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When about to impart, on mature digestion,
- The professor's grave voice, sweet though hoarse,
Broke into his Christmas-Eve's discourse."
“ Whether 'twere best opine Christ was,
So the Idea be left the same.” Upon all these points, we heartily sympathize with Mr. Browning's acute and racy criticism, and consider that he has not misrepresented, while dissecting the mythical theory. We are rather surprised, too, to find him go easy and transparent in this domain. Only a slight difference between us springs up at last, when he seems inclined to exalt the historical Person above the continual and sufficient presence of God. But the glow and conviction of his elevating verse indispose us now for any criticism of particular statements.
He begins to feel very tolerant; talks about the value of religion, and the superfluity of sectarianism; hazards the phrase, "mild indifferentism," and his heart becomes quite genial in this “ lazy glow of benevolence." But the Vesture is not suited with this, and leaves him alone on the college-steps, as we think, rather intolerantly, considering that long ago the same Vesture's hem was touched by such as needed healing. But let us follow the rather orthodox poet, who misses his second person of the Trinity, and starts up in terror, exclaiming:
“ Needs must there be one way, our chief,
Best way of worship; let me strive
My fellows also take their share.” If, with his best endeavor, he fails in this, he believes that God, in his own method, will bring “ all wanderers to a single track.” On the whole, his reflections are so satisfactory that they bring back the “fying robe" again, and he feels like a man who has answered all the fundamental questions of a “council,” and has gracious ministerial permission to be ordained. Of a sudden :
“ at a passionate bound, I sprang Out of the wandering world of rain, Into the little chapel again."
He rubs his eyes — the saints have edged away from him, looking spiritual daggers. And yet, how could he remember all about the sermon, if he had been asleep? So it was, however; he keeps the orthodoxy of his dream, indulges in a gentle suspiration for the pope's and professor's salvation, and the “ Christmas-Eve” concludes thus :
“ If any blames me,
“ Easter-Day” commences in the conversational style; the poet and his imaginary foil discuss the difficulty of being a Christian. Some fine things are said upon the subject of faith. For instance, the difficulty of believing is the touchstone of belief:
“ Could Ile acquit us, or condemn,
For holding what no hand can loose,
With faith, if you would have faith be.” For a while this is the spirit of the conversation; one wishing to “grow smoothly, as a tree,” the other declaring that so the world lives now. Some respectable pursuits are shown up with light touches of irony — then men find what evidences of belief they desire :
as is your sort of mind,
So is your sort of search.” A very true thing, said in jest. But the poet assumes the Divine incarnation in the person of a single history, and then reminds us of " certain words, broad, plain,” which cannot be explained away :
“ Announcing this world's gain for loss,
And bidding us reject the same.” The pursuits of the world are finely contrasted with the spirit of denial :
“we, the better part
You want the eyes
And match the noble hearts of them." And so he proves how hard it is to be a Christian, forced always to ward off the stroke of doubt, “ caught upon the guard” of the better hope. The other speaker awards him small thanks for this; he already lives in trusting ease, indulging only the “blind hopes to spice the meal of life with.” Whereupon, in refutation of worldliness, we have the relation of another vision. It is a vision of judgment. This is a noble effort of imagination, pledged to the service of religious thought, — the verse soars into sublime description, and the pages redden with the fierce hues of this tremendous vision. The material prodigy of this Easter judgment passes away, and the scene fills with the presence of God, dealing with the human soul. The poet fixes his affections upon the world, and thought, and beauty, and love ; in each case, the Spirit declares to him the emptiness of his choice. Love existed in all the other things which he had enumerated; even his choice of love is somewhat late :
“ Now take love! — Well betide Thy tardy conscience! Haste to take The show of love for the name's sake.”
The humbled poet at last resigns every clinging thought of the world, hoping to find his peace and the favor of the Spirit in entire renunciation:
“ Be all the earth a wilderness !
Only let me go on, go on,
Embraced me.” Easter-Day breaks “no paradise stands barred to entry” — spite of dreary moments hope is elastic, and the poet knows that mercy every way is infinite."
So cordial is our agreement with the pure spirit of all this, that we cannot spend a word upon occasional disagreements in theology. Filled with this spirit of religious love, the reader can return to the power and beauty of this world, portrayed with such loving sympathy in all the verse of Mr. Browning, and permit them amid enjoyment to kindle worship of the unseen world, the kingdom of munificent correspondences to these partial shows of time. Thanks to Mr. Browning, we learn from his poem to mingle content with aspiration. We will keep every charm of earth, every beautiful line that he has added to the treasury of poets, every minute marvel with which God tempts us to think of the plenitude of heaven. “ All partial beauty” is a pledge of that. The pledge shall not suffice our mood, yet we cannot refuse to love it now with a tranquil hope. Nothing of late has so lifted the veil behind our customary routine and feeling, letting in upon them ripples of glory from the sphere of perfect beauty, as the latter half of “ EasterEve," with its presageful lines, its credible anticipations, its cosmic thought. We forbear to mar the sustained and solemn grace of the poem by quotations of that which every man must buy and read. It has the full, vital force of all the other strokes from the same pen. There is no easy sentiment for summer afternoons, and reading it is not an amusement ; for that, as the word purports, carries us oftener away from the muses than keeps us in their instructive company.
Mr. Browning makes our senses all alert; we cannot listen to him in a reverie, but with self-possessed faculties. Sometimes even his best images require a salutary effort to clutch them; occasional conceits excepted, they are not far-fetched, confused and
dim, but palpable, the handle towards the hand, marshalling the fancy the way it ought to go. This is true of all his works. We think we can perceive in “ Christmas-Eve and Easter-Day” that Mr. Browning has also gained clearness, without sacrificing a single quality of his genius. Indeed, its power is materially increased, for his pen serves the thought with a greater regard for human sympathy. Such lofty beauty which the many need, is more conformed to the style of the many, without ever stooping to win by a dilution of its subtle energies. Is it too much to say that, with this pen for his sceptre, Mr. Browning can exact the homage of all hearts ? He will permit us to apply to his conceptions of truth and beauty, what he says of the chief, best way of worship":
“ let me strive To find it, and, when found, contrive
My fellows also take their share.” We deem that he possesses all the gifts and the exuberant life needed by the great artist, and he makes us conscious of a religiousness that can command their services for the good of men. Give the world a direction towards the good. Schiller says to the artist: “You have given it this direction, if as a teacher you elevate its thoughts to the necessary and eternal; if, while acting or composing, you transform the necessary and eternal into an object of its impulse. Create the conquering truth in the modest stillness of your soul, array it in a form of beauty, that not only thought may pay it homage, but sense lovingly comprehend its presence.
Last words of admiration and gratitude linger on our pen. We bespeak for every future line of Mr. Browning a cordial welcome here. And it is pleasant to think that he cannot regard the warm, personal friendships he has unconsciously established here, with indifference. We assure him that he can take his piece entitled “ Time's Revenges," and for “ a friend” in the first line read “ friends,” adapting the passage to express our ever-increasing regard for the books he writes.