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BELLS AND POMEGRANATES: By ROBERT BROWNING. No. VIII and
last. Luria and a Soul's 'Tragedy. London: Moxon, Dover-st. 1846.
In closing this series of dramatic and lyrical sketches, Browning explains his plan and title thus :
“Here ends my first series of 'Bells and Pomegranates,' and I take the oppor tunity of explaining, in reply to inquiries, that I only meant by that title to indicate an endeavour toward something like an alternation or mixture of music with discoursing, sound with sense, poetry with thought, which looks too ambitious, thus expressed, so the symbol was preferred. It is little to the purpose that such is actually one of the most familiar of the Rabbinical (and Patristic) acceptations of the phrase; because I confess that letting authority alone, I supposed the bare words in such juxtaposition would sufficiently convey the desired meaning. 'Faith and good works' is another fancy for instance, and perhaps no easier to arrive at; yet Giotto placed a pomegranate fruit in the hand of Dante, and Raffaelle crowned his Theology with blossoms of the same.”
That the poet should have supposed the symbol would be ún. derstood at once, marks the nature of his mind, a mind which soars in the creative element, and can only be understood by those who are in a state of congenial activity.
The two pieces before us display, or rather betray, a deep and growing acquaintance with the mysteries of the breast. If one tithe of what informs this little pamphlet were brought out into clear relief by the plastic power of a Shakspeare, the world would stand transfixed before the sad revelation.
In the first piece, Luria, a Moor, is put in command of the Florentine army against Pisa ; but spies are set around him, and the base mistress sits in trial on the hero she has won by smiles to fight her battles. His great, simple, fiery nature is captivated by the grace, deep sagacity and self-possession of the Florentines. He glows with delight at feeling in himself the birth of a more intellectual life beneath their influence. But when he finds the treachery hid beneath all this beautiful sculptured outside, he stands amazed, not lost, not overwhelmed, but unable to meet or
brave what is so opposite to his own soul. He is, indeed, too noble to resent or revenge, or look on the case other than as God may
Luria-In my own East—if you would stoop to help
My barbarous illustration-it sounds ill,
Yet there's no wrong at bottom-rather praise.
The first time, you would doubtless marvel at,
I am glad to have seen you, wondrous Florentines. And having seen them, and staked his heart entirely on the venture, he went through with them—and lost. He cannot survive the shock of their treachery. He arranges all things nobly in their behalf, and dies, for he was of that mould, the “precious porcelain of human clay” which
“Breaks with the first fall,” but not without first exercising a redeeming power upon all the foes and traitors round him. His chivalric antagonist, Tiburzio, needed no conversion, for he is one of the noble race who
"joy to feel
A foeman worthy of their steel,” and are the best friends of such a foeman. But the shrewd, worldly spy, the supplanted rival, the woman who was guilty of that lowest baseness of wishing to make of a lover the tool of her purposes, all grow better by seeing the action of this noble creature under the crucifixion they have prepared for him ; especially the feelings of the rival, who learns from his remorse to understand genius and magnanimity, are admirably depicted. Such repentance always comes too late for the one injured; men kill him first, then grow wiser and mourn; this dreadful and frequent tragedy is shown in Luria's case with its full weight of dark significance, spanned by the rainbow beauty that springs from the perception of truth and nobleness in the victim.
The second piece, “ A Soul's Tragedy,” is another of the deepest tragedies—a man fancying himself good because he was harsh, honourable because he was not sweet, truer than the lovely and loving natures, because unskilled to use their winning ways. His self-deception is revealed to him by means the most original and admirably managed. Both these dramas are full of genius; both make the heart ache terribly. A text might well suit the cover-a text we must all of us learn ever more and more deeply to comprehend: “Let him who thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.”
We hope these eight numbers of “Bells and Pomegranates" will now be reprinted here. They would make one volume of proper size to take into the woods and fields.
HAYDN, MOZART, HANDEL, BACH, BEETHOVEN.
The lives of the musicians are imperfectly written for this obvious reason. The soul of the great musician can only be expressed in music. This language is so much more ready, flexible, full, and rapid than any other, that we can never expect the minds of those accustomed to its use to be expressed by act or word, with even that degree of adequacy, which we find in those of other men. They are accustomed to a higher stimulus, a more fluent existence. We must read them in their works ; this, true of artists in every department, is especially so of the high-priests of sound.
Yet the eye, which has followed with rapture the flight of the bird till it is quite vanished in the blue serene, reverts with pleasure to the nest, which it finds of materials and architecture, that, if wisely examined, correspond entirely with all previously im. agined of the songster's history and habits. The biography of the artist is a scanty gloss upon the grand text of his works, but we examine it with a deliberate tenderness, and could not spare those half-effaced pencil marks of daily life.
In vain the healthy reactions of nature have so boldly in our own day challenged the love of greatness, and bid us turn from Boswellism to read the record of the village clerk. These obscure men, you say, have hearts also, busy lives, expanding souls. Study the simple annals of the poor, and you find there,
only restricted and stifled by accident, Milton, Calderon, or Michel Angelo. Precisely for that, precisely because we might be such as these, if temperament and position had seconded the soul's behest, must we seek with eagerness this spectacle of the occasional manifestation of that degree of development which we call hero, poet, artist, martyr. A sense of the depths of love and pity in “our obscure and private breasts” bids us demand to see their sources burst up somewhere through the lava of circumstance, and Peter Bell has no sooner felt his first throb of penitence and piety, than he prepares to read the lives of the saints.
Of all those forms of life which in their greater achievement shadow forth what the accomplishment of our life in the ages must be, the artist's life is the fairest in this, that it weaves its web most soft and full, because of the material most at command. Like the hero, the statesman, the martyr, the artist differs from other men only in this, that the voice of the demon within the breast speaks louder, or is more early and steadily obeyed than by men in general. But colors, and marble, and paper scores are more easily found to use, and more under command, than the occasions of life or the wills of other men, so that we see in the poet's work, if not a higher sentiment, or a deeper meaning, a more frequent and more perfect fulfilment than in him who builds his temple from the world day by day, or makes a nation his canvass and his pallette.
It is also easier to us to get the scope of the artist's design and its growth as the area where we see it does not stretch vision beyond its power. The Sybil of Michel Angelo indeed shares the growth of centuries, as much as Luther's Reformation, but the first apparition of the one strikes both the senses and the soul, the other only the latter, so we look most easily and with liveliest impression at the Sybil.
Add the benefits of rehearsal and repetition. The grand Napoleon drama could be acted but once, but Mozart's Don Gio