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his earliest and latest model, in all con. This is the kind of thing we complain of densed utterance, whether of sonnet or this elaborate un-simplicity. song, was Shakespeare. For the obscu- As one reads them one is reminded of rity of meaning which meets us in most a passage from Milton's second book on of Rossetti's sonnets, the example of “Church Government” (quoted by the Shakespeare might perhaps be pleaded. late Dr. John Brown, when speaking of But it should be remembered that those Bailey's “ Festus"): "The wily subtlesonnets of Shakespeare, which take the ties and influxes of man's thoughts from heart and dwell on the memory, are not within ” (which is the haunt and main obscure, but transparent, and that we region of Rossetti)" may be painted out, know not how much of the difficulty of and described with a solid and treatable those which we find obscure, may be due smoothness.” Would that all our inward to our ignorance of the subject he was and analyzing poets nowadays would paint writing of, and to the euphuistic contagion out and describe after this manner! of his time, which even Shakespeare did Here are a few samples of his work, not escape. We regret to see that Mr. where it leaves the shade, and comes out Rossetti's second volume should have re. into open day. In a sonnet entitled “The produced from the first volume most of Hill Summit,” having told how he has the unpleasant sonnets we have already loitered on the hillside all day, and only comp ained of. Some of the most offen. reached the top at sunset, he concludes sive indeed have been omitted, but some thus: in the same vein have been added. The And now that I have climbed and won this more these are veiled in obscurity the
height, better. But there are other sonnets that
I must tread downward through the sloping breathe a different sentiment, whose mean
shade, ing we would gladly have been able to And travel the bewildered tracks till night. read plainly. Yet in most of these the Yet for this hour I still may here be stayed, sense is so buried beneath a load of arti- And see the gold air and the silver fade, ficial diction and labored metaphor, that And the last bird fly into the last light. we believe few but special admirers will take the trouble to unearth their meaning: which has a serious, practically earnest
There is a sonnet on “ Lost Days," Wordsworth had thoughts to convey at least as deep as any. Rossetti was a mas is not very frequent in these poems.
spirit, the more impressive that this tone ter of; yet we doubt if even Wordsworth's Equally impressive are six fine lines obscurest sonnet is not transparent com
which conclude a sonnet on “Inclusivepared with even the average of Rossetti's.
ness.” We all know the maxim of Horace,
One also called “The Monochordon" Si vis me flere, dolendum est
has often been alluded to. It hints with Primum ipsi tibi;
great power what is so undefinable, the and Shelley's saying of poets, that inarticulate yet absorbing emotions so They learn in suffering what they teach in song. multitudinous, yet so opposite, which are Here is a way into which Rossetti beats the conclusion :
awakened by the finest music. This is out that truth in his sonnet called “The Song.Throe :
Oh, what is this that knows the road I came, By thine own tears thy song must tears beget, The flame turned cloud, the cloud returned to O singer ! magic mirror hast thou none
flame, Except thy manifest heart; and save thine own
The shifted lifted steeps, and all the way? Anguish and ardor, else no amulet.
That draws round me at last this wind-warm Cisterned in Pride, verse is the feathery jet
space Of soulless air-tlung fountains ; nay, more dry And in regenerate rapture turns my face Than the Dead Sea for throats that thirst and
Upon the devious coverts of dismay? sigh, That song o'er which no singer's lids
What “regenerate rapture ” may, exactly grew
mean, I must leave others to find out for
themselves, but the sonnet as a whole is The Song-God – He the Sun-God – is no finely suggestive. slave
Amid so many inorbid fancies and such Of thine: thy Hunter he, who for thy soul Fledges his shaft; to no august control
super-subtilized phrases as these sonnets Of thy skill'd hand his quivered store he gave : contain, we welcome all the more gladly a But if thy lips' loud cry leaps to his smart,
few which are purely objective and clothed The inspired recoil shall pierce thy brother's in plain, vigorous English. Such is the heart.
sonnet on “The Last Three from Tralal. them. It is really not worth your while Those voices of twin solitudes
gar," and one on “Winter," and one on Hark, where the murmurs of thronged men, "Spring;” the latter two, reproducing so
Surge and sink back and surge again faithfully the English landscape, without Still the one voice of wave and tree. being imitations, recall the best manner Gather a shell from the strewn beach, of Keats. Here is the last of these :
And listen at its lips : they sigh Soft littered in the new year's lambing-fold,
The same desire and mystery,
The echo of the whole sea's speech. And in the hollowed haystack at its side,
And all mankind is thus at heart, The shepherd lies o' nights now, wakeful.
Not anything but what thou art: eyed, At the ewe's travailing call through the dark And earth, sea, man, are all in each. cold.
In the second volume the lyrics have The young rooks cheep ’mid the thick caw o' all more or less an undertone of sadness the old;
for some loved and lost one, which breaks And near unpeopled stream-sides, on the out here and there into a passionate cry.
ground, By her spring cry the moorhen's nest is They dwell mainly on the mystery of our found,
life here and of our destiny. This is ex. Where the drained flood-lands flaunt their pressed in the last of the series, “ Cloud marigold.
Confines,” which the author himself, we
are told, regarded as his finest lyric work. Chill are the gusts to which the pastures cower, It repeats the old truth of the inexorable And chill the current where the young reeds silence which encompasses us, behind, stand
before, and above, As green and close as the young wheat on land:
Our past is clean forgot, Yet here the cuckoo and the cuckoo flower
Our present is and is not, Plight to the heart spring's perfect imminent Our future's a sealed seed-plot, hour,
And what betwixt them are we? Whose breath shall soothe you like your loved one's hand.
We who say as we go,
Strange to think by the way, Perhaps the divisions between the dif- Whatever there is to know, ferent months may be here somewhat ob.
That shall we know some day. literated ; yet as we read sonnets like this
There is also a very touching lament with their refreshing out-of-door feeling named, “ Alas! so long!” This and we are inclined to say, “O si sic omnia !”
other of these lyrics close with a faintly One word on the lyrics and songs, for breathed hope, so little removed from uneach volume contains a different set of certainty that it does not relieve the opthese. Of the eleven short pieces in the pressivé sadness — the hope that there first volume the last four are all more or
may be a meeting hereafter: less simple and intelligible in style, and condense into a few felicitous lines some
Is there a home where heavy earth fleeting mood, or some one thought which,
Melts to bright air that breathes no pain,
Where water leaves no thirst again, coming for a moment, would liave been And springing fire is Love's new birth? lost, bad it not been fixed in words. Such are the songs or poems named, “ The Rossetti does not rank with the poets of Woodspurge," which compresses much denial and decided unbelief; there is in sadness into little space,“ Honeysuckle,” | his poetry a desire, that almost becomes "A Young Fir-wood.” The lines named a hope, for better things. But it is a hope "Sea Limits,” express well the feeling so faint that it seems almost next door to that there is one life pervading all things despair, and is nearly as sad as despair. in some mysterious way.
Of this kind of poetry, which is unillu
mined by the sense of the divine presence Consider the sea's listless chime :
in the world, and by the hope of immorTime's self it is, made audible, –
tality, we have surely had enough in this The murmur of the earth's own shell,
generation. To young poets we should Secret continuance sublime Is the sea's end. Our sight may pass
say, Till you have learned something betNo furlong further. Since time was
ter to tell us on man's life and destiny, This sound hath told the lapse of time.
had you not better be silent? The world
is weary of these moanings of despair, Listen alone beside the sea,
and can well dispense with any more of Listen alone among the woods;
to trouble it with your pipings till you Shall have one sound alike to thee;
have something to tell it; some authentic
message to bring of man and of God, and ling-room table; no railway stall reserves of man's relation to God.
a corner for them. On the whole, we must again repeat our
Yet edition after edition comes out, and regret that poetic genius, real within a is sold to purchasers who value the plain certain range, such as Mr. Rossetti pos brown and green volumes as they value sessed, should, if judged by any high few others on their shelves. They be. standard, seem to a large extent to have come the possession of men and womspent itself in vain. The worth of his en, who (not in noisy drawing-room dispoetry is vitiated by two grave errors.cussions, but in the quiet talks where The first of these is the unwholesome friend opens bis heart to friend) speak sentiment and the esoteric vein of thought with earnest, loving gratitude of the into which he allowed himself to diverge. writer, and tell how he has raised their The second is the exotic manner and too aims, awakened their energies, quickened elaborated style, which, for whatever rea- their hopes, comforted them under failure, son, he adopted.
and taught them to live down doubt; or If future poets wish to win the ear of who bear the same testimony in another their countrymen, and to merit the honor way, and by work grown heartier, brows accorded to the highest poetry, they would clearer, and hearts more calm, seem to be wise to cultivate manlier thought and say: “ Thou hast instructed many; thou nobler sentiment, expressed in purer and hast strengthened the weak hands; thy fresher diction, and to make their appeal, words have upholden him that was falling, not to the perfumed tastes of over-edu- and thou hast strengthened the feeble cated coteries, but to the broader and knees.” Truly these are the rewards healthier sympathies of universal man. coveted by a poet for “the bestowal of a
J. C. SHAIRP. life upon a labor, hard, slow, and not sure.”
(Browning's “Essay on Shelley:")
My wish is to note down some of the chief characteristics of Mr. Browning's
writings, not for readers who are already From Macmillan's Magazine.
students of his writings, but for those SOME THOUGHTS ON BROWNING.
who, being but little acquainted with them, In one respect the position which Mr. may have felt disposed to wonder at the Browning occupies with the English read. enthusiasm which they unquestionably ing public is clifferent from that of any excite in those who know them best. If other contemporary poet. Each of the any of these should be induced to brace other great masters of verse has a circle themselves up to the study of these of fervent admirers who are intimately poems, my object will have been fully acquainted with all he has written; and, attained. in addition, a large number of readers But first, for honesty's sake, and also who study him more or less, who know because it never helps any cause to advo. him thoroughly or slightly, who at any cate it in a one-sided manner, I will adrate keep a copy of his principal works in mit that the nature of Mr. Browning's their house and look into it from time to poetry is not such as to attract at first time. Of warm admirers Mr. Browning sight. It takes some time to grow accushas perhaps as many as the most popular tomed to his queer choice of subjects, his poets of the day, but casual acquaintances, rugged verse, his strange metaphors, and half-and-half disciples, occasional readers, his involved elliptical language. Why be he has
was ever yet should, as Calverley says in his clever parfound who liked his works a little; strong ody, “ The Cock and the Bull,"“. aversion, or still stronger admiration, are love to dock the smaller parts of speech," the sentiments with which they are in. why he should give us infinitives without variably regarded. This peculiar attitude “to's," nouns without articles, phrases of the public towards him is typified by without prepositions, and lines where the many outward signs. We do not see his conjunction is but ill-replaced by a comma writings displayed in the shop-windows, or a dash, he himself best knows. These in the glories of vellum and gilt edges, grammatical peculiarities sorely puzzle neither does Doré illustrate them. There ihe uninitiated, who stumble sadly over is no “ Browning Birthday Book.” Among such lines as those in which Guido laa collection of wedding presents may be ments the good old days when no silly found five copies of Tennyson's “Idylls,” fuss was made about a murder or two, and but not a page of Browning; no doctor or describes the manner in which his grand. dentist lays one of his works on the wait- | sire
drew rein, slipped saddle, and stabbed In the preface to “ A Soul's Tragedy,”. knave
he explains that by the title of " Bells and For daring throw gibe — much less stone – Pomegranates” he had meant to convey from pale.
“an endeavor towards something like an True it is that the difficulty of the alternation or mixture of music with dis. poems, especially that of the later ones, coursing, sound with sense, poetry with is greatly overrated, and that many of thought." Students of rabbinical or those who talk loudest of it, confess, after patristic lore would, he says, know that a little gentle pressure, that their judg. such is the common acceptation of the ment is based on a dimly remembered term, but he goes on very naively to obperusal of Calverley's parody, or a belief serve: "I confess that, letting authority that they “have Mrs. Browning's 'Selec- alone, I supposed the bare words in such tions somewhere at home.” “Where juxtaposition would sufficiently convey you are ignorant, at least be reverent,” the desired meaning." said James Hinton, a maxim which this Does this passage not give an alarming class of critics would do well to remember. impression of Mr. Browning's estimate of Still, deducting the outcry made by these the average human mind? It is very flatpersons, and many more who are only a tering that he should have so exalted an shade less incoinpetent, there remains a opinion of us; but I, for one, would gladly standing, and I think justifiable, complaint undergo the humiliation of having him against him of great and unnecessary undeceived, if possible. obscurity.
As it is, however, unlikely that he will He bimself, as is natural, repudiates the make any fresh discoveries on this head, charge, and in “ Pacchiarotto " tells us it or will do anything to suit his style to our cannot be otherwise when you want to limited intelligences, let us do the only
“big and bouncing thought” into thing that remains, if we wish to know one small line.". But, to begin with, him — train our intelligences to his style, many of his dark passages are not a task well worth the arduous struggle obscured by any particularly gigantic which it costs. In the vast majority of thought; and next, if a “big, bouncing cases indeed a short course of perseverthought”in one line is incomprehensible, ing study brings with it an honest liking how gladly would we see it overflow into for the straightforward, hard-hitting, a second! All sorts of reasons for his rough-and-ready phraseology; but even unintelligibility are given by his admirers: where this does not happen, the matter of he“neglects the form” for the substance; the poems is such as to make the reader he “ writes too hurriedly; he “only very tolerant of any blemishes he may find cares to be understood by those who do in their form. not grudge the effort.” All these excuses And among Mr. Browning's merits, may be true to a certain extent, but it that which I should single out as the one osten strikes me that there is a further which primarily draws people towards cause as well. I believe that, with all his himn is his strong, hopeful philosophy of genius, Mr. Browning has one decided life. It has been said of him that “he want in his mind, and that he is deficient brings out of his individuality something in the faculty of gauging the apprehensive which he does not receive from the age, power of the ordinary intellect; that he and which he offers it as a gift.” This does not puzzle us wilfully, but he has something ” I hold to be the construc. never learned, and has no idea, what peo. tiveness of his teaching as opposed to the ple can and cannot be expected to under destructiveness of the school of thought stand. I know that I am saying in other which has prevailed for so many years. words: he has never discovered how very He is the embodiment of Goethe's theory stupid we are.
Be it so. He himself that the best literary work is marred by tells us, in the “Essay on Shelley,” that “perpetual negation and fault-finding; the poet should be so acquainted and in not only, he remarks, “ does the disconsympathy with the narrow comprehension tent of the poet infect the reader, but the of the “average mind” “as to be careful end of opposition is negation, and negato supply it with no other materials than tion is nothing. . . . The great point.is it can combine into an intelligible whole.” not to pull down, but to build up : in this Why then has he not measured our stu- humanity finds pure joy.” (Eckermann, pidity and respected it?
vol. i., p. 208.) Let me give an instance of the alto. In the “ Essay on Shelley,” Mr. Browngether unreasonable things which he ex. ing, echoing this sentiment, says: “ The pects us to understand.
best way of removing abuses is to stand
fast by truth. Truth is one, as they are What a triumphant outburst is the folmanifold, and innumerable negative ef- lowing well-known passage from “ Abt fects are produced by the upholding of Vogler," and how finely it expresses one positive principle.” Such being his man's inward convictions ! point of view, he emphasizes our hopes There shall never be one lost good! What rather than our fears, our certainties
was shall live as before ; rather than our doubts, our ultimate tri- The evil is null, is nought; is silence implying umph rather than our present failures: in a word, he is not a condoling poet, but what was good, shall be good, with for evil the very reverse. We gather from “ The so much good more; Two Poets of Croisic ” that he considers On the earth the broken arcs, in the heaven a light-heartedness, and a turn for making perfect round. the best of things, as a proof of intellec- All we have willed or hoped or dreamed of tual strength. He there tells us that in
good, shall exist; estimating the relative merits of two emi- Not its semblance, but itself; no beauty, nor nent bards, we may decide the question good, nor power by asking, " Which one led a happy Whose voice has gone forth, but each survives
for the melodist, If one did - over his antagonist
When eternity affirms the conception of an
hour! That yelled or shrieked, or sobbed or wept or wailed,
The key-note of this passage is a vivid Or simply had the dumps — dispute who list
faith in a loving God, who gathers up tbe I count him victor.
broken threads of his creature's aspiraAnd in “At the Mermaid” he uses lan- tions and strivings and longings, to reguage more emphatic than polite to the store them one day perfected and comcritics who tell bim he will never enter pleted; a God who looks not to results, the human heart without appealing to the but to effort : Weltschmerz common among men.
No doubt a reader may be in such a frame All men ignored in me,
All I could never be of mind that this characteristic of Mr. This, I was worth to God, whose wheel the Browning's poetry shall repel rather than
pitcher shaped. attract him. For a space in most men's
(“Rabbi ben Ezra.") lives the negative aspect of things suits them best; they like to be told that effort This intense faith would in itself afford is vain, and love is hollow; that there is ample consolation under the sting of sail. no light on earth, and a doubtful God in ure, and the pressure of disappointment; heaven; but with most healthy minds this but Mr. Browning finds a second source state of things passes off early –
of comfort in his strongly realized con.
ception of eternity. To him failure is If hopes were dupes, fears may be liars,
not irretrievable non-success. This life they say, and they refuse to spend the is not the only period for work, progress, rest of their lives shackled and enfeebled and development. Heaven is not the reby this gloomy philosophy. Then it is ward of the faithful soul, severed from all that Browning's positive teaching comes connection with its previous state of exlike a voice from above to strengthen and istence. All good work begun here will cheer.
go on there without let or hindrance; and And if we ask what is the basis of his therefore man should map out his life not invigorating tenets, the reply is, the in- with reference to what he can complete tense realization of a loving God, and a here, but with reference to the endless future life, given him by his “poet's fac: centuries of futurity. “ Aim high,” he ulty of seeing more clearly, widely, and seems to say, “ try not for one hundred deeply” than" the common eye.” (“Essay but for a whole million; the entire quality on Shelley.") We too behold these things of your work will be better than if you in our rarer moments, but with us, adopt a lower standard, and though you
There's provision will not fully attain bere, what does it Of the devil's to quench knowledge ; lest we matter?” or in the words of the “gram. walk the earth in rapture
Others mistrust and say, “But time escapes ! and we soon fall back to mere belief.
Live now or never!” But what we only believe, be sees; and He said, “What's Time? Leave Now for in his verse recalls and makes permanent
dogs and apes ! our own momentary gleams.
Man has Forever."