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Author: Symons, Arthur, 1865-1945
Title: An Introduction to the Study of Browning
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Title: An Introduction to the Study of Browning


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AN INTRODUCTION TO THE STUDY OF BROWNING

by

ARTHUR SYMONS

New Edition Revised and Enlarged







First Edition, 1906. Reprinted, 1916
London, Paris and Toronto J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd.
10-13 Bedford Street, W.C. 1916





    _" ... Browning, a great poet, a very great poet indeed, as
    the world will have to agree with us in thinking."_--LANDOR.




TO

GEORGE MEREDITH

NOVELIST AND POET

THIS LITTLE BOOK ON AN ILLUSTRIOUS CONTEMPORARY

IS WITH DEEP RESPECT AND ADMIRATION

INSCRIBED.




PREFACE


This _Introduction to the Study of Browning_, which is now reprinted in
a new form, revised throughout, and with everything relating to facts
carefully brought up to date, has been for many years out of print. I
wrote it as an act of homage to the poet whom I had worshipped from my
boyhood; I meant it to be, in almost his own words, used of Shelley,
some approach to "the signal service it was the dream of my boyhood to
render to his fame and memory."

It was sufficiently rewarded by three things: first, by the generous
praise of Walter Pater, in the _Guardian_, which led to the beginning of
my friendship with him; then, by a single sentence from George Meredith,
"You have done knightly service to a brave leader"; lastly, by a letter
from Browning himself, in which he said: "How can I manage even to
thank--much more praise--what, in its generosity of appreciation, makes
the poorest recognition 'come too near the praising of myself'?"

I repeat these things now, because they seem to justify me in dragging
back into sight a book written when I was very young, and, as I am only
too conscious, lacking in many of the qualities which I have since
acquired or developed. But, on going over it, I have found, for the most
part, what seems to me a sound foundation, though little enough may be
built on that foundation. I have revised many sentences, and a few
opinions; but, while conscious that I should approach the whole subject
now in a different way, I have found surprisingly few occasions for any
fundamental or serious change of view. I am conscious how much I owed,
at that time, to the most helpful and judicious friend whom I could
possibly have had at my elbow, Dykes Campbell. There are few pages of my
manuscript which he did not read and criticise, and not a page of my
proofs which he did not labour over as if it had been his own. He forced
me to learn accuracy, he cut out my worst extravagances, he kept me
sternly to my task. It was in writing this book under his encouragement
and correction that I began to learn the first elements of literary
criticism.

This new edition, then, of my book is new and yet the same. I have
altered everything that seemed to require altering, and I have made the
style a little more equable; but I have not, I hope, broken anywhere
into a new key, or added any sort of decoration not in keeping with the
original plainness of the stuff. When Pater said: "His book is,
according to his intention, before all things a useful one," he
expressed my wish in the matter; and also when he said: "His aim is to
point his readers to the best, the indisputable, rather than to the
dubious portions of his author's work." In the letter from which I have
quoted, Browning said: "It does indeed strike me as wonderful that you
should have given such patient attention to all those poems, and (if I
dare say further) so thoroughly entered into--at any rate--the spirit in
which they were written and the purpose they hoped to serve." If
Browning really thought that, my purpose, certainly, had been
accomplished.

_April 1906_.




PREFACE TO THE FIRST EDITION


I have ever held that the rod with which popular fancy invests criticism
is properly the rod of divination: a hazel-switch for the discovery of
buried treasure, not a birch-twig for the castigation of offenders. It
has therefore been my aim in the following pages to direct attention to
the best, not to forage for the worst--the small faults which acquire
prominence only by isolation--of the poet with whose writings I am
concerned. I wish also to give information, more or less detailed, about
each of Mr. Browning's works; information sufficient to the purpose I
have in view, which is to induce those who have hitherto deprived
themselves of a stimulating pleasure to deprive themselves of it no
longer. Further, my aim is in no sense controversial. In a book whose
sole purpose is to serve as an introduction to the study of a single one
of our contemporary poets, I have consciously and carefully refrained
from instituting comparisons--which I deprecate as, to say the least,
unnecessary--between the poet in question and any of the other eminent
poets in whose time we have the honour of living.

I have to thank Mr. Browning for permission to reprint the interesting
and now almost inaccessible prefaces to some of his earlier works, which
will be found in Appendix II. I have also to thank Dr. Furnivall for
permission to make use of his _Browning Bibliography_, and for other
kind help. I wish to acknowledge my obligation to Mrs. Orr's _Handbook
to Robert Browning's Works_, and to some of the Browning Society's
papers, for helpful information and welcome light. Finally, I would
tender my especial and grateful thanks to Mr. J. Dykes Campbell, who has
given me much kindly assistance.

_Sept. 15, 1886_.




CONTENTS


                                                     PAGE
GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS                                1

CHARACTERISTICS OF THE POEMS                          33

APPENDIX:

     I. A BIBLIOGRAPHY OF ROBERT BROWNING            241

     II. REPRINT OF DISCARDED PREFACES TO THE FIRST
         EDITIONS OF SOME OF BROWNING'S WORKS        255

INDEX TO POEMS                                       261





ROBERT BROWNING

BORN MAY 7, 1812.

DIED DECEMBER 12, 1889.




GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS




AN INTRODUCTION TO THE STUDY OF BROWNING


The first and perhaps the final impression we receive from the work of
Robert Browning is that of a great nature, an immense personality. The
poet in him is made up of many men. He is dramatist, humorist, lyrist,
painter, musician, philosopher and scholar, each in full measure, and he
includes and dominates them all. In richness of nature, in scope and
penetration of mind and vision, in energy of passion and emotion, he is
probably second among English poets to Shakespeare alone. In art, in the
power or the patience of working his native ore, he is surpassed by
many; but few have ever held so rich a mine in fee. So large, indeed,
appear to be his natural endowments, that we cannot feel as if the whole
vast extent of his work has come near to exhausting them.

As it is, he has written more than any other English poet with the
exception of Shakespeare, and he comes very near the gigantic total of
Shakespeare. Mass of work is of course in itself worth nothing without
due quality; but there is no surer test nor any more fortunate
concomitant of greatness than the union of the two. The highest genius
is splendidly spendthrift; it is only the second order that needs to be
niggardly. Browning's works are not a mere collection of poems, they are
a literature. And his literature is the richest of modern times. If
"the best poetry is that which reproduces the most of life," his place
is among the great poets of the world. In the vast extent of his work he
has dealt with or touched on nearly every phase and feature of humanity,
and his scope is bounded only by the soul's limits and the last reaches
of life. But of all "Poetical Works," small or great, his is the most
consistent in its unity. The manner has varied not a little, the
comparative worth of individual poems is widely different, but from the
first word to the last the attitude is the same, the outlook on life the
same, the conception of God and man, of the world and nature, always the
same. This unity, though it may be deduced from, or at least
accommodated to, a system of philosophical thought, is much more the
outcome of a natural and inevitable bent. No great poet ever constructed
his poems upon a theory, but a theory may often be very legitimately
discovered in them. Browning, in his essay on Shelley, divides all poets
into two classes, subjective and objective, the Seer and the Maker. His
own genius includes a large measure of them both; for it is equally
strong on the dramatic and the metaphysical side. There are for him but
two realities; and but two subjects, Life and Thought. On these are
expended all his imagination and all his intellect, more consistently
and in a higher degree than can be said of any English poet since the
age of Elizabeth. Life and thought, the dramatic and the metaphysical,
are not considered apart, but woven into one seamless tissue; and in
regard to both he has one point of view and one manner of treatment. It
is this that causes the unity which subsists throughout his work; and it
is this, too, which distinguishes him among poets, and makes that
originality by virtue of which he has been described as the most
striking figure in our poetic literature.

Most poets endeavour to sink the individual in the universal; it is
Browning's special distinction that when he is most universal he is most
individual. As a thinker he conceives of humanity not as an aggregate,
but as a collection of units. Most thinkers write and speak of man;
Browning of men. With man as a species, with man as a society, he does
not concern himself, but with individual man and man. Every man is for
him an epitome of the universe, a centre of creation. Life exists for
each as completely and separately as if he were the only inhabitant of
our planet. In the religious sense this is the familiar Christian view;
but Browning, while accepting, does not confine himself to, the
religious sense. He conceives of each man as placed on the earth with a
purpose of probation. Life is given him as a test of his quality; he is
exposed to the chances and changes of existence, to the opposition and
entanglement of circumstances, to evil, to doubt, to the influence of
his fellow-men, and to the conflicting powers of his own soul; and he
succeeds or fails, toward God, or as regards his real end and aim,
according as he is true or false to his better nature, his conception of
right. He is not to be judged by the vulgar standards of worldly success
or unsuccess; not even by his actions, good or bad as they may seem to
us, for action can never fully translate the thought or motive which lay
at its root; success or unsuccess, the prime and final fact in life,
lies between his soul and God. The poet, in Browning's view of him, is
God's witness, and must see and speak for God. He must therefore
conceive of each individual separately and distinctively, and he must
see how each soul conceives of itself.

It is here that Browning parts company most decisively with all other
poets who concern themselves exclusively with life, dramatic poets, as
we call them; so that it seems almost necessary to invent some new term
to define precisely his special attitude. And hence it is that in his
drama thought plays comparatively so large, and action comparatively so
small, a part; hence, that action is valued only in so far as it reveals
thought or motive, not for its own sake, as the crown and flower of
these.

      "To the motive, the endeavour, the heart's self
      His quick sense looks: he crowns and calls aright
      The soul o' the purpose, ere 'tis shaped as act,
      Takes flesh i' the world, and clothes itself a king."[1]

For his endeavour is not to set men in action for the pleasure of seeing
them move; but to see and show, in their action and inaction alike, the
real impulses of their being: to see how each soul conceives of itself.

This individuality of presentment is carried out equally in the domain
of life and of thought; as each man lives, so he thinks and perceives,
so he apprehends God and truth, for himself only. It is evident that
this special standpoint will give not only a unity but an originality to
the work of which it may be called the root; equally evident that it
will demand a special method and a special instrument.

The dramatic poet, in the ordinary sense, in the sense in which we apply
it to Shakespeare and the Elizabethans, aims at showing, by means of
action, the development of character as it manifests itself to the world
in deeds. His study is character, but it is character in action,
considered only in connection with a particular grouping of events, and
only so far as it produces or operates upon these. The processes are
concealed from us, we see the result. In the very highest realisations
of this dramatic power, and always in intention, we are presented with a
perfect picture, in which every actor lives, and every word is audible;
perfect, complete in itself, without explanation, without comment; a
dogma incarnate, which we must accept as it is given us, and explain and
illustrate for ourselves. If we wish to know what this character or that
thought or felt in his very soul, we may perhaps have data from which to
construct a more or less probable hypothesis; but that is all. We are
told nothing, we care to know nothing of what is going on in the
thought; of the infinitely subtle meshes of motive or emotion which will
perhaps find no direct outcome in speech, no direct manifestation in
action, but by which the soul's life in reality subsists. This is not
the intention: it is a spectacle of life we are beholding; and life is
action.

But is there no other sense in which a poet may be dramatic, besides
this sense of the acting drama? no new form possible, which

               "Peradventure may outgrow,
      The simulation of the painted scene,
      Boards, actors, prompters, gaslight, and costume,
      And take for a nobler stage the soul itself,
      In shifting fancies and celestial lights,
      With all its grand orchestral silences,
      To keep the pauses of the rhythmic sounds."[2]

This new form of drama is the drama as we see it in Browning, a drama
of the interior, a tragedy or comedy of the soul. Instead of a grouping
of characters which shall act on one another to produce a certain result
in action, we have a grouping of events useful or important only as they
influence the character or the mind. This is very clearly explained in
the original Advertisement to _Paracelsus_, where Browning tells us that
his poem is an attempt

    "to reverse the method usually adopted by writers whose aim
    it is to set forth any phenomenon of the mind or the
    passions, by the operation of persons and events; and that,
    instead of having recourse to an external machinery of
    incidents to create and evolve the crisis I desire to
    produce, I have ventured to display somewhat minutely the
    mood itself in its rise and progress, and have suffered the
    agency by which it is influenced and determined, to be
    generally discernible in its effects alone, and subordinate
    throughout, if not altogether excluded."

In this way, by making the soul the centre of action, he is enabled
(thinking himself into it, as all dramatists must do) to bring out its
characteristics, to reveal its very nature. Suppose him to be attracted
by some particular soul or by some particular act. The problem occupies
him: the more abstruse and entangled the more attractive to him it is;
he winds his way into the heart of it, or, we might better say, he picks
to pieces the machinery. Presently he begins to reconstruct, before our
eyes, the whole series of events, the whole substance of the soul, but,
so to speak, turned inside out. We watch the workings of the mental
machinery as it is slowly disclosed before us; we note the specialties
of construction, its individual character, the interaction of parts,
every secret of it. We thus come to see that, considered from the
proper point of view, everything is clear, regular and explicable in
however entangled an action, however obscure a soul; we see that what is
external is perfectly natural when we can view its evolution from what
is internal. It must not be supposed that Browning explains this to us
in the manner of an anatomical lecturer; he makes every character
explain itself by its own speech, and very often by speech that is or
seems false and sophistical, so only that it is personal and individual,
and explains, perhaps by exposing, its speaker.

This, then, is Browning's consistent mental attitude, and his special
method. But he has also a special instrument, the monologue. The drama
of action demands a concurrence of several distinct personalities,
influencing one another rapidly by word or deed, so as to bring about
the catastrophe; hence the propriety of the dialogue. But the
introspective drama, in which the design is to represent and reveal the
individual, requires a concentration of interest, a focussing of light
on one point, to the exclusion or subordination of surroundings; hence
the propriety of the monologue, in which a single speaker or thinker can
consciously or unconsciously exhibit his own soul. This form of
monologue, learnt perhaps from Landor, who used it with little
psychological intention, appears in almost the earliest of Browning's
poems, and he has developed it more skilfully and employed it more
consistently than any other writer. Even in works like _Sordello_ and
_Red Cotton Night-cap Country_, which are thrown into the narrative
form, many of the finest and most characteristic parts are in monologue;
and _The Inn Album_ is a series of slightly-linked dialogues which are
only monologues in disguise. Nearly all the lyrics, romances, idyls,
nearly all the miscellaneous poems, long and short, are monologues. And
even in the dramas, as will be seen later, there is visible a growing
tendency toward the monologue with its mental and individual, in place
of the dialogue with its active and outer interest.

Browning's aim, then, being to see how each soul conceives of itself,
and to exhibit its essential qualities, yet without complication of
incident, it is his frequent practice to reveal the soul to itself by
the application of a sudden test, which shall condense the long trial of
years into a single moment, and so "flash the truth out by one blow." To
this practice we owe his most vivid and notable work. "The poetry of
Robert Browning," says Pater, "is pre-eminently the poetry of
situations." He selects a character, no matter how uninteresting in
itself, and places it in some situation where its vital essence may
become apparent, in some crisis of conflict or opportunity. The choice
of good or evil is open to it, and in perhaps a single moment its fate
will be decided. When a soul plays dice with the devil there is only a
second in which to win or lose; but the second may be worth an eternity.
These moments of intense significance, these tremendous spiritual
crises, are struck out in Browning's poetry with a clearness and
sharpness of outline that no other poet has achieved. "To realise such a
situation, to define in a chill and empty atmosphere the focus where
rays, in themselves pale and impotent, unite and begin to burn, the
artist has to employ the most cunning detail, to complicate and refine
upon thought and passion a thousand fold.... Yet, in spite of this
intricacy, the poem has the clear ring of a central motive; we receive
from it the impression of one imaginative tone, of a single creative
act."[3]

It is as a result of this purpose, in consonance with this practice,
that we get in Browning's works so large a number of distinct human
types, and so great a variety of surroundings in which they are placed.
Only in Shakespeare can we find anything like the same variety of
distinct human characters, vital creations endowed with thoughtful life;
and not even, perhaps, in Shakespeare, such novelty and variety of
_milieu_. There is scarcely a salient epoch in the history of the modern
world which he has not touched, always with the same vital and
instinctive sympathy based on profound and accurate knowledge. Passing
by the legendary and remote ages and civilisations of East and West, he
has painted the first dawn of the modern spirit in the Athens of
Socrates and Euripides, revealed the whole temper and tendency of the
twilight age between Paganism and Christianity, and recorded the last
utterance of the last apostle of the now-conquering creed; he has
distilled the very essence of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the
very essence of the modern world. The men and women who live and move in
that new world of his creation are as varied as life itself; they are
kings and beggars, saints and lovers, great captains, poets, painters,
musicians, priests and popes, Jews, gipsies and dervishes, street-girls,
princesses, dancers with the wicked witchery of the daughter of
Herodias, wives with the devotion of the wife of Brutus, joyous girls
and malevolent greybeards, statesmen, cavaliers, soldiers of humanity,
tyrants and bigots, ancient sages and modern spiritualists, heretics,
scholars, scoundrels, devotees, rabbis, persons of quality and men of
low estate, men and women as multiform as nature or society has made
them. He has found and studied humanity, not only in English towns and
villages, in the glare of gaslight and under the open sky, but on the
Roman Campagna, in Venetian gondolas, in Florentine streets, on the
Boulevards of Paris and in the Prado of Madrid, in the snow-bound
forests of Russia, beneath the palms of Persia and upon Egyptian sands,
on the coasts of Normandy and the salt plains of Brittany, among Druses
and Arabs and Syrians, in brand-new Boston and amidst the ruins of
Thebes. But this infinite variety has little in it of mere historic or
social curiosity. I do not think Browning has ever set himself the task
of recording the legend of the ages, though to some extent he has done
it. The instinct of the poet seizes on a type of character, the eye of
the painter perceives the shades and shapes of line and colour and form
required to give it picturesque prominence, and the learning of the
scholar then sets up a fragment of the broken past, or re-fashions a
portion of the living present, as an appropriate and harmonious scene or
background. The statue is never dwarfed by the pedestal.

The characteristic of which I have been speaking (the persistent care
for the individual and personal, as distinguished from the universal and
general) while it is the secret of his finest achievements, and rightly
his special charm, is of all things the most alien to the ordinary
conceptions of poetry, and the usual preferences for it. The popularity
of rare and delicate poetry, which condescends to no cheap bids for it,
poetry like Tennyson's, for instance, is largely due to the very quality
which Browning's finest characteristic excludes from his. Compare,
altogether apart from the worth and workmanship, one of Tennyson's with
one of Browning's best lyrics. The perfection of the former consists in
the exquisite way in which it expresses feelings common to all. The
perfection of the latter consists in the intensity of its expression of
a single moment of passion or emotion, one peculiar to a single
personality, and to that personality only at a single moment. To
appreciate it we must enter keenly and instantaneously into the
imaginary character at its imagined crisis; and, even when this is
easiest to do, it is evident that there must be more difficulty in doing
it (for it requires a certain exertion) than in merely letting the mind
lie at rest, accepting and absorbing. And the difficulty is increased
when we remember another of Browning's characteristics, closely allied
to this, and, indeed, resulting from it: his preference for the unusual
and complex rather than the simple and ordinary. People prefer to read
about characters which they can understand at first sight, with which
they can easily sympathise. A dramatist, who insists on presenting them
with complex and exceptional characters, studies of the good in evil and
the evil in good, representations of states of mind which are not
habitual to them, or which they find it difficult to realise in certain
lights, can never obtain so quick or so hearty a recognition as one who
deals with great actions, large and clear characters, familiar motives.
When the head has to be exercised before the heart, there is chilling of
sympathy.

Allied to Browning's originality in temper, topic, treatment and form,
is his originality in style; an originality which is again due, in large
measure, to the same prevailing cause. His style is vital, his verse
moves to the throbbing of an inner organism, not to the pulsations of a
machine. He prefers, as indeed all true poets do, but more exclusively
than any other poet, sense to sound, thought to expression. In his
desire of condensation he employs as few words as are consistent with
the right expression of his thought; he rejects superfluous adjectives,
and all stop-gap words. He refuses to use words for words' sake: he
declines to interrupt conversation with a display of fireworks: and as a
result it will be found that his finest effects of versification
correspond with his highest achievements in imagination and passion. As
a dramatic poet he is obliged to modulate and moderate, sometimes almost
to vulgarise, his style and diction for the proper expression of some
particular character, in whose mouth exquisite turns of phrase and
delicate felicities of rhythm would be inappropriate. He will not _let
himself go_ in the way of easy floridity, as writers may whose themes
are more "ideal." And where many writers would attempt merely to
simplify and sweeten verse, he endeavours to give it fuller
expressiveness, to give it strength and newness. It follows that
Browning's verse is not so uniformly melodious as that of many other
poets. Where it seems to him necessary to sacrifice one of the two,
sense or sound, he has never hesitated which to sacrifice. But while he
has certainly failed in some of his works, or in some passages of them,
to preserve the due balance, while he has at times undoubtedly
sacrificed sound too liberally to the claims of sense, the extent of
this sacrifice is very much less than is generally supposed. The notion,
only too general, expressed by such a phrase as "his habitual rudeness
of versification" (used by no unfavourable _Edinburgh_ reviewer in 1869)
is one of the most singularly erroneous perversions of popular prejudice
that have ever called for correction at the hands of serious criticism.

Browning is far indeed from paying no attention, or little, to metre and
versification. Except in some of his later blank verse, and in a few
other cases, his very errors are just as often the result of hazardous
experiments as of carelessness and inattention. In one very important
matter, that of rhyme, he is perhaps the greatest master in our
language; in single and double, in simple and grotesque alike, his
rhymes are as accurate as they are ingenious. His lyrical poems contain
more structural varieties of form than those of any preceding English
poet, not excepting Shelley. His blank verse at its best is more vital
in quality than that of any modern poet. And both in rhymed and in blank
verse he has written passages which for almost every technical quality
are hardly to be surpassed in the language.

That Browning's style should have changed in the course of years is only
natural, and its development has been in the natural (if not always in
the best) direction. "The later manner of a painter or poet," says
F.W.H. Myers in his essay on Virgil, "generally differs from his earlier
manner in much the same way. We observe in him a certain impatience of
the rules which have guided him to excellence, a certain desire to use
his materials more freely, to obtain bolder and newer effects." These
tendencies and others of the kind are specially manifest in Browning, as
they must be in a writer of strongly marked originality; for originality
always strengthens with use, and often hardens to eccentricity, as we
may observe in the somewhat parallel case of Carlyle. We find as a
consequence that a great deal of his later poetry is much less
attractive and much less artistically perfect than his earlier work,
while just those failings to which his principles of poetic art rendered
him liable become more and more frequent and prominent. But, good or
bad, it has grown with his growth, and we can conceive him saying, with
Aurora Leigh,

      "So life, in deepening with me, deepened all
      The course I took, the work I did. Indeed
      The academic law convinced of sin;
      The critics cried out on the falling off,
      Regretting the first manner. But I felt
      My heart's life throbbing in my verse to show
      It lived, it also--certes incomplete,
      Disordered with all Adam in the blood,
      But even its very tumours, warts and wens,
      Still organised by and implying life."[4]

It has been, as a rule, strangely overlooked, though it is a matter of
the first moment, that Browning's poems are in the most precise sense
_works of art_, and this in a very high degree, positive and relative,
if we understand by a "work of art" a poem which attains its end and
fulfils its purpose completely, and which has a worthy end and plain
purpose to attain.

Surely this is of far more vital importance than the mere melodiousness
of single lines, or a metre of unvarying sweetness bearing gently along
in its placid course (as a stream the leaf or twig fallen into it from
above) some tiny thought or finikin fragment of emotion. Matthew Arnold,
who was both poet and critic, has told us with emphasis of "the
necessity of accurate construction, and the subordinate character of
expression."[5] His next words, though bearing a slightly different
signification, may very legitimately be applied to Browning. Arnold
tells us "how unspeakably superior is the effect of the one moral
impression left by a great action treated as a whole, to the effect
produced by the most striking single thought or by the happiest image."
For "a great action," read "an adequate subject," and the words define
and defend Browning's principle and practice exactly. There is no
characteristic of his work more evident, none more admirable or more
rare, than the unity, the compactness and completeness, the skill and
care in construction and definiteness in impression, of each poem. I do
not know any contemporary of whom this may more truly be said. The
assertion will be startling, no doubt, to those who are accustomed to
think of Browning (as people once thought of Shakespeare) as a poet of
great gifts but little skill; as a giant, but a clumsy giant; as what
the French call a _nature_, an almost unconscious force, expending
itself at random, without rule or measure. But take, for example, the
series of _Men and Women_, as originally published, read poem after poem
(there are fifty to choose from) and scrutinise each separately; see
what was the writer's intention, and observe how far he has fulfilled
it, how far he has succeeded in conveying to your mind a distinct and
sharply-cut impression. You will find that whatever be the subject,
whatever the style, whether in your eyes the former be mistaken, the
latter perverse, the poem itself, within its recognised limits, is
designed, constructed and finished with the finest skill of the
draughtsman or the architect. You will find that the impression you have
received from the whole is single and vivid, and, while you may not
perceive it, it will generally be the case that certain details at which
your fastidiousness cries out, certain uncouthnesses, as you fancy, are
perfectly appropriate and in their place, and have contributed to the
perfection of the _ensemble_.

A word may here be said in reference to the charge of "obscurity,"
which, from the time when Browning's earliest poem was disposed of by a
complacent critic in the single phrase, "A piece of pure bewilderment,"
has been hurled at each succeeding poem with re-iterate vigour of
virulence. The charge of "pure bewilderment" is about as reasonable as
the charge of "habitual rudeness of versification." It is a fashion.
People abuse their "Browning" as they abuse their "Bradshaw," though all
that is wanting, in either case, is a little patience and a little
common sense. Browning might say, as his wife said in an early preface,
"I never mistook pleasure for the final cause of poetry, nor leisure for
the hour of the poet;" as indeed he has himself said, to much the same
effect, in a letter printed many years ago: "I never pretended to offer
such literature as should be a substitute for a cigar or a game at
dominoes to an idle man." But he has not made anything like such a
demand on the reader's faculties as people, _not_ readers, seem to
suppose. _Sordello_ is difficult, _Prince Hohenstiel-Schwangau_ is
difficult, so, perhaps, in parts, is _Fifine at the Fair_; so, too, on
account of its unfamiliar allusions, is _Aristophanes' Apology_; and a
few smaller poems, here and there, remotely argumentative or specially
complex in psychology, are difficult. But really these are about all to
which such a term as "unintelligible," so freely and recklessly flung
about, could with the faintest show of reason be applied by any
reasonable being. In the 21,116 lines which form Browning's longest work
and masterpiece, the "psychological epic" of _The Ring and the Book_, I
am inclined to think it possible that a careful scrutiny might reveal
116 which an ordinary reader would require to read twice. Anything more
clear than the work as a whole it would be difficult to find. It is much
easier to follow than _Paradise Lost_; the _Agamemnon_ is rather less
easy to follow than _A Blot in the 'Scutcheon_.

That there is some excuse for the accusation, no one would or could
deny. But it is only the excuse of a misconception. Browning is a
thinker of extraordinary depth and subtlety; his themes are seldom
superficial, often very remote, and his thought is, moreover, as swift
as it is subtle. To a dull reader there is little difference between
cloudy and fiery thought; the one is as much too bright for him as the
other is too dense. Of all thinkers in poetry, Browning is the most
swift and fiery. "If there is any great quality," says Mr. Swinburne, in
those noble pages in which he has so generously and triumphantly
vindicated his brother-poet from this very charge of obscurity--

    "If there is any great quality more perceptible than another
    in Mr. Browning's intellect, it is his decisive and incisive
    faculty of thought, his sureness and intensity of perception,
    his rapid and trenchant resolution of aim. To charge him with
    obscurity is about as accurate as to call Lynceus purblind,
    or complain of the sluggish action of the telegraphic wire.
    He is something too much the reverse of obscure; he is too
    brilliant and subtle for the ready reader of a ready writer
    to follow with any certainty the track of an intelligence
    which moves with such incessant rapidity, or even to realise
    with what spider-like swiftness and sagacity his building
    spirit leaps and lightens to and fro and backward and
    forward, as it lives along the animated line of its labour,
    springs from thread to thread, and darts from centre to
    circumference of the glittering and quivering web of living
    thought, woven from the inexhaustible stores of his
    perception, and kindled from the inexhaustible fire of his
    imagination. He never thinks but at full speed; and the rate
    of his thought is to that of another man's as the speed of a
    railway to that of a waggon, or the speed of a telegraph to
    that of a railway."[6]

Moreover, while a writer who deals with easy themes has no excuse if he
is not pellucid at a glance, one who employs his intellect and
imagination on high and hard questions has a right to demand a
corresponding closeness of attention, and a right to say, with Bishop
Butler, in answer to a similar complaint: "It must be acknowledged that
some of the following discourses are very abstruse and difficult; or, if
you please, obscure; but I must take leave to add that those alone are
judges whether or no, and how far this is a fault, who are judges
whether or no, and how far it might have been avoided--those only who
will be at the trouble to understand what is here said, and to see how
far the things here insisted upon, and not other things, might have been
put in a plainer manner."[7]

There is another popular misconception to which also a word in passing
may as well be devoted. This is the idea that Browning's personality is
apt to get confused with his characters', that his men and women are not
separate creations, projected from his brain into an independent
existence, but mere masks or puppets through whose mouths he speaks.
This fallacy arises from the fact that not a few of his imaginary
persons express themselves in a somewhat similar fashion; or, as people
too rashly say, "talk like Browning." The explanation of this apparent
paradox, so far as it exists, is not far to seek. All art is a
compromise, and all dramatic speech is in fact impossible. No persons in
real life would talk as Shakespeare or any other great dramatist makes
them talk. Nor do the characters of Shakespeare talk like those of any
other great dramatist, except in so far as later playwrights have
consciously imitated Shakespeare. Every dramatic writer has his own
style, and in this style, subject to modification, all his characters
speak. Just as a soul, born out of eternity into time, takes on itself
the impress of earth and the manners of human life, so a dramatic
creation, pure essence in the shaping imagination of the poet, takes on
itself, in its passage into life, something of the impress of its abode.
"The poet, in short, endows his creations with his own attributes; he
enables them to utter their feelings as if they themselves were poets,
thus giving a true voice even to that intensity of passion which in real
life often hinders expression."[8] If this fact is recognised (that
dramatic speech is not real speech, but poetical speech, and poetical
speech infused with the individual style of each individual dramatist,
modulated, indeed, but true to one keynote) then it must be granted that
Browning has as much right to his own style as other dramatists have to
theirs, and as little right as they to be accused on that account of
putting his personality into his work. But as Browning's style is very
pronounced and original, it is more easily recognisable than that of
most dramatists (so far, no doubt, a defect[9]) and for this reason it
has come to seem relatively more prominent than it really is. This
consideration, and not any confusion of identity, is the cause of
whatever similarity of speech exists between Browning and his
characters, or between individual characters. The similarity is only
skin-deep. Take a convenient instance, _The Ring and the Book_. I have
often seen it stated that the nine tellings of the story are all told in
the same style, that all the speakers, Guido and Pompilia, the Pope and
Tertium Quid alike, speak like Browning. I cannot see it. On the
contrary, I have been astonished, in reading and re-reading the poem, at
the variety, the difference, the wonderful individuality in each
speaker's way of telling the same story; at the profound art with which
the rhythm, the metaphors, the very details of language, no less than
the broad distinctions of character and the subtle indications of bias,
are adapted and converted into harmony. A certain general style, a
certain general manner of expression, are common to all, as is also the
case in, let us say, _The Tempest_. But what distinction, what variation
of tone, what delicacy and expressiveness of modulation! As a simple
matter of fact, few writers have ever had a greater flexibility of style
than Browning.

I am doubtful whether full justice has been done to one section of
Browning's dramatic work, his portraits of women. The presence of woman
is not perhaps relatively so prominent in his work as it is in the work
of some other poets; woman is to him neither an exclusive preoccupation,
nor a continual unrest; but as faithful and vital representations, I do
not hesitate to put his portraits of women quite on a level with his
portraits of men, and far beyond those of any other English poet of the
last three centuries. In some of them, notably in Pompilia, there is a
something which always seems to me almost incredible in a man: an
instinct that one would have thought only a woman could have for women.
And his women, good or bad, are always real women, and they are
represented without bias. Browning is one of the very few men (Mr.
Meredith, whose women are, perhaps, the consummate flower of his work,
is his only other English contemporary) who can paint women without
idealisation or degradation, not from the man's side, but from their
own; as living equals, not as goddesses or as toys. His women live, act,
and suffer, even think; not assertively, mannishly (for the loveliest of
them have a very delicate charm of girlishness) but with natural
volition, on equal rights with men. Any one who has thought at all on
the matter will acknowledge that this is the highest praise that could
be given to a poet, and the rarest. Browning's women are not perhaps as
various as his men; but from Ottima to Pompilia (from the "great white
queen, magnificent in sin," to the "lily of a maiden, white with intact
leaf") what a range and gradation of character! These are the two
extremes; between them, as earth lies between heaven and hell, are
stationed all the others, from the faint and delicate dawn in Pauline,
Michal and Palma, through Pippa and Mildred and Colombe and Constance
and the Queen, to Balaustion and Elvire, Fifine and Clara and the
heroine of the _Inn Album_, and the lurid close in Cristina. I have
named only a few, and how many there are to name! Someone has written a
book on _Shakespeare's Women_: whoever writes a book on _Browning's
Women_ will have a task only less delightful, a subject only less rich,
than that.

When Browning was a boy, it is recorded that he debated within himself
whether he should not become a painter or a musician as well as a poet.
Finally, though not, I believe, for a good many years, he decided in the
negative. But the latent qualities of painter and musician have
developed themselves in his poetry, and much of his finest and very much
of his most original verse is that which speaks the language of painter
and musician as it had never before been spoken. No English poet before
him has ever excelled his utterances on music, none has so much as
rivalled his utterances on art. _Abt Vogler_ is the richest, deepest,
fullest poem on music in the language. It is not the theories of the
poet, but the instincts of the musician, that it speaks. _Master Hugues
of Saxe-Gotha_ is unparalleled for ingenuity of technical
interpretation; _A Toccata of Galuppi's_ is as rare a rendering as can
anywhere be found of the impressions and sensations caused by a musical
piece; but _Abt Vogler_ is a very glimpse into the heaven where music is
born. In his poems on the arts of painting and sculpture (not in
themselves more perfect in sympathy, though larger in number, than those
on music) he is simply the first to write of these arts as an artist
might, if an artist could express his soul in words or rhythm. It has
always been a fashion among poets to write about music, though scarcely
anyone but Shakespeare and Milton has done so to much purpose; it is
now, owing to the influence of Rossetti (whose magic, however, was all
his own, and whose mantle went down into the grave with him) a fashion
to write about pictures. But indiscriminate sonneteering about pictures
is one thing: Browning's attitude and insight into the plastic arts
quite another. Poems like _Andrea del Sarto_, _Fra Lippo Lippi_, _Pictor
Ignotus_, have a revealing quality which is unique; tragedies or
comedies of art, in a more personal and dramatic way than the musical
poems, they are like these in touching the springs of art itself. They
may be compared with _Abt Vogler_. Poems of the order of _The Guardian
Angel_ are more comparable with _A Toccata of Galuppi's_, the rendering
of the impressions and sensations caused by a particular picture. _Old
Pictures in Florence_ is not unsimilar to _Master Hugues of Saxe-Gotha_,
critical, technical, lovingly learned, sympathetically quizzical. But
Browning's artistic instinct and knowledge are manifested not only in
special poems of this sort, but everywhere throughout his works. He
writes of painters because he has a kinship with them. "Their pictures
are windows through which he sees into their souls."

It is only natural that a poet with the instincts of a painter should be
capable of superb landscape-painting in verse; and we find in Browning
this power. It is further evident that such a poet, a man who has chosen
poetry instead of painting, must consider the latter art subordinate to
the former, and it is only natural that we should find Browning
subordinating the pictorial to the poetic capacity, and this more
carefully than most other poets. His best landscapes are as brief as
they are brilliant. They are like sabre-strokes, swift, sudden, flashing
the light from their sweep, and striking straight to the heart. And they
are never pushed into prominence for an effect of idle beauty, nor
strewn about in the way of thoughtful or passionate utterance, like
roses in a runner's path. They are subordinated always to the human
interest; blended, fused with it, so that a landscape in a poem of
Browning's is literally a part of the emotion. All poetry which
describes in detail, however magnificent, palls on us when persisted in.
"The art of the pen (we write on darkness) is to rouse the inward
vision, instead of labouring with a Drop-scene brush, as if it were to
the eye; because our flying minds cannot contain a protracted
description. That is why the poets who spring imagination with a word or
a phrase paint lasting pictures. The Shakespearian, the Dantesque, are
in a line, two at most."[10] It is to this, the finest essence of
landscape-painting, that most of Browning's landscapes belong. Yet he
can be as explicit as any one when he sees fit. Look at the poem of _The
Englishman in Italy_. The whole piece is one long description, minute,
careful and elaborated. Perhaps it is worth observing that the
description is addressed to a child.

In the exercise of his power of placing a character or incident in a
sympathetic setting, Browning shows himself, as I have pointed out,
singularly skilful. He never avails himself of the dramatic poet's
licence of vagueness as to surroundings: he sees them himself with
instant and intense clearness, and stamps them as clearly on our brain.
The picture calls up the mood. Here is the opening of one of his very
earliest poems, _Porphyria's Lover_:--

      "The rain set early in to-night,
        The sullen wind was soon awake,
      It tore the elm-tops down for spite,
        And did its worst to vex the lake,
      I listened with heart fit to break.
        When glided in Porphyria."

There, in five lines, is the scene and the mood, and in the sixth line
Porphyria may enter. Take a middle-period poem, _A Serenade at the
Villa_, for an instance of more deliberate description, flashed by the
same fiery art:--

      "That was I, you heard last night
        When there rose no moon at all,
      Nor, to pierce the strained and tight
        Tent of heaven, a planet small:
      Life was dead and so was light.

      Not a twinkle from the fly,
        Not a glimmer from the worm.
      When the crickets stopped their cry,
        When the owls forebore a term,
      You heard music; that was I.

      Earth turned in her sleep with pain,
        Sultrily suspired for proof:
      _In at heaven and out again,
        Lightning!--where it broke the roof,
      Bloodlike, some few drops of rain_.

      What they could my words expressed,
        O my love, my all, my one!
      Singing helped the verses best,
        And when singing's best was done,
      To my lute I left the rest.

      So wore night; the East was gray,
        White the broad-faced hemlock flowers;
      There would be another day;
        Ere its first of heavy hours
      Found me, I had passed away."

This tells enough to be an entire poem. It is not a description of
the night and the lover: we are made to see them. The lines I have
italicised are of the school of Dante or of Rembrandt. Their vividness
overwhelms. In the latest poems, as in _Ivan Ivanovitch_ or _Ned
Bratts_, we find the same swift sureness of touch. It is only natural
that most of Browning's finest landscapes are Italian.[11]

As a humorist in poetry, Browning takes rank with our greatest. His
humour, like most of his qualities, is peculiar to himself, though no
doubt Carlyle had something of it. It is of wide capacity, and ranges
from the effervescence of pure fun and freak to that salt and briny
laughter whose taste is bitterer than tears. Its full extent will be
seen by comparing _The Pied Piper of Hamelin_ with _Confessions_, or in
the contrast of the two parts of _Holy-Cross Day_. We find the simplest
form of humour, the jolly laughter of an unaffected nature, the
effervescence of a sparkling and overflowing brain, in such poems as _Up
at a Villa--Down in the City_, or _Pacchiarotto_, or _Sibrandus
Schafnaburgensis_. _Fra Lippo Lippi_ leans to this category, though it
is infused with biting wit and stinging irony; for it is first and
foremost the bubbling-up of a restless and irrepressibly comic nature,
the born Bohemian compressed but not contained by the rough rope-girdle
of the monk. He is Browning's finest figure of comedy. _Ned Bratts_ is
another admirable creation of true humour, tinged with the grotesque. In
_A Lovers' Quarrel_ and _Dis aliter Visum_, humour refines into passion.
In _Bishop Blougram_ it condenses into wit. The poem has a well-bred
irony; in _A Soul's Tragedy_ irony smiles and stings; in _Mr. Sludge,
the Medium_, it stabs with a thirsty point. In _Caliban upon Setebos_ we
have the pure grotesque, an essentially noble variety of art, admitting
of the utmost refinement of workmanship. The _Soliloquy of the Spanish
Cloister_ attains a new effect of grotesque: it is the comic tragedy of
vituperative malevolence. _Holy-Cross Day_ heightens the grotesque with
pity, indignation and solemnity: _The Heretic's Tragedy_ raises it to
sublimity. Browning's satire is equally keen and kindly. It never
condescends to raise laughter at infirmity, or at mere absurdities of
manners; it respects human nature, but it convicts falsity by the
revealing intensity of its illumination. Of cynicism, of the wit that
preys upon carrion, there is less than nothing.

Of all poets Browning is the healthiest and manliest; he is one of
the "substantial men" of whom Landor speaks. His genius is robust with
vigorous blood, and his tone has the cheeriness of intellectual health.
The most subtle of minds, his is the least sickly. The wind that blows
in his pages is no hot and languorous breeze, laden with scents and
sweets, but a fresh salt wind blowing in from the sea. His poetry is a
tonic; it braces and invigorates. "_Il fait vivre ses phrases_:"
his verse lives and throbs with life. He is incomparably plentiful of
vital heat; "so thoroughly and delightfully alive." This is an effect
of art, and a moral impression. It brings us into his own presence, and
stirs us with an answering warmth of life in the breathing pages. The
keynote of his philosophy is:--

      "God's in his heaven,
      All's right with the world!"

He has such a hopefulness of belief in human nature that he shrinks from
no _man_, however clothed and cloaked in evil, however miry with
stumblings and fallings. I am a man, he might say with the noblest
utterance of antiquity, and I deem nothing alien that is human. His
investigations of evil are profoundly consistent with an indomitable
optimism. Any one can say "All's right with the world," when he looks at
the smiling face of things, at comfortable prosperity and a decent
morality. But the test of optimism is its sight of evil. Browning has
fathomed it, and he can still hope, for he sees the reflection of the
sun in the depths of every foul puddle. This vivid hope and trust in man
is bound up with a strong and strenuous faith in God. Browning's
Christianity is wider than our creeds, and is all the more vitally
Christian in that it never sinks into pietism. He is never didactic, but
his faith is the root of his art, and transforms and transfigures it.
Yet as a dramatic poet he is so impartial, and can express all creeds
with so easy an interpretative accent, that it is possible to prove him
(as Shakespeare has been proved) a believer in every thing and a
disbeliever in anything.

Such, so far as I can realise my conception of him, is Robert Browning;
and such the tenour of his work as a whole. It is time to pass from
general considerations to particular ones; from characteristics of the
writer to characteristics of the poems. In the pages to follow I shall
endeavour to present a critical chronicle of Browning's works; not
neglecting to give due information about each, but not confining myself
to the mere giving of information. It is hoped that the quotations for
which I may find room will practically illustrate and convincingly
corroborate what I have to say about the poetry from which they are
taken.

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 1: _Luria_, Act iii.]

[Footnote 2: _Aurora Leigh_, Book Fifth.]

[Footnote 3: Walter Pater, _The Renaissance_, p, 226.]

[Footnote 4: _Aurora Leigh_, Book Third.]

[Footnote 5: Preface to _Poems_, 1853.]

[Footnote 6: _George Chapman: A Critical Essay_, 1875.]

[Footnote 7: _Works_, 1847, Preface to Sermons, pp. viii.-ix., where
will also be found some exceedingly sensible remarks, which I commend to
those whom it concerns, on persons "who take it for granted that they
are acquainted with everything; and that no subject, if treated in the
manner it should be, can be treated in any manner but what is familiar
and easy to them."]

[Footnote 8: "Realism in Dramatic Art," _New Quarterly Magazine_, Oct.,
1879.]

[Footnote 9: Allowing at its highest valuation all that need be allowed
on this score, we find only that Mr. Browning has the defects of his
qualities; and from these who is exempted? By virtue of this style of
his he has succeeded in rendering into words the inmost thoughts and
finest shades of feeling of the "men and women fashioned by his fancy,"
and in such a task we can pardon even a fault, for such a result we can
overlook even a blemish; as Lessing, in _Laokoon_, remarking on an error
in Raphael's drapery, finely says, "Who will not rather praise him for
having had the wisdom and the courage to commit a slight fault, for the
sake of greater fulness of expression?"]

[Footnote 10: George Meredith, _Diana of the Crossways_.]

[Footnote 11: Italians, it is pleasant to remember, have warmly welcomed
the poet who has known and loved Italy best. "Her town and country, her
churches and her ruins, her sorrows and her hopes," said Prof. Nencioni,
as long ago as 1867, "are constantly sung by him. How he loves the land
that inspires him he has shown by his long residence among us, and by
the thrilling, almost lover-like tone with which he speaks of our dear
country. 'Open my heart and you will see, Graved inside of it Italy,' as
he exclaims in _De Gustibus_."]




CHARACTERISTICS OF THE POEMS

(1833-1890)




CHARACTERISTICS OF THE POEMS

(1833-1890.)

       *       *       *       *       *


1. PAULINE: a Fragment of a Confession.

    [Published anonymously in 1833; first reprinted (the text
    unaltered) in _Poetical Works_, 6 vols., Smith, Elder and
    Co., 1868 (Vol. I., pp. 1-41); revised text, _Poetical
    Works_, 1889, Vol. I., pp. 1-45.]

_PAULINE_ was written at the age of twenty. Its prefatory motto from
Cornelius Agrippa (dated "_London, January, 1833_. _V.A.XX._") serves to
convey a hint that the "confession" is dramatic, and at the same time
lays claim to the indulgence due to the author's youth. These two points
are stated plainly in the "exculpatory word" prefixed to the reprint in
1868. After mentioning the circumstances under which the revival of the
poem was forced on him, Browning says:

    "The thing was my earliest attempt at 'poetry always dramatic
    in principle, and so many utterances of so many imaginary
    persons, not mine,' which I have since written according to a
    scheme less extravagant and scale less impracticable than
    were ventured upon in this crude preliminary sketch--a sketch
    that, on reviewal, appears not altogether wide of some hint
    of the characteristic features of that particular _dramatis
    persona_ it would fain have reproduced: good draughtsmanship,
    however, and right handling were far beyond the artist at
    that time."

In a note to the collected edition of 1889, Browning adds:

    "Twenty years' endurance of an eyesore seems more than
    sufficient; my faults remain duly recorded against me, and I
    claim permission to somewhat diminish these, so far as style
    is concerned, in the present and final edition."

A revised text follows, in which, while many "faults" are indeed
"diminished," it is difficult not to feel at times as if the foot-notes
had got into the text.

_Pauline_ is the confession of an unnamed poet to the woman whom he
loves, and whose name is given in the title. It is a sort of spiritual
autobiography; a record of sensations and ideas, rather than of deeds.
"The scenery is in the chambers of thought; the agencies are powers and
passions; the events are transitions from one state of spiritual
existence to another." There is a vagueness of outline about the speaker
which is due partly, no doubt, to the immaturity of the writer, partly
also to the too exclusive portraiture of inactive mood. The difficulty
is acknowledged in a curious "editor's" note, written in French, and
signed "Pauline," in which Browning offered a sort of explanatory
criticism of his own work. So far as we can grasp his personality, the
speaker appears to us a highly-gifted and on the whole right-natured
man, but possessed of a morbid self-consciousness and a limitless yet
indecisive ambition. Endowed with a highly poetic nature, yet without,
as it seems, adequate concentrative power; filled, at times, with a
passionate yearning after God and good, yet morally unstable; he has
spent much of his strength in ineffectual efforts, and he is conscious
of lamentable failure and mistake in the course of his past life.
Specially does he recognise and mourn his "self-idolatry," which has
isolated him from others, and confined him within the close and vitiated
circle of his own selfhood. Led by some better impulse, he now turns to
Pauline, and to the memory of a great and dearly-loved poet, spoken of
as "Sun-treader," finding in these, the memory and the love, a quietude
and a redemption.

The poet of the poem is an imaginary character, but it is possible to
trace in this character some real traits of its creator. The passage
beginning "I am made up of an intensest life" is certainly a piece of
admirable self-portraiture; allusions here and there have a personal
significance. In this earliest poem we see the germ of almost all the
qualities (humour excepted) which mark Browning's mature work. Intensity
of religious belief, love of music, of painting, and of the Greek
classics; insight into nature, a primary interest in and intense insight
into the human soul, these are already manifest. No characteristic is
more interesting in the light of long subsequent achievement than the
familiarity with Greek literature, shown not merely by the references to
Plato and to Agamemnon, but by what is perhaps the finest passage in the
poem, the one ending:--

      "Yet I say, never morn broke clear as those
      On the dim clustered isles in the blue sea,
      The deep groves and white temples and wet caves:
      And nothing ever will surprise me now--
      Who stood beside the naked Swift-footed,
      Who bound my forehead with Proserpine's hair."

The enthusiasm which breathes through whole pages of address to the
"Sun-treader" gives no exaggerated picture of Browning's love and
reverence for Shelley, whose _Alastor_ might perhaps in some respects be
compared with _Pauline_. The rhythm of Browning's poem has a certain
echo in it of Shelley's earlier blank verse; and the lyrically emotional
descriptions and the vivid and touching metaphors derived from nature
frequently remind us of Shelley, and sometimes of Keats. On every page
we meet with magical touches like this:--

      "Thou wilt remember one warm morn when winter
      Crept aged from the earth, and spring's first breath
      Blew soft from the moist hills; the black-thorn boughs,
      So dark in the bare wood, when glistening
      In the sunshine were white with coming buds,
      Like the bright side of a sorrow, and the banks
      Had violets opening from sleep like eyes;"

with lines full of exquisite fancy, such as those on the woodland
tarn:--

                   "The trees bend
      O'er it as wild men watch a sleeping girl;"

and in one place we have a marvellously graphic description, extending
over three pages, perhaps the most elaborately painted landscape in
Browning's work. It seems like wronging the poem to speak of its
_promise_: it is, indeed, far from mature, but it has a superb precocity
marking a certain stage of ripeness. It is lacking, certainly, as
Browning himself declares, in "good draughtsmanship and right handling,"
but this defect of youth is richly compensated by the wealth of
inspiration, the keen intellectual and ethical insight, and the
numberless lines of haunting charm, which have nothing of youth in them
but its vigorous freshness.


2. PARACELSUS.

    [Published in 1835; first acknowledged work (_Poetical
    Works_, 1889, Vol. II., pp. 1-186.) The original MS. is in the
    Forster Library at South Kensington.]

The poem is divided into five scenes, each a typical episode in the life
of Paracelsus. It is in the form of dialogue between Paracelsus and
others: Festus and his wife Michal in the first scene, Aprile, an
Italian poet, in the second, and Festus only in the remainder. The poem
is followed by an appendix, containing a few notes and a brief biography
of Paracelsus, translated from the _Biographie Universelle_.

_Paracelsus_ might be praised, and has justly been praised, for its
serious and penetrating quality as an historical study of the great
mystic and great man of science, who had realised, before most people,
that "matter is the visible body of the invisible God," and who had been
the Luther of medicine. But the historical element is less important
than the philosophical; both are far less important than the purely
poetical. The leading motive is not unlike that of _Pauline_ and of
_Sordello_: it is handled, however, far more ably than in the former,
and much more clearly than in the latter. Paracelsus is a portrait of
the seeker after knowledge, one whose ambition transcends all earthly
limits, and exhausts itself in the thirst of the impossible. His career
is traced from its noble outset at Wuerzburg to its miserable close in
the hospital at Salzburg, through all its course of struggle, conquest
and deterioration. His last effort, the superb dying speech, gives the
moral of his mistake, and, in the light of the new intuition flashed on
his soul by death, the true conception of the powers and limits of man.

The character and mental vicissitudes of Paracelsus are brought out, as
has been stated, in dialogue with others. The three minor characters,
though probably called into being as mere foils to the protagonist, have
a distinct individuality of their own. Michal is Browning's first sketch
of a woman. She is faint in outline and very quiet in presence, but
though she scarcely speaks twenty lines, her face remains with us like a
beautiful face seen once and never to be forgotten. There is something
already, in her tentative delineation, of that "piercing and
overpowering tenderness which glorifies the poet of Pompilia." Festus,
Michal's husband, the friend and adviser of Paracelsus, is a man of
simple nature and thoughtful mind, cautious yet not cold, clear-sighted
rather than far-seeing, yet not without enthusiasm; perhaps a little
narrow and commonplace, as the prudent are apt to be. He, like Michal,
has no influence on the external action of the poem. Aprile, the Italian
poet whom Paracelsus encounters in the second scene, is an integral part
of the poem; for it is through him that a crisis is reached in the
development of the seeker after knowledge. Unlike Festus and Michal, he
is a type rather than a realisable human being, the type of the Artist
pure and simple, the lover of beauty and of beauty alone, a soul
immoderately possessed with the desire to love, as Paracelsus with the
desire to know. He flickers, an expiring flame, across the pathway of
the stronger spirit, one luminous moment and no more.

_Paracelsus_, though written in dialogue, is not intended to be a drama.
This was clearly stated in the preface to the first edition, an
important document, never afterwards reprinted. "Instead of having
recourse," wrote Browning, "to an external machinery of incidents to
create and evolve the crisis I desire to produce, I have ventured to
display somewhat minutely the mood itself in its rise and progress, and
have suffered the agency by which it is influenced to be generally
discernible in its effects alone, and subordinate throughout, if not
altogether excluded."[12] The proportions of the work are epical rather
than dramatic; but indeed it is difficult to class, so exuberant is the
vitality which fills and overflows all limits. What is not a drama,
though in dialogue, nor yet an epic, except in length, can scarcely be
considered, any more than its successors, and perhaps imitators,
_Festus_, _Balder_, or _A Life Drama_, properly artistic in form. But it
is distinguished from this prolific progeny not only by a finer and
firmer imagination, a truer poetic richness, but by a moderation, a
concreteness, a grip, which are certainly all its own. In few of
Browning's poems are there so many individual lines and single passages
which we are so apt to pause on, to read again and again, for the mere
enjoyment of their splendid sound and colour. And this for a reason. The
large and lofty character of Paracelsus, the avoidance of much external
detail, and the high tension at which thought and emotion are kept
throughout, permit the poet to use his full resources of style and
diction without producing an effect of unreality and extravagance. We
meet on almost every page with lines like these:--

      "Ask the gier-eagle why she stoops at once
      Into the vast and unexplored abyss,
      What full-grown power informs her from the first,
      Why she not marvels, strenuously beating
      The silent boundless regions of the sky."

Or again, lines like these, which have become the watch-word of a
Gordon:--

                "I go to prove my soul!
      I see my way as birds their trackless way.
      I shall arrive! what time, what circuit first,
      I ask not: but unless God send his hail
      Or blinding fireballs, sleet or stifling snow,
      In some time, his good time, I shall arrive:
      He guides me and the bird. In his good time!"

At times the brooding splendour bursts forth in a kind of vast ecstasy,
and we have such magnificence as this:--

      "The centre fire heaves underneath the earth,
      And the earth changes like a human face;
      The molten ore bursts up among the rocks,
      Winds into the stone's heart, outbranches bright
      In hidden mines, spots barren river-beds,
      Crumbles into fine sand where sunbeams bask--
      God joys therein. The wroth sea's waves are edged
      With foam, white as the bitten lip of hate,
      When, in the solitary waste, strange groups
      Of young volcanos come up, cyclops-like,
      Staring together with their eyes on flame--
      God tastes a pleasure in their uncouth pride.
      Then all is still; earth is a wintry clod:
      But spring-wind, like a dancing psaltress, passes
      Over its breast to waken it, rare verdure
      Buds tenderly upon rough banks, between
      The withered tree-roots and the cracks of frost,
      Like a smile striving with a wrinkled face;
      The grass grows bright, the boughs are swoln with blooms
      Like chrysalids impatient for the air,
      The shining dorrs are busy, beetles run
      Along the furrows, ants make their ado;
      Above, birds fly in merry flocks, the lark
      Soars up and up, shivering for very joy;
      Afar the ocean sleeps; white fishing-gulls
      Flit where the strand is purple with its tribe
      Of nested limpets; savage creatures seek
      Their loves in wood and plain--and God renews
      His ancient rapture."

The blank verse of _Paracelsus_ is varied by four lyrics, themselves
various in style, and full of rare music: the spirit song of the
unfaithful poets--

      "The sad rhyme of the men who sadly clung
      To their first fault, and withered in their pride,"

the gentle song of the Mayne river, and that strange song of old spices
which haunts the brain like a perfume:--

      "Heap cassia, sandal-buds and stripes
        Of labdanum, and aloe-balls,
      Smeared with dull nard an Indian wipes
        From out her hair: such balsam falls
        Down sea-side mountain pedestals,
      From tree-tops where tired winds are fain,
      Spent with the vast and howling main,
      To treasure half their island gain.

      And strew faint sweetness from some old
        Egyptian's fine worm-eaten shroud
      Which breaks to dust when once unrolled;
        Or shredded perfume, like a cloud
        From closet long to quiet vowed,
      With mothed and dropping arras hung,
      Mouldering her lute and books among,
      As when a queen, long dead was young."

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 12: See the whole Preface, Appendix II.]


3. STRAFFORD: an Historical Tragedy.

    [Written toward the close of 1836; acted at the Theatre
    Royal, Covent Garden (_Strafford_, Mr. Macready; _Countess of
    Carlisle_, Miss Helen Faucit), May 1, 1837; by the Browning
    Society at the Strand Theatre, Dec. 21, 1886, and at Oxford
    by the O.U.D.S. in 1890; published in 1837 (_Poetical Works_,
    1889, Vol. II., pp. 187-307).]

_Strafford_ was written, at Macready's earnest request, in an interval
of the composition of _Sordello_. Like all Browning's plays which were
acted, it owed its partial failure to causes quite apart from its own
merits or defects as a play.[13] Browning may not have had the making of
a good playwright; but at least no one ever gave him the chance of
showing whether he was or not. The play is not without incident,
especially in the third act. But its chief merit lies in the language
and style of the dialogue. There is no aim at historical dignity or
poetical elaboration; the aim is nature, quick with personal passion.
Every word throbs with emotion; through these exclamatory, yet how
delicate and subtle lines, we seem actually to see and hear the
speakers, and with surprising vividness. The words supply their own
accents, looks and gestures.

In his preface to the first edition (reprinted in Appendix II.) Browning
states that he believes the historical portraits to be faithful. This is
to a considerable extent confirmed by Professor Gardiner, who has given
a careful consideration of the play in its historical aspects, in his
Introduction to Miss Hickey's annotated edition (G. Bell & Sons, 1884).
As a representation of history, he tells us, it is inaccurate; "the very
roots of the situation are untrue to fact." But (as he allows) this
departure from fact, in the conduct of the action, is intentional, and,
of course, allowable: Browning was writing a drama, not a history. Of
the portraits, the really vital part of the play as an interpretation of
history, he writes:--

    "For myself, I can only say that, every time I read the play,
    I feel more convinced that Mr. Browning has seized the real
    Strafford, the man of critical brain, of rapid decision, and
    tender heart, who strove for the good of his nation, without
    sympathy for the generation in which he lived. Charles, too,
    with his faults perhaps exaggerated, is, nevertheless, a real
    Charles.... There is a wonderful parallelism between the Lady
    Carlisle of the play and the less noble Lady Carlisle which
    history conjectures rather than describes.... On the other
    hand, Pym is the most unsatisfactory, from an historical
    point of view, of the leading personages."

Yet, if it is interesting, it is by no means of primary importance to
know the historical basis and probable accuracy of Browning's play. The
whole interest is centred in the character of Strafford; it is a
personal interest, and attaches itself to the personal character or the
hero. The leading motive is Strafford's devotion to his king, and the
note of tragic discord arises from the ingratitude and faithlessness of
Charles set over against the blind fidelity of his minister. The
antagonism of law and despotism, of Pym and Strafford, is, perhaps, less
clearly and forcibly brought out: though essential to the plot, it wears
to our sight a somewhat secondary aspect. Strafford himself appears not
so much a superb and unbending figure, a political power, as a man whose
service of Charles is due wholly to an intense personal affection, and
not at all to his national sympathies, which seem, indeed, rather on the
opposite side. He loves the man, not the king, and his love is a freak
of the affections. That it is against his better reason he recognises,
but the recognition fails to influence his heart or his conduct. This is
finely expressed in the following lines, spoken by Lady Carlisle:--

      "Could you but know what 'tis to bear, my friend,
      One image stamped within you, turning blank
      The else imperial brilliance of your mind,--
      A weakness, but most precious,--like a flaw
      I' the diamond, which should shape forth some sweet face
      Yet to create, and meanwhile treasured there
      Lest nature lose her gracious thought for ever'"

Browning has rarely drawn a more pathetic figure. Every circumstance
that could contribute to this effect is skilfully seized and emphasised:
Charles's incredibly selfish weakness, the implacable sternness of Pym,
the _triste_ prattle of Strafford's children and their interrupted
joyous song in the final scene, all serve to heighten our feeling of
affectionate pity and regret. The imaginary former friendship between
Pym and Strafford adds still more to the pathos of the delineation, and
gives rise to some of the finest speeches, notably the last great
colloquy between these two, which so effectively rounds and ends the
play. The fatal figure of Pym is impressive and admirable throughout,
and the portrait of the Countess of Carlisle, Browning's second portrait
of a woman, is a noble and singularly original one. Her unrecognised and
undeterred devotion to Strafford is finely and tenderly pathetic; it has
the sorrowful dignity of faithful service, rewarded only in serving.

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 13: See _Robert Browning: Personalia_, by Edmund Gosse
(Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1890).]


4. SORDELLO.

    [Published in 1840 (_Poetical Works_, 1889, Vol. I., pp.
    47-289).]

_Sordello_ is generally spoken of as being the most obscure and the
least attractive of Browning's poems; it has even been called "the most
illegible production of any time or country." Hard, very hard, it
undoubtedly is; but undoubtedly it is far from unattractive to the
serious student of poetry, who will find in it something of the
fascination of an Alpine peak: not to be gained without an effort,
treacherous and slippery, painfully dazzling to weak eyes, but for all
that irresistibly fascinating. _Sordello_ contains enough poetic
material for a dozen considerable poems; indeed, its very fault lies in
its plethora of ideas, the breathless crowd of hurrying thoughts and
fancies, which fill and overflow it. That this is not properly to be
called "obscurity" has been triumphantly shown by Mr. Swinburne in his
essay on George Chapman. Some of his admirable statements I have already
quoted, but we may bear to be told twice that Browning is too much the
reverse of obscure, that he is only too brilliant and subtle, that he
never thinks but at full speed. But besides this characteristic, which
is common to all his work, there are one or two special reasons which
have made this particular poem more difficult than others. The
condensation of style which had marked Browning's previous work, and
which has marked his later, was here (in consequence of an unfortunate
and most unnecessary dread of verbosity, induced by a rash and foolish
criticism) accentuated not infrequently into dislocation. The very
unfamiliar historical events of the story[14] are introduced, too, in a
parenthetic and allusive way, not a little embarrassing to the reader.

But it is also evident that the difficulties of a gigantic conception
were not completely conquered by the writer's genius, not then fully
matured; that lack of entire mastery over the material has frequently
caused the two interests of the poem, the psychological and the
historical, to clash; the background to intrude on and confuse the
middle distance, if not even the foreground itself. Every one of these
faults is the outcome of a merit: altogether they betray a growing
nature of extraordinary power, largeness and richness, not as yet to be
bound or contained within any limits or in any bonds.

_Sordello_ is a psychological epic. But to call it this only would be to
do it somewhat less than justice. There is in the poem a union of
breathless eagerness with brooding suspense, which has an almost
unaccountable fascination for those who once come under its charm, and
nowhere in Browning's work are there so many pictures, so vivid in
aspect, so sharp in outline, so rich in colour. At their best they are
sudden, a flash of revelation, as in this autumnal Goito:--

                           "'Twas the marsh
      Gone of a sudden. Mincio, in its place,
      Laughed, a broad water, in next morning's face,
      And, where the mists broke up immense and white
      I' the steady wind, burned like a spilth of light,
      Out of the crashing of a myriad stars."

Verona, by torchfire, seen from a window, is shown with the same quick
flare out of darkness:--

                          "Then arose the two
      And leaned into Verona's air, dead-still.
      A balcony lay black beneath until
      Out, 'mid a gush of torchfire, grey-haired men
      Came on it and harangued the people: then
      Sea-like that people surging to and fro
      Shouted."

Only Carlyle, in the most vivid moments of his _French Revolution_, has
struck such flashes out of darkness. And there are other splendours and
rarities, not only in the evocation of actual scenes and things, but in
mere similes, like this, in which the quality of imagination is of a
curiously subtle and unusual kind:--

      "As, shall I say, some Ethiop, past pursuit
      Of all enslavers, dips a shackled foot
      Burnt to the blood, into the drowsy black
      Enormous watercourse which guides him back
      To his own tribe again, where he is king:
      And laughs because he guesses, numbering
      The yellower poison-wattles on the pouch
      Of the first lizard wrested from its couch
      Under the slime (whose skin, the while, he strips
      To cure his nostril with, and festered lips,
      And eyeballs bloodshot through the desert-blast)
      That he has reached its boundary, at last
      May breathe;--thinks o'er enchantments of the South
      Sovereign to plague his enemies, their mouth,
      Eyes, nails, and hair; but, these enchantments tried
      In fancy, puts them soberly aside
      For truth, projects a cool return with friends,
      The likelihood of winning mere amends
      Ere long; thinks that, takes comfort silently,
      Then, from the river's brink, his wrongs and he,
      Hugging revenge close to their hearts, are soon
      Off-striding for the Mountains of the Moon."

And, while much of the finest poetry is contained in picturesque
passages such as these, we find verse of another order, thrilling as the
trumpet's "golden cry," in the passionate invocation of Dante,
enshrining the magnificently Dantesque characterization of the three
divisions of the _Divina Commedia_.

                        "For he--for he,
      Gate-vein of this hearts' blood of Lombardy,
      (If I should falter now)--for he is thine!
      Sordello, thy forerunner, Florentine!
      A herald-star I know thou didst absorb
      Relentless into the consummate orb
      That scared it from its right to roll along
      A sempiternal path with dance and song
      Fulfilling its allotted period,
      Serenest of the progeny of God--
      Who yet resigns it not! His darling stoops
      With no quenched lights, desponds with no blank troops
      Of disenfranchised brilliances, for, blent
      Utterly with thee, its shy element
      Like thine upburneth prosperous and clear.
      Still, what if I approach the august sphere
      Named now with only one name, disentwine
      That under-current soft and argentine
      From its fierce mate in the majestic mass
      Leavened as the sea whose fire was mixt with glass
      In John's transcendent vision,--launch once more
      That lustre? Dante, pacer of the shore
      Where glutted hell disgorgeth filthiest gloom,
      Unbitten by its whirring sulphur-spume--
      Or whence the grieved and obscure waters slope
      Into a darkness quieted by hope;
      Plucker of amaranths grown beneath God's eye
      In gracious twilights where his chosen lie,
      I would do this! If I should falter now!"

Browning has himself told us that his stress lay on the "incidents in
the development of a soul." The portrait of Sordello is one of the most
elaborate and complete which he has given us. It is painted with more
accessory detail and on a larger canvas than any other single figure.
Like _Pauline_ and _Paracelsus_, with which it has points of affinity,
the poem is a study of ambition and of egoism; of a soul "whose
ambition," as it has been rightly said, "is in extravagant disproportion
to its physical powers and means, and whose temptation is at every
crisis to seek pleasure in the picture of willing and doing rather than
in willing and doing itself." Sordello's youth is fed upon fancy: he
imagines himself Apollo, this or that hero of the time; in dreams he is
and does to the height of his aspirations. But from any actual doing he
shrinks; at the approach or the call of action, his will refuses to act.
We might sum up his character in a general sense by saying that his
imagination overpowers every other faculty; an imagination intensely
personal, a sort of intellectual egoism, which removes him equally from
action and from sympathy. He looks on men as foils to himself, or as a
background on which to shine. But the root of his failure is this, and
it is one which could never be even apprehended by a vulgar egoism: he
longs to grasp the whole of life at once, to realise his aims in their
entirety, without complying with the necessary conditions. His mind
perceives the infinite and essential so clearly that it scorns or spurns
the mere accidents. But earth being earth, and life growth, and
accidents an inevitable part of life, the rule remains that man, to
attain, must climb step by step, and not expect to fly at once to the
top of the ladder. Finding that he cannot do everything, Sordello sees
no alternative but to do nothing. Consequently his state comes to be a
virtual indolence or inactivity; though it is in reality that of the
top, spinning so fast that its motion is imperceptible. Poet and man of
action, for he contains more than the germ of both, confound and break
down one another. He meets finally with a great temptation, conquers it,
but dies of the effort. For the world his life has been a failure, for
himself not absolutely so, since, before his eyes were closed, he was
permitted to see the truth and to recognise it. But in all his aims, in
all his ambitions, he has failed; and the world has gained nothing from
them or from him but the warning of his example.

This Sordello of Browning seems to have little identity with the brief
and splendid Sordello of Dante, the figure that fronts us in the superb
sixth canto of the _Purgatoria_, "a guisa di leon quando si posa." The
records of the real Sordello are scant, fragmentary and contradictory.
No coherent outline of his personality remains, so that the character
which Browning has made for him is a creation as absolute as if it had
been wholly invented. The name indeed of Sordello, embalmed in Dante's
verse, is still fresh to our ears after the "ravage of six long sad
hundred years," and it is Dante, too, who in his _De Vulgari
Eloquentia_, has further signalised him by honourable record. Sordello,
he says, excelled in all kinds of composition, and by his experiments in
the dialects of Cremona, Brescia and Verona, cities near Mantua, helped
to form the Tuscan tongue. But besides the brief record of Dante, there
are certain accounts of Sordello's life, very confused and conflicting,
in the early Italian Chronicles and the Provencal lives of the
Troubadours. Tiraboschi sifts these legends, leaving very little of
them. According to him, Sordello was a Mantuan of noble family, born at
Goito at the close of the twelfth century. He was a poet and warrior,
though not, as some reports profess, captain-general or governor of
Mantua. He eloped with Cunizza, the wife of Count Richard of St.
Boniface; at some period of his life he went into Provence; and he died
a violent death, about the middle of the thirteenth century. The works
attributed to him are poems in Tuscan and Provencal, a didactic poem in
Latin named _Thesaurus Thesaurorum_ (now in the Ambrosiana in Milan), an
essay in Provencal on "The Progress and Power of the Kings of Aragon in
the Comte of Provence," a treatise on "The Defence of Walled Towns," and
some historial translations from Latin into the vulgar tongue. Of all
these works only the _Thesaurus_ and some thirty-four poems in
Provencal, _sirventes_ and _tensens_, survive: some of the finest of
them are satires.[15]

The statement that Sordello was specially famed for his philosophical
verses, though not confirmed by what remains of his poetry, is
interesting and significant in connection with Browning's conception of
his character. There is little however in the scanty tales we have of
the historic Sordello to suggest the "feverish poet" of the poem. The
fugitive personality of the half mythical fighting poet eludes the
grasp, and Browning has rather given the name of Sordello to an imagined
type of the poetic character than constructed a type of character to fit
the name. Still less are the dubious attributes with which the bare
facts of history or legend invest Cunizza (whom, none the less, Dante
spoke with in heaven) recognisable in the exquisite and all-golden
loveliness of Palma.

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 14: "Mr. Browning prepared himself for writing _Sordello_,"
says Mrs. Orr, "by studying all the chronicles of that period of Italian
history which the British Museum contained; and we may be sure that
every event he alludes to as historical, is so in spirit, if not in the
letter; while such details as come under the head of historical
curiosities are absolutely true. He also supplemented his reading by a
visit to the places in which the scenes of the story are
laid."--_Handbook_, p. 31.]

[Footnote 15: Of all these matters, and of all else that is known of
Sordello, a good and sympathetic account will be found in Mr. Eugene
Benson's little book on _Sordello and Cunizza_ (Dent, 1903).]


5. PIPPA PASSES.

    [Published in 1841 as No. I of _Bells and Pomegranates_
    (_Poetical Works_, 1889, Vol. III., pp. 1-79).]

_Pippa Passes_ is Browning's most perfect work, and here, more perhaps
than in anything he ever wrote, he wrote to please himself. As a whole,
he has never written anything to equal it in artistic symmetry; while a
single scene, that between Ottima and Sebald, reaches the highest level
of tragic utterance which he has ever attained. The plan of the work, in
which there are elements of the play and elements of the masque, is a
wholly original one: a series of scenes, connected only by the passing
through them of a single person, who is outside their action, and whose
influence on that action is unconscious. "Mr Browning," says Mrs.
Sutherland Orr in the _Handbook_, "was walking alone in a wood near
Dulwich, when the image flashed upon him of some one walking thus alone
through life; one apparently too obscure to leave a trace of his or her
passage, yet exercising a lasting though unconscious influence at every
step of it; and the image shaped itself into the little silk-winder of
Asolo, Felippa or Pippa."[16] It is this motive that makes unity in
variety, linking together a sequence of otherwise independent scenes.
The poem is the story of Pippa's New Year's Day holiday, her one holiday
in the year. She resolves to fancy herself to be in turn the four
happiest people in Asolo, and, to realise her fancy as much as she can,
she spends her day in wandering about the town, passing, in the morning,
the shrub-house up the hillside, where Ottima and her lover Sebald have
met; at noon, the house of Jules, over Orcana; in the evening, the
turret on the hill above Asolo, where are Luigi and his mother; and at
night, the palace by the Duomo, now tenanted by Monsignor the Bishop.
These, whom she imagines to be the happiest people in the town, have
all, in reality, arrived at crises of tremendous and tragic importance
to themselves, and, in one instance, to her. Each stands at the
turning-point of a life: Ottima and Sebald, unrepentant, with a crime
behind them; Jules and Phene, two souls brought strangely face to face
by a fate which may prove their salvation or their perdition; Luigi,
irresolute, with a purpose to be performed; Monsignor, undecided, before
a great temptation. Pippa passes, singing, at the moment when these
souls' tragedies seem tending to a fatal end, at the moment when the
baser nature seems about to triumph over the better. Something in the
song, "like any flash that cures the blind," strikes them with a sudden
light; each decides, suddenly; each, according to the terms of his own
nature, is saved. And Pippa passes, unconscious of the influence she has
exerted, as they are but half-aware of the agency of what they take as
an immediate word from God. Each of these four scenes is in dialogue,
the first three in blank verse, the last in prose. Between each is an
interlude, in prose or verse, representing the "talk by the way," of
art-students, Austrian police, and poor girls, all bearing on some part
of the action. Pippa's prologue and epilogue, like her songs, are in
varied lyric verse. The blank verse throughout is the most vivid and
dignified, the most coloured and yet restrained, that Browning ever
wrote; and he never wrote anything better for singing than some of
Pippa's songs.

Of the four principal scenes, by far the greatest is the first, that
between Ottima and her paramour, the German Sebald, on the morning after
the murder of old Luca Gaddi, the woman's husband. It is difficult to
convey in words any notion of its supreme excellence of tragic truth: to
match it we must revert to almost the very finest Elizabethan work. The
representation of Ottima and Sebald, the Italian and the German, is a
singularly acute study of the Italian and German races. Sebald, in a
sudden access of brutal rage, has killed the old doting husband, but his
conscience, too feeble to stay his hand before, is awake to torture him
after the deed. But Ottima is steadfast in evil, with the Italian
conscienceless resoluteness. She can no more feel either fear or remorse
than Clytaemnestra. The scene between Jules, the French sculptor, and his
bride Phene, and that between Luigi, the light-headed Italian patriot,
and his mother, are less great indeed, less tragic and intense and
overpowering, than this crowning episode; but they are scarcely less
fine and finished in a somewhat slighter style. Both are full of colour
and music, of insight into nature and into art, and of superb lines and
passages, such as this, which is spoken by Luigi:--

      "God must be glad one loves his world so much.
      I can give news of earth to all the dead
      Who ask me:--last year's sunsets, and great stars
      That had a right to come first and see ebb
      The crimson wave that drifts the sun away--
      Those crescent moons with notched and burning rims
      That strengthened into sharp fire, and there stood,
      Impatient of the azure--and that day
      In March, a double rainbow stopped the storm--
      May's warm slow yellow moonlit summer nights--
      Gone are they, but I have them in my soul!"

But in neither is there any single passage of such incomparable quality
as the thunderstorm in the first scene, a storm not to be matched in
English poetry:--

      "Buried in woods we lay, you recollect;
      Swift ran the searching tempest overhead;
      And ever and anon some bright white shaft
      Burned through the pine-tree roof, here burned and there,
      As if God's messenger through the close wood screen
      Plunged and replunged his weapon at a venture,
      Feeling for guilty thee and me: then broke
      The thunder like a whole sea overhead."

The vivid colloquial scenes in prose have much of that pungent
semi-satirical humour of which Browning had shown the first glimpse in
_Sordello_. Besides these, there is one intermediate scene in verse, the
talk of the "poor girls" on the Duomo steps, which seems to me one of
the most pathetic things ever written by the most pathetic of
contemporary poets. It is this scene that contains the exquisite song,
"You'll love me yet."

      "You'll love me yet!--and I can tarry
        Your love's protracted growing:
      June reared that bunch of flowers you carry,
        From seeds of April's sowing.

      I plant a heartful now: some seed
        At least is sure to strike,
      And yield--what you'll not pluck indeed,
        Not love, but, may be, like.

      You'll look at least on love's remains,
        A grave's one violet:
      Your look?--that pays a thousand pains.
        What's death? You'll love me yet!"

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 16: _Handbook_, p. 54.]


6. KING VICTOR AND KING CHARLES: A Tragedy.

    [Published in 1842 as No. II. of _Bells and Pomegranates_,
    although written some years earlier (_Poetical Works_, 1889,
    Vol. III., pp. 81-165).]

_King Victor and King Charles_ is an historical tragedy, dealing with
the last episode in the career of Victor II., first King of Sardinia.
Browning says in his preface:

    "So far as I know, this tragedy is the first artistic
    consequence of what Voltaire termed 'a terrible event without
    consequences;' and although it professes to be historical, I
    have taken more pains to arrive at the history than most
    readers would thank me for particularising: since acquainted,
    as I will hope them to be, with the chief circumstances of
    Victor's remarkable European career--nor quite ignorant of
    the sad and surprising facts I am about to reproduce (a
    tolerable account of which is to be found, for instance, in
    Abbe Roman's _Recit_, or even the fifth of Lord Orrery's
    _Letters from Italy_)--I cannot expect them to be versed, nor
    desirous of becoming so, in all the details of the memoirs,
    correspondence, and relations of the time.... When I say,
    therefore, that I cannot but believe my statement (combining
    as it does what appears correct in Voltaire and plausible in
    Condorcet) more true to person and thing than any it has
    hitherto been my fortune to meet with, no doubt my word will
    be taken, and my evidence spared as readily."

The episode recorded in the play is the abdication of Victor in favour
of his son Charles, and his subsequent attempt to return to the throne.
The only point in which Browning has departed from history is that the
very effective death on the stage replaces the old king's real death in
captivity a year later. As a piece of literature, this is the least
interesting and valuable of Browning's plays, the thinnest in structure,
the dryest in substance.

The interest of the play is, even more than that of _Strafford_,
political. The intrigue turns on questions of government, complicated
with questions of relationship and duty. The conflict is one between
ruler and ruler, who are also father and son; and the true tragedy of
the situation seems to be this: shall Charles obey the instincts of a
son, and cede to his father's wish to resume the government he has
abdicated, or is there a higher duty which he is bound to follow, the
duty of a king to his people? The motive is a fine one, but it is
scarcely handled with Browning's accustomed skill and subtlety. King
Victor, of whose "fiery and audacious temper, unscrupulous selfishness,
profound dissimulation, and singular fertility in resources," Browning
speaks in his preface, is an impressive study of "the old age of crafty
men," the futile wiliness of decrepit and persevering craft, though we
are scarcely made to feel the once potent personality of the man, or to
understand the influence which his mere word or presence still has upon
his son. D'Ormea, who checkmates all the schemes of his old master, is a
curious and subtle study of one who "serves God at the devil's bidding,"
as he himself confesses in the cynical frankness of his continual
ironical self-criticism. After twenty years of unsuccessful intrigue, he
has learnt by experience that honesty is the best policy. But at every
step his evil reputation clogs and impedes his honest action, and the
very men whom he is now most sincere in helping are the most mistrustful
of his sincerity. Charles, whose good intentions and vacillating will
are the precise opposites of his father's strong will and selfish
purposes, is really the central figure of the play. He is one of those
men whom we at once despise and respect. Gifted with many good
qualities, he seems to lack the one thing needful to bind them together.
Polyxena, his wife, possesses just that resolution in which he is
wanting. She is a fine, firm, clear character, herself admirable, and
admirably drawn. Her "noble and right woman's manliness" (to use
Browning's phrase) is prompt to sweep away the cobwebs that entangle her
husband's path or obscure his vision of things. From first to last she
sees through Charles, Victor and D'Ormea, who neither understand one
another nor perhaps themselves; from first to last she is the same
clear-headed, decisive, consistent woman, loyal always to love, but
always yet more loyal toward truth.


7. DRAMATIC LYRICS.[17]

    [Published in 1842 as No. III. of _Bells and Pomegranates_
    (_Poetical Works_, 1889, dispersedly in Vols. IV., V., and
    VI.).]

_Dramatic Lyrics_, Browning's first volume of short poems, contains some
of his finest, and many of his most popular pieces. The little volume,
it was only sixteen pages in length, has, however, an importance even
beyond its actual worth; for we can trace in it the germ at least of
most of Browning's subsequent work. We see in these poems for the first
time that extraordinary mastery of rhyme which Butler himself has not
excelled; that predilection for the grotesque which is shared by no
other English poet; and, not indeed for the first time, but for the
first time with any special prominence, the strong and thoughtful
humour, running up and down the whole compass of its gamut, gay and
hearty, satirical and incisive, in turn. We see also the first formal
beginning of the dramatic monologue, which, hinted at in _Pauline_,
disguised in _Paracelsus_, and developed, still disguised, in
_Sordello_, became, from the period of the _Dramatic Lyrics_ onward, the
staple form and special instrument of the poet, an instrument finely
touched, at times, by other performers, but of which he is the only
Liszt. The literal beginning of the monologue must be found in two
lyrical poems, here included, _Johannes Agricola_ and _Porphyria's
Lover_ (originally named _Madhouse Cells_), which were published in a
magazine as early as 1836, or about the time of the publication of
_Paracelsus_. These extraordinary little poems reveal not only an
imagination of intense fire and heat, but an almost finished art: a
power of conceiving subtle mental complexities with clearness and of
expressing them in a picturesque form and in perfect lyric language.
Each poem renders a single mood, and renders it completely. But it is
still only a mood: _My Last Duchess_ is a life. This poem (it was at
first one of two companion pieces called _Italy and France_) is the
first direct progenitor of _Andrea del Sarto_ and the other great blank
verse monologues; in it we see the form, save for the scarcely
appreciable presence of rhyme, already developed. The poem is a subtle
study in the jealousy of egoism, not a study so much as a creation; and
it places before us, as if bitten in by the etcher's acid, a typical
autocrat of the Renaissance, with his serene self-composure of
selfishness, quiet uncompromising cruelty, and genuine devotion to art.
The scene and the actors in this little Italian drama stand out before
us with the most natural clearness; there is some telling touch in every
line, an infinitude of cunningly careless details, instinct with
suggestion, and an appearance through it all of simple artless ease,
such as only the very finest art can give. But let the poem speak for
itself.

      "My LAST DUCHESS.

      "FERRARA.

      "That's my last Duchess painted on the wall,
      Looking as if she were alive. I call
      That piece a wonder, now: Fra Pandolf's hands
      Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
      Will 't please you sit and look at her? I said
      'Fra Pandolf' by design, for never read
      Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
      The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
      But to myself they turned (since none puts by
      The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)
      And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,
      How such a glance came there; so, not the first
      Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, 'twas not
      Her husband's presence only, called that spot
      Of joy into the Duchess' cheek: perhaps
      Fra Pandolf chanced to say 'Her mantle laps
      Over my lady's wrist too much,' or 'Paint
      Must never hope to reproduce the faint
      Half-flush that dies along her throat:' such stuff
      Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough
      For calling up that spot of joy. She had
      A heart--how shall I say?--too soon made glad,
      Too easily impressed; she liked whate'er
      She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.
      Sir, 'twas all one! My favour at her breast,
      The dropping of the daylight in the West,
      The bough of cherries some officious fool
      Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule
      She rode with round the terrace--all and each
      Would draw from her alike the approving speech,
      Or blush, at least. She thanked men,--good! but thanked
      Somehow--I know not how--as if she ranked
      My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name
      With anybody's gift. Who'd stoop to blame
      This sort of trifling? Even had you skill
      In speech--(which I have not)--to make your will
      Quite clear to such an one, and say, 'Just this
      Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,
      Or there exceed the mark,'--and if she let
      Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set
      Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse,
      --E'en then would be some stooping; and I choose
      Never to stoop. Oh, sir, she smiled, no doubt,
      Whene'er I passed her; but who passed without
      Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
      Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands
      As if alive. Will 't please you rise? We'll meet
      The company below, then. I repeat
      The Count your master's known munificence
      Is ample warrant that no just pretence
      Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;
      Though his fair daughter's self, as I avowed
      At starting, is my object. Nay, we'll go
      Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though,
      Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,
      Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!"

A poem of quite another order of art, a life-like sketch rather than a
creation, is found in _Waring_. The original of Waring was one of
Browning's friends, Alfred Domett, the author of _Ranolf and Amohia_,
then or afterwards Prime Minister in New Zealand.[18] The poem is
written in a free and familiar style, which rises from time to time into
a kind of precipitate brilliance; it is more personal in detail than
Browning often allows himself to be; and its humour is blithe and
friendly. In another poem, now known as _Soliloquy of the Spanish
Cloister_, the humour is grotesque, bitter and pungent, the humour of
hate. The snarling monk of the Spanish cloister pours out on poor,
innocent, unsuspecting "Brother Lawrence" a wealth of really choice and
masterly vituperation, not to be matched out of Shakespeare. The poem is
a clever study of that mood of active disgust which most of us have felt
toward some possibly inoffensive enough person, whose every word, look
or action jars on the nerves. It flashes, too, a brilliant comic light
on the natural tendencies of asceticism. Side by side with this poem,
under the general name of _Camp and Cloister_, was published the
vigorous and touching little ballad now known as _Incident of the French
Camp_, a stirring lyric of war, such as Browning has always been able,
rarely as he has cared, to write. The ringing _Cavalier Tunes_ (so
graphically set to music by Sir C. Villiers Stanford) strike the same
note; so, too, does the wonderfully clever little riding poem, _Through
the Metidja to Abd-el-Kadr_, a _tour de force_ strung together on a
single rhyme: "As I ride, as I ride."

_Count Gismond_, the companion of _My Last Duchess_, is a vivid little
tale, told with genuine sympathy with the mediaeval spirit. It is almost
like an anticipation of some of the remarkable studies of the Middle
Ages contained in Morris's first and best book of poems, _The Defence of
Guenevere_, published sixteen years later. The mediaeval temper of entire
confidence in the ordeal by duel has never been better rendered than in
these two stanzas, the very kernel of the poem, spoken by the
falsely-accused girl:--

      " ... Till out strode Gismond; then I knew
        That I was saved. I never met
      His face before, but, at first view,
        I felt quite sure that God had set
      Himself to Satan; who would spend
      A minute's mistrust on the end?

      He strode to Gauthier, in his throat
        Gave him the lie, then struck his mouth
      With one back-handed blow that wrote
        In blood men's verdict there. North, South,
      East, West, I looked. The lie was dead,
      And damned, and truth stood up instead."[19]

Of the two aspects of _Queen Worship_, one, _Rudel to the Lady of
Tripoli_, has a mournfully sweet pathos in its lingering lines, and
_Cristina_, not without a touch of vivid passion, contains that personal
conviction afterwards enshrined in the lovelier casket of _Evelyn Hope_.
_Artemis Prologuizes_ is Browning's only experiment in the classic
style. The fragment was meant to form part of a longer work, which was
to take up the legend of Hippolytus at the point where Euripides dropped
it. The project was no doubt abandoned for the same wise reasons which
led Keats to leave unfinished a lovelier experiment in _Hyperion_. It
was in this poem that Browning first adopted the Greek spelling of
proper names, a practice which he has since carried out, with greater
consistency, in his transcripts from AEschylus and Euripides.

Perhaps the finest of the _Dramatic Lyrics_ is the little lyric tragedy,
_In a Gondola_, a poem which could hardly be surpassed in its perfect
union or fusion of dramatic intensity with charm and variety of music.
It was suggested by a picture of Maclise, and tells of two Venetian
lovers, watched by a certain jealous "Three"; of their brief hour of
happiness, and of the sudden vengeance of the Three. There is a brooding
sense of peril over all the blithe and flitting fancies said or sung to
one another by the lovers in their gondola; a sense, however, of future
rather than of present peril, something of a zest and a piquant pleasure
to them. The sudden tragic ending, anticipated yet unexpected, rounds
the whole with a dramatic touch of infallible instinct. I know nothing
with which the poem may be compared: its method and its magic are alike
its own. We might hear it or fancy it perhaps in one of the Ballades of
Chopin, with its entrancing harmonies, its varied and delicate
ornamentation, its under-tone of passion and sadness, its storms and
gusts of wind-like lashing notes, and the piercing shiver that thrills
through its suave sunshine.

It is hardly needful, I hope, to say anything in praise of the last of
the _Dramatic Lyrics_, the incomparable child's story of _The Pied
Piper of Hamelin_,[20] "a thing of joy for ever," as it has been well
said, "to all with the child's heart, young and old." This poem,
probably the most popular of Browning's poems, was written for William
Macready, the son of the actor, and was thrown into the volume at the
last moment, for the purpose of filling up the sheet.

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 17: It should be stated here that the three collections of
miscellaneous poems published in 1842, 1845 and 1855, and named
respectively _Dramatic Lyrics_, _Dramatic Romances and Lyrics_, and _Men
and Women_, were in 1863 broken up and the poems re-distributed. I shall
take the volumes as they originally appeared; a reference to the list of
contents of the edition of 1863, given in the Bibliography at the end of
this book, will enable the reader to find any poem in its present
locality.]

[Footnote 18: See _Robert Browning and Alfred Domett_. Edited by F.G.
Kenyon. (Smith, Elder & Co., 1906).]

[Footnote 19: It is worth noticing, as a curious point in Browning's
technique, that in the stanza (_ababcc_) in which this and some of his
other poems are written, he almost always omits the pause customary at
the end of the fourth line, running it into the fifth, and thus
producing a novel metrical effect, such as we find used with success in
more than one poem of Carew.]

[Footnote 20: Browning's authority for the story, which is told in many
quarters, was North Wanley's _Wonders of the Little World_, 1678, and
the books there cited.]


8. THE RETURN OF THE DRUSES: A Tragedy in Five Acts.

    [Published in 1843 as No. IV. of _Bells and Pomegranates_
    (_Poetical Works_, 1889, Vol. III., pp. 167-255). Written in
    1840 (in five days), and named in MS. _Mansoor the
    Hierophant_. The action takes place during one day.]

The story of _The Return of the Druses_ is purely imaginary as to facts,
but it is founded on the Druse belief in divine incarnations, a belief
inculcated by the founder of their religion, Hakeem Biamr Allah, the
sixth Fatemite Caliph of Egypt, whose pretension to be an incarnation of
the Divinity was stamped in the popular mind by his mysterious
disappearance, and the expectation of his glorious return. Browning here
gives the rein to his fervid and passionate imagination; in event, in
character, in expression, the play is romantic, lyrical and Oriental.
The first line--

      "The moon is carried off in purple fire,--"

sounds the note of the new music; and to the last line the emotion is
sustained at the same height. Passionate, rapid, vivid, intense and
picturesque, no stronger contrast could be imagined than that which
exists between this drama and _King Victor and King Charles_. The cause
of the difference must be sought in the different nature of the two
subjects, for one of Browning's most eminent qualities is his care in
harmonising treatment with subject. _King Victor and King Charles_ is a
modern play, dealing with human nature under all the restrictions of a
pervading conventionality and an oppressive statecraft. It deals,
moreover, with complex and weakened emotions, with the petty and prosaic
details of a secondary Western government. _The Return of the Druses_,
on the other hand, treats of human nature in its most romantic
conditions, of the mystic East, of great and immediate issues, of the
most inspiring of crises, a revolt for liberty, and a revolt under the
leadership of a "Messiah," about whom hangs a mystery, and a reputation
of more than mortal power. The characters, like the language, are all
somewhat idealised. Djabal, the protagonist, is the first instance of a
character specially fascinating to Browning as an artistic subject: the
deceiver of others or of himself who is only partially insincere, and
not altogether ill-intentioned. Djabal is an impostor almost wholly for
the sake of others. He is a patriotic Druse, the son of the last Emir,
supposed to have perished in the massacre of the Sheikhs, but preserved
when a child and educated in Europe. His sole aim is to free his nation
from its bondage, and lead it back to Lebanon. But in order to
strengthen the people's trust in him, and to lead them back in greater
glory, he pretends that he is "Hakeem," their divine, predestined
deliverer. The delusion grows upon himself; he succeeds triumphantly,
but in the very moment of triumph he loses faith in himself, the
imposture is all but discovered, and he dies, a victim of what was wrong
in him, while the salt of his noble and successful purpose keeps alive
his memory among his people. In striking contrast with Djabal stands
Loys, the frank, bright, young Breton knight, with his quick, generous
heart, his chivalrous straightforwardness of thought and action, his
earnest pity for the oppressed Druses, and his passionate love for the
Druse maiden Anael. Anael herself is one of the most "actual yet
uncommon" of the poet's women. She is a true daughter of the East, to
the finest fibre of her being. Her tender and fiery soul burns upward
through error and crime with a leaping, quenchless flame. She loves
Djabal, believing him to be "Hakeem" and divine, with a love which seems
to her too human, too much the love evoked by a mere man's nature. Her
attempt at adoration only makes him feel more keenly the fact of his
imposture. Misunderstanding his agitation and the broken words he lets
drop, she fancies he despises her, and feels impelled to do some great
deed, and so exalt herself to be worthy of him. Fired with enthusiasm,
she anticipates his crowning act, the act of liberation, and herself
slays the tyrannical Prefect. The magnificent scene in which this occurs
is the finest in the play, and there is a singularly impressive touch of
poetry and stagecraft in a certain line of it, where Djabal and Anael
meet, at the moment when she has done the deed which he is waiting to
do. Unconscious of what she has done, he tells her to go:--

                      "I slay him here,
      And here you ruin all. Why speak you not?
      Anael, the Prefect comes!" [ANAEL _screams_.]

There is drama in this stage direction. With this involuntary scream
(and the shudder and start aside one imagines, to see if the dead man
really is coming) a great actress might thrill an audience. Djabal,
horror-stricken at what she has done, confesses to her that he is no
Hakeem, but a mere man. After the first revulsion of feeling, her love,
hitherto questioned and hampered by her would-be adoration, burst forth
with a fuller flood. But she expects him to confess to the tribe. Djabal
refuses: he will carry through his scheme to the end. In the first flush
of her indignation at his unworthiness, she denounces him. In the final
scene occurs another wonderful touch of nature, a touch which reminds
one of Desdemona's "Nobody: I myself," in its divine and adorable
self-sacrifice of truth. Learning what Anael has done, Djabal is about
to confess his imposture to the people, who are still under his
fascination, when Anael, all her old love (not her old belief) returning
upon her, cries with her last breath, "HAKEEM!" and dies upon the word.
The Druses grovel before him; as he still hesitates, the trumpet of his
Venetian allies sounds. Turning to Khalil, Anael's brother, he bids him
take his place and lead the people home, accompanied and guarded by
Loys. "We follow!" cry the Druses, "now exalt thyself!"

        "_Dja._ [_bends over_ ANAEL.] And last to thee!
      Ah, did I dream I was to have, this day,
      Exalted thee? A vain dream--has thou not
      Won greater exaltation? What remains
      But press to thee, exalt myself to thee?
      Thus I exalt myself, set free my soul!

[_He stabs himself; as he falls, supported by_ KHALIL _and_ LOYS, _the
Venetians enter: the_ ADMIRAL _advances_.

_Admiral_. God and St. Mark for Venice! Plant the Lion!

[_At the clash of the planted standard, the Druses shout and move
tumultuously forward_, LOYS, _drawing his sword_.

_Dja._ [_leading them a few steps between_ KHALIL _and_ LOYS.] On to the
Mountain! At the Mountain, Druses! [_Dies_.]"

This superb last scene shows how well Browning is able, when he likes,
to render the tumultuous action of a clashing crowd of persons and
interests. The whole fourth and fifth acts are specially fine; every
word comes from the heart, every line is pregnant with emotion.


9. A BLOT IN THE 'SCUTCHEON: A Tragedy in Three Acts.

    [Published in 1843 as No. V. of _Bells and Pomegranates_,
    written in five days (_Poetical Works_, 1889, Vol. IV., pp.
    1-70). Played originally at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane,
    February 11, 1843 (_Mildred_, Miss Helen Faucit; _Lord
    Tresham_, Mr. Phelps). Revived by Mr. Phelps at Sadler's
    Wells, November 27, 1848; played at Boston, U.S., March 16,
    1885, under the management of Mr. Lawrence Barrett, who took
    the part of _Lord Tresham_; at St. George's Hall, London, May
    2, 1885, and at the Olympic Theatre, March 15, 1888, by the
    Browning Society; and by the Independent Theatre at the Opera
    Comique, June 15, 1893. The action takes place during two
    days.]

_A Blot in the 'Scutcheon_ is the simplest, and perhaps the deepest and
finest of Browning's plays. The Browning Society's performances, and Mr.
Barrett's in America, have proved its acting capacities, its power to
hold and thrill an audience.[21] The language has a rich simplicity of
the highest dramatic value, quick with passion, pregnant with thought
and masterly in imagination; the plot and characters are perhaps more
interesting and affecting than in any other of the plays; while the
effect of the whole is impressive from its unity. The scene is English;
the time, somewhere in the eighteenth century; the motive, family honour
and dishonour. The story appeals to ready popular emotions, emotions
which, though lying nearest the surface, are also the most
deeply-rooted. The whole action is passionately pathetic, and it is
infused with a twofold tragedy, the tragedy of the sin, and that of the
misunderstanding, the last and final tragedy, which hangs on a word,
spoken only when too late to save three lives. This irony of
circumstance, while it is the source of what is saddest in human
discords, is also the motive of what has come to be the only satisfying
harmony in dramatic art. It takes the place, in our modern world, of the
Necessity of the Greeks; and is not less impressive because it arises
from the impulse and unreasoning wilfulness of man rather than from the
implacable insistency of God. It is with perfect justice, both moral and
artistic, that the fatal crisis, though mediately the result of
accident, of error, is shown to be the consequence and the punishment of
wrong. A tragedy resulting from the mistakes of the wholly innocent
would jar on our sense of right, and could never produce a legitimate
work of art. Even Oedipus suffers, not merely because he is under the
curse of a higher power, but because he is wilful, and rushes upon his
own fate. Timon suffers, not because he was generous and good, but from
the defects of his qualities. So, in this play, each of the characters
calls down upon his own head the suffering which at first seems to be a
mere caprice and confusion of chance. Mildred Tresham and Henry Mertoun,
both very young, ignorant and unguarded, have loved. They attempt a late
reparation, apparently with success, but the hasty suspicion of Lord
Tresham, Mildred's brother, diverted indeed into a wrong channel, brings
down on both a terrible retribution. Tresham, who shares the ruin he
causes, feels, too, that his punishment is his due. He has acted without
pausing to consider, and he is called on to pay the penalty of "evil
wrought by want of thought."

The character of Mildred, a woman "more sinned against than sinning," is
exquisitely and tenderly drawn. We see her, and we see and feel

                 "The good and tender heart,
      Its girl's trust and its woman's constancy,
      How pure yet passionate, how calm yet kind,
      How grave yet joyous, how reserved yet free
      As light where friends are"--

as her brother, in a memorable passage, describes her. She is so
thrillingly alive, so beautiful and individual, so pathetic and pitiful
in her desolation. Every word she speaks comes straight from her heart
to ours. "I know nothing that is so affecting," wrote Dickens in a
letter to Forster, "nothing in any book I have ever read, as Mildred's
recurrence to that 'I was so young--had no mother.' I know no love like
it, no passion like it, no moulding of a splendid thing after its
conception like it."[22] Not till Pompilia do we find so pathetic a
portrait of a woman.

In Thorold, Earl Tresham, we have an admirable picture of the head of a
great house, proud above all things of the honour of the family and its
yet stainless 'scutcheon, and proud, with a deep brotherly tenderness of
his sister Mildred: a strong and fine nature, one whom men instinctively
cite as "the perfect spirit of honour." Mertoun, the apparent hero of
the play, is a much less prominent and masterly figure than Tresham, not
so much from any lack of skill in his delineation, as from the essential
ineffectualness of his nature. Guendolen Tresham, the Beatrice of the
play (her lover Austin is certainly no Benedick) is one of the most
pleasantly humorous characters in Browning. Her gay, light-hearted talk
brightens the sombre action like a gleam of sunlight. And like her
prototype, she is a true woman. As Beatrice stands by the calumniated
Hero, so Guendolen stands by Mildred, and by her quick woman's heart and
wit, her instinct of things, sees and seizes the missing clue, though
too late, as it proves, to avert the impending disaster.

The play contains one of Browning's most delicate and musical lyrics,
the serenade beginning, "There's a woman like a dew-drop." This is the
first of the love-songs in long lines which Browning wrote so often at
the end of his life, and so seldom earlier.

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 21: A contemporary account, written by Joseph Arnould to
Alfred Domett, says: "The first night was magnificent ... there could be
no mistake at all about the honest enthusiasm of the audience. The
gallery (and this, of course, was very gratifying, because not to be
expected at a play of _Browning_) took all the points quite as quickly
as the pit, and entered into the general feeling and interest of the
action far more than the boxes.... Altogether the first night was a
triumph."--_Robert Browning and Alfred Domett_, 1906, p. 65.]

[Footnote 22: Forster's _Life of Dickens_, vol. ii., p. 24.]


10. COLOMBE'S BIRTHDAY: A Play in Five Acts.

    [Published in 1844 as No. VI. of _Bells and Pomegranates_
    (_Poetical Works_, 1889, Vol. IV., pp. 71-169). Played at the
    Haymarket Theatre, April 25, 1853, Miss Helen Faucit taking
    the part of _Colombe_; also, with Miss Alma Murray as
    _Colombe_, at St. George's Hall, November 19, 1885, under the
    direction of the Browning Society. The action takes place
    from morning to night of one day].

_Colombe's Birthday_, a drama founded on an imaginary episode in the
history of a German duchy of the seventeenth century, is the first play
which is mainly concerned with inward rather than outward action; in
which the characters themselves, what they are in their own souls, what
they think of themselves, and what others think of them, constitute the
chief interest, the interest of the characters as they influence one
another or external events being secondary. Colombe of Ravestein,
Duchess of Juliers and Cleves, is surprised, on the first anniversary of
her accession (the day being also her birthday), by a rival claimant to
the duchy, Prince Berthold, who proves to be in fact the true heir.
Berthold, instead of pressing his claim, offers to marry her. But he
conceives the honour and the favour to be sufficient, and makes no
pretence at offering love as well. On the other hand, Valence, a poor
advocate of Cleves, who has stood by Colombe when all her other friends
failed, offers her his love, a love to which she can only respond by
"giving up the world"; in other words, by relinquishing her duchy, and
the alliance with a Prince who is on the way to be Emperor. We have
nothing to do with the question of who has the right and who has the
might: that matter is settled, and the succession agreed on, almost
from the beginning. Nor are we made to feel that any disgrace or
reputation of weakness will rest on Colombe if she gives up her duchy;
not even that the pang at doing so will be over-acute or entirely
unrelieved. All the interest centres in the purely personal and
psychological bearings of the act. It is perhaps a consequence of this
that the style is somewhat different from that of any previous play. Any
one who notices the stage directions will see that the persons of the
drama frequently speak "after a pause." The language which they use is,
naturally enough, more deliberate and reflective, the lines are slower
and more weighty, than would be appropriate amid the breathless action
of _A Blot in the 'Scutcheon_ or _The Return of the Druses_. A certain
fiery quality, a thrilling, heart-stirred and heart-stirring tone, which
we find in these is wanting; but the calm sweep of the action is carried
onward by a verse whose large harmonies almost recall _Paracelsus_.

Colombe, the true heroine of the play named after her is, if not "the
completest full-length portrait of a woman that Browning has drawn,"
certainly one of the sweetest and most stable. Her character develops
during the course of the play; as she herself says,

      "This is indeed my birthday--soul and body,
      Its hours have done on me the work of years--"

and it leaves her a nobler and stronger, yet not less charming woman
than it found her. Hitherto she has been a mere "play-queen," shut in
from action, shut in from facts and the world, and caring only to be gay
and amused. But now, at the first and yet final trial, she is proved
and found to be of noble metal. The gay girlishness of the young
Duchess, her joyous and generous light heart; her womanliness, her
earnestness, her clear, deep, noble nature, attract us from her first
words, and leave us, after the hour we have spent in her presence, with
a memory like that of some woman whom we have met, for an hour or a
moment, in the world or in books.

Berthold, the weary and unsatisfied conqueror, is a singularly
unconventional figure. He is a man of action, with some of the
sympathies of the scholar and the lover; resolute in the attainment of
ends which he sees to be, in themselves, vulgar; his ambition rather an
instinct than something to be pursued for itself, and his soul too
keenly aware of the joys and interests he foregoes, to be quite
satisfied or content with his lot and conduct. The grave courtesy of his
speech to Colombe, his somewhat condescending but not unfriendly tone
with Valence, his rough home-truths with the parasitical courtiers, and
his frank confidence with Melchior, are admirably discriminated.
Melchior himself, little as he speaks, is a fine sketch of the
contemplative, bookish man who finds no more congenial companion and
study than a successful man of action. His attitude of detachment, a
mere spectator in the background, is well in keeping with the calm and
thoughtful character of the play. Valence, the true hero of the piece,
the "pale fiery man" who can speak with so moving an eloquence, whether
he is pleading the wrongs of his townsmen or of Colombe, the rights of
Berthold or of himself, is no less masterly a portrait than the Prince,
though perhaps less wholly unconventional a character. His grave
earnestness, his honour as a man and passion as a lover, move our
instinctive sympathy, and he never forfeits it. Were it for nothing
else, he would deserve remembrance from the fact that he is one of the
speakers in that most delightful of love-duets, the incomparable scene
at the close of the fourth act. "I remember well to have seen," wrote
Moncure D. Conway in 1854, "a vast miscellaneous crowd in an American
theatre hanging with breathless attention upon every word of this
interview, down to the splendid climax when, in obedience to the
Duchess's direction to Valence how he should reveal his love to the lady
she so little suspects herself to be herself, he kneels--every heart
evidently feeling each word as an electric touch, and all giving vent at
last to their emotion in round after round of hearty applause."

All the minor characters are good and life-like, particularly Guibert,
the shrewd, hesitating, talkative, cynical, really good-hearted old
courtier, whom not even a court had deprived of a heart, though the
dangerous influence of the conscienceless Gaucelme, his fellow, has in
its time played sad pranks with it. He is one of the best of Browning's
minor characters.

The performance, in 1885, of _Colombe's Birthday_, under the direction
of the Browning Society, has brought to light unsuspected acting
qualities in what is certainly not the most "dramatic" of Browning's
plays. "_Colombe's Birthday_," it was said on the occasion, "is charming
on the boards, clearer, more direct in action, more full of delicate
surprises than one imagines it in print. With a very little cutting it
could be made an excellent acting play."[23]

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 23: A. Mary F. Robinson, in _Boston Literary World_, December
12, 1885.]


11. DRAMATIC ROMANCES AND LYRICS.

    [Published in 1845 as No. VII. of _Bells and Pomegranates_
    (_Poetical Works_, 1889, dispersedly, in Vols. IV., V., and
    VI.).]

_Dramatic Romances_, Browning's second volume of miscellaneous poems, is
not markedly different in style or substance from the _Lyrics_ published
three years earlier. It is somewhat more mature, no doubt, as a whole,
somewhat richer and fuller, somewhat wider in reach and firmer in grasp;
but in tone and treatment it harmonises considerably more with its
predecessor than with its successor, after so long an interval, _Men and
Women_. The book opens with the ballad, _How they brought the Good News
from Ghent to Aix_, the most popular piece, except perhaps the _Pied
Piper_, that Browning has written. Few boys, I suppose, have not read
with breathless emotion this most stirring of ballads: few men can read
it without a thrill. The "good news" is intended for that of the
Pacification of Ghent, but the incident itself is not historical. The
poem was written at sea, off the African coast. Another poem of somewhat
similar kind, appealing more directly than usual to the simpler
feelings, is _The Lost Leader_. It was written in reference to
Wordsworth's abandonment of the Liberal cause, with perhaps a thought of
Southey, but it is applicable to any popular apostasy. This is one of
those songs that do the work of swords. It shows how easily Browning,
had he so chosen, could have stirred the national feeling with his
songs. The _Home-Thoughts from Abroad_ belongs, in its simple
directness, its personal and forthright fervour of song, to this section
of the volume. With the two pieces now known as _Home-Thoughts from
Abroad_ and _Home-Thoughts from the Sea_, a third, very inferior, piece
was originally published. It is now more appropriately included with
_Claret_ and _Tokay_ (two capital little snatches) under the head of
_Nationality in Drinks_. The two "Home-Thoughts," from sea and from
land, are equally remarkable for their poetry and for their patriotism.
I hope there is no need to commend to all Englishmen so passionate and
heartfelt a record of love for England. It is in _Home-Thoughts from
Abroad_, that we find the well-known and magical lines on the thrush:--

      "That's the wise thrush: he sings each song twice over,
      Lest you should think he never could recapture
      The first fine careless rapture!"

The whole poem is beautiful, but _Home-Thoughts from the Sea_ is of that
order of song that moves the heart "more than with a trumpet."

      "Nobly, nobly, Cape Saint Vincent to the North-West died away;
      Sunset ran, one glorious blood-red, reeking into Cadiz Bay;
      Bluish 'mid the burning water, full in face Trafalgar lay;
      In the dimmest North-East distance dawned Gibraltar grand and gray;
      'Here and here did England help me: how can I help England?'--say,
      Whoso turns as I, this evening, turn to God to praise and pray,
      While Jove's planet rises yonder, silent over Africa."

Next to _The Lost Leader_ comes, in the original edition, a sort of
companion poem, in

      "THE LOST MISTRESS.

      I.

      All's over, then: does truth sound bitter
        As one at first believes?
      Hark! 'tis the sparrows' good-night twitter
        About your cottage eaves!

      II.

      And the leaf-buds on the vine are woolly,
        I noticed that, to-day;
      One day more bursts them open fully
       --You know the red turns gray.

      III.

      To-morrow we meet the same, then, dearest?
        May I take your hand in mine?
      Mere friends are we,--well, friends the merest
        Keep much that I resign:

      IV.

      For each glance of the eye so bright and black
        Though I keep with heart's endeavour,--
      Your voice, when you wish the snowdrops back,
        Though it stay in my heart for ever!--

      V.

      Yet I will but say what mere friends say,
        Or only a thought stronger;
      I will hold your hand but as long as all may.
        Or so very little longer!"

This is one of those love-songs which we cannot but consider among the
noblest of such songs in all Love's language. The subject of "unrequited
love" has probably produced more effusions of sickly sentiment than any
other single subject. But Browning, who has employed the motive so
often (here, for instance, and yet more notably in _The Last Ride
Together_) deals with it in a way that is at once novel and fundamental.
There is no talk, among his lovers, of "blighted hearts," no whining and
puling, no contemptible professions of contempt for the woman who has
had the ill-taste to refuse some wondrous-conceited lover, but a noble
manly resignation, a profound and still grateful sorrow which has no
touch in it of reproach, no tone of disloyalty, and no pretence of
despair. In the first of the _Garden Fancies_ (_The Flower's Name_) a
delicate little love-story of a happier kind is hinted at. The second
_Garden Fancy_ (_Sibrandus Schafnaburgensis_) is of very different tone.
It is a whimsical tale of a no less whimsical revenge taken upon a piece
of pedantic lumber, the name of which is given in the title. The varying
ring and swing communicated to the dactyls of these two pieces by the
jolly humour of the one and the refined sentiment of the other, is a
point worth noticing. The easy flow, the careless charm of their
versification, is by no means the artless matter it may seem to a
careless reader. Nor is it the easiest of metrical tasks to poise
perfectly the loose lilt of such verses as these:--

      "What a name! Was it love or praise?
        Speech half-asleep or song half-awake?
      I must learn Spanish, one of these days,
        Only for that slow sweet name's sake."

The two perfect little pieces on "Fame" and "Love," _Earth's
Immortalities_, are remarkable, even in Browning's work, for their
concentrated felicity, and, the second especially, for swift
suggestiveness of haunting music. Not less exquisite in its fresh
melody and subtle simplicity is the following _Song_:--

      I.

      "Nay but you, who do not love her,
        Is she not pure gold, my mistress?
      Holds earth aught--speak truth--above her?
        Aught like this tress, see, and this tress,
      And this last fairest tress of all,
      So fair, see, ere I let it fall?

      II.

      Because, you spend your lives in praising;
        To praise, you search the wide world over:
      Then why not witness, calmly gazing,
        If earth holds aught--speak truth--above her?
      Above this tress, and this, I touch
      But cannot praise, I love so much!"

In two tiny pictures, _Night and Morning_, one of four lines, the other
of twelve, we have, besides the picture, two moments which sum up a
lifetime, and "on how fine a needle's point that little world of passion
is balanced!"

      I.

      "MEETING AT NIGHT.

      1.

      The gray sea and the long black land;
      And the yellow half-moon large and low;
      And the startled little waves that leap
      In fiery ringlets from their sleep,
      As I gain the cove with pushing prow,
      And quench its speed i' the slushy sand.

      2.

      Then a mile of warm sea-scented beach;
      Three fields to cross till a farm appears;
      A tap at the pane, the quick sharp scratch
      And blue spurt of a lighted match,
      And a voice less loud, thro' its joys and fears,
      Than the two hearts beating each to each!


      II.

      PARTING AT MORNING.

      Round the cape of a sudden came the sea,
      And the sun looked over the mountain's rim:
      And straight was a path of gold for him,
      And the need of a world of men for me."

But the largest, if not the greatest work in the volume must be sought
for, not in the romances, properly speaking, nor in the lyrics, but in
the dramatic monologues. _Pictor Ignotus_ (Florence, 15--) is the first
of those poems about painting, into which Browning has put so much of
his finest art. It is a sort of first faint hint or foreshadowing of
_Andrea del Sarto_, perfectly individual and distinct though it is.
_Pictor Ignotus_ expresses the subdued sadness of a too timid or too
sensitive nature, an "unknown painter" who has dreamed of painting great
pictures and winning great fame, but who shrinks equally from the
attempt and the reward: an attempt which he is too self-distrustful to
make, a reward which he is too painfully discriminating to enjoy.

      "So, die my pictures! surely, gently die!
        O youth, men praise so,--holds their praise its worth?
      Blown harshly, keeps the trump its golden cry?
        Tastes sweet the water with such specks of earth?"

The monotonous "linked sweetness long drawn out" of the verses, the
admirably arranged pause, recurrence and relapse of the lines, render
the sense and substance of the subject with singular appropriateness.
_The Tomb at St. Praxed's_ (now known as _The Bishop orders his Tomb at
St. Praxed's Church_), has been finally praised by Ruskin, and the whole
passage may be here quoted:--

    "Robert Browning is unerring in every sentence he writes of
    the Middle Ages; always vital, right, and profound; so that
    in the matter of art, with which we have been specially
    concerned, there is hardly a principle connected with the
    mediaeval temper that he has not struck upon in those
    seemingly careless and too rugged lines of his.

                  "'As here I lie
       In this state-chamber, dying by degrees,
       Hours and long hours in the dead night, I ask
       "Do I live, am I dead?" Peace, peace seems all.
       Saint Praxed's ever was the church for peace;
       And so, about this tomb of mine. I fought
       With tooth and nail to save my niche, ye know:
       --Old Gandolf cozened me, despite my care;
       Shrewd was that snatch from out the corner South
       He graced his carrion with, God curse the same!
       Yet still my niche is not so cramped but thence
       One sees the pulpit o' the epistle-side,
       And somewhat of the choir, those silent seats.
       And up into the aery dome where live
       The angels, and a sunbeam's sure to lurk:
       And I shall fill my slab of basalt there,
       And 'neath my tabernacle take my rest,
       With those nine columns round me, two and two,
       The odd one at my feet where Anselm stands:
       Peach-blossom marble all, the rare, the ripe
       As fresh-poured red wine of a mighty pulse.
       --Old Gandolf with his paltry onion-stone,
       Put me where I may look at him! True peach,
       Rosy and flawless: how I earned the prize!
       Draw close: that conflagration of my church
       --What then? So much was saved if aught were missed!
       My sons, ye would not be my death? Go dig
       The white-grape vineyard where the oil-press stood,
       Drop water gently till the surface sink,
       And if ye find ... Ah God, I know not, I!...
       Bedded in store of rotten fig-leaves soft,
       And corded up in a tight olive-frail,
       Some lump, ah God, of _lapis lazuli_,
       Big as a Jew's head cut off at the nape,
       Blue as a vein o'er the Madonna's breast....
       Sons, all have I bequeathed you, villas, all,
       That brave Frascati-villa with its bath,
       So, let the blue lump poise between my knees,
       Like God the Father's globe on both his hands
       Ye worship in the Jesu Church so gay,
       For Gandolf shall not choose but see and burst!
       Swift as a weaver's shuttle fleet our years:
       Man goeth to the grave, and where is he?
       Did I say basalt for my slab, sons? Black--
       'Twas ever antique-black I meant! How else
       Shall ye contrast my frieze to come beneath?
       The bas-relief in bronze ye promised me,
       Those Pans and Nymphs ye wot of, and perchance
       Some tripod, thyrsus, with a vase or so,
       The Saviour at his sermon on the mount,
       Saint Praxed in a glory, and one Pan
       Ready to twitch the Nymph's last garment off,
       And Moses with the tables ... but I know
       Ye mark me not! What do they whisper thee,
       Child of my bowels, Anselm? Ah, ye hope
       To revel down my villas while I gasp
       Bricked o'er with beggar's mouldy travertine,
       Which Gandolf from his tomb-top chuckles at!
       Nay, boys, ye love me--all of jasper, then!
       'Tis jasper ye stand pledged to, lest I grieve
       My bath must needs be left behind, alas!
       One block, pure green as a pistachio-nut,
       There's plenty jasper somewhere in the world--
       And have I not Saint Praxed's ear to pray
       Horses for ye, and brown Greek manuscripts,
       And mistresses with great smooth marbly limbs?
       --That's if ye carve my epitaph aright,
       Choice Latin, picked phrase, Tully's every word,
       No gaudy ware like Gandolf's second line--
       Tully, my masters? Ulpian serves his need.'

    "I know no other piece of modern English prose or poetry in
    which there is so much told, as in these lines, of the
    Renaissance spirit,--its worldliness, inconsistency, pride,
    hypocrisy, ignorance of itself, love of art, of luxury, and
    of good Latin. It is nearly all that I have said of the
    central Renaissance in thirty pages of the _Stones of
    Venice_, put into as many lines, Browning's also being the
    antecedent work."[24]

This poem is the third of the iambic monologues, and, but for _Artemis
Prologizes_, the first in blank verse. I am not aware if it was written
much later than _Pictor Ignotus_, but it belongs to a later manner.
Scarcely at his very best, scarcely in the very greatest monologues of
the central series of _Men and Women_, or in these only, has Browning
written a finer or a more characteristic poem. As a study in human
nature it has all the concentrated truth, all the biting and imaginative
realism, of a scene from Balzac's _Comedie Humaine_: it is as much a
fact and a creation. It is, moreover, as Ruskin has told us, typical not
only of a single individual but of a whole epoch; while, as a piece of
metrical writing, it has all the originality of an innovation. If
Browning can scarcely be said to have created this species of blank
verse, half familiar, vivid with natural life, full of vigour and
beauty, rising and falling, with the unerring motion of the sea, he has
certainly adapted, perfected, and made it a new thing in his hands.

Akin to _The Tomb at St. Praxed's_ on its dramatic, though dissimilar on
its lyric, side, is the picturesque and terrible little poem of _The
Laboratory_[25] in which a Brinvilliers of the _Ancien Regime_ is
represented buying poison for her rival; one of the very finest examples
of Browning's unique power of compressing and concentrating intense
emotion into a few pregnant words, each of which has its own visible
gesture and audible intonation.

It is in such poems that Browning is at his best, nor is he perhaps
anywhere so inimitable. The second poem under the general heading of
"France and Spain," _The Confessional_, in which a girl, half-maddened
by remorse and impotent rage, tells how a false priest induced her to
betray the political secrets of her lover, is, though vivid and
effective, not nearly so powerful and penetrating as its companion
piece. _Time's Revenges_ may perhaps be classified with these utterances
of individual passion, though in form it is more closely connected with
the poems I shall touch on next. It is a bitter and affecting little
poem, not unlike some of the poems written many years afterwards by a
remarkable and unfortunate poet,[26] who knew, in his own experience,
something of what Browning happily rendered by the instinct of the
dramatist only. It is a powerful and literal rendering of a certain
sordid and tragic aspect of life, and is infused with that peculiar grim
humour, the laugh that chokes in a sob, which comes to men when mere
lamentation is a thing foregone.

The octosyllabic couplets of _Time's Revenges_, as well as its similarly
realistic treatment and striking simplicity of verse and phrase,
connect it with the admirable little poem now know as _The Italian in
England_.[27] This is a tale of an Italian patriot, who, after an
unsuccessful rising, has taken refuge in England. It tells of his escape
and of how he was saved from the Austrian pursuers by the tact and
fidelity of a young peasant woman. Its chief charm lies in the
simplicity and sincere directness of its telling. _The Englishman in
Italy_, a poem of very different class, written in brisk and vigorous
anapaests, is a vivid and humorous picture of Italian country life. It is
delightfully gay and charming and picturesque, and is the most entirely
descriptive poem ever written by Browning. In _The Glove_ we have a new
version, from an original and characteristic standpoint, of the familiar
old story known to all in its metrical version by Leigh Hunt, and more
curtly rhymed (without any very great impressiveness) by Schiller.
Browning has shown elsewhere that he can tell a simple anecdote simply,
but he has here seized upon the tale of the glove, not for the purpose
of telling over again what Leigh Hunt had so charmingly and sufficiently
told, but in order to present the old story in a new light, to show how
the lady might have been right and the knight wrong, in spite of King
Francis's verdict and the look of things. The tale, which is very
wittily told, and contains some fine serious lines on the lion, is
supposed to be related by Peter Ronsard, in the position of on-looker
and moraliser; and the character of the narrator, after the poet's
manner, is brought out by many cunning little touches. The poem is
written almost throughout in double rhymes, in the metre and much in the
manner of the _Pacchiarotto_ of thirty years later. It is worth noticing
that in the lines spoken by the lady to Ronsard, and in these alone, the
double rhymes are replaced by single ones, thus making a distinct
severance between the earnestness of this one passage and the cynical
wit of the rest.

The easy mastery of difficult rhyming which we notice in this piece is
still more marked in the strange and beautiful romance named _The Flight
of the Duchess_.[28] Not even in _Pacchiarotto_ has Browning so revelled
in the most outlandish and seemingly incredible combinations of sound,
double and treble rhymes of equal audacity and success. There is much
dramatic appropriateness in the unconventional diction, the story being
put into the mouth of a rough old huntsman. The device of linking
fantasy with familiarity is very curious, and the effect is original in
the extreme. The poem is a fusion of many elements, and has all the
varying colour of a romantic comedy. Contrast the intensely picturesque
opening landscape, the cleverly minute description of the gipsies and
their trades, the humorous naturalness of the Duke's mediaeval
masquerading as related by his unsympathising forester, and, in a higher
key the beautiful figure of the young Duchess, and the serene, mystical
splendour of the old gipsy's chant.

Two poems yet remain to be named, and two of the most perfect in the
book. The little parable poem of _The Boy and the Angel_ is one of the
most simply beautiful, yet deeply earnest, of Browning's lyrical poems.
It is a parable in which "the allegorical intent seems to be shed by the
story, like a natural perfume from a flower;" and it preaches a sermon
on contentment and the doing of God's will such as no theologian could
better. _Saul_ (which I shall mention here, though only the first part,
sections one to nine, appeared in _Dramatic Romances_, sections ten to
nineteen being first published in _Men and Women_) has been by some
considered almost or quite Browning's finest poem. And indeed it seems
to unite almost the whole of his qualities as a poet in perfect fusion.
Music, song, the beauty of nature, the joy of life, the glory and
greatness of man, the might of Love, human and divine: all these are set
to an orchestral accompaniment of continuous harmony, now hushed as the
wind among the woods at evening, now strong and sonorous as the
storm-wind battling with the mountain-pine. _Saul_ is a vision of life,
of time and of eternity, told in song as sublime as the vision is
steadfast. The choral symphony of earth and all her voices with which
the poem concludes is at once the easiest passage to separate from its
context, and (if we may dare, in such a matter, to choose) one, at
least, of the very greatest of all.

      "I know not too well how I found my way home in the night.
      There were witnesses, cohorts about me, to left and to right,
      Angels, powers, the unuttered, unseen, the alive, the aware:
      I repressed, I got through them as hardly, as strugglingly there,
      As a runner beset by the populace famished for news--
      Life or death. The whole earth was awakened, hell loosed
           with her crews;
      And the stars of night beat with emotion, and tingled and shot
      Out in fire the strong pain of pent knowledge: but I fainted not,
      For the Hand still impelled me at once and supported, suppressed
      All the tumult, and quenched it with quiet, and holy behest,
      Till the rapture was shut in itself, and the earth sank to rest.
      Anon at the dawn, all that trouble had withered from earth--
      Not so much, but I saw it die out in the day's tender birth;
      In the gathered intensity brought to the gray of the hills;
      In the shuddering forests' held breath; in the sudden wind-thrills;
      In the startled wild beasts that bore off, each with eye sidling
          still
      Though averted with wonder and dread; in the birds stiff and chill
      That rose heavily, as I approached them, made stupid with awe:
      E'en the serpent that slid away silent,--he felt the new law.
      The same stared in the white humid faces upturned by the flowers;
      The same worked in the heart of the cedar and moved the vine bowers:
      And the little brooks witnessing murmured, persistent and low,
      With their obstinate, all but hushed voices--' E'en so, it is so!'"

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 24: _Modern Painters_, Vol. IV., pp. 377-79.]

[Footnote 25: It is interesting to remember that Rossetti's first
water-colour was an illustration of this poem, and has for subject and
title the line, "Which is the poison to poison her, prithee?"]

[Footnote 26: James Thomson, the writer of _The City of Dreadful
Night_.]

[Footnote 27: "Mr Browning is proud to remember," we are told by Mrs
Orr, "that Mazzini informed him he had read this poem to certain of his
fellow exiles in England to show how an Englishman could sympathise with
them."--_Handbook_ 2nd ed., p. 306.]

[Footnote 28: Some curious particulars are recorded in reference to the
composition of this poem. "_The Flight of the Duchess_ took its rise
from a line--'Following the Queen of the Gipsies, O!' the burden of a
song which the poet, when a boy, heard a woman singing on a Guy Fawkes'
day. The poem was written in two parts, of which the first was published
in _Hood's Magazine_, April, 1845, and contained only nine sections. As
Mr Browning was writing it, he was interrupted by the arrival of a
friend on some important business, which drove all thoughts of the
Duchess and the scheme of her story out of the poet's head. But some
months after the publication of the first part, when he was staying at
Bettisfield Park, in Shropshire, a guest, speaking of early winter,
said, 'The deer had already to break the ice in the pond.' On this a
fancy struck the poet, and, on returning home, he worked it up into the
conclusion of _The Flight of the Duchess_ as it now stands."--_Academy_,
May 5, 1883.]


12. A SOUL'S TRAGEDY.

    [Published in 1846 (with _Luria_) as No. VIII. of _Bells and
    Pomegranates_ (_Poetical Works_, 1889, Vol. IV., pp.
    257-302). Acted by the Stage Society at the Court Theatre,
    March 13, 1904.]

The development of Browning's genius, as shown in his plays, has been
touched on in dealing with _Colombe's Birthday_. That play, as I
intimated, shows the first token of transition from the comparatively
conventional dramatic style of the early plays to the completely
unconventional style of the later ones, which in turn lead almost
imperceptibly to the final pausing-place of the monologue. From _A Blot
in the 'Scutcheon_ to _Colombe's Birthday_ is a step; from _Colombe's
Birthday_ to _A Soul's Tragedy_ and _Luria_ another step; and in these
last we are not more than another step from _Men and Women_ and its
successors. In _A Soul's Tragedy_ the action is all internalized.
Outward action there is, and of a sufficiently picturesque nature; but
here, considerably more than even in _Colombe's Birthday_, the interest
is withdrawn from the action, as action, and concentrated on a single
character, whose "soul's tragedy," not his mere worldly fortunes,
strange and significant as these are, we are called on to contemplate.
Chiappino fills and possesses the scene. The other characters are
carefully subordinated, and the impression we receive is not unlike that
received from one of Browning's most vivid and complete monologues, with
its carefully placed apparatus of sidelights.

The character of Chiappino is that of a Djabal degenerated; he is the
second of Browning's delineations of the half-deceived and
half-deceiving nature, the moral hybrid. Chiappino comes before us as a
much-professing yet apparently little-performing person, moody and
complaining, envious of his friend Luitolfo's better fortune, a soured
man and a discontented patriot. But he is quite sure of his own complete
probity. He declaims bitterly against his fellow-townsmen, his friend,
and the woman whom he loves; all of whom, he asseverates, treat him
unjustly, and as he never could, by any possibility, treat them. While
he is thus protesting to Eulalia, his friend's betrothed, to whom for
the first time he avows his own love, a trial is at hand, and nearer
than he or we expect. Luitolfo rushes in. He has gone to the Provost's
palace to intercede on behalf of his banished friend, and in a moment of
wrath has struck and, as he thinks, killed the Provost: the guards are
after him, and he is lost. Is this the moment of test? Apparently; and
apparently Chiappino proves his nobility. For, with truly heroic
unselfishness, he exchanges dress with his friend, induces him, in a
sort of stupefaction of terror, to escape, and remains in his place, "to
die for him." But the harder test has yet to come. Instead of the
Provost's guards, it is the enthusiastic populace that bursts in upon
him, hailing him as saviour and liberator. The people have risen in
revolt, the guards have fled, and the people call on the striker of the
blow to be their leader. Chiappino says nothing. "Chiappino?" says
Eulalia, questioning him with her eyes. "Yes, I understand," he rejoins,

      "You think I should have promptlier disowned
      This deed with its strange unforeseen success,
      In favour of Luitolfo. But the peril,
      So far from ended, hardly seems begun.
      To-morrow, rather, when a calm succeeds,
      We easily shall make him full amends:
      And meantime--if we save them as they pray,
      And justify the deed by its effects?
        _Eu._ You would, for worlds, you had denied at once.
        _Ch._ I know my own intention, be assured!
      All's well. Precede us, fellow-citizens!"

Thus ends act first, "being what was called the poetry of Chiappino's
life;" and act second, "its prose," opens after a supposed interval of a
month.

The second act exhibits, in very humorous prose, the gradual and
inevitable deterioration which the silence and the deception have
brought about. Drawn on and on, upon his own lines of thought and
conduct, by Ogniben, the Pope's legate, who has come to put down the
revolt by diplomatic measures, Chiappino denies his political
principles, finding a democratic rule not at all so necessary when the
provostship may perhaps fall to himself; denies his love, for his views
of love are, he finds, widened; and finally, denies his friend, to the
extent of arguing that the very blow which, as struck by Luitolfo, has
been the factor of his fortune, was practically, because logically, his
own. Ogniben now agrees to invest him with the Provost's office, making
at the same time the stipulation that the actual assailant of the
Provost shall suffer the proper penalty. Hereupon Luitolfo comes forward
and avows the deed. Ogniben orders him to his house; Chiappino "goes
aside for a time;" "and now," concludes the legate, addressing the
people, "give thanks to God, the keys of the Provost's palace to me, and
yourselves to profitable meditation at home."

Besides Chiappino, there are three other characters, who serve to set
off the main figure. Eulalia is an observer, Luitolfo a foil, Ogniben a
touchstone. Eulalia and Luitolfo, though sufficiently worked out for
their several purposes, are only sketches, the latter perhaps more
distinctly outlined than the former, and serving admirably as a contrast
to Chiappino. But Ogniben, who does so much of the talking in the second
act, is a really memorable figure. His portrait is painted with more
prominent effect, for his part in the play is to draw Chiappino out, and
to confound him with his own weapons: "I help men," as he says, "to
carry out their own principles; if they please to say two and two make
five, I assent, so they will but go on and say, four and four make ten."
His shrewd Socratic prose is delightfully wise and witty. This prose,
the only dramatic prose written by Browning, with the exception of that
in _Pippa Passes_, is, in its way, almost as good as the poetry: keen,
vivacious, full-thoughted, picturesque, and singularly original. For
instance, Chiappino is expressing his longing for a woman who could
understand, as he says, the whole of him, to whom he could reveal alike
his strength and weakness.

    "Ah, my friend," rejoins Ogniben, "wish for nothing so
    foolish! Worship your love, give her the best of you to see;
    be to her like the western lands (they bring us such strange
    news of) to the Spanish Court; send her only your lumps of
    gold, fans of feathers, your spirit-like birds, and fruits
    and gems. So shall you, what is unseen of you, be supposed
    altogether a paradise by her,--as these western lands by
    Spain: though I warrant there is filth, red baboons, ugly
    reptiles and squalor enough, which they bring Spain as few
    samples of as possible."

There is in all this prose, lengthy as it is, the true dramatic note, a
recognisable tone of talk. But _A Soul's Tragedy_ is for the study, not
the stage.


13. LURIA: A Tragedy in Five Acts.

    [Published in 1846 (with _A Soul's Tragedy_) as No. VIII of
    _Bells and Pomegranates_ (_Poetical Works_, 1889, Vol. VI.
    pp. 205-289). The action takes place from morning to night of
    one day].

The action and interest in _Luria_ are somewhat less internalised than
in _A Soul's Tragedy_, but the drama is in form a still nearer approach
to monologue. Many of the speeches are so long as to be almost
monologues in themselves; and the whole play is manifestly written
(unlike the other plays, except its immediate predecessor, or rather its
contemporary) with no thought of the stage. The poet is retreating
farther and farther from the glare of the footlights; he is writing
after his own fancy, and not as his audience or his manager would wish
him to write. None of Browning's plays is so full of large heroic
speech, of deep philosophy, of choice illustration; seldom has he
written nobler poetry. There is not the intense and throbbing humanity
of _A Blot in the 'Scutcheon_; the characters are not so simply and so
surely living men and women; but in the grave and lofty speech and
idealised characters of _Luria_ we have something new, and something
great as well.

The central figure is Luria himself; but the other characters are not so
carefully and completely subordinated to him as are those in _A Soul's
Tragedy_ to Chiappino. Luria is one of the noblest and most heroic
figures in Browning's works. A Moor, with the instincts of the East and
the culture of the West, he presents a racial problem which is very
subtly handled; while his natural nobility and confidence are no less
subtly set off against the Italian craft of his surroundings. The
spectacle he presents is impressive and pathetic. An alien, with no bond
to Florence save that of his inalienable love, he has led her forces
against the Pisans, and saved her. Looking for no reward but the
grateful love of the people he has saved, he meets instead with the
basest ingratitude. While he is fighting and conquering for her,
Florence, at home, is trying him for his life on a charge of treachery:
a charge which has no foundation but in the base natures of his
accusers, who know that he might, and therefore suspect that he will,
turn to evil purpose his military successes and the power which they
have gained him over the army. Generals of their own blood have betrayed
them: how much more will this barbarian? Luria learns of the treachery
of his allies in time to take revenge, he is urged to take revenge, and
the means are placed in his hands, but his nobler nature conquers, and
the punishment he deals on Florence is the punishment of his own
voluntary death. The strength of love which restrains him from punishing
the ungrateful city forbids him to live when his only love has proved
false, his only link to life has gone. But before he dies he has the
satisfaction of seeing the late repentance and regret of every enemy,
whether secret schemer or open foe.

              "Luria goes not poorly forth.
      If we could wait! The only fault's with time;
      All men become good creatures: but so slow!"

In the pathos of his life and death Luria may remind us of another
unrequited lover, Strafford, whose devotion to his king gains the same
reward as Luria's devotion to his adopted country.

In Luria's faithful friend and comrade Husain we have a contrasted
picture of the Moor untouched by alien culture. The instincts of the one
are dulled or disturbed by his Western wisdom and experience; Husain
still keeps the old instincts and the unmixed nature, and still speaks
the fervid and highly-coloured Eastern speech. But while Husain is to
some extent a contrast with Luria, Luria and Husain together form an
infinitely stronger contrast with the group of Italians. Braccio, the
Florentine Commissary, is an admirable study of Italian subtlety and
craft. Only a writer with Browning's special knowledge and sympathies
could have conceived and executed so acute and true a picture of the
Italian temper of the time, a temper manifested with singular
appropriateness by the city of Machiavelli. Braccio is the chief schemer
against Luria, and he schemes, not from any real ill-will, but from the
diplomatic distrust of a too cautious and too suspicious patriot.
Domizia, the vengeful Florentine lady, plotting against Florence with
the tireless patience of an unforgetting wrong, is also a representative
sketch, though not so clearly and firmly outlined as a character.
Puccio, Luria's chief officer, once his commander, the simple fighting
soldier, discontented but honest, unswervingly loyal to Florence, but
little by little aware of and aggrieved at the wrong done to Luria, is a
really touching conception. Tiburzio, the Pisan leader, is yet finer in
his perfect chivalry of service to his foe. Nothing could be more nobly
planned than the first meeting, and indeed the whole relations, of these
magnanimous and worthy opponents, Luria and Tiburzio. There is a
certain intellectual fascination for Browning in the analysis of mean
natures and dubious motives, but of no contemporary can it be more
justly said that he rises always and easily to the height and at the
touch of an heroic action or of a noble nature.


14. CHRISTMAS-EVE AND EASTER-DAY: A Poem.

    [Published in 1850 (_Poetical Works_, 1889, Vol. V., pp.
    207-307). Written in Florence.]

_Christmas-Eve and Easter-Day_ is the chief work in which Browning deals
directly and primarily with the subject of Christianity and the
religious beliefs of the age. Both the poems which appear under this
title are studies of religious life and thought, the first more in the
narrative and critical way, the second rather in relation to individual
experience. Browning's position towards Christianity is perhaps unique.
He has been described as "the latest extant Defender of the Faith," but
the manner of his belief and the modes of his defence are as little
conventional as any other of his qualities. Beyond all question the most
deeply religious poet of our day, perhaps the greatest religious poet we
have ever had, Browning has never written anything in the ordinary style
of religious verse, the style of Herbert, of Keble, of the hymn-writers.
The spirit which runs through all his work is more often felt as an
influence than manifested in any concrete and separate form.
_Christmas-Eve and Easter-Day_, _La Saisiaz_ and _Ferishtah's Fancies_
are the only prominent exceptions to this rule.

_Christmas-Eve_ is a study or vision of the religious life of the time.
It professes to be the narrative of a strange experience lived through
on a Christmas-Eve ("whether in the body I cannot tell, or whether out
of the body,") in a little dissenting chapel on the outskirts of a
country town, in St. Peter's at Rome, and at an agnostic lecture-hall in
Goettingen. The vivid humorous sketch of the little chapel and its flock
is like a bit of Dickens at his best. Equally good, in another kind, is
the picture of the Professor and his audience at Goettingen, with its
searching and scathing irony of merciless logic, and the tender and
subtle discrimination of its judgment, sympathetic with the good faith
of the honest thinker. Different again in style, and higher still in
poetry, is the glowing description of the Basilica and its sensuous
fervour of ceremonial; and higher and greater yet the picture of the
double lunar rainbow merging into that of the vision: a piece of
imaginative work never perhaps exceeded in spiritual exaltation and
concordant splendour of song in the whole work of the poet, though
equalled, if not exceeded, by the more terrible vision of judgment which
will be cited later from _Easter-Day_.

      "For lo, what think you? suddenly
      The rain and the wind ceased, and the sky
      Received at once the full fruition
      Of the moon's consummate apparition.
      The black cloud-barricade was riven,
      Ruined beneath her feet, and driven
      Deep in the West; while, bare and breathless,
      North and South and East lay ready
      For a glorious thing that, dauntless, deathless,
      Sprang across them and stood steady.
      'Twas a moon-rainbow, vast and perfect,
      From heaven to heaven extending, perfect
      As the mother-moon's self, full in face.
      It rose, distinctly at the base
      With its seven proper colours chorded,
      Which still, in the rising, were compressed,
      Until at last they coalesced,
      And supreme the spectral creature lorded
      In a triumph of purest white,--
      Above which intervened the night.
      But above night too, like only the next,
      The second of a wondrous sequence,
      Reaching in rare and rarer frequence,
      Till the heaven of heavens were circumflexed,
      Another rainbow rose, a mightier,
      Fainter, flushier, and flightier,--
      Rapture dying along its verge.
      Oh, whose foot shall I see emerge,
      Whose, from the straining topmost dark,
      On to the keystone of that arc?"

At moments of such energy and ecstasy as this, all that there is in the
poet of mere worldly wisdom and intellectual ingenuity drops off, or
rather is consumed to a white glow in the intense flame of triumphant
and over-mastering inspiration.

The piercing light cast in the poem on the representative creeds of the
age is well worthy of serious consideration, from an ethical as well as
from a poetical point of view. No nobler lesson of religious tolerance,
united with religious earnestness, has been preached in our day. Nothing
could be more novel and audacious than the union here attempted and
achieved of colloquial realism and grotesque humour with imaginative
vision and solemn earnestness. The style and metre vary with the mood.
Where the narrative is serious the lines are regular and careful, they
shrink to their smallest structural limit, and the rhymes are chiefly
single and simple. Where it becomes humorous, the rhythm lengthens out
its elastic syllables to the full extent, and swings and sways, jolts
and rushes; the rhymes fall double and triple and break out into audible
laughter.

_Easter-Day_, like its predecessor, is written in lines of four beats
each, but the general effect is totally dissimilar. Here the verse is
reduced to its barest constituents; every line is, syllabically as well
as accentually, of equal length; and the lines run in pairs, without one
double rhyme throughout. The tone and contents of the two poems (though
also, in a sense, derived from the same elements) are in singular
contrast. _Easter-Day_, despite a momentary touch or glimmer, here and
there, of grave humour, is thoroughly serious in manner and continuously
solemn in subject. The burden of the poem is stated in its first two
lines:--

      "How very hard it is to be
      A Christian!"

Up to the thirteenth section it is an argument between the speaker, who
is possessed of much faith but has a distinct tendency to pessimism, and
another, who has a sceptical but also a hopeful turn of mind, respecting
Christianity, its credibility, and how its doctrines fit human nature
and affect the conduct of life. After keen discussion the argument
returns to the lament, common to both disputants: how very hard it is to
be, practically, a Christian. The speaker then relates, on account of
its bearing on the discussion, an experience (or vision, as he leaves us
free to imagine) which once came to him. Three years before, on an
Easter-Eve, he was crossing the common where stood the chapel referred
to by their friend (the poem thus, and thus only, links on to
_Christmas-Eve_.) As he walked along, musingly, he asked himself what
the Faith really was to him; what would be his fate, for instance, if he
fell dead that moment? And he said to himself, jestingly enough, why
should not the judgment-day dawn now, on Easter-morn?

                         "And as I said
      This nonsense, throwing back my head
      With light complacent laugh, I found
      Suddenly all the midnight round
      One fire. The dome of heaven had stood
      As made up of a multitude
      Of handbreadth cloudlets, one vast rack
      Of ripples infinite and black,
      From sky to sky. Sudden there went,
      Like horror and astonishment,
      A fierce vindictive scribble of red
      Quick flame across, as if one said
      (The angry scribe of Judgment) 'There--
      Burn it!' And straight I was aware
      That the whole ribwork round, minute
      Cloud touching cloud beyond compute,
      Was tinted, each with its own spot
      Of burning at the core, till clot
      Jammed against clot, and spilt its fire
      Over all heaven, which 'gan suspire
      As fanned to measure equable,--
      Just so great conflagrations kill
      Night overhead, and rise and sink,
      Reflected. Now the fire would shrink
      And wither off the blasted face
      Of heaven, and I distinct might trace
      The sharp black ridgy outlines left
      Unburned like network--then, each cleft
      The fire had been sucked back into,
      Regorged, and out its surging flew
      Furiously, and night writhed inflamed,
      Till, tolerating to be tamed
      No longer, certain rays world-wide
      Shot downwardly. On every side,
      Caught past escape, the earth was lit;
      As if a dragon's nostril split
      And all his famished ire o'erflowed;
      Then as he winced at his lord's goad,
      Back he inhaled: whereat I found
      The clouds into vast pillars bound,
      Based on the corners of the earth
      Propping the skies at top: a dearth
      Of fire i' the violet intervals,
      Leaving exposed the utmost walls
      Of time, about to tumble in
      And end the world."

Judgment, according to the vision, is now over. He who has chosen earth
rather than heaven, is allowed his choice: earth is his for ever. How
the walls of the world shrink and narrow, how the glow fades off from
the beauty of nature, of art, of science; how the judged soul prays for
only a chance of love, only a hope of ultimate heaven; how the ban is
taken off him, and he wakes from the vision on the grey plain as
Easter-morn is breaking: this, with its profound and convincing moral
lessons, is told, without a didactic note, in poetry of sustained
splendour. In sheer height of imagination _Easter-Day_ could scarcely
exceed the greatest parts of _Christmas-Eve_, but it preserves a level
of more equable splendour, it is a work of art of more chastened
workmanship. In its ethical aspect it is also of special importance,
for, while the poet does not necessarily identify himself in all
respects with the seer of the vision, the poem enshrines some of
Browning's deepest convictions on life and religion.


15. MEN AND WOMEN.

    [Published in 1855, in 2 vols.; now dispersed in Vols. IV.,
    V. and VI. of _Poetical Works_, 1889.]

The series of _Men and Women_, fifty-one poems in number, represents
Browning's genius at its ripe maturity, its highest uniform level. In
this central work of his career, every element of his genius is equally
developed, and the whole brought into a perfection of harmony never
before or since attained. There is no lack, there is no excess. I do not
say that the poet has not touched higher heights since, or perhaps
before; but that he has never since nor before maintained himself so
long on so high a height, never exhibited the rounded perfection, the
imagination, thought, passion, melody, variety, all fused in one, never
produced a single work or group at once so great and so various, admits,
I think, of little doubt. Here are fifty poems, every one of which, in
its way, is a masterpiece; and the range is such as no other English
poet has perhaps ever covered in a single book of miscellaneous poems.

In _Men and Women_ Browning's special instrument, the monologue, is
brought to perfection. Such monologues as _Andrea del Sarto_ or the
_Epistle of Karshish_ never have been, and probably never will be
surpassed, on their own ground, after their own order. To conceive a
drama, to present every side and phase and feature of it from one point
of view, to condense all its potentialities of action, all its
significance and import, into some few hundred lines, this has been done
by but one poet, and nowhere with such absolute perfection as here. Even
when dealing with a single emotion, Browning usually crystallizes it
into a choice situation; and almost every poem in the series, down to
the smallest lyric, is essentially a dramatic monologue. But perhaps the
most striking instances of the form and method, and, with the little
drama of _In a Balcony_, the principal poems in the collection, are the
five blank verse pieces, _Andrea del Sarto_, _Fra Lippo Lippi_, _Cleon_,
_Karshish_, and _Bishop Blougram_. Each is a masterpiece of poetry. Each
is in itself a drama, and contains the essence of a life, condensed into
a single episode, or indicated in a combination of discourse,
conversation, argument, soliloquy, reminiscence. Each, besides being the
presentation of a character, moves in a certain atmosphere of its own,
philosophical, ethical, or artistic. _Andrea del Sarto_ and _Fra Lippo
Lippi_ deal with art. _Cleon_ and _Karshish_, in a sense companion
poems, are concerned, each secondarily, with the arts and physical
sciences, primarily with the attitude of the Western and Eastern worlds
when confronted with the problem of the Gospel of Christ. _Bishop
Blougram_ is modern, ecclesiastical and argumentative. But however
different in form and spirit, however diverse in _milieu_, each is alike
the record of a typical soul at a typical moment.

_Andrea del Sarto_ is a "translation into song" of the picture known as
"Andrea del Sarto and his Wife," in the Pitti Palace at Florence. The
story of Andrea del Sarto is told by Vasari, in one of the best known of
his _Lives_: how the painter, who at one time seemed as if he might have
competed with Raphael, was ruined, as artist and as man, by his
beautiful, soulless wife, the fatal Lucrezia del Fede; and how, led and
lured by her, he outraged his conscience, lowered his ideal, and, losing
all heart and hope, sank into the cold correctness, the unerring
fluency, the uniform, melancholy repetition of a single type, his
wife's, which distinguish his later works. Browning has taken his facts
from Vasari, and he has taken them quite literally. But what a change,
what a transformation and transfiguration! Instead of a piece of prose
biography and criticism, we have (in Mr. Swinburne's appropriate words)
"the whole man raised up and reclothed with flesh." No more absolutely
creative work has been done in our days; few more beautiful and pathetic
poems written. The mood of sad, wistful, hopeless mournfulness of
resignation which the poem expresses, is a somewhat rare one with
Browning's vivid and vivacious genius. It is an autumn twilight piece.

      "A common greyness silvers everything,--
      All in a twilight, you and I alike
      --You, at the point of your first pride in me
      (That's gone, you know),--but I, at every point;
      My youth, my hope, my art, being all toned down
      To yonder sober pleasant Fiesole.
      There's the bell clinking from the chapel top;
      That length of convent-wall across the way
      Holds the trees safer, huddled more inside;
      The last monk leaves the garden; days decrease,
      And autumn grows, autumn in everything.
      Eh, the whole seems to fall into a shape
      As if I saw alike my work and self
      And all that I was born to be and do,
      A twilight-piece."

The very movement of the lines, their tone and touch, contribute to the
effect. A single clear impression is made to result from an infinity of
minute, scarcely appreciable touches: how fine these touches are, how
clear the impression, can only be hinted at in words, can be realised
only by a loving and scrupulous study.

Whether the picture which suggested the poem is an authentic work of
Andrea, or whether, as experts have now agreed, it is a work by an
unknown artist representing an imaginary man and woman is, of course, of
no possible consequence in connection with the poem. Nor is it of any
more importance that the Andrea of Vasari is in all probability not the
real Andrea. Historic fact has nothing to do with poetry: it is mere
material, the quarry of ideas; and the real truth of Browning's portrait
of Andrea would no more be impugned by the establishment of Vasari's
inaccuracy, than the real truth of Shakespeare's portrait of Macbeth by
the proof of the untrustworthiness of Holinshed.

A greater contrast, in every respect, than that between _Andrea del
Sarto_ and _Fra Lippo Lippi_ can scarcely be conceived. The story of
Filippo Lippi[29] is taken, like that of Andrea, from Vasari's _Lives_:
it is taken as literally, it is made as authentically living, and, in
its own more difficult way, it is no less genuine a poem. The jolly,
jovial tone of the poem, its hearty humour and high spirits, and the
breathless rush and hurry of the verse, render the scapegrace painter to
the life. Not less in keeping is the situation in which the unsaintly
friar is introduced: caught by the civic guard, past midnight, in an
equivocal neighbourhood, quite able and ready, however, to fraternise
with his captors, and pour forth, rough and ready, his ideas and
adventures. A passage from the poem placed side by side with an extract
from Vasari will show how faithfully the record of Fra Lippo's life is
followed, and it will also show, in some small measure, the essential
newness, the vividness and revelation of the poet's version.

    "By the death of his father," writes Vasari,[30] "he was left
    a friendless orphan at the age of two years, his mother also
    having died shortly after his birth. The child was for some
    time under the care of a certain Mona Lapaccia, his aunt, the
    sister of his father, who brought him up with great
    difficulty until he had attained his eighth year, when, being
    no longer able to support the burden of his maintenance, she
    placed him in the above-named convent of the Carmelites."

Here is Browning's version:--

      "I was a baby when my mother died
      And father died and left me in the street.
      I starved there, God knows how, a year or two
      On fig-skins, melon-parings, rinds and shucks,
      Refuse and rubbish. One fine frosty day,
      My stomach being empty as your hat,
      The wind doubled me up and down I went.
      Old Aunt Lapaccia trussed me with one hand,
      (Its fellow was a stinger as I knew)
      And so along the wall, over the bridge,
      By the straight cut to the convent. Six words there,
      While I stood munching my first bread that month:
      'So, boy, you're minded,' quoth the good fat father,
      Wiping his own mouth, 'twas refection-time,--
      'To quit this very miserable world?'"

But not only has Browning given a wonderfully realistic portrait of the
man; a man to whom life in its fulness was the only joy, a true type of
the Renaissance spirit, metamorphosed by ironic fate into a monk; he
has luminously indicated the true end and aim of art and the false
asceticism of so-called "religious" art, in the characteristic comments
and confessions of an innovator in the traditions of religious painting.

_Cleon_ is prefaced by the text "As certain also of your own poets have
said" (_Acts_, xvii. 28), and is supposed to be a letter from one of the
poets to whom St. Paul refers, addressed to Protus, an imaginary
"Tyrant," whose wondering admiration of Cleon's many-sided culture has
drawn him to one who is at once poet, painter, sculptor, musician and
philosopher. Compared with such poems as _Andrea del Sarto_, there is
little realisable detail in the course of the calm argument or
statement, but I scarcely see how the temper of the time, among its
choicest spirits (the time of classic decadence, of barren culture, of
fruitless philosophy) could well have been more finely shadowed forth.
The quality of the versification, unique here as in every one of the
five great poems, is perfectly adapted to the subject. The slow sweep of
the verse, its stately melody, its large, clear, classic harmony, enable
us to receive the right impression as admirably as the other qualities,
already pointed out, enable us to feel the resigned sadness of Andrea
and the jovial gusto of Lippo. In _Cleon_ we have a historical picture,
imaginary indeed, but typical. It reveals or records the religious
feeling of the pagan world at the time of the coming of Christ; its
sadness, dissatisfaction and expectancy, and the failure of its wisdom
to fathom the truths of the new Gospel.

In _An Epistle containing the strange Medical Experience of Karshish,
the Arab Physician_, we have perhaps a yet more subtle delineation of a
character similar by contrast. Cleon is a type of the Western and
sceptical, Karshish of the Eastern and believing, attitude of mind; the
one repellent, the other absorbent, of new things offered for belief.
Karshish, "the picker up of learning's crumbs," writes from Syria to his
master at home, "Abib, all sagacious in our art," concerning a man whose
singular case has fascinated him, one Lazarus of Bethany. There are few
more lifelike and subtly natural narratives in Browning's poetry; few
more absolutely interpenetrated by the finest imaginative sympathy. The
scientific caution and technicality of the Arab physician, his careful
attempt at a statement of the case from a purely medical point of view,
his self-reproachful uneasiness at the strange interest which the man's
story has caused in him, the strange credulity which he cannot keep from
encroaching on his mind: all this is rendered with a matchless delicacy
and accuracy of touch and interpretation. Nor can anything be finer than
the representation of Lazarus after his resurrection, a representation
which has significance beyond its literal sense, and points a moral
often enforced by the poet: that doubt and mystery, in life and in
religion alike, are necessary, and indeed alone make either life or
religion possible. The special point in the tale of Lazarus which has
impressed Karshish with so intense an interest is that

      "This man so cured regards the curer, then,
      As--God forgive me! who but God himself,
      Creator and sustainer of the world,
      That came and dwelt in flesh on it awhile!
      --'Sayeth that such an one was born and lived,
      Taught, healed the sick, broke bread at his own house,
      Then died, with Lazarus by, for aught I know,
      And yet was ... what I said nor choose repeat,
      And must have so avouched himself, in fact,
      In hearing of this very Lazarus
      Who saith--but why all this of what he saith?
      Why write of trivial matters, things of price
      Calling at every moment for remark?
      I noticed on the margin of a pool
      Blue-flowering borage, the Aleppo sort,
      Aboundeth, very nitrous. It is strange!"

How perfectly the attitude of the Arab sage is here given, drawn,
against himself, to a conviction which he feels ashamed to entertain. As
in _Cleon_ the very pith of the letter is contained in the postscript,
so, after the apologies and farewell greetings of Karshish, the thought
which all the time has been burning within him bursts into flame.

           "The very God! think, Abib; dost thou think?
      So, the All-Great were the All-Loving too--
      So, through the thunder comes a human voice
      Saying, 'O heart I made, a heart beats here!
      Face, my hands fashioned, see it in myself!
      Thou hast no power nor may'st conceive of mine,
      But love I gave thee, with myself to love,
      And thou must love me who have died for thee!'
      The madman saith He said so: it is strange."

So far, the monologues are single-minded, and represent the sincere and
frank expression of the thoughts and opinions of their speakers. _Bishop
Blougram's Apology_ introduces a new element, the casuistical. The
Bishop's Apology is, literally, an _apologia_, a speech in defence of
himself, in which the aim is to confound an adversary, not to state the
truth. This form, intellectual rather than emotional, argumentative more
than dramatic, has had, from this time forward, a considerable
attraction for Browning, and it is responsible for some of his hardest
work, such as _Fifine at the Fair_ and _Prince Hohenstiel-Schwangau_.

_Bishop Blougram's Apology_ represents the after-dinner talk of a great
Roman Catholic dignitary. It is addressed to Mr. Gigadibs, a young and
shallow literary man, who poses as free-thinker and as critic of the
Bishop's position. Mr. Gigadibs' implied opinion is, that a man of
Blougram's intellect and broad views cannot, with honesty, hold and
teach Roman Catholic dogma; that his position is anomalous and unideal.
Blougram retorts with his voluminous and astonishingly clever "apology."
In this apology we trace three distinct elements. First, there is a
substratum of truth, truth, that is, in the abstract; then there is an
application of these true principles to his own case and conduct, an
application which is thoroughly unjustifiable--

      "He said true things, but called them by wrong names--"

but which serves for an ingenious, and apparently, as regards Gigadibs,
a triumphant, defence; finally, there is the real personal element, the
man as he is. We are quite at liberty to suppose, even if we were not
bound to suppose, that after all Blougram's defence is merely or partly
ironical, and that he is not the contemptible creature he would be if we
took him quite seriously. It is no secret that Blougram himself is, in
the main, modelled after and meant for Cardinal Wiseman, who, it is
said, was the writer of a good-humoured review of the poem in the
Catholic journal, _The Rambler_ (January, 1856). The supple, nervous
strength and swiftness of the blank verse is, in its way, as fine as the
qualities we have observed in the other monologues: there is a splendid
"go" in it, a vast capacity for business; the verse is literally alive
with meaning, packed with thought, instinct with wit and irony; and not
this only, but starred with passages of exquisite charm, such as that on
"how some actor played Death on the stage," or that more famous one:--

      "Just when we're safest, there's a sunset-touch,
      A fancy from a flower-bell, some one's death,
      A chorus-ending from Euripides,--
      And that's enough for fifty hopes and fears
      As old and new at once as nature's self,
      To rap and knock and enter in our soul,
      Take hands and dance there, a fantastic ring
      Round the ancient idol, on his base again,--
      The grand Perhaps!"

At least six of the poems contained in _Men and Women_ deal with
painting and music. But while four of these seem to fall into one group,
the remaining two, _Andrea del Sarto_ and _Fra Lippo Lippi_, properly
belong, though themselves the greatest of the art-poems as art-poems, to
the group of monodramas already noticed. But _Old Pictures in Florence_,
_The Guardian Angel_, _Master Hugues of Saxe-Gotha_ and _A Toccata of
Galuppi's_, are chiefly and distinctively notable in their relation to
art, or to some special picture or piece of music.

_The Guardian Angel_ is a "translation into song" of Guercino's picture
of that name (_L'Angelo Custode_). It is addressed to "Waring," and was
written by Browning at Ancona, after visiting with Mrs. Browning the
church of San Agostino at Fano, which contains the picture. This
touching and sympathetic little poem is Browning's only detailed
description of a picture; but it is of more interest as an expression of
personal feeling. Something in its sentiment has made it one of the most
popular of his poems. _Old Pictures in Florence_ is a humorous and
earnest moralising on the meaning and mission of art and the rights and
wrongs of artists, suggested by some of the old pictures in Florence. It
contains perhaps the most complete and particular statement of
Browning's artistic principles that we have anywhere in his work, as
well as a very noble and energetic outburst of indignant enthusiasm on
behalf of the "early masters," the lesser older men whom the world slurs
over or forgets. The principles which Browning imputes to the early
painters may be applied to poetry as well as to art. Very characteristic
and significant is the insistence on the deeper value of life, of soul,
than of mere expression or technique, or even of mere unbreathing
beauty. _Master Hugues of Saxe-Gotha_ is the humorous soliloquy of an
imaginary organist over a fugue in F minor by an imaginary composer,
named in the title. It is a mingling of music and moralising. The famous
description of a fugue, and the personification of its five voices, is a
brilliantly ingenious _tour de force_; and the rough humour is quite in
keeping with the _dramatis persona_. In complete contrast to _Master
Hugues_ is _A Toccata of Galuppi's_,[31] one of the daintiest, most
musical, most witching and haunting of Browning's poems, certainly one
of his masterpieces as a lyric poet. It is a vision of Venice evoked
from the shadowy Toccata, a vision of that delicious, brilliant,
evanescent, worldly life, when

      "Balls and masks began at midnight, burning ever to midday,"

and the lover and his lady would break off their talk to listen while
Galuppi

      "Sat and played Toccatas, stately at the clavichord."

But "the eternal note of sadness" soon creeps in.

      "Yes, you, like a ghostly cricket, creaking where a house was burned:
      'Dust and ashes, dead and done with, Venice spent what Venice earned.

             *       *       *       *       *

      Dust and ashes!' So you creak it, and I want the heart to scold.
      Dear dead women, with such hair, too--what's become of all the gold
      Used to hang and brush their bosoms? I feel chilly and grown old."

In this poem Browning has called up before us the whole aspect of
Venetian life in the eighteenth century. In three other poems, among the
most remarkable that he has ever written, _A Grammarian's Funeral_, _The
Heretic's Tragedy_ and _Holy-Cross Day_, he has realised and represented
the life and temper of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. _A
Grammarian's Funeral_, "shortly after the Revival of Learning in
Europe," gives the nobler spirit of the earlier pioneers of the
Renaissance, men like Cyriac of Ancona and Filelfo, devoted pedants who
broke ground in the restoration to the modern world of the civilisation
and learning of ancient Greece and Rome. It gives this, the nobler and
earlier spirit, as finely as _The Tomb at St. Praxed's_ gives the later
and grosser. In Browning's hands the figure of the old grammarian
becomes heroic. "He settled _Hoti's_ business," true; but he did
something more than that. It is the spirit in which the work is done,
rather than the special work itself, here only relatively important,
which is glorified. Is it too much to say that this is the noblest of
all requiems ever chanted over the grave of the scholar?

      "Here's the top peak; the multitude below
            Live, for they can, there:
      This man decided not to Live but Know--
            Bury this man there.
      Here--here's his place, where meteors shoot, clouds form,
            Lightnings are loosened,
      Stars come and go! Let joy break with the storm,
            Peace let the dew send!
      Lofty designs must close in like effects:
            Loftily lying,
      Leave him--still loftier than the world suspects,
            Living or dying."

The union of humour with intense seriousness, of the grotesque with the
stately, is one that only Browning could have compassed, and the effect
is singularly appropriate. As the disciples of the old humanist bear
their dead master up to his grave on the mountain-top, chanting their
dirge and eulogy, the lines of the poem seem actually to move to the
steady climbing rhythm of their feet.

_The Heretic's Tragedy: a Middle-Age Interlude_, is described by the
author as "a glimpse from the burning of Jacques du Bourg-Molay [last
Grand-Master of the Templars], A.D. 1314, as distorted by the refraction
from Flemish brain to brain during the course of a couple of centuries."
Of all Browning's mediaeval poems this is perhaps the greatest, as it is
certainly the most original, the most astonishing. Its special "note" is
indescribable, for there is nothing with which we can compare it. If I
say that it is perhaps the finest example in English poetry of the pure
grotesque, I shall fail to interpret it aright to those who think of the
grotesque as a synonym for the ugly and debased. If I call it fantastic,
I shall do it less than justice in suggesting a certain lightness and
flimsiness which are quite alien to its profound seriousness, a
seriousness which touches on sublimity. Browning's power of sculpturing
single situations is seldom shown in finer relief than in those poems in
which he has seized upon some "occult eccentricity of history" or of
legend, like this of _The Heretic's Tragedy_, or that in _Holy-Cross
Day_, fashioning it into some quaint, curt, tragi-comic form.
_Holy-Cross Day_ expresses the feelings of the Jews, who were forced on
this day (the 14th September) to attend an annual Christian sermon in
Rome. A deliciously naive extract from an imaginary _Diary by the
Bishop's Secretary_, 1600, first sets forth the orthodox view of the
case; then the poem tells us "what the Jews really said." Nothing more
audaciously or more sardonically mirthful was ever written than the
first part of this poem, with its

      "Fee, faw, fum! bubble and squeak!
      Blessedest Thursday's the fat of the week;"

while the sudden transition to the sublime and steadfast Song of Death
of Rabbi ben Ezra is an effect worthy of Heine: more than worthy. Heine
would inevitably have put his tongue in his cheek again at the end.

With the three great mediaeval poems should be named the slighter sketch
of _Protus_. The first and last lines, describing two imaginary busts,
are a fine instance of Browning's power of translating sense into sound.
Compare the smooth and sweet melody of the opening lines--

      "Among these latter busts we count by scores
      Half-emperors and quarter-emperors,

             *       *       *       *       *

      One loves a baby-face, with violets there--
      Violets instead of laurels in the hair,--
      As they were all the little locks could bear"--

with the rasping vigour and strength of sound which point the contrast
of the conclusion:--

      "Here's John the Smith's rough-hammered head. Great eye,
      Gross jaw and griped lips do what granite can
      To give you the crown-grasper. What a man!"

One poem of absolutely unique order is the romance of "_Childe Roland to
the Dark Tower came_." If it were not for certain lines, certain
metaphors and images, here and there in his earlier works, we should
find in this poem an exception to the rule of Browning's work so
singular and startling as to be almost phenomenal. But in passages of
_Pauline_, of _Paracelsus_, of the lyric written in 1836, and
incorporated, more than twenty years later, with _James Lee's Wife_, we
have distinct evidence of a certain reserve, as it were, of romantic
sensibility, a certain tendency, which we may consider to have been
consciously checked rather than early exhausted, towards the weird and
fanciful. In _Childe Roland_ all this latent sensibility receives full
and final expression. The poem is very generally supposed to be an
allegory, and a number of ingenious interpretations have been suggested,
and the "Dark Tower" has been defined as Love, Life, Death and Truth.
But, as a matter of fact, Browning, in writing it, had no allegorical
intention whatever. It was meant to be, and is, a pure romance. It was
suggested by the line from Shakespeare which heads it, and was "built
up," in Mrs. Orr's words "of picturesque impressions, which have
separately or collectively produced themselves in the author's mind, ...
including a tower which Mr. Browning once saw in the Carrara Mountains,
a painting which caught his eye years later in Paris; and the figure of
a horse in the tapestry in his own drawing-room."[32] The poem depicts
the last adventure of a knight vowed to the quest of a certain "Dark
Tower." The description of his journey across a strange and dreadful
country is one of the ghastliest and most vivid in all poetry; ghastly
without hope, without alleviation, without a momentary touch of
contrast; vivid and ghastly as the lines following:--

      "A sudden little river crossed my path
        As unexpected as a serpent comes.
        No sluggish tide congenial to the glooms;
      This, as it frothed by, might have been a bath
      For the fiend's glowing hoof--to see the wrath
        Of its black eddy bespate with flakes and spumes.

      So petty yet so spiteful! All along,
        Low scrubby alders kneeled down over it;
        Drenched willows flung them headlong in a fit
      Of mute despair, a suicidal throng:
      The river which had done them all the wrong,
        Whate'er that was rolled by, deterred no whit.

      Which while I forded,--good saints, how I feared
        To set my foot upon a dead man's cheek,
        Each step, or feel the spear I thrust to seek
      For hollows, tangled in his hair or beard!
      --It may have been a water-rat I speared
        But, ugh! it sounded like a baby's shriek."

The manner of the poem, wholly unlike that of any other poem, may be
described by varying Flaubert's phrase of "epic realism": it is romantic
realism. The weird, fantastic and profoundly imaginative picture brought
before us with such startling and almost oppressive vividness, is not
painted in a style of vague suggestiveness, but in a hard, distinct,
definite, realistic way, the realism which results from a faithful
record of distorted impressions. The poet's imagination is like a flash
of lightning which strikes through the darkness, flickering above the
earth, and lighting up, point by point, with a momentary and fearful
distinctness, the horrors of the landscape.

A large and important group of _Men and Women_ consists of love-poems,
or poems dealing, generally in some concrete and dramatic way, sometimes
in a purely lyrical manner, with the emotion of love. _Love among the
Ruins_, a masterpiece of an absolutely original kind, is the idyl of a
lover's meeting, in which the emotion is emphasised and developed by the
contrast of its surroundings. The lovers meet in a turret among the
ruins of an ancient city, and the moment chosen is immediately before
their meeting, when the lover gazes around him, struck into sudden
meditation by the vision of the mighty city fallen and of the living
might of Love.

      "And I know, while thus the quiet-coloured eve
          Smiles to leave
      To their folding, all our many-tinkling fleece
          In such peace,
      And the slopes and rills and undistinguished grey
          Melt away--
      That a girl with eager eyes and yellow hair
          Waits me there
      In the turret whence the charioteers caught soul
          For the goal,
      When the king looked, where she looks now, breathless, dumb
          Till I come.

      For he looked upon the city, every side,
          Far and wide,
      All the mountains topped with temples, all the glades'
          Colonnades,
      All the causeys, bridges, aqueducts,--and then,
          All the men!
      When I do come, she will speak not, she will stand,
          Either hand
      On my shoulder, give her eyes the first embrace
          Of my face,
      Ere we rush, ere we extinguish sight and speech
          Each on each.

      In one year they sent a million fighters forth
          South and North,
      And they built their gods a brazen pillar high
          As the sky,
      Yet reserved a thousand chariots in full force--
          Gold, of course.
      Oh heart! oh blood that freezes, blood that burns!
          Earth's returns
      For whole centuries of folly, noise and sin!
          Shut them in,
      With their triumphs and their glories and the rest!
          Love is best."

The quaint chime or tinkle of a metre made out of the cadence of
sheep-bells renders with curious felicity the quietness and fervent
meditation of the subject. _A Lovers' Quarrel_ is in every respect a
contrast. It is a whimsical and delicious lyric, with a flowing and
leaping melody, a light and piquant music deepened into pathos by a
mournful undertone of retrospect and regret, not without a hope for the
future. All Browning is seen in this pathetic gaiety, this eagerness
and unrest and passionate make-believe of a lover's mood. _Evelyn Hope_
strikes a tenderer note; it is one of Browning's sweetest, simplest and
most pathetic pieces, and embodies, in a concrete form, one of his
deepest convictions. It is the lament of a man, no longer young, by the
death-bed of a young girl whom he has loved, unknown to her. She has
died scarcely knowing him, not even suspecting his love. But what
matter? God creates love to reward love, and there is another life to
come.

      "So hush,--I will give you this leaf to keep
        See, I shut it inside the sweet cold hand!
      There, that is our secret: go to sleep!
        You will wake, and remember, and understand."

_A Woman's Last Word_ is an exquisite little lyric which sings itself to
its own music of delicate gravity and gentle pathos; but it too holds,
in its few small lines, a complete situation, that most pathetic one in
which a woman resolves to merge her individuality in the wish and will
of her husband, to bind, for his sake, her intellect in the chains of
her heart.

      "A WOMAN'S LAST WORD.

      I.

      Let's contend no more, Love,
        Strive nor weep:
      All be as before, Love,
       --Only sleep!

      II.

      What so wild as words are?
        I and thou
      In debate, as birds are,
        Hawk on bough!

      III.

      See the creature stalking
        While we speak!
      Hush and hide the talking,
        Cheek on cheek!

      IV.

      What so false as truth is,
        False to thee?
      Where the serpent's tooth is,
        Shun the tree--

      V.

      Where the apple reddens
        Never pry--
      Lest we lose our Edens,
        Eve and I.

      VI.

      Be a god and hold me
        With a charm!
      Be a man and fold me
        With thine arm!

      VII.

      Teach me, only teach, Love!
        As I ought
      I will speak thy speech, Love,
        Think thy thought--

      VIII.

      Meet, if thou require it,
        Both demands,
      Laying flesh and spirit
        In thy hands.

      IX.

      That shall be to-morrow
        Not to-night:
      I must bury sorrow
        Out of sight:

      X.

      --Must a little weep, Love,
        (Foolish me!)
      And so fall asleep, Love,
        Loved by thee."

_Any Wife to any Husband_ is the grave and mournful lament of a dying
woman, addressed to the husband whose love has never wavered throughout
her life, but whose faithlessness to her memory she foresees. The
situation is novel in poetry, and it is realised with an intense
sympathy and depth of feeling. The tone of dignified sadness in the
woman's words, never passionate or pleading, only confirmed and
hopeless, is admirably rendered in the slow and solemn metre, whose firm
smoothness and regularity translate into sound the sentiment of the
speech. _A Serenade at the Villa_, which expresses a hopeless love from
the man's side, has a special picturesqueness, and something more than
picturesqueness: nature and life are seen in throbbing sympathy. The
little touches of description give one the very sense of the hot
thundrous summer night as it "sultrily suspires" in sympathy with the
disconsolate lover at his fruitless serenading. I can scarcely doubt
that this poem (some of which has been quoted on p. 25 above), was
suggested by one of the songs in Sidney's _Astrophel and Stella_, a poem
on the same subject in the same rare metre:--

      "Who is it that this dark night
      Underneath my window plaineth?
      It is one who from thy sight
      Being, ah! exiled, disdaineth
      Every other vulgar light."

If Browning's love-poems have any model or anticipation in English
poetry, it is certainly in the love-songs of Sidney, in what Browning
himself has called,

             "The silver speech,
      Of Sidney's self, the starry paladin."

No lover in English poetry has been so much a man as Sidney and
Browning.

_Two in the Campagna_ presents a more intricate situation than most of
the love-poems. It is the lament of a man, addressed to the woman at his
side, whom he loves and by whom he is loved, over the imperfection and
innocent inconstancy of his love. The two can never quite grow to one,
and he, oppressed by the terrible burden of imperfect sympathies, is for
ever seeking, realising, losing, then again seeking the spiritual union
still for ever denied. The vague sense of the Roman Campagna is
distilled into exquisite words, and through all there sounds the sad and
weary undertone of baffled endeavour:--

           "Infinite passion, and the pain
      Of finite hearts that yearn."

_The Last Ride Together_ is one of those love-poems which I have spoken
of as specially noble and unique, and it is, I think, the noblest and
most truly unique of them all. Thought, emotion and melody are mingled
in perfect measure: it has the lyrical "cry," and the objectiveness of
the drama. The situation, sufficiently indicated in the title, is
selected with a choice and happy instinct: the very motion of riding is
given in the rhythm. Every line throbs with passion, or with a fervid
meditation which is almost passion, and in the last verse, and, still
more, in the single line--

      "Who knows but the world may end to-night?"

the dramatic intensity strikes as with an electric shock.

_By the Fireside_ though in all its circumstances purely dramatic and
imaginary, rises again and again to the fervour of personal feeling, and
we can hardly be wrong in classing it, in soul though not in
circumstance, with _One Word More_ and the other sacred poems which
enshrine the memory of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. But, apart from this
suggestion, the poem is a masterpiece of subtle simplicity and
picturesqueness. Nothing could be more admirable in themselves than the
natural descriptions throughout; but these are never mere isolated
descriptions, nor even a mere stationary background: they are fused with
the emotion which they both help to form and assist in revealing.

_One Word More_ (_To E. B. B._) is one of those sacred poems in which,
once and again, a great poet has embalmed in immortal words the holiest
and deepest emotion of his existence. Here, and here only in the songs
consecrated by the husband to the wife, the living love that too soon
became a memory is still "a hope, to sing by gladly." _One Word More_ is
Browning's answer to the _Sonnets from the Portuguese_. And, just as
Mrs. Browning never wrote anything more perfect than the _Sonnets_, so
Browning has never written anything more perfect than the answering
lyric.

Yet another section of this most richly varied volume consists of poems,
narrative and lyrical, dealing in a brief and pregnant way with some
special episode or emotion: love, in some instances, but in a less
exclusive way than in the love-poems proper. _The Statue and the Bust_
(one of Browning's best narratives) is a romantic and mainly true tale,
written in _terza rima_, but in short lines. The story on which it is
founded is a Florentine tradition.

    "In the piazza of the SS. Annunziata at Florence is an
    equestrian statue of the Grand Duke Ferdinand the First,
    representing him as riding away from the church, with his
    head turned in the direction of the Riccardi [now Antinori]
    Palace, which occupies one corner of the square. Tradition
    asserts that he loved a lady whom her husband's jealousy kept
    a prisoner there; and that he avenged his love by placing
    himself in effigy where his glance could always dwell upon
    her."[33]

In the poem the lovers agree to fly together, but the flight, postponed
for ever, never comes to pass. Browning characteristically blames them
for their sin of "the unlit lamp and the ungirt loin," for their
vacillating purpose, their failure in attaining "their life's set end,"
whatever that end might be. Despite the difficulty of the metre, the
verse is singularly fresh and musical. In this poem, the first in which
Browning has used the _terza rima_, he observes, with only occasional
licence, the proper pause at the end of each stanza of three lines. This
law, though rarely neglected by Dante, has seldom been observed by the
few English poets who have attempted the measure. Neither Byron in the
_Prophecy of Dante_, nor Shelley in _The Triumph of Life_, nor Mrs.
Browning in _Casa Guidi Windows_, has done so. In Browning's later poems
in this metre, the pause, as if of set purpose, is wholly disregarded.

_How it strikes a Contemporary_ is at once a dramatic monologue and a
piece of poetic criticism. Under the Spanish dress, and beneath the
humorous treatment, it is easy to see a very distinct, suggestive and
individual theory of poetry, and in the poet who "took such cognizance
of men and things, ...

      "Of all thought, said and acted, then went home
      And wrote it fully to our Lord the King--"

we have, making full allowance for the imaginary dramatic circumstances,
a very good likeness of a poet of Browning's order. Another poem,
"_Transcendentalism_," is a slighter piece of humorous criticism,
possibly self-criticism, addressed to one who "speaks" his thoughts
instead of "singing" them. Both have a penetrating quality of beauty in
familiarity.

_Before_ and _After_, which mean before and after the duel, realise
between them a single and striking situation. _Before_ is spoken by a
friend of the wronged man; _After_ by the wronged man himself. The
latter is not excelled by any poem of Browning's in its terrible
conciseness, the intensity of its utterance of stifled passion.

      "AFTER.

      "Take the cloak from his face, and at first
        Let the corpse do its worst!

      "How he lies in his rights of a man!
        Death has done all death can.
      And, absorbed in the new life he leads,
        He recks not, he heeds
      Nor his wrong nor my vengeance; both strike
        On his senses alike,
      And are lost in the solemn and strange
        Surprise of the change.

      Ha, what avails death to erase
        His offence, my disgrace?
      I would we were boys as of old
        In the field, by the fold:
      His outrage, God's patience, man's scorn,
        Were so easily borne!
      I stand here now, he lies in his place:
        Cover the face!"

I know of no piece of verse in the language which has more of the
quality and hush of awe in it than this little fragment of eighteen
lines.

_Instans Tyrannus_[34] (the Threatening Tyrant) recalls by its motive,
however unlike it may be as a poem, the _Soliloquy of the Spanish
Cloister_. The situations are widely different, but the root of each is
identical. In both is developed the mood of passive or active hate,
arising from mere instinctive dislike. But while in the earlier poem the
theme is treated with boisterous sardonic humour, it is here embodied in
the grave figure of a stern, single-minded, relentless hater, a tyrant
in both senses of the term. Another poem, representing an act of will,
though here it is love, not hate, that impels, is _Mesmerism_. The
intense absorption, the breathless eagerness of the mesmerist, are
rendered in a really marvellous way by the breathless and yet measured
race of the verses: fifteen stanzas succeed one another without a single
full-stop, or a real pause in sense or sound. The beautiful and
significant little poem called _The Patriot: an old Story_, is a
narrative and parable at once, and only too credible and convincing as
each. _Respectability_ holds in its three stanzas all that is vital and
enviable in the real "Bohemia," and is the first of several poems of
escape, which culminate in _Fifine at the Fair_. Both here and in
another short suggestive poem, _A Light Woman_ (which might be called
the fourth act of a tragedy), the situation is outlined like a
silhouette. Equally graphic, in the more ordinary sense of the term, is
the picturesque and whimsical view of town and country life taken by a
frivolous Italian person of quality in the poem named _Up at a
Villa--Down in the City_, "a masterpiece of irony and of description,"
as an Italian critic has defined it.

Of the wealth of lyrics and short poems no adequate count can here be
made. Yet, I cannot pass without a word, if only in a word may I
indicate, the admirable craftsmanship and playful dexterity of the lines
on _A Pretty Woman_; the pathetic feeling and the exquisite and novel
music of _Love in a Life and Life in a Love_; the tense emotion, the
suppressed and hopeful passion, of _In Three Days_, and the sad and
haunting song of _In a Year_, with its winding and liquid melody, its
mournful and wondering lament over love forgotten; the rich and
marvellously modulated music, the glowing colour, the vivid and
passionate fancy, of _Women and Roses_; the fresh felicity of "_De
Gustibus_," with its enthusiasm for Italy scarcely less fervid than the
English enthusiasm of the _Home-Thoughts_; the quaint humour and
pregnant simplicity of the admirable little parable of _The Twins_; the
sympathetic charm and light touch of _Misconceptions_, and the pretty
figurative fancy of _My Star_; the strong, sad, suggestive little poem
named _One Way of Love_, with its delicately-wrought companion _Another
Way of Love_, the former a love-lyric to be classed with _The Lost
Mistress_ and _The Last Ride Together_; and, finally, the epilogue to
the first volume and a late poem in the second: _Memorabilia_, a tribute
to Shelley, full of grateful remembrance and admiring love, significant
among the few personal utterances of the poet, and the not less lovely
poem and only less fervent tribute to Keats, the sumptuous, gorgeous,
and sardonic lines on _Popularity_. A careful study or even, one would
think, a careless perusal, of but a few of the poems named above, should
be enough to show, once and for all, the infinite richness and variety
of Browning's melody, and his complete mastery over the most simple and
the most intricate lyric measures. As an example of the finest artistic
simplicity, rich with restrained pathos and quiet with keen tension of
feeling, we may choose the following.

      "ONE WAY OF LOVE

      I.

      All June I bound the rose in sheaves.
      Now, rose by rose, I strip the leaves
      And strew them where Pauline may pass.
      She will not turn aside? Alas!
      Let them lie. Suppose they die?
      The chance was they might take her eye.

      II.

      How many a month I strove to suit
      These stubborn fingers to the lute!
      To-day I venture all I know.
      She will not hear my music? So!
      Break the string; fold music's wing:
      Suppose Pauline had bade me sing?

      III.

      My whole life long I learned to love.
      This hour my utmost art I prove
      And speak my passion--heaven or hell?
      She will not give me heaven? 'Tis well!
      Love who may--I still can say,
      Those who win heaven, blest are they!"


IN A BALCONY.[35]

    [Written at Bagni di Lucca, 1853; published in _Men and
    Women_, above; reprinted in _Poetical Works_, 1863, under a
    separate heading; _id_., 1889 (Vol. VII. pp. 1-41). Performed
    at the Browning Society's Third Annual Entertainment,
    Prince's Hall, Piccadilly, Nov. 28, 1884, and by the English
    Drama Society at the Victoria Hall, June 8, 1905.]

The dramatic scene of _In a Balcony_ is the last of the works written in
dialogue. We have seen, in tracing the course of the plays from
_Strafford_ to _A Soul's Tragedy_, how the playwright gave place to the
poet; how the stage construction, the brisk and interchanged dialogue of
the earlier dramas, gradually and inevitably developed into the more
subtle, the more lengthy dialogue, which itself approached more and more
nearly to monologue, of the later ones. _In a Balcony_, written eight
years later than _A Soul's Tragedy_, has more affinity with it, in form
at least, than with any other of the plays. But while the situation
there was purely intellectual and moral, it is here passionate and
highly-wrought, to a degree never before reached, except in the crowning
scene of _Pippa Passes_. We must go to the greatest among the
Elizabethans to exceed that; we must turn to _Le Roi s'amuse_ to equal
this.

The situation is, in one sense, extremely subtle; in another,
remarkably simple. The action takes place within a few hours, on a
balcony at night. Norbert and Constance are two lovers. Norbert is in
the service of a certain Queen, to whom he has, by his diplomatic skill
and labour, rendered great services. His aim, all the while, though
unknown, as he thinks, to her, has been the hope of winning Constance,
the Queen's cousin and dependant. He is now about to claim her as his
recompense; but Constance, fearing for the result, persuades him,
reluctant though he is, to ask in a roundabout way, so as to flatter or
touch the Queen. He over-acts his part. The Queen, a heart-starved and
now ageing woman, believes that he loves her, and responds to him with
the passion of a long-thwarted nature. She announces the wonderful news,
with more than the ecstasy of a girl, to Constance. Constance resolves
to resign her lover, for his good and the Queen's, and, when he appears,
she endeavours to make him understand and enter into her plot. But he
cannot and will not see it. In the presence of the Queen he declares his
love for Constance, and for her alone. The Queen goes out, in white
silence. The lovers embrace in new knowledge and fervour of love.
Measured steps are heard within, and we know that the guard is
approaching.

Each of the three characters is admirably delineated. Norbert is a fine,
strong, solid, noble character, without subtlety or mixture of motives.
He loves Constance: he knows that his love is returned: he is resolved
to win her hand. From first to last he is himself, honest,
straightforward, single-minded, passionate; presenting the strongest
contrast to Constance's feminine over-subtlety. Constance is more, very
much more, of a problem: "a character," as Mr. Wedmore has admirably
said, "peculiarly wily for goodness, curiously rich in resource for
unalloyed and inexperienced virtue." Does her proposal to relinquish
Norbert in favour of the Queen show her to have been lacking in love for
him? It has been said, on the one hand, that her act was "noble and
magnanimous," on the other hand, that the act proved her nature to be
"radically insincere and inconstant." Probably the truth lies between
these two extremes. Her love, we cannot doubt, was true and intense up
to the measure of her capacity; but her nature was, instinctively, less
outspoken and truthful than Norbert's, more subtle, more reasoning. At
the critical moment she is seized by a whirl of emotions, and, with very
feminine but singularly unloverlike instinct, she resolves, as she would
phrase it, to sacrifice _herself_, not seeing that she is insulting her
lover by the very notion of his accepting such a sacrifice. Her
character has not the pure and steadfast nobility of Norbert's, but it
has the capacity of devotion, and it is genuinely human. The Queen,
unlike Constance, but like Norbert, is simple and single in nature. She
is a tragic and intense figure, at once pathetic and terrible. I am not
aware that the peculiarly pregnant motive: the hidden longing for love
in a starved and stunted nature, clogged with restrictions of state and
ceremony, harassed and hampered by circumstances and by the weight of
advancing years; the passionate longing suddenly met, as it seems, with
reward, and breaking out into a great flame of love and ardour, only to
be rudely and finally quenched: I am not aware that this motive has
ever elsewhere been worked out in dramatic poetry. As here developed, it
is among the great situations in literature.

The verse in which this little tragedy is written has, perhaps, more
flexibility than that of any of the formal dramas. It has a strong and
fine harmony, a weight and measure, and above all that pungent
naturalness which belongs to the period of _Andrea del Sarto_ and the
other great monologues.

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 29: The picture which Lippo promises to paint (ll. 347-389) is
an exact description of his _Coronation of the Virgin_, in the Accademia
delle Belle Arti at Florence.]

[Footnote 30: Mrs Foster's translation (Bohn).]

[Footnote 31: Baldassarre Galuppi, surnamed Buranello (1706-1785), was a
Venetian composer of some distinction. "He was an immensely prolific
composer," says Vernon Lee, "and abounded in melody, tender, pathetic,
brilliant, which in its extreme simplicity and slightness occasionally
rose to the highest beauty."--_Studies of the Eighteenth Century in
Italy_, p. 101.]

[Footnote 32: _Handbook_, p. 266. The poem was written at Paris, January
3, 1852.]

[Footnote 33: Mrs Orr, _Handbook_, p. 201.]

[Footnote 34: The poem was suggested by the opening of the third ode of
the third Book of Horace: "Justum et tenacem propositi virum."]

[Footnote 35: It will be more convenient to treat _In a Balcony_ in a
separate section than under the general heading of _Men and Women_, for
it is, to all intents and purposes, an independent work of another
order.]


16. DRAMATIS PERSONAE.

    [Published in 1864 (_Poetical Works_, 1889, Vol. VII., pp.
    43-255).]

_Dramatis Personae_, like _Men and Women_ (which it followed after an
interval of nine years) is a collection of dramatic monologues, in each
of which it is attempted to delineate a single character or a single
mood by setting the "imaginary person" in some revealing situation. Of
the two possible methods, speech and soliloquy, Browning for the most
part prefers the former. In _Dramatis Personae_, however, he recurs,
rather more frequently than usual, to the latter; and the situations
imaged are usually suggestive rather than explicit, more incomplete and
indirect than those in the _Men and Women_. As an ingenious critic said,
shortly after the volume was published, "Mr Browning lets us overhear a
part of the drama, generally a soliloquy, and we must infer the rest.
Had he to give the story of _Hamlet_, he would probably embody it in
three stanzas, the first beginning, 'O that this too too solid flesh
would melt!' the second 'To be or not to be, that is the question;' and
the third, 'Look here upon this picture, and on that!' From these
disjointed utterances the reader would have to construct the story."
Here our critic's clever ingenuity carries him a little too far; but
there is some truth in his definition or description of the special
manner which characterises such poems as _Too Late_, or _The Worst of
It_. But not merely the manner of presentment, the substance, and also
the style and versification, have undergone a change during the
long-silent years which lie between _Men and Women_ and _Dramatis
Personae_. The first note of change, of the change which makes us speak
of earlier and later work, is here sounded. From 1833 up to 1855 forms a
single period of steady development, of gradual and unswerving ascent.
_Dramatis Personae_ stands on the border line between this period and
another, the "later period," which more decisively begins with _The Ring
and the Book_. Still, the first note of divergence is certainly sounded
here. I might point to the profound intellectual depth of certain pieces
as its characteristic, or, equally, to the traces here and there of an
apparent carelessness of workmanship; or, yet again, to the new and very
marked partiality for scenes and situations of English and modern rather
than of mediaeval and foreign life.

The larger part of the volume consists of dramatic monologues. Three
only are in blank verse; the greater number in varied lyric measures.
The first of these, and the longest, _James Lee_, as it was first
called, _James Lee's Wife_[36] as it is now more appropriately named, is
a _Lieder Kreis_, or cycle of songs, nine in number, which reveal, in
"tragic hints," not by means of a connected narrative, the history of an
unhappy marriage. There is nothing in it of heroic action or suffering;
it is one of those old stories always new which are always tragic to one
at least of the actors in them, and which may be tragic or trivial in
record, according as the artist is able to mould his material. Each of
the sections shows us a mood, signalized by some slight link of
circumstance which may the better enable us to grasp it. The development
of disillusion, the melancholy progress of change, is finely indicated
in the successive stages of this lyric sequence, from the first clear
strain of believing love (shaken already by a faint tremor of fear),
through gradual alienation and inevitable severance, to the final
resolved parting. This poem is worthy of notice as the only one in which
Browning has employed the sequence form; almost the only instance,
indeed, in which he has structurally varied his metre in the course of a
poem.

_James Lee's Wife_ is written in the form of soliloquy, or reflection.
In two other poems, closely allied to it in sentiment, _The Worst of it_
and _Too Late_, intense feeling expresses itself, though in solitude, as
if the object of emotion were present; each is, in great part, a mental
appeal to some one loved and lost. In _James Lee's Wife_ a woman was the
speaker, and the burden of her lament was mere estrangement. _The Worst
of it_ and _Too Late_ are both spoken by men. The former is the
utterance of a man whose wife has been false to him; the latter of a man
whose loved one is dead. But in each case the situation is further
complicated. The woman over whose loss of virtue her forsaken husband
mourns with passionate anguish and unavailing bitterness of regret, has
been to him, whom she now leaves for another, an image of purity: her
love and influence have lifted him from the mire, and "the Worst of it,"
the last pang which he cannot nerve himself to endure, is the knowledge
that she had saved him, and, partly at least through him, ruined
herself. The poem is one of the most passionate and direct of Browning's
dramatic lyrics: it is thrillingly intense and alive; and the swift
force and tremulous eagerness of its very original rhythm and metre
translate its sense into sound with perfect fitness. Similar in cadence,
though different in arrangement, is the measure of _Too Late_, with its
singularly constructed stanza of two quatrains, followed respectively by
two couplets, which together made another quatrain. It is worth noticing
how admirably and uniformly Browning contrives to connect, in sound, the
two halves of the broken quatrains, placing them so as to complete each
other, and relieve our ear of the sense of distance. The poem is spoken
by a lover who was neither rejected nor accepted: like the lover of
Evelyn Hope, he never told his love. His Edith married another, a
heartless and soulless lay-figure of a poet (or so at least his rival
regards him), and now she is dead. His vague but vivid hopes of some
future chance to love her and be loved; the dull rebellion of rashly
reasoning sorrow; the remembrance, the repentance, the regret; are all
poured out with pathetic naturalness.

These three poems are soliloquies; _Dis aliter Visum; or, Le Byron de
nos Jours_, a poem closely akin in sentiment and style, recurs to the
more frequent and perhaps preferable manner of speech to an imagined
listener. It is written in that favourite stanza of five lines, on which
Browning has played so many variations: here, perhaps, in the internal
rhyme so oddly placed, the newest and most ingenious of all. The
sentiment and situation are the exact complement or contrast of those
expressed in _By the Fireside_. There, fate and nature have brought to a
crisis the latent love of two persons: the opportunity is seized, and
the crown of life obtained. Here, in circumstances singularly similar,
the vital moment is let slip, the tide is _not_ taken at the turn. And
ten years afterwards, when the famous poet and the girl whom he all but
let himself love, meet in a Paris drawing-room, and one of them tells
the old tale over for the instruction of both, she can point out, with
bitter earnestness and irony (and a perfect little touch of feminine
nature) his fatal mistake.

_Youth and Art_ is a slighter and more humorous sketch, with a somewhat
similar moral. It has wise humour, sharp characterisation, and
ballad-like simplicity. Still more perfect a poem, still more subtle,
still more Heinesque, if it were not better than Heine, is the little
piece called _Confessions_. The pathetic, humorous, rambling snatch of
final memory in the dying man, addressed, by a delightful irony, to the
attendant clergyman, has a sort of grim ecstasy, and the end is one of
the most triumphant things in this kind of poetry.

      "CONFESSIONS.

      I.

      What is he buzzing in my ears?
        'Now that I come to die.
      Do I view the world as a vale of tears?'
        Ah, reverend sir, not I!

      II.

      What I viewed there once, what I view again
        Where the physic bottles stand
      On the table's edge,--is a suburb lane,
        With a wall to my bedside hand.

      III.

      That lane sloped, much as the bottles do,
        From a house you could descry
      O'er the garden wall; is the curtain blue
        Or green to a healthy eye?

      IV.

      To mine, it serves for the old June weather
        Blue above lane and wall;
      And that farthest bottle labelled 'Ether'
        Is the house o'er-topping all.

      V.

      At a terrace, somewhat near the stopper,
        There watched for me, one June,
      A girl: I know, sir, it's improper,
        My poor mind's out of tune.

      VI.

      Only, there was a way ... you crept
        Close by the side, to dodge
      Eyes in the house, two eyes except:
        They styled their house 'The Lodge.'

      VII.

      What right had a lounger up their lane?
        But, by creeping very close,
      With the good wall's help,--their eyes might strain
        And stretch themselves to Oes,

      VIII.

      Yet never catch her and me together,
        As she left the attic, there,
      By the rim of the bottle labelled 'Ether,'
        And stole from stair to stair,

      IX.

      And stood by the rose-wreathed gate. Alas,
        We loved, sir,--used to meet:
      How sad and bad and mad it was--
        But then, how it was sweet!"

_A Likeness_ forms a third, and a good third, to these two fine and
subtle studies of modern English life. It is one of those poems which,
because they seem simple and superficial, and can be galloped off the
tongue in a racing jingle, we are apt to underrate or overlook. Yet it
would be difficult to find a more vivid bit of _genre_ painting than the
three-panelled picture in this single frame.

The three blank verse poems which complete the series of purely dramatic
pieces, _A Death in the Desert, Caliban upon Setebos_ and _Mr. Sludge,
"The Medium"_ are more elaborate than any yet named. They follow, to a
considerable extent, the form of the blank verse monologues which are
the glory of _Men and Women_. Alike in their qualities and defects they
represent a further step in development. The next step will lead to the
elaborate and extended monologues which comprise the greater part of
Browning's later works.

A _Death in the Desert_ is an argument in a dramatic frame-work. The
situation imaged is that of the mysterious death of St. John in extreme
old age. The background to the last utterance of the apostle is painted
with marvellous brilliance and tenderness: every circumstance is
conceived and represented in that pictorial style, in which a word is
equal to a touch of the brush of a great painter. But, delicately as the
circumstances and surroundings are indicated, it is as an argument that
the poem is mainly left to exist. The bearing of this argument on
contemporary theories may to some appear a merit, to others a blemish.
To make the dying John refute Strauss or Renan, handling their
propositions with admirable dialectical skill, is certainly, on the face
of it, somewhat hazardous. But I can see no real incongruity in imputing
to the seer of Patmos a prophetic insight into the future, no real
inconsequence in imagining the opponent of Cerinthus spending his last
breath in the defence of Christian truth against a foreseen scepticism.
In style, the poem a little recalls _Cleon_; with less of harmonious
grace and clear classic outline, it possesses a certain stilled
sweetness, a meditative tenderness, all its own, and certainly
appropriate to the utterance of the "beloved disciple."

_Caliban upon Setebos_; or, _Natural Theology In the Island_,[37] is
more of a creation, and a much greater poem, than _A Death in the
Desert_. It is sometimes forgotten that the grotesque has its own region
in art. The region of the grotesque has been well defined, in connection
with this poem, in a paper read by Mr. Cotter Morison before the
Browning Society. "Its proper province," he writes, "would seem to be
the exhibition of fanciful power by the artist; not beauty or truth in
the literal sense at all, but inventive affluence of unreal yet absurdly
comic forms, with just a flavour of the terrible added, to give a grim
dignity, and save from the triviality of caricature."[38] With the
exception of _The Heretic's Tragedy_, _Caliban upon Setebos_ is probably
the finest piece of grotesque art in the language. Browning's Caliban,
unlike Shakespeare's, has no active part to play: if he has ever seen
Stephano and Trinculo, he has forgotten it. He simply sprawls on the
ground "now that the heat of day is best," and expounds for himself, for
his own edification, his system of Natural Theology. I think Huxley has
said that the poem is a truly scientific representation of the
development of religious ideas in primitive man. It needed the subtlest
of poets to apprehend and interpret the undeveloped ideas and sensations
of a rudimentary and transitionally human creature like Caliban, to turn
his dumb stirrings of quaint fancies into words, and to do all this
without a discord. The finest poetical effect is in the close: it is
indeed one of the finest effects, climaxes, _surprises_, in literature.
Caliban has been venturing to talk rather disrespectfully of his God;
believing himself overlooked, he has allowed himself to speak out his
mind on religious questions. He chuckles to himself in safe
self-complacency. All at once--

      "What, what? A curtain o'er the world at once!
      Crickets stop hissing; not a bird--or, yes,
      There scuds His raven that hath told Him all!
      It was fool's play, this prattling! Ha! The wind
      Shoulders the pillared dust, death's house o' the move,
      And fast invading fires begin! White blaze--
      A tree's head snaps--and there, there, there, there, there,
      His thunder follows! Fool to jibe at Him!
      Lo! 'Lieth flat and loveth Setebos!
      'Maketh his teeth meet through his upper lip,
      Will let those quails fly, will not eat this month
      One little mess of whelks, so he may 'scape!"

_Mr. Sludge, "The Medium"_ is equally remote from both the other poems
in blank verse. It is a humorous and realistic tale of modern
spiritualism, suggested, it is said, by the life and adventures of the
American medium, Home. Like _Bishop Blougram_, it is at once an exposure
and an apologia. As a piece of analytic portraiture it would be
difficult to surpass; and it is certainly a fault on the right side if
the poet has endowed his precious blackguard with a dialectical head
hardly to be expected on such shoulders; if, in short, he has made him
nearly as clever as himself. When the critics complain that the
characters of a novelist are too witty, the characters of a poet too
profound, one cannot but feel thankful that it is once in a while
possible for such strictures to be made. The style of _Mr. Sludge_ is
the very acme of colloquialism. It is not "what is commonly understood
by poetry," certainly: but is it not poetry, all the same? If such a
character as Sludge should be introduced into poetry at all, it is
certain that no more characteristic expression could have been found for
him. But should he be dealt with? We limit our poetry nowadays, to the
length of our own tether; if we are unable to bring beauty out of every
living thing, merely because it is alive, and because nature is
beautiful in every movement, is it our own fault or nature's?
Shakespeare and his age trusted nature, and were justified; in our own
age only Browning has wholly trusted nature.

Scarcely second in importance to the dramatic group, comes the group of
lyrical poems, some of which are indeed, formally dramatic, that is,
the "utterance of so many imaginary persons," but still in general tone
and effect lyrical and even personal. _Abt Vogler_ for instance, and
_Rabbi ben Ezra_, might no doubt be considered instances of "vicarious
thinking" on behalf of the modern German composer and the mediaeval
Jewish philosopher. But in neither case is there any distinct dramatic
intention. The one is a deep personal utterance on music, the other a
philosophy of life. But before I touch on these, which, with _Prospice_,
are the most important and impressive of the remaining poems, I should
name the two or three lesser pieces, the exquisite and pregnant little
elegy of love and mourning, _May and Death; A Face_, with its perfect
clearness and fineness of suggestive portraiture, as lovely as the
vignettes of Palma in _Sordello_, or as a real picture of the "Tuscan's
early art"; the two octaves (not in the first edition) on Woolner's
group of Constance and Arthur (_Deaf and Dumb_) and Sir Frederick
Leighton's picture of _Eurydice and Orpheus_; and the two semi-narrative
poems, _Gold Hair: a Story of Pornic_, and _Apparent Failure_, the
former a vivid rendering of the strange story told in Brittany of a
beautiful girl-miser, the latter a record and its stinging and consoling
moral ("Poor men, God made, and all for that!") of a visit that Browning
paid in 1850 to the Morgue.

_Abt Vogler_[39] ("after he has been extemporizing upon the musical
instrument of his invention") is an utterance on music which perhaps
goes further than any attempt which has ever been made in verse to set
forth the secret of the most sacred and illusive of the arts. Only the
wonderful lines in the _Merchant of Venice_ come anywhere near it. The
wonder and beauty of it grow on one, as the wonder and beauty of a sky,
of a sea, of a landscape, beautiful indeed and wonderful from the first,
become momentarily more evident, intense and absorbing. Life, religion
and music, the _Ganzen, Guten, Schoenen_ of existence, are combined in
threefold unity, apprehended and interpreted in their essential spirit.

      "Therefore to whom turn I but to thee, the ineffable Name?
        Builder and maker, thou, of houses not made with hands!
      What, have fear of change from thee who art ever the same!
        Doubt that thy power can fill the heart that thy power expands?
      There shall never be one lost good! What was, shall live as before;
        The evil is null, is nought, is silence implying sound;
      What was good, shall be good, with, for evil, so much good more;
        On the earth the broken arcs; in the heaven, a perfect round.

      All we have willed or hoped or dreamed of good, shall exist;
        Not its semblance, but itself; no beauty, nor good, nor power
      Whose voice has gone forth, but each survives for the melodist
        When eternity affirms the conception of an hour.
      The high that proved too high, the heroic for earth too hard,
        The passion that left the ground to lose itself in the sky,
      Are music sent up to God by the lover and the bard;
        Enough that he heard it once; we shall hear it by-and-by.

      And what is our failure here but a triumph's evidence
        For the fulness of the days? Have we withered or agonized?
      Why else was the pause prolonged but that singing might issue thence?
        Why rushed the discord in, but that harmony should be prized?
      Sorrow is hard to bear, and doubt is slow to clear,
        Each sufferer says his say, his scheme of the weal and woe:
      But God has a few of us whom he whispers in the ear;
        The rest may reason and welcome: 'tis we musicians know."

In _Rabbi ben Ezra_ Browning has crystallized his religious philosophy
into a shape of abiding beauty. It has been called, not rashly, the
noblest of modern religious poems. Alike in substance and in form it
belongs to the highest order of meditative poetry; and it has, in
Browning's work, an almost unique quality of grave beauty, of severe
restraint, of earnest and measured enthusiasm. What the _Psalm of Life_
is to the people who do not think, _Rabbi ben Ezra_ might and should be
to those who do: a light through the darkness, a lantern of guidance and
a beacon of hope, to the wanderers lost and weary in the _selva
selvaggia_. It is one of those poems that mould character. I can give
only one or two of its most characteristic verses.

      "Not on the vulgar mass
      Called 'work' must sentence pass,
      Things done, that took the eye and had the price;
      O'er which, from level stand,
      The low world laid its hand,
      Found straightway to its mind, could value in a trice:

      But all, the world's coarse thumb
      And finger failed to plumb,
      So passed in making up the main account;
      All instincts immature,
      All purposes unsure,
      That weighed not as his work, yet swelled the man's amount:

      Thoughts hardly to be packed
      Into a narrow act,
      Fancies that broke through language and escaped;
      All I could never be,
      All, men ignored in me.
      This, I was worth to God, whose wheel the pitcher shaped.

             *       *       *       *       *

      So, take and use Thy work:
      Amend what flaws may lurk,
      What strain o' the stuff, what warpings past the aim!
      My times be in Thy hand!
      Perfect the cup as planned!
      Let age approve of youth, and death complete the same!"

The emotion and the measure of _Rabbi ben Ezra_ have the chastened,
sweet gravity of wise old age. _Prospice_ has all the impetuous blood
and fierce lyric fire of militant manhood. It is a cry of passionate
exultation and exaltation in the very face of death: a war-cry of
triumph over the last of foes. I would like to connect it with the
quotation from Dante which Browning, in a published letter, tells us
that he wrote in his wife's Testament after her death: "Thus I believe,
thus I affirm, thus I am certain it is, that from this life I shall
pass to another better, there, where that lady lives, of whom my soul
was enamoured." If _Rabbi ben Ezra_ has been excelled as a Song of Life,
then _Prospice_ may have been excelled as a Hymn of Death.

      "PROSPICE.

      Fear death?--to feel the fog in my throat,
          The mist in my face,
      When the snows begin, and the blasts denote
          I am nearing the place,
      The power of the night, the press of the storm,
          The post of the foe;
      Where he stands, the Arch Fear in a visible form,
          Yet the strong man must go;
      For the journey is done and the summit attained,
          And the barriers fall,
      Though a battle's to fight ere the guerdon be gained,
          The reward of it all.
      I was ever a fighter, so--one fight more,
          The best and the last!
      I would hate that death bandaged my eyes, and forbore,
          And bade me creep past.
      No! let me taste the whole of it, fare like my peers
          The heroes of old,
      Bear the brunt, in a minute pay glad life's arrears
          Of pain, darkness and cold.
      For sudden the worst turns the best to the brave,
          The black minute's at end,
      And the elements' rage, the fiend-voices that rave,
          Shall dwindle, shall blend,
      Shall change, shall become first a peace out of pain,
          Then a light, then thy breast,
      O thou soul of my soul! I shall clasp thee again,
          And with God be the rest!"

Last of all comes the final word, the summary or conclusion of the whole
matter, in the threefold speech of the _Epilogue_, a comprehensive and
suggestive vision of the religious life of humanity.

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 36: The first six stanzas of the sixth section of this poem,
the splendid song of the wind, were published in a magazine, as _Lines_,
in 1836. Parts II. & III., of Section VIII. (except the last two lines)
were added to the poem in 1868.]

[Footnote 37: The poem was originally preceded by the text, "Thou
thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself" (_Ps._ 1. 21).]

[Footnote 38: _Browning Society's Papers_, Part V., p. 493.]

[Footnote 39: The Abt or Abbe George Joseph Vogler (born at Wuerzburg,
Bavaria, in 1749, died at Darmstadt, 1824) was a composer, professor,
kapelmeister and writer on music. Among his pupils were Weber and
Meyerbeer. The "musical instrument of his invention" was called an
orchestrion. "It was," says Sir G. Grove, "a very compact organ, in
which four keyboards of five octaves each, and a pedal board of
thirty-six keys, with swell complete, were packed into a cube of nine
feet."--(See Miss Marx's "Account of Abbe Vogler," in the _Browning
Society's Papers_, Part III., p. 339).]


17. THE RING AND THE BOOK.

    [Published, in 4 vols., in 1868-9: Vol. I., November, 1868;
    Vol. II., December, 1868; Vol. III., January, 1869; Vol. IV.,
    February, 1869. In 12 Books: 1., The Ring and the Book; II.,
    Half-Rome; III., The Other Half-Rome; IV., Tertium Quid; V.,
    Count Guido Franceschini; VI., Giuseppe Caponsacchi; VII.,
    Pompilia; VIII., Dominus Hyacinthus de Archangelis, Pauperum
    Procurator; IX., Juris Doctor Johannes-Baptista Bottinius,
    Fisci et Rev. Cam. Apostol. Advocatus; X., The Pope; XI.,
    Guido; XII., The Book and the Ring. (_Poetical Works_, 1889;
    Vols. VIII.-X.)]

_The Ring and the Book_ is at once the largest and the greatest of
Browning's works, the culmination of his dramatic method, and the
turning-point, more decisively than _Dramatis Personae_, of his style. It
consists of twelve books, the first and last being of the nature of
Preface and Appendix. It embodies a single story, told ten times, each
time from an individual standpoint, by nine different persons (one of
them speaking twice), besides a summary of the story by the poet in the
first book, and some additional particulars in the last. The method thus
adopted is at once absolutely original and supremely difficult. To tell
the same story, without mere repetition, no less than ten times over, to
make each telling at once the same and new, a record of the same facts
but of independent impressions, to convey by means of each monologue a
sense of the speaker not less vivid and life-like than by the ordinary
dramatic method, with a yet more profound measure of analytic and
psychological truth, and finally to group all these figures with
unerring effect of prominence and subordination, to fuse and mould all
these parts into one living whole is, as a _tour de force_, unique, and
it is not only a _tour de force_. _The Ring and the Book_, besides being
the longest poetical work of the century, must be ranked among the
greatest poems in our literature: it has a spiritual insight, human
science, dramatic and intellectual and moral force, a strength and grip,
a subtlety, a range and variety of genius and of knowledge, hardly to be
paralleled outside Shakespeare.

It has sometimes been said that the style of Browning is essentially
undramatic, that Pompilia, Guido, and the lawyers all talk in the same
way, that is, like Browning. As a matter of fact nothing is more
remarkable than the variety of style, the cunning adjustment of language
and of rhythm to the requirements of every speaker. From the general
construction of the rhythm to the mere similies and figures of speech
employed in passing, each monologue is absolutely individual, and,
though each monologue contains a highly finished portrait of the
character whose name it bears, these portraits, so far from being
disconnected or independent, are linked together in as close an
interdependence as the personages of a regularly constructed drama. The
effect of the reiterated story, told in some new fashion by each new
teller of it, has been compared with that of a great fugue, blending,
with the threads of its crossing and recrossing voices, a single web of
harmony. The "theme" is Pompilia; around her the whole action circles.
As, in _Pippa Passes_, the mere passing of an innocent child, her
unconscious influence on those on whom her song breaks in at a moment
of crisis, draws together the threads of many stories, so Pompilia, with
hardly more consciousness of herself, makes and unmakes the lives and
characters of those about her. The same sweet rectitude and purity of
nature serve to call out the latent malignity of Guido and the
slumbering chivalry of Caponsacchi. Without her, the one might have
remained a "_petit maitre_ priestling;" the other merely a soured,
cross-grained, impecunious country squire: Rome would have had no
tragedy to talk about, nor we this book to read. It is in Pompilia that
all the threads of action meet: she is the heroine, as neither Guido nor
Caponsacchi can be called the hero.

The story of _The Ring and the Book_, like those of so many of the
greatest works of Shakespeare and his contemporaries, comes to us from
Italy. Unlike Shakespeare's, however, but like one at least of Webster's
two masterpieces, it is no legend, but the true story of a Roman
murder-case, found (in all its main facts and outlines) in a square old
yellow book, small-quarto size, part print, part manuscript, which
Browning picked up for eightpence on a second-hand stall in the Piazza
San Lorenzo at Florence, one day in June, 1865. The book was entitled
(in Latin which Browning thus translates):--

      "A Roman murder-case:
      Position of the entire criminal cause
      Of Guido Franceschini, nobleman,
      With certain Four the cut-throats in his pay,
      Tried, all five, and found guilty and put to death
      By heading or hanging as befitted ranks,
      At Rome on February Twenty Two,
      Since our salvation Sixteen Ninety Eight:
      Wherein it is disputed if, and when,
      Husbands may kill adulterous wives, yet 'scape
      The customary forfeit."

The book proved to be one of those contemporary records of famous trials
which were not uncommon in Italy, and which are said to be still
preserved in many Italian libraries. It contained the printed pleadings
for and against the accused, the judicial sentence, and certain
manuscript letters describing the efforts made on Guido's behalf and his
final execution. This book (with a contemporary pamphlet which Browning
afterwards met with in London) supplied the outlines of the poem to
which it helped to give a name.

The story itself is a tragic one, rich in material for artistic
handling, though not for the handling of every artist. But its
importance is relatively inconsiderable. "I fused my live soul and that
inert stuff," says the poet, and

               "Thence bit by bit I dug
      The ingot truth, that memorable day,
      Assayed and knew my piecemeal gain was gold,--
      Yes; but from something else surpassing that,
      Something of mine which, mixed up with the mass,
      Makes it bear hammer and be firm to file.
      Fancy with fact is just one fact the more;
      To-wit, that fancy has informed, transpierced,
      Thridded and so thrown fast the facts else free,
      As right through ring and ring runs the djereed
      And binds the loose, one bar without a break."

The story, in brief, is this. Pompilia, the supposed daughter of Pietro
and Violante Comparini, an aged burgher couple of Rome, has been
married, at the age of thirteen, to Count Guido Franceschini, an
impoverished middle-aged nobleman of Arezzo. The arrangement, in which
Pompilia is, of course, quite passive, has been made with the
expectation, on the part of Guido, of a large dowry; on the part of the
Comparini of an aristocratic alliance, and a princely board at Guido's
palace. No sooner has the marriage taken place than both parties find
that they have been tricked. Guido, disappointed of his money, and
unable to reach the pair who have deceived him, vents his spite on the
innocent victim, Pompilia. At length Pompilia, knowing that she is about
to become a mother, escapes from her husband, aided by a good young
priest, Giuseppe Caponsacchi, a canon of Arezzo; and a few months
afterwards, at the house of her supposed parents, she gives birth to a
son. A fortnight after the birth of his heir, Guido, who has been
waiting till his hold on the dowry is thus secured, takes with him four
cut-throats, steals by night to Rome, and kills his wife and the aged
Comparini, leaving the child alive. He is captured the same night, and
brought to judgment at Rome. When the poem opens, the case is being
tried before the civil courts. No attempt is made to dispute the fact of
Guido's actual committal of the deed; he has been caught red-handed, and
Pompilia, preserved almost by miracle, has survived her wounds long
enough to tell the whole story. The sole question is, whether the act
had any justification; it being pretended by Guido that his wife had
been guilty of adultery with the priest Caponsacchi, and that his deed
was a simple act of justice. He was found guilty by the legal tribunal,
and condemned to death; Pompilia's innocence being confirmed beyond a
doubt. Guido then appealed to the Pope, who confirmed the judicial
sentence. The whole of the poem takes place between the arrest and
trial of Guido, and the final sentence of the Pope; at the time, that
is, when the hopes and fears of the actors, and the curiosity of the
spectators, would be at their highest pitch.

The first book, entitled _The Ring and the Book_, gives the facts of the
story, some hint of the author's interpretation of them, and the
outlines of his plan. We are not permitted any of the interest of
suspense. Browning shows us clearly from the first the whole bearing and
consequence of events, as well as the right and wrong of them. He has
written few finer passages than the swift and fiery narrative of the
story, lived through in vision on the night of his purchase of the
original documents. But complete and elaborate as this is, it is merely
introductory, a prologue before the curtain rises on the drama. First we
have three representative specimens of public opinion: _Half-Rome_, _The
Other Half-Rome_, and _Tertium Quid_; each speaker presenting the
complete case from his own point of view. "Half-Rome" takes the side of
Guido. We are allowed to see that the speaker is a jealous husband, and
that his judgment is biased by an instinctive sympathy with the
presumably jealous husband, Guido. "The Other Half-Rome" takes the side
of the wife, "Little Pompilia with the patient eyes," now lying in the
hospital, mortally wounded, and waiting for death. This speaker is a
bachelor, probably a young man, and his judgment is swayed by the beauty
and the piteousness of the dying girl. The speech of "Half-Rome," being
as it is an attempt to make light of the murder, and the utterance of a
somewhat ridiculous personage, is exceedingly humorous and colloquial;
that of the "Other Half-Rome" is serious, earnest, sometimes eloquent.
No contrast could be more complete than that presented by these two
"sample-speeches." The objects remain the same, but we see them through
different ends of the telescope. Either account taken by itself is so
plausible as to seem almost morally conclusive. But in both instances we
have down-right apology and condemnation, partiality bred of prejudice.
_Tertium Quid_ presents us with a reasoned and judicial judgment,
impartiality bred of contempt or indifference; this being--

      "What the superior social section thinks,
      In person of some man of quality
      Who,--breathing musk from lace-work and brocade,
      His solitaire amid the flow of frill,
      Powdered peruke on nose, and bag at back,
      And cane dependent from the ruffled wrist--
      Harangues in silvery and selectest phrase,
      'Neath waxlight in a glorified saloon
      Where mirrors multiply the girandole:
      Courting the approbation of no mob,
      But Eminence This and All-Illustrious That,
      Who take snuff softly, range in well-bred ring,
      Card-table-quitters for observance' sake,
      Around the argument, the rational word ...
      How quality dissertated on the case."

"Tertium Quid" deals with the case very gently, mindful of his audience,
to whom, at each point of the argument calling for judgment, he politely
refers the matter, and passes on. He speaks in a tone of light and
well-bred irony, with the aristocratic contempt for the _plebs_, the
burgesses, Society's assumption of Exclusive Information. He gives the
general view of things, clearly, neutrally, with no vulgar emphasis of
black and white. "I simply take the facts, ask what they mean."

So far we have had rumour alone, the opinions of outsiders; next come
the three great monologues in which the persons of the drama, Count
Guido, Caponsacchi, and Pompilia, bear witness of themselves.

    "The imaginary occasion," says Mrs. Orr, "is that of Count
    Guido's trial, and all the depositions which were made on the
    previous one are transferred to this. The author has been
    obliged in every case to build up the character from the
    evidence, and to re-mould and expand the evidence in
    conformity with the character. The motive, feeling, and
    circumstance set forth by each separate speaker, are thus in
    some degree fictitious; but they are always founded upon
    fact, and the literal fact of a vast number of details is
    self-evident."[40]

These three monologues (with the second of Guido) are by far the most
important in the book.

First comes _Count Guido Franceschini_. The two monologues spoken by him
are, for sheer depth of human science, the most marvellous of all:
"every nerve of the mind is touched by the patient scalpel, every vein
and joint of the subtle and intricate spirit divided and laid bare."[41]
Under torture, he has confessed to the murder of his wife. He is now
permitted to defend himself before the judges.

      "Soft-cushioned sits he; yet shifts seat, shirks touch,
      As, with a twitchy brow and wincing lip,
      And cheek that changes to all kinds of white,
      He proffers his defence, in tones subdued
      Near to mock-mildness now, so mournful seems
      The obtuser sense truth fails to satisfy;
      Now, moved, from pathos at the wrong endured,
      To passion....
      Also his tongue at times is hard to curb;
      Incisive, nigh satiric bites the phrase.

             *       *       *       *       *

      And never once does he detach his eye
      From those ranged there to slay him or to save,
      But does his best man's-service for himself."

His speech is a tissue of falsehoods and prevarications: if he uses a
fact, it is only to twist it into a form of self-justification. He knows
it is useless to deny the murder; his aim, then, is to explain and
excuse it. Every device attainable by the instinct and the brain of
hunted humanity he finds and uses. Now he slurs rapidly over an
inconvenient fact; now, with the frank audacity of innocence, proclaims
and blazons it abroad; now he is rhetorically eloquent, now ironically
pathetic; always contriving to shift the blame upon others, and to make
his own course appear the only one plausible or possible, the only one
possible, at least, to a high-born, law-abiding son of the Church. Every
shift and twist is subtly adapted to his audience of Churchmen, and the
gradation of his pleading no less subtly contrived. No keener and
subtler special pleading has ever been written, in verse certainly, and
possibly in lawyers' prose; and it is poetry of the highest order of
dramatic art.

Covering a narrower range, but still more significant within its own
limits, the speech of _Giuseppe Caponsacchi_, the priest who assisted
Pompilia in her flight to Rome (given now in her defence before the
judges who have heard the defence of Guido) is perhaps the most
passionate and thrilling piece of blank verse ever written by Browning.
Indeed, I doubt if it be an exaggeration to say that such fire, such
pathos, such splendour of human speech, has never been heard or seen in
English verse since Webster. In tone and colour the monologue is quite
new, exquisitely modulated to a surprising music. The lighter passages
are brilliant: the eloquent passages full of a fine austerity; but it is
in those passages directly relating to Pompilia that the chief greatness
of the work lies. There is in these appeals a quivering,
thrilling, searching quality of fervid pathetic directness: I can give no
notion of it in words; but here are a few lines, torn roughly out of
their context, which may serve in some degree to illustrate my
meaning:--

      "Pompilia's face, then and thus, looked on me
      The last time in this life: not one sight since,
      Never another sight to be! And yet
      I thought I had saved her. I appealed to Rome:
      It seems I simply sent her to her death.
      You tell me she is dying now, or dead;
      I cannot bring myself to quite believe
      This is a place you torture people in:
      What if this your intelligence were just
      A subtlety, an honest wile to work
      On a man at unawares? 'Twere worthy you.
      No, Sirs, I cannot have the lady dead!
      That erect form, flashing brow, fulgurant eye,
      That voice immortal (oh, that voice of hers!)
      That vision of the pale electric sword
      Angels go armed with,--that was not the last
      O' the lady! Come, I see through it, you find--
      Know the manoeuvre! Also herself said
      I had saved her: do you dare say she spoke false?
      Let me see for myself if it be so!
      Though she were dying a priest might be of use,
      The more when he's a friend too,--she called me
      Far beyond 'friend.'"

Severed from its connection, much of the charm of the passage vanishes
away: always the test of the finest dramatic work; but enough remains to
give some faint shadow of the real beauty of the work. Observe how the
rhythm trembles in accord with the emotion of the speaker: now slow,
solemn, sad, with something of the quiet of despair; now strenuously
self-deluding and feverishly eager: "Let me see for myself if it be so!"
a line which has all the flush and gasp in it of broken sudden
utterance. And the monologue ends in a kind of desperate resignation:--

      "Sirs, I am quiet again. You see, we are
      So very pitiable, she and I,
      Who had conceivably been otherwise.
      Forget distemperature and idle heat;
      Apart from truth's sake, what's to move so much?
      Pompilia will be presently with God;
      I am, on earth, as good as out of it,
      A relegated priest; when exile ends,
      I mean to do my duty and live long.
      She and I are mere strangers now: but priests
      Should study passion; how else cure mankind,
      Who come for help in passionate extremes?
      I do but play with an imagined life.

             *       *       *       *       *

      Mere delectation, fit for a minute's dream!--
      Just as a drudging student trims his lamp,
      Opens his Plutarch, puts him in the place
      Of Roman, Grecian; draws the patched gown close,
      Dreams, 'Thus should I fight, save or rule the world!'--
      Then smilingly, contentedly, awakes
      To the old solitary nothingness.
      So I, from such communion, pass content ...

      O great, just, good God! Miserable me!"

From the passionate defence of Caponsacchi, we pass to the death-bed of
_Pompilia_. Like Shakespeare, Browning makes all his heroines young; and
this child of seventeen, who has so much of the wisdom of youth, tells
on her death-bed, to the kind people about her, the story of her life,
in a simple, child-like, dreamy, wondering way, which can be compared,
so far as I know, with nothing else ever written.

      "Then a soul sighs its lowest and its last
      After the loud ones;"

and we have here the whole heart of a woman, the whole heart and the
very speech and accent of the most womanly of women. No woman has ever
written anything so close to the nature of women, and I do not know what
other man has come near to this strange and profoundly manly intuition,
this "piercing and overpowering tenderness which glorifies," as Mr.
Swinburne has said, "the poet of Pompilia." All _The Ring and the Book_
is a leading up to this monologue, and a commentary round it. It is a
song of serene and quiet beauty, beautiful as evening-twilight. To
analyse it is to analyse a rose's perfume: to quote from it is to tear
off the petal of a rose. Here, however, for their mere colour and scent,
are a few lines. Pompilia is speaking of the birth of her child.

      "A whole long fortnight: in a life like mine
      A fortnight filled with bliss is long and much.
      All women are not mothers of a boy,
      Though they live twice the length of my whole life,
      And, as they fancy, happily all the same.
      There I lay, then, all my great fortnight long,
      As if it would continue, broaden out
      Happily more and more, and lead to heaven:
      Christmas before me,--was not that a chance?
      I never realized God's birth before--
      How He grew likest God in being born.
      This time I felt like Mary, had my babe
      Lying a little on my breast like hers."

With a beautiful and holy confidence she now "lays away her babe with
God," secure for him in the future. She forgives the husband who has
slain her: "I could not love him, but his mother did." And with her last
breath she blesses the friend who has saved her:--

      "O lover of my life, O soldier-saint,
      No work begun shall ever pause for death.

             *       *       *       *       *

      So, let him wait God's instant men call years;
      Meantime hold hard by truth and his great soul,
      Do out the duty! Through such souls alone
      God stooping shows sufficient of His light
      For us i' the dark to rise by. And I rise."

After _Pompilia_, we have the pleadings and counterpleadings of the
lawyers on either side: _Dominus Hyacinthus de Archangelis, Pauperum
Procurator_ (the counsel for the defendant), and _Juris Doctor
Johannes-Baptista Bottinius_, _Fisci et Rev. Cam. Apostol. Advocatus_
(public prosecutor). Arcangeli,--

      "The jolly learned man of middle age,
      Cheek and jowl all in laps with fat and law,
      Mirthful as mighty, yet, as great hearts use,
      Despite the name and fame that tempt our flesh,
      Constant to the devotion of the hearth,
      Still captive in those dear domestic ties!"--

is represented, with fine grotesque humour, in the very act of making
his speech, pre-occupied, all the while he "wheezes out law and
whiffles Latin forth," with a birthday-feast in preparation for his
eight-year-old son, little Giacinto, the pride of his heart. The effect
is very comic, though the alternation or intermixture of lawyer's-Latin
and domestic arrangements produces something which is certainly, and
perhaps happily, without parallel in poetry. His defence is, and is
intended to be, mere quibbling. _Causa honoris_ is the whole pith and
point of his plea: Pompilia's guilt he simply takes for granted.
Bottini, the exact opposite in every way of his adversary,--

      "A man of ready smile and facile tear,
      Improvised hopes, despairs at nod and beck,
      And language--ah, the gift of eloquence!
      Language that goes as easy as a glove
      O'er good and evil, smoothens both to one"--

Bottini presents us with a full-blown speech, intended to prove
Pompilia's innocence, though really in every word a confession of her
utter depravity. His sole purpose is to show off his cleverness, and he
brings forward objections on purpose to prove how well he can turn them
off; assumes guilt for the purpose of arguing it into comparative
innocence.

      "Yet for the sacredness of argument, ...
      Anything, anything to let the wheels
      Of argument run glibly to their goal!"

He pretends to "paint a saint," whom he can still speak of, in tones of
earnest admiration, as "wily as an eel." His implied concessions and
merely parenthetic denials, his abominable insinuations and suggestions,
come, evidently enough, from the instincts of a grovelling mind,
literally incapable of appreciating goodness, as well as from
professional irritation at one who will

      "Leave a lawyer nothing to excuse,
      Reason away and show his skill about."

The whole speech is a capital bit of satire and irony; it is comically
clever and delightfully exasperating.

After the lawyers have spoken, we have the final judgment, the
summing-up and laying bare of the whole matter, fact and motive, in the
soliloquy of _The Pope_. Guido has been tried and found guilty, but, on
appeal, the case had been referred to the Pope, Innocent XII. His
decision is made; he has been studying the case from early morning, and
now, at the

                             "Dim
      Droop of a sombre February day,
      In the plain closet where he does such work,
      With, from all Peter's treasury, one stool,
      One table and one lathen crucifix,"

he passes the actors of the tragedy in one last review, nerving himself
to pronounce the condemnation which he feels, as judge, to be due, but
which he shrinks from with the natural shrinking of an aged man about to
send a strong man to death before him. Pompilia he pronounces faultless
and more,--

      "My rose, I gather for the breast of God;"

Caponsacchi, not all without fault, yet a true soldier of God, prompt,
for all his former seeming frivolousness, to spring forward and redress
the wrong, victorious, too, over temptation:--

                  "Was the trial sore?
      Temptation sharp? Thank God a second time!
      Why comes temptation but for man to meet
      And master and make crouch beneath his foot,
      And so be pedestalled in triumph? Pray
      'Lead us into no such temptation, Lord!'
      Yea, but, O Thou, whose servants are the bold,
      Lead such temptations by the head and hair,
      Reluctant dragons, up to who dares fight,
      That so he may do battle and have praise!"

For Guido he can see no excuse, can find no loophole for mercy, and but
little hope of penitence or salvation, and he signs the death-warrant.

      "For the main criminal I have no hope
      Except in such a suddenness of fate.
      I stood at Naples once, a night so dark,
      I could have scarce conjectured there was earth
      Anywhere, sky or sea or world at all:
      But the night's black was burst through by a blaze--
      Thunder struck blow on blow, earth groaned and bore,
      Through her whole length of mountain visible:
      There lay the city thick and plain with spires,
      And, like a ghost disshrouded, white the sea.
      So may the truth be flashed out by one blow,
      And Guido see; one instant, and be saved."

The whole monologue is of different order from all the others. Every one
but this expresses a more or less partial and fragmentary view. _Tertium
Quid_ alone makes any pretence at impartiality, and his is the result of
indifference, not of justice. The Pope's speech is long, slow,
discoursive, full of aged wisdom, dignity and nobility. The latter part
of it, containing some of Browning's most characteristic philosophy, is
by no means out of place, but perfectly coherent and appropriate to the
character of the speaker.

Last of all comes the second and final speech of _Guido_, "the same
man, another voice," as he "speaks and despairs, the last night of his
life," before the Cardinal Acciaiuoli and Abate Panciatichi, two old
friends, who have come to obtain his confession, absolve him, and
accompany him to the scaffold:--

      "The tiger-cat screams now, that whined before,
      That pried and tried and trod so gingerly,
      Till in its silkiness the trap-teeth join;
      Then you know how the bristling fury foams.
      They listen, this wrapped in his folds of red,
      While his feet fumble for the filth below;
      The other, as beseems a stouter heart,
      Working his best with beads and cross to ban
      The enemy that come in like a flood
      Spite of the standard set up, verily
      And in no trope at all, against him there:
      For at the prison-gate, just a few steps
      Outside, already, in the doubtful dawn,
      Thither, from this side and from that, slow sweep
      And settle down in silence solidly,
      Crow-wise, the frightful Brotherhood of Death."

We have here the completed portrait of Guido, a portrait perhaps
unsurpassed as a whole by any of Browning's studies in the complexities
of character. In his first speech he fought warily, and with delicate
skill of fence, for life. Here, says Mr. Swinburne, "a close and dumb
soul compelled into speech by mere struggle and stress of things,
labours in literal translation and accurate agony at the lips of Guido."
Hopeless, but impelled by the biting frenzy of despair, he pours out on
his awe-stricken listeners a wild flood of entreaty, defiance, ghastly
and anguished humour, flattery, satire, raving blasphemy and foaming
impenitence. His desperate venom and blasphemous raillery is part
despair, part calculated horror. In his last revolt against death and
all his foes, he snatches at any weapon, even truth, that may serve his
purpose and gain a reprieve:--

      "I thought you would not slay impenitence,
      But teazed, from men you slew, contrition first,--
      I thought you had a conscience ...
                        Would you send
      A soul straight to perdition, dying frank
      An atheist?"

How much of truth there is in it all we need not attempt to decide. It
is not likely that Guido could pretend to be much worse than he really
was, though he unquestionably heightens the key of his crime, working up
to a pitch of splendid ferocity almost sublime, from a malevolence
rather mean than manly. At the last, struck suddenly, as he sees death
upon him, from his pretence of defiant courage, he hurls down at a blow
the whole structure of lies, and lays bare at once his own malignant
cowardice and the innocence of his murdered wife:--is it with a touch of
remorse, of saving penitence?

      "Nor is it in me to unhate my hates,--
      I use up my last strength to strike once more
      Old Pietro in the wine-house-gossip-face,
      To trample underfoot the whine and wile
      Of beast Violante,--and I grow one gorge
      To loathingly reject Pompilia's pale
      Poison my hasty hunger took for food.
      A strong tree wants no wreaths about its trunk,
      No cloying cups, no sickly sweet of scent,
      But sustenance at root, a bucketful.
      How else lived that Athenian who died so,
      Drinking hot bull's blood, fit for men like me?
      I lived and died a man, and take man's chance,
      Honest and bold: right will be done to such.
      Who are these you have let descend my stair?
      Ha, their accursed psalm! Lights at the sill!
      Is it 'Open' they dare bid you? Treachery!
      Sirs, have I spoken one word all this while
      Out of the world of words I had to say?
      Not one word! All was folly--I laughed and mocked!
      Sirs, my first true word, all truth and no lie,
      Is--save me notwithstanding! Life is all!
      I was just stark mad,--let the madman live
      Pressed by as many chains as you please pile!
      Don't open! Hold me from them! I am yours,
      I am the Granduke's,--no, I am the Pope's!
      Abate,--Cardinal,--Christ,--Maria,--God, ...
      Pompilia, will you let them murder me?"

The coward's agony of the fear of death has never been rendered in words
so truthful or so terrible.

Last of all comes the Epilogue, entitled _The Book and the Ring_, giving
an account of Count Guido's execution, in the form of contemporary
letters, real and imaginary; with an extract from the Augustinian's
sermon on Pompilia, and other documents needed to wind off the threads
of the story.

_The Ring and the Book_ was the first important work which Browning
wrote after the death of his wife, and her memory holds in it a double
shrine: at the opening an invocation, at the close a dedication. I quote
the invocation: the words are sacred, and nothing remains to be said of
them except that they are worthy of the dead and of the living.

      "O lyric Love, half-angel and half-bird
      And all a wonder and a wild desire,--
      Boldest of hearts that ever braved the sun,
      Took sanctuary within the holier blue,
      And sang a kindred soul out to his face,--
      Yet human at the red-ripe of the heart--
      When the first summons from the darkling earth
      Reached thee amid thy chambers, blanched their blue,
      And bared them of the glory--to drop down,
      To toil for man, to suffer or to die,--
      This is the same voice: can thy soul know change?
      Hail then, and hearken from the realms of help!
      Never may I commence my song, my due
      To God who best taught song by gift of thee,
      Except with bent head and beseeching hand--
      That still, despite the distance and the dark,
      What was, again may be; some interchange
      Of grace, some splendour once thy very thought,
      Some benediction anciently thy smile:
      --Never conclude, but raising hand and head
      Thither where eyes, that cannot reach, yet yearn
      For all hope, all sustainment, all reward,
      Their utmost up and on,--so blessing back
      In those thy realms of help, that heaven thy home,
      Some whiteness which, I judge, thy face makes proud,
      Some wanness where, I think, thy foot may fall!"

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 40: _Handbook_, p. 93.]

[Footnote 41: Swinburne, _Essays and Studies_, p. 220.]


18. BALAUSTION'S ADVENTURE: including a Transcript from Euripides.

    [Published in August, 1871. Dedication: "To the Countess
    Cowper.--If I mention the simple truth: that this poem
    absolutely owes its existence to you,--who not only
    suggested, but imposed on me as a task, what has proved the
    most delightful of May-month amusements--I shall seem honest,
    indeed, but hardly prudent; for, how good and beautiful ought
    such a poem to be!--Euripides might fear little; but I, also,
    have an interest in the performance: and what wonder if I beg
    you to suffer that it make, in another and far easier sense,
    its nearest possible approach to those Greek qualities of
    goodness and beauty, by laying itself gratefully at your
    feet?--R. B., London, July 23, 1871." (_Poetical Works_,
    1889, Vol. XI. pp. 1-122).]

The episode which supplies the title of _Balaustion's Adventure_ was
suggested by the familiar story told by Plutarch in his life of Nicias:
that after the ruin of the Sicilian expedition, those of the Athenian
captives who could repeat any poetry of Euripides were set at liberty,
or treated with consideration, by the Syracusans. In Browning's poem,
Balaustion tells her four girl-friends the story of her "adventure" at
Syracuse, where, shortly before, she had saved her own life and the
lives of a ship's-company of her friends by reciting the play of
_Alkestis_ to the Euripides-loving townsfolk. After a brief reminiscence
of the adventure, which has gained her (besides life, and much fame, and
the regard of Euripides) a lover whom she is shortly to marry, she
repeats, for her friends, the whole play, adding, as she speaks the
words of Euripides, such other words of her own as may serve to explain
or help to realise the conception of the poet. In other words, we have a
transcript or re-telling in monologue of the whole play, interspersed
with illustrative comments; and after this is completed Balaustion again
takes up the tale, presents us with a new version of the story of
Alkestis, refers by anticipation to a poem of Mrs. Browning and a
picture of Sir Frederick Leighton, and ends exultantly:--

      "And all came--glory of the golden verse,
      And passion of the picture, and that fine
      Frank outgush of the human gratitude
      Which saved our ship and me, in Syracuse,--
      Ay, and the tear or two which slipt perhaps
      Away from you, friends, while I told my tale,
      --It all came of the play which gained no prize!
      Why crown whom Zeus has crowned in soul before?"

It will thus be seen that the "Transcript from Euripides" is the real
occasion of the poem, Balaustion's adventure, though graphically
described, and even Balaustion herself, though beautifully and vividly
brought before us, being of secondary importance. The "adventure," as it
has been said, is the amber in which Browning has embalmed the
_Alkestis_. The play itself is rendered in what is rather an
interpretation than a translation; an interpretation conceived in the
spirit of the motto taken from Mrs. Browning's _Wine of Cyprus_:--

      "Our Euripides, the human,
        With his droppings of warm tears,
      And his touches of things common
        Till they rose to touch the spheres."

Browning has no sympathy with those who impute to Euripides a sophistic
rather than a pathetic intention; and it is conceivable that the "task"
which Lady Cowper imposed upon him was to show, by some such method of
translation and interpretation, the warm humanity, deep pathos, right
construction and genuine truth to nature of the drama. With this end in
view, Browning has woven the thread of the play into a sort of connected
narrative, translating, with almost uniform literalness of language, the
whole of the play as it was written by Euripides, but connecting it by
comments, explanations, hints and suggestions; analyzing whatever may
seem not easily to be apprehended, or not unlikely to be misapprehended;
bringing out by a touch or a word some delicate shade of meaning, some
subtle fineness of idea or intention.[42] A more creative piece of
criticism can hardly be found, not merely in poetry, but even in prose.
Perhaps it shares in some degree the splendid fault of creative
criticism by occasionally lending, not finding, the noble qualities
which we are certainly made to see in the work itself.

The translation, though not literal in form, is literal in substance,
and it is rendered into careful and expressive blank verse. Owing to the
scheme on which it is constructed, the choruses could not be rendered
into lyrical verse; while, for the same reason, a few passages here and
there are omitted, or only indicated by a word or so in passing. The
omitted passages are very few in number; but it is not always easy to
see why they should have been omitted.[43] Browning's canon of
translation is "to be literal at every cost save that of absolute
violence to our language," and here, certainly, he has observed his
rule. Notwithstanding the greater difficulty of the metrical form, and
the far greater temptation to "brighten up" a version by the use of
paraphrastic but sonorous effects, it is improbable that any prose
translation could be more faithful. And not merely is Browning literal
in the sense of following the original word for word, he gives the exact
root-meaning of words which a literal translator would consider himself
justified in taking in their general sense. Occasionally a literality
of this sort is less easily intelligible to the general reader than the
more obvious word would have been; but, except in a very few instances,
the whole translation is not less clear and forcible than it is exact.
Whether or not the _Alkestis_ of Browning is quite the _Alkestis_ of
Euripides, there is no doubt that this literal, yet glorified and
vivified translation of a Greek play has added a new poem to English
literature.

The blank verse of _Balaustion's Adventure_ is somewhat different from
that of its predecessor, _The Ring and the Book_: to my own ear, at
least, it is by no means so original or so fine. It is indeed more
restrained, but Browning seems to be himself working under a sort of
restraint, or perhaps upon a theory of the sort of versification
appropriate to classical themes. Something of frank vigour, something of
flexibility and natural expressiveness, is lost, but, on the other hand,
there is often a rich colour in the verse, a lingering perfume and
sweetness in the melody, which has a new and delicate charm of its own.

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 42: Note, for instance, the admirable exposition and defence
of the famous and ill-famed altercation between Pheres and Admetos: one
of the keenest bits of explanatory analysis in Mr. Browning's works. Or
observe how beautifully human the dying Alkestis becomes as he
interprets for her, and how splendid a humanity the jovial Herakles puts
on.]

[Footnote 43: The two speeches of Eumelos, not without a note of pathos,
are scarcely represented by--

                      "The children's tears ran fast
      Bidding their father note the eye-lids' stare,
      Hands'-droop, each dreadful circumstance of death."]


19. PRINCE HOHENSTIEL-SCHWANGAU, SAVIOUR OF SOCIETY.

    [Published in December, 1871. (_Poetical Works_, Vol. XI. pp.
    123-210).]

_Prince Hohenstiel-Schwangau_[44] is a blank verse monologue, supposed
to be spoken, in a musing day-dream, by Louis Napoleon, while Emperor of
the French, and calling himself, to the delight of ironical echoes, the
"Saviour of Society." The work is equally distant in spirit from the
branding satire and righteous wrath of Victor Hugo's _Chatiments_ and
_Napoleon le Petit_, and from Lord Beaconsfield's _couleur de rose_
portrait, in _Endymion_, of the nominally pseudonymous Prince Florestan.
It is neither a denunciation nor a eulogy, nor yet altogether an
impartial delineation. It is an "apology," with much the same object as
those of Bishop Blougram or Mr. Sludge, the Medium: "by no means to
prove black white or white black, or to make the worse appear the better
reason, but to bring a seeming monster and perplexing anomaly under the
common laws of nature, by showing how it has grown to be what it is, and
how it can with more or less of self-illusion reconcile itself to
itself."[45]

The poem is very hard reading, perhaps as a whole the hardest
intellectual exercise in Browning's work, but this arises not so much
from the obscurity of its ideas and phrases as from the peculiar
complexity of its structure. To apprehend it we must put ourselves at a
certain standpoint, which is not easy to reach. The monologue as a whole
represents, as we only learn at the end, not a direct speech to a real
person in England, but a mere musing over a cigar in the palace in
France. It is divided into two distinct sections, which need to be kept
clearly apart in the mind. The first section, up to the line, more than
half-way through, "Something like this the unwritten chapter reads," is
a direct self-apology. Prince Hohenstiel-Schwangau puts forward what he
represents as his theory of practice. It is founded on the principle of
_laisser-faire_, and resolves itself into conformity: concurrence with
things as they are, with society as it is. He finds existing
institutions, not indeed perfect, but sufficiently good for practical
purposes; and he conceives his mission to be that of a builder on
existing foundations, that of a social conservator, not of a social
reformer: "to do the best with the least change possible." On his own
showing, he has had this single aim in view from first to last, and on
this ground, that of expediency, he explains and defends every act of
his tortuous and vacillating policy. He has had his ambitions and ideals
of giving freedom to Italy, for example, but he has set them aside in
the interests of his own people and for what he holds to be their more
immediate needs. So far the direct apology. He next proceeds to show
what he might have done, but did not, the ideal course as it is held;
commenting the while, as "Sagacity," upon the imaginary new version of
his career. His comments represent his real conduct, and they are such
as he assumes would naturally be made on the "ideal" course by the very
critics who have censured his actual temporising policy. The final pages
contain an involuntary confession that, even in his own eyes, Prince
Hohenstiel is not quite satisfied with either his conduct or his defence
of it.

To separate the truth from the falsehood in this dramatic monologue has
not been Browning's intention, and it need not be ours. It may be
repeated that Browning is no apologist for Louis Napoleon: he simply
calls him to the front, and, standing aside, allows him to speak for
himself.[46] In his speech under these circumstances we find just as
much truth entangled with just as much sophistry as we might reasonably
expect. Here, we get what seems the genuine truth; there, in what
appears to the speaker a satisfactory defence, we see that he is simply
exposing his own moral defect; again, like Bishop Blougram, he "says
true things, but calls them by wrong names." Passages of the last kind
are very frequent; are, indeed, to be found everywhere throughout the
poem; and it is in these that Browning unites most cleverly the
vicarious thinking due to his dramatic subject, and the good honest
thought which we never fail to find dominant in his most exceptional
work. The Prince gives utterance to a great deal of very true and very
admirable good sense; we are at liberty to think him insincere in his
application of it, but an axiom remains true, even if it be wrongly
applied.

The versification of the poem is everywhere vigorous, and often fine;
perhaps the finest passage it contains is that referring to Louis
Napoleon's abortive dreams on behalf of Italy.

      "Ay, still my fragments wander, music-fraught,
      Sighs of the soul, mine once, mine now, and mine
      For ever! Crumbled arch, crushed aqueduct,
      Alive with tremors in the shaggy growth
      Of wild-wood, crevice-sown, that triumphs there
      Imparting exultation to the hills!
      Sweep of the swathe when only the winds walk
      And waft my words above the grassy sea
      Under the blinding blue that basks o'er Rome--
      Hear ye not still--'Be Italy again?'
      And ye, what strikes the panic to your heart?
      Decrepit council-chambers,--where some lamp
      Drives the unbroken black three paces off
      From where the greybeards huddle in debate,
      Dim cowls and capes, and midmost glimmers one
      Like tarnished gold, and what they say is doubt,
      And what they think is fear, and what suspends
      The breath in them is not the plaster-patch
      Time disengages from the painted wall
      Where Rafael moulderingly bids adieu,
      Nor tick of the insect turning tapestry
      To dust, which a queen's finger traced of old;
      But some word, resonant, redoubtable,
      Of who once felt upon his head a hand
      Whereof the head now apprehends his foot."

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 44: The name _Hohenstiel-Schwangau_ is formed from Hohen
Schwangau, one of the castles of the late king of Bavaria.]

[Footnote 45: James Thomson on _The Ring and the Book_.]

[Footnote 46: I find in a letter of Browning, which Mrs Orr has printed
in her _Life and Letters of Browning_ (1891), a reference to "what the
editor of the _Edinburgh_ calls my eulogium on the Second Empire--which
it is not, any more than what another wiseacre affirms it to be--'a
scandalous attack on the old constant friend of England'--it is just
what I imagine the man might, if he pleased, say for himself."]


20. FIFINE AT THE FAIR.

    [Published in 1872 (_Poetical Works_, Vol. XI. pp. 211-343).]

_Fifine at the Fair_ is a monologue at once dramatic and philosophical.
Its arguments, like those of _Prince Hohenstiel-Schwangau_, are part
truth, part sophistry. The poem is prefaced by a motto from Moliere's
_Don Juan_, in which Donna Elvira suggests to her husband, with a bitter
irony, the defence he ought to make for himself. Don Juan did not take
the hint. Browning has done so. The genesis of the poem and the special
form it has assumed are further explained by the following passage from
Mrs. Orr:--

    "Mr. Browning was, with his family, at Pornic, many years
    ago, and there saw the gypsy who is the original of Fifine.
    His fancy was evidently set roaming by her audacity, her
    strength--the contrast which she presented to the more
    spiritual types of womanhood; and this contrast eventually
    found expression in a poetic theory of life, in which these
    opposite types and their corresponding modes of attraction
    became the necessary complement of each other. As he laid
    down the theory, Mr. Browning would be speaking in his own
    person. But he would turn into someone else in the act of
    working it out--for it insensibly carried with it a plea for
    yielding to those opposite attractions, not only
    successively, but at the same time; and a modified Don Juan
    would grow up under his pen."[47]

This modified Don Juan is the spokesman of the poem: not the "splendid
devil" of Tirso de Molina, but a modern gentleman, living at Pornic, a
refined, cultured, musical, artistic and philosophical person, "of high
attainments, lofty aspirations, strong emotions, and capricious will."
Strolling through the fair with his wife, he expatiates on the charm of
a Bohemian existence, and, more particularly, on the charms of one
Fifine, a rope-dancer, whose performance he has witnessed. Urged by the
troubled look of his wife, he launches forth into an elaborate defence
of inconstancy in love, and consequently of the character of his
admiration for Fifine.

He starts by arguing:--

                  "That bodies show me minds,
      That, through the outward sign, the inward grace allures,
      And sparks from heaven transpierce earth's coarsest covertures,--
      All by demonstrating the value of Fifine!"

He then applies his method to the whole of earthly life, finally
resolving it into the principle:--

             "All's change, but permanence as well.

             *       *       *       *       *

      Truth inside, and outside, truth also; and between
      Each, falsehood that is change, as truth is permanence.
      The individual soul works through the shows of sense,
      (Which, ever proving false, still promise to be true)
      Up to an outer soul as individual too;
      And, through the fleeting, lives to die into the fixed,
      And reach at length 'God, man, or both together mixed.'"

Last of all, just as his speculations have come to an end in an earnest
profession of entire love to his wife, and they pause for a moment on
the threshold of the villa, he receives a note from Fifine.

      "Oh, threaten no farewell! five minutes shall suffice
      To clear the matter up. I go, and in a trice
      Return; five minutes past, expect me! If in vain--
      Why, slip from flesh and blood, and play the ghost again!"

He exceeds the allotted five minutes. Elvire takes him at his word; and,
as we seem to be told in the epilogue, husband and wife are reconciled
only in death.

Such is the barest outline of the structure and purport of the poem. But
no outline can convey much notion of the wide range, profound
significance and infinite ingenuity of the arguments; of the splendour
and vigour of the poetry; or of the subtle consistency and exquisite
truth of the character-painting. Small in amount as is this last in
proportion to the philosophy, it is of very notable kind and quality.
Not only the speaker, but Fifine, and still more Elvire, are quickened
into life by graphic and delicate touches. If we except Lucrezia in
_Andrea del Sarto_, in no other monologue is the presence and
personality of the silent or seldom-speaking listener so vividly felt.
We see the wronged wife Elvire, we know her, and we trace the very
progress of her moods, the very changes in her face, as she listens to
the fluent talk of her husband. Don Juan (if we may so call him) is a
distinct addition to Browning's portrait-gallery. Let no one suppose him
to be a mere mouthpiece for dialectical disquisitions. He is this
certainly, but his utterances are tinged with individual colour. This
fact which, from the artistic point of view, is an inestimable
advantage, is apt to prove, as in the case of Prince Hohenstiel,
somewhat of a practical difficulty. "The clearest way of showing where
he uses (1) Truth, (2) Sophism, (3) a mixture of both--is to say that
wherever he speaks of Fifine (whether as type or not) in relation to
himself and his own desire for truth, or right living with his wife, he
is sophistical: wherever he speaks directly of his wife's value to him
he speaks truth with an alloy of sophism; and wherever he speaks
impersonally he speaks the truth.[48]" Keeping this in mind, we can
easily separate the grain from the chaff; and the grain is emphatically
worth storing. Perhaps no poem of Browning's contains so much deep and
acute comment on life and conduct: few, such superabounding wealth of
thought and imagery. Browning is famed for his elaborate and original
similes; but I doubt if he has conceived any with more originality, or
worked them out with richer elaboration, than those of the Swimmer, of
the Carnival, of the Druid Monument, of Fifine herself. Nor has he often
written more original poetry than some of the more passionate or
imaginative passages of the poem. The following lines, describing an
imaginary face representing Horror, have all the vivid sharpness of an
actual vision or revelation:--

                           "Observe how brow recedes,
      Head shudders back on spine, as if one haled the hair,
      Would have the full-face front what pin-point eye's sharp stare
      Announces; mouth agape to drink the flowing fate,
      While chin protrudes to meet the burst o' the wave; elate
      Almost, spurred on to brave necessity, expend
      All life left, in one flash, as fire does at its end."

Just as good in a different style, is this quaint and quiet landscape:--

      "For, arm in arm, we two have reached, nay, passed, you see,
      The village-precinct; sun sets mild on Saint-Marie--
      We only catch the spire, and yet I seem to know
      What's hid i' the turn o' the hill: how all the graves must glow
      Soberly, as each warms its little iron cross,
      Flourished about with gold, and graced (if private loss
      Be fresh) with stiff rope-wreath of yellow, crisp bead-blooms
      Which tempt down birds to pay their supper, mid the tombs,
      With prattle good as song, amuse the dead awhile,
      If couched they hear beneath the matted camomile."

The poem is written in Alexandrine couplets, and is, I believe, the only
English poem of any length written in this metre since Drayton's
_Polyolbion_. Browning's metre has scarcely the flexibility of the best
French verse, but he allows himself occasionally two licenses not used
in French since the time of Marot: (1) the addition of an unaccented
syllable at the end of the first half of the verse, as:--

      "'Twas not for every Gawain to gaze upon the Grail!"--

(2) the addition of two syllables, making seven instead of six beats.

      "What good were else i' the drum and fife? O pleasant
          land of France!"

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 47: _Handbook_, p. 148.]

[Footnote 48: J.T. Nettleship on "Fifine at the Fair" (_Browning
Society's Papers_, Part II. p. 223). Mr. Nettleship's elaborate analysis
of the poem is a most helpful and admirable piece of work.]


21. RED COTTON NIGHT-CAP COUNTRY; OR, TURF AND TOWERS.

    [Published in 1873 (_Poetical Works_, 1889, Vol XII. pp.
    1-177).]

_Red Cotton Night-Cap Country_ is a story of real life, true in all its
facts, and studied at the place where it had occurred a few years
before: St. Aubin, in Normandy (the St. Rambert of the poem). It is the
story of the life of Antoine Mellerio, the Paris jeweller, whose tragic
death occurred at St. Aubin on the 13th April 1870. A suit concerning
his will, decided only in the summer of 1872, supplied Browning with the
materials of his tragedy. In the first proof of the poem the real names
of persons and places were given; but they were changed before
publication, and are now in every case fictitious. The second edition of
Mrs. Orr's _Handbook_ contains a list of the real names, which I
subjoin.[49]

The book is dedicated to Miss Thackeray (Mrs. Richmond Ritchie), and the
whole story is supposed to be told to her (as in substance it was) by
Browning, who has thus given to the poem a tone of pleasant
colloquialism. Told as it is, it becomes in part a dramatic monologue of
which the _dramatis persona_ is Robert Browning. It is full of quiet,
sometimes grim, humour; of picturesque and witty touches; of pungency
and irony. Its manner, the humorous telling of a tragic tale, is a
little after the pattern of Carlyle. In such a setting the tragic
episodes, sometimes all but heroic, sometimes almost grotesque, have all
the impressiveness of contrast.

The story itself, in the main, is a sordid enough tragedy: like several
of Browning's later books, it is a study in evil. The two characters who
fill the stage of this little history are tragic comedians; they, too,
are "real creatures, exquisitely fantastical, strangely exposed to the
world by a lurid catastrophe, who teach us that fiction, if it can
imagine events and persons more agreeable to the taste it has educated,
can read us no such furrowing lesson in life." The character of Miranda,
the sinner who would reconcile sin with salvation, is drawn with special
subtlety; analysed, dissected rather, with the unerring scalpel of the
experienced operator. Miranda is swayed through life by two opposing
tendencies, for he is of mixed Castilian and French blood. He is
mastered at once by two passions, earthly and religious, illicit love
and Catholic devotion: he cannot let go the one and he will not let go
the other; he would enjoy himself on the "Turf" without abandoning the
shelter of the "Towers." His life is spent in trying to effect a
compromise between the two antagonistic powers which finally pull down
his house of life. Clara, his mistress-wife, is a mirror of himself; she
humours him, manages him, perhaps on his own lines of inclination.

      "'But--loved him?' Friend, I do not praise her love!
      True love works never for the loved one so,
      Nor spares skin-surface, smoothening truth away,
      Love bids touch truth, endure truth, and embrace
      Truth, though, embracing truth, love crush itself.
      'Worship not me, but God!' the angels urge!"

This man and woman are analysed with exquisite skill; but they are not
in the strict sense inventions, creations: we understand rather than see
them. Only towards the end, where the facts leave freer play for the
poetic impulse, do they rise into sharp vividness of dramatic life and
speech. Nothing in the poem equals in intensity the great soliloquy of
Miranda before his strange and suicidal leap, and the speech of Clara to
the "Cousinry." Here we pass at a bound from chronicling to creation. As
a narrative, _Red Cotton Night-Cap Country_ has all the interest of a
novel, with the concentration and higher pitch of poetry. Less ingenious
and philosophical than _Prince Hohenstiel-Schwangau_ and _Fifine at the
Fair_, it is far more intimately human, more closely concerned with
"man's thoughts and loves and hates," with the manifestations of his
eager and uneasy spirit, in strange shapes, on miry roads, in dubious
twilights. Of all Browning's works it is perhaps the easiest to read; no
tale could be more straightforward, no language more lucid, no verse
more free from harshness or irregularity, The versification, indeed, is
exceptionally smooth and measured, seldom rising into strong passion,
but never running into volubility. Here and there are short passages,
which I can scarcely detach for quotation, with a singular charm of
vague remote music. The final summary of Clara and Miranda, excellent
and convenient alike, may be severed without much damage from the
context.

      "Clara, I hold the happier specimen,--
      It may be, through that artist-preference
      For work complete, inferiorly proposed,
      To incompletion, though it aim aright.
      Morally, no! Aspire, break bounds! I say,
      Endeavour to be good, and better still,
      And best! Success is nought, endeavour's all.
      But intellect adjusts the means to ends,
      Tries the low thing, and leaves it done, at least;
      No prejudice to high thing, intellect
      Would do and will do, only give the means.
      Miranda, in my picture-gallery,
      Presents a Blake; be Clara--Meissonnier!
      Merely considered so, by artist, mind!
      For, break through Art and rise to poetry,
      Bring Art to tremble nearer, touch enough
      The verge of vastness to inform our soul
      What orb makes transit through the dark above,
      And there's the triumph!--there the incomplete,
      More than completion, matches the immense,--
      Then, Michelagnolo against the world!"

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 49: Page 2. _The Firm Miranda_--Mellerio Brothers. Page 4.
_St. Rambert_--St Aubin; _Joyeux, Joyous Gard_--Lion, Lionesse. Page 6.
_Vire_--Caen. Page 25. _St. Rambertese_--St. Aubinese. Page 29.
_Londres_--Douvres; _London_--Dover; _La Roche_--Courcelle;
_Monlieu_--Bernieres; _Villeneuve_--Langrune; _Pons_--Luc; _La
Ravissante_--La Delivrande. Page 33. _Raimbaux_--Bayeux. Page 34.
_Morillon_--Hugonin; _Mirecourt_--Bonnechose; _Miranda_--Mellerio. Page
35. _New York_--Madrid. Page 41. _Clairvaux_--Tailleville. Page 42.
_Madrilene_--Turinese. Page 43. _Gonthier_--Beny; _Rousseau_--Voltaire;
_Leonce_--Antoine. Page 52. _Of "Firm Miranda, London and New
York"_--"Mellerio Brothers"--Meller, people say. Page 79. _Rare
Vissante_--Del Yvrande; _Aldabert_--Regnobert. Page 80.
_Eldobert_--Ragnebert; _Mailleville_--Beaudoin. Page 81.
_Chaumont_--Quelen; _Vertgalant_--Talleyrand. Page 89.
_Ravissantish_--Delivrandish. Page 101. _Clara de Millefleurs_--Anna de
Beaupre; _Coliseum Street_--Miromesnil Street. Page 110.
_Steiner_--Mayer; _Commercy_--Larocy; _Sierck_--Metz. Page 111.
_Muhlhausen_--Debacker. Page 112, _Carlino Centofanti_--Miranda di
Mongino. Page 121. _Portugal_--Italy. Page 125. "_Gustave_"--"Alfred."
Page 135. _Vaillant_--Meriel. Page 149. _Thirty-three_--Twenty-five.
152. _Beaumont_--Pasquier. Page 167. _Sceaux_--Garges. Page 203. _Luc de
la Maison Rouge_--Jean de la Becquetiere; _Claise_--Vire; _Maude_--Anne.
Page 204. _Dionysius_--Eliezer; _Scolastica_--Elizabeth. Page 214.
_Twentieth_--Thirteenth. Page 241. _Fricquot_--"Picot."--Mrs. Orr's
_Handbook_, Second Edition, pp. 261-2.]


22. ARISTOPHANES' APOLOGY: including a Transcript from Euripides; being
the Last Adventure of Balaustion.

    [Published in April, 1875. (_Poetical Works_, 1889, Vol.
    XIII. pp. 1-258).]

_Aristophanes' Apology_, as its sub-title indicates, is a kind of sequel
to _Balaustion's Adventure_. It is the record, in Balaustion's words, of
an adventure which happened to her after her marriage with Euthukles. On
the day when the news of Euripides' death reached Athens, as Balaustion
and her husband were sitting at home, toward nightfall, Aristophanes,
coming home with his revellers from the banquet which followed his
triumph in the play of _Thesmophoriazousai_, burst in upon them.

      "There stood in person Aristophanes.
      And no ignoble presence! On the bulge
      Of the clear baldness,--all his head one brow,--
      True, the veins swelled, blue net-work, and there surged
      A red from cheek to temple, then retired
      As if the dark-leaved chaplet damped a flame,--
      Was never nursed by temperance or health.
      But huge the eyeballs rolled black native fire,
      Imperiously triumphant: nostrils wide
      Waited their incense; while the pursed mouth's pout
      Aggressive, while the beak supreme above,
      While the head, face, nay, pillared throat thrown back,
      Beard whitening under like a vinous foam,
      These made a glory, of such insolence--
      I thought,--such domineering deity
      Hephaistos might have carved to cut the brine
      For his gay brother's prow, imbrue that path
      Which, purpling, recognized the conqueror.
      Impudent and majestic: drunk, perhaps,
      But that's religion; sense too plainly snuffed:
      Still, sensuality was grown a rite."

He, too, has just heard of Euripides' death, and an impulse, part
sympathy, part mockery, has brought him to the "house friendly to
Euripides." The revellers retire abashed before Balaustion; he alone
remains. From the extraordinary and only too natural gabble and garbage
of his opening words, he quickly passes to a more or less serious
explanation and defence of his conduct toward the dead poet; to an
exposition, in fact, of his aims and doings as a writer of comedy. When
his "apology" is ended, Balaustion replies, censuring him pretty
severely, making adroit use of the licence of a "stranger" and a woman,
and defending Euripides against him. For a further (and the best)
defence, she reads the whole of the _Herakles_, which Browning here
translates. Aristophanes, naturally, is not convinced; impressed he must
have been, to have borne so long a reading without demur: he flings them
a snatch of song, finding in his impromptu a hint for a new play, the
_Frogs_, and is gone. And now, a year after, as the couple return to
Rhodes from a disgraced and dismantled Athens, Balaustion dictates to
Euthukles her recollection of the "adventure," for the double purpose of
putting the past events on record, and of eluding the urgency of the
present sorrow.

It will thus be seen that the book consists of two distinct parts. There
is, first, the apology of Aristophanes, second, the translation of the
play of Euripides. _Herakles_, or, as it is more generally known,
_Hercules Furens_, is rendered completely and consecutively, in blank
verse and varied choric measures. It is not, as was the case with
_Alkestis_ worked into the body of the poem; not welded, but inserted.
We have thus, while losing the commentary, the advantage of a detached
transcript, with a lyrical rendering of the lyrical parts of the play.
These are given with a constant vigour and closeness, often with a rare
beauty (as in the famous "Ode bewailing Age," and that other on the
labours of Herakles). Precisely the same characteristics that we have
found in the translation of the _Alkestis_ are here again to be found,
and all that I said on the former, considered apart from its setting,
may be applied to the latter. We have the same literalness (again with a
few apparent exceptions), the same insistence on the root-meaning of
words, the same graphic force and vivifying touch, the same general
clearness and charm.

The original part of the book is of far closer texture and more
remarkable order than "the amber which embalms _Alkestis_" the first
adventure of Balaustion; but it has less human emotion, less general
appeal. It is nothing less than a resuscitation of the old controversy
between Aristophanes and Euripides; a resuscitation, not only of the
controversy, but of the combatants. "Local colour" is laid on with an
unsparing hand, though it cannot be said that the atmosphere is really
Greek. There is hardly a line, there is never a page, without an
allusion to some recondite thing: Athenian customs, Greek names, the
plays of Euripides, above all, the plays of Aristophanes. "Every line of
the poem," it has been truly said, "shows Mr. Browning as soaked and
steeped in the comedies as was Bunyan in his Bible." The result is a
vast, shapeless thing, splendidly and grotesquely alive, but alive with
the obscure and tangled life of the jungle.

Browning's attitude towards the controversy, the side he takes as
champion of Euripides, is distinctly shown, not merely in Balaustion's
statement and defence, but in the whole conduct of the piece.
Aristophanes, though on his own defence, is set in a decidedly
unfavourable light; and no one, judging from Browning's work, can doubt
as to his opinion of the relative qualities of the two great poets. It
is possible even to say there is a partiality in the presentment. But it
must be remembered on the other hand that Browning is not concerned
simply with the question of art, but with the whole bearings, artistic
and ethical, of the contest; and it must be remembered that the aim of
Comedy is intrinsically lower and more limited than that of Tragedy,
that it is destructive, disintegrating, negative, concerned with smaller
issues and more temporary questions; and that Euripides may reasonably
be held a better teacher, a keener, above all a more helpful, reader of
the riddle of life, than his mighty assailant. This is how Aristophanes
has been described, by one who should know:--

    "He is an aggregate of many men, all of a certain greatness.
    We may build up a conception of his powers if we mount
    Rabelais upon Hudibras, lift him with the songfulness of
    Shelley, give him a vein of Heinrich Heine, and cover him
    with the mantle of the Anti-Jacobin, adding (that there may
    be some Irish in him) a dash of Grattan, before he is in
    motion."[50]

Now the "Titanic pamphleteer" is more recognisable in Browning's most
vivid portrait than the "lyric poet of aerial delicacy" who in some
strange fashion, beyond his own wildest metamorphoses, distracted and
idealised the otherwise congruous figure. Not that this is overlooked
or forgotten: it is brought out admirably in several places, notably in
the fine song put into the mouth of Aristophanes at the close; but it is
scarcely so prominent as lovers of him could desire. It is possible,
too, that Browning somewhat over-accentuates his earnestness; not his
fundamental earnestness, but the extent to which he remembered and
exhibited it. "My soul bade fight": yes, but "laugh," too, and laugh for
laughter's as well as fight for principle's sake. This, again, is merely
a matter of detail, of shading. There can be little doubt that the whole
general outline of the man is right, none whatever that it is a living
and breathing outline. His apology is presented in Browning's familiar
manner of genuine feeling tempered with sophistry. As a piece of
dramatic art it is worthy to stand beside his famous earlier apologies;
and it has value too as a contribution to criticism, to a vital
knowledge of the Attic drama and the work and personality of
Aristophanes and Euripides, and to a better understanding of the drama
as a criticism of life.

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 50: George Meredith, _On the Idea of Comedy_.]


23. THE INN ALBUM.

    [Published in November, 1875. (_Poetical Works_, 1889, Vol
    XII. pp. 179-311.) Translated into German in 1877: "_Das
    Fremdenbuch_ von Robert Browning. Aus dem Englischen von E.
    Leo. Hamburg: W. Mauke Soehne."]

The story of _The Inn Album_ is founded on fact, though it is not, like
_Red Cotton Night-Cap Country_, an almost literal transcript from life.
The characters of the poem are four, all unnamed: a young "polished
snob," an impoverished middle-aged nobleman, a woman, whom he had
seduced, and who is now married to a clergyman; and a young girl, her
friend, who is betrothed to the younger of the two men. Of these
characters, the only one whom Browning has invented is the girl, through
whom, in his telling of the story, the tragedy is brought about. But he
has softened the repulsiveness of the original tale, and has also
brought it to a ringing close, not supplied by the bare facts. The
career of the elder man, which came to an end in 1839, did not by any
means terminate with the events recorded in the poem.

_The Inn Album_ is a story of wrecked lives, lost hopes, of sordid and
gloomy villainies; with only light enough in its darkness to make that
darkness visible. It is profoundly sad; yet

                "These things are life:
      And life, they say, is worthy of the Muse."

It would also be profoundly depressing but for the art which has wrung a
grandeur out of grime, which has uplifted a story of mere vulgar evil to
the height of tragedy. Out of materials that might be melodramatic,
Browning has created a drama of humanity of which the impression is
single, intense and overpowering. Notwithstanding the clash of physical
catastrophe at the close, it is really a spiritual tragedy; and in it
Browning has achieved that highest of achievements: the right, vivid and
convincing presentment of human nature at its highest and lowest, at its
extremes of possible action and emotion. It is not perfect: the
colloquialism which truth and art alike demand sinks sometimes, though
not in the great scenes, to the confines of a bastard realism. But in
the main the poem is an excellent example of the higher imaginative
realism, of the close, yet poetic or creative, treatment of life.

The four characters who play out the brief and fateful action of this
drama in narrative (the poem is more nearly related in form to the pure
drama than any other of Browning's poems not cast in the dramatic form)
are creations, three of them at least, in a deeper sense than the
characters in _Red Cotton Night-Cap Country_, or than the character in
_Prince Hohenstiel-Schwangau_. The "good gay girl," serving her
unconscious purpose in the tragic action, is properly enough a mere
sketch; but the two men and the elder woman are profoundly studied
characters, struck into life and revealed to themselves, to one another
and to us, at the supreme moment of a complex crisis. The elder man is
one of Browning's most finished studies, and, morally, one of the worst
characters even he has ever investigated. He is at once bad, clever and
cynical, the combination, of all others, most noxious and most hopeless.
He prides himself above all things on his intellect; and it is evident
that he has had the power to shape his course and to sway others. But
now, at fifty, he knows himself to be a failure. The cause of it he
traces mainly to a certain crisis of his life, when he won, only to
abuse, the affections of a splendidly beautiful woman, whose equal
splendour of soul he saw only when too late. It is significant of him
that he never views his conduct as a crime, a wrong to the woman, but as
a mistake on his part; and his attitude is not that of remorse, but of
one who has missed a chance. When, after four years, he meets
unexpectedly the woman whom he has wronged and lost, the good and evil
in him blaze out in a sudden and single flame of earnest appeal. In the
fact that this passionate appeal should be only half-sincere, or, if
sincere, then only for the moment, that to her who hears it, it should
seem wholly insincere, lies the intensity of the situation.

The character of the woman is less complex but not less consistent and
convincing. Like the man, her development has been arrested and
distorted by the cause which has made him too a wreck. Her love was
single-hearted and over-mastering; its very force, in recoil, turned it
into hate. Yoked to a soulless husband, whom she has married half in
pity, half in despair, her whole nature has frozen; so that when we see
her she is, while physically the same, spiritually the ghost of her
former self. The subtlety of the picture is to show what she is now
while making equally plain what she was in the past. She is a figure not
so much pathetic as terrible.

Pathetic, despite its outer comedy, is the figure of the young man, the
great rough, foolish, rich youth, tutored in evil by his Mephistopheles,
but only, we fancy, skin-deep in it, slow of thought but quick of
feeling, with his one and only love, never forgotten, and now found
again in the very woman whom his "friend" has wronged. His last speech,
with its clumsy yet genuine chivalry, its touching, broken words, its
fine feeling and faltering expression, is one of the most pathetic
things I know. Such a character, in its very absence of subtlety, is a
triumph of Browning's, to whom intellectual simplicity must be the
hardest of all dramatic assumptions.


24. PACCHIAROTTO, and how he worked in Distemper: with other poems.

    [Published in July, 1876 (_Poetical Works_, 1889, Vol. XIV.
    pp. 1-152).]

_Pacchiarotto and other Poems_ is the first collection of miscellaneous
pieces since the _Dramatis Personae_ of 1864. It is somewhat of an
exception to the general rule of Browning's work. A large proportion of
it is critical rather than creative, a criticism of critics; perhaps it
would be at once more correct and concise to call it "Robert Browning's
Apology." _Pacchiarotto_, _At the "Mermaid"_, _House_, _Shop_ and
_Epilogue_, are all more or less personal utterances on art and the
artist, sometimes in a concrete and impersonal way, more often in a
somewhat combative and contemptuous spirit. The most important part of
the volume, however, is that which contains the two or three
monodramatic poems and the splendid ballad of the fleet, _Herve Riel_.

The first and longest poem, _Of Pacchiarotto, and how he worked in
Distemper_, divides itself into two parts, the first being the humorous
rendering of a true anecdote told in Vasari, of Giacomo Pacchiarotto, a
Sienese painter of the sixteenth century; and the second, a still more
mirthful onslaught of the poet upon his critics. The story--

      "Begun with a chuckle,
      And throughout timed by raps of the knuckle,"--

is funny enough in itself, and it points an excellent moral; but it is
chiefly interesting as a whimsical freak of verse, an extravaganza in
staccato. The rhyming is of its kind almost incomparable as a sustained
effort in double and triple grotesque rhymes. Not even in _Hudibras_,
not even in _Don Juan_, is there anything like them. I think all other
experiments of the kind, however successful as a whole, let you see now
and then that the author has had a hard piece of work to keep up his
appearance of ease. In _Pacchiarotto_ there is no evidence of the
strain. The masque of critics, under the cunning disguise of May-day
chimney-sweepers:--

      "'We critics as sweeps out your chimbly!
      Much soot to remove from your flue, sir!
      Who spares coal in kitchen an't you, sir!
      And neighbours complain it's no joke, sir!
      You ought to consume your own smoke, sir!'"--

this after-part, overflowing with jolly humour and comic scorn, a besom
wielded by a laughing giant, is calculated to put the victims in better
humour with their executioner than with themselves. Browning has had to
endure more than most men at the hands of the critics, and he takes in
this volume, not in this poem only, a full and a characteristically
good-humoured revenge. The _Epilogue_ follows up the pendant to
_Pacchiarotto_. There is the same jolly humour, the same combative
self-assertiveness, the same retort _Tu quoque_, with a yet more earnest
and pungent enforcement.

      "Wine, pulse in might from me!
        It may never emerge in must from vat,
      Never fill cask nor furnish can,
      Never end sweet, which strong began--
      God's gift to gladden the heart of man;
        But spirit's at proof, I promise that!
      No sparing of juice spoils what should be
        Fit brewage--wine for me.

      Man's thoughts and loves and hates!
        Earth is my vineyard, these grow there:
      From grape of the ground, I made or marred
      My vintage; easy the task or hard,
      Who set it--his praise be my reward!
        Earth's yield! Who yearn for the Dark Blue Sea's
      Let them 'lay, pray, bray'[51]--the addle-pates!
        Mine be Man's thoughts, loves, hates!"

Despite its humorous expression, the view of poetic art contained in
these verses is both serious and significant. It is a frank (if defiant)
confession of faith.

_At the "Mermaid"_, a poem of characteristic energy and directness, is a
protest against the supposition or assumption that the personality and
personal views and opinions of a poet are necessarily reflected in his
dramatic work. It protests, at the same time, against the sham
melancholy and pseudo-despair which Byron made fashionable in poetry:--

      "Have you found your life distasteful?
        My life did and does smack sweet.
      Was your youth of pleasure wasteful?
        Mine I saved and hold complete.

      Do your joys with age diminish?
        When mine fail me, I'll complain.
      Must in death your daylight finish?
        My sun sets to rise again.

             *       *       *       *       *

      I find earth not gray but rosy,
        Heaven not grim but fair of hue.
      Do I stoop? I pluck a posy.
        Do I stand and stare? All's blue."

_House_ confirms or continues the primary contention in _At the
"Mermaid"_: this time by the image of a House of Life, which some poets
may choose to set on view: "for a ticket apply to the Publisher."
Browning not merely denounces but denies the so-called self-revelations
of poets. He answers Wordsworth's

                "With this same key
      Shakespeare unlocked his heart,"

by the characteristic retort:--

      "Did Shakespeare? If so, the less Shakespeare he!"

In _Shop_ we have another keen piece of criticism: a protest against
poets who make their shop their home, and their song mere ware for sale.

After the personal and critical section we pass to half-a-dozen lyrics:
_Fears and Scruples_, a covert and startling poem, a doctrine embodied
in a character; then two beautiful little _Pisgah-Sights_, a dainty
experiment in metre, and in substance the expression of Browning's
favourite lesson, the worth of earth and the need of the mystery of
life; _Appearances_, a couple of stanzas whose telling simplicity
recalls the lovely earlier lilt, _Misconceptions; Natural Magic_ and
_Magical Nature_, two magical snatches, as perfect as the "first fine
careless rapture" of the earlier lyrics. I quote the latter:--

      "MAGICAL NATURE.

      1.

      Flower--I never fancied, jewel--I profess you!
        Bright I see and soft I feel the outside of a flower.
      Save but glow inside and--jewel, I should guess you,
        Dim to sight and rough to touch: the glory is the dower.

      2.

      You, forsooth, a flower? Nay, my love, a jewel--
        Jewel at no mercy of a moment in your prime!
      Time may fray the flower-face: kind be time or cruel,
        Jewel, from each facet, flash your laugh at time!"

But the finest lyric in the volume is _St. Martin's Summer_, a poem
fantastically tragic, hauntingly melodious, mysterious and chilling as
the ghostly visitants at late love's pleasure-bower of whom it sings. I
do not think Browning has written many lyrical poems of more brilliant
and original quality. _Bifurcation_, as its name denotes, is a study of
divided paths in life, the paths of Love and Duty chosen severally by
two lovers whose epitaphs Browning gives. The moral problem, which is
sinner, which is saint, is stated and left open. The poem is an etching,
sharp, concise and suggestive. _Numpholeptos_ (nymph-entranced) has all
the mystery, the vague charm, the lovely sadness, of a picture of Burne
Jones. Its delicately fantastic colouring, its dreamy passion, and the
sad and quiet sweetness of its verse, have some affinity with _St.
Martin's Summer_, but are unlike anything else in Browning. It is the
utterance of a hopeless-hoping and pathetically resigned love: the love
of a merely human man for an angelically pure and unhumanly cold woman,
who requires in him an unattainable union of immaculate purity and
complete experience of life.

      "Still you stand, still you listen, still you smile!
      Still melts your moonbeam through me, white awhile,
      Softening, sweetening, till sweet and soft
      Increase so round this heart of mine, that oft
      I could believe your moonbeam smile has past
      The pallid limit and, transformed at last,
      Lies, sunlight and salvation--warms the soul
      It sweetens, softens!

             *       *       *       *       *

      What means the sad slow silver smile above
      My clay but pity, pardon?--at the best,
      But acquiescence that I take my rest,
      Contented to be clay, while in your heaven
      The sun reserves love for the Spirit-Seven
      Companioning God's throne they lamp before,
      --Leaves earth a mute waste only wandered o'er
      By that pale soft sweet disempassioned moon
      Which smiles me slow forgiveness! Such the boon
      I beg? Nay, dear ...
      Love, the love whole and sole without alloy!"

The action of this soul's tragedy takes place under "the light that
never was on sea or land": it is the tragedy of a soul, but of a
disembodied soul.

_A Forgiveness_ is a drama of this world. It is the legitimate successor
of the monologues of _Men and Women_; it may, indeed, be most precisely
compared with an earlier monologue, _My Last Duchess_; and it is, like
these, the concentrated essence of a complete tragedy. Like all the best
of Browning's poems, it is thrown into a striking situation, and
developed from this central point. It is the story of a love merged in
contempt, quenched in hate, and rekindled in a fatal forgiveness, told
in confession to a monk by the man whom the monk has wronged. The
personage who speaks is one of the most sharply-outlined characters in
Browning: a clear, cold, strong-willed man, implacable in love or hate.
He tells his story in a quiet, measured, utterly unemotional manner,
with reflective interruptions and explanations, the acute analysis of a
merciless intellect; leading gradually up to a crisis only to be matched
by the very finest crises in Browning:--

                                      "Immersed
      In thought so deeply, Father? Sad, perhaps?
      For whose sake, hers or mine or his who wraps
      --Still plain I seem to see!--about his head
      The idle cloak,--about his heart (instead
      Of cuirass) some fond hope he may elude
      My vengeance in the cloister's solitude?
      Hardly, I think! As little helped his brow
      The cloak then, Father--as your grate helps now!"

The poem is by far the greatest thing in the volume; it is, indeed, one
of the very finest examples of Browning's psychological subtlety and
concentrated dramatic power.[52]

The ballad of _Herve Riel_ which has no rival but Tennyson's _Revenge_
among modern sea-ballads, was written at Croisic, 30th September 1867,
and was published in the _Cornhill Magazine_ for March, 1871 in, order
that the L100 which had been offered for it might be sent to the Paris
Relief Fund. It may be named, with the "Ride from Ghent to Aix," as a
proof of how simply and graphically Browning can write if he likes; how
promptly he can stir the blood and thrill the heart. The facts of the
story, telling how, after the battle of the Hogue, a simple Croisic
sailor saved all that was left of the French fleet by guiding the
vessels into the harbour, are given in the Croisic guide-books; and
Browning has followed them in everything but the very effective end:--

      "'Since 'tis ask and have, I may--
          Since the others go ashore--
      Come! A good whole holiday!
          Leave to go and see my wife, whom I call the Belle Aurore!'
      That he asked and that he got,--nothing more."

"Ce brave homme," says the account, "ne demanda pour recompense d'un
service aussi signale, qu'un _conge absolu_ pour rejoindre sa femme,
qu'il nomma la Belle Aurore."

_Cenciaja_, the only blank verse piece in the volume, is of the nature
of a note or appendix to Shelley's "superb achievement" _The Cenci_. It
serves to explain the allusion to the case of Paolo Santa Croce
(_Cenci_, Act V. sc. iv.). Browning obtained the facts from a MS. volume
of memorials of Italian crime, in the possession of Sir John Simeon, who
published it in the series of the Philobiblon Society.[53]

_Filippo Baldinucci on the Privilege of Burial_, a grotesque and
humorously-told "reminiscence of A.D. 1670," is, up to stanza 35, the
versification of an anecdote recorded by Baldinucci, the artist and art
critic (1624-1696), in his History of Painters. The incident with which
it concludes is imaginary.

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 51: The jocose vindictiveness with which Browning returns
again and again to the assault of the bad grammar and worse rhetoric of
Byron's once so much belauded address to the ocean is very amusing. The
above is only one out of four or five instances.]

[Footnote 52: It is worth comparing _A Forgiveness_ with a poem of very
similar motive by Leconte de Lisle: _Le Jugement de Komor_ (_Poemes
Barbares_). Each is a fine example of its author, in just those
qualities for which both poets are eminent: originality and subtlety of
subject, pregnant picturesqueness of phrase and situation, and grimly
tragic power. The contrast no less than the likeness which exists
between them will be evident on a comparison of the two poems.]

[Footnote 53: In reference to the title _Cenciaja_, and the Italian
proverb which follows it, _Ogni cencio vuol entrare in bucato_, Browning
stated, in a letter to Mr. H.B. Forman (printed in his _Shelley_, 1880,
ii. 419), that "'aia' is generally an accumulative yet depreciative
termination: 'Cenciaja'--a bundle of rags--a trifle. The proverb means,
'Every poor creature will be pressing into the company of his betters,'
and I used it to deprecate the notion that I intended anything of the
kind."]


25. THE AGAMEMNON OF AESCHYLUS.

    [Published in October, 1877 (_Poetical Works_, 1889, Vol.
    XIII. pp. 259-357).]

Browning prefaces his transcript of the _Agamemnon_ with a brief
introduction, in which he thus sets forth his theory of translation:--

    "If, because of the immense fame of the following Tragedy, I
    wished to acquaint myself with it, and could only do so by
    the help of a translator, I should require him to be literal
    at every cost save that of absolute violence to our language.
    The use of certain allowable constructions which, happening
    to be out of daily favour, are all the more appropriate to
    archaic workmanship, is no violence: but I would be tolerant
    for once,--in the case of so immensely famous an
    original,--of even a clumsy attempt to furnish me with the
    very turn of each phrase in as Greek a fashion as English
    will bear: while, with respect to amplifications and
    embellishments, anything rather than, with the good farmer,
    experience that most signal of mortifications, 'to gape for
    AEschylus and get Theognis.' I should especially
    decline,--what may appear to brighten up a passage,--the
    employment of a new word for some old one--[Greek: phonos],
    or [Greek: megas], or [Greek: telos], with its congeners,
    recurring four times in three lines.... Further,--if I
    obtained a mere strict bald version of thing by thing, or at
    least word pregnant with thing, I should hardly look for an
    impossible transmission of the reputed magniloquence and
    sonority of the Greek; and this with the less regret,
    inasmuch as there is abundant musicality elsewhere, but
    nowhere else than in his poem the ideas of the poet. And
    lastly, when presented with these ideas I should expect the
    result to prove very hard reading indeed if it were meant to
    resemble AEschylus."

Every condition here laid down has been carried out with unflinching
courage. Browning has rendered word by word and line by line; with,
indeed, some slight inevitable expansion in the rhymed choruses, very
slight, infinitely slighter than every other translator has found
needful. Throughout, there are numberless instances of minute and happy
accuracy of phrase, re-creations of the very thoughts of AEschylus. An
incomparable dexterity is shown in fitting phrase upon phrase, forcing
line to bear the exact weight of line, rendering detail by detail. But
for this very reason, as a consequence of this very virtue, there is no
denying that Browning's version is certainly "very hard reading," so
hard reading that it is sometimes necessary to turn to the Greek in
order to fully understand the English. Browning has anticipated, but not
altogether answered, this objection. For, besides those passages which
in their fidelity to every "minute particular," simply reproduce the
obscurity of the original, there is much that seems either obscure or
harsh, and is so simply because it gives "the turn of each phrase," not
merely "in as Greek a fashion as English will bear," but beyond it:
phrases which are native to Greek, foreign to English. The choruses,
which are attempted in metre as close as English can come to Greek
metre, suggest the force, but not the dignity of the original; and seem
often to be content to drop much of the poem by the way in getting at
"the ideas of the poet." It is a Titan's version of an Olympian, and it
is thus no doubt the scholar rather than the general reader who will
find most to please him in "this attempt to give our language the
similitude of Greek by close and sustained grappling, word to word, with
so sublime and difficult a masterpiece."[54]

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 54: J.A. Symonds, _Academy_, Nov. 10, 1877.]


26. LA SAISIAZ: THE TWO POETS OF CROISIC.

    [Published in May, 1878. _La Saisiaz_ (written November,
    1877), pp. 1-82; _The Two Poets of Croisic_, pp. 83-201.
    (_Poetical Works_, 1889, Vol. XIV. pp. 153-204, 205-279).]

In _La Saisiaz_ Browning reasons of God and the soul, of life here and
of life to come. The poem is addressed to a friend of old date, who died
suddenly while she was staying with Browning and his sister, in the
summer of 1877, at a villa called La Saisiaz (The Sun) in the mountains
near Geneva. The first twenty pages tell the touching story; the rest of
the poem records the argument which it called forth. "Was ending ending
once and always, when you died?" Browning asks himself, and he attempts
to answer the question, not on traditional grounds, or on the authority
of a creed, but by honest reasoning. He assumes two postulates, and two
only, that God exists and that the soul exists; and he proceeds to show,
very forcibly, the unsatisfactory nature of life if consciousness ends
with death, and its completely satisfactory nature if the soul's
existence continues.

                          "Without the want,
      Life, now human, would be brutish: just that hope, however scant,
      Makes the actual life worth leading; take the hope therein away,
      All we have to do is surely not endure another day.
      This life has its hopes for this life, hopes that promise joy:
          life done--
      Out of all the hopes, how many had complete fulfilment? none.
      'But the soul is not the body': and the breath is not the flute;
      Both together make the music: either marred and all is mute."

This hypothesis is purely personal, and as such he holds it. But, to his
own mind at least, he finds that

      "Sorrow did and joy did nowise,--life well weighed--preponderate.
      By necessity ordained thus? I shall bear as best I can;
      By a cause all-good, all-wise, all-potent? No, as I am man!"

Yet, if only the assumption of a future life may be made, he will
thankfully acquiesce in an earthly failure, which will then be only
relative, and the earnest of a heavenly gain. Having arrived at this
point, Browning proceeds to argue out the question yet further, under
the form of a dialogue between "Fancy" (or the soul's instinct) and
"Reason." He here shows that not merely is life explicable only as a
probation, but that probation is only possible under our present
conditions, in our present uncertainty. If it were made certain that
there is a future life in which we shall be punished or rewarded,
according as we do evil or good, we should have no choice of action,
hence no virtue in doing what were so manifestly to our own advantage.
Again, if we were made certain of this future life of higher faculties
and greater happiness, should we hesitate to rush to it at the first
touch of sorrow, before our time? He ends, therefore, with a "hope--no
more than hope, but hope--no less than hope," which amounts practically
to the assurance that, as he puts it in the last line--

      "He at least believed in Soul, was very sure of God!"

_The Two Poets of Croisic_ is a comedy in narrative, dealing mainly with
the true tale of Paul Desforges-Maillard, whose story furnished Piron
with the matter of his _Metromanie_. The first of the "two poets" is one
Rene Gentilhomme, born 1610, once page to the Prince of Conde,
afterwards court-poet to Louis XIII. His story, by an easy transition,
leads into the richer record of Desforges, which Browning gives with not
a few variations, evidently intentional, from the facts of the case.
Paul-Briand Maillard, self-surnamed Desforges, was born at Croisic,
April 24, 1699: he died at the age of seventy-three. His memory has
survived that of better poets on account of the famous hoax which he
played on the Paris of his day, including no less a person than
Voltaire. The first part of the story is told pretty literally in
Browning's pages:--how Desforges, unsuccessful as a poet in his own
person, assumed the title of a woman, and as Mlle. Malcrais de la Vigne
(his verses being copied by an obliging cousin, Mme. Mondoret) obtained
an immediate and astonishing reputation. The sequel is somewhat altered.
Voltaire's revenge when the cheat was discovered, so far from being
prompt and immediate, was treacherously dissimulated, and its
accomplishment deferred for more than one long-subsequent occasion.
Desforges lived to have the last word, in assisting at the first
representation of Piron's _Metromanie_, in which Voltaire's humiliation
and the Croisic poet's clever trick are perpetuated for as long as that
sprightly and popular comedy shall be remembered.

In his graphic and condensed version of the tale, Browning has used a
poet's licence to heighten the effect and increase the piquancy of the
narrative. The poem is written in _ottava rima_, but, very singularly,
there is not one double rhyme from beginning to end. It is difficult to
see why Browning, a finer master of grotesque compound rhymes than
Byron, should have so carefully avoided them in a metre which, as in
Byron's hands, owes no little of its effect to a clever introduction of
such rhymes. The lines (again of set purpose, it is evident) overlap one
another without an end-pause where in Italian it is almost universal,
namely, after the sixth line. The result of the innovation is far from
successful: it destroys the flow of the verse and gives it an air of
abruptness. Of the liveliness, vivacity and pungency of the tale, no
idea can be given by quotation: two of the stanzas in which the moral is
enforced, the two finest, perhaps, in the poem, are, however, severable
from their context:--

      "Who knows most, doubts most; entertaining hope,
        Means recognizing fear; the keener sense
      Of all comprised within our actual scope
        Recoils from aught beyond earth's dim and dense.
      Who, grown familiar with the sky, will grope
        Henceforward among groundlings? That's offence
      Just as indubitably: stars abound
      O'erhead, but then--what flowers made glad the ground!

      So, force is sorrow, and each sorrow, force:
        What then? since Swiftness gives the charioteer
      The palm, his hope be in the vivid horse
        Whose neck God clothed with thunder, not the steer
      Sluggish and safe! Yoke Hatred, Crime, Remorse,
        Despair: but ever 'mid the whirling fear,
      Let, through the tumult, break the poet's face
      Radiant, assured his wild slaves win the race!"

The poem is followed by an exquisite Epilogue, one of the most
delicately graceful and witty and tender of Browning's lyrics. The
briefer Prologue is not less beautiful:--

      "Such a starved bank of moss
        Till, that May-morn,
      Blue ran the flash across:
        Violets were born!

      Sky--what a scowl of cloud
        Till, near and far,
      Ray on ray split the shroud:
        Splendid, a star!

      World--how it walled about
        Life with disgrace
      Till God's own smile came out:
        That was thy face!"


27. DRAMATIC IDYLS.

    [Published in May 1879 (_Poetical Works_, 1889, Vol. XV. pp.
    1-80).]

In the _Dramatic Idyls_ Browning may almost be said to have broken new
ground. His idyls are short poems of passionate action, presenting in a
graphic and concentrated way a single episode or tragic crisis. Not only
by their concreteness and popular effectiveness, their extraordinary
vigour of conception and expression, are they distinguished from much of
Browning's later writing: they have in addition this significant novelty
of interest, that here for the first time Browning has found subjects
for his poetry among the poor, that here for the first time he has
painted, with all his close and imaginative realism, the human comedy of
the lower classes. That he has never done so before, though rather
surprising, comes, I suppose, from his preponderating interest in
intellectual problems, and from the difficulty of finding such among
what Leon Cladel has called _tragiques histoires plebeiennes_. But the
happy instinct has at last come to him, and we are permitted to watch
the humours of that delicious pair of sinners saved, "Publican Black Ned
Bratts and Tabby his big wife too," as a relief to the less pleasant and
profitable spectacle of His Majesty Napoleon III., or of even the two
poets of Croisic. All the poems in the volume (with the exception of a
notable and noble protest against vivisection, in the form of a touching
little true tale of a dog) are connected together by a single motive, on
which every poem plays a new variation. The motto of the book might
be:--

      "There is a tide in the affairs of men,
      Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
      Omitted, all the voyage of his life
      Is bound in shallows and in miseries."

This idea of a turning-point or testing-time in the lives of men is more
or less expressed or implied in very much of Browning's poetry, but
nowhere is it expressed so completely, so concisely, or so
consecutively, as here. In _Martin Relph_ (which "embodies," says Mrs.
Orr, "a vague remembrance of something read by Mr. Browning when he was
himself a boy") we have an instance of the tide "omitted," and a
terrible picture of the remorse which follows. Martin Relph has the
chance presented to him of saving two lives, that of the girl he loves
and of his rival whom she loves. The chance is but of an instant's
duration. He hesitates, and the moment is for ever lost. In that one
moment his true soul, with its instinctive selfishness, has leapt to
light, and the knowledge of it torments him with an inextinguishable
agony. In _Ivan Ivanovitch_ (founded on a popular Russian story of a
woman throwing her children to the wolves to save her own life) we have
a twofold illustration of the theme. The testing-moment comes to the
mother, Louscha, and again to Ivan Ivanovitch. While the woman fails
terribly in her duty, and meets a terrible reward, the man rises to a
strange and awful nobility of action, and "acts for God." _Halbert and
Hob_, a grim little tragedy (suggested by a passage in the Nicomachean
Ethics of Aristotle), presents us with the same idea in a singularly
concrete form. The crisis has a saving effect, but it is an incomplete,
an unwilling or irresistible, act of grace, and it bears but sorry
fruit. In _Ned Bratts_ (suggested by the story of "Old Tod," in Bunyan's
_Life and Death of Mr. Badman_[55]) we have a prompt and quite hurried
taking of the tide: the sudden conversion, repentance, and expiation of
the "worst couple, rogue and quean, unhanged." _Pheidippides_ (the
legend of the runner who brought the news of Marathon to Athens, and
died in the utterance) illustrates the idea in a more obvious but less
individual way.

Perhaps for sheer perfection of art, for fundamental tragedy, for a
quality of compassionate and unflinching imaginative vision, nothing in
the book quite comes up to _Halbert and Hob_. There is hardly in
Browning a more elemental touch than that of: "A boy threw stones: he
picked them up and stored them in his breast." _Martin Relph_, besides
being a fine tale splendidly told, is among the most masterly of all
renderings of remorse, of the terrors and torments of conscience. Every
word is like a drop of agony wrung out of a tortured soul. _Ivan
Ivanovitch_ is, as a narrative, still finer: as a piece of story-telling
Browning has perhaps never excelled it. Nothing could be more graphic
and exciting than the description of the approach of the wolves: the
effective change from iambs to anapaests gives their very motion.

                   "Was that--wind?
    Anyhow, Droug starts, stops, back go his ears, he snuffs,
    Snorts,--never such a snort! then plunges, knows the sough's
    Only the wind: yet, no--our breath goes up too straight!
    Still the low sound,--less low, loud, louder, at a rate
    There's no mistaking more! Shall I lean out--look--learn
    The truth whatever it be? Pad, pad! At last, I turn--
    'Tis the regular pad of the wolves in pursuit of the life in
        the sledge!
    An army they are: close-packed they press like the thrust of a wedge:
    They increase as they hunt: for I see, through the pine-trunks
        ranged each side,
    Slip forth new fiend and fiend, make wider and still more wide
    The four-footed steady advance. The foremost--none may pass:
    They are elders and lead the line, eye and eye--green-glowing brass!
    But a long way distant still. Droug, save us! He does his best:
    Yet they gain on us, gain, till they reach,--one reaches....
        How utter the rest?"

The setting of the story, the vast motionless Russian landscape, the
village life, the men and women, has a singular expressiveness; and the
revelation of the woman's character, the exposure of her culpable
weakness, seen in the very excuses by which she endeavours to justify
herself, is brought about with singularly masterly art. There are
moments of essential drama, not least significantly in the last lines,
above all in those two pregnant words: "_How otherwise_? asked he."

_Ned Bratts_ takes almost the same position among Browning's humorous
poems that _Ivan Ivanovitch_ does among his narratives. It is a whole
comedy in itself. Surroundings and atmosphere are called up with perfect
art and the subtlest sympathy. What opening could be a better
preparation for the heated and grotesque utterances of Ned Bratts than
the wonderful description of the hot day? It serves to put us into
precisely the right mood for seeing and feeling the comic tragedy that
follows. Dickens himself never painted a more riotously realistic scene,
nor delineated a better ruffian than the murderous rascal precariously
converted by Bunyan and his book.

In the midst of these realistic tragedies and comedies, _Pheidippides_,
with its clear Greek outline and charm and heroical grace, stands finely
contrasted. The measure is of Browning's invention, and is finely
appropriate to the character of the poem.

      "So, to this day, when friend meets friend, the word of salute
      Is still 'Rejoice!'--his word which brought rejoicing indeed.
      So is Pheidippides happy for ever,--the noble strong man
      Who could race like a God, bear the face of a God, whom a God
          loved so well
      He saw the land saved he had helped to save, and was suffered to tell
      Such tidings, yet never decline, but, gloriously as he began,
      So to end gloriously--once to shout, thereafter be mute:
      'Athens is saved!' Pheidippides dies in the shout for his meed."

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 55: At a summer Assizes holden at _Hartfort_, while the Judge
was sitting upon the Bench, comes this old _Tod_ into the Court,
cloathed in a green Suit with his Leathern Girdle in his hand, his bosom
open, and all on a dung sweat, as if he had run for his Life; and, being
come in, he spake aloud as follows: _My Lord_, said he, _Here is the
veryest Rogue that breaths upon the face of the earth, ... My Lord,
there has not been a Robbery committed this many years, within so many
miles of this place but I have either been at it or privy to it._

"The Judge thought the fellow was mad, but after some conference with
some of the Justices, they agreed to Indict him; and so they did, of
several felonious Actions; to all of which he heartily confessed Guilty,
and so was hanged with his wife at the same time....

"As for the truth of this Story, the Relator told me that he was at the
same time himself in the Court, and stood within less than two yards of
old _Tod_, when he heard him aloud to utter the words."--Bunyan's _Life
and Death of Mr. Badman_, 1680.]


28. DRAMATIC IDYLS. Second Series.

    [Published in July, 1880. _Poetical Works_, 1889, Vol. XV.
    pp. 81-163.]

The second series of _Dramatic Idyls_ is bound together, like the first,
though somewhat less closely, by a leading idea, which, whether
consciously or not, is hinted at in a pointed little prologue: the idea
of the paradox of human action, and the apparent antagonism between
motive and result. The volume differs considerably from its precursor,
and it contains nothing quite equal to the best of the earlier poems.
There is more variety, perhaps, but the human interest is less intense,
the stories less moving and absorbing. With less humour, there is a much
more pronounced element of the grotesque. And most prominent of all is
that characteristic of Browning which a great critic has called agility
of intellect.

The first poem, _Echetlos_, is full of heroical ardour and firm, manly
vigour of movement. Like _Pheidippides_, it is a legend of Marathon. It
sings of the mysterious helper who appeared to the Greeks, in rustic
garb and armed with a plough.

      "But one man kept no rank and his sole arm plied no spear,
      As a flashing came and went, and a form i' the van, the rear,
      Brightened the battle up, for he blazed now there, now here.

             *       *       *       *       *

      Did the steady phalanx falter? To the rescue, at the need,
      The clown was ploughing Persia, clearing Greek earth of weed,
      As he routed through the Sakian and rooted up the Mede."

After the battle, the man was nowhere to be seen, and inquiry was made
of the oracle.

      "How spake the Oracle? 'Care for no name at all!
      Say but just this: We praise one helpful whom we call
      The Holder of the Ploughshare. The great deed ne'er grows small.'"

With _Echetlos_ may be mentioned the Virgilian legend of _Pan and Luna_,
a piece of graceful fancy, with its exquisite burden, that

      "Verse of five words, each a boon:
      Arcadia, night, a cloud, Pan, and the moon."

_Clive_, the most popular in style, and certainly one of the finest
poems in the volume, is a dramatic monologue very much akin, in subject,
treatment and form, to the narratives in the first series. The story
deals with an episode in the life of Clive, when, as a young man, he
first proved his courage in the face of a bully whom he had caught
cheating at cards. The poem is full of fire and brilliance, and is a
subtle analysis and presentation of the character of Clive. Its
structure is quite in Browning's best manner: a central situation,
illumined by "what double and treble reflection and refraction!" Like
Balzac (whose _Honorine_, for instance, is constructed on precisely
similar lines) Browning often increases the effect of his picture by
setting it in a framework, more or less elaborate, by placing the
central narrative in the midst of another slighter and secondary one,
related to it in some subtle way. The story of _Clive_ obtains emphasis,
and is rendered more impressive, by the lightly but strongly sketched-in
figure of the old veteran who tells the tale. Scarcely anything in the
poem seems to me so fine as this pathetic portrait of the lonely old
man, sitting, like Colonel Newcome, solitary in his house among his
memories, with his boy away: "I and Clive were friends."

The Arabian tale of _Muleykeh_ is the most perfect and pathetic piece in
the volume. It is told in singularly fine verse, and in remarkably
clear, simple, yet elevated style. The end is among the great heroic
things in poetry. Hoseyn, though he has neither herds nor flocks, is the
richest and happiest of men, for he possesses the peerless mare,
Muleykeh the Pearl, whose speed has never been outstripped. Duhl, the
son of Sheyban, who envies Hoseyn and has endeavoured by every means,
but without success, to obtain the mare, determines at last to steal
her. He enters Hoseyn's tent noiselessly by night, saddles Muleykeh, and
gallops away. In an instant Hoseyn is on the back of Buheyseh, the
Pearl's sister, only less fleet than herself, and in pursuit.

      "And Hoseyn--his blood turns flame, he has learned long since
          to ride,
      And Buheyseh does her part,--they gain--they are gaining fast
      On the fugitive pair, and Duhl has Ed-Darraj to cross and quit,
      And to reach the ridge El-Saban,--no safety till that be spied!
      And Buheyseh is, bound by bound, but a horse-length off at last,
      For the Pearl has missed the tap of the heel, the touch of the bit.

      She shortens her stride, she chafes at her rider the strange
          and queer:
      Buheyseh is mad with hope--beat sister she shall and must,
      Though Duhl, of the hand and heel so clumsy, she has to thank.
      She is near now, nose by tail--they are neck by croup--joy! fear!
      What folly makes Hoseyn shout 'Dog Duhl, Damned son of the Dust,
      Touch the right ear and press with your foot my Pearl's left flank!'

      And Duhl was wise at the word, and Muleykeh as prompt perceived
      Who was urging redoubled pace, and to hear him was to obey,
      And a leap indeed gave she, and evanished for evermore.
      And Hoseyn looked one long last look as who, all bereaved,
      Looks, fain to follow the dead so far as the living may:
      Then he turned Buheyseh's neck slow homeward, weeping sore.

      And, lo, in the sunrise, still sat Hoseyn upon the ground
      Weeping: and neighbours came, the tribesmen of Benu-Asad
      In the vale of green Er-Rass, and they questioned him of his grief;
      And he told them from first to last how, serpent-like, Duhl had wound
      His way to the nest, and how Duhl rode like an ape, so bad!
      And how Buheyseh did wonders, yet Pearl remained with the thief.

      And they jeered him, one and all: 'Poor Hoseyn is crazed past hope!
      How else had he wrought himself his ruin, in fortune's spite!
      To have simply held the tongue were a task for a boy or girl,
      And here were Muleykeh again, the eyed like an antelope,
      The child of his heart by day, the wife of his breast by night!'
      'And the beaten in speed!' wept Hoseyn: 'You never have loved
          my Pearl!'"

There remain _Pietro of Abano_[56] and _Doctor_ ----. The latter, a
Talmudic legend, is probably the poorest of Browning's poems: it is
rather farce than humour. The former is a fine piece of genuine
grotesque art, full of pungent humour, acuteness, worldly wisdom, and
clever phrasing and rhyming. It is written in an elaborate comic metre
of Browning's invention, indicated at the end by eight bars of music.
The poem is one of the most characteristic examples of that "Teutonic
grotesque, which lies in the expression of deep ideas through fantastic
forms," a grotesque of noble and cultivated art, of which Browning is as
great a master in poetry as Carlyle in prose.

The volume ends with a charming lyrical epilogue, not without its
personal bearing, though it has sometimes, very unfairly, been
represented as a piece of mere self-gratulation.

      "Thus I wrote in London, musing on my betters,"

Browning tells us in some album-verses which have found their way into
print, and he naturally complains that what he wrote of Dante should be
foisted upon himself. Indeed, he has quite as much the characteristics
of the "spontaneous" as of the "brooding" poet of his parable.

      "'Touch him ne'er so lightly, into song he broke:
      Soil so quick-receptive,--not one feather-seed,
      Not one flower-dust fell, but straight its fall awoke
      Vitalising virtue: song would song succeed
      Sudden as spontaneous--prove a poet soul!'
                                      Indeed?
      Rock's the song-soil rather, surface hard and bare:
      Sun and dew their mildness, storm and frost their rage
      Vainly both expend,--few flowers awaken there:
      Quiet in its cleft broods--what the after age
      Knows and names a pine, a nation's heritage."

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 56: Pietro of Abano was an Italian physician, alchemist and
philosopher, born at Abano, near Padua, in 1246, died about 1320. He had
the reputation of a wizard, and was imprisoned by the Inquisition. He
was condemned to be burnt; he died in prison, and his dead body was
ordered to be burnt; but as that had been taken away by his friends, the
Inquisition burnt his portrait. His reputed antipathy to milk and
cheese, with its natural analogy, suggested the motive of the poem. The
book referred to in it is his principal work, _Conciliator
differentiarum quae inter philosophos et medicos versantur_. Mantua,
1472.]


29. JOCOSERIA.

    [Published in March, 1883 (_Poetical Works_, 1889, pp.
    165-266).]

The name _Jocoseria_ (mentioned by Browning in its original connection,
Melander's "Jocoseria," in the notes to _Paracelsus_) expresses very
cleverly the particular nature of the volume, in its close union and
fusion of grave and gay. The book is not, as a whole, so intense or so
brilliant as the first and second series of _Dramatic Idyls_, but one
or two of the shorter poems are, in their way, hardly excelled by
anything in either volume.

The longest poem, though by no means the best is the imaginary
Rabbinical legend of _Jochanan Hakkadosh_ (John the Saint), which
Browning, with a touch of learned quizzicalness, states in his note[57]
"to have no better authority than that of the treatise, existing
dispersedly, in fragments of Rabbinical writing, [the name, 'Collection
of many Lies,' follows in Hebrew,] from which I might have helped myself
more liberally." It is written in _terza rima_, like _Doctor_ ---- in
the second series of _Dramatic Idyls_, and is supposed to be told by
"the Jew aforesaid" in order to "make amends and justify our Mishna."
That it may to some extent do, but it seems to me that its effectiveness
as an example of the serio-grotesque style would have been heightened by
some metre less sober and placid than the _terza rima_; by rhythm and
rhyme as audacious and characteristic as the rhythm and the rhymes of
_Pietro of Abano_, for instance.

_Ixion_, a far finer poem than _Jochanan Hakkadosh_, is, no doubt, an
equally sincere utterance of personal belief. The poem is a monologue,
in unrhymed hexameters and pentameters. It presents the old myth in a
new light. Ixion is represented as the Prometheus of man's righteous
revolt against the tyranny of an unjust God. The poem is conceived in a
spirit of intense earnestness, and worked out with great vigour and
splendour of diction. For passion and eloquence nothing in it surpasses
the finely culminating last lines, of which I can but tear a few, only
too barbarously, from their context:--

      "What is the influence, high o'er Hell, that turns to a rapture
        Pain--and despair's murk mists blends in a rainbow of hope?
      What is beyond the obstruction, stage by stage tho' it baffle?
        Back must I fall, confess 'Ever the weakness I fled'?
      No, for beyond, far, far is a Purity all-unobstructed!
        Zeus was Zeus--not Man: wrecked by his weakness I whirl.
      Out of the wreck I rise--past Zeus to the Potency o'er him!
        I--to have hailed him my friend! I--to have clasped her--my love!
      Pallid birth of my pain,--where light, where light is, aspiring
        Thither I rise, whilst thou--Zeus, keep the godship and sink!"

While _Ixion_ is the noblest and most heroically passionate of these
poems, _Adam, Lilith, and Eve_, is the most pregnant and suggestive.
Browning has rarely excelled it in certain qualities, hardly found in
any other poet, of pungency, novelty, and penetrating bitter-sweetness.

      "ADAM, LILITH, AND EVE.

      One day it thundered and lightened.
      Two women, fairly frightened,
      Sank to their knees, transformed, transfixed,
      At the feet of the man who sat betwixt;
      And 'Mercy!' cried each, 'If I tell the truth
      Of a passage in my youth!'

      Said This: 'Do you mind the morning
      I met your love with scorning?
      As the worst of the venom left my lips,
      I thought, "If, despite this lie, he strips
      The mask from my soul with a kiss--I crawl,
      His slave,--soul, body and all!"'

      Said That: 'We stood to be married;
      The priest, or someone, tarried;
      "If Paradise-door prove locked?" smiled you.
      I thought, as I nodded, smiling too,
      "Did one, that's away, arrive--nor late
      Nor soon should unlock Hell's gate!"'

      It ceased to lighten and thunder.
      Up started both in wonder,
      Looked round, and saw that the sky was clear,
      Then laughed, 'Confess you believed us, Dear!'
      'I saw through the joke!' the man replied
      They seated themselves beside."

Much of the same power is shown in _Cristina and Monaldeschi_,[58] a
dramatic monologue with all the old vigour of Browning's early work of
that kind; not only keen and subtle, but charged with a sharp electrical
quality, which from time to time darts out with a sudden and unexpected
shock. The style and tone are infused with a peculiar fierce irony. The
metre is rapid and stinging, like the words of the vindictive queen as
she hurries her treacherous victim into the hands of the assassins.
There is dramatic invention in the very cadence:

      "Ah, but how each loved each, Marquis!
          Here's the gallery they trod
          Both together, he her god,
          She his idol,--lend your rod,
      Chamberlain!--ay, there they are--'_Quis
          Separabit_?'--plain those two
          Touching words come into view,
          Apposite for me and you!"

_Mary Wollstonecraft and Fuseli_, a dramatic lyric of three verses, the
pathetic utterance of an unloved loving woman's heart, is not dissimilar
in style to _Cristina and Monaldeschi_. It would be unjust to Fuseli to
name him Bottom, but only fair to Mary Wollstonecraft to call her
Titania.

Of the remaining poems, _Donald_ ("a true story, repeated to Mr.
Browning by one who had heard it from its hero, the so-called Donald,
himself,"[59]) is a ballad, not at all in Browning's best style, but
certainly vigorous and striking, directed against the brutalising
influences of sport, as _Tray_ was directed against the infinitely worse
brutalities of ignorant and indiscriminate vivisection. Its noble human
sympathies and popular style appeal to a ready audience. _Solomon and
Balkis_, though by no means among the best of Browning's comic poems, is
a witty enough little tale from that inexhaustible repository, the
Talmud. It is a dialogue between Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, not
"solely" nor at all "of things sublime." _Pambo_ is a bit of pointed
fun, a mock-modest apology to critics. Finally, besides a musical little
love-song named _Wanting is--What?_ we have in _Never the Time and the
Place_ one of the great love-songs, not easily to be excelled, even in
the work of Browning, for strength of spiritual passion and intensity of
exultant and certain hope.


      "NEVER THE TIME AND THE PLACE.

      Never the time and the place
        And the loved one all together!
      This path--how soft to pace!
        This May--what magic weather!
      Where is the loved one's face?
      In a dream that loved one's face meets mine,
        But the house is narrow, the place is bleak
      Where, outside, rain and wind combine
        With a furtive ear, if I strive to speak,
        With a hostile eye at my flushing cheek,
      With a malice that marks each word, each sign!
      O enemy sly and serpentine,
        Uncoil thee from the waking man!
          Do I hold the Past
          Thus firm and fast
        Yet doubt if the Future hold I can?
        This path so soft to pace shall lead
        Thro' the magic of May to herself indeed!
        Or narrow if needs the house must be,
        Outside are the storms and strangers: we--
        Oh, close, safe, warm, sleep I and she,
        --I and she!"

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 57: This note contains three burlesque sonnets whose chief
interest is, that they are, with the exception of the unclaimed sonnet
printed in the _Monthly Repository_ in 1834, the first sonnets ever
published by Browning.]

[Footnote 58: One can scarcely read this poem without recalling the
superb and not unsimilar episode in prose of another "great dramatic
poet," Landor's Imaginary Conversation between the Empress Catherine and
Princess Dashkof.]

[Footnote 59: Mrs. Orr, _Handbook_, p. 313.]


30. FERISHTAH'S FANCIES.

    [Published in November, 1884 (_Poetical Works_, 1898, Vol.
    XVI. pp. 1-92).]

_Ferishtah's Fancies_ consists of twelve sections, each an argument in
an allegory, Persian by presentment, modern or universal in
intention.[60] Lightly laid in between the sections, like flowers
between the leaves, are twelve lyrics, mostly love songs addressed to a
beloved memory, each lyric having a close affinity with the preceding
"Fancy." A humorous lyrical prologue, and a passionate lyrical epilogue,
complete the work. We learn from Mrs. Orr, that

    "The idea of _Ferishtah's Fancies_ grew out of a fable by
    Pilpay, which Mr. Browning read when a boy. He ... put this
    into verse; and it then occurred to him to make the poem the
    beginning of a series, in which the Dervish who is first
    introduced as a learner should reappear in the character of a
    teacher. Ferishtah's 'fancies' are the familiar illustrations
    by which his teachings are enforced."[61]

The book is Browning's _West-Eastern Divan_, and it is written at nearly
the same age as Goethe's. But, though there is a good deal of local
colour in the setting, no attempt, as the motto warns us, is made to
reproduce Eastern thought. The "Persian garments" are used for a
disguise, not as a habit; perhaps for the very reason that the thoughts
they drape are of such intense personal sincerity. The drapery, however,
is perfectly transparent, and one may read "Robert Browning" for
"Dervish Ferishtah" _passim_.

The first two fancies (_The Eagle_ and _The Melon-Seller_) give the
lessons which Ferishtah learnt, and which determined him to become a
Dervish: all the rest are his own lessons to others. These deal
severally with faith (_Shah Abbas_), prayer (_The Family_), the
Incarnation (_The Sun_), the meaning of evil and of pain (_Mihrab
Shah_), punishment present and future (_A Camel-Driver_), asceticism
(_Two Camels_), gratefulness to God for small benefits (_Cherries_), the
direct personal relation existing between man and God (_Plot-Culture_),
the uncertain value of knowledge contrasted with the sure gain of love
(_A Pillar at Sebzevah_), and, finally, in _A Bean-Stripe: also Apple
Eating_, the problem of life: is it more good than evil, or more evil
than good? The work is a serious attempt to grapple with these great
questions, and is as important on its ethical as on its artistic side.
Each argument is conveyed by means of a parable, often brilliant, often
quaint, always striking and serviceable, and always expressed in
scrupulously clear and simple language. The teaching, put more plainly
and definitely, perhaps, with less intellectual disguise than usual, is
the old unconquered optimism which, in Browning, is so unmistakably a
matter of temperament.

The most purely delightful poetry in the volume will be found in the
delicate and musical love-songs which brighten its pages. They are
snatches of spontaneous and exquisite song, bird-notes seldom heard
except from the lips of youth. Perhaps the most perfect is the first.

      "Round us the wild creatures, overhead the trees,
      Underfoot the moss-tracks,--life and love with these!
      I to wear a fawn-skin, thou to dress in flowers:
      All the long lone Summer-day, that greenwood life of ours!

      Rich-pavilioned, rather,--still the world without,--
      Inside--gold-roofed silk-walled silence round about!
      Queen it thou in purple,--I, at watch and ward
      Couched beneath the columns, gaze, thy slave, love's guard!

      So, for us no world? Let throngs press thee to me!
      Up and down amid men, heart by heart fare we!
      Welcome squalid vesture, harsh voice, hateful face!
      God is soul, souls I and thou: with souls should souls have place."

"With souls should souls have place," is, with Browning, the condensed
expression of an experience, a philosophy, and an art. Like the lovers
of his lyric, he has renounced the selfish serenities of wild-wood and
dream-palace; he has gone up and down among men, listening to that human
music, and observing that human or divine comedy. He has sung what he
has heard, and he has painted what he has seen. If it should be asked
whether such work will live, there can be only one answer, and he has
already given it:

                                  "It lives,
      If precious be the soul of man to man."

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 60: This is emphasized by the ingenious motto from _King
Lear_: "You, Sir, I entertain you for one of my hundred; only, I do not
like the fashion of your garments: you will say, they are Persian; but
let them be changed."]

[Footnote 61: _Handbook_, p. 321.]


31. PARLEYINGS WITH CERTAIN PEOPLE OF IMPORTANCE IN THEIR DAY.

    [Published in January 1887. _Poetical Works_, 1889, Vol.
    XVI., pp. 93-275.]

The method of the _Parleying_ is something of a new departure, and at
the same time something of a reversion. It is a reversion towards the
dramatic form of the monologue; but it is a new departure owing to the
precise form assumed, that of a "parleying" or colloquy of the author
with his characters. The persons with whom Browning parleys are
representative men selected from the England, Holland, and Italy of the
late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. The parleying with
_Bernard de Mandeville_ (born at Dort, in Holland, 1670; died in London,
1733; author of _The Fable of the Bees, or Private Vices, Public
Benefits_) takes up the optimistic arguments already developed in
_Ferishtah's Fancies_ and elsewhere, and preaches, through the dubious
medium of the enigmatic fabulist, trust in the ordering of the world,
confidence in discerning a "soul of goodness in things evil." _Daniel
Bartoli_ ("a learned and ingenius writer," born at Florence, 1608; died
at Rome, 1685; the historian of the Order of Jesuits) serves to point a
moral against himself, in the contrast between the pale ineffectual
saints of his legendary record and the practically saint-like heroine of
a true tale recounted by Browning, the graphic and brilliant story of
the duke and the druggist's daughter. The parleying with _Christopher
Smart_ (the author of the _Song to David_, born at Shipborne, in Kent,
1722; died in the King's Bench, 1770) is a penetrating and
characteristic study in one of the great poetic problems of the
eighteenth century, the problem of a "void and null" verse-writer who,
at one moment only of his life, sang, as Browning reminds him,

      "A song where flute-breath silvers trumpet-clang,
      And stations you for once on either hand
      With Milton and with Keats."

_George Bubb Dodington_ (Lord Melcombe, born 1691; died 1762) stands as
type of the dishonest politician, and in the course of a colloquy, which
is really a piece of sardonic irony long drawn out, a mock serious essay
in the way of a Superior Rogues' Guide or Instructions for Knaves,
receives at once castigation and instruction. The parleying with
_Francis Furini_ (born at Florence, 1600; died 1649) deals with its hero
as a man, as artist and as priest; it contains some of Browning's
noblest writing on art; and it touches on current and, indeed, continual
controversies in its splendidly vigorous onslaught on the decriers of
that supreme art which aims at painting men and women as God made them.
_Gerard de Lairesse_ (born at Liege, in Flanders, 1640; died at
Amsterdam 1711; famed not only for his pictures, but for his _Treatise
on the Art of Painting_, composed after he had become blind) gives his
name to a discussion on the artistic interpretation of nature, its
change and advancement, and the deeper and truer vision which has
displaced the mythological fancies of earlier painters and poets. The
parleying with _Charles Avison_ (born at Newcastle, 1710; died there,
1770), the more than half forgotten organist-composer, embodies an
inquiry, critical or speculative, into the position and function of
music. All these poems are written in decasyllabic rhymed verse, with
varied arrangement of the rhymes. They are introduced by a dialogue
between Apollo and the Fates, and concluded by another between John Fust
and his friends, both written in lyrical measures, both uniting deep
seriousness of intention with capricious humour of form; the one wild
and stormy as the great "Dance of Furies" in Gluck's _Orfeo_; the other
quaint and grimly and sublimely grotesque as an old German print.
_Gerard de Lairesse_ contains a charming little "Spring Song" of three
stanzas; and _Charles Avison_ a sounding train-bands' chorus, written to
the air of one of Avison's marches.

The volume as a whole is full of weight, brilliance, and energy; and it
is not less notable for its fineness of versification, its splendour of
sound and colour, than for its depth and acuteness of thought and keen
grasp of intricate argument. Indeed, the quality which more than any
other distinguishes it from Browning's later work is the careful
writing of the verse, and the elaborate beauty of certain passages. Much
of Browning's later work would be ill represented by a selection of the
"purple patches." His strength has always lain, but of late has lain
much more exclusively, in the _ensemble_. Here, however, there is not
merely one passage of more than a hundred and fifty lines, the like of
which (I do not say in every sense the equal, but certainly the like of
which) we must go back to _Sordello_ or to _Paracelsus_ to find; but,
again and again, wherever we turn, we meet with more than usually fine
and impressive passages, single lines of more than usually exquisite
quality. The glory of the whole collection is certainly the "Walk," or
description, in rivalry with Gerard de Lairesse, of a whole day's
changes, from sunrise to sunset. To equal it in its own way, we must
look a long way back in our Browning, and nowhere out of Browning. Where
all is good, any preference must seem partial; but perhaps nothing in it
is finer than this picture of morning.

      "But morning's laugh sets all the crags alight
      Above the baffled tempest: tree and tree
      Stir themselves from the stupor of the night
      And every strangled branch resumes its right
      To breathe, shakes loose dark's clinging dregs, waves free
      In dripping glory. Prone the runnels plunge,
      While earth, distent with moisture like a sponge,
      Smokes up, and leaves each plant its gem to see,
      Each grass-blade's glory-glitter. Had I known
      The torrent now turned river?--masterful
      Making its rush o'er tumbled ravage--stone
      And stub which barred the froths and foams: no bull
      Ever broke bounds in formidable sport
      More overwhelmingly, till lo, the spasm
      Sets him to dare that last mad leap: report
      Who may--his fortunes in the deathly chasm
      That swallows him in silence! Rather turn
      Whither, upon the upland, pedestalled
      Into the broad day-splendour, whom discern
      These eyes but thee, supreme one, rightly called
      Moon-maid in heaven above and, here below,
      Earth's huntress-queen? I note the garb succinct
      Saving from smirch that purity of snow
      From breast to knee--snow's self with just the tint
      Of the apple-blossom's heart-blush. Ah, the bow
      Slack-strung her fingers grasp, where, ivory-linked
      Horn curving blends with horn, a moonlike pair
      Which mimic the brow's crescent sparkling so--
      As if a star's live restless fragment winked
      Proud yet repugnant, captive in such hair!
      What hope along the hillside, what far bliss
      Lets the crisp hair-plaits fall so low they kiss
      Those lucid shoulders? Must a morn so blithe
      Needs have its sorrow when the twang and hiss
      Tell that from out thy sheaf one shaft makes writhe
      Its victim, thou unerring Artemis?
      Why did the chamois stand so fair a mark,
      Arrested by the novel shape he dreamed
      Was bred of liquid marble in the dark
      Depths of the mountain's womb which ever teemed
      With novel births of wonder? Not one spark
      Of pity in that steel-grey glance which gleamed
      At the poor hoof's protesting as it stamped
      Idly the granite? Let me glide unseen
      From thy proud presence: well may'st thou be queen
      Of all those strange and sudden deaths which damped
      So oft Love's torch and Hymen's taper lit
      For happy marriage till the maidens paled
      And perished on the temple-step, assailed
      By--what except to envy must man's wit
      Impute that sure implacable release
      Of life from warmth and joy? But death means peace."


32. ASOLANDO: FANCIES AND FACTS.

    [Dated 1890, but published December 12, 1889. _Poetical
    Works_, 1889, Vol. XVII., pp. iv., 131.]

_Asolando_ (a name taken from the invented verb _Asolare_, "to disport
in the open air") was published on the day of Browning's death. He died
in Venice, and his body was brought to England, and buried in
Westminster Abbey on the last day of the year. The Abbey was invisible
in the fog, and, inside, dim yellow fog filled all the roof, above the
gas and the candles. The coffin, carried high, came into the church to
the sound of processional music, and as one waited near the grave one
saw the coffin and the wreaths on it, over the heads of the people, and
heard, in Dr. Bridge's setting, the words: "He giveth his beloved
sleep."

Reading _Asolando_ once more, and remembering that coffin one had looked
down upon in the Abbey, only then quite feeling that all was indeed
over, it is perhaps natural that the book should come to seem almost
consciously testamentary, as if certain things in it had been really
meant for a final leave-taking. The Epilogue is a clear, brave
looking-forward to death, as to an event now close at hand, and imagined
as actually accomplished. It breaks through for once, as if at last the
occasion demanded it, a reticence never thus broken through before,
claiming, with a supreme self-confidence, calmly, as an acknowledged
right, the "Well done" of the faithful servant at the end of the long
day's labour. In _Reverie_, in _Rephan_, and in other poems, the
teachings of a lifetime are enforced with a final emphasis, there is
the same joyous readiness to "aspire yet never attain;" the same delight
in the beauty and strangeness of life, in the "wild joy of living," in
woman, in art, in scholarship; and in _Rosny_ we have the vision of a
hero dead on the field of victory, with the comment, "That is best."

To those who value Browning, not as the poet of metaphysics, but as the
poet of life, his last book will be singularly welcome. Something like
metaphysics we find, indeed, but humanised, made poetry, in the blank
verse of _Development_, the lyrical verse of the _Prologue_, and the
third of the _Bad Dreams_, with their subtle comments and surmises on
the relations of art with nature, of nature with truth. But it is life
itself, a final flame, perhaps mortally bright, that burns and shines in
the youngest of Browning's books. The book will be not less welcome to
those who feel that the finest poetic work is usually to be found in
short pieces, and that even _The Ring and the Book_ would scarcely be an
equivalent for the fifty _Men and Women_ of those two incomparable
volumes of 1855. Nor is _Asolando_ without a further attractiveness to
those who demand in poetry a certain fleeting and evanescent grace.

      "Car nous voulons la Nuance encor,
      Pas la Couleur, rien que la Nuance,"

as Paul Verlaine says, somewhat exclusively, in his poetical confession
of faith. It is, indeed, _la Nuance_, the last fine shade, that Browning
has captured and fixed for us in those lovely love-poems, _Summum
Bonum_, _Poetics_, _a Pearl, a Girl_, and the others, so young-hearted,
so joyous and buoyant; and in the woody piping of _Flute Music, with an
Accompaniment_. Simple and eager in _Dubiety_, daintily, prettily
pathetic in _Humility_, more intense in _Speculative_, in the fourteen
lines called _Now_, the passion of the situation leaps like a cry from
the heart, and one may say that the poem is, rather than renders, the
very fever of the supreme moment, "the moment eternal."

                                "Now.

      Out of your whole life give but a moment:
      All of your life that has gone before,
      All to come after it,--so you ignore,
      So you make perfect the present,--condense,
      In a rapture of rage, for perfection's endowment,
      Thought and feeling and soul and sense--
      Merged in a moment which gives me at last
      You around me for once, you beneath me, above me--
      Me--sure that despite of time future, time past,--
      This tick of our life-time's one moment you love me!
      How long such suspension may linger? Ah, Sweet--
      The moment eternal--just that and no more--
      When ecstasy's utmost we clutch at the core,
      While cheeks burn, arms open, eyes shut and lips meet!"

Here the whole situation is merged in the single cry, the joy,
"unbodied" and "embodied," of any, of every lover; in several of the
poems a more developed story is told or indicated. One of the finest
pieces in the volume is the brief dramatic monologue called
_Inapprehensiveness_, which condenses a whole tragedy into its
thirty-two lines, in the succinct, suggestive manner of such poems as
_My Last Duchess_. Only Heine, Browning, and George Meredith in _Modern
Love_, each in his entirely individual way, have succeeded in dealing,
in a tone of what I may call sympathetic irony, with the unheroic
complications of modern life; so full of poetic matter really, but of
matter so difficult to handle. The poem is a mere incident, such as
happens every day: we are permitted to overhear a scrap of trivial
conversation; but this very triviality does but deepen the effect of
what we surmise, a dark obstruction, underneath the "babbling runnel" of
light talk. A study not entirely dissimilar, though, as its name warns
us, more difficult to grasp, is the fourth of the _Bad Dreams_: how
fine, how impressive, in its dream-distorted picture of a man's remorse
for the love he has despised or neglected till death, coming in, makes
love and repentance alike too late! With these may be named that other
electric little poem, _Which?_ a study in love's casuistries, reminding
one slightly of the finest of all Browning's studies in that kind,
_Adam, Lilith, and Eve_.

It is in these small poems, dealing varyingly with various phases of
love, that the finest, the rarest, work in the volume is to be found.
Such a poem as _Imperante Augusto natus est_ (strong, impressive,
effective as it is) cannot but challenge comparison with what is
incomparable, the dramatic monologues of _Men and Women_, and in
particular with the _Epistle of Karshish_. In _Beatrice Signorini_ we
have one of the old studies in lovers' casuistries; and it is told with
gusto, but is after all scarcely more than its last line claims for it:
"The pretty incident I put in rhyme." In the _Ponte dell' Angela,
Venice_, we find one of the old grotesques, but more loosely "hitched
into rhyme" (it is his own word) than the better among those poems which
it most resembles. But there is something not precisely similar to
anything that had gone before in the dainty simplicity, the frank,
beautiful fervour, of such lyrics as _Summum Bonum_, in which exquisite
expression is given to the merely normal moods of ordinary affection. In
most of Browning's love poems the emotion is complex, the situation more
or less exceptional. It is to this that they owe their singular,
penetrating quality of charm. But there is a charm of another kind, and
a more generally appreciated one,

            "that commonplace
      Perfection of honest grace,"

which lies in the expression of feelings common to everyone, feelings
which everyone can without difficulty make or imagine his own. In the
lyrics to which I am referring, Browning has spoken straight out, in
just this simple, direct way, and with a delicate grace and smoothness
of rhythm not always to be met with in his later work. Here is a poem
called _Speculative_:

      "Others may need new life in Heaven--
        Man, Nature, Art--made new, assume!
      Man with new mind old sense to leaven,
        Nature--new light to clear old gloom,
      Art that breaks bounds, gets soaring-room.

      I shall pray: 'Fugitive as precious--
        Minutes which passed--return, remain!
      Let earth's old life once more enmesh us,
        You with old pleasure, me--old pain,
      So we but meet nor part again.'"

How hauntingly does that give voice to the instinctive, the universal
feeling! the lover's intensity of desire for the loved and lost one, for
herself, the "little human woman full of sin," for herself, unchanged,
unglorified, as she was on earth, not as she may be in a vague heaven.
To the lover in _Summum Bonum_ all the delight of life has been
granted; it lies in "the kiss of one girl," and that has been his. In
the delicious little poem called _Humility_, the lover is content in
being "proudly less," a thankful pensioner on the crumbs of love's
feast, laid for another. In _White Witchcraft_ love has outlived injury;
in the first of the _Bad Dreams_ it has survived even heart-break.

      "Last night I saw you in my sleep:
        And how your charm of face was changed!
      I asked 'Some love, some faith you keep?'
        You answered, 'Faith gone, love estranged.'

      Whereat I woke--a twofold bliss:
        Waking was one, but next there came
      This other: 'Though I felt, for this,
        My heart break, I loved on the same.'"

Not subtlety, but simplicity, a simplicity pungent as only Browning
could make it, is the characteristic of most of the best work in this
last volume of a poet preeminently subtle. This characteristic of
simplicity is seen equally in the love-poems and in the poems of satire,
in the ballads and in the narrative pieces, and notably in the story of
_The Pope and the Net_, an anecdote in verse, told with the frank relish
of the thing, and without the least attempt to tease a moral out of it.

There are other light ballads, as different in merit as _Muckle-mouth
Meg_ on the one hand and _The Cardinal and the Dog_ and _The Bean-Feast_
on the other, with snatches of moralising story, as cutting as _Arcades
Ambo_, which is a last word written for love of beasts, and as stinging
as _The Lady and the Painter_, which is a last word written for love of
birds and of the beauty of nakedness. One among these poems, _The
Cardinal and the Dog_, indistinguishable in style from the others, was
written fifty years earlier. It is as if the poet, taking leave of that
"British public" which had "loved him not," and to whose caprices he had
never condescended, was, after all, anxious to "part friends." The
result may be said, in a measure, to have been attained.

So far I wrote in 1889, when Browning was only just dead, and I went on,
in words which I keep for their significance to-day, because time has
already brought in its revenges, and Browning has conquered. That
Browning, I said then, could ever become a popular poet, in the sense in
which Tennyson is popular, must be seen by everyone to be an
impossibility. His poetry is obviously written for his own pleasure,
without reference to the tastes of the bulk of readers. The very titles
of his poems, the barest outline of their prevailing subjects, can but
terrify or bewilder an easy-going public, which prefers to take its
verse somnolently, at the season of the day when the newspaper is too
substantial, too exciting. To appreciate Browning you must read with
your eyes wide open. His poetry is rarely obscure, but it is often hard.
It deals by preference with hard matter, with "men and the ideas of
men," with life and thought. Other poets before him have written with
equally independent aims; but had Milton, had Wordsworth, a larger and
more admiring audience in his own day? If the audience of Milton and of
Wordsworth has widened, it would be the merest paradox to speak of
either Milton or Wordsworth as a popular poet. By this time, every one
at least knows them by name, though it would be a little unkind to
consider too curiously how large a proportion of the people who know
them by name have read many consecutive lines of _Paradise Lost_ or _The
Excursion_. But to be so generally known by name is something, and it
has not yet fallen to the lot of Browning. "Browning is dead," said a
friend of mine, a hunting man, to another hunting man, a friend of his.
"Dear me, is he?" said the other doubtfully; "did he 'come out' your
way?" By the time Browning has been dead as long as Wordsworth, I do not
think anyone will be found to make these remarks. Death, not only from
the Christian standpoint, is the necessary pathway to immortality. As it
is, Browning's fame has been steadily increasing, at first slowly
enough, latterly with even a certain rapidity. From the first he has had
the exceptional admiration of those whose admiration is alone really
significant, whose applause can alone be really grateful to a
self-respecting writer. No poet of our day, no poet, perhaps, of any
day, has been more secure in the admiring fellowship of his comrades in
letters. And of all the poets of our day, it is he whose influence seems
to be most vital at the moment, most pregnant for the future. For the
time, he has also an actual sort of church of his own. The churches
pass, with the passing away of the worshippers; but the spirit remains,
and must remain if it has once been so vivid to men, if it has once been
a refuge, a promise of strength, a gift of consolation. And there has
been all this, over and above its supreme poetic quality, in the vast
and various work, Shakesperean in breadth, Shakesperean in penetration,
of the poet whose last words, the appropriate epilogue of a lifetime,
were these:

      "At the midnight, in the silence of the sleep-time,
        When you set your fancies free,
      Will they pass to where--by death, fools think, imprisoned--
        Low he lies who once so loved you, whom you loved so,
                    --Pity me?

      Oh to love so, be so loved, yet so mistaken!
        What had I on earth to do
      With the slothful, with the mawkish, the unmanly?
        Like the aimless, helpless, hopeless, did I drivel
                    --Being--who?

      One who never turned his back but marched breast forward,
        Never doubted clouds would break,
      Never dreamed, though right were worsted, wrong would triumph,
        Held we fall to rise, are baffled to fight better,
                     Sleep to wake.

      No, at noonday in the bustle of man's work-time
        Greet the unseen with a cheer!
      Bid him forward, breast and back as either should be,
        'Strive and thrive!' cry 'Speed,--fight on, fare ever
                     There as here!'"




APPENDIX

I

A BIBLIOGRAPHY OF ROBERT BROWNING


The following list of the published writings of Robert Browning, in the
order of their publication, has been compiled mainly from Dr.
Furnivall's very complete and serviceable Browning Bibliography,
contained in the first part of the Browning Society's Papers (pp.
21-71). Volumes of "Selections" are not noticed in this list: there have
been many in England, some in Germany, and in the Tauchnitz Collection,
and a large number in America, where an edition of the complete works
was first published, in seven volumes, by Messrs. Houghton, Mifflin &
Co., Boston.

1. PAULINE: a Fragment of a Confession. London: Saunders and Otley,
Conduit Street. 1833, pp. 71.

2. PARACELSUS. By Robert Browning. London. Published by Effingham
Wilson, Royal Exchange. MDCCCXXXV., pp. xi., 216.

3. Five Poems contributed to _The Monthly Repository_ (edited by W.J.
Fox), 1834-6; all signed "Z."--I. Sonnet ("Eyes, calm beside thee, Lady,
couldst thou know!"), Vol. VIII., New Series, 1834, p. 712. Not
reprinted. II. The King--(Vol. IX., New Series, pp. 707-8). Reprinted,
with six fresh lines, and revised throughout, in _Pippa Passes_ (1841),
where it is Pippa's song in Part III.-III., IV. Porphyria and Johannes
Agricola. (Vol. X., pp. 43-6.) Reprinted in _Dramatic Lyrics_ (1842)
under the title of _Madhouse Cells_.--V. Lines. (Vol. X., pp. 270-1.)
Reprinted, revised, in _Dramatis Personae_ (1864) as the first six
stanzas of sec. VI. of _James Lee_.

4. STRAFFORD: an Historical Tragedy. By Robert Browning, Author of
"Paracelsus." London: Printed for Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, Green, and
Longman, Paternoster Row. 1837, pp. vi., 131.

5. SORDELLO. By Robert Browning. London: Edward Moxon, Dover Street.
MDCCCXL., pp. iv., 253.

6. BELLS AND POMEGRANATES: No. I.--PIPPA PASSES. By Robert Browning,
Author of "Paracelsus." London: Edward Moxon, Dover Street. MDCCCXLI.,
pp. 16. (Price 6_d_., sewed.)

7. BELLS AND POMEGRANATES: No. II.--KING VICTOR AND KING CHARLES. By
Robert Browning, Author of "Paracelsus." London: Edward Moxon, Dover
Street. MDCCCXLII., pp. 20. (Price 1_s_., sewed).

8. BELLS AND POMEGRANATES: No. III.--DRAMATIC LYRICS. By Robert
Browning, Author of "Paracelsus." London: Edward Moxon, Dover Street.
MDCCCXLII., pp. 16, (Price 1_s_., sewed.)

    Contents:--1. Cavalier Tunes: I. Marching Along; II. Give a
    Rouse; III. My Wife Gertrude [Boot and Saddle, 1863]. 2.
    Italy and France: I. Italy [My Last Duchess.--Ferrara, 1863];
    II. France [Count Gismond.--Aix in Provence, 1863]. 3. Camp
    and Cloister: I. Camp (French) [Incident of the French Camp,
    1863]; II. Cloister (Spanish) [Soliloquy of the Spanish
    Cloister, 1863]. 4. In a Gondola. 5. Artemis Prologuizes. 6.
    Waring. 7. Queen Worship: I. Rudel to the Lady of Tripoli;
    II. Cristina. 8. Madhouse Cells: I. [Johannes Agricola,
    1863]; II. [Porphyria's Lover, 1863]. 9. Through the Metidja
    to Abd-el-Kadr. 10. The Pied Piper of Hamelin.

9. BELLS AND POMEGRANATES: No. IV--THE RETURN OF THE DRUSES. A Tragedy
in Five Acts. By Robert Browning, Author of "Paracelsus." London: Edward
Moxon, Dover Street. MDCCCXLIII., pp. 19. (Price 1_s_., sewed.)

10. BELLS AND POMEGRANATES: No. V.--A BLOT IN THE 'SCUTCHEON. A Tragedy
in Three Acts. By Robert Browning, Author of "Paracelsus." London:
Edward Moxon, Dover Street. MDCCCXLIII., pp. 16. (Price 1_s_., sewed.)

11. BELLS AND POMEGRANATES: No. VI.--COLOMBE'S BIRTHDAY. A Play in Five
Acts. By Robert Browning, Author of "Paracelsus." London: Edward Moxon,
Dover Street. MDCCCXLIV., pp. 20. (Price 1_s_., sewed.)

12. Eight Poems contributed to _Hood's Magazine_, June 1844 to April
1845:--I. The Laboratory (Ancien Regime). (June 1844, Vol. I., No. vi.,
pp. 513-14). Reprinted in _Dramatic Romances and Lyrics_ (1845), as the
first of two poems called "France and Spain."--II., III. Claret and
Tokay (_id._ p. 525). Reprinted in _Dramatic Romances and Lyrics_
(1845).--IV., V. Garden Fancies: 1. The Flower's Name; 2. Sibrandus
Schafnaburgensis. (July 1844, Vol. II., No. vii., pp. 45-48.) Reprinted
in _Dramatic Romances and Lyrics_ (1845).--VI. The Boy and the Angel.
(August 1844, Vol. II., No. viii., pp. 140-2.) Reprinted, revised, and
with five fresh couplets, in _Dramatic Romances and Lyrics_
(1845).--VII. The Tomb at St. Praxed's (Rome, 15--) (March 1845, Vol.
III., No. iii., pp. 237-39). Reprinted in _Dramatic Romances and Lyrics_
(1845)--VIII. The Flight of the Duchess. (April 1845, Vol. III., No.
iv., pp. 313-18.) Part first only, sec. 1-9; reprinted, with the remainder
added, in _Dramatic Romances and Lyrics_ (1845).

13. BELLS AND POMEGRANATES: No. VII.--DRAMATIC ROMANCES AND LYRICS. By
Robert Browning, Author of "Paracelsus." London: Edward Moxon, Dover
Street. MDCCCXLV., pp. 24. (Price 2_s_., sewed.)

    Contents:--1. How they brought the Good News from Ghent to
    Aix. 2. Pictor Ignotus [Florence, 15--]. 3. Italy in England
    [The Italian in England, 1849]. 4. England in Italy, _Piano
    di Sorrento_ [The Englishman in Italy, 1849]. 5. The Lost
    Leader. 6. The Lost Mistress. 7. Home Thoughts from Abroad.
    8. The Tomb at St. Praxed's [The Bishop orders his Tomb in
    St. Praxed's Church, 1863]. 9. Garden Fancies: I. The
    Flower's Name; II Sibrandus Schafnaburgensis. 10. France and
    Spain: I. The Laboratory (_Ancien Regime_); II. The
    Confessional, 11. The Flight of the Duchess. 12. Earth's
    Immortalities. 13. Song. 14. The Boy and the Angel. 15. Night
    and Morning: I. Night [Meeting at Night, 1863], II. Morning
    [Parting at Morning, 1863], 16. Claret and Tokay [Nationality
    in Drinks, 1863]. 17. Saul. 18. Time's Revenges. 19. The
    Glove (Peter Ronsard _loquitur_).

14. BELLS AND POMEGRANATES: No. VIII. and last.--LURIA; and A SOUL'S
TRAGEDY. By Robert Browning, Author of "Paracelsus." London: Edward
Moxon, Dover Street. MDCCCXLVI., pp. 32. (Price 2_s_. 6_d_., sewed.)

15. POEMS. By Robert Browning. In two volumes. A new edition. London:
Chapman and Hall, 186 Strand. 1849, pp. vii., 386; viii., 416. These two
volumes contain _Paracelsus_ and _Bells and Pomegranates_.

16. CHRISTMAS-EVE AND EASTER-DAY. A Poem. By Robert Browning. London:
Chapman and Hall, 186 Strand. 1850, pp. iv., 142.

17. Letters of Percy Bysshe Shelley. With an INTRODUCTORY ESSAY, by
Robert Browning. London: Edward Moxon, Dover Street, 1852, pp. vi., 165.
(Introductory Essay, pp., 1-44.)

These so-called Letters of Shelley proved to be forgeries, and the
volume was suppressed. Browning's essay has been reprinted by the
Browning Society, and, later, by the Shelley Society. See No. 58 below.
Its value to students of Shelley is in no way impaired by its chance
connection with the forged letters, to which it barely alludes.

18. TWO POEMS. By Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning. London: Chapman
and Hall. 1854, pp. 16.

This pamphlet contains "A Plea for the Ragged Schools of London," by
E. B. B., and "The Twins," by R. B. The two poems were printed by Miss
Arabella Barrett, Mrs. Browning's sister, for a bazaar in aid of a
"Refuge for Young Destitute Girls," one of the earliest of its kind,
founded by her in 1854.

19. CLEON. By Robert Browning. London: Edward Moxon, Dover Street.
1855, pp. 23.

20. THE STATUE AND THE BUST. By Robert Browning. London: Edward Moxon,
Dover Street. 1855, pp. 22.

21. MEN AND WOMEN. By Robert Browning. In two volumes. London: Chapman
and Hall, 193 Piccadilly. 1855. Vol. I., pp. iv., 260; Vol. II., pp.
iv., 241.

    Vol. I. Contents:--1. Love among the Ruins. 2. A Lovers'
    Quarrel. 3. Evelyn Hope. 4. Up at a Villa--Down in the City
    (as distinguished by an Italian person of Quality). 5. A
    Woman's Last Word. 6. Fra Lippo Lippi. 7. A Toccata of
    Galuppi's. 8. By the Fire-side. 9. Any Wife to Any Husband.
    10. An Epistle containing the Strange Medical Experience of
    Karshish, the Arab Physician. 11. Mesmerism. 12. A Serenade
    at the Villa. 13. My Star. 14. Instans Tyrannus. 15. A Pretty
    Woman. 16. "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came." 17.
    Respectability. 18. A Light Woman. 19. The Statue and the
    Bust. 20. Love in a Life. 21. Life in a Love. 22. How it
    Strikes a Contemporary. 23. The Last Ride Together. 24. The
    Patriot--_An Old Story_. 25. Master Hugues of Saxe-Gotha. 26.
    Bishop Blougram's Apology. 27. Memorabilia.

    Vol. II. Contents:--1. Andrea del Sarto (Called the Faultless
    Painter). 2. Before. 3. After. 4. In Three Days. 5. In a Year.
    6. Old Pictures in Florence. 7. In a Balcony. 8. Saul. 9. "De
    Gustibus." 10. Women and Roses. 11. Protus. 12. Holy-Cross
    Day. 13. The Guardian Angel: a Picture at Fano. 14. Cleon. 15.
    The Twins. 16. Popularity. 17. The Heretic's Tragedy: A Middle
    Age Interlude. 18. Two in the Campagna. 19. A Grammarian's
    Funeral. 20. One Way of Love. 21. Another Way of Love. 22.
    "Transcendentalism": a Poem in Twelve Books. 23.
    Misconceptions. 24. One Word More: To E. B. B.

22. Ben Karshook's Wisdom. (Five stanzas of four lines each, signed
"Robert Browning," and dated "Rome, April 27, 1854")--_The Keepsake_.
1856. (Edited by Miss Power, and published by David Bogue, London.) P.
16.

This poem has never been reprinted by the author in any of his collected
volumes, but is to be found in Furnivall's _Browning Bibliography_.

23. May and Death.--_The Keepsake_, 1857, p. 164. Reprinted, with some
new readings, in _Dramatis Personae_ (1864).

24. THE POETICAL WORKS of Robert Browning. Third edition. Vol. I., pp.
x., 432. Lyrics, Romances, Men and Women. Vol. II., pp. 605. Tragedies
and other Plays. Vol. III., pp. 465. Paracelsus, Christmas Eve and
Easter Day, Sordello. London: Chapman and Hall, 193 Piccadilly. 1863.

There are no new poems in this edition, but the pieces originally
published under the titles of _Dramatic Lyrics, Dramatic Lyrics and
Romances_, and _Men and Women_, are redistributed. This arrangement has
been preserved in all subsequent editions. The table of contents below
will thus show the present position of the poems.

    Vol. I, Contents--LYRICS:--1. Cavalier Tunes. 2. The Lost
    Leader. 3. "How they brought the Good News from Ghent to
    Aix." 4. Through the Metidja to Abd-el-Kadr. 5. Nationality
    in Drinks. 6. Garden Fancies.[62] 7. The Laboratory. 8. The
    Confessional. 9. Cristina. 10. The Lost Mistress. 11. Earth's
    Immortalities. 12. Meeting at Night. 13. Parting at Morning.
    14. Song. 15. A Woman's Last Word. 16. Evelyn Hope. 17, Love
    among the Ruins. 18. A Lovers' Quarrel. 19. Up at a
    Villa--Down in the City. 20. A Toccata of Galuppi's. 21. Old
    Pictures in Florence, 22. "De Gustibus ----." 23.
    Home-Thoughts from Abroad. 24. Home-Thoughts from the Sea.
    25. Saul. 26. My Star. 27. By the Fire-side. 28. Any Wife to
    Any Husband. 29. Two in the Campagna. 30. Misconceptions. 31.
    A Serenade at the Villa. 32. One Way of Love. 33. Another Way
    of Love. 34. A Pretty Woman. 35. Respectability. 36. Love in
    a Life. 37. Life in a Love. 38. In Three Days. 39. In a Year.
    40. Women and Roses. 41. Before. 42. After. 43. The Guardian
    Angel. 44. Memorabilia. 45. Popularity. 46. Master Hugues of
    Saxe-Gotha.

    ROMANCES:--1. Incident of the French Camp. 2. The Patriot. 3.
    My Last Duchess. 4. Count Gismond. 5. The Boy and the Angel.
    6. Instans Tyrannus. 7. Mesmerism. 8. The Glove. 9. Time's
    Revenges. 10. The Italian in England. 11. The Englishman in
    Italy. 12. In a Gondola. 13. Waring. 14. The Twins. 15. A
    Light Woman. 16. The Last Ride Together. 17. The Pied Piper of
    Hamelin. 18. The Flight of the Duchess. 19. A Grammarian's
    Funeral. 20. Johannes Agricola in Meditation. 21. The
    Heretic's Tragedy. 22. Holy-Cross Day. 23. Protus. 24. The
    Statue and the Bust. 25. Porphyria's Lover. 26. "Childe Roland
    to the Dark Tower Came."

    MEN AND WOMEN:--1. "Transcendentalism." 2. How it strikes a
    Contemporary. 3. Artemis Prologuizes. 4. An Epistle containing
    the strange Medical Experience of Karshish, the Arab
    Physician. 5. Pictor Ignotus. 6. Fra Lippo Lippi. 7. Andrea
    del Sarto. 8. The Bishop orders his Tomb in St. Praxed's
    Church. 9. Bishop Blougram's Apology. 10. Cleon. 11. Rudel to
    the Lady of Tripoli. 12. One Word More.

    Vol. II. Contents--TRAGEDIES AND OTHER PLAYS:--1. Pippa
    Passes. 2. King Victor and King Charles. 3. The Return of the
    Druses. 4. A Blot in the 'Scutcheon. 5. Colombe's Birthday. 6.
    Luria. 7. A Soul's Tragedy. 8. In a Balcony. 9. Strafford.

    Vol. III. Contents:--1. Paracelsus, 2. Christmas Eve and
    Easter Day. 3. Sordello.

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 62: The _Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister_ is here included
as No. III. In the edition of 1868 it follows under a separate heading.
This is the only point of difference between the two editions.]

25. GOLD HAIR: A Legend of Pornic. By Robert Browning. (With
imprint--London: Printed by W. Clowes and Sons, Stamford Street and
Charing Cross) 1864, pp. 15.

26. Prospice.--_Atlantic Monthly_, Vol. XIII., June 1864, p. 694.

27. DRAMATIS PERSONAE. By Robert Browning. London: Chapman and Hall, 193
Piccadilly. 1864, pp. vi., 250.

    Contents:--1. James Lee [James Lee's Wife, 1868]. 2. Gold
    Hair: a Legend of Pornic. 3. The Worst of it. 4. Dis aliter
    visum; or, Le Byron de nos jours. 5. Too Late. 6. Abt Vogler.
    7. Rabbi ben Ezra. 8. A Death in the Desert. 9. Caliban upon
    Setebos; or, Natural Theology in the Island. 10. Confessions.
    11. May and Death. 12. Prospice. 13. Youth and Art. 14. A
    Face. 15. A Likeness. 16. Mr Sludge "The Medium." 17.
    Apparent Failure. 18. Epilogue.

28. Orpheus and Eurydice.--_Catalogue of the Royal Academy_, 1864, p.
13. No. 217. A picture by F. Leighton.

Printed as prose. It is reprinted in _Poetical Works_, 1868, where it
is included in _Dramatis Personae_. The same volume contains a new stanza
of eight lines, entitled "Deaf and Dumb: a Group by Woolner." This was
written in 1862 for Woolner's partly-draped group of Constance and
Arthur, the deaf and dumb children of Sir Thomas Fairbairn, which was
exhibited in the International Exhibition of 1862.

29. THE POETICAL WORKS of Robert Browning, M.A., Honorary Fellow of
Balliol College, Oxford. London: Smith, Elder and Co., 15 Waterloo
Place. 1868. Vol. I., pp. viii., 310. Pauline--Paracelsus--Strafford.
Vol. II., pp. iv., 287. Sordello--Pippa Passes. Vol. III., pp. iv., 305.
King Victor and King Charles--Dramatic Lyrics--The Return of the Druses.
Vol. IV., pp. iv., 321. A Blot in the 'Scutcheon--Colombe's
Birthday--Dramatic Romances. Vol. V., pp. iv., 321. A Soul's
Tragedy--Luria--Christmas Eve and Easter Day--Men and Women. Vol. VI.,
pp. iv., 233. In a Balcony--Dramatis Personae. This edition retains the
redistribution of the minor poems in the edition of 1863, already
mentioned.

30. THE RING AND THE BOOK. By Robert Browning, M.A., Honorary Fellow of
Balliol College, Oxford. In four volumes. London: Smith, Elder and Co.
1868-9. Vol. I., pp. iv., 245; Vol. II., pp. iv., 251; Vol. III., pp.
iv., 250; Vol. IV., pp. iv., 235.

31. Herve Riel--_Cornhill Magazine_, March 1871, pp. 257-60. Reprinted
in _Pacchiarotto, and other Poems_ (1876).

32. BALAUSTION'S ADVENTURE: Including a Transcript from Euripides. By
Robert Browning. London: Smith, Elder and Co. 1871, pp. iv., 170.

33. PRINCE HOHENSTIEL-SCHWANGAU: SAVIOUR OF SOCIETY. By Robert Browning.
London: Smith, Elder and Co. 1871, pp. iv., 148.

34. FIFINE AT THE FAIR. By Robert Browning. London: Smith, Elder and Co.
1872, pp. xii., 171.

35. RED COTTON NIGHT-CAP COUNTRY: OR, TURF AND TOWERS. By Robert
Browning. London: Smith, Elder and Co. 1873, pp. iv., 282.

36. ARISTOPHANES' APOLOGY: Including a Transcript from Euripides: Being
the LAST ADVENTURE OF BALAUSTION. By Robert Browning. London: Smith,
Elder and Co. 1875, pp. viii., 366.

37. THE INN ALBUM. By Robert Browning. London: Smith, Elder and Co.
1875, pp. iv., 211.

38. PACCHIAROTTO, and how he worked in Distemper: with other Poems. By
Robert Browning. London: Smith, Elder and Co. 1876, pp. viii., 241.

    Contents:--1. Prologue. 2. Of Pacchiarotto, and how he worked
    in Distemper. 3. At the "Mermaid." 4. House. 5. Shop. 6.
    Pisgah-Sights (1, 2). 7. Fears and Scruples. 8. Natural
    Magic. 9. Magical Nature. 10. Bifurcation. 11. Numpholeptos.
    12. Appearances. 13. St. Martin's Summer. 14. Herve Riel. 15.
    A Forgiveness. 16. Cenciaja. 17. Filippo Baldinucci on the
    Privilege of Burial (a Reminiscence of A.D. 1676). 18.
    Epilogue.

39. THE AGAMEMNON OF AESCHYLUS. Transcribed by Robert Browning. London:
Smith, Elder and Co. 1877, pp. xi. (Preface, v.-xi.), 148.

40. LA SAISIAZ: THE TWO POETS OF CROISIC. By Robert Browning. London:
Smith, Elder and Co. 1878, pp. viii., 201.

    Contents:--1. Prologue, 2. La Saisiaz (pp. 5-82). The Two
    Poets of Croisic (pp. 87-191). Epilogue.

41. Song. ("The Blind Man to the Maiden said")--_The Hour will come_. By
Wilhelmine von Hillern. Translated from the German by Clara Bell.
London, 1879, Vol. II., p. 174. Not reprinted.

42. "Oh, Love, Love": Translation from the _Hippolytus_ of Euripides.
(Eighteen lines, dated "Dec. 18, 1878"). Contributed to Prof. J.P.
Mahaffy's _Euripides_ ("Classical Writers." Macmillan, 1879). P. 116.

43. DRAMATIC IDYLS. By Robert Browning. London: Smith, Elder and Co.
1879, pp. vi., 143.

    Contents:--1. Martin Relph. 2. Pheidippides. 3. Halbert and
    Hob. 4. Ivan Ivanovitch. 5. Tray. 6. Ned Bratts.

44. DRAMATIC IDYLS. Second Series. By Robert Browning. London: Smith,
Elder and Co. 1880, pp. viii., 149.

    Contents:--Prologue. 1. Echetlos. 2. Clive. 3. Muleykeh. 4.
    Pietro of Abano. 5. Doctor ----. 6. Pan and Luna. Epilogue.

45. Ten New Lines to "Epilogue."--_Scribner's Century Magazine_,
November 1882, pp. 159-60. Lines written in an autograph album, October
14, 1880. Printed in the _Century_ without Browning's consent. Reprinted
in the first issue of the Browning Society's Papers, Part III., p. 48,
but withdrawn from the second issue.

46. JOCOSERIA. By Robert Browning. London: Smith, Elder and Co. 1883,
pp. viii., 143.

    Contents:--1. Wanting is--What? 2. Donald. 3. Solomon and
    Balkis. 4. Cristina and Monaldeschi. 5. Mary Wollstonecraft
    and Fuseli. 6. Adam, Lilith, and Eve. 7. Ixion. 8. Jochanan
    Hakkadosh. 9. Never the Time and the Place. 10. Pambo.

47. Sonnet on Goldoni (dated "Venice, Nov. 27, 1883").--_Pall Mall
Gazette_, December 8, 1883, p. 2. Written for the Album of the Committee
of the Goldoni Monument at Venice, and inserted on the first page.
Reprinted in the Browning Society's Papers, Part V. p. 98.*

48. Paraphrase from Horace.--_Pall Mall Gazette_, December 13, 1883, p.
6. Four lines, written impromptu for Mr. Felix Moscheles. Reprinted in
the Browning Society's Papers, Part V., p. 99.*

49. Helen's Tower: Sonnet (Dated "April 26, 1870").--_Pall Mall
Gazette_, December 28, 1883, p. 2. Reprinted in Browning Society's
Papers, Part V., p. 97.* Written for the Earl of Dufferin, who built a
tower in memory of his mother, Helen, Countess of Gifford, on a rock on
his estate, at Clandeboye, Ireland, and originally printed in the later
copies of a privately printed pamphlet called _Helen's Tower_. Lord
Tennyson's lines, written on the same occasion, appeared a little
previously in _The Leisure Hour_.

50. The Divine Order, and other Sermons and Addresses. By the late
Thomas Jones. Edited by Brynmor Jones, LL.B. With INTRODUCTION by Robert
Browning. London: W. Isbister. 1884. The introduction is on pp.
xi.-xiii.

51. Sonnet on Rawdon Brown. (Dated "November 28, 1883").--_Century
Magazine_, "Bric-a-brac" column, February 1884. Reprinted in the
Browning Society's Papers, Part V., p. 132.* Written at Venice, on an
apocryphal story relating to the late Mr Rawdon Brown, who "went to
Venice for a short visit, with a definite object in view, and ended by
staying forty years."

52. The Founder of the Feast: Sonnet. (Dated "April 5, 1884").--_The
World_, April 16, 1884. Inscribed by Browning in the Album presented to
Mr Arthur Chappell, director of the St. James's Hall Saturday and Monday
Popular Concerts. Reprinted in the Browning Society's Papers, Part VII.,
p. 18.*

53. The Names: Sonnet on Shakespeare. (Dated "March 12,
1884").--_Shakespere Show Book_, May 29, 1884, p. 1. Reprinted in the
Browning Society's Papers, Part V., p. 105.*

54. FERISHTAH'S FANCIES. By Robert Browning. London: Smith, Elder and
Co. 1884, pp. viii., 143. Each blank verse "Fancy" is followed by a
short lyric.

    Contents:--Prologue. Ferishtah's Fancies: 1. The Eagle. 2.
    The Melon-seller. 3. Shah Abbas. 4. The Family. 5. The Sun.
    6. Mihrab Shah. 7. A Camel-Driver. 8. Two Camels 9. Cherries.
    10. Plot-Culture, 11. A Pillar at Sebzevah. 12. A Bean
    Stripe: also Apple-Eating. Epilogue.

55. Why I am a Liberal: Sonnet.--_Why I am a Liberal_, edited by Andrew
Reid. London: Cassell and Co. 1885. Reprinted in the Browning Society's
Papers, Part VII., p. 92.*

54. Spring Song.--_The New Amphion_; being the book of the Edinburgh
University Union Fancy Fair. Edinburgh: T. and A. Constable, University
Press. 1886. The poem is on p. 1. Reprinted in _Parleyings_, p. 189.

55. Prefatory Note to _Poems_ by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. London:
Smith, Elder and Co. 1887. Three pages, unnumbered.

56. Memorial Lines, for Memorial of the Queen's Jubilee, in St.
Margaret's Church, Westminster. 1887. Reprinted in the Browning
Society's Papers, Part X., p. 234.*

57. PARLEYINGS WITH CERTAIN PEOPLE OF IMPORTANCE IN THEIR DAY: to wit,
Bernard de Mandeville, Daniel Bartoli, Christopher Smart, George Bubb
Dodington, Francis Furini, Gerard de Lairesse, and Charles Avison.
Introduced by a Dialogue between Apollo and the Fates, concluded by
another between John Fust and his Friends. By Robert Browning. London:
Smith, Elder and Co., 15 Waterloo Place. 1887, pp. viii., 268.
(_Poetical Works_, 1889, Vol. XVI., pp. 93-275.)

    Contents:--Apollo and the Fates--a Prologue. Parleyings: 1.
    With Bernard de Mandeville. 2. With Daniel Bartoli. 3. With
    Christopher Avison. 4. With George Bubb Dodington. 5. With
    Francis Furini. 6. With Gerard de Lairesse. 7. With Charles
    Avison. Fust and his Friends--an Epilogue.

58. An Essay on Percy Bysshe Shelley. By Robert Browning. Being a
Reprint of the Introductory Essay prefixed to the volume of [25
spurious] Letters of Shelley, published by Edward Moxon in 1852. Edited
by W. Tyas Harden. London: Published for the Shelley Society by Reeves
and Turner, 196 Strand, 1888, pp. 27. See No. 17 above.

59. To Edward Fitzgerald. (Dated July 8, 1889).--_The Athenaeum_, No.
3,220, July 13, 1889, p. 64. Reprinted in the Browning Society's Papers,
Part XI., p. 347.*

60. Lines addressed to Levi Lincoln Thaxter. (Written in 1885).--_Poet
Lore_, Vol. I., August 1889, p. 398.

61. THE POETICAL WORKS OF ROBERT BROWNING. London: Smith, Elder & Co.,
15 Waterloo Place. 17 volumes. Vol. I.-XVI., 1889; Vol. XVII., 1894.

    Vol. I. pp. viii., 289. Pauline--Sordello. Vol. II., pp. vi.,
    307. Paracelsus--Strafford. Vol. III., pp. vi., 255. Pippa
    Passes, King Victor and King Charles, The Return of the
    Druses, A Soul's Tragedy. Vol. IV., pp. vi., 305. A Blot in
    the 'Scutcheon, Colombe's Birthday, Men and Women. Vol. V.,
    pp. vi., 307. Dramatic Romances, Christmas-Eve and
    Easter-Day. Vol. VI., pp. vii., 289. Dramatic Lyrics, Luria.
    Vol. VII., pp. vi., 255. In a Balcony, Dramatis Personae. Vol.
    VIII., pp. 253. The Ring and the Book, Vol. I. Vol. IX., pp.
    313. The Ring and the Book, Vol. II. Vol. X., pp. 279. The
    Ring and the Book, Vol. III. Vol. XI., pp. 343. Balaustion's
    Adventure, Prince Hohenstiel-Schwangau, Fifine at the Fair.
    Vol. XII., pp. 311. Red Cotton Night-Cap Country, The Inn
    Album, Vol. XIII., pp. 357. Aristophanes' Apology, The
    Agamemnon of AEschylus. Vol. XIV., pp. vi., 279. Pacchiarotto
    and how he worked in Distemper, with other Poems. [La
    Saisiaz, the Two Poets of Croisic.] Vol. XV., pp. vi., 260.
    Dramatic Idyls, Jocoseria. Vol. XVI., pp. vi., 275.
    Ferishtah's Fancies. Parleyings with Certain People. General
    Index, pp. 277-85; Index to First Lines of Shorter Poems, pp.
    287-92. Vol. XVII., pp. viii., 288. Asolando, Biographical
    and Historical Notes to the Poems. General Index, pp. 289-99;
    Index to First Lines of Shorter Poems, pp. 301-307. This
    edition contains Browning's final text of his poems.

62. ASOLANDO: FANCIES AND FACTS. By Robert Browning. London: Smith,
Elder & Co., 15 Waterloo Place. 1890, pp. viii., 157. (_Poetical Works_,
1894, Vol. XVII., pp. 1-131.)

    Contents:--Prologue. 1. Rosny. 2. Dubiety. 3. Now. 4.
    Humility. 5. Poetics. 6. Summum Bonum. 7. A Pearl, a Girl. 8.
    Speculative. 9. White Witchcraft. 10. Bad Dreams (i.-iv.).
    11. Inapprehensiveness. 12. Which? 13. The Cardinal and the
    Dog. 14. The Pope and the Net. 15. The Bean-Feast. 16.
    Muckle-mouth Meg. 17. Arcades Ambo. 18. The Lady and the
    Painter. 19. Ponte dell' Angelo, Venice. 20. Beatrice
    Signorini. 21. Flute-Music, with an Accompaniment. 22.
    "Imperante Augusto natus est--." 23. Development. 24. Rephan.
    25. Reverie. Prologue.

63. THE POETICAL WORKS OF ROBERT BROWNING. With Portraits. In two
volumes. London: Smith, Elder & Co., 15 Waterloo Place, 1896. Vol. I.,
pp. viii., 784; Vol. II., pp. vii., 786.

The Editor's note, after p. viii., signed "Augustine Birrell," says:
"All that has been done is to prefix (within square brackets) to some of
the plays and poems a few lines explanatory of the characters and events
depicted and described, and to explain in the margin of the volumes the
meaning of such words as might, if left unexplained, momentarily arrest
the understanding of the reader ... Mr. F.G. Kenyon has been kind enough
to make the notes for 'The Ring and the Book,' but for the rest the
editor alone is responsible." The text is that of the edition of 1889,
1894, but the arrangement is more strictly chronological. The notes are
throughout unnecessary and to be regretted.




II.

REPRINT OF DISCARDED PREFACES TO THE FIRST EDITIONS OF SOME OF
BROWNING'S WORKS


1. Preface to _Paracelsus_ (1835).

"I am anxious that the reader should not, at the very outset,--mistaking
my performance for one of a class with which it has nothing in
common,--judge it by principles on which it has never been moulded, and
subject it to a standard to which it was never meant to conform. I
therefore anticipate his discovery, that it is an attempt, probably more
novel than happy, to reverse the method usually adopted by writers,
whose aim it is to set forth any phenomenon of the mind or the passions,
by the operation of persons or events; and that, instead of having
recourse to an external machinery of incidents to create and evolve the
crisis I desire to produce, I have ventured to display somewhat minutely
the mood itself in its rise and progress, and have suffered the agency
by which it is influenced and determined, to be generally discernible in
its effects alone, and subordinate throughout, if not altogether
excluded; and this for a reason. I have endeavoured to write a poem, not
a drama: the canons of the drama are well known, and I cannot but think
that, inasmuch as they have immediate regard to stage representation,
the peculiar advantages they hold out are really such, only so long as
the purpose for which they were at first instituted is kept in view. I
do not very well understand what is called a Dramatic Poem, wherein all
those restrictions only submitted to on account of compensating good in
the original scheme are scrupulously retained, as though for some
special fitness in themselves,--and all new facilities placed at an
author's disposal by the vehicle he selects, as pertinaciously
rejected. It is certain, however, that a work like mine depends more
immediately on the intelligence and sympathy of the reader for its
success;--indeed, were my scenes stars, it must be his co-operating
fancy which, supplying all chasms, shall connect the scattered lights
into one constellation--a Lyre or a Crown. I trust for his indulgence
towards a poem which had not been imagined six months ago, and that even
should he think slightingly of the present (an experiment I am in no
case likely to repeat) he will not be prejudiced against other
productions which may follow in a more popular, and perhaps less
difficult form.

15th March 1835."


2. Preface to _Strafford_ (1837).

"I had for some time been engaged in a poem of a very different nature
[_Sordello_] when induced to make the present attempt; and am not
without apprehension that my eagerness to freshen a jaded mind by
diverting it to the healthy natures of a grand epoch, may have operated
unfavourably on the represented play, which is one of Action in
Character, rather than Character in Action. To remedy this, in some
degree, considerable curtailment will be necessary, and, in a few
instances, the supplying details not required, I suppose, by the mere
reader. While a trifling success would much gratify, failure will not
wholly discourage me from another effort: experience is to come, and
earnest endeavour may yet remove many disadvantages.

The portraits are, I think, faithful; and I am exceedingly fortunate in
being able, in proof of this, to refer to the subtle and eloquent
exposition of the characters of Eliot and Strafford, in the Lives of
Eminent British Statesmen now in the course of publication in Lardner's
Cyclopaedia, by a writer [John Forster] whom I am proud to call my
friend; and whose biographies of Hampden, Pym, and Vane, will, I am
sure, fitly illustrate the present year--the Second Centenary of the
Trial concerning Ship-money. My Carlisle, however, is purely imaginary:
I at first sketched her singular likeness roughly in, as suggested by
Matthew and the memoir-writers--but it was too artificial, and the
substituted outline is exclusively from Voiture and Waller.

The Italian boat-song in the last scene is from Redi's _Bacco_, long
since naturalised in the joyous and delicate version of Leigh Hunt."


3. Preface to _Sordello_ (not in first edition, but added in 1863). I
reprint it, though still retained by the author, on account of its great
importance as a piece of self-criticism or self-interpretation.

"To J. MILSAND, OF DIJON.

Dear Friend,--Let the next poem be introduced by your name, and so repay
all trouble it ever cost me. I wrote it twenty-five years ago for only a
few, counting even in these on somewhat more care about its subject than
they really had. My own faults of expression were many; but with care
for a man or book, such would be surmounted, and without it what avails
the faultlessness of either? I blame nobody, least of all myself, who
did my best then and since; for I lately gave time and pains to turn my
work into what the many might,--instead of what the few must,--like: but
after all, I imagined another thing at first, and therefore leave as I
find it. The historical decoration was purposely of no more importance
than a background requires; and my stress lay on the incidents in the
development of a soul: little else is worth study. I, at least, always
thought so--you, with many known and unknown to me, think so--others may
one day think so: and whether my attempt remain for them or not, I
trust, though away and past it, to continue ever yours,     R. B.

London, June 9, 1863."


4. Preface to _Bells and Pomegranates_.--I. _Pippa Passes_ (1841).

"ADVERTISEMENT.

Two or three years ago I wrote a Play, about which the chief matter I
much care to recollect at present is, that a Pit-full of good-natured
people applauded it: ever since, I have been desirous of doing something
in the same way that should better reward their attention. What follows,
I mean for the first of a series of Dramatical Pieces, to come out at
intervals; and I amuse myself by fancying that the cheap mode in which
they appear, will for once help me to a sort of Pit-audience again. Of
course such a work must go on no longer than it is liked; and to provide
against a certain and but too possible contingency, let me hasten to say
now--what, if I were sure of success, I would try to say
circumstantially enough at the close--that I dedicate my best intentions
most admiringly to the author of 'Ion'--most affectionately to Serjeant
Talfourd.

ROBERT BROWNING."


5. Preface to _Bells and Pomegranates_.--VIII. _Luria_ and _A Soul's
Tragedy_.

"Here ends my first series of 'Bells and Pomegranates:' and I take the
opportunity of explaining, in reply to inquiries, that I only meant by
that title to indicate an endeavour towards something like an
alteration, or mixture, of music with discoursing, sound with sense,
poetry with thought; which looks too ambitious, thus expressed, so the
symbol was preferred. It is little to the purpose, that such is actually
one of the most familiar of the many Rabbinical (and Patristic)
acceptations of the phrase; because I confess that, letting authority
alone, I supposed the bare words, in such juxtaposition, would
sufficiently convey the desired meaning. 'Faith and good works' is
another fancy, for instance, and perhaps no easier to arrive at: yet
Giotto placed a pomegranate-fruit in the hand of Dante, and Raffaelle
crowned his Theology (in the _Camera della Segnatura_) with blossoms of
the same; as if the Bellari and Vasari would be sure to come after, and
explain that it was merely '_simbolo delle buone opere--il qual
Pomogranato fu pero usato nelle vesti del Pontefice appresso gli
Ebrei_.'                                         R. B."

It may be worth while to append the interesting concluding paragraph of
the preface to the first series of _Selections_, issued by Messrs.
Smith, Elder and Co. in 1872:

"A few years ago, had such an opportunity presented itself, I might have
been tempted to say a word in reply to the objections my poetry was used
to encounter. Time has kindly co-operated with my disinclination to
write the poetry and the criticism besides. The readers I am at last
privileged to expect, meet me fully half-way; and if, from their fitting
standpoint, they must still 'censure me in their wisdom,' they have
previously 'awakened their senses that they may the better judge.' Nor
do I apprehend any more charges of being wilfully obscure,
unconscientiously careless, or perversely harsh. Having hitherto done my
utmost in the art to which my life is a devotion, I cannot engage to
increase the effort; but I conceive that there may be helpful light, as
well as reassuring warmth, in the attention and sympathy I gratefully
acknowledge                                                    R. B.

London, May 14, 1872."




INDEX TO POEMS

Abt Vogler, 23, 145, 146, 147

Adam, Lilith, and Eve, 220, 221

After, 128, 129

"Agamemnon (The), of AEschylus," 17, 202, 203

Andrea del Sarto, 23, 59, 82, 104, 107, 109, 113, 135, 179

Another Way of Love, 130

Any Wife to Any Husband, 124

Apparent Failure, 145

Appearances, 197

Arcades Ambo, 236

"Aristophanes' Apology," 17, 185, 190

Artemis Prologuizes, 63, 64, 85

"Asolando: Fancies and Facts," 231-239

At the Mermaid, 194, 196, 197


Bad Dreams, 232, 234, 236

"Balaustion's Adventure," 169, 173, 186

Bean-Feast, The, 236

Bean-Stripe (A): also Apple-Eating, 225

Beatrice Signorini, 234

Before, 128

Bifurcation, 198

Bishop Blougram's Apology, 27, 105, 111-113, 144

Bishop (The) Orders his Tomb at St. Praxed's Church, 83-85, 115

"Blot in the 'Scutcheon, A," 17, 69-72, 74, 91, 95

Boy and the Angel, The, 89

By the Fireside, 126, 139


Caliban upon Setebos, 27, 141-144

Camel-Driver, A, 224

Cardinal and the Dog, The, 236, 237

Cavalier Tunes, 62

Cenciaja, 201

Cherries, 224

'Childe Roland to the Dark Tower, came,' 118-120

"Christmas-Eve and Easter-Day," 98-103

Cleon, 105, 109, 111, 143

Clive, 214, 215

"Colombe's Birthday," 73-76, 91

Confessional, The, 86

Confessions, 27, 139-141

Count Gismond, 62-63

Cristina, 63

Cristina and Monaldeschi, 221-222


Deaf and Dumb, 145

Death in the Desert, A, 141, 142

'De Gustibus,' 26, 130

Development, 232

Dis aliter Visum, 27, 138

Doctor ----, 193, 217

Donald, 222

"Dramatic Idyls," 208-213

"Dramatic Idyls" (Second Series), 213-218

"Dramatic Lyrics," 58-65

"Dramatic Romances and Lyrics," 56, 77-90

"Dramatis Personae," 135-150, 194

Dubiety, 233


Eagle, The, 224

Earth's Immortalities, 80

Echetlos, 213, 214

Englishman in Italy, The, 25, 87

Epilogue to "Dramatic Idyls" (Second Series), 218

Epilogue to "Dramatis Personae," 194

Epilogue to Pacchiarotto, 194, 195-196

Epilogue to The Two Poets of Croisic, 208

Epistle of Karshish, 104, 105, 109-111, 234

Eurydice and Orpheus, 145

Evelyn Hope, 63, 122


Face, A, 145

Family, The, 224

Fears and Scruples, 197

"Ferishtah's Fancies," 98, 223, 226

"Fifine at the Fair," 17, 111, 130, 177-182, 184

Filippo Baldinucci on the Privilege of Burial, 201

Flight of the Duchess, The, 88

Flower's Name, The, 80

Flute Music, with an Accompaniment, 233

Forgiveness, A, 199

Fra Lippo Lippi, 23, 27, 105, 107, 113


Garden Fancies, 80

Girl, A, 232

Glove, The, 87

Gold Hair: a Story of Pornic, 145

Grammarian's Funeral, A, 115

Guardian Angel, The, 23, 113


Halbert and Hob, 210

Heretic's Tragedy, The, 27, 115, 116-117, 143

Herve Riel, 194, 200

Holy-Cross Day, 27, 115, 117

Home-Thoughts from Abroad, 77, 78

Home-Thoughts from the Sea, 78

House, 194, 197

How it strikes a Contemporary, 128

How they brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix, 77

Humility, 233, 236


"In A Balcony," 105, 132, 135

In a Gondola, 64

Inapprehensiveness, 233

In a Year, 130

Incident of the French Camp, 62

"Inn Album, The," 7, 22, 190, 193

Instans Tyrannus, 129

In Three Days, 130

Italian in England, The, 87

Ivan Ivanovitch, 26, 210, 211-212

Ixion, 219-220


James Lee's Wife, 118, 136, 137

Jochanan Hakkadosh, 219

"Jocoseria," 218, 223

Johannes Agricola, 59


"King Victor and King Charles," 56-58, 66


Laboratory, The, 86

"La Saisiaz," 98, 204, 208

Last Ride Together, The, 81, 125, 130

Life in a Love, 130

Light Woman, A, 130

Likeness, A, 141

Lost Leader, The, 77, 78

Lost Mistress, The, 79, 130

Love among the Ruins, 120, 121

Love in a Life, 130

Lovers' Quarrel, A, 27, 121, 122

"Luria," 4, 91, 95-98, 211, 212


Magical Nature, 175, 197-198

Martin Relph, 209, 210, 211

Mary Wollstonecraft and Fuseli, 222

Master Hugues of Saxe-Gotha, 23, 24, 113, 114

May and Death, 145

Meeting at Night, 81, 82

Melon-Seller, The, 224

Memorabilia, 131

"Men and Women," 15, 58, 77, 85, 89, 91, 104, 132, 135, 141, 199, 232

Mesmerism, 129

Mihrab Shah, 224

Misconceptions, 130, 197

Mr Sludge, "The Medium," 27, 141, 144

Muckle-mouth Meg, 236

Muleykeh, 191, 215, 217

My Last Duchess, 59, 60, 61, 199, 233

My Star, 130


Nationality in Drinks, 78

Natural Magic, 197

Ned Bratts, 26, 27, 210, 212

Never the Time and the Place 222, 223

Now, 233

Numpholeptos, 198, 199


Old Pictures in Florence, 24, 113, 114

One Way of Love, 130, 131, 132

One Word More, 126


Pacchiarotto, 27, 88, 194, 195

"Pacchiarotto and Other Poems," 194, 201

Pambo, 222

Pan and Luna, 214

"Paracelsus," 6, 37, 41, 49, 59, 74, 118, 218, 229

"Parleyings with certain People," 226-230

Parting at Morning, 82

Patriot, The: an Old Story, 129

"Pauline," 33-36, 37, 49, 59, 118

Pearl, A, 232

Pheidippides, 212, 213

Pictor Ignotus, 23, 82, 83, 85

Pied Piper of Hamelin, The, 27, 65, 77

Pietro of Abano, 217

Pillar at Sebzevah, A, 225

"Pippa Passes," 52-56, 94, 132, 151

Pisgah-Sights, 197

Plot-Culture, 225

Poetics, 232

Pope and the Net, The, 236

Popularity, 131

Porphyria's Lover, 25, 59

Pretty Woman, A, 130

"Prince Hohenstiel-Schwangau," 17, 111, 173, 177, 184, 192

Prospice, 145, 148-150

Protus, 117


Rabbi Ben Ezra, 145, 147, 148

"Red-Cotton Night-Cap Country," 7, 182, 185, 190, 192

Rephan, 231

Respectability, 129

"Return of the Druses, The," 65, 69, 74

Reverie, 231

"Ring and the Book, The," 17, 20, 136, 150, 169, 173, 233

Rosny, 232

Rudel to the Lady of Tripoli, 63


St. Martin's Summer, 195

Saul, 89, 90

Serenade at the Villa, A, 25, 26, 124

Shah Abbas, 224

Shop, 194, 197

Sibrandus Schafnaburgensis, 27, 80

Solomon and Balkis, 220

Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister, 27, 62, 129

"Sordello," 7, 17, 37, 42, 44, 52, 55, 59, 145, 229

"Soul's Tragedy, A," 27, 91, 95, 132

Speculative, 233, 235

Statue and the Bust, The, 127

"Strafford," 41, 44, 57, 132

Summum Bonum, 232, 235, 236

Sun, The, 224


Through the Metidja to Abd-el-Kadr, 62

Time's Revenges, 86

Toccata of Galuppi's, A, 23, 113, 114

Too Late, 136, 137, 138

'Transcendentalism,' 128

Tray, 222

Twins, The, 130

Two Camels, 224

Two in the Campagna, 125

"Two Poets of Croisic, The," 206-208


Up at a Villa--Down in the City, 27, 130


Wanting Is--What? 222

Waring, 61, 62

Which, 234

White Witchcraft, 236

Woman's Last Word, A, 122, 124

Women and Roses, 130

Worst of It, The, 136, 137


Youth and Art, 139





BY THE SAME WRITER


POEMS (COLLECTED EDITION IN TWO VOLUMES) 1902.

AUBREY BEARDSLEY, 1897.

THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT IN LITERATURE, 1899.

PLAYS, ACTING AND MUSIC, 1903.

CITIES, 1903.

STUDIES IN PROSE AND VERSE, 1904.

A BOOK OF TWENTY SONGS, 1905.

SPIRITUAL ADVENTURES, 1905.

STUDIES IN SEVEN ARTS, 1906.

THE FOOL OF THE WORLD, AND OTHER POEMS, 1906.


The Temple Press Letchworth England



***END OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK AN INTRODUCTION TO THE STUDY OF
BROWNING***


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