Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

went to the tomb of the Capulets for want of a physical Romeo. We fear it will be found to be the verdict of the public, that the author of Sordello is a noble abstraction; a great spirit, but he lacks the flesh and blood of Shakspere, and the milk of human kindness. , Four years afterwards Sordello astonished his friends, and amazed the world—of this work we shall speak more anon, contenting ourselves here with the relation of an anecdote we heard of Douglas Jerrold, when the work first appeared. This distinguished contributor to Punch was recruiting himself at Brighton after a long illness. In the progress of his convalescence a parcel arrived from London, which contained, among other things, this new volume of Sordello; the medical attendant had forbidden Mr. Jerrold the luxury of reading, but, owing to the absence of his conjugal “life guards” he indulged in the illicit enjoyment. A few lines put Jerrold in a state of alarm. Sentence after sentence brought no consecutive thought to his brain. At last the idea crossed his mind that in his illness his mental faculties had been wrecked. The perspiration rolled from his forehead, and smiting his head, he sat down in his sofa, crying, “O, God, I am an idiot!” When his wife and her sister came, they were amused by his pushing the volume into their hands, and demanding what they thought of it. He watched them intently while they read—at last his wife said: I don't understand what the man means; it is gibberish. The delighted humorist sank in his seat again: “thank God I am not an idiot.” Mr. Browning, to whom we told this, has often laughed over it, and then endeavored to show that Sordello was the clearest and most simple poem in the English language. We know only one person who pretends to understand Sordello, and this is Mrs. Marston, the poet's wife. Mr. Browning's next work was Pippa Passes, the first of a series which he has called “Bells and Pomegranates.” Here begins the real poetic life of Browning, so far as the public know him, and out

of these singular productions we hope to justify our faith to the world. The idea of Pippa, a poor factory girl, purifying human nature as she passes about on her vocation, is a fine conception, and it is to be lamented that it is not made so intelligible to the common mind as to be capable of a wider appreciation. To the poet, however, it remains what Keats said of Beauty, “a joy for ever.” After a time Mr. Macready produced another play, and the reception which the Blot in the 'Scutcheon had at Drury Lane in 1843, and at Sadler's Wells in 1848, seems to justify the current opinion that the author is only a dramatist for the poet and the critic. He cannot touch the hearts of the million. That he abounds in the esthetic, may be presumed, but the world at large care little for the subtler and more minute workings of the human heart. They demand a broader, wider range, a rougher “guess” at their nature; when it is borne in mind how many words are not heard in a large theatre; how few of the actors know how to deliver a speech intelligibly; it is evident that a tortuous, obscure and condensed style must be so much Greek to a mixed audience who hear a drama for the first time; when, however, you add to these disadvantages, a plot not springing from the every day impulses of the heart, but evolved from some peculiar idiosyncracy of the mind, it is evident you make a very fatiguing and ingenious puzzle, and not a drama to move our tears or smiles. A rapid comparison between three acted dramatists may help the reader to a somewhat better idea of Mr. Browning's “fallings short” in this particular.

While Mr. Browning's plays are chiefly metaphysical or psychological dialogues continued until one of the speakers falls a victim to some special peculiarity, which concludes the affair:-while Mr. Marston takes some common-place wrong, or makes the hero, who is going to redress the evil, some minor poet, who invariably manages to break his own heart and the reader's patience; Mr. Sheridan Knowles goes altogether to the other side of the question. Our readers may think it is inconsistent to blame both extremes— but we do not ask for a profile view—we want the full countenance; this we get in Shakspere. The modern playwrights give us but one side of the face; we see it is onesided, we ask for a fuller, bolder, broader view; they then present the other profile; they seem afraid to look human nature full in the face: or do they think truth is a Medusa, and that we shall be turned into stone by its Gorgon look? Mr. Browning's plots are singularly deficient also in human interest; with the exception of “Strafford” and the “Blot in the 'Scutcheon,” they are all founded on subjects which make no appeal to the masses; he is truly caviare to the million. He is the poet of the exception, not the rule! He will be highly prized by the one, but totally neglected by the many. His poetry is a curiosity, and a rarity for the virtuoso, and not a thing of interest for the crowd. Mr. Browning can, however, select a simple touching subject, and treat it intelligibly. Witness the little incident at Ratisbon:—

“You know we French stormed Ratisbon,

A mile or so away,

On a little mound Napoleon
Stood, on our storming day;

With neck out thrust; you fancy how,
Legs wide, arms locked behind,

As if to balance the prone brow,
Oppressive with its mind.

Just as, perhaps, he mused—“my plans
That soar to earth may fall,

Let once my army leader Lannes
Waver at yonder wall!”

Out 'twixt the battery smokes there flew
A rider, bound on bound,

Full galloping; nor bridle drew

Until he reached the mound.

With a few cramped abbreviations this is plain enough, and the action is presented graphically to the reader's imagination; as a contrast, let him turn to a poem entitled “Christina.” We will help the otherwise bewildered student a little, by informing him that the poem is supposed to be the meditation of a youth who has gone mad for love of Queen Victoria. He commences by reproaching the royal object of his passion, that she encouraged his attachment by looking at him accidentally when her carriage passed him:

Then off there flung in smiling joy,
And held himself erect
By just his horse's mane, a boy—
You hardly could suspect,
(So tight he kept his lips compress'd
Scarce any blood came through,)
You looked twice ere you saw his breast
Was all but shot in two.

• Well, cried he, “Emperor, by God's grace
We've got you Ratisbon
The marshal's in the market-place,
And you'll be there anon,
To see your flag-bird flap his vans
Where I, to heart's desire
Perched him ' The chief's eye flashed, his plans
Soared up again like fire.

The chief's eye flashed, but presently
Softened itself, as sheathes

A film, the mother eagle's eye
When her bruised eaglet breathes.

‘You’re wounded !’ ‘Nay’—his soldier's pride
Touched to the quick, he said,

* I'm killed, sire,’ and his chief beside

Smiling, the boy fell dead.”

“She should not have looked at me,
If she meant I should not love her;
There's plenty—men you call such,
I suppose—she may discover

All her soul to, if she pleases,
And yet leave much as she found them ;

But I’m not so, and she knew it,
When she fixed me, glancing round them.

What, to fix me thus meant nothing?
But I can't tell—there's my weakness—

What her soul said—no isle can’t soar
About—heed to strew the bleakness

Of some lone shore, with its pearl seed,
That the sea feels—no strange yearning

That such souls have—most to lavish
Where there's chance of least returning.

* # # * #

Oh! observe of course next moment
The world's honors in derision,
Trampled out the light for ever;
Never fear but there's provision
Of the devil's to quench knowledge,
Lest we walk the earth in rapture :
Making those who catch the secret
Just so much more prize their capture *

Very mad, indeed, as a poet says—

“Tilburina in white satin, and her attendant in white muslin,
I declare, upon my word, are not one half so puzzling!”

Mr. Browning seems to be fond of verses supposed to be written by madmen. Two other poems are of the same class, entitled “Mad House Cells.” Mr. Coleridge laid himself open to Lord Byron's sarcasm for writing verses on an ass, and drew from the splenetic poet

“How well the subject suits his noble mind,
A fellow feeling makes us wondrous kind s”

We are quite certain he would not have spared the author of these “mad poems.”

What, however, will our readers say when we assure them that o

« ElőzőTovább »