The Idyls consist of two series, occupying each a volume. The first, published 1879, contains:—
“Halbert and Hob.”
The hero of “MARTIN RELPH” is an old man, whose life is haunted by something which happened to him when little more than a boy. A girl of his own village had been falsely convicted of treason, and the guns were already levelled for her execution, when Martin Relph, who had stolen round on to some rising ground behind the soldiers and villagers who witnessed the scene, saw what no one else could see: a man, about a quarter of mile distant, rushing onwards in staggering haste, and waving a white object over his head. He knew this was Vincent Parkes, Rosamond Page’s lover, bearing the expected proofs of her innocence. He knew also that by a shout he might avert her doom. But something paralyzed his tongue, and the girl fell. The man who would have rescued her but for delays and obstacles, which no power of his could overcome, was found dead where Martin Relph had seen him.
The remembrance of these two deaths leaves Martin Relph no rest; for conscience tells him that his part in them was far worse than it appeared. It tells him that what struck him dumb at that awful moment was not, as others said, the simple cowardice of a boy: he loved in secret the girl whom Vincent Parkes was coming to save; and if he had saved her, it would have been for that other man. But that thought could only flash on him in one second of fiery consciousness; he had no time to recognize it as a motive; and he clings madly to the hope that his conscience is mistaken, and it was not that which silenced him. Every year, at the same spot, he re-enacts the scene, striving to convince himself—with those who hear him—that he has been a coward, but not a murderer; and in the moral and physical reaction from the renewed agony, half-succeeds in doing so.
The story, thus told in Martin Relph’s words, is supposed to have been repeated to the present narrator by a grandfather, who heard them. It embodies a vague remembrance of something read by Mr. Browning when he was himself a boy.
The facts related in “PHEIDIPPIDES” belong to Greek legendary history, and are told by Herodotus and other writers. When Athens was threatened by the invading Persians, she sent a running messenger to Sparta, to demand help against the foreign foe. The mission was unsuccessful. But the “runner,” Pheidippides, fell in on his return, with the god Pan; and though alone among Greeks the Athenians had refused to honour him, he promised to fight with them in the coming battle. Pheidippides was present, when this battle—that of Marathon—was fought and won. He “ran” once more, to announce the victory at Athens; and fell, dead, with the words, “Rejoice, we conquer!” on his lips. This death followed naturally on