This man and woman are analysed with exquisite skill; but they are not in the strict sense inventions, creations: we understand rather than see them. Only towards the end, where the facts leave freer play for the poetic impulse, do they rise into sharp vividness of dramatic life and speech. Nothing in the poem equals in intensity the great soliloquy of Miranda before his strange and suicidal leap, and the speech of Clara to the “Cousinry.” Here we pass at a bound from chronicling to creation. As a narrative, Red Cotton Night-Cap Country has all the interest of a novel, with the concentration and higher pitch of poetry. Less ingenious and philosophical than Prince Hohenstiel-Schwangau and Fifine at the Fair, it is far more intimately human, more closely concerned with “man’s thoughts and loves and hates,” with the manifestations of his eager and uneasy spirit, in strange shapes, on miry roads, in dubious twilights. Of all Browning’s works it is perhaps the easiest to read; no tale could be more straightforward, no language more lucid, no verse more free from harshness or irregularity, The versification, indeed, is exceptionally smooth and measured, seldom rising into strong passion, but never running into volubility. Here and there are short passages, which I can scarcely detach for quotation, with a singular charm of vague remote music. The final summary of Clara and Miranda, excellent and convenient alike, may be severed without much damage from the context.
I hold the happier specimen,—
It may be, through that artist-preference
For work complete, inferiorly proposed,
To incompletion, though it aim aright.
Morally, no! Aspire, break bounds! I say,
Endeavour to be good, and better still,
And best! Success is nought, endeavour’s all.
But intellect adjusts the means to ends,
Tries the low thing, and leaves it done, at least;
No prejudice to high thing, intellect
Would do and will do, only give the means.
Miranda, in my picture-gallery,
Presents a Blake; be Clara—Meissonnier!
Merely considered so, by artist, mind!
For, break through Art and rise to poetry,
Bring Art to tremble nearer, touch enough
The verge of vastness to inform our soul
What orb makes transit through the dark above,
And there’s the triumph!—there the incomplete,
More than completion, matches the immense,—
Then, Michelagnolo against the world!”