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For which the First has proved inadequate,
And Comte is dwarfed, and Cabet, puerile.
No perfect manners without Christian souls;
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 :
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
Accepting serfdom. Free men freely work:
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 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 office 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
It seems to us no woman can read it
"She vows to love who vowed to rule — (the chosen at her side)
"Esteem that wedded hand less dear for sceptre than for ring,
Yet, in thus vindicating the beauty and sanctity of human affection, Mrs. Browning does not lose sight of still holier sentiments.
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
present struggle. A poet does not write for one country or for one age, but for all nationalities and for all time. "Casa Guidi Windows," also, is the best memorial of its author's high-minded and unwearied efforts in behalf of Italy. That country owes a great debt of gratitude to her, who gave more than hearty sympathy and co-operation in the hour of conflict, even words of hope and cheer when the boldest patriots threw down their arms almost despairingly. The spirit of the following lines, written when the Italian cause looked prosperous, is the spirit she maintained throughout all its
"But never say no more'
It is not the cause of Italy alone, however, that Mrs. Browning espouses in "Casa Guidi Windows," but the catholic cause of right and freedom. Turning away her eyes mournfully from the contemplation of the wrongs of her adopted country, she addresses each civilized nation in turn, beseeching mercy for the oppressed. The sin of slavery could not fail to move a thinker and worker like Mrs. Browning; and she did not content herself with the laconic protest against it in this general appeal. Her most effective poem on this subject is "The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim's Point." "The Curse for a Nation" is a passionate, prophetic expostulation; but, as a whole, it is rough, and in energy and force not to be compared with "The Cry of the Children," one of her noblest productions. There are no lines in the former equal to these:
"How long,' they say, 'how long, O cruel nation,
Will you stand to move the world, on a child's heart, –
And tread onward to your home amid the mart?
And your purple shows your path !
But the child's sob in the silence curses deeper
But, though we may not put "The Curse" among Mrs. Browning's best efforts, we cannot, as others have done, find
fault with its spirit, which is humane and womanly, more sorrowful than angry. She who scorchingly rebuked the sins of her own nation could not be expected to treat more tenderly the sins of other lands. But we are a sensitive people; and our iniquities, as well as our weaknesses, must be handled delicately!
Mrs. Browning's admiration for Napoleon III. has been another cause of dissatisfaction; and in so far as she would endeavor to prove him good as well as great, there is reason for censure. The time, however, has not come for the just measurement of such a man; and posterity may yet assent more fully than we think to the poet's judgment. "Every age, through being held too close, is ill discerned"; and it is genius alone that can exert "a double vision."
Not only as a poet and a worker, whose worthy aims were worthily executed, is Mrs. Browning to be honored and reverenced. The life she led is part of her "accomplished work.” In beauty and purity, it is an unwritten poem; and its silent, indirect influence will be potent and permanent as the more obvious and positive effect of her writings. United, they exert a twofold power, and claim a twofold homage. They are also mutual interpreters. We see how the woman has moulded and shaped the poet, and the poet the woman; and it is through the poet especially that we learn to understand the woman. Consequently, in an analysis of her character, we must chiefly confine ourselves to this source of revelation. No biography, however minute and accurate in details, can ever be as significant as the "Sonnets from the Portuguese" and "Aurora Leigh." What she felt, as well as what she thought, is revealed in these. In the career of the poet is disclosed the inner life of the woman. And though all facts relating to her personal history will be eagerly sought and carefully treasured up, there is no memoir that could so easily be dispensed with as that of one who has already given us the autobiography of her inmost soul. What she says of herself is infinitely more precious than anything that could be said of her.
Her individual characteristics require little commentary. Her poems, as we have intimated, are the faithful transcript of her moral and intellectual traits; and we have only to