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At the close the keen old man draws a grimly humorous picture of the people who will come clamouring to him for a pardon for the Count, and of their various arguments. They bid him “pronounce,” for “ breath and patience fail.” The reply is prompt. Guido is ordered for execution on the morrow. [Read lines 2099 to end.]
There seems no good reason why Guido alone should be allowed to make a second speech; but that is what he has the poet's permission to do in Book XI. A fiendish outpouring it is of concentrated fury, blasphemy and horror. At early dawn two high ecclesiastics, an Abate and a Cardinal, had been sent to prepare him for the approaching end; and a very uncomfortable time they must have had of it, sitting in the cold cell, up to their knees in straw, listening to the ingenious yet half-mad ravings of the condemned wretch. He abuses the Pope, scoffs at religion, and rolls forth a flood of envenomed hate against his wife.
Again, how she is at me with those eyes !
Do what the angels might to make amends !
tration of its tragic power. The Count had fallen into a bragging mood. He was not afraid to die.
I shall not presently, when the knock comes,
Then comes the re-action of sudden, uncontrolable terror! The grim Brotherhood whose duty it was to escort the condemned to the place of execution, are at the door
Who are these you have let descend my stair ?
There is, I believe, no finer climax than that in the wide range of our English literature. It is one of those marvellous revelations of supreme genius, concentrated into a word or two, that snatches the very breath from one who, unwittingly and for the first time, comes upon it. It is nearly thirty years since I first read the words, and the impact then made, is upon my heart to-day. It is to the woman that he has outraged and murdered, and whom he professed to hate, that he turns in his last extremity; she is more real to him than God or the Virgin or the Crucified One; she will hear and pity, though the rest should turn away! “Pompilia, will YOU let them murder me?"
Here were the end, had anything an end.
Thus encouraged, we commence Book XII. It consists mainly of three letters, the MS. appendix of the poet's original "find.”
The first is written by a Venetian visitor at Rome (how much do we owe to those acute Venetian observers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries). He gives his correspondent a lively picture of the last days of the Carnival, including as the most exciting incident of the entire display, the execution of Count Guido and his mates. It was out of mere malice, no doubt, that the old Pope had ordered the execution to take place in the Piazza del Popolo instead of at the bridge-end, opposite the castle of St. Angelo; but the arrangement had turned out excellently, affording plenty of space, and the opportunity for a long procession. So Innocent XII is almost forgiven for the insult that he had offered to the aristocrats of the Pincian Hill-insult as flagrant as though some society man should be brought to expiate his crime at Hyde Park Corner, instead of being allowed to die within the precincts of the common gaol.
The next letter is from the redoubtable Gianinto, the counsel for the defence. It is addressed to a brother lawyer at Florence, one Cencini, by whom it was preserved and bound up into the precious volume of which we wot. The old man consoles himself for the loss of his case by describing the delight of his little boy, who had been allowed to go and see the execution.
To make matters complete, there is a letter from the counsel on the other side, the “ tall blue-eyed Fisc.” He is even less pleased with the result than his adversary. Hyacinth had made the best of a bad case, and, by his appeal, had kept Guido alive for a month ; but what credit was to be got out of a case that defended itself? Pompilia's dying words, trumpeted all over Rome by the bare-footed Augustinian monk who had confessed her, had taken the freshness from all the best points of his great argument. He is especially angry at the sermon preached by the monk from the text, “Let God be true, and every man a liar," which was selling like wildfire through the streets of Rome. The point of the sermon was to repudiate the comfortable idea that truth may always “look for vindication from the world.” Rather the preacher shows how nearly things had gone wrong in this case. The actual issue he attributes simply to “ the true instinct of an old good man, who happens to hate darkness and love light;" and this is for him the moral of the whole
That who trusts
Gets this sole fact—himself is proved a fool. But, “ Why then take the artistic way to prove so much?” the poet makes the objector ask. And to this he answers wisely
Because it is the glory of good Art,
Nor wrong the thought, missing the mediate word. I have left for the end the question that Browning answers in the opening lines—the question, namely, as to the meaning and significance of the title, The Ring and the Book. It seems that the Roman craftsmen have a method of rendering gold hard enough to endure the graving-tool by the admixture of a certain amount of alloy, which alloy is subsequently expelled by a chemical process, leaving an absolutely pure result.
Self-sufficient now the shape remains,
Prime nature with an added artistry. “ The Ring” that our poet has wrought is before us& perfect circlet, a dramatic whole, a well-balanced picture, a monumental temple, finished with infinite labour in each detail. But whence came the raw material that has been thus cunningly shaped ? The answer is, from “ the Book,” that was the gold mine, purchased for "eightpence English just,” whence the “crude facts” were drawn. And what was the alloy that, mingled with such facts, made them pliable and meet for artistic treatment? What but the genius of Robert Browning? the labour of four years, the love, the learning, the imagination, the patience to endure, as seeing that which is invisible!
Such labour had such issue, so I wrought
This arc by furtherance of such alloy. Now the artist would efface himɛelf, forget his labour, and have you think merely of the finished work
Justifiably golden, rounds my Ring.