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lectual grasp), but responsiveness to the higher spiritual truths. Spiritual truths must be spiritually responded to; they are not and cannot be intellectually comprehended. The condition of such responsiveness it may require a long while to fulfil. New attitudes of the soul, a metávola, may be demanded, before such responsiveness is possible. And what some people may regard in the higher poetry as obscure, by reason of the mode of its presentation on the part of the poet, may be only relatively so – that is, the obscurity may be wholly due to the wrong attitudes, or the no attitudes, of their own souls, and to the limitations of their spiritual experiences. In that case “ the patient must minister to himself.”
While on the subject of “obscurity,” I must notice a difficulty which the reader at first experiences in his study of Browning's poetry - a difficulty resulting from the poet's favorite art-form, the dramatic or psychologic monologue. The largest portion of his voluminous poetry is in this form. Some speaker is made to reveal his character, and, sometimes, by reflection, or directly, the character of some one else — to set forth some subtle and complex soul-mood, some supreme, all-determining movement or
1 The dramatic monologue differs from a soliloquy in this: while there is but one speaker, the presence of a silent second person is supposed, to whom the arguments of the speaker are addressed. Perhaps such a situation may be termed a novelty of invention in our Poet. It is obvious that the dramatic monologue gains over the soliloquy in that it allows the artist greater room in which to work out his conception of character. We cannot gaze long at a solitary figure on a canvas, however powerfully treated, without feeling some need of relief. In the same way a soliloquy (comp. the great soliloquies of Shakespeare) cannot be protracted to any great length without wearying the listener. The thoughts of a man in self-communion are apt to run in a certain circle, and to assume a monotony. The introduction of a second person acting powerfully upon the speaker throughout, draws the latter forth into a more complete and varied expression of his mind. The silent person in the background, who may be all the time master of the situation, supplies a powerful stimulus to the imagination of the reader. – Rev. Prof. E. JOHNSON'S Paper on 'Bishop Blougram's Apology' ('Browning Soc. Papers,' Pt. III., p. 279).
experience of a life; or, it may be, to ratiocinate subtly on some curious question of theology, morals, philosophy, or art. Now it is in strictly preserving the monologue character that obscurity often results. A monologue often begins with a startling abruptness, and the reader must read along some distance before he gathers what the beginning means. Take the monologue of Fra Lippo Lippi for example. The situation is necessarily left more or less unexplained. The poet says nothing in propria persona, and no reply is made to the speaker by the person or persons addressed. Sometimes a look, a gesture, or a remark, must be supposed on the part of the one addressed, which occasions a responsive remark. Sometimes the speaker imputes a question; and the reader is sometimes obliged to stop and consider whether a question is imputed by the speaker to the one he is addressing, or is a direct question of his own. This is often the case throughout ‘The Ring and the Book. But to the initiated, these features of the monologue present little or no difficulty, and they conduce to great compactness of composition a closeness of texture which the reader comes in time to enjoy, and to prefer to a more loosely woven diction.
The monologue entitled “My Last Duchess. Ferrara ’ is a good example of the constitution of this art-form. It is one of the most perfect in artistic treatment, and exhibits all the features I have just noticed. Originally, this monologue and that now entitled “ Count Gismond. Aix in Provence,' had the common title, 'Italy and France, the former being No. I. Italy; the latter, No. II. France. The poet, no doubt, afterward thought that the Duke of the one monologue, and the Count of the other, could not justly be presented as representatives, respectively, of Italy and France. In giving the monologues new titles, My Last Duchess' and 'Count Gismond,' he added to the one, ‘Ferrara,' and to the other, 'Aix in Provence, thus locally restricting the order of character which they severally represent.
In ‘My Last Duchess,' the speaker is a soulless virtuoso natural product of a proud, arrogant, and exclusive aristocracy, on
the one hand, and on the other, of an old and effete city, like Ferrara, where art, rather than ministering to soul-life and true manliness of character, has become an end to itself — is valued for its own sake.
The Duke is showing, with the weak pride of the mere virtuoso, a portrait of his last Duchess, to some one who has been sent to negotiate another marriage. We see that he is having an entertainment or reception of some kind in his palace, and that he has withdrawn from the company with the envoy to the picture gallery on an upper floor. He has pulled aside the curtain from before the portrait, and in remarking on the expression which the artist, Frà Pandolf, has given to the face, he is made to reveal a fiendish jealousy on his part, occasioned by the sweetness and joyousness of his late Duchess, who, he thought, should show interest in nothing but his own fossilized self.
“She had,” he says,
a heart — how shall I say? — too soon made glad, too easily impressed ; she liked whate'er she looked on, and her looks went everywhere. Sir, 'twas all one! My favour at her breast, the dropping of the daylight in the West, the bough of cherries some officious fool broke in the orchard for her, the white mule she rode with round the terrace all and each would draw from her alike the approving speech, or blush, at least. She thanked men, — good! but thanked somehow — I know not how — as if she ranked my gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name with anybody's gift.”
Her fresh interest in things, and the sweet smile she had for all, due to a generous soul-life, proved fatal to the lovely Duchess : “Oh sir, she smiled, no doubt, whene'er I passed her ; but who passed without much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands; than all smiles stopped together.”
He succeeded, and he seems to be proud of it, in shutting off all her life-currents, pure, and fresh, and sparkling, as they were, and we must suppose that she then sank slowly and uncomplainingly away. What a deep pathos there is in “ then all smiles stopped together" !1
1“I gave commands” certainly must not be understood to mean comThe contemptible meanness and selfishness of jealousy were never exhibited with greater power, than they are exhibited in this short inonologue — a power largely due to the artistic treatment. The jealousy of Leontes, in ' The Winter's Tale,' of Shakespeare, is nobility itself, in comparison with the Duke's. How distinctly, while indirectly, the sweet Duchess is, with a few masterly touches, placed before us! The poet shows his artistic skill especially in his indirect, reflected portraitures.
This short composition, comprising as it does but fifty-six lines, is, of itself, sufficient to prove the poet a consummate artist. Tennyson's technique is quite perfect, almost “faultily faultless," indeed; but in no one of his compositions has he shown an equal degree of art-power, in the highest sense of the word.
“ That's my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive. I call
mands for her death, as it is understood by the writer of the articles in The Saint Paul's Magazine' for December, 1870, and January, 1871.
A heart- how shall I say? too soon made glad,
- E'en then would be some stooping; and I choose
Which Claus of Innsbruck 1 cast in bronze for me! The last ten verses illustrate well the poet's skilful management of his difficult art-form. After the envoy has had his look at the
1 Claus of Innsbruck and also Frà Pandolf (v. 3) are imaginary artists.