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Before that estrangement, however, the alliance between Browning and Macready had one salutary effect: it provided the occasion for Browning’s composition of “The Pied Piper.” In May 1842 Macready’s son Willie was sick in bed; Willie liked to draw and asked Browning to give him “some little thing to illustrate” while in confinement.The poet responded first with a short poem, “The Cardinal and the Dog,” and then, after being impressed with Willie’s drawings for it, with “The Pied Piper of Hamelin.” The story of the Pied Piper was evidently well known in Browning’s home.
The poet’s father began his own poem on the subject in 1842 for another young family friend, discontinuing his effort when he learned of his son’s poem.
The primary source of the story was a 17th-century collection, Nathaniel Wanley’s (1678).
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His family background was also important for financial reasons; the father whose own artistic and scholarly dreams had been destroyed by financial necessity was more than willing to support his beloved son’s efforts.
Browning decided as a child that he wanted to be a poet, and he never seriously attempted any other profession.
Browning’s appetite for the story having been whetted, he was induced to learn Greek so as to read the original.
Much of Browning’s education was conducted at home by his father, which accounts for the wide range of unusual information the mature poet brought to his work.
His claim to attention as a children’s writer is more modest, resting as it does almost entirely on one poem, “The Pied Piper of Hamelin,” included almost as an afterthought in (1842) and evidently never highly regarded by its creator.
Nevertheless, “The Pied Piper” moved quickly into the canon of children’s literature, where it has remained ever since, receiving the dubious honor (shared by the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen and J. Barrie’s ) of appearing almost as frequently in “adapted” versions as in the author’s original.