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Luigi. “I am the bright and morning star,” God saith—
And" to such an one I give the morning star !"
Of the morning star? Here again each of the poets catches half a truth. Without reverence for duty, of which freedom is the essential condition, there is no true love of freedom. That is Mr. Tennyson's part of the truth. But passion for a righteous cause may create new forms of duty, and give the adequate power to fulfil them; and if it does not, the failure is itself a success, which God who can give the morning star will approve. That is Mr. Browning's part. Once more : compare Mr. Browning's manner of estimating the worth of knowledge with that of Mr. Tennyson. It is each positive gain, each scientific discovery, or mechanical invention that Mr. Tennyson chiefly values. To Mr. Browning the gleams we have of knowledge are valuable, because they sting with hunger for full light. The goal of knowledge is God Himself. Its most precious part is that which is least positive—those momentary intuitions of things which eye hath not seen nor ear heard, “fallings from us, vanishings."* Even the revelation of God in Christianity left room for doubts and guesses, because growth is the law of man's nature, and perfect knowledge would have stayed his growth;t while, at the same time, its assurance of a boundless life beyond the grave saved Christianity from the failure of Heathenism, which could not extinguish
* See Easter Day, 27, 28. + A Death in the Desert.
man's longings for a higher than material or worldly perfection, but was unable to utilise them, or suggest how they could be changed from restlessness and self-conflict to a sustaining hope.* I ask my hearers to complete the impression which I have endeavoured to produce, by the thoughtful reading of a poem in which these ideas of Mr. Browning find, perhaps, their noblest expression-Rabbi Ben Ezra.
I have illustrated Mr. Browning's system of thought chiefly by his shorter poems; but to the same central ideas belong “Paracelsus," "Sordello,” and “EasterDay." In each we read “a soul's tragedy." Paracelsus aspires to absolute knowledge, the attainment of which is forbidden by the conditions of our existence. In the same poem a second phase of the same error—that of refusing for the present to submit to the terms of life—is represented in Aprile, who would “love infinitely and be loved.” Paracelsus is the victim of an aspiring intellect; Aprile, of the temptations of a yearning, passionate heart. Mr. Browning decided to complete our view of this side of the subject by showing the failure of an attempt to manifest the infinite scope, and realise the infinite energy of will, the inability of a great nature to deploy all its magnificent resources, and by compelling men, in some way or other, to acknowledge that nature as their master, to gain a full sense of its existence. With this purpose he wrote a companion poem to “ Paracelsus" __“Sordello." But the same subject has another side, and this
also Mr. Browning felt himself bound to present. It was the error of Paracelsus and Aprile and Sordello to endeavour to overleap the limitations of life, or to force within those limits an infinity of knowledge, emotion, or volition, which they are unable to contain. It is no less an error to content oneself with the present conditions of our existence, to cease straining beyond them towards the highest objects of thought, love, and desire, -in a word, to God. And here is the side of the subject which is regarded in “ Easter-Day." Why is the condemnation of the soul by God in that Dream inevitable? Because the speaker failed in his dream in the probation of lifeaccepted the finite joys and aims of earth (each with some taint in it) as sufficient and final, and never grasped at, or yearned towards, the heavenly influences and joys that flitted faint and rare above the earthly, but which were taintless, and therefore best.*
It is worth while to call the reader's attention, in connection with the view taken in this study of the two poets, to the fact, that Mr. Tennyson is never done with his poems : each new edition shows some new touches. Obedience to the law of beauty is supreme with him. Mr. Browning husbands his strength, by forgetting what is behind to press forward to what is before. The endeavour, the aspiration, seems precious to him.
In speaking of the passage of “The Princess" which criticizes the revolutionary spirit in France, I ought perhaps to have made allowance for the fact that it is put into the mouth of “the Tory member's elder son.” However, I think, the passage expresses nearly Mr. Tennyson's own opinions.