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412

BROWNING,

ROBERT

though it was more difficult to avoid than to win prizes. first published poem, Pauline, appeared anonymously in He was more conspicuous for the love of birds and beasts, 1833. He always regarded it as crude, and only consented which he always retained, than for any interest in his with reluctance to republishing it in the collected works lessons. He rather despised his companions and made of 1868. The indication of genius was recognized by W. few friends. A precocious poetical capacity, however, J. Fox, who hailed it in the Monthly Repository as markshowed itself in extra-scholastic ways. He made his ing the advent of a true poet. Pauline contains an schoolfellows act plays, partly written by himself. He enthusiastic invocation of Shelley, whose influence upon had composed verses before he could write, and when its style and conception is strongly marked. It is the twelve years old completed a volume of poems called only one of his works which can be regarded as imitative; Incondita. His parents tried unsuccessfully to find a and Browning’s personality was fully revealed in his next publisher; but his verses were admired by Sarah Flower considerable poems, Paracelsus (1835) and Aorde/fo (1840). Adams, a well-known hymn-writer of the day, and by W. The three, however, form a group. In an essay (prefixed J. Fox, both of whom became valuable friends. A copy to the spurious Shelley letters of 1851), Browning demade by Miss Flower was in existence in 1871, but after- scribes Shelley’s poetry “as a sublime fragmentary essay towards a presentment of the wards destroyed by the correspondency of the uniauthor. Browning had the verse to Deity.” The phrase run of his father’s library, describes his own view of and acquired a very unusual the true functions of a poet, amount of miscellaneous and Browning, having acreading. Quarles’ Emblems cepted the vocation, was was an especial favourite; meditating the qualifications and besides the Elizabethan which should fit him for his dramatists and standard task. The hero of Pauline English books, he had read is in a morbid state of mind all the works of Voltaire. which endangers his fidelity Byron was his first master to his duty. Paracelsus and in poetry, but about the age Sordello are studies in the of fourteen he fell in accipsychology of genius, illusdentally with Shelley and trating its besetting temptaKeats. For Shelley in partions. Paracelsus fails from ticular he conceived an intellectual pride, not balenthusiastic admiration anced by love of his kind, which lasted for many years, and from excessive ambition, though it was qualified in which leads him to seek his later life. success by unworthy means. The more aggressive side Sordello is a poet distracted of Browning’s character was between the demands of a as yet the most prominent; dreamy imagination and the and a self-willed lad, condesire to utter the thoughts scious of a growing ability, of mankind. He finally found himself cramped in gives up poetry for practical Camberwell circles. He repolitics, and gets into perjected the ordinary careers. plexities only to be solved by He declined the offer of a Robert Browning. his death. Pauline might clerkship in the Bank of (From a photograph by Elliott and Fry, London.) in some indefinite degree England; and his father, who had found the occupation uncongenial, not only approved reflect Browning’s OAvn feelings, but in the later the refusal but cordially accepted the son’s decision to poems he adopts his characteristic method of speaktake poetry for his profession. For good or evil, Browning ing in a quasi-dramatic mood. They are, as he gave had been left very much to his own guidance, and if his notice, “ poems, not dramas.” The interest is not in intellectual training suffered in some directions, the liberty the external events, but in the “ development of a soul ” ; permitted the development of his marked originality. The but they are observations of other men’s souls, not direct parental yoke, however, was too light to provoke rebellion. revelations of his own. Paracelsus was based upon a Browning’s mental growth led to no violent breach with study of the original narrative, and So7'delIo was a ' the creeds of his childhood. His parents became Dissenters historical, though a very indefinite person. The backin middle life, but often attended Anglican services; and ground of history is intentionally vague in both cases. Browning, though he abandoned the dogmas, continued to There is one remarkable difference between them. The sympathize with the spirit of their creed. He never took Paracelsus, though full of noble passages, is certainly a keen interest in the politics of the day, but cordially diffuse. Browning heard that John Sterling had comaccepted the general position of contemporary Liberalism. plained of its “verbosity,” and tried to remedy this failHis worship of Shelley did not mean an acceptance of his ing by the surgical expedient of cutting out the usual master’s hostile attitude towards Christianity, still less connecting words. Relative pronouns henceforth become did he revolt against the moral discipline under which he scarce in his poetry, and the grammatical construction had been educated. He frequented literary and artistic often a matter of conjecture. Words are forcibly jammed circles, and was passionately fond of the theatre ; but he together instead of being articulately combined. To the was entirely free from a coarse Bohemianism, and never ordinary reader many passages in his later work are both went to bed, we are told, without kissing his mother. crabbed and obscure, but the “ obscurity ” never afterwards He lived with his parents until his marriage. His mother reached the pitch of Sordello. It is due to the vaguelived till 1849, and his father till 1866, and his affection- ness with which the story is rather hinted than told, ate relations to both remained unaltered. Browning’s as well as to the subtlety and intricacy of the psychological