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Reading such passages as these — said that the character of Marian 80 flat, distorted, and unworthy, Erle is beautifully drawn and well shall we not exclaim with Mrs. sustained, and yet it is the humblest Browning herself,
of them all. But in depicting her, Mrs.
Browning has abstained from all “ Weep, my Æschylus, But low and far, upon Sicilian shores?" meanness. If she errs at all, it is by
making the girl appear more refined It is not the part of critics to strain in thought and expression than is their vision so as to detect spots on justified by her previous history, but the disc of the sun; but it is their that is an error on the safe side, and duty to mark the appearance of even one which may be readily excused. a partial eclipse. It is far easier, as Marian, little better than a pariahit is more pleasant, to praise than to girl, does undoubtedly attract condemn; but praise, injudiciously sympathies more than the polished or indiscriminately bestowed, cannot and high - minded Aurora, the be commended, since it leads to the daughter of a noble race—not cerperpetuation of error. In dealing tainly as the bride of Romney, but with the works of authors of high as the mother of a hapless child. name and established repute, it is of There, indeed, Mrs. Browning has the utmost importance that the judg- achieved a triumph; for never yetment should be clear and calm; for no, not in her “ Čry of the Children," we know by experience that the ab- one of the most pathetic and tearerrations or eccentricities of a dis- stirring poems in the English lantinguished artist are immediately guage has she written anything copied by a crew of imitators, who, comparable to the passages which unable to vie with their original in refer to Marian and her babe. Take beauties, can at least rival him in his for example this description :faults. We doubt not that, before a year is over, many poems on the model of Aurora Leigh will be written and published ; and that conversations in the pot-house, casino, and even worse places, will be re- “I saw the whole room, I and Marian there duced to blank verse, and exhibited Alone. as specimens of high art. To dignify Then sighing as " 'twere sighing the last the mean, is not the province of poetry—let us rather say that there Approached the bed, and drew a are atmospheres so tainted that in You could not peel a fruit you fear to them poetry cannot live. Its course
More calmly and more carefully than 80,is in the empyrean or in the fresh Nor would you find within, a rosier flushed wholesome air, but if it attempts Pomegranateto descend to pits and charnel-vaults, The yearling creature, warm
There he lay, upon his back, it is stifled by the noxious exhalations. We by no means confound To the bottom of his dimples,-to the ends the humble with the mean.
or the lovely tumbled curls about his face;
The For since he had been covered over-much most sanctified affections, the purest To keep him from the light-glare, both his thoughts, the holiest aspirations, are as likely to be found in the cottage The shepherd's as in the castle. Wherever there is into, a flower, however lowly, beauty may be seen; the prayer of a mon- As instant! in the pretty baby-mouth,
if for dreaming that it arch is not more heeded in heaven Shut close than the supplication of an outcast; The little naked feet drawn up the way the cry of a mother is as plaintive on nestled birdlings; everything so soft from the dungeon as though it Which, closing on a finger
into sleep, sounded from the halls of a palace. Had kept the mould of t.
While we stood there dumb, This very poem which we are review. For oh, that it should take such innocence ing affords a remarkable illustration To prove just guilt, I thought, and stood of the æsthetical point which we are
The light upon his eyelids pricked them anxious to enforce. We have already wide,
Alone? She threw her bonnet off,
heart-blood ebbed away
The faster for his love.
And, staring ont at us with all their blue, not dignify ignoble thoughts or com-
mon sentiments by admitting them And our most mortal presence,---gradually to that lofty chariot. Mrs. Browning Ile saw his mother's face, accepting it
follows the march of modern improveIn change for heaven itself, with such a smile
ment. She makes no distinction beAs might have well been learnt there,– tween her first and her third class
never moved, But smiled on, in a drowse of ectasy,
passengers, but rattles them along at So happy (half with her and half with the same speed upon her rhythmical heaven)
railway. He could not have the trouble to be stirred,
There is no instance of a poem of Bat smiled and lay there. Like rose, I considerable length which is free
said: As red and still indeed as any roso,
from faults and blemishes ; and That blows in all the silence of its leaves, whatever may be said to the conContent, in blowing, to fulfil its life.”
trary, the detection of existing faults is the real business of the critic. He either is, or is supposed to be,
the holder of the touchstone, by Now contrast that with the stuff, means of which true metal is diswhich we have put into the form of tinguished from that which is base, prose, and then tell us, good reader, and he is bound in duty to declare
are not justified in feeling the result of his investigation. In annoyed, and even incensed, that a the present instance, while dealing lady capable of producing so ex- with Aurora Leigh, we have been quisite à picture, should condescend at some pains to arrive at the metal. to fashion into verse what is essen- Our task has been rather that of an tially mean, gross, and puerile? We Australian or Californian gold-seeker, must have no evasions here, for this who puts into his cradle or his pan a is an important question of art. We spadeful of doubtful material. From may be told that Shakespeare, in his the first shaking there emerges mud highest tragedies, has introduced the from the second, pebbles—but, after comic element; and his example, so clearance, the pure gold is found at distinguished as almost to amount to the bottom, and in no inconsiderable an unimpeachable authority, may be quantities. cited in defence of Mrs. Browning:
If we have not been able conscienBut, on examination, we shall find tiously to praise the story, either as that there is no analogy. In the regards conception or execution, no first place, whenever Shakespeare such restriction is laid upon us while descends to low comedy, he makes dealing with isolated passages. Mrs. bis characters discourse in prose, Browning, possesses in a very high thereby marking broadly the eleva- degree the faculty of description, tion of sentiment and dignity which presenting us often with the most belongs to verse, and he does so even brilliantly coloured pictures. In this when low comedy is excluded. When respect, if we may be allowed to instiHamlet is familiar, as with the players, tute such a comparison, she resembles Polonius, the gravediggers, or Osric, Turner, being sometimes even he speaks in prose; and the rhythmi- travagant in the vividness of her cal periods are reserved for the higher tints. By this we mean that she and more impassioned situations. So has a decided tendency, not only to in Othello, in the scenes between Iago, multiply, but to intensify images, Cassio, and Roderigo. So in Julius and occasionally carries this so far Cæsar in which, being a classical as to bewilder the reader. The folplay, the temptation lay towards lowing sketch of London is drawn in stateliness), whenever the citizens or her most florid manner :the cynical Casca are introduced ; and in Henry V., in the night-scene “So, happy and unafraid of solitude, before Agincourt
, there is even a I worked the short days out—and watched more remarkable instance of this. On lurid morns or monstrous afternoons, It was evidently the view of Shake- Like some Druidic idol's fiery brass, speare that verse is the proper
With fixed unflickering outline of dead
heat, vehicle for poetry alone : he would in which the blood of wretches pont inside
Seemed oozing forth to incarnadine the They stood: I watched beyond that Tyrian air,
belt Push out through fog with his dilated disk, And startle the slant roofs and chimney. Of intense sea betwixt them and the ship, pots
Down all their sides the misty olive-woods With splashes of fierce colour. Or I saw Dissolving in the weak congenial moon, Fog only, the great tawny weltering fog,
And still disclosing some brown conventInvolve the passive city, strangle it Alive, and draw it off into the void,
tower Spires, bridges, streets, and squares, as if That seems as if it grew from some brown a sponge
Had wiped out London,--or is noon and night
Or many a little lighted village, dropt
You wonder what can keep it in its place
From sliding headlong with the waterfalls
groves wines, They rend the seamless mist and stand up
With spray of silver. Thus my Italy bare,
Was stealing on us, Genoa broke with Make fewer singers, haply. No one sings,
From green hills in advance of the white Their anthems to themselves, and leave town.
A marble finger dominant to ships, But sit in London, at the day's decline,
Seen glimmering throngb the uncertain And view the city perish in the mist, Like Pharaoh's armaments in the deep Red
grey of dawn." Sea, --The chariots, horsemen, footmen, all the host,
That is poetry-splendid, magpifiSacked down and choked to silenco—then, cent poetry-without intermixture of
surprised By a sudden sense of vision and of tune, conceits or far-fetched images. Our You feel as conquerors though you did not younger poets, who, as a class, aspire
fight, And you and Israel's other singing girls,
to dazzle rather than to please, might Ay, Miriam with them, sing the song you derive a very useful lesson from the choose."
study of these extracts. The first is undoubtedly gorgeous, but it is so
overlaid with ornament that it leaves There can be no doubt as to the no distinct impression on the mind; power which is here exhibited, but the second is a perfect picture, which
To in our opinion the passage is over- once seen can never be forgotten. wrought. There is a prodigality of these we are tempted to add a third, illustration which mars the general descriptive of Florence :effect by creating confusion. In marked contrast to it is our next " I found a houso, at Florence, on the hill extract. Aurora, returning to Italy, A post of double-observation o'er
Of Bellosguardo. "Tis a tower that keeps is watching on deck for the first Tho valley of Arno (bolding as a band glimpse of her native land.
The outspread city) straight toward Fiesole
Wine-filled, and red to the brim' because • That night we spent between the purple it's red. heaven
No sun could die, nor yet be born, unseen And purple water: I think Marian slept;
By dwellers at my villa: morn and eve
Were magnified before us in the puro But I, as a dog &-watch for his master's Illimitable space and pause of sky, foot,
Intense as angels' garments blanched with Who cannot sleep or eat before he hears,
Less blue than radiant. From the outer I sate upon the deck and watched all night,
wall And listened through the stars for Italy.
of the garden, dropped tho mystic foating
Of olive-trees (with interruptions green I felt the wind soft from the land of souls ; From maize and vine) until it was canght The old miraculous mountains heaved in
On that abrupt black line of cypresses sight,
Which signed the way to Florence. Beanti. One straining past another along the shore,
ful The way of grand dull Odyssean ghosts
The city lay along the ample vale, Athirst to drink the cool blue wine of seas
Cathedral, tower and palace, piazza and
street; And stare on voyagers. Peak pushing peak The river trailing like a silver cord
Through all, and curling loosely, both be- have produced a work so noble as And after, over the whole stretch of land
to leave no room for cavilling or reSown whitely up and down its opposite proach. The tendency to experiment,
slopes, With farms and villas."
which is simply a token of a morbid craving for originality, has been the
bane of many poets. Their first victory The reader will find in the volume on them to shift their campaigning
being won, they think it incumbent itself descriptions almost as vivid and ground, and alter their strategy, forcharming as the above of English getful that the method which has scenery; for Mrs. Browning, when brought them success, and which her palette is not overcharged with they intuitively adopted because it carmine, can paint such things as was most suited to their powers, is perfectly as Morland, Gainsborough, precisely that most likely to insure or Constable. Witness the few fol- them a future triumph. For our lowing lines, which we cannot deny selves, we are free to confess that we ourselves the pleasure of extract- have not much faith in new theories ing
of art; we are rather inclined to class them in the same category with
schemes for the regeneration of so"I flattered
Mrs. Browning, beyond all round, As poets use the skies, the clouds, the modern poets, has no need of resortfields,
ing to fantasias for the sake of atThe happy violets hiding from the roads The primroses run down to, carrying gold
tracting an audience. For whenever The tangled hedgerows, where the cows push she deserts her theories, and touches
a natural chord, we acknowledge her Impatient
as a mistress of song. In proof of Twixt dripping ash-boughs,-hedgerows all which we cite the description of With birds and gnats and large white butter. Marian Erle, the outcast girl, when flies,
waking from her trance in the hosWhich look as if the May-flower had caught pital :
“She stirred ;- the place seemed new and And cottage-gardens smelling everywhere, Confused with smell of orchards.
strange as death.
* See,' I The white strait bed, with others strait and said,
white, And see! is God not with
Like graves dug side by side at measured earth!
lengths, And shall we put Him down by aught we
And quiet people walking in and out, do?
With wonderful low voices and soft steps, Who says there's nothing for the poor and
And apparitional equal care for each, vile
Astonished her with order, silence, law: Save poverty and wickedness? behold!'
And when a gentle hand held out a cup, And ankle-deep in English grass I leaped,
She took it, as you do at sacrament, And clapped my hands, and called all very Half awed, haif melted, - not being used, infair."
deed, To so much love as makes the form of love And courtesy of manners. Delicate drinks
And rare white bread, to which some dying Nor is the great génius of Mrs. eyes
Were turned in observation. O my God, Browning less conspicuous in other How sick we must be ere we make men portions of the poem which relate to just! che natural affections. Once and
I think it frets the saints in heaven to see
How many desolate creatures on the earth again, whilst perusing this volume, Have learnt the simple dues of fellowship have we experienced a sensation of And social comfort,
in a hospital,
As Marian did. She lay there stunned, half regret that one so admirably gifted tranced, should have wasted much of her And wished, at intervals of growing sense, power apon what are, after all, mere
She might be sicker yet, if sickness made
The world 80 marvellous kind, the air so artistic experiments, when by adher- hushed, ing throughout to natural sentiment And all her wake-time quiet as a sleep;
For now she understood as such things and natural expression, she might
How sickness ended very oft in heaven, the later literature of Greece and Among the unspoken raptures. Yet more
Rome; nay, it may be remarked withsick, And surelier happy. Then she dropped her in a narrower sphere--as, for example, lids,
in the writings of Euripides—the last And, folding up her hands as flowers at night,
of the great Hellenic triumvirate. Would lose moment of the blessed Æschylus excelled in energy and mas
culine strength; Sophocles in his development of the passions ; Euri
pides in expression—but, with EuriOne more quotation, and we have pides, Athenian tragedy declined. It done with extracts. We have thought is ever an evil sign when mere talk it our duty to point out what seemed is considered by a nation as someto us egregious faults ; but not, on thing preferable to action, for it that account, are we blind to the shows that sound and pretension are many beauties of the poem.
We envy the imagination that can conceive and deliberate purpose. We might,
becoming more esteemed than sense a sweeter picture than this :
upon this text, say something the re verse of complimentary to a large
body of politicians; but we refrain “ Marian's good, from mingling the political with the Gentle and loving, lets me hold the child, Or drags him up the hills to find me how. poetical element. It is however, im
possible to deny the fact that, by . And fill those vases, ere I'm quite awake,The grandiose red tulips, which grow wild,
many, brilliant writing, or writing Or else my purple lilies, Dante blew
which seems brilliant, is esteemed as a larger bubble with his prophet- of the highest kind, without regard
breath; Or one of those tall flowering reeds which to congruity or design. This is a
grievous error, which cannot be exIn Arno like a sheaf of sceptres, left By some remote dynasty of dead gods,
posed too broadly; and to it we trace To suck the stream for ages and get green, the almost total extinction, in our And blossom wheresoe'er a hand divine
own day, of the British drama. Our Had warmed the place with ichor. Such I've
great dramatists, with Shakespeare At early morning, laid across my bed, at their head, succeeded in gaining And woke up pelted with a childish laugh Which Marian's
the attention of the public by the
interest of their plots, far more than Had vainly interposed to put away,While 1, with shut eyes, smile and motion until that truth is again recognised
by the felicity of their diction; and The dewy kiss that's very sure to come and acted on, we need not expect a From mouth and cheeks, the whole child's face resuscitation of the drama. Also be Dissolved on mine,-as if a nosegay burst it remembered, that a plot—that is, a Its string with the weight of roses over- theme well-considered, developed,
blown, And dropt upon me. Surely I should be and divided, must, to make it effecglad.
tive, be adequately and naturally The little creature almost loves me now, And calls my name 'Alola,' stripping
expressed. Adequate expression is
no more than the proper language of Thers like thorns, to make it smooth emotion; and emotion must be trac
enough To take between his dainty, milk-fed lips,
able to some evident and intelligible God love him!"
cause. All this is disregarded by our “new poets," as they love to style
themselves, who come upon their It has been well remarked that imaginary stage, tearing their hair, the chief defect of modern British proclaiming their inward wretchedpoems consists in the carelessness of ness, and spouting sorry metaphysics their construction. Plot, arrange- in still sorrier verse, for no imagin. ment, and even probability, are re- able reason whatever. One of them garded as things of minor moment; has the curse of genius upon him, and the whole attention of the artist and seems to think that delirium is is lavished upon expression. This, if the normal state of the human mind. we are to judge from antecedents, is Another rails at Providence because a symptom of literary decadence. he has not been placed in a situation The same tendency is observable in which he supposes commensurate to