Ҿ˹˹ѧ
PDF
ePub

“Mrs. Jameson lost no time in going to the hotel where her friends were staying, and induced them to come at once to the quiet pension in the Rue Ville d'Evêque, where she herself was living. The result of all which was that, after about a fortnight spent together in Paris, the whole party travelled leisurely south to the Brownings' destination, Pisa . . : the temptation is great to linger upon the memories of a journey so enchanting, made in the fairest days of youth, and with such companionship. The loves of the poets could not have been put into more delightful reality before the eyes of the dazzled and enthusiastic beholder; but the recollections have been rendered sacred by death as well as by love.

"I may, however, permit myself to recall one scene among many of this wonderful journey. We rested for a couple of days at Avignon, the route to Italy being then much less direct and expeditious, though I think much more delightful, than now; and while there we made a little expedition, a poetical pilgrimage, to Vaucluse. There, at the very source of the chiare, fresche e dolci acque,' Mr. Browning took his wife up in his arms, and, carrying her across through the shallow curling waters, seated her on a rock that rose throne-like in the middle of the stream,í Thus love and poetry took a new possession of the spot immortalised by Petrarch's loving fancy' .. so far as Mrs. Browning's health was concerned: 'I have been gaining strength every week since I left England (she writes), and Mrs. Jameson, who met us in Paris, and travelled with us, called me, at the end of six weeks, notwithstanding all the emotion and fatigue, rather transformed than improved. She has now gone to Florence.

“Three out of those six weeks were spent by the travelling companions together in Pisa-a period to which both of the survivors? must look back with a tender reverent memory, with associations of the past hardly to be breathed aloud, but remembered within one's soul as a golden oasis in existence (p. 232). ... The poet-pair, who were our closest associates, added all that was wanted to the laborious happiness of this time. Mrs. Browning could take no active part in her friend's pursuits, but who shall say of what value was her earnest and unfailing sympathy? (p. 234).

After Easter (1847] Mrs. Jameson left Rome and travelled north by Florence, where she found the Brownings . . (on p. 263, Mrs. Br.'s motherhood is alluded to, in 1819). p. 295: Mrs. Jameson went to Paris [autumn, 1856], where she found the Brownings . . p. 302: During this winter (1857-8] Mrs. Jameson ... continued her labours in Florence, where she passed two months, although ill the greater portion of the time, her one great compensation being the society of her dear friends Mr. and Mrs. Browning, and one or two other persons living in Florence, to whom she was warmly attached.”—Mrs. Fitz-Gerald lent me the book.

Bibliography. 1877. Islington Gazette,' Nov. 9. Report of the weekly meeting of the Offord-Road Young Men's Christian Debating Society, on the Wednesday previous, whereat Mr. W. G. Kingsland opened a discussion on the subject, "The poems of Robert Browning are of a higher order than those of Alfred Tennyson.” It is in virtue of Br.'s profundity of thought and suggestion, that I claim for him the first place in the rank of modern poets.' . • The motion was opposed by Mr. H. Beamish, who ... argued that Br.'s mystery of expression, his ambiguous language, and the difficulty of getting at his meaning, placed him on a lower level than Tennyson, the essential quality of a great poet consisting in his simplicity and clearness'

p. 247.

1 Indext as “ Browning, Robert... his practical poetry at Vaucluse, 231,”

2 Mrs. Macpherson died before her book was publisht.

XVI.

THE RELIGIOUS TEACHING OF BROWNING.

BY DOROTHEA BEALE,

(Read at the 10th Meeting of the Browning Society, on Friday, October 27, 1882.)

THERE are those who judge others, as the world does, by their faults and failures, who seem to think that in these the true character comes out; and there are those who, knowing that they have within themselves a high ideal, of which they fail, believe that the true character comes out in the best that we know of any one.

“What I aspired to be,

And was not, comforts me.” So they judge a thinker by his noblest works . Wordsworth by his Ode to Duty rather than by The Idiot Boy; Milton by his Areopagitica rather than his Divorce tracts; Shakspere by his Hamlet. Thus we love Browning for his great thoughts, for his high enthusiasm, for his faith in God, and man and woman. We come to him for his philosophy, and we care not to dwell upon the shortcomings, of which he is doubtless more conscious than we are, upon the superficial faults, which

every one can see ; rather would we bring to light the hidden treasures. We thank him for the comfort and strength he has given us. We know that he has enriched our sympathies, cheered us under failure and disappointment, and helped us to understand the meaning of life. But I think what draws most of us to him is this : we are struggling with the waves of doubt-storm-tost and ready to sink—and as we look at him, we see him with a smile on his face, calmly floating, his head above the waves, his body supported therein. He quietly tells us our safety is to do the same. Hel teaches that to bury ourselves in the things of earth is death; to try to rise out of the conditions in which God has placed us may end in a Soul's Tragedy; to use the visible to sustain and teach, this is our wisdom during our life here, ere the disembodied Psyche can float up into more ethereal regions, and revel in the sunlight; and so he conciliates philosophy and religion. He is ever cheerful and consoling, so that we turn to him in our

See Fifine.
BROWNING, 3.

1

trouble. Are we oppressed with pessimism, discontented with all that is? He tells us this is the witness to our own nobility, and to a future immortality.

" Progress is man's distinctive mark alone,
Not God's, and not the beasts’: God is, they are,

Man partly is, and wholly hopes to be.” (Death in the Desert.) “ 'Tis not what Man Does which exalts him, but what man Would do.” (Saul.)

“ for mankind springs Salvation by each hindrance interposed ;

They climb." (Sordello.) “They are perfect—how else ? they shall never change ; We are faulty-why not? we have time in store.” (Pictures in Florence.)

“ He said, What's time? Leave Now for dogs and apes !

Man has Forever.'” (Grammarian's Funeral.) Do we cry out that we are tired of battling with the waves, and does it seem a weary quest ever to be following the light, never reaching it? He tells us that gradual development is the condition of our spiritual health, i. e. of life.

"—this gift of truth Once grasped, were this our soul's gain safe, and sure To prosper as the body's gain is wont,

Why man's probation would conclude." Do we complain of error? He tells us this is partial truth, that the imperfect must precede the perfect, that disappointment and darkness is an earnest of real success.

“God's gift was that man should conceive of truth
And yearn to gain it, catching at mistake.” (Death in the Desert.)

“ Imperfection means perfection hid,

Reserved in part, to grace the after time." (Cleon.)
"And what is our failure here but a triumph's evidence
For the fulness of the days ? Have we withered or agonized ?
Why else was the pause prolonged, but that singing might issue thence ?
Why rushed the discords in, but that harmony should be prized ? "

(Abt Vogler.)

“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.” (Paracelsus.)
“Love, wrong, and pain, what see I else around ?
Yea, and the resurrection and uprise
To the right hand of the throne.

[blocks in formation]

If ye demur, this judgment on your head-
Never to reach the ultimate, angels' law;
There, where law, life, joy, impulse are one thing."

(Death in the Descrt.)

Do we doubt the goodness of God when we see some hideous evil ? He tells us that only through the contest with evil can man pass to power and glory.

“Why comes temptation, but for man to meet
And master, and make crouch beneath his foot ;
And so be pedestalled in triumph ? Pray,
Lead us into no such temptations, Lord'?
Yea, but, O thou, whose servants are the bold,
Lead such temptations by the head and hair,
Reluctant dragons, up to who dares fight,
That so he may do battle, and have praise.”

(The Ring and the Book.) Do we find in old age the sights and sounds by which the soul learned truth fading in the darkness, the active powers failing? This is an earnest not of death, but of life. God is taking away the earthly sight that the “ celestial light” may so much the more shine inward. He is withdrawing us into some quiet retreat, that we may "ponder on the entire past"; the evening shades are gathering that we may sleep and wake refreshed.

“ Lie bare, to the universal prick of light !
Is it for nothing we grow old and weak,
We whom God loves ?(Death in the Desert.)
“Ponder on the entire past

Laid together thus at last,
When the twilight helps to fuse
The first fresh with the faded hues,
And the outline of the whole,
As round eve's shades their framework roll,
Grandly fronts for once thy soul,
And then, as 'mid the dark, a gleam
Of yet another morning breaks,
And, like the hand which ends a dream,
Death, with the might of his sunbeam,
Touches the flesh, and the soul awakes,
Then

(Flight of the Duchess.)
“So, still within this life,
Though lifted o'er its strife,
Let me discern, compare, pronounce at last.

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

So, better, age, exempt
From strife, should know than tempt
Further. Thou waitedst age : wait death nor be afraid."

(Rabbi Ben Ezra.)
“And stung by straitness of our life made strait
On purpose to make sweet the life at large,
Freed by the throbbing impulse we call death,
We burst there, as the worm into the fly,

Who, while a worm still, wants his wings.” (Cleon.) The lovers of Browning's poetry wonder that any one can ask the question, Is he a religious poet? True, he has not written religious epics as Dante and Milton, and there are but few poems which are definitely on religious subjects, but the unseen is ever present to him.

He is ever seeking to interpret the seen by the unseen, to justify the ways of God to man. He is ever conscious of the double life, of a Divine presence,

“ The spiritual life around the earthly life :
Which runs across some vast distracting orb
Of glory on either side that meagre thread.” (An Epistle.)

“God glows above
With scarce an intervention presses close
And palpitatingly His soul o'er ours !

We feel Him, nor by painful reason know.” (Luria.) So we are never shut in by the visible universe; it is to us the veil, the sacrament of the invisible, the infinite, the való kayalov. Yet is the Infinite no mere pantheistic presence, but the Father of spirits, manifested first and pre-eminently in the soul of man, His child, who, because he is a son, is heir of all things. Thus does the Christian teaching interpenetrate all his thoughts. Yet to the religious consciousness of some Browning does not speak. There are childlike souls who have ever looked up to God in simple loving faith, over whose being the storms of doubt have never swept, who have not known what it is to sit in the midst of a thick darkness, a darkness that may be felt; an unquestioning faith is theirs, and they have never had to wrestle with the problems of life. To such Browning may appear non-religious, yes, even irreligious, as did Job to his friends, because he cannot receive truth from the outside ; it must be looked at from his deepest consciousness, an external revelation is not enough; it is not put in the forefront, because to him it is the outcome, the complement of that which is known by the intuitions of the soul; for though we may believe a person, we cannot believe in a person because some one tells us he did wonderful works—we must be united by inward sympathies,

“ Whereby truth, deadened of its absolute blaze,
Might need love's eye to pierce the o'erstretched doubt.”

(Death in the Desert.) We know the Divine through the Spirit bearing witness with our spirit; in other words, the kingdom of heaven is within.

Thus Browning seems to me a prophet whom God has given to our storm-tost age, a pilot who has learnt by long experience the hidden rocks and sandbanks on which the vessel of faith may be wrecked, now that the old anchor chains are burst asunder. An infallible Church, an infallible Book, an infallible Pope, all these have failed us—failed us that, rejecting the stones of the desert, we may learn that man doth not live by bread alone, but by the word of God doth man live. I will take a few typical poems familiar to most of us, to establish my position.

« ͹˹Թõ
 »