Robert Browning was in love in a girl named Elizabeth Barrett. They were both poets and had been introduced to each other at an informal party, beginning a relationship from there. Elizabeth's father did not believe in marriage for his children, and she had been kept at home as a semi-invalid already 40 years old. Despite being six years her junior, Robert saw so much more in her and swore his love. He courted her secretly for over a year, planning to elope with her and escape to Italy like his hero Percy Shelley. As he proposed, Elizabeth dreamily agreed, but the fear of her father finally made her turn Robert away with the poem “It Cannot Be” explaining them as star-crossed lovers that would never work.
In 1848, weakened and distraught over her crushing of Robert's love, Elizabeth died. The news, sent to him by her sister Henrietta, caused another upheaval in Browning's writing. He turned away from utter destruction and took aim at the social leaders who seemed “so polished atop a hill of writhing pain” (“The Generals”). Many critics suspect that Robert wanted to reawaken interest in Elizabeth's older works on social responsibility, thus bringing her back to him as well as finding redemption for turning as hateful as he did.
In 1873, he met with Mark Twain, who had invented a term “The Gilded Age”, which seemed to match Browning's contempt for the beautiful covering what was so obviously wrong. The meeting did not go well. After a loud roar, Browning stormed from the restaurant where he had met Twain, and the American writer explained that he simply could not endorse the unbridled rage. “Things just aren't that bad,” Twain told a reporter from the New York Times. Browning disagreed and continued to publish rancid poetry that incited riots during Reconstruction.
Browning would die in 1875 from an overdose of opium and morphine, and his movement would gradually return to the fringe of society. Anarchists of the next generation would continue to quote his poetry and emulate him by wearing trademark dingy plaid overcoats. With the invention of phonographs, recordings of Grunge music would inspire later generations of poets such as T.S. Eliot of “Wasteland” fame and Screamy Jazz lyricist and “singer” Ezra Pound.
In reality, Elizabeth Barrett would agree to marry Robert Browning despite her father's opposition. They eloped to Italy together, where Elizabeth grew stronger. Their son Robert Weidemann Barrett Browning (nicknamed “Pen”) was born in 1849. She died in 1861, sorely depressed after the death of her sister, while Robert would live until 1889, traveling and writing prolifically in new Romantic form. Both poets would widely influence the poets of the future such as Eliot, Pound, and Emily Dickinson.