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Blot of the Scutcheon," do not pertain to any such category, and, from a Christian point of view, they are certainly indefensible. Nevertheless, we should not be too severe on a blot which Mr. Browning shares in common with so many other writers: we would exhort him, indeed, to avoid this error for the future; but with this, we rest content. Finally, one other moral objection to certain of Mr. Browning's creations may be advanced with too much truth: though the general spirit of purity breathing from his works be deserving of all praise, he is not sufficiently studious of certain external decencies; he has treated themes, with a moral purpose we admit, and perhaps even with a moral effect, -which had better been left untouched. This remark holds good more particularly of parts of "Pippa Passes," of the general design of "The Blot on the Scutcheon," otherwise a truly exquisite work, treated with wonderful pathos, grace, and delicacy, and of two or three of the short dramatic lyrics,we will name only "The Confessional." We have now said the worst that can be said on the score of morality; and the moral and even religious beauties which counterbalance these errors are so great, as to call for the genial appreciation of all true lovers of poetry or of truth.
Robert Browning is still, we believe, a young man, though he has been before the world as an author for some ten or twelve years. His genius may be said to be preeminently dramatic, so much so, indeed, that whatever he writes, takes consciously or unconsciously a dramatic form. His lyrics are almost all monodramas; and his one long poetic tale, "Sordello," is almost unintelligible, from the abruptness of its conversational and dramatic style.
keep pace with his passionate advance, and
"a thing of shreds and patches:"
but, in our opinion, it was deficient in the important element of historic truth,-embodying, and exaggerating even, the prevalent absurd notions as to the royal martyr's faithlessness and tyranny, and, in fact, representing him as a kind of moral monster. Strange is it, that after the testimony of such men as Hume and the elder D'Israeli-men not likely, from their creed or position, to overvalue the representative of Anglican high churchmanship-every stupid calumny, which Puritan rancour ever devised, should be revived in this enlightened age. The mad fury of a Carlyle might be regarded as a thing of course: his praise would be deseThe poet commences, asking himself a ques- cration, his abuse is praise: the worshiper tion in the second line, and throughout of a Mahomet is the natural adversary of a strangely embodying his own momentary Charles. He, who cringes in the attitude of moods of thought and fancy, without placing adoration before successful brute force, in himself for a moment in the position of those every age and country, was not likely to apto whom the tale is told; making no allow-preciate the royal martyr. But that Mr. ance for their inevitable ignorance of the minutest historic circumstances connected with his theme, but going straight on,
"Who wills may hear Sordello's story told :His story?"
Macaulay should have been so carried away by the fashionable superstition on this score, as to accuse the king of faithlessness, because, while for the sake of peace he negotiated with the London parliament, he recorded his protest that it was no true parliament,-adding other charges of a still more exhausting his readers in their attempts to preposterous nature,--this may well excite
"Over park, over pale,
Thorough bush, thorough brier,"
our wonder at the bigotry and prejudice of man. But we must not wander from our theme.
"Strafford" is not in the present volumes, and we therefore dismiss it from our consideration; proceeding at once to the contents of this edition, which might afford matter for several comprehensive essays, instead of the cursory review we shall be enabled to bestow; for the works contained in this edition (counting the dramatic lyrics as one series) may be said to be all great works, and worthy of serious consideration; they are characterized by deep earnestness, sweet pathos, high purpose, and intense dramatic truthfulness. That to dramatic intensity probability, and even truth, are sometimes sacrificed, we cannot deny. There is, perhaps, an absence of repose in Mr. Browning's dramas; the interest is too passionately sustained; everything is made too much a matter of life and death: even when the characters speak with most apparent calm, we see that deep feeling or wild passion are working underneath; there is nothing purely narrative, little purely demonstrative; the dramatic active element is almost invariably paramount. This is one of the reasons for which Mr. Browning is so difficult to understand. The very souls of his dramatis person are constantly palpitating before us; yet they express themselves so simply, with such an apparent absence of fuss, that we do not at once perceive the full import of their speeches: we regard them only from an external point of view, as poetry, perhaps, without entering into the characters of those who speak, and then we must be necessarily disappointed. We have mentioned that general obscurity, which some people regard as necessarily fatal to Mr. Browning's popularity to the end of time, however great may be his merits. This obscurity arises, mainly, from an excess of reality. Mr. Browning does not write about people, does not tell you why they think or feel so and so, as other poets do, but shows you the people themselves, thinking, feeling, acting: he brings the scene actually and immediately before you, not presenting it through the usual artificial medium: he rushes abruptly into the very heart of his subject without any exordium, and presupposes a certain knowledge of his theme on the reader's part, which he cannot reasonably expect to find. Everywhere an introductory argument seems to be wanted, placing the reader at the right point of view; in the absence of which, this author's highest beauties may at first be unintelligible, or apparently even absurd. To
give a strong instance of what we mean:the Tragedy of "The Return of the Druses" is founded on the superstition of the Druse people, that they shall only return to their home, Lebanon, when their former chief Hakeem, otherwise called the Khalif, who died on the verge of Mokattam's mountain several centuries before, shall return, to place. himself at their head, and lead them on to victory. A certain Druse chief, called Djabal, who has lived many years in Europe, and possessed himself of certain secrets of science, has resolved to pass himself off on the Druse people as their Hakeem, or Khalif, as the only possible means of rousing them from their disgraceful lethargy; and has announced his intention mysteriously "to exalt himself" on a certain day, that is, to resume his former shape of Hakeem. The play thus commences.
A certain number of Druses enter the Prefect's Hall,-as it afterward appears, in his absence from the island,-and one of them thus exclaims (these are the opening words):
"The moon is carried off in purple fire;
This may seem plain enough, when the clue has been given, but without it, in the first instance, it must be nearly unintelligible; yet this is one of Mr. Browning's least dramatic speeches; it is one in which he is endeavoring to explain. The number of recondite facts crowded together constitute the difficulty,-not the hidden motive of the speech, as is more usually the case. However, many of these difficulties naturally vanish on a second perusal: when the mind has once taken a bird's-eye view of the whole, it can better appreciate the parts. We would, however, force on Mr. Browning's attention the expediency of prefixing either arguments or prologues to his principal works, which should not themselves be dramatic, but simply preparatory, explanatory, demonstrative. We almost question, whether he could write them himself; but any one else who had studied his works could perform this office for him; and this would go far toward rendering his works accessible to the general reader, and himself consequently popular. So much must be admitted: the motives of Mr. Browning's dramatis persona are always clearly de
fined in their author's mind; they never say | a word at random: where we least see purpose, we shall be sure to find it, if we take the trouble to search. We may not always agree with the poet that such a motive is natural or becoming, but we shall always see that, taking that motive for granted, the consequent expression of feeling is wonderfully natural and real; that the poet has done what he meant to do, whether that in itself be right or wrong. This is a very rare, perhaps the rarest, quality. How few, how very few men, in creating works of art, have a clear knowledge of their own intentions! How few dramatists, for instance, conceive and develop a character consistently! Almost all trust in a great degree to chance, and often write better than they know themselves; though generally, of course, much worse. Mr. Browning, on the contrary, realizes intensely whatever he conceives; he creates and commands his characters, he is not commanded by them. We believe, then, that as a real purpose will always eventually be discovered where the greatest apparent obscurity prevails, time must necessarily be favorable to the appreciation of Mr. Browning's works. When they are universally acknowledged to be noble dramatic creations, (as they must eventually be,) men who can, will study them for themselves, and, communicating their observations to others, will plane the way even for masses, so that the very "public" at last may wonder at its having found much difficulty in the matter. But a truce to these general observations. Pass we to the first work in these volumes, the dramatic poem "Paracelsus," well worthy of a lengthy essay on itself alone.
It is difficult to express the object of this poem in a few words. Paracelsus [the Paracelsus] is a man who lives for Knowledge for its own sake, without regard to Love: after many years he is partially converted from this error, but his conversion is only partial; men treat him ill, and therefore he relapses into his old heresy under a worse form, and finally dies, acknowledging that he has lived too much for self, too little for his race. The beauty of much of the poetry in this work can scarcely be too highly commended. We must give a few samples. The two charming characters of Festus, the sympathizing and admiring friend of Paracelsus, and his bride Michal, would alone endear this work to us. In the first part, or act, entitled "Paracelsus aspires," he is discovered in a garden at Wurzburg, passing the last evening with these friends, previous to his de
parture on the search for absolute truth and knowledge. Festus has encouraged his mystical aspirations; but is now afraid of his own work, and would dissuade Paracelsus from his ambitious design,—an endeavor in which Michal unites. Paracelsus thus sweetly and affectionately addresses them :
"You must forget
Which e'er confused my better spirit, to dwell
Festus, however, is not blinded by this fair speech; he recognizes the secret pride of his friend, and chides his ambitious longings:-
As if where'er you gazed there stood a star!”
We cannot enter into the philosophy of the poem this would lead us much further than we can now go. Festus's main fear is that Paracelsus will not seek knowledge for the sake of God or of man. He says,
"Presume not to serve God apart from such
And further on :—
"How can that course be safe, which from the first Produces carelessness to human love?"
And again Michal says (Aureole is Paracelsus's first name)—
"Stay with us, Aureole! Cast these hopes away, And stay with us! An angel warns me, too, Man should be humble: you are very proud; And God, dethroned, has doleful plagues for such!"
Paracelsus responds grandly and proudly, in the full conviction of his mission (we quote here and there, not in any regular course):
"Be sure that God Ne'er dooms to waste the strength he deigns impart!
Ask the gier-eagle why she stoops at once
His enthusiasm at last so carries away | body, that is, who first records in a certain sweet Michal, that she exclaims,
"Vex him no further, Festus! It is so."
Though subsequently, on Festus's energetic remonstrances, she again retracts. Festus bids Paracelsus pursue the usual course to knowledge, study the writings of others, not seek only for himself: he responds
"Shall I still sit beside
Their dry wells, with a white lip and filmed eye,
Festus says very finely, after much more has passed, in continuation,
"But know this, you-that 'tis no wish of mine,
book the exact amount of knowledge he has already attained to. The disappointed Paracelsus, who of course could not find for himself what God had revealed, though he had apparently not accepted that revelation, comes to this conjurer in a kind of mad despair; and here he does learn the one great want which has blasted all his efforts: it is brought home to him, that he only sought knowledge for its own sake, or that of pride in its possession; that his primary duty is to work for his fellow-men, to communicate what he has gained to them. He is taught all this by a certain mad poet, Aprile, who has erred in a contrary direction, from excess of love, which has absorbed his active faculties, and prevented his turning them to He has loved all art, for instance, any use. too dearly to devote himself to any branch of it. Because he could not be all, he would be nothing. Much of the poetry in this part is exquisite, but we have no space for extracts from it. Paracelsus is really supposed to have discovered certain secrets, chiefly in medicine, which would be highly beneficial to humanity; amongst them, the circulation of the blood, and the sanguification of the heart. Mr. Browning says in his notes, The title of Paracelsus to be considered the father of modern chemistry is indisputable," and quotes very learned authorities in However this may support of this view. be, the correctness or incorrectness of the assertion does not concern us. The poet conceives it to be thus, and had every right to do so. Paracelsus now, then, resolves to devote his services to his fellow-men. He becomes professor at Basil, in Switzerland, and meets with devoted followers for a while; but his old original sin remains deep engrained; he makes no allowance for dullness and slowness; he is impatient to attain magnificent results; he becomes more and more convinced that man is unworthy of sharing his true knowledge-which, after all, is so insufficient in his own eyes, because he has not all. Festus visits him here; and the third part consists of a long colloquy between them in the year 1526-scene, a chamber in the house of Paracelsus. It is very fine, but necessarily very painful. The bitter discontent of Paracelsus, the trustful In the second part, called "Paracelsus at- admiration of Festus, are each developed tains," we are in Constantinople, at the nobly. The passages of a domestic nature, house of a certain Greek conjurer, nine years in which reference is made to Michal and her afterward. This conjurer professes the pow- children, are very touching. After Paraceler of possessing everybody with the secret he sus has laid his heart open to his friend, and may want to make his life complete-every-shown him his terrible disappointment and
Beauteous at most to you, which we must taste
An eating brand, a shame."
But our extracts are growing too frequent and too long. We must remember our appointed limits. We hurry to Paracelsus's last words in this part; they are these:
"Are there not, Festus,―are there not, dear ii
Two points in the adventure of the Diver?
I wait you when you rise !”
gnawing misery, Festus says beautifully, resolved to trust still
"These are the trials meet for such as you,
Of men from your ambition, you have spurn'd:
Mocking itself. Be brave, dear Aureole! Since
The fawn his rustling bough, mortals their
And higher natures yet-the power to laugh
And I know you, dearest
And how you love unworthily; and how
His hold-and from the east, fuller and fuller,
We need not waste comments on those who do not appreciate such poetry. Finally, Festus leaves Paracelsus, deeply moved, to return to Michal and his own quiet vicarage; making his friend promise, however, that he will call him to his side, if there should ever be a change for the better in his mood. In the next part, which plays two years later, Paracelsus "aspires again," but with baser and still more selfish aims. He has been driven from the university in disgrace, and has resolved to give up all idea of loving or serving men. His first vagrant life in pursuit of knowledge is once more assumed, with the addition of certain evil stimulants; in other words, Paracelsus, despairing of a high and noble goal, has resolved to avail himself of all mean occasions for enjoyment, and regards even drinking as one of these. The greater portion of this part is occupied by another colloquy in a house at Colmar, in Alsatia, betwixt Paracelsus and
Naught blinds you less than admi- Festus, who has been sent for by his friend,
and who has just lost his own wife, Michal. It is naturally even more painful than the preceding colloquy, but it is powerfully conceived and executed. Terrible is the despair which makes Paracelsus say,
"So sickness lends
An aid, it being, I fear, the source of all
Nothing can be more exquisite than the pathos of the latter part of the scene, in which Festus announces Michal's death, and Paracelsus comments on it. We have no space to extract it as we should wish to do. Paracelsus then goes forth once more on his life's journey, and he does at last attain, in the fifth part, within a cell of St. Sebastian's Hospital at Salzburg, not only death, but a knowledge of his own life-long errors. Festus is still by his side; he has sought out his dying friend, and passed the long night watching in the cell. Paracelsus knows him not, his mind wanders; he is buried in a At last, after many
The second occurs a little later, in a speech kind of living trance.
wild speeches, uttered by Paracelsus on his awaking from his trance, he grows calmer. "Cruel," he says,
"Cruel! I seek her now, I kneel, I shriek,
I clasp her vesture-but she fades, still fades;