In April 1889, only a few months before he died, Robert Browning became the first major literary figure to commit his voice to wax. At a dinner party held by the artist Rudolf Lehmann, Browning stood before the Edison Talking Machine—then new and exceedingly novel—and recited his poem “How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix.” The problem: he couldn’t remember his lines.
“I forget it—er,” Browning stammers only three lines in. Then, after another false start: “I—I am most terribly sorry that I can’t remember my own verses.” (Imagine if, today, poets were expected to have all their own poems memorized.) “But one thing that I will remember all my life is the astonishing sensation produced upon me by your wonderful invention.” Read More