The Project Gutenberg EBook of Browning's England, by Helen Archibald Clarke This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.org Title: Browning's England A Study in English Influences in Browning Author: Helen Archibald Clarke Release Date: July 10, 2009 [EBook #29365] Language: English Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1 *** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK BROWNING'S ENGLAND *** Produced by Ted Garvin, Linda Cantoni (music), Katherine Ward and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net
A STUDY OF
ENGLISH INFLUENCES IN BROWNING
HELEN ARCHIBALD CLARKE
Author of "Browning's Italy"
THE BAKER & TAYLOR COMPANY
Copyright, 1908, by
The Baker & Taylor Company
Published, October, 1908
The Plimpton Press Norwood Mass. U.S.A.
MY COLLEAGUE IN PLEASANT LITERARY PATHS
MANY YEARS FRIEND
|I.||English Poets, Friends, and Enthusiasms||1
|III.||A Crucial Period in English History||79
|IV.||Social Aspects of English Life||211
|V.||Religious Thought in the Nineteenth Century||322
|VI.||Art Criticism Inspired by the English Musician, Avison||420
|Browning at 23||Frontispiece|
|Percy Bysshe Shelley||4|
|Rydal Mount, the Home of Wordsworth||22|
|An English Lane||33|
|First Folio Portrait of Shakespeare||60|
|Charles I in Scene of Impeachment||80|
|Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford||88|
|The Tower, London||170|
|The Tower, Traitors' Gate||183|
|An English Manor House||222|
|An English Park||240|
|An English Inn||288|
ENGLISH POETS, FRIENDS AND ENTHUSIASMS
To any one casually trying to recall what England has given Robert Browning by way of direct poetical inspiration, it is more than likely that the little poem about Shelley, "Memorabilia" would at once occur:
It puts into a mood and a symbol the almost worshipful admiration felt by Browning for the poet in his youth, which he had, many years before this little lyric was written, recorded in a finely appreciative passage in "Pauline."
Browning was only fourteen when Shelley first came into his literary life. The story has often been told of how the young Robert, passing a bookstall one day spied in a box of second-hand volumes, a shabby little edition of Shelley advertised "Mr. Shelley's Atheistical Poems: very scarce." It seems almost incredible to us now that the name was an absolutely new one to him, and that only by questioning the bookseller did he learn that Shelley had written a number of volumes of poetry and that he was now dead. This accident was sufficient to inspire the incipient poet's curiosity, and he never rested until he was the owner of Shelley's works. They were hard to get hold of in those early days but the persistent searching of his mother finally unearthed them at Olliers' in Vere Street, London. She brought him also three volumes of Keats, who became a treasure second only to Shelley.
"Sun-treader, life and light be thine forever."
The question of Shelley's influence on Browning's art has been one often discussed. There are many traces of Shelleyan music and idea in his early poems "Pauline," "Paracelsus," and "Sordello," but no marked nor lasting impression was made upon Browning's development as a poet by Shelley. Upon5 Browning's personal development Shelley exerted a short-lived though somewhat intense influence. We see the young enthusiast professing the atheism of his idol as the liberal views of Shelley were then interpreted, and even becoming a vegetarian. As time went on the discipleship vanished, and in its place came the recognition on Browning's part of a poetic spirit akin yet different from his own. The last trace of the disciple appears in "Sordello" when the poet addresses Shelley among the audience of dead great ones he has mustered to listen to the story of Sordello:
Shelley appears in the work of Browning once more in the prose essay on Shelley which was written to a volume of spurious letters of that poet published in 1851. In this is summed up in a masterful paragraph6 reflecting Browning's unusual penetration into the secret paths of the poetic mind, the characteristics of a poet of Shelley's order. The paragraph is as follows:
"We turn with stronger needs to the genius of an opposite tendency—the subjective poet of modern classification. He, gifted like the objective poet, with the fuller perception of nature and man, is impelled to embody the thing he perceives, not so much with reference to the many below as to the One above him, the supreme Intelligence which apprehends all things in their absolute truth,—an ultimate view ever aspired to, if but partially attained, by the poet's own soul. Not what man sees, but what God sees,—the Ideas of Plato, seeds of creation lying burningly on the Divine Hand,—it is toward these that he struggles. Not with the combination of humanity in action, but with the primal elements of humanity, he has to do; and he digs where he stands,—preferring to seek them in his own soul as the nearest reflex of that absolute Mind, according to the intuitions of which he desires to perceive and speak. Such a poet does not deal habitually with the picturesque groupings and tempestuous tossings of the forest-trees, but with their roots and fibers naked to the chalk and stone. He7 does not paint pictures and hang them on the walls, but rather carries them on the retina of his own eyes: we must look deep into his human eyes, to see those pictures on them. He is rather a seer, accordingly, than a fashioner, and what he produces will be less a work than an effluence. That effluence cannot be easily considered in abstraction from his personality,—being indeed the very radiance and aroma of his personality, projected from it but not separated. Therefore, in our approach to the poetry, we necessarily approach the personality of the poet; in apprehending it, we apprehend him, and certainly we cannot love it without loving him. Both for love's and for understanding's sake we desire to know him, and, as readers of his poetry, must be readers of his biography too."
Finally, the little "Memorabilia" lyric gives a mood of cherished memory of the Sun-Treader, who beaconed him upon the heights in his youth, and has now become a molted eagle-feather held close to his heart.
Keats' lesser but assured place in the poet's affections comes out in the pugnacious lyric, "Popularity," one of the old-time bits of ammunition shot from the guns of those who found Browning "obscure." The poem is an "apology" for any unappreciated poet with8 the true stuff in him, but the allusion to Keats shows him to have been the fuse that fired this mild explosion against the dullards who pass by unknowing and uncaring of a genius, though he pluck with one hand thoughts from the stars, and with the other fight off want.
"Who fished the murex up?
11 Wordsworth, it appears, was, so to speak, the inverse inspiration of the stirring lines "The Lost Leader." Browning's strong sympathies with the Liberal cause are here portrayed with an ardor which is fairly intoxicating poetically, but one feels it is scarcely just to the mild-eyed, exemplary Wordsworth, and perhaps exaggeratedly sure of Shakespeare's attitude on this point. It is only fair to Browning, to point out how he himself felt later that his artistic mood had here run away with him, whereupon he made amends honorable in a letter in reply to the question whether he had Wordsworth in mind: "I can only answer, with something of shame and contrition, that I undoubtedly had Wordsworth in my mind—but simply as a model; you know an artist takes one or two striking traits in the features of his 'model,' and uses them to start his fancy on a flight which may end far enough from the good man or woman who happens to be sitting for nose and eye. I thought of the great Poet's abandonment of liberalism at an unlucky juncture, and no repaying consequence that I could ever see. But, once call my fancy-portrait Wordsworth—and how much more ought one to say!"
The defection of Wordsworth from liberal sympathies is one of the commonplaces of12 literary history. There was a time when he figured in his poetry as a patriotic leader of the people, when in clarion tones he exhorted his countrymen to "arm and combine in defense of their common birthright." But this was in the enthusiasm of his youth when he and Southey and Coleridge were metaphorically waving their red caps for the principles of the French Revolution. The unbridled actions of the French Revolutionists, quickly cooled off their ardor, and as Taine cleverly puts it, "at the end of a few years, the three, brought back into the pale of State and Church, were, Coleridge, a Pittite journalist, Wordsworth, a distributor of stamps, and Southey, poet-laureate; all converted zealots, decided Anglicans, and intolerant conservatives." The "handful of silver" for which the patriot in the poem is supposed to have left the cause included besides the post of "distributor of stamps," given to him by Lord Lonsdale in 1813, a pension of three hundred pounds a year in 1842, and the poet-laureateship in 1843.
The first of these offices was received so long after the cooling of Wordsworth's "Revolution" ardors which the events of 1793 had brought about that it can scarcely be said to have influenced his change of mind.
13It was during Wordsworth's residence in France, from November 1791 to December 1792, that his enthusiasm for the French Revolution reached white heat. How the change was wrought in his feelings is shown with much penetration and sympathy by Edward Dowden in his "French Revolution and English Literature." "When war between France and England was declared Wordsworth's nature underwent the most violent strain it had ever experienced. He loved his native land yet he could wish for nothing but disaster to her arms. As the days passed he found it more and more difficult to sustain his faith in the Revolution. First, he abandoned belief in the leaders but he still trusted to the people, then the people seemed to have grown insane with the intoxication of blood. He was driven back from his defense of the Revolution, in its historical development, to a bare faith in the abstract idea. He clung to theories, the free and joyous movement of his sympathies ceased; opinions stifled the spontaneous life of the spirit, these opinions were tested and retested by the intellect, till, in the end, exhausted by inward debate, he yielded up moral questions in despair ... by process of the understanding alone Wordsworth could attain no14 vital body of truth. Rather he felt that things of far more worth than political opinions—natural instincts, sympathies, passions, intuitions—were being disintegrated or denaturalized. Wordsworth began to suspect the analytic intellect as a source of moral wisdom. In place of humanitarian dreams came a deep interest in the joys and sorrows of individual men and women; through his interest in this he was led back to a study of the mind of man and those laws which connect the work of the creative imagination with the play of the passions. He had begun again to think nobly of the world and human life." He was, in fact, a more thorough Democrat socially than any but Burns of the band of poets mentioned in Browning's gallant company, not even excepting Browning himself.
Whether an artist is justified in taking the most doubtful feature of his model's physiognomy and building up from it a repellent portrait is question for debate, especially when he admits its incompleteness. But we16 may balance against this incompleteness, the fine fire of enthusiasm for the "cause" in the poem, and the fact that Wordsworth has not been at all harmed by it. The worst that has happened is the raising in our minds of a question touching Browning's good taste.
Just here it will be interesting to speak of a bit of purely personal expression on the subject of Browning's known liberal standpoint, written by him in answer to the question propounded to a number of English men of letters and printed together with other replies in a volume edited by Andrew Reid in 1885.
"How all our copper had gone for his service.
17 Enthusiasm for liberal views comes out again and again in the poetry of Browning.
His fullest treatment of the cause of political liberty is in "Strafford," to be considered in the third chapter, but many are the hints strewn about his verse that bring home with no uncertain touch the fact that Browning lived man's "lover" and never man's "hater." Take as an example "The Englishman in Italy," where the sarcastic turn he gives to the last stanza shows clearly where his sympathies lie:
More the ordinary note of patriotism is struck in "Home-thoughts, from the Sea," wherein the scenes of England's victories as they come before the poet arouse pride in her military achievements.
In two instances Browning celebrates English friends in his poetry. The poems are "Waring" and "May and Death."
Waring, who stands for Alfred Domett, is an interesting figure in Colonial history as well as a minor light among poets. But it is highly probable that he would not have been put into verse by Browning any more than many other of the poet's warm friends if it had not been for the incident described in the poem which actually took place, and made a strong enough impression to inspire a creative if not exactly an exalted mood on Browning's part. The incident is recorded in Thomas Powell's "Living Authors of England," who writes of Domett, "We have a vivid recollection of the last time we saw him. It was at an evening party a few days before he sailed from England; his intimate friend, Mr. Browning, was also present. It happened that the latter was introduced that evening for the first time to a young author19 who had just then appeared in the literary world [Powell, himself]. This, consequently, prevented the two friends from conversation, and they parted from each other without the slightest idea on Mr. Browning's part that he was seeing his old friend Domett for the last time. Some days after when he found that Domett had sailed, he expressed in strong terms to the writer of this sketch the self-reproach he felt at having preferred the conversation of a stranger to that of his old associate."
This happened in 1842, when with no good-bys, Domett sailed for New Zealand where he lived for thirty years, and held during that time many important official posts. Upon his return to England, Browning and he met again, and in his poem "Ranolf and Amohia," published the year after, he wrote the often quoted line so aptly appreciative of Browning's genius,—"Subtlest assertor of the soul in song."
The poem belongs to the vers de société order, albeit the lightness is of a somewhat ponderous variety. It, however, has much interest as a character sketch from the life, and is said by those who had the opportunity of knowing to be a capital portrait.
"May and Death" is perhaps more interesting for the glimpse it gives of Browning's appreciation of English Nature than for its expression of grief for the death of a friend.
The poet's one truly enthusiastic outburst in connection with English Nature he sings out in his longing for an English spring in the incomparable little lyric "Home-thoughts, from Abroad."
After this it seems hardly possible that Browning, himself speaks in "De Gustibus," yet long and happy living away from England doubtless dimmed his sense of the beauty of English landscape. "De Gustibus" was published ten years later than "Home-Thoughts from Abroad," when Italy and he had indeed become "lovers old." A deeper reason than mere delight in its scenery is also reflected in the poem; the sympathy shared with Mrs. Browning, for the cause of Italian independence.
Two or three English artists called forth appreciation in verse from Browning. There is the exquisite bit called "Deaf and Dumb," after a group of statuary by Woolner, of Constance and Arthur—the deaf and dumb children of Sir Thomas Fairbairn.
A GROUP BY WOOLNER.
There is also the beautiful description in "Balaustion's Adventure" of the Alkestis by Sir Frederick Leighton.
The flagrant anachronism of making a Greek girl at the time of the Fall of Athens describe an English picture cannot but be forgiven, since the artistic effect gained is so fine. The poet quite convinces the reader that Sir Frederick Leighton ought to have been a Kaunian painter, if he was not, and that Balaustion or no one was qualified to appreciate his picture at its full worth.
Once before had Sir Frederick Leighton inspired the poet in the exquisite lines on Eurydice.
A PICTURE BY LEIGHTON
Beautiful as these lines are, they do not impress me as fully interpreting Leighton's picture. The expression of Eurydice is rather one of unthinking confiding affection—as if she were really unconscious or ignorant of the danger; while that of Orpheus is one of passionate agony as he tries to hold her off.
Though English art could not fascinate the poet as Italian art did, for the fully sufficient reason that it does not stand for a great epoch of intellectual awakening, yet with what fair alchemy he has touched those few artists he has chosen to honor. Notwithstanding his avowed devotion to Italy, expressed in "De Gustibus," one cannot help feeling that in the poems mentioned in this chapter, there is that ecstasy of sympathy which goes only to the most potent influences in the formation of character. Something of what I mean is expressed in one of his latest poems, "Development." In this we certainly get a real peep at young Robert Browning, led by his wise father into the delights of Homer, by slow degrees, where all is truth at first, to36 end up with the devastating criticism of Wolf. In spite of it all the dream stays and is the reality. Nothing can obliterate the magic of a strong early enthusiasm, as "fact still held" "Spite of new Knowledge," in his "heart of hearts."
This chapter would not be complete without Browning's tribute to dog Tray, whose traits may not be peculiar to English dogs40 but whose name is proverbially English. Besides it touches a subject upon which the poet had strong feelings. Vivisection he abhorred, and in the controversies which were tearing the scientific and philanthropic world asunder in the last years of his life, no one was a more determined opponent of vivisection than he.
Once and once only did Browning depart from his custom of choosing people of minor note to figure in his dramatic monologues. In "At the 'Mermaid'" he ventures upon the consecrated ground of a heart-to-heart talk between Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, and the wits who gathered at the classic "Mermaid" Tavern in Cheapside, following this up with further glimpses into the inner recesses of Shakespeare's mind in the monologues "House" and "Shop." It is a particularly daring feat in the case of Shakespeare, for as all the world knows any attempt at getting in touch with the real man, Shakespeare, must, per force, be woven out of such "stuff as dreams are made on."
In interpreting this portraiture of one great poet by another it will be of interest to glance at the actual facts as far as they are known in regard to the relations which existed between Shakespeare and Jonson. Praise and blame both are recorded on Jon43son's part when writing of Shakespeare, yet the praise shows such undisguised admiration that the blame sinks into insignificance. Jonson's "learned socks" to which Milton refers probably tripped the critic up occasionally by reason of their weight.
There is a charming story told of the friendship between the two men recorded by Sir Nicholas L'Estrange, within a very few years of Shakespeare's death, who attributed it to Dr. Donne. The story goes that "Shakespeare was godfather to one of Ben Jonson's children, and after the christening, being in a deep study, Jonson came to cheer him up and asked him why he was so melancholy. 'No, faith, Ben,' says he, 'not I, but I have been considering a great while what should be the fittest gift for me to bestow upon my godchild, and I have resolved at last.' 'I prythee what?' says he. 'I'faith, Ben, I'll e'en give him a dozen good Lattin spoons, and thou shalt translate them.'" If this must be taken with a grain of salt, there is another even more to the honor of Shakespeare reported by Rowe and considered credible by such Shakespearian scholars as Halliwell Phillipps and Sidney Lee. "His acquaintance with Ben Jonson" writes Rowe, "began with a remarkable piece of humanity44 and good nature; Mr. Jonson, who was at that time altogether unknown to the world, had offered one of his plays to the players in order to have it acted, and the persons into whose hands it was put, after having turned it carelessly and superciliously over, were just upon returning it to him with an ill-natured answer that it would be of no service to their company, when Shakespeare luckily cast his eye upon it, and found something so well in it as to engage him first to read it through, and afterwards to recommend Mr. Jonson and his writings to the public." The play in question was the famous comedy of "Every Man in His Humour," which was brought out in September, 1598, by the Lord Chamberlain's company, Shakespeare himself being one of the leading actors upon the occasion.
Authentic history records a theater war in which Jonson and Shakespeare figured, on opposite sides, but if allusions in Jonson's play the "Poetaster" have been properly interpreted, their friendly relations were not deeply disturbed. The trouble began in the first place by the London of 1600 suddenly rushing into a fad for the company of boy players, recruited chiefly from the choristers of the Chapel Royal, and known as the "Chil45dren of the Chapel." They had been acting at the new theater in Blackfriars since 1597, and their vogue became so great as actually to threaten Shakespeare's company and other companies of adult actors. Just at this time Ben Jonson was having a personal quarrel with his fellow dramatists, Marston and Dekker, and as he received little sympathy from the actors, he took his revenge by joining his forces with those of the Children of the Chapel. They brought out for him in 1600 his satire of "Cynthia's Revels," in which he held up to ridicule Marston, Dekker and their friends the actors. Marston and Dekker, with the actors of Shakespeare's company, prepared to retaliate, but Jonson hearing of it forestalled them with his play the "Poetaster" in which he spared neither dramatists nor actors. Shakespeare's company continued the fray by bringing out at the Globe Theatre, in the following year, Dekker and Marston's "Satiro-Mastix, or The Untrussing of the Humorous Poet," and as Ward remarks, "the quarrel had now become too hot to last." The excitement, however, continued for sometime, theater-goers took sides and watched with interest "the actors and dramatists' boisterous war of personalities," to quote Mr. Lee, who46 goes on to point out that on May 10, 1601, the Privy Council called the attention of the Middlesex magistrates to the abuse covertly leveled by the actors of the "Curtain" at gentlemen "of good desert and quality," and directed the magistrates to examine all plays before they were produced.
Jonson, himself, finally made apologies in verses appended to printed copies of the "Poetaster."
Sidney Lee cleverly deduces Shakespeare's attitude in the quarrel in allusions to it in "Hamlet," wherein he "protested against the abusive comments on the men-actors of 'the common' stages or public theaters which were put into the children's mouths. Rosencrantz declared that the children 'so berattle47 [i.e. assail] the common stages—so they call them—that many wearing rapiers are afraid of goose-quills, and dare scarce come thither [i.e. to the public theaters].' Hamlet in pursuit of the theme pointed out that the writers who encouraged the vogue of the 'child actors' did them a poor service, because when the boys should reach men's estate they would run the risk, if they continued on the stage, of the same insults and neglect which now threatened their seniors.
"'Hamlet. What are they children? Who maintains 'em? How are they escorted [i.e. paid]? Will they pursue the quality [i.e. the actor's profession] no longer than they can sing? Will they not say afterwards, if they should grow themselves to common players—as it is most like, if their means are no better—their writers do them wrong to make them exclaim against their own succession?
"'Rosencrantz. Faith, there has been much to do on both sides, and the nation holds it no sin to tarre [i.e. incite] them to controversy; there was for a while no money bid for argument, unless the poet and the player went to cuffs in the question.'"
This certainly does not reflect a very belligerent attitude since it merely puts in a word for the grown-up actors rather than48 casting any slurs upon the children. Further indications of Shakespeare's mildness in regard to the whole matter are given in the Prologue to "Troylus and Cressida," where, as Mr. Lee says, he made specific reference to the strife between Ben Jonson and the players in the lines
The most interesting bit of evidence to show that Shakespeare and Jonson remained friends, even in the heat of the conflict, may be gained from the "Poetaster" itself if we admit that the Virgil of the play, who is chosen peacemaker stands for Shakespeare; and who so fit to be peacemaker as Shakespeare for his amiable qualities seem to have impressed themselves upon all who knew him.
Following Mr. Lee's lead, "Jonson figures personally in the 'Poetaster' under the name of Horace. Episodically Horace and his friends, Tibullus and Gallus, eulogize the work and genius of another character, Virgil, in terms so closely resembling those which Jonson is known to have applied to Shakespeare that they may be regarded as intended to apply to him (Act V, Scene I). Jonson points49 out that Virgil, by his penetrating intuition, achieved the great effects which others laboriously sought to reach through rules of art.
"Finally, Virgil in the play is nominated by Cæsar to act as judge between Horace and his libellers, and he advises the administration of purging pills to the offenders."
This neat little chain of evidence would have no weak link, if it were not for a passage in the play, "The Return from Parnassus,"50 acted by the students in St. John's College the same year, 1601. In this there is a dialogue between Shakespeare's fellow-actors, Burbage and Kempe. Speaking of the University dramatists, Kempe says:
"Why here's our fellow Shakespeare puts them all down; aye, and Ben Jonson, too. O! that Ben Jonson is a pestilent fellow. He brought up Horace, giving the poets a pill; but our fellow Shakespeare hath given him a purge that made him bewray his credit." Burbage continues, "He is a shrewd fellow indeed." This has, of course, been taken to mean that Shakespeare was actively against Jonson in the Dramatists' and Actors' war. But as everything else points, as we have seen, to the contrary, one accepts gladly the loophole of escape offered by Mr. Lee. "The words quoted from 'The Return from Parnassus' hardly admit of a literal interpretation. Probably the 'purge' that Shakespeare was alleged by the author of 'The Return from Parnassus' to have given Jonson meant no more than that Shakespeare had signally outstripped Jonson in popular esteem." That this was an actual fact is proved by the lines of Leonard Digges, an admiring contemporary of Shakespeare's, printed in the 1640 edition of Shakespeare's poems, com51paring "Julius Cæsar" and Jonson's play "Cataline:"
This reminds one of the famous witticism attributed to Eudymion Porter that "Shakespeare was sent from Heaven and Ben from College."
If Jonson's criticisms of Shakespeare's work were sometime not wholly appreciative, the fact may be set down to the distinction between the two here so humorously indicated. "A Winter's Tale" and the "Tempest" both called forth some sarcasms from Jonson, the first for its error about the Coast of Bohemia which Shakespeare borrowed from Greene. Jonson wrote in the Induction to "Bartholemew Fair;" "If there be never a servant-monster in the Fair, who can help it he says? Nor a nest of Antics. He is loth to make nature afraid in his plays like those that beget Tales, Tempests, and such like Drolleries." The allusions here are very evidently to Caliban and the satyrs who figure in52 the sheep-shearing feast in "A Winter's Tale." The worst blast of all, however, occurs in Jonson's "Timber," but the blows are evidently given with a loving hand. He writes "I remember, the players have often mentioned it as an honor to Shakespeare that, in his writing, whatsoever he penn'd, hee never blotted out line. My answer hath beene, would he had blotted a thousand;—which they thought a malevolent speech. I had not told posterity this, but for their ignorance who choose that circumstance to commend their friend by wherein he most faulted; and to justifie mine owne candor,—for I lov'd the man, and doe honor his memory, on this side idolatry, as much as any. Hee was, indeed, honest, and of an open and free nature; had an excellent phantasie; brave notions and gentle expressions; wherein hee flow'd with that facility that sometime it was necessary he should be stop'd;—sufflaminandus erat, as Augustus said of Haterius. His wit was in his owne power;—would the rule of it had beene so too! Many times he fell into those things, could not escape laughter; as when he said in the person of Cæsar, one speaking to him,—Cæsar thou dost me wrong; hee replyed,—Cæsar did never wrong but with just cause; and such like; which were53 ridiculous. But hee redeemed his vices with his virtues. There was ever more in him to be praysed then to be pardoned."
And even this criticism is altogether controverted by the wholly eulogistic lines Jonson wrote for the First Folio edition of printed in 1623, "To the memory of my beloved, The Author Mr. William Shakespeare and what he hath left us."
For the same edition he also wrote the following lines for the portrait reproduced in this volume, which it is safe to regard as the Shakespeare Ben Jonson remembered:
Shakespeare's talk in "At the " grows out of the supposition, not touched upon54 until the very last line that Ben Jonson had been calling him "Next Poet," a supposition quite justifiable in the light of Ben's praises of him. The poem also reflects the love and admiration in which Shakespeare the man was held by all who have left any record of their impressions of him. As for the portraiture of the poet's attitude of mind, it is deduced indirectly from his work. That he did not desire to become "Next Poet" may be argued from the fact that after his first outburst of poem and sonnet writing in the manner of the poets of the age, he gave up the career of gentleman-poet to devote himself wholly to the more independent if not so socially distinguished one of actor-playwright. "Venus and Adonis" and "Lucrece" were the only poems of his published under his supervision and the only works with the dedication to a patron such as it was customary to write at that time.
I have before me as I write the recent Clarendon Press fac-similes of "Venus and Adonis" and "Lucrece," published respectively in 1593 and 1594,—beautiful little quartos with exquisitely artistic designs in the title-pages, headpieces and initials; altogether worthy of a poet who might have designs upon Fame. The dedication to the first reads:—
"to the right honorable
Henry Wriothesley, Earle of Southampton
and Baron of Litchfield
Right Honourable, I know not how I shall offend in dedicating my unpolisht lines to your Lordship, nor how the worlde will censure mee for choosing so strong a proppe to support so weake a burthen, onelye if your Honour seeme but pleased, I account my selfe highly praised, and vowe to take advantage of all idle houres, till I have honoured you with some great labour. But if the first heire of my invention prove deformed, I shall be sorie it had so noble a god-father: and never after eare so barren a land, for feare it yield me still so bad a harvest, I leave it to your Honourable Survey, and your Honor to your hearts content, which I wish may alwaies answere your owne wish, and the worlds hopeful expectation.
Your Honors in all dutie
The second reads:—
"TO THE RIGHT
Wriothesley, Earle of Southampton
and Baron of Litchfield
The love I dedicate to your Lordship is without end: wherof this Pamphlet without be56ginning is a superfluous Moiety. The warrant I have of your Honourable disposition, nor the worth of my untutored Lines makes it assured of acceptance. What I have done is yours, what I have to doe is yours, being part in all I have, devoted yours. Were my worth greater, my duety would shew greater, meane time, as it is, it is bound to your Lordship; To whom I wish long life still lengthened with all happinesse.
Your Lordships in all duety.
No more after this does Shakespeare appear in the light of a poet with a patron. Even the sonnets, some of which evidently celebrate Southampton, were issued by a piratical publisher without Shakespeare's consent, while his plays found their way into print at the hands of other pirates who cribbed them from stage copies.
Such hints as these have been worked up by Browning into a consistent characterization of a man who regards himself as having foregone his chances of laureateship or "Next Poet" by devoting himself to a form of literary art which would not appeal to the powers that be as fitting him for any such position. Such honors he claims do not go to57 the dramatic poet, who has never allowed the world to slip inside his breast, but has simply portrayed the joy and the sorrow of life as he saw it around him, and with an art which turns even sorrow into beauty.—"Do I stoop? I pluck a posy, do I stand and stare? all's blue;"—but to the subjective, introspective poet, out of tune with himself and with the universe. The allusions Shakespeare makes to the last "King" are not very definite, but, on the whole, they fit Edmund Spenser, whose poems from first to last are dedicated to people of distinction in court circles. His work, moreover, is full of wailing and woe in various keys, and also full of self-revelation. He allowed the world to slip inside his breast upon almost every occasion, and perhaps he may be said to have bought "his laurel," for it was no doubt extremely gratifying to Queen Elizabeth to see herself in the guise of the Faerie Queene, and even his dedication of the "Faerie Queene" to her, used as she was to flattery, must have been as music in her ears. "To the most high, mightie, and magnificent Empresse, renouned for piety, vertue, and all gratious government, Elizabeth, by the Grace of God, Queene of England, Frahnce, and Ireland and of Virginia. Defender of the Faith, &c. Her most humble servant Edmund58 Spenser doth in all humilitie, Dedicate, present, and consecrate These his labours, To live with the eternity of her Fame." The next year Spenser received a pension from the crown of fifty pounds per annum.
It is a careful touch on Browning's part to use the phrase "Next Poet," for the "laureateship" at that time was not a recognized official position. The term, "laureate," seems to have been used to designate poets who had attained fame and Royal favor, since Nash speaks of Spenser in his "Supplication of Piers Pennilesse" the same year the "Faerie Queene" was published as next laureate.
The first really officially appointed Poet Laureate was Ben Jonson, himself, who in either 1616 or 1619 received the post from James I., later ratified by Charles I., who increased the annuity to one hundred pounds a year and a butt of wine from the King's cellars.
Probably the allusion "Your Pilgrim" in the twelfth stanza of "At the Mermaid" is to "The Return from Parnassus" in which the pilgrims to Parnassus who figure in an earlier play "The Pilgrimage to Parnassus" discover the world to be about as dismal a place as it is described in this stanza.
At first sight it might seem that the position59 taken by Shakespeare in the poem is almost too modest, yet upon second thoughts it will be remembered that though Shakespeare had a tremendous following among the people, attested by the frequency with which his plays were acted; that though there are instances of his being highly appreciated by contemporaries of importance; that though his plays were given before the Queen, he did not have the universal acceptance among learned and court circles which was accorded to Spenser.
It is quite fitting that the scene should be set in the "Mermaid." No record exists to show that Shakespeare was ever there, it is true, but the "Mermaid" was a favorite haunt of Ben Jonson and his circle of wits, whose meetings there were immortalized by Beaumont in his poetical letter to Jonson:—
Add to this what Fuller wrote in his "Worthies," 1662, "Many were the wit-combats betwixt him and Ben Jonson, which60 two I behold like a Spanish great galleon and an English man-of-war; Master Jonson (like the former) was built far higher in learning, solid but slow in his performances. Shakespeare, with the English man-of-war, lesser in bulk, but lighter in sailing, could turn with all tides, tack about, and take advantage of all winds by the quickness of his wit and invention," and there is sufficient poetic warrant for the "Mermaid" setting.
"Do I stoop? I pluck a posy.
The final touch is given in the hint that all the time Shakespeare is aware of his own greatness, perhaps to be recognized by a future age.
Let Browning, himself, now show what he has done with the material.
The first stanza of "House"—
brings one face to face with the interminable controversies upon the autobiographical significance of Shakespeare's Sonnets. As volumes upon the subject have been written, it is not possible even adequately to review the various theories here. The controversialists may be broadly divided into those who read complicated autobiographical details into the sonnets, those who scout the idea of their being autobiographical at all, and those who take a middle ground. Of the first there are two factions: one of these believes that the opening sonnets were addressed to Lord William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, and the other that they were addressed to Shakespeare's patron, the Earl of Southampton. The first theory dates back as far as 1832 when it was started by James Boaden, a journalist and the biographer of67 Kemble and Mrs. Siddons. This theory has had many supporters and is associated to-day with the name of Thomas Tyler, who, in his edition of the Sonnets published in 1890, claimed to have identified the dark lady of the Sonnets with a lady of the Court, Mary Fitton and the mistress of the Earl of Pembroke. The theory, like most things of the sort, has its fascinations, and few people can read the Sonnets without being more or less impressed by it. It is based, however, upon a supposition so unlikely that it may be said to be proved incorrect, namely, that the dedication of the Sonnets to their "Onlie Begettor, Mr. W. H." is intended for "Mr. William Herbert." There was a Mr. William Hall, later a master printer, and the friend of Thomas Thorpe, the publisher of the Sonnets, who is much more likely to be the person meant. Lord Herbert was far too important a person to be addressed as Mr. W. H. As Mr. Lee points out, when Thorpe did dedicate books to Herbert he was careful to give full prominence to the titles and distinction of his patron. The Sonnets as we have already seen were not published with Shakespeare's sanction. In those days the author had no protection, and if a manuscript fell into the hands of a printer he could print it if he felt68 so disposed. Mr. William Hall was in the habit of looking out for manuscripts and before he became a printer, in 1606, had one published by Southwell of which he himself wrote the dedication, to the "Vertuous Gentleman, Mathew Saunders, Esquire W. H. wisheth, with long life, a prosperous achievement of his good desires." "There is little doubt," writes Mr. Lee, "that the W. H. of the Southwell volume was Mr. William Hall, who, when he procured that manuscript for publication, was an humble auxiliary in the publishing army." To sum up in Mr. Lee's words his interesting and convincing chapter on "Thomas Thorpe and Mr. 'W. H.'" "'Mr. W. H.,' whom Thorpe described as the 'only begetter of these ensuing sonnets,' was in all probability the acquirer or procurer of the manuscript, who, figuratively speaking, brought the book into being either by first placing the manuscript in Thorpe's hands or by pointing out the means by which a copy might be acquired. To assign such significance to the word 'begetter' was entirely in Thorpe's vein. Thorpe described his rôle in the piratical enterprise of the 'Sonnets' as that of 'the well-wishing adventurer in setting forth,' i.e., the hopeful speculator in the scheme. 'Mr. W. H.' doubtless69 played the almost equally important part—one as well known then as now in commercial operations—of the 'vender' of the property to be exploited."
The Southampton theory is reared into a fine air-castle by Gerald Massey in his lengthy book on the Sonnets—truly entertaining reading but too ingenious to be convincing.
Finally Mr. Lee in his book looks at the subject in an unbiased and perfectly sane way. He thinks the opening Sonnets are to the Earl of Southampton, known to be patron, but he warns us that exaggerated devotion was the hall-mark of the Sonnets of the age, and therefore what Shakespeare says of his young patron in these Sonnets need not be taken too literally as expressing the poet's sentiments, though he admits there may be a note of genuine feeling in them. Also he thinks that some of the sonnets reflecting moods of melancholy or a sense of sin may reveal the writer's inner consciousness. Possibly, too, the story of the "dark lady" may have some basis in fact, though he insists, "There is no clue to the lady's identity, and speculation on the topic is useless." Furthermore, he thinks it doubtful whether all the words in these Sonnets are to be taken with the seriousness implied, the affair70 probably belonging only to the annals of gallantry.
It will be seen from the poem that Browning took the uncompromisingly non-autobiographical view of the Sonnets. In this stand present authoritative opinion would not justify him, but it speaks well for his insight and sympathy that he was not fascinated by the William Herbert theory which, at the time he wrote the poem, was very much in the air.
In "Shop" is given, in a way, the obverse side of the idea. If it is proved that the dramatic poet does not allow himself to appear in his work, the step toward regarding him as having no individuality aside from his work is an easy one. The allusions in the poem to the mercenariness of the "Shop-Keeper" seem to hit at the criticisms of Shakespeare's thrift, which enabled him to buy a home in his native place and retire there to live some years before the end of his life. In some quarters it has been customary to regard Shakespeare as devoting himself to dramatic literature in order to make money, as if this were a terrible slur on his character. The superiority of such an independent spirit over that of those who constantly sought patrons was quite manifest to Browning's mind or he would not have written this sarcastic bit of71 symbolism, between the lines of which can be read that Browning was on Shakespeare's side.
These poems are valuable not only for furnishing an interesting interpretation of Shakespeare's character as a man and artist, but for the glimpses they give into Browning's stand toward his own art. He wished to be regarded primarily as a dramatic artist, presenting and interpreting the souls of his characters, and he must have felt keenly the stupid attitude which insisted always in reading "Browning's Philosophy" into all his poems. The fact that his objective material was of the soul rather than of the external actions of life has no doubt lent force to the supposition that Browning himself can be seen in everything he writes. It is true, nevertheless, that while much of his work is Shakespearian in its dramatic intensity, he had too forceful a philosophy of life to keep it from sometimes coming to the front. Besides he78 has written many things avowedly personal as this chapter amply illustrates.
To what intensity of feeling Browning could rise when contemplating the genius of Shakespeare is revealed in his direct and outspoken tribute. Here there breathes an almost reverential attitude toward the one supremely great man he has ventured to portray.
A CRUCIAL PERIOD IN ENGLISH HISTORY
"Whom the gods destroy they first make mad." Of no one in English history is this truer than of King Charles I. Just at a time when the nation was feeling the strength of its wings both in Church and State, when individuals were claiming the right to freedom of conscience in their form of worship and the people were growing more insistent for the recognition of their ancient rights and liberties, secured to them, in the first place, by the Magna Charta,—just at this time looms up the obstruction of a King so imbued with the defunct ideal of the divine right of Kings that he is blind to the tendencies of the age. What wonder, then, if the swirling waters of discontent should rise higher and higher until he became engulfed in their fury.
The history of the reign of Charles I. is one full of involved details, yet the broader aspects of it, the great events which chiseled into shape the future of England stand out80 in bold relief in front of a background of interminable bickerings. There was constant quarreling between the factions within the English church, and between the Protestants and the Catholics, complicated by the discontent of the people and at times the nobles because of the autocratic, vacillating policy of the King.
Among these epoch-bringing events were the emergence of the Puritans from the chaos of internecine church squabbles, the determined raising of the voice of the people in the Long Parliament, where King and people finally came to an open clash in the impeachment of the King's most devoted minister, Wentworth, Earl Strafford, by Pym, the great leader in the House of Commons, ending in Strafford's execution; the Grand Remonstrance, which sounded in no uncertain tones the tocsin of the coming revolution; and finally the King's impeachment of Pym, Hampden, Holles, Hazelrigg and Strode, one of the many ill-advised moves of this Monarch which at once precipitated the Revolution.
These cataclysms at home were further intensified by the Scottish Invasion and the Irish Rebellion.
It is not surprising that Browning should81 have been attracted to this period of English history, when he contemplated the writing of a play on an English subject. His liberty-loving mind would naturally find congenial occupation in depicting this great English struggle for liberty. Yet the hero of the play is not Pym, the leader of the people, but the supporter of the King. The dramatic reasons are sufficient to account for this. Strafford's career was picturesque and tragic and his personality so striking that more than one interpretation of his remarkable life is possible.
The interpretation will differ according to whether one is partisan in hatred or admiration of his character and policy, or possesses the larger quality of sympathetic appreciation of the man and the problems with which he had to deal. Any one coming to judge him in this latter spirit would undoubtedly perceive all the fine points in Strafford's nature and would balance these against his theories of government to the better understanding of this extraordinary man.
It is almost needless to say that Browning's perception of Strafford's character was penetrating and sympathetic. Strafford's devotion to his King had in it not only the element of loyalty to the liege, but an element82 of personal love which would make an especial appeal to Browning. He, in consequence, seizes upon this trait as the key-note of his portrayal of Strafford.
The play is, on the whole, accurate in its historical details, though the poet's imagination has added many a flying buttress to the structure.
Forster's lives of the English Statesmen in Lardner's Cyclopædia furnished plenty of material, and he was besides familiar with some if not all of Forster's materials for the lives. One of the interesting surprises in connection with Browning's literary career was the fact divulged some years ago that he had actually helped Forster in the preparation of the Life of Strafford. Indeed it is thought that he wrote it almost entirely from the notes of Forster. Dr. Furnivall first called attention to this, and later the life of Strafford was reprinted as "Robert Browning's Prose Life of Strafford." In his Forewords to this volume, Dr. Furnivall, who, among many other claims to distinction, was the president of the "London Browning Society," writes, "Three times during his life did Browning speak to me about his prose 'Life of Strafford.' The first time he said83 only—in the course of chat—that very few people had any idea of how much he had helped John Forster in it. The second time he told me at length that one day he went to see Forster and found him very ill, and anxious about the 'Life of Strafford,' which he had promised to write at once, to complete a volume of 'Lives of Eminent British Statesmen' for Lardner's 'Cabinet Cyclopædia.' Forster had finished the 'Life of Eliot'—the first in the volume—and had just begun that of Strafford, for which he had made full collections and extracts; but illness had come on, he couldn't work, the book ought to be completed forthwith, as it was due in the serial issue of volumes; what was he to do? 'Oh,' said Browning, 'don't trouble about it. I'll take your papers and do it for you.' Forster thanked his young friend heartily, Browning put the Strafford papers under his arm, walked off, worked hard, finished the Life, and it came out to time in 1836, to Forster's great relief, and passed under his name." Professor Gardiner, the historian, was of the opinion from internal evidence that the Life was more Browning's than Forster's. He said to Furnivall, "It is not a historian's conception of the character but a poet's. I am certain that it's not Forster's. Yes, it84 makes mistakes in facts and dates, but, it has got the man—in the main." In this opinion Furnivall concurs. Of the last paragraph in the history he exclaims, "I could swear it was Browning's":—The paragraph in question sums up the character of Strafford and is interesting in this connection, as giving hints, though not the complete picture of the Strafford of the Drama.
"A great lesson is written in the life of this truly extraordinary person. In the career of Strafford is to be sought the justification of the world's 'appeal from tyranny to God.' In him Despotism had at length obtained an instrument with mind to comprehend, and resolution to act upon, her principles in their length and breadth,—and enough of her purposes were effected by him, to enable mankind to 'see as from a tower the end of all.' I cannot discern one false step in Strafford's public conduct, one glimpse of a recognition of an alien principle, one instance of a dereliction of the law of his being, which can come in to dispute the decisive result of the experiment, or explain away its failure. The least vivid fancy will have no difficulty in taking up the interrupted design, and by wholly enfeebling, or materially emboldening, the insignificant nature of Charles; and by accord85ing some half-dozen years of immunity to the 'fretted tenement' of Strafford's 'fiery ,—contemplate then, for itself, the perfect realization of the scheme of 'making the prince the most absolute lord in Christendom.' That done,—let it pursue the same course with respect to Eliot's noble imaginings, or to young Vane's dreamy aspirings, and apply in like manner a fit machinery to the working out the projects which made the dungeon of the one a holy place, and sustained the other in his self-imposed exile.—The result is great and decisive! It establishes, in renewed force, those principles of political conduct which have endured, and must continue to endure, 'like truth from age to age.'" The history, on the whole, lacks the grasp in the portrayal of Wentworth to be found in the drama. C. H. Firth, commenting upon this says truly, "One might almost say that in the first, Strafford was represented as he appeared to his opponents, and in the second as he appeared to himself; or that, having painted Strafford as he was, Browning painted him again as he wished to be. In the biography Strafford is exhibited as a man of rare gifts and noble qualities; yet in his political capacity, merely the conscious, the devoted tool of a tyrant. In the tragedy, on the other86 hand, Strafford is the champion of the King's will against the people's, but yet looks forward to the ultimate reconciliation of Charles and his subjects, and strives for it after his own fashion. He loves the master he serves, and dies for him, but when the end comes he can proudly answer his accusers, 'I have loved England too.'"
The play opens at the important moment of Wentworth's return to London from Ireland, where for some time he had been governor. The occasion of his return, according to Gardiner, was a personal quarrel with the Chancellor Loftus, of Ireland. Both men were allowed to come to England to plead their cause, which resulted in the victory of Wentworth. In the play Pym says, "Ay, the Court gives out His own concerns have brought him back: I know 'tis the King calls him." The authority for this remark is found in the Forster-Browning Life. "In the danger threatened by the Scots' Covenant, Wentworth was Charles's only hope; the King sent for him, saying he desired his personal counsel and attendance. He wrote: 'The Scots' Covenant begins to spread too far, yet, for all this, I will not have you take notice that I have sent for you, but pretend some other occasion of business.'" Certain it is that from this time Wentworth87 became the most trusted counsellor of Charles, that is, as far as Charles was capable of trusting any one. The condition of affairs to which Wentworth returned is brought out in the play in a thoroughly alive and human manner. We are introduced to the principal actors in the struggle for their rights and privileges against the government of Charles meeting in a house near Whitehall. Among the "great-hearted" men are Hampden, Hollis, the younger Vane, Rudyard, Fiennes—all leaders in the "Faction,"—Presbyterians, Loudon and other members of the Scots' commissioners. A bit of history has been drawn upon for this opening scene, for according to the Forster-Browning Life, "There is no doubt that a close correspondence with the Scotch commissioners, headed by Lords Loudon and Dumferling, was entered into under the management of Pym and Hampden. Whenever necessity obliged the meetings to be held in London, they took place at Pym's house in Gray's Inn Lane." In the talk between these men the political situation in England at the time from the point of view of the liberal party is brought vividly before the reader.
There has been no Parliament in England for ten years, hence the people have had no88 say in the direction of the government. The growing dissatisfaction of the people at being thus deprived of their rights focussed itself upon the question of "ship-money." The taxes levied by the King for the maintainance of a fleet were loudly objected to upon all sides. That a fleet was a necessary means of protection in those threatening times is not to be doubted, but the objections of the people were grounded upon the fact that the King levied these taxes upon his own authority. "Ship-money, it was loudly declared," says Gardiner, "was undeniably a tax, and the ancient customs of the realm, recently embodied in the Petition of Right, had announced with no doubtful voice that no tax could be levied without consent of Parliament. Even this objection was not the full measure of the evil. If Charles could take this money without the consent of Parliament, he need not, unless some unforeseen emergency arose, ever summon a Parliament again. The true question at issue was whether Parliament formed an integral part of the Constitution or not." Other taxes were objected to on the same grounds, and the more determined the King was not to summon a Parliament, the greater became the political ferment.
At the same time the religious ferment was89 centering itself upon hatred of Laud, the Archbishop of Canterbury. His policy was to silence opposition to the methods of worship then followed by the Church of England, by the terrors of the Star Chamber. The Puritans were smarting under the sentence which had been passed upon the three pamphleteers, William Prynne, Henry Burton, and John Bastwick, who had expressed their opinions of the practises of the church with great outspokenness. Prynne called upon pious King Charles "to do justice on the whole Episcopal order by which he had been robbed of the love of God and of his people, and which aimed at plucking the crown from his head, that they might set it on their own ambitious pates." Burton hinted that "the sooner the office of the Bishops was abolished the better it would be for the nation." Bastwick, who had been brought up in the straitest principles of Puritanism, had ended his pamphlet "Flagellum Pontificis," with this outburst, "Take notice, so far am I from flying or fearing, as I resolve to make war against the Beast, and every hint of Antichrist, all the days of my life. If I die in that battle, so much the sooner I shall be sent in a chariot of triumph to heaven; and when I come there, I will, with those that are under the altar cry,90 'How long, Lord, holy and true, dost Thou not judge and avenge our blood upon them that dwell upon the earth?'"
These men were called before the Star Chamber upon a charge of libel. The sentence was a foregone conclusion, and was so outrageous that its result could only be the strengthening of opposition. The "muckworm" Cottington, as Browning calls him, suggested the sentence which was carried out. The men were condemned to lose their ears, to pay a fine of £5000 each, and to be imprisoned for the remainder of their lives in the castles of Carnarvon, Launceston, and Lancaster. Finch, not satisfied with this, added the savage wish that Prynne should be branded on the cheek with the letters S. L., to stand for "seditious libeller," and this was also done.
The account of the execution of this sentence is almost too horrible to read. Some one who recorded the scene wrote, "The humours of the people were various; some wept, some laughed, and some were very reserved." Prynne, whose sufferings had been greatest for he had been burned as well as having his ears taken off, was yet able to indulge in a grim piece of humor touching the letters S. L. branded on his cheeks. He91 called them "Stigmata Laudis," the "Scars of Laud," on his way back to prison. Popular demonstrations in favor of the prisoners were made all along the road when they were taken to their respective prisons, where they were allowed neither pen, ink nor books. Fearful lest they might somehow still disseminate their heretical doctrines to the outer world, the council removed them to still more distant prisons, in the Scilly Isles, in Guernsey and in Jersey. Retaliation against this treatment found open expression. "A copy of the Star Chamber decree was nailed to a board. Its corners were cut off as the ears of Laud's victims had been cut off at Westminster. A broad ink mark was drawn round Laud's name. An inscription declared that 'The man that puts the saints of God into a pillory of wood stands here in a pillory of ink!'"
Things were brought to a crisis in Scotland also, through hatred of Laud and the new prayer-book. The , upon his visit to Scotland, had been shocked at the slovenly appearance and the slovenly ritual of the Scottish Church, which reflected strongly survivals of the Presbyterianism of an earlier time. The King wrote to the Scottish Bishops soon after his return to England: "We, tendering the good and peace of that Church by92 having good and decent order and discipline observed therein, whereby religion and God's worship may increase, and considering that there is nothing more defective in that Church than the want of a Book of Common Prayer and uniform service to be kept in all the churches thereof, and the want of canons for the uniformity of the same, we are hereby pleased to authorise you as the representative body of that Church, and do herewith will and require you to condescend upon a form of Church service to be used therein, and to set down the canons for the uniformity of the discipline thereof." Laud, who as Archbishop of Canterbury had no jurisdiction over Scottish Bishops, put his finger into the pie as secretary of the King. As Gardiner says, "He conveyed instructions to the Bishops, remonstrated with proceedings which shocked his sense of order, and held out prospects of advancement to the zealous. Scotchmen naturally took offense. They did not trouble themselves to distinguish between the secretary and the archbishop. They simply said that the Pope of Canterbury was as bad as the Pope of Rome."
The upshot of it all was that in May, 1637, the "new Prayer-book" was sent to Scotland, and every minister was ordered to buy two93 copies on pain of outlawry. Riots followed. It was finally decided that it must be settled once for all whether a King had any right to change the forms of worship without the sanction of a legislative assembly. Then came the Scottish Covenant which declared the intention of the signers to uphold religious liberty. The account of the signing of this covenant is one of the most impressive episodes in all history. The Covenant was carried on the 28th of February, 1638, to the Grey Friars' Church to which all the gentlemen present in Edinburgh had been summoned. The scene has been most sympathetically described by Gardiner.
"At four o'clock in the grey winter evening, the noblemen, the Earl of Sutherland leading the way began to sign. Then came the gentlemen, one after the other until nearly eight. The next day the ministers were called on to testify their approval, and nearly three hundred signatures were obtained before night. The Commissioners of the boroughs signed at the same time.
"On the third day the people of Edinburgh were called on to attest their devotion to the cause which was represented by the Covenant. Tradition long loved to tell how the honored parchment, carried back to the Grey Friars,94 was laid out on a tombstone in the churchyard, whilst weeping multitudes pressed round in numbers too great to be contained in any building. There are moments when the stern Scottish nature breaks out into an enthusiasm less passionate, but more enduring, than the frenzy of a Southern race. As each man and woman stepped forward in turn, with the right hand raised to heaven before the pen was grasped, every one there present knew that there would be no flinching amongst that band of brothers till their religion was safe from intrusive violence.
"Modern narrators may well turn their attention to the picturesqueness of the scene, to the dark rocks of the Castle crag over against the churchyard, and to the earnest faces around. The men of the seventeenth century had no thought to spare for the earth beneath or for the sky above. What they saw was their country's faith trodden under foot, what they felt was the joy of those who had been long led astray, and had now returned to the Shepherd and Bishop of their souls."
Such were the conditions that brought on the Scotch war, neither Charles nor Wentworth being wise enough to make concessions to the Covenanters.
95 The grievances against the King's Minister Wentworth are in this opening scene shown as being aggravated by the fact that the men of the "Faction" regard him as a deserter from their cause, Pym, himself being one of the number who is loth to think Wentworth stands for the King's policy.
The historical ground for the assumption lies in the fact that Wentworth was one of the leaders of the opposition in the Parliament of 1628.
The reason for this was largely personal, because of Buckingham's treatment of him. Wentworth had refused to take part in the collection of the forced loan of 1626, and was dismissed from his official posts in consequence. When he further refused to subscribe to that loan himself he was imprisoned in the Marshalsea and at Depford. Regarding himself as personally attacked by Buckingham, he joined the opposition. Yet, as Firth points out, "fiercely as he attacked the King's ministers, he was careful to exonerate the King." He concludes his list of grievances by saying, "This hath not been done by the King, but by projectors." Again, "Whether we shall look upon the King or his people, it did never more behove this great physician the parliament, to effect a true96 consent amongst the parties than now. Both are injured, both to be cured. By one and the same thing hath the King and people been hurt. I speak truly both for the interest of the King and the people."
His intention was to find some means of cooperation which would leave the people their liberty and yet give the crown its prerogative, "Let us make what laws we can, there must—nay, there will be a trust left in the crown."
It will be seen by any unbiased critic that Wentworth was only half for the people even at this time. On the other hand, it is not astonishing that men, heart and soul for the people, should consider Wentworth's subsequent complete devotion to the cause of the King sufficient to brand him as an apostate. The fact that he received so many official dignities from the King also leant color to the supposition that personal ambition was a leading motive with him. With true dramatic instinct Browning has centered this feeling and made the most of it in the attitude of Pym's party, while he offsets it later in the play by showing us the reality of the man Strafford.
There is no very authentic source for the idea also brought out in this first scene that97 Strafford and Pym had been warm personal friends. The story is told by Dr. James Welwood, one of the physicians of William III., who, in the year 1700, published a volume entitled "Memoirs, of the most material transactions in England for the last hundred years preceding the Revolution of 1688." Without mentioning any source he tells the following story; "There had been a long and intimate friendship between Mr. Pym and him [Wentworth], and they had gone hand in hand in everything in the House of Commons. But when Sir Thomas Wentworth was upon making his peace with the Court, he sent to Pym to meet him alone at Greenwich; where he began in a set speech to sound Mr. Pym about the dangers they were like to run by the courses they were in; and what advantages they might have if they would but listen to some offers which would probably be made them from the Court. Pym understanding his speech stopped him short with this expression: 'You need not use all this art to tell me you have a mind to leave us; but remember what I tell you, you are going to be undone. But remember, that though you leave us now I will never leave you while your head is upon your shoulders.'"
98 Though only a tradition this was entirely too useful a suggestion not to be used. The intensity of the situation between the leaders on opposite sides is enhanced tenfold by bringing into the field a personal sentiment.
The attitude of Pym's followers is reflected again in their opinion of Wentworth's Irish rule. Although Wentworth's policy seemed to be successful in Ireland, the very fact of its success would condemn it in the eyes of the popular party; besides later developments revealed its weaknesses. How it appeared to the eyes of a non-fanatical observer at this time may be gathered from the following letter of Sir Thomas Roe to the Queen of Bohemia, written in 1634.
"The Lord Deputy of Ireland doth great wonders, and governs like a King, and hath taught that Kingdom to show us an example of envy, by having parliaments, and knowing wisely how to use them; for they have given the King six subsidies, which will arise to £240,000, and they are like to have the liberty we contended for, and grace from his Majesty worth their gift double; and which is worth much more, the honor of good intelligence and love between the King and people, which I would to God our great wits had had eyes99 to see. This is a great service, and to give your Majesty a character of the man,—he is severe abroad and in business, and sweet in private conversation; retired in his friendships, but very firm; a terrible judge and a strong enemy; a servant violently zealous in his Master's ends, and not negligent of his own; one that will have what he will, and though of great reason, he can make his will greater when it may serve him; affecting glory by a seeming contempt; one that cannot stay long in the middle region of fortune, being entreprenant; but will either be the greatest man in England, or much less than he is; lastly, one that may (and his nature lies fit for it, for he is ambitious to do what others will not), do your Majesty very great service, if you can make him."
In order to be in sympathy with the play throughout and especially with the first scene all this historical background must be kept in mind, for the talk gives no direct information, it merely in an absolutely dramatic fashion reveals the feelings and opinions of the men upon the situation, just as friends at a dinner party might discuss one of our own less strenuous political situations—all present being perfectly familiar with the issues at stake.
Vane. I say, if he be here—
Rudyard. (And he is here!)—
Hollis. For England's sake let every man be still
Nor speak of him, so much as say his name,
Till Pym rejoin us! Rudyard! Henry Vane!
One rash conclusion may decide our course
And with it England's fate—think—England's fate!
Hampden, for England's sake they should be still!
Vane. You say so, Hollis? Well, I must be still.
It is indeed too bitter that one man,
Any one man's mere presence, should suspend
England's combined endeavor: little need
To name him!
Rudyard. For you are his brother, Hollis!
Hampden. Shame on you, Rudyard! time to tell him that,
When he forgets the Mother of us all.
Rudyard. Do I forget her?
Hampden. You talk idle hate
Against her foe: is that so strange a thing?
Is hating Wentworth all the help she needs?
A Puritan. The Philistine strode, cursing as he went:
But David—five smooth pebbles from the brook
Within his scrip....
Rudyard. Be you as still as David!
Fiennes. Here's Rudyard not ashamed to wag a tongue
101Stiff with ten years' disuse of Parliaments;
Why, when the last sat, Wentworth sat with us!
Rudyard. Let's hope for news of them now he returns—
He that was safe in Ireland, as we thought!
—But I'll abide Pym's coming.
Vane. Now, by Heaven,
They may be cool who can, silent who will—
Some have a gift that way! Wentworth is here,
Here, and the King's safe closeted with him
Ere this. And when I think on all that's past
Since that man left us, how his single arm
Rolled the advancing good of England back
And set the woeful past up in its place,
Exalting Dagon where the Ark should be,—
How that man has made firm the fickle King
(Hampden, I will speak out!)—in aught he feared
To venture on before; taught tyranny
Her dismal trade, the use of all her tools,
To ply the scourge yet screw the gag so close
That strangled agony bleeds mute to death;
How he turns Ireland to a private stage
For training infant villanies, new ways
Of wringing treasure out of tears and blood,
Unheard oppressions nourished in the dark
To try how much man's nature can endure
—If he dies under it, what harm? if not,
Why, one more trick is added to the rest
Worth a king's knowing, and what Ireland bears
England may learn to bear:—how all this while
That man has set himself to one dear task,
The bringing Charles to relish more and more
Power, power without law, power and blood too
—Can I be still?
Hampden. For that you should be still.
Vane. Oh Hampden, then and now! The year he left us,
The People in full Parliament could wrest
The Bill of Rights from the reluctant King;
And now, he'll find in an obscure small room
A stealthy gathering of great-hearted men
That take up England's cause: England is here!
Hampden. And who despairs of England?
Rudyard. That do I,
If Wentworth comes to rule her. I am sick
To think her wretched masters, Hamilton,
The muckworm Cottington, the maniac Laud,
May yet be longed-for back again. I say,
I do despair.
Vane. And, Rudyard, I'll say this—
Which all true men say after me, not loud
But solemnly and as you'd say a prayer!
This King, who treads our England underfoot,
Has just so much ... it may be fear or craft,
As bids him pause at each fresh outrage; friends,
He needs some sterner hand to grasp his own,
Some voice to ask, "Why shrink? Am I not by?"
Now, one whom England loved for serving her,
Found in his heart to say, "I know where best
The iron heel shall bruise her, for she leans
Upon me when you trample." Witness, you!
So Wentworth heartened Charles, so England fell.
But inasmuch as life is hard to take
Many Voices. Go on, Vane! 'Tis well said, Vane!
Vane. —Who has not so forgotten Runnymead!—
Voices. 'Tis well and bravely spoken, Vane! Go on!
Vane. —There are some little signs of late she knows
The ground no place for her. She glances round,
Wentworth has dropped the hand, is gone his way
103On other service: what if she arise?
No! the King beckons, and beside him stands
The same bad man once more, with the same smile
And the same gesture. Now shall England crouch,
Or catch at us and rise?
Voices. The Renegade!
Hampden. Gentlemen of the North,
It was not thus the night your claims were urged,
And we pronounced the League and Covenant,
The cause of Scotland, England's cause as well:
Vane there, sat motionless the whole night through.
Fiennes. Stay, Vane!
Loudon. Be just and patient, Vane!
Vane. Mind how you counsel patience, Loudon! you
Have still a Parliament, and this your League
To back it; you are free in Scotland still:
While we are brothers, hope's for England yet.
But know you wherefore Wentworth comes? to quench
This last of hopes? that he brings war with him?
Know you the man's self? what he dares?
Loudon. We know,
All know—'tis nothing new.
Vane. And what's new, then,
In calling for his life? Why, Pym himself—
You must have heard—ere Wentworth dropped our cause
He would see Pym first; there were many more
Strong on the people's side and friends of his,
Eliot that's dead, Rudyard and Hampden here,
But for these Wentworth cared not; only, Pym
He would see—Pym and he were sworn, 'tis said,
To live and die together; so, they met
At Greenwich. Wentworth, you are sure, was long,
104Specious enough, the devil's argument
Lost nothing on his lips; he'd have Pym own
A patriot could not play a purer part
Than follow in his track; they two combined
Might put down England. Well, Pym heard him out;
One glance—you know Pym's eye—one word was all:
"You leave us, Wentworth! while your head is on,
I'll not leave you."
Hampden. Has he left Wentworth, then?
Has England lost him? Will you let him speak,
Or put your crude surmises in his mouth?
Away with this! Will you have Pym or Vane?
Voices. Wait Pym's arrival! Pym shall speak.
Let Loudon read the Parliament's report
From Edinburgh: our last hope, as Vane says,
Is in the stand it makes. Loudon!
Vane. No, no!
Silent I can be: not indifferent!
Hampden. Then each keep silence, praying God to spare
His anger, cast not England quite away
In this her visitation!
A Puritan. Seven years long
The Midianite drove Israel into dens
And caves. Till God sent forth a mighty man,
Pym. Wentworth's come: nor sickness, care,
The ravaged body nor the ruined soul,
More than the winds and waves that beat his ship,
Could keep him from the King. He has not reached
Whitehall: they've hurried up a Council there
To lose no time and find him work enough.
Where's Loudon? your Scots' Parliament....
Loudon. Holds firm:
105 We were about to read reports.
Pym. The King
Has just dissolved your Parliament.
Loudon and other Scots. Great God!
An oath-breaker! Stand by us, England, then!
Pym. The King's too sanguine; doubtless Wentworth's here;
But still some little form might be kept up.
Hampden. Now speak, Vane! Rudyard, you had much to say!
Hollis. The rumor's false, then....
Pym. Ay, the Court gives out
His own concerns have brought him back: I know
'Tis the King calls him. Wentworth supersedes
The tribe of Cottingtons and Hamiltons
Whose part is played; there's talk enough, by this,—
Merciful talk, the King thinks: time is now
To turn the record's last and bloody leaf
Which, chronicling a nation's great despair,
Tells they were long rebellious, and their lord
Indulgent, till, all kind expedients tried,
He drew the sword on them and reigned in peace.
Laud's laying his religion on the Scots
Was the last gentle entry: the new page
Shall run, the King thinks, "Wentworth thrust it down
At the sword's point."
A Puritan. I'll do your bidding, Pym,
England's and God's—one blow!
Pym. A goodly thing—
We all say, friends, it is a goodly thing
To right that England. Heaven grows dark above:
Let's snatch one moment ere the thunder fall,
To say how well the English spirit comes out
106Beneath it! All have done their best, indeed,
From lion Eliot, that grand Englishman,
To the least here: and who, the least one here,
When she is saved (for her redemption dawns
Dimly, most dimly, but it dawns—it dawns)
Who'd give at any price his hope away
Of being named along with the Great Men?
We would not—no, we would not give that up!
Hampden. And one name shall be dearer than all names.
When children, yet unborn, are taught that name
After their fathers',—taught what matchless man....
Pym. ... Saved England? What if Wentworth's should be still
Rudyard and others. We have just said it, Pym! His death
Saves her! We said it—there's no way beside!
I'll do God's bidding, Pym! They struck down Joab
And purged the land.
Vane. No villanous striking-down!
Rudyard. No, a calm vengeance: let the whole land rise
And shout for it. No Feltons!
Pym. Rudyard, no!
England rejects all Feltons; most of all
Since Wentworth ... Hampden, say the trust again
Of England in her servants—but I'll think
You know me, all of you. Then, I believe,
Spite of the past, Wentworth rejoins you, friends!
Vane and others. Wentworth? Apostate! Judas! Double-dyed
A traitor! Is it Pym, indeed....
Pym. ... Who says
Vane never knew that Wentworth, loved that man,
107Was used to stroll with him, arm locked in arm,
Along the streets to see the people pass,
And read in every island-countenance
Fresh argument for God against the King,—
Never sat down, say, in the very house
Where Eliot's brow grew broad with noble thoughts,
(You've joined us, Hampden—Hollis, you as well,)
And then left talking over Gracchus' death....
Vane. To frame, we know it well, the choicest clause
In the Petition of Right: he framed such clause
One month before he took at the King's hand
His Northern Presidency, which that Bill
Pym. Too true! Never more, never more
Walked we together! Most alone I went.
I have had friends—all here are fast my friends—
But I shall never quite forget that friend.
And yet it could not but be real in him!
You, Vane,—you, Rudyard, have no right to trust
To Wentworth: but can no one hope with me?
Hampden, will Wentworth dare shed English blood
Hampden. Ireland is Aceldama.
Pym. Will he turn Scotland to a hunting-ground
To please the King, now that he knows the King?
The People or the King? and that King, Charles!
Hampden. Pym, all here know you: you'll not set your heart
On any baseless dream. But say one deed
Of Wentworth's since he left us....
Vane. There! he comes,
And they shout for him! Wentworth's at Whitehall,
The King embracing him, now, as we speak,
108And he, to be his match in courtesies,
Taking the whole war's risk upon himself,
Now, while you tell us here how changed he is!
Pym. And yet if 'tis a dream, no more,
That Wentworth chose their side, and brought the King
To love it as though Laud had loved it first,
And the Queen after;—that he led their cause
Calm to success, and kept it spotless through,
So that our very eyes could look upon
The travail of our souls, and close content
That violence, which something mars even right
Which sanctions it, had taken off no grace
From its serene regard. Only a dream!
Hampden. We meet here to accomplish certain good
By obvious means, and keep tradition up
Of free assemblages, else obsolete,
In this poor chamber: nor without effect
Has friend met friend to counsel and confirm,
As, listening to the beats of England's heart,
We spoke its wants to Scotland's prompt reply
By these her delegates. Remains alone
That word grow deed, as with God's help it shall—
But with the devil's hindrance, who doubts too?
Looked we or no that tyranny should turn
Her engines of oppression to their use?
Whereof, suppose the worst be Wentworth here—
Shall we break off the tactics which succeed
In drawing out our formidablest foe,
Let bickering and disunion take their place?
Or count his presence as our conquest's proof,
And keep the old arms at their steady play?
Proceed to England's work! Fiennes, read the list!
Fiennes. Ship-money is refused or fiercely paid
109In every county, save the northern parts
Where Wentworth's influence....
Vane. I, in England's name,
Declare her work, this way, at end! Till now,
Up to this moment, peaceful strife was best.
We English had free leave to think; till now,
We had a shadow of a Parliament
In Scotland. But all's changed: they change the first,
They try brute-force for law, they, first of all....
Voices. Good! Talk enough! The old true hearts with Vane!
Vane. Till we crush Wentworth for her, there's no act
Voices. Vane for England!
Pym. Pym should be
Something to England. I seek Wentworth, friends.
In the second scene of the first act, the man upon whom the popular party has been heaping opprobrium appears to speak for himself. Again the historical background must be known in order that the whole drift of the scene may be understood. Wentworth is talking with Lady Carlisle, a woman celebrated for her beauty and her wit, and fond of having friendships with great men. Various opinions of this beautiful woman have been expressed by those who knew her. "Her beauty," writes one, "brought her adorers of all ranks, courtiers, and poets, and statesmen; but she remained untouched by their worship." Sir Toby Mathews who pre110fixed to a collection of letters published in 1660 "A character of the most excellent Lady, Lucy, Countess of Carlisle," writes that she will "freely discourse of love, and hear both the fancies and powers of it; but if you will needs bring it within knowledge, and boldly direct it to herself, she is likely to divert the discourse, or, at least, seem not to understand it. By which you may know her humour, and her justice; for since she cannot love in earnest she would have nothing from love." According to him she filled her mind "with gallant fancies, and high and elevated thoughts," and "her wit being most eminent among the rest of her great abilities," even the conversation of those most famed for it was affected. Quite another view of her is given in a letter of Voiture's written to Mr. Gordon on leaving England in 1623.
"In one human being you let me see more treasures than there are there [the Tower], and even more lions and leopards. It will not be difficult for you to guess after this that I speak of the Countess of Carlisle. For there is nobody else of whom all this good and evil can be said. No matter how dangerous it is to let the memory dwell upon her, I have not, so far, been able to keep mine from it, and, quite honestly, I would not give the picture of111 her that lingers in my mind, for all the loveliest things I have seen in my life. I must confess that she is an enchanting personality, and there would not be a woman under heaven so worthy of affection, if she only knew what it was, and if she had as sensitive a nature as she has a reasonable mind. But with the temperament we know she possesses, there is nothing to be said except that she is the most lovable of all things not good, and the most delightful poison that nature ever concocted." Browning himself says he first sketched her character from Mathews, but finding that rather artificial, he used Voiture and Waller, who referred to her as the "bright Carlisle of the Court of Heaven." It should be remembered that she had become a widow and was considerably older at the time of her friendship with Wentworth than when Voiture wrote of her, and was probably better balanced, and truly worthy of Wentworth's own appreciation of her when he wrote, "A nobler nor a more intelligent friendship did I never meet with in my life." A passage in a letter to Laud indicates that Wentworth was well aware of the practical advantage in having such a friend as Lady Carlisle at Court. "I judge her ladyship very considerable. She is often in place, and extremely well skilled how112 to speak with advantage and spirit for those friends she professeth unto, which will not be many. There is this further in her disposition, she will not seem to be the person she is not, an ingenuity I have always observed and honoured her for."
It is something of a shock to learn that even before the Wentworth episode was well over, she became a friend of his bitterest foe, Pym. Gardiner sums up her character in as fair a way as any one,—and not at all inconsistent with Browning's portrayal of her.
"Lady Carlisle had now been for many years a widow. She had long been the reigning beauty at Court, and she loved to mingle political intrigue with social intercourse. For politics as a serious occupation she had no aptitude; but, in middle age, she felt a woman's pride in attaching to herself the strong heads by which the world was ruled, as she had attached to herself in youth, the witty courtier or the agile dancer. It was worth a statesman's while to cultivate her acquaintance. She could make him a power in society as well as in Council, could worm out a secret which it behoved him to know, and could convey to others his suggestions with assured fidelity. The calumny which treated Strafford, as it afterwards treated Pym, as her accepted113 lover, may be safely disregarded. But there can be no doubt that purely personal motives attached her both to Strafford and Pym. For Strafford's theory of Monarchical government she cared as little as she cared for Pym's theory of Parliamentary government. It may be, too, that some mingled feeling may have arisen in Strafford's breast. It was something to have an ally at Court ready at all times to plead his cause with gay enthusiasm, to warn him of hidden dangers, and to offer him the thread of that labyrinth which, under the name of 'the Queen's side,' was such a mystery to him. It was something, too, no doubt, that this advocate was not a grey haired statesman, but a woman, in spite of growing years, of winning grace and sparkling vivacity of eye and tongue."
Strafford, himself, Browning brings before us, ill, and worn out with responsibility as he was upon his return to England at this time. Carlisle tactfully lets him know how he will have to face criticisms from other councillors about the King, and how even the confidence of the fickle King cannot be relied upon. In his conference with the King in this scene, Strafford, at last, wins the confidence of the King as history relates. Wentworth, horrified at the way in which a war with Scotland has been precipitated, carries his point, that Parliaments should be called in Ireland and England. This will give time for preparation, and at the same time an opportunity of convincing the people that the war is justified by Scotland's treason, so causing them willingly to grant subsidies for the expense of the war. To turn from the play to history, Commissioners from the Scottish Parliament, the Earls of Loudon and Dumferling had arrived in London to ask that the acts of the Scottish Parliament might receive confirmation from the King. This question was referred to a committee of eight Privy Councillors. Propositions were made to put the Scotch Commissioners in prison; however, the King finally decided to dismiss them without treating with them. Scottish indignation of course ran high at this proceeding, and here Wentworth stepped in and won the King to his policy of ruling Scotland directly from England. "He insisted," writes Gardiner, "that a Parliament, and a Parliament alone, was the remedy fitted for the occasion. Laud and Hamilton gave him their support. He carried his point with the Committee. What was of more importance he carried it with the King." And as one writer expressed it the Lords were of the opinion that "his Majesty should make115 trial of that once more, that so he might leave his people without excuse, and have where withal to justify himself to God and the world that in his own inclination he desired the old way; but that if his people should not cheerfully, according to their duties, meet him in that, especially in this exigent when his kingdom and person are in apparent danger, the world might see he is forced, contrary to his own inclination, to use extraordinary means rather than, by the peevishness of some few factious spirits, to suffer his state and government to be lost."
In the play as in history, Charles now confers upon Wentworth an Earldom. Shortly after this the King "was prepared," says Gardiner, "to confer upon his faithful Minister that token of his confidence which he had twice refused before. On January 12, Wentworth received the Earldom of Strafford, and a week later he exchanged the title of Lord-Deputy of Ireland for the higher dignity of Lord-Lieutenant."
In his conference with Pym, Strafford who, in talking to Carlisle, had shown a slight wavering toward the popular party, because of finding himself so surrounded by difficulties, stands firm; this episode is a striking116 working up of the tradition of the friendship between these two men.
The influence of the Queen upon Charles is the last strand in this tangled skein of human destiny brought out by Browning in the scene. The Parliament that Wentworth wants she is afraid of lest it should ask for a renewal of the persecution of the Catholics. The vacillating Charles, in an instant, is ready to repudiate his interview with Wentworth, and act only to please the Queen.
Lady Carlisle and Wentworth
Wentworth. And the King?
Lady Carlisle. Wentworth, lean on me! Sit then!
I'll tell you all; this horrible fatigue
Will kill you.
Wentworth. No;—or, Lucy, just your arm;
I'll not sit till I've cleared this up with him:
After that, rest. The King?
Lady Carlisle. Confides in you.
Wentworth. Why? or, why now?—They have kind throats, the knaves!
Shout for me—they!
Lady Carlisle. You come so strangely soon:
Yet we took measures to keep off the crowd—
Did they shout for you?
Wentworth. Wherefore should they not?
Does the King take such measures for himself?
117Besides, there's such a dearth of malcontents,
Lady Carlisle. I said but few dared carp at you.
Wentworth. At me? at us, I hope! The King and I!
He's surely not disposed to let me bear
The fame away from him of these late deeds
In Ireland? I am yet his instrument
Be it for well or ill? He trusts me too!
Lady Carlisle. The King, dear Wentworth, purposes, I said,
To grant you, in the face of all the Court....
Wentworth. All the Court! Evermore the Court about us!
Savile and Holland, Hamilton and Vane
About us,—then the King will grant me—what?
That he for once put these aside and say—
"Tell me your whole mind, Wentworth!"
Lady Carlisle. You professed
You would be calm.
Wentworth. Lucy, and I am calm!
How else shall I do all I come to do,
Broken, as you may see, body and mind,
How shall I serve the King? Time wastes meanwhile,
You have not told me half. His footstep! No.
Quick, then, before I meet him,—I am calm—
Why does the King distrust me?
Lady Carlisle. He does not
Wentworth. Lucy, you can help me; you
Have even seemed to care for me: one word!
Is it the Queen?
Lady Carlisle. No, not the Queen: the party
That poisons the Queen's ear, Savile and Holland.
Wentworth. I know, I know: old Vane, too, he's one too?
118Go on—and he's made Secretary. Well?
Or leave them out and go straight to the charge—
Lady Carlisle. Oh, there's no charge, no precise charge;
Only they sneer, make light of—one may say,
Nibble at what you do.
Wentworth. I know! but, Lucy,
I reckoned on you from the first!—Go on!
—Was sure could I once see this gentle friend
When I arrived, she'd throw an hour away
To help her ... what am I?
Lady Carlisle. You thought of me,
Wentworth. But go on! The party here!
Lady Carlisle. They do not think your Irish government
Of that surpassing value....
Wentworth. The one thing
Of value! The one service that the crown
May count on! All that keeps these very Vanes
In power, to vex me—not that they do vex,
Only it might vex some to hear that service
Decried, the sole support that's left the King!
Lady Carlisle. So the Archbishop says.
Wentworth. Ah? well, perhaps
The only hand held up in my defence
May be old Laud's! These Hollands then, these Saviles
Nibble? They nibble?—that's the very word!
Lady Carlisle. Your profit in the Customs, Bristol says,
Exceeds the due proportion: while the tax....
Wentworth. Enough! 'tis too unworthy,—I am not
So patient as I thought. What's Pym about?
Lady Carlisle. Pym?
Wentworth. Pym and the People.
Lady Carlisle. O, the Faction!
119Extinct—of no account: there'll never be
Wentworth. Tell Savile that!
You may know—(ay, you do—the creatures here
Never forget!) that in my earliest life
I was not ... much that I am now! The King
May take my word on points concerning Pym
Before Lord Savile's, Lucy, or if not,
I bid them ruin their wise selves, not me,
These Vanes and Hollands! I'll not be their tool
Who might be Pym's friend yet.
But there's the King!
Where is he?
Lady Carlisle. Just apprised that you arrive.
Wentworth. And why not here to meet me? I was told
He sent for me, nay, longed for me.
Lady Carlisle. Because,—
He is now ... I think a Council's sitting now
About this Scots affair.
Wentworth. A Council sits?
They have not taken a decided course
Without me in the matter?
Lady Carlisle. I should say....
Wentworth. The war? They cannot have agreed to that?
Not the Scots' war?—without consulting me—
Me, that am here to show how rash it is,
How easy to dispense with?—Ah, you too
Against me! well,—the King may take his time.
—Forget it, Lucy! Cares make peevish: mine
Weigh me (but 'tis a secret) to my grave.
Lady Carlisle. For life or death I am your own, dear friend!
Wentworth. Heartless! but all are heartless here. Go now,
Forsake the People!
120 I did not forsake
The People: they shall know it, when the King
Will trust me!—who trusts all beside at once,
While I have not spoke Vane and Savile fair,
And am not trusted: have but saved the throne:
Have not picked up the Queen's glove prettily,
And am not trusted. But he'll see me now.
Weston is dead: the Queen's half English now—
More English: one decisive word will brush
These insects from ... the step I know so well!
The King! But now, to tell him ... no—to ask
What's in me he distrusts:—or, best begin
By proving that this frightful Scots affair
Is just what I foretold. So much to say,
And the flesh fails, now, and the time is come,
And one false step no way to be repaired.
You were avenged, Pym, could you look on me.
Wentworth. I little thought of you just then.
Pym. No? I
Think always of you, Wentworth.
Wentworth. The old voice!
I wait the King, sir.
Pym. True—you look so pale!
A Council sits within; when that breaks up
He'll see you.
Wentworth. Sir, I thank you.
Pym. Oh, thank Laud!
You know when Laud once gets on Church affairs
The case is desperate: he'll not be long
To-day: he only means to prove, to-day,
We English all are mad to have a hand
In butchering the Scots for serving God
After their fathers' fashion: only that!
Wentworth. Sir, keep your jests for those who relish them!
(Does he enjoy their confidence?) 'Tis kind
To tell me what the Council does.
Pym. You grudge
That I should know it had resolved on war
Before you came? no need: you shall have all
The credit, trust me!
Wentworth. Have the Council dared—
They have not dared ... that is—I know you not.
Farewell, sir: times are changed.
Pym. —Since we two met
At Greenwich? Yes: poor patriots though we be,
You cut a figure, makes some slight return
For your exploits in Ireland! Changed indeed,
Could our friend Eliot look from out his grave!
Ah, Wentworth, one thing for acquaintance' sake,
Just to decide a question; have you, now,
Felt your old self since you forsook us?
Pym. Spare me the gesture! you misapprehend.
Think not I mean the advantage is with me.
I was about to say that, for my part,
I never quite held up my head since then—
Was quite myself since then: for first, you see,
I lost all credit after that event
With those who recollect how sure I was
Wentworth would outdo Eliot on our side.
Forgive me: Savile, old Vane, Holland here,
Eschew plain-speaking: 'tis a trick I keep.
Wentworth. How, when, where, Savile, Vane, and Holland speak,
Plainly or otherwise, would have my scorn,
All of my scorn, sir....
Pym. ... Did not my poor thoughts
122 Claim somewhat?
Wentworth. Keep your thoughts! believe the King
Mistrusts me for their prattle, all these Vanes
And Saviles! make your mind up, o' God's love,
That I am discontented with the King!
Pym. Why, you may be: I should be, that I know,
Were I like you.
Wentworth. Like me?
Pym. I care not much
For titles: our friend Eliot died no lord,
Hampden's no lord, and Savile is a lord;
But you care, since you sold your soul for one.
I can't think, therefore, your soul's purchaser
Did well to laugh you to such utter scorn
When you twice prayed so humbly for its price,
The thirty silver pieces ... I should say,
The Earldom you expected, still expect,
And may. Your letters were the movingest!
Console yourself: I've borne him prayers just now
From Scotland not to be oppressed by Laud,
Words moving in their way: he'll pay, be sure,
As much attention as to those you sent.
Wentworth. False, sir! Who showed them you? Suppose it so,
The King did very well ... nay, I was glad
When it was shown me: I refused, the first!
John Pym, you were my friend—forbear me once!
Pym. Oh, Wentworth, ancient brother of my soul,
That all should come to this!
Wentworth. Leave me!
Pym. My friend,
Why should I leave you?
Wentworth. To tell Rudyard this,
123And Hampden this!
Pym. Whose faces once were bright
At my approach, now sad with doubt and fear,
Because I hope in you—yes, Wentworth, you
Who never mean to ruin England—you
Who shake off, with God's help, an obscene dream
In this Ezekiel chamber, where it crept
Upon you first, and wake, yourself, your true
And proper self, our Leader, England's Chief,
And Hampden's friend!
This is the proudest day!
Come, Wentworth! Do not even see the King!
The rough old room will seem itself again!
We'll both go in together: you've not seen
Hampden so long: come: and there's Fiennes: you'll have
To know young Vane. This is the proudest day!
[The King enters. Wentworth lets fall Pym's hand.
Charles. Arrived, my lord?—This gentleman, we know
Was your old friend.
The Scots shall be informed
What we determine for their happiness.
[Pym goes out.
You have made haste, my lord.
Wentworth. Sir, I am come....
Charles. To see an old familiar—nay, 'tis well;
Aid us with his experience: this Scots' League
And Covenant spreads too far, and we have proofs
That they intrigue with France: the Faction too,
Whereof your friend there is the head and front,
Abets them,—as he boasted, very like.
Wentworth. Sir, trust me! but for this once, trust me, sir!
Charles. What can you mean?
Wentworth. That you should trust me, sir!
124Oh—not for my sake! but 'tis sad, so sad
That for distrusting me, you suffer—you
Whom I would die to serve: sir, do you think
That I would die to serve you?
Charles. But rise, Wentworth!
Wentworth. What shall convince you? What does Savile do
To prove him.... Ah, one can't tear out one's heart
And show it, how sincere a thing it is!
Charles. Have I not trusted you?
Wentworth. Say aught but that!
There is my comfort, mark you: all will be
So different when you trust me—as you shall!
It has not been your fault,—I was away,
Mistook, maligned, how was the King to know?
I am here, now—he means to trust me, now—
All will go on so well!
Charles. Be sure I do—
I've heard that I should trust you: as you came,
Your friend, the Countess, told me....
Wentworth. No,—hear nothing—
Be told nothing about me!—you're not told
Your right-hand serves you, or your children love you!
Charles. You love me, Wentworth: rise!
Wentworth. I can speak now.
I have no right to hide the truth. 'Tis I
Can save you: only I. Sir, what must be?
Charles. Since Laud's assured (the minutes are within)
—Loath as I am to spill my subjects' blood....
Wentworth. That is, he'll have a war: what's done is done!
Charles. They have intrigued with France; that's clear to Laud.
Wentworth. Has Laud suggested any way to meet
The war's expense?
Charles. He'd not decide so far
Until you joined us.
Wentworth. Most considerate!
He's certain they intrigue with France, these Scots?
The People would be with us.
Charles. Pym should know.
Wentworth. The People for us—were the People for us!
Sir, a great thought comes to reward your trust:
Summon a Parliament! in Ireland first,
Charles. In truth?
Wentworth. That saves us! that puts off
The war, gives time to right their grievances—
To talk with Pym. I know the Faction,—Laud
So styles it,—tutors Scotland: all their plans
Suppose no Parliament: in calling one
You take them by surprise. Produce the proofs
Of Scotland's treason; then bid England help:
Even Pym will not refuse.
Charles. You would begin
Wentworth. Take no care for that: that's sure
Charles. You shall rule me. You were best
Return at once: but take this ere you go!
Now, do I trust you? You're an Earl: my Friend
Of Friends: yes, while.... You hear me not!
Wentworth. Say it all o'er again—but once again:
The first was for the music: once again!
Charles. Strafford, my friend, there may have been reports,
Vain rumors. Henceforth touching Strafford is
To touch the apple of my sight: why gaze
Wentworth. I am grown young again,
126And foolish. What was it we spoke of?
Wentworth. I may go when I will?
Charles. Are you tired so soon of us?
Wentworth. My King!
But you will not so utterly abhor
A Parliament? I'd serve you any way.
Charles. You said just now this was the only way.
Wentworth. Sir, I will serve you.
Charles. Strafford, spare yourself:
You are so sick, they tell me.
Wentworth. 'Tis my soul
That's well and prospers now.
We'll summon it, the English one—I'll care
For everything. You shall not need them much.
Charles. If they prove restive....
Wentworth. I shall be with you.
Charles. Ere they assemble?
Wentworth. I will come, or else
Deposit this infirm humanity
I' the dust. My whole heart stays with you, my King!
[As Wentworth goes out, the Queen enters.
Charles. That man must love me.
Queen. Is it over then?
Why, he looks yellower than ever! Well,
At least we shall not hear eternally
Of service—services: he's paid at least.
Charles. Not done with: he engages to surpass
All yet performed in Ireland.
Queen. I had thought
Nothing beyond was ever to be done.
The war, Charles—will he raise supplies enough?
Charles. We've hit on an expedient; he ... that is,
I have advised ... we have decided on
The calling—in Ireland—of a Parliament.
Queen. O truly! You agree to that? Is that
The first fruit of his counsel? But I guessed
Charles. This is too idle, Henriette!
I should know best. He will strain every nerve,
And once a precedent established....
How sure he is of a long term of favor!
He'll see the next, and the next after that;
No end to Parliaments!
Charles. Well, it is done.
He talks it smoothly, doubtless. If, indeed,
The Commons here....
Queen. Here! you will summon them
Here? Would I were in France again to see
Charles. But, Henriette....
Queen. Oh, the Scots see clear!
Why should they bear your rule?
Charles. But listen, sweet!
Queen. Let Wentworth listen—you confide in him!
Charles. I do not, love,—I do not so confide!
The Parliament shall never trouble us
... Nay, hear me! I have schemes, such schemes: we'll buy
The leaders off: without that, Wentworth's counsel
Had ne'er prevailed on me. Perhaps I call it
To have excuse for breaking it for ever,
And whose will then the blame be? See you not?
Come, dearest!—look, the little fairy, now,
That cannot reach my shoulder! Dearest, come!
128 In the second act, the historical episode, which pervades the act is the assembling and the dissolution of the Short Parliament. Only the salient points of the political situation have been seized upon by Browning. As in the first act, the popular party in private conclave is introduced. From the talk it is gathered that feeling runs high against Strafford, by whose advice the Parliament had been called, because of the exorbitant demands made upon it for money to support an army, this army to crush Scotland whose cause was so nearly like its own. The popular party or the Faction had supposed the Parliament would be a means for the redressing of its long list of grievances which had been accumulating during the years since the last Parliament had been held. Instead of that the Commons was deliberately informed by Charles that there would be no discussions of its demands until it had granted the subsidies for which it had been asked. The play gives one a much more lively sense of the indignant feelings of the duped men than can possibly be gained by reading many more pages of history with its endless minor details. Upon this gathering, Pym suddenly enters again, and to the reproaches of him for his belief in Strafford, makes the reply that the Parliament129 has been dissolved, the King has cast Strafford off forever, and henceforth Strafford will be on their side,—a conclusion not warranted by history, and, of course, found out to be erroneous by Pym and his followers in the next scene. Again there is the dramatic need to emphasize the human side of life even in an essentially political play, by showing that Pym's friendship and loyalty to Wentworth were no uncertain elements in his character. The moment it could be proved beyond a doubt that Wentworth was in the eyes of Pym, England's enemy, that moment Pym knew it would become his painful duty to crush Wentworth utterly, therefore Pym had for his own conscience' sake to make the uttermost trial of his faith.
The second scene, as in the first act, brings out the other side. It is in the main true to history though much condensed. History relates that after the Short Parliament was dissolved, "voices were raised at Whitehall in condemnation of Strafford." His policy of raising subsidies from the Parliament having failed, criticisms would, of course, be made upon his having pushed ahead a war without the proper means of sustaining it. Charles himself was also frightened by the manifestations of popular discontent and failed to uphold Wentworth in his policy.
130 Northumberland had been appointed commander-in-chief of the army, but besides having little heart for an enterprise so badly prepared for, he was ill in bed and could not take command of the army, so the King appointed Strafford in his place. A hint of Strafford as he appears in this scene may be taken from Clarendon who writes "The earl of Strafford was scarce recovered from a great sickness, yet was willing to undertake the charge out of pure indignation to see how few men were forward to serve the King with that vigor of mind they ought to do; but knowing well the malicious designs which were contrived against himself, he would rather serve as lieutenant-general under the earl of Northumberland, than that he should resign his commission: and so, with and under that qualification, he made all possible haste towards the north before he had strength enough for the journey." Browning makes the King tell Strafford in this interview that he has dissolved the Parliament. He represents Strafford as horrified by the news and driven in this extremity to suggest the desperate measure of debasing the coinage as a means of obtaining funds. Strafford actually counseled this, when all else failed, namely, the proposed loan from the city, and one from the Spanish govern131ment, but, according to history, he himself voted for the dissolution of Parliament, though the play is accurate in laying the necessity of the dissolution at the door of old Vane. It was truly his ill-judged vehemence, for, not able to brook the arguments of the Commons, "He rose," says Gardiner, "to state that the King would accept nothing less than the twelve subsidies which he had demanded in his message. Upon this the Committee broke up without coming to a resolution, postponing further consideration of the matter to the following day." The next morning the King who had called his councillors together early "announced his intention of proceeding to a dissolution. Strafford, who arrived late, begged that the question might first be seriously discussed, and that the opinions of the Councillors, who were also members of the Lower House, might first be heard. Vane declared that there was no hope that the Commons 'would give one penny.' On this the votes were taken. Northumberland and Holland were alone in wishing to avert a dissolution. Supported by the rest of the Council the King hurried to the House of Lords and dissolved Parliament."
Wholly imaginary is the episode in this scene where Pym and his followers break in upon132 the interview of Wentworth and the King. Just at the climax of Wentworth's sorrowful rage at the King's treatment of him, they come to claim Wentworth for their side.
That you would say I did advise the war;
And if, through your own weakness, or what's worse,
These Scots, with God to help them, drive me back,
You will not step between the raging People
And me, to say....
I knew it! from the first
I knew it! Never was so cold a heart!
Remember that I said it—that I never
Believed you for a moment!
—And, you loved me?
You thought your perfidy profoundly hid
Because I could not share the whisperings
With Vane, with Savile? What, the face was masked?
I had the heart to see, sir! Face of flesh,
But heart of stone—of smooth cold frightful stone!
Ay, call them! Shall I call for you? The Scots
Goaded to madness? Or the English—Pym—
Shall I call Pym, your subject? Oh, you think
I'll leave them in the dark about it all?
They shall not know you? Hampden, Pym shall not?
Pym, Hampden, Vane, etc., enter.
[Dropping on his knee.] Thus favored with your gracious countenance
What shall a rebel League avail against
Your servant, utterly and ever yours?
So, gentlemen, the King's not even left
The privilege of bidding me farewell
133Who haste to save the People—that you style
Your People—from the mercies of the Scots
And France their friend?
[To Charles.] Pym's grave grey eyes are fixed
Upon you, sir!
Your pleasure, gentlemen?
Hampden. The King dissolved us—'tis the King we seek
And not Lord Strafford.
Strafford. —Strafford, guilty too
Of counselling the measure. [To Charles.] (Hush ... you know—
You have forgotten—sir, I counselled it)
A heinous matter, truly! But the King
Will yet see cause to thank me for a course
Which now, perchance ... (Sir, tell them so!)—he blames.
Well, choose some fitter time to make your charge:
I shall be with the Scots, you understand?
Then yelp at me!
Meanwhile, your Majesty
Binds me, by this fresh token of your trust....
[Under the pretence of an earnest farewell, Strafford conducts Charles to the door, in such a manner as to hide his agitation from the rest: as the King disappears, they turn as by one impulse to Pym, who has not changed his original posture of surprise.
Hampden. Leave we this arrogant strong wicked man!
Vane and others. Hence, Pym! Come out of this unworthy place
To our old room again! He's gone.
[Strafford, just about to follow the King, looks back.
Pym. Not gone!
[To Strafford.] Keep tryst! the old appointment's made anew:
134Forget not we shall meet again!
Strafford. So be it!
And if an army follows me?
Vane. His friends
Will entertain your army!
Pym. I'll not say
You have misreckoned, Strafford: time shows.
Body and spirit! Fool to feign a doubt,
Pretend the scrupulous and nice reserve
Of one whose prowess shall achieve the feat!
What share have I in it? Do I affect
To see no dismal sign above your head
When God suspends his ruinous thunder there?
Strafford is doomed. Touch him no one of you!
[Pym, Hampden, etc., go out.
Strafford. Pym, we shall meet again!
In the final talk of this scene with Carlisle, the pathos of Strafford's position is wonderfully brought out—the man who loves his King so overmuch that no perfidy on the King's part can make his resolution to serve him waver for an instant.
Lady Carlisle enters.
You here, child?
Lady Carlisle. Hush—
I know it all: hush, Strafford!
Strafford. Ah? you know?
Well. I shall make a sorry soldier, Lucy!
All knights begin their enterprise, we read,
135Under the best of auspices; 'tis morn,
The Lady girds his sword upon the Youth
(He's always very young)—the trumpets sound,
Cups pledge him, and, why, the King blesses him—
You need not turn a page of the romance
To learn the Dreadful Giant's fate. Indeed,
We've the fair Lady here; but she apart,—
A poor man, rarely having handled lance,
And rather old, weary, and far from sure
His Squires are not the Giant's friends. All's one:
Let us go forth!
Lady Carlisle. Go forth?
Strafford. What matters it?
We shall die gloriously—as the book says.
Lady Carlisle. To Scotland? Not to Scotland?
Strafford. Am I sick
Like your good brother, brave Northumberland?
Beside, these walls seem falling on me.
Lady Carlisle. Strafford,
The wind that saps these walls can undermine
Your camp in Scotland, too. Whence creeps the wind?
Have you no eyes except for Pym? Look here!
A breed of silken creatures lurk and thrive
In your contempt. You'll vanquish Pym? Old Vane
Can vanquish you. And Vane you think to fly?
Rush on the Scots! Do nobly! Vane's slight sneer
Shall test success, adjust the praise, suggest
The faint result: Vane's sneer shall reach you there.
—You do not listen!
Strafford. Oh,—I give that up!
There's fate in it: I give all here quite up.
Care not what old Vane does or Holland does
Against me! 'Tis so idle to withstand!
In no case tell me what they do!
Lady Carlisle. But, Strafford....
136Strafford. I want a little strife, beside; real strife;
This petty palace-warfare does me harm:
I shall feel better, fairly out of it.
Lady Carlisle. Why do you smile?
Strafford. I got to fear them, child!
I could have torn his throat at first, old Vane's,
As he leered at me on his stealthy way
To the Queen's closet. Lord, one loses heart!
I often found it on my lips to say
"Do not traduce me to her!"
Lady Carlisle. But the King....
Lady Carlisle. ... Died for him?
Strafford. Sworn him true, Lucy: I can die for him.
Lady Carlisle. But go not, Strafford! But you must renounce
This project on the Scots! Die, wherefore die?
Charles never loved you.
Strafford. And he never will.
He's not of those who care the more for men
That they're unfortunate.
Lady Carlisle. Then wherefore die
For such a master?
Strafford. You that told me first
How good he was—when I must leave true friends
To find a truer friend!—that drew me here
From Ireland,—"I had but to show myself
And Charles would spurn Vane, Savile, and the rest"—
You, child, to ask me this?
Lady Carlisle. (If he have set
His heart abidingly on Charles!)
I shall not see you any more.137
Strafford. Yes, Lucy.
There's one man here I have to meet.
Lady Carlisle. (The King!
What way to save him from the King?
That lent from its own store the charmed disguise
Which clothes the King—he shall behold my soul!)
Strafford,—I shall speak best if you'll not gaze
Upon me: I had never thought, indeed,
To speak, but you would perish too, so sure!
Could you but know what 'tis to bear, my friend,
One image stamped within you, turning blank
The else imperial of your mind,—
A weakness, but most precious,—like a flaw
I' the diamond, which should shape forth some sweet face
Yet to create, and meanwhile treasured there
Lest nature lose her gracious thought for ever!
Strafford. When could it be? no! Yet ... was it the day
We waited in the anteroom, till Holland
Should leave the presence-chamber?
Lady Carlisle. What?
Strafford. —That I
Described to you my love for Charles?
Lady Carlisle. (Ah, no—
One must not lure him from a love like that!
Oh, let him love the King and die! 'Tis past.
I shall not serve him worse for that one brief
And passionate hope, silent for ever now!)
And you are really bound for Scotland then?
I wish you well: you must be very sure
Of the King's faith, for Pym and all his crew
Will not be idle—setting Vane aside!
138Lady Carlisle. What need, since there's your King to take your part?
He may endure Vane's counsel; but for Pym—
Think you he'll suffer Pym to....
Strafford. Child, your hair
Is glossier than the Queen's!
Lady Carlisle. Is that to ask
A curl of me?
Strafford. Scotland——the weary way!
Lady Carlisle. Stay, let me fasten it.
—A rival's, Strafford?
Strafford [showing the George]. He hung it there: twine yours around it, child!
Lady Carlisle. No—no—another time—I trifle so!
And there's a masque on foot. Farewell. The Court
Is dull; do something to enliven us
In Scotland: we expect it at your hands.
Strafford. I shall not fail in Scotland.
Lady Carlisle. Prosper—if
You'll think of me sometimes!
Strafford. How think of him
And not of you? of you, the lingering streak
(A golden one) in my good fortune's eve.
Lady Carlisle. Strafford.... Well, when the eve has its last streak
The night has its first star.
[She goes out.
Strafford. That voice of hers—
You'd think she had a heart sometimes! His voice
Is soft too.
Only God can save him now.
Be Thou about his bed, about his path!
His path! Where's England's path? Diverging wide,
And not to join again the track my foot
139Must follow—whither? All that forlorn way
Among the tombs! Far—far—till.... What, they do
Then join again, these paths? For, huge in the dusk,
There's—Pym to face!
Why then, I have a foe
To close with, and a fight to fight at last
Worthy my soul! What, do they beard the King,
And shall the King want Strafford at his need?
Am I not here?
Not in the market-place,
Pressed on by the rough artisans, so proud
To catch a glance from Wentworth! They lie down
Hungry yet smile "Why, it must end some day:
Is he not watching for our sake?" Not there!
But in Whitehall, the whited sepulchre,
Curse nothing to-night! Only one name
They'll curse in all those streets to-night. Whose fault?
Did I make kings? set up, the first, a man
To represent the multitude, receive
All love in right of them—supplant them so,
Until you love the man and not the king——
The man with the mild voice and mournful eyes
Which send me forth.
—To breast the bloody sea
That sweeps before me: with one star for guide.
Night has its first, supreme, forsaken star.
During the third act, the long Parliament is in session, and Pym is making his great speech impeaching Wentworth.
The conditions of affairs at the time of this Parliament were well-nigh desperate for Charles and Wentworth. Things had not gone well140 with the Scottish war and Wentworth was falling more and more into disfavor. England was now threatened with a Scottish invasion. Still, even with this danger to face it was impossible to raise money to support the army. The English had a suspicion that the Scotch cause was their own. The universal demand for a Parliament could no longer be ignored; the , therefore, summoned it to meet on the third of November. As Firth observes, "To Strafford this meant ruin, but he hardly realized the greatness of the danger in which he stood. On October 8, the Scotch Commissioners in a public paper denounced him as an incendiary, and declared that they meant to insist on his punishment.
"As soon as the Parliament opened Charles discovered that it was necessary for his service to have Strafford again by his side, and summoned him to London. There is evidence that his friends urged him to pass over to Ireland where the army rested at his devotion, or to transport himself to foreign Kingdoms till fairer weather here should invite him home. The Marquis of Hamilton advised him to fly, but as Hamilton told the King, the Earl was too great-hearted to fear. Though conscious of the peril of obedience, he set out to London to stand by his Master."
141 The enmity of the Court party to Strafford is touched upon in the first scene, and in the second, Strafford's return, unsuspecting of the great blow that awaits him. He had indeed meditated a blow on his own part. According to Firth, he felt that "One desperate resource remained. The intrigues of the parliamentary leaders with the Scots had come to Strafford's knowledge, and he had determined to impeach them of high treason. He could prove that Pym and his friends had secretly communicated with the rebels, and invited them to bring a Scottish army into England. Strafford arrived in London on Monday, November 9, 1640, and spent Tuesday in resting after his journey. On the morning of Wednesday the 11th, he took his seat in the House of Lords, but did not strike the blow." Upon that day he was impeached of high treason by Pym. Gardiner's account here has much the same dramatic force as the play.
"Followed by a crowd of approving members, Pym carried up the message. Whilst the Lords were still debating on this unusual request for imprisonment before the charge had been set forth, the news of the impeachment was carried to Strafford. 'I will go,' he proudly said 'and look my accusers in the142 face.' With haughty mien and scowling brow he strode up the floor of the House to his place of honor. There were those amongst the Peers who had no wish to allow him to speak, lest he should accuse them of complicity with the Scots. The Lords, as a body, felt even more personally aggrieved by his method of government than the Commons. Shouts of 'Withdraw! withdraw!' rose from every side. As soon as he was gone an order was passed sequestering the Lord-Lieutenant from his place in the House and committing him to the custody of the Gentleman Usher. He was then called in and bidden to kneel whilst the order was read. He asked permission to speak, but his request was sternly refused. Maxwell, the Usher of the Black Rod, took from him his sword, and conducted him out of the House. The crowd outside gazed pitilessly on the fallen minister, 'No man capping to him, before whom that morning the greatest in England would have stood .' 'What is the matter?' they asked. 'A small matter, I warrant you,' replied Strafford with forced levity. 'Yes, indeed,' answered a bystander, 'high treason is a small matter.'"
This passage brings up the scene in a manner so similar to that of the play, it is safe to say that Gardiner was here 143influenced by Browning, the history having been written many years after the play.
The Queen and Lady Carlisle.
Queen. It cannot be.
Lady Carlisle. It is so.
Queen. Why, the House
Have hardly met.
Lady Carlisle. They met for that.
Queen. No, no!
Meet to impeach Lord Strafford? 'Tis a jest.
Lady Carlisle. A bitter one.
Queen. Consider! 'Tis the House
We summoned so reluctantly, which nothing
But the disastrous issue of the war
Persuaded us to summon. They'll wreak all
Their spite on us, no doubt; but the old way
Is to begin by talk of grievances:
They have their grievances to busy them.
Lady Carlisle. Pym has begun his speech.
Queen. Where's Vane?—That is,
Pym will impeach Lord Strafford if he leaves
His Presidency; he's at York, we know,
Since the Scots beat him: why should he leave York?
Lady Carlisle. Because the King sent for him.
Queen. Ah—but if
The King did send for him, he let him know
We had been forced to call a Parliament—
A step which Strafford, now I come to think,
Was vehement against.
Lady Carlisle. The policy
144Escaped him, of first striking Parliaments
To earth, then setting them upon their feet
And giving them a sword: but this is idle.
Did the King send for Strafford? He will come.
Queen. And what am I to do?
Lady Carlisle. What do? Fail, madam!
Be ruined for his sake! what matters how,
So it but stand on record that you made
An effort, only one?
Queen. The King away
Lady Carlisle. Send for him at once: he must
Dissolve the House.
Queen. Wait till Vane finds the truth
Of the report: then....
Lady Carlisle. —It will matter little
What the King does. Strafford that lends his arm
And breaks his heart for you!
Sir H. Vane enters.
Vane. The Commons, madam,
Are sitting with closed doors. A huge debate,
No lack of noise; but nothing, I should guess,
Concerning Strafford: Pym has certainly
Not spoken yet.
Queen [to Lady Carlisle]. You hear?
Lady Carlisle. I do not hear
That the King's sent for!
Vane. Savile will be able
To tell you more.
Queen. The last news, Holland?
Is raging like a fire. The whole House means
145To follow him together to Whitehall
And force the King to give up Strafford.
Holland. If they content themselves with Strafford! Laud
Is talked of, Cottington and Windebank too.
Pym has not left out one of them—I would
You heard Pym raging!
Queen. Vane, go find the King!
Tell the King, Vane, the People follow Pym
To brave us at Whitehall!
Savile. Not to Whitehall—
'Tis to the Lords they go: they seek redress
On Strafford from his peers—the legal way,
They call it.
Queen. (Wait, Vane!)
Savile. But the adage gives
Long life to threatened men. Strafford can save
Himself so readily: at York, remember,
In his own country: what has he to fear?
The Commons only mean to frighten him
From leaving York. Surely, he will not come.
Queen. Lucy, he will not come!
Lady Carlisle. Once more, the King
Has sent for Strafford. He will come.
Vane. Oh doubtless!
And bring destruction with him: that's his way.
What but his coming spoilt all Conway's plan?
The King must take his counsel, choose his friends,
Be wholly ruled by him! What's the result?
The North that was to rise, Ireland to help,—
What came of it? In my poor mind, a fright
Is no prodigious punishment.
Lady Carlisle. A fright?
Pym will fail worse than Strafford if he thinks
To frighten him. [To the Queen.] You will not save him then?
Savile. When something like a charge is made, the King
Will best know how to save him: and t'is clear,
While Strafford suffers nothing by the matter,
The King may reap advantage: this in question,
No dinning you with ship-money complaints!
Queen [to Lady Carlisle]. If we dissolve them, who will pay the army?
Protect us from the insolent Scots?
Lady Carlisle. In truth,
I know not, madam. Strafford's fate concerns
Me little: you desired to learn what course
Would save him: I obey you.
Vane. Notice, too,
There can't be fairer ground for taking full
Revenge—(Strafford's revengeful)—than he'll have
Against his old friend Pym.
Queen. Why, he shall claim
Vengeance on Pym!
Vane. And Strafford, who is he
To 'scape unscathed amid the accidents
That harass all beside? I, for my part,
Should look for something of discomfiture
Had the King trusted me so thoroughly
And been so paid for it.
Holland. He'll keep at York:
All will blow over: he'll return no worse,
Humbled a little, thankful for a place
Under as good a man. Oh, we'll dispense
With seeing Strafford for a month or two!
147Queen. You here!
Strafford. The King sends for me, madam.
Strafford. An urgent matter that imports the King!
[To Lady Carlisle.] Why, Lucy, what's in agitation now,
That all this muttering and shrugging, see,
Begins at me? They do not speak!
Lady Carlisle. 'Tis welcome!
For we are proud of you—happy and proud
To have you with us, Strafford! You were staunch
At Durham: you did well there! Had you not
Been stayed, you might have ... we said, even now,
Our hope's in you!
Vane [to Lady Carlisle]. The Queen would speak with you.
Strafford. Will one of you, his servants here, vouchsafe
To signify my presence to the King?
Savile. An urgent matter?
Strafford. None that touches you,
Lord Savile! Say, it were some treacherous
Sly pitiful intriguing with the Scots—
You would go free, at least! (They half divine
My purpose!) Madam, shall I see the King?
The service I would render, much concerns
Queen. But his Majesty, my lord,
May not be here, may....
Strafford. Its importance, then,
Must plead excuse for this withdrawal, madam,
And for the grief it gives Lord Savile here.
Queen [who has been conversing with Vane and Holland].
The King will see you, sir!
[To Lady Carlisle.] Mark me: Pym's worst
148Is done by now: he has impeached the Earl,
Or found the Earl too strong for him, by now.
Let us not seem instructed! We should work
No good to Strafford, but deform ourselves
With shame in the world's eye. [To Strafford.] His Majesty
Has much to say with you.
Strafford. Time fleeting, too!
[To Lady Carlisle.] No means of getting them away? And She—
What does she whisper? Does she know my purpose?
What does she think of it? Get them away!
Queen [to Lady Carlisle]. He comes to baffle Pym—he thinks the danger
Far off: tell him no word of it! a time
For help will come; we'll not be wanting then.
Keep him in play, Lucy—you, self-possessed
And calm! [To Strafford.] To spare your lordship some delay
I will myself acquaint the King. [To Lady Carlisle.] Beware!
[The Queen, Vane, Holland, and Savile go out.
Strafford. She knows it?
Lady Carlisle. Tell me, Strafford!
This moment's the great moment of all time.
She knows my purpose?
Lady Carlisle. Thoroughly: just now
She bade me hide it from you.
Strafford. Quick, dear child,
The whole o' the scheme?
Lady Carlisle. (Ah, he would learn if they
Connive at Pym's procedure! Could they but
Have once apprised the King! But there's no time
For falsehood, now.) Strafford, the whole is known.
149Strafford. Known and approved?
Lady Carlisle. Hardly discountenanced.
Strafford. And the King—say, the King consents as well?
Lady Carlisle. The King's not yet informed, but will not dare
Strafford. What need to wait him, then?
He'll sanction it! I stayed, child, tell him, long!
It vexed me to the soul—this waiting here.
You know him, there's no counting on the King.
Tell him I waited long!
Lady Carlisle. (What can he mean?
Rejoice at the King's hollowness?)
Strafford. I knew
They would be glad of it,—all over once,
I knew they would be glad: but he'd contrive,
The Queen and he, to mar, by helping it,
An angel's making.
Lady Carlisle. (Is he mad?) Dear Strafford,
You were not wont to look so happy.
I tried obedience thoroughly. I took
The King's wild plan: of course, ere I could reach
My army, Conway ruined it. I drew
The wrecks together, raised all heaven and earth,
And would have fought the Scots: the King at once
Made truce with them. Then, Lucy, then, dear child,
God put it in my mind to love, serve, die
For Charles, but never to obey him more!
While he endured their insolence at Ripon
I fell on them at Durham. But you'll tell
The King I waited? All the anteroom
Is filled with my adherents.
Lady Carlisle. Strafford—Strafford,
What daring act is this you hint?
Strafford. No, no!
'Tis here, not daring if you knew? all here!
[Drawing papers from his breast.
Full proof, see, ample proof—does the Queen know
I have such damning proof? Bedford and Essex,
Brooke, Warwick, Savile (did you notice Savile?
The simper that I spoilt?), Saye, Mandeville—
Sold to the Scots, body and soul, by Pym!
Lady Carlisle. Great heaven!
Strafford. From Savile and his lords, to Pym
And his losels, crushed!—Pym shall not ward the blow
Nor Savile creep aside from it! The Crew
And the Cabal—I crush them!
Lady Carlisle. And you go—
Strafford,—and now you go?—
Strafford. —About no work
In the background, I promise you! I go
Straight to the House of Lords to claim these knaves.
Lady Carlisle. Stay—stay, Strafford!
Strafford. She'll return,
The Queen—some little project of her own!
No time to lose: the King takes fright perhaps.
Lady Carlisle. Pym's strong, remember!
Strafford. Very strong, as fits
The Faction's head—with no offence to Hampden,
Vane, Rudyard and my loving Hollis: one
And all they lodge within the Tower to-night
In just equality. Bryan! Mainwaring!
[Many of his Adherents enter.
The Peers debate just now (a lucky chance)
On the Scots' war; my visit's opportune.
151When all is over, Bryan, you proceed
To Ireland: these dispatches, mark me, Bryan,
Are for the Deputy, and these for Ormond:
We want the army here—my army, raised
At such a cost, that should have done such good,
And was inactive all the time! no matter,
We'll find a use for it. Willis ... or, no—you!
You, friend, make haste to York: bear this, at once ...
Or,—better stay for form's sake, see yourself
The news you carry. You remain with me
To execute the Parliament's command,
Mainwaring! Help to seize these lesser knaves,
Take care there's no escaping at backdoors:
I'll not have one escape, mind me—not one!
I seem revengeful, Lucy? Did you know
What these men dare!
Lady Carlisle. It is so much they dare!
Strafford. I proved that long ago; my turn is now.
Keep sharp watch, Goring, on the citizens!
Observe who harbors any of the brood
That scramble off: be sure they smart for it!
Our coffers are but lean.
And you, child, too,
Shall have your task; deliver this to Laud.
Laud will not be the slowest in thy praise:
"Thorough" he'll cry!—Foolish, to be so glad!
This life is gay and glowing, after all:
'Tis worth while, Lucy, having foes like mine
Just for the bliss of crushing them. To-day
Is worth the living for.
Lady Carlisle. That reddening brow!
Strafford. Well—do I not? I would be well—
I could not but be well on such a day!
152And, this day ended, 'tis of slight import
How long the ravaged frame subjects the soul
Lady Carlisle. Noble Strafford!
Strafford. No farewell!
I'll see you anon, to-morrow—the first thing.
—If She should come to stay me!
Lady Carlisle. Go—'tis nothing—
Only my heart that swells: it has been thus
Ere now: go, Strafford!
Strafford. To-night, then, let it be.
I must see Him: you, the next after Him.
I'll tell how Pym looked. Follow me, friends!
You, gentlemen, shall see a sight this hour
To talk of all your lives. Close after me!
"My friend of friends!"
[Strafford and the rest go out.
Lady Carlisle. The King—ever the King!
No thought of one beside, whose little word
Unveils the King to him—one word from me,
Which yet I do not breathe!
Ah, have I spared
Strafford a pang, and shall I seek reward
Beyond that memory? Surely too, some way
He is the better for my love. No, no—
He would not look so joyous—I'll believe
His very eye would never sparkle thus,
Had I not prayed for him this long, long while.
Many of the Presbyterian Party. The Adherents of Strafford, etc.
A Group of Presbyterians. —1. I tell you he struck Maxwell: Maxwell sought
153 To stay the Earl: he struck him and passed on.
2. Fear as you may, keep a good countenance
Before these rufflers.
3. Strafford here the first,
With the great army at his back!
4. No doubt.
I would Pym had made haste: that's Bryan, hush—
The gallant pointing.
Strafford's Followers. —1. Mark these worthies, now!
2. A goodly gathering! "Where the carcass is
There shall the eagles"—what's the rest?
3. For eagles
A Presbyterian. Stand back, sirs!
One of Strafford's Followers. Are we in Geneva?
A Presbyterian. No, nor in Ireland; we have leave to breathe.
One of Strafford's Followers. Truly? Behold how privileged we be
That serve "King Pym"! There's Some-one at Whitehall
Who skulks obscure; but Pym struts....
The Presbyterian. Nearer.
A Follower of Strafford. Higher,
We look to see him. [To his Companions.] I'm to have St. John
In charge; was he among the knaves just now
That followed Pym within there?
Another. The gaunt man
Talking with Rudyard. Did the Earl expect
Pym at his heels so fast? I like it not.
154Another. Why, man, they rush into the net! Here's Maxwell—
Ha, Maxwell? How the brethren flock around
The fellow! Do you feel the Earl's hand yet
Upon your shoulder, Maxwell?
Stand back! a great thing passes here.
A Follower of Strafford [To another]. The Earl
Is at his work! [To M.] Say, Maxwell, what great thing!
Speak out! [To a Presbyterian.] Friend, I've a kindness for you! Friend,
I've seen you with St. John: O stockishness!
Wear such a ruff, and never call to mind
St. John's head in a charger? How, the plague,
Another. Say, Maxwell, what great thing!
Another. Nay, wait:
The jest will be to wait.
First. And who's to bear
These demure hypocrites? You'd swear they came ...
Came ... just as we come!
[A Puritan enters hastily and without observing Strafford's Followers.
The Puritan. How goes on the work?
A Follower of Strafford. The secret's out at last. Aha,
The carrion's scented! Welcome, crow the first!
Gorge merrily, you with the blinking eye!
"King Pym has fallen!"
The Puritan. Pym?
A Strafford. Pym!
A Presbyterian. Only Pym?
Many of Strafford's Followers. No, brother, not Pym only; Vane as well,
Rudyard as well, Hampden, St. John as well!
A Presbyterian. My mind misgives: can it be true?
155 Another. Lost! Lost!
A Strafford. Say we true, Maxwell?
The Puritan. Pride before destruction,
A haughty spirit goeth before a fall.
Many of Strafford's Followers. Ah now! The very thing! A word in season!
A golden apple in a silver picture,
To greet Pym as he passes!
[The doors at the back begin to open, noise and light issuing.
Maxwell. Stand back, all!
Many of the Presbyterians. I hold with Pym! And I!
Strafford's Followers. Now for the text!
He comes! Quick!
The Puritan. How hath the oppressor ceased!
The Lord hath broken the staff of the wicked!
The sceptre of the rulers, he who smote
The people in wrath with a continual stroke,
That ruled the nations in his anger—he
Is persecuted and none hindreth!
[The doors open, and Strafford issues in the greatest disorder, and amid cries from within of "Void the House!"
Strafford. Impeach me! Pym! I never struck, I think,
The felon on that calm insulting mouth
When it proclaimed—Pym's mouth proclaimed me ... God!
Was it a word, only a word that held
The outrageous blood back on my heart—which beats!
Which beats! Some one word—"Traitor," did he say,
Bending that eye, brimful of bitter fire,
Maxwell. In the Commons' name, their servant
Demands Lord Strafford's sword.
156Strafford. What did you say?
Maxwell. The Commons bid me ask your lordship's sword.
Strafford. Let us go forth: follow me, gentlemen!
Draw your swords too: cut any down that bar us.
On the King's service! Maxwell, clear the way!
[The Presbyterians prepare to dispute his passage.
Strafford. I stay: the King himself shall see me here.
Your tablets, fellow!
[To Mainwaring.] Give that to the King!
Yes, Maxwell, for the next half-hour, let be!
Nay, you shall take my sword!
[Maxwell advances to take it.
Or, no—not that!
Their blood, perhaps, may wipe out all thus far,
All up to that—not that! Why, friend, you see
When the King lays your head beneath my foot
It will not pay for that. Go, all of you!
Maxwell. I dare, my lord, to disobey: none stir!
Strafford. This gentle Maxwell!—Do not touch him, Bryan!
[To the Presbyterians.] Whichever cur of you will carry this
Escapes his fellow's fate. None saves his life?
[Cries from within of "Strafford!"
Slingsby, I've loved you at least: make haste!
Stab me! I have not time to tell you why.
You then, my Bryan! Mainwaring, you then!
Is it because I spoke so hastily
At Allerton? The King had vexed me.
[To the Presbyterians.] You!
—Not even you? If I live over this,
The King is sure to have your heads, you know!
But what if I can't live this minute through?
Pym, who is there with his pursuing smile!
[Louder cries of "Strafford!"
157The King! I troubled him, stood in the way
Of his negotiations, was the one
Great obstacle to peace, the Enemy
Of Scotland: and he sent for me, from York,
My safety guaranteed—having prepared
A Parliament—I see! And at Whitehall
The Queen was whispering with Vane—I see
[Tearing off the George.
I tread a gewgaw underfoot,
And cast a memory from me. One stroke, now!
[His own Adherents disarm him. Renewed cries of "Strafford!"
England! I see thy arm in this and yield.
Pray you now—Pym awaits me—pray you now!
[Strafford reaches the doors: they open wide. Hampden and a crowd discovered, and, at the bar, Pym standing apart. As Strafford kneels, the scene shuts.
The history of the fourth act deals with further episodes of Strafford's trial, especially with the change in the procedure from Impeachment to a Bill of Attainder against Strafford. The details of this great trial are complicated and cannot be followed in all their ramifications here. There was danger that the Impeachment would not go through. Strafford, himself, felt confident that in law his actions could not be found treasonable.
After Strafford's brilliant defense of himself, it was decided to bring in a Bill of Attainder. New evidence against Strafford con158tained in some notes which the younger Vane had found among his father's papers were used to strengthen the charge of treason. In these notes Strafford had advised the King to act "loose and absolved from all rules of government," and had reminded him that there was an army in Ireland, ready to reduce the Kingdom. These notes were found by the merest accident. The younger Vane who had just been knighted and was about to be married, borrowed his father's keys in order to look up some law papers. In his search he fell upon these notes taken at a committee that met immediately after the dissolution of the short Parliament. He made a copy and carried it to Pym who also made a copy.
According to Baillie, the "secret" of the change from the Impeachment to the Bill was "to prevent the hearing of the Earl's lawyers, who give out that there is no law yet in force whereby he can be condemned to die for aught yet objected against him, and therefore their intent by this Bill to supply the defect of the laws therein." To this may be added the opinion of a member of the Commons. "If the House of Commons proceeds to demand judgment of the Lords, without doubt they will acquit him, there being no law extant whereby to condemn him of treason.159 Wherefore the Commons are determined to desert the Lord's judicature, and to proceed against him by Bill of Attainder, whereby he shall be adjudged to death upon a treason now to be declared."
One of the chief results in this change of procedure, emphasized by Browning in an intense scene between Pym and Charles was that it altered entirely the King's attitude towards Strafford's trial. As Baillie expresses it, "Had the Commons gone on in the former way of pursuit, the King might have been a patient, and only beheld the striking off of Strafford's head; but now they have put them on a Bill which will force the King either to be our agent and formal voicer to his death, or else do the world knows not what."
For the sake of a gain in dramatic power, Browning has once more departed from history by making Pym the moving power in the Bill of Attainder, and Hampden in favor of it; while in reality they were opposed to the change in procedure, and believed that the Impeachment could have been carried through.
The relentless, scourging force of Pym in the play, pursuing the arch-foe of England as he regarded Wentworth to the death, once he is convinced that England's welfare demands160 it, would have been weakened had he been represented in favor of the policy which was abandoned, instead of with the policy that succeeded. But Pym is made to intimate that he will abandon the Bill unless the King gives his word that he will ratify it, and further, Pym declares, should he not ratify the Bill his next step will be against the King himself.
Enter Hampden and Vane.
Vane. O Hampden, save the great misguided man!
Plead Strafford's cause with Pym! I have remarked
He moved no muscle when we all declaimed
Against him: you had but to breathe—he turned
Those kind calm eyes upon you.
[Enter Pym, the Solicitor-General St. John, the Managers of the Trial, Fiennes, Rudyard, etc.
Till now all hearts were with you: I withdraw
For one. Too horrible! But we mistake
Your purpose, Pym: you cannot snatch away
The last spar from the drowning man.
Fiennes. He talks
With St. John of it—see, how quietly!
[To other Presbyterians.] You'll join us? Strafford may deserve the worst:
But this new course is monstrous. Vane, take heart!
This Bill of his Attainder shall not have
One true man's hand to it.
Vane. Consider, Pym!
Confront your Bill, your own Bill: what is it?
You cannot catch the Earl on any charge,—
161No man will say the law has hold of him
On any charge; and therefore you resolve
To take the general sense on his desert,
As though no law existed, and we met
To found one. You refer to Parliament
To speak its thought upon the abortive mass
Of half-borne-out assertions, dubious hints
Hereafter to be cleared, distortions—ay,
And wild inventions. Every man is saved
The task of fixing any single charge
On Strafford: he has but to see in him
The enemy of England.
Pym. A right scruple!
I have heard some called England's enemy
With less consideration.
Vane. Pity me!
Indeed you made me think I was your friend!
I who have murdered Strafford, how remove
That memory from me?
Pym. I absolve you, Vane.
Take you no care for aught that you have done!
Vane. John Hampden, not this Bill! Reject this Bill!
He staggers through the ordeal: let him go,
Strew no fresh fire before him! Plead for us!
When Strafford spoke, your eyes were thick with tears!
Hampden. England speaks louder: who are we, to play
The generous pardoner at her expense,
Magnanimously waive advantages,
And, if he conquer us, applaud his skill?
Vane. He was your friend.
Pym. I have heard that before.
Fiennes. And England trusts you.
Hampden. Shame be his, who turns
The opportunity of serving her
162She trusts him with, to his own mean account—
Who would look nobly frank at her expense!
Fiennes. I never thought it could have come to this.
Pym. But I have made myself familiar, Fiennes,
With this one thought—have walked, and sat, and slept,
This thought before me. I have done such things,
Being the chosen man that should destroy
The traitor. You have taken up this thought
To play with, for a gentle stimulant,
To give a dignity to idler life
By the dim prospect of emprise to come,
But ever with the softening, sure belief,
That all would end some strange way right at last.
Fiennes. Had we made out some weightier charge!
Pym. You say
That these are petty charges: can we come
To the real charge at all? There he is safe
In tyranny's stronghold. Apostasy
Is not a crime, treachery not a crime:
The cheek burns, the blood tingles, when you speak
The words, but where's the power to take revenge
Upon them? We must make occasion serve,—
The oversight shall pay for the main sin
That mocks us.
Rudyard. But his unexampled course,
Pym. By this, we roll the clouds away
Of precedent and custom, and at once
Bid the great beacon-light God sets in all,
The conscience of each bosom, shine upon
The guilt of Strafford: each man lay his hand
Upon his breast, and judge!
Vane. I only see
Strafford, nor pass his corpse for all beyond!
163Rudyard and others. Forgive him! He would join us, now he finds
What the King counts reward! The pardon, too,
Should be your own. Yourself should bear to Strafford
The pardon of the Commons.
Pym. Meet him? Strafford?
Have we to meet once more, then? Be it so!
And yet—the prophecy seemed half fulfilled
When, at the Trial, as he gazed, my youth,
Our friendship, divers thoughts came back at once
And left me, for a time.... 'Tis very sad!
To-morrow we discuss the points of law
Vane. Not before to-morrow—
So, time enough! I knew you would relent!
Pym. The next day, Haselrig, you introduce
The Bill of his Attainder. Pray for me!
Charles. My loyal servant! To defend himself
Thus irresistibly,—withholding aught
That seemed to implicate us!
We have done
Less gallantly by Strafford. Well, the future
Must recompense the past.
She tarries long.
I understand you, Strafford, now!
Carlisle's mad scheme—he'll sanction it, I fear,
For love of me. 'Twas too precipitate:
Before the army's fairly on its march,
He'll be at large: no matter.
164 Enter Pym.
Pym. Fear me not, sir:—my mission is to save,
Charles. To break thus on me! Unannounced!
Pym. It is of Strafford I would speak.
Charles. No more
Of Strafford! I have heard too much from you.
Pym. I spoke, sir, for the People; will you hear
A word upon my own account?
Charles. Of Strafford?
(So turns the tide already? Have we tamed
The insolent brawler?—Strafford's eloquence
Is swift in its effect.) Lord Strafford, sir,
Has spoken for himself.
I would apprise you of the novel course
The People take: the Trial fails.
Charles. Yes, yes:
We are aware, sir: for your part in it
Means shall be found to thank you.
Pym. Pray you, read
This schedule! I would learn from your own mouth
—(It is a matter much concerning me)—
Whether, if two Estates of us concede
The death of Strafford, on the grounds set forth
Within that parchment, you, sir, can resolve
To grant your own consent to it. This Bill
Is framed by me. If you determine, sir,
That England's manifested will should guide
Your judgment, ere another week such will
Shall manifest itself. If not,—I cast
Aside the measure.
Charles. You can hinder, then,
The introduction of this Bill?
165Pym. I can.
Charles. He is my friend, sir: I have wronged him: mark you,
Had I not wronged him, this might be. You think
Because you hate the Earl ... (turn not away,
We know you hate him)—no one else could love
Strafford: but he has saved me, some affirm.
Think of his pride! And do you know one strange,
One frightful thing? We all have used the man
As though a drudge of ours, with not a source
Of happy thoughts except in us; and yet
Strafford has wife and children, household cares,
Just as if we had never been. Ah sir,
You are moved, even you, a solitary man
Wed to your cause—to England if you will!
Pym. Yes—think, my soul—to England! Draw not back!
Charles. Prevent that Bill, sir! All your course seems fair
Till now. Why, in the end, 'tis I should sign
The warrant for his death! You have said much
I ponder on; I never meant, indeed,
Strafford should serve me any more. I take
The Commons' counsel; but this Bill is yours—
Nor worthy of its leader: care not, sir,
For that, however! I will quite forget
You named it to me. You are satisfied?
Pym. Listen to me, sir! Eliot laid his hand,
Wasted and white, upon my forehead once;
Wentworth—he's gone now!—has talked on, whole nights,
And I beside him; Hampden loves me: sir,
How can I breathe and not wish England well,
And her King well?
Charles. I thank you, sir, who leave
166That King his servant. Thanks, sir!
Pym. Let me speak!
—Who may not speak again; whose spirit yearns
For a cool night after this weary day:
—Who would not have my soul turn sicker yet
In a new task, more fatal, more august,
More full of England's utter weal or woe.
I thought, sir, could I find myself with you,
After this trial, alone, as man to man—
I might say something, warn you, pray you, save—
Mark me, King Charles, save——you!
But God must do it. Yet I warn you, sir—
(With Strafford's faded eyes yet full on me)
As you would have no deeper question moved
—"How long the Many must endure the One,"
Assure me, sir, if England give assent
To Strafford's death, you will not interfere!
Charles. God forsakes me. I am in a net
And cannot move. Let all be as you say!
Enter Lady Carlisle.
Lady Carlisle. He loves you—looking beautiful with joy
Because you sent me! he would spare you all
The pain! he never dreamed you would forsake
Your servant in the evil day—nay, see
Your scheme returned! That generous heart of his!
He needs it not—or, needing it, disdains
A course that might endanger you—you, sir,
Whom Strafford from his inmost soul....
[Seeing Pym.] Well met!
No fear for Strafford! All that's true and brave
On your own side shall help us: we are now
Stronger than ever.
167 Ha—what, sir, is this?
All is not well! What parchment have you there?
Pym. Sir, much is saved us both.
Lady Carlisle. This Bill! Your lip
Whitens—you could not read one line to me
Your voice would falter so!
Pym. No recreant yet!
The great word went from England to my soul,
And I arose. The end is very near.
Lady Carlisle. I am to save him! All have shrunk beside;
'Tis only I am left. Heaven will make strong
The hand now as the heart. Then let both die!
In the last act Browning has drawn upon his imagination more than in any other part of the play. Strafford in prison in the Tower is the center around which all the other elements of the drama are made to revolve. A glimpse, the first, of the man in a purely human capacity is given in the second scene with Strafford and his children. From all accounts little Anne was a precocious child and Browning has sketched her accordingly. The scene is like a gleam of sunshine in the gathering gloom.
The genuine grief felt by the historical Charles over the part he played in the ruin of Strafford is brought out in an interview between Strafford and Charles, who is represented as coming disguised to the prison. Strafford who has been hoping for pardon168 from the King learns from Hollis, in the King's presence, that the King has signed his death warrant. He receives this shock with the remark which history attributes to him.
History tells us of two efforts to rescue Strafford. One of these was an attempt to bribe Balfour to allow him to escape from the tower. This hint the Poet has worked up into the episode of Charles, calling Balfour and begging him to go at once to Parliament, to say he will grant all demands, and that he chooses to pardon Strafford. History, however, does not say that Lady Carlisle was implicated in any plan for the rescue of Strafford, of which Browning makes so much. According to Gardiner, she was by this time bestowing her favors upon Pym. Devotion to the truth here on Browning's part would have completely ruined the inner unity of the play. Carlisle, the woman ready to devote herself to Strafford's utmost need, while Strafford is more or less indifferent to her is the artistic compliment of Strafford the man devoted to the unresponsive King. The failure of the escape through Pym's intervention is a169 final dramatic climax bringing face to face not so much the two individual men as the two principles of government for which England was warring, the Monarchical and the Parliamentary. To the last, Strafford is loyal to the King and the Kingly idea, while Pym crushing his human feelings under foot, calmly contemplates the sacrifice not only of Strafford, but even of the King, if England's need demand it.
In this supreme moment of agony when Strafford and Pym meet face to face both men are made to realize an abiding love for each other beneath all their earthly differences. "A great poet of our own day," writes Gardiner, "clothing the reconciling spirit of the nineteenth century in words which never could have been spoken in the seventeenth, has breathed a high wish. On his page an imaginary Pym, recalling an imaginary friendship, looks forward hopefully to a reunion in a better and brighter world."
Strafford sitting with his Children. They sing.
O bell 'andare
Per barca in mare,
Verso la sera
170 William. The boat's in the broad moonlight all this while—
Verso la sera
And the boat shoots from underneath the moon
Into the shadowy distance; only still
You hear the dipping oar—
Verso la sera,
And faint, and fainter, and then all's quite gone,
Music and light and all, like a lost star.
Anne. But you should sleep, father; you were to sleep.
Strafford. I do sleep, Anne; or if not—you must know
There's such a thing as....
William. You're too tired to sleep?
Strafford. It will come by-and-by and all day long,
In that old quiet house I told you of:
We sleep safe there.
Anne. Why not in Ireland?
Too many dreams!—That song's for Venice, William:
You know how Venice looks upon the map—
Isles that the mainland hardly can let go?
William. You've been to Venice, father?
Strafford. I was young, then.
William. A city with no King; that's why I like
Even a song that comes from Venice.
William. Oh, I know why! Anne, do you love the King?
But I'll see Venice for myself one day.
Strafford. See many lands, boy—England last of all,—
That way you'll love her best.
171William. Why do men say
You sought to ruin her then?
Strafford. Ah,—they say that.
Strafford. I suppose they must have words to say,
As you to sing.
Anne. But they make songs beside:
Last night I heard one, in the street beneath,
That called you.... Oh, the names!
William. Don't mind her, father!
They soon left off when I cried out to them.
Strafford. We shall so soon be out of it, my boy!
'Tis not worth while: who heeds a foolish song?
William. Why, not the King.
Strafford. Well: it has been the fate
Of better; and yet,—wherefore not feel sure
That Time, who in the twilight comes to mend
All the fantastic day's caprice, consign
To the low ground once more the ignoble Term,
And raise the Genius on his orb again,—
That Time will do me right?
Anne. (Shall we sing, William?
He does not look thus when we sing.)
Strafford. For Ireland,
Something is done: too little, but enough
To show what might have been.
William. (I have no heart
To sing now! Anne, how very sad he looks!
Oh, I so hate the King for all he says!)
Strafford. Forsook them! What, the common songs will run
That I forsook the People? Nothing more?
Ay, Fame, the busy scribe, will pause, no doubt,
Turning a deaf ear to her thousand slaves
172Noisy to be enrolled,—will register
The curious glosses, subtle notices,
Ingenious clearings-up one fain would see
Beside that plain inscription of The Name—
The Pym, or the Apostate Strafford!
[The Children resume their song timidly, but break off.
Enter Hollis and an Attendant.
Strafford. No,—Hollis? in good time!—Who is he?
That must be present.
Strafford. Ah—I understand.
They will not let me see poor Laud alone.
How politic! They'd use me by degrees
To solitude: and, just as you came in,
I was solicitous what life to lead
When Strafford's "not so much as Constable
In the King's service." Is there any means
To keep oneself awake? What would you do
After this bustle, Hollis, in my place?
Strafford. Observe, not but that Pym and you
Will find me news enough—news I shall hear
Under a quince-tree by a fish-pond side
At Wentworth. Garrard must be re-engaged
My newsman. Or, a better project now—
What if when all's consummated, and the Saints
Reign, and the Senate's work goes swimmingly,—
What if I venture up, some day, unseen,
To saunter through the Town, notice how Pym,
Your Tribune, likes Whitehall, drop quietly
Into a tavern, hear a point discussed,
As, whether Strafford's name were John or James—
And be myself appealed to—I, who shall
173Myself have near forgotten!
Hollis. I would speak....
Strafford. Then you shall speak,—not now. I want just now,
To hear the sound of my own tongue. This place
Is full of ghosts.
Hollis. Nay, you must hear me, Strafford!
Strafford. Oh, readily! Only, one rare thing more,—
The minister! Who will advise the King,
Turn his Sejanus, Richelieu and what not,
And yet have health—children, for aught I know—
My patient pair of traitors! Ah,—but, William—
Does not his cheek grow thin?
William. 'Tis you look thin, Father!
Strafford. A scamper o'er the breezy wolds
Sets all to-rights.
Hollis. You cannot sure forget
A prison-roof is o'er you, Strafford?
Why, no. I would not touch on that, the first.
I left you that. Well, Hollis? Say at once,
The King can find no time to set me free!
A mask at Theobald's?
Hollis. Hold: no such affair
Strafford. True: what needs so great a matter?
The Queen's lip may be sore. Well: when he pleases,—
Only, I want the air: it vexes flesh
To be pent up so long.
Hollis. The King—I bear
His message, Strafford: pray you, let me speak!
Strafford. Go, William! Anne, try o'er your song again!
[The Children retire.
174They shall be loyal, friend, at all events.
I know your message: you have nothing new
To tell me: from the first I guessed as much.
I know, instead of coming here himself,
Leading me forth in public by the hand,
The King to leave the door ajar
As though I were escaping—bids me trudge
While the mob gapes upon some show prepared
On the other side of the river! Give at once
His order of release! I've heard, as well
Of certain poor manœuvres to avoid
The granting pardon at his proper risk;
First, he must prattle somewhat to the Lords,
Must talk a trifle with the Commons first,
Be grieved I should abuse his confidence,
And far from blaming them, and.... Where's the order?
Hollis. Spare me!
Strafford. Why, he'd not have me steal away?
With an old doublet and a steeple hat
Like Prynne's? Be smuggled into France, perhaps?
Hollis, 'tis for my children! 'Twas for them
I first consented to stand day by day
And give your Puritans the best of words,
Be patient, speak when called upon, observe
Their rules, and not return them prompt their lie!
What's in that boy of mine that he should prove
Son to a prison-breaker? I shall stay
And he'll stay with me. Charles should know as much,
He too has children!
[Turning to Hollis's Companion.] Sir, you feel for me!
No need to hide that face! Though it have looked
Upon me from the judgment-seat ... I know
Strangely, that somewhere it has looked on me, ...
Your coming has my pardon, nay, my thanks:
For there is one who comes not.
175Hollis. Whom forgive,
As one to die!
Strafford. True, all die, and all need
Forgiveness: I forgive him from my soul.
Hollis. 'Tis a world's wonder: Strafford, you must die!
Strafford. Sir, if your errand is to set me free
This heartless jest mars much. Ha! Tears in truth?
We'll end this! See this paper, warm—feel—warm
With lying next my heart! Whose hand is there?
Whose promise? Read, and loud for God to hear!
"Strafford shall take no hurt"—read it, I say!
"In person, honor, nor estate"—
Hollis. The King....
Strafford. I could unking him by a breath! You sit
Where Loudon sat, who came to prophesy
The certain end, and offer me Pym's grace
If I'd renounce the King: and I stood firm
On the King's faith. The King who lives....
Hollis. To sign
The warrant for your death.
Strafford. "Put not your trust
In princes, neither in the sons of men,
In whom is no salvation!"
Hollis. Trust in God!
The scaffold is prepared: they wait for you:
He has consented. Cast the earth behind!
Charles. You would not see me, Strafford, at your foot!
It was wrung from me! Only, curse me not!
Hollis [to Strafford]. As you hope grace and pardon in your need,
Be merciful to this most wretched man.
[Voices from within.
Verso la sera
176Strafford. You'll be good to those children, sir? I know
You'll not believe her, even should the Queen
Think they take after one they rarely saw.
I had intended that my son should live
A stranger to these matters: but you are
So utterly deprived of friends! He too
Must serve you—will you not be good to him?
Or, stay, sir, do not promise—do not swear!
You, Hollis—do the best you can for me!
I've not a soul to trust to: Wandesford's dead,
And you've got Radcliffe safe, Laud's turn comes next:
I've found small time of late for my affairs,
But I trust any of you, Pym himself—
No one could hurt them: there's an infant, too.
These tedious cares! Your Majesty could spare them.
Nay—pardon me, my King! I had forgotten
Your education, trials, much temptation,
Some weakness: there escaped a peevish word—
'Tis gone: I bless you at the last. You know
All's between you and me: what has the world
To do with it? Farewell!
Charles [at the door]. Balfour! Balfour!
The Parliament!—go to them: I grant all
Demands. Their sittings shall be permanent:
Tell them to keep their money if they will:
I'll come to them for every coat I wear
And every crust I eat: only I choose
To pardon Strafford. As the Queen shall choose!
—You never heard the People howl for blood,
Balfour. Your Majesty may hear them now:
The walls can hardly keep their murmurs out:
177Please you retire!
Charles. Take all the troops, Balfour!
Balfour. There are some hundred thousand of the crowd.
Charles. Come with me, Strafford! You'll not fear, at least!
Strafford. Balfour, say nothing to the world of this!
I charge you, as a dying man, forget
You gazed upon this agony of one ...
Of one ... or if ... why you may say, Balfour,
The King was sorry: 'tis no shame in him:
Yes, you may say he even wept, Balfour,
And that I walked the lighter to the block
Because of it. I shall walk lightly, sir!
Earth fades, heaven breaks on me: I shall stand next
Before God's throne: the moment's close at hand
When man the first, last time, has leave to lay
His whole heart bare before its Maker, leave
To clear up the long error of a life
And choose one happiness for evermore.
With all mortality about me, Charles,
The sudden wreck, the dregs of violent death—
What if, despite the opening angel-song,
There penetrate one prayer for you? Be saved
Through me! Bear witness, no one could prevent
My death! Lead on! ere he awake—best, now!
All must be ready: did you say, Balfour,
The crowd began to murmur? They'll be kept
Too late for sermon at St. Antholin's!
Now! But tread softly—children are at play
In the next room. Precede! I follow—
Enter Lady Carlisle with many Attendants.
Lady Carlisle. Me!
Follow me, Strafford, and be saved! The King?
178[To the King.] Well—as you ordered, they are ranged without,
The convoy.... [seeing the King's state.]
[To Strafford.] You know all, then! Why I thought
It looked best that the King should save you,—Charles
Alone; 'tis a shame that you should owe me aught.
Or no, not shame! Strafford, you'll not feel shame
At being saved by me?
Hollis. All true! Oh Strafford,
She saves you! all her deed! this lady's deed!
And is the boat in readiness? You, friend,
Are Billingsley, no doubt. Speak to her, Strafford!
See how she trembles, waiting for your voice!
The world's to learn its bravest story yet.
Lady Carlisle. Talk afterward! Long nights in France enough,
To sit beneath the vines and talk of home.
Strafford. You love me, child? Ah, Strafford can be loved
As well as Vane! I could escape, then?
Lady Carlisle. Haste!
Advance the torches, Bryan!
Strafford. I will die.
They call me proud: but England had no right,
When she encountered me—her strength to mine—
To find the chosen foe a craven. Girl,
I fought her to the utterance, I fell,
I am now, and I will die. Beside,
The lookers-on! Eliot is all about
This place, with his most uncomplaining brow.
Lady Carlisle. Strafford!
Strafford. I think if you could know how much
I love you, you would be repaid, my friend!
Lady Carlisle. Then, for my sake!
179Strafford. Even for your sweet sake,
Hollis. For their sake!
Strafford. To bequeath a stain?
Leave me! Girl, humor me and let me die!
Lady Carlisle. Bid him escape—wake, King! Bid him escape!
Strafford. True, I will go! Die, and forsake the King?
I'll not draw back from the last service.
Lady Carlisle. Strafford!
Strafford. And, after all, what is disgrace to me?
Let us come, child! That it should end this way!
Lead them! but I feel strangely: it was not
To end this way.
Lady Carlisle. Lean—lean on me!
Strafford. My King!
Oh, had he trusted me—his friend of friends!
Lady Carlisle. I can support him, Hollis!
Strafford. Not this way!
This gate—I dreamed of it, this very gate.
Lady Carlisle. It opens on the river: our good boat
Is moored below, our friends are there.
Strafford. The same:
Only with something ominous and dark,
Lady Carlisle. Strafford! Strafford!
Strafford. Not by this gate! I feel what will be there!
I dreamed of it, I tell you: touch it not!
Lady Carlisle. To save the King,—Strafford, to save the King!
[As Strafford opens the door, Pym is discovered with Hampden, Vane, etc. Strafford falls back; Pym follows slowly and confronts him.
180Pym. Have I done well? Speak, England! Whose sole sake
I still have labored for, with disregard
To my own heart,—for whom my youth was made
Barren, my manhood waste, to offer up
Her sacrifice—this friend, this Wentworth here—
Who walked in youth with me, loved me, it may be,
And whom, for his forsaking England's cause,
I hunted by all means (trusting that she
Would sanctify all means) even to the block
Which waits for him. And saying this, I feel
No bitterer pang than first I felt, the hour
I swore that Wentworth might leave us, but I
Would never leave him: I do leave him now.
I render up my charge (be witness, God!)
To England who imposed it. I have done
Her bidding—poorly, wrongly,—it may be,
With ill effects—for I am weak, a man:
Still, I have done my best, my human best,
Not faltering for a moment. It is done.
And this said, if I say ... yes, I will say
I never loved but one man—David not
More Jonathan! Even thus, I love him now:
And look for my chief portion in that world
Where great hearts led astray are turned again,
(Soon it may be, and, certes, will be soon:
My mission over, I shall not live long,)—
Ay, here I know I talk—I dare and must,
Of England, and her great reward, as all
I look for there; but in my inmost heart,
Believe, I think of stealing quite away
To walk once more with Wentworth—my youth's friend
Purged from all error, gloriously renewed,
And Eliot shall not blame us. Then indeed....
181This is no meeting, Wentworth! Tears increase
Too hot. A thin mist—is it blood?—enwraps
The face I loved once. Then, the meeting be!
Strafford. I have loved England too; we'll meet then, Pym.
As well die now! Youth is the only time
To think and to decide on a great course:
Manhood with action follows; but 'tis dreary,
To have to alter our whole life in age—
The time past, the strength gone! As well die now.
When we meet, Pym, I'd be set right—not now!
Best die. Then if there's any fault, fault too
Dies, smothered up. Poor grey old little Laud
May dream his dream out, of a perfect Church,
In some blind corner. And there's no one left.
I trust the King now wholly to you, Pym!
And yet, I know not: I shall not be there:
Friends fail—if he have any. And he's weak,
And loves the Queen, and.... Oh, my fate is nothing—
Nothing! But not that awful head—not that!
Pym. If England shall declare such will to me....
Strafford. Pym, you help England! I, that am to die,
What I must see! 'tis here—all here! My God,
Let me but gasp out, in one word of fire,
How thou wilt plague him, satiating hell!
What? England that you help, become through you
A green and putrefying charnel, left
Our children ... some of us have children, Pym—
Some who, without that, still must ever wear
A darkened brow, an over-serious look,
And never properly be young! No word?
What if I curse you? Send a strong curse forth
Clothed from my heart, lapped round with horror till
She's fit with her white face to walk the world
Scaring kind natures from your cause and you—
182Then to sit down with you at the board-head,
The gathering for prayer.... O speak, but speak!
... Creep up, and quietly follow each one home,
You, you, you, be a nestling care for each
To sleep with,—hardly moaning in his dreams.
She gnaws so quietly,—till, lo he starts,
Gets off with half a heart eaten away!
Oh, shall you 'scape with less if she's my child?
You will not say a word—to me—to Him?
Pym. If England shall declare such will to me....
Strafford. No, not for England now, not for Heaven now,—
See, Pym, for my sake, mine who kneel to you!
There, I will thank you for the death, my friend!
This is the meeting: let me love you well!
Pym. England,—I am thine own! Dost thou exact
That service? I obey thee to the end.
Strafford. O God, I shall die first—I shall die first!
A lively picture of Cavalier sentiment is given in the "Cavalier Tunes"—which ought to furnish conclusive proof that Browning does not always put himself into his work. They may be compared with the words set to Avison's march given in the last chapter which presents just as sympathetically "Roundhead" sentiment.
Though not illustrative of the subject in hand, "Martin Relph" is included here on account of the glimpse it gives of an episode, interesting in English History, though devoid of serious consequences, since it marked the final abortive struggle of a dying cause.
186 An imaginary incident of the rebellion in the time of George II., forms the background of "Martin Relph," the point of the story being the life-long agony of reproach suffered by Martin who let his envy and jealousy conquer him at a crucial moment. The history of the attempt of Charles Edward to get back the crown of England, supported by a few thousand Highlanders, of his final defeat at the Battle of Culloden, and of the decay henceforth of Jacobitism, needs no telling. The treatment of spies as herein shown is a common-place of war-times, but that a reprieve exonerating the accused should be prevented from reaching its destination in time through the jealousy of the only person who saw it coming gives the episode a tragic touch lifting it into an atmosphere of peculiar individual pathos.
This poem, on an incident in Clive's life, is also included on account of its English historical setting.
The remarkable career of Robert Clive cannot be gone into here. Suffice it to refresh one's memory with a few principal events of his life. He was born in Shopshire in 1725. He entered the service of the East India Company at eighteen and was sent to Madras. Here, on account of his falling into debt, and being in danger of losing his situation, he twice tried to shoot himself. The pistol failed to go off, however, and he became impressed with the idea that some great destiny was awaiting him. His feeling was fully realized as his subsequent career in India shows. At twenty-seven, when he returned to England he had made the English the first military power in India. On his return to India (1755-59) he took a further step and secured for the English a political197 supremacy. Finally, on his last visit, he crowned his earlier exploits by putting the English dominance on a sounder basis of integrity than it had before been.
The incident related in the poem by the old man, Browning heard from Mrs. Jameson, who had shortly before heard it from Macaulay at Lansdowne House. Macaulay mentions it in his essay: "Of his personal courage he had, while still a writer [clerk] given signal proof by a desperate duel with a military bully who was the terror of Fort St. David."
The old gentleman in the poem evidently mixed up his dates slightly, for he says this incident occurred when Clive was twenty-one, and he represents him as committing suicide twenty-five years afterwards. Clive was actually forty-nine when he took his own life.
SOCIAL ASPECTS OF ENGLISH LIFE
Browning's poetry presents no such complete panorama of phases of social life in England as it does of those in Italy, perhaps, because there is a poise and solidity about the English character which does not lend itself to so great a variety of mood as one may find in the peculiarly artistic temperament of the Italians, especially those of the Renaissance period. Even such irregular proceedings as murders have their philosophical after-claps which show their usefulness in the divine scheme of things, while unfortunate love affairs work such beneficent results in character that they are shorn of much of their tragedy of sorrow. There is quite a group of love-lyrics with no definite setting that might be put down as English in temper. It does not require much imagination to think of the lover who sings so lofty a strain in "One Way of Love" as English:—
And is not this treatment of a "pretty woman" more English than not?
"The Last Ride Together" may be cited as another example of the philosophy which an Englishman, or at any rate a Browning, can evolve from a more or less painful episode.
"James Lee's Wife" is also English in temper as the English name indicates suffi220ciently, though the scene is laid out of England. This wife has her agony over the faithless husband, but she plans vengeance against neither him nor the other women who attract him. She realizes that his nature is not a deep and serious one like her own, and in her highest reach she sees that her own nature has been lifted up by means of her true and loyal feeling, that this gain to herself is her reward, or will be in some future state. The stanzas giving this thought are among the most beautiful in the poem.
Two of the longer poems have distinctly English settings: "A Blot in the Scutcheon" and "The Inn Album;" while, of the shorter ones, "Ned Bratts" has an English theme, and "Halbert and Hob" though not founded upon an English story has been given an English mis en scène by Browning.
In the "Blot," we get a glimpse of Eighteenth Century aristocratic England. The estate over which Lord Tresham presided was one of those typical country kingdoms, which have for centuries been so conspicuous a feature of English life, and which through the assemblies of the great, often gathered within their walls, wielded potent influences upon political life. The play opens with the talk of a group of retainers, such as formed the household of these lordly establishments. It was not a rare thing for the servants of the great to be admitted into intimacy with the family, as was the case with Gerard. They were often people of a superior grade, hardly to be classed with servants in the sense unfortunately given to that word to-day.
Besides the house and the park which figure in the play, such an estate had many acres of land devoted to agriculture—some of it, called the demesne, which was222 cultivated for the benefit of the owner, and some land held in villeinage which the unfree tenants, called villeins, were allowed to till for themselves. All this land might be in one large tract, or the demesne might be separate from the other. Mertoun speaks of their demesnes touching each other. Over the villeins presided the Bailiff, who kept strict watch to see that they performed their work punctually. His duties were numerous, for he directed the ploughing, sowing and reaping, gave out the seed, watched the harvest, gathered and looked after the stock and horses. A church, a mill and an inn were often included in such an estate.
Pride in their ancient lineage was, of course, common to noble families, though probably few of them could boast as Tresham did that there was no blot in their escutcheon. Some writers have even declared that most of the nobles are descended from tradesmen. According to one of these "The great bulk of our peerage is comparatively modern, so far as the titles go; but it is not the less noble that it has been recruited to so large an extent from the ranks of honorable industry. In olden times, the wealth and commerce of London, conducted as it was by energetic and enterprising men was a prolific source of peerages.223 Thus, the earldom of Cornwallis was founded by Thomas Cornwallis, the Cheapside merchant; that of Essex by William Capel, the draper; and that of Craven by William Craven, the merchant tailor. The modern Earl of Warwick is not descended from 'the King-maker,' but from William Greville, the woolstapler; whilst the modern Dukes of Northumberland find their head, not in the Percies, but in Hugh Smithson, a respectable London apothecary. The founders of the families of Dartmouth, Radnor, Ducie, and Pomfret were respectively a skinner, a silk manufacturer, a merchant tailor, and a Calais merchant; whilst the founders of the peerages of Tankerville, Dormer, and Coventry were mercers. The ancestors of Earl Romney, and Lord Dudley and Ward, were goldsmiths and jewelers; and Lord Dacres was a banker in the reign of Charles I., as Lord Overstone is in that of Queen Victoria. Edward Osborne, the founder of the dukedom of Leeds, was apprentice to William Hewet, a rich cloth worker on London Bridge, whose only daughter he courageously rescued from drowning, by leaping into the Thames after her, and eventually married. Among other peerages founded by trade are those of Fitzwilliam, Leigh, Petre, Cowper, Darnley, Hill, and Carrington."
224 Perhaps the imaginary house of Tresham may be said to find its closest counterpart in the Sidney family, for many generations owners of Penshurst, and with a traditional character according to which the men were all brave and the women were all pure. Sir Philip Sidney was himself the type of all the virtues of the family, while his father's care for his proper bringing up was not unlike Tresham's for Mildred. In the words of a recent writer: "The most famous scion of this Kentish house was above all things, the moral and intellectual product of Penshurst Place. In the park may still be seen an avenue of trees, under which the father, in his afternoon walks with the boy, tested his recollection of the morning's lessons conned with the There, too, it was that he impressed on the lad those maxims for the conduct of life, afterwards emphasized in the correspondence still extant among the Penshurst archives.
"Philip was to begin every day with lifting up his mind to the Almighty in hearty prayer, as well as feelingly digesting all he prayed for. He was also, early or late, to be obedient to others, so that in due time others might obey him. The secret of all success lay in a moderate diet with rare use of wine. A gloomy225 brow was, however, to be avoided. Rather should the youth give himself to be merry, so as not to degenerate from his father. Above all things should he keep his wit from biting words, or indeed from too much talk of any kind. Had not nature ramparted up the tongue with teeth and the lips with hair as reins and bridles against the tongue's loose use. Heeding this, he must be sure to tell no untruth even in trifles; for that was a naughty custom, nor could there be a greater reproach to a gentleman than to be accounted a liar. Noblesse oblige formed the keynote of the oral and written precepts with which the future Sir Philip Sidney was paternally supplied. By his mother, too, Lady Mary Dudley, the boy must remember himself to be of noble blood. Let him beware, therefore, through sloth and vice, of being accounted a blemish on his race."
Furthermore, the brotherly and sisterly relations of Tresham and Mildred are not unlike those of Sir Philip Sidney and his sister Mary. They studied and worked together in great sympathy, broken into only by the tragic fate of Sir Philip. Although the education of women in those days was chiefly domestic, with a smattering of accomplishments, yet there were exceptional girls who aspired to226 learning and who became brilliant women. Mildred under her brother's tutelage bid fare to be one of this sort.
The ideals of the Sidneys, it is true, were sixteenth-century ideals. Eighteenth-century ideals were proverbially low. England, then, had not recovered from the frivolities inaugurated after the Restoration. The slackness and unbelief among the clergy, and the looseness of morals in society were notorious, but this degeneration could not have been universal. There are always a few Noahs and their families left to repeople the world with righteousness after a deluge of degeneracy, and Browning is quite right in his portrayal of an eighteenth-century knight sans peur et sans reproche who defends the honor of his house with his sword, because of his high moral ideals. Besides, the Methodist revival led by the Wesleys gained constantly in power. It affected not only the people of the middle and lower classes, rescuing them from brutality of mind and manners, but it affected the established church for the better, and made its mark upon the upper classes. "Religion, long despised and contemned by the titled and the great" writes Withrow, "began to receive recognition and support by men high in the councils of the nation. Many ladies of227 high rank became devout Christians. A new element of restraint, compelling at least some outward respect for the decencies of life and observances of religion, was felt at court, where too long corruption and back-stair influence had sway."
Like all of his kind, no matter what the century, Tresham is more than delighted at the thought of an alliance between his house and the noble house to which Mertoun belonged. The youth of Mildred was no obstacle, for marriages were frequently contracted in those days between young boys and girls. The writer's English grand-father and mother were married at the respective ages of sixteen and fifteen within the boundaries of the nineteenth century.
The first two scenes of the play present episodes thoroughly illustrative of the life lived by the "quality."
Gerard, the warrener, his back to a table on which are flagons, etc.
1st Retainer. Ye, do! push, friends, and then you'll push down me!
—What for? Does any hear a runner's foot
228Or a steed's trample or a coach-wheel's cry?
Is the Earl come or his least poursuivant?
But there's no breeding in a man of you
Save Gerard yonder: here's a half-place yet,
Gerard. Save your courtesies, my friend.
Here is my place.
2nd Retainer. Now, Gerard, out with it!
What makes you sullen, this of all the days
I' the year? To-day that young rich bountiful
Handsome Earl Mertoun, whom alone they match
With our Lord Tresham through the country side,
Is coming here in utmost bravery
To ask our master's sister's hand?
Gerard. What then?
2nd Retainer. What then? Why, you, she speaks to if she meets
Your worship, smiles on as you hold apart
The boughs to let her through her forest walks
You, always favorite for your no deserts
You've heard, these three days, how Earl Mertoun sues
To lay his heart and house and broad lands too
At Lady Mildred's feet: and while we squeeze
Ourselves into a mousehole lest we miss
One congee of the least page in his train,
You sit o' one side—"there's the Earl," say I—
"What then," say you!
3rd Retainer. I'll wager he has let
Both swans be tamed for Lady Mildred swim
Over the falls and gain the river!
Is not to-morrow my inspecting day
For you and for your hawks?
4th Retainer. Let Gerard be!
He's coarse-grained, like his carved black cross-bow stock.
Ha, look now, while we squabble with him, look!
Well done, now—is not this beginning, now,
1st Retainer. Our retainers look as fine—
That's comfort. Lord, how Richard holds himself
With his white staff! Will not a knave behind
Prick him upright?
4th Retainer. He's only bowing, fool!
The Earl's man bent us lower by this much.
1st Retainer. That's comfort. Here's a very cavalcade!
3rd Retainer. I don't see wherefore Richard, and his troop
Of silk and silver varlets there, should find
Their perfumed selves so indispensable
On high days, holidays! Would it so disgrace
Our family, if I, for instance, stood—
In my right hand a cast of Swedish hawks,
A leash of greyhounds in my left?—
Gerard. —With Hugh
The logman for supporter, in his right
The bill-hook, in his left the brushwood-shears!
3rd Retainer. Out on you, crab! What next, what next?
1st Retainer. Oh Walter, groom, our horses, do they match
The Earl's? Alas, that first pair of the six—
They paw the ground—Ah Walter! and that brute
Just on his haunches by the wheel!
6th Retainer. Ay—ay!
You, Philip, are a special hand, I hear,
At soups and sauces: what's a horse to you?
D'ye mark that beast they've slid into the midst
So cunningly?—then, Philip, mark this further;
No leg has he to stand on!
230 1st Retainer. No? That's comfort.
2nd Retainer. Peace, Cook! The Earl descends. Well, Gerard, see
The Earl at least! Come, there's a proper man,
I hope! Why, Ralph, no falcon, Pole or Swede,
Has got a starrier eye.
3rd Retainer. His eyes are blue:
But leave my hawks alone!
4th Retainer. So young, and yet
So tall and shapely!
5th Retainer. Here's Lord Tresham's self!
There now—there's what a nobleman should be!
He's older, graver, loftier, he's more like
A House's head.
2nd Retainer. But you'd not have a boy
—And what's the Earl beside?—possess too soon
1st Retainer. Our master takes his hand—
Richard and his white staff are on the move—
Back fall our people—(tsh!—there's Timothy
Sure to get tangled in his ribbon-ties,
And Peter's cursed rosette's a-coming off!)
—At last I see our lord's back and his friend's;
And the whole beautiful bright company
Close round them—in they go!
[Jumping down from the window-bench, and making for the table and its jugs.]
Good health, long life
Great joy to our Lord Tresham and his House!
6th Retainer. My father drove his father first to court,
After his marriage-day—ay, did he!
2nd Retainer. God bless
Lord Tresham, Lady Mildred, and the Earl!
Here, Gerard, reach your beaker!
Gerard. Drink, my boys!
Don't mind me—all's not right about me—drink!
2312nd Retainer [aside]. He's vexed, now, that he let the show escape!
[To Gerard.] Remember that the Earl returns this way.
Gerard. That way?
2nd Retainer. Just so.
Gerard. Then my way's here.
2nd Retainer. Old Gerard
Will die soon—mind, I said it! He was used
To care about the pitifullest thing
That touched the House's honor, not an eye
But his could see wherein: and on a cause
Of scarce a quarter this importance, Gerard
Fairly had fretted flesh and bone away
In cares that this was right, nor that was wrong,
Such point decorous, and such square by rule—
He knew such niceties, no herald more:
And now—you see his humor: die he will!
2nd Retainer. God help him! Who's for the great servant's hall
To hear what's going on inside? They'd follow
Lord Tresham into the saloon.
3rd Retainer. I!—
4th Retainer. I!—
Leave Frank alone for catching, at the door,
Some hint of how the parley goes inside!
Prosperity to the great House once more!
Here's the last drop!
1st Retainer. Have at you! Boys, hurrah!
Enter Lord Thesham, Lord Mertoun, Austin, and Guendolen.
Tresham. I welcome you, Lord Mertoun, yet once more,
To this ancestral roof of mine. Your name
—Noble among the noblest in itself,
Yet taking in your person, fame avers,
New price and lustre,—(as that gem you wear,
Transmitted from a hundred knightly breasts,
Fresh chased and set and fixed by its last lord,
Seems to re-kindle at the core)—your name
Would win you welcome!—
Tresham. —But add to that,
The worthiness and grace and dignity
Of your proposal for uniting both
Our Houses even closer than respect
Unites them now—add these, and you must grant
One favor more, nor that the least,—to think
The welcome I should give;—'tis given! My lord,
My only brother, Austin: he's the king's.
Our cousin, Lady Guendolen—betrothed
To Austin: all are yours.
Mertoun. I thank you—less
For the expressed commendings which your seal,
And only that, authenticates—forbids
My putting from me ... to my heart I take
Your praise ... but praise less claims my gratitude,
Than the indulgent insight it implies
Of what must needs be uppermost with one
Who comes, like me, with the bare leave to ask,
In weighed and measured unimpassioned words,
233A gift, which, if as calmly 'tis denied,
He must withdraw, content upon his cheek,
Despair within his soul. That I dare ask
Firmly, near boldly, near with confidence
That gift, I have to thank you. Yes, Lord Tresham,
I love your sister—as you'd have one love
That lady ... oh more, more I love her! Wealth,
Rank, all the world thinks me, they're yours, you know,
To hold or part with, at your choice—but grant
My true self, me without a rood of land,
A piece of gold, a name of yesterday,
Grant me that lady, and you ... Death or life?
Guendolen [apart to Austin]. Why, this is loving, Austin!
Austin. He's so young!
Guendolen. Young? Old enough, I think, to half surmise
He never had obtained an entrance here,
Were all this fear and trembling needed.
Guendolen. Mark him, Austin; that's true love!
Ours must begin again.
Tresham. We'll sit, my lord.
Ever with best desert goes diffidence.
I may speak plainly nor be misconceived.
That I am wholly satisfied with you
On this occasion, when a falcon's eye
Were dull compared with mine to search out faults,
Is somewhat. Mildred's hand is hers to give
Or to refuse.
Mertoun. But you, you grant my suit?
I have your word if hers?
Tresham. My best of words
If hers encourage you. I trust it will.
Have you seen Lady Mildred, by the way?
234Mertoun. I ... I ... our two demesnes, remember, touch;
I have been used to wander carelessly
After my stricken game: the heron roused
Deep in my woods, has trailed its broken wing
Thro' thicks and glades a mile in yours,—or else
Some eyass ill-reclaimed has taken flight
And lured me after her from tree to tree,
I marked not whither. I have come upon
The lady's wondrous beauty unaware,
And—and then ... I have seen her.
Guendolen [aside to Austin]. Note that mode
Of faltering out that, when a lady passed,
He, having eyes, did see her! You had said—
"On such a day I scanned her, head to foot;
Observed a red, where red should not have been,
Outside her elbow; but was pleased enough
Upon the whole." Let such irreverent talk
Be lessoned for the future!
Tresham. What's to say
May be said briefly. She has never known
A mother's care; I stand for father too.
Her beauty is not strange to you, it seems—
You cannot know the good and tender heart,
Its girl's trust and its woman's constancy,
How pure yet passionate, how calm yet kind,
How grave yet joyous, how reserved yet free
As light where friends are—how imbued with lore
The world most prizes, yet the simplest, yet
The ... one might know I talked of Mildred—thus
We brothers talk!
Mertoun. I thank you.
Tresham. In a word,
Control's not for this lady; but her wish
235To please me outstrips in its subtlety
My power of being pleased: herself creates
The want she means to satisfy. My heart
Prefers your suit to her as 'twere its own.
Can I say more?
Mertoun. No more—thanks, thanks—no more!
Tresham. This matter then discussed....
Mertoun. —We'll waste no breath
On aught less precious. I'm beneath the roof
Which holds her: while I thought of that, my speech
To you would wander—as it must not do,
Since as you favor me I stand or fall.
I pray you suffer that I take my leave!
Tresham. With less regret 't is suffered, that again
We meet, I hope, so shortly.
Mertoun. We? again?—
Ah yes, forgive me—when shall ... you will crown
Your goodness by forthwith apprising me
When ... if ... the lady will appoint a day
For me to wait on you—and her.
Tresham. So soon
As I am made acquainted with her thoughts
On your proposal—howsoe'er they lean—
A messenger shall bring you the result.
Mertoun. You cannot bind me more to you, my lord.
Farewell till we renew ... I trust, renew
A converse ne'er to disunite again.
Tresham. So may it prove!
Mertoun. You, lady, you, sir, take
My humble salutation!
Guendolen and Austin. Thanks!
Tresham. Within there!
[Servants enter. Tresham conducts Mertoun to the door. Meantime Austin remarks,
Here I have an advantage of the Earl,
Confess now! I'd not think that all was safe
Because my lady's brother stood my friend!
Why, he makes sure of her—"do you say, —
"She'll not say, no,"—what comes it to beside?
I should have prayed the brother, "speak this speech,
For Heaven's sake urge this on her—put in this—
Forget not, as you'd save me, t'other thing,—
Then set down what she says, and how she looks,
And if she smiles, and" (in an under breath)
"Only let her accept me, and do you
And all the world refuse me, if you dare!"
Guendolen. That way you'd take, friend Austin? What a shame
I was your cousin, tamely from the first
Your bride, and all this fervor's run to waste!
Do you know you speak sensibly to-day?
The Earl's a fool.
Austin. Here's Thorold. Tell him so!
Tresham [returning]. Now, voices, voices! 'St! the lady's first!
How seems he?—seems he not ... come, faith give fraud
The mercy-stroke whenever they engage!
Down with fraud, up with faith! How seems the Earl?
A name! a blazon! if you knew their worth,
As you will never! come—the Earl?
Guendolen. He's young.
Tresham. What's she? an infant save in heart and brain.
Young! Mildred is fourteen, remark! And you ...
Austin, how old is she?
Guendolen. There's tact for you!
I meant that being young was good excuse
If one should tax him....
Guendolen. —With lacking wit.
Tresham. He lacked wit? Where might he lack wit, so please you?
Guendolen. In standing straighter than the steward's rod
And making you the tiresomest harangue,
Instead of slipping over to my side
And softly whispering in my ear, "Sweet lady,
Your cousin there will do me detriment
He little dreams of: he's absorbed, I see,
In my old name and fame—be sure he'll leave
My Mildred, when his best account of me
Is ended, in full confidence I wear
My grandsire's periwig down either cheek.
I'm lost unless your gentleness vouchsafes"....
Tresham. ... "To give a best of best accounts, yourself,
Of me and my demerits." You are right!
He should have said what now I say for him.
Yon golden creature, will you help us all?
Here's Austin means to vouch for much, but you
—You are ... what Austin only knows! Come up,
All three of us: she's in the library
No doubt, for the day's wearing fast. Precede!
Guendolen. Austin, how we must—!
Tresham. Must what? Must speak truth,
Malignant tongue! Detect one fault in him!
I challenge you!
Guendolen. Witchcraft's a fault in him,
For you're bewitched.
Tresham. What's urgent we obtain
Is, that she soon receive him—say, to-morrow—
Next day at furthest.
Guendolen. Ne'er instruct me!
238—He's out of your good graces, since forsooth,
He stood not as he'd carry us by storm
With his perfections! You're for the composed
Manly assured becoming confidence!
—Get her to say, "to-morrow," and I'll give you ...
I'll give you black Urganda, to be spoiled
With petting and snail-paces. Will you? Come!
The story of the love of Mildred and Mertoun is the universally human one, and belongs to no one country or no one period of civilization more than another, but the attitude of all the actors in the tragedy belongs distinctively to the phase of moral culture which we saw illustrated in the youth of Sir Philip Sidney, and is characteristic of English ways of thinking whenever their moral force comes uppermost, as for example in the Puritan thought of the Cromwellian era.
The play is in a sense a problem play, though to most modern readers the tragedy of its ending is all too horrible a consequence of the sin. Dramatically and psychically, however, the tragedy is much more inevitable than that of Romeo and Juliet, whose love one naturally thinks of in the same connection. The catastrophe in the Shakespeare play is almost mechanically pushed to its conclusion through mere external blundering, easily to have been prevented. Juliet saw clearly where239 Mildred does not, that loyalty to a deep and true love should triumph over all minor considerations, so that in her case the tragedy is, in no sense, due to her blindness of vision. In the "Blot," lack of perception of the true values in life makes it impossible for Mildred or Tresham to act otherwise than they did. But having worked out their problem according to their lights, a new light of a more glorious day dawns upon them.
The ideal by which Tresham lives and moves and has his being is that of pride of birth, with honor and chastity as its watchwords. At the same time the idol of his life is his sister Mildred, over whom he has watched with a father's and mother's care. When the blow to his ideal comes at the hands of this much cherished sister, it is not to be wondered at that his reason almost deserts him. The greatest agony possible to the human soul is to have its ideals, the very food which has been the sustenance of its being, utterly ruined. The ideal may be a wrong one, or an impartial one, and through the wrack and ruin may dawn larger vision, but, unless the nature be a marvelously developed one the storm that breaks when an ideal is shattered is overwhelming.
It would be equally true of Mildred that, nurtured as she had been and as young Eng240lish girls usually are, in great purity, even ignorance of all things pertaining to life, the sense of her sin would be so overwhelming as to blind her to any possible means of expiation except the most extreme. And indeed may it not be said that only those who can see as Mertoun and Guendolen did that genuine and loyal love is no less love because, in a conventional sense, it has sinned,—only those would acknowledge, as Tresham, indeed, does after he has murdered Mertoun, how perfect the love of Mildred and Mertoun was. Sin flourishes only when insincerity tricks itself out in the garb of love, and on the whole it is well that human beings should have an abiding sense of their own and others insincerity, and test themselves by their willingness to acknowledge their love before God and man. There are many Mildreds but few Mertouns. It is little wonder that Dickens wrote with such enthusiasm of this play that he knew no love like that of Mildred and Mertoun, no passion like it.
One does not need to discuss whether murders were possible in English social life. They are possible in all life at all times as long as men and women allow their passions to overthrow their reason. The last act, however, illustrates the English poise already referred241 to; Tresham regains his equilibrium with enlarged vision, his salvation is accomplished, his soul awakened.
Enter Tresham through the trees.
Again here! But I cannot lose myself.
The heath—the orchard—I have traversed glades
And dells and bosky paths which used to lead
Into green wild-wood depths, bewildering
My boy's adventurous step. And now they tend
Hither or soon or late; the blackest shade
Breaks up, the thronged trunks of the trees ope wide,
And the dim turret I have fled from, fronts
Again my step: the very river put
Its arm about me and conducted me
To this detested spot. Why then, I'll shun
Their will no longer: do your will with me!
Oh, bitter! To have reared a towering scheme
Of happiness, and to behold it razed,
Were nothing: all men hope, and see their hopes
Frustrate, and grieve awhile, and hope anew.
But I ... to hope that from a line like ours
No horrid prodigy like this would spring,
Were just as though I hoped that from these old
Confederates against the sovereign day,
Children of older and yet older sires,
Whose living coral berries dropped, as now
On me, on many a baron's surcoat once,
On many a beauty's wimple—would proceed
242No poison-tree, to thrust, from hell its root,
Hither and thither its strange snaky arms.
Why came I here? What must I do? [A bell strikes.] A bell?
Midnight! and 'tis at midnight.... Ah, I catch
—Woods, river, plains, I catch your meaning now,
And I obey you! Hist! This tree will serve.
[He retires behind one of the trees. After a pause, enter Mertoun cloaked as before.
Mertoun. Not time! Beat out thy last voluptuous beat
Of hope and fear, my heart! I thought the clock
I' the chapel struck as I was pushing through
The ferns. And so I shall no more see rise
My love-star! Oh, no matter for the past!
So much the more delicious task to watch
Mildred revive: to pluck out, thorn by thorn,
All traces of the rough forbidden path
My rash love lured her to! Each day must see
Some fear of hers effaced, some hope renewed:
Then there will be surprises, unforeseen
Delights in store. I'll not regret the past.
[The light is placed above in the purple pane.
And see, my signal rises, Mildred's star!
I never saw it lovelier than now
It rises for the last time. If it sets,
'Tis that the re-assuring sun may dawn.
[As he prepares to ascend the last tree of the avenue, Tresham arrests his arm.
Unhand me—peasant, by your grasp! Here's gold.
'Twas a mad freak of mine. I said I'd pluck
A branch from the white-blossomed shrub beneath
The casement there. Take this, and hold your peace.
Tresham. Into the moonlight yonder, come with me!
243Out of the shadow!
Mertoun. I am armed, fool!
Or no? You'll come into the light, or no?
My hand is on your throat—refuse!—
Mertoun. That voice!
Where have I heard ... no—that was mild and slow.
I'll come with you.
Tresham. You're armed: that's well. Declare
Your name: who are you?
Mertoun. (Tresham!—she is lost!)
Tresham. Oh, silent? Do you know, you bear yourself
Exactly as, in curious dreams I've had
How felons, this wild earth is full of, look
When they're detected, still your kind has looked!
The bravo holds an assured countenance,
The thief is voluble and plausible,
But silently the slave of lust has crouched
When I have fancied it before a man.
Mertoun. I do conjure Lord Tresham—ay,
Kissing his foot, if so I might prevail—
That he for his own sake forbear to ask
My name! As heaven's above, his future weal
Or woe depends upon my silence! Vain!
I read your white inexorable face.
Know me, Lord Tresham!
[He throws off his disguises.
[After a pause.] Draw now!
Mertoun. Hear me
But speak first!
Tresham. Not one least word on your life!
Be sure that I will strangle in your throat
244The least word that informs me how you live
And yet seem what you seem! No doubt 'twas you
Taught Mildred still to keep that face and sin.
We should join hands in frantic sympathy
If you once taught me the unteachable,
Explained how you can live so, and so lie.
With God's help I retain, despite my sense,
The old belief—a life like yours is still
Impossible. Now draw!
Mertoun. Not for my sake,
Do I entreat a hearing—for your sake,
And most, for her sake!
Tresham. Ha ha, what should I
Know of your ways? A miscreant like yourself,
How must one rouse his ire? A blow?—that's pride
No doubt, to him! One spurns him, does one not?
Or sets the foot upon his mouth, or spits
Into his face! Come! Which, or all of these?
Mertoun. 'Twixt him and me and Mildred, Heaven be judge!
Can I avoid this? Have your will, my lord!
[He draws and, after a few passes, falls.
Tresham. You are not hurt?
Mertoun. You'll hear me now!
Tresham. But rise!
Mertoun. Ah, Tresham, say I not "you'll hear me now!"
And what procures a man the right to speak
In his defense before his fellow man,
But—I suppose—the thought that presently
He may have leave to speak before his God
His whole defense?
Tresham. Not hurt? It cannot be!
You made no effort to resist me. Where
Did my sword reach you? Why not have returned
245My thrusts? Hurt where?
Mertoun. My lord—
Tresham. How young he is!
Mertoun. Lord Tresham, I am very young, and yet
I have entangled other lives with mine.
Do let me speak, and do believe my speech!
That when I die before you presently,—
Tresham. Can you stay here till I return with help?
Mertoun. Oh, stay by me! When I was less than boy
I did you grievous wrong and knew it not—
Upon my honor, knew it not! Once known,
I could not find what seemed a better way
To right you than I took: my life—you feel
How less than nothing were the giving you
The life you've taken! But I thought my way
The better—only for your sake and hers:
And as you have decided otherwise,
Would I had an infinity of lives
To offer you! Now say—instruct me—think!
Can you, from the brief minutes I have left,
Eke out my reparation? Oh think—think!
For I must wring a partial—dare I say,
Forgiveness from you, ere I die?
Tresham. I do
Mertoun. Wait and ponder that great word!
Because, if you forgive me, I shall hope
To speak to you of—Mildred!
Tresham. Mertoun, haste
And anger have undone us. 'Tis not you
Should tell me for a novelty you're young,
Thoughtless, unable to recall the past.
Be but your pardon ample as my own!
Mertoun. Ah, Tresham, that a sword-stroke and a drop
Of blood or two, should bring all this about!
Why, 'twas my very fear of you, my love
Of you—(what passion like a boy's for one
Like you?)—that ruined me! I dreamed of you—
You, all accomplished, courted everywhere,
The scholar and the gentleman. I burned
To knit myself to you: but I was young,
And your surpassing reputation kept me
So far aloof! Oh, wherefore all that love?
With less of love, my glorious yesterday
Of praise and gentlest words and kindest looks,
Had taken place perchance six months ago.
Even now, how happy we had been! And yet
I know the thought of this escaped you, Tresham!
Let me look up into your face; I feel
'Tis changed above me: yet my eyes are glazed.
[As he endeavors to raise himself, his eye catches the lamp.
Ah, Mildred! What will Mildred do?
Tresham, her life is bound up in the life
That's bleeding fast away! I'll live—must live,
There, if you'll only turn me I shall live
And save her! Tresham—oh, had you but heard!
Had you but heard! What right was yours to set
The thoughtless foot upon her life and mine,
And then say, as we perish, "Had I thought,
All had gone otherwise?" We've sinned and die:
Never you sin, Lord Tresham! for you'll die,
And God will judge you.
Tresham. Yes, be satisfied!
That process is begun.
Mertoun. And she sits there
Waiting for me! Now, say you this to her—
247You, not another—say, I saw him die
As he breathed this, "I love her"—you don't know
What those three small words mean! Say, loving her
Lowers me down the bloody slope to death
With memories ... I speak to her, not you,
Who had no pity, will have no remorse,
Perchance intend her.... Die along with me,
Dear Mildred! 'tis so easy, and you'll 'scape
So much unkindness! Can I lie at rest,
With rude speech spoken to you, ruder deeds
Done to you?—heartless men shall have my heart,
And I tied down with grave-clothes and the worm,
Aware, perhaps, of every blow—oh God!—
Upon those lips—yet of no power to tear
The felon stripe by stripe! Die, Mildred! Leave
Their honorable world to them! For God
We're good enough, though the world casts us out.
[A whistle is heard.
Tresham. Ho, Gerard!
Enter Gerard, Austin and Guendolen, with lights.
No one speak! You see what's done.
I cannot bear another voice.
Mertoun. There's light—
Light all about me, and I move to it.
Tresham, did I not tell you—did you not
Just promise to deliver words of mine
Tresham. I will bear these words to her.
Tresham. Now. Lift you the body, and leave me
[As they half raise Mertoun, he turns suddenly.
Mertoun. I knew they turned me: turn me not from her!
248There! stay you! there!
Guendolen [after a pause]. Austin, remain you here
With Thorold until Gerard comes with help:
Then lead him to his chamber. I must go
Tresham. Guendolen, I hear each word
You utter. Did you hear him bid me give
His message? Did you hear my promise? I,
And only I, see Mildred.
Guendolen. She will die.
Tresham. Oh no, she will not die! I dare not hope
She'll die. What ground have you to think she'll die?
Why, Austin's with you!
Austin. Had we but arrived
Before you fought!
Tresham. There was no fight at all.
He let me slaughter him—the boy! I'll trust
The body there to you and Gerard—thus!
Now bear him on before me.
Austin. Whither bear him?
Tresham. Oh, to my chamber! When we meet there next,
We shall be friends.
[They bear out the body of Mertoun.
Will she die, Guendolen?
Guendolen. Where are you taking me?
Tresham. He fell just here.
Now answer me. Shall you in your whole life
—You who have nought to do with Mertoun's fate,
Now you have seen his breast upon the turf,
Shall you e'er walk this way if you can help?
When you and Austin wander arm-in-arm
Through our ancestral grounds, will not a shade
Be ever on the meadow and the waste—
249Another kind of shade than when the night
Shuts the woodside with all its whispers up?
But will you ever so forget his breast
As carelessly to cross this bloody turf
Under the black yew avenue? That's well!
You turn your head: and I then?—
Guendolen. What is done
Is done. My care is for the living. Thorold,
Bear up against this burden: more remains
To set the neck to!
Tresham. Dear and ancient trees
My fathers planted, and I loved so well!
What have I done that, like some fabled crime
Of yore, lets loose a Fury leading thus
Her miserable dance amidst you all?
Oh, never more for me shall winds intone
With all your tops a vast antiphony,
Demanding and responding in God's praise!
Hers ye are now, not mine! Farewell—farewell!
He comes not! I have heard of those who seemed
Resourceless in prosperity,—you thought
Sorrow might slay them when she listed; yet
Did they so gather up their diffused strength
At her first menace, that they bade her strike,
And stood and laughed her subtlest skill to scorn.
Oh, 'tis not so with me! The first woe fell,
And the rest fall upon it, not on me:
Else should I bear that Henry comes not?—fails
Just this first night out of so many nights?
Loving is done with. Were he sitting now,
As so few hours since, on that seat, we'd love
250No more—contrive no thousand happy ways
To hide love from the loveless, any more.
I think I might have urged some little point
In my defense, to Thorold; he was breathless
For the least hint of a defense: but no,
The first shame over, all that would might fall.
No Henry! Yet I merely sit and think
The morn's deed o'er and o'er. I must have crept
Out of myself. A Mildred that has lost
Her lover—oh, I dare not look upon
Such woe! I crouch away from it! 'Tis she,
Mildred, will break her heart, not I! The world
Forsakes me: only Henry's left me—left?
When I have lost him, for he does not come,
And I sit stupidly.... Oh Heaven, break up
This worse than anguish, this mad apathy,
By any means or any messenger!
Tresham [without]. Mildred!
Mildred. Come in! Heaven hears me!
[Enter Tresham.] You? alone?
Oh, no more cursing!
Tresham. Mildred, I must sit.
Mildred. Say it, Thorold—do not look
The curse! deliver all you come to say!
What must become of me? Oh, speak that thought
Which makes your brow and cheeks so pale!
Tresham. My thought?
Mildred. All of it!
Tresham. How we waded—years ago—
After those water-lilies, till the plash,
I know not how, surprised us; and you dared
Neither advance nor turn back: so, we stood
Laughing and crying until Gerard came—
251Once safe upon the turf, the loudest too,
For once more reaching the relinquished prize!
How idle thoughts are, some men's, dying men's!
Mildred. You call me kindlier by my name
Than even yesterday: what is in that?
Tresham. It weighs so much upon my mind that I
This morning took an office not my own!
I might ... of course, I must be glad or grieved,
Content or not, at every little thing
That touches you. I may with a wrung heart
Even reprove you, Mildred; I did more:
Will you forgive me?
Mildred. Thorold? do you mock?
Or no ... and yet you bid me ... say that word!
Tresham. Forgive me, Mildred!—are you silent, Sweet?
Mildred [starting up]. Why does not Henry Mertoun come to-night?
Are you, too, silent?
[Dashing his mantle aside, and pointing to his scabbard, which is empty.
Ah, this speaks for you!
You've murdered Henry Mertoun! Now proceed!
What is it I must pardon? This and all?
Well, I do pardon you—I think I do.
Thorold, how very wretched you must be!
Tresham. He bade me tell you....
Mildred. What I do forbid
Your utterance of! So much that you may tell
And will not—how you murdered him ... but, no!
You'll tell me that he loved me, never more
Than bleeding out his life there: must I say
"Indeed," to that? Enough! I pardon you.
Tresham. You cannot, Mildred! for the harsh words, yes:
252Of this last deed Another's judge: whose doom
I wait in doubt, despondency and fear.
Mildred. Oh, true! There's nought for me to pardon! True!
You loose my soul of all its cares at once.
Death makes me sure of him for ever! You
Tell me his last words? He shall tell me them,
And take my answer—not in words, but reading
Himself the heart I had to read him late,
Tresham. Death? You are dying too? Well said
Of Guendolen! I dared not hope you'd die:
But she was sure of it.
Mildred. Tell Guendolen
I loved her, and tell Austin....
Tresham. Him you loved:
Mildred. Ah, Thorold! Was't not rashly done
To quench that blood, on fire with youth and hope
And love of me—whom you loved too, and yet
Suffered to sit here waiting his approach
While you were slaying him? Oh, doubtlessly
You let him speak his poor boy's speech
—Do his poor utmost to disarm your wrath
And respite me!—you let him try to give
The story of our love and ignorance,
And the brief madness and the long despair—
You let him plead all this, because your code
Of honor bids you hear before you strike:
But at the end, as he looked up for life
Into your eyes—you struck him down!
Tresham. No! No!
Had I but heard him—had I let him speak
Half the truth—less—had I looked long on him
253I had desisted! Why, as he lay there,
The moon on his flushed cheek, I gathered all
The story ere he told it: I saw through
The troubled surface of his crime and yours
A depth of purity immovable,
Had I but glanced, where all seemed turbidest
Had gleamed some inlet to the calm beneath;
I would not glance: my punishment's at hand.
There, Mildred, is the truth! and you—say on—
You curse me?
Mildred. As I dare approach that Heaven
Which has not bade a living thing despair,
Which needs no code to keep its grace from stain,
But bids the vilest worm that turns on it
Desist and be forgiven,—I—forgive not,
But bless you, Thorold, from my soul of souls!
[Falls on his neck.
There! Do not think too much upon the past!
The cloud that's broke was all the same a cloud
While it stood up between my friend and you;
You hurt him 'neath its shadow: but is that
So past retrieve? I have his heart, you know;
I may dispose of it: I give it you!
It loves you as mine loves! Confirm me, Henry!
Tresham. I wish thee joy, Beloved! I am glad
In thy full gladness!
Guendolen [without]. Mildred! Tresham! [Entering with Austin.] Thorold,
I could desist no longer. Ah, she swoons!
Tresham. Oh, better far than that!
Guendolen. She's dead!
Let me unlock her arms!
Tresham. She threw them thus
254About my neck, and blessed me, and then died:
You'll let them stay now, Guendolen!
Austin. Leave her
And look to him! What ails you, Thorold?
As she, and whiter! Austin! quick—this side!
Austin. A froth is oozing through his clenched teeth;
Both lips, where they're not bitten through, are black:
Speak, dearest Thorold!
Tresham. Something does weigh down
My neck beside her weight: thanks: I should fall
But for you, Austin, I believe!—there, there,
'Twill pass away soon!—ah,—I had forgotten:
I am dying.
Guendolen. Thorold—Thorold—why was this?
Tresham. I said, just as I drank the poison off,
The earth would be no longer earth to me,
The life out of all life was gone from me.
There are blind ways provided, the foredone
Heart-weary player in this pageant-world
Drops out by, letting the main masque defile
By the conspicuous portal: I am through—
Guendolen. Don't leave him, Austin! Death is close.
Tresham. Already Mildred's face is peacefuller.
I see you, Austin—feel you: here's my hand,
Put yours in it—you, Guendolen, yours too!
You're lord and lady now—you're Treshams; name
And fame are yours: you hold our 'scutcheon up.
Austin, no blot on it! You see how blood
Must wash one blot away: the first blot came
And the first blood came. To the vain world's eye
All's gules again: no care to the vain world,
From whence the red was drawn!
255Austin. No blot shall come!
Tresham. I said that: yet it did come. Should it come,
Vengeance is God's, not man's. Remember me!
Guendolen [letting fall the pulseless arm]. Ah, Thorold, we can but—remember you!
In "Ned Bratts," Browning has given a striking picture of the influence exerted by Bunyan upon some of his wicked contemporaries. The poet took his hints for the story from Bunyan himself, who tells it as follows in the "Life and Death of Mr. Badman."
"At a summer assizes holden at Hertford, while the judge was sitting upon the bench, comes this old Tod into the Court, clothed in a green suit, with his leathern girdle in his hand, his bosom open, and all on a dung sweat, as if he had run for his life; and being come in, he spake aloud, as follows: 'My lord,' said he, 'here is the veriest rogue that breathes upon the face of the earth. I have been a thief from a child: when I was but a little one, I gave myself to rob orchards and to do other such like wicked things, and I have continued a thief ever since. My lord, there has not been a robbery committed these many years, within so many miles of this place, but I have either been at it, or privy to it.' The judge thought the fellow was mad, but after some256 conference with some of the justices, they agreed to indict him; and so they did of several felonious actions; to all of which he heartily confessed guilty, and so was hanged, with his wife at the same time."
Browning had the happy thought of placing this episode in Bedford amid the scenes of Bunyan's labors and imprisonment. Bunyan, himself, was tried at the Bedford Assizes upon the charge of preaching things he should not, or according to some accounts for preaching without having been ordained, and was sentenced to twelve years' imprisonment in the Bedford Jail. At one time it was thought that he wrote "Pilgrim's Progress" during this imprisonment, but Dr. Brown, in his biography of Bunyan conjectured that this book was not begun until a later and shorter imprisonment of 1675-76, in the town prison and toll-house on Bedford Bridge. Dr. Brown supposes that the portion of the book written in prison closes where Christian and Hopeful part from the shepherds on the Delectable Mountains. "At that point a break in the narrative is indicated—'So I awoke from my dream;' it is resumed with the words—'And I slept and dreamed again, and saw the same two pilgrims going down the mountains along the highway towards the city.' Already from the top of an257 high hill called 'Clear,' the Celestial City was in view; dangers there were still to be encountered; but to have reached that high hill and to have seen something like a gate, and some of the glory of the place, was an attainment and an incentive." There Bunyan could pause. Several years later the pilgrimage of Christiana was written.
Browning, however, adopts the tradition that the book was written during the twelve years' imprisonment, and makes use of the story of Bunyan's having supported himself during this time by making tagged shoe-laces. He brings in, also, the little blind daughter to whom Bunyan was said to be devoted. The Poet was evidently under the impression also that the assizes were held in a courthouse, but there is good authority for thinking that at that time they were held in the chapel of Herne. Nothing remains of this building now, but it was situated at the southwest corner of the churchyard of St. Paul, and was spoken of sometimes as the School-house chapel.
Ned Bratts and his wife did not know, of course, that they actually lived in the land of the "Pilgrim's Progress." This has been pointed out only recently in a fascinating little book by A. J. Foster of Wootton Vicarage, Bedfordshire. He has been a pilgrim from258 Elstow, the village where Bunyan was born near Bedford, through all the surrounding country, and has fixed upon many spots beautiful and otherwise which he believes were transmuted in Bunyan's imagination into the House Beautiful, The Delectable Mountains, Vanity Fair and so on through nearly all the scenes of Christian's journey.
The House Beautiful he identifies with Houghton House in the manor of Dame Ellen's Bury. This is one of the most interesting of the country houses of England, because of its connection with Sir Philip Sidney's sister, Mary Sidney. After the death of her husband, Lord Pembroke, James I. presented her with the royal manor of Dame Ellen's Bury, and under the guidance of Inigo Jones, it is generally supposed, Houghton House was built. It is in ruins now and covered with ivy. Trees have grown within the ruins themselves. Still it is one of the most beautiful spots in Bedfordshire. "In Bunyan's time," Mr. Foster writes, "we may suppose the northern slope of Houghton Park was a series of terraces rising one above another, and laid out in the stiff garden fashion of the time. A flight of steps, or maybe a steep path, would lead from one terrace to the next, and gradually the view over the plain of Bed259ford would reveal itself to the traveler as he mounted higher and higher."
From Houghton House there is a view of the Chiltern Hills. Mr. Foster is of the opinion that Bunyan had this view in mind when he described Christian as looking from the roof of the House Beautiful southwards towards the Delectable Mountains. He writes, "One of the main roads to London from Bedford, and the one, moreover, which passes through Elstow, crosses the hills only a little more than a mile east of Houghton House, and Bunyan, in his frequent journeys to London, no doubt often passed along this road. All in this direction was, therefore, to him familiar ground. Many a pleasant walk or ride came back to him through memory, as he took pen in hand to describe Hill Difficulty with its steep path and its arbor, and the House Beautiful with its guest-chamber, its large upper room looking eastward, its study and its armory.
"Many a time did Bunyan, as he journeyed, look southwards to the blue Chilterns, and when the time came he placed together all that he had seen, as the frame in which he should set his way-faring pilgrim."
Pleasant as it would be to follow with Mr. Foster his journey through the real scenes of260 the "Pilgrim's Progress," our main interest at present is to observe how Browning's facile imagination has presented the conversion, through the impression made upon them by Bunyan's book, of Ned and his wife.
The effect which "Pilgrim's Progress" had on these two miserable beings, may be taken as typical of the enormous influence wielded by Bunyan in his own time. The most innocent among us had overwhelming qualms in regard to our sins, as children when we listened to our mothers read the book. I remember having confessed some childish peccadillo that was weighing on my small mind as the first result of my thoroughly aroused sense of guilt. In these early years of the Twentieth Century, such a feeling seems almost as far removed as the days of Bunyan. A sense of guilt is not a distinguishing characteristic of the child of the present day, and it may also be doubted whether such reprobates as Ned and his wife would to-day be affected much if at all by the "Pilgrim's Progress." There was probably great personal magnetism in Bunyan himself. We are told that after his discharge from prison, his273 popularity as a preacher widened rapidly. Such vast crowds of people flocked to hear him that his place of worship had to be enlarged. He went frequently to London on week days to deliver addresses in the large chapel in Southwark which was invariably thronged with eager worshipers.
Browning's picture of Bunyan shows the instant effect of his personality upon Tab.
It is like a clever bit of stage business to make Ned and Tab use the shoe laces to tie up the hands of their victims, and to bring on by this means the meeting between Tab and Bunyan. Of course, the blind daughter's part is imaginary, but yet it seems to bring very vividly before us this well loved child. Another touch, quite in keeping with the time,274 is the decision of the Judge that the remarkable change of heart in Ned and Tab was due to the piety of King Charles. Like every one else, however, he was impressed by what he heard of the Tinker, and inclined to see what he could do to give him his freedom. It seems that Bunyan's life in jail was a good deal lightened by the favor he always inspired. The story goes that from the first he was in favor with the jailor, who nearly lost his place for permitting him on one occasion to go as far as London. After this he was more strictly confined, but at last he was often allowed to visit his family, and remain with them all night. One night, however, when he was allowed this liberty Bunyan felt resistlessly impressed with the propriety of returning to the prison. He arrived after the keeper had shut up for the night, much to the official's surprise. But his impatience at being untimely disturbed was changed to thankfulness, when a little after a messenger came from a neighboring clerical magistrate to see that the prisoner was safe. "You may go now when you will" said the jailer; "for you know better than I can tell you when to come in again."
Statue by J. E. Boehm
Though Bunyan is not primarily the subject of this poem, it is an appreciative tribute275 to his genius and to his force of character, only to be paralleled by Dowden's sympathetic critique in his "Puritan and Anglican Studies." What Browning makes Ned and Tab see through suddenly aroused feeling—namely that it is no book but
Dowden puts in the colder language of criticism.
"The 'Pilgrim's Progress' is a gallery of portraits, admirably discriminated, and as convincing in their self-verification as those of Holbein. His personages live for us as few figures outside the drama of Shakespeare live.... All his powers cooperated harmoniously in creating this book—his religious ardor, his human tenderness, his sense of beauty, nourished by the Scriptures, his strong common sense, even his gift of humor. Through his deep seriousness play the lighter faculties. The whole man presses into this small volume."
"Halbert and Hob" belongs here merely for its wild North of England setting. We may imagine, if we choose, that this wild father and son dwelt in the beautiful country of Northumberland, in the North of England,276 but descriptions of the scenery could add nothing to the atmosphere of the poem, for Northumberland is surpassingly lovely. Doubtless, human beings of this type have existed in all parts of the globe. At any rate, these particular human beings were transported by Browning from Aristotle's "Ethics" to the North of England. The incident is told by Aristotle in illustration of the contention that anger and asperity are more natural than excessive and unnecessary desires. "Thus one who was accused of striking his father said, as an apology for it, that his own father, and even his grandfather, had struck his; 'and he also (pointing to his child) will strike me, when he becomes a man; for it runs in our family.' A certain person, also, being dragged by his son, bid him stop at the door, for he himself had dragged his father as far as that." The dryness of "Aristotle's " is as usual so enlivened by Browning that the fate of Halbert and Hob grows pathetic and comes close to our sympathies.
In the "Inn Album," a degenerate type of Nineteenth-Century Englishman is dissected with the keen knife of a surgeon, which Browning knows so well how to wield. The villain of this poem was a real personage, a Lord de Ros, a friend of the Duke of Wellington. The story belongs to the annals of crime and is necessarily unpleasant, but in order to see how Browning has worked up the episode it is interesting to know the bare facts as Furnivall gives them in "Notes and Queries" March 25, 1876. He says "that the gambling lord showed the portrait of the lady he had seduced and abandoned and offered his dupe an introduction to her, as a bribe to induce him to wait for payment of the money he had won; that the young gambler eagerly accepted the offer; and that the lady committed suicide on hearing of the bargain between them." Dr. Furnivall heard the story from some one who well remembered the sensation it had made in London281 years ago. In his management of the story, Browning has intensified the villainy of the Lord at the same time that he has shown a possible streak of goodness in him. The young man, on the other hand, he has made to be of very good stuff, indeed, notwithstanding his year of tutelage from the older man. He makes one radical change in the story as well as several minor ones. In the poem the younger man had been in love with the girl whom the older man had dishonorably treated, and had never ceased to love her. Of course, the two men do not know this. By the advice of the elder man, the younger one has decided to settle down and marry his cousin, a charming young girl, who is also brought upon the scene. The other girl is represented as having married an old country parson, who sought a wife simply as a helpmeet in his work. By thus complicating the situations, room has been given for subtle psychic development. The action is all concentrated into one morning in the parlor of the old inn, reminding one much of the method of Ibsen in his plays of grouping his action about a final catastrophe. At the inn one is introduced first to the two gamblers in talk, the young man having won his ten thousand pounds from the older man, who had intended282 to fleece him. The inn album plays an important part in the action, innocent as its first appearance upon the scene seems to be. The description of this and the inn parlor opens the poem.
Circumstantial as the description of this parlor and the situation of the inn is, it is impossible to say which out of the many English inns Browning had in mind. Inns date back to the days of the Romans, who had ale-houses along the roads, the most interesting feature of which was the ivy garland or wreath of vine-leaves in honor of Bacchus, wreathed around a hoop at the end of a long pole to point out the way where good drink could be had. A curious survival of this in early English times was the "ale-stake," a tavern so called because it had a long pole projecting from the house front wreathed like the old Roman poles with furze, a garland of flowers or an ivy wreath. This decoration was called the "bush," and in time the London taverners so vied with each other in their attempt to attract attention by very long poles and very prominent bushes that in 1375286 a law was passed according to which all taverners in the city of London owning ale-stakes projecting or extending over the King's highway more than seven feet in length, at the utmost, should be fined forty pence, and compelled to remove the sign. Here is the origin, too, of the proverb, "good wine needs no bush." In the later development of the inn the signs lost their Bacchic character and became most elaborate, often being painted by artists.
The poet says this inn was the "Something-arms," and had perhaps once been a house. Many inns were the "Something (?) arms" and certainly many inns had been houses. One such is the Pounds Bridge Inn on a secluded road between Speldhurst and Penshurst in Kent. It was built by the rector of Penshurst, William Darkenoll, who lived in it only three years, when it became an inn. The inn of the poem might have been a combination in Browning's memory of this and the "White Horse" at Woolstone, which is described as a queerly pretty little inn with a front distantly resembling a Chippendale bureau-bookcase. "It is tucked away under the mighty sides of White Horse Hill, Berkshire, and additionally overhung with trees and encircled with shrubberies and under-287woods, and is finally situated on a narrow road that presently leads, as it would seem, to the end of the known world." So writes the enthusiastic lover of inns, Charles Harper. Or, perhaps, since there is a river to be seen from the inn of the poem the "Swan" at Sandleford Water, where a foot bridge and a water splash on the river Enborne mark the boundaries of Hampshire and Berkshire. Here "You have the place wholly to yourself, or share it only with the squirrels and the birds of the overarching trees." The illustration given of the Black Bear Inn, Tewksbury, is a quite typical example of inn architecture, and may have helped the picture in Browning's mind, though its situation is not so rural as that described in the poem.
Inns have, from time immemorial, been the scenes of romances and tragedies and crimes. There have been inns like the "Castle" where the "quality" loved to congregate. The "inn album" of this establishment had inscribed in it almost every eighteenth-century name of any distinction. There have been inns which were noted as the resort of the wits of the day. Ben Jonson loved to take "mine ease in mine inn," and Dr. Johnson declared that a seat in a tavern chair was the height of human felicity. "He was thinking," as it has288 been pertinently put, "not only of a comfortable sanded parlor, a roaring fire, and plenty of good cheer and good company, but also of the circle of humbly appreciative auditors who gathered round an accepted wit, hung upon his words, offered themselves as butts for his ironic or satiric humor, and—stood treat." Or there was the inn of sinister aspect where highwaymen might congregate, or inns with hosts who let their guests down through trap-doors in the middle of the night to rob and murder them—or is this only a vague remembrance of a fanciful inn of Dickens? Then there was the pilgrim's inn in the days when Chaucerian folks loved to go on pilgrimages, and in the last century the cyclists inn, and to-day the inn of the automobilist. The particular inn in the poem belongs to the class, rural inn, and in spite of its pictures by noted masters was "stuffy" as to the atmosphere.
The "inn album" or visitors' book is a feature of inns. In this country we simply sign our names in the visitors' book, but the "album" feature of the visitors' book of an English inn is its glory and too often its shame, for as Mr. Harper says, "Bathos, ineptitude, and lines that refuse to scan are the stigmata of visitors' book verse. There is289 no worse poetry on earth than that which lurks between those covers, or in the pages of young ladies' albums." He declares that "The interesting pages of visitors' books are generally those that are not there, as an Irishman might say; for the world is populated very densely with those appreciative people who, whether from a love of literature, or with an instinct for collecting autographs that may have a realizable value, remove the signatures of distinguished men, and with them anything original they may have written."
Browning pokes fun at the poetry of his inn album, but at the same time uses it as an important part of the machinery in the action. His English "Iago" writes in it the final damnation of his own character—the threat by means of which he hopes to ruin his victims, but which, instead, causes the lady to take poison and the young man to murder "Iago."
The presence of the two men at this particular inn is explained in the following bit of conversation between them.
On the way to the station where the older man is to take the train they have another talk, in which each tells the other of his experience, but they do not find out yet that they have both loved the same woman.
They become so deeply interested in this talk that the train is missed, and, in the meantime, the lady who now lives in the neighborhood as the wife of the hard-working country parson meets the young girl at the inn. They are great friends and have come there, at the girl's invitation, to talk over her prospective husband. She desires her friend to come to her home and meet her fiancé, but the lady, who is in constant fear of meeting "Iago," never goes anywhere, and proposes a meeting with him at the inn. While she waits, "Iago" comes in upon her. There is a terrible scene of recrimination between these two, the man again daring to prefer his love. The lady scorns him. Horror is added to horror when the young man appears at the door, and recognizes the woman he really loves. His faith in her and his love are shaken for a moment, but return immediately and he stands her true friend and lover. The complete despicableness of "Iago's" nature finally reveals itself in the lines he writes in the album and gives to the lady to read. The poem is too long to quote in full. The closing scene, however, will give the reader a good idea of307 the poet's handling of this nineteenth-century tragedy.
The true nobility of soul of the younger man links him with Mertoun among Browning's heroes and represents the Englishman or the man of any country for that matter at his highest. Whether redemption for the older man would have been possible had the lady believed him in the inn parlor is doubtful. Such natures are like Ibsen's "Peer Gynt." They need to be put into a button mould and moulded over again.
RELIGIOUS THOUGHT IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY
In "Bishop Blougram's Apology" and "Christmas-Eve and Easter Day," Browning has covered the main tendencies in religious thought of the nineteenth century in England; and possibly "Caliban" might be included as representative of Calvinistic survivals of the century.
The two most strongly marked of these tendencies have been shown in the Tractarian Movement which took Anglican in the direction of High Churchism and Catholicism, and in the Scientific Movement which led in the direction of Agnosticism.
The battle between the Church of Rome and the Church of England was waged the latter part of the first half of the century, and the greater battle between science and religion came on in its full strength the middle of the century when the influence of Spencer, Darwin, Tyndall, Huxley and other men of science began to make itself felt, as well as323 that of such critics of historical Christianity as Strauss in Germany and Renan in France. The influence of the dissenting bodies,—the Presbyterians and the Methodists—also became a power during the century. Broadly speaking, it may be said that the development has been in the direction of the utmost freedom of conscience in the matter of religion, though the struggles of humanity to arrive there even during this century are distressing to look back upon; and occasionally one is held up even in America to-day by the ghost of religious persecution.
It is an open secret that in Bishop Blougram, Browning meant to portray Cardinal Wiseman, whose connection with the Tractarian Movement is of great interest in the history of this movement. Browning enjoyed hugely the joke that Cardinal Wiseman himself reviewed the poem. The Cardinal praised it as a poem, though he did not consider the attitude of a priest of Rome to be properly interpreted. A comparison of the poem with opinions expressed by the Cardinal as well as a glimpse into his activities will show how far Browning has done him justice.
It is well to remember at the outset that the poet's own view is neither that of Blougram nor of the literary man Gigadibs, with whom324 Blougram talks over his wine. Gigadibs is an agnostic and cannot understand how a man of Blougram's fine intellectual and artistic perceptions is able so implicitly to believe in Catholic doctrine. Blougram's apology for himself amounts to this,—that he does not believe with absolute certainty any more than does Gigadibs; but, on the other hand, Gigadibs does not disbelieve with absolute certainty, so Blougram's state is one of belief shaken occasionally by doubt, while Gigadibs is one of unbelief shaken by fits of belief.
The advantage of making belief instead of unbelief the starting point is, Blougram contends, that he lives by what he finds the most to his taste; giving him as it does, power, distinction and beauty in life as well as hope in the life to come.
Turning to the life of Cardinal Wiseman, it is of especial interest in connection with Browning's portrayal of him to observe his earlier years. He was born in Spain, having a Spanish father of English descent and an English mother, all Catholics, as Blougram says, "There's one great form of Christian faith I happened to be born in." His mother took him as an infant, and laid him upon the altar of the Cathedral of Seville, and consecrated him to the service of the Church.
His father having died when he was a tiny boy, his mother took him and his brother to England where he was trained at the Catholic college of Ushaw. From there he went to Rome to study at the English Catholic College there. Later he became Rector of this College. The sketch of Wiseman at this period given by his biographer, Wilfred Ward, is most attractive. "Scattered through his 'Recollections' are interesting impressions left by his student life. While mastering the regular course of scholastic philosophy and theology sufficiently to take his degree with credit, his tastes were not primarily in this direction. The study of Roman antiquities, Christian and Pagan, was congenial to him, as was also the study of Italian art—in which he ultimately became proficient—and of music: and he early devoted himself to the Syriac and Arabic languages. In all these pursuits the enthusiasm and eminence of men living in Rome itself at this era of renaissance was a potent stimulus to work. The hours he set aside for reading were many more than the rule demanded. But the daily walk and the occasional expedition to places of historic interest outside of Rome helped also to store his mind and to fire his imagination." Wiseman writes, himself, of this period, "The life of the student in Rome should be one of unblended enjoyment. His very relaxations become at once subsidiary to his work and yet most delightfully recreative. His daily walks may be through the field of art ... his wanderings along the stream of time ... a thousand memories, a thousand associations accompany him." From this letter and from accounts of him he would seem to have been337 possessed of a highly imaginative temperament, possibly more artistic than religious. Scholars, linguists, or historians, artists or antiquarians interested him far more than thinkers or theologians. In noting the effects on Wiseman's character of the thoughts and sights of Rome, "it must be observed," writes Ward, "that even the action of directly religious influences brought out his excessive impressionableness. His own inner life was as vivid a pageant to him as the history of the Church. He was liable at this time to the periods of spiritual exaltation—matched, as we shall see later on, by fits of intense despondency—which marked him through life."
This remarkable intellectual activity brought with it doubts of religious truth. "The imaginative delight in Rome as a living witness to the faith entirely left him, and at the same time he was attacked by mental disturbances and doubts of the truth of Christianity. There are contemporary indications, and still plainer accounts in the letters of his later life, of acute suffering from these trials. The study of Biblical criticism, even in the early stages it had then reached, seems immediately to have occasioned them; and the suffering they caused him was aggravated into intense and almost alarming de338pression by the feebleness of his bodily health." He says, speaking of this phase in his life, "Many and many an hour have I passed, alone, in bitter tears, on the loggia of the English College, when every one was reposing in the afternoon, and I was fighting with subtle thoughts and venomous suggestions of a fiendlike infidelity which I durst not confide to any one, for there was no one that could have sympathized with me. This lasted for years; but it made me study and think, to conquer the plague—for I can hardly call it danger—both for myself and for others. But during the actual struggle the simple submission of faith is the only remedy. Thoughts against faith must be treated at the time like temptations against any other virtue—put away; though in cooler moments they may be safely analyzed and unraveled." Again he wrote of these years as, "Years of solitude, of desolation, years of shattered nerves, dread often of instant insanity, consumptive weakness, of sleepless nights and weary days, and hours of tears which no one witnessed."
"Of the effect of these years of desolation on his character he speaks as being simply invaluable. It completed what Ushaw had begun, the training in patience, self-reliance,339 and concentration in spite of mental depression. It was amid these trials, he adds, 'that I wrote my "Horæ Syriacæ" and collected my notes for the lectures on the "Connection between Science and Revealed Religion" and the "Eucharist." Without this training I should not have thrown myself into the Puseyite controversy at a later period.' Any usefulness which discovered itself in later years he considers the 'result of self-discipline' during his inner conflict. The struggle so absorbed his energies that his early life was passed almost wholly free from the special trials to which that period is liable. He speaks of his youth as in that respect 'almost temptationless.'" This state of mind seemed to last about five years and then he writes in a letter:
"I have felt myself for some months gradually passing into a new state of mind and heart which I can hardly describe, but which I trust is the last stage of mental progress, in which I hope I may much improve, but out of which I trust I may never pass. I could hardly express the calm mild frame of mind in which I have lived; company and society I have almost entirely shunned, or have moved through it as a stranger; hardly a disturbing thought, hardly a grating sensation has crossed340 my being, of which a great feeling of love seems to have been the principle. Whither, I am inclined to ask myself, does all this tend? Whence does it proceed? I think I could make an interesting history of my mind's religious progress, if I may use a word shockingly perverted by modern fanatics, from the hard dry struggles I used to have when first I commenced to study on my own account, to the settling down into a state of stern conviction, and so after some years to the nobler and more soothing evidences furnished by the grand harmonies and beautiful features of religion, whether considered in contact with lower objects or viewed in her own crystal mirror. I find it curious, too, and interesting to trace the workings of those varied feelings upon my relations to the outward world. I remember how for years I lost all relish for the glorious ceremonies of the Church. I heeded not its venerable monuments and sacred records scattered over the city; or I studied them all with the dry eye of an antiquarian, looking in them for proofs, not for sensations, being ever actively alive to the collection of evidences and demonstrations of religious truth. But now that the time of my probation as I hope it was, is past, I feel as though the freshness of childhood's341 thoughts had once more returned to me, my heart expands with renewed delight and delicious feelings every time I see the holy objects and practices around me, and I might almost say that I am leading a life of spiritual epicureanism, opening all my senses to a rich draught of religious sensations."
From these glimpses it would appear that Wiseman was a much more sincere man in his religious feeling than he is given credit for by Browning. His belief is with him not a matter of cold, hard calculation as to the attitude which will be, so to speak, the most politic from both a worldly and a spiritual point of view. The beautiful passage beginning "Just when we are safest, there's a sunset touch" etc., comes nearer to the genuine enthusiasm of a Wiseman than any other in the poem. There is an essential difference between the minds of the poet and the man he portrays, which perhaps made it impossible for Browning fully to interpret Wiseman's attitude. Both have religious fervor, but Browning's is born of a consciousness of God revealed directly to himself, while Wiseman's consciousness of God comes to him primarily through the authority of the Church, that is through generations of authoritative believers the first of whom experienced the actuality of342 Revelation. Hundreds and thousands of people have minds of this caliber. They cannot see a truth direct for themselves, they must be told by some person clothed in authority that this or that is true or false. To Wiseman the beauty of his own form of religion with its special dogmas made so strong an appeal, that, since he could only believe through authority, under any circumstances, it was natural to him to adopt the particular form that gave him the most satisfaction. Proofs detrimental to belief do not worry long with doubts such a mind, because the authority they depend on is not the authority of knowledge, but the authority of belief. This comes out clearly enough in one of Wiseman's letters in which after enumerating a number of proofs brought forward by various scholars tending to cast discredit on the dogmas of the Church, he triumphantly exclaims, "And yet, who that has an understanding to judge, is driven for a moment from the holdings of faith by such comparisons as these!"
Upon looking through his writings there will always be found in his expression of belief, I think, that ring of true sincerity as well as what I should call an intense artistic delight in the essential beauty of his religion.
343 As to Blougram's argument that he believed in living in the world while he was in it, Wiseman's life was certainly not that of a worldling alone, though he is described by one person as being "a genuine priest, very good looking and able bodied, and with much apparent practice in the world." He was far too much of a student and worker to be altogether so worldly-minded as Browning represents him.
His chief interest for Englishmen is his connection with the Tractarian Movement. The wish of his soul was to aid the Catholic Revival in England, and with that end in view he visited England in 1835. Two years before, the movement at Oxford, known as the Tractarian Movement had begun. The opinions of the men in this movement were, as every one knows, printed in a series of ninety tracts of which Newman wrote twenty-four. It was an outgrowth of the conditions of the time. To sum up in the words of Withrow, "The Church of England had distinctly lost ground as a directing and controlling force in the nation. The most thoughtful and earnest minds in the Church felt the need of a great religious awakening and an aggressive movement to regain its344 lost influence." As Dean Church describes them, the two characteristic forms of Christianity in the Church of England were the High Church, and the Evangelicals, or Low Of the former he says: "Its better members were highly cultivated, benevolent men, intolerant of irregularities both of doctrine and life, whose lives were governed by an unostentatious but solid and unfaltering piety, ready to burst forth on occasion into fervid devotion. Its worse members were jobbers and hunters after preferment, pluralists who built fortunes and endowed families out of the Church, or country gentlemen in orders, who rode to hounds and shot and danced and farmed, and often did worse things."
But at Oxford was a group of men of intense moral earnestness including Newman, Pusey, Keble, Arnold, Maurice, Kingsley, and others, who began an active propaganda of the new or revised doctrines of the Oxford Movement.
"The success of the Tracts," says Molesworth, "was much greater, and the outcry against them far louder and fiercer, than their authors had expected. The Tracts were at first small and simple, but became large and learned theological treatises. Changes, too,345 came over the views of some of the writers. Doctrines which probably would have shocked them at first were put forward with a recklessness which success had increased. Alarm was excited, remonstrances stronger and stronger were addressed to them. They were attacked as Romanizing in their tendency."
"The effect of such writing was two-fold—the public were dismayed and certain members of the Tractarian party avowed their intention of becoming Romanists. So decided was the setting of the tide towards Rome that Newman made a vigorous effort to turn it by his famous Tract No. 90. In this he endeavored to show that it was possible to interpret the Thirty-nine Articles in the interest of Roman Catholicism. This tract aroused a storm of indignation. The violent controversy which it occasioned led to the discontinuance of the series."
Such in little was this remarkable movement. When Tract No. 90 appeared Wiseman had been in England for some time, and had been a strong influence in taking many thinking men in the direction of Rome. His lectures and discourses upon his first visit to England had attracted remarkable attention. The account runs by one who attended his346 lectures to Catholics and Protestants: "Society in this country was impressed, and listened almost against its will, and listened not displeased. Here was a young Roman priest, fresh from the center of Catholicism, who showed himself master, not only of the intricacies of polemical discussion but of the amenities of civilized life. The spacious church of Moorfields was thronged on every evening of Dr. Wiseman's appearance. Many persons of position and education were converted, and all departed with abated prejudice, and with very different notions about Catholicism from those with which they had been prepossessed by their education." Wiseman, himself, wrote, "I had the consolation of witnessing the patient and edifying attention of a crowded audience, many of whom stood for two hours without any symptom of impatience."
The great triumph for Wiseman, however, was when, shortly after Tract 90, Newman, "a man," described "in many ways, the most remarkable that England has seen during the century, perhaps the most remarkable whom the English Church has produced in any century," went over to the Church of Rome and was confirmed by Wiseman. Others followed his example and by 1853 as many as four347 hundred clergymen and laity had become Roman Catholics.
The controversies and discussions of that time, it must be remembered, were more upon the dogmas of the church than upon what we should call to-day the essential truths of religion. Yet, to a certain order of mind dogmas seem important truths. There are those whose religious attitude cannot be preserved without belief in dogmas, and the advantage of the Catholic Church is that it holds firmly to its dogmas, come what may. It was expected, however, that this Romeward Movement would arouse intense antipathy. "The arguments by which it was justified were considered, in many cases, disingenuous, if not Jesuitical."
In opposition of this sort we come nearer to Browning's attitude of mind. Because such arguments as Wiseman and the Tractarians used could not convince him, he takes the ordinary ground of the opposition, that in using such arguments they must be insincere, and they must be perfectly conscious of their insincerity. Still, in spite of the fact that Browning's mind could not get inside of Blougram's, he shows that he has some sympathy for the Bishop in the close of the poem where he says, "He said true things but called348 them by wrong names." Raise Blougram's philosophy to the plane of the mysticism of a Browning, and the arguments for belief would be much the same but the counters in the arguments would become symbols instead of dogmas.
In "Christmas-Eve and Easter Day," Browning becomes the true critic of the nineteenth-century religious movements. He passes in review in a series of dramatic pictures the three most diverse modes of religious thought of the century. The dissenter's view is symbolized by a scene in a very humble chapel in England, the Catholic view by a vision of high mass at St. Peter's and the Agnostic view by a vision of a lecture by a learned German professor,—while the view of the modern mystic who remains religious in the face of all destructive criticism is shown in the speaker of the poem. The intuitional, aspiring side of his nature is symbolized by the vision of Christ that appears to him, while the intensity of its power fluctuates as he either holds fast or lets go the garment of Christ. Opposed to his intuitional side is his reasoning side.
Possibly the picture of the dissenting chapel is exaggeratedly humble, though if we suppose it to be a Methodist Chapel, it may be349 true to life, as Methodism was the form of religion which made its appeal to the lowest classes. Indeed, at the time of its first successes, it was the saving grace of England. "But for the moral antiseptic," writes Withrow, "furnished by Methodism, and the revival of religion in all the churches which it produced, the history of England would have been far other than it was. It would probably have been swept into the maelstrom of revolution and shared the political and religious convulsions of the neighboring nation," that is the French Revolution.
"But Methodism had greatly changed the condition of the people. It had rescued vast multitudes from ignorance and barbarism, and raised them from almost the degradation of beasts to the condition of men and the fellowship of saints. The habits of thrift and industry which it fostered led to the accumulation, if not of wealth, at least to that of a substantial competence; and built up that safeguard of the Commonwealth, a great, intelligent, industrious, religious Middle-Class in the community."
After the death of Wesley came various divisions in the Methodist Church; it has so flexible a system that it may be adapted to very varied needs of humanity, and in that350 has consisted its great power. The mission of the church was originally to the poor and lowly, but "It has won for itself in spite of scorn and persecution," says Dr. Schöll, "a place of power in the State and church of Great Britain."
A scornful attitude is vividly brought before us in the opening of this poem, to be succeeded later by a more charitable point of view.
Fra Lippo Lippi
The reasoning which follows upon this is characteristic of Browning. Perceiving everywhere in the world transcendent power, and knowing love in little, from that transcendent love may be deduced. His reasoning finally brings him to a state of vision. His subjective intuitions become palpable objective symbols, a not infrequent occurrence in highly wrought and sensitive minds.
The vision of high mass at St. Peters in Rome is the antipode of the little Methodist Chapel. The Catholic Church is the church of all others which has gathered about itself the marvels of art in sculpture, painting and music. As the chapel depressed with its ugliness, the great cathedral entrances with its beauty.
In his next experience the speaker learns what the effect of scientific criticism has been upon historical Christianity.
The warfare between science and religion forms one of the most fascinating and terrible chapters in the annals of the development of the human mind. About the middle of the nineteenth century the war became general. It was no longer a question of a skirmish over this or that particular discovery in science which would cause some long-cherished dogma to totter; it was a full battle all along the line, and now that the smoke has cleared away, it374 is safe to say that science sees, on the one hand, it cannot conquer religion, and religion sees, on the other, it cannot conquer science. What each has done is to strip the other of its untruths, leaving its truths to grow by the light each holds up for the other. Together they advance toward the knowledge of the Most High.
He finds himself back in the chapel, all that has occurred having been a vision. His conclusions have that broadness of view which belongs only to those most advanced in thought. He has learned that not only must there be the essential truth behind every sincere effort to reach it, but that even his own vision of the truth is not necessarily the final way of truth but is merely the way which is true for him. The jump from the attitude389 of mind that persecutes those who do not believe according to one established rule to such absolute toleration of all forms because of their symbolizing an eternal truth gives the measure of growth in religious thought from the days of Wesley to Browning. The Wesleys and their fellow-helpers were stoned and mobbed, and some died of their wounds in the latter part of the eighteenth century, while in 1850, when "Christmas-Eve" was written, an Englishman could express a height of toleration and sympathy for religions not his own, as well as taking a religious stand for himself so exalted that it is difficult to imagine a further step in these directions. Perhaps we are suffering to-day from over-toleration, that is, we tolerate not only those whose aspiration takes a different form, but those whose ideals lead to degeneracy. It seems as though all virtues must finally develop their shadows. What, however, is a shadow but the darkness occasioned by the approach of some greater light.
In "Easter-Day" the interest is purely personal. It is a long and somewhat intricate discussion between two friends upon the basis of belief and gives no glimpses of the historical progress of belief. In brief, the poem discusses the relation of the finite life to the infinite life. The first speaker is not satisfied with the different points of view suggested by the second speaker. First, that one would be willing to suffer martyrdom in this life if only one could truly believe it would bring eternal joy. Or perhaps doubt is God's way of telling who are his friends, who are his foes. Or perhaps God is revealed in the law of the universe, or in the shows of nature, or394 in the emotions of the human heart. The first speaker takes the ground that the only possibility satisfying modern demands is an assurance that this world's gain is in its imperfectness surety for true gain in another world. An imaginatively pictured experience of his own soul is next presented, wherein he represents himself at the Judgment Day as choosing the finite life instead of the infinite life. As a result, he learns there is nothing in finite life except as related to infinite life. The way opened out toward the infinite through love is that which gives the light of life to all the good things of earth which he desired—all beauties, that of nature and art, and the joy of intellectual activity.
This poem has often been cited as a proof of Browning's own belief in historical Chris412tianity. It can hardly be said to be more than a doubtful proof, for it depends upon a subjective vision of which the speaker, himself, doubts the truth. The speaker in this poem belongs in the same category with Bishop Blougram. A belief in infinite Love can come to him only through the dogma of the incarnation, he therefore holds to that, no matter how tossed about by doubts. The failure of all human effort to attain the Absolute and, as a consequence, the belief in an Absolute beyond this life is a dominant note in Browning's own philosophy. The nature of that Absolute he further evolves from the intellectual observation of power that transcends human comprehension, and the even more deep-rooted sense of love in the human heart.
Much of his thought resembles that of the English scientist, Herbert Spencer. The relativity of knowledge and the relativity of good and evil are cardinal doctrines with both of them. Herbert Spencer's mystery behind all phenomena and Browning's failure of human knowledge are identical—the negative proof of the absolute,—but where Spencer contents himself with the statement that though we cannot know the Absolute, yet it must transcend all that the human mind has con413ceived of perfection, Browning, as we have already seen, declares that we can know something of the nature of that Absolute through the love which we know in the human heart as well as the power we see displayed in Nature.
In connection with this subject, which for lack of space can merely be touched on in the present volume, it will be instructive to round out Browning's presentations of his own contributions to nineteenth-century thought with two quotations, one from "The Parleyings:" "With Bernard de Mandeville," and one from a poem in his last volume "Reverie." In the first, human love is symbolized as the image made by a lens of the sun, which latter symbolizes Divine Love.
The second "Reverie" has the effect of a triumphant swan song, especially the closing stanzas, the poem having been written very near the end of the poet's life.
ART CRITICISM INSPIRED BY THE ENGLISH MUSICIAN, AVISON
In the "Parleying" "With Charles Avison," Browning plunges into a discussion of the problem of the ephemeralness of musical expression. He hits upon Avison to have his colloquy with because a march by this musician came into his head, and the march came into his head for no better reason than that it was the month of March. Some interest would attach to Avison if it were only for the reason that he was organist of the Church of St. Nicholas in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. In the earliest accounts St. Nicholas was styled simply, "The Church of Newcastle-upon-Tyne," but in 1785 it became a Cathedral. This was after Avison's death in 1770. All we know about the organ upon which Avison performed is found in a curious old history of Newcastle by Brand. "I have found," he writes, "no account of any organ in this church during the times of popery though it is very probable there has been one. the year 1676,421 the corporation of Newcastle contributed £300 towards the erection of the present organ. They added a trumpet stop to it June 22d, 1699."
The year that Avison was born, 1710, it is recorded further that "the back front of this organ was finished which cost the said corporation £200 together with the expense of cleaning and repairing the whole instrument."
June 26, 1749, the common council of Newcastle ordered a sweet stop to be added to the organ. This was after Avison became organist, his appointment to that post having been in 1736. So we know that he at least had a "trumpet stop" and a "sweet stop," with which to embellish his organ playing.
The church is especially distinguished for the number and beauty of its chantries, and any who have a taste for examining armorial bearings will find two good-sized volumes devoted to a description of those in this church, by Richardson. Equal distinction attaches to the church owing to the beauty of its steeple, which has been called the pride and glory of the Northern Hemisphere. According to the enthusiastic Richardson it is justly esteemed on account of its peculiar excellency of design and delicacy of execution one of the finest specimens of architectural beauty in Europe.422 This steeple is as conspicuous a feature of Newcastle as the State House Dome is of Boston, situated, as it is, almost in the center of the town. Richardson gives the following minute description of this marvel. "It consists of a square tower forty feet in width, having great and small turrets with pinnacles at the angles and center of each front tower. From the four turrets at the angles spring two arches, which meet in an intersecting direction, and bear on their center an efficient perforated lanthorne, surmounted by a tall and beautiful spire: the angles of the lanthorne have pinnacles similar to those on the turrets, and the whole of the pinnacles, being twelve in number, and the spire, are ornamented with crockets and vanes."
There is a stirring tradition in regard to this structure related by Bourne to the effect that in the time of the Civil Wars, when the Scots had besieged the town for several weeks, and were still as far as at first from taking it, the general sent a messenger to the mayor of the town, and demanded the keys, and the delivering up of the town, or he would immediately demolish the steeple of St. Nicholas. The mayor and aldermen upon hearing this, immediately ordered a certain number of the chiefest of the Scottish prisoners to be carried423 up to the top of the tower, the place below the lanthorne and there confined. After this, they returned the general an answer to this purpose,—that they would upon no terms deliver up the town, but would to the last moment defend it: that the steeple of St. Nicholas was indeed a beautiful and magnificent piece of architecture, and one of the great ornaments of the town; but yet should be blown into atoms before ransomed at such a rate: that, however, if it was to fall, it should not fall alone, that the same moment he destroyed the beautiful structure he should bathe his hands in the blood of his countrymen who were placed there on purpose either to preserve it from ruin or to die along with it. This message had the desired effect. The men were there kept prisoners during the whole time of the siege and not so much as one gun fired against it.
Avison, however, had other claims to distinction, besides being organist of this ancient church. He was a composer, and was remembered by one of his airs, at least, into the nineteenth century, namely "Sound the Loud Timbrel." He appears not to be remembered, however, by his concertos, of which he published no less than five sets for a full band of stringed instruments, nor by his424 quartets and trios, and two sets of sonatas for the harpsichord and two violins. All we have to depend on now as to the quality of his music are the strictures of a certain Dr. Hayes, an Oxford Professor, who points out many errors against the rules of composition in the works of Avison, whence he infers that his skill in music is not very profound, and the somewhat more appreciative remarks of Hawkins who says "The music of Avison is light and elegant, but it wants originality, a necessary consequence of his too close attachment to the style of Geminiani which in a few particulars only he was able to imitate."
Geminiani was a celebrated violin player and composer of the day, who had come to England from Italy. He is said to have held his pupil, Avison, in high esteem and to have paid him a visit at Newcastle in 1760. Avison's early education was gained in Italy; and in addition to his musical attainments he was a scholar and a man of some literary acquirements. It is not surprising, considering all these educational advantages that he really made something of a stir upon the publication of his "small book," as Browning calls it, with, we may add, its "large title."
BY CHARLES AVISON
Organist in Newcastle
With Alterations and Large Additions
To which is added,
A LETTER to the AUTHOR
concerning the Music of the Ancients
and some Passages in Classic Writers
relating to the Subject.
Mr. AVISON'S REPLY to the Author of
Remarks on the Essay on Musical Expression
In a Letter from Mr. Avison to his Friend in London
THE THIRD EDITION
Printed for LOCKYER DAVIS, in Holborn.
Printer to the Royal Society.
The author of the "Remarks on the Essay on Musical Expression" was the aforementioned Dr. W. Hayes, and although the learned doctor's pamphlet seems to have died a natural death, some idea of its strictures may be gained from Avison's reply. The criticisms are rather too technical to be426 of interest to the general reader, but one is given here to show how gentlemanly a temper Mr. Avison possessed when he was under fire. His reply runs "His first critique, and, I think, his masterpiece, contains many circumstantial, but false and virulent remarks on the first allegro of these concertos, to which he supposes I would give the name of fugue. Be it just what he pleases to call it I shall not defend what the public is already in possession of, the public being the most proper judge. I shall only here observe, that our critic has wilfully, or ignorantly, confounded the terms fugue and imitation, which latter is by no means subject to the same laws with the former.
"Had I observed the method of answering the accidental subjects in this allegro, as laid down by our critic in his remarks, they must have produced most shocking effects; which, though this mechanic in music, would, perhaps, have approved, yet better judges might, in reality, have imagined I had known no other art than that of the spruzzarino." There is a nice independence about this that would indicate Mr. Avison to be at least an aspirant in the right direction in musical composition. His criticism of Handel, too, at a time when the world was divided between enthusiasm for427 Handel and enthusiasm for Buononcini, shows a remarkably just and penetrating estimate of this great genius.
"Mr. Handel is, in music, what his own Dryden was in poetry; nervous, exalted, and harmonious; but voluminous, and, consequently, not always correct. Their abilities equal to every thing; their execution frequently inferior. Born with genius capable of soaring the boldest flights; they have sometimes, to suit the vitiated taste of the age they lived in, descended to the lowest. Yet, as both their excellencies are infinitely more numerous than their deficiencies, so both their characters will devolve to latest posterity, not as models of perfection, yet glorious examples of those amazing powers that actuate the human soul."
On the whole, Mr. Avison's "little book" on Musical Expression is eminently sensible as to the matter and very agreeable in style. He hits off well, for example, the difference between "musical expression" and imitation.
"As dissonances and shocking sounds cannot be called Musical Expression, so neither do I think, can mere imitation of several other things be entitled to this name, which, however, among the generality of mankind hath often obtained it. Thus, the gradual rising428 or falling of the notes in a long succession is often used to denote ascent or descent; broken intervals, to denote an interrupted motion; a number of quick divisions, to describe swiftness or flying; sounds resembling laughter, to describe laughter; with a number of other contrivances of a parallel kind, which it is needless here to mention. Now all these I should chuse to style imitation, rather than expression; because it seems to me, that their tendency is rather to fix the hearer's attention on the similitude between the sounds and the things which they describe, and thereby to excite a reflex act of the understanding, than to affect the heart and raise the passions of the soul.
"This distinction seems more worthy our notice at present, because some very eminent composers have attached themselves chiefly to the method here mentioned; and seem to think they have exhausted all the depths of expression, by a dextrous imitation of the meaning of a few particular words, that occur in the hymns or songs which they set to music. Thus, were one of these gentlemen to express the following words of Milton,
429it is highly probable, that upon the word divide, he would run a division of half a dozen bars; and on the subsequent part of the sentence, he would not think he had done the poet justice, or risen to that height of sublimity which he ought to express, till he had climbed up to the very top of his instrument, or at least as far as the human voice could follow him. And this would pass with a great part of mankind for musical expression; instead of that noble mixture of solemn airs and various harmony, which indeed elevates our thoughts, and gives that exquisite pleasure, which none but true lovers of harmony can feel." What Avison calls "musical expression," we call to-day "content." And thus Avison "tenders evidence that music in his day as much absorbed heart and soul then as Wagner's music now." It is not unlikely that this very passage may have started Browning off on his argumentative way concerning the question: how lasting and how fundamental are the powers of musical expression.
Having stated the problem that confronts him, namely, the change of fashion in music, the poet boldly goes on to declare that there is no truer truth obtainable by man than comes of music, because it does give direct expression to the moods of the soul, yet there is a hitch that balks her of full triumph, namely the musical form in which these moods are expressed does not stay fixed. This statement is enriched by a digression upon the meaning of the soul.
Then follows his explanation of the "hitch," which necessitates a comparison with the other arts. His contention is that art adds nothing to the knowledge of the mind. It simply moulds into a fixed form elements already known which before lay loose and dissociated, it therefore does not really create. But there is one realm, that of feeling, to which the arts never succeed in giving per434manent form though all try to do it. What is it they succeed in getting? The poet does not make the point very clear, but he seems to be groping after the idea that the arts present only the phenomena of feeling or the image of feeling instead of the reality. Like all people who are appreciative of music, he realizes that music comes nearer to expressing the spiritual reality of feeling than the other arts, and yet music of all the arts is the least permanent in its appeal.
The poet makes no attempt to give any reason why music should be so ephemeral in its appeal. He merely refers to the development of harmony and modulation, nor does it seem to enter his head that there can be any question about the appeal being eph437emeral. He imagines the possibility of resuscitating dead and gone music with modern harmonies and novel modulations, but gives that up as an innovation. His next mood is a historical one; dead and gone music may have something for us in a historical sense, that is, if we bring our life to kindle theirs, we may sympathetically enter into the life of the time.
The really serious conclusion of the poem amounts to a doctrine of relativity in art and not only in art but in ethics and religion. It is a statement in poetry of the prevalent thought of the nineteenth century, of which the most widely known exponent was Herbert Spencer. The form in which every truth manifests itself is partial and therefore will pass, but the underlying truth, the absolute which unfolds itself in form after form is eternal. Every manifestation in form, according to Browning, however, has also its infinite value in relation to the truth which is preserved through it.
As to the questions why music does not give feeling immortality through sound, and why it should be so ephemeral in its appeal, there are various things to be said. It is just possible that it may soon come to be recognized that the psychic growth of humanity is more perfectly reflected in music than any where else. Ephemeralness may be predicated of culture-music more certainly than of folk-music, why? Because culture-music often has occupied itself more with the technique than with the content, while folk-music, being the spontaneous expression of feeling must have content. Folk-music, it is true, is simple, but if it be genuine in its feeling I doubt whether it ever loses its power to move. Therefore, in folk-music is possibly made permanent simple states of feeling. Now in culture-music, the development has constantly been442 in the direction of the expression of the ultimate spiritual reality of emotions. Music is now actually trying to accomplish what Browning demands of it:
This is true no matter what the emotion may be. Hate may have its "eidolon" as well as love. Above all arts, music has the power of raising evil into a region of the artistically beautiful. Doubt, despair, passion, become blossoms plucked by the hand of God when transmuted in the alembic of the brain of genius—which is not saying that he need experience any of these passions himself. In fact, it is his power of perceiving the eidolon of beauty in modes of passion or emotion not his own that makes him the great genius.
It is doubtless true that whenever in culture-music there has really been content aroused by feeling, no matter what the stage of technique reached, that music retains its power to move. It is also highly probably that in the443 earlier objective phases of music, even the contemporary audiences were not moved in the sense that we should be moved to-day. The audiences were objective also and their enthusiasm may have been aroused by merely the imitative aspects of music as Avison called them. It is certainly a fact that content and form are more closely linked in music than in any other art. Suppose, however, we imagine the development of melody, counterpoint, harmony, modulation, etc., to be symbolized by a series of concrete materials like clay bricks, silver bricks, gold bricks, diamond bricks; a beautiful thought might take as exquisite a form in bricks of clay as it would in diamond bricks, or diamond bricks might be flung together without any informing thought so that they would attract only the thoughtless by their glitter. But it also follows that, with the increase in the kinds of bricks, there is an increase in the possibilities for subtleties in psychic expression, therefore music to-day is coming nearer and nearer to the spiritual reality of feeling. It requires the awakened soul that Maeterlinck talks about, that is, the soul alive to the spiritual essences of things to recognize this new realm which composers are bringing to us in music.
There are always, at least three kinds of444 appreciators of music, those who can see beauty only in the masters of the past, those who can see beauty only in the last new composer, and those who ecstatically welcome beauty past, present and to come. These last are not only psychically developed themselves, but they are able to retain delight in simpler modes of feeling. They may be raised to a seventh heaven of delight by a Bach fugue played on a clavichord by Mr. Dolmetsch, feeling as if angels were ministering unto them, or to a still higher heaven of delight by a Tschaikowsky symphony or a string quartet of Grieg, feeling that here the seraphim continually do cry, or they may enter into the very presence of the most High through some subtly exquisite and psychic song of an American composer, for some of the younger American composers are indeed approaching "Truth's very heart of truth," in their music.
On the whole, one gets rather the impression that the poet has here tackled a problem upon which he did not have great insight. He passes from one mood to another, none of which seem especially satisfactory to himself, and concludes with one of the half-truths of nineteenth-century thought. It is true as far as it goes that forms evolve, and it is a good truth to oppose to the martinets of settled445 standards in poetry, music and painting; it is also true that the form is a partial expression of a whole truth, but there is the further truth that, let a work of art be really a work of genius, and the form as well as the content touches the infinite; that is, we have as Browning says in a poem already "Bernard de Mandeville," the very sun in little, or as he makes Abt Vogler say of his music, the broken arc which goes to the formation of the perfect round, or to quote still another poem of Browning's, "Cleon," the perfect rhomb or trapezoid that has its own place in a mosaic pavement.
The poem closes in a rolicking frame of mind, which is not remarkably consistent with the preceding thought, except that the poet seems determined to get all he can out of the music of the past by enlivening it with his own jolly mood. To this end he sets a patriotic poem to the tune of Avison's march, in honor of our old friend, Pym. It is a clever tour de force for the words are made to match exactly in rhythm and quantity the notes of the march. Truth to say, the essential goodness of the tune comes out by means of these enlivening words.
Another English musician, Arthur Chappell, was the inspiration of a graceful little sonnet written by the poet in an album which was presented to Mr. Chappell in recognition of his popular concerts in London. Browning was a constant attendant at these. It gives a448 true glimpse of the poet in a highly appreciative mood:
 See the Tempest volume in First Folio Shakespeare. (Crowell & Co.)
 Estes and Lauriat, Boston, Mass.
 Religious Progress of the Century.
 See Withrow.
Typographical inconsistencies have been changed and are and listed below.
Archaic and variable spelling and hyphenation are preserved.
Author's punctuation style is preserved, except where noted.
The following changes were made to the original text:
Page 10: Removed extra quote after Keats (What porridge had John Keats?)
Page 21: Was 'blurrs' (Stray-leaves, fragments, blurs and blottings)
Page 49: Paragraph continued, no quote needed (Tibullus gives Virgil equal credit for having in his writings touched with telling truth)
Page 53: Was 'Shakesspeare' (Jonson wrote for the First Folio edition of Shakespeare printed in 1623)
Page 53: Was 'B. I.' (B. J.)
Page 53: Added single quotes (Shakespeare's talk in "At the 'Mermaid'" grows out of the supposition)
Page 69: Was 'Shakepeare's' (He thinks the opening Sonnets are to the Earl of Southampton, known to be Shakespeare's patron)
Page 81: Added comma after Strafford (not Pym, the leader of the people, but Strafford, the supporter of the King.)
Page 85: Added end quote (some half-dozen years of immunity to the 'fretted tenement' of Strafford's 'fiery soul')
Page 91: Capitalized King (The King, upon his visit to Scotland, had been shocked)
Page 100: Was 'Finnees' (Hampden, Hollis, the younger Vane, Rudyard, Fiennes and many of the Presbyterian Party)
Page 136: Removed extra start quote ("Be my friend Of friends!"—My King! I would have....)
Page 137: Was 'brillance' (The else imperial brilliance of your mind)
Page 137: Was 'you way' (If Pym is busy,—you may write of Pym.)
Page 140: Capitalized King (the King, therefore, summoned it to meet on the third of November.)
Page 142: Matching the original: leaving it hyphenated (the greatest in England would have stood dis-covered.')
Page 172: Was 'Partiot' (The Patriot Pym, or the Apostate Strafford!)
Page 174: Was 'perfers' (The King prefers to leave the door ajar)
Page 178: Was 'her's' (I am hers now, and I will die.)
Page 193: Was 'Bethrothal' (Till death us do join past parting—that sounds like Betrothal indeed!)
Page 200: Was 'canonade' (Such a castle seldom crumbles by sheer stress of cannonade: 'Tis when foes are foiled and fighting's finished that vile rains invade)
Page 203: Inserted stanza (Down I sat to cards, one evening)
Page 203: Added starting quote ("When he found his voice, he stammered 'That expression once again!')
Page 204: Added starting quote ('End it! no time like the present!)
Page 224: Changed comma to period (the morning's lessons conned with the tutor. There, too, it was that he impressed on the lad those maxims)
Page 236: Added end quote (Why, he makes sure of her—"do you say, yes"— "She'll not say, no,"—what comes it to beside?)
Page 265: Added stanza ("'I've been about those laces we need for ... never mind!)
Page 266: Keeping original spelling (With dreriment about, within may life be found)
Page 267: Added stanza ("'Wicked dear Husband, first despair and then rejoice!)
Page 276: Was 'checks' (The dryness of "Aristotle's cheeks" is as usual so enlivened by Browning that the fate of Halbert and Hob grows)
Page 289: Added starting quote ("You wrong your poor disciple.)
Page 290: Removed end quote (Wish I could take you; but fame travels fast)
Page 291: Was 'aud' (Aunt and niece, you and me.)
Page 294: Was 'oustide' (Such outside! Now,—confound me for a prig!)
Page 299: Changed singe quote to double ("Not you! But I see.)
Page 315: Was 'Descretion' (To live and die together—for a month, Discretion can award no more!)
Page 329: Removed starting quote ("He may believe; and yet, and yet How can he?" All eyes turn with interest.)
Page 344: Left in ending quote with unknown start (High Church, and the Evangelicals, or Low Church.")
Page 370: Changed period to comma (Judgment drops her damning plummet, Pronouncing such a fatal space)
Page 421: Removed starting quote (About the year 1676, the corporation of Newcastle contributed)
Page 429: Added period (whose little book and large tune had led him the long way from to-day.")
Page 437: Was 'irreverant' (gives that up as an irreverent innovation.)
Page 440: Added beginning quote ("When we attained them!)
Page 445: Added comma (we have as Browning says in a poem already quoted, "Bernard de Mandeville,")