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Browning's England - A Study in English Influences in Browning
by Helen Archibald Clarke
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Browning's England

A STUDY OF ENGLISH INFLUENCES IN BROWNING

BY HELEN ARCHIBALD CLARKE Author of "Browning's Italy"

NEW YORK THE BAKER & TAYLOR COMPANY

MCMVIII

Copyright, 1908, by The Baker & Taylor Company

Published, October, 1908

The Plimpton Press Norwood Mass. U.S.A.

To MY COLLEAGUE IN PLEASANT LITERARY PATHS AND MANY YEARS FRIEND CHARLOTTE PORTER



CONTENTS

CHAPTER I PAGE English Poets, Friends, and Enthusiasms 1

CHAPTER II

Shakespeare's Portrait 42

CHAPTER III

A Crucial Period in English History 79

CHAPTER IV

Social Aspects of English Life 211

CHAPTER V

Religious Thought in the Nineteenth Century 322

CHAPTER VI

Art Criticism Inspired by the English Musician, Avison 420



ILLUSTRATIONS

Browning at 23 Frontispiece

PAGE Percy Bysshe Shelley 4 John Keats 10 William Wordsworth 16 Rydal Mount, the Home of Wordsworth 22 An English Lane 33 First Folio Portrait of Shakespeare 60 Charles I in Scene of Impeachment 80 Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford 88 Charles I 114 Whitehall 120 Westminster Hall 157 The Tower, London 170 The Tower, Traitors' Gate 183 An English Manor House 222 An English Park 240 John Bunyan 274 An English Inn 288 Cardinal Wiseman 336 Sacred Heart 342 The Nativity 351 The Transfiguration 366 Handel 426 Avison's March 446



BROWNING'S ENGLAND



CHAPTER I

ENGLISH POETS, FRIENDS AND ENTHUSIASMS

To any one casually trying to recall what England has given Robert Browning by way of direct poetical inspiration, it is more than likely that the little poem about Shelley, "Memorabilia" would at once occur:

I

"Ah, did you once see Shelley plain, And did he stop and speak to you And did you speak to him again? How strange it seems and new!

II

"But you were living before that, And also you are living after; And the memory I started at— My starting moves your laughter!

III

"I crossed a moor, with a name of its own And a certain use in the world, no doubt, Yet a hand's-breadth of it shines alone 'Mid the blank miles round about:

IV

"For there I picked up on the heather And there I put inside my breast A moulted feather, an eagle-feather! Well, I forget the rest."

It puts into a mood and a symbol the almost worshipful admiration felt by Browning for the poet in his youth, which he had, many years before this little lyric was written, recorded in a finely appreciative passage in "Pauline."

"Sun-treader, life and light be thine forever! Thou are gone from us; years go by and spring Gladdens and the young earth is beautiful, Yet thy songs come not, other bards arise, But none like thee: they stand, thy majesties, Like mighty works which tell some spirit there Hath sat regardless of neglect and scorn, Till, its long task completed, it hath risen And left us, never to return, and all Rush in to peer and praise when all in vain. The air seems bright with thy past presence yet, But thou art still for me as thou hast been When I have stood with thee as on a throne With all thy dim creations gathered round Like mountains, and I felt of mould like them, And with them creatures of my own were mixed, Like things, half-lived, catching and giving life. But thou art still for me who have adored Tho' single, panting but to hear thy name Which I believed a spell to me alone, Scarce deeming thou wast as a star to men! As one should worship long a sacred spring Scarce worth a moth's flitting, which long grasses cross, And one small tree embowers droopingly— Joying to see some wandering insect won To live in its few rushes, or some locust To pasture on its boughs, or some wild bird Stoop for its freshness from the trackless air: And then should find it but the fountain-head, Long lost, of some great river washing towns And towers, and seeing old woods which will live But by its banks untrod of human foot, Which, when the great sun sinks, lie quivering In light as some thing lieth half of life Before God's foot, waiting a wondrous change; Then girt with rocks which seek to turn or stay Its course in vain, for it does ever spread Like a sea's arm as it goes rolling on, Being the pulse of some great country—so Wast thou to me, and art thou to the world! And I, perchance, half feel a strange regret That I am not what I have been to thee: Like a girl one has silently loved long In her first loneliness in some retreat, When, late emerged, all gaze and glow to view Her fresh eyes and soft hair and lips which bloom Like a mountain berry: doubtless it is sweet To see her thus adored, but there have been Moments when all the world was in our praise, Sweeter than any pride of after hours. Yet, sun-treader, all hail! From my heart's heart I bid thee hail! E'en in my wildest dreams, I proudly feel I would have thrown to dust The wreaths of fame which seemed o'erhanging me, To see thee for a moment as thou art."

Browning was only fourteen when Shelley first came into his literary life. The story has often been told of how the young Robert, passing a bookstall one day spied in a box of second-hand volumes, a shabby little edition of Shelley advertised "Mr. Shelley's Atheistical Poems: very scarce." It seems almost incredible to us now that the name was an absolutely new one to him, and that only by questioning the bookseller did he learn that Shelley had written a number of volumes of poetry and that he was now dead. This accident was sufficient to inspire the incipient poet's curiosity, and he never rested until he was the owner of Shelley's works. They were hard to get hold of in those early days but the persistent searching of his mother finally unearthed them at Olliers' in Vere Street, London. She brought him also three volumes of Keats, who became a treasure second only to Shelley.



The question of Shelley's influence on Browning's art has been one often discussed. There are many traces of Shelleyan music and idea in his early poems "Pauline," "Paracelsus," and "Sordello," but no marked nor lasting impression was made upon Browning's development as a poet by Shelley. Upon Browning's personal development Shelley exerted a short-lived though somewhat intense influence. We see the young enthusiast professing the atheism of his idol as the liberal views of Shelley were then interpreted, and even becoming a vegetarian. As time went on the discipleship vanished, and in its place came the recognition on Browning's part of a poetic spirit akin yet different from his own. The last trace of the disciple appears in "Sordello" when the poet addresses Shelley among the audience of dead great ones he has mustered to listen to the story of Sordello:

—"Stay—thou, spirit, come not near Now—not this time desert thy cloudy place To scare me, thus employed, with that pure face! I need not fear this audience, I make free With them, but then this is no place for thee! The thunder-phrase of the Athenian, grown Up out of memories of Marathon, Would echo like his own sword's grinding screech Braying a Persian shield,—the silver speech Of Sidney's self, the starry paladin, Turn intense as a trumpet sounding in The Knights to tilt,—wert thou to hear!"

Shelley appears in the work of Browning once more in the prose essay on Shelley which was written to a volume of spurious letters of that poet published in 1851. In this is summed up in a masterful paragraph reflecting Browning's unusual penetration into the secret paths of the poetic mind, the characteristics of a poet of Shelley's order. The paragraph is as follows:

"We turn with stronger needs to the genius of an opposite tendency—the subjective poet of modern classification. He, gifted like the objective poet, with the fuller perception of nature and man, is impelled to embody the thing he perceives, not so much with reference to the many below as to the One above him, the supreme Intelligence which apprehends all things in their absolute truth,—an ultimate view ever aspired to, if but partially attained, by the poet's own soul. Not what man sees, but what God sees,—the Ideas of Plato, seeds of creation lying burningly on the Divine Hand,—it is toward these that he struggles. Not with the combination of humanity in action, but with the primal elements of humanity, he has to do; and he digs where he stands,—preferring to seek them in his own soul as the nearest reflex of that absolute Mind, according to the intuitions of which he desires to perceive and speak. Such a poet does not deal habitually with the picturesque groupings and tempestuous tossings of the forest-trees, but with their roots and fibers naked to the chalk and stone. He does not paint pictures and hang them on the walls, but rather carries them on the retina of his own eyes: we must look deep into his human eyes, to see those pictures on them. He is rather a seer, accordingly, than a fashioner, and what he produces will be less a work than an effluence. That effluence cannot be easily considered in abstraction from his personality,—being indeed the very radiance and aroma of his personality, projected from it but not separated. Therefore, in our approach to the poetry, we necessarily approach the personality of the poet; in apprehending it, we apprehend him, and certainly we cannot love it without loving him. Both for love's and for understanding's sake we desire to know him, and, as readers of his poetry, must be readers of his biography too."

Finally, the little "Memorabilia" lyric gives a mood of cherished memory of the Sun-Treader, who beaconed him upon the heights in his youth, and has now become a molted eagle-feather held close to his heart.

Keats' lesser but assured place in the poet's affections comes out in the pugnacious lyric, "Popularity," one of the old-time bits of ammunition shot from the guns of those who found Browning "obscure." The poem is an "apology" for any unappreciated poet with the true stuff in him, but the allusion to Keats shows him to have been the fuse that fired this mild explosion against the dullards who pass by unknowing and uncaring of a genius, though he pluck with one hand thoughts from the stars, and with the other fight off want.

POPULARITY

I

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!

II

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?

III

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.

IV

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!"

V

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.

VI

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?

VII

And each bystander 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.

VIII

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 Thro' foam the rock-weeds thresh.

IX

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

X

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.

XI

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

XII

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.

XIII

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



Wordsworth, it appears, was, so to speak, the inverse inspiration of the stirring lines "The Lost Leader." Browning's strong sympathies with the Liberal cause are here portrayed with an ardor which is fairly intoxicating poetically, but one feels it is scarcely just to the mild-eyed, exemplary Wordsworth, and perhaps exaggeratedly sure of Shakespeare's attitude on this point. It is only fair to Browning, to point out how he himself felt later that his artistic mood had here run away with him, whereupon he made amends honorable in a letter in reply to the question whether he had Wordsworth in mind: "I can only answer, with something of shame and contrition, that I undoubtedly had Wordsworth in my mind—but simply as a model; you know an artist takes one or two striking traits in the features of his 'model,' and uses them to start his fancy on a flight which may end far enough from the good man or woman who happens to be sitting for nose and eye. I thought of the great Poet's abandonment of liberalism at an unlucky juncture, and no repaying consequence that I could ever see. But, once call my fancy-portrait Wordsworth—and how much more ought one to say!"

The defection of Wordsworth from liberal sympathies is one of the commonplaces of literary history. There was a time when he figured in his poetry as a patriotic leader of the people, when in clarion tones he exhorted his countrymen to "arm and combine in defense of their common birthright." But this was in the enthusiasm of his youth when he and Southey and Coleridge were metaphorically waving their red caps for the principles of the French Revolution. The unbridled actions of the French Revolutionists, quickly cooled off their ardor, and as Taine cleverly puts it, "at the end of a few years, the three, brought back into the pale of State and Church, were, Coleridge, a Pittite journalist, Wordsworth, a distributor of stamps, and Southey, poet-laureate; all converted zealots, decided Anglicans, and intolerant conservatives." The "handful of silver" for which the patriot in the poem is supposed to have left the cause included besides the post of "distributor of stamps," given to him by Lord Lonsdale in 1813, a pension of three hundred pounds a year in 1842, and the poet-laureateship in 1843.

The first of these offices was received so long after the cooling of Wordsworth's "Revolution" ardors which the events of 1793 had brought about that it can scarcely be said to have influenced his change of mind.

It was during Wordsworth's residence in France, from November 1791 to December 1792, that his enthusiasm for the French Revolution reached white heat. How the change was wrought in his feelings is shown with much penetration and sympathy by Edward Dowden in his "French Revolution and English Literature." "When war between France and England was declared Wordsworth's nature underwent the most violent strain it had ever experienced. He loved his native land yet he could wish for nothing but disaster to her arms. As the days passed he found it more and more difficult to sustain his faith in the Revolution. First, he abandoned belief in the leaders but he still trusted to the people, then the people seemed to have grown insane with the intoxication of blood. He was driven back from his defense of the Revolution, in its historical development, to a bare faith in the abstract idea. He clung to theories, the free and joyous movement of his sympathies ceased; opinions stifled the spontaneous life of the spirit, these opinions were tested and retested by the intellect, till, in the end, exhausted by inward debate, he yielded up moral questions in despair ... by process of the understanding alone Wordsworth could attain no vital body of truth. Rather he felt that things of far more worth than political opinions—natural instincts, sympathies, passions, intuitions—were being disintegrated or denaturalized. Wordsworth began to suspect the analytic intellect as a source of moral wisdom. In place of humanitarian dreams came a deep interest in the joys and sorrows of individual men and women; through his interest in this he was led back to a study of the mind of man and those laws which connect the work of the creative imagination with the play of the passions. He had begun again to think nobly of the world and human life." He was, in fact, a more thorough Democrat socially than any but Burns of the band of poets mentioned in Browning's gallant company, not even excepting Browning himself.

THE LOST LEADER

I

Just for a handful of silver he left us, Just for a riband to stick in his coat— Found the one gift of which fortune bereft us, Lost all the others, she lets us devote; They, with the gold to give, doled him out silver, So much was theirs who so little allowed: How all our copper had gone for his service! Rags—were they purple, his heart had been proud! We that had loved him so, followed him, honored him, Lived in his mild and magnificent eye, Learned his great language, caught his clear accents, Made him our pattern to live and to die! Shakespeare was of us, Milton was for us, Burns, Shelley, were with us,—they watch from their graves! He alone breaks from the van and the freeman, —He alone sinks to the rear and the slaves!

II

We shall march prospering,—not thro' his presence Songs may inspirit us,—not from his lyre; Deeds will be done,—while he boasts his quiescence, Still bidding crouch whom the rest bade aspire: Blot out his name, then, record one lost soul more, One task more declined, one more footpath untrod, One more devil's-triumph and sorrow for angels, One wrong more to man, one more insult to God! Life's night begins: let him never come back to us! There would be doubt, hesitation and pain, Forced praise on our part—the glimmer of twilight, Never glad confident morning again! Best fight on well, for we taught him—strike gallantly, Menace our hearts ere we master his own; Then let him receive the new knowledge and wait us, Pardoned in heaven, the first by the throne!

Whether an artist is justified in taking the most doubtful feature of his model's physiognomy and building up from it a repellent portrait is question for debate, especially when he admits its incompleteness. But we may balance against this incompleteness, the fine fire of enthusiasm for the "cause" in the poem, and the fact that Wordsworth has not been at all harmed by it. The worst that has happened is the raising in our minds of a question touching Browning's good taste.

Just here it will be interesting to speak of a bit of purely personal expression on the subject of Browning's known liberal standpoint, written by him in answer to the question propounded to a number of English men of letters and printed together with other replies in a volume edited by Andrew Reid in 1885.

"Why I am a Liberal."

"'Why?' Because all I haply can and do, All that I am now, all I hope to be,— Whence comes it save from fortune setting free Body and soul the purpose to pursue, God traced for both? If fetters, not a few, Of prejudice, convention, fall from me, These shall I bid men—each in his degree Also God-guided—bear, and gayly too?

"But little do or can the best of us: That little is achieved thro' Liberty. Who then dares hold, emancipated thus, His fellow shall continue bound? Not I, Who live, love, labor freely, nor discuss A brother's right to freedom. That is 'Why.'"



Enthusiasm for liberal views comes out again and again in the poetry of Browning.

His fullest treatment of the cause of political liberty is in "Strafford," to be considered in the third chapter, but many are the hints strewn about his verse that bring home with no uncertain touch the fact that Browning lived man's "lover" and never man's "hater." Take as an example "The Englishman in Italy," where the sarcastic turn he gives to the last stanza shows clearly where his sympathies lie:

—"Such trifles!" you say? Fortu, in my England at home, Men meet gravely to-day And debate, if abolishing Corn-laws Be righteous and wise! —If 't were proper, Scirocco should vanish In black from the skies!

More the ordinary note of patriotism is struck in "Home-thoughts, from the Sea," wherein the scenes of England's victories as they come before the poet arouse pride in her military achievements.

HOME-THOUGHTS, FROM THE SEA

Nobly, nobly Cape Saint Vincent to the North-west died away; Sunset ran, one glorious blood-red, reeking into Cadiz Bay; Bluish 'mid the burning water, full in face Trafalgar lay; In the dimmest North-east distance dawned Gibraltar grand and gray; "Here and here did England help me: how can I help England?"—say, Whoso turns as I, this evening, turn to God to praise and pray, While Jove's planet rises yonder, silent over Africa.

In two instances Browning celebrates English friends in his poetry. The poems are "Waring" and "May and Death."

Waring, who stands for Alfred Domett, is an interesting figure in Colonial history as well as a minor light among poets. But it is highly probable that he would not have been put into verse by Browning any more than many other of the poet's warm friends if it had not been for the incident described in the poem which actually took place, and made a strong enough impression to inspire a creative if not exactly an exalted mood on Browning's part. The incident is recorded in Thomas Powell's "Living Authors of England," who writes of Domett, "We have a vivid recollection of the last time we saw him. It was at an evening party a few days before he sailed from England; his intimate friend, Mr. Browning, was also present. It happened that the latter was introduced that evening for the first time to a young author who had just then appeared in the literary world [Powell, himself]. This, consequently, prevented the two friends from conversation, and they parted from each other without the slightest idea on Mr. Browning's part that he was seeing his old friend Domett for the last time. Some days after when he found that Domett had sailed, he expressed in strong terms to the writer of this sketch the self-reproach he felt at having preferred the conversation of a stranger to that of his old associate."

This happened in 1842, when with no good-bys, Domett sailed for New Zealand where he lived for thirty years, and held during that time many important official posts. Upon his return to England, Browning and he met again, and in his poem "Ranolf and Amohia," published the year after, he wrote the often quoted line so aptly appreciative of Browning's genius,—"Subtlest assertor of the soul in song."

The poem belongs to the vers de societe order, albeit the lightness is of a somewhat ponderous variety. It, however, has much interest as a character sketch from the life, and is said by those who had the opportunity of knowing to be a capital portrait.

WARING

I

I

What's become of Waring Since he gave us all the slip, Chose land-travel or seafaring, Boots and chest or staff and scrip, Rather than pace up and down Any longer London town?

II

Who'd have guessed it from his lip Or his brow's accustomed bearing, On the night he thus took ship Or started landward?—little caring For us, it seems, who supped together (Friends of his too, I remember) And walked home thro' the merry weather, The snowiest in all December. I left his arm that night myself For what's-his-name's, the new prose-poet Who wrote the book there, on the shelf— How, forsooth, was I to know it If Waring meant to glide away Like a ghost at break of day? Never looked he half so gay!

III

He was prouder than the devil: How he must have cursed our revel! Ay and many other meetings, Indoor visits, outdoor greetings, As up and down he paced this London, With no work done, but great works undone, Where scarce twenty knew his name. Why not, then, have earlier spoken, Written, bustled? Who's to blame If your silence kept unbroken? "True, but there were sundry jottings, Stray-leaves, fragments, blurs and blottings, Certain first steps were achieved Already which"—(is that your meaning?) "Had well borne out whoe'er believed In more to come!" But who goes gleaning Hedgeside chance-glades, while full-sheaved Stand cornfields by him? Pride, o'erweening Pride alone, puts forth such claims O'er the day's distinguished names.

IV

Meantime, how much I loved him, I find out now I've lost him. I who cared not if I moved him, Who could so carelessly accost him, Henceforth never shall get free Of his ghostly company, His eyes that just a little wink As deep I go into the merit Of this and that distinguished spirit— His cheeks' raised color, soon to sink, As long I dwell on some stupendous And tremendous (Heaven defend us!) Monstr'-inform'-ingens-horrend-ous Demoniaco-seraphic Penman's latest piece of graphic. Nay, my very wrist grows warm With his dragging weight of arm. E'en so, swimmingly appears, Through one's after-supper musings, Some lost lady of old years With her beauteous vain endeavor And goodness unrepaid as ever; The face, accustomed to refusings, We, puppies that we were.... Oh never Surely, nice of conscience, scrupled Being aught like false, forsooth, to? Telling aught but honest truth to? What a sin, had we centupled Its possessor's grace and sweetness! No! she heard in its completeness Truth, for truth's a weighty matter, And truth, at issue, we can't flatter! Well, 'tis done with; she's exempt From damning us thro' such a sally; And so she glides, as down a valley, Taking up with her contempt, Past our reach; and in, the flowers Shut her unregarded hours.



V

Oh, could I have him back once more, This Waring, but one half-day more! Back, with the quiet face of yore, So hungry for acknowledgment Like mine! I'd fool him to his bent. Feed, should not he, to heart's content? I'd say, "to only have conceived, Planned your great works, apart from progress, Surpasses little works achieved!" I'd lie so, I should be believed. I'd make such havoc of the claims Of the day's distinguished names To feast him with, as feasts an ogress Her feverish sharp-toothed gold-crowned child! Or as one feasts a creature rarely Captured here, unreconciled To capture; and completely gives Its pettish humors license, barely Requiring that it lives.

VI

Ichabod, Ichabod, The glory is departed! Travels Waring East away? Who, of knowledge, by hearsay, Reports a man upstarted Somewhere as a god, Hordes grown European-hearted, Millions of the wild made tame On a sudden at his fame? In Vishnu-land what Avatar? Or who in Moscow, toward the Czar, With the demurest of footfalls Over the Kremlin's pavement bright With serpentine and syenite, Steps, with five other Generals That simultaneously take snuff, For each to have pretext enough And kerchiefwise unfold his sash Which, softness' self, is yet the stuff To hold fast where a steel chain snaps, And leave the grand white neck no gash? Waring in Moscow, to those rough Cold northern natures born perhaps, Like the lambwhite maiden dear From the circle of mute kings Unable to repress the tear, Each as his sceptre down he flings, To Dian's fane at Taurica, Where now a captive priestess, she alway Mingles her tender grave Hellenic speech With theirs, tuned to the hailstone-beaten beach As pours some pigeon, from the myrrhy lands Rapt by the whirlblast to fierce Scythian strands Where breed the swallows, her melodious cry Amid their barbarous twitter! In Russia? Never! Spain were fitter! Ay, most likely 'tis in Spain That we and Waring meet again Now, while he turns down that cool narrow lane Into the blackness, out of grave Madrid All fire and shine, abrupt as when there's slid Its stiff gold blazing pall From some black coffin-lid. Or, best of all, I love to think The leaving us was just a feint; Back here to London did he slink, And now works on without a wink Of sleep, and we are on the brink Of something great in fresco-paint: Some garret's ceiling, walls and floor, Up and down and o'er and o'er He splashes, as none splashed before Since great Caldara Polidore. Or Music means this land of ours Some favor yet, to pity won By Purcell from his Rosy Bowers,— "Give me my so-long promised son, Let Waring end what I begun!" Then down he creeps and out he steals Only when the night conceals His face; in Kent 'tis cherry-time, Or hops are picking: or at prime Of March he wanders as, too happy, Years ago when he was young, Some mild eve when woods grew sappy And the early moths had sprung To life from many a trembling sheath Woven the warm boughs beneath; While small birds said to themselves What should soon be actual song, And young gnats, by tens and twelves, Made as if they were the throng That crowd around and carry aloft The sound they have nursed, so sweet and pure, Out of a myriad noises soft, Into a tone that can endure Amid the noise of a July noon When all God's creatures crave their boon, All at once and all in tune, And get it, happy as Waring then, Having first within his ken What a man might do with men: And far too glad, in the even-glow, To mix with the world he meant to take Into his hand, he told you, so— And out of it his world to make, To contract and to expand As he shut or oped his hand. Oh Waring, what's to really be? A clear stage and a crowd to see! Some Garrick, say, out shall not he The heart of Hamlet's mystery pluck? Or, where most unclean beasts are rife, Some Junius—am I right?—shall tuck His sleeve, and forth with flaying-knife! Some Chatterton shall have the luck Of calling Rowley into life! Some one shall somehow run a muck With this old world for want of strife Sound asleep. Contrive, contrive To rouse us, Waring! Who's alive? Our men scarce seem in earnest now. Distinguished names!—but 'tis, somehow, As if they played at being names Still more distinguished, like the games Of children. Turn our sport to earnest With a visage of the sternest! Bring the real times back, confessed Still better than our very best!

II

I

"When I last saw Waring...." (How all turned to him who spoke! You saw Waring? Truth or joke? In land-travel or sea-faring?)

II

"We were sailing by Triest Where a day or two we harbored: A sunset was in the West, When, looking over the vessel's side, One of our company espied A sudden speck to larboard. And as a sea-duck flies and swims At once, so came the light craft up, With its sole lateen sail that trims And turns (the water round its rims Dancing, as round a sinking cup) And by us like a fish it curled, And drew itself up close beside, Its great sail on the instant furled, And o'er its thwarts a shrill voice cried, (A neck as bronzed as a Lascar's) 'Buy wine of us, you English Brig? Or fruit, tobacco and cigars? A pilot for you to Triest? Without one, look you ne'er so big, They'll never let you up the bay! We natives should know best.' I turned, and 'just those fellows' way,' Our captain said, 'The 'long-shore thieves Are laughing at us in their sleeves.'

III

"In truth, the boy leaned laughing back; And one, half-hidden by his side Under the furled sail, soon I spied, With great grass hat and kerchief black, Who looked up with his kingly throat, Said somewhat, while the other shook His hair back from his eyes to look Their longest at us; then the boat, I know not how, turned sharply round, Laying her whole side on the sea As a leaping fish does; from the lee Into the weather, cut somehow Her sparkling path beneath our bow, And so went off, as with a bound, Into the rosy and golden half O' the sky, to overtake the sun And reach the shore, like the sea-calf Its singing cave; yet I caught one Glance ere away the boat quite passed, And neither time nor toil could mar Those features: so I saw the last Of Waring!"—You? Oh, never star Was lost here but it rose afar! Look East, where whole new thousands are! In Vishnu-land what Avatar?

"May and Death" is perhaps more interesting for the glimpse it gives of Browning's appreciation of English Nature than for its expression of grief for the death of a friend.

MAY AND DEATH

I

I wish that when you died last May, Charles, there had died along with you Three parts of spring's delightful things; Ay, and, for me, the fourth part too.

II

A foolish thought, and worse, perhaps! There must be many a pair of friends Who, arm in arm, deserve the warm Moon-births and the long evening-ends.

III

So, for their sake, be May still May! Let their new time, as mine of old, Do all it did for me: I bid Sweet sights and sounds throng manifold.

IV

Only, one little sight, one plant, Woods have in May, that starts up green Save a sole streak which, so to speak, Is spring's blood, spilt its leaves between,—

V

That, they might spare; a certain wood Might miss the plant; their loss were small: But I,—whene'er the leaf grows there, Its drop comes from my heart, that's all.

The poet's one truly enthusiastic outburst in connection with English Nature he sings out in his longing for an English spring in the incomparable little lyric "Home-thoughts, from Abroad."

HOME-THOUGHTS, FROM ABROAD

I

Oh, to be in England Now that April's there, And whoever wakes in England Sees, some morning, unaware, That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf, While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough In England—now!

II

And after April, when May follows, And the whitethroat builds, and all the swallows! Hark, where my blossomed pear-tree in the hedge Leans to the field and scatters on the clover Blossoms and dewdrops—at the bent spray's edge— That's the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over Lest you should think he never could recapture The first fine careless rapture! And, though the fields look rough with hoary dew, All will be gay when noontide wakes anew The buttercups, the little children's dower —Far brighter than this gaudy melon-flower!

After this it seems hardly possible that Browning, himself speaks in "De Gustibus," yet long and happy living away from England doubtless dimmed his sense of the beauty of English landscape. "De Gustibus" was published ten years later than "Home-Thoughts from Abroad," when Italy and he had indeed become "lovers old." A deeper reason than mere delight in its scenery is also reflected in the poem; the sympathy shared with Mrs. Browning, for the cause of Italian independence.

"DE GUSTIBUS——"

I

Your ghost will walk, you lover of trees, (If our loves remain) In an English lane, By a cornfield-side a-flutter with poppies. Hark, those two in the hazel coppice— A boy and a girl, if the good fates please, Making love, say,— The happier they! Draw yourself up from the light of the moon, And let them pass, as they will too soon, With the bean-flower's boon, And the blackbird's tune, And May, and June!

II

What I love best in all the world Is a castle, precipice-encurled, In a gash of the wind-grieved Apennine. Or look for me, old fellow of mine, (If I get my head from out the mouth O' the grave, and loose my spirit's bands, And come again to the land of lands)— In a sea-side house to the farther South, Where the baked cicala dies of drouth, And one sharp tree—'tis a cypress—stands, By the many hundred years red-rusted, Rough iron-spiked, ripe fruit-o'ercrusted, My sentinel to guard the sands To the water's edge. For, what expands Before the house, but the great opaque Blue breadth of sea without a break? While, in the house, for ever crumbles Some fragment of the frescoed walls, From blisters where a scorpion sprawls. A girl bare-footed brings, and tumbles Down on the pavement, green-flesh melons, And says there's news to-day—the king Was shot at, touched in the liver-wing, Goes with his Bourbon arm in a sling: —She hopes they have not caught the felons. Italy, my Italy! Queen Mary's saying serves for me— (When fortune's malice Lost her—Calais)— Open my heart and you will see Graved inside of it, "Italy." Such lovers old are I and she: So it always was, so shall ever be!

Two or three English artists called forth appreciation in verse from Browning. There is the exquisite bit called "Deaf and Dumb," after a group of statuary by Woolner, of Constance and Arthur—the deaf and dumb children of Sir Thomas Fairbairn.

DEAF AND DUMB

A GROUP BY WOOLNER.

Only the prism's obstruction shows aright The secret of a sunbeam, breaks its light Into the jewelled bow from blankest white; So may a glory from defect arise: Only by Deafness may the vexed Love wreak Its insuppressive sense on brow and cheek, Only by Dumbness adequately speak As favored mouth could never, through the eyes.



There is also the beautiful description in "Balaustion's Adventure" of the Alkestis by Sir Frederick Leighton.

The flagrant anachronism of making a Greek girl at the time of the Fall of Athens describe an English picture cannot but be forgiven, since the artistic effect gained is so fine. The poet quite convinces the reader that Sir Frederick Leighton ought to have been a Kaunian painter, if he was not, and that Balaustion or no one was qualified to appreciate his picture at its full worth.

"I know, too, a great Kaunian painter, strong As Herakles, though rosy with a robe Of grace that softens down the sinewy strength: And he has made a picture of it all. There lies Alkestis dead, beneath the sun, She longed to look her last upon, beside The sea, which somehow tempts the life in us To come trip over its white waste of waves, And try escape from earth, and fleet as free. Behind the body, I suppose there bends Old Pheres in his hoary impotence; And women-wailers, in a corner crouch —Four, beautiful as you four—yes, indeed!— Close, each to other, agonizing all, As fastened, in fear's rhythmic sympathy, To two contending opposite. There strains The might o' the hero 'gainst his more than match, —Death, dreadful not in thew and bone, but like The envenomed substance that exudes some dew Whereby the merely honest flesh and blood Will fester up and run to ruin straight, Ere they can close with, clasp and overcome The poisonous impalpability That simulates a form beneath the flow Of those grey garments; I pronounce that piece Worthy to set up in our Poikile!

"And all came,—glory of the golden verse, And passion of the picture, and that fine Frank outgush of the human gratitude Which saved our ship and me, in Syracuse,— Ay, and the tear or two which slipt perhaps Away from you, friends, while I told my tale, —It all came of this play that gained no prize! Why crown whom Zeus has crowned in soul before?"

Once before had Sir Frederick Leighton inspired the poet in the exquisite lines on Eurydice.

EURYDICE TO ORPHEUS

A PICTURE BY LEIGHTON

But give them me, the mouth, the eyes, the brow! Let them once more absorb me! One look now Will lap me round for ever, not to pass Out of its light, though darkness lie beyond: Hold me but safe again within the bond Of one immortal look! All woe that was, Forgotten, and all terror that may be, Defied,—no past is mine, no future: look at me!

Beautiful as these lines are, they do not impress me as fully interpreting Leighton's picture. The expression of Eurydice is rather one of unthinking confiding affection—as if she were really unconscious or ignorant of the danger; while that of Orpheus is one of passionate agony as he tries to hold her off.

Though English art could not fascinate the poet as Italian art did, for the fully sufficient reason that it does not stand for a great epoch of intellectual awakening, yet with what fair alchemy he has touched those few artists he has chosen to honor. Notwithstanding his avowed devotion to Italy, expressed in "De Gustibus," one cannot help feeling that in the poems mentioned in this chapter, there is that ecstasy of sympathy which goes only to the most potent influences in the formation of character. Something of what I mean is expressed in one of his latest poems, "Development." In this we certainly get a real peep at young Robert Browning, led by his wise father into the delights of Homer, by slow degrees, where all is truth at first, to end up with the devastating criticism of Wolf. In spite of it all the dream stays and is the reality. Nothing can obliterate the magic of a strong early enthusiasm, as "fact still held" "Spite of new Knowledge," in his "heart of hearts."

DEVELOPMENT

My Father was a scholar and knew Greek. When I was five years old, I asked him once "What do you read about?" "The siege of Troy." "What is a siege and what is Troy?" Whereat He piled up chairs and tables for a town, Set me a-top for Priam, called our cat —Helen, enticed away from home (he said) By wicked Paris, who couched somewhere close Under the footstool, being cowardly, But whom—since she was worth the pains, poor puss— Towzer and Tray,—our dogs, the Atreidai,—sought By taking Troy to get possession of —Always when great Achilles ceased to sulk, (My pony in the stable)—forth would prance And put to flight Hector—our page-boy's self. This taught me who was who and what was what: So far I rightly understood the case At five years old: a huge delight it proved And still proves—thanks to that instructor sage My Father, who knew better than turn straight Learning's full flare on weak-eyed ignorance, Or, worse yet, leave weak eyes to grow sand-blind, Content with darkness and vacuity.

It happened, two or three years afterward, That—I and playmates playing at Troy's Siege— My Father came upon our make-believe. "How would you like to read yourself the tale Properly told, of which I gave you first Merely such notion as a boy could bear? Pope, now, would give you the precise account Of what, some day, by dint of scholarship, You'll hear—who knows?—from Homer's very mouth. Learn Greek by all means, read the 'Blind Old Man, Sweetest of Singers'—tuphlos which means 'blind,' Hedistos which means 'sweetest.' Time enough! Try, anyhow, to master him some day; Until when, take what serves for substitute, Read Pope, by all means!" So I ran through Pope, Enjoyed the tale—what history so true? Also attacked my Primer, duly drudged, Grew fitter thus for what was promised next— The very thing itself, the actual words, When I could turn—say, Buttmann to account.

Time passed, I ripened somewhat: one fine day, "Quite ready for the Iliad, nothing less? There's Heine, where the big books block the shelf: Don't skip a word, thumb well the Lexicon!"

I thumbed well and skipped nowise till I learned Who was who, what was what, from Homer's tongue, And there an end of learning. Had you asked The all-accomplished scholar, twelve years old, "Who was it wrote the Iliad?"—what a laugh! "Why, Homer, all the world knows: of his life Doubtless some facts exist: it's everywhere: We have not settled, though, his place of birth: He begged, for certain, and was blind beside: Seven cites claimed him—Scio, with best right, Thinks Byron. What he wrote? Those Hymns we have. Then there's the 'Battle of the Frogs and Mice,' That's all—unless they dig 'Margites' up (I'd like that) nothing more remains to know."

Thus did youth spend a comfortable time; Until—"What's this the Germans say is fact That Wolf found out first? It's unpleasant work Their chop and change, unsettling one's belief: All the same, while we live, we learn, that's sure." So, I bent brow o'er Prolegomena. And, after Wolf, a dozen of his like Proved there was never any Troy at all, Neither Besiegers nor Besieged,—nay, worse,— No actual Homer, no authentic text, No warrant for the fiction I, as fact, Had treasured in my heart and soul so long— Ay, mark you! and as fact held still, still hold, Spite of new knowledge, in my heart of hearts And soul of souls, fact's essence freed and fixed From accidental fancy's guardian sheath. Assuredly thenceforward—thank my stars!— However it got there, deprive who could— Wring from the shrine my precious tenantry, Helen, Ulysses, Hector and his Spouse, Achilles and his Friend?—though Wolf—ah, Wolf! Why must he needs come doubting, spoil a dream?

But then "No dream's worth waking"—Browning says: And here's the reason why I tell thus much I, now mature man, you anticipate, May blame my Father justifiably For letting me dream out my nonage thus, And only by such slow and sure degrees Permitting me to sift the grain from chaff, Get truth and falsehood known and named as such. Why did he ever let me dream at all, Not bid me taste the story in its strength? Suppose my childhood was scarce qualified To rightly understand mythology, Silence at least was in his power to keep: I might have—somehow—correspondingly— Well, who knows by what method, gained my gains, Been taught, by forthrights not meanderings, My aim should be to loathe, like Peleus's son, A lie as Hell's Gate, love my wedded wife, Like Hector, and so on with all the rest. Could not I have excogitated this Without believing such men really were? That is—he might have put into my hand The "Ethics"? In translation, if you please, Exact, no pretty lying that improves, To suit the modern taste: no more, no less— The "Ethics": 'tis a treatise I find hard To read aright now that my hair is grey, And I can manage the original. At five years old—how ill had fared its leaves! Now, growing double o'er the Stagirite, At least I soil no page with bread and milk, Nor crumple, dogsear and deface—boys' way.

This chapter would not be complete without Browning's tribute to dog Tray, whose traits may not be peculiar to English dogs but whose name is proverbially English. Besides it touches a subject upon which the poet had strong feelings. Vivisection he abhorred, and in the controversies which were tearing the scientific and philanthropic world asunder in the last years of his life, no one was a more determined opponent of vivisection than he.

TRAY

Sing me a hero! Quench my thirst Of soul, ye bards! Quoth Bard the first: "Sir Olaf, the good knight, did don His helm and eke his habergeon...." Sir Olaf and his bard——!

"That sin-scathed brow" (quoth Bard the second), "That eye wide ope as though Fate beckoned My hero to some steep, beneath Which precipice smiled tempting death...." You too without your host have reckoned!

"A beggar-child" (let's hear this third!) "Sat on a quay's edge: like a bird Sang to herself at careless play, 'And fell into the stream. Dismay! Help, you the standers-by!' None stirred.

"Bystanders reason, think of wives And children ere they risk their lives. Over the balustrade has bounced A mere instinctive dog, and pounced Plumb on the prize. 'How well he dives!

"'Up he comes with the child, see, tight In mouth, alive too, clutched from quite A depth of ten feet—twelve, I bet! Good dog! What, off again? There's yet Another child to save? All right!

"'How strange we saw no other fall! It's instinct in the animal. Good dog! But he's a long while under: If he got drowned I should not wonder— Strong current, that against the wall!

"'Here he comes, holds in mouth this time —What may the thing be? Well, that's prime! Now, did you ever? Reason reigns In man alone, since all Tray's pains Have fished—the child's doll from the slime!'

"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 eighteenpence, How brain secretes dog's soul, we'll see!'"



CHAPTER II

SHAKESPEARE'S PORTRAIT

Once and once only did Browning depart from his custom of choosing people of minor note to figure in his dramatic monologues. In "At the 'Mermaid'" he ventures upon the consecrated ground of a heart-to-heart talk between Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, and the wits who gathered at the classic "Mermaid" Tavern in Cheapside, following this up with further glimpses into the inner recesses of Shakespeare's mind in the monologues "House" and "Shop." It is a particularly daring feat in the case of Shakespeare, for as all the world knows any attempt at getting in touch with the real man, Shakespeare, must, per force, be woven out of such "stuff as dreams are made on."

In interpreting this portraiture of one great poet by another it will be of interest to glance at the actual facts as far as they are known in regard to the relations which existed between Shakespeare and Jonson. Praise and blame both are recorded on Jonson's part when writing of Shakespeare, yet the praise shows such undisguised admiration that the blame sinks into insignificance. Jonson's "learned socks" to which Milton refers probably tripped the critic up occasionally by reason of their weight.

There is a charming story told of the friendship between the two men recorded by Sir Nicholas L'Estrange, within a very few years of Shakespeare's death, who attributed it to Dr. Donne. The story goes that "Shakespeare was godfather to one of Ben Jonson's children, and after the christening, being in a deep study, Jonson came to cheer him up and asked him why he was so melancholy. 'No, faith, Ben,' says he, 'not I, but I have been considering a great while what should be the fittest gift for me to bestow upon my godchild, and I have resolved at last.' 'I prythee what?' says he. 'I'faith, Ben, I'll e'en give him a dozen good Lattin spoons, and thou shalt translate them.'" If this must be taken with a grain of salt, there is another even more to the honor of Shakespeare reported by Rowe and considered credible by such Shakespearian scholars as Halliwell Phillipps and Sidney Lee. "His acquaintance with Ben Jonson" writes Rowe, "began with a remarkable piece of humanity and good nature; Mr. Jonson, who was at that time altogether unknown to the world, had offered one of his plays to the players in order to have it acted, and the persons into whose hands it was put, after having turned it carelessly and superciliously over, were just upon returning it to him with an ill-natured answer that it would be of no service to their company, when Shakespeare luckily cast his eye upon it, and found something so well in it as to engage him first to read it through, and afterwards to recommend Mr. Jonson and his writings to the public." The play in question was the famous comedy of "Every Man in His Humour," which was brought out in September, 1598, by the Lord Chamberlain's company, Shakespeare himself being one of the leading actors upon the occasion.

Authentic history records a theater war in which Jonson and Shakespeare figured, on opposite sides, but if allusions in Jonson's play the "Poetaster" have been properly interpreted, their friendly relations were not deeply disturbed. The trouble began in the first place by the London of 1600 suddenly rushing into a fad for the company of boy players, recruited chiefly from the choristers of the Chapel Royal, and known as the "Children of the Chapel." They had been acting at the new theater in Blackfriars since 1597, and their vogue became so great as actually to threaten Shakespeare's company and other companies of adult actors. Just at this time Ben Jonson was having a personal quarrel with his fellow dramatists, Marston and Dekker, and as he received little sympathy from the actors, he took his revenge by joining his forces with those of the Children of the Chapel. They brought out for him in 1600 his satire of "Cynthia's Revels," in which he held up to ridicule Marston, Dekker and their friends the actors. Marston and Dekker, with the actors of Shakespeare's company, prepared to retaliate, but Jonson hearing of it forestalled them with his play the "Poetaster" in which he spared neither dramatists nor actors. Shakespeare's company continued the fray by bringing out at the Globe Theatre, in the following year, Dekker and Marston's "Satiro-Mastix, or The Untrussing of the Humorous Poet," and as Ward remarks, "the quarrel had now become too hot to last." The excitement, however, continued for sometime, theater-goers took sides and watched with interest "the actors and dramatists' boisterous war of personalities," to quote Mr. Lee, who goes on to point out that on May 10, 1601, the Privy Council called the attention of the Middlesex magistrates to the abuse covertly leveled by the actors of the "Curtain" at gentlemen "of good desert and quality," and directed the magistrates to examine all plays before they were produced.

Jonson, himself, finally made apologies in verses appended to printed copies of the "Poetaster."

"Now for the players 'tis true I tax'd them And yet but some, and those so sparingly As all the rest might have sat still unquestioned, Had they but had the wit or conscience To think well of themselves. But impotent they Thought each man's vice belonged to their whole tribe; And much good do it them. What they have done against me I am not moved with, if it gave them meat Or got them clothes, 'tis well: that was their end, Only amongst them I was sorry for Some better natures by the rest so drawn To run in that vile line."

Sidney Lee cleverly deduces Shakespeare's attitude in the quarrel in allusions to it in "Hamlet," wherein he "protested against the abusive comments on the men-actors of 'the common' stages or public theaters which were put into the children's mouths. Rosencrantz declared that the children 'so berattle [i.e. assail] the common stages—so they call them—that many wearing rapiers are afraid of goose-quills, and dare scarce come thither [i.e. to the public theaters].' Hamlet in pursuit of the theme pointed out that the writers who encouraged the vogue of the 'child actors' did them a poor service, because when the boys should reach men's estate they would run the risk, if they continued on the stage, of the same insults and neglect which now threatened their seniors.

"'Hamlet. What are they children? Who maintains 'em? How are they escorted [i.e. paid]? Will they pursue the quality [i.e. the actor's profession] no longer than they can sing? Will they not say afterwards, if they should grow themselves to common players—as it is most like, if their means are no better—their writers do them wrong to make them exclaim against their own succession?

"'Rosencrantz. Faith, there has been much to do on both sides, and the nation holds it no sin to tarre [i.e. incite] them to controversy; there was for a while no money bid for argument, unless the poet and the player went to cuffs in the question.'"

This certainly does not reflect a very belligerent attitude since it merely puts in a word for the grown-up actors rather than casting any slurs upon the children. Further indications of Shakespeare's mildness in regard to the whole matter are given in the Prologue to "Troylus and Cressida," where, as Mr. Lee says, he made specific reference to the strife between Ben Jonson and the players in the lines

"And hither am I come A Prologue arm'd, but not in confidence, Of Authors' pen, or Actors' voyce."

The most interesting bit of evidence to show that Shakespeare and Jonson remained friends, even in the heat of the conflict, may be gained from the "Poetaster" itself if we admit that the Virgil of the play, who is chosen peacemaker stands for Shakespeare; and who so fit to be peacemaker as Shakespeare for his amiable qualities seem to have impressed themselves upon all who knew him.

Following Mr. Lee's lead, "Jonson figures personally in the 'Poetaster' under the name of Horace. Episodically Horace and his friends, Tibullus and Gallus, eulogize the work and genius of another character, Virgil, in terms so closely resembling those which Jonson is known to have applied to Shakespeare that they may be regarded as intended to apply to him (Act V, Scene I). Jonson points out that Virgil, by his penetrating intuition, achieved the great effects which others laboriously sought to reach through rules of art.

'His learning labors not the school-like gloss That most consists of echoing words and terms ... Nor any long or far-fetched circumstance— Wrapt in the curious generalities of arts— But a direct and analytic sum Of all the worth and first effects of art. And for his poesy, 'tis so rammed with life That it shall gather strength of life with being, And live hereafter, more admired than now.'

Tibullus gives Virgil equal credit for having in his writings touched with telling truth upon every vicissitude of human existence:

'That which he hath writ Is with such judgment labored and distilled Through all the needful uses of our lives That, could a man remember but his lines, He should not touch at any serious point But he might breathe his spirit out of him.'

"Finally, Virgil in the play is nominated by Caesar to act as judge between Horace and his libellers, and he advises the administration of purging pills to the offenders."

This neat little chain of evidence would have no weak link, if it were not for a passage in the play, "The Return from Parnassus," acted by the students in St. John's College the same year, 1601. In this there is a dialogue between Shakespeare's fellow-actors, Burbage and Kempe. Speaking of the University dramatists, Kempe says:

"Why here's our fellow Shakespeare puts them all down; aye, and Ben Jonson, too. O! that Ben Jonson is a pestilent fellow. He brought up Horace, giving the poets a pill; but our fellow Shakespeare hath given him a purge that made him bewray his credit." Burbage continues, "He is a shrewd fellow indeed." This has, of course, been taken to mean that Shakespeare was actively against Jonson in the Dramatists' and Actors' war. But as everything else points, as we have seen, to the contrary, one accepts gladly the loophole of escape offered by Mr. Lee. "The words quoted from 'The Return from Parnassus' hardly admit of a literal interpretation. Probably the 'purge' that Shakespeare was alleged by the author of 'The Return from Parnassus' to have given Jonson meant no more than that Shakespeare had signally outstripped Jonson in popular esteem." That this was an actual fact is proved by the lines of Leonard Digges, an admiring contemporary of Shakespeare's, printed in the 1640 edition of Shakespeare's poems, comparing "Julius Caesar" and Jonson's play "Cataline:"

"So have I seen when Caesar would appear, And on the stage at half-sword parley were Brutus and Cassius—oh, how the audience Were ravish'd, with what wonder they went thence; When some new day they would not brook a line Of tedious, though well-labored, Cataline."

This reminds one of the famous witticism attributed to Eudymion Porter that "Shakespeare was sent from Heaven and Ben from College."

If Jonson's criticisms of Shakespeare's work were sometime not wholly appreciative, the fact may be set down to the distinction between the two here so humorously indicated. "A Winter's Tale" and the "Tempest" both called forth some sarcasms from Jonson, the first for its error about the Coast of Bohemia which Shakespeare borrowed from Greene. Jonson wrote in the Induction to "Bartholemew Fair;" "If there be never a servant-monster in the Fair, who can help it he says? Nor a nest of Antics. He is loth to make nature afraid in his plays like those that beget Tales, Tempests, and such like Drolleries." The allusions here are very evidently to Caliban and the satyrs who figure in the sheep-shearing feast in "A Winter's Tale." The worst blast of all, however, occurs in Jonson's "Timber," but the blows are evidently given with a loving hand. He writes "I remember, the players have often mentioned it as an honor to Shakespeare that, in his writing, whatsoever he penn'd, hee never blotted out line. My answer hath beene, would he had blotted a thousand;—which they thought a malevolent speech. I had not told posterity this, but for their ignorance who choose that circumstance to commend their friend by wherein he most faulted; and to justifie mine owne candor,—for I lov'd the man, and doe honor his memory, on this side idolatry, as much as any. Hee was, indeed, honest, and of an open and free nature; had an excellent phantasie; brave notions and gentle expressions; wherein hee flow'd with that facility that sometime it was necessary he should be stop'd;—sufflaminandus erat, as Augustus said of Haterius. His wit was in his owne power;—would the rule of it had beene so too! Many times he fell into those things, could not escape laughter; as when he said in the person of Caesar, one speaking to him,—Caesar thou dost me wrong; hee replyed,—Caesar did never wrong but with just cause; and such like; which were ridiculous. But hee redeemed his vices with his virtues. There was ever more in him to be praysed then to be pardoned."

And even this criticism is altogether controverted by the wholly eulogistic lines Jonson wrote for the First Folio edition of Shakespeare printed in 1623, "To the memory of my beloved, The Author Mr. William Shakespeare and what he hath left us."[1]

FOOTNOTES:

[1] See the Tempest volume in First Folio Shakespeare. (Crowell & Co.)

For the same edition he also wrote the following lines for the portrait reproduced in this volume, which it is safe to regard as the Shakespeare Ben Jonson remembered:

"TO THE READER

This Figure, that thou here seest put, It was for gentle Shakespeare cut; Wherein the Graver had a strife With Nature, to out-doo the life: O, could he but have drawne his wit As well in brasse, as he hath hit His face; the Print would then surpasse All, that was ever writ in brasse. But, since he cannot, Reader, looke Not on his Picture, but his Booke.

B. J."

Shakespeare's talk in "At the 'Mermaid'" grows out of the supposition, not touched upon until the very last line that Ben Jonson had been calling him "Next Poet," a supposition quite justifiable in the light of Ben's praises of him. The poem also reflects the love and admiration in which Shakespeare the man was held by all who have left any record of their impressions of him. As for the portraiture of the poet's attitude of mind, it is deduced indirectly from his work. That he did not desire to become "Next Poet" may be argued from the fact that after his first outburst of poem and sonnet writing in the manner of the poets of the age, he gave up the career of gentleman-poet to devote himself wholly to the more independent if not so socially distinguished one of actor-playwright. "Venus and Adonis" and "Lucrece" were the only poems of his published under his supervision and the only works with the dedication to a patron such as it was customary to write at that time.

I have before me as I write the recent Clarendon Press fac-similes of "Venus and Adonis" and "Lucrece," published respectively in 1593 and 1594,—beautiful little quartos with exquisitely artistic designs in the title-pages, headpieces and initials; altogether worthy of a poet who might have designs upon Fame. The dedication to the first reads:—

"TO THE RIGHT HONORABLE Henry Wriothesley, Earle of Southampton and Baron of Litchfield

Right Honourable, I know not how I shall offend in dedicating my unpolisht lines to your Lordship, nor how the worlde will censure mee for choosing so strong a proppe to support so weake a burthen, onelye if your Honour seeme but pleased, I account my selfe highly praised, and vowe to take advantage of all idle houres, till I have honoured you with some great labour. But if the first heire of my invention prove deformed, I shall be sorie it had so noble a god-father: and never after eare so barren a land, for feare it yield me still so bad a harvest, I leave it to your Honourable Survey, and your Honor to your hearts content, which I wish may alwaies answere your owne wish, and the worlds hopeful expectation.

Your Honors in all dutie WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE."

The second reads:—

"TO THE RIGHT HONORABLE, HENRY Wriothesley, Earle of Southampton and Baron of Litchfield

The love I dedicate to your Lordship is without end: wherof this Pamphlet without beginning is a superfluous Moiety. The warrant I have of your Honourable disposition, nor the worth of my untutored Lines makes it assured of acceptance. What I have done is yours, what I have to doe is yours, being part in all I have, devoted yours. Were my worth greater, my duety would shew greater, meane time, as it is, it is bound to your Lordship; To whom I wish long life still lengthened with all happinesse.

Your Lordships in all duety. WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE."

No more after this does Shakespeare appear in the light of a poet with a patron. Even the sonnets, some of which evidently celebrate Southampton, were issued by a piratical publisher without Shakespeare's consent, while his plays found their way into print at the hands of other pirates who cribbed them from stage copies.

Such hints as these have been worked up by Browning into a consistent characterization of a man who regards himself as having foregone his chances of laureateship or "Next Poet" by devoting himself to a form of literary art which would not appeal to the powers that be as fitting him for any such position. Such honors he claims do not go to the dramatic poet, who has never allowed the world to slip inside his breast, but has simply portrayed the joy and the sorrow of life as he saw it around him, and with an art which turns even sorrow into beauty.—"Do I stoop? I pluck a posy, do I stand and stare? all's blue;"—but to the subjective, introspective poet, out of tune with himself and with the universe. The allusions Shakespeare makes to the last "King" are not very definite, but, on the whole, they fit Edmund Spenser, whose poems from first to last are dedicated to people of distinction in court circles. His work, moreover, is full of wailing and woe in various keys, and also full of self-revelation. He allowed the world to slip inside his breast upon almost every occasion, and perhaps he may be said to have bought "his laurel," for it was no doubt extremely gratifying to Queen Elizabeth to see herself in the guise of the Faerie Queene, and even his dedication of the "Faerie Queene" to her, used as she was to flattery, must have been as music in her ears. "To the most high, mightie, and magnificent Empresse, renouned for piety, vertue, and all gratious government, Elizabeth, by the Grace of God, Queene of England, Frahnce, and Ireland and of Virginia. Defender of the Faith, &c. Her most humble servant Edmund Spenser doth in all humilitie, Dedicate, present, and consecrate These his labours, To live with the eternity of her Fame." The next year Spenser received a pension from the crown of fifty pounds per annum.

It is a careful touch on Browning's part to use the phrase "Next Poet," for the "laureateship" at that time was not a recognized official position. The term, "laureate," seems to have been used to designate poets who had attained fame and Royal favor, since Nash speaks of Spenser in his "Supplication of Piers Pennilesse" the same year the "Faerie Queene" was published as next laureate.

The first really officially appointed Poet Laureate was Ben Jonson, himself, who in either 1616 or 1619 received the post from James I., later ratified by Charles I., who increased the annuity to one hundred pounds a year and a butt of wine from the King's cellars.

Probably the allusion "Your Pilgrim" in the twelfth stanza of "At the Mermaid" is to "The Return from Parnassus" in which the pilgrims to Parnassus who figure in an earlier play "The Pilgrimage to Parnassus" discover the world to be about as dismal a place as it is described in this stanza.

At first sight it might seem that the position taken by Shakespeare in the poem is almost too modest, yet upon second thoughts it will be remembered that though Shakespeare had a tremendous following among the people, attested by the frequency with which his plays were acted; that though there are instances of his being highly appreciated by contemporaries of importance; that though his plays were given before the Queen, he did not have the universal acceptance among learned and court circles which was accorded to Spenser.

It is quite fitting that the scene should be set in the "Mermaid." No record exists to show that Shakespeare was ever there, it is true, but the "Mermaid" was a favorite haunt of Ben Jonson and his circle of wits, whose meetings there were immortalized by Beaumont in his poetical letter to Jonson:—

"What things have we seen Done at the Mermaid? heard words that have been So nimble and so full of subtle flame, As if that every one from whence they came Had meant to put his whole wit in a jest, And had resolved to live a fool the rest Of his dull life."

Add to this what Fuller wrote in his "Worthies," 1662, "Many were the wit-combats betwixt him and Ben Jonson, which two I behold like a Spanish great galleon and an English man-of-war; Master Jonson (like the former) was built far higher in learning, solid but slow in his performances. Shakespeare, with the English man-of-war, lesser in bulk, but lighter in sailing, could turn with all tides, tack about, and take advantage of all winds by the quickness of his wit and invention," and there is sufficient poetic warrant for the "Mermaid" setting.



The final touch is given in the hint that all the time Shakespeare is aware of his own greatness, perhaps to be recognized by a future age.

Let Browning, himself, now show what he has done with the material.

AT THE "MERMAID"

The figure that thou here seest.... Tut! Was it for gentle Shakespeare put?

B. JONSON. (Adapted.)

I

I—"Next Poet?" No, my hearties, I nor am nor fain would be! Choose your chiefs and pick your parties, Not one soul revolt to me! I, forsooth, sow song-sedition? I, a schism in verse provoke? I, blown up by bard's ambition, Burst—your bubble-king? You joke.

II

Come, be grave! The sherris mantling Still about each mouth, mayhap, Breeds you insight—just a scantling— Brings me truth out—just a scrap. Look and tell me! Written, spoken, Here's my life-long work: and where —Where's your warrant or my token I'm the dead king's son and heir?

III

Here's my work: does work discover— What was rest from work—my life? Did I live man's hater, lover? Leave the world at peace, at strife? Call earth ugliness or beauty? See things there in large or small? Use to pay its Lord my duty? Use to own a lord at all?

IV

Blank of such a record, truly Here's the work I hand, this scroll, Yours to take or leave; as duly, Mine remains the unproffered soul. So much, no whit more, my debtors— How should one like me lay claim To that largess elders, betters Sell you cheap their souls for—fame?

V

Which of you did I enable Once to slip inside my breast, There to catalogue and label What I like least, what love best, Hope and fear, believe and doubt of, Seek and shun, respect—deride? Who has right to make a rout of Rarities he found inside?

VI

Rarities or, as he'd rather, Rubbish such as stocks his own: Need and greed (O strange) the Father Fashioned not for him alone! Whence—the comfort set a-strutting, Whence—the outcry "Haste, behold! Bard's breast open wide, past shutting, Shows what brass we took for gold!"

VII

Friends, I doubt not he'd display you Brass—myself call orichalc,— Furnish much amusement; pray you Therefore, be content I balk Him and you, and bar my portal! Here's my work outside: opine What's inside me mean and mortal! Take your pleasure, leave me mine!

VIII

Which is—not to buy your laurel As last king did, nothing loth. Tale adorned and pointed moral Gained him praise and pity both. Out rushed sighs and groans by dozens, Forth by scores oaths, curses flew: Proving you were cater-cousins, Kith and kindred, king and you!

IX

Whereas do I ne'er so little (Thanks to sherris) leave ajar Bosom's gate—no jot nor tittle Grow we nearer than we are. Sinning, sorrowing, despairing, Body-ruined, spirit-wrecked,— Should I give my woes an airing,— Where's one plague that claims respect?

X

Have you found your life distasteful? My life did, and does, smack sweet. Was your youth of pleasure wasteful? Mine I saved and hold complete. Do your joys with age diminish? When mine fail me, I'll complain. Must in death your daylight finish? My sun sets to rise again.

XI

What, like you, he proved—your Pilgrim— This our world a wilderness, Earth still grey and heaven still grim, Not a hand there his might press, Not a heart his own might throb to, Men all rogues and women—say, Dolls which boys' heads duck and bob to, Grown folk drop or throw away?

XII

My experience being other, How should I contribute verse Worthy of your king and brother? Balaam-like I bless, not curse. I find earth not grey but rosy, Heaven not grim but fair of hue. Do I stoop? I pluck a posy. Do I stand and stare? All's blue.

XIII

Doubtless I am pushed and shoved by Rogues and fools enough: the more Good luck mine, I love, am loved by Some few honest to the core. Scan the near high, scout the far low! "But the low come close:" what then? Simpletons? My match is Marlowe; Sciolists? My mate is Ben.

XIV

Womankind—"the cat-like nature, False and fickle, vain and weak"— What of this sad nomenclature Suits my tongue, if I must speak? Does the sex invite, repulse so, Tempt, betray, by fits and starts? So becalm but to convulse so, Decking heads and breaking hearts?

XV

Well may you blaspheme at fortune! I "threw Venus" (Ben, expound!) Never did I need importune Her, of all the Olympian round. Blessings on my benefactress! Cursings suit—for aught I know— Those who twitched her by the back tress, Tugged and thought to turn her—so!

XVI

Therefore, since no leg to stand on Thus I'm left with,—joy or grief Be the issue,—I abandon Hope or care you name me Chief! Chief and king and Lord's anointed, I?—who never once have wished Death before the day appointed: Lived and liked, not poohed and pished!

XVII

"Ah, but so I shall not enter, Scroll in hand, the common heart— Stopped at surface: since at centre Song should reach Welt-schmerz, world-smart!" "Enter in the heart?" Its shelly Cuirass guard mine, fore and aft! Such song "enters in the belly And is cast out in the draught."

XVIII

Back then to our sherris-brewage! "Kingship" quotha? I shall wait— Waive the present time: some new age ... But let fools anticipate! Meanwhile greet me—"friend, good fellow, Gentle Will," my merry men! As for making Envy yellow With "Next Poet"—(Manners, Ben!)

The first stanza of "House"—

"Shall I sonnet-sing you about myself? Do I live in a house you would like to see? Is it scant of gear, has it store of pelf? 'Unlock my heart with a sonnet-key?'"—

brings one face to face with the interminable controversies upon the autobiographical significance of Shakespeare's Sonnets. As volumes upon the subject have been written, it is not possible even adequately to review the various theories here. The controversialists may be broadly divided into those who read complicated autobiographical details into the sonnets, those who scout the idea of their being autobiographical at all, and those who take a middle ground. Of the first there are two factions: one of these believes that the opening sonnets were addressed to Lord William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, and the other that they were addressed to Shakespeare's patron, the Earl of Southampton. The first theory dates back as far as 1832 when it was started by James Boaden, a journalist and the biographer of Kemble and Mrs. Siddons. This theory has had many supporters and is associated to-day with the name of Thomas Tyler, who, in his edition of the Sonnets published in 1890, claimed to have identified the dark lady of the Sonnets with a lady of the Court, Mary Fitton and the mistress of the Earl of Pembroke. The theory, like most things of the sort, has its fascinations, and few people can read the Sonnets without being more or less impressed by it. It is based, however, upon a supposition so unlikely that it may be said to be proved incorrect, namely, that the dedication of the Sonnets to their "Onlie Begettor, Mr. W. H." is intended for "Mr. William Herbert." There was a Mr. William Hall, later a master printer, and the friend of Thomas Thorpe, the publisher of the Sonnets, who is much more likely to be the person meant. Lord Herbert was far too important a person to be addressed as Mr. W. H. As Mr. Lee points out, when Thorpe did dedicate books to Herbert he was careful to give full prominence to the titles and distinction of his patron. The Sonnets as we have already seen were not published with Shakespeare's sanction. In those days the author had no protection, and if a manuscript fell into the hands of a printer he could print it if he felt so disposed. Mr. William Hall was in the habit of looking out for manuscripts and before he became a printer, in 1606, had one published by Southwell of which he himself wrote the dedication, to the "Vertuous Gentleman, Mathew Saunders, Esquire W. H. wisheth, with long life, a prosperous achievement of his good desires." "There is little doubt," writes Mr. Lee, "that the W. H. of the Southwell volume was Mr. William Hall, who, when he procured that manuscript for publication, was an humble auxiliary in the publishing army." To sum up in Mr. Lee's words his interesting and convincing chapter on "Thomas Thorpe and Mr. 'W. H.'" "'Mr. W. H.,' whom Thorpe described as the 'only begetter of these ensuing sonnets,' was in all probability the acquirer or procurer of the manuscript, who, figuratively speaking, brought the book into being either by first placing the manuscript in Thorpe's hands or by pointing out the means by which a copy might be acquired. To assign such significance to the word 'begetter' was entirely in Thorpe's vein. Thorpe described his role in the piratical enterprise of the 'Sonnets' as that of 'the well-wishing adventurer in setting forth,' i.e., the hopeful speculator in the scheme. 'Mr. W. H.' doubtless played the almost equally important part—one as well known then as now in commercial operations—of the 'vender' of the property to be exploited."

The Southampton theory is reared into a fine air-castle by Gerald Massey in his lengthy book on the Sonnets—truly entertaining reading but too ingenious to be convincing.

Finally Mr. Lee in his book looks at the subject in an unbiased and perfectly sane way. He thinks the opening Sonnets are to the Earl of Southampton, known to be Shakespeare's patron, but he warns us that exaggerated devotion was the hall-mark of the Sonnets of the age, and therefore what Shakespeare says of his young patron in these Sonnets need not be taken too literally as expressing the poet's sentiments, though he admits there may be a note of genuine feeling in them. Also he thinks that some of the sonnets reflecting moods of melancholy or a sense of sin may reveal the writer's inner consciousness. Possibly, too, the story of the "dark lady" may have some basis in fact, though he insists, "There is no clue to the lady's identity, and speculation on the topic is useless." Furthermore, he thinks it doubtful whether all the words in these Sonnets are to be taken with the seriousness implied, the affair probably belonging only to the annals of gallantry.

It will be seen from the poem that Browning took the uncompromisingly non-autobiographical view of the Sonnets. In this stand present authoritative opinion would not justify him, but it speaks well for his insight and sympathy that he was not fascinated by the William Herbert theory which, at the time he wrote the poem, was very much in the air.

In "Shop" is given, in a way, the obverse side of the idea. If it is proved that the dramatic poet does not allow himself to appear in his work, the step toward regarding him as having no individuality aside from his work is an easy one. The allusions in the poem to the mercenariness of the "Shop-Keeper" seem to hit at the criticisms of Shakespeare's thrift, which enabled him to buy a home in his native place and retire there to live some years before the end of his life. In some quarters it has been customary to regard Shakespeare as devoting himself to dramatic literature in order to make money, as if this were a terrible slur on his character. The superiority of such an independent spirit over that of those who constantly sought patrons was quite manifest to Browning's mind or he would not have written this sarcastic bit of symbolism, between the lines of which can be read that Browning was on Shakespeare's side.

HOUSE

I

Shall I sonnet-sing you about myself? Do I live in a house you would like to see? Is it scant of gear, has it store of pelf? "Unlock my heart with a sonnet key?"

II

Invite the world, as my betters have done? "Take notice: this building remains on view, Its suites of reception every one, Its private apartment and bedroom too;

III

"For a ticket, apply to the Publisher." No: thanking the public, I must decline. A peep through my window, if folk prefer; But, please you, no foot over threshold of mine!

IV

I have mixed with a crowd and heard free talk In a foreign land where an earthquake chanced: And a house stood gaping, nought to balk Man's eye wherever he gazed or glanced.

V

The whole of the frontage shaven sheer, The inside gaped: exposed to day, Right and wrong and common and queer, Bare, as the palm of your hand, it lay.

VI

The owner? Oh, he had been crushed, no doubt! "Odd tables and chairs for a man of wealth! What a parcel of musty old books about! He smoked,—no wonder he lost his health!

VII

"I doubt if he bathed before he dressed. A brasier?—the pagan, he burned perfumes! You see it is proved, what the neighbors guessed: His wife and himself had separate rooms."

VIII

Friends, the goodman of the house at least Kept house to himself till an earthquake came: 'Tis the fall of its frontage permits you feast On the inside arrangement you praise or blame.

IX

Outside should suffice for evidence: And whoso desires to penetrate Deeper, must dive by the spirit-sense— No optics like yours, at any rate!

X

"Hoity toity! A street to explore, Your house the exception! 'With this same key Shakespeare unlocked his heart,' once more!" Did Shakespeare? If so, the less Shakespeare he!

SHOP

I

So, friend, your shop was all your house! Its front, astonishing the street, Invited view from man and mouse To what diversity of treat Behind its glass—the single sheet!

II

What gimcracks, genuine Japanese: Gape-jaw and goggle-eye, the frog; Dragons, owls, monkeys, beetles, geese; Some crush-nosed, human-hearted dog: Queer names, too, such a catalogue!

III

I thought "And he who owns the wealth Which blocks the window's vastitude, —Ah, could I peep at him by stealth Behind his ware, pass shop, intrude On house itself, what scenes were viewed!

IV

"If wide and showy thus the shop, What must the habitation prove? The true house with no name a-top— The mansion, distant one remove, Once get him off his traffic-groove!

V

"Pictures he likes, or books perhaps; And as for buying most and best, Commend me to these City chaps! Or else he's social, takes his rest On Sundays, with a Lord for guest.

VI

"Some suburb-palace, parked about And gated grandly, built last year: The four-mile walk to keep off gout; Or big seat sold by bankrupt peer: But then he takes the rail, that's clear.

VII

"Or, stop! I wager, taste selects Some out o' the way, some all-unknown Retreat: the neighborhood suspects Little that he who rambles lone Makes Rothschild tremble on his throne!"

VIII

Nowise! Nor Mayfair residence Fit to receive and entertain,— Nor Hampstead villa's kind defence From noise and crowd, from dust and drain,— Nor country-box was soul's domain!

IX

Nowise! At back of all that spread Of merchandize, woe's me, I find A hole i' the wall where, heels by head, The owner couched, his ware behind, —In cupboard suited to his mind.

X

For why? He saw no use of life But, while he drove a roaring trade, To chuckle "Customers are rife!" To chafe "So much hard cash outlaid Yet zero in my profits made!

XI

"This novelty costs pains, but—takes? Cumbers my counter! Stock no more! This article, no such great shakes, Fizzes like wildfire? Underscore The cheap thing—thousands to the fore!"

XII

'Twas lodging best to live most nigh (Cramp, coffinlike as crib might be) Receipt of Custom; ear and eye Wanted no outworld: "Hear and see The bustle in the shop!" quoth he.

XIII

My fancy of a merchant-prince Was different. Through his wares we groped Our darkling way to—not to mince The matter—no black den where moped The master if we interloped!

XIV

Shop was shop only: household-stuff? What did he want with comforts there? "Walls, ceiling, floor, stay blank and rough, So goods on sale show rich and rare! 'Sell and scud home' be shop's affair!"

XV

What might he deal in? Gems, suppose! Since somehow business must be done At cost of trouble,—see, he throws You choice of jewels, everyone, Good, better, best, star, moon and sun!

XVI

Which lies within your power of purse? This ruby that would tip aright Solomon's sceptre? Oh, your nurse Wants simply coral, the delight Of teething baby,—stuff to bite!

XVII

Howe'er your choice fell, straight you took Your purchase, prompt your money rang On counter,—scarce the man forsook His study of the "Times," just swang Till-ward his hand that stopped the clang,—

XVIII

Then off made buyer with a prize, Then seller to his "Times" returned; And so did day wear, wear, till eyes Brightened apace, for rest was earned: He locked door long ere candle burned.

XIX

And whither went he? Ask himself, Not me! To change of scene, I think. Once sold the ware and pursed the pelf, Chaffer was scarce his meat and drink, Nor all his music—money-chink.

XX

Because a man has shop to mind In time and place, since flesh must live, Needs spirit lack all life behind, All stray thoughts, fancies fugitive, All loves except what trade can give?

XXI

I want to know a butcher paints, A baker rhymes for his pursuit, Candlestick-maker much acquaints His soul with song, or, haply mute, Blows out his brains upon the flute!

XXII

But—shop each day and all day long! Friend, your good angel slept, your star Suffered eclipse, fate did you wrong! From where these sorts of treasures are, There should our hearts be—Christ, how far!

These poems are valuable not only for furnishing an interesting interpretation of Shakespeare's character as a man and artist, but for the glimpses they give into Browning's stand toward his own art. He wished to be regarded primarily as a dramatic artist, presenting and interpreting the souls of his characters, and he must have felt keenly the stupid attitude which insisted always in reading "Browning's Philosophy" into all his poems. The fact that his objective material was of the soul rather than of the external actions of life has no doubt lent force to the supposition that Browning himself can be seen in everything he writes. It is true, nevertheless, that while much of his work is Shakespearian in its dramatic intensity, he had too forceful a philosophy of life to keep it from sometimes coming to the front. Besides he has written many things avowedly personal as this chapter amply illustrates.

To what intensity of feeling Browning could rise when contemplating the genius of Shakespeare is revealed in his direct and outspoken tribute. Here there breathes an almost reverential attitude toward the one supremely great man he has ventured to portray.

THE NAMES

Shakespeare!—to such name's sounding, what succeeds Fitly as silence? Falter forth the spell,— Act follows word, the speaker knows full well; Nor tampers with its magic more than needs. Two names there are: That which the Hebrew reads With his soul only: if from lips it fell, Echo, back thundered by earth, heaven and hell, Would own, "Thou didst create us!" Naught impedes We voice the other name, man's most of might, Awesomely, lovingly: let awe and love Mutely await their working, leave to sight All of the issue as—below—above— Shakespeare's creation rises: one remove, Though dread—this finite from that infinite.



CHAPTER III

A CRUCIAL PERIOD IN ENGLISH HISTORY

"Whom the gods destroy they first make mad." Of no one in English history is this truer than of King Charles I. Just at a time when the nation was feeling the strength of its wings both in Church and State, when individuals were claiming the right to freedom of conscience in their form of worship and the people were growing more insistent for the recognition of their ancient rights and liberties, secured to them, in the first place, by the Magna Charta,—just at this time looms up the obstruction of a King so imbued with the defunct ideal of the divine right of Kings that he is blind to the tendencies of the age. What wonder, then, if the swirling waters of discontent should rise higher and higher until he became engulfed in their fury.

The history of the reign of Charles I. is one full of involved details, yet the broader aspects of it, the great events which chiseled into shape the future of England stand out in bold relief in front of a background of interminable bickerings. There was constant quarreling between the factions within the English church, and between the Protestants and the Catholics, complicated by the discontent of the people and at times the nobles because of the autocratic, vacillating policy of the King.

Among these epoch-bringing events were the emergence of the Puritans from the chaos of internecine church squabbles, the determined raising of the voice of the people in the Long Parliament, where King and people finally came to an open clash in the impeachment of the King's most devoted minister, Wentworth, Earl Strafford, by Pym, the great leader in the House of Commons, ending in Strafford's execution; the Grand Remonstrance, which sounded in no uncertain tones the tocsin of the coming revolution; and finally the King's impeachment of Pym, Hampden, Holles, Hazelrigg and Strode, one of the many ill-advised moves of this Monarch which at once precipitated the Revolution.

These cataclysms at home were further intensified by the Scottish Invasion and the Irish Rebellion.



It is not surprising that Browning should have been attracted to this period of English history, when he contemplated the writing of a play on an English subject. His liberty-loving mind would naturally find congenial occupation in depicting this great English struggle for liberty. Yet the hero of the play is not Pym, the leader of the people, but Strafford, the supporter of the King. The dramatic reasons are sufficient to account for this. Strafford's career was picturesque and tragic and his personality so striking that more than one interpretation of his remarkable life is possible.

The interpretation will differ according to whether one is partisan in hatred or admiration of his character and policy, or possesses the larger quality of sympathetic appreciation of the man and the problems with which he had to deal. Any one coming to judge him in this latter spirit would undoubtedly perceive all the fine points in Strafford's nature and would balance these against his theories of government to the better understanding of this extraordinary man.

It is almost needless to say that Browning's perception of Strafford's character was penetrating and sympathetic. Strafford's devotion to his King had in it not only the element of loyalty to the liege, but an element of personal love which would make an especial appeal to Browning. He, in consequence, seizes upon this trait as the key-note of his portrayal of Strafford.

The play is, on the whole, accurate in its historical details, though the poet's imagination has added many a flying buttress to the structure.

Forster's lives of the English Statesmen in Lardner's Cyclopaedia furnished plenty of material, and he was besides familiar with some if not all of Forster's materials for the lives. One of the interesting surprises in connection with Browning's literary career was the fact divulged some years ago that he had actually helped Forster in the preparation of the Life of Strafford. Indeed it is thought that he wrote it almost entirely from the notes of Forster. Dr. Furnivall first called attention to this, and later the life of Strafford was reprinted as "Robert Browning's Prose Life of Strafford."[2] In his Forewords to this volume, Dr. Furnivall, who, among many other claims to distinction, was the president of the "London Browning Society," writes, "Three times during his life did Browning speak to me about his prose 'Life of Strafford.' The first time he said only—in the course of chat—that very few people had any idea of how much he had helped John Forster in it. The second time he told me at length that one day he went to see Forster and found him very ill, and anxious about the 'Life of Strafford,' which he had promised to write at once, to complete a volume of 'Lives of Eminent British Statesmen' for Lardner's 'Cabinet Cyclopaedia.' Forster had finished the 'Life of Eliot'—the first in the volume—and had just begun that of Strafford, for which he had made full collections and extracts; but illness had come on, he couldn't work, the book ought to be completed forthwith, as it was due in the serial issue of volumes; what was he to do? 'Oh,' said Browning, 'don't trouble about it. I'll take your papers and do it for you.' Forster thanked his young friend heartily, Browning put the Strafford papers under his arm, walked off, worked hard, finished the Life, and it came out to time in 1836, to Forster's great relief, and passed under his name." Professor Gardiner, the historian, was of the opinion from internal evidence that the Life was more Browning's than Forster's. He said to Furnivall, "It is not a historian's conception of the character but a poet's. I am certain that it's not Forster's. Yes, it makes mistakes in facts and dates, but, it has got the man—in the main." In this opinion Furnivall concurs. Of the last paragraph in the history he exclaims, "I could swear it was Browning's":—The paragraph in question sums up the character of Strafford and is interesting in this connection, as giving hints, though not the complete picture of the Strafford of the Drama.

FOOTNOTES:

[2] Estes and Lauriat, Boston, Mass.

"A great lesson is written in the life of this truly extraordinary person. In the career of Strafford is to be sought the justification of the world's 'appeal from tyranny to God.' In him Despotism had at length obtained an instrument with mind to comprehend, and resolution to act upon, her principles in their length and breadth,—and enough of her purposes were effected by him, to enable mankind to 'see as from a tower the end of all.' I cannot discern one false step in Strafford's public conduct, one glimpse of a recognition of an alien principle, one instance of a dereliction of the law of his being, which can come in to dispute the decisive result of the experiment, or explain away its failure. The least vivid fancy will have no difficulty in taking up the interrupted design, and by wholly enfeebling, or materially emboldening, the insignificant nature of Charles; and by according some half-dozen years of immunity to the 'fretted tenement' of Strafford's 'fiery soul',—contemplate then, for itself, the perfect realization of the scheme of 'making the prince the most absolute lord in Christendom.' That done,—let it pursue the same course with respect to Eliot's noble imaginings, or to young Vane's dreamy aspirings, and apply in like manner a fit machinery to the working out the projects which made the dungeon of the one a holy place, and sustained the other in his self-imposed exile.—The result is great and decisive! It establishes, in renewed force, those principles of political conduct which have endured, and must continue to endure, 'like truth from age to age.'" The history, on the whole, lacks the grasp in the portrayal of Wentworth to be found in the drama. C. H. Firth, commenting upon this says truly, "One might almost say that in the first, Strafford was represented as he appeared to his opponents, and in the second as he appeared to himself; or that, having painted Strafford as he was, Browning painted him again as he wished to be. In the biography Strafford is exhibited as a man of rare gifts and noble qualities; yet in his political capacity, merely the conscious, the devoted tool of a tyrant. In the tragedy, on the other hand, Strafford is the champion of the King's will against the people's, but yet looks forward to the ultimate reconciliation of Charles and his subjects, and strives for it after his own fashion. He loves the master he serves, and dies for him, but when the end comes he can proudly answer his accusers, 'I have loved England too.'"

The play opens at the important moment of Wentworth's return to London from Ireland, where for some time he had been governor. The occasion of his return, according to Gardiner, was a personal quarrel with the Chancellor Loftus, of Ireland. Both men were allowed to come to England to plead their cause, which resulted in the victory of Wentworth. In the play Pym says, "Ay, the Court gives out His own concerns have brought him back: I know 'tis the King calls him." The authority for this remark is found in the Forster-Browning Life. "In the danger threatened by the Scots' Covenant, Wentworth was Charles's only hope; the King sent for him, saying he desired his personal counsel and attendance. He wrote: 'The Scots' Covenant begins to spread too far, yet, for all this, I will not have you take notice that I have sent for you, but pretend some other occasion of business.'" Certain it is that from this time Wentworth became the most trusted counsellor of Charles, that is, as far as Charles was capable of trusting any one. The condition of affairs to which Wentworth returned is brought out in the play in a thoroughly alive and human manner. We are introduced to the principal actors in the struggle for their rights and privileges against the government of Charles meeting in a house near Whitehall. Among the "great-hearted" men are Hampden, Hollis, the younger Vane, Rudyard, Fiennes—all leaders in the "Faction,"—Presbyterians, Loudon and other members of the Scots' commissioners. A bit of history has been drawn upon for this opening scene, for according to the Forster-Browning Life, "There is no doubt that a close correspondence with the Scotch commissioners, headed by Lords Loudon and Dumferling, was entered into under the management of Pym and Hampden. Whenever necessity obliged the meetings to be held in London, they took place at Pym's house in Gray's Inn Lane." In the talk between these men the political situation in England at the time from the point of view of the liberal party is brought vividly before the reader.

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