A Handbook to the Works of Browning (6th ed.) eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 381 pages of information about A Handbook to the Works of Browning (6th ed.).

“He gets well into his work.  He sees visions; peeps into the glass ball; makes spirits write and rap, and the rest of it.  There is nothing to stop him.  If he mixes up Bacon and Cromwell, it only proves that they are both trying to speak through him at once.  If he makes Locke talk gibberish, and Beethoven play the Shakers’ hymn, and a dozen other such things:  ’Oh! the spirits are using him and suiting themselves out of his stock.’  When he guesses right, it shows his truth.  When he doesn’t, it shows his honesty.  A hit is good and a miss is better.  When he boggles outright, ‘he is confused with the phenomena.’  And when this has gone on for weeks, and he has been clothed and cosseted, and his patrons have staked their penetration upon him; how is he to turn round and say he has been cheating all the time?  ‘I should like to see you do it!’ It isn’t that he wouldn’t often have liked to be in the gutter again!”

This amusing account is diversified with expressions of Sludge’s hearty contempt for all the men and women he has imposed upon:  above all, for their absurd fancy that any scrap of unexpected information must have come to him in a supernatural way.  “As if a man could hold his nose out of doors, and one smut out of the millions not stick to it; sit still for a whole day, and one atom of news not drift into his ear!” This idea recurs in various forms.

Well! he owns that he has cheated; and now that he has done so, he is not at all sure that it was all cheating, that there wasn’t something real in it after all.  “We are all taught to believe that there is another world; and the Bible shows that men have had dealings with it.  We are told this can’t happen now, because we are under another law.  But I don’t believe we are under another law.  Some men ‘see’ and others don’t, that’s the only difference.  I see a sign and a message in everything that happens to me; but I take a small message where you want a big one.  I am the servant who comes at a tap of his master’s knuckle on the wall; you are the servant who only comes when the bell rings.  Of course I mistake the sign sometimes.  But what does that matter if I sometimes don’t mistake?  You say:  one fact doesn’t establish a system.  You are like the Indian who picked up a scrap of gold, and never dug for more.  You pick up one sparkling fact, and let it go again.  I pick up one such, then another and another, and let go the dirt which makes up the rest of life.”

Sludge combats the probable objection that the heavenly powers are too great, and he is too small for the kind of services he expects of them.  Everything, he delares, serves a small purpose as well as a great one.  Moreover, nothing nowadays is small.  It is at all events the lesser things and not the greater which are spoken of with awe.  The simple creature which is only a sac is the nearest to the creative power; and since also man’s filial relation to the Creator is that most insisted on, the more familiar and confiding attitude is the right one.

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A Handbook to the Works of Browning (6th ed.) from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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