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Title: Browning and Dogma - Seven Lectures on Browning's Attitude towards Dogmatic Religion
Author: Naish, Ethel M.
Language: English
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BROWNING AND DOGMA



  LONDON: GEORGE BELL AND SONS
  PORTUGAL ST. LINCOLN'S INN, W.C.
  CAMBRIDGE: DEIGHTON, BELL & CO.
  NEW YORK: THE MACMILLAN CO.
  BOMBAY: A. H. WHEELER & CO.



  BROWNING AND DOGMA

  SEVEN LECTURES ON BROWNING'S ATTITUDE
  TOWARDS DOGMATIC RELIGION


  BY ETHEL M. NAISH
  (FORMERLY SCHOLAR OF NEWNHAM COLLEGE, CAMB. HIST. TRIPOS)


  LONDON
  GEORGE BELL AND SONS
  1906



CONTENTS


                                              PAGE

  LECTURE I
    INTRODUCTORY, AND CALIBAN UPON SETEBOS       1

  LECTURE II
    CLEON                                       27

  LECTURE III
    BISHOP BLOUGRAM'S APOLOGY                   61

  LECTURE IV
    CHRISTMAS EVE AND EASTER DAY (i)            93

  LECTURE V
    CHRISTMAS EVE AND EASTER DAY (ii)          123

  LECTURE VI
    CHRISTMAS EVE AND EASTER DAY (iii)         147

  LECTURE VII
    LA SAISIAZ                                 179



SYNOPSIS


  LECTURE I

  Sources of Browning's influence as a teacher.

  Connection between the five poems of the Course.

  _Caliban upon Setebos_--Origin of--Criticisms.

  Characteristics of Caliban. Cf. Caliban of Shakespeare.

  Analysis of Poem.
      (i) Introductory (ll. 1-23).
     (ii) Conception of Setebos.
          (_a_) Place of abode (ll. 24-25).
          (_b_) Creator of things animate and inanimate (ll. 26-55).
          (_c_) Motives of Creation: self-gratification or wantonness (ll.
                  55-84, 170-199).
          (_d_) Answer to prayers addressed by his creatures uncertain
                  because result of caprice (ll. 85-97).
          (_e_) Main characteristic--Power, irresponsible and capricious
                  (ll. 98-126, 200-240).
    (iii) "The Quiet" and Caliban's estimate of evil (ll. 127-141,
            246-249).

  Other lines of thought relating to:
    _A._ Doctrine of Sacrifice.
    _B._ A Future Life.
    _C._ Indirect suggestion of necessity of an Incarnation of the
           Deity arising from negative conditions ascribed to "the
           Quiet."


  LECTURE II

  CLEON

  _Cleon._ Cf. _Caliban_: (i) Dramatic change; (ii) point of contact.

  Greek conception of life--Influences affecting Cleon.

  Analysis of Poem.

      I. Introductory and descriptive (ll. 1-42).

     II. Varied attainments of Cleon indicative of progress of race
           through development of _complexity_ of nature (ll. 43-157).
           Includes (ll. 115-126) Cleon's conception of an Incarnation.

    III. Answer to question of Protus, Is death the end to the
           man of thought as well as to the man of action? (ll. 158-323.)

         Increase of happiness not necessarily accompaniment of
           fuller knowledge (ll. 181-272).

         Fuller insight, attribute of artist-nature, rather productive
           of keener sense of loss in face of death (ll. 273-323).
           Cf. _Old Pictures in Florence_, etc.

     IV. Hence arises conception of necessity to man of future
           life (ll. 323-335.)

      V. Conclusion. With reference to current reports of Christianity.
           Cf. Cleon and Paul (ll. 336-353).


  LECTURE III

  BISHOP BLOUGRAM'S APOLOGY

  Dramatic character of poem.

  Connection with preceding poems.

  Identity of Bishop Blougram--Browning's treatment of subject--Criticisms
    discussed.

  Indications of identity--_A._ External. _B._ Personal characteristics.

  Analysis of Poem.

       I. Epilogue (ll. 971-1014). How far is the Bishop serious in
           his assertions?

      II. Introductory. Bishop and Critic (ll. 1-48).

     III. Bishop's Life. Cf. Ideal of Critic (ll. 49-143, 230-240,
            749-805). Cf. _A Grammarian's Funeral_, _Dîs Aliter
            Visum_, _Rabbi Ben Ezra_, etc.

      IV. How far schemes of life reconcilable--Difficulties of
            consistency in either (ll. 144-212).

       V. Positions compared--Advantages of belief (ll. 213-431).

      VI. Is life divorced from faith possible? (ll. 432-554.)

     VII. Recognition of value of enthusiasm result of faith (ll. 555-646).

    VIII. Is "pure faith" possible? (ll. 647-748.)

      IX. Deeper thoughts suggested:
            Faith increased through conflict with Doubt.
            Truth essential to Life.
            Mystical element of Blougram's faith.


  LECTURE IV

  CHRISTMAS EVE AND EASTER DAY (i)

  Special interest of poems, common and individual.

  _Christmas Eve._ Faith corporate.

      I. Realism in Art, I-IV--Zion Chapel and Methodism--Soliloquist
           at first capable of criticism only--Inspiration
           of Love wanting (ll. 117-118, 139-184).

     II. Truth absolute, IV-IX--God revealed in Nature as _Power_
            and _Love_--Knowledge finite, Love infinite.

         The Vision (ll. 373-520)--Essentials of worship, spirit and
           truth.

    III. Rome, St. Peter's, X-XII. Symbolism or materialism in
           worship?

     IV. German University, XIII-XVIII--Historic criticism by
           Lecturer of Christian creed--Treatment of criticism by
           soliloquist.

      V. Mental attitude, result of night's experience, XIX-XXI.

         (i) Easy tolerance, succeeded by (ii) realization of necessity
             of individual acceptance of creed.

     VI. Return to Zion Chapel and ultimate choice of creed, XXII.
           Reasons for choice.


  LECTURE V

  CHRISTMAS EVE AND EASTER DAY (ii)

  _Easter Day._ Faith individual.

    Part I, Sections I-XII. Discussion between _First Speaker_, struggling
      with difficulties involved in practical acceptance of Christianity,
      and _Second Speaker_, who would hold the Faith without question.

      _First Speaker_, I (ll. 1-12, 15-17, 21-28), III, V, VII (ll.
        171-203), VIII, X, XII.

      _Second Speaker_, I (ll. 13, 14, 18-20), II, IV, VI, VII (ll.
        204-226), IX, XI.

    Part II. _The Vision._ Sections XIII-XXXIII.

      Introductory, XIII, XIV.

      The Judgment, XV-XXII; Character of.

      Results. Freedom in complete possession of Earth. No satisfaction
        derivative therefrom in (_a_) Nature, XXIII, XXIV; (_b_) Art, XXV,
        XXVI; (_c_) Intellectual attainment, XXVII, XXVIII; (_d_) Love--
        sought as final refuge, XXIX-XXX (l. 969).

      Argument in favour of credibility of Gospel story, XXX (ll. 969-990).

      Ultimate results of Vision--Acceptance of existing uncertainty
        rather than of satiety within temporal limitations, XXXI-XXXIII.


  LECTURE VI

  CHRISTMAS EVE AND EASTER DAY (iii)

  General character of poems. How far dramatic?

  Expression of Browning's personal opinions under dramatic guise on

      I. Doctrine of the Incarnation.

     II. Faith and Life temporal.

    III. Judgment and Future Punishment.

  Dramatic element stronger in references to

     IV. Roman Catholicism.

      V. Nonconformity of "Zion Chapel."

     VI. Asceticism.


  LECTURE VII

  LA SAISIAZ

  Peculiar interest attaching as _direct_ expression of Browning's thought.

  General character of poem. Cf. _Prospice_.

  Prologue outcome of conclusions of poem.

  Circumstances giving rise to _La Saisiaz_.

  Death of Miss Egerton-Smith, 1877.

  Analysis of Poem.

    _A._ Prelude (ll. 1-404).

           (i) Narrative of events leading to subsequent reflections (ll.
               1-139).

          (ii) Immortality of the soul--Treatment of question (ll.
               139-179).

         (iii) Nature of Immortality (ll. 179-216).

          (iv) Primary truths constituting basis of succeeding argument
               (ll. 217-234).

           (v) Grounds for belief in a future life--Imperfections of
               present life--Its probationary character--Preponderance of
               evil (ll. 235-404).

    _B._ Argument, imaginary, between Fancy and Reason (ll. 405-524).

    _C._ Conclusions from foregoing (ll. 525-604)--Supplementary (ll.
           605-618).

  Relation of _La Saisiaz_ to earlier poems considered.

  Its relation to Browning's attitude towards Christianity--Christianity
    and a Future Life.

  Summary of Browning's creed as deduced from foregoing considerations--
    Dogma and spiritual growth.



ERRATA


Page 32, line 21, _for_ "four hundred years" _read_ "five hundred."

Page 39, line 11, _for_ "men to become" _read_ "man."

Page 71, line 30, _for_ "interval of six years, in 1847" _read_ "four
years, in 1845."

Page 71, line 31, _for_ "1853" _read_ "1851."



LECTURE I

INTRODUCTORY, AND CALIBAN UPON SETEBOS



BROWNING AND DOGMA



LECTURE I

INTRODUCTORY, AND CALIBAN UPON SETEBOS

    He at least believed in Soul, was very sure of God.[1]


To this faith, to this assurance, is largely attributable the influence
unquestionably possessed by Browning as a teacher in the nineteenth and
twentieth centuries. For the intentionally didactic element in the work
may not honestly be ignored in whatever degree it is held to militate
against artistic merit. Amid the throng of seekers after Truth in the
world of poetry, Browning stands pre-eminent as one who not only sought
Truth, but, having gained what he held to be Truth, kept it as "the sole
prize of Life." Poets of the school of thought of which Matthew Arnold and
A. H. Clough may perhaps be regarded as among the more prominent
exponents, are able to give no even approximately satisfying answer to the
questionings bound inevitably to arise, at some time or other, in all
minds whose energies are not dissipated by a too ready compliance with the
demands of the hour. In certain moods their work appeals to us
irresistibly, but the appeal is one of sympathy with doubt rather than of
suggestion of solution. The author of _Obermann_ may indeed in "hours of
gloom" remind us that there have been "hours of insight"; that the
individual soul, though through prolonged struggle and effort alone, may
"mount hardly to eternal life." The consolation he would offer to
spiritual depression is that of self-dependence. Nature may soothe, but is
powerless to satisfy; the appeal to her is answered by that which,
although "severely clear," is but "an air-born voice," directing the
enquirer back upon himself--

  Resolve to be thyself, and know that he
  Who finds himself loses his misery.[2]

So, too, Clough, sympathizing fully with doubt, may in his more inspired
moments speak of hope and of the assurance

  'Tis better to have fought and lost
  Than never to have fought at all.

Although from his pen has come at least one short poem[3] worthy in
invigorating force of the faith of Browning himself, yet the note of
defeat rather than the ring of triumph is more generally characteristic of
his language. Tennyson had splendid glimpses of the Truth, passing visions
of glory; yet here, too, the vision was but transitory, the full glory
evanescent.

The continued popularity of _In Memoriam_ is undoubtedly due in large
measure to the fact that the author has there given poetic utterance to
those questionings and aspirations of the human soul, peculiar to no time
or place, to no nation or form of creed--to the cry wrung from the heart
when inexorable Death brings with it the hour of separation. There is in
truth a triumphant note towards the close of _In Memoriam_: the child of
the fifty-fourth stanza "crying in the night, and with no language but a
cry," though yet crying in the night, becomes in the final section (stanza
cxxiv) a child "who knows his father near." But even when the heart rises
triumphantly, and in defiance of the arguments of reason asserts "I have
felt," the faith so expressed is not the faith of Browning. Beyond all the
temporary darkness of _La Saisiaz_ we recognize that the author of
_Asolando_ is speaking nothing more than the truth when he tells us that
he "never doubted clouds would break." The dispersal of the clouds
gathered over La Salève added confidence to the _Epilogue_ which
constitutes so fitting a close to the life's work. The assertion "I
believe in God and Truth and Love," expressed through the medium of the
lover of Pauline, finds its echo in the more direct personal assertion of
the concluding lines of _La Saisiaz_, "He believed in Soul, was very sure
of God." This was the irreducible minimum of Browning's creed. How much
more he held as absolute, soul-satisfying truth it is the design of this
and the six following lectures to determine.

And here at once on the threshold of our investigation we are confronted
by the difficulty inseparable from any consideration of Browning's
literary work; the difficulty of eliminating the dramatic and gauging the
extent of the purely personal element. Although, as was inevitable, such
difficulty has been universally recognized by critics and students, yet
the very strength of the dramatic power has in many cases proved
misleading. Browning has too completely lost himself in his subject. In
the writings of the man capable of merging his personal identity in that
of an Andrea and a Pippa, of a Caliban and a S. John; of assuming
positions as opposed as those of a Guido and a Caponsacchi, it is a
sufficiently simple matter to discover opinions supporting directly or
indirectly any individual line of thought. To him who seeks with intent
to obtain such confirmation may the promise be fairly made

  As is your sort of mind
  So is your sort of search; you'll find
  What you desire.[4]

Moreover, whilst the obscurity of the writing has been the subject of too
general comment, the frequently elusive character of the meaning may be
liable to escape notice. A certain course of thought having been detected
is accepted to the exclusion of an even more important undercurrent only
now and again rising to the surface. Despite the difficulties attendant
upon a genuine study of Browning, both from the frequently recondite
character of the subject and the amount of literary or historical
knowledge demanded of the reader, comparatively slight attempt has so far
been made towards a detailed treatment of individual poems such as that,
for example, accorded to the plays of Shakespeare. And yet such
concentrative labour possesses the highest value as a protection against
misconstruction arising from a too hastily formed conception of the
relative proportions of personal intention and dramatic presentation.
Having once fallen into the error of accepting an under-estimate (an
over-estimate is rarely possible) of the histrionic element in certain
avowedly dramatic soliloquies, there is danger lest the temptation of
seeking amongst others confirmation of the theory thus suggested should
prove too strong for our literary honesty.

Any investigation as to Browning's attitude towards religion in the wider
acceptation of the term--as that which relates to the spiritual element in
human nature and life--must of necessity be co-extensive with his work.
For him to whom "the development of a soul" was the object alone worthy
the devotion of the intellectual faculties, it was inevitable that to the
consideration of this spiritual element his mind should continually
revert. From _Pauline_ to _Asolando_ it is hardly too much to say such
consideration is never absent. With the addition to the title of our
subject of the term _dogmatic_, the scope of the inquiry is at once
narrowed, whilst the difficulty of ascertaining fairly the position is
possibly proportionately increased, since the writer, who has been
designated "the most Christian poet of the century," is claimed by
Unitarians as their own. It is, therefore, of especial importance in
dealing with the subject that no assumption be made, no assertion
advanced, unsupported by adequate proof. The direct statements of the few
non-dramatic poems afford us, however, some vantage-ground whence to begin
our advance: for the rest, progress must be made through careful
comparison of the dramatic poems as to subject and treatment, (we may not
judge of one poem apart from the rest) recognizing that the dramatic
character of the soliloquy does not necessarily _exclude_, as it does not
necessarily _imply_, an expression of the author's own opinions. When,
therefore, we find the same theme perpetually treated through the medium
of different externals, when we are met by similar expressions of belief
emanating from the various soliloquists of the _Dramatis Personae_ and the
_Men and Women Series_, we may not unreasonably hold ourselves to possess
fair _prima facie_ evidence that in a theory so treated is centred much of
the interest of the writer; in the arguments deduced is to be accepted a
more or less definite expression of the writer's own belief, or at least
of that form of creed to which he is most strongly attracted.

Of the five poems chosen as illustrative or explanatory of Browning's
attitude towards that which we have designated _dogmatic_ religion, one
only, _La Saisiaz_, the latest in point of time, is non-dramatic in
character. Between the other four a line of connection is easily
established, since all deal with different aspects of the same subject
regarded through different media. If, then, beginning with the lowest link
of the chain, we gain by means of a consideration of _Caliban_ some
realization of the dramatic feats which Browning could accomplish at
pleasure, we shall find less difficulty in distinguishing between the
dramatic and personal elements in _Christmas Eve and Easter Day_ where the
line of demarcation is more finely drawn.

In _Caliban upon Setebos_ (from the _Men and Women Series_ of 1855) is
presented the lowest conception of a Deity and of his dealings with the
world and humanity, as evolved by a being incapable of aspiration,
satisfied with existing conditions in so far, although in so far only, as
they afford opportunity for material gratification. With _Cleon_ follows
the substitution of the Greek conception of life at the beginning of the
Christian era, speculations as to the design of Zeus in his intercourse
with man. The speculator, at once poet, musician, artist, to whom have
been accessible all the stores of Greek philosophy and Greek culture,
feels inevitably the necessity for the existence of a Deity differing from
that of the monster of Prospero's isle. Nevertheless to the Greek thinker
the immortality of the soul is not yet more than a vague suggestion, the
outcome of desire. His world has come into touch, but at its extreme edge,
with the recently promulgated tenets of Christianity. To this inhabitant
of "the sprinkled isles" the teaching of the Apostles of Galilee is so far
"a doctrine to be held by no sane man": and yet his very yearning, nay,
even his reasonable deductions from the experience of life, point to the
need of "doctrines" such as those which he now deems impossible of
credence. Of the character of the changes separating the world of
religious thought of Blougram from that of Cleon, suggestions are
afforded by the _Epilogue_ to the _Dramatis Personae_. The Christianity
which Cleon criticized from afar has, by the date of the Bishop's
_Apology_, become the creed of the civilized world. Not only has the time
passed when

  The Temple filled with a cloud,
  Even the House of the Lord,
  Porch bent and pillar bowed:
  For the presence of the Lord,
  In the glory of His Cloud,
  Had filled the House of the Lord. (_Epilogue, Dram. Pers._)

But more than this, the _simplicity_ of the earlier faith is at an end.
Past, too, are those mediaeval days when the faith of a prelate of the
Church would have been assumed without question by the lay world. Both
stages of development have been left behind, but the yet later condition
has not been attained when scepticism shall cause as little comment as did
the childlike faith of the Middle Ages: a condition defined by the lament
of Renan--

  Gone now! All gone across the dark so far,
    Sharpening fast, shuddering ever, shutting still,
  Dwindling into the distance, dies that star
    Which came, stood, opened once! (_Epilogue, Dram. Pers._)

_Bishop Blougram's Apology_ is a possible exposition of the religious
attitude of a professing Christian of the nineteenth century. It matters
little whether his form of creed be that of Anglican or Roman Catholic:
his position as a dignitary of the Church alone compels apology. From
these unquestionably dramatic poems we pass to one, the classification of
which appears to be usually regarded as less obvious, judging from the
criticisms of commentators. How far the decision of the soliloquist in
_Christmas Eve_ may be justly held as that of Browning himself is a
question requiring separate and careful consideration (to be given in the
Sixth Lecture). Here it is sufficient to notice that, entering the
confines of dogmatic religion, in this poem has found more immediate
expression that which we may fairly deem one principle, at least, of the
teaching which its author would impress upon his public; that in no one
form of creed is the Divine influence to be exclusively found; that
wherever love dwells, in however limited a degree, there, too, may with
confidence be sought the Presence of the Supreme Love. In _Easter Day_ the
discussion is again transferred to a wider plane and deals with the
individual difficulties involved in an unconditional acceptance of
Christianity itself--difficulties in the end not only acknowledged as
inevitable, but thankfully accepted by the speaker as essential to the
strengthening of personal faith, to the advancement of individual
development. Finally, with _La Saisiaz_ we are brought face to face
unmistakably with the struggle, with the doubts and yearnings of Browning
himself at a critical hour of life, twelve years before the end--a
struggle whence he was ultimately to issue with faith in the fundamental
articles of his belief confirmed and deepened.

Of other poems bearing more or less directly upon the subject, the most
notable as well as the most familiar, are probably _Rabbi Ben Ezra_, _An
Epistle of Karshish_, and _A Death in the Desert_. Of these, _Rabbi Ben
Ezra_, in its treatment of the theory of asceticism and of the working out
of the design of the perfect unity of the individual human life, goes
further afield and carries us beyond the limits of any definite dogma:
though on the ascetic side it may serve as comment on some of the
conclusions of _Easter Day_. _An Epistle of Karshish_ embodies two of
Browning's favourite themes: (1) the essentially probationary character
of human life as exemplified by the attitude of Lazarus towards things
temporal, an attitude at once becoming _super_-human through a revelation
obviating the necessity for faith; (2) the collateral suggestions
contained in the estimate of Christianity conceived by the Arab physician.
Of these, the first may be well employed as a comparison with the final
decision of _Easter Day_, the second with the references of Cleon to the
Apostolic teaching. _A Death in the Desert_ offers but another form of
refutation of the results of the German methods of Biblical criticism
represented by the teaching of the Göttingen Professor of _Christmas Eve_.
Direct declarations of faith such as those contained in _Prospice_ and the
_Epilogue_ to _Asolando_ serve but as confirmation of the assertion
standing at the head of this Lecture.

To a superficial consideration the first of the dramatic poems is not
pre-eminently attractive, nor as a soliloquist is Caliban attractive in
the ordinary acceptation of the term as an appeal to the senses affording
distinctly pleasurable sensations. But the attraction peculiar to the
grotesque in any form is here present in a marked degree: an attraction
frequently stronger than that exerted by the purely beautiful, involving
as it does a more direct intellectual appeal; since grotesqueness, whether
in Nature or in Art, does not usually denote simplicity. And Caliban is by
no means a simple being, rather is he a singularly remarkable creation
even for the genius of Browning. As we know, the idea suggested itself
whilst the poet was reading _The Tempest_, when there flashed through his
mind the passage from the Psalms (l, 21) which stands beneath the title:
"Thou thoughtest that I was altogether such a one as thyself." In a
recognition of the full significance of this fact may be found the key to
all seeming inconsistencies which have evoked criticisms describing the
poem from its theological aspect as a "monstrous Bridgewater
treatise,"[5] and "a fragment of Browning's own Christian apologetics,"
the "reasoning" of Caliban as "an initial absurdity,"[6] whilst Caliban
himself is designated "a savage with the introspective powers of a Hamlet
and the theology of an Evangelical clergyman"[7]--the entire scheme of
this "wonderful" work being even summarized as a "design to describe the
way in which a primitive nature may at once be afraid of its gods and yet
familiar with them."[8] There is perhaps more to be said for the poem than
the suggestions involved in any or all of these comments. A protracted
investigation as to how far Browning's Caliban is an immediate development
of the Caliban of _The Tempest_ would be beside the main object of these
Lectures; but for an understanding of the value to be reasonably attached
to the soliloquy it is essential to estimate as fairly as may be possible
the character, intellectual and moral, of the soliloquist, since Caliban's
conception of his Creator must necessarily be influenced by the
limitations of his own powers, whether physical or mental. For here, as
elsewhere in the dramatic poems, Browning has completely identified
himself with his soliloquist. How far, therefore, we are justified in
claiming for Caliban's theology the title of "a fragment of Browning's own
Christian apologetics" can only be decided by a careful consideration and
a comparison with work not avowedly dramatic in character.

Reading again those scenes of _The Tempest_, in which Caliban plays a
part, we become more than ever convinced that the Caliban of the poem is
but the Caliban of the play seen through the medium of Browning's
phantasy. This, however, is not equivalent to the admission of simplicity
as a characteristic of this strange being, merely is it a recognition that
the potentialities existent in Shakespeare's Caliban are nearer to
becoming actualities in the Caliban of Browning. Caliban's may, indeed, be
the nature of a primitive being, but the nature is not, therefore, simple;
to the peculiarly complex character of his personality is due the main
interest of the poem--curiously undeveloped in some departments of his
nature, the moral sense appears to be almost non-existent, he is,
nevertheless, an imaginative creature with a distinct poetic and artistic
vein in his composition. Whilst Prospero's estimate of him seems to have
been a fairly accurate one:

  The most lying slave
  Whom stripes may move, not kindness;

as Mr. Stopford Brooke has pointed out "his very cursing is
imaginative"[9]--

  As wicked dew as e'er my mother brushed
  With raven's feather from unwholesome fen
  Drop on you both. (Act I, Sc. ii.)

And it is Caliban who appreciates the music of Ariel which to Trinculo and
Stephano, products of civilization so-called, is a thing fearful as the
work of the devil.

  Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
  Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
        (Act III, Sc. ii.)

Such is the re-assurance offered by the "man-monster" of Shakespeare. But
the Caliban of Browning is yet in his primitive condition, untouched by
contact with the outer world as represented even by these dregs of a
civilization which, whilst checking the expression of the brutish
instinct, increases by repression the force of passions struggling for an
outlet to which conventionality bars the way.

To the Caliban of _The Tempest_ Prospero rather than Setebos is the
immediate author of the evils of his environment. He has not yet reached
the stage of formulated speculation with regard to the character of his
mother's god--to which Browning's Caliban shows himself to have attained.
And it is worthy of notice that the Caliban of the poem does not accept
without examination such information as he has received from Sycorax
concerning Setebos. Only after due consideration does he advance his own
ideas (not according with those of Sycorax) on the subject; proving
himself thus capable not merely of imagination but of reasoning; his
intellect is alive whatever limitations may be assigned to its capacity
for exercise. Although no immediate evidence is afforded of the
capabilities of Shakespeare's Caliban in the regions of abstract thought,
yet of the potential existence of the ratiocinative faculty sufficient
testimony is afforded by his attitude towards the supernatural powers of
Prospero, by his scheme for rendering the new-comers instruments,
subserving his own interests in his designs against his employer and
tyrant--all this clearly the outcome of something more than a mere brute
cunning.

With these aspects of the character of Caliban before him as ground-work,
Browning has developed his poem; and in the twenty-three opening lines,
introductory to the definite reflections concerning Setebos, are
discoverable evidences of all the characteristics of the Caliban of _The
Tempest_. Browning has done nothing without intention, and we are here
prepared, or should be prepared, for what is to follow later in the poem.
Here the "man-monster" is described as sprawling in the mire, in the
enjoyment of such comfort as may be derived from the sunshine in the heat
of the day: the sensuous side of the nature finding its satisfaction in

  Kicking both feet in the cool slush

and feeling

  About his spine small eft things course,
  Run in and out each arm, and make him laugh. (ll. 5, 6.)

At the same time is recognizable the artistic element in the
composition--for not only does he enjoy

  A fruit to snap at, catch and crunch,

but he

  Looks out o'er yon sea which sunbeams cross
  And recross till they weave a spider-web
  (Meshes of fire, some great fish breaks at times.) (ll. 11-14.)

Here is assuredly the language of no mere savage! Compare with this the
later descriptions of the inhabitants of the island as assigned to Setebos
(ll. 44-55). No mere dry category of animal life, it suggests the result
of the observations of a mind at once poetic and imaginative.

  Yon otter, sleek-wet, black, lithe as a leech,
  Yon auk, one fire-eye in a ball of foam,
  That floats and feeds; a certain badger brown
  He hath watched hunt with that slant white-wedge eye
  By moonlight; and the pie with the long tongue
  That pricks deep into oakwarts for a worm,
  And says a plain word when she finds her prize,
  But will not eat the ants: the ants themselves
  That build a wall of seeds and settled stalks
  About their hole.

Not because this is the work of a poet, but because it is the work of a
_dramatic_ poet do we get these lines: and Browning has unquestionably, I
think, given its character to this earlier passage with intention. He
would suggest that this element--poetic and imaginative--in Caliban's
nature must of necessity influence his conception of his Deity.

But whilst emphasis is thus given to the sensuous and artistic aspects of
the character of this most complex being, by these introductory lines is
more than suggested the obliquity of the moral nature--this, too,
influencing, as is inevitable, its theology. Deception is to the Caliban
of Browning as to the Caliban of Shakespeare, the very breath of life. His
pleasure in inactivity is vastly intensified by the consciousness that he
is thereby defrauding Prospero and Miranda of the fruits of his labours.

  It is good to cheat the pair, and gibe,
  Letting the rank tongue blossom into speech. (ll. 22, 23.)

Immediately combined with this is the form of cowardice distinctive of the
lowest moral grade, the cowardice which would insult whilst occupying a
position of security, but which grovels before the object of its antipathy
as soon as it sees reason to fear approaching vengeance. To the mere
physical pleasure of basking in the sunlight is added not alone the
negative gratification of the consciousness of defrauding his employer,
but the more active enjoyment of soliloquizing concerning "that Setebos
whom his dam called God." And why? With the sole purpose of affording him
annoyance. In the winter-time such discussion might prove dangerous to the
speaker, as Caliban possesses an insurmountable dread of that "cold" so
powerful a weapon in the hands of his Deity. Even in summer he deems it
desirable to avoid a too openly offered challenge to Setebos; hence the
employment throughout his soliloquy of the third person, singular, in a
curious attempt to mislead his hearer.

And what according to Browning's theory as expressed elsewhere are we to
expect of the god of this untaught, half-savage being, morally
undeveloped, with artistic and poetic faculties already awakening? More or
less will it necessarily be the outcome of his own experiences. A
commentary on that familiar passage which S. John in _A Death in the
Desert_ (ll. 412-419) puts into the mouth of the objector to the truth of
the facts of Christianity, who would regard the conception of the Godhead
as subjective rather than objective in character. First in the history of
the race came the ascription to the Deity of hands, feet, and bodily
parts; then followed the human passions of pride and anger. Finally, all
yield to the higher attributes of "power, love, and will," these
succeeding to and supplanting the earlier characteristics. In his
imaginary answer the Evangelist is represented as attributing these
changes of conception to the necessity of growth in human nature whereby
man uses such aids to his development as may be attainable. The Truth
itself remaining unaltered and unalterable, man obtains from time to time
fuller glimpses thereof, the greater superseding, even apparently
falsifying, the less. Caliban, uniting the two earlier conceptions of the
Deity--as a being possessed of bodily parts and human passions--offers but
the merest suggestion of any further and higher development. Yet there are
such _indirect_, should we rather say _negative_, suggestions observable
towards the close of the poem.

To Setebos is assigned as a dwelling-place "the cold o' the moon,"
possibly because the speaker feels it satisfactory that the god whom he
fears should be at what he deems a distance sufficiently remote from his
own habitation; partly also because to him "the cold o' the moon" or,
indeed, any cold, is suggestive of intensely disagreeable sensations, and
to his unsatisfactory environment he ascribes the attempts of Setebos
towards creation as designed to effect a change in his own condition. All
things animate or inanimate inhabiting the island have been, according to
Caliban, the work of Setebos. What still lies beyond the range of his
creative power? Not the sun, as might have been anticipated, since to
Caliban its agency is purely beneficial, and its influence apparently of
limitless extent; not the sun, "clouds, winds, meteors," but the stars.
These "came otherwise," how or by what means the soliloquist is unable to
determine.

Then arises the further question. If, indeed, Setebos is the author of the
visible creation, what has been the motive instigating him to the work? In
accordance with Caliban's experience of his own nature, it is impossible
that any motive other than self-interest in some form or another should
have actuated the Creator: hence he attributes the design to the
discomfort of the dwelling-place "in the cold o' the moon." Nevertheless,
even after the creation of the sun its warmth proved insufficient for
comfort, the god failed to enjoy "the air he was not born to breathe."
Again, in the constitution of the animate beings inhabiting the island he
strove to realize (so says Caliban) "what himself would fain in a manner
be." Hence the creatures made by Setebos are "weaker in most points" than
is the god himself, yet "stronger in a few." A theory suggesting an
interesting comparison with the arguments by which David in _Saul_ deduces
the necessity of an Incarnation. Caliban ascribes to Setebos the power of
originating faculties which he does not himself possess, and which in the
nature of things he might, therefore, be deemed incapable of realizing.
The illustration or comparison offered is that of Caliban's own imagined
occupation in an idle moment, when the idea occurs to him to make a bird
of clay, endowing it with the power of flight, a power not numbered
amongst his own capabilities. Thus he holds that Setebos, too, may create
living beings, bestowing upon them faculties which he is himself incapable
of exercising, making them, though, "weaker in some points, stronger in a
few." To the more cultivated intelligence of the Hebrew psalmist, as
represented by Browning, such theory is untenable. That "the creature
[should] surpass the Creator--the end what Began"[10] is as
incomprehensible as it is illogical. Love existent in the creature is to
David proof sufficient of the existence of love in the Creator. So thinks
not Caliban. And yet with the curious inconsistency marking the reasoning
of the slowly developing intellect, Setebos is represented as mocking his
creatures whilst envying the capabilities with which he has gifted them.
Thus:

  So brave, so better though they be,
  It nothing skills if He begins to plague. (ll. 66, 67.)

As the creation has been the result of mere wantonness, so the recognition
of all appeal from created beings to the Creator will be governed by the
same caprice. As with Caliban's imagined dealings with his clay bird, he
would do good or ill accordingly

  As the chance were this might take or else
  Not take my fancy. (ll. 90-91.)

So also is the action of the Deity towards his creation in all relations
of life. He has elected Prospero for a career of "knowledge and power,"
and, as his servant judges, one of supreme comfort, whilst he has
appointed Caliban, equally deserving--in his own estimation--to hold the
position of slave.

      He hath a spite against me, that I know,
  Just as He favours Prosper, who knows why? (ll. 202-203.)

Power which is irresponsible is exercised in a manner wholly capricious.
There is no more satisfactory explanation of the dealings of Setebos with
his creatures than that which Caliban can offer for his own treatment of
the crabs

  That march now from the mountain to the sea,

when he may

  Let twenty pass, and stone the twenty-first,
  Loving not, hating not, just choosing so. (ll. 101-103.)

Of one thing the savage deems himself assured, again judging from the
pettiness which he finds existent in his own nature. Of one thing he is
assured--that the wrath of the god is most readily to be kindled through
envy, envy of the very objects of his own creation. A display of happiness
is the surest method of incurring his vengeance; therefore

  Even so, 'would have Him misconceive, suppose
  This Caliban strives hard and ails no less,
  And always, above all else, envies Him: (ll. 263-265.)

a belief inherent in all pre-Christian creeds in intimate connection with
the doctrine of sacrifice, the place of which in the theology of Caliban
must receive separate consideration. So does Herakles warn Admetus against
indulgence in a supreme happiness,

  Only the rapture must not grow immense:
  Take care, nor wake the envy of the Gods.[11]

Thus will Caliban in spite kill two flies, basking "on the pompion-bell
above," whilst he gives his aid to

  Two black painful beetles [who] roll their ball
  On head and tail as if to save their lives. (ll. 260-261.)

Such are, according to Browning, some of the main features of the "Natural
Theology in the Island," suggesting conditions of life at once depressing
and degrading: no satisfaction for the present but in deception of the
over-ruling power, the sole hope for the future, that this dread being may
tire of his early creation and hence relax his malicious watch in favour
of a new and distant world, made "to please him more." It is not difficult
to conceive of such a creed as the outcome of deductions from the
teaching of Sycorax, who held that "the Quiet" was the virtual creator,
the work of Setebos being limited to disturbing and "vexing" these
creations of the Quiet. In this aspect Setebos would appear as
representative of the powers of evil. And of great interest in any study
of Browning are the suggestions resulting from Caliban's treatment of the
subject. (1) He holds that the author of evil must be supreme. That the
Quiet, had he been the creator, _could_ unquestionably, and, therefore,
_would_ most certainly have rendered his creatures of strength sufficient
to be impervious to the attacks of Setebos. Therefore he attributes the
weaknesses of humanity to design on the part of a creator who would
wantonly torment.

  His dam held that the Quiet made all things
  Which Setebos vexed only: 'holds not so.
  Who made them weak, meant weakness He might vex.
  Had He meant other, while His hand was in,
  Why not make horny eyes no thorn could prick,
  Or plate my scalp with bone against the snow,
  Or overscale my flesh 'neath joint and joint,
  Like an orc's armour? Ay,--so spoil His sport! (ll. 170-177.)

(2) Again, and later in the poem, he treats Setebos--or Evil--not merely
as a negative aspect of good, but as that which may in time become
transmuted into good. He may

              Surprise even the Quiet's self
  Some strange day--or, suppose, grow into it
  As grubs grow butterflies. (ll. 246-248.)

(3) One further alternative suggests itself--and this yet more
probable--that evil may finally be overcome of good, or may of itself
become inoperative.

  That some strange day, will either the Quiet catch
  And conquer Setebos, or likelier He
  Decrepit may doze, doze, as good as die. (ll. 281-283.)

Two or three less obvious thoughts may not be omitted in any consideration
of a poem containing much which is characteristic of Browning's work
wherever found. From the theology of Caliban inevitably results _the
doctrine of sacrifice_, though in its lowest, crudest form. Since that
condition most likely to excite the wrath of Setebos, as we have already
had occasion to notice, is the happiness of his creations, Caliban would,
therefore, present himself as a creature full of misery, moaning even in
the sun; only in secret rejoicing that he is making Setebos his dupe.
Should he be discovered in his deception, in order to avoid the greater
evil attendant on the expression of the god's wrath, he would of his own
will submit to the lesser ill;

                            Cut a finger off,
  Or of my three kid yearlings burn the best,
  Or let the toothsome apples rot on tree,
  Or push my tame beast for the orc to taste. (ll. 271-274.)

A sacrifice the outcome of fear. Spare me, and I will do all to appease
thy wrath. Into the midst of the meditations of Caliban breaks the
thunder-storm, and what he has depicted as a possible event of the future
has become a present danger.

                            White blaze,
  A tree's head snaps--and there, there, there, there, there,
  His thunder follows! Fool to gibe at Him! (ll. 289-291.)

The prospective vows are now made in earnest.

  'Lieth flat and loveth Setebos!
  'Maketh his teeth meet through his upper lip,
  Will let those quails fly, will not eat this mouth
  One little mess of whelks, so he may 'scape. (ll. 292-295.)

Sacrifice as distinguished from or opposed to the principle of
_self_-sacrifice. Whilst self-sacrifice, self-abnegation,
self-suppression--call it what we may--marks the crowning height of
spiritual attainment, scaled alone by the few, and those the pioneers and
saviours of the race, all early forms of religion bear witness to the
existence of this belief in _sacrifice_--the propitiation of the Deity--as
an element inherent in human nature, whether embodied in the legend of
Polycrates, in the vow of Jacob at Bethel,[12] or in that condition of his
descendants when in accordance with the prophetic denunciation[13]
sacrifice had superseded mercy and burnt-offerings constituted a
substitute for the knowledge of God. Again and again on different soil,
amid men of alien races, the principle of sacrifice is found reappearing
throughout history. As the enthusiasm of self-sacrifice becomes enfeebled,
by a retrograde process of moral development the barren growth of
sacrifice would appear to thrive. The echo of the unquestioning outcry,
"God wills it," had died away when, in the crusading vows of the later era
of the movement, expression was too frequently given to the theory of
_sacrifice_. How far may the one be regarded as the outcome of the other,
the higher the development of the lower instinct? When man has learned

  To know even hate is but a mask of love's
  To see a good in evil, and a hope
  In ill-success;[14]

then, too, may the links between sacrifice and self-sacrifice become
apparent. Along this line of connection we have to pass in traversing the
ground between _Caliban_ and _Easter Day_.

And what place does the creed of the unwilling slave of Setebos accord to
the _life beyond the grave_? Will the future, if future there be, prove
but an indefinite prolongation of the present? From the evils of this
life the groveller in the mud sees no escape. He has discarded that tenet
of his mother's creed which included a theory of retribution after death
when Setebos "both plagued enemies and feasted friends." Such theory would
indeed have been wholly inconsistent with that which represented the god
as indifferent to his creatures, as utterly capricious in his dealings for
good or ill--whereby he may be said to have neither enemies nor friends.
No, poor Caliban, brutal and selfish, can but hold that "with the life,
the pain shall stop." What satisfaction to be derived from the continuance
of a loveless existence? Without love, life to the author of _Caliban upon
Setebos_ would have lost its use, would be fearful of contemplation; the
"can it be, and must, and will it?" of _La Saisiaz_[15] finds no faintest
echo on Prospero's isle. In the one case the utterances are the utterances
of Caliban, in the other those of Browning himself. From the calculations
of the one the doctrine of immortality is as inevitably excluded as it is
inevitably included in those of the other.

Finally, whilst in the various scattered references to "the Quiet" are to
be found some of the most striking evidences of the existence of the
artistic element in Caliban's nature--"the something Quiet" which he deems
resting "o'er the head of Setebos"

  Out of His reach, that feels nor joy nor grief.

         *       *       *       *       *

  [The] stars the outposts of its couch; (ll. 132-138.)

yet far more than this is involved in the suggestions of the relations
subsisting between the Quiet and Setebos and the creation to which Caliban
belongs. The Quiet too far from Caliban's sphere of existence for him to
be in any way affected by it. He only surmises as to its possible
influence upon, and ultimate triumph over, Setebos, who partakes
sufficiently of his own nature to call forth fear and enmity, who lives in
a proximity to His creations which renders advisable the avoidance of any
action calculated to excite His wrath. The Quiet, the impersonation of
supreme power, is beyond the reach of all the ills attendant upon this
lower phase of existence, hence is equally incapable of experiencing joy
and grief, since both alike are relative terms. Although here suggested as
incidental to Caliban's reflections, the theory involved is one appearing
more or less frequently elsewhere in Browning's work, notably in _A Death
in the Desert_, and again in _Cleon_, when it is, however, applied to "the
lower and inconscious forms of life." To the Supreme Power beyond man, as
to the world of animal life below, is denied "man's distinctive mark,"
progress. Thus incidentally in these references to the Quiet may be traced
a _suggestion foreshadowing_ in a degree, however remote, _the necessity
of an Incarnation_. Not that this outcome of his theories would appear to
have found any place in Caliban's mind; it may possibly indeed be an
assumption, wanting sufficient warrant, to assign to Browning himself any
definite intention in the matter. Nevertheless, even the suggestion,
remote as we may admit it to be, leads up to the argument used by David in
_Saul_ in the extremity of his anxiety to relieve the sufferings of the
object of his affections. Through sympathy alone may suffering be
relieved, and genuine sympathy may be best attained through personal
experience of suffering. Humanity suffers, but is unequal to the task of
aiding effectively its fellow-sufferers. The Deity, whilst possessing the
necessary power, is yet untouched by the sympathy resultant from
fellow-feeling. A suffering God! Can this be? Only, therefore, through
union of the human with the Divine, through an Incarnation alone, can the
relief of human suffering be fully accomplished. Even Caliban feels the
need of contact between the Creator and His creatures. The Quiet,
incapable of experiencing joy or grief, is also beyond the reach of mortal
intercourse or worship. He cannot be God even in the sense in which
Setebos is God until, through an approach to His creatures. He experiences
something of the sorrows as of the joys of humanity. This in brief is the
general course of Browning's arguments for the reasonable necessity of an
Incarnation. The suggestion, if suggestion we may call it, here made
constitutes the lowest rung in the ladder which leads us to the confession
of S. John.

      The acknowledgment of God in Christ
  Accepted by thy reason, solves for thee
  All questions in the earth and out of it.[16]



LECTURE II

CLEON



LECTURE II

CLEON


Between Caliban and Cleon a wide gulf is fixed: between the savage
sprawling in "the pit's much mire," gloating over his powers of inflicting
suffering, at once cowering before and insulting his god: and the cultured
Greek, inhabitant of "the sprinkled isles," poet, philosopher, artist,
musician, sitting in his "portico, royal with sunset," reflecting on the
purposes of life, his own achievements and the design of Zeus in creation,
which, though inscrutable, he yet must hold to have been beneficent. Could
contrast be anywhere more striking than that suggested by these two
scenes? And yet amidst outward dissimilarity there is a point towards
which all their lines converge. On one subject of reflection alone, this
man, the product of Greek intellectual life and culture, has hardly passed
beyond that of the savage awakening to a "sense of sense." To both alike
death means the end of life, to neither does any glimpse of light reveal
itself beyond the grave. And death to the Greek is infinitely more
terrible than to the son of Sycorax. To Caliban the belief that "with the
life the pain will stop," affords a feeling akin to relief in the present,
when the mental discomfort arising from fear of Setebos temporarily
over-powers the physical satisfaction to be derived from basking in the
sun. To Cleon, possessed of the capacity for "loving life so over-much,"
the idea of death affords so terrible a suggestion that its very horror
forces upon him at times the necessity of the acceptance of some theory
involving belief in the immortality of the soul. Thus we have moved
onwards one step, though one step only, in the ladder of thought, of which
Caliban's soliloquy constitutes the lowest rung. The inert conjectures,
the vague surmises of the savage are succeeded by the reflections and
subsequent logical deductions of the man of intellectual culture,
culminating in the anguished cry:

  I, I the feeling, thinking, acting man.

         *       *       *       *       *

  Sleep in my urn. It is so horrible,
  I dare at times imagine to my need
  Some future state revealed to us by Zeus.

         *       *       *       *       *

                          ... But no!
  Zeus has not yet revealed it, and alas,
  He must have done so, were it possible! (_Cleon_, 11. 321-335.)

Different as are the modes of contemplating death, differing as the
character and environment of the soliloquist, one is yet in a sense the
outcome of the other, an exemplification of Cleon's own assertion:

  In man there's failure, only since he left
  The lower and inconscious forms of life. (ll. 125-126.)

         *       *       *       *       *

  Most progress is most failure. (l. 272.)

With the opening out of wider possibilities to the mind comes the
consciousness of the gulf between actuality and ideality. To Caliban,
whose pleasurable conceptions of life are bounded by the prospect of
defrauding Prospero of his services, lying in the mire

  Drinking the mash, with brain become alive,
  Making and marring clay at will; (_Caliban_, 11. 96-97.)

to such a being not long endowed with a capacity for the realization of
his own individuality, with the "sense of sense," the Greek appreciation
of life is a sheer impossibility. By the mind capable of entering into
sympathy with Homer, Terpander, Phidias, the joys of life are felt too
keenly to be relinquished without a struggle, and that a bitter one. Death
and the grave cast a chilling shadow over the brightness of the present.

Before analysing the arguments contained in the reflections of Cleon, it
may be well to inquire what were the influences to which the poet had been
subjected, and which resulted in the condition of mind in which the
messengers of Protus found him. The Greece in which Cleon lived was the
Greece to which S. Paul addressed himself from the Areopagus, the
character of which is sufficiently indicated by the circumstances leading
to the assembly on that memorable occasion. The Athenians, we are told by
the writer of the _Acts_, "spent their time in nothing else but either to
tell or to hear some new thing."[17] The age was then, it would appear,
not one of action or of practical thought. All had been done in the past
that could be done in the departments of artistic achievement, of poetry,
of philosophy. Now _creative_ power would seem to have disappeared from
amongst Greek thinkers, all that remained being the natural restlessness
which ultimately succeeds satiety. Much had been accomplished in the past:
What remained to the future? It is in accordance with this spirit of the
age that Cleon writes to Protus:

  We of these latter days, with greater mind
  Than our forerunners, since more composite,
  Look not so great, beside their simple way,
  To a judge who only sees one way at once,
  One mind-point and no other at a time,--
  Compares the small part of a man of us
  With some whole man of the heroic age,
  Great in his way--not ours, nor meant for ours. (ll. 64-71.)

Hence the poet of modern times, though he has left the "epos on [the]
hundred plates of gold," the property of the tyrant Protus, and the little
popular song

  So sure to rise from every fishing-bark
  When, lights at prow, the seamen haul their net; (ll. 49, 50.)

yet admits freely that he has not "chanted verse like Homer." What though
he has "combined the moods" of music, "inventing one," yet has he never
"swept string like Terpander," his predecessor by some seven centuries.
What though he has moulded "the image of the sun-god on the phare," or
painted the Poecile its whole length, yet has he not "carved and painted
men like Phidias and his friend"--his forerunners by something like four
hundred years. With these mighty achievements in poetry and art of those
giants amongst men to be contemplated in retrospect, what hope remains for
the future? What greater attainments may be possible to the human
intellect? Here again life--this mortal life--would seem to have become
all that it is capable of becoming; the powers of mind and body have alike
been developed to the full. Thus on this side too is satiety. The yearning
for growth, for progress, inherent in human nature, seeks instinctively
further heights of attainment. When for the time being all visible peaks
appear to have been scaled, then, in the phraseology of S. John, "man
[turns] round on himself and stands."[18] And then arises the enquiry into
the purposes of existence, an enquiry unheard in the earlier days of
practical activity and struggle. Is this the end of all? No progress being
possible along the old tracks, we must hear or see some new thing. The
late Dr. Westcott in comparing the dramatic work of Euripides with that of
Æschylus, and remarking that Euripides (only a generation younger) had to
take account of all the novel influences under which he had grown up,
adds, "Once again Asia had touched Europe and quickened there new powers.
Greece had conquered Persia only that she might better receive from the
East the inspiration of a wider energy."[19] Once more in the days of
Cleon might it be said that Asia had touched Europe and quickened there
new powers. But this time the positions of conquered and conquerors were
reversed. Asia was to conquer Europe, but the conquest effected by the
sword of Alexander was to be avenged by weapons forged in another armoury.
This time Asia invaded Europe when Paul of Tarsus responded to the appeal
"Come over to Macedonia and help us." So far that invasion had borne small
fruit: "certain men" had believed, including Dionysius the Areopagite,
whilst others, whose attitude Protus would appear to have shared, desired
to hear further on the subject of the Resurrection.[20] Cleon is
represented as ranking among the sceptics with reference to the new
Christian teaching. The special influence of Greek thought upon his
philosophy and creed, as expressed in the poem, may be best noticed in a
closer consideration to which we now turn.

I. The opening lines (1-18) present, with Browning's usual power of
delineation, the environment of the speaker. Cleon, the poet, as well as
his correspondent, Protus, the tyrant, seem alike to be imaginary
personages. With lines 19-42 the soliloquist at once strikes the key-note
of the poem. By the act of munificence which showers gifts upon the poet,
"whose song gives life its joy," the king evinces his "recognition of the
use of life": and by this recognition proves himself no mere materialist.
He is ruling his people, not with exclusive attention to their material
needs, though they may not themselves look beyond the gratification of
these. Whilst he is building his tower, achieving his life's work, the
beauty of which is sufficient to the "vulgar" gaze, he, the builder, is
looking "to the East"; and looking to the East in a sense not intended by
the Greek when he makes enquiry through his messengers for the "mere
barbarian Jew," "one called Paulus."

II. The following section of the poem (ll. 42-157) is an interesting
elaboration of Cleon's theory of the development, not only of the
individual (Browning's favourite theme), but of the growth of the race.
The Greek holds that where individual members of humanity have attained in
their several departments to the greatest heights, nothing further _in
that direction_ is possible of accomplishment. What then remains for the
advancement of the race? When the "outside verge that rounds our
faculties" has been reached, "these divine men of old" must remain
unsurpassed by their successors in that particular department of work or
thought.

  Where they reached, who can do more than reach?

What then remains? How may the contemporary of Cleon excel "the grand
simplicity" of Homer, of Terpander, and in later times of Phidias? It is
to the growing complexity of the human mind that Cleon looks for an
answer. Although in one intellectual department he may fall short of that
which has been attained in the past, he is yet capable of appreciating all
that his predecessors have achieved to a degree impossible to an earlier
generation of mankind. _All_ the faculties are developed, not one to the
exclusion or limitation of the others; hence is obtained a more completely
sympathetic union of the intellectual capacities. Thus the further
development of the race is to be sought in a greater complexity of being
rather than in an advance along any individual line of progress. Three
several illustrations of his theory Cleon adduces (1) That suggested by
the mosaic-work of the pavement before him: and (2) the more unusual one
of the sphere with its contents of air and water: yet again (3) the
comparison between the wild and cultivated plant. (1) Each individual
section of the mosaic was in itself perfect--thus with the great ones of
old. This perfection having been attained, all that should succeed would
be at best but a reproduction of the already perfect forms, a repetition,
a renewal of that which had gone before. A higher, because more complex
beauty might, however, be created by a combination of these separate
perfections, producing thus a new form, that, too, perfect in itself. And
this synthetic labour must prove an advance on the almost exclusively
analytic which had preceded it; since new and more complex forms should be
thus evolved, "making at last a picture" of deeper meaning and finer
interests than those offered by any number of individual chequers
uncombined, however perfect in symmetry and colour. Hence there might
still remain a goal towards which human energy should direct its efforts.
Though man may have attained to perfection _in part_, to continue the
simile, he has now to develop towards the attainment of a perfect _complex
whole_, resulting from a composition and adjustment of perfect individual
parts, united by a bond of sympathetic intellectual appreciation
non-existent in past ages. When Cleon shall have "chanted verse like
Homer," "swept string like Terpander," "carved and painted men like
Phidias and his friend," then, not only will the individual of recent
times have surpassed each of his forerunners in the variety and
comprehensiveness of his powers, but he will have attained in each
individual department of his being to that greatness for the development
of which man's entire faculties were of old required. To this Cleon has by
no means yet attained. Such growth, change, and expansion in the
individual character is not, he would suggest, readily recognized by the
world, and the second illustration here applies: (2) water, the more
palpable, material element, is estimated at its worth, whilst air, with
its subtler properties,

  Tho' filling more fully than the water did;

though holding

  Thrice the weight of water in itself. (ll. 106-107.)

is yet accounted a negligible quantity, and the sphere is pronounced
empty. Of the deeper, more subtle, thoughts and workings of the soul in
Cleon and his fellows, the outcome of the labours of humanity in past
generations, thoughts too deep for expression, ideas only destined to bear
fruit in the years to come; of all these, and such as these, the
contemporary world takes little heed. To the gods alone Cleon would refer
for his appreciation. With David he would exclaim:

  'Tis not what man Does which exalts him, but what man Would do![21]

With Ben Ezra he would triumph

      All, the world's coarse thumb
      And finger failed to plumb,
  So passed in making up the main account;
      All instincts immature,
      All purposes unsure,
  That weighed not as his work, yet swelled the man's amount:

         *       *       *       *       *

      Thoughts hardly to be packed
      Into a narrow act,
  Fancies that broke through language and escaped:
      All I could never be,
      All, men ignored in me;

("ignored" because incapable of the understanding essential to
appreciation);

  _This_, I was worth to God, whose wheel the pitcher shaped.[22]

For Cleon, equally with the Jewish philosopher of the Middle Ages, accepts
the entire subserviency of man to his creator. Both alike recognize the
value of life, human life; its unity, its perfection in itself: both alike
realize that this life means growth. "Why stay we on the earth unless to
grow?" asks the Greek. "It was better," writes the Jew as age approaches,

      It was better, youth
      Should strive, through acts uncouth,
  Towards making, than repose on aught found made.[23]

Thus progress! Nevertheless, the Rabbi, whilst recognizing to the full the
value of the present life as a thing _per se_, bearing its peculiar uses,
its perfect development advancing from youth through manhood until age
shall "approve of youth, and death complete the same!" with the _unity_
yet recognizes also _continuity_; and at the close of the old life can
stand upon the threshold of the new "fearless and unperplexed," "what
weapons to select, what armour to indue," for use in the renewed struggle
he foresees awaiting him. To the Greek life was equally, nay, surpassingly
beautiful, the human faculties equally worthy of cultivation. As in
Nature, so with man (and here is employed the third of his illustrations):
(3) the wild flower, _i.e._, according to his interpretation, the
possessor of the single artistic faculty--Homer, Terpander, Phidias--

      Was the larger; I have dashed
  Rose-blood upon its petals, pricked its cup's
  Honey with wine, and driven its seed to fruit,
  And show a better flower if not so large:
  I stand myself. (ll. 147-151.)

Whilst the Rabbi esteems himself as clay in the hands of the potter, the
Greek admits no personal pride in the multiplicity or magnitude of his
gifts. All alike he refers to "the gods whose gift alone it is,"
continuing the reflection--

                        Which, shall I dare
  (All pride apart) upon the absurd pretext
  That such a gift by chance lay in my hand,
  Discourse of lightly, or depreciate?
  It might have fallen to another's hand: what then? (ll. 152-156.)

So far with Ben Ezra. But where the Rabbi can say with confidence

      Thence shall I pass, approved
      A man, for aye removed
  From the developed brute: a god though in the germ. (xiii.)

With Arthur

  I pass _but shall not die_,

merely shall I

                    Thereupon
      Take rest, ere I be gone
  Once more on my adventure brave and new (xiv.)

for the Greek is no such confidence possible. He, too, shall pass--"I pass
too surely." His hope, if hope it be, lies in the development of a
humanity of the future which shall have profited by the experience of its
individual members in the past--"Let at least truth stay!"

Incidentally is introduced in this section of the poem a reference to the
yearning of the correspondent of Protus for some revelation of the gods to
be made through man to men. Through an Incarnation alone can the purposes
of Zeus in creation be fully and comprehensibly revealed to man. Truth may
indeed stay, but its revelation is progressive in character; according
thus with the nature of the human intelligence (a favourite theme with
Browning). For any more complete realization of Truth absolute, a direct
revelation of the Deity is essential. God, in man, may show that which it
is possible for men to become, hence the design of Zeus in placing him
upon earth. So had Cleon "imaged," and "written out the fiction,"

  That he or other god descended here
  And, once for all, showed simultaneously
  What, in its nature, never can be shown,
  Piecemeal or in succession;--showed, I say,
  The worth both absolute and relative
  Of all his children from the birth of time,
  His instruments for all appointed work. (ll. 115-122.)

Through this revelation, too, may be proved the immanence of the Deity, a
doctrine even now accepted by the Greek. The speaker on the Areopagus[24]
needed only to remind his hearers of this their belief, when he assured
them that the God of whom he preached was not one who dwelt in temples
made with hands--but is "not far from every one of us," since "in him we
live and move and have our being." Even, in the words of Aratus, "we are
his offspring." But this theory of an incarnation which "certain slaves"
were teaching in a fuller, more satisfying form, than that presented by
the imagination of the Greek philosopher, might be to him but "a dream":
his sole hope rested, as we have seen, on an advance of the race through
the higher development of individual members.

                    No dream, let us hope,
  That years and days, the summers and the springs,
  Follow each other with unwaning powers. (ll. 127-129.)

III. With line 157 we pass to a consideration of the more intensely
personal question, yet one involving in its answer much that has gone
before; the question put by Protus in the letter accompanying his gifts:
is death (which king and poet alike esteem the end of all things), is
death to the _man of thought_ so fearful a thing in contemplation as it
must be to the _man of action_? To Protus, the man of action, who has
enjoyed life to the full, whose portion has been wealth, honour, dignity,
power, physical and mental appreciation of all the privileges attendant on
his station and environment; to the possessor of life such as this death,
as not an interruption merely, but as an end to all joy, all
gratification, must perforce bring with it nothing but horror. The horror
which Browning represents elsewhere as falling momentarily upon the
Venetian audience listening to the weird strains of Galuppi's music,[25]
when an interpolated discord suggests to the onlooker the question, "What
of soul is left, I wonder?" when the pleasures of life are ended? and the
answer is given, with its note of hopeless finality, "Dust and ashes." To
Protus, too, recurs the answer, "Dust and ashes." Although his work as a
ruler has been of that character which has caused him to seek the
intellectual and moral, as well as the material welfare of his people (so
much we saw Cleon recognizing in his introductory message), yet he
regretfully, and probably unjustly, in a moment of depression, estimates
his legacy to posterity as "nought."

                                  My life,
  Complete and whole now in its power and joy,
  Dies altogether with my brain and arm,
  Is lost indeed; since, what survives myself?
  The brazen statue to o'erlook my grave,
  Set on the promontory which I named.
  And that--some supple courtier of my heir
  Shall use its robed and sceptred arm, perhaps,
  To fix the rope to, which best drags it down. (ll. 171-179.)

(An estimate suggesting a truth of practical experience: schemes of
absolute government not infrequently bearing within themselves the seeds
of their own decay: the "sceptred arm," originally the symbol of its
strength, becoming in good sooth the chief agent in the work of
destruction.)

To Protus, whose life has been thus spent in activity, forgetfulness seems
the one thing most terrible of contemplation. He must pass, and in the
words of the dying Alcestis, "who is dead is nought"; of him shall it be
said, "He who once was, now is nothing." But for the man whose life "stays
in the poems men shall sing, the pictures men shall study," for him may
not death prove triumph, since "_thou_ dost not go"? Yet Cleon deals with
the question as might have been anticipated. Genius, even in its highest
form, culture, art, learning, alike fail to satisfy the restless soul,
tossed upon the waves of uncertainty, unanchored by any reasonable hope
for the future. All these fail where the satisfaction derivative from
wealth and power honourably wielded has already failed. The genius ruling
in the kingdom of intellectual life has no consolation to offer the
sovereign ruling the outer life--the material and moral welfare--of his
subjects. Poet and tyrant alike bow before the inevitable approach of
death, taking "the tear-stained dust" as proof that "man--the whole
man--cannot live again."

The entire poem has been happily designated "the Ecclesiastes of pagan
religion." At the outset we have remarked Cleon admitting that Protus
equally with himself has recognized, not only that joy is "the use of
life," but that joy may not be found in material gratification alone, but
rather in the cultivation of the higher faculties of man.

  For so shall men remark, in such an act [_i.e._, in the munificence
        displayed by the gifts bestowed upon the poet]
  Of love for him whose song gives life its joy,
  Thy recognition of the use of life. (ll. 20-22.)

The poet had so estimated "joy." It is in truth a higher estimate than
that based upon a recognition of material good. Nevertheless, he is now to
confess that from this, too, but an empty and transitory satisfaction is
obtainable. His answer to Protus affords an analysis of his own
reflections on the subject, since the thoughts have clearly not arisen now
for the first time. And in the arguments immediately following we cannot
but recognize Browning's own voice. The theory advanced is reiterated
constantly throughout his writings, dramatic and otherwise. Cleon directs
the attention of Protus to the perfections of animal life as created by
Zeus in lines suggesting an interesting comparison with that remarkable
and frequently quoted passage from the concluding Section of _Paracelsus_
(ll. 655-694).

  The centre-fire heaves underneath the earth,
  And the earth changes like a human face;

         *       *       *       *       *
         *       *       *       *       *

  The grass grows bright, the boughs are swoln with blooms
  Like chrysalids impatient for the air,
  The shining dorrs are busy, beetles run
  Along the furrows, ants make their ado;
  Above, birds fly in merry flocks, the lark
  Soars up and up, shivering for very joy;
  Afar the ocean sleeps; white fishing-gulls
  Flit where the sand is purple with its tribe
  Of nested limpets; savage creatures seek
  Their loves in wood and plain--and God renews
  His ancient rapture. Thus he dwells in all,
  From life's minute beginnings, up at last
  To man--the consummation of this scheme
  Of being, the completion of this sphere
  Of life: whose attributes had here and there
  Been scattered o'er the visible world before,
  Asking to be combined, dim fragments meant
  To be united in some wondrous whole,
  Imperfect qualities throughout creation,
  Suggesting some one creature yet to make,
  Some point where all those scattered rays should meet
  Convergent in the faculties of man.

So writes Cleon:

  If, in the morning of philosophy,
  Ere aught had been recorded, nay perceived,
  Thou, with the light now in thee, could'st have looked
  On all earth's tenantry, from worm to bird,
  Ere man, her last, appeared upon the stage--
  Thou would'st have seen them perfect, and deduced
  The perfectness of others yet unseen.
  Conceding which,--had Zeus then questioned thee
  "Shall I go on a step, improve on this,
  Do more for visible creatures than is done?"
  Thou would'st have answered, "Ay, by making each
  Grow conscious in himself--by that alone.
  All's perfect else: the shell sucks fast the rock,
  The fish strikes through the sea, the snake both swims
  And slides, forth range the beasts, the birds take flight,
  Till life's mechanics can no further go--
  And all this joy in natural life is put
  Like fire from off thy finger into each,
  So exquisitely perfect is the same." (ll. 187-205.)

But the Teuton of the Renascence passes beyond the Greek in his history of
the evolution of man--as the outcome, the union, the consummation of all
that has gone before. In his description of human nature so evolved, he
continues by enumerating power controlled by will, knowledge and love as
characteristics, hints and previsions of which

      Strewn confusedly about
  The inferior natures--all lead up higher,
  All shape out dimly the superior race,
  The heir of hopes too fair to turn out false,
  And man appears at last.[26]

To Cleon such hopes, but vaguely suggested, leading upwards and onwards
towards a recognition of the soul's immortality, are too fair for _truth_,
their very beauty leads him to question their reality.

Admitted then that in "all earth's tenantry, from worm to bird,"
perfection is to be found, in what direction may advance be made?
Impossible in degree, it must, therefore, be in kind: some new faculty
shall be added to those which man, the latest born of the creatures, shall
share in common with his predecessors in the world of animal life--the
knowledge and realization of his own individuality.

  In due time [after leading the purely animal life] let him critically
        learn
  How he lives.

And what shall be the result of the new gift? To him who, inexperienced in
its uses, lives "in the morning of philosophy," it must be indicative of
an increase of happiness. With the greater fulness of life, resultant from
extended knowledge, must surely follow also an extension of enjoyment. But
such a belief, says Cleon, living in the eve of philosophy, could have
existed only in its morning "ere aught had been recorded." Experience,
that prosaic but infallible instructor, has taught man otherwise. The
simplicity of mere animal life, though involving not the conscious
happiness of a reasoning being (if indeed happiness there be for such)
served to impart "the wild joy of living, mere living." A joy from which
Caliban was to be found awakening to a realization of his own
individuality, and also to a realization that joy and grief are relative
terms: that joy, equally with grief, was impossible to the Quiet, the
possessor of supreme power, as it was impossible to

                          Yonder crabs
  That march now from the mountain to the sea.[27]

To Cleon, oppressed by a profound sense of discouragement in life, the
cynical suggestion presents itself that the semi-conscious vegetating
existence of the animal may be more desirable than the yearnings and
aspirations inevitably attendant on human life, with its joys keen and
intensified, but, alas! all too brief.

  Thou king, hadst more reasonably said:
  "Let progress end at once,--man make no step
  Beyond the natural man, the better beast,
  Using his senses, not the sense of sense." (ll. 221-224.)

It is a purely pagan view of life.

  In man there's failure, only since he left
  The lower and inconscious forms of life. (ll. 225-226.)

So man grew, and his widening intelligence opened out vast and
ever-increasing possibilities of joy. But with the realization of
possibilities came also the consciousness of his limitations. So long as
the flesh had remained absolutely paramount, the restrictions it was
capable of imposing upon the workings of the soul had been unfelt. Now,
when the soul has climbed its watch-tower and perceives

                          A world of capability
  For joy, spread round about us, meant for us,
  Inviting us.

When at this moment the soul in its yearning "craves all," then is the
time of the flesh to reply,

                      Take no jot more
  Than ere thou clombst the tower to look abroad!
  Nay, so much less as that fatigue has brought
  Deduction to it. (ll. 239-245.)

In other words, the ever-recurring conflict between flesh and spirit. In
human nature, as at present constituted, one is bound to suffer at the
expense of the other; the sound mind in the sound body is unfortunately a
counsel of perfection too rarely attainable in practical life. The poet is
conscious of the growing vitality of the spirit as well as that of the
intellect (although he does not admittedly recognize that this is so, his
use of the term "soul" being seemingly synonymous with "intellect"), the
decreasing power of the flesh. In vain the struggle to

                  Supply fresh oil to life,
  Repair the waste of age and sickness. (ll. 248-249.)

Thus the fate of the man of genius, of keener perceptions, of wider
capacities for enjoyment, becomes proportionately more grievous than that
of the less complex nature of the man of action.

  Say rather that my fate is deadlier still,
  In this, that every day my sense of joy
  Grows more acute, my soul (intensified
  By power and insight) more enlarged, more keen;
  While every day my hairs fall more and more,
  My hand shakes, and the heavy years increase--
  The horror quickening still from year to year,
  The consummation coming past escape
  When I shall know most, and yet least enjoy. (ll. 309-317.)

A recognition of the emptiness of life, necessarily hopeless when thus
viewed in relation to its sensuous and intellectual possibilities only. To
these things the end must come. Thus Browning leads us on, as so
frequently elsewhere, to an admission of _the inevitableness of
immortality_.

An estimate of life curiously opposed to this simple pagan aspect is that
afforded by the conception of _Paracelsus_, a poem containing no small
element of the mysticism which offered so powerful an attraction to its
author. In a familiar passage at the close of the First Section we find
Paracelsus describing the methods he proposes to pursue in his search for
truth; truth which he deems existent within the soul of man, and acquired
by no external influence.

  Truth is within ourselves; it takes no rise
  From outward things, whate'er you may believe.
  There is an inmost centre in us all,
  Where truth abides in fulness; and around,
  Wall upon wall, the gross flesh hems it in,
  This perfect, clear perception--which is truth.
  A baffling and perverting carnal mesh
  Binds it, and makes all error: and to KNOW
  Rather consists in opening out a way
  Whence the imprisoned splendour may escape,
  Than in effecting entry for a light
  Supposed to be without.[28]

         *       *       *       *       *

                            See this soul of ours!
  How it strives weakly in the child, is loosed
  In manhood, clogged by sickness, back compelled
  By age and waste, set free at last by death.[29]

In S. John's reflections in _A Death in the Desert_, a similar suggestion
of mysticism is modified by the medium through which it has passed. The
Christian teacher who wrote that "God is Love," and that in the knowledge
of this truth immortality itself consists, propounds for himself a
question similar to that which has so hopeless a ring when issuing from
the mouth of the Greek.

  Is it for nothing we grow old and weak?

A suggestion of the character of the answer is found in the conclusion of
the question, "We whom God loves."

  Can they share
  --They, who have flesh, a veil of youth and strength
  About each spirit, that needs must bide its time,
  Living and learning still as years assist
  Which wear the thickness thin, and let man see--
  With me who hardly am withheld at all,
  But shudderingly, scarce a shred between,
  Lie bare to the universal prick of light?[30]

True is the lament of the reply to Protus.

                We struggle, fain to enlarge
  Our bounded physical recipiency,
  Increase our power, supply fresh oil to life,
  Repair the waste of age and sickness. (ll. 244-247.)

All too true. But if, as we are assured, there is no waste in Nature,
whence comes the apparent destruction wrought by age and sickness? What
the design of which it is the evidence? In the words of the Christian
mystic, but to admit "the universal prick of light," to effect the union
of the individual soul with that central fire of which it is an emanation;
when the training and development inseparable from suffering shall have
done their work, since "when pain ends, gain ends too."

        Thy body at its best,
  How far can that project thy soul on its lone way?[31]

The decay, it must be, of its temporal habitation which shall bring to
the soul eternal freedom. To the Greek, on the other hand, with the decay
of the body, passed not only all that made life worth living, but the life
itself. The keener the appreciation of life, the harder, therefore, the
parting of soul from body. He, indeed,

  Sees the wider but to sigh the more.

"Most progress is most failure." Failure absolute if death is the end of
life; failure relative and indicative of higher, vaster potentialities of
being, if that dream of a moment's yearning might be true, if death prove
itself but "the throbbing impulse" to a fuller life; if, freed by it, man
bursts "as the worm into the fly," becoming a creature of that future
state

              Unlimited in capability
  For joy, as this is in desire for joy.

But to the Greek the door of actuality remains fast closed.

Before concluding an examination of this section of the poem which has
suggested, as was inevitable, a comparison between the pagan and the
Christian conception of life; between an estimate into which physical and
intellectual considerations alone enter, and that in which spiritual also
find place, it may not be unprofitable to recall the method by which
Browning has treated the same subject elsewhere, in a different
connection. _Old Pictures in Florence_, published originally in the volume
of the _Men and Women Series_, which likewise contained _Cleon_, is one of
the few poems in which the author may be assumed to speak in his own
person. The contrast there drawn is that between the products of Greek Art
which "ran and reached its goal," and the works of the mediaeval Italian
artists. Having pointed to the Greek statuary, to the figures of Theseus,
of Apollo, of Niobe, and Alexander, the speaker recognizes therein a
re-utterance of

  The Truth of Man, as by God first spoken,
  Which the actual generations garble,
  ... Soul (which Limbs betoken)
  And Limbs (Soul informs) made new in marble.[32]

Here all is perfection, man sees himself as he wishes he were, as he
"might have been," as he "cannot be." In such finished work no room is
left for "man's distinctive mark," progress,--growth. When, then,
according to Browning, did growth once more begin? When was the depression
of Cleon's day out-lived? Vitality, he asserts, once more became apparent
when the eye of the artist was turned from externals to that which
externals may denote or conceal, not outwards but inwards, from the form
betokening the existence of Soul to Soul itself. The mediaeval painters
started on a new and endless path of progress when in answer to the cry of

  Greek Art, and what more wish you?

they replied,

            To become now self-acquainters,
  And paint man man, whatever the issue!
  Make new hopes shine through the flesh they fray,
  New fears aggrandize the rags and tatters:
  To bring the invisible full into play!
  Let the visible go to the dogs--what matters?[33]

Browning's estimate of Art, as of all departments of work, was necessarily
one which would lead him to sympathize with that form which strives,
however imperfectly, to bring "the invisible full into play," though the
achievement must be effected, not by neglect of, but rather by the
fullest treatment of the visible. The avowed function of Art, in the most
comprehensive acceptation of the term, was with him to achieve "no mere
imagery on the wall," but to present something, whether in Music, Poetry,
or Painting, which should

  Mean beyond the facts,
  Suffice the eye and save the soul beside.[34]

The more distinctive artistic function (commonly so accepted) of
gratifying the senses is not to be neglected, although it may not--as with
the Greek--be cultivated to the exclusion, whole or partial, of that which
is in its essence more enduring. The monkish painter (1412-69), whilst
defending his realistic methods, yet perceives in vision the immensity of
possible achievement if he "drew higher things with the same truth." To
work thus were "to take the Prior's pulpit-place, interpret God to all of
you."[35] In so far, then, as he strives towards this realization of the
spiritual, the early Italian painter holds, according to Browning, higher
place in the ranks of the artistic hierarchy than the Greek who had
attained already to perfection in his particular department, feeling that
"where he had reached who could do more than reach?" No such perfection of
attainment was possible to him who would "bring the invisible full into
play." His glory lay rather "in daring so much before he well did it."
Thus

  The first of the new, in our race's story,
  Beats the last of the old.[36]

As with the artist, so with the spectator, growth had only begun when

                  Looking [his] last on them all,
  [He] turned [his] eyes inwardly one fine day
  And cried with a start--What if we so small
    Be greater and grander the while than they?
  Are they perfect of lineament, perfect of stature?
    In both, of such lower types are we
  Precisely because of our wider nature;
    For time, theirs--ours, for eternity.[37]

         *       *       *       *       *

  They are perfect--how else? they shall never change:
    We are faulty--why not? we have time in store.
  The Artificer's hand is not arrested
    With us; we are rough-hewn, nowise polished.[38]

Bitter as is to Cleon the realization that "What's come to perfection
perishes," to the Christian artist the same axiom serves but as incentive
to more strenuous effort. In imperfection he recognizes the germ of future
progress.

                    The help whereby he mounts,
  The ladder-rung his foot has left, may fall,
  _Since all things suffer change save God the Truth_.[39]

As imperfection suggests progress, so to "the heir of immortality" is
failure but a step towards ultimate attainment. With confidence he may
inquire

  What is our failure here but a triumph's evidence[40]
  For the fulness of the days?

The Greek, with his bounded horizon, realizes but the first aspect of the
truth: that

  In man there's failure, only since he left
  The lower and inconscious forms of life.

That

  Most progress is most failure.

The horizon being bounded by the grave, progress cut short by the
approach of death, failure may become failure absolute, irremediable. What
wonder, then, that the horror should "quicken still from year to year";
until the very terror itself demands relief in the imaginative creation of
a future state. But for this there is no warrant; for the Greek all
attainable satisfaction must be sought through the present phase of
existence alone.

IV. Cleon's answer to the question of Protus with regard to Death's aspect
to the man of thought, whose works outlast his personal existence (ll.
274-335), is but an utterance of the cry of human nature in all times and
in all places. Individuality must be preserved! In a moment of artistic
fervour the poet may acquiesce in the fate by which his friend has become
"a portion of the loveliness which once he made more lovely,"[41] but such
acquiescence can only hold good where poetic imagination has overborne
human affection. The soul of the man first, the poet afterwards, demands
that

  Eternal form shall still divide
  Eternal soul from all beside,

and that

  I shall _know_ him when we meet.[42]

And what he claims for his friend, man requires also for himself. The
individual soul, as at present constituted, cannot conceive of divesting
itself of its own individuality, of becoming "merged in the general
whole." As easy almost is it to conceive of annihilation. In hours of
abstract thought such theories may be evolved, and in accordance with the
mental constitution of the thinker, be rejected or honestly accepted; but
when brought face to face with the issues of Life and Death, the heart,
freeing itself from the trammels of intellectual sophistries, cries out,
"I have felt"; and yearns for a creed which shall allow acceptance of a
tenet involving future recognition and reunion, hence, by implication,
preservation of individuality, and identity. Whatever his nominal creed,
experience teaches us that man at supreme moments of life craves for some
such satisfaction as this.

It is, indeed, the Greek, materialist here rather than artist, who points
out to Protus that, in his estimate of the joy of leaving "living works
behind," he confounds "the accurate view of what joy is with feeling joy."
Confounds

                      The knowing how
  And showing how to live (my faculty)
  With actually living. Otherwise
  Where is the artist's vantage o'er the king?
  Because in my great epos I display
  How divers men young, strong, fair, wise, can act--
  Is this as though I acted? If I paint,
  Carve the young Phoebus, am I therefore young?
  Methinks I'm older that I bowed myself
  The many years of pain that taught me art!

         *       *       *       *       *
         *       *       *       *       *

  I know the joy of kingship: well, thou art king! (ll. 281-300.)

All the Greek love of life, of physical beauty is here, intensified by the
consciousness of the brief and transitory character of its existence. If
death ends all things, then the poet and philosopher, whilst acquiring the
knowledge "how to live," has sacrificed the power of living. Yet a
sacrifice even greater than this is enthusiastically welcomed by the
Grammarian of the Revival of Learning, greater since in this case the
devotion of a lifetime leaves behind it no monument of fame. Yet, having
counted the cost,

  Oh! such a life as he resolved to live,
  When he had learned it.

         *       *       *       *

  _Sooner, he spurned it._[43]

We can almost detect the voice of Cleon in the urgency of the student's
contemporaries. "Live now or never," since "time escapes." In the reply
lies the clue to the immensity of difference between the two positions--

  Leave Now for dogs and apes!
  Man has Forever.[44]

In the one instance, life being lived in the light of the "Forever," it is
possible to perceive with Pompilia that "No work begun shall ever pause
for death":[45] and life, whatever its trials and limitations, becomes to
the believer in immortality very well worth the living. Thus the Christian
conception of human life transcends the pagan as the designs of the
Italian painters surpass in their suggestive inspiration the perfection of
the more purely technical achievements of Greek art. The whole discussion
is so peculiarly characteristic of Browning's work that it seemed
impossible to omit this comparison in the present connection, even though
we shall be again obliged to revert to the Grammarian, and the theory
exemplified in his history, in analyzing the defence of Bishop Blougram.

In passing, then, to the concluding section of Cleon's reply to Protus, we
are met by no exclusively Greek utterance; the voice is the voice of
humanity unfettered by limitations of race or mental training.

  "But," sayest thou ...
                           ... "What
  Thou writest, paintest, stays; that does not die:
  Sappho survives, because we sing her songs,
  And Æschylus, because we read his plays!"
  Why, if they live still, let them come and take
  Thy slave in my despite, drink from thy cup,
  Speak in my place. Thou diest while I survive? (ll. 301-308.)

It is self-abnegation, carried to an extent rendering impossible the
preservation of the race, which can look to happiness, or even to
satisfaction, in the prospect of annihilation so long as posterity shall
enjoy the fruits of a life of labour--which may express all its yearnings
towards immortality in the petition:

        O may I join the choir invisible
  Of those immortal dead who live again
  In minds made better by their presence: ...

         *       *       *       *       *

            _So to live is heaven_:

         *       *       *       *       *

            _This is life to come_
  Which martyred men have made more glorious
  For us who strive to follow. May I reach
  That purest heaven ...

         *       *       *       *       *

  Be the sweet presence of a good diffused,
  And in diffusion ever more intense.

Yet the mind which originated these nobly philosophic lines found it
impossible to continue literary work when severed from the human
comradeship and sympathy, criticism and inspiration to which the heart,
even more than the brain, had grown accustomed. After the death of Mr. G.
H. Lewes we are told--in the author's own words--that "The writing seems
all trivial stuff," ... and that work is resorted to as "a means of saving
the mind from imbecility."[46] We shall find Browning himself refusing,
in the hour of bereavement, to admit the satisfaction to be derived from a
contemplation of the progress of the race through individual sacrifice and
loss of personal identity; the satisfaction of the knowledge that

  Somewhere new existence led by men and women new,
  Possibly attains perfection coveted by me and you;

         *       *       *       *       *

  [Whilst we] working ne'er shall know if work bear fruit.
  Others reap and garner--
                          We, creative thought, must cease
  In created word, thought's echo, due to impulse long since sped!

Poor is the comfort

  There's ever someone lives although ourselves be dead.[47]

Something more than this, more even than "the thought of what was" is
demanded for the satisfaction of the soul, yet this is all the Greek has
to offer to his correspondent.

Before leaving this section of the poem, one further comparison of
striking interest claims at least a brief consideration--a comparison also
of the life of the man of action with that of the man of thought: of
Salinguerra, the Ghibelline leader and Sordello, the poet and dreamer,
Ghibelline by antecedents, Guelph by conviction; the visionary and
dreamer, but the dreamer whose dreams should remain a legacy to posterity,
the visionary who held that "the poet must be earth's essential king." The
comparison is especially interesting, since in this case also it is drawn
(Bk. iv) by the poet himself. To Sordello, however, the recognition of a
future existence has at times a very potent influence upon the present.
For him, moreover, in his moments of insight, _service_ not _happiness_,
is the inspiration of life. Lofty as is the estimation in which he holds
the office of poet, he yet deems Salinguerra

  One of happier fate, and all I should have done,
  He does; the people's good being paramount
  With him.[48]

Here is

  A nature made to serve, excel
  In serving, only feel by service well![49]

To the poet of the Middle Ages then, as to the Greek, though for different
reasons, the man of action has the happier fate. But where the Greek
shudders before the approach of death, the Italian issues triumphantly
from the final struggle of life--the supreme temptation--through the
realization

                    That death, I fly, revealed
  So oft a better life this life concealed,
  And which sage, champion, martyr, through each path
  Have hunted fearlessly.[50]

Only he would crave the consciousness which served as inspiration to sage,
champion, martyr, and he, too, will hunt death fearlessly, will demand,
"Let what masters life disclose itself!"

V. The concluding lines of the poem (336-353) contain a curiously
suggestive contrast between the influences of an effete pagan culture, and
of Christianity in its infancy. On the one hand, the Greek philosopher
surrounded by evidences of marvellous physical and intellectual
achievements, admitting the experience of an overwhelming horror, in face
of the approach of "a deadly fate." On the other hand, "a mere barbarian
Jew" and "certain slaves," pioneers of that faith which should offer
solution to the problems before which Greek learning shrank confessedly
powerless. A contrast between two stages of that development in the life
of man, indicated by the theory of St. John's teaching, given in the
interpolated note introductory to the main arguments of _A Death in the
Desert_:

  The doctrine he was wont to teach,
  How divers persons witness in each man,
  Three souls which make up one soul.

(1) The lower or animal life, distinguished as "What Does," (2) The
intellect inspiring which "useth the first with its collected use," and is
defined as "What Knows," that which _Cleon_ calls Soul. (3) Finally, the
union of both for the service of the third and highest element, which is
in itself capable of existence apart from either:

  Subsisting whether they assist or no,

designated as "What Is," that which _Browning_ calls Soul in _Old Pictures
in Florence_.

Life, in the person of Cleon, would appear to have reached the second of
the stages thus distinguished--physical development, combined with
intellectual pre-eminence, marking "an age of light, light without love."
With Paulus life has passed beyond, and the spiritual energy has attained
to its position of predominance over the lower elements constituting this
Trinity of human nature. The barbarian Jew heralds a new phase in the
world's history. The entire conclusion may well serve as commentary on the
lines already quoted from _Old Pictures in Florence_:

  The first of the new in our race's story
  Beats the last of the old.[51]



LECTURE III

BISHOP BLOUGRAM'S APOLOGY



LECTURE III

BISHOP BLOUGRAM'S APOLOGY


In _Bishop Blougram's Apology_ we are afforded yet another striking
illustration of Browning's methods of working by means of dramatic
machinery. On some occasions we have already found him relying on the
arguments of his imaginary soliloquists to support an apparently favourite
theory, on others we have noticed him employing these arguments to expose
the weak points of a system of which he personally disapproves. More
rarely two conflicting theories are placed side by side, the decision as
to the author's own relation to either being left to the judgment of the
reader. Thus with the Bishop and the Journalist of the present
instance--who may assert with confidence to which side Browning's
sympathies incline? How are we to judge of his actual feelings in the
case? Would he hold up to severer opprobrium the representative of honest
scepticism or the advocate of opportunism? Does he intend us to accept the
scepticism of the Journalist as genuine, the justification of the Bishop
as offered in entire good faith? Do his sympathies indeed belong wholly to
either side? To hold that he necessarily sets forth a direct expression of
his own opinions is to misunderstand the spirit in which he is accustomed
to approach his subject. As well believe Caliban to give utterance to his
conception of a Supreme Being as the personification of irresponsible and
capricious power; and Cleon to estimate his recognition of Christianity as
"a doctrine to be held by no sane man."

This and the two foregoing dramatic poems have been chosen as leading step
by step from the earlier and cruder forms of religious belief, to the
later and more complex: before approaching the debatable ground of
_Christmas Eve and Easter Day_, and the unquestionably personal expression
of feeling in _La Saisiaz_. A wide gulf seemed indeed, at first sight, to
be fixed between Caliban and Cleon, but yet wider is the actually existent
distance dividing Cleon from Blougram. Less marked the change in outward
circumstances, the inherent difference becomes the more striking. The
beauties of Greek art and culture are but replaced by the nineteenth
century luxury surrounding a dignitary of the Roman Catholic Church.
"Greek busts, Venetian paintings, Roman walls, and English books ... bound
in gold"; the central figures, the Bishop and his companion dallying with
the pleasures of the table, discoursing of momentous truths over the wine
and olives. Surely the distance between this and Cleon is less to traverse
than that between the Greek, surrounded by the proofs of the munificence
of Protus, and Caliban revelling in his mire. The superficial difference
less, the inherent difference so wide that the idea at first suggested
itself of taking as an intermediate and connecting link the poem
immediately preceding this in the collected edition of the works, _The
Bishop orders his Tomb at Saint Praxed's Church_. On more mature
consideration it would seem, however, that the prelate of the nineteenth
century sufficiently approaches the type of the Renaissance churchman to
render the added link unnecessary. All, therefore, that remains for
consideration before analyzing the Bishop's Apology, is a brief survey of
the changes effected in the outlook of the civilized world, in so far as
they relate to the subject before us, during the eighteen centuries which
had elapsed between the letter of Cleon to Protus and the monologue of
Blougram addressed to the unfortunate owner of the name of Gigadibs. In
the first century of the Christian era in which Cleon wrote, the Greek
world had, as we have noticed, come into contact with Christianity only at
its extreme edge: to Cleon, student and representative of Greek
philosophic thought, its tenets were impossible of credence. The
difficulty of faith _then_ was that involved in the acceptance of any
formulated theory which should include an assertion of the immortality of
the soul and its future state of existence. The difficulties which demand
the defence of Blougram are of a character wholly different. Christianity
has become the creed of the civilized world: during the intervening
centuries the simplicity of the mediaeval faith has given place to the
more logical reasoning following the freedom of thought which accompanied
the Renaissance; whilst this has, in its turn, been superseded by the more
purely critical attitude of mind, resulting in the scepticism, and
consequent casuistry, attendant on the dogmatism of the earlier years of
the nineteenth century. The Bishop's definition of his position is
sufficiently descriptive of the situation. He is put upon his defence, in
truth, solely on account of the peculiar conditions of the environment in
which his lot has fallen. Three centuries earlier who would have
questioned the genuineness of his faith? Twice as many decades later who
would require that his acceptance of the creed he professes should be
implicit and detailed? His defence is made merely before the tribunal of
his fellow men; the character of this tribunal having changed from the
warmth of unquestioning faith to the barren coldness of scepticism, the
nature of the attack has likewise changed.

                          Your picked twelve, you'll find,
  Profess themselves indignant, scandalized
  At thus being unable to explain
  How a superior man who disbelieves
  May not believe as well: that's Schelling's way!
  It's through my coming in the tail of time,
  Nicking the minute with a happy tact.
  Had I been born three hundred years ago
  They'd say, "What's strange? Blougram of course believes;"
  And, seventy years since, "disbelieves of course."
  But now, "He may believe; and yet, and yet
  How can he?" All eyes turn with interest. (ll. 407-418.)

         *       *       *       *       *

      I, the man of sense and learning too,
  The able to think yet act, the this, the that,
  I, to believe at this late time of day!
  Enough; you see, I need not fear contempt. (ll. 428-431.)

In short, the Bishop's is a figure claiming the interest of his
contemporaries in that his position is one not readily definable: he may
be a saint and a whole-hearted churchman; it is yet more probable, so says
the world, that his conventional orthodoxy may be but the cloak of an
underlying scepticism.

The identity of Bishop Blougram with Cardinal Wiseman was, as every one
knows, established from the first. That this should have been so was
inevitable from the various external indications introduced with obvious
intention into the poem; to the unprejudiced student it does not, however,
appear equally inevitable that the character sketch thus outlined should
be commonly estimated as conceived in a spirit hostile to the original.
Yet such would seem to be the case. In his _Browning Cyclopaedia_, Dr.
Berdoe quotes from a review contributed to _The Rambler_ of January,
1856, "which," he adds, "is credibly supposed to have been written by the
Cardinal himself." This article referred to the Bishop's portrait as "that
of an arch-hypocrite and the frankest of fools." Apparently accepting this
criticism, the author of the _Cyclopaedia_ not unnaturally observes that
"it is necessary to say that the description is to the last degree untrue,
as must have been obvious to any one personally acquainted with the
Cardinal." A similar opinion is expressed by no less an authority than Mr.
Wilfrid Ward, who characterizes the portrait as "quite unlike all that
Wiseman's letters and the recollections of his friends show him to have
been. Subtle and true as the sketch is in itself, it really depicts
someone else."[52] Is this so? May it not rather be the case that the true
character of Browning's prelate has not been fairly estimated? Does the
Bishop occupy the position assigned him by Mr. Ward when he continues,
"Blougram acquiesces in the judgment that Catholicism and Christianity are
doubtful, and yet that they are no more provable as false than as true;
that in one mood they seem true, in another false; that either the moods
of faith or the moods of doubt may prove to correspond with the truth, and
that in this state of things circumstances and external advantage may be
allowed to decide his vocation, and to justify him in professing
consistently as true, what in his heart of hearts he only regards as
possible?"[53] Again, "The sceptical element which had tried Wiseman in
his early years was something wholly different from Blougram's
scepticism."[54] Is there not something more than this to be said for the
Bishop's Apology? It is, indeed, the main difficulty of the poem to decide
to what extent the speaker is, or is not, serious in his assertions; but
if we come to the conclusion that he is either "an arch-hypocrite," or
"the frankest of fools," we shall assuredly be very far from having read
the defence aright. Browning himself has, according to report, had
something to say on this subject.[55] When accused by Sir Charles Gavin
Duffy and Mr. John Forster of abhorrence of the Roman Catholic faith on
the grounds of the then recent publication of this poem, containing, as
was alleged, a portrait of a sophistical and self-indulgent priest,
intended as a satire on Cardinal Wiseman, Browning met the charge with
what would appear to have been genuine astonishment; and, whilst admitting
his intention of employing the Cardinal as a model, concluded, "But I do
not consider it a satire, there is nothing hostile about it." And, looked
at more closely, it is questionable whether much of the alleged hostility
is to be detected. At least our feelings towards the Bishop contain no
element of either aversion or contempt as we conclude our study of his
defence!

The external indications of identity are scattered, as if incidentally,
throughout the poem, according to the method habitual to Browning. (1)
Cardinal in 1850, Wiseman had been already consecrated bishop in 1840, and
sent to England as Vicar Apostolic of the Central District in conjunction
with Bishop Walsh. The year of his appointment as Cardinal was also the
date of the papal bull assigning territorial titles to Roman Catholic
bishops in England, a measure, rightly or wrongly, attributed popularly to
the influence of Wiseman. His episcopal title from 1840 had been that of
"Melipotamus in _partibus infidelium_," hence

  Sylvester Blougram, styled _in partibus
  Episcopus, nec non_--(the deuce knows what
  It's changed to by our novel hierarchy). (ll. 972-974.)

(2) The reference in lines 957-960 to the Bishop's influence in the
literary world, in particular with the editors of Reviews, "whether here,
in Dublin or New York," recalls the fact that _The Dublin Review_ had been
founded by Cardinal Wiseman in 1836.

(3) Again, in the opening lines, the allusion to Augustus Welby Pugin, the
genius of ecclesiastical architecture of the last century. When Wiseman,
in 1840, became President of Oscott College, Pugin was alarmed for the
results of his influence in architectural matters; since the Cardinal's
tastes had been formed in Rome, whilst the design of Pugin included a
Gothic revival in ecclesiastical architecture and vestments, as well as
the universal adoption of Gregorian chants in the services of the Church.
In spite, however, of the architect's fears, and some preliminary
collisions, the two men subsequently succeeded in preserving amicable
relations. Hence the Bishop's tolerant, but half-satirical comment,

  We ought to have our Abbey back, you see.
  It's different, preaching in basilicas,
  And doing duty in some masterpiece
  Like this of brother Pugin's, bless his heart!
  I doubt if they're half-baked, those chalk rosettes,
  Ciphers and stucco-twiddlings everywhere. (ll. 3-8.)

(4) Any considerations of internal evidences, especially those touching
the question of scepticism, will necessarily be repeated in following the
Bishop's arguments: but it may be well to refer briefly in this place to
the most noted characteristics of the Cardinal as estimated by the
contemporary world.

(_a_) By some, even among his own clergy, he is reported to have been
opposed on account of his ultramontane tendencies and innovating zeal, in
particular with regard to the introduction of sacred images into the
churches, and the adoption of certain devotional exercises not hitherto
in use amongst English members of the Roman Catholic community. Thus we
find the Bishop asserting, "I ...

  ... would die rather than avow my fear
  The Naples' liquefaction may be false,
  When set to happen by the palace-clock
  According to the clouds or dinner-time. (ll. 727-730.)

Browning thus suggests the fact obvious to the world at large,--the
apparently implicit acceptance by the Cardinal of miracles which to the
average mind are impossible of credence; at the same time he allows
opportunity for an explanation of the position: the prelate fears the
effect upon the main articles of his faith of questioning that which is
least.

  First cut the Liquefaction, what comes last
  But Fichte's clever cut at God himself? (ll. 743-744.)

(_b_) Whilst, however, preserving these extreme views with regard to the
position and tenets of the Church, the Cardinal, with statesmanlike
wisdom, recognized that, in accordance with its genius as implied in the
attribute Catholic, it must likewise keep pace with the intellectual
advance of the age, not holding aloof from, but, where possible,
assimilating the highest results of contemporary thought. Now it is easy
to perceive that the onlooker of that day may have found these apparently
conflicting tendencies in the Cardinal's mind difficult of reconcilement,
and only to be accounted for by the supposition already suggested that the
man capable of assuming such an attitude towards his creed must be, if not
a fool, then an arch-hypocrite. It has been the work of Browning to show
how, without detriment to his intellectual capacity, the Bishop may
justify his position. To what extent, if at all, his moral character is
affected thereby must depend upon the degree of sincerity which we allow
to the entire exposition.

It is no part of the present plan to attempt a vindication of Browning's
treatment of the character of Cardinal Wiseman; the issues suggested by
the Apology lie deeper, and are far broader than those involved in such a
discussion. One object, at least, of the design would appear to be that of
a defence of belief in those tenets of a creed which transcend the powers
of reason; the particular religious body to which the speaker belongs
being of little import to the real issue. It seemed, however, that any
treatment of the poem would be incomplete which did not contain some brief
comparison such as has been here attempted. And even now there is danger
lest the attempt may prove misleading. Whether or not Browning has given
us the true character of the Cardinal is not the question; the only fact
in that connection which we shall do well to bear in mind is that, working
from the materials at his command--the outward and visible manifestations
afforded by Wiseman's life as known to his contemporaries--the author of
the Apology has given what may be a possible interpretation of character,
sufficiently reasonable, at any rate, to account for, and to reconcile
seeming inconsistencies, without laying its owner open to the charge of
either folly or knavery.

In approaching a more detailed examination of the poem we must not neglect
to take into account the peculiar conditions of religious life and thought
prevailing in England at the time of the publication, 1855. Fourteen years
earlier had appeared the celebrated No. 90 of _Tracts for the Times_.
After an interval of six years, in 1847, had followed the secession of J.
H. Newman to the Church of Rome, in 1853 that of Cardinal Manning. It was
a time of anxiety and sorrow amongst all those most deeply attached to the
Church of England, and of general unrest and uneasiness throughout the
country. Sufficient evidence of the universal unsettlement and anxiety is
afforded by the alarm, amounting almost to panic, excited by the Bull of
1850 announcing the territorial titles scheme. In a letter to Dean Stanley
on the question of the Oxford University Reform Bill of 1854, Mr.
Gladstone wrote, "The very words which you have let fall upon your paper
'Roman Catholics,' used in this connection (_i.e._, of extending full
University privileges to students other than members of the Church of
England) were enough to burn it through and through, considering we have a
parliament which, _were the measure of 1829 not law at this moment, would,
I think, probably refuse to make it law_."[56] Such was the spirit of the
times in England at the beginning of the second half of the nineteenth
century, and the existence of this spirit must not be left out of account
in dealing with Bishop Blougram and his Apology.

That Browning did not wholly escape its influence, even though removed
from direct contact, is readily conceivable. And in spite of his own
expressed surprise at the suggestion that he did not favourably regard the
Roman Catholic creed, his natural sympathies would certainly appear to
have inclined towards a Puritanic form of worship rather than to a more
ornate ritual; setting aside questions of doctrine of which these may be
the outward manifestations. This being the case, ample reason is at once
discoverable for the resolve to examine the position more thoroughly,
ascertaining how far it was possible to make out a case for the other
side. For, whilst on the one hand, we have every right, despite his
cosmopolitanism and his Italian sympathies to claim the author of the
_Apology_ as a genuine Englishman, with a fair proportion of the
Englishman's characteristics, on the other hand, we may exonerate him, if
not wholly, yet to a very large extent, from insular prejudices and
narrow-minded judgments. Had he designed to present Blougram either as
fool or hypocrite, he might assuredly have attained his object with equal
certainty by writing something less than the thousand and odd lines
devoted to the work of psychological analysis: for, in making his defence,
the Bishop is likewise revealing himself--to him who has eyes to see.
Here, as elsewhere, it is Browning's intent to present to his readers not
what man sees but "what _this_ man sees"; to lead them to judge of cause
rather than of effect, of motive rather than of action, or of action by
the recognition of motive. We may attempt to classify his characters, if
we will: a Browning society may write and read papers on the "villains" or
the "hypocrites" of Browning as distinguished from his saints. Such a
classification is perhaps fairly possible in the case of a character
delineator such as Dickens, whose lines of demarcation are stronger and
broader, purposely so, than those of actual life; but it is questionable
whether Browning himself could have thus labelled his people and separated
them into distinct compartments. For if the complexity of human nature and
character is fully recognized by any writer whether poet, novelist, or
biographer, it has surely been so recognized by the author of
_Paracelsus_, of _Sordello_, of _The Ring and the Book_. It has been so
frequently remarked that it seems but reiterating a truism to repeat the
assertion that he writes of the individual, not of the race, not of _man_
but of _men_; of men with much indeed which is common to the race, but
with peculiar attention also to those idiosyncrasies which establish
individuality. Hence the choice of soliloquists for the dramatic poems is
most frequently made amongst those the interpretation of whose actions has
presented special difficulty to the world at large. Thus to Browning was
left the vindication of Paracelsus, and for the bombast, the quack, the
drunkard, of contemporary biography has been substituted the pioneer and
martyr of science, failing, but on account of the magnitude of his
designs; recognizing even in defeat the divine nature of the mission
entrusted to his charge. For an Andrea del Sarto--to a less profound
student of character appearing as "an easy-going plebeian" satisfied with
a social life among his compeers, as an artist "resting content in the
sense of his superlative powers as an executant"--is offered the Andrea of
the poem bearing his name; a sometime aspiring nature, now embittered by
the struggle, wellnigh ended within the soul, between yearnings towards
future greatness and the desire for present gain; a nature of insight
sufficient to realize that the bonds of materialism are galling, of moral
force inadequate to effect their rupture. The more subtle, the more
outwardly misleading the character, the stronger the attraction it would
appear to have borne for Browning. It is no matter for surprise that in
_Prince Hohenstiel Schwangau_ he should have devoted over 2,000 lines to a
study of that mysterious, if disappointing, figure in European politics of
the middle of the last century--"at once the sabre of revolution and the
trumpet of order." And if conflicting elements of character constituted
the main attraction of the personality of Napoleon III, a similar cause of
fascination, as we have already noticed, exists in the instance before us;
viz., the possibility of reconciling the extreme opinions professed in
matters of Church ritual and doctrine, with the erudition, the political
ability, and width of intellectual outlook notably characteristic of
Cardinal Wiseman.

I. For avoidance of misunderstanding as to the intention of the Apology it
is well to read the Epilogue as Prologue, although, even with this
introduction, it is not easy to decide how far the speaker is serious in
his assertions--a definite answer to the question would probably have
presented (so Browning would suggest) some difficulty to the Bishop
himself.

  For Blougram, he believed, say, half he spoke.
  The other portion, as he shaped it thus
  For argumentatory purposes,
  He felt his foe was foolish to dispute.
  Some arbitrary accidental thoughts
  That crossed his mind, amusing because new,
  He chose to represent as fixtures there,
  Invariable convictions (such they seemed
  Beside his interlocutor's loose cards
  Flung daily down, and not the same way twice)
  While certain hell-deep instincts, man's weak tongue
  Is never bold to utter in their truth
  Because styled hell-deep ('tis an old mistake
  To place hell at the bottom of the earth)
  He ignored these--not having in readiness
  Their nomenclature and philosophy:
  He said true things, but called them by wrong names.
  "On the whole," he thought, "I justify myself
  On every point where cavillers like this
  Oppugn my life: he tries one kind of fence,
  I close, he's worsted, that's enough for him.
  He's on the ground: if ground should break away
  I take my stand on, there's a firmer yet
  Beneath it, both of us may sink and reach.
  His ground was over mine and broke the first." (ll. 980-1004.)

II. Thus the Bishop believed himself to realize the weakness of his
opponent; his superficiality in spite of his appeal to the ideal; the
worldliness which would esteem this hour of intercourse with the prelate
the highest honour of his life,

  The thing, you'll crown yourself with, all your days.

An incident which he would not fail to turn to

                                  Capital account;
  "When somebody, through years and years to come,
  Hints of the bishop,--names me--that's enough:
  Blougram? I knew him"--(into it you slide)
  "Dined with him once, a Corpus Christi Day,
  All alone, we two: he's a clever man:
  And after dinner,--why, the wine you know,--
  Oh, there was wine, and good!--what with the wine ...
  'Faith, we began upon all sorts of talk!
  He's no bad fellow, Blougram; he had seen
  Something of mine he relished, some review:
  He's quite above their humbug in his heart,
  Half-said as much, indeed--the thing's his trade.
  I warrant, Blougram's sceptical at times:
  How otherwise? I liked him, I confess!" (ll. 31-44.)

Just or unjust, such is the Bishop's estimate of his companion--(if the
opportunist is "quite above their humbug in his heart," not so the
would-be idealist!) And, accepting this view, the futility of casting
pearls before swine restrains him from a free expression of those deeper
thoughts which rise to the surface only here and there throughout the
monologue, evidence of the man beneath the prelate. There are problems
which do not admit of discussion "to you, and over the wine." Hence
Blougram holds himself justified in exercising that "reserve or economy of
truth" recognized[57] by a contemporary writer of his own community as
permissible under given conditions, within one class of which he may
reasonably account as falling, his interview with Gigadibs; viz., that in
which the listener is incapable of understanding truth stated exactly,
when it may be presented in the nearest form likely to appeal to his
comprehension. The journalist is thus from the first accepted by the
Bishop as representative of his world--that portion of the lay world to
which the position of this particular prelate of the Roman Catholic Church
is one requiring justification. Scepticism is so easy to this special
intellectual type of man, faith so difficult, that it is to him
incomprehensible that the Bishop may be genuine in his profession. On
these grounds Blougram bases the necessity for his defence.

III. Taking himself then at his critics' estimate, _i.e._, as a sceptic
masquerading in the garb of an ecclesiastical dignitary, he opens his
exposition by a comparison of his life as actually lived with the ideal
life advocated by the critic and his compeers. Pursuing the
subject--having attained even to the supreme honour to which his calling
admits, having ascended the papal throne, the position would yet be but
one of _outward_ splendour, incomparable with "the grand, simple life" a
man _may_ lead; grand, because essentially genuine--"imperial, plain and
true." Nevertheless, he would submit, it is better for a man so to order
his life that it may be lived to his satisfaction in Rome or Paris of the
nineteenth century, rather than to dissipate his powers in the evolution
of some ideal scheme, impossible of practical execution. As illustration,
follows the incident of the outward-bound vessel in which are provided
cabins of equal dimensions for the accommodation of all passengers. One
would fain fill his "six feet square" with all the luxuries which the mode
of life hitherto pursued has rendered essential to his comfort. His
neighbour, meanwhile, has limited his requirements to the possibilities of
the space allotted; with the result that the man content with little finds
himself satisfactorily equipped for the voyage; whilst he of great, but
impracticable aspirations, is left with a bare cabin, one after the other
the articles of his proposed outfit having been rejected by the ship's
steward. Hence the deduction, that the man of moderate requirements is
better fitted for life, as life now is, than he of the "artist nature."
Later on (l. 763) the speaker again reverts to the same simile, passing to
the further illustration of the traveller providing his equipment in
advance, in each case adapting it to a climate to be subsequently
reached, rather than to that in which he is at the moment living.

  As when a traveller, bound from North to South,
  Scouts fur in Russia: what's its use in France?
  In France spurns flannel: where's its need in Spain?
  In Spain drops cloth, too cumbrous for Algiers! (ll. 790-793.)

The question not unreasonably follows, "When, through his journey, was the
fool at ease?"

Thus, according to the Bishop, he who can most completely accommodate
himself to the exigencies of the present life, evinces his capability for
adapting himself to that which is to come. A theory, in direct opposition,
it would appear, to Browning's usual doctrine, repeated in so many of the
familiar poems. It is difficult to imagine a figure affording more
striking contrast to the prosperous prelate than that of the Grammarian,
once the "Lyric Apollo, electing to live nameless," occupied with the
pursuit of an abstract good; only paving the way for the attainment of his
successors; and in death throwing on God the task of making "the heavenly
period perfect the earthen," that incomplete phase of existence, full of
unsatisfied aspirations, of unfinished attempts. Of him the poet gives us
the assurance that he shall find the God whom he has sought: whilst for
the worldling who

  Has the world here--should he need the next,
  Let the world mind him!

In _Cleon_, in _A Death in the Desert_, in _Dîs Aliter Visum_, and perhaps
above all in _Abt Vogler_ (to refer to only a few illustrations out of the
many possible), the fact that man is incapable of accommodating himself to
his environment is treated as a proof that this is not his true sphere of
existence; that he was designed, and is still destined, for something
higher. So asks the lover of Pauline:

  How should this earth's life prove my only sphere?
  Can I so narrow sense but that in life
  Soul still exceeds it?

In _Dîs Aliter Visum_, the assertion

  What's whole, can increase no more,
  Is dwarfed and dies, since here's its sphere;

has especial reference to love,

  The sole spark from God's life "at strife"
  With death, so, sure of range above
  The limits here.

but there is a recognition of the general principle that that work alone
is worth beginning here and now, which "cannot grow complete," and which
"heaven (not earth) must finish." Even where, as in _Rabbi Ben Ezra_,
Browning lays strongest emphasis upon "the unity of life"; where age is
regarded as the completion of the physical life begun in youth, the
question is put, and left unanswered:

      Thy body at its best,
  How far can it project thy soul on its lone way?

These years of mortal life are to be devoted to the best use, so that it
shall not be possible to say that "soul helps flesh more, now, than flesh
helps soul." Nevertheless, the final result is to be that man, in yielding
his physical life, passes

      A man, for aye removed
  From the developed brute; a god though in the germ.

It cannot be denied that the Bishop is taking a distinctly lower position
than that suggested by any of the theories thus advanced. Nevertheless, he
holds himself, and probably with reason, to be upon higher ground than
that occupied by his critic. Recognizing his incapacity for experiencing
the enthusiasm of a Luther, he does not, therefore, feel constrained to
adopt the coldly critical attitude of a Strauss. In his own words--

  My business is not to remake myself,
  But make the absolute best of what God made. (ll. 355-356.)

So Luigi, in calculating his fitness for the office of assassin assigned
him, is found reckoning his very insignificance as of greater worth, under
the given conditions, than his strength--extending his philosophy in a
general application to human life.

  Every one knows for what his excellence
  Will serve, but no one ever will consider
  For what his worst defect might serve: and yet
  Have you not seen me range our coppice yonder
  In search of a distorted ash? I find
  The wry, spoilt branch, a natural, perfect bow.[58]

There is a possible vocation in life for a Blougram as for a Luther.

IV. Admitting then the wide difference between the ideal life proposed by
his critics, and the practical life which he has himself adopted, with
line 144 the Bishop passes to a consideration of the possibility of
effecting any form of reconciliation between the two theories. What
restrained his college friend from seeking the position occupied by his
comrade? What but his incapacity for belief, or, more accurately speaking,
his incapacity for accepting any fixed and markedly defined creed. This
difficulty the Bishop assumes himself to share: his faith is relative
rather than absolute; hence, having adopted the position of unbelievers,
so-called, the question remains, how may each in his several station, lead
a life consistent with such profession? The prelate holds that to preserve
a fixed attitude of unbelief is a feat of even greater difficulty than
that of maintaining the opposed position of faith--neither being in fact
absolutely and unalterably defined. It is easy enough for the onlooker to
imagine that the creed of the Church is a matter straightforward and
unperplexing for those living within the fold, admitting of no
questioning, no error; faith or unfaith; no half measures possible. Not
so; even within the Church the believer has his difficulties wherewith to
contend, his doubts, his hesitations.

                                  That way
  Over the mountain, which who stands upon
  Is apt to doubt if it be meant for road;
  While, if he views it from the waste itself,
  Up goes the line there, plain from base to brow,
  Not vague, mistakeable! what's a break or two
  Seen from the unbroken desert either side? (ll. 197-203.)

The Bishop would go yet further, and suggest that the inevitable doubts
and questionings of the earnest believer are in themselves but a means of
strengthening faith: this being so, what should restrain him from entering
the Church's fold?

  What if the breaks themselves should prove at last
  The most consummate of contrivances
  To train a man's eye, teach him what is faith?
  And so we stumble at truth's very test! (ll. 205-208.)

Since consistent unbelief is at least as impossible as consistent faith,
the conclusion follows that life must be either one of "faith diversified
by doubt," or of "doubt diversified by faith." Well, he has chosen one,
let Gigadibs enjoy the other--if he can.

V. Which life is preferable, that which calls the chess-board white, the
life of faith (in so far as faith is possible); or that which calls the
chess-board black, the life of doubt? The predominating (though by no
means absolute) influence of belief or of unbelief, determines the lines
on which character and life alike shall develop. Now, the Bishop asserts
that for him belief will bring, nay, has indeed brought, what he most
desires in life--"power, peace, pleasantness, and length of days." If
Gigadibs suggests that in his case unbelief will bring the satisfaction
which belief affords his companion of the dinner-table, then the Bishop
demurs. The faith of which he makes profession is calculated to meet all
exigencies--faith is in short his "waking life." The scepticism of the
journalist is, on the contrary, void of all practical utility. Should he
wish to live consistently he must cut himself off from those everyday
demands of life to which faith is an absolute requisite. He must "live to
sleep." And here the Bishop emphasizes an obvious, though not commonly
recognized fact--a powerful argument in favour of faith--in the abstract,
at least. He who professes himself a sceptic in matters spiritual, is yet
compelled to the exercise of faith in each act of practical life. Mutual
confidence abolished between man and man, business transactions become
impossible, and mercantile activity is brought to a standstill. Belief
involved in matters such as these, must, would the sceptic prove
consistent, be cast overboard with the other faiths of his childhood: and
the active man of the world becomes "bed-ridden." Amongst the temporal
advantages which the Bishop accounts as resulting from his profession,
first rank is accorded "the world's estimation, which is half the fight,"
to gain which nothing less than a positive confession of unswerving faith
is required. Hence circumstances have forced from him the assertions:

                  Friends,
  I absolutely and peremptorily
  Believe! (ll. 243-245.)

         *       *       *       *       *

                      I say, I see all,
  And swear to each detail the most minute
  In what I think a Pan's face--you, mere cloud:
  I swear I hear him speak and see him wink,
  For fear, if once I drop the emphasis,
  Mankind may doubt there's any cloud at all. (ll. 866-871.)

The world has decided that with regard to

  Certain points, left wholly to himself,
  When once a man has arbitrated on,
  ... he must succeed there or go hang. (ll. 289-291.)

And of the most important of these "points" is

  The form of faith his conscience holds the best,
  Whate'er the process of conviction was. (ll. 296-297.)

The Roman Catholic faith is that in which the Bishop was born and
educated. It had been decided from childhood that he should become a
priest: hence his choice of vocation. And this faith is, for him, one in
which power temporal, as well as spiritual, puts forth its claims. Its
undaunted champion may assert "I have loved justice and hated iniquity,
therefore I die in exile," but in drawing the distinction between "Peter's
creed" and that of Hildebrand, Blougram recognizes by implication the
political aspect of the cause for which the struggle thus closing had been
sustained.

VI. If then, in satisfaction of the demands of those uncompromising
advocates of truth of whom Gigadibs is representative, the prelate of the
nineteenth century shall renounce his position as confessor of the creed
of the eleventh, in what rank of life may he take his stand? From what
career may faith be, without injurious effects, wholly excluded? For if
faith, to merit its title, is to be unmixed with doubt, equally must
unbelief be unalloyed in quality. A life apart from faith? That of
Napoleon? If so, then does the critic claim that Napoleon shares with him
the "common primal element of unbelief," belief being an impossibility.
Yet to such an admission the Corsican's whole career would give the lie.
Whatever the character of the faith which sustained him, faith there was,
sufficient to lead him on to colossal deeds: his trust may have been
"crazy," "God knows through what, or in what"; but to all intents and
purposes it was faith, possessing the essential element of faith, _life_,
and the inspiration of life:

                                      It's alive
  And shines and leads him, and that's all we want.

But to the Bishop such a life would have been impossible, since he has not
the clue to Napoleon's faith. "The noisy years" would not have offered him
his ideal, even were this life all. And he does not himself believe that
this life _is_ all: although he will not assert that to him a future state
of existence is matter of absolute certainty. If the career of "the
world's victor" is not then possible without faith of some kind, what of
that of the artist, of the poet? With a return to the earlier cynical
recognition of his own limitations, the Bishop enquires of what use an
attempt on his part to emulate Shakespeare when endowed by nature with
neither dramatic nor poetic faculty? Nevertheless he finds that he has
much in life which Shakespeare would have been glad to possess. The author
of _Hamlet_ and of _Othello_ might in truth enjoy the good things of earth
by the mere exercise of imagination; yet, strange anomaly, he built
himself

  The trimmest house in Stratford town;
  Saves money, spends it, owns the worth of _things_.

Even a Shakespeare, then, may be more or less of a materialist. Thus the
successful churchman who has attained the object of his ambition, whose
life is one of pleasantness and peace, may with confidence, turning to
the poet, ask him--

  If this life's all, who wins the game?

VII. If, however, the existence of another life _is_ to be recognized; if
belief is to be allowed to take the place of scepticism, then the face of
the argument is at once changed, and the Bishop is as ready as is his
critic to admit that enthusiasm is the grandest inspiration of human
nature. But he is--or so he would have his listener believe--no more
capable of the enthusiastic faith of Luther than of the strategic
achievements of Napoleon or the dramatic creations of Shakespeare.
Nevertheless, the negations of the sceptic's creed bear for him no
attraction. In either case remains the risk that faith or absence of faith
may prove error. The uncertainty on both sides being equal, it is _not_ as
well to be Strauss as Luther. Better even the mere desire for belief in
the story of the Gospels, than a dispassionately critical attempt to
reconcile discrepencies in that which has no personal interest for the
enquirer: the one means spiritual vitality, the other stagnation.

VIII. With line 647, once more reverting to his earlier demonstration of
the impossibility of a "pure faith," the Bishop would submit that the
Divine Presence is veiled rather than revealed by Nature, until such time
as man shall have become capable of being "confronted with the truth of
him." But what of the mediaeval days, "that age of simple faith"? Were men
the better for their simplicity of belief? By no means, replies the
casuist of the nineteenth century, whose faith "means perpetual unbelief."
The simple faith proved itself unequal to the task of inspiring a life of
outward morality: men could and did

                Lie, kill, rob, fornicate
  Full in beliefs face

Rather the lifelong struggle with doubt, than this childish credulity
empty of practical result. And in spite of his doubts, Blougram holds his
faith "sufficient," since it just suffices to keep the doubts in check.
Nevertheless he will not incur the risk of shaking unduly such faith as he
possesses. He must not, therefore, begin to question even the most
questionable of ecclesiastical miracles. Whilst he cannot trust himself to
criticize things spiritual, he may yet prevent himself from taking the
first step in that direction. And here Browning has been accused of
implying that the Roman Catholic Church demands of its members acceptance
of miracles, such as that held to affect the blood of S. Januarius,
referred to as "the Naples' liquefaction." The Bishop is obviously
intended to suggest no universal obligation; with him the matter is purely
personal. He has not, as he has already admitted, sufficient confidence in
the calibre of his faith to allow reason to step in and question the
reliability of that which he would fain hold implicitly as truth. He fears
to take the first step on the road of criticism which ends in the
definition of God as "the moral order of the universe." Is not this,
allowing for the assumed scepticism of the Bishop, consistent with what we
find Cardinal Wiseman writing of his experiences in the early days of
struggle with doubts and questionings which cost him so much? Thus he
writes to a nephew twenty years after the worst of the conflict was over;
"During the struggle the simple submission of faith is the only remedy.
Thoughts against faith must be treated at the time like temptations
against any other virtue--put away--though in cooler moments they may be
safely analysed and unravelled."[59]

In conclusion, the prelate emphatically reasserts the _practical_
superiority of his choice of a career over that of this particular
sceptic, since it is in fact impossible for the journalist to live his
life of negation. He obeys the dictates of reason only where these do not
run counter too markedly to the prejudices of others: there he is forced
to yield to some extent. Thus he "grazes" through life, with "not one
lie," escaping the censure of his fellow men, but not gaining their esteem
or admiration, essentials to the happiness of his companion. So the Bishop
remains victorious on all counts, and emphasizes the superiority of his
position by bestowing upon his guest practical proof in the "three words"
of introduction to publishers in London, Dublin, or New York, securing

  Such terms as never [he] aspired to get
  In all our own reviews and some not ours.

IX. A few supplementary observations upon those points at which the
Apologist touches the firmer ground which he recognizes as existing
beneath the surface on which he bases his defence. That he is not entirely
satisfied with the conditions of his existence is obvious from the
character of the apology, which suggests, from time to time, thoughts
higher than those to which he gives direct utterance. Opportunist as he
would present himself to be, lines 693-698, are unmistakably the
expression of inmost experience--

          When the fight begins within himself,
  A man's worth something. God stoops o'er his head,
  Satan looks up between his feet--both tug--
  He's left, himself, i' the middle: the soul wakes
  And grows. Prolong that battle through his life!
  Never leave growing till the life to come!

It is here almost as if Browning cannot restrain the expression of his own
personal feeling, so markedly characteristic is this passage of his
general teaching. That which holds good of all struggle is applicable
also to the contest between faith and doubt. That implicit faith of
mediaeval times, which exerted too little influence on practical life, was
in character less virile, a factor less potent for good than is the
Bishop's own limited belief, constantly assailed by doubt. Good
strengthened by the contest with evil, faith increased by the conflict
with doubt. The creed of Browning, in brief:

  I shew you doubt, to prove that faith exists.
  The more of doubt, the stronger faith, I say,
  If faith o'ercomes doubt. How I know it does?
  By life and man's free will, God gave for that! (ll. 602-605.)

         *       *       *       *       *

  Let doubt occasion still more faith. (l. 675.)

Words recalling Tennyson's reference to the spiritual struggles of a more
finely tempered nature than that of Blougram:

  He fought his doubts and gather'd strength,
    He would not make his judgment blind,
    He faced the spectres of the mind
  And laid them: thus he came at length

  To find a stronger faith his own.[60]

And the Bishop may not unjustly claim

  The sum of all is--yes, my doubt is great,
  My faith's still greater, then my faith's enough. (ll. 724-725.)

These higher utterances, intermingled as they are with the openly
expressed tenets of the opportunist; whilst testifying most clearly to the
genius of Browning in its penetrative comprehension of human nature, that
admixture of noble aspiration and base compromise; find their counterpart
in the memorable advice of Polonius to Laertes, constituted for the main
part of prudential maxims regulating the social comportment of the
successful worldling; then, almost suddenly, as it were, at the close,
breaking through to deeper ground and striking upon that unalterable
principle of life, of universal import, of inexhaustible illuminative
power, since it treats only of that which is in its essence infinite--

                To thine ownself be true;
  And it must follow, as the night the day,
  Thou canst not then be false to any man.

Though the life which the Bishop defends may not be the highest measured
by the standard of his own ideal, yet, "truth is truth, and justifies
itself in undreamed ways." And there _is_ truth in the recognition that
the faith to which he looks for inspiration and guidance is a faith barely
capable of holding its own in face of the battalion of assailant doubts.
It may yet be that "the dayspring's faith" shall finally crush "the
midnight doubt." Some solution of the problems of life must be sought, and
why should that alone be rejected which alone offers a satisfactory clue?
There is perhaps no finer passage in Browning, certainly none more
melodious, than that in which Blougram, after comparing the relative
positions of faith and unbelief as influencing life, concludes with this
query.

  Just when we are safest, there's a sunset-touch,
  A fancy from a flower bell, some one's death,
  A chorus-ending from Euripides,--
  And that's enough for fifty hopes and fears
  As old and new at once as nature's self,
  To rap and knock and enter in our soul,
  Take hands and dance there, fantastic ring,
  Round the ancient idol, on his base again,--
  The grand Perhaps! We look on helplessly.
  There the old misgivings, crooked questions are--
  This good God,--what he could do, if he would,
  Would, if he could--then must have done long since:
  If so, when, where and how? Some way must be,--
  Once feel about, and soon or late you hit
  Some sense, in which it might be, after all.
  Why not, "The Way, the Truth, the Life?" (ll. 182-197.)

It must be left to the individual decision to acquit or condemn the
Bishop. The decision may perhaps depend upon the acceptance or rejection
of the alternative, "Whole faith or none?" And "whole faith" as defined by
the Apology is that which accepts all things, from the existence of a God
down to the latest ecclesiastical miracle. Such an attitude is possible
only to the uncritical mind. The spheres of faith and reason are not
identical. The childlike intelligence may receive without question or
effort of faith all that is offered it of things spiritual. It sees no
cause for question, hence doubt does not arise. The logical and critical
faculties have not been developed. But in the mind of the thinker, the
logician, the metaphysician, reason will assert itself; judgment will not
be blindfolded. If the postulates of faith are capable of proof by reason,
then is faith no longer necessary; its sphere is usurped by reason which
has become all-sufficient. To the man, therefore, whose intellect
questions, analyses, dissects truths as they present themselves to him, a
proportionately stronger faith is a necessity: the doubts so arising
being, "the most consummate of contrivances to teach men faith."

Having once satisfied the insistent yearning of a nature which declares, I
...

  want, am made for, and must have a God
  ... No mere name
  Want, but the true thing with what proves its truth,
  To wit, a relation from that thing to me,
  Touching from head to foot--which touch I feel. (ll. 846-850.)

(With this compare Mr. W. Ward on Cardinal Wiseman, "his own early doubts
... had been the alternative to a passionate, mystical, and absorbing
faith.") This relation having been attained, the speaker is prepared

  To take the rest, this life of ours.

Faith in the greatest having been assured, faith in that which is less may
or may not follow. He who feels in touch with the Divine may well endure
the existence of doubts and questionings inevitable in matters of less
vital import. To the child "who knows his father near" tears are not an
unalloyed bitterness; or, to adopt the Bishop's own simile, so be it the
path leads to the mountain top, a break or two by the way matters little.



LECTURE IV

CHRISTMAS EVE AND EASTER DAY (i)



LECTURE IV

CHRISTMAS EVE AND EASTER DAY (i)


No poems of Browning's have probably excited more widely-spread interest
(the question of admiration being set aside) than those which we have
before us for consideration in this and the two following Lectures. The
interest so excited is due, one believes, less to artistic merit than to
the character of the subjects treated--unfailing in their attraction for
the speculative tendencies of the human intellect. The form in which they
now make appeal is no longer identical with that in which they presented
themselves when _Christmas Eve and Easter Day_ appeared in the middle of
the last century: fifty years hence the embodiment of thoughts thus
suggested may well differ yet more widely from that obtaining at the
present day. Nevertheless, beneath all external variations, that which is
essentially permanent remains: and in this enduring interest of subject
inevitably subsists the immortality of that literary work, whether poetry
or prose, in which it has found, or is destined to find, a vehicle of
expression. If it were permissible to suggest a division where the author
clearly intended no division should be, it might on the foregoing
hypothesis be reasonable to prognosticate for _Easter Day_ a more enduring
interest than for the companion poem; since, whilst the dramatic
attraction is less powerful than in _Christmas Eve_, the treatment of
subject goes deeper, and is more independent of temporary accessaries. In
a memorable phrase Professor Dowden has defined the subjects of the two
poems as "the spiritual life individual, and the spiritual life
corporate."[61] Both indeed deal with faith in its relation to life: the
first with faith as found incorporated in typical religious communities of
the civilized world; the second with faith as it makes direct appeal to
the individual apart from the influence of external formulae. The one
aspect of the subject is obviously regarded by Browning as complementary
to the other. "Easter Day" is essential to the completion of "Christmas
Eve." Both poems were originally published in one volume (1850), and still
remain united by the joint title standing at the head of both. Individual
faith is necessary to the vitality of faith corporate. The considerations
engaging the attention of the soliloquist of _Christmas Eve_ are confined
to a decision as to which of the forms of creed presented for choice shall
receive his adherence; or whether it may be justly yielded to that which
he finally accounts no creed, the theory of life based upon the teaching
of the Professor of Göttingen? In _Easter Day_ the debate in the mind of
the speaker goes deeper yet, and relates mainly to the difficulties
attendant upon a practical and consistent acceptance of Christian belief
in its simplest form: an acceptance involving a necessary reconstruction
of life on the lines of faith. In another sense also are the two poems
complementary. As indicated by the sequence of names in the title, the
love and universal tolerance suggested by the Peace and Goodwill of
Christmas find their fuller development, their essential, practical
outcome in the personal faith, implying a personal acceptance of the
sacrifice of which Easter Day marks the triumphant culmination. Hence the
more notable _asceticism_, if we are so to term it, of the second poem as
compared with the first. Rightly, he who would fain be a Christian stands
in awe before

  The all-stupendous tale,--that Birth,
  That Life, that Death! (_E. D._, ll. 233-234.)

Thus in _Easter Day_ is to be found no trace of that "easy tolerance" in
matters spiritual which suggests itself--only, however, to be finally
rejected--to the soliloquist of _Christmas Eve_ as the result of his
night's experiences. But a comparison of the two poems will be more
satisfactorily made after a brief separate consideration of each in this
and Lecture V. Lecture VI will be mainly occupied with a discussion of
criticisms relating to both, as well as to the question of vital
importance touching Browning's own position--How far must the conclusions
of either or both be regarded as dramatic in character?

From a merely artistic point of view _Christmas Eve_ presents its own
peculiar interest. Having once read it, in whatever degree our minds may
have become impressed by its theological or dogmatic arguments, externals
have been so forcibly presented, that Zion Chapel and the common outside
"at the edge of which the Chapel stands," always thereafter bear for us a
curious kind of familiarity similar to that which attaches itself to
remembered haunts of our childish days. The first three Sections of the
Poem contain what may certainly be classed amongst the most grimly
realistic descriptions in English literature. It may, indeed, be objected
that these opening stanzas are _perilously_ realistic in character where
poetry is concerned, fitted rather for the pages of Dickens or of Gissing
than for their present position.

                        The fat weary woman,
  Panting and bewildered, down-clapping
    Her umbrella with a mighty report,
  Grounded it by me, wry and flapping,
    A wreck of whalebones.

Then "the many-tattered little old-faced peaking sister-turned-mother,"
"the sickly babe with its spotted face," and the

  Tall yellow man, like the Penitent Thief,
  With his jaw bound up in a handkerchief. (ll. 48-82.)

In short, read the second Section in its entirety. Such description is
certainly not "poetic." But Browning knew well what he was doing.
Influenced doubtless by his love of striking effects, we cannot but feel
that he makes the unpleasing characteristics of the congregation assembled
within the walls of Zion Chapel the more repellant, that the transition
from the mundane to the divine may strike the reader with greater force.
From the flock sniffing

                        Its dew of Hermon
  With such content in every snuffle.

the soliloquist of the poem calls us to follow him as he "flings out of
the little chapel"; and with Section IV we have passed into the boundless
waste of the common, where is

                  A lull in the rain, a lull
    In the wind too; the moon ... risen
  [Which] would have shone out pure and full,
    But for the ramparted cloud-prison,
  Block on block built up in the West. (ll. 185-189.)

The scene thus outlined prepares us for the culmination of Section VI.

  For lo, what think you? suddenly
  The rain and the wind ceased, and the sky
  Received at once the full fruition
  Of the moon's consummate apparition.
  The black cloud-barricade was riven,
  Ruined beneath her feet, and driven
  Deep in the West; while, bare and breathless,
    North and South and East lay ready
  For a glorious thing that, dauntless, deathless,
    Sprang across them and stood steady.
  'Twas a moon-rainbow, vast and perfect.

         *       *       *       *       *
         *       *       *       *       *

  But above night too, like only the next,
    The second of a wondrous sequence,
    Reaching in rare and rarer frequence,
  Till the heaven of heavens were circumflexed,
  Another rainbow rose, a mightier,
  Fainter, flushier and flightier,--
  Rapture dying along its verge. (ll. 373-399.)

So the poet leads us to the climax--to the silence awaiting the answer to
the speaker's query

  Oh, whose foot shall I see emerge? (l. 400.)

Then follow Sections VII and VIII, revealing the vision.

  The too-much glory, as it seemed,
  Passing from out me to the ground,
  Then palely serpentining round
  Into the dark with mazy error.

         *       *       *       *       *

  All at once I looked up with terror.
  He was there.
  He himself with his human air.
  On the narrow pathway, just before.

But the writer keeps strictly within the bounds of reverence:

  I saw the back of him, no more. (ll. 424-432.)

This treatment in itself may, I believe, be not unjustly taken as
indicative of Browning's devotional attitude towards the subject. When, in
Section IX, the face is turned upon the narrator, he but records

  So lay I, saturate with brightness. (l. 491.)

Where, in _Easter Day_, the description of the Divine Presence is given
(xix, l. 640, _et seq._), it is suggested with an awe and vagueness which
certainly narrow the conception to no material presentation.

In addition to this vividness of contrast between the first three and the
following Sections, the realistic force with which the poem opens has a
yet further result. The uncompromising character of the realism opens the
way for a more readily accorded credence in the subsequent events of the
night. He who describes the vision has likewise seen the congregation in
Zion Chapel. When he "flung out" of the meeting-house, his mood was
certainly not indicative of imaginative idealism or mystic contemplation.
He is in a frame of mind little likely to prove unduly susceptible to
supernatural influences. A realization of this mental attitude is
essential to a fair estimate of the line of argument throughout the poem.

I. Sections I, II, and III are thus occupied with the description of the
Chapel and the congregation gathered within its walls, of the preacher and
the spiritual food whereby he proposes to sustain the members of his
flock. And notice: the speaker has entered perforce, driven within the
sacred precincts by the violence of the elements. He is an outsider, and,
as such, prepared to assume the attitude of critic rather than of
sympathizer. And the severity of the criticism is intensified by physical
and intellectual repulsion at the scene before him. Hence he recognizes
all that is peculiarly objectionable in the special aspect of
non-conformity presented within the Chapel. He perceives at once (1) "the
trick of exclusiveness," and the consequent self-satisfaction induced; and
(2) the "fine irreverence" of the preacher in presenting the "treasure hid
in the Holy Bible" as "a patchwork of chapters and texts in severance, not
improved by [his] private dog's-ears and creases." He perceives "the
trick of exclusiveness" which causes the congregation to hold itself to be

  The men, and [that] wisdom shall die with [them],
  And none of the old Seven Churches vie with [them].

         *       *       *       *       *

  And, taking God's word under wise protection,
  Correct its tendency to diffusiveness. (ll. 107-112.)

Later, when freed from the physical irritation attendant on proximity to
this special collection of representatives of humanity, his prejudices are
sufficiently modified to allow of the perception that some explanation of
this exclusiveness is possible.

  These people have really felt, no doubt,
  A something, the motion they style the Call of them;
  And this is their method of bringing about

         *       *       *       *       *

  The mood itself, which strengthens by using. (ll. 238-245.)

The speaker is quite willing (when at a distance from the Chapel) to admit
this right of attempting a reproduction of that mood in which the original
conversion may have been effected. Nevertheless, he will _not_ admit the
right of the flock to shut the gate of the fold in the face of any
outsider seeking entrance. Still

  Mine's the same right with your poorest and sickliest
  Supposing I don the marriage vestiment. (ll. 119-120.)

In _Johannes Agricola in Meditation_ this personal satisfaction of the
Calvinist is presented in a still more extreme form.

  Ere suns and moons could wax and wane,
    Ere stars were thundergirt, or piled
    The heavens, God thought on me his child;
  Ordained a life for me, arrayed
    Its circumstances every one
  To the minutest.

And this pre-ordained object of the Divine Love may assert with
confidence--

  I have God's warrant, could I blend
    All hideous sins, as in a cup,
    To drink the mingled venoms up;
  Secure my nature will convert
      The draught to blossoming gladness fast.

Thus happiness assured, inevitable, for the elect. For those excluded from
the sacred number--

  I gaze below on hell's fierce bed,
    And those its waves of flame oppress,
    Swarming in ghastly wretchedness;
  Whose life on earth aspired to be
    One altar-smoke, so pure!--to win
  If not love like God's love for me,
    At least to keep his anger in;
    And all their striving turned to sin.

It is difficult to believe that the author of _this_ poem, at any rate,
would willingly have identified himself with the Calvinistic creed. To
Caliban, a creature so largely devoid of moral sense, we have, indeed,
seen him assigning a belief closely akin to that involved in the
meditations of Johannes, when he refers to the difference of the fates
irrevocably allotted by Setebos to himself and to Prospero; both theories
in curious contrast with the reflections of the Book of _Wisdom_: "For
thou lovest all the things that are, and abhorrest nothing which thou hast
made: for never wouldest thou have made anything, if thou hadst hated
it.... But thou sparest all, for they are thine, O Lord, thou lover of
souls."[62]

Thus is explained "the trick of exclusiveness." What of the "fine
irreverence" of the preacher? Here the success of the sermon as a means
of spiritual conviction, is held to be dependent upon the attitude of mind
of the listener.

  'Tis the taught already that profits by teaching. (l. 255.)

The method employed is only "abundantly convincing" to "those convinced
before." To the critic possessed of unprejudiced intellectual faculties,
the arbitrary collection of texts and chapters brought into connection by
the capricious choice of the preacher is deserving of condemnation as a
misrepresentation of the truth, by "provings and parallels twisted and
twined," which would draw from even the more obvious Old Testament
narrative proof of some doctrinal mystery of his creed--that Pharaoh
received a demonstration

  By his Baker's dream of Baskets Three,
  Of the doctrine of the Trinity. (ll. 230-233.)

Those of us who are inclined to reproach Browning for the severity of the
condemnation of Roman Catholic ritual ascribed to the soliloquist in
Section XI will do well to read again Sections I to IV, which assuredly
place the service of Zion Chapel in a far less attractive light than that
thrown upon the ceremony in progress beneath the dome of St. Peter's.

II. Thus the listener passes from the confines of the Chapel to the
limitless expanse of the common without: and the change in externals is
indicative also of that within. Whilst discerning the errors of preacher
and congregation, the critic has been blinded to the fact that he, too, is
equally removed from the spirit of love designed to prove the inspiring
principle of all forms of Christianity, however crude their mode of
expression. The soothing influence of Nature to which he has ever been
peculiarly susceptible, causes at once

                                  A glad rebound
  From the heart beneath, as if, God speeding me,
  I entered his church-door, nature leading me. (ll. 274-276.)

So he stands, recalling the visions of youth, when he "looked to these
very skies, probing their immensities," and "found God there, his visible
power." The power was unquestionable, a mere response to the evidence of
the senses; but reason, coming to the aid of sight, pointed to the
existence also of Love, "the nobler dower." The deduction is logical,
since the absence of Love at once imposes limitations to power otherwise
apparently infinite. The craving for love existent within the human heart
demands satisfaction, and if in this direction the Deity is _unable_ to
satisfy the needs of his creatures, man here surpasses his maker, the
creature the creator. Irresponsible power, not comprehensive of love, is
of the character of that exercised by Setebos according to the theory of
Caliban. Here man is seen endowed with gifts of heart and brain, to
exercise _through_ his own will, but _for_ the glory of his creator "as a
mere machine could never do." Power (in this place synonymous with force
combined with knowledge) may advance by degrees, not so Love. Love does
not admit of measurement, since it is by nature infinite. As with
eternity, so with Love. By no relative estimate of time can any possible
realization of eternity be approached; the sole result of any such attempt
at exposition being necessarily conducive to a wholly erroneous impression
on the mind, since that which is in its essence infinite admits of no
defined measure. Thus infinite Love remains infinite in spite of human
limitations. Whilst absolute truth remains, though the revelation to man
is gradual, so does Love remain unimpaired, though man may profit by or
abuse it.

  'Tis not a thing to bear increase
  As power does: be love less or more
  In the heart of man, he keeps it shut
  Or opes it wide, as he pleases, but
  Love's sum remains what it was before. (ll. 322-326.)

Thus S. Augustine: "Do heaven and earth then contain Thee, since Thou
fillest them?... The vessels which are full of Thee do not confine Thee,
though they should be shattered, Thou wouldest not be poured out."[63]

To sum up: Where Power alone was at first discernible, in the wonderful
care manifested in the smallest creation, "in the leaf, in the stone," the
work of Love eventually became equally clear. For a similar expression of
Browning's more immediately personal faith we have only to turn to his
latest published work, _The Reverie of Asolando_.

  From the first Power was--I knew.
    Life has made clear to me,
  That, strive but for closer view,
    Love were as plain to see.

In simple faith in this all-prevailing Providence, in a recognition of the
immanence of the Divine Love, the critic of Zion Chapel believes himself
to have found the highest form of worship. Before the night is ended he
is, however, to learn differently.

The Vision of Sections VII to IX renders still more forcible the
revelation already begun with the escape from the Chapel--that the Love
which may be duly worshipped alone in spirit and in truth yet recognizes
the feeblest manifestation of either in the worshipper: and that the
nearest approach to union with the Divine Love is to be sought in a fuller
and more immediate response to the human. And it is worthy of notice that
the Vision does not reveal itself within the confines of Zion Chapel, the
abode of religious exclusiveness and intolerance; only when the freer
atmosphere of Nature has been reached.

III. Rome, St. Peter's. With the opening of the next division of the Poem
(Sections X to XII), we find the man who has been anxious that the divine
worship shall be celebrated in beauty, as well as in spirit and in truth,
again an onlooker: waiting without the walls of St. Peter's, "that
miraculous Dome of God,"--waiting without, yet with eye "free to pierce
the crust of the outer wall," and perceive the crowd thronging the
cathedral

                      In expectation
  Of the main-altar's consummation.

And here is to be found all that was wanting to the bare whitewashed
interior of "Mount Zion" with its "lath and plaster entry," with "the
forms burlesque, uncouth" of its worship. Here the vast building

  Ablaze in front, all paint and gilding,
  With marble for brick, and stones of price
  For garniture of the edifice. (ll. 538-540.)

In place of the "snuffle" of the Methodist congregation and the "immense
stupidity" of the utterances of the preacher is the silence which may be
felt of that solemn moment preceding the elevation, when "the organ
blatant holds his breath.... As if God's hushing finger grazed him." (ll.
574-575.) Whatever the sympathies of spectator or author, no lines in the
entire poem are more impressive for the reader than those which follow:

  Earth breaks up, time drops away,
  In flows heaven, with its new day
  Of endless life, when He who trod,
  Very man and very God,
  This earth in weakness, shame and pain,
  Dying the death whose signs remain
  Up yonder on the accursed tree,--
  Shall come again, no more to be
  Of captivity the thrall,
  But the one God, All in all,
  King of kings, Lord of lords,
  As His servant John received the words,
  "I died, and live for evermore!" (ll. 581-593.)

The conviction is almost inevitable that here something beyond even the
power of dramatic genius has to be reckoned with; that some spirit more
nearly akin to intimate personal sympathy served as inspiration of this
passage.

Carried away by the infection of the prevailing enthusiasm, the spectator
questions as to the cause which has led him to remain without upon the
threshold-stone of the cathedral, whilst He who has led him hither is
within. And the answer which Reason returns is, that whilst the Divine
Wisdom may be capable of discerning the faith and love existent beneath
the outward imagery, yet with "mere man" the case is otherwise; hence for
him to disregard the inward promptings of his nature is dangerous to his
spiritual welfare. Thus the decision:

  I, a mere man, fear to quit
  The due God gave me as most fit
  To guide my footsteps through life's maze,
  Because himself discerns all ways
  Open to reach him. (ll. 621-625.)

For him to whom the bare walls of Zion Chapel have proved repellant, the
glories of St. Peter's may conceivably be fatally attractive in their
appeal to the senses: such, reasonably or unreasonably, is at least the
belief of the soliloquist. The argument of this eleventh Section is
perhaps the most difficult to follow satisfactorily of all those leading
to the ultimate choice of creed. Before attempting to estimate the worth
of the conclusions, it may be well to trace briefly the line of thought
by which they appear to have been reached.

(1) The spectator, at first struck by the glory of outward display as a
means of still imposing upon the world "Rome's gross yoke," is yet led,
through proximity to the Divine Presence, whilst seeing the error, "above
the scope of error" to realize the love. And further, to admit (2) that
the love inspiring the worshippers of St. Peter's on this Christmas Eve of
1849 was also "the love of those first Christian days," a love which did
not hesitate to sacrifice all which might interpose between itself and the
Divine Love whence it emanated. When

  The antique sovereign Intellect
  Which then sat ruling in the world,
  ... was hurled
  From the throne he reigned upon. (ll. 650-653.)

Subsequently followed all the wealth of poetry and rhetoric, of sculpture
and painting sometime the pride of the classical world. Love, and it _was_
Love which was acting, drew her children aside from these intellectual and
sensuous gratifications, and pointed to the Crucified. She thus, says the
soliloquist, had demanded of her votaries vast sacrifices which might
reasonably have been held essential in the early days of Christianity. We
have already seen, indeed, how empty of ultimate satisfaction had been
these same intellectual pleasures to Cleon: how obviously light would have
been, to him, the sacrifice involved in an acceptance of any faith which
should afford a definite and reasonable hope for a future state of
existence: how small a price would have been the loss of life temporal in
view of the gain of life eternal. (3) But the critic, whilst admitting the
sublimity of the sacrifice of the first century of the Christian era,
deprecates the demand made for its repetition in the nineteenth. It is
time for Love's children not only to "creep, stand steady upon their
feet," but to "walk already. Not to speak of trying to climb" (ll.
697-699). The limitations imposed upon the intellect and its free
development should long since have been discarded. (4) Yet, though
recognizing this to the full, the speaker will not condemn one of those,
however mistaken, whose foreheads bear "_lover_ written above the earnest
eyes of them." These worshippers within St. Peter's need some satisfaction
of the demands made upon their nature by an inherent craving for beauty;
and yet have they sacrificed for Love's sake all that they might have
found of intense enjoyment in unfettered life. Dwelling amidst the glories
of Rome, ancient and modern, they yet turn from the "Majesties of art
around them." Faith struggles to suppress intellectual and artistic
cravings; and these, at length subdued, they "offer up to God for a
present." Denied in the world without the sensuous satisfaction for which
they yearn, they would seek it in the display attendant on the Roman
Catholic ritual. This is the view of the man who believes himself to be
the true "lover" of God, capable of worshipping in spirit and in truth.

How far is he justified in such criticism? Unquestionably he is
prejudiced. There exists an unconscious mental bias towards that creed
which he is represented as finally accepting; and there is little doubt
that it is Browning's intention to expose the prejudice. The failure in
appreciation of the ceremonial at St. Peter's arises from inability to
apprehend beauty in the outward accessories of the service of which he is
witness. To his nature it would appear that the demand upon the sensuous
side is not so strong as he imagines when he expresses the fear of
entering the cathedral and joining the worshipping crowd. He seems,
moreover, to ignore, or to pass over lightly, the productions of
Christian art, whether in painting or in the music of religious ritual,
when he inquires (ll. 681, _et seq._):

  Love, surely, from that music's lingering,
  Might have filched her organ-fingering,
  Nor chosen rather to set prayings
  To hog-grunts, praises to horse-neighings.

He ignores, too, the value of symbolism in the later mocking allusion to
this experience as "buffoonery--posturings and petticoatings."

In the main line of thought, however, beginning with Section XI, and
developed more fully in XII, is treated no imaginary danger, but that
bound inevitably to attend on any religious system in which authority is
paramount. The error attributed to the advocates of the Roman Catholic
creed is that of rendering the head too completely subservient to the
heart. Faith cannot indeed be acquired by any considerations of logic;
nevertheless, there is no necessity that Reason and Faith should prove
antagonistic forces. To the brain, as well as to the heart, must be
allowed scope for development. Hence the speaker represents that Church,
in which freedom of thought is limited, as interposing as an intermediary
between the conscience and the Divine influence. Such Church he regards as
having devoted its energies to the development of a single element or
faculty of human nature to the exclusion or limitation of the rest.
Nevertheless, in one direction there has been development to an
extraordinary degree: and Browning himself, as we have good reason to
know, would have been unlikely to criticize adversely this whole-hearted
devotion to a cause. For illustration the soliloquist employs that of the
sculptor who, without calculating the dimensions of his marble, devotes
his energies to the production of a perfect head and shoulders only. This,
though necessarily unfinished in actual performance, is far grander in
conception than a smaller and fully modelled figure; and the spectator is
free to seek elsewhere the completion of the unfinished statue in the work
of an artist complementary to that of the first. Thus the onlooker at St.
Peter's resolves to accept the provision there offered for the
"satisfaction of his love," then depart elsewhere--depart to seek the
completion of the statue--"that [his] intellect may find its share." And
it is noteworthy that the same critic, who condescends to the employment
of language such as that marking the references to the service of St
Peter's, ascribes to the Church of Rome the development of that element
which he esteems highest in human nature. Love is ever with the author of
_Christmas Eve_, as with the soliloquist, of worth immeasurably greater
than mere intellect.

IV. With Section XIII the critic of Zion Chapel passes once more into the
night in search of satisfaction for those demands of the intellect which
have been left unanswered at St. Peter's; and in Section XIV he is
represented as finding that which he seeks. Love and Faith to the
exclusion of intellectual development he has left in the cathedral at
Rome; Intellect without Love he meets in the Lecture Hall at Göttingen.
Believing himself to have learned the lesson that wherever even nominal
followers of Christ are to be found, there, too, is the Divine Presence,
he is now "cautious" how he "suffers to slip"

  The chance of joining in fellowship
  With any that call themselves his friends. (ll. 800-803.)

Hence, entering the Hall, he follows the course of the consumptive
Lecturer's reasoning on "the myth of Christ." As to this fable which
"Millions believe to the letter" he (the Lecturer) proposes to attempt the
work of discrimination between truth and legend.

(1) He reminds his audience, and justly, that it is well at times to pause
to inquire concerning the source of articles of their belief; historic
fact may become disguised or concealed by accretions of legendary
narrative gathered round it: by the various expositions assigned it by
commentators of different ages. (2) Having thus examined and freed his
"myth" from the misinterpretations of the early disciples, from later
additions and modifications; when all has been done he yet admits that the
residuum is well worthy of preservation.

  A Man!--a right true man, however,
  Whose work was worthy a man's endeavour. (ll. 876-877.)

Moreover

  Was _he_ not surely the first to insist on
  The natural sovereignty of our race? (ll. 888-889.)

As it were in startling comment upon the assertion of this natural
sovereignty, the Professor's further speech is interrupted by a fit of
coughing, and the listener avails himself of the opportunity thus offered
to leave the Hall.

Once more free to breathe the outer air his critical powers reassert
themselves, and he sees from a point of observation, sufficiently removed,
the relative effects of the excesses of the most widely differing forms of
Christianity and of that form of belief or of scepticism which denies the
divinity of the founder of the creed. His decision is given in favour of
superstition as opposed to scepticism.

  Truth's atmosphere may grow mephitic
  When Papist struggles with Dissenter,

         *       *       *       *       *

  Each, that thus sets the pure air seething,
  May poison it for healthy breathing--
  But the Critic leaves no air to poison. (ll. 898-909.)

Then follows the criticism of the Critic.

What has the lecturer, indeed, left to the followers of the Christ?

(1) Intellect? Is the possession of pure intellect to be accounted cause
for worship? Even so, others have taught morality as Christ taught it,
with the difference (and this surely an advantage from the critic's
standpoint) that these teachers have failed to assert of themselves that
to which Christ laid claim on his own behalf: that,

  He, the sage and humble,
  Was also one with the Creator. (ll. 922-923.)

(2) Worship of the intellect being thus disallowed, what then of the moral
worth of the Man Christ as admitted by the Lecturer? Is mere virtue,
however great in degree, sufficient to claim as of right for its possessor
the submission of his fellow men? Perfection of moral character being
allowed, is this adequate reason that the Christ should be held supreme
ruler of the race? To answer the question satisfactorily one of two
theories must be accepted: either "goodness" is of human "invention" or it
is a divine gift freely bestowed. If the first, the Professor's listener
holds that "worship were that man's fit requital" who should have proved
himself capable of exhibiting in his own life, _for the first time in the
world's history_, that which "goodness" really is. Recognizing, however,
the incontrovertible fact that moral worth was present in the world prior
to the foundation of Christianity, the so-called "invention" of goodness
resolves itself into a mere matter of definition, and the adjustment of
names to qualities already existent. In this case he who has achieved this
work is no more deserving of worship as the originator or creator of
goodness than is Harvey to be adjudged inventor of the circulation of the
blood. One is inclined here to question whether the speaker is not
carrying his argument beyond the point necessary to the exposure of the
weakness of the Lecturer's position as professed follower of a merely
human Christ. Whether or not this be so, he has succeeded in proving
logically untenable the first of the two hypotheses suggested in this
connection. What then of the second? If goodness is admittedly the direct
gift of God, if the founder of Christianity taught how best to preserve
such gift "free from fleshly taint"; then he merits indeed the title of
Saint, but no more transcendent honour, his powers differing in degree,
not in kind, from those of his fellow men: he was inspired, but as
Shakespeare was inspired. No immensity of virtue may effect the conversion
of human nature into the divine; and the man of supreme moral dignity, as
of marvellous intellectual capacity, remains man only; vastly, but yet
measurably, beyond his fellows; the position attained being one to which
it is possible that humanity may again attain, nay, which it may even
surpass in the future "by growth of soul." And this divine gift of
goodness may, moreover, necessarily be bestowed in accordance with the
divine will; hence, he who made this man Pilate may well make "this other"
Christ. Thus then, if the Prophet of Nazareth is to be regarded as mere
man, the Professor's argument breaks down following the adoption of either
hypothesis--that involving a divine or a human origin of goodness.

Is there any point at which the faith of the Christian may come into
contact with that of him who, whilst calling himself a follower of Christ,
by a denial of His divinity refuses credence to a direct assertion on the
part of his leader? To the Christian the main proof of divine inspiration
is the spark of divine light kindled within the human breast, that which
supplies motive for action, which instigates to practical application of
the good already recognized as good by the intelligence: not identical
with conscience (as is clear from line 1033), but the power which awakens
the activities of conscience. Here again a suggestion of Browning's usual
estimate of the relative worth of the intellect and the heart. The man
whose moral standard of life is most depraved is yet possessed of the
capacity for discriminating between good and evil; since such capacity
does not necessarily imply the co-existence of a life-giving faith, and
through faith alone may knowledge become of practical utility.

  Whom do you count the worst man upon earth?
  Be sure, he knows, in his conscience, more
  Of what right is, than arrives at birth
  In the best man's acts that we bow before. (ll. 1032-1035.)

To _know_ is not to _do_: a distinction akin to that drawn in the Epistle
of James[64] between intellectual credence and living faith--between
belief, the result of the acceptance of certain facts making inevitable
appeal to the intellect, and faith inspiring life, the ultimate results of
which are manifest in action. This distinction we find again strikingly
presented in parabolic form in _Shah Abbas_ of _Ferishtah's Fancies_.

The most marked lines of divergence between listener and lecturer would
appear then to be that mere abstract good, even morality personified, is
insufficient for the satisfaction of the demands of human nature: that the
life lived in Palestine did not denote a mere renewal of things old, a
more extended development of the good already existent in the world. It
introduced a new and more active principle of life, that to which all past
history had been leading up, that from which the future history of the
human race must take its starting point. _The revelation of God in man had
been made to men._ To sum up--

  Morality to the uttermost,
  Supreme in Christ as we all confess,
  Why need we prove would avail no jot
  To make him God, if God he were not?
  What is the point where himself lays stress?
  Does the precept run, "Believe in good,
  In justice, truth, now understood
  For the first time?"--or, "Believe in me,
  Who lived and died, yet essentially
  Am Lord of Life?" Whoever can take
  The same to his heart and for mere love's sake
  Conceive of the love,--that man obtains
  A new truth; no conviction gains
  Of an old one only, made intense
  By a fresh appeal to his faded sense. (ll. 1045-1059.)

These the lines of divergence. Are there none of approach? asks the
listener who is gradually learning from his night's experience to seek a
common bond of sympathy between himself and his fellow men, rather than an
increase of the repulsion so spontaneously awakened within the walls of
Zion Chapel. At Rome he took his share in the "feast of love," which
afforded little satisfaction to intellectual cravings; here he would fain
accept all that may accrue to him from the pursuit of learning apart from
love.

  Unlearned love was safe from spurning--
  Can't we respect your loveless learning? (ll. 1084-1085.)

Recognizing the zeal for truth which has instigated the critical
investigations of the lecturer, he is prepared, with a liberality of which
he is clearly sufficiently conscious, to allow to him and to his followers
such benefit as may be derived from the acceptance of "a loveless creed";
even conceding to them, so be it they still desire it, the name of
Christian, which he too bears. With generosity yet greater he will refrain
from all attempt to disturb that condition of stoical calm to which they
have at length attained, by pointing out to them the weaknesses of their
theory, which he has just so amply demonstrated to his own satisfaction.


V. Thus he leaves the lecture hall in a "genial mood of tolerance," of
which the conclusions of Section XIX are the outcome. The element of truth
existent in varying forms of creed, beneath all dissimilarities of outward
expression, has at length become recognizable; carrying with it the
prevision of that complete union ultimately to be effected before "the
general Father's throne." When "the saints of many a warring creed" shall
have learned

  That _all_ paths to the Father lead
  Where Self the feet have spurned.

Where

  Moravian hymn and Roman chant
  In one devotion blend;

and all

  Discords find harmonious close,
  In God's atoning ear.[65]

Of what nobler conception, it may be asked, is the human imagination
capable? Nevertheless, to certain natures (so holds the soliloquist,
clearly recognizing his own as of this calibre) there is danger lest this
generous comprehensiveness should prove inseparable from the "mild
indifferentism" fatal to action. Hence in Section XX, whilst engaged in
watching his

                  Foolish heart expand
  In the lazy glow of benevolence, (ll. 1154-1155.)

he is not surprised to perceive, in the token of the receding vesture,
indications of the divine disapproval of his position. And he is led to
the conclusion that not only for the individual worshipper must there be
some special form of creed best adapted to the individual needs of
temperament, but (as ll. 1158-1159 would appear to suggest) some
_absolute_ form of creed may possibly be discoverable. And to this
"single track":

  God, by God's own ways occult,
  May--doth, I will believe--bring back
  All wanderers. (ll. 1170-1172.)

Thus unity is attained, but with a suggestion of methods of attainment
other than those indicated at the close of Section XIX. The main
difference of intention between the two Sections would appear to be that
whilst here (XX) also ultimate unity is to be achieved through the divine
providence, yet something more is required of the individual believer than
a passive reliance on the assurance of this future fusion of creeds. And
further, the manifest and immediate duty being the discovery of the, for
him, "best way of worship," this once reached, he must rest satisfied with
no merely personal acceptance: the benefits resultant from his own
spiritual experiences are designed for a wider use, a more extended
service of human fellowship; he, too, may seek to "bring back wanderers to
the single track." Here again is perceptible one of Browning's prevailing
ideas. Never (I believe) is he to be found advocating any vast corporate
revolution for the amelioration of mankind: the advance of the race is to
be secured through the advance of individual members.

VI. As a practical result of the foregoing conclusions follow (in Section
XXII) a return to the Chapel, and an application to the special form of
worship therein celebrated, of the genial "glow of benevolence" already
kindling within the breast of the sometime critic. And here the dramatic
character of the poem becomes perhaps more strikingly obvious than
hitherto. By one or two able and characteristic strokes is suggested the
egotistical temperament of the soliloquist, with its susceptibility to
external influences, its inevitable tendency towards criticism. Even
though he has, as he deems, learnt from the night's experience the
valuable lesson of receiving "in meekness" the mode of worship simplest in
form and most spiritual in character, yet the language employed in lines
1310-1315 is that of no advocate of a kindly tolerance, but of an orthodox
and bigoted methodist. It is a part, so it would seem, of the dramatic
purpose, and of the mental analysis of which Browning was so fond, to thus
demonstrate to his readers how a reasoning and reflective being, possessed
of a certain amount of intellectual alertness, should enrol himself
amongst the members of a body whose pre-eminent characteristic to the
unsympathizing spectator appears that of a narrow dogmatic exclusivism,
combined with extreme intellectual limitations.

Nevertheless, in spite of practical result, very ably does the speaker in
Section XXII theoretically define the essence of true worship, the spirit
of devotion. Whilst human nature remains untranslated, and man is
possessed of physical perceptions, and of ratiocinative faculties, the
nasal intonation, and logical and grammatical lapses of the preacher,
though they may be condoned, can hardly be ignored. But to the seeker
after truth, so ardent should be the yearning towards the attainment of
the end, that all defects in the means should be cheerfully accepted. It
is perhaps not easy to put the case strongly enough, without going too far
on the other side, and ignoring the means absolutely, thus returning to
the position, already renounced by the soliloquist in Section V, where man
looks direct "through Nature to Nature's God." A condition which, whilst
unquestionably the highest and most purely spiritual, would appear to be
possible to a certain type of mind only, and that in moments of special
illumination. To the average temperament might arise from such a system
the danger lest, whilst dispensing with forms, the spirit should likewise
be forgotten; and worship should thus altogether cease. In accordance with
the capacity for growth inherent in man's nature, with his creed, as with
all else, must be development, if life is to be preserved. The means
appointed for his instruction may not be always those in most complete
adjustment with his inclinations; nevertheless let him not neglect those
vouchsafed him so long as all tend, however indirectly, towards the
attainment of the ultimate goal, the complete realization of Truth.
Seeking to gain for himself further knowledge of the Divine Will, let him
not lose sight of the end in a too critical consideration of the means.
What avails the thirsty traveller the splendour of the marble
drinking-cup, if so be that it is empty:

  Better have knelt at the poorest stream
  That trickles in pain from the straitest rift! (ll. 1284-1285.)

To the question of main import advanced in the present instance,

  Is there water or not to drink? (l. 1288.)

the latest comer to Zion Chapel replies in the affirmative; though he
would fain wish

                      The flaws were fewer
  In the earthen vessel, holding treasure
  Which lies as safe in a golden ewer. (ll. 1300-1302.)

We are inclined to ask, might he not, too, have returned an affirmative
answer in yet another relation, had he but regarded the celebrants of St.
Peter's in that spirit of tolerance with which he now condones the defects
of the Methodist preacher: since, on his own showing, there prevails in
Zion Chapel the jealous exclusivism resultant from spiritual pride. Was
not some valuable residuum of truth to be found in Rome? Surely so. But
had the soliloquist proved capable of giving this answer, with the change
of personal character thus indicated, would have been transformed, also,
the character of the entire poem.

The reason for his present choice he makes sufficiently clear. That form
of creed shall be his which takes into account the complexity of human
nature. The emotions (so he holds) alone received satisfaction at Rome;
intellectual development being checked. At Göttingen the intellect was
cultivated at the expense of the spiritual faculties. Now in the poverty
and ignorance of Zion Chapel he believes himself to discern provision,
however poor in quality, for all man's requirements and aspirations.
Immeasurably inferior to Rome in beauty of architectural form, in the
impressiveness of its ritual; incomparably below Göttingen in intellectual
attainment, it is yet in some sort superior to both alike. Superior to
Rome in that it allows scope for the development of the intellectual
capacity, coarse and poor as is the quality of the mental pabulum offered
by its minister. Superior to Göttingen in that the preacher would fain
afford some satisfaction to the emotional as well as to the intellectual
cravings of his congregation. To these poor "ruins of humanity," a
personal Saviour is a necessity:

              Something more substantial
  Than a fable, myth, or personification.

_Some one, not something_, who in the critical hour of life shall do for
him

                        What no mere man shall,
  And stand confessed as the God of salvation. (ll. 1322-1325.)

Clearly to the speaker, in spite of the objectionable character of the
surroundings, they secure a "comfort"--

  Which an empire gained, were a loss without. (ll. 1308-1309.)

Thus the choice is made in face of defects seemingly at first hopelessly
repellant. And in leaving the soliloquist of _Christmas Eve_ amidst the
Zion Chapel congregation, our conviction touching the future is based upon
grounds amply justifiable; that he may in spiritual development outgrow
the limits he has for the present assigned himself. Since, despite the
influences of prejudice and of bigotry yet remaining, he has already
proved capable of seeking a position whence, in his own words, direct
reference is made to Him "Who head and heart alike discerns." From such a
position, progress, expansion, as the law of life becomes, not only
possible, but inevitable, since the soul's outlook is at once freed from
limitations by the transference of contemplation

  From the gift ... to the giver,
  And from the cistern to the river,
  And from the finite to infinity,
  And from man's dust to God's divinity. (ll. 1012-1015.)

Such deductions as to the intention of _this_ poem are at least fully in
accordance with those suggestions of theories which we have so far
gathered from a consideration of other of Browning's works.



LECTURE V

CHRISTMAS EVE AND EASTER DAY (ii)



LECTURE V

CHRISTMAS EVE AND EASTER DAY (ii)

  How very hard it is to be
  A Christian!


Thus in the opening lines of _Easter Day_ is suggested the subject
occupying the entire poem: a consideration of the difficulty attendant
upon an acceptance of the Christian faith, sufficiently practical in
character to serve as the mainspring of life. The difficulty is not solved
at the close, since identical in form with the earlier assertion is the
final decision

          I find it hard
  To be a Christian. (ll. 1030-1031.)

Nevertheless, the nature of the position has been modified. The obstacles
in the way of faith are no longer regretted as a bar to progress, rather
are they welcomed as an impetus towards the increase of spiritual vitality
and growth. It is the work of the intervening reflections and resultant
deductions to effect this change, by supplying a reasonable hypothesis on
which to base an explanation of the existent conditions of life.

As with _Christmas Eve_, so here, for a full appreciation of the arguments
advanced, some understanding is essential of the character of the speaker.
It is at once obvious that he who finds it hard to be a Christian may not
be identified with the critic of the Göttingen lecturer: but, that no
loophole may be left for question, the statement is directly made in
Section XIV.

  On such a night three years ago,
  It chanced that I had cause to cross
  The common, where the chapel was,
  Our friend spoke of, the other day. (ll. 372-375.)

Later, in the same Section (ll. 398-418), a descriptive touch is supplied,
recalling curiously Browning's estimate of himself in _Prospice_.

  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.

Thus the first speaker in _Easter Day_ refers to his childish aversion to
uncertainty, even though uncertainty meant present safety.

              I would always burst
  The door ope, know my fate at first. (ll. 417-418.)

This then is the man, a fearless fighter, an uncompromising investigator
who, whilst he would "fain be a Christian," is yet bound to reject a mere
uncritical acceptance of the tenets of Christianity. Opposed to him in the
first twelve Sections is a second speaker to whom, somewhat strangely it
would seem, the designation sceptic has been applied. The title in its
virtual sense, is, indeed, justly applicable, but in the ordinary
acceptation might possibly prove misleading. It is a fact of common
experience that among professing Christians, of whatever form of creed,
are to be found those who, in that peculiar crisis of life when death
removes from sight those dearest to them, go back from the fundamental
tenets of a faith in which hitherto their confidence appeared to have
been unshaken. Even that main pillar of faith, a belief in the immortality
of the soul, lies temporarily shattered. Such failure suggests itself as
the result of an insufficiently considered acceptance of dogma; an
acceptance without question, rather than in spite of doubts and
questionings. This distinction we have seen Bishop Blougram drawing
between the position of the man who implicitly believes, since, his
logical and reasoning faculties being undeveloped or inactive, no cause
for question arises; and the position of him who, in the midst of
spiritual perplexity, makes "doubt occasion still more faith." To
Browning, with whom half-heartedness was the one unpardonable sin, this
so-called faith would necessarily be far more dangerous than downright
acknowledged scepticism. Hence the succeeding argument of _Easter Day_
becomes one, not between a pronounced sceptic and a would-be Christian,
but rather between two nominal Christians whose outward profession may be
similar but the motives inspiring it wholly at variance--This in
accordance with Browning's peculiar attraction towards problems involving
the establishment of connection between motive and action. As in _Bishop
Blougram's Apology_ his psychological analysis would reconcile two
apparently irreconcilable aspects of the mind of a prelate whose position
had perplexed the world. As by a method closely akin to this treatment, he
offers explanation of the presence, amongst the illiterate and bigoted
congregation of Zion Chapel, of a man whose intellectual capacity should
have led him to assume a position of wider tolerance: so here, too, he
would discover and reveal the link between the outward form of creed and
the widely differing spiritual acceptance of the same in two individual
cases.

I. The arguments of Sections I to XII are not always easy to follow
closely; but, in passing with Section XIII to the history of the Vision,
all obscurity vanishes, and we have no difficulty in tracing the line of
thought of the first speaker, resulting in his willing reconcilement to
the uncertainties inseparable from human life as at present constituted. A
brief attempt to follow the preceding course of argument will afford an
explanation of the speaker's position at the opening of Section XIII. (1)
The difficulty advanced at the outset of attaining to even a moderate
realization of the possibilities of the Christian life is ascribed by the
first speaker (at the close of Section I) to the essential indefiniteness
in things spiritual implied in the very suggestion of advance, of growth.
That which we believed yesterday to be the mountain-top proves to-day but
the vantage-ground for a yet higher ascent:

  And where we looked for crowns to fall,
  We find the tug's to come. (ll. 27-28.)

In reply, the second speaker admits the existence of difficulty, but of
one differing somewhat in character from that recognized by his
interlocutor. The Christian life were a sufficiently straightforward
matter, if belief pure and simple were possible: if, as he puts the case,
the relative worth of things temporal and eternal were once rendered clear
and unmistakable. Even martyrdom itself would then become as nothing to
the believer.

(2) The first speaker, or the soliloquist (since he it is who actually
advances the arguments consistent with the position of his imaginary
companion), whilst accepting the truth of the proposition, reasserts the
theory, little more than suggested in Section I, that such fixity and
definiteness of belief is, under existing conditions, an impossibility. If
not in the visible world, granting so much, yet beyond it, is that which
may not be grasped by the finite intelligence. Such limitations may
perchance serve for the term of mortal life; but in the light thrown upon
life by the approach of death a change will inevitably pass over the
aspect of all things, and

  Eyes, late wide, begin to wink
  Nor see the path so well. (ll. 57-58.)

Again, the Christian who does not wish his position of moderate faith to
be disturbed, agrees; but attributes the shifting ground of belief to the
self-evident truth that faith would no longer be faith were the objects
with which it deals mere matters of common and proved knowledge, belief in
them as inevitable as the necessity of breath to the living creature.

  You must mix some uncertainty
  With faith, if you would have faith be. (ll. 71-72.)

Even in the intercourse of everyday life, faith is a necessity. Now, had
the easy-going Christian paused at this stage of the discussion, with line
82, his argument would have had the weight which attaches to an
elaboration of the same theory given by Browning elsewhere--in _An Epistle
of Karshish_. But even he, upon whom these considerations are forced for
what one may well believe to be the first time, finds that any individual
proposition requires constant modification, that a doubt will "peep
unexpectedly." Thus, though faith, with its attendant uncertainty, may
well obtain in the relations between man and man, yet, between the Creator
and his creation, is it not possible that more clearly defined regulations
shall subsist?

(3) The thinker who is anxious to rightly adjust his own position in the
world of faith interposes before the argument has passed to its final
stage, and points to the conditions prevailing in the world of lower
animal life where the entire creation "travails and groans"--reverting
again to the assurance which, as the conclusion of the poem is to show,
had been indelibly stamped upon his mind by the experience of the
Vision--the assurance already referred to in Sections I and II, that could
these conditions be changed, then, too, would be altered the character of
human life, its purpose--as Browning ever regards it--would be annulled.
This is not the place to discuss the question of the probationary
character of life and its educative purpose; it is sufficient to recognize
that in Nature is discoverable no definite and final answer to the
questionings of doubt. Hence, with Section VI, the second speaker shifts
his ground; and admitting that this suggested "scientific faith," is
impracticable, declares himself none the more prepared, therefore, to
yield such faith as may yet be possible to him. All he would ask is that
the greater probability may rest upon the side of that creed which he
professes. His belief, such as it is, affords him satisfaction, and will
continue, so he holds, sufficient for his needs until its "curtain is
furled away by death." And he would at once meet the arguments which he
sees his companion prepared to advance in favour of asceticism. To give up
the world for Eternity is surely an act sufficiently easy of
accomplishment, since the renunciation is daily effected for causes of
small moment. Whilst the would-be Christian shrinks at prospect of the
hardships involved in self-denial, his worldly neighbour is adopting that
self-same life of abstention that he may attain an object no more
important than that of acquiring a record collection of beetles or of
snuff-boxes. In short, in the speaker's own words, by subduing the demands
of the flesh, he would be

                  Doing that alone,
  To gain a palm-branch and a throne,
  Which fifty people undertake
  To do, and gladly, for the sake
  Of giving a Semitic guess,
  Or playing pawns at blindfold chess. (ll. 165-170.)

(4) The second speaker then, having declared himself satisfied with a
minimum of evidence as to the truth of his creed, a balance, merely, in
favour of its probability, there follows the scornful comment of the man
who would take nothing upon trust, investigation of which is possible--

                As is your sort of mind,
  So is your sort of search: you'll find
  What you desire, and that's to be
  A Christian. (ll. 173-176.)

To such a nature belief is easy where belief is desirable; the very reason
which would hinder faith on the part of his opponent. The search made
either for intellectual or emotional satisfaction will meet with equal
result. Whether for historical confirmation of the Scriptural narrative,
or in a philosophic attempt to adapt the Christian creed to the wants of
the human heart. Where, indeed, this satisfaction is found for spiritual
cravings, the intellectual may be disregarded; when

  Faith plucks such substantial fruit

         *       *       *       *       *

  She little needs to look beyond. (ll. 190-192.)

So Bishop Blougram in a somewhat different connection--

  If you desire faith--then you've faith enough:
  What else seeks God--nay, what else seek ourselves?
        (_B. B. A._, ll. 634-635.)

In the concluding lines of Section VII and in Section VIII is presented
the contrast between the two opposing views. On the one hand, that of the
man who is glad to accept the Christian faith as that best calculated for
his advantage both in this world and in that to which he looks in the
future. On the other hand, the view of the man who will take nothing on
trust, who is "ever a fighter," and who, having fought, and partially,
though by no means wholly, vanquished his doubts, is prepared "to mount
hardly to eternal life," at whatever cost of sacrifice and self-denial may
be demanded of him. The criticism of the second speaker touching this
proposed life of asceticism is that it is to be deprecated, not on account
of the self-denial involved, but because such life ignores the bountiful
provision of the Creator as evidenced in Nature. To abstain from the
enjoyment of the gifts offered is an act of ingratitude towards the
Provider. On the contrary, the Christian, whilst discerning love in every
gift, should seek from his creed intensification rather than diminution of
the joys of life: and in time of adversity when

  Sorrows and privations take
  The place of joy,

the truths of Christianity shall throw upon the darkness the light of
revelation, and

                    The thing that seems
  Mere misery, under human schemes,
  Becomes, regarded by the light
  Of love, as very near, or quite
  As good a gift as joy before. (ll. 216-221.)

(5) The arguments of this and the Section following are of special
importance, since on them are based the charges of a too great asceticism
which have been urged against the poem. Here, too, the dramatic element is
more pronounced than elsewhere. The life of ease, physical and spiritual,
to the second speaker a source of supreme gratification and happiness, to
the man of sterner mould presents itself as an impossibility. "The
all-stupendous tale" of the Gospel leaves him "pale and heartstruck." The
belief that the sufferings there recorded were undergone for the purpose
of intensifying the joys of life and affording consolation for its ills,
is to him an explanation so inadequate as to approach the verge of
profanity. This being so he would demand of the advocate of the life of
ease,

  How do you counsel in the case?

The answer is characteristic:

  I'd take, by all means, in your place,
  The _safe_ side, since it so appears:
  Deny myself, a few brief years,
  The natural pleasure. (ll. 267-271.)

That the eternal reward will outweigh the temporal suffering to the
exclusion even of recollection, the testimony of the martyr of the
catacombs affords ample proof.

  For me, I have forgot it all. (l. 288.)

(6) _If_ this be so, then indeed there remains a direct and certain means
of escape from sin, of fulfilment of the purposes of life--self-denial,
renunciation. But, as the reply of Section X points out, the argument has
been conducted in a circle, and the starting-point on the circumference
has now been reached. The original statement has never been satisfactorily
controverted. "How hard it is to be a Christian"; hard on account of the
uncertainty bound to be attendant on all matters in which faith is
requisite. It is hard to be a Christian since the difficulty but shifts
its ground and is not actually removed by any venture of faith. After all
argument, all reasoning, the possibility remains that the Christian's hope
is a mistaken one; that death is not the gateway to fuller life but the
annihilation of life; in short that the Christian has renounced life

                      For the sake
  Of death and nothing else. (ll. 296-297.)

In which case his gain is less than that of the worldling, since he has,
at least, temporarily possessed the object towards the acquisition of
which his self-denial was directed. Beetles and snuff-boxes may be but
small gains, but gains they are to whomso desires them: and "gain is gain,
however small." Nevertheless, in the spirit of Browning, the wrestler with
his doubts would rather risk all for the vaguest spiritual hope, than rest
satisfied with a life limited to material gratification: rather be the
grasshopper

  That spends itself in leaps all day
  To reach the sun, (ll. 310-311.)

than the mole groping "amid its veritable muck." When Bishop Blougram
makes the same decision--in favour of faith as opposed to scepticism--the
motive he alleges is one which might well be ascribed to the second
speaker of _Easter Day_. The choice is influenced, not by aspirations
which refuse to be checked, but by considerations of prudence touching a
possible future.

  Doubt may be wrong--there's judgment, life to come!
  With just that chance, I dare not [_i.e._ relinquish faith].
        (ll. 477-478.)

The attitude of the second speaker towards life generally recalls, indeed,
not infrequently the professed opportunism of the Bishop. With Blougram
also he fears the effects upon the stability of his faith of a critical
investigation of its tenets. Hence, the reproach of Section XI, addressed
to the first speaker, whose questionings threaten to disturb the earlier
condition of "trusting ease." The reply of Section XII points out that,
the eyes having been once opened, to close them wilfully, living in a
determined reliance on hopes proved only too probably fallacious, is to
adopt a pagan rather than a Christian conception of life.

II. Section XIII constitutes the introduction to the second part of the
poem in which is given the history of the revelation to which the narrator
ascribes his realization of the momentous nature of the faith which he and
his companion alike profess; and of the life which should be lived upon
the lines of that faith. Vivid as the account of the Vision in _Christmas
Eve_ is the description by the first speaker of the experiences of the
night preceding the dawn of Easter Day, three years ago; when, into the
midst of his reflections touching the possibility of a near approach of a
Day of Judgment, there broke that tremendous conflagration marking the
crisis when man shall awaken to realities from

          That insane dream we take
  For waking now, because it seems. (ll. 480-481.)

And the portrayal of the Judgment which follows is, in character, just
that which we should expect from the pen of the writer who held that "the
development of a soul, little else is worth study." How far the conception
is indeed Browning's own will be best considered in estimating the extent
of the dramatic element--in Lecture VI. To trace the history of this
particular soul awaiting judgment is our immediate object. In a position
of personal isolation from his kind, face to face with his Creator, to
that lonely soul "began the Judgment Day." The sentence from without was
unnecessary to him who should pass judgment upon himself.

  The intuition burned away
  All darkness from [his] spirit too; (ll. 550-551.)

and he recognized in that moment of revelation that, whatever the
uncertainty of his position before "the utmost walls of time" should
"tumble in" to "end the world," in that moment was no uncertainty; his
choice of life was fixed irrevocably. Hitherto he had loved the world too
well to relinquish its joys wholly, whilst yet looking for a time when the
renunciation, in which he believed to discern the highest course, should
become possible: when he would at last "reconcile those lips"

  To letting the dear remnant pass
              ... some drops of earthly good
  Untasted! (ll. 583-585.)

In the light of that flash of intuition, it at once became clear that such
an attitude of compromise had meant, in fact, a decision in favour of the
world; a choice of things temporal to the virtual exclusion of things
eternal. That he, too, had been doing that which he to-night reproaches
the Christian of placid assurance for doing: he had been but using his
faith "as a condiment" wherewith to "heighten the flavours" of life. The
final issue being assured, the true relations of life and faith became
manifest. The sentence of the voice beside him was unessential to the
revelation

                Life is done,
  Time ends, Eternity's begun,
  And thou art judged for evermore. (ll. 594-596.)

And yet "the shows of things" remain. No longer fire that

                    Would shrink
  And wither off the blasted face
  Of heaven, (ll. 524-526.)

but the common yet visible around, and the sky which above

  Stretched drear and emptily of life. (l. 601.)

In that vast stillness of earth and heaven, judgment is as emphatically
pronounced as if read from "the opened book," in the presence of "the
small and great," following "the rising of the quick and dead" which all
prior conceptions of the Day of Judgment had led the spectator to
anticipate. But he whose sentence had been passed was not of those whom

                      Bold and blind,
  Terror must burn the truth into. (ll. 659-660.)

For these, _their_ fate: such fate as the old Pope trusted should awaken
the criminal Franceschini to a realization of the horror and brutality of
a deed which he sought to justify to himself and to the world, as an act
of self-defence. Sentence is there passed in lines recalling, though with
intensified force, the description of Section XV. Thus, the result of the
papal reflections--

  For the main criminal I have no hope
  Except in such a suddenness of fate.
  I stood at Naples once, a night so dark
  I could have scarce conjectured there was earth
  Anywhere, sky or sea or world at all:
  But the night's black was burst through by a blaze--
  Thunder struck blow on blow, earth groaned and bore,
  Through her whole length of mountain visible:
  There lay the city thick and plain with spires,
  And, like a ghost disshrouded, white the sea.
  So may the truth be flashed out by one blow,
  And Guido see, one instant, and be saved.[66]

No such violence of retribution is here necessary. To the more finely
tempered nature another fate. The choice between flesh and spirit having
been decided, henceforth for the flesh the things of the flesh; for the
spirit those of the spirit. The line of demarcation remains unalterable.
For him who has chosen "the spirit's fugitive brief gleams," yearning for
fuller light and life, for him shall those transitory gleams expand into
complete and enduring radiance, and he shall "live indeed." For him who
has but employed the spirit as an aid to the gratification of the flesh,
using it to

                        Star the dome
  Of sky, that flesh may miss no peak,
  No nook of earth. (ll. 693-695.)

For him, as the inevitable outcome of the choice, shall the heaven of
spirit be shut; the material world delivered over for the full
gratification of the senses. No sudden revelation of terror, no judgment
by fire, but the permission--

                                  Glut
  Thy sense upon the world: 'tis thine
  For ever--take it. (ll. 697-699.)

The hell designed for this man is one in which externals inevitably take
no part. The world and its inhabitants apparently pursue their course, "as
they were wont to do," before the time of probation was at an end. The
sole difference is to be found in the spiritual outlook. The interest
attaching to these things of time is no longer existent; no longer is the
soul "visited by God's free spirit." Thus is again suggested that central
doctrine of Browning's creed: the superlative worth of the individual soul
in the divine scheme of the universe. "God is, thou art." From this it is
only one step to the assurance,

  The rest is hurled to nothingness for thee. (ll. 666-667.)

All upon which the eye rests has become for the spectator but an outward
show, to be regarded with the consciousness that his own period of
probation is for ever ended. It is, of course, in reference to this result
of the judgment that in Section XIII the speaker questions the utility of
a narration of his story; since if, on the one hand, the listener is
actually alive, not to be numbered amongst the outward shows of things,
then this fact is proof sufficient of the illusory character of the
Vision. Yet, on the other hand, should the listener be "what I fear," that
is, the presentation of a man passed already beyond his probationary phase
of existence, then, in good sooth, will the

  Warnings fray no one; (ll. 360-361.)

as they will convert no one. With him, the speaker, alone rests the
knowledge of the nature of his surroundings, and at times he, too,
experiences the old uncertainty as to their true character.

And what the results following the Judgment? (_a_) At first, joy that all
is now free of access where heretofore part only was attainable. _Nature_
lies open not merely for the gratification of the senses, but to be
studied by aid of science--

  I stooped and picked a leaf of fern,
  And recollected I might learn
  From books, how many myriad sorts
  Of ferns exist (etc.). (ll. 738-741.)

Will not the vistas of "earth's resources," thus opening out before the
lover of nature, prove composed of "vast exhaustless beauty, endless
change of wonder?" Yes: but the Judgment has taught that which the term of
probation failed to teach--that a genuine appreciation of these beauties
was even then a possibility. Absolute renunciation was not essential to
spiritual development: for that alone was needed the insight capable of
looking beyond "the gift to the giver," beyond "the finite to infinity."
Which could recognize in

  All partial beauty--a pledge
  Of beauty in its plenitude. (ll. 769-770.)

The cause of life's failure, justifying condemnation, lay in an acceptance
of the means as the end, of the pledge in place of the ultimate
fulfilment. Now, absolute satiety being attained, the soul's ambition
being bounded by the limits of earth, the plenitude of "those who looked
above" is not for it.

(_b_) But if Nature refuses to yield the satisfaction demanded, the seeker
for consolation would turn thence to a contemplation of _Art_, the works
of which he holds as "supplanting," mainly giving worth to Nature: Art
which bears upon it the impress of human labour. And here again recurs the
teaching of _Andrea del Sarto_, of _A Toccata of Galuppi's_, of _Old
Pictures in Florence_, of _Rabbi Ben Ezra_, of _Cleon_: in short, of
almost any of the more characteristic poems. In so far as these artists,
to whom the lover of earth looks for satisfaction in his search for the
beautiful, refused to recognize as binding the limitations imposed upon
their work by temporary conditions: in so far was a sphere of higher
development prepared for and awaiting them elsewhere. Undesirous of
contemporary appreciation, the true artist is represented as fearing lest
judgment should be passed upon that which he realizes to be but the
imperfection denoting "perfection hid, reserved in part to grace" that
after-time of labour, the existence of which the world ignores. He was

                            Afraid
  His fellow men should give him rank
  By mere tentatives which he shrank
  Smitten at heart from, all the more,
  That gazers pressed in to adore. (ll. 791-795.)

And the speaker has been amongst the throng of spectators who accepted
these "mere tentatives" as the consummation of the artist's powers. Thus
with Art as with Nature, "the pledge sufficed his mood." Hence, in both
relations--failure. Enjoyment, enjoyment to the full, of Art as of Nature
was no impossibility, only, here too, with the sensuous gratification
should have subsisted also the "spirit's hunger,"

  Unsated--not unsatable. (ll. 860-861.)

Unsated, until the soul's true sphere shall have been attained. Now is
that judgment pronounced which we find Andrea del Sarto passing upon
himself whilst life and its opportunities yet remained his.

                              Deride
  Their choice now, thou who sit'st outside. (ll. 862-863.)

Their choice, whose guide has been "the spirit's fugitive brief gleams."
So says Andrea of his fellow artists in Florence--

                      Themselves, I know,
  Reach many a time a heaven that's shut to me,

         *       *       *       *       *

  My works are nearer heaven, but I sit here.[67]

(_c_) Nature and Art have then alike failed. Wherein may the yearnings of
the soul discover the satisfaction hitherto denied them? Perchance,
through a more complete _intellectual development_.

  Mind is best--I will seize mind. (l. 874.)

         *       *       *       *       *

  Oh, let me strive to make the most
  Of the poor stinted soul, I nipped
  Of budding wings, else now equipped
  For voyage from summer isle to isle! (ll. 867-870.)

Here a direct reversal of the theory of Bishop Blougram, implied by his
censure of the traveller whose equipment was ever adapted to the needs of
the future to the neglect of existing requirements. This man, the
soliloquist of _Easter Day_, whose lot is now irrevocably confined to
earth, recognizes too late the fatal character of the mistake perpetrated
in "nipping the budding wings": realizes that, as an inevitable result,
the course of the race and the goal of the ambition are alike limited,
henceforth, by an earthly environment. That "the earth's best is but the
earth's best." The failure to look above is, in fact, here more disastrous
in its results than in either of the earlier instances: since here the
possibilities are also greater. Through the mind alone may come

  Those intuitions, grasps of guess,
  Which pull the more into the less,
  Making the finite comprehend
  Infinity. (ll. 905-908.)

To genius have been granted from time to time glimpses of the spiritual
world, made plain in moments of insight, yet not too plain. A world which,
during his sojourn on earth, is intended not for man's permanent
habitation. A world he must "traverse, not remain a guest in." Once
capable of continuing a denizen of the spiritual world, the uses of earth
as a training-ground would be for that man at an end. He who should so
live would become a Lazarus, as the Arabian physician presents him to us;
in Dr. Westcott's phrase, "not a man, but a sign." Brief visions of heaven
are vouchsafed, that he who has once seen may "come back and tell the
world," himself "stung with hunger" for the fuller light. As in Nature, as
in Art, so, too, here in a more purely intellectual sphere, the pledge is
not the plenitude, the symbol not the reality.

  Since highest truth, man e'er supplied,
  Was ever fable on outside. (ll. 925-926.)

This, too, left unrealized; hence failure also here.

(_d_) The search for sensuous and for intellectual satisfaction having
alike failed, is there no refuge for him whose lot is earth in its
fulness? Yes, there is _Love_, Love which we saw the soliloquist of
_Christmas Eve_ recognizing as the "sole good of life on earth." So now
the wearied soul recalls to mind, in the past,

                      How love repaired all ill,
  Cured wrong, soothed grief, made earth amends
  With parents, brothers, children, friends. (ll. 938-940.)

Hence the appeal for "leave to love only," made in full confidence of the
divine approval. In place of approval, however, falls the reproof of
Section XXX: the warning that all now left to the petitioner is "the show
of love," since love itself has passed with the judgment. The "semblance
of a woman," "departed love," "old memories," now alone survive of that
which might have been all in all to the soul during its life's struggle.
And here we find the man who has failed through a too exclusive devotion
to things temporal taught, by this vision of the final judgment, the
truth, at first accepted in _Christmas Eve_ by the man who had looked
through Nature to the God of Nature, and refused to worship in the "narrow
shrines" of the temples made with hands. That love

  Shall arise, made perfect, from death's repose of it.
  And I shall behold thee, face to face,
  O God, and in thy light retrace
  How in all I loved here, still wast thou![68]

Thus the voice of judgment before the Easter dawn--

  All thou dost enumerate
  Of power and beauty in the world,
  The mightiness of love was curled
  Inextricably round about.
  Love lay within it and without,
  To clasp thee. (ll. 960-965.)

But we saw the soliloquist of _Christmas Eve_ ultimately rejecting this
universal recognition of love in favour of the narrow shrine of Zion
Chapel: acting, as he believed, with the divine approval. Again proof of
the dramatic character of the poems. The lesson of life is variously
interpreted by its different students.

Yet even here, where love is at length sought as the supreme good, the
Voice of _Easter Day_ proclaims once more--failure--and its cause, the
inability to recognize the divine Love: the object of search is even now
but human love.

  Some semblance of a woman yet,
  With eyes to help me to forget,
  Shall look on me. (ll. 941-943.)

The love of "parents, brothers, children, friends": the seeker has stopped
short of Pippa's final decision,[69] "Best love of all is God's." Why has
he failed to realize this until Time has passed? Why, but because, with
Cleon, he deemed it "a doctrine to be held by no sane man," that divine
Love should prove commensurate with divine Power; that He "who made the
whole," should love the whole, should

  Undergo death in thy stead
  In flesh like thine. (ll. 974-975.)

But this scepticism, based upon the ground that in the Gospel story is
found "too much love," is illogical, since it suggests by implication the
belief of man that his fellow mortals, in whom he daily discerns abundant
capacity for ill-will, have been yet capable of inventing a scheme of
perfect love such as that involved in the history of the Incarnation. The
doctrine that this was the divine work is assuredly less difficult of
credence than that which assigns it to the invention of the human
imagination? Disbelief on this the ground of "too much love," revealed in
the Gospel story, is dealt with also by the Evangelist in _A Death in the
Desert_. There, too, is presented a position similar to that occupied by
the soliloquist of Easter Day. Through satiety, man

  Has turned round on himself and stands,[70]
  Which in the course of nature is, to die.

When man demanded proof of the existence of a God, the representative of
Power and Will, evidence of all was granted--

  And when man questioned, "What if there be love
  Behind the will and might, as real as they?"--
  He needed satisfaction God could give,
  And did give, as ye have the written word.

But when the written word no longer sufficed, when (following the argument
of this thirtieth Section of _Easter Day_) man believed himself to be the
originator of love, when

                Beholding that love everywhere,
  He reasons, "Since such love is everywhere,
  And since ourselves can love and would be loved,
  We ourselves make the love, and Christ was not."

Then, asks the Evangelist,

  How shall ye help this man who knows himself,
  That he must love and would be loved again,
  Yet, owning his own love that proveth Christ,
  Rejecteth Christ through very need of Him?
  The lamp o'erswims with oil, the stomach flags
  Loaded with nurture, and that man's soul dies.[71]

The soliloquist of _Easter Day_, experiencing practically the position
imagined by St. John, makes (with the opening of Section XXXI) a final
appeal to the Love of God, that he may be permitted to continue in that
uncertainty which, in the midst of "darkness, hunger, toil, distress," yet
allows room for hope. Better the sufferings of unending struggle than the
deadly calm of despair. To him who has experienced what satiety may bring,
the life of probation offers powerful attractions. Whether the Vision may
have been a reality or the creation of his own imagination, even this
uncertainty is preferable to the judgment that shall grudge "no ease
henceforth," whilst the soul is "condemned to earth for ever."

Thus the poem closes with the inevitable demand of the soul for progress,
for growth; and the collateral recognition of its present life as a state
of probation, hence of essential uncertainty--

  Only let me go on, go on,
  Still hoping ever and anon
  To reach one eve the Better Land! (ll. 1001-1003.)

Feeble as is the hope at times, the dawn of Easter Day yet recalls the
boundless possibilities opening out for human nature. And, for the moment
at least, faith is paramount; no vague, impersonal belief, but that which
looks for its direct inspiration to a living Christ.

      Christ rises! Mercy every way
  Is Infinite,--and who can say?



LECTURE VI


CHRISTMAS EVE AND EASTER DAY (iii)



LECTURE VI

CHRISTMAS EVE AND EASTER DAY (iii)


The closer and more unprejudiced the study accorded it, the stronger
becomes the conviction of the essentially dramatic character of the
composition of both _Christmas Eve_ and _Easter Day_. And at first sight
it may, to many readers, be matter of regret that this is so: to those
readers more especially who had at first rejoiced to discover, in the
assertions of the soliloquists, what they held to be an immediate
assurance that Browning's faith was that form of dogmatic belief which was
also theirs. If, in all honesty, we are compelled to renounce our original
acceptance of the less complex nature of the poems, what is the worth, it
may be asked, of the arguments which would unquestionably, were they the
direct expression of the writer's feelings, stamp him as a devout
Christian, prepared to make even "doubt occasion still more faith"?
Nevertheless, further reflection minimizes the cause for regret. Although
we may not accept without question, as Browning's own, the criticisms of
the soliloquist of _Christmas Eve_, directed against the arguments of the
humanitarian Lecturer, or the reasoning of the concluding Sections of
_Easter Day_, in favour of belief in the Gospel story and in the
essentially probationary character of human life; yet that which we have
already had occasion to notice as true concerning all dramatic work, is
true also here. The expression of the author's own opinions is not
necessarily excluded, as it is not necessarily implied. Thus, in the
present instance, occur not a few passages in which it seems almost
impossible that we should be in error in discerning Browning's own
personality beneath the disguise of the speaker; the immediate expression
of his own vital belief, in the theories advanced. And the passages
seemingly thus directly inspired are those dealing with the permanent
truths of life, which find at once embodiment and limitation in the dogma
of various religious bodies. How far such passages may justly be accepted
as non-dramatic in character can only be ascertained by reference to and
comparison with treatment of these and similar subjects elsewhere in the
works. We may not judge from one poem alone as to the writer's intention;
evidence so obtained is insufficient.

I. In both _Christmas Eve_ and _Easter Day_ the most prominent position in
the thoughts and dissertations of the soliloquist is necessarily--so the
title would suggest--afforded the Doctrine of the Incarnation. Its
introduction may not, in the single instance, be incontrovertibly
significant as to Browning's attitude towards Christianity. But, when we
find the same subject dealt with repeatedly from different points of view,
by speakers widely separated from one another by time, place, nationality,
and personal character; and when, in spite of the variety of external
conditions, we yet find the arguments employed ever converging towards the
same goal; here even the hypercritical student is surely bound to conclude
that Browning did, indeed, realize, and was anxious to make plain his
realization of, the value to the individual life of the belief involved,
and of the intelligibility and reasonableness of such belief. To notice a
few amongst the numerous aspects in which this Doctrine of the Incarnation
has been presented. In _Saul_, the logical inevitableness of its
acceptance by the seeker after God, as revealed, first in Nature, then in
His dealings with Humanity, is traced by the seer of a remote past before
the historic fact has been accomplished. In _Cleon_, the demand for a
direct revelation of God in man is the result of the cravings of a nature
unable to rest satisfied in the merely deistic creed hitherto responsible
for its theories of life. The very pagan character of the treatment of
subject by the soliloquist, in this instance, is so handled by the poet as
to lend additional force to the negative deductions from the suggestions
advanced. In _An Epistle of Karshish_, once more as in _Saul_, the
speaker, though an onlooker only where Christianity is concerned, is yet a
believer in a divine order of the universe, and in a personal God revealed
in His creation. The subject of which Karshish treats in his letter is no
longer, however, as with David, an expectation to be realized in a distant
future, but a matter comprehending a series of historic events recently
enacted. Nevertheless, he too, whilst nominally rejecting the evidence of
the witnesses as to fact, forces upon the reader the conviction that not
only is it possible, but inevitable, that the "All-Great" shall be "the
All-Loving too"; and must have revealed His love through the life lived by
the Physician of Galilee, whose deeds Lazarus reported. Later, when that
Life has become still further a thing of the past, when "what first were
guessed as points," have become known as "stars," in _A Death in the
Desert_ are put into the mouth of the dying Evangelist, St. John,
arguments which reach the final culmination towards which those of David
and of Cleon alike tended. And St. John, in imagination confronting
opponents of Christianity, sees not only his own contemporaries, but those
of Browning: his reasoning would refute not so much the heresy of the
Gnostics of the first and second centuries of the Christian era as the
criticisms of German literary men of the nineteenth. And here, too, is
attained the same result as that of the foregoing instances--proof of the
inevitableness of an Incarnation, and of such an Incarnation as that of
the Gospel story, in any definite and clearly formulated scheme of human
life. Thus then, when we turn to _Christmas Eve and Easter Day_ to find
again, in the conclusions reached, not only the outcome of the suggestions
and arguments of David, of Karshish, and of Cleon, but, further, a
position occupied by the speaker closely akin to that held in imagination
by the Evangelist; we can hardly fail to be justified in believing that
Browning cared sufficiently for the subject under consideration to wish to
present it to his public in those varying lights which should afford proof
of its universal import, and confirm, if possible, credence in its
absolute truth. To refuse, indeed, to allow due weight to the evidence
thus obtained, would be to neglect the best available opportunities for
estimating the true nature of the beliefs of a dramatic author; since it
is necessarily by such indirect and comparative methods alone that it is
possible to ascertain their character. In this exposition, then, of the
fundamental truths of Christianity, as set forth by the soliloquist in
either poem, we may reasonably believe ourselves to be listening to
authorized assertions and arguments.

II. Again is the voice of Browning himself unmistakably heard in the
acceptance by both speakers in _Easter Day_ (although with different
practical results in each case) of the inevitable extinction of faith as a
necessary consequence of absolute certainty in matters spiritual. It is,
in fact, but another form of the constantly advanced theory of the
progressive character of human nature, involving a recognition of the
world as a training-ground, mortal life as a probation. A theory finding
expression in terms more or less pronounced throughout Browning's
literary career; from the suggestions, dramatic in form, of _Pauline_,
1833, to the direct personal assertions of the _Asolando Epilogue_ in
1889. Whether it be in the _individual_ aspiration of the lover of
_Pauline_,

  How should this earth's life prove my only sphere?
  Can I so narrow sense but that in life
  Soul still exceeds it? (ll. 634-636.)

or in the final estimate of _the race_ by Paracelsus--

                  Upward tending all though weak,
  Like plants in mines which never saw the sun,
  But dream of him, and guess where he may be,
  And do their best to climb and get to him. (_Par._, v, ll. 883-886.)

The same belief, whilst it inspires the utterances of Pompilia and of Abt
Vogler, of the Grammarian and the lover of _Evelyn Hope_, is likewise
discernible as underlying, though possibly less consciously instigating
the reflections of Luria and of the organist of _Master Hugues of
Saxe-Gotha_, of Andrea del Sarto and of the victim of a prudence
outweighing love, in _Dîs Aliter Visum_. And progress is the recognized
law of Faith as of Life. The existence of Truth, absolute, does not
preclude its gradual revelation and realization. In the _Epilogue_ to the
_Dramatis Personae_, Browning, by the mouth of the "Third Speaker," would
point out that the lamentation of Rénan over a vanished faith is
unwarranted by fact since, Truth existing in its entirety, the peculiar
revelations of Truth are adapted to each successive stage of the
development of the human race. Hence "that Face," the vestige even of
which the "Second Speaker" held to be "lost in the night at last,"

  That one Face, far from vanish, rather grows,
  Or decomposes but to recompose,
  Become my universe that feels and knows.

A fuller realization of Truth has become possible in these later days than
in the past of Jewish ritual, when

      The presence of the Lord,
  _In the glory of His cloud_,
  Had filled the House of the Lord.

Of _Easter Day_ it has been remarked in this connection, "If Mr. Browning
has meant to say ... that religious certainties are required for the
undeveloped mind, but that the growing intelligence walks best by a
receding light, he denies the positive basis of Christian belief."[72]
Comparing this criticism with the treatment in _A Death in the Desert_ of
the subject of faith in relation to the Incarnation, it becomes
sufficiently clear that an acceptance of "the positive basis of Christian
belief" was to Browning's mind perfectly compatible, not indeed with "a
receding light," but with that absence of certainty in matters spiritual
which the First Speaker of _Easter Day_ accepts as inevitable. And surely
the suggestion in _Easter Day_, as elsewhere in Browning, is that the
development of the "religious intelligence" is best advanced, not by _a
receding light_, but by that ever-increasing illuminative power which
shall effect gradually the revelation presented in the Vision of the
Judgment as the work of a moment. The revelation of the true relation
between things temporal and spiritual, between the divine and the human.
For, whilst St. John bases his arguments upon the central assurance that
"God the Truth" is, of all things, alone unchangeable, immediately upon
the assurance follows the assertion--

  Man apprehends Him newly at each stage
  Whereat earth's ladder drops, its service done.[73]

Since "such progress" as is the peculiar characteristic of human nature

        Could no more attend his soul
  Were all it struggles after found at first
  And guesses changed to knowledge absolute,
  Than motion wait his body, were all else
  Than it the solid earth on every side,
  Where now through space he moves from rest to rest.[74]

Thus with Christianity itself

          Will [man] give up fire
  For gold or purple once he knows its worth?
  Could he give Christ up were His worth as plain?
  Therefore, I say, to test man, the proofs shift,
  Nor may he grasp that fact like other fact,
  And straightway in his life acknowledge it,
  As, say, the indubitable bliss of fire.[75]

The effect on human nature and life of the change of "guesses" to
"knowledge absolute" is elsewhere exhibited in concrete form where
Lazarus, in _An Epistle of Karshish_, is represented, as Browning's
imagination would visualize him, in the years succeeding his resurrection
from the dead. There the need for faith is accounted as no longer
existing. During those four days of the spirit's sojourn beyond the limits
of the visible world, the unveiled light of eternity had thrown into their
true relative positions the things of time. Thenceforth, for him who had
once _known_, the hopes and fears attendant upon uncertainty were no
longer a possibility. In view of that which is eternal, temporal
prosperity or adversity had become of small moment. The advance of a
hostile force upon the sacred city, centre of the national life, was to
the risen nature an event trifling as "the passing of a mule with gourds."
Sickness, death, were alike met by the imperturbable "God wills." Yet
this apparently immovable serenity was at once overthrown by contact with
"ignorance and carelessness and sin." To the non-Christian onlooker, the
attitude thus attained was attributable to the peculiar condition of life
by which heaven was

            Opened to a soul while yet on earth,
  Earth forced on a soul's use while seeing heaven.

The man capable of this two-fold vision had indeed become but "a sign,"
noteworthy it is true, yet of little value as a practical example to his
fellows, since what held good in this single and unprecedented case must
be of no avail as a criterion for the multitude.

The importance, as an educative instrument, of the demands on faith made
by the absence of overwhelmingly conclusive and unalterable evidence in
matters spiritual, is again illustrated in that remarkable little poem
_Fears and Scruples_, following _Easter Day_ after an interval of more
than a quarter of a century (pub. 1876). The writer there declares his
personal preference for the condition of life ultimately the choice of the
First Speaker, in which uncertainty may admit of hope, even though the
future should prove such hope fallacious. The old theory is advanced
beneath the illustration of relationship to an absent friend, proofs of
whose affection, of whose very existence, rest upon the evidence of
letters, the genuineness of which has been called in question by experts.
Nevertheless, the friend at home, the soliloquist of the poem, refuses to
yield credence to calumny. His faith in the friend, if misplaced, has been
hitherto a source of spiritual elevation and inspiration. Even though the
truth be ultimately proved but falsehood, he is yet the better for those
days in which he deemed it truth. Therefore,

    One thing's sure enough: 'tis neither frost,
  No, nor fire, shall freeze or burn from out me
    Thanks for truth--though falsehood, gained--though lost.

  All my days, I'll go the softlier, sadlier,
    For that dream's sake! How forget the thrill
  Through and through me as I thought "The gladlier
    Lives my friend because I love him still!"

The parallel is enforced by the suggestion at the close--

                                      Hush, I pray you!
  What if this friend happen to be--God? (_F. and S._, viii, ix, xii.)

III. In considering the position of the First Speaker in _Easter Day_, we
have already noticed the character of the final judgment, the nature of
the Hell designed for the punishment of him who had chosen the things of
the flesh in preference to the things of the spirit.--A Hell consisting in
absolute future exclusion from opportunities of spiritual satisfaction and
development.--A judgment which we remarked in passing, as peculiarly
characteristic in its conception of Browning's usual treatment of matters
relative to the spiritual life of man. In _Ferishtah's Fancies_, we are
able to obtain direct confirmation of this suggestion, with reference to
the subject actually in question. In reading this collection of poems, the
work of the author's later life (pub. 1884), we hardly need his warning
(or so at least we believe) to avoid the assumption that "there is more
than a thin disguise of a few Persian names and allusions." Sheltering
himself thus behind the imagined personality of the Persian historian,
Browning, in his seventy-second year, gave freer utterance than was
customary with him to his own opinions and beliefs touching certain
momentous questions of Life and Faith. _A Camel-driver_ is devoted to a
discussion of the doctrine of Judgment and Future Punishment of the sins
committed in the flesh. Ferishtah, as Dervish, submits that here, as in
all allied matters, man with finite capacities cannot conceive of the
infinite purpose. Knowing "but man's trick to teach," he does but reason
from the character of his own dealings, in this respect, with the animals,
as creatures of lower intelligence, employed in his service. The general
conclusions from the arguments thus deduced are, in brief: (1) The
punishment as regards the sufferer is not designed to be retributive only,
but remedial and reformatory in character. (2) With respect to the sinner
and his fellow mortals, it must be deterrent. (3) Hence, to be effective,
its infliction should be immediate rather than future. By postponement,
the exemplary effect of punishment is rendered void: the connection
between offence and penalty is obscured, and sympathy with the sufferer
will result, rather than avoidance of the offence for which the suffering
is inflicted. Such is the estimate by Ferishtah, or Browning, of the
punishment of a future Hell of fire. From a merely human point of view it
is illogical. For the purification of the sinner, or for the admonition of
the onlooker, it is alike useless. And the deduction? Man can but work
and, therefore, teach as man, and not as God. At best he may but see a
little way into the Eternal purpose: into that portion alone which is
revealed through the experiences of mortal life. Here he must be content
to rest without further speculation.

  Before man's First, and after man's poor Last,
  God operated, and will operate,

is the assertion of Reason. To which adds Ferishtah,

  Process of which man merely knows this much,--
  That nowise it resembles man's at all,
  Teaching or punishing.

For the character of the divine process:--as in _Easter Day_, so here the
penalty is immediately adjusted to the peculiar requirements of the nature
to be "taught or punished." To the man of spiritual discernment, of right
thought and purpose, but of imperfect performance, no hell is needed
beyond that to be found in the comparison of the Might-have-been with the
Has-been and the Is. And in this sadness of retrospect are to be
remembered, too, the sins of ignorance; even forgiveness is powerless to
efface wholly the misery of remorse. Thus shall Omnipotence deal with the
individual soul. Thus does the work of judgment and of education differ
essentially from that of man who "lumps his kind i' the mass," passing
upon the mass sentence, involving a uniformity of punishment, which must
fall in individual cases with varying degrees of intensity, by no means
proportionate to the magnitude of the offences committed. That which to
the sensitive soul is torture unfathomable, to the "bold and blind" is as
naught. By some other method must be forced on _him_ the recognition and
realization of past sin. Terror may "burn in the truth," where the
recollection of irremediable evil has failed to create remorse. Only a
mind incapable of spiritual discernment would award a similar penalty for
a life's faults of omission and commission to the several inmates of the
Morgue, and to the onlooker who would see, in the temporary despair which
had caused the end, failure apparent, not absolute. For his part he could
but deem that the misery which had resulted in an overwhelming abhorrence
of life had, in itself, been punishment sufficient; he could but think
"their sin's atoned."[76] Yet in his own case, even though he held that
"we fall to rise," those falls from which no human life may be wholly
exempt, were in themselves cause more than adequate for remorseful anguish
without the super-addition of external penalty:

                  Forgiveness? rather grant
  Forgetfulness! The past is past and lost.
  However near I stand in his regard,
  So much the nearer had I stood by steps
  Offered the feet which rashly spurned their help.
  That I call Hell; why further punishment?[77]

IV. So far we have only treated of conclusions which, by comparison with
other poems obviously dramatic, and with his more avowedly confessed
opinions elsewhere, we have felt ourselves justified in accepting as
Browning's own. Turning to the questions yet remaining for consideration,
we are upon more debatable ground. But here, too, pursuing similar
methods, we may expect the results to be also decisive in so far as our
means of investigation will allow. To what extent did personal feeling
influence the criticism of Roman Catholic ritual contained in _Christmas
Eve_? In what degree may Browning be held to have sympathized with the
final decision in favour of the creed of Zion Chapel? An answer to the
first question involves at least a partial answer to the second.
Browning's attitude, could it be accurately estimated, towards Roman
Catholicism, might be decisive as to how far it was possible for him to
concur in the conclusions attributed to the soliloquist as the result of
his night's experience.

With regard to external evidence touching Browning's opinions on any given
question, it is usually of so conflicting a character as to leave us still
in the condition of mental indecision in which we began the enquiry. In
the present instance we have the report to which reference has been
already made of the author's own assertion respecting _Bishop Blougram's
Apology_; that he intended no hostility, and felt none towards the Roman
Catholic Church. On the other side of the argument has to be reckoned the
reply to Miss Barrett's wish, expressed in the early days of their
acquaintance, that he would give direct utterance to his own opinions, not
sheltering himself behind his various _dramatis personae_. Whilst
promising to accede to the request, he adds, "I don't think I shall let
_you_ hear, after all, the savage things about Popes and imaginative
religions that I must say." This correspondence took place five years
before _Christmas Eve and Easter Day_ was published. To the year of
publication is to be referred the author's satirical observation on the
premature proclivities evinced by his infant son, during a visit to Siena,
towards church interiors and ritual. "It is as well," he remarked, "to
have the eye-teeth and the Puseyistical crisis over together." Of this
comment writes Professor Dowden, to whom we have been recently indebted
for so much valuable light on Browning's life and work: "Although no more
than a passing word spoken in play [it] gives a correct indication of
Browning's feeling, fully shared by his wife, towards the religious
movement in England, which was altering the face of the Established
Church. 'Puseyism' was for them a kind of child's play, which
unfortunately had religion for its playground; they viewed it with a
superior smile, in which there was more of pity than of anger."[78] It
was, indeed, as we have already had occasion to notice, in the nature of
things unlikely that Browning should have remained uninfluenced by the
spirit of anxiety and unrest, agitating the minds of English churchmen of
all grades of thought during the years which succeeded the Tractarian
movement. That this should have led him to assume an attitude of distrust
towards the Roman Catholic Church is hardly matter for surprise; that it
was one of hostility he himself denies. And it is a satisfaction to
believe that _The Pope_ section of _The Ring and the Book_ was the more
matured expression of his feeling in this connection. The most valuable
_internal_ evidence on the subject is probably to be derived from a
comparison of this poem and _Bishop Blougram's Apology_, with Section
X-XII, and XXII of _Christmas Eve_.

In _Bishop Blougram's Apology_, as in _The Pope_, all direct reference to
the Church is made from _within_, not from _without_. The speaker is no
critical onlooker, but, as we have seen, a prelate noted alike for his
ultramontane tendencies, and for the breadth of his views with regard to
the adaptability of his Church to the developments of contemporary
intellectual life. This man is a leading member of the religious community
for which Browning is accused of having in _Christmas Eve_ expressed his
aversion. But, although a leading member, he is not therefore to be judged
as a typical representative; his marked individuality being doubtless a
main cause of the author's choice of subject. And what does this man say
in defence of his Church? He points out that a profession before the world
of faith, clearly defined and absolute, is essential to his influence and
authority. Whatever the searchings of heart, the doubts and questionings
inevitable to a keenly logical and analytic intellect, these must be
concealed, lest the priest should be accounted a pretender, his profession
a cloak of hypocrisy. His belief in the latest ecclesiastical miracle must
be as avowedly absolute as that in a God as Creator and Supreme Ruler of
the Universe. Thus he stands firm upon the ground which he has chosen. The
question is throughout a personal one, and the implication is clearly not
intended that the Roman Catholic Church would _necessarily_ demand of its
members this implicit credence, would thus closely fetter the intellectual
faculties.

Turning to _Christmas Eve_, we find the case reversed, and the soliloquist
occupying the position of one of those outsiders to whom the Bishop
believed himself compelled to present an unquestioning and unquestionable
orthodoxy. For the Prelate is substituted the man of active critical
instinct, inclined to pass judgment with data insufficient to prove a
satisfactory basis for the decision: of perceptions readily responsive to
the glories of nature and their inspiration: but, we surely are not wrong
in adding, of imaginative faculty unequal to the realization of those
spiritual suggestions afforded to minds of different calibre by the
symbolism of a ritualistic worship. The solemn silence of the vast crowd
assembled in the cathedral makes stronger appeal to his sympathies than
does the gorgeous display of ritual following. Hence it is a not illogical
outcome of the position that he will but hear in the music of the service
"hog-grunts and horse-neighings" that he will but see in the ceremonial
observed "buffoonery--posturings and petticoatings." This man of spiritual
and intellectual capacity so far developed is yet numbered amongst the
congregation of the Calvinistic meeting-house, where the preacher is
without erudition, the flock of mental outlook metaphorically as limited
as the space bounded by the four walls within which they are assembled.
How is the presence of this presumably unsympathetic personality to be
accounted for in their midst? How otherwise than by the recognition of
this peculiar deficiency in the nature which, whilst leaving it capable of
looking directly upwards to the God of all creeds, yet renders it unable,
in looking downwards, to see below the surface, and realize the worth of
symbolism in worship where spiritual insight is not of the keenest. The
utterance of the _Third Speaker_ of the _Epilogue_[79] may well be his as
he awaits the coming of the Vision on the common without the Chapel:

  Why, where's the need of Temple, when the walls
  O' the world are that?

And in his anxiety to avoid the "narrow shrines" of man's erection, he is
ultimately driven to worship at one of the narrowest, chosen because the
veil of ritual there interposed between the worshipper and his God is of
the thinnest. The urgency of the desire to be freed from all outward
ceremonial causes him to overlook the real faults of spiritual pride and
exclusiveness characteristic of the Calvinistic congregation. True of
heart, he would reject all shows of things; but there is in his nature a
Puritanic strain which refuses to be eradicated, and this it is which
finally leads him to become a member of the religious community whose
failings he at first unsparingly condemned.

V. No stronger proof of the dramatic power of the poem is, perhaps, to be
found than that afforded by the criticism quoted below, to which it has
seemed almost impossible to avoid reference, bearing as it does the
highest literary authority. Browning appears here to be regarded as
occupying the position assigned by him to the soliloquist, so completely
has he succeeded in identifying himself with his _dramatis persona_. "Of
English nonconformity in its humblest forms Browning can write, as it
were, from within" [the soliloquist has become a member of the Calvinistic
congregation when he narrates his experiences]; "he writes of Roman
Catholic forms of worship as one who stands outside" [the position
literally and metaphorically assigned to the critic on the threshold-stone
of St. Peter's]; "his sympathy with the prostrate multitude in St. Peter's
at Rome is of an impersonal kind, founded rather upon the recognition of
an objective fact than springing from an instinctive feeling" [May not the
sympathy capable of inspiring the closing lines of Section X be taken as
indicative of something deeper than this?]. "For a moment he is carried
away by the tide of their devout enthusiasms; but he recovers himself to
find, indeed, that love is also here, and therefore Christ is present, but
the worshippers fallen under 'Rome's gross yoke,' are very infants in
their need of these sacred buffooneries and posturings and
petticoatings.... And this, though the time has come when love would have
them no longer infantile, but capable of standing and walking, 'not to
speak of trying to climb.' Such a short and easy method of dealing with
Roman Catholic dogma and ritual cannot be commended for its intelligence;
it is quite possible to be on the same side as Browning without being as
crude as he is in misconception. He does not seriously consider the
Catholic idea which regards things of sense as made luminous by the spirit
of which they are the envoys and the ministers. It is enough for him to
declare his own creed, which treats any intermediary between the human
soul and the Divine as an obstruction or a veil." Then after quoting the
passage describing the soliloquist's final choice: "This was the creed of
Milton and of Bunyan; and yet with both Milton and Bunyan the imagery of
the senses is employed as the means, not of concealing, but revealing the
things of the spirit."[80] Was it not just this inability to seriously
consider the things of sense as made luminous by the spirit which Browning
wishes to represent as accounting for the otherwise unaccountable presence
of the man of culture and intellect in Zion Chapel? Surely to the
characteristic weaknesses of the soliloquist, not to the crude
misconception of the author, is attributable the intolerance of the
criticism, whether directed, as in the earlier Sections, against the
congregation of Zion Chapel, or, in the later, against that of St.
Peter's?

This belief in the strength of the dramatic element in _Christmas Eve_ is
confirmed when we turn to _The Ring and the Book_, and the question
suggests itself--Would the critic of the earlier poem have been capable of
representing any member of the Church which he condemns in the light in
which Browning gives us Innocent XII? A nature to which is possible in age
the purity and simplicity of a childlike personal faith.

                                          O God,
  Who shall pluck sheep Thou holdest, from Thy hand?
        (_The Pope_, ll. 641-642.)

Of a tenderness which yearns in memory over the defenceless member of his
flock, lately the victim of brutality and disappointed avarice.

                  Pompilia, then as now
  Perfect in whiteness.... (ll. 1005-1006.)

                     ... My flower,
  My rose, I gather for the breast of God. (ll. 1046-1047.)

With tenderness is coupled that humility which can say to this child of
the Faith:

                        Go past me
  And get thy praise,--and be not far to seek
  Presently when I follow if I may! (ll. 1092-1094.)

         *       *       *       *       *

              Stoop thou down, my child,
  Give one good moment to the poor old Pope
  Heart-sick at having all his world to blame. (ll. 1006-1008.)

Yet, in spite of the heart-sickness, is present also the moral rectitude
which refuses to shrink from the task demanding fulfilment--the censure of
"all his world"--from the archbishop who repulsed the injured wife's
appeal for protection, "the hireling who did turn and flee," through the
entire list of offenders to the "fox-faced, horrible priest, this
brother-brute, the Abate," and the chief criminal, Guido, for whom also
his friends would claim clerical immunity from the penalty attaching to
his offence. Realizing to the full the character of his office, the weight
of authority and historical continuity lying behind, the old Pope might
well be tempted to grant to the miscreants that shelter which they crave.
But the very fact which leads him to magnify the dignity of his official
position, "next under God," leads him also to recognize the immensity of
personal responsibility attaching thereto. The sentence to be passed is
the outcome of a _personal_ decision.

  How should I dare die, this man let live?

Yet whilst laying bare before his mental vision the evils existent in his
Church, obvious alike in the individual even though he should himself
"have armed and decked him for the fight"; and in the communal life of
convent and monastery; whilst rejoicing that Caponsacchi should have had
the necessary courage to break through ecclesiastical convention and

                        Let light into the world
  Through that irregular breach o' the boundary: (ll. 1205-1206.)

he yet points to the strength of the Church as safeguarding, by her rule
as "a law of life," those whose natural impulses may not be relied on to
lead them to follow the course of Caponsacchi, and to whom it would not be
safe to grant the permission: "Ask _your_ hearts as _I_ asked mine." To
these and such as these the law of life laid down by the Church's rule is
essential. Whatever the traditions of the past, whatever the possibilities
of ecclesiastical modifications and developments in the future, in the
present no considerations of personal interest or compassion must be
permitted to warp the judgment of him who is armed

  With Paul's sword as with Peter's key.

And it is to be remembered, that the man who could thus reason, thus
decide, was head of that Church which excited the mocking condemnation of
the soliloquist of _Christmas Eve_: and that Caponsacchi, "the
warrior-priest, the soldier-saint," bore likewise the title of Canon. To
so remember may serve to cast new light upon Browning's supposed attitude
towards Roman Catholicism.

VI. The most important subject of discussion in relation to _Easter Day_
is that touching its so-called asceticism. Here also, as in _Christmas
Eve_, two interdependent questions must be asked: (1) What is the _nature_
of the asceticism advocated by the First Speaker? (2) How far may it be
regarded as the expression of Browning's own theory of life? A plain
answer to the first question is necessary in order that, by comparison
with the treatment of the same subject elsewhere, it may be possible to
determine the extent to which the opinions advanced are in agreement:
whether Browning was desirous of advocating renunciation even in the
degree held essential by the First Speaker. The key to the position seems
to be contained in two recorded comments on the poem by the poet and his
wife. When Mrs. Browning complained of the "asceticism," her husband
answered, that it stated "_one side_ of the question." Her supplementary
observation adds, "It is his way to _see_ things as passionately as other
people _feel_ them."[81] It was by the exercise of this exceptionally
powerful imaginative faculty that the author of _Easter Day_ has
dramatically stated the case which he perceived might be made out for
renunciation, as well as for grateful acceptance and enjoyment of the
gifts of life. If we admit the accuracy of the criticism which would
define the spirit of the poem as refusing to recognize, "in poetry or art,
or the attainments of the intellect, or even in the best human love, any
practical correspondence with religion,"[82] then indeed we are bound to
acknowledge that it stands absolutely alone in Browning's work and is in
direct opposition to his theory of life. I venture to think, however, that
a careful study of this particular aspect of the poem will result in the
conviction that the First Speaker is represented as realizing that,
desirable as is renunciation in his own case, it is not the highest course
possible to human nature.

Sections VIII, XVI, XX, XXIV, XXX, are those which deal chiefly with this
question of asceticism. Taken in sequence, they present in outline the
history of the spiritual life of the First Speaker. This it is desirable
to notice very briefly before comparing the rule of life thus indicated
with that suggested by references to Browning's work elsewhere. In Section
VIII is depicted the attitude of the First Speaker towards the Gospel
story; the attitude of "the fighter" who would not only wrestle with evil,
but would search for any possibly existent danger and bring it to light
(Section XIV). To such a nature the intellectual belief in the
Incarnation--"the all-stupendous tale--that Birth, that Life, that Death!"
is productive of heartstruck horror: whilst for a practical acceptance of
the faith, life must be regulated in accordance with Scriptural teaching,
expressed in

                Certain words, broad, plain,
  Uttered again and yet again,
  Hard to mistake or overgloss--(_E. D._, viii, ll. 257-259.)

words which declare that the loss of things temporal is the gain of things
spiritual and eternal. But the asceticism thus advocated does not find
full explanation until Section XXX. The gradual revelation begins with
Section XVI where, before judgment has been pronounced from without,
conscience passes sentence upon itself; realizing that that which it had
deemed in life a mere temporizing, had in fact been a final choice. That,
dallying with the good things of life, whilst believing renunciation the
higher course, had meant a practical decision in favour of things temporal
to the exclusion of things spiritual. In that exclusion lay the error. And
the recognition of failure here is in entire accordance with Browning's
usual attitude towards life. Condemnation is merited not on account of
indulgence, but because that indulgence had meant running counter to the
convictions of the man who held that, for him, renunciation was the higher
course. Not possessing the courage of his opinions, he had chosen that
which he recognized as the lower course, the path of compromise: enjoyment
in the present, renunciation before it was too late. Therefore for him who
had so chosen--the Hell of Satiety.

Now, as we have already noticed,[83] the experience of the results of the
Judgment tended to exhibit the true worth, both absolute and relative, of
the things amid which life had been hitherto passed. Satiety checked
enjoyment of the beauties of Nature. Why should this be? In Section XXIV
is given the answer:

  All partial beauty was a pledge
  Of beauty in its plenitude.

But, engrossed in contemplation of the partial beauty the spectator had
found that "the pledge sufficed [his] mood." Therefore, the plenitude was
not for him, but for those only who had looked above and beyond the
pledge, seeking that of which it was a proof. And in each of the
successive attempts towards happiness by an appeal to art, and to the
exercise of the higher intellectual faculties, the same explanation of
failure is vouchsafed by the Judge. The symbol has been accepted for the
reality, the pledge for the fulfilment. After the final choice has been
made in favour of Love, "leave to love only," the fuller explanation
follows; the secret of life's success or failure. Failure through the
inability to recognize the Divine Love in the visible creation, or in the
more immediate revelation to man: in either case ample proof being
afforded to him who had eyes to see, intelligence to grasp, and heart to
respond to the Love so taught. Yet the soliloquist of _Easter Day_ had
proved himself incapable of such recognition of the highest truth. The
world of sense had been used not to subserve but to supersede the world of
spirit. To the nature which thus found in all externals a temptation to
rest content with "the level and the night," asceticism was as essential
to the preservation of the spiritual life as, under certain conditions,
amputation may be to the preservation of physical life.

But it must not be overlooked that the necessity for amputation implies
the existence of mortal disease. Hence, whilst realizing this personal
necessity for renunciation, the speaker recalls the teaching of the divine
Judge of the Vision as pointing to a higher standard of life for him who
should be able to attain to it. A life in which all things should be not
avoided as a snare, but accepted as cause for thankfulness; the relation
of the gift to the Giver being recognized as constituting its primary
value. To the lover of the beautiful is pointed out how

      All thou dost enumerate
  Of power and beauty in the world,
  The mightiness of love was curled
  Inextricably round about.
  Love lay within it and without,
  To clasp thee,--but in vain! (_E. D._, xxx, ll. 960-965.)

In this passage may be found the solution to the whole question of the
asceticism advocated. When the love thus expressed had been realized, the
step was not a difficult one to the acceptance of the fuller revelation of
Love in the Incarnation. And in this realization the highest aspect of
life temporal would have been reached. Love, not abrogating the law would
have served as its fulfilment. As the statements of Bishop Blougram are
personal in relation to the treatment of doubt, so the speaker in _Easter
Day_ would make out a case for personal asceticism. Not advocating it as
the ideal universal course, he would yet claim for it highest value as
safeguarding his individual life. To him who is incapable of moderation,
renunciation may become a necessity; yet, through renunciation, may be
attained that higher life consisting in a grateful enjoyment and generous
communication of all gifts of the Divine Love.

Of the other poems dealing with this subject indirectly or directly,
_Paracelsus_, 1835, _Rabbi Ben Ezra_, 1864, _Ferishtah's Fancies_, 1884,
are sufficiently representative of the different periods of the poet's
literary life to render them valuable as illustrations of his mode of
treatment. In the last, at least, we may be fairly confident that the
decision given is his own.

In one aspect _Paracelsus_ may be regarded as the history of a man of
genius who marked out for himself a career of complete asceticism; of work
apart from human sympathy, love, and friendship, as well as from all
gratifications of the flesh. And the scheme was pursued
unflinchingly--for a time--until the inevitable reaction set in, spirit
and flesh alike avenging themselves for their temporary suppression. Not
only are love and friendship found claiming their own, but

  A host of petty wild delights, undreamed of
  Or spurned before, (_Par._, iii, ll. 537-538.)

offer themselves to supply the place of what the earlier ascetic, in a
moment of despairing self-contempt, terms his "dead aims." The declaration
at Colmar is made whilst the influence of reaction still prevails.

  I will accept all helps; all I despised
  So rashly at the outset, equally
  With early impulses, late years have quenched.

         *       *       *       *       *

  All helps! no one sort shall exclude the rest. (_Par._, iv, ll. 235-239.)

Only when he has learned from experience that human nature is not to be
developed through suppression, that "its sign and note and character" are
"Love, hope, fear, faith"--that "these make humanity," only then can he
fearlessly, as in youth, "press God's lamp to [his] breast," assured of
the divine guidance and protection.

_Sordello_, so closely allied to _Paracelsus_ in time of composition (pub.
1840, begun before _Strafford_, 1836), demands a brief reference since it
has been especially singled out for notice in this connection as
constituting "an indirect vindication of the conceptions of human life
which _Christmas Eve and Easter Day_ condemns."[84] In the _Sixth Book of
Sordello_ the question of renunciation has become imminent and practical.
It is the moment for decision. The imperial badge which he tells his soul
"would suffer you improve your Now!" must be accepted or rejected: and
with it the attendant temporal advantages. But the reflections occupying
the poet's mind, at this crisis of his fate, are akin to those following
the Vision of the Judgment in _Easter Day_. Why not enjoy life to the
full? Why treat it as a mere ante-room to the palace at the door of which
stands the Usher, Death? Even accepting the simile

                                  I, for one,
  Will praise the world, you style mere ante-room
  To palace.

         *       *       *       *       *

                      Oh, 'twere too absurd to slight
  For the hereafter the to-day's delight.[85]

Yet the thought recurs, how often has the cup of life been set aside by
"sage, champion, martyr," to whom had been revealed the secret of that
which "masters life." To what causes is attributable the failure which he
recognizes in reviewing his own Past? The soul, true inhabitant of the
Infinite, has been unable to adapt itself to its lodgment in the body
fitted, by its constitution, for Time only. Sorrow has been the inevitable
result of the soul's attempts at subjecting the body to its use. Sorrow to
be avoided only when the employer shall

  Match the thing employed,
  Fit to the finite his infinity.[86]

Some solution of the difficulty there must assuredly be. The question of
_Sordello_ is in different form the question of the soliloquist of _Easter
Day_--

  Must life be ever just escaped which should
  Have been enjoyed?[87]

And the answer?--

  Nay, might have been and would,
  Each purpose ordered right--the soul's no whit
  Beyond the body's purpose under it.[88]

Yet the struggle ends in _renunciation_, and Salinguerra arrives to find
Sordello dead, "under his foot the badge": but

                          Still, Palma said,
  A triumph lingering in the wide eyes.[89]

In _Rabbi Ben Ezra_ a more material conception of life is to be expected
from the change in the personality of the soliloquist. The Jewish Rabbi of
the twelfth century takes the place of the Mantuan poet of the thirteenth.
The Rabbi also recognizes the limitations imposed by the body upon the
development of the soul.

              Pleasant is this flesh,
          Our soul, in its rose-mesh
  Pulled ever to the earth, still yearns for rest. (_R. B. E._, xi.)

         *       *       *       *       *

          Thy body at its best,
  How far can that project thy soul on its lone way? (viii.)

Yet, since "gifts should prove their use," he would, in so far as may be,
utilize the body for the advancement of the soul.

        Let us not always say
        "Spite of the 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!" (xii.)

In this complete co-operation of spirit and flesh--if attainable--might be
found a satisfactory answer to Sordello's question concerning the
possibility of that use of life which should prove a legitimate enjoyment
of its gifts, no mere avoidance of its snares.

The parable of _The Two Camels of Ferishtah's Fancies_ is employed to
again introduce the subject of asceticism and its uses. The conclusions
there reached differ, perhaps, rather in degree than in kind from those
which have gone before. Not asceticism, but enjoyment develops best the
faculties of man. The perfect achievement of the work allotted him is the
object of his existence. Hence the admonition,

                                  Dare
  Refuse no help thereto, since help refused
  Is hindrance sought and found.

The decision, however, goes a step further than that of _Easter Day_ where
it is noticeable that the professing Christian, who objects to an
examination of the basis of his faith, appears to have no anxiety
respecting the world at large. The salvation of his individual soul is
that which alone concerns him, and pretty well limits his outlook on life
temporal and eternal. In _The Two Camels_, Ferishtah, in rejecting
asceticism as a mode of life, looks not to its personal effects only, but
to those influences which he is bound to transmit to his fellow men. To
become a joy-giving medium, individual experience of joy is, he claims,
essential, and to be best acquired through a free and grateful acceptance,
and a reasonable enjoyment of the blessings of earth.

  Just as I cannot, till myself convinced,
  Impart conviction, so, to deal forth joy
  Adroitly, needs must I know joy myself.
  Renounce joy for my fellows' sake? That's joy
  Beyond joy; but renounced for mine, not theirs?

         *       *       *       *       *

  No, Son: the richness hearted in such joy
  Is in the knowing what are gifts we give,
  Not in a vain endeavour not to know![90]

That, I believe, we must take as Browning's final word on the subject.
Does it differ so widely from the teaching of _Easter Day_? Surely not?
The man who feared to enjoy earth lest earth should prove a snare, was
taught by the final Judgment that, to a nature of higher capacity, might
be possible that full enjoyment of life comprehended in the use of all
good things as opportunities for soul-enlargement. An enjoyment following
immediately upon the discovery that in all

  Of power and beauty in the world,
  The mightiness of love was curled
  Inextricably round about.



LECTURE VII

LA SAISIAZ



LECTURE VII

LA SAISIAZ


The peculiar interest attaching to _Christmas Eve and Easter Day_ is
wholly absent from _La Saisiaz_; for here is no uncertainty as to the
identity of the speaker, no soliloquist interposed between the author and
his public. The dramatic interest absent, the personal interest is,
however, proportionately stronger. As in _Prospice_ the closing lines are
unmistakably the outcome of an overwhelming torrent of feeling, so in the
later poem the problems demanding consideration have been forced into
prominence by the events of the hour; and the mourner, who was "ever a
fighter," will not rest until he has confronted them, and has done all
that may be fairly and honestly done towards the settlement of tormenting
doubts and fears. Thus, in _La Saisiaz_, we get, perhaps, the sole example
in Browning's work of a direct attempt on his part to give to the world a
rational and sustained argument, resulting in his personal decision as to
the questions immediately involved; the immortality of the soul and the
relation of its future to its present phase of existence. It is to this
deliberate design that the striking difference in character of these two
similarly inspired poems may be mainly attributable: that the joyful
assurance of _Prospice_ is succeeded by the reasoned hope of _La Saisiaz_.
The mourner hesitates to launch himself upon the waves of faith until he
has argued the questions before him in so far as they are capable of
argument. For the confidence of _Prospice_ that

                          The fiend-voices that rave
        _Shall_ dwindle, _shall_ blend,
  _Shall_ change, _shall_ become ... a peace out of pain:

we have the hope of _La Saisiaz_,

  No more than hope, but hope--no less than hope. (l. 535.)

In place of the triumphant certainty of future reunion,

  O thou soul of my soul! I _shall_ clasp thee again,

is the answering query--sole response to the question as to mutual
recognition in another world

  Can it be, and must, and will it? (l. 390.)

But the problems of _La Saisiaz_ are not capable of solution by argument;
there comes a stage at which it is inevitable that faith must supplement
and succeed the reasoning powers of the intellect. "Man's truest answer"
is, after all, but human: the finite may not grasp the Infinite; and,
looking upon the Infinite as revealed through Nature, man can but reflect

  How were it did God respond?

It is the necessary failure in the attainment of a satisfactory conclusion
by ratiocinative methods alone which causes the apparent uncertainty:
apparent rather than actual, since, wherever in the course of the
discussion feeling is allowed free exercise, there faith--or
hope--prevails. In _Prospice_, reasoning offers no check to the emotions,
and faith holds complete sway. Though Faith and Reason are no antagonistic
forces, the ventures of Faith must yet transcend the powers of Reason, and
Reasoning, whilst it may define, is incapable of limiting the province of
Faith, since even "true doctrine is not an end in itself: it cannot carry
us beyond the region of the intellect.... All formulas are of the nature
of outlines: they define by exclusion as well as by comprehension; and no
object in life is isolated. Our premisses in spiritual subjects,
therefore, are necessarily incomplete, and even logical deductions from
them may be false."[91]

But whatever the intellectual questionings and uncertainties occurring in
the course of the poem itself, the prologue is a pure lyric of spiritual
triumph. Though actually the outcome of the premises preceding and the
conclusions following the argument between Fancy and Reason, no suggestion
of effort is apparent in the joyous song of the soul freed from the
trammels of the body to "wander at will," in the fruition of its fuller
life. The reference to its mortal tenement recalls no painful element in
the process of material decay; only autumn woods, the glowing colours of
fading leaves and mosses.

  Waft of soul's wing!
    What lies above?
    Sunshine and Love,
  Skyblue and Spring!
  Body hides--where?
    Ferns of all feather,
    Mosses and heather,
  Yours be the care!

Of the circumstances immediately giving rise to this personal expression
of feeling the briefest notice will suffice, the bare facts being stated
beneath the title in the latest edition of the works; whilst for the
details necessary to fill in the outline, we have only to turn to the poem
itself, reading the first 140 lines. Miss Egerton-Smith was one of
Browning's oldest women friends, but it was not until many years after
their first meeting in Florence that their intercourse seems to have
become a really important factor in the lives of both: when, after the
return to England following his wife's death, the poet temporarily
established himself in London with his sister as housekeeper. Miss
Egerton-Smith would appear to have been of a nature not readily responsive
to the demands of ordinary social intercourse; a nature likely to make
special appeal to the man who saw in imperfection, perfection hid, and in
complete temporal adaptability the exclusion of possibilities of future
growth. Hence we find him writing in the moment of bereavement:

  You supposed that few or none had known and loved you in the world:
  May be! flower that's full-blown tempts the butterfly, not flower that's
        furled.
  But more learned sense unlocked you, loosed the sheath and let expand
  Bud to bell and out-spread flower-shape at the least warm touch of hand
  --Maybe, throb of heart, beneath which,--quickening farther than it
        knew,--
  Treasure oft was disembosomed, scent all strange and unguessed hue.
  Disembosomed, re-embosomed,--must one memory suffice,
  Prove I knew an Alpine-rose which all beside named Edelweiss?
        (ll. 123-130.)

At the time of the chief intercourse between the two friends, Browning's
health rendered it necessary for him to leave England during a part of
each year, and for four successive summers Miss Egerton-Smith had been the
companion of the brother and sister in their foreign sojourns, when that
of 1877 was interrupted by her sudden death from heart disease on the
night of September 14th. The villa "La Saisiaz" (in the Savoyard dialect
"the Sun"), at which the party was staying, was situated above Geneva, and
almost immediately beneath La Salève, the summit of which was the
destination of the expedition occupying Miss Egerton-Smith's thoughts at
the time of her death. The shock to her friends was wholly unexpected, as
she had been in better health than was usual to her during the days
immediately preceding. To Browning it would appear to have been at first
overwhelming. It was not long, however, before the emotional and
intellectual faculties were sufficiently under control to render the
arguments of _La Saisiaz_ a possibility. When he added the concluding
lines in "London's mid-November," only six weeks had elapsed since that
"summons" in the Swiss village which had meant for him temporary
bereavement of affection and friendship.

_A._ The first 400 lines of the poem proper--exclusive of the
prologue--constitute a prelude to the formal debate conducted between
Fancy and Reason, designed as a rational and logical course of argument by
which the writer would assure himself of the immortality of the soul as a
no less reasonable hypothesis than is the self-evident fact of the
mortality of the body: that the assumption with which instinct forces him
to start is also the goal to which reason ultimately draws him. The
assumption--

  That's Collonge, henceforth your dwelling. All the same, howe'er
        disjoints
  Past from present, no less certain you are here, not there. (ll. 24-25.)

The conclusion--that even though

                    O'er our heaven again cloud closes ...
  Hope the arrowy, just as constant, comes to pierce its gloom.
        (ll. 542-543.)

Line 44 may be not unfitly taken as significant of the whole course of
thought

  What will be the morning glory, when at dusk thus gleams the lake?

(i) The first part of the prelude (if we may so call it), occupying 139
lines, calls for little more comment than that already necessitated by the
foregoing consideration of the circumstances giving rise to the poem. (ii)
In taking the solitary walk to the summit of La Salève five days after
Miss Egerton-Smith's death, the poet recalls the circumstances of their
last climb together; and as he stands looking down upon Collonge, that
final resting-place of the body, the question recurs--

  Here I stand: but you--where?

The heart has already assured itself that, in spite of the occupation of
that dwelling-place at Collonge, the certainty remains, "you are here, not
there." But this assurance has proved transitory as the feeling which
engendered it. No "mere surmise" will suffice concerning a matter "the
truth of which must rest upon no legend, that is no man's experience but
our own."[92] So to the author of _La Saisiaz_ the suggestion as to proofs
of spiritual survival presents itself only to be rejected.

  What though I nor see nor hear them? Others do, the proofs abound!

Such second-hand evidence is inadmissible.

  My own experience--that is knowledge. (l. 264.)

         *       *       *       *       *

  Knowledge stands on my experience: all outside its narrow hem,
  Free surmise may sport and welcome! (ll. 272-273.)

Here, as with the uncompromising investigator of _Easter Day_, the fact
that credence in a certain tenet is desirable, is advantageous, proves
cause for rejection rather than acceptance. All evidence must be sifted
with the utmost care. Thus the question is stated in line 144, the
answer, or attempted answer to which, is to occupy the entire poem--

  Does the soul survive the body?

The second part of the question is on a different platform--

  Is there God's self, no or yes?

The existence of God is accepted at the outset of the enquiry as a premise
on which the subsequent argument may be based: as is also the existence of
the soul: it is the condition of immortality alone which is to be proved.
And the poet puts the question, determined to face the truth--whether it
meets his "hopes or fears." It would be difficult to find a more
characteristic assertion of Browning's usual attitude than that of lines
149-150.

  Weakness never need be falseness: truth is truth in each degree
  --Thunderpealed by God to Nature, whispered by my soul to me.

(iii) But the events of the preceding days have converted the abstract
enquiry, "Does the soul survive the body?" into one of vital personal
import.

  Was ending ending once and always, when you died? (l. 172.)

Hence suggests itself the further question, a necessary sequel to the
first. If death is not the ending of the soul's life, what is the _nature_
of that immortality, the actuality of which the speaker seeks to
establish? We have already seen Cleon emphatically repudiating the theory
of Protus as to the satisfaction afforded by a vicarious immortality,
"what thou writest, paintest, stays: that does not die." Equally
unsatisfactory to human nature is the suggestion in the present instance
of a prolongation and renewal of life by influences transmitted to
succeeding generations. And yet is the certainty of the thirteenth century
possible to the nineteenth? "Phrase the solemn Tuscan fashioned."

                          I believe and I declare--
  Certain am I--from this life I pass into a better, there
  Where that lady lives of whom enamoured was my soul.

With this assurance all would be well.

(iv) Now, the mere possibility of propounding questions such as the
foregoing, involves the existence of that which asks, and of that to which
the enquiry is addressed with at least an anticipation, however vague, of
obtaining an answer. In other words, the existence of an intelligent being
and an external source of intelligence to which its questionings are
directed. These are the only facts on which the speaker would insist as a
basis for subsequent argument: but of the certainty of these he is
absolutely assured. That their existence is beyond proof he holds as
testimony to their reality.

  Call this--God, then, call that--soul, and both--the only facts for me.
  Prove them facts? that they o'erpass my power of proving, proves them
        such:
  Fact it is I know I know not something which is fact as much.
        (ll. 222-224.)

God and the soul. The primary fact of life and that which is dependent on
the primary. That the soul knows not whence it came nor whither it goes is
no argument against either its existence and immortality, or the existence
and omnipotent and omniscient control of a divine Being. The relative
positions of the rush and the stream lend themselves to the illustration
of this assertion. Whatever the purpose of life, it is yet possible that
man should exist without possessing assured knowledge concerning his
future destiny. All that the rush may conjecture of the course of the
stream is "mere surmise not knowledge": nevertheless, the existence of the
stream is a fact as self-evident to the onlooker as is that of the rush.
Therefore--

                            Ask the rush if it suspects
  Whence and how the stream which floats it had a rise, and where and how
  Falls or flows on still! What answer makes the rush except that now
  Certainly it floats and is, and, no less certain than itself,
  _Is_ the everyway external stream that now through shoal and shelf
  Floats it onward, leaves it--may be--wrecked at last, or lands on shore
  There to root again and grow and flourish stable evermore.
  --May be! mere surmise not knowledge: much conjecture styled belief,
  What the rush conceives the stream means through the voyage blind and
        brief. (ll. 226-234.)

Thus all man's conjecture as to his future existence is but conjecture:
surmise based upon probabilities deduced from the present conditions of
life and accumulated experience.

(v) And is then this fact of the present existence of the soul cause
sufficient to demand belief in its immortality? The affirmative answer,
"Because God seems good and wise," proves inadequate when the eyes of the
enquirer are turned to a world in which evil is manifestly existent, and
not only existent, but frequently predominant. The possibility of
reconciling such conditions with the design of a beneficent omnipotence is
only attained through the acceptance of belief in a future life which
shall disentangle the complexities of the present; which shall render
perfect that which is imperfect; complete that which is incomplete.
Without such a prospect of the ultimate solution of its problems life
would be unintelligible, therefore impossible as the work of an
intelligent being: hence the existence of God is denied by implication,
and the premise originally accepted (l. 222) is rejected. This question is
treated more fully later in the poem (ll. 335-348).

But, granted this possibility of a future, then

            Just that hope, however scant,
  Makes the actual life worth leading.

With hope the poet would rest satisfied, since certainty is neither
possible, nor, in view of the educative purpose which he claims for life,
desirable. Upon this recognition of "life, time,--with all their chances,"
as "just probation-space," rests one of the main dogmas of Browning's
teaching--suggested or expressed in countless passages throughout his
works; embodied in most concise form perhaps in the concluding stanzas of
_Abt Vogler_. This life being the prelude to another, failure becomes "but
a triumph's evidence for the fulness of the days," when for the evil of
the present shall be "so much good more": when, indeed, all those
unfulfilled hopes which had "promised joy" to the author of _La Saisiaz_,
shall find soul-satisfying fulfilment. And all we have willed or dreamed
of good shall exist. So long as Eternity may be held to "affirm the
conception of an hour," all the seeming inconsistencies of life may admit
of solution.

In this passage of _La Saisiaz_ recurs also that suggestion so
characteristic of Browning--introduced dramatically in _Easter Day_, to be
met with again later in the expositions nominally ascribed to
Ferishtah--the theory of the adaptation of the entire universe, as known
to man, to the needs and development of the individual soul. As in _Easter
Day_ is depicted by the Vision the work of

              Absolute omnipotence,
  Able its judgments to dispense
  To the whole race, as every one
  Were its sole object; (_E. D._, ll. 662-665.)

so again in _A Camel-driver_ is emphasized the individual character of the
final Judgment:

              Thou and God exist--
  So think!--for certain: think the mass--mankind--
  Disparts, disperses, leaves thyself alone!
  Ask thy lone soul what laws are plain to thee,--
  Thee and no other,--stand or fall by them!
  That is the part for thee: _regard all else
  For what it may be--Time's illusion_.

Similarly here the entire scheme of life is to be regarded from the
individual standpoint; all outside the "narrow hem" of personal experience
can be but the result of surmise. Therefore

  Solve the problem: "From thine apprehended scheme of things, deduce
  Praise or blame of its contriver, shown a niggard or profuse
  In each good or evil issue! nor miscalculate alike
  Counting one the other in the final balance, which to strike,
  Soul was born and life allotted: ay, the show of things unfurled
  For thy summing-up and judgment,--thine, no other mortal's world!"
        (ll. 287-292.)

With the acceptance, however, of the doctrine, "His own world for every
mortal," recurs again the disturbing reflection inevitable to the
contemplation of that world whether in its personal relation, or as a
training-ground for "some other mortal." Were the extreme transitoriness
and the preponderance of pain indispensable factors in the scheme of
instruction?

  Can we love but on condition, that the thing we love must die?
  Needs then groan a world in anguish just to teach us sympathy?
        (ll. 311-312.)

Certainly personal experience has resulted in the conclusion:

                            Howsoever came my fate,
  Sorrow did and joy did nowise,--life well weighed,--preponderate!
        (ll. 333-334.)

In the discussion which follows (ll. 335-348) the fact of the existence of
these evils is employed to enforce the admission of the necessity of a
future life. It is in fact the earlier argument (ll. 235, _et seq._)
repeated and elaborated. How are the existing conditions of life to be
reconciled with the belief in the over-ruling Providence of a God whose
name is synonymous with goodness, wisdom, and power? Here each attribute
is dealt with categorically--Was it proof of the divine Goodness that
within the limits of the poet's personal experience

                                  The good within [his] range
  Or had evil in admixture or grew evil's self by change? (ll. 337-338.)

Again could it be deemed a token of the divine Wisdom that

          Becoming wise meant making slow and sure advance
  From a knowledge proved in error to acknowledged ignorance?
        (ll. 339-340.)

Finally, seeing that Power must within itself include the force known as
Will, could that indeed rank as omnipotence, which was incapable of
securing for man even the enjoyment of life possessed by the worm which,
on the hypothesis of the non-existence of a future world, becomes "man's
fellow-creature," man too being thus but the creature of an hour? Since
with the loss of his immortal destiny passes also the reason (according to
Browning's reiterated theory) of his imperfection as compared with the
more complete physical perfection of the lower world of animal life. If,
then, such a consummation is the sole outcome of the Creator's work the
conclusion is inevitable, that the Goodness, Wisdom, and Power ascribed to
Him must be limited in range and capacity. Thus again the premise
originally accepted as a basis of argument has to be rejected--a God
possessing merely human attributes is no God. But once more also, though
in stronger terms, the conclusion of ll. 242-243:

                              Only grant a second life, I acquiesce
  In this present life as failure, count misfortune's worst assaults
  Triumph, not defeat, assured that loss so much the more exalts
  Gain about to be. (ll. 358-361.)

Thus all experience fairly considered goes to prove the necessity for a
future life; and with the hope of such a future is closely interwoven the
need also for reunion with those who have already tested the grounds of
their belief:

  Grant me (once again) assurance we shall each meet each some day.

         *       *       *       *       *

  Worst were best, defeat were triumph utter loss were utmost gain.
        (ll. 387-389.)

_B._ Nevertheless, the soul refuses even yet to accept, without that which
it deems reasonable proof, the justice of its intuitions and of its hopes
arising from experience. It will assume the position of arbitrator in the
debate which it permits between the sometime opposing forces of Reason and
Fancy, as to the results of an acceptance of that belief, for an assurance
of the truth of which it yearns.

_Fancy._ To the facts already admitted as the basis of argument Fancy may,
therefore, add a third, "that after body dies soul lives again."

_Reason._ In accepting the challenge to employ these three facts--God, the
soul, a future life--in a rational development of the present phase of
existence, Reason would reply that deductions from experience suggest that
the future life must necessarily prove an advance on the old. This being
so, the most prudent course is obviously that which would take, without
delay, the step leading from the lower to the higher; always allowing that
there is no existent law restrictive of man's free will in this matter.

  What shall then deter his dying out of darkness into light? (l. 441.)

_Fancy._ The deterrent is to be found in the suggestion by Fancy of the
law rendering penal "voluntary passage from this life to that."

  He shall find--say, hell to punish who in aught curtails the term.
        (l. 463.)

_Reason._ And what influence upon life it must be asked will this new
knowledge exert? Life, says Reason, would thus be reduced to a condition
of stagnation. The absolute certainty involved in this exact knowledge of
the future would stultify action in the present. A result similar to that
which, according to Karshish, was attained in the case of Lazarus. The
things of this world matter not in view of an ever-present realization of
Eternity. The use of faith is at an end as "the substance of things hoped
for, the evidence of things not seen," since all is clear, definite and,
further still, unalterable to the inward vision.

_Fancy._ Again Fancy interposes with the suggestion that this equal
realization of future and present must be accompanied by an appreciation
of the worth of life temporal and its opportunities, of the eternal import
of the deeds wrought in the flesh. Thus the future life completely
revealed would not, as Reason holds, supersede the uses of this, but would
serve rather as an incentive to action in the present, on the assumption
that the virtual reward of performance is reserved for the after-time.

_Reason._ The final position is then examined by Reason. To the original
premises--the existence of the soul, an intelligent being, and of a God,
the author of an intelligible universe in which man's lot is cast--has
been added the certainty of a future world, but a world into which man may
not pass until his allotted term has been fulfilled on earth. Further,
that in this world to come are to be dealt out allotments of happiness or
misery in exact relative proportion to the deeds accomplished during the
period of mortal life. That by laws as unerring and relentless as those of
Nature's code, pain will follow evil-doing, pleasure will succeed acts of
self-devotion to that which is esteemed goodness and truth. Absolute
certainty in all things spiritual being thus established, free will
becomes but a name, and the probationary character of life is at an end.
Here again a reminiscence of the discussion contained in the early stanzas
of _Easter Day_ when the Second Speaker suggests that faith may be

  A touchstone for God's purposes,
  Even as ourselves conceive of them.
  Could he acquit us or condemn
  For holding what no hand can loose,
  Rejecting when we can't but choose?
  As well award the victor's wreath
  To whosoever should take breath
  Duly each minute while he lived--
  Grant heaven, because a man contrived
  To see its sunlight every day
  He walked forth on the public way. (_E. D._, iv, ll. 59-70.)

So _La Saisiaz_

  Thenceforth neither good nor evil does man, doing what he must.
  Lay but down that law as stringent "wouldst thou live again, be just!"
  As this other "wouldst thou live now, regularly draw thy breath!
  For, suspend the operation, straight law's breach results in death--"
  And (provided always, man, addressed this mode, be sound and sane)
  Prompt and absolute obedience, never doubt, will law obtain!
        (ll. 497-502.)

The difference between the sanction attaching to laws moral and spiritual,
and to those of Nature is not, Reason would hold, the result of defective
power on the part of the legislator. Some definite purpose is existent in
the scheme of the universe in accordance with which

  Certain laws exist already which to hear means to obey;
  Therefore not without a purpose these man must, while those man may
  Keep and, for the keeping, haply gain approval and reward. (ll. 515-517.)

_C._ In short, the conclusion reached is that already propounded as the
outcome of experience--that uncertainty is one of the essential attributes
of life temporal. That in its probationary character lies its educative
influence. That since "assurance needs must change this life to [him]"
the author of _La Saisiaz_, no less than the soliloquist of _Easter Day_,
would willingly continue in that state of probation which fosters growth
and development; would cling to that uncertainty which allows of the
existence of hope.

As employed by Reason, and generally throughout the poem, the word hope
possesses more than the comparatively vague significance commonly
attaching to it: it becomes practically synonymous with faith. In a
similar sense the term occurs in the _Epistle to the Romans_,[93] when the
writer asserts that "we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not
hope" (the argument which Browning is here using). "For what a man seeth,
why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we
with patience wait for it." It is further noticeable that here, as
elsewhere in Browning, is rejected the belief in a future which shall, in
the words of Paracelsus, reduce the present world to the position of "a
mere foil ... to some fine life to come."[94] The necessity for a future
life is throughout the argument based upon the fact that immortality is
needed to render intelligible the conditions attendant upon life temporal.
It is the _unintelligibility_ of life, if cut short by death, which
demands its renewal beyond the grave.

The concluding lines of the poem proper (immediately preceding the
supplementary stanza), although not directly essential to the argument,
are especially interesting from the allusions contained in them and the
resulting inferences which have met with some diversity of interpretation.

  Thanks, thou pine-tree of Makistos, wide thy giant torch I wave.
        (l. 579.)

is thus explained by Dr. Berdoe in his _Browning Cyclopaedia_.

"The reference to Makistos is from the _Agamemnon_ of Æschylus. The town
of Makistos had a watch-tower on a neighbouring eminence, from which the
beacon lights flashed the news of the fall of Troy to Greece. Clytemnestra
says

              Sending a bright blaze from Ide,
  _Beacon did beacon send_,
  Pass on--the pine-tree--to Makistos' watch-place."

This pine tree, as "the brand flamboyant," which should replenish the
beacon-fire of Makistos, Browning takes as symbolic of fame. The Knowledge
and Learning of Gibbon constitute the trunk--

  This the trunk, the central solid Knowledge
  ... rooted yonder at Lausanne [where Gibbon's History was finished].

But Learning is hardly permitted "its due effulgence," being "dulled by
flake on flake of [the] Wit"--nourished at Ferney (sometime the home of
Voltaire). To the Learning of Gibbon, the Wit of Voltaire is added in "the
terebinth-tree's resin," the "all-explosive Eloquence" of Rousseau and of
Diodati:[95] whilst in the heights, above all "deciduous trash," climbs
the evergreen of the ivy, significant of the immortality of Byron's poetic
fame. Having lifted "the coruscating marvel," the watcher on La Salève
would likewise stand as a beacon to those millions who

                Have their portion, live their calm or troublous day,
  Find significance in fireworks.

That by his help they may

  Confidently lay to heart ... this:
  "He there with the brand flamboyant, broad o'er night's forlorn abyss,
  Crowned by prose and verse; and wielding, with Wit's bauble, Learning's
        rod ...
  Well? Why, he at least believed in Soul, was very sure of God."

Of these three concluding lines Dr. Berdoe writes: "Many writers have
thought that ... the poet referred to himself. Of course, any such idea is
preposterous; the reference was to Voltaire. Mr. Browning, apart from the
question of the egotism involved, could not say of himself, 'he at least
believed in soul.' There was no minimizing of religious faith in the poet.
Still less could he speak of himself as 'crowned by prose and verse.'"
Whence arises Dr. Berdoe's misapprehension? Apart from the context the
significance might not be obvious; taken in connection with the passage
immediately preceding, it is valuable as adding emphasis to the
conclusions of the foregoing argument, and proclaiming in unmistakable
language the worth to Browning as a personal possession of that creed
which he has just declared himself to hold. Reflecting upon the widespread
influence of those literary men whose presence has rendered celebrated the
region lying before him, he attributes it to the "phosphoric fame" which
attended the path of each. "Famed unfortunates" all, yet "the world was
witched" and became enslaved by their pessimistic theories of life. Forced
to believe because "the famous bard believed!" because the renowned man of
letters could say, "Which believe--for I believe it." Such being the power
of fame as an agency for influencing the human mind, what might not the
author of _La Saisiaz_ achieve, were he, too, armed with this "brand
flamboyant!" No pessimistic creed is his, but that which involving an
absolute belief in God and in the soul would thence deduce a confidence in
"that power and purpose" existent throughout life, indicated and
recognized by the presence and revelations of "hope the arrowy." So would
he gather in one the fame of his predecessors in the literary world; would
become as Rousseau, "eloquent, as Byron prime in poet's power":

  Learned for the nonce as Gibbon, witty as wit's self Voltaire.

Thus would he stand "crowned by prose and verse." And why? Because the
millions still take "the flare for evidence," and "find significance" in
the fireworks of fame. Only by wielding "the brand flamboyant" may he
succeed in impressing upon mankind his own supreme assurance. To this end
he would desire Fame.

It remains to assign to _La Saisiaz_ the position which, as a declaration
of faith, it occupies in relation to the poems we have already considered.
In _Caliban_, dealing with a peculiar phase of "Natural Theology," we
found the suggestions of a deity those derived from the conceptions of a
semi-savage being, with whom the intellectual development would seem to
have outrun the moral. Passing to the reflections of Cleon, with the Greek
theory and practice of life there set forth, we reached the utmost heights
attainable by paganism. In _Bishop Blougram's Apology_ the unbelief
threatening was not that of paganism in the early interpretation of the
word, but of the paganism which would substitute authority for faith. With
_Christmas Eve_ came the individual choice of creed, the voluntary
acceptance of the position of worshipper at one of the narrow shrines of
human invention; but an acceptance which involved likewise a personal
faith in the divinity of Jesus Christ. The faith thus accepted received
fuller analysis and investigation through the questionings of _Easter
Day_. But all these poems are, as we have been forced to conclude, more or
less dramatic in character, the first three wholly, the two last to a
degree which we have attempted to define. Only with _La Saisiaz_ do we
reach the undisguised and definite expression of Browning's personal
faith, the basis, though not the culmination of which, is emphatically
asserted as a belief in the soul and in God.

At first sight it may appear disappointing to many readers that the
irreducible minimum of the creed should contain but these two tenets. On
this ground, indeed, we might have been tempted, had such a transposition
been justifiable to place _La Saisiaz_ before, instead of after,
_Christmas Eve and Easter Day_, allowing the profession of faith on La
Salève to serve as a foundation for the superstructure supplied by the
arguments of the listener without the Lecture Hall at Göttingen. On
consideration, however, nothing is discoverable in the position occupied
by the author of _La Saisiaz_ to render untenable that held by the
soliloquist of _Christmas Eve_ or the First Speaker of _Easter Day_. There
is, as we have indeed noticed, a marked similarity between the arguments
employed in the two last cases (_La Saisiaz_ and _Easter Day_) and in the
conclusions reached: in both, the assurance that in the probationary
character of this present life, with its possibilities for spiritual
development through the exercise of faith, lies its main value.

Mrs. Sutherland Orr admits that Browning "was no less, in his way, a
Christian when he wrote _La Saisiaz_ than when he published _A Death in
the Desert_ and _Christmas Eve and Easter Day_, or at any period
subsequent to that in which he accepted without questioning what he had
learned at his mother's knee. He has repeatedly written or declared in the
words of Charles Lamb: 'If Christ entered the room I should fall on my
knees'; and again in those of Napoleon: 'I am an understander of men, and
_He_ was no man.' He has even added: 'If he had been, he would have been
an imposter.'" But she has already remarked of the poem that "It is
conclusive both in form and matter as to his heterodox attitude towards
Christianity." And she continues: "The arguments, in great part negative,
set forth in _La Saisiaz_ for the immortality of the soul, leave no place
for the idea, however indefinite, of a Christian revelation on the
subject."[96] We may indeed regret that such criticism should result from
a study of the poem; but, after all, do the truths discussed in _La
Saisiaz_ involve any immediate question either of the acceptance or
rejection of a Christian revelation on this or on any subject? Do they not
go deeper, if we may so say, than Christianity itself? Until faith in
these fundamental truths has been unassailably established, no basis for
Christianity has been secured. To him who is not yet "sure of God," the
revelation of God in Christ can have little meaning. For whilst far more
than the belief necessarily implied in the confession on La Salève must be
held essential to the fulness of life, without it no superstructure of
faith is possible. Its very strength would seem to lie in the fact that,
avoiding the limitations of strictly defined dogma, it "leaves place" for
all subsequent revelations of spiritual truth.

And what _is_ "the Christian revelation" on these matters? The questions
concerning death, immortality, and future recognition and reunion, ever
suggesting themselves in new form to the human heart and intellect, are
yet unanswered. Even that "acknowledgment of God in Christ" to which the
dying Evangelist points as to the solution of "all questions in the earth
and out of it,"[97] implies the acceptance of a creed not necessarily
involving a revelation of the future life. The teaching of the Gospel
serves as _present_ inspiration of a faith content to leave the future in
the confidence

  Our times are in His hand
  Who saith "A whole I planned."[98]

Life eternal is there defined, not with reference to a future state, but
as the knowledge of God, the beginnings of which are attainable here and
now, by present service and self-devotion: to him who should do the will
should the doctrine be made known.[99] The record of the intercourse
between the Master and His disciples during the forty days following the
resurrection is silent concerning any lifting of the veil before which
they so consciously stood. That Browning was a Christian in the broadest,
deepest, and possibly in the least conventional acceptation of the term,
it was the attempt of the last Lecture to demonstrate by a consideration
of the dramatic poems bearing reference to Christianity and its relation
to human life. And there is no word throughout _La Saisiaz_ which should
preclude belief in the conclusions of David in _Saul_ or of St. John in _A
Death in the Desert_. To the man who was "very sure of God"--who had
recognized the Divine revelation in Nature--an acceptance of the more
immediate and special revelation was but a natural sequence. "Ye believe
in God, believe also in me":[100] when the assertion holds good the
command is not difficult of fulfilment. Whilst extreme caution is
necessary in dealing with a matter in which the student is too readily
tempted to "find what he desires to find," the historical and logical
necessity for an Incarnation was, as we have seen, so favourite a theme
with Browning for dramatic treatment, that it is wellnigh impossible to
dissociate the personal interest. This subject the reflections of _La
Saisiaz_ do not directly approach.

  He at least believed in Soul, was very sure of God.

The creed so expressed meant for the author a gain, once experienced, too
great to remain unshared. No mere abstract belief, but an assurance of
which he could assert

  Fact it is I know I know not something which is fact as much. (l. 224.)

For him the power and the purpose which he beheld, "if no one else
beheld," ruling in Nature and in human life were alike Love. The last word
on the subject comes to us direct, unmodified by any dramatic medium--

  Power is Love--

         *       *       *       *

    From the first, Power was--I knew.
  Life has made clear to me
    That, strive but for closer view,
  Love were as plain to see.

  When see? Where there dawns a day,
    If not on the homely earth,
  Then yonder, worlds away,
    Where the strange and new have birth,
  And Power comes full in play.[101]

The hope of _La Saisiaz_ has become the assurance of the _Reverie_.

This recognition of "the continuity of life" is the main inspiration, the
invigorating principle of Browning's creed. Cleon _felt_ the necessity
which Reason demonstrated on La Salève. Yet again, eleven years later, the
author of _Asolando_ can speak with absolute confidence of the certainty
that death will afford no interruption to the energies, the activities,
the progress of the soul's life. That he who has _here_ "never turned his
back" will _there_ still continue the forward march. It is, in other
words, the faith of Pompilia which can look beyond the limitations of the
present to the boundless developments of which this life, with its
struggles and apparent failures, is but the beginning: and in the hour of
defeat can hold that "No work begun shall ever pause for death."

It is in the midst of the "bustle of man's work-time" that "the unseen" is
to be greeted. Is it too much to say that Browning, in the admonition of
these closing lines of the _Asolando Epilogue_, makes confession of his
belief in the Communion of Saints? But it is characteristic that the
expression of faith (if such we may account it) is made in terms which
admit of no distinctly formulated definition. The command comes as an
inspiration to the seen and the unseen.

    Greet the unseen with a cheer!
  Bid him forward, breast and back as either should be,
  "Strive and thrive!" cry "Speed,--fight on, fare ever
            There as here!"

The underlying confidence is beyond that of the reasoning of _La Saisiaz_,
but not far in advance of the joyful spontaneity of the _Prologue_

  _Dying we live._
  Fretless and free,
    Soul, clap thy pinion!

     *       *       *

    Body shall cumber
  Soul-flight no more.

And if--admitting that Browning, even when writing _La Saisiaz_, possessed
the assurance thus expressed--we ask why he should have rested satisfied
with the confession of faith contained in its concluding line, the answer
must be--that the author of _La Saisiaz_ is to be numbered amongst that
small minority of religious teachers for whom it may be claimed that "they
cannot fail to recognize that the formulas which express the Truth
suggested by the facts of their Creed are themselves of necessity partial
and provisional." It is impossible to doubt that with him the
consciousness was strongly present, that "Formulas do not exhaust the
Truth"; that "the character and expression of Doctrine ... is relative to
the age."[102] That in proportion as satisfaction is found in formula does
faith lose its life-giving power. Progress being the law of life, he
would, therefore, enforce upon no man as binding formulae of which the
comparative inelasticity might tend to fetter mental or spiritual
development. On the contrary, he would have the seeker after Truth
prepared to relinquish in due time definitions once essential, since
threatening to become restrictive to growth. Before all things, is to be
avoided the danger of resting on that which is not the Truth itself, but
merely a necessary introduction to the Truth. Hence,

              The help whereby he mounts,
  The ladder-rung his foot has left, may fall,
  Since all things suffer change save God the Truth.[103]

Only through such employment of the means may the end be attained, since
whether it be concerning "God the Truth," "the eternal power," or "the
love that tops the might, the Christ in God," in all

              New lessons shall be learned ...
  Till earth's work stop and useless time run out.[104]



INDEX


  _Abt Vogler_, 52, 78, 153, 190.

  _Acts, The_, 31, 33, 39.

  Æschylus, 33, 196, 197.

  Alcestis, 41.

  _Andrea del Sarto_, 5, 74, 140, 141, 153.

  _Apparent Failure_, 159.

  Aratus, 39.

  Arnold, Matthew, 3, 4.

  Art, 11, 49-51, 55, 139-142, 171.

  Asceticism, 97, 130, 132-134, 168-177.

  _Asolando_, 7, 203.

  _Asolando, Epilogue_, 5, 11, 153, 204.

  Athenians, 31.

  Augustine, St., 105.


  _Balaustion's Adventure_, 20.

  Barrett, Miss (_see_ Mrs. Browning), 160, 161.

  Berdoe, E., 12, 66, 67, 196-198.

  _Bishop Blougram's Apology_, 9, 55, 63-91, 127, 131, 134, 141, 160, 162,
        163, 172, 199.

  _Bishop orders his Tomb_, 64.

  _Book and the Ring, The_, 51.

  Brooke, A. Stopford, 13.

  Browning, Mrs., 168, 184.

  Byron, Lord, 197, 198.


  Caliban, 5, 11-26, 29-31, 45, 63, 64, 102, 104.

  _Caliban upon Setebos_, 3-26, 31, 45, 199.

  Calvinism, 100-103, 160-166.

  _Camel-driver, A_, 157-160, 190, 191.

  Caponsacchi, 5, 167, 168.

  Chesterton, G. K., 12, 68.

  Christianity, 7-12, 33, 39, 58, 65, 67, 108, 109, 111-116, 121, 125-146,
        150-152, 154, 155, 200-202.

  _Christmas Eve_, 10, 11, 95-122, 199, 200.

  _Christmas Eve and Easter Day_, 8, 64, 95-177, 181, 200.

  _Cleon_, 8, 9, 11, 25, 29-59, 64, 65, 78, 140, 144, 151, 152, 187, 199,
        203.

  Clough, A. H., 3, 4.

  Collonge, 185, 186.

  Cross, J. W., 56.


  David, 152 (_see_ _Saul_).

  _Death in the Desert_, 10, 11, 16, 17, 25, 26, 32, 47, 48, 52, 59, 78,
        144, 145, 151, 154, 200, 201, 202, 205.

  Dickens, C., 73, 97.

  Diodati, 197.

  Dionysius, 33.

  _Dîs Aliter Visum_, 78, 79, 153.

  Doubt, 4 (_see_ Faith and Doubt).

  Dowden, E., 12, 96, 161, 164, 165, 168.

  Dramatic power of Browning, 5-8, 15, 63, 64, 73, 74, 96-100, 132,
        149-177.

  _Dramatis Personae_, 7.

  _Dramatis Personae, Epilogue_, 9, 153, 154, 163, 164.


  _Easter Day_, 6, 10, 23, 125-146, 186, 190, 195, 196, 199, 200 (_see_
        _Christmas Eve and Easter Day_).

  Egerton-Smith, Miss, 183-186.

  Eliot, George, 56.

  Emerson, 186.

  _Epistle of James_, 115.

  _Epistle of Karshish, An_, 10, 129, 151, 152, 155, 156, 194.

  _Epistle to the Romans_, 196.

  Euripides, 33, 89.

  _Evelyn Hope_, 153.

  Evil, 21.


  Faith, 3, 5, 11, 109-111, 152-157, 182.

  Faith and Doubt, 76, 77, 80-91, 126-134, 145, 146, 149.

  Fancy, 183, 185, 193, 194.

  _Fears and Scruples_, 156, 157.

  _Ferishtah's Fancies_, 172, 190 (_see_ _Shah Abbas_, _A Camel-driver_,
        _The Two Camels_).

  _Fra Lippo Lippi_, 51.

  Future Life, 23, 24, 47, 49, 53-58, 181-183, 185-205.


  Geneva, 184, 197 (_note_).

  Gibbon, 197-199.

  Gissing, G., 97.

  Gladstone, W. E., 72.

  _Grammarian's Funeral_, 54, 55, 78, 153.

  Greece (Greeks), 29, 31-34, 37, 39, 43, 48, 49, 51-55, 57-59, 64, 65,
        199.

  Guido Franceschini, 5, 137, 167.


  _Hamlet_, 12, 84, 88, 89.

  Hildebrand, 83.

  Homer, 31, 32, 34, 35, 38.

  Humanitarianism, 111-116.


  Immortality, 47 (_see_ Future Life).

  Incarnation, The, 18, 25, 26, 39, 111-116, 144, 145, 150-152, 169, 205.

  _In Memoriam_, 4, 5, 53, 54, 88.

  Innocent XII (_see_ _The Pope_).


  _Johannes Agricola in Meditation_, 101, 102.

  John, St., 5, 202 (_see_ _A Death in the Desert_).

  Judgment, 135-139, 143, 154, 157-160, 170, 171, 174, 177.


  Lamb, C., 200.

  _La Saisiaz_, 3, 5, 7, 10, 24, 57, 64, 181-205.

  La Salève, 5, 184, 186, 197, 200, 201, 203.

  Lazarus, 11, 142, 151, 155, 156, 194 (_see_ _Epistle of Karshish_).

  Lewes, G. H., 56.

  Love, Divine and human, 10, 19, 48, 104, 105, 108-111, 142-145, 151,
        171-173, 203, 205.

  Lowell, J. R., 117.

  Luigi, 80.

  Luther, 79, 80, 85.


  Makistos, 196, 197.

  Manning, Cardinal, 71.

  _Master Hugues of Saxe-Gotha_, 153.

  _Men and Women Series_, 7, 8, 49.

  Miracles, 70, 86.

  Morley, J., 72, 74.


  Napoleon I, 83-85, 200.

  Napoleon III (_see_ _Prince Hohenstiel Schwangau_).

  Nature, 4, 11, 37, 85, 103-105, 119, 130, 132, 139, 140-143, 151, 170,
        182, 187, 194, 195, 202, 203.

  Newman, J. H., 71, 76.


  Obscurity of Browning, 6.

  _Old Pictures in Florence_, 49-52, 59, 140.

  Orr, Mrs. Sutherland, 154, 169, 173, 200, 201.


  _Paracelsus_, 23, 42-44, 47, 73, 74, 153, 172, 173, 196.

  Paul (Paulus), 31, 33, 34, 59.

  _Pauline_, 5, 7, 78, 79, 153.

  Phidias, 31, 32, 34, 36, 38.

  Pippa, 5.

  _Pippa passes_, 80, 144.

  Pompilia, 166, 203.

  _Pompilia_, 55, 203.

  _Pope, The_, 136, 137, 162, 166-168.

  Power, 19, 20, 25, 104, 105, 144, 145, 151, 192, 203.

  _Prince Hohenstiel Schwangau_, 74.

  Progress, Law of Life, 25, 34-39, 43-46, 49, 50, 52, 55, 78, 79, 87, 88,
        205.

  Prospero, 13, 14, 16, 19, 31, 102.

  _Prospice_, 11, 126, 181, 182.

  Protus, 31-34, 40-42, 48, 53-55, 64, 65, 187.

  Pugin, A. W., 69.


  "Quiet, The," 21, 24-26, 45.


  _Rabbi Ben Ezra_, 10, 36-38, 48, 79, 140, 172, 175, 201.

  Reason, 107, 110, 158, 182-185, 193-196, 203.

  _Reverie_ (_Asolando_), 105, 203.

  _Ring and the Book_, 73 (_see_ _Book and the Ring_, _Pompilia_, _The
        Pope_).

  Roman Catholicism, 9, 70-72, 83, 86, 103, 106-111, 120, 121, 160-168.

  Rousseau, 197, 198.


  Sacrifice, Doctrine of, 22, 23.

  _Saul_, 18, 19, 25, 26, 36, 151, 202.

  Setebos, 14-26, 29, 102, 104.

  Shakespeare, 6, 13, 16, 84, 85, 88, 89, 114.

  Sharp, W., 12.

  Shelley, P. B., 53.

  _Sordello_, 57, 58, 73, 173-175.

  Stanley, Dean, 72.

  _Strafford_, 173.

  Strauss, 80, 85.

  Sycorax, 14, 21, 29.


  _Tempest, The_, 11-14.

  Tennyson, A., 4, 38 (_see_ _In Memoriam_).

  Terpander, 31, 32, 34, 35, 38.

  _The Two Camels_, 176.

  _Toccata of Galuppi's_, 40, 140.

  Tolerance, 117-120.

  Tractarian Movement, 161.

  _Tracts for the Times_, 71.

  Truth, 3, 4, 5, 17, 39, 44, 76, 119, 120, 153, 154, 204, 205.


  Voltaire, 197-199.


  Ward, W., 67, 86, 90, 91.

  Westcott, B. F., 33, 142, 182, 183, 204, 205.

  _Wisdom_, 102.

  Wiseman, Cardinal, 66-71, 74, 86, 90, 91.


  Zeus, 8, 29, 39, 42.


  CHISWICK PRESS: PRINTED BY CHARLES WHITTINGHAM AND CO.
  TOOKS COURT, CHANCERY LANE, LONDON.



FOOTNOTES:

[1] _La Saisiaz_, l. 604. _R. Browning_, vol. ii, Smith, Elder and Co.

[2] _Self dependence._ Matt. Arnold.

[3] _Say not the struggle nought availeth._

[4] _Easter Day_, vii.

[5] _Browning_, E. Dowden, J. M. Dent and Co., p. 243.

[6] _R. Browning_, W. Sharp (_Great Writers_), p. 207.

[7] _Browning Cyclopaedia_, Berdoe, p. 91 (quoted).

[8] _R. Browning_, G. K. Chesterton (_Eng. Men of Letters_), p. 135.

[9] _Browning_, S. Brooke, Isbister, p. 288.

[10] _Saul_, 268.

[11] _Balaustion's Adventure_, vol. i, p. 660.

[12] _Genesis_, xxviii, 20.

[13] _Hosea_, vi, 6.

[14] _Paracelsus_, 876-878, pt. v.

[15] L. 390.

[16] _A Death in the Desert_, ll. 474-476.

[17] _Acts_, xvii, 21.

[18] _A Death in the Desert_, 498.

[19] _Religious Thought in the West._

[20] _Acts_, xvii, 34.

[21] _Saul_, 295.

[22] _Rabbi Ben Ezra_, xxiv, xxv.

[23] _Ibid._, xix.

[24] _Acts_, xvii, 24-28.

[25] _A Toccata of Galuppi's._

[26] _Paracelsus_, v, 709-713.

[27] _Caliban_, 101.

[28] _Paracelsus_, i, 726-737.

[29] _Ibid._, i, 759-762.

[30] _A Death in the Desert_, 198-207.

[31] _Rabbi Ben Ezra_, viii.

[32] _Old Pictures in Florence_, xi.

[33] _Ibid._, xix.

[34] _The Book and the Ring_, 866-867.

[35] _Fra Lippo Lippi._

[36] _Old Pictures in Florence_, xx.

[37] _Old Pictures in Florence_, xv.

[38] _Ibid._, xvi.

[39] _A Death in the Desert_, 429-431.

[40] _Abt Vogler_, xi.

[41] _Adonais_, Shelley.

[42] _In Memoriam_, xlvii.

[43] _A Grammarian's Funeral._

[44] _Ibid._

[45] _Pompilia_, 1787.

[46] _Life of George Eliot_, Cross. Letters to J. Blackwood and J. W.
Cross.

[47] _La Saisiaz._

[48] _Sordello_, bk. iv.

[49] _Ibid._, bk. v.

[50] _Ibid._, bk. vi.

[51] Cf. _St. Matthew_, xi, 11.

[52] _Life and Times of Cardinal Wiseman_, by Wilfrid Ward. 2 vols. 1897.

[53] _Ibid._

[54] _Ibid._

[55] Incident related _Browning_. G. K. Chesterton. (_Eng. Men of
Letters._)

[56] _Life of Gladstone._ J. Morley. Vol. i.

[57] _Apologia pro vita sua._ J. H. Newman.

[58] _Pippa passes_, iii, 1210-1215.

[59] Quoted. _Life and Times of Cardinal Wiseman._ W. Ward.

[60] _In Memoriam_, xcvi.

[61] _Browning_, Dent and Co., p. 124.

[62] _Wisdom of Solomon_, xi, 24-26.

[63] _Confessions_, bk. i, chap. iii.

[64] Chapter ii, 14-20.

[65] _Godminster Chimes._ J. R. Lowell.

[66] _The Pope_, 2117-2128.

[67] _Andrea del Sarto_, 83-87.

[68] _Christmas Eve_, 360-363.

[69] _Pippa passes_, 114-180.

[70] _A Death in the Desert_, 498-499.

[71] _A Death in the Desert_, 500-513.

[72] _Life and Letters of Robert Browning_, Mrs. Sutherland Orr, Smith,
Elder and Co., p. 185.

[73] _A Death in the Desert_, 431-433.

[74] _A Death in the Desert_, 589-594.

[75] _Ibid._, 292-298.

[76] _Apparent Failure._

[77] _A Camel-driver._

[78] _Browning_, E. Dowden, J. M. Dent and Co., pp. 121, 123.

[79] _Dramatis Personae._

[80] _Browning_, E. Dowden, pp. 128-129.

[81] _Browning_, Dowden, p. 132.

[82] _Life and Letters of Browning_, Mrs. S. Orr, p. 185.

[83] _Supra_, pp. 135-145.

[84] _Browning_, Mrs. S. Orr, pp. 185-186.

[85] _Sordello_, Book the Sixth.

[86] _Ibid._

[87] _Ibid._

[88] _Sordello_, Book the Sixth.

[89] _Ibid._

[90] _The Two Camels._

[91] _Christian Aspects of Life_, Westcott, p. 30.

[92] Emerson.

[93] Chap. viii, 24, 25.

[94] _Paracelsus_, iii, 1012-1013.

[95] The reference in l. 555. "Is it _Diodati_ joins the glimmer of the
lake?" is to Byron's villa at Geneva. That of l. 590, to the Calvinistic
theologian (1576-1614) born at Lucca, famous through his work at Geneva as
a preacher, etc.

[96] _Life and Letters of R. Browning_, pp. 318-319.

[97] _A Death in the Desert_, 474-476.

[98] _Rabbi Ben Ezra_, i.

[99] _Gospel of St. John_, xvii, 3; vii, 17.

[100] _Ibid._, xiv, 1.

[101] _Reverie, Asolando._

[102] _Christian Aspects of Life_, Westcott, Macmillan, pp. 32-33.

[103] _A Death in the Desert_, 429-431.

[104] _Ibid._, 266-267.





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