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Title: A Day with Browning
Author: Anonymous, Browning, Robert, 1812-1889
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Day with Browning" ***

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  [Illustration: A Day with Browning]


    "The Palazzo Giustiniani Recanati was a place of historical
    association and fifteenth-century traditions.... At three
    o'clock regularly, a friend's gondola, which was always at hand
    to convey him, came and carried him, usually, to the Lido,--his
    favourite spot."


  [Illustration: _Painting by E. W. Haslehust._
                 BROWNING'S HOUSE IN VENICE.]


  [Illustration: A DAY WITH THE POET BROWNING
                NEW YORK HODDER & STOUGHTON]


  _In the same Series._

  _Longfellow._
  _Tennyson._
  _Keats._
  _Wordsworth._
  _Burns._
  _Scott._
  _Byron._
  _Shelley._



A DAY WITH BROWNING.


From his bed-room window in the Palazzo Giustiniani Recanati, every
morning in 1885, Robert Browning watched the sunrise. "My window
commands a perfect view," he wrote, "the still, grey lagoon, the few
seagulls flying, the islet of San Giorgio in deep shadow, and the
clouds in a long purple rack, from behind which a sort of spirit of
rose burns up, till presently all the rims are on fire with gold....
So my day begins."

The Palazzo, in which a suite of rooms had been placed by Mrs. Bronson
at the disposal of the poet and his sister, was a place of historical
association and fifteenth-century traditions. And no more appropriate
abiding-place than Venice could have been selected for a man of
Browning's temperament. The Venetian colouring was a perpetual feast
to his eye: its mediæval glories were a source of continual
inspiration. And if much of his heart still remained with his native
land, so that the London daily papers were a necessity of existence,
and a certain sense of exile occasionally obtruded itself, we must
needs be grateful to that fact for its result in certain immortal
lines:

    Oh, to be in England
    Now that April's there,
    And whoever wakes in England
    Sees, some morning, unaware,
    That the lowest boughs and the brush-wood sheaf
    Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
    While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
    In England--now!

    And after April, when May follows,
    And the whitethroat builds, and all the swallows!
    Hark! where my blossomed pear-tree in the hedge
    Leans to the field and scatters on the clover
    Blossoms and dewdrops--at the bent-spray's edge--
    That's the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
    Lest you should think he never could recapture
    The first fine careless rapture!
    And though the fields look rough with hoary dew,
    All will be gay when noontide wakes anew
    The buttercups, the little children's dower,
    --Far brighter than this gaudy melon-flower!

But there had always been a frankly cosmopolitan spirit in
Browning,--no touch of parochialism or insularity. In the magnificent
gallery of portrait studies, no two alike, which his poems present to
us, the nationalities are legion. Yet Italian scenes predominate; for
Browning could gauge, with the unerring instinct of genius, all the
subtleties of the Italian temperament. So we come, at every turn,
across some ardent vision of the South,--here, Waring sailing out of
Trieste under the furled lateen-sail; and there, Fra Lippo Lippi
tracking "lutestrings, laughs, and whifts of song" down the darkling
streets of Florence. The "Patriot," riding into Brescia, "roses, roses
all the way," and the Duke of Ferrara,--that "typical representative
of a whole phase of civilisation," discussing _My Last Duchess_ and
her foolishness.

    That's my last Duchess painted on the wall,
    Looking as if she were alive; I call
    That piece a wonder, now: Frà Pandolf's hands
    Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
    Will't please you sit and look at her? I said
    "Frà Pandolf" by design, for never read
    Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
    The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
    But to myself they turned (since none puts by
    The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)
    And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,
    How such a glance came there; so, not the first
    Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, 'twas not
    Her husband's presence only, called that spot
    Of joy into the Duchess' cheek: perhaps
    Frà Pandolf chanced to say "Her mantle laps
    Over my Lady's wrist too much," or "Paint
    Must never hope to reproduce the faint
    Half-flush that dies along her throat;" such stuff
    Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough
    For calling up that spot of joy. She had
    A heart ... how shall I say? ... too soon made glad,
    Too easily impressed; she liked whate'er
    She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.
    Sir, 'twas all one! My favour at her breast,
    The dropping of the daylight in the West,
    The bough of cherries some officious fool
    Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule
    She rode with round the terrace--all and each
    Would draw from her alike the approving speech,
    Or blush, at least. She thanked men,--good; but thanked
    Somehow ... I know not how ... as if she ranked
    My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name
    With anybody's gift.
                                        (_My Last Duchess._)

       *       *       *       *       *

    That's my last Duchess painted on the wall,
    Looking as if she were alive; I call
    That piece a wonder, now: Frà Pandolf's hands
    Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
    Will't please you sit and look at her? I said
    "Frà Pandolf" by design, for never read
    Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
    The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
    But to myself they turned (since none puts by
    The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)
    And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,
    How such a glance came there.


[Illustration: _Painting by W. J. Neatby._ MY LAST DUCHESS.]


After a light and early breakfast--the poet, when abroad, lived almost
entirely on milk, fruit, etc., abjuring animal food--Browning would
follow his invariable custom, a stroll along the Riva to the public
gardens. He never failed to leave the house at the same hour of the
day: he was a man of singularly methodical habits in many ways. "Good
sense," it has been said, "was his foible, if not his habit": and an
orderly method of life was one of the strongest proofs of this fact:
another evidence lay in his care to avoid being _labelled_. The
disorderly locks and careless appearance of the typical poet were
quite alien to this well-groomed, cleanly-looking Englishman, with his
"sweet, grave face," silvery hair, and smooth, healthy skin.
Singularly wholesome in body as well as in mind, until past seventy he
could take the longest walks without fatigue; the splendid eyesight of
his clear grey eyes remained untarnished to the last. These keen grey
eyes of his never failed to notice anything worth seeing in his walks:
an extraordinary minuteness of observation is perceptible in all his
poems dealing with out-door life,--little touches of detail such as
few men are masters of:

    And the leaf-buds on the vine are woolly,
        I noticed that, to-day;
    One day more bursts them open fully,
        --You know the red turns grey.

                       (_The Lost Mistress._)

And again, those lines of poignant, passionate reserve, which sum up
_May and Death_:

    I wish that when you died last May,
        Charles, there had died along with you
    Three parts of spring's delightful things;
        Ay, and for me, the fourth part too.

    A foolish thought, and worse, perhaps!
        There must be many a pair of friends
    Who, arm in arm, deserve the warm
        Moon-births, and the long evening-ends.

    So, for their sake, be May still May!
        Let their new time, as mine of old,
    Do all it did for me: I bid
        Sweet sights and sounds throng manifold.

    Only, one little sight, one plant,
        Woods have in May, that starts up green
    Save a sole streak which, so to speak,
        Is spring's blood, spilt its leaves between,--

    That, they might spare; a certain wood
        Might miss the plant; their loss were small:
    But I,--whene'er the leaf grows there,
        Its drop comes from my heart, that's all.

Arrived at the public gardens, Browning was careful to visit his
"friends" there and to feed them--the elephant, baboon, kangaroo,
ostrich, pelican, and marmosets. He had that particular _camaraderie_
with wild animals which is almost akin to a hypnotic influence over
them: and when in the country, he would "whistle softly to the lizards
basking on the low walls which border the roads, to try his old power
of attracting them." Flowers he enjoyed as a colour-feast for the eye;
scenery he revelled in. In that perpetual contemplation of Nature,
which with Wordsworth became an all-absorbent passion, Browning had
but little share: his chief interest was in man. But "now and again
external nature was for him ... pierced and shot through with
spiritual fire."

Three times punctually he would walk round the gardens, and then walk
home. Upon these daily strolls he was accompanied by his sister
Sarianna: in whose love and companionship he was singularly fortunate.
Sarianna Browning had always been the best of sisters to the poet and
his wife,--a kindred spirit in every sense of the word; and she was
now intent to supply, so far as in her lay, the place of that "soul of
fire enclosed in a shell of pearl"--Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Of the
dead wife, who had been all-in-all to him, Browning seldom spoke in
words: but his burning need of her and hope of reunion with her
gleamed continually through his writings:

    "Oh, their Rafael of the dear Madonnas,
    Oh, their Dante of the dread Inferno,
    Wrote one song--and in my brain I sing it,
    Drew one angel--borne, see, on my bosom!"

And in all his poems which deal with the love of man and woman, "he
regarded the union of soul with soul as the capital achievement of
life." He thought of love "as a supreme possession in itself, and as a
revelation of infinite things which lie beyond it: as a test of
character, and even as a pledge of perpetual advance in the life of
the spirit." Hence, even where the shadow of death broods over a poem,
as we see it _In a Gondola_, that shadow "glows with colour like the
shadows of a Venetian painter." Love, to the very last, is infinitely
stronger than death.

       *       *       *       *       *

    I send my heart up to thee, all my heart,
        In this my singing.
    For the stars help me, and the sea bears part;
        The very night is clinging
    Closer to Venice' streets to leave one space
        Above me, whence thy face
    May light my joyous heart to thee its dwelling-place.


[Illustration: _Painting by W. Russell Flint._ IN A GONDOLA.]


    _He sings._

    I send my heart up to thee, all my heart
        In this my singing.
    For the stars help me, and the sea bears part;
        The very night is clinging
    Closer to Venice' streets to leave one space
        Above me, whence thy face
    May light my joyous heart to thee its dwelling-place.

    _She speaks._

    Say after me, and try to say
    My very words, as if each word
    Came from you of your own accord,
    In your own voice, in your own way:
    "This woman's heart and soul and brain
    Are mine as much as this gold chain
    She bids me wear; which," (say again)
    "I choose to make by cherishing
    A precious thing, or choose to fling
    Over the boat-side, ring by ring."
    And yet once more say ... no word more!
    Since words are only words. Give o'er!
    Unless you call me, all the same,
    Familiarly by my pet-name
    Which, if the Three should hear you call,
    And me reply to, would proclaim
    At once our secret to them all.

       *       *       *       *       *

    _She speaks._

    There's Zanze's vigilant taper; safe are we!
    Only one minute more to-night with me?
    Resume your past self of a month ago!
    Be you the bashful gallant, I will be
    The lady with the colder breast than snow:
    Now bow you, as becomes, nor touch my hand
    More than I touch yours when I step to land,
    And say, "All thanks, Siora!"--
            Heart to heart,
    And lips to lips! Yet once more, ere we part,
    Clasp me, and make me thine, as mine thou art!

    (_He is surprised and stabbed._)

    It was ordained to be so, Sweet,--and best
    Comes now, beneath thine eyes, and on thy breast.
    Still kiss me! Care not for the cowards! Care
    Only to put aside thy beauteous hair
    My blood will hurt! The Three, I do not scorn
    To death, because they never lived: but I
    Have lived indeed, and so--(yet one more kiss)--can die!
                                          (_In a Gondola._)

The latter hours of the morning were devoted by the poet to work,
proof-sheets, and correspondence. He would complain bitterly of the
quantity of "ephemeral correspondence" which took up so much of his
time: yet, with the rarest exceptions, he answered every letter he
received. He counted that day lost in which he had not written at
least a little. In earlier life he had worked fast and copiously, but
now he was satisfied with twenty or thirty lines as the result of a
morning's work. And upon these lines he expended infinite trouble;
for, despite all suppositions to the contrary, he finished his work
with great care. "People accuse me of not taking pains!" he grumbled,
"I take nothing _but_ pains!"

His subject-matter fell naturally into three groups of poems: those
interpreting love in its various phases, those occupied with art and
artists, those treating of religious ideas and emotions. And these
again may be subdivided into poems of failure and attainment: it is
hard to say which are which, for Browning was the singer of heroic
failures, and they, to him, were spiritual triumphs. He held that "we
fall to rise--are baffled to fight better,--sleep, to wake." No such
moral tonic has ever been proffered to the weary and dispirited as the
invulnerable optimism of Browning. He regarded this present life as a
state of probation and preparation; therefore, "his faith in the
unseen order of things created a hope which persists through all
apparent failure." The Miltonic ideal, "and what is else, not to be
overcome," is the core and centre of Browning's teaching. Sometimes it
refers to hopeless love, as in _The Last Ride Together_.

    I said--Then, Dearest, since 'tis so,
    Since now at length my fate I know,
    Since nothing all my love avails,
    Since all, my life seemed meant for, fails,
        Since this was written and needs must be--

    My whole heart rises up to bless
    Your name in pride and thankfulness!
    Take back the hope you gave,--I claim
    Only a memory of the same,
    --And this beside, if you will not blame,
        Your leave for one more last ride with me.

    My mistress bent that brow of hers;
    Those deep dark eyes where pride demurs
    When pity would be softening through,
    Fixed me a breathing-while or two
        With life or death in the balance: right!
    The blood replenished me again;
    My last thought was at least not vain:
    I and my mistress, side by side
    Shall be together, breathe and ride,
    So, one day more am I deified--
        Who knows but the world may end to-night?

Sometimes death, to all seeming, has shut the doors of hope for ever:

    Beautiful Evelyn Hope is dead!
        Sit and watch by her side an hour.
    That is her book-shelf, this her bed;
        She plucked that piece of geranium-flower,
    Beginning to die too in the glass;
        Little has yet been changed, I think:
    The shutters are shut, no light may pass
        Save two long rays thro' the hinge's chink.

           *       *       *       *       *

    Is it too late then, Evelyn Hope?
        What, your soul was pure and true,
    The good stars met in your horoscope,
        Made you of spirit, fire and dew--
    And, just because I was thrice as old
        And our paths in the world diverged so wide,
    Each was nought to each, must I be told?
        We were fellow-mortals, nought beside?

    No, indeed! for God above
        Is great to grant, as mighty to make,
    And creates the love to reward the love:
        I claim you still, for my own love's sake!
    Delayed it may be for more lives yet,
        Through worlds I shall traverse, not a few:
    Much is to learn and much to forget
        Ere the time be come for taking you.

    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 come in the old one's stead.

           *       *       *       *       *

    I loved you, Evelyn, all the while!
        My heart seemed full as it could hold--
    There was place and to spare for the frank young smile,
        And the red young mouth and the hair's young gold.
    So, hush,--I will give you this leaf to keep--
        See, I shut it inside the sweet cold hand.
    There, that is our secret! go to sleep;
        You will wake, and remember, and understand.

Or, again, the tragedy of ingratitude and crumbled aspirations
ends--as the world might say--upon the scaffold.

    It was roses, roses, all the way,
        With myrtle mixed in my path like mad:
    The house-roofs seemed to heave and sway,
        The church-spires flamed, such flags they had,
    A year ago on this very day!

           *       *       *       *       *

    There's nobody on the house-tops now--
        Just a palsied few at the windows set;
    For the best of the sight is, all allow,
        At the Shambles' Gate--or, better yet,
    By the very scaffold's foot, I trow.

    I go in the rain, and, more than needs,
        A rope cuts both my wrists behind;
    And I think, by the feel, my forehead bleeds,
        For they fling, whoever has a mind,
    Stones at me for my year's misdeeds.

    Thus I entered Brescia, and thus I go!
        In triumphs, people have dropped down dead.
    "Thou, paid by the World,--what dost thou owe
        Me?" God might question: but now instead,
    'Tis God shall requite! I am safer so.

In all these, as in _Childe Roland_, that forlorn romance of dreary
and depressed heroism, "the trumpet-note of the soul's victory rings
through the darkness of terrestrial defeat":

    Not hear? when noise was everywhere! it tolled
        Increasing like a bell. Names in my ears
        Of all the lost adventurers my peers,--
    How such a one was strong, and such was bold,
    And such was fortunate, yet each of old
        Lost, lost! one moment knelled the woe of years.

    There they stood, ranged along the hill-sides, met
        To view the last of me, a living frame
        For one more picture! in a sheet of flame
    I saw them and I knew them all. And yet
    Dauntless the slug-horn to my lips I set
        And blew, "_Childe  Roland to the Dark Tower came_."

... At noon, Browning would make a second and more substantial
breakfast on Italian dishes; and at three o'clock regularly, a
friend's gondola, which was always at hand to convey him, came and
carried him, usually, to the Lido,--his favourite spot. "I walk, even
in wind or rain," he wrote, "for a couple of hours on Lido, and enjoy
the break of sea on the strip of sand, as much as Shelley did in those
old days.... Go there,--if only to be blown about by the sea-wind!"
The sea-wind, indeed, was the very utterance of his own robust and
vigorous nature, his keen alertness of sense, and his impetuous,
impulsive spirit.

In the course of the afternoon, he would explore Venice in all
directions, studying her multitudinous points of interest and beauty.
The daughter of his hostess, Mrs. Bronson, sometimes companioned him
on these excursions, guiding him through the narrow by-streets, or
examining, with him, the monuments, sculptures and frescoes of the
churches.

Art, in its various manifestations, had been a life-long study with
Browning. He took great delight in modelling in clay, and had for some
while studied sculpture under Story. He possessed the artistic
temperament--fiery, nervous, susceptible--in its sanest form: and not
only was he able to express all an artist's aims, ambitions, and
despairs, but to arrive in all his poems, at one point or other, at a
superb pictorial moment. Some of his lines are penetrated from end to
end with this remarkable pictorial quality: perhaps the most notable
example is _Love Among the Ruins_, with its triple contrast,--the
infinite calm of the pasture-lands prolonging themselves into the
sunset, the noise and vital movement which had filled the
now-vanished city,--and the lover, endeavouring to curb his impatience
for the one beloved face by dwelling on these outward things:

       *       *       *       *       *

    And I know, while thus the quiet-coloured eve
              Smiles to leave
    To their folding, all our many-tinkling fleece
              In such peace,
    And the slopes and rills in undistinguished grey
              Melt away--
    That a girl with eager eyes and yellow hair
              Waits me there
    In the turret whence the charioteers caught soul
              For the goal,
    When the king looked, where she looks now, breathless, dumb
              Till I come.


[Illustration: _Painting by W. Russell Flint_. LOVE AMONG THE RUINS.]


    Where the quiet-coloured end of evening smiles
              Miles and miles
    On the solitary pastures where our sheep
              Half asleep
    Tinkle homeward thro' the twilight, stray or stop
              As they crop--

    Was the site once of a city great and gay,
              (So they say)
    Of our country's very capital, its prince
              Ages since
    Held his court in, gathered councils, wielding far
              Peace or war.

           *       *       *       *       *

    And I know, while thus the quiet-coloured eve
              Smiles to leave
    To their folding, all our many-tinkling fleece
              In such peace,
    And the slopes and rills in undistinguished grey
              Melt away--

    That a girl with eager eyes and yellow hair
              Waits me there
    In the turret whence the charioteers caught soul
              For the goal,
    When the king looked, where she looks now, breathless, dumb
              Till I come.

    But he looked upon the city, every side,
              Far and wide,
    All the mountains topped with temples, all the glades'
              Colonnades,
    All the causeys, bridges, aqueducts,--and then,
              All the men!

    When I do come, she will speak not, she will stand,
              Either hand
    On my shoulder, give her eyes the first embrace
              Of my face,
    Ere we rush, ere we extinguish sight and speech
              Each on each.

           *       *       *       *       *

    Oh heart! oh, blood that freezes, blood that burns!
              Earth's returns
    For whole centuries of folly, noise and sin!
              Shut them in,
    With their triumphs and their glories and the rest.
              Love is best!

Another characteristic of Browning was his consummate comprehension of
artistic ideals, those of temperaments so opposite as Fra Lippo Lippi,
_Pictor Ignotus_, and that too-perfect painter Andrea del Sarto. His
poem on the last-named was written and forwarded to a friend, who had
begged him to procure a copy of the Pitti portrait of Del Sarto and
his wife. It tells far more than any portrait could: and expresses the
writer's doctrine that in art, as in life, the aspiration toward the
higher is greater than the achievement of the lower: "A man's reach
should exceed his grasp, or what's heaven for?" According to
Browning's belief, a soul's probation, its growth, its ultimate value,
lie mainly if not wholly in this choice between the high and the less
high.

    ... Love, we are in God's hand.
    How strange now, looks the life He makes us lead!
    So free we seem, so fettered fast we are!
    I feel He laid the fetter: let it lie!
    This chamber for example--turn your head--
    All that's behind us! you don't understand
    Nor care to understand about my art,
    But you can hear at least when people speak;
    And that cartoon, the second from the door
    --It is the thing, Love! so such things should be--
    Behold Madonna, I am bold to say.
    I can do with my pencil what I know,
    What I see, what at bottom of my heart
    I wish for, if I ever wish so deep--
    Do easily, too--when I say perfectly
    I do not boast, perhaps: yourself are judge
    Who listened to the Legate's talk last week,
    And just as much they used to say in France.
    At any rate 'tis easy, all of it,
    No sketches first, no studies, that's long past--
    I do what many dream of all their lives
    --Dream? strive to do, and agonise to do,
    And fail in doing. I could count twenty such
    On twice your fingers, and not leave this town,
    Who strive--you don't know how the others strive
    To paint a little thing like that you smeared
    Carelessly passing with your robes afloat,--
    Yet do much less, so much less, Someone says,
    (I know his name, no matter) so much less!
    Well, less is more, Lucrezia! I am judged.
    There burns a truer light of God in them,
    In their vexed, beating, stuffed and stopped-up brain,
    Heart, or whate'er else, that goes on to prompt
    This low-pulsed forthright craftsman's hand of mine.
    Their works drop groundward, but themselves, I know,
    Reach many a time a heaven that's shut to me,
    Enter and take their place there sure enough,
    Though they come back and cannot tell the world.
    My works are nearer heaven, but I sit here.
                                      (_Andrea del Sarto._)

Social intercourse occupied a large portion of the day. Browning
identified himself with the daily life of Venice, and, besides this,
English and American acquaintances were frequently in Venice: the
poet, his reputation now firmly established and extending, was sought
after by innumerable admirers. He was a man of great social charm,--a
brilliant talker, full of amusing anecdotes,--his memory for
historical incident was only paralleled by his immense literary
knowledge, upon which he drew for apt illustration. Yet he was
naturally a reticent man, of painfully nervous excitability; "nervous
to such a degree," as he said of himself, "that I might fancy I could
not enter a drawing-room, did I not know from my experience that I
_could_ do it." This very nervousness, however, often induced an
almost abnormal vivacity of speech: and Browning was warmly welcomed
amongst the notable and even royal folk whose names were included in
Mrs. Bronson's circle; they recognised in him, as Frederick Tennyson
had done, "a man of infinite learning, jest, and _bonhomie_, and
moreover a sterling heart that reveals no hollowness." To women he was
specially attracted, and _vice-versâ_; "that golden-hearted Robert,"
as his wife had termed him, had an intimate understanding of the
woman's mind. But towards children, he was, so to speak, almost numb.
Devoted though he was to his only son, "the essential quality of early
childhood was not that which appealed to him:" and the fervour of
parental instinct finds practically no expression in his poems.

In the course of the day the poet would lose no opportunity of hearing
any important concert: an accomplished musician himself, his love for
the tone-art amounted to a passion: and in many of his greatest poems,
he had voiced the most secret meanings of music, and the yearning
aspirations of a composer. We "sit alone in the loft" with the
organist, Master Hughes of Saxe-Gotha, and his "huge house of the
sounds," to listen and wonder while his fugue "broadens and thickens,
greatens and deepens and lengthens," and the intricacy of constructive
technique forms, as someone has said, "an interposing web spun by the
brain between art and things divine." Or we stand with Abt Vogler in
his "palace of music" as it falls to pieces, and the magic of
inspiration over-rides the mastery of construction. The void of the
silence is filled with "the substance of things hoped for; the
evidence of things not seen," and faith is born of the composer's very
impotence to realize the heights of his own ambition--yet one more
rendering of that triumphant failure, of which Browning was the
prophet:

    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.

    And what is our failure here but a triumph's evidence
        For the fulness of the days? Have we withered or agonized?
    Why else was the pause prolonged but that singing might issue
          thence?
        Why rushed the discords in but that harmony should be prized?
    Sorrow is hard to bear, and doubt is slow to clear,
        Each sufferer says his say, his scheme of the weal and woe:
    But God has a few of us whom he whispers in the ear;
        The rest may reason and welcome: 'tis we musicians know.
                                                         (_Abt Vogler._)

And, as a final contrast, drawn out of that shoreless sea of contrasts
which music can reveal, we have _A Toccata of Galuppi's_, suffused
with the melancholy of mundane pleasure, steeped in the ephemeral
voluptuousness of eighteenth-century Venice. In these lines, it has
been pointed out, "Browning's self-restraint is admirable.... The poet
will not say a word more than the musician has said in his Toccata."

    Did young people take their pleasure when the sea was warm in May?
    Balls and masks begun at midnight, burning ever to mid-day,
    When they made up fresh adventures for the morrow, do you say?

           *       *       *       *       *

    Well (and it was graceful of them) they'd break talk off and
      afford--
    --She to bite her mask's black velvet, he to finger on his sword,
    While you sat and played Toccatas, stately at the clavichord?


[Illustration: _Painting by W. Russell Flint._ A TOCCATA OF
GALUPPI'S.]


    Oh, Galuppi, Baldassaro, this is very sad to find!
    I can hardly misconceive you; it would prove me deaf and blind;
    But although I take your meaning, 'tis with such a heavy mind!
    Here you come with your old music, and here's all the good it
      brings.
    What, they lived thus at Venice, where the merchants were the kings,
    Where St. Mark's is, where the Doges used to wed the sea with rings?

           *       *       *       *       *

    Did young people take their pleasure when the sea was warm in May?
    Balls and masks begun at midnight, burning ever to mid-day,
    When they made up fresh adventures for the morrow, do you say?

           *       *       *       *       *

    Well (and it was graceful of them) they'd break talk off and
      afford--
    --She to bite her mask's black velvet, he to finger on his sword,
    While you sat and played Toccatas, stately at the clavichord?

    What? Those lesser thirds so plaintive, sixths diminished, sigh on
      sigh,
    Told them something? Those suspensions, those solutions--"Must we
      die?"
    Those commiserating sevenths--"Life might last! we can but try!"

    "Were you happy?"--"Yes."--"And are you still as happy?"--"Yes. And
      you?"
    --"Then, more kisses!"--"Did I stop them, when a million seemed so
      few?"
    Hark! the dominant's persistence, till it must be answered to!

    So an octave struck the answer. Oh, they praised you, I dare say!
    "Brave Galuppi! that was music! good alike at grave and gay!
    I can always leave off talking when I hear a master play!"

    Then they left you for your pleasure: till in due time, one by one,
    Some with lives that came to nothing, some with deeds as well
      undone,
    Death came tacitly and took them where they never see the sun.

           *       *       *       *       *

                                            (_A Toccata of Galuppi's._)

The afternoon wore by quickly, and it was soon time to dress for
dinner: for Browning was precise in adhering to the customs of
civilised life: and he liked to see his sister seated opposite him,
clad in beautiful gowns of sombre richness, and wearing quaint old
jewelry. Browning accepted his meals with frank pleasure; he was no
ascetic, and "his optimism and his belief in direct Providence led him
to make a direct virtue of happiness," and to welcome it in its
simplest form. Any guest who might be present was privileged to enjoy
that sparkling and many-faceted eloquence to which reference has been
made already. But the host was always careful to avoid deep or solemn
topics--doubtless because he felt them far too keenly, to use them as
mere texts for dinner-table discussion. "If such were broached in his
presence, he dismissed them with one strong convincing sentence, and
adroitly turned the current of conversation into a shallower channel."

Later on, he would probably visit the Goldoni Theatre, where he had a
large box: or, if remaining at home, he was often prevailed upon to
read aloud. His delivery was forcible and dramatic,--he would strongly
emphasise all the light and shade of a poem, and the touches of
character in the dialogue. Especially was this the case when reading
his own compositions. But often he would say with a smile, "No R. B.
to-night!--let us have some real poetry," and would take down a volume
of Shelley, Keats or Coleridge.

At last, another of the "divine sunsets" which Browning adored had
faded over the Lido; the "quiet-coloured end of evening" had darkened
into dusk and stars. Even that alert and indefatigable frame grew
weary with the day's long doings, and a natural desire for rest
descended upon "the brain which too much thought expands." The vision
of Guercino's picture, "fraught with a pathos so magnificent,"
returned upon him from that sultry day in which he had beheld the
"Guardian Angel" at Fano, "my angel with me, too," and he longed for
the touch of those divinely-healing hands.

       *       *       *       *       *

    Dear and great Angel, would'st thou only leave
      That child, when thou hast done with him, for me!
    Let me sit all the day here, that when eve
      Shall find performed thy special ministry
    And time come for departure, thou, suspending
    Thy flight, may'st see another child for tending,
      Another still, to quiet and retrieve.


[Illustration: _Painting by W. Russell Flint._ THE GUARDIAN ANGEL.]


    Dear and great Angel, wouldst thou only leave
      That child, when thou hast done with him, for me!
    Let me sit all the day here, that when eve
      Shall find performed thy special ministry
    And time come for departure, thou, suspending
    Thy flight, mayst see another child for tending,
      Another still, to quiet and retrieve.

    Then I shall feel thee step one step, no more,
      From where thou standest now, to where I gaze,
    --And suddenly my head is covered o'er
      With those wings, white above the child who prays
    Now on that tomb--and I shall feel thee guarding
    Me, out of all the world; for me, discarding
      Yon Heaven thy home, that waits and opes its door!

    I would not look up thither past thy head
      Because the door opes, like that child, I know,
    For I should have thy gracious face instead,

      Thou bird of God! And wilt thou bend me low
    Like him, and lay, like his, my hands together,
    And lift them up to pray, and gently tether
      Me, as thy lamb there, with thy garments spread?...

    How soon all worldly wrong would be repaired!
      I think how I should view the earth and skies
    And sea, when once again my brow was bared
      After thy healing, with such different eyes.
    O world, as God has made it! all is beauty:
    And knowing this, is love, and love is duty.
      What further may be sought for or declared?

Yet it was not to a celestial visitant that Browning's thoughts turned
most, now or at any other time. It was towards the one love of his
life,--towards that re-union, that restoration, that infrangible joy
of retrieval, which was the goal of his whole desire. And,
characteristically of the man who was "ever a fighter," he did not
expect to reach his haven by a calm and prosperous passage. It had to
be fought for--struggled for from strength to strength,--attained
through incessant and arduous combat. For those do not "mount, and
that hardly, to eternal life," who remain content upon terrestrial
planes;

    "Surely they see not God, I know,
    Nor all that chivalry of His,
    The soldier-saints, who, row on row,
    Burn upwards each to his point of bliss,
    Since, the end of life being manifest,
    He had cut his way through the world to this."

Therefore, as sleep, "Death's twin-brother," came slowly through the
darkness, the fighter faced his last hour in imagination, and made
haste to "greet the future with a cheer." For _Prospice_ is an "act of
the faith which comes through love.... No lonely adventure is here to
reward the victor o'er death: the transcendant joy is human love
recovered":

    Fear death?--to feel the fog in my throat,
            The mist in my face,
    When the snows begin, and the blasts denote
            I am nearing the place,
    The power of the night, the press of the storm,
            The post of the foe;
    Where he stands, the Arch Fear in a visible form,
            Yet the strong man must go:
    For the journey is done and the summit attained,
            And the barriers fall,
    Though a battle's to fight ere the guerdon be gained,
            The reward of it all.
    I was ever a fighter, so--one fight more,
            The best and the last!
    I would hate that death bandaged my eyes, and forbore,
            And bade me creep past.
    No! let me taste the whole of it, fare like my peers
            The heroes of old,
    Bear the brunt, in a minute pay glad life's arrears
            Of pain, darkness and cold.
    For sudden the worst turns the best to the brave,
            The black minute's at end,
    And the elements' rage, the fiend-voices that rave,
            Shall dwindle, shall blend,
    Shall change, shall become first a peace out of pain,
            Then a light, then thy breast,
    O thou soul of my soul! I shall clasp thee again,
            And with God be the rest!
            (_Prospice._)

_Printed by Percy Lund, Humphries & Co., Ltd., Bradford and London._





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