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English poet since Shakespeare living amongst us, pouring out treasures of thought and disseminating germs of "wholesome ferment" for other minds, as Mr. Lowell has happily said, and England would have none of him.

"Ye British Public who like me not"

he complained, after writing for thirty-five years; after giving the world Men and Women, Pippa Passes, Paracelsus, Christmas Eve and Easter Day, and other priceless literary treasures which will never die while the English language affords them a home. The British Public who unceasingly bragged of the Shakespeare of whom it knew little, and the Spenser and Dryden and the rest of whom it knew practically nothing, ridiculed the idea that Browning could be of the regal caste of poets because he spoke a language that was not of the sort it was accustomed to. Browning mixed no water with his ink, as Goethe said our modern poets do; there was often little music in his words, and the sense was at times rather hard to grasp; and so our strong, robust, gloriously sane poet "came to his own and his own received him not"; he spoke vigorous, pregnant words warm from his great, loving heart, and 'poured for us wine' to brace our souls in the degenerate days when men were giving up God for the Unknowable, and their faith in Christianity for belief in "something not ourselves which makes for righteousness"; he taught us a pure religion, reasonable and manly, robust and in harmony with the science of the age, and few would listen and fewer still would heed. Yet the age had such need of him! The cancer of salacity, the poison-germs of impurity infected our literature, and were being disseminated as never had been known before. The age was a frivolous, listless, lackadaisical time, when such thought as could be tolerated by our youth was growing daily more pessimistic, less reverent and earnest ; well-educated, happily placed men and women began to ask if life were worth living; and for want of anything to stir their pulses after exhausting their energies in devising new modes of breaking the Ten Commandments one after another, bethought themselves of importing a so-called Buddhism, and cultivating melancholy and atheism. Christianity was declared to be "played out," and no longer to be credited by men and women who had passed a science examination or studied Huxley.

Just when such sentiments as these became popular, even with

those who had no qualifications for any such difficult task, Browning had reached the zenith of his glory, and a few lovers of the man and his work decided upon the rather risky scheme of founding a society in his honour, or rather for the promulgation of his teaching. It is not to be understood, however, that all lovers of Browning are either Christians or Theists. Some of the most able and esteemed founders of the Browning Society had no sympathy with either his Theism or Christian teaching. It was in the year 1881, on October 28th, that the Browning Society was inaugurated at University College, London, with the address by the Rev. J. Kirkman, M.A., "On the Characteristics of Browning's Philosophy and Poetry," which occupies the first place in this volume. The Vice-Presidents of the Society were the Rev. H. R. Haweis, M.A., Miss Anna Swanwick, and Lady Mount-Temple. The Committee consisted of Mr. Sidney Ball, M.A., Oxford; Professor Corson, M.A., Cornell; Mr. F. J. Furnivall, M.A., Cambridge; Rev. Professor E. Johnson, M.A., London; Rev. J. Kirkman, M.A., Cambridge; Miss Mary A. Lewis, Miss Elinor M. Lewis, Mr. J. T. Nettleship, Mr. Hume C. Piment, M.A., Cambridge, and Mr. James Thomson; with Miss E. H. Hickey as Honorary Secretary. The object of the Society, as declared in the Founders' prospectus dated July, 1881, was set forth as follows:—

"This Society is founded to gather together some, at least, of the many admirers of Robert Browning, for the study and discussion of his works, and the publication of Papers on them, and extracts from works illustrating them. The Society will also encourage the formation of Browning Reading Clubs, the acting of Browning's dramas by amateur companies, the writing of a Browning Primer, the compilation of a Browning Concordance or Lexicon, and generally the extension of the study and influence of the poet.

"Without entering on the vext question of who is the greatest living poet, Mr. Browning's admirers are content to accept the general verdict that he is both one of the greatest, and the most thought-full. They find as his leading note that which Prof. Spalding declared was Shakspere's :

"The presence of a spirit of active and inquiring thought through every page of his writings, is too evident to require any proof. It is exerted on every object which comes under his notice; it is serious when its theme is lofty; and when the subject is familiar, it is content to be shrewd. He has impressed no other of his own mental qualities on all his characters; this quality colours every one of them. . . . Imagination is active, powerfully and unceasingly, but she is rebuked

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by the presence of a mightier influence; she is but the handmaid of the active and piercing understanding; and the images which are her offspring serve but as the breeze to the river, which stirs and ripples its surface, but is not the power which impels its water to sea."-Letter on the Authorship of the "Two Noble Kinsmen." 1833, p. 20–1. (N. Sh. Soc. reprint.)

"That this very fullness of thought in Mr. Browning, with its lightning darts, abrupt transitions, is hard to take in, difficult to follow, is matter of course. That the thought is more worthful to him than its expression, the heart of oak than its bark, has made some men refuse to try and penetrate through the rough covering to the strength beneath. But Eschylus is often obscure; some passages in Shakspere still puzzle the best critics. Browning's themes are the development of Souls, the analysis of Minds, Art, Religion, Love, the relation of Man and Nature to God, of Man to Man and Woman, the Life past, present, and to come. If on some of these great themes Browning's thoughts have not been easily apprehended, may this not come from want of faithful study, default of deadened minds? At any rate the Browning student will seek the shortcoming in himself rather than in his master. He will wish, by conference with other students, by recourse to older scholars, to learn more of the meaning of the poet's utterances; and then, having gladly learnt, 'gladly wol he teche,' and bring others under the same influence that has benefited himself. To this end The Browning Society has been founded.

"The Society will consist of all Subscribers of 21s. a year. It will meet once a month from October to June (except in December), on the 4th Friday of every such month, at 8 p.m., at University College, Gower Street, W.C., for the hearing and discussion of a Paper or Address on some of Browning's poems or his characteristics. The Society's best Papers, and Reports of its Discussions, will be printed either in full or in a Monthly Abstract sent to all members, as funds allow. Till July 7, 1882, the Society will be managed by a Committee of its Founders and Promoters. At that day's Meeting, after the experience of the first Session, the Constitution of the Society will be settled, and its Officers elected for the ensuing year.

"The Committee are anxious to appoint as Local Honorary Secretaries those students of Browning in or out of London who will undertake either to get up Browning Reading Clubs in their respective districts, after the example of Professor Corson, who has directed

one in his University (Cornell) for the last four years,—or otherwise promote the study of Browning in their neighbourhood as opportunity offers.

"The Society may not be a large or permanent one. It appeals only to thoughtful men and women willing to study Browning's works. It exists, and will begin its Meetings next autumn. It has promises of some Papers for its first Session, but desires more. Its few present members hope that some, at least, of the many to whom Browning's works have been a help and strength, will join them in their endeavour to know him better, and bring more minds under his influence.

"To remove misunderstandings that have arisen, the Committee state that any one joining the Society is not in any way pledged to indiscriminate admiration of BROWNING, but is only supposed to hold that the poet is profound enough in thought, noble enough in character and feeling, eloquent and interesting enough in expression, to deserve more thorough study, and a far wider circle of readers, than he has yet had. The Committee wish for frankness of expression in all Papers, &c.; and they give notice from the first, that every writer in the Society's publications is to be held as speaking for himself or herself alone, without any responsibility whatever on the Committee's part."

In the "Forewords" to "A Bibliography of Robert Browning, 1833-1881," by Dr. Furnivall, published in Part I. of the Browning Society's Papers, 1881, the writer says that after the Alphabetical List and the Chronological one of the poet's works in their order of time, which he presented to the Society (including a number of most valuable notes by Mr. Shepherd and Mr. Carson), it would be necessary to have A Subject-Index to Browning's Works, and a short statement of the story and purpose of each of these works. He particularly desired the publication of a Browning Primer. All these desirable objects were achieved by the Browning Society in due order. It is impossible to praise too highly the splendid work done by Dr. Furnivall in his Bibliography of Browning, forming the whole of Part I. and more than 50 pp. of Part II. of the Society's Papers. This work is indispensable to the Browning student, and was a purely literary labour of love on the author's part, as he candidly stated in his Forewords that personally "he did not care for the special Christian or doctrinal side of Browning's work, yet he felt the worth of his teaching as a man and thinker, and admired his

imaginative power, his strength and subtlety." This was a peculiar and interesting feature of the Browning Society, and one which endears it to the recollections of those who were its most active members, that it was a platform on which we could all meet-Christians, both Protestant and Catholic, atheists, agnostics, and indifferents-and each find something in Browning which appealed to the best that was in us, making us all feel stronger, more earnest and real, and truer to our better selves. Mr. James Thomson, the atheist, author of The City of Dreadful Night, could recognise and reverence Browning's Christianity. In his paper on the "Genius of Robert Browning," read at the third meeting of the Society, January 27, 1882, he said: "Finally, I must not fail to note as one of the most remarkable characteristics of his genius, his profound, passionate, living, triumphant faith in Christ, and in the immortality and ultimate redemption of every human soul in and through Christ. . . . Thoroughly familiar with all modern doubts and disbeliefs, he tramples them all under foot, clinging to the Cross.; and this with the full co-operation of his fearless reason, not in spite of it, and by its absolute surrender or suppression." Mr. Cotter Morrison, Mr. Moncure Conway, Miss Eleanor Marx, Bishop Westcott, Canon Farrar, the Hon. Roden Noel, Miss Beale the distinguished Principal of the Ladies' College, Cheltenham, the Rev. Mr. Haweis, Mr. Nettleship the painter, and a host of other leaders of all shades of religious opinion, met with us and contributed to the common store of Browning knowledge; one and all, like wanderers in a Brazilian forest, found something to delight him or her, and though not every one chose the same precious or beautiful object, not one was disappointed, not one but left the meeting the richer for some treasure of high and pure thought. Surely never since Shakespeare's days came amongst us English folk so potent a genius as Robert Browning, who could blend into one by the spell of his love and power so many and so various shades of thought. Yet ours was no slavish hero-worship, no uncritical compact to worship Browning at all hazards; we criticised him freely, expressed our opinions unmistakably, and, if report be true, greatly to the amusement and satisfaction of the poet himself, who once having been asked to explain the meaning of one of his dark sayings, bade the querist "Ask the Browning Society: they could tell, he couldn't!" Dean Church used to say that "Browning went into polite society in his shirt-sleeves and made faces at it.” We often felt that was so, and very often, no doubt, when we had

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