what we call our scientific method and the magnificent results to which it has led us, that we have been blind to the injury we were doing to another part of our spiritual life. The abstract habit of thought has been pushed at last in some instances into extreme falsehood. Men have come to speak of the “ conflict of science with religion,” which is an entirely false thought. Science is the child of religious wonder, and science will never go on without an impulse from religion. Now the mystical teaching in general, and our great poet's in particular, furnishes a powerful protest against this one-sidedness of modern thought. The exertion of power in the intelligence is simple insanity without the inspiration of love; therefore the scientific man, if true to himself, falls back on religion, just as the religious man must ever go on to know, because love is waste without power.

When we talk of conflict of science and religion, we are merely setting up puppet abstractions to play or show in our fancy. In God, our faith, our highest reason assures us, Light and Love form an inseparable Unity. It is the infirmity of our thought which sets them asunder. This is the mystical position. I feel that I must be blunt, because I must be brief. But I cannot but feel that Browning will be much better understood if he be compared with the mystics.1

What then is the great distinction between mystical and ordinary thought? People are apt to associate weakness and extravagance with the Mystic ; but I am speaking of the true Mystic, not of the peculiarities of particular men who have passed by that name. There is not a spot of superstitious rust or egotistic vice to be discovered on the clear bright blade of Browning's intelligence. Take Mr. Sludge the Medium as an illustration. In that fine study we find the sharpest detective eye for all the ridiculous vices which lodge in the minds of the vain and weak, along with the profound mystical recognition of the wisdom that lies in folly, the truth disguised in falsehood.


Ordinary thought is analytic, separative; mystical thought is synthetic. Ordinary thought holds asunder things which it perceives to differ; mystical thought closes the gulf and recovers itself in the apprehension of a higher unity. Ordinary thought rests in opposition, and the ordinary man only feels and relishes himself in the sense of opposition; the mystic is not happy till he has found himself at one with all

See Rev. R. A. Vaughan's Hours with the Mystics, 3rd Ed. 1880. Perhaps I may name Balzac's study of mysticism in Séraphita. There are some useful points of comparison between the author of the Human Comedy and Browning in other respects.


from which he differs. In theology ordinary thought dwells upon the polar opposition between man and God. He in the height of heaven and power, man in the depth of earthly weakness and sin. But the mystic sees that love solves this opposition ; he insists upon the junction of the Divine with the human, upon the indwelling of God in the soul. His central theological idea is the Incarnation, conceived not so much under the limitations of space and time, as an eternal spiritual verity. Now both these veins of thought run through the Bible. On the whole, the Old Testament speaks of God in the popular dialect, as does the Gospel. The deeper vein is not readily intelligible by the common people. But in St. John and St. Paul we recognize profound mystics. St. John may be called a pure mystic; he does not use the analytic method at all. St. Paul is both a dialectician and a mystic; and it is in the latter character that he has had so profound an influence upon Christendom. The points of controversy in his writings are now difficult to grasp because we have no longer the same conditions of thought among us; but his mystical principles are universally acceptable, and every age afresh illustrates. Divine love is the solution of all difference and opposition. Ordinary thought dwelt and still dwells upon the opposition of Jew and Greek, and on many other social distinctions of place and time ; St. Paul taught that for the spiritual man such distinctions were already obsolete, and that all were one in Christ Jesus. distinction of two modes of thought has run through Christendom ever since. There have always been the thinkers who have seen that the progress of truth means conflict; always the smaller party who have seen that it means reconciliation. War and Love, opposition and unity in opposition, these make life. The mystic or comprehensive thinker is he who recognizes and exhibits simultaneously both these principles. Browning is of this class ; and one great element of value in his writings is that he has so powerfully and persuasively illustrated them. To take one illustration only, he has shown with a sublime effort of fancy in his poem Christmas Day how the bitter feud of Catholic and Protestant, and perhaps the still bitterer feud of two extremes of Protestantism, typified by Zion Chapel and the lecture-room at Göttingen, are reconciled by the Divine love, working in and through all.

To apply the same principles to the study of human nature. We early learn to classify mankind as good and evil, saints and sinners; and we take it for granted that somewhere about the world a pure good is to be found ever sharply opposed to evil. It is not until we have discovered by experience that these abstractions have life only in our fancy, and that utterly good men and absolutely bad men do not exist, that we are prepared to listen to the mystic or deeper teacher, who tells us that in

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life good and evil lie in an inextricable embrace, that hate is but a mask of love, and so on. There is no doubt a mystic vein in every

one of us. In certain flashes of better insight the dullest person discovers that his estimates of life and its possibility for every man are shallow and erroneous; but he forgets and falls back to his old repellent and repulsive

; attitude. It is the business of the great teacher to fix our minds upon the deeper truth, and, line upon line, precept upon precept, reiterate it so that it assumes at last its due importance. Such an habitual view of human nature as Browning has taught is indeed rare, as every genuine form of religion is rare. We must say with Paracelsus in a noble passage :

“In my own heart love had not been made wise

To trace love's faint beginnings in mankind,
To know even hate is but a mask of love's,
To see a good in evil, and a hope
In ill-success; to sympathize, be proud
Of the half-reasons, faint aspirings, dim
Struggles for truth, their poorest fallacies,
Their prejudice and fears and cares and doubts;
All with a touch of nobleness, despite
Their error, upward tending all, though weak,
Like plants in mines which never saw the sun,
But dream of him, and guess where he may be,

And do their best to climb and get to him.”
And when we come to our Pisgah 2 we cannot expect to see more

2 than the poet has seen :

" How I see all of it, Life there outlying!

Roughness and Smoothness, Shine and defilemen
Grace and Uncouthness, One reconcilement.
Orbed as appointed, Sister with brother,
Joins, ne'er disjointed, One from the other,
All's lend and borrow; Good see wants evil,
Joy demands sorrow, Angel needs devil !

Man-wise and foolish, Lover and scorner,
Docile and mulish,-Keep each his corner !
Honey, yet gall of it! There's the life lying,
And I see all of it, Only I'm dying !”

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3. BROWNING AND EMERSON. Of great writers in our own time, it appears to me that Browning has most affinity with R. W. Emerson, confessedly the foremost man of American letters. Emerson too was a mystic, but more of the Oriental type. Although the manner is entirely different, they have echoed one another in many sayings upon the great themes of life and thought. A comparison of them would, I think, furnish a very interesting paper.

p. 195; cf. Sordello, p. 103; Fifine, passim. ? Pacchiarotto.


Meantime let me cite the following passage, which may amuse by a certain applicability to Browning. Speaking of the great mystical teachers of the ancient world, Emerson says, “ What marks the elevation of their thought and has even a comic look to us, is the innocent serenity with which these babe-like Jupiters sit in their clouds, and from age to age prattle to each other and to no contemporary. Well assured that their speech is intelligible, and the most natural thing in the world, they add thesis to thesis, without a moment's heed of the universal astonishment of the human race below, who do not comprehend the plainest argument; nor do they ever relent so much as to insert a popular or explaining sentence ; nor testify the least displeasure or petulance at the dulness of their amazed audience. The angels are so enamoured of the language that is spoken in heaven, that they will not distort their lips with the hissing and unmusical dialects of men, but speak their own, whether there be any who understand it or not.”1

Much of Browning's poetry may be described in his own words as “the muttering of angels of some thing unguessed by man.” 2

” Yet he has nothing of the ascetic. He is not like Plotinus, of whom his disciple Porphyry said that he never knew a man who was so ashamed of having a body. But we may say of him, in the words of the same philosopher, that he is “good, gentle, and mild ; further, that he is a man awake and active, and of pure heart, ever striving towards the Divine, which he loves with his whole soul; that he uses all means to become free from the earthly, and to escape the bitter waves and the ensanguined life here below." He is always real and human. He delights to rise from the low ground of common earthly fact to the heights of idealism, and to extract from relations that appear repulsive on the surface the beauty and eternal truth disguised in them; to wring a spiritual joy out of the heart of human sin and pain. I am ill acquainted with several of Browning's later works. I have heard it objected that he has dealt with painful subjects. All I can say is, from what I do know of Browning's works, I am firmly persuaded that he has touched upon no subject for the sake of "sensation," or of exhibiting a tour de force. I am quite content, with the evidence of what I know, that a truer man, and an artist of loftier intent, does not exist. Comparing his last with his first, we must say with loving admiration, Qualis ab incepto ! 3

All the poet's readers must be well aware, and the point has been clearly brought out in several papers, that he has had from the first distinct didactic purposes in view in his work. But he is never didactic Essay on Intellect.

Pauline, p. 18. *Cf. Sordello, pp. 169, 203 sqq., and the profoundly pathetic Prologue to Pacchiarotto, Prologue and Epilogue to Fifine, &c.

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in the sense in which what is commonly understood as didactic poetry is disliked. He does not deal in naked abstractions, for which he considers that prose is the proper mode of expression. He is didactic in the same sense in which Nature is didactic, and human life, and all parables which employ the natural and human as a vehicle for the spiritual and Divine. Many of his poems are enigmatic and difficult simply because they reflect certain aspects of the great enigma of life on which he is ever gazing. Every fact of human life, every story of human passion, means to him much more than it seems and means on the surface, or as an isolated fact or story. One fact about a man's character leads to the whole; one great modern myth like that of Don Juan represents, or may be made to represent, the whole passionate striving of the masculine mind after Truth, through its deceptive and illusory to its truer forms, contrasted with the loyalty of the feminine mind to one shape, one star. Fifine at the Fair is, as I understand it, an evolution of the meaning hidden in the parable of Don Juan, which great geniuses treated before Browning, but left to him to educe the most magnificent spiritual meaning from. And where he has shown so much boldness and comprehensiveness of thought is in discovering the truth of human nature in the very heart of its vices. The vice is the caricature of the virtue ; and in his very capability for vice the man shows his capability for the counterpart. A failure of energy in vice implies a corresponding failure in virtue; and as we can see nothing clearly except by contrast with its opposite, so the poet exhibits the highest ideals of life under their counterfeit semblance. I believe that so far from Browning being open to censure for having selected painful subjects, the fact rather bespeaks an intense earnestness and courage, and a consistency with every canon of art. This oblique mode of teaching, defended by the poet himself,2 demands of course an intellectual exertion on the part of the reader, and we have reason to be thankful to the writer who demands and presupposes such exertion.


At the close of a paper like the present is hardly the place to speak of that system of religious and ethical ideas which may be without great difficulty extracted from Browning's writings. And where the manner of statement is so original and distinct, we can hardly draw out those ideas in a series of propositions without doing injustice to Browning's comprehensiveness. It is as true of him as of his Sordello, that he cannot seize any one portion of the truth without deriving from it the whole. “ His hand, so strong, will twitch in the least the root| Transcendentalism.

? Cf. Ring and Book; Prof. Corson.

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