An Introduction to the Study of Browning eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 299 pages of information about An Introduction to the Study of Browning.

(1833-1890)

CHARACTERISTICS OF THE POEMS

(1833-1890.)

* * * * *

1.  PAULINE:  a Fragment of a Confession.

[Published anonymously in 1833; first reprinted (the text unaltered) in Poetical Works, 6 vols., Smith, Elder and Co., 1868 (Vol.  I., pp. 1-41); revised text, Poetical Works, 1889, Vol.  I., pp. 1-45.]

PAULINE was written at the age of twenty.  Its prefatory motto from Cornelius Agrippa (dated “London, January, 1833. V.A.XX.”) serves to convey a hint that the “confession” is dramatic, and at the same time lays claim to the indulgence due to the author’s youth.  These two points are stated plainly in the “exculpatory word” prefixed to the reprint in 1868.  After mentioning the circumstances under which the revival of the poem was forced on him, Browning says: 

“The thing was my earliest attempt at ’poetry always dramatic in principle, and so many utterances of so many imaginary persons, not mine,’ which I have since written according to a scheme less extravagant and scale less impracticable than were ventured upon in this crude preliminary sketch—­a sketch that, on reviewal, appears not altogether wide of some hint of the characteristic features of that particular dramatis persona it would fain have reproduced:  good draughtsmanship, however, and right handling were far beyond the artist at that time.”

In a note to the collected edition of 1889, Browning adds: 

“Twenty years’ endurance of an eyesore seems more than sufficient; my faults remain duly recorded against me, and I claim permission to somewhat diminish these, so far as style is concerned, in the present and final edition.”

A revised text follows, in which, while many “faults” are indeed “diminished,” it is difficult not to feel at times as if the foot-notes had got into the text.

Pauline is the confession of an unnamed poet to the woman whom he loves, and whose name is given in the title.  It is a sort of spiritual autobiography; a record of sensations and ideas, rather than of deeds.  “The scenery is in the chambers of thought; the agencies are powers and passions; the events are transitions from one state of spiritual existence to another.”  There is a vagueness of outline about the speaker which is due partly, no doubt, to the immaturity of the writer, partly also to the too exclusive portraiture of inactive mood.  The difficulty is acknowledged in a curious “editor’s” note, written in French, and signed “Pauline,” in which Browning offered a sort of explanatory criticism of his own work.  So far as we can grasp his personality, the speaker appears to us a highly-gifted and on the whole right-natured man, but possessed of a morbid self-consciousness and a limitless yet indecisive ambition.  Endowed with a highly poetic nature,

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