« PoprzedniaDalej »
like ours to cling to the slightest hope of Thirdly, the novel-in-verse, or present-day rescue, and to ascertain the mysterious fate epic, called “Aurora Leigh.” Besides the of men who have nobly perished in the ser- poems belonging to these three classes, there vice of their country. Science adds her are several occasional pieces" of more or voice to that of humanity, and calls upon less significance. the maritime powers of Europe, and France Pieces which the authoress confesses that in particular, to imitate the noble example she would willingly have withdrawn," are, of the United States—if not to search for by that confession, almost withdrawn from the lost, at least to explore those remarkable criticism. We imagine that the two dramas, regions which have hitherto defied the ap- "a Drama of Exile,” and “the Seraphim," proach of man. The science of England are among the number of those which Mrs. will never rest till she places her foot on Browning, in her last edition, introduces each Pole of the globe, and has established with "a request to the generous reader that the laws of those physical agencies which he may use their weakness, which no subsehave a peculiar development in the Arctic quent revision has succeeded in strengthenand Antarctic zones.
ing, less as a reproach to the writer, than as The Hudson's Bay Company, already dis- a means of marking some progress in her tinguished above all other commercial insti- other attempts." We will only say concerntutions by their exertions in the interests of ing these and some other useful essays, that science and humanity, have equipped an ex- we think the authoress mistaken in suppospedition, to start from the Great Slave Lake, ing that the machinery of the press" will in order to visit the locality where Dr. Rae give them the deprecated perpetuity, unless found the relics of Sir John Franklin's par- she herself continues to reprint them; and ty; and we trust that the earnest application that their value " as a means of marking of the distinguished members of the Geo- some progress in her other attempts,” is of graphical and Royal Societies will induce a kind which her personal friends will apour own Government to embark in the same preciate much better than the world, for noble cause.
whom, we presume, she writes and publishes.
Dismissing the whole of the first volume of the “ Poems” as containing very little
that is worthy of the authoress's matured Art. V.-1. Poems. BY ELIZABETH BAR- powers-although much that would be re
RETT BROWNING. Fourth Edition, 3 markable in any other recent poetess-we vols. 8vo. 1856.
come, in the early part of the second volume, 2. Aurora Leigh. By ELIZABETH BARRETT to one of Mrs. Browning's most beautiful BROWNING. 8vo. 1856.
pieces, “ Bertha in the Lane.” It contains
a most skilful and touching delineation of The poetical reputation of Mrs. Browning, disappointed affection, and the workings of late Miss Barrett, has been growing slowly, that feeling. This poem is not only “simple, until it has reached a height which has ne sensuous, and passionate," as Milton said ver before been attained by any modern poet- that poetry should be; but it is also very ess, though several others have had wider artistical in its form and contrasted details, circles of readers. An intellect of a very and in the construction of the measure, unusual order has been ripened by an edu- which beautifully answers to the feeling cation scarcely less unusual-for a woman; Mrs. Browning will probably be popularly and Mrs. Browning now honourably enjoys remembered as much by this little poem, the title of poetess in her own right, and not as by any she has written ; and, excellent as inerely by courtesy.
it is in its present state, its value might be, The poems before us are divişible into at least, doubled by condensation, and a three tolerably distinct classes; first, the more thoroughly polished diction. No poet imaginative compositions, which form the of Mrs. Browning's rank should condescend bulk of Miss Barrett's poems, and several of to the use of capital letters to give emphasis which Mrs. Browning tells us she would will to her words, or to change an adjective into ingly have withdrawn, if it were not almost a substantive, or to the introduction of such impossible to extricate what has once been expressions as “ fever-bale,” when a little caught and involved in the machinery of the trouble would have supplied others, suited press." Secondly, the poems which have to the simplicity of grief, and the laws of immediately arisen from personal feeling the English language; nor can we underand personal observation. Of these the stand how a writer, capable of such a strain chief are the so-called “Sonnets from the of strong and simple feeling, could mar it at Portuguese," and "Casa Guidi Windows." the end by such an odd jumble of Christian VOL. XXVI.
doctrine and classical allusion as the follow-|fully aware of the sacrifice she was making, ing :
but that she was also capable of enduring it
to the end, with all its trying circumstances "Jesus, Victim, comprehending Love's divine self-abnegation,
of social contempt and dissonance of habits. Cleanse my love in its self-spending,
But Mrs. Browning has not done either of And absorb the poor libation!
these things; so that our feeling, on coming Wind my thread of life up higher,
to the “happy conclusion" of the poem, is one Up, through angel's hands of fire ! of unmixed commiseration for the hero and I aspire while I expire."
heroine, who are putting their heads into so
desperate a noose, without having the slightThe piece that follows “Bertha in the est notion of what they are about. This Lane" is one which is a favourite, we believe, poem, however, is more than usually rich in with many of Mrs. Browning's admirers. graceful and powerful descriptions. We cannot say that it is so with us ; for, al In this, as in all Mrs. Browning's pieces though it contains many noble and subtle of any length, there are parts obviously not lines, and a current of true passion runs so good as Mrs. Browning might have made through the whole, it appears to us to be them had she chosen. The best that an fundamentally damaged by the social fallacy author has written is a fair standard to try -a very common one with novelists and all the rest by; and it is clear that one who poets of inferior standing to that of Mrs. is capable of such subtle and finished lines Browning-upon which it is built. "Lady as Geraldine's Courtship; a Romance of the Age,” is the story of a peasant-poet's love, “And the shadow of a monarch's crown is softtold by himself. He tells us that, although ened in her hair ;" he was “Quite low-born, self-educated,” yet, “ because he was a poet, and because the and several others in the same poem, should public praised him," he could sit at rich have known better than to degrade them by men's tables.” At these he had an oppor- the proximity of such baldness as — tunity of seeing, and of falling in love with, “ an Earl's daughter,"—which was not won- " She treads the crimson carpet, and she breathes derful, or out of course; but that she should the perfumed air ;" have fallen in love with and married him is, and, we will venture to add, ought to be so. and much more in the same poem. The more one knows of men and women, This is not a time in which a poet can the less one thinks of the wisdom and possi- afford to do anything but the best. There bility of happiness in a mésalliance of this are several carelessly written poems in kind; and the case is not made a whit the these volumes which would bear a high pol. better by the hero's being a poet. A wo- ish—to say which is to commend their subman, moreover, is not essentially the better stance as gem-like. Great polish is an for being an Earl's daughter; grace and indication of the highest poetry, because goodness, as substantial, might have been none but the highest poetry will take it. found for Bertram in a sphere not wholly With a few very great poets—in English and hopelessly removed from his own. only Shakspere-poetry seems always to That which really does distinguish a Lady have flowed forth from the writer's heart in Geraldine from any other graceful and equal- a condition of absolute finish. All who are ly well-disposed lady in a lower sphere, is really poets have probably known this precisely what Bertram could not possibly wonderful mood now and then-it has prohave enjoyed, and what he would have de- duced a few rapidly written yet perfect pasprived her of, namely, the station in society. sages or small poems; but a poet who It seems to us, that Mrs. Browning has not works with a right understanding of what consulted the poet's true dignity, in making he is about, will aim at leaving nothing so poor and worldly an exaltation a part of which a reader can point out as being less the honour of which he is capable and desi- happily conceived and executed than those rous. Or, if that was not her intention, if inspired morsels. she meant, rather, to display the nobility of Mrs. Browning shines nowhere to greater the Lady, in leaving the condition in which advantage than in the sonnet. Her lyrical she had passed her life, for the sake of pass- verse is seldom good. In proportion as ing it henceforward in the unsophisticated poetry aims at lyrical character, it becomes company of an uneducated poet
, and his necessary that it should possess that absolute friends and relations, she ought, in order to perfection of verbal expression, which is have brought out her meaning artistically, given by vivid lyrical feeling--that rarest to have shown that the Lady was not only of all poetical qualities. To write a good
sonnet demands power of a high order. It intellect will be made still more piercing requires that some grave and novel thought and abundant in, what to inferior minds may should be expressed in high and pure lan- seem, excessive refinements of thought and guage, and in an extremely elaborate form, imagery. The following sonnet deserves to the limits of which are fixed. Mrs. Brown- rank with the very best of Milton and ing brings to her task the industry, the Wordsworth. thoughtfulness, and the power of language which are requisite; and accordingly she “ I thought once how Theocritus had sung has written several sonnets which will bear Of the sweet years, the dear and wished-for comparison with the best in the language. years, It must be confessed, however, that Mrs.
Who each one in a gracious hand appears
To bear a gift for mortals, old and young : Browning gives us specimens of sonnets
And, as I mused it, in his antique tongue, presenting very marked defects. It is quite
I saw, in gradual vision through my tears, wonderful into what mistakes this lady
The sweet, sad years, the melancholy years, sometimes falls, particularly when she is Those of my own life, who by turns had flung under the impression that she is doing some- A shadow across me. Straightway I was 'ware, thing remarkably good. Perhaps the most So weeping, how a mystic Shape did move absurd line that was ever written by so good
Bebind me, and drew ine backward by the
hair, a poet is the following, concluding the son
And a voice said in mastery while I strove, .. net to “Hiram Powers' Greek Slave," and
Guess now who holds thee?' Death!' I said. adjuring her to
The silver answer rang— Not Death, but “Strike and shame the strong,
Love.'” By thunders of white silence overthrown.”
“ Casa Guidi Windows" is one of the Mrs. Brownings worst fault is her almost con- very few things that have been lately writstant endeavour to be “striking.” This ten- ten about the political condition of Italy in dency has deformed her volumes with scores a tone with which, upon the whole, a sensiof passages scarcely less offensive to true taste ble man may sympathize. Mrs. Browning than the above. Such passages are not only says in her preface to this poem, that it bad in themselves, but, being as it were, the contains the impressions of the writer hypocrisy of art, they cast suspicion and upon events in Tuscany, of which she was a discredit upon their context wherever they witness. From a window,' the critic may occur. They are proof positive of absence demur. She bows to the objection in the of true feeling-—of the tone of mind that very title of her work. No continuous nar“ voluntary moves harmonious numbers”- rative nor exposition of political philosophy at the time of writing; and the only poem is attempted by her. It is a simple story of Mrs. Browning's from which they are of personal impressions, whose only value is almost entirely absent, is the series of the intensity with which they were received, " Sonnets from the Portuguese," for the as proving her warm affection for a beautiful originals of which we fancy that we must and unfortunate country, and the sincerity seek in vain, unless we detect them in the with which they are related, as indicating personal feelings of the writer. In this her own good faith and freedom from partiseries of sonnets we have unquestionably zanship.' one of Mrs. Browning's most beautiful and “Casa Guidi Windows" is, to our thinkworthy productions. In style they are opening, the happiest of its author's performances, ly-indeed by the title avowedly-an imita- if not the highest. The difficulty of the tion of the fourteenth and fifteenth century metre, in which every rhyme occurs thrice, love-poetry; but to imitate this is so nearly here as in the sonnet, seems to act as a reequivalent to imitating nature of the sim- straint upon the authoress's imagination, plest and loftiest kind, that it is scarcely to preventing it from indulging in that kind of be spoken of as a defect of originality. Hight of which boldness may be said to be The forty-four sonnets constitute consecutive the only recommendation.' So difficult a stanzas of what is properly speaking one metre is furthermore in itself a kind of poem. They are lofty, simple, and passion. compulsory finish which is a great advanate—not at all the less passionate for being tage to the verses of a writer evidently not highly intellectual and even metaphysical. much given to the drudgery of polish, where Nothing is more untrue than the common it may be shirked. It has been said of the notion that deep and subtle thought is for- poet, that he eign to passion. On the contrary, under the
Freely sings influence of passion, an obtuse mind will In strictest bonds of rhyme and rule, often become witty, and a naturally subtle And finds in them, not bonds, but wings."
And this is more than usually true of Mrs. And faces, held as steadfast as their swords, Browning. Her genius nowhere rises in sọ And cognizant of acts not imageries. spirited & style, or maintains so steady an
The key, 0 Tuscan, too well fits the wards!
Ye ask'd for mimes—these bring you tragealtitude, as in those poems in which she sub
dies. mits herself to the heaviest fetters of external
For purple—these shall wear it as your lords." form ; whereas in blank verse, and in other measures, not sufficiently weighted with rule,
“Casa Guidi Windows," we repeat, is the her imagination "pitches” like a kite with happiest of Mrs. Browning's performances, out a tail.
because it makes no pretensions to high of the two parts of “Casa Guidi Win-artistic character, and is really "a simple dows," says Mrs. Browning, writing in 1851, story of personal impressions. The first “the first was written nearly three years thing that a poet, or indeed any other workago," (1848,)“ while the second resumes the man, has to do, is to find out what he is well actual situation." The first is full of hope, able to do; and he should always determine pardonably felt and finely expressed, for the to do a little less than he is able, in order immediate future of Italy. In this part there that his limitations may not appear. There is little or no action. It is all aspiration, is no knowing how much a poet may do who mingled, however, with moderation and has done nothing he has attempted ill; shrewdness. In her preface she congratulates and it is a great point in art, as well as in herself on not having caught the epidemic worldly prosperity, not to let your neighenthusiasm for Pio Nono." In Part I. we bours know the figure of your fortune. And find the causes which prevented the Pope this as much for their sakes as for yours. All from fulfilling revolutionary hopes admira- good art is the very best thing in its way bly shown, and in Part II. we find no less that ever was done or ever will be done ; exactly and candidly stated the causes of the and the best, in whatever way, is related to people's failing in the hour of their oppor- the best in all things, and has its aspect totunity. Our limits do not permit of length wards the Infinite in all directions. Now, ened extracts. We give the return of the this lovely freedom on the face of art seems Grand Duke Leopold, as one of Mrs. Brown to be contradicted by any appearance of ing's highest achievements :
strain and insufficiency. A dead wall"I saw and witnessed how the Duke came back. though it were the wall of China—is a bad
The regular tramp of horse and tread of men background for any landscape. It is the Did smite the silence like an anvil black misfortune of nearly all our living poets that And sparkless. With her wide eyes at full the dead wall of their limitations is the most strain,
conspicuous feature in their picture. This is Our Tuscan nurse exclaim'd, 'Alack, alack, Signora, these shall be the Austrians.' 'Nay,
because they take in more ground than their Be still,'I answered :. Do not wake the child! talents give them a title to. In “Casa
For so, my two-months' baby sleeping lay Guidi Windows," and in the “Sonnets from In milky dreams upon the bed, and smiled, the Portuguese," Mrs. Browning attempted
And I thought he shall sleep on while he may, nothing but what she was perfectly compeThrough the world's baseness. Not being yet tent to perform, and therefore they were defiled
better poems than others which may contain Why should he be disturbed by what is
a great deal more poetry. done ?' Then, gazing, I beheld the long drawn street
Aurora Leigh" is the latest, and Mrs. Live out, from end to end, fall in the sun,
Browning tells us, in the dedication," the With Austrian thousands, sword and bayonet, most mature” of her works; the one into
Horse, foot, artillery, cannons rolling on, which her “highest convictions upon Life Like blind slow storm-clouds gestant with the and Art have entered.” It was not well heat
judged to prejudice the reader, at the very Of undeveloped lightnings, each bestrode By a single man, dust-white from head to the right place for highest convictions upon
outset, with the inevitable doubt, “Is a poem heel, Indifferent as the dreadful thing he rode,
Life and Art?'" This poem is two thouLike a sculptured Fate serene and terrible. sand lines longer than “Paradise Lost.” We
As some smooth river which has overflow'd do not know how to describe it better Will slow and silent down its current wheel than by saying that it is a novel in verse,A loosened forest, all the pines erect, novel of the
modern didactic species, writSo swept, in mute significance of storm, The marshalled thousands, not an eye deflect " convictions upon Life and Art.” If poetry
ten chiefly for the advocacy of distinct To left or right, to catch a novel form Of Florence city, adorn'd by architect
ought to consist only of “ thoughts that volAnd carver, or of Beauties, live and warm,
untary move harmonious numbers," a very Scared at the casements ! all
, straight-for- large portion of this work ought unquestionward eyes
ably to have been in prose. But the ques
tion seems open to discussion, and we give grief and love, and, as it afterwards apMrs. Browning the benefit of the doubt. pears, Latin and Greek; also, “the ignorPerhaps the chief misfortune for the poem ance of men,” how is, that there may always be two opinions on all" convictions upon Life and Art.” For “A Fool will pass for such through one mistake, example, we ourselves dissent altogether While a Philosopher will pass for such from certain of the views advocated. We Through said mistakes being ventured in the think that “conventions," which are society's
gross, unwritten laws, are condemned in too sweep
And heaped up to a system.” ing and unexamining a style; that the im
So nine years passed, and Aurora Leigh portance of an ordinary education in the formation of character is too emphatically thus describes herself at thirteen :denied by the example of Marian Erle, whom we regard as an impossible person, They tell me, my dear father ; broader brows,
¢ I am like, under her circumstances; that Art is not Howbeit, upon a slenderer undergrowth the highest power in the world, and so forth. Of delicate features ; paler, near as grave "Aurora Leigh" would assuredly have been But then my mother's smile breaks up the whole, a more poetical work if it had made the And makes it sometimes better than itself.'” question,“Do you agree with it?" an absurd one, and had only allowed of the question, At this time Mr. Leigh suddenly died. "Do you or do you not understand it ?" The child was soon torn from her nurse, now The safest way of speaking of this poem, her only companion, by "a stranger with which, expressly or by implication, has so authority," from England, who conducted considerable à polemic element in it, is to her to the house of her father's sister. This place a simple analysis of it before our read- lady is thus described ers. Concerning the great beauty and subtlety of some the extracts we shall give,
“She stood straight and calm, there fortunately cannot be two opinions.
Her somewhat narrow forehead braided tight, The father of Aurora Leigh ** was an As if for taming accidental thoughts austere Englishman, who, after a dry life. From possible pulses ; brown hair, pricked with time, spent at home in college-learning, law, By frigià use of life (she was not old, and parish-talk," went to Italy, and fell sud- Although my father's elder by a year); denly in love with an Italian girl who passed A nose drawn sharply, yet in delicate lines ; him in a procession.
A close, mild mouth, a little soured about
The ends, through speaking unrequited loves, “Her face flashed like a cymbal on his face, Or, peradventure, niggardly half-truths ; And shook with silent clangours brain and Eges of no colour, once they might have smiled, heart,
But never, never have forgot themselves Transfiguring him to music.”
In smiling; cheeks in which was yet a rose
Of perished summers, like a rose in a book, Mr. Leigh gained the hand of the fair Kept more for ruth than pleasure, if past bloom, Florentine, and Aurora was born ; but be
Past fading also.
* * fore the child was four years old, her mother died, having changed the nature of her hus
She, my aunt, band, and made the "austere Englishman” Had loved my father troly, as she could, into a man of sentiment.
And hated, with the gall of gentle souls,
My Tuscan mother, who had fooled away « There's a verse he set A wise man from wise courses, a good man In Santa Croce to her memory :
From obvious duties, and, depriving her, Weep for an infant, too young to weep much His sister, of the household precedence, When death removed this mother'-stops the mirth Had wronged his tenants, robbed his native land, To-day on women's faces, when they walk And made him mad, alike by life and death, With rosy children hanging on their gowns." In love and sorrow. She had pored for years
What sort of woman could be suitable Mr. Leigh left Florence, and lived in al- To her sort of hate, to entertain it with ;, most entire solitude, with his child and one Became hate too, and all the idealism servant, “among the mountains above She ever used in life was used for hate, Pelago," and there he
Till hate, so nourished, did exceed at last
The love froin which it grew, in strength and 4 Who through love had suddenly heat, Thrown off the old conventions, broken loose And wrinkled her smooth conscience with a From chinbands of the soul, like Lazarus,"
of disputable virtue (say not sin) taught his child "what he had learned best,” | When Christian doctrine was enforced at church.”