« AnteriorContinuar »
look at her through the medium of these to obtain a distinct portrait. Thus viewed, we have the likeness of one who was truly and beautifully feminine. Her intellect, as we have already said, was in harmony with her heart; and the proportions of each in her spiritual constitution were so perfect, that we can detect no undue preponderance of either, the intellectual power visible in her poems never obscuring the essential essence of womanhood. No one, indeed, but a woman could have written such poems.
"Fortitude, constancy, and devotion" have been termed the crowning excellence of the feminine character. To these must be added a gentle nature and a pure heart, and Mrs. Browning possessed them all in no stinted measure. Miss Mitford says of her: "Such is the influence of her manners, her conversation, her thousand sweet attaching qualities, that they who know her best are apt to lose sight altogether of her learning and of her genius, and to think of her only as the most charming person they ever met." She seems always to have retained this winning simplicity and perfect freedom from outward pretension. Hers was indeed "a true, princely courtesy of inward nature," not affected by any worldly distinctions. The woman who took far more pride and pleasure in being identified as "the mother of that beautiful boy," than as the author of "Aurora Leigh," had certainly no craving ambition for either power or fame to gratify. Her actions were prompted by a self-forgetting love, and she sought the welfare of her age far more than its applause. Such a union of whatever is great and lofty in genius with all that is pure and lovely in woman, is very rare; so rare that it will be interesting to trace some of the causes that contributed to the exquisitely blended development. Grief, the first agent, did its work thoroughly. Insight is one of the attributes of genius, but a great grief quickens marvellously the perceptive faculties. "Eyes that have wept much see clear," and Mrs. Browning owed not a little of her intimate knowledge of the human heart and her entire and earnest sympathy with all phases of suffering to those sad years unavoidably so introspective. Patience and submission are the compensating blessings the invalid may gain, and these were VOL. LXXII.—5TH S. VOL. X. NO. I. 8
hers to the fullest extent. The silent heroism of this period of her life is inexpressibly touching. There is no pining wretchedness in the bearing of her cross. Sorrow and illness wrought their best discipline, bringing to her that peace which is akin to blessedness. The poems written during the season of seclusion and grief breathe a subdued thankfulness, and tell of a serene resignation. The Sonnets from the Portuguese reveal what life had been to Elizabeth Barrett, and also what life became to her when, by the recuperative power of a great passion, she triumphed over sorrow and the grave. For love was the next teacher, perfecting what grief began. Moved by this, she looked out upon the world with still deeper and clearer vision, her sphere of duty growing wider as her heart expanded. New light and brilliancy are reflected in her verses. As a great happiness steals into her life, her song rings out with a richer and more triumphant tone. Peace has risen to joy; but still to joy partaking largely of the nature of peace.
Underlying these mighty influences was yet another and a mightier, her deep and steadfast religious faith. This was as strong and active as her reasoning powers were acute and subtile, and the pride of the latter never overcame the convictions of the former. With nothing morbid or narrow in her piety, she held to the doctrines of the church in which she was born and nurtured. From the following and similar passages, it is easy to discern the foundation of her religious trust.
"Alas! long-suffering and most patient God,
Thou need'st be surelier God to bear with us
Mrs. Browning's genius and virtue, taken in connection with
the peculiar blessings of the fifteen last years of her life, make her career without a parallel in the history of illustrious women. The lives of women of genius have been so frequently sullied by sin, as well as darkened by sorrow, that it has been accepted almost as an axiom, that their intellectual gifts are a curse rather than a blessing, and that those who are endowed with them must forego the purer and better joys which are the portion of their less eminent sisters. The justice of this broad inference may well be doubted. In the greater number of instances of marked unhappiness in the cases in question, it will be found, we imagine, that it was not on account of their genius that they sinned or suffered, but on account of serious defects either in character or education. Such defects are quite as common in others of the sex. The errors and sorrows of the illustrious are widely known and discussed. But lives without distinction and publicity are blighted every day, and many are sinful and unfeminine who are destitute of mental power and wanting in mental culture. One of the saddest memoirs ever given to the world is that of Charlotte Bronté; but her genius had nothing to do with the circumstances that threw such gloom over her young life. On the contrary, this was her solace and support. It peopled with glorious visions the little room in the Yorkshire parsonage, which the sisters paced unmindful of the cold and the dark ness; and by its kindly aid she emerged into a healthier atmosphere, and the genial sunshine. In the compensations of this world, if genius has more acute sensibilities, it has greater resources. "Une plus grande intensité de vie est toujours une argumentation de bonheur; la douleur, il est vrai, entre plus avant dans les ames d'une certaine energie, mais à tout prendre. Il n'est personne, qui ne doive remercier Dieu de lui avoir donné une faculté de plus." This acknowledgment has more weight, coming from the lips of one of incomparable abilities. In intellectual strength Madame de Staël is the peer of Mrs. Browning, while in the comprehension and statement of abstract thought she is somewhat her superior. As a prosewriter, she holds the same rank among those of her sex that Mrs. Browning holds as a poet. "L'Allemagne " and " Aurora Leigh," as works of art, may stand side by side. But
while they are rivals in greatness, there is a wide distance between them in goodness. Madame de Staël penned exalted sentiments and uttered profound truths, but these did not permeate her being and react upon her life. Her noble and intense nature was undisciplined, and her feminine graces few. Her career was feverish and tumultuous, and with all its triumphs she was in the main weary-hearted and disappointed. As an author she wins our respect and admiration, but as a woman she cannot content us.
Mrs. Browning's moral strength equalled her intellectual. Virtue with her was no passive sentimentality, no vain aspiration. She who worked by precept worked also by example. A thorough understanding of the mission of the poet did not make her unmindful of the weighty import of the duty of the woman. She may therefore well command a world-wide homage. Pure and lovely in private, her public career as an author was noble and dignified. More fortunate than many writers and patriots, she not only lived to see the completion and success of "Aurora Leigh," the book to which she had consecrated her matured and ripened genius, but the independence of Italy, the land of her adoption and of her prayThe work thus well done is not finished yet. It has a still more glorious errand to discharge. The spirit of it will endure and act far into the future; and generations to come will reverence and honor the great woman-poet of our time.
History of Latin Christianity, including that of the Popes, to the Pontificate of Nicolas V. By H. H. MILMAN, Dean of St. Paul's. New York: Sheldon & Co. 8 vols.
THE completion of this handsome reprint of Dean Milman's great work has offered us, these some months, the opportunity we take now of expressing our very high and grateful sense of the value of that work. Of the American edition we need
only say that, while its convenient bulk and moderate price commend it to our Western world of readers, it is very little if at all inferior in beauty to the six stately octavos of the London imprint; and that it bears the marks of scholarly and faithful oversight, and of nicest typographical care. Of the work itself we shall have more to say further on, premising only that it is, beyond comparison, the most important, able, and valuable contribution in English to ecclesiastical history, - that is, in the wide sense Mr. Stanley gives it, the history of the Christian civilization of mankind. Meanwhile, a word of the period it treats.
It is not hard to find the attraction of the topic to the author of this work, whether as churchman, as poet, or as historian. No spectacle which history presents is so imposing to the imagination as that peculiar form of civilization seen in the Middle Age of Western Europe. The twilight glow in which we see it colors half the visions of poetry and romance existing in modern literature. And as it slowly lightens into clear historic certainty, by the exploring of antiquarians, artcritics, and other students of its hundred specialties, enough of the strangeness and the mystery remain, to leave it still unrivalled in its fascination for the fancy, as well as in the fertility and wealth of the field it offers to the searcher after facts. To note a few points only in the scene which lies open before the historian's eye.
We see a Church, which, after a thousand years of various fortune, has reached at length a height of power the like of which was never wielded by human hands. It is a power resting on the invisible foundations of conscience, conviction, and religious fear. To the popular belief, it carries literally the keys of heaven and hell. It spans like an arch the dreadful gulf between the world seen and unseen. Its hierarchy rules by express Divine appointment; and its chief is addressed in language of homage such as it seems impious to address to any other than Almighty God.
We see this Church, in the person of its priesthood, present absolutely everywhere. It carries in its hand the threads that govern every province of human life; it enters every house; it is a guest at every board, a companion at every hearth; it