The appreciation of Browning's genius became general in his later years, and zeal was perhaps a little heightened by the complacency of disciples able to penetrate a supposed mist of obscurity. The Browning Society, founded in 1881 by Dr F.J. Furnivall and Miss E.H. Hickey, was a product of this appreciation, and helped to extend the study of the poems. Browning accepted the homage in a simple and friendly way, though he avoided any action which would make him responsible for the publications. He received various honours: LL.D. degree from Cambridge in 1879, the D.C.L. from Oxford in 1882, and LL.D. from Edinburgh in 1884. He became foreign correspondent to the Royal Academy in 1886. His son, who had settled at Venice, married in 1887, and Browning moved to De Vere Gardens. In the autumn of 1889 he went with his sister to visit his son, and stayed on the way at Asolo, which he had first seen in 1838, when it supplied the scenery of Pippa Passes. He was charmed with the place, and proposed to buy a piece of ground and to build upon it a house to be called "Pippa's Tower" - in memory of his early heroine.
While his proposal was under consideration he went to his son at Venice. His health had been breaking for some time, and a cold, aggravated by weakness of the heart, brought on a fatal attack. He died on the 12th of December 1889. He was buried in Westminster Abbey on 31st December. It was suggested that his wife's body should be removed from Florence to be placed beside him; but their son rightly decided that her grave should not be disturbed.
Browning's personal characteristics are so strongly stamped upon all his works that it is difficult to assign his place in contemporary thought. He is unique and outside of all schools. His style is so peculiar that he is the easiest of all poets to parody and the most dangerous to imitate. In spite of his early Shelley worship he is in certain respects more closely related to Wordsworth. Both of them started by accepting the poet's mission as quasi-prophetical or ethical. In other respects they are diametrically contrasted. Wordsworth expounded his philosophy by writing a poetical autobiography. Browning adheres to the dramatic method of which Wordsworth was utterly incapable. He often protested against the supposition that he put himself into his books. Yet there is no writer whose books seem to readers to be clearer revelations of himself. Nothing, in fact, is more characteristic of a man than his judgments of other men, and Browning's are keen and unequivocal. The revolutionary impulse had died out, and Browning has little to say either of the political questions which had moved Shelley and Byron, or of the social problems which have lately become more prominent. He represents the thought of a quieter epoch.
He was little interested, too, in the historical or "romantic" aspect of life. He takes his subjects from a great variety of scenes and places - from ancient Greece, medieval Italy and modern France and England; but the interest for him is not in the picturesque surroundings, but in the human being who is to be found in all periods. Like Balzac, whom he always greatly admired, he is interested in the eternal tragedy and comedy of life. His problem is always to show what are the really noble elements which are eternally valuable in spite of failure to achieve tangible results. He gives, so far, another version of Wordsworth's doctrine of the cultivation of the "moral being." The psychological acuteness and the subtle analysis of character are, indeed, peculiar to himself. Like Carlyle, with whom he had certain points of affinity, he protests, though rather by implication than direct denunciation, against the utilitarian or materialistic view of life, and finds the divine element in the instincts which guide and animate every noble character. When he is really inspired by sympathy for such emotions he can make his most grotesque fancies and his most far-fetched analyses subservient to poetry of the highest order.
It can hardly be denied that his intellectual ingenuity often tempts him to deviate from his true function, and that his observations are not to be excused because they result from an excess, instead of a deficiency, of intellectual acuteness. But the variety of his interests - aesthetic, philosophical and ethical - is astonishing, and his successes are poems which stand out as unique and unsurpassable in the literature of his time.
The Life and Letters of Browning, by Mrs Sutherland Orr (1891), one of his most intimate friends in later years, and The Love Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Barrett, 1845-1846, published by his son in 1899, are the main authorities. A collection of Browning's poems in 2 vols. appeared in 1849, another in 3 vols. in 1863, another in 6 vols. in 1868, and a revised edition in 16 vols. in 1888-1889; in 1896 Mr Augustine Birrell and Mr F.G. Kenyon edited a complete edition in 2 vols.; another two-volume edition was issued by Messrs Smith, Elder in 1900. Among commentaries on Browning's works, Mrs Sutherland Orr's Handbook to the Works of Browning was approved by the poet himself. See also the Browning Society's Papers; and Mr T.J. Wise's Materials for a Bibliography of the Writings of Robert Browning, included in the Literary Anecdotes of the Nineteenth Century (1895), by W. Robertson Nicoll and T.J. Wise; Mr. Edmund Gosse's Robert Browning: Personalia (1890), from notes supplied by Browning himself.
Among biographical and critical authorities may be mentioned: J.T. Nettleship, Essays (1868); Arthur Symons, An Introduction to the Study of Browning (1886); Stopford Brooke, The Poetry of Robert Browning (1902); G.K. Chesterton, Browning (1908) in the "English Men of Letters" series.