Context: Robert Browning sharpened the dramatic monologue to a fine edge in utilizing this poetic genre as a means of exposing the full range of characterization. Characters in love, in hate, in joy, in misery–characters, in short, involved in life itself–parade before us in his poems. In "Mr. Sludge, 'The Medium,'" expressing his distrust of the medium or the spiritualist, he depicts a character involved in cozenage. The poem, possibly occasioned by Browning's severe antagonism against the American spiritualist Daniel D. Home, sets forth Sludge as the protagonist. His deceptions detected, the medium first attempts to win sympathy by confessing the fraud of his trade and his own personal corruption. But as the deceiver is allowed to talk, his confidence begins to reappear, and the defense of his profession takes form; without the gullible people who fall into his snare because they desire to be deluded and to cultivate the thrill of spiritual communication, the practice could not exist. The dramatic monologue, then, in the final analysis becomes a sweeping attack, not merely upon the disreputable practitioner but also upon the individual whose curiosity and lack of common sense render him prey to such blandishments:
Yet I thinkThere's a more hateful form of foolery–The social sage's, Solomon of saloonsAnd philosophic diner-out, the fribbleWho wants a doctrine for a chopping-blockTo try the edge of his faculty upon,Prove how much common sense he'll hack and hewI' the critical minute 'twixt the soup and fish!These were my patrons: these, and the like of themWho, rising in my soul now, sicken it,–These I have injured! Gratitude to these? . . .So much for my remorse at thanklessnessToward a deserving public!