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(a) The early years: 1812–1832

Robert Browning was born into a modest, middle-class family on 7 May 1812. His father, also Robert Browning (1782-1866), was a clerk at the Bank of England, earning about £200 to £300 a year. His mother, Sarah Anna Wiedemann (1772-1849), was a devout Nonconformist Christian, of mixed German and Scottish descent, ten years older than her husband, 40 at the time of the poet’s birth. He was baptized at a nearby Nonconformist (Congregational) chapel – later known as the York Street Congregational Church – where his parents worshipped. His only sister, Sarianna, was born two years later, in 1814. The famous historian, Thomas Carlyle, who knew Browning and his family in the 1840s, described the poet’s parents as ‘people of respectable position among the dissenters, but not rich neither’ (Griffin 1938: 47).