Слике страница

Devised, -all pain, at most expenditure
Of pain by Who devised pain,—to evolve,
By new machinery in counterpart,
The moral qualities of man-how else ?-
To make him love in turn and be beloved,
Creative and self-sacrificing too,

And thus eventually God-like.' In this poem, and in “Saul,' we find rather a different view from that which is given in A Death in the Desert, and in Christmas-Eve and Easter-Day. For in these, as we have seen, the love that is in the world and in man is made to lead us up to the perfect love of God manifested in Christ: in "Saul,' and in The Ring and the Book, we find the thought that, while power and intelligence are plainly visible to us, we fail, in our present state, to see the perfect goodness of God. To complete, then, what is wanting, Christianity gives us the doctrine of the Incarnation and the Atonement :

“What lacks, then, of perfection fit for God-
But just the instance which this tale supplies...
Of love without a limit? So is strength,
So is intelligence ; let love be so,
Unlimited in its self-sacrifice,

Then is the tale true and God shows complete.' But, if there is a contradiction between the two, we should imagine that the first, the Incarnation proved by God's Love, is Mr. Browning's own conviction, as more in accordance with the general tendency of his mind; while the second, God's Love proved by the Incarnation, may be adopted to suit the characters into whose mouths it is put. In either case, the manifestation of God's Love by the Incarnation is the climax of religion, the triumph of Christianity. Thus, at the end of the wonderful 'Epistle of Karshish, the Arab Physician,' in which he relates his analysis of the case of Lazarus, whom he has seen ; after describing it as madness caused by the epileptic trance from which a “Nazarene Physician'roused him, he gives with affected contempt mingled with terror, Lazarus' belief that his Healer was

i.... God Himself, Creator and sustainer of the world,

That came and dwelt in flesh on it awhile.!'. But though he affects to despise it as a 'trivial matter' not to be compared with the 'blue-flowering borage' he has discovered, yet at the end the correspondence between Lazarus' belief and the innate longing of man for God's Love draws him back, as it were, unwillingly :

“The very God! think, Abib; dost thou think?
So, the All-Great, were the All-Loving too,-
So, through the thunder comes a human voice
Saying, “O heart I made, a heart beats here !
Face, my hands fashioned, see it in myself !
Thou hast no power nor may'st conceive of mine,
But love I gave thee, with myself to love,
And thou must love me who have died for thee ! ”

The madman saith He said so '; it is strange.'

The same thrilling joy at the vision of an Incarnate God suffering for man, and thereby manifesting His love, is the climax of the magnificent ascent from earth to heaven, from human to divine, which is the subject of 'Saul':''Tis the weakness in strength, that I cry for! my flesh, that I seek In the Godhead! I seek and I find it. O Saul, it shall be A Face like my face that receives thee; a Man like to me, Thou shalt love and be loved by, for ever : a Hand like this hand Shall throw open the gates of new life to thee! See the Christ


Here we have the other greater truth so firmly held by Mr. Browning, the immortality of the soul, combined with the truth of the Incarnation. Nothing in modern poetry is finer than the gradual development of the great song, with which David cheers the vexed spirit of Saul. From the peaceful pastoral scenes which he knows so well, and the varied incidents of national life, the burial song, the 'glad chaunt of the marriage,' the sacred chorus as the Levites go up to the altar, and then the triumphant celebration of Saul's personal greatness, he passes on, in his effort to find a subject which shall restore to the king his delight in living, to the joys of the spirit which in old age shall rejoice in the results of its own past deeds : and even after death he shall not seem to die, for the record of his deeds shall be transmitted, graven on the rock, to all posterity, and ‘unborn generations' shall have their part in his being. Here, having reached the height of merely human blessings, standing where Positivism, with its immortality of renown, is forced to stop, he is dissatisfied, longing for something further :

'. . Could I help thee, my father, inventing a bliss, I would add, to that life of the past, both the future and this; I would give thee new life altogether, as good, ages hence, As this moment,—had love but the warrant, love's heart to dispense!'

Here we have the same thought as that which is prominent in La Saisiaz, viz., the utter insufficiency of the Posi

beliefd to God's per prophecy, inse reas

tivist idea of immortality to content man's longing, and the
effort to explore further : only in his latest poem the explora-
tion is carried on by means of close reasoning, in “Saul' by
an inspired burst of prophecy, in which David, having wit-
nessed to God's perfection in all His works, declares His
belief in the perfection of His Love, which shall give to Saul
one gift far beyond the earthly abundance that he already
has, the gift of eternal life.
“Ay, to save and redeem and restore him, maintain at the height
This perfection-succeed with life's dayspring, death's minute of

Interpose at the difficult minute, snatch Saul, the mistake,
Saul, the failure, the ruin he seems now,—and bid him awake
From the dream, the probation, the prelude, to find himself set
Clear and safe in new light and new life,-a new harmony yet
To be run, and continued, and ended—who knows?—or endure !
The man taught enough by life's dream, of the rest to make sure;
By the pain-throb, triumphantly winning intensified bliss,

And the next world's reward and repose, by the struggles in this.' And the means by which this last gift will be bestowed will be the final revelation of God's Love in the Atonement, the 'weakness in strength,' the Human Hand throwing 'open the gates of new life to thee.'

The certainty of immortality thus founded upon our certainty of God's Love, is again declared by Mr. Browning in • Christmas Eve'

"He who endlessly was teaching,

What love can do in the leaf or stone,

Would never need that I, in turn,
Should point him out defect unheeded,
And show that God had yet to learn
What the meanest human creature needed,
- Not life, to wit, for a few short years.

No, love which, on earth, amid all the shows of it,
Has ever been the sole good of life in it,
The love, ever growing there, spite of the strife in it,

Shall arise, made perfect, from death's repose of it.' And the hopelessness of ever seeing the one truth, unless we first possess the other, is finely shown in “Cleon,' who, like David in ‘Saul,' dismisses the Positivist hope of immortality with contempt, but sees no greater hope beyond it, because he does not know God as Love. And, therefore, to the heathen poet the thought which to the Christian is a source

of rejoicing, viz., the consciousness of man's failure to reach the ideal that he has power to form, is a deep discouragement: 'most progress is most failure, thou sayest well.'. To him immortality is suggested, though he cannot believe in it, by the soul's unlimited desire for joy which cannot here be satisfied ; to “Rabbi Ben Ezra' by the object of man's existence, the service of God, which is attained only after death, after the ‘machinery' of this life has fitted the soul for that purpose; to Pompilia by the undying love which cannot find its full manifestation in this troubled world, and therefore necessitates a world beyond it. In all these cases, and many others, we see the conception of immortality entering into every part of Mr. Browning's experience of life, dignifying things that would otherwise seem trivial, making perfect the manifold imperfections of this world. The grandest expression of this is in `Abt Vogler,' who is led to the subject by his regret at the quick vanishing of the 'palace of music' he has reared• Therefore to whom turn I but to thee, the ineffable Name?

Builder and Maker, thou, of houses not made with hands! What, have fear of change from thee who art ever the same?

Doubt that thy power can fill the heart that thy power expands ? There shall never be one lost good! what was, shall live as before ;

The evil is null, is nought, is silence implying sound; What was good, shall be good, with, for evil, so much good more ;

On the earth the broken arcs ; in the heaven a perfect round. All we have willed or hoped or dreamed of good, shall exist;

Not its semblance, but itself; no beauty, nor good, nor power Whose voice has gone forth, but each survives for the melodist

When eternity affirms the conception of an hour..
The high that proved too high, the heroic for earth too hard,

The passion that left the ground to lose itself in the sky,
Are music sent up to God by the lover and the bard ;

Enough that he heard it once: we shall hear it by-and-by.'

It is this conviction of the future, this intense belief that 'no work begun shall ever pause for death,' that raises Mr. Browning's interest in man, and his persistent examination and analysis of characters and deeds which many would think unworthy to be touched, to a dignity which would not be possible if human life were bounded by this world, or even if the future life were to be, as so many believe, entirely separate and distinct in its nature from this. A future life in which nothing of our present existence survives, which is merely the reward, and not the result, of the good which has been attained here, is not Mr. Browning's conception of our promised im

uld have reme an eternal sixhing, has y means

mortality; and therefore to him all these traits of character that had almost perished, these persons and deeds that but for him no one would have remembered, are of intense interest, because in his eyes they have an eternal significance.

Thus the body, which in itself is nothing, has yet the greatest importance as the ‘dress' of the soul, as the means by which the soul is recognised by another soul, as the material which the soul shapes and transforms in its upward progress :6“But the soul is not the body;" and the breath is not the flute ;

Both together make the music; either marred and all is mute.' Therefore, though the poet appears at first sight to be a spiritualist of the most transcendental kind, yet one quickly perceives that for him the body is not only the empty show that a false philosophy would make it, but, when informed by the soul, has a meaning for all eternity :

* But the time will come,—at last it will,

When, Evelyn Hope, what meant (I shall say)
In the lower earth, in the years long still,

That body and soul so pure and gay?
Why your hair was amber, I shall divine,

And your mouth of your own geranium's red-
And what you would do with me, in fine,

In the new life to come in the old one's stead.' And though, in “Rabbi Ben Ezra’ the one side is stated most forcibly and truly

"To man, propose this test

Thy body at its best, How far can that project thy soul on its lone way?' yet there follows immediately the other side with equal truth

Let us not always say

“Spite of this flesh to-day
I strove, made head, gained ground upon the whole.”

As the bird wings and sings,

Let us cry, “ All good things
Are ours, nor soul helps flesh more, now, than flesh helps soul.”'

We believe that a conscientious study of Mr. Browning's various hints concerning the relation between soul and body is likely to be of great value to anyone who wishes to find the just and Christian mean between a false spiritualism on the one side and a false materialism on the other. In such án endeavour poems like “Rabbi Ben Ezra,' • Fifine at the Fair''Evelyn Hope,''The Flight of the Duchess' (with its

« ПретходнаНастави »