Εικόνες σελίδας
PDF
Ηλεκτρ. έκδοση

something humorous in itself. The greater swing which is allowed to the humorous poet in rhythm and rhyme, as well as in thought, may be of service to him, and save him from formality in his serious verses. Undoubtedly the success of Hood's Bridge of Sighs was due in some degree to the quaintness and point of the measure and the rhyme, the secret of which he had learned in his practice as a humorous versifier. But there is danger that the poet, in allowing full scope to this erratic part of his nature, may be brought in time to value form generally at less than its true worth as an element of art. We have sometimes felt a jar in reading Mr. Browning's lyrical poems, when, just as he has filled us full of quiet delight by some touch of pathos or marble gleam of classical beauty, this exuberant geniality suggests some cognate image of the ludicrous, and turns round to laugh in our faces. This necessity of deferring to form in some shape or other is a natural, and not an ingrafted, quality of human nature. It often, laughably enough, leads men, who have been totally regardless of all higher laws, to cling most pertinaciously and conscientiously to certain purely ceremonial observances. If the English courts should ever dispense with so much of their dignity and decorum as consists in horsehair, we have no doubt that the first rogue who shall be sentenced by a wigless judge will be obstinately convinced of a certain unconstitutionality in the proceeding, and feel himself an injured man, defrauded of the full dignity of the justice enjoyed by his ancestors.

We copy one specimen of Mr. Browning's more formal and, so to speak, scholastic humor.

SIBRANDUS SCHAFNABURGENSIS.

“Plague take all pedants, say I !
He who wrote what I hold in

my

hand
Centuries back was so good as to die,

Leaving this rubbish to bother the land;
This, that was a book in its time,

Printed on paper and bound in leather,
Last month in the white of a matin-prime

Just when the birds sang all together,
“ Into the garden I brought it to read;

And under the arbute and laurustine
Read it, so help me grace in my need,

From title-page to closing line.

As well as if thy voice to-day
Were praising God the Pope's great way.
This Easter Day, the Pope at Rome
Praises God from Peter's dome.'
Said Theocrite, · Would God that I
Might praise Him, that great way, and die!'
Night passed, day shone,
And Theocrite was gone.
With God a day endures alway,
A thousand years are but a day.
God said in Heaven, Nor day nor night
Now brings the voice of my delight.'
Then Gabriel, like a rainbow's birth,
Spread his wings and sank to earth ;
Entered in flesh the empty cell,
Lived there, and played the craftsman well :
And morning, evening, noon, and night,
Praised God in place of Theocrite.
And from a boy, to youth he grew :
The Man put off the Stripling's hue:
The man matured and fell away
Into the season of decay :
And ever o'er the trade he bent
And ever lived on earth content.
God said, ' A praise is in mine ear;
There is no doubt in it, no fear:
So sing old worlds, and so
New worlds that from my footstool go.
Clearer loves sound other ways:
I miss my little human praise.'
Then forth sprang Gabriel's wings, off fell
The flesh disguise, remained the cell.
'T was Easter Day: he flew to Rome,
And paused above Saint Peter's dome.
In the tiring-room close by
The great outer gallery,
With his holy vestments dight,
Stood the new Pope, Theocrite :
And all his past career
Came back upon him clear.
Since when, a boy, he plied his trade
Till on his life the sickness weighed :
And in his cell when death drew near
An angel in a dream brought cheer:

And rising from the sickness drear
He grew a priest, and now stood here.
To the East with praise he turned
And on his sight the angel burned.
• I bore thee from thy craftsman's cell,
And set thee here ; I did not well.
Vainly I left my angel's sphere,
Vain was thy dream of many a year.
Thy voice's praise seemed weak; it dropped —
Creation's chorus stopped !
Go back and praise again
The early way

while I remain.
With that weak voice of our disdain,
Take up Creation's pausing strain.
Back to the cell and poor employ :
Become the craftsman and the boy !'
Theocrite grew old at home;
A new Pope dwelt in Peter's Dome.
One vanished as the other died :
They sought God side by side."

Bells and Pomegranates, No. vii. pp. 19, 20. There are two faults of which we are chiefly conscious in these lyrics. The first is a tendency to parenthesize one thought or metaphor within another, and seems to arise from fertility of mind and exuberance of illustration, united with the power of too facile execution. The other is involved in that humorous element of his character which we have noticed, and which gives him so keen an enjoyment of his own thoughts as disqualifies him for distinguishing those of them which will strike all other minds with equal distinctness and force, and those which will be appreciated only by persons constituted like himself. From both these defects his dramas are almost wholly free.

And now, if we could be sure that our readers would read Mr. Browning's poems with the respect and attentive study they deserve, what should hinder us from saying that we think him a great poet? However, as the world feels uncomfortably somewhere, it can hardly tell how or why, at hearing people called great, before it can claim a share in their greatness by erecting to them a monument with a monk-Latin inscription on it which nine tenths of their countrymen cannot construe, and as Mr. Browning must be as yet comparatively a young man, we will content ourselves with saying that he has in him

parts to it.

the elements of greatness. To us he appears to have a
wider
range

and
greater
freedom of movement than any

other of the younger English poets. In his dramas we find always a leading design and a conscientious subordination of all the

In each one of them also, below the more apparent and exterior sources of interest, we find an illustration of some general idea which bears only a philosophical relation to the particular characters, thoughts, and incidents, and without which the drama is still complete in itself, but which yet binds together and sustains the whole, and conduces to that unity for which we esteem these works so highly. In another respect Mr. Browning's dramatic power is rare. The characters of his women are finely discriminated. No two are alike, and yet the characteristic features of each are touched with the most delicate precision. By far the greater number of authors who have attempted female characters have given us mere automata. They think it enough, if they make them subordinate to a generalized idea of human nature. Mr. Browning never forgets that women are women, and not simply human beings, for there they occupy common ground with men.

Many English dramas have been written within a few years, the authors of which have established their claim to the title of poet. We cannot but allow that we find in them fine thoughts finely expressed, passages of dignified and sustained eloquence, and as adequate a conception of character as the reading of history and the study of models will furnish. But it is only in Mr. Browning that we find enough of freshness, vigor, grasp, and of that clear insight and conception which enable the artist to construct characters from within, and so to make them real things, and not images, as to warrant our granting the honor due to the Dramatist.

And rising from the sickness drear
He grew a priest, and now stood here.
To the East with praise he turned
And on his sight the angel burned.
'I bore thee from thy craftsman's cell,
And set thee here ; I did not well.
Vainly I left my angel's sphere,
Vain was thy dream of many a year.
Thy voice's praise seemed weak; it dropped -
Creation's chorus stopped !
Go back and praise again
The early way

while I remain.
With that weak voice of our disdain,
Take up Creation's pausing strain.
Back to the cell and poor employ :
Become the craftsman and the boy !!
Theocrite

grew

old at home;
A new Pope dwelt in Peter's Dome.
One vanished as the other died :*
They sought God side by side."

Bells and Pomegranates, No. vii. pp. 19, 20. There are two faults of which we are chiefly conscious in these lyrics. The first is a tendency to parenthesize one thought or metaphor within another, and seems to arise from fertility of mind and exuberance of illustration, united with the power of too facile execution. The other is involved in that humorous element of his character which we have noticed, and which gives him so keen an enjoyment of his own thoughts as disqualifies him for distinguishing those of them which will strike all other minds with equal distinctness and force, and those which will be appreciated only by persons constituted like himself. From both these defects his dramas are almost wholly free.

if we could be sure that our readers would read Mr. Browning's poems with the respect and attentive study they deserve, what should hinder us from saying that we think him a great poet? However, as the world feels uncomfortably somewhere, it can hardly tell how or why, at hearing people called great, before it can claim a share in their greatness by erecting to them a monument with a monk-Latin inscription on it which nine tenths of their countrymen cannot construe, and as Mr. Browning must be as yet comparatively a young man, we will content ourselves with saying that he has in him

And now,

[ocr errors]
« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »