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Introduction to Robert Browning by Hiram Corson

Part 8 out of 8

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Over hills which, resolved in stern silence, o'erlap and intwine
Base with base to knit strength more intensely: so, arm folded arm
O'er the chest whose slow heavings subsided.

11.

What spell or what charm
(For, a while there was trouble within me), what next should I urge
To sustain him where song had restored him? -- Song filled to the verge [130]
His cup with the wine of this life, pressing all that it yields
Of mere fruitage, the strength and the beauty: beyond, on what fields,
Glean a vintage more potent and perfect to brighten the eye
And bring blood to the lip, and commend them the cup they put by?
He saith, "It is good"; still he drinks not: he lets me praise life,
Gives assent, yet would die for his own part.

12.

Then fancies grew rife
Which had come long ago on the pasture, when round me the sheep
Fed in silence -- above, the one eagle wheeled slow as in sleep;
And I lay in my hollow and mused on the world that might lie
'Neath his ken, though I saw but the strip 'twixt the hill and the sky. [140]
And I laughed -- "Since my days are ordained to be passed with my flocks,
Let me people at least, with my fancies, the plains and the rocks,
Dream the life I am never to mix with, and image the show
Of mankind as they live in those fashions I hardly shall know!
Schemes of life, its best rules and right uses, the courage that gains,
And the prudence that keeps what men strive for." And now these old trains
Of vague thought came again; I grew surer; so, once more the string
Of my harp made response to my spirit, as thus --

13.

"Yea, my King,"
I began -- "thou dost well in rejecting mere comforts that spring
From the mere mortal life held in common by man and by brute: [150]
In our flesh grows the branch of this life, in our soul it bears fruit.
Thou hast marked the slow rise of the tree, -- how its stem trembled first
Till it passed the kid's lip, the stag's antler; then safely outburst
The fan-branches all round; and thou mindest when these too, in turn
Broke a-bloom and the palm-tree seemed perfect: yet more was to learn,
E'en the good that comes in with the palm-fruit. Our dates shall we slight,
When their juice brings a cure for all sorrow? or care for the plight
Of the palm's self whose slow growth produced them? Not so! stem and branch
Shall decay, nor be known in their place, while the palm-wine shall stanch
Every wound of man's spirit in winter. I pour thee such wine. [160]
Leave the flesh to the fate it was fit for! the spirit be thine!
By the spirit, when age shall o'ercome thee, thou still shalt enjoy
More indeed, than at first when, inconscious, the life of a boy.
Crush that life, and behold its wine running! Each deed thou hast done
Dies, revives, goes to work in the world; until e'en as the sun
Looking down on the earth, though clouds spoil him, though tempests efface,
Can find nothing his own deed produced not, must everywhere trace
The results of his past summer-prime, -- so, each ray of thy will,
Every flash of thy passion and prowess, long over, shall thrill
Thy whole people, the countless, with ardor, till they too give forth [170]
A like cheer to their sons: who in turn, fill the South and the North
With the radiance thy deed was the germ of. Carouse in the past!
But the license of age has its limit; thou diest at last.
As the lion when age dims his eyeball, the rose at her height,
So with man -- so his power and his beauty forever take flight.
No! Again a long draught of my soul-wine! Look forth o'er the years!
Thou hast done now with eyes for the actual; begin with the seer's!
Is Saul dead? In the depth of the vale make his tomb -- bid arise
A gray mountain of marble heaped four-square, till, built to the skies,
Let it mark where the great First King slumbers: whose fame would ye know?
Up above see the rock's naked face, where the record shall go [181]
In great characters cut by the scribe, -- Such was Saul, so he did;
With the sages directing the work, by the populace chid, --
For not half, they'll affirm, is comprised there! Which fault to amend,
In the grove with his kind grows the cedar, whereon they shall spend
(See, in tablets 'tis level before them) their praise, and record
With the gold of the graver, Saul's story, -- the statesman's great word
Side by side with the poet's sweet comment. The river's a-wave
With smooth paper-reeds grazing each other when prophet-winds rave:
So the pen gives unborn generations their due and their part [190]
In thy being! Then, first of the mighty, thank God that thou art!"

14.

And behold while I sang. . .but O Thou who didst grant me, that day,
And, before it, not seldom hast granted thy help to essay,
Carry on and complete an adventure, -- my shield and my sword
In that act where my soul was thy servant, thy word was my word, --
Still be with me, who then at the summit of human endeavor
And scaling the highest, man's thought could, gazed hopeless as ever
On the new stretch of heaven above me -- till, mighty to save,
Just one lift of thy hand cleared that distance -- God's throne from
man's grave!
Let me tell out my tale to its ending -- my voice to my heart [200]
Which can scarce dare believe in what marvels last night I took part,
As this morning I gather the fragments, alone with my sheep!
And still fear lest the terrible glory evanish like sleep,
For I wake in the gray dewy covert, while Hebron upheaves
The dawn struggling with night on his shoulder, and Kidron retrieves
Slow the damage of yesterday's sunshine.

15.

I say then, -- my song
While I sang thus, assuring the monarch, and, ever more strong,
Made a proffer of good to console him -- he slowly resumed
His old motions and habitudes kingly. The right hand replumed
His black locks to their wonted composure, adjusted the swathes [210]
Of his turban, and see -- the huge sweat that his countenance bathes,
He wipes off with the robe; and he girds now his loins as of yore,
And feels slow for the armlets of price, with the clasp set before.
He is Saul, ye remember in glory, -- ere error had bent
The broad brow from the daily communion; and still, though much spent
Be the life and the bearing that front you, the same, God did choose,
To receive what a man may waste, desecrate, never quite lose.
So sank he along by the tent-prop, till, stayed by the pile
Of his armor and war-cloak and garments, he leaned there awhile,
And sat out my singing, -- one arm round the tent-prop, to raise [220]
His bent head, and the other hung slack -- till I touched on the praise
I foresaw from all men in all time, to the man patient there;
And thus ended, the harp falling forward. Then first I was 'ware
That he sat, as I say, with my head just above his vast knees
Which were thrust out on each side around me, like oak-roots which please
To encircle a lamb when it slumbers. I looked up to know
If the best I could do had brought solace: he spoke not, but slow
Lifted up the hand slack at his side, till he laid it with care
Soft and grave, but in mild settled will, on my brow: through my hair
The large fingers were pushed, and he bent back my head, with kind power --
All my face back, intent to peruse it, as men do a flower. [231]
Thus held he me there with his great eyes that scrutinized mine --
And oh, all my heart how it loved him! but where was the sign?
I yearned -- "Could I help thee, my father, inventing a bliss,
I would add, to that life of the past, both the future and this;
I would give thee new life altogether, as good, ages hence,
As this moment, -- had love but the warrant, love's heart to dispense!"

16.

Then the truth came upon me. No harp more -- no song more! outbroke --

17.

"I have gone the whole round of creation: I saw and I spoke;
I, a work of God's hand for that purpose, received in my brain [240]
And pronounced on the rest of his handwork -- returned him again
His creation's approval or censure: I spoke as I saw.
I report, as a man may of God's work -- all's love, yet all's law.
Now I lay down the judgeship he lent me. Each faculty tasked
To perceive him, has gained an abyss, where a dewdrop was asked.
Have I knowledge? confounded it shrivels at Wisdom laid bare.
Have I forethought? how purblind, how blank, to the Infinite Care!
Do I task any faculty highest, to image success?
I but open my eyes, -- and perfection, no more and no less,
In the kind I imagined, full-fronts me, and God is seen God [250]
In the star, in the stone, in the flesh, in the soul and the clod.
And thus looking within and around me, I ever renew
(With that stoop of the soul which in bending upraises it too)
The submission of man's nothing-perfect to God's all-complete,
As by each new obeisance in spirit, I climb to his feet.
Yet with all this abounding experience, this deity known,
I shall dare to discover some province, some gift of my own.
There's a faculty pleasant to exercise, hard to hoodwink,
I am fain to keep still in abeyance (I laugh as I think),
Lest, insisting to claim and parade in it, wot ye, I worst [260]
E'en the Giver in one gift. -- Behold, I could love if I durst!
But I sink the pretension as fearing a man may o'ertake
God's own speed in the one way of love: I abstain for love's sake.
-- What, my soul? see thus far and no farther? when doors great and small,
Nine-and-ninety flew ope at our touch, should the hundredth appal?
In the least things have faith, yet distrust in the greatest of all?
Do I find love so full in my nature, God's ultimate gift,
That I doubt his own love can compete with it? Here the parts shift?
Here, the creature surpass the creator, -- the end, what began?
Would I fain in my impotent yearning do all for this man, [270]
And dare doubt he alone shall not help him, who yet alone can?
Would it ever have entered my mind, the bare will, much less power,
To bestow on this Saul what I sang of, the marvellous dower
Of the life he was gifted and filled with? to make such a soul,
Such a body, and then such an earth for insphering the whole?
And doth it not enter my mind (as my warm tears attest)
These good things being given, to go on, and give one more, the best?
Ay, to save and redeem and restore him, maintain at the height
This perfection, -- succeed, with life's dayspring, death's minute of night?
Interpose at the difficult minute, snatch Saul, the mistake, [280]
Saul, the failure, the ruin he seems now, -- and bid him awake
From the dream, the probation, the prelude, to find himself set
Clear and safe in new light and new life, -- a new harmony yet
To be run and continued, and ended -- who knows? -- or endure!
The man taught enough by life's dream, of the rest to make sure;
By the pain-throb, triumphantly winning intensified bliss,
And the next world's reward and repose, by the struggles in this.

18.

"I believe it! 'Tis thou, God, that givest, 'tis I who receive:
In the first is the last, in thy will is my power to believe.
All's one gift: thou canst grant it moreover, as prompt to my prayer, [290]
As I breathe out this breath, as I open these arms to the air.
From thy will, stream the worlds, life and nature, thy dread Sabaoth:
I will? -- the mere atoms despise me! Why am I not loth
To look that, even that in the face too? Why is it I dare
Think but lightly of such impuissance? What stops my despair?
This; -- 'tis not what man Does which exalts him, but what man Would do!
See the King -- I would help him, but cannot, the wishes fall through.
Could I wrestle to raise him from sorrow, grow poor to enrich,
To fill up his life, starve my own out, I would -- knowing which,
I know that my service is perfect. Oh, speak through me now! [300]
Would I suffer for him that I love? So wouldst thou -- so wilt thou!
So shall crown thee the topmost, ineffablest, uttermost crown --
And thy love fill infinitude wholly, nor leave up nor down
One spot for the creature to stand in! It is by no breath,
Turn of eye, wave of hand, that salvation joins issue with death!
As thy love is discovered almighty, almighty be proved
Thy power, that exists with and for it, of being beloved!
He who did most, shall bear most; the strongest shall stand the most weak.
'Tis the weakness in strength, that I cry for! my flesh, that I seek
In the Godhead! I seek and I find it. O Saul, it shall be [310]
A Face like my face that receives thee; a Man like to me,
Thou shalt love and be loved by, forever: a Hand like this hand
Shall throw open the gates of new life to thee! See the Christ stand!"

19.

I know not too well how I found my way home in the night.
There were witnesses, cohorts about me, to left and to right,
Angels, powers, the unuttered, unseen, the alive, the aware:
I repressed, I got through them as hardly, as strugglingly there,
As a runner beset by the populace famished for news --
Life or death. The whole earth was awakened, hell loosed with her crews;
And the stars of night beat with emotion, and tingled and shot [320]
Out in fire the strong pain of pent knowledge: but I fainted not,
For the Hand still impelled me at once and supported, suppressed
All the tumult, and quenched it with quiet, and holy behest,
Till the rapture was shut in itself, and the earth sank to rest.
Anon at the dawn, all that trouble had withered from earth --
Not so much, but I saw it die out in the day's tender birth;
In the gathered intensity brought to the gray of the hills;
In the shuddering forests' held breath; in the sudden wind-thrills;
In the startled wild beasts that bore oft, each with eye sidling still
Though averted with wonder and dread; in the birds stiff and chill [330]
That rose heavily as I approached them, made stupid with awe:
E'en the serpent that slid away silent -- he felt the new law.
The same stared in the white humid faces upturned by the flowers;
The same worked in the heart of the cedar and moved the vine-bowers:
And the little brooks witnessing murmured, persistent and low,
With their obstinate, all but hushed voices -- "E'en so, it is so!"

--
320 et seq.: see note to St. 37, 38, of `By the Fireside'.

A Death in the Desert.

[Supposed of Pamphylax the Antiochene:
It is a parchment, of my rolls the fifth,
Hath three skins glued together, is all Greek
And goeth from Epsilon down to Mu:
Lies second in the surnamed Chosen Chest, [5]
Stained and conserved with juice of terebinth,
Covered with cloth of hair, and lettered Xi,
From Xanthus, my wife's uncle, now at peace:
Mu and Epsilon stand for my own name.
I may not write it, but I make a cross [10]
To show I wait His coming, with the rest,
And leave off here: beginneth Pamphylax.]

--
1-12. The bracketed prefatory lines, explanatory of the parchment
on which are recorded the last hours and last talk of St. John
with his devoted attendants, purport to have been written by one
who was at the time the owner of the parchment. It appears
to have come into his possession through his wife, a niece of
the Xanthus who, with Pamphylax of Antioch, the supposed author
of the narrative (he having told it on the eve of his martyrdom
to a certain Phoebas, v. 653), and two others, is represented therein
as waiting on the dying apostle, and who afterwards "escaped to Rome,
was burned, and could not write the chronicle." (vv. 56, 57.)

4. And goeth from Epsilon down to Mu: the reference is
to some numbering on the parchment.

6. terebinth: the turpentine tree.
--

I said, "If one should wet his lips with wine,
And slip the broadest plantain-leaf we find,
Or else the lappet of a linen robe, [15]
Into the water-vessel, lay it right,
And cool his forehead just above the eyes,
The while a brother, kneeling either side,
Should chafe each hand and try to make it warm, --
He is not so far gone but he might speak." [20]
This did not happen in the outer cave,
Nor in the secret chamber of the rock,
Where, sixty days since the decree was out,
We had him, bedded on a camel-skin,
And waited for his dying all the while; [25]
But in the midmost grotto: since noon's light
Reached there a little, and we would not lose
The last of what might happen on his face.

--
23. the decree: of persecution of the Christians,
perhaps that under Domitian. The poet probably did not think
of any particular persecution.
--

I at the head, and Xanthus at the feet,
With Valens and the Boy, had lifted him, [30]
And brought him from the chamber in the depths,
And laid him in the light where we might see:
For certain smiles began about his mouth,
And his lids moved, presageful of the end.

Beyond, and half way up the mouth o' the cave, [35]
The Bactrian convert, having his desire,
Kept watch, and made pretence to graze a goat
That gave us milk, on rags of various herb,
Plantain and quitch, the rocks' shade keeps alive:
So that if any thief or soldier passed [40]
(Because the persecution was aware),
Yielding the goat up promptly with his life,
Such man might pass on, joyful at a prize,
Nor care to pry into the cool o' the cave.
Outside was all noon and the burning blue. [45]

--
36. the Bactrian convert: in vv. 649, 650, he is spoken of as
"but a wild childish man, and could not write nor speak,
but only loved." Bactria was a kingdom in Central Asia;
the modern name is Balkh {a district in northern Afghanistan as of 1995}.
having his desire: as a new convert, the simple man was eager to serve,
even unto death.

41. aware: on the lookout; exercising a strict espionage.
--

"Here is wine", answered Xanthus, -- dropped a drop;
I stooped and placed the lap of cloth aright,
Then chafed his right hand, and the Boy his left:
But Valens had bethought him, and produced
And broke a ball of nard, and made perfume. [50]
Only, he did -- not so much wake, as -- turn
And smile a little, as a sleeper does
If any dear one call him, touch his face --
And smiles and loves, but will not be disturbed.

Then Xanthus said a prayer, but still he slept: [55]
It is the Xanthus that escaped to Rome,
Was burned, and could not write the chronicle.

Then the Boy sprang up from his knees, and ran,
Stung by the splendor of a sudden thought,
And fetched the seventh plate of graven lead [60]
Out of the secret chamber, found a place,
Pressing with finger on the deeper dints,
And spoke, as 'twere his mouth proclaiming first,
"I am the Resurrection and the Life."

--
60. the seventh plate of graven lead: one of the plates on which
John's Gospel was graven. It contained, it appears, the 11th chapter,
in which Jesus says to Martha, 25th verse, "I am the Resurrection
and the Life." The Boy uttered the words with such expression
as 'twere HIS mouth first proclaiming them.
--

Whereat he opened his eyes wide at once, [65]
And sat up of himself, and looked at us;
And thenceforth nobody pronounced a word:
Only, outside, the Bactrian cried his cry
Like the lone desert-bird that wears the ruff,
As signal we were safe, from time to time. [70]

--
69. the lone desert-bird: the ruff may possibly be referred to.
See Webster, s.v.
--

First he said, "If a man declared to me,
This my son Valens, this my other son,
Were James and Peter, -- nay, declared as well
This lad was very John, -- I could believe!
-- Could, for a moment, doubtlessly believe: [75]
So is myself withdrawn into my depths,
The soul retreated from the perished brain
Whence it was wont to feel and use the world
Through these dull members, done with long ago.
Yet I myself remain; I feel myself: [80]
And there is nothing lost. Let be, awhile!"

--
76. withdrawn into my depths: into the depths of his absolute being,
of the "what Is"; see the doctrine of the trinal unity of man
which follows.
--

[This is the doctrine he was wont to teach,
How divers persons witness in each man,
Three souls which make up one soul: first, to wit,
A soul of each and all the bodily parts, [85]
Seated therein, which works, and is what Does,
And has the use of earth, and ends the man
Downward; but, tending upward for advice,
Grows into, and again is grown into
By the next soul, which, seated in the brain, [90]
Useth the first with its collected use,
And feeleth, thinketh, willeth, -- is what Knows:
Which, duly tending upward in its turn,
Grows into, and again is grown into
By the last soul, that uses both the first, [95]
Subsisting whether they assist or no,
And, constituting man's self, is what Is --
And leans upon the former, makes it play,
As that played off the first: and, tending up,
Holds, is upheld by, God, and ends the man [100]
Upward in that dread point of intercourse,
Nor needs a place, for it returns to Him.
What Does, what Knows, what Is; three souls, one man.
I give the glossa of Theotypas.]

--
82-104. The supposed narrator, Pamphylax, gives in these
bracketed verses, on the authority of an imagined Theotypas,
a doctrine John was wont to teach, of the trinal unity of man --
the third "person" of which unity, "what Is", being man's essential,
absolute nature. The dying John is represented as having won his way
to the Kingdom of the "what Is", the Kingdom of eternal truth
within himself. In Luke 17:20-21, we read: "And when he was
demanded of the Pharisees, when the Kingdom of God should come,
he answered them and said, The Kingdom of God cometh not with observation:
neither shall they say, Lo here! or, Lo there! for, behold,
the Kingdom of God is within you." In harmony with which,
Paracelsus is made to say, in Browning's poem, "Truth is within ourselves;
. . . there is an inmost centre in us all, where truth abides in fulness";
etc. See pp. 24 and 25 of this volume. {In this etext, see Chapter I,
`The Spiritual Ebb and Flow, etc.', of the Introduction.
Excerpt is shortly before the poem `Popularity'.} "Life,
you've granted me, develops from within. But INNERMOST OF THE INMOST,
MOST INTERIOR OF THE INTERNE, GOD CLAIMS HIS OWN,
DIVINE HUMANITY RENEWING NATURE" (Mrs. Browning's `Aurora Leigh').
Mrs. M. G. Glazebrook, in her paper on `A Death in the Desert',
read at the 48th meeting of the Browning Society, Feb. 25th, 1887,
paraphrases these lines: "The first and lowest [soul] is that
which has to do with earth and corporeal things, the animal soul,
which receives primary sensations and is the immediate cause of action
-- `what Does'. The second is the intellect, and has its seat
in the brain: it is superior to the first, but dependent on it,
since it receives as material the actual experience which
the animal soul supplies; it is the feeling, thinking, willing soul
-- `what Knows'. The third, and highest, is the spirit of man,
the very principle of life, the divine element in man linking him
to God, which is self-subsistent and therefore independent of
sensation and knowledge, but nevertheless makes use of them,
and gives them existence and energy -- `what Is'."
--

And then, "A stick, once fire from end to end; [105]
Now, ashes save the tip that holds a spark!
Yet, blow the spark, it runs back, spreads itself
A little where the fire was: thus I urge
The soul that served me, till it task once more
What ashes of my brain have kept their shape, [110]
And these make effort on the last o' the flesh,
Trying to taste again the truth of things" --
(He smiled) -- "their very superficial truth;
As that ye are my sons, that it is long
Since James and Peter had release by death, [115]
And I am only he, your brother John,
Who saw and heard, and could remember all.
Remember all! It is not much to say.
What if the truth broke on me from above
As once and oft-times? Such might hap again: [120]
Doubtlessly He might stand in presence here,
With head wool-white, eyes, flame, and feet like brass,
The sword and the seven stars, as I have seen --
I who now shudder only and surmise
`How did your brother bear that sight and live?' [125]

--
113. superficial truth: phenomenal, relative truth;
that which is arrived at through the senses, and belongs to the domain
of the "what Knows". Essential, absolute truth can be known only
through a response thereto of the essential, the absolute,
the "what Is", in man's nature. John has attained to a measure
of absolute truth, and smiles on reverting to the very superficial
truth of things.

121-123. See The Revelation of St. John, chap. 1.

125. your brother: he means himself, of course.
--

"If I live yet, it is for good, more love
Through me to men: be naught but ashes here
That keep awhile my semblance, who was John, --
Still, when they scatter, there is left on earth
No one alive who knew (consider this!) [130]
-- Saw with his eyes and handled with his hands
That which was from the first, the Word of Life.
How will it be when none more saith `I saw'?

"Such ever was love's way: to rise, it stoops.
Since I, whom Christ's mouth taught, was bidden teach, [135]
I went, for many years, about the world,
Saying, `It was so; so I heard and saw',
Speaking as the case asked: and men believed.
Afterward came the message to myself
In Patmos isle; I was not bidden teach. [140]
But simply listen, take a book and write,
Nor set down other than the given word.
With nothing left to my arbitrament
To choose or change: I wrote, and men believed.
Then, for my time grew brief, no message more, [145]
No call to write again, I found a way,
And, reasoning from my knowledge, merely taught
Men should, for love's sake, in love's strength, believe;
Or I would pen a letter to a friend,
And urge the same as friend, nor less nor more: [150]
Friends said I reasoned rightly, and believed.
But at the last, why, I seemed left alive
Like a sea-jelly weak on Patmos strand,
To tell dry sea-beach gazers how I fared
When there was mid-sea, and the mighty things; [155]
Left to repeat, `I saw, I heard, I knew',
And go all over the old ground again,
With Antichrist already in the world,
And many Antichrists, who answered prompt
`Am I not Jasper as thyself art John? [160]
Nay, young, whereas through age thou mayest forget:
Wherefore, explain, or how shall we believe?'
I never thought to call down fire on such,
Or, as in wonderful and early days,
Pick up the scorpion, tread the serpent dumb; [165]
But patient stated much of the Lord's life
Forgotten or misdelivered, and let it work:
Since much that at the first, in deed and word,
Lay simply and sufficiently exposed,
Had grown (or else my soul was grown to match, [170]
Fed through such years, familiar with such light,
Guarded and guided still to see and speak)
Of new significance and fresh result;
What first were guessed as points, I now knew stars,
And named them in the Gospel I have writ. [175]
For men said, `It is getting long ago:
Where is the promise of His coming?' -- asked
These young ones in their strength, as loth to wait,
Of me who, when their sires were born, was old.
I, for I loved them, answered, joyfully, [180]
Since I was there, and helpful in my age;
And, in the main, I think such men believed.
Finally, thus endeavoring, I fell sick.
Ye brought me here, and I supposed the end,
And went to sleep with one thought that, at least, [185]
Though the whole earth should lie in wickedness,
We had the truth, might leave the rest to God.
Yet now I wake in such decrepitude
As I had slidden down and fallen afar,
Past even the presence of my former self, [190]
Grasping the while for stay at facts which snap,
Till I am found away from my own world,
Feeling for foot-hold through a blank profound,
Along with unborn people in strange lands,
Who say -- I hear said or conceive they say -- [195]
`Was John at all, and did he say he saw?
Assure us, ere we ask what he might see!'

--
156. I saw, I heard, I knew: expressions which occur throughout
John's Revelation.

188-197. The poet provides, in these lines, for the prophetic character
of John's discourse, its solution of the difficulties destined to beset
Christianity in the future, and especially of those which have been
raised in our own times. The historical bulwarks which the Strausses
and the Renans have endeavored to destroy, Christianity,
in its essential, absolute character, its adaptiveness to
spiritual vitality, and the wants of the soul, can do without.
Indeed, there will be much gained when the historical character
of Christianity is generally disregarded. Its impregnable fortress,
namely, the Personality, Jesus Christ, will remain, and mankind
will forever seek and find refuge in it. Arthur Symons,
in his `Introduction to the Study of Browning', remarks: . . ."it is as
a piece of ratiocination -- suffused, indeed, with imagination --
that the poem seems to have its raison d'etre. The bearing of
this argument on contemporary theories, may to some appear a merit,
to others a blemish. To make the dying John refute Strauss or Renan,
handling their propositions with admirable dialectical skill,
is certainly, on the face of it, somewhat hazardous. But I can see
no real incongruity in imputing to the seer of Patmos
a prophetic insight into the future -- no real inconsequence
in imagining the opponent of Cerinthus spending his last breath
in the defence of Christian truth against a foreseen scepticism."
--

"And how shall I assure them? Can they share
-- They, who have flesh, a veil of youth and strength
About each spirit, that needs must bide its time, [200]
Living and learning still as years assist
Which wear the thickness thin, and let man see --
With me who hardly am withheld at all,
But shudderingly, scarce a shred between,
Lie bare to the universal prick of light? [205]
Is it for nothing we grow old and weak,
We whom God loves? When pain ends, gain ends too.
To me, that story -- ay, that Life and Death
Of which I wrote `it was' -- to me, it is;
-- Is, here and now: I apprehend naught else. [210]
Is not God now i' the world His power first made?
Is not His love at issue still with sin,
Visibly when a wrong is done on earth?
Love, wrong, and pain, what see I else around?
Yea, and the Resurrection and Uprise [215]
To the right hand of the throne -- what is it beside,
When such truth, breaking bounds, o'erfloods my soul,
And, as I saw the sin and death, even so
See I the need yet transiency of both,
The good and glory consummated thence? [220]
I saw the Power; I see the Love, once weak,
Resume the Power: and in this word `I see',
Lo, there is recognized the Spirit of both
That moving o'er the spirit of man, unblinds
His eye and bids him look. These are, I see; [225]
But ye, the children, His beloved ones too,
Ye need, -- as I should use an optic glass
I wondered at erewhile, somewhere i' the world,
It had been given a crafty smith to make;
A tube, he turned on objects brought too close, [230]
Lying confusedly insubordinate
For the unassisted eye to master once:
Look through his tube, at distance now they lay,
Become succinct, distinct, so small, so clear!
Just thus, ye needs must apprehend what truth [235]
I see, reduced to plain historic fact,
Diminished into clearness, proved a point
And far away: ye would withdraw your sense
From out eternity, strain it upon time,
Then stand before that fact, that Life and Death, [240]
Stay there at gaze, till it dispart, dispread,
As though a star should open out, all sides,
Grow the world on you, as it is my world.

--
202. "Oh, not alone when life flows still do truth and power emerge,
but also when strange chance ruffles its current; in unused conjuncture,
when sickness breaks the body -- hunger, watching, excess, or languor --
oftenest death's approach -- peril, deep joy, or woe."
-- Browning's `Paracelsus'.

"The soul's dark cottage, battered and decayed,
Lets in new light through chinks that Time has made.
Stronger by weakness, wiser men become,
As they draw near to their eternal home.
Leaving the old, both worlds at once they view,
That stand upon the threshold of the new." -- Edmund Waller.

"Drawing near her death, she sent most pious thoughts as harbingers
to heaven; and her soul saw a glimpse of happiness through the chinks
of her sickness-broken body." Fuller's `Holy and Profane State',
Book I., chap. 2.

203. With me: connect with `share', v. 198.

208-209. See p. 62 of this volume. {In this etext, Part II,
Section 3 in the Introduction. It is shortly before an excerpt
from `Christmas Eve'.}

221-225. See stanzas 9 and 10 of `Rabbi Ben Ezra'.

227. an optic glass: perhaps anachronistic.
--

"For life, with all it yields of joy and woe,
And hope and fear, -- believe the aged friend, -- [245]
Is just our chance o' the prize of learning love,
How love might be, hath been indeed, and is;
And that we hold thenceforth to the uttermost
Such prize despite the envy of the world,
And, having gained truth, keep truth: that is all. [250]
But see the double way wherein we are led,
How the soul learns diversely from the flesh!
With flesh, that hath so little time to stay,
And yields mere basement for the soul's emprise,
Expect prompt teaching. Helpful was the light, [255]
And warmth was cherishing and food was choice
To every man's flesh, thousand years ago,
As now to yours and mine; the body sprang
At once to the height, and staid: but the soul, -- no!
Since sages who, this noontide, meditate [260]
In Rome or Athens, may descry some point
Of the eternal power, hid yestereve;
And, as thereby the power's whole mass extends,
So much extends the ether floating o'er
The love that tops the might, the Christ in God. [265]
Then, as new lessons shall be learned in these
Till earth's work stop and useless time run out,
So duly, daily, needs provision be
For keeping the soul's prowess possible,
Building new barriers as the old decay, [270]
Saving us from evasion of life's proof,
Putting the question ever, `Does God love,
And will ye hold that truth against the world?'
Ye know there needs no second proof with good
Gained for our flesh from any earthly source: [275]
We might go freezing, ages, -- give us fire,
Thereafter we judge fire at its full worth,
And guard it safe through every chance, ye know!
That fable of Prometheus and his theft,
How mortals gained Jove's fiery flower, grows old [280]
(I have been used to hear the pagans own)
And out of mind; but fire, howe'er its birth,
Here is it, precious to the sophist now
Who laughs the myth of Aeschylus to scorn,
As precious to those satyrs of his play, [285]
Who touched it in gay wonder at the thing.
While were it so with the soul, -- this gift of truth
Once grasped, were this our soul's gain safe, and sure
To prosper as the body's gain is wont, --
Why, man's probation would conclude, his earth [290]
Crumble; for he both reasons and decides,
Weighs first, then chooses: will he give up fire
For gold or purple once he knows its worth?
Could he give Christ up were His worth as plain?
Therefore, I say, to test man, the proofs shift, [295]
Nor may he grasp that fact like other fact,
And straightway in his life acknowledge it,
As, say, the indubitable bliss of fire.
Sigh ye, `It had been easier once than now?'
To give you answer I am left alive; [300]
Look at me who was present from the first!
Ye know what things I saw; then came a test,
My first, befitting me who so had seen:
`Forsake the Christ thou sawest transfigured, Him
Who trod the sea and brought the dead to life? [305]
What should wring this from thee?' -- ye laugh and ask.
What wrung it? Even a torchlight and a noise,
The sudden Roman faces, violent hands,
And fear of what the Jews might do! Just that,
And it is written, `I forsook and fled': [310]
There was my trial, and it ended thus.
Ay, but my soul had gained its truth, could grow:
Another year or two, -- what little child,
What tender woman that had seen no least
Of all my sights, but barely heard them told, [315]
Who did not clasp the cross with a light laugh,
Or wrap the burning robe round, thanking God?
Well, was truth safe forever, then? Not so.
Already had begun the silent work
Whereby truth, deadened of its absolute blaze, [320]
Might need love's eye to pierce the o'erstretched doubt.
Teachers were busy, whispering `All is true
As the aged ones report; but youth can reach
Where age gropes dimly, weak with stir and strain,
And the full doctrine slumbers till to-day.' [325]
Thus, what the Roman's lowered spear was found,
A bar to me who touched and handled truth,
Now proved the glozing of some new shrewd tongue,
This Ebion, this Cerinthus or their mates,
Till imminent was the outcry `Save our Christ!' [330]
Whereon I stated much of the Lord's life
Forgotten or misdelivered, and let it work.
Such work done, as it will be, what comes next?
What do I hear say, or conceive men say,
`Was John at all, and did he say he saw? [335]
Assure us, ere we ask what he might see!'

--
284. the myth of Aeschylus: embodied in his `Prometheus Bound'.

295. the proofs shift: see pp. 37 and 38. {In etext, shortly before
two excerpts from `A Death in the Desert', Chapter II, Section 1
of Introduction.} Objective proofs, in spiritual matters,
need reconstruction, again and again; and whatever may be
their character, they are inadequate, and must finally,
in the Christian life, be superseded by subjective proofs --
by man's winning his way to the kingdom of eternal truth within himself
-- the kingdom of the "what Is".

307-310. See Matt. 26:56; Mark 14:50; John 18:3.

326-328. what the Roman's lowered spear was found [to be, namely],
a bar, [etc.,] now proved [to be, etc.].

329. This Ebion, this Cerinthus: see `Gibbon's History of the Decline
and Fall of the Roman Empire', Chaps. 15, 21, 47. And see, especially,
the able articles, "Cerinthus" and "Ebionism and Ebionites",
in the `Dictionary of Christian Biography', etc., edited by
Dr. William Smith and Professor Wace. "`Ebion' as a name first personified
by Tertullian, was said to have been a pupil of Cerinthus,
and the Gospel of St. John to have been as much directed against the former
as the latter. St. Paul and St. Luke were asserted to have spoken
and written against Ebionites. The `Apostolical Constitutions' (vi. c. 6)
traced them back to Apostolic times; Theodoret (Haer. fab. II. c. 2)
assigned them to the reign of Domitian (A.D. 81-96). The existence of
an `Ebion' is, however, now surrendered." From Art. Ebionism
in `Dict. of Christian Biography'.

And see Prof. George P. Fisher's `Beginnings of Christianity', 1877.

"Cerinthus, a man who was educated in the wisdom of the Egyptians,
taught that the world was not made by the primary God,
but by a certain power far separated from him, and at a distance from
that Principality who is supreme over the universe, and ignorant of him
who is above all. He represented Jesus as having not been born
of a virgin, but as being the son of Joseph and Mary according to
the ordinary course of human generation, while he nevertheless
was more righteous, prudent, and wise than other men. Moreover,
after his baptism, Christ descended upon him in the form of a dove
from the Supreme Ruler, and that then he proclaimed the unknown Father,
and performed miracles. But at last Christ departed from Jesus,
and that then Jesus suffered and rose again, while Christ
remained impassible, inasmuch as he was a spiritual being."
`The Writings of Irenaeus, transl. by Rev. Alexander Roberts, D.D.,
and Rev. W. H. Rambaut, A.B.', Edinburgh, 1868. Vol. I., Book I.,
Chap xxvi.
--

"Is this indeed a burthen for late days,
And may I help to bear it with you all,
Using my weakness which becomes your strength?
For if a babe were born inside this grot, [340]
Grew to a boy here, heard us praise the sun,
Yet had but yon sole glimmer in light's place, --
One loving him and wishful he should learn,
Would much rejoice himself was blinded first
Month by month here, so made to understand [345]
How eyes, born darkling, apprehend amiss:
I think I could explain to such a child
There was more glow outside than gleams he caught,
Ay, nor need urge `I saw it, so believe!'
It is a heavy burthen you shall bear [350]
In latter days, new lands, or old grown strange,
Left without me, which must be very soon.
What is the doubt, my brothers? Quick with it!
I see you stand conversing, each new face,
Either in fields, of yellow summer eves, [355]
On islets yet unnamed amid the sea;
Or pace for shelter 'neath a portico
Out of the crowd in some enormous town
Where now the larks sing in a solitude;
Or muse upon blank heaps of stone and sand [360]
Idly conjectured to be Ephesus:
And no one asks his fellow any more
`Where is the promise of His coming?' but
`Was He revealed in any of His lives,
As Power, as Love, as Influencing Soul?' [365]

--
346. darkling: an old adverbial form; in the dark.
See `Paradise Lost', III. 39. "O, wilt thou darkling leave me?"
Sh's `M. N. D.', II. 2. 86; "So, out went the candle,
and we were left darkling." `Lear', I. 4. 237; also `A. and C.',
IV. 15. 10.

353. What is the doubt, my brothers?: He addresses his brothers
of the far future. The eight following verses are very beautiful.

362-365. The question, "Where is the promise of His coming?"
asked in John's own day, gives place in the far future to which the ken
of the dying Apostle extends, to the question whether God was indeed
revealed in Christ, `As Power, as Love, as Influencing Soul',
or whether, man having already love in himself, Christ were not
a mere projection from man's inmost mind (v. 383)? If so there is
nothing to fall back on but force, or natural law. This anticipated
questioning and reasoning extends from v. 370 to v. 421.
--

"Quick, for time presses, tell the whole mind out,
And let us ask and answer and be saved!
My book speaks on, because it cannot pass;
One listens quietly, nor scoffs but pleads
`Here is a tale of things done ages since: [370]
What truth was ever told the second day?
Wonders, that would prove doctrine, go for naught.
Remains the doctrine, love; well, we must love,
And what we love most, power and love in one,
Let us acknowledge on the record here, [375]
Accepting these in Christ: must Christ then be?
Has He been? Did not we ourselves make Him?
Our mind receives but what it holds, no more.
First of the love, then; we acknowledge Christ --
A proof we comprehend His love, a proof [380]
We had such love already in ourselves,
Knew first what else we should not recognize.
'Tis mere projection from man's inmost mind,
And, what he loves, thus falls reflected back,
Becomes accounted somewhat out of him; [385]
He throws it up in air, it drops down earth's,
With shape, name, story added, man's old way.
How prove you Christ came otherwise at least?
Next try the power: He made and rules the world:
Certes there is a world once made, now ruled, [390]
Unless things have been ever as we see.
Our sires declared a charioteer's yoked steeds
Brought the sun up the east and down the west,
Which only of itself now rises, sets,
As if a hand impelled it and a will, -- [395]
Thus they long thought, they who had will and hands:
But the new question's whisper is distinct,
Wherefore must all force needs be like ourselves?
We have the hands, the will; what made and drives
The sun is force, is law, is named, not known, [400]
While will and love we do know; marks of these.
Eye-witnesses attest, so books declare --
As that, to punish or reward our race,
The sun at undue times arose or set
Or else stood still: what do not men affirm? [405]
But earth requires as urgently reward
Or punishment to-day as years ago,
And none expects the sun will interpose:
Therefore it was mere passion and mistake,
Or erring zeal for right, which changed the truth. [410]
Go back, far, farther, to the birth of things;
Ever the will, the intelligence, the love,
Man's! -- which he gives, supposing he but finds,
As late he gave head, body, hands, and feet,
To help these in what forms he called his gods. [415]
First, Jove's brow, Juno's eyes were swept away,
But Jove's wrath, Juno's pride continued long;
At last, will, power, and love discarded these,
So law in turn discards power, love, and will.
What proveth God is otherwise at least? [420]
All else, projection from the mind of man!'

--
367. And let us ask and answer: John's talk, it must be understood,
is with future people, not with the attendants.

368. My book speaks on: that is, to people of all futures,
because it cannot pass away.

371. What truth, etc.: that is, truth is soon perverted, obscured,
and often turned into positive untruth.

372. Wonders, that would prove doctrine: that is, whose purpose was
to prove.

385. Comes to be considered as something outside of,
and distinct from, himself.
--

"Nay, do not give me wine, for I am strong,
But place my gospel where I put my hands.

"I say that man was made to grow, not stop;
That help, he needed once, and needs no more, [425]
Having grown but an inch by, is withdrawn:
For he hath new needs, and new helps to these.
This imports solely, man should mount on each
New height in view; the help whereby he mounts,
The ladder-rung his foot has left, may fall, [430]
Since all things suffer change save God the Truth.
Man apprehends Him newly at each stage
Whereat earth's ladder drops, its service done;
And nothing shall prove twice what once was proved.
You stick a garden-plot with ordered twigs [435]
To show inside lie germs of herbs unborn,
And check the careless step would spoil their birth;
But when herbs wave, the guardian twigs may go,
Since should ye doubt of virtues, question kinds,
It is no longer for old twigs ye look, [440]
Which proved once underneath lay store of seed,
But to the herb's self, by what light ye boast,
For what fruit's signs are. This book's fruit is plain,
Nor miracles need prove it any more.
Doth the fruit show? Then miracles bade 'ware [445]
At first of root and stem, saved both till now
From trampling ox, rough boar, and wanton goat.
What? Was man made a wheelwork to wind up,
And be discharged, and straight wound up anew?
No! -- grown, his growth lasts; taught, he ne'er forgets: [450]
May learn a thousand things, not twice the same.
This might be pagan teaching: now hear mine.

--
424. Here John's answer begins to the questioning and reasoning
contained in vv. 370-421.

In vv. 424-434, is contained a favorite teaching of Browning.
It appears in various forms throughout his poetry. See the quotation
from `Luria', p. 38.

428. This imports solely: this is the one all important thing.

428-430. A similar comparison is used in `Julius Caesar', A. II.,
S. I., 22-27:

. . ."lowliness is young ambition's ladder,
Whereto the climber-upward turns his face;
But when he once attains the upmost round,
He then unto the ladder turns his back,
Looks in the clouds, scorning the base degrees
By which he did ascend."

452. This might be pagan teaching: that is, even pagan teaching
might go so far as this.
--

"I say, that as the babe, you feed awhile,
Becomes a boy and fit to feed himself,
So, minds at first must be spoon-fed with truth: [455]
When they can eat, babe's nurture is withdrawn.
I fed the babe whether it would or no:
I bid the boy or feed himself or starve.
I cried once, `That ye may believe in Christ,
Behold this blind man shall receive his sight!' [460]
I cry now, `Urgest thou, FOR I AM SHREWD,
AND SMILE AT STORIES HOW JOHN'S WORD COULD CURE --
REPEAT THAT MIRACLE AND TAKE MY FAITH?'
I say, that miracle was duly wrought
When, save for it, no faith was possible. [465]
Whether a change were wrought i' the shows o' the world,
Whether the change came from our minds which see
Of shows o' the world so much as and no more
Than God wills for His purpose, -- (what do I
See now, suppose you, there where you see rock [470]
Round us?) -- I know not; such was the effect,
So faith grew, making void more miracles
Because too much: they would compel, not help.
I say, the acknowledgment of God in Christ
Accepted by thy reason, solves for thee [475]
All questions in the earth and out of it,
And has so far advanced thee to be wise.
Wouldst thou unprove this to re-prove the proved?
In life's mere minute, with power to use that proof,
Leave knowledge and revert to how it sprung? [480]
Thou hast it; use it and forthwith, or die!

--
472. So faith grew, making void more miracles: the outward
manifestations of spiritual powers (du/namis, `power', `act of power',
and shmei^on, `sign', `token', are the original words in the N. T.,
which are translated `miracle') gave place to subjective proof.
Christianity was endorsed by man's own soul. To this may be added,
that even the historical bulwarks of Christianity may, ere long,
be dispensed with.

474-481. These verses may be taken as presenting Browning's
own conclusion as to the whole duty of man, in a spiritual direction.
And see the quotation from `Christmas Eve' and the remarks which follow,
on pp. 63 and 64. {In etext, Chapter II, Section 3 of Introduction.}
--

"For I say, this is death and the sole death,
When a man's loss comes to him from his gain,
Darkness from light, from knowledge ignorance,
And lack of love from love made manifest; [485]
A lamp's death when, replete with oil, it chokes;
A stomach's when, surcharged with food, it starves.
With ignorance was surety of a cure.
When man, appalled at nature, questioned first
`What if there lurk a might behind this might?' [490]
He needed satisfaction God could give,
And did give, as ye have the written word:
But when he finds might still redouble might,
Yet asks, `Since all is might, what use of will?'
-- Will, the one source of might, -- he being man [495]
With a man's will and a man's might, to teach
In little how the two combine in large, --
That man has turned round on himself and stands,
Which in the course of nature is, to die.

"And when man questioned, `What if there be love [500]
Behind the will and might, as real as they?' --
He needed satisfaction God could give,
And did give, as ye have the written word:
But when, beholding that love everywhere,
He reasons, `Since such love is everywhere, [505]
And since ourselves can love and would be loved,
We ourselves make the love, and Christ was not', --
How shall ye help this man who knows himself,
That he must love and would be loved again,
Yet, owning his own love that proveth Christ, [510]
Rejecteth Christ through very need of Him?
The lamp o'erswims with oil, the stomach flags
Loaded with nurture, and that man's soul dies.

"If he rejoin, `But this was all the while
A trick; the fault was, first of all, in thee, [515]
Thy story of the places, names and dates,
Where, when, and how the ultimate truth had rise,
-- Thy prior truth, at last discovered none,
Whence now the second suffers detriment.
What good of giving knowledge if, because [520]
O' the manner of the gift, its profit fail?
And why refuse what modicum of help
Had stopped the after-doubt, impossible
I' the face of truth -- truth absolute, uniform?
Why must I hit of this and miss of that, [525]
Distinguish just as I be weak or strong,
And not ask of thee and have answer prompt,
Was this once, was it not once? -- then and now
And evermore, plain truth from man to man.
Is John's procedure just the heathen bard's? [530]
Put question of his famous play again
How for the ephemerals' sake, Jove's fire was filched,
And carried in a cane and brought to earth:
THE FACT IS IN THE FABLE, cry the wise,
MORTALS OBTAINED THE BOON, SO MUCH IS FACT, [535]
THOUGH FIRE BE SPIRIT AND PRODUCED ON EARTH.
As with the Titan's, so now with thy tale:
Why breed in us perplexity, mistake,
Nor tell the whole truth in the proper words?'

--
514-539. John anticipates another objection that will be made
to his Gospel, namely, that so many things therein are not cleared up,
that the whole truth is not told in the proper words,
the sceptic claiming that everything should have been so proved

"That the probation bear no hinge nor loop
To hang a doubt on";

that all after-doubt, impossible in the face of truth -- truth absolute,
uniform, might have been stopped.

523. Had stopped: would have stopped.

530. the heathen bard's: Aeschylus'.

531. famous play: `Prometheus Bound'.

532. ephemerals': mortals'.

537. Titan's: Prometheus'.
--

"I answer, Have ye not to argue out [540]
The very primal thesis, plainest law,
-- Man is not God but hath God's end to serve,
A master to obey, a course to take,
Somewhat to cast off, somewhat to become?
Grant this, then man must pass from old to new, [545]
From vain to real, from mistake to fact,
From what once seemed good, to what now proves best.
How could man have progression otherwise?
Before the point was mooted `What is God?'
No savage man inquired `What is myself?' [550]
Much less replied, `First, last, and best of things.'
Man takes that title now if he believes
Might can exist with neither will nor love,
In God's case -- what he names now Nature's Law --
While in himself he recognizes love [555]
No less than might and will: and rightly takes.
Since if man prove the sole existent thing
Where these combine, whatever their degree,
However weak the might or will or love,
So they be found there, put in evidence, -- [560]
He is as surely higher in the scale
Than any might with neither love nor will,
As life, apparent in the poorest midge
(When the faint dust-speck flits, ye guess its wing),
Is marvellous beyond dead Atlas' self -- [565]
Given to the nobler midge for resting-place!
Thus, man proves best and highest -- God, in fine,
And thus the victory leads but to defeat,
The gain to loss, best rise to the worst fall,
His life becomes impossible, which is death. [570]

--
540-633. All that John says in these verses, in reply to
the anticipated objections urged in vv. 514-539, are found,
substantially, in several passages in Browning's poetry.
See remarks on pp. 36-38 beginning, "The human soul is regarded
in Browning's poetry", etc. {Chapter II, Section 1 in this etext.}
An infallible guide, which would render unnecessary any struggles
on man's part, after light and truth, would torpify his powers.
And see vv. 582-633 of the present poem.

552. Man takes that title now: that is, of `First, last,
and best of things", if, etc. See sections 17 and 18 of `Saul',
and stanza 10 of `Rabbi Ben Ezra'. And see the grand dying speech
of Paracelsus, which concludes Browning's poem.

554. "A law of nature means nothing to Mr. Browning if it does not mean
the immanence of power, and will, and love. He can pass
with ready sympathy into the mystical feeling of the East,
where in the unclouded sky, in the torrent of noonday light,
God is so near

`He glows above
With scarce an intervention, presses close
And palpitatingly, His soul o'er ours.'

But the wisdom of a Western `savant' who in his superior intellectuality
replaces the will of God by the blind force of nature,
seems to Mr. Browning to be science falsely so called,
a new ignorance founded upon knowledge,

`A lamp's death when, replete with oil, it chokes.'

To this effect argues the prophet John in `A Death in the Desert',
anticipating with the deep prevision of a dying man the doubts
and questionings of modern days. And in the third of those
remarkable poems which form the epilogue of the `Dramatis Personae',
the whole world rises in the speaker's imagination into one vast
spiritual temple, in which voices of singers, and swell of trumpets,
and cries of priests are heard going up to God no less truly
than in the old Jewish worship, while the face of Christ,
instinct with divine will and love, becomes apparent,
as that of which all nature is a type or an adumbration."
-- Prof. Edward Dowden in his Comparative Study of Browning and Tennyson
(Studies in Literature, 1789-1877).
--

"But if, appealing thence, he cower, avouch
He is mere man, and in humility
Neither may know God nor mistake himself;
I point to the immediate consequence
And say, by such confession straight he falls [575]
Into man's place, a thing nor God nor beast,
Made to know that he can know and not more:
Lower than God who knows all and can all,
Higher than beasts which know and can so far
As each beast's limit, perfect to an end, [580]
Nor conscious that they know, nor craving more;
While man knows partly but conceives beside,
Creeps ever on from fancies to the fact,
And in this striving, this converting air
Into a solid he may grasp and use, [585]
Finds progress, man's distinctive mark alone,
Not God's, and not the beasts': God is, they are,
Man partly is and wholly hopes to be.
Such progress could no more attend his soul
Were all it struggles after found at first [590]
And guesses changed to knowledge absolute,
Than motion wait his body, were all else
Than it the solid earth on every side,
Where now through space he moves from rest to rest.
Man, therefore, thus conditioned, must expect [595]
He could not, what he knows now, know at first;
What he considers that he knows to-day,
Come but to-morrow, he will find misknown;
Getting increase of knowledge, since he learns
Because he lives, which is to be a man, [600]
Set to instruct himself by his past self:
First, like the brute, obliged by facts to learn,
Next, as man may, obliged by his own mind,
Bent, habit, nature, knowledge turned to law.
God's gift was that man should conceive of truth, [605]
And yearn to gain it, catching at mistake,
As midway help till he reach fact indeed.
The statuary ere he mould a shape
Boasts a like gift, the shape's idea, and next
The aspiration to produce the same; [610]
So, taking clay, he calls his shape thereout,
Cries ever `Now I have the thing I see':
Yet all the while goes changing what was wrought,
From falsehood like the truth, to truth itself.
How were it had he cried `I see no face, [615]
No breast, no feet i' the ineffectual clay?'
Rather commend him that he clapped his hands,
And laughed, `It is my shape and lives again!'
Enjoyed the falsehood, touched it on to truth,
Until yourselves applaud the flesh indeed [620]
In what is still flesh-imitating clay.
Right in you, right in him, such way be man's!
God only makes the live shape at a jet.
Will ye renounce this pact of creatureship?
The pattern on the Mount subsists no more, [625]
Seemed awhile, then returned to nothingness;
But copies, Moses strove to make thereby,
Serve still and are replaced as time requires:
By these, make newest vessels, reach the type!
If ye demur, this judgment on your head, [630]
Never to reach the ultimate, angels' law,
Indulging every instinct of the soul
There where law, life, joy, impulse are one thing!
"Such is the burthen of the latest time.
I have survived to hear it with my ears, [635]
Answer it with my lips: does this suffice?
For if there be a further woe than such,
Wherein my brothers struggling need a hand,
So long as any pulse is left in mine,
May I be absent even longer yet, [640]
Plucking the blind ones back from the abyss,
Though I should tarry a new hundred years!"

But he was dead: 'twas about noon, the day
Somewhat declining: we five buried him
That eve, and then, dividing, went five ways, [645]
And I, disguised, returned to Ephesus.

By this, the cave's mouth must be filled with sand.
Valens is lost, I know not of his trace;
The Bactrian was but a wild childish man,
And could not write nor speak, but only loved: [650]
So, lest the memory of this go quite,
Seeing that I to-morrow fight the beasts,
I tell the same to Phoebas, whom believe!
For many look again to find that face,
Beloved John's to whom I ministered, [655]
Somewhere in life about the world; they err:
Either mistaking what was darkly spoke
At ending of his book, as he relates,
Or misconceiving somewhat of this speech
Scattered from mouth to mouth, as I suppose. [660]
Believe ye will not see him any more
About the world with his divine regard!
For all was as I say, and now the man
Lies as he lay once, breast to breast with God.

--
652. Pamphylax tells the story to Phoebas, on the eve of his martyrdom.

654-660. See Gospel of St. John 21:20-24.

662. regard: look.

"To whom thus Michael, with regard benign:" P. L., XI., 334.
"From that placid aspect and meek regard." -- P. R., III., 217.

De Quincey remarks (Milton vs. Southey and Landor) in reply to
Landor's demurring that "meek regard conveys no new idea
to placid aspect": "But ASPECT is the countenance of Christ
when passive to the gaze of others; REGARD is the same countenance
in active contemplation of those others whom he loves or pities.
The PLACID ASPECT expresses, therefore, the divine rest;
the MEEK REGARD expresses the divine benignity;
the one is the self-absorption of the total Godhead,
the other the external emanation of the Filial Godhead."
--

------------

[Cerinthus read and mused; one added this: -- [665]

"If Christ, as thou affirmest, be of men
Mere man, the first and best but nothing more, --
Account Him, for reward of what He was,
Now and forever, wretchedest of all.
For see; Himself conceived of life as love, [670]
Conceived of love as what must enter in,
Fill up, make one with His each soul He loved:
Thus much for man's joy, all men's joy for Him.
Well, He is gone, thou sayest, to fit reward.
But by this time are many souls set free, [675]
And very many still retained alive:
Nay, should His coming be delayed awhile,
Say, ten years longer (twelve years, some compute)
See if, for every finger of thy hands,
There be not found, that day the world shall end, [680]
Hundreds of souls, each holding by Christ's word
That He will grow incorporate with all,
With me as Pamphylax, with him as John,
Groom for each bride! Can a mere man do this?
Yet Christ saith, this He lived and died to do. [685]
Call Christ, then, the illimitable God,
Or lost!"

But 'twas Cerinthus that is lost.]

--
665. Cerinthus read and mused: It must be supposed that an opportunity
had been afforded Cerinthus of reading the MS. by the one who added
the postscript, which is addressed to him, and who sought
his conversion.

683. That is, `With me as [with] Pamphylax, with him as [with] John':
See Gospel of John, 17:11,21-23.
--

------------

"In the critical examination of the evangelical records,
the fourth Gospel suffered most. Strauss -- in this instance following
his early master and later antagonist, Baur -- denied that St. John
had anything to do with its composition. The author, he held,
was neither St. John nor any one else who had personally known Christ:
nor, in accordance with a widely accepted theory, did he believe it
to be the work of a pupil of St. John, who, after the death of
his master, related, from memory or from fragmentary notes,
traditions and sayings which had been taught him,
and made out of them a continuous history. Strauss pronounced it to be
a controversial work, written late in the second century after Christ,
by a profound theologian of the Greek Gnostic and anti-Jewish school,
whose design was not to add another to the existing biographies
of Christ, not to represent him as a real man, nor to give an account
of any human life, but to produce an elaborate theological work
in which, under the veil of allegory, the Neo-platonic conception
of Christ as the Logos, the realized Word of God, the divine principle
of light and life, should be developed. With this purpose,
the writer made a free selection from the sayings and doings of Christ
as recorded in the three Gospels already written, and as freely
invented others. All the events, all the words, of the Gospel
thus composed, are subordinate to the main design, which was worked out
by the author with an artistic completeness most ingeniously traced by
his German interpreters. Each miracle symbolizes some important dogma,
and its narration must be understood to mean that it embodies
some deep spiritual truth, not, necessarily, that it ever actually
took place. The author manifests, throughout, his ignorance of
Jewish customs, and his antagonism to Jewish sentiments."

* * * * *

"The general purport of the poem can scarcely be doubted,
as we look back upon it as a whole and consider its main conclusions.
The tendency of the argument is to diminish the importance of
the original events -- historical or traditional -- on which
the Christian religion is based. `It is not worth while,'
the writer seems to say to Strauss and his followers,
`to occupy ourselves with discussions about miracles and events
which are said to have taken place a long time ago,
and can now neither be denied or proved. What we are concerned with,
is, Christianity as it is now: as a religion which the human mind
has through many generations developed, purified, spiritualized;
and which has reacted upon human nature and made it wiser and nobler.
Shall we give up this faith which has been so great a power
for good in the world, and which, its whole past history justifies us
in concluding, will continue its work of improvement, because our belief
in certain events is shaken or destroyed? It would be vain, indeed,
thus to build our religion on a foundation so unstable
as material evidence. For human sensations are not infallible;
they very often deceive us; we think we see objects, which are really
the illusions of our own brain; others we see in part only,
or distorted; others we fail to perceive at all. Our faith,
essential as it is to the well-being of the deepest parts of our nature,
must not be dependent on such controlling powers as these.'"

* * * * *

"He [Browning] was, we may suppose, offended by Strauss's
ruthless attack on much that mankind has held sacred for ages.
His religious sense was revolted by the assumption that
there was nothing in Christianity which could survive the destruction
of the miraculous and supernatural elements in its history.
He desired to represent Christianity as an entirely spiritual religion,
independent of external, material agencies. In order to make
his argument as powerful as possible, he chose for his mouth-piece
one of the personal followers of Christ, on whom, it might be supposed,
the actual human life of his master had made a permanent
and lively impression. With the details of Biblical criticism
he had nothing to do; his principles were unaffected by discussions
about the authenticity of the various parts of Gospels;
so, in defiance of Strauss, the disciple he chose was that very John,
whose personality, as recognized by long tradition, had been
so much discredited. He showed how even in one of the disciples
the recollection of wonders and signs could be transcended,
and at last obliterated, by a spiritual faith which was sustained
by the needs and faculties of the soul. The poem is, in effect,
an eloquent protest in defence of `the breath and finer spirit
of all knowledge'."

From Mrs. M. G. Glazebrook's paper on `A Death in the Desert',
read before the London Browning Society.

A LIST OF CRITICISMS OF BROWNING'S WORKS.

(Selected from Dr. Frederick J. Furnivall's `Bibliography of
Robert Browning', contained in `The Browning Society's Papers',
Part I., with additions in Part II.)

1833. The Monthly Mag., N. S., V. 7, pp. 254-262: Review of `Pauline',
by W. J. Fox.

1835. The Examiner, Sept. 6, pp. 563-565: on `Paracelsus',
by John Forster.

1835. Monthly Repository, Nov., pp. 716-727: Review of `Paracelsus',
by W. J. Fox.

1836. New Monthly Mag., March, Vol. 46, pp. 289-308:
`Evidences of a New Genius for Dramatic Poetry. -- No. 1.'
On `Paracelsus', by John Forster.

1837. Edinburgh Rev., July, Vol. 66, pp. 132-151: `Strafford'.

1848. N. A. Rev., April, Vol. 66, pp. 357-400: B.'s `Plays and Poems',
by James Russell Lowell.

1849. Eclectic Rev., London, 4th S. V. 26, pp. 203-214:
on 1. the `Poems', 2 vols. 1849, and 2. `Sordello', 1840.
A sympathetic and excellent review.

1850. Massachusetts Quarterly Rev., No. XI. June, Art. IV.
`Browning's Poems'. 1. `Poems', 2 vols., Boston, 1850.
2. `Christmas Eve' and `Easter Day', London, 1850.

1850. Littell's Living Age, Vol. 25, pp. 403-409: on `Christmas Eve'
and `Easter Day'.

1857. The Christian Remembrancer, N. S., Vol. 39, pp. 361-390.

1861. North British Rev., May, pp. 350-374: on `The Poems and Plays
of R. B.', by F. H. Evans.

1863. Fraser's Mag., Feb., pp. 240-256.

1863. The Eclectic Rev., No. 23, N. S., May, pp. 436-454.

1863. National Rev., Oct., Vol. 47, pp. 417-446. Poetical Works
of R. B., 3 vols., 3d ed., by R. H. Hutton; republ. in Hutton's
`Literary Essays, 1871'.

1864. The Eclectic and Congregational Rev., July, pp. 61-72:
on `Dramatis Personae', by E. Paxton Hood.

1864. Edinburgh Rev., Oct., pp. 537-565: on `Poems', 1863,
and `Dramatis Personae', 1864.

1864. National Rev., N. S., Nov., 1864; Wordsworth, Tennyson,
and Browning; or Pure, Ornate, and Grotesque Art in English Poetry;
republ. in `Literary Studies', by Walter Bagshot.

1865. Quarterly Rev., July, Vol. 118, pp. 77-105:
on `Dramatis Personae', 1864, and `Poems', 3 vols., 1863.

1867. Contemporary Rev., Jan. and Feb., 1867, Vol. 4,
pp. 1-15, 133-148. Thoughtful and able articles.

1867. Fraser's Mag., Oct., pp. 518-530: `Sordello', by Edward Dowden.

1868. Athenaeum, Dec. 26, pp. 875, 876: `The Ring and the Book',
Vol. 1. by Robert Buchanan; revised and publ. in his `Master Spirits',
1873.

1868. Eclectic and Congregational Rev., Dec., Art. II.
`Poetical Works', 6 vols., 1868, by E. Paxton Hood. See under 1864.

1868. Essays on B.'s poetry, by J. T. Nettleship.

1869. Athenaeum, March 20, pp. 399, 400: on `The Ring and the Book',
Vols. 2, 3, and 4.

1869. Fortnightly Rev., March, Vol. 5, N. S., pp. 331-343: on
`The Ring and the Book', by John Morley. An able and generous article.

1869. Quarterly Rev., April, pp. 328-359: on Mod. Eng. Poets;
a few pages are on B.'s poems and `The Ring and the Book'.

1869. Edinburgh Rev., July, Vol. 130, pp. 164-186:
on `The Ring and the Book'.

1869. London Quarterly Rev., July, on B.'s Poetry --
all then published.

1869. N. Brit. Rev., Oct., pp. 97-128: B.'s Latest Poetry
(`The Ring and the Book').

1871. Saint Paul's Mag., Dec., 1870, and Jan., 1871, Vol. 7,
pp. 257-276, 377-397: `Poems' and `The Ring and the Book',
by E. J. Hasell.

1871. Athenaeum, Aug. 12, pp. 199, 200: on `Balaustion's Adventure'.

1871. Contemporary Rev., Sept., pp. 284-296,
on `Balaustion's Adventure', by Matthew Browne (pseudonym).

1871. The Times, Oct. 6: a long review of `Balaustion's Adventure'.

1871. `Our Living Poets: an Essay in Criticism'. By H. Buxton Forman.
4th chap. on B., pp. 103-152.

1871. Fortnightly Rev., Oct., Vol. 10, N. S., pp. 478-490:
on `Balaustion's Adventure', by Sidney Colvin.

1871. The Dark Blue Mag., Oct. and Nov., Vol. 2, pp. 171-184, 305-319:
`Browning as a Preacher', by Miss E. Dickinson West.
An admirable essay.

1872. Edinburgh Rev., Jan., Vol. 135, pp. 221-249:
on `Balaustion's Adventure'.

1872. Academy, Jan. 15: on `Hohenstiel-Schwangau'.

1872. Academy, July 1: on `Fifine at the Fair', by F. Wedmore.

1873. Athenaeum, May 10: on `Red Cotton Night-Cap Country'.

1873. Academy, June 2: on `Red Cotton Night-Cap Country',
by G. A. Simcox.

1873. `Master Spirits', by Robert Buchanan; contains, pp. 89-109,
a revised reprint of the Athenaeum reviews of `The Ring and the Book',
Dec., 1869, and March, 1870.

1875. Academy, April 17: on `Aristophanes' Apology', by J. A. Symonds.

1875. Athenaeum, April 17, pp. 513, 514: on `Aristophanes' Apology'.

1875. Athenaeum, Nov. 27, pp. 701, 702: on `The Inn Album'.

1876. Academy, July 29: on `Pacchiarotto', by Edward Dowden.

1876. Macmillan's Mag., Feb., Vol. 33, pp. 347-354: on `Inn Album',
by A. C. Bradley.

1876. `Victorian Poets. By Edmund Clarence Stedman'. Boston: 1876.
Chap. IX., pp. 292-341, devoted to Browning.

1877. Academy, Nov. 3: on `The Agamemnon of Aeschylus',
by J. A. Symonds.

1878. Church Quarterly Rev., Oct., pp. 65-92: on B.'s Poems,
by the Hon. and Rev. Arthur Lyttleton. An article to be read
by all students of Browning.

1878. Academy, June 1: on `La Saisiaz', and `The Two Poets
of Croisic', by G. A. Simcox.

1878. Athenaeum, May 25, pp. 661-664: on `La Saisiaz',
by W. Theodore Watts.

1879. `Studies in Literature, 1789-1877. By Edward Dowden, LL.D.'
London: C. Kegan Paul & Co., pp. 191-239: `Mr. Tennyson
and Mr. Browning. A comparative study'. Ranks with the very best
of Browning criticisms.

1879. Athenaeum, May 10: on `Dramatic Idyls', I.,
by Walter Theodore Watts.

1879. Academy, May 10: on `Dramatic Idyls', I., by F. Wedmore.

1880. Athenaeum, July 10, pp. 39-41: on `Dramatic Idyls', 2d S.,
by W. Th. Watts.

1881. Gentleman's Mag., Dec., pp. 682-695: on `The Ring and the Book',
by James Thomson.

1881. Scribner's Century Mag., Dec. 1, pp. 189-200:
on `The Early Writings of R. B.', by E. W. Gosse.

1881. The Cambridge Review, Dec. 7, Vol. 3, pp. 146, 147:
a review of `Rabbi ben Ezra' and `Abt Vogler', by A. W.

Some of the most valuable criticism of Browning's Poetry has been
produced and published by The Browning Society of London,
founded in 1881 by Dr. F. J. Furnivall, and still in active operation.
Dr. Furnivall's `Bibliography of Robert Browning', occupying Part I. of
`The Browning Society's Papers', and continued in Part II.,
is a storehouse of valuable information, of all kinds, pertaining to
Browning's Poetry, and to Browning the man. Every Browning student
should possess a copy of it. The following papers, among others,
have been published by the Society: --

Introductory Address to the Browning Society. By the Rev. J. Kirkman,
M.A., Queen's Coll., Cambridge, Oct. 28, 1881.

On `Pietro of Abano' and the leading ideas of `Dramatic Idyls',
second series, 1880. By the Rev. J. Sharpe, M.A. Read Nov. 25, 1881.

On Browning's `Fifine at the Fair'. By J. T. Nettleship, Esq.
Read Feb. 24, 1882.

Notes on the Genius of Robert Browning. By James Thomson.
Read Jan. 27, 1882.

Browning's Philosophy. By John Bury, Trin. Coll., Dublin.
Read April 28, 1882.

On `Bishop Blougram's Apology'. By the Rev. Prof. E. Johnson, M.A.
Read May 26, 1882.

The Idea of Personality, as embodied in Robert Browning's Poetry.
By Prof. Hiram Corson, LL.D., Cornell University. Read June 23, 1882.
(Contained in this volume.)

The Religious Teaching of Browning. By Dorothea Beale.
Read Oct. 27, 1882.

An Account of Abbe Vogler. (From Fetis & Nisard.)
By Miss Eleanor Marx.

Conscience and Art in Browning. By the Rev. Prof. E. Johnson, M.A.

Browning's Intuition, specially in regard of Music and the Plastic Arts.
By J. T. Nettleship. Read Feb. 23, 1883.

On some Points in Browning's View of Life. By the Rev. Prof.
B. F. Westcott, D.D. Read before the Cambridge Browning Soc.,
Nov., 1882.

One aspect of Browning's Villains. By Miss E. D. West.
Read April 27, 1883.

Browning's Poems on God and Immortality as bearing on life here.
By William F. Revell. Read March 30, 1883.

James Lee's Wife. By Rev. J. H. Bulkeley. Read May 25, 1883.

Abt Vogler. By Mrs. Turnbull. Read June 22, 1883.

On some prominent points of Browning's teaching. By W. A. Raleigh,
Esq., of King's College, Cambridge. Read Feb. 22, 1884.

`Caliban upon Setebos', with some notes on Browning's subtlety
and humor. By J. Cotter Morison, Esq. Read April 25, 1884.

In a Balcony. By Mrs. Turnbull. Read July 4, 1884.

On `Mr. Sludge the Medium'. By Edwin Johnson, M.A.
Read March 27, 1885.

Browning as a Scientific Poet. By Edward Berdoe, M.R.C.S. (Eng.),
L.R.C.P. (Ed.). Read April 24, 1885.

On the development of Browning's genius in his capacity
as Poet or Maker. By J. T. Nettleship, Esq. Read Oct. 30, 1885.

On `Aristophanes' Apology'. By John B. Bury, B.A., Trin. Coll., Dublin.
Read Jan. 29, 1886.

Andrea Del Sarto. By Albert Fleming. Read Feb. 26, 1886.

The reasonable rhythm of some of Browning's Poems. By the Rev.
H. J. Bulkeley, M.A. Read May 28, 1886.

The following works should be mentioned: --

Stories from Robert Browning. By Frederic May Holland.
With an Introduction by Mrs. Sutherland Orr. London: 1882.

Strafford: a Tragedy. By Robert Browning. With notes and preface
by Emily H. Hickey [First Hon. Sec. of the Browning Society].
And an Introduction by Samuel R. Gardiner, LL.D., Professor of
Modern History, King's College, London. London: 1884.

A Handbook to the works of Robert Browning. By Mrs. Sutherland Orr.
London: 1885. A good reference book.

Poets and Problems. By George Willis Cooke. Boston: 1886.
pp. 269-388 devoted to Browning.

Essays on Poetry and Poets. By the Hon. Roden Noel. London: 1886.
pp. 256-282 devoted to Browning.

Select Poems of Robert Browning. By W. J. Rolfe. Boston.

Important works published since the first edition of this book: --

Sordello's Story retold in prose. By Annie Wall. Boston and New York:
1886.

Browning's Women. By Mary E. Burt. With an introduction by
Rev. Edward Everett Hale, D.D., LL.D. Chicago: 1887.

Studies in the Poetry of Robert Browning. By James Fotheringham.
London: 1887.

An Introduction to the Poetry of Robert Browning.
By William John Alexander, Ph.D. Boston: 1889.

Sordello: an outline analysis of Mr. Browning's poem.
By Jeanie Morison. Edinburgh and London: 1889.

Robert Browning Personalia. By Edmund Gosse. Boston and New York:
1890.

Robert Browning: Essays and Thoughts. By John T. Nettleship.
New York: 1890.

Browning's Message to his Time: his Religion, Philosophy, and Science.
By Edward Berdoe. London: 1890.

A Guide-Book to the poetic and dramatic works of Robert Browning.
By George Willis Cooke. Boston: 1891.

Life and Letters of Robert Browning. By Mrs. Sutherland Orr.
Boston: 1891.

Browning as a philosophical and religious teacher. By Henry Jones, M.A.
New York: 1891.

Some additional papers of the Browning Society, published since
the first edition of this book: --

"A Death in the Desert". By Mrs. M. G. Glazebrook.
Read February 25, 1887.

Some Notes on Browning's poems referring to music. By Helen J. Ormerod.
Read May 27, 1887.

"Saul". By Anna M. Stoddart. Read May 25, 1888.

Andrea del Sarto and Abt Vogler. By Helen J. Ormerod.
Read November 30, 1888.

La Saisiaz. By Rev. W. Robertson. Read January 25, 1889.

On the difficulties and obscurities encountered in a study
of Browning's poems. By James Bertram Oldham, B.A.
Read February 22, 1889.

Taurello Salinguerra: historical details illustrative of
Browning's Sordello. Muratori and Browning compared.
By W. M. Rossetti. Read November 29, 1889.

The value of Browning's work. By William F. Revell. Read May 30, 1890.

The student will find much other valuable material in
the Browning Society papers.

For Articles in Periodical Literature, the student should consult
Poole's Indexes.

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