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BROWNING SOCIETY'S PAPERS.
(PART II. OF VOL. II.)
XXXI. On The Development of Browning's Genius in his capacity as Poet or Maker. By Mr. J. T. Nettleship. 55
XXXII. On Aristophanes' Apology. By J. B. Bury, B.A.
XXXIV. On Andrea del Sarto. By Mr. Albert Fleming
XXXV. On Browning as a Landscape Painter. By Mr. Howard
XXXVI. On The Reasonable Rhythm of some of Mr. Browning's
XXXVII. On Prince Hohenstiel - Schwangau.
By C. H.
The Monthly Abstract of Proceedings of Meetings, Thirty-fifth to Forty-third, Browning "Notes and Queries,"
BY N. TRÜBNER & CO., 57 & 59, LUDGATE HILL, LONDON, 1886.
Price Ten Shillings.
[The price of each Part (Papers and Illustrations alike) is to Members, 38. 6d., and to the Public, 10s. The price of such single Papers as may be in print is 3d. each,-to Members only.]
Parts I., II., III., IV., V., VII., VIII., of PAPERS, and Parts I. and II. of ILLUSTRATIONS, are now ready. Part VI. completing Volume I. will be issued as soon as it is completed.
Papers, Part I. (1881-2), pp. 1-116 (presented by Dr. Furnivall) contains:1. A Reprint of BROWNING's Introductory Essay to the [25 spurious] Letters of Percy Bysshe Shelley. 1852,-"On the Objective and Subjective Poet, on the relation of the Poet's Life to his Work; on Shelley, his Nature, Art, and Character."
2. A Bibliography of ROBERT BROWNING, 1833-1881: Alphabetical and Chronological Lists of his Works, with Reprints of discontinued Prefaces, of Ben Karshook's Wisdom, partial collations of Sordello, 1840, 1863, and Paracelsus, 1835, 1863, &c.; and with Trial-Lists of the Criticisms on BROWNING, Personal Notices of him, &c., by F. J. FURNIVALL.
Papers, Part II. (1881-2), pp. 117-258 and 1*-20* contains:
3. Additions to the Bibliography of R. BROWNING, by F. J. FURNIVALL. 1. Browning's Acted Plays. 2. Fresh Entries of Criticisms on Browning's Works. 8. Fresh Personal Notices of Browning. 4. Notes on Browning's Poems and Bibliography. 5. Short Index to Parts I. and II.
4. Mr. KIRKMAN's Address at the Inaugural Meeting of the Society, October 28, 1881.
5. Mr. SHARPE's Paper on Pietro of Abano, and Dramatic Idyls, Series II.
6. Mr. NETTLESHIP'S Analysis and Sketch of Fifine at the Fair.
Classification of Browning's Works.
8. Mrs. ORR's Classification of Browning's Poems.
9. Mr. JAMES THOMSON'S Notes on the Genius of Robert Browning.
10. Mr. ERNEST RADFORD on The Moorish Front to the Duomo of Florence in
"I. pp. 107-143.
Luria, I. 121-32.
on The Original of "NED BRATTS," Dramatic Lyrics,
12 Mr. SHARPE's Analysis and Summary of Fifine at the Fair.
The Monthly Abstract of the Proceedings of first Four Meetings.
Papers, Part III. (1882-3), pp. 259-380, and 21*-48* :
13. Mr. BURY on Browning's Philosophy.
14. Prof. JOHNSON on Bishop Blougram's Apology.
15. Prof. CORSON on Personality as embodied in Robert Browning's Poetry.
16. Miss BEALE on The Religious Teaching of Browning.
17. An Account of the Abbé Vogler (ABT VOGLER), by Miss ELEANOR MARX.
18. Prof. JOHNSON on Conscience and Art in Browning.
The Monthly Abstract of the Proceedings of Meetings Fifth to Eighth.
Papers, Part IV. (1883-4), pp. 381-476, 49*-84*, and i.-xvi.
19. Mr. NETTLESHIP on Browning's Intuition, specially in regard to Music and the Plastic Arts.
20. Prof, B. F. WESTCOTT on Some points in Browning's view of Life.
21. Miss E. D. WEST on One aspect of Browning's Villains.
22. Mr. REVELL on Browning's Poems on God and Immortality as bearing on Life here.
23. The Rev. H. J. BULKELEY on James Lee's Wife.
24. Mrs. TURNBULL on Abt Vogler.
The Monthly Abstract of the Proceedings of Meetings Eleventh to Eighteenth.
Papers, Part V. (1884-5), pp. 477-502, 85*-153*, and xvii.-xxiii.
25. Mr. W. A. RALEIGH on Some prominent points in Browning's teaching.
26. Mr. J. COTTER MORISON on Caliban on Setebos, with some Notes on Browning's Subtlety and Humour.
27. Mrs. TURNBULL on In a Balcony.
The Monthly Abstract of Proceedings of Meetings Nineteenth to Twenty-sixth,
NOTICE-Part VI., completing Volume I. (containing Index, Index to First Lines, and other matter), will be issued as soon as possible.
In the year 1884-5 a copy of Mrs. ORR's Handbook to the Works of Robert
THE REASONABLE RHYTHM OF SOME OF
BY THE REV. H. J. BULKELEY, M.A.
Read at the Forty-second Meeting of the Browning Society, Friday, May 28, 1886.
PROBABLY many of us remember how, in that amusing novel The Golden Butterfly, Mr. Gilead Beck tried to read Fifine at the Fair, and Red-cotton Nightcap Country, in preparation for the great literary dinner at which Mr. Browning was to be one of the distinguished guests. After several vain and disheartening endeavours to understand Fifine it is narrated that "he poured cold water on his head for a quarter of an hour or so, and then tried reading it aloud, but this was worse than any previous method, because he comprehended no more of the poet's meaning, and the rough, hard words made his front teeth crack and fly about the room in splinters." Finally "he arose and solemnly cursed Robert Browning. He cursed him eating, drinking, and sleeping. And then he took all his volumes, and disposing them carefully in the fire-place, he set light to them. 'I wish,' he said, 'I could put the poet there too.""
Apparently Messrs. Besant and Rice were taken to task by some critics for their disrespectful language towards our poet, and defended themselves on the ground that Gilead Beck was a man of "no education and little reading," adding, however, as their own statement, "We have never, even from that great writer's most ardent admirers, heard an opinion that he is either easy to read or musical." Besides, in
the body of the book they speak of "the round whistle of the street boy, ... as full of unmeaning sound as a later poem of Robert Browning's, and as unmelodious as the instrument on which that poet has always played."
De mortuo nil nisi bonum. Light be the turf where the dead author lies, and near his grave, in this month of May, may the "wise thrush
"sing each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
Mr. Rice is dead, but Mr. Besant lives. The preface is signed by W. B. as well as by J. R. It would be not of paramount but of some interest to know whether Mr. Besant, whom we must respect for many good qualities literary and philanthropic, still holds the same views as to Mr. Browning's poems. If so, for he is sometimes rather dogmatic and positive, he may be surprised to learn that there is at least one most ardent admirer of that great writer who holds that he is musical, and has not always played on an instrument as unmelodious as a street boy's whistle. But is it not the case that many readers who do not care for rhythm have been attracted to Mr. Browning by his teaching on history, art, religion, philosophy, perhaps, too, by that one great aspect of true poetry, its imaginative suggestiveness, but very little by that other great aspect, its appropriate rhythmical language? Have not many admirers of the thought been careless, perhaps deaf, as to the music? Have they not been much too ready to admit ?-Ah yes, the verse may be rugged, earsplitting, teeth-splitting (if it please The Golden Butterfly), but don't mind that; read on, break through the crust, burrow down and get at the golden thought. That's what makes him the great poet, the thought, not the verse. Those who make this admission, and it is often made in a greater or less degree, are half-traitors in the camp, unconsciously so, no doubt, but so much the worse for them. Alas, they may have mind for thought, but they have no ear for music. They lack that ear of the mind which must recognise the very appropriate rhythm which characterises most, nearly all, of Mr. Browning's poems.
In a recent lucid article in Macmillan's Magazine the writer speaks of "the power of giving music of verse an existence apart from all formal qualities," adding, very truly, that "in some of Shelley's lyrics no formal quality seems to exist except the music,"
1 The Musical and the Picturesque Elements of Poetry, Thomas Whittaker, April, 1886.
and the same remark might be made of some of Mr. Swinburne's poems, perhaps even omitting the word "formal." Now this cannot, as a rule, be said of Browning's poems, lyrical or other. For one thing, the sympathetic reader cannot bear to listen only to the words, always feeling sure that there is some thought well worth grasping behind them, or-I would rather say-wrapt up in them. If the mere music of sound be there, he does not care to dwell merely on it; he must reach the music of thought. But, for another thing, Mr. Browning knows that he is writing in our own harsh, consonantal, sibilant language, not in the language of his dear Italy, and so he does not attempt hopeless rivalries, say with Giacomo Leopardi. Besides, he knows, with his deep knowledge of music, that written, significative language cannot hope to compete with music as a vehicle of pleasant sound, or as conveying general impressions, intellectual or emotional, through harmonious combinations; that verse, which thus aims at the impossible, must fail, must at best exhibit some wonderful tour de force, as though one should say, “Yes, very good for clay, but look at the marble," and is too apt, in the vain attempt, to be strained away from the proper use of language, the expression and conveyance of thought.
Shall I say that Mr. Browning never aims at such effects as these, and hardly ever reaches them unconsciously? Language is not for him a master magician, who sweeps him away on his wings so that his feet leave the common earth and common sense with it. Language is always his servant, kept well in hand, made rigidly, but not therefore less suggestively, less poetically, to convey his meaning to ears that hear, to souls that comprehend. Read Browning aloud to a foreigner of musical ear but ignorant of English, and it would be very rarely, as it were by accident, that his verses would sound especially charming, at any rate as compared with those of some other English poets. As a rule his poems are not musical in themselves, apart from their meaning, as the Iliad is, and the Paradiso, and many other Italian poems, and many of the poems of Milton, Shelley, Keats, and Tennyson. Their rhythm is not absolute, but reasonable, dependent on the general meaning of the poem, or on the special image, thought, emotion. There are some who think there should be mere music in all verse, that even if the meaning be incomprehensible, or not comprehended, the verse should still sound as sweetly. They confuse the principles of music with those of poetry, and force verse into a hopeless and damaging comparison, into a rivalry where, whatever may be the success even of a Shelley, it must lag far behind. How keen inarticulate emotion should pass, as it