Skip to main content

Full text of "The poetry of Robert Browning"

See other formats







Cornell University Library 
PR 4238.B87 

The poetry of Robert Browning, 

3 1924 013 444 546 

Cornell University 

The original of tliis book is in 
tlie Cornell University Library. 

There are no known copyright restrictions in 
the United States on the use of the text. 








Copyright, i9°»> 


Published September, iv>^- 



Browning and Tennyson . 


• 11. 

The Treatment of Nature 

• in 

. III. 

The Treatment of Nature 

■ 90 

: - IV. 

Browning's Theory of Human Life: 

Pauline and Paracelsus 


• V. 

The Poet of Art .... 

. 141 





Browning and Sordello . 


. VIII. 

The Dramas 



Poems of the Passion of Love 



The Passions Other than Love 



Imaginative Representations . 



Imaginative Representations : 




Womanhood in Browning . . . . 



Womanhood in Browning: 

The Dramatic Lyrics and Pompilia . 






The Ring and the Book . . . . 



Later Poems 



The Last Poems 




PARNASSUS, Apollo's mount, has two peaks, 
and on these, for sixty years, from 1830 to 
1890,* two poets sat, till their right to these lofty 
peaks became unchallenged. Beneath them, during 
these years, on the lower knolls of the mount of 
song, many new poets sang; with diverse instru- 
ments, on various subjects, and in manifold ways. 
They had their listeners; the Muses were also 
their visitants ; but none of them ventured seriously 
to dispute the royal summits where Browning and 
Tennyson sat, and smiled at one another across the 
vale between. 

Both began together ; and the impulses which 
came to them from the new and excited world 
which opened its fountains in and about 1832 
continued to impel them till the close of their lives. 
While the poetic world altered around them, while 
two generations of poets made new schools of 
poetry, they remained, for the most part, unaffected 

* I state it roughly. The Poems of Two Brothers appeared in 
1826, Tennyson's first single volume in 1830, his second in 1833, 
his last in 1889. Browning's first poem was issued in 1833, his 
last in 1S90. Paracelsus, in which his genius clearly disclosedv^ 
itself, was published in 1835, ^•''l^ Tennyson, seven years later, 
proved his mastership in the two volumes of 1842. 
B I 



by these schools. There is nothing of Arnold and 
Clough, of Swinburne, Rossetti or Morris, or of 
any of the others, in Browning or Tennyson. 
There is nothing even of Mrs. Browning in 
Browning. What changes took place in them 
were wrought, first, by the natural growth of their 
own character; secondly, by the natural develop- 
ment of their art-power ; and thirdly, by the slow 
decaying of that power. They were, in com- 
parison with the rest, curiously uninfluenced by 
the changes of the world around them. The 
main themes, with which they began, they retained 
to the end. Their methods, their instruments, their 
way of feeling into the world of man and of nature, 
their relation to the doctrines of God and of Man, 
did not, though on all these matters they held 
diverse views, alter with the alteration of the 
world. But this is more true of Browning than 
of Tennyson. The political and social events of 
those years touched Tennyson, as we see from 
Maud and the Princess, but his way of looking at 
them was not the way of a contemporary. It 
might have been predicted from his previous career 
and work. Then the new movements of Science 
and Criticism which disturbed Clough and Arnold 
so deeply, also troubled Tennyson, but not half so 
seriously. He staggered for a time under the 
attack on his old conceptions, but he never yielded 
to it. He was angry with himself for every doubt 
that beset him, and angry with the Science and 
Criticism which disturbed the ancient ideas he was 
determined not to change. Finally, he rested where 
he had been when he wrote In Memoriam, nay 
more, where he had been when he began to write. 


There were no such intervals in Browning's 
thought. One could scarcely say from his poetry, 
except in a very few places, that he was aware of 
the social changes of his time, or of the scientific 
and critical movement which, while he lived, so 
profoundly modified both theology and religion.* 
Asolando, in 1890, strikes the same chords, but more 
feebly, which Paracelsus struck in 1835. 

But though, in this lofty apartness and self- 
unity, Browning and Tennyson may fairly be said 
to be at one, in themselves and in their song 
they were different. There could scarcely be two 
characters, two musics, two minds, two methods 
in art, two imaginations, more distinct and con- 
trasted than those which lodged in these men — 
and the object of this introduction is to bring out 
this contrast, with the purpose of placing in a 
clearer light some of the peculiar elements in the 
poetry of Browning, and in his position as a poet. 

I. Their public fate was singularly different. In 
1842 Tennyson, with his two volumes of Collected 
Poems, made his position. The Princess, in 1847, 
increased his reputation. In 1850, In Memoriam 

* A Death in the Desert touches on the doubts which, when it 
was written, had gathered from historical criticism round the 
subject-matter of the Gospels, but the prophetic answer of St. 
John is not critical. It is Browning's personal reply to the 
critics, and is based on his own religious philosophy. The 
critical part of the argument is left untouched, and the answer is 
given from the poet's plane. It is the same when in the 
Parleyings with certain People Furini is made to embody Browning's 
belief in a personal God in contradistinction with the mere 
evolutionist. He does not argue the points. He places one 
doctrine over against the other and bids the reader choose. 
Moreover, he claims his view as his own alone. He seeks to 
impose it on no one. 


raised him, it was said, above all the poets of his 
time, and the book was appreciated, read, and loved 
by the greater part of the English-speaking world. 
The success and popular fame which now followed 
were well deserved and wisely borne. They have 
endured and will endure. A host of imitators, 
who caught his music and his manner, filled the 
groves and ledges which led up to the peak on 
which he lived. His side of Parnassus was 

It was quite otherwise with his brother-poet. 
Only a few clear-eyed persons cared to read 
Paracelsus, which appeared in 1835. Strafford, 
Browning's first drama, had a little more vogue ; it 
was acted for a while. When Sordello, that 
strange child of genius, was born in 1840, those 
who tried to read its first pages declared they were 
incomprehensible. It seems that critics in those 
days had either less intelligence than we have, or 
were more impatient and less attentive, for not 
only Sordello but even In Memoriam was said to be 
exceedingly obscure. 

Then, from 1841 to 1846, Browning published at 
intervals a series of varied poems and dramas, imder 
the title of Bells and Pomegranates. These, one 
might imagine, would have grasped the heart of 
any public which had a care for poetry. Among 
them were such diverse poems as Pippa Passes ; 
A Blot in the 'Scutcheon ; Saul; The Pied Piper 
of Hamelin ; My Last Duchess ; Waring. I only 
mention a few (all different in note, subject and 
manner from one another), in order to mark 
the variety and range of imaginative power dis- 
played in this wonderful set of little books. The 


Bells of poetry's music, hung side by side with the 
golden Pomegranates of thought, made the fringe 
of the robe of this high priest of song. Rarely 
have imagination and intellect, ideal faith and the 
sense which handles daily life, passion and 
quietude, the impulse and self-mastery of an 
artist, the joy of nature and the fates of men, 
grave tragedy and noble grotesque, been mingled 
together more fully — bells for the pleasure and 
fruit for the food of man. 

Yet, on the whole, they fell dead on the public. 
A few, however, loved them, and all the poems 
were collected in 1849. In Memoriam and this 
Collected Edition of Browning issued almost to- 
gether ; but with how different a fate and fame we 
see most plainly in the fact that Browning can 
scarcely be said to have had any imitators. The 
groves and ledges of his side of Apollo's mountain 
were empty, save for a few enchanted listeners, 
who said : " This is our music, and here we build 
our tent." 

As the years went on, these readers increased in 
number, but even when the volumes entitled Men 
and Women were published in 1855, ^"d the 
Dramatis Personce in 1864, his followers were but- 
a little company. For all this neglect Browning 
cared as a bird cares who sings for the love of 
singing, and who never muses in himself whether 
the wood is full or not of listeners. Being always 
a true artist, he could not stop versing and 
playing ; and not one grain of villain en-^ touched 
his happy heart when he looked across the valley 
to Tennyson. He loved his mistress Art, and his 
love made him always joyful in creating. 


At last his time came, but it was not till nearly 
twenty years after the Collected Poems of 1849 
that The Ring and the Book astonished the reading 
public so much by its intellectual tour de force that 
it was felt to be unwise to ignore Browning any 
longer. His past work was now discovered, read 
and praised. It was not great success or world- 
wide fame that he attained, but it was plea- 
sant to him, and those who already loved his 
poems rejoiced with him. Before he died he was 
widely read, never so much as Tennyson, but far 
more than he had ever expected. It had become 
clear to all the world that he sat on a rival height 
with Tennyson, above the rest of his fellow-poets. 

Their public fate, then, was very different. 
Tennyson had fifty years of recognition. Browning 
barely ten. And to us who now know Browning 
this seems a strange thing. Had he been one of 
' the smaller men, a modem specialist like Arnold 
or Rossetti, we could better understand it. But 
Browning's work was not limited to any particular 
or temporary phase of human nature. He set 
himself to represent, as far as he could, all types 
of human nature ; and, more audacious still, types 
taken from many diverse ages, nations, and climates. 
He told us of times and folk as far apart as Caliban 
and Cleon, as Karshish and Waring, as Balaustion 
and Fifine, as St. John and Bishop Blougram. 
The range and the contrasts of his subjects are 
equally great. And he did this work with a 
searching analysis, a humorous keenness, a joyous 
boldness, and an opulent imagination at once 
penetrative and passionate. When, then, we realise 
this as we realise it now, we are the more astonished 


that appreciation of him lingered so long. Why 
did it not come at first, and why did it come in the 

The first answer to that question is a general 
one. During the years between i860 and 1890, 
and especially during the latter half of these years, 
science and criticism were predominant. Their 
determination to penetrate to the roots of things 
made a change in the general direction of thought 
and feeling on the main subjects of life. Analysis 
became dearer to men than synthesis, reasoning 
than imagination. Doubtful questions were sub- 
mitted to intellectual decision alone. The Under- 
standing, to its great surprise, was employed on 
the investigation of the emotions, and even the 
artists were drawn in this direction. They, too, 
began to dissect the human heart. Poets and 
writers of fiction, students of human nature, were 
keenly interested, not so much in our thoughts 
and feelings as in exposing how and why we 
thought or felt in this or that fashion. In such 
analysis they seemed to touch the primal sources 
of life. They desired to dig about the tree of 
humanity and to describe all the windings of its 
roots and fibres — not much caring whether they 
withered the tree for a time — rather than to describe 
and sing its outward beauty, its varied foliage, and 
its ruddy fruit. And this liking to investigate the 
hidden inwardness of motives — which many persons, 
weary of self-contemplation, wisely prefer to keep 
hidden — ran through the practice of all the arts. 
They became, on the whole, less emotional, more 
intellectual. The close marriage between passion 
and thought, without whose cohabitation no work 


of genius is born in the arts, was dissolved ; and 
the intellect of the artist often worked by itself, 
and his emotion by itself. Some of the partheno- 
genetic children of these divorced powers were 
curious products, freaks, even monsters of litera- 
ture, in which the dry, cynical, or vivisecting temper 
had full play, or the naked, lustful, or cruel ex- 
posure of the emotions in ugly, unnatural, or 
morbid forms was glorified. They made an im- 
pudent claim to the name of Art, but they were 
nothing better than disagreeable Science. But 
this was an extreme deviation of the tendency. 
The main line it took was not so detestable. It 
was towards the ruthless analysis of li^e, and of 
the soul of man; a part, in fact, of the general 
scientific movement. The outward forms of things 
charmed writers less than the motives which led 
to their making. The description of the tangled 
emotions and thoughts of the inner life, before 
any action took place, was more pleasurable to 
the writer, and easier, than any description of their 
final result in act. This was borne to a weari- 
some extreme in fiction, and in these last days a 
comfortable reaction from it has arisen. In poetry 
it did not last so long. Morris carried us out of it. 
But long before it began, long before its entrance 
into the arts. Browning, who on another side of 
his genius delighted in the representation of action, 
anticipated in poetry, and from the beginning of 
his career, twenty, even thirty years before it be- 
came pronounced in literature, this tendency to 
the intellectual analysis of human nature. When 
he began it, no one cared for it; and Paracelsus, 
Sordello and the soul-dissecting poems in Bells and 


Pomegranates fell on an unheeding world. But 
Browning did not heed the unheeding of the world. 
He had the courage of his aims in art, and while 
he frequently shaped in his verse the vigorous 
movement of life, even to its moments of fierce 
activity, he went on quietly, amid the silence of the 
world, to paint also the slowly interwoven and 
complex pattern of the inner Ufe of men. And 
then, when the tendency of which I speak had 
collared the interest of society, society, with great and 
ludicrous amazement, found him out. " Here is a 
man," it said, " who has been doing in poetry for the 
last thirty years the very thing of which we are so 
fond, and who is doing it with delightful and varied 
subtlety. We will read him now." So Browning, 
anticipating by thirty years the drift of the world, 
was not read at first; but, afterward, the world 
having reached him, he became a favoured poet. 
However, fond as he was of metaphysical 
analysis, he did not fall into the extremes into 
which other writers carried it. Paracelsus is, 
indeed, entirely concerned with the inner history of 
a soul, but Sordello combines with a similar history 
a tale of political and warlike action in which men 
and women, like Salinguerra and Palma, who live 
in outward work rather than in inward thought, 
are described ; while in poems like Pippa Passes 
and some of the Dramas, emotion and thought, 
intimately interwoven, are seen blazing, as it were, 
into a lightning of swift deeds. Nor are other 
poems wanting, in which, not long analysis, but 
short passion, fiery outbursts of thought, taking 
immediate form, are represented with astonishing 


2. This second remarkable power of his touches 
the transition which has begun to carry us, in 
the last few years, from the subjective to the 
objective in art. The time came, and quite lately, 
when art, weary of intellectual and minute investi- 
gation, turned to realise, not the long inward life of 
a soul with all its motives laid bare, but sudden 
moments of human passion, swift and unoutlined 
impressions on the senses, the moody aspects of 
things, flared-out concentrations of critical hours of 
thought and feeling which years perhaps of action 
and emotion had brought to the point of eruption. 
Impressionism was bom in painting, poetry, sculp- 
ture, and music. 

It was curious that, when we sought for a master 
who had done this in the art of poetry, we found 
that Browning — who had in long poems done the 
very opposite of impressionism — had also, in a 
number of short poems, anticipated impressionist 
art by nearly forty years. Porphyria! s Lover, 
many a scene in Sordello, My Last Duckess, The 
Laboratory, Home Thoughts from Abroad, are only a 
few out of many. It is pleasant to think of the 
ultimate appearance of Waring, flashed out for a 
moment on the sea, only to disappear. In method, 
swiftness, and colour, but done in verse, it is an im- 
pressionist picture, as vivid in transient scenery 
as in colour. He did the same sort of work 
in poems of nature, of human life, of moments 
of passion, of states of the soul. That is another 
reason why he was not read at first, and why he is 
read now. He was impressionist long before 
Impressionism arrived. * When it arrived he was 
found out. And he stood alone, for Tennyson is 


never impressionist, and never could have been. 
Neither was Swinburne nor Arnold, Morris nor 

3. Again, in the leisured upper ranges of thought 
and emotion, and in the extraordinary complexity of 
human life which arose, first, out of the more inti- 
mate admixture of all classes in our society ; and 
secondly, out of the wider and more varied world- 
life which increased means of travel and knowledge 
afforded to men, Tennyson's smooth, melodious, 
simple development of art-subjects did not represent 
the clashing complexity of human life, whether 
inward in the passions, the intellect, or the soul, or 
in the active movement of the world. And the 
other poets were equally incapable of representing 
this complexity of which the world became clearly 
conscious. Arnold tried to express its beginnings, 
and failed, because he tried to explain instead of 
representing them. He wrote about them ; he did 
not write them down. Nor did he really belong 
to this novel, quick, variegated, involved world 
which was so pleased with its own excitement and 
entanglement. He was the child of a'world which 
was , then passing away, out of which life was 
fading, which was tired like Obermann, and sought 
peace in reflective solitudes. Sometimes he felt, as 
in The New Age, the pleasure of the coming life of 
the world, but he was too weary to share in it, 
and he claimed quiet. But chiefly he saw the 
disturbance, the unregulated life; and, unable to 
realise that it was the trouble and wildness of 
youth, he mistook it for the trouble of decay. He 
painted it as such. But it was really young, and 
out of it broke all kinds of experiments in social. 


religious, philosophical, and political thought, such 
as we have seen and read of for the last thirty 
years. Art joined in the experiments of this youth- 
ful time. It opened a new fountain and sent forth 
from it another stream, to echo this attempting, 
clanging, and complicated society ; and this stream 
did not flow like a full river, making large or 
sweet melody, but like a mountain torrent thick 
with rocks, the thunderous whirlpools of whose 
surface were white with foam. Changing and 
sensational scenery haunted its lower banks where 
it became dangerously navigable. Strange boats, 
filled with outlandish figures, who played on 
unknown instruments, and sang of deeds and 
passions remote from common life, sailed by on its 
stormy waters. Few were the concords, many the 
discords, and some of the discords were never 
resolved. But in one case at least — in the case of 
Browning's poetry, and in very many cases in the 
art of music — out of the discords emerged at last 
a full melody of steady thought and controlled 
emotion as (to recapture my original metaphor) the 
rude, interrupted music of the mountain stream 
reaches full and concordant harmony when it flows 
in peace through the meadows of the valley. 

These complex and intercleaving conditions of 
thought and passion into which society had grown 
Browning represented from almost the beginning 
of his work. When society became conscious of 
them — there it found him. And, amazed, it said, 
" Here is a man who forty years ago lived in the 
midst of our present life and wrote about it." 
They saw the wild, loud complexity of their world 
expressed in his verse ; and yet were dimly 


conscious, to their consolation, that he was aware 
of a central peace where the noise was quieted and 
the tangle unravelled. 

For Browning not only represented this dis- 
cordant, varied hurly-burly of life, but also, out of 
all the discords which he described, and which, 
when he chose, even his rhythms and word- 
arrangements reaHsed in sound, he drew aconcordant 
melody at last, and gave to a world, troubled with 
itself, the hope of a great concent into which all 
the discords ran, and where they were resolved. 
And this hope for the individual and the race was 
one of the deepest elements in Browning's religion. 
It was also the hope of Tennyson, but Tennyson 
was often uncertain of it, and bewailed the uncer- 
tainty. Browning was certain of his hope, and for 
the most part resolved his discords. Even when 
he did not resolve them, he firmly believed that 
they would be resolved. This, his essential 
difference from the other poets of the last fifty 
years, marks not only his apartness from the self- 
ignorance of English society, and the self-sceptical 
scepticism which arises from that self-ignorance, 
but also how steadily assured was the foundation 
of his spiritual hfe. In the midst of the shifting 
storms of doubt and trouble, of mockery, contradic- 
tion, and assertion on religious matters, he stood 
unremoved. Whatever men may think of his faith 
and his certainties, they reveal the strength of his 
character, the enduring courage of his soul, and 
the inspiring joyousness that, born of his strength, 
characterised him to the last poem he wrote. 
While the other poets were tossing on the sea of 
unresolved Question, he rested, musing and creating, 


on a green island whose rocks were rooted on the 
ocean-bed, and wondered, with the smiUng tolerance 
of his life-long charity, how his fellows were of so 
little faith, and why the sceptics made so much 
noise. He would have reversed the Psalmist's cry. 
He would have said, " Thou art not cast down, O 
my soul; thou art not disquieted within me. 
Thou hast hoped in God, who is the light of thy 
countenance, and thy God." 

At first the world, enamoured of its own com- 
plex discords, and pleased, like boys in the street, 
with the alarms it made, only cared for that part 
of Browning which represented the tangle and the 
clash, and ignored his final melody. But of late it 
has begun, tired of the restless clatter of intellectual 
atoms, to desire to hear, if possible, the majestic 
harmonies in which the discords are resolved. And 
at this point many at present and many more in 
the future will find their poetic and religious 
satisfaction in Browning. At the very end, then, 
of the nineteenth century, in a movement which 
had only just begun, men said to themselves, 
" Browning felt beforehand what we are beginning 
to hope for, and wrote of it fifty, even sixty years 
ago. No one cared then for him, but we care 

Again, though he thus anticipated the movements 
of the world, he did not, like the other poets, 
change his view about Nature, Man, and God. He 
conceived that view when he was young, and he 
did not alter it. Hence, he did not follow or 
reflect from year to year the opinions of his time on 
these great matters. When Paracelsus was published 
in 1835 Browning had fully thought out, and in that 


poem fully expressed, his theory of God's relation 
to man, and of man's relation to the universe 
around him, to his fellow-men, and to the world 
beyond. It was a theory which was original, if 
any theory can be so called. At least, its form, as 
he expressed it, was clearly original. Roughly 
sketched in Pauline, fully rounded in Paracelsus, it 
held and satisfied his mind till the day of his death. 
But Tennyson had no clear theory about Man or 
Nature or God when he began, nor was he 
afterwards, save perhaps whien he wrote the last 
stanzas of In Memoriam, a fully satisfied citizen of 
the city that has foundations. He beUeved in that 
city, but he could not always live in it. He grew 
into this or that opinion about the relations of God 
and man, and then grew out of it. He held 
now this, now that, view of Nature, and of Man in 
contact with Nature. There was always battle in 
his soul ; although he won his battle in the end, he 
had sixty years of war. Browning was at peace, 
firm-fixed. It is true the inward struggle of 
Tennyson enabled him to image from year to year 
his own time better than Browning did. It is true 
this struggle enabled him to have great variety in 
his art-work when it was engaged with the emotions 
which belong to doubt and faith ; but it also made 
him unable to give to his readers that sense of 
things which cannot be shaken, of faith in God and 
in humanity wholly independent, in its depths, of 
storms on the surface of this mortal life, which was 
one of Browning's noblest legacies to that wavering, 
faithless, pessimistic, analysis-tormented world 
through which we have fought our way, and out of 
which we are emerging. , 


4. The danger in art, or for an artist, of so 
settled a theory is that in expression it tends to 
monotony; and sometimes, when we find almost 
every poem of Browning's running up into his 
theory, we arrive at the borders of the Land of 
Weary-men. But he seems to have been aware of 
this danger, and to have conquered it. He meets 
it by the immense variety of the subjects he chooses, 
and of the scenery in which he places them. I 
do not think he ever repeats any one of his 
examples, though he always repeats his theory. 
And the pleasant result is that we can either ignore 
the theory if we like, or rejoice over its universal 
application, or, beyond it altogether, be charmed 
and excited by the fresh examples alone. And 
they are likely to charm, at least by variety, for 
they are taken from all ages of history ; from as 
many diverse phases of human act^character, and 
ga^gian as there are poems which concern them ; 
from many periods of the arts ; from most of the 
countries of Europe, from France, Germany, Spain, 
Italy (rarely from England), with their specialised 
types of race and of landscape ; and from almost 
every .class- of educated modern society. Moreover, 
he had a guard within his own nature against 
the danger of this monotony. It was the youthful 
freshness with which, even in advanced age, he 
followed his rapid impulses to art-creation. No 
one was a greater child than he in the quickness 
with which he received a sudden call to poetry 
from passing events or scenes, and in the eager- 
ness with which he seized them as subjects. He 
took the big subjects now and then which the 
world expects to be taken, and treated them with 


elaborate thought and steadfast feeling, but he 
was more often like the girl in his half-dramatic 
poem, whom the transient occurrences and sights 
of the day touched into song. He picked up his 
subjects as a man culls flowers in a mountain walk, 
moved by an ever-recurring joy and fancy in them 
— a book on a stall, a bust in an Italian garden, 
a face seen at the opera, the market chatter of 
a Tuscan town, a story told by the roadside in 
Brittany, a picture in some Accademia — so that, 
though the ground-thought might incur the danger 
of dulness through repetition, the joy of the artist 
so filled the illustration, and his freshness of inven- 
tion was so delighted with itself, that even to the 
reader the theory seemed like a new star. 

In this way he kept the use of having an 
unwavering basis of thought which gave unity to 
his sixty years of work, and yet avoided the peril 
of monotony. An immense diversity animated 
his unity, filled it with gaiety and brightness, and 
secured impulsiveness of fancy. This also differ- 
entiates him from Tennyson, who often wanted 
freshness ; who very rarely wrote on a sudden 
impulse, but after long and careful thought; to 
whose seriousness we cannot always climb with 
pleasure ; who played so little with the world. 
These defects in Tennyson had the excellences 
which belong to them in art, just as these excel- 
lences in Browning had, in art, their own defects. 
We should be grateful for the excellences, and not 
trouble ourselves about the defects. However, 
neither the excellences nor the defects concern us 
in the present discussion. It is the contrast be- 
tween the two men on which we dwell. 


5. The next point of contrast, which will further 
illustrate why Browning was not read of old but is 
now read, has to do with historical criticism. There 
arose, some time ago, as part of the scientific and 
critical movement of the last forty years, a desire 
to know and record accurately the early life of 
peoples, pastoral, agricultural, and in towns, and the 
beginning of their arts and knowledges ; and not 
only their origins, but the whole history of their 
development. A close, critical investigation was 
made of the origins of each people; accurate 
knowledge, derived from contemporary documents, 
of their life, laws, customs, and language was 
attained ; the facts of their history were separated 
from their mythical and legendary elements ; the 
dress, the looks of men, the climate of the time, 
the physical aspects of their country — all the 
skeleton of things was fitted together, bone to 
bone. And for a good while this merely critical 
school held the field. It did admirable and neces- 
sary work. 

But when it was done, art claimed its place in 
this work. The desire sprang up among historians 
to conceive all this history in the imagination, to 
shape vividly its scenery, to animate and individ- 
ualise its men and women, to paint the life of the 
human soul in it, to clothe it in flesh and |blood, to 
make its feet move and its eyes flash — but to do 
all these things within the limits of the accurate 
knowledge which historical criticism had defined. 
" Let us saturate ourselves," said the historians, 
•'with clear knowledge of the needful facts, and 
then, without violation of our knowledge, imagine 
the human life, the landscape, the thinking and 


feeling of a primaeval man, of his early religion, of 
his passions ; of Athens when the Persian came, of 
Rome when the Republic was passing into the 
Empire, of a Provincial in Spain or Britain, of a 
German town in the woods by the river. Let us 
see in imagination as well as in knowledge an 
English settlement on the Welsh border, an Italian 
mediaeval town when its art was being born, a 
Jewish village when Christ wandered into its 
streets, a musician or a painter's life at a time 
when Greek art was decaying, or when a new 
impulse like the Renaissance or the French Revo- 
lution came upon the world." When that effort of 
the historians had established itself, and we have 
seen it from blossoming to fruitage, people began 
to wonder that no poet had ever tried to do this 
kind of work. Ijt seemed eminently fitted for a 
poet's hand, full bf subjects alluring to the penetra- 
tive imagination. It needed, of course, some 
scholarship, for it demanded accuracy in its grasp 
of the main ideas of the time to be represented ; but 
that being given, immense opportunities remained 
for pictures of human life, full of colour, thought, 
and passions; for subtle and brilliant representa- 
tions of the eternal desires and thinkings of human 
nature as they were governed by the special 
circumstances of the time in which the poem was 
placed ; and for the concentration into a single 
poem, gathered round one person, of the ideas 
whose new arrival formed a crisis in the history of 

Men looked for this in Tennyson and did not 
find it. His Greek and mediaeval poems were 
modernised. Their imaginative work was uncritical. 


But when the historians and the critics of art and 
of religious movements happened at last to look 
into Browning, they discovered, to their delight 
and wonder, that he had been doing, with a 
curious knowledge, this kind of work for many 
years. He had anticipated the results of that 
movement of the imagination in historical work 
which did not exist when he began to write; he 
had worked that mine, and the discovery of this 
made another host of people readers of his poetry. 

We need scarcely give examples of this. Sordello, 
in 1840 (long before the effort of which we speak 
began), was such a poem — the history of a special- 
ised soul, with all its scenery and history vividly 
mediaeval. Think of the Spanish Cloister, The 
Laboratory, A Grammarian's Funeral, the Bishop 
orders his Tomb at Saint Praxed's Church, poems, 
each of which paints an historical period or a vivid 
piece of its life. Think of The Ring and the Book, 
with all the world of Rome painted to the life, and 
all the soul of the time ! 

The same kind of work was done for phases 
and periods of the arts from Greek times to the 
Renaissance, I may even say, from the Renaissance 
to the present day. Balaustion's Prologue con- 
centrates the passage of dramatic poetry from 
Sophocles to Euripides. Aristophanes' Apology 
realises the wild licence in which art and freedom 
died in Athens — their greatness in their ruin — and 
the passionate sorrow of those who loved what had 
been so beautiful. Cleon takes us into a later time 
when men had ceased to be original, and life and 
art had become darkened by the pain of the soul. 
We pass on to two different periods of the Renais- 


sance in Fra Lippo Lippi and in Andrea del Sarto, 
and are carried further through the centuries of 
art when we read Abt Vogler and A Toccata of 
Galuppt's. Each of these poems is a concentrated, 
accurate piece of art-history, with the addition to 
it of the human soul. 

Periods and phases of religious history are equally 
realised. Caliban upon Setebos begins the record — 
that philosophic savage who makes his God out of 
himself. Then follows study after study, from A 
Death in the Desert to Bishop Blougram's Apology. 
Some carry us from early Christianity through the 
mediaeval faith ; others lead us through the Paganism 
of the Renaissance and strange shows of Judaism 
to Browning's own conception of religion in the 
present day contrasted with those of the popular 
religion in Christmas-Day and Easter-Day. 

Never, in poetry, was the desiire of the historical 
critic for accuracy of fact and portraiture, combined 
with vivid presentation of life, so fully satisfied. No 
wonder Browning was not read of old; but it is 
no wonder, when the new History was made, when 
he was once found out, that he passed from a few 
to a multitude of readers. 

6. Another contrast appears at the very begin- 
ning of their career. Tennyson, in his two earliest 
books in 1830 and 1833, though clearly original in 
some poems, had clinging round his singing robes 
some of the rags of the past. He wrote partly 
in the weak and sentimental strain of the poets 
between 1822 and 1832. Browning, on the con- 
trary, sprang at once into an original poetic life 
of his own. Pauline was unfinished, irregular in 
form, harsh, abrupt, and overloaded, but it was 


also entirely fresh and distinct. The influence of 
Shelley echoes in it, but much more in admiration 
than in imitation of him. The matter, the spirit 
of the poem were his own, and the verse-movement 
was his own. Had Browning been an imitator, 
the first thing he would have imitated would have 
been the sweet and rippling movement of Shelley's 
melodies. But the form of his verse, such as it 
was, arose directly out of his own nature and 
was as original as his matter. Tennyson grew 
into originality. Browning leaped into it ; born, not 
of other poets, but of his own will. He begat 
himself. It had been better for his art, so far as 
technical excellence is concerned, had he studied 
and imitated at first the previous masters. But 
he did not ; and his dominant individuality, whole 
in itself and creating its own powers, separates him 
at the very beginning from Tennyson. 

7. Tennyson became fully original, but he always 
admitted, and sometimes encouraged in himself, 
a certain vdlJ of^ conventionality. Hj_kept the 
opinions of tjie_gast in the matter of caste. He 
clun^ to certain political and social majcuns, and 
could not see beyond them. He sometimes ex- 
pressed them as if they were freshly discovered 
truths or direct emanations from the Deity of 
England. He belgnged to ascertain type of 
English.SQciety, and he rarely got out of Jt in his 
poetry. He inhabited a certain Park of morals, 
and he had no sympathy with any self-ethical life 
beyond its palings. What had been, what was proper 
and recognised, somewhat enslaved in Tennyson 
that distinctiveness and freedom of personality 
which is of so much importance in poetry, and 


which, had it had more liberty in Tennyson, would 
have made him a still greater poet than he was. 

Browning, on the other hand — much more a 
person in society than Tennyson, much more a 
man of the world, and obeying in society its 
social conventions more than Tennyson — never 
allowed this to touch his poems. As the artist, he 
was quite free from the opinions, maxims, and class 
conventions of the past or the present. His poetry 
belongs to no special type of society, to no special 
nationality, to no separate creed or church, to no 
settled standard of social morality. What his own 
thought and emotion urged him to say, he said 
with an absolute carelessness of what the world 
would say. And in this freedom he preceded and , 
prophesied the reaction of the last years of the 
nineteenth century against the tyranny of maxims; 
and conventions in society, in morals, and in religion. 
That reaction has in many ways been carried 
beyond the proper limits of what is just and 
beautiful. But these excesses had to be, and the 
world is beginning to avoid them. What remains 
is the blessing of life set free, not altogether from j 
the use of conventions, but from their tyranny and 
oppression, and lifted to a higher level, where the 
test of what is right and fitting in act, and just in 
thought, is not the opinion of society, but that Law 
of Love which gives us full liberty to develop our } 
own nature and lead our own life in the way we \ 
think best independent of all conventions, provided 1 
we do Jiot injure the life of others, or violate any \ 
of the great moral and spiritual truths by obedience \ 
to which the progress of mankind is promoted and 
secured. Into that high and free region of thought 


and action Browning brought us long ago. Tenny- 
son did not, save at intervals when the poet over- 
rode the man. This differentiates the men. But 
. it also tells us why Browning was not read fifty 
\ years ago, when social conventions were tyrannous 
and respectability a despot, and why he has been 
read for the last fifteen years and is read now. 

8. There is another contrast between these poets. 
It is quite clear that Tennyson was a distinctively 
English poet and a patriotic poet ; at times too much 
of a patriot to judge tolerantly, or to write fairly, 
about other countries. He had, at least, a touch of 
national contempts, even of national hatreds. His 
position towards France was much that of the Brit- 
ish sailor of Nelson's time. His position towards 
Ireland was that of the bishop, who has been a 
schoolmaster, to the naughty curate who has a will 
of his own. His position towards Scotland was 
that of one who was aware that it had a geographical 
existence, and that a regiment in the English army 
which had a genius for fighting was drawn from its 
Highlands. He condescends to write a poem at 
Edinburgh, but then Edinburgh was of English 
origin and name. Even with that help he cannot 
be patient of the place. The poem is a recollection 
of an Italian journey, and he forgets in memories 
of the South — though surely Edinburgh might 
have awakened some romantic associations — 

the clouded Forth, 
The gloom which saddens Heaven and Earth, 

The bitter East, the misty summer 
And gray metropolis of the North. 

Edinburgh is English in origin, but Tennyson did 
not feel England beyond the Border. There the 


Celt intruded, and he looked askance upon the Celt. 
The Celtic spirit smiled, and took its vengeance on 
him in its own way. It imposed on him, as his 
chief subject, a Celtic tale and a Celtic hero ; and 
though he did his best to de-celticise the story, the 
vengeance lasts, for the more he did this the more 
he injured his work. However, being always a 
noble artist, he made a good fight for his insularity, 
and the expression of it harmonised with the pride 
of England in herself, alike with that which is just 
and noble in it, and with that which is neither the 
one nor the other. 

Then, too, his scenery (with some exceptions, and 
those invented) was of his own land, and chiefly of 
the places where he lived. It was quite excellent, 
but it was limited. But, within the limit of England, 
it was steeped in the love of England; and so 
sweet and full is this love, and so lovely are its 
results in song, that every Englishman has, for this j 
reason if for no other, a deep and just affection for : 
Tennyson. Nevertheless, in that point also his | 
poetry was insular. A fault in the poet, not in j 
the poetry. Perhaps, from this passionate con-! 
centration, the poetry was all the lovelier. 

Again, when Tennyson took a great gest of war 
as his subject, he took it exclusively from the his- 
tory of his own land. No one would know from 
his writings that high deeds of sacrifice in battle 
had been done by other nations. He knew of them, 
but he did not care to write about them. Nor can 
we trace in his work any care for national struggles 
or national Uf e beyond this island — except in a few 
sonnets and short pieces concerning Poland and 
Montenegro — an isolation of interests which cannot 


be imputed to any other great poet of the first part 
of the nineteenth century, excepting Keats, who 
had no British or foreign interests. Keats had no 
country save the country of Beauty. 

At all these points Browning differed from 
Tennyson. He never displayed a special patriotism. 
On the contrary, he is more Italian than English, 
and he is more quick to see and sympathise with 
the national characteristics of Spain or France or 
Germany, than he is with those of England. No 
insular feeling prevented him from being just to 
foreigners, or from having a keen pleasure in 
writing about them. Strafford is the only play he 
wrote on an English subject, and it is rather a 
study of a character which might find its place 
in any aristocracy than of an English character. 
Even Pym and Hampden fail to be truly English, 
and it would not have been difficult for any one but 
I Browning to take their eminent English elements 
out of them. Paracelsus and Sordello belong to 
Germany and Italy, and there are scarcely three 
poems in the whole of the seven numbers of the 
Bells and Pomegranates which even refer to Eng- 
land. Italy is there, and chiefly Italy. In De Gtisti- 
bus he contrasts himself with his friend who loves 
England : 

Your ghost will walk, you lover of trees, 

(If our loves remain) 

In an English lane 
By a cornfield-side a-flutter with poppies. 

* * * * 

What I love best in all the world 

Is a castle, precipice-encurled. 

In a gash of the wind-grieved Apennine. 

" Look for me, old fellow of mine, if I get out of the 


grave, in a seaside house in South Italy," and he 
describes the place and folk he loves, and ends : 

Open my heart and you will see 
Graved inside of it, " Italy." 
Such lovers old are I and she : 
So it always was, so shall ever be ! 

It is a poem written out of his very heart. 

And then, the scenery ? It is not of our country 
at all. It is of many lands, but, above all, it is 
vividly Italian. There is no more minute and 
subtly-felt description of the scenery of a piece of 
village country between the mountains and the sea, 
with all its life, than in the poem called The 
Englishman in Italy. The very title is an outline 
of Browning's position in this matter. We find 
this English poet in France, in Syria, in Greece, 
in Spain, but not in England. We find Rome, \ 
Florence, Venice, Mantua, Verona, and forgotten 
towns among the Apennines painted with happy 
love in verse, but not an English town nor an 
English village. The flowers, the hills, the ways 
of the streams, the talk of the woods, the doings of 
the sea and the clouds in tempest and in peace, the 
aspects of the sky at noon, at sunrise and sunset, 
are all foreign, not English. The one little poem 
which is of English landscape is written by him in 
Italy (in a momentary weariness with his daily 
adoration), and under a green impulse. Delightful 
as it is, he would not have remained faithful to it 
for a day. Every one knows it, but that we may 
realise how quick he was to remember and to touch 
a corner of early Spring in England, on a soft and 
windy day — for all the blossoms are scattered — I 
quote it here. It is well to read his sole contribu- 


tion (except in Pauline and a few scattered illus- 
trations) to the scenery of his own country : 

Oh, to be in England 
Now that April's there, 
And whoever wakes in England 
Sees, some morning, unaware, 
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf 
! Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf, 

While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough 
In England — now! 

And after April, when May follows, 

And the whitethroat builds, and aU the swallows! 

Hark! where my blossomed pear-tree in the hedge 

Leans to the field and scatters on the clover 

Blossoms and dewdrops — at the bent spray's edge — 

That's the wise thrush ; he sings each song twice over, 

Lest you should think he never could recapture 

The first fine careless rapture ! 

And though the fields look rough with hoary dew, 

All will be gay, when noontide wakes anew 

The buttercups, the little children's dower ; 

— Far brighter than this gaudy melon-flower! 

So it runs ; but it is only a momentary memory ; 
and he knew, when he had done it, and to his 
great comfort, that he was far away from England. 
But when Tennyson writes of Italy — as, for instance, 
in Mariana in the South — how apart he is ! How 
great is his joy when he gets back to England ! 

Then, again, when Browning was touched by the 
impulse to write about a great deed in war, he does 
not choose, like Tennyson, English subjects. The 
Cavalier Ttmes have no importance as patriot songs. 
They are mere experiments. The poem. How 
They brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix, has 
twice their vigour. His most intense war-incident 
is taken from the history of the French wars under 
Napoleon. The most ringing and swiftest poem of 


personal dash and daring — and at sea, as if lie was 
tired of England's mistress-ship of the waves — a 
poem one may set side by side with the fight of 
The Revenge, is Hervi Riel. It is a tale of a Breton 
sailor saving the French fleet from the EngHsh, 
with the sailor's mockery of England embedded 
in it ; and Browning sent the hundred pounds 
he got for it to the French, after the siege of 

It was not that he did not honour his country, 
but that, as an artist, he loved more the foreign 
lands ; and that in his deepest life he belonged less j 
to England than to the world of man. The great ; 
deeds of England did not prevent him from feeling, 
with as much keenness as Tennyson felt those of 
England, the great deeds of France and Italy. 
National self-sacrifice in critical hours, splendid 
courage in love and war, belonged, he thought, to 
all peoples. Perhaps he felt, with Tennyson's 
insularity dominating his ears, that it was as well 
to put the other side. I think he might have done 
a little more for England. There is only one 
poem, out of all his huge production, which 
recognises the great deeds of our Empire in war ; 
and this did not come of a life-long feeling, such as 
he had for Italy, but from a sudden impulse which 
arose in him, as sailing by, he saw Trafalgar and 
Gibraltar, glorified and incarnadined by a battle- 
sunset : 

Nobly, nobly Cape Saint Vincent to the North-west died 

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 grey ; 


"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 

While Jove's planet rises yonder, silent over Africa. 

It is a little thing, and when it leaves the sunset it 
is poor. And there is twice the fervour of its sunset 
in the description of the sunrise at Asolo in Pippa 

Again, there is scarcely a trace in his work of 
any vital interest in the changes of thought and 
feeling in England during the sixty years of his 
life, such as appear everywhere in Tennyson. No 
one would know from his poetry (at least until the 
very end of his life, when he wrote Francis Furini) 
that the science of life and its origins had been 
revolutionised in the midst of his career, or, save 
in A Death in the Desert, that the whole aspect of 
theology had been altered, or that the democratic 
movement had taken so many new forms. He 
showed to these English struggles neither attraction 
nor repulsion. They scarcely existed for him — 
transient elements of the world, merely national, 
not universal. Nor .did the literature or art of his 
own country engage him half so much as the 
literature and art of Italy. He loved both. Few 
were better acquainted with Enghsh poetry, or 
reverenced it more ; but he loved it, not because it 
was English, but of that world of imagination 
which has no special country. He cared also for 
English art, but he gave all his personal love to 
the art of Italy. Nor does he write, as Tennyson 
loved to do, of the daily life of the English farmer 
squire, miller, and sailor, and of English sweet- 


hearting, nor of the English park and brook and 
village-green and their indwellers, but of the work- 
girl at Asolo, and the Spanish monk in his garden, 
and the Arab riding through the desert, and of the 
Duchess and her servant flying through the moun- 
tains of Moldavia, and of the poor painters at 
Fano and Florence, and of the threadbare poet at 
Valladolid, and of the peasant-girl who fed the 
Tuscan outlaw, and of the poor grammarian who 
died somewhere in Germany (as I think Browning 
meant it), and of the Jews at Rome, and of the 
girl at Pornic with the gold hair and the peasant's 
hand, and of a hundred others, none of whom are 
English. All his common life, all his love-making, 
sorrow, and joy among the poor, are outside this 
country, with perhaps two exceptions ; and neither 
of these has the English note which sounds so soft 
and clear in Tennyson. This is curious enough, 
and it is probably one of the reasons why English 
people for a long time would have so little to do 
with him. All the same, he was himself woven of \ 
England even more than of Italy. The English 
elements in his character and work are more than 
the Italian. His intellect was English, and had the 
English faults as well as the English excellences. His ( 
optimism was English; his steadfast fighting quality, 
his unyielding energy, his directness, his desire to 
get to the root of things, were English. His religion 
was the excellent English compromise or rather 
balance of dogma, practice, and spirituality which 
laymen make for their own life. His bold sense of 
personal freedom was English. His constancy to 
his theories, whether of faith or art, was English ; 
his roughness of form was positively early Teutonic. 


Then his wit, his esprit* his capacity for induing 
the skin and the soul of other persons at remote 
times of history ; his amazing inventiveness and the 
ease of it, at which point he beats Tennyson out of 
the field; his play, so highly fantastical, with his 
subjects, and the way in which the pleasure he took 
in this play overmastered his literary self-control ; 
his fantastic games with metre and with rhyme, 
his want of reverence for the rules of his art; 
his general lawlessness, belong to one side, but to 
one side only, of the Celtic nature. But the 
ardour of the man, the pathos of his passion and 
the passion of his pathos, his impulse towards the 
infinite and the constant rush he made into its 
indefinite realms ; the special set of his imagination 
towards the fulfilment of perfection in Love; his 
vision of Nature as in colour, rather than in 
light and shade ; his love of beauty and the kind of 
[beauty that he loved ; his extraordinary delight in 
iall kinds of art as the passionate shaping of part 
iof the unapproachable Beauty — these were all old 

* Much has been said of the humour of Browning. But it is 
rather wit than humour which we perceive. The gentle pathos 
which belongs to humour, the pitiful turn of the humourist upon 
himself, his smile at his own follies and those of mankind, the 
half light, like that of evening, in which humour dwells, are 
wanting in Browning. It is true he has the charity of humour, 
though not its pathetic power. Pity for the follies and sins of 
men does fill Browning's poetry. But, all the same, he is too 
keen, too brilliant, too fierce at times for a humourist. The light 
in which we see the foolish, fantastic, amusing, or contemptible 
things of life is too bright for humour. He is a Wit — vrith 
charity — not a humourist. As to Tennyson, save in his Lincoln- 
shire poems and Will Waterproofs Soliloquy, he was strangely 
devoid either of humour or of wit. 


Then I do not know whether Browning had 
any Jewish blood in his body by descent, but he 
certainly had Jewish elements in his intellect, spirit, 
and character. His sense of an ever-victorious 
Righteousness atthe centreof the universe, whomone 
might always trust and be untroubled, was Jewish, 
but he carried it forward with the New Testament 
and made the Righteousness identical with absolute 
Love. Yet, even in this, the Old Testament ele- 
ments were more plainly seen than is usual among 
Christians. The appearance of Christ as all-con- 
quering love in Easter-Day ^nd the scenery which 
surrounds him are such as Ezekiel might have con- 
ceived and written. ' Then his intellectual subtlety, 
the metaphysical minuteness of his arguments, his 
fondness for parenthesis, the way in which he pursued 
the absolute whileheloaded it with a hostof relatives, 
and conceived the universal through a multitude of 
particulars, the love he had for remote and un- 
expected analogies, the craft with which his intellect 
persuaded him that he could insert into his poems 
thoughts, illustrations, legends, and twisted knots of 
reasoning which a fine artistic sense would have 
omitted, were all as Jewish as the Talmud. There 
was also a Jewish quality in his natural description, 
in the way he invented diverse phrases to express 
different aspects of the same phenomenon, a thing 
for which the Jews were famous ; and in the way in 
which he peopled what he described with animal life 
of all kinds, another remarkable habit of the Jewish - 
poets. Moreover, his pleasure in intense colour, in 
splashes and blots of scarlet and crimson and deep 
blue and glowing green ; in precious stones for the : 
sake of their colour — sapphire, ruby, emerald, : 


chrysolite, pearl, onyx, chalcedony (he does not care 
jfor the diamond); in the flame of gold, in the 
1 crimson of blood, is Jewish. So also is his love 
I of music, of music especially as bringing us nearest 
to what is ineffable in God, of music with human 
aspiration in its heart and sounding in its phrases. 
It was this Jewish element in Browning, in all its 
many forms, which caused him to feel with and to 
write so much about the Jews in his poetry. The two 
poems in which he most fully enshrines his view of 
human life, as it may be in the thought of God and 
as it ought to be conceived by us, are both in the 
mouth of Jews, of Rabbi Ben Ezra and Jochanan 
Hakkadosh. In Filippo Baldinucci the Jew has the 
best of the battle; his courtesy, intelligence, and 
physical power are contrasted with the coarseness, 
feeble brains, and body of the Christians. In Holy- 
Cross Day, the Jew, forced to listen to a Christian 
sermon, begins with coarse and angry mockery, but 
passes into solemn thought and dignified phrase. 
No English poet, save perhaps Shakespeare, whose 
exquisite sympathy could not leave even Shylock 
unpitied, has spoken of the Jew with compassion, 
knowledge, and admiration, till Browning wrote of 
him. The Jew lay deep in Browning. He was a 
complex creature ; and who would understand or 
rather feel him rightly, must be able to feel some- 
thing of the nature of all these races in himself. 
But Tennyson was not complex. He was English 
,' and only English. 

But to return from this digression. Browning 
does not stand alone among the poets in the apart- 
ness from his own land of which I have written. 
Byron is partly with him. Where Byron differs from 


him is, first, in this — that Byron had no poetic love 
for any special country as Browning had for Italy ; 
and, secondly, that his country was, alas, himself, 
until at the end, sick of his self-patriotism, he gave 
himself to Greece. Keats, on the other hand, had no 
country except, as I have said, the country of Love- 
liness. Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Shelley were 
not exclusively English. Shelley belonged partly 
to Italy, but chiefly to that future of mankind in 
which separate nationalities and divided patriotisms 
are absorbed. Wordsworth and Coleridge, in their 
early days, were patriots of humanity ; they actually 
for a time abjured their country. Even in his later 
days Wordsworth's sympathies reach far beyond 
England. But none of these were so distinctively 
English as Tennyson, and none of them were so \ 
outside of England as Browning. Interesting as it i 
is, the completeness of this isolation from England ' 
was a misfortune, not a strength, in his poetry. 

There is another thing to say in this connection. 
The expansion of the interests of the English 
poets beyond England was due in Wordsworth, 
Coleridge, Shelley, and partly in Byron, to the 
great tidal-wave of feeling for man as man, which, 
rising long before the French Revolution, was 
lifted into twice its height and dashed on the 
shore of the world with overwhelming volume, by 
the earthquake in France of 1789. Special national 
sentiments were drowned in its waters. Patriotism 
was the duty of man, not to any one nation but 
to the whole of humanity, conceived of as the only 

In 1832 there was little left of that influence in 
England among the educated classes, and Tennyson's 


insular patriotism represented their feeling for many 
years, and partly represents it now. But the ideas 
of the Revolution were at the same time taking a 
wiser and more practical form among the English 
democracy than they even had at their first outburst 
in France, and this emerged, on one side of it, in 
the idea of internationalism. It grew among the 
propertied classes from the greater facilities of travel, 
from the wide extension of commercial, and espe- 
cially of literary, intercommunication. Literature, 
even more than commerce, diminishes the oppositions 
and increases the amalgamation of nations. On 
her lofty plane nations breathe an air in which their 
quarrels die. The same idea grew up of itself among 
the working classes, not only in England, but in 
Germany, Italy, France, America. They began, and 
have continued, to lose their old belief in distinct 
and warring nationalities. To denationalise the 
nations into one nation only — the nation of man- 
kind — is too vast an idea to grow quickly, but in 
all classes, and perhaps most in the working class, 
there are an increasing number of thinking men 
who say to the varied nations, "We are all one ; our 
interests, duties, rights, nature, and aims are one." 
And, for my part, I believe that in the full develop- 
ment of that conception the progress of mankind is 
most deeply concerned, and will be best secured. 

Now, when all these classes in Englandy brought 
to much the same point by different paths, seek for a 
poetry which is international rather than national, and 
which recognises no special country as its own, they 
do not find it in Tennyson, butthey do find Browning 
writing, and quite naturally, as if he belonged to 
other peoples as much as to his own, even more than 


to his own. And they also find that he had been 
doing this for many years before their own inter- 
national interests had been awakened. That, then, 
differentiates him completely from Tennyson, and 
is another reason why he was not read in the past 
but is read in the present. 

9. Again, with regard to politics and social 
questions, Tennyson made us know what his general 
politics were, and he has always pleased or displeased 
men by his political position. The British Constitution 
appears throughout his work seated like Zeus on 
Olympus, with all the world awaiting its nod. Then, 
also, social problems raise their storm-awakening 
heads in his poetry : the Woman's Question ; War ; 
Competition ; the State of the Poor ; Education ; a 
State without Religion ; the Marriage Question ; 
where Freedom lies ; and others. These are brought 
by Tennyson, though tentatively, into the palace of 
poetry and given rooms in it. 

At both these points Browning differed from 
Tennyson. He was not the politician, not the 
SQciologist, only the poet. No trace of the British 
Constitution is to be found in his poetry ; no one 
could tell from it that he had any social views or 
politics at all. Sixty years in close "contact with 
this country and its movements, and not a line about 

He records the politics of the place and people 
of whom or of which he is for the moment writing, 
but he takes no side. We know what they thought 
at Rome or among the Druses of these matters, but 
we do not know what Browning thought. The art- 
representation, the Vorstellung of the thing, is all ; 
the personal view of the poet is nothing. It is the 


same in social matters. What he says as a pod 
concerning the ideas which should rule the temper 
of the soul and human life in relation to our fellow- 
men may be applied to our social questions, and 
usefully ; but Browning is not on that plane. There 
are no poems directly applied to them. This means 
that he kept himself outside of the realm of political 
and social discussions and in the realm of those 
high emotions and ideas out of which imagination in 
lonely creation draws her work to light. With 
steady purpose he refused to make his poetry the 
servant of the transient, of the changing elements 
of the world. He avoided the contemporary. For 
this high reserve we and the future of art will owe 
him gratitude. 

On the contrast between the theology we find in 
Tennyson and Browning, and on the contrast 
between their ethical positions, it will be wiser 
not to speak in this introduction. These two con- 
trasts would lead me too far afield, and they have 
little or nothing to do with poetry. Moreover, 
Browning's theology and ethics, as they are called, 
have been discussed at wearying length for the last 
ten years, and especially by persons who use his 
poetry to illustrate from it their own systems of 
theology, philosophy, and ethics. 

10. I will pass, therefore, to another contrast — 
the contrast between them as Artists, 

A great number of persons who write about the 
poets think, when they have said the sort of things 
I have been saying, that they have said cither 
enough, or the most important things. The things 
;Lrc, indeed, useful to say; they enable us to realise 
the poet and his character, and the elements of 


which his poetry is made. They place him in a 
clear relation to his time; they distinguish him 
from other poets, and, taken all together, they 
throw light upon his work. But they are not half 
enough, nor are they the most important. They 
leave out the essence of the whole matter ; they 
leave out the poetry. They illuminate the surface 
of his poetry, but they do not penetrate into his 
interpretation, by means of his special art, and 
under the influence of high emotion, of the beautiful • 
and sublime Matter of thought and feeling which 
arises out of Nature and Human Nature, the two 
great subjects of song ; which Matter the poets rep- 
resent in a fprm so noble and so lovely in itself 
that, when it is received into a heart prepared for 
it, it kindles in the receiver a love of beauty and 
sublimity similar to that which the poet felt before 
he formed, and while he formed, his poem. Such a 
receiver, reading the poem, makes the poem, with 
an individucJ difference, in himself. And this 
is the main thing ; the eternal, not the temporary 

Almost all I have already discussed with regard 
to Tennyson and Browning belongs to the tem- 
porary; and the varying judgments which their 
public have formed of them, chiefly based on their 
appeal to the tendencies of the time, do not at all 
predict what the final judgment on these men as 
poets is likely to be. That will depend, not on 
feelings which belong to the temporary elements 
of the passing day, but on how far the eternal and 
unchanging elements of art appear in their work. 
The things which fitted the poetry of Tennyson to 
the years between 1840 and 1870 have already 


passed away ; the things which, as I have explained, 
fitted the poetry of Browning to the tendencies 
of the years after 1870 will also disappear, and 
I are already disappearing. Indeed, the excessive 
transiency of nearly all the interests of cultivated 
society during the last ten years is that in them 
which most deeply impresses any man who sits 
somewhat apart from them. And, at any rate, none 
iof these merely contemporary elements, which often 
seem to men the most important, will count a 
hundred years hence in the estimate of the poetry 
either of Tennyson or Browning. They will be of 
Kistorical interest, and no more. Matters in their 
poetry, now the subjects of warm discussion among 
their critics, will be laid aside as materials for 
judgment; and justly, for they are of quite imper- 
manent value. 

Whenever, theri, we try to judge them as poets, 
we must do our best to discharge these temporary 
things, and consider their poetry as it will seem a 
hundred years hence to men who will think seriously 
and feel sensitively, even passionately, towards 
great and noble Matter of imaginative thought 
and emotion concerning human life and the natural 
world, and towards lovely creation of such matter 
into Form. Their j udgment will be made apart from 
the natural prejudices that arise from contemporary 
movements. They will not be wiser in their judg- 
ment of their own poets than we are about ours, 
but they will be wiser in their judgment of our poets, 
because, though they will have their own prejudices, 
they will not have ours. Moreover, the long, growing, 
and incessantly corrected judgment of those best 
fitted to feel what is most beautiful in shaping and 


most enduring in thought and feeling penetrated 
and made infinite by imagination, will, by that time, 
have separated the permanent from the imperma- 
nent in the work of Browning and Tennyson. 

That judgment will partly depend on the answers, 
slowly, as it were unconsciously, given by the 
world to two questions. First, how far does their 
poetry represent truly and passionately what is 
natural and most widely felt in loving human nature, ; 
whether terrible or joyful, simple or complex, tragic! 
or humorous 1 Secondly, how far is the repre- 
sentation beautiful and noble in form, and true to 
the laws of their art. That poetry which is nearest 
to the most natural, the most universal elements of 
human life when they are suffused with love — in 
some at least of its various moods — and at the same 
time the most beautiful in form, is the best. Iti 
wins most affection from mankind, for it is about 
noble matters of thought which the greater number 
of men and women desire to contemplate, and 
about noble matters of passion which the greater 
number love and therefore enjoy. This poetry 
lasts from generation to generation, is independent 
of differences made by climate, by cast, by 
nationality, by religion, by politics, by knowledge, 
custom, tradition, or morals. These universal, 
natural elements of human nature are, in all their 
infinite variety and striving, beloved by men, of 
undying interest in action, and of immortal plea- 
sure in thought. The nearer a poet is to them, 
especially to what is loveable, and therefore beauti- 
ful in them, the greater and the more enduring 
is his work. It follows that this greater work 
will also be simple, that is, easy to feel with 


the heart though it may be difficult to grasp by the 
intelligence. Were it not simple in feeling, the 
general answer of mankind to the call of love, in 
all its forms, for sympathy would be unheard. And 
if it be simple in feeUng, it does not much matter 
if the deep waters of its thought are difficult for the 
understanding to fathom. 

It would be ridiculous to dogmatise on a matter 
which can only be fully answered a century hence, 
but this much is plain. Of these two poets, taking 
into consideration the whole of their work,Tennysoii_ 
is the closest^to huinjaiuiaJau:fiinits__noble, comm^iij^ 
and loving forms, as Browning is, the .closest _tja„ 
wfiat is complex, subtle, and tjncpnimon in human ^ 
hatjffe. The representation both of the simple and 
of the complex is a good thing, and both poets 
have their place and honour. But the representation 
of the complex is plainly the more limited in range 
of influence, and appeals to a special class of minds 
rather than to mankind at large. There are some, 
indeed, who think that the appeal to the few, to 
thinkers alone or high-wrought specialists in various 
forms of culture, marks out the greater poet. It is 
the tendency of literary castes to think that special- 
ised work is the greatest. " This man," they say, 
" is our poet, not the mob's. He stands apart, and 
his apartness marks his greatness." These are 
amusing persons, who practically say, " We alone' 
understand him, therefore he is great." 

Yet a phrase like " apartness makes greatness," 
when justly applied to a poet, marks, not his 
superiority of rank, but his inferiority. It relegates 
him at once to a lower place. The greatest poets 
are loved by all, and understood by all who think 


and feel naturally. Homer was loved by Pericles 
and by the sausage-seller. Vergil was read with 
joy by Maecenas and Augustus, and by the vine- 
dressers of Mantua. Dante ^drew after him the 
greatest minds in Italy, and yet is sung to-day by 
the shepherds and peasants of the hill-villages of 
Tuscany. Shakespeare pleases the most selected 
spirits of the world and the galleries of the strolling 

And though Tennyson and Browning are far 
below these mightier poets, yet when we apply to 
them this rule, drawn from what we know to 
be true of the greatest, Tennyson answers its de- 
mand more closely than Browning. The highest 
woi'k which poetry can do is to glorify what is 
_jnQ5t..jOLatural.,and^,sinipj£. in the whole of loving 
Jiumanjiature, and to show the excelling beauty, 
not so mucff of the stranger and wilder doings of 
the natural world, but of its everyday doings and 
their common changes. In doing these two things 
with simplicity, passion, and beauty is the finest 
work of the arts, the eternal youth, the illimitable 
material of poetry, and it will endure while 
humanity endures in this world, and in that which 
is to come. Among all our cultivated love of the 
uncommon, the remote, the subtle, the involved, the 
metaphysical, and the terrible — the representation 
of which things has its due place, even its 
necessity — it is well to think of that quiet truth, 
and to keep it as a first principle in the judgment 
of the arts. Indeed, the recovery of the natural, 
simple, and universal ways of acting and feeling in 
men and women who love as the finest subjects of 
the arts has always regenerated them whenever, in 


pursuit of the unnatural, the complicated, the 
analytic, and the sensa-tionai, they have fallen into 

Browning did not like this view, being conscious 
that his poetry did not answer its demand. Not 
only in early but also in later poems, he pictured 
his critics stating it, and his picture is scornful 
enough. There is an entertaining sketch of Naddo, 
the Philistine critic, in the second book of Sordello ; 
and the view I speak of is expressed by him among 
a huddle of criticisms — 

"Would you have your songs endure? 
^ Build on the human heart ! — why, to be sure — 
Yours is one sort of heart— But I mean theirs, 
Ours, everyone's, the healthy heart one cares 
To build on ! Central peace, mother of strength, 
That's father of . . . ." 

This is good fooling, and Naddo is an ass. 
Nevertheless, though Naddo makes nonsense of the 
truth, he was right in the main, and Browning as 
well as Sordello suffered when they forgot or ignored 
"— H;hat truth. And, of course. Browning did not 
forget or ignore it in more than half his work. 
Even in Sordello he tells us how he gave himself 
up to recording with pity and love the doings of 
the universal soul. He strove to paint the whole. 
It was a bold ambition. Few have fulfilled it so 
well. None, since Shakespeare, have had a wider 
range. His^ortrajiure_oMife33.s..sQ_jnuGh_Jiuu^^ 
. ^aried t han that of Tennyson, so much more 
extensive and detailed, that on this side he excels 
Tennyson ; but such portraiture is not necessarily 
poetic, and when it is fond of the complex, it is 
always in danger of tending to prose. And 


Browning, picturing human life, deviated too much 
into the delineation of its more obscure and complex 
forms. It was in his nature to do and love this 
kind of work; and indeed it has to be done, if 
human life is to be painted fully. Only, it is not 
to be done too much, if one desires to be always 
the poet. For the representation of the complex 
and obscure is chiefly done by the analysing under- 
standing, and its work and pleasure in it lures the 
poet away from art. He loses the poetic turn pf 
the thing of which he writes, and what he produces 
is not better than rhythmical prose. Again and 
again Browning, fell into that misfortune ; and it is 
a strange problem how a man, who was in one part 
of his nature a great poet, could, under the sway of 
another, cease to be a poet. At this point his in- 
feriority to Tennyson as a poet is plain. Tennyson 
scarcely ever wrote a line which was not unmistak- 
ably poetry, while Browning could write pages 
which were unmistakably not poetry. 

I do not mean, in saying all this, that Browning 
did not-ap.peal to that which is..deegest.and^ uni- 
versal in Nature and human n.ature, but only that 
he did not appeal toit as much as Tennyson. 
Browning is often simple, lovely, and universal. 
And when he speaks out of that emotional 
imagination wherein is the hiding of a poet's 
power, and which is the legitimate sovereign of 
his intellectual work, he will win and keep the 
delight and love of the centuries to come. By 
work of tl\is type he will be finally judged and finally 
endure ; and, even now, every one who loves great 
poetry knows what these master-poems are. As to 
the others, the merely subtle, analytic poems in 


which intellect, not imagination, is supreme, espe- 
cially those into which he drifted in his later life 
when the ardour of his poetic youth glowed less 
warmly — they will always appeal to a certain class 
of persons who would like to persuade themselves 
that they like poetry but to whom its book is 
sealed; and who, in finding out what Browning 
means, imagine to their great surprise that they 
find out that they care for poetry. What they 
really care for is their own cleverness in discover- 
ing riddles, and they are as far away from poetry 
as Sirius is from the Sun. 

There are, however, many true lovers of poetry 
who are enthusiastic about these poems. And 
parts of them deserve this enthusiasm, for they 
have been conceived and made in a wild borderland 
between analysis and imagination. They occupy a 
place apart, a backwater in the noble stream of 
English poetry, filled with strange plants ; and the 
final judgment of Browning's rank as an artist will 
not depend on them but on the earlier poems, 
which, being more " simple, sensuous, and passion- 
ate," are nearer to the common love and life of 
man. When, then, we apply this test, the difference 
of rank between him and Tennyson is not great, 
but it is plain. Yet comparison, on this point, is 
difficult. Both drew mankind. Tennyson is closer 
to that which is most universal in the human heart, 
Browning to the vast variety within it ; and men in 
the f utiu-e will find their poetic wants best satisfied 
by reading the work of both these poets. Let us 
say then that in this matter they are equal Each 
has done a different part of that portraiture of human 
nature which is the chief work of a poet. 


But this is not the only test we may apply to 
these men as poets. The second question which 
tries the endurance and greatness of poetic work 
is this : " How far is any poet's representation of 
what is true and loving in itself lovely ? " Their 
stuff may be equally good. Is their form equally 
good } Is it as beautiful as an artist, whose first 
duty is to be true to beauty as the shape of love 
and truth, ought to make it .' The judgment of the 
future will also be formed on that ground, and 

What we call form in poetry may be said to 
consist of, or to depend on, three things: (i) on 
a noble style; (2) on a harmonious composition, 
varied but at unity; (3) on a clear, sweet_melady_of- 
lawful movement in verse. These are not every- 
thing in poetry, but they are the half of its whole. 
The other half is that the "matter " — that is, the 
deep substance of amalgamated Thought and Emo- 
tion — shouldbe great, vital and fair. But both halves 
are necessary, and when the half which regards form 
is weak or unbeautiful, the judgment of the future 
drops the poems which are faulty in form out of 
memory, just as it drops out of its affections poems 
which are excellent in form, but of ignoble, unim- 
passioned, feeble, or thoughtless matter. There was, 
for example, a whole set of poets towards the end 
of the Elizabethan period who were close and 
weighty thinkers, whose poetry is full of intellec- 
tual surprises and difficulties, who were capable of 
subtlety o^ expression and even of lovely turns and 
phantasies of feeling ; whom students read to-day, 
but whom the poetical world does not read at all. 
And the reason is that their style, their melody, and 


their composition do not match in excellence their 
matter. Their stuff is good, their form is bad. 
The judgment of the future gives them no high 
rank. They do not answer well to the test of 
which I speak. 

I do not mean to apply that analogy altogether, 
only partly, to Browning. He rises far above 
these poets in style, composition, and melody, but 
he skirts their faults. And if we are asked to com- 
pare him to Tennyson, he is inferior to Tennyson 
at all these points of Form. 

I . His composition was rarely sufficiently careful. 
It was broken up, overcrowded ; minor objects of 
thought or feeling are made too remarkable for 
the whole ; there is far too little of poetical per- 
spective; the variety of the poem does not always 
grow out of the subject itself, but out of the 
external play of Browning's mind upon things 
remotely connected with the subject ; too many side- 
issues are introduced; everything he imagined is 
cast upon the canvas, too Uttle is laid aside, so that 
the poems run to a length which weakens instead 
of strengthens the main impression. A number 
of the poems have, that is, the faults of a composer 
whose fancy runs away with him, who does not 
ride it as a master; and in whom therefore, for a 
time, imagination has gone to sleep. Moreover, 
only too often, they have those faults of composition 
which naturally belong to a poet when he writes 
-as if intellect rather than passion were the ultimate 
umpire of the work of his art. Of course, there 
are many exceptions; and the study of those 
exceptions, as exceptions, would make an inter- 
esting essay. On the other hand, Tennyson's 


composition was for the most part excellent, and 
always careful. 

2. Then as to style. Browning had a style of 
his own, wholly devoid of imitation, perfectly indi- 
vidual, and this is one of the marks of a good 
artist. It was the outcome of his poetic character, 
and represented it. At this point his style is more 
interesting than Tennyson's. Tennyson's style was 
often too much worked, too consciously subjected 
to the rules of his art, too worn down to smoothness 
of texture. Moreover, the natural surprises of an 
unchartered individuality do not sufficiently appear 
in it (Tennyson repressed the fantastic), though the 
whole weight of his character does magnificently 
appear. But if Tennyson was too conscious of his 
style — a great misfortune especially in passionate 
song — Browning did not take any deliberate pains 
with his style, and that is a greater misfortune. 
His freedom ran into undue licence ; and he seems 
to be over-conscious, even proud, of his fantastical 
way of writing. His individuality runs riot in his 
style. He' paid little attention to the well-estab- 
lished rules of his art, in a revulsion, perhaps, from 
any imitation of the great models. He had not 
enough reverence for his art, and little for the public. 
He flung his diction at our heads and said : " This 
is myself; take it or leave it." 

None of the greater artists of the world have ever 
done this. They have not cared for what the world 
said, but they have cared for their art. There are 
-certain limits to individual capriciousness in style, 
long since laid down, as it were, by Beauty herself ; 
which, transgressed, lessen, injure, or lose beauty ; 
and Browning continually transgressed those limits. 


Again, clearness is one of the first elements in 
style, and on poetry attaining clearness, depends, in 
great measure, its enduringness in the future. So far 
as clearness carries him, Tennyson's poetry is sure to 
last. So far as Browning's obscurity goes, his poetry 
willnotlastlike Tennyson's. Itis all very well for his 
students to say that he is not obscure ; he is. Nor 
is it by any exceptional depth of thought or by any 
specially profound analysis of the soul that Brown- 
ing is obscure. It is by his style. By that he makes 
what is easy difficult. The reader does not get at 
what he means as he gets at what Homer, Dante, 
and Shakespeare mean. Dante and Shakespeare 
are often difficult through the depth and difficulty of 
their matter ; they are not difficult, except Shake- 
speare when he was learning his art, by obscurity 
or carelessness of style. But Browning is difficult, 
not by his thoughts, but by his expression of them. 
A poet has no right to be so indifferent, so careless 
of clearness in his art, I might almost say, so lazy. 
Browning is negligent to a fault, almost to imperti- 
nence. The great poets put the right words in the 
right places, and Tennyson is with them in that. 
Browning continually puts his words into the wrong 
places. He leaves out words necessary for the easy 
understanding of the passage, and for no reason ex- 
cept his fancy. He leaves his sentences half-finished 
and his meaning half-expressed. He begins a 
sentence, and having begun it, three or four thoughts 
connected with it slide into his mind, and instead of 
putting them aside or using them in another place, 
he jerks them into the middle of his sentence in a 
series of parentheses, and then inserts the end of 
the original sentence, or does not insert it at all. 


This is irritating except to folk who like discovery 
of the twisted rather than poetry ; and it is quite 
needless. It is worse than needless, for it lowers 
the charm and the dignity of the poetry. 

Yet, there is something to say on the other side. 
It is said, and with a certain justice, that " the 
style is the man. Strip his style away, and where 
is the man .' Where is the real Browning if we 
get him to change a way of writing in which he 
naturally shaped his thought .'' " Well, no one 
would ask him to impose on himself a style which 
did not fit his nature. That would be fatal. When 
he has sometimes tried to do so, as in a few of the 
dramas, we scarcely recognise our poet, and we 
lose half of his intellectual and poetic charm. Just 
as Carlyle when he wrote away from his natural 
style, as in the life of Sterling and Schiller, is not 
the great writer he is elsewhere, so was it with 
Browning. Were we savage satirists, bUnded by 
our savagery, we might then say both of Browning 
..and Carlyle that half their power lay in their fan- 
tastic, rocky style. We should be quite wrong. 
Their style was the exact clothing of their thought. 
They wrote exactly as they thought ; and when 
they put their thought into other clothing, when 
they doctored their style, they did not represent 
what they really thought. No sensible person then 
would have asked Browning to change his style, but 
would have asked him not to exaggerate it into its 
defects. It is plain he could have kept it within 
bounds. He has done so frequently. But as fre- 
quently he has allowed it to leap about as wildly as 
a young colt. He should have submitted it to the 
manige, and ridden it then where he pleased. A 


very little trouble on his part, a very little sacrifice 
of his unbridled fancifulness, would have spared us 
a great deal of unnecessary trouble, and made his 
poetry better and more enduring. 

Another excuse may be made for his faults of 
style. It may be said that in one sense the faults 
are excellences. When a poet has to represent ex- 
cessively subtle -pbases of thought and feeling, with 
a crowd of side-thoughts and side-feelings intruding 
on them; when he has to describe the excessive 
oddities, the cur-ious_-turHa&-ot_h.uiiian,^i50tion in 
strange inward conditions or outward circumstances 
or when he has to deal with rugged or even savage 
characters under the sway of the passions; he 
cannot, we are told, do it otherwise than Browning 
did it, and, instead of being lazy, he used these 
quips and cranks of style deliberately. 

The excuse has something in it. But, all the 
same, an artist should have managed it otherwise. 
Shakespeare was far more subtle in thought than 
Browning, and he had to deal with every kind of 
strange circumstance and character ; but his com- 
position and his style illuminate the characters, 
order the circumstances, and render clear, as, for 
example, in the Sonnets, the subtleties of his 
thought. A great artist, by his comprehensive 
grasp of the main issue of his work, even in a 
short lyric or a small picture, and by his luminous 
representation of it, suggests, without direct expres- 
sion of them, all the strange psychology, and the 
play of character in the situations. And such an 
artist does this excellent thing by his noble com- 
position, and by his lofty, clear, and melodious 
style. The excuse is, then, of some weight, but it 


does not relieve Browning of the charge. Had he 
been a greater artist, he would have been a 
greater master of the right way of saying things 
and a greater pleasurer of the future. Had he 
taken more pains with his style, but without losing 
its individual elements, he might have had as high 
a poetic place as Tennyson in the judgment of 

3. In one thing more — in this matter of form — 
the beauty of poetry lies. It is in sweetness of mel- 
ody and its charm ; in exquisite fitness of its music 
to its thought and its emotion ; in lawful change of 
harmony making enchanting variety to the ear ; in 
the obedience of the melodies to the laws of 
the different kinds of poetry ; and in the lovely 
conduct of the harmonies, through all their changes, 
to that finished close which throws back its own 
beauty on all that has preceded it. This part of the 
loveliness of form in poetry, along with composi- 
tion and style — for without these and without noble 
matter of thought poetry is nothing but pleasant 
noise — secures also the continuous delight of men 
and the approving j udgment of the future ; and in this 
also Tennyson, who gave to it the steady work of a 
lifetime, stands above his brother-poet. Browning 
was far too careless of his melody. He frequently 
sacrificed it, and needlessly, to his thought. He 
may have imagined that he strengthened the thing 
he thought by breaking the melody. He did not, 
he injured it. He injured the melody also by cast- 
ing into the middle of it, Uke stones into a clear 
water, rough parenthetic sounds to suit his paren- 
thetic phrases. He breaks it sometimes into two 
with violent clanging words, with discords which he 


does not resolve, but forgets. And in the pleasure 
he took in quaint oddities of sound, in jarring tricks 
with his metre, in fantastic and difficult arrange- 
ments of rhyme, in scientific displays of double 
rhymes, he, only too often, immolates melody on 
the altar of his own cleverness. 

A great many of the poems in which the natural 
loveliness of melody is thus sacrificed or maimed 
will last, on account of the closely-woven work of 
the intellect in them, and on account of their vivid 
presentation of the travail of the soul ; that is, they 
will last for qualities which might belong to prose ; 
but they will not last as poetry. And other 
poems, in which the melody is only interrupted 
here and there, will lose a great deal of the con- 
tinuity of pleasure they would have given to man 
had they been more careful to obey those laws of 
fine melody which Tennyson never disobeys. 

It is fortunate that neither of these injuries can 
be attributed to the whole of his work ; and I am 
equally far from saying that his faults of style and 
composition belong to all his poetry. 

There are a number of poems the melody of 
which is beautiful, in which, if there are discords, 
they are resolved into a happy concord at their 
close. There are others the melody of which is so 
strange, brilliant, and capturing that their sound is 
never forgotten. There are others the subtle, minor 
harmonies of which belong to and represent remote 
pathetic phases of human passion, and they, too, 
are heard by us in lonely hours of pitiful feeling, 
and enchant the ear and heart. And these will 
endure for the noble pleasure of man. 

There are also poems the style of which is fitted 


most happily to the subject, like the Letter of 
Karshish to his Friend, in which Browning has been 
so seized by his subject, and yet has so mastered it, 
that he has forgotten to intercalate his own fancies ; 
and in which, if the style is broken, it is broken in 
full harmony with the situation, and in obedience 
to the unity of impression he desired to make. 
There are others, like Abt Vogler, in which the 
style is extraordinarily noble, clear, and uplifted ; 
and there are long passages in the more important 
poems, like Paracelsus, where the joy and glory of 
the thought and passion of Browning inform the 
verse with dignity, and make its march stately with 
solemn and beautiful music. Where the style and 
melody are thus fine the composition is also good. 
The parts, in their variety, belong to one another 
and to the unity of the whole. Style, melody, and 
composition are always in the closest relation. 
And this nobleness of composition, style, and 
melody is chiefly found in those poems of his 
which have to do with the great matter of poetry 
— the representation of the universal and simple 
passions of human nature with their attendant and 
necessary thoughts. And there, in that part of 
his work, not in that other part for which he is 
unduly praised, and which belongs to the over- 
subtilised and over-intellectual time in which our 
self-conscious culture now is striving to resist its 
decay, and to prove that its disease is health, is the 
lasting power of Browning. 

And then, beyond all these matters of form, 
there is the poet himself, alone among his fellows 
in his unique and individual power, who has fast- 
ened himself into our hearts, added a new world 


to our perceptions, developed our lives, and enlarged 
our interests. And there are the separate and 
distinguished excellences of his work — the virtues 
which have no defects, the virtues, too, of his 
defects, all the new wonders of his realm — the 
many originalities which have justly earned for 
him that high and lonely seat on Parnassus on 
which his noble Shadow sits to-day, unchallenged 
in our time save by that other Shadow with whom, 
in reverence and love, we have been perhaps too 
bold to contrast him. 



IT is a difficult task to explain or analyse the 
treatment of Nature by Browning. It is easy 
enough to point out his remarkable love of her colour, 
his vivid painting of brief landscapes, his minute 
observation, his flashing way of description, his feel- 
ing for the breadth and freshness of Nature, his love 
of flowers and animals, and the way he has of hitting 
and emphasising the central point or light of a 
landscape. This is easy work, but it is not so easy 
to capture and define the way in which his soul, 
when he was alone, felt with regard to the heavens, 
and the earth, and all that therein is. Others, like 
Wordsworth, have stated this plainly : Browning 
has nowhere defined his way. What his intellect 
held the Natural World to be, in itself; what it 
meant for man ; the relation in which it stood to 
God and God to it — these things are partly plain. 
They have their attraction for us. It is always 
interesting to know what an imaginative genius 
thinks about such matters. But it is only a bio- 
graphical or a half-scientific interest. But what 
we want to discover is how Browning, as a poet, 
felt the. world of Nature. We have to try and 
catch the unconscious attitude of his soul when the 



Universe was at work around him, and he was for 
the time its centre — and this is the real difficulty. 

Sometimes we imagine we have caught and fixed 
this elusive thing, but we finally give up the quest. 
The best we can do is to try to find the two or three 
general thoughts, the most frequently recurring 
emotions Browning had when Nature at sundry 
hours and in diverse manners displayed before him 
her beauty, splendour, and fire, and seemed to ask 
his worship ; or again, when she stood apart from 
him, with the mocking smile she often wears, and 
whispered in his ear, "Thou shalt pursue me 
always, but never find my secret, never grasp my 
streaming hair." And both these experiences are 
to be found in Browning. Nature and he are some- 
times at one, and sometimes at two; but seldom 
the first, and generally the second. 

The natural world Tennyson describes is for the 
greater part of it a reflection of man, or used to 
heighten man's feeling or to illustrate his action, 
or sentimentalised by memorial associations of 
humanity, or, finally, invented as a background for 
a human subject, and with a distinct direction to- 
wards that subject. Browning, with a few excep- 
tions, does the exact opposite. His natural world 
is not made by our thought, nor does it reflect 
our passions. His illustrations, drawn from it, of 
our actions, break down at certain points, as if the 
illustrating material were alien from our nature. 
Nature, it is true, he thinks, leads up to man, and 
therefore has elements in her which are dim pro- 
phecies and prognostics of us; but she is only 
connected with us as the road is with the goal it 
reaches in the end. She exists independently of 


US, but yet she exists to suggest to us what we 
may become, to awaken in us dim longings and 
desires, to surprise us into confession of our in- 
adequacy, to startle us with perceptions of an 
infinitude we do not possess as yet but may 
possess; to make us feel our ignorance, weak- 
ness, want of finish ; and by partly exhibiting the 
variety, knowledge, love, power, and finish of God, 
to urge us forward in humble pursuit to the infinite 
in him. The day Browning climbs Mont Salfeve, 
at the beginning of his poem La Saisiaz, after a 
description of his climb in which he notes a host 
of minute quaintnesses in rock and flower, and 
especially little flares of colour, all of them unsenti- 
mentalised, he suddenly stands on the mountain-top, 
and is smitten with the glory of the view. What 
does he see .? Himself in Nature > or Nature her- 
self, like a living being? Not at all. He sees 
what he thinks Nature is there to teach us — not 
herself, but what is beyond herself. "I was sta- 
tioned," he cries, deliberately making this point, 
" face to face with — Nature .' — rather with Infini- 
tude." We are not in Nature : a part of God 
aspiring to the whole is there, but not the all of 
God. And Nature shows forth her glory, not 
to keep us with herself, but to send us on to 
her Source, of whom the universe is but a shred. 
The universe of what we call matter in all its 
forms, which is the definition of Nature as I speak 
of it here, is one form to Browning of the creative 
joy of God, : we are another form of the same joy. 
Nor does Browning conceive, as Wordsworth con- 
ceived, of any pre-established harmony between us 
and the natural world, so that Humanity and Nature 


can easily converse and live together ; so that we can 
express our thoughts and emotions in terms of 
Nature ; or so that Nature can have, as it were, a 
human soul. This is not Browning's conception. 
If he had such a conception he would frequently 
use in his descriptions what Ruskin calls the 
" pathetic fallacy," the use of which is excessively 
common in Tennyson. I can scarcely recall more 
than a very few instances of this in all the poetry 
of Browning. Even where it seems to occur, 
where Nature is spoken of in human terms, it does 
not really occur. Take this passage from James 
Lees Wife: 

Oh, good gigantic smile o' the brown old earth, 
This autumn morning ! How he sets his bones 

To bask i' the sun, and thrusts out knees and feet 

For the ripple to run over in its mirth ; 

Listening the while, where on the heap of stones 

The white breast of the sea-lark twitters sweet. 

The smile, the mirth, the listening, might be said 
to impute humanity to Nature : but the Earth and 
the Sea are plainly quite distinct from us. These are 
great giant creatures who are not ourselves : Titans 
who live with one another and not with us ; and 
the terms of our humanity are used to make us 
aware of their separate existence from us, not of 
their being images only of our mind. 

Another passage will illustrate the same habit 
of Browning's mind with Nature. He describes, for 
the purpose of his general thought, in Fifine at the 
Fair, the course of a stormy sunset. The clouds, 
the sun, the night, act like men, and are written of 
in terms of humanity. But this is only to explain 
matters to us; the mighty creatures themselves 


have nothing to do with us. They live their own 
vast, indifferent life ; and we see, like spectators, 
what they are doing, and do not understand what 
we see. The sunset seems to him the last act of an 
ever-recurring drama, in which the clouds barricade 
the Sun against his rest, and he plays with their 
opposition hke the huge giant he is ; till Night, 
with her terrific mace, angry with them for pre- 
venting the Sun from repose, repose which will 
make her Queen of the world, beats them into ruin. 
This is the passage : 

For as on edifice of cloud i' the grey and green 

Of evening, — • built about some glory of the west, 

To barricade the sun's departure, — manifest. 

He plays, pre-eminently gold, gilds vapour, crag, and crest 

Which bend in rapt suspense above the act and deed 

They cluster round and keep their very own, nor heed 

The world at watch ; while we, breathlessly at the base 

O' the castellated bulk, note momently the mace 

Of night fall here, fall there, bring change with every blow, 

Alike to sharpened shaft and broadened portico 

r the structure ; heights and depths, beneath the leaden stress 

Crumble and melt and mix together, coalesce. 

Reform, but sadder still, subdued yet more and more 

By every fresh defeat, till wearied eyes need pore 

No longer on the dull impoverished decadence 

Of all that pomp of pile in towering evidence 

So lately. — Fifine, cvi. 

It is plain that Browning separates us altogether 
from the elemental life of these gigantic beings. 
And what is true of these passages is true, with one 
or two exceptions, of all the natural descriptions of 
Browning in <which the pathetic fallacy seems to be 
used by him. I need not say how extraordinarily 
apart this method of his is from that of Tennyson. 
Then Tennyson, like Coleridge — only Tennyson 


is as vague and wavering in this belief as Coleridge 
is firm and clear in it — sometimes speaks as if 
Nature did not exist at all apart from our thought : 

Her life the eddying of our living soul — 

a possible, even a probable explanation. But it 
is not Browning's view. There is a celebrated 
passage in Paracelsus which is quite inconsistent 
with it. All Nature, from the beginning, is made 
to issue forth from the joy God has in making, in 
embodying his thought in form; and when one 
form has been made and rejoiced in, in making 
another still more lovely on the foundation of the 
last. So, joy after joy, the world was built, till, 
in the life of all he has made, God sees his ancient 
rapture of movement and power, and feels his 
delight renewed. I will not quote it here, but only 
mark that we and the " eddying of our living soul " 
have nothing to do with the making of this Nature. 
It is not even the thoughts of God in us. God and 
Nature are alone, and were alone together countless 
years before we were born. But man was the 
close of all. Nature was built up, through every 
stage, that man might know himself to be its 
close — its seal — but not it. It is a separate, un- 
human form of God. Existing thus apart, it does 
a certain work on us, impressing us from without. 
The God in it speaks to the God in us. It may 
sometimes be said to be interested in us, but not 
like a man in a man. He even goes so far as to 
impute to Nature, but rarely, such an interest in us; 
but in reality he rather thinks that we, being Nature's 
end, have at such times touched for a moment some 
of those elements in her which have come down to 


US — elements apart from the soul. And Browning 
takes care, even when he represents Nature as sud- 
denly at one with us, to keep up the separateness. 
The interest spoken of is not a human interest, nor 
resembles it. It is like the interest Ariel takes in 
Prospero and Miranda — an elemental interest, that 
of a creature whose nature knows its radical differ- 
ence from human nature. If Nature sees us in 
sorrow or in joy, she knows, in these few passages 
of Browning's poetry, or seems to know, that we 
mourn or rejoice, and if she could feel with us she 
would ; but she cannot quite do so. Like Ariel, she 
would be grieved with the grief of Gonzalo, were her 
affections human. She has then a wild, unhuman, 
unmoral, unspiritual interest in us, like a being 
who has an elemental life, but no soul. But 
sometimes' she is made to go farther, and has 
the same kind of interest in us which Oberon 
has in the loves of Helena and Hermia. When 
we are loving, and on the verge of such untroubled 
joy as Nature has always in her being, then she 
seems able, in Browning's poetry, to actually work 
for us, and help us into the fulness of our joy. f In 
his poem, By the Fireside, he tells how he and the 
woman he loved were brought to know their love. 
It is a passage full of his peculiar view of Nature. 
The place where the two lovers stay their footsteps 
on the hill knows all about them. " It is silent and 
aware." But it is apart from them also : 

,It has had its scenes, its joys, and crimes, 
But that is its own affair. 

And its silence also is its own. Those who linger 
there think that the place longs to speak ; its bosom 


seems to heave with all it knows ; but the desire is 
its own, not ours transferred to it. But when the 
two lovers were there, Nature, of her own accord, 
made up a spell for them and troubled them into 
speech : 

A moment after, and hands unseen 
Were hanging the night around us fast ; 

But we knew that a bar was broken between 
Life and life : we were mixed at last 

In spite of the mortal screen. 

The forests had done it ; there they stood ; 

We caught for a moment the powers at play : 
They had mingled us so, for once and good, 

Their work was done — we might go or stay, 
They relapsed to their ancient mood. 

Not one of the poets of this century would have 
thought in that fashion concerning Nature. Only 
for a second, man happened to be in harmony with 
the Powers at play in Nature. They took the two 
lovers up for a moment, made them one, and 
dropped them. " They relapsed to their ancient 
mood." The line is a whole lesson in Browning's 
view of Nature. But this special interest in us is 
rare, for we are seldom in the blessed mood of unself- 
conscious joy and love. When we are, on the other 
hand, self-conscious, or in doubt, or out of harmony 
with love and joy, or anxious for the transient 
things of the world — Nature, unsympathetic wholly, 
mocks and plays with us like a faun. When 
Sordello climbs the ravine, thinking of himself as 
Apollo, the wood, "proud of its observer," a 
mocking phrase, "tried surprises on him, strata- 
gems, and games." 

Or, our life is too small for her greatness. When 


ve are unworthy our high lineage, noisy or mean, 

hen we ., , ^ . , 

quail before a quiet sky 

Or sea, too little for their quietude. 

That is a phrase which might fall in with Words- 
vorth's theory of Nature, but this which follows 
rom The Englishman in Italy, is only Browning's. 
The man has climbed to the top of Calvano, 

And God's own profound 
Was above me, and round me the mountains, 

And under, the sea. 
And within me, my heart to bear witness 

What was and shall be. 

ie is worthy of the glorious sight; full of 
;ternal thoughts. Wordsworth would then have 
nade the soul of Nature sympathise with his soul. 
But Browning makes Nature manifest her apart- 
less from the man. The mountains know nothing 
)f his soul : they amuse themselves with him ; they 
ire even half angry with him for his intrusion — 
L foreigner who dares an entrance into their untres- 
)assed world. Tennyson could not have thought 
hat way. It is true the mountains are alive in the 
)oet's thought, but not with the poet's life : nor 
loes he touch them with his sentiment. 

Oh, those mountains, their infinite movement! 

Still moving with you ; 
For, ever some new head and heart of them 

Thrusts into view 
To observe the intruder ; you see it 

If quickly you turn 
And, fjefore they escape you surprise them. 

They grudge you should learn 
How the soft plains they look on, lean over 
And love (they pretend) — 

Cower beneath them. 


Total apartness from us ! Nature mocking, sur- 
prising us ; watching us from a distance, even 
pleased to see us going to our destruction. We 
may remember how the hills look grimly on Childe 
Roland when he comes to the tower. The very 
sunset comes back to see him die: 

before it left, 
The dying sunset kindled through a clefl : 
The hills, like giants at a hunting, lay. 
Chin upon hand, to see the game at bay. 

Then, as if they loved to see the death of their 
quarry, cried, without one touch of sympathy : 

" Now stab and end the creature — to the heft ! " 

And once, so divided from our life is her life, she 
pities her own case and refuses our pity. Man 
cannot help her. The starved, ignoble country in 
Childe Roland, one of the finest pieces of descrip- 
tion in Browning, wicked, waste, and leprous land, 
makes Nature herself sick with peevish wrath. " I 
cannot help my case," she cries. " Nothing but the 
Judgment's fire can cure the place." 

On the whole, then, for these instances might 
be supported by many more. Nature is aUve in 
Browning, but she is not humanised at all, nor at 
all at one with us. Tennyson does not make her 
alive, but he does humanise her. The other poets 
of the century do make her alive, but they harmonise 
her in one way or another with us. Browning is 
distinct from them all in keeping her quite divided 
from man. 

But then he has observed that Nature is expressed 
in terms of man, and he naturally, for this conflicts 
with his general view, desires to explain this. He 


does explain it in a passage in Paracelsus. Man, 
once descried, imprints for ever 

His presence on all lifeless things ; the winds 

Are henceforth voices, wailing or a shout, 

A querulous mutter or a quick gay laugh, 

Never a senseless gust now man is born. 

The herded pines commune and have deep thoughts, 

A secret they assemble to discuss 

When the sun drops behind their trunks which glare 

Like gates of hell : the peerless cup afloat 

Of the lake-lily is an urn, some nymph 

Swims bearing high above her head : no bird 

Whistles unseen, but through the gaps above 

That let light in upon the gloomy woods, 

A shape peeps from the breezy forest-top, 

Arch with small puckered mouth and mocking eye. 

The morn has enterprise, deep quiet droops 

With evening, triumph takes the sunset hour, 

Voluptuous transport ripens with- the corn 

Beneath a warm moon like a happy fece : 

— And this to fill us with regard for Man. 

He does not say, as the other poets do, that the 
pines really commune, or that the morn has enter- 
prise, or that nymphs and satyrs live in the woods, 
but that this seems to be, because man, as the 
crown of the natural world, throws back his soul 
and his soul's life on all the grades of inferior life 
which preceded him. It is Browning's contradiction 
of any one who thinks that the pathetic fallacy 
exists in his poetry. 

Nature has then a life of her own, her own 
joys and sorrows, or rather, only joy. Browning, 
indeed, with his intensity of imagination and his 
ineradicable desire of life, was not the man to 
conceive Nature as dead, as having no conscious 
being of any kind. He did not impute a personality 
Uke ours to Nature, but he saw joy and rapture and 


play, even love, moving in everything ; and some- 
times he added to this delight she has in herself — 
and just because the creature was not human — a 
touch of elemental unmoral malice, a tricksome 
sportiveness like that of Puck in Midsummer 
Nighfs Dream. The Hfe, then, of Nature had no 
relation of its own to our life; but we had some 
relation to it because we were conscious that we 
were its close and its completion. 

It follows from this idea of Browning's that he 
was capable of describing Nature as she is, without 
adding any deceiving mist of human sentiment to 
his descriptions ; and of describing her as accu- 
rately and as vividly as Tennyson, even more vividly, 
because of his extraordinary eye for colour. And 
Nature, so described, is of great interest in Brown- 
ing's poetry. 

But, then, in any description of Nature, we desire 
the entrance into such description of some human 
feeling so that it may be a more complete theme for 
poetry. Browning does this in a different way from 
Tennyson, who gives human feelings and thoughts 
to Nature, or steeps it in human memories. 
Browning catches Nature up into himself, and 
the human element is not in Nature but in him, in 
what he thinks and feels, in all that Nature, quite 
apart from him, awakens in him. Sometimes he 
even goes so far as to toss Nature aside altogether, 
as unworthy to be thought of in comparison with 
humanity. That joy in Nature herself, for her 
own sake, which was so distinguishing a mark 
of Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, Byron, and 
Keats, is rarely, if ever, found in Browning. This 
places him apart. What he loved was man ; and 


save at those times of which I have spoken, when 
he conceives Nature as the life and play and wrath 
and fancy of huge elemental powers like gods and 
goddesses, he uses her as a background only for 
human life. She is of little importance unless 
man be present, and then she is no more than 
the scenery in a drama. Take the first two verses 
of A Lovers' Quarrel, 

Oh, what a dawn of day ! 

How the March sun feels like May ! 

All is blue again 

After last night's rain, 
And the South dries the hawthorn-spray. 

That is well done — he has liked what he saw. 
But what is it all, he thinks; what do I care 
about it } And he ends the verse : 

Only, my Love's away ! 
I'd as lief that the blue were grey. 

Then take the next verse : 

Runnels, which rillets swell, 
Must be dancing down the dell, 

With a foaming head 

On the beryl bed 
Paven smooth as a hermit's cell. 

It is excellent description, but it is only scenery for 
the real passion in Browning's mind. 

Each with a tale to tell — 
Could my Love but attend as well. 

By the Fireside illustrates the same point. No 
description can be better, more close, more ob- 
served, than of the whole walk over the hill ; but 
it is mere scenery for the lovers. The real passion 
lies in their hearts. 


We have then direct description of Nature ; direct 
description of man sometimes as influenced by 
Nature ; sometimes Nature used as the scenery of 
human passion ; but no intermingling of them both. 
Each is for ever distinct. The only thing that unites 
them in idea, and in the end, is that both have pro- 
ceeded from the creative joy of God. 

Of course this way of thinking permits of the 
things of Nature being used to illustrate the doings, 
thinkings, and character of man ; and in none of 
his poems is such illustration better used than in 
Sordello. There is a famous passage, in itself a 
noble description of the opulent generativeness of a 
warm land like Italy, in which he compares the rich, 
poetic soul of Sordello to such a land, and the 
lovely line in it. 

And still more labyrinthine buds the rose, 

holds in its symbolism the whole essence of a great 
artist's nature. I quote the passage. It describes 
Sordello, and it could not better describe Italy : 

Sordello foremost in the regal class 

Nature has broadly severed from the mass 

Of men, and framed for pleasure, as she frames 

Some happy lands, that have luxurious names, 

For loose fertility ; a footfall there 

Suffices to upturn to the warm air 

Half-germinating spices ; mere decay 

Produces richer life ; and day by day 

New pollen on the lily-petal grows. 

And still more labyrinthine buds the rose. 

That compares to the character of a whole 
country the character of a whole type of humanity. 
I take another of such comparisons, and it is as 


minute as this is broad, and done with as great 
skill and charm. Sordello is full of poetic fancies, 
touched and glimmering with the dew of youth, and 
he has woven them around the old castle where he 
lives. Browning compares the young man's imagi- 
native play to the airy and audacious labour of the 
spider. He, that is, Sordello, 

O'er-festooning every interval, 
As the adventurous spider, malcing light 
Of distance, shoots her threads from depth to height, 
From barbican to battlement : so flung 
Fantasies forth and in their centre swung 
Our architect, — the breezy morning fresh 
Above, and merry, — all his waving mesh 
Laughing with lucid dew-drops rainbow-edged. 

It could not be better done. The description 
might stand alone, but better than it is the image 
it gives of the joy, fancLfulness, and creativeness of 
a young poet, making his web of thoughts and 
imaginations, swinging in their centre like the 
spider ; all of them subtle as the spider's threads, 
obeying every passing wind of impulse, and gemmed 
with the dew and sunlight of youth. 

Again, in A Bean-Stripe : also Apple-Eating, Fer- 
ishtah is asked — Is life a good or bad thing, white or 
black.? "Good," says Ferishtah, "if one keeps 
moving. I only move. When I stop, I may stop in 
a black place or a white. But everything around me 
is motionless as regards me, and is nothing more 
than stuff which tests my power of throwing light 
and colour on them as I move. It is I who make 
life good or bad, black or white. I am like the 
moon going through vapour" — and this is the 
illustration : 


Mark the flying orb ! 
Think'st thou the halo, painted still afresh 
At each new cloud-fleece pierced and passaged through, 
This was and is and will be evermore 
Coloured in permanence ? The glory swims 
Girdling the glory-giver, swallowed straight 
By night's abysmal gloom, unglorified 
Behind as erst before the advancer : gloom ? 
Faced by the onward-faring, see, succeeds 
From the abandoned heaven a next surprise, 
And Where's the gloom now ? — silver-smitten straight, 
One glow and variegation ! So, with me, 
Who move and make, — myself, — the black, the white. 
The good, the bad, of life's environment. 

Fine as these illustrations are, intimate and 
ninute, they are only a few out of a multitude of 
hose comparisons which in Browning image what 
s in man from that which is within Nature — hints, 
jrognostics, prophecies, as he would call them, of 
lumanity, but not human. 

There is, however, one human passion which 
3rowning conceives as existing in Nature — the 
Dassion of joy. But it is a different joy from ours. 
;t is not dashed by any sorrow, and it is very rarely 
hat we are so freed from pain or from self-con- 
emplation as to be able to enter even for a brief 
lour into the rapture of Nature. That rapture, in 
Browning's thought, was derived from the creative 
bought of God exercising itself with delight in the 
ncessant making of Nature. And its manifestation 
vas life, that joyful rush of life in all things into 
uller and fuller being. No poet felt this ecstasy 
)f mere living in Nature more deeply than Browning, 
^is own rapture (the word is not too strong) in it 
ippears again and again in his poetry, and when it 
loes. Browning is not a man sympathising from 


without with Nature. He is then a part of Nature 
herself, a living piece of the great organism, having 
his own rejoicing life in the mightier life which 
includes him ; and feeling, with the rest, the 
abounding pleasure of continuous life reaching up- 
wards through growth to higher forms of being, 
swifter powers of Hving. I might give many- 
examples, but one will suffice, and it is the more 
important because it belongs not to his ardent 
youth, but to his mature manhood. It is part of 
the song of Thamuris in Aristophanes' Apology. 
Thamuris, going to meet the Muses in rivalry, 
sings as he walks in the splendid morning the song 
of the rapture of the life of Earth, and is himself 
part of the rejoicing movement. 

Thamuris, marching, laughed " Each flake of foam " 
(As sparklingly the ripple raced him by) 
"Mocks slower clouds adrift in the blue dome ! " 

For Autumn was the season ; red the sky 
Held morn's conclusive signet of the sun 
To break the mists up, bid them blaze and die. 

Morn had the mastery as, one by one 

All pomps produced themselves along the tract 

From earth's far ending to near heaven begun. 

Was there a ravaged tree ? it laughed compact 
With gold, a leaf-ball crisp, high brandished now, 
Tempting to onset frost which late attacked. 

Was there a wizened shrub, a starveling bough, 

A fleecy thistle filched from by the wind, 

A weed, Pan's trampling hoof would disallow ? 

Each, with a glory and a rapture twined 
About it, joined the rush of air and light 
And force : the world was of one joyous mind. 


Say not the birds flew ! they forebore their right — 

Swam, revelling onward in the roll of things. 

Say not the beasts' mirth bounded ! that was flight — 

How could the creatures leap, no lift of wings ? 
Such earth's community of purpose, such 
The ease of earth's fulfilled imaginings, — 

So did the near and far appear to touch 

I' the moment's transport, — that an interchange 

Of function, far with near, seemed scarce too much ; 

And had the rooted plant aspired to range 

With the snake's licence, while the insect yearned 

To glow fixed as the flower, it were not strange — 

No more than if the fluttery tree-top turned 

To actual music, sang itself aloft ; 

Or if the wind, impassioned chantress, earned 

The right to soar embodied in some soft 
Fine form all fit for cloud companionship. 
And, blissful, once touch beauty chased so oft. 

Thamuris, marching, let no fancy slip 

Born of the fiery transport ; lyre and song 

Were his, to smite with hand and launch from lip — 

The next thing, to touch on is his drawing of 
landscape, not now of separate pieces of Nature, but 
of the whole view of a land seen under a certain 
aspect of the heavens. All the poets ought to be 
able to do this well, and I drew attention to the 
brief, condensed, yet fan-opening fashion in which 
Tennyson has done it. Sometimes the poets de- 
scribe what they see before them, or have seen; 
drawing directly from Nature. Sometimes they 
invent a wide or varied landscape as a background 
for a human subject, and arrange and tone it for 
that purpose. Shelley did this with great stateliness 
and subtlety. Browning does not do it, except, 


perhaps, in Christmas-Eve, when he prepares the 
night for the appearance of Christ. Nevertheless, 
even in Christmas-Eve, the description of the lunar 
rainbow is of a thing he has seen, of a not-invented 
thing, and it is as clear, vivid, and natural as it can 
be ; only it is heightened and thrilled through by 
the expectancy and the thrill in Browning's soul 
which the reader feels and which the poet, through 
his emotion, makes the reader comprehend. But 
there is no suggestion that any of this feeling exists 
in Nature. The rainbow has no consciousness 
of the vision to come or of the passion in the 
poet (as it would have had in Wordsworth), and 
therefore is painted with an accuracy undimmed 
by any transference to Nature of the soul of the 

I quote the piece ; it is a noble specimen of his 
landscape work : 

But 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 severe 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 whitest 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 key-stone of that arc ? 

This is only a piece of sky, though I have callec 
it landscape work. But then the sky is frequent!} 
treated alone by Browning ; and is always presen 
in power over his landscapes — it, and the winds h 
it. This is natural enough for one who lived s< 
much in Italy, where the scenery of the sky is mon 
superb than that of the earth — so various, noble 
and surprising that when Nature plays there, as \ 
poet, her tragedy and comedy, one scarcely takei 
the trouble of considering the earth. 

However, we find an abundance of true land 
scapes in Browning. They are, with a few excep 
tions, Italian ; and they have that grandeur an( 
breadth, that intensity given by blazing coloui 
that peculiar tint either of labyrinthine or of tragi 
sentiment which belong to Italy. I select a fe\ 
of them : 

The morn when first it thunders in March 

The eel in the pond gives a leap, they say ; 
As I leaned and looked over the aloed arch 

Of the villa-gate this warm March day. 
No flash snapped, no dumb thunder rolled 

In the valley beneath where, white and wide, 
Washed by the morning water-gold, 

Florence lay out on the mountain side. 


River and bridge and street and square 
Lay mine, as much at my beck and call, 

Tlirough the live translucent bath of air, 
As the sights in a magic crystal ball. 

Here is the Roman Campagna and its very 
sentiment : 

The champaign with its endless fleece 

Of feathery grasses everywhere ! 
Silence and passion, joy and peace, 

An everlasting wash of air — 
Rome's ghost since her decease. 

And this might be in the same place : 

Where the quiet-coloured end of evening smiles, 

Miles and miles 
On the solitary pastures where our sheep 

Tinkle homeward through the twilight — 

This is a crimson sunset over dark and distant 

woods in autumn : 

That autumn eve was stilled : 
A last remains of sunset dimly burned 
O'er the fer forests, like a torch-flame turned 
By the wind back upon its bearer's hand 
In one long flare of crimson ; as a brand 
The woods beneath lay black. A single eye 
From all Verona cared for the soft sky. 

And if we desire a sunrise, there is the triumphant 
beginning of Pippa Passes — a glorious outburst of 
light, colour, and splendour, impassioned and rush- 
ing, the very upsoaring of Apollo's head behind his 
furious steeds. It begins with one word, hke a 
single stroke on the gong of Nature : it continues 
till the whole of the overarching vault, and the 
world below, in vast disclosure, is flooded with an 
ocean of gold. 



Faster and more fast, 
O'er night's brim, day boils at last ; 
Boils, pure gold, o'er the cloud-cup's brim 
Where spurting and suppressed it lay, 
For not a froth-flake touched the rim 
Of yonder gap in the solid grey 
Of the eastern cloud, an hour away ; 
But forth one wavelet, then another, curled. 
Till the whole sunrise, not to be suppressed, 
Rose, reddened, and its seething breast 
Flickered in bounds, grew gold, then overflowed the world. 

This is chiefly of the sky, but the description in 
that gipsy-hearted poem, The Flight of the Duchess, 
brings before us, at great length, league after league 
of wide-spreading landscape. It is, first, of the 
great wild country, cornfield, vineyards, sheep- 
ranges, open chase, till we arrive at last at the 
mountains ; and climbing up among their pines, dip 
down into a yet vaster and wilder country, a red, 
drear, burnt-up plain, over which we are carried 
for miles : 

Till at the last, for a bounding belt, 

Comes the salt sand hoar of the great sea-shore. 

Or we may read the Grammarian s Funeral,vr\itre 
we leave the city walls and climb the peak on whose 
topmost ledge he is to be buried. As we ascend 
the landscape widens ; we see it expanding in the 
verse. Moreover, with a wonderful power, Brown- 
ing makes us feel the air grow keener, fresher, 
brighter, more soundless, and lonelier. That, too, 
is given by the verse ; it is a triumph in Nature- 

Nor is he less effective in narrow landscape, 
in the description of small shut-in spaces of 


Nature. There is the garden at the beginning 
of Paracelsus ; the ravine, step by step, in Pauline ; 
the sea-beach, and its little cabihet landscapes, in 
James Lees Wife ; the exquisite pictures of the 
path over the Col di Colma in By the Fireside — for 
though the whole of the landscape is given, yet 
each verse almost might stand as a small picture by 
itself. It is one of Browning's favourite ways of 
description, to walk slpwly through the landscape, 
describing step by step those parts of it which 
strike him and leaving to us to combine the parts 
into the whole. But his way of combination is to 
touch the last thing he describes with human love, 
and to throw back this atmosphere of feeling over 
all the pictures he has made. The verses I quote 
do this. 

Oh moment, one and infinite ! 

The water slips o'er stock and stone ; 
The West is tender, hardly bright : 

How grey at once is the evening grown — 
One star, its chrysolite ! 

We two stood there with never a third, 
But each by each, as each knew well : 

The sights we saw and the sounds we heard. 
The lights and the shades made up a spell 

Till the trouble grew and stirred. 

Oh, the little more, and how much it is ! 

And the little less, and what worlds away ! 
How a sound shall quicken content to bliss. 

Or a breath suspend the blood's best play. 
And life be a proof of this ! 

There are many such miniatures of Nature in 
Browning's poetry. Sometimes, however, the pic- 
tures are larger and nobler, when the natural thing 
described is in itself charged with power, terror, or 


dignity. I give one instance of this, where the 
fierce Italian thunderstorm is enhanced by being 
the messenger of God's vengeance on guilt. It is 
from Pippa Passes. The heaven's pillars are over- 
bowed with heat. The black-blue canopy descends 
close on Ottima and Sebald. 

Buried in woods we lay, you recollect ; 
Swift ran the searching tempest overhead ; 
And ever and anon some bright white shaft 
Burned thro' the pine-tree roof, here burned and there, 
As if God's messenger thro' 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 — 

That is as splendid as the thing itself. 

Again, no one can help observing in all these 
quotations the extraordinary love of colour, a love 
Tennyson has in far fainter measure, but which 
Browning seems to possess more than any other 
EngUsh poet. Only Sir Walter Scott approaches 
him in this. Scott, knowing the Highlands, knew 
dark magnificence of colour. But Browning's 
love of colour arose from his having lived so 
long in Italy, where the light is so pure, clear, 
and brilliant that colour is more intense, and at. 
dawn and sunset more deep, delicate, and various 
than it is in our land. Sometimes, as Ruskin says, 
" it is not colour, it is conflagration " ; but wherever 
it is, in the bell of a flower, on the edge of a cloud, 
on the back of a lizard, on the veins of a lichen, it 
strikes in Browning's verse at our eyes, and he 
only, in English poetry, has joy enough in it to be 
its full interpreter. 

He sees the wild tulip blow out its great red 


bell ; he sees the thin clear bubble of blood at its 
tip ; he sees the spike of gold which burns deep in 
the bluebell's womb; the corals that, like lamps, 
disperse thick red flame through the dusk green 
universe of the ocean ; the lakes which, when the 
mom breaks. 

Blaze like a wyvern flying round the sun ; 

the woodland bralf:e whose withered fern Dawn 
feeds with gold; the moon carried off at sunrise 
in purple fire ; the larch-blooms crisp and pink ; the 
sanguine heart of the pomegranate ; the filberts rus- 
set-sheathed and velvet-capped; the poppies crimson 
to blackness ; the red fans of the butterfly falling on 
the rock like a drop of fire from a brandished torch ; 
the star-fish, rose-jacynth to the finger-tips; and a 
hundred other passionate seizures of colour. And, 
for the last of these colour remembrances, in quieter 
tints — almost in black and white — I quote this lovely 
vesseixora James Lee's Wife: 

The swallow has set her six young on the rail, 

And looks seaward : 
The water's in stripes like a snake, olive pale 
To the leeward, — 
On the weather-side, black, spotted white with the wind. 

"Good fortune departs, and disaster's behind" — 
Hark, the wind with its wants and its infinite wail ! 

So, not only do we possess all these landscapes, 
but we possess them in colour. They are painted 
as well as drawn. It is his love of colour which 
made at least 'half of the impulse that drove him 
at times into Impressionism. Good drawing is 
little to the impressionist painters. It is the sudden 
glow, splash, or flicker of colour that moves them. 


which makes on them the swift, the momentary 
impression they wish to record. '..'•-.• 

And colour acted on Browning in the same way. 
I said he had been impressionist, when he liked, 
for forty years before Impressionism was born in 
modern art. He was so, because from the begin- 
ning he saw things in colour, more than in light 
and shade. It is well worth a reader's while to 
search him for colour-impressions. I take one, 
for example, with the black horse flung in at the 
end exactly in the way an artist would do it who 
loved a flash of black life midst of a dead expanse 
of gold and green : 

Fancy the Pampas' sheen! 

Miles and miles of gold and green 

Where the sunflowers blow 

In a solid glow, 
And — to break now and then the screen — 

Black neck and eyeballs keen. 
Up a wild horse leaps between ! 

Having, then, this extraordinary power of sight, 
needing no carefulness of observation or study, but 
capable of catching and holding without trouble all 
that his eye rested or glanced upon, it is no wonder 
that sometimes it amused him to put into verse the 
doings of a whole day ; the work done in it by men 
of all classes and the natural objects that encom- 
passed them ; not cataloguing them dryly, but shoot- 
ing through them, like rays of light, either his own 
fancies and thoughts, or the fancies and thoughts 
of some typical character whom he invented. This he 
has done specially in two poems : The Englishman 
in Italy, where the vast shell of the Sorrento plain, 
its sea and mountains, and all the doings of the 


peasantry, are detailed with the most intimate delight 
and truth. The second of these poems is Up at [ 
a Villa — Down in the City, where a farm of the 
Casentino with its surroundings is contrasted with 
the street-life of Florence ; and both are described 
through the delightful character whom he invents 
to see them. These poems are astonishing pieces , 
of intimate, joyful observation of scenery. i 

Again, there is no poet whose love of animals i 
is greater than Browning's, and none who has so 
frequently, so carefully, so vividly described them. ; 
It is amazing, as we go through his work, to realise ; 
the largeness of his range in this matter, from the | 
river-horse to the lizard, from the eagle to the wren, 
from the loud singing bee to the filmy insect in the ; 
sunshine. I give a few examples. Mortal man 
could not see a lynx more clearly than Karshish — 

A black lynx snarled and pricked a tufted ear ; 
Lust of my blood inflamed his yellow balls. 

And the very soul of the Eagle is in this 
question — 

Ask the geier-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 ! 

He has watched the heavy-winged osprey in its 

haunts, fain to fly, 

but forced the earth his couch to make 
Far inland, till his friend the tempest wake, 

on whose fiercer wings he can flap his own into 

In Caliban upon Setebos, as would naturally be the 


case, animal life is everywhere ; and how close to 
truth, how keenly observed it is, how the right points 
for description are chosen to make us feel the beast 
and bird in a single line ; how full of colour, how 
flashed into words which seem like colours, the 
descriptions are, any animal-lover may hear in the 
few lines I quote : 

Yon otter, sleek-wet, black, lithe as a leech ; 

Yon auk, one fire-eye in a ball of foam, 

That floats and feeds ; a certain badger brown 

He hath watched hunt with that slant white-wedge eye. 

By moonlight. 

That is enough to prove his power. And the 
animals are seen, not as a cultured person sees 
them, but as a savage, with his eyes untroubled by 
thoughts, sees them ; for Browning, with his curious 
seLf-transmuting power, has put himself into the 
skin of Caliban. Then again, in that lovely lyric 
in Paracelsus, 

Thus the Mayne glideth, 

the banks and waves are full of all the bird and 
beast life of a river. Elsewhere, he sees the falcon 
spread his wings like a banner, the stork clapping 
his bill in the marsh, the coot dipping his blue 
breast in the water, the swallow flying to Venice 
— "that stout sea-farer " — the lark shivering for 
joy, and a hundred other birds ; and lastly, even the 
great bird of the Imagination, the Phoenix, flying 
home ; and in a splendid verse records the sight : 

As the King-bird with ages on his plumes 
Travels to die in his ancestral glooms. 

Not less wonderful, and more unique in English 
poetry, is his painting of insects. He describes the 


hermit-bee, the soft, small, unfrighted thing, light- 
ing on the dead vine-leaf, and twirling and filing 
all day. He strikes out the grasshopper at a 
touch — 

Chirrups the contumacious grasshopper. 

He has a swift vision of the azure damsel-fly flitter- 
ing in the wood : 

Child of the simmering quiet, there to die. 

He sees all the insect population of an old green 
wall; fancies the fancies of the crickets and the 
flies, and the carousing of the cicala in the trees, 
and the bee swinging in the chahce of the cam- 
panula, and the wasps pricking the papers round 
the peaches, and the gnats and early moths craving 
their food from God when dawn awakes them, and 
the fireflies crawling like lamps through the moss, 
and the spider, sprinkled with mottles on an ash- 
grey back, and building his web on the edge of 
tombs. These are but a few things out of this 
treasure-house of animal observation and love. It 
is a love which animates and populates with Ufe 
his landscapes. 

Many of the points I have attempted here to 
make are illustrated in Saul. In verse v. the 
sheep are pictured, with all a shepherd's delightful 
affection, coming back at evening to the folding ; 
and, with David's poetic imagination, compared to 
the stars following one another into the meadows 
of night — 

. And now one after one seeks his lodging, as star follows star 
Into eve and the blue far above us, — so blue and so far ! — 

In verse vi. the quails, and the crickets, and the 


jerboa at the door of his sand house, are thrilled into 
quicker life by David's music. In verse ix. the 
full joy of living in beasts and men is painted in 
the midst of landscape after landscape, struck out 
in single Unes, — till all Nature seems crowded and 
simmering with the intense life whose rapture 
Browning loved so well. These fully reveal his 
poetic communion with animals. Then, there is a 
fine passage in verse x. where he describes the 
loosening of a thick bed of snow from the 
mountain-side * — an occurrence which also drew 
the interest of Shelley in the Prometheus — which 
illustrates what I have said of Browning's con- 
ception of the separate hfe, as of giant Titans, of 
the vaster things in Nature. The mountain is alive 
and lives his life with his own grim joy, and 
wears his snow like a breastplate, and discharges 
it when it pleases him. It is only David who 
thinks that the great creature lives to guard us 
from the tempests. And Hebron, high on its 
crested hill, Ufts itself out of the morning mist in 
the same giant fashion, 

For I wake in the grey dewy covert, while Hebron upheaves 
The dawn struggling with night on his shoulder, and Kidron 

Slow the damage of yesterday's sunshine. 

Then, at the end of . the poem, Browning repre- 
sents all Nature as full of emotion, as gathered into 
a fuller life, by David's prophecy of the coming of 

* David could only have seen this on the upper slopes of 
Hermon. But at the time of the poem, when he Is the shepherd- 
youth, he could scarcely have visited the north of Palestine. 
Indeed, he does not seem all his life long to have been near 
Hermon. Browning has transferred to David what he himself 
had seen in Switzerland. 


immortal Love in Christ to man. This sympathy 
of Nature with humanity is so rare a thought in 
Browning, and so apart from his view of her, that 
I think he felt its strangeness here; so that he 
has taken some pains to make us understand that 
it is not Nature herself who does this, but David, 
in his uplifted inspiration, who imputes it to her. 
If that is not the case, it is at least interesting to 
find the poet, impassioned by his imagination of 
the situation, driven beyond his usual view into 
another land of thought. 

There is one more thing to say in closing 1 
this chapter. Browning, unHke Tennyson, did 
not invent his landscapes. He drew directly 
from Nature. The landscapes in Pauline and/ 
Sordello, and in the lyrical poems are plainly recol-j 
lections of what he has seen and noted in his 
memory, from the sweep of the mountainous or 
oceanic horizon to the lichen on the rock and the 
painted shell on the seashore. Even the imagina- 
tive landscape of Childe Roland is a memory, not 
an invention. I do not say he would have been 
incapable of such invented landscape as we find in 
CEnone and the Lotos-Eaters, but it was not his way 
to do this. However, he does it once; but he 
takes care to show that it is not real landscape he 
is drawing, but landscape in a picture. In Gerard 
de Lairesse, one of the poems in Parleyings with 
Certain People, he sets himself to rival the " Walk " 
in Lairesse's Art of Painting, and he invents as a 
background to mythological or historic scenes, five 
landscapes, of dawn, morning, and noon, evening, 
and falUng night. They may be compared with 
the walk in Pauline, and indeed one of them with 


its deep pool watched over by the trees recalls his 
description of a similar pool in Pauline — a lasting 
impression of his youth, for it is again used in 
Sordello. These landscapes are some of his most 
careful natural description. They begin with the 
great thunderstorm of dawn in which Prometheus is 
seen riveted to his rock and the eagle-hound of Zeus 
beside him. Then the morning is described and the 
awakening of the earth and Artemis going forth, 
the huntress-queen and the queen of death ; then 
noon with Lyda and the Satyr — that sad story; 
then evening charged with the fate of empires ; and 
then the night, and in it a vast ghost, the ghost of 
departing glory and beauty. The descriptions are 
too long to quote, but far too short to read. I 
would that Browning had done more of this excellent 
work ; but that these were created when he was an 
old man proves that the fire of imagination burnt in 
him to the end. They are full of those keen picture- 
words in which he smites into expression the central 
point of a landscape. They realise the glory of light, 
the force, fierceness, even the quiet of Nature, but 
they have lost a great deal of the colour of which 
once he was so lavish. Nevertheless, the whole 
scheme of colour in these pictures, with their fig- 
ures, recalls the pictures of Tintoret. They have 
his furia, his black, gold, and sombre purple, his 
white mist and barred clouds and the thunder-roar 
in his skies. Nor are Prometheus and Artemis, 
and Lyda on her heap of skins in the deep woods, 
unworthy of the daring hand of the great Venetian. 
They seem to stand forth from his canvas. 

The poem closes with a charming lyric, half-sad, 
half joyful, in which he hails the spring, and which 


in itself is full of his heart when it was close to the 
hopefulness he drew from natural beauty. I quote 
it to close this chapter : 

Dance, yellows and whites and reds, 
Lead your gay orgy, leaves, stalks, heads 
Astir with the wind in the tulip-beds ! 

There's sunshine ; scarcely a wind at all 
Disturbs starved grass and daisies small 
On a certain mound by a churchyard wall. 

Daisies and grass be my heart's bed-fellows, 

On the mound wind spares and sunshine mellows : 

Dance you, reds and whites and yellows ! 



IN the previous chapter, some of the statements 
made on Browning as a poet of Nature were 
not sufficiently illustrated; and there are other 
elements in his natural description which demand 
attention. The best way to repair these deficiencies 
will be to take chronologically the natural descrip- 
tions in his poems and to comment upon them, 
leaving out those on which we have already touched. 
New points of interest will thus arise ; and, more- 
over, taking his natural description as it occurs from 
volume to volume, we may be able — within this 
phase of his poetic nature — to place his poetic 
development in a clearer Ught. 

I begin, therefore, with Pauline. The descriptions 
of nature in that poem are more deliberate, more 
for their own sake, than elsewhere in Browning's 
poetry. The first of them faintly recalls the manner 
of Shelley in the Alastor, and I have no doubt was 
influenced by him. The two others, and the more 
finished, have already escaped from Shelley, and are 
almost pre-Raphaelite, as much so as Keats, in their 
detail. Yet all the three are original, not imitative. 
They suggest Shelley and Keats, and no more, and 
it is only the manner and not the matter of these 


poets that they suggest. Browning became in- 
stantly original in this as in other modes of poetry. 
It was characteristic of him from the beginning to 
the end of his career, to possess within himself 
his own methods, to draw out of himself new matter 
and new shapings. 

From one point of view this was full of treasure- 
able matter for us. It is not often the gods give us 
so opulent an originality. From another point of 
view it was unfortunate. If he had begun by 
imitating a little ; if he had studied the excellences 
of his predecessors more ; if he had curbed his in- 
dividuality sufficiently to mark, learn, and inwardly 
digest the noble style of others in natural description, 
and in all other matters of poetry as well, his work 
would have been much better than it is ; his original 
excellences would have found fitter and finer expres- 
sion ; his faults would have been enfeebled instead 
of being developed ; his style would have been more 
concise on one side, less abrupt on another, and we 
should not have been wrongly disturbed by obscu- 
rities of diction and angularities of expression. He 
would have reached more continuously the splendid 
level he often attained. This is plentifully illustrated 
by his work on external nature, but less perhaps 
than by his work on humanity. 

The first natural description he published is in 
the beginning of Pauline : 

Thou wilt remember one warm morn when winter 

Crept ag^d from the earth, and spring's first breath 

Blew soft from the moist hills ; the blackthorn 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. 


That is fairly good ; he describes what he has seen ; 
but it might have been better. We know what 
he means, but his words do not accurately or 
imaginatively convey this meaning. The best lines 
are the first three, but the peculiar note of Shelley 
sighs so fully in them that they do not represent 
Browning. What is special in them is his peculiar 
delight not only in the morning which here he cele- 
brates, but in the spring. It was in his nature, even 
in old age, to love with passion the beginnings of 
things ; dawn, morning, spring, and youth, and their 
quick blood ; their changes, impulses, their unpre- 
meditated rush into fresh experiment. Unlike 
Tennyson, who was old when he was old. Browning 
was young when he was old. Only once in Asolando, 
in one poem, can we trace that he felt winter in his 
heart. And the lines in Pauline which I now quote, 
spoken by a young man who had dramatised himself 
into momentary age, are no ill description of his 
temper at times when he was really old : 

As life wanes, all its care and strife and toil 
Seem strangely valueless, while the old trees 
Which grew by our youth's home, the waving mass 
Of climbing plants heavy with bloom and dew, 
The morning swallows with their songs like words, 
All these seem clear and only worth our thoughts : 
So, aught connected with my early life. 
My rude songs or my wild imaginings. 
How I look on them — most distinct amid 
The fever and the stir of after years ! 

The next description in Pauline is that in which 
he describes — to illustrate what Shelley was to him 
— the woodland spring which became a mighty river. 
Shelley, as first conceived by Browning, seemed to 
him like a sacred spring : 


Scarce worth a moth's flitting, which long grasses cross, 

And one small tree embowers droopingly — 

Joying to see some wandering insect won 

To live in its few rushes, or some locust 

To pasture on its boughs, or some wild bird 

Stoop for its freshness from the trackless air. 

A piece of careful detail, close to Nature, but not 
close enough ; needing to be more detailed or less 
detailed, but the first instance in his work of his 
deliberate use of Nature, not for love of herself only 
(Wordsworth, Coleridge, or Byron would have 
described the spring in the woods for its own sake), 
but for illustration of humanity. It is Shelley — 
Shelley in his lonely withdrawn character, Shelley 
hidden in the wood of his own thoughts, and, like 
a spring in that wood, bubbling upwards into per- 
sonal poetry — of whom Browning is now thinking. 
The image is good, but a better poet would have 
dwelt more on the fountain and left the insects and 
birds alone. It is Shelley also of whom he thinks 
— Shelley breaking away from personal poetry to 
write of the fates of men, of liberty and love and 
overthrow of wrong, of the future of mankind — 
when he expands his tree-shaded fountain into the 
river and follows it to the sea : 

And then should find it but the fountain head, 
Long lost, of some great river washing towns 
And towers, and seeing old woods which will live 
But by its banks untrod of human foot, 
Which, when the great sun sinks, lie quivering 
In light as something lieth half of life 
Before God's foot, waiting a wondrous change ; 
Then girt with rocks which seek to turn or stay 
Its course in vain, for it does ever spread 
Like a sea's arm as it goes rolling on. 
Being the pulse of some great country — so 
Wast thou to me, and art thou to the world ! 


How good some of that is ; how bad it is else- 
where ! How much it needs thought, concentra- 
tion, and yet how vivid also and original! And 
the faults of it, of grammar, of want of clearness, of 
irritating parenthesis, of broken threads of thought, 
of inabiUty to leave out the needless, are faults of 
which Browning never quite cleared his work. I do 
not think he ever cared to rid himself of them. 

The next description is not an illustration of man 
by means of Nature. It is almost the only set 
description of Nature, without reference to man, 
which occurs in the whole of Browning's work. It 
is introduced by his declaration (for in this I think 
he speaks from himself) of his power of living in 
the life of all living things. He does not think of 
himself as living in the whole Being of Nature, as 
Wordsworth or Shelley might have done. There 
was a certain matter-of-factness in him which pre- 
vented his belief in any theory of that kind. But 
he does transfer himself into the rejoicing life of the 
animals and plants, a life which he knows is akin 
to his own. And this distinction is true of all his 
poetry of Nature. " I can mount with the bird," 
he says. 

Leaping airily his pyramid of leaves 
And twisted boughs of some tall mountain tree, 
Or lilce a fish breathe deep the morning air 
In the misty sun- warm water. 

This introduces the description of a walk of 
twenty-four hours through various scenes of 
natural beauty. It is long and elaborate — the 
scenery he conceives round the home where he 
and Pauline are to live. And it is so close, and so 
much of it is repeated in other forms in his later 


poetry, that I think it is drawn direct from Nature ; 
that it is here done of set purpose to show his 
band in natural description. It begins with night, 
but soon leaves night for the morning and the 
aoon. Here is a piece of it : 

Morning, the rocks and valleys and old woods. 
How the sun brightens in the mist, and here. 
Half in the air, like * creatures of the place. 
Trusting the elements, living on high boughs 
That sway in the wind — look at the silver spray 
Flung from the foam-sheet of the cataract 
Amid the broken rocks ! Shall we stay here 
With the wild hawks ? No, ere the hot noon come 
Dive we down — safe ! See, this is our new retreat 
Walled in with a. sloped mound of matted shrubs,. 
Dark, tangled, old, and green, still sloping down 
To a small pool whose waters lie asleep, 
Amid the trailing boughs turned water-plants : 
And tall trees overarch to keep us in. 
Breaking the sunbeams into emerald shafts, 
And in the dreamy water one small group 
Of two or three strange trees are got together 
Wondering at all around — 

This is nerveless work, tentative, talkative, no 
:lear expression of the whole ; and as he tries to 
sxpand it further in lines we may study with 
interest, for the very failures of genius are 
interesting, he becomes even more feeble. Yet the 
Feebleness is traversed by verses of power, like 
lightning flashing through a mist upon the sea. 
The chief thing to say about this direct, detailed 
svork is that he got out of its manner as fast as he 
:ould. He never tried it again, but passed on to 
suggest the landscape by a few sharp, high-coloured 
;vords ; choosing out one or two of its elements and 
* Creatures accordant with the place ? 


flashing them into prominence. The rest was left 
to the imagination of the reader. 

He is better when he comes forth from the 
shadowy woodland-pool into the clear air and open 
landscape : 

Up for the glowing day, leave the old woods ! 
See, they part like a ruined arch : the sky ! 
Blue sunny air, where a great cloud floats laden 
With light, like a dead whale that white birds pick, 
Floating away in the sun in some north sea. 
Air, air, fresh life-blood, thin and searching air. 
The clear, dear breath of God that loveth us. 
Where small birds reel and winds take their delight ! 

The last three lines are excellent, but nothing 
could be worse than the sensational image of the 
dead whale. It does not fit the thing he desires 
to illustrate, and it violates the sentiment of the 
scene he is describing, but its strangeness pleased his 
imagination, and he put it in without a question. 
Alas, in after times, he only too often, both in the 
poetry of Nature and of the human soul, hurried 
into his verse illustrations which had no natural 
relation to the matter in hand, just because it 
amused him to indulge his fancy. The finished 
artist could not do this ; he would hear, as it were, 
the false note, and reject it. But Browning, a 
natural artist, never became a perfect one. Never- 
theless, as his poetry went on, he reached, by 
natural power, splendid description, as indeed I 
have fully confessed ; but, on the other hand, one is 
never sure of him. He is never quite " inevitable." 

The attempt at deliberate natural description 
in Pauline, of which I have now spoken, is not 
renewed in Paracelsus. By the time he wrote that 


poem the movement and problem of the spirit of 
man had all but quenched his interest in natural 
scenery. Nature is only introduced as a back- 
ground, almost a scenic background for the 
players, who are the passions, thoughts, and 
aspirations of the intellectual Hfe of Paracelsus. 
It is only at the beginning of Part II. that we 
touch a landscape : 

Over the waters in the vaporous West 
The sun goes down as in a sphere of gold 
Behind the arm of the city, which between. 
With all the length of domes and minarets, 
Athwart the splendour, black and crooked runs 
Like a Turk verse along a scimitar. 

That is all ; nothing but an introduction. Para- 
celsus turns in a moment from the sight, and 
absorbs himself in himself, just as Browning was 
then doing in his own soul. Nearly two thousand 
lines are then written before Nature is again 
touched upon, and then Festus and Paracelsus are 
looking at the dawn ; and it is worth saying how 
in this description Browning's work on Nature has 
so greatly improved that one can scarcely believe 
he is the same poet who wrote the wavering descrip- 
tions of Pauline. This is close and clear : 

Morn must be near. 

Festus. Best ope the casement : see, 

The night, late strewn with clouds and flying stars. 
Is blank and motionless ; how peaceful sleep 
The tree-tops all together ! Like an asp ^ 
The wind slips whispering from bough to bough. 

1 Browning, even more than Shelley, was fond of using the 
snake in his poetry. Italy is in that habit. 


Paracelsus. See, morn at length. The heavy dark- 
ness seems 
Diluted, grey and clear without the stars ; 
The shrubs bestir and rouse themselves as if 
Some snake, that weighed them down all night, let go 
His hold ; and from the East, fuller and fuller, 
Day, like a mighty river, flowing in ; 
But clouded, wintry, desolate, and cold. 

That is good, clear, and sufficient; and there the 
description should end. But Browning, driven by 
some small demon, adds to it three lines of mere 
observant fancy. 

Yet see how that broad prickly star-shaped plant. 
Half-down in the crevice, spreads its woolly leaves, 
All thick and glistening with diamond dew. 

What is that for .' To give local colour or reality .' 
It does neither. It is mere childish artistry. Ten- 
nyson could not have done it. He knew when to 
stay his hand.* 

The finest piece of natural description in Para- 

* There is a fine picture of the passing of a hurricane in 
Paracelsus (p. 67, vol. i.) which illustrates this inability to stop 
when he has done all he needs. Paracelsus speaks : 

The hurricane is spent, 
And the good boat speeds through the brightening weather; 
But is it earth or sea that heaves below ? 
The gulf rolls like a meadow-swell, o'erstrewn 
With ravaged boughs and remnants of the shore; 
And now, some islet, loosened from the land, 
Swims past with all its trees, sailing to ocean : 
And now the air is full of uptorn canes. 
Light strippings from the fan-trees, tamarisks 
Unrooted, with their birds still clinging to them. 
All high in the wind. Even so my varied life 
Drifts by me. 

I think that the lines I have italicised should have been left 
out. They weaken what he has well done. 


celsus is of the coming of Spring. It is full of 
the joy of life; it is inspired by a passionate 
thought, lying behind it, concerning man. It is 
still more inspired by his belief that God himself 
was eternal joy and filled the universe with rapture. 
Nowhere did Browning reach a greater height in 
his Nature poetry than in these lines, yet they are 
more a description, as usual, of animal life than of 
the beauty of the earth and sea : 

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 bows 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. 

Once more, in Paracelsus, there is the lovely 
lyric about the flowing of the Mayne. I have 
driven through that gracious country of low hill and 
dale and wide water-meadows, where under flowered 
banks only a foot high the slow river winds in 
gentleness ; and this poem is steeped in the sentiment 
of the scenery. But, as before, Browning quickly 
slides away from the beauty of inanimate nature 
into a record of the animals that haunt the stream. 
He could not get on long with mountains and rivers 


alone. He must people them with breathing, feel- 
ing things ; anything for life ! 

Thus the Mayne glideth 
Where my Love abideth. 
Sleep's no softer ; it proceeds 
On through lawns, on through meads, 
On and on, whatever befell, 
Meandering and musical, 
Though the niggard pasturage 
Bears not on its shaven ledge 
Aught but weeds and waving grasses 
To view the river as it passes, 
Save here and there a scanty patch 
Of primroses too faint to catch 
A weary bee. 

And scarce it pushes 
Its gentle way through strangling rushes 
Where the glossy kingfisher 
Flutters when noon-heats are near. 
Glad the shelving banks to shun 
Red and steaming in the sun, 
Where the shrew-mouse with pale throat 
Burrows, and the speckled stoat ; 
Where the quick sandpipers flit 
In and out the marl and grit 
That seems to breed them, brown as they : 
Naught disturbs its quiet way. 
Save some lazy stork that springs, 
Trailing it with legs and wings. 
Whom the shy fox from the hill 
Rouses, creep he ne'er so still. 

" My heart, they loose my heart, those simple 
words," cries Paracelsus, and he was right. They 
tell of that which to see and love is better, wiser, 
than to probe and know all the problems of know- 
ledge. But that is a truth not understood, not 
believed. And few there be who find it. And if 
Browning had found the secret of how to live more 
outside of his understanding than he did, or having 


found it, had not forgotten it, he would not perhaps 
have spoken more wisely for the good of man, but 
he would have more continuously written better 

The next poem in which he may be said to touch 
Nature is Sordello. Strafford does not count, save 
for the charming song of the boat in music and 
moonlight, which the children sing. In Sordello, 
the problem of life, as in Paracelsus, is still the 
chief matter, but outward life, as not in Paracelsus, 
takes an equal place with inward life. And natur- 
ally, Nature, its changes and beauty, being outward, 
are more fully treated than in Paracelsus. But it 
is never treated for itself alone. It is made to 
image or reflect the sentiment of the man who sees 
it, or to illustrate a phase of his passion or his 
thought. But there is a closer grip upon it than 
before, a clearer definition, a greater power of con- 
centrated expression of it, and especially, a fuller 
use of colour. Browning paints Nature now like 
a Venetian ; the very shadows of objects are in 
colour. This new power was a kind of revelation 
to him, and he frequently uses it with a personal 
joy in its exercise. Things in Nature blaze in 
his poetry now and afterwards in gold, purple, the 
crimson of blood, in sunlit green and topaz, in 
radiant blue, in dyes of earthquake and eclipse. 
Then, when he has done his landscape thus in 
colour, he adds more ; he places in its foreground 
one drop, one eye of still more flaming colour, to 
vivify and inflame the whole. 

The main landscape of Sordello is the plain and 
the low pine-clad hills around Mantua; the half- 
circle of the deep lagoon which enarms the 


battlemented town ; and the river Mincio, seen by 
Sordello when he comes out of the forest on the hill, 
as it enters and leaves the lagoon, and winds, a silver 
ribbon,' through the plain. It is the landscape Vergil 
must have loved. A long bridge of more than a 
hundred arches, with towers of defence, crosses the 
marsh from the towered gateway of the walls to the 
mainland, and in the midst of the lagoon the deep 
river flows fresh and clear with a steady swiftness. 
Scarcely anywhere in North Italy is the upper sky 
more pure at dawn and even, and there is no view 
now so mystic in its desolation. Over the lagoon, 
and puffing from it, the mists, daily encrimsoned by 
sunrise and sunset, continually rise and disperse. 

The character and the peculiarities of this land- 
scape Browning has seized and enshrined in verse. 
But his descriptions are so arranged as to reflect 
certain moments of crisis in the soul of Sordello. 
He does not describe this striking landscape for its 
own sake, but for the sake of his human subject. 
The lines I quote below describe noon-day on the 
lagoon, seen from the golden woods and black pines; 
and the vision of the plain, city, and river, suddenly 
opening out from the wood, symbolises the soul 
of Sordello opening out from solitude "into the 
veritable business of mankind." 

Then wide 
Opened the great morass, shot every side 
With flashing water through and through ; a-shine, 
Thick-steaming, all-alive. Whose shape divine 
Quivered i' the farthest rainbow-vapour, glanced 
Athwart the flying herons ? He advanced, 
But warily ; though Mincio leaped no more, 
Each footfall burst up in the marish-floor 
A diamond jet. 


And then he somewhat spoils this excellent thing 
by a piece of detail too minute for the largeness of 
the impression. But how clear and how full of true 
sentiment it is ; and how the image of Palma rain- 
bowed in the mist, and of Sordello seeing her, fills 
the landscape with youthful passion ! 

Here is the same view in the morning, when 
Mincio has come down in flood and filled the marsh : 

Mincio, in its place, 
Laughed, a broad water, in next morning's face, 
And, where the mists broke up immense and white 
r the steady wind, burned like a spilth of light 
Out of the crashing of a million stars. 

It were well to compare that brilliant piece of 
light with the grey water-sunset at Ferrara in the 
beginning of the VI. Book. 

While eve slow sank 
Down the near terrace to the farther bank, 
And only one spot left from out the night 
Glimmered upon the river opposite — 
A breadth of watery heaven like a bay, 
A sky-like space of water, ray for ray. 
And star for star, one richness where they mixed 
As this and that wing of an angel, fixed, 
Tumultuary splendours folded in 
To die. 

As usual, Spring enchants him. The second 
book begins with her coming, and predicates the 
coming change in Sordello' s soul. 

The woods were long austere with snow ; at last 
Pink leaflets budded on the beech, and fast 
Larches, scattered through pine-tree solitudes. 
Brightened, as in the slumbrous heart of the woods 
Our buried year, a witch, grew young again 
To placid incantations, and that stain 
About were from her cauldron, green smoke blent 
With those black pines. 


Nor does he omit in Sordello to recall two other 
favourite aspects of Nature, long since recorded in 
Pauline, the ravine and the woodland spring. Just 
as Turner repeated in many pictures of the same 
place what he had first observed in it, so Browning 
recalled in various poems the first impressions of 
his youth. He had a curious love for a ravine with 
overhanging trees and a thin thread of water, loop- 
ing itself round rocks. It occurs in the Fireside, it 
is taken up in his later poems, and up such a ravine 
Sordello climbs among the pines of Goito : 

He climbed with (June at deep) some close ravine 
Mid clatter of its million pebbles sheen, 
Over which, singing soft, the runnel slipped 
Elate with rains. 

Then, in Sordello, we come again across the foun- 
tain in the grove he draws in Pauline, now greatly 
improved in clearness and word-brightness — a real 
vision. Fate has given him here a fount 

Of pure loquacious pearl, the soft tree-tent 
Guards, with its face of reate and sedge, nor fail 
The silver globules and gold-sparkling grail 
At bottom — 

where the impulse of the water sends up the sand 
in a cone — a solitary loveliness of Nature that 
Coleridge and Tennyson have both drawn with a 
finer pencil than Browning. The other examples 
of natural description in Sordello, as well as those in 
Balaustion I shall reserve till I speak of those poems. 
As to the dramas, they are wholly employed with 
humanity. In them man's soul has so overmastered 
Browning that they are scarcely diversified half-a- 
dozen times by any illustrations derived from 


We now come, with The Ring and the Book, to a 
clear division in his poetry of Nature. From this 
time forth Nature decays in his verse. Man masters 
it and drives it out. In The Ring and the Book, huge 
as it is, Nature rarely intrudes ; the human passion 
of the matter is so great that it swallows up all 
Browning's interest. There is a little forky flashing 
description of the entrance to the Val d'Ema in 
Guido's first statement. Caponsacchi is too in- 
tensely gathered round the tragedy to use a single 
illustration from Nature. The only person who 
does use illustrations from Nature is the only one 
who is by age, by his life, by the apartness of his 
high place, capable of sufficient quiet and contem- 
plation to think of Nature at all. This is the Pope. 

He illustrates with great vigour the way in which 
Guido destroyed all the home life which clung about 
him and himself remained dark and vile, by the 
burning of a nest-like hut in the Campagna, with 
all its vines and ivy and flowers; till nothing 
remains but the blackened walls of the malicious 
tower round which the hut had been built. 

He illustrates the sudden event which, breaking 
in on Caponsacchi' s life, drew out of him his latent 
power and his inward good, by this vigorous 
description : 

As when a thundrous midnight, with black air 
That burns, rain-drops that blister, breaks a spell, 
Draws out the excessive virtue of some sheathed 
Shut unsuspected flower that hoards and hides 
Immensity of sweetness. 

And the last illustration, in which the Pope hopes 
that Guido's soul may yet be saved by the sudden- 
ness of his death, is one of the finest pieces of natural 


description in Browning, and reads like one of his 
own memories : 

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 moimtain 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. 

After The Ring and the Book, poor Nature, as 
one of Browning's mistresses, was somewhat 
neglected for a time, and he gave himself up to 
ugly representations of what was odd or twisted in 
humanity, to its smaller problems, like that con- 
tained in Fifine at the Fair, to its fantastic impulses, 
its strange madnesses, its basenesses, even its 
commonplace crimes. These subj ects were redeemed 
by his steady effort to show that underneath these 
evil developments of human nature lay immortal 
good; and that a wise tolerance, based on this 
underlying godlikeness in man, was the true atti- 
tude of the soul towards the false and the stupid 
in mankind. This had been his attitude from the 
beginning. It differentiates him from Tennyson, 
who did not maintain that view ; and at that point 
he is a nobler poet than Tennyson. 

But he became too much absorbed in the intel- 
lectual treatment of these side-issues in human 
nature. And I think that he was left unprotected 
from this or not held back from it by his having 
almost given up Nature in her relation to man as a 
subject for his poetry. To love that great, solemn. 


and beautiful Creature, who even when she seems 
most merciless retains her glory and loveliness, 
keeps us from thinking too much on the lower 
problems of humanity, on its ignobler movements ; 
holds before us infinite grandeur, infinite beauty, 
infinite order, and suggests and confirms within us 
eternal aspiration. Those intimations of the ideal 
and endless perfectness which are dimmed within 
us by the meaner aspects of human life, or by the 
sordid difficulties of thought which a sensual and 
wealth-seeking society present to us, are restored 
to us by her quiet order and beauty. When he 
wrote Prince Hohenstiel-Schwangau, Red Cotton 
Night-cap Country, and The Inn Album, Nature 
had ceased to awaken the poetic passion in him, 
and his poetry suffered from the loss. Its interest 
lies in the narrow realm of intellectual analysis, 
not in the large realm of tragic or joyous passion. 
He became the dissector of corrupt bodies, not the 
creator of living beings. 

Nevertheless, in Fifine at the Fair there are 
several intercalated illustrations from Nature, all 
of which are interesting and some beautiful. The 
sunset over Sainte-Marie and the lie Noirmoutier, 
with the birds who sing to the dead, and the com- 
ing of the night wind and the tide, is as largely 
wrought as the description of the mountain rill — 
the " infant of mist and dew," and its voyage to 
the sea is minute and delicate. There is also that 
magnificent description of a sunset which I have 
already quoted. It is drawn to illustrate some 
remote point in the argument, and is far too mag- 
nificent for the thing it illustrates. Yet how few 
in this long poem, how remote from Browning's 


heart, are these touches of Nature. Again, in 
The Inn Album there is a description of an Eng- 
lish elm-tree, as an image of a woman who 
makes marriage life seem perfect, which is inter- 
esting because it is the third, and only the third, 
reference to English scenery in the multitude of 
Browning's verses. The first is in Pauline, the 
second in that poem, " Oh, to be in England," and 
this is the third. The woman has never ceased 
to gaze 

On the great elm-tree in the open, posed 
Pladdly fall in front, smooth bole, broad branch, 
And leafage, one green plenitude of May. 

. . . bosomful 
Of lights and shades, murmurs and silences. 
Sun-warmth, dew-coolness, squirrel, bee, bird, 
High, higher, highest, till the blue proclaims 
" Leave Earth, there's nothing better till next step 
Heavenward ! " 

This, save in one line, is not felt or expressed with 
any of that passion which makes what a poet says 
completely right. 

Browning could not stay altogether in this con- 
dition, in which, moreover, his humour was also in 
abeyance ; and in his next book, Pacchiarotto, &c., 
he broke away from these morbid subjects, and, 
with that recovery, recovered also some of his old 
love of Nature. The prologue to that book is 
poetry ; and Nature (though he only describes an 
old stone wall in Italy covered with straying plants) 
is interwoven with his sorrow and his love. Then, 
all through the book, even in its most fantastic 
humour, Nature is not altogether neglected for hu- 
manity; and the poetry, which Browning seemed 
to have lost the power to create, has partly 


returned to him. That is also the case in La 
Saisiaz, and I have already spoken of the peculiar 
elements of the Nature-poetry in that work. In the 
Dramatic Idyls, of which he was himself fond ; and 
va. Jocoseria, there is very little natural description. 
The subjects did not allow of it, but yet Nature 
sometimes glides in, and when she does, thrills the 
verse into a higher humanity. In Ferisktak's 
Fancies, a book full of flying charm. Nature has 
her proper place, and in the lyrics which close the 
stories she is not forgotten ; but still there is not 
the care for her which once ran like a full river of 
delight through his landscape of human nature. 
He loved, indeed, that landscape of mankind the 
most, the plains and hills and woods of human 
life ; but when he watered it with the great river 
of Nature his best work was done. Now, as life 
grew to a close, that river had too much dried up 
in his poetry. 

It was not that he had not the power to describe 
Nature if he cared. But he did not care. I have 
spoken of the invented descriptions of morn and noon 
and sunset in Gerard de Lairesse in the book which 
preceded Asolando. They have his trenchant 
power, words that beat out the scene like strokes 
on an anvil, but, curiously enough, they are quite 
unsuffused with human feeling ; as if, having once 
divorced Nature from humanity, he never could 
bring them together again. Nor is this a mere 
theory. The Prologue to Asolando supports it. 

That sonrowful poem, written, it seems, in the 
year he died (1889), reveals his position towards 
Nature when he had lost the power of youth to pour 
fire on the world. It is full of his last thinking. 


" The poet's age is sad," he says. " In youth his 
eye lent to everything in the natural world the 
colours of his own soul, the rainbow glory of 
imagination : 

" And now a flower is just a flower : 

Man, bird, beast are but beast, bird, man — 

Simply themselves, uncinct by dower 
Of dyes which, when life's day began, 

Round each in glory ran." 

" Ah ! what would you have .' " he says. 
" What is the best : things draped in colour, as by 
a lens, or the naked things themselves ? truth 
ablaze, or falsehood's fancy haze ? I choose the 

It is an old man's effort to make the best of age. 
For my part, I do not see that the things are 
the better for losing the colour the soul gives them. 
The things themselves are indifferent. But as seen 
by the soul, they are seen in God, and the colour 
and light which imagination gives them are them- 
selves divine. Nor is their colour or light only in 
our imagination, but in themselves also, part of the 
glory and beauty of God. A flower is never only 
a flower, or a beast a beast. And so Browning 
would have said in the days when he was still a 
lover of Nature as well as of man, when he was 
still a faithful soldier in the army of imagination, a 
poet more than a philosopher at play. It is a sad 
business. He has not lost his eagerness to advance, 
to cUmb beyond the flaming walls, to find God in 
his heaven. He has not lost the great hopes 
with which he began, nor the ideals he nursed of 
old. He has not lost his fighting power, nor his 
cheerful cry that life is before him in the fulness of 


the world to come. The Reverie and the Epi- 
logue to Asolando are noble statements of his 
courage, faith, and joy. There is nothing sad 
there, nothing to make us beat the breast. But 
there is sadness in this abandonment of the imagi- 
native glory with which once he clothed the world 
of nature ; and he ought to have retained it. He 
would have done so had he not forgotten Nature in 
anatomising man. 

However, he goes on with his undying effort to 
make the best of things, and though he has lost his 
rapture in Nature, he has not lost his main theory 
of man's life and of the use of the universe. The 
end of this Prologue puts it as clearly as it was put 
in Paracelsus. Nothing is changed in that. 

" At Asolo," he continues, " my Asolo, when I 
was young, all natural objects were palpably clothed 
with fire. They mastered me, not I them. Terror 
was in their beauty. I was like Moses before the 
Bush that burned. I adored the splendour I saw. 
Then I was in danger of being content with it ; of 
mistaking the finite for the infinite beauty. To be 
satisfied — that was the peril. Now I see the 
natural world as it is, without the rainbow hues the 
soul bestowed upon it. Is that well .' In one sense 

" And now ? The lambent flame is — where ? 
Lost from the naked world : earth, sky, 

Hill, vale, tree, flower — Italia's rare 
O'er-running beauty crowds the eye — 

But flame ? — The Bush is bare. 

" All is distinct, naked, clear, Nature and nothing 
else. Have I lost anything in getting down to fact 
instead of to fancy.? Have I shut my eyes in 


pain — pain for disillusion? No — now I know 
that my home is not in Nature ; there is no awe 
and splendour in her which can keep me with her. 
Oh, far beyond is the true splendour, the infinite 
source of awe and love which transcends her : 

" No, for the purged ear apprehends 
Earth's import, not the eye late dazed : 

The Voice said ' Call my works thy friends ! 
At Nature dost thou shrink amazed ? 

God is it who transcends.' " 

All Browning is in that way of seeing the matter ; 
but he forgets that he could see it in the same fashion 
while he still retained the imaginative outlook on 
the world of Nature. And the fact is that he did 
do so in Paracelsus, in Easter-Day, in a host of other 
poems. There was then no need for him to reduce 
to naked fact the glory with which young imagina- 
tion clothed the world, in order to realise that 
God transcended Nature. He had conceived that 
truth and believed it long ago. And this explana- 
tion, placed here, only tells us that he had lost 
his ancient love of Nature, and it is sorrowful to 
understand it of him. 

Finally, the main contentions of this chapter, 
which are drawn from a chronological view of 
Browning's treatment of Nature, are perhaps worth 
a summary. The first is that, though the love of 
Nature was always less .in him than his love of 
human nature, yet for the first half of his work 
it was so interwoven with his human poetry that 
Nature suggested to him humanity and humanity 
Nature. And these two, as subjects for thought 
and feeling, were each uplifted and impassioned, 
illustrated and developed, by this intercommunion. 


That was a true and high position. Humanity was 
first, Nature second in Browning's poetry, but both 
were hnked together in a noble marriage ; and at 
that time he wrote his best poetry. 

The second thing this chronological treatment of 
his Nature-poetry shows, is that his interest in human 
nature pushed out his love of Nature, gradually at 
first, but afterwards more swiftly, till Nature became 
almost non-existent in his poetry. With that his 
work sank down into intellectual or ethical exer- 
cises, in which poetry decayed. 

It shows, thirdly, how the love of Nature, re- 
turning, but returning with diminished power, en- 
tered again into his love of human nature, and 
renewed the passion of his poetry, its singing, 
and its health. But reconciliations of this kind 
do not bring back all the ancient affection and 
happiness. Nature and humanity never lived 
together in his poetry in as vital a harmony as 
before, nor was the work done on them as good 
as it was of old. A broken marriage is not re- 
paired by an apparent condonation. Nature and 
humanity, though both now dwelt in him, kept 
separate rooms. Their home-life was destroyed. 
Browning had been drawn away by a Fifine of 
humanity. He never succeeded in living happily 
again with Elvire; and while our intellectual in- 
terest in his work remained, our poetic interest 
in it lessened. We read it for mental and ethical 
entertainment, not for ideal joy. 

No; if poetry is to be perfectly written ; if the 
art is to be brought to its noblest height ; if it is to 
continue to lift the hearts of men into the realm 
where perfection lives ; if it is to glow, an unwearied 


fire, in the world ; the love of Nature must be justly 
mingled in it with the love of humanity. The love 
of humanity must be first, the love of Nature sec- 
ond, but they must not be divorced. When they 
are, when the love of Nature forms the only sub- 
ject, or when the love of Man forms the only sub- 
ject, poetry decays and dies. 



TO isolate Browning's view of Nature, and to 
leave it behind us, seemed advisable before 
speaking of his work as a poet of mankind. We 
can now enter freely on that which is most dis- 
tinctive, most excellent in his work — his human 
poetry ; and the first thing that meets us and in his 
very first poems, is his special view of human 
nature, and of human life, and of the relation of 
both to God. It marks his originality that this 
view was entirely his own. Ancient thoughts of 
course are to be found in it, but his combination of 
them is original amongst the English poets. It 
marks his genius that he wrought out this con- 
ception while he was yet so young. It is partly 
shaped in Pauline ; it is fully set forth in Paracelsus. 
And it marks his consistency of mind that he never 
changed it. I do not think he ever added to it or 
developed it. It satisfied him when he was a 
youth, and when he was an old man. We have 
already seen it clearly expressed in the Prologue 
to Asolando. 

That theory needs to be outlined, for till it is 
understood Browning's poetry cannot be understood 


or loved as fully as we should desire to love it. 
It exists in Pauline, but all its elements are in 
solution; uncombined, but waiting the electric 
flash which will mix them, in due proportions, into 
a composite substance, having a lucid form, and 
capable of being used. That flash was sent through 
the confused elements of Pauline, and the result 
was Paracelsus. 

I will state the theory first, and then, lightly 
passing through Pauline and Paracelsus, re-tell it. 
It is fitting to apologise for the repetition which 
this method of treatment will naturally cause ; but, 
considering that the theory underlies every drama 
and poem that he wrote during sixty years, such 
repetition does not seem unnecessary. There are 
many who do not easily grasp it, or do not grasp it 
at all, and they may be grateful. As to those who 
do understand it, they will be happy in their anger 
with any explanation of what they know so well. 

He asks what is the secret of the world: "of 
man and man's true purpose, path, and fate." He 
proposes to understand " God and his works and 
all God's intercourse with the human soul." 

We are here, he thinks, to grow enough to be 
able to take our part in another life or lives. But 
we are surrounded by limitations which baffle and 
retard our growth. That is miserable, but not so 
much as we think ; for the failures these limita- 
tions cause prevent us — and this is a main point 
in Browning's view — from being content with our 
condition on the earth. There is that within us 
which is always endeavouring to transcend those 
limitations, and which believes in their final dis- 
persal. This aspiration rises to something higher 


than any possible actual on earth. It is never 
worn out; it is the divine in us; and when it 
seems to decay, God renews it by spiritual influ- 
ences from without and within, coming to us from 
Nature as seen by us, from humanity as felt by us, 
and from himself who dwells in us. 

But then, unless we find out and submit to those 
limitations, and work within them, life is useless, 
so far as any life is useless. But while we work 
within them, we see beyond them an illimitable 
land, and thirst for it. This battle between the 
dire necessity of working in chains and longing for 
freedom, between the infinite destiny of the soul 
and the baffling of its effort to realise its infini- 
tude on earth, makes the storm and misery of life. 
We may try to escape that tempest and sorrow 
by determining to think, feel, and act only within 
our limitations, to be content with them as Goethe 
' said ; but if we do, we are worse off than before. 
We have thrown away our divine destiny. If we 
take this world and are satisfied with it, cease to 
aspire, beyond our limits, to full perfection in God ; 
if our soul should ever say, " I want no more ; 
what I have here — the pleasure, fame, knowledge, 
beauty, or love of this world — is all I need or care 
for," then we are indeed lost. That is the last 
damnation. The worst failure, the deepest misery, 
is better than contentment with the success of 
earth; and seen in this light, the failures and ' 
misery of earth are actually good things, the cause 
of a chastened joy. They open to us the larger 
light. They suggest, and in Browning's belief they j 
proved, that this life is but the threshold of an 
infinite life, that our true life is beyond, that there 1 


is an infinite of happiness, of knowledge, of love, 
of beauty which we shall attain. Our failures are 
I prophecies of eternal successes. To choose the 
' finite life is to miss the infinite Life ! O fool, to 
claim the little cup of water earth's knowledge 
offers to thy thirst, or the beauty or love of earth, 
when the immeasurable waters of- the Knowledge, 
Beauty, and Love of the Eternal Paradise are thine 
beyond the earth. 

Two things are then clear : i. The attainment 
of our desires for perfection, the satisfaction of our 
/ passion for the infinite, is forbidden to us on earth 
by the limitations of life. We are made imperfect; 
' we are kept imperfect here ; and we must do all 
our work within the limits this natural imperfection 
makes. 2^ We must, nevertheless, not cease to 
strive towards the perfection unattainable on earth, 
but which shall be attained hereafter. Our des- 
tiny, the God within us, demands that. And we 
lose it, if we are content with our earthly life, even 
with its highest things, with knowledge, beauty, or 
with love. 

Hence, the foundation of Browning's theory is 
a kind of Original Sin in us, a natural defective- 
ness deliberately imposed on us by God, which pre- 
vents us attaining any absolute success on earth. 
And this defectiveness of nature is met by the 
truth, which, while we aspire, we know — that God 
will fulfil all noble desire in a life to come. 
I We must aspire then, but at the same time all 
I aspiring is to be conterminous with steady work 
1 within our limits. Aspiration to the perfect is not to 
Imake us idle, indifferent to the present, but to drive 
us on. Its passion teaches us, as it urges into action 


all our powers, what we can and what we cannot 
do. That is, it teaches us, through the action it 
engenders, what our limits are ; and when we 
know them, the main duties of hfe rise clear. The 
first of these is, to work patiently within our 
limits ; and the second is the apparent contradiction 
of the first, never to be satisfied with our limits, ori 
with the results we attain within them. Then, 
having worked within them, but always looked 
beyond them, we, as life closes, learn the secret. 
The failures of earth prove the victory beyond : 
"For — 

what is our failure here but a triumph's evidence 
For the fulness of the days ? Have we withered or agonised ? 
Why else was the pause prolonged but that singing might issue 
Why rushed the discords 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 the 
But God has a few of us whom he whispers in the ear ; 
The rest may reason, and welcome : 'tis we musicians know. 

— Abt Vogler. 

Finally, the root and flower of this patient but 
uncontented work is Love for man because of his 
being in God, because of his high and immortal 
destiny. All that we do, whether failure or not, 
builds up the perfect humanity to come, and flows 
into the perfection of God in whom is the 
perfection of man. This love, grounded on this 
faith, brings joy into life; and, in this joy of love, 
we enter into the eternal temple of the Life to 
come. Love opens Heaven while Earth closes us 
round. At last limitations cease to trouble us. 


They are lost in the vision, they bring no more 
sorrow, doubt, or baffling. Therefore, in this 
confused chaotic time on earth — 

Earn the means first. God surely will contrive 

Use for our earning. 
Others mistrust, and say : " But time escapes; 

Live now or never ! " 
He said, " What's time ? Leave Now for dogs and apes! 

Man has Forever." 

— A Grammarian's Funeral. 

This is a sketch of his explanation of life. 
The expression of it began in Pauline. Had that 
poem been as imitative, as poor as the first efforts 
of poets usually are, we might leave it aside. But 
though, as he said, "good draughtsmanship and 
right handling were far beyond the artist at that 
time," though "with repugnance and purely of 
necessity" he republished it, he did republish it; 
and he was right. It was crude and confused, but 
the stuff in it was original and poetic ; wonderful 
stuff for a young man. 

The first design of it was huge. Pauline is but 
a fragment of a poem which was to represent, not 
one but various types of human life. It became 
only the presentation of the type of the poet, the 
first sketch of the youth of Sordello. The other 
types conceived were worked up into other poems. 

The hero in Pauline hides in his love for Pauline 
from a past he longed to forget. He had aspired 
to the absolute beauty and goodness, and the end 
was vanity and vexation. The shame of this 
failure beset him from the past, and the failure was 
caused because he had not been true to the as- 
pirations which took him beyond himself. When he 


returned to self, the glory departed. And a fine 
simile of his soul as a young witch whose blue eyes, 

As she stood naked by the river springs, 
Drew down a God, 

who, as he sat in the sunshine on her knees singing 
of heaven, saw the mockery in her eyes and van- 
ished, tells of how the early ravishment departed, 
slain by self-scorn that followed on self-worship. 
But one love and reverence remained — that for 
Shelley, the Sun-treader, and kept him from being 
" wholly lost." To strengthen this one self-forget- 
ful element, the love of Pauline enters in, and the 
new impulse brings back something of the ancient 
joy. " Let me take it," he cries, " and sing on 

fast as fancies come ; 
Rudely, the verse being as the mood it paints, — " 

a line which tells us how Browning wished his 
metrical movement to be judged. This is the 
exordium, and it is already full of his theory of life 
— the soul forced from within to aspire to the 
perfect whole, the necessary failure, the despair, 
the new impulse to love arising out of the despair ; 
failure making fresh growth, fresh uncontentment. 
God has sent a new impulse from without ; let me 
begin again. 

Then, in the new light, he strips his mind bare. 
What am I ? What have I done ? Where am I 
going .? 

The first element in his soul, he thinks, is a 
living personaUty, linked to a principle of restless- 

Which would be all, have, see, know, taste, feel, all. 


tid this would plunge him into the depths of self 
;re it not for that Imagination in him whose 
iwer never fails to bear him beyond himself ; and 
finally in him a need, a trust, a yearning after 
3d ; whom, even when he is most lost, he feels 
always acting on him, and at every point of life 
mscending him. 

And Imagination began to create, and made him 
one with all men and women of whom he had 
ad (the same motive is repeated in Sordello), but 
pecially at one with those out of the Greek world 
I loved — "a God wandering after Beauty" — a 
gh-crested chief 

Sailing with troops of friends to Tenedos. 

ever was anything more clear than these lives he 
ed beyond himself ; and the lines 'in which he 
cords the vision have all the sharpness and 
auty of his after-work — 

I had not seen a work of lofty art, 

Nor woman's beauty nor sweet Nature's &ce,"] 

Yet, I say, never morn broke dear 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. 

Yet, having this infinite world of beauty, he 
ned low ; lost in immediate wants, striving only 
: the mortal and the possible, while all the time 
:re lived in him, breathing with keen desire, 
wers which, developed, would make him at one 
th the infinite Life of God. 

But having thus been untrue to his early aspiration, 
fell into the sensual life, like Paracelsus, and 


then, remorseful, sought peace in self-restraint; 
but no rest, no contentment was gained that way. 
It is one of Browning's root-ideas that peace is no^ 
won by repression of the noble passions, but by 
letting them loose in full freedom to pursue after 
their highest aims. Not in restraint, but in the 
conscious impetuosity of the soul towards the 
divine realities, is the wisdom of life. Many 
poems are consecrated to this idea. 

So, cleansing his soul by ennobling desire, he 
sought to realise his dreams in the arts, in the 
creation and expression of pure Beauty. And he 
followed Poetry and Music and Painting, and chiefly 
explored passion and mind in the great poets. 
Fed at these deep springs, his soul rose into keen 
life; his powers burst forth, and gazing on all 
systpms and schemes of philosophy and govern- 
ment, he heard ineffable things unguessed by man. 
All Plato entered into him ; he vowed himself to 
liberty and the new world where " men were to be 
as gods and earth as heaven." Thus, yet here 
on earth, not only beyond the earth, he would 
attain the Perfect. Man also shall attain it ; and 
so thinking, he turned, like Sordello, to look at and 
learn mankind, pondering "how best life's end 
might be attained — an end comprising every joy." 

And even as he believed, the glory vanished; 
everything he had hoped for broke to pieces : 

First went my hopes of perfecting mankind, 
Next — faith in them, and then in freedom's self 
And virtue's self, then my own motives, ends 
And aims and loves, and human love went last. 

And then, with the loss of all these things of the 
soul which bear a man's desires into the invisible 


nd unreachable, he gained the world, and success 
n it. All the powers of the mere Intellect, that 
;rey-haired deceiver whose name is Archimago, 
irere his ; — wit, mockery, analytic force, keen rea- 
oning on the visible, the Understanding's absolute 
lelief in itself; its close grasp on what it called 
acts, and its clear application of knowledge for clear 
;nds. God, too, had vanished in this intellectual 
atisf action ; and in the temple of his soul, where 
le had been worshipped, troops of shadows now 
melt to the man whose intellect, having grasped 
ill knowledge, was content ; and hailed him as king. 

The position he describes is like that Words- 
vorth states in the Prelude to have been his, when, 
ifter the vanishing of his aspirations for man 
vhich followed the imperialistic fiasco of the 
French Revolution, he found himself without love 
)r hope, but with full power to make an intellectual 
malysis of Nature and of human nature, and was 
lestroyed thereby. It is the same position which 
r'aracelsus attains and which is followed by the 
lame ruin. It is also, so far as its results are 
loncerned, the position of the Soul described by 
Tennyson in The Palace of Art. 

Love, emotion, God are shut out. Intellect and 
knowledge of the world's work take their place. 
\nd the result is the slow corrosion of the soul 
)y pride. " I have nursed up energies," says 
Browning, "they will prey on me." He feels 
his and breaks away from its death. " My 
leart must worship," he cries. The "shadows" 
mow this feeling is against them, and they shout 
n answer: 

"Thyself, thou art our king!" 


But the end of that is misery. Therefore he begins 
to aspire again, but still, not for the infinite of 
perfection beyond, but for a finite perfection on, the 

" I will make every joy here my own," he cries, 
" and then I will die." " I will have one rapture 
to fill all the soul." "All knowledge shall be 
mine." It is the aspiration of Paracelsus. " I will 
live in the whole of Beauty, and here it shall be 
mine." It is the aspiration of Aprile. "Then, 
having this perfect human soul, master of all 
powers, I shall break forth, at some great crisis in 
history, and lead the world." It is the very aspi- 
ration of Sordello. 

But when he tries for this, he finds failure at 
every point. Everywhere he is limited; his soul 
demands what his body refuses to fulfil; he is 
always baffled, falling short, chained down and 
maddened by restrictions ; unable to use what he 
conceives, to grasp as a tool what he can reach in 
Thought; hating himself; imagining what might 
be, and .driven back from it in despair. 

Even in his love for Pauline, in which he has 
skirted the infinite and known that his soul cannot 
accept finality — he finds that in him which is still 

What does this puzzle mean ? " It means," he 
answers, "that this earth's life is not my only 
sphere, ' 

Can I so narrow sense but that in life 
Soul still exceeds it ? " 

Yet, he will try again. He has lived in all human 
life, and his craving is still athirst. He has not 


yet tried Nature herself. She seems to have un- 
dying beauty, and his feeling for her is now, of 
course, doubled by his love for Pauline. " Come 
with me," he cries to her, " come out of the world 
into natural beauty " ; and there follows a noble 
description of a lovely country into which he 
passes from a mountain glen — morning, noon, 
afternoon, and evening all described — and the 
emotion of the whole rises till it reaches the top- 
most height of eagerness and joy, when, suddenly, 
the whole fire is extinguished — 

I am concentrated — I feel ; 
But my soul saddens when it looks beyond : 
I cannot be immortal, taste all joy. 

O God, where do they tend — these struggling aims ? 
What would I have ? What is this " sleep " which seems 
To bound all ? Can there be a " waking " point 
Of crowning life ? 


And what is that I hunger for but God ? 

So, having worked towards perfection, having 
realised that he cannot have it here, he sees at last 
that the failures of earth are a prophecy of a per- 
fection to come. He claims the infinite beyond. 
" I believe," he cries, " in God and truth and love. 
Know my last state is happy, free from doubt or 
touch of fear." 

That is Browning all over. These are the 
motives of a crowd of poems, varied through a 
crowd of examples; never better shaped than in 
the trenchant and magnificent end of Easter-Day, 
where the questions and answers are like the flash- 
ing and clashing of sharp scimitars. Out of the 
same quarry from which Pauline was hewn the rest 


were hewn. They are polished, richly sculptured, 
hammered into fair form, but the stone is the same. 
Few have been so consistent as Browning, few so 
true to their early inspiration. He is among those 
happy warriors 

Who, when brought 
Among the tasks of real life, have wrought 
Upon the plan that pleased their boyish thought. 

This, then, is Pauline ; I pass on to Paracelsus. 
Paracelsus, in order to give the poem a little local 
colour, opens at Wiirzburg in a garden, and in the 
year 1512. But it is not a poem which has to do 
with any place or any time. It belongs only to 
the country of the human soul. The young student 
Paracelsus is sitting with his friends Festus and 
Michal, on the eve of his departure to conquer the 
whole world by knowledge. They make a last 
effort to retain him, but even as he listens to their 
arguments his eyes are far away — 

As if where'er he gazed there stood a star, 

so strong, so deep is desire to attain his aim. 

For Paracelsus aims to know the whole of know- 
ledge. Quiet and its charms, this homelike garden 
of still work, make their appeal in vain. "God 
has called me," he cries ; " these burning desires to 
know all are his voice in me ; and if I stay and 
plod on here, I reject his call who has marked me 
from mankind. I must reach pure knowledge. That 
is my only aim, my only reward." 

Then Festus replies : " In this solitariness of 
aim, all other interests of humanity are left out. 
Will knowledge, alone, give you enough for life } 
You, a man ! " And again : " You discern your 


purpose clearly ; have you any security of attaining 
it ? Is it not more than mortal power is capable 
of winning?" Or again: "Have you any know- 
ledge of the path to knowledge ? " Or, once more, 
" Is anything in your mind so clear as this, your 
own desire to be singly famous ? " 

" All this is nothing," Paracelsus answers ; " the 
restless force within me will overcome all difficul- 
ties. God does not give that fierce energy with- 
out giving also that which it desires. And, I am 
chosen out of all the world to win this glory." 

"Why not then," says Festus, "make use of 
knowledge already gained .? Work here ; what 
knowledge will you gain in deserts t " 

"I have tried all the knowledge of the past," 
Paracelsus replies, " and found it a contemptible 
, failure. Others were content with the scraps they 
won. Not I ! I want the whole ; the source and 
sum of divine and human knowledge, and though 
I craze as even one truth expands its infinitude 
before me, I go forth alone, rejecting all that 
others have done, to prove my own soul. I shall 
arrive at last. And as to mankind, in winning 
perfect knowledge I shall serve them ; but then, all 
intercourse ends between them and me. I will not 
be served by those I serve." 

" Oh," answers Festus, " is that cause safe which 
produces carelessness of human love.-" You have 
thrown aside all the helps of human knowledge; 
now you reject all sympathy. No man can thrive 
who dares to claim to serve the race, while he is 
bound by no single tie to the race. You would 
be a being knowing not what Love is — a monstrous 
spectacle ! " 


"That may be true," Paracelsus replies, "but 
for the time I will have nothing to do with feeling. 
My aifections shall remain at rest, and then, when 
I have attained my single aim, when knowledge is 
all mine, my affections will awaken purified and 
chastened by my knowledge. Let me, unhampered 
by sympathy, win my victory. And I go forth 
certain of victory." 

Are there not, Festus, are there not, dear Michal, 
Two points in the adventure of the diver : 
One — when, a beggar, he prepares to plunge; 
One — when, a prince, he rises with his pearl ? 
Festus, I plunge ! 
Festus. We wait you when you rise. 

So ends the first part, and the second opens ten 
years afterwards in a Greek Conjurer's house in 
Constantinople, with Paracelsus writing down the 
result of his work. And the result is this : 

" I have made a few discoveries, but I could not 
stay to use them. Nought remains but a ceaseless, 
hungry pressing forward, a vision now and then of 
truth ; and I — I am old before my hour : the adage 
is true — 

Time fleets, youth fades, life is an empty dream ; 

and now I would give a world to rest, even in 
failure ! 

" This is all my gain. Was it for this," he cries, 
" I subdued my life, lost my youth, rooted out love ; 
for the sake of this wolfish thirst of knowledge ? " 
No dog, said Faust, in Goethe's poem, driven to 
the same point by the weariness of knowledge, no 
dog would longer live this life. " My tyrant aim 
has brought me into a desert; worse still, the 


purity of my aim is lost. Can I truly say that I 
have worked for man alone ? Sadder still, if I had 
found that which I sought, should I have had power 
to use it ? O God, Thou who art pure mind, spare 
my mind. Thus far, I have been a man. Let me 
conclude, a man ! Give me back one hour of my 
young energy, that I may use and finish what I 

" And God is good : I started sure of that ; and 
he may still renew my heart. 

True, I am worn ; 
But who clothes summer, who is life itself ? 
God, that created all things, can renew ! " 

At this moment the voice of Aprile is heard 
singing the song of the poets, who, having great 
gifts, refused to use them, or abused them, or were 
too weak ; and who therefore live apart from God, 
mourning for ever; who gaze on life, but live no 
more. He breaks in on Paracelsus, and, in a long 
passage of overlapping thoughts, Aprile — who 
would love infinitely and be loved, aspiring to 
realise every form of love, as Paracelsus has 
aspired to realise the whole of knowledge — makes 
Paracelsus feel that love is what he wants. And 
then, when Paracelsus realises this, Aprile in turn 
reaUses that he wants knowledge. Each recognises 
that he is the complement of the other, that 
knowledge is worthless without love, and love 
incapable of realising its aspirations without know- 
ledge — as if love did not contain the sum of know- 
ledge necessary for fine being. Both have failed ; 
and it seems, at first, that they failed because they 
did not combine their aims. But the chief reason 


of their failure — and this is, indeed, Browning's 
main point — is that each of them tried to do more 
than our limits on earth permit. Paracelsus would 
have the whole sum of knowledge, Aprile nothing 
less than the whole of love, and, in this world. 
It is impossible ; yet, were it possible, could they 
have attained the sum of knowledge and of love on 
earth and been satisfied therewith, they would have 
shut out the infinite of knowledge and love beyond 
them in the divine land, and been, in their satis- 
faction, more hopelessly lost than they are in 
their present wretchedness. Failure that leaves 
an unreached ideal before the soul is in reality a 
greater boon than success which thinks perfect 
satisfaction has been reached. Their aim at 
perfection is right: what is wrong is their view 
that failure is ruin, and not a prophecy of a greater 
glory to come. Could they have thought perfection 
were attained on earth — were they satisfied with 
anything this world can give, no longer stung with 
hunger for the infinite — all Paradise, with the 
illimitable glories, were closed to them ! 

Few passages are more beautiful in English 
poetry than that in which Aprile narrates his 
youthful aspiration : how, loving all things in- 
finitely, he wished to throw them into absolute 
beauty of form by means of all the arts, for the 
love of men, and receive from men love for having 
revealed beauty, and merge at last in God, the 
Eternal Love. This was his huge aim, his full 

Few passages are more pathetic than that in 
which he tells his failure and its cause. "Time 
is short; the means of life are limited; we have 


means answering to our desires. Now I am 
5cked ; for the multitudinous images of beauty 
ich filled my mind forbade my seizing upon one 
ich I could have shaped. I often wished to 
e one to the world, but the others came round 
1 baffled me ; and, moreover, I could not leave 

multitude of beauty for the sake of one beauty, 
less I could embody all I would embody none. 
'And, afterwards, when a cry came from man, 
Ive one ray even of your hoarded light to us,' 
1 I tried for man's sake to select one, why, then, 
its came — old memories of a thousand sweet- 
;ses, a storm of images — till it was impossible to 
)ose ; and so I failed, and life is ended. 
' But could I live I would do otherwise. I would 
e a trifle out of beauty, as an example by which 
n could guess the rest and love it all; one 
lin from an angel's song ; one flower from the 
tant land, that men might know that such things 
re. Then, too, I would put common life into 
eliness, so that the lowest hind would find me 
lide him to put his weakest hope and fear into 
)le language. And as I thus lived with men, 
1 for them, I should win from them thoughts 
sd for their progress, the very commonest of 
ich would come forth in beauty, for they would 
rt, been born in a soul filled full of love. This 
luld now be my aim : no longer that desire to 
brace the whole of beauty which isolates a man 
m his fellows ; but to realise enough of loveliness 
jive pleasure to men who desire to love. There- 
e, I should live, still aspiring to the whole, still 
:ontent, but waiting for another life to gain the 
ole ; but at the same time content, for man's sake, 


to work within the limitations of life ; not grieving 
either for failure, because love given and received 
makes failure pleasure. In truth, the failure to 
grasp all on earth makes, if we love, the certainty 
of a success beyond the earth." 

And Paracelsus listening and applying what 
Aprile says to his old desire to grasp, apart from 
men, the whole of knowledge as Aprile had desired 
to grasp the whole of love, learns the truth at last, 
and confesses it : 

Love me henceforth, Aprile, while I learn 
To love ; and, merciful God, forgive us both ! 
We wake at length from weary dreams ; but both 
Have slept in fairy-land : though dark and drear 
Appears the world before us, we no less 
Wake with our wrists and ankles jewelled still. 
I too have sought to know as thou to love — 
Excluding love as thou refusedst knowledge. 

We are halves of a dissevered world, and we 
must never part till the Knower love, and thou, the 
Lover, know, and both are saved. 

" No, no ; that is not all," Aprile answers, and 
dies. " Our perfection is not in ourselves but in 
God. Not our strength, but our weakness is our 
glory. Not in union with me, with earthly love 
alone, will you find the pierfect life. I am not that 
you seek. It is God the King of Love, his world 
beyond, and the infinite creations Love makes in it." 

But Paracelsus does not grasp that last conclu- 
sion. He only understands that he has left out 
love in his aim, and therefore failed*. He does not 
give up the notion of attainment upon earth. He 
cannot lose the first imprint of his idea of himself 
— his lonely grasp of the whole of Knowledge. 

The next two parts of the poem do not strengthen 


much the main thoughts. Paracelsus tries to work 
out the lesson learnt from Aprile — to add love to 
knowledge, to aspire to that fulness in God. But 
he does not love enough. He despises those who 
follow him for the sake of .his miracles, yet he 
desires their worship. Moreover, the pride of 
knowledge still clings to him; he cannot help 
thinking it higher than love ; and the two together 
drive him into the thought that this world must 
give him satisfaction. So, he puts aside the ideal 
aim. But here also he is baffled. Those who 
follow him as the great teacher ask of him signs. 
He gives these ; and he finds at Basel that he has 
sunk into the desire of vulgar fame, and prostituted 
his knowledge ; and, sick of this, beaten back from 
his noble ambitions, he determines to have some- 
thing at least out of earth, and chooses at Colmar the 
life of sensual pleasure. " I still aspire," he cries. 
" I will give the night to study, but I will keep the 
day for the enjoyment of the senses. Thus, 
intellect and sense woven together, I shall at least 
have attained something. If I do not gain know- 
ledge I shall have gained sensual pleasure. Mai/ 
I despise and hate, and God has deceived met 
I take the world." But, even while he says this! 
his ancient aspiration lives so much in him that he 
scorns himself for his fall as much as he scorns the 

Then comes the last scene, when, at Salzburg, he 
returns to find his friend Festus, and to die. In 
the hour of his death he reviews his whole life, his 
aims, their failure and the reason of it, and yet dies 
triumphant for he has found the truth. 

I pass over the pathetic delirium in which 


Paracelsus thinks that Aprile is present, and cries 
for his hand and sympathy while Festus is watch- 
ing by the couch. At last he wakes, and knows his 
friend, and that he is dying. " I am happy," he 
cries ; " my foot is on the threshold of boundless 
life ; I see the whole whirl and hurricane of Uf e 
behind me; all my life passes by, and I know 
its purpose, to what end it has brought me, 
and whither I am going. I will tell you all the 
meaning of life. Festus, my friend, tell it to the 

"There was a time when I was happy; the 
secret of life was in that happiness." " When, 
when was that .? " answers Festus, " all I hope that 
answer will decide." 

Par. When, but the time I vowed myself to man ? 
Fest. Great God, thy judgments are inscrutable ! 

Then he explains. " There are men, so majes- 
tical is our nature, who, hungry for joy and truth, 
win more and more of both, and know that life is 
infinite progress in God. This they win by long 
and slow battle. But there are those, of whom I 
was one " — and here Browning draws the man of 
genius — " who are born at the very point to which 
these others, the men of talent, have painfully 
attained. By intuition genius knows, and I knew 
at once, what God is, what we are, what life is. 
Alas ! I could not use the knowledge aright. There 
is an answer to the passionate longings of the heart 
for fulnessy and I knew it. And the answer is this : 
Live in all things outside of yourself by love and 
you will have joy. That is the life of God ; it ought 
to be our life. In him it is accomplished and perfect ; 


but in all created things it is a lesson learned slowly 
against difficulty. 

" Thus I knew the truth, but I was led away 
from it. I broke down from thinking of myself, 
my fame, and of this world. I had not love enough, 
and I lost the truth for a time. But whatever my 
failures were, I never lost sight of it altogether. I 
never was content with myself or with the earth. 
Out of my misery I cried for the joy God has in 
living outside of himself in love of all things." 

Then, thrilled with this thought, he breaks forth 
into a most noble description — new in English 
poetry, new in feeling and in thought, enough of 
itself to lift Browning on to^his lofty peak — first of 
the joy of God in the Universe he makes incessantly 
by pouring out of himself his life, and, secondly, of 
the joy of all things in God. " Where dwells en- 
joyment there is He." But everyrealised enjoyment 
looks forward, even in God, to a new and higher 
sphere of distant glory, and when that is reached, 
to another sphere beyond — 

thus climbs 
Pleasure its heights for ever and for ever. 

Creation is God's joyous self -giving. The building 
of the frame of earth was God's first joy in Earth. 
That made him conceive a greater joy — the joy of 
clothing the earth, of making life therein — of the 
love which in animals, and last in man, multiplies 
life for ever. 

So there is progress of all things to man, and all 
created things before his coming have — inbeauty,in 
power, in knowledge, in dim shapes of love and trust 
in the animals — had prophecies of him which man 


has realised, hints and previsions, dimly picturing 
the higher race, till man appeared at last, and one 
stage of being was complete. But the law of pro- 
gress does not cease now man has come. None of 
his faculties are perfect. They also by their imper- 
fection suggest a further Hfe, in which as all that 
was unfinished in the animals suggested man, so 
also that which is unfinished in us suggests our- 
selves in higher place and form. Man's self is not 
yet Man. 

We learn this not only from our own boundless 
desires for higher life, and from our sense of im- 
perfection. We learn it also when we look back 
on the whole of Nature that was before we were. 
We illustrate and illuminate all that has been. 
Nature is humanised, spiritualised by us. We have 
imprinted ourselves on all things ; and this, as we 
realise it, as we give thought and passion to lifeless 
Nature, makes us understand how great we are, and 
how much greater we are bound to be. We are the 
end of Nature but not the end of ourselves. We 
learn the same truth when among us the few men 
of genius appear ; stars in the darkness. We do 
not say — These stand alone ; we never can become 
as they. On the contrary, we cry : All are to be 
what these are, and more. They longed for more, 
and we and they shall have it. All shall be per- 
fected ; and then, and not till then, begins the new 
age and the new life, new progress and new joy. 
This is the ultimate truth. 

And as in inferior creatures there were prog- 
nostics of man — and here Browning repeats him- 
self — so in man there are prognostics of the future 
and loftier humanity. 


August anticipations, symbols, types 

Of a dim splendour ever on before 

In that eternal cycle life pursues. 

For men begin to pass their nature's bound — 

ceaselessly outgrowing themselves in history, and 
in the individual life — and some, passionately aspir- 
ing, run ahead of even the general tendency, and 
conceive the very highest, and live to reveal it, 
and in revealing it lift and save those who do not 
conceive it. 

"I, Paracelsus," he cries — and now Browning 
repeats the whole argument of the poem — " was 
one of these. To do this I vowed myself, soul 
and limb. 

" But I mistook my means, I took the wrong path, 
led away by pride. I gazed on power alone, and 
on power won by knowledge alone. This I thought 
was the only note and aim of man, and it was to be 
won, at once and in the present, without any care 
for all that man had already done. I rejected all 
the past. I despised it as a record of weakness 
and disgrace. Man should be aU-sufficient now ; 
a single day should bring him to maturity. He has 
power to reach the whole of knowledge at one 

" In that, I mistook the conditions of life. I did 
not see our barriers ; nor that progress is slow ; nor 
that every step of the past is necessary to know 
and to remember ; nor that, in the shade of the past, 
the present stands forth bright ; nor that the future 
is not to be all at once, but to dawn on us, in zone 
after zone of quiet progress. I strove to laugh 
down all the limits of our life, and then the smallest 
things broke me down — me, who tried to realise the 


impossible on earth. At last I knew that the power 
I sought was only God's, and then I prayed to die. 
All my life was failure. 

" At this crisis I met Aprile, and learned my 
deep mistake. I had left love out; and love and 
knowledge, and power through knowledge, must 
go together. And Aprile had also failed, for he 
had sought love and rejected knowledge. Life can 
only move when both are hand in hand : 

" love preceding 
Power, and with much power, always much more love : 
Love still too straitened in its present means, 
And earnest for new power to set love free. 
I learned this, and supposed the whole was learned. 

" But to learn it, and to fulfil it, are two different 
things. I taught the simple truth, but men would 
not have it. They sought the complex, the sensa- 
tional, the knowledge which amazed them. And 
for this knowledge they praised me. I loathed and 
despised their praise ; and when I would not give 
them more of the signs and wonders I first gave 
them, they avenged themselves by casting shame 
on my real knowledge. Then I was tempted, and 
became the charlatan ; and yet despised myself for 
seeking man's praise for that which was most con- 
temptible in me. Then I sought for wild pleasure 
in the senses, and I hated myself still more. And 
hating myself I came to hate men ; and then all that 
Aprile taught to me was lost. 

" But now I know that I did not love enough to 
trace beneath the hate of men their love. I did not 
love enough to see in their follies the grain of 
divine wisdom. 


" To see a good in evil, and a hope 
In ill-success ; to sympathise, be proud 
Of their half-reasons, faint aspirings, dim 
Struggles for truth, their poorest fallacies. 
Their prejudice and fears and cares and doubts ; 
All with a touch of nobleness, despite 
Their error, upward tending all though weak. 

" I did not see this, I did not love enough to see 
his, and I failed. 

" Therefore let men regard me, who rashly longed 
know all for power's sake; and regard Aprile, the 
)oet, who rashly longed for the whole of love for 
)eauty's sake — and regarding both, shape forth a 
hird and better-tempered spirit, in whom beauty 
ind knowledge, love and power, shall mingle into 
)ne, and lead Man up to God, in whom all these 
bur are One. In God alone is the goal. 

" Meanwhile I die in peace, secure of attainment. 
NhdX I have failed in here I shall attain there. I 
lave never, in my basest hours, ceased to aspire ; 
jod will fulfil my aspiration : 

"If I stoop 
Into a dark tremendous sea of cloud. 
It is but for a time ; I press God's lamp 
Close to my breast ; its splendour, soon or late. 
Will pierce the gloom : I shall emerge one day. 
You understand me ? I have said enough ? 

Aprile ! Hand in hand with you, Aprile !" 
^nd so he dies. 


THE theory of^human life which Browning con- 
"Teived, and which I attempted in the last 
chapter to explain out of Pauline and Paracelsus, 
underlies the poems w hich.havg,to do with tihe arts. 
Browning as the poet of Art is as fascinating a 
subject as Browning the poet of Nature; even 
more so, for he directed of set purpose a great deal 
of his poetry to the various arts, especially to music 
and painting. Nor has he neglected to write about 
his own art. The lover in Pauline is a poet. 
Paracelsus and Aprile have both touched that art. 
Sordello is a poet, and so are many others in the 
poems. Moreover, he treats continually of himself 
as a poet, and of the many criticisms on his work. 
All through this work on the arts, the theory of 
which we have written appears continuously. It 
emerges fully in the close of Easter-Day. It is 
carefully wrought into poems like Abt Vogler and 
A Grammarian's Funeral, in which the pursuit of 
grammar is conceived of as the pursuit of an art. 
It is introdueed by the way in the midst of subjects 
belonging to the art of painting, as in Old Pictures 
in Florence and Andrea del Sarto. Finally, in those 
poems which represent in vivid colour and selected 


personalities special times and forms of art, the 
theory still appears, but momentarily, as a dryad 
might show her face in a wood to a poet passing by. 
I shall be obliged then to touch again and again on 
this theory of his in discussing Browning as the 
poet of the arts. This is a repetition which cannot 
be helped, but for which I request the pardon of 
my readers. 

The subject of the arts, from the time when 
Caliban " fell to make something " to the re-birth of 
naturalism in Florence, from the earliest music and 
poetry to the latest, interested Browning profoundly; 
and he speaks of them, not as a critic from the out- 
side, but out of the soul of them, as an artist. He 
is, for example, the only poet of the nineteenth 
century till we come to Rossetti, who has cele- 
brated painting and sculpture by the art of poetry ; 
and Rossetti did not link these arts to human life 
and character with as much force and penetration as 
Browning. Morris, when he wrote poetry, did not 
care to write about the other arts, their schools or 
history. He liked to describe in verse the beautiful 
things of the past, but not to argue on their how and 
why. Nor did he ever turn in on himself as artist, 
and ask how he wrote poetry or how he built 
up a pattern. What he did as artist was to make, 
and when he had made one thing to make another. 
He ran along like Pheidippides to his goal, without 
halting for one instant to consider the methods of 
his running. And all his life long this was his 

Rossetti described a picture in a sonnet with 
admirable skill, so admirable that we say to our- 
selves — " Give me the picture or the sonnet, not 


both. They blot out one another." But to de- 
scribe a picture is not to write about art. The 
one place where he does go down to its means and 
soul is in his little prose masterpiece, Hand and 
Soul, in which we see the path, the goal, the 
passion, but not the power of art. But he never, 
in thought, got, like Browning, to the bottom-joy 
of it. He does not seem to see, as clearly as 
Browning saw, that the source of all art was love ; 
and that the expression of love in beautiful form 
was or ought to be accomplished with that exult- 
ing joy which is the natural child of self-forgetful- 
ness. This story of Rossetti's was in prose. In 
poetry, Rossetti, save in description from the out- 
side, left art alone ; and Browning's special work 
on art, and particularly his poetic studies of it, are 
isolated in English poetry, and separate him from 
other poets. 

I cannot wish that he had thought less and 
written less about other arts than poetry. But I 
do wish he had given more time and trouble to his 
own art, that we might have had clearer and lovelier 
poetry. Perhaps, if he had developed himself with 
more care as an artist in his own art, he would not 
have troubled himself or his art by so much devo- 
tion to abstract thinking and intellectual analysis. 
A strange preference also for naked facts some- 
times beset him, as if men wanted these from a 
poet. It was as if some scientific demon entered 
into him for a time and turned poetry out, till 
Browning got weary of his guest and threw him 
out of the window. These reversions to some far 
off Browning in the past, who was deceived into 
thinking the intellect the king of life, enfeebled and 


sometimes destroyed the artist in him ; and though 
he escaped for the best part of his poetry from 
this position, it was not seldom in his later years 
as a brand plucked from the burning. Moreover, 
he recognised this tendency in himself; and pro- 
tested against it, sometimes humorously, sometimes 
seriously. At least so I read what he means in a 
number of poems, when he turns, after an over- 
wrought piece of analysis, upon himself, and bursts 
out of his cobwebs into a solution of the question by 
passion and imagination. Nevertheless the charm 
of this merely intellectual play pulled at him con- 
tinually, and as he could always embroider it with 
fancy it seemed to him close to imagination ; and 
this belief grew upon him as he got farther away 
from the warmth and natural truth of youth. It is 
the melancholy tendency of some artists, as they 
feel the weakness of decay, to become scientific; 
and a fatal temptation it is. There is one poem of 
his in which he puts the whole matter clearly and 
happily, with a curious and suggestive title, " Trans- 
cendentalism : A Poem in Twelve Books." 

He speaks to a young poet who will give to 
men " naked thought, good, true, treasurable stuff, 
solid matter, without imaginative imagery, without 

Thought's what they mean by verse, and seek in verse. 

Boys seek for images and melody, 

Men must have reason — so, you aim at men. 

It is " quite otherwise," Browning tells him, and he 
illustrates the matter by a story. 

Jacob Bohme did not care for plants. All he 
cared for was his mysticism. But one day, as if 


the magic of poetry had slipped into his soul, he 
heard all the plants talking, and talking to him ; 
and behold, he loved them and knew what they 
meant. Imagination had done more for him than 
all his metaphysics. So we give up our days to 
collating theory with theory, criticising, philoso- 
phising, till, one morning, we wake " and find Ufe's 
summer past." 

What remedy } What hope .' Why, a brace of 
rhymes ! And then, in life, that miracle takes place 
which John of Halberstadt did by his magic. We 
feel like a child ; the world is new ; every bit of life 
is run over and enchanted by the wild rose. 

And in there breaks the sudden ros,e herself, 
Over us, under, round us every side, 
Nay, in and out the tables and the chairs 
And musty volumes, Bohme's book and all — 
Buries us with a glory, young once more, 
Pouring heaven into this shut house of life. 

So come, the harp back to your heart again ! 

I return, after this introduction, to Browning's 
doctrine of life as it is connected with the arts. It 
appears with great clearness in Easter-Day. He 
tells of an experience he had when, one night, 
musing on life, and wondering how it would be 
with him were he to die and be judged in a 
moment, he walked on the wild common outside the 
little Dissenting Chapel he had previously visited 
on Christmas-Eve and thought of the Judgment. 
And Common-sense said : " You have done your 
best ; do not be dismayed ; you will only be sur- 
prised, and when the shock is over you will smile at 
your fear." And as he thought thus the whole sky 
became a sea of fire. A fierce and vindictive 


cribble of red quick flame ran across it, and the 
miverse was burned away. " And I knew," thought 
Browning, " now that Judgment had come, that I 
lad chosen this world, its beauty, its knowledge, 
ts good — that, though I often looked above, yet to 
•enounce utterly the beauty of this earth and man 
vas too hard for me." And avoice came : "Eternity 
s here, and thou art judged." And then Christ 
itood before him and said : " Thou hast preferred the 
inite when the infinite was in thy power. Earthly 
oys were palpable and tainted. The heavenly joys 
litted before thee, faint, and rare, and taintless, 
rhou hast chosen those of this world. They are 

" O rapture ! is this the Judgment .' Earth's 
jxquisite treasures of wonder and delight for me ! " 
"So soon made happy," said the voice. "The 
oveliness of earth is but like one rose flung from 
he Eden whence thy choice has excluded thee. 
The wonders of earth are but the tapestry of the 
mte-chamber in the royal house thou hast aban- 

All partial beauty was a pledge 

Of beauty in its plenitude : 

But since the pledge sufficed thy mood, 

Retain it ! plenitude be theirs 

Who looked above ! 

"O sharp despair! but since the joys of earth 
'ail me, I take art. Art gives worth to Nature ; it 
;tamps it with man. I'll take the Greek sculpture, 
he perfect painting of Italy — that world is mine ! " 

"Then obtain it," said the voice: "the one 
ibstract form, the one face with its one look — all 
:hey could manage. Shall I, the illimitable beauty. 


be judged by these single forms ? What of that 
perfection in their souls these artists were conscious 
of, inconceivably exceeding all they did ? What of 
their failure which told them an illimitable beauty 
was before them ? What of Michael Angelo now, 
who did not choose the world's success or earth's 
perfection, and who now is on the breast of the Di- 
vine? All the beauty of art is but furniture for life's 
first stage. Take it then. But there are those, my 
saints, who were not content, like thee, with earth's 
scrap of beauty, but desired the whole. They are 
now filled with it. Take thy one jewel of beauty 
on the beach ; lose all I had for thee in the bound- 
less ocean." 

"Then I take mind; earth's knowledge carries 
me beyond the finite. Through circling sciences, 
philosophies, and histories I will spin with rapture ; 
and if these fail to inspire, I will fly to verse, and 
in its dew and fire break the chain which binds me 
to the earth; — nay, answer me not, I know what 
Thou wilt say : What is highest in knowledge, even 
those fine intuitions which lead the finite into the 
infinite, and which are best put in noble verse, are 
but gleams of a light beyond them, sparks from the 
sum of the whole. I give that world up also, and 
I take Love. All I ask is leave. to love." 

" Ah," said the voice, " is this thy final choice .' 
Love is the best; 'tis somewhat late. Yet all 
the power and beauty, nature and art and know- 
ledge of this earth were only worth because of 
love. Through them infinite love called to thee; 
and even now thou clingest to earth's love as all. 
It is precious, but it exists to bear thee beyond the 
love of earth into the boundless love of God in me." 


At last, beaten to his last fortress, all broken down, 

he cries : 

Thou Love of God ! Or let me die, 

Or grant what shall seem heaven almost ! 

Let me not know that all is lost. 

Though lost it be — leave me not tied 

To this despair — this corpse-like bride! 

Let that old life seem mine — no more — 

With limitation as before, 

With darkness, hunger, toil, distress : 

Be all the earth a wilderness ! ' 

Only let me go on, go on, 

Still hoping ever and anon 

To reach one eve the Better Land ! 

This is put more strongly, as in the line : " Be 
all the earth a wilderness ! " than Browning himself 
would have put it. But he is in the passion of the 
man who speaks, and heightens the main truth into 
an extreme. But the theory is there, and it is 
especially applied to the love of beauty and there- 
fore to the arts. The illustrations are taken from 
music and painting, from sculpture and poetry. 
Only in dwelling too exclusively, as perhaps the 
situation demands, on the renunciation of this 
world's successes, he has left out that part of his 
theory which demands that we should, accepting 
our limits, work within them for the love of man, 
but learn from their pressure and pain to transcend 
them always in the desire of infinite perfection. 
In Rabbi Ben Ezra, a masterpiece of argumentative 
and imaginative passion — such a poem as only 
Browning could have written, who, more than other 
poets, equalised, when most inspired, reasoning, 
emotions, and intuitions into one material for poetry 
— he applies this view of his to the whole of 
man's life here and in the world to come, when the 


Rabbi in the quiet of old age considers what his 
life has been, and how God has wrought him 
through it for eternity. But I leave that poem, 
which has nothing to do with art, for Abt Vogler, 
which is dedicated to music. 

" When Solomon pronounced the Name of God, 
all the spiritSj good and bad, assembled to do his 
will and build his palace. And when I, Abt Vogler, 
touched the keys, I called the Spirits of Sound to 
me, and they have built my palace of music; and 
to inhabit it all the Great Dead came back, till in 
the vision I made a perfect music. Nay, for a 
moment, I touched in it the infinite perfection ; but 
now it is gone; I cannot bring it back. Had I 
painted it, had I written it, I might have explained it. 
But in music, out of the sounds something emerges 
which is above the sounds, and that ineffable thing 
I touched and lost. I took the well-known sounds 
of earth, and out of them came a fourth sound, nay, 
not a sound — but a star. This was a ilash of God's 
will which opened the Eternal to me for a moment; 
and I shall find it again in the eternal life. There- 
fore, from the achievement of earth and the failure 
of it, I turn to God, and in him I see that every 
image, thought, impulse, and dream of knowledge or 
of beauty — which, coming whence we know not, flit 
before us in human life, breathe for a moment, and 
then depart ; which, like mymusic, build a sudden 
pIlMJe in imagination; which abidej or an instant 
aij«te issolve, but which memory and hope retain as 

as und of aspiration — are not lost to us though 
. seem to die in their immediate passage. Their 
h hu : has its home in the Will of God and we 
shki( find them completed there." 


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. 
* * * If- Id * 

■\^£ll, '■\^^ \^j^r\\\ viiitlj. rpp ■ silence resumes her reign : 

I will be patient and proud, and soberly acquiesce. 
Give me the keys. I feel for the common chord again, 

Sliding by semitones, till I sink to the minor, — yes. 

And I blunt it into a ninth, and I stand on alien ground. 

Surveying awhile the heights I rolled from into the deep ; 

Which, hark, I have dared and done, for my resting-place is 


The C Major of this life : so, now I will try to sleep. 

With that he returns to human life, content to 
labour in its Umits — the common chord is his. 
But he has been where he shall be, and he is not 
likely to be satisfied with the C major of life. 
This, in Browning's thought, is the true comfort 
and strength of the life of the artist/ to whom these 
fallings from us, vanishings, these transient visits 
of the infinite Divine, like swallows that pass in full 
flight, are more common than to other men. They 
teirhim of the unspeakable beauty ; they let loose 
,his spirit to fly into the third heaven. 

So much for the theory in this poem. As to the 
artist and his art in it, that is quite a different 
matter; and as there are few of Browning's, ^oems 
which reach a higher level than this bottd As^to, 
thought, and spiritual passion, it ma}agrofe, > 
while, for once, to examine a poem of ;..hey ipy 
\ Browning's imagination conceived in-nusicfof ^^t 
\ the musician's experience from end to end ;U fc'the 


form of the experience arose along with the con- 
ception. ' He saw Abt Vogler in the silent church, 
pla)dng to himself before the golden towers of the 
organ, and slipping with sudden surprise into a 
strain which is less his than God's. He saw the 
I vision which accompanied the music, and the man's 
\ heart set face to face with the palace of music he 
\had built. He saw him live in it and then pass 
to heaven with it and lose it. And he saw the 
close of the experience, with all its scenery in the 
church and in Abt Vogler' s heart, at the same time, 
in one vision. In this unconscipus shaping of his 
thought into a human incident, with its soul and 
scenery, is the imagination creating, like a god, a 
thing unknown, unseen before. 

Having thus shaped the form, the imagination 
passed on to make the ornament. It creates that 
far-off image of Solomon and his spirits building 
their palace for the Queen of Sheba which exalts the 
whole conception and enlarges the reader's imagi- 
nation through all the legends of the great King — 
and then it makes, for fresh adornment, the splendid 
piling up of the sounds into walls of gold, pinnacles, 
splendours and meteor moons; and lastly, with 
upward sweeping of its wings, bids the sky to fall 
in love with the glory of the palace, and the mighty 
forms of the noble Dead to walk in it. This is 
the imagination at play with its conception, adorn- 
ing, glorifying, heightening the full impression, but 
keeping every imaged ornament misty, impalpable, 
as in a dream — for so the conception demanded. 

And then, to fill the conception with the spirit of 
humanity, the personal passion of the poet rises 
and falls through the description, as the music 


rises and falls. We feel his breast beating againsi 
ours; till the time comes when, like a sudden 
change in a great song, his emotion changes intc 
ecstasy in the outburst of the 9th verse : 

Therefore to whom turn I but to thee, the ineflfable Name? 

It almost brings tears into the eyes. This is art- 
creation — this is what imagination, intense emo- 
tion, and individuality have made of the material oi 
thought — poetry, not prose. 

Even at the close, the conception, the imagina- 
tion, and the personal passion keep their art. The 
rush upwards of the imaginative feeling dies slowly 
away; it is as evanescent as the Vision of the 
Palace, but it dies into another picture of humanity 
which even more deeply engages the human heart. 
Browning sees the organ-loft now silent and dark, 
and the silent figure in it, alone and bowed ovei 
the keys. The church is still, but aware of what 
has been. The golden pipes of the organ are lost 
in the twilight and the music is over — all the 
double vision of the third heaven into which he 
has been caught has vanished away. The form 
of the thing rightly fits the idea. Then, when the 
form is shaped, the poet fills it with the deep 
emotion of the musician's soul, and then with his 
own emotion ; and close as the air to the earth are 
the sorrow and exultation of Abt Vogler and 
Browning to the human heart — sorrow for the 
vanishing and the failure, exultant joy because what 
has been is but an image of the infinite beauty 
they will have in God. In the joy they do not 
sorrow for the failure. It is nothing but an om.en oi 
success. Their soul, greater than the vision, takes 


up common life with patience and silent hope. We 
hear them sigh and strike the chord of C. 

This is lyric imagination at work in lyric 
poetry. There are two kinds of lyrics among 
many others. One is where the strong emotion of 
the poet, fusing all his materials into one creation, 
comes to a height and then breaks off suddenly. 
It is like a thunderstorm, which, doubling and re- 
doubling its flash and roar, ends in the zenith with 
the brightest flash and loudest clang of thunder. 
There is another kind. It is when the storm of 
emotion reaches, like the first, its climax, but does 
not end with it. The lyric passion dies slowly 
away from the zenith to the horizon, and ends in 
quietude and beauty, attended by soft colour and 
gentle sounds ; like the thunderstorm which faints 
with the sunset and gathers its clouds to be adorned 
with beauty. This lyric of Browning's is a noble 
example of the second type. 

I take another poem, the Grammarian^ s Funeral, 
to illustrate his art. The main matter of thought 
in it is the same as that of Abt Vogler, with the 
variation that the central figure is not a musician 
but a grammarian ; that what he pursued was critical 
knowledge, not beauty, and that he is not a modem, 
like Abt Vogler, but one of the Renaissance folk, 
and seized, as men were seized then, with that 
insatiable curiosity which characterised the outbreak 
of the New Learning. The matter of thought in it 
is of less interest to us than the poetic creation 
wrought out of it, or than the art with which it is 
done. We see the form into which the imaginative 
conception is thrown — the group of sorrowing 
students carrying their master's corpse to the high 


platform of the mountain, singing what he was, iiiy 
admiration and honour and delight that he had^ 
mastered life and won eternity ; a conception full of 
humanity, as full of the life of the dead master's soul 
as of the students' enthusiasm. This thrills us into 
creation, with the poet, as we read. Then the im- 
agination which has made the conception into form 
adorns it. It creates the plain, the encircling moun- 
tains, one cloudy peak higher than the rest; as we 
mount we look on the plain below ; we reach the 
city on the hill, pass it, and climb the hill-top; 
there are all the high-flying birds, the meteors, the 
lightnings, the thickest dew. And we lay our dead 
on the peak, above the plain. This is the scenery, 
the imaginative ornament, and all through it we are 
made to hear the chant of the students ; and so 
lifting is the melody of the verse we seem to taste 
the air, fresher and fresher as we climb. Then, 
finally, into the midst of this flows for us the eager 
intensity of the scholar. Dead as he is, we feel 
him to be alive ; never resting, pushing on inces- 
santly, beating failure beneath his feet, making it 
the step for further search for the infinite, resolute 
to live in the dull limits of the present work, but 
never content save in waiting for that eternity 
which will fulfil the failure of earth ; which, missing 
earth's success, throws itself on God, dying to gain 
the highest. This is the passion of the poem, and 
Browning is in it like a fire. It was his own, his 
very life. He pours it into the students who re- 
joice in the death of their master, and he gives it to 
us as we read the poem. And then, because con- 
ception, imagination, and intensity of thought and 
emotion all here work together, as in Abt Vogler, 


the melody of the poem is lovely, save in one verse 
which ought to be out of the poem. As to the 
conclusion, it is priceless. Such a conclusion can 
only emerge when all that precedes it finely con- 
tains it, and I have often thought that it pictures 
Browning himself. I wish he had been buried 
on a mountain-top, all Italy below him. 

Well, here's the platform, here's the proper place : 

Hail to your purlieus, 
All ye high-flyers of the feathered race, 

Swallows and curlews ! 
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 and dying. 

This is the artist at work, and I doubt whether 
all the laborious prose written, in history and 
criticism, on the revival of learning, will ever ex- 
press better than this short poem the inexhaust- 
ible thirst of the Renaissance in its pursuit of 
knowledge, or the enthusiasm of the pupils of a 
New Scholar for his desperate strife to know in a 
short life the very centre of the Universe. 

Another poem on the arts which is mixed up 
with Browning's theory of life is Andrea del Sarto. 
Into it the theory slips, like an uninvited guest into 
a dinner-party of whom it is felt that he has some 
relation to some one of the guests, but for whom 


no cover is laid. The faulty and broken life of 
Andrea, in its contrast with his flawless drawing, 
has been a favourite subject with poets. Alfred 
de Musset and others have dramatised it, and it 
seems strange that none of our soul-wrecking and 
vivisecting novehsts have taken it up for their 
amusement. Browning has not left out a single 
point of the subject. The only criticism I should 
make of this admirable poem is that, when we" 
come to the end, we dislike the woman and despise 
the man more than we pity either of them ; and in 
tragic art-work of a fine quality, pity for human 
nature with a far-off tenderness in it should remain 
as the most lasting impression. All the greater^ 
artists, even while they went to the bottom of 
sorrow and wickedness, have done this wise and 
beautiful thing, and Browning rarely omits it. 

The first art-matter in the poem is Browning's 
sketch of the sudden genesis of a picture. Andrea is 
sitting with his wife on the window-seat looking 
out to Fiesole. As he talks she smiles a weary, 
lovely, autumn smile, and, born in that instant and 
of her smile, he sees his picture, knows its atmos- 
phere, reaUses -its tone of colour, feels its prevailing 
sentiment. How he will execute it is another 
.question, and depends on other things ; but no 
better sketch could be given of the sudden spiritual 
fashion in which great pictures are generated. 
Here are the lines, and they also strike the keynote 
of Andrea's soul — that to which his life has brought 

You smile ? why, there's my picture ready made, 

There's what we painters call our harmony ! 

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. Love, we are in God's hand. 

In God's hand .' Yes, but why being free are we 
so fettered } And here slips in the unbidden guest 
of the theory. Andrea has chosen earthly lovef' 
Lucrezia is all in all ; and he has reached absolute 
perfection in drawing — 

I do what many dream of, all their lives. 

He can reach out beyond himself no more. He 
has got the earth, lost the heaven. He makes no 
error, and has, therefore, no impassioned desire 
which, flaming through the faulty picture, makes it 
greater art than his faultless work. " The soul is 
gone from me, that vext, suddenly-impassioned, 
upward-rushing thing, with its play, insight, broken 
sorrows, sudden joys, pursuing, uncontented life. 
These men reach a heaven shut out from me, 
though they cannot draw like me. No praise or 
blame affects me. I know my handiwork is perfect. 
But there burns a truer light of God in them. 
Lucrezia, I. am judged." 

Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp. 
Or what's a heaven for ? All is silver-grey, 
Placid and perfect with my art : — the worse ! 


" Here," he says, " is a piece of Rafael. The 
arm is out of drawing, and I could make it right. 
But the passion, the soul of the thing is not in me. 
Had you, my love, but urged me upward, to glory 
and God, I might have been uncontent; I might 
have done it for you. No," and again he sweeps, 
round on himself, out of his excuses, " perhaps notJ 
' incentives come from the soul's self ' ; and mine ia 
gone. I've chosen the love of you, Lucrezia, earth's 
love, and I cannot pass beyond my faultless draw- 
ing into the strife to paint those divine imaginations 
the soul conceives." "i^ 

That is the meaning of Browning. The faultless, 
almost mechanical art, the art which might be born 
of an adulterous connexion between science and 
art, is of little value to men. Not in the flawless 
painter is true art found, but in those who painted 
inadequately, yet whose pictures breathe 

Infinite passion and the pain -^a 

Of finite hearts that yearn. 

In this incessant strife to create new worlds, and 
in their creation, which, always ending in partial 
failure, forces fresh effort, lies, Browning migh't 
have said, the excuse for God having deliberately 
made us defective. Had we been made good, had 
we no strife with evil ; had we the power to embody 
at once the beauty we are capable of seeing ; could 
we have laid our hand on truth, and grasped her 
without the desperate struggle we have to win one 
fruit from her tree ; had we had no strong crying 
and tears, no agony against wrong, against our own 
passions and their work, against false views of 
things — we might have been angels; but we 


should not have had humanity and all its wild 
history, and &11 its work ; we should not have had 
that which, for all I know, may be unique in the 
universe; no, nor any of the great results of 
the battle and its misery. Had it not been for the 
defectiveness, the sin and pain, we should have 
had nothing of the interest of the long evolution 
of science, law, and government, of the charm of 
discovery, of pursuit, of the slow upbuilding of 
moral right, of the vast variety of philosophy. 
Above all, we should have had none of the great 
art men love so well, no Odyssey, Divine Comedy, 
no Hamlet, no CEdipus, no Handel, no Beethoven, 
n^spainting or sculpture where the love and sorrow 
of the soul breathe in canvas, fresco, marble, and 
bronze, no, nor any of the great and loving lives 
who suffered and overcame, from Christ to the poor 
woman who dies for love in a London lane. All 
these are made through the struggle and the 
sorrow. We should not have had, I repeat, 
humanity ; and provided no soul perishes for ever 
but lives to fiijd union with undying love, the game, 
with all its terrible sorrow, pays for the candle. 
We may find out, some day, that the existence 
and wcJr'k of humanity, crucified as it has been, 
are of untold interest and use to the universe 
— which things the angels desire to look into. If 
Browning had listened to that view, he would, I 
think, have accepted it. 

Old Pictures in Florence touches another side of 
his theory. "^In itself, it is one of Browning's half- 
humorous poems ; a pleasantly-composed piece, 
glancing here and glancing there, as a man's mind 
does when leaning over a hill-villa's parapet on a 


sunny morning in Florence. I have elsewhere 
quoted its beginning. It is a fine example of his 
Nature-poetry : it creates the scenery and atmos- 
phere of the poem ; and the four lines with which 
the fourth verse closes sketch what Browning 
thought to be one of his poetic gifts — 

And mark through the winter afternoons, 
'i By a gift God grants me now and then, 

\ In the mild decline of those suns like moons, 

Who walked in Florence, besides her men. 

This, then, is a poem of many moods, beginning 
with Giotto's Tower ; then wondering why Giotto 
did not tell the poet who loved him so much that 
one of his pictures was lying hidden in a shop where 
some one else picked it up ; then, thinking of all 
Giotto's followers, whose ghosts he imagines are 
wandering through Florence, sorrowing for the 
decay of their pictures. 

" But at least they have escaped, and have their 
holiday in heaven, and do not care one straw for 
our praise or blame. They did their work, they 
and the great masters. We call them old Masters, 
but they were new in their time ; their old Masters 
were the Greeks. They broke away from the 
Greeks and revolutionised art into a new life. In 
our turn we must break away from them." 

And now glides in the theory. " When Greek 
art reached its perfection, the hmbs which infer the 
soul, and enough of the soul to inform the Umbs, 
were faultlessly represented. Men said the best 
had been done, and aspiration and growth in art 
ceased. Content with what had been done, men 
imitated, but did not create. But man cannot 
remain without change in a past perfection; for 


then he remains in a kind of death. Even with 
failure, with faulty work, he desires to make new 
things, and in making, to be alive and feel his life. 
Therefore Giotto and the rest began to create a 
fresh aspect of humanity, which, however imperfect 
in form, would suggest an infinite perfection. The 
Greek perfection ties us down to earth, to a few 
forms, and the sooner, if it forbids us to go on, we 
reject its ideal as the only one, the better for art 
and for mankind. 

'Tis a life-long toil till our lump be leaven — 
The better ! What's come to perfection perishes. 

Things learned on earth, we shall practise in heaven : 
Works done least rapidly, Art most cherishes. 

" The great Campanile is still unfinished ; " so he 
shapes his thoughts into his scenery. Shall man 
be satisfied in art with the crystallised joy of Apollo, 
or the petrified grief of Niobe, when there are a 
million more expressions of joy and grief to render .-" 
In that way felt Giotto and his crew. " We will 
paint the whole of man," they cried, " paint his 
new hopes and joys and pains, and never pause, 
because we shall never quite succeed. We will 
paint the soul in all its infinite variety — bring the 
invisible full into play. Of course we shall miss per- 
fection — who can get side by side with infinitude ? 
— but we shall grow out of the dead perfection of 
the past, and live and move, and have our being. 

" Let the visible go to the dogs — what matters ? " 

Thus art began again. Its spring-tide came, 
dim and dewy; and the world rejoiced. 

And that is what has happened again and again 
in the history of art. Browning has painted a 


universal truth. It was that which took place 
when Wordsworth, throwing away the traditions 
of a century and all the finished perfection, as men 
thought, of the Augustan age, determined to write 
of man as man, whatever the issue; to live with 
the infinite variety of human nature, and in its 
natural simplicities. What we shall see, he thought, 
may be faulty, common, unideal, imperfect. What 
we shall write will not have the conventional per- 
fection of Pope and Gray, which all the cultivated 
world admires, and in which it rests content — 
growth and movement dead— but it will be true, 
natural, alive, running onwards to a far-off goal. 
And we who write — our loins are accinct, our 
lights burning, as men waiting for the revelation of 
the Bridegroom. Wordswor th_brou^ht back the 
soul to Poetry.. _She made her failures, but she was 
alive. Spring was blossoming around her with dews 
and living airs, and the infinite opened before her. 
So, too, it was when Turner recreated land- 
scape-art. There was the perfect Claudesque land- 
scape, with all its parts arranged, its colours chosen 
the composition balanced, the tree here, the river 
there, the figures in the foreground, the accurate 
distribution and gradation of the masses of light 
and shade. "There," the critics said, "we have 
had perfection. Let us rest in that." And all growth 
in landscape-art ceased. Then came Turner, who, 
when he had followed the old for a time' and got 
its good, broke away from it, as if in laughter. 
"What," he felt, "the infinite of Nature is before 
me ; inconceivable change and variety in earth, 
and sky, and sea — and shall I be tied down to one 
form of painting landscape, one arrangement of 


arttstic^^roperties ? Let the old gerfection^go," 
And we had our revolution in landscape-art : 
nothing, perhaps, so faultless as Claude's composi- 
tion, but life, love of Nature, and an illimitable 
range; incessant change, movement, and aspira- 
tion which have never since allowed the landscape 
artist to think that he has attained. 

On another side of the art of painting, Rossetti, 
Millais, Hunt arose ; and they said, " We will paint 
men as they actually were in the past, in the 
moments of their passion, and with their emotions 
on their faces, and with the scenery around them 
as it was ; and whatever background of Nature there 
was behind them, it shall be painted direct from the 
very work of Nature herself, and in her very colours. 
In doing this our range will become infinite. No 
doubt we shall fail. We cannot grasp the whole of 
Nature and humanity, but we shall be in their life : 
aspiring, alive, and winning more and more of 
truth." And the world of art howled at them, asi 
the world of criticism howled at Wordsworth. But| 
a new life and joy began to move in painting. Its 
winter was over, its spring had begun, its summer 
was imagined. Their drawing was faulty ; their 
colour was called crude ; they seemed to know little 
or nothing of composition ; but the Sjgirit of Life 
was in them, and their faults were worth more 
than the best successes of the school that followed 
Rafael ; for their faults proved that passion, aspi- 
ration, and originality were again alive : 

Give these, I exhort you, their guerdon and glory 
For daring so much, before they well did it. 

If ever the artist should say to himself, " What 


I desire has been attained : I can but imitate or 
follow it " ; or if the people who care for any art 
should think, " The best has been reached ; let us 
be content to rest in that perfection " ; the death 
of art has come. 

The next poem belonging to this subject is the 
second part of Pippa Passes. What concerns us 
here is that Jules, the French artist, loves Phene ; 
and on his return from his marriage pours out his 
soul to her concerning his art. 

In his work, in hisj pursuit of beauty through his 
aspirations to the oIE Greek idealj he has found 
his full content — his heaven upon earth. But 
now, living love of a woman has stolen in. How 
can he now, he asks, pursue that old ideal when he 
has the real? how carve Tydeus, with her about 
the room.? He is disturbed, thrilled, uncontent. 
A new ideal rises. How can he now 

Bid each conception stand while, trait by trait, 
My Iiand transfers its lineaments to stone? 
Will my mere fancies live near you, their truth — 
The live truth, passing and repassing me. 
Sitting beside me ? 

Before he had seen her, all the varied stuff of 
Nature, every material in her workshop, {tended to 
one form of beauty! to the human archetype. But 
now she, Phene, represents the archetype; and 
though Browning does not express this, we feel 
that if Jules continue in that opinion, his art will die. 
Then, carried away by his enthusiasm for his art, he 
passes, through a statement that Nature suggests 
in all her doings man and his life and his beauty — 
a statement Browning himself makes in Paracelsus 
— to a description of the capabilities of various stuffs 


in Nature under the sculptor's hand, and especially 
of marble as having in it the capabilities of all the 
other stuffs and also something more ; a living 
spirit in itself which aids the sculptor and even 
does some of his work. 

This is a subtle thought peculiarly characteristic 
of Browning's thinking about painting, music, poetry, 
or sculpture. I believe he felt, and if he did not, 
it is still true, that the vehicle of any art brought 
something out of itself into the work of the artist. 
Abt Vogler feels this as he plays on the instrument 
he made. Any musician who plays on two in- 
struments knows that the distinct instrument does 
distinct work, and loves each instrument for its own 
spirit ; because each makes his art, expressed in it, 
differentfromhisartexpressedin another. Even the 
same art-creation is different in two instruments : the 
vehicle does its own part of the work. Any painter 
will say the same, according as he works in fresco 
or on canvas, in water-colour, or in oil. Even a 
material like charcoal makes him work the same 
conception in a different way. I will quote the 
passage ; it goes to the root of the matter ; and 
whenever I read it, I seem to hear a well-known 
sculptor as he talked one night to me of the spirit- 
ual way in which marble, so soft and yet so firm, 
answered like living material to his tool, sending 
flame into it, and then seemed, as with a voice, 
to welcome the emotion which, flowing from him 
through the chisel, passed into the stone. 

But of the stuffs one can be master of, 
How I divined their capabilities ! 
From the soft-rinded smoothening facile chalk 
That yields your outline to the air's embrace, 


Half-softened by a halo's pearly gloom : 
Down to the crisp imperious steel, so sure 
To cut its one confided thought clean out 
Of all the world. But marble ! — 'neath my tools 
More pliable than jelly — as it were 
Some clear primordial creature dug from depths 
In the earth's heart, where itself breeds itself, 
And whence all baser substance may be worked ; 
Refine it oif to air, you may — condense it 
Down to the diamond ; — is not metal there, 
When o'er the sudden speck my chisel trips ? 
— Not flesh, as flake ofi' flake I scale, approach. 
Lay bare those bluish veins of blood asleep ? 
Lurks flame in no strange windings where, surprised 
By the swift implement sent home at once, 
Flushes and glo wings radiate and hover 
About its track ? 

But Jules finds that Phene, whom he has been 
deceived into beUeving an intelligence equal to his 
own, does not understand one word he has said, is 
nothing but an uneducated girl; and his dream 
of perfection in the marriage of Art and Love 
vanishes away, and with the deception the aims and 
hopes of his art as it has been. And Browning 
makes this happen of set purpose, in order that, 
having lost satisfaction in his art-ideal, and then 
his satisfaction in that ideal reahsed in a woman — 
having failed in Art and Love — he may pass on into 
a higher aim, with a higher conception, both of art 
and love, and make a new world, in the woman 
and in the art. He is about to accept the failure, 
to take only to revenge on his deceivers, when 
Pippa sings as she is passing, and the song touches 
him into finer issues of thought. He sees that 
Phene's soul is, like a butterfly, half-loosed from its 
chrysaiis, and ready for flight. The sight and song 
awake a tfuer love, for as yet he has loved Phene 


only through his art. Now he is impassioned with 
pity for a human soul, and his first new sculpture 
will be the creation of her soul. 

Shall to produce form out of unshaped stuff 

Be Art — and further, to evoke a soul 

From form be nothing ? This new soul is mine ! 

At last, he is borne into self-forgetfulness by 
love, and iinds a man's salvation. And in that loss 
of self he drinks of the deep fountain of art. Aprile 
found that out. Sordello dies as he discovers it, and 
Jules, the moment he has touched its waters with 
his lip, sees a new realm of art arise, and loves it 
with such joy that he knows he will have power to 
dwell in its heart, and create from its joy. 

One may do whate'er one likes 

In Art ; the only thing is, to make sure 

That one does like it — which takes pains to know. 

He breaks all his models up. They are paltry, 
dead things belonging to a dead past. " I begin," 
he cries, " art afresh, in a fresh world, 

Some unsuspected isle in far-off seas." 

The ideal that fails means the birth of a new 
ideal. The very centre of Browning as an artist is 
there : 

Held we fall to rise, are baffled to fight better, 
Sleep to wake ! 

Sordello is another example of his theory, of a 
different type from Aprile, or that poet in Pauline 
who gave Browning the sketch from which Sordello 
was conceived. But Browning, who, as I have said, 
repeated his theory, never repeated his examples : 
and Sordello is not only clearly varied from Aprile 

i68 BROWmNG 

and the person in Pauline, but the variations them- 
selves are inventively varied. The complex teiftpera- 
ment of Sordello incessantly alters its form, not only 
as he grows from youth to manhood, but as circum- 
stances meet him. They give him a shock, as a 
sUght blow does to a kaleidoscope, and the whole 
pattern of his mind changes. But as with the bits 
of coloured glass in the kaleidoscope, the elements 
of Sordello's mind remain the same. It is only 
towards the end of his career, on the forcible intro- 
duction into his Ufe of new elements from the 
outward world, that his character radically changes, 
and his soul is born. He wins that which he has 
been without from the beginning. He wins, as we 
should say, a heart. He not only begins to love 
Palma otherwise than in his dreams, but with that 
love the love of man arises — for, in characters like 
Sordello, personal love, once really stirred, is sure 
to expand beyond itself — and then, following on 
the love of man, conscience is quickened into Ufe, 
and for the first time recognises itself and its duties. 
In this new light of love and conscience, directed 
towards humanity, he looks back on his life as an 
artist, or rather. Browning means us to do so ; and 
we understand that he has done nothing worthy in 
his art ; and that even his gift of imagination has 
been without the fire of true passion. His aspira- 
tions, his phantasies, his songs, done only for his 
own sake, have been cold, and left the world cold. 
He has aspired to a life in the realm of pure 
imagination, to winning by imagination alone all 
knowledge and all love, and the power over men 
which flows from these. He is, in this aspiration, 
Paracelsus and Aprile in one. But he has neither 


the sincerity of Paracelsus nor the passion of Aprile. 
He lives in himself alone, beyond the world of 
experience, and only not conscious of those barriers 
which limit our life on which Browning dwells so 
much, because he does not bring his aspirations or 
his imaginative work to the test by shaping them 
outside of himself. He fails, that is, to create 
anything which will please or endure; fails in 
the iirst aim, the first duty of an artist. He comes 
again and again to the verge of creating something 
which may give delight to men, but only once 
succeeds, when by chance, in a moment of excited 
impulse, caused partly by his own vanity, and partly 
by the waves of humanity at Palma's Court of 
Love beating on his soul, he breaks for a passing 
hour into the song which conquers Eglamor. When, 
at the end, he does try to shape himself without 
for the sake of men he is too late for this life. 
He dies of the long struggle, of the revelation 
of his failure and the reasons of it, of the supreme 
light which falls 'on his wasted life ; and yet not 
wasted, since even in death he has found his soul 
and all it means. His imagination, formerly only 
intellectual, has become emotional as well ; he loves 
mankind, and sacrifices fame, power, and knowledge 
to its welfare. He no longer thinks to avoid, by 
living only in himself, the baffling limitations which 
inevitably trouble human life; but now desires, 
working within these limits, to fix his eyes on the 
ineffable Love ; failing but making every failure a 
ladder on which to climb to higher things. This 
— the true way of life — he finds out as he dies. To 
have that spirit, and to work in it, is the very 
life of art. To pass for ever out of and beyond 


one's self is to the artist the lesson of Sordello's 

It is hardly learnt. The self in Sordello, the self 
of imagination unwarmed by love of men, is driven 
out of the artist with strange miseries, battles, and 
despairs, and these Browning describes with such 
inventiveness that at the last one is inclined to say, 
with all the pitiful irony of Christ, " This kind goeth 
not forth but with prayer and fasting." 

The position in the poem is at root the same 
as that in Tennyson's Palace of Art. These two 
poets found, about the same time, the same idea, and, 
independently, shaped it into poems. Tennyson put 
it into the form of a vision, the defect of which was 
that it was too far removed from common experience. 
Browning put it into the story of a man's life. 
Tennyson expressed it with extraordinary clearness, 
simplicity, and with a wealth of lovely ornament, so 
rich that it somewhat overwhelmed the main lines 
of his conception. Browning expressed it with 
extraordinary complexity, subtlety, and obscurity of 
diction. But when we take the trouble of getting 
to the bottom of Sordello, we find ourselves where 
we do not find ourselves in The Palace of Art — we 
find ourselves in close touch and friendship with 
a man, living with him, sympathising with him, 
pitying him, blessing him, angry and delighted with 
him, amazingly interested in his labyrinthine way of 
thinking and feeling ; we follow with keen interest 
his education, we see a soul in progress; we 
wonder what he will do next, what strange turn 
we shall come to in his mind, what new effort he 
will make to realise himself ; and, loving him right 
through from his childhood to his death, we are 


quite satisfied when he dies. At the back of this, 
and complicating it still more; but, when we 
arrive at seeing it clearly, increasing the interest of 
the poem, is a great to-and-f ro of humanity at a time 
when humanity was alive and keen and full of at- 
tempting ; when men were savagely original, when 
life was lived to its last drop, and when a new world 
was dawning. Of all this outside humanity there 
is not a trace in Tennyson, and Browning could 
not have got on without it. Of course, it made his 
poetry difficult. We cannot get excellences without 
their attendant defects. We have a great deal to 
forgive in Sordello. But for the sake of the vivid 
humanity we forgive it all. 

Sordello begins as a boy, living alone in a castle 
near Mantua, built in a gorge of the low hills, and 
the description of the scenery of the castle, without 
and within, is one example of the fine ornament of 
which Sordello is so full. There, this rich and 
fertile nature lives, fit to receive delight at every 
sense, fit to shape what is received into imaginative 
pictures within, but not without ; content with the 
contemplation of his own imaginings. At first it 
is Nature from whom Sordello receives impressions, 
and he amuses himself with the fancies he draws 
from her. But he never shapes his emotion into 
actual song. Then tired of Nature, he dreams him- 
self into the skin and soul of all the great men of 
whom he has read. He becomes them in himself, 
as Pauline's lover has done before him ; but one 
by one they fade into unreality — for he knows 
nothing of men — and the last projection of himself 
into Apollo, the Lord of Poetry, is the most unreal 
of them all : at which phantasy all the woods and 


streams and sunshine round Goito are infinitely 
amused. Thus, when he wants sympathy, he does 
not go down to Mantua and make song for the 
crowd of men ; he invaits in dreams a host of 
sympathisers, all of whom are but himself in other 
forms. Even when he aims at perfection, and, 
making himself Apollo, longs for a Daphne to 
double his Uf e, his soul is still such stuff as dreams 
are made of, till he wakes one morning to ask 
himself : " When will this dream be truth ? " 

This is the artist's temperament in youth when 
he is not possessed of the greater qualities of gen- 
ius — his imaginative visions, his aspirations, his 
pride in apartness from men, his self-contentment, 
his sloth, the presence in him of barren imagination, 
the absence from it of the spiritual, nothing in him 
which as yet desires, through the sorrow and strife 
of life, God's infinitude, or man's love; a natural 
life indeed, forgivable, gay, sportive, dowered with 
happy self-love, good to pass through and enjoy, 
but better to leave behind. But Sordello will not 
become the actual artist till he lose his self- 
involvement and find his soul, not only in love of 
his Daphne but in love of man. And the first 
thing he will have to do is that which Sordello 
does not care to do — to embody before men in 
order to give them pleasure or impulse, to console 
or exalt them, some of the imaginations he has 
enjoyed within himself. Nor can Sordello's imagi- 
nation reach true passion, for it ignores that which 
chiefly makes the artist ; union with the passions 
of mankind. Only when near to death does he 
outgrow the boy of Goito, and then we find that 
he has ceased to be the artist. Thus, the poem is 


the history of the far are of a man with an artistic 
temperament to be an artist. Or rather, that is 
part of the story of the poem, and, as Browning 
was an artist himself, a part which is of the greatest 

Sordello, at the close of the first book, is wearied 
of dreams. Even in his solitude, the limits of life 
begin to oppress him. Time fleets, fate is tardy, 
life will be over before he lives. Then an accident 
helps him — 

Which breaking on Sordello's mixed content 
Opened, like any flash that cures the blind, 
The veritable business of mankind. 

This accident is the theme of the second book. 
It belongs to the subject of this chapter, for it 
contrasts two types of the artist, Eglamor and 
Sordello, and it introduces Naddo, the critic, with 
a good knowledge of poetry, with a great deal of 
common sense, with an inevitable sliding into the 
opinion that what society has stamped must be 
good — a mixed personage, and a sketch done with 
Browning's humorous and pitying skill. 

The contrast between Eglamor and Sordello runs 
through the whole poem. Sordello recalls Eglamor 
at the last, and Naddo appears again and again to 
give the worldly as well as the common-sense 
solution of the problems which Sordello makes for 
himself. Eglamor is the poet who has no genius, 
whom one touch of genius burns into nothing, but 
who, having a charming talent, employs it well ; 
and who is so far the artist that what he feels he 
is able to shape gracefully, and to please mankind 
therewith; who, moreover loves, enjoys, and is 


wholly possessed with what he shapes in song. 
This is good ; but then he is quite satisfied with 
what he does ; he has no aspiration, and all the 
infinitude of beauty is lost to him. And when 
Sordello takes up his incomplete song, finishes it, 
inspires, expands what Eglamor thought perfect, he 
sees at last that he has only a graceful talent, that 
he has lived in a vain show, hke a gnome in a cell 
of the rock of gold. Genius, momentarily realising 
itself in Sordello, reveals itself to Eglamor with all 
its infinities ; Heaven and Earth and the universe 
open on Eglamor, and the revelation of what he is, 
and of the perfection beyond, kills him. That is a 
fine, true, and piteous sketch. 

But Sordello, who is the man of possible genius, 
is not much better off. There has been one out- 
break into reality at Palma's Court of Love. Every 
one, afterwards, urges him to sing. The critics 
gather round him. He makes poems, he becomes 
the accepted poet of Northern Italy. But he 
cannot give continuous delight to the world. His 
poems are not like his song before Palma. They 
have no true passion, being woven like a spider's 
web out of his own inside. His case then is more 
pitiable, his failure more complete, than Eglamor' s. 
Eglamor could shape something ; he had his own 
enjoyment, and he gave pleasure to men. Sordello, 
lured incessantly towards abstract ideals, lost in 
their contemplation, is smitten, like Aprile, into 
helplessness by the multitudinousness of the images 
he sees, refuses to descend into real life and submit 
to its limitations, is driven into the slothfulness of 
that 'dreaming imagination which is powerless to 
embody its images in the actual song. Sometimes 


he tries to express himself, longing for reality. 
When he tries he fails, and instead of making 
failure a step to higher effort, he falls back 
impatiently on himself, and is lost in himself. 
Moreover, he tries always within himself, and with 
himself for judge. He does not try the only thing 
which would help him — the submission of his 
work to the sympathy and judgment of men. Out 
of touch with any love save love of his own im- 
aginings, he cannot receive those human impres- 
sions which kindle the artist into work, nor answer 
the cry which comes from mankind, with such 
eagerness, to genius — " Express for us in clear 
form that which we vaguely feel. Make us see and 
admire and love." Then he ceases even to love song, 
because, though he can imagine everything, he can 
do nothing; and deaf to the voices of men, he 
despises man. Finally he asks himself, like so 
many young poets who have followed his way, 
What is the judgment of the world worth .' Nothing 
at all, he answers. With that ultimate folly, the 
favourite resort of minor poets, Sordello goes 
altogether wrong. He pleases nobody, not even 
himself ; spends his time in arguing inside himself 
why he has not succeeded ; and comes to no con- 
clusion, except that total failure is the necessity of 
the world. At last one day, wandering from Mantua, 
he finds himself in his old environment, in the 
mountain cup where Goito and the castle lie. And 
the old dream, awakened by the old associations, 
that he was Apollo, Lord of Song, rushed back 
upon him and enwrapped him wholly. He feels, in 
the blessed silence, that he is no longer what he 
has been of late. 


a pettish minstrel meant 
To wear away his soul in discontent, 
Brooding on fortune's malice, 

but himself once more, freed from the world of 
Mantua ; alone again, but in his loneliness really 
more lost than he was at Mantua, as we soon find 
out in the third book. 

I return, in concluding this chapter, to the point 
which bears most clearly on Browning as the poet of 
art. The only time when Sordello realises what it is 
to be an artist is when, swept out of himself by the 
kindled emotion of the crowd at the Court of Love 
and inspired also by the true emotion of Eglamor's 
song, which has been made because he loved it — 
his imagination is impassioned enough to shape for 
man the thing within him, outside of himself, and 
to sing for the joy of singing — having forgotten 
himself, in mankind, in their joy and in his own. 

But it was little good to him. When he stole 
home to Goito in a dream, he sat down to think 
over the transport he had felt, why he felt it, how 
he was better than Eglamor ; and at last, having 
missed the whole use of the experience (which was 
to draw him into the service of man within the 
limits of hfe but to always transcend the limits in 
aspiration), he falls away from humanity into his 
own self again; and perfectly happy for the moment, 
but lost as an artist and a man, lies lazy, filleted and 
robed on the turf, with a lute beside him, looking 
over the landscape below the castle and fancying 
himself Apollo. This is to have the capacity to be 
an artist, but it is not to be an artist. And we leave 
Sordello lying on the grass enjoying himself, but not 
destined on that account to give any joy to man. 



THE period in which the poem of Sordello 
opens is at the end of the first quarter of the 
thirteenth century, at the time when the Guelf 
cities allied themselves against the Ghibellines in 
Northern Italy. They formed the Lombard League, 
and took their private quarrels up into one great 
quarrel — that between the partisans of the Em- 
pire and those of the Pope. Sordello is then a 
young man of thirty years. He was born in 1194, 
when the fierce fight in the streets of Vicenza took 
place which Salinguerra describes, as he looks back 
on his Kfe, in the fourth canto of this poem. The 
child is saved in that battle, and brought from 
Vicenza by Adelaide, the second wife of Ezzelino 
da Romano II.,* to Goito. He is really the son of 
Salinguerra and Retrude, a connection of Fred- 
erick II., but Adelaide conceals this, and brings 
him up as her page, alleging that he is the son of 
Elcorte, an archer. Palma (or Cunizza), Ezzelino's 
daughter by Agnes Este, his first wife, is also at 
Goito in attendance on Adelaide. Sordello and she 
meet as girl and boy, and she becomes one of the 

* Browning spells this name Ecelin, probably for easier use in 

N 177 


dreams with which his lonely youth at Goito is 

At Adelaide's death Palma discovers the real 
birth of Sordello. She has heard him sing some 
time before at a Love-court, where he won the 
prize ; where she, admiring, began to love him ; and 
this love of hers has been increased by his poetic 
fame which has now filled North Italy. She 
summons him to her side at Verona, makes him 
understand that she loves him, and urges him, as 
Salinguerra's son, to take the side of the Ghibel- 
lines to whose cause Salinguerra, the strongest 
military adventurer in North Italy, has now de- 
voted himself. When the poem begins, Salin- 
guerra has received from the Emperor the badge 
which gives him the leadership of the Ghibelline 
party in North Italy. 

Then Palma, bringing Sordello to see Salinguerra, 
reveals to the great partisan that Sordello is his 
son, and that she loves him. SaUnguerra, seeing 
in the union of Palma, daughter of the Lord of 
Romano, with his son, a vital source of strength to 
the Emperor's party, throws the Emperor's badge 
on his son's neck, and offers him the leadership 
of the Ghibellines. Palma urges him to accept it ; 
but Sordello has been already convinced that the 
Guelf side is the right one to take for the sake of 
mankind. Rome, he thinks, is the great uniting 
power ; only by Rome can the cause of peace and 
the happiness of the people be in the end secured. 
That cause — the cause of a happy people — is the 
one thing for which, after many dreams centred in 
self, Sordello has come to care. He is sorely 
tempted by the love of Palma and by the power 


offered him to give up that cause or to palter 
with it ; yet in the end his soul resists the tempta- 
tion. But the part of his life, in which he has 
neglected his body, has left him without physical 
strength ; and now the struggle of his soul to do 
right in this spiritual crisis gives the last blow to 
his weakened frame. His heart breaks, and he 
dies at the moment when he dimly sees the true 
goal of life. This is a masterpiece of the irony of 
the Fate-Goddess; and a faint suspicion of this 
irony, underlying Uf e, even though Browning turns 
it round into final good, runs in and out of the 
whole poem in a winding thread of thought. 

This is the historical background of the poem, 
and in front of it are represented Sordello, his life, 
his development as an individual soul, and his 
death. I have, from one point of view, slightly 
analysed the first two books of the poem, but to 
analyse the whole would be apart from the purpose 
of this book. My object in this and the following 
chapter is to mark out, with here and there a piece 
of explanation, certain characteristics of the poem 
in relation, first, to the time in which it is placed ; 
secondly, to the development of Sordello in contact 
with that time ; and thirdly, to our own time ; then 
to trace the connection of the poem with the poetic 
evolution of Browning ; and finally, to dwell through- 
out the whole discussion on its poetic qualities. 

I. The time in which the poem's thought and 
action are placed is the beginning of the thirteenth 
century in North Italy, a period in which the 
religious basis of life, laid so enthusiastically in the 
eleventh century, and gradually weakening through 
the twelfth, had all but faded away for the mediae- 

i8o BROWJSrmG 

val noble and burgher, and even for the clergy. 
Religion, it is true, was confessed and its dogmas 
believed in; the Cistercian revival had restored 
some of its lost influence, but it did not any longer 
restrain the passions, inodify the wickedness, control 
the ambitions, or subdue the world, in the heart of 
men, as it had done in the eleventh century. There 
was in Italy, at least, an unbridled Ucence of life, a 
fierce individuality, which the existence of a num- 
ber of small republics encouraged; and, in conse- 
quence, a wild confusion of thought and act in every 
sphere of human life. Moreover, all through the 
twelfth century there had been a reaction among the 
artistic and literary _men against the theory of life 
laid down by the monks, and against the merely 
saintly aims and practice of the religious, of which 
that famous passage in Aucassin and Nicolete is an 
embodiment. Then, too, the love poetry (a poetry 
which tended to throw monkish purity aside) started 
in the midst of the twelfth century; then the trouba- 
dours began to sing; and then the love-songs of 
Germany arqse. And Italian poetry, a poetry which 
tended to repel the religion of the spirit for the re- 
ligion of enjoyment, had begun in Sicily and Siena 
in 1172-78, and was nurtured in the Sicilian Court 
of Frederick II., while Sordello was a youth. All 
over Europe, poetry drifted into a secular poetry of 
love and war and romance. The religious basis of 
Hfe had lost its strength. As to North Italy, 
where our concern lies, humanity there was welter- 
ing Hke a sea, tossing up and down, with no direc- 
tion in its waves. It was not till Francis of Assisi 
came that a new foundation for religious life, a new 
direction for it, began to be established. As to 


Law, Government, Literature, and Art, all their 
elements were in equal confusion. Every noble, 
every warrior who reached ascendency, or was 
born to it, made his own laws and governed as ,he 
liked. Every little city had its own fashions and 
its own aims ; and was continually fighting, driven 
by jealousy, envy, hatred, or emulation, with its 
neighbours. War was the incessant business of 
life, and was carried on not only against neighbour- 
ing cities, but by each city in its own streets, from 
its own towers, where noble fought against noble, 
citizen with citizen, and servant with servant. 
Literature was only trying to begin, to find its 
form, to find its own Itallian tongue, to understand 
what it desired. It took more than a century after 
Sordello's youth to shape itself into the poetry of 
Dante and Petrarch, into their prose and the prose 
of Boccaccio. The Vita Nuova was set forth in 
1290-93, the Decameron in 1350-53, and Petrarch 
was crowned at Rome in 1341. And the arts of 
sculpture and painting were in the same condition. 
They were struggling towards a new utterance, but 
as yet they could not speak. 

It is during this period of impassioned confusion 
and struggle towards form, during this carnival of 
individuality, that Sordello, as conceived by Brown- 
ing, a modern in the midst of medisevalism, an 
exceptional character wholly unfitted for the time, 
is placed by Browning. And the clash between 
himself and his age is too much for him. He dies 
of it ; dies of the striving to find an anchorage for 
life, and of his inability to find it in this chartless 
sea. But the world of men, incessantly recruited 
by new generations, does not die like the individual, 


and what Sordello could not do, it did. It emerged 
from this confusion in the thirteenth and fourteenth 
centuries, with S. Francis, Dante, Petrarch, and Boc- 
caccio, the Pisani, Giotto, and the Commonwealth 
of Florence. Religion, Poetry, Prose, Sculpture, 
Painting, Government, and Law found new foun- 
dations. The Renaissance began to dawn, and 
during its dawn kept, among the elect of mankind, 
all or nearly all the noble impulses and faith of 

This dawn of the Renaissance is nearly a hundred 
years away at the time of this poem, yet two of its 
characteristics vitally moved through this transi 
tion period; and, indeed, while they continued even 
to the end of the Renaissance, were powers which 
brought it about. The first of these was a boundless 
curiosity about life, and the second was an intense 
individuality. No one can read the history of the 
Italian Republics in the thirteenth century without 
incessantly coming into contact with both these 
elements working fiercely, confusedly, without ap- 
parently either impulse or aim, but producing a 
wonderful activity of life, out of which, by com- 
mand as it were of the gods, a new-created world 
might rise into order. It was as if chaos were 
stirred, like a cauldron with a stick, that suns 
and planets, moving by living law, might emerge 
in beauty. Sordello Uved in the first whirling of 
these undigested elements, and could only dream 
of what might be ; but it was life in which he 
moved, disorderly life, it is true, but not the 
dread disorder of decay. Browning paints it 
with delight. 

This unbridled curiosity working in men of un- 


bridled individuality produced a tumbling confusion 
in life. Men, full of eagerness, each determined to 
fulfil his own will, tried every kind of life, attempted 
every kind of pursuit, strove to experience all the 
passions, indulged their passing impulses to the full, 
and when they were wearied of any experiment in 
living passed on to the next, not with weariness 
but with fresh excitement. Cities, small republics, 
did the same collectively — Ferrara, Padua, Verona, 
Mantua, Milan, Parma, Florence, Pisa, Siena, Pe- 
rugia. Both cities and citizens lived in a nervous 
storm, and at every impulse passed into furious 
activity. In five minutes a whole town was up in 
the market-place, the bells rang, the town banner 
was displayed, and in an hour the citizens were 
marching out of the gates to attack the neighbouring 
city. A single gibe in the streets, or at the church 
door, interchanged between one noble and another 
of opposite factions, and the gutters of the streets 
ran red with the blood of a hundred men. This 
then was the time of Sordello, and splendidly has 
Browning represented it. 

2. Sordello is the image of this curiosity and 
individuality, but only inwardly. In the midst of 
this turbulent society Browning creates him with 
the temperament of a poet, living in a solitary 
youth, apart from arms and the wild movement of 
the world. His soul is full of the curiosity of the 
time. The inquisition of his whole life is, " What 
is the life most worth living .' How shall I attain 
it, in what way make it mine .' " and then, " What 
sort of lives are lived by other men ? " and, finally, 
" What is the happiest life for the whole .' " The 
curiosity does not drive him, like the rest of the 


world, into action in the world. It expands only 
in thought and dreaming. But however he may 
dream, however wrapt in self he may be, his 
curiosity about these matters never lessens for a 
moment. Even in death it is his ruling passion. 
Along with this he shares fully in the impassioned 
individuality of the time. Browning brings that 
forward continually. All the dreams of his youth 
centre in himself ; Nature becomes the reflection of 
himself ; all histories of great men he represents as 
in himself ; finally, he becomes to himself Apollo, 
the incarnation of poetry. But he does not seek 
to realise his individuality, any more than his 
curiosity, in action. When he is drawn out of 
himself at Mantua and sings for a time to please 
men, he finds that the public do not understand 
him, and flies back to his solitude, back to his 
own soul. And Mantua, and love, and adventure 
all die within him. " I have all humanity," he says, 
" within myself — why then should I seek human- 
ity .? " This is the way the age's passion for individ- 
uality shows itself in him. Other men put it into 
love, war, or adventure. He does not; he puts it 
into the lonely building-up of his own soul. Even 
when he is brought into the midst of the action of 
the time we see that he is apart from it. As he 
wanders through the turmoil of the streets of Fer- 
rara in Book iv., he is dreaming still of his own 
life, of his own soul. His curiosity, wars, and 
adventures are within. The various lives he is 
anxious to live are lived in lonely imaginations. 
The individuality he realises is in thought. At 
this point then he is apart from his century — an 
exceptional temperament set in strong contrast to 


the world around him — the dreamer face to face 
with a mass of men all acting with intensity. And 
the common result takes place; the exceptional 
breaks down against the steady and terrible pull of 
the ordinary. It is Hamlet over again, and when 
Sordello does act it is just as Hamlet does, by a 
sudden impulse which lifts him from dreaming into 
momentary action, out of which, almost before he 
has realised he is acting, he slips back again into 
dreams. And his action seems to him the dream, 
and his dream the activity. That saying of Hamlet's 
would be easy on the lips of Sordello, if we take "bad 
dreams" to mean for him what they meant for Ham- 
let the moment he is forced to action in the real 
world — "I could be bounded in a nut-shell and 
think myself king of infinite space, had I not bad 
dreams." When he is surprised into action at the 
Court of Love at Mantua, and wins the prize of song, 
he seems to slip back into a sleepy cloud. But Palma, 
bending her beautiful face over him and giving him 
her scarf, wins him to stay at Mantua ; and for a 
short time he becomes the famous poet. But he is 
disappointed. That which he felt himself to be (the 
supernal greatness of his individuality) is not recog- 
nised, and at last he feels that to act and fight his 
way through a world which appreciates his isolated 
greatness so little as to dare to criticise him, is im- 
possible. We have seen in the last chapter how he 
slips back to Goito, to his contemplation of himself in 
Nature, to his self-communion, to the dreams which 
do not contradict his opinion of himself. The mo- 
mentary creator perishes in the dreamer. He gives 
up life, adventure, love, war, and he finally sur- 
renders his art. No more poetry for him. 


It is thus that a character feeble for action, but 
mystic in imagination, acts in the petulance of 
youth when it is pushed into a clashing, claiming 
world. In this mood a year passes by in vague 
content. Yet a little grain of conscience makes 
him sour. He is vexed that his youth is gone with 
all its promised glow, pleasure, and action ; and the 
vexation is suddenly deepened by seeing a great 
change in the aspect of Nature. " What," he thinks, 
when he sees the whole valley filled with Mincio in 
flood, "can Nature in this way renew her youth, 
and not I .' Alas ! I cannot so renew myself; youth 
is over." But if youth be dead, manhood remains ; 
and the curiosity and individuality of the age stir in 
him again. "I must find," he thinks, "the fitting 
kind of life. I must make men feel what I am. 
But how ; what do I want for this .' I want some 
outward power to draw me forth and upward, as 
the moon draws the waters ; to lead me to a life in 
which I may know mankind, in order that I may 
take out of men all I need to make myself xxAo per- 
fect form — a full poet, able to impose my genius 
on mankind, and to lead them where I will. What 
force can draw me out of these dreaming solitudes 
in which I fail to reahse my art .' Why, there is 
none so great as love. Palma who smiled on me, 
she shall be my moon." At that moment, when 
he is again thrilled with curiosity concerning life, 
again desirous to realise his individuality in the 
world of men, a message comes from Palma. " Come, 
there is much foryou to do — come to me at Verona." 
She lays a political career before him. " Take the 
Kaiser's cause, you and I together; build a new 
Italy under the Emperor." And Sordello is fired by 


the thought, not as yet for the sake of doing good 
to man, but to satisfy his curiosity in a new life, 
and to edify his individual soul into a perfection 
unattained as yet. " I will go," he thinks, " and be 
the spirit in this body of mankind, wield, animate, 
and shape the people of Italy, make them the form 
in which I shall express myself. It is not enough 
to act, in imagination, all that man is, as I have 
done. I will now make men act by the force of my 
spirit : North Italy shall be my body, and thus I 
shall realise myself " — as if one could, with that 
self-contemplating motive, ever realise personality. 

This, then, is the position of Sordello in the 
period of history I have pictured, and it carries him 
to the end of the third book of the poem. It has 
embodied the history of his youth — of his first 
contact with the world ; of his retreat from it into 
thought over what he has gone through ; and of 
his reawakening into a fresh questioning — how he 
shall realise life, how manifest himself in action. 
" What shall I do as a poet, and a man ? " 

3. The next thing to be said of Sordello is its 
vivid realisation of certain aspects of mediaeval life. 
Behind this image of the curious dreamer lost in 
abstractions, and vividly contrasted with it, is the 
fierce activity of mediaeval cities and men in inces- 
sant war ; each city, each man eager to make his 
own individuality supreme ; and this is painted by 
Browning at the very moment when the two great 
parties were formed, and added to personal war the 
intensifying power of two ideals. This was a field 
for imagination in which Browning was sure to revel, 
like a wild creature of the woods on a summer day. 
He had the genius of places, of portraiture, and of 


sudden flashes of action and passion ; and the tim 
of which he wrote supplied him with full matte 
for these several capacities of genius. 

When we read in Sordello of the fierce outburst 
of war in the cities of North Italy, we know th: 
Browning saw them with his eyes and shared the: 
fury and delight. Verona is painted in the firs 
book just as the news arrives that her prince i 
captive in Ferrara. It is evening, a still and flan 
ing sunset, and soft sky. In dreadful contrast t 
this burning silence of Nature is the wrath an 
hate which are seething in the market-plac( 
Group talked with restless group, and not a fac 

But wrath made livid, for among them were 

Death's staunch purveyors, such as have in care 

To feast him. Fear had long since taken root 

In every breast, and now these crushed its fruit, 

The ripe hate, lilce a wine ; to note the way 

It worked while each grew drunk ! Men grave and grey 

Stood, with shut eyelids, rocking to and fro, 

Letting the silent luxury trickle slow 

About the hollows where a heart should be ; 

But the young gulped with a delirious glee 

Some foretaste of their first debauch in blood 

At the fierce news. 

Step by step the varying passions, varying wit 
the men of the varied cities of the League assen 
bled at Verona, are smitten out on the anvil c 
Browning's imagination. Better still is the coi 
tinuation of the same scene in the third book, whe 
the night has come, and the raging of the peopL 
reaching its height, declares war. Palma an 
Sordello, who are in the palace looking on th 
square, lean out to see and hear. On the blac 
balcony beneath them, in the still air, amid a gus 


of torch-fire, the grey-haired counsellors harangue 
the people ; 

Sea-like that people surging to and fro 
Shouted, "Hale forth the carroch — trumpets, ho, 
A flourish ! Run it in the ancient grooves ! 
Back from the bell ! Hammer — that whom behoves 
May hear the League is up ! 

Then who will may read the dazzling account 
of the streets of Ferrara thick with corpses; of 
Padua, of Bassano streaming blood ; of the wells 
chokef ul of carrion, of him who catches in his spur, 
as he is kicking his feet when he sits on the well 
and singing, his own mother's face by the grey 
hair ; of the sack of Vicenza in the fourth book ; of 
the procession of the envoys of the League through 
the streets of Ferrara, with ensigns, war-cars, and 
clanging bells; of the wandering of Sordello at 
night through the squares blazing with fires, and 
the soldiers camped around them singing and 
shouting ; of his soUtary silent thinking contrasted 
with their noise and action — and he who reads 
will know, as if he lived in them, the fierce Italian 
towns of the thirteenth century. 

Nor is his power less when he describes the soli- 
tary silent places of mediaeval castles, palaces, and 
their rooms ; of the long, statue-haunted, cypress- 
avenued gardens, a waste of flowers and wild 
undergrowth. We wander, room by room, through 
Adelaide's castle at Goito, we see every beam in 
the ceiling, every figure on the tapestry ; we walk 
with Browning through the dark passages into the 
dim-lighted chambers of the town palace at Verona, 
and hang over its balconies ; we know the gardens 


at Goito, and the lonely woods ; and we keep pac« 
with Sordello through those desolate paths and 
ilex-groves, past the fountains lost in the wilderness 
of foliage, climbing from terrace to terrace where 
the broken statues, swarming with wasps, gleam 
among the leering aloes and the undergrowth, in 
the garden that SaUnguerra made for his Sicilian 
wife at Ferrara. The words seem as it were to 
flare the ancient places out before the eyes. 

Mixed up with all this painting of towns, castles, 
and gardens there is some natural description. 
Browning endeavours, it is plain, to keep that 
within the mediaeval sentiment. But that he should 
succeed in that was impossible. The mediaeval 
folk had little of our specialised sentiment for 
landscape, and Browning could not get rid of it 

The modern philosophies of Nature do not, how- 
ever, appear in Sordello as they did in Pauline or 
Paracelsus. Only once in the whole of Sordello is 
Nature conceived as in analogy with man, and 
Browning says this in a parenthesis. " Life is in 
the tempest," he cries, " thought 

" Clothes the keen hill-top ; mid-day woods are fiaught 
With fervours " : 

but, in spite of the mediaeval environment, the 
modern way of seeing Nature enters into all his 
descriptions. They are none the worse for it, and 
do not jar too much with the mediaeval mise- 
en-scine. We expect our modern sentiment, and 
Sordello himself, being in many ways a modern, 
seems to licence these descriptions. Most of them 
also occur when he is on the canvas, and are a 
background to his thought. Moreover, they are 


not set descriptions; they are flashed out, as it 
were, in a few lines, as if they came by chance, 
and are not pursued into detail. Indeed, they are 
not done so much for the love of Nature herself, 
as for passing illustrations of Sordello's ways of 
thought and feeling upon matters which are not 
Nature. As such, even in a mediaeval poem, they 
are excusable. And vivid they are in colour, in 
light, in reality. Some I have already isolated. 
Here are a few more, just to show his hand. This 
is the castle and its scenery, described in Book i. : 

In Mantua territory half is slough, 
Half pine-tree forest : maples, scarlet oaks 
Breed o'er the river-beds ; even Mincio chokes 
With sand the summer through : but 'tis morass 
In winter up to Mantua's walls. There was, 
Some thirty years before this evening's coil, 
One spot reclaimed from the surrounding spoil, 
Goito ; just a castle built amid 
A few low mountains ; firs and larches hid 
Their main defiles, and rings of vineyard bound 
The rest. Some captured creature in a pound, 
Whose artless wonder quite precludes distress, 
Secure beside in its own loveliness, 
So peered, with airy head, below, above 
The castle at its toils, the lapwings love 
To glean among at grape time. 

And this is the same place from the second book : 

And thus he wandered, dumb 
Till evening, when he paused, thoroughly spent. 
On a blind hill-top : down the gorge he went, 
Yielding himself up as to an embrace. 
The moon came out ; like features of a face, 
A querulous fraternity of pines, 
Sad blackthorn clumps, leafless and grovelling vines 
Also came out, made gradually lip 
The picture ; 'twas Goito's mountain-cup 
And castle. 


And here, from Book iii., is Spring when Palma, 
dreaming of the man she can love, cries that the 
waking earth is in a thrill to welcome him — 
"Waits he not the waking year? 
His almond-blossoms must be honey-ripe 
By this ; to welcome him fresh runnels stripe 
The thawed ravines ; because of him the wind 
Walks like a herald." 

This is May from Book ii. ; and afterwards, in the 
third book, the months from Spring to Summer — 

My own month came ; 
'Twas a sunrise of blossoming and May. 
Beneath a flowering laurel thicket lay 
Sordello ; each new sprinkle of white stars 
That smell fainter of wine than Massic jars 
Dug up at Baiae, when the south wind shed 
The ripest, made him happier. 
Not any stroUings now at even-close 
Down the field path, Sordello ! by thorn-rows 
Alive with lamp-flies, swimming spots of fire 
And dew, outlining the black cypress-spire 
She waits you at, Elys, who heard you first 
Woo her, the snow month through, but, ere she durst 
Answer 'twas April. Linden-flower-time long 
Her eyes were on the ground ; 'tis July, strong 
Now ; and, because white dust-clouds overwhelm 
The woodside, here, or by the village elm 
That holds the moon, she meets you, somewhat pale. 

And here are two pieces of the morning, one of 
the wide valley of Naples ; another with which the 
poem ends, pure modern, for it does not belong to 
Sordello's time, but to our own century. This is 
from the fourth book. 

Morning o'er earth ; he yearned for all it woke — 
From the volcano's vapour-flag, winds hoist 
Black o'er the spread of sea, — down to the moist 
Dale's silken barley-spikes sullied with rain, 
Swayed earthwards, heavily to rise again. 


And this from the last book — 

Lo, on a heathy brown and nameless hill 

By sparkling Asolo, in mist and chill, 

Morning just up, higher and higher runs 

A child barefoot and rosy. See ! the sun's 

On the square castle's inner-court's low wall 

Like the chine of some extinct animal 

Half-turned to earth and flowers ; and through the haze, 

(Save where some slender patches of grey maize 

Are to be over-leaped) that boy has crossed 

The whole hill-side of dew and powder-frost 

Matting the balm and mountain camomile. 

Up and up goes he, singing all the while 

Some unintelligible words to beat 

The lark, God's poet, swooning at his feet. 

As alive, and even clearer in outline than these 
natural descriptions, are the portraits in Sordello 
of the people of the time. No one can mistake 
them for modern folk. I do not speak of the 
portrait of Sordello — that is chiefly of the soul, 
not of the body — but of the personages who fill 
the background, the heads of noble houses, the 
warriors, priests, soldiers, singers, the women, and 
chiefly Adelaide and Palma. These stand before us 
as Tintoret or Veronese might have painted them 
had they lived on into the great portrait-century. 
Their dress, their attitudes, their sudden gestures, 
their eyes, hair, the trick of their mouths, their 
armour, how they walked and talked and read and 
wrote, are all done in quick touches and jets of 
colour. Each is distinct from the others, each a 
type. A multitude of cabinet sketches of men 
are made in the market-places, in castle rooms, 
on the roads, in the gardens, on the bastions 
of the towns. Take as one example the Pope's 
Legate : 


With eyes, like fresh-blown thrush-eggs on a thread, 

Faint-blue and loosely floating in his head, 

Large tongue, moist open mouth ; and this long while 

That owner of the idiotic smile 

Serves them ! 

Nor does Browning confine himself to personages 
of Sordello's time. There are admirable portraits, 
but somewhat troubled by unnecessary matter, of 
Dante, of Charlemagne, of Hildebrand. One elab- 
orate portrait is continued throughout the poem. 
It is that of Salinguerra, the man of action as con- 
trasted with Sordello the dreamer. Much pains 
are spent on this by Browning. We see him first 
in the streets of Ferrara. 

Men understood 
, Living was pleasant to him as he wore 

His careless surcoat, glanced some missive o'er, 
Propped on his truncheon in the public way. 

Then at the games at Mantua, when he is told 
Sordello will not come to sing a welcome to him. 
What cares he for poet's whims .' 

The easy-natured soldier smiled assent. 
Settled his portly person, smoothed his chin, 
And nodded that the bull-bait might begin. 

Then mad with fighting frenzy in the sacking of 
Vicenza, then in his palace nursing his scheme to 
make the Emperor predominant, then pacing like a 
lion, hot with hope of mastering all Italy, when he 
finds out that Sordello is his son : " hands clenched, 
head erect, pursuing his discourse — crimson ear, 
eyeballs suffused, temples full fraught." 

Then in the fourth book there is a long portrait 
of him which I quote as a full specimen of the 
power with which Browning could paint a partisan 


of the thirteenth century. Though sixty years old, 
Salinguerra looked Uke a youth — 

So agile, quick 
And graceful turned the head on the broad chest 
Encased in pliant steel, his constant vest, 
Whence split the sun off in a spray of fire 
Across the room ; and, loosened of its tire 
Of steel, that head let breathe the comely brown 
Large massive locks discoloured as if a crown 
Encircled them, so frayed the basnet where 
A sharp white line divided clean the hair ; 
Glossy above, glossy below, it swept 
Curling and fine about a brow thus kept 
Calm, laid coat upon coat, marble and sound : 
This was the mystic mark the Tuscan found. 
Mused of, turned over books about. Square-faced, 
No lion more ; two vivid eyes, enchased 
In hollows filled with many a shade and streak 
Settling from the bold nose and bearded cheek. 
Nor might the half-smile reach them that deformed 
A lip supremely perfect else • — unwarmed, 
Unwidened, less or more ; indifferent 
Whether on trees or men his thoughts were bent, 
Thoughts rarely, after all, in trim and train 
As now a period was fulfilled again : 
Of such, a series made his life, compressed 
In each, one story serving for the rest. 

This is one example of a gallery of vivid por- 
traiture in all Browning's work, such as Carlyle 
only in the nineteenth century has approached in 
England. It is not a national, but an international 
gallery of portraits. The greater number of the 
portraits are ItaUan, and they range over all classes 
of society from the Pope to the peasant. Even 
Bishop Blougram has the Italian subtlety, and, like 
the Monsignore in Pippa Passes, something of the 
politic morality of Machiavelli. But Israel, Greece, 
France, Spain, Germany, and the days before the 


world was brought together, furnish him with men 
drawn as alive. He has painted their souls, but 
others have done this kind of painting as well, if 
not so minutely. But no others have painted so 
livingly the outside of men — their features one by 
one, their carriage, their gestures, their clothing, 
their walk, their body. All the colours of their 
dress and eyes and lips are given. We see them 
live and move and have their being. It is the same 
with his women, but I keep these for further treat- 

4. The next thing I have to say about Sordello 
concerns what I call its illustrative episodes. 
Browning, wishing to illuminate his subject, some- 
times darts off from it into an elaborate simile 
as Homer does. But in Homer the simile is 
carefully set, and explained to be a comparison. 
It is not mixed up with the text. It is short, 
rarely reaching more than ten hnes. In Browning, 
it is glided into without any preparation, and 
at first seems part of the story. Nor are 
we always given any intimation of its end. 
And Browning is led away by his imaginative 
pleasure in its invention to work it up with 
adventitious ornament of colour and scenery; 
having, in his excitement of invention, lost all 
power of rejecting any additional touch which 
occurs to him, so that the illustration, swelling 
out into a preposterous length, might well be 
severed from the book and made into a separate 
poem. Moreover, these long illustrations are often 
but faintly connected with the subject they are 
used to illumine ; and they delay the movement of 
the poem while they confuse the reader. The 


worst of these, worst as an illustration, but in itself 
an excellent fragment to isolate as a picture-poem, 
is the illustration of the flying slave who seeks his 
tribe beyond the Mountains of the Moon. It is 
only to throw Hght on a moment of Salinguerra's 
discursive thought, and is far too big for that. It 
is more like an episode than an illustration. I 
quote it not only to show what I mean, but also for 
its power. It is in Book iv. 

As, shall I say, some Ethiope, 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 fi-om 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 

OflF-striding for the Mountains of the Moon. 

The best of these is where he illustrates the 
restless desire of a poet for the renewal of energy, 
for finding new worlds to sing. The poet often 
seems to stop his work, to be satisfied. " Here I 
will rest," he says, " and do no more." But he 
only waits for a fresh impulse. 


'Tis but a sailor's promise, weather-bound : 
" Strike sail, slip cable, here the bark be moored 
For once, the awning stretched, the poles assured ! 
Noontide above ; except the wave's crisp dash, 
Or buzz of colibri, or tortoise' splash, 
The margin's silent : out with every spoil 
Made in our tracking, coil by mighty coil, 
This serpent of a river to his head 
I' the midst ! Admire each treasure, as we spread 
The bank, to help us tell our history 
Aright ; give ear, endeavour to descry , 
The groves of giant rushes, how they grew 
Like demons' endlong tresses we sailed through. 
What mountains yawned, forests to give us vent 
Opened, each doleful side, yet on we went 
Till . . . may that beetle (shake your cap) attest 
The springing of a land-wind from the West ! " 
— Wherefore ? Ah yes, you frolic it to-day! 
To-morrow, and the pageant moved away 
Down to the poorest tent-pole, we and you 
Part company : no other may pursue 
Eastward your voyage, be informed what fate 
Intends, if triumph or decline await 
The tempter of the everlasting steppe ! 

This, from Book iii., is the best because it is 
closer than the rest to the matter in hand; but 
how much better it might have been ! How curi- 
ously overloaded it is, how difficult what is easy 
has been made ! 

The fault of these illustrations is the fault of 
the whole poem. Sordello is obscure, Browning's 
idolaters say, by concentration of thought. It is 
rather obscure by want of that wise rejection of un- 
necessary thoughts which is the true concentration. 
It is obscure by a reckless misuse of the ordinary 
rules of language. It is obscure by a host of 
parentheses introduced to express thoughts which 
are only suggested, half -shaped, and which are 


frequently interwoven with parentheses introduced 
into the original parentheses. It is obscure by the 
worst punctuation I ever came across, but this was 
improved in the later editions. It is obscure by 
multitudinous fancies put in whether they have to 
do with the subject or not, and by multitudinous 
deviations within those fancies. It is obscure by 
Browning's effort to make words express more 
than they are capable of expressing. 

It is no carping criticism to say this of Brown- 
ing's work in Sordello, because it is the very criticism 
his after-practice as an artist makes. He gave up 
these efforts to force, like Procrustes, language to 
stretch itself or to cut itself down into forms it 
could not naturally take ; and there is no more 
difificulty in most of his earlier poems than there 
is in Paracelsus. Only a little of the Sordellian 
agonies remains in them, only that which was 
natural to Browning's genius. The interwoven 
parentheses remain, the rushes of invention into 
double and triple illustrations, the multipUcation 
of thought on thought ; but for these we may even 
be grateful. Opulence and plenitude of this kind 
are not common ; we are not often granted a man 
who flings imaginations, fancies, and thoughts from 
him as thick and bright as sparks from a grinder's 
wheel. It is not every poet who is unwilling to 
leave off, who finds himself too full to stop. 
"These bountiful wits," as Lamb said, "always 
give full measure, pressed down, and running 



THERE are certain analogies between Brown- 
ing as a poet and the Sordello of the poem ; 
between his relation to the world of his time and 
that of Sordello to his time ; and finally, between 
Browning's language in this poem and the change 
in the Italian language which he imputes to the 
work of Sordello. This chapter will discuss these 
analogies, and close with an appreciation of Brown- 
ing's position between the classic and romantic 
schools of poetry. 

The analogies of which I write may be denied, 
but I do not think they can be disproved. Brown- 
ing is, no doubt, separate from Sordello in his 
own mind, but underneath the young poet he 
is creating, he is continually asking himself the 
same question which Sordello asks — What shall I 
do as an artist 1 To what conclusion shall I come 
with regard to my life as a poet .■' It is no small 
proof of this underlying personal element in the 
first three books of the poem that at the end of the 
third book Browning flings himself suddenly out of 
the mediaeval world and the men he has created, 
and waking into 1835-40 at Venice, asks himself — 
What am I writing, and why 1 What is my aim in 


being a poet ? Is it worth my while to go on with 
Sordello's story, and why is it worth the telling ? 
In fact, he allows us to think that he has been de- 
scribing in Sordello's story a transitory phase of his 
own career. And then, having done this, he tells 
how he got out of confusion into clearer light. 

The analogy between Browning's and Sordello's 
time is not a weak one. The spirit of the world, 
between 1830 and 1840 in England, resembled in 
many ways the spirit abroad at the beginning of 
the thirteenth century. The country had awakened 
out of a long sleep, and was extraordinarily curious 
not only with regard to life and the best way to 
live it, but also with regard to government, law, 
the condition of the people, the best kind of rehgion 
and how best to live it, the true aims of poetry and 
how it was to be written, what subjects it should 
work on, what was to be the mother-motive of it, 
that is, what was the mother-motive of all the arts. 
And this curiosity deepened from year to year for 
fifty years. But even stronger than the curiosity 
was the eager individualism of this time, which ex- 
tended into every sphere of human thought and 
action, and only began about 1866 to be balanced 
by an equally strong tendency towards collectivism. 

These two elements in the time-spirit did not 
produce, in a settled state like England, the outward 
war and confusion they produced in the thirteenth 
century, though they developed after 1840, in '48, 
into a European storm — but they did produce a 
confused wdter of mingled thoughts concerning the 
sources and ends of human life, the action it should 
take, and why it should take it. The poetry of 
Arnold and Clough represents with great clearness 


the further development in the soul of man of this 
confusion. I think that Browning has represented 
in the first three books of Sordello his passage 
through this tossing sea of thought. 

He had put into Paracelsus all that he had worked 
out with clearness during his youth; his theory of life 
is stated with lucidity in that poem. But when it was 
finished, and he had entered, like Sordello from Goito 
into Mantua, into the crowd and clash of the world ; 
when, having published Pauline and Paracelsus, 
he had, like Sordello, met criticism and misunder- 
standing, his Paracelsian theory did not seem to 
explain humanity as clearly as he imagined. It 
was only a theory; Would it stand the test of life 
among mankind, be a saving and healing prophecy ? 
Life lay before him, now that the silent philosophis- 
ing of poetic youth was over, in all its inexplicable, 
hurried, tormented, involved, and multitudinously 
varied movement. He had built up a transcen- 
dental building* in Paracelsus. Was it all to fall 
in ruin .■' No answer came when he looked forth 
on humanity over whose landscape the irony of 
the gods, a bitter mist, seemed to brood. At what 
then shall he aim as a poet .? What shall be his 
subject-matter ? How is life to be lived ">. 

Then he thought that he would, as a poet, de- 
scribe his own time and his own soul under the 
character of Sordello, and place Sordello in a time 
more stormy than his own. And he would make 
Sordello of an exceptional temper like himself, and 

* He makes a simile of this in Sordello. See Book iii. before 
his waking up in Venice, the lines beginning 

" Rather say 
My transcendental platan ! " 


to clash with his time as he was then clashing 
with his own. With these thoughts he wrote 
the first books of Sordello, and Naddo, the critic 
of Sordello's verses, represents the critics of 
Paracelsus and the early poems. I have expe- 
rienced, he says of himself in Sordello, something 
of the spite of fate. 

Then, having done this, he leaves Sordello at 
the end of the third book, and turns, beset with 
a thousand questions, to himself and his art in a 
personal digression. Reclining on a ruined palace 
step at Venice, he thinks of Eglamor who made 
a flawless song, the type of those who reach their 
own perfection here; and then of Sordello who 
made a song which stirred the world far more 
than Eglamor's, which yet was not flawless, not 
perfect ; but because of its imperfection looked for- 
ward uncontented to a higher song. Shall he. 
Browning the poet, choose Eglamor or Sordello ; 
even though Sordello perish without any achieve- 
ment ? And he chooses to sail for ever towards the 
infinite, chooses the imperfection which looks for- 
ward. A sailor who loves voyaging may say, when 
weather-bound, " Here rest, unlade the ship, sleep 
on this grassy bank." 'Tis but a moment on his 
path ; let the wind change, and he is away again, 
whether triumph or shipwreck await him, for ever 

The tempter of the everlasting steppe. 

That much is then settled for life and for poetry. 
And in that choice of endless aspiration Browning 
confirms all that he thought, with regard to half of 
his theory of life, in Paracelsus. This is his first 
thought for life, and it is embodied in the whole 


of Sordello's career. Sordello is never content 
with earth, either when he is young, or when he 
passes into the world, or when he dies not having 
attained or been already perfect — a thought which 
is as much at the root of romanticism as of 
Christianity. Then comes the further question : 
To whom shall I dedicate the service of my art .' 
Who shall be my motive, the Queen whom I shall 
love and write of ; and he thinks of Sordello who 
asks that question and who, for the time, answers 
" Palma," that is, the passion of love. 

" But now, shall I, Browning, take as my Queen " 
— and he symbolises his thought in the girls he sees 
in the boats from his palace steps — " that girl from 
Bassano, or from Asolo, or her from Padua ; that 
is, shall I write of youth's love, of its tragic or its 
comedy, of its darkness, joy, and beauty only..' 
No," he answers, "not of that stuff shall I make 
my work, but of that sad dishevelled ghost of a girl, 
half in rags, with eyes inveterately full of tears ; 
of wild, worn, care-bitten, ravishing, piteous, and 
pitiful Humanity, who begs of me and offers me 
her faded love in the street corners. She shall be 
my Queen, the subject of my song, the motive of 
my poetry. She may be guilty, warped awry 
from her birth, and now a tired harlotry ; but she 
shall rest on my shoulder and I shall comfort her. 
She is false, mistaken, degraded, ignorant, but she 
moves blindly from evil to good, and from lies to 
truth, and from ignorance to knowledge, and from 
all to love ; and all her errors prove that she-has 
another world in which, the errors being worked 
through, she will develop into perfectness. Slowly 
she moves, step by step ; but not a millionth part 


is here done of what she will do at last. That is 
the matter of my poetry, which, in its infinite 
change and hopes, I shall express in my work. I 
shall see it, say what I have seen, and it may be 

Impart the gift of seeing to the rest. 

Therefore I have made Sordello, thus far, with all 
his weakness and wrong — 

moulded, made anew 
A Man, and give him to be turned and tried, 
Be angry with or pleased at." 

And then Browning severs himself from Sordello. 
After this retirement of thought into himself, 
described as taking place in Venice during an 
hour, but I dare say ranging over half a year in 
reality, he tells the rest of Sordello's story from 
the outside, as a spectator and describer. 

Browning has now resolved to dedicate his art, 
which is his life, to love of Humanity, of that pale 
dishevelled girl, unlovely and lovely, evil and 
good ; and to tell the story of individual men and 
women, and of as many as possible ; to paint the 
good which is always mixed with their evil; to 
show that their failures and sins point to a success 
and goodness beyond, because they emerged from 
aspiration and aspiration from the divinity at the 
root of human nature. But to do this, a poet 
must not live like Sordello, in abstractions, nor 
shrink from the shock of men and circumstance, 
nor refuse to take men and life as they are — but 
throw himself into the vital present, with its diffi- 
culties, baffling elements and limitations ; take its 
failures for his own; go through them while he 
looks beyond them, and, because he looks beyond 


them, never lose hope, or retreat from life, or cease 
to fight his way onward. And, to support him in 
this, there is but one thing — infinite love, pity, and 
sympathy for mankind, increased, not lessened by 
knowledge of the sins and weakness, the failure 
and despairs of men. This is Browning's second 
thought for life. But this is the very thing Sordello, 
as conceived by Browning, did not and could not do. 
He lived in abstractions and in himself ; he tried to 
discard his human nature, or to make it bear more 
than it could bear. He threw overboard the natu- 
ral physical hfe of the body because it limited, he 
thought, the outgoings of the imaginative soul, and 
only found that in weakening the body he enfeebled 
the soul. At every point he resented the limits of 
human life and fought against them. Neither 
would he live in the world allotted to him, nor 
among the men of his time, nor in its turmoil ; but 
only in imagination of his own inner world, among 
men whom he created for himself, of which world 
he was to be sole king. He had no love for men ; 
they wearied, jarred, and disturbed his ideal world. 
All he wanted was their applause or their silence, 
not their criticism, not their affection. And of 
course human love and sympathy for men and 
insight into them, departed from him, and with 
them his art departed. He never became a true 

It is this failure, passing through several phases 
of life in which action is demanded of Sordello, 
that Browning desired to record in the last three 
books of the poem. And he thinks it worth doing 
because it is human, and the record of what is hu- 
man is always of worth to man. He paints Sordello's 


passage through phase after phase of thought 
and act in the outside world, in all of which he 
seems for the moment to succeed or to touch the 
verge of success, but in which his neglect of the 
needs of the body, and the uncontentment of his 
soul produces failure. At last, at the very moment 
of death he knows why he failed, and sees, as 
through a glass darkly, the failure making the 
success of the world to come. The revelation 
bursts his heart. 

And now what is the end, what is the result for 
man of this long striving of Sordello .' Nothing ! 
Nothing has been done. Yet no, there is one re- 
sult. The imperfect song he made when he was 
young at Goito, in the flush of happiness, when he 
forgot himself in love of Nature and of the young 
folk who wandered rejoicing through the loveliness 
of Nature — that song is still alive, not in the great 
world among the noble women and warriors of the 
time, but on the lips of the peasant girls of Asolo 
who sing it on dewy mornings when they climb the 
castle hill. This is the outcome of Bordello's life, 
and it sounds like irony on Browning's lips. It is 
not so ; the irony is elsewhere in the poem, and is 
of another kind. Here, the conclusion is, — that 
the poem, or any work of art, made in joy, in 
sympathy with human life, moved by the love of 
loveliness in man or in Nature, lives and lasts in 
beauty, heals and makes happy the world. And it 
has its divine origin in the artist's loss of himself 
in humanity, and his finding of himself, through 
union with humanity, in union with God the 
eternal poet. In this is hidden the life of an 
artist's greatness. And here the little song, which 


gives joy to a child, and fits in with and enhances 
its joy, is greater in the eyes of the immortal judges 
than all the glory of the world which Sordello 
sought so long for himself alone. It is a truth 
Browning never failed to record, the greatness and 
power of the things of love; for, indeed, love 
being infinite and omnipotent, gives to its smallest 
expression the glory of all its qualities. 

The second of these analogies between Browning 
and Sordello relates to Browning's treatment of 
the English language in the poem of Sordello and 
what he pictures Sordello as doing for the Italian 
language in the poem. The passage to which I 
refer is about half-way in the second book. As 
there is no real ground for representing Sordello 
as working any serious change in the Italian tongue 
of literature except a slight phrase in a treatise of 
Dante's, the representation is manifestly an in- 
vention of Browning's added to the character of 
Sordello as conceived by himself. As such it 
probably comes out of, and belongs to, his own 
experience. The Sordello who acts thus with 
language represents the action of Browning him- 
self at the time he was writing the poem. If so, 
the passage is full of interest. 

All we know about SordeUo as a poet is that he 
wrote some Italian poems. Those by which he 
was famous were in Provengal. In Dante's trea- 
tise on the use of his native tongue, he suggests 
that Sordello was one of the pioneers of Uterary 
Italian. So, at least, Browning seems to infer 
from the passage, for he makes it the motive of 
his little " excursus " on Sordello's presumed effort 
to strike out a new form and method in poetic Ian- 


guage. Nothing was more needed than such an 
effort if any fine literature were to arise in Italy. 
In this unformed but slowly forming thirteenth 
century the language was in as great a confusion 

— and, I may say, as individual (for each poet 
wrote in his own dialect) as the life of the century. 

What does Browning make Sordello do.' He 
has brought him to Mantua as the accepted master 
of song; and Sordello burns to be fully recog- 
nised as the absolute poet. He has felt for some 
time that while he cannot act well he can imagine 
action well. And he sings his imaginations. But 
there is at the root of his singing a love of the 
applause of the people more than a love of song 
for itself. And he fails to please. So Sordello 
changes his subject and sings no longer of himself 
in the action of the heroes he imagines, but of 
abstract ideas, philosophic dreams, and problems. 
The very critics cried that he had left human nature 
behind him. Vexed at his failure, and still longing 
to catch the praise of men, that he may confirm his 
belief that he is the loftiest of poets, he makes 
another effort to amaze the world. " I'll write no 
more of imaginary things," he cries ; " I will 
catch the crowd by reorganising the language of 
poetry, by new arrangements of metre and words, 
by elaborate phraseology, especially by careful 
concentration of thought into the briefest possible 
frame of words. I will take the stuff of thought, 

— that is, the common language, — beat it on the 
anvil into new shapes, break down the easy flow 
of the popular poetry, and scarcely allow a tithe 
of the original words I have written to see the 


welding words into the crude 
Mass from the new speech round him, till a rude 
Armour was hammered out, in time to be 
Approved beyond the Roman panoply 
Melted to make it. 

That is, he dissolved the Roman dialect to beat out 
of it an Italian tongue. And in this new armour 
of language ^he clothed his thoughts. But the 
language broke away from his thoughts : neither 
expressed them nor made them clear. The people 
failed to understand his thought, and at the new 
ways of using language the critics sneered. " Do 
get back," they said, " to the simple human heart, 
and tell its tales in the simple language of the 

I do not think that the analogy can be missed. 
Browning is really describing — with, perhaps, a 
half-scornful reference to his own desire for public 
appreciation — what he tried to do in Sordello for 
the language in which his poetry was to be written. 
I have said that when he came to write Sordello 
his mind had fallen back from the clear theory of 
life laid down in Paracelsus into a tumbled sea 
of troubled thoughts ; and Sorddlo is a welter of 
thoughts tossing up and down, now appearing, then 
disappearing, and then appearing again in conjunc- 
tion with new matter, like objects in a sea above 
which a cyclone is blowing. Or we may say that 
his mind, before and during the writing of Sordello, 
was like the thirteenth century, pressing blindly in 
vital disturbance towards an unknown goal. That 
partly accounts for the confused recklessness of the 
language of the poem. But a great many of the 
tricks Browning now played with his poetic language 


were deliberately done. He had tried — like Sor- 
dello at the Court of Love — a love-poem in Pauline. 
It had not succeeded. He had tried in Paracelsus 
to expose an abstract theory of life, as Sordello 
had tried writing on abstract imaginings. That 
also had failed. Now he determined — as he repre- 
sents Sordello doing — to alter his whole way of 
writing. " I will concentrate now," he thought, 
"since they say I am too loose and too diffuse; 
cut away nine-tenths of all I write, and leave out 
every word I can possibly omit. I will not express 
completely what I think; I shall only suggest it by 
an illustration. And if anything occur to me likely 
to illuminate it, I shall not add it afterwards but 
insert it in a parenthesis. I will make a new 
tongue for my poetry." And the result was the 
style and the strange manner in which Sordello 
was written. This partly excuses its obscurity, if 
deliberation can be an excuse for a bad manner 
in literature. Malice prepense does not excuse a 
murder, though it makes it more interesting. 
Finally, the manner in which Sordello was written 
did not please him. He left it behind him, and 
Pippa Passes, which followed Sordello, is as clear 
and simple as its predecessor is obscure in style. 

Thirdly, the language of Sordello, and, in a lesser 
degree, that of all Browning's poetry, proves — if 
his whole way of thought and passion did not also- 
prove it — that Browning was not a classic, that 
he deliberately put aside the classic traditions in 
poetry. In this he presents a strong contrast to 
Tennyson. Tennyson was possessed by those 
traditions. His masters were Homer, Vergil, 
Milton, and the rest of those who wrote with 


measure, purity, and temperance; and from whose 
poetry proceeded a spirit of order, of tranquillity, 
of clearness, of simplicity; who were reticent in 
ornament, in illustration, and stern in rejection of 
unnecessary material. None of these classic ex- 
cellences belong to Browning, nor did he ever 
try to gain them, and that was, perhaps, a pity. 
But, after all, it would have been of no use had he 
tried for them. We cannot impose from without 
on ourselves that which we have not within ; and 
Browning was, in spirit, a pure Romantic, not a 
Classic. Tennyson never allowed what romanti- 
cism he possessed to have its full swing. It always 
wore the classic dress, submitted itself to the 
classic traditions, used the classic forms. In the 
Idylls of the King he took a romantic story ; but 
nothing could be more unromantic than many of 
the inventions and the characters ; than the 
temper, the morality, and the conduct of the poem. 
The Arthurian poets, Malory himself, would have 
jumped out their skin with amazement, even with 
indignation, had they read it. And a great deal 
of this oddity, this unfitness of the matter to the 
manner, arose from the romantic story being ex- 
pressed in poetry written in accordance with classic 
traditions. Of course, there were other sources for 
these inharmonies in the poem, but that was one, 
and not the least of them. 

Browning had none of these classic traditions. 
He had his own matter, quite new stuff it was; 
and he made his own manner. He did not go 
back to the old stories, but, being filled with the' 
romantic spirit, embodied it in new forms, and 
drenched with it his subjects, whether he took 


them from ancient, mediaeval, Renaissance, or 
modern life. He felt, and truly, that it is of the 
essence of romanticism to be always arising into 
new shapes, assimilating itself, century by century, 
to the needs, the thought, and the passions of grow- 
ing mankind ; progressive, a lover of change ; in 
steady opposition to that dull conservatism the 
tendency to which besets the classic literature. 

Browning had the natural faults of the romantic 
poet ; and these are most remarkable when such a 
poet is young. The faults are the opposites of the 
classic poet's excellences : want of measure, want 
of proportion, want of clearness and simplicity, 
want of temperance, want of that selective power 
which knows what to leave out or when to stop. 
And these frequently become positive and end in 
actual disorder of composition, huddling of the 
matters treated of into ill-digested masses, vio- 
lence in effects and phrase, bewildering obscurity, 
sought-out even desperate strangeness of subject 
and expression, uncompromising individuality, crude 
ornament, and fierce colour. Many examples of 
these faults are to be found in Sordello and through- 
out the work of Browning. They are the extremes 
into which the Romantic is frequently hurried. 

But, then. Browning has the natural gifts and 
excellences of the romantic poet, and these ele- 
ments make him dearer than the mere Classic to a 
multitude of imaginative persons. One of them is 
endless and impassioned curiosity, for ever unsat- 
isfied, always finding new worlds of thought and 
feeling into which to make dangerous and thrilling 
voyages of discovery — voyages that are filled from 
end to end with incessantly changing adventure, 


or delight in that adventure. This enchants the 
world. And it is not only in his subjects that the 
romantic poet shows his curiosity. He is just as 
curious of new methods of tragedy, of lyric work, 
of every mode of poetry ; of new ways of express- 
ing old thoughts ; new ways of treating old metres ; 
of the invention of new metres and new ways of 
phrasing ; of strange and startling word-combina- 
tions, to clothe fittingly the strange and startling 
things discovered in human nature, in one's own 
soul, or in the souls of others. In ancient days 
such a temper produced the many tales of inven- 
tion which filled the romantic cycles. 

Again and again, from century to century, this 
romantic spirit has done its re-creating work in the 
development of poetry in France, Germany, Italy, 
Spain, and England. And in 1840, and for many 
years afterwards, it produced in Browning, and for 
our pleasure, his dramatic lyrics as he called them; 
his psychological studies, which I may well call 
excursions, adventures, battles, pursuits, retreats, 
discoveries of the soul ; for in the soul of man lay, 
for Bro'wning, the forest of Broceliande, the wild 
country of Morgan le Fay, the cliffs and moors 
of Lyonnesse. It was there, over that unfooted 
country, that Childe Roland rode to the Dark 
Tower. Nor can anything be niore in the temper 
of old spiritual romance — though with a strangely 
modern mise-en-sckne — than the great adventure 
on the dark common with Christ in Christmas-Eve 
and Easter-Day. 

Another root of the romantic spirit was the 
sense of, and naturally the belief in, a world not 
to be felt of the senses or analysed by the under- 


standing ; which was within the apparent world as 
its substance or soul, or beyond it as the power 
by which it existed ; and this mystic belief took, 
among poets, philosophers, theologians, warriors, 
and the common people, a thousand forms, ranging 
from full-schemed philosophies to the wildest super- 
stitions. It tended, in its extremes, to make this 
world a shadow, a dream; and our life only a 
real life when it habitually dwelt in the mystic 
region mortal eye could not see, whose voices 
mortal ear could not receive. Out of this root, 
which shot its first fibres into the soul of human- 
ity in the days of the earliest savage and separated 
him by an unfathomable gulf from the brute, arose 
all the myths and legends and mystic stories which 
fill romance. Out of it developed the unquench- 
able thirst of those of the romantic temper for 
communion with the spiritual beings of this mys- 
tic world ; a thirst which, however repressed for a 
time, begins again, and is even now arising, among 
the poets of to-day. 

In Browning's view of the natural world some 
traces of this element of the romantic spirit may be 
distinguished, but in his poetry of Man it scarcely 
appears. Nor, indeed, is he ever the true mystic. 
He had too much of the sense which handles daily 
life ; he saw the facts of life too clearly, to fall into 
the vaguer regions of mysticism. But one part of 
its region, and of the romantic spirit, so incessantly 
recurs in Browning that it may be said to underlie 
the whole of his work. It is that into which the 
thoughts and passions of the romantic poets in all 
ages ran up, as into a goal — the conception of a 
perfect world, beyond this visible, in which the 


noble hopes, loves, and work of humanity — baffled, 
limited, and ruined here — should be fulfilled and 
satisfied. The Greeks did not frame this concep- 
tion as a people, though Plato outreached towards 
it ; the Romans had it not, though Vergil seems 
to have touched it in hours of inspiration. The 
Teutonic folk did not possess it till Christianity 
invaded them. Of course, it was alive like a 
beating heart in Christianity, that most romantic 
of all religions. But the Celtic peoples did con- 
ceive it before Christianity and with a surprising 
fulness, and wherever they went through Europe 
they pushed it into the thought, passions, and action 
of human life. And out of this conception, which 
among the Irish took form as the Land of Eternal 
Youth, love, and joy, where human trouble ceased, 
grew that element in romance which is perhaps the 
strongest in it — the hunger for eternity, for infi- 
nite perfection of being, and, naturally, for unre- 
mitting pursuit of it; and among Christian folk 
for a life here which should fit them for perfect 
life to come. Christian romance threw itself with 
fervour into that ideal, and the pursuit, for exam- 
ple, of the Holy Grail is only one of the forms of 
this hunger for eternity and perfection. 

Browning possessed this element of romance 
with remarkable fulness, and expressed it with un- 
diminished ardour for sixty years of poetic work. 
From Pauline to Asolando it reigns supreme. It 
is the fountain-source of Sordello — by the perva- 
siveness of which the poem consists. Immortal 
life in God's perfection ! Into that cry the Roman- 
tic's hunger for eternity had developed in the soul 
of Browning. His heroes, in drama and lyric, in 


Paracelsus and Sordello, pass into the infinite, there 
to be completed. 

And if I may here introduce a kind of note, it is 
at this moment that we ought to take up the Purga- 
torio, and see Sordello as Dante saw him in that flow- 
ery valley of the Ante-Purgatory when he talked with 
Dante and Vergil. He is there a very different 
person from the wavering creature Browning drew. 
He is on the way to that perfect fulfilment in God 
which Browning desired for him and all mankind. 

Nevertheless, in order to complete this statement, 
Browning, in his full idea of life, was not altogether 
a Romantic. He saw there was a great danger 
that the romantic mysticism might lead its pursuers 
to neglect the duties of life, or lessen their interest 
in the drama of mankind. Therefore he added 
to his cry for eternity and perfection, his other 
cry : " Recognise your limitations, and work within 
them, while you must never be content with them. 
Give yourself in love and patience to the present 
labour of mankind; but never imagine for a 
moment that it ends on earth." He thus combined 
with the thirst of the Romantic for eternity the full 
ethical theory of life, as well as the classic poet's 
determination to represent the complete aspect of 
human life on earth. At this point, but with 
many fantastic deviations due to his prevailing 
romanticism, he was partly of the classic temper. 
The poem of Sordella is not without an image of 
this temper, set vigorously in contrast with Sordello 
himself. This is Salinguerra, who takes the world 
as it is, and is only anxious to do what lies before 
him day by day. ■ His long soUloquy, in which for 
the moment he indulges in dreams, ends in the 


simple resolution to fight on, hour by hour, as cir- 
cumstances call on him. 

Browning's position, then, is a combination of the 
romantic and classical, of the Christian and ethical, 
of the imaginative and scientific views of human 
life ; of the temper which says, " Here only is our 
life, here only our concern," and that which says, 
" Not here, but hereafter is our life." " Here, and 
hereafter," answered Browning. " Live within 
earth's limits with all your force; never give in, 
fight on ; but always transcend your fullest action 
in aspiration, faith, and love." 

It amuses me sometimes the way he is taken by 
his readers. The romantic and the Christian folk 
often claim him as the despiser of this world, as one 
who bids us live wholly for the future, or in the mys- 
tic ranges of thought and passion. The scientific, 
humanitarian, and ethical folk accept that side of 
him which agrees with their views of human life — 
views which exclude God, immortality, and a world 
beyond — that is, they take as the whole of Brown- 
ing the lesser part of his theory of life. This is 
not creditable to their understanding, though it is 
natural enough. We may accept it as an innocent 
example of the power of a strong bias in human 
nature. But it is well to remember that the 
romantic. Christian, mystic elements of human life 
are more important in Browning's eyes than the 
ethical or scientific ; that the latter are nothing to 
him without the former ; that the best efforts of the 
latter for humanity are in his belief not only hope- 
less, but the stuff that dreams are made of, with- 
out the former. In the combination of both is 
Browning's message to mankind. 



OF the great poets who, not being born 
dramatists, have attempted to write dramas 
in poetry, Browning was the most persevering. I 
suppose that, being conscious of his remarkable 
power in the representation of momentary action 
and of states of the soul, he thought that he could 
harmonise into a whole the continuous action of a 
number of persons, and of their passions in sword- 
play with one another; and then conduct to a 
catastrophe their interaction. But a man may be 
capable of writing dramatic lyrics and dramatic 
romances without being capable of writing a 
drama. Indeed, so different are the two capabili- 
ties that I think the true dramatist could not write 
such a lyric or romance as Browning calls dramatic ; 
his genius would carry one or the other beyond the 
just limits of this kind of poetry into his own kind. 
And the writer of excellent lyrics and romances of 
this kind will be almost sure to fail in real drama. 
I wish, in order to avoid confusion of thought, that 
the term " dramatic " were only used of poetry which 
belongs to drama itself. I have heard Chaucer 
called dramatic. It is a complete misnomer. His 
genius would have for ever been unable to produce 


a good drama. Had he lived in Elizabeth's time, he 
would, no doubt, have tried to write one, but he must 
have failed. The genius for story-telling is just the 
genius which is incapable of being a fine dramatist. 
And the opposite is also true. Shakespeare, great 
as his genius was, would not have been able to write 
a single one of the Canterbury Tales. He would 
have been driven into dramatising them. 

Neither Tennyson nor Browning had dramatic 
genius — that is, the power to conceive, build, co- 
ordinate, and finish a drama. But they thought 
they had, and we may pardon them for trying their 
hand. I can understand the hunger and thirst 
which beset great poets, who had, like these two 
men, succeeded in so many different kinds of 
poetry, to succeed also in the serious drama, 
written in poetry. It is a legitimate ambition ; but 
poets should be acquainted with their limitations, 
and not waste their energies or our patience on 
work which they cannot do well. That men like 
Tennyson and Browning, who were profoundly 
capable of understanding what a great drama 
means, and is; who had read what the master- 
tragedians of Greece have done ; who knew their 
Shakespeare, to say nothing of the other EUzabethan 
dramatists; who had seen Moli^re on the stage; 
who must have felt how the thing ought to be 
done, composed, and versed; that they, having 
written a play like Harold or Strafford, should 
really wish to stage it, or having heard and seen it 
on the stage should go on writing more dramas, 
would seem incomprehensible, were it not that 
power to do one thing very well is so curiously 
liable to self-deceit. 


The writing of the first drama is not to be 
blamed. It would be unnatural not to try one's 
hand. It is the writing of the others which is 
amazing in men like Tennyson and Browning. 
They ought to have felt, being wiser than other men 
in poetry, that they had no true dramatic capacity. 
Other poets who also tried the drama did know 
themselves better. Byron wrote several dramas, 
but he made little effort to have them represented 
on the stage. He felt they were not fit for that ; 
and, moreover, such scenic poems as Manfred and 
Cain were not intended for the stage, and do not 
claim to be dramas in that sense. To write things 
of this kind, making no claim to public represen- 
tation, with the purpose of painting a situation of 
the soul, is a legitimate part of a poet's work, and 
among them, in Browning's work, might be classed 
In a Balcony, which I suppose his most devoted 
worshipper would scarcely call a drama. 

Walter Scott, than whom none could conduct a 
conversation better in a novel, or make more liv- 
ing the clash of various minds in a critical event, 
whether in a cottage or a palace ; whom one would 
select as most likely to write a drama well — had 
self-knowledge enough to understand, after his early 
attempts, that true dramatic work was beyond his 
power. Wordsworth also made one effort, and 
then said good-bye to drama. Coleridge tried, and 
staged Remorse. It failed and deserved to fail. 
To read it is to know that the writer had no sense 
of an audience in his mind as he wrote it — a fatal 
want in a dramatist. Even its purple patches of 
fine poetry and its noble melody of verse did not 
redeem it. Shelley did better than these brethren 


of his, and that is curious. One would say, after 
reading his previous poems, that he was the least 
hkely of men to write a true drama. Yet the Cenci 
approaches that goal, and the fragment of Charles 
the First makes so great a grip on the noble 
passions and on the intellectual eye, and its few 
scenes are so well woven, that it is one of the un- 
fulfilled longings of literature that it should have 
been finished. Yet Shelley himself gave it up. He 
knew, like the others, that the drama was beyond 
his power. 

Tennyson and Browning did not so easily recog- 
nise their limits. They went on writing dramas, 
not for the study, which would have been natural 
and legitimate, but for the stage. This is a curious 
psychological problem, and there is only one man 
who could have given us, if he had chosen, a 
poetic study of it, and that is Browning himself. 
I wish, having in his mature age read Strafford 
over, and then read his other dramas — all of them 
full of the same dramatic weaknesses as Strafford 
— he had analysed himself as "the poet who 
would be a dramatist and could not." Indeed, it 
is a pity he did not do this. He was capable of 
smiling benignly at himself, and sketching himself as 
if he were another man ; a thing of which Tennyson, 
who took himself with awful seriousness, and walked 
with himself as a Druid might have walked in the 
sacred grove of Mona, was quite incapable. 

However, the three important dramas of Tenny- 
son are better, as dramas, than Browning's. That 
is natural enough. For Browning's dramas were 
written when he was young, when his knowledge 
of the dramatic art was small, and when his 


intellectual powers were not fully developed. 
Tennyson wrote his when his knowledge of the 
drama was great, and when his intellect had under- 
gone years of careful training. He studied the 
composition and architecture of the best plays ; he 
worked at the stage situations ; he created a blank 
verse for his plays quite different from that he 
used in his poems, and a disagreeable thing it is ; 
he introduced songs, like Shakespeare, at happy 
moments ; he imitated the old work, and at the 
same time strove hard to make his own original. 
He laboured at the history, and Becket and Harold 
are painfully historical. History should not master 
a play, but the play the history. The poet who is 
betrayed into historical accuracy so as to injure the 
development of his conception in accordance with 
imaginative truth, is lost ; and Harold and Becket 
both suffer from Tennyson falling into the hands of 
those critical historians whom Tennyson consulted. 
Nevertheless, by dint of laborious intellectual 
work, but not by the imagination, not by dramatic 
genius, Tennyson arrived at a relative success. 
He did better in these long dramas than Coleridge, 
Wordsworth, Scott, or Byron. Queen Mary, Harold, 
and Becket get along in one's mind with some 
swiftness when .one reads them in an armchair by 
the fire. Some of the characters are interesting 
and wrought with painful skill. We cannot forget 
the pathetic image of Queen Mary, which dwells 
in the mind when the play has disappeared ; nor 
the stately 'representation in Becket of the mighty 
and overshadowing power of Rome, claiming as its 
own possession the soul of the world. But the 
minor characters ; the action ; the play of the 


I characters, great and small, and of the action and 
circumstance together towards the catastrophe — 
these things were out of Tennyson's reach, and still 
more out of Browning's. They could both build up 
characters, and Browning better than Tennyson; 
they could both set two people to talk together, 
and by their talk to reveal their character to us ; 

I but to paint action, and the action of many men 

i and women moving to a plotted end ; to paint 
human life within the limits of a chosen subject, 
changing and tossing and unconscious of its fate, in 
a town, on a battlefield, in the forum, in a wild 
wood, in the King's palace or a shepherd farm ; and 
to image this upon the stage, so that nothing done 
or said should be unmotived, unrelated to the end, 

; or unnatural ; of that they were quite incapable, 
and Browning more incapable than Tennyson. 

There is another thing to say. The three long 
dramas of Tennyson are better as dramas than 
the long ones of Browning. But the smaller 
dramatic pieces of Browning are much better than 
the smaller ones of Tennyson. The Promise of 
May is bad in dialogue, bad in composition, bad 
in delineation of character, worst of all in its 
subject, in its plot, and in its motives. The Cup, 
and The Falcon, a beautiful story beautifully written 
by Boccaccio, is strangely dulled, even vulgarised, 
by Tennyson. The Robin Hood play has gracious 
things in it, but as a drama it is worthless, and 
it is impossible to forgive Tennyson for his fairies. 
All these small plays are dreadful examples of what 
a great poet may do when he works in a vehicle 
— if I may borrow a term from painting — for which 
he has no natural capacity, but for which he thinks 


he has. He is then like those sailors, and meets 
justly the same fate, who think that because they 
can steer a boat admirably, they can also drive a 
coach and four. The love scene in Becket between 
Rosamund and Henry illustrates my meaning. It 
was a subject in itself that Tennyson ought to have 
done well, and would probably have done well in 
another form of poetry ; but, done in a form for 
which he had no genius, he did it badly. It is 
the worst thing in the play. Once, however, he 
did a short drama fairly well. The Cup has 
some dramatic movement, its construction is clear, 
its verse imaginative, its scenery well conceived ; 
and its motives are simple and easily understood. 
But then, as in Becket, Irving stood at his right 
hand, and advised him concerning dramatic changes 
and situations. Its passion is, however, cold ; it 
leaves us unimpressed. 

On the contrary, Browning's smaller dramatic 
pieces — I cannot call them dramas — are much 
better than those of Tennyson. Pippa Passes, 
A Soul's Tragedy, In a Balcony, stand on a much 
higher level, aim higher, and reach their aim more 
fully than Tennyson's shorter efforts. They have 
not the qualities which fit them for representation, 
but they have those which fit them for thoughtful 
and quiet reading. No one thinks much of the 
separate personalities ; our chief interest is in fol- 
lowing Browning's imagination as it invents new 
phases of his subject, and plays like a sword 
in sunlighf, in and out of these phases. As 
poems of the soul in severe straits, made under a 
quasi-dramatic form, they reach a high excellence, 
but all that we like best in them, when we follow 



them as situations of the soul, we should most 
dislike when represented on the stage. 

Strafford is, naturally, the most immature of the 
dramas, written while he was still writing Para- 
celsus, and when he was very young. It is strange 
to compare the greater part of its prosaic verse with 
the rich poetic verse of Paracelsus ; and this further 
illustrates how much a poet suffers when he writes 
in a form which is not in his genius. There are 
only a very few passages in Strafford which re- 
semble poetry until we come to the fifth act, where 
Browning passes from the jerky, allusive but 
rhythmical prose of the previous acts into that 
talk between Strafford and his children which has 
poetic charm, clearness, and grace. The change 
does not last long, and when Hollis, Charles, and 
Lady Carlisle, followed by Pym, come in, the whole 
act is in confusion. Nothing . is clear, except ab- 
sence of the clearness required for a drama. But 
the previous acts are even more obscure ; not 
indeed for their readers, but for hearers in a 
theatre who — since they are hurried on at once to 
new matter — are forced to take in on the instant 
what the dramatist means. It would be impossi- 
ble to tell at first hearing what the chopped-up 
sentences, the interrupted phrases, the interjected 
" nots " and " buts " and " yets " are intended to 
convey. The conversation is mangled. This vice 
does not prevail in the other dramas to the same 
extent as in Strafford. Browning had learnt his 
lesson, I suppose, when he saw Strafford rep- 
resented. But it sorely prevails in Colomb^s 


Strafford is brought before us as a politician, as 
the leader of the King's side in an austere crisis of 
England's history. The first scene puts the great 
quarrel forward as the ground on which the drama 
is to be wrought. An attempt is made to repre- 
sent the various elements of the popular storm in 
the characters of Pym, Hampden, the younger 
Vane, and others, and especially in the relations 
between Pym and Strafford, who are set over, one 
against the other, with some literary power. But the 
lines on which the action is wrought are not simple. 
No audience could follow the elaborate network of 
intrigue which, in Browning's effort to represent 
too much of the history, he has made so confused. 
Strong characterisation perishes in this effort to 
write a history rather than a drama. What we 
chiefly see of the crisis is a series of political in- 
trigues at the Court carried out by base persons, 
of whom the Queen is the basest, to ruin Strafford ; 
the futility of Strafford's sentimental love of the 
King, whom he despises while he loves him ; Straf- 
ford's blustering weakness and blindness when 
he forces his way into the Parliament House, and 
the contemptible meanness of Charles. The low 
intrigues of the Court leave the strongest impres- 
sion on the mind, not the mighty struggle, not the 
fate of the Monarchy and its dark supporter. 

Browning tries — as if he had forgotten that 
which should have been first in his mind — to lift 
the main struggle into importance in the last act, 
but he fails. That which ought to be tragic is 
merely sentimental. Indeed, sentimentality is the 
curse of the play. Strafford's love of the King is 
almost maudlin. The scenes between Strafford and 


Pym in which their ancient friendship is introduced 
are over-sentimentaUsed, not only for their charac- 
ters, but for the great destinies at stake. Even at 
the last, when Pym and Strafford forgive each other 
and speak of meeting hereafter, good sense is vio- 
lated, and the natural dignity of the scene, and the 
characters of the men. Strafford is weaker here, 
if that were possible, than he is in the rest of the 
drama. Nothing can be more unlike the man. 

Pym is intended to be especially strong. He is 
made a blusterer. He was a gentleman, but in 
this last scene he is hateful. As to Charles, he 
was always a selfish liar, but he was not a coward, 
and a coward he becomes in this play. He, too, is 
sentimentalised by his uxoriousness. Lady Car- 
lisle is invented. I wish she had not been. Straf- 
ford's misfortunes were deep enough without having 
her in love with him. I do not believe, moreover, 
that any woman in the whole world from the very 
beginning was ever so obscure in her speech to 
the man she loves as Lady Carlisle was to Straf- 
ford. And the motive of her obscurity — that if 
she discloses the King's perfidy she robs Strafford 
of that which is dearest to him — his belief in the 
King's affection for him — is no doubt very fine, 
but the woman was either not in love who argued 
in that way, or a fool ; for Strafford knew, and lets 
her understand that he knew, the treachery of the 
King. But Browning meant her to be in love, and 
to be clever. 

The next play Browning wrote, undeterred by 
the fate of Strafford, was King Victor and King 
Charles. The subject is historical, but it is modified 


by Browning, quite legitimately, to suit his own 
purposes. In itself the plot is uninteresting. King 
Victor, having brought the kingdom to the verge 
of ruin, abdicates and hands the crown to his son, 
believing him to be a weak-minded person whose 
mistakes will bring him — Victor — back to the 
throne, when he can throw upon the young King 
the responsibility of the mess he has himself made 
of the kingdom. Charles turns out to be a strong 
character, sets right the foreign affairs of the 
kingdom, and repairs his father's misgovernment. 
Then Victor, envious and longing for power, con- 
spires to resume the throne, and taken prisoner, 
begs back the crown. Charles, touched as a son, 
and against his better judgment, restores his father, 
who immediately and conveniently dies. It is a 
play of Court intrigue and of politics, and these are 
not made interesting by any action, such as we call 
dramatic, in the play. From end to end there is 
no inter-movement of public passion. There are 
only four characters. D'Ormea, the minister, is a 
mere stick in a prime-minister's robes and serves 
Victor and Charles with equal ease, in order to 
keep his place. He is not even subtle in his rdle. 
When we think what Browning would have made 
of him in a single poem, and contrast it with what 
he has made of him here, we are again impressed 
with Browning's strange loss of power when he 
is writing drama. Victor and Charles are better 
drawn than any characters in Strafford ; and 
Polyxena is a great advance on Lady Carlisle. 
But this piece is not a drama ; it is a study of soul- 
situations, and none of them are of any vital im- 
portance. There is far too great an improbability 


in the conception of Charles. A weak man in 
private becomes a strong man in public life. To 
represent him, having known and felt his strength, 
as relapsing into his previous weakness when it 
endangers all his work, is quite too foolish. He 
did not do it in history. Browning, with astonish- 
ing want of insight, makes him do it here, and 
adds to it a foolish anger with his wife because 
she advises him against it. And the reason he 
does it and is angry with his wife, is a merely 
sentimental one — a private, unreasoning, childish 
love of his father, such a love as Strafford is 
supposed to have for Charles I. — the kind of love 
which intruded into public affairs ruins them, and 
which, being feeble and for an unworthy object, 
injures him who gives it and him who receives it. 
Even as a study of characters, much more as a 
drama, this piece is a failure, and the absence of 
poetry in it is amazing. 

The Return of the Druses approaches more 
nearly to a true drama than its predecessors; it 
is far better written ; it has several fine motives 
which are intelligently, but not dramatically, worked 
out ; and it is with great joy that one emerges at 
last into a little poetry. Browning, having more or 
less invented his subject, is not seduced, by the 
desire to be historical, to follow apparent instead 
of imaginative truth ; nor are we wearied by his 
unhappy efforts to analyse, in disconnected con- 
versations, political intrigue. Things are in this 
play as the logic of imaginative passion wills, as 
Browning's conception drove him. But, unfortu- 
nately for its success as a true drama. Browning 


doubles and redoubles the motives which impel his 
characters. Djabal, Anael, Loys, have each of 
them two different and sometimes opposite aims 
working in them. They are driven now by one, 
now by the other, and the changes of speech and 
action made by the different motives surging up, 
alternately or together, within their will, are so 
swift and baffling that an audience would be utterly 
bewildered. It is amusing to follow the prestidigita- 
tion of Browning's intellect creating this confused 
battle in souls as long as one reads the play at 
home, though even then we wonder why he cannot, 
at least in a drama, make a simple situation. If 
he loved difficult work, this would be much more 
difficult to do well than the confused situation he 
has not done well. Moreover, the simplified situa- 
tion would be effective on the stage ; and it would 
give a great opportunity for fine poetry. As it is, 
imaginative work is replaced by intellectual exer- 
cises, poetry is lost in his analysis of complex states 
of feeling. However, this involved in-and-out of 
thought is entertaining to follow in one's study, if 
not on the stage. It is done with a loose power 
no one else in England possessed, and our only 
regret is that he did not bridle and master his 
power. Finally, with regard to this play, I should 
Uke to isolate from it certain imaginative represen- 
tations of characters which embody types of the men 
of the time, such as the Prefect and the Nuncio. 
The last interview between Loys and the Prefect, 
taken out of the drama, would be a little master- 
piece of characterisation. 

The Blot in the 'Scutcheon is the finest of all these 


dramas. It might well be represented on the stage 
as a literary drama before those who had already 
read it, and who would listen to it for its passion and 
poetry; but its ill-construction and the unnatural- 
ness of its situations will always prevent, and justly, 
its public success as a drama. It is full of pathetic 
and noble poetry ; its main characters are clearly 
outUned and of a refreshing simplicity. It has few 
obtrusive metaphysical or intellectual subtleties — 
things which Browning could not keep out of his 
dramas, but which only a genius like Shakespeare 
can handle on the stage. It has real intensity of 
feeling, and the various passions interlock and clash 
together with some true dramatic interaction. Their 
presentatiofi awakens our pity, and wonder for the 
blind fates of men. The close leaves us in sorrow, 
yet in love with human nature. The pathos of the 
catastrophe is the most pathetic thing in Browning. 
I do not even except the lovely record of Pompilia. 
The torture of the human heart, different but 
equal, of Tresham and Mildred in the last scene, is 
exceedingly bitter in its cry — too cruel almost to 
hear and know, were it not relieved by the beauty 
of their tenderness and forgiveness in the hour of 
death. They die of their pain, but die loving, and 
are glad to die. They have all of them — Mildred, 
Tresham, and Mertoun — sinned as it were by error. 
Death unites them in righteousness, loveliness, and 
love. A fierce, swift storm sweeps out of a clear 
heaven upon them, destroys them, and saves them. 
It is all over in three days. They are fortunate ; 
their love deserved that the ruin should be brief, 
and the reparation be transferred, in a moment, to 
the grave justice of eternity. 


The first two acts bear no comparison with 
the third. The first scene, with all the servants, 
only shows how Browning failed in bringing a 
number of characters together, and in making them 
talk with ease and connectedly. Then, in two 
acts, the plot unfolds itself. It is a marvel of bad 
construction, grossly improbable, and offends that 
popular common sense of what is justly due to the 
characters concerned and to human nature itself, 
to which a dramatist is bound to appeal. 

Mildred and Mertoun have loved and sinned. 
Mertoun visits her every night. Gerard, an old 
gamekeeper, has watched him climbing to her 
window, and he resolves to tell this fatal tale to 
Tresham, Mildred's brother, whose strongest feel- 
ing is pride in the unblemished honour of his house. 
Meantime Mertoun has asked Tresham for Mil- 
dred's hand in marriage, and these lovers, receiv- 
ing his consent, hope that their sin will be purged. 
Then Gerard tells his story. Tresham summons 
Mildred. She confesses the lover, and Tresham 
demands his name. To reveal the name would have 
saved the situation, as we guess from Tresham's 
character. His love would have had time to con- 
quer his pride. But Mildred will not tell the name, 
and when Tresham says : " Then what am I to say 
to Mertoun } " she answers, " I will marry him." 
This, and no wonder, seems the last and crowning 
dishonour to Tresham, and he curses, as if she were 
a harlot, the sister whom he passionately loves. 

This is a horrible situation which Browning had 
no right to make. The natural thing would be for 
Mildred to disclose that her lover and Lord Mertoun, 
whom she was to marry, were one and the same. 


There is no adequate reason, considering the des- 
perate gravity of the situation, for her silence; 
it ought to be accounted for and it is not, nor could 
it be. Her refusal to tell her lover's name, her 
confession of her dishonour and at the same time 
her acceptance of Mertoun as a husband at her 
brother's hands, are circumstances which shock 
probability and common human nature. 

Then it is not only this which irritates a reader; 
it is also the stupidity of Tresham. That also is 
most unnatural. He beheves that the girl whom 
he has loved and honoured all his life, whose purity 
was as a star to him, will accept Mertoun while 
she was sinning with another! He should have 
felt that this was incredible, and immediately under- 
stood, as Guendolen does, that her lover and Mer- 
toun were the same. Dulness and blindness so 
improbable are unfitting in a drama, nor does 
the passion of his overwhelming pride excuse him. 
The central situation is a protracted irritation. 
Browning was never a good hand at construction, 
even in his poems. His construction is at its very 
worst in this drama. 

But now, when we have, with wrath, accepted 
this revolting situation — which, of course. Brown- 
ing made in order to have his tragic close, but 
which a good dramatist would have arranged so 
differently — we pass into the third act, the tragic 
close ; and that is simple enough in its lines, quite 
naturally wrought out, beautifully felt, and of 
exquisite tenderness. Rashness of wrath and 
pride begin it; Mertoun is slain by Tresham as 
he climbs to Mildred's window, though why he 
should risk her honour any more when she is 


affianced to him is another of Browning's madden- 
ing improbabilities. And then wrath and ptide 
pass away, and sorrow and love and the joy of 
death are woven together in beauty. If we must 
go through the previous acts to get to this, we 
forgive, for its sake, their wrongness. It has 
turns of love made exquisitely fair by inevitable 
death, unfathomable depths of feeling. We touch 
in these last scenes the sacred love beyond the 
world in which forgiveness is forgotten. 

Colombo s Birthday is of all these plays the near- 
est to a true drama. It has been represented in 
America as well as in England, and its skilful char- 
acterisation of Valence, Colombe, and Berthold has 
won deserved praise; but it could not hold the 
stage. The subject is too thin. Colombe finds out 
on her birthday that she is not the rightful heir to 
the Duchy; but as there is some doubt, she re- 
solves to fight the question. In her perplexities she 
is helped and supported by Valence, an advocate 
from one of the cities of the Duchy, who loves her, 
but whom she believes to serve her from loyalty 
alone. Berthold, the true heir, to avoid a quarrel, 
offers to marry Colombe, not because he loves her, 
but as a good piece of policy. She then finds out 
that she loves Valence, and refusing the splendid al- 
liance, leaves the Court a private person, with love 
and her lover. This slight thing is spun out into five 
acts by Browning's metaphysics of love and friend- 
ship. There is but little action, or pressure of 
the characters into one another. The intriguing 
courtiers are dull, and their talk is not knit 
together. The only thing alive in them is their 


universal meanness. That meanness, it is true, 
enhances the magnanimity of Valence and Ber- 
thold, but its dead level in so many commonplace 
persons lowers the dramatic interest of the piece. 
The play is rather an interesting conversational 
poem about the up-growing of love between two 
persons of different but equally noble character; 
who think love is of more worth than power or 
wealth, and who are finally brought together by 
a bold, rough warrior who despises love in com- 
parison with policy. Its real action takes place 
in the hearts of Valence and Colombe, not in the 
world of human life ; and what takes place in their 
hearts is at times so quaintly metaphysical, so 
curiously apart from the simplicities of human 
love, so complicated, even beyond the complexity 
of the situation — for Browning loved to pile com- 
plexity on complexity — that it makes the play unfit 
for public representation but all the more interest- 
ing for private reading. But, even in the quiet of 
our room, we ask why Browning put his subject 
into a form which did not fit it ; why he overloaded 
the story of two souls with a host of characters who 
have no vital relation to it, and, having none, are 
extremely wearisome.' It might have been far 
more successfully done in the form of In a Balcony, 
which Browning himself does not class as a drama. 

Luria, the last of the dramas in date of composi- 
tion, may be said to have no outward action, except 
in one scene where Tiburzio breaks in suddenly to 
defend Luria, who, like a wounded stag, stands at 
bay among the dogs and hunters who suspect his 
fidelity to Florence. It is a drama of inward action. 


of changes in the souls of men. The full purifica- 
tion of Luria is its one aim, and the motive of 
Luria himself is a single motive. The play occu- 
pies one day only, and passes in one place. 

Luria is a noble Moor who commands the armies 
of Florence against Pisa, and conquers Pisa. He 
is in love with the city of Florence as a man is 
with a woman. Its beauty, history, great men, and 
noble buildings attract his Eastern nature, by their 
Northern qualities, as much as they repel his 
friend and countryman Husain. He lives for her 
with unbrokeri faithfulness, and he dies for her 
with piteous tenderness when he finds out that 
Florence distrusts him. When he is suspected of 
treachery, his heart breaks, and to explain his 
broken heart, he dies. There is no other way left 
to show to Florence that he has always been true 
to her. And at the moment of his death, all who 
spied on him, distrusted and condemned him, are 
convinced of his fidelity. Even before he dies, his 
devotion to his ideal aim, his absolute unselfishness, 
have won over and ennobled all the self-interested 
characters which surround him — Puccio, the gen- 
eral who is jealous of him; Domizia, the woman 
who desires to use him as an instrument of her 
hate to Florence ; even Braccio, the Machiavellian 
Florentine who thinks his success must be danger- 
ous to the state. Luria conquers them all. It is 
the triumph of self-forgetfulness. And the real 
aim of the play is not dramatic. It is too isolated 
an aim to be dramatic. It is to build up and image 
the noble character of Luria, and it reaches that 
end with dignity. 

The other characters are but foils to enhance the 


solitary greatness of Luria. Braccio is a mere 
voice, a theory who talks, and at the end where 
he becomes more human, he seems to lose his in- 
telligence. The Secretaries have no individuality. 
Domizia causes nothing, and might with advantage 
be out of the play. However, when, moved by 
the nobleness of Luria, she gives up her revenge 
on Florence, she speaks well, and her outburst is 
poetical. Puccio is a real personage, but a poor 
fellow. Tiburzio is a pale reflection of Luria. 
Husain alone has some personality, but even his 
Easternness, which isolates him, is merged in his 
love of Luria. All of them only exist to be the 
scaffolding by means of which Luria's character-is 
built into magnificence, and they disappear from 
our sight, like scaffolding, when the building is 

There are fine things in the poem : the image of 
Florence; its men, its streets, its life as seen by 
the stranger-eyes of Luria; the contrast between 
the Eastern and the Latin nature ; the picture of 
hot war; the sudden friendship of Luria and 
Tiburzio, the recognition in a moment of two high 
hearts by one another;' the picture of Tiburzio 
fighting at the ford, of Luria tearing the letter 
among the shamed conspirators ; the drawing of the 
rough honest soldier-nature in Puccio, and, chief of 
all, the vivid historic painting of the time and the 
type of Italian character at the time of the republics. 

The first part of A Soul's Tragedy is written in 
poetry and the second in prose. The first part is 
dull but the second is very Uvely and amusing; 
so gay and clever that we begin to wish that a 


good deal of Browning's dramas had been written 
in prose. And the prose itself, unlike his more 
serious prose in his letters and essays, is good, 
clear, and of an excellent style. The time of the 
play is in the sixteenth century; but there is 
nothing in it which is special to that time : no 
scenery, no vivid pictures of street hfe, no distinct 
atmosphere of the period. It might just as well 
be of the eighteenth or nineteenth century. The 
character of Chiappino may be found in any pro- 
vincial town. This compound of envy, self-conceit, 
superficial cleverness, and real silliness is one of 
our universal plagues, and not uncommon among 
the demagogues of any country. And he contrasts 
him with Ogniben, the Pope's legate, another type, 
well known in governments, skilled in affairs, half 
mocking, half tolerant of the "foolish people," 
the alluring destroyer of all self-seeking leaders of 
the people. He also is as common as Chiappino, 
as modern as he is ancient. Both are representa- 
tive types, and admirably drawn. They are done 
at too great length, but Browning could not man- 
age them as well in drama as he would have done 
in a short piece such as he placed in Men and 
Women. Why this little thing is called A Soul's 
Tragedy I cannot quite understand. That title sup- 
poses that Chiappino loses his soul at the end of the 
play. But it is plain from his mean and envious 
talk at the beginning with Eulalii that his soul is 
already lost. He is not worse at tije end, but per- 
haps on the way to betterment. The tragedy is 
then in the discovery by the people that he who was 
thought to be a great soul is a fraud. But that con- 
clusion was not Browning's intention. Finally, if 

240 brownhstg 

this be a tragedy it is clothed with comedy. Brown- 
ing's humour was never more wise, kindly, worldly, 
and biting than in the second act, and Ogniben 
may well be set beside Bishop Blougram. It would 
be a privilege to dine with either of them. 

Every one is in love with Pippa Passes, which 
appeared immediately after Sordello. It may have 
been a refreshment to Browning after the com- 
plexities and metaphysics of Sordello, to live for a 
time with the soft simpUcity of Pippa, with the 
clear motives of the separate occurrences at Asolo, 
with the outside picturesque world, and in a lyric 
atmosphere. It certainly is a refreshment to us. 
It is a pity so little was done by Browning in this 
pleasant, graceful, happy way. The substance of 
thought in it and its intellectual force are just as 
strong as in Sordello or Paracelsus, and are con- 
cerned, especially in the first two pieces, with 
serious and weighty matters of human life. Be- 
yond the pleasure ' the poem gives, its indirect 
teaching is full of truth and beauty; and the 
things treated of belong to many phases of human 
life, and touch their problems with poetic light and 
love. Pippa herself, in her affectionate, natural 
goodness, illuminates the greater difficulties of life 
in a single day more than Sordello or Paracelsus 
could in the whole course of their lives. 

It may be that there are persons who think lightly 
of Pippa Passes in comparison with Fifine at the 
Fair, persons who judge poetry by the difficulties 
they find in its perusal. But Pippa Passes fulfils 
the demands of the art of poetry, and produces in 
the world the high results of lovely and noble 
poetry. The other only does these things in part; 


and when Fifine at the Fair and even Sordello are 
in the future only the study of pedants, Pippa 
Passes will be an enduring strength and pleasure 
to all who love tenderly and think widely. And 
those portions of it which belong to Pippa herself, 
the most natural, easy, and simplest portions, will 
be the sources of the greatest pleasure and the 
deepest thought. Like Sordello's song, they will 
endure for the healing, comforting, exalting, and 
impelling of the world. 

I have written of her and of other parts of the 
poem elsewhere. It only remains to say that 
nowhere is the lyric element in Browning's genius 
more delightfully represented than in this little 
piece of mingled song and action. There is no 
better love-lyric in his work than 

You'll love me yet ! — and I can tarry 
Your love's protracted growing ; 

and the two snatches of song which Pippa sings 
when she is passing under Ottima's window and 
the Monsignore's — " The year's at the spring " and 
" Overhead the tree-tops meet " — possess, inde- 
pendent of the meaning of the words and their 
poetic charm, a freshness, dewiness, morning 
ravishment to which it is difficult to find an equal. 
They are filled with youth and its delight, alike of the 
body and the soul. What Browning's spirit felt 
and lived when he was young and his heart beating 
with the life of the universe, is in them, and it is 
their greatest charm. 



WHEN we leave Paracelsus, Sordello, and the 
Drainas behind, and find ourselves among 
I the host of occasional poems contained in the 
I Dramatic Lyrics and Romances, in Men and Women, 
in Dramatis Personce, and in the later volumes, it is 
like leaving an unencumbered sea for one studded 
with a thousand islands. Every island is worth a 
visit and different from the rest. Their variety, 
their distinct scenery, their diverse inhabitants, the 
strange surprises in them, are as continual an 
enchantment for the poetic voyager as the summer 
isles of the Pacific. But while each of them is 
different from the rest, yet, like the islands in the 
Pacific, they fall into groups; and to isolate these 
groups is perhaps the best way to treat so varied 
a collection of poems. To treat them chrono- 
logically would be a task too long and wearisome 
for a book. To treat them zoologically, if I may 
borrow that term, is possible, and may be profit- 
able. This chapter is dedicated to the poems 
which relate to Love. 

Commonly speaking, the term Love Poems does 
not mean poems concerning theabsolute Love, or the 
love of Ideas, such as Truth or Beauty, or Love of 


mankind or one's own country, or the loves that 
belong to home, or the love of friends, or even 
married love unless it be specially bound up, as it 
is in Browning's poem of By the Fireside, with ante- 
nuptial love — but poems expressing the isolating 
passion of one sex for the other ; chiefly in youth, 
or in conditions which resemble those of youth, 
whether moral or immoral. These celebrate the 
joys and sorrows, rapture and despair, changes and 
chances, moods, fancies, and imaginations, quips 
and cranks and wanton wiles, all the tragedy and 
comedy, of that passion, which is half of the sense 
and half of the spirit, sometimes wholly of the 
senses and sometimes wholly of the spirit. It 
began, in one form of it, among the lower animals 
and still rules their lives ; it has developed through 
many thousand years of humanity into myriads of 
shapes in and outside of the soul ; into stories 
whose varieties and multitudes are more numerous 
than the stars of heaven or the sand of the sea- 
shore; and yet whose multitudinous changes and 
histories have their source in two things only — in 
the desire to generate, which is physical; in the 
desire to forget self in another, which is spiritual. 
The union of both these desires into one passion of 
thought, act, and feeling is the fine quintessence of 
this kind of love ; but the latter desire alone is the 
primal motive of all the other forms of love, from 
friendship and maternal love to love of country, of 
mankind, of ideas, and of God. 

With regard to love poems of the sort we now 
discuss, the times in history when they are most 
written are those in which a nation or mankind 
renews its youth. Their production in the days of 


Elizabeth was enormous, their passion various and 
profound, their fancy elaborate, their ornament ex- 
travagant with the extravagance of youth ; and, in 
the hands of the greater men, their imagination 
was as fine as their melody. As that age grew 
older they were not replaced but were dominated 
by more serious subjects ; and though love in its 
fantasies was happily recorded in song during the 
Caroline period, passion in English love-poetry 
slowly decayed till the ideas of the Revolution, be- 
fore the Frenoh outbreak, began to renew the youth 
of the world, r The same career is run by the individ- 
ual poet. Tne subject of his youth is the passion of 
love, as it was in Browning's Pauline. The sub- 
jects of his manhood are serious with other thought 
and feeling, sad with another sadness, happy with 
another happiness. They traverse a wider range 
of human feeling and thought, and when they speak 
of love, it is of love in its wiser, steadier, graver, and 
less selfish forms. It was so with Browning, who far 
sooner than his comrades, escaped from the tangled 
wilderness of youthful passion. It is curious to 
think that so young a creature as he was in 1833 
should have left the celebration of the love of 
woman behind him, and only written of the love 
which his Paracelsus images in Aprile. It seems 
a little insensitive in so young a man. But I do not 
think Browning was ever quite young save at happy 
intervals; and this falls in with the fact that! his 
imagination was more intellectual than passionate ; 
that while he felt love, he also analysed, even dis- 
sected it, as he wrote about it ; that it scarcely ever 
carried him away s<j far as to make him forget 
everything but itself. Perhaps once or twice, as 


in Tke Last Ride Together, he may have dr.awn near 
to this absorption, but even then the man is think- 
ing more of his own thoughts than of the woman 
by his side, who must have been somewhat wearied 
by so silent a companion. Even in By the Fireside, 
when he is praising the wife whom he loved with 
all his soul, and recalling the moment of early 
passion while yet they looked. on one another and 
felt their souls embrace before they spoke — it is 
curious to find him deviating from the intensity of 
the recollection into a discussion of what might 
have been if she had not been what she was — a 
sort of excursus on the chances of life which lasts 
for eight verses — before he returns to that im- 
mortal moment. Even after years of married 
life, a poet, to whom passion has been in youth 
supreme, would scarcely have done that. ' On thel- 
whole, his poetry, lifeeHi-hafe^-ef—Wordsworth, ..hut' 
not so comple telvt is destitute of the Love-poem in 
the ordinary sense of the word ; and the few ex-, 
captions to which we might point want so much 
that exclusiveness of a lover which shuts out all 
other thought but that of the woman, that it is 
difficult to class them in that species of literature. 
However, this is not altogether true, and the main 
exception to it is a curious piece of literary and 
personal history. Those who read Asolando, the 
last book of poems he published, were surprised to 
find with what intensity some of the first poems in 
it described the passion of sexual love. They are 
fully charged with isolated emotion ; other thoughts 
than those of love do not intrude upon them. 
Moreover, they have a sincere lyric note. It is 
impossible, unless by a miracle of imagination, that 


these could have been written when he was about 
eighty years of age. I believe, though I do not 
know, that he wrote them when lie was quite a 
young man ; that he found them on looking over 
his portfolios, and had a dim and scented pleasure 
in reading and publishing them in his old age. He 
mentions in the preface that the book contains both 
old and new poems. The new are easily isolated, 
and the first poem, the introduction to the collec- 
tion, is of the date of the book. The rest belong 
to different periods of his life. The four poems to 
which I refer are Now, Summum Bonum, A Pearl 
— A Girl, and Speculative. They are beautiful with 
a beauty of their own ; full of that natural abandon- 
ment of the whole world for one moment with the 
woman loved, which youth and the hours of youth 
in manhood feel. I should have been sorry if 
Browning had not shaped into song this abandon- 
ment. He loved the natural, and was convinced 
of its rightness ; and he had, as I might prove, a 
tenderness for it even when it passed into wrong. 
He was the last -man in the world to think that the 
passion of noble sexual love was to be despised. 
And it is pleasant to find, at the end of his long 
poetic career, that, in a serious and wise old age, 
he selected, to form part of his last book, poems of 
youthful and impassioned love, in which the senses 
and the spirit met, each in their pre-eminence. 

The two first of these, Now and Summum Bonum, 
must belong to his youth, though from certain turns 
of expression and thought in them, it seems that 
Browning worked on them at the time he published 
them. I quote the second for its lyric charm, even 
though the melody is ruthlessly broken. 


All the breath and the bloom of the year in the bag of one 
All the wonder and wealth of the mine in the heart of one 
In the core of one pearl all the shade and the shine of the sea : 
Breath and bloom, shade and shine, — wonder, wealth, and 
— how far above them — 

Truth, that's brighter than gem, 
Trust, that's purer than pearl, — 
Brightest truth, purest trust in the universe — all were for me 
In the kiss of one girl. 

The next two poems are knit to this and to Now by 
the strong emotion of earthly love, of the senses as 
well as of the spirit, for one woman; but they differ 
in the period at which they were written. The 
first, A Pearl — A Girl, recalls that part of the, 
poem By the Fireside, when one look, one word, ' 
opened the infinite world of love to Browning. If 
written when he was young, it has been revised in 
after life. 

A simple ring with a single stone 
To the vulgar eye no stone of price : 

Whisper the right word, that alone — 
Forth starts a sprite, like fire from ice, 

And lo, you are lord (says an Eastern scroll) 

Of heaven and earth, lord whole and sole 
Through the power in a pearl. 

A woman ('tis I this time that say) 
With little the world counts worthy praise 

Utter the true word — out and away 
Escapes her soul : I am wrapt in blaze, 

Creation's lord, of heaven and earth 

Lord whole and sole — by a minute's birth — 
Through the love in a girl ! 

The second — Speculative — also d|scribes a 
monaeDlof^ love-longm g, but has the characteristics 
of his later poetry. It may be of the same date as 
the book, or not much earlier. It may be of his 


later manhood, of the time when he lost his wife. 
At any rate, it is intense enough. It looks back 
on the love he has lost, on passion with the 
woman he loved. And he would surrender all — 
Heaven, Nature, Man, Art — in this momentary fire 
of desire; for indeed such passion is momentary. 
iMomentariness is the essence of the poem.'] "Even 
in heaveii I will cry for the wild hours now gone by 
— Give me back the Earth and Thyself." Specvr 
lative, he calls it, in an after irony. 

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 passedp^ 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 I " 

Nor was this reversion to the passion of youth- 
ful love altogether a new departure. The lyrics 
in Ferishtah' s Fancies are written to represent, 
from the side of emotion, the intellectual and ethi- 
cal ideas worked out in the poems. The greater 
number of them are beautiful, and they would gain 
rather than lose if they were published separately 
from the poems. Some are plainly of the same 
date as the poems. Others, I think, were written in 
Browning's early time, and the preceding poems 
are made to fit them. But whatever be their origin, 
they nearly all treat of love, and one of them with 
a crude claim on the love of the senses alone, as if 
that — as if the love of the body, even alone — were 


not apart from the consideration of a poet who 
wished to treat of the whole of human nature. 
Browning, when he wished to make a thought or a 
fact quite plain, frequently stated it without any of 
its modifications, trusting to his readers not to mis- 
take him; knowing, indeed, that if they cared to 
find the other side — in this case the love which 
issues from the senses and the spirit together, or 
from the spirit alone — they would find it stated 
just as soundly and clearly. He meant us to com- 
bine both statements, and he has done so himself 
with regard to love. 

When, however, we have considered these excep- 
tions, it still remains curious how little the passion- 
ate Love-poem, with its strong personal touch, 
exists in Browning's poetry. One reason may be 
that Love-poems of this kind are naturally lyrical, 
and demand a sweet melody in the verse, and 
[Browning's genius was not especially lyrical, nor 
could he inevitably command a melodious move- 
ment in his verse. But the main reason is that he 
was taken up with other and graver matters, and 
chiefly with the right theory of life ; with the true 
relation of God and man ; and with the picturing 

— for absolute Love's sake, and in order to win 
men to love one another by the awakening of pity 

— of as much of humanity as he could grasp in 
thought and feeling. Isolated and personal love 
was only a small part of this large design. 

One personal love, however, he possessed fully 
and intensely. It was his love for his wife, and 
! three poems embody it. The first is By the Fireside. 
It does not take raffk as a true love lyric ; it is too 
long, too many-motived for a lyric. It is a medi- 


tative poem of recoUective tenderness wandering 
through the past ; and no poem written on married 
love in England is more beautiful. The poet, sit- 
ting silent in the room where his wife sits with 
him, sees all his life with her unrolled, muses on 
what has been, and is, since she came to bless his 
life, or what will be, since she continues to bless 
it; and all the fancies and musings which, in a 
usual love lyric, would not harmonise with the 
intensity of love-passion in youth, exactly fit in 
with the peace and satisfied joy of a married life 
at home with God and Nature and itself. The 
poem is full of personal charm."^ Quiet thought, 
profound feeling, and sweet memory, like a sunlit 
mist, soften the aspect of the room, the image 
of his wife, and all the thoughts, emotions, and 
scenery described. It is a finished piece of art.l 

The second of these poems is the Epilogue to 
the volumes of Men and Women, entitled One Word 
More. It ! also is a finished piece of art,' carefully 
conceived, upbuilded stone by stone, touch by 
touch, each separate thought with its own emotion, 
each adding something to the whole, each pushing 
Browning's emotion and picture into our souls, till 
the whole impression is received. It is full, and 
full to the brim, with the long experience of peace- 
ful joy in married lovel And the subtlety of the 
close of it, and of Browning's play with his own 
fancy about the moon, do not detract from the 
tenderness of it ; for f it speaks not of transient 
passion but of the love of a whole life lived from 
end to end in music. 

The last of these is^ entitled Prospice. When he 
wrote it he had lost his wife. It tells what shei 


had made of him; it reveals alike his steadfast 
sadness that she had gone from him and the stead- 
fast resolution, due to her sweet and enduring^ower, 
with which, after her^deathThe promised, bearing 
with him his sorrow and his memory of joy, to 
stand and withstand in the battle of life, ever a 
fighter_tOLjiL£Lclose — and well he kept his word. 
It ends with the expression of his triumphant cer- 
tainty of meeting her, and breaks forth at last into 
so great a cry of pure passion that ear and heart 
alike rejoice. Browning at his best. Browning in 
the central fire of his character, is in it. 

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 ! 


Leaving now these personal poems on Love, we 
come to those we may caltimpersonal. They are 
poems about love, not in its simplicities, but in its 
subtle moments ^ moments that Browjaing loved 
to analyse, and which he informed not so much 
with the passion of love, as with his profound love 
of human nature.^ He describes in them, with the 
seriousness of one who has left youth behind, the 
moods of love, its changes, vagaries, certainties, 
failures, and conquests. It is a man writing, not 
of the love of happy youth, but of love tossed on 
the stormy seas- of manhood and womanhood, and 
modified from its singular personal intensity by the 
deeper thought, feeling, and surprising chances of 
our mortal life. Love does nat stand alone, as in 
the true love lyric, but with many other grave 
matters. As such it is a more interesting subject 
for Browning. For Love then becomes full of 
strange turns, unexpected thoughts, impulses un- 
known before creating varied circumstances, and 
created by them ; and these his intellectual-spiritu- 
ality delighted to cope with, and to follow, laby- 
.rinth after labyrinth. I shall give examples of 
these separate studies, which have always an idea 
beyond the love out of which the poem arises. In 
some of them the love is finally absorbed in the 
idea. In all of them their aim is beyond the love 
of which they speak. 

Love among the Ruins tells of a lover going to 
meet his sweetheart. There are many poems with 
this expectant motive in the world bf song, and no 
motive has been written of with greater emotion. 
If we are to believe these poems, or have ever^ 
waited ourselves, the hour contains nothing but her 


presence, what she is doing, how she is coming, 
why she delays, what it will he when she comes — 
a thousand things, each like white fire round her 
image. But Browning's lover, through nine verses, 
cares only for the wide meadows over which he 
makes his way and the sheep wandering over them, 
and their flowers and the ruins in the , midst of 
them ; musing on the changes and contrasts of the 
world — the lonely land and the populous glory 
which was of old in the vast city. It is only then, 
and only in two lines, that he thinks of the girl 
who is waiting for him in the ruined tower. Even 
then his imagination cannot stay with her, but 
glances from her instantly — thinking that the 
ancient King stood where she is waiting, and 
looked, full of pride, from the high tower on his 
splendid city. When he has elaborated this sec- 
ond excursion of thought he comes at last to the 
girl. Then is the hour of passion, but even in 
its fervour he draws a conclusion, belonging to a 
higher world than youthful love, as remote from 
it as his description of the scenery and the ruins. 
" Splendour of arms, triumph of wealth, centuries \ 
of glory and pride, they are nothing to love. Love 
is best." It is a general, not a particular conclu- i 
sion. In a true Love-poem it would be particular. \ 

Another poem of waiting love is In Three Days. 
And this has the spirit of a true love lyric^ in it. 
It reads like a personal thing ; it breathes exalta- 
tion ; it is quick, hurried, and thrilled. The deli- 
cate fears of chance and change in the three days, 
or in the years to come, belong of right and na- 
ture to the waiting, and are subtly varied and 
condensed. It is, however, the thoughtful love of 


a man who can be metaphysical in love, not the 
excluding mastery of passion./ 

Two in the Campagna is another poem in which 
love passes away into a deeper thought than love — 
a strange and fascinating poem of twofold desire. 
The man loves a woman and desires to be at peace 
with her in love, but there is a more imperative 
passion in his soul — to rest in the infinite, in 
accomplished perfection. And his livelong and 
vain pursuit of this has wearied him so much that 
he has no strength left to realise earthly love. Is 
it possible that she who now walks with him in the 
Campagna can give him in her love the peace of 
the infinite which he desires, and if not, why — 
where is the fault.' For a moment he seems to 
catch the reason, and asks his love to see it with him 
and to grasp it. In a moment, like the gossamer 
thread he traces only to see it vanish, it is gone — 
and nothing is left, save 

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

Least of all is the woman left. She has quite dis- 
appeared. This is not a Love-poem at all, it is 
the cry of Browning's hunger for eternity in the 
midst of mortality, in which all the hunger for 
earthly love is burnt to dust. 

The rest are chiefly studies of di£ferent_kinds_of 
loygi, or of prises in^ love ; moments in its course, in 
its origin, or its failure. There are many examples 
in the shorter dramatic pieces, as In a Balcony ; 
and even in the longer dramas certain sharp 
climaxes of love are recorded, not as if they be- 
longed to the drama, but as if they were distinct 
studies introduced by chance or caprice. In the 


short poems called " dramatic " these studies 'are 
numerous, and I group a few of them together 
according to their motives, leaving out some which 
I shall hereafter treat of when I come to discuss 
the women in Browning. \ Evelyn Hope has noth- 
ing to do with the passion of love. The physical 
element of love is entirely excluded by the subject. 
It is a beautiful expression of a love purely spiritual; 
to be realised in its fulness ^ly after death, spirit 
with spirit, but yet to be kept as the master of daily 
Uf e, to whose la w^all thought and action are referred. 
The thought is noble, the expression of it simple, 
fine, and clear. It is, moreover, close to truth — 
there are hundreds of men who live quietly in love 
of that kind, and die in its embrace. 

In Cristina the love is just as spiritual, but the 
motive of the poem is not one, as in Evelyn Hope, 
but two. The woman is not dead, and she has 
missed her chance. But the lover has not. He 
has seen her and- in a moment loved her. She 
also looked on him and'^felt her soul matched by 
his as they " rushed together." But the world 
carried her away and she lost the fulness of life./ 
He, on the contrary, kept the moment for ever, and 
with it, her and all she might have been with him. 

Her soul's mine : and thus grown perfect, 
I shall pass my life's remainder. 

This is not the usual Love-poem. It is a love as 
spiritual, as mystid, even more mystic, since the 
woman lives, than the lover felt for Evelyn Hope. 
The second motive in Cristina of the lover who 
meets the true partner of his soul or hers, and 
either seizes the happy hour and possesses joy for 
ever, or misses it and loses all, is a favourite with 


Browning. He repeats it frequently under diverse 
circumstances, for it opened out so many various 
endings, and! afforded so much opportunity for his 
beloved analysis. Moreover, optimist as he was; 
in his final thought of man, he was deeply con- 
scious of the ironies of life, of the ease with which , 
things go wrong, of the impossibility of setting 
them right from without. And in the matter of 
love he marks in at least four poems how the 
moment was held and life was therefore conquest. 
Then in Youth and Art, in Dts Aliter Visum, in 
Bifurcation, in The Lost Mistress, and in Too Late, 
he records the opposite fate, and in characters so i 
distinct that the repetition of the motive is not^ 
monotonous. These are studies of the Might-have- \ 
beens of love. "" '■ 

Another motive, used with varied circumstance 
in three or four poems, but fully expanded in 
James Lee's Wife, is the discovery, after years of 
love, that love on one side is lost irretrievably. 
Another motive is, that rather than lose love men 
or women will often sacrifice their conscience, their 
reason, or their liberty. This sacrifice, of all that 
makes our nobler being for the sake of personal 
love alone, brings with it, because the whole being 
is degraded, the degradation, decay, and death of 
personal love itself. 

Another set of poems describes with fanciful 
charm, sometimes with happy gaiety, love at play 
with itself. True love makes in the soul an un- 
fathomable ocean in whose depths are the imagina- 
tions of love, serious, infinite, and divine. But on 
its surface the Hght of jewelled fancies plays — 2J' 
thousand thousand sunny memories and hopes, 


flying thoughts and dancing feelings. A poet would 
be certain to have often seen this happy crowd, and 
to desire to trick them out in song. So Browning 
does in his poem, In a Gondola. The two lovers, 
with the dark shadow of fate brooding over them, 
sing and muse and speak alternately, imaging in 
swift and rival pictures made by fancy their deep- 
set love ; playing with its changes, creating new 
worlds in which to place it, but always returning 
to its isolated individuality ; recalling how it began, 
the room where it reached its aim, the pictures, 
the furniture, the balcony, her dress, all the scenery, 
in a hundred happy and glancing pictures ; while 
interlaced through their gaiety — and the gaiety 
made keener by the nearness of dark fate — is 
coming death, death well purchased by an hour of 
love. Finally, the lover is stabbed and slain, and 
the pity of it throws back over the sunshine of 
love's fancies a cloud of tears. This is the stuff 
of life that Browning loved to paint — interwoven 
darkness and brightness, sorrow and joy trembling 
each on the edge of the other, life playing at ball, 
as joyous as Nausicaa and her maids, on a thin 
crust over a gulf of death. 

Just such another poem— f of the sportiveness 
of love, only this time in meinory, not in present 
pleasure,' is to be found in A Lovers' Quarrel, and 
the quarrel is the dark element in it. Browning, 
always feels that mighty passion has its root in 
tragedy, and that it seeks relief in comedy. The 
lover sits by the fireside alone, and recalls, forgetting 
pain for a moment, the joyful play they two had 
together, when love expressed its depth of pleasure 
in dramatic fancies. Every separate picture is done| 


in Browning's impressionist way. And when the 
glad memories are over, and the sorrow returns, 
passion leaps out — 

It is twelve o'clock : 

I shall hear her knock 
In the worst of a storm's uproar, 

I shall pull her through the door, 
I shall have her for evermore! 

This is partly a study of the memory of love ; 
and Browning has represented, without any sorrow 
linked to it, rnemorial love in a variety of charac- 
ters under different circumstances, so that, though 
the subject is the same, the treatment varies. .A 
charming instance of this is The Flower's Name; 
easy to read, happy in its fancy, in its scenery, in 
the subtle play of deep affection, in the character 
of its lover, in the character of the girl who is 
remembered — a good example of Browning's 
power to image in a few verses two human souls 
so clearly that they live in our world for ever. Meet- 
ing at Night — Parting at Morning is another remi- 
niscence, mixed up with the natural scenery of the. 
meeting and parting, a vivid recollection of a fleet-j 
ing night of passion, and then the abandonment of 
its isolation for a wider, fuller life with humanity. 
I quote it for the fine impassioned way in which 
human feeling and natural scenery are fused 

Meeting at Night 

The grey 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. 


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, through its joys and fears, 
Than the two hearts beating each to each ! 

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. 

^he poem entitled Cojifessions is another of these 
memories, in which a dying man, careless of death,' 
careless of the dull conventions of the clergyman, > 
cares for nothing but the memory of his early i 
passion for a girl one happy June, and dies inl 
comfort of the sweetness of the memory, though 
he thinks — 

How sad and bad and mad it was. 

Few but Browning would have seen, and fewer still 
have recorded, this vi^al piece of truth. It repre-' 
sents a whole type of character — those who in a life ' 
of weary work keep their day of love, even when 
it has been . wrong, as their one poetic, ideal 
possession, and cherish it for ever. The wrong of 
it disappears in the ideal beauty which now has 
gathered round it, and as it was faithful, unmixed 
with other love, it escapes degradation. We see, 
when the man images the past and its scenery out 
of the bottles of physic on the table, how the 
material world had been idealised to him all his 
life long by this passionate memory — 

Do I view the world as a vale of tears? 
Ah, reverend sir, not I. 


It might be well to compare with this another 
treatment of the memory of love in St. Martin! s 
Summer. A much less interesting and natural 
motive rules it than Confessions ; and the characters, 
though more " in society " than the dying man, are 
grosser in nature ; gross by their inability to love, 
or by loving freshly to make a new world in which 
the old sorrow dies or is transformed. There is no 
humour in the thing, though there is bitter irony. 
But there is humour in an earlier poem — A Serenade 
at the Villa, where, in the last verse, the bitter- 
ness of wrath and love together (a very different 
bitterness from that of St. Martin's Summer), 
breaks out, and is attributed to the garden gate. 
The night-watch and the singing is over; she 
must have heard him, but she gave no sign. He 
wonders what she thought, and then, because he 
was only half in love, flings away — 

Oh how dark your villa was, 

Windows fast and obdurate ! 
How the garden grudged me grass 

Where I stood — the iron gate 
Ground its teeth to let me pass! 

It is impossible to notice all these studies of 
love, but they form, together, a book of transient; 
phases of the passion in almost every class of' 
society. And they show how Browning, passing 
through the world, from the Quartier Latin toj 
London drawing-rooms, was continually on the 
watch to catch, store up, and reproduce a crowd 
of motives for poetry which his memory held and 
his imagination shaped. 

There is only one more poem, which I cannot 
pass by in this group of studies. It is one of 


sacred and personal memory, so much so that it 
is probable the loss of his life lies beneath it. It 
rises into that highest poetry which fuses together 
into one form a hundred thoughts and a hundred 
emotions, and which is only obscure from the 
mingling of their multitude. I quote it, I cannot 
comment on it. 

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 
Through 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! 

That, indeed, is passionate enough. 

Then there is another group — tj.les jvhich | 
embody phases of love. Count Gismond is one of 1 
these. It is too long, and wants Browning's usual 
force. Tha outline of the story was, perhaps, too 
simple to interest his intellect, and he needed m\ 
writing poetry not only the emotional subject, but' 
that there should be something in or behind the 


emotion through the mazej^jjfjw^ichjijsjntelligfiiice"] 
might glide like a serpent.* ~ ^ 

The Glove is another of these tales — a good 
example of the brilliant fashion in which Browning 
could, by a strange kaleidoscopic turn of his subject, 
give it a new aspect and a new ending. The world 
has had the tale before it for a very long time. 
Every one had said the woman was wrong and 
the man right; but here, poetic juggler as he is, 
Browning makes the woman right and the man 
wrong, reversing the judgment of centuries. The 
best of it is, that he seems to hold the truth of the 
thing. It is amusing to think that only now, in the 
other world, if she and Browning meet, will she 
find herself comprehended. 

Finally, as to the mightier kinds of love, those 
supreme forms of the passion, which have neither 
beginning nor end ; to which time and space are 
but names ; which make and fill the universe ; the 
least grain of which predicates the whole ; the spirit 
of which is God Himself ; the breath of whose life 
is immortal joy, or sorrow which means joy ; whose 
vision is Beauty, and whose activity is Creation — 
these, united in God, or divided among men into 
their three great entities — love of ideas for their 
truth and beauty; love of the natural universe, 
which is God's garment ; love of humanity, which is 
God's child — these pervade the whole of Browning's 
poetry as the heat of the sun pervades the earth and 
every little grain upon it. They make its warmth 

* There is one simple story at least which he tells quite ad- 
mirably, The Pied Piper of Hamelin. But then, that story, if it is 
not troubled by intellectual matter, is also not troubled by any 
deep emotion. It is told by a poet who becomes a child for 


and life, strength and beauty. They are too vast 
to be circumscribed in a lyric, represented in a 
drama, bound up even in a long story of spiritual^ 
endeavour Jike Paracelsus. But they move, in 
digm^Tsplendour, and passion, through all that he 
deeply conceived and nobly wrought; and their 
triumph and immortality in his poetry are never 
for one moment clouded with doubt or subject to 
death. This is the supreme thing in his work. 
To him Love is the Conqueror, and Love is God. 



THE poems on which I have dwelt in the last 
chapter, though they are mainly concerned 
with love between the sexes, illustrate the other 
noble passions, all of which, such as joy, are forms 
of, or rather children of, self -forgetful love. They 
do not illustrate the evil or ignoble passions — envy, 
jealousy, hatred, base fear, despair, revenge, avarice, 
and remorse — which, driven by the emotion that 
so fiercely and swiftly accumulates around them, 
master the body and soul, the intellect and the 
will, like some furious tyrant, and in their extremes 
hurry their victim into madness. Browning took 
some of these terrible powers and made them 
subjects in his poetry. Short, sharp-outlined 
sketches of them occur in his dramas and longer 
poems. There is no closer image in literature of 
long-suppressed fear breaking out into its agony of 
despair than in the hnes which seal Guido's pleading 

in The Ring and the Book. 

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 Grand Duke's — no, I am the Pope's ! 
Abate — Cardinal — Christ — Maria — God . . . 
Pompilia, will you let them murder me ? 


But there is no elaborate, long-continued study 
of these sordid and evil things in Browning. He 
was not one of our modern realists who love to 
paddle and splash in the sewers of humanity. Not 
only was he too healthy in mind to dwell on them, 
but he justly held them as not fit subjects for art 
unless they were bound up with some form of pity, 
as jealousy and envy are in Shakespeare's treatment 
of the story of Othello ; or imaged along with so 
much of historic scenery that we lose in our interest 
in the decoration some of the hatefulness of the 
passion. The combination, for example, of envy 
and hatred resolved on vengeance in The Labora- 
tory is too intense for any pity to intrude, but 
Browning realises not only the evil passions in 
the woman but the historical period also and its 
temper ; and he fills the poem with scenery which, 
though it leaves the woman first in our eyes, 
yet lessens the malignant element. The same, but 
of course with the difference Browning's variety 
creates, may be said of the story of the envious king, 
where envy crawls into hatred, hatred almost mo- 
tiveless — the Instans Tyrannus. A faint vein of 
humour runs through it. The king describes what 
has been ; his hatred has passed. He sees how 
small and fanciful it was, and the illustrations he 
uses to express it tell us that; though they carry 
with them also the contemptuous intensity of his past 
hatred. The swell of the hatred remains, though 
the hatred is past. So we are not left face to face 
with absolute evil, with the corruption hate en- 
genders in the soul. God has intervened, and 
the worst of it has passed away. 

Then there is the study of hatred in the Soliloquy 


of the Spanish Cloister. The hatred is black and 
deadly, the instinctive hatred of a brutal nature for 
a delicate one, which, were it unrelieved, would be 
too vile for the art of poetry. But it is relieved, 
not only by the scenery, the sketch of the monks in 
the refectory, the garden of flowers, the naughty 
girls seated on the convent bank washing their black 
hair, but also by the admirable humour which ripples 
like laughter through the hopes of his hatred, and 
by the brilliant sketching of the two men. We see 
them, know them, down to their little tricks at din- 
ner, and we end by reaUsing hatred, it is true, but 
in too agreeable a fashion for just distress. 

In other poems of the evil passions the relieving 
element is pity. There are the two poems entitled 
Before and After, that is, before and after the duel. 
Before is the statement of one of the seconds, with 
curious side-thoughts introduced by Browning's 
mental play with the subject, that the duel is abso- 
lutely necessary. The challenger has been deeply 
wronged ; and he cannot and will not let forgiveness 
intermit his vengeance. The man in us agrees with 
that; the Christian in us says, "Forgive, let God 
do the judgment." But the passion for revenge has 
here its way and the guilty falls. And now let Brown- 
ing speak — Forgiveness is right and the vengeance- 
fury wrong. The dead man has escaped, the living 
has not escaped the wrath of conscience ; pity is all. 

Take the cloak from his fece, 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 : I 

His outrage, God's patience, man's scorn 

Were so easily borne! 

I stand here now, he lies in his place ; 
Cover the face. 

Again, there are few studies in literature of con- 
tempt, hatred, and revenge more sustained and subtle 
than Browning's poem entitled A Forgiveness ; and 
the title marks how, though the justice of revenge 
was accomplished on the woman, yet that pity, even 
love for her, accompanied and followed the revenge. 
Our natural revolt against the cold-blooded work 
of hat^l is modified, when we see the man's heart 
and ^ywoman's soul, into pity for their fate. The 
mai^fcls his story to a monk in the confessional, 
who has been the lover of his wife. He is a states- 
man absorbed in his work, yet he feels that his wife 
makes his home a heaven, and he carries her pres- 
ence with him all the day. His wife takes the first 
lover she msf ts. and, djscovetedi tells her husband 
that she hStes him! " Kill me now," she cries. 
But he despises her too mudh to hate her ; she is 
not worth killing. Three y^ars they live together 
in that fashion, till one evening she tells him the 
truth. " I was jealous of your work. I took my 
revenge by taking a lover, but I loveiJ^you, you 
only, all the time, and lost you — 


I thought you gave 
Your heart and soul away from me to slave 
At statecraft. Since my right in you seemed lost, 
I stung myself to teach you, to your cost, 
What you rejected could be prized beyond 
Life, heaven, by the first fool I threw a fond 
Look on, a fetal word to." 

"Ah, is that true, you loved and still love ? Then 
contempt perishes, and hate takes its place. Write 
your confession, and die by my hand. Vengeance 
is foreign to contempt, you have risen to the level 
at which hate can act. I pardon you, for as I slay 
hate departs — and now, sir," and he turns to the 
monk — 

She sleeps, as erst 
Beloved, in this your church : ay, yours ! 

and drives the poisoned dagger through the grate 
of the confessional into the heart of her lover. 

This is Browning's closest study of hate, contempt, 
and revenge. But bitter and close as it i^krhat is 
left with us is pity for humanity, pity for th^^pman, 
pity for the lover, pity for the husband. ^^ 

Again, in the case of Sebald and Ottima ixTPippa 
Passes, pity also rules. Love passing into lust has 
led to hate, and these two have slaked their hate 
and murdered Luca, Ottima's husband. They lean 
out of the window of the shrub-house as the morn- 
ing breaks. For the moment their false love is 
supreme. Their crime only creeps like a snake, 
half asleep, about the bottom of their hearts ; they 
recall their early passion and try to brazen it 
forth in the face of their murder, which now rises, 
dreadful and more dreadful, into threatening life in 
their soul. They reanimate their hate of Luca to 


lower their remorse, but at every instant his blood 
stains their speech. At last, while Ottima loves 
on, Sebald's dark horror turns to hatred of her he 
loved, till she lures him back into desire of her 
again. The momentary lust cannot last, but 
Browning shoots it into prominence that the 
outburst of horror and repentance may be the 

I kiss you now, dear Ottima, now and now ! 
This way? Will you forgive me — be once more 
My great queen ? 

At that moment Pippa passes by, singing : 

The year's at the spring 

And day's at the morn ; 

Morning's at seven ; 

The hill-side's dew-pearled ; 

The lark's on the wing ; 

The snail's on the thorn ; 
/God's in his heaven — 
(All's right with the world ! 

Som^ing in it smites Sebald's heart like a 
hamni|K)f God. He repents, but in the cowardice 
of rejBptance curses her. That baseness I do not 
think Browning should have introduced, no, nor 
certain carnal phrases which, previously right, now 
jar with the spiritual passion of repentance. But 
his fury with her passes away into the passion of 
despair — 

My brain is drowned now — quite drowned : all I feel 
Is . . . is, at swift recurring intervals, 
A hurry-down within me, as of waters 
Loosened to smother up some ghastly pit : 
There they go — whirls from a black fiery sea ! 

lines which must have been suggested to Browning 
by verses, briefer and more intense, in Webster's 


Duchess of Malfi. Even Ottima, lifted by her love, 
which purifies itself in wishing to die for her lover, 

Not me, — to him, O God, be merciful ! 

Thus into this cauldron of sin Browning steals the 
pity of God. We know they will be saved, so as 
by fire. 

Then there is the poem on the story of Cristina 
and Monaldeschi ; a subject too odious, I think, to 
be treated lyrically. It is a tale of love turned to 
hatred, and for good cause, and of the pitiless 
vengeance which followed. Browning has not 
succeeded in it ; and it may be so because he could 
get no pity into it. The Queen had none. 
Monaldeschi deserved none — a coward, a fool, and 
a traitor! Nevertheless, more might have been 
made of it by Browning. The poem is obscure 
and wandering, and the effort he makes to grip the 
subject reveals nothing but the weaknqj^ of the 
grip. It ought not to have been publishe 


And now I turn to passions more delightful, that 
this chapter may close in light and not in darkness 
— passions of the imagination, of the romantic 
regions of the soul. There is, first, the longing for 
the mystic world, the world beneath appearance, 
with or without reference to eternity. Secondly, 
bound up with that, there is the longing for the 
unknown, for following the gleam which seems to 
lead us onward, but we know not where. Then, 
there is the desire, the deeper for its constant 
suppression, for escape from the prison of a 
worldly society, from its conventions and maxims 


of morality, its barriers of custom and rule, into 
liberty and unchartered life. Lastly, there is that 
longing to discover and enjoy the lands of adven- 
ture and romance which underlies and wells up- 
wards through so much of modern life, and which 
has never ceased to send its waters up to refresh 
the world. These are romantic passions. On 
the whole, Browning does not often touch them in 
their earthly activities. His highest romance was 
beyond this world. It claimed eternity, and death 
was the entrance into its enchanted realm. When 
he did bring romantic feeling into human life, it 
was for the most part in the hunger and thirst, 
which, as in Abt Vogler, urged men beyond the 
visible into the invisible. But now and again he 
touched the Romantic of Earth. Childe Roland, 
the Flight of the Duchess, and some others, are 
alive with the romantic spirit. 

But before I write . of these, there are a few 
lyrical poems, written in the freshness of his youth, 
which are steeped in the light of the story-telling 
world; and might be made by one who, in the 
morning of imagination, sat on the dewy hills of 
the childish world. They are full of unusual 
melody, and are simple and wise enough to be 
sung by girls knitting in the sunshine while their 
lovers bend above them. One of these, a beauti- 
ful thing, with that touch of dark fate at its close 
which is so common in folk-stories, is hidden away 
in Paracelsus. " Over the sea," it begins : 

Over the sea our galleys went. 
With cleaving prows in order brave 
To a speeding wind and a bounding wave, 

A gallant armament : 


Each bark built out of a forest-tree 
Left leafy and rough as first it grew, 
And nailed all over the gaping sides, 
Within and without, with black bull-hides, 
Seethed in fat, and suppled with flame, 
To bear the playful billows' game. 

It is made in a happy melody, and the curious 
mingling in the tale, as it continues, of the Rudest 
ships, as described above, with purple hangings, 
cedar tents, and noble statues, 

A hundred shapes of lucid stone, 

and with gentle islanders from Graecian seas, is 
characteristic of certain folk-tales, especially those 
of Gascony. That it is spoken by Paracelsus as 
a parable of the state of mind he has reached, in 
which he clings to his first fault with haughty and 
foolish resolution, scarcely lessens the romantic 
element in it. That is so strong that we forget 
that it is meant as a parable. 

There is another song which touches the edge of 
romance, in which Paracelsus describes how he will 
bury in sweetness the ideal aims he had in youth, 
building a pyre for them of all perfumed things ; 
and the last lines of the verse I quote leave us in 
a castle of old romance — 

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. 

The other is a song, more than a song, in Pippa 
Passes, a true piece of early folk-romance, with a 


faint touch of Greek story, wedded to Eastern and 
mediaeval elements, in its roving imaginations. It 
is admirably pictorial, and the air which broods 
over it is the sunny and still air which, in men's 
fancy, was breathed by the happy children of the 
Golden Age. I quote a great part of it : 

A King lived long ago, 

In the morning of the world, 

When earth was nigher heaven than now : 

And the King's locks curled, 

Disparting o'er a forehead full 

As the milk-white space 'twixt horn and horn 

Of some sacrificial bull — 

Only calm as a babe new-bom : 

For he was got to a sleepy mood, 

So safe from all decrepitude, 

Age with its bane, so sure gone by, 

(The gods so loved him while he dreamed) 

That, having lived thus long, there seemed 

No need that King should ever die. 
LDiGi. No need that sort of King should ever die ! 

Among the rocks his city was : 

Before his palace, in the sun. 

He sat to see his people pass, 

And judge them every one 

From its threshold of smooth stone. 

They haled him many a valley-thief 

Caught in the sheep-pens, robber chief 

Swarthy and shameless, beggar, cheat, 

Spy-prowler, or rough pirate found 

On the sea-sand left aground ; 
* » * * « 

These, all and every one. 

The King judged, sitting in the sun. 
LUIGI. That King should still judge sitting in the sun t 

His councillors, on left and right. 

Looked anxious up, — but no surprise 

Disturbed the King's old smiling eyes 

Where the very blue had turned to white. 



'Tis said, a Python scared one day 

The breathless city, till he came, 

With forky tongue and eyes on flame, 

Where the old King sat to judge alway ; 

But when he saw the sweepy hair 

Girt with a crown of berries rare 

Which the god will hardly give to wear 

To the maiden who singeth, dancing bare 

In the altar-smoke by the pine-torch lights, 

At his wondrous forest rites, — 

Seeing this, he did not dare 

Approach the threshold in the sun. 

Assault the old King smiling there. 

Such grace had kings when the world begun! 

Then there are two other romantic pieces, not 
ringing with this early note, but having in them 
a wafting scent of the Provencal spirit. One is 
the song sung by Pippa when she passes the room 
where Jules and Phene are talking — the song of 
Kate, the Queen. The other is the cry Rudel, the 
great troubadour, sent out of his heart to the Lady 
of Tripoli whom he never saw, but loved. The 
subject is romantic, but that, I think, is all the 
roniance in it. It is not Rudel who speaks but 
Browning. It is not the twelfth but the nineteenth 
century which has made all that analysis and over- 
worked illustration. 

There remain, on this matter, Childe Roland and 
the Flight of the Duchess. I believe that Childe 
■ Roland emerged, all of a sudden and to Browning's 
surprise, out of the pure imagination, like the 
Sea-born Queen ; that Browning did not conceive 
it beforehand ; that he had no intention in it, no 
reason for writing it, and no didactic or moral aim 
in it. It was not even born of his will. Nor 
does he seem to be acquainted with the old story 


on the subject which took a ballad form in 
Northern England. The impulse to write it was 
suddenly awakened in him by that line out of an 
old song the Fool quotes in King Lear. There 
is another tag of a song in Lear which stirs a host 
of images in the imagination ; and out of which 
some poet might create a romantic lyric : 

Still through the hawthorn blows the cold wind. 

But it does not produce so concrete a set of 
images as Childe Roland to the Dark Tower came. 
Browning has made that his own, and what he has 
done is almost romantic. Almost romantic, I say, 
because the peculiarities of Browning's personal 
genius appear too strongly in Childe Roland for 
pure romantic story, in which the idiosyncrasy of 
the poet, the personal element of his fancy, are 
never dominant. The scenery, the images, the 
conduct of the tales of romance, are, on account 
of their long passage through the popular mind, 

Moreover, Browning's poem is too much in the 
vague. The romantic tales are clear in outline ; 
this is not. But the elements in the original story 
entered, as it were of their own accord, into 
Browning. There are several curious, unconscious 
reversions to folk-lore which have crept into his 
work like living things which, seeing Browning 
engaged on a story of theirs, entered into it as 
into a house of their own, and without his know- 
ledge. The wretched cripple who points the way ; 
the blind and wicked horse ; the accursed stream ; 
the giant mountain range, all the peaks alive, as 
if in a nature myth; the crowd of Roland's pre- 


decessors turned to stone by their failure; the 
sudden revealing of the tower where no tower had 
been, might all be matched out of folk-stories. I 
think I have heard that Browning wrote the poem 
at a breath one morning ; and it reads as if, from 
verse to verse, he did not know what was coming 
to his pen. This is very unlike his usual way; 
but it is very much the way in which tales of this 
kind are unconsciously up-built. 

Men have tried to find in the poem an allegory 
of human life; but Browning had no allegorising 
intention. However, as every story which was 
ever written has at its root th6 main elements of 
human nature, it is always possible to make an 
allegory out of any one of them. If we Uke to 
amuse ourselves in that fashion, we may do so ; but 
we are too bold and bad if we impute allegory to 
Browning. Childe Roland is nothing more than a 
gallop over the moorlands of imagination ; and the 
skies of the soul, when it was made, were dark and 
threatening storm. But one thing is plain in it : 
it is an outcome of that passion for the mystical 
world, for adventure, for the unknown, which lies 
at the root of the romantic tree. 

The Flight of the Duchess is full of the passion 
of escape from the conventional; and nowhere is 
Browning more original or more the poet. Its 
manner is exactly right, exactly fitted to the cha- 
racter and condition of the narrator, who is the 
duke's huntsman. Its metrical movement is ex- 
cellent, and the changes of that movement are in 
harmony with the things and feelings described. 
It is astonishingly swift, alive, and leaping; and 
it delays, as a stream, with great charm, when 


the emotion of the subject is quiet, recoUective, or 
deep. The descriptions of Nature in the poem are 
some of the most vivid and true in Browning's 
work. The sketches of animal life — so natural 
on the lips of the teller of the story — are done from 
the keen observation of a huntsman, and with his 
love for the animals ha has fed, followed, and slain. 
And, through it all, there breathes the romantic 
passion — to be out of the world of custom and 
commonplace, set free to wander for ever to an 
unknown goal ; to drink the air of adventure and 
change ; not to know to-day what will take place 
to-morrow, only to know that it will be different ; 
to ride on the top of the wave of life as it runs 
before the wind ; to live with those who live, and 
are of the same mind ; to be loved and to find love 
the best good in the world; to be the centre of 
hopes and joys among those who may blame and 
give' pain, but who are never indifferent ; to have 
many troubles, but always to pursue their far-off 
good; to wring the life out of them, and, at the last, 
to have a new life, joy, and freedom in another and a 
fairer world. But let Browning tell the end : 

So, at the last shall come old age, 
Decrepit as befits that stage ; 
How else would'st thou retire apart 
With the hoarded memories of thy heart, 
And gather all to the very least 
Of the fragments of life's earlier feast, 
Let fall through eagerness to find 
T^t crowning dainties yet behind? 
Ponder on the entire past 
Laid together thus at last, 
When the twilight helps to fuse 
The first fresh with the faded hues, 
And the outline of the whole 
Grandly fronts for once thy soul. 


And then as, 'mid the dark, a gleam 
Of yet another morning breaks, 
And, like the hand which ends a dream, 
Death, with the might of his sunbeam, 
Touches the flesh, and the soul awakes, 

Then the romance of life sweeps into the world 
beyond. But even in that world the duchess will 
never settle down to a fixed life. She will be, like 
some of us, a child of the wandering tribes of 

This romantic passion which never dies even 
in our modern society, is embodied in the gipsy 
crone who, in rags and scarcely clinging to life, 
suddenly lifts into youth and queenliness, just as 
in a society, where romance seems old or dead, it 
springs into fresh and lovely life. This is the heart 
of the poem, and it is made to beat the more 
quickly by the wretched attempt of the duke and 
his mother to bring back the observances of the 
Middle Ages without their soul. Nor even then 
does Browning leave his motive. The huntsman 
has heard the gipsy's song ; he has seen the light 
on his mistress' face as she rode away — the light 
which is not from sun or star — and the love of the 
romantic world is botn in him. He will not leave 
his master ; there his duty lies. " I must see this 
fellow his sad life through." But then he will go 
over the mountains, after his lady, leaving the 
graves of his wife and children, into the unknown, 
to find her, or news of her, in the land of the 
wanderers. And if he never find her, if, after 
pleasant journeying, earth cannot give her to his 
eyes, he will still pursue his quest in a world where 
romance and formality are not married together. 


So I shall find out some snug corner, 
Under a hedge, like Orson the wood-knight, 
Turn myself round and bid the world Good Night ; 
And sleep a sound sleep till the trumpet's blowing 
Wakes me (unless priests cheat us Jaymen)- 
To a world where will be no further throwing 
Pearls before swine that can't value them. Amen ! 



ALL poems might be called " imaginative repre- 
sentations." But the class of poems in 
Browning's work to which I give that name stands 
apart. It includes such poems as Clean, Caliban 
on Setebos, Fra Lippo Lippi, the Epistle of Karshish, 
and they isolate themselves, not only in Browning's 
poetry, but in English poetry. They have some 
resemblance in aim and method to the monologues 
of Tennyson, such as the Northern Farmer or 
Rizpah, but their aim is much wider than Tenny- 
son's, and their method far more elaborate and 

What do they represent } To answer this is to 
define within what limits I give them the name of 
" imaginative representations." They are not only 
separate studies of individual men as they breathed 
and spoke; face, form, tricks of body recorded; 
intelligence, character, temper of mind, spiritual 
aspiration made clear — Tennyson did that; they 
are also studies of these individual men — Cleon, 
Karshish, and the rest — as general types, repre- 
sentative images, of the age in which they lived ; 
or of the school of art to which they belonged; 
or of the crisis in theology, religion, art, or the 


social movement which took place while the men 
they paint were alive, and which these men led, or 
formed, or followed. That is their main element, 
and it defines them. 

They are not dramatic. Their action and ideas 
are confined to one person, and their circumstance 
and scenery to one time and place. But Browning, 
unlike Tennyson, filled the background of the stage 
on which he placed his single figure with a multi- 
tude of objects, or animals, or natural scenery, or 
figures standing round or in motion; and these 
give additional vitality and interest to the repre- 
sentation. Again, they are short, as short as a 
soliloquy or a letter or a conversation in a street. 
Shortness belongs to this form of poetic work — 
a form to which Browning gave a singular in- 
tensity. It follows that they must not be argu- 
mentative beyond what is fitting. Nor ought they 
to glide into the support of a th e sis, or into didiir- 
tic arlHTffi ReSr a.s Bi ^hnp. ^fn^g-rnm. and Mr. Sludge 
do. These might be called treatises, and are apart 
from the kind of poem of which I speak. They 
begin, indeed, within its limits, but they soon 
transgress those limits; and are more properly 
classed with poems which, also representative, have 
not the brevity, the scenery, the lucidity, the 
objective representation, the concentration of the 
age into one man's mind, which mark out these 
poems from the rest, and isolate them into a class 
of their own. 

The voiee we hear in them is rarely the voice of 
Browning ; nor is the mind of their personages his 
mind, save so far as he is their creator. There are 
a few exceptions to this, but, on the whqle, Brown- 


ing has, in writing these poems, stripped himself of 
his own personality. He had, by creative power, 
made these men ; cast them off from himself, and 
put them into their own age. They talk their 
minds out in character with their age. Browning 
seems to watch them, and to wonder how they got 
out of his hands and became men. That is the 
impression they make, and it predicates a singular 
power of imagination. Like the Prometheus of 
Goethe, the poet sits apart, moulding men and then 
endowing them with life. But he cannot tell, any 
more than Prometheus, what they will say and do 
after he has made them. He does tell, of course, 
but that is not our impression. Our impression is 
that they live and talk of their own accord, so 
vitally at home they are in the country, the scenery, 
and the thinking of the place and time in which 
he has imagined them. 

Great knowledge seems required for this, and 
Browning had indeed an extensive knowledge not 
so much of the historical facts, as of the tendencies 
of thought which worked in the times wherein he 
placed his men. But the chief knowledge he had, 
through his curious reading, was of a multitude of 
small intimate details of the customs, clothing, 
architecture, dress, popular talk, and scenery of the 
towns and country of Italy from the thirteenth 
century up to modern times. To every one of 
these details — such as are found in Sordello, in 
Fra Lippo Lippi, in the Bishop orders his Tomb 
at St. Praxed's Church — his vivid and grasping 
imagination gave an uncommon reality. 

But even without great knowledge such poems 
may be written, if the poet have imagination, and 


the power to execute in metrical words wliat has 
been imagined. Theology in the Island and the 
prologue to a Death in the Desert are examples of 
this. Browning knew nothing of that island in 
the undiscovered seas where Prosper dwelt, but he 
made all the scenery of it and all its animal life, 
and he re-created CaUban. He had never seen 
the cave in the desert where he placed John to die, 
nor the sweep of rocky hills and sand around it, 
nor the Bactrian waiting with the camels. Other 
poets, of course, have seen unknown lands and 
alien folks, but he has seen them more vividly, 
more briefly, more forcibly. His imagination was 
objective enough. 

But it was as subjective as it was objective. He 
saw the soul of Fra Lippo Lippi and the soul of his 
time as vividly as he saw the streets of Florence at 
night, the watch, the laughing girls, and the palace 
of the Medici round the corner. It was a remark- 
able combination, and it is by this combination of 
the subjective and objective imagination that he 
draws into some dim approach to Shakespeare ; 
and nowhere closer than in these poems. 

Again, not only the main character of each of 
these poems, but all the figures introduced (some- 
times only in a single line) to fill up the back- 
ground, are sketched with as true and vigorous a 
pencil as the main figure ; are never out of place 
or harmony with the whole, and are justly sub- 
ordinated. The young men who stand round the 
Bishop's bed when he orders his tomb, the watch- 
men in Fra Lippo Lippi, the group of St. John's 
disciples, are as alive, and as much in tune with 
the whole, as the servants and tenants of Justice 


Shallow. Again, it is not only the lesser figures, 
but the scenery of these poems which is worth our 
study. That also is closely fitted to the main sub- 
ject. The imagination paints it for that, and noth- 
ing else. It would not fit any other subject. For 
imagination, working at white heat, cannot do what 
is out of harmony ; no more than a great musician 
can introduce a false chord. All goes together in 
these poems — scenery, characters, time, place, and 

Then, also, the extent of their range is remark- 
able. Their subjects begin with savage man making 
his god out of himself. They pass through Greek 
mythology to early Christian times ; from Artemis 
and Pan to St. John dying in the desert. Then, 
still in the same period, while Paul was yet alive, 
he paints another aspect of the time in CleonJ^e 
rifi h artist, jhe f riend of kin^s. who had reached 
the top of life, included all the arts in himself, yet 
dimly craved for more than earth could give. From 
these times the poems pass on to the early and late 
Renaissance, and from that to the struggle for free- 
dom in Italy, and from that to modem life in 
Europe. This great range illustrates the penetra- 
tion and the versatiUty of his genius. He could 
place us with ease and truth at Corinth, Athens, or 
Rome, in Paris, Vienna, or London ; and wherever 
we go with him we are at home. 

One word more must be said about the way a 
great number of these poems arose. They leaped 
up in his imagination full-clad and finished at a 
single touch from the outside. Caliban upon Setebos 
took its rise from a text in the Bible which darted 
into his mind as he read the Tempest. Clean arose 


as he reaid that verse in St. Paul's speech at 
Athens, " As certain also of your own poets have 
said." I fancy that An Epistle of Karshish was 
born one day. when he read those two stanzas in 
In Memoriam about Lazarus, and imagined how 
the subject would come to him. Fra Lippo Lippi 
slipped into his mind one day at the Belle Arti at 
Florence as he stood before the picture described in 
the poem, and walked afterwards at night through 
the streets of Florence. These fine things are born 
in a moment, and come into our world from poet,} 
painter, and musician, full-grown; built, like Alad- 
din's palace, with all their jewels, in a single night. 1 
They are inexplicable by any scientific explana-i 
tion, as inexplicable as genius itself. When have 
the hereditarians explained Shakespeare, Mozart, j 
Turner ? When has the science of the world ex- 1 
plained the birth of a lyric of Burns, a song of) 
Beethoven, or a drawing of Rafael.' Let thesel 
gentlemen veil their eyes, and confess their inability 1 
to explain the facts. For it is fact they touch. 
" Full fathom five thy father lies " — that song of I 
Shakespeare exists. The overture to Don Giovanni 
is a reality. We can see the Bacchus and Ariadne 
at the National Gallery and the Theseus at the 
Museum. These are facts ; but they are a million 1 
million miles beyond the grasp of any science. 
Nay, the very smallest things of their kind, the\ 
slightest water-colour sketch of Turner, a half- 
finished clay sketch of Donatello, the little song 
done in the corner of a provincial paper by a work- 
ing clerk in a true poetic hour, are not to be fathomed 
by the most far-descending plummet of the scientific 
understanding. These things are in that super- 


physical world into which, however closely he saw 
and dealt with his characters in the world of the 
senses, the conscience, or the understanding, Brown- 
ing led them all at last. 

The first of these poems is Natural Theology on 
the Island; or, Caliban upon Setebos. Caliban, with 
the instincts and intelligence of an early savage, 
has, in an Jipur of hoUday. set himself to conceive 
what .SetP.hnSr his mother's |>-od, is like in, rhaTprtpt^ 
He talks out the question with himself, and because 
he is in a vague fear lest Setebos, hearing him 
soliloquise about him, should feel insulted and 
swing a thunder-bolt at him, .he not only hides 
himself in the earth, but speaks in the third person, 
as if it was not he that spoke ; hoping in that 
fashion to trick his God. 

Browning, conceiving in himself the mind and 
temper of an honest, earthly, imaginative savage — 
who is developed far enough to build nature-myths 
in their coarse early forms — architectures the 
character of Setebos out of the habits, caprices, 
fancies, likes and dislikes, and thoughts of Caliban ; 
and an excellent piece of penetrative imagination it 
is. Browning has done nothing better, though he 
has done as well. 

But Browning's Caliban is not a single personage. 
No one savage, at no one time, would have all these 
thoughts of his God. He is the representative of 
what has been thought, during centuries, by many 
thousands of men ; the concentration into one mind 
of the ground-thoughts of early theology. At one 
point, as if Browning wished to sketch the beginning 
of a new theological period, Caliban represents a 
more advanced thought than savage man conceives. 


This is CalibajilainiagirialimuaJUJi^^ 
SetehosjadiQ is the capricious creator and power of 
the-earth — of the " Quiet," who is master of Setebos 
and whose temper is quite different ; who also 
made the stars, things which Caliban, with a touch 
of Browning's subtle thought, separates from the 
sun and moon and earth. It is plain from this, and 
from the whole argument which is admirably con- 
ducted, that Caliban is an intellectual personage, 
too long neglected ; and Prospero, could he have 
understood his nature, would have enjoyed his con- 
versation. Renan agreed with Browning in this 
estimate of his intelligence, and made him the 
foundation of a philosophical play. 

There is some slight reason for this in Shake- 
speare's invention. He lifts Caliban in intellect, 
even in feeling, far above Trinculo, Stephano, the 
Boatswain, and the rest of the common men. The 
objection, however, has been made that Browning 
makes him too intelligent. The answer is that 
Browning is not drawing Caliban only, but em- 
bodying in an ima gined person age the thoughts 
about__God- likely to be invented by early ma n 
duriQg_tho3isands_of_years — and this accounts for 
the insequences in Caliban's thinking. They are 
not the thoughts of one but of several nien. Yet 
a certain poetic unity is given to them by the 
unity of place. The continual introduction of the 
landscape to be seen from his fefuge knits the 
discursive thinking of the savage into a kind of 
unity. We watch him_l^iag.ia-t_hs_tiii£li, water- 
slime of the -hollow, his h^ad. on .the rim of .it 
propped by his hands, under the cave's mouth, 
hidden, by, the gadding gourds and. vines ;Jooking 


out to sea and watching the wild animals that pass 
him by — and out of this place he does not stir. 

In Shakespeare's Tempest Caliban is the gross, 
brutal element of the earth and is opposed to Ariel, 
the light, swift, fine element of the air. Caliban 
curses Prospero with the evils of the earth, with 
the wicked dew of the fen and the red plague of the 
sea-marsh. Browning's Caliban does not curse at 
all. When he is not angered, or in a caprice, he 
is a gQpd^n^tured cr^eature, fullMjyaimalxajsymen^ 
He loves to lie in the cool slush, like a lias-lizard, 
shivering with earthy pleasure when his spine is 
tickled by the small eft-things that course along it. 

Run in and out each ann, and make him laugh. , 

The poem is full of these good, close, vivid realisa- 
tions of the brown prolific earth. 

Browning had his own sympathy with Caliban. 
Nor does Shakespeare make him altogether brutish. 
He has been so educated by his close contact with 
Nature that his imagination has been kindled. His 
very cursing is imaginative : 

As wicked dew as e'er my mother brushed 
With raven's feather from unwholesome fen 
Drop on you both ; a south-west blow on you 
And blister you all o'er. 

Stephano and Trinculo, vulgar products of civili- 
sation, could never have said that. Moreover, 
Shakespeare's Caliban, like Browning's, has the 
poetry of the earth-man in him. When Ariel plays, 
Trinculo and Stephano think it must be the devil, 
and Trinculo is afraid : but Caliban loves and 
enjoys the music for itself: 


Be not afear'd ; the isle is fall of noises, 

Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not. 

Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments 

Will hum about mine ears, and sometimes voices 

That, if I then had waked after long sleep, 

Will make me sleep again. 

Stephano answers, like a modern millionaire : 

This will prove a brave kingdom for me, where I shall have 
my music for nothing. 

Browning' s Caliban_ isj.Iso somsthing,. of a. poet, 
and lo ves the Nature of whom he is a child. We 
are not surprised when he 

looks out o'er yon sea which sunbeams cross 
And recross till they weave a spider web 
(Meshes of fire some great fish breaks at times) 

though the phrase is full of a poet's imagination, for 
so the living earth would see and feel the sea. It 
belongs also to Caliban's nearness to the earth that 
he should have the keenest of eyes for animals, and 
that poetic pleasure in watching their life which, 
having seen them vividly, could describe them 
vividly. I quote one example from the poem ; there 
are many others : 

'Thinketh, He made thereat the sun, this isle. 

Trees and the fowls here, beast and creeping thing. 

Yon otter, sleek-wet, black, lithe as a leech ; 

Yon auk, one fire-eye in a ball of foam. 

That floats and feeds ; a certain badger brown 

He hath watched hunt with that slant white-wedge eye 

By moonlight ; and the pie with the long tongue 

That pricks deep into oakwarts for a worm. 

And says a plain word when she finds her prize, 

But will not eat the ants ; the ants themselves 

That build a wall of seeds and settled stalks 

About their hole — 

There are two more remarks to make about this 


poem. First, that Browning makes Caliban create a 
dramatic world in which Miranda, Ariel, and he 
himself play their parts, and in which he assumes 
the part of Prosper. That is, Caliban invents a new 
world out of the persons he knows, but different 
from them, and a second self outside himself. No 
lower animal has ever conceived of such a creation. 
Secondly, Browning makes Caliban, in order to 
exercise his wit and his sense of what is beautiful, 
fall to making something — a bird, an insect, or a 
building which he ornaments, which satisfies him 
for a time, and which he then destroys to make a 
better. This is art in its beginning ; and the high- 
est animal we know of is incapable of it. We know 
that the men of the caves were capable of it. When 
they made a drawing, a piece of carving, they were 
unsatisfied until they had made a better. When 
they made a story out of what they knew and saw, 
they went on to make more. Creation, invention, 
art — this, itdependent entirely of the religious 
desire, makes the infinite gulf which divides man 
from the highest animals. 

I do not mean, in this book, to speak of the 
theology of Caliban, though the part of the poem 
which concerns the origin of sacrifice is well worth 
our attention. But the poem may be recommended 
to those theological persons who say there" is no 
God; and to that large class of professional theo- 
logians, whose idea of a capricious, jealous, sud- 
denly-angered God, without any conscience except 
his sense of power to do as he pleases, is quite in 
harmony with Caliban's idea of Setebos. 

The next of these "imaginative representations" 
is the poem called Clean. Cleon is a rich and 


fgmniis artist nf ttin l^rf u f^ian, ■ islg . ' i ^ p .a.livR whil e 
St, Paul was still making his miss ionary journ eys, 
just at the time when the Graeco-Roman culture 
had attained a height of refinement, but had lost 
originating power; when it thought it had mastered 
all the means for a perfect life, but was, in reality, 
trembling in a deep dissatisfaction on the edge of 
its first descent into exhaustion. Then, as every- 
thing good had been done in the art of the past, 
cultivated men began to ask " Was there anything 
worth doing .' " " Was life itself worth living } " ; 
questions never asked by those who are living. Or 
" What is life in its perfection, and when shall we 
have it .' " ; a question also not asked by those who 
live in the morning of a new sera, when the world — 
as in Elizabeth's days, as in 1789, as perhaps it 
may be in a few years — is born afresh ; but which 
is asked continually in the years when a great 
movement of life has passed its culminating point 
and has begun to decline. Again and again the 
world has heard these questions ; in Cleon's time, 
and when the Renaissance had spent its force, and 
at the end of the reign of Louis XIV., and before 
Elizabeth's reign had closed, and about 1820 in 
England, and of late years also in our society. 
This is the temper and the time that Browning 
embodies in Cl eon. who is the incarnation of a ^ready-feeling£e„ is^going 

Protus, the King, has written to him, and the 
poeinia.i;j£QnI§ answer . to the King. Browning 
takes care, as usual, to have his background of 
scenery quite clear and fair. It is a courtyard to 
Cleon's house in one of the sprinkled isles — 


Lily on lily, that o'erlace the sea, 

And laugh their pride when the light wave lisps " Greece." 

I quote it; it marks the man and the age of 
xurious culture. 

They give thy letter to me, even now ; 

I read and seem as if I heard thee speak. 

The master of thy galley still unlades 

Gift after gift ; they block my court at last 

And pUe themselves along its portico 

Royal with sunset, like a thought of thee ; 

And one white she-slave from the group dispersed 

Of black and white slaves (like the chequer work 

Pavement, at once my nation's work and gift, 

Now covered with this settle-down of doves), 

One lyric woman, in her crocus vest 

Woven of sea-wools, with her two white hands 

Commends to me the strainer and the cup 

Thy lip hath bettered ere it blesses mine. 

ut he is more than luxurious. He desires the 
ghest life, and he praises the King because he 
is acknowledged by his gifts the joy that Art 
ves to life; and most of all he praises him, 
:cause he too aspires, building a mighty tower, 
Dt that men may look at it, but that he may 
ize from its height on the sun, and think what 
igher he may attain. The tower is the symbol of 
le cry of the King's soul. 

Then he answers the King's letter. " It is true. 
King, I am poet, sculptor, painter, architect, 
ailosopher, musician ; all arts are mine. Have I 
)ne as well as the great men of old .' No, but I 
ive combined their excellences into one man, into 

" I have not chanted verse like Homer, no — 
Nor swept string like Terpander — no — nor carved 
And painted men like Phidias and his friend : 
I am not great as they are, point by point. 


But I have entered into sympathy 
With these four, running these into one soul, 
Who, separate, ignored each other's art. 
Say, is it nothing that I know them all ? 

"This, since the best in each art has already 
been done, was the only progress possible, and I 
have made it. It is not unworthy. King ! 

" Well, now thou askest, if having done this, ' I 
have not attained the very crown of life ; if I can- 
not now comfortably and fearlessly meet death ? ' 
' I, Cleon, leave,' thou sayest, ' my life behind me 
in my poems, my pictures ; I am immortal in my 
work. What more can life desire ? ' " 

It is the question so many are asking now, and 
it is the answer now given. What better im- 
mortality than in one's work left behind to move 
in men } What more than this can life desire .' 
But Cleon does not agree with that. " If thou, O 
King, with the light now in thee, hadst looked at 
creation before man appeared, thou wouldst have 
said, ' All is perfect so far.' But questioned if any- 
thing more perfect in joy might be, thou wouldst 
have said, ' Yes ; a being may be made, unlike these 
who do not know the joy they have, who shall be con- 
scious of himself, and know that he is happy. Then 
his life will be satisfied with daily joy.' " O King, 
thou wouldst have answered foolishly. The higher 
the soul climbs in joy the more it sees of joy, and 
when it sees the most, it perishes. Vast capabilities 
of joy open round it ; it craves for all it presages ; 
desire for more deepening with every attainment. 
And then the body intervenes. Age, sickness, 
decay, forbid attainment. Life is inadequate to 
joy. What have the gods done? It cannot be 


their malice, no, nor carelessness ; but — to let us 
see oceans of joy, and only give us power to hold 
a cupful — is that to live ? It is misery, and the 
more of joy my artist nature makes me capable of 
feeling, the deeper my misery. 

" But then, O King, thou sayest ' that I leave 
behind me works that will live ; works, too, which 
paint the joy of life.' Yes, but to show what the 
joy-of4i£e-is, is.not to have it. If I carve the young 
Phoebus, am I therefore young "i I can write odes 
of the deUght of love, but grown too grey to be 
beloved, can I have its delight .' That fair slave 
of yours, and the rower with the muscles all a 
ripple on his back who lowers the sail in the bay, 
can write no love odes nor can they paint the joy 
of love; but they can have it — not I." 

The knowledge, he thinks, of_ what joy is. of all 
that ..Ufe . can give, which increases jn the artist 
as his feebleness increases, makes his Jate^he 
deadlier. What is it to him that his works live .' 
He does not live. The hand of death grapples the 
throat of life at the moment when he sees most 
clearly its infinite possibilities. Decay paralyses 
his hand when he knows best how to use his tools. 
It is accomplished wretchedness. 

I quote his outburst. It is in the soul of thou- 
sands who have no hope of a life to come. 

" But," sayest thou — (and I marvel, I repeat, 

To find thee trip on such a mere word) " what 

Thou writest, paintest, stays ; that does not die : 

Sappho survives, because we sing her songs, 

And iEschylus, because we read his plays ! " 

Why, if they live still, let them come and take 

Thy slave in my despite, drink from thy cup, 

Speak in my place ! " Thou diest while I survive ? " — 


Say rather that my fate is deadlier still, 

In this, that every day my sense of joy 

Grows more acute, my soul (intensified 

By power and insight) more enlarged, more keen ; 

While every day my hairs fall more and more. 

My hand shakes, and the heavy years increase — 

The horror quickening still from year to year, 

The consummation coming past escape 

When I shall know most, and yet least enjoy — 

When all my works wherein I prove my worth, 

Being present still to mock me in men's mouths, 

Alive still, in the praise of such as thou, 

I, I the feeling, thinking, acting man. 

The man who loved his life so overmuch. 

Sleep in my urn. It is so horrible 

I dare at times imagine to my need 

Some future state revealed to us by Zeus, 

Unlimited in capability 

For joy, as this is in desire of joy, 

— To seek which the joy-hunger forces us : 

That, stung by straitness of our life, made strait 

On purpose to make prized the life at large — 

Freed by the throbbing impulse we call death. 

We burst there as the worm into the fly, 

Who, while a worm still, wants his wings. But no ! 

Zeus has not yet revealed it ; and alas. 

He must have done so, were it possible ! 

This is one only of Browning's statements of 
what he held to be the fierce necessity for another 
Ufe. Without it, nothing is left for humanity, 
having arrived at full culture, knowledge, at 
educated love of beauty, at finished morality and 
unselfishness — nothing in the end but Cleon's cry 
— sorrowful, somewhat stern, yet gentle — to Protus, 

Live long and happy, and in that thought die, 

Gladtfor what was. Farewell. 

But for those who are not Cleon and Protus, not 
kings in comfort or poets in luxury, who have had no 
gladness, what end — what is to be said of them? 


I will not stay to speak of A Death in the Desert, 
which is another of these poems, because the most 
part of it is concerned with questions of modern 
theology. St. John awakes into clear consciousness 
just before his death in the cave where he lies 
tended by a few disciples. He foresees some of 
the doubts of this century and meets them as he 
can. The bulk of this poem, very interesting in 
its way, is Browning's exposition of his own belief, 
not an imaginative representation of what St. John 
actually would have said. It does not therefore 
come into my subject. What does come into it 
is the extraordinary naturalness and vitality of the 
description given by John's disciple of the place 
where they were, and the fate of his companions. 
This is invented in Browning's most excellent way. 
It could not be better done. 

The next poem is the E pistle of Kamhish, the 
Arab^ Pbysician^^. to- -Ms- ■mastery-=.Gonceaiin,g_his 
Strang^ medical,ejcpgrience. The time is just be- 
fore the last siege of Jerusalem, and Karshish, 
journeying through Jericho, and up the pass, stays 
for a few days at Bethany and meets Lazarus. 
His case amazes him, and though he thinks his 
interest in it unworthy of a man of science in com- 
parison with the new herbs and new diseases he 
has discovered, yet he is carried away by it and 
gives a full account of it to his master. 

I do not think that Browning ever wrote a poem 
the writing of which he more enjoyed. The crea- 
tion of Karshish suited his humour and his quaint 
play with recondite knowledge. He describes the 
physician till we see him alive and thinking, in 
body and soul. The creation of Lazarus is even a 


higher example of the imaginative power of Brown- 
ing ; and that it is shaped for us through the mind 
of Karshish, and in tune with it, makes the im- '^ 
aginative effort the more remarkable. Then, the • 
problem — how to express the c.Quditla cLQf a man's 
hprly and qoul.' who. havin ^_for. three days accord- 
ing_ia-th£.-iS£ Browning .conceives , it IJKed 
conscjftusly in the eternal .and^perfect world, ^has 
come back to dwell in this world — was so diffi- 
cult and so involved in metaphysical strangenesses, 
that it delighted him. 

Of course, he carefully prepares his scenery to 
give a true semblance to the whole. Karshish 
comes up the flinty pass from Jericho; he is 
attacked by thieves twice and beaten, and the wild 
beasts endanger his path ; 

A black lynx snarled and pricked a tufted ear, 
Lust of my blood inflamed his yellow balls ; 
I cried and threw my staff and he was gone, 

and then, at the e nd of the pass, he met Laza rus. 
See how vividly the scenery is realised — 

I crossed a ridge of short, sharp, broken hills 
Like an old lion's cheek-teeth. Out there came 
A moon made like a face with certain spots, 
Multiform, manifold, and menacing : 
Then a wind rose behind me. So we met 
In this old sleepy town at unaware 
The man and L 

And the weird evening, Karshish thinks, had 
something to do with the strange impression the 
man has made on him. Then we are placed in the 
dre amy village of Be-^any. We hear of its elders, 
its diseases, its flowers, its herbs, and gums, of the 
insects which may help medicine — 


There is a spider here 
Weaves no web, watches on the ledge of tombs, 
Sprinkled with mottles on an ash-grey back ; 

and then, how the countryside is all on fire with 
news^ of Vespasian marching into Judaea. So we 
have the place, the village, the hills, the animals, 
and the time, all clear, and half of the character of 
Karshish. The inner character of the man emerges 
as clearly when he comes to deal with Lazarus. 
This is not a case of the body, he thinks, but of the 
soul. "The Syrian," he tells his master, "has had 
catalepsy, and a learned leech of his nation, slain 
soon afterwards, healed him and brought him back 
to life after three days. He says he was dead, 
and made alive again, but that is his madness; 
though the man seems sane enough. At any rate, 
his disease has disappeared, he is as well as you 
and I. But the mind and soul of the man, that is 
the strange matter, and in that he is entirely unlike 
other men. Whatever he has gone through has 
rebathed him, as in clear water of another life, 
and penetrated his whole being. He views the 
world like a child, he scarcely Ustens to what goes 
on about him, yet he is no fool. If one could 
fancy a man endowed with perfect knowledge be- 
yond the fleshly faculty, and while he has this 
heaven in him forced to live on earth, such a man 
is he. His heart and brain move there, his feet stay 
here. He has lost all sense of our values of things. 
Vespasian besieging Jerusalem and a mule passing 
with gourds awaken the same interest. But speak 
of some little fact, little as we think, and he 
stands astonished with its prodigious import. If 
his child sicken to death it does not seem to matter 


to him, but a gesture, a glance from the child, starts 
him into an agony of fear and anger, as if the child 
were undoing the universe. He lives like one be- 
tween two regions, one of distracting glory, of which 
he is conscious but must not enter yet; and the 
other into which he has been exiled back again — 
and between this region where his soul moves and 
the earth where his body is, there is so little har- 
mony of thought or feeUng that he cannot under- 
take any human activity, nor unite the demands 
of the two worlds. He knows that what ought to 
be cannot be in the world he has returned to, so 
that his life is perplexed; but in this incessant 
perplexity he falls back on prone submission to 
the heavenly will. The time will come when 
death will restore his being to equilibrium ; but 
now he is out of harmony, for the soul knows 
more than the body and the body clouds the soul." 

" I probed this seeming indifference. ' Beast, to 
be so still and careless when Rome is at the gates 
of thy town.* He merely looked with his large 
eyes at me. Yet the man is not apathetic, but 
loves old and young, the very brutes and birds and 
flowers of the field. His only impatience is with 
wrongdoing, but he curbs that impatience." 

At last Karshish tells, with many apologies for 
his foolishness, the strangest thing of all. Lazarus 
thinks that his curer was God Himself who came 
and dwelt in flesh among those He had made, and 
went in and out among them healing and teaching, 
and then died. " It is strange, but why write of 
trivial matters when things of price call every 
moment for remark .' Forget it, my master, par- 
don me and farewell." 


Then comes the postscript, that impression 
which, in spite of all his knowledge, is left in 
Karshish's mind — 

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 said He said so ; it is strange. 



THE Imaginative Representations to be dis- 
cussed in this chapter are those which belong 
to the time of the Renaissance. We take a great 
leap when we pass from Karshish and Cleon to 
Fra Lippo Lippi, from early Christian times to the 
early manhood of the Renaissance. But these 
leaps are easy to a poet, and Browning is even 
more at his ease and in his strength in the fifteenth 
century than in the first. 

We have seen with what force in Sordello he 
realised the life and tumult of the thirteenth century. 
The fourteenth century does not seem to have at- 
tracted him much, though he frequently refers to 
its work in Florence ; but when the Renaissance 
in the fifteenth century took its turn with decision 
towards a more open freedom of Hfe and thought, 
abandoning one after another the conventions of 
the past ; when the moral limits, which the Church 
still faintly insisted on, were more and more with- 
drawn and finally blotted out ; when, as the century 
passed intothenext, the Church led the revolt against 
decency, order, and morality ; when scepticism took 
the place of faith, even of duty, and criticism the 


place of authority, then Browning became inter- 
ested, not of course in the want of faith and in im- 
morality, but in "the swift variety and intensity of 
the movement of intellectual and social life, and in 
the interlacing changes of the movement. This was 
an enchanting world for him, and as he was natu- 
rally most interested in the arts, he represented the 
way in which the main elements of the Renaissance 
appeared to him in poems which were concerned 
with music, poetry, painting, and the rest of the arts, 
but chiefly with painting. Of course, when the 
Renaissance began to die down into senile pride 
and decay, Browning, who never ceased to choose 
and claim companionship with vigorous life, who 
abhorred decay either in Nature or nations, in 
societies or in cliques of culture, who would have 
preferred a blood-red pirate to the daintiest of 
decadents — did not care for it, and in only one 
poem, touched with contemptuous pity and humour, 
represented its disease and its disintegrating ele- 
ments, with so much power, however, with such 
grasping mastery, that it is like a painting by 
Velasquez. Ruskin said justly that the Bishop 
orders his Tomb at St. Praxed's Church concentrated 
into a few lines all the evil elements of the 
Renaissance. But this want of care for the decay- 
ing Renaissance was contrasted by the extreme 
pleasure with which he treated its early manhood 
in Fra Lippo Lippi. 

\ The Renaissance had a life and seasons, like 

• those of a human being. It went through its 

childhood and youth like a boy of genius under 

the care of parwits from whose opinions and mode 

of life he is sure to sever himself in the end ; but 


who, having made a deep impression on his nature, 
retain power over, and give direction to, his first 
efforts at creation. The first art. of the Re- 
naissance, awakened by the discovery of the classic 
remnants, retained a great deal of the faith and 
superstition, the philosophy, theology, and childlike 
naivete of the middle ages. Its painting and 
sculpture, but chiefly the first of these, gave them- 
selves chiefly to the representation of the -soul 
upon the face, and of the untutored and unconscious 
movements of the body under the influence of 
religious passion; th^t is, such movements as 
expressed devotion, fervent love of Christ, horror 
of sin, were chosen, and harmonised with the ex- 
pression of the face. Painting dedicated its work 
to the representation of the heavenly life, either on 
earth in the story of the gospels and in the lives of 
the saints, or in its glory in the circles of heaven. 
Then, too, it represented the thought, philosophy, 
and knowledge of its own time and of the past in 
symbolic series of quiet figures, in symbolic pictures 
of the struggle of good with evil, of the Church 
with the world, of the virtues with their opposites. 
Naturally, then, the expression on the face of 
secular passions, the movement of figures in war 
and trade and social Ufe and the whole vast field 
of human Ufe in the ordinary world, were neglected 
as unworthy of representation; and the free, full 
life of the body, its beauty, power, and charm, the 
objects which pleased its senses, the frank repre- 
sentation of its movement under the influence of the 
natural as contrasted with the spiritual passions, 
were looked upon with religious dismay. Such, 
but less in sculpture than in painting, was the art 


of the Renaissance in its childhood and youth, and 
Browning has scarcely touched that time. He had 
no sympathy with a neglect of the body, a con- 
tempt of the senses or of the beauty they perceived. 
He claimed the physical as well as the intellectual 
and spiritual life of man as by origin and of right 
divine. When, then, in harmony with a great 
change in social and literary life, the art of the 
Renaissance began to turn, in its early manhood, 
from the representation of the soul to the repre- 
sentation of the body in natural movement and 
beauty ; from the representation of saints, angels, 
and virtues to the representation of actual men and 
women in the streets and rooms of Florence ; from 
symbolism to reality — Browning thought, "This 
suits me ; this is what I love ; I will put this 
mighty change into a poem." And he wrote Fra 
Lippo Lippi. 

As long as this vivid representation bf actual 
human life lasted, the art of the Renaissance was 
active, original, and interesting; and as it moved 
on, developing into higher and finer forms, and 
producing continually new varieties in its dev^op- 
ment, it reached its strong and eager manhood. 
In its art then, as well as in other matters, the 
Renaissance completed its new and clear theory 
of life ; it remade the grounds of life, of its action 
and passion ; -and it reconstituted its aims. Brown- 
ing loved this summer time of the Renaissance, 
which began with the midst of the fifteenth cen- 
tury. But he loved its beginnings even more 
than its fulness. That was characteristic. I have 
said that even when he was eighty years old, his 
keenest sympathies were with spring rather than 


summer, with those times of vital change when 
fresh excitements disturbed the world, when its eyes 
were smiling with hope, and its feet eager with 
the joy of pursuit. He rejoiced to analyse and 
embody a period which was shaking off the past, 
living intensely in the present, and prophesying the 
future. It charms us, as we read him, to see his 
intellect and his soul like two hunting dogs, and with 
all their eagerness, questing; roving, quartering, 
with the greatest joy and in incessant movement, 
over a time like this, where so many diverse, clash- 
ing, and productive elements mingled themselves 
into an enchanting confusion and glory of Ufe. 
Out of that pleasure of hunting in a morning-tide 
of humanity, was born Fra Lippo Lippi; and there 
is scarcely an element of the time, except the politi- 
cal elements, which it does not represent; not dwelt 
on, but touched for the moment and left ; uncon- 
sciously produced as two men of the time would 
produce them in conversation. The poem seems as 
easy as a chat in Pall Mall last night between some 
intelligent men, which, read two hundred years hence, 
would inform the reader of the trend of thought and 
feeling in this present day. But in reality to do this 
kind of thing well is to do a very difficult thing. 
It needs a full knowledge, a full imagination, and a 
masterly execution. Yet when we read the poem, 
it seems as natural as the breaking out of blossoms. 
This is that divine thing, the ease of genius. 

The scenery of the poem is as usual clear. We 
are in fifteenth-century Florence at night. There 
is no set description, but the slight touches are 
enough to make us see the silent lonely streets, the 
churches, the high walls of the monastic gardens. 


the fortress-palaces. The sound of the fountains is 
in our ears ; the little crowds of revelling men and 
girls appear and disappear like ghosts ; the surly- 
watch with their weapons and torches bustle round 
the corner. Nor does Browning neglect to paint by 
slight enlivening touches, introduced into Lippo 
Lippi's account of himself as a starving boy, the 
aspect by day and the character of the Florence of 
the fifteenth century. This painting of his, slight 
as it is, is more alive than all the elaborate descrip- 
tions in Romola. 

As to the poem itself, Browning plunges at once 
into his matter; no long approaches, no elaborate 
porches belong to his work. The man and his 
character are before us in a moment — 

I am poor brother Lippo, by your leave ! 

You need not clap your torches to my face. 

Zooks, what's to blame? You think you see a monk ! 

What, 'tis past midnight, and you go the rounds, 

And here you catch me at an alley's end 

Where sportive ladies leave their doors ajar? 

For three weeks he has painted saints, and saints, 
and saints again, for Cosimo in the Medici felace ; 
but now the time of bl^SOIKs has come. Florence 
is now awake at nights ; the secret of the spring 
moves in his blood ; the man leaps up, the monk 

Ouf ! I leaned out of window for fresh air. 

There came a hurry of feet and little feet, 

A sweep of lute-strings, laughs, and whifts of song. 

Flower o' the broom. 

Take away love, and our earth is a tomb ! 

Flower of the quince, 

I let Lisa go, and what good in life since f 

Flower of the thyme — and so on. ,Rbund they went. 


Scarce had they turned the corner when a titter, 

Like the skipping of rabbits by moonlight, — three slim shapes. 

And a face that looked uji . . . zooks, sir, flesh and blood, 

That's all I'm made of ! :Into shreds it went. 

Curtain and counterpane and coverlet. 

All the bed-fiirniture — a dozen knots, 

There was a ladder ! Down I let myself, 

Hands and feet, scrambling somehow, and so dropped, 

And after them. I cam^ up with the fun 

Hard by St. Laurence, Hail fellow, well met, — 

Flower o' the rose, \ 

IfTve been merry ^ what matter who knows ? 

It is a picture, not only of the man, but of the 
time and its temper, when religion and morality, as 
well as that simplicity of life which Dante de- 
scribes, had lost their ancient power over society in 
Florence ; when the claim to give to human nature 
all it desired had stolen into the Church itself. 
Even in the monasteries, the long seclusion from 
natural human life had produced a reaction, which 
soon, indulging itself as Fra Lippo Lippi did, ran 
into an extremity of licence. Nevertheless, some- 
thing of the old religious life lasted at the time of 
this poem. It stretched one hand back to the piety 
of the past, and retained, though faith and devotion 
had left them, its observances and conventions ; so 
that, at first, when Lippo was painting, the new 
only peeped out of the old, like the saucy face of 
a nymph from the ilexes of a sacred grove. This 
is the historical nfoment Browning illustrates. 
Lippo Lippi was forced to paint the worn religious 
subjects : Jerome knocking his breast, the choirs of 
angels and martyrs, the scenes of the Gospel ; but 
out of all he did the eager modern life began to 
glance! Natural, quaint, original faces and atti- 
tudes appeared ; the angels smiled Uke Florentine 


women ; the saints wore the air of Bohemians. 
There is a picture by Lippo Lippi in the National 
Gallery of some nine of them sitting on a bench 
under a hedge of roses, and it is no paradox to say 
that they might fairly represent the Florentines 
who tell the tales of the Decavteron. 

The transition as it appeared in art is drawn in 
this poem. Lippo Lippi became a monk by chance ; 
it was not his vocation. A starving boy, he roamed 
the streets of Florence ; and the widespread intelli- 
gence of the city is marked by Browning's account 
of the way in which the boy observed all the life of 
the streets for eight years. Then the coming change 
of the aims of art is indicated by the way in which, 
when he was allowed to paint, he covered the walls 
of the Carmine, not with saints, virgins, and angels, 
but with the daily life of the streets — the boy 
patting the dog, the murderer taking refuge at the 
altar, the white wrath of the avenger coming up 
the aisle, the girl going to market, the crowd round 
the stalls in the market, the monks, white, grey, and 
black — thir^^^as they were.,? ,!^)!^^ as *^" P'^''^ ^" 
the reality ; fleshand^ ^^°q4.. Bi"^ p3-i"tgd, nntskin 
arid'bone7"not'tK?"expression on the face alone, but" 
the whole body in speakin g movemenf T~nothinef 
conventional, nothing imitative of old models, but 
actual life as it lay before the painter's eyes. 
Into this fresh sera of art Lippo Lippi led the 
way with the joy of youth. But he was too 
soon. The Prior, all the representatives of the 
conservative elements in the convent, were sorely 
troubled. " Why, this will never do : faces, arms, 
legs, and bodies like the true ; life as it is ; Nature 
as she is ; quite impossible." And Browning, in 


Lippo's defence of himself,,paiQts the conflict of 
the'p^t^ith the coming art. in a passage too long 
to quote, too admirable to shorten. 

The new art conquered the old. The whole life 
of Florence was soon painted as it was : the face 
of the town, the streets, the churches, the towers, 
the winding river, the mountains round about it; 
the country, the fields and hills and hamlets, the 
peasants at work, ploughing, sowing, and gathering 
fruit, the cattle feeding, the birds among the trees 
and in the sky ; nobles and rich burghers hunting, 
hawking ; the magistrates, the citizens, the street- 
boys, the fine ladies, the tradesmen's wives, the 
heads of the guilds ; the women visiting their 
friends ; the interior of the houses. We may see 
this art of human life in the apse of Santa Maria 
Novella, painted by the hand of Ghirlandajo : in 
the Riccardi Palace, painted by Benozzo Gozzoli ; 
in more than half the pictures of the painters who 
succeeded Fra Lippo Lippi. Only, so much of 
the old clings that all this actual Florentine life is 
painted into the ancient religious subjects — the 
life of the Baptist and the Virgin, the embassage 
of the Wise Men, the life of Christ, the legends of 
the saints, the lives of the virgins and martyrs, Jeru- 
salem and its life painted as if it were Florence 
and its life — all the spiritual religion gone out of 
it, it is true, but yet, another kind of religion bud- 
ding in it — the religion, not of the monastery, but 
of daily common life. 

the world 
— The beauty and the wonder and the power. 
The shapes of ihings, their colours, lights, and shades, 
Changes, surprises — and God made it all ! 


Who paints these things as if they were alive, and 
loves them while he paints, paints the garment of 
God ; and men not only understand their own life 
better because they see, through the painting, what 
they did not see before ; but also the movement of 
God's spirit in the beauty of the world and in the 
life of men. Art interprets to man all that is, and 
God in it. 

Oh, oh. 
It makes me mad to think what men shall do 
And we in our graves ! This world's no blot for us, 
No blank ; it means intensely, and means good : 
To find its meaning is my meat and drink. 

He could not do it; the time was not ripe 
enough. But he began it. And the spirit of its 
coming breaks out in all he did. 

We take a leap of more than half a century when 
we pass from Fra Lippo Lippi to Andrea del Sarto. 
That advance in art to which Lippo Lippi looked 
forward with a kind of rage at his own powerless- 
ness had been made. In its making, the art of the 
Renaissance had painted men and women, both 
body and soul, in every kind of life, both of war and 
peace ; and better than they had ever been painted 
before. Having fulfilled that, the painters asked, 
" What more .' What new thing shall we do ? 
What new aim shall we pursue.-"' And there 
arose among them a desire to paint all that was 
paintable, and especially the human body, with 
scientific perfection. "In our desire to paint the 
whole of life, we have produced so much that we 
were forced to paint carelessly or inaccurately. 
In our desire to be original, we have neglected 
technique. In our desire to paint the passions 


on the face and in the movements of men, we have 
lost the calm and harmony of the ancient classic 
work, which made its ethical impression . of the 
perfect balance of the divine nature by the ideal 
arrangement, in accord with a finished science, of 
the various members of the body to form a finished 
whole. Let the face no longer then try to represent 
the individual soul. One type of face for each 
class of art-representation is enough. Let our 
effort be to represent beauty by the perfect draw- \l 
ing of the body in repose and in action, and by 
chosen attitudes and types.. Let our composition 
follow certain guiding hues and rules, in accordance 
with whose harmonies all pictures shall be made. 
We will follow the Greek ; compose as he did, and 
by his principles; and for that purpose make a 
scientific study of the body of man ; observing in 
all painting, sculpture, and architecture the general 
forms and proportions that ancient art, after many 
experiments, selected as the best. And, to match 
that, we must have perfect . drawing in all we 

This great change, which, as art's adulterous j 
connection with science deepened, led to such un- | 
happy results, Browning represents, when its aim 
had been reached, in his poem, Andrea del Sarto ; 
and he tells us — through Andrea's talk with his 
wife Lucretia ■ — what he thought of it ; and what 
Andrea himself, whose broken hfe may have opened 
his eyes to the truth of things, may himself have 
thought of it. On that element in the poem I have 
aheady dwelt, and shall only touch on the scenery 
and tragedy, of the piece : 

We sit with Andrea, looking out to Fiesole. 


sober, pleasant Fiescle. 
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. 

- As the poem goes on, the night falls, falls with the 
meepenmg_ofJhe4DaiintejrIs.depressi(^ ; _,the-awls cry 
(from the hill, F'lorence wears the grey hue of the 
heart of Andrea ; and Browning weaves the autumn 
and the night into the tragedy of the painter's life. 
V^JThat tragedy was pitiful. Andrea del Sarto was 
a faultless painter and a weak character; and it 
\fell to his lot to love with passion a faithless 
woman. His natural weakness was doubled by 
the weakness engendered by unconquerable pas- 
sion ; and he ruined his life, his art, and his honour, 
to please his wife. He wearied her, as women 
are wearied, by passion unaccompanied by power ; 
and she endured him only while he could give her 
money and pleasures. . She despised him for that 
endurance, and all the more that he knew she was 
guilty, but said nothing lest she should leave him. 
f Browning fills his main subject — his theory of the 
I true aim of art — with this tragedy ; "and his treat- 
ment of it is a fine example of his passionate human- 
ity; and the passion of it is knitted up with close 
reasoning and illuminated by his intellectual play. 
""^ It is worth a reader's while to read, along with 
this poem, Alfred de Musset's short play, Andri 
del Sarto. The tragedy of the situation is deep- 
ened by the French poet, and the end is told. 
Unlike Browning, only a few lines sketch the time, 
its temper, and its art. It is the depth of the 
tragedy which De Musset paints, and that alone ; 


and in t)rder to deepen it, Andrea is made a much 
nobler character than he is in Browning's poem. 
The betrayal is also made more complete, more 
overwhelming. Lucretia is false to Andrea with 
his favourite pupil, with Cordiani, to whom he had 
given all he had, whom he loved almost as much 
as he loved his wife. Terrible, inevitable Fate 
broods over this brief and masterly ■ little play. 

The next of these imaginative representations 
of the Renaissance is. The Bishop or ders h is Tomb , 
at St. Praxed's Church. We arqf'placfio> in the 
full decadfillce_of the RenalssSicE 

ofreligion, even in the Church ; its immorality — 
the bishop's death-bed is surroundeH-BjTKJs natural 
sons and the wealth he leaves has been purchased 
by every Jdxid.-Q£-Jmq«it3L-==Jts,_prids_Df-~lMe ^ its 
Juxjo^; its sjemiiEagaQism ; it s imitative classicism ; 
itsin consistency : its love of jewels, and fine stones, 
andrich marbles ; its jealousy and envy ; its plea- 
sure in the adornment of death ; its delight in the 
outsides of things, in mere workmanship ; its loss 
of originality; its love of scholarship for scholar- 
ship's sake alone; its contempt of the common 
people; its exhaustion — are one and all revealed 
or suggested in this astonishing poem. 

These are the three greater poems dedicated to 
this period ; but there are some minor poems which 
represent different phases of its life. One of these^ 
is the Pictor Ignotus. There must have been many 
men, during the vital time of the Renaissance, who, 
born, as it were, into the art-ability of the period, 
reached without trouble a certain level in painting, 
but who had no genius, who could not create ; or 
who, if they had some touch of genius, had no 


boldness to strike it into fresh forms of beauty; 
shy, retiring men, to whom the criticism of the 
world was a pain they knew they could not bear. 
These men are common at a period when life is 
racing rapidly through the veins of a vivid city Uke 
Florence. The general intensity of the life lifts 
them to a height they would never reach in a dull 
and sleepy age. The life they have is not their 
own, but the life of the whole town. And this 
keen perception of life outside of them persuades 
them that they can do all that men of real power 
can do. In reality, they can do nothing and make 
nothing worth a people's honour. Browning, who 
himself was compact of boldness, who loved ex- 
periment in what was new, and who shaped what 
he conceived without caring for criticism, felt for 
these men, of whom he must have met many ; and, 
asking himself " How they would think ; what they 
would do ; and how life would seem to them," wrote 
this poem. In what way will poor human nature 
excuse itself for failure ? How will the weakness 
in the man try to prove that it was power .' How, 
having lost the joy of hfe, will he attempt to show 
that his loss is gain, his failure a success ; and, be- 
ing rejected of the world, approve himself within ? 

This was a subject to please Browning; meat 
such as his soul loved : a nice, involved, Daedalian, 
labyrinthine sort of thing, a mixture of real senti- 
ment and self-deceit; and he surrounded it with 
his pity for its human weakness. 

" I could have painted any picture that I pleased," 
cries this painter; " refiresented on the face any 
passion, any virtue." If he could he would have 
done it, or tried it. Genius cannot hold itself, in. 


" I have dreamed of sending forth some picture 
which should enchant the world (and he alludes to 
Cimabue's picture) — 

" Bound for some great state, 
Or glad aspiring little burgh, it went — 
Flowers cast upon the car which bore the freight. 
Through old streets named afresh from the event. 

"That would have been, had I willed it. But 
mixed with the praisers there would have been cold, 
critical faces; judges who would press on me and 
mock. And I — I could not bear it." Alas ! had 
he had genius, no fear would have stayed his hand, 
no judgment of the world delayed his work. What 
' stays a river breaking from its fountain-head .' 

So he sank back, saying the world was not 
worthy of his labours. " What .' Expose my 
noble work (things he had conceived but not done) 
to the prate and pettiness of the common buyers 
who hang it on their walls ! No, I will rather 
paint the same monotonous round of Virgin, Child, 
and Saints in the quiet church, in the sanctuary's 
gloom. No merchant then will traffic in my heart. My 
pictures will moulder and die. Let them die. I have 
not vulgarised myself or them." Brilliant and nobly 
wrought as the first three poems are of which I have 
written, this quiet little piece needed and received a 
finer workmanship, and was more difficult than they. 

Then there is How it strikes a/Contemporary — 
the story of the gossip of a Spanish town about a 
poor poet, who, because he wanders everywhere 
about the streets observing all things, is mistaken 
for a spy of the King. The long pages he writes 
are said to be letters to the King ; the misfortunes 


of this or that man are caused by his information. 
The world thinks him a wonder of cleverness ; he is 
but an inferior poet. It imagines that he lives in 
Assyrian luxury; he lives and dies in a naked 
garret. This imaginative representation might be 
of any time in a provincial town of an ignorant 
country like Spain. It is a sUght study of what 
superstitious imagination and gossip will work up 
round any man whose nature and manners, like 
those of a poet, isolate him from the common herd. 
Force is added to this study by its scenery. The 
Moorish windows, the shops, the gorgeous magis- 
trates pacing down the promenade, are touched in 
with a flying pencil ; and then, moving through the 
crowd, the lean, black-coated figure, with his cane 
and dog and his peaked hat, clear flint eyes and, 
beaked nose, is seen, as if alive, in the vivid sun- 
shine of Valladolid. But what Browning wished 
most to describe in this poem was one of the first 
marks of a poet, even of a poor one like this gentle- 
man — the power of seeing and observing every- 
thing. Nothing was too small, nothing uninteresting 
in this man's eyes. His very hat was scrutinising. 

He stood and watched the cobbler at his trade, 
The man who slices lemons into drink, 
The coifee-roaster's brazier, and the boys 
That volunteer to help him turn its winch. 
He glanced o'er books on stalls with half an eye, 
And fly-leaf ballads on the vendor's string, 
And broad-edged bold-print posters by the wall. 
He took such cognisance of man and things, 
If any beat a horse you felt he saw ; 
If any cursed a woman, he took note ; 
Yet stared at nobody, you stared at him, 
And found, less to your pleasure than surprise, 
He seemed to know you and expect as much. 




That is the artist's way. It wai" Browning's 
way. He is describing himself. In that fashion 
he roamed through Venice or Florence, stopping 
every moment, attracted by the smallest thing, 
finding a poem in everything, lost in himself yet 
seeing all that surrounded him, isolated in thinking, 
different from and yet like the rest of the world. 

Another poem — My Last Duchess — must be 
mentioned. It is plainly placed in the midst of the 
period of the Renaissance by the word Ferrara, 
which is added to its title. But it is rather a 
picture of two temperaments which may exist in 
any cultivated society, and at any modern time. 
There are numbers of such men as the Duke and 
such women as the Duchess in our midst. Both 
are, however, drawn with mastery. Browning has 
rarely done his work with more insight, with 
greater keenness of portraiture, with happier brevity 
and selection. As in the Flight of the Duchess, 
untoward fate has bound together two temperaments 
sure to clash with each other — and no gipsy comes 
to deliver the woman in this case. The man's 
nature kills her. It happens every day. The 
Renaissance society may have built up more men of 
this type than ours, but they are not peculiar to it. 

Germany, not Italy, is, I think, the country in 
which Browning intended to place two other poems 
which belong to the time of the Renaissance — 
Johannes Agricola in Meditation and A Gramma- 
rian's Funeral. Their note is as different from that 
of the Italian poems as the national temper of Ger- 
many is from that of Italy. They have no sense of 
beauty for beauty's sake alone. Their atmosphere 
is not soft or gay but somewhat stern. The logical 


arrangement of them is less one of feeling than of 
thought. There is a stronger manhood in them, a 
grimmer view of life. The sense of duty to God 
and Man, but little represented in the Italian poems 
of the Renaissance, does exist in these two German 
poems. Moreover, there is in them a full repre- 
sentation of aspiration to the world beyond. But 
the Italian Renaissance Uved for the earth alone, and 
its loveliness ; too close to earth to care for heaven. 

It pleased Browning to throw himself fully into 
the soul of Johannes Agricola ; and he does it with 
so much personal fervour that it seems as if, in one of 
his incarnations, he had been the man, and, for the 
moment of his writing, was dominated by him. The 
mystic-passion fills the poetry with keen and dazzling 
light, and it is worth while, from this point of view, 
to compare the poem with Tennyson's Sir Galahad, 
and on another side, with St. Simeon Stylites. 

Johannes Agricola was one of the products of the 
reforming spirit of the sixteenth century in Germany, 
one of its wild extremes. He believes that God 
had chosen him among a few to be his for ever and 
for his own glory from the foundation of the world. 
He did not say that all sin was permitted to the 
saints, that what the flesh did was no matter, Uke 
those wild fanatics, one of whom Scott draws in 
Woodstock ; but he did say, that if he sinned it 
made no matter to his election by God. Nay, the 
immanence of God in him turned the poison to 
health, the filth to jewels. Goodness and badness 
make no matter ; God's choice is all. The martyr 
for truth, the righteous man whose life has saved 
the world, but who is not elected, is damned for 
ever in burning hell. " I am eternally chosen ; for 


that I praise God. I do not understand it. If I 
did, could I praise Him .' But I know my settled 
place in the divine decrees." I quote the begin- 
ning. It is pregnant with superb spiritual audacity, 
and kindled with imaginative pride. 

There's heaven above, and night by night 

I look right through its gorgeous roof; 
No suns and moons though e'er so bright 

Avail to stop me ; splendour-proof 

Keep the broods of stars aloof: 
For I intend to get to God, 

For 'tis to God I speed so fast, 
For in God's breast, my own abode. 

Those shoals of dazzling glory, passed, 

I lay my spirit down at last. 
I lie where I have always lain, 

God smiles as he has always smiled ; 
Ere suns and moons could wax and wane. 

Ere stars were thunder-girt, or piled 

The heavens, God thought on me his child ; 
Ordained a life for me, arrayed 

Its circumstances every one 
To the minutest ; ay, God said 

This head this hand should rest upon 

Thus, ere he fashioned star or sun. 
And having thus created me. 

Thus rooted me, he bade me grow, 
Guiltless for ever, like a tree 

That buds and blooms, nor seeks to know 

The law by which it prospers so : 
But sure that thought and word and deed 

All go to swell his love for me, 
Me, made because that love had need 

Of something irreversibly 

Pledged solely its content to be. 

As to A Grammarian' s Funeral, that poem also 
belongs to the German rather than to the ItaUan 
spirit. The Renaissance in Italy lost its religion ; 
at the same time, in Germany, it added a reformation 


of religion to the New Learning. The Renaissance 
in Italy desired the fulness of knowledge in this 
world, and did not look for its infinities in the world 
beyond. In Germany the same desire made men 
call for the infinities of knowledge beyond the 
earth. A few Italians, like Savonarola, like M. 
Angelo, did the same, and failed to redeem their 
world ; but eternal aspiration dwelt in the soul of 
every German who had gained a religion. In 
Italy, as the Renaissance rose to its luxury and 
trended to its decay, the pull towards personal 
righteousness made by belief in an omnipotent 
goodness who demands the subjection of our will 
to his, ceased to be felt by artists, scholars, and 
cultivated society. A man's will was his only 
law. On the other hand, the life of the New 
Learning in Germany and England was weighted 
with a sense of duty to an eternal Righteousness. 
The love of knowledge or beauty was modified into 
seriousness of life, carried beyond this Ufe in 
thought, kept clean, and, though filled with inces- 
sant labour on the earth, aspired to reach its fru- 
ition only in the life to come. 

This is the spirit and the atmosphere of the 
Grammarian's Funeral, and Browning's little note 
at the beginning says that its time " was shortly 
after the revival of learning in Europe." I have 
really no proof that Browning laid the scene of 
his poem in Germany, save perhaps the use of such 
words as " thorp " and " croft," but there is a clean, 
pure morning light playing through the verse, a 
fresh, health-breathing northern air, which does not 
fit in with Italy ; a joyous, buoyant youthfulness in 
the song and march of the students who carry their 


master with gay strength up the mountain to the 
very top, all of them filled with his aspiring spirit, 
all of them looking forward with gladness and 
vigour to life — which has no relation whatever to 
the temper of F-lorentine or Roman life during the 
age of the Medici. The bold brightness, moral 
earnestness, pursuit of the ideal, spiritual intensity,, 
reverence for good work and for the man who did 
it, which breathe in the poem, differ by a whole 
world from the atmosphere of life in Andrea del 
Sarto. This is a crowd of men who are moving 
upwards, who, seizing the Renaissance elements, 
knitted them through and through with reformation 
of life, faith in God, and hope for man. They had 
a future and knew it. The semi-Paganism of the 
Renaissance had not, and did not know it had not. 
We may close this series of Renaissance repre- 
sentations by A Toccata of Galuppi's. It cannot 
take rank with the others as a representative poem. 
It is of a different class; a changeful dream of 
images and thoughts which came to Browning 
as he was playing a piece of eighteenth-century 
Venetian music. But in the dream there is a 
sketch of that miserable life of fruitless pleasure, 
the other side of which was dishonourable pov- 
erty, into which Venetian society had fallen in the 
eighteenth century. To this the pride, the irre- 
Hgion, the immorality, the desire of knowledge 
and beauty for their own sake alone, had brought 
the noblest, wisest, and most useful city in Italy. 
That part of the poem is representative. It is the 
end of such a society as is drawn in The Bishop 
orders his Tomb at St. Praxed's Church. That 
tomb is placed in Rome, but it is in Venice that 


this class of tombs reached their greatest splendour 
of pride, opulence, folly, debasement, and irreligion. 
Finally, there are a few poems which paint the 
thoughts, the sorrows, the pleasures, and the poli- 
tical passions of modern Italy. There is the Italian 
in England, full of love for the Italian peasant and 
of pity for the patriot forced to live and die far 
from his motherland. Mazzini used to read it to 
his fellow-exiles to show them how fully an Eng- 
lish poet could enter into the temper of their soul. 
So far it may be said to represent a type. But 
it scarcely comes under the range of this chapter. 
But Up in a Villa, down in the City, is so vivid a 
representation of all that pleased a whole type of 
the city-bred and poor nobles of Italy at the time 
when Browning wrote the Dramatic Lyrics that 
I cannot omit it. It is an admirable piece of 
work, crowded with keen descriptions of Nature 
in the Casentino, and of life in the streets of Flor- 
ence. And every piece of description is so filled 
with the character of the " Italian person of qual- 
ity" who describes them — a petulant, humorous, 
easily angered, happy, observant, ignorant, poor 
gentleman — that Browning entirely disappears. 
The poem retains for us in its verse, and indeed 
in its light rhythm, the childlikeness, the natveti, 
the simple pleasures, the ignorance, and the hon- 
est boredom with the solitudes of Nature — of a 
whole class of Italians, not only of the time when 
it was written, but of the present day. It is a 
delightful, inventive piece of gay and pictorial 



THE first woman we meet in Browning's poetry 
is Pauline ; a twofold person, exceedingly un- 
like the woman usually made by a young poet. 
She is not only the Pauline ideaUsed and also 
materialised by the selfish passion of her lover, but 
also the real woman whom Browning has conceived 
underneath the lover's image of her. This doubling 
of his personages, as seen under two diverse aspects 
or by two different onlookers, in the same poem, is 
not unfrequent in his poetry, and it pleased his 
intellect to make these efforts. When the thing 
was well done, its cleverness was amazing, even 
imaginative ; when it was ill done, it was confusing. 
Tennyson never did this ; he had not analytic power 
enough. What he sees of his personages is all 
one, quite clearly drawn and easy to understand. 
But we miss in them, and especially in his women, 
the intellectual play, versatility, and variety of 
Browning. Tennyson's women sometimes border 
on dulness, are without that movement, change, and 
surprises, which in women disturb mankind for evil 
or for good. If Tennyson had had a little more of 
Browning's imaginative analysis, and Browning a 
little less of it, both would have been better artists. 



The Pauline of the lover is the commonplace 
woman whom a young man so often invents out of 
a woman for his use and pleasure. She is to be 
his salvation, to sympathise with his ideals, joys, 
and pains, to give him everything, with herself, 
and to live for him and him alone. Nothing can 
be more naif and simple than this common selfish- 
ness which forgets that a woman has her own 
life, her own claim on the man, and her own in- 
dividuality to develop ; and this element in the 
poem, which never occurs again in Browning's 
poetry, may be the record of an early experience. 
If so, he had escaped from this youthful error be- 
fore he had finished the poem, and despised it, per- 
haps too much. It is excusable and natural in 
the young. His contempt for this kind of love 
is embodied in the second Pauline. She is not the 
woman her lover imagines her to be, but farolderand 
more experienced than her lover ; who has known 
long ago what love was ; who always liked to be 
loved, who therefore suffers her lover to expatiate 
as wildly as he pleases; but whose life is quite 
apart from him, enduring him with pleasurable 
patience, criticising him, wondering how he can 
be so excited. There is a dim perception in the 
lover's phrases of these elements in his mistress' 
character; and that they are in her character is 
quite plain from the patronising piece of criticism 
in French which Browning has put into her mouth. 
The first touch of his humour appears in the con- 
trast of the gentle and lofty boredom of the letter 
with the torrents of love in the poem. And if we 
may imagine that the lover is partly an image of 
what Browning once felt in a youthful love, we 


may also think that the making of the second and 
critical Pauline was his record, when his love had 
passed, of what he thought about it all. 

This mode of treatment, so much more analytic 
than imaginative, belongs to Browning as an artist. 
He seems, while he wrote, as if half of him sat 
apart from the personages he was making, con- 
templating them in his observant fashion, discus- 
sing them coolly in his mind while the other half 
of him wrote about them with emotion ; placing 
them in different situations and imagining what 
they would then do ; inventing trials for them and 
recombining, through these trials, the elements of 
their characters ; arguing about and around them, 
till he sometimes loses the unity of their person- 
ality. This is a weakness in his work when he 
has to create characters in a drama who may be 
said, like Shakespeare's, to have, once he has 
created them, a life of their own independent of the 
poet. His spinning of his own thoughts about their 
characters makes us often realise, in his dramas, 
the individuality of Browning more than the in- 
dividuality of the characters. We follow him at 
this work with keen intellectual pleasure, but we do 
not always follow him with a passionate humanity. 

On the contrary, this habit, which was one 
cause of his weakness as an artist in the drama, 
increased his strength as an artist when he made 
single pictures of men and women at isolated crises 
in their lives ; or when he pictured them as they 
seemed at the moment to one, two, or three differ- 
ently tempered persons — pictorial sketches and 
studies which we may hang up in the chambers 
of the mind for meditation or discussion. Their 


intellectual power and the emotional interest they 
awaken, the vivid imaginative lightning which 
illuminates them in flashes, arise out of that part 
of his nature which made him a weak dramatist. 

Had he chosen, for example, to paint Lady 
Carlisle as he conceived her, in an isolated por- 
trait, and in the same circumstances as in his drama 
of Strafford, we should have had a clear and intimate 
picture of her moving, alive at every point, amidst 
the decay and shipwreck of the Court. But in the 
play she is a shade who comes and goes, unout- 
lined, confused, and confusing, scarcely a woman at 
all. The only clear hints of what Browning meant 
her to be are given in the asides of Strafford. 

Browning may have been content with Strafford 
as a whole, but, with his passion for vitality, he 
could not have been content with either Lady 
Carlisle or the Queen as representatives of women. 
Indeed, up to this point, when he had written Paii- 
line, Paracelsus, and Strafford, he must have felt 
that he had left out of his poetry one half of the 
human race; and his ambition was to represent 
both men and women. Pauline's chief appearance 
is in French prose. Michel, in Paracelsus, is a 
mere silhouette of the sentimental German Frau, 
a soft sympathiser with her husband and with the 
young eagle Paracelsus, who longs to leave the home 
she would not leave for the world — an excellent and 
fruitful mother. She is set in a pleasant garden 
landscape. Twice Browning tries to get more out 
of her and to lift her into reality. But the men 
carry him away from her, and she remains undrawn. 
These mere images, with the exception of the woman 
in Porphyrias Lover, who, with a boldness which 


might have astonished even Byron but is charac- 
teristic of Browning in his audacious youth, leaves 
the ball to visit her lover in the cottage in the 
garden — are all that he had made of womanhood 
in 1837, four years after he had begun to pubhsh 

It was high time he should do something better, 
and he had now begun to know more of the 
variousness of women and of their resolute grip 
on life and affairs. So, in Sordello, he created 
Palma. She runs through the poem, and her ap- 
pearances mark turning points in Sordello's devel- 
opment ; but thrice she appears in full colour and 
set in striking circumstances — first, in the secret 
room of the palace at Verona with Sordello when 
she expounds her policy, and afterwards leans with 
him amid a gush of torch-fire over the balcony, 
whence the grey-haired councillors spoke to the 
people surging in the square and shouting for the 
battle. The second time is in the streets of Ferrara, 
full of camping men and fires ; and the third is 
when she waits with Taurello in the vaulted room 
below the chamber where Sordello has been left to 
decide what side he shall take, for the Emperor 
or the Pope. He dies while they wait, but there 
is no finer passage in the poem than this of Palma 
and Taurello talking in the dim corridor of the 
new world they would make for North Italy with 
Sordello. It is not dramatic characterisation, but 
magnificent individualisation of the woman and the 

We see Palma first as a girl at Goito, where she 
fills Sordello with dreams, and Browning gives her 
the beauty of the Venetians Titian painted. 


How the tresses curled 
Into a sumptuous swell of gold and wound 
About her like a glory ! even the ground 
Wjis bright as with spilt sunbeams : 

Full consciousness of her beauty is with her, frank 
triumph in it ; but she is still a child. At the Court 
of Love she is a woman, not only conscious of her 
loveliness, but able to use it to bind and loose, 
having sensuous witchery and intellectual power, 
that terrible combination. She lays her magic on 

But she is not only the woman of personal magic 
and beauty. Being of high rank and mixed with 
great events, she naturally becomes the political 
woman, a common type in the thirteenth century. 
And Browning gives her the mental power to 
mould and direct affairs. She uses her personal 
charm to lure Sordello into politics. 

Her wise 
And lulling words are yet about the room, 
Her presence wholly poured upon the gloom 
Down even to her vesture's creeping stir. 
And so reclines he, saturate with her. 

* * * if * 

But when she felt she held her fnend indeed 
Safe, she threw back her curls, began implant 
Her lessons ; 

Her long discourse on the state of parties, and 
how Sordello may, in mastering them, complete his 
being, fascinates him and us by the charm of her 

But the political woman has often left love 
behind. Politics, like devotion, are a woman's 
reaction from the weariness of loving and being 
loved. But Palma is young, and in the midst of 


her politics she retains passion, sentiment, tender- 
ness, and charm. She dreams of some soul beyond 
her own, who, coming, should call on all the force 
in her character ; enable her, in loving him, to give 
consummation to her work for Italy ; and be him- 
self the hand and sword of her mind. Therefore 
she held herself in leash till the right man came, 
till she loved. "Waits he not," her heart cries, 
and mixes him with coming Spring: 

Waits he not the waking year? 
His almond blossoms must be honey-ripe 
By this ; to welcome him, fresh runnels stripe 
The thawed ravines ; because of him, the wind 
Walks like a herald. I shall surely find 
Him now. 

She finds him in Sordello, and summons him, 
when the time is ripe, to Verona. Love and ambi- 
tion march together in her now. In and out of all 
her schemes Sordello moves. The glory of her 
vision of North Italian rule is like a halo round his 
brow. Not one political purpose is lost, but all are 
transfigured in her by love. Softness and strength, 
intellect and feeling meet in her. This is a woman 
nobly carved, and the step from Michel, Pauline, 
and Lady Carlisle to her is an immense one. 

By exercise of his powers Browning's genius had 
swiftly developed. There comes a time, sooner or 
later, to a great poet when, after many experiments, 
the doors of his intellect and soul fly open, and his 
genius is flooded with the action and thought of 
what seems a universe. And with this revelation 
of Man and Nature, a tidal wave of creative power, 
new and impelling, carries the poet far beyond the 
station where last he rested. It came to Browning 


now. The creation of Palma would be enough to 
prove it, but there is not a character or scene in 
Sordello which does not also prove it. 

In this new outrush of his genius he created a 
very different woman from Palma. He created 
Pippa, the Asolan girl, at the other end of society 
from Palma, at the other end of feminine character. 
Owing to the host of new thoughts which in this 
early summer of genius came pouring into his soul 
— all of which he tried to express, rejecting none, 
choosing none out of the rest, expressing only half 
of a great number of them ; so delighted with them 
all that he could leave none out — he became 
obscure in Sordello. Owing also to the great com- 
plexity of the historical mise-en-sc^ne in which he 
placed his characters in that poem, he also became 
obscure. Had he been an experienced artist he 
would have left out at least a third of the thoughts 
and scenes he inserted. As it was, he threw all his 
thoughts and all the matters he had learnt about the 
politics, cities, architecture, customs, war, gardens, 
religion, and poetry of North Italy in the thirteenth 
century, pell-mell into this poem, and left them, as 
it were, to find their own places. This was very 
characteristic of a young man when the pot of his 
genius was boiling over. Nothing bolder, more 
incalculable, was ever done by a poet in the period 
of his storm and stress. The boundless and to ex- 
press it, was never sought with more audacity. It 
was impossible, in this effort, for him to be clear, and 
we need not be vexed with him. The daring, the 
rush, the unconsciousness, and the youth of it all, 
are his excuse, but not his praise. And when the 


public comes to understand that the dimness and 
complexity of Sordello arise from plenteousness 
not scarcity of thought, and that they were not a 
pose of the poet's but the natural leaping of a full 
fountain just let loose from its mountain chamber, 
it will have a personal hking, not perhaps for the 
poem but for Browning. " I will not read the 
book," it will say, " but I am glad he had it in him." 

Still it was an artistic failure, and when Brown- 
ing understood that the public could not compre- 
hend him — and we must remember that he desired 
to be comprehended, for he loved mankind — he 
thought he would use his powers in a simpler 
fashion, and please the honest folk. So, in the joy 
of having got rid in Sordello of so many of his 
thoughts by expression and of mastering the rest ; 
and determined, since he had been found difficult, 
to be the very opposite — loving contrast like a 
poet — he wrote Pippa Passes. I need not describe 
its plan. Our business is with the women in it. 

Ottima, alive with carnal passion, in the fire of 
which the murder of her husband seems a mere 
incident, is an audacious sketch, done in splashes 
of ungradated colour. Had Browning been more 
in the woman's body and soul he would not have 
done her in jerks as he has done. Her trick of 
talking of the landscape, as if she were on a hoUday 
like Pippa, is not as subtly conceived or executed 
as it should be, and is too far away from her 
dominant carnality to be natural. And her sen- 
sualism is too coarse for her position. A cer- 
tain success is attained, but the imagination is 
frequently jarred. The very outburst of unsensual 
love at the end, when her love passes from the 


flesh into the spirit, when self-sacrifice dawns upon 
her and she begins to suffer the first agonies of 
redemption, is plainly more due to the poet's pity 
than to the woman's spirit. Again, Sebald is the 
first to feel remorse after the murder. Ottima 
only begins to feel it when she thinks her lover is 
ceasing to love her. I am not sure that to reverse 
the whole situation would not be nearer to the 
truth of things ; but that is matter of discussion. 
Then the subject-matter is sordid. Nothing re- 
lieves the coarseness of Sebald, Ottima, and Luca, 
and their relations to one another but the few de- 
scriptions of Nature and the happy flash of inno- 
cence when Pippa passes by. Nor are there any 
large fates behind the tale or large effects to follow 
which might lift the crime into dignity. This mean, 
commonplace, ugly kind of subject had a strange 
attraction for Browning, as we see in The Inn 
Album, in Red Cotton Night-Cap Country, and else- 
where. I may add that it is curious to find him, 
in 1 84 1, writing exactly like a modem realist, 
nearly fifty years before realism of this kind had 
begun. And this illustrates what I have said of 
the way in which he anticipated by so many years 
the kind of work to which the literary world should 
come. The whole scene between Sebald and Ottima 
might have been written by a powerful, relentless, 
modern novelist. 

We have more of this realism, but done with 
great skill, humanity, even tenderness, in the meet- 
ing and talk of the young harlotry on the steps of 
the Duomo near the fountain. When we think of 
this piece of bold, clear, impressionist reality cast 
into the midst of the proprieties of literature in 


1 84 1, it is impossible not to wonder and smile. 
The girls are excellently drawn and varied from 
each other. Browning's pity gathers round them, 
and something of underlying purity, of natural 
grace of soul, of tenderness in memory of their 
youth emerges in them; and the charm of their 
land is round their ways. There was also in his 
mind, I think, a sense of picturesqueness in their 
class when they were young, which, mingling with 
his pity for them, attracted his imagination, or 
touched into momentary life that roving element 
in a poet which resents the barriers made by social 
and domestic purity. Fifine at the Fair is partly a 
study of that temper which comes and goes, goes 
and comes in the life not only of poets but of 
ordinary men and women. 

Then, to illustrate this further, there is in 
Sordello a brilliant sketch of girls of this kind 
at Venice, full of sunlight, colour, and sparkling 
water, in which he has seen these butterflies of 
women as a painter would see them, or as a poet 
who, not thinking then of moral questions or feel- 
ing pity for their fate, is satisfied for the flying 
moment with the picture they make, with the 
natural freedom of their life. 

But he does not leave that picture without a 
representation of the other side of this class of 
womanhood. It was a daring thing, when he 
wished to say that he would devote his whole 
work to the love and representation of humanity 
to symbolise it by a sorrowful street-girl in Venice 
who wistfully asks an alms ; worn and broken 
with sorrow and wrong; whose eyes appeal for 
pity, for comprehension of her good and for his 


love ; and whose fascination and beauty are more 
to him than those of her unsuffering companions. 
The other side of that class of women is here 
given with clear truth and just compassion, and the 
representation is lifted into imaginative strength, 
range, and dignity of thought and feeling by her 
being made the image of the whole of humanity. 
" This woman," he thought, " is humanity, whom 
I love, who asks the poet in me to reveal her as 
she is, a divine seed of God to find some day its 
flowering — the broken harlot of the universe, who 
will be, far off, the Magdalen redeemed by her 
ineradicable love. That, and with every power I 
have, I will, as poet, love and represent." 

This is the imagination working at its best, with 
its most penetrative and passionate power, and 
Browning is far greater as a poet in this Thing of 
his, where thought and love are knit into union to 
give birth to moral, intellectual, and spiritual beauty, 
than he is in those lighter and cleverer poems in 
which he sketches with a facile but too discursive 
a pencil, the transient moments, grave or light, of 
the lives of women. Yet this and they show his 
range, his variety, the embracing of his sympathy. 

Over against these girls in the market-place, 
against Ottima in her guilt, and Phene who is as 
yet a nonentity (her speech to the sculptor is too 
plainly Browning's analysis of the moment, not her 
own thinking — no girl of fourteen brought up by 
Natalia would talk in that fashion) is set Pippa, 
the light, life, and love of the day, the town, the 
people, and the poem. She passes like an angel 
by and touches with her wing events and persons 
and changes them to good. She has some natural 


genius, and is as unconscious of her genius as she 
is of the good she does. In her unconsciousness is 
the fountain of her charm. She lives like a flower 
of the field that knows not it has blest and com- 
forted with its beauty the travellers who have 
passed it by. She has only one day in the whole 
year for her own, and for that day she creates a 
fresh personality for herself. She clothes her soul, 
intellect, imagination, and spiritual aspiration in 
holiday garments for the day, becoming for the time 
a new poetic self, and able to choose any other 
personality in A solo from hour to hour — the queen 
and spirit of the town ; not wishing to be, actually, 
the folk she passes by, but only, since she is so 
isolated, to be something in their lives, to touch 
them for help and company. 

The world of Nature speaks to her and loves 
her. She sees all that is beautiful, feeds on it, 
and grasps the matter of thought that underlies the 
beauty. And so much is she at home with Nature 
that she is able to describe with ease in words 
almost as noble as the thing itself the advent of 
the sun. When she leaps out of her bed to meet 
the leap of the sun, the hymn of description she 
sings might be sung by the Hours themselves as 
they dance round the car of the god. She can 
even play with the great Mother as with an equal, 
or like her child. The charming gaiety with which 
she speaks to the sunlights that dance in her room, 
and to the flowers which are her sisters, prove, 
however isolated her life may be, that she is never 
alone. Along with this brightness she has serious- 
ness, the sister of her gaiety ; the deep seriousness 
of imagination, the seriousness also of the evening 

336 BROWmNG 

when meditation broods over the day and its doings 
before sleep. These, with her sweet humanity, 
natural piety, instinctive purity, compose her of 
soft sunshine and soft shadow. Nor does her 
sadness at the close, which is overcome by her 
trust in God, make her less but more dear to us. 
She is a beautiful creation. There are hosts of 
happy women like her. They are the salt of the 
earth. But few poets have made so much of them 
and so happily, or sung about these birds of God 
so well as Browning has in Pippa Passes. 

That was in 1841. Pleased with his success in 
this half -lyrical, half-dramatic piece, he was lured 
towards the drama again, and also to try his hand 
at those short lyrics — records of transient emotion 
on fanciful subjects — or records of short but intense 
moments of thought or feeling. It is a pity that 
he did not give to dramatic lyrics (in which species 
of poetry he is quite our first master) the time he 
gave to dramas, in which he is not much better 
than an amateur. Nevertheless, we cannot omit 
the women in the dramas. I have already written 
of Lady Carlisle. Polyxena, in King Victor and 
King Charles, is partly the political woman and 
partly the sensible and loving wife of a strangely 
tempered man. She is fairly done, but is not 
interesting. Good womanly intelligence in affairs, 
good womanly support of her man ; clear womanly 
insight into men and into intrigue — a woman of 
whom there are hundreds of thousands in every 
rank of life. In her, as in so much of Browning's 
work, the intellect of the woman is of a higher 
quality than the intellect of the man. 

Next, among his women, is Anael in the Return 


of the Druses. She is placed in too unnatural a 
situation to allow her nature to have fair play. 
In the preternatural world her superstition creates, 
she adores Djabal, murders the Prefect, and dies 
by her own hand. She is, in that world, a study 
of a young girl's enthusiasm for her faith and her 
country, and for the man she thinks divine ; and 
were the subject, so far as it relates to her cha- 
racter, well or clearly wrought, she might be made 
remarkable. As it is wrought, it is so intertwisted 
with complex threads of thought and passion that 
any clear outline of her character is lost. Both 
Djabal and she are like clouds illuminated by 
flashes of sheet lightning which show an infinity 
of folds and shapes of vapour in each cloud, but 
show them only for an instant; and then, when 
the flashes come again, show new folds, new involu- 
tions. The characters are not allowed by Browning 
to develop themselves. 

Anael, when she is in the preternatural world, 
loves Djabal as an incarnation of the divine, but 
in the natural world of her girlhood her heart goes 
out to the Knight of Malta who loves her. The 
in-and-out of these two emotional states — one in 
the world of religious enthusiasm, and one in her 
own womanhood, as they cross and re-cross one 
another — is elaborated with merciless analysis ; 
and Anael's womanhood appears, not as a whole, 
but in bits and scraps. How will this young girl, 
divided by two contemporaneous emotions, one in 
the supernatural and one in the natural world, act 
in a crisis of her hfe ? Well, the first, conquering 
the second, brings about her death the moment she 
tries to transfer the second into the world of the 


first — her dim, half -conscious love for Lois into, 
her conscious adoration of Djabal. 

Mildred and Guendolen are the two women in 
A Blot in the 'Scutcheon. Guendolen is the incar- 
nation of high-hearted feminine commonsense, of 
clear insight into the truth of things, born of the 
power of love in her. Amid all the weaknesses of 
the personages and the plot ; in the wildered situa- 
tion made by a confused clashing of pride and inno- 
cence and remorse, in which Browning, as it were 
on purpose to make a display of his intellectual 
ability, involves those poor folk — Guendolen is the 
rock on which we can rest in peace ; the woman of 
the world, yet not worldly ; full of experience, yet 
having gained by every experience more of love ; 
just and strong yet pitiful, and with a healthy but 
compassionate contempt for the intelligence of the 
men who belong to her. 

Contrasted with her, and the quality of her love 
contrasted also, is Mildred, the innocent child girl 
who loves for love's sake, and continues to be lost 
in her love. But Browning's presentation of her 
innocence, her love, is spoiled by the over-remorse, 
shame, and fear under whose power he makes her 
so helpless. They are in the circumstances so un- 
naturally great that they lower her innocence and 
love, and the natural courage of innocence and love. 
These rise again to their first level, but it is only 
the passion of her lover's death which restores 
them. And when they recur, she is outside of 
girlhood. One touch of the courage she shows in 
the last scene would have saved in the previous 
scene herself, her lover, and her brother. The lie she 
lets her brother infer when she allows him to think 


that the lover she has confessed to is not the Earl, 
yet that she will marry the Earl, degrades her 
altogether and justly in her brother's eyes, and 
is so terribly out of tune with her character that I 
repeat I cannot understand how Browning could 
invent that situation. It spoils the whole pre- 
sentation of the girl. It is not only out of her 
character, it is out of Nature. Indeed, in spite of 
the poetry, in spite of the pathetic beauty of the 
last scene, Mildred and Tresham are always over- 
heightened, over-strained beyond the concert-pitch 
of Nature. But the drawing of the woman's cha- 
racter suffers more from this than the man's, even 
though Tresham, in the last scene, is half turned 
into a woman. Sex seems to disappear in that 

A different person is Colombe, the Duchess in 
Colombe's Birthday. That play, as I have said, 
gets on, but it gets on because Colombe moves 
every one in the play by her own motion. From 
beginning to end of the action she is the fire and 
the soul of it. Innocent, frank, and brave, simple 
and constant among a group of false and worldly 
courtiers, among whom she moves like the white 
Truth, untouched as yet by love or by the fates of 
her position, she is suddenly thrown into a whirl- 
pool of affairs and of love ; and her simplicity, 
clearness of intelligence, unconscious Tightness of 
momentary feeling, which comes of her not thinking 
about her feelings — that rare and precious element 
in character — above all, her belief in love as the 
one worthy thing in the world, bring her out of 
the whirlpool, unshipwrecked, unstained by a single 
wave of ill-feeling or mean thinking, into a quiet 


harbour of affection and of power. For she will 
influence Berthold all his life long. 

She is herself lovely. Valence loves her at 
sight. Her love for Valence is born before she 
knows it, and the touch of jealousy, which half 
reveals it to her, is happily wrought by Browning. 
When she finds out that Valence did for love of 
her what she thought was done for loyalty alone to 
her, she is a little revolted ; her single-heartedness 
is disappointed. She puts aside her growing love, 
which she does not know as yet is love, and says 
she will find out if Berthold wishes to marry her 
because he loves her, or for policy. Berthold is 
as honest as she is, and tells her love has nothing 
to do with the matter. The thought of an untrue 
life with Berthold then sends her heart with a 
rush back to Valence, and she chooses love and 
obscurity with Valence. It is the portrait of incar- 
nate truth, in vivid contrast to Constance, who is 
a liar in grain. 

Constance is the heroine of the fragment of a 
drama called In a Balcony. Norbert, a young 
diplomat, has served the Queen, who is fifty years 
old, for a year, all for the love of Constance, a 
cousin and dependent of the Queen. He tells 
Constance he will now, as his reward, ask the 
Queen for her hand. Constance says, " No ; that 
will ruin us both ; temporise ; tell the Queen, who 
is hungry for love, that you love her ; and that, as 
she cannot marry a subject, you will be content 
with me, whom the Queen loves." Norbert objects, 
and no wonder, to this lying business, but he does 
it ; and the Queen runs to Constance, crying, " I 
am loved, thank God ! I will throw everything 


aside and marry him. I thought he loved you, but 
he loves me." Then Constance, wavering from 
truth again, says that the Queen is right. Norbert 
does love her. And this is supposed by some to 
be a noble self-sacrifice, done in pity for the Queen. 
It is much more like jealousy. 

Then, finding that all Norbert's future depends 
on the Queen, she is supposed to sacrifice herself 
again, this time for Norbert's sake. She will give 
him up to the Queen, for the sake of his career ; 
and she tells the Queen, before Norbert, that he 
has confessed to her his love for the Queen — an- 
other lie ! Norbert is indignant — he may well be 
' — and throws down all this edifice of falsehood. 
The Queen knows then the truth, and leaves them 
in a fury. Constance and Norbert fly into each 
other's arms, and the tramp of the soldiers who 
come to arrest them is heard as the curtain falls. 

I do not beheve that Browning meant to make 
self-sacrifice the root of Constance's doings. If he 
did, he has made a terrible mess of the whole thing. 
He was much too clear-headed a moralist to link 
self-sacrifice to systematic lying. Self-sacrifice is 
not self-sacrifice at all when it sacrifices truth. 
It may wear the clothes of Love, but, in injuring 
righteousness, it injures the essence of love. It has 
a surface beauty, for it imitates love, but if mankind 
is allured by this beauty, mankind is injured. It 
is the false Florimel of self-sacrifice. Browning, 
who had studied self-sacrifice, did not exhibit it in- 
Constance.' There is something else at the root 
of her actions, and I believe he meant it to be 
jealousy. The very first lie she urges her lover to 
tell (that is, to let the Queen imagine he loves her) 


is just the thing a jealous woman would invent to 
try her lover and the Queen, if she suspected the 
Queen of loving him, and him of being seduced 
from her by the worldly advantage of marrying 
the Queen. And all the other lies are best ex- 
plained on the supposition of jealous experiments. 
At the last she is satisfied ; the crowning test had 
been tried. Through a sea of lying she had made 
herself sure of Norbert's love, and she falls into his 
arms. Had Browning meant Constance to be an 
image of self-sacrifice, he would scarcely have writ- 
ten that line when Norbert, having told the truth 
of the matter to the Queen, looks at both women, 
and cries out, "You two glare, each at each, Uke 
panthers now." A woman, filled with the joy and 
sadness of pure self-sacrifice, would not have felt 
at this moment hke a panther towards the woman 
for whom she had sacrificed herself. 

Even as a study of jealousy, Constance is too 
subtle. Jealousy has none of these labyrinthine 
methods ; it goes straight with fiery passion to its 
end. It may be said, then, that Constance is not 
a study of jealousy. But it may be a study by 
Browning of what he thought in his intellect jeal- 
ousy would be. At any rate, Constancy, as a study 
of self-sacrifice, is a miserable failure. Moreover, 
it does not make much matter whether she is a 
study of this or that, because she is eminently 
wrong-natured. Her lying is unendurable, only to 
be explained or excused by the madness of jealousy, 
and she, though jealous, is not maddened enough 
by jealousy to excuse her lies. The situations she 
causes are almost too ugly. Whenever the truth is 
told, either by the Queen or Norbert, the situations 


break up in disgrace for her. It is difficult to 
imagine how Norbert could go on loving her. His 
love would have departed Lf they had come to live 
together. He is radically true, and she is radically 
false. A fatal split would have been inevitable. 
Nothing could be better for them both — after their 
momentary outburst of love at the end — than death. 

From the point of view of art, Constance is 
interesting. It is more than we can say of 
Domizia in Luria. She is nothing more than a 
passing study whom Browning uses to voice his 
theories. Eulalia in A Soul's Tragedy is also a 
transient thing, only she is more colourless, more a 
phantom than Domizia. 

By this time, by the year 1846, Browning had 
found out that he could not write dramas well, 
or even such dramatic proverbs as In a Balcony. 
And he gave himself up to another species of his 
art. The women he now draws (some of which 
belong to the years during which he wrote dramas) 
are done separately, in dramatic lyrics as he called 
them, and in narrative and philosophical poems. 
Some are touched only at moments of their lives, 
and we are to infer from the momentary action and 
feeling the whole of the woman. Others are carer 
fully and lovingly drawn from point to point in a 
variety of action, passion, and circumstance. In 
these we find Browning at his best in the drawing 
of women. I know no women among the second- 
rate poets so sweetly, nobly, tenderly, and wisely 
drawn as Pompilia and Balaustion. 



NO modern poet has written of women with 
such variety as Browning. Coleridge, ex- 
:ept in a few Love-poeras, scarcely touched them. 
A^'ordsworth did not get beyond the womanhood of 
he home affections, except in a few lovely and 
piritual sketches of girlhood which are unique in 
lur literature, in which maidenhood and the soul 
if Nature so interchange their beauty that the girl 
eems born of the lonely loveliness of Nature and 
ives with her mother like a child. 

What motherhood in its deep grief and joy, 
i^hat sisterhood and wifehood may be, have never 
leen sung with more penetration and exquisiteness 
han Wordsworth sang them. But of the immense 
ange, beyond, of womanhood he could not sing. 
Jyron's women are mostly in love with Byron 
inder various names, and he rarely strays beyond 
he woman who is loved or in love. The woman 
/ho is most vital, true, and tender is Haid^e in 
Ion Juan. Shelley's women melt into philosophic 
:iist, or are used to build up a political or social 
heory, as if they were " properties " of literature, 
-ythna, Rosalind, Asia, Emilia, are ideas, not 


realities. Beatrice is alive, but she was drawn 
for him in the records of her trial. Even the 
woman of his later lyrics soon ceases to be flesh 
and blood. Keats let women alone, save in 
Isabella, and all that is of womanhood in her is 
derived from Boccaccio. Madeliiie is nothing but 
a picture. It is curious that his remarkable want 
of interest in the time in which he lived should 
be combined with as great a want of interest in 
women, as if the vivid life of any period in the 
history of a people were bound up with the vivid 
Ufe of women in that period. When women 
awake no full emotion in a poet, the life of the 
time, as in the case of Keats, awakes little emotion 
in him. He will fly to the past for his subjects. 
Moreover, it is perhaps worth saying that when the 
poets cease to write well about women, the phase 
of poetry they represent, however beautiful it be, is 
beginning to decay. When poetry is born into a 
new life, women are as living in it as men. » Woman- 
hood became at once one of its dominai^' subjects 
in Tennyson and Browning. Among the new poli- 
tical, social, rehgious, philosophic, and artistic ideas 
which were then borne like torches through Eng- 
land, the idea of the free development of women was 
also born ; and it carried with it a strong emotion. 
They claimed the acknowledgment of their sepa- 
rate individuality, of their distinct use and power 
in the progress of the world. This was embodied 
with extraordinary fulness in Aurora Leigh, and its 
emotion drove itself into the work of Tennyson and 
Browning. How Tennyson treated the subject in 
the Princess is well known. His representation 
of women in his other poems does not pass beyond 


a few simple, well-known types both of good and 
bad women. But the particular types into which 
the variety of womanhood continually throws itself, 
the quick individualities, the fantastic simplicities 
and subtleties, the resolute extremes, the unconsid- 
ered impulses, the obstinate good and evil, the bold 
cruelties and the bold self-sacrifices, the fears and 
audacities, the hidden work of the thoughts and 
passions of women in the far-off worlds within them 
where their soul claims and possesses its own de- 
sires — these were beyond the power of Tennyson 
to describe, even, I think, to conceive. But they 
were in the power of Browning, and he made them, 
at least in lyric poetry, a chief part of his work. 

In women he touched great variety and great 
individuality ; two things each of which includes 
the other, and both of which were dear to his 
imagination. With his longing for variety of 
representation, he was not content to pile woman- 
hood up into a few classes, or to dwell on her uni- 
versal qualities. He took each woman separately, 
marking out the points which differentiated her 
from, not those which she shared with, the rest of 
her sex. He felt that if he dwelt only on the deep- 
seated roots of the tree of womanhood, he would 
miss the endless play, fancy, movement, interaction, 
and variety of its branches, foliage, and flowers. 
Therefore, in his lyrical work, he leaves out for 
the most part the simpler elements of womanhood 
and draws the complex, the particular, the impulsive, 
and the momentarj^. Each of his women is distinct 
from the rest. That is a great comfort in a world 
which, through laziness, wishes to busy itself with 
classes rather than with personalities. I do not 


believe that Browning ever met man or woman 
without saying to himself — Here is a new world; 
it may be classed, but it also stands alone. What 
distinguishes it from the rest — that I will know 
and that describe. 

When women are not enslaved to conventions — 
and the new movement towards their freedom of 
development which began shortly after 1840 had 
enfranchised and has continued ever since to 
enfranchise a great number from this slavery — 
they are more individual and various than men are 
allowed to be. They carry their personal desires, 
aspirations, and impulses into act, speech, and into 
extremes with much greater licence than is possible 
to men. One touches with them much more easily 
the original stuff of humanity. It was this original, 
individual, and various Thing in women on which 
Browning seized with delight. He did not write 
half as much as other poets had done of woman 
as being loved by man or as loving him. I have 
said that the mere Love-poem is no main element 
in his work. He wrote of the original stuff of 
womanhood, of its good and bad alike, sometimes 
of it as all good, as in Pompilia ; but for the most 
part as mingled of good and ill, and of the good as 
destined to conquer the ill. 

He did not exalt her above man. He thought 
her as vital, interesting, and important for progress 
as man, but not more interesting, vital, or impor- 
tant. He neither lowered her nor idealised her 
beyond natural humanity. She stands in his poetry 
side by side with man on an equality of value to 
the present and future of mankind. And he has 
wrought this out not by elaborate statement of 


it in a theory, as Tennyson did in the Princess 
wkh a conscious patronage of womanhood, but by 

.vtmconscious representation of it in the multitude of 

^ women whom he invented. 

But though the wholes were equal, the particulars 
of which the wholes were composed differed in their 
values ; and women in his view were more keenly 
alive than men, at least more various in their 
manifestation of life. It was their intensity of 
life which most attracted him. He loved nothing 
so much as hf e — in plant or animal or man. His 
longer poems are records of the larger movement of 
human life, the steadfast record in quiet verse as in 
Paracelsus, or the clashing together in abrupt verse 
as in Sordello, of the turmoil and meditation, the 

'trouble and joy of the living soul of humanity. 

\When he, this archangel of reaUty, got into touch 
with pure fact of the human soul, beating with life, 
he was enchanted. And this was his vast happiness 
in his longest poem, The Ring and the Book — 

Do you see this square old yellow book I toss 

I' the air, and catch again, and twirl about 

By the crumpled vellum covers — pure crude fact 

Secreted from man's life when hearts beat hard 

And brains, high blooded, ticked two centuries hence? 

Give it me back. The thing's restorative 

I' the touch and sight. 

But in his lyrics, it was not the steady development 
of life on which he loved to write, but the unexpected, 
original movement of life under the push of quick 
thought and sudden passion into some new form 
of action which broke through the commonplace of 
existence. Men and women, and chiefly women, 
when they spoke and acted'pn a keen edge of life 


with a precipice below them or on the summit of 
the moment, with straight and clear intensity, and 
out of the original stuff of their nature — were his 
darling lyric subjects. And he did this work in 
lyrics, because the lyric is the poem of the moment. 
There was one of these critical moments which 
attracted him greatly — that in which all after- 
life is contained and decided ; when a step to the 
right or left settles, in an instant, the spiritual 
basis of the soul. I have already mentioned some 
of these poems — those concerned with love, such 
as By the Fireside or Cristina — and the woman is 
more prominent in them than the man. One of 
the best of them, so far as the drawing of a woman 
is concerned, is Dis Aliter Visum. We see the 
innocent girl, and ten years after what the world 
has made of her. But the heart of the girl lies 
beneath the woman of the world. And she recalls 
to the man the hour when they lingered near the 
church on the cliff ; when he loved her, when he 
might have claimed her, and did not. He feared 
they might repent of it ; sacrificing to the present 
their chance of the eternities of love. " Fool ! who 
ruined four lives — mine and your opera-dancer's, 
your own and my husband's ! " Whether her 
outburst now be quite true to her whole self or 
not Browning does not let us know ; but it is 
true to that moment of her, and it is full of the 
poetry of the moment she recalls. Moreover, these 
thirty short verses paint as no other man could 
have done the secret soul of a woman in society. 
I quote her outburst. It is full of Browning's keen 
poetry ; and the first verse of it may well be com- 
pared with a similar moment in By the Fireside, 


where Nature is made to play the same part, but 
succeeds as here she fails : 

Now I may speak : you fool, for all 

Your lore ! Who made things plain in vain? 
What was the sea for? What, the grey 
Sad church, that solitary day, 

Crosses and graves and swallows' call? 

Was there nought better than to enjoy ? 

No feat which, done, would make time break, 
And let us pent-up creatures through 
Into eternity, our due? 

No forcing earth teach heaven's employ? 

No wise beginning, here and now. 

What cannot grow complete (earth's feat) 
And heaven must finish, there and then? 
No tasting earth's true food for men, 

Its sweet in sad, its sad in sweet? 

No grasping at love, gaining a share 

O' the sole spark from God's life at strife 
With death, so, sure of range above 
The limits here? For us and love. 

Failure ; but, when God &ils, despair. 

This you call wisdom? Thus you add 

Good unto good again, in vain? 

You loved, with body worn and weak ; 

I loved, with faculties to seek : 
Were both loves worthless since ill-clad? 

Let the mere star-fish in his vault 
Crawl in a wash of weed, indeed, 
Rose-jacynth to the finger tips : 
He, whole in body and soul, outstrips 

Man, found with either in default. 

But what's whole, can increase no more, 
Is dwarfed and dies, since here's its sphere. 
The devil laughed at you in his sleeve! 
You knew not? That I weU believe ; 

Or you had saved two souls : nay, four. 


For Stephanie sprained last night her wrist, 
Ankle or something. "Pooh," cry you? 
At any rate she danced, all say, 
Vilely ; her vogue has had its day. 

Here comes my husband from his whist. 

Here the woman speaks for herself. It is cha- 
racteristic of Browning's boldness that there are 
a whole set of poems in which he imagines the 
unexpressed thoughts which a woman revolves in 
self-communion under the questionings and troubles 
of the passions, and chiefly of the passion of love. 
The most elaborate of these is James Lee's Wife, 
which tells what she thinks of when after long years 
she has been unable to retain her husband's love. 
Finally, she leaves him. The analysis of her 
thinking is interesting, but the woman is not. She 
is not the quick, natural woman Browning was able 
to paint so well when he chose. His own analytic 
excitement, which increases in mere intellectuality 
as the poem moves on, enters into her, and she 
thinks more through Browning the man than 
through her womanhood. Women are complex 
enough, more complex than men, but they are not 
complex in the fashion of this poem. Under the 
circumstances Browning has made, her thought 
would have been quite clear at its root, and indeed 
in its branches. She is represented as in love 
with her husband. Were she really in love, she 
would not have been so involved, or able to argue 
out her life so anxiously. Love or love's sorrow 
knows itself at once and altogether, and its cause 
and aim are simple, But Browning has uncon- 
sciously made the woman clear enough for us to 
guess the real cause of her departure. That de- 

352 BROWmNG 

parture is believed by some to be a self-sacrifice. 
There are folk who s^ self-sacrifice in everything 
Browning wrote about women. Browning may 
have originally intended her action to be one of 
self-sacrifice, but the thing, as he went on, was 
taken out of his hands, and turns out to be quite a 
different matter. The woman really leaves her 
husband because her love for him was tired out. 
She talks of leaving her husband free, and perhaps, 
in women's way, persuades herself that she is sac- 
rificing herself; but she desires in reality to set 
herself free from an unavailing struggle to keep his 
love. There comes a time when the striving for 
love wearies out love itself. And James Lee's 
wife had reached that moment. Her departure, 
thus explained, is the most womanly thing in the 
poem, and I should not wonder if Browning meant 
it so. He knew what self-sacrifice really was, and 
this departure of the woman was not a true self- 

Another of these poems in which a woman 
speaks out her heart is Any Wife to any Husband. 
She is dying, and she would fain claim his un- 
dying fidelity to his love of her ; but though she 
believes in his love, she thinks, when her presence 
is not with him, that his nature will be drawn 
towards other women. Then what he brings her, 
when he meets her again, will not be perfect. 
Womanly to the core, and her nature is a beautiful 
nature, she says nothing which is not kind and 
true, and the picture she draws of faithfulness, 
without one stain of wavering, is natural and lovely. 
But, for all that, it is jealousy that speaks, the 
desire to claim all for one's self. " Thou art mine. 


and mine only " — that fine selfishness which injures 
love so deeply in the end, because it forbids its 
expansion, that is, forbids the essential nature of 
love to act. That may be pardoned, unless in its 
extremes, during life, if the pardon does not in- 
crease it ; but this is in the hour of death, and it is 
unworthy of the higher world. To carry jealousy 
beyond the grave is a phase of that selfish passion 
over which this hour, touched by the larger thought 
of the infinite world, should have uplifted the 
woman. Still, what she says is in Nature, and 
Browning's imagination has closed passionately 
round his subject. But he has left us with pity 
for the woman rather than with admiration of her. 

Perhaps the subtlest part of the poem is the 
impression left on us that the woman knows all her 
pleading will be in vain, that she has fathomed the 
weakness of her husband's character. He will not 
like to remember that knowledge of hers ; and her 
letting him feel it is a kind of vengeance which will 
not help him to be faithful. It is also her worst 
bitterness, but if her womanhood were perfect, she 
would not have had that bitterness. 

In these two poems, and in others, there is to be 
detected the deep-seated and quiet half-contempt 
— contempt which does not damage love, contempt 
which is half pity — which a woman who loves 
a man has for his weakness under passion or weari- 
ness. Both the wives in these poems feel that their 
husbands are inferior to themselves in strength 
of charadter and of intellect. To feel this is 
common enough in women, but is rarely confessed 
by them. A man scarcely ever finds it out from 
his own observation ; he is too vain for that. But 


Browning knew it. A poet sees many things, and 
perhaps his wife told him this secret. It was like 
his audacity to express it. 

This increased knowledge of womanhood was 
probably due to the fact that Browning possessed in 
his wife a woman of genius who had studied her 
own sex in herself and in other women. It is 
owing to her, I think, that in so many poems the 
women are represented as of a finer, even a 
stronger intellect than the men. Many poets have 
given them a finer intuition; that is a common 
representation. But greater intellectual power 
allotted to women is only to be found in Browning. 
The instances of it are few, but they are remarkable. 

It was owing also to his wife, whose relation to 
him was frank on all points, that Browning saw so 
much more clearly than other poets into the deep, 
curious, or remote phases of the passions, thoughts, 
and vagaries of womanhood. I sometimes wonder 
what women themselves think of the things Brown- 
ing, speaking through their mouth, makes them say; 
but that is a revelation of which I have no hope, and 
for which, indeed, I have no desire. 

Moreover, he moved a great deal in the society 
where women, not having any real work to do, or 
if they have it, not doing it, permit a greater 
freedom to their thoughts and impulses than those 
of their sex who sit at the loom of duty. Tenny- 
son withdrew from this society, and his women are 
those of a retired poet — a few real types tenderly 
and sincerely drawn, and a few more worked out by 
thinking about what he imagined they would be, 
not by knowing them. Browning, roving through 
this class and other classes of society, and observ- 


rig while he seemed unobservant, drew into his 
aner self the lives of a number of women, saw 
hem living and feeling in a great diversity of 
ircumstances ; and, always on the watch, seized 
he moment into which he thought the woman 
;ntered with the greatest intensity, and smote that 
nto a poem. Such poems, naturally lyrics, came 
nto his head at the opera, at a ball, at a supper 
iter the theatre, while he talked at dinner, when 
le walked in the park ; and they record, not the 
vhole of a woman's character, but the vision of one 
jart of her nature which flashed before him and 
vanished in an instant. Among these poems are 
4 Light Woman, A Pretty Woman, Solomon and 
Balkis, Gold Hair, and, as a fine instance of this 
iheet-lightning poem about women — Adam, Lilith, 
md Eve. Too Late and The Worst of It do not 
jelong to these slighter poems ; they are on a much 
ligher level. But they are poems of society and its 
secret lives. The men are foremost in them, but in 
;ach of them a different woman is sketched, through 
:he love of the men, with a masterly decision. 

Among all these women he did not hesitate to 
Daint the types farthest removed from goodness 
md love. The lowest woman in the poems is she 
(vho is described in Time's Revenges — 

So is my spirit, as flesh with sin. 
Filled full, eaten out and in 
With the face of her, the eyes of her, 
The lips, the little chin, the stir 
Of shadow round her mouth ; and she 
— I'll tell you — calmly would decree 
That I should roast at a slow fire, 
If that would compass her desire 
And make her one whom they invite 
To the famous ball to-morrow night. 


Contrasted with this woman, from whose brutal 
nature civilisation has stripped away the honour 
and passion of the savage, the woman of In a 
Laboratory shines like a fallen angel. She at least 
is natural, and though the passions she feels are 
the worst, yet she is capable of feeling strongly. 
Neither have any conscience, but we can conceive 
that one of these women might attain it, but the 
other not. Both are examples of a thing I have 
said is exceedingly rare in Browning's poetry — 
men or women left without some pity of his own 
touched into their circumstances or character. 

In a Laboratory is a full-coloured sketch of what 
womanhood could become in a court like that of 
Francis I. ; in which every shred of decency, gentle- 
hood, and honour had disappeared. Browning's 
description, vivid as it is, is less than the reality. 
Had he deepened the colours of iniquity and in- 
decency instead of introducing so much detailed 
description of the laboratory, detail which weakens 
a little our impression of the woman, he had done 
better, but all the same there is no poet in England, 
living or dead, who could have done it so well. 
One of the best things in the poem is the impres- 
sion made on us that it is not jealousy, but the hatred 
of envy which is the motive of the woman. Jealousy 
supposes love or the image of love, but among 
those who surrounded Francis, love did not exist at 
all, only lust, luxury, and greed of power; and in 
the absence of love and in the scorn of it, hate and 
envy reign unchallenged. This is what Browning 
has realised in this poem, and, in this differentia- 
tion, he has given us not only historical but moral 


Apart from these lighter and momentary poems 
about women there are those written out of his own 
ideal of womanhood, built up not only from all he 
knew and loved in his wife, but also out of the 
dreams of his heart. They are the imaginings of 
the high honour and affection which a man feels 
for noble, natural, and honest womanhood. They 
are touched here and there by complex thinking, 
but for the most part are of a beloved simplicity 
and tenderness, and they will always be beautiful. 
There is a sketch of the woman in The Italian in 
England, a never to be forgotten thing. It is no 
wonder the exile remembered her till he died. 
There is the image we form of the woman in The 
Flower's Name. He does not describe her ; she is 
far away, but her imagined character and presence 
fill the garden with an incense sweeter than all the 
flowers, and her beauty irradiates all beauty, so 
delicately and so plenteously does the lover's 
passion make her visible. There is Evelyn Hope, 
and surely no high and pure love ever created a 
more beautiful soul in a woman than hers who 
waits her lover in the spiritual world. There are 
those on whom we have already dwelt — Pippa, 
Colombe, Mildred, Guendolen. There is the woman 
in the Flight of the Duchess ; not a sketch, but a 
completed picture. We see her, just emerged from 
her convent, thrilling with eagerness to see the 
world, believing in its beauty, interested in every- 
thing, in the movement of the leaves on the trees, 
of the birds in the heaven, ready to speak to every 
one high or low, desirous to get at the soul of all 
things in Nature and Humanity, herself almost a 
creature of the element, akin to air and fire. 


She is beaten into silence, but not crushed ; over- 
whelmed by dry old people, by imitation of dead 
things, but the life in her is not slain. When the 
wandering gipsy claims her for a natural life, her 
whole nature blossoms into beauty and joy. She 
will have troubles great and deep, but every hour 
will make her conscious of more and more of life. 
And when she dies, it will be the beginning of an 
intenser life. 

Finally, there is his wife. She is painted in these 
lyric poems with a simplicity of tenderness, with a 
reticence of worship as sacred as it is fair and 
delicate, with so intense a mingling of the ideal 
and the real that we never separate them, and with 
so much passion in remembrance of the past and 
in longing for the future, that no comment can 
enhance the picture Browning draws of her charm, 
her intellect, and her spirit. 

These pictures of womanhood were set forth 
before 1868, when a collected edition of his poems 
was published in six volumes. They were chiefly 
short, even impressionist studies, save those in the 
dramas, and Palma in Sordello. Those in the 
dramas were troubled by his want of power to 
shape them in that vehicle. It would have then 
been a pity if, in his matured strength, he had not 
drawn into clear existence, with full and careful, 
not impressionist work, and with unity of conception, 
some women who should, standing alone, become 
permanent personages in poetry; whom men and 
women in the future, needing friends, should love, 
honour, and obey, and in whom, when help and 
sympathy and wisdom were wanted, these healing 
powers should be found. Browning did this for us 


in Pompilia and Balaustion, an Italian and a Greek 
girl — not an English girl. It is strange how to 
the very end he lived as a poet outside of his own 

In 1868, Pompilia appeared before the world, 
and she has captured ever since the imagination, the 
conscience, and the sentiment of all who love woman- 
hood and poetry. Her character has ennobled 
and healed mankind. Born of a harlot, she is a 
star of purity ; brought up by characters who love 
her, but who do not rise above the ordinary mean- 
ness and small commercial honesty of their class, 
she is always noble, generous, careless of wealth, 
and of a high sense of honour. It is as if Browning 
disdained for the time all the philosophy of heredity 
and environment ; and indeed it was characteristic 
of him to believe in the sudden creation of beauty, 
purity, and nobility out of their contraries and in 
spite of them. The miracle of the unrelated birth 
of genius — that out of the dunghill might spring 
the lily, and out of the stratum of crime the saint 
— was an article of faith with him. Nature's or 
God's surprises were dear to him ; and nothing 
purer, tenderer, sweeter, more natural, womanly, 
and saintly was ever made than Pompilia, the 
daughter of a vagrant impurity, the child of crime, 
the girl who grew to womanhood in mean and 
vulgar circumstances. 

The only hatred she earns is the hatred of Count 
Guido her husband, the devil who has tortured and 
murdered her — the hatred of evil for good. When ■ 
Count Guido, condemned to death, bursts into the 
unrestrained expression of his own nature, he can- 
not say one word about Pompilia which is not set 


on fire by a hell of hatred. Nothing in Browning's 
writing is more vivid, more intense, than these 
sudden outbursts of tiger fierceness against his wife. 
They lift and enhance the image of Pompilia. 

When she comes into contact with other cha- 
racters such as the Archbishop and the Governor, 
men overlaid with long-deposited crusts of con- 
vention, she wins a vague pity from them, but her 
simplicity, naturalness, and sainthness are nearly as 
repugnant to social convention as her goodness is 
to villany ; and Browning has, all through the poem, 
individualised in PompiUa the natural simpUcity 
of goodness in opposition to the artificial morali- 
ties of conservative society. But when Pompilia 
touches characters who have any good, however 
hidden, in them, she draws forth that good. Her 
so-called parents pass before they die out of mean- 
ness into nobility of temper. Conti, her husband's 
cousin, a fat, waggish man of the world, changes 
into seriousness, pity, and affection under her silent 
influence. The careless folk she meets on her 
flight to Rome recognise, even in most suspicious 
circumstances, her innocence and nobleness; and 
change at a touch their ordinary nature for a 
higher. And when she meets a fine character like 
Caponsacchi, who has been led into a worldy, im- 
moral, and indifferent life, he is swept in a moment 
out of it by the sight alone of this star of innocence 
and spiritual beauty, and becomes her true mate, 
daily self-excelled. The monk who receives her 
dying confession, the Pope, far set by his age above 
the noise of popular Rome, almost at one with the 
world beyond death and feeUng what the divine 
judgment would be, both recognise with a fervour 


which carries them beyond the prejudices of age 
and of their society the loveliness of Heaven in the 
spirit of this girl of seventeen years, and claim her 
as higher than themselves. 

>^ It is fitting that to so enskied and saintly a child, 
when she rests before her death, the cruel life she 
had led for four years should seem a dream; and the 
working out of that thought, and of the two checks 
of reality it received in the coming of her child and 
the coming of Caponsacchi, is one of the fairest and 
most delicate pieces of work that Browning ever 
accomplished. ' She was so innocent and so simple- 
hearted — and the development of that part of her 
character in the stories told of her childhood is 
exquisitely touched into life — so loving, so born to 
be happy in being loved, that when she was forced 
into a maze of villany, bound up with hatred, cruelty, 
baseness, and guilt, she seemed to live in a mist of • 
unreality. When the pain became too deep to be 
dreamlike she was mercifully led back into the dream 
by the approach of death. As she lay dying there, 
all she had suffered passed again into unreality. 
Nothing remained but love and purity, the thrill 
when first she felt her child, the prayer to God 
which brought Caponsacchi to her rescue so that 
her child might be born, and lastly the vision of 
perfect union hereafter with her kindred soul, who, 
not her lover on earth, would be her lover in 
eternity. Even her boy, who had brought her, 
while she lived, her keenest sense of reality (and 
Browning's whole treatment of her motherhood, 
from the moment she knew she was in child, till 
the hour when the boy lay in her arms, is as true and 
tender as if his wife had filled his soul while he 


wrote), even her boy fades away into the dream. 
It is true she was dying, and there is no dream so 
deep as dying. Yet it was bold of Browning, and 
profoundly imagined by him, to make the child 
disappear, and to leave the woman at last alone 
with the thought and the spiritual passion of her 
union with Caponsacchi — 

O lover of my life, O soldier saint, 

No work begun shall ever pause for death. 

I It is the love of Percival's sister for Galahad. 

It is not that she is naturally a dreamer, that 
she would not have felt and enjoyed the realities 
of earth. Her perceptions are keen, her nature 
expansive. Browning, otherwise, would not have 
cared for her. It was only when she was involved 
in evil, like an angel in hell (a [wolf's arm round 
her throat and a snake curled over her feet), that 
she seemed to be dreaming, not living. It was 
incredible to her that such things should be reality. 
Yet even the dream called the hidden powers of her 
soul into action. In realising these as against evil 
she is not the dreamer. Her fortitude is unbroken ; 
her moral courage never fails, though she is familiar 
with fear; her action, when the babe has leaped 
in her womb, is prompt, decisive, and immediate ; 
her physical courage, when her husband overtakes 
her and befouls her honour, is like a man's. She 
seizes his sword and would have slain the villain. 
Then, her natural goodness, the genius of her 
goodness, gives her a spiritual penetration which is 
more than an equivalent in her for an educated 
intelligence. Her intuition is so keen that she sees 
through the false worldliness of Caponsacchi to the 


real man beneath, and her few words call it into 
goodness and honour for ever. Her clear sense of 
truth sees all the threads of the net of villany in which 
she has been caught, and the only means to break 
through it, to reveal and bring it into condemnation. 
Fortitude, courage, intuition, and intelligence are all 
made to arise out of her natural saintliness and 
love. She is always the immortal child. 

For a time she has passed on earth through the 
realms of pain ; and now, stabbed to her death, she 
looks back on the passage, and on all who have been 
kind and unkind to her — on the whole of the 
falsehood and villany. And the royal love in her 
nature is the master of the moment. She makes 
excuses for Violante's lie. " She meant well, and 
she did, as I feel now, little harm." " I am right 
now, quite happy; dying has purified me of the 
evil which touched me, and I colour ugly things 
with my own peace and joy. Every one that 
leaves life sees all things softened and bettered." 
As to her husband, she finds that she has Uttle to 
forgive him at the last. Step by step she goes 
over all he did, and even finds excuses for him, 
and, at the end, this is how she speaks, a noble 
utterance of serene love, lofty intelligence, of spirit- 
ual power and of the forgiveness of eternity. 

For that most woeful man my husband once, 
Who, needing respite, still draws vital breath, 
I — pardon him ? So far as lies in me, 
I give him for his good the life he takes, 
Praying the world will therefore acquiesce. 
Let him make God amends, — none, none to me 
Who thank him rather that, whereas strange fate 
Mockingly styled him husband and me wife, 
Himself this way at least pronounced divorce, 
Blotted the marriage bond : this blood of mine 


Flies forth esmltingly at any door, 

Washes the parchment white, and thanks the blow. 

We shall not meet in this world nor the next. 

But where will God be absent? In His face 

Is light, but in His shadow healing too : 

Let Guido touch the shadow and be healed! 

And as my presence was importunate, t— 

My earthly good, temptation and a snare, — 

Nothing about me but drew somehow down 

His hate upon me, — somewhat so excused 

Therefore, since hate was thus the truth of him, — 

May my evanishment for evermore 

Help further to relieve the heart that cast 

Such object of its natural loathing forth! 

So he was made ; he nowise made himself: 

I could not love him, but his mother did. 

His soul has never lain beside my soul : 

But for the unresisting body, — thanks ! 

He burned that garment spotted by the flesh. 

Whatever he touched is rightly ruined : plague 

It caught, and disinfection it had craved 

Still but for Guido ; I am saved through him 

So as by fire ; to him — thanks and fereweU! 

Thus, pure at heart and sound of head, a natural, 
true woman ^in her childhood, in her girlhood, and 
when she is tried in the fire — by nature gay, 
yet steady in suffering ; brave in a hell of fears and 
shame ; clear-sighted in entanglements of villany ; 
resolute in self-rescue; seeing and claiming the 
right help and directing it rightly ; rejoicing in her 
motherhood and knowing it as her crown of glory, 
though the child is from her infamous husband; 
happy in her motherhood for one fortnight; slain 
like a martyr ; loving the true man with immortal 
love; forgiving all who had injured her, even her 
murderer ; dying in full faith and love of God, though 
her life had been a crucifixion; Pompilia passes 
away, and England's men and women will be always 
grateful to Browning for her creation. 



AMONG the women whom Browning made, 
Balaustion is the crown. So vivid is her 
presentation that she seems with us in our daily 
life. And she also fills the historical imagination. 

One would easily fall in love with her, Uke those 
sensitive princes in the Arabian Nights, who, hear- 
ing only of the charms of a princess, set forth to 
find her over the world. Of all Browning's women, 
she is the most luminous, the most at unity with 
herself. She has the Greek gladness and life, the 
Greek intelligence and passion, and the Greek 
harmony. All that was common, prattling, coarse, 
sensual, and spluttering in the Greek, (and we 
know from Aristophanes how strong these lower 
elements were in the Athenian people,) never 
shows a trace of its influence in Balaustion. Made 
of the finest clay, exquisite and delicate in grain, 
she is yet strong, when the days of trouble come, 
to meet them nobly and to change their sorrows 
into spiritual powers. 

And the mise-en-scine in which she is placed 

exalts her into a heroine, and adds to her the 

light, colour, and humanity of Greek romance. 

Born at Rhodes, but of an Athenian mother, she is 



fourteen when the news arrives that the Athenian 
fleet under Nikias, sent to subdue Syracuse, has 
been destroyed, and the captive Athenians driven to 
labour in the quarries. All Rhodes, then in alUance 
with Athens, now cries, " Desert Athens, side with 
Sparta against Athens." Balaustion alone resists 
the traitorous cry. " What, throw off Athens, be 
disloyal to the source of art and intelligence — 

to the life and liglit 
Of the whole world worth calling world at all ! " 

And she spoke so well that her kinsfolk and 
others joined her and took ship for Athens. Now, 
a wind drove them off their course, and behind 
them came a pirate ship, and in front of them 
loomed the land. "Is it Crete.'" they thought; 
" Crete, perhaps, and safety." But the oars flagged 
in the hands of the weary men, and the pirate 
gained. Then Balaustion, springing to the altar by 
the mast, white, rosy, and uplifted, sang on high 
that song of .^schylus which saved at Salamis — 

' O sons of Greeks, go, set your country free, 
Free your wives, free your children, free the fanes 
O' the Gods, your fathers founded, — sepulchres 
They sleep in ! Or save all, or all be lost.' 

The crew, impassioned by the girl, answered the 
song, and drove the boat on, " churning the black 
water white," till the land shone clear, and the wide 
town and the harbour, and lo, 'twas not Crete, 
but Syracuse, luckless fate! Out came a galley 
from the port. "Who are you; Sparta's friend 
or foe .' " " Of Rhodes are we, Rhodes that has 
forsaken Athens ! " 

" How, then, that song we heard .' All Athens 


was in that ^schylus. Your boat is full of 
Athenians — back to the pirate ; we want no 
Athenians here. . . . Yet, stay, that song was 
^schylus ; every one knows it — how about Euri- 
pides ? Might you know any of his verses ? " For 
nothing helped the poor Athenians so much if any 
of them had his mouth stored with 

Old glory, great plays that had long ago 

Made themselves wings to fly about the world, — 

But most of all those were cherished who could 
recite Euripides to Syracuse, so mighty was poetry 
in the ancient days to make enemies into friends, 
to build, beyond the wars and jealousies of the 
world, a land where all nations are one. 

At this the captain cried : " Praise the God, we 
have here the very girl who will fill you with 
Euripides," and the passage brings Balaustion 
into full light. 

Therefore, at mention of Euripides, 

The Captain crowed out, " Euoi, praise the God ! 

Oop, boys, bring our owl-shield to the fore ! 

Out with our Sacred Anchor! Here she stands, 

Balaustion ! Strangers, greet the lyric girl ! 

Euripides ? Babai ! what a word there 'scaped 

Your teeth's enclosure, quoth my grandsire's song ! 

Why, fast as snow in Thrace, the voyage through, 

Has she been falling thick in flakes of him ! 

Frequent as figs at Kaunos, Kaunians said. 

Balaustion, stand forth and confirm my speech ! 

Now it was some whole passion of a play ; 

Now, peradventure, but a honey-drop 

That slipt its comb i' the chorus. If there rose 

A star, before I could determine steer 

Southward or northward — if a cloud surprised 

Heaven, ere I fairly hollaed ' Furl the sail ! ' — 

She had at fingers' end both cloud and star ; 

Some thought that perched there, tame and tuneable, 


Fitted with wings, and still, as off it flew, 
' So sang Euripides,' she said, ' so sang 
The meteoric poet of air and sea. 
Planets and the pale populace of heaven, 
The mind of man, and all that's made to soar ! ' 
And so, although she has some other name, 
We only call her Wild-pomegranate-flower, 
Balaustion ; since, where'er the red bloom bums 
r the dull dark verdure of the bounteous tree, 
Dethroning, in the Rosy Isle, the rose. 
You shall find food, drink, odour, all at once ; 
Cool leaves to bind about an aching brow, 
And, never much away, the nightingale. 
Sing them a strophe, with the turn-again, 
Down to the verse that ends all, proverb like, 
And save us, thou Balaustion, bless the name!" 

And she answered : " I will recite the last play 
he wrote from first to last — Alkestis — his strang- 
est, saddest, sweetest song." 

Then because Greeks are Greeks, and hearts are hearts, 

And poetry is power, — they all outbroke 

In a great joyous laughter with much love : 

" Thank Herakles for the good holiday ! 

Make for the harbour ! Row, and let voice ring, 

' In we row, bringing more Euripides ! ' " 

All the crowd, as they lined the harbour now, 

" More of Euripides ! " — took up the cry. 

We landed ; the whole city, soon astir, 

Came rushing out of gates in common joy 

To the suburb temple ; there they stationed me 

O' the topmost step ; and plain I told the play, 

Just as I saw it ; what the actors said, 

And what I saw, or thought I saw the while, 

At our Kameiros theatre, clean scooped 

Out of a hill side, with the sky above 

And sea before our seats in marble row : 

Told it, and, two days more, repeated it 

Until they sent us on our way again 

With good words and great wishes. 

So, we see Balaustion's slight figure under the 


blue sky, and the white temple of Herakles from 
the steps of which she spoke ; and among the crowd, 
looking up to her with rapture, the wise and young 
Sicilian who took ship with her when she was sent 
back to Athens, wooed her, and found answer before 
they reached Piraeus. And there in Athens she 
and her lover saw Euripides, and told the Master 
how his play had redeemed her from captivity. 
Then they were married ; and one day, with four 
of her girl friends, under the grape-vines by the 
streamlet side, close to the temple, Baccheion, in 
the cool afternoon, she tells the tale ; interweaving 
with the play (herself another chorus) what she 
thinks, how she feels concerning its personages 
and their doings, and in the comment discloses her 
character. The woman is built up in this way 
for us. The very excuse she makes for her in- 
serted words reveals one side of her delightful 
nature — her love of poetry, her love of beauty, 
her seeing eye, her delicate distinction, her min- 
gled humility and self-knowledge. 

Look at Baccheion's beauty opposite, 

The temple with the pillars at the porch! 

See you not something beside masonry? 

What if my words wind in and out the stone 

As yonder ivy, the God's parasite ? 

Though they leap all the way the pillar leads, 

Festoon about the marble, foot to frieze, 

And serpentiningly enrich the roof, 

Toy with some few bees and a bird or two, — 

What then ? The column holds the cornice up, 

As the ivy is to the pillar that supports the cor- 
nice, so are her words to the Alkestis on which she 

That is her charming way. She also is, like 


Pompilia, young. But no contrast can be greater 
than that between Pompilia at seventeen years of 
age, and Balaustion at fifteen. In Greece, as in 
Italy, women mature quickly. Balaustion is born 
with that genius which has the experience of age in 
youth and the fire of youth in age. Pompilia has 
the genius of pure goodness, but she is uneducated, 
her intelligence is untrained, and her character is 
only developed when she has suffered. Balaustion, 
on the contrary, has all the Greek capacity, a 
thorough education, and that education also which 
came in the air of that time to those of the 
Athenian temper. She is born into beauty and 
the knowledge of it, into high thinking and keen 
feeling ; and she knows well why she thought and 
how she felt. So finely wrought is she by passion 
and intelligence alike, with natural genius to make 
her powers tenfold, that she sweeps her kinsfolk 
into agreement with her, subdues the sailors to her 
will, enchants the captain, sings the whole crew into 
energy, would have, I believe, awed and enthralled 
the pirate, conquers the Syracusans, delights the 
whole city, draws a talent out of the rich man which 
she leaves behind her for the prisoners, is a dear 
friend of sombre Euripides, lures Aristophanes, the 
mocker, into seriousness, mates herself with him in 
a whole night's conversation, and wrings praise 
and honour from the nimblest, the most cynical, 
and the most world-wise intellect in Athens. 

Thus, over against Pompilia, she is the image of 
fine culture, held back from the foolishness and 
vanity of culture by the steadying power of genius. 
Then her judgment is always balanced. Each 
thing to her has many sides. She decides moral 


and intellectual questions and action with justice, 
but with mercy to the wrong opinion and the wrong 
thing, because her intellect is clear, tolerant, and 
forgiving through intellectual breadth and power. 
Pompilia is the image of natural goodness and of 
its power. A spotless soul, though she is passed 
through hell, enables her, without a trained intellect, 
with ignorance of all knowledge, and with as little 
vanity as Balaustion, to give as clear and firm a 
judgment of right and wrong. She is as tolerant, 
as full of excuses for the wrong thing, as forgiving, 
as Balaustion, but it is by the power of goodness 
and love in her, not by that of intellect. Browning 
never proved his strength more than when he made 
these two, in vivid contrast, yet in their depths in 
harmony ; both equal, though so far apart, in noble 
womanhood. Both are beyond convention; both 
have a touch of impulsive passion, of natural wild- 
ness, of flower-beauty. Both are, in hours of crisis, 
borne beyond themselves, and mistress of the hour. 
Both mould men, for their good, like wax in their 
fingers. But Pompilia is the white rose, touched 
with faint and innocent colour ; and Balaustion is 
the wild pomegranate flower, burning in a crimson 
of love among the dark green leaves of steady and 
sure thought, her powers latent till needed, but 
when called on and brought to light, flaming with 
decision and revelation. 

In this book we see her in her youth, her powers 
as yet untouched by heavy sorrow. In the next, 
in Aristophanes' Apology, we first find her in matured 
strength, almost mastering Aristophanes ; and after- 
wards in the depth of grief, as she flies with her 
husband over the seas to Rhodes, leaving behind 


her Athens, the city of her heart, ruined and 
enslaved. The deepest passion in her, the 
patriotism of the soul, is all but broken-hearted. 
Yet, she is the life and support of all who are with 
her; even a certain gladness breaks forth in her, 
and she secures for all posterity the intellectual 
record of Athenian life and the images, wrought to 
vitality, of some of the greater men of Athens. So 
we possess her completely. Her life, her soul, its 
growth and strength, are laid before us. To follow 
her through these two poems is to follow their 
poetry. Whenever we touch her we touch imagi- 
nation. Aristophanes' Apology is illuminated by 
Balaustion's eyes. A glimpse here and there of 
her enables us to thread our way without too great 
weariness through a thorny undergrowth of modern 
and ancient thought mingled together on the subject 
of the Apology. 

In Balaustion's Adventure she tells her tale, and 
recites, as she did at Syracuse, the Alkestis to her 
four friends. But she does more ; she comments 
on it, as she did not at Syracuse. The comments 
are, of course, Browning's, but he means them also 
to reveal Balaustion. They are touched through- 
out with a woman's thought and feeling, inflamed 
by the poetic genius with which Browning has 
endowed her. Balaustion is his dehberate picture 
of genius, the great miracle. 

The story of the Alkestis begins before the play. 
Apollo, in his exile, having served King Admetos 
as shepherd, conceives a friendship for the King, 
helps him to his marriage, and knowing that he is 
doomed to die in early life, descends to hell and 
begs the Fates to give him longer life. That is a 


motive, holding in it strange thoughts of life and 
death and fate, which pleased Browning, and he 
treats it separately, and with s^ardonie humour, in 
the Prologue to one of his later volumes. The 
Fates refuse to lengthen Admetos' hfe, unless 
some one love him well enough to die for him. 
They must have their due at the allotted time. 

The play opens when that time arrives. We see, 
in a kind of Prologue, Apollo leaving the house 
of Admetos and Death coming to claim his victim. 
Admetos has asked his father, mother, relations, 
and servants to die instead of him. None will do 
it ; but his wife, Alkestis, does. Admetos accepts 
her sacrifice. Her dying, her death, the sorrow 
of Admetos is described with all the poignant 
humanity of Euripides. In the meantime Herakles 
has come on the scene, and Admetos, though 
steeped in grief, conceals his wife's death and 
welcomes his friend to his house. As Alkestis is 
the heroine of self-sacrifice, Admetos is the hero 
of hospitality. Herakles feasts, but the indignant 
bearing of an old servant attracts his notice, and he 
finds out the truth. He is shocked, but resolves to 
attack Death himself, who is bearing away Alkestis. 
He meets and conquers Death and brings back 
Alkestis alive to her husband. So the strong man 
conquers the Fates, whom even Apollo could not 

This is a fine subject. Every one can see in how 
many different ways it may be treated, with what 
different ^conceptions, how variously the characters 
may be built up, and what different ethical and 
emotional situations may be imaginatively treated 
in it. Racine himself thought it the finest of the 


Greek subjects, and began a play upon it. But he 
died before he finished it, and ordered his manu- 
script to be destroyed. We may well imagine how 
the quiet, stately genius of Racine would have 
conceived and ordered it ; with the sincere passion, 
held under restraint by as sincere a dignity, which 
characterised his exalted style. 

Balaustion treats it with an equal moral force, 
and also with that modern moral touch which 
Racine would have given it; which, while it re- 
moved the subject at certain points from the Greek 
morality, would yet have exalted it into a more 
spiritual world than even the best of the Greeks 
conceived. The commentary of Balaustion is her 
own treatment of the subject. It professes to ex- 
plain Euripides : it is in reaUty a fresh conception 
of the characters and their motives, especially of 
the character of Herakles. Her view of the cha- 
racter of Alkestis, especially in her death, is not, 
I think, the view which Euripides took. Her con- 
demnation of Admetos is unmodified by those other 
sides of the question which Euripides suggests. 
The position Balaustion takes up with regard to 
self-sacrifice is far more subtle, with its half- 
Christian touches, than the Greek simplicity would 
have conceived. Finally, she feels so strongly that 
the subject has not been adequately conceived that, 
at the end, she recreates for herself. Even at the 
beginning she rebuilds the Euripidean matter. 
When Apollo and Death meet, Balaustion conceives 
the meeting for herself. She images the dread 
Apollo as somewhat daunted, and images the divine 
meeting of these two with modern, not Greek 
imagination. It is like the meeting, she thinks, of 


a ruined eagle, caught as he swooped in a gorge, 
half heedless, yet. terrific, with a lion, the haunter 
of the gorge, the lord of the ground, who pauses, 
ere he try the worst with the frightful, unfamiliar 
creature, known in the shadows and silences of the 
sky but not known here. It is the first example 
we have of Balaustion's imaginative power working 
for itself. There is another, farther on, where she 
stays her recitation to describe Death's rush in on 
Alkestis when the dialogue between him and Apollo 
is over — 

And, in the fire-flash of the appalling sword, 
The uprush and the outburst, the onslaught 
Of Death's portentous passage through the door, 
ApoUon stood a pitying moment-space : 
I caught one last gold gaze upon the night, 
Nearing the world now : and the God was gone, 
And mortals left to deal with misery. 

So she speaks, as if she saw more than Euripides, 
as if to her the invisible were visible — as it was. 
To see the eternal unseen is the dower of imagina- 
tion in its loftiest mood. 

She is as much at home with the hero of earth, 
the highest manhood, as she is with the gods. 
When Herakles comes on the scene she cannot 
say enough about him; and she conceives him 
apart from the Herakles of Euripides. She paints 
in him, and Browning paints through her, the idea 
of the full, the perfect man ; and it is not the ideal 
of the cultivated, of the sensitive folk. It is more 
also a woman's than a man's ideal. For, now, 
suddenly, into the midst of the sorrow of the house, 
every one wailing, life full of penury and inactivity, 
there leaps the " gay cheer of a great voice," the 


full presence of the hero, his " weary happy face, 
half god, half man, which made the god-part god 
the more." His very voice, which smiled at sorrow, 
and his look, which, saying sorrow was to be con- 
quered, proclaimed to all the world " My life is 
in my hand to give away, to make men glad," 
seemed to dry up all misery at its source, for his 
love of man makes him always joyful. When 
Admetos opened the house to him, and did not tell 
him of his wife's death, Balaustion comments 
" The hero, all truth, took him at his word, and 
then strode off to feast." He takes, she thought, 
the present rest, the physical food and drink as 
frankly as he took the mighty labours of his fate. 
And she rejoices as much in his jovial warmth, his 
joy in eating and drinking and singing, and festivity, 
as in his heroic soul. They go together, these 
things, in a hero. 

Making the most o' the minute, that the soul 
And body, strained to height a minute since, 
Might lie relaxed in joy, this breathing space, 
For man's sake more than ever ; 

He slew the pest of the marish, yesterday; to- 
day he takes his fill of food, wine, song, and 
flowers ; to-morrow he will slay another plague of 

So she sings, praising aloud the heroic temper, 
as mighty in the natural joys of natural life, in the 
strength and honour of the body, as in the saving 
of the world from pain and evil. But this pleasure 
of the senses, though in the great nature, is in it 
under rule, and the moment Herakles hears of 
Alkestis dead, he casts aside, in " a splendour of 
resolve," the feast, wine, song, and garlands, and 


girds himself to fight with Death for her rescue. 
And Balaustion, looking after him as he goes, cries 
out the judgment of her soul on all heroism. It is 
Browning's judgment also, one of the deepest things 
in his heart; a constant motive in his poetry, a 
master-thought in his life. 

Gladness be with thee, Helper of our world! 

I think this is the authentic sign and seal 

Of Godship, that it ever waxes glad, 

And more glad, until gladness blossoms, bursts 

Into a rage to suffer for mankind, 

And recommence at sorrow : drops like seed 

After the blossom, ultimate of all. 

Say, does the seed scorn earth and seek the sun? 

Surely it has no other end and aim 

Than to drop, once more die into the ground, 

Taste cold and darkness and oblivion there : 

And thence rise, tree-like grow through pain to joy, 

More joy and most joy, — do man good again. 

That is the truth Browning makes this woman 
have the insight to reveal. Gladness of soul, be- 
coming at one with sorrow and death and rising 
out of them the conqueror, but always rejoicing, in 
itself, in the joy of the universe and of God, is the 
root-heroic quality. 

Then there is the crux of the play — Alkestis is 
to die for Admetos, and does it. What of the con- 
duct of Admetos ? What does Balaustion, the 
woman, think of that ">. She thinks Admetos is a 
poor creature for having allowed it. When Alkestis 
is brought dying on the stage, and Admetos follows, 
mourning over her, Balaustion despises him, and 
she traces in the speech of Alkestis, which only 
relates to her children's fate and takes no notice of 
her husband's protestations, that she has judged her 
husband, that love is gone in sad contempt, that all 


Admetos has given her is now paid for, that her 
death is a business transaction which has set her free 
to think no more about him, only of her children. 
For, what seems most pertinent for him to say, if 
he loved, "Take, O Fates, your promise back, and 
take my life, not hers," he does not say. That is 
not really the thought of Euripides. 

Then, and this is subtly but not qtiite justly 
wrought into Euripides by Balaustion, she traces 
through the play the slow awakening of the soul 
of Admetos to the low-hearted thing he had done. 
He comes out of the house, having disposed all 
things duteously and fittingly round the dead, and 
Balaustion sees in his grave quietude that the 
truth is dawning on him ; when suddenly Pheres, 
his father, who had refused to die for him, comes 
to lay his offering on the bier. This, Balaustion 
thinks, plucks Admetos back out of unselfish 
thought into that lower atmosphere, in which he 
only sees his own advantage in the death of 
Alkestis ; and in which he now bitterly reproaches 
his father because he did not die to save Alkestis. 
And the reproach is the more bitter because — and 
this Balaustion, with her subtle morality, suggests 
— an undernote of conscience causes him to see 
his own baser self, now prominent in his acceptance 
of Alkestis' sacrifice, finished and hardened in the 
temper of his father — young Admetos in old Pheres. 
He sees with dread and pain what he may become 
when old. This hatred of himself in his father is, 
Balaustion thinks, the source of his extreme violence 
with his father. She, with the Greek sense of what 
was due to Nature, seeks to excuse this unfitting 
scene. Euripides has gone too far for her. She 


thinks that, if Sophocles had to do with the matter, 
he would have made the Chorus explain the man. 

But the unnatural strife would not have been 
explained by Sophocles as Balaustion explains it. 
That fine ethical twist of hers — "that Admetos 
hates himself in his father," is too modern for a 
Greek. It has the casuistical subtlety which the 
over-developed conscience of the Christian Church 
encouraged. It is intellectual, too, rather than real, 
metaphysical more than moral, Browning rather 
than Sophocles. Nor do I believe that a Rhodian 
girl, even with all Athens at the back of her brain, 
would have conceived it at all. Then Balaustion 
makes another comment on the situation, in 
which there is more of Browning than of her- 
self. "Admetos," she says, "has been kept back 
by the noisy quarrel from seeing into the truth of 
his own conduct, as he was on the point of doing, 
for • with the low strife comes the little mind.' " 
But when his father is gone, and Alkestis is borne 
away, then, in the silence of the house and the 
awful stillness in his own heart, he sees the truth. 
His shame, the whole woe and horror of his failure 
in love, break, like a toppling wave, upon him, and 
the drowned truth, so long hidden from him by 
self, rose to the surface, and appalled him by its 
dead face. His soul in seeing true, is saved, yet 
so as by fire. At this moment Herakles comes in, 
leading Alkestis, redeemed from death ; and find- 
ing, so Balaustion thinks, her husband restored to 
his right mind. 

But, then, we ask, how Alkestis, having found 
him fail, will live with him again, how she, having 
topped nobility, will endure the memory of the 


ignoble in him? That would be the interesting 
subject, and the explanation Euripides suggests 
does not satisfy Balaustion. The dramatic situa- 
tion is unfinished. Balaustion, with her fine instinct, 
feels that, to save the subject, it ought to be other- 
wise treated, and she invents a new Admetos, a 
new Alkestis. She has heard that Sophocles meant 
to make a new piece of the same matter, and her 
balanced judgment, on which Browning insists so 
often, makes her say, " That is well. One thing has 
many sides ; but still, no good supplants a good, no 
beauty undoes another ; still I will love the Alkestis 
which I know. Yet I have so drunk this poem, so 
satisfied with it my heart and soul, that I feel as if I, 
too, might make a new poem on the same matter." 

Ah, that brave 
Bounty of poets, the one royal race 
That ever was, or will be, in this world ! 
They give no gift that bounds itself and ends 
I' the giving and the taking : theirs so breeds 
I' the heart and soul o' the taker, so transmutes 
The man who only was a man before. 
That he grows godlike in his turn, can give — 
He also : share the poet's privilege, 
Bring forth new good, new beauty, from the old. 

And she gives her conception of the subject, and 
it further unfolds her character. 

When Apollo served Admetos, the noble nature 
of the God so entered into him that all the beast 
was subdued in the man, and he became the ideal 
King, living for the ennoblement of his people. 
Yet, while doing this great work, he is to die, still 
young, and he breaks out, in a bitter calm, against 
the fate which takes him from the work of his life. 

" Not so," answers Alkestis, " I knew what was 


coming, and though Apollo urged me not to disturb 
the course of things, and not to think that any 
death prevents the march of good or ends a life, 
yet he yielded ; and I die for you — all happiness." 

" It shall never be," replies Admetos ; " our two 
lives are one. But I am the body, thou art the 
soul ; and the body shall go, and not the soul. I 
claim death." 

" No," answered Alkestis ; " the active power to 
rule and weld the people into good is in the man. 
Thou art the acknowledged power. And as to the 
power which, thou sayest, I give thee, as to the soul 
of me — take it, I pour it into thee. Look at me." 
And as he looks, she dies, and the King is left — 
still twofold as before, with the soul of Alkestis in 
him — himself and her. So is Fate cheated, and 
Alkestis in Admetos is not dead. A passage follows 
of delicate and simple poetry, written by Browning 
in a manner in which I would he had oftener written. 
To read it is to regret that, being able to do this, he 
chose rather to write, from time to time, as if he 
were hewing his way through tangled underwood. 
No lovelier image of Proserpina, has been made in 
poetry, not even in Tennyson's Demeter, than this — 

And even while it lay, i' the look of him, 

Dead, the dimmed body, bright Alkestis' soul 

Had penetrated through the populace 

Of ghosts, was got to Kord, — throned and crowned 

The pensive queen o' the twilight, where she dwells 

For ever in a muse, but half away 

From flowery earth she lost and hankers for, — 

And theVe demanded to become a ghost 

Before the time. 

Whereat the softened eyes 
Of the lost maidenhood that lingered still 
Straying among the flowers in Sicily, 


Sudden was startled back to Hades' throne 
By that demand : broke through humanity 
Into the orbed omniscience of a God, 
Searched at a glance Alkestis to the soul 
And said . . . 

" Hence, thou deceiver ! This is not to die, 
If, by the very death which mocks me now, 
The life, that's left behind and past my power, 
Is formidably doubled . . ." 

And so, before the embrace relaxed a whit, 
The lost eyes opened, still beneath the look ; 
And lo, Alkestis was alive again, 
And of Admetos' rapture who shall speak ? 

The old conception has more reality. This is in 
the vague world of modem psychical imagination. 
Nevertheless it has its own beauty, and it enlarges 
Browning's picture of the character of Balaustion. 

Her character is still further enlarged in Aris- 
tophanes' Apology. That poem, if we desire in- 
tellectual exercise, illuminated by flashings of 
imagination, is well worth reading, but to com- 
prehend it fully, one must know a great deal of 
Athenian life and of the history of the Comic 
Drama. It is the defence by Aristophanes of his 
idea of the business, the method, and the use of 
Comedy. How far what he says is Browning 
speaking for Aristophanes, and how far it is Brown- 
ing speaking for himself, is hard to tell. And it 
would please him to leave that purposely obscure. 
What is alive and intense in the poem is, first, the 
realisation of Athenian life in several scenes, 
pictured with all Browning's astonishing force of 
presentation, as, for instance, the feast after the 
play, and the grim entrance of Sophocl e s , black 
from head to foot, among the glittering and drunken 
revellers, to announce the death of Euripides. 


Secondly, there is the presentation of Aristo- 
phanes. Browning has created him for us — 

And no ignoble presence ! On the bulge 

Of the clear baldness, — all his head one brow, — 

True, the veins swelled, blue network, 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 back 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. 

There 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, purphng, recognised the conqueror. 

Impudent and majestic : drunk, perhaps. 

But that's religion ; sense too plainly snuffed : 

Still, sensuality was grown a rite. 

We see the man, the natural man, to the life. 
But as the poem goes on, we company with his in- 
tellect, his soul, with the struggle of sensualism 
with his knowledge of a more ideal life ; above all, 
with one, who indulging the appetites and senses 
of the natural man, is yet, at a moment, their 
master. The coarse chambers of his nature are 
laid bare, his sensuous pleasure in the lower forms 
of human life, his joy in satirising them, his con- 
tempt for the good or the ideal life, if it throw the 
sensual man away. Then, we are made to know 
the power he has to rise above this — without 
losing it — into the higher imaginative region 
where, for the time, he feels the genius of 
Sophocles, Euripides, the moral power of Balaus- 


tion, and the beauty of the natural world. Indeed, 
in that last we find him in his extant plays. Few 
of the Greeks could write with greater exquisiteness 
of natural beauty than this wild poet who loved 
the dunghill. And Browning does not say this, 
but records in this Apology how when Aristophanes 
is touched for an instant by Balaustion's reading of 
the Herakles, and seizing the psalterion sings the 
song of Thamuris marching to his trial with the 
Muses through a golden autumn morning — it is 
the glory and loveliness of Nature that he sings. 
This portraiture of the poet is scattered through 
the whole poem. It is too minute, too full of detail 
to dwell on here. It has a thousand touches of 
life and intimacy. And it is perhaps the finest 
thing Browning has done in portraiture of cha- 
racter. But then there was a certain sympathy in 
Browning for Aristophanes. The natural man was 
never altogether put aside by Browning. 

Lastly, there is the fresh presentation of Balaus- 
tion, of the matured and experienced woman whom 
we have known as a happy girl. Euthycles and 
she are married, and one night, as she is sitting 
alone, he comes in, bringing the grave news that 
Euripides is dead, but had proved at the court of 
Archelaos of Macedonia his usefulness as counsellor 
to King and State, and his power still to sing — 

Clashed thence Alkaion, maddened Peniheus' up ; 
Then music sighed itself away, one moan 
Iphigeneia made by Aulis' strand ; 
With her and music died Euripides. 

And Athens, hearing, ceased to mock and cried 
" Bury Euripides in Peiraios, bring his body back." 
" Ah," said Balaustion, " Death alters the point of 


view. But our tribute is in our hearts ; and more, 
his soul will now for ever teach and bless the world. 

Is not that day come? What if you and I 
Re-sing the song, inaugurate the fame? 

For, hke Herakles, in his own Alkestis, he now 
strides away (and this is the true end of the Al- 
kestis) to surmount all heights of destiny." While 
she spoke thus, the Chorus of the Comedy, girls, 
boys, and men, in drunken revel and led by Ari- 
stophanes, thundered at the door and claimed ad- 
mittance. Balaustion is drawn confronting them 
— tall and superb, like Victory's self ; her warm 
golden eyes flashing under her black hair, " earth 
flesh with sun fire," statuesque, searching the crowd 
with her glance. And one and all dissolved before 
her silent splendour of reproof, all save Aristo- 
phanes. She bids him welcome. "Glory to the 
Poet," she cries. " Light, light, I hail it every- 
where ; no matter for the murk, that never should 
have been such orb's associate." Aristophanes 
changes as he sees her ; a new man confronts her. 

" So ! " he smiled, " piercing to my thought at once, 

You see myself ? Balaustion's fixed regard 

Can strip the proper Aristophanes 

Of what our sophists, in their jargon, style 

His accidents ? " 

He confesses her power to meet him in discourse, 
unfolds his views and plans to her, and having 
contrasted himself with Euripides, bids her use 
her thrice-refined refinement, her rosy strength, to 
match his argument. She claims no equality with 
him, the consummate creator; but only, as a woman, 
the love of all things lovable with which to meet 


him who has degraded Comedy. She appeals to 
the high poet in the man, 'and finally bids him 
honour the deep humanity in Euripides. To prove 
it, and to win his accord, she reads the Herakles, 
the last of Euripides. 

It is this long night of talk which Balaustion 
dictates to Euthyces as she is sailing, day after 
day, from Athens back to Rhodes. The aspect of 
sea and sky, as they sail, is kept before us, for 
Balaustion uses its changes as illustrations, and the 
clear descriptions tell, even more fully than before, 
how quick this woman was to observe natural 
beauty and to correlate it with humanity. Here 
is one example. In order to describe a change in 
the temper of Aristophanes from wild licence to 
momentary gravity, Balaustion seizes on a cloud- 
incident of the voyage — Euthyces, she cries, 

..." o'er the boat side, quick, what change, 

Watch — in the water ! But a second since, 

It laughed a ripply spread of sun and sea, 

Ray fused with wave, to never disunite. 

Now, sudden, all the surface hard and black, 

Lies a quenched light, dead motion : what the cause? 

Look up, and lo, the menace of a cloud 

Has solemnised the sparkling, spoiled the sport! 

Just so, some overshadow, some new care 

Stopped all the mirth and mocking on his face. 

Her feeUng for Nature is as strong as her feeling 
for man, and both are woven together. 

All her powers have now ripened, and the last 
touch has been given to them by her ideal sorrow 
for Athens, the country of her soul, where high 
intelligence and imagination had created worlds. 
She leaves it now, ruined and degraded, and the 
passionate outbreak of her patriotic sorrow with 


which the poem opens lifts the character and im- 
agination of Balaustion into spiritual splendour. 
Athens, "hearted in her heart," has perished 
ignobly. Not so, she thinks, ought this beauty 
of the world to have died, its sea-walls razed to 
the ground to the fluting and singing of harlots ; 
but in some vast overwhelming of natural energies 

— in the embrace of fire to join the gods ; or in a 
sundering of the earth, when the Acropolis should 
have sunken entire and risen in Hades to console 
the ghosts with beauty; or in the multitudinous 
over-swarming of ocean. This she could have 
borne, but, thinking of what has been, of the mis- 
ery and disgrace, " Oh," she cries, " bear me away 

— wind, wave, and bark ! " But Browning does not 
leave Balaustion with only this deep emotion in her 
heart. He gives her the spiritual passion of genius. 
She is swept beyond her sorrow into that invisible 
world where the soul lives with the gods, with the 
pure Ideas of justice, truth, and love ; where im- 
mortal life awaits the disembodied soul and we 
shall see Euripides. In these high thoughts she 
will outlive her sorrow. 

Why should despair be? Since, distinct above 

Man's wickedness and folly, flies the wind 

And floats the cloud, free transport for our soul 

Out of its fleshly durance dim and low, — 

Since disembodied soul anticipates 

(Thought-borne as now, in rapturous unrestraint) 

Above all crowding, crystal silentness, 

Above all noise, a silver solitude : — 

Surely^ where thought so bears soul, soul in time 

May permanently bide, " assert the wise," 

There live in peace, there work in hope once more — 

O nothing doubt, Philemon! Greed and strife, 

Hatred and cark and care, what place have they 


In yon blue liberality of heaven? 

How the sea helps! How rose-smit earth will rise 

Breast-high thence, some bright morning, and be Rhodes! 

Heaven, earth, and sea, my warrant — in their name, 

Believe — o'er falsehood, truth is surely sphered, 

O'er ugliness beams beauty, o'er this world 

Extends that realm where, " as the wise assert," 

Philemon, thou shalt see Euripides 

Clearer than mortal sense perceived the man! 

We understand that she has drunk deep of 
Socrates, that her spiritual sense reached onward 
to the Platonic Socrates. In this supersensuous 
world of thought she is quieted out of the weak- 
ness which made her miserable over the fall of 
Athens ; and in the quiet, Browning, who will lift 
his favourite into perfectness, adds to her spiritual 
imagination the dignity of that moral judgment 
which the intellect of genius gathers from the facts 
of history. In spite of her sorrow, she grasps the 
truth that there was justice in the doom of Athens. 
Let justice have its way. Let the folk die who 
pulled her glory down. This is her prophetic 
strain, the strength of the Hebrew in the Greek. 

And then the prophet in the woman passes, and 
the poet in her takes the lyre. She sees the splen- 
did sunset. Why should its extravagance of glory 
run to waste .' Let me build out of it a new Athens, 
quarry out the golden clouds and raise the Acropo- 
lis, and the rock-hewn Place of Assembly, whence 
new orators may thunder over Greece; and the 
theatre where .(Eschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, 
god-Uke still, may contend for the prize. Yet — and 
there is a further change of thought — yet that may 
not be. To build that poetic vision is to slip away 
from reality, and the true use of it. The tragedy 


is there — irrevocable. Let it sink deep in us till 
we see Rhodes shining over the sea. So great, so 
terrible, so piteous it is, that, dwelt on in the soul 
and seen in memory, it will do for us what the 
great tragedians made their tragic themes do for 
their hearers. It will purify the heart by pity and 
terror from the baseness and littleness of life. Our 
small hatreds, jealousies, and prides, our petty 
passions will be rebuked, seem nothing in its 
mighty sorrow. 

What else in life seems piteous any more 
After such pity, or proves terrible 
Beside such terror ; 

This is the woman — the finest creature Brown- 
ing drew, young and fair and stately, with her dark 
hair and amber eyes, lovely — the wild pomegranate 
flower of a girl — as keen, subtle, and true of intellect 
as she is lovely, able to comment on and check 
Euripides, to conceive a new play out of his subject, 
to be his dearest friend, to meet oh equality Aristo- 
phanes ; so full of lyric sympathy, so full of eager 
impulse that she thrills the despairing into action, 
enslaves a city with her eloquence, charms her 
girl-friends by the Ilissus, and so sends her spirit 
into her husband that, when the Spartans advise 
the razing of Athens to the ground, he saves 
the city by those famous lines of Euripides, of 
which Milton sang ; so at one with natural beauty, 
with all beauty, that she makes it live in the 
souls of ' men ; so clear in judgment that she 
sees the right even when it seems lost in the 
wrong, that she sees the justice of the gods in the 
ruin of the city she most loved ; so poetic of temper 


that everything speaks to her of life, that she 
acknowledges the poetry which rises out of the 
foulness she hates in Aristophanes, that she loves 
all humanity, bad or good, and Euripides chiefly 
because of his humanity ; so spiritual, that she can 
soar out of her most overwhelming sorrow into the 
stormless world where the gods breathe pure thought 
and for ever love ; and, abiding in its peace, use the 
griefs of earth for the ennoblement of the life of 
men, because in all her spiritual apartness, however 
far it bear her from earth, she never loses her close 
sympathy with the fortunes of mankind. Nay, from 
her lofty station she is the teacher of truth and love 
and justice, in splendid prophecy. It is with an 
impassioned exaltation, worthy of Sibyl and Pytho- 
ness in one, of divine wisdom both Roman and 
Greek, that she cries to the companions of her 
voyage words which embody her soul and the soul 
of all the wise and loving of the earth, when they 
act for men ; bearing their action, thought, and 
feeling beyond man to God in man — 

Speak to the infinite intelligence. 
Sing to the everlasting sympathy ! 



WHEN Browning published The Ring and the 
Book, he was nearly fifty years old. All 
his powers (except those which create the lyric) are 
used therein with mastery ; and the ease with which 
he writes is not more remarkable than the exultant 
pleasure which accompanies the ease. He has, as 
an artist, a hundred tools in hand, and he uses them 
with certainty of execution. The wing of his in- 
vention does not falter through these twelve books, 
nor droop below the level at which he began them ; 
and the epilogue is written with as much vigour as 
the prologue. The various books demand various 
powers. In each book the powers are proportionate 
to the subject ; but the mental force behind each 
exercise of power is equal throughout. He writes 
as well when he has to make the guilty soul of 
Guido speak, as when the innocence of Pompilia 
tells her story. The gain-serving lawyers, each 
distinctly isolated, tell their worldly thoughts as 
clearly as Caponsacchi reveals his redeemed and 
spiritualised soul. The parasite of an aristocratic 
and thoughtless society in Tertium Qmdis not more 
vividly drawn than the Pope, who has left in his old 
age the conventions of society behind him, and 



speaks in his silent chamber face to face with God. 
And all the minor characters, of whom there are a 
great number, ranging from children to old folk, 
from the peasant to the Cardinal, through every 
class of society in Italy — are drawn, even when they 
are slashed out in only three lines, with such force, 
certainty, colour, and life that we know them better 
than our friends. The variousness of the product 
would seem to exclude an equality of excellence in 
drawing and invention. But it does not. It 
reveals and confirms it. The poem is a miracle of 
intellectual power. 

This great length, elaborate detail, and the repeti- 
tion so many times of the same story, would 
naturally suggest to an intending reader that the 
poem might be wearisome. Browning, suspecting 
this, and in mercy to a public who does not care for 
a work of longue haleine, published it at first in four 
volumes, with a month's interval between each 
volume. He thought that the story told afresh by 
characters widely different would strike new, if each 
book were read at intervals of ten days. There 
were three books in each volume. And if readers 
desire to realise fully the intellectual tour deforce 
contained in telling the same story twelve times 
over, and making each telling interesting, they 
cannot do better than read the book as Browning 
wished it to be read. " Give the poem four months, 
and let ten days elapse between the reading of each 
book," is what he meant us to understand. More- 
over, to meet this possible weariness, Browning, 
consciously, or probably unconsciously, since genius 
does the right thing without asking why, continu- 
ally used a trick of his own which, at intervals, 


stings the reader into wakefulness and pleasure, and 
sends him on to the next page refreshed and happy. 
After fifty, or it may be a hundred lines of somewhat 
dry analysis, a vivid illustration, which concentrates 
all the matter of the previous lines, flashes on the 
reader as a snake might flash across a traveller's 
dusty way : or some sudden description of an Italian 
scene in the country or in the streets of Rome 
enlivens the well-known tale with fresh humanity. 
Or a new character leaps up out of the crowd, and 
calls us to note his ways, his dress, his voice, his 
very soul in some revealing speech, and then passes 
away from the stage, while we turn, refreshed (and 
indeed at times we need refreshment), to the main 
speaker, the leading character. 

But to dwell on the multitude of portraits with 
which Browning's keen observation, memory, and 
love of human nature have embellished The Ring 
and the Book belongs to another part of this chapter. 
At present the question rises : " What place does 
The Ring and the Book hold in Browning's develop- 
ment?" It holds a central place. There was always 
a struggle in Browning between two pleasures; 
pleasure in the exercise of his intellect — his wit, in 
the fullest sense of the word ; pleasure in the exer- 
cise of his poetic imagination. Sometimes one of 
these had the upper hand in his poems, sometimes 
the other, and sometimes both happily worked to- 
gether. When the exercise of his wit had the 
upper hand, it tended to drive out both imagination 
and passion. Intellectual play may be without any 
emotion except its delight in itself. Then its mere 
cleverness attracts its user, and gives him an easily 
purchased pleasure. When a poet falls a complete 


victim to this pleasure, imagination hides her face 
from him, passion runs away, and what he produces 
resembles, but is not, poetry. And JBrowning, who 
had got perilously near to the absence of poetry in 
Bishop Blougram's Apology, succe&AedmMr. Sludge, 
the Medium, in losing poetry altogether. In The 
Ring and the Book there are whole books, and long 
passages in its other books in which poetry almost 
ceases to exist and is replaced by brilliant clever- 
ness, keen analysis, vivid description, and a com- 
bination of wit and fancy which is rarely rivalled ; 
but no emotion, no imagination such as poets use 
inflames the coldness of these qualities into the 
glow of poetry. The indefinable difference which 
makes imaginative work into poetry is not there. 
There is abundance of invention ; but that, though 
a part of imagination, belongs as much to the art of 
prose as to the art of poetry. 

Browning could write thus, out of his intellect 
alone. None of the greater poets could. Their 
genius could not work without fusing into their 
intellectual work intensity of feeling ; and that com- 
bination secured poetic treatment of their subject. 
It would have been totally impossible for Milton, 
Shakespeare, Dante, Vergil, or even the great mass 
of second-rate poets, to have written some of Brown- 
ing's so-called poetry — no matter how they tried. 
There was that in Browning's nature which enabled 
him to exercise his intellectual powers alone, without 
passion, and so far he almost ceases to deserve the 
name of poet. And his pleasure in doing this grew 
upon him, and having done it with dazzling power 
in part of The Ring and the Book, he was carried 
away by it and produced a number of so-called 


poems ; terrible examples of what a poet can come 
to when he has allowed his pleasure in clever 
analysis to tyrannise over him — Prince Hohenstiel- 
Schwangau, The Inn Album, Red Cotton Night-Cap 
Country, and a number of shorter poems in the 
volumes which followed. In these, what Milton 
meant by passion, simplicity, and sensuousness were 
banished, and imagination existed only as it exists 
in a prose writer. 

This condition was slowly arrived at. It had not 
been fully reached when he wrote The Ring and the 
Book. His poetic powers resisted their enemies for 
many years, and had the better in the struggle. If 
it takes a long time to cast a devil out, it takes a 
longer time to depose an angel. And the devil may 
be utterly banished, but the angel never. And 
though the devil of mere wit and the little devils of 
analytic exercise — devils when they usurp the throne 
in a poet's soul and enslave imaginative emotion — 
did get the better of Browning, it was only for a 
time. Towards the end of his life he recovered, but 
never as completely as he had once possessed them, 
the noble attributes of a poet. The evils of the 
struggle clung to him; the poisonous pleasure he 
had pursued still affected him ; he was again and 
again attacked by the old malaria. He was as a 
brand plucked from the burning. 

The Ring and the Book is t\ie central point of this 
struggle. It is full of emotion and thought con- 
centrated on the subject, and commingled by imagi- 
nation to' produce beauty. And whenever this is the 
case, as in the books which treat of Capon sacchi 
and Pompilia, we are rejoiced by poetry. In their 
lofty matter of thought and feeling, in their simplicity 


and nobleness of spiritual beauty, poetry is domi- 
nant. In them also his intellectual powers, and his 
imaginative and passionate powers, are fused into 
one fire. Nor is the presentation of Guido Fran- 
ceschini under two faces less powerful, or that of 
the Pope, in his meditative silence. But in these 
books the poetry is less, and is mingled, as would 
naturally indeed be the case, with a searching 
analysis, which intrudes too much into their imagi- 
native work. Over-dissection makes them cold. 
In fact, in fully a quarter of this long poem, the 
analysing understanding, that bustling and self- 
conscious person, who plays only on the surface 
of things and separates their elements from one 
another instead of penetrating to their centre ; who 
is incapable of seeing the whole into which the 
various elements have combined — is too masterful 
for the poetry. It is not, then, imaginative, but 
intellectual pleasure, which, as we read, we gain. 

Then again there is throughout a great part of 
the poem a dangerous indulgence of his wit; the 
amusement of remote analogies; the use of far- 
fetched illustrations ; quips and cranks and wanton 
wiles of the reasoning fancy in deviating self- 
indulgence; and an allusiveness which sets com- 
mentators into note-making effervescence. All 
these, and more, which belong to wit, are often 
quite ungoverned, allowed to disport themselves as 
they please. Such matters delight the unpoetic 
readers of Browning, and indeed they are excellent 
entertainment. But let us call them by their true 
name ; let us not call them poetry, nor mistake their 
art for the art of poetry. Writing them in blank 
verse does not make them poetry. In Half-Rome, 


in The Other Half-Rome, and in Tertium Quid, these 
elements of analysis and wit are exhibited in three- 
fourths of the verse ; but the other fourth — in de- 
scription of scenes, in vivid portraiture, in transient 
outbursts out of which passion, in glimpses, breaks 
— rises into the realm of poetry. In the books 
which sketch the lawyers and their pleadings, there 
is wit in its finest brilliancy, analysis in its keenest 
veracity, but they are scarcely a poet's work. The 
whole book is then a mixed book, extremely mixed. 
All that was poetical in Browning's previous work is 
represented in it, and all the unpoetical elements 
which had gradually been winning power in him, 
and which showed themselves previously in Bishop 
Blougram and Mr. Sludge, are also there in full 
blast. It was, as I have said, the central battlefield 
of two powers in him. And when the The Ring 
and the Book was finished, the inferior power had 
for a time the victory. 

To sum up then. There are books in the poem 
wherg matter of passion and matter of thought are 
imaginatively wrought together. There are others 
where psychological thought and metaphysical 
reasoning are dominant, but where passionate feel- 
ing has also a high place. There are others where 
analysis and wit far excel the elements of imagina- 
tive emotion; and there are others where every 
kind of imagination is absent, save that which is 
consistent throughout and which never fails — the 
power of creating men and women into distinct 
individualities. That is left, but it is a power which 
is not special to a poet. A prose writer may possess 
it with the same fulness as a poet. Carlyle had it 
as remarkably as Browning, or nearly as remarkably. 


He also had wit — a heavier wit than Browning's, 
less lambent, less piercing, but as forcible. 

One thing more may be said. The poem is far 
too long, and the subject does not bear its length. 
The long poems of the world (I do not speak of 
those by inferior poets) have a great subject, are 
concerned with manifold fates of men, and are 
naturally full of various events and varied scenery. 
They interest us with new things from book to 
book. In The Ring and the Book the subject is not 
great, the fates concerned are not important, and the 
same event runs through twelve books and is de- 
scribed twelve times. However we may admire the 
intellectual force which actually makes the work 
interesting, and the passion which often thrills us 
in it — this is more than the subject bears, and than 
we can always endure. Each book is spun out far 
beyond what is necessary ; a great deal is inserted 
which would be wisely left out. No one could be 
more concise than Browning when he pleased. 
His power of flashing a situation or a thought into 
a few words is well known. But he did not always 
use this power. And in The Ring and the Book, as 
in some of the poems that followed it, he seems 
now and then to despise that power. 

And now for the poem itself. Browning tells the 
story eight times by different persons, each from a 
different point of view, and twice more by the same 
person before and after his condemnation and, of 
course, from two points of view. Then he practi- 
cally tells it twice more in the prologue and the 
epilogue — twelve times in all — and in spite of what 
I have said about the too great length of the poem, 
this is an intellectual victory that no one else but 


Browning could have won against its difficulties. 
Whether it was worth the creation by himself of the 
difficulty is another question. He chose to do it, 
and we had better submit to him and get the good 
of his work. At least we may avoid some of the 
weariness he himself feared by reading it in the way 
I have mentioned, as Browning meant it to be read. 
Poems — being the highest product of the highest 
genius of which man is capable — ought to be ap- 
proached with some reverence. And a part of that 
reverence is to read them in accordance with the 
intention and desire of the writer. 

We ought not to forget the date of the tale when 
we read the book. It is just two hundred years 
ago. The murder of Pompilia took place in 1698 ; 
and the book completes his studies of the Renaissance 
in its decay. If Sordello is worth our careful reading 
as a study of the thirteenth century in North Italy, 
this book is as valuable as a record of the society of 
its date. It is, in truth, a mine of gold ; pure crude 
ore is secreted from man's life, then moulded into 
figures of living men and women by the insight 
and passion of the poet. In it is set down Rome as 
she was — her customs, opinions, classes of society; 
her dress, houses, streets, lanes, byeways, and 
squares ; her architecture, fountains, statues, courts 
of law, convents, gardens ; her fashion and its 
drawing-rooms, the various professions and their 
habits, high life and middle class, tradesmen and 
beggars, priest, friar, lay-ecclesiastic, . cardinal, and 
Pope. Nowhere is this pictorial and individualising 
part of Browning's genius more delighted with its 
work. Every description is written by a lover of 
humanity, and with joy. 

400 BROWNmG 

Nor is he less vivid in the mise-en-scine in which 
he places this multitude of personages. In Half- 
Rome we mingle with the crowd between Palazzo 
Fiano and Ruspoli, and pass into the church of 
Lorenzo in Lucina where the murdered bodies are 
exposed. The mingled humours of the crowd, the 
various persons and their characters are combined 
with and enhanced by the scenery. Then there is 
the Market Place by the Capucin convent of the 
Piazza Barberini, with the fountains leaping ; then 
the Reunion at a palace, and the fine fashionable 
folk among the mirrors and the chandeliers, each 
with their view of the question; then the Court- 
house, with all its paraphernalia, where Guido and 
Caponsacchi plead; then, the sketches, as new 
matters turn up, of the obscure streets of Rome, 
of the country round Arezzo, of Arezzo itself, of 
the post road from Arezzo to Rome and the country 
inn near Rome, of the garden house in the suburbs, 
of the households of the two advocates and their 
different ways of living ; of the Pope in his closet 
and of Guido in the prison cell ; and last, the full 
description of the streets and the Piazza del Popolo 
on the day of the execution — all with a hundred 
vivifying, illuminating, minute details attached to 
them by this keen-eyed, observant, questing poet 
who remembered everything he saw, and was able 
to use each detail where it was most wanted. 
Memories are good, but good usage of them is the 
fine power. The mise-en-sckne is then excellent, and 
Browning was always careful to make it right, fitting, 
and enlivening. Nowhere is this better done than in 
the Introduction where he finds the book on a stall 
in the Square of San Lorenzo, and describes modern 


Florence in his walk from the Square past the 
Strozzi, the Pillar, and the Bridge to Casa Guidi 
on the other side of the Arno opposite the little 
Church of San Felice. During the walk he read 
the book through, yet saw everything he passed 
by. The description will show how keen were his 
eyes, how masterly his execution. 

That memorable day, 
(June was the month, Lorenzo named the Square) 
I leaned a little and overlooked my prize 
By the low railing round the fountain-source 
Close to the statue, where a step descends : 
While clinked the cans of copper, as stooped and rose 
Thick-ankled girls who brimmed them, and made place 
For marketmen glad to pitch basket down. 
Dip a broad melon-leaf that holds the wet. 
And whisk their faded fresh. And on I read 
Presently, though my path grew perilous 
Between the outspread straw-work, piles of plait 
Soon to be flapping, each o'er two black eyes 
And swathe of Tuscan hair, on festas fine : 
Through fire-irons, tribes of tongs, shovels in sheaves, 
Skeleton bedsteads, wardrobe-drawers agape. 
Rows of tall slim brass lamps with dangling gear, — 
And worse, cast clothes a-sweetening in the sun : 
None of them took my eye from oiF my prize. 
Still read I on, from written title page 
To written index, on, through street and street, 
At the Strozzi, at the Pillar, at the Bridge ; 
Till, by the time I stood at home again 
In Casa Guidi by Felice Church, 
Under the doorway where the black begins 
With the first stone-slab of the staircase cold, 
I had mastered the contents, knew the whole truth 
Gathered together, bound up in this book. 
Print three-fifths, written supplement the rest. 

This power, combined with his power of por- 
traiture, makes this long poem alive. No other 
man of his century could paint like him the to and 


fro of a city, the hurly-burly of humanity, the crowd, 
the movement, the changing passions, the loud or 
quiet clash of thoughts, the gestures, the dress, the 
interweaving of expression on the face, the whole 
play of humanity in war or peace. As we read, we 
move with men and women ; we are pressed every- 
where by mankind. We listen to the sound of 
humanity, sinking sometimes to the murmur we 
hear at night from some high window in London ; 
swelling sometimes, as in Sordello, into a roar of 
violence, wrath, revenge, and war. And it was all 
contained in that little body, brain, and heart ; and 
given to us, who can feel it, but not give it. This 
is the power which above all endears him to us as 
a poet. We feel in each poem not only the waves 
of the special event of which he writes, but also the 
large vibration of the ocean of humanity. 

He was not unaware of this power of his. We 
are told in Sordello that he dedicated himself to 
the picturing of humanity; and he came to think 
that a Power beyond ours had accepted this dedi- 
cation, and directed his work. He declares in the 
introduction that he felt a Hand (" always above 
my shoulder — mark the predestination"), that 
pushed hifti to the stall where he found the fated 
book in whose womb lay his child — The Ring and 
the Book. And he beUeved that he had certain 
God-given qualities which fitted him for this work. 
These he sets forth in this introduction, and the 
self-criticism is of the greatest interest. 

The first passage is, when he describes how, 
having finished the book and got into him all the 
gold of its fact, he added from himself that to the 
gold which made it workable — added to it his live 


soul, informed, transpierced it through and through 
with imagination ; and then, standing on his balcony 
over the street, saw the whole story from the begin- 
ning shape itself out on the night, alive and clear, 
not in dead memory but in living movement ; saw 
right away out on the Roman road to Arezzo, and 
all that there befell ; then passed to Rome again 
with the actors in the tragedy, a presence with them 
who heard them speak and think and act. The " life 
in him abolished the death of things — deep call- 
ing unto deep." For " a spirit laughed and leaped 
through his every limb, and lit his eye, and lifted 
him by the hair, and let him have his will " with 
Pompilia, Guido, Caponsacchi, the lawyers, the 
Pope, and the whole of Rome. And they rose from 
the dead ; the old woe stepped on the stage again at 
the magician's command ; and the rough gold of fact 
was rounded to a ring by art. But the ring should 
have a posy, and he makes that in a passionate cry 
to his dead wife — a lovely spell where high think- 
ing and full feeling meet and mingle like two deep 
rivers. Whoso reads it feels how her spirit, living 
still for him, brooded over and blest his masterpiece : 

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 

Xp 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 : J 
— Never conclude, but raising hand and head 
Thither where eyes, that cannot reach, yet yearn 
. Elgr all hope, all sustainment, all reward, 
llllir utmost up and on, — so blessing back 
ISMpose thy realms of help, that heaven thy home, 
^me whiteness which, I judge, thy face makes proud, 
Soitie wanness where, I think, thy foot may fall! — — 

The ^oem begins with the view that one half ol 
Rome took of the events. At the very commence- 
ment we touch one of the secondary interests of 
the book, the incidental characters. Guido, Capon- 
sacchi, Pompilia, the Pope, and, in a lesser degree, 
Violante and Pietro, ^fe the chief characters, and the 
main interest contracts;around them. But, through 
all they say and do, aS a motley crowd through a 
street, a great nutnber of minor characters move to 
and fro ; and Bjrowning, whose eye sees every face, 
and through me face into the soul, draws them one 
by one, some more fully than others in perhaps a 
hundred lines, some only in ten. Most of them are 
types of a class, a profession or a business, yet 
there is always a touch or two which isolates each 
of them so that they do not only represent a class 
but a personal character. He hated, like Morris, the 
withering of the individual, nor did he believe, nor 
any man who knows and feels mankind, that by that 
the world grew more and moi^. The poem is full of 
such individualities. It were^fell, as one example, 
to read the whole account of We people who come 
to see the murdered bodies laid out in the Church 
of Lorenzo. The old, curious, doddering gossip of 


the Roman street is not less alive than the Cardinal, 
and the clever pushing Curato ; and around them 
are heard the buzz of talk, the movement of the 
crowd. The church, the square are humming with 

He does the same clever work at the deathbed of 
Pompilia. She lies in the House of the dying, and 
certain folk are allowed to see her. Each one is 
made alive by this creative pencil ; and all are dif- 
ferent, one from the other — the Augustinian monk, 
old mother Baldi chattering like a jay who thought 
that to touch Pompilia's bedclothes would cure her 
palsy, Cavalier Carlo who fees the porter to paint 
her face just because she was murdered and famous, 
the folk who argue on theology over her wounded 
body. Elsewhere we possess the life-history of 
Pietro and Violante, Pompilia's reputed parents; 
several drawings of the retired tradesmen class, with 
their gossips and friends, in the street of a poor 
quarter in Rome; then, the Governor and Archbishop 
of Arezzo, the friar who is kindly but fears the 
world and all the busy-bodies of this provincial town. 
Arezzo, its characters and indwellers, stand in clear 
light. The most vivid of these sketches is Dominus 
Hyacinthus, the lawyer who defends Guido. I do 
not know anything better done, and more amusingly, 
than this man and his household — a paternal 
creature, full of his boys and their studies, making 
us, in his garrulous pleasure, at home with them and 
his fat wife. Browning was so fond of this sketch 
that he drew him and his boys over again in the 

These represent the episodical characters in this 
drama of life ; and Browning has scattered them, as 


it were, behind the chief characters, whom some- 
times they illustrate and sometimes they contrast. 
Of these the whitest, simplest, loveliest is PompiUa, 
of whom I have already written. The other chief 
characters are Count Guido and Giuseppe Capon- 
sacchi ; and to the full development of these two 
characters Browning gives all his powers. They 
are contrasted types of the spirit of good and the 
spirit of evil conquering in man. Up to a certain 
point in life their conduct is much alike. Both 
belong to the Church — one as a priest, one as a 
layman affiliated to the Church. The lust of money 
and self, when the character of Pompilia forces act, 
turns Guido into a beast of greed and hate. The 
same character, when it forces act, lifts Caponsacchi 
into almost a saint. This was a piece of contrasted 
psychology in which thegenius6f Browning revelled, 
and he followed all the windings of it in both 
these hearts with the zest of an explorer. They 
were labyrinthine, but the more labyrinthine the 
better he was pleased. Guide's first speech is 
made before the court in his defence. We see dis- 
closed the outer skin of the man's soul, all that he 
would have the world know of him — cynical, mock- 
ing, not cruel, not affectionate, a man of the world 
whom life had disappointed, and who wishing to es- 
tablish himself in a retired life by marriage had been 
deceived and betrayed, he pleads, by his wife and 
her parents — ^^an injured soul who, stung at last into 
fury at having a son foisted on him, vindicates his 
honour. And in this vindication his hypocrisy slips 
at intervals from him, because his hatred of his wife 
is too much for his hypocrisy. 

This is the only touch of the wolf in the man — ■ 


his cruel teeth shown momentarily through the 
smooth surface of his defence. A weaker poet 
would have left him there, not having capacity for 
more. But Browning, so rich in thought he was, 
had only begun to draw him. Guido is not only 
painted by three others — by Caponsacchi, by Pom- 
pilia, by the Pope — but he finally exposes his real 
self with his own hand. He is condemned to death. 
Two of his friends visit him the night before his 
execution, in his cell. Then, exalted into eloquence 
by the fierce passions of fear of death and hatred of 
Pompilia, he lays bare as the night his very soul, 
mean, cruel, cowardly, hungry for revenge, crying 
for life, black with hate — a revelation such as in 
literature can best be paralleled by the soliloquies 
of lago. Baseness is supreme in his speech, hate 
was never better given; the words are like the 
gnashing of teeth ; prayers for life at any cost were 
never meaner, and the outburst of terror and 
despair at the end is their ultimate expression. 

Over against him is set Caponsacchi, of noble 
birth, of refined manner, one of those polished and 
cultivated priests of whom Rome makes such excel- 
lent use, and of whom Browning had drawn already 
a different type in Bishop Blougram. He hesitated, 
being young and gay, to enter the Church. But the 
Archbishop of that easy time, two hundred years 
ago,, told him the Church was strong 6il6Xigh to 
bear a few light priests, and that he wO'uld be ket 
free from many ecclesiastical duties if, by assiduity"' 
in socifety and with women, he strengthened thj6' 
social weight of the Church. In that w«y, makiiig 
his madrigals and confessing fine ladies, he liv^d for 
four years. This is an admirable sketch of a type 


of Church society of that date, indeed, of any date 
in any Church ; it is by no means confined to Rome. 
On this worldly, careless, indifferent, pleasure- 
seeking soul Pompilia, in her trouble and the pity 
of it, rises like a pure star seen through mist that 
opens at intervals to show her excelling brightness ; 
and in a moment, at the first glimpse of her in the 
theatre, the false man drops away ; his soul breaks 
up, stands clear, and claims its divine birth. He is 
born again, and then transfigured. The life of con- 
vention, of indifference, dies before Pompilia's eyes ; 
and on the instant he is true to himself, to her, and 
to God. The fleeting passions which had absorbed 
him, and were of the senses, are burned up, and the 
spiritual love for her purity, and for purity itself 
— that eternal, infinite desire — is now master of 
his life. Not as Miranda and Ferdinand changed 
eyes in youthful love, but as Dante and Beatrice 
look on one another in Paradise, did Pompilia and 
Caponsacchi change eyes, and know at once that 
both were true, and see without speech the central 
worth of their souls. They trusted one another and 
they loved for ever. So, when she cried to him in 
her distress, he did her bidding and bore her away 
to Rome. He tells the story of their flight, and tells 
it with extraordinary beauty and vehemence in her 
defence. So noble is the tale that he convinces the 
judges who at first had disbelieved him ; and the 
Pope confesses that his imprudence was a higher 
good than priestly prudence would have been. 
When he makes his defence he has heard that 
Pompilia has been murdered. Then we understand 
that in his conversion to goodness he has not lost 
but gained passion. Scorn of the judges, who could 


not see that neither he was guilty nor Porapilia ; fiery- 
indignation with the murderer ; infinite grief for the 
lamb slain by the wolf, and irrevocable love for the 
soul of Pompilia, whom he will dwell with eternally 
when they meet in Heaven, a love which Pompilia, 
dying, declares she has for him, and in which, 
growing and abiding, she will wait for him — burn 
on his lips. He is fully and nobly a man ; yet, at 
the end — and he is no less a man for it — the wild 
sorrow at his heart breaks him down into a cry : 
O great, just, good God ! Miserable me ! 
Pompilia ends her words more quietly, in the 
faith that comes with death. Caponsacchi has to 
live on, to bear the burden of the world. But 
Pompilia has borne all she had to bear. All pain 
and horror are behind her, as she lies in the stillness, 
dying. And in the fading of this life, she knows she 
loves Caponsacchi in the spiritual world and will 
love him for ever. Each speaks according to the 
circumstance, but she most nobly : 

He is ordained to call and I to come! 

Do not the dead wear flowers when dressed for God? 

Say, — I am all in flowers from head to foot! 

Say, — not one flower of all he said and did, 

Might seem to flit unnoticed, fade unknown, 

But dropped a seed, has grown a balsam-tree 

Whereof the blossoming perfumes the place 

At this supreme of moments ! He is a priest ; 

He cannot marry therefore, which is right : 

I think he would not marry if he could. 

Marriage on earth seems such a counterfeit. 

Mere imitation of the inimitable : 

In heaven we have thejsal and true and sure. 

'Tis there they neither marry nor are given 

In marriage but are as tl(ie angels : right. 

Oh how right that is, hoiy like Jesus Christ 


To say that! Marriage-making for the earth, 
With gold so much, — birth, power, repute so much, 
Or beauty, youth so much, in lack of these ! 
Be as the angels rather, who, apart, 
Know themselves into one, are found at length 
Married, but marry never, no, nor give 
In marriage ; they are man and wife at once 
When the true time is ; here we have to wait 
Not so long neither ! Could we by a wish 
Have what we will and get the future now. 
Would we wish aught done undone in the past? 
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. 

Last of these main characters, the Pope appears. 
Guido, condemned to death by the law, appeals from 
the law to the head of the Church, because, being 
half an ecclesiastic, his death can only finally be 
decreed by the ecclesiastical arm. An old, old man, , 
with eyes clear of the quarrels, conventions, class/ 
prejudices of the world, the Pope has gone over all 
the case during the day, and now night has fallen. 
Far from the noise of Rome, removed from the pas- 1 
sions of the chief characters, he is sitting in the still- 'j 
ness of his closet, set on his decision. We see the 
whole case now, through his mind, in absolute quiet. ' 
He has been on his terrace to look at the stars, and . 
their solemn peace is with him. He feels that he is 
now alone with God and his old age. And being 

I alone, he is not concise, but garrulous and discursive. 

I Browning makes him so on purpose. But discursive 
as his mind is, his judgment is clear, his sentence 
determined. Only, before he speaks, he will weigh 
all the characters, and face any doubts that may 


shoot into his conscience. He passes Guido and 
the rest before his spiritual tribunal, judging not 
from the legal point of view, but from that which 
his Master would take at the Judgment Day. How 
have they lived ; what have they made of life .'' 
When circumstances invaded them with temptation, 
how did they meet temptation .' Did they declare 
by what they did that they were on God's side or 
the devil's .-' And on these lines he delivers his 
sentence on PompiUa, Caponsacchi, Guido, Pietro, 
Violante, and the rest. He feels he speaks as the 
Vicegerent of God. 

This solemn, silent, lonely, unworldly judgment 
of the whole case, done in God's presence, is, after 
the noisy, crowded, worldly judgment of it by Rome, 
after the rude humours of the law, and the terrible 
clashing of, human passions, most impressive ; and 
it rises into the majesty of old age in the summing 
up of the characters of Pompilia, Caponsacchi, and 
Guido. I wish Browning had left it there. But 
he makes a sudden doubt invade the Pope with a 
chill. Has he judged rightly in thinking that divine 
truth is with him.' Is there any divine truth on 
which he may infallibly repose .' 

And then for many pages we are borne away 
into a theological discussion, which I take leave to 
say is wearisome; and which, after all, lands the 
Pope exactly at the point from which he set out — 
a conclusion at which, as we could have told him 
beforehand, he would be certain to arrive. We 
might have been spared this. It is an instance of 
Browning's pleasure in intellectual discourse which 
had, as I have said, such sad results on his imagina- 
tive work. However, at the end, the Pope resumes 


his interest in human life. He determines ; and 
quickly — " Let the murderer die to-morrow." 

Then comes the dreadful passion of Guido in the 
condemned cell, of which I have spoken. And 
then, one would think the poem would have closed. 
But no, the epilogue succeeds, in which, after all 
the tragedy, humour reigns supreme. It brings us 
into touch with all that happened in this case after 
the execution of Guido ; the letters written by the 
spectators, the lawyer's view of the deed, the gossip 
of Rome upon the interesting occasion. No piece 
of humour in Browning's poetry, and no portrait- 
sketching, is better than the letter written by a Vene- 
tian gentleman in Rome giving an account of the 
execution. It is high comedy when we are told 
that the Austrian Ambassador, who had pleaded 
for Guido's life, was so vexed by the sharp " no " 
of the Pope (even when he had told the Pope that 
he had probably dined at the same table with 
Guido), that he very nearly refused to come to the 
execution, and would scarcely vouchsafe it more 
than a glance when he did come — as if this con- 
duct of his were a slight which the Pope would 
feel acutely. Nor does Browning's invention stop 
with this inimitable letter. He adds two other 
letters which he found among the papers; and 
these give to the characters of the two lawyers, 
new turns, new images of their steady professional 
ambition not to find truth, but to gain the world. 

One would think, after this, that invention would 
be weary. Not at all ! The Augustinian monk 
who attended PompiUa has not had attention 
enough ; and this is the place. Browning thinks, 
to show what he thought of the case, and how he 


used it in his profession. So, we are given a 
great part of the sermon he preached on the occa- 
sion, and the various judgments of Rome upon it. 
It is wonderful, after invention has been actively 
at work for eleven long books, pouring forth its 
waters from an unfailing fountain, to find it, at the 
end, as gay, as fresh, as keen, as youthful as ever. 
This, I repeat, is the excellence of Browning's genius 
— fulness of creative power, with imagination in it 
like a fire. It does not follow that all it produces is,; 
poetry ; and what it has produced in The Rmgand\ 
the Book is sometimes, save for the metre, nothing 
better than prose. But this is redeemed by the 
noble poetry of a great part of it. The book is, as 
I have said, a mixed book — the central arena of 
that struggle in Browning between prose and 
poetry with a discussion of which this chapter 
began, and with the mention of which I finish it. 



A JUST appreciation of the work which Brown- 
ing published after The Ring and the Book is 
a difficult task. The poems are of various kinds, on 
widely separated subjects ; and with the exception 
of those which treat of Balaustion, they have no 
connection with one another. Many of them must 
belong to the earlier periods of his life, and been 
introduced into the volumes out of the crowd of 
unpublished poems every poet seems to possess. 
These, when we come across them among their 
middle-aged companions, make a strange impres- 
sion, as if we found a white-thorn flowering in an 
autumnal woodland ; and in previous chapters of 
this book I have often fetched them out of their 
places, and considered them where they ought to be 
— in the happier air and Hght in which they were 
born. I will not discuss them again, but in forming 
any judgment of the later poems they must be 

The struggle to which I have drawn attention 
between the imaginative and intellectual elements in 
Browning, and which was equally balanced in The 
Ring and the Book, continued after its publication, 
but with a steady lessening of the imaginative and 


a steady increase of the intellectual elements. One 
poem, however, written before the publication of 
The Ring and the Book, does not belong to this 
struggle. This is HervS Kiel, a ballad of fire and 
joy and triumph. It is curiously French in sentiment 
and expression, and the eager sea-delight in it is 
plainly French, not English in feeling. Nor is it 
only French; it is Breton in audacity, in self- 
forgetfulness, in carelessness of reward, and in 
loyalty to country, to love, and to home. If Browning 
had been all English, this transference of himself 
into the soul of another nationaUty would have been 
wonderful, nay, impossible. As it is, it is wonderful 
enough ; and this self-transference — one of his 
finest poetic powers — is nowhere better accom- 
plished than in this poem, full of the salt wind and 
the leap and joy of the sea-waves; but even more 
full, as was natural to Browning, of the Breton soul 
of Herv6 Riel. 

In Balaustion's Adventure (1871) which next ap- 
peared, the imaginative elements, as we have seen, 
are still alive and happy; and though they only 
emerge at intervals in its continuation, Aristophanes' 
Apology (187s), yet they do emerge. Meanwhile, 
between Balaustion's Adventure and the end of 
i875,,he produced four poems — Prince Hohenstiel- 
Schwangau, Saviour of Society ; Fifine at the Fair ; 
Red Cotton Night-Cap Country, or Turf and Towers ; 
and The Inn Album. They are all long, and were 
published in four separate volumes. In them the 
intellectual elements have all but completely con- 
quered the imaginative. They are, however, favour- 
ite " exercise-places " for some of his admirers, who 
think that they derive poetic pleasures from their 

41 6 iBROWmNG 

study. The pleasure these poems give, when they 
give it, is not altogether a poetic pleasure. It is 
chiefly the pleasure of the understanding called 
to solve with excitement a huddle of metaphysical 
problems. They have the name but not the nature 
of poetry. 

They are the work of my Lord Intelligence — 
attended by wit and fancy — who sits at the desk of 
poetry, and with her pen in his hand. He uses the 
furniture of poetry, but the goddess herself has left 
the room. Yet something of her influence still fills 
the air of the chamber. In the midst of the brilliant 
display that fancy, wit, and intellect are making, a 
soft steady light of pure song burns briefly at in- 
tervals, and then is quenched; like the light of 
stars seen for a moment of quiet effulgence among 
the crackling and dazzling of fireworks. 

The poems are, it is true, original. We cannot 
class them with any previous poetry. They cannot 
be called didactic or satirical. The didactic and 
satirical poems of England are, for the most part, 
artificial, concise, clear. These poems are not 
artificial, clear, or concise. Nor do they represent 
the men and women of a cultured, intellectual, and 
conventional society, such as the poetry of Dryden 
and Pope addressed. The natural man is in them 
— the crude, dull, badly-baked man — what the later 
nineteenth century called the real man. We see his 
ugly, sordid, contemptible, fettered soul, and long 
for Salinguerra, or Lippo Lippi, or even Caliban. 
The representations are then human enough, with 
this kind of humanity, but they might have been 
left to prose. Poetry has no business to build its 
houses on the waste and leprous lands of human 


nature; and less business to call its work art. 
Realism of this kind is not art, it is science. 

Yet the poems are not scientific, for they have no 
clarity of argument. Their wanderings of thought 
are as intertangled as the sheep-walks on league 
after league of high grasslands. When one has a 
fancy to follow them, the pursuit is entertaining ; 
but unless one has the fancy, there are livelier 
employments. Their chief interest is the impres- 
sion they give us of a certain side of Browning's 
character. They are his darling debauch of clever- 
ness, of surface-psychology. The analysis follows 
no conventional lines, does not take or oppose any 
well-known philosophical side. It is not much more 
than his own serious or fantastic thinking indulging 
itself with reckless abandon — amusing itself with 
itself. And this gives them a humanity — a Brown- 
ing humanity — outside of their subjects. 

The subjects too, though not delightful, are 
founded on facts of human life. Bishop Blougram 
was conceived from Cardinal Wiseman's career, 
Mr. Sludge from Mr. Home's. Prince Hohenstiel- 
Schwangau explains and defends the expediency by 
which Napoleon III. directed his political action. 
The Inn Album, Red Cotton Night-Cap Country, are 
taken from actual stories that occurred while Brown- 
ing was alive, and Fifine at the Fair analyses a com- 
mon crisis in the maturer lives of men and women. 
The poems thus keep close to special cases, yet — 
and in this the poet appears — they have an extension 
which l:arries them beyond the particular subjects 
into the needs and doings of a wider humanity. 
Their little rivers run into the great sea. They have 
then their human interest for a reader who does not 


wish for beauty, passion, imagination, or the desires 
of the spirit in his poetry ; but who hankers at his 
solitary desk after realistic psychology, fanciful eth- 
ics, curiosities of personal philosophy, cold intellec- 
tual play with argument, and honest human ugliness. 

Moreover, the method Browning attempts to use 
in them for the discovery of truth is not the method 
of poetry, nor of any of the arts. It is almost a 
commonplace to say that the world of mankind and 
each individual in it only arrives at the truth on 
any matter, large or small, by going through and 
exhausting the false forms of that truth — and a 
very curious arrangement it seems to be. It is 
this method Browning pursues in these poems. 
He represents one after another various false or 
half-true views of the matter in hand, and hopes 
in that fashion to clear the way to the truth. But 
he fails to convince partly because it is impossible 
to give all or enough of the false or half-true views 
of any one truth, but chiefly because his method is 
one fitted for philosophy or science, but not for 
poetry. Poetry claims to see and feel the truth at 
once. When the poet does not assert that claim, 
and act on it, he is becoming faithless to his art. 

Browning's method in these poems is the method 
of a scientific philosopher, not of an artist. He 
gets his man into a debatable situation ; the man 
debates it from various points of view ; persons are 
introduced who take other aspects of the question, 
or personified abstractions such as Sagacity, Reasoti, 
Fancy give their opinions. Not satisfied with this. 
Browning discusses it again from his own point of 
view. He is then like the chess-player who himself 
plays both red and white ; who tries to keep both 


distinct in his mind, but cannot help now and again 
taking one side more than the other ; and who is 
frequently a third person aware of himself as play- 
ing red, and also of himself as playing white ; and 
again of himself as outside both the players and 
criticising their several games. This is no exag- 
gerated account of what is done in these poems. 
Three people, even when the poems are monologues, 
are arguing in them, and Browning plays all their 
hands, even in The Inn Album, which is not a mono- 
logue. In Red Cotton Night-Cap Country, when he 
has told the story of the man and woman in all its 
sordid and insane detail, with comments of his own, 
he brings the victim of mean pleasure and mean 
superstition to the top of the tower whence he 
throws himself down, and, inserting his intelligence 
into the soul of the man, explains his own view of 
the situation. In Prince Hohenstiel-Schwangau, we 
have sometimes what Browning really thinks, as in 
the beginning of the poem, about the matter in 
hand, and then what he thinks the Prince would 
think, and then, to complicate the affair still more, 
the Prince divides himself, and makes a personage 
called Sagacity argue with him on the whole situation. 
As to Fifine at the Fair — a poem it would not be 
fair to class altogether with these — its involutions 
resemble a number of live eels in a tub of water. 
Don Juan changes his personality and his views 
like a player on the stage who takes several parts ; 
Elvire is a gliding phantom with gliding opinions ; 
Fifine* is real, but she remains outside of this 
shifting scenery of the mind ; and Browning, who 
continually intrudes, is sometimes Don Juan and 
sometimes himself and sometimes both together, and 


sometimes another thinker who strives to bring, as 
in the visions in the poem, some definition into this 
changing cloudland of the brain. And after all, not 
one of the questions posed in any of the poems is 
settled in the end. I do not say that the leaving 
of the questions unsettled is not like life. It is very 
like life, but not like the work of poetry, whose 
high office it is to decide questions which cannot 
be solved by the understanding. 
r Bishop Blougram thinks he has proved his points. 
Gfigadibs is half convinced he has. But the Bishop, 
on looking back, thinks he has not been quite sincere, 
that his reasonings were only good for the occasion. 
He has evaded the centre of the thing. What he 
has said was no more than intellectual fencing. It 
certainly is intellectual fencing of the finest kind. 
Both the Bishop and his companion are drawn to 
the life ; yet, and this is the cleverest thing in the 
poem, we know that the Bishop is in reality a dif- 
ferent man from the picture he makes of himself. 
And the truth which in his talk underlies its 
appearance acts on Gigadibs and sends him into a 
higher life. The discussion — as it may be called 
though the Bishop only speaks — concerning faith 
and doubt is full of admirable wisdom, and urges me 
to modify my statement that Browning took little 
or no interest in the controversies of his time. Yet, 
all through the fencing, nothing is decided. The 
button is always on the Bishop's foil. He never 
sends the rapier home. And no doubt that is 
the reason that his companion, with " his sudden 
healthy vehemence " did drive his we^on home 
into life — and started for Australia. \ 

Mr. Sludge, the medium, excuses his imposture, 


and then thinks "it may not altogether be imposture. 
For all he knows there may really be spirits at the 
bottom of it. He never meant to cheat ; yet he did 
cheat. Yet, even if he lied, lies help truth to live ; 
and he must live himself ; and God may have made 
fools for him to live on ; " and many other are the 
twists of his defence. The poem is as lifelike in its 
insight into the mind of a supple cheat as it is a 
brilliant bit of literature ; but Browning leaves the 
matter unconcluded, as he would not have done, I 
hold, had he been writing poetry. Prince Hohenstiel's 
defence of expediency in poUtics is made by Browning 
to seem now right, now wrong, because he assumes 
at one time what is true as the ground of his 
argument, and then at another what is plainly false, 
and in neither case do the assumptions support the 
arguments. What really is concluded is not the 
question, but the slipperiness of the man who 
argues. And at the end of the poem Browning 
comes in again to say that words cannot be trusted 
to hit truth. Language is inadequate to express it. 
Browning was fond of saying this. It does not 
seem worth saying. In one sense it is a truism ; in 
another it resembles nonsense. Words are the only 
way by which we can express truth, or our nearest 
approach to what we think it is. At any rate, 
silence, in spite of Maeterlinck, does not express it. 
Moreover, with regard to the matter in hand. 
Browning knew well enough how a poet would 
decide the question of expediency he has here 
brought into debate. He has decided it elsewhere ; 
but here he chooses not to take that view, that he 
may have the fun of exercising his clever brain. 
There is no reason why he should not entertain 


himself and us in this way ; but folk need not call 
this intellectual jumping to and fro a poem, or try 
to induce us to believe that it is the work of art. 

When he had finished these products of a time 
when he was intoxicated with his intellect, and of 
course somewhat proud of it, the poet in him began 
to revive. This resurrection had begun in Fifine at 
the Fair. I have said it would not be just to class 
this poem with the other three. It has many an 
oasis of poetry where it is a happiness to rest. But 
the way between their palms and wells is some- 
what dreary walking, except to those who adore 
minute psychology. The poem is pitilessly long. 
If throughout its length it were easy to follow we 
might excuse the length, but it is rendered difficult 
by the incessant interchange of misty personalities 
represented by one personality. Elvire, Fifine only 
exist in the mind of Don Juan ; their thoughts are 
only expressed in his words ; their outlines not only 
continually fade into his, but his thought steals into 
his presentation of their thought, till it becomes 
impossible to individualise them. The form in 
which Browning wrote the poem, by which he 
made Don Juan speak for them, makes this want 
of clearness and sharpness inevitable. The work 
is done with a terrible cleverness, but it is weari- 
some at the last. 

The length also might be excused if the subject 
were a great one or had important issues for man- 
kind. But, though it has its interest and is human 
enough, it does not deserve so many thousand lines 
nor so much elaborate analysis. A few lyrics or a 
drama of two acts might say all that is worth saying 
on the matter. What Browning has taken for subject 


is an every-day occurrence. We are grateful to him 
for writing on so universal a matter, even though 
it is unimportant; and he has tried to make it 
uncommon and important by weaving round it an 
intricate lace-work of psychology ; yet, when we get 
down to its main lines, it is the ordinary event, 
especially commonplace in any idle society which 
clings to outward respectability and is dreadfully 
wearied of it. Our neighbours across the Channel 
call it La Crise when, after years of a quiet, not 
unhappy, excellent married existence, day succeed- 
ing day in unbroken continuity of easy affection and 
limited experience, the man or the woman, in full 
middle life, suddenly wearies of the apparent mo- 
notony, the uneventful love, the slow encroaching 
tide of the commonplace, and looks on these as 
fetters on their freedom, as walls which shut them 
in from the vivid interests of the outside world, from 
the gipsy roving of the passions. The time arrives, 
when this becomes, they think, too great for en- 
durance, and their impatience shows itself in a daily 
irritability quite new in the household, apparently 
causeless, full of sudden, inexplicable turns of 
thought and act which turn the peaceful into a 
tempestuous home. It is not that the husband or 
the wife are inconstant by nature — to call Fifine at 
the Fair a defence of inconstancy is to lose the truth 
of the matter — but it is the desire of momentary 
change, of a life set free from conventional barriers, 
of an outburst into the unknown, of the desire for 
new experiences, for something which will bring 
into play those parts of their nature of which they 
are vaguely conscious but which are as yet unused 
— new elements in their senses, intellect, imagina- 


tion, even in their spirit, but not always in their con- 
science. That, for the time being, as in this poem, 
is often shut up in the cellar, where its voice can- 
not be heard. 

This is, as I said, a crisis of common occurrence. 
It may be rightly directed, its evil controlled, and 
a noble object chosen for the satisfaction of the 
impulse. Here, that is not the case ; and Browning 
describes its beginning with great freshness and 
force as Juan walks down to the fair with Elvire. 
Nor has he omitted to treat other forms of it in his 
poetry. He knew how usual it was, but he has 
here made it unusual by putting it into the heart 
of a man who, before he yielded to it, was pleased 
to make it the subject of a wandering metaphysi- 
cal analysis ; who sees not only how it appears to 
himself in three or four moods, but how it looks to 
the weary, half-jealous wife to whom he is so rude 
while he strives to be courteous, and to the bold, 
free, conscienceless child of Nature whose favour 
he buys, and with whom, after all his barren meta- 
physics, he departs, only to attain, when his brief 
spell of foolish freedom is over, loneliness and 
cynic satiety. It may amuse us to circle with him 
through his arguments, though every one knows he 
will yield at last and that yielding is more honest 
than his talk ; but what we ask is — Was the matter 
worth the trouble of more than two thousand lines 
of long-winded verse .' Was it worth an artist's de- 
votion ? or, to ask a question I would not ask if the 
poem were good art, is it of any real importance 
to mankind ? Is it, finally, anything more than an 
intellectual exercise of Browning on which solitary 
psychologists may, in their turn, employ their neat 



intelligence? This poem, with the exceptions of 
some episodes of noble poetry, is, as well as the 
three others, a very harlequinade of the intellect. 

I may say, though this is hypercritical, that the 
name of Don Juan is a mistake. Every one knows 
Don Juan, and to imagine him arguing in the 
fashion of this poem is absurd. He would instantly, 
without a word, have left Elvire, and abandoned 
Fifine in a few days. The connection then of the 
long discussions in the poem with his name throws 
an air of unreality over the whole of it. The Don 
Juan of the poem had much better have stayed 
with Elvire, who endured him with weary patience. 
I have no doubt that he bored Fifine to extinction. 

The poems that follow these four volumes are 
mixed work, half imaginative, half intellectual. 
Sometimes both kinds are found, separated, in the 
same poem; sometimes in one volume half the 
poems will be imaginative and the other half not. 
Could the imaginative and intellectual elements 
have now been fused as they were in his earlier 
work, it were well; but they were not. They 
worked apart. His witful poems are all wit, his 
analytical poems are all analysis, and his imagina- 
tive poems, owing to this want of fusion, have not 
the same intellectual strength they had in other 
days. Numpholeptos, for instance, an imaginative 
poem, full too of refined and fanciful emotion, is 
curiously wanting in intellectual foundation. 

The Numpholeptos is in the volume entitled Pac- 
chiarotto, and how he worked in Distemper, Part of 
the poems in it are humorous, such as Pacchiarotto 
and Filippo Baldinucci, excellent pieces of agreeable 
wit, containing excellent advice concerning life. One 


reads them, is amused by them, and rarely desires 
to read them again. In the same volume there are 
some severe pieces, sharply ridiculing his critics. 
In the old days, when he wrote fine imaginative 
poetry, out of his heart and brain working together, 
he did not mind what the critics said, and only 
flashed a scoff or two at them in his creation of 
Naddq in Sordello. But now when he wrote a great 
deal of his poetry out of his brain alone, he became 
sensitive to criticism. For that sort of poetry does 
not rest on the sure foundation which is given by 
the consciousness the imagination has of its absolute 
Tightness. He expresses his needless soreness with 
plenty of wit in Pacchiarotto and in the Epilogue, 
criticises his critics, and displays his good opinion of 
his work — no doubt of these later poems, like The 
Inn Album and the rest — with a little too much of 
self-congratulation. " The poets pour us wine," he 
says, " and mine is strong — the strong wine of the 
loves and hates and thoughts of man. But it is not 
sweet as well, and my critics object. Were it so, it 
would be more popular than it is. Sweetness and 
strength do not go together, and I have strength." 
But that is not the real question. The question 
is — Is the strength poetical .' Has it imagination .' 
It is rough, powerful, full of humanity, and that is 
well. But is it half prose, or wholly prose } Or is 
it poetry, or fit to be called so } He thinks that 
Prince Hohenstiel, or Red Cotton Night-Cap Country, 
are poetry. They are, it is true, strong ; and they 
are not sweet. But have they the strength of poetry 
in them, and not the strength of something else 
altogether } That is the question he ought to have 
answered, and it does not occur to him. 


Yet, he was, in this very book, half-way out of 
this muddle. There are poems in it, just as strong 
as The Inn Album, but with the ineffable spirit of 
imaginative emotion and thought clasped together 
in them, so that the strong is stronger, and the 
humanity deeper than in the pieces he thought, 
being deceived by the Understanding, were more 
strong than the poems of old. In Bifurcation, in St. 
Martin's Summer, the diviner spirit breathes. There 
is that other poem called Forgiveness of which I have 
already spoken — one of his masterpieces. Cenciaja, 
which may be classed ^iHa. Forgiveness as a study of 
the passion of hatred, is not so good as its comrade, 
but its hatred is shown in a mean character and for 
a meaner motive. And the Prologue, in its rhythm 
and pleasure, its subtlety of thought, its depth of 
feeling, and its close union of both, recalls his 
earlier genius. 

The first of the Pisgah Sights is a jewel. It is 
like a poem by Goethe, only Goethe would have 
seen the " sight " not when he was dying, but when 
he was alive to his finger-tips. The second is not 
like Goethe's work, nor Browning's ; but it is a true 
picture of what many feel and are. So is Fears and 
Scruples. As to Natural Magic, surely it is the 
most charming of compliments, most enchantingly 

The next volume of original poems was La 
Saisias and the Two Poets of Croisic. The Croisic 
Poets are agreeable studies, written with verve and 
lucidity, of two fantastic events which lifted these 
commonplace poets suddenly into fame. They do 
well to amuse an idle hour. The end of both is 
interesting. That of the first, which begins with 
stanza lix., discusses the question: "Who cares, 


Stanza lix., discusses the question : " Who cares 
how such a mediocrity as Rend lived after the 
fame of his prophecy died out ? " * And Browning 
answers — 

Well, I care — intimately care to have 

Experience how a human creature felt 
In after life, who bore the burthen grave 

Of certainly believing God had dealt 
For once directly with him : did not rave 

— A maniac, did not find his reason melt 
— An idiot, but went on, in peace or strife, 
The world's way, lived an ordinary life. 

The solution Browning offers is interesting, be- 
cause it recalls a part of the experiences of Lazarus 
in the Epistle to Karshish. Ren6, like Lazarus, but 
only for a moment, has lived in the eternal. 

Are such revelations possible, is his second 
question. Yes, he answers; and the form of the 
answer belongs to the theory of life laid down in 
Paracelsus. Such sudden openings of the greater 
world are at intervals, as to Abt Vogler, given by 
God to men. 

The end of the second asks what is the true test 
of the greater poet, when people take on them to 
weigh the worth of poets — who was better, best, 
this, that, or the other bard ? When I read this I 
trembled, knowing that I had compared him with 
Tennyson. But when I heard the answer I trem- 
bled no more. " The best poet of any two is the 

* Renfi Gentilhomme, page to Prince Conde, heir of France 
since Louis XIII, and his brother Gaston were childless, is sur- 
prised, while writing a love poem, by a lightning flash which 
shatters a marble ducal crown. He thinks this a revelation from 
God, and he prophesies that a Dauphin will be born to the child- 
less Queen. The Dauphin was born, and Rene pushed suddenly 
into fame. 


one who leads the happier life. The strong and 
joyful poet is the greater." But this is a test of the 
greatness of a man, not necessarily of a poet. And, 
moreover, in this case, Tennyson and Browning both 
lived equally happy Hves. Both were strong to the 
end, and imaginative joy was their companion. But 
the verse in which Browning winds up his answer 
is one of the finest in his poetry. 

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 ! 

La Saisias is a more important poem : it describes 
the sudden death of his friend, Ann Egerton Smith, 
and passes from that, and all he felt concerning it, 
into an argument on the future life of the soul, with 
the assumption that God is, and the soul. The 
argument is interesting, but does not concern us 
here. What does concern us is that Browning has 
largely recovered his poetical way of treating a 
subject. He is no longer outside of it, but in it. 
He does not use it as a means of exercising his 
brains only. It is steeped in true and vital feeling, 
and the deep friendship he had for his friend fills 
even the theological argument with a passionate 
intensity. Nevertheless, the argument is perilously 
near the work of the understanding alone — as if a 
question like that of immortality could receive any 
solution from the hands of the understanding. 
Only each man, in the recesses of his own spirit 
with God, can solve that question for himself, and 


not for another. That is Browning's position when 
he writes as a poet, and no one has written more 
positively on the subject. But when he submits 
the question to reasoning, he wavers, as he does 
here, and leaves the question more undecided than 
anywhere else in his work. This is a pity, but it is 
the natural penalty of his partial abandonment of 
the poetic for the prosaic realm, of the imagination 
for the understanding, of the Reason for reason- 



TWO Volumes of Dramatic Idyls, one in 1879, 
the other in 1880, followed La Saisiaz and 
The Two Poets of Croisic. These are also mixed 
books, composed, partly of studies of character 
written .in rhythmical prose, and partly of poems 
wrought out of the pure imagination. Three of 
them — if they were written at this time — show how 
the Greek legends still dwelt with Browning ; and 
they brought with them the ocean-scent, heroic life, 
and mythical charm of Athenian thought. It would 
be difficult, if one could write of them at all, not to 
write of them poetically ; a.nd.Pheidippides,Echetlos, 
Pan and Luna are alive with force, imaginative joy, 
and the victorious sense the poet has of having 
conquered his material. Pheidippides is as full of 
fire, of careless heroism, as Herv^ Riel, and told in 
as ringing verse. The versing of Echetlos, its rugged, 
rousing sound, its movement, are in most excellent 
harmony with the image of the rude, giant " Holder 
of the ploughshare," who at Marathon drove his 
furrows through the Persians and rooted up the 
Mede. Browning has gathered into one picture and 
one sound the whole spirit of the story. Pan and 
Luna is a bold re-rendering of the myth that Vergil 



enshrines, and the greater part of it is of such poetic 
freshness that I think it must be a waif from the 
earlier years of his poetry. Nor is there better 
imaginative work in his descriptive poetry than the 
image of the naked moon, in virginal distress, flying 
for refuge through the gazing heaven to the 
succourable cloud — fleece on fleece of piled-up 
snow, drowsily patient — where Pan lay in ambush 
for her beauty. 

Among these more gracious idyls, one of singular 
rough power tells the ghastly tale of the mother who 
gave up her little children to the wolves to save 
herself. Browning liked this poem, and the end he 
added to the story — how the carpenter, Ivan, when 
the poor, frightened woman confessed, lifted his axe 
and cut off her head; how he knew that he did 
right, and was held to have done right by the village 
and its pope. The sin by which a mother sacrificed 
the lives of her children to save her own was out of 
Nature : the punishment should be outside of ordinary 
law. It is a piteous tale, and few things in Browning 
equal the horror of the mother's vain attempt to hide 
her crime while she confesses it. Nor does he often 
show greater imaginative skill in metrical movement 
than when he describes in galloping and pattering 
verse the grey pack emerging from the forest, their 
wild race for the sledge, and their demon leader. 

The other idyls in these two volumes are full of 
interest for those who care for psychological studies 
expressed in verse. What the vehicle of verse does 
for them is to secure conciseness and suggestiveness 
in the rendering of remote, daring, and unexpected 
turns of thought and feeling, and especially of con- 
science. Yet the poems themselves cannot be called 


concise. Their subjects are not large enough, nor 
indeed agreeable enough, to excuse their length. 
Goethe would have put them into a short lyrical 
form. It is impossible not to regret, as we read 
them, the Browning of the Dramatic Lyrics. More- 
over, some of them are needlessly ugly. Halbert 
and Hob — and in Jocoseria — Donald, are hateful 
subjects, and their treatment does not redeem them ; 
unlike the treatment of Ivan Ivanovitch which 
does lift the pain of the story into the high realms 
of pity and justice. Death, swift death, was not 
only the right judgment, but also the most pitiful. 
Had the mother lived, an hour's memory would have 
been intolerable torture. Nevertheless, if Browning, 
in his desire to represent the whole of humanity, 
chose to treat these lower forms of human nature, I 
suppose we must accept them as an integral part of 
his work ; and, at least, there can be no doubt of 
their ability, and of the brilliancy of their psycho- 
logical surprises. Ned Bratts is a monument of 
cleverness, as well as of fine characterisation of a 
momentary outburst of conscience in a man who had 
none before ; and who would have lost it in an hour, 
had he not been hanged on the spot. The quick, 
agile, unpremeditated turns of wit in this poem, as 
in some of the others, are admirably easy, and 
happily expressed. Indeed, in these later poems 
of character and event, ingenuity or nimbleness 
of intellect is the chief element, and it is ac- 
companied by a facile power which is sometimes 
rude, often careless, always inventive, fully fan- 
tastical, and rarely imaginative in the highest 
sense of the word. Moreover, as was not the case 
of old, they have, beyond the story, a direct teaching 


aim, which, while it lowers them as art, is very 
agreeable to the ethical psychologist. 

Jocoseria has poems of a higher quality, some of 
which, like the lovely Never the Time and Place, 
have been already quoted. Ixion is too obscurely 
put to attain its end with the general public. But 
it may be recommended, though vainly, to those 
theologians who, hungry for the Divine Right of 
torture, build their God, like Caliban, out of their 
own minds; who, foolish enough to believe that 
the everlasting endurance of evil is a necessary 
guarantee of the everlasting endurance of good, are 
still bold and bad enough to proclaim the abominable 
lie of eternal punishment. They need that spirit 
of the little child whom Christ placed in the midst 
of his disciples J and in gaining which, after living the 
life of the lover, the warrior, the poet, the statesman, 
Jockanan Hakkadosltimxj^di absolute peace and joy. 
Few poems contain moreOf Browning's matured 
theory of life than this of the Jewish Rabbi ; and 
its seriousness is happily mingled with imaginative 
illustrations and with racy wit. The sketch of 
Tsaddik, who puts us in mind of Wagner in the 
Faust, is done with a sarcastic joy in exposing the 
Philistine, and with a delight in its own cleverness 
which is fascinating. 

Ferishtah's Fancies and Parleyings with Certain 
People followed Jocoseria in 1884 and 1887. The 
first of these books is much the better of the 
two. A certain touch of romance is given by the 
Dervish, by the Fables with which he illustrates his 
teaching, and by the Eastern surroundings. Some 
of the stories are well told, and their scenery is 
truthfully wrought and in good colour. The sub- 


jects are partly theological, with always a reference 
to human life ; and partly of the affections and their 
working. It is natural to a poet, and delightful in 
Browning, to find him in his old age dwelling from 
poem to poem on the pre-eminence of love, on love 
as the ultimate judge of all questions. He asserts 
this again and again ; with the greatest force in 
A Pillar at Sebzevar, and, more lightly, in Cherries. 
Yet, and this is a pity, he is not satisfied with the 
decision of love, but spends pages in argumentative 
discussions which lead him away from that poetical 
treatment of the subjects which love alone, as the 
master, would have enabled him to give. However, 
the treatment that love gives we find in the lyrics at 
the end of each Fancy ; and some of these lyrics are 
of such delicate and subtle beauty that I am tempted 
to think that they were written at an earlier period, 
and their Fancies composed to fit them. If they 
were written now, it is plain that age had not 
disenabled him from walking with pleasure and 
power among those sweet, enamelled meadows of 
poetry in whose soil he now thought great poetry did 
not grow. And when we read the lyrics, our regret 
is all the more deep that he chose the thorn-clad and 
desert lands, where barren argument goes round 
and round its subjects without ever finding the true 
path to their centre. 

He lost himself more completely in this error in 
Parleyings with Certain People, in which book, 
with the exception of the visionary landscapes in 
Gerard de Lairesse, and some few passages in 
Francis Furini and Charles Avison, imagination, 
such as belongs to a poet, has deserted Browning. 
He feels himself as if this might be said of him ; 


and he asks in Gerard de Lairesse if he has lost 
the poetic touch, the poetic spirit, because he writes 
of the soul, of facts, of things invisible — not of 
fancy's feignings, not of the things perceived by 
the senses ? " I can do this," he answers, " if I 
like, as well as you," and he paints the landscape of 
a whole day filled with mythological figures. The 
passage is poetry ; we see that he has not lost his 
poetic genius. But, he calls it " fooling," and then 
contrasts the spirit of Greek lore with the spirit of 
immortal hope and cheer which he possesses, with 
his faith that there is for man a certainty of Spring. 
But that is not the answer to his question. It only 
says that the spirit which animates him now is 
higher than the Greek spirit. It does not answer 
the question — Whether Daniel Bartoli or Charles 
Avis on or any of these Parleyings even approach as 
poetry Paracelsus, the Dramatic Lyrics, or Men and 
Women. They do not. Nor has their intellectual 
work the same force, unexpectedness, and certainty 
it had of old. Nevertheless, these Parleyings, at 
the close of the poet's life, and with biographical 
touches which give them vitality, enshrine Brown- 
ing's convictions with regard to some of the greater 
and lesser problems of human hfe. And when his 
personality is vividly present in them, the argu- 
ment, being thrilled with passionate feeling, rises, 
but heavily Uke a wounded eagle, into an imagina- 
tive world. 

The sub-consciousness in Browning's mind to 
which I have alluded — that these later produc- 
tions of his were not as poetical as his earlier work 
and needed defence — is the real subject of a re- 
markable little poem at the end of the second vol- 


ume of the Dramatic Idyls. He is thinking of 
himself as poet, perhaps of that double nature in 
him which on one side was quick to see and love 
beauty; and on the other, to see facts and love 
their strength. Sometimes the sensitive predomi- 
nated. He was only the lover of beauty whom 
everything that touched him urged into song. 

" 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 
Vitalizing virtue : song would song succeed 
Sudden as spontaneous — prove a poet-soul ! " 

This, which Browning puts on the lips of another, 
is not meant, we are told, to describe himself. But 
it does describe one side of him very well, and the 
origin and conduct of a number of his earlier 
poems. But now, having changed his manner, 
even the principles of his poetry, he describes him- 
self as different from that — as a sterner, more iron 
poet, and the work he now does as more likely to 
endure, and be a power in the world of men. He 
was curiously mistaken. 

Indeed, he cries, is that the soil in which a poet 
grows } 

" 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." 

In this sharp division, as in his Epilogue to 
Pacchiarotto, he misses the truth. It is almost 
needless to say that a poet can be sensitive to beauty, 
and also to the stern facts of the moral and spiritual 
struggle of mankind through evil to good. All the 


great poets have been sensitive to both and mingled 
them in their work. They were ideal and real in 
both the flower and the pine. They are never forced 
to choose one or other of these aims or lives in their 
poetry. They mingled facts and fancies, the in- 
tellectual and the imaginative. They lived in the 
whole world of the outward and the inward, of the 
senses and the soul. Truth and beauty were one to 
them. This division of which Browning speaks was 
the unfortunate result of that struggle between 
his intellect and his imagination on which I have 
dwelt. In old days it was not so with him. His 
early poetry had sweetness with strength, stern 
thinking with tender emotion, love of beauty with 
love of truth, idealism with realism. Nature with 
humanity, fancy with fact. And this is the equip- 
ment of the great poet. When he divides these 
qualities each from the other, and is only a£sthetic 
or only severe in his realism ; only the worshipper of 
Nature or only the worshipper of human nature ; 
only the poet of beauty or only the poet of austere 
fact ; only the idealist or only the realist ; only of 
the senses or only of the soul — he may be a poet, 
but not a great poet. And as the singular pursuit of 
the realistic is almost always bound up with pride, 
because realism does not carry us beyond ourselves 
into the infinite where we are humbled, the realistic 
poetry loses imagination; its love of love tends 
to become self-love, or love of mere cleverness. 
And then its poetic elements slowly die. 

There was that, as I have said, in Browning which 
resisted this sad conclusion, but the resistance was 
not enough to prevent a great loss of poetic power. 
But whatever he lost, there was one poetic temper 


of mind which never failed him, the heroic temper 
of the faithful warrior for God and man ; there was 
one ideal view of humanity which dominated all his 
work ; there was one principle which directed all his 
verse to celebrate the struggle of humanity towards 
the perfection for which God, he believed, had 
destined it. These things underlie all the poems in 
Ferishtah's Fancies and the Parleyings with Certain 
People, and give to them the uplifted, noble trumpet 
note with which at times they are animated. The 
same temper and principle, the same view of 
humanity emerge in that fine lyric which is the 
Epilogue to FerishtaKs Fancies, and in the Epilogue 
to Asolando. 

The first sees a vision of the present and the 
future in which all the battle of our life passes into 
a glorious end ; nor does the momentary doubt that 
occurs at the close of the poem — that his belief 
in a divine conclusion of our strife may only have 
been caused by his own happiness in love — really 
trouble his conviction. That love itself is part of 
the power which makes the noble conclusion sure. 
The certainty of this conclusion made his courage 
in the fight unwavering, despair impossible, joy in 
battle, duty; and to be "ever a fighter" in the 
foremost rank the highest privilege of man. 

Then the cloud-rift broadens, spanning earth that's under. 
Wide our world displays its worth, man's strife and strife's 
success : 

All the good and beauty, wonder crowning wonder, 
Till my heart and soul applaud perfection, nothing less. 

And for that reason, because of the perfectness to 
come. Browning lived every hour of his life for good 
and against wrong. He said with justice of himself, 


and with justice he brought the ideal aim and the 
real effort together : 

I looked beyond the world for truth and beauty : 

Sought, found, and did my duty. 

Nor, almost in the very grasp of death, did this 
faith fail him. He kept, in the midst of a fretful, 
slothful, wailing world, where prophets like Carlyle 
and Ruskin were as impatient and bewildered, as 
lamenting and despondent, as the decadents they 
despised, the temper of his Herakles in Balaiistion. 
He left us that temper as his last legacy, and he 
could not have left us a better thing. We may hear 
it in his last poem, and bind it about our hearts in 
sorrow and joy, in battle and peace, in the hour of 
death and the days of judgment. 

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 

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 ! " 


With these high words he ended a long life, and , 
his memory still falls upon us, like the dew which 
fell on Paradise. It was a life lived fully, kindly, 
lovingly, at its just height from the beginning to 
the end. No fear, no vanity, no lack of interest, 
no complaint of the world, no anger at criticism, 
no villain fancies disturbed his soul. No laziness, \ 
no feebleness in effort injured hig work, no desire 
for money, no faltering of aspiration, no pander- 
ing of his gift and genius to please the world, 
no surrender of art for the sake of fame or filthy 
lucre, no falseness to his ideal, no base pessimism, 
no slavery to science yet no boastful ignorance 
of its good, no morbid naturalism, no devotion to 
the false forms of beauty, no despair of man, no 
retreat from men into a world of sickly or vain ; 
beauty, no abandonment of the great ideas or dis- j 
belief in their mastery, no enfeeblement of reason 
such as at this time walks hand in hand with the 
worship of the mere discursive intellect, no lack 
of joy and healthy vigour and keen inquiry and 
passionate interest in humanity. Scarcely any 
special bias can be found running through his 
work ; on the contrary an incessant change of sub- 
ject and manner, combined with a strong but not 
overweening individuality, raced, like blood through 
the body, through every vein of his labour. Crea- 
tive and therefore joyful, receptive and therefore 
thoughtful, at one with humanity and therefore 
loving ; aspiring to God and believing in God, and 
therefore steeped to the tips in radiant Hope; at 
one with the past, passionate with the present, and 
possessing by faith an endless and glorious future 
— this was a life lived on the top of the wave, and 


moving with its motion from youth to manhood, 
from manhood to old age. 

There is no need to mourn for his departure. 
Nothing feeble has been done, nothing which lowers 
the note of his life, nothing we can regret as less 
than his native strength. His last poem was like 
the last look of the Phoenix to the sun before the 
sunlight Ughts the odorous pyre from which the 
new-created Bird will spring. And as if the Muse 
of Poetry wished to adorn the image of his death, 
he passed away amid a world of beauty, and in the 
midst of a world endeared to him by love. Italy 
was his second country. In Florence lies the wife 
of his heart. In every city he had friends, friends 
not only among men and women, but friends in 
every ancient wall, in every fold of Apennine and 
Alp, in every breaking of the blue sea, in every 
forest of pines, in every Church and Palace and 
Town Hall, in every painting that great art had 
wrought, in every storied market place, in every 
great life which had adorned, honoured, and made 
romantic Italy ; the great mother of Beauty, at 
whose breasts have hung and whose milk have 
sucked all the arts and all the literatures of modem 
Europe. Venice saw and mourned his death. The 
sea and sky and mountain glory of the city he 
loved so well encompassed him with her beauty; 
and their soft graciousness, their temperate power 
of joy and life made his departure peaceful. Strong 
and tender in life, his death added a new fairness 
to his life. Mankind is fortunate to have so noble 
a memory, so full and excellent a work, to rest 
upon and love. 

Missing Page 

Missing Page 

INDEX 445 

Gerard de Lairesse, 87, 435. 
Glove, The, 262. 
Gold Hair, 356. 
1 Grammarian's Funeral, A, 20, 78, 120, 141, 1S3-155, 319-321. 

Halbert and Hob, 433. 
Half- Rome, 396, 400. 
Herve Rial, 28, 415. 
Holy Cross Day, 34. 
-Home Thoughts from Abroad, 10. 
flSVITStriKes a (Jontemporary, 315. 
' How they Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix, 28. 

IcciON, 434. 

In aBalcony, 254, 340-343. 

In a Gondola, 257. 

In a Laboratory, 356^""*" ~ ^ 

Inn Album, The, 107, 108, 332, 395, 417, 419, 427. 

Instans Tyrannus, 265, 

In Three Days, 253. 

Italian in England, 322, 357. 

James Lee's Wife, 60, 79, 81, 256, 351. 
Jochanan Hakkadosh, 34, 434. 
Jocoseria, 109, 433, 434. 
Johannes Agricola in Meditation, 3 1 7-3 1 9. 

King Victor and King CJiarles, 336. 

Laboratory, The, 10, 20, 265. ' ~ 
La Saisiaz, 59, 109, 427. 
Last Ride Together, The, 245. 
Light Woman, A, 355^^». 
Lost Mistress, The, 256.'^*''^ 
Love among the Ruins, 252. ^^ 
Lovers' QuarreirSrBjr^STr- ■ 
Lunia, 343.' 

Meeting at Night — Farting at Morning, 258. 
Men and Women, 5. / 

IMy Last Duchess, 4, 10, 317. 

446 INDEX 

Natural Magic, 427. 

Natural Theology on the Island ; or, Caliban upon Setebos, 

Ned Bralto, 427. 
Never the Time and Place, 434. 

Now, 246. / 

Numpholeptos, 425. 

Old Pictures in Florence, 141, 159-161. 
One Word More, 250. •'^ 
Other Half-Rome, 397. 

Pacchiarotto, 108, 425, 426. 

Pan and Luna, 431. 

Paracelsus, 3, 4, 8, 9, 14, 26, 55, 62, 67, 79, 84, 96-100, 115, 127- 

140, 190, 202, 244, 271, 272, 348, 428. 
Parleyings with Certain People, 434, 435, 439. 
Pauline, 15, 21, 79, 87, 90-96, 104, 115, 120-127, 190, 244, 323-325. 
Pearl — A girl, A, 246. 
Pheidippides, 431. 

^Pictor Ignotus, 3i3r 3JLS«_ -' *\ 

Pied Piper of Hamelin, The, 4. 

Pillar at Selzevar, A, 435. 

vPippa Passes, 4, 9, 30, 77, 80, 164-167, 268, 272-274, 320-322, 

334-335- ,2, 4 CI 
Pisgah Sights, 427. 
Pompilia, 359-364. 
-f-Porphyria's Lover, 10, 326. 
Pretty Woman, A, 355. 

Prince Hohenstiel Schwangan, 107, 395, 417, 419, 426. 
Prospice, 250-251. 

I^Rabbi Ben Ezra, 34, 148. 

Red Cotton Night-Cap Country, 107, 332, 395, 417, 419, 426. 

Return of the Druses, 337. 

Ring and the Book, The, 6, 20, 105-106, 264, 348, 391, 398-399. 

Saul, 4, 85. 

Serenade at the Villa, A, 260. 
Sludge, the Medium, Mr., 394, 397. 
^-Soliloquy of the^peHtislr€l<agter, 266^ 

INDEX 447 

Solomon and Balkis, 355. 

SordeUo, 4, 8, 9, 11, 20, 26, 44, 70, 87, lOX-104, 167-176, 177-199, 

201, 208, 282, 387-329, 333, 348. ^^^^ 

Soul's Tragedy, A, 343. 
Spanish Qoister, The, 20. 
' Speculative, 246. 
St. Martin's Summer, 260, 427. 
Strafford, 4, 26, 326. 
Summum Bonum, 246. 

Tertium Quid, 391, 397. 

Theology in the Island, 283. 

Time's Revenges, 355. 

Toccata of Galng pi's. A, 21, 321. 

Too Late, 256, 355r 

Transcendentalism, 144. 

Two in the Campagna, 254. ^^ 

Two Poets of Croisic, 427. ''^ 


p at a Villa — Down in the City, 83, 322. 

Waring, 4. 

Worst of it, The, 355. 

Youth and Art, 256, ,