Read CHAPTER IV of The Poetry Of Robert Browning, free online book, by Stopford A. Brooke, on


To isolate Browning’s view of Nature, and to leave it behind us, seemed advisable before speaking of his work as a poet of mankind. We can now enter freely on that which is most distinctive, most excellent in his work his human poetry; and the first thing that meets us and in his very first poems, is his special view of human nature, and of human life, and of the relation of both to God. It marks his originality that this view was entirely his own. Ancient thoughts of course are to be found in it, but his combination of them is original amongst the English poets. It marks his genius that he wrought out this conception while he was yet so young. It is partly shaped in Pauline; it is fully set forth in Paracelsus. And it marks his consistency of mind that he never changed it. I do not think he ever added to it or developed it. It satisfied him when he was a youth, and when he was an old man. We have already seen it clearly expressed in the Prologue to Asolando.

That theory needs to be outlined, for till it is understood Browning’s poetry cannot be understood or loved as fully as we should desire to love it. It exists in Pauline, but all its elements are in solution; uncombined, but waiting the electric flash which will mix them, in due proportions, into a composite substance, having a lucid form, and capable of being used. That flash was sent through the confused elements of Pauline, and the result was Paracelsus.

I will state the theory first, and then, lightly passing through Pauline and Paracelsus, re-tell it. It is fitting to apologise for the repetition which this method of treatment will naturally cause; but, considering that the theory underlies every drama and poem that he wrote during sixty years, such repetition does not seem unnecessary. There are many who do not easily grasp it, or do not grasp it at all, and they may be grateful. As to those who do understand it, they will be happy in their anger with any explanation of what they know so well.

He asks what is the secret of the world: “of man and man’s true purpose, path and fate.” He proposes to understand “God-and his works and all God’s intercourse with the human soul.”

We are here, he thinks, to grow enough to be able to take our part in another life or lives. But we are surrounded by limitations which baffle and retard our growth. That is miserable, but not so much as we think; for the failures these limitations cause prevent us and this is a main point in Browning’s view from being content with our condition on the earth. There is that within us which is always endeavouring to transcend those limitations, and which believes in their final dispersal. This aspiration rises to something higher than any possible actual on earth. It is never worn out; it is the divine in us; and when it seems to decay, God renews it by spiritual influences from without and within, coming to us from nature as seen by us, from humanity as felt by us, and from himself who dwells in us.

But then, unless we find out and submit to those limitations, and work within them, life is useless, so far as any life is useless. But while we work within them, we see beyond them an illimitable land, and thirst for it. This battle between the dire necessity of working in chains and longing for freedom, between the infinite destiny of the soul and the baffling of its effort to realise its infinitude on earth, makes the storm and misery of life. We may try to escape that tempest and sorrow by determining to think, feel, and act only within our limitations, to be content with them as Goethe said; but if we do, we are worse off than before. We have thrown away our divine destiny. If we take this world and are satisfied with it, cease to aspire, beyond our limits, to full perfection in God; if our soul should ever say, “I want no more; what I have here the pleasure, fame, knowledge, beauty or love of this world is all I need or care for,” then we are indeed lost. That is the last damnation. The worst failure, the deepest misery, is better than contentment with the success of earth; and seen in this light, the failures and misery of earth are actually good things, the cause of a chastened joy. They open to us the larger light. They suggest, and in Browning’s belief they proved, that this life is but the threshold of an infinite life, that our true life is beyond, that there is an infinite of happiness, of knowledge, of love, of beauty which we shall attain. Our failures are prophecies of eternal successes. To choose the finite life is to miss the infinite Life! O fool, to claim the little cup of water earth’s knowledge offers to thy thirst, or the beauty or love of earth, when the immeasurable waters of the Knowledge, Beauty and Love of the Eternal Paradise are thine beyond the earth.

Two things are then clear: (1) The attainment of our desires for perfection, the satisfaction of our passion for the infinite, is forbidden to us on earth by the limitations of life. We are made imperfect; we are kept imperfect here; and we must do all our work within the limits this natural imperfection makes. (2) We must, nevertheless, not cease to strive towards the perfection unattainable on earth, but which shall be attained hereafter. Our destiny, the God within us, demands that. And we lose it, if we are content with our earthly life, even with its highest things, with knowledge, beauty, or with love.

Hence, the foundation of Browning’s theory is a kind of Original Sin in us, a natural defectiveness deliberately imposed on us by God, which prevents us attaining any absolute success on earth. And this defectiveness of nature is met by the truth, which, while we aspire, we know that God will fulfil all noble desire in a life to come.

We must aspire then, but at the same time all aspiring is to be conterminous with steady work within our limits. Aspiration to the perfect is not to make us idle, indifferent to the present, but to drive us on. Its passion teaches us, as it urges into action all our powers, what we can and what we cannot do. That is, it teaches us, through the action it engenders, what our limits are; and when we know them, the main duties of life rise clear. The first of these is, to work patiently within our limits; and the second is the apparent contradiction of the first, never to be satisfied with our limits, or with the results we attain within them. Then, having worked within them, but always looked beyond them, we, as life closes, learn the secret. The failures of earth prove the victory beyond: For

what is our failure here but a triumph’s evidence
For the fulness of the days? Have we withered or agonised?
Why else was the pause prolonged but that singing might issue thence?
Why rushed the discords in but that harmony should be prized?
Sorrow is hard to bear, and doubt is slow to clear.
Each sufferer says his say, his scheme of the weal and the woe:
But God has a few of us whom he whispers in the ear;
The rest may reason, and welcome: ’tis we musicians know.”

Abt Vogler.

Finally, the root and flower of this patient but uncontented work is Love for man because of his being in God, because of his high and immortal destiny. All that we do, whether failure or not, builds up the perfect humanity to come, and flows into the perfection of God in whom is the perfection of man. This love, grounded on this faith, brings joy into life; and, in this joy of love, we enter into the eternal temple of the Life to come. Love opens Heaven while Earth closes us round. At last limitations cease to trouble us. They are lost in the vision, they bring no more sorrow, doubt or baffling. Therefore, in this confused chaotic time on earth

Earn the means first. God surely will contrive
Use for our earning.
Others mistrust, and say: “But time escapes;
Live now or never!”
He said, “What’s time? Leave Now for dogs and apes!
Man has Forever.”

A Grammarian’s Funeral.

This is a sketch of his explanation of life. The expression of it began in Pauline. Had that poem been as imitative, as poor as the first efforts of poets usually are, we might leave it aside. But though, as he said, “good draughtsmanship and right handling were far beyond the artist at that time,” though “with repugnance and purely of necessity” he republished it, he did republish it; and he was right. It was crude and confused, but the stuff in it was original and poetic; wonderful stuff for a young man.

The first design of it was huge. Pauline is but a fragment of a poem which was to represent, not one but various types of human life. It became only the presentation of the type of the poet, the first sketch of the youth of Sordello. The other types conceived were worked up into other poems.

The hero in Pauline hides in his love for Pauline from a past he longed to forget. He had aspired to the absolute beauty and goodness, and the end was vanity and vexation. The shame of this failure beset him from the past, and the failure was caused because he had not been true to the aspirations which took him beyond himself. When he returned to self, the glory departed. And a fine simile of his soul as a young witch whose blue eyes,

As she stood naked by the river springs,
Drew down a God,

who, as he sat in the sunshine on her knees singing of heaven, saw the mockery in her eyes and vanished, tells of how the early ravishment departed, slain by self-scorn that followed on self-worship. But one love and reverence remained that for Shelley, the Sun-treader, and kept him from being “wholly lost.” To strengthen this one self-forgetful element, the love of Pauline enters in, and the new impulse brings back something of the ancient joy. “Let me take it,” he cries, “and sing on again

fast as fancies come;
Rudely, the verse being as the mood it paints,

a line which tells us how Browning wished his metrical movement to be judged. This is the exordium, and it is already full of his theory of life the soul forced from within to aspire to the perfect whole, the necessary failure, the despair, the new impulse to love arising out of the despair; failure making fresh growth, fresh uncontentment. God has sent a new impulse from without; let me begin again.

Then, in the new light, he strips his mind bare. What am I? What have I done? Where am I going?

The first element in his soul, he thinks, is a living personality, linked to a principle of restlessness,

Which would be all, have, see, know, taste, feel, all.

And this would plunge him into the depths of self were it not for that Imagination in him whose power never fails to bear him beyond himself; and is finally in him a need, a trust, a yearning after God; whom, even when he is most lost, he feels is always acting on him, and at every point of life transcending him.

And Imagination began to create, and made him at one with all men and women of whom he had read (the same motive is repeated in Sordello), but especially at one with those out of the Greek world he loved “a God wandering after Beauty” a high-crested chief

Sailing with troops of friends to Tenedos.

Never was anything more clear than these lives he lived beyond himself; and the lines in which he records the vision have all the sharpness and beauty of his after-work

I had not seen a work of lofty art.
Nor woman’s beauty nor sweet Nature’s face,
Yet, I say, never morn broke clear as those
On the dim-clustered isles in the blue sea,
The deep groves and white temples and wet caves:
And nothing ever will surprise me now
Who stood beside the naked Swift-footed,
Who bound my forehead with Proserpine’s hair.

Yet, having this infinite world of beauty, he aimed low; lost in immediate wants, striving only for the mortal and the possible, while all the time there lived in him, breathing with keen desire, powers which, developed, would make him at one with the infinite Life of God.

But having thus been untrue to his early aspiration, he fell into the sensual life, like Paracelsus, and then, remorseful, sought peace in self-restraint; but no rest, no contentment was gained that way. It is one of Browning’s root-ideas that peace is not won by repression of the noble passions, but by letting them loose in full freedom to pursue after their highest aims. Not in restraint, but in the conscious impetuosity of the soul towards the divine realities, is the wisdom of life. Many poems are consecrated to this idea.

So, cleansing his soul by ennobling desire, he sought to realise his dreams in the arts, in the creation and expression of pure Beauty. And he followed Poetry and Music and Painting, and chiefly explored passion and mind in the great poets. Fed at these deep springs, his soul rose into keen life; his powers burst forth, and gazing on all systems and schemes of philosophy and government, he heard ineffable things unguessed by man. All Plato entered into him; he vowed himself to liberty and the new world where “men were to be as gods and earth us heaven.” Thus, yet here on earth, not only beyond the earth, he would attain the Perfect. Man also shall attain it; and so thinking, he turned, like Sordello, to look at and learn mankind, pondering “how best life’s end might be attained an end comprising every joy.”

And even as he believed, the glory vanished; everything he had hoped for broke to pieces:

First went my hopes of perfecting mankind,
Next faith in them, and then in freedom’s self
And virtue’s self, then my own motives, ends
And aims and loves, and human love went last.

And then, with the loss of all these things of the soul which bear a man’s desires into the invisible and unreachable, he gained the world, and success in it. All the powers of the mere Intellect, that grey-haired deceiver whose name is Archimago, were his; wit, mockery, analytic force, keen reasoning on the visible, the Understanding’s absolute belief in itself; its close grasp on what it called facts, and its clear application of knowledge for clear ends. God, too, had vanished in this intellectual satisfaction; and in the temple of his soul, where He had been worshipped, troops of shadows now knelt to the man whose intellect, having grasped all knowledge, was content; and hailed him as king.

The position he describes is like that Wordsworth states in the Prelude to have been his, when, after the vanishing of his aspirations for man which followed the imperialistic fiasco of the French Revolution, he found himself without love or hope, but with full power to make an intellectual analysis of nature and of human nature, and was destroyed thereby. It is the same position which Paracelsus attains and which is followed by the same ruin. It is also, so far as its results are concerned, the position of the Soul described by Tennyson in The Palace of Art.

Love, emotion, God are shut out. Intellect and knowledge of the world’s work take their place. And the result is the slow corrosion of the soul by pride. “I have nursed up energies,” says Browning, “they will prey on me.” He feels this and breaks away from its death. “My heart must worship,” he cries. The “shadows” know this feeling is against them, and they shout in answer:

“Thyself, thou art our king!”

But the end of that is misery. Therefore he begins to aspire again, but still, not for the infinite of perfection beyond, but for a finite perfection on, the earth.

“I will make every joy here my own,” he cries, “and then I will die.” “I will have one rapture to fill all the soul.” “All knowledge shall be mine.” It is the aspiration of Paracelsus. “I will live in the whole of Beauty, and here it shall be mine.” It is the aspiration of Aprile. “Then, having this perfect human soul, master of all powers, I shall break forth, at some great crisis in history, and lead the world.” It is the very aspiration of Sordello.

But when he tries for this, he finds failure at every point. Everywhere he is limited; his soul demands what his body refuses to fulfil; he is always baffled, falling short, chained down and maddened by restrictions; unable to use what he conceives, to grasp as a tool what he can reach in Thought; hating himself; imagining what might be, and driven back from it in despair.

Even in his love for Pauline, in which he has skirted the infinite and known that his soul cannot accept finality he finds that in him which is still unsatisfied.

What does this puzzle mean? “It means,” he answers, “that this earth’s life is not my only sphere,

Can I so narrow sense but that in life
Soul still exceeds it?”

Yet, he will try again. He has lived in all human life, and his craving is still athirst. He has not yet tried Nature herself. She seems to have undying beauty, and his feeling for her is now, of course, doubled by his love for Pauline. “Come with me,” he cries to her, “come out of the world into natural beauty”; and there follows a noble description of a lovely country into which he passes from a mountain glen morning, noon, afternoon and evening all described and the emotion of the whole rises till it reaches the topmost height of eagerness and joy, when, suddenly, the whole fire is extinguished

I am concentrated I feel;
But my soul saddens when it looks beyond:
I cannot be immortal, taste all joy.

O God, where do they tend these struggling aims?
What would I have? What is this “sleep” which seems
To bound all? Can there be a “waking” point
Of crowning life?

And what is that I hunger for but God?

So, having worked towards perfection, having realised that he cannot have it here, he sees at last that the failures of earth are a prophecy of a perfection to come. He claims the infinite beyond. “I believe,” he cries, “in God and truth and love. Know my last state is happy, free from doubt or touch of fear.”

That is Browning all over. These are the motives of a crowd of poems, varied through a crowd of examples; never better shaped than in the trenchant and magnificent end of Easter-Day, where the questions and answers are like the flashing and clashing of sharp scimitars. Out of the same quarry from which Pauline was hewn the rest were hewn. They are polished, richly sculptured, hammered into fair form, but the stone is the same. Few have been so consistent as Browning, few so true to their early inspiration. He is among those happy warriors

Who, when brought
Among the tasks of real life, have wrought
Upon the plan that pleased their boyish thought.

This, then, is Pauline; I pass on to Paracelsus. Paracelsus, in order to give the poem a little local colour, opens at Wuerzburg in a garden, and in the year 1512. But it is not a poem which has to do with any place or any time. It belongs only to the country of the human soul. The young student Paracelsus is sitting with his friends Festus and Michal, on the eve of his departure to conquer the whole world by knowledge. They make a last effort to retain him, but even as he listens to their arguments his eyes are far away

As if where’er he gazed there stood a star,

so strong, so deep is desire to attain his aim.

For Paracelsus aims to know the whole of knowledge. Quiet and its charms, this homelike garden of still work, make their appeal in vain. “God has called me,” he cries; “these burning desires to know all are his voice in me; and if I stay and plod on here, I reject his call who has marked me from mankind. I must reach pure knowledge. That is my only aim, my only reward.”

Then Festus replies: “In this solitariness of aim, all other interests of humanity are left out. Will knowledge, alone, give you enough for life? You, a man!” And again: “You discern your purpose clearly; have you any security of attaining it? Is it not more than mortal power is capable of winning?” Or again: “Have you any knowledge of the path to knowledge?” Or, once more, “Is anything in your mind so clear as this, your own desire to be singly famous?”

“All this is nothing,” Paracelsus answers; “the restless force within me will overcome all difficulties. God does not give that fierce energy without giving also that which it desires. And, I am chosen out of all the world to win this glory.”

“Why not then,” says Festus, “make use of knowledge already gained? Work here; what knowledge will you gain in deserts?”

“I have tried all the knowledge of the past,” Paracelsus replies, “and found it a contemptible failure. Others were content with the scraps they won. Not I! I want the whole; the source and sum of divine and human knowledge, and though I craze as even one truth expands its infinitude before me, I go forth alone, rejecting all that others have done, to prove my own soul. I shall arrive at last. And as to mankind, in winning perfect knowledge I shall serve them; but then, all intercourse ends between them and me. I will not be served by those I serve.”

“Oh,” answers Festus, “is that cause safe which produces carelessness of human love? You have thrown aside all the helps of human knowledge; now you reject all sympathy. No man can thrive who dares to claim to serve the race, while he is bound by no single tie to the race. You would be a being knowing not what Love is a monstrous spectacle!”

“That may be true,” Paracelsus replies, “but for the time I will have nothing to do with feeling. My affections shall remain at rest, and then, when I have attained my single aim, when knowledge is all mine, my affections will awaken purified and chastened by my knowledge. Let me, unhampered by sympathy, win my victory. And I go forth certain of victory.”

Are there not, Festus, are there not, dear Michal,
Two points in the adventure of the diver:
One when, a beggar, he prepares to plunge;
One when, a prince, he rises with his pearl?
Festus, I plunge!

FESTUS. We wait you when you rise.

So ends the first part, and the second opens ten years afterwards in a Greek Conjurer’s house in Constantinople, with Paracelsus writing down the result of his work. And the result is this:

“I have made a few discoveries, but I could not stay to use them. Nought remains but a ceaseless, hungry pressing forward, a vision now and then of truth; and I I am old before my hour: the adage is true

Time fleets, youth fades, life is an empty dream;

and now I would give a world to rest, even in failure!

“This is all my gain. Was it for this,” he cries, “I subdued my life, lost my youth, rooted out love; for the sake of this wolfish thirst of knowledge?” No dog, said Faust, in Goethe’s poem, driven to the same point by the weariness of knowledge, no dog would longer live this life. My tyrant aim has brought me into a desert; worse still, the purity of my aim is lost. Can I truly say that I have worked for man alone? Sadder still, if I had found that which I sought, should I have had power to use it? O God, Thou who art pure mind, spare my mind. Thus far, I have been a man. Let me conclude, a man! Give me back one hour of my young energy, that I may use and finish what I know.

“And God is good: I started sure of that; and he may still renew my heart.

True, I am worn;
But who clothes summer, who is life itself?
God, that created all things, can renew!”

At this moment the voice of Aprile is heard singing the song of the poets, who, having great gifts, refused to use them, or abused them, or were too weak; and who therefore live apart from God, mourning for ever; who gaze on life, but live no more. He breaks in on Paracelsus, and, in a long passage of overlapping thoughts, Aprile who would love infinitely and be loved, aspiring to realise every form of love, as Paracelsus has aspired to realise the whole of knowledge makes Paracelsus feel that love is what he wants. And then, when Paracelsus realises this, Aprile in turn realises that he wants knowledge. Each recognises that he is the complement of the other, that knowledge is worthless without love, and love incapable of realising its aspirations without knowledge as if love did not contain the sum of knowledge necessary for fine being. Both have failed; and it seems, at first, that they failed because they did not combine their aims. But the chief reason of their failure and this is, indeed, Browning’s main point is that each of them tried to do more than our limits on earth permit. Paracelsus would have the whole sum of knowledge, Aprile nothing less than the whole of love, and, in this world. It is impossible; yet, were it possible, could they have attained the sum of knowledge and of love on earth and been satisfied therewith, they would have shut out the infinite of knowledge and love beyond them in the divine land, and been, in their satisfaction, more hopelessly lost than they are in their present wretchedness. Failure that leaves an unreached ideal before the soul is in reality a greater boon than success which thinks perfect satisfaction has been reached. Their aim at perfection is right: what is wrong is their view that failure is ruin, and not a prophecy of a greater glory to come. Could they have thought perfection were attained on earth were they satisfied with anything this world can give, no longer stung with hunger for the infinite all Paradise, with the illimitable glories, were closed to them!

Few passages are more beautiful in English poetry than that in which Aprile narrates his youthful aspiration: how, loving all things infinitely, he wished to throw them into absolute beauty of form by means of all the arts, for the love of men, and receive from men love for having revealed beauty, and merge at last in God, the Eternal Love. This was his huge aim, his full desire.

Few passages are more pathetic than that in which he tells his failure and its cause. “Time is short; the means of life are limited; we have no means answering to our desires. Now I am wrecked; for the multitudinous images of beauty which filled my mind forbade my seizing upon one which I could have shaped. I often wished to give one to the world, but the others came round and baffled me; and, moreover, I could not leave the multitude of beauty for the sake of one beauty. Unless I could embody all I would embody none.

“And, afterwards, when a cry came from man, ’Give one ray even of your hoarded light to us,’ and I tried for man’s sake to select one, why, then, mists came old memories of a thousand sweetnesses, a storm of images till it was impossible to choose; and so I failed, and life is ended.

“But could I live I would do otherwise. I would give a trifle out of beauty, as an example by which men could guess the rest and love it all; one strain from an angel’s song; one flower from the distant land, that men might know that such things were. Then, too, I would put common life into loveliness, so that the lowest hind would find me beside him to put his weakest hope and fear into noble language. And as I thus lived with men, and for them, I should win from them thoughts fitted for their progress, the very commonest of which would come forth in beauty, for they would have been born in a soul filled full of love. This should now be my aim: no longer that desire to embrace the whole of beauty which isolates a man from his fellows; but to realise enough of loveliness to give pleasure to men who desire to love. Therefore, I should live, still aspiring to the whole, still uncontent, but waiting for another life to gain the whole; but at the same time content, for man’s sake, to work within the limitations of life; not grieving either for failure, because love given and received makes failure pleasure. In truth, the failure to grasp all on earth makes, if we love, the certainty of a success beyond the earth.”

And Paracelsus listening and applying what Aprile says to his old desire to grasp, apart from men, the whole of knowledge as Aprile had desired to grasp the whole of love, learns the truth at last, and confesses it:

Love me henceforth, Aprile, while I learn
To love; and, merciful God, forgive us both!
We wake at length from weary dreams; but both
Have slept in fairy-land: though dark and drear
Appears the world before us, we no less
Wake with our wrists and ankles jewelled still.
I too have sought to KNOW as thou to LOVE
Excluding love as thou refusedst knowledge.

We are halves of a dissevered world, and we must never part till the Knower love, and thou, the Lover, know, and both are saved.

“No, no; that is not all,” Aprile answers, and dies. “Our perfection is not in ourselves but in God. Not our strength, but our weakness is our glory. Not in union with me, with earthly love alone, will you find the perfect life. I am not that you seek. It is God the King of Love, his world beyond, and the infinite creations Love makes in it.”

But Paracelsus does not grasp that last conclusion. He only understands that he has left out love in his aim, and therefore failed. He does not give up the notion of attainment upon earth. He cannot lose the first imprint of his idea of himself his lonely grasp of the whole of Knowledge.

The next two parts of the poem do not strengthen much the main thoughts. Paracelsus tries to work out the lesson learnt from Aprile to add love to knowledge, to aspire to that fulness in God. But he does not love enough. He despises those who follow him for the sake of his miracles, yet he desires their worship. Moreover, the pride of knowledge still clings to him; he cannot help thinking it higher than love; and the two together drive him into the thought that this world must give him satisfaction. So, he puts aside the ideal aim. But here also he is baffled. Those who follow him as the great teacher ask of him signs. He gives these; and he finds at Basel that he has sunk into the desire of vulgar fame, and prostituted his knowledge; and, sick of this, beaten back from his noble ambitions, he determines to have something at least out of earth, and chooses at Colmar the life of sensual pleasure. “I still aspire,” he cries. “I will give the night to study, but I will keep the day for the enjoyment of the senses. Thus, intellect and sense woven together, I shall at least have attained something. If I do not gain knowledge I shall have gained sensual pleasure. Man I despise and hate, and God has deceived me. I take the world.” But, even while he says this, his ancient aspiration lives so much in him that he scorns himself for his fall as much as he scorns the crowd.

Then comes the last scene, when, at Salzburg, he returns to find his friend Festus, and to die. In the hour of his death he reviews his whole life, his aims, their failure and the reason of it, and yet dies triumphant for he has found the truth.

I pass over the pathetic delirium in which Paracelsus thinks that Aprile is present, and cries for his hand and sympathy while Festus is watching by the couch. At last he wakes, and knows his friend, and that he is dying. “I am happy,” he cries; “my foot is on the threshold of boundless life; I see the whole whirl and hurricane of life behind me; all my life passes by, and I know its purpose, to what end it has brought me, and whither I am going. I will tell you all the meaning of life. Festus, my friend, tell it to the world.

“There was a time when I was happy; the secret of life was in that happiness.” “When, when was that?” answers Festus, “all I hope that answer will decide.”

PAR. When, but the time I vowed myself to man?

FEST. Great God, thy judgments are inscrutable!

Then he explains. “There are men, so majestical is our nature, who, hungry for joy and truth, win more and more of both, and know that life is infinite progress in God. This they win by long and slow battle. But there are those, of whom I was one” and here Browning draws the man of genius “who are born at the very point to which these others, the men of talent, have painfully attained. By intuition genius knows, and I knew at once, what God is, what we are, what life is. Alas! I could not use the knowledge aright. There is an answer to the passionate longings of the heart for fulness, and I knew it. And the answer is this: Live in all things outside of yourself by love and you will have joy. That is the life of God; it ought to be our life. In him it is accomplished and perfect; but in all created things it is a lesson learned slowly against difficulty.

“Thus I knew the truth, but I was led away from it. I broke down from thinking of myself, my fame, and of this world. I had not love enough, and I lost the truth for a time. But whatever my failures were, I never lost sight of it altogether. I never was content with myself or with the earth. Out of my misery I cried for the joy God has in living outside of himself in love of all things.”

Then, thrilled with this thought, he breaks forth into a most noble description new in English poetry, new in feeling and in thought, enough of itself to lift Browning on to his lofty peak first of the joy of God in the Universe he makes incessantly by pouring out of himself his life, and, secondly, of the joy of all things in God. Where dwells enjoyment there is He. But every realised enjoyment looks forward, even in God, to a new and higher sphere of distant glory, and when that is reached, to another sphere beyond

thus climbs
Pleasure its heights for ever and for ever.

Creation is God’s joyous self-giving. The building of the frame of earth was God’s first joy in Earth. That made him conceive a greater joy the joy of clothing the earth, of making life therein of the love which in animals, and last in man, multiplies life for ever.

So there is progress of all things to man, and all created things before his coming have in beauty, in power, in knowledge, in dim shapes of love and trust in the animals had prophecies of him which man has realised, hints and previsions, dimly picturing the higher race, till man appeared at last, and one stage of being was complete. But the law of progress does not cease now man has come. None of his faculties are perfect. They also by their imperfection suggest a further life, in which as all that was unfinished in the animals suggested man, so also that which is unfinished in us suggests ourselves in higher place and form. Man’s self is not yet Man.

We learn this not only from our own boundless desires for higher life, and from our sense of imperfection. We learn it also when we look back on the whole of nature that was before we were. We illustrate and illuminate all that has been. Nature is humanised, spiritualised by us. We have imprinted ourselves on all things; and this, as we realise it, as we give thought and passion to lifeless nature, makes us understand how great we are, and how much greater we are bound to be. We are the end of nature but not the end of ourselves. We learn the same truth when among us the few men of genius appear; stars in the darkness. We do not say These stand alone; we never can become as they. On the contrary, we cry: All are to be what these are, and more. They longed for more, and we and they shall have it. All shall be perfected; and then, and not till then, begins the new age and the new life, new progress and new joy. This is the ultimate truth.

“And as in inferior creatures there were prognostics of man and here Browning repeats himself so in man there are prognostics of the future and loftier humanity.

August anticipations, symbols, types
Of a dim splendour ever on before
In that eternal cycle life pursues.
For men begin to pass their natures bound

ceaselessly outgrowing themselves in history, and in the individual life and some, passionately aspiring, run ahead of even the general tendency, and conceive the very highest, and live to reveal it, and in revealing it lift and save those who do not conceive it.

“I, Paracelsus,” he cries and now Browning repeats the whole argument of the poem “was one of these. To do this I vowed myself, soul and limb.

“But I mistook my means, I took the wrong path, led away by pride. I gazed on power alone, and on power won by knowledge alone. This I thought was the only note and aim of man, and it was to be won, at once and in the present, without any care for all that man had already done. I rejected all the past. I despised it as a record of weakness and disgrace. Man should be all-sufficient now; a single day should bring him to maturity. He has power to reach the whole of knowledge at one leap.

“In that, I mistook the conditions of life. I did not see our barriers; nor that progress is slow; nor that every step of the past is necessary to know and to remember; nor that, in the shade of the past, the present stands forth bright; nor that the future is not to be all at once, but to dawn on us, in zone after zone of quiet progress. I strove to laugh down all the limits of our life, and then the smallest things broke me down me, who tried to realise the impossible on earth. At last I knew that the power I sought was only God’s, and then I prayed to die. All my life was failure.

“At this crisis I met Aprile, and learned my deep mistake. I had left love out; and love and knowledge, and power through knowledge, must go together. And Aprile had also failed, for he had sought love and rejected knowledge. Life can only move when both are hand in hand:

love preceding
Power, and with much power, always much more love:
Love still too straitened in its present means,
And earnest for new power to set love free.
I learned this, and supposed the whole was learned.

“But to learn it, and to fulfil it, are two different things. I taught the simple truth, but men would not have it. They sought the complex, the sensational, the knowledge which amazed them. And for this knowledge they praised me. I loathed and despised their praise; and when I would not give them more of the signs and wonders I first gave them, they avenged themselves by casting shame on my real knowledge. Then I was tempted, and became the charlatan; and yet despised myself for seeking man’s praise for that which was most contemptible in me. Then I sought for wild pleasure in the senses, and I hated myself still more. And hating myself I came to hate men; and then all that Aprile taught to me was lost.

“But now I know that I did not love enough to trace beneath the hate of men their love. I did not love enough to see in their follies the grain of divine wisdom.

To see a good in evil, and a hope
In ill-success; to sympathise, be proud
Of their half-reasons, faint aspirings, dim
Struggles for truth, their poorest fallacies,
Their prejudice and fears and cares and doubts;
All with a touch of nobleness, despite
Their error, upward tending all though weak.

“I did not see this, I did not love enough to see this, and I failed.

“Therefore let men regard me, who rashly longed to know all for power’s sake; and regard Aprile, the poet, who rashly longed for the whole of love for beauty’s sake and regarding both, shape forth a third and better-tempered spirit, in whom beauty and knowledge, love and power, shall mingle into one, and lead Man up to God, in whom all these four are One. In God alone is the goal.

“Meanwhile I die in peace, secure of attainment. What I have failed in here I shall attain there. I have never, in my basest hours, ceased to aspire; God will fulfil my aspiration:

If I stoop
Into a dark tremendous sea of cloud.
It is but for a time; I press God’s lamp
Close to my breast; its splendour, soon or late,
Will pierce the gloom: I shall emerge one day.
You understand me? I have said enough?

Aprile! Hand in hand with you, Aprile!”

And so he dies.