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BROWNING,

some of his best work and showed that his power was still growing. His position involved some sacrifice and imposed limitations upon his energies. Mrs Browning’s health required a secluded life; and Browning, it is said, never dined out during his marriage, though he enjoyed society and made many and very warm friendships. The only breach of complete sympathy with his wife was due to his contempt for “ spiritualists ” and “ mediums,” in whom she fully believed. His portrait of the notorious Home as “ Sludge ” only appeared after her death. This domestic happiness, however, remained essentially unbroken until she died on 29th June 1861. The whole love - story had revealed the singular nobility of his character, and, though crushed for a time by the blow, he bore it manfully. Browning determined to return to England and superintend his boy’s education at home. He took a house in Warwick Crescent, Bayswater, and became gradually acclimatized in London. He resumed his work and published the Dramatis Personae in 1864. The publication was well enough received to mark the growing recognition of his genius, which was confirmed by The Ring and the Book, published in four volumes in the winter of 1868-69. In 1867 the University of Oxford gave him the degree of M.A. “ by diploma,” and Balliol College elected him as an honorary fellow. In 1868 he declined a virtual offer of the rectorship of St Andrews. He repeated the refusal on a later occasion (1884) from a dislike to the delivery of a public address. The rising generation was now beginning to buy his books; and he shared the homage of thoughtful readers with Tennyson, though in general popularity he could not approach his friendly rival. The Ring and the Book has been generally accepted as Browning’s masterpiece. It is certainly most characteristic. The audacity of the scheme is surprising. To tell the story of a hideous murder twelve times over, to versify the arguments of counsel and the gossip of quidnuncs, and to insist upon every detail with the minuteness of a law report, could have occurred to no one else. The poem is so far at the opposite pole from Bordello. Vagueness of environment is replaced by a photographic distinctness, though the psychological interest is dominant in both. Particular phrases may be crabbed, but nothing can be more distinct and vivid in thought and conception. If some of those “ dramatic monologues ” of which the book is formed fail to be poetry at all, some of them—that of Pompilia the victim, her champion Caponsacchi, and the Pope who gives judgment—are in Browning’s highest mood, and are as impressive from the ethical as from the poetical point of view. Pompilia was no doubt in some respects an idealized portrait of Mrs Browning. Other pieces may be accepted as a background of commonplace to throw the heroic into the stronger relief. The Ring and the Book is as powerful as its method is unique. Browning became gentler and more urbane as he grew older. His growing fame made him welcome in all cultivated circles, and he accepted the homage of his admirers with dignity and simplicity. He exerted himself to be agreeable in private society, though his nervousness made him invariably decline ever to make public speeches. He was an admirable talker, and took pains to talk his best. A strong memory supplied him with abundant anecdotes; and though occasionally pugnacious, he allowed a fair share of the conversation to his companions. Superficial observers sometimes fancied that the poet was too much sunk in the man of the world; but the appearance was due to his characteristic reluctance to lay bare his deeper feelings. When due occasion offered, the underlying tenderness of his affections was abundantly manifest. No one could show more delicate sympathy. He made many warm personal friend-

ROBERT

ships in his later years, especially with women, to whom he could most easily confide his feelings. In the early years of this period he paid visits to country houses, but afterwards preferred to retire farther from the London atmosphere into secluded regions. He passed some holidays in remote French villages, Pornic, Croisic, and St Aubyn, which have left traces in his poetry. At St Aubyn he had the society of J. Milsand, a French writer who had shown his warm appreciation of Browning’s poetry by an article in the Revue des Deux Mondes, which in 1852 had led to a personal friendship lasting till Milsand’s death in 1886. Browning sent to him the proof-sheets of all his later works for revision. In 1877 Browning was at La Saisiaz on the Saleve, near Geneva, where, an old friend, Miss Egerton Smith, was staying. She died suddenly almost in his presence. She had constantly accompanied him to concerts during his London life. After her death he almost ceased to care for music. The shock of her loss produced the singular poem called La Saisiaz, in which he argues the problem of personal immortality with a rather indefinite conclusion. In later years Browning returned to Italy and passed several autumns at Venice. He never visited Florence after his wife’s death there. Browning’s literary activity continued till almost the end of his life. He wrote constantly, though he composed more slowly. He considered twenty-five or thirty lines to be a good day’s work. His later writings covered a very great variety of subjects, and were cast in many different forms. They show the old characteristics and often the old genius. Browning’s marked peculiarity, the union of great speculative acuteness with intense poetical insight, involved difficulties which he did not always surmount. He does not seem to know whether he is writing poetry or when he is versifying logic; and when the speculative impulse gets the upper hand, his work suggests the doubt whether an imaginary dialogue in prose would not have been a more effective medium. He is analysing at length when he ought to be presenting a concrete type, while the necessities of verse complicate and obscure the reasoning. A curious example is the Prince Hohenstiel-Schivangau (1871), an alias for Louis Napoleon. This attempt to show how a questionable hero apologizes to himself recalls the very powerful “ Bishop Blougram,” and “ Sludge, the medium,” of earlier works, but becomes prolix and obscure. Fifine at the Fair (1872) is another curious speculation containing a defence of versatility in love-making by an imaginary Don Juan. Its occasionally cynical tone rather scandalized admirers, who scarcely made due allowance for its dramatic character. Browning’s profound appreciation of high moral qualities is, however, always one main source of his power. In later years he became especially interested in stories of real life, which show character passing through some sharp ordeal. The Red Cotton Nightcap Country (1873), describing a strange tragedy which had recently taken place in France, and especially The Inn Album (1875), founded on an event in modern English society, are powerful applications of the methods already exemplified in The Ring and the Book. The Dramatic Idyls (1879 and 1880) are a collection of direct narratives, with less analytical disquisition, which surprised his readers by their sustained vigour. In the last volumes, Jocoseria (1883), Ferishtah’s Fancies (1884), Parleyings with Certain People (1887), and Asolando (1889), the old power is still apparent, but the hand is beginning to fail. They contain discussions of metaphysical problems, such as the origin of evil, which are interesting as indications of his creed, but can scarcely be regarded as successful either poetically or philosophically.