“THE ITALIAN IN ENGLAND” is the supposed adventure of a leading Italian patriot, told by himself in later years. He tells how he was hiding from the Austrians, who had put a price upon his head, and were scouring the country in pursuit of him; how, impelled by hunger, he disclosed his place of concealment to a peasant girl—the last of a troop of villagers who were passing by; and how she saved his life at the risk of her own, and when she would have been paid in gold for betraying him. He relates also that his first thought was to guard himself against betrayal by not telling her who he was; but that her loyal eyes, her dignified form and carriage (perhaps too, the consummate tact with which she had responded to his signal) in another moment had put the thought to flight, and he fearlessly placed his own, and his country’s destiny in her hands. He is an exile in England now. Friends and brothers have made terms with the oppressor, and his home is no longer theirs. But among the wishes which still draw him to his native land, is one, less acknowledged than the rest and which perhaps lies deeper, that he may see that noble woman once more; talk to her of the husband who was then her lover, of her children, and her home; and, once more, as he did in parting from her, kiss her hand in gratitude, and lay his own in blessing on her head.
“PROTUS” is a fragment of an imaginary chronicle: recording in the same page and under the head of the same year, how the child-Emperor, Protus, descended from a god, was growing in beauty and in grace, worshipped by the four quarters of the known world; and how John, the Pannonian blacksmith’s bastard, came and took the Empire; but, as “some think,” let Protus live—to be heard of later as dependent in a foreign court; or perhaps to become the monk, whom rumour speaks of as bearing his name, and who died at an advanced age in Thrace.
A fit comment on this Empire lost and won, is supplied by two busts, also imaginary, one showing a “rough hammered” coarse-jawed head; the other, a baby face, crowned with a wreath of violets.
“APPARENT FAILURE” is Mr. Browning’s verdict on three drowned men, whose bodies he saw exposed at the Morgue in Paris, in the summer of 1856. He justly assumes that the death was suicide; and as he reads in each face its special story of struggle and disappointment,
“Poor men, God made, and all for that!” (vol. vii. p. 247)
the conviction lays hold of him that their doom is not final, that the life God blessed in the beginning cannot end accursed of Him; that even a despair and a death like these, record only a seeming failure.
The poem was professedly written to save the memory of the Morgue, then about to be destroyed.