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Browning, Robert°

BROWNING, ROBERT°

BROWNING, ROBERT ° (1812–1889), English poet who wrote many works of Jewish interest. Browning's appearance and associations combined to give rise to a report that he was of Jewish extraction, but this was wholly unfounded. Nevertheless, he knew Hebrew, was an assiduous student of the Old Testament (in Hebrew), had some knowledge of rabbinical literature, and always displayed strong sympathy for the Jews. During his long residence in Italy, he witnessed the degradations inflicted by the ghetto system in its last phases. The most famous of Browning's Jewish poems is "Rabbi Ben Ezra" (1864). It sets forth, in the form of a soliloquy, the optimistic philosophy of a Jewish sage, who may perhaps be identified with Abraham *Ibn Ezra. "Jochanan Hakkadosh" (1883) is apocryphal legend, Jewish in feeling as well as in title; "Ben Karshook's Wisdom" (1865) is a short, perceptive poem based on R. Eliezer's celebrated injunction that a man should "repent the day before his death" (Avot 2:15); and "Paracelsus" (1835) shows some understanding of the Kabbalah. "Holy Cross Day" (1855), another soliloquy, presents a Roman Jew of the 17th century forced to attend a conversionist sermon at Eastertide. Other poems by Browning of Jewish interest are "Saul" (1845) and "Solomon and Balkis" (1883), while Hebrew phrases or reminiscences may be found in "Doctor," "The Melon Seller," and "Two Camels." Browning showed his practical sympathy by supporting in 1881 a public protest in London against the persecution of the Jews in Russia.

bibliography:

E. Berdoe, Browning Cyclopaedia (1892); J. Jacobs, Jewish Ideals (1896), 84–96; J. Kelman, in: Prophets of Yesterday (1924), 137–62; J.B. Lieberman, Robert Browning and Hebraism (1934). add. bibliography: D. Goldstein, "Jews and Robert Browning: Fact and Fiction," jhset, 30 (1987–88), 125–34; R. Fowler, "Browning's Jews," Victorian Poetry, vol. 35 (1997); D. Thomas, Robert Browning: A Life Within Life (1983); M. Ward, Robert Browning and His World 2 vols. (1969); odnb online.

[Cecil Roth]

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