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He may be best-known now for “The Pied Piper of Hamelin”, but the legacy of the dramatic monologue runs (via Eliot, Pound, Frost, Plath, Hughes and others) to Carol Ann Duffy in poetry, and all the way to the use of personas by rappers such as Eminem and Nicki Minaj in music. Almost all those jokes and send-ups came from Browning admirers, and testify (as parody often does) to his eminence.
Wilde’s remark may have originated as a snarky one-liner, but when deployed at the end of his essay on Browning its effect is very different – far from ridiculing either him or Meredith, he is applauding both. “Taken as a whole the man was great,” Wilde begins, and he concludes – after recalling figures from the poems – by declaring that as “a creator of character he ranks next to him who made Hamlet”. He should be seen, not as a poet, but as “the most supreme writer of fiction, it may be, that we have ever had”.