Abbildungen der Seite



whose service it is. Life's secret is found at last, but too late for this life's work."1

Love, Browning teaches, is not to be realized here; as it is eternal, a ray of the Divine nature, it cannot exhaust itself in time. In Cristina, as we have seen, we are here to learn love by mingling soul with soul. In Evelyn Hope the lover protests that he will claim his dead bride though he pass through more lives yet, and traverse worlds not a few. In the Last Ride Together the lover imagines they may "ride on, we two, for ever, changed not in kind but in degree." In all these poems the lesson is that love is not to be realized here. In the development of the soul love is the chief factor. The pure, platonic love of Caponsacchi and Pompilia in The Ring and the Book changes the fribble, coxcomb sonneteer into the "soldier-saint," and makes of a timid girl-bride, wedded by fraud to a villain, a noble, brave, and lofty-minded woman. Browning," says Professor Henry Jones, "in one thing stands alone. He has given to love a moral significance, a place and power amongst those substantial elements on which rest the dignity of man's being and the greatness of his destiny, in a way which is, I believe, without example in any other poet." 2

[ocr errors]

1 Sordello, by Jeanie Morison, pp. 111-12.

2 Browning as a Philosophical and Religious Teacher, p. 160.

[ocr errors]



In the lowest forms of love he recognizes its purifying and redeeming influence. He is repelled by no ugliness in these unhallowed unions, for he believes that


Beneath the veriest ash, there hides a spark of soul Which, quickened by love's breath, may yet pervade the whole." 1

When Browning, leaving human love for the Divine, is confronted by the difficulty that misery, sin, pain, and death abound, though Love is declared to reign supreme, he calls philosophy to aid his theology. "All's Love," he says, "yet all's Law," for love has made the law. The commandments written in our hearts were inscribed therein by the pen of Love. Love spoke in the awful thunders of Sinai, for Justice is only another manifestation of Love.3 In this connection we may recall what has been previously said.

God's love is unlimited in its self-sacrifice, and there is no difficulty in believing that the dread machinery of sin, pain, and sorrow were devised to evolve the moral qualities of man, "to make him love in turn, and be beloved." 4 The development theory applied to the mystery of sin and pain will help us to solve many riddles. 2 Saul.

1 Fifine at the Fair.

3 See George Macdonald's fine discourse, "Love Thy Neighbour," Unspoken Sermons, p.


4 The Ring and the Book: "The Pope," II. 1375-86.




Our moral progress can be made only by resistance; as we do not oil the railway lines to make the locomotive run easy, but sand them to increase the grip, so Divine Providence, instead of making our path through life of a dead-level smoothness, has placed difficulties and roughnesses in our way that we may overcome them, and gain strength in the process. Love has often denied us the oil we have passionately prayed for.



BROWNING'S arch-criminal Guido, awaiting execution in his dungeon, casts aside at last his hypocrisy, finesse, and laboured excuses, and in the face of approaching death tries to deal honestly with himself; but it is a hard matter, and Browning has finely drawn for us the picture of an ingrain villain, who having all his life deceived the world and worn a mask, at last finds the mask has so grown to his face that for the life of him he cannot tear it off, and see what manner of man he really is. He exclaims to the priests who come to prepare him for death

“Oh, how I wish some cold, wise man

Would dig beneath the surface which you scrape,
Deal with the depth, pronounce on my desert,

What is he to say to God? He can only ask Him to wipe out the being of him, to smear his soul from off His white of things he blots. He recognizes that he is one huge and sheer


178 THE INFINITE VALUE OF THE PRESENT mistake. "Whose fault?" he asks, and hypocrite as he is, declares it is

"Not mine at least, who did not make myself!” So he falls back on the doctrine of heredity, a very favourite theory with our scientific men now-a-days. There are no crimes now, only blunders. Guido will only admit that at the worst he stood in doubt at a cross-road, took one of many paths; the one he unfortunately selected leads him to the scaffold. Ah! if there had been one primrose the less on the bank, one singing-bird the less on the bough, it would have warned him from the fatal road!

But that is just the dreadful test of life. It always does depend on that choice of the moment. It is this which invests the moments of life with their immense importance, an importance which no poet has estimated so fully as Browning.

"Oh, moment one and infinite!"

How all we perceive and know in the world just tends to some moment's product, so that we are named and known for ever by that moment's feat! 1

The way in which Browning urges upon us the infinite importance of the "Now" is terrible. Nature is so imperious with us, brings us to a

[blocks in formation]
« ZurückWeiter »