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Robert Browning by Edward Dowden

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and to be content with these as provisional truths, or as temporary
illusions which lead on towards the truth. In the _Pisgah Sights_ of the
_Pacchiarotto_ volume he had imagined this mood of acquiescence as
belonging to the hour of death. But old age in reality is an earlier
stage in the process of dying, and with all his ardour and his energy,
Browning was being detached from the contentions and from some of the
hopes and aspirations of life. And because he was detached he could take
the world to his heart, though in a different temper from that of youth
or middle age; he could limit his view to things that are near, because
their claim upon his passions had diminished while their claim upon his
tenderness had increased. He could smile amiably, for to the mood of
acquiescence a smile seems to be worth more than an argument. He could
recall the thoughts of love, and reanimate them in his imagination, and
could love love with the devotion of an old man to the most precious of
the things that have been. Some of an old man's jests may be found in
_Jocoseria_, some of an old man's imaginative passion in _Asolando_, and
in both volumes, and still more clearly in _Ferishtah's Fancies_ may be
seen an old man's spirit of acquiescence, or to use a catch-word of
Matthew Arnold, the epoch of concentration which follows an epoch of
expansion. But the embrace of earth and the things of earth is like the
embrace, with a pathos in its ardour, which precedes a farewell. From
the first he had recognised the danger on the one hand of settling down
to browse contentedly in the paddock of our earthly life, and on the
other hand the danger of ignoring our limitations, the danger of
attempting to "thrust in earth eternity's concerns." In his earlier
years he had chiefly feared the first of these two dangers, and even
while pointing out, as in _Paracelsus_, the errors of the seeker for
absolute knowledge or for absolute love, he had felt a certain sympathy
with such glorious transgressors. He had valued more than any positive
acquisitions of knowledge those "grasps of guess, which pull the more
into the less." Now such guesses, such hopes were as precious to him as
ever, but he set more store than formerly by the
certainties--certainties even if illusions--of the general heart of man.
These are the forms of thought and feeling divinely imposed upon us; we
cannot do better than to accept them; but we must accept them only as
provisional, as part of our education on earth, as a needful rung of the
ladder by which we may climb to higher things. And the faith which leads
to such acquiescence also results in the acceptance of hopes as things
not be struggled for but rested in as a substantial portion of the
divine order of our lives. In autumn come for spirits rightly attuned
these pellucid halcyon days of the Indian summer.

In _Jocoseria_, which appeared in Browning's seventy-first year (1883),
he shows nothing of his boisterous humour, but smiles at our human
infirmities from the heights of experience. The prop of Israel, the
much-enlightened master, "Eximious Jochanan Ben Sabbathai," when his
last hour is at hand has to confess that all his wisdom of life lies in
his theoric; in practice he is still an infant; striving presumptuously
in boyhood to live an angel, now that he comes to die he is hardly a
man. And Solomon himself is no more than man; the truth-compelling ring
extorts the confession that an itch of vanity still tickles and teazes
him; the Queen of Sheba, seeker for wisdom and patroness of culture,
after all likes wisdom best when its exponents are young men tall and
proper, and prefers to the solution of the riddles of life by elderly
monarchs one small kiss from a fool. Lilith in a moment of terror
acknowledges that her dignified reserve was the cloak of passion, and
Eve acknowledges that her profession of love was transferred to the
wrong man; both ladies recover their self-possession and resume their
make-believe decorums, and Adam, like a gallant gentleman, will not see
through what is transparent. These are harmless jests at the ironies of
life. Browning's best gifts in this volume, that looks pale beside its
predecessors, are one or two short lyrics of love, which continue the
series of his latest lyrical poems, begun in the exquisite prologue to
_La Saisiaz_ and the graceful epilogue to _The Two Poets of Croisic_,
and continued in the songs of _Ferishtah's Fancies_ and _Asolando_--not
the least valuable part of the work of his elder years. His strength in
this volume of 1883 is put into that protest of human righteousness
against immoral conceptions of the Deity uttered by Ixion from his wheel
of torture. Rather than obey an immoral supreme Power, as John Stuart
Mill put it, "to Hell I will go"--and such is the cry of Browning's
victim of Zeus. He is aware that in his recognition of righteousness he
is himself superior to the evil god who afflicts him; and as this
righteousness is a moral quality, and no creation of his own
consciousness but rather imposed upon it as an eternal law, he rises
past Zeus to the Potency above him, after which even the undeveloped
sense of a Caliban blindly felt when he discovered a Quiet above the
bitter god Setebos; but the Quiet of Caliban is a negation of those evil
attributes of the supreme Being, which he reflects upwards from his own
gross heart, not the energy of righteousness which Ixion demands in his
transcendent "Potency." Into this poem went the energy of Browning's
heart and imagination; some of his matured wisdom entered into _Jochanan
Hakkadosh_, of which, however, the contents are insufficient to sustain
the length. The saint and sage of Israel has at the close of his life
found no solution of the riddle of existence. Lover, bard, soldier,
statist, he has obtained in each of his careers only doubts and
dissatisfaction. Twelve months added to a long life by the generosity of
his admirers, each of whom surrenders a fragment of his own life to
prolong that of the saint, bring him no clearer illumination--still all
is vanity and vexation of spirit. Only at the last, when by some
unexpected chance, a final opportunity of surveying the past and
anticipating the future is granted him, all has become clear. Instead of
trying to solve the riddle he accepts it. He sees from his Pisgah how
life, with all its confusions and contrarieties, is the school which
educates the soul and fits it for further wayfaring. The ultimate faith
of Jochanan the Saint had been already expressed by Browning:

Over the ball of it,
Peering and prying,
How I see all of it,
Life there, outlying!
Roughness and smoothness,
Shine and defilement,
Grace and uncouthness:
One reconcilement.

But even to his favourite disciple the sage is unable so to impart the
secret that Tsaddik's mind shall really embrace it.

The spirit of the saint of Israel is also the spirit of that wise
Dervish of Browning's invention (1884), the Persian Ferishtah. The
volume is frankly didactic, and Browning, as becomes a master who would
make his lessons easy to children, teaches by parables and pictures. In
reading _Ferishtah's Fancies_ we might suppose that we were in the
Interpreter's House, and that the Interpreter himself was pointing a
moral with the robin that has a spider in his mouth, or the hen walking
in a fourfold method towards her chickens. The discourses of the Dervish
are in the main theological or philosophical; the lyrics, which are
interposed between the discourses or discussions, are amatory. In
Persian Poetry much that at first sight might be taken for amatory has
in its inner meaning a mystical theological sense. Browning reverses the
order of such poetry; he gives us first his doctrine concerning life or
God, and gives it clothed in a parable; then in a lyric the subject is
retracted into the sphere of human affections, and the truth of theology
condenses itself into a corresponding truth respecting the love of man
and woman.

Throughout the series of poems it is not a Persian Dervish who is the
speaker and teacher; we hear the authentic voice of the Dervish born in
Camberwell in the year 1812--Ferishtah-Browning. The doctrine set forth
is the doctrine of Browning; the manner of speech is the manner of the
poet. The illustrations and imagery are often Oriental; the ideas are
those of a Western thinker; yet no sense of discordance is produced. The
parable of the starving ravens fed by an eagle serves happily as an
induction; let us become not waiters on providence, but workers with
providence; and to feed hungry souls is even more needful than to feed
hungry bodies:

I starve in soul:
So may mankind: and since men congregate
In towns, not woods--to Ispahan forthwith!

Such is the lesson of energetic charity. And the lesson for the
acceptance of providential gifts is that put in words by the poor
melon-seller, once the Shah's Prime Minister--words spoken in the spirit
of the afflicted Job--"Shall we receive good at the hand of God and
shall we not receive evil?"[143] Or rather--Shall not our hearts even in
the midst of evil be lifted up in gratitude at the remembrance of the
good which we have received? Browning proceeds, under a transparent veil
of Oriental fable, to consider the story of the life of Christ. Do we
believe in that tale of wonder in the full sense of the word belief?
The more it really concerns us, the more exacting grow our demands for
evidence of its truth; an otiose assent is easy, but this has none of
the potency of genuine conviction. And, after all, intellectual assent
is of little importance compared with that love for the Divine which may
co-exist as truly with denial as with assent. _The Family_ sets forth,
through a parable, the wisdom of accepting and living in our human views
of things transcendent. Why pray to God at all? Why not rather accept
His will and His Providential disposition of our lives as absolutely
wise, and right? That, Browning replies, may be the way of the angels.
We are men, and it is God's will that we should feel and think as men:

Be man and nothing more--
Man who, as man conceiving, hopes and fears,
And craves and deprecates, and loves and loathes,
And bids God help him, till death touch his eyes
And show God granted most, denying all.

The same spirit of acceptance of our intellectual and moral limitations
is applied in _The Sun_ to the defence of anthropomorphic religion. Our
spirit, burdened with the good gifts of life, looks upward for relief in
gratitude and praise; but we can praise and thank only One who is
righteous and loving, as we conceive righteousness and love. Let us not
strive to pass beyond these human feelings and conceptions. Perhaps they
are wholly remote from the unknown reality. They are none the less the
conceptions proper to humanity; we have no capacities with which to
correct them; let us hold fast by our human best, and preserve, as the
preacher very correctly expressed it, "the integrity of our
anthropomorphism." The "magnified non-natural man," and "the three Lord
Shaftesburys" of Matthew Arnold's irony are regarded with no fine scorn
by the intellect of Browning. His early Christian faith has expanded and
taken the non-historical form of a Humanitarian Theism, courageously
accepted, not as a complete account of the Unknowable, but as the best
provisional conception which we are competent to form. This theism
involves rather than displaces the truth shadowed forth in the life of
Christ. The crudest theism would seem to him far more reasonable than to
direct the religious emotions towards a "stream of tendency."

The presence of evil in a world created and governed by One all-wise,
all-powerful, all-loving, is justified in _Mirhab Shah_ as a necessity
of our education. How shall love be called forth unless there be the
possibility of self-sacrifice? How shall our human sympathy be perfected
unless there be pain? What room is there for thanks to God or love of
man if earth be the scene of such a blank monotony of well-being as may
be found in the star Rephan? But let us not call evil good, or think
pain in itself a gain. God may see that evil is null, and that pain is
gain; for us the human view, the human feeling must suffice. This
justification of pain as a needful part of an education is, however,
inapplicable to never-ending retributive punishment. Such a theological
horror Browning rejects with a hearty indignation, qualified only by a
humorous contempt, in his apologue of _A Camel-driver_; her driver, if
the camel bites, will with good cause thwack, and so instruct the brute
that mouths should munch not bite; he will not, six months afterwards,
thrust red-hot prongs into the soft of her flesh to hiss there. And God
has the advantage over the driver of seeing into the camel's brain and
of knowing precisely what moved the creature to offend. The poem which
follows is directed against asceticism. Self-sacrifice for the sake of
our fellows is indeed "joy beyond joy." As to the rest--the question is
not whether we fast or feast, but whether, fasting or feasting, we do
our day's work for the Master. If we would supply joy to our fellows, it
is needful that we should first know joy ourselves--

Therefore, desire joy and thank God for it!

Browning's argument is not profound, and could adroitly be turned
against himself; but his temperament would survive his argument; his
capacity for manifold pleasures was great, and he not only valued these
as good in themselves, but turned them to admirable uses. A feast of the
senses was to him as spiritually precious as a fast might be to one who
only by fasting could attain to higher joys than those of sense. And
this, he would maintain, is a better condition for a human being than
that which renders expedient the plucking out of an eye, the cutting off
of a hand. Joy for Browning means praise and gratitude; and in
recognising the occasions for such praise and thanks let us not wind
ourselves too high. Let us praise God for the little things that are so
considerately fitted to our little human wants and desires. The
morning-stars will sing together without our help; if we must choose our
moment for a _Te Deum_, let it be when we have enjoyed our plate of
cherries. The glorious lamp in the Shah's pavilion lightens other eyes
than mine; but to think that the Shah's goodness has provided slippers
for my feet in my own small chamber, and of the very colour that I most
affect! Nor, in returning thanks, should it cause us trouble that our
best thanks are poor, or even that they are mingled with an alloy of
earthly regards, "mere man's motives--"

Alas, Friend, what was free from this alloy,--
Some smatch thereof,--in best and purest love
Preferred thy earthly father? Dust thou art,
Dust shall be to the end.

Our little human pleasures--do they seem unworthy to meet the eye of
God? That is a question put by distrust and spiritual pride. God gives
each of us His little plot, within which each of us is master. The
question is not what compost, what manure, makes fruitful the soil; we
need not report to the Lord of the soil the history of our manures; let
us treat the ground as seems best, if only we bring sacks to His granary
in autumn. Nay, do not I also tickle the palate of my ass with a
thistle-bunch, so heartening him to do his work?

In _A Pillar at Sebzevah_, Ferishtah-Browning confronts the objection
that he has deposed knowledge and degraded humanity to the rank of an
ass whose highest attainment is to love--what? "Husked lupines, and
belike the feeder's self." The Dervish declares without shrinking the
faith that is in him:--

"Friend," quoth Ferishtah, "all I seem to know
Is--I know nothing save that love I can
Boundlessly, endlessly."


If there be knowledge it shall vanish away; but charity never faileth.
As for knowledge, the prize is in the process; as gain we must
mistrust it, not as a road to gain:--

Knowledge means
Ever-renewed assurance by defeat
That victory is somehow still to reach,
But love is victory, the prize itself.

Grasping at the sun, a child captures an orange: what if he were to
scorn his capture and refuse to suck its juice? The curse of life is
this--that every supposed accession to knowledge, every novel theory, is
accepted as a complete solution of the whole problem, while every
pleasure is despised as transitory or insubstantial. In truth the drop
of water found in the desert sand is infinitely precious; the mirage is
only a mirage. Browning, who in this volume puts forth his own doctrine
of theism, his justification of prayer, his belief in a superintending
providence, his explanation of the presence of evil in the world, is, of
course, no Pyrrhonist. He profoundly distrusts the capacity of the
intellect, acting as a pure organ of speculation, to unriddle the
mysteries of existence; he maintains, on the other hand, that knowledge
sufficient for the conduct of our lives is involved in the simple
experiences of good and evil, of joy and sorrow. In reality Browning's
attitude towards truth approaches more nearly what has now begun to
style itself "Pragmatism" than it approaches Pyrrhonism; but
philosophers whose joy is to beat the air may find that it is
condemnatory of their methods.

In his distrust of metaphysical speculation and in regarding the
affections as superior to the intellect, Browning as a teacher has
something in common with Comte; but there is perhaps no creed so alien
to his nature as the creed of Positivism. The last of Ferishtah's
discourses is concerned with the proportion which happiness bears to
pain in the average life of man, or rather--for Browning is nothing if
he is not individualistic--in the life of each man as an individual. The
conclusion arrived at is that no "bean-stripe"--each bean, white or
black, standing for a day--is wholly black, and that the more extended
is our field of vision the more is the general aspect of the
"bean-stripe" of a colour intermediate between the extremes of darkness
and of light. Before the poem closes, Browning turns aside to consider
the Positivist position. Why give our thanks and praise for all the good
things of life to God, whose existence is an inference of the heart
derived from its own need of rendering gratitude to some Being like
ourselves? Are not these good things the gifts of the race, of Humanity,
and its worthies who have preceded us and who at the present moment
constitute our environment of loving help? Ferishtah's reply, which is
far from conclusive, must be regarded as no discussion of the subject
but the utterance of an isolated thought. Praise rendered to Humanity
and the heroes of the race simply reverts to the giver of the praise;
his own perceptions of what is praiseworthy alone render praise
possible; he must first of all thank and praise the giver of such
perceptions--God. It is strange that Browning should fail to recognise
the fact that the Positivist would immediately trace the power of moral
perception to the energies of Humanity in its upward progress from
primitive savagery to our present state of imperfect development.

It has been necessary to transcribe in a reduced form the teaching of
Ferishtah, for this is the clearest record left by Browning of his own
beliefs on the most important of all subjects, this is an essential part
of his criticism of life, and at the same time it is little less than a
passage of autobiography. The poems are admirable in their vigour, their
humour, their seriousness, their felicity of imagery. Yet the wisdom of
_Ferishtah's Fancies_ is an old man's wisdom; we perceive in it the
inner life, as Baxter puts it, in speaking of changes wrought by his
elder years, quitting the leaves and branches and drawing down to the
root. But when in prologue or epilogue to this volume or that Browning
touches upon the great happiness, the great sorrow of his own life, he
is always young. Here the lyrical epilogue is inspired by a noble
enthusiasm, and closes with a surprise of beauty. What if all his happy
faith in the purpose of life, and the Divine presence through all its
course, were but a reflex from the private and personal love that had
once been his and was still above and around him? Such a doubt contained
its own refutation:

Only, at heart's utmost joy and triumph, terror
Sudden turns the blood to ice: a chill wind disencharms
All the late enchantment! What if all be error--
If the halo irised round my head were, Love, thine arms?

All the more, if this were so, must the speaker's heart turn Godwards in
gratitude. The whole design of the volume with its theological parables
and its beautiful lyrics of human love implies that there is a
correspondency between the truths of religion and the truths of the
passion of love between man and woman.


[Footnote 141: Mr Gosse: "Dictionary of National Biography," Supplement,
i. 317.]

[Footnote 142: Of the mother in this poem, a writer in the "Browning
Society's Papers," Miss E.D. West, said justly: "There is discernible in
her no soul which could be cleansed from guilt by any purgatorial
process.... Her fault had not been moral, had not been sin, to be
punished by pain inflicted on the soul; it was merely the uncounteracted
primary instinct of self-preservation, and as such it is fitliest dealt
with by the simple depriving her, without further penalty, of the very
life which she had secured for herself at so horrible a cost."]

[Footnote 143: The story of the melon-seller was related by a
correspondent of _The Times_ in 1846, and is told by Browning in a
letter to Miss Barrett of Aug. 6 of that year. Thus subjects of verse
rose up in his memory after many years.]

Chapter XVII

Closing Works and Days

_Parleyings with Certain People of Importance in their Day_, published
in 1887, Browning's last volume but one, betrays not the slightest
decline in his mental vigour. It suffers, however, from the fact that
several of the "Parleyings" are discussions--emotional, it is true, as
well as intellectual--of somewhat abstract themes, that these
discussions are often prolonged beyond what the subject requires, and
that the "People of Importance" are in some instances not men and women,
but mere sounding-boards to throw out Browning's own voice. When certain
aspects or principles of art are considered in _Fra Lippo Lippi_, before
us stands Brother Lippo himself, a living, breathing figure, on whom our
interest must needs fasten whatever may be the subject of his discourse.
There is of course a propriety in connecting a debate on evil in the
world as a means to good with the name of the author of "The Fable of
the Bees," there is no impropriety in connecting a study of the
philosophy of music with the name of Charles Avison the Newcastle
organist; but we do not make acquaintance through the parleyings with
either Avison or Mandeville. This objection does not apply to all the
poems. The parleying _With Daniel Bartoli_ is a story of love and loss,
admirable in its presentation of the heroine and the unheroic hero. We
are interested in Francis Furini, "good priest, good man, good painter,"
before he begins to preach his somewhat portentous sermon on evolution.
And in the case of Christopher Smart, the question why once and only
once he was a divinely inspired singer is the question which most
directly leads to a disclosure of his character as a poet. The volume,
however, as a whole, while Browning's energy never flags, has a larger
proportion than its predecessors of what he himself terms "mere grey
argument"; and, as if to compensate this, it is remarkable for sudden
outbursts of imagination and passion, as if these repressed for a time
had carried away the dykes and dams, and went on their career in full
flood. The description of the glory of sunrise in _Bernard de
Mandeville_, the description of the Chapel in _Christopher Smart_, the
praise of a woman's beauty in _Francis Furini_, the amazing succession
of mythological _tours de force_ in _Gerard de Lairesse_, the delightful
picture of the blackcap tugging at his prize, a scrap of rag on the
garden wall, amid the falling snow of March, in the opening of _Charles
Avison_--these are sufficient evidence of the abounding force of
Browning's genius as a poet at a date when he had passed the three score
years and ten by half an added decade. Nor would we willingly forget
that magical lyric of life and death, of the tulip beds and the daisied
grave-mound--"Dance, yellows and whites and reds"--which closes _Gerard
de Lairesse_. Wordsworth's daffodils are hardly a more jocund company
than Browning's wind-tossed tulips; he accepts their gladness, and yet
the starved grass and daisies are more to him than these:

Daisies and grass be my heart's bed-fellows
On the mound wind spares and sunshine mellows:
Dance you, reds and whites and yellows!

Of failure in intellectual or imaginative force the _Parleyings_ show no
symptom. But the vigour of Browning's will did a certain wrong to his
other powers. He did not wait, as in early days, for the genuine casual
inspirations of pleasure. He made it his task to work out all that was
in him. And what comes to a writer of genius is better than what is
laboriously sought. We may gather wood for the altar, but the true fire
must descend from heaven. The speed and excitement kindled by one's own
exertions are very different from the varying stress of a wind that
bears one onward without the thump and rattle of the engine-room. It
would have been a gain if Browning's indomitable steam-engines had
occasionally ceased to ply, and he had been compelled to wait for a
propitious breeze.

Philosophy, Love, Poetry, Politics, Painting (the nude, with a discourse
concerning evolution), Painting again (the modern _versus_ the
mythological in art), Music, and, if we add the epilogue, the Invention
of Printing--these are the successive themes of Browning's _Parleyings_,
and they are important and interesting themes. Unfortunately the method
of discussion is neither sufficiently abstract for the lucid exposition
of ideas, nor sufficiently concrete for the pure communication of poetic
pleasure. Abstract and concrete meet and take hands or jostle, too much
as skeleton and lady might in a _danse Macabre_. The spirit of
acquiescence--strenuous not indolent acquiescence--with our intellectual
limitations is constantly present. Does man groan because he cannot
comprehend the mind outside himself which manifests itself in the sun?
Well, did not Prometheus draw the celestial rays into the pin-point of a
flame which man can order, and which does him service? Is the fire a
little thing beside the immensity in the heavens above us?

Little? In little, light, warmth, life are blessed--
Which, in the large, who sees to bless?

Or again--it is Christopher Smart, who triumphs for once so
magnificently in his "Song to David," and fails, with all his
contemporaries, in the poetry of ambitious instruction. And why? Because
for once he was content with the first step that poetry should take--to
confer enjoyment, leaving instruction--the fruit of enjoyment--to come
later. True learning teaches through love and delight, not through
pretentious didactics,--a truth forgotten by the whole tribe of
eighteenth century versifiers. And once more--does Francis Furini paint
the naked body in all its beauty? Right! let him study precisely this
divine thing the body, before he looks upward; let him retire from the
infinite into his proper circumscription:

Only by looking low, ere looking high,
Comes penetration of the mystery.

So also with our view of the mingled good and evil in the world; perhaps
to some transcendent vision evil may wholly disappear; perhaps we shall
ourselves make this discovery as we look back upon the life on earth.
Meanwhile it is as men that we must see things, and even if evil be an
illusion (as Browning trusts), it is a needful illusion in our
educational process, since through evil we become aware of good. Thus at
every point Browning accepts here, as in _Ferishtah's Fancies_, a
limited provisional knowledge as sufficient for our present needs, with
a sustaining hope which extends into the future. On the other hand, if
your affair is not the sincerity of thought and feeling, but a design to
rule the mass of men for your own advantage, you must act in a different
spirit. Do not, in the manner of Bubb Doddington, attempt to impose upon
your fellows with the obvious and worn-out pretence that all you do has
been undertaken on their behalf and in their interests. There is a newer
and a better trick than that. Assume the supernatural; have a "mission
"; have a "message"; be earnest, with all the authority of a divine
purpose. Play boldly this new card of statesmanship, and you may have
from time to time as many inconsistent missions and messages as
ambitious statecraft can suggest to you. Through all your gyrations the
admiring crowd will still stand agape. Was Browning's irony of a cynical
philosophy of statesmanship suggested by his view of the procedure of a
politician, whom he had once admired, whose talents he still recognised,
but from whom he now turned away with indignant aversion? However this
may have been, his poems which touch on politics do not imply that
respect for the people thinking, feeling, and moving, in masses which is
a common profession with the liberal leaders of the platform. Browning's
liberalism was a form of his individualism; he, like Shakespeare, had a
sympathy with the wants and affections of the humblest human lives; and,
like Shakespeare, he thought that foolish or incompetent heads are
often conjoined with hearts that in a high degree deserve respect.

_Asolando_, the last volume of a long array, was published in London on
the last day of Browning's life. As he lay dying in Venice, telegraphed
tidings reached his son of the eager demand for copies made in
anticipation of its appearance and of the instant and appreciative
reviews; Browning heard the report with a quiet gratification. It is
happy when praise in departing is justified, and this was the case with
a collection of poems which to some readers seemed like a revival of the
poetry of its author's best years of early and mid manhood. _Asolando_
is, however, in the main distinctly an autumn gathering, a handful of
flowers and fruit belonging to the Indian summer of his genius. The
Prologue is a confession, like that of Wordsworth's great Ode, that a
glory has passed away from the earth. When first he set eyes on Asolo,
some fifty years previously, the splendour of Italian landscape seemed
that of

Terror with beauty, like the Bush
Burning yet unconsumed

Now, while the beauty remains, the flame is extinct--"the Bush is bare."
Browning finds his consolation in the belief that he has come nearer to
the realities of earth by discarding fancies, and that his wonder and
awe are more wisely directed towards the transcendent God than towards
His creatures. But in truth what the mind confers is a fact and no
fancy; the loss of what Browning calls the "soul's iris-bow" is the loss
of a substantial, a divine possession. The _Epilogue_ has in it a
certain energy, but the thews are those of an old athlete, and through
the energy we are conscious of the strain. The speaker pitches his voice
high, as if it could not otherwise be heard at a distance. The
_Reverie_, a speculation on the time when Power will show itself fully
and therefore be known as love, has some of that vigorous intellectual
garrulity which had grown on Browning during the years when unhappily
for his poetry he came to be regarded chiefly as a prophet and a sage.
An old man rightly values the truths which experience has made real for
him; he repeats them again and again, for they constitute the best gift
he can offer to his disciples; but his utterances are not always
directly inspired; they are sometimes faintly echoed from an earlier
inspiration. In the _Reverie_, while accepting our limitations of
knowledge, which he can term ignorance in its contrast with the vast
unknown, Browning discovers in the moral consciousness of man a prophecy
of the ultimate triumph of good over what we think of as evil, a
prophecy of the final reconciliation of love with power. And among the
laws of life is not merely submission but aspiration:

Life is--to wake not sleep,
Rise and not rest, but press
From earth's level where blindly creep
Things perfected, more or less,
To the heaven's height, far and steep,
Where amid what strifes and storms
May wait the adventurous quest,
Power is love.

The voice of the poet of _Paracelsus_ and of _Rabbi Ben Ezra_ is still
audible in this latest of his prophesyings. And therefore he welcomes
earth in his _Rephan_, earth, with its whole array of failures and
despairs, as the fit training-ground for man. Better its trials and
losses and crosses than a sterile uniformity of happiness; better its
strife than rest in any golden mean of excellence. Nor are its
intellectual errors and illusions without their educational value. It is
better, as _Development_, with its recollections of Browning's
childhood, assures us that the boy should believe in Troy siege, and the
combats of Hector and Achilles, as veritable facts of history, than bend
his brow over Wolfs Prolegomena or perplex his brain with moral
philosophies to grapple with which his mind is not yet competent. By and
by his illusions will disappear while their gains will remain.

The general impression left by _Asolando_ is that of intellectual and
imaginative vigour. The series of _Bad Dreams_ is very striking and
original in both pictorial and passionate power. _Dubiety_ is a poem of
the Indian Summer, but it has the beauty, with a touch of the pathos,
proper to the time. The love songs are rather songs of praise than of
passion, but they are beautiful songs of praise, and that entitled
_Speculative_, which is frankly a poem of old age, has in it the genuine
passion of memory. _White Witchcraft_ does in truth revive the manner of
earlier volumes. The

Infinite passion and the pain
Of finite hearts that yearn

told of in a poem of 1855 is present, with a touch of humour to guard it
from its own excess in the admirable _Inapprehensiveness_. The speaker
who may not liberate his soul can perhaps identify a quotation, and he
gallantly accepts his humble role in the tragi-comedy of foiled

"No, the book
Which noticed how the wall-growths wave," said she,
"Was not by Ruskin."
I said "Vernon Lee."

And in the uttered "Vernon Lee" lies a vast renunciation half comical
and wholly tragic. There are jests in the volume, and these, with the
exception of _Ponte dell' Angelo_, have the merit of brevity; they buzz
swiftly in and out, and do not wind about us with the terror of
voluminous coils, as sometimes happens when Browning is in his mood of
mirth. There are stories, and they are told with spirit and with skill.
In _Beatrice Signorini_ the story-teller does justice to the honest
jealousy of a wife and to the honest love of a husband who returns from
the wanderings of his imagination to the frank fidelity of his heart.
Cynicism grows genial in the jest of _The Pope and the Net_. In
_Muckle-Mouth Meg_, laughter and kisses, audible from the page, and a
woman's art in love-craft, turn tragedy in a hearty piece of comedy.
_The Bean-Feast_ presents us with the latest transformation of the
Herakles ideal, where a good Christian Herakles, Pope Sixtus of Rome,
makes common cause with his spiritual children in their humble pleasures
of the senses. And in contrast with this poem of the religion of joy is
the story of another ruler of Rome, the too fortunate Emperor Augustus,
who, in the shadow of the religion of fear and sorrow, must propitiate
the envy of Fate by turning beggar once a year. A shivering thrill runs
through us as we catch a sight of the supreme mendicant's "sparkling
eyes beneath their eyebrows' ridge":

"He's God!" shouts Lucius Varus Rufus: "Man
And worms'-meat any moment!" mutters low
Some Power, admonishing the mortal-born.

There were nobler sides of Paganism than this with which Browning seems
never to have had an adequate sympathy. And yet the religion even of
Marcus Aurelius lacked something of the joy of the religion of the
thankful Pope who feasted upon beans.[144]

In the winter which followed his change of abode from Warwick Crescent
to the more commodious house in De Vere Gardens, the winter of
1887-1888, Browning's health and strength visibly declined; a succession
of exhausting colds lowered his vitality; yet he maintained his habitual
ways of life, and would not yield. In August 1888 he started ill for his
Italian holiday, and travelled with difficulty and distress. But the
rest among the mountains at Primiero restored him. At Venice he seemed
as vigorous as he was joyous. And when he returned to London in February
1889 the improvement in his strength was in a considerable measure
maintained. Yet it was evident that the physical vigour which had
seemed invincible was on the ebb. In the early summer he paid the last
of those visits, which he so highly valued, to Balliol College, Oxford.
The opening week of June found him at Cambridge. Mr Gosse has told how
on the first Sunday of that month Browning and he sat together "in a
sequestered part of the beautiful Fellows' Garden of Trinity," under a
cloudless sky, amid the early foliage with double hawthorns in bloom,
and how the old man, in a mood of serenity and without his usual
gesticulation, talked of his own early life and aspirations. He shrank
that summer, says Mrs Orr, from the fatigue of a journey to Italy and
thought of Scotland as a place of rest. But unfavourable weather in
early August forbade the execution of the plan. An invitation from Mrs
Bronson to her house at Asolo, to be followed by the pleasure of seeing
his son and his son's wife in the Palazzo Rezzonico, Venice, were
attractions not to be resisted, and in company with Miss Browning, he
reached the little hill-town that had grown so dear to him without
mishap and even without fatigue.

To the early days of July, shortly before his departure for Italy,
belong two incidents which may be placed side by side as exhibiting two
contrasted sides of Browning's character. On the 5th of that month he
dined with the Shah, who begged for the gift of one of his books. Next
day he chose a volume the binding of which might, as he says, "take the
imperial eye"; but the pleasure of the day was another gift, a gift to a
person who was not imperial. "I said to myself," he wrote to his young
friend the painter Lehmann's daughter, addressed in the letter as "My
beloved Alma"--"I said to myself 'Here do I present my poetry to a
personage for whom I do not care three straws; why should I not venture
to do as much for a young lady I love dearly, who, for the author's
sake, will not impossibly care rather for the inside than the outside of
the volume?' So I was bold enough to take one and offer it for your kind
acceptance, begging you to remember in days to come that the author,
whether a good poet or not, was always, my Alma, your affectionate
friend, Robert Browning." A gracious bowing of old age over the grace
and charm of youth! But the work of two days later, July 8th, was not
gracious. The lines "To Edward Fitzgerald," printed in _The Athenaeum_,
were dated on that day. It is stated by Mrs Orr that when they were
despatched to the journal in which they appeared, Browning regretted the
deed, though afterwards he found reasons to justify himself.
Fitzgerald's reference to Mrs Browning caused him a spasm of pain and
indignation, nor did the pain for long subside. The expression of his
indignation was outrageous in manner, and deficient in real power. He
had read a worse meaning into the unhappy words than had been intended,
and the writer was dead. Browning's act was like an involuntary muscular
contraction, which he could not control. The lines sprang far more from
love than from hate. "I felt as if she had died yesterday," he said. We
cannot regret that Browning was capable of such an offence; we can only
regret that what should have controlled his cry of pain and rage did not
operate at the right moment.

In Asolo, beside "the gate," Mrs Bronson had found and partly made what
Mr Henry James describes as "one of the quaintest possible little
places of _villegiatura_"--La Mura, the house, "resting half upon the
dismantled, dissimulated town-wall. No sweeter spot in all the
sweetnesses of Italy." Browning's last visit to Asolo was a time of
almost unmingled enjoyment. "He seemed possessed," writes Mrs Orr, "by a
strange buoyancy, an almost feverish joy in life." The thought that he
was in Asolo again, which he had first seen in his twenty-sixth year,
and since then had never ceased to remember with affection, was a happy
wonder to him. He would stand delighted on the loggia of La Mura,
looking out over the plain and identifying the places of historical
interest, some of which were connected with his own "Sordello." Nor was
the later story forgotten of Queen Caterina Cornaro, whose palace-tower
overlooks Asolo, and whose secretary, Cardinal Bembo, wrote _gli
Asolani_, from which came the suggestion for the title of Browning's
forthcoming volume. At times, as Mrs Bronson relates, the beauty of the
prospect was enough, with no historical reminiscences, the plain with
its moving shadows, the mountain-ranges to the west, and southwards the
delicate outline of the Euganean Hills. "I was right," said he, "to fall
in love with this place fifty years ago, was I not?"

The procedure of the day at Asolo was almost as regular as that of a
London day. The morning walk with his sister, when everything that was
notable was noted by his keen eyes, the return, English newspapers,
proof-sheets, correspondence, the light mid-day meal, the afternoon
drive in Mrs Branson's carriage, tea upon the loggia, the evening with
music or reading, or visits to the little theatre--these constituted an
almost unvarying and happy routine. On his walks he delighted to
recognise little details of architecture which he had observed in former
years; or he would peer into the hedgerows and watch the living
creatures that lurked there, or would "whistle softly to the lizards
basking on the low walls which border the roads, to try his old power of
attracting them."[145] Sometimes a longer drive (and that to Bassano was
his favourite) required an earlier start in the carriage with luncheon
at some little inn. "If we were ever late in returning to Asolo," Mrs
Bronson writes, "he would say 'Tell Vittorio to drive quickly; we must
not lose the sunset from the loggia.' ... Often after a storm, the
effects of sun breaking through clouds before its setting, combined with
the scenery of plain and mountain, were such as to rouse the poet to the
greatest enthusiasm. Heedless of cold or damp, forgetting himself
completely, though warmly wrapped to please others, he would gaze on the
changing aspects of earth and sky until darkness covered everything from
his sight."

When in the evenings Browning read aloud he did not, like Tennyson, as
described by Mr Rossetti, allow his voice to "sway onward with a
long-drawn chaunt" which gave "noble value and emphasis to the metrical
structure and pauses." His delivery was full and distinctive, but it
"took much less account than Tennyson's of the poem as a rhythmical
whole; his delivery had more affinity to that of an actor, laying stress
on all the light and shade of the composition--its touches of character,
the conversational points, its dramatic give-and-take. In those
qualities of elocution in which Tennyson was strong, and aimed to be
strong, Browning was contentedly weak; and _vice versa_."[146]
Sometimes, like another great poet, Pope, he was deeply affected by the
passion of beauty or heroism or pathos in what he read, and could not
control his feelings. Mrs Orr mentions that in reading aloud his
translation of the _Herakles_, he, like Pope in reading a passage of his
_Iliad_, was moved to tears. Dr Furnivall tells of the mounting
excitement with which he once delivered in the writer's hearing his
_Ixion_. When at La Mura after his dreamy playing, on a spinet of 1522,
old airs, melodious, melancholy airs, Browning would propose to read
aloud, it was not his own poetry that he most willingly chose. "No R.B.
to-night," he would say; "then with a smile, 'Let us have some real
poetry'"; and the volume would be one by Shelley or Keats, or Coleridge
or Tennyson. It was as a punishment to his hostess for the crime of
having no Shakespeare on her shelves that he threatened her with one of
his "toughest poems"; but the tough poem, interpreted by his emphasis
and pauses, became "as clear and comprehensible as one could possibly
desire." In his talk at Asolo "he seemed purposely to avoid deep and
serious topics. If such were broached in his presence he dismissed them
with one strong, convincing sentence, and adroitly turned the current of
conversation into a shallower channel."

A project which came very near his heart was that of purchasing from the
municipal authorities a small piece of ground, divided from La Mura by a
ravine clothed with olive and other trees, "on which stood an unfinished
building"--the words are Mrs Bronson's--"commanding the finest view in
Asolo." He desired much to have a summer or autumn abode to which he
might turn with the assurance of rest in what most pleased and suited
him. In imagination, with his characteristic eagerness, he had already
altered and added to the existing structure, and decided on the size and
aspect of the loggia which was to out-rival that of La Mura. "'It shall
have a tower,' he said, 'whence I can see Venice at every hour of the
day, and I shall call it "Pippa's Tower".... We will throw a rustic
bridge across the streamlet in the ravine.'" And then, in a graver mood:
"It may not be for me to enjoy it long--who can say? But it will be
useful for Pen and his family.... But I am good for ten years yet." And
when his son visited Asolo and approved of the project of Pippa's Tower,
Browning's happiness in his dream was complete. It was on the night of
his death that the authorities of Asolo decided that the purchase might
be carried into effect.


_From a drawing by_ Miss KATHERINE KIMBALL.]

For a time during this last visit to Asolo Browning suffered some
inconvenience from shortness of breath in climbing hills, but the
discomfort passed away. He looked forward to an early return to England,
spoke with pleasant anticipation of the soft-pedal piano which his kind
friend Mrs Bronson desired to procure at Boston and place in his study
in De Vere Gardens, and he dreamed of future poetical achievements.
"Shall I whisper to you my ambition and my hope?" he asked his hostess.
"It is to write a tragedy better than anything I have done yet. I think
of it constantly." With the end of October the happy days at Asolo were
at an end. On the first of November he was in Venice, "magnificently
lodged," he says, "in this vast palazzo, which my son has really shown
himself fit to possess, so surprising are his restorations and
improvements." At Asolo he had parted from his American friend Story
with the words, "More than forty years of friendship and never a break."
In Venice he met an American friend of more recent years, Professor
Corson, who describes him as stepping briskly, with a look that went
everywhere, and as cheerfully anticipating many more years of productive
work.[147] Yet in truth the end was near. Dining with Mr and Mrs Curtis,
where he read aloud some poems of his forthcoming volume, he met a
London physician, Dr Bird. Next evening Dr Bird again dined with
Browning, who expressed confident satisfaction as to his state of
health, and held out his wrist that his words might be confirmed by the
regularity and vigour of his pulse. The physician became at once aware
that Browning's confidence was far from receiving the warrant in which
he believed. Still he maintained his customary two hours' walk each day.
Towards the close of November, on a day of fog, he returned from the
Lido with symptoms of a bronchial cold. He dealt with the trouble as he
was accustomed, and did not take to his bed. Though feeling scarcely fit
to travel he planned his departure for England after the lapse of four
or five days. On December 1st, an Italian physician was summoned, and
immediately perceived the gravity of the case. Within a few days the
bronchial trouble was subdued, but failure of the heart was apparent.
Some hours before the end he said to one of his nurses, "I feel much
worse. I know now that I must die." The ebbing away of life was
painless. As the clocks of Venice were striking ten on the night of
Thursday, December 12, 1889, Browning died.[148]

He had never concerned himself much about his place of burial. A
lifeless body seemed to him only an old vesture that had been cast
aside. "He had said to his sister in the foregoing summer," Mrs Orr
tells us, "that he wished to be buried wherever he might die; if in
England, with his mother; if in France, with his father; if in Italy,
with his wife." The English cemetery in Florence had, however, been
closed. The choice seemed to lie between Venice, which was the desire of
the city, or, if the difficulties could be overcome by the intervention
of Lord Dufferin, the old Florentine cemetery. The matter was decided
otherwise; a grave in Westminster Abbey was proposed by Dean Bradley,
and the proposal was accepted.[149] A private service took place in the
_Palazzo Rezzonico_; the coffin, in compliance with the civic
requirements, was conveyed with public honours to the chapel on the
island of San Michele; and from thence to the house in De Vere Gardens.
On the last day of the year 1889, in presence of a great and reverent
crowd, with solemn music arranged for the words of Mrs Browning's poem,
"He giveth his beloved sleep," the body of Browning was laid in its
resting-place in Poets' Corner.

To attempt at the present time to determine the place of Browning in the
history of English poetry is perhaps premature. Yet the record of "How
it strikes a contemporary" may itself have a certain historical
interest. When estimates of this kind have been revised by time even
their errors are sometimes instructive, or, if not instructive, are
amusing. It is probable that Tennyson will remain as the chief
representative in poetry of the Victorian period. Browning, who was
slower in securing an audience, may be found to possess a more
independent individuality. Yet in truth no great writer is independent
of the influences of his age.

Browning as a poet had his origins in the romantic school of English
poetry; but he came at a time when the romance of external action and
adventure had exhausted itself, and when it became necessary to carry
romance into the inner world where the adventures are those of the soul.
On the ethical and religious side he sprang from English Puritanism.
Each of these influences was modified by his own genius and by the
circumstances of its development. His keen observation of facts and
passionate inquisition of human character drew him in the direction of
what is termed realism. This combination of realism with romance is even
more strikingly seen in an elder contemporary on whose work Browning
bestowed an ardent admiration, the novelist Balzac. His Puritanism
received important modifications from his wide-ranging artistic
instincts and sympathies, and again from the liberality of a
wide-ranging intellect. He has the strenuous moral force of Puritanism,
but he is wholly free from asceticism, except in the higher significance
of that word--the hardy discipline of an athlete. Opinions count for
less than the form and the habitual attitudes of a soul. These with
Browning were always essentially Christian. He regarded our life on
earth as a state of probation and of preparation; sometimes as a
battle-field in which our test lies in the choice of the worse or the
better side and the energy of devotion to the cause; sometimes as a
school of education, in the processes of which the emotions play a
larger part than the intellect. The degrees in that school are not to be
taken on earth. And on the battle-field the final issue is not to be
determined here, so that what appears as defeat may contain within it an
assured promise of ultimate victory. The attitudes of the spirit which
were most habitual with him were two--the attitude of aspiration and the
attitude of submission. These he brought into harmony with each other by
his conception of human life as a period of training for a higher life;
we must make the most vigorous and joyous use of our schooling, and yet
we must press towards what lies beyond it.

From the romantic poetry of the early years of the nineteenth century
comes a cry or a sigh of limitless desire. Under the inspiration of the
Revolutionary movement passion had broken the bounds of the eighteenth
century ideal of balance and moderation. With the transcendental
reaction against a mechanical view of the relation of God to the
universe and to humanity the soul had put forth boundless claims and
unmeasured aspirations. In his poetic method each writer followed the
leadings of his own genius, without reference to common rules and
standards; the individualism of the Revolutionary epoch asserted itself
to the full. These several influences helped to determine the character
of Browning's poetry. But meeting in him the ethical and religious
tendencies of English Puritanism they acquired new significances and
assumed new forms. The cry of desire could not turn, as it did with
Byron, to cynicism; it must not waste itself, as sometimes happened with
Shelley, in the air or the ether. It must be controlled by the will and
turned to some spiritual uses. The transcendental feeling which
Wordsworth most often attained through an impassioned contemplation of
external nature must rest upon a broader basis and include among its
sources or abettors all the higher passions of humanity. The
Revolutionary individualism must be maintained and extended; in his
methods Browning would acknowledge no master; he would please himself
and compel his readers to accept his method even if strange or singular.
As for the mediaeval revival, which tried to turn aside, and in part
capture, the transcendental tendencies of his time, Browning rejected
it, in the old temper of English Puritanism, on the side of religion;
but on the side of art it opened certain avenues upon which he eagerly
entered. The scientific movement of the nineteenth century influenced
him partly as a force to be met and opposed by his militant
transcendentalism. Yet he gives definite expression in _Paracelsus_ to
an idea of evolution both in nature and in human society, an idea of
evolution which is, however, essentially theistic. "All that seems
proved in Darwin's scheme," he wrote to Dr Furnivall in 1881, "was a
conception familiar to me from the beginning." The positive influences
of the scientific age in which he lived upon Browning's work were
chiefly these--first it tended to intellectualise his instincts,
compelling him to justify them by a definite theory; and secondly it
co-operated with his tendency towards realism as a student of the facts
of human nature; it urged him towards research in his psychology of the
passions; it supported him in his curious inquisition of the phenomena
of the world of mind.

Being a complete and a sane human creature, Browning could not rest
content with the vicious asceticism of the intellect which calls itself
scientific because it refuses to recognise any facts that are not
material and tangible. Science itself, in the true sense of the word,
exists and progresses by ventures of imaginative faith. And in all
matters which involve good and evil, hopes and fears, in all matters
which determine the conduct of life, no rational person excludes from
his view the postulates of our moral nature or should exclude the final
option of the will. The person whose beliefs are determined by material
facts alone and by the understanding unallied with our other powers is
the irrational and unscientific person. Being a complete and sane human
creature, Browning was assured that the visible order of things is part
of a larger order, the existence of which alone makes human life
intelligible to the reason. The understanding being incapable of
arriving unaided at a decision between rival theories of life, and
neutrality between these being irrational and illegitimate, he rightly
determined the balance with the weight of emotion, and rightly acted
upon that decision with all the energy of his will. His chief
intellectual error was not that he undervalued the results of the
intellect, but that he imagined the existence as a part of sane human
nature, of a wholly irrational intellect which in affairs of religious
belief and conduct is indifferent to the promptings of the emotions and
the moral nature.

Browning's optimism has been erroneously ascribed to his temperament. He
declared that in his personal experience the pain of life outweighed its
pleasure. He remembered former pain more vividly than he remembered
pleasure. His optimism was part of the vigorous sanity of his moral
nature; like a reasonable man, he made the happiness which he did not
find. If any person should censure the process of giving objective
validity to a moral postulate, he has only to imagine some extra-human
intelligence making a study of human nature; to such an intelligence our
moral postulates would be objective facts and have the value of
objective evidence. That whole of which our life on earth forms a part
could not be conceived by Browning as rational without also being
conceived as good.

All the parts of Browning's nature were vigorous, and they worked
harmoniously together. His senses were keen and alert; his understanding
was both penetrating and comprehensive; his passions had sudden
explosive force and also steadfastness and persistency; his will
supported his other powers and perhaps it had too large a share in his
later creative work. His feeling for external nature was twofold; he
enjoyed colour and form--but especially colour--as a feast for the eye,
and returned thanks for his meal as the Pope of his poem did for the
bean-feast. This was far removed from that passionate spiritual
contemplation of nature of the Wordsworthian mood. But now and again for
Browning external nature was, not indeed suffused as for Wordsworth, but
pierced and shot through with spiritual fire. His chief interest,
however, was in man. The study of passions in their directness and of
the intellect in its tortuous ways were at various times almost equally
attractive to him. The emotions which he chiefly cared to interpret were
those connected with religion, with art, and with the relations of the

In his presentation of character Browning was far from exhibiting either
the universality or the disinterestedness of Shakespeare. His sympathy
with action was defective. The affections arising from hereditary or
traditional relations are but slenderly represented in his poetry; the
passions which elect their own objects are largely represented. Those
graceful gaieties arising from a long-established form of society, which
constitute so large a part of Shakespeare's comedies, are almost wholly
absent from his work. His humour was robust but seldom fine or delicate.
In an age of intellectual and spiritual conflict and trouble, his art
was often deflected from the highest ends by his concern on behalf of
ideas. He could not rest satisfied, it has been observed, with
contemplating the children of his imagination, nor find the fulfilment
of his aim in the fact of having given them existence.[150] It seems
often as if his purpose in creating them was to make them serve as
questioners, objectors, and answerers in the great debate of conflicting
thoughts which proceeds throughout his poems. His object in transferring
his own consciousness into the consciousness of some imagined personage
seems often to be that of gaining a new stand-point from which to see
another and a different aspect of the questions concerning which he
could not wholly satisfy himself from any single point of view. He
cannot be content to leave his men and women, in Shakespeare's
disinterested manner, to look in various directions according to
whatever chanced to suit best the temper and disposition he had imagined
for them. They are placed by him with their eyes turned in very much the
same direction, gazing towards the same problems, the same ideas. And
somehow Browning himself seems to be in company with them all the time,
learning their different reports of the various aspects which those
problems or ideas present to each of them, and choosing between the
different reports in order to give credence to that which seems true.
The study of no individual character would seem to him of capital value
unless that character contained something which should help to throw
light upon matters common to all humanity, upon the inquiries either as
to what it is, or as to what are its relations to the things outside
humanity. This is not quite the highest form of dramatic poetry. There
is in it perhaps something of the error of seeking too quick returns of
profit, and of drawing "a circle premature," to use Browning's own
words, "heedless of far gain." The contents of characters so conceived
can be exhausted, whereas when characters are presented with entire
disinterestedness they may seem to yield us less at first, but they are
inexhaustible. The fault--if it be one--lay partly in Browning's epoch,
partly in the nature of his genius. Such a method of deflected dramatic
characterisation as his is less appropriate to regular drama than to the
monologue; and accordingly the monologue, reflective or lyrical, became
the most characteristic instrument of his art.

There is little of repose in Browning's poetry. He feared lethargy of
heart, the supine mood, more than he feared excess of passion. Once or
twice he utters a sigh for rest, but it is for rest after strife or
labour. Broad spaces of repose, of emotional tranquillity are rare, if
not entirely wanting, in his poetry. It is not a high table-land, but a
range, or range upon range, of sierras. In single poems there is often a
point or moment in which passion suddenly reaches its culmination. He
flashes light upon the retina; he does not spread truth abroad like a
mantle but plunges it downwards through the mists of earth like a
searching sword-blade. And therefore he does not always distribute the
poetic value of what he writes equally; one vivid moment justifies all
that is preparatory to that great moment. His utterance, which is always
vigorous, becomes intensely luminous at the needful points and then
relapses, to its well-maintained vigour, a vigour not always accompanied
by the highest poetical qualities. The music of his verse is entirely
original, and so various are its kinds, so complex often are its
effects that it cannot be briefly characterised. Its attack upon the ear
is often by surprises, which, corresponding to the sudden turns of
thought and leaps of feeling, justify themselves as right and
delightful. Yet he sometimes embarrasses his verse with an excess of
suspensions and resolutions. Browning made many metrical experiments,
some of which were unfortunate: but his failures are rather to be
ascribed to temporary lapses into a misdirected ingenuity than to the
absence of metrical feeling.

His chief influence, other than what is purely artistic, upon a reader
is towards establishing a connection between the known order of things
in which we live and move and that larger order of which it is a part.
He plays upon the will, summoning it from lethargy to activity. He
spiritualises the passions by showing that they tend through what is
human towards what is divine. He assigns to the intellect a sufficient
field for exercise, but attaches more value to its efforts than to its
attainments. His faith in an unseen order of things creates a hope which
persists through the apparent failures of earth. In a true sense he may
be named the successor of Wordsworth, not indeed as an artist but as a
teacher. Substantially the creed maintained by each was the same creed,
and they were both more emphatic proclaimers of it than any other
contemporary poets. But their ways of holding and of maintaining that
creed were far apart. Wordsworth enunciated his doctrines as if he had
never met with, and never expected to meet with, any gainsaying of them.
He discoursed as a philosopher might to a school of disciples gathered
together to be taught by his wisdom, not to dispute it. He feared
chiefly not a counter creed but the materialising effects of the
industrial movement of his own day. Expecting no contradiction,
Wordsworth did not care to quit his own standpoint in order that he
might see how things appear from the opposing side. He did not argue but
let his utterance fall into a half soliloquy spoken in presence of an
audience but not always directly addressed to them. Browning's manner of
speech was very unlike this. He seems to address it often to
unsympathetic hearers of whose presence and gainsaying attitude he could
not lose sight. The beliefs for which he pleaded were not in his day, as
they had been in Wordsworth's, part of a progressive wave of thought. He
occupied the disadvantageous position of a conservative thinker. The
later poet of spiritual beliefs had to make his way not with, but
against, a great incoming tide of contemporary speculation. Probably on
this account Browning's influence as a teacher will extend over a far
shorter space of time than that of Wordsworth. For Wordsworth is
self-contained, and is complete without reference to the ideas which
oppose his own. His work suffices for its own explanation, and will
always commend itself to certain readers either as the system of a
philosophic thinker or as the dream of a poet. Browning's thought where
it is most significant is often more or less enigmatical if taken by
itself: its energetic gestures, unless we see what they are directed
against, seem aimless beating the air. His thought, as far as it is
polemical, will probably cease to interest future readers. New methods
of attack will call forth new methods of defence. Time will make its
discreet selection from his writings. And the portion which seems most
likely to survive is that which presents in true forms of art the
permanent passions of humanity and characters of enduring interest.


[Footnote 144: Mrs Orr gives the dates of composition of several of the
_Asolando_ poems. _Rosny_, _Beatrice Signorini_ and _Flute-Music_ were
written in the winter of 1887-1888. Two or three of the _Bad Dreams_
are, with less confidence, assigned to the same date. The _Ponte dell'
Angelo_ "was imagined during the next autumn in Venice" (see Mrs
Bronson's article "Browning in Venice"). "_White Witchcraft_ had been
suggested in the same summer (1888) by a letter from a friend in the
Channel Islands which spoke of the number of toads to be seen there."
_The Cardinal and the Dog_, written with the _Pied Piper_ for Macready's
son, is a poem of early date. Mrs Bronson in her article "Browning in
Asolo" (_Century Magazine_, April 1900) relates the origin at Asolo 1889
of _The Lady and the Painter_.]

[Footnote 145: Mrs Orr, _Life_, p. 414.]

[Footnote 146: W.M. Rossetti, Portraits of Browning, i., _Magazine of
Art_, 1890, p. 182. Mr Rossetti's words refer to an earlier period.]

[Footnote 147: "The Nation," vol. 1., where reminiscences by Moncure
Conway may also be found.]

[Footnote 148: "My father died without pain or suffering other than that
of weakness or weariness"--so Mr R. Barrett Browning wrote to Mrs
Bloomfield-Moore. "His death was what death ought to be, but rarely
is--so said the doctor." (Quoted in an article on Browning by Mrs
Bloomfield-Moore in Lippincott's Magazine--Jan.--June 1890, p. 690.)]

[Footnote 149: A grave in the Abbey was at the same time offered for the
body of Browning's wife; the removal of her body from Florence would
have been against both the wishes of Browning and of the people of
Florence. It was therefore declined by Mr R. Barrett Browning. See his
letter in Mrs Bloomfield-Moore's article in Lippincott's Magazine, vol.

[Footnote 150: E.D. West in the first of two papers, "Browning as a
Preacher," in _The Dark Blue Magazine_. Browning esteemed these papers
highly and in what follows I appropriate, with some modifications, a
passage from the first of them. The writer has consented to the use here
made of the passage, and has contributed a passage towards the close.]


[_The names of Robert Browning, the subject of this volume, and of
Elizabeth Barrett Browning are not included in the Index_.]

_Abt Vogler_
Adams, Sarah Flower
Aeschylus (see _Agamemnon_)
Alford, Lady M.
Andersen, Hans
_Andrea del Sarto_
_Any Wife to any Husband_
_Apparent Failure_
_Aristophanes' Apology_
Arnold, Matthew
Arnould, Joseph
Arran, Isle of
_Artemis Prologuizes_
Ashburton, Lady
_At the Mermaid_
_Aurora Leigh_


Bacon, Francis
_Bad Dreams_
_Balaustion's Adventure_
Balzac, H. de
Barrett, Arabella
Barrett, Edward M.
Barrett, Henrietta (Mrs Surtees Cook)
Bayley, Miss
_Bean Feast_
_Beatrice Signorini_
_Bells and Pomegranates_
Benckhausen, Mr
_Bernard de Mandeville_
Bird, Dr
_Bishop Blougram_
_Bishop orders his Tomb_
Blagden, Isa
Blanc, Mme.
_Blot in the 'Scutcheon_
Bowring, Sir J.
Boyd, H.S.
Boyle, Miss
Bradley, Dean
Bridell-Fox, Mrs
Bronson, Mrs A.
Browning, Robert (grandfather)
Browning, Robert (father)
Browning, Robert, W.B. (son)
Browning, Sarah Anna (mother)
Browning, Sarah Anna, or Sarianna (sister)
Buchanan, Robert
Burne-Jones, E.
_By the Fireside_


_Caliban upon Setebos_
Carlyle, Mrs
Carlyle, Thomas
Casa Guidi
_Cavalier Tunes_
Chapman & Hall
Chappell, Arthur
_Charles Avison_
_Childe Roland_
_Christmas Eve and Easter Day_
_Christopher Smart_
Clayton, Rev. Mr
Cobbe, Miss F.P.
_Colombe's Birthday_
Conway, Dr M.
Cook, Captain Surtees
Cook, Mrs Surtees, _see_ Barrett, Henrietta
Cornhill Magazine
_Count Gismond_
Coup d'etat
Crosse, Mrs Andrew
Curtis, Mr and Mrs


_Daniel Bartoli_
Davidson, Captain
_Death in the Desert_
_De Gustibus_
De Vere Gardens
Dickens, Charles
_Dis Aliter Visum_
_Doctor_ ----
Domett, Alfred
Dominus Hyacinthus
_Dramatic Idyls_ (First and Second Series)
_Dramatic Lyrics_
_Dramatic Romances and Lyrics_
_Dramatis Personae_
Dufferin, Lord
Duffy, C. Gavan_


_Easter Day_, see _Christmas Eve and Easter Day
Eckley, Mr
Egerton-Smith, Miss
Elgin, Lady
Eliot, George
_Englishman in Italy_
_Epilogue_ (to "Asolando")
_Epilogue_ (to "Dramatis Personae")
_Epilogue_ (to "Pacchiarotto" volume)
_Epilogue_ (to "Two Poets of Croisic")
_Epistle to Karshish_
_Evelyn Hope_


_Face, A_
Faucit, Helen
_Fears and Scruples_
_Ferishtah's Fancies_
_Fifine at the Fair_
_Filippo Baldinucci_
Fisher, W.
Fitzgerald, Edward
Flaubert, G.
_Flight of the Duchess_
Flower, Eliza
Flower, Sarah
Forster, John
_Founder of the Feast_
Fox, Caroline
Fox, W.J.
_Fra Lippo Lippi_
_Francis Farini_
Fuller, Margaret (see Ossoli, Countess d')
Furnivall, F.J.


Gagarin, Prince
_Garden Fancy_
_Gerard de Lairesse_
Gibson, J.
Gladstone, W.E.
_Gold Hair_
Gosse, E.
_Grammarian's Funeral_
_Greek Christian Poets_
Gresonowsky, Dr
Grove, Mr
_Guardian Angel_
Guido Franceschini


_Halbert and Hob_
Hawthorne, N.
"Helen's Tower"
_Heretic's Tragedy_
_Herve Riel_
Hickey, Miss E.H.
Hillard, G.S.
_Hippolytus and Aricia_
_Holy Cross Day_
Home, D.D.
Hosmer, Harriet
_How it strikes a Contemporary_
_How they brought the Good News_
Hugo, Victor
Hunt, Leigh


_Imperante Augusta natus est_
_In a Balcony_
_In a Gondola_
_In a Year_
_Inn Album_
_Italian in England_
_Ivan Ivanovitch_


James, Henry
_James Lee's Wife_
Jameson, Anna
_Jochanan Hakkadosh_,
_Johannes Agricola_
Jones, Thomas
Jowett, Benjamin


Kean, Charles
Kemble, Fanny
Kenyon, F.G.
Kenyon, John
Kingsley, Charles
_King Victor and King Charles_
Kirkup, Seymour


"La Dame aux Camelias"
La Mura
Landor, W.S.
_La Saisiaz_
_Last Poems_
_Last Ride_
Lehmann, R.
Leighton, F.
Lever, Charles
_Life in a Love_
Llangollen, Vale of
Lockhart, J.G.
Long, Professor
_Lost Leader_
Lounsbury, Professor
_Love among the Ruins_
_Love in a Life_
_Lover s Quarrel_
Lucca, Baths of
Lytton, Robert


Maclise, Daniel
Macready, W.C.
"Madame Bovary"
_Magical Nature_
_Mansoor the Hierophant_
Marston, Westland
Martin, Lady (_see_ also Faucit, Helen)
Martin, Sir T.
_Martin Relph_
_Master Hugues_
"Maud" (Tennyson's)
_May and Death_
Mellerio, A.
_Men and Women_
Merrifield, Mr and Mrs
Milsand, Joseph
Mill, J.S.
Milnes, Monckton
Mitford, Miss
Monclar, A. de Ripert
Montecuccoli, Marchese
Moore, Mrs Bloomfield
Moxon, E.
_Mr Sludge the Medium_
Musset, A. de
_My Last Duchess_


Napoleon, Louis
_Natural Magic_
_Ned Bratts_
Nightingale, Florence
"Nobly, nobly Cape St Vincent"


Ogle, Miss
_Old Pictures in Florence_
_One Way of Love_
_Only a Player-Girl_
Orr, Mrs
Ossian, Macpherson's
Ossoli, Countess d'


Page, Mr
Paget, Sir James
Palazzo Giustiniani Recanati
Palazzo Manzoni
Palazzo Rezzonico
Palgrave, F.T.
Parker, Theodore
_Parleyings with Certain People_
Patmore, Emily
_Pictor Ignotus_
_Pied Piper_
_Pietro of Abano_
Pio Nono
_Pippa Passes_
Pippa's Tower
_Pisgah Sights_
_Poems before Congress_
Pope (in "Ring and Book")
_Pope and the Net_
_Porphyria's Lover_
Powers, H.
_Pretty Woman_
_Prince Hohenstiel-Schwangau_
Prinsep, V.
Procter ("Barry Cornwall")
_Prologue_ (to "La Saisiaz")
Prout, Father


_Rabbi ben Ezra_
Ready, Rev. T.
_Red Cotton Night-Cap Country_
_Return of the Druses_
_Ring and the Book_
Ritchie, Mrs A. Thackeray
Rossetti, D.G.
Rossetti, W.M.
Ruskin, John


_St Martin's Summer_
St Moritz
St Pierre de Chartreuse
Saint-Victor, Paul de
Sand, George
Sartoris, Adelaide
_Selections_ (from Browning)
_Serenade at the Villa_
Shah, the
Sharp, William
Shelley, P.B.
Silverthorne, James
Smith, Mr
Society, The Browning
_Soliloquy in a Spanish Cloister_
_Solomon and Balkis_
_Sonnets from the Portuguese_
_Soul's Tragedy_
Stanhope, Lord
_Statue and the Bust_
Stead, Mr F.H.
Stephen, Sir L.
Sterling, John
Stillmann, W.J.
Story, W.W.
Stowe, Harriet B.


Taylor, Bayard
Tennyson, Alfred
Tennyson, Frederick
Tennyson, Hallam
Thackeray, Miss, _see_ Ritchie, Mrs
Thackeray, W.M.
_The Worst of It_
_Toccata of Galuppi's_
_Too Late_
Trelawny, E.J.
Trollope, Mrs
Trollope, T.A.
_Two in the Campagna_
_Two Poems by E.B.B. and R. B_.
_Two Poets of Croisic_


_Up at a Villa_


Venice, 47, 137, 334, 335, 339, 386-388


Warwick Crescent
White, Rev. E.
_White Witchcraft_
Whitman, Walt
_Why am I a Liberal_?
Wiedemann, William
Wilson (Mrs Browning's maid)
Wise, T.J.
Wiseman, Cardinal
_Woman's Last Word_
Wordsworth, W.


Yates, Edmund
"York" (a horse)
York Street Chapels
_Youth and Art_

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