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

David tells his story, re-enacting the scene which it describes, in strong, simple, picturesque words which rise naturally into the language of prophecy.  He tells how first he tried the influence of pastoral tunes:  those which call the sheep back to the pen, and stir the sense of insect and bird; how he passed to the song of the reapers—­their challenge to mutual help and fellowship; to the warrior’s march; the burial and marriage chants; the chorus of the Levites advancing towards the altar; and how at this moment Saul sent forth a groan, though the lights which leapt from the jewels of his turban were his only sign of motion.  Then—­the tale continues—­David changes his theme.  He sings of the goodness of human life, as attested by the joyousness of youth, the gratitude of old age.  He sings of labour and success, of hope and fulfilment, of high ambitions and of great deeds; of the great king in whom are centred all the gifts and the powers of human nature—­of Saul himself.  And at these words the tense body relaxes, the arms cross themselves on the breast.  But the eyes of Saul still gaze vacantly before him, without consciousness of life, without desire for it.

David’s song has poured forth the full cup of material existence; he has yet to infuse into it that draught of “Soul Wine” which shall make it desirable.  In a fresh burst of inspiration, he challenges his hearer to follow him beyond the grave.  “The tree is known by its fruits; life by its results.  Life, like the palm fruit, must be crushed before its wine can flow.  Saul will die.  But his passion and his power will thrill the generations to come.  His achievements will live in the hearts of his people; for whom their record, though covering the whole face of a rock, will still seem incomplete.”  And as the “Soul Wine” works, as the vision of this earthly immortality unfolds itself before the sufferer’s sight, he becomes a king again.  The old attitude and expression assert themselves.  The hand is gently laid on the young singer’s forehead; the eyes fix themselves in grave scrutiny upon him.

Then the heart of David goes out to the suffering monarch in filial, pitying tenderness; and he yearns to give him more than this present life—­a new life equal to it in goodness, and which shall be everlasting.

And the yearning converts itself into prophecy.  What he, as man, can desire for his fellow-man, God will surely give.  What he would suffer for those he loves, surely God would suffer.  Human nature in its power of love would otherwise outstrip the Divine.  He cries for the weakness to be engrafted upon strength, the human to be manifested in the Divine.  And exulting in the consciousness that his cry is answered, he hails the advent of Christ.  He bids Saul “see” that a Face like his who now speaks to him awaits him at the threshold of an eternal life; that a Hand like his hand opens to him its gates.

David’s prophecy has rung through the universe; and as he seeks his home in the darkness, unseen “cohorts” press everywhere upon him.  A tumultuous expectation is filling earth and hell and heaven.  The Hand guides him through the tumult.  He sees it die out in the birth of the young day.  But the hushed voices of nature attest the new dispensation.  The seal of the new promise is on the face of the earth.

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