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Pope's wrong (a scratch from a thorn hedge!) is in his "Dunciad," not in his "Rape of the Lock." The poetry of Wordsworth's wrong is in his "Prefaces,” not in his "Excursion." The poetry of Byron's wrong is in those deep curses which sometimes disturb the harmony of his poems; and that of Shelley's in the maniacal scream which occasionally interrupts the pæans of his song. But all these had probably been as great, or greater poets, had no wrong befallen them, or had it taught them another lesson, than either peevishly to proclaim, or furiously to resent it.
the effects of culture, in deadening the genius of man, we are mistaken if it has not always had the contrary effect upon that of woman (where do we find a female Bloomfield or Burns?) so that, on entering on the far more highly civilised periods which are manifestly approaching, she will but be breathing the atmosphere calculated to nourish and invigorate, instead of weakening and chilling her mental life. Our admirable friend, Mr. De Quincey, has, we think, conceded even more than we require, in granting (see his paper on Joan of Arc) that woman can die more nobly than man. For whether is the writing or the Mrs. Browning has suffered, so far as we are doing of a great tragedy the higher achievement? aware, no wrong from the age. She might, inPoor the attitude even of Shakespere, penning the deed, for some time have spoken of neglect. But fire-syllables of Macbeth, to that of Joan of Arc, | people of genius should now learn the truth, that entering into the flames as into her wedding suit. neglect is not wrong; or if it be, it is a wrong in What comparison between the face inflamed of a which they often set the example. Neglecting Mirabeau or a Chalmers, as they thundered; the tastes of the majority, the majority avenges and the blush on the cheek of Charlotte Corday, itself by neglecting them. Standing and singing still extant, as her head was presented to the in a congregation of the deaf, they are senseless people? And who shall name the depicter of the enough to complain that they are not heard. Or death of Beatrice Cenci; or with Madame Roland, should they address the multitude, and should the whose conduct on the scaffold might make one in multitude not listen, it never strikes them that "love with death?" If to die nobly demand the the fault is their own; they ought to have comhighest concentration of the moral, intellectual, pelled attention. Orpheus was listened to the and even artistic powers-and if woman has par thunder is: even the gentlest spring shower excellence exemplified such a concentration, there commands its audience. If neglect means wilful follows a conclusion to which we should be ir- winking at claims which are felt, it is indeed a resistibly led, were it not that we question the wrong; but a wrong seldom if ever committed, minor proposition in the argument-we hold that and which complaint will not cure—if it means, man has often as fully as woman risen to the merely, ignorance of claims which have never dignity of death, and met him, not as a vassal, been presented or enforced, where and whose is but as a superior. the criminality?
To say that Mrs. Browning has more of the man than any female writer of the period, may appear rather an equivocal compliment; and its truth even may be questioned. We may, however, be permitted to say, that she has more of the heroine than her compeers. Hers is a high heroic nature, which adopts for the motto at once of its life and of its poetry, "Perfect through suffering." Shelley says:
"Most wretched men
Are cradled into poetry by wrong;
They learn in suffering what they teach in song." But wrong is not always the stern schoolmistress of song. There are sufferings springing from other sources-from intense sensibilityfrom bodily ailment-from the loss of cherished objects, which also find in poetry their natural vent. And we do think that such poetry, if not so powerful, is infinitely more pleasing and more instructive than that which is inspired by real or imaginary grievance. The turbid torrent is not the proper mirror for reflecting the face of nature; and none but the moody and the discontented will seek to see in it an aggravated and distorted edition of their own gloomy brows. The poetry of wrong is not the best and most permanent. It was not wrong alone that excited, though it unquestionably directed, the course of Dante's and Milton's vein. The poetry of Shakespere's wrong is condensed in his sonnets-the poetry of his forbearance and forgiveness, of his gratitude and his happiness, is in his dramas. The poetry of
To do Mrs. Browning justice, she has not complained of neglect nor of injury at all. But she has acknowledged herself inspired by the genius of suffering. And this seems to have exerted divers influences upon her poetry. It has, in the first place, taught her to rear for herself a spot of transcendental retreat, a city of refuge in the clouds. Scared away from her own heart, she has soared upwards, and found a rest elsewhere. To those flights of idealism in which she indulges, to those distant and daring themes which she selects, she is urged less, we think, through native tendency of mind, than to fill the vast vacuity of a sick and craving spirit. This is not peculiar to her. It may be called, indeed, the Retreat of the Ten Thousand; though strong and daring must be those that can successfully accomplish it. Only the steps of sorrow— we had almost said only the steps of despair-can climb such dizzy heights. The healthy and the happy mind selects subjects of a healthy and a happy sort, and which lie within the sphere of every-day life and every-day thought. But for minds which have been wrung and riven, there is a similar attraction in gloomy themes, as that which leads them to the side of dark rivers, to the heart of deep forests, or into the centre of waste glens. Step forth, ye giant children of Sorrow and Genius, that we may tell your names, and compute your multitudes. First, there is the proud thundershod Eschylean family, all conceived in the "eclipse" of that most powerful
of Grecian spirits. Then follows the vast skeleton
"Who cast his plummet down the broad
Chief poet upon Tiber side."
There stalk forward, next in the procession, the kings, priests, popes, prelates, and the yet guiltier and mightier shapes of Dante's Hell. Next, the Satan of Milton advances, champing the curb, and regarding even Prometheus as no mate for his proud and lonely misery. Then comes, cowering and shvering on, the timid Castaway of Cowper. He is followed by Byron's heroes, a haughty yet melancholy troop, with conscious madness animating their gestures and glaring in their eyes. The Anciente Marenere succeeds, now fearfully reverting his looks, and now fixing his glittering eye forward on peopled and terrible vacancy. And, lastly, a frail shadowy and shifting shape, looking now Laon, now like Lionel, and now like Prometheus, proclaims that Alastor himself is here, the Benjamin in this family of tears.
taste of turning the sweet open garden of Eden
heavens-where celestial plants grew under the
"Whither shall I wander," seems Mrs.
"One blossom of Eden outblooms them all."
Having accepted from Mrs. Browning's own hand sadness, or at least seriousness, as the key to her nature and genius, let us continue to apply it in our future remarks. This at once impels her to, and fits her for, the high position she has assumed, uttering the "Cry of the Human." And whom would the human race prefer as their earthly advocate, to a high-souled and gifted woman? What voice but the female voice could so softly and strongly, so cloquently and meltingly, interpret to the ear of him whose name is Love, the deep woes, and deeper wants of "poor humanity's afflicted will, struggling in vain with ruthless destiny?" a Some may quarrel with the title, "The Human," as an affectation; but, in the first place, if it be, it is a very small one, and a small affectation can never furnish matter for a great quarrel. Secondly, we are not disposed to make a man, and still less a woman, an offender for a word, and thirdly, we fancy we can discern a good reason for her use of the term. What is it that is crying aloud through her voice to Heaven? It is not the feral or fiendish element in human nature? That has found an organ in Byron-an echo in his bellowing verse. It is the human element in man-bruised, bleeding, all but dead under the pressure of evil-circumstances, under the ten thousand tyrannies, mistakes, and delusions of the world, that has here ceased any longer to be silent, and is speaking in a sister's voice to Time and to Eternity-to Earth and Heaven. The poem may truly be called a prayer for the times, and no collect in the English liturgy surpasses it in truth and tenderness, though some may think its tone daring to the brink of blasphemy, and
Gracefully from this proud and giddy pinnacle, where she had stood as the conscious and com
missioned representative of the human race, she descends to the door of the factory, and pleads for the children inclosed in that crowded and busy hell. The "cry of the factory children" moves you, because it is no poem at all-it is just a long sob, veiled and stifled as it ascends through the hoarse voices of the poor beings themselves. Since we read it we can scarcely pass a factory without seeming to hear this psalm issuing from the machinery, as if it were protesting against its own abused powers. But, to use the language of a writer quoted a little before, "The Fairy Queen is dead, shrouded in a yard of cotton stuff made by the spinning-jenny, and by that other piece of new improved machinery, the souls and bodies of British children, for which death alone holds the patent." From Mrs. Browning, perhaps the most imaginative and intellectual of British females, down to a pale faced, thick-voiced, degraded, hardly human, factory girl, what a long and precipitous descent. But though hardly, she is human; and availing herself of the small, trembling, but eternally indestructible link of connexion implied in a common nature, our authoress can identify herself with the cause, and incarnate her genius in the person of the poor perishing child. How unspeakably more affecting is a pleading in behalf of a particular portion of the race, than in behalf of the entire family! Mrs. Browning might have uttered a hundred "cries of the human," and proved herself only a sentimental artist, and awakened little save an echo dying away in distant elfin laughter; but the cry of a factory child, coming through a woman's, has gone to a nation's heart of hearts.
Although occupied thus with the sterner wants and sorrows of society, she is not devoid of interest in its minor miseries and disappointments. She can sit down beside little Ella (the miniature of Alnaschar) and watch the history of her daydream beside the swan's nest among the reeds, and see in her disappointment a type of human hopes in general, even when towering and radiant as summer clouds. Ella's dream among the reeds! What else was Godwin's Political Justice? What else was St. Simonianism? What else is Young Englandism? And what elso are the hopes built by many now upon certain perfected schemes of education, which, freely translated, just mean the farther sharpening and furnishing of knaves and fools; and now "Coming Man," who is to supply every deficiency, reconcile every contradiction, and right every wrong. Yes, he will come mounted on the red-roan horse of sweet Ella's vision!
Shadowed by the same uniform seriousness are the only two poems of hers which we shall farther at present mention-we mean her "Vision of Poets," and her "Geraldine's Courtship." The aim of the first is to present, in short compass, and almost in single lines, the characteristics of the greater poets of past and present times. This undertaking involved in it very considerable difficulties. For, in the first place, most great poets possess more than one distinguishing peculiarity. To select a single differential point VOL. XIV.NO. CLIV,
is always hazardous, and often deceptive. 2dly, After you have selected the prominent characteristic of your author, it is no easy task to express it in a word, or in a line. To compress thus an Iliad in a nutshell, to imprison a Giant genie in an iron pot, is more a feat of magic than an act of criticism. 3dly, It is especially difficult to express the differentia of a writer in a manner at once easy and natural, and picturesque, and poetical. In the very terms of such an attempt as Mrs. Browning makes, it is implied that she not only defines, but describes the particular writer. But to curdle up a character into one noble word, to describe Shakespere, for instance, in such compass, what sun-syllable shall suffice; or must we renew Byron's wish?—
'Could I unbosom and embody now
That which is most within me; could I wreak
And that one word were Lightning, I would speak;
With a most voiceless thought, sheathing it as a sword.” Accordingly, this style of portraiture (shall we call it, as generally pursued, the thumb-nail style?) has seldom been prosecuted with much success. Ebenezer Elliott has a copy of verses after this fashion, not quite worthy of him. What, for example, does the following line tell us of Shelly?
"Ill-fated Shelly, vainly great and brave."
The same words might have been used about Sir John Moore, or Pompey. Mrs. Browning's verses are far superior. Sometimes, indeed, we see her clipping at a character, in order to fit it better into the place she has prepared for it. Sometimes she crams the half of an author into a verse, and has to leave out the rest for want of room. Sometimes over a familiar face she throws. a veil of words and darkness. But often her one glance sees, and her one word shows, the very heart of an author's genius and character. Our readers may recur to the lines already quoted in reference to Lucretius, as one of her best portraitures. Altogether this style, as generally prosecuted, is a small one, not much better than anagrams and acrostics-ranks, indeed, not much higher than the ingenuity of the persons who transcribe the "Pleasures of Hope" on the breadth of a crown-piece, and should be resigned to such praiseworthy personages. By far the best specimen of it we remember, is the very clever list involving a running commentary of the works of Lord Byron, by Dr. M'Ginn; unless, indeed, it be Gay's Catalogue Raisonné of the portentous poems of Sir Richard Blackmore. Who shall embalm, in a similar way, the endless writings of James, Cooper, and Dickens?
'Lady Geraldine's Courtship," as a transcript from the "red-leaved tablets of the heart "—as a tale of love, set to the richest music-as a picture of the subtle workings, the stern reasonings, and the terrible bursts of passion-is above praise. How like a volcano does the poet's heart at length explode! How first all power is given him in the dreadful trance of silence, and then in the loosened tempest of speech! What a wild, fierce
logic flows forth from his lips, in which, as in that themselves needlessly to such a charge? We of Lear's madness, the foundations of society think in general, that true taste in this, as in seem to quiver like reeds, and every mount of matters of dress and etiquette, dictates conforconventionalism is no longer found; and in the mity to the present mode, provided that does not lull of that tempest, and in the returning sun- unduly cramp the freedom and the force of natural shine, how beautiful, how almost super-human, motions. There is, indeed, a class of writers who seem the figures of the two lovers, seen now and are chartered libertines-who deal with language magnified through the mist of the reader's fast- as they please-who toss it about as the autumn flowing tears. It is a tale of successful love, and wind leaves; who, in the agony of their earnestyet it melts you like a tragedy, and most melts ness, or in the fury of their excitement, seize on you in the crisis of the triumph. On Geraldine we rude and unpolished words, as Titans on rocks had gazed as on a star, with dry-eyed and distant and mountains, and gain artistic triumphs in admiration; but when that star dissolves in showers opposition to all the rules of art. Such are at the feet of her poet lover, we weep for very Wilson and Carlyle, and such were Burke and joy. Truly a tear is a sad yet beautiful thing; Chalmers. These men we must just take as they it constitutes a link connecting us with distant are, and be thankful for them as they are. We countries, nay, connecting us with distant worlds. must just give them their own way. And whether Gravitation has, amid all her immensity, wrought such a permission be given or not, it is likely to no such lovely work as when she rounded a tear. be taken. "Canst thou draw out Leviathan From this beautiful poem alone, we might argue with a hook, or his tongue with a cord which Mrs. Browning's capacity for producing a great thou lettest down? will he make many supplidomestic tragedy. We might argue it, also, from cations unto thee? will he speak soft words unto the various peculiarities of her genius-her far thee? Will the Unicorn be willing to serve vision into the springs of human conduct-into thee, or abide by thy crib? canst thou bind him those viewless veins of fire, or of poison, which with his band in the furrow? will he harrow the wind within the human heart-her sympathy valleys after thee? wilt thou believe that he will with dark bosoms-the passion for truth, which bring home thy seed, and gather into thy barn?" pierces often the mist of her dimmer thought, | No: like the tameless creatures of the wilderness like a flash of irrepressible lightning-her fervid-like the chainless elements of the air-such men temperament, always glowing round her intellec- obey a law, and use a language, and follow a tual sight-and her queen-like dominion over ima-path of their own. gery and language. We think, meanwhile, that But this rare privilege Mrs. Browning cannot she has mistaken her sphere. In that rare atmo- claim. And she owes it to herself and to sphere of transcendentalismwhich she has reached, her admirers to simplify her manner-to sift she respires with difficulty, and with pain. She her diction of whatever is harsh and barbarous is not "native and endued" into that element. We would warn her off the giddy region, where tempests may blow, as well as clouds gather. Her recent sonnets in Blackwood are sad failures, -the very light in them is darkness-thoughts, in themselves as untangible as the films upon the window pane, are concealed in a woof of words, till their thin and shadowy meaning fades utterly away. Morbid weakness, she should remember, is not masculine strength. But can she not, through the rents in her cloudy tabernacle, discern, far below in the vale, fields of deep though homely beauty, where she might more gracefully and successfully exercise her exquisite genius? She has only to stoop to conquer. By and bye we may-using unprofanely an expression originally profane-be tempted to say, as we look up the darkened mountain, with its flashes of fire hourly waxing fewer and feebler, "As for this poetess, we wot not what has become of her."
to speak whatever truth is in her, in the clear articulate language of men—and to quicken, as she well can, the dead forms of ordinary verbiage, by the spirit of her own superabundant life. Then, but not till then, shall her voice break fully through the environment of coteries, cliques, and Magazine readers, and fall upon the ear of the general public, like the sound sweet in its sublimity, simple amid its complex elements, earthly in its cause and unearthly in its effect upon the soul, of a multitude of waters.
At present she seems to have seated herself, like a second witch of Endor, in a cave of mystery and vaticination-her "familiar," her gifted husband, a spirit well worthy of holding high consultation with herself; and who, like the famuli of ancient magicians, is equally adapted for humorous sport, and for serious thought and enterprise. We have in spirit been visiting her cavern, and have come back in the mood of prophesying. She has, if not taught, confirmed on us impressions, in reference to the future progress of Poetry, which we may close this lucubration by expressing.
While we are venturing on accents of warning, we might also remind her that there are in her style and manner peculiarities which a wicked world will persist in calling affectations. On the charge of affectation, generally, wo are disposed to That Poetry, notwithstanding its present delay little stress-it is a charge so easily got up, graded and enfeebled condition, is not extinct, nor and which can be so readily swelled into a cuckoo ever shall be extinguished, we may at once cry; it is often applied with such injustice, and assume. As long as the sky is blue, and the rainit so generally attaches to singularities in manner, bow beautiful-as long as man's heart is warm instead of insincerities in spirit and matter. But and the face of woman fair-Poetry, like seed-time why should a true man, or a true woman, expose and harvest, summer and winter, shall not cease.
Nay, may we not apply to it the words of "Night Thoughts")-prose often kindling inCampbell, applied originally to hope
"Eternal Art, when yonder spheres sublime
But in two things especially we perceive a provision being made in the present day, for the sustenance of the Poetic spirit, and for the further development of the Poetic faculty. One is the advancement of scientific truth. This, so far from being, as in the vulgar notion, adverse, is favourable to the progress of Poetry. Poetry, as a true thing, must be furthered by the advance of every other section of truth. Poetry can rule by division as well as by multiplication. Poetry stands ever ready to pour her forces through the smallest breaches which science makes. Nay, all the sciences are already employed, and shall yet be more solemnly enlisted into the service of Poetry. Botany goes forth into the fields and the woods, collects her fairest flowers, and binds with them a chaplet for the brow of Poetry. Conchology from the waters and from the sea shores gathers her loveliest shells, and hark! when uplifted to the ear of Poetry, "pleased, they remember their august abodes, and murmur as the ocean murmurs there." Anatomy lays bare the human frameso fearfully and wonderfully made-and Poetry breathes back a portion of the spirit which that cold clay has lost, and its dry bones and withered sinews begin to live. Chemistry leads Poetry to the side of her furnace, and shows her transformations scarcely less marvellous and magical than her own. Geology lifts, with daring yet trembling hand, the "veil that is woven with night and with terror, from the history of past worlds, of cycles of ruin and renovation of creations and destroyings, and allows the eye of Poetry to look down in wonder, and to look up in fire. And Astronomy conducts Poetry to her observatory, and enjoys her amazement at the spectacle of that storm of suns, for ever blowing in the midnight sky. In the progress of astronomy, indeed, we see opening up the loftiest of conceivable fields for the poet. Who has hitherto adequately sung the wonders of the Newtonian-how much less of the Herschellian heavens? In prose alone (excepting, indeed, some splendid passages of the
to poetry; the prose of Chalmers and of Nichol have these themes been worthily treated. But who is waiting, with his lyre in his eager hand, to be ready to sing the steep-rising glories of the Rossian heavens? We have the "Night Thoughts,” which are a century behind the present stage of the science; but who shall write us a poem on "Night," worthy, in some measure, of vieing with that solemn yet spirit-stirring theme? Sooner or later it must be done. The Milton of Midnight must yet arise.
Another security for the future triumphs of Poetry is to be found in the spread of the Earnest Spirit. That such a spirit is coming over the age, men feel as by a general and irresistible intuition. There are, besides, many distinct evidences, and in nothing more so than in the present state of Poetry. Its clouds, long so light and gay, are rapidly charging with thunder, and from that black orchestra, when completely filled, what tones of power and music may be expected. All the leading poets of our later day—Tennyson, Browning, Mrs. Browning, Emerson, and Bayley-are avowing and acting on their belief that Poetry is no child's pastime, but one of the most serious of all serious things. This fills us with hope and high expectancy. It recalls to us a past period, when the names of prophet and of poet were the same; when bards were the real rulers; when the highest truth came forth in melody; when rhyme and reason had never been divorced. It points us forward, with sunbeamfinger, to a future day, when, in Emerson's fine language, Poetry shall lead in a new age, as there is a star in the constellation Harp, which shall yet, astronomers tell us, be the polar star for a thousand years." We are, however slowly nearing that star! And, when men have become more enlightened, more welded into unity, more penetrated with high principle, more warmed with the emotion of love-when the earth has become more worthy of shining between Orion and the Great Bear-between Mars and Venusthere shall break forth from it a voice of song, holier far than Amphion's ; sweeter than all Orphean measures; comparable to that fabled melody, by which the spheres were said to attune their motions; comparable, say rather, to that nobler song, wherewith, when Earth, a stranger, first appeared in our sky, she was saluted by her kindred orbs-"when the morning stars sang together, and all the Sons of God shouted for joy.”
AWAY, away, I burst!
THE SONG OF THE LOCOMOTIVE.
Who will follow me? who?
I have quenched my burning thirst,
With my glowing heart of fire,
And my never tiring arm,
And my whispering magic wire,
From the city I sweep along,
Like an arrow swift and true;
And before the eyes of the dazzled throng I sing out--Whiz, whistle, whew!
The citizen stood in my path,
With the bower of delights he had made, And proudly he vowed, in his wrath,
That his privacy none should invade;