And here Mr. Browning bids the “fooling” stop; for he has touched the point of extreme divergence between the classic spirit and his own. The pallid vision which he repels speaks dumbly of pagan regret for what is past, of pagan hopelessness of the to-come. His religion, as we are again reminded, is one of hope. Let us, he says, do and not dream, look forward and not back; ascend the tree of existence into its ripening glory, not hastening over leaf or blossom, not dallying with them; leave Greek lore buried in its own ashes, and accept the evidence of life itself that extinction is impossible; that death—mystery though it is, calamity though it may be—ends nothing which has once begun. We may then greet the spring which we do not live to see in other words than those of the Greek bard; and the words suggested are those of a dainty lyric, in which the note of gladness seems to break with a little sob, and rings, perhaps, on that account the truer.
With CHARLES AVISON might be called a reverie on music and musicians, but for the extraordinary vividness of the images and emotions which it conveys. It was induced, Mr. Browning tells us, by a picturesque little incident which set his thoughts vibrating to the impressions of the word “March”: and supplies a parable for their instinctive flight into a discredited and forgotten past. They have been feeling for a piece of march-music; they have bridged the gulf which separates the school of Wagner and Brahms from that of Handel or Buononcini; they alight on Charles Avison’s “Grand March." It is a simple continuous air, such as hearts could beat to in the olden time, though flat and somewhat thin, and unrelieved by those caprices of modulation which are essential to modern ears; and as it repeats itself in Mr. Browning’s brain, the persistent melody gains force from its very persistence: till it fills with the sound, as it were glows with the aerial clashings, of many martial instruments, till it strides in the lengthening, drum-accentuated motion of many marching feet. He ponders the fact that such melody has lost its power, and asks himself why this must be: since the once perfected can never be surpassed, and the music of Charles Avison was in its own day as inspiring and inspired—in other words, as perfect—as that for which it has been cast aside.
He finds his answer in the special relation of this art to the life of man. Music resembles painting and poetry in the essential characteristic that her province is not Mind but Soul—the swaying sea of emotion which underlies the firm ground of attainable, if often recondite, fact. All three have this in common with the activities of Mind that they strive for the same result; they aim at recording feeling as science registers facts. The two latter in some measure attain this end, because they deal with those definite moments of the soul’s experience which share the nature of fact. But music dredges deeper in the emotional sea. She draws forth and embodies the more mysterious, more evanescent, more fluid realities of the soul’s life; and so, effecting more than the sister arts, she yet succeeds less. Her forms remain; the spirit ebbs away from them. As, however, Mr. Browning’s own experience has shown, the departed spirit may return—