[Footnote 17: Letters of R. and E.B.B., i. 28.]
[Footnote 18: Orr, Handbook, p. 55.]
Pippa Passes, the most romantic in conception of all Browning’s plays, thus first disclosed his genius for realism. Strafford, King Victor, The Druses are couched in the tempered ideality of blank verse; here we pass to and fro from the airiest lyric to the most massive and sinewy prose. It counted for something, too, that Italy, and above all the little hill-town in which the scene was laid, was a vivid personal memory, not a vague region of fancy like his Sardinia or Lebanon. Asolo, with its walls and turret, its bishop’s palace and duomo, and girls sitting on the steps, its upland farms among the cherry orchards, its beetles sparkling along the dust, its “warm slow yellow moonlit nights” of May, and “glaring pomps” of June,—Asolo, with its legend of “Kate the queen” and her carolling page, lives as few other spots do for Browning’s readers. Pippa herself, in her exquisite detachment from the sordid humanity amid which she moves, might have appeared too like a visionary presence, not of earth though on it, had she not been brought into touch, at so many points, with things that Browning had seen. Pippa Passes has, among Browning’s dramas, the same kind of peculiar interest which belongs to the Tempest and to Faust among Shakespeare’s and Goethe’s. Faery and devilry were not Browning’s affair; but, within the limits of his resolute humanism, Pippa Passes is an ideal construction, shadowing forth, under the semblance of a single definite bit of life, the controlling elements, as Browning imagined them, in all life. For Browning, too, the world teemed with Stephanos and Trinculos, Sebastians and Antonios; it was, none the less, a magical Isle, where strange catastrophes and unsuspected revolutions sprang suddenly into being at the unseen carol of Ariel as he passed. Browning’s Ariel is the organ of a spiritual power which, unlike Prospero, seeks not merely to detect and avert crime, or merely to dismiss the would-be criminal, forgiven, to “live and deal with others better,” but to renovate character; to release men from the bondage of their egoisms by those influences, slight as a flower-bell or a sunset touch, which renew us by setting all our aims and desires in a new proportion.