« PreviousContinue »
And she spake such good thoughts natural, as if she always thought them —
We must copy yet one other poem to give some idea of the range of Miss Barrett's power.
THE CRY OF THE CHILDREN. If it be said that the poetry, the tragedy here is in the facts, yet how rare is it to find a mind that can both feel and upbear such facts.
We have already said, that, as a poet, Miss Barrett is deficient in plastic energy, and that she is diffuse. We must add many blemishes of overstrained and constrained thought and expression. The ways in which words are coined or forced from their habitual meanings does not carry its excuse with it. We find no gain that compensates the loss of elegance and simplicity. One practice which has already had its censors of using the adjective for the noun, as in the cases of “ The cry of the Human,” “ Leaning from the Golden,” we, also, find offensive, not only to the habitual tastes, but to the sympathies of the very mood awakened by the writer.
We hear that she has long been an invalid, and, while the knowledge of this increases admiration for her achievements and delight at the extent of the influence,-so much light flowing from the darkness of the sick room,—we seem to trace injurious results, too. There is often a want of pliant and glowing life. The sun does not always warm the marble. We have spoken of the great book culture of this mind. We must now say that this culture is too great in proportion to that it has received from
actual life. The lore is not always assimilated to the new form; the illustrations sometimes impede the attention rather than help its course; and we are too much and too often reminded of other minds and other lives.
Great variety of metres are used, and with force and facility. But they have not that deep music which belongs to metres which are the native growth of the poet's mind. In that case, others may have used them, but we feel that, if they had not, he must have invented them; that they are original with him. Miss Barrett is more favoured by the grand and thoughtful, than by the lyric muse.
We have thus pointed out all the faults we could find in Miss Barrett, feeling that her strength and nobleness deserves this act of high respect. She has no need of leniency, or caution. The best comment upon such critiques may be made by subjoining this paragraph from her Preface :
“If it were not presumptuous language on the lips of one to whom life is more than usually uncertain, my favourite wish for this work would be, that it be received by the public as a deposite, ambitious of approaching to the nature of a security for a future offering of more value and acceptability. I would fain do better, and I feel as if I might do better: I aspire to do better. In any case, my poems, while full of faults, as I go forward to my critics and confess, have my life and heart in them. They are not empty shells. If it must be said of me that I have contributed unworthy verses, I also to the many rejected by the age, it cannot, at least be said that I have done so in a light or irresponsible spirit. Poetry has been as serious a thing to me as life itself; and life has been a very serious thing; there has been no playing at skittles for me in either. I never mistook pleasure for the final cause of poetry; nor leisure, for the hour of the poet. I have done my work, so far, as work; not as mere hand and head work apart from the personal being, but as the completest expression of that being to which I could attain; and, as work, I offer it to the public, feeling its faultiness more deeply than any of my readers, because measured from the height of my aspiration, but feeling also that the reverence and sincerity with which the work was done should protect it in the thoughts of the reverent and sincere."
Of the greatest of Grecian sages it was said that he acquired such power over the lower orders of nature, through his purii; and intelligence, that wild beasts were abashed and reformed by his admonitions, and that, once, when walking abroad with his disciples, he called down the white eagle, soaring above him, and drew from her willing wing a quill for his use.
We have seen women use with skill and grace, the practical goose-quill, the sentimental crow-quill, and even the lyrical, the consecrated feathers of the swan. But we have never seen one to whom the white eagle would have descended ; and, for a while, were inclined to think that the hour had now, for the first time, arrived. But, upon full deliberation, we will award to Miss Barrett one from the wing of the sea-gull. That is also a white bird, rapid, soaring, majestic, and which can alight with ease, and poise itself up the stormiest wave.
ROBERT BROWNING is scarcely known in this country, as, indeed, in his own, his fame can spread but slowly, from the nature of his works. On this very account,-of the peculiarity of his genius,—we are desirous to diffuse the knowledge that there is such a person, thinking and writing, so that those who, here and. there, need just him, and not another, may know where to turn.
Our first acquaintance with this subtle and radiant mind was through his “ Paracelsus,” of which we cannot now obtian a copy, and must write from a distant memory.
It is one of those attempts, that illustrate the self-consciousness of this age, to represent the fever of the soul pining to embrace the secret of the universe in a single trance. Men who are once seized with this fever, carry thought upon the heart as a cross, instead of finding themselves daily warmed and enlightened to more life and joy by the sacred fire to which their lives daily bring fresh fuel. .
Sometimes their martyrdoms greatly avail, as to positive achievements of knowledge for their own good and that of all men; but, oftener, they only enrich us by experience of the temporary limitations of the mind, and the inutility of seeking to transcend, instead of working within them.
Of this desire, to seize at once as a booty what it was intended we should legitimately win by gradual growth, alchemy and the elixir vita were, in the middle ages, apt symbols. In seeking how to prolong life, men wasted its exquisite spring-time and
splendid summer, lost the clues they might have gained by initiation to the mysteries of the present existence. They sought to make gold in crucibles, through study of the laws which govern the material world, while within them was a crucible and a fire beneath it, which only needed watching, in faith and purity, and they would have turned all substances to treasure, which neither moth nor rust could corrupt.
Paracelsus had one of those soaring ambitions that sought the stars and built no nest amid the loves or lures of life. Incapable of sustaining himself in angelic force and purity, he tainted, after a while, his benefits, by administering them with the arts of a charlatan, seeking too ambitiously the mastery of life, he missed its best instructions.
Yet he who means nobleness, though he misses his chosen aim, cannot fail to bring down a precious quarry from the clouds. Paracelsus won deep knowledge of himself and his God. Love followed, if it could not bless him, and the ecstacies of genius wove music into his painful dreams.
The holy and domestic love of Michal, that Ave Maria Stella of his stormy life, the devotion of a friend, who living, for himself, in the humility of a genuine priest, yet is moved by the pangs of sympathy, to take part against and “wrestle with” Heaven in his behalf, the birth and bud of the creative spirit which blesses through the fulness of forms, as expressed in Aprile, all are told with a beauty and, still more, a pregnancy, unsurpassed amid the works of contemporary minds.
“Sordello” we have never seen, and have been much disappointed at not being able to obtain the loan of a copy now existent in New England. It is spoken of as a work more thickly enveloped in refined obscurities than ever any other that really had a meaning; and no one acquainted with Browning's mind can doubt his always having a valuable meaning, though sometimes we may not be willing to take the degree of trouble necessary to