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Mr. Browning has written a poem of three hundred and twenty pages in the same unintelligible style; it is composed in heroic couplets, and is altogether a perfect marvel. We have before incidentally alluded to this as almost persuading Mr. Douglas Jerrold of his own idiocy, from his inability to comprehend two consecutive lines. An English writer endeavored to account for this terrible phenomenon by giving it as his opinion, that when the whole poem was set up, some unlucky or malignant printer's devil or compositor disturbed the type, taking care to leave the final words unaltered. This is, so far as I can imagine, the only rational way for accounting for the poem; if, however, it should not be so, certainly the work is intended for a seventh sense, not yet vouchsafed to us. With regard to what appears to be most obscure in these “Lyrics,” we should never lose sight of the fact that they are dramatic, for Mr. Browning's mind is so essentially “abstractedly dramatic,” that this quality pervades every thing he writes. When you have studied the matter as though it were a puzzle, a problem, or a hieroglyphic, then many beauties appear in bold relief; but, as we said before, a writer should not give his readers that trouble, but take it off their hands himself, and render it clear to all. We might just as well write in stenography or Greek, and insist upon all learning either the system or the language. Mr. Jerrold once observed that Browning did worse than even that, viz. “wrote Greek in short-hand.” The originality of Browning appears often a distortion rather than a novelty; a contradiction to the course of nature, a growing of the roots in the air! and not in the earth; an originality is nature in a new and legitimate form, and not a lusus *aturae. We doubt if any reader ever enjoyed thoroughly the fine poem entitled “France,” till the whole had been explained to him. The argument is this: An orphan girl is brought up by an uncle whose two daughters are envious of their cousin's beauty and accomplishments; their jealousy reaches such a pitch that it prompts them to urge the betrothed knight of one of them to accuse the beautiful orphan of unchastity. They select the morning of the day when the object of their hatred is to be crowned Queen of the May. It must be borne in mind that the fair victim is relating to a female friend of hers this dreadful passage in her youthful days. We may as well put our readers in possession of all the story at once. The knight accuses her, as prompted by the cousins; another knight, who secretly loved the beautiful orphan, gives him the lie; they fight; the traducer is killed—confessing, ere he dies, the plot, and the rescued beauty rewards the noble champion with her hand. When she is relating this, she has been a happy wife and mother for some years. The scene is laid in France. The poem commences in the following startling manner:
“Christ God, who savest man, save most
The fair orphan believes all love her; especially her two cousins:
“They too so beauteous, each a queen,
The following stanza is a curious instance of Mr. Browning's wilfulness on the score of versification.
“But no; they let me laugh and sing
And they could let me take my state
See Gismond's at the gate: in talk
Bring torches! wind the penance sheet
I? what I answered? As I live
Till out strode Gismond' then I knew
The next stanza is one of the finest in the whole range of poetical painting.
“He strode to Gauthier : in his throat
East, West, I looked, The lie was dead
This glads me most—that I enjoyed
Did I not watch him, while he let
Mark, how graphically the whole scene is brought before the reader. The two last lines sound just like the gauntlets themselves. No puling fine words; bold, nervous Saxon —every word a piece of the picture.
“And e'en before the trumpet’s sound
Which done he dragged him to my feet
Then Gismond, kneeling to me asked
Over my head his arm he flung
His sword, that dripped by me and swung,
For he began to say the while
So 'mid the shouting multitude
As a proof that Mr. Browning is deficient in that necessary constructive faculty which enables a dramatist to preserve the identity of his character, we may adduce as an instance the following part of Pippa's soliloquy. Pippa is a poor factory girl.
Certainly Pippa is no other than Robert Browning in petticoats. Her morning and evening hymn is also a singular piece of devotional metaphysics:
“All service ranks the same with God,
Say not a small event —why small ?