[ocr errors]

can always breathe the air and see the sky. If he, unmindful of the law that his body is heavier than the water, tries to rise out of it, the water yields round him, and his heavier body sinks, and he is immersed, with punishment of tasting brine and choking. So, if a man, living in the world, is so unmindful of its laws that he tries while there to lift his bodily part out of it, and soar to an ideal life fit only for his soul when it has left his body, the laws of the world assert themselves on his body, and his soul becomes more deeply and disagreeably immersed in the world, than if, using his body in conformity with the laws of the world in which alone it can live, he had left his soul free to see and feel the eternity which will some day be its native element. Now, as the swimmer learns by the disagreeable experiment of one or two tries to rise up out of the water, that the laws of gravitation are against him, so the man who tries to raise his body into the region his soul only can live in, learns by the collapse of his effort, and its ill effect on his soul, that the laws of the world are against him : that the world must be used patiently and skilfully while the body lives in it, in order to give the soul power of living and developing at all. This being so, just as the greater the patience and skill of the swimmer, the more easily and fre quently can he see and breathe sky and air, so the greater the patience and skill acquired by the man in using the world, the easier at any time becomes his temporary escape from it, and power to give his soul breathing and seeing space.

To complete the analogy, and take up Fifine as a type or instance again ; I in the world, as the swimmer in the sea, find and touch Fifine, as the swimmer might find and touch some sea-denizen : it gives the swimmer a momentary support of his hands to keep his head above water; my learning her, so touched in passing through my world's life, has helped me to find your soul, above the world. Thus, having already proved the use of Fifine in the world independently of me, I prove her use to me in learning life, and above all being worthier of you.

b. You object again : Why will I only accept a woman's help, not a man's ?

Because men's souls do not work towards each oth described in my development of Plato's theory. That is only done between man and woman, by reason of their relative natures,-man claiming and receiving, woman offering and giving, all. Women only expect you to show them your best self, and they give you in return all of their best. Women alone show me, from yourself to Fifine, that since I have worked to learn this world for the sake of one other soul, my soul is a fact. Even if the lowest of women, Fifine, knows me so, I shall expect to learn truth at last : how much more if my wife does'

in the way


c. You object again : Why is not one woman, the wife, enough?

Because, in life as it stands, a man must come across many women whose natures can help him, nowise guiltily, and take his soul on many a harmless excursion in which he simply learns something new to enrich his and his wife's life. Even Fifine can do, has done, thus much for me already, by my merely seeing her to-day and talking about her to you; and, using her as a type once more, the fact of my so seeing and talking about her proves (by my not being further allured by her) my truth to you, as it could not otherwise have been proved. Now, taking Fifine still as a type only, let us see why she does attract at all. Is it not her very avowal that, for such as you and me, she professes to lie, to act, to be not her true self, while the rest of the world professes truth, yet lies? You praise an actor in proportion as he disguises himself and makes his part telling; the more unlike he makes his part to his real self, the greater his success. In life, each of us really acts a part; our flesh does, and conceals our soul : each one's business then is to find the other soul, in spite of the fleshly obstruction; and to learn how to do this unerringly is the lesson of a life of seventy years. My bringing forward Fifine and her tribe and showing you what they really are, is just an instance, a single specimen of such lessons.

II. Now, take what I have said, -of the way the soul learns, the way souls come together, and the way each soul in learning gains experience in reading other souls, as the outcome, the impulse, of a daydream. And let me go on to tell you,—not in further illustration merely, but with reference also to the necessity man is under to study his kind, not only in relation to woman generally, but also in relation to his ultimate development towards fitness for his complementary woman's soul,—an actual dream I had this morning. After bathing in the

sea, I sat down and played Schumann's Carnival, and dozing afterwards seemed to see the Carnival at Venice. I looked at it as from a height. I saw an immense concourse of masked men and women, each mask showing in some grotesque or brutalized way what the man had become through passion, love, or hate. If they spoke, I could not understand them. I had to learn their real motives from their masks. And I found that I could only really learn their natures right by coming down among them. Then their masks showed less divergence from humanity, and the more closely I examined them, the more each quality thus learned assumed its proper use, and seemed good for something. And from my study of each and all of these qualities, good and bad, I gained what seemed in my dream to be my object, namely, the desire to know the reason of my own life and live it truly. Then in my dream I became aware that this was not Venice Carnival, but the world, and all men and women, moving among temples, and halls of science and art. These buildings I now turned to watch, having in my dream learned the men and women who frequented them; and I saw change at work in every building. Each seemed to fade, and grow into new shapes, always for the time satisfying the needs of the crowd. But while halls of science and art were always changing, religious buildings always kept some temple-shape. And I heard one Voice hich said that Truth, the permanent, was thus continually manifesting itself under changing and false shapes, to keep men looking for her, and wanting her; and that “all is change, with permanence beneath.” And as the Voice spoke, the building-shapes in my dream gradually fused into one primeval type, a Druid monument.

The meaning of my dream I take to be that change means falsehood; truth, permanence. You see the lesson is really the same as that shown by my lesson from Fifine; namely, that as in my dream I had to go down among men, see them on their own ground, not from a lofty standpoint of soul-pride, and thus find out men's nature beneath their masks, and the meaning of the change in institutions; so in actual life each soul must go into the world and live in it as it is, humbly, and so learn, by searching through the shows of sense, what other souls mean, always for the purpose of fitting its ultimate sum of experience into that of its complementary soul, and this for love's sake and truth's sake alone : that truth can only be found at last by gradually learning the meaning of its successive false manifestations, and that in the end truth absolute and unveiled is the reward of such seeking souls. And that the way in which absolute truth will at last be learned will be through all races of men uniting in a simple belief in one God, and living our life as in His presence, seems to be the lesson taught to me by the fusing of all temples and buildings of art and science into the primal shape of the Druid monument.

III. So I have put before you, (1) as fancies evoked by the company of strolling actors, and Fifine their representative; (2) and in my dream of the Carnival, certain ideas about the best development of my soul, or any competent man's, in the direction of learning the truths of life in order to achieve the highest form of love,—that of husband and wife. Let me go on to imagine that my whole life has been so passed, and just as we two turn homeward now, after our stroll, at the end of day, so I turn to the end of my life. What has been the result of my life after all ? Whatever experience my soul gained through my body's union with the world, it can have no triumph on this earth, because it finds itself face to face with death, which takes it away from the body, and renders it powerless to work further in the way it has worked all through this life. So the result of all is only, that at least the soul so working towards its complementary soul has been steadfast to that end, and that all its constancy, as all its efforts after experience, can only end in the supreme love of a man for his wife. But the flesh is weak : and love you as I may, I cannot resist the temptation of going to see Fifine, and justifying my going by the most transparent of excuses.

A word as to the connection of the Prologue and Epilogue with the main body of the poem, and with each other. In the Prologue, the poet, by the image of a swimmer floating in the sea, over whose head a butterfly sails past, suggests that his life of passion and thought in this world may be watched, by the soul of his love, from a purer region of heaven where she waits for him to join her. In the body of the poem,—the imaginary husband and wife being both alive on this earth, and living together,the husband uses the like image of a swimmer in the sea, and highly elaborates it to show his wife how he too can and should use the world as it is, to gain experience, and develop his soul's powers, for his and his wife's sake. This idea is further developed by other similes, ending with the dream of Venice Carnival, and is finally dismissed with the avowal that a time comes in man's life when such enterprise of passion and thought must be laid aside, and he must wait quietly in his house,

- his life in the world-for Death. From which conclusion we come naturally to the Epilogue, where, as the Householder," the poet, at the end of his life (sitting alone in his house—his life in the world), is visited by his wife's soul or spirit, which has come to meet his; and together they leave the turmoil of this world, for the calm of that heaven of love and truth which is imaged in the Prologue.


[ocr errors]



poem then divides itself into three heads. I. What ought to be a married man's relations to other women. II. What his relations to the world generally. III. The use of these two relations towards achieving the highest form of love between husband and wife.

I. A husband ought to use the influence on him of any woman he comes to know as a means of developing his nature for his wife's and his own sake. II. He should use the world generally with a like object. III. His love for his wife becomes complete and lasting in proportion as he thoroughly learns the nature of other men and women. These three propositions are variously illustrated in the poem ; the sum of what is said in support of the general proposition (contained under the three heads), that man must use every chance to develop his soul for love's sake and truth's, is as follows :

From the lowest to the highest, each created being has its own individual perfection, and a chance of displaying it. To achieve this individual perfection, each human soul works towards finding out the Truth, the Absolute, which lies hid under the false shows of the world. The knowledge thus gained belongs to the soul that gains it; but as souls develop, each acquires its knowledge, does its work, for the sake of, and to be imparted to, the man or woman found in its search after Truth, and loved best, towards finding and loving whom it is always striving. To try and find Truth under the shows of the world, we must mix with men and not stay apart, nor ignore the laws of the world around us. By watching men and their institutions throughout a life of 70 years, now and then an exceptional man may, even now, achieve complete knowledge of the true nature of all men. And when in the development of souls, all men have learned to know, then all knowledge and all religious beliefs will fuse into one simple belief in God, and in living our life as in His sight, and Truth will display unveiled the principle of all things, highest and least.


It is not my purpose here to write an essay on the poem, or discuss its merits. But it may fairly be said, that in the process of exhausting every argument by which he can justify his unfaithfulness to his wife, this Don Juan certainly puts before us, in every word he utters, truths at least as valuable to an honest man who seeks to learn how his life should be lived among men and women, and specially among women, as they are specious when used by himself in excuse for frailty. I think the character Browning has conceived (as sketched at p. 223) is one very apt to be swayed by either emotions or intellectual subtleties, according as one or the other may happen to appeal to his senses, his higher affections, or his mind, at any given moment; and that while he never ceases to love and admire his wife, that love and admiration have at no time such command over the reckless, pleasure-loving part of his nature as to conquer the fascination of any fresh experience in passion or emotion, when presented to him even in such ephemeral and purely physical guise as the dancer

Fifine. Even when he gives her money, deceiving his wife as to the sum given (§ 24), and goes on to speak of her vices and virtues alike impartially ($ 24-32 inclusive), he has, I think, no immediate idea of an intrigue. The money is given under the sudden

« ͹˹Թõ