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So he collects characters from all countries and from all periods, obscure as René Gentilhomme, or illustrious as Andrea del Sarto, or the mere creations of his own imagination, as Bishop Blougram, and strives by means of them to get acquaintance with the way o' the world,' not hiding their faults, but trying to see them as they saw them, and to
Hold the balance, shift.
Even as I gazed to smooth-only get close enough.' Owing to this, his favourite method, it is of course difficult to say in any one case whether the thoughts put forward are Mr. Browning's real convictions, or only the dramatic workings of the mind he is investigating ; but the very method itself affords us an insight into the poet's mind, gives us his estimate of human nature, and shows us the character and limits of the toleration which is so prominent in him. And if we find, in addition, that certain thoughts are continually coming up, certain explanations of conduct continually put forward, we are justified in taking these to be genuine principles held by Mr. Browning himself, and not merely by his characters.
Nevertheless, we believe that partly by the adoption of this method, partly by the doctrine which it illustrates, Mr. Browning has been considerably influenced in his view of truth. For the continued process of reasoning from other men's premises, of analysing actions not so much in their relation to absolute right and wrong as in relation to the position and character of the actor, could hardly fail in some degree to affect the perception of truth. And if we add to this Mr. Browning's belief that man advances by means of failure, that
Life succeeds in that it seems to fail, we have sufficient explanation of his belief that truth is perhaps, after all, not to be attained by man. He must try to attain to it, and it certainly exists and will hereafter be reached ; but in this life there may be no such thing as absolute truth which we can grasp, though every effort to lay hold of it brings us nearer to it. So he seems to turn from the pursuit with the conviction that in this, as in other things, we must be content to
... Learn, by failure, truth is forced To manifest itself through falsehood. ...'
this one, to affect the of the actor, ng as in relationch.in
His latest poem, 'The Two Poets of Croisic,' partly deals with the effect on the actual sense and thought' of a sudden, complete perception of truth; and he pronounces it to be incompatible with the conditions of our life here :
"I think no such direct plain truth consists
With actual sense and thought and what they take
How such would, at that truth's first piercing, break
Wherein the puppet-champions wage, for sake
At trumpet-blast, there's shown the world, one foe !' But by this ‘mimic .war' and the ‘simulated thunder-claps which tell us counterfeit truths,'
...we gain enough—yet not too much
Acquaintance with that outer element
Quite of another kind than we the pent
Lights up at the least chink, let roof be rent-
Cognisant of the sun's self through the chasm !' The utter falseness of our ordinary life is shown in the most vivid way by the 'vapoury films, enwoven circumstance that could obscure the ' fame pearl-pure' of Pompilia in The Ring and the Book. The monk's sermon at the end of the poem describes with great power the blackness of the night of falsehood round the “fame o' the martyr,' which deepens at each effort made to dissipate it, till only
'One wave of the hand of God amid the worlds
Approachable no more by earthly mists.' And the melancholy lesson he draws from the whole history is the rarity of even such a tardy triumph of truth :
“How many chaste and noble sister-fames
Stupidity, simplicity—who cares?' Of all his poems, The Ring and the Book contains the finest and most complete presentation of Mr. Browning's theory of truth. For while the lesson he draws from the whole is
"... That our human speech is nought, Our human testimony false, our fame
And human estimation words and wind, the poem itself is a declaration of the reality of truth, of the utter blunder of the common conclusion in all such cases
-'there is much to be said on both sides,' or in other words, there is no possibility of finding the truth, and therefore probably there is no truth ; at least, we need not trouble about it. Unless the truth is seen purely and absolutely, without any mixture of error, the facts narrated are inexplicable, and all attempts to explain them plunge deeper and deeper into falsehood. Say there is some truth on Guido's side, some on Pompilia's, and the whole becomes again confusion worse confounded : defend Pompilia and Caponsacchi from any point of view but one, and the defence is a worse falsehood than the attack; for it will be, as the poet shows in the wonderful speech of Pompilia's advocate, a perversion of the deepest moral laws, a darkening of the original light of right and wrong. The conclusion would seem to be : there is truth, but it is almost impossible that man can discover it ; this story is a labyrinth to which there is only one clue, any other will lead you utterly astray, and, apparently, only God can in such cases hold that one clue.
"I demand assent
To the enunciation of my text
Approved by life's probation, he may speak.' In estimating Mr. Browning's view of truth, we must remember both clauses of the text : if 'every man is a liar' and earth has a 'prerogative of lies,' yet ‘God is true' and truth is ‘reserved for heaven.'
In Fifine at the Fair he developes in an elaborate image, his view of the process by which
"By practice with the false, we reach the true.' Just as in swimming, the body is completely immersed
in water, and is kept alive only by 'man's due breath of air i' the nostrils, high and dry,' and as any struggle to
'. . Ascend breast-high : wave arms wide free of tether,
Be in the air and leave the water altogether,' results in total submersion, and loss of the little air enjoyed before, so, he says,*I liken to this play o' the body, fruitless strife
To slip the sea and hold the heaven, my spirit's life
The false below.' Here the attainment of truth is represented as not totally impossible for man, but it can only be reached by aid of the false, and in glimpses and snatches. "..... . Life means-learning to abhor
The false, and love the true, truth treasured snatch by snatch, Waits counted at their worth.'
By each effort to investigate the reality of what we see, which is merely show and illusion, we are raised for an instant into the true, we advance a step, though we seem to gain nothing. This progress in individual cases, towards truth, by means of falsehood, is the same doctrine as that which is developed in ‘A Death in the Desert' in regard to the general growth of the whole race. The poem consists mainly of a long monologue, supposed to be spoken by S. John, just before his death in a cave, whither he has been carried to escape the persecution. The aged Apostle foresees the doubts and difficulties which would hinder faith in future times, and
tries to help to bear it with you all,' and to relieve those who must undergo them. He imagines the questioner doubt
of human testimony at such a distance of time. The answer begins by laying down the great principle underlying all Mr. Browning's thought:
'I say that man was made to grow, not stop ;
That help, he needed once, and needs no more,
Since all things suffer change save God the Truth.'
'Lower than God who knows all and can all,
Not God's, and not the beasts`.' There is evident danger, of course, in thus including the perception of truth among those qualities of man which advance by means of failure, whose function, indeed, is to fail, and only thereby to succeed ; with the other faculties, failure and imperfection only affect them, only prove their weakness; for instance, the imperfection of human love only proves the weakness of the emotion, not necessarily any shortcoming in the object loved : but to ascribe failure, inevitable failure, to man's quest of truth may be taken just as well to mean the non-existence of the object as the weakness of the human faculty. But Mr. Browning does not leave us in doubt as to his belief in an ultimate reality, in a truth underlying all these mists and shows. Indeed, for him there are two great realities :
“Truth inside, and outside, truth also; and between