Page images
PDF
EPUB

and a harmony is established between the two otherwise discordant poems. Paracelsus, then, appears to us to represent, and to be the outlet of, that early life of the poet which is satisfied with aspiration simply ; Sordello, that immediately succeeding period when power has become conscious, but exerts itself for the mere pleasure it feels in the free play of its muscles, without any settled purpose. Presently we shall see that it has defined and concentrated itself, and set about the production of solid results.

There is not less power ; it is only deeper, and does not dissipate itself over so large a surface. The range is not narrower, but choicer.

There are many fine passages in Paracelsus which we would fain copy here, many obiter dicta which we turn from reluctantly ; but as we think the author will be seen most fairly in his Bells and Pomegranates, we shall select our extracts chiefly from them.

We copy the following passage from Paracelsus, not as being the best, but because it is entire in itself.

“Over the sea our galleys went,
Cleaving prows in order brave,
With speeding wind and a bounding wave, -

A gallant armament :
Each bark built out of a forest-tree,

Left leafy and rough as first it grew,
And nailed all over the gaping sides,
Within and without, with black-bull hides,
Seethed in fat and suppled in flame;
So each good ship was rude to see,
Rude and bare to outward view,

But each upbore a stately tent :
Cedar pales in scented row
Kept out the flakes of dancing brine :
An awning drooped the mast below,
That neither noontide nor starshine,
Nor moonlight cold which maketh mad,

Might pierce the regal tenement.
When the sun dawned, gay and glad
We set the sail and plied the oar;
But when the night-wind blew like breath,
For joy of one day's voyage more,
We sang together on the wide sea,
Like men at peace on a peaceful shore ;
Each sail was loosed to the wind so free,

[ocr errors]

Each helm made sure by the twilight star,
And in a sleep as calm as death,
We, the voyagers from afar,

Lay stretched, each weary crew
In a circle round its wondrous tent,
Whence gleamed soft light and curled rich scent,

And with light and perfume, music too :
At morn we started beside the mast,
And still each ship was sailing fast !
Now one morn land appeared ! a speck

Dim trembling betwixt sea and sky -
Not so the isles our voyage must find

Should meet our longing eye;
But the heaving sea was black behind
Many a night and many a day,
And land, though but a rock, was nigh ;
So we broke the cedar pales away,
And let the purple flap in the wind:

And a statue bright was on every deck !
We shouted, every man of us,
And steered right into the harbour thus,

With pomp and pæan glorious.
“ An hundred shapes of lucid stone !

All day we built its shrine for each
A shrine of rock for every one
Nor paused till in the westering sun

We sat together on the beach
To sing, because our task was done ;
When lo! what shouts and merry songs !
What laughter all the distance stirs !
A loaded raft, and happy throngs
Of gentle islanders !
• Our isles are just at hand,' they cried ;

• Like cloudlets faint in even sleeping, Our temple-gates are opened wide,

Our olive-groves thick shade are keeping
For these majestic forms, they cried.
Then we awoke with sudden start
From our deep dream, and knew, too late,
How bare the rock, how desolate,
Which had received our precious freight :

Yet we called out, — Depart !
Our gifts, once given, must here abide:

Our work is done ; we have no heart
To mar our work,' we cried.” – pp. 144-147.

an arm,

This beautiful lyric is sung by Paracelsus, who calls it

“ The sad rhyme of the men who proudly clung

To their first fault, and withered in their pride.” Let us now turn to the Bells and Pomegranates. And here we are met on the very threshold by the difficulty of selection. Not only are the lyrics singularly various in ione and character, but, in the dramas, that interdependence of the parts, which is one of their most striking and singular merits, makes any passage taken by itself do great injustice to the author. These dramas are not made up of a number of beauties, distinct and isolate as pearls, threaded upon the string of the plot. Each has a permeating life and spirit of its own.

When we would break off any fragment, we cannot find one which would by itself approach completeness. It is like tearing away a limb from a living body. For these are works of art in the truest sense. They are not aggregations of dissonant beauties, like some modern sculptures, against which the Apollo might bring an action of trover for

and the Antinoüs for a leg, but pure statues, in which every thing superfluous has been sternly chiselled away, and whose wonderful balance might seem tameness to the ordinary observer, who demands strain as an evidence of strength. They are not arguments on either side of any of the great questions which divide the world. The characters in them are not bundles of different characteristics, but their gradual development runs through the whole drama and makes the life of it. We do not learn what they are by what they say of themselves, or by what is said of them, so much as by what they do or leave undone. Nor does

any

drama seem to be written for the display of some one character which the author has conceived and makes a favorite of. No undue emphasis is laid upon any. Each fills his part, and each, in his higher or lower grade, his greater or less prominence, is equally necessary to the rest. Above all, his personages are not mere mouthpieces for the author's idiosyncrasies. We take leave of Mr. Browning at the end of Sordello, and, except in some shorter lyrics, see no more of him. His men and women are men and women, and not Mr. Browning masquerading in different-colored dominos. We implied as much when we said that he was an artist. For the artistperiod begins precisely at the point where the pleasure of expressing self ends, and the poet becomes sensible that his highest duty is to give voice to the myriad forms of nature, which, wanting him, were dumb. The term art includes many lower faculties of the poet; but this appears to us its highest and most comprehensive definition. Hence Shakspeare, the truest of artists, is also nothing more than a voice. We seek in vain in his plays for any traces of his personal character or history. A man may be even a great poet without being an artist. Byron was, through all whose works we find no individual, self-subsistent characters. His heroes are always himself in so many different stage-costumes, and his Don Juan is his best poem, and approaches more nearly a work of art, by just so much as he has in that expressed himself most truly and untheatrically.

Regarding Mr. Browning's dramas in this light, and esteeming them as so excellent and peculiar, we shall not do him the injustice of picking out detached beauties, and holding them up as fair specimens of his power. For his wholeness is one great proof of this power. He may

be surpassed by one contemporary in finish, by another in melody ; but we shall not try him by comparison. We are thankful to him for being what he is, for contriving to be himself and to keep so. Why, in ordinary society, is it not sometimes the solitary merit of Smith, and all that makes him endurable, that he is not exactly Brown? We are quite willing to be grateful for whatever gists it has pleased God to bestow on any musically-endowed spirit. The scale is composed of various notes, and cannot afford to do without any of them, or to have one substituted for another.

It is not so much for his expression of isolated thoughts as for his power of thinking, that we value Browning. Most readers prefer those authors in whom they find the faculty of observation, to those in whom power of thought is predominant, for the simple reason, that sensation is easier than reflection. By observation we mean that quality of mind which discriminates and sets forth particular ideas by and for themselves alone. Thought goes deeper, and employs itself in detecting and exemplifying the unity which embraces and underlies all ideas. A writer of the first class reaches the mass of readers because they can verify what he says by their own experience, and we cannot help thinking tolerably vell of those who put us in mind of our own penetration. This beautiful lyric is sung by Paracelsus, who calls it

“ The sad rhyme of the men who proudly clung

To their first fault, and withered in their pride." Let us now turn to the Bells and Pomegranates. And here we are met on the very threshold by the difficulty of selection. Not only are the lyrics singularly various in ione and character, but, in the dramas, that interdependence of the parts, which is one of their most striking and singular merits, makes any passage taken by itself do great injustice to the author. These dramas are not made up of a number of beauties, distinct and isolate as pearls, threaded upon the string of the plot. Each has a permeating life and spirit of its own. When we would break off any fragment, we cannot find one which would by itself approach completeness. It is like tearing away a limb from a living body. For these are works of art in the truest sense. They are not aggregations of dissonant beauties, like some modern sculptures, against which the Apollo might bring an action of trover for an arm, and the Antinoüs for a leg, but pure statues, in which every thing superfluous has been sternly chiselled away, and whose wonderful balance might seem tameness to the ordinary observer, who demands strain as an evidence of strength. They are not arguments on either side of any of the great questions which divide the world. The characters in them are not bundles of different characteristics, but their gradual development runs through the whole drama and makes the life of it. We do not learn what they are by what they say of themselves, or by what is said of them, so much as by what they do or leave undone. Nor does any drama seem to be written for the display of some one character which the author has conceived and makes a favorite of. No undue emphasis is laid upon any. Each fills his part, and each, in his higher or lower grade, his greater or less prominence, is equally necessary to the rest. Above all, his personages are not mere mouthpieces for the author's idiosyncrasies. We take leave of Mr. Browning at the end of Sordello, and, except in some shorter lyrics, see no more of him. His men and women are men and women, and not Mr. Browning masquerading in different-colored dominos. We implied as much when we said that he was an artist. For the artistperiod begins precisely at the point where the pleasure of

« PreviousContinue »