Ҿ˹˹ѧ
PDF
ePub

6

hanging in front of us. It is curious to read Mr. B.'s poem and look up at the woman who held the painter in her 'strong toils of grace'. It is a bold type of face, physically fine, but a heartless nature lies couchant in the sleepy beauty of those slow eyes? ... (p. 371) Lastly, we have to speak of Mr. Browning as a great religious poet ... there is too great a divorce between our poetry and our religion, for us not to rejoice over a poet who (p. 372) possesses the clearest of all seeing faculties—religious faith. The poet's nature, of all others, most needs that high reverence which is to the spirit what iron is to the blood,—the very strength that prevents a relaxing of the moral fibre in the presence of beauty, and keeps the health sound. The poet's nature, of all others, most needs the revelation of Christianity, by virtue of its own peculiar temptations, doubts, and fears, obstinate questionings, and yearnings for the bosom of rest. Mr. Browning has this reverence, and accepts this revelation. He is not, like some poets, half ashamed to mention God or Christ, though he never takes the name of either in vain. Nor does he set up nature for a kind of Pantheistic worship. His poem of Christmas Eve and Easter Day is passionately alive with an intense desire for the most personal relationship, lowly of heart as it is lofty in awe. The text of the poem is, 'How hard it is to be a Christian'. (p. 374) it is a great pleasure ... to bear witness that these books are worth knowing; for, with all their shortcomings, they constitute one of the most

precious gifts that our time will receive from the hands of Poetry.” 1863. “The Eclectic Review,'No. 23, New Series, May, 1863, p. 436-454. (E. P. Hood

on) the Selections of 1863, p. 438. “How he (Br.) delights to work and worm and wind his way to the subtlest places of the soul, and to the mazy problems which the soul is perpetually seeking to solve ! His knowledge is most recondite. Outof-the-way magnificent scenes attract, and claim, and charm him-great historic incidents and historical characters, tho' great not by the rustle of the robe, or the clash of the armour along the chief streets of history, but by the exhibition they have made of the greatness of souls. He is a dramatist in all that we usually imply by that word, entering into the innermost arena of the being. His poems are, to quote the title of one of his dramas, Soul Tragedies . . they present an order of tragedy differing from Shakspeare's—the agony, the strife, the internal stress are more internalised. He transfers the circumstances of our being from the without to the within. In this way they all become noble pictures of the striving and the attaining soul. p. 439, Paracelsus .

may be not inappropriately described as a metaphysical or psychological dialogue. It is the picture of a great, noble, yet scornful mind, wrecked by its mere desire to know... In the last scene (p. 440) the dying man reviews his life and his mistakes in an autobiography as marvellously touching and true as it is overwhelmingly tender. Love and the love of God resumes its sway over a soul mere knowledge had wrecked. The whole of these dying words are a swell of the richest melody to the close, when faith exclaims

*If I stoop
Into a dark tremendous sea of cloud,
It is but for a time; I press God's lamp
Close to my breast ; its splendour, soon or late,

Will pierce the gloom : I shall emerge one day!' . . . It is not the only one of Mr. Browning's poems-rather it is one of many-.in which he asserts, but not merely asserts, that love solves, where knowledge perplexes. The same lesson is taught in Saul, which, in its condensed and subdued majesty of expression, and its intricate subtlety in dealing with the most perplexed affairs of the human spirit, may rank among the most wonderful productions of the English language desired to read aloud that which would furnish the best illustration of the genius of Robert Browning, we should select Saul . (p 444) Mr. Browning belongs, in the highest sense, to the poets of faith (p. 445) We turn to another aspect of Mr. Br.'s genius—his condensed, dramatic, passionate effect ; indeed, in his shorter pieces, he seems to be master, as in the longer, at once of the power to startle with the mystical and subjective emotion, or with the

1 See Mr. Radford's letter, p. 160, below.

if we

[ocr errors]

a

[ocr errors]

bold passionate and dramatic scene. We will present two well-known illustrations of this [Evelyn Hope, and The Confessional]. ... (p. 449) Pippa Passes

is . . one of the most singular illustrations of what we must call the subtlety of our author's genius. It is this subtlety . . which places him at greater remove from what is ordinarily conceived of the character of the poet. He not merely seems to disdain the artist function too much, but too much he dwells upon the psychological analogies and distinctions ; they so predominate that they make him comparatively unreadable by the ordinary crowd, who, as in everything else, so most especially in poetry, renounce all that calls for labour. With this, however, it must be said that Mr. Br. has a measureless command over versification and language. It rolls on like a great tide, and sweeps up and fills every little bay, or creek, or brook ... (p. 452) Mr. Browning

has meddled with every kind of knowledge. Far beyond any other poet of our day, all his poems deserve the name of studies, and his volumes forın a rich mosaic. . . Pity that a writer so gifted and (p. 453) faithful to our purest and highest instincts, many of whose verses, too, show such richness of melody, should not have cultivated more the charm of that music which wins, as well as that power which subdues and overawes. Yet how ungrateful this is : as well murmur because Milton has not cut up ‘Paradise Lost' into pretty little liltings of song our author holds his thoughts, and many of them, in a leash at once, stands in the centre and surveys the round, and . . seems beyond any other poet of our age ; while sometimes inferior to his loftier brethren in music, to be far beyond any in light; and if apparently not equal to them in the sharpness and definition of his imagination, to be beyond them, not only in his apprehension of the mystery, but his power to front it. While standing on the earth, he seems able to wield, most of any, words towering to the infinite heights or depths of passion. Nor shall this article be closed without a reference to his inimitably musical verses to his gifted wife : What,

there's nothing in the moon noteworthy?'”—[to the end of One Word More.] 1864. “The Eclectic and Congregational Review,' July, p. 61-72.

“Robert Browning's new Volume.” Dramatis Personce (rev. by Edwin Paxton Hood). “ We...

. are not alone in making the confession that of the living masters of English poetry, Robert Browning gives to us the greatest measure of delight. We are not careful to contest for him the chief place among his brethren, but we know not how to admit the right of any other to a higher . . . In painfully anxious yearning after artistic and lyrical melody, Browning is certainly transcended by his only possible rival, Tennyson. We do not meet [in Br.] the wonderfully happy artfulness of expression which seems not like a making but a happening ; but this is the only feature in which he is transcended, and we are quite aware that many would prefer—in many instances we should ourselves greatly prefer—the more unwrought, the sometimes weird, and frequently awakening flash of mystical expression which wins more from the heart than the highest combination of mere music regarded as the arrangement of notes and

But it is in the converse with distant persons and scenes, and the making the ages and their histories, events and persons, vehicles for living instruction—it is in the exploring the profoundest recesses of human spirit-the loitering and the marvelling over, and seeking the solution of the most tough and knotty problems of human nature—it is in the making all this the disc on which a strange and most usic imagination plays off its powers—it is in a pathos infinitely too deep for any but eclectic hearts, sufferers, doubters, and seers, to have much sympathy-it is in a reticence and reserve of verse which leaves you wondering, broken presently by a gush and sweep, and wing of verse which leaves you panting-it is by allusions and eruditions which mark the scholar but instruct the learner, set in words which make a carcanet of precious jewels over the pages, that this author's superabundant power is made known

he is a poet for scholars and students, and only for those who have in them the faculty or the appreciation of the faculty of poetry, not patent to common eyes yet, what music is in Mr. Br.'s verse! No music like it, only that it needs a certain education in life ; a certain ear-experience and culture, not merely to appreciate it, but even to apprehend it. [From Sordello is quoted «Charlemagne and Hildebrand”; then Abt Vogler (all

tones.

6

[ocr errors]

.

quoted), the Death in the Desert, and Caliban are notist, and all] the most simply sacred and yet not less profound Rabbi ben Ezra, a fine setting to English verse of the spirit of all Hebrew psalmody and literature-a soliloquy of the Rabbi in his age. We have quoted at length, but only in the hope that every one able to read these verses will turn, not only to this volume, but to all the works of Robert Browning, most far seeing, most deeply feeling, most

erudite, and reverent of living poets. 1865. JN. SKELTON on the causes of Browning's ruggedness. Any poetry . .

which relies exclusively upon effective and musical wording, does not spring from, and cannot retain a permanent hold on, the heart. It is a mere husk. There is no kernel of thought or feeling. Mr. B's ruggedness arises mainly from his determination to say precisely what he wants to say. He allows no consideration to deter him from expressing his thought with perfect exactness. Grace, purity of language, symmetry of form are admirable, whenever they are consistent with absolute truthfulness ; but they become tawdry ornaments, sentimental toys, the indications of an effeminate and slothful nature, when attained at its expense . . he entertains a genuine artistic distaste for the gaudy and pretentious work, which does not stand the test of time, of prolonged examination, and intimate acquaintance. So that Mr. B's poems are irregular only in the sense that Shakspere's plays are irregular. The irregularity in both cases is a sign of intellectual affluence. Br. takes the sincerest delight in quaint ingenious combinations: no poet ever lighted upon more whimsical rhymes, or managed more intricate metres. The grotesque rhymes of Br., like the poetic conceits of Shakspere, are merely the holiday frolic of a rich and vivacious imagination. Healthy inasculine vigour is apt to run riot at times. It is very significant also that Br., who has tried his hand at almost every form of verse, has never written a Sonnet. Sonnet-writing is a pretty, but rather solemn dexterity ;-a sleight-of-hand business,—the knack of presenting an emotion in a given number of lines. It demands, consequently, unity, if not severity, of conception ; simplicity, if not rigidity of expression. The passionate and affluent genius of Browning rejects this yoke. A state dress prevents the play of his muscles. 1865. [Jn. Skelton] Shirley. A

Campaigner at Home,' p. 258-9. 1867. “Nuova Antologia di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti.' vol. V. Fasc. vii. Luglio 1867.

Firenze, p. 468-481 : “Poeti e Romanzieri Inglesi Contemporanei. I. Robert Browning.” A review of the Poet. Works, 1864, 3 vols., and Dramatis Per. sonce, 1865, by Enrico Nencioni.... “Roberto Browning è uno di quei rarissimi poeti veri i quali fanno sempre fare un passo all'arte, iniziatori e ispiratori ad un tempo. L'influenza esercitata da lui, prima latenté or manifesta, nell'ordine del pensiero e in quel della forma, è grandissima ; e solo paragonabile a quella

è esercitata, in (p. 469) altra sfera, e con altri intendimenti, da Tommaso Carlyle. Ambedue infatti han destato ardenti simpatie e avversioni invincibili. . L'Inghilterra e l'America, i giovani specialmente, han riconosciuto in Browning un gran poeta filosofo. Dramatis Personce, uscito nel 64, segna l'apogeo della sua fama. . Dopo i tragici monologhi e il riso convulso di Byron, dopo le ardenti e generose utopie dello Shelley, dopo il misticismo puritano di Wordsworth, e il paganesimo passionato di Keats ; dopo i sogni di Coleridge, e le fantasie orientali di Moore, e l'epiche visioni di Southey, si aspettava il poeta che dipingesse le realtà della vita intima ed esteriore, l'uomo qual fu e quel è, nel tempo e nello spazio, studiato con amore ed inteso da una simpatia universale, simile a quella dello scientziato nella sua imparzialità, ma più delicata e più profonda ; si aspettava il poeta che nelle indagini psicologiche non dimenticasse i corpi e le forme, ma le osservasse e le rendesse in tutta la loro sterminata varietà, in tutte le differenze dei loro individuali caratteri, - che, restando sempre poeta, fosse insieme un filosofo et un artista.—Tutto ciò fece Robert Browning .... (p. 472) Pochi poeti han cominciato così gloriosamente la loro carriera. Paracelso non par lavoro di giovane, ma di provetto artista ; di uomo cha ha molto sofferto e provato, osservato moltissimo, bevuto fino alla sazietà nella coppa della scienza e della vita. Già là sono in germe, e alcune già in fiore, tutte quelle rare qualità che poi distinsero Browning dagli altri

e

.

poeti contemporanei, e fecero di lui un vero rivelatore di nuove regioni nell' infinito campo dell'arte. E già nella scelta dell'argomento si annunzia il carattere del poeta. La curiosità scientifica, il desiderio di tentare sentieri inesplorati, il dispregio della scienza tradizionale e scolastica che si palesa nella vita di Paracelso dovean potentemente tentare un poeta avido di comprendere l'uomo e le cose, di andar per vie non battute, di scrutare e toccare le più occulte e delicate fibre del cuore umano ... (p. 474) Fin dalle prime pagine del Paracel:0 si riconosce in Br. un gran poeta pittore . . . (p. 475) Br. e poeta eminentemente drammatico anche nella lirica. ... Filosofo e critico, egli studia un'epoca, comprende un'idea, analizza un (p. 476) sentimento, poi ha bisogno, da vero artista, di dar corpo al concetto, di personificare, di drammatizzare. Egli ha compreso e risentito l'ardore per le cose artistiche, per tutti gli oggetti decorativi che era generale al tempo del Rinascimento; ad è al suo Vescovo ordinantesi la tomba in S. Prassede' che fa rivelare lo spirito vero dell'epoca. , Br. fa parlare Andrea del Sarto colla troppa famosa sua moglie, e in quel discorso c'è la storia di un'anima. Le profonde ansietà, le curiosità febbrili della decrepita società, e le impressioni dei savj pagani alle prime notizie della vita e della dottrina di Cristo, sono, con una impersonalità degna di Goethe, espresse in Cleone e in Karshish. E che profondità di pensiero filosofico si cela sotto il velo bizarro dell' Humour in Calibano a Setebos, e in Mr. Sludge! Holy-Cross Day, tipo della poesia umoristica di Browning, ha riso e lacrime, e fremiti .... (p. 477) Il cuore dell'umanità palpita sempre nei versi di Browning. La sua larga e calda simpatia tutto intende e traduce. Egli ha saputo personificare e drammatizare le astrazioni più metafisiche, i sentimenti più delicati e ineffabili. ... In tutte le opere di Br., poema, lirica, e dramma, si fa sentire e sopra tutto sentire, la incessante e solenne voce dell'umanità. (p. 478) Pippa passa, dramma lirico e fantastico, è forse il più popolare di tutti i componimenti poetici di Browning. In uno di questi (quattro piccoli drammi di P. p.] è rappresentato l'adultero amore di Sebaldo e di Ottima con efficacia veramente degna di un compatriotta di Shakespeare. In Christmas-Eve and Easter-Day ... il poeta trattò (restando però sempre poeta, e poeta pittore) le più profonde e delicate questioni che agitano la mente e la coscienza dell' uomo moderno ... (p. 479) E questa preoccupazione dei grandi problemi della Fede e dell'Anima gli ha ispirato varii poemi filosofici di fondo, e, al solito, di forma drammatici, come Morte nel deserto, Cleone, il Vescovo Blougram ec.

“Nell'ultimo libro di Browning (Dramatis Personce) l'altezza del pensiero filosofico predomina in ogni poesia ; dalle passionate come James Lee, alle umoristiche come Mr. Sludge, the Medium. Come saggio di magnifica eloquenza poetica, veggasi Morte nel deserto, dove san Giovanni morente discorre delle dottrine evangeliche e della religion dello spirito: poesia elevata e profonda che parla el cuore e all'intelligenza. Pochi libri poetici contengono, in si poche pagine, tante idee nuove e grandi, tanti caratteri, tante pitture ; da Caliban selvaggio, al Byron de nos jours, da san Giovanni, agli spiritisti, da un ritratto di vergine, alla stanza mortuaria della Morgue, da Abt-Vogler . . alla squisita elegia d'amore intitolata Maggio e la Morte. Le poesie di questo libro sono vere armonie della vita.

“Si sarà visto che uno dei caratteri della poesia di Br. è l'humour. Vario in tutto, Br. è anche in questa sua qualità variatissimo. Il suo humour talora è grottesco, energico ..

... come nella Tragedia dell' Eretico e in Caliban ; talvolta sottile e raffinato come in Mr. Sludye; talvolta passionato come nella Querela d'un Amante; talvolta l'accento comico e sorriso inoffensivo predominano ... come in Fra Lippo Lippi ...

... e nei versi intitolati Su in villa, e giù in citta, capolavoro d'ironia e di descrizione, genere nuovo di satira. . .

“Fra le poesie di Browning in cui parla la passione pura, e che sono vere voci del cuore .... mi basti indicare Amore fra le ruine, Presso il focolare (p. 480): (dove non sai se più ammirare la pittura del paese, o quella del sentimento) l'Ultima Cavalcata, In un anno, è Maggio e la Morte. Egli manifesta il profondo e squisito suo sentimento dell'arte plastica, le sue simpatie pei vecchi maestri toscani, pei grandi realisti del 400, in molte poesie : e fra le tante consacrate alla pittura e ai pittori come Pictor ignotus, Andrea del Sarto, Vecchie pitture in Firenze, mi piace ricordarne qui una intitolata l'Angelo

e

e,

e

6

[ocr errors]

Custode. . . Conosco poche poesie dove l'effusione lirica sia così calda, e derivi così spontanea del soggetto medesimo. ...

“Percorrendo l'intiera opera di Roberto Browning, si vedrà che ispirazione e temi gli ha dato spesso, quasi sempre, l'Italia. (Vedi Uomini e Donne, Sur. dello, Le Tragedie, Christmas-Eve & Easter-Day.) Le sue città e le sue cainpagne, le sue chiese e le (p. 481) sue ruine, i suoi dolori e le sue speranze furon da lui costantemente cantate. Come egli ami la terra che lo ispirò, lo provano le sue lunghe dimore fra noi, e l'accento commosso, quasi d'amante, con cui egli parla del nostro cara poese. “ Apritemi il cuore, e vi leggerete inciso Italia' così egli esclama in De-Gustibus. E negli anni amari in cui l'austriaco strascinava la sciabola vittoriosa per le vie delle nostre città, egli non che disperare delle nostre sorti, o insultarci come altri poeti stranieri, imprecò ai nostri oppressori, spero, e ci annunziò i giorni che abbiamo visto. E alla sua voce potente univasi quella dolcissima dell' angelica moglie sua, la quale, e nel poemetto intitolato Le finestre di casa Guidi, e nelle Poesie ultime, cantò con

passione d'italiana, l'Italia. ...' 1868. Rev. J. W. Ebsworth, 'Karl's Legacy,' ii. 79. “Our Favourite Poet” [R. Br.].

6 stanzas of 6, ababcc. “She whom I loved, gave his Songs to me. 1868. 'Eclectic and Congregational Review,' Dec. Art. II. * Robert Browning,'

p. 441-470, by E. Paxton Hood. Rev. Poetical Works, 6 vols. 1868. After remonstrating with the author somewhat, and his publishers more, for the dearness of Br.'s books,—“Publishers are a thick-skinned race of mortals; and as they can do anything, so they can bear anything,”—Mr. Hood goes on, “Mr. Browning is one of those writers who need the finger of criticism to beckon the attention of ordinary readers. His works, to readers who have made themselves familiar and at home with his method, furnish the richest enjoyment; but amusement, the charm of the (p. 442) swift dulcet melody .. is not in the way of these writinys; in fact, they are no more amusing, or pleasing, than are the poems of Milton. The thought, the dramatic life and action .. the very music and metre, all alike demand thought, study, or reflection. They are far from being mere . . pictures of life to be apprehended by any and by every reader ; they are especially poems, both of deepest and highest culture, and in the course of them the reader will find every variety of thought of our times touched upon, and frequently some strong, concise, clear word, showing to what purpose the writer has expressed himself upon it.. (p. 443). A word, a line .. sets him free for a marvellous course of dramatic delineation ; thus the letter of Cleon is a branching stream of talk from the slight parenthesis in Paul's sermon on Mars Hill. — As certain also of your own poets have said ;' and the art of the piece is very striking. .. Yet the burden of the whole letter is, to unfold the pantings, strivings and reasonings of a cultured soul, of those ages, seeking after God, or rather, after some abiding evidences of its own immortality ; but dramatic everywhere, --in the churches or squares of old mediæval cities; on the canals of Venice ; from the stores and stories of historic legend, myth, or fact. It is never sufficient to Mr. Browning to read or to see ; his soul seems instantly to translate itself, to possess and to animate the character or the incident; thus, In a Gondola, a poem of only a few pages, presents us with a whole drama and tragedy ; the lyrics and the lights floating over the old Venetian waters, the secrecy and the assassination, and no description ; all living, active, real. One of the most astonishing is the Heretic's Tragedy . . (p. 444). My Last Duchess, too, does not need to be quoted ; that is already a part of the English language; one of his shortest pieces, it is as sharply cut as the finest piece of statuary, or it stands out Iimned with the perfect distinctness of a painting of Velasquez or Van Dyke ; but again, it is no description .. it is a whole drama in about a hundred lines

(p. 445). Sordello . . is one of the wealthiest poems in our language. It is perhaps the hardest.. (but) it is nevertheless an eminently great poem . in Sordello stands out pretty complete the chief revelation of all Browning's poetry; viz. the doctrine of the value of every soul, and the relation of all the work of every soul for its own sake ; he has been fond of reiterating this lesson in many ways and places. The Statue and the Bust teaches very much the same lesson . . (p. 446)...

« ͹˹Թõ
 »