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The Independent Culture
From the late 1920s, the National Portrait Gallery invited leading writers to create 70-word biographies, of subjects whose portraits hang in the Gallery, for the backs of postcards. In this 12-week series, we present some of the most exceptional and unexpected of these unknown literary gems

11. G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936) on Robert Browning (1812-1889)

One of the two great Victorian poets, bracketed and contrasted with Tennyson, famous among his foes for obscurity and among his friends for intellectualism, he was as much as anything a romantic; especially a poet of love. But he made free use of the grotesque and loved intricate argument and apologia. These things are best shown in The Ring and The Book; but he may well live as the inventor of what he truly called the Dramatic Lyric.

G K Chesterton

Chesterton has written a biography of Browning's work, not life: not even a mention of Elizabeth Barrett, with whom Browning eloped in defiance of her stern Papa, in one of literature's most celebrated love affairs (see Pantheon, page 37). EBB was rated rather higher than her husband during her life; when Wordsworth died she was tipped for the Laureateship. Now it is Browning who seems the more interesting writer: particularly the long dramatic monologues like "Andrea Del Sarto", "My Last Duchess" and "Fra Lippo Lippi".

Portraits, drawings and letters from the "postcard biography" archives are on display at the National Portrait Gallery, St Martin's Place, London WC2. Free.