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BROWNING, expositions. The subtlety and vigour of the thought are indeed surprising, and may justify the frequent comparisons to Shakespeare; and it abounds in descriptive passages of genuine poetry. Still, Browning seems to have been misled by a fallacy. It was quite legitimate to subordinate the external incidents to the psychological development in which he was really interested, but to secure the subordination by making the incidents barely intelligible was not a logical consequence. We should not understand Hamlet’s psychological peculiarities the better if we had to infer his family troubles from indirect hints. Browning gave more time to SordeMo than to any other work, and perhaps had become so familiar with the story which he professed to tell that he failed to make allowance for his readers’ difficulties. In any case it was not surprising that the ordinary reader should be puzzled and repelled, and the general recognition of his genius long delayed, by his reputation for obscurity. It might, however, be expected that he would make a more successful appeal to the public by purely dramatic work, in which he would have to limit his psychological speculation and to place his characters in plain situations. Paracelsus and Sordello show so great a power of reading character and appreciating subtler springs of conduct that its author clearly had one, at least, of the most essential qualifications of a dramatist. Before Sordello appeared Browning had tried his hand in this direction. He was encouraged by outward circumstances as well as by his natural bent. He was making friends and gaining some real appreciative admirers. John Forster had been greatly impressed by Paracelsus. Browning’s love of the theatre had led to an introduction to Macready in the winter of 1835-36 ; and Macready, who had been also impressed by Paracelsus, asked him for a play. Browning consented and wrote Strafford, which was produced at Covent Garden on 11th May 1837, Macready taking the principal part. Later dramas were King Victor and King Charles, published in 1842, The Return of the Druses and A Blot on the 'Scutcheon (both in 1843), Colombo's Birthday (1844), Luria and A Soid's Tragedy (both in 1846), and the fragmentary In a Balcony (1853). Strafford succeeded fairly, though the defection of one of the actors stopped its run after the fifth performance. The Blot on the 'Scutcheon, produced by Macready as manager of Drury Lane on 11th February 1843, led to an unfortunate quarrel. Browning thought that Macready had felt unworthy jealousy of another actor, and had gratified his spite by an inadequate presentation of the play. He remonstrated indignantly and the friendship was broken off for years. Browning was disgusted by his experience of the annoyances of practical play-writing, though he was not altogether discouraged. The play had apparently such a moderate success as was possible under the conditions, and a similar modest result was attained by Colombe's Birthday, produced at Covent Garden on 25th April 1853. Browning, like other eminent writers of the day, failed to achieve the feat of attracting the British public by dramas of high literary aims, and soon gave up the attempt. It has been said by competent critics that some of the plays could be fitted for the stage by judicious adaptation. The Blot on the 'Scutcheon has a very clear and forcibly treated situation; and all the plays abound in passages of high poetic power. Like the poems, they deal with situations involving a moral probation of the characters and often suggesting the ethical problems which always interested him. The speeches tend to become elaborate analyses of motive by the persons concerned, and would try the patience of an average audience, though interesting to an intelligent reader in the closet. For whatever reason, |


413 Browning, though he had given sufficient proofs of genius, had not found in these works the most appropriate mode of utterance. The dramas, after Strafford, formed the greatest part of a series of pamphlets called Bells and Pomegranates, eight of which were issued from 1841 to 1846. The name, he explained, was intended to indicate an “ alternation of poetry and thought.” The first number contained the fanciful and characteristic Pippa Passes. The seventh, significantly named Dramatic Romances and Lyrics, contained some of his most striking shorter poems. In 1844 he contributed some similar poems to Hood's Magazine in order to help Hood, then in his last illness. These poems take the special form in which Browning is unrivalled. He wrote very few lyrical poems of the ordinary kind purporting to give a direct expression of his own personal emotions. But, in the lyric which gives the essential sentiment of some impressive dramatic situation, he has rarely been approached. There is scarcely one of the poems published at this time which can be read without fixing itself at once in the memory as a forcible and pungent presentation of a characteristic mood. Their vigour and originality failed to overcome at once the presumption against the author of Sordello. Yet Browning was already known to and appreciated by such literary celebrities of the day as Talfourd, Leigh Hunt, Procter, Monckton Milnes, Carlyle, and Landor. His fame began to spread among sympathetic readers. The Bells and Pomegranates attracted the rising school of “preRaphaelites,” especially D. G. Rossetti, who guessed the authorship of the anonymous Pauline and made a transcript from the copy in the British Museum. But his audience was still select. Another recognition of his genius was of incomparably more personal importance and vitally affected his history. In 1844, Miss Barrett published a volume of poems containing “ Lady Geraldine’s Courtship,” with a striking phrase about Browning’s poems. He was naturally gratified, and her special friend and cousin, John Kenyon, encouraged him to write to her. She admitted him to a personal interview after a little diffidence, and a hearty appreciation of literary genius on both sides was speedily ripened into genuine and most devoted love. Miss Barrett was three years older than Browning and a confirmed invalid with shaken nerves. She was tenderly attached to an autocratic father who objected on principle to the marriage of his children. The correspondence of the lovers (published in 1899) shows not only their mutual devotion, but the chivalrous delicacy with which Browning behaved in a most trying situation. Miss Barrett was gradually encouraged to disobey the utterly unreasonable despotism. They made a clandestine marriage on 12th September 1846. The state of Miss Barrett’s health suggested misgivings which made Browning’s parents as well as his bride’s disapprove of the match. She, however, appears to have become stronger for some time, though always fragile and incapable of much active exertion. She had already been recommended to pass a winter in Italy. Browning had made two previous tours there, and his impressions had been turned to account in Sordello and Pippa Passes. For the next fifteen years the Brownings lived mainly in Italy, making their headquarters at Florence. A couple of winters were passed in Rome. In the summer of 1849 they were at Siena, where Browning was helpful to Landor, then in his last domestic troubles. They also visited England and twice spent some months in Paris. Their only child, Robert Weidemann Browning, was born at Florence in 1849. Browning’s literary activity during his marriage seems to have been comparatively small; though the two volumes called Men and Women (1855) contained