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.).
has been always the gratification of Self—­the ministering to its pleasures and to its powers; and this egotism has become narrower and more consuming, till the thirst for even momentary enjoyment has banished the very belief in higher things.  The belief returns, and we leave him at the close of his confession exhausted by the mental fever, but released from it—­new-born to a better life; though how and why this has happened is again part of the mystery of the case.  “Pauline” is the one of Mr. Browning’s longer poems of which no intelligible abstract is possible:  a circumstance the more striking that it is perfectly transparent, as well as truly poetical, so far as its language is concerned.

The defects and difficulties of “Pauline” are plainly admitted in an editor’s note, written in French, and signed by this name; and which, proceeding as it does from the author himself, supplies a valuable comment on the work.

“I much fear that my poor friend will not be always perfectly understood in what remains to be read of this strange fragment, but it is less calculated than any other part to explain what of its nature can never be anything but dream and confusion.  I do not know moreover whether in striving at a better connection of certain parts, one would not run the risk of detracting from the only merit to which so singular a production can pretend:  that of giving a tolerably precise idea of the manner (genre) which it can merely indicate.  This unpretending opening, this stir of passion, which first increases, and then gradually subsides, these transports of the soul, this sudden return upon himself, and above all, my friend’s quite peculiar turn of mind, have made alterations almost impossible.  The reasons which he elsewhere asserts, and others still more cogent have secured my indulgence for this paper, which otherwise I should have advised him to throw into the fire.  I believe none the less in the great principle of all composition—­in that principle of Shakespeare, of Raphael, and of Beethoven, according to which concentration of ideas is due much more to their conception than to their execution; I have every reason to fear that the first of these qualities is still foreign to my friend, and I much doubt whether redoubled labour would enable him to acquire the second.  It would be best to burn this; but what can I do?”

* * * * *

We might infer from this, as from his subsequent introduction, that Mr. Browning disclaimed all that is extravagant in the poem, and laid it simply to the charge of the imaginary person it is intended to depict:  but that he has also prefaced it with a curious Latin quotation which identifies that person with himself.[8]

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