Intendant. What am I to expect? You are going to punish me?
Monsignor. Must punish you, Maffeo. I cannot afford to cast away a chance. I have whole centuries of sin to redeem, and only a month or two of life to do it in. 120 How should I dare to say—
Intendant. "Forgive us our trespasses"?
Monsignor. My friend, it is because I avow myself a very worm, sinful beyond measure, that I reject a line of conduct you would applaud perhaps. Shall I proceed, 125 as it were, a-pardoning?—I?—who have no symptom of reason to assume that aught less than my strenuousest efforts will keep myself out of mortal sin, much less keep others out. No: I do trespass, but will not double that by allowing you to trespass. 130
Intendant. And suppose the villas are not your brother's to give, nor yours to take? Oh, you are hasty enough just now!
Monsignor. 1, 2—No. 3!—aye, can you read the substance of a letter, No. 3, I have received from Rome? It 135 is precisely on the ground there mentioned, of the suspicion I have that a certain child of my late elder brother, who would have succeeded to his estates, was murdered in infancy by you, Maffeo, at the instigation of my late younger brother—that the Pontiff enjoins on me not 140 merely the bringing that Maffeo to condign punishment, but the taking all pains, as guardian of the infant's heritage for the Church, to recover it parcel by parcel, howsoever, whensoever, and wheresoever. While you are now gnawing those fingers, the police are engaged in sealing 145 up your papers, Maffeo, and the mere raising my voice brings my people from the next room to dispose of yourself. But I want you to confess quietly, and save me raising my voice. Why, man, do I not know the old story? The heir between the succeeding heir, and this heir's 150 ruffianly instrument, and their complot's effect, and the life of fear and bribes and ominous smiling silence? Did you throttle or stab my brother's infant? Come now!
Intendant. So old a story, and tell it no better? When did such an instrument ever produce such an 155 effect? Either the child smiles in his face, or, most likely, he is not fool enough to put himself in the employer's power so thoroughly; the child is always ready to produce—as you say—howsoever, wheresoever, and whensoever.
Monsignor. Liar! 160
Intendant. Strike me? Ah, so might a father chastise! I shall sleep soundly tonight at least, though the gallows await me tomorrow; for what a life did I lead! Carlo of Cesena reminds me of his connivance, every time I pay his annuity; which happens commonly thrice a year. If I 165 remonstrate, he will confess all to the good bishop—you!
Monsignor. I see through the trick, caitiff! I would you spoke truth for once. All shall be sifted, however—seven times sifted.
Intendant. And how my absurd riches encumbered 170 me! I dared not lay claim to above half my possessions. Let me but once unbosom myself, glorify Heaven, and die!
Sir, you are no brutal, dastardly idiot like your brother I frightened to death: let us understand one another. Sir, I will make away with her for you—the girl—here close 175 at hand; not the stupid obvious kind of killing; do not speak—know nothing of her nor of me! I see her every day—saw her this morning. Of course there is to be no killing; but at Rome the courtesans perish off every three years, and I can entice her thither—have indeed begun 180 operations already. There's a certain lusty, blue-eyed, florid-complexioned English knave I and the Police employ occasionally. You assent, I perceive—no, that's not it—assent I do not say—but you will let me convert my present havings and holdings into cash, and give me time 185 to cross the Alps? Tis but a little black-eyed, pretty singing Felippa, gay, silk-winding girl. I have kept her out of harm's way up to this present; for I always intended to make your life a plague to you with her. 'Tis as well settled once and forever. Some women I have 190 procured will pass Bluphocks, my handsome scoundrel, off for somebody; and once Pippa entangled!—you conceive? Through her singing? Is it a bargain?
[From without is heard the voice of PIPPA, singing.
Overhead the tree-tops meet, Flowers and grass spring 'neath one's feet; 195 There was naught above me, naught below, My childhood had not learned to know: For, what are the voices of birds —Aye, and of beasts—but words, our words, Only so much more sweet? 200 The knowledge of that with my life begun. But I had so near made out the sun, And counted your stars, the seven and one; Like the fingers of my hand: Nay, I could all but understand 205 Wherefore through heaven the white moon ranges; And just when out of her soft fifty changes No unfamiliar face might overlook me— Suddenly God took me.
Monsignor [springing up]. My people—one and 210 all—all-within there! Gag this villain—tie him hand and foot! He dares—I know not half he dares—but remove him—quick! Miserere mei, Domine! Quick, I say!
SCENE.—PIPPA'S chamber again. She enters it.
The bee with his comb, The mouse at her dray, The grub in his tomb, While winter away; But the firefly and hedge-shrew and lobworm, I pray, 5 How fare they? Ha, ha, thanks for your counsel, my Zanze! "Feast upon lampreys, quaff Breganze"— The summer of life so easy to spend, And care for tomorrow so soon put away! 10 But winter hastens at summer's end, And firefly, hedge-shrew, lobworm, pray, How fare they? No bidding me then to—what did Zanze say? "Pare your nails pearlwise, get your small feet shoes 15 More like"—what said she?—"and less like canoes!" How pert that girl was!—would I be those pert, Impudent, staring women! It had done me, However, surely no such mighty hurt To learn his name who passed that jest upon me: 20 No foreigner, that I can recollect, Came, as she says, a month since, to inspect Our silk-mills—none with blue eyes and thick rings Of raw-silk-colored hair, at all events. Well, if old Luca keep his good intents, 25 We shall do better, see what next year brings! I may buy shoes, my Zanze, not appear More destitute than you perhaps next year! Bluph—something! I had caught the uncouth name But for Monsignor's people's sudden clatter 30 Above us—bound to spoil such idle chatter As ours; it were indeed a serious matter If silly talk like ours should put to shame The pious man, the man devoid of blame, The—ah, but—ah, but, all the same, 35 No mere mortal has a right To carry that exalted air; Best people are not angels quite: While—not the worst of people's doings scare The devil; so there's that proud look to spare! 40 Which is mere counsel to myself, mind! for I have just been the holy Monsignor: And I was you too, Luigi's gentle mother, And you too, Luigi!—how that Luigi started Out of the turret—doubtlessly departed 45 On some good errand or another, For he passed just now in a traveler's trim, And the sullen company that prowled About his path, I noticed, scowled As if they had lost a prey in him. 50 And I was Jules the sculptor's bride, And I was Ottima beside, And now what am I?—tired of fooling. Day for folly, night for schooling! New Year's day is over and spent, 55 Ill or well, I must be content. Even my lily's asleep, I vow: Wake up—here's a friend I've plucked you! Call this flower a heart's-ease now! Something rare, let me instruct you, 60 Is this, with petals triply swollen, Three times spotted, thrice the pollen; While the leaves and parts that witness Old proportions and their fitness, Here remain unchanged, unmoved now; 65 Call this pampered thing improved now! Suppose there's a king of the flowers And a girl-show held in his bowers— "Look ye, buds, this growth of ours," Says he, "Zanze from the Brenta, 70 I have made her gorge polenta Till both cheeks are near as bouncing As her—name there's no pronouncing! See this heightened color too, For she swilled Breganze wine 75 Till her nose turned deep carmine; 'Twas but white when wild she grew. And only by this Zanze's eyes Of which we could not change the size, The magnitude of all achieved 80 Otherwise, may be perceived."
Oh, what a drear, dark close to my poor day! How could that red sun drop in that black cloud? Ah, Pippa, morning's rule is moved away, Dispensed with, never more to be allowed! 85 Day's turn is over, now arrives the night's. O lark, be day's apostle To mavis, merle, and throstle, Bid them their betters jostle From day and its delights! 90 But at night, brother owlet; over the woods, Toll the world to thy chantry; Sing to the bats' sleek sisterhoods Full complines with gallantry: Then, owls and bats, 95 Cowls and twats, Monks and nuns, in a cloister's moods, Adjourn to the oak-stump pantry! [After she has began to undress herself. Now, one thing I should like to really know: How near I ever might approach all these 100 I only fancied being, this long day— Approach, I mean, so as to touch them, so As to—in some way ... move them—if you please, Do good or evil to them some slight way. For instance, if I wind 105 Silk tomorrow, my silk may bind [Sitting on the bedside. And border Ottima's cloak's hem. Ah me, and my important part with them, This morning's hymn half promised when I rose! True in some sense or other, I suppose. 110 [As she lies down. God bless me! I can pray no more tonight. No doubt, some way or other, hymns say right. All service ranks the same with God— With God, whose puppets, best and worst, Are we; there is no last nor first. 115
SONGS FROM PARACELSUS
The poem Paracelsus is divided into five parts, each of which describes an important period in the experience of Paracelsus, the celebrated German-Swiss physician, alchemist, and philosopher of the sixteenth century. Book I tells of the eagerness and pride with which he set out in his youth to compass all knowledge; he believed himself commissioned of God to learn Truth and to give it to mankind. Books II and III show him followed and idolized by multitudes to whom he imparts the fragments of knowledge he has gained. But though these fragments seem to his disciples the sum and substance of wisdom, his own mind is preoccupied with a desolating certainty that he has hardly touched on the outer confines of truth. In Book IV, after experiencing the ingratitude of his fickle adherents, he is represented as abjuring the dreams of his youth. At this point comes the first of the three songs given in the text. He builds an imaginary altar on which he offers up the aspirations, the hopes, the plans, with which he had begun his career.
1-3. Cassia is an unidentified fragrant plant; the wood of the sandal tree is also fragrant; labdanum or ladanum, is a resinous gum of dark color and pungent odor, exuding from various species of the cistus, a plant found around the Mediterranean; aloe-balls are made from a bitter resinous juice extracted from the leaves of aloe-plants; nard is an ointment made from an aromatic plant and used in the East Indies. These substances have long been traditionally associated in literature. In Psalms xlv, 8 we read: "All thy garments smell of myrrh, and aloes, and cassia, out of the ivory palaces, whereby they have made thee glad." Milton in Paradise Lost, v, 293, speaks of "flowering odors, cassia, nard, and balms."
4. Such balsam. The meaning of II. 4-8 is obscure. "Sea-side mountain pedestals" are presumably cliffs. In the tops of the trees on these cliffs the wind, weary of its rough work on the ocean, has gently dropped the fragrant things it has swept up from the island.
9-16. In this stanza the faint sweetness from the spices used in embalming, and the perfume still clinging to the tapestry in an ancient royal room carry suggestions of vanished power and beauty that add an appropriate pathos to the richly piled altar on which Paracelsus is to offer up the "lovely fancies" of his youth. "Shredded" is a transferred epithet, referring really to "arras," but transferred to the perfume of the arras.
SONG II. (Book IV)
When Paracelsus confesses the failure of his pursuit of absolute knowledge, his friend Festus urges him to redeem the past by making new use of what he has gained; but Paracelsus has no courage to attempt a reorganization of his life in accordance with a new ideal. His answer to Festus is the second of the three songs. He afterwards calls it,
"The sad rhyme of the men who proudly clung To their first fault and withered in their pride."
The song is a beautiful and clear allegory, vivid in its pictures, rapid and musical.
SONG III. (Book V)
In Book V Paracelsus is described as lying ill in the Hospital of St. Sebastian. Festus is endeavoring to divert the current of his dying friend's fierce, delirious thoughts into a gentler channel. He brings up one picture after another of the early happy life of Paracelsus, and dwells on the grandeur of his mind and achievements, and on the fame that shall be his. But the desired peace comes only when Festus sings the song of the river Mayne beside which their youth had been spent. At the end of the song Paracelsus exclaims,
"My heart! they loose my heart, those simple words; Its darkness passes which naught else could touch."
The Mayne, or Main, is the most important of the right-hand tributaries of the Rhine. Wurzburg, where Festus and Paracelsus had been as students, is on its banks. Its University was especially noted for its medical department. Mr. Stopford Brooke (The Poetry of Robert Browning, p. 99) says of this lovely lyric: "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 streams. He could not get on long with mountains and rivers alone. He must people them with breathing, feeling things; anything for life!"
These three, stirring songs represent the gay, reckless loyalty of the Cavaliers to the cause of King Charles I and their contempt for his Puritan opposers. The Puritans wore closely cropped hair; hence the Parliament which came together in 1640 and was controlled by the opponents of the King, is dubbed "crop-headed." John Pym and John Hampden were leaders in the struggle against the tyranny of the King. Hazelrig, Fiennes, and young Sir Henry Vane were also adherents of Oliver Cromwell. Rupert, Prince of the Palatinate, was a nephew of Charles I and was a noted cavalry leader on the royal side during the Civil War. The followers of the King unfurled the royal standard at Nottingham in August, 1642; Kentish Sir Byng raised a troop and hurried on to join the main royal army. In September occurred the battle of Edgehill. The "Noll" (l. 16 of "Give a Rouse") is Oliver Cromwell. The third song was entitled originally "My Wife Gertrude." It was she who held the castle of Brancepeth against the Roundheads.
THE LOST LEADER
This poem indignantly records a poet's defection from the cause of progress and liberty. Who this poet might be was for some time a matter of conjecture. Wordsworth, Southey, and Charles Kingsley, all of whom had gone from radicalism in their youth to conservatism in their old age, were severally proposed as the original of Browning's portrait. The poem was published in 1845, two years after Wordsworth was made poet laureate. Early in 1845 Wordsworth was presented at court, a proceeding which aroused comment—sometimes amused, sometimes indignant—from those who recalled the poet's early scorn of rank and titles. Browning and Miss Barrett exchanged several gay letters on this subject in May, 1845. In commenting on a letter from Miss Martineau describing Wordsworth in his home in 1846, Browning wrote, "Did not Shelley say long ago, 'He had no more imagination than a pint-pot'—though in those days he used to walk about France and Flanders like a man. Now, he is 'most comfortable in his worldly affairs' and just this comes of it! He lives the best twenty years of his life after the way of his own heart—and when one presses in to see the result of his rare experiment—what the one alchemist whom fortune has allowed to get all his coveted materials and set to work at last with fire and melting pot—what he produces after all the talk of him and the like of him; why, you get pulvis et cinis—a man at the mercy of the tongs and shovel." In later life, however, Browning spoke of Wordsworth in a different tone. In a letter to Mr. Grosart, written Feb. 24, 1875, he said, "I have been asked the question you now address me with, and as duly answered, I can't remember how many times. There is no sort of objection to one more assurance, or rather confession, on my part, that I did in my hasty youth presume to use the great and venerated personality of Wordsworth as a sort of painter's model; one from which this or the other particular feature may be selected and turned to account. Had I intended more—above all such a boldness as portraying the entire man—I should not have talked about 'handfuls of silver and bits of ribbon.' These never influenced the change of politics in the great poet—whose defection, nevertheless, accompanied as it was by a regular face-about of his special party, was, to my private apprehension, and even mature consideration, an event to deplore. But, just as in the tapestry on my wall I can recognize figures which have struck out a fancy, on occasion, that though truly enough thus derived, yet would be preposterous as a copy; so, though I dare not deny the original of my little poem, I altogether refuse to have it considered as the 'very effigies' of such a moral and intellectual superiority." For an interesting parallelism in theme, see Whittier's "Ichabod."
20. Whom. The reference is to the lower classes, whom the Liberals were endeavoring to rouse to aspiration and action. The Conservatives opposed such beginnings of independence.
29. Best fight on well. It is the deserting leader who is exhorted to fight well. Though it is pain to have him desert their party, they have gloried in his power and it would be an even greater pain to see him weak. They wish him to fight well even though their cause is thereby menaced.
HOW THEY BROUGHT THE GOOD NEWS FROM GHENT TO AIX
This poem was written during Mr. Browning's first journey to Italy, in 1838. He sailed from London in a merchant vessel bound for Trieste, on which he found himself the only passenger. The weather was stormy and for the first fortnight Browning was extremely ill. As they passed through the straights of Gibraltar the captain supported him upon deck that he might not lose the sight. Of the Composition of the poem he says, "I wrote it under the bulwark of a vessel off the African coast, after I had been at sea long enough to appreciate even the fancy of a gallop on the back of a certain good horse 'York' there in my stable at home." The poem was written in pencil on the flyleaf of Bartoli's Simboli, a favorite book of his. Browning says that there was no sort of historical foundation for the story, but the Pacification of Ghent in 1576 has been suggested as an appropriate background. The incident narrated could naturally belong to the efforts of the united cities of Holland, Zealand, and the Southern Netherlands to combat the tyranny of Philip II.
6. Of this line Miss Barrett wrote: "It drew us out into the night as witnesses."
13. 'Twas moonset. The distance from Ghent to Aix is something over a hundred miles. The first horse gave out at Hasselt, about eighty miles from Ghent; the second horse failed at Dalhem in sight of Aix. Roland made the whole distance between midnight of one day and sunset of the next. The minute notes of time are for dramatic and picturesque effect rather than as exact indications of progress. Even the towns are not used with the exactness of a guide-book, for Looz and Tongres are off the direct route.
17. Mecheln. Flemish for Mechlin. The chimes they heard were probably from the cathedral tower.
41. Dome-spire. Over the polygonal monument founded by Charlemagne in Aix-la-Chapelle is a dome 104 feet high and 48 feet in diameter. The reference is probably to this dome.
THE FLOWER'S NAME
This poem and "Sibrandus Schafnaburgensis," a companion poem, appeared in Hood's Magazine, July, 1844, under the title of "Garden Fancies." "The Flower's Name" is a description of a garden by a lover whose conception of its beauty is heightened and made vital by the memories it enshrines. Of this poem Miss Barrett wrote to Browning, "Then the 'Garden Fancies'—some of the stanzas about the name of the flower, with such exquisite music in them, and grace of every kind—and with that beautiful and musical use of the word 'meandering,' which I never remember having seen used in relation to sound before. It does to mate with your 'simmering quiet' in Sordello, which brings the summer air into the room as sure as you read it." (Letters of R. B. and E. B. B., I, 134.)
10. Box. An evergreen shrub, dwarf varieties of which are used for low hedges or the borders of flower-beds.
MEETING AT NIGHT AND PARTING AT MORNING
These poems were published originally simply as "Night" and "Morning." The second of these love lyrics is somewhat difficult to interpret. If the man is speaking, the "him" in l. 3 must refer to the sun. In any case, after the isolation with the woman he loved as described in the first poem, there comes with the morning a sense of the world of action to which the man must return. The two poems are fully discussed in Poet-Lore, Volume VII, April, May, June-July. The poems are noteworthy for the fusion of human emotion and natural scenery and for the startlingly specific phrasing of the first quatrain.
In this lyric are embodied Browning's faith in personal immortality, his belief in the permanence of true love and in the value of love though unrequited in this world.
34. What meant. From this point on through line 52 the lover repeats what he shall say to Evelyn Hope when in the life to come he claims her.
LOVE AMONG THE RUINS
A man is on his way across the fields to a turret where he is to meet the girl he loves. As he walks through the solitary pastures he mentally recreates the powerful life and varied interests of the city which, tradition has it, once occupied this site, and he seems to be absorbed in a melancholy recognition of the evanescence of human glory. The girl is not mentioned till stanza 5. Does the emphasis on the scenery and its historic associations unduly minimize the love element of the poem? Or is the whole picture of vanished joy and woe, pride and defeat, but a background against which stands out more clearly the rapture of the meeting in the ruined turret?
80. Earth's returns. This phrase refers to the ruins which are all that now remains of the centuries of folly, noise, and sin. "Them" in l. 81 refers apparently to the "fighters" and the others of the first part of the stanza.
UP AT A VILLA—DOWN IN THE CITY
"It is an admirable piece of work crowded with keen descriptions of Nature in the Casentino, and of life in the streets of Florence. And every piece of description is so filled with the character of the 'Italian person of quality' 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 naivete, the simple pleasures, the ignorance and the honest 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 humor." (Stopford Brooke, The Poetry of Browning, p. 322.)
33. Corn. In Great Britain the word is generally applied to wheat, rye, oats, and barley, not to maize as in America.
34. Stinking hemp. In Chapter I of James Lane Allen's The Reign of Law is the following passage on the odor of the hemp-field: "And now borne far through the steaming air floats an odor, balsamic, startling: the odor of those plumes and stalks and blossoms from which is exuding freely the narcotic resin of the great nettle." When the long swaths of cut hemp lies across the field, the smell is represented as strongest, "impregnating the clothing of the men, spreading far throughout the air." To many this odor is essentially unpleasant.
42. Pulcinello-trumpet. Pulcinello was originally the clown in the Neapolitan comedy. Later he became the Punch in Punch and Judy shows. The trumpet announces that one of these puppet plays is to be given in the public square.
43. Scene-picture. A picture advertising the new play.
44. Liberal thieves. Members of the liberal party, the party striving for Italian independence. The Person of Quality is, of course, of the aristocratic party.
47. A sonnet. Laudatory poetical tributes with ornamental borders were posted in public places as a method of doing homage. In this case the unknown "Reverend Don So-and-so" is ranked by his admirer with Dante, Boccaccio, and Petrarch, the greatest Italian poets; with St. Jerome, one of the most celebrated Fathers of the Latin Church; with Cicero, one of the greatest of Roman orators; and with St. Paul, the greatest of Christian preachers.
51. Our Lady. The seven swords represent symbolically the seven sorrows of the Virgin Mary, but this Person of Quality regards the gilt swords and the smart pink gowns merely as gay decorations. Religious processions of the sort described here and in lines 60-64 are frequent in European countries.
55. It's dear. According to the system of taxation in Italy, town dues must be paid on all provisions brought into the city.
60. Yellow candles. Used at funerals and in penitential processions in the Roman Church.
A TOCCATA OF GALUPPI'S
Mrs. Ireland says of this poem: "The Toccata as a form of composition is not the measured, deliberate working-out of some central musical theme as is the Sonata or sound-piece. The Toccata, in its early and pure form, possessed no decided subject, made such by repetition, but bore rather the form of a capricious Improvisation, or 'Impromptu.'" ("A Toccata of Galuppi's" by Mrs. Alexander Ireland, published in London Browning Society Papers.)
1. Galuppi. Baldassare Galuppi (1706-1784) was an Italian composer born near Venice. He spent many years in England and Russia. In 1768 he became organist at St. Mark's, Venice.
4. Your old music. At the sound of the music Browning imaginatively re-creates the Venetian social life of the eighteenth century.
6. St. Mark's. The great cathedral. The Doge of Venice used to throw a ring into the sea from the ship Bucentaur to "denote that the Adriatic was subject to the republic of Venice as a wife is subject to her husband."
8. Shylock's bridge. The Rialto, a bridge over the Grand Canal. It has two rows of shops under arcades.
18. Clavichord. An instrument with keys and strings, something like a piano.
19-30. The musical terms in these lines show Browning's knowledge of the technicalities of the art. To one without such expert knowledge the exact musical connotation is doubtless obscure. But the epithets and phrases are in themselves sufficient to suggest the varying moods of the Venetian merrymakers. The plaintiveness, the sighs, the sense of death, the trembling hope that life may last, the renewed love-making, the new round of futile pleasures or evil deeds, the end of it all in the grave, are clearly brought forth. An elaborate explanation of the musical terms is given in the notes to the Camberwell edition of Browning's poems.
31. But when I sit down to reason. The first thirty lines of the poem have recorded the effect of the music in re-creating in the poet's imagination the gay, careless life of eighteenth century Venice, and its close in death. Now when the poet endeavors to turn from that picture of death lurking under smiles, he finds that the cold music has filled his mind with an inescapable sense of the futility of life, and even his own chosen mental activities seem to him, along with the rest, hardly more than dust and ashes. Ambition and enthusiasm fade before the spell of the music.
OLD PICTURES IN FLORENCE
3. Aloed arch. The genus aloe includes trees, shrubs, and herbs. The American variety is the century-plant. Browning's hill-side villa evidently had aloes trained to grow in an arch.
15. The startling bell-tower Giotto raised. Giotto began the Campanile in 1334, and after his death in 1337 the work was continued by Andrea Pisano. Its striking beauty impresses the poet as he looks out over the city. But it does more than that, for it rouses in him reflections on the progress and meaning of art.
17-24. The address to Giotto, thrown in here as it is with conversational freedom, is partially explained in lines 184-248. See note on l. 236.
30. By a gift God grants me. The power to re-create vividly and minutely the past. The artists of bygone centuries are called back by his imagination to their old haunts in Florence.
44. Stands One. The "one" (l. 44), "a lion" (l. 47), "the wronged great soul" (l. 48), and "the wronged great souls" (l. 58), all refer to the unappreciated early artists.
50. They. That is, the famous great artists such as Michael Angelo and Raphael. Critics "hum and buzz" around them with praise to which they are indifferent.
59. Where their work is all to do. Their place in the development of art is not yet understood. It must be made clear, Browning thinks, that painters like Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) come in natural succession from earlier obscure artists like Dello, that art is a real and continuous record of the human mind and heart.
67. The mastiff girns. When some influential critic snarls, all the imitative inferior critics take the same tone. Cf. Shelley's "Adonais," stanzas 28, 37, 38.
69. Stefano. A pupil of Giotto and called "Nature's ape" because his accurate representations of the human body.
72. Vasari. Author of Lives of the Most Eminent Painters and Sculptors. (Published 1550. Translated by Mrs. Foster in Bohn's Library.) In his studies of art Browning made constant use of this book.
76. Sic transit. Sic transit gloria mundi. "So passes away the glory of the world."
84. In fructu. "As fruit." The fruit of Greek art at its best was that it presented in marble ideally perfect human bodies.
98. Theseus. The kingly statue of the reclining Theseus in the frieze of the Parthenon.
99. Son of Priam. In the sculptures of AEsina, Paris, the son of Priam, kneeling and drawing his bow, has a grace beyond that of any man who might think to pose as a model.
101. Apollo. At Delphi Apollo slew an enormous python.
102. Niobe. Through the vengeance of Apollo and Diana, Niobe's seven sons and seven daughters were all slain. In the Imperial Gallery of Florence there is a statue of Niobe clasping her last child.
103. The Racer's frieze. In the Parthenon.
104. The dying Alexander. A piece of ancient Greek sculpture at Florence.
108. To submit is a mortal's duty. The supreme beauty of the statues led men to content themselves with admiration and imitation.
113. Growth came. New life came to art when men ceased to rest in the perfect achievement of the past, and found a new realm opened up to them in representing the subtler activities of the soul. Lines 145-152 state the ideals that actuated the new art. The reference is to the religious art of the Italian Renaissance.
115-144. These lines sum up the reasons for the importance of the art that strives "to bring the invisible full into play" (l. 150). It may be rough-hewn and faulty; but it is greater and grander than Greek art because of its greater range, variety, and complexity, and because it reaches beyond any possible present perfection into eternity.
134. Thy one work ... done at a stroke. Giotto when asked for a proof of his skill to send to the Pope, drew with one stroke of his brush a perfect circle, whence the proverb, "Rounder than the O of Giotto."
156. Quiddit. Quibble. The humorous rhyme "did it—quiddit" is but one of the many whimsical rhyming effects in the poem. The use of a light, semi-jocose form to give the greater emphasis to serious subject-matter is characteristic of Browning. Lowell in "A Fable for Critics" employs the same device.
161-176. Not Browning's usual attitude. Even this poem is a deification of progress through effort, not through repose.
178. Art's spring-birth. Nicolo the Pisan and Cimabue lived in the second half of the thirteenth century. From them to Ghiberti (1381-1455), who made the famous bronze doors of the Baptistry at Florence, and Ghirlandajo (1449-1494), a Florentine fresco painter, was a period in which Browning was especially interested. Mrs. Orr says that he owned pictures by all the artists mentioned here.
192. Italian quicklime. Many of the fine old Italian fresco paintings have been whitewashed over.
198. Dree. The pictures "endure" the doom of captivity. But they might be ferreted out if the ghosts of the old painters would only indicate where the lost works are.
201-224. He does not hope to get pictures of the famous Florentine painters, Bigordi (probably another name for Ghirlandajo), Sandro, Botticelli, Lippino (son of Fra Lippo Lippi), or Fra Angelico. But he might hope for better success in finding pieces by the obscure painters mentioned in lines 205-224. These painters are so described that we know concerning each one, some characteristic quality or work.
206. Intonaco. The plaster that forms the ground for fresco work.
214. Tempera. A pigment mixed with some vehicle soluble in water instead of with oil as in oil paintings.
218. Barret. A kind of cap.
230. Zeno. The founder of the sect of Stoics, and hence supposedly not stirred by "naked High Art."
232. Some clay-cold vile Carlino. Commercial dealers in art are unmoved by true beauty, but they go into ecstasies over uninspired work like that of Carlino. (Carlo Dolci, 1616-1686.)
236. A certain precious little tablet. Mr. Browning wrote to Professor Corson that this was a lost "Last Supper" praised by Vasari. The stanza in which this line occurs explains ll. 17-24.
237. Buonarroti. Michael Angelo.
241. San Spirito, etc. "Holy Spirit" and "All Saints," old churches in Florence.
244. Detur amanti. "Let it be given to the one who loves it."
245. Koh-i-noor. A famous Indian diamond presented to Queen Victoria in 1850.
246. Jewel of Giamschid. The splendid fabulous ruby of Sultan Giamschid, sometimes called "The Cup of the Sun" and "The Torch of Night." Byron ("The Giaour") says that the dark eyes of Leila were "bright as the jewel of Giamschid." The carbuncle of Giamschid is one of the treasures sought by the Caliph in Beckford's Caliph Vathek.
246. The Persian Sofi. The Sufi or Sofi is a title or surname of the Shah of Persia.
249. A certain dotard, etc. Radetsky (1766-1858) was in 1849-1857 governor of the Austrian possessions in Upper Italy. "The worse side of the Mont St. Gothard" is the Swiss side. "Morello" is a mountain near Florence. There had been frequent insurrections against Austria, but they had been fruitless. Browning prophesies the time when there shall be a great national council (a Witanagemot) by which, when Freedom has been restored to Florence, a new and vigorous Art shall be brought in. It will then be perceived that a monarchy nourishes the false and monstrous in art, and that "Pure Art" must come from the people.
258. The stone of Dante. The stone where Dante used to draw his chair out to sit. For this and other references in stanza XXXIV see Mrs. Browning's "Casa Guidi Windows," Part I. In this poem she suggests "a parliament of the lovers of Italy."
260. Quod videas ante—"Which you may have seen before."
263. Hated house. The poet hates the rule of the House of Lorraine, and prefers the days of the painter Orgagna, in the fourteenth century, when Italy was free.
273. Tuscan. The literary language of Italy and not given to superlatives such as are indicated by "issimo."
275. Cambuscan: a reference to "The Squire's Tale," left unfinished by Chaucer.
276. Alt to altissimo. "High to highest."
277. Beccaccia. A woodcock.
281. Shall I be alive. According to Giotto's plan the tower was to have had a spire fifty braccia or cubits (about 95 feet) high. This spire has never been built.
The whole phrase is De gustibus non disputandum—"there is no disputing about tastes." Browning is writing to a friend who prefers an English landscape while the poet himself declares in favor of Italy.
2. If our loves remain. If we have a life after death.
4. A cornfield. The picture is a field of wheat with red poppies scattered through the wheat.
23. Cypress. It is interesting to note how many of the trees, shrubs, flowers, and fruits in Browning's poems are those of southern Europe. His poetry of nature is almost as distinctively Italian as Tennyson's is English. "The Englishman in Italy" is especially rich in vivid, picturesque details of southern scenes.
36. Liver-wing. The right wing. The shot hit the king in the right arm.
37. Bourbon. Mr. and Mrs. Browning were rejoicing at any indications that the people of Italy were awake to revolt against the Bourbons. See Mrs. Browning's "Casa Guidi Windows" and "First News from Villa Franca" and Mr. Browning's "The Italian in England."
40. Queen Mary's saying. For two hundred years Calais had been one of England's most important possessions. It was taken by the French in 1588, the last year of the reign of Queen Mary. What Queen Mary said of Calais, Browning says of Italy.
HOME-THOUGHTS FROM ABROAD
Compare the sentiment of this poem with that of "De Gustibus—" written ten years later. In "Home Thoughts from Abroad" we have one of Browning's rare uses of the scenery of his own country.
14. That's the wise thrush. The power of these lines in presenting both the musical and the emotional quality of the bird's song is rivaled only by Wilson Flagg's "The Bobolink" (quoted in John Burroughs's Birds and Poets) and Wordsworth's "To the Cuckoo."
HOME-THOUGHTS FROM THE SEA
This poem and the preceding one express two phases of the poet's love of country; his affection for the physical beauty of England, and his pride in her political freedom. In the first poem, he turns, in thought, from the glowing color of Italy, to the more delicate loveliness of England in April; in the second poem, he longs to repay the service his country has rendered him in defeating foreign foes.
"Home-Thoughts from the Sea" was written at the same time and under the same circumstances as "How they brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix." The poet, aboard a vessel coasting along the shore of Africa, could see to the northwest the Portuguese Cape Vincent, near which, in 1797, England won a naval victory over Spain; southeast of Cape Vincent, on the Spanish coast, Cadiz Bay, where, in 1796, England defeated the second Spanish Armada; and southeast of Cadiz Bay, Cape Trafalgar, where, in 1805, Nelson won a famous victory over the allied fleets of France and Spain. To the northeast, the poet could see Gibraltar, the great fortress which England acquired from Spain by the Peace of Utrecht, 1713.
1. Abner. The cousin of Saul and the commander of his army. I Samuel xiv, 50.
9. Saul and the Spirit. For the conflict between Saul and the evil spirit, and the refreshment that came to him when David played, see I Samuel xvi, 14-23.
12. Gracious gold hair. For the personal appearance of David, see I Samuel xvi, 12, 18; xvii, 42.
12. Those lilies ... blue. Mrs. Coleridge wrote to Mr. Kenyon to know whether Mr. Browning had any authority for "blue lilies." Mr. Browning answered, "Lilies are of all colors in Palestine—one sort is particularized as white with a dark blue spot and streak—the water lily, lotus, which I think I meant, is blue altogether." (Letters of R. B. and E. B. B., i, 523, 556.)
31. The king-serpent. Probably the boa-constrictor. In poetry the characteristic most often attributed to a snake is malignancy. But in this picture of the serpent lying dormant and waiting for the sloughing of its old skin in the springtime, when it will come forth with new beauty and power, the idea presented is that of tremendous force temporarily in abeyance.
42. Then the tune. The boy, alone in the field, tries all sorts of experiments in musical attraction on the animals about him. Professor Albert S. Cook suggests that Browning is here indebted to the Greek pastoral romance of Daphnis and Chloe. See Smith's translation in the Bohn edition. The passages read in part as follows: "He ran through all variations of pastoral melody; he played the tune which the oxen obey, and which attracts the goats—that in which the sheep delight.
"He took his pipe from his scrip, and breathed into it very gently. The goats stood still, merely lifting up their heads. Next he played the pasture tune, upon which they all put down their heads and began to graze. Now he produced some notes soft and sweet in tone; at once his herd lay down. After this he piped in a sharp key, and they ran off to the woods as if a wolf were in sight." These quotations serve at least to show how old is the fancy that animals are affected by music.
60. The service enjoined on the men of the House of Levi is described in I Chronicles xxiii, 24-32.
65. Male-sapphires. The male sapphire exhibits, through some peculiarity of crystalline structure, a star of bright rays. It is also known as "the star sapphire" and "the asteriated sapphire." The ruby shows a clear red light at the center.
76. Locust-flesh. In Leviticus, Chapter xi, are given the laws concerning "what beasts may and what may not be eaten." See verse 22 for the rule about locusts. Cf. Matthew iii, 4 for the food of John the Baptist.
102. The cherubim chariot. The first chapter of Ezekiel seems to be the source of this picture.
105. Have ye seen, etc. The simile in lines 104-115 could have been written only by one familiar with mountain regions. Browning knew the Alps and Apennines. Did David at any time live in a mountainous country?
124. Slow pallid sunsets. Note the character of the similitudes so far used in describing Saul. In his agony he is like the king-serpent. His rage is like the earthquake that may tear open the rock but at the same time sets the gold free. His final release from the evil spirit is described by the sudden fall of the avalanche from the mountain summit. The look in his eyes as he comes back to life, yet seeing nothing in life to desire, is compared to pale autumn sunsets seen over the ocean, or to slow sunsets seen over a desolate hill country. All the figures contribute to our impression of Saul's power and majesty.
141. Since my days, etc. Compare this passage with Pippa Passes, Prologue, 104-113.
172. Carouse in the past. This line marks a change in the direction of David's thought. Up to stanza X it was the glorious past that he had been urging upon Saul's attention. But now he realizes that true inspiration comes not so much from a re-living of one's achievements, as from the thought of the permanence of one's fame and one's deeds.
192. And behold while I sang. At this point David is overcome by the memory of the sudden spiritual illumination that came to him in his interview with Saul. He had reached the summit of his endeavor (l. 191) and yet knew himself powerless to give the King new life. Then there flashed upon him the truth expressed in stanzas XVII-XIX. He breaks off in lines 192-205, going, in his strong feeling, ahead of his story and commenting on what is described in stanza XIX. In stanza XV he resumes his narrative.
204. Hebron. David watches the slow coming of the dawn over the hill on which is situated the town of Hebron.
205. Kidron. A brook near Jerusalem. It is fed by springs, and the amount of water in it is sensibly decreased by the extreme heat of the day.
214. Ere error had bent. In I Samuel, Chapter xv, is an account of Saul's disobedience and punishment. The choosing of Saul to be king is described in I Samuel, Chapters ix and x.
292. Sabaoth. The word means "hosts" and is ordinarily used in the phrase "The Lord of hosts." It represents the omnipotence of God.
303. Nor leave up nor down, etc. At the end of stanza xv, the thought that had come to David was that God had proved supreme in all the ways in which a human being could test knowledge and power, but that in the one way of love the creature might surpass the Creator. At line 302 he has come to believe in the infinitude of God's love as well as in the infinitude of His power. It is interesting to note that George Eliot in Silas Marner gives to ignorant Dolly Winthrop an experience and a philosophy of life almost identical with those of Browning's David.
307-312. A prophecy of the revelation of the divine in the human, the coming of God in the person of Christ. It is the human in the divine that men seek and love. In the Old Testament days such an idea, though foretold and longed for, could be but vaguely conceived except in moments of especial insight in the minds of poet-prophets like David. Mr. Herford (Robert Browning, p. 120) says of this passage:
"David is occupied with no speculative question, but with the practical problem of saving a ruined soul; and neither logical ingenuity nor divine suggestion, but the inherent spiritual significance of the situation, urges his thought along the lonely path of prophecy. The love for the old King, which prompted him to try all the hidden paths of his soul in quest of healing, becomes a lighted torch by which he tracks out the meaning of the world and the still unrevealed purposes of God; until the energy of thought culminates in vision and the Christ stands full before his eyes."
313-335. In this stanza David represents all existences, good and evil spirits, all animals, all forms of nature, as stirred by the great news of the future manifestation of the love of God as shown in Christ.
A love lyric generally supposed to refer to Mrs. Browning.
4. The angled spar. A prism. In looking at a prism the colors one sees are determined by the point of view. The idea of the poem is amplified in "One Word More," stanzas xvi-xviii.
TWO IN THE CAMPAGNA
The Campagna, a plain around the city of Rome, was in ancient times the seat of many cities; it is now dotted with ruins. "There is a solemnity and beauty about the Campagna entirely its own. To the reflective mind, this ghost of old Rome is full of suggestion; its vast, almost limitless extent as it seems to the traveler; its abundant herbage and floral wealth in early spring; its desolation, its crumbling monuments, and its evidences of a vanished civilization, fill the mind with a sweet sadness, which readily awakens the longing for the infinite spoken of in the poem." (Berdoe, Browning Cyclopaedia, p. 553.)
6. I touched a thought. The elusive thought which he fancifully pursues from point to point in the surrounding landscape finds statement in lines 34-60. Of these lines Sharp (Life of Browning, p. 159) says, "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 recognize 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 ... 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."
IN THREE DAYS
"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 exaltation; it is quick, hurried, and thrilled. The delicate fears of chance and changes in the three days, or in the years to come, belong of right and nature to the waiting, and are subtly varied and condensed. It is, however, the thoughtful love of a man who can be metaphysical in love." (Stopford Brooke, The Poetry of Robert Browning, p. 253.)
THE GUARDIAN ANGEL
Fano. This poem was written in the summer of 1848 after a visit of three days at Fano. It is addressed to Alfred Domett, one of Browning's warm friends, who was at that time in New Zealand on the Wairoa River. For a vivid description of him see Browning's "Waring." The picture at Fano, the details of which are fully brought out in the poem, has been reproduced in Illustrations to Browning's Poems, Part I, published by the Browning Society. Mrs. Browning (Letters i, 380) speaks of it as "a divine picture of Guercino's worth going all that way to see."
6. Another child for tending. With a longing for guidance and protection Browning imagines himself as a child under the guardianship of the angel.
16. Like that child. The child in the picture looks into the heavens. Browning would look only at the gracious face of the angel.
46. My angel. Cf. "My love," l. 54. Both refer to Mrs. Browning.
Pauline (1832) has many references to Shelley; note especially lines 151-229; 1020-1031. Browning's "Essay on Shelley" appeared in 1852. "Memorabilia" was composed in 1853-4.
18-28. That later in life Browning "came to think unfavorably of Shelley as a man and to esteem him less highly as a poet" is shown by a letter written to Dr. Furnivall: "For myself I painfully contrast my notions of Shelley the man and Shelley, well, even the poet, with what they were sixty years ago." (Quoted by Mr. Dowden: Robert Browning, p. 10.) Mr. Browning declined an invitation to be president of the Shelley Society. For a discussion of Shelley's influence on Browning see Poet-Lore, Volume VII, January, 1895.
INCIDENT OF THE FRENCH CAMP
Ratisbon, a city of Bavaria, was stormed by Napoleon in 1809. The story told in the poem is a true one, but its hero was a man, not a boy.
MY LAST DUCHESS
The original title in Dramatic Lyrics, 1842, was "Italy." It is a poem of the Italian Renaissance. Fra Pandolf and Claus of Innsbruck are, however, imaginary artists.
THE BOY AND THE ANGEL
There is no known original for the story of Theocrite, but it is in accord with the Roman Catholic belief that angels watch over human beings and are interested in their affairs. In the last line is the fundamental lesson of the poem. Compare the thought of Pippa in the song "All service ranks the same with God." See Leigh Hunt's "King Robert of Sicily" (in A Jar of Honey, ch. vi.) and Longfellow's "King Robert of Sicily" (in Tales of a Wayside Inn) for an analogous legend.
THE PIED PIPER OF HAMELIN
This poem was written to amuse little Willie Macready who was ill and wished a poem for which he could make illustrations. There are many legends that deal with the refusal of a reward promised to a magician for some stipulated service. Mr. Berdoe (Browning Cyclopaedia, p. 339) says that the story given here is based on an account by Verstegan in his Restitution of Decayed Intelligence (1634). Verstegan gives "Bunting" as the name of the piper; the town, as Hamelin in Brunswick on the Weser; and the mountain into which the children were led as the Koeppenberg.
THE FLIGHT OF THE DUCHESS
When Mr. Browning was little more than a child he heard a woman one Guy Fawkes's Day sing, in the street a strange song whose burden was "Following the Queen of the Gypsies, O!" The singular refrain haunted his memory for many years, and out of it was ultimately born this poem.
6-31. The Duke's medieval castle was apparently in Northern Germany, near the sea.
78. Rough-foot merlin. A species of hawk formerly trained to pursue other birds and game. A "falcon-lanner" is a long-tailed hawk. The word, when used in falconry, is restricted to the female hawk, which is larger than the male.
101. Struck at himself. Amazed at his own importance.
130. Urochs. The aurochs, the European bison, a species nearly extinct but preserved in the forests of Lithuania and the Caucasus. The "buffle" is the buffalo.
135-153. Compare this lady with the one in "My Last Duchess."
216. Well, early in autumn. In writing "The Flight of the Duchess" Browning was interrupted by a friend on some important business which temporarily drove the story out of the poet's mind. Some months after the publication of the first part in Hood's Magazine, April, 1845, he was staying at Bettisfield Park in Shropshire when someone in commenting on the early approach of winter said that already the deer had to break the ice in the pond. This chance phrase roused the poet's fancy, and when he returned home he completed his poem.
238. St. Hubert. Before his conversion St. Hubert had been passionately fond of hunting; hence he became the patron saint of hunters.
240-247. "The jerkin" or short coat; the "trunk-hose," or full breeches extending from the waist to the middle of the thigh; the big rimless hats with broad projections back and front and highly ornamented, were medieval articles of attire revived by the Duke for his "Middle Age" hunting party.
249. Venerers, Prickers, and Verderers are ancient names for huntsmen, horsemen, and preservers of venison.
263. Horns wind a mort. Horns announce the death of the stag; "at siege" probably means "brought to the appointed station." Possibly it means "at bay," in which case "wind a mort" must mean "announce that the death of the stag is imminent."
264. Prick forth. Spur her horse forth. She was to ride a jennet, a small Spanish horse known in the Middle Ages.
315. Quince-tinct. Tincture of quince was used as a cosmetic.
322. Fifty-part canon. "Mr. Browning explained that a 'canon, in music, is a piece wherein the subject is repeated in various keys, and being strictly obeyed in the repetition, becomes the canon, the imperative law to what follows.' Fifty of such parts would be indeed a notable peal; to manage three is enough of an achievement for a good musician." Berdoe, Browning Cyclopaedia: page 180.
480. The band-roll. Her head was ornamented with a band on which were strung Persian coins.
533. Gor-crow's flappers. Wings of carrion crow.
581. Like the spots. Effects of phosphorescence.
845. I have seen my little lady. It is not clear where or when he saw her. Possibly he refers only to his revived memory of her.
852. And ... floats me. This construction is what is known as the "ethical dative." The old servant merely says in jocose fashion that telling his story has made his blood course more rapidly and freely.
A GRAMMARIAN'S FUNERAL
The Revival of Learning. The Revival of Learning, or the Renaissance, began as early as the tenth century. Its period of most rapid progress was from the twelfth century to the fifteenth. One phase of the interest in the revival of learning was the effort to restore Latin to its ancient purity. The word "grammarian" was more widely inclusive than now, meaning one who devoted himself to general learning. Of this poem Dr. Burton in "Renaissance Pictures in Browning" (Poet-Lore, Vol. x, pp. 60-76, No. 1, 1898) says: "I know of no lyric of the poet's more representative of his peculiar and virile strength than this, in that it makes vibrant and thoroughly emotional an apparently unemotional theme. In relation to the Renaissance, the revival of learning, the moral is the higher inspiration derived from the new wine of the classics, so that what in later times has cooled down too often to a dry-as-dust study of the husks of knowledge is shown to be, at the start, a veritable reveling in the delights of the fruit."
Mr. Stopford Brooke in The Poetry of Browning, p. 155, says, "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 express better than this short poem the inexhaustible 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 center of the universe."
3. Leave we the common crofts. As the procession starts up the hill they leave behind them the small farms and little villages of the plain.
8. Rock-row. Day is just breaking over the rocky summits of the mountains.
9. There, man's thought. The smoking crater of a volcano, described as a censer from which rise the fumes of incense, portends an outbreak of subterranean fire. The speaker fancifully considers this an appropriate spot in which to bury the scholar whose passionate eagerness of thought chafed continually against the bounds of custom and ignorance and human weakness.
14. Sepulture. Pronounced here, sepulture. A burial place or tomb.
25. Step to a tune. Here and in various other places, as lines 41, 73, 76, etc., are directions to the pallbearers.
34. Lyric Apollo. The god Apollo was the ideal of manly beauty. The Grammarian was, it seems, endowed with rare charm of face and form.
35. Long he lived nameless. Youth had passed before the Grammarian really entered upon his quest for knowledge. But he did not despair. His vanishing of youth was but a signal to "leave play for work."
45. Grappled with the world. The world of knowledge, especially ancient learning, which was recovered slowly and with difficulty.
49. Theirs. He wishes to study the "shaping" or writings of poets and sages.
50. Gowned. Put on the scholastic gown.
64. Queasy. Sick at the stomach. He could not get knowledge enough to make him feel a distaste for it.
65-68. "It" in l. 66 refers to l. 67. The "it" in l. 68 refers to "such a life," l. 65.
70. Fancy the fabric. Under the figure of making a complete plan before beginning to build a house, he describes the Grammarian's purpose to know the whole scheme of life before he lived out any part of it.
86. Calculus and tussis (l. 88) are diseases, the stone and bronchitis, that attacked him.
95. Soul-hydroptic. "Hydroptic" is a rare word for "thirsty."
103. God's task, etc. He neglected the body, magnified the mind, and believed that the full realization of his aspirations would come in "the heavenly period."
113. That low man. This comparison between the "low man" and the "high man" could be effectively illustrated from "Andrea del Sarto." Andrea is the "low man" who with his skillful hand "goes on adding one to one" till he attains his "hundred," or excellence of technique. But the other painters, the ones with the "truer light of God" in them, reach the heaven above and take their place there although what they see transcends the power of their art to tell. They miss the "unit" of an adequate technique, but they gain the "million" of spiritual insight.
129. Hoti ... Oun ... De. Points in Greek grammar concerning which there was much learned discussion.
"CHILDE ROLAND TO THE DARK TOWER CAME"
Mrs. Orr (Handbook of Browning's Works, p. 274) says of this poem: "We can connect no idea of definite pursuit or attainment with a series of facts so dream-like and so disjointed: still less extract from it a definite moral; and we are reduced to taking the poem as a simple work of fancy, built up of picturesque impressions which have, separately or collectively, produced themselves in the author's mind." And she adds in a note: "I may venture to state that these picturesque materials included a tower which Mr. Browning once saw in the Carrara Mountains, a painting which caught his eye years later in Paris; and the figure of a horse in the tapestry in his own drawing-room—welded together in the remembrance of the line from 'King Lear,' which forms the heading of the poem." The possible allegorical signification of the poem has been the subject of much, and often of singularly futile discussion. Dr. Furnivall said he had asked Browning if it was an allegory, and in answer had on three separate occasions received an emphatic statement that it was simply a dramatic creation called forth by a line of Shakspere's. (Porter-Clarke, Study Programmes, p. 406.) Yet allegorical interpretations continue to be made. According to one line of interpretation the pilgrim is a "truth-seeker, misdirected by the lying spirit" (the hoary cripple), and when he blows the slug-horn it is as a warning to others that he has failed in his quest, and that the way to the dark tower is the way of destruction and death. (Berdoe, Browning Cyclopaedia, p. 105) According to other readings of the tale the blast which the pilgrim blows at the end of his quest is one of "spiritual victory and incitement to others." When the Rev. John S. Chadwick visited the poet and asked him if constancy to an ideal—"He that endureth to the end shall be saved"—was not a sufficient understanding of the central purpose of the poem, Browning said: "Yes, just about that." With constancy to an ideal as the central purpose, the details of this poem, without being minutely interpreted, may yet serve as a representation of the depression, the hopelessness, the dullness and deadness of soul, the doubt and terror even of the man who travels the last stages of a difficult journey to a long-sought but unknown goal. His victory consists in the unfaltering persistence of his search. The "squat tower," when he reaches it, is prosaic and ugly, but finding it is after all not the essential point. The essential element of his success is that, encircled by the last temptations to despair, he holds heart and brain steady, and carries out his quest to its last detail. (See an article in The Critic, May 3, 1886, by Mr. Arlo Bates, in opposition to any definite allegory. Mr. Nettleship in Robert Browning [p. 89] devotes a chapter to a paraphrase and an allegorical explanation.)
Mr. Herford (Life of Browning, p. 94) calls the poem "a great romantic legend" and emphasizes its intensity and boldness of invention. He compares its "horror-world" with that of Coleridge in "The Ancient Mariner." "What 'The Ancient Mariner' is in the poetry of the mysterious terrors and splendors of the sea, that 'Childe Roland' is in the poetry of bodeful horror, of haunted desolation, of waste and plague, ragged distortion, and rotting ugliness in landscape. The Childe, like the Mariner, advances through an atmosphere and scenery of steadily gathering menace."
Mr. Chesterton says of the scenery: "It is ... the poetry of the shabby and hungry aspect of the earth itself. Daring poets who wished to escape from the conventional gardens and orchards had long been in the habit of celebrating the poetry of rugged and gloomy landscapes, but Browning is not content with this. He insists on celebrating the poetry of mean landscapes. That sense of scrubbiness in nature, as of a man unshaved, had never been conveyed with this enthusiasm and primeval gusto before." (Robert Browning, p. 159.)
HOW IT STRIKES A CONTEMPORARY
This poem is the story of an obscure poet in the Spanish city of Valladolid. It brings out his actual life and the townfolk's misinterpretations of it. Reports multiply upon themselves and take new meanings till the harmless poet is generally accounted the King's spy and the real agent of all royal edicts, the town's master, in fact. The interest which, as a poet, he takes in all manifestations of life is popularly supposed to be the alertness of a secret agent of the government. The reams of poetry he writes are transformed into letters of information to the King. Rumor translates the poet's perfectly decent, regular, meager life into secret sybaritic extravagances.
7. Though none did. His suit had once been fashionable, but, though still serviceable, was of a sort no longer worn by his fellow townsmen.
25. The coffee-roaster's brazier. The coffee is roasted in a dish that is made to revolve over the coals in an open pan or basin.
74. Beyond the Jewry. Beyond the Jew's quarter, a squalid portion of the city.
90. The Corregidor. The Spanish title for a magistrate.
104. Here had been. The poet, misconceived by his generation, poor, and lonely, has yet a great spiritual personality. Men see the old coat. God, the King for whom he works, sees his real nature; hence heavenly guards attend when this man comes to die.
115. The Prado. The chief fashionable promenade of Madrid.
FRA LIPPO LIPPI
Fra Lippo Lippi was born in Florence in 1406. See Vasari's Lives of the Painters for the account of his life on which Browning based his poem. (Vasari's account is quoted in Cooke's Browning Guide Book.)
2. You need not clap your torches. Throughout this lively dramatic monologue it is important to mark every indication of the words or gestures of the auditors; for instance, in lines 13, 18, 26, etc.
7. The Carmine. Fra Lippo Lippi's entrance into the monastery of the friars del Carmine and his education there are described later in the poem. He lived there till he was twenty-six. He had no vocation for the life of a monk and wished to devote himself to painting. He apparently left the monastery on good terms with the friars.
17. Master—a Cosimo of the Medici. Cosimo de Medici (1389-1464) was a rich Florentine banker and statesman. He was a magnificent patron of art and literature. The old Medici palace (l. 17), now known as Palazzo Riccardi, is on the corner of the Via Cavour and the Via Gori. The church of San Lorenzo (the "Saint Laurence" of l. 67) is a short distance farther west on the Via Gori.
22. Pick up a manner. The painter protests against the rough usage to which he has been subjected.
23. Zooks. An interjection formerly written "gadzooks." Pilchards are a common cheap fish of the Mediterranean and are taken in seines.
28. Quarter-florin. The florin was a gold coin of Florence. It was first struck off in the twelfth century and was called a florin because it had a flower stamped on one side.
31. I'd like his face. The painter cannot look upon the crowd of men about him without seeing faces he would like to draw. One man would do as a model for Judas. Another would do well in a picture Fra Lippo's imagination quickly conjures up of a slave holding the head of John the Baptist by the hair. In Fra Lippo's real picture of the beheading of John the Baptist the head is brought in by Salome, the daughter of Herodias, on a great platter.
46. Carnival. The days preceding Lent. A period marked by much gaiety, street revelry, masking, etc.
53. Flower o' the broom. These flower songs, called stornelli, are improvised by the peasants at their work. "The stornelli consists of three lines. The first line usually contains the name of a flower which sets the rhyme and is five syllables long. Then the love theme is told in two lines of eleven syllables each, agreeing by rhyme, assonance, or repetition with the first." (Porter and Clarke note in Camberwell Edition.) Browning does not follow the model strictly.
73. Jerome. St. Jerome was one of the Fathers of the Christian Church. During a part of his early life he was given up to worldly pleasures, and for this he did penance by living for a number of years in a cave in a desert region. The penitent St. Jerome was a popular devotional subject in early Christian art. "The scene is generally a wild rocky solitude; St. Jerome, half-naked, emaciated, with matted hair and beard, is seen on his knees before a crucifix, beating his breast with a stone." (Mrs. Jameson, Sacred and Legendary Art, i, 308.)
80. What am I a beast for? If you had happened, says Fra Lippo, to catch Cosimo in a frolic like this, of course you would have said nothing; but you think a monk is a beast if he indulges in these nocturnal pleasures. Yet why should the fact that I break monastic rules make you consider me a beast? Just let me tell you how I happened to become a monk.
83. I starved there. Note the vivid picture of the life of a street gamin here and in lines 112-126.
88. Aunt Lapaccia. Vasari says, "The child was for some time under the care of a certain Mona Lapaccia, his aunt, who brought him up with very great difficulty till he had attained his eighth year, when, being no longer able to support the burden of his maintenance, she placed him in the above-named convent of the Carmelites." "Trussed," means "firmly seized."
117. Which gentlemen, etc. Gentlemen clad in fine ecclesiastical robes walk in the religious procession and carry tall wax candles or torches; the drippings from these candles the street-urchin wishes to catch in order to sell them again, but it is against the law, and the fine gentlemen if not kindly disposed may call in the magistrates ("The Eight") and have the boy whipped.
130. The antiphonary's marge. He scrawled his sketches on the margins of the book used by the choir, and he made faces out of the notes, which were then square with long stems.
139. We Carmelites. The three orders of monks, the Carmelites, the Camaldolese, and the Dominicans (called "Preaching Brothers" by Pope Innocent III) owned various monasteries and churches, and were each ambitious to possess the greatest sacred paintings.
145-163. These lines describe the different figures painted on the wall by Fra Lippo when the prior bade him "daub away." The monks dressed in black or white according to the garb of their orders; the old women waiting to confess small thefts; the row of admiring little children gazing at a bearded fellow, a murderer who, still breathing hard with the run that has brought him in safety to the altar steps, defies the "white anger" of his victim's son, who has followed him into the church; the girl who loves the brute of a murderer, and brings him flowers, food, and her earrings to aid him when he shall escape—all these are painted on the wall. Then the young artist took down the ladder by means of which he had reached the bit of cloister-wall where he had been recording his observations of life, and called the monks to see.
156. Whose sad face. The purpose of Christ's suffering ("passion") on the cross was to bring love into the world, but after a thousand years of his teaching his image looks down upon theft, anger, murder.
172. My triumph's straw-fire. Lippo's triumph was as short-lived as a fire of straw. The monks were delighted with the realism of the painting, but when the Prior and the critics came they declared that such "homage to the perishable clay" was a mere "devil's game." The business of the painter, they said, was to ignore the body and paint the soul.
184. Man's soul. Note the difficulty the Prior experiences when he tries to describe the "soul" he wishes the artist to paint. Lines 185-186 represent an old superstition.
189-198. In contrast to the homely realism of Fra Lippo's picture of ordinary people are the idealism, the religious symbolism, of the pictures of Giotto, a painter a century and a half earlier than Fra Lippo, and the greatest master of the early school of Italian art.
198-214. An exposition of Fra Lippo's idea of painting. He says that it is nonsense to ignore the body in order to make the soul preeminent, that the painter should go a "double step" and paint both body and soul. He may make the face of a girl as lovely and life-like as possible, and at the same time show her soul in her face.
215-220. A defense of the value of beauty for its own sake. Cf. Keats, "Ode to a Grecian Urn," and the beginning of his "Endymion." Fra Lippo Lippi has been long out of convent limitations, but he cannot forget how certain the monks were that he had chosen the wrong path, and that he could never equal the great painter, Fra Angelico (1389-1455), who, kneeling in adoration, painted lovely saints and angels, nor even Lorenzo Monaca, a Florentine painter with the same tendencies as Angelico.
257. Out at grass. Grass in this passage stands for enjoyment of life as opposed to asceticism.
276. Guidi. Tommaso Guidi, ordinarily known as Masaccio, or Tomassacio, Slovenly or Hulking Tom. Browning followed good authority in making Masaccio a pupil of Fra Lippo Lippi, but in point of fact he was probably the master whose works Fra Lippo studied. Luebke (History of Art ii, 207) says of Guidi: "In his exceedingly short life he rapidly traversed the various stages of development of earlier art, and pressed on with a bold confidence to a greatness and power of vision which have rendered his works the characteristic ones of an epoch, and his example a decisive influence in all the art of the fifteenth century.... Almost every master in the fifteenth century ... studied these great works and learned from them. One of the first of these masters was Fra Lippo Lippi." The important point is that Fra Lippo and Masaccio were both pioneers in the new art which took infinite pains in the representation of the body. Masaccio is said to have been the first Italian artist to paint a nude figure.
323. A Saint Laurence ... at Prato. Prato a town near Florence, attracted many artists in the fifteenth century, so that one finds there many specimens of Early Renaissance painting. Some of the most important of Fra Lippo Lippi's large works are in the Cathedral at Prato.
326-334. The people have been so enraged at the slaves who are pictured as assisting in the martyrdom of St. Laurence that the faces of these slaves have been scratched from the wall. The monks think the picture a huge success because it has thus roused religious zeal.
339. Chianti wine. A famous wine named from Chianti, a mountain group near Siena, Italy.
346. Sant Ambrogio's. The picture described here is the "Coronation of the Virgin" now in the Accademia delle Belle Arti of Florence. Sant' Ambrogio is a Florentine church named after St. Ambrose, a Bishop of Milan.
354. St. John. The Baptist. Note the reference to camel's hair raiment in l. 375. The Battistero, the original cathedral of Florence, was dedicated to John the Baptist. Some say the reliefs on one of its famous bronze doors represent scenes from his life. To this church all children born in Florence are brought to be baptized.
357. Job. See Job i, 1.
360. Up shall come. Artists not infrequently painted their own portraits in their pictures. In the "Coronation of the Virgin" Fra Lippo's round tonsured head is seen in the lower right hand corner.
377. Iste perfecit opus. "This one did the work."
381. Hot cockles. An old English game in which a blind-folded player tries to guess the names of those who touch or strike him.
ANDREA DEL SARTO
Andrea del Sarto's father was a tailor (Sarto) and so the son was nicknamed "The Tailor's Andrew." He was born in 1486. His first paintings were seven frescoes in the Church of the Annunziata in Florence. They were "marvelous productions for a youth who was little over twenty, and remain Andrea's most charming and attractive works." (Julia Cartwright, The Painters of Florence.) Algernon Charles Swinburne in Essays and Studies ("Notes and Designs on the Old Masters at Florence") says of Andrea's early paintings in comparison with his later work: "These are the first fruits of his flowering manhood, when the bright and buoyant genius in him had free play and large delight in its handiwork; when the fresh interest of invention was still his, and the dramatic sense, the pleasure in the play of life, the power of motion and variety; before the old strength of sight and of flight had passed from weary wing and clouding eye, the old pride and energy of enjoyment had gone out of hand and heart.
"How the change fell upon him, and how it wrought, anyone may see who compares his later with his earlier work.... The time came when another than Salome [referring to Andrea del Sarto's picture of Salome dancing before Herod] was to dance before the eyes of the painter; and she required of him the head of no man, but his own soul; and he paid the forfeit into her hands.... In Mr. Browning's noblest poem—his noblest, it seems to me—the whole tragedy is distilled into the right words, the whole man raised up and reclothed with flesh. One point only is but lightly touched upon—missed it could not be by an eye so sharp and skillful—the effect upon his art of the poisonous solvent of love. How his life was corroded by it, and his soul burnt into dead ashes we are shown in full, but we are not shown in full what as a painter he was before, what as a painter he might have been without it."
The bare facts of this poem are taken from Vasari's Lives of the Painters. Vasari, once a pupil of Andrea del Sarto, hated Lucrezia and in his account spared no details of her evil influence. Later chronicles give a somewhat more favorable view of her, but the main facts of the story remain undisputed. Of the origin of the poem, Mrs. Andrew Crosse (see "John Kenyon and His Friends" in Temple Bar Magazine, April, 1900) writes; "When the Brownings were living in Florence, Kenyon had begged them to procure him a copy of the portrait in the Pitti of Andrea del Sarto and his wife. Mr. Browning was unable to get the copy made with any promise of satisfaction, and so wrote the exquisite poem of Andrea del Sarto—and sent it to Kenyon!" For another literary presentation of Andrea del Sarto see Andre del Sarto, a play by Alfred de Musset.
15. Fiesole. A town on a hill above the Arno about three miles northwest of Florence. See Pippa Passes.
40. We are in God's hand. Andrea's fatalistic view of life aids him in escaping the poignancy of remorse.
65. The Legate's talk. The representative of the Pope praised Andrea's work. For the high esteem accorded Andrea when he was in Paris at the court of Francis I, see lines 149-161.
82. This low-pulsed forthright craftsman's hand. Eugene Muntz (quoted in Masters of Art series, in the number entitled "Andrea del Sarto") says of Andrea's skill: "No painter has excelled him in the rendering of flesh.... No painter, moreover, has surpassed him in his grasp of the infinite resources of the palette. All the secrets of richness, softness, and morbidenza, all the mysteries of pastoso and sfumato were his. It is not then as a technician that we must deny Andrea del Sarto the right to rank with the very greatest. It is as an artist (using the word in its highest sense) that he falls below them, for he was lacking in the loftier qualities of imagination, sentiment, and, worst of all, conviction." Histoire de l'Art pendent la Renaissance.
93. Morello. A mountain of the Apennines and visible from Florence.
98. Or what's a heaven for. According to Browning's theory, perfection gained and rested in means stagnation. Aspiration toward the unattainable is the condition of growth. The artist who can satisfy himself with such themes as can be completely expressed by his art, is on a low level of experience and attainment.
105. The Urbinate. Raphael Sanzio of Urbino, one of the greatest of Italian painters. He died in 1520; hence the date of this poem is supposed to be 1525.
136. Agnolo. Michael Agnolo (less correctly, Angelo), 1475-1566, great both as sculptor and painter.
149. Francis. Francis I of France was a patron of the arts. When Andrea was thirty-two and had been married five years, King Francis sent for him to come to Fontainebleau, the most sumptuous of the French royal palaces. Andrea greatly enjoyed the splendor and hospitality of the French court, and he was happy in his successful work, when Lucrezia called him home. He obtained a vacation of two months and took with him money with which to make purchases for the French king. This money he used to buy a house for Lucrezia.
241. Scudi. Italian coins worth about ninety-six cents each.
261. Four great walls. Revelation, xxi, 15-17.
263. Leonardo. Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), one of the greatest of Italian painters.
THE BISHOP ORDERS HIS TOMB AT ST. PRAXED'S CHURCH
There is an old church in Rome named in honor of St. Praxed or Praxedes. The Bishop's Tomb, however, "is entirely fictitious, although something which is made to stand for it is now shown to credulous sightseers." (Mrs. Orr, Handbook to Robert Browning's Works, p. 247.)
Ruskin says of this poem: "Robert Browning is unerring in every sentence he writes of the Middle Ages—always vital, right, and profound, so that in the matter of art, with which we are specially concerned, there is hardly a principle connected with the medieval temper that he has not struck upon in these seemingly careless and too rugged lines of his.... I know no other piece of modern English prose or poetry in which there is so much told, as in these lines, of the Renaissance spirit—its worldliness, inconsistency, pride, hypocrisy, ignorance of itself, love of art, of luxury, and of good Latin. It is nearly all that I have said of the central Renaissance, in thirty pages of 'The Stones of Venice,' put into as many lines, Browning's also being the antecedent work." (Modern Painters, Vol. iv, pp. 337-9.) "It was inevitable that the great period of the Renaissance should produce men of the type of the Bishop of St. Praxed; it would be grossly unfair to set him down as the type of the churchmen of his time." Berdoe, Browning Cyclopaedia, p. 81.
1. Vanity, saith the preacher, vanity. Cf. ll. 8-9, 51-52, as illustrative of the religious professionalism of the Bishop's talk. He drops into the ecclesiastical conception of life and death, and into the phraseology of his order.
21. Epistle-side. The right-hand side facing the altar, where the epistle is read by the priest acting as celebrant, the gospel being read from the other side by the priest acting as assistant.
29. Peach-blossom marble. This rosy marble delights the Bishop as much as the pale cheap onion-stone offends him. The lapis-lazuli, a rich blue stone (l. 42), the antique-black (Nero-antico), a rare black marble (l. 34), the beautiful green jasper (l. 68), the elaborate carving planned for the bronze frieze (l. 56-62, 106-111), show not only that the Bishop covets what is costly, but that his highly cultivated taste knows real beauty.
34. That conflagration. The eagerness of the Bishop for the lump of the lapis-lazuli has made him steal even from his own church.
41. Olive-frail. A basket made of rushes, used for packing olives.
57. Those Pans and Nymphs. The underlying paganism of the Bishop produces a strangely incongruous mixture on his tomb—the Savior, St. Praxed, Moses, Pan, and the Nymphs.
58. Thyrsus. The ivy-coiled staff or spear stuck in a pine-cone, symbol of the Bacchic orgy.
68. Travertine. A white limestone, the name being a corruption of Tiburninus, from Tibur, now Tivoli, near Rome, whence this stone comes.
77. Choice Latin. The Bishop's scholarship was as good as his taste in marbles. The Elucescebat ("he was illustrious") of l. 99 Browning called "dog-latin" and he called "Ulpian, the golden jurist, a copper latinist." (See letter to D. G. Rossetti. Quoted by A. J. George, Select Poems of Browning, p. 366.) Tully's Latin was Cicero's (Marcus Tullius Cicero), the purest classic style. The Grammarian in "The Grammarian's Funeral" was equally intense on a point of elegance or correctness in the ancient languages.