse of recollection. Readers, moreover, will easily call to mind other instances of Browning's apparent lack of interest in his past work, and of his inaccuracy in referring to his procedure in composing it; see, e.g., Cook's Commentary upon "The Ring and the Book," pages 292 and 319.

One other matter calls for remark; for, of the versions of the story contained in my list, only one more has points of resemblance to Browning worth noting.

This is, as we should expect, the version of Mérimée,4 who alone tells the story for purely literary—not historical or scientific—purposes. He has these points of similarity:

  1. The piper is described in part as "un grand homme, basané, sec" ("tall and thin, With . . . swarthy skin"); the only hints of his personal appearance elsewhere in our list are vague statements like Schott's "staturae prodigiosae."
  2. One rat survives the general exodus—being too old to walk; but the "magician" sends another rat to get him, and both jump into the Weser, the messenger pulling the old rat by the tail. Browning's surviving rat was probably suggested rather by Verstegen's lame boy; but Mérimée too may have given a hint.
  3. When the piper asks for his reward, the citizens call to mind "qu'ils n'avaient plus rien à craindre des rats" ("We saw with our eyes the vermin sink, And what's dead can't come to life, I think").
  4. A pair of specific sums is mentioned; the citizens promise a hundred ducats, and offer ten ("A thousand guilders! Come, take fifty!").
  5. Mérimée makes a good deal of the Saxons in Transylvania; but his account here is not noticeably closer to Browning's than is Verstegen's.

Points 3 and 4, while they do not appear in any other version I have read, are of course such embellishments of the narrative as might well occur independently to two men who were retelling the story for literary purposes. But point 1 is more clearly a reminiscence; and all the resemblances taken together make it seem likely, I think, that Browning had read the story in Mérimée.

Our conclusions are that, in all probability, Browning's chief source was Verstegen, whom he knew either directly, or through a detailed retelling by his father. The form of the name Hamelin is the only detail that can be traced to Howell. The church-window, and perhaps the name Koppelberg, are from Wanley. Schott was perhaps used for certain details; Wier was not; and there was probably in the poet's mind a recollection of some details in Mérimée, who had preceded him in the literary treatment of the story. It is of course possible, too, that some or all of the hints from Howell, Wanley, Schott and Mérimée, as well as the more important details from Verstegen, were embodied in an account given the poet by his father. In any case, his statements to Furnivall, forty years later, were due to a mistaken recollection of the circumstances.


Note.—Since this article was written, I have been able to consult O. Meinardus, Der historische Kern der Hameler Rattenfängersage (Zschr. des hist. Vereins fur Niedersachsen, Jahrg. 1882, pages 256 ff.), and S. P. Thompson, The Pied Piper of Hamelin (Sette of Odd Volumes, Opuscula, No. LIII, London, 1905). The material gathered by these two writers throws no new light on the specific question here discussed. Their articles, however, contain interesting extracts from some of the older accounts, including the following, which should be added to the bibliography:

J. Fincelius: Wunderzeichen (Jhena, 1556), p. G. iv. verso.

J. Letzner: Corbeische Chronica (Hamburg, 1590), notes to chapter 20.

G. Rollenhagen: Froschmeuseler (Magdeburgk, 1600, and frequently reprinted), Buch III, Theil I, Kap. XIII.

M. Sachs: Kaiserchronik (1605).

M. Schoock: Fabula Hamelensis (Groningae, 1659).

C. F. Fein: Die entlarvte Fabel vom Ausgange der hämelschen Kinder (Hannover, 1749).

1. Not "North," as Furnivall writes, perhaps from a misreading of Browning's handwriting.

2. auledus, tibicen.—Du Cange.

3. In order to be perfectly frank with the reader, I shall give here the list of references which I have not consulted:

A. Hondorff: Promptuarium Exemplorum (Leipzig, 1568).

P. Albinus: Meissnische Land und Berg-Chronica (Dresden, 1589-90), p. cxii.

J. Becherer: Newe Thüringische Chronica (Mülhausen, 1601), p. 366.

L. Lossius: Historia Ecclesiastica, p. 264.

S. Erich: Der hamelschen Kinder Ausgang (Hanover, 1655).

N. Nieremberger: Historia Hamelensis (Wittenbergae, 1671).

J. Seyfried: Medulla mirabilium naturae (Sultzbach, 1679), p. 476.

Kirchmayer: Vom unglücklichen Ausgang etc. (Dresden, 1702).

J. Hübner: Geographie (Hamburg, 1736), vol. 3, p. 611.

4. The occurrence of the story in Mérimée is noted in Furnivall's Bibliography, p. 113, n. 3.

Milton Millhauser (essay date 1969)

SOURCE: Millhauser, Milton. "Poet and Burgher: A Comic Variation on a Serious Theme." Victorian Poetry 7, no. 2 (1969): 163-68.

[In the following essay, Millhauser considers The Pied Piper of Hamelin and several other of Browning's works as reflections of the author's concern with the artist's role in society, particularly in relation to the financial support provided to artists by wealthy benefactors.]

Throughout his career, but especially during its first decade, Browning was intensely concerned with the "problem of the poet"—his character, function, and situation in an ordinary world. In one aspect or another, this provides the theme for the nakedly autobiographicalPauline, forSordello, and (inverted: the failure of wisdom without poetic love) for Paracelsus. Something remarkably like it appears, also, inPippa Passes ; for the act that evokes the uncalculated and untraced benefit is in each instance that characteristic act of poetic creation, a spontaneous burst of song.1 Later returns to this concern are numerous, even if one disregards the well-known instances in which music transparently stands for a sister art; one thinks offhand of "How It Strikes a Contemporary," the Balaustion poems, and "Christopher Smart" in theParleyings. The point is a familiar one, and need hardly be urged at length. The theme of the poet (more broadly, the artist) in his character and in his relation to society, is an important one for Browning; in his early years, it is cardinal.

The circumstances of his early life contributed to this preoccupation. The son of a comfortably paid but hardly opulently rich clerk,2 Browning elected to prepare for no career except the unremunerative one of poetry; his first volumes (including the early plays) earned him a certain precarious critical acclaim but no widespread success and little money. The domestic question, "What is the young man to do?" was more or less settled, but it was capable of being repeated from without, in the less agreeable form, "Why does not the young man do something?" The issue seems in large part to have been one of lifestyle, or morality. Robert could afford continental journeys (with some assistance), a taste for the theatre, certain of the indulgences of a man about town; but a young man in his situation was expected to have a career. His parents certainly did not bedevil him about the matter; both they and, from what we can judge, their circle of acquaintances valued the arts as self-justifying ends in themselves. But middle-class nonconformist society, however select, inevitably included representatives of the opinion that a young man was bound, for moral and practical reasons, to fit himself for a profession. Kenyon himself was concerned, and cited Mrs. Procter's verdict that the poet would have been the better for a steady occupation. In such a milieu, a young man whose choice of a career, an "occupation," is poetry, and who is obligated to choose parental dependency along with it, is going to give more than passing thought to the justification of that choice. He will be driven to ask himself, "What is a poet? What work does he do, what function does he serve, in the hustle of the world?" And he will not be satisfied with easy answers.3

To this disposition, it may be conjectured, the lingering influence of Shelley contributed—Shelley, for whom poets were the castigators of tyrants and the unacknowledged legislators of mankind. (The notion that the poet confers a real if intangible benefit on his age, "assimilating this ideal of a future man . . . to the present reality of the poet's soul," is worked out in some detail in the seventh paragraph of the 1852Essay on Shelley. ) Certainly (although of course the parallel is sympathetic, not programmatic) the early works follow a rather Shelleyan line of development.Pauline is concerned with the poet's dedication to an abstract and elusive ideal beauty, from which he is diverted by the twin obstacles of "self" and doubt; Shelley is active throughout, both behind and on the scene, as literary model, ideal poet, and intellectual tempter.Paracelsus displays the experience of a kind of dilute and generous-spirited Faust, a sage dedicated to learning in the expectation of benefiting mankind, but defeated by the want of that spontaneous and abundantly rejoicing love that he learns too late from the Shelleyan Aprile. Sordello (a revised and re-revised work in which it is impossible now to sort out prime intention, second thoughts, and shifts of practical necessity) shows its poet moving from absorption in his art, through love, to the public life of high politics and war, and so finally to the cause of the suffering people: learning, one might say, to give outward and social direction to song. The dramas, fromStrafford on, break the continuity of this development though, regarded from without, they might be held to exemplify the concern of the poet with the world of affairs—Sordello 's politics and war. WithPippa, as I have suggested, he returns at least obliquely to the poetic theme; the girl, like the conventional songbird, provides an effective if unintentional symbol for the lyric poet, and it would be surprising if she did not express in this symbolic capacity some element in Browning's imaginative vision. It is significant that the one motive for her songs is simple joy: in her own existence, in the beauty of the world, and (especially in the later songs) in the songs themselves: their themes, their images and incidents—that is, their art. That such an impulse, which is neither public-spirited nor even self-interested, but merely unreflecting, instinctive, immediate, should have had such socially valuable effects, is a point to be taken seriously in considering Browning's conception of the situation of the poet. I do not wish to be thought to be arguing for an allegorical reading of the poem. But it is certainly suggestive, in view of his earlier concerns, that Browning, casting about for a dramatic character who should spread benefits unconsciously, should have hit upon one who might almost figure as an archetype.

The significance ofPippa in this sequence is that, unlikeSordello and the rest, it did not overtly concern itself with the "question of poetry," but that this question nevertheless appears in it, subordinately and by way of a symbolism which is very probably unconscious.4 A poet writing under some measure of psychological constraint to justify his choice of vocation against pedestrian cavil will be likely to reflect that constraint, indirectly as well as directly, and whether he is aware of doing so or not. The image will declare the concealed thesis.

Consider, in the light of these reflections, a poem in which a uniquely gifted artist confers a recognizable benefit on a characteristically bourgeois community; is nevertheless rejected by this community as alien to its values and therefore undeserving of gratitude; and in retaliation injures it materially: both benefit and injury being effected through the exercise of his art. Such a poem would surely be still another—and if anything, an inadequately symbolic, a too flat—variation on the same theme, the line of approach in this instance being the artist's value, utility, significance in the general scheme of things. Such a poem, so described, constitutes also a perfectly accurate summary of "The Pied Piper of Hamelin." Few poems can have had more casual, more trivial—if I may put it so, more aesthetically innocent—origins (and the narrative line here was "given," not invented); yet, in certain matters of emphasis and detail, the reflection of Browning's preoccupation is distinctly to be traced.

The bourgeois character of Hamelin is a starting-point, though one whose significance can easily be overstressed. (The poem, after all, was written to amuse a child, not demonstrate a thesis.) Still, first and last, there is a good deal of emphasis on such matters as Mayor, Council, Corporation, Town Hall, ermine gowns, lawyers, archives, and civic institutions; even the depredations of the rats involve such elements of middle-class comfort as cooks' ladles and Sunday hats. Upon this dignified and rather stuffy scene appear, first the rats,5 and then, more significantly, the Piper. And, first of all, he is a Piper—that is, a musician, an artist, whose magic is not unlike the magic of the poet; did not Shakespeare pipe "his native wood-notes wild"? His costume is outlandish, and indicates for him a status halfway between beggar and court jester (one thinks of an economically dependent poet); yet, through his special gifts, he has been the honored guest of exotic kings. His sharp eyes and mobile mouth suggest the observant, sensitive, ironic critic of affairs. (A serious treatment of the same characteristics bodies forth the shabby-dignified poet, observant, poor, and—who knows?—possibly the king's spy, or God's in the considerably later "How It Strikes a Contemporary." ) Moreover, his procedure is specifically that of the romantic literary artist: that is, he excites the imaginations of his auditors to conceive ideal scenes.6 The effect of these visions is (in comic terms) one of exaltation: neither rats nor children walk, they dance. The narratives of the two survivors (rat and child) suggest a momentary glimpse of a lost paradise—reduced, of course, to the comically appropriate scale. The vision of the rats is, naturally, material, gustatory; indeed, it does not differ substantially, except for matters of detail, from the comforts of a sleepy little river town, with its plump little Mayor with his paunch, punctually each noon, growing "mutinous / For a plate of turtle green and glutinous." The vision of the children is, plausibly enough, one of a world of fields to play in, "joyous," without pain ("honey-bees had lost their stings"), a world where "everything was strange and new," and colors were brighter than those we see here. Except for intensity and novelty, there is only one real wonder, one astonishing new form, in this dream-world: "horses were born with eagles' wings." The image is Browning's, and serves no special narrative purpose. It is difficult to avoid recognizing a juvenile misunderstanding of Pegasus.

To all this, a single verbal clue may, somewhat hesitantly, perhaps be added. In section X, the Piper mentions a bargain he has struck with the Head-Cook of the Caliph of Bagdad, whose kitchen he will clear of scorpions in exchange for some "prime . . . pottage." The burghers (later identified by Scriptural citation with "the Rich") are offended that they are treated more rigorously than a Cook. But for the reader, the word "pottage" (which might have been replaced by any of a dozen synonyms) is rich in overtones. It is the coarse food for which one foolishly trades away a birthright. (Food again! It pervades the poem: the oleaginous delights of the rats, the Moselle, Hock, turtle of the Mayor and Corporation; but in the idyllic vision of the children, who take no thought for the morrow, there are only fruit trees and gushing waters—pleasures as much visual as gustatory.) "Pottage" cannot but remind us of Browning's situation: committed to his birthright of poetry, deprived thereby of both income and conventional career, and living in the home (and at the expense) of a banker who had once dreamed of becoming an artist.

In a work in which thematic indications are as explicit as this (even if to some extent they are imposed by the source)7 it would be arbitrary not to acknowledge the obvious inferences from them. There are comic overstatement and distortion to be allowed for, to be sure. Still, the broad outline remains. The artist, the weaver of poetic visions, confers real benefits on a society of which he is never a comfortably accepted part; the society that fails to recognize and reward these benefits is thereby injured. The "moral" that is finally spelt out for little Willy Macready is curiously—I think, ironically—mercantile in tone: Keep your promises, pay your debts. But even here the application is suggestive: wipe out scores "with all men—especially pipers." Even in Victorian England, as prosperously mercantile as Brunswick, you do not shortchange your poets with impunity.


1. There are Wordsworthian elements in Pippa. Her song in Scene I ("The year's at the spring"), as well as some of the lyric passages in the antecedent "Sunrise" section, represent the spontaneous overflow of emotion (though it is not recollected in tranquility); the effect of her songs suggests the reflection in "Tintern Abbey" on "our little nameless unremembered acts . . . of love." In her capacity to evoke an unsuspected depth of response in an auditor, she also resembles the Highland Reaper.

2. Mrs. Betty Miller, Robert Browning: A Portrait (London, 1952), pp. 18-19 and 18n, estimates the father's income with some care. Both the Russian trip (1834) and the first visit to Italy (1838) seem to have been made under special, and presumably financially easy, circumstances, thanks to the father's association with the Rothschild banking interests. See William C. DeVane, A Browning Handbook (New York, 1935), p. 13; Miller, p. 66.

3. There is some documentary evidence of this concern, and of Browning's eventual indifference to it. Mrs. Miller dwells on this, and interprets a passage of Sordello in this sense; see pages 13, 18-20, 44-45, 109. A number of the letters (representing a somewhat later stage in his development) testify to Browning's conviction that writing poetry is his "duty," a "service to be rendered God and man." Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning (New York, Harper & Brothers, 1898); I, 17-18, 37. They also speak of his indifference to an audience, and of his taking pleasure not in writing per se but only in "the sense of fulfilling a duty." Letters, I, 41.

4. I am not concerned here with a different order of symbol, such as the scene in which Jules, about to change his medium, represents certain of Browning's attitudes and intentions. Here, I believe, the poet was consciously speaking through a persona, with some sacrifice of the overtones of genuine symbolic expression.

5. It is tempting to read the rats, "squeaking / In fifty different sharps and flats," as somehow representing both the disharmony and the injurious consequences of bad art; but this—to say the least—verges on overinterpretation.

6. The visions are among Browning's additions to his sources; since they are original with him, their details are particularly significant. In each, the vision is a heightened and (appropriately) idealized version of the real world; for each, a survivor remains to contrast it with the marred actuality that remains when inspiration is withdrawn.

7. This merely moves the question into a different area. What psychological process led Browning to select that particular tale from that particular source? It was familiar to the father too, and evidently a family favorite (Browning Handbook, p. 118); why?

Wolfgang Franke (essay date October 1971)

SOURCE: Franke, Wolfgang. "Browning's Pied Piper of Hamelin: Two Levels of Meaning." ARIEL: A Review of International English Literature 2, no. 4 (October 1971): 90-7.

[In the following essay, Franke contends that The Pied Piper of Hamelin is simultaneously intended for children and adults, noting that Browning's intention of reaching both audiences can be seen in the poem's style and thematic subtext.]

Some poems escape critical attention on account of their very popularity. At best they get some perfunctory laudatory mention; at worst popular acclaim is held against them as a kind of aesthetic stigma. This seems to be true of Browning's [Pied Piper of Hamelin ]. Though a favourite of English school-children for generations, nobody seems to have written about it in any detail, since Bagehot discussed it in his famous essay.1 Such critical neglect would be justified, if it was just the odd occasional poem that happened to strike the fancy of a large audience. I should like to suggest, however, that there is far more to it than that. The subtlety of the poem would seem to entitle it to equal rank with far more 'serious' productions of Browning's muse.

Browning wrote the poem in May 1842 for the ten-year-old son of a friend of his, the great actor Macready. The boy, who had a gift for drawing, was to beguile the time by illustrating it, while he was confined to his room with a cold. In 1849 the poem was included in the collectionDramatic Romances and Lyrics, more or less as a makeshift solution, to complete the requisite number of pages, and since 1863 it has been part of theDramatic Romances. The tale of the rat-catcher was to be found in various collections of historical and demonological anecdotes and curiosities from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, such as had formed Browning's favourite reading from early on in his father's library. The controversial question as to which version of the story Browning used seems to be of secondary importance compared with the fact that Browning completely changed the tone in which all these literary sources present it. A short excerpt from the version which in its details most closely corresponds to the poem will suffice to prove this:

And now hath one digression drawne on another, for being by reason of speaking of these Saxons of Transylvania, put in mind of a most true and marvelous strange accident that hapned in Saxony not many ages past, I cannot omit for the strangenesse thereof briefely here by the way to set it down . . . The occasion now why this matter came into my remembrance in speaking of Transilvania, was, that some do report that there are divers found among the Saxons in Transilvania that have like surnames unto divers of the Burgers of Hamel, and will thereby seeme to inferre, that this Jugler or pide Piper, might by negromancy have transported them thither, but this carrieth little appearance of truth; . . .2

A learned antiquarian—Scott's Dr Dryasdust in fact—allowing himself a few remarks in connexion with Transylvania, reports the story with scholarly gravity, weighing the pros and cons of tradition, in order to offer it to similarly minded readers as a remarkable explanation for contemporary customs in a town in Lower Saxony and for the appearance of Hamelin surnames among the Transylvanians. By contrast, Browning tells the story to a child, in a form suited to the child's understanding, as he indicates by the subtitle 'A Child's Story'. For such stories there are certain generally accepted rules, which all who know how to engage the attention of children follow consciously or unconsciously. The child has a spontaneous feeling for visual and acoustic effects, which often disappears in the later stages of his development. He thinks in terms of concrete facts, whereas the capacity for abstract thought is the result of education. In his moral standards he is quite rigorous, unprepared for those compromises which mature experience generally brings us to accept. Stories for children consequently must aim at pictorial and musical effects, must represent the general in the particular and correspond to that moral law according to which the good are rewarded and the bad punished. It is hardly necessary to point to particular instances in the poem to prove that Browning meets all these requirements. Even by its occasion the poem was designed to afford scope for the young illustrator. It can be divided into a sequence of pictures. Psychological processes are translated into facial expressions and gestures. The poem's most conspicuous feature is certainly its music, in accordance with the fact that the hero is a piper who performs his feats by the miraculous qualities of his piping. Model examples in this respect are stanzas vii and xii, describing the exodus of the rats and of the children in onomatopoeic contrast. The events can easily be grasped by the young listener, as they take place within the narrow framework of the society of a small town, and they exemplify the moral duty of keeping one's promise. It is not to be wondered at that Browning was singularly successful with his poem at a children's party, which was distinguished in addition by Hans Christian Andersen reading his story about the ugly duckling.3 He has hit that childlike tone which was properly discovered only by the writers and artists of the nineteenth century.

The tone of the poem, however, cannot be explained only in terms of the poet trying to descend to the level of his young friend. If, for instance, we compare its language with that of, say, Lewis Carroll in Alice in Wonderland, which first appeared in 1862, we are struck by greater differences than can be accounted for by the intervening twenty years, the individual deviations of the respective authors from the stylistic norm or the differences between poetry and prose. While Carroll adapts himself to the linguistic habits of a well-bred little girl from the educated classes, Browning uses popular and by no means educated elements in his vocabulary and syntax. In talking to a child, he assumes the tone of the street-ballad singer—a parallel to the Grimm brothers introducing the traditional folk-tales into the nurseries of the middle-classes. It is a practical application of the theory that the naivety of the child corresponds to the thoughts and feelings of the people at an earlier stage of its cultural development. But the somewhat disreputable art of the ballad-singer did not yet quite belong to the past, as is proved by Silas Wegg in Dickens's Our Mutual Friend, a novel describing the contemporary scene.4 Typical features of the street-ballad, for which incidentally the term 'ditty' in stanza 1 is quite appropriate, are a presentation as sensationally dramatic as possible, a plain homely moral at the end, rhetorical addresses to the audience, popular syntax, traditional expressions, a metre of three or four stressed and an unspecified number of unstressed syllables, the involuntarily comic effects of stressing unstressed syllables, and imperfect rhymes. This catalogue agrees with the rules for story-telling to children, transcending it, however, in a few essential points. In 'The Pied Piper' the dramatic effect is achieved by concentrating the story in five acts, with the scenery changing every time: the procession of the people to the town-hall; the sitting of the council and the appearance of the piper; the exodus of the rats and the jubilation of the people; the claiming of the promise and the breach of it; the exodus of the children and the despair of the citizens. The rhythm of the drama consists in a change between tension and relaxation. The frequent use of direct speech enhances the impression of dramatic immediacy. The speed of presentation, also dramatic in its effect, accords with the character of the action, which seems to be rushing along throughout, from the opening ultimatum to the sudden appearance and reappearance of the piper. Rhetorical ballad clichés are such phrases as 'what schould hap . . . but', 'you should have heard', 'did I say all?', 'quoth one', 'when, lo . . .'. The syntax receives its popular stamp by a frequent use of inversion: 'To blow his pipe his lips he wrinkled', 'And ere three shrill notes the pipe uttered', etc. Traditional epithets are 'deep and wide' (of the River Weser), 'mighty (consternation)', 'wondrous (fat)'.

It is the prosody of the poem that raises doubts as to the genuine character of the ballad-singer—doubts, which are unquestionably intended. On the one hand there are excruciatingly wrong stresses, specially demanded by accents, rhymes of every possible kind of imperfection, combined in a climax of prosodic offences at the end. On the other hand there are stanzas of a musical perfection within reach only of a real poet. As a result there is an effect of incongruity between the poet and his role. The poet, it seems, is simultaneously thinking of the child who is to take him for what he pretends to be, and of the adults who are not to be deceived by his imposture, but to admire him as the actor behind his mask. To produce the awareness of the difference between the poet and his role, exaggeration is an absolute necessity. This is shown by other successful poems of the same kind such as Cowper's famous ballad 'John Gilpin'; even more by failures like Wordsworth's 'Goody Blake and Harry Gill' from Lyrical Ballads, which hits the naive tone of the street-ballad so exactly that it is no longer taken for a parody and embarrasses the educated reader, who cannot respond to it in the only appropriate way, i.e. with naive acceptance. It is now possible to see how far 'The Pied Piper' corresponds to Browning's definition of his poetry as 'always dramatic in principle, and so many utterances of so many imaginary persons, not mine'.5 The poem's effect consists in the tension between the role of the ballad-singer and the poet who is displaying his artistic skill in it.6 The grown-up who is telling a story to a child is looking, as it were, over his own shoulder or, to put it differently, conscious of the presence of other grown-ups. Browning was thus quite justified in publishing it in a collection for adult readers.

Since the tone of the poem is directed at two different age-groups, it seems reasonable to assume that the same may be true of its meaning. Looked at superficially as a story for children, it deals with an event equally removed in space and time. Its relationship to the present is that of 'once upon a time', and it has the irresistible charm of a fairy-tale fantasy. If one looks at it more closely, it does not seem so very far away from the situation of England in 1842. As early as 1864 Walter Bagehot formulated the theme of the poem as 'the bourgeois nature in difficulties'.7 The bourgeois, portrayed in all his obese complacency, is confronted by a peril threatening his household goods. In his world, where the law of contract has absolute validity, privilege can only be obtained by service. If the people insist on the stipulations of the contract, this is only the Carlylean extension of the utilitarian principle of 'No work no recompense' from the lower to the upper classes.8 At the time the poem was written Browning, it will be remembered, was particularly close to Carlyle. It is hardly fanciful to see parallels between the situation of Hamelin in the fourteenth century and that of mid-nineteenth-century England. The procession of the people to the town hall is the realization of a nightmare of the middle-classes in the 'hungry forties', when the 'revolution that never happened' seemed a frightening possibility. That rats should be the problem which the ruling class cannot cope with has also a twofold effect. For the child the rats for all their brazen impudence seem funny little animals, a cheerful tribe of parasitic gourmands, with whose visions of a land of plenty one can sympathize. For the grown-ups there may have been rather different associations. The inability of the government to tackle the social consequences of industrialization became particularly glaring in the endemic diseases, produced by insufficient sanitation in the living quarters of the industrial workers. It was the outbreak of cholera that made hygiene for the first time accepted as a public responsibility. Contagion, to which even the rich are not immune, is used by Dickens as a symbol for the community of rich and poor within the nation. In the year in which the poem was written Chadwick produced his famous report on The Sanitary Condition of the Labouring Classes, which with some delay was followed by legislative action. Even in 1872 D'Israeli's paternalist programme of social reform was still described disparagingly by his liberal opponents as a 'policy of sewage'.

If we proceed to the piper, there are certainly traits that he has in common with the piper of the nursery rhyme, in which every stanza describes an incident like the following:

He met old Dame Trot with a basket of eggs,
He used his pipe and she used her legs;
She danced about till the eggs were all broke,
She began for to fret, but he laughed at the joke.

Over the hills and a great way off,
The wind shall blow my top-knot off.9

The Hamelin piper's art, too, has magic power, with the important difference that he does not use it to play irresponsible pranks, but to free society from the pests from which it is suffering. And there are still further peculiarities. The piper is altogether different from everyone else, entering society without any familiar antecedents. His skin is dark, his eyes are unusually penetrating, his clothes motley and unfashionable, and he does not seem bound by the limitations of space and time. Thus he resembles in many ways the Victorian stereotype of the artist, possessed of magic qualities, gipsy-like, outside society, visionary and Carlylean hero, capable of solving the problems of the times. In the present context it is relevant that according to the aesthetic theory of the time the poet's affinities were all with the musicians, as musical effects beyond the reach of prose were regarded as the essence of poetic art. Only when the piper is taken as the representative of the artist generally, including the poet, does the irony of the last stanza fully emerge. Browning gives a new twist to the Victorian commonplace of the artist as social outsider. He shows how society exploits his position outside it by breaking the contract which inside it is sacred. The artist's services are not remunerated. Again the political context of the year 1842 is very illuminating and may indeed provide a clue to the inspiration of the poem. In 1842 the Literary Copyright Act was passed at long last, ably advocated by Macaulay. It provided an extension of the previous 28 years from the date of publication to 42 years, with other safeguards for the rights of authors. In the course of the agitation for a new law Carlyle had submitted the following petition to the House of Commons:

That your petitioner has written certain books, being incited thereto by certain innocent and laudable considerations; . . . that this labour has found hitherto, in money or money's worth, small recompense or none: that he is by no means sure of its ever finding recompense: but thinks that, if so, it will be at a distant time, when he, the labourer, will probably no longer be in need of money, and those dear to him will still be in need of it; . . . (may the House forbid) extraneous persons, entirely unconcerned in this adventure of his, to steal from him his small winnings, for a space of sixty years at the shortest. After sixty years, unless your Honourable House provide otherwise, they may begin to steal.10

Modern critics of bourgeois society have made its dealings with artists a touchstone of its morality. T. W. Adorno, for instance, following Ernest Newman, has tried to clear Wagner from the charge of defrauding his creditors by pointing to the equally unscrupulous practice of opera-houses producing his works without letting him share in the profits.11 The behaviour of bourgeois society towards the artist shows that its moral code is not of absolute, but merely of relative validity. It is binding only where reciprocity is guaranteed, where 'honesty is the best policy'. If it is true that Browning had certain reservations about the poem, he may have felt that the revenge of the piper could be regarded as the wishful thinking of a neglected poet.

We can conclude, then, that there are two levels of meaning in 'The Pied Piper'. It is addressed at the same time to children and to grown-ups. It is among those Victorian poems that transpose contemporary problems into the past and present them from the point of view of a fictional character, to ensure discussion on neutral ground, without the poet committing himself or hurting the feelings of his audience. The existence of these two levels of meaning distinguishes 'The Pied Piper' from such poems as Barham's Ingoldsby Legends, which it apparently resembles.12 It is true that the Ingoldsby Legends also present medieval or pseudomedieval stories in a tone of assumed naivety. But the naivety is so grossly exaggerated that even a child might notice it. The Legends illustrate the darkness of the dark ages, an impassable gulf gaping between them and the enlightened present. Their effect is due to the flattering feeling of intellectual and cultural superiority which they suggest to the modern reader. They combine the grotesque thrill of the gothic ballad in the style of 'Monk' Lewis with the flippant cynicism of Byron's comic epic. Browning's poetry, however, even when it is comical, is pervaded by the high seriousness of the Victorians. Human life consists in constant effort to reach the unattainable. In the nineteenth century there is no cause for complacency. To look into the mirror of the past does not serve to assure oneself of one's superiority, but to realize one's own imperfections. Browning's poetry is grotesque, as Bagehot was the first to observe, in that it conjures up the perfect by presenting the imperfect.


1. W. Bagehot, 'Wordsworth, Tennyson, and Browning; or, Pure, Ornate, and Grotesque Art in English Poetry', The Collected Works, ed. N. St John-Stevas, 1965, ii, 361 sqq.

2. For the problem of the sources and bibliographical information see D. C. DeVane, A Browning Handbook, New York, 1955, p. 129 sq., which quotes R. Verstegen, Restitution of Decayed Intelligence in Antiquities, 1628, pp. 85-7.

3. W. H. Griffin and H. C. Minchin, The Life of Robert Browning, 1911, p. 220.

4. For form and history of the broadside ballad see V. de Sola Pinto and A. E. Rodway, The Common Muse, 1957.

5. R. Browning, Poetical Works, Oxford, 1967, p. lx, 'Author's Preface to Edition of 1868'.

6. For the most recent discussion of the problem of the dramatic monologue see K. E. Faas, 'Dramatischer Monolog und dramatischmonologische Versdichtung', Anglia, 87, 1969, pp. 338-66.

7. W. Bagehot, op. cit., p. 353.

8. T. Carlyle, 'Chartism', English and Other Critical Essays, Everyman's Library ed., 1964, p. 177.

9. 'Tom, the Playful Piper', The Puffın Book of Nursery Rhymes, ed. I and P. Opie, 1963, p. 169.

10. G. O. Trevelyan, The Life and Letters of Lord Macaulay, 1900, p. 434.

11. T. W. Adorno, Einleitung in die Musiksoziologie, Hamburg, Rowohlts deutsche Enzyklopädie, 1968, p. 68.

12. G. Saintsbury, A History of English Prosody, 1910, iii, 229: 'The popular "Pied Piper" could not help coming after Praed and Barham.'

David Goslee (essay date 1988)

SOURCE: Goslee, David. "Paying Browning's Piper." Studies in Browning and His Circle 16 (1988): 42-51.

[In the following essay, Goslee concentrates on the figure of the Piper in The Pied Piper of Hamelin, building upon U. C. Knoepflmacher's theories regarding Victorian children's fantasies. Goslee asserts that the Piper functions as an agent of death, thus subverting the longings of the poem's other characters.]

"Critics of Browning's poem about the Pied Piper [Pied Piper of Hamelin ] have, mercifully, been content to see it simply as the child's story Browning intended it to be"; so begins J. L. Winter's note.1 Ian Jack counts himself among such critics: "'The Pied Piper' contains all the elements required to please children. . . . [They] love an animal story, and love even more . . . a story which makes grown-ups seem foolish. . . ."2 Browning's own childlike participation in his poem is captured in Henry James's account of a party where the poet and Hans Christian Andersen took turns performing: "Browning struck up with the 'Pied Piper' ; which led to the formation of a grand march through the spacious Barbarini apartment, with [William] Story doing his best on a flute in default of bagpipes."3

We must remember, however, that Childe Roland has ensured his place among the forerunners of modern nihilism by spearing a single water rat which only sounded "like a baby's shriek." Should we then class as juvenile literature a poem which drowns legions of rats and deposits a town's worth of children within a hole in the ground? Critics like Wolfgang Franke do in fact argue that "The grown-up who is telling a story to a child is looking, as it were, over his own shoulder, . . . conscious of the presence of other grown-ups."4 Milton Millhauser finds the poem an allegory of the artist rejected as alien by "a characteristically bourgeois community" and retaliating "through the exercise of his art."5 After noting the paradox between the "paradise of dreams" the Piper promises and the "world of ironies" he leaves behind, Lee Erickson finds this "paradox . . . resolved, as it is in Pippa Passes, by the audience's naiveté or skepticism."6 While I doubt that the paradox can be so easily resolved, I agree with Erickson that examining the poem's audience is the best way to begin.

In his award-winning article, "The Balancing of Child and Adult: An Approach to Victorian Fantasies for Children," U. C. Knoepflmacher claims that within such fantasies a childlike adult will frequently offer aid and counsel to a frustrated child longing to become adult. Such mediating figures also provide a voice for the childlike, innocent, regressive side of their adult authors and reconcile the competing values within their mixed and constantly maturing audiences:

Torn between the opposing demands of innocence and experience, the author who resorts to the wishful, magical thinking of the child nonetheless feels compelled . . . to hold on to the grown-up's circumscribed notions about reality. In the better works of fantasy of the period, this dramatic tension between the outlooks of adult and childhood selves becomes rich and elastic: conflict and harmony, friction and reconciliation, realism and wonder, are allowed to interpenetrate and coexist.7

Knoepflmacher's paradigm offers us a cogent strategy for determining whether Browning's poem constitutes a "Victorian fantasy for children," as Winter and Jack claim, or a disguised parable for adults, as Erickson, Millhauser, and Franke counter. For one thing, the paradigm allows us to identify a character who seems to mediate between different factions and ages. For another, it replaces the rigid division between naive childhood and corrupt maturity with a division between action within the poem and response outside it. Knoepflmacher's paradigm even offers me a cogent strategy for arguing that the poem ultimately subverts his categories and so renders the distinction between child and adult moot. It allows me to argue that the Piper, otherwise unknowable, reveals himself only as he subverts the desires and the self-definitions of characters, author, and audience.


While Jack acknowledges the Piper's mysterious nature, he sees it as essential to fantasy: he is "just the sort of person to fascinate children, an adult who yet comes from beyond the usual world of grown-ups, an 'outsider' with supernatural powers."8 To the adults in the poem, however, the Piper's origins prove more troubling than fascinating. Although he knows everyone else—and the tunes that will lead them—no one knows him: "There was no guessing his kith and kin" (64). When he disappears, "The mayor sent East, West, North and South, / . . . . But . . . they saw 'twas a lost endeavor, / And Piper and dancers were gone for ever" (261, 267-68).

We, the poem's audience, are left as baffled as the townspeople when we try to seek out the Piper through historical sources and literary parallels. The
spectral Erl King, who was introduced to England in Scott's 1797 translation of the Goethe ballad, also masks a child's approaching death as a promise of some delightful new existence within his realm. In Goethe, however, the father is left with the child dead in his arms, just as in Browning the town is left with empty memorials.9 Other parallels, because Biblical, become particularly ironic:

There came into many a burgher's pate

A text which says that heaven's gate
Opes to the rich at as easy rate
As the needle's eye takes a camel in!


But if the gate in Koppelberg Hill leads somewhere other than Heaven, then the Piper becomes a false shepherd indeed. He promises like Jesus to make the lame walk, but he leaves the lame boy weeping outside the gate simply because he could not keep up. The rats, on the other hand, he leads like Moses in a great rodent exodus, but he then drowns them instead of their pursuers.

All of these skewed allusions suggest that for Browning this figure remains very personal and very problematic. As we have seen, his musical skill, his old-fashioned costume, his whimsical, otherworldly manner remind several critics of Browning's artists. In suggesting a parallel with Pippa, created a year earlier, Millhauser notes that although "the one motive for her songs is simple joy," they produce "socially valuable effects."10 For him, the Piper also foreshadows "the shabby-dignified poet, observant, poor, and—who knows?—possibly the king's spy, or God's in the considerably later 'How It Strikes a Contemporary.' "11 We remember that although the Piper identifies himself as "poor," he claims to be on familiar footing with Chams, Nizams, and Caliphs. He may also foreshadow other enigmatic figures from Men and Women ; the courtly Galuppi, whose tocattas drive the speaker to the discovery of both Venice's shallowness and his own; or the resurrected Lazarus, who now reinterprets conventional life as tunnel vision, "this black thread through the blaze."

Because he mediates so indiscriminately, however, because he promises more than he can (or chooses to) keep, the Piper also foreshadows casuists like Bishop Blougram or charlatans like Mr. Sludge. That Browning was already contemplating the artist as fraud is evident from the complex and chequered career of Sordello.12 At the height of this hero's poetic popularity, Browning holds up for caustic analysis

the Art
Developing his soul a thousand ways—
Potent, by its assistance, to amaze
The multitude with majesties, convince
Each sort of nature that the nature's prince
Accosted it.

(II, 676-81)

Sordello, he says, has gained this power here by playing upon the desires of his audience:

he strewed
A fairy dust upon that multitude,
Although he feigned to take them by themselves;
His giants dignified those puny elves,
Sublimed their faint applause.

(II, 645-49)

When burghers, children, and rats all hear in the Piper's tunes promises of a fulfillment otherwise denied them, are they not being strewn with a similarly deceiving "fairy dust"?

When the mayor is so terrified of his enraged constituents that he would sell his ermine robe of office "[f]or a guilder," he hears this:

In Tartary I freed the Cham,

Last June, from his huge swarms of gnats;

I eased in Asia the Nizam

Of a monstrous brood of vampyre-bats:

And as for what your brain bewilders,

If I can rid your town of rats

Will you give me a thousand guilders?


The visions of the other groups are so blatantly parallel that as early as 1926 Arthur Dickson conjectured, "Browning's surviving rat was probably suggested by Verstegen's [Browning's source's] lame boy."13 In fact both visions are actually suggested by the Piper; only in his tunes do rats and children recognize what they have always "really" wanted:

it seemed as if a voice
. . . . . . called out, "Oh rats, rejoice!
The world is grown to one vast drysaltery!
So munch on, crunch on, take your nuncheon,
Breakfast, supper, dinner, luncheon!"

(135, 137-40)

he led us, he said, to a joyous land,
Joining the town and just at hand,
Where waters gushed and fruit-trees grew
And flowers put forth a fairer hue,
And everything was strange and new. . . .


The disturbing parallels in these promises may be attributed to extenuating circumstances: The burghers' desires are first granted and then thwarted—but they have reneged on their bargain; the rats are duped—but they are, after all, only rats; the children are led into a hole in the ground—but it may be the "joyous land" promised them. In Browning's addendum, however, their descendants describe,

their fathers and mothers having risen
Out of some subterraneous prison
Into which they were trepanned. . . .


Recent source studies of the poem's underlying legend suggest an even more disturbing fate. Bernard Queenan speculates:

The children, or young people, might even have succumbed to an outbreak of the Dancing Madness, . . . in which dozens of the inhabitants of a locality would inexplicably be seized by a collective impulse to rise and roam together in a jerking, twisting frenzy, until they literally danced themselves into collapse and even death.14

In Lancet D. Wolfers sees the whole legend as an allegory of the Black Death: the children's disappearance into the mountain romanticizes their burial "in a common hillside grave" and the piper in motley is a variation on the medieval personification of Death leading his victims in a danse macabre.15

While Browning's own sources did not include such speculations,16 this equation of the Piper with Death suggests another, even more dubious subset of Browning's artists. In his treatment of rhetoric at the aesthetic stage, W. David Shaw argues that figures like Porphyria's Lover and the Duke of "My Last Duchess" kill the objects of their desire in order to possess them as aesthetic objects.17 These two openly hate life and use violence to turn it into art; the Piper, far more insidiously, uses his art to promise life while delivering death. The surviving rat's "commentary" offers a paradigm for all three groups: "just as a bulky sugar-puncheon . . . said 'Come bore me!" / —I found the Weser rolling o'er me" (141, 144-45). As her lover refuses to distinguish between Porphyria alive and Porphyria dead, as the Duke refuses to distinguish between his last duchess and her picture, so the Piper refuses to distinguish between the treatment due children and vermin. As he admits in his self-introduction, "I chiefly use my charm / On creatures that do people harm, / The mole and toad and newt and viper" (76-78)—"chiefly," but not exclusively. Wolfers may speak more inclusively than he intends when he describes the Piper as practicing medieval pest control.


Within the poem, the Piper has shown himself a more equivocal mediator than Knoepflmacher's model would have predicted. Outside the poem, the Piper continues to mediate the complex interrelations among story, author, and audience. Yet he can do so, I will now argue, only as the duplicitous agent of death. Browning actually calls forth such mutually destructive mediation through his ambivalent responses to all the groups in his poem. Millhauser attributes the poet's ambivalence toward Hamelin to its "bourgeois character": "Upon this dignified and rather stuffy scene appear, first the rats, and then, more significantly, the Piper."18 The sequence itself suggests that Browning sees the Hamelin Council as already obsessed and metaphorically associated with death. One of them compares the Piper to his "great-grandsire . . . walk[ing] this way from his painted tomb stone" (67, 69); and they renounce their bargain with him because "We saw with our eyes the vermin sink, / And what's dead can't come to life, I think" (165-66). But the townspeople find them "old and obese," and the mayor's eye, when not contemplating soup, looks "Nor brighter . . . nor moister / Than a too-long-opened oyster" (48-49). The Piper actually seems to lead the children away by transferring to them what little vitality the adults have left:

The mayor was dumb, and the Council stood
As if they were changed into blocks of wood,
Unable to move a step, or cry
To the children merrily skipping by. . . .


Even as agent of death, the Piper exposes their covert hatred of life. By letting them keep everything that they profess to care about—ermine gowns and wine barrels and "green and glutinous" turtle soup—he makes us doubt the sincerity of their subsequent grief.

The contrary association, that of rats and children with life, would seem to suggest what Bettelheim describes as an archetypal pattern of fairy tale, the interpretation of the adult world as monstrous, obsessed with death, yet vulnerable to the suddenly magical power of the child's anarchic vitality.19 As we saw, however, the vitality of these children is both invoked and controlled by the same voice which may well be leading them toward their own deaths. Their sudden appearance midway through the poem may suggest that they see this bondage as a release from the parental bondage which till now has reduced them to good Victorian children, neither seen nor heard. Their disappearance into a subterranean womb may even suggest that they would rather regress into nonbeing with the childlike Piper than mature into the kind of adults they see around them.20 Young Browning's hectoring of his sister and Sarah Flower should convince us that he had first-hand knowledge of obstreperous children.21 Yet instead of identifying with such children, instead of equating hostile adults with monsters, he implicitly accepts the adults' equation of childhood vitality with vermin.

Hence he does what Solomon only threatened: he divides the child—and the poem—in two. In the second half are the children. In the first half—and in their role as a disruptive, rowdy, but definitely vital presence—are the rats! It is the rats who

spoiled the women's chats
By drowning their speaking
With shrieking and squeaking
In fifty different sharps and flats.


But with the possible exception of "squeaking," the description could apply equally to the children. In fact when these children run after the Piper like "fowls in a farm-yard when barley is scattering," they are reduced to hungry animals. The rats, running toward a watery grave with their "Brothers, sisters, husbands, wives," are so vividly personified that they win more of our pity. This emotional transfer, however, works both ways; if we pity the rats more than children, we pity the children less than vermin.

We could, of course, argue that while Browning cared proportionally less about the humans, he was required by his source to drown the rats. As Millhauser points out, however, "This merely moves the question into a different area. What psychological process led Browning to select that particular tale from that particular source?"22 An answer to his question may lie implicitly within another of his own footnotes: "It is tempting to read the rats, 'squeaking / In fifty different sharps and flats,' as somehow representing both the disharmony and injurious consequences of bad art; but this—to say the least—verges on overinterpretation."23 In fact this may verge on an explanation for Browning's conflicting responses to his rodent subjects. Erickson remarks that "the poem's subject, form, and apparent audience seem to threaten our critical high seriousness. It is hard, for example, to quote 'Great rats, small rats, lean rats, brawny rats . . .' in the service of any respectable intellectual enterprise."24 From infancy Browning had been fascinated by animals of all kinds, and two years later, working again out of Wanley's Wonders, he would oppose the vitality of newts and bugs to the deadness of human pedantry in "Sibrandus Schafnaburgensis. 25At this point, however, just as his source and his burghers could conceive of the rats only as vermin, so Browning could conceive of their prosodic equivalent, the chaotic verse which describes them, only as a written vehicle for Willie Macready's pictures.


Hence Browning encases this verbal anarchy within the strangely tidy parallels we have been encountering: the division of the poem into rats and children; the balancing of their calls, their visions, and their fates; the inexorable economic sequence of monetary payment agreed on, monetary payment denied, and payment in kind exacted. If his bumptiousness constituted the prosodic equivalent of the rats, then these parallels constitute the equivalents, in fact the strategies of the Piper.

It is almost as if Browning watched each set of his characters try in turn to manipulate the mysterious Piper, only to find themselves manipulated. Through these repeated reversals he learned that the only safe way to know the Piper was not to follow him toward some vision of the heart's desire, but to join him. Joining him meant refusing to take sides in the conflict between childhood vitality and adult repression. It meant accepting a world-view and a world in which everyone is expendable because everyone has a tune by which he can be led. It meant sharing the Piper's enigmatic power to impose upon this anarchy of conflicting desires an order which is both poetic justice and a denial of all desire in the poem.

Joining the Piper also meant accepting the control which he exercises over the narrative point of view. Ian Jack, to be sure, sees the poem as the least dramatic of its volume, the least informed by a character's words and mind set.26 Indeed the Piper's power grows out of our ignorance of his origins, nature, motives, or destination. By aligning himself with this mysterious figure, however, Browning could assume his even-handed, godlike disinterestedness, could assume the same freedom from Victorian moral and cultural constraints that he was exploring in his own dramatic monologues. In the monologues he would have to stand apart from his thoroughly involved, thoroughly contingent speakers; here he could speak in and through the Piper because the Piper speaks for no one, not even for any comprehensible image of self.


"So, Willy, let me and you be wipers / Of scores out with all men—especially pipers!" (300-01). This fusion of the adult author with his juvenile audience-of-one seems to support Knoepflmacher's claim that the mediating figure in fantasy also helps mediate generational conflicts within the author and among the audience. But as a moral, what does it mean "to pay the Piper"? Perhaps Browning suddenly felt obliged to appeal to the potential adult in Willy instead of pandering to the covert child in himself, felt obliged to mediate like the Piper between the chaotic vitality he had been celebrating and the bourgeois culture he had been pillorying throughout the poem. But why should Willy—why should we—pay this Piper? Why should we believe, much less reward, one whose only "mediations" are self-destructive illusions? Indeed the Piper may not deserve payment, but he can and does demand it. His art may be illusion, but he makes it real by making it call forth corresponding illusions within the human heart.

When Browning reluctantly included a wider adult audience by publishing the poem in hisDramatic Lyrics, 27 he made inevitable the question we asked at the beginning: is this a child's or an adult's poem? In one sense, he reduced the question to one of definition: troubling literature ceases to be children's literature only if we assume that children cannot or should not confront troubling questions. In another sense, however, Browning rendered the question moot: to the extent that the poem advocates "paying" the Piper in the sense of joining him, it advocates renouncing, controlling, exploiting all desires, in adult and child alike. It advocates sharing its own sardonic vision, a vision of all humanity led blindly toward an uncertain end by a pied figure it can neither understand nor acknowledge. Any less radical interpretation of "payment" is really underpayment; it is precisely the strategy by which the burghers tried to limit the Piper's power and silence his tune. When Browning decided to publish, he made certain that neither his Piper nor his poem could ever be permanently silenced.


1. J. L. Winter, "Browning's Piper," Notes and Queries, 212 (New Series 14), (October, 1967), 373.

2. Ian Jack, Browning's Major Poetry (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973), pp. 82-83.

3. Henry James, William Wetmore Story and His Friends, 2 vols. (1903; rpt., 2 vols. in 1, New York: DaCapo Press, 1969), I, p. 286.

4. Wolfgang Franke, "Browning's Pied Piper of Hamelin: Two Levels of Meaning," ARIEL, 2, No. 4 (1971), 94.

5. Milton Millhauser, "Poet and Burgher: A Comic Variation on a Serious Theme," Victorian Poetry, 7 (1969), 166. Franke, noting that the date of the poem's composition, 1842, was also that of the passing of the Literary Copyright Act, sees Browning as showing through his Piper-Poet, "how society exploits his position outside it by breaking the contract which inside it is sacred" (p. 96).

6. Lee Erickson, Robert Browning: His Poetry and His Audiences (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1984), p. 92.

7. U. C. Knoepflmacher, "The Balancing of Child and Adult: An Approach to Victorian Fantasies for Children," Nineteenth-Century Fiction, 37 (1983), 499.

8. Jack, p. 83.

9. The "story on a column, / And on the great church-window painted" sets up an interesting dichotomy between the art which can only commemorate and the art of the Piper, so powerful that it can both animate and kill.

10. Millhauser, pp. 165-66.

11. Millhauser, p. 167.

12. Millhauser suggests some less problematic parallels with Sordello (p. 165).

13. Arthur Dickson, "Browning's Source for The Pied Piper of Hamelin," Studies in Philology, 213 (1926), 335.

14. Bernard Queenan, "The Evolution of the Pied Piper," Children's Literature, 7 (1978), 112. Queenan attributes this frenzy to "the toxic effects of a fungus which infected growing grain crops. . . ." He also discusses possible references to the Children's Crusade of 1212 and a recruiting expedition of the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph von Hapsburg in 1284 (pp. 111-13). DeVane, after mentioning the Children's Crusade, adds that "The legend is also, of course, an attempt to account for the widely scattered habitations of the Saxons." William Clyde DeVane, A Browning Handbook, 2nd ed. (New York: Appleton, 1955), p. 119.

15. D. Wolfers, "A Plaguey Piper," Lancet, No. 7388 (April 3, 1965), pp. 756-57.

16. See Dickson, pp. 327-36.

17. W. David Shaw, The Dialectical Temper: The Rhetorical Art of Robert Browning (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1968), pp. 75-77, 92-104. While the Piper shows understandably little interest in possessing the town council or the rats, he does "trepan" the children within an enclosure far more secure than the curtain concealing the Duchess' portrait.

18. Millhauser, pp. 166-67.

19. Bruno Bettelheim, The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales (New York: Knopf, 1976), pp. 6-11, 120-23. My stress on childhood anarchy probably owes something to Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are. Consult Geraldine DeLuca, "Exploring the Levels of Childhood: The Allegorical Sensibility of Maurice Sendak," Children's Literature, 12 (1984), 3-24.

20. The psychological alternative is even less healthy. The Piper's eyes, hair, and lack of "beard on chin" all prompt Winter "to wonder whether Browning had Chaucer's Pardoner in mind. . . . But of course the parallels must not be forced: the eyes of the Piper are abnormally bright, but their look is innocent, while the staring eyes of the Pardoner express a personality far less suited to W[illiam] M[acready] the Younger" (p. 373). The phallic associations of the pipe, however, hardly need forcing:

his fingers, they noticed, were ever straying
As if impatient to be playing
Upon this pipe, as low it dangled. . . .


The Piper himself may be equally unsuited to Willie and to the children of Hamelin, leading them off, not toward perpetual childhood, but toward a sexual initiation far more perverse than those Bettelheim finds foreshadowed in fairy-tales.

21. Maisie Ward, Robert Browning and His World: The Private Face [1812-1861] (New York: Holt, Rinehart, 1967), pp. 25, 33-34.

22. Millhauser, p. 168n.

23. Millhauser, p. 167n.

24. Erickson, p. 92.

25. See Ward, pp. 14-16; and John Maynard, Browning's Youth (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1977), pp. 62-71. On the association of small animals with sexual potency, see Barbara Melchiori, Browning's Poetry of Reticence (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1968), pp. 149-54.

26. Jack, pp. 80-83.

27. According to DeVane, "The inclusion of the poem in Dramatic Lyrics was somewhat accidental. Browning seems not to have thought highly of it, and sent it to the printer late—probably in October—when Moxon reported the poems on hand were insufficient to fill a sixteen-page pamphlet" (p. 115).



Cianciolo, Patricia J. "Creating Variants with Illustrations." In Once upon a Folktale: Capturing the Folklore Process with Children, edited by Gloria T. Blatt, pp. 97-109. New York, N.Y.: Teachers College Press, 1993.

Analyzes the illustrations in three different editions of The Pied Piper of Hamelin, focusing on how each artist interpreted the poem uniquely.

Franklin, Colin. "The Chiswick Press Pied Piper: A Minor Mystery." Studies in Browning and His Circle 22 (May 1999): 14-17.

Investigates questions surrounding the illustrations and paper size of an 1884 edition of The Pied Piper of Hamelin.

Winter, J. L. "Browning's Piper." Notes and Queries 14, no. 10 (October 1967): 373.

Proposes a possible connection between The Pied Piper of Hamelin and The Pardoner's Tale from Geoffery Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales.

Additional coverage of Browning's life and career is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group: British Writers, Vol. 4; British Writers: The Classics, Vol. 2; British Writers Retrospective Supplement, Vol. 2; Concise Dictionary of British Literary Biography, 1832-1890 ; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vols. 32, 163; DISCovering Authors ; DISCovering Authors: British Edition ; DISCovering Authors: Canadian Edition ; DISCovering Authors Modules: Most-studied authors and Poets ; DISCovering Authors 3.0 ; Exploring Poetry ; Literature and Its Times Supplement, Ed. 1; Literature Resource Center ; Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism, Vols. 19, 79; Poetry Criticism, Vol. 2; Poetry for Students, Vols. 1, 15; Poets: American and British ; Reference Guide to English Literature, Ed. 2; Twayne's English Authors ; World Literature and Its Times, Vol. 4; World Literature Criticism Supplement ; World Poets ; and Yesterday's Authors of Books for Children, Vol. 1.

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Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.