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most witty use, reminds that we are called to partake a mood in which commonplace associations are melting into the ideal. I believe the economy of music is a necessity of Browning's art; and it would be only fair, if those who attack him on this ground would consider how far thought of such quality as his admits of being chanted, or otherwise musically accompanied. In plain words the problem is, how far the pleasures of sound and of sense can be united in poetry; and it will be found in every case that a poet sacrifices something either to the one or to the other. Browning has said something in his arch way on this point. In effect, he remarks, Italian prose can render a simple thought more sweetly to the ear than either Greek or English verse. It seems clear from many other of his critical remarks that he considers the demand for music in preference to thought in poetry, as the symptom of a false taste.
Browning's poetry is to be gazed at, rather than listened to and recited, for the most part. It is infinitely easier to listen for an hour to spiritual music than to fix one's whole attention for a few minutes on a spiritual picture. In the latter act of mind we find a rich musical accompaniment distracting, while a slight musical accompaniment is probably helpful. And perhaps we may characterize Browning's poetry as a series of spiritual pictures with a faint musical accompaniment.
“For illustration by extreme contrast, Milton may be compared with Browning. Milton was a great hearsay poet, Browning repeats no hearsay. In reading Milton, the difficulty is to keep up the mental tension where there is so little thought, strictly speaking. With Browning the highest tension is exacted.
“He is pre-eminently the looker, the seer, the maker-see'; the reporter, the painter of the scenery and events of the soul. And if the sense of vision is our noblest, and we instinctively express the acts of intelligence in terms drawn from physical vision, the poet who leans most towards the “Seer of Power and Love in the absolute, Beauty and Goodness in the concrete,' takes the higher rank. This is no matter for bigotry of taste. Singers and seers, musicians and reporters, and reproducers of every degree, who have something to tell us or to show us of the world as God has made it, where all is beauty,' we have need of all. But of singers there are many, of seers there are few, that is all.”
In the most difficult form of verse, namely, blank verse, Browning has shown himself a great master, and has written some of the very best in the literature. And great as is the extent of his blank verse, the ‘Ring and the Book' alone containing 21,116 verses, it never entirely lapses into prose.
One grand merit of blank verse is in the sweep of it; another, in its pause-melody, which can be secured only by a skilful recurrence of an unbroken measure ; without this, variety of pause ceases to be variety, and results in a metrical chaos; a third is in its lightsomeness of movement, its go, when well-freighted with thought. All these merits are found united in much of Browning's blank verse, especially in that of The Ring and the Book.' an example of this, take the following passage from the monologue of the Canon Caponsacchi. It gives expression to his vision of Count Guido's spiritual down-sliding ; "in the lowest deep a lower deep still threatening to devour him, opens wide":
“ And thus I see him slowly and surely edged
Off all the table-land whence life upsprings
Or fondle this the other while malice aches
Browning has distinctly indicated the standard by which he estimates art-work, in the closing paragraph of his Essay On the Poet objective and subjective ; on the latter's aim ; on Shelley as man and poet.'
"I would rather," he says, “consider Shelley's poetry as a sublime fragmentary essay towards a presentment of the correspondency of the universe to Deity, of the natural to the spiritual, and of the actual to the ideal, than I would isolate and separately appraise the worth of many detachable portions which might be acknowledged as utterly perfect in a lower moral point of view, under the mere conditions of art. It would be easy to take my stand on successful instances of objectivity in Shelley : there is the unrivalled ' Cenci'; there is the ‘Julian and Maddalo' too; there is the magnificent 'Ode to Naples': why not regard, it may be said, the less organized matter as the radiant elemental foam and solution, out of which would have been evolved, eventually, creations as perfect even as those ? But I prefer to look for the highest attainment, not simply the high, -- and, seeing it, I hold by it. There is surely enough of the work ‘Shelley' to be known enduringly among men, and, I believe, to be accepted of God, as human work may; and around the imperfect proportions of such, the most elaborated productions of ordinary art must arrange themselves as inferior illustrations."
The italics are mine. I would say, but without admitting imperfect art on the part of Browning, for I regard him as one of the greatest of literary artists, that he must be estimated by the standard presented in this passage, by the “presentment,” everywhere in his poetry, “ of the correspondency of the universe to Deity, of the natural to the spiritual, and of the actual to the ideal.”
The same standard is presented in ‘Andrea del Sarto,' in ‘Old Pictures in Florence,' and in other of his poems.
ARGUMENTS OF THE POEMS.1
WANTING IS — - WHAT?
OVE, the soul of soul, within the soul,” the Christ-spirit, the
spirit of the “Comer" (ó épxóuevos, Matt. xi. 3), completes incompletion, reanimates that which without it is dead, and admits to a fellowship with the soul of things; Ubi caritas, ibi claritas. See passage from ‘Fifine at the Fair,' quoted under ‘My Star.'
The following passage from “Fifine at the Fair,' $ 55, is an expansion of the idea involved in ‘My Star,' and is the best commentary which can be given on it :
I search but cannot see
1 It has not been thought necessary, in these Arguments, to use quotation marks wherever expressions from the poems are incorporated; and especially where they are adapted in construction to the place where they are introduced.