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

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 488 pages of information about A Handbook to the Works of Browning (6th ed.).

“CALIBAN UPON SETEBOS” carries us into an opposite sphere of thought.  It has for its text these words from Psalm 50:  Thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself:  and is the picture of an acute but half savage mind, building up the Deity on its own pattern.  Caliban is much exercised by the government of the world, and by the probable nature of its ruler; and he has niched an hour from his tasks, on a summer noon, when Prospero and Miranda are taking his diligence upon trust, to go and sprawl full length in the mud of some cave, and talk the problem out.  The attitude is described, as his reflections are carried on, in his own words; but he speaks as children do, in the third person.

Caliban worships Setebos, god of the Patagonians, as did his mother before him; but her creed was the higher of the two, because it included what his does not:  the idea of a future life.  He differs from her also in a more original way.  For she held that a greater power than Setebos had made the world, leaving Setebos merely to “vex” it; while he contends that whoever made the world and its weakness, did so for the pleasure of vexing it himself; and that this greater power, the “Quiet,” if it really exists, is above pain or pleasure, and had no motive for such a proceeding.

Setebos is thus, according to Caliban, a secondary divinity.  He may have been created by the Quiet, or may have driven it off the field; but in either case his position is the same.  He is one step nearer to the human nature which he cannot assume.  He lives in the moon, Caliban thinks, and dislikes its “cold,” while he cannot escape from it.  To relieve his discomfort, half in impatience half in sport, he has made human beings; thus giving himself the pleasure of seeing others do what he cannot, and of mocking them as his playthings at the same time.

This theory of creation is derived from Caliban’s own experience.  In like manner, when he has got drunk on fermented fruits, and feels he would like to fly, he pinches up a clay bird, and sends it into the air; and if its leg snaps off, and it entreats him to stop the smarting, or make the leg grow again, he may give it two more, or he may break off the remaining one; just to show the thing that he can do with it what he likes.

He also presumes that Setebos is envious, because he is so; as for instance:  if he made a pipe to catch birds with, and the pipe boasted:  “I catch the birds. I make a cry which my maker can’t make unless he blows through me,” he would smash it on the spot.

For the rest he imagines that Setebos, like himself, is neither kind nor cruel, but simply acts on all possible occasions as his fancy prompts him.  The one thing which would arouse his own hostility, and therefore that of Setebos, would be that any creature should think he is ever prompted by anything else; or that his adopting a certain course one day would be a reason for following it on the next.

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