Images de page

markable poem. It should be read in its completeness, not only for its symmetrical beauty and prophetic “keeping,” but because it is a "word in season ”amid many of the conflicts and bewilderments of our own day.

The following energetic stanzas also show that Mr. Browning has clear and strong convictions on the religious topics mooted among us. The passage occurs at the end of a ghostly legend, of which it points the moral, explaining, perhaps, also why our poet has delineated so many other evil things :

“Why I deliver this horrible verse ?

As the text of a sermon which now I preach:
Evil or good may be better or worse

In the human heart, but the mixture of each
Is a marvel and a curse.
" The candid incline to surmise of late

That the Christian faith may be false, I find :
For our Essays and Reviews' debate

Begins to tell on the public mind,
And Colenso's words have weight.
" I still, to suppose it true, for my part,

See reasons and reasons; this, to begin ;
'Tis the faith that launched point-blank her dart

At the head of a lie-taught Original Sin,
The corruption of Man's Heart.”

Pp. 33, 34. Two poems—“ Abt Vogler” and “Rabbi Ben Ezra”_seem intended to depict, under various emblems, the religious man's loftiest aspiration. Thus regarded, we rank them as among the very highest of Mr. Browning's productions. In the former, the inventor of the organ is at his instrument, creating the rich upswelling harmony, which seems to his kindled imagination as though it wove itself into a vast and solemn temple. The thought, if not the words, inspired his soul—“Thou inhabitest the praises of Israel !But the air-built temple vanishes as the music dies away, and the soliloquy continues :“Therefore to whom turn I but to Thee, the ineffable Name?

Builder and Maker, Thou, of houses not made with hands! What, have fear of change from Thee who art ever the same ?

Doubt that Thy power can fill the heart that Thy power expands?
There shall never be one lost good! What was, shall live as before ;

The evil is null, is nought, is silence implying sound;
What was good, shall be good, with, for evil, so much good more,

On the earth the broken arcs; in the heaven, a perfect round. “ All we have willed, or hoped, or dreamed of good, shall exist;

Not its semblance, but itself; no beauty, nor good, power
Whose voice has gone forth, but each survives for the melodist

When eternity affirms the conception of an hour.
The high that proved too high, the heroic for earth too hard,

The passion that left the ground to lose itself in the sky,
Are music sent up to God by the lover and the bard;

Enough that He heard it once; we shall hear it by-and-by.

"And what is our failure here but a triumph's evidence

For the fulness of the days ? Have we withered or agonized ? Why else was the pause prolonged but that singing might issue thence ?

Why rushed the discords in, but that harmony should be prized ?
Sorrow is hard to bear, and doubt is slow to clear,

Each sufferer says his say, his scheme of the weal and woe :
But God has a few of us whom He whispers in the ear;
The rest may reason and welcome : 'tis we musicians know."

Pp. 72-74. Happy they who thus have music in their soul! Not in this poem alone has the poet shown that in all harmony there is to his ear an “inner voice” that speaks of spiritual truth. Different is the strain in “Rabbi Ben Ezra,” though the figure is of equal beauty. Life is moulded as on a potter's wheel, and from base to rim is formed by the Eternal Artist's plastic finger, as a cup to be filled with the wine of love and bliss. The meditation takes the form of a retrospect. Life is nearly over-what has been its purpose, aim, result ?

" Ay, note that potter's wheel,

That metaphor ! and feel
Why time spins fast, why passive lies our clay, -
Thou, to whom fools propound,
When the wine makes its round,

*Since life fleets, all is change; the past gone, seize to-day!'
“ Fool! all that is, at all,

Lasts ever, past recall ;
Earth changes; but thy soul and God stand sure:
What entered into thee,
That was, is, and shall be:

Time's wheel runs back or stops ; Potter and clay endure.
“ He fixed thee 'mid this dance

Of plastic circumstance,
This present, thou, forsooth, wouldst fain arrest:
Machinery just meant
To give thy soil its bent,

Try thee and turn thee forth, sufficiently impressed.
" What though the earlier grooves
Which ran the laughing loves
Around thy base, no longer pause and press ?
What though, about thy rim,
Scull-things in order grim

Grow out, in graver mood, obey the sterner stress ?
“ Look not thou down but up!

To uses of a cup,
The festal board, lamp's flash, and trumpet's peal,
The new wine's foaming flow,
The master's lips a-glow!
Thou, heaven's consummate cup, what need'st thou with earth's
wheel ?

as a deep his higher insiders thus far difficult” or

“But I need, now as then,

Thee, God, who mouldest men;
And since, not even while the whirl was worst,
Did I,-to the wheel of life
With shapes and colours rife,

Bound dizzily,--mistake my end, to slake Thy thirst:
“So, take and use Thy work!

Amend what flaws may lurk,
What strain o' the stuff, what warpings past the aim !
My times be in Thy hand!
Perfect the cup as planned !
Let age approve of youth, and death complete the same !”

Pp. 85-87 Thus far we think we have shown that Mr. Browning is a true poet as well as a deep thinker; and, moreover, that if occasionaly "grotesque," his higher inspirations are most truly catholic. Possibly, however, our readers thus far may think that little has been said to prove him either “difficult” or “dramatic." Let them then take our word for it; or, in the volume under notice, let them read “ James Lee," “ The Worst of it,” “Le Byron de nos Jours,” and “ Too Late.” These are all love stories—all sad, and all eminently dramatic, though in the lyric form. Their obscurity is chiefly in their incompleteness. Mr. Browning lets us overhear a part of the drama, generally a soliloquy, and we must infer the rest. Had he to give the story of Hamlet, he would probably embody it in three stanzas, the first beginning, “O that this too too solid flesh would melt!” the second, “ To be or not to be, that is the question ;" and the third, “ Look here upon this picture, and on that !” From these disjointed utterances the reader would have to construct the story. And when to a plan like this, fully suggestive only to imaginative minds, and differently suggestive, perhaps, to every one, we add the strange exceptional character of the emotions with which he deals, it will appear no wonder that it is often hard, sometimes impossible, to follow him. It would be useless to quote, for the whole is insufficient. The author has a meaning, we see, evident and profoundly true; he has also a clear conception of the sequence of facts in which that meaning is embodied. The thoughtful reader, too, will interpret the hints and suggestions of the poem into a coherent narrative; but whether the reader's story and the author's will coincide, remains often an open question.

Of Mr. Browning's indignant moods we have as yet said nothing. Here, however, is much of his chief power. He can scorn and scathe most terribly. As a specimen of indignant irony, he has never, perhaps, surpassed “ Bishop Blongram's Apology," in one of his earlier works; but in the volume before us, “Mr. Sludge, the Medium,” though perhaps some

story. Anautterances the repicture, and one question;" and it."

imaginat add the stran, it will appllow him, author has a h clea with which he impossible, to facient. The authas also a

corn and has never, por earlier wor

what too prolonged, is a wonderful effort of the same kind. This Sludge is of a class unhappily now familiar to the British publican American impostor, trading on the popular awe of the supernatural. One of his patrons has found him out, and the rascal unbosoms himself. He confesses to have begun in downright knavery, yet encouraged by his dupes : these thought themselves very clever in being able to pronounce that Sludge's feats are not common conjuring. “Little fear,” cried one, “ that he will take us in !”

“Won't he, ma'am ?
But what if our distinguished host, like Sludge,
Bade God bear witness that he played no trick,
While you believed that what produced the raps
Was just a certain child that died, you know,
And whose last breath you thought your lips had felt ?
Eh? That's a capital point, ma'am: Sludge begins
At your entreaty with your dearest dead,
The little voice set lisping once again,
The tiny hand made feel for yours once more,
The poor lost image brought back, plain as dreams,
Which image, if a word had chanced recall,
The customary cloud would cross your eyes,
Your heart return the old tick, pay its pang !
A right mood for investigation, this!
One's at one's ease with Saul and Jonathan,
Pompey and Cæsar ; but one's own lost child.
I wonder, when you heard the first clod drop
From the spadeful at the grave-side, felt you free
To investigate who twitched your funeral scarf
Or brushed your flounces? Then, it came of course,
You should be stunned and stupid; then (how else ?)
Your breath stopped with your blood, your brain struck work.
But now, such causes fail of such effects,
All's changed, -the little voice begins afresh,
Yet you, calm, consequent, can test and try
And touch the truth. Tests? Didn't the creature tell
Its nurse's name, and say it lived six years,
And rode a rocking-horse ? Enough of tests!
Sludge never could learn that !'"

Pp. 192, 193. We quote the above passage as much for its pathos as for its underlying scorn. Our deepest affections are truly, in this wretched business of so-called spiritualism, the juggler's instruments. But Sludge goes on to retort upon his patron :

“Who was the fool
When, to an awe-struck, wide-eyed, open-mouthed
Circle of sages, Sludge would introduce
Milton composing baby-rhymes, and Locke
Reasoning in gibberish, Homer writing Greek
In noughts and crosses, Asaph setting psalms
To crotchet and quaver ?""

P. 197. The point suggested in this extract receives a curious illus

tration while we write. In the literature of Spiritualism, we find the following contribution, purporting to be from the spirit of Robert Burns :

“O-Cotland, thy loks and thy mountains,

Thy woods and heather so wild-
Thy waters, from nature's pure fountains,

I have drank from when I was a child."
And again:-
• “Thy balmy breath of the morning,

As it comes upon life-giving wings,
When the lark from the nest is up-soaring,

What joy to the heart it brings !". We wish our “Spiritualist” friends joy of their fellowship with the great poet! But we pursue our citations. It is objected that the new science is unfriendly to revelation, What has Sludge to answer?

“As for religion-why, I served it, sir !

I'll stick to that! With my phenomena
I laid the Atheist sprawling on his back,
And propped St. Paul up, or, at least, Swedenborg!
In fact, it's just the proper way to baulk
These troublesome fellows-liars, one and all,
Are not these sceptics! Well, to baffle them,
No use in being squeamish : lie yourself!
Erect your buttress just as wide o' the line,
Your side, as they've built up the wall on theirs ;
Where both meet, midway in a point, is truth,
High overhead: so, take your room, pile bricks,
Lie! Oh, there's titillation in all shame!
What snow may lose in white, it gains in rose :
Miss Stokes turns-Rahab,-nor a bad exchange!
Glory be on her, for the good she wrought,
Breeding belief anew 'neath ribs of death,
Brow-beating now the unabashed before,
Ridding us of their whole life's gathered straws
By a live coal from the altar! Why, of old,
Great men spent years and years in writing books
To prove we've souls, and hardly proved it then :
Miss Stokes with her live coal, for you and me!
Surely to this good issue, all was fair-
Not only fondling Sludge, but, even suppose
He lets escape some spice of knavery,--well,
In wisely being blind to it! Don't you praise
Nelson for setting spy-glass to blind eye
And saying, what was it ?--that he could not see

The signal he was bothered ? Ay, indeed !” Pp. 200, 201. Even so. “St. Paul, or at least Swedenborg." The story is told in a line. Yet we have all heard how valuable an ally this spiritualism has been to faith. Some mythical number of converts-generally ten thousand, we believe-is reported

« PrécédentContinuer »