"So, carefuller, perhaps, To guard a namesake than those old saints grow, Tired out by this time,—see my own five saints!"
"Thus, all my life, I touch a fairy thing that fades and fades. —Even to my babe! I thought, when he was born, Something began for once that would not end, Nor change into a laugh at me, but stay For evermore, eternally quite mine——"
"One cannot judge Of what has been the ill or well of life The day that one is dying.... Now it is over, and no danger more ... To me at least was never evening yet But seemed far beautifuller than its day, For past is past——"
Lovely, again, are the lines in which she speaks of the first "thrill of dawn's suffusion through her dark," the "light of the unborn face sent long before:" or those unique lines of the starved soul's Spring (ll. 1512-27): or those, of the birth of her little one—
"A whole long fortnight; in a life like mine A fortnight filled with bliss is long and much. All women are not mothers of a boy.... I never realised God's birth before— How he grew likest God in being born. This time I felt like Mary, had my babe Lying a little on my breast like hers."
When she has weariedly, yet with surpassing triumph, sighed out her last words—
"God stooping shows sufficient of His light For us i' the dark to rise by. And I rise——"
who does not realise that to life's end he shall not forget that plaintive voice, so poignantly sweet, that ineffable dying smile, those wistful eyes with so much less of earth than heaven?
But the two succeeding "books" are more tiresome and more unnecessary than the most inferior of the three opening sections—the first of the two, indeed, is intolerably wearisome, a desolate boulder-strewn gorge after the sweet air and sunlit summits of "Caponsacchi" and "Pompilia." In the next "book" Innocent XII. is revealed. All this section has a lofty serenity, unsurpassed in its kind. It must be read from first to last for its full effect, but I may excerpt one passage, the high-water mark of modern blank-verse:—
"For the main criminal I have no hope Except in such a suddenness of fate. I stood at Naples once, a night so dark I could have scarce conjectured there was earth Anywhere, sky or sea or world at all: But the night's black was burst through by a blaze— Thunder struck blow on blow, earth groaned and bore, Through her whole length of mountain visible: There lay the city thick and plain with spires, And, like a ghost disshrouded, white the sea. So may the truth be flashed out by one blow, And Guido see, one instant, and be saved."
Finally comes that throbbing, terrible last "book" where the murderer finds himself brought to bay and knows that all is lost. Who can forget its unparalleled close, when the wolf-like Guido suddenly, in his supreme agony, transcends his lost manhood in one despairing cry—
"Abate,—Cardinal,—Christ,—Maria,—God, ... Pompilia, will you let them murder me?"
Lastly, the Epilogue rounds off the tale. But is this Epilogue necessary? Surely the close should have come with the words just quoted?
It will not be after a first perusal that the reader will be able to arrive at a definite conviction. No individual or collective estimate of to-day can be accepted as final. Those who come after us, perhaps not the next generation, nor the next again, will see "The Ring and the Book" free of all the manifold and complex considerations which confuse our judgment. Meanwhile, each can only speak for himself. To me it seems that "The Ring and the Book" is, regarded as an artistic whole, the most magnificent failure in our literature. It enshrines poetry which no other than our greatest could have written; it has depths to which many of far inferior power have not descended. Surely the poem must be judged by the balance of its success and failure? It is in no presumptuous spirit, but out of my profound admiration of this long-loved and often-read, this superb poem, that I, for one, wish it comprised but the Prologue, the Plea of Guido, "Caponsacchi," "Pompilia," "The Pope," and Guido's last Defence. I cannot help thinking that this is the form in which it will be read in the years to come. Thus circumscribed, it seems to me to be rounded and complete, a great work of art void of the dross, the mere debris which the true artist discards. But as it is, in all its lordly poetic strength and flagging impulse, is it not, after all, the true climacteric of Browning's genius?
"The Inn Album," a dramatic poem of extraordinary power, has so much more markedly the defects of his qualities that I take it to be, at the utmost, the poise of the first gradual refluence. This analogy of the tidal ebb and flow may be observed with singular aptness in Browning's life-work—the tide that first moved shoreward in the loveliness of "Pauline," and, with "long withdrawing roar," ebbed in slow, just perceptible lapse to the poet's penultimate volume. As for "Asolando," I would rather regard it as the gathering of a new wave—nay, again rather, as the deep sound of ocean which the outward surge has reached.
But for myself I do not accept "The Inn Album" as the first hesitant swing of the tide. I seem to hear the resilient undertone all through the long slow poise of "The Ring and the Book." Where then is the full splendour and rush of the tide, where its culminating reach and power?
I should say in "Men and Women"; and by "Men and Women" I mean not merely the poems comprised in the collection so entitled, but all in the "Dramatic Romances," "Lyrics," and the "Dramatis Personae," all the short pieces of a certain intensity of note and quality of power, to be found in the later volumes, from "Pacchiarotto" to "Asolando."
And this because, in the words of the poet himself when speaking of Shelley, I prefer to look for the highest attainment, not simply the high—and, seeing it, to hold by it. Yet I am not oblivious of the mass of Browning's lofty achievement, "to be known enduringly among men,"—an achievement, even on its secondary level, so high, that around its imperfect proportions, "the most elaborated productions of ordinary art must arrange themselves as inferior illustrations."
How am I to convey concisely that which it would take a volume to do adequately—an idea of the richest efflorescence of Browning's genius in these unfading blooms which we will agree to include in "Men and Women"? How better—certainly it would be impossible to be more succinct—than by the enumeration of the contents of an imagined volume, to be called, say "Transcripts from Life"?
It would be to some extent, but not rigidly, arranged chronologically. It would begin with that masterpiece of poetic concision, where a whole tragedy is burned in upon the brain in fifty-six lines, "My Last Duchess." Then would follow "In a Gondola," that haunting lyrical drama in petto, where the lover is stabbed to death as his heart is beating against that of his mistress; "Cristina," with its keen introspection; those delightfully stirring pieces, the "Cavalier-Tunes," "Through the Metidja to Abd-el-Kadr," and "The Pied Piper of Hamelin"; "The Flower's Name"; "The Flight of the Duchess"; "The Tomb at St. Praxed's," the poem which educed Ruskin's enthusiastic praise for its marvellous apprehension of the spirit of the Middle Ages; "Pictor Ignotus," and "The Lost Leader." But as there is not space for individual detail, and as many of the more important are spoken of elsewhere in this volume, I must take the reader's acquaintance with the poems for granted. So, following those first mentioned, there would come "Home Thoughts from Abroad"; "Home Thoughts from the Sea"; "The Confessional"; "The Heretic's Tragedy"; "Earth's Immortalities"; "Meeting at Night: Parting at Morning"; "Saul"; "Karshish"; "A Death in the Desert"; "Rabbi Ben Ezra"; "A Grammarian's Funeral"; "Love Among the Ruins"; Song, "Nay but you"; "A Lover's Quarrel"; "Evelyn Hope"; "A Woman's Last Word"; "Fra Lippo Lippi"; "By the Fireside"; "Any Wife to Any Husband"; "A Serenade at the Villa"; "My Star"; "A Pretty Woman"; "A Light Woman"; "Love in a Life"; "Life in a Love"; "The Last Ride Together"; "A Toccata of Galuppi's"; "Master Hugues of Saxe Gotha"; "Abt Vogler"; "Memorabilia"; "Andrea Del Sarto"; "Before"; "After"; "In Three Days"; "In a Year"; "Old Pictures in Florence"; "De Gustibus"; "Women and Roses"; "The Guardian Angel"; "Cleon"; "Two in the Campagna"; "One Way of Love"; "Another Way of Love"; "Misconceptions"; "May and Death"; "James Lee's Wife"; "Dis Aliter Visum"; "Too Late"; "Confessions"; "Prospice"; "Youth and Art"; "A Face"; "A Likeness"; "Apparent Failure." Epilogue to Part I.—"O Lyric Voice," etc., from end of First Part of "The Ring and the Book." Part II.—"Herve Riel"; "Amphibian"; "Epilogue to Fifine"; "Pisgah Sights"; "Natural Magic"; "Magical Nature"; "Bifurcation"; "Numpholeptos"; "Appearances"; "St. Martin's Summer"; "A Forgiveness"; Epilogue to Pacchiarotto volume; Prologue to "La Saisiaz"; Prologue to "Two Poets of Croisic"; "Epilogue"; "Pheidippides"; "Halbert and Hob"; "Ivan Ivanovitch"; "Echetlos"; "Muleykeh"; "Pan and Luna"; "Touch him ne'er so lightly"; Prologue to "Jocoseria"; "Cristina and Monaldeschi"; "Mary Wollstonecraft and Fuseli"; "Ixion"; "Never the Time and the Place"; Song, "Round us the wild creatures "; Song, "Wish no word unspoken "; Song, "You groped your way"; Song:, "Man I am"; Song, "Once I saw"; "Verse-making"; "Not with my Soul Love"; "Ask not one least word of praise"; "Why from the world"; "The Round of Day" (Pts. 9, 10, 11, 12 of Gerard de Lairesse); Prologue to "Asolando"; "Rosny"; "Now"; "Poetics"; "Summum Bonum"; "A Pearl"; "Speculative"; "Inapprehensiveness"; "The Lady and the Painter;" "Beatrice Signorini"; "Imperante Augusto"; "Rephan"; "Reverie"; Epilogue to "Asolando" (in all, 122).
But having drawn up this imaginary anthology, possibly with faults of commission and probably with worse errors of omission, I should like to take the reader into my confidence concerning a certain volume, originally compiled for my own pleasure, though not without thought of one or two dear kinsmen of a scattered Brotherhood—a volume half the size of the projected Transcripts, and rare as that star in the tip of the moon's horn of which Coleridge speaks.
Flower o' the Vine, so it is called, has for double-motto these two lines from the Epilogue to the Pacchiarotto volume—
"Man's thoughts and loves and hates! Earth is my vineyard, these grew there—"
and these words, already quoted, from the Shelley Essay, "I prefer to look for the highest attainment, not simply the high."
1. From "Pauline"—i. "Sun-treader, life and light be thine for ever!" 2. The Dawn of Beauty; 3. Andromeda; 4. Morning. II. "Heap Cassia, Sandal-buds," etc. (song from "Paracelsus"). III. "Over the Sea our Galleys went" (song from "Paracelsus"). IV. The Joy of the World ("Paracelsus"). V. From "Sordello"—1. Sunset; 2. The Fugitive Ethiop; 3. Dante. VI. Ottima and Sebald (Pt. i., "Pippa Passes"). VII. Jules and Phene (Pt. ii., "Pippa Passes"). VIII. My Last Duchess. IX. In a Gondola. X. Home Thoughts from Abroad (i. and ii.). XI. Meeting at Night: Parting at Morning. XII. A Grammarian's Funeral. XIII. Saul. XIV. Rabbi Ben Ezra. XV. Love among the Ruins. XVI. Evelyn Hope. XVII. My Star. XVIII. A Toccata of Galuppi's. XIX. Abt Vogler. XX. Memorabilia. XXI. Andrea del Sarto. XXI. Two in the Campagna. XXII. James Lee's Wife. XXIII. Prospice. XXIV. From "The Ring and the Book"—1. O Lyric Love (The Invocation: 26 lines); 2. Caponsacchi (ll. 2069 to 2103); 3. Pompilia (ll. 181 to 205); 4. Pompilia (ll. 1771 to 1845); 5. The Pope (ll. 2017 to 2228); 6. Count Guido (Book XI., ll. 2407 to 2427). XXV. Prologue to "La Saisiaz." XXVI. Prologue to "Two Poets of Croisic." XXVII. Epilogue to "Two Poets of Croisic." XXVIII. Never the Time and Place. XXIX. "Round us the Wild Creatures," etc. (song from "Ferishtah's Fancies"). XXX. "The Walk" (Pts. ix., x., xi., xii., of "Gerard de Lairesse.") XXXI. "One word more" (To E.B.B.).
[Footnote 16: The first, from the line quoted, extends through 55 lines—"To see thee for a moment as thou art." No. 2 consists of the xviii ll. beginning, "They came to me in my first dawn of life." No. 3, the xi ll. of the Andromeda picture. No. 4, the lix ll. beginning, "Night, and one single ridge of narrow path" (to "delight").]
[Footnote 17: No. IV. comprises the xxix ll. beginning, "The centre fire heaves underneath the earth," down to "ancient rapture."]
[Footnote 18: No. V. The vi. ll. beginning, "That autumn ere has stilled."]
[Footnote 19: The xxii ll. beginning, "As, shall I say, some Ethiop."]
[Footnote 20: The xxix ll. beginning, "For he,—for he."]
[Footnote 21: To these XXXI selections there must now be added "Now," "Summum Bonum," "Reverie" and the "Epilogue," from "Asolando."]
It is here—I will not say in Flower o' the Vine, nor even venture to restrictively affirm it of that larger and fuller compilation we have agreed, for the moment, to call "Transcripts from Life"—it is here, in the worthiest poems of Browning's most poetic period, that, it seems to me, his highest greatness is to be sought. In these "Men and Women" he is, in modern times, an unparalleled dramatic poet. The influence he exercises through these, and the incalculably cumulative influence which will leaven many generations to come, is not to be looked for in individuals only, but in the whole thought of the age, which he has moulded to new form, animated anew, and to which he has imparted a fresh stimulus. For this a deep debt is due to Robert Browning. But over and above this shaping force, this manipulative power upon character and thought, he has enriched our language, our literature, with a new wealth of poetic diction, has added to it new symbols, has enabled us to inhale a more liberal if an unfamiliar air, has, above all, raised us to a fresh standpoint, a standpoint involving our construction of a new definition.
Here, at least, we are on assured ground: here, at any rate, we realise the scope and quality of his genius. But, let me hasten to add, he, at his highest, not being of those who would make Imagination the handmaid of the Understanding, has given us also a Dorado of pure poetry, of priceless worth. Tried by the severest tests, not merely of substance, but of form, not merely of the melody of high thinking, but of rare and potent verbal music, the larger number of his "Men and Women" poems are as treasurable acquisitions, in kind, to our literature, as the shorter poems of Milton, of Shelley, of Keats, and of Tennyson. But once again, and finally, let me repeat that his primary importance—not greatness, but importance—is in having forced us to take up a novel standpoint, involving our construction of a new definition.
There are, in literary history, few scenes de la vie privee more affecting than that of the greatest of English poetesses, in the maturity of her first poetic period, lying, like a fading flower, for hours, for days continuously, in a darkened room in a London house. So ill was Miss Elizabeth Barrett, early in the second half of the forties, that few friends, herself even, could venture to hope for a single one of those Springs which she previsioned so longingly. To us, looking back at this period, in the light of what we know of a story of singular beauty, there is an added pathos in the circumstance that, as the singer of so many exquisite songs lay on her invalid's sofa, dreaming of things which, as she thought, might never be, all that was loveliest in her life was fast approaching—though, like all joy, not without an equally unlooked-for sorrow. "I lived with visions for my company, instead of men and women ... nor thought to know a sweeter music than they played to me."
This is not the occasion, and if it were, there would still be imperative need for extreme concision, whereon to dwell upon the early life of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. The particulars of it are familiar to all who love English literature: for there is, in truth, not much to tell—not much, at least, that can well be told. It must suffice, here, that Miss Barrett was born on the 4th of March 1809, and so was the senior, by three years, of Robert Browning.
By 1820, in remote Herefordshire, the not yet eleven-year-old poetess had already "cried aloud on obsolete Muses from childish lips" in various "nascent odes, epics, and didactics." At this time, she tells us, the Greeks were her demi-gods, and she dreamt much of Agamemnon. In the same year, in suburban Camberwell, a little boy was often wont to listen eagerly to his father's narrative of the same hero, and to all the moving tale of Troy. It is significant that these two children, so far apart, both with the light of the future upon their brows, grew up in familiarity with something of the antique beauty. It was a lifelong joy to both, that "serene air of Greece." Many an hour of gloom was charmed away by it for the poetess who translated the "Prometheus Bound" of AEschylus, and wrote "The Dead Pan": many a happy day and memorable night were spent in that "beloved environment" by the poet who wrote "Balaustion's Adventure" and translated the "Agamemnon."
The chief sorrow of her life, however, occurred in her thirty-first year. She never quite recovered from the shock of her well-loved brother Edward's tragic death, a mysterious disaster, for the foundering of the little yacht La Belle Sauvage is almost as inexplicable as that of the Ariel in the Spezzian waters beyond Lerici. Not only through the ensuing winter, but often in the dreams of after years, "the sound of the waves rang in my ears like the moans of one dying."
The removal of the Barrett household to Gloucester Place, in Western London, was a great event. Here, invalid though she was, she could see friends occasionally and get new books constantly. Her name was well known and became widely familiar when her "Cry of the Children" rang like a clarion throughout the country. The poem was founded upon an official report by Richard Hengist Horne, the friend whom some years previously she had won in correspondence, and with whom she had become so intimate, though without personal acquaintance, that she had agreed to write a drama in collaboration with him, to be called "Psyche Apocalypte," and to be modelled on "Greek instead of modern tragedy."
Horne—a poet of genius, and a dramatist of remarkable power—was one of the truest friends she ever had, and, so far as her literary life is concerned, came next in influence only to her poet-husband. Among the friends she saw much of in the early forties was a distant "cousin," John Kenyon—a jovial, genial, gracious, and altogether delightful man, who acted the part of Providence to many troubled souls, and, in particular, was "a fairy godfather" to Elizabeth Barrett and to "the other poet," as he used to call Browning. It was to Mr. Kenyon—"Kenyon, with the face of a Bendectine monk, but the most jovial of good fellows," as a friend has recorded of him; "Kenyon the Magnificent," as he was called by Browning—that Miss Barrett owed her first introduction to the poetry of her future husband.
Browning's poetry had for her an immediate appeal. With sure insight she discerned the special quality of the poetic wealth of the "Bells and Pomegranates," among which she then and always cared most for the penultimate volume, the "Dramatic Romances and Lyrics." Two years before she met the author she had written, in "Lady Geraldine's Courtship"—
"Or from Browning some 'Pomegranate' which, if cut deep down the middle, Shows a heart within blood-tinctured, of a veined humanity."
A little earlier she had even, unwittingly on either side, been a collaborateur with "the author of 'Paracelsus.'" She gave Horne much aid in the preparation of his "New Spirit of the Age," and he has himself told us "that the mottoes, which are singularly happy and appropriate, were for the most part supplied by Miss Barrett and Robert Browning, then unknown to each other." One thing and another drew them nearer and nearer. Now it was a poem, now a novel expression, now a rare sympathy.
An intermittent correspondence ensued, and both poets became anxious to know each other. "We artists—how well praise agrees with us," as Balzac says.
A few months later, in 1846, they came to know one another personally. The story of their first meeting, which has received a wide acceptance, is apocryphal. The meeting was brought about by Kenyon. This common friend had been a schoolfellow of Browning's father, and so it was natural that he took a more than ordinary interest in the brilliant young poet, perhaps all the more so that the reluctant tide of popularity which had promised to set in with such unparalleled sweep and weight had since experienced a steady ebb.
And so the fates brought these two together. The younger was already far the stronger, but he had an unbounded admiration for Miss Barrett. To her, he was even then the chief living poet. She perceived his ultimate greatness; as early as 1845 had "a full faith in him as poet and prophet."
As Browning admitted to a friend, the love between them was almost instantaneous, a thing of the eyes, mind, and heart—each striving for supremacy, till all were gratified equally in a common joy. They had one bond of sterling union: passion for the art to which both had devoted their lives.
To those who love love for love's sake, who se passionnent pour la passion, as Prosper Merimee says, there could scarce be a more sacred spot in London than that fiftieth house in unattractive Wimpole Street, where these two poets first met each other; and where, in the darkened room, "Love quivered, an invisible flame." Elizabeth Barrett was indeed, in her own words, "as sweet as Spring, as Ocean deep." She, too, was always, as she wrote of Harriet Martineau, in a hopeless anguish of body and serene triumph of spirit. As George Sand says, of one of her fictitious personages, she was an "artist to the backbone; that is, one who feels life with frightful intensity." To this too keen intensity of feeling must be attributed something of that longing for repose, that deep craving for rest from what is too exciting from within, which made her affirm the exquisite appeal to her of such Biblical passages as "The Lord of peace Himself give you peace," and "He giveth His Beloved Sleep," which, as she says in one of her numerous letters to Miss Mitford, "strike upon the disquieted earth with such a foreignness of heavenly music."
Nor was he whom she loved as a man, as well as revered as a poet, unworthy of her. His was the robustest poetic intellect of the century; his the serenest outlook; his, almost the sole unfaltering footsteps along the perilous ways of speculative thought. A fair life, irradiate with fairer ideals, conserved his native integrity from that incongruity between practice and precept so commonly exemplified. Comely in all respects, with his black-brown wavy hair, finely-cut features, ready and winsome smile, alert luminous eyes, quick, spontaneous, expressive gestures—an inclination of the head, a lift of the eyebrows, a modulation of the lips, an assertive or deprecatory wave of the hand, conveying so much—and a voice at that time of a singular penetrating sweetness, he was, even without that light of the future upon his forehead which she was so swift to discern, a man to captivate any woman of kindred nature and sympathies. Over and above these advantages, he possessed a rare quality of physical magnetism. By virtue of this he could either attract irresistibly or strongly repel.
I have several times heard people state that a hand-shake from Browning was like an electric shock. Truly enough, it did seem as though his sterling nature rang in his genially dominant voice, and, again, as though his voice transmitted instantaneous waves of an electric current through every nerve of what, for want of a better phrase, I must perforce call his intensely alive hand. I remember once how a lady, afflicted with nerves, in the dubious enjoyment of her first experience of a "literary afternoon," rose hurriedly and, in reply to her hostess' inquiry as to her motive, explained that she could not sit any longer beside the elderly gentleman who was talking to Mrs. So-and-so, as his near presence made her quiver all over, "like a mild attack of pins-and-needles," as she phrased it. She was chagrined to learn that she had been discomposed not by 'a too exuberant financier,' as she had surmised, but by, as "Waring" called Browning, the "subtlest assertor of the Soul in song."
With the same quick insight as she had perceived Robert Browning's poetic greatness, Elizabeth Barrett discerned his personal worth. He was essentially manly in all respects: so manly, that many frail souls of either sex philandered about his over-robustness. From the twilight gloom of an aeesthetic clique came a small voice belittling the great man as "quite too 'loud,' painfully excessive." Browning was manly enough to laugh at all ghoulish cries of any kind whatsoever. Once in a way the lion would look round and by a raised breath make the jackals wriggle; as when the poet wrote to a correspondent, who had drawn his attention to certain abusive personalities in some review or newspaper: "Dear Sir—I am sure you mean very kindly, but I have had too long an experience of the inability of the human goose to do other than cackle when benevolent and hiss when malicious, and no amount of goose criticism shall make me lift a heel against what waddles behind it."
Herself one whose happiest experiences were in dreamland, Miss Barrett was keenly susceptible to the strong humanity of Browning's song, nor less keenly attracted by his strenuous and fearless outlook, his poetic practicality, and even by his bluntness of insight in certain matters. It was no slight thing to her that she could, in Mr. Lowell's words, say of herself and of him—
"We, who believe life's bases rest Beyond the probe of chemic test."
She rejoiced, despite her own love for remote imaginings, to know that he was of those who (to quote again from the same fine poet)
"... wasted not their breath in schemes Of what man might be in some bubble-sphere, As if he must be other than he seems Because he was not what he should be here, Postponing Time's slow proof to petulant dreams;"
that, in a word, while 'he could believe the promise of to-morrow,' he was at the same time supremely conscious of 'the wondrous meaning of to-day.'
Both, from their youth onward, had travelled 'on trails divine of unimagined laws.' It was sufficient for her that he kept his eyes fixed on the goal beyond the way he followed: it did not matter that he was blind to the dim adumbrations of novel byways, of strange Calvarys by the wayside, so often visible to her.
Their first meeting was speedily followed by a second—by a third—and then? When we know not, but ere long, each found that happiness was in the bestowal of the other.
The secret was for some time kept absolutely private. From the first Mr. Barrett had been jealous of his beloved daughter's new friend. He did not care much for the man, he with all the prejudices and baneful conservatism of the slave-owning planter, the other with ardent democratic sentiments and a detestation of all forms of iniquity. Nor did he understand the poet. He could read his daughter's flowing verse with pleasure, but there was to his ear a mere jumble of sound and sense in much of the work of the author of "The Tomb at St. Praxed's" and "Sibrandus Schafnaburgensis." Of a selfishly genial but also of a violent and often sullen nature, he resented more and more any friendship which threatened to loosen the chain of affection and association binding his daughter to himself.
Both the lovers believed that an immediate marriage would, from every point of view, be best. It was not advisable that it should be long delayed, if to happen at all, for the health of Miss Barrett was so poor that another winter in London might, probably would, mean irretrievable harm.
Some time before this she had become acquainted with Mrs. Jameson, the eminent art-writer. The regard, which quickly developed to an affectionate esteem, was mutual. One September morning Mrs. Jameson called, and after having dwelt on the gloom and peril of another winter in London, dwelt on the magic of Italy, and concluded by inviting Miss Barrett to accompany her in her own imminent departure for abroad. The poet was touched and grateful, but, pointing to her invalid sofa, and gently emphasising her enfeebled health and other difficult circumstances, excused herself from acceptance of Mrs. Jameson's generous offer.
In the "Memoirs of Mrs. Jameson" that lady's niece, Mrs. Macpherson, relates how on the eve of her and her aunt's departure, a little note of farewell arrived from Miss Barrett, "deploring the writer's inability to come in person and bid her friend good-bye, as she was 'forced to be satisfied with the sofa and silence.'"
It is easy to understand, therefore, with what amazement Mrs. Jameson, shortly after her arrival in Paris, received a letter from Robert Browning to the effect that he and his wife had just come from London, on their way to Italy. "My aunt's surprise was something almost comical," writes Mrs. Macpherson, "so startling and entirely unexpected was the news." And duly married indeed the two poets had been!
From the moment the matter was mooted to Mr. Barrett, he evinced his repugnance to the idea. To him even the most foolish assertion of his own was a sacred pledge. He called it "pride in his word": others recognised it as the very arrogance of obstinacy. He refused to countenance the marriage in any way, refused to have Browning's name mentioned in his presence, and even when his daughter told him that she had definitely made up her mind, he flatly declined to acknowledge as even possible what was indeed very imminent.
Nor did he ever step down from his ridiculous pinnacle of wounded self-love. Favourite daughter though she had been, Mr. Barrett never forgave her, held no communication with her even when she became a mother, and did not mention her in his will. It is needless to say anything more upon this subject. What Mr. and Mrs. Browning were invariably reticent upon can well be passed over with mere mention of the facts.
At the last moment there had been great hurry and confusion. But nevertheless, on the forenoon of the 12th of September 1846, Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett had unceremoniously stepped into St. Maryle-bone Church and there been married. So secret had the matter been kept that even such old friends as Richard Hengist Horne and Mr. Kenyon were in ignorance of the event for some time after it had actually occurred.
Mrs. Jameson made all haste to the hotel where the Brownings were, and ultimately persuaded them to leave the hotel for the quieter pension in the Rue Ville d'Eveque, where she and Mrs. Macpherson were staying. Thereafter it was agreed that, as soon as a fortnight had gone by, they should journey to Italy together.
Truly enough, as Mrs. Macpherson says, the journey must have been "enchanting, made in such companionship." Before departing from Paris, Mrs. Jameson, in writing to a friend, alluded to her unexpected companions, and added, "Both excellent: but God help them! for I know not how the two poet heads and poet hearts will get on through this prosaic world." This kindly friend was not the only person who experienced similar doubts. One acquaintance, no other than the Poet-Laureate, Wordsworth, added: "So, Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett have gone off together! Well, I hope they may understand each other—nobody else could!"
As a matter of fact they did, and to such good intent that they seem never to have had one hour of dissatisfaction, never one jar in the music of their lives.
What a happy wayfaring through France that must have been! The travelling had to be slow, and with frequent interruptions, on account of Mrs. Browning's health: yet she steadily improved, and was almost from the start able to take more exercise, and to be longer in the open air than had for long been her wont. They passed southward, and after some novel experiences in diligences, reached Avignon, where they rested for a couple of days. Thence a little expedition, a poetical pilgrimage, was made to Vaucluse, sacred to the memory of Petrarch and Laura. There, as Mrs. Macpherson has told us, at the very source of the "chiare, fresche e dolce acque," Browning took his wife up in his arms, and, carrying her across through the shallow curling waters, seated her on a rock that rose throne-like in the middle of the stream. Thus, indeed, did love and poetry take a new possession of the spot immortalised by Petrarch's loving fancy.
Three weeks passed happily before Pisa, the Brownings' destination, was reached. But even then the friends were unwilling to part, and Mrs. Jameson and her niece remained in the deserted old city for a score of days longer. So wonderful was the change wrought in Mrs. Browning by happiness, and by all the enfranchisement her marriage meant for her, that, as her friend wrote to Miss Mitford, "she is not merely improved but transformed." In the new sunshine which had come into her life, she blossomed like a flower-bud long delayed by gloom and chill. Her heart, in truth, was like a lark when wafted skyward by the first spring-wind.
At last to her there had come something of that peace she had longed for, and though, in the joy of her new life, her genius "like an Arab bird slept floating in the wind," it was with that restful hush which precedes the creative storm. There is something deeply pathetic in her conscious joy. So little actual experience of life had been hers that in many respects she was as a child: and she had all the child's yearning for those unsullied hours that never come when once they are missed. But it was not till love unfastened the inner chambers of her heart and brain that she realised to the full, what she had often doubted, how supreme a thing mere life is. It was in some such mood that she wrote the lovely forty-second of the "Sonnets from the Portuguese," closing thus—
"Let us stay Rather on earth, Beloved,—where the unfit Contrarious moods of men recoil away And isolate pure spirits, and permit A place to stand and love in for a day, With darkness and the death-hour rounding it."
As for Browning's love towards his wife, nothing more tender and chivalrous has ever been told of ideal lovers in an ideal romance. It is so beautiful a story that one often prefers it to the sweetest or loftiest poem that came from the lips of either. That love knew no soilure in the passage of the years. Like the flame of oriental legend, it was perennially incandescent though fed not otherwise than by sunlight and moonshine. If it alone survive, it may resolve the poetic fame of either into one imperishable, luminous ray of white light: as the uttered song fused in the deathless passion of Sappho gleams star-like down the centuries from the high steep of Leucadoe.
It was here, in Pisa, I have been told on indubitable authority, that Browning first saw in manuscript those "Sonnets from the Portuguese" which no poet of Portugal had ever written, which no man could have written, which no other woman than his wife could have composed. From the time when it had first dawned upon her that love was to be hers, and that the laurel of poetry was not to be her sole coronal, she had found expression for her exquisite trouble in these short poems, which she thinly disguised from 'inner publicity' when she issued them as "from the Portuguese."
It is pleasant to think of the shy delight with which the delicate, flower-like, almost ethereal poet-wife, in those memorable Pisan evenings—with the wind blowing soundingly from the hills of Carrara, or quiescent in a deep autumnal calm broken only by the slow wash of Arno along the sea-mossed long-deserted quays—showed her love-poems to her husband. With what love and pride he must have read those outpourings of the most sensitive and beautiful nature he had ever met, vials of lovely thought and lovelier emotion, all stored against the coming of a golden day.
"How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight For the ends of Being and ideal Grace. I love thee to the level of every day's Most quiet need, by sun and candle light. I love thee freely, as men strive for Right; I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise. I love thee with the passion put to use In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith. I love thee with a love I seemed to lose With my lost saints,—I love thee with the breath, Smiles, tears, of all my life!—and, if God choose, I shall but love thee better after Death!"
Even such heart-music as this cannot have thrilled him more than these two exquisite lines, with their truth almost too poignant to permit of serene joy—
"I yield the grave for thy sake, and exchange My near sweet view of heaven for earth with thee!"
Their Pisan home was amid sacred associations. It was situate in an old palazzo built by Vasari, within sight of the Leaning Tower and the Duomo. There, in absolute seclusion, they wrote and planned. Once and again they made a pilgrimage to the Lanfranchi Palace "to walk in the footsteps of Byron and Shelley": occasionally they went to Vespers in the Duomo, and listened, rapt, to the music wandering spirally through the vast solitary building: once they were fortunate in hearing the impressive musical mass for the dead, in the Campo Santo. They were even reminded often of their distant friend Horne, for every time they crossed one of the chief piazzas they saw the statue of Cosimo de Medici looking down upon them.
In this beautiful old city, so full of repose as it lies "asleep in the sun," Mrs. Browning's health almost leapt, so swift was her advance towards vigour. "She is getting better every day," wrote her husband, "stronger, better wonderfully, and beyond all our hopes."
That happy first winter they passed "in the most secluded manner, reading Vasari, and dreaming dreams of seeing Venice in the summer." But early in April, when the swallows had flown inland above the pines of Viareggio, and Shelley's favourite little Aziola was hooting silverly among the hollow vales of Carrara, the two poets prepared to leave what the frailer of them called "this perch of Pisa."
But with all its charm and happy associations, the little city was dull. "Even human faces divine are quite rococo with me," Mrs. Browning wrote to a friend. The change to Florence was a welcome one to both. Browning had already been there, but to his wife it was as the fulfilment of a dream. They did not at first go to that romantic old palace which will be for ever sociate with the author of "Casa Guidi Windows," but found accommodation in a more central locality.
When the June heats came, husband and wife both declared for Ancona, the picturesque little town which dreams out upon the Adriatic. But though so close to the sea, Ancona is in summer time almost insufferably hot. Instead of finding it cooler than Florence, it was as though they had leapt right into a cauldron. Alluding to it months later, Mrs. Browning wrote to Horne, "The heat was just the fiercest fire of your imagination, and I seethe to think of it at this distance."
It was a memorable journey all the same. They went to Ravenna, and at four o'clock one morning stood by Dante's tomb, moved deeply by the pathetic inscription and by all the associations it evoked. All along the coast from Ravenna to Loretto was new ground to both, and endlessly fascinating; in the passing and repassing of the Apennines they had 'wonderful visions of beauty and glory.' At Ancona itself, notwithstanding the heat, they spent a happy season. Here Browning wrote one of the loveliest of his short poems, "The Guardian Angel," which had its origin in Guercino's picture in the chapel at Fano. By the allusions in the sixth and eighth stanzas it is clear that the poem was inscribed to Alfred Domett, the poet's well-loved friend immortalised as "Waring." Doubtless it was written for no other reason than the urgency of song, for in it are the loving allusions to his wife, "my angel with me too," and "my love is here." Three times they went to the chapel, he tells us in the seventh stanza, to drink in to their souls' content the beauty of "dear Guercino's" picture. Browning has rarely uttered the purely personal note of his inner life. It is this that affords a peculiar value to "The Guardian Angel," over and above its technical beauty. In the concluding lines of the stanzas I am about to quote he gives the supreme expression to what was his deepest faith, his profoundest song-motive.
"I would not look up thither past thy head Because the door opes, like that child, I know, For I should have thy gracious face instead, Thou bird of God! And wilt thou bend me low Like him, and lay, like his, my hands together, And lift them up to pray, and gently tether Me, as thy lamb there, with thy garment's spread?
* * * * *
"How soon all worldly wrong would be repaired! I think how I should view the earth and skies And sea, when once again my brow was bared After thy healing, with such different eyes. O world, as God has made it! All is beauty: And knowing this, is love, and love is duty. What further may be sought for or declared?"
After the Adriatic coast was left, they hesitated as to returning to Florence, the doctors having laid such stress on the climatic suitability of Pisa for Mrs. Browning. But she felt so sure of herself in her new strength that it was decided to adventure upon at least one winter in the queen-city. They were fortunate in obtaining a residence in the old palace called Casa Guidi, in the Via Maggiore, over against the church of San Felice, and here, with a few brief intervals, they lived till death separated them.
On the little terrace outside there was more noble verse fashioned in the artist's creative silence than we can ever be aware of: but what a sacred place it must ever be for the lover of poetry! There, one ominous sultry eve, Browning, brooding over the story of a bygone Roman crime, foreshadowed "The Ring and the Book," and there, in the many years he dwelt in Casa Guidi, he wrote some of his finer shorter poems. There, also, "Aurora Leigh" was born, and many a lyric fresh with the dew of genius. Who has not looked at the old sunworn house and failed to think of that night when each square window of San Felice was aglow with festival lights, and when the summer lightnings fell silently in broad flame from cloud to cloud: or has failed to hear, down the narrow street, a little child go singing, 'neath Casa Guidi windows by the church, O bella liberta, O bella!
Better even than these, for happy dwelling upon, is the poem the two poets lived. Morning and day were full of work, study, or that pleasurable idleness which for the artist is so often his best inspiration. Here, on the little terrace, they used to sit together, or walk slowly to and fro, in conversation that was only less eloquent than silence. Here one day they received a letter from Horne. There is nothing of particular note in Mrs. Browning's reply, and yet there are not a few of her poems we would miss rather than these chance words—delicate outlines left for the reader to fill in: "We were reading your letter, together, on our little terrace—walking up and down reading it—I mean the letter to Robert—and then, at the end, suddenly turning, lo, just at the edge of the stones, just between the balustrades, and already fluttering in a breath of wind and about to fly away over San Felice's church, we caught a glimpse of the feather of a note to E.B.B. How near we were to the loss of it, to be sure!"
Happier still must have been the quiet evenings in late spring and summer, when, the one shrouded against possible chills, the other bare-headed and with loosened coat, walked slowly to and fro in the dark, conscious of "a busy human sense" below, but solitary on their balcony beyond the lamplit room.
"While in and out the terrace-plants, and round One branch of tall datura, waxed and waned The lamp-fly lured there, wanting the white flower."
An American friend has put on record his impressions of the two poets, and their home at this time. He had been called upon by Browning, and by him invited to take tea at Casa Guidi the same evening. There the visitor saw, "seated at the tea-table of the great room of the palace in which they were living, a very small, very slight woman, with very long curls drooping forward, almost across the eyes, hanging to the bosom, and quite concealing the pale, small face, from which the piercing inquiring eyes looked out sensitively at the stranger. Rising from her chair, she put out cordially the thin white hand of an invalid, and in a few moments they were pleasantly chatting, while the husband strode up and down the room, joining in the conversation with a vigour, humour, eagerness, and affluence of curious lore which, with his trenchant thought and subtle sympathy, make him one of the most charming and inspiring of companions."
In the autumn the same friend, joined by one or two other acquaintances, went with the Brownings to Vallombrosa for a couple of days, greatly to Mrs. Browning's delight, for whom the name had had a peculiar fascination ever since she had first encountered it in Milton.
She was conveyed up the steep way towards the monastery in a great basket, without wheels, drawn by two oxen: though, as she tells Miss Mitford, she did not get into the monastery after all, she and her maid being turned away by the monks "for the sin of womanhood." She was too much of an invalid to climb the steeper heights, but loved to lie under the great chestnuts upon the hill-slopes near the convent. At twilight they went to the little convent-chapel, and there Browning sat down at the organ and played some of those older melodies he loved so well.
It is, strangely enough, from Americans that we have the best account of the Brownings in their life at Casa Guidi: from R.H. Stoddart, Bayard Taylor, Nathaniel Hawthorne, George Stillman Hillard, and W.W. Story. I can find room, however, for but one excerpt:—
"Those who have known Casa Guidi as it was, could hardly enter the loved rooms now, and speak above a whisper. They who have been so favoured, can never forget the square anteroom, with its great picture and pianoforte, at which the boy Browning passed many an hour—the little dining-room covered with tapestry, and where hung medallions of Tennyson, Carlyle, and Robert Browning—the long room filled with plaster-casts and studies, which was Mrs. Browning's retreat—and, dearest of all, the large drawing-room where she always sat. It opens upon a balcony filled with plants, and looks out upon the iron-grey church of Santa Felice. There was something about this room that seemed to make it a proper and especial haunt for poets. The dark shadows and subdued light gave it a dreary look, which was enhanced by the tapestry-covered walls, and the old pictures of saints that looked out sadly from their carved frames of black wood. Large bookcases constructed of specimens of Florentine carving selected by Mr. Browning were brimming over with wise-looking books. Tables were covered with more gaily-bound volumes, the gifts of brother authors. Dante's grave profile, a cast of Keats's face and brow taken after death, a pen-and-ink sketch of Tennyson, the genial face of John Kenyon, Mrs. Browning's good friend and relative, little paintings of the boy Browning, all attracted the eye in turn, and gave rise to a thousand musings. A quaint mirror, easy-chairs and sofas, and a hundred nothings that always add an indescribable charm, were all massed in this room. But the glory of all, and that which sanctified all, was seated in a low arm-chair near the door. A small table, strewn with writing-materials, books, and newspapers, was always by her side.... After her death, her husband had a careful water-colour drawing made of this room, which has been engraved more than once. It still hangs in his drawing-room, where the mirror and one of the quaint chairs above named still are. The low arm-chair and small table are in Browning's study—with his father's desk, on which he has written all his poems."—(W.W. Story.)
To Mr. and Mrs. Hawthorne, Mr. Hillard, and Mr. Story, in particular, we are indebted for several delightful glimpses into the home-life of the two poets. We can see Mrs. Browning in her "ideal chamber," neither a library nor a sitting-room, but a happy blending of both, with the numerous old paintings in antique Florentine frames, easy-chairs and lounges, carved bookcases crammed with books in many languages, bric-a-brac in any quantity, but always artistic, flowers everywhere, and herself the frailest flower of all.
Mr. Hillard speaks of the happiness of the Brownings' home and their union as perfect: he, full of manly power, she, the type of the most sensitive and delicate womanhood. This much-esteemed friend was fascinated by Mrs. Browning. Again and again he alludes to her exceeding spirituality: "She is a soul of fire enclosed in a shell of pearl:" her frame "the transparent veil for a celestial and mortal spirit:" and those fine words which prove that he too was of the brotherhood of the poets, "Her tremulous voice often flutters over her words like the flame of a dying candle over the wick."
With the flower-tide of spring in 1849 came a new happiness to the two poets: the son who was born on the 9th of March. The boy was called Robert Wiedemann Barrett, the second name, in remembrance of Browning's much-loved mother, having been substituted for the "Sarianna" wherewith the child, if a girl, was to have been christened. Thereafter their "own young Florentine" was an endless joy and pride to both: and he was doubly loved by his father for his having brought a renewal of life to her who bore him.
That autumn they went to the country, to the neighbourhood of Vallombrosa, and then to the Bagni di Lucca. There they wandered content in chestnut-forests, and gathered grapes at the vintage.
Early in the year Browning's "Poetical Works" were published in two volumes. Some of the most beautiful of his shorter poems are to be found therein. What a new note is struck throughout, what range of subject there is! Among them all, are there any more treasurable than two of the simplest, "Home Thoughts from Abroad" and "Night and Morning"?
"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 all 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!"
A more significant note is struck in "Meeting at Night" and "Parting at Morning."
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 lass loud, through its joys and fears, Than the two hearts beating each to each!
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.
The following winter, when they were again at their Florentine home, Browning wrote his "Christmas Eve and Easter Day," that remarkable apologia for Christianity, and close-reasoned presentation of the religious thought of the time. It is, however, for this reason that it is so widely known and admired: for it is ever easier to attract readers by dogma than by beauty, by intellectual argument than by the seduction of art. Coincidently, Mrs. Browning wrote the first portion of "Casa Guidi Windows."
In the spring of 1850 husband and wife spent a short stay in Rome. I have been told that the poem entitled 'Two in the Campagna' was as actually personal as the already quoted "Guardian Angel." But I do not think stress should be laid on this and kindred localisations. Exact or not, they have no literary value. To the poet, the dramatic poet above all, locality and actuality of experience are, so to say, merely fortunate coigns of outlook, for the winged genius to temporally inhabit. To the imaginative mind, truth is not simply actuality. As for 'Two in the Campagna': it is too universally true to be merely personal. There is a gulf which not the profoundest search can fathom, which not the strongest-winged love can overreach: the gulf of individuality. It is those who have loved most deeply who recognise most acutely this always pathetic and often terrifying isolation of the soul. None save the weak can believe in the absolute union of two spirits. If this were demonstratable, immortality would be a palpable fiction. The moment individuality can lapse to fusion, that moment the tide has ebbed, the wind has fallen, the dream has been dreamed. So long as the soul remains inviolate amid all shock of time and change, so long is it immortal. No man, no poet assuredly, could love as Browning loved, and fail to be aware, often with vague anger and bitterness, no doubt, of this insuperable isolation even when spirit seemed to leap to spirit, in the touch of a kiss, in the evanishing sigh of some one or other exquisite moment. The poem tells us how the lovers, straying hand in hand one May day across the Campagna, sat down among the seeding grasses, content at first in the idle watching of a spider spinning her gossamer threads from yellowing fennel to other vagrant weeds. All around them
"The champaign with its endless fleece Of feathery grasses everywhere! Silence and passion, joy and peace, An everlasting wash of air— ...
"Such life here, through such length of hours, Such miracles performed in play, Such primal naked forms of flowers, Such letting nature have her way." ...
Let us too be unashamed of soul, the poet-lover says, even as earth lies bare to heaven. Nothing is to be overlooked. But all in vain: in vain "I drink my fill at your soul's springs."
"Just when I seemed about to learn! Where is the thread now? off again! The old trick! Only I discern— Infinite passion, and the pain Of finite hearts that yearn."
It was during this visit to Rome that both were gratified by the proposal in the leading English literary weekly, that the Poet-Laureateship, vacant by the death of Wordsworth, should be conferred upon Mrs. Browning: though both rejoiced when they learned that the honour had devolved upon one whom each so ardently admired as Alfred Tennyson. In 1851 a visit was paid to England, not one very much looked forward to by Mrs. Browning, who had never had cause to yearn for her old home in Wimpole Street, and who could anticipate no reconciliation with her father, who had persistently refused even to open her letters to him, and had forbidden the mention of her name in his home circle.
Bayard Taylor, in his travel-sketches published under the title "At Home and Abroad," has put on record how he called upon the Brownings one afternoon in September, at their rooms in Devonshire Street, and found them on the eve of their return to Italy.
In his cheerful alertness, self-possession, and genial suavity Browning impressed him as an American rather than as an Englishman, though there can be no question but that no more thorough Englishman than the poet ever lived. It is a mistake, of course, to speak of him as a typical Englishman: for typical he was not, except in a very exclusive sense. Bayard Taylor describes him in reportorial fashion as being apparently about seven-and-thirty (a fairly close guess), with his dark hair already streaked with grey about the temples: with a fair complexion, just tinged with faintest olive: eyes large, clear, and grey, and nose strong and well-cut, mouth full and rather broad, and chin pointed, though not prominent: about the medium height, strong in the shoulders, but slender at the waist, with movements expressive of a combination of vigour and elasticity. With due allowance for the passage of five-and-thirty years, this description would not be inaccurate of Browning the septuagenarian.
They did not return direct to Italy after all, but wintered in Paris with Robert Browning the elder, who had retired to a small house in a street leading off the Champs Elysees. The pension he drew from the Bank of England was a small one, but, with what he otherwise had, was sufficient for him to live in comfort. The old gentleman's health was superb to the last, for he died in 1866 without ever having known a day's illness.
Spring came out and found them still in Paris, Mrs. Browning enthusiastic about Napoleon III. and interested in spiritualism: her husband serenely sceptical concerning both. In the summer they again went to London: but they appear to have seen more of Kenyon and other intimate friends than to have led a busy social life. Kenyon's friendship and good company never ceased to have a charm for both poets. Mrs. Browning loved him almost as a brother: her husband told Bayard Taylor, on the day when that good poet and charming man called upon them, and after another visitor had departed—a man with a large rosy face and rotund body, as Taylor describes him—"there goes one of the most splendid men living—a man so noble in his friendship, so lavish in his hospitality, so large-hearted and benevolent, that he deserves to be known all over the world as Kenyon the Magnificent."
In the early autumn a sudden move towards Italy was again made, and after a few weeks in Paris and on the way the Brownings found themselves at home once more in Casa Guidi.
But before this, probably indeed before they had left Paris for London, Mr. Moxon had published the now notorious Shelley forgeries. These were twenty-five spurious letters, but so cleverly manufactured that they at first deceived many people. In the preceding November Browning had been asked to write an introduction to them. This he had gladly agreed to do, eager as he was for a suitable opportunity of expressing his admiration for Shelley. When the letters reached him, he found that, genuine or not, though he never suspected they were forgeries, they contained nothing of particular import, nothing that afforded a just basis for what he had intended to say. Pledged as he was, however, to write something for Mr. Moxon's edition of the Letters, he set about the composition of an Essay, of a general as much as of an individual nature. This he wrote in Paris, and finished by the beginning of December. It dealt with the objective and subjective poet; on the relation of the latter's life to his work; and upon Shelley in the light of his nature, art, and character. Apart from the circumstance that it is the only independent prose writing of any length from Browning's pen, this is an exceptionally able and interesting production.
Dr. Furnivall deserves general gratitude for his obtaining the author's leave to re-issue it, and for having published it as one of the papers of the Browning Society. As that enthusiastic student and good friend of the poet says in his "foretalk" to the reprint, the essay is noteworthy, not merely as a signal service to Shelley's fame and memory, but for Browning's statement of his own aim in his own work, both as objective and subjective poet. The same clear-sightedness and impartial sympathy, which are such distinguishing characteristics of his dramatic studies of human thought and emotion, are obvious in Browning's Shelley essay. "It would be idle to enquire," he writes, "of these two kinds of poetic faculty in operation, which is the higher or even rarer endowment. If the subjective might seem to be the ultimate requirement of every age, the objective in the strictest state must still retain its original value. For it is with this world, as starting-point and basis alike, that we shall always have to concern ourselves; the world is not to be learned and thrown aside, but reverted to and reclaimed."
Of its critical subtlety—the more remarkable as by a poet-critic who revered Shelley the poet and loved and believed in Shelley the man—the best example, perhaps, is in those passages where he alludes to the charge against the poet's moral nature—"charges which, if substantiated to their wide breadth, would materially disturb, I do not deny, our reception and enjoyment of his works, however wonderful the artistic qualities of these. For we are not sufficiently supplied with instances of genius of his order to be able to pronounce certainly how many of its constituent parts have been tasked and strained to the production of a given lie, and how high and pure a mood of the creative mind may be dramatically simulated as the poet's habitual and exclusive one."
The large charity, the liberal human sympathy, the keen critical acumen of this essay, make one wish that the author had spared us a "Sludge the Medium" or a "Pacchiarotto," or even a "Prince Hohenstiel-Schwangau," and given us more of such honourable work in "the other harmony."
Glad as the Brownings were to be home again at Casa Guidi, they could not enjoy the midsummer heats of Florence, and so went to the Baths of Lucca. It was a delight for them to ramble among the chestnut-woods of the high Tuscan forests, and to go among the grape-vines where the sunburnt vintagers were busy. Once Browning paid a visit to that remote hill-stream and waterfall, high up in a precipitous glen, where, more than three-score years earlier, Shelley had been wont to amuse himself by sitting naked on a rock in the sunlight, reading Herodotus while he cooled, and then plunging into the deep pool beneath him—to emerge, further up stream, and then climb through the spray of the waterfall till he was like a glittering human wraith in the middle of a dissolving rainbow.
Those Tuscan forests, that high crown of Lucca, must always have special associations for lovers of poetry. Here Shelley lived, rapt in his beautiful dreams, and translated the Symposium so that his wife might share something of his delight in Plato. Here, ten years later, Heine sneered, and laughed and wept, and sneered again—drank tea with "la belle Irlandaise," flirted with Francesca "la ballerina," and wrote alternately with a feathered quill from the breast of a nightingale and with a lancet steeped in aquafortis: and here, a quarter of a century afterward, Robert and Elizabeth Browning also laughed and wept and "joyed i' the sun," dreamed many dreams, and touched chords of beauty whose vibration has become incorporated with the larger rhythm of all that is high and enduring in our literature.
On returning to Florence (Browning with the MS. of the greater part of his splendid fragmentary tragedy, "In a Balcony," composed mainly while walking alone through the forest glades), Mrs. Browning found that the chill breath of the tramontana was affecting her lungs, so a move was made to Rome, for the passing of the winter (1853-4). In the spring their little boy, their beloved "Pen," became ill with malaria. This delayed their return to Florence till well on in the summer. During this stay in Rome Mrs. Browning rapidly proceeded with "Aurora Leigh," and Browning wrote several of his "Men and Women," including the exquisite 'Love among the Ruins,' with its novel metrical music; 'Fra Lippo Lippi,' where the painter, already immortalised by Landor, has his third warrant of perpetuity; the 'Epistle of Karshish' (in part); 'Memorabilia' (composed on the Campagna); 'Saul,' a portion of which had been written and published ten years previously, that noble and lofty utterance, with its trumpet-like note of the regnant spirit; the concluding part of "In a Balcony;" and 'Holy Cross Day'—besides, probably, one or two others. In the late spring (April 27th) also, he wrote the short dactylic lyric, 'Ben Karshook's Wisdom.' This little poem was given to a friend for appearance in one of the then popular Keepsakes—literally given, for Browning never contributed to magazines. The very few exceptions to this rule were the result of a kindliness stronger than scruple: as when (1844), at request of Lord Houghton (then Mr. Monckton Milnes), he sent 'Tokay,' the 'Flower's Name,' and 'Sibrandus Schafnaburgensis,' to "help in making up some magazine numbers for poor Hood, then at the point of death from hemorrhage of the lungs, occasioned by the enlargement of the heart, which had been brought on by the wearing excitement of ceaseless and excessive literary toil." As 'Ben Karshook's Wisdom,' though it has been reprinted in several quarters, will not be found in any volume of Browning's works, and was omitted from "Men and Women" by accident, and from further collections by forgetfulness, it may be fitly quoted here. Karshook, it may be added, is the Hebraic word for a thistle.
[Footnote 22: So-called, it is asserted, from his childish effort to pronounce a difficult name (Wiedemann). But despite the good authority for this statement, it is impossible not to credit rather the explanation given by Nathaniel Hawthorne, who, moreover, affords the practically definite proof that the boy was at first, as a term of endearment, called "Pennini," which was later abbreviated to "Pen." The cognomen, Hawthorne states, was a diminutive of "Apennino," which was bestowed upon the boy in babyhood because he was very small, there being a statue in Florence of colossal size called "Apennino."]
"'Would a man 'scape the rod'?— Rabbi Ben Karshook saith, 'See that he turns to God The day before his death.'
'Ay, could a man inquire When it shall come!' I say. The Rabbi's eye shoots fire— 'Then let him turn to-day!'
Quoth a young Sadducee,— 'Reader of many rolls, Is it so certain we Have, as they tell us, souls?'—
'Son, there is no reply!' The Rabbi bit his beard: 'Certain, a soul have I— We may have none,' he sneer'd.
Thus Karshook, the Hiram's Hammer, The Right-Hand Temple column, Taught babes their grace in grammar, And struck the simple, solemn."
It was in this year (1855) that "Men and Women" was published. It is difficult to understand how a collection comprising poems such as "Love among the Ruins," "Evelyn Hope," "Fra Lippo Lippi," "A Toccata of Galuppi's," "Any Wife to any Husband," "Master Hugues of Saxe-Gotha," "Andrea del Sarto," "In a Balcony," "Saul," "A Grammarian's Funeral," to mention only ten now almost universally known, did not at once obtain a national popularity for the author. But lovers of literature were simply enthralled: and the two volumes had a welcome from them which was perhaps all the more ardent because of their disproportionate numbers. Ears alert to novel poetic music must have thrilled to the new strain which sounded first—"Love among the Ruins," with its Millet-like opening—
"Where the quiet-coloured end of evening smiles, Miles and miles On the solitary pastures where our sheep Half asleep Tinkle homeward through the twilight, stray or stop As they crop— Was the site once of a city great and gay ..."
Soon after the return to Florence, which, hot as it was, was preferable in July to Rome, Mrs. Browning wrote to her frequent correspondent Miss Mitford, and mentioned that about four thousand lines of "Aurora Leigh" had been written. She added a significant passage: that her husband had not seen a single line of it up to that time—significant, as one of the several indications that the union of Browning and his wife was indeed a marriage of true minds, wherein nothing of the common bane of matrimonial life found existence. Moreover, both were artists, and, therefore, too full of respect for themselves and their art to bring in any way the undue influence of each other into play.
By the spring of 1856, however, the first six "books" were concluded: and these, at once with humility and pride, Mrs. Browning placed in her husband's hands. The remaining three books were written, in the summer, in John Kenyon's London house.
It was her best, her fullest answer to the beautiful dedicatory poem, "One Word More," wherewith her husband, a few months earlier, sent forth his "Men and Women," to be for ever associated with "E.B.B."
"There they are, my fifty men and women Naming me the fifty poems finished! Take them, Love, the book and me together: Where the heart lies, let the brain lie also.
This I say of me, but think of you, Love! This to you—yourself my moon of poets! Ah, but that's the world's side, there's the wonder, Thus they see you, praise you, think they know you! There, in turn I stand with them and praise you— Out of my own self, I dare to phrase it. But the best is when I glide from out them, Cross a step or two of dubious twilight, Come out on the other side, the novel Silent silver lights and darks undreamed of, Where I hush and bless myself with silence."
The transference from Florence to London was made in May. In the summer "Aurora Leigh" was published, and met with an almost unparalleled success: even Landor, most exigent of critics, declared that he was "half drunk with it," that it had an imagination germane to that of Shakspere, and so forth.
The poem was dedicated to Kenyon, and on their homeward way the Brownings were startled and shocked to hear of his sudden death. By the time they had arrived at Casa Guidi again they learned that their good friend had not forgotten them in the disposition of his large fortune. To Browning he bequeathed six thousand, to Mrs. Browning four thousand guineas. This loss was followed early in the ensuing year (1857) by the death of Mr. Barrett, steadfast to the last in his refusal of reconciliation with his daughter.
Winters and summers passed happily in Italy—with one period of feverish anxiety, when the little boy lay for six weeks dangerously ill, nursed day and night by his father and mother alternately—with pleasant occasionings, as the companionship for a season of Nathaniel Hawthorne and his family, or of weeks spent at Siena with valued and lifelong friends, W.W. Story, the poet-sculptor, and his wife.
So early as 1858 Mrs. Hawthorne believed she saw the heralds of death in Mrs. Browning's excessive pallor and the hectic flush upon the cheeks, in her extreme fragility and weakness, and in her catching, fluttering breath. Even the motion of a visitor's fan perturbed her. But "her soul was mighty, and a great love kept her on earth a season longer. She was a seraph in her flaming worship of heart." "She lives so ardently," adds Mrs. Hawthorne, "that her delicate earthly vesture must soon be burnt up and destroyed by her soul of pure fire."
Yet, notwithstanding, she still sailed the seas of life, like one of those fragile argonauts in their shells of foam and rainbow-mist which will withstand the rude surge of winds and waves. But slowly, gradually, the spirit was o'erfretting its tenement. With the waning of her strength came back the old passionate longing for rest, for quiescence from that "excitement from within," which had been almost over vehement for her in the calm days of her unmarried life.
It is significant that at this time Browning's genius was relatively dormant. Its wings were resting for the long-sustained flight of "The Ring and the Book," and for earlier and shorter though not less royal aerial journeyings. But also, no doubt, the prolonged comparatively unproductive period of eight or nine years (1855-1864), between the publication of "Men and Women" and "Dramatis Personae," was due in some measure to the poet's incessant and anxious care for his wife, to the deep sorrow of witnessing her slow but visible passing away, and to the profound grief occasioned by her death. However, barrenness of imaginative creative activity can be only very relatively affirmed, even of so long a period, of years wherein were written such memorable and treasurable poems as 'James Lee's Wife,' among Browning's writings what 'Maud' is among Lord Tennyson's; 'Gold Hair: a Legend of Pornic;' 'Dis Aliter Visum;' 'Abt Vogler,' the most notable production of its kind in the language; 'A Death in the Desert,' that singular and impressive study; 'Caliban upon Setebos,' in its strange potency of interest and stranger poetic note, absolutely unique; 'Youth and Art;' 'Apparent Failure;' 'Prospice,' that noble lyrical defiance of death; and the supremely lofty and significant series of weighty stanzas, 'Rabbi Ben Ezra,' the most quintessential of all the distinctively psychical monologues which Browning has written. It seems to me that if these two poems only, "Prospice" and "Rabbi Ben Ezra," were to survive to the day of Macaulay's New Zealander, the contemporaries of that meditative traveller would have sufficient to enable them to understand the great fame of the poet of "dim ancestral days," as the more acute among them could discern something of the real Shelley, though time had preserved but the three lines—
"Yet now despair itself is mild, Even as the winds and waters are; I could lie down like a tired child" ...
something of the real Catullus, through the mists of remote antiquity, if there had not perished the single passionate cry—
"Lesbia illa, Illa Lesbia, quam Catullus unam Plus quam se, atque suos amavit omnes!"
At the beginning of July (1858), the Brownings left Florence for the summer and autumn, and by easy stages travelled to Normandy. Here the invalid benefited considerably at first: and here, I may add, Browning wrote his 'Legend of Pornic,' 'Gold-Hair.' This poem of twenty-seven five-line stanzas (which differs only from that in more recent "Collected Works," and "Selections," in its lack of the three stanzas now numbered xxi., xxii., and xxiii.) was printed for limited private circulation, though primarily for the purpose of securing American copyright. Browning several times printed single poems thus, and for the same reasons—that is, either for transatlantic copyright, or when the verses were not likely to be included in any volume for a prolonged period. These leaflets or half-sheetlets of 'Gold Hair' and 'Prospice,' of 'Cleon' and 'The Statue and the Bust'—together with the "Two Poems by Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning," published, for benefit of a charity, in 1854—are among the rarest "finds" for the collector, and are literally worth a good deal more than their weight in gold.
In the tumultuous year of 1859 all Italy was in a ferment. No patriot among the Nationalists was more ardent in her hopes than the delicate, too fragile, dying poetess, whose flame of life burned anew with the great hopes that animated her for her adopted country. Well indeed did she deserve, among the lines which the poet Tommaseo wrote and the Florence municipality caused to be engraved in gold upon a white marble slab, to be placed upon Casa Guidi, the words fece del suo verso aureo anello fra Italia e Inghilterra—"who of her Verse made a golden link connecting England and Italy."
The victories of Solferino and San Martino made the bitterness of the disgraceful Treaty of Villafranca the more hard to bear. Even had we not Mr. Story's evidence, it would be a natural conclusion that this disastrous ending to the high hopes of the Italian patriots accelerated Mrs. Browning's death. The withdrawal of hope is often worse in its physical effects than any direct bodily ill.
It was a miserable summer for both husband and wife, for more private sorrows also pressed upon them. Not even the sweet autumnal winds blowing upon Siena wafted away the shadow that had settled upon the invalid: nor was there medicine for her in the air of Rome, where the winter was spent. A temporary relief, however, was afforded by the more genial climate, and in the spring of 1860 she was able, with Browning's help, to see her Italian patriotic poems through the press. It goes without saying that these "Poems before Congress" had a grudging reception from the critics, because they dared to hint that all was not roseate-hued in England. The true patriots are those who love despite blemishes, not those who cherish the blemishes along with the virtues. To hint at a flaw is "not to be an Englishman."
The autumn brought a new sadness in the death of Miss Arabella Barrett—a dearly loved sister, the "Arabel" of so many affectionate letters. Once more a winter in Rome proved temporally restorative. But at last the day came when she wrote her last poem—"North and South," a gracious welcome to Hans Christian Andersen on the occasion of his first visit to the Eternal City.
Early in June of 1861 the Brownings were once more at Casa Guidi. But soon after their return the invalid caught a chill. For a few days she hovered like a tired bird—though her friends saw only the seemingly unquenchable light in the starry eyes, and did not anticipate the silence that was soon to be.
By the evening of the 28th day of the month she was in sore peril of failing breath. All night her husband sat by her, holding her hand. Two hours before dawn she realised that her last breath would ere long fall upon his tear-wet face. Then, as a friend has told us, she passed into a state of ecstasy: yet not so rapt therein but that she could whisper many words of hope, even of joy. With the first light of the new day, she leaned against her lover. Awhile she lay thus in silence, and then, softly sighing "It is beautiful!" passed like the windy fragrance of a flower.
It is needless to dwell upon what followed. The world has all that need be known. To Browning himself it was the abrupt, the too deeply pathetic, yet not wholly unhappy ending of a lovelier poem than any he or another should ever write, the poem of their married life.
There is a rare serenity in the thought of death when it is known to be the gate of life. This conviction Browning had, and so his grief was rather that of one whose joy has westered earlier. The sweetest music of his life had withdrawn: but there was still music for one to whom life in itself was a happiness. He had his son, and was not void of other solace: but even had it been otherwise he was of the strenuous natures who never succumb, nor wish to die—whatever accident of mortality overcome the will and the power.
It was in the autumn following his wife's death that he wrote the noble poem to which allusion has already been made: "Prospice." Who does not thrill to its close, when all of gloom or terror
"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."
There are few direct allusions to his wife in Browning's poems. Of those prior to her death the most beautiful is "One Word More," which has been already quoted in part: of the two or three subsequent to that event none surpasses the magic close of the first part of "The Ring and the Book."
Thereafter the details of his life are public property. He all along lived in the light, partly from his possession of that serenity which made Goethe glad to be alive and to be able to make others share in that gladness. No poet has been more revered and more loved. His personality will long be a stirring tradition. In the presence of his simple manliness and wealth of all generous qualities one is inclined to pass by as valueless, as the mere flying spray of the welcome shower, the many honours and gratifications that befell him. Even if these things mattered, concerning one by whose genius we are fascinated, while undazzled by the mere accidents pertinent thereto, their recital would be wearisome—of how he was asked to be Lord Rector of this University, or made a doctor of laws at that: of how letters and tributes of all kinds came to him from every district in our Empire, from every country in the world: and so forth. All these things are implied in the circumstance that his life was throughout "a noble music with a golden ending."
In 1866 his father died in Paris, strenuous in life until the very end. After this event Miss Sarianna Browning went to reside with her brother, and from that time onward was his inseparable companion, and ever one of the dearest and most helpful of friends. In latter years brother and sister were constantly seen together, and so regular attendants were they at such functions as the "Private Views" at the Royal Academy and Grosvenor Gallery, that these never seemed complete without them. A Private View, a first appearance of Joachim or Sarasate, a first concert of Richter or Henschel or Halle, at each of these, almost to a certainty, the poet was sure to appear. The chief personal happiness of his later life was in his son. Mr. R. Barrett Browning is so well known as a painter and sculptor that it would be superfluous for me to add anything further here, except to state that his successes were his father's keenest pleasures.
Two years after his father's death, that is in 1868, the "Poetical Works of Robert Browning, M.A., Honorary Fellow of Baliol College, Oxford," were issued in six volumes. Here the equator of Browning's genius may be drawn. On the further side lie the "Men and Women" of the period anterior to "The Ring and the Book": midway is the transitional zone itself: on the hither side are the "Men and Women" of a more temperate if not colder clime.
The first part of "The Ring and the Book" was not published till November. In September the poet was staying with his sister and son at Le Croisic, a picturesque village at the mouth of the Loire, at the end of the great salt plains which stretch down from Guerande to the Bay of Biscay. No doubt, in lying on the sand-dunes in the golden September glow, in looking upon the there somewhat turbid current of the Loire, the poet brooded on those days when he saw its inland waters with her who was with him no longer save in dreams and memories. Here he wrote that stirring poem, "Herve Riel," founded upon the valorous action of a French sailor who frustrated the naval might of England, and claimed nothing as a reward save permission to have a holiday on land to spend a few hours with his wife, "la belle Aurore." "Herve Riel" (which has been translated into French, and is often recited, particularly in the maritime towns, and is always evocative of enthusiastic applause) is one of Browning's finest action-lyrics, and is assured of the same immortality as "How they brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix," or the "Pied Piper" himself.
In 1872 there was practical proof of the poet's growing popularity. Baron Tauchnitz issued two volumes of excellently selected poems, comprising some of the best of "Men and Women," "Dramatis Personae," and "Dramatic Romances," besides the longer "Soul's Tragedy," "Luria," "In a Balcony," and "Christmas Eve and Easter Day"—the most Christian poem of the century, according to one eminent cleric, the heterodox self-sophistication of a free-thinker, according to another: really, the reflex of a great crisis, that of the first movement of the tide of religious thought to a practically limitless freedom. This edition also contained "Bishop Blougram," then much discussed, apart from its poetic and intellectual worth, on account of its supposed verisimilitude in portraiture of Cardinal Wiseman. This composition, one of Browning's most characteristic, is so clever that it is scarcely a poem. Poetry and Cleverness do not well agree, the muse being already united in perfect marriage to Imagination. In his Essay on Truth, Bacon says that one of the Fathers called poetry Vinum Daemonum, because it filleth the imagination. Certainly if it be not vinum daemonum it is not Poetry.
In this year also appeared the first series of "Selections" by the poet's latest publishers: "Dedicated to Alfred Tennyson. In Poetry—illustrious and consummate: In Friendship—noble and sincere." It was in his preface to this selection that he wrote the often-quoted words: "Nor do I apprehend any more charges of being wilfully obscure, unconscientiously careless, or perversely harsh." At or about the date of these "Selections" the poet wrote to a friend, on this very point of obscurity, "I can have little doubt that my writing has been in the main too hard for many I should have been pleased to communicate with; but I never designedly tried to puzzle people, as some of my critics have supposed. On the other hand, I never pretended to offer such literature as should be a substitute for a cigar or a game at dominoes to an idle man. So perhaps, on the whole, I get my deserts, and something over—not a crowd, but a few I value more."
In 1877 Browning, ever restless for pastures new, went with his sister to spend the autumn at La Saisiaz (Savoyard for "the sun"), a villa among the mountains near Geneva; this time with the additional company of Miss Anne Egerton Smith, an intimate and valued friend. But there was an unhappy close to the holiday. Miss Smith died on the night of the fourteenth of September, from heart complaint. "La Saisiaz" is the direct outcome of this incident, and is one of the most beautiful of Browning's later poems. Its trochaics move with a tide-like sound.
At the close, there is a line which might stand as epitaph for the poet—
"He, at least, believed in Soul, was very sure of God."
In the following year "La Saisiaz" was published along with "The Two Poets of Croisic," which was begun and partly written at the little French village ten years previously. There is nothing of the eight-score stanzas of the "Two Poets" to equal its delightful epilogue, or the exquisite prefatory lyric, beginning
"Such a starved bank of moss Till that May-morn Blue ran the flash across: Violets were born."
Extremely interesting—and for myself I cannot find "The Two Poets of Croisic" to be anything more than "interesting"—it is as a poem distinctly inferior to "La Saisiaz." Although detached lines are often far from truly indicative of the real poetic status of a long poem, where proportion and harmony are of more importance than casual exfoliations of beauty, yet to a certain extent they do serve as musical keys that give the fundamental tone. One certainly would have to search in vain to find in the Croisic poem such lines as
"Five short days, scarce enough to Bronze the clustered wilding apple, redden ripe the mountain ash."
Or these of Mont Blanc, seen at sunset, towering over icy pinnacles and teeth-like peaks,
"Blanc, supreme above his earth-brood, needles red and white and green, Horns of silver, fangs of crystal set on edge in his demesne."
Or, again, this of the sun swinging himself above the dark shoulder of Jura—
"Gay he hails her, and magnific, thrilled her black length burns to gold."
Or, finally, this sounding verse—
"Past the city's congregated peace of homes and pomp of spires."
The other poems later than "The Ring and the Book" are, broadly speaking, of two kinds. On the one side may be ranged the groups which really cohere with "Men and Women." These are "The Inn Album," the miscellaneous poems of the "Pacchiarotto" volume, the "Dramatic Idyls," some of "Jocoseria," and some of "Asolando." "Ferishtah's Fancies" and "Parleyings" are not, collectively, dramatic poems, but poems of illuminative insight guided by a dramatic imagination. They, and the classical poems and translations (renderings, rather, by one whose own individuality dominates them to the exclusion of that nearness of the original author, which it should be the primary aim of the translator to evoke), the beautiful "Balaustion's Adventure," "Aristophanes' Apology," and "The Agamemnon of Aeschylus," and the third group, which comprises "Prince Hohenstiel-Schwangau," "Red Cotton Nightcap Country," and "Fifine at the Fair"—these three groups are of the second kind.
[Footnote 23: In a letter to a friend, Browning wrote:—"I hope and believe that one or two careful readings of the Poem [Ferishtah's Fancies] will make its sense clear enough. Above all, pray allow for the Poet's inventiveness in any case, and do not suppose there is more than a thin disguise of a few Persian names and allusions. There was no such person as Ferishtah—the stories are all inventions. ... The Hebrew quotations are put in for a purpose, as a direct acknowledgment that certain doctrines may be found in the Old Book, which the Concocters of Novel Schemes of Morality put forth as discoveries of their own."]
Remarkable as are the three last-named productions, it is extremely doubtful if the first and second will be read for pleasure by readers born after the close of this century. As it is impossible, in my narrow limits, to go into any detail about poems which personally I do not regard as essential to the truest understanding of Browning, the truest because on the highest level, that of poetry—as distinct from dogma, or intellectual suasion of any kind that might, for all its aesthetic charm, be in prose—it would be presumptuous to assert anything derogatory of them without attempting adequate substantiation. I can, therefore, merely state my own opinion. To reiterate, it is that, for different reasons, these three long poems are foredoomed to oblivion—not, of course, to be lost to the student of our literature and of our age, a more wonderful one even than that of the Renaissance, but to lapse from the general regard. That each will for a long time find appreciative readers is certain. They have a fascination for alert minds, and they have not infrequent ramifications which are worth pursuing for the glimpses afforded into an always evanishing Promised Land. "Prince Hohenstiel-Schwangau" (the name, by the way, is not purely fanciful, being formed from Hohen Schwangau, one of the castles of the late King of Bavaria) is Browning's complement to his wife's "Ode to Napoleon III." "Red Cotton Nightcap Country" is a true story, the narrative of the circumstances pertinent to the tragic death of one Antonio Mellerio, a Paris jeweller, which occurred in 1870 at St. Aubin in Normandy, where, indeed, the poet first heard of it in all its details. It is a story which, if the method of poetry and the method of prose could for a moment be accepted as equivalent, might be said to be of the school of a light and humorously grotesque Zola. It has the fundamental weakness of "The Ring and the Book"—the weakness of an inadequate ethical basis. It is, indeed, to that great work what a second-rate novelette is to a masterpiece of fiction.