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when we consider the impossibility of conveying with perfect exactness even the simplest idea.
"For when man walks the garden of this world,
For his own solace, and unchecked by law,
Why can he tell you what a rose is like,
There is so much practical advantage in giving to thought the form of actual utterance, that we can easily overlook the trifling inaccuracy. As Lessing says, in reference to Raphael's drapery, "Who will not rather praise him for having had the wisdom and the tourage to commit a slight fault, for the sake of greater fulness of expression?" Besides, I do not mean to intimate that whenever Browning says "He said," he always means "He thought"; I do not mean to say that in so many words; but I mean, that in most of his work, the speech which is uttered by the "men and women fashioned by his fancy," is intentionally the rendering into words of what these men and women thought and felt, rather than an exact report of what they would be likely (under present conditions and present conventions) to say.
Taking this view, the reproach so often uttered by friend and foe, that every "imaginary person' talks exactly like Browning, is demonstrably groundless. That perfect individuality is preserved in the mental attitude of each and all of these imaginary persons, can scarcely be denied. It is only because of a misconception of the real intention of the poet, that this "speaking like Browning" is made matter for reproach. The style of speaking which we are accustomed to associate with Browning himself is simply that style which enables him to express with the nearest approach to accuracy those "fine shades and nice distinctions" which it is ever his aim to express. Like Rufus Lyon, he "would fain find language subtle enough to follow the utmost intricacies of the soul's pathways.” It is not merely natural, it is right, that he should use this wonderful style of his, so "encyclopædical," to use Emerson's apt word of Carlyle, for the adequate self revelation of both Guido and the Pope, Aristophanes and Balaustion. What a different effect does each produce, how clearly distinguished is every character, though each expresses himself in language not so very unlike! There is no more striking instance in Browning, alike of the subjective drama itself, at its perfection, and of the naturalness and suitability of the language employed, than that colossal monument of the poet's genius, The Ring
and the Book, with its one story told ten times at length by nine different persons, besides the author's short account at the beginning. Let us look at it a moment.
It must be seen at once that the story itself is of no importance save as a framework; since who, that cared at all to make the most of his story, would give it in outline at the very outset, before ever the real poem begins? The real poem consists of those ten reports of the “true tragedy" by actors or witnesses of it, each of whom (one twice) goes over precisely the same series of facts, but each with his own personal bias, his own interpretation of the facts. I grant that the manner in which each tells his tale, and especially the language employed, is very similar: Guido is as voluble in a flood of words, as apt in his metaphors, as profound in his knowledge, and as much given to propounding claborate mental riddles and solving them, as the Pope: Caponsacchi makes no mean third. The language in every case is Browning's (if you please to call it so),-slightly varied, naturally, in such different sections as "Pompilia" and "Dominus Hyacinthus de Arcangelis," but intrinsically the same. But does it follow that the effect produced is the same? On the contrary, the effect produced by every monologue is almost as unique as if no other existed; we watch with absorbed attention the turns and twists which the prejudice or the partiality of the successive raconteurs gives to the facts of the story. There is nothing, I conceive, more extraordinary in literature than the way in which Browning presents us with this number of absolutely different accounts, each so plausible, of the two or three events which make up the story of The Ring and the Book. The jealous husband of "Half-Rome" who sympathizes feelingly with the husband Guido; the kind-hearted bystander who melts into compassionate pity at the thought and the sight of "little Pompilia with the patient eyes"; the intriguing loftiness in powder and peruke who poses as "Tertium Quid"; Guido Franceschini, mean and malevolent to the centre, speaking first with good hope of life, and then, hopeless, with the useless fury of a snared wild-beast showing ever and anon through the cloak of Escobar-subtlety; the noble young priest Caponsacchi, with his passionate defence of Pompilia ; Pompilia, whom we can name only as we would name a saint or a martyr; the two lawyers, so cleverly contrasted: and the Pope, Innocent, and like his name, who hears and gives judgment in God's stead; all these have their version to give, all these stand themselves revealed to us in the giving it; and we get to see, not merely how events in the tragedy came about, nor merely how such events can be twisted an 1 travestied, witlessly enough through innate prejudice, or wilfully by
determined falsehood, but also how each teller of the tale came to take the view he did. The effect is wonderful: this every one acknowledges; but when some persons go on to lament that so fine a performance should be marred by the aroma of Browning which pervades every speech, they forget or mistake, that for this very reason, and not in despite of it, this wonderful result is attained. These people whom we seem to know, Caponsacchi, Guido and the rest, become known to us-known to the very depths of their heartsprecisely because Mr. Browning has been good enough to render into words in his own matchless way, not so much what they would probably say, as what they would certainly think. It is the triumph of the subjective drama, and not a triumph snatched in spite of it.
For consider, not one of these monologues is possible, as actual speech. Mr. Raleigh says: "He (Browning, that is) spoils for the purist the passionate defence of the priest Caponsacchi by making him elaborately imitate the conversation of his brother canon, intermitted with the drawling words of the Latin chant." No doubt; but the thing is in its place for all that; and so are the other interruptions to the story, there and elsewhere. For instance, looking at the character of Caponsacchi (which it is the principal aim of this monologue to unfold) we are undoubtedly gainers in insight by this apparently random or intrusive passage. How vividly that mere scrap of frivolous talk of Canon Conti in the church (and before that in the theatre) reveals to us the moral atmosphere in which Caponsacchi was living, at the time when the vision of the pure and noble womanhood of Pompilia lifted him into a higher life, and turned the "petit-maître priestling' " into a chivalrous and holy knight! In no way could this insight have been more suitably afforded us ; and the insight was certainly necessary. It is by such touches (among others) that we gain our knowledge of this man, one of the principal actors on the stage of The Ring and the Book. But then undoubtedly no man would in reality say such things before an audience of judges, when he is pleading on behalf of another and himself. "Speech is reported in the newspaper." Here, as clsewhere, Browning is determined to get to the root of the matter, to show us the man, no matter whether the conventions of dramatic form seem to forbid or not. Form is the help to expression, not the hindrance; no Procrustean bed into which all limbs must fit on pain of mutilation, but flexible, moulded by the spirit into a likeness of itself. As such, Browning has always regarded it, making it serve his purpose, not becoming slave to it himself. With the independence which characterizes him, and with a keen appreciation of the needs of his art, he has moulded to his purpose the old objective drama of
vivid life, creating a new subjective drama of the soul itself. In his own words-and where shall we find better?-he "does not deal habitually with the picturesque groupings and tempestuous tossings of the forest-trees, but with their roots and fibres naked to the chalk and stone." And he fashions his form accordingly.
It is needless to go over the same ground in connection with the poems which follow The Ring and the Book: Fifine at the Fair, Prince Hohenstiel-Schwangau, and the others. The same intention and the same result are, if anything, even clearlier apparent. Accept this intention, and you will find the result natural, beautiful and right. Overlook this intention, or insist on misconceiving it, and how will this poet Browning, any more than any other great and original poet, fail to appear false and inartistic? I venture to think in this case, as in so many others, Emerson's wise advice to critics not inapplicable: "If you criticise a fine genius, the odds are that you are out of your reckoning, and, instead of the poet, are censuring your own caricature of him. For there is somewhat spheral and infinite in every man, especially in every genius, which, if you can come very near to him, sports with all your limitations. For, rightly, every man is a channel through which heaven floweth, and, whilst I fancied I was criticising him, I was censuring or rather terminating my own soul."
ON "MR. SLUDGE THE MEDIUM."
By EDWIN JOHNSON, M.A.
Read at the 31st Meeting of the Browning Society, Friday, March 27th, 1885.
In this, as in other poems of the same class, Browning has given some remarkable illustrations of "the advantages of the dramatic method, in sounding the soul amidst its most secret operations." 1 And not only have we here the analysis of a particular soul, but along with that, a most suggestive representation of the human soul in general, as it moves in "the border-land between affirmations and negations, amidst the twilight of dubiety, full of falterings of selfsuspicion, surmises, guesses, misgivings, half-intuitions, dim instincts, and partial illuminations."2 For convenience, the poem may be divided into the Autobiography of Sludge, and the Apology of Sludge.
I. THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY.
Sludge was born in the United States, a poor boy, perhaps the son of a domestic "help." He had received an elementary instruction, and was well acquainted with his Bible, but in general would be called a very illiterate fellow, not without a smattering of many things, but knowing nothing well. He was however, of an intensely imaginative temperament: "a born seer of the supernatural, every when, everyhow, and everywhere."4 There can be no question that he was a genius, and of an order closely akin to that of the Poet who has introduced him to the world. This insight into the supernatural, not as a fact distant in place or time, nor as an intermittent appearance, but as something present and constant, distinguished Sludge from the first from his associates. For example, he read the story of the awful apparition of the departed prophet Samuel to Saul; he believed it, and he reasoned that what had been might be again, might be to-day; that conse
1 Schiller, Preface to the Robbers.
2 Charles Lamb, on Imperfect Sympathics. 4 P. 193.