Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

came pre-eminently the representative poet of her time. We say she became so; for she did not at first clearly recognize her mission. It dawned upon her through "Casa Guidi Windows," and the world saw its perfect noon in "Aurora Leigh."

It is fortunate that she was so soon and so fully conscious of the decided bent of her genius. Hers was not the faculty of breathing upon dry bones, and animating them anew with life. She comprehended all the significance of the past, and its uses as regards the present, but she did not reproduce it, or seek to glorify it at the expense of more vital and living themes. Her most stirring lays, therefore, and those most nobly sung, were of her own age. The constitution of her intellect and the breadth of her culture admirably fitted her to become one of its teachers. In connection with the prophetic faculty, which is part of the inspiration of the truly poetic, she possessed a wise discernment which is the attribute of the philosophic mind. The philosopher has been defined as one "to whom the highest has descended, and the lowest mounted up, who is the equal and kindly brother of all." Such a philosopher was Mrs. Browning. To the broadest and liveliest sympathy she joined a just appreciation of the truest needs of humanity. Her insight is thorough and accurate, and her philosophy based upon a conservative religious faith singularly free from extremes. She took more than intellectual interest in the leading practical questions of the day, and fearlessly recorded her protest against wrong toward God or man, wherever or by whomsoever committed. A brave woman, but not a bold woman, she was not blind to the existence of great sins in the world, neither did she shrink from their exposure. She "who had clipt the curls before her eyes" saw and stated facts plainly, but never coarsely; and nowhere is the matchless purity and delicacy of her own nature more manifest, than in such statements. But while keenly alive to all social and political evils, the perception of them did not so engross her vision as to prevent her from discerning the elements of greatness and goodness underneath all the corruption.

Philanthropists who begin by thinking they are to regen

erate the world, are very apt to end by cordially hating it. They become soured by disappointment, and lose their charity and forbearance. Generally self-sacrificing, and of earnest and deep convictions, the concentration of all the energy and intensity of their nature upon one idea gradually narrows their conceptions and freezes their sensibilities. Their one purpose of life grows in magnitude by constant contemplation, and, confident of the justice and purity of the end in view, they are often unscrupulous as to the means they employ, and careless whom or what they sacrifice in their efforts to accomplish it. Mrs. Browning's philanthropy had a wider scope, if not a higher aim. Recognizing Christ as the great Regenerator, she never lost her faith in her fellow-man, or became disheartened or despairing when individual exertions were failures, and a sacred cause seemed hopeless. Such at least is the philosophy she professes to teach by her poems, and especially through the medium of Romney in "Aurora Leigh." He is the type of those reformers "who have a pattern on their nail," and hope to carve the world anew after it; forgetting, in their presumptuous arrogance, that "God alone sits high enough above to speculate so largely." But the world will not run smoothly on any axis of man's contriving; and Romney failed, as men fail every day, by not comprehending humanity, and by making "too small a part for God" in his schemes of regeneration.

To our thinking, the eighth and ninth books of "Aurora Leigh" contain a clear, candid exposition, as well as a forcible and logical refutation, of the theories of many enthusiastic and self-sufficient reformers. From these we make a few extracts, to let Mrs. Browning state her own doctrines.

"Is there any common phrase

Significant, when the adverb 's heard alone,
The verb being absent, and the pronoun out?
But we distracted in the roar of life,

Still insolently at God's adverb snatch,
And bruit against Him that his thought is void,
His meaning hopeless; - cry, that everywhere
The government is slipping from his hand,
Unless some other Christ.. say Romney Leigh..
Come up, and toil and moil, and change the world,

For which the First has proved inadequate,
However we talk bigly of His work
And piously of His person. We blaspheme
At last, to finish that doxology,

Despairing on the earth for which He died."

"Fewer programmes; we who have no prescience.
Fewer systems; we who are held and do not hold.
Less mapping out of masses, to be saved,
By nations or by sexes. Fourier's void
And Comte is dwarfed, and Cabet, puerile.
Subsists no law of life outside of life;

No perfect manners without Christian souls;
The Christ himself had been no lawgiver,

Unless He had given the life, too, with the law."

The presumptuous self-reliance, as well as the impatience, of such reformers, is thus rebuked:

[blocks in formation]

But if Mrs. Browning's reverence for Him who made and governs the world guards her against giving an undue importance to the work of man, she does not fall into the opposite error of undervaluing or depreciating it.

"Be sure, no earnest work

Of any honest creature, howbeit weak,
Imperfect, ill-adapted, fails so much,
It is not gathered as a grain of sand

To enlarge the sum of human action used

For carrying out God's end. No creature works
So ill, observe, that therefore he 's cashiered.
The honest, earnest man must stand and work;
The woman also; otherwise she drops

At once below the dignity of man,

Accepting serfdom. Free men freely work:
Whoever fears God, fears to sit at ease."

The old Greek adage, that the end of man is action, not a

thought, is recognized in almost every page of Mrs. Browning's writings. Other authors have spoken well and wisely of the dignity of labor, but it is the constant burden of many of her songs; not a mere utilitarian work solely, though that has its uses and its ends, which she does not overlook,— but work for a higher purpose, work as a privilege earned for us by Christ, and as a preparation for a more glorious labor hereafter. "I count that heaven itself is only work to a surer issue." It is a great thing, by the power indwelling in one intellect, to force other minds to think correctly, and other hearts to feel deeply; but to incite the whole nature to a persistent course of beneficent activity is even greater. It is due to the influence of writers like Mrs. Browning, that the precious effects of work as a divine institution are being gradually but surely comprehended. There is truth in what

she

says;

"After Adam, work was curse;

The natural creature labors, sweats, and frets.
But after Christ, work turns to privilege."

But there is still more to be learned from "Aurora Leigh." Aurora is the representative of the spiritual and æsthetic spirit of the age, as Romney is of the materialistic and utilitarian. She is the priestess of true Art. Through her is exemplified its noble ends, and the high character of its of fice as one of God's most efficient agents in purifying the world. In the final triumph of the woman over the artist, Mrs. Browning enforces another great truth; namely, that, noble and glorious as Art is, the pursuit of it will never satisfy the heart, nor insure a perfect development of character, if the artist's instincts" are to be exalted "at the cost of putting down the woman's." If she recognizes fully, not only woman's right to labor, but its Christian necessity, she is no advocate of any regulations that are to supersede religious and natural ties. Her own sweet instincts were too powerful, and she knows too well in what consists the happiness and true welfare of woman, to desire either to unsex her or unsphere her. Not alone in "Aurora Leigh is she explicit on this point. In the exquisite little poem, "Crowned and Wedded," she bravely asserts the true dignity

[ocr errors]

of womanhood.

without emotion.

It seems to us no woman can read it

"She vows to love who vowed to rule

(the chosen at her side)

Let none say, God preserve the queen!— but rather, Bless the bride!
None blow the trump, none bend the knee, none violate the dream
Wherein no monarch, but a wife, she to herself may seem.

Or if ye say, Preserve the queen!- O, breathe it inward low, —
She is a woman and beloved! and 't is enough but so."

Again, in her Address to Prince Albert:

"Esteem that wedded hand less dear for sceptre than for ring,
And hold her uncrowned womanhood to be the royal thing."

Yet, in thus vindicating the beauty and sanctity of human affection, Mrs. Browning does not lose sight of still holier sentiments.

"And since

We needs must hunger, - better for man's love,
Than God's truth! better for companions sweet,
Than great convictions! let us bear our weights,
Preferring dreary hearths to desert souls."

In considering the aim and purpose of Mrs. Browning's poems, the worth of her sonnets must not be overlooked. Characterized by a serene majesty and patience, they strengthen the weak and console the dejected by a Christ-like tenderness, and their practical teachings are destined to exert a growing and permanent influence. The poet is evidently as earnest and sincere, as her words are sublime and impressive. She therefore sways the hearts of her readers, as the impassioned orator sways the hearts of his hearers, carrying them away by the force of her own convictions.

As "Aurora Leigh" solves social, so "Casa Guidi Windows" solves many political problems. In her modest Preface, Mrs. Browning speaks of this last poem "as a simple story of personal impressions, and not to be considered as an exposition of political philosophy." It is much more than this. It is vigorous with original thought; and, whilst it reads in part like a fulfilled prophecy, contains acute and subtile reasoning upon law and liberty. Much that she wrote in 1848 upon the relation between war and peace, and the true significance of the latter, may be applied to ourselves in our

« AnteriorContinuar »