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MAYNARD, MERRILL, & Co.,
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New Series, No. 65. August 15, 1892. Published Semi-weekly. Subscription Price $10.
A COMPLETE COURSE IN THE STUDY OF ENGLISH.
Spelling, Language, Grammar, Composition, Literature.
Reed's Word Lessons-A Complete Speller.
Reed's Introductory Language Work.
Reed & Kellogg's Graded Lessons in English.
Kellogg & Reed's The English Language.
Kellogg's Illustrations of Style.
Kellogg's Text-Book on English Literature.
In the preparation of this series the authors have had one object
MAYNARD, MERRILL, & Co., PUBlishers,
Copyright, 1887, by CLARK & MAYNARD.
ROBERT BROWNING was born at Camberwell, a suburb of London, May 7, 1812. From his earliest years he was fond of writing verses, and when twelve years of age had produced poems enough to form a volume. His first published poem, "Pauline," appeared in 1833, but his real introduction to the public was through "Paracelsus," a drama, published in 1835. In 1837 the tragedy of Strafford" was unsuccessfully presented at Drury Lane Theater. In 1840 the epic "Sordello" was published, one of his most characteristic and most difficult works. In 1841-1846 appeared the series of "Bells and Pomegranates," in eight shilling parts, containing much of his finest poetry, including the tragedy “ A Blot in the 'Scutcheon" and the graceful dramatic poem Pippa Passes." In 1846 he was married to the distinguished poetess, Elizabeth Barrett, and soon after established his home in Italy. "Christmas Eve and Easter Day" appeared in 1850, followed by two volumes of short poems, "Men and Women," 1855, and "Dramatis Personæ," 1864. His greatest work, "The Ring and the Book," appeared in 1868-9, closely followed by many other important poems, chief of which are "Fifine at the Fair," 1872; "Red Cotton Night-cap Country," 1873; "Aristophanes' Apology" and "The Inn Album," 1875. Most important of his latest works are "Dramatic Idyls," 1879-80; "Jocoseria," 1883; "Ferishtah's Fancies," 1885; and "Parleyings with Certain People of Importance in their Day," 1887.
The first and perhaps the final impression we receive from the works of Robert Browning is that of a great nature, an immense personality. The poet in him is made up of many men. He is dramatist, humorist, lyrist, painter, musician, philosopher,
and scholar, each in full measure, and he includes and dominates them all. In richness of nature, in scope and penetration of mind and vision, in all the potentialities of poetry, he is probably second among English poets to Shakespeare alone. In art, in the power or the patience of working his native ore, he is surpassed by many; but few have ever held so rich a mine in fee. He has written more than any other English poet with the exception of Shakespeare, and he comes very near the gigantic total of Shakespeare He has been publishing for more than half a century, and his career, happily for us, is not yet closed. His works are not a mere collection of poems, they are a literature. And his literature is the richest of modern times. If "the best poetry is that which reproduces the most of life," his place is among the great poets of the world. In the vast extent of his work he has dealt with or touched on nearly every phase and feature of humanity, and his scope is bounded only by the soul's limits and the last reaches of life. There are for him but two realities and but two subjects, Life and Thought. On these are expended all his imagination and all his intellect, more consistently and in a higher degree than can be said of any English poet since the age of Elizabeth. Life and thought, the dramatic and the metaphysical, are not considered apart, but woven into one seamless tissue; and in regard to both he has one point of view and one manner of treatment. It is this that causes the unity which subsists throughout his works; and it is this, too, which distinguishes him among poets, and makes that originality by virtue of which he has been described as the most striking figure in our poetic literature.
Most poets endeavor to sink the individual in the universal; it is the special distinction of Mr. Browning that when he is most universal he is most individual. As a thinker he conceives of humanity not as an aggregate, but as a collection of units. Most thinkers write and speak of man; Mr. Browning of men. With man as a species, with man as a society, he does not concern himself, but with individual man and man. Every man is for him an epitome of the universe, a center of creation. Life exists for each as completely and separately as if he were the only inhabitant of our planet.
Here is it that Mr. Browning parts company most decisively with all other poets who concern themselves exclusively with life -dramatic poets, as we call them; so that it seems almost necessary to invent some new term to define precisely his special attitude. And hence it is that in his drama thought plays comparatively so large, and action comparatively so small, a part; hence, that action is valued only in so far as it reveals thought or motive, not for its own sake, as the crown and flower of these. For his endeavor is not to set men in action for the pleasure of seeing them move; but to see and show, in their action and inaction alike, the real impulses of their being: to see how each soul conceives of itself.
The dramatic poet, in the ordinary sense, in the sense in which we apply it to Shakespeare and the Elizabethans, aims at showing, by means of action, the development of character as it manifests itself to the world in deeds. His study is character, but it is character in action, considered only in connection with a particular grouping of events, and only so far as it produces or operates upon these. The processes are concealed from us, we see the result. We are told nothing, we care to know nothing, of what is going on in the thought; of the infinitely subtle meshes of motive or emotion which will perhaps find no direct outcome in speech, no direct manifestation in action, but by which the soul's life in reality subsists.
But is there no other sense in which a poet may be dramatic, besides this sense of the acting drama? no new form possible, which
"peradventure may outgrow
The simulation of the painted scene,
Boards, actors, prompters, gaslight, and costume,
And take for a noble stage the soul itself,
Its shifting fancies and celestial lights,
With all its grand orchestral silences,
To keep the pauses of the rhythmic sounds?" *
This new form of drama is the drama as we see it in Mr. Browning, a drama of the interior, a tragedy or comedy of the soul.
* Aurora Leigh, Book Fifth.