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conformabluiry, how far th We have superhuman
that Failure is written in large letters over the Restored Apostolate.'
They themselves confess the failure and the disappointment of all their expectations.
· Nor again can we find either in their teaching or their government of the Church anything to indicate superhuman wisdom or supernatural guidance. We have purposely abstained from the inquiry, how far their doctrines or their practices are conformable with Holy Scripture or with Catholic tradition ; we have joined issue on the simple question,–Can they prove that they have been called of God to be Apostles ? We think that we have shown that they cannot, and if so, then according to their own admission, 'that if God has not spoken by Prophets nor restored Apostles, then they are found in the flagrant commission of schism,' we must come to the conclusion that instead of being the Catholic Apostolic Church, as they would have us believe, they are (though, we willingly allow, unintentionally) violators of Catholic unity, and nothing more than a schismatic body without any claim to an Apostolic ministry.
ART. III.—MR. BROWNING’S POEMS.
1. The Poetical Works of Robert Browning. 6 vols. (Lon
don, 1870.) 2. The Ring and the Book. By ROBERT BROWNING. 4 vols.
(London, 1872.) 3. Fifine at the Fair. By ROBERT BROWNING. (London,
1872.) 4. Red Cotton Nightcap Country. By ROBERT BROWNING.
(London, 1873.) 5. Pacchiarotto and other Poems. By ROBERT BROWNING.
(London, 1876.) 6. La Saisiaz : the Two Poets of Croisic. By ROBERT
BROWNING. (London, 1878.) MR. BROWNING's position as a poet is a peculiar one. In purely intellectual power he is, perhaps, greater than any English poet since Shakspeare; and combined with this he has almost universal sympathies, and a very wide range of knowledge. And yet his actual influence, even among those
VOL. VII.—NO. XIII.
who appreciate his poems, is not great. He stirs us up, he interests us, he compels our admiration ; but his poetry is not, to any great extent, a guiding force in the intellectual life of the present day. One great cause of this want of influence is, we believe, that very intellectual power which is his distinguishing characteristic: or rather, it is the want of emotional force to balance the intellectual power. The truths which he sees, whether they be truths of the imagination or of observation only, are apprehended by the intellect, which analyses them, reasons from them, sets them in various lights, but fails to give them the vivida vis which is furnished by emotion penetrating and informing the results of intellectual power. Hence he is to a great extent lacking in persuasiveness, and the mind is even roused to antagonism by the subtle trains of reasoning in which he delights, and refuses to be convinced, though they may be logically correct. And as the subjects with which his intellect deals are chiefly old and much-debated problems, it is hardly to be expected that the actual answers which he gives to them can, in themselves, be of such originality as to form a new point of departure in thought. Rather we must look for his special teaching in the method he adopts, and in a few great principles which underlie most of his utterances.
Of course, the most obvious reason to give for Mr. Browning's want of influence is his peculiar style. But as regards the difficulty of his poems, there has surely been a good deal of exaggeration : and what is true in the accusation of obscurity is true not so much of the actual grammatical construction and language in which the poems are written, as of the sequence of the thoughts. The language is never as smooth, but is very often quite as intelligible as that of Mr. Tennyson's deeper poems, In Memoriam, for example ; and in many of Mr. Browning's poems, the reader finds each thought expressed in English far more lucid and direct than the intricate and turbid verbiage of Mr. Swinburne's dithyrambs. It is not to be expected, however, that poetry, the great characteristic of which is intellect, the great want emotional force, should be as easy of comprehension. at first sight as that which deals with the simple passions and feelings of the heart; and we believe, further, that one reason why Mr. Browning's obscurity is so generally noticed is, that in his case the difficulty is not to any great extent counterbalanced by the rhythmical power or the subtle grace which is often a substitute for intelligibility in poets like Mr. Swinburne or Mr. Tennyson. The reader has only the logical
ing difficulty of ? and whath of the actual mis
ed bilty of Mession there
meaning of the passage to deal with, there is no charm of melody to distract his attention, and therefore he is more alive to the obscurity in the expression of the thought.
But though the difficulty of Mr. Browning's language may have been exaggerated by the indolence and inattention of hasty readers who have not had patience to get accustomed to the style, there can be no doubt that in the construction of an argument, or even in the statement of a fact, he is frequently very obscure. The thoughts are connected by very subtle trains of reasoning, which are often, however, suppressed altogether : while the illustrations, sometimes very far-fetched, are introduced with startling abruptness, or with a prolixity which converts them into digressions of the most distracting nature. An objection or a question is stated, and the reader naturally expects an answ'er, which indeed is given, but proves to have little or no apparent connexion with the main question, but is a reply to some allusion or suggestion which has slipped in with very little warning. If we read, for example, in the Pope's monologue in The Ring and the Book, his answer to the objection supposed to be raised by Euripides : or trace the sequence of the thoughts in Fifine at the Fair, which is made up of apparent digressions, where the poet seems to go off at the suggestion of a chance word or phrase, the peculiar obscurity of Mr. Browning's writings will be manifest.
But in the difficulty of his style Mr. Browning is not alone; many great poets have found it impossible to express deep thoughts to the satisfaction of shallow readers. What is remarkable in him is the singular disregard of melody and of the beauty of rhythm ; the total want of charm about the form of his poems is almost a unique phenomenon in art. For it is not, apparently, the common case of absolute inability to express melodiously thoughts in themselves highly poetical ; for every now and then Mr. Browning gives us a short passage of almost perfect beauty of form, which makes his immediate relapse into harshness all the more tantalising. Two or three lines, such as those in ‘Rudel to the Lady of Tripoli’-
Oh, Angel of the East, one, one gold look
—The far sad waters, Angel, to this nook,' or a short poem such as · Love among the Ruins,' almost seem intended as proofs of his power over the form of verse, in spite of the many hundred lines which testify against it. And popular feeling, worthless as a test of other poetical qualities, but a sure judge of rhythm and 'swing,' has, by
intense meaning, ther peappre
its acceptance of Mr. Browning's stirring ballads and lyrics, while almost ignoring his greater efforts, borne witness to the real melody and power of which he is capable. We should rather hold the true explanation of the rough and crude expression of his thought to be, not his ignorance of the value of form, but his intense desire to grasp the matter, to penetrate to the innermost meaning of the facts with which he is dealing. In this, as in some other points, he resembles Mr. Carlyle. Neither is without a genuine appreciation of beauty, even of mere superficial beauty in form and expression ; but this must be subordinated in both to the more important claims of truth. So Mr. Carlyle, though one of the very few living prose writers whose language can be something more than a mere means of expressing thought, is, as Mr. Lowell has said,“ regardless of the outward beauty of form, sometimes almost contemptuous of it;' and Mr. Browning, with a far higher appreciation of beauty, and very considerable power over the language, is content to be rough and harsh in his eagerness to press on to the real meaning and innermost truth of his subject. And this seems to go deeper than the mere form of his verse ; it is a pervading characteristic of his mind. An ardent and cultivated musician, he refuses to stop, where so many musicians stop, at the outward form of music, but tries to penetrate to the meaning of it. Thus he analyses the message brought to him by an old Venetian ‘Toccata of Galuppi's '
Oh Galuppi, Baldassaro, this is very sad to find !
brings. What, they lived once thus at Venice where the merchants were
the kings: Where S. Mark's is, where the Doges used to wed the sea with
rings 'using the music to summon before him all the vanished scene of splendour and youth with the inevitable thought, suggested by it, that 'Some with lives that came to nothing, some with deeds as well undone,
Death stepped tacitly and took them where they never see the sun.' So he addresses ‘Master Hugues of Saxe-Gotha,' in a way which is common among unmusical people, who secretly wish to depreciate the art, but which real lovers of music generally avoid with some scorn :-
I his Beyone meantented
* Hist, but a word, fair and soft !
Forth and be judged, Master Hugues !
What do you mean by your mountainous fugues?' And, above all, in `Abt Vogler' he rises to the height of his imaginative power in describing the content of music, * What never had been, was now; what was, as it shall be anon; And what is-shall I say, matched both ? for I was made perfect
too. All through my keys that gave their sounds to a wish of my soul, All through my soul that praised as its wish flowed visibly forth, All through music and me.'
Nothing more strikingly exemplifies Mr. Browning's prevailing intellectuality, and his eager pursuit of truth, than these efforts of his to penetrate beyond the form in the art which to most people has no definite meaning, no essence whatever except form. He cannot be contented with the vague descriptions of beautiful sounds, with the unmeaning demonstrations of pleasure which usually pass for musical criticism ; he must find something for the intellect to grasp, though of course he would own, as indeed he does in Fifine at the Fair, that the content of music is not so much thought as feeling, that
'Thought hankers after speech, while no speech may evince
Feeling like music.' For this reason it is, of course, easier for him to find in the other branches of art a meaning on which his thought can fasten, a message to be developed and analysed. So in . Old Pictures at Florence,' he contrasts the perfect beauty of Greek sculpture with the manifold imperfections of the early Christian painters, not as to their form, but with regard to the meaning which each can afford for the intellect. Indeed, the very beauty of form in Greek art is to him a sign of inferiority, because the failings and shortcomings of the Italian painters reveal a consciousness of the deeper meaning which they were striving to express.
Again, to pass from art to real life, Mr. Browning seems equally to penetrate through the outward form of the human being, to look upon the body as the expression of the soul within, rather than as possessing beauty, and therefore value, in itself. And this is compatible with the strong feeling he has for physical beauty, or rather the feeling springs from his belief that soul is
• Transparent through the flesh, by parts which prove a whole, By hints which make the soul discernible by soul.'