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d on the vet at "thich ca pression
For the explanation which he gives in Fifine at the Fair of his interest in the body, and the beauty of it is, that
".... bodies show me minds, And through the outward sign the inward grace allures.' So the disregard of the form of his poems, in his eager haste to express the matter, is only a particular case of the general characteristic of Mr. Browning's mind, which leads him
"To bring the invisible full into play!
Let the visible go to the dogs—what matters ?' And though we may regret that he has carried his principle so far as greatly to injure the poetical value of his writings-. for, after all, art is the expression of thought or emotion by means of form, which cannot therefore with impunity be neglected—yet at the present time, when so much stress is laid on the mere mechanism of verse, and meaning is suffered to fall into the background, it is perhaps good that one of our greatest living poets should utter in every way a protest against the prevailing fashion, and stand forward as an obvious instance of the supremacy of matter over form.
Mere form by itself is capable of being brought to perfection by the artist, while the inner truth of things is an ideal to be striven after which can never be reached, and our apprehension of it, and our endeavours to present it as it is must always remain imperfect. So Mr. Browning's preference of matter to form is the result of what is perhaps the most fundamental characteristic of his mind, the belief that imperfection is a mark of progress, that man is superior to the beasts just because he is not made with all his powers complete for their work in his life, but must struggle onwards by means of failure in this world, to the perfection which can only be attained in the next. The thought, in various forms, recurs in almost every poem of any importance; and though it is only a very clear apprehension of the Christian truth, that this life is a time of probation, and that for man perfection would mean failure, for it would mean standing still, while the law of his life is progress, yet this truth is set in so many different lights, it is shown underlying so many of the problems of life, so essential to the right understanding of character and the due estimate of action, that we may consider it as the special lesson which it is given to Mr. Browning to teach us. Thus he applies it to art, and it forms the ground of the contrast already alluded to between the Greek and Italian art in ‘Old Pictures at Florence : '
blems of lights, it is progress,
teach us Peçžal lesson whice of action, that standing
Growth came when, looking your last on them all,
You turned your eyes inwardly one fine day
Be greater and grander the while than they!
In both, of such lower types are we
For time, theirs-ours, for eternity.
It seethes with the morrow for us and more.
We are faulty—why not? we have time in store.
With us; we are rough-hewn, nowise polished :
With all they can teach, we shall see them abolished.' Therefore the outward beauty of art declined, for with this idea of growth in imperfection it became the object of the early painters to leave the ideal, to turn to man as he is, and show the soul, the 'new hopes' and 'new fears' shining 'through the flesh they fray. The perfection of Greek art is a sign of its limitation :
‘Shall Man, such step within his endeavour,
Man's face, have no more play and action
Or grief, an eternal petrifaction? Again, he applies it to scholarship in the Grammarian's Funeral,' which, in spite of the painful grotesqueness of the form, is a grand declaration of the poet's belief in the dignity of a lofty ideal, in the vain effort to reach which life is spent : .... before living he'd learn how to live
No end to learning :
Use for our learning.
“ Live now or never!”
Man has Forever.”
Oh joy whichave no within hi
“That low man seeks a little thing to do,
Sees it and does it :
Dies ere he knows it.
That low man goes on adding one to one,
His hundred 's soon hit:
Misses an unit.
Let the world mind him!
Seeking shall find Him.' This idea of man's superiority because of his imperfection is of course primarily a religious idea, but it is a proof of the manner in which Mr. Browning's religious convictions penetrate and inform his whole intellectual and emotional nature, that, whatever the subject, this doctrine seems to be the explanation of the problem or the climax of the argument. As we have seen it employed to express the proper aim of art and learning, so it enters into his view of love, supplementing its imperfections, explaining its difficulties, and raising it from an earthly and merely sensuous passion to a work worthy of man, who has Forever. “Dîs aliter visum,' turns mainly upon the application of this doctrine to love. The woman whom when young the elderly scholar had the opportunity of loving and marrying, rebukes him passionately ten years later for having missed it only because he was old, and she was far below him in education and intellect :
"You loved, with body worn and weak:
I loved, with faculties to seek :
Crawl in a wash of weed, indeed,
He, whole in body and soul, outstrips
Is dwarfed and dies, since here's its sphere.' The predominance of this idea in Mr. Browning is perhaps the explanation in part of the line which his poetical genius has taken in its development. As he himself expresses it:
“You saw me gather men and women, Live or dead or fashioned by my fancy, . Enter each and all, and use their service,
Speak from every mouth—the speech, a poem. The greater number of his poems, and probably the most characteristic and the finest, are analyses of character either
in the form of dialogue or monologue by the characters
Some think, Creation's made to show him forth :
And that's what all this blessed evil's for.' But in what is more strictly dramatic power, the power of representing action, Mr. Browning is notably deficient. The whole interest of his dramas or dramatic monologues lies in the varying states of mind of the characters represented. The action is nothing, and the personages are interesting to the poet, not because of what they do, but of what they think and feel. What he delights to analyse and to describe are the
subtle changes of feeling, the hidden trains of thought that are overlooked by most observers, but nevertheless give to action its real value ; it is therefore immaterial to him whether the resulting action fails or succeeds ; indeed, failure is often an indication of a loftier ideal than any which success has aimed at.
'For thence—a paradox
'Not on the vulgar mass
That weighed not as his work, yet swelled the man's amount : • Thoughts hardly to be packed
Into a narrow act,
This passage explains better than any other the poet's eagerness to analyse character, and his interest in the failures rather than the successes of his personages, real or imaginary, and the same explanation is given in a different way in Fifine at the Fair. In order to discover the real tendency of the faults and failures in human lives we must ‘only get close enough.'
* And, consequent upon the learning how from strife