Slike strani

"Ma vedi là un anima che posta

Sola soletta versa noi riguarda ;
Quella ne'nsegnerà la via più tosta.

Venimmo a lei : O anima Lombarda,
Come ti stavi altera e disdegnosa,
E nel mover degli occhj onesta e tarda !

Ella non ci diceva alcuna cosa,
Ma laciavene gir, solo guardando
A guisa di leon quando si posa."

"But look and mark that spirit posted there
Apart, alone, who gazes as we go;

He will instruct us how we best may fare.

We came to him : O Lombard spirit, lo,

What pride and scorn thy bearing then expressed, The movement of thine eyes how firm and slow!

No word at all he unto us addressed,

But let us pass, only regarding still

In manner of a lion when at rest."

Yet no good judge who watched how strenuously this still youthful genius was wrestling with the difficult. and almost indomitable subject-matter of "Sordello could help foreseeing its triumphant mastery over whatever it might undertake when its slow strong growth should be fully mature. To my mind this thorough maturity was reached in the two volumes of "Men and Women," published in 1855. There had been previous poems mature as well as great; but in this collection, distributed under various headings in the six-volume edition of 1868, I found, and find, all the leading pieces mature; the fire burns intensely clear, completely consuming its own smoke.


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To name a score of the fifty: "Karshish and "Cleon,' "Andrea del Sarto" and "Fra Lippo Lippi," "A Toccata of Galuppi's," "Bishop Blougram," "In a Balcony," "Childe Roland," "Two in the Campagna," "A Serenade at the Villa," "Memorabilia," "Respectability," "Instans Tyrannus," "Holy Cross Day," "The Statue and the Bust," "Evelyn Hope," ," "The Guardian Angel," "By the Fireside" (whose Greek promise has already been so amply fulfilled), "Any Wife to any Husband," "One Word More," and, higher than the rest, as its hero was higher than any of the people from the shoulders and upward, the complete "Saul;" these are not only noble in conception and aspiration, they are each in its befitting style consummate in achievement; not one of them unworthy of a great country's greatest living poet. Of the wonderful works that have followed I need not say anything here, not even of that stupendous masterpiece, "The Ring and the Book," concerning which I have recently had the opportunity of saying something elsewhere.*

3. Charge of Harshness.-Allied to the common charge of obscurity is that of harshness, variously attributed to negligence, wilfulness, lack of inborn melody and harmony; or, as I have been somewhat surprised to hear pretty often, deliberate affectation, this last evil propensity being made responsible for the obscurity also. As to the negligence and wilfulness, Browning has himself told us that he has always done his best; and I, for one, would take his word, even did I not find it as I do find it-manifestly confirmed by the sincerity, the earnestness, the

*Gentleman's Magazine, December 1881.

thoroughness of all his work. As to the lack of innate melody and harmony, how can such a charge be maintained in the face of the poems just cited, not to mention others later and still greater? But let us distinguish. His strong, intensely original, and many-sided individuality has, among finer savours, a keen relish for the odd, the peculiar, the quaint, the grotesque; and when these offer themselves in the subject-matter, his guiding genius is apt to throw the reins on the necks of the vigorous talents and eager perceptions, which run risky riot in language as quaint and grotesque as the theme. Students will recall Sibrandus Schafnaburgensis, "Master Hugues of SaxeGotha," "Old Pictures at Florence," the Lawyers in "The Ring and the Book." Let us admit further that, perhaps too often and inopportunely, a perplexing patter or harsh jingle has irresistible seduction for him. Thus, such lines as

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"While the patching houseleek's head of blossom winks Through the chinks,"

cruelly remind one of "Peter Piper picked a peck of pepper;" and the second, third, and fourth stanzas in "Mesmerism," clever and true as they are in themselves, appear to me not only incongruous with the main theme, but absolutely untrue in relation to the speaker, who, with his whole mind absorbed in his self-set task, would not have noticed the petty distractions they describe. For other instances I need but mention "Waring," "Christmas Eve," and the "Flight of the Duchess;" in which last splendidly original and vigorous poem, by the way, while much of the audacious grotesque of the diction is consonant

with the rough forester who tells the story, much is quite incompatible with him.

In many of these cases it may be fairly contended on behalf of the poet, that he but asserts and vindicates his own artistic sovereignty over the subject by holding it aloof and beneath him, by now and then goodnaturedly laughing at it, as Richter, I think, says one must be able to laugh at or sport with one's faith in order to really possess it.

But whatever may be the ultimate judgment on this matter, it may be fearlessly affirmed that whenever the subject is so great and solemn as to possess the poet, instead of him possessing it, be its supremacy of terror or pathos, beauty or awe, he ever rises in expression as in conception with his theme; and he has a most noble natural affinity with noble themes. Then not the mere talents or the piercing perceptions are in the ascendant, but the Divine genius holds imperial sway; then pure imagination, or imaginative reason, or imaginative passion, incarnates itself in its own proper language of majestic rhythm, tenderest melody, orchestral harmony-orchestral because comprehensive and manifold with the complex simplicity and integrity of a high organism. For the rest, we do not in the grandeur of fortress or cathedral look for the minute finish and polish of carvings in gems or ivory.

Affectation means Naturalness.-Lastly, as to the affectation, I have come to learn that it usually means, when objected, even by persons of superior intelligence, against any great artist of whatever kind, the direct contrary of what it is commonly supposed to mean. It means that he is supremely and exquisitely unaffected, being scrupulously true to his own individu

ality. It means that he wears the garb befitting his peculiar stature and complexion, and does not affect the passing fashions which uniform the undistinguished multitudes. If he is a writer or orator, it means that he stamps with vigorous clearness his own image and superscription on his word-mintage; affirming thus his true sovereign prerogative, instead of issuing the common currency with the common image and superscription half-effaced by multitudinous usage, not to speak of debasement by sweating and clipping-the demonetised, vulgarised vocabulary of the newspapers.

Browning himself expresses just as much esteem for the public that accuses him of harshness as for the critics who accuse him of obscurity. In the Epilogue to the Pacchiarotto volume (1876), written in the same spirit as a certain famous high-minded Ode to Himself by Ben Jonson, he bursts out with jolly scorn :

""Tis said I brew stiff drink,

But the deuce a flavour of grape is there.

Don't nettles make a broth

Wholesome for blood grown lazy and thick ?
Maws out of sorts make mouths out of taste.

My Thirty-four Port-no need to waste

On a tongue that's fur, and a palate paste !

A magnum for friends who are sound! the sickI'll posset and cosset them, nothing loth,

Henceforward with nettle-broth!"

Yet he could write in the Preface to the "Selections," dated May, 1872: "Nor do I apprehend any more charges of being wilfully obscure, unconscientiously careless, or perversely harsh."

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