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N.B.--The references to the Poems, by page, are to The
A PRIMER ON BROWNING.
BROWNING'S LITERARY LIFE.
1. 'Lives of the Poets.'-A great writer's life is to be found in his works rather than in his biography. The essential life of Wordsworth, George Eliot, and Carlyle is absorbed in their writings, and any other record of their years is comparatively fruitless lore. Out of the raw material of their sensations and perceptions they weave a finished product, with which alone we need greatly concern ourselves. The necessity to specialise and subdivide various departments of human labour increases with each century, and men who are at once famous as warriors, courtiers, statesmen, and poets scarcely exist in our times. Even a master spirit now has to exert himself to the utmost before he can make a step in advance of all that has already been created or discovered in one field alone. Accordingly the observers and transcribers of life tend more and more to become a
1 Works, XII. 89. Red Cotton Night-Cap Country.
separate class, so that the lives of the literary men of this age are, to speak broadly, private and uneventful.
2. Browning's Reticence and Openness.Having allowed all this, it is still natural that we should wish to know something of what were the makings of a great poet as we read him in his works, and in what circumstances the works were written. Some outline of such facts is precious, for often what specially hallows our poets to us is a silent happiness or fortitude of living which no reader's spirit-sense could unaided find between the lines. The more dramatic a writer is, the less easy it is to construct his personality out of his writings, and no writer ever had a more dramatic spirit running through his poems than Browning. If we read Childe Harold or Elia we lay them down with some idea of what manner of men were Byron and Lamb, but it is Browning's ideal? and his individual claim, that through the poet's 'window' all men may look, but no foot be allowed across his 'threshold.' Moreover, Browning's poetical works fill at least seventeen volumes, and are, as has been said, not books but a literature. Yet no one who studies these seventeen volumes fails to find the presentation of a personality subdominant throughout, a personality more explicit, it may be, in one place than another, and only speaking with direct utterance in some later poems entirely, and elsewhere in
1 XIII. 40, 41. Aristophanes' Apology.
2 XIV. 39. House.