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“No wise beginning, here and now,
What cannot grow complete (earth’s feat)
No tasting earth's true food for men,
“No grasping at love, gaining a share
O'the sole spark from God's life at strife
The limits here? For us and love
In “Youth and Art” it is the same, or almost the same lesson which is enforced. A young sculptor and a girl preparing to appear as an operatic singer live at opposite sides of the street, and amuse themselves by watching each other's windows--they love, or might have loved, but each is poor, and the boy will not be rash; in after life both are successful, as the world goes, but this apparent success is a real failure.
“You meet the Prince at the Board ;
I'm queen myself at bals-pare;
And you're dubb'd knight and an R. A.
It hangs still patchy and scrappy :
Starved, feasted, despair’d, -been happy."
Those periods of life which appear most full of moral purpose to Mr. Tennyson are periods of protracted self-control, and those moments stand eminent in life in which the spirit has struggled victoriously in the cause of conscience against impulse or desire. With Mr. Browning the moments are most glorious in which the obscure purpose of many years has been revealed by the lightning of sudden passion, or in which a resolution that changes the current of life has been taken upon that insight which vivid emotion bestows; and those periods of life are the most full of moral pupose which take their direction from moments such as these. But the devil, with his prudential motives and sage provisos, and chicane of prudent pauses, tempts us to disregard the dictates of every transcendent passion.
“Oh, we're sunk enough here, God knows!
But not quite so sunk that moments,
When the spirit's true endowments
And apprise it if pursuing
To its triumph or undoing.
“ There are flashes struck from midnights,
There are fire-flames noondays kindle,
Whereby swoln ambitions dwindle,
Which for once had play unstifled
That away the rest have trifled.”
And, rejoicing in the remembrance of a moment of noble passion which determined the whole course of a life, the speaker exclaims in “By the Firesider"
“ How the world is made for each of us!
How all we perceive and know in it
When a soul declares itself-to wit,
“Be Hate that fruit, or Love that fruit,
It forwards the General Deed of man,
The life of the race by a general plan;
“Of the virtues and beauties of humanity (Mr. Tennyson] views with most affection those which have their natural growth under the shelter of fixed habits and firmly settled opinions ; local and family attachments; ... those emotions which can be invested with the character of duties; those of which the objects are, as it were, marked out by the arrangements either of nature or of society, we ourselves exercising no choice : [Mr. Browning] delights in painting the affections which choose their own objects, especially the most powerful of these, passionate love, and of that, the more vehement oftener than the more graceful aspects; selects by preference its subtlest workings and its most unusual and unconventional forms: and shows it at war with the forms and customs of society."*
But love here, as every other high form of passion
* These words are taken from a comparison of the conservative with the movement poet, which forms a part of Mr. Mills' Essay on Alfred de Vigny-a comparison strikingly applicable throughout to Mr. Tennyson and Mr. Browning.
or enthusiasm, implies a supreme Loving Will and an eternal life for the individual, because gifts prove their use; and in the apparent failure and disappointment of the loving heart there is the true successeverlasting desire, aspiration, and endeavour. This is the thought brought out in those two remarkable poems, "Love in a Life,” and “Life in a Love."
Here again, as in every instance, each of the poets seizes a partial truth. Which truth of the two is the more important I cannot say. But I do venture to say, that if passion may degrade itself to unworthy objects, or warp the operation of certain of our powers by subtle encroachments; self-control, selfsuperintendence, and so-called obedience to duty, may descend to a mere trade, a gross and obvious mechanism, agreeable to the lethargy of our nature because it relieves us from any unexpected summons of sudden emotion, and from the difficult casuistry of the higher spirit of justice. The Duty before whom flowers laugh in their beds, and through whom the most ancient Heavens are fresh and strong, is a living One whose countenance changes for ever with new thoughts and feelings, whose limbs are instinct with the spirit of joy, and whose heart can never be represented in a formula. No one felt this more deeply than he whose phrases I have just now made my own-our great poet and thinkerWordsworth.
With regard to the political passion, again Mr. Browning is in contrast with Mr. Tennyson. Mr. Tennyson's ideal of a patriot is an English gentle
man who has a seat in Parliament, and carries a
How first the Austrians got these provinces...
That treaty whereby ...
. (Sure he's arrived
Things they have made me feel.
Why go to night?