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hammered out into its proper shape, when, haps with the youthful dream that quaintness with a spirt of acid, the alloy is burnt away, is power and that to differ is greater than to leaving the gold pure and all its embellish. agree, nor with that ambition of surprising ments perfect. The book, he tells us, is a which has ever been the fruitsul parent of volume, half print, half manuscript, which he fustian, but with a consciousness of a secret found at a stall in Florence, and which con- gift which genius spontaneously reveals, with tains all the documents and pleadings in the a feeling that a good writer writes, not like case of a murder committed in Rome in 1698 other people, but like himself, and that a by Count Guido Franceschini upon his wife, man should be something that all men are Pompilia Comparini, and her supposed father not, and individual in somewhat besides his and mother. This book he compares to the name. Originality accounts not only for pure gold of fact, which he alloys with a suffi- obscurity, but for unpopularity. A special cient amount of poetical fiction to be able to mode of thinking must have a special mode round it off into a perfect and living work of of expression, which will at first be as inart. As it will be necessary afterwards to comprehensible as an attempt to explain inquire how far he has complied with the logarithms to a Sandwich islander in his own conditions which he has set himself, we may language. The new poet is brought within pass on for the present, because, as one of the the abattoirs of criticism, where the majority characters says,
condemn him, simply because men must we must not stick
think that nonsense which they do not underQuod non sit attendendus Titulus stand. Dogs bark at unknown footsteps; To the Title.”
and all the curs in the parish join in chorus. There can be little, doubt that this
poem unintelligibility itself becomes a recommen
On the other hand, there are some to whom is the masterpiece of the writer. With a
dation; timely consciousness that he has hitherto failed to be generally understood, he has set
"As charms are nonsense, nonsense seems & himself in the early afternoon of his power which hearers of all judgment does disarm.”
charm to repeat what he had to say in a tongue more comprehensible. Once, it seems, he A few of these, rating higher their duties as thought that if he could understand himself, critics, dig painfully'in the stony, ground, any one else could understand him; that if if perchance some barvest of meaning mag his eyes were focused, and his ears attuned reward their toil. The book may be a me. “Where brooding darkness spreads his jealous arms, the style so figurative as to require a
nagerie of fabulous beasts, like the Queen's wings, And the night raven sings,"
herald to blazon it into English, the texts so
oracular that none but the Sibyl can read all other eyes and ears would be equally them; but labour conquers. The critic puts piercing and equally pleased. But he ac- a false bottom even to an empty tub, and, knowledges that the British public has de- enamoured of his own handiwork, tells a creed otherwise; therefore, with a self-deny- vaunting tale of it. He breaks windows in ing modesty, he bas determined to write for the dead wall, and then, the many, and not for the few. He has entered into himself , felt the pulse of his Muse, Admires new light through holes himself has
“in the chequered shade, found where its beats were out of sympathy
made." with the national pulse, and has at last attempted to produce a national poem,- Criticism, indeed, is hardly to be trusted in “Perchance more careful whoso runs may read appraising novelties; por is it quite its busiThan erst, when all, it seemed, could read who ness to announce to the world the advent of
the poet of the future. It can see the revoPerchance more careless whoso reads may lution, can perceive the negation, but cannot praise,
determine the positive worth of the new pheThan late, when he who praised, and read, and
It is not criticism, but sympathy,
which catches at once the whispers of genius, Was apt to find himself the self-same me."
and readily recogrises a new poet in the bud. The simple confession that he never knew Such an apparition appeals to the critic, not be was too hard for the most cursory reader on the critical side of his nature, which prosheds a flood of light on the author of Sordel-ceeds by rules and precedents, but on the lo and Paracelsus. If he was unintelligible, it side of his feelings, which it is his business was not on theory, nor with the affectation to control and prune. The plodding critic of those inconsiderate authors who would sees too little; the enthusiastic critic sees rather be admired than understood, nor per- too much; the genuine critic is suspected of
for the cave,
enthusiasm. Amongst them the new poet re- to have "liked me not," into admirers who mains unacknowledged, and has to make his may like me yet, marry and amen.” It is way painfully by his own weight. Mr. not that the coarse love of reputation has reBrowning has experienced this long struggle, placed the refined craving for sympathy, but and, though forcing himself to be cheerful that the sense of power urges him to assay under the trial, has, at least vicariously, grum- his force upon a larger mass. bled at his audience,
In the explanation which he gives of the “ The public blames originalities.
title of his poem, Mr. Browning invites atYou must not pump spring-water unawares
tention to the matter of which he makes it, Upon a gracious public, full of nerves."
to the form in which he ultimately leaves it,
and to the alloy which he lends it, by proWith "patience perforce," he has resigned jecting into it his own “surplusage of soul." himself to be his own audience and his own The poet, his method, and his materials,make critic; but fortunately for himself, he has up
poem. also kept his ears open to the sounds of the Mr. Browning has been long before the outer world, and at last the happy thought has world. As a poet he seeks to be not a mere struck him that he would try to say what he rhymer, not a mere expresser of ordinary meant in language common to himself and thoughts in uncommon language, but a vates, his fellow-men. This has worked well for a prophet, and expounder of the mysteries of his poetry. There is a new sense of freedom things. He is a thcological poet, a Chrisin his present book. The man who writes tian, orthodox in the main, but tempering for himself only, his own sole reader and his creed with universalist notions about the sole judge, can never satisfy himself; for, ultimate salvation of all men. He is, moreoknowing both terms, the ideal and its embodi- ver, a moralist, especially in relation to causes ment, he also knows the gulf between them. of love and marriage. Both as theologian and In writing for others, he writes for those who moralist he is a confirmed casuist. With a can only guess at his ideal, and cannot tell secondary sympathy for creeds which he does whether his expression of it falls short or not profess, and for habits which he disallows, runs over; he must therefore be more care- he takes a special pleasure, and shows an less of their judgment than of his own. extraordinary facility, in throwing himself Writing for other men thus delivers the scru- into the states of mind of the professors of pulous author from his own most importu- such creeds, or the thralls of such babits, nate carper, himself, without making him the groping tenderly his assumed conscience, exthrall of his new masters. It delivers him plaining and defending to himself his hypofrom his domestic slavery without selling thetical position, and making out the best him to a new servitude.
case he can in the assertion, or defence, or In availing himself of his new freedom, palliation, or simple exposition, of the mental Mr. Browning has wrought no notable change and moral situation. He possesses this in himself. He is the same man, the same power to so a remarkable a degree, that he thinker, the same speaker, as formerly, but can enter into phases of intellect which are delivered at last from the bonds of the anx- even beneath humanity, and belong, if to ious and minute self-inspection and exami- anything, to inferior beings. One of his nation which, he confesses, qualified his strongest points is the faculty of seizing the former utterances. The present poem of lower and more bestial currents of thought 21,000 lines, the product of four years' and feeling, and translating them into human thought, has evidently not been distilled by language. Nothing is more known to a driblets with a bar's rest between each drop, man's obscure self-consciousness than the in the alternate fire of invention and frost of importunate proofs of his animality and his criticism. Mr. Browning has never been one degradation. But nothing is more uncom
mon than the translation of these sullen and “ To strain from hard-bound brains eight lines darkness-haunting feelings into coherent and a year.”
articulate thought. In all men, civilized or On the contrary, his gush is, if anything, too savage, there is a possibility of the generation easy; he sometimes squanders himself in a of superstition out of sottish ignorance or debauch of words, and, rather than fall short panic terror. But it would be miraculous of his tale of bread, when wheat flour fails will to see such ignorance and terror contemplamake use of sawdust and chopped hay. ting themselves, arguing upon themselves, Such stuffing is omitted in this, the first poem and formulating their conclusions, as in Mr. which the author has written avowedly and Browning's "Caliban upon Setebos." of set purpose, not for himself but for his sees that the intellect can express all things, audience, and with the express intention of even what is most contrary to itself. There converting the “ British public,” who hither-may be a science of ignorance; there may bə a fine bust of an unrefined face, an amusing “For nature is made better by no mean, personation of bore, and a philosophical re- But nature makes that mean." flection of the workings of the dull and embryo intellect, of a lump neither alive nor The unnatural kind of art he rejects, and dead. Mr. Browning even goes so far as to under its category he includes such things strive to enter the animal brain, to open a
as the speech which hides instead of reveal. new intercourse with fishes and insects, to feel ing our thoughts, and the political contriin his own fibres the irrational consciousness, vances which keep up artificial social relaand to express in words what birds and beasts tions and the conventionalities of civilisation. express in cries and pipings. He, if any one, The moral which he draws at the end of the is the man for whom
present poem is "Pigs might squeak love odes, dogs bark “This lesson --- that our human speech is satire.”
Our human testimony false--our fame He has a power of seeing things in their And human estimation words and wind." chaotic rudiments, of ranging them in lines one behind the other, so as to see one thing Truth, he tells us, comes out, not in the through another, of tracing the perfect form long-drawn collections of reason, but in the in the germ, and finding kindred not only in sudden interjections of feeling. Testimony likeness but in contradiction. Such a pow is for him a perversion of facts to prove a er might result in Hudibras's confusion of foregone conclusion ; this conclusion, mere vision, whose
words and wind, and life itself—at least ar. “notions fitted things so well,
tificial, correct, externally-ordered life-only That which was which he could not tell." a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and
fury, signifying nothing. Sir Humphrey In Mr. Browning it only leads to a meta- Davy has remarked, that the first effect of phorical babit, full of comparisons, which incipient civilisation, in the way of clothing, looks at things not centrally, in their own is to make man rebel against nature by tatcharacteristic qualities and acts, but colla- tooing his skin, boring his ears, or slitting terally in their relations, and
his nose; and Mr. Browning takes up the " With windlaces, and with assays of bias
parable and delights in framing cases, which By indirections finds directions out." shall expose the unexpected but universal
contradictions that crop up between nature Mr. Browning thinks in blocks, by images and artificial life. He finds ererywhere and pictures, not by abstract notions, and baseness, emptiness, and hollowness, but alforms his ideas not by clearing away the ways, where Rousseau finds it, in the consuperfluous, but by conglomerating all pos- ventional and made-up part of life. The sible details. He adopts not Goethe's ideal men and women whom he offers to our scom, of simplicity and repose, but the Shakes- ridicule, or disapproval, are very often mere pearian ideal, and therefore cuts off no ex- painted bladders distended with the wires crescence, though it be ugly, prefers sub- and buckram of social machinery. He de stance to form, truth to ornament, the raw lights in placing a cold colourless soul withthing, with all its natural complications and in some special social forcing-house, in order irregularities, to the manufactured thing, that he may study the influence which some with all its pruvings, transformations, artifi- political situation, or some wheel of the me cialities, and arrangements. To embody chanism of society, would exercise upon it. this ideal a poet must have, besides subtlety This is the prescription according to which and tenderness, a coarse, round-about com- he has made up Luria ” and “The Soul's mon sense, and a freedom and familiarity of Tragedy;". In The Flight of the Duchmind which jumbles together the great and ess and “My last Duchess," he carries out the little, and jests about its creed as natu- the principle so logically that the two Dukes rally as it rails with its friend or toys with become not men but apparitions of abstract its mistress.
dukeness. They hardly exist as persons; The same habit of mind which prefers the they impose themselves as institutions; and free forest scenery of Shakespeare's school their wives, who ought to be nourished on to the clipped and prim parterres of Racine, their warm humanity, are starved, and either usually magnifies nature and disparages art, die or elope. Lord "Tresham, in “ The Blot and distributes arts into two classes, that on the Scutcheon,” is rather abstract rank which follows nature, and that which expels than a man of rank. Mr. Browning is a it. The first kind of art Mr. Browning al- master in exhibiting how a system or creed, lows, because in all its workings the art it. or conviction, or craze, imposes itself on a self is nature.
man, enters into him, possesses him, and
takes the place of his soul. In his hands | burst o'er the house, and wiped clean its the abstract essence of an age, or society, or filthy walls with a wash of hell-fire, and school, becomes a kind of goblin, a simula- bathed the avenger's name clean in blood.” crum of a soul, which may on occasion serve | A courtly canon, beginning life at Arezzo to instead of a soul for his men and women. end it at Rome, is The quintessence of the Renaissance is im
“A star, shall climb apace and culminate, personated in “The Bishop's Tomb in St.
Have its due hand-breadth of the heaven Praxed."
at Rome, But even the better part of human ener- Though meanwhile pausing on Arezzo's gy, its spontaneous action, is affected with edge, an imperfection analogous to that of its pre- As modest candle mid the mountain fog, meditated action incompleteness. Wher
To rub off reduess and rusticity ever the element of contrivance or thought
Eer it sweep chastened, gain the silver comes in it leaves its mark. Art is marred
sphere." by “the particular devil that makes all things incomplete.” Even when reason is What would Boileau or Pope say to such apprenticed to feeling, and is made blind to confusion of metaphor ? It is only defensigive passion eyes, it still retains its infec- ble on the ground that the writer is dissatis
fied with the coldness of our bleached abtious virus. Human passion and human action become, not hollow like reason, but in. stract terms, and is making a new pictorial complete.
or hieroglyphic vocabulary to represent his
thoughts. 6 All success
Sometimes the similes are prolonged into Proves partial failure; all advance implies What's left behind ; all triumph, something episodes; and in such cases the reader is crushed
almost certain to find that in the long-run At the chariot wheels."
the picture and the thought are only par
tially consistent. Incompleteness, first the Love is linked to what it hates, or is divid- devil of art, soon comes to receive a Pagad ed from what it loves, or is ejected by jeal- worship, and is then enthroned as a god. It ousy, or fades away into indifference. Hate is a grief which the poet learns to wear destroys itself by its very success. And passion, not intellect, is
“ like a hat, aside,
With a flower stuck in it." "Indispntably mistress of the man.'
One of the cantos of this poem is a speech Life then, made up as it is of the empty con- of Bottini, an advocate, who, in about a huntrivances of reason, and the imperfect utter- dred lines of exordium, discourses touching ances of passion, becomes itself vanity, and the way in which an artist composes a picwould be merely a failure and a jest if it ture; then, for about forty lines, the princiwere not for its teleological consequences. ple thus illustrated is applied to his own But Mr. Browning, theologian as he is, can business, when the orator suddenly finds the rarely help looking chiefly
at its grotesque application unmanageable, and so takes to a side, and speaking of it somewhat in Thersi. new metaphor. Half-a-dozen lines further tes's vein, without reference to its more on he finds that he must let his new simile serious aspects; or rather, he jumbles up its go, and invent still another. Perhaps Botcomic and tragic sides, and illustrates them tini is no more astray in his application of by the first metaphors which come to band, painting to oratory than the poet himself is with the indifference of nature planting a
in his comparison between ring-making and hedgerow with nettles and honeysuckles, poetry, from which The Ring and the Book roses and toadstools.
has its title. The gold is the dead matter The recklessness with which he squanders of the poem; the alloy is the " surplusage of his similes is rather & characteristic of his soul,” which the poet projects into the dead mind than of his style. Next to Shake matter to make it malleable; the embossing . speare, he is the most comparative of poets, and shaping is the poetic form; the spirit of because, like Shakespeare, he thinks bý | acid by which the alloy is washed away is images, not by abstractions. And he treats, some final act of the poet, by which he reeach image as a word, not to be followed by moves all traces of himself, and leaves the a consequent image, as pictorial effect might poem quite impersonal. This Mr. Browndemand, but by another image-word, which ing claims to have done : may carry on the sense, without reference
"So I wrought to the congruity of the metaphor. He will
This arc, by furtherance of such alloy describe a murder thus :-" Vengeance, like And so, by one spirt, take away its trace: a mountain wave that holds a monster in it, Till, justifiably golden, rounds my ring."
But the reader, who will see that each | very good story of the apostles Peter, John, speaker in these idyls talks unmistakeable and Judas. It is somewhat of an anticlimax Browningese, that, however varied the char- when, in the application, the faithful apostles acter, the turns of thought and expression stand for two knaves, and the traitor for always remain similar, and that with the the hero whose conduct Bottini is defendrough hands of Esau we still have the voice ing. of Jacob, will justifiably wonder what spirt Allied with the incompleteness of his more it is which has caused that which was only elaborate similes is the indirectness of his just now alloy suddenly to have become pure passing metaphors. As he gives life to his uvalloyed gold. He may think the process story, so he wishes also his diction to be as imaginary as that of the scrupulous alive and liquid; and to effect this he does Abbot, who, finding himself seated before not kill and anatomize his images, and make roast chicken on a Friday, commanded the a cabinet of the bits, but gives each in its capon to be carp, and then canonically fell | natural and living totality, even though it to with clear conscience. For in truth we may be too great or too little for the matter cannot find that Mr. Browning makes any in hand. As the Chinese represents a special spirt to clear away his own additions foreign word, not by any alphabetical spellto the story, except an argument to prove ing, but by a combination of the nearest that the alloy is no alloy, but spirit and syllables which his monosyllabic dictionary life. According to him, historical fact is contains, so Mr. Browning communicates gold, but gold in the ingot. The gold is his ideas, not by images which have been uuformed; the fact unvivified, lifeless, un- worn down to mere symbols and abstract remembered. An old and dead fact can words, but by whole pictures. It is as if he only be re-created by being infused, trans- tried to represent a circle with a number of fused, inspired, by the living force of a rough sticks. He could only make a polycreative, or rather re-creative, fancy, which gon, each side of which would be represented is related to fact as alloy is related to gold by a most unmathematical piece of rusticity. in making the ring-necessary to prepare it and this inadequacy of representation he for the hammer and file which are to give it seems to accept, not as a painful necessity, artistic shape and imagery. All facts, as but as a condition of poetical beauty. He they are performed, live their day, and then compels his eye to view things askance. His fade into oblivion. Some leave their shrunk metaphors, which are his new words, are skin and dry bones in apnals, and are en generally one-sided and incomplete; so are tombed in archives. These too are dead, his poems. The concluding canto of the but, like dry sponges, are able to suck up present poem is like the conclusion of a firethe living water, and so to be raised to a work—an empty tube and a stick. It will second life, which the artist, from whose not do to say of this poem that the end breast that water flows, confers on them. crowns the work; a better motto would be God gives the first life; the artist gives the
“ Acribus initiis, incurioso fine." second. The creative force proceeds forth from the poet, mixes itself with the deceased He leaves his work to end in a flourish, like fact, makes the shrunk skin plump, the dead a torso in arabesque. And this gives bis bones to live, and the corpse to stand on its poetry an appearance of coarseness of design feet, and run on its own legs. However true and execution. There is nothing like vul. all this may be, it does not seem to account garity in it, if vulgarity is a conventional for any double action of the poet. The coarseness; nor is his coarseness one of ex. alloy is added by one act. An apprentice aggeration, like that of the fabby imiin the art will make this alloy so personal tators of Rubens: it is rather akin to that the dramatic element will be nil; each the coarseness of the earlier Flemings, speaker will only be a mask to conceal the in pictures of martyrdoms or of the last poet's face, not his voice. A great artist judgment. They ransack Noah's ark will make the alloy entirely impersonal, and for monstrous reptiles, obscene birds, will allow it to contain none of the elements poisonous insects, hogs and hyænas, each of of his own biography. But whatever alloy which suggests some special ugliness and the poet first contributes remains in the per- wickedness, and which altogether make a fect poem, unless he writes it all over again. very grotesque, but a very effective There are not two distinct acts--first of tion of hell. Or, to come down to later infusing surplusage of soul, and next of days, his coarseness is something like that washing it away. Here, as elsewhere, Mr. of Gustave Doré, who made a mistake in Browning seems, of set purpose, to let an choosing the sculptured and classical imagery element of incompleteness, or even error, of Mr. Tennyson to illustrate, rather than remain in his similes. An amusing instance the Rembrandt - like obscurities of Mr. occurs in Bottini's speech, where he tells a 1 Browning. The poet of Childe Roland has