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
Of men, Count Gismond, who saved me!
Count Gauthier, where he chose his post
Chose time, and place and company
To suit it; where he struck at length
My honor's face, ’twas with full strength.”

The fair orphan believes all love her; especially her two cousins:

“They too so beauteous, each a queen,
By virtue of her brow and breast.”

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
My birth-day song quite through; adjust
The last rose in my garland; fling
A last look in the mirror; trust
My arm to each, an arm of theirs,
And so descend the castle stairs.

And they could let me take my state
And foolish throne, amid applause
Of all come there to celebrate
My queen's day; oh! I think the cause
Of much was; they forgot no crowd
Makes up for parents in their shroud.

See Gismond's at the gate: in talk
With his two boys: I can proceed —
Well, at that moment, who should stalk
Forth calmly (to my face indeed)
But Gauthier, and he thundered “Stay,’
And all did stay “no crowns I say.”

Bring torches! wind the penance sheet
About her! Let her shun the chaste,
Or lay herself before their feet!
Shall she, whose body I embraced
A night long, queen it in the day !
For honor's sake, no crowns, I say.

I? what I answered? As I live
I never thought there was such thing
As answer possible to give,
What says the body when they spring
Some monstrous torture engine's whole
Strength on it? no more says the Soul!

Till out strode Gismond' then I knew
That I was saved' I never met
His face before, but at first view
I felt quite sure that God had set
Himself to Satan:-who could spend
A minute's mistrust on the end l’”

The next stanza is one of the finest in the whole range of poetical painting.

“He strode to Gauthier : in his throat
Gave him the lie, then struck his mouth
With one back-handed blow that wrote
In blood men's verdict there.—North, South,

East, West, I looked, The lie was dead
And damned—and truth stood up instead.

This glads me most—that I enjoyed
The heart of the joy; nor my content
In watching Gismond was alloyed
By any doubt of the event,
God took that on him—me he bid
Watch Gismond for my part. I did

Did I not watch him, while he let
His armorer just brace his greaves,
Rivet his hauberk, on the fret
The while, his feet, my memory leaves
No least stamp out, nor how anon
He pulled his ringing gauntlets on.”

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
Was finished; there lay prone the knight,
Prone as his lie upon the ground:
My knight flew at him used no sleight
Of the sword, but open breasted drove
Cleaving till out the truth he clove.

Which done he dragged him to my feet
And said “Here die, but end thy breath
In full confession, lest thou fleet
From my first to God's second death!
Say, hast thou lied?” and “I have lied
To God and her’—he said and died!

Then Gismond, kneeling to me asked
What safe my heart holds—though no word
Could I repeat now—tho' I tasked
My powers for ever—to a third
Dear even as you are: pass the rest,
Until I sunk upon his breast.

Over my head his arm he flung
Against the world; and scarce I felt

His sword, that dripped by me and swung,
A little shifted in its belt,

For he began to say the while
How South our home lay many a mile.

So 'mid the shouting multitude
We two walked forth, to never more

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.

“Day !
Faster and more fast
O'er night's brim day boils at last,
Boils pure gold o'er the cloud capp'd brim
Where spurting and supprest it lay—
For not a froth flake touched the rim
Of yonder gap in the solid gray,
Of eastern cloud an hour away,
But forth one wavelet then another curled,
Till the whole sunrise not to be supprest
Rose, reddened, and its seething breast
Flickered in bounds, grew gold, then overflowed the world.”

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,
If now as formerly he trod
Paradise, God's presence fills
Our earth, and each but as God wills
Can work—God's puppets best and worst,
Are we: there is no last nor first.

Say not a small event —why small ?
Costs it more pain this thing ye call

« ElőzőTovább »