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THE vital force of our recent poetry may, I think, be inferred from the singularly diverse styles in which the genius of the singers who now remain-each eminent, though in different orders or degrees of eminence-manifested itself. Among these I shall first attempt to deal with Robert Browning (1812-1889).

Poets, like landscape painters, often have an instinctive preference for certain aspects, or for certain provinces, of Nature. Thus Scott, with his un-selfconscious touch, loves to sketch a scene from Highland or Lowland boldly and broadly, -deeply as he loved Nature, yet more often as a background to his figures than for description's sake. Shelley, with a more refined, visionary art, reigns supreme in cloudland and storm and wild imaginary spectacle; while Wordsworth, like Turner, has landscape at his command, from the " meanest "flower" to all the majesty of heaven. We have noticed how this broad and wide treatment of scenery has diminished with our artists, whether in words or colours, as the century advances. Minutę points and foregrounds are now more largely dwelt on-a change probably connected with the vast development of the photograph. Thus Tennyson has comparatively more fine close detail than Wordsworth. But in Robert Browning, to whom we now turn, the foreground has wellnigh become the landscape, and is painted with a sharpness of touch and colour which may remind us of Dürer's or William Hunt's marvellous water-colours.


Browning, as was natural to his peculiarly fixed temperament, his powerful overruling idiosyncrasy, remained singularly unchanged throughout his long career. Yet it is singular that Pauline, the remarkable poem which he wrote at twenty (1832), has a freedom of touch, a breadth, in its landscape, a "joy in "the world's loveliness," which, it has been truly said,1 never returned to him. With this also is a certain simplicity in style, too infrequent in his work, due, perhaps, to his deep early devotion to Keats and Shelley.

Thus, addressing the imagined lady of the song

Thou wilt remember one warm morn, when Winter
Crept aged from the earth, and Spring's first breath
Blew soft from the moist hills-the black-thorn boughs,
So dark in the bare wood, when glistening

In the sunshine were white with coming buds,

Like the bright side of a sorrow-and the banks
Had violets opening from sleep, like eyes.

Something of Alastor, passionately admired by Browning, is here also audible. Yet one finds something, too, of his own later manner.

As the poem pursues its mystical course, setting forth obscurely Browning's youthful inner experiences of thought and feeling, a kind of panorama is given. It is a landscape, built "in thought," to which he invites Pauline, whom I take to be a figure of Browning's beloved sister, somewhat idealised—

Night, and one single ridge of narrow path
Between the sullen river and the woods

Waving and muttering, for the moonless night
Has shaped them into images of life,

Like the uprising of the giant-ghosts,
Looking on earth.

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Day and noon follow; then

See this our new retreat

Wall'd in with a sloped mound of matted shrubs,
Dark, tangled, old and green, still sloping down

1 W. Sharp, Browning, 1890.

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To a small pool whose waters lie asleep
Amid the trailing boughs turn'd water-plants:
And tall trees overarch to keep us in,
Breaking the sunbeams into emerald shafts. . .

Whilst, in the pools

Old gray stones lie making eddies there;
The wild-mice cross them dry-shod :

a line in which we pass at once from Shelley to Browning. One or two more scenes follow. But my extracts may give a sufficient example of this youthful work. Like Tennyson's Lover's Tale, Pauline was unwillingly admitted into his later edition by Browning, conscious of its evident immaturity. There is, indeed, little of his maturer sharply outlined presentation of single objects, or of those "electric flashes," by which he often lights up the scene. Yet we have also that simple "joy in the world's loveliness," which he never regained.

After first youth, his style, his choice of subjects, his metres, show no intrinsic development, except that from the date of The Ring and The Book (1868-69) the touch becomes less refined, the metre and music less harmonious. During the earlier and better period, the landscape, though dramatically varied as the subject of the poem may demand, thenceforward was long mainly Italian, though with an undercurrent of English vignettes. The youthful poem Paracelsus shows at how early a date Browning's foreground preference asserted > itself, in a river scene on the Mayne, which is in effect a minute catalogue of stream-side plants and wild creatures. And similar in style and manner is the powerful picture of Spring in the same poem—

Earth is a wintry clod :
But spring-wind, like a dancing psaltress, passes
Over its breast to waken it; rare verdure
Buds tenderly upon rough banks, between
The wither'd tree-roots and the cracks of frost,
Like a smile striving with a wrinkled face;

The grass grows bright, the boughs are swoln with blooms

Like chrysalids impatient for the air ;
The shining dorrs are busy, beetles run
Along the furrows, ants make their ado;
Above, birds fly in merry flocks, the lark
Soars up and up, shivering for very joy ;
Afar the ocean sleeps; white fishing-gulls
Flit where the strand is purple with its tribe
Of nested limpets; savage creatures seek
Their loves in wood and plain—and God renews
His ancient rapture!

These lines illustrate the inherent difficulty of the style. It is only the very last words that, by their noble force, give a kind of unity to a scene of scattered though able and piercing detail. But in general the poet, as he advanced in skill, although conquering this tendency to piecemeal effect, confined himself to admirably penetrating single vignettes, rather than offered a presentation of the landscape in full.

My examples shall be taken from what I have ventured to call Browning's better period; and the first shall be an Eastern landscape from Saul. David is soothing the king's agonised spirit with music

--I first play'd the tune all our sheep know, as, one after one,
So docile they come to the pen-door, till folding be done.
They are white and untorn by the bushes, for lo, they have fed
Where the long grasses stifle the water within the stream's bed;
And now one after one seeks its lodging, as star follows star
Into eve and the blue far above us, so blue and so far!

The sudden transition here, from the narrative structure of the first two lines to the song itself, is exquisitely imagined. It is, in truth, Vergil's device in the Silenus Eclogue.1

O si sic omnia! what a higher, what a probably more

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Till from bare narrative it bursts into the passionate exclamation about Pasiphaë

ah virgo infelix ! .

durable place in poetry would this poet hold, had he often, as here, united music and beauty to his own splendid special powers! As it is, constantly and sadly does he bring to mind the deep-felt saying of Keats—

Strength alone, though of the Muses born,
Is like a fallen angel.

By the Fireside, certainly one of Browning's most successful lyrics, supplies an Italian Monte Rosa scene, such as perhaps he only could paint. The poet and his wife are climbing the hillside in view of a ruin.


A turn, and we stand in the heart of things ;

The woods are round us, heap'd and dim ;
From slab to slab how it slips and springs-
The thread of water single and slim,
Through the ravage some torrent brings !
Does it feed the little lake1 below?

That speck of white just on its marge
Is Pella; see, in the evening-glow,

How sharp the silver spear-heads charge
When Alp meets Heaven in snow.

Presently the ruin is reached

And yonder, at foot of the fronting ridge
That takes the turn to a range beyond,
Is the chapel reach'd by the one-arch'd bridge
Where the water is stopp'd in a stagnant pond
Danced over by the midge.

The chapel and bridge are of stone alike,
Blackish-gray and mostly wet;

Cut hemp-stalks steep in the narrow dyke.
See here again, how the lichens fret
And the roots of the ivy strike !

Poor little place, where its one priest comes
On a festa-day, if he comes at all,

To the dozen folk from their scatter'd homes,

1 Lago d' Orta.

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