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time to do so, and the consequent crowding, and thronging, and hurrying to and fro of porters, with their " By yer leave, gents” (which is in. variably symbolical of their having been within half an inch of crushing your favourite corn with some much-enduring truck), were not calculated to soothe the excited nerves of my companions. However, we were fortunate enough to find our former half still vacant (the carriage being near the head of the train)—and indeed, I believe the inhabitants of the other moiety had never quitted their position, but, from a cursory analysis of some deposits on the floor, which I pronounced to be crumbs, and the somewhat shiny-not to say greasy-appearance of the mouths of several of the party, I hinted a dark suspicion to Mrs. Smith that they had been engaged during our absence in the discussion of ham-sandwiches. How. ever, we got in, and the arrangement suggested by the station-master was easily effected, without raising the suspicions of my friends ; and Mrs. Smith had just observed that the sleepy man had changed his position, when the identical individual in question came forth from the station, stretching and yawning, as though his appetite for sleep were still fresh. Scarcely had Miss Smith expressed a wish that he might find a place elsewhere, when the white hat loomed before the door, and, apparently unconscious of our presence, glided in with a ghostlike air, sank down by Miss Smith, and was almost instantaneously buried in slumber. I confess I felt a well-nigh uncontrollable impulse to recommend him to the notice of some of the officials standing about, but the recollection of the station-master's last words, and my own conviction that the proceeding would be useless, restrained me, and the heavy snort of the locomotive announced that we were once more launched on our
I was so fearful lest anything in my manner should rouse the suspicions of the pretended sleeper, and, by putting him on his guard, spoil the neat contrivance of my ingenious friend, that I had previously resolved, in the event of the man's appearance, to feign sleep myself. This was the more feasible, inasmuch as the ladies appeared to have no disposition now to converse, but were engrossed with their books; and I accordingly leant back in my corner and closed my eyes. In the whole course of my life I do not remember ever to have so utterly despaired of five-and-twenty minutes coming to an end. I have travelled the same ground hundreds of times, and the distance has often appeared long-but now it seemed interminable. Houses, trees, gardens--everything flew by, but time. That alone seemed inexorably to stand still. The excitement grew almost insupportable. I felt that I was glaring between my eyelids upon the man in the white hat until I thought the eyeballs would have burst from their confinement. I could have sworn I saw a hand creeping stealthily down his side, and gliding, serpent-like, among the folds of his victim's dress, and yet, when I glanced at him for a second only, the white hat and all belonging to it were so still and motionless, that I should have fancied we were mistaken, had I not been so firmly persuaded that he was the thief. To make matters worse, the other passengers had ceased to talk. So long as there was a distraction of some kind---no matter what—the suspense was bearable, but now a horrid stillness reigned in the carriage, broken only by the monotonous rattle of the
speeding train. My very breathing began to grow short, and I felt as if I must have implored some one to break the silence, when suddenly I became acutely sensible that the pulsations of the engine were becoming appreciably more irregular, and that the earnestly-expected moment of deliverance was come.
The train ran slowly in alongside the ticket-platform, and the collectors came bustling down to their work. I waited until our window was darkened by an official, and the request of “ Tickets, if you please ?” had been made, and then woke up. I simply said “ Season," without removing my eyes one hair's breadth from those-still closed of the man in the white hat. Our fellow-passengers were handing their pasteboards across, when Mrs. Smith reminded her daughter that she had charge of the tickets. Miss Smith at once put her hand into her pocket, and I distinctly saw the eyelids under the rim of the white hat quiver! Then I knew the game was up. Before Miss Smith could discover her loss, my vis-à-vis made so skilful and swift a movement with his left hand, that in another instant the porte-monnaie, with its contents, would have been flying over the dingy roofs of the houses beneath us, had I not-mindful of the station-master's warning-pulled up the window sharply, and the plunder fell harmlessly at the collector's feet.
It was all scarcely the work of a second.
There was a lively scene. The thief—and I will do him the justice of saying that he was a master of his art-looked somewhat disconcerted, and yet he stepped out with a jaunty air on the invitation of the guard, who speedily consigned him as an object of the most anxious solicitude to X 999, by whom an accurate account of his prisoner was shortly afterwards rendered at the proper place and to the proper person. I may add, that he was recognised by some of the passengers as having left their carriage at E -; of course with a view of employing his labour and skill in a more profitable field.
The man in the white hat had committed a fatal error. He had calculated
upon the certainty of my taking charge of my companions' tickets-after the misfortune that had befallen the
others—and so getting off safely and quietly with purse number two. And undoubtedly I should have done so but for the excellent advice of the far-seeing exdetective. Still it was a mistake, and one that I have every reason to believe the unfortunate victim is still expiating in one of her Majesty's houses of correction, where he is generally supposed to perform daily on the crank, with the view of keeping his hand in, but shorn of all the jaunty splendour of his white hat.
BROWNING'S “MEN AND WOMEN."*
There they are, my fifty men and women
Where the heart lies, let the brain lie also. There is little observable deviation in them from Mr. Browning's characteristie “points," whether good points or bad; though one may unwillingly fear that of the two classes, postive good and positive bad, it is rather in the latter than the former that advance from the positive to the comparative degree is perceptible. Perhaps closer study, such as this poet requires as a sine qua non to appreciation, will discover beauties that lurk unseen during a too cursory perusal; but the most cursory perusal can hardly escape a conviction that the poet's penchant for elliptical diction, interjectional dark sayings, multum in parvo (and, sometimes, seemingly minimum in multo) “ deliverances,” flighty fancies, unkempt similitudes, quaintest conceits, slipshod familiarities, and gro. tesque exaggerations, is unhealthily on the increase. Greatly they wrong him, nevertheless, who proceed, as some do, to confound these excrescent “ accidents” with the essence” of his poetical genius, and to judge him by these, with a radical perversion of inductive method, as though a piled-up sorites of these by-way blemishes were identical with a logical conclusion that he is no poet at all. How much greater a poet he might be, would he but anticipate the easy every-day work of faultfinders, by striking out what they so readily find, and by taking upon himself before publication the duty they promptly assume after it, of rooting out the tares from his wheat, --it is pardonably provoking to think. Nobly endowed is Robert Browning with gifts superior not only in degree but in kind to more than two or three, among contemporary poets, who are read and applauded to the echo by thousands, where he is read and musingly beloved by tens. The excellence of his gifts--a rare union of subjective reflectiveness with objective life and vigour, so that he can make his persone speak out his thoughts without prejudice to their own individual being,- ,-a lofty moral earnestness, masked often, and so unrecognised or repudiated ever by the short-sighted—nay, a pervading religious tone, jarred only, not drowned, by mocking-bird discords
Men and Women. By Robert Browning. Two Vols. London : Chapman and Hall. 1855.
“ But these my
and "accidental sharps" (exceptions by which some would triumphantly prove the rule), ----subtle intellect, deep searchings of heart, shrewd experience, genial spirits, æsthetic cultare, lyrical expression, what gifts are these, and more besides them, for the making of a not-to-be-made Poet (nascitur non fit). Yet time as it passes, instead of exalting these gifts to the exclusion of faulty mannerisms, and once easily row hardly eradicable blemishes, seems to confirm the singer in a habit of putting on his singing-robes after so strange a fashion, that one's wonder is the inverse of one's regret that so few should gather round him, with a mind to hear, and the mind to understand.
To note some of the peculiarities that offend or perplex your jog-trot courteous reader in the volumes before us. Expressions very commonly occur of the kind italicised in the following fragments : “And he lay, would not moan, would not curse, As if lots might be worse.” “ It was roses, roses, all the way, With myrtle mixed in my path like mad.” * Still our life's zigzags and dodges." “Why you cut a figure at the first, &c. Ciphers and stucco-twiddlings everywhere." triumphs' straw-fire flared and funked."
Aaron's asleep-shove hip to haunch,
And the gown with the angel and thingumbob. What, again, is to be said of, or for, such lines as these,—to show that when the fight begins within himself, á man's worth something ?
God stoops o'er his head,
He's left, himself, in the middle, &c. Or the description of a church's "crypt, one fingers along with a torch, -its face, set full for the sun to shave” ? Or this congratulation of departed worthies--"For oh, this world and the wrong it does! They are safe in heaven with their backs to it”? The name of “Holy-Cross Day" may tempt lovers of the “
Baptistery" and the “Christian Year" to seek acquaintance with a poem whose name sounds so well; but we should like to watch the pale lenten faces of such inquirers as they read the first verse of “Holy Cross Day;" to wit (we had almost written tu-whit, with its invariable sequent tu-whoo, infected by the strain):
Fee, faw, fum! bubble and squcak!
Gives us the summons-'tis sermon-time. The third verse is stuffed full as it can hold of imagery and bustling life-like excitement :
Higgledy piggledy, packed we lie,
In verse-making of this reckless, rollicking sort, Mr. Browning often shows remarkable verve and gusto. But he is apt to be slovenly in tagging his verses, which at times are rather too tag-raggish. When a rhymester is master of his rhymes, in their freaks and conjunctions of the kind called Hudibrastic, it is pleasant enough to note their “wanton heed and giddy cunning”—for one is satisfied the while, that the “heed” will keep in check the wantonness, and that the wildest whirl of “ giddiness” will not turn the head of that sage supervisor, “cunning." But when the rhymester is not master of, but mastered by, his rhymes, all zest in the spectacle is gone. Unhappily this is frequently the case with Mr. Browning's rhymes. He does not mould them at will, and shape them, as plastic things, to suit his meaning. On the contrary, they mould, or rather distort, his thoughts--sometimes wresting his sense into
Here is a stanza from “ Master Hugues of Saxe-Gotha," of which the rhymes and the meaning are alike fitted to “puzzle the will” to make the best of them :
Now, they ply axes and crowbars
Now, they prick pins at a tissue
Worked on the bone of a lie. To what issue ?
Where is our gain at the Two-bars ? Well may the two last lines have a note of interrogation each. One thinks of Billy Black in the farce, with his eternal "D'ye give it up ?"
- an ever-recurring query, impertinent enough in the farce, but highly pertinent at the end of too many of these rhymes without reason, or most unreasonable rhymes. In the verses hyper-tersely entitled “Before," we read :
'Tis but decent to profess oneself beneath her.
Still, one must not be too much in earnest either.
Thyself shall afford the example, Giotto!
Done at a stroke (was it not ?) “O!"
From these to Ghiberti and Ghirlandajo
Not that I expect the great Bigordi
to hear me, chivalric, bellicose ;
Say of a seraph of Fra Angelico's.
To grant me a taste of your intonaco-
No churlish saint, Lorenzo Monaco ?