Introduction to Robert Browning
Hiram Corson

Part 1 out of 8

[This etext was prepared from a 1910 printing.
This third edition was originally published in 1886.]

Introduction to Browning
Hiram Corson

An Introduction to the Study of Robert Browning's Poetry

by Hiram Corson, LL.D.,

Professor of English Literature in the Cornell University;
Author of "An Introduction to the Study of Shakespeare", "A Primer
of English Verse, chiefly in its Aesthetic and Organic Character",
"The Aims of Literary Study", etc.

"Subtlest Assertor of the Soul in song."

{There are several Greek phrases in this book. ASCII cannot represent
the Greek characters, so if you are interested in these phrases,
use the following map. Hopefully these phrases will not be mistaken
for another language. . . .

ASCII to Greek

A,a alpha
B,b beta
G,g gamma
D,d delta
E,e epsilon
Z,z zeta
H,h eta
Q,q theta
I,i iota
K,k kappa
L,l lambda
M,m mi/mu
N,n ni/nu
J,j ksi/xi
O,o omikron/omicron
P,p pi
R,r rho
S,s,c sigma
T,t tau
U,u ypsilon/upsilon
F,f phi
X,x chi/khi
Y,y psi
W,w omega

',`,/,\,^ Accents, follow the vowel. You figure them out.}

{The following is transcribed from a letter (from Browning to Corson)
which Corson chose to use in facsimile form to begin his text.
Unfortunately (or fortunately), it will be regular text here.}

19. Warwick Crescent.

Dec. 28. '86

My dear Dr. Corson,

I waited some days after the arrival of your Book and Letter,
thinking I might be able to say more of my sense of your goodness:
but I can do no more now than a week ago. You "hope I shall not find
too much to disapprove of": what I ought to protest against,
is "a load to sink a navy -- too much honor": how can I put aside
your generosity, as if cold justice -- however befitting myself --
would be in better agreement with your nature? Let it remain
as an assurance to younger poets that, after fifty years' work
unattended by any conspicuous recognition, an over-payment may be made,
if there be such another munificent appreciator as I have been
privileged to find, in which case let them, even if more deserving,
be equally grateful.

I have not observed anything in need of correction in the notes.
The "little Tablet" was a famous "Last Supper", mentioned by Vasari,
(page. 232), and gone astray long ago from the Church of S. Spirito:
it turned up, according to report, in some obscure corner,
while I was in Florence, and was at once acquired by a stranger.
I saw it, genuine or no, a work of great beauty. (Page 156.)
"A canon", in music, is a piece wherein the subject is repeated --
in various keys: and being strictly obeyed in the repetition,
becomes the "Canon" -- the imperative law -- to what follows.
Fifty of such parts would be indeed a notable peal:
to manage three is enough of an achievement for a good musician.

And now, -- here is Christmas: all my best wishes go to you
and Mrs Corson. Those of my sister also. She was indeed suffering
from grave indisposition in the summer, but is happily recovered.
I could not venture, under the circumstances, to expose
her convalescence to the accidents of foreign travel:
hence our contenting ourselves with Wales rather than Italy.
Shall you be again induced to visit us? Present or absent,
you will remember me always, I trust, as

Yours most affectionately
Robert Browning.

"Quanta subtilitate ipsa corda hominum reserat, intimos mentis
recessus explorat, varios animi motus perscrutatur.
Quod ad tragoediam antiquiorem attinet, interpretatus est,
uti nostis omnes, non modo Aeschylum quo nemo sublimior,
sed etiam Euripidem quo nemo humanior; quo fit ut etiam illos
qui Graece nesciunt, misericordia tangat Alcestis,
terrore tangat Hercules. Recentiora argumenta tragica cum lyrico
quodam scribendi genere coniunxit, duas Musas et Melpomenen
et Euterpen simul veneratus. Musicae miracula quis dignius cecinit?
Pictoris Florentini sine fraude vitam quasi inter crepuscula
vesperascentem coloribus quam vividis depinxit. Vesperi quotiens,
dum foco adsidemus, hoc iubente resurgit Italia. Vesperi nuper,
dum huius idyllia forte meditabar, Cami inter arundines mihi videbar
vocem magnam audire clamantis, Pa\n o` me/gas ou' te/qnhken.
Vivit adhuc Pan ipse, cum Marathonis memoria et Pheidippidis
velocitate immortali consociatus." -- Eulogium pronounced by
Mr. J. E. Sandys, Public Orator at the University of Cambridge,
on presenting Mr. Browning for the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws,
June 10, 1879.


The purpose of the present volume is to afford some aid and guidance
in the study of Robert Browning's Poetry, which, being the most
complexly subjective of all English poetry, is, for that reason alone,
the most difficult. And then the poet's favorite art-form,
the dramatic, or, rather, psychologic, monologue, which is quite
original with himself, and peculiarly adapted to the constitution
of his genius and to the revelation of themselves by the several
"dramatis personae", presents certain structural difficulties,
but difficulties which, with an increased familiarity,
grow less and less. The exposition presented in the Introduction,
of its constitution and skilful management, and the Arguments given
of the several poems included in the volume, will, it is hoped,
reduce, if not altogether remove, the difficulties of this kind.
In the same section of the Introduction, certain peculiarities
of the poet's diction, which sometimes give a check to the reader's
understanding of a passage, are presented and illustrated.

I think it not necessary to offer any apology for my going all the way
back to Chaucer, and noting the Ebb and Flow in English Poetry
down to the present time, of the spirituality which constitutes
the real life of poetry, and which should, as far as possible,
be brought to the consciousness and appreciation of students.
What I mean by spirituality is explained in my treatment
of the subject. The degree to which poetry is quickened with it
should always enter into an estimate of its absolute worth.
It is that, indeed, which constitutes its absolute worth.
The weight of thought conveyed, whatever that be, will not compensate
for the absence of it.

The study of poetry, in our institutions of learning, so far as I
have taken note of it, and the education induced thereby,
are almost purely intellectual. The student's spiritual nature
is left to take care of itself; and the consequence is that he becomes,
at best, only a thinking and analyzing machine.

The spiritual claims of the study of poetry are especially demanded
in the case of Browning's poetry. Browning is generally
and truly regarded as the most intellectual of poets.
No poetry in English literature, or in any literature,
is more charged with discursive thought than his. But he is,
at the same time, the most spiritual and transcendental of poets,
the "subtlest assertor of the Soul in Song". His thought is never
an end to itself, but is always subservient to an ulterior
spiritual end -- always directed towards "a presentment of
the correspondency of the universe to Deity, of the natural to
the spiritual, and of the actual to the ideal"; and it is
all-important that students should be awakened, and made,
as far as possible, responsive to this spiritual end.

The sections of the Introduction on Personality and Art
were read before the Browning Society of London, in June, 1882.
I have seen no reason for changing or modifying, in any respect,
the views therein expressed.

The idea of personality as a quickening, regenerating power,
and the idea of art as an intermediate agency of personality,
are, perhaps, the most reiterated (implicitly, not explicitly)
in Browning's poetry, and lead up to the dominant idea of Christianity,
the idea of a Divine Personality; the idea that the soul,
to use an expression from his earliest poem, `Pauline',
must "rest beneath some better essence than itself in weakness".

The notes to the poems will be found, I trust, to cover all points
and features of the text which require explanation and elucidation.
I have not, at any rate, wittingly passed by any real difficulties.
Whether my explanations and interpretations will in all cases
be acceptable, remains to be seen.

Hiram Corson.

Cascadilla Cottage, Ithaca, N.Y.
September, 1886.

Note to the Second Edition.

In this edition, several errors of the first have been corrected.
For the notes on "fifty-part canon", p. 156, and "a certain precious
little tablet", p. 232, I am indebted to Mr. Browning.

H. C.

{p. 156 -- in this etext, see line 322 of "The Flight of the Duchess",
in the Poems section. p. 232 -- see Stanza 30 of "Old Pictures
in Florence", also in the Poems section.}

Note to the Third Edition.

In this edition have been added, `A Death in the Desert',
with argument, notes, and commentary, a fac-simile of a letter
from the poet, and a portrait copied from a photograph
(the last taken of him) which he gave me when visiting him in Venice,
a month before his death.

It may be of interest, and of some value, to many students
of Browning's poetry, to know a reply he made, in regard to
the expression in `My Last Duchess', "I gave commands; then all smiles
stopped together."

We were walking up and down the great hall of the Palazzo Rezzonico,
when, in the course of what I was telling him about the study
of his works in the United States, I alluded to the divided opinion
as to the meaning of the above expression in `My Last Duchess',
some understanding that the commands were to put the Duchess to death,
and others, as I have explained the expression on p. 87 of this volume
(last paragraph). {For etext use, section III (Browning's Obscurity)
of the Introduction, sixth paragraph before the end of the section.}
He made no reply, for a moment, and then said, meditatively, "Yes,
I meant that the commands were that she should be put to death."
And then, after a pause, he added, with a characteristic dash
of expression, and as if the thought had just started in his mind,
"Or he might have had her shut up in a convent." This was to me
very significant. When he wrote the expression, "I gave commands",
etc., he may not have thought definitely what the commands were,
more than that they put a stop to the smiles of the sweet Duchess,
which provoked the contemptible jealousy of the Duke. This was all
his art purpose required, and his mind did not go beyond it.
I thought how many vain discussions take place in Browning Clubs,
about little points which are outside of the range
of the artistic motive of a composition, and how many minds
are occupied with anything and everything under the sun,
except the one thing needful (the artistic or spiritual motive),
the result being "as if one should be ignorant of nothing concerning
the scent of violets, except the scent itself."





I. The Spiritual Ebb and Flow exhibited in English Poetry
from Chaucer to Tennyson and Browning.
{This section contains Browning's `Popularity' and many excerpts.}

II. The Idea of Personality and of Art as an intermediate agency
of Personality, as embodied in Browning's Poetry.

III. Mr. Browning's "Obscurity".
{This section contains Browning's `My Last Duchess'}

IV. Browning's Verse.

V. Arguments of the Poems.

Wanting is -- What?
My Star.
The Flight of the Duchess.
The Last Ride Together.
By the Fireside.
James Lee's Wife.
A Tale.
Home-Thoughts from Abroad.
Home-Thoughts from the Sea.
Old Pictures in Florence.
Pictor Ignotus.
Andrea del Sarto.
Fra Lippo Lippi.
A Face.
The Bishop orders his Tomb.
A Toccata of Galuppi's.
Abt Vogler.
`Touch him ne'er so lightly', etc.
How it strikes a Contemporary.
Apparent Failure.
Rabbi Ben Ezra.
A Grammarian's Funeral.
An Epistle containing the Strange Medical Experience of Karshish,
the Arab Physician.
A Martyr's Epitaph.
Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister.
Holy-Cross Day.
A Death in the Desert.


Wanting is -- What?
My Star.
The Flight of the Duchess.
The Last Ride Together.
By the Fireside.
James Lee's Wife.
A Tale.
Home Thoughts, from Abroad.
Home Thoughts, from the Sea.
Old Pictures in Florence.
Pictor Ignotus.
Andrea del Sarto.
Fra Lippo Lippi.
A Face.
The Bishop orders his Tomb.
A Toccata of Galuppi's.
Abt Vogler.
"Touch him ne'er so lightly."
How it strikes a Contemporary.
Apparent Failure.
Rabbi Ben Ezra.
A Grammarian's Funeral.
An Epistle containing the Strange Medical Experience of Karshish,
the Arab Physician.
A Martyr's Epitaph.
Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister.
Holy-Cross Day.
A Death in the Desert.



I. The Spiritual Ebb and Flow exhibited in English Poetry
from Chaucer to Tennyson and Browning.

Literature, in its most restricted art-sense, is an expression
in letters of the life of the spirit of man co-operating with
the intellect. Without the co-operation of the spiritual man,
the intellect produces only thought; and pure thought,
whatever be the subject with which it deals, is not regarded
as literature, in its strict sense. For example, Euclid's `Elements',
Newton's `Principia', Spinoza's `Ethica', and Kant's
`Critique of the Pure Reason', do not properly belong to literature.
(By the "spiritual" I would be understood to mean the whole domain
of the emotional, the susceptible or impressible, the sympathetic,
the intuitive; in short, that mysterious something in the constitution
of man by and through which he holds relationship with
the essential spirit of things, as opposed to the phenomenal
of which the senses take cognizance.)

The term literature is sometimes extended in meaning (and it may be
so extended), to include all that has been committed to letters,
on all subjects. There is no objection to such extension
in ordinary speech, no more than there is to that of the signification
of the word, "beauty" to what is purely abstract. We speak,
for example, of the beauty of a mathematical demonstration;
but beauty, in its strictest sense, is that which appeals to
the spiritual nature, and must, therefore, be concrete, personal,
not abstract. Art beauty is the embodiment, adequate,
effective embodiment, of co-operative intellect and spirit, --
"the accommodation," in Bacon's words, "of the shows of things
to the desires of the mind."

It follows that the relative merit and importance of different periods
of a literature should be determined by the relative degrees
of spirituality which these different periods exhibit.
The intellectual power of two or more periods, as exhibited
in their literatures, may show no marked difference,
while the spiritual vitality of these same periods may
very distinctly differ. And if it be admitted that literature proper
is the product of co-operative intellect and spirit (the latter being
always an indispensable factor, though there can be no high order
of literature that is not strongly articulated, that is not
well freighted, with thought), it follows that the periods
of a literature should be determined by the ebb and flow
of spiritual life which they severally register, rather than
by any other considerations. There are periods which
are characterized by a "blindness of heart", an inactive,
quiescent condition of the spirit, by which the intellect
is more or less divorced from the essential, the eternal,
and it directs itself to the shows of things. Such periods may embody
in their literatures a large amount of thought, -- thought which is
conversant with the externality of things; but that of itself
will not constitute a noble literature, however perfect
the forms in which it may be embodied, and the general sense
of the civilized world, independently of any theories of literature,
will not regard such a literature as noble. It is made up of what
must be, in time, superseded; it has not a sufficiently large element
of the essential, the eternal, which can be reached only through
the assimilating life of the spirit. The spirit may be
so "cabined, cribbed, confined" as not to come to any consciousness
of itself; or it may be so set free as to go forth and recognize
its kinship, respond to the spiritual world outside of itself, and,
by so responding, KNOW what merely intellectual philosophers
call the UNKNOWABLE.

To turn now to the line of English poets who may be said to have
passed the torch of spiritual life, from lifted hand to hand,
along the generations. And first is

"the morning star of song, who made
His music heard below:

"Dan Chaucer, the first warbler, whose sweet breath
Preluded those melodious bursts that fill
The spacious times of great Elizabeth
With sounds that echo still."

Chaucer exhibits, in a high degree, this life of the spirit,
and it is the secret of the charm which his poetry possesses for us
after a lapse of five hundred years. It vitalizes, warms, fuses,
and imparts a lightsomeness to his verse; it creeps and kindles
beneath the tissues of his thought. When we compare Dryden's
modernizations of Chaucer with the originals, we see the difference
between the verse of a poet, with a healthy vitality of spirit, and,
through that healthy vitality of spirit, having secret dealings
with things, and verse which is largely the product of the rhetorical
or literary faculty. We do not feel, when reading the latter,
that any unconscious might co-operated with the conscious powers
of the writer. But we DO feel this when we read Chaucer's verse.

All of the Canterbury Tales have originals or analogues,
most of which have been reproduced by the London Chaucer Society.
Not one of the tales is of Chaucer's own invention. And yet they may
all be said to be original, in the truest, deepest sense of the word.
They have been vitalized from the poet's own soul. He has infused
his own personality, his own spirit-life, into his originals;
he has "created a soul under the ribs of death." It is this
infused vitality which will constitute the charm of
the Canterbury Tales for all generations of English speaking
and English reading people. This life of the spirit,
of which I am speaking, as distinguished from the intellect,
is felt, though much less distinctly, in a contemporary work,
`The Vision of William concerning Piers the Plowman'.
What the author calls "KIND WIT", that is, "natural intelligence",
has, generally, the ascendency. We meet, however,
with powerful passages, wherein the thoughts are aglow
with the warmth from the writer's inner spirit. He shows at times
the moral indignation of a Hebrew prophet.

The `Confessio Amantis' of John Gower, another contemporary work,
exhibits comparatively little of the life of the spirit,
either in its verse or in its thought. The thought rarely passes
the limit of natural intelligence. The stories, which the poet drew
from the `Gesta Romanorum' and numerous other sources, can hardly
be said to have been BORN AGAIN. The verse is smooth and fluent,
but the reader feels it to be the product of literary skill.
It wants what can be imparted only by an unconscious might
back of the consciously active and trained powers. It is this
unconscious might which John Keats, in his `Sleep and Poetry',
speaks of as "might half slumbering on its own right arm",
and which every reader, with the requisite susceptibility,
can always detect in the verse of a true poet.

In the interval between Chaucer and Spenser, this life of the spirit
is not distinctly marked in any of its authors, not excepting even
Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, whose sad fate gave a factitious interest
to his writings. It is more noticeable in Thomas Sackville,
Lord Buckhurst's `Induction to the Mirror for Magistrates', which,
in the words of Hallam, "forms a link which unites the school
of Chaucer and Lydgate to the `Faerie Queene'."

The Rev. James Byrne, of Trinity College, Dublin, in his lecture on
`The Influence of National Character on English Literature',
remarks of Spenser: "After that dark period which separated him
from Chaucer, after all the desolation of the Wars of the Roses,
and all the deep trials of the Reformation, he rose on England as if,
to use an image of his own,

"`At last the golden orientall gate
Of greatest heaven gan to open fayre,
And Phoebus, fresh as brydegrome to his mate,
Came dauncing forth, shaking his deawie hayre,
And hurled his glistering beams through gloomy ayre.'

"That baptism of blood and fire through which England passed
at the Reformation, raised both Protestant and Catholic to a newness
of life. That mighty working of heart and mind with which the nation
then heaved throughout, went through every man and woman,
and tried what manner of spirits they were of. What a preparation
was this for that period of our literature in which man,
the great actor of the drama of life, was about to appear on the stage!
It was to be expected that the drama should then start into life,
and that human character should speak from the stage
with a depth of life never known before; but who could have
imagined Shakespeare?"

And what a new music burst upon the world in Spenser's verse!
His noble stanza, so admirably adapted to pictorial effect,
has since been used by some of the greatest poets of the literature,
Thomson, Scott, Wordsworth, Byron, Keats, Shelley, and numerous others;
but none of them, except in rare instances, have drawn the music
out of it which Spenser drew.

Professor Goldwin Smith well remarks, in his article
on Mark Pattison's Milton, "The great growths of poetry have coincided
with the great bursts of national life, and the great bursts
of national life have hitherto been generally periods
of controversy and struggle. Art itself, in its highest forms,
has been the expression of faith. We have now people who profess
to cultivate art for its own sake; but they have hardly produced
anything which the world accepts as great, though they have supplied
some subjects for `Punch'."

Spenser who, of all the great English poets, is regarded
by some critics as the most remote from real life,
and the least reflecting his age, is, nevertheless, filled with
the spirit of his age -- its chivalric, romantic, patriotic, moral,
and religious spirit. When he began to write, the nation had
just passed through the fiery furnace of a religious persecution,
and was rejoicing in its deliverance from the papistical rule of Mary.
The devotion to the new queen with which it was inspired was grateful,
generous, enthusiastic, and even romantic. This devotion
Spenser's great poem everywhere reflects, and it has been
justly pronounced to be the best exponent of the subtleties
of that Calvinism which was the aristocratic form of Protestantism
at that time in both France and England.

The renewed spiritual life which set in so strongly with Spenser,
reached its springtide in Shakespeare. It was the secret
of that sense of moral proportion which pervades his plays.
Moral proportion cannot be secured through the laws of the ancients,
or through any formulated theory of art. It was, I am assured,
through his deep and sensitive spirit-life that Shakespeare felt
the universal spirit and constitution of the world as fully, perhaps,
as the human soul, in this life, is capable of feeling it. Through it
he took cognizance of the workings of nature, and of the life of man,
principles which cannot be reached through an observation,
by the natural intelligence, of the phenomenal. He thus became
possessed of a knowledge, or rather wisdom, far beyond
his conscious observation and objective experience.

Shakespeare may be regarded as the first and the last
great artistic physiologist or natural historian of the passions;
and he was this by virtue of the life of the spirit, which enabled him
to reproduce sympathetically the whole range of human passion
within himself. He was the first of the world's dramatists
that exhibited the passions in their evolutions, and in
their subtlest complications. And the moral proportion he preserved
in exhibiting the complex and often wild play of the passions
must have been largely due to the harmony of his soul
with the constitution of things. What the Restoration dramatists
regarded or understood as moral proportion, was not moral proportion
at all, but a proportion fashioned according to merely conventional
ideas of justice. Shakespeare's moral proportion appeared to them,
in their low spiritual condition, a moral chaos, which they
set about converting, in some of his great plays, into a cosmos;
and a sad muss, if not a ridiculous muss, they made of it.
Signal examples of this are the `rifacimenti' of the Tempest by Dryden
and Davenant, the King Lear by Tate, and the Antony and Cleopatra
(entitled `All for Love, or the World well Lost') by Dryden.

In Milton, though there is a noticeable, an even distinctly marked,
reduction of the life of the spirit (in the sense in which I have been
using these words) exhibited by Shakespeare, it is still very strong
and efficient, and continues uninfluenced by the malign atmosphere
around him the last fifteen years of his life, which were lived
in the reign of Charles II. Within that period he wrote
the `Paradise Lost', `Paradise Regained', and `Samson Agonistes'.
"Milton," says Emerson, "was the stair or high table-land to let down
the English genius from the summits of Shakespeare."

"These heights could not be maintained. They were followed by
a meanness and a descent of the mind into lower levels;
the loss of wings; no high speculation. Locke, to whom the meaning
of ideas was unknown, became the type of philosophy,
and his "understanding" the measure, in all nations,
of the English intellect. His countrymen forsook the lofty sides
of Parnassus, on which they had once walked with echoing steps,
and disused the studies once so beloved; the powers of thought
fell into neglect."

The highest powers of thought cannot be realized without the life
of the spirit. It is this, as I have already said, which has been
the glory of the greatest thinkers since the world began;
not their intellects, but the co-operating, unconscious power
IMMANENT in their intellects.

During the Restoration period, and later, spiritual life
was at its very lowest ebb. I mean, spiritual life
as exhibited in the poetic and dramatic literature of the time,
whose poisoned fountain-head was the dissolute court of Charles II.
All the slops of that court went into the drama,
all the `sentina reipublicae', the bilge water of the ship of state.
The dramatic writers of the time, to use the words of St. Paul
in his letter to the Ephesians, "walked in the vanity of their mind;
having the understanding darkened, being alienated from
the life of God through the ignorance that was in them
because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling,
gave themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness
with greediness." The age, as Emerson says, had no live, distinct,
actuating convictions. It was in even worse than a negative condition.
As represented by its drama and poetry, it may almost be said
to have repudiated the moral sentiment. A spiritual disease
affected the upper classes, which continued down into the reign
of the Georges. There appears to have been but little belief
in the impulse which the heart imparts to the intellect,
or that the latter draws greatness from the inspiration of the former.
There was a time in the history of the Jews in which, it is recorded,
"there was no open vision". It can be said, emphatically,
that in the time of Charles II. there was no open vision.
And yet that besotted, that spiritually dark age, which was afflicted
with pneumatophobia, flattered itself that there had never been an age
so flooded with light. The great age of Elizabeth (which designation
I would apply to the period of fifty years or more, from 1575 to 1625,
or somewhat later), in which the human faculties, in their whole range,
both intellectual and spiritual, reached such a degree of expansion
as they had never before reached in the history of the world, --
that great age, I say, the age of Spenser, Sidney, Marlowe,
Shakespeare, Bacon, Raleigh, Hooker, Ben Jonson, Beaumont, Fletcher,
Chapman, Dekker, Ford, Herbert, Heywood, Massinger (and this list
of great names might be continued), -- that great age, I say,
was regarded by the men of the Restoration period as barbarous
in comparison with their own. But beneath all, still lay
the restorative elements of the English character, which were to
reassert themselves and usher in a new era of literary productiveness,
the greatest since the Elizabethan age, and embodying
the highest ideals of life to which the race has yet attained.
We can account, to some extent, for this interregnum or spiritual life,
but only to some extent. The brutal heartlessness and licentiousness
of the court which the exiled Charles brought back with him,
and the release from Puritan restraint, explain partly
the state of things, or rather the degree to which the state of things
was pushed.

In the middle of the eighteenth century, or somewhat earlier,
the rise of the spiritual tide is distinctly observable.
We see a reaction setting in against the soulless poetry
which culminated in Alexander Pope, whose `Rape of the Lock'
is the masterpiece of that poetry. It is, in fact, the most brilliant
society-poem in the literature. De Quincey pronounces it to be,
though somewhat extravagantly, "the most exquisite monument
of playful fancy that universal literature offers." Bishop Warburton,
one of the great critical authorities of the age, believed in
the infallibility of Pope, if not of THE Pope.

To notice but a few of the influences at work: Thomson sang
of the Seasons, and invited attention to the beauties of
the natural world, to which the previous generation had been blind
and indifferent. Bishop Percy published his `Reliques of Ancient
English Poetry', thus awakening a new interest in the old ballads
which had sprung from the heart of the people, and contributing much
to free poetry from the yoke of the conventional and the artificial,
and to work a revival of natural unaffected feeling. Thomas Tyrwhitt
edited in a scholarly and appreciative manner, the Canterbury Tales
of Chaucer. James McPherson published what he claimed to be
translations from the poems of Ossian, the son of Fingal.
Whether genuine or not, these poems indicated the tendency of the time.
In Scotland, the old ballad spirit, which had continued to exist
with a vigor but little abated by the influence of the artificial,
mechanical school of poetry, was gathered up and intensified
in the songs of him "who walked in glory and in joy,
following his plow, along the mountain-side", and who is entitled to
a high rank among the poetical reformers of the age.

It is not surprising that the great literary dictator in Percy's day,
Dr. Samuel Johnson, should treat the old ballads with ridicule.
The good man had been trained in a different school of poetry,
and could not in his old age yield to the reactionary movement.
Bishop Warburton, who ranked next to Johnson in literary authority,
had nothing but sneering contempt to bestow upon upon the old ballads,
and this feeling was shared by many others in the foremost ranks
of literature and criticism. But in the face of all opposition,
and aided by the yearning for literary liberty that was abroad,
the old ballads grew more and more into favor. The influence of
this folklore was not confined to England. It extended across the sea,
and swayed the genius of such poets as Buerger and Goethe
and Schiller.

Along with the poetical revival in the eighteenth century,
came the great religious revival inaugurated by the Wesleys
and Whitefield; and of this revival, the poetry of William Cowper
was a direct product. But the two revivals were co-radical, --
one was not derived from the other. The long-suppressed
spiritual elements of the nation began to reassert themselves
in religion and in poetry. The Church had been as sound asleep
as the Muses.

Cowper belongs to the Whitefield side of the religious revival,
the Evangelicals, as they were called (those that remained within
the Establishment). In his poem entitled `Hope', he vindicates
the memory of Whitefield under the name Leuconomus, a translation
into Greek, of White field. It was his conversion to Evangelicism
which gave him his inspiration and his themes. `The Task' has been
as justly called the poem of Methodism as the `Paradise Lost'
has been called the epic of Puritanism. In it we are presented with
a number of pictures of the utterly fossilized condition of the clergy
of the day in the Established Church (see especially book II.,
vv. 326-832, in which he satirizes the clergy and the universities).

Cowper has been truly characterized by Professor Goldwin Smith,
as "the apostle of feeling to a hard age, to an artificial age,
the apostle of nature. He opened beneath the arid surface
of a polished but soulless society, a fountain of sentiment
which had long ceased to flow."

The greatest things in this world are often done by those
who do not know they are doing them. This is especially true
of William Cowper. He was wholly unaware of the great mission
he was fulfilling; his contemporaries were wholly unaware of it.
And so temporal are the world's standards, in the best of times,
that spiritual regenerators are not generally recognized until
long after they have passed away, when the results of what they did
are fully ripe, and philosophers begin to trace the original impulses.

"Only reapers, reaping early
In among the bearded barley,
Hear a song that echoes cheerly
From the river winding clearly
Down to towered Camelot:

And by the moon the reaper weary,
Piling sheaves in uplands airy,
Listening, whispers, 'Tis the fairy
Lady of Shalott."

John Burroughs, in his inspiring essay on Walt Whitman
entitled `The Flight of the Eagle', quotes the following sentence
from a lecture on Burns, delivered by "a lecturer from over seas",
whom he does not name: "When literature becomes dozy, respectable,
and goes in the smooth grooves of fashion, and copies and copies again,
something must be done; and to give life to that dying literature,
a man must be found not educated under its influence."

Such a man I would say was William Cowper, who, in his weakness, was

"Strong to sanctify the poet's high vocation",

and who

"Testified this solemn truth, while phrenzy desolated, --
Nor man nor angel satisfies whom only God created."

John Keats, in his poem entitled `Sleep and Poetry',
has well characterized the soulless poetry of the period between
the Restoration and the poetical revival in the latter part
of the eighteenth century, but more especially of the Popian period.
After speaking of the greatness of his favorite poets
of the Elizabethan period, he continues: --

"Could all this be forgotten? Yes, a schism
Nurtured by foppery and barbarism,
Made great Apollo blush for this his land.
Men were thought wise who could not understand
His glories: with a puling infant's force
They sway'd about upon a rocking-horse,
And thought it Pegasus."

(Alluding to the rocking-horse movement of the Popian verse.)

"Ah dismal soul'd!
The winds of heaven blew, the ocean roll'd
It's gathering waves -- ye felt it not. The blue
Bar'd its eternal bosom, and the dew
Of summer nights collected still to make
The morning precious: beauty was awake!
Why were ye not awake? But ye were dead
To things ye knew not of, -- were closely wed
To musty laws lined out with wretched rule
And compass vile: so that ye taught a school
Of dolts to smooth, inlay, and clip, and fit,
Till, like the certain wands of Jacob's wit,
Their verses tallied. Easy was the task:
A thousand handicraftsmen wore the mask
Of Poesy. Ill-fated, impious race!
That blasphem'd the bright Lyrist to his face,
And did not know it, -- no, they went about,
Holding a poor, decrepid standard out
Mark'd with most flimsy mottoes, and in large
The name of one Boileau!"

It was these lines that raised the ire of Byron, who regarded them
as an irreverent assault upon his favorite poet, Pope.
In the controversy occasioned by the Rev. W. L. Bowles's strictures
on the Life and Writings of Pope, Byron perversely asks,
"Where is the poetry of which one-half is good? Is it the Aeneid?
Is it Milton's? Is it Dryden's? Is it any one's except Pope's
and Goldsmith's, of which ALL is good?"

In the first quarter of the nineteenth century, the spiritual flow
which, as I have said, set in about the middle of
the eighteenth century, and received its first great impulse
from William Cowper, reached its high tide in Wordsworth, Coleridge,
Shelley, Keats, Southey, and Byron. These poets were all,
more or less, influenced by that great moral convulsion,
the French revolution, which stirred men's souls to their
deepest depths, induced a vast stimulation of the meditative faculties,
and contributed much toward the unfolding of the ideas
"on man, on nature, and on human life", which have since
so vitalized English poetry. *

* "The agitation, the frenzy, the sorrow of the times,
reacted upon the human intellect, and FORCED men into meditation.
Their own nature was held up before them in a sterner form.
They were compelled to contemplate an ideal of man, far more colossal
than is brought forward in the tranquil aspects of society;
and they were often engaged, whether they would or not,
with the elementary problems of social philosophy. Mere danger
forced a man into thoughts which else were foreign to his habits.
Mere necessity of action forced him to decide."
-- Thomas De Quincey's `Essay on Style'.

Wordsworth exhibited in his poetry, as they had never before
been exhibited, the permanent absolute relations of nature
to the human spirit, interpreted the relations between
the elemental powers of creation and the moral life of man,
and vindicated the inalienable birthright of the lowliest of men
to those inward "oracles of vital deity attesting the Hereafter."
Wordsworth's poetry is, in fact, so far as it bears upon
the natural world, a protest against the association theory of beauty
of the eighteenth century -- a theory which was an offshoot of
the philosophy of Locke, well characterized by Macvicar,
in his `Philosophy of the Beautiful' (Introd., pp. xv., xvi),
as "an ingenious hypothesis for the close of the eighteenth century,
when the philosophy then popular did not admit, as the ground
of any knowledge, anything higher than self-repetition
and the transformation of sensations."

Coleridge's `Rime of the Ancient Mariner' is an imaginative expression
of that divine love which embraces all creatures, from the highest
to the lowest, of the consequences of the severance of man's soul
from this animating principle of the universe, and of those
spiritual threshings by and through which it is brought again
under its blessed influence. In his `Cristabel' he has exhibited
the dark principle of evil, lurking within the good,
and ever struggling with it. We read it in the spell the wicked witch
Geraldine works upon her innocent and unsuspecting protector;
we read it in the strange words which Geraldine addresses
to the spirit of the saintly mother who has approached to shield
from harm the beloved child for whom she died; we read it in the story
of the friendship and enmity between the Baron and Sir Roland de Vaux
of Tryermaine; we read it in the vision seen in the forest
by the minstrel Bard, of the bright green snake coiled around
the wings and neck of a fluttering dove; and, finally, we read it
in its most startling form, in the conclusion of the poem,
"A little child, a limber elf, singing, dancing to itself," etc.,
wherein is exhibited the strange tendency to express love's excess
"with words of unmeant bitterness". This dark principle of evil,
we may suppose, after dwelling in the poet's mind, in an abstract form,
crept into this broken poem, where it lies coiled up among
the choicest and most fragrant flowers, and occasionally springs
its warning rattle, and projects its forked tongue, to assure us of
its ugly presence.

Both these great poems show the influence of the revival of
the old English Ballads. Coleridge had drunk deep of their spirit.

Shelley and Byron were fully charged with the revolutionary spirit
of the time. Shelley, of all the poets of his generation,
had the most prophetic fervor in regard to the progress of
the democratic spirit. All his greatest poems are informed
with this fervor, but it is especially exhibited in
the `Prometheus Unbound', which is, in the words of Todhunter,
"to all other lyrical poems what the ninth symphony is to all
other symphonies; and more than this, for Shelley has here
outsoared himself more unquestionably than Beethoven in his last
great orchestral work. . . . The Titan Prometheus is the incarnation
of the genius of humanity, chained and suffering under the tyranny
of the evil principle which at present rules over the world,
typified in Jupiter; the name Prometheus, FORESIGHT, connecting him
with that poetic imagination which is the true prophetic power,
penetrating the mystery of things, because, as Shelley implies,
it is a kind of divine Logos incarnate in man -- a creative force
which dominates nature by acting in harmony with her."

It is, perhaps, more correct to say of Byron, that he was charged
with the spirit of revolt rather than with the revolutionary spirit.
The revolutionary spirit was in him indefinite, inarticulate;
he offered nothing to put in the place of the social and political
evils against which he rebelled. There is nothing CONSTRUCTIVE
in his poetry. But if his great passion-capital, his keen
spiritual susceptibility, and his great power of vigorous expression,
had been brought into the service of constructive thought,
he might have been a restorative power in his generation.

The greatest loss which English poetry ever sustained,
was in the premature death of John Keats. What he would have done
had his life been spared, we have an assurance in what he has left us.
He was spiritually constituted to be one of the subtlest interpreters
of the secrets of life that the whole range of English poetry exhibits.
No poet ever more deeply felt "the vital connection of beauty
with truth". He realized in himself his idea of the poet
expressed in his lines, --

"'Tis the man who with a man
Is an equal, be he king,
Or poorest of the beggar-clan,
Or any other wondrous thing
A man may be 'twixt ape and Plato;
'Tis the man who with a bird,
Wren, or eagle, finds his way to
All its instincts; he hath heard
The lion's roaring, and can tell
What his horny throat expresseth,
And to him the tiger's yell
Comes articulate and presseth
On his ear like mother tongue." *

* "We often think of Shelley and Keats together,
and they seem to have an attraction for minds of the same cast.
They were both exposed to the same influences, those revolutionary
influences in literature and religion which inaugurated a new period.
Yet there is a great contrast as well as a great similarity
between them, and it is interesting to remark the different
spiritual results in the case of these two different minds
subjected to conditions so similar in general, though different
in detail. Both felt the same need, the need of ESCAPE,
desiring to escape from the actual world in which they perceived
more evil than good, to some other ideal world which they had
to create for themselves. This is the point of their similarity;
their need and motive were the same, to escape from the limitations
of the present. But they escaped in different directions,
Keats into the past where he reconstructed a mythical Greek world
after the designs of his own fancy, Shelley into a future where
he sought in a new and distant era, in a new and distant world,
a refuge from the present. We may compare Keats's `Hyperion'
with Shelley's `Prometheus', as both poems touch the same idea --
the dominion of elder gods usurped by younger, for Prometheus belonged
to the elder generation. The impression Keats gives us is that
he represents the dethroned gods in the sad vale, "far from
the fiery noon", for the pleasure of moving among them himself,
and creates their lonely world as a retreat for his own spirit.
Whereas in the `Prometheus Unbound' we feel that the scenes
laid in ancient days and built on Greek myths, have a direct relation
to the destinies of man, and that Shelley went back into the past
because he believed it was connected with the future,
and because he could use it as an artistic setting for exhibiting
an ideal world in the future.

"This problem of escape -- to rescue the soul from the clutches
of time, `ineluctabile tempus', -- which Keats and Shelley
tried to resolve for themselves by creating a new world in the past
and the future, met Browning too. The new way which Browning
has essayed -- the way in which he accepts the present and deals
with it, CLOSES with time instead of trying to elude it,
and discovers in the struggle that this time, `ineluctabile tempus',
is really a faithful vassal of eternity, and that its limits serve
and do not enslave illimitable spirit." -- From a Paper
by John B. Bury, B.A., Trin. Coll., Dublin, on Browning's
`Aristophanes' Apology', read at 38th meeting of the Browning Soc.,
Jan. 29, 1886.

Wordsworth, and the other poets I have named, Byron, Shelley, Keats,
and Coleridge, made such a protest against authority in poetry
as had been made in the 16th century against authority in religion;
and for this authority were substituted the soul-experiences
of the individual poet, who set his verse to the song that was
within him, and chose such subjects as would best embody and articulate
that song.

But by the end of the first quarter of the present century,
the great poetical billow, which was not indeed caused by,
but received an impulse from, the great political billow,
the French Revolution (for they were cognate or co-radical movements),
had quite spent itself, and English poetry was at a comparatively
low ebb. The Poetical Revolution had done its work.
A poetical interregnum of a few years' duration followed,
in which there appeared to be a great reduction of the spiritual life
of which poetry is the outgrowth.

Mr. Edmund W. Gosse, in his article `On the Early Writings
of Robert Browning', in the `Century' for December, 1881,
has characterized this interregnum a little too contemptuously,
perhaps. There was, indeed, a great fall in the spiritual tide;
but it was not such a dead-low tide as Mr. Gosse would make it.

At length, in 1830, appeared a volume of poems by a young man,
then but twenty-one years of age, which distinctly marked
the setting in of a new order of things. It bore the following title:
`Poems, chiefly Lyrical. By Alfred Tennyson, London:
Effingham Wilson, Royal Exchange, Cornhill, 1830.' pp. 154.

The volume comprised fifty-three poems, among which were `The Poet'
and `The Poet's Mind'. These two poems were emphatically indicative
of the high ideal of poetry which had been attained,
and to the development of which the band of poets of
the preceding generation had largely contributed.

A review of the volume, by John Stuart Mill, then a young man
not yet twenty-five years of age, was published in `The Westminster'
for January, 1831. It bears testimony to the writer's fine insight
and sure foresight; and it bears testimony, too, to his high estimate
of the function of poetry in this world -- an estimate, too,
in kind and in degree, not older than this present century.
The review is as important a landmark in the development
of poetical criticism, as are the two poems I have mentioned,
in the development of poetical ideals, in the nineteenth century.

In the concluding paragraph of the review, Mill says: "A genuine poet
has deep responsibilities to his country and the world, to the present
and future generations, to earth and heaven. He, of all men,
should have distinct and worthy objects before him,
and consecrate himself to their promotion. It is thus that he
best consults the glory of his art, and his own lasting fame. . . .
Mr. Tennyson knows that "the poet's mind is holy ground";
he knows that the poet's portion is to be

"Dower'd with the hate of hate, the scorn of scorn,
The love of love";

he has shown, in the lines from which we quote, his own
just conception of the grandeur of a poet's destiny;
and we look to him for its fulfilment. . . . If our estimate
of Mr. Tennyson be correct, he too is a poet; and many years hence
may be read his juvenile description of that character with
the proud consciousness that it has become the description and history
of his own works."

Two years later, that is, in 1832 (the volume, however,
is antedated 1833), appeared `Poems by Alfred Tennyson', pp. 163.
In it were contained `The Lady of Shalott', and the untitled poems,
known by their first lines, `You ask me why, tho' ill at ease',
`Of old sat Freedom on the Heights', and `Love thou thy Land,
with Love far brought'.

In `The Lady of Shalott' is mystically shadowed forth the relation
which poetic genius should sustain to the world for whose
spiritual redemption it labors, and the fatal consequences
of its being seduced by the world's temptations, the lust of the flesh,
and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.

The other poems, `You ask me why', `Of old sat Freedom',
and `Love thou thy land', are important as exponents of what
may be called the poet's institutional creed. A careful study
of his subsequent poetry will show that in these early poems
he accurately and distinctly revealed the attitude toward
outside things which he has since maintained. He is a good deal
of an institutional poet, and, as compared with Browning,
a STRONGLY institutional poet. Browning's supreme and
all-absorbing interest is in individual souls. He cares but little,
evidently, about institutions. At any rate, he gives them little
or no place in his poetry. Tennyson is a very decided
reactionary product of the revolutionary spirit which inspired
some of his poetical predecessors of the previous generation.
He has a horror of the revolutionary. To him, the French Revolution
was "the blind hysterics of the Celt", [`In Memoriam', cix.],
and "the red fool-fury of the Seine" [`I. M.', cxxvii.].
He attaches great importance to the outside arrangements of society
for upholding and advancing the individual. He would "make Knowledge
circle with the winds", but "her herald, Reverence", must

Before her to whatever sky
Bear seed of men and growth of minds."

He has a great regard for precedents, almost AS precedents.
He is emphatically the poet of law and order. All his sympathies
are decidedly, but not narrowly, conservative. He is, in short,
a choice product of nineteenth century ENGLISH civilization;
and his poetry may be said to be the most distinct expression
of the refinements of English culture -- refinements, rather than
the ruder but more vital forms of English strength and power.
All his ideals of institutions and the general machinery of life,
are derived from England. She is

"the land that freemen till,
That sober-suited Freedom chose,
The land where, girt with friends or foes,
A man may speak the thing he will;


Where faction seldom gathers head,
But by degrees to fullness wrought,
The strength of some diffusive thought
Hath time and space to work and spread."

But the anti-revolutionary and the institutional features
of Tennyson's poetry are not those of the higher ground of his poetry.
They are features which, though primarily due, it may be,
to the poet's temperament, are indirectly due to the particular form
of civilization in which he has lived, and moved, and had his culture,
and which he reflects more than any of his poetical contemporaries.

The most emphasized and most vitalized idea, the idea which
glints forth everywhere in his poetry, which has the most important
bearing on man's higher life, and which marks the height
of the spiritual tide reached in his poetry, is, that the highest
order of manhood is a well-poised, harmoniously operating duality
of the active or intellectual or discursive, and the passive
or spiritually sensitive. This is the idea which INFORMS his poem
of `The Princess'. It is prominent in `In Memoriam' and in
`The Idylls of the King'. In `The Princess', the Prince,
speaking of the relations of the sexes, says: --

"in the long years liker must they grow;
The man be more of woman, she of man;
He gain in sweetness and in moral height,
Nor lose the wrestling thews that throw the world;
She mental breadth, nor fail in childward care,
Nor lose the childlike in the larger mind;
Till at the last she set herself to man,
Like perfect music unto noble words;
And so these twain, upon the skirts of Time,
Sit side by side, full-summ'd in all their powers,
Dispensing harvest, sowing the To-be,
Self-reverent each and reverencing each,
Distinct in individualities,
But like each other ev'n as those who love.
Then comes the statelier Eden back to men:
Then reign the world's great bridals, chaste and calm:
Then springs the crowning race of humankind."

To state briefly the cardinal Tennysonian idea, man must realize

Tennyson presents to us his ideal man in the 109th section
of `In Memoriam'. It is descriptive of his friend,
Arthur Henry Hallam. All that is most characteristic of Tennyson,
even his Englishness, is gathered up in this poem of six stanzas.
It is interesting to meet with such a representative and comprehensive
bit in a great poet.

"HEART-AFFLUENCE in discursive talk
From household fountains never dry;
That saw through all the Muses' walk;

The bearer in its fiery course;

And passions pure in snowy bloom
Through all the years of April blood."

The first two verses of this stanza also characterize the King Arthur
of the `Idylls of the King'. *1* In the next stanza we have
the poet's institutional Englishness: --

"A love of freedom rarely felt,
Of freedom in her regal seat
Of England; not the school-boy heat,
The blind hysterics of the Celt;

In such a sort, the child would twine
A trustful hand, unask'd, in thine,
And find his comfort in thy face;

All these have been, and thee mine eyes
Have look'd on; if they look'd in vain,
My shame is greater who remain,
Nor let thy wisdom make me wise."

*1* See `The Holy Grail', the concluding thirty-two verses, beginning:
"And spake I not too truly, O my Knights", and ending "ye have seen
that ye have seen".
*2* The idea of `The Princess'.

Tennyson's genius was early trained by the skeptical philosophy
of the age. All his poetry shows this. The `In Memoriam' may almost
be said to be the poem of nineteenth century scepticism.
To this scepticism he has applied an "all-subtilizing intellect",
and has translated it into the poetical "concrete", with a rare
artistic skill, and more than this, has subjected it to
the spiritual instincts and apperceptions of the feminine side
of his nature and made it vassal to a larger faith. But it is,
after all, not the vital faith which Browning's poetry exhibits,
the faith expressed by Browning's Bishop Blougram: --

"With me faith means perpetual unbelief
Kept quiet like the snake 'neath Michael's foot,
Who stands firm just because he feels it writhe."

And Tennyson, in picturing to us in the Idylls, the passage of the soul
"from the great deep to the great deep", appears to have felt
it necessary to the completion of that picture (or why did he do it?),
that he should bring out that doubt at the last moment.
The dying Arthur is made to say: --

"I am going a long way
With these thou seest -- if indeed I go
(For all my mind is clouded with a doubt) --
To the island-valley of Avilion"; etc.

Tennyson's poetry is, in fact, an expression of the highest
sublimation of the scepticism which came out of the eighteenth century,
which invoked the authority of the sensualistic philosophy of Locke,
and has since been fostered by the science of the nineteenth;
while Browning's poetry is a decided protest against,
and a reactionary product of, that scepticism, that infidel philosophy
(infidel as to the transcendental), and has CLOSED with it
and borne away the palm.

The key-note of his poetry is struck in `Paracelsus',
published in 1835, in his twenty-third year, and, with the exception
of `Pauline' published in 1833, the earliest of his compositions:
Paracelsus says (and he who knows Browning knows it to be
substantially his own creed): --

"Truth is within ourselves; it takes no rise
From outward things, whate'er you may believe:
There is an inmost centre in us all,
Where truth abides in fulness; and around
Wall upon wall, the gross flesh hems it in,
This perfect, clear perception -- which is truth;
A baffling and perverting carnal mesh
Blinds it, and makes all error: and `TO KNOW'
Rather consists in opening out a way
Whence the imprisoned splendour may escape,
Than in effecting entry for a light
Supposed to be without. Watch narrowly
The demonstration of a truth, its birth,
And you trace back the effluence to its spring
And source within us, where broods radiance vast,
To be elicited ray by ray, as chance
Shall favour: chance -- for hitherto, your sage
Even as he knows not how those beams are born,
As little knows he what unlocks their fount;
And men have oft grown old among their books
To die, case-hardened in their ignorance,
Whose careless youth had promised what long years
Of unremitted labour ne'er performed:
While, contrary, it has chanced some idle day,
That autumn-loiterers just as fancy-free
As the midges in the sun, have oft given vent
To truth -- produced mysteriously as cape
Of cloud grown out of the invisible air.
Hence, may not truth be lodged alike in all,
The lowest as the highest? some slight film
The interposing bar which binds it up,
And makes the idiot, just as makes the sage
Some film removed, the happy outlet whence
Truth issues proudly? See this soul of ours!
How it strives weakly in the child, is loosed
In manhood, clogged by sickness, back compelled
By age and waste, set free at last by death:
Why is it, flesh enthralls it or enthrones?
What is this flesh we have to penetrate?
Oh, not alone when life flows still do truth
And power emerge, but also when strange chance
Ruffles its current; in unused conjuncture,
When sickness breaks the body -- hunger, watching,
Excess, or languor -- oftenest death's approach --
Peril, deep joy, or woe. One man shall crawl
Through life, surrounded with all stirring things,
Unmoved -- and he goes mad; and from the wreck
Of what he was, by his wild talk alone,
You first collect how great a spirit he hid.
Therefore set free the spirit alike in all,
Discovering the true laws by which the flesh
Bars in the spirit! . . .
* * * * *
I go to gather this
The sacred knowledge, here and there dispersed
About the world, long lost or never found.
And why should I be sad, or lorn of hope?
Why ever make man's good distinct from God's?
Or, finding they are one, why dare mistrust?
Who shall succeed if not one pledged like me?
Mine is no mad attempt to build a world
Apart from His, like those who set themselves
To find the nature of the spirit they bore,
And, taught betimes that all their gorgeous dreams
Were only born to vanish in this life,
Refused to fit them to this narrow sphere,
But chose to figure forth another world
And other frames meet for their vast desires, --
Still, all a dream! Thus was life scorned; but life
Shall yet be crowned: twine amaranth! I am priest!"

And again: --

"In man's self arise
August anticipations, symbols, types
Of a dim splendour ever on before,
In that eternal circle run by life:
For men begin to pass their nature's bound,
And find new hopes and cares which fast supplant
Their proper joys and griefs; and outgrow all *
The narrow creeds of right and wrong, which fade
Before the unmeasured thirst for good; while peace
Rises within them ever more and more.
Such men are even now upon the earth,
Serene amid the half-formed creatures round,
Who should be saved by them and joined with them."

In the last three verses is indicated the doctrine of
the regenerating power of exalted personalities, so prominent
in Browning's poetry, and which is treated in the next paper.

* proper: In the sense of the Latin PROPRIUS, peculiar, private, personal.

There is no `tabula rasa' doctrine in these passages,
nor in any others, in the poet's voluminous works; and of all men
of great intellect and learning (it is always a matter of mere
insulated intellect), born in England since the days of John Locke,
no one, perhaps, has been so entirely untainted with this doctrine
as Robert Browning. It is a doctrine which great spiritual vitality
(and that he early possessed), reaching out, as it does,
beyond all experience, beyond all transformation of sensations,
and all conclusions of the discursive understanding,
naturally and spontaneously rejects. It simply says, "I know better",
and there an end.

The great function of the poet, as poet, is, with Browning,
to open out a way whence the imprisoned splendor may escape,
not to effect entry for a light supposed to be without;
to trace back the effluence to its spring and source within us,
where broods radiance vast, to be elicited ray by ray.

In `Fifine at the Fair', published thirty-seven years
after `Paracelsus', is substantially the same doctrine: --

"Truth inside, and outside, truth also; and between
Each, falsehood that is change, as truth is permanence.
The individual soul works through the shows of sense,
(Which, ever proving false, still promise to be true)
Up to an outer soul as individual too;
And, through the fleeting, lives to die into the fixed,
And reach at length `God, man, or both together mixed'."

In his poem entitled `Popularity', included in his "fifty men
and women", the speaker, in the monologue, "draws" his "true poet",
whom HE knows, if others do not; who, though he renders,
or stands ready to render, to his fellows, the supreme service
of opening out a way whence the imprisoned splendor of their souls
may escape, is yet locked safe from end to end of this dark world.

Though there may be, in his own time, no "reapers reaping early
in among the bearded barley" and "piling sheaves in uplands airy"
who hear his song, he holds the FUTURE fast, accepts
the COMING AGES' duty, their present for this past. This true,
creative poet, whom the speaker calls "God's glow-worm,
creative in the sense of revealing, whose inmost centre,
where truth abides in fulness, has that freedom of responsiveness
to the divine which makes him the revealer of it to men,
plays the part in the world of spirit which, in the material world
was played by the fisher who, first on the coast of Tyre the old,
fished up the purple-yielding murex. Until the precious liquor,
filtered by degrees, and refined to proof, is flasked and priced,
and salable at last, the world stands aloof. But when it is all ready
for the market, the small dealers, "put blue into their line",
and outdare each other in azure feats by which they secure
great popularity, and, as a result, fare sumptuously;
while he who fished the murex up was unrecognized, and fed, perhaps,
on porridge.



Stand still, true poet that you are!
I know you; let me try and draw you.
Some night you'll fail us: when afar
You rise, remember one man saw you,
Knew you, and named a star! *1*


My star, God's glow-worm! Why extend
That loving hand of His which leads you,
Yet locks you safe from end to end
Of this dark world, unless He needs you,
Just saves your light to spend?


His clenched hand shall unclose at last,
I know, and let out all the beauty:
My poet holds the future fast,
Accepts the coming ages' duty,
Their present for this past.


That day, the earth's feast-master's brow
Shall clear, to God the chalice raising;
"Others give best at first, but Thou
Forever set'st our table praising,
Keep'st the good wine till now!"


Meantime, I'll draw you as you stand,
With few or none to watch and wonder:
I'll say -- a fisher, on the sand
By Tyre the old, with ocean-plunder,
A netful, brought to land.


Who has not heard how Tyrian shells
Enclosed the blue, that dye of dyes
Whereof one drop worked miracles,
And colored like Astarte's eyes
Raw silk the merchant sells?


And each by-stander of them all
Could criticise, and quote tradition
How depths of blue sublimed some pall --
To get which, pricked a king's ambition;
Worth sceptre, crown, and ball.


Yet there's the dye, in that rough mesh,
The sea has only just o'er-whispered!
Live whelks, each lip's beard dripping fresh,
As if they still the water's lisp heard
Through foam the rock-weeds thresh.


Enough to furnish Solomon
Such hangings for his cedar-house,
That, when gold-robed he took the throne
In that abyss of blue, the Spouse
Might swear his presence shone


Most like the centre-spike of gold
Which burns deep in the blue-bell's womb
What time, with ardors manifold,
The bee goes singing to her groom,
Drunken and overbold.


Mere conchs! not fit for warp or woof!
Till cunning come to pound and squeeze
And clarify, -- refine to proof *2*
The liquor filtered by degrees,
While the world stands aloof.


And there's the extract, flasked and fine,
And priced and salable at last!
And Hobbs, Nobbs, Stokes, and Nokes combine
To paint the future from the past,
Put blue into their line. *3*


Hobbs hints blue, -- straight he turtle eats:
Nobbs prints blue, -- claret crowns his cup:
Nokes outdares Stokes in azure feats, --
Both gorge. Who finished the murex up?
What porridge had John Keats?

*1* named: Announced.
*2* Original reading: --
"Till art comes, -- comes to pound and squeeze
And clarify, -- refines to proof."
*3* "Line" is perhaps meant to be used equivocally, --
their line of business or line of their verse.

The spiritual ebb and flow exhibited in English poetry
(the highest tide being reached in Tennyson and Browning)
which I have endeavored cursorily to present, bear testimony
to the fact that human nature WILL assert its wholeness
in the civilized man. And there must come a time, in the progress
of civilization, when this ebb and flow will be less marked
than it has been heretofore, by reason of a better balancing,
which will be brought about, of the intellectual and the spiritual.
Each will have its due activity. The man of intellectual pursuits
will not have a starved spiritual nature; and the man of predominant
spiritual functions will not have an intellect weakened
into a submissiveness to formulated, stereotyped, and, consequently,
lifeless dogmas.

Robert Browning is in himself the completest fulfilment
of this equipoise of the intellectual and the spiritual,
possessing each in an exalted degree; and his poetry is
an emphasized expression of his own personality, and a prophecy
of the ultimate results of Christian civilization.

II. The Idea of Personality and of Art as an intermediate agency
of Personality, as embodied in Browning's Poetry.

1. General Remarks.

"Subsists no law of Life outside of Life.
* * * * *
The Christ himself had been no Lawgiver,
Unless he had given the LIFE, too, with the law."

The importance of Robert Browning's poetry, as embodying
the profoundest thought, the subtlest and most complex sentiment, and,
above all, the most quickening spirituality of the age, has, as yet,
notwithstanding the great increase within the last few years
of devoted students, received but a niggardly recognition when compared
with that received by far inferior contemporary poets. There are,
however, many indications in the poetical criticism of the day
that upon it will ere long be pronounced the verdict which is its due.
And the founding of a society in England in 1881, "to gather together
some at least of the many admirers of Robert Browning, for the study
and discussion of his works, and the publication of papers on them,
and extracts from works illustrating them" has already contributed
much towards paying a long-standing debt.

Mr. Browning's earliest poems, `Pauline' (he calls it in the preface
to the reprint of it in 1868 "a boyish work", though it exhibits
the great basal thought of all his subsequent poetry),
was published in 1833, since which time he has produced
the largest body of poetry produced by any one poet
in English literature; and the range of thought and passion
which it exhibits is greater than that of any other poet,
without a single exception, since the days of Shakespeare.
And he is the most like Shakespeare in his deep interest
in human nature in all its varieties of good and evil.
Though endowed with a powerful, subtle, and restless intellect,
he has throughout his voluminous poetry made the strongest protest
that has been made in these days against mere intellect.
And his poetry has, therefore, a peculiar value in an age
like the present -- an age exhibiting "a condition of humanity
which has thrown itself wholly on its intellect and its genius
in physics, and has done marvels in material science and invention,
but at the expense of the interior divinity." It is the human heart,
that is, the intuitive, the non-discursive side of man, with its hopes
and its prophetic aspirations, as opposed to the analytic,
the discursive understanding, which is to him a subject
of the deepest and most scrutinizing interest. He knows that
its deepest depths are "deeper than did ever plummet sound";
but he also knows that it is in these depths that life's
greatest secrets must be sought. The philosophies excogitated
by the insulated intellect help nothing toward even a glimpse
of these secrets. In one of his later poems, that entitled `House',
he has intimated, and forcibly intimated, his sense of
the impossibility of penetrating to the Holy of Holies of this
wondrous human heart, though assured as he is that all our hopes
in regard to the soul's destiny are warmed and cherished
by what radiates thence. He quotes, in the last stanza of this poem,
from Wordsworth's sonnet on the Sonnet, "With this same key
Shakespeare unlocked his heart," and then adds, "DID Shakespeare?
If so, the less Shakespeare he!"

Mrs. Browning, in the Fifth Book of her `Aurora Leigh',
has given a full and very forcible expression to the feeling
which has caused the highest dramatic genius of the present day
to seek refuge in the poem and the novel. "I will write no plays;
because the drama, less sublime in this, makes lower appeals,
defends more menially, adopts the standard of the public taste
to chalk its height on, wears a dog-chain round its regal neck,
and learns to carry and fetch the fashions of the day,
to please the day; . . . 'Tis that, honoring to its worth the drama,
I would fear to keep it down to the level of the footlights. . . .
The growing drama has outgrown such toys of simulated stature, face,
and speech, it also, peradventure, may outgrow the simulation
of the painted scene, boards, actors, prompters, gaslight, and costume;

Robert Browning's poetry is, in these days, the fullest realization
of what is expressed in the concluding lines of this passage:
he has taken for a worthier stage, the soul itself,
its shifting fancies and celestial lights, more than any other poet
of the age. And he has worked with a thought-and-passion capital
greater than the combined thought-and-passion capital of the richest
of his poetical contemporaries. And he has thought nobly of the soul,
and has treated it as, in its essence, above the fixed and law-bound
system of things which we call nature; in other words,
he has treated it as supernatural. "Mind," he makes the Pope say,
in `The Ring and the Book', -- and his poetry bears testimony to
its being his own conviction and doctrine, -- "Mind is not matter,
nor from matter, but above." With every student of Browning,
the recognition and acceptance of this must be his starting-point.
Even that which impelled the old dog, in his poem entitled `Tray'
(`Dramatic Lyrics', First Series), to rescue the beggar child
that fell into the river, and then to dive after the child's doll,
and bring it up, after a long stay under water, the poet evidently
distinguishes from matter, -- regards as "not matter nor from matter,
but above": --

"And so, amid the laughter gay,
Trotted my hero off, -- old Tray, --
Till somebody, prerogatived
With reason, reasoned: `Why he dived,
His brain would show us, I should say.

`John, go and catch -- or, if needs be,
Purchase that animal for me!
By vivisection, at expense
Of half-an-hour and eighteen pence,
How brain secretes dog's soul, we'll see!"

In his poem entitled `Halbert and Hob' (`Dramatic Lyrics',
First Series), quoting from Shakespeare's `King Lear',
"Is there a reason in nature for these hard hearts?" the poet adds,
"O Lear, That a reason OUT of nature must turn them soft, seems clear!"

Mind is, with Browning, SUPERNATURAL, but linked with,
and restrained, and even enslaved by, the natural. The soul,
in its education, that is, in its awakening, becomes more and more
independent of the natural, and, as a consequence, more responsive to
higher souls and to the Divine. ALL SPIRIT IS MUTUALLY ATTRACTIVE,
and the degree of attractiveness results from the degree of freedom
from the obstructions of the material, or the natural.
Loving the truth implies a greater or less degree of that freedom
of the spirit which brings it into SYMPATHY with the true.
"If ye abide in My word," says Christ (and we must understand by "word"
His own concrete life, the word made flesh, and living and breathing),
"if ye abide in My word" (that is, continue to live My life),
"then are ye truly My disciples; and ye shall know the truth,
and the truth shall make you free" (John viii. 32).

In regard to the soul's INHERENT possessions, its microcosmic
potentialities, Paracelsus is made to say (and this may be taken,
too, as the poet's own creed), "Truth is WITHIN ourselves;
it takes no rise from outward things, whate'er you may believe:
there is an inmost centre in us all, where truth abides in fulness;
and around, wall upon wall, the gross flesh hems it in,
this perfect, clear perception -- which is truth. A baffling
and perverting carnal mesh blinds it, and makes all error:
and, TO KNOW, rather consists in opening out a way whence
the imprisoned splendour may escape, than in effecting entry
for a light supposed to be without."

All possible thought is IMPLICIT in the mind, and waiting
for release -- waiting to become EXPLICIT. "Seek within yourself,"
says Goethe, "and you will find everything; and rejoice that, without,
there lies a Nature that says yea and amen to all you have discovered
in yourself." And Mrs. Browning, in the person of Aurora Leigh,
writes: "The cygnet finds the water; but the man is born
in ignorance of his element, and feels out blind at first,
disorganized by sin in the blood, -- his spirit-insight
dulled and crossed by his sensations. Presently we feel it
quicken in the dark sometimes; then mark, be reverent, be obedient, --
for those dumb motions of imperfect life are oracles
of vital Deity attesting the Hereafter. Let who says
`The soul's a clean white paper', rather say, a palimpsest,
a prophet's holograph defiled, erased, and covered by a monk's, --
the Apocalypse by a Longus! poring on which obscure text,
we may discern perhaps some fair, fine trace of what was written once,
some off-stroke of an alpha and omega expressing the old Scripture."

This "fair, fine trace of what was written once", it was the mission
of Christ, it is the mission of all great personalities,
of all the concrete creations of Genius, to bring out into
distinctness and vital glow. It is not, and cannot be, brought out, --
and this fact is emphasized in the poetry of Browning, --
it cannot be brought out, through what is born and resides in
the brain: it is brought out, either directly or indirectly,
by the attracting power of magnetic personalities, the ultimate,
absolute personality being the God-man, Christ, qea/nqrwpos.

The human soul is regarded in Browning's poetry as
a complexly organized, individualized divine force,
destined to gravitate towards the Infinite. How is this force,
with its numberless checks and counter-checks, its centripetal
and centrifugal tendencies, best determined in its necessarily
oblique way? How much earthly ballast must it carry,
to keep it sufficiently steady, and how little, that it may not be
weighed down with materialistic heaviness? How much certainty
must it have of its course, and how much uncertainty,
that it may shun the "torpor of assurance", *1* and not lose the vigor
which comes of a dubious and obstructed road, "which who stands upon
is apt to doubt if it's indeed a road." *2* "Pure faith indeed,"
says Bishop Blougram, to Gigadibs, the literary man, "you know not
what you ask! naked belief in God the Omnipotent, Omniscient,
Omnipresent, sears too much the sense of conscious creatures,
to be borne. It were the seeing him, no flesh shall dare.
Some think, Creation's meant to show him forth: I say, it's meant
to hide him all it can, and that's what all the blessed Evil's for.
Its use in time is to environ us, our breath, our drop of dew,
with shield enough against that sight till we can bear its stress.
Under a vertical sun, the exposed brain and lidless eye
and disimprisoned heart less certainly would wither up at once,
than mind, confronted with the truth of Him. But time and earth
case-harden us to live; the feeblest sense is trusted most:
the child feels God a moment, ichors o'er the place,
plays on and grows to be a man like us. With me, faith means
perpetual unbelief kept quiet like the snake 'neath Michael's foot,
who stands calm just because he feels it writhe." *3*

*1* `The Ring and the Book', The Pope, v. 1853.
*2* `Bishop Blougram's Apology', vv. 198, 199.
*3* `Bishop Blougram's Apology', vv. 650-671.

There is a remarkable passage to the same effect in `Paracelsus',
in which Paracelsus expatiates on the "just so much of doubt
as bade him plant a surer foot upon the sun-road."

And in `Easter Day': --

"You must mix some uncertainty
With faith, if you would have faith BE."

And the good Pope in `The Ring and the Book', alluding to the absence
of true Christian soldiership, which is revealed by Pompilia's case,
says: "Is it not this ignoble CONFIDENCE, cowardly hardihood,
that dulls and damps, makes the old heroism impossible?
Unless. . .what whispers me of times to come? What if it be
the mission of that age my death will usher into life,
reintroduce the DOUBT discarded, bring the formidable danger back
we drove long ago to the distance and the dark?"

True healthy doubt means, in Browning, that the spiritual nature
is sufficiently quickened not to submit to the conclusions of
the insulated intellect. It WILL reach out beyond them,
and assert itself, whatever be the resistance offered by the intellect.
Mere doubt, without any resistance from the intuitive,
non-discursive side of our nature, is the dry-rot of the soul.
The spiritual functions are "smothered in surmise". Faith is not
a matter of blind belief, of slavish assent and acceptance,
as many no-faith people seem to regard it. It is what
Wordsworth calls it, "a passionate intuition", and springs out of
quickened and refined sentiment, out of inborn instincts which are
as cultivable as are any other elements of our complex nature,
and which, too, may be blunted beyond a consciousness
of their possession. And when one in this latter state
denies the reality of faith, he is not unlike one born blind
denying the reality of sight.

A reiterated lesson in Browning's poetry, and one that results from
his spiritual theory, is, that the present life is a tabernacle-life,
and that it can be truly lived only as a tabernacle-life;
for only such a life is compatible with the ever-continued
aspiration and endeavor which is a condition of, and inseparable from,
spiritual vitality.

Domizia, in the tragedy of `Luria', is made to say: --

"How inexhaustibly the spirit grows!
One object, she seemed erewhile born to reach
With her whole energies and die content, --
So like a wall at the world's edge it stood,
With naught beyond to live for, -- is that reached? --
Already are new undream'd energies
Outgrowing under, and extending farther
To a new object; -- there's another world!"

The dying John in `A Death in the Desert', is made to say: --

"I say that man was made to grow, not stop;
That help he needed once, and needs no more,
Having grown up but an inch by, is withdrawn:
For he hath new needs, and new helps to these.
This imports solely, man should mount on each
New height in view; the help whereby he mounts,
The ladder-rung his foot has left, may fall,
Since all things suffer change save God the Truth.
Man apprehends him newly at each stage
Whereat earth's ladder drops, its service done;
And nothing shall prove twice what once was proved."

And again: --

"Man knows partly but conceives beside,
Creeps ever on from fancies to the fact,
And in this striving, this converting air
Into a solid he may grasp and use,
Finds progress, man's distinctive mark alone,
Not God's, and not the beasts': God is, they are,
Man partly is and wholly hopes to be.
Such progress could no more attend his soul
Were all it struggles after found at first
And guesses changed to knowledge absolute,
Than motion wait his body, were all else
Than it the solid earth on every side,
Where now through space he moves from rest to rest.
Man, therefore, thus conditioned, must expect
He could not, what he knows now, know at first;
What he considers that he knows to-day,
Come but to-morrow, he will find misknown;
Getting increase of knowledge, since he learns
Because he lives, which is to be a man,
Set to instruct himself by his past self:
First, like the brute, obliged by facts to learn,
Next, as man may, obliged by his own mind,
Bent, habit, nature, knowledge turned to law.
God's gift was that man should conceive of truth
And yearn to gain it, catching at mistake,
As midway help till he reach fact indeed.
The statuary ere he mould a shape
Boasts a like gift, the shape's idea, and next
The aspiration to produce the same;
So, taking clay, he calls his shape thereout,
Cries ever, `Now I have the thing I see':
Yet all the while goes changing what was wrought,
From falsehood like the truth, to truth itself.
How were it had he cried, `I see no face,
No breast, no feet i' the ineffectual clay'?
Rather commend him that he clapped his hands,
And laughed, `It is my shape and lives again!'
Enjoyed the falsehood touched it on to truth,
Until yourselves applaud the flesh indeed
In what is still flesh-imitating clay.
Right in you, right in him, such way be man's!
God only makes the live shape at a jet.
Will ye renounce this fact of creatureship?
The pattern on the Mount subsists no more,
Seemed awhile, then returned to nothingness,
But copies, Moses strove to make thereby
Serve still and are replaced as time requires:
By these make newest vessels, reach the type!
If ye demur, this judgment on your head,
Never to reach the ultimate, angels' law,
Indulging every instinct of the soul
There where law, life, joy, impulse are one thing."

Browning has given varied and beautiful expressions to these ideas
throughout his poetry.

The soul must rest in nothing this side of the infinite.
If it does rest in anything, however relatively noble
that thing may be, whether art, or literature, or science,
or theology, even, it declines in vitality -- it torpifies.
However great a conquest the combatant may achieve in any
of these arenas, "striding away from the huge gratitude,
his club shouldered, lion-fleece round loin and flank", he must be
"bound on the next new labour, height o'er height ever surmounting --
destiny's decree!" *

* `Aristophanes' Apology', p. 31, English ed.

"Rejoice that man is hurled
From change to change unceasingly,
His soul's wings never furled!" *

* `James Lee's Wife', sect. 6.

But this tabernacle-life, which should ever look ahead, has its claims
which must not be ignored, and its standards which must not be
too much above present conditions. Man must "fit to the finite
his infinity" (`Sordello'). Life may be over-spiritual
as well as over-worldly. "Let us cry, `All good things are ours,
nor soul helps flesh more, now, than flesh helps soul!'" *
The figure the poet employs in `The Ring and the Book'
to illustrate the art process, may be as aptly applied to life itself --
the greatest of all arts. The life-artist must know how to secure
the proper degree of malleability in this mixture of flesh and soul.
He must mingle gold with gold's alloy, and duly tempering both effect
a manageable mass. There may be too little of alloy in earth-life
as well as too much -- too little to work the gold and fashion it,
not into a ring, but ring-ward. "On the earth the broken arcs;
in the heaven a perfect round" (`Abt Vogler'). "Oh, if we draw
a circle premature, heedless of far gain, greedy for quick returns
of profit, sure, bad is our bargain" (`A Grammarian's Funeral').

* `Rabbi Ben Ezra'.

`An Epistle containing the Strange Medical Experiences of Karshish,
the Arab Physician', is one of Browning's most remarkable
psychological studies. It may be said to polarize the idea,
so often presented in his poetry, that doubt is a condition
of the vitality of faith. In this poem, the poet has treated
a supposed case of a spiritual knowledge "increased beyond
the fleshly faculty -- heaven opened to a soul while yet on earth,
earth forced on a soul's use while seeing heaven", a spiritual state,
less desirable and far less favorable to the true fulfilment
of the purposes of earth-life, than that expressed
in the following lines from `Easter Day': --

"A world of spirit as of sense
Was plain to him, yet not TOO plain,
Which he could traverse, not remain
A GUEST IN: -- else were permanent
Heaven on earth, which its gleams were meant
To sting with hunger for full light", etc.

The Epistle is a subtle representation of a soul conceived with
absolute spiritual standards, while obliged to live in a world
where all standards are relative and determined by the circumstances
and limitations of its situation.

The spiritual life has been too distinctly revealed for
fulfilling aright the purposes of earth-life, purposes which the soul,
while in the flesh, must not ignore, since, in the words of
Rabbi Ben Ezra, "all good things are ours, nor soul helps flesh more,
now, than flesh helps soul." The poem may also be said
to represent what is, or should be, the true spirit
of the man of science. In spite of what Karshish writes,
apologetically, he betrays his real attitude throughout,
towards the wonderful spiritual problem involved.

It is, as many of Browning's Monologues are, a double picture --
one direct, the other reflected, and the reflected one is as distinct
as the direct. The composition also bears testimony to Browning's
own soul-healthfulness. Though the spiritual bearing of things
is the all-in-all, in his poetry, the robustness of his nature,
the fulness and splendid equilibrium of his life, protect him against
an inarticulate mysticism. Browning is, in the widest and deepest


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