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their portraits; but Mr. Browning will carry out the utmost fidelity of detail-painting in all the minutiæ of a preRaphaelite foreground—whilst representing some unfamiliar character, unknown scene, or rare circumstance. Thus the matter may be recondite, the manner novel, and all the conditions startling; the result is sure to be somewhat bewilderingespecially at first sight.
We shall meet with the same closeness of observation and directness of description in the pictures of external nature. There is a lunar rainbow in the poem of Christmas Eve' which any one who ever witnessed the phenomenon could swear to as drawn by a man who had seen what he painted, and who painted what he saw. Suddenly
• The rain and the wind ceased, and the sky
supreme the spectral creature lorded
On to the keystone of that arc?' Of course a subjective poet might not have painted in this piercing, keen-eyed way. He might have given us effects that should have been produced according to our preconceived notions. He might have brooded over the sight until it passed
into memory with a sense of rest. But Mr. Browning, in his imaginary person, saw a startling thing, and he has reproduced it so as to create the precise effects in the reader's mind that were felt by the startled seer, and not the conventional effects which some people look for. He is describing of the instant—the object itself, and not a dream of it. The truth is that many persons, when they meet with a novel picture—something fresh from nature, in poetry or painting-do not judge of its truthfulness by a knowledge of, or reference to nature itself. They test it by what they know of previous pictures in poetry and painting. If it be unlike these, they are in haste to condemn it. If like what they have been accustomed to, then it must be natural. Now, Mr. Browning's work is the last to be judged in such a way as that. He does not appeal to the secondhand knowledge of nature, but often to the very rarest intimacy and clearest vision. Again, there is a great deal of haze in current criticism with regard to poetry, which was first breathed from the mind of Coleridge. Much of his criticism was made to match the poetry of Wordsworth, in his exposition and defence of the same. But the view which might be very just when applied to Wordsworth, would do great injustice if forced on Mr. Browning and his readers. In the one case it might shed a clear light, and in the other only create a luminous mist. Coleridge would seem to maintain that it is the true sign of greatness in poetry, indeed that it is a part of the poet's work, to paint creation with an atmosphere and tone out of his own mind; that in rendering objects he should seek for the sense of something interfused, ' and add it to what we see. Mr. Browning would say, “Let us have things first, their associations afterwards. Let us reach the ideal through the real.'
Mr. Browning is, as we have already said, essentially a dramatic poet.
So long as he speaks through some clearlyconceived character we recognise the master's presence. When he speaks in person, which he seldom does, he never quite reaches us or we him. He has shown himself a skilful delineator of those conflicts in which good and evil strive and wrestle for the victory, and noble spirits are caught up in the tragic toils which death alone can loosen. He has created characters intensely human, real enough to stir the profoundest feelings, and exhibited them to us bound by the nearest and dearest ties in that web of a bitter fate which is the dark delight of tragedy, which loves to show us how they might be saved, even with a word, and we cannot save them. The theatre would probably have unfolded more of the theatrical part of his genius; he would have grown more in a direction
toward the people, and cultivated such qualities as stir the national feeling, instead of giving so great a range to those personal predilections of his which cling to what is peculiar and problematic. We should have seen less of the philosophic thinker, and felt more of the emotional energy of the catholic poet. Likewise he would have derived help from the actor, in giving a tangible embodiment to his creations, and conveying to thousands of minds some personification of those shapes of grandeur or of grace which are now shut up in the pages of a book. But we imagine that the theatre in our day is about the last place Mr. Browning would care to be found in ; and ever since he wrote his plays the theatre and the poet have been pulling more widely apart. The qualities that now-a-days win theatrical success are precisely those which Mr. Browning has endeavoured to strain his poetry quite clear of.
Howsoever unfitted for our stage his dramas may be, many of the characters in his plays will take their place, and become abiding presences on the stage of the reader's mind. There is · Pippa,' the Italian girl, a sunny little godsend, direct from heaven, unconsciously touching the edge of other lives with a beam that flashes through her own, and showing to the uplifted eye
that God is in His Heaven:' • Luria,' the Moor, who can so magnanimously forgive a great wrong: the 'Duchess Colombe,' who, like Pippa, is one of everybody's favourites : Poor · Mildred,' with that
Depth of purity immovable
Beneath the troubled surface of her crime': superb, haughty Ottima,' magnificent in sin:' Jules and Phene,' and a long line of characters that start into memory to show us how much we are indebted to the poet, how greatly his art has enriched us.
If any one thinks Mr. Browning cannot enter into a woman's heart or paint the feminine character, let him especially study the sayings and doings of the Duchess Colombe,' the latter part of the Blot on the Scutcheon,' and feel its ineffable pathos
-the subtle force, as of sun and rain on plants, which ·Polyxena brings to bear on King Charles, making the character grow visibly. The two widely-different interpreters of the passion of love, who are at cross purposes in the Balcony Scene. There is not one of these plays but contains fine characters and a great wealth of dramatic qualities : whilst one alone, “King Victor and King Charles,' would furnish proof that the author possesses the secret of unfolding the character whilst the action Aows on continuously. We hardly know pathos more piercing
than that of the Blot on the Scutcheon,' pathos more grand than that of Luria,' or pathos more passionate than in the Return of the Druses.' Although it is almost as vain as trying to take a dew-drop in hand, we extract a specimen of the latter. In the closing scene . Anael' has fallen dead, and her brother pleads with • Djabal,' having a perfect belief in his supernatural powers to restore her life.
“Save her for my sake!
Just restore her life!
Or leave us both–I cannot go alone!'
some fierce sunset after storm. The mustering of the dramatic forces, and the mustering of the “Druses,' who are bound for the land where their redemption dawns'—the words of the dying leader who, with his last breath of life, leads them on the first few steps of the way, and promises that he shall be with them, his spirit will await them above the cedars,' see them return peopling the old solitudės;' the complocities of life made clear in death. It is all exceedingly fine.
Mr. Browning has none of the humolls of farce which the Elizabethans supplied so plentifully, as sops to Cerberus, and which seem to have been looked for in dramas ever since. But if he causes no horse-laughter he has a contemplative humour of a rare kind. We should say that it is a strong sense of the grotesque which caused him to take in hand several of his singular subjects. See the curious poem entitled “Sibrandus Schafnaburgensis,' wherein the speaker describes the vengeance he wreaked on a dry pedantic book which he had carried into the garden to amuse himself with, and, seeing that Nature had nothing to do with the inside, he left it to see what she would do with the outside of the book.
Also in A Soul's Tragedy,' there is a comic creation which is very droll, There has been a local revolution at Faenza,
as large as the little place could get up, and the Provost has been killed. All is commotion when the Pontifical Legate comes trotting quietly into the town, a portly personage on muleback, humming a Cur fremuere gentes.' 'Ah,' he says to the populace, 'one Messer Chiappino is your leader. I have known three-and-twenty leaders of revolt!' and he laughs gently to himself. The way in which he helps demagogues to 'carry out their own principles,' judges' people by what they might be, not are, nor will be,' shows the leader how not to change his principles but re-adapt them more adroitly, turning him inside out softly as he might a glove on his hand, is delightfully humorous. “And naturally,' says the changing leader, time must wear off such asperities (betwixt the opposite parties), the bitterest adversaries get to discover certain points of similarity between each other, common sympathies, do they not?' 'Ay,' replies this humorist, full of smiling satire and wise insight, ‘had the young David but sat first to dine on his cheeses with the Philistine, he had soon discovered an abundance of such common sympathies. But, for the sake of one broad antipathy that had existed from the beginning, David slung the stone, cut off the giant's head, made a spoil of it, and after ate his cheeses alone.' Having quietly upset the revolution, sent the leader to the right-about, put the keys of the Provost's palace in his own pocket, he dismisses the populace to profitable meditations at home with this finishing stroke to his homily:
*You do right to believe you must get better as you get older. All men do so, they are worst in childhood, improve in manhood, and get ready in old age for another world. Youth, with its beauty and grace, would seem to be bestowed on us to make us partly endurable till we have time for really becoming so of ourselves, without their aid, when they leave us. Tu sweetest child we all smile on, for his pleasant want of the who world to break up or suck in his mouth,– seeing no other good in it, ---would be rudely handled by that world's inhabitants, if he retained those angelic infantine desires when he has grown six feet high, black and bearded: but little by little he sees fit to forego claim after claim on the world, puts up with a less and less share of its good as his proper portion, -and when the octogenarian asks barely a sup of gruel and a fire of dry sticks and thanks you for his full allowance and right in the common good of life, -hoping nobody may murder him,-- he who began by asking and expecting the whole of us to bow down in worship to him, why, I say he is advanced far onward, very far, nearly out of sight, like our friend Chiappino yonder. Good-by to you! I have known four-and-twenty leaders of Revolt.'
Turning from the plays to the poems we find that a large number of these are to be judged as the work of a dramatic