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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:
In the human heart, but the mixture of each
That the Christian faith may be false, I find :
Begins to tell on the public mind,
See reasons and reasons; this, to begin ;
At the head of a lie-taught Original Sin,
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?
The evil is null, is nought, is silence implying sound;
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
When eternity affirms the conception of an hour.
The passion that left the ground to lose itself in the sky,
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 ?
Each sufferer says his say, his scheme of the weal and woe :
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
*Since life fleets, all is change; the past gone, seize to-day!'
Lasts ever, past recall ;
Time's wheel runs back or stops ; Potter and clay endure.
Of plastic circumstance,
Try thee and turn thee forth, sufficiently impressed.
Grow out, in graver mood, obey the sterner stress ?
To uses of a cup,
as a deep his higher insiders thus far difficult” or
“But I need, now as then,
Thee, God, who mouldest men;
Bound dizzily,--mistake my end, to slake Thy thirst:
Amend what flaws may lurk,
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
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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 ?
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
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-
I have drank from when I was a child."
As it comes upon life-giving wings,
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
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