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Of the great poets who, not being born dramatists, have attempted to write dramas in poetry, Browning was the most persevering. I suppose that, being conscious of his remarkable power in the representation of momentary action and of states of the soul, he thought that he could harmonise into a whole the continuous action of a number of persons, and of their passions in sword-play with one another; and then conduct to a catastrophe their interaction. But a man may be capable of writing dramatic lyrics and dramatic romances without being capable of writing a drama. Indeed, so different are the two capabilities that I think the true dramatist could not write such a lyric or romance as Browning calls dramatic; his genius would carry one or the other beyond the just limits of this kind of poetry into his own kind. And the writer of excellent lyrics and romances of this kind will be almost sure to fail in real drama. I wish, in order to avoid confusion of thought, that the term “dramatic” were only used of poetry which belongs to drama itself. I have heard Chaucer called dramatic. It is a complete misnomer. His genius would have for ever been unable to produce a good drama. Had he lived in Elizabeth’s time, he would, no doubt, have tried to write one, but he must have failed. The genius for story-telling is just the genius which is incapable of being a fine dramatist. And the opposite is also true. Shakespeare, great as his genius was, would not have been able to write a single one of the Canterbury Tales. He would have been driven into dramatising them.

Neither Tennyson nor Browning had dramatic genius that is, the power to conceive, build, co-ordinate and finish a drama. But they thought they had, and we may pardon them for trying their hand. I can understand the hunger and thirst which beset great poets, who had, like these two men, succeeded in so many different kinds of poetry, to succeed also in the serious drama, written in poetry. It is a legitimate ambition; but poets should be acquainted with their limitations, and not waste their energies or our patience on work which they cannot do well. That men like Tennyson and Browning, who were profoundly capable of understanding what a great drama means, and is; who had read what the master-tragedians of Greece have done; who knew their Shakespeare, to say nothing of the other Elizabethan dramatists; who had seen Moliere on the stage; who must have felt how the thing ought to be done, composed, and versed; that they, having written a play like Harold or Strafford, should really wish to stage it, or having heard and seen it on the stage should go on writing more dramas, would seem incomprehensible, were it not that power to do one thing very well is so curiously liable to self-deceit.

The writing of the first drama is not to be blamed. It would be unnatural not to try one’s hand. It is the writing of the others which is amazing in men like Tennyson and Browning. They ought to have felt, being wiser than other men in poetry, that they had no true dramatic capacity. Other poets who also tried the drama did know themselves better. Byron wrote several dramas, but he made little effort to have them represented on the stage. He felt they were not fit for that; and, moreover, such scenic poems as Manfred and Cain were not intended for the stage, and do not claim to be dramas in that sense. To write things of this kind, making no claim to public representation, with the purpose of painting a situation of the soul, is a legitimate part of a poet’s work, and among them, in Browning’s work, might be classed In a Balcony, which I suppose his most devoted worshipper would scarcely call a drama.

Walter Scott, than whom none could conduct a conversation better in a novel, or make more living the clash of various minds in a critical event, whether in a cottage or a palace; whom one would select as most likely to write a drama well had self-knowledge enough to understand, after his early attempts, that true dramatic work was beyond his power. Wordsworth also made one effort, and then said good-bye to drama. Coleridge tried, and staged Remorse. It failed and deserved to fail. To read it is to know that the writer had no sense of an audience in his mind as he wrote it a fatal want in a dramatist. Even its purple patches of fine poetry and its noble melody of verse did not redeem it. Shelley did better than these brethren of his, and that is curious. One would say, after reading his previous poems, that he was the least likely of men to write a true drama. Yet the Cenci approaches that goal, and the fragment of Charles the First makes so great a grip on the noble passions and on the intellectual eye, and its few scenes are so well woven, that it is one of the unfulfilled longings of literature that it should have been finished. Yet Shelley himself gave it up. He knew, like the others, that the drama was beyond his power.

Tennyson and Browning did not so easily recognise their limits. They went on writing dramas, not for the study, which would have been natural and legitimate, but for the stage. This is a curious psychological problem, and there is only one man who could have given us, if he had chosen, a poetic study of it, and that is Browning himself. I wish, having in his mature age read Strafford over, and then read his other dramas all of them full of the same dramatic weaknesses as Strafford he had analysed himself as “the poet who would be a dramatist and could not.” Indeed, it is a pity he did not do this. He was capable of smiling benignly at himself, and sketching himself as if he were another man; a thing of which Tennyson, who took himself with awful seriousness, and walked with himself as a Druid might have walked in the sacred grove of Mona, was quite incapable.

However, the three important dramas of Tennyson are better, as dramas, than Browning’s. That is natural enough. For Browning’s dramas were written when he was young, when his knowledge of the dramatic art was small, and when his intellectual powers were not fully developed. Tennyson wrote his when his knowledge of the Drama was great, and when his intellect had undergone years of careful training. He studied the composition and architecture of the best plays; he worked at the stage situations; he created a blank verse for his plays quite different from that he used in his poems, and a disagreeable thing it is; he introduced songs, like Shakespeare, at happy moments; he imitated the old work, and at the same time strove hard to make his own original. He laboured at the history, and Becket and Harold are painfully historical. History should not master a play, but the play the history. The poet who is betrayed into historical accuracy so as to injure the development of his conception in accordance with imaginative truth, is lost; and Harold and Becket both suffer from Tennyson falling into the hands of those critical historians whom Tennyson consulted.

Nevertheless, by dint of laborious intellectual work, but not by the imagination, not by dramatic genius, Tennyson arrived at a relative success. He did better in these long dramas than Coleridge, Wordsworth, Scott or Byron. Queen Mary, Harold, and Becket get along in one’s mind with some swiftness when one reads them in an armchair by the fire. Some of the characters are interesting and wrought with painful skill. We cannot forget the pathetic image of Queen Mary, which dwells in the mind when the play has disappeared; nor the stately representation in Becket of the mighty and overshadowing power of Rome, claiming as its own possession the soul of the world. But the minor characters; the action; the play of the characters, great and small, and of the action and circumstance together towards the catastrophe these things were out of Tennyson’s reach, and still more out of Browning’s. They could both build up characters, and Browning better than Tennyson; they could both set two people to talk together, and by their talk to reveal their character to us; but to paint action, and the action of many men and women moving to a plotted end; to paint human life within the limits of a chosen subject, changing and tossing and unconscious of its fate, in a town, on a battlefield, in the forum, in a wild wood, in the king’s palace or a shepherd farm; and to image this upon the stage, so that nothing done or said should be unmotived, unrelated to the end, or unnatural; of that they were quite incapable, and Browning more incapable than Tennyson.

There is another thing to say. The three long dramas of Tennyson are better as dramas than the long ones of Browning. But the smaller dramatic pieces of Browning are much better than the smaller ones of Tennyson. The Promise of May is bad in dialogue, bad in composition, bad in delineation of character, worst of all in its subject, in its plot, and in its motives. The Cup, and The Falcon, a beautiful story beautifully written by Boccaccio, is strangely dulled, even vulgarised, by Tennyson. The Robin Hood play has gracious things in it, but as a drama it is worthless, and it is impossible to forgive Tennyson for his fairies. All these small plays are dreadful examples of what a great poet may do when he works in a vehicle if I may borrow a term from painting for which he has no natural capacity, but for which he thinks he has. He is then like those sailors, and meets justly the same fate, who think that because they can steer a boat admirably, they can also drive a coach and four. The love scene in Becket between Rosamund and Henry illustrates my meaning. It was a subject in itself that Tennyson ought to have done well, and would probably have done well in another form of poetry; but, done in a form for which he had no genius, he did it badly. It is the worst thing in the play. Once, however, he did a short drama fairly well. The Cup has some dramatic movement, its construction is clear, its verse imaginative, its scenery well conceived; and its motives are simple and easily understood. But then, as in Becket, Irving stood at his right hand, and advised him concerning dramatic changes and situations. Its passion is, however, cold; it leaves us unimpressed.

On the contrary, Browning’s smaller dramatic pieces I cannot call them dramas are much better than those of Tennyson. Pippa Passes, A Soul’s Tragedy, In a Balcony, stand on a much higher level, aim higher, and reach their aim more fully than Tennyson’s shorter efforts. They have not the qualities which fit them for representation, but they have those which fit them for thoughtful and quiet reading. No one thinks much of the separate personalities; our chief interest is in following Browning’s imagination as it invents new phases of his subject, and plays like a sword in sunlight, in and out of these phases. As poems of the soul in severe straits, made under a quasi-dramatic form, they reach a high excellence, but all that we like best in them, when we follow them as situations of the soul, we should most dislike when represented on the stage.

Strafford is, naturally, the most immature of the dramas, written while he was still writing Paracelsus, and when he was very young. It is strange to compare the greater part of its prosaic verse with the rich poetic verse of Paracelsus; and this further illustrates how much a poet suffers when he writes in a form which is not in his genius. There are only a very few passages in Strafford which resemble poetry until we come to the fifth Act, where Browning passes from the jerky, allusive but rhythmical prose of the previous acts into that talk between Strafford and his children which has poetic charm, clearness and grace. The change does not last long, and when Hollis, Charles and Lady Carlisle, followed by Pym, come in, the whole Act is in confusion. Nothing is clear, except absence of the clearness required for a drama. But the previous Acts are even more obscure; not indeed for their readers, but for hearers in a theatre who since they are hurried on at once to new matter are forced to take in on the instant what the dramatist means. It would be impossible to tell at first hearing what the chopped-up sentences, the interrupted phrases, the interjected “nots” and “buts” and “yets” are intended to convey. The conversation is mangled. This vice does not prevail in the other dramas to the same extent as in Strafford. Browning had learnt his lesson, I suppose, when he saw Strafford represented. But it sorely prevails in Colombe’s Birthday.

Strafford is brought before us as a politician, as the leader of the king’s side in an austere crisis of England’s history. The first scene puts the great quarrel forward as the ground on which the drama is to be wrought. An attempt is made to represent the various elements of the popular storm in the characters of Pym, Hampden, the younger Vane and others, and especially in the relations between Pym and Strafford, who are set over, one against the other, with some literary power. But the lines on which the action is wrought are not simple. No audience could follow the elaborate network of intrigue which, in Browning’s effort to represent too much of the history, he has made so confused. Strong characterisation perishes in this effort to write a history rather than a drama. What we chiefly see of the crisis is a series of political intrigues at the Court carried out by base persons, of whom the queen is the basest, to ruin Strafford; the futility of Strafford’s sentimental love of the king, whom he despises while he loves him; Strafford’s blustering weakness and blindness when he forces his way into the Parliament House, and the contemptible meanness of Charles. The low intrigues of the Court leave the strongest impression on the mind, not the mighty struggle, not the fate of the Monarchy and its dark supporter.

Browning tries as if he had forgotten that which should have been first in his mind to lift the main struggle into importance in the last Act, but he fails. That which ought to be tragic is merely sentimental. Indeed, sentimentality is the curse of the play. Strafford’s love of the king is almost maudlin. The scenes between Strafford and Pym in which their ancient friendship is introduced are over-sentimentalised, not only for their characters, but for the great destinies at stake. Even at the last, when Pym and Strafford forgive each other and speak of meeting hereafter, good sense is violated, and the natural dignity of the scene, and the characters of the men. Strafford is weaker here, if that were possible, than he is in the rest of the drama. Nothing can be more unlike the man.

Pym is intended to be especially strong. He is made a blusterer. He was a gentleman, but in this last scene he is hateful. As to Charles, he was always a selfish liar, but he was not a coward, and a coward he becomes in this play. He, too, is sentimentalised by his uxoriousness. Lady Carlisle is invented. I wish she had not been. Stratford’s misfortunes were deep enough without having her in love with him. I do not believe, moreover, that any woman in the whole world from the very beginning was ever so obscure in her speech to the man she loves as Lady Carlisle was to Strafford. And the motive of her obscurity that if she discloses the King’s perfidy she robs Strafford of that which is dearest to him his belief in the King’s affection for him is no doubt very fine, but the woman was either not in love who argued in that way, or a fool; for Strafford knew, and lets her understand that he knew, the treachery of the King. But Browning meant her to be in love, and to be clever.

The next play Browning wrote, undeterred by the fate of Strafford, was King Victor and King Charles. The subject is historical, but it is modified by Browning, quite legitimately, to suit his own purposes. In itself the plot is uninteresting. King Victor, having brought the kingdom to the verge of ruin, abdicates and hands the crown to his son, believing him to be a weak-minded person whose mistakes will bring him Victor back to the throne, when he can throw upon the young king the responsibility of the mess he has himself made of the kingdom. Charles turns out to be a strong character, sets right the foreign affairs of the kingdom, and repairs his father’s misgovernment. Then Victor, envious and longing for power, conspires to resume the throne, and taken prisoner, begs back the crown. Charles, touched as a son, and against his better judgment, restores his father, who immediately and conveniently dies. It is a play of court intrigue and of politics, and these are not made interesting by any action, such as we call dramatic, in the play. From end to end there is no inter-movement of public passion. There are only four characters. D’Ormea, the minister, is a mere stick in a prime-minister’s robes and serves Victor and Charles with equal ease, in order to keep his place. He is not even subtle in his rôle. When we think what Browning would have made of him in a single poem, and contrast it with what he has made of him here, we are again impressed with Browning’s strange loss of power when he is writing drama. Victor and Charles are better drawn than any characters in Strafford; and Polyxena is a great advance on Lady Carlisle. But this piece is not a drama; it is a study of soul-situations, and none of them are of any vital importance. There is far too great an improbability in the conception of Charles. A weak man in private becomes a strong man in public life. To represent him, having known and felt his strength, as relapsing into his previous weakness when it endangers all his work, is quite too foolish. He did not do it in history. Browning, with astonishing want of insight, makes him do it here, and adds to it a foolish anger with his wife because she advises him against it. And the reason he does it and is angry with his wife, is a merely sentimental one a private, unreasoning, childish love of his father, such a love as Strafford is supposed to have for Charles I. the kind of love which intruded into public affairs ruins them, and which, being feeble and for an unworthy object, injures him who gives it and him who receives it. Even as a study of characters, much more as a drama, this piece is a failure, and the absence of poetry in it is amazing.

The Return of the Druses approaches more nearly to a true drama than its predecessors; it is far better written; it has several fine motives which are intelligently, but not dramatically, worked out; and it is with great joy that one emerges at last into a little poetry. Browning, having more or less invented his subject, is not seduced, by the desire to be historical, to follow apparent instead of imaginative truth; nor are we wearied by his unhappy efforts to analyse, in disconnected conversations, political intrigue. Things are in this play as the logic of imaginative passion wills, as Browning’s conception drove him. But, unfortunately for its success as a true drama, Browning doubles and redoubles the motives which impel his characters. Djabal, Anael, Loys, have all of them, two different and sometimes opposite aims working in them. They are driven now by one, now by the other, and the changes of speech and action made by the different motives surging up, alternately or together, within their will, are so swift and baffling that an audience would be utterly bewildered. It is amusing to follow the prestidigitation of Browning’s intellect creating this confused battle in souls as long as one reads the play at home, though even then we wonder why he cannot, at least in a drama, make a simple situation. If he loved difficult work, this would be much more difficult to do well than the confused situation he has not done well. Moreover, the simplified situation would be effective on the stage; and it would give a great opportunity for fine poetry. As it is, imaginative work is replaced by intellectual exercises, poetry is lost in his analysis of complex states of feeling. However, this involved in-and-out of thought is entertaining to follow in one’s study if not on the stage. It is done with a loose power no one else in England possessed, and our only regret is that he did not bridle and master his power. Finally, with regard to this play, I should like to isolate from it certain imaginative representations of characters which embody types of the men of the time, such as the Prefect and the Nuncio. The last interview between Loys and the Prefect, taken out of the drama, would be a little masterpiece of characterisation.

The Blot in the Scutcheon is the finest of all these dramas. It might well be represented on the stage as a literary drama before those who had already read it, and who would listen to it for its passion and poetry; but its ill-construction and the unnaturalness of its situations will always prevent, and justly, its public success as a drama. It is full of pathetic and noble poetry; its main characters are clearly outlined and of a refreshing simplicity. It has few obtrusive metaphysical or intellectual subtleties things which Browning could not keep out of his dramas, but which only a genius like Shakespeare can handle on the stage. It has real intensity of feeling, and the various passions interlock and clash together with some true dramatic interaction. Their presentation awakens our pity, and wonder for the blind fates of men. The close leaves us in sorrow, yet in love with human nature. The pathos of the catastrophe is the most pathetic thing in Browning. I do not even except the lovely record of Pompilia. The torture of the human heart, different but equal, of Tresham and Mildred in the last scene, is exceedingly bitter in its cry too cruel almost to hear and know, were it not relieved by the beauty of their tenderness and forgiveness in the hour of death. They die of their pain, but die loving, and are glad to die. They have all of them Mildred, Tresham, and Mertoun sinned as it were by error. Death unites them in righteousness, loveliness and love. A fierce, swift storm sweeps out of a clear heaven upon them, destroys them, and saves them. It is all over in three days. They are fortunate; their love deserved that the ruin should be brief, and the reparation be transferred, in a moment, to the grave justice of eternity.

The first two acts bear no comparison with the third. The first scene, with all the servants, only shows how Browning failed in bringing a number of characters together, and in making them talk with ease and connectedly. Then, in two acts, the plot unfolds itself. It is a marvel of bad construction, grossly improbable, and offends that popular common sense of what is justly due to the characters concerned and to human nature itself, to which a dramatist is bound to appeal.

Mildred and Mertoun have loved and sinned. Mertoun visits her every night. Gerard, an old gamekeeper, has watched him climbing to her window, and he resolves to tell this fatal tale to Tresham, Mildred’s brother, whose strongest feeling is pride in the unblemished honour of his house. Meantime Mertoun has asked Tresham for Mildred’s hand in marriage, and these lovers, receiving his consent, hope that their sin will be purged. Then Gerard tells his story. Tresham summons Mildred. She confesses the lover, and Tresham demands his name. To reveal the name would have saved the situation, as we guess from Tresham’s character. His love would have had time to conquer his pride. But Mildred will not tell the name, and when Tresham says: “Then what am I to say to Mertoun?” she answers, “I will marry him.” This, and no wonder, seems the last and crowning dishonour to Tresham, and he curses, as if she were a harlot, the sister whom he passionately loves.

This is a horrible situation which Browning had no right to make. The natural thing would be for Mildred to disclose that her lover and Lord Mertoun, whom she was to marry, were one and the same. There is no adequate reason, considering the desperate gravity of the situation, for her silence; it ought to be accounted for and it is not, nor could it be. Her refusal to tell her lover’s name, her confession of her dishonour and at the same time her acceptance of Mertoun as a husband at her brother’s hands, are circumstances which shock probability and common human nature.

Then it is not only this which irritates a reader; it is also the stupidity of Tresham. That also is most unnatural. He believes that the girl whom he has loved and honoured all his life, whose purity was as a star to him, will accept Mertoun while she was sinning with another! He should have felt that this was incredible, and immediately understood, as Guendolen does, that her lover and Mertoun were the same. Dulness and blindness so improbable are unfitting in a drama, nor does the passion of his overwhelming pride excuse him. The central situation is a protracted irritation. Browning was never a good hand at construction, even in his poems. His construction is at its very worst in this drama.

But now, when we have, with wrath, accepted this revolting situation which, of course, Browning made in order to have his tragic close, but which a good dramatist would have arranged so differently we pass into the third act, the tragic close; and that is simple enough in its lines, quite naturally wrought out, beautifully felt, and of exquisite tenderness. Rashness of wrath and pride begin it; Mertoun is slain by Tresham as he climbs to Mildred’s window, though why he should risk her honour any more when she is affianced to him is another of Browning’s maddening improbabilities. And then wrath and pride pass away, and sorrow and love and the joy of death are woven together in beauty. If we must go through the previous acts to get to this, we forgive, for its sake, their wrongness. It has turns of love made exquisitely fair by inevitable death, unfathomable depths of feeling. We touch in these last scenes the sacred love beyond the world in which forgiveness is forgotten.

Colombe’s Birthday is of all these plays the nearest to a true drama. It has been represented in America as well as in England, and its skilful characterisation of Valence, Colombe, and Berthold has won deserved praise; but it could not hold the stage. The subject is too thin. Colombe finds out on her birthday that she is not the rightful heir to the Duchy; but as there is some doubt, she resolves to fight the question. In her perplexities she is helped and supported by Valence, an advocate from one of the cities of the Duchy, who loves her, but whom she believes to serve her from loyalty alone. Berthold, the true heir, to avoid a quarrel, offers to marry Colombe, not because he loves her, but as a good piece of policy. She then finds out that she loves Valence, and refusing the splendid alliance, leaves the court a private person, with love and her lover. This slight thing is spun out into five acts by Browning’s metaphysics of love and friendship. There is but little action, or pressure of the characters into one another. The intriguing courtiers are dull, and their talk is not knit together. The only thing alive in them is their universal meanness. That meanness, it is true, enhances the magnanimity of Valence and Berthold, but its dead level in so many commonplace persons lowers the dramatic interest of the piece. The play is rather an interesting conversational poem about the up-growing of love between two persons of different but equally noble character; who think love is of more worth than power or wealth, and who are finally brought together by a bold, rough warrior who despises love in comparison with policy. Its real action takes place in the hearts of Valence and Colombe, not in the world of human life; and what takes place in their hearts is at times so quaintly metaphysical, so curiously apart from the simplicities of human love, so complicated, even beyond the complexity of the situation for Browning loved to pile complexity on complexity that it makes the play unfit for public representation but all the more interesting for private reading. But, even in the quiet of our room, we ask why Browning put his subject into a form which did not fit it; why he overloaded the story of two souls with a host of characters who have no vital relation to it, and, having none, are extremely wearisome? It might have been far more successfully done in the form of In a Balcony, which Browning himself does not class as a drama.

Luria, the last of the dramas in date of composition, may be said to have no outward action, except in one scene where Tiburzio breaks in suddenly to defend Luria, who, like a wounded stag, stands at bay among the dogs and hunters who suspect his fidelity to Florence. It is a drama of inward action, of changes in the souls of men. The full purification of Luria is its one aim, and the motive of Luria himself is a single motive. The play occupies one day only, and passes in one place.

Luria is a noble Moor who commands the armies of Florence against Pisa, and conquers Pisa. He is in love with the city of Florence as a man is with a woman. Its beauty, history, great men, and noble buildings attract his Eastern nature, by their Northern qualities, as much as they repel his friend and countryman Husain. He lives for her with unbroken faithfulness, and he dies for her with piteous tenderness when he finds out that Florence distrusts him. When he is suspected of treachery, his heart breaks, and to explain his broken heart, he dies. There is no other way left to show to Florence that he has always been true to her. And at the moment of his death, all who spied on him, distrusted and condemned him, are convinced of his fidelity. Even before he dies, his devotion to his ideal aim, his absolute unselfishness, have won over and ennobled all the self-interested characters which surround him Puccio, the general who is jealous of him; Domizia, the woman who desires to use him as an instrument of her hate to Florence; even Braccio, the Macchiavellian Florentine who thinks his success must be dangerous to the state. Luria conquers them all. It is the triumph of self-forgetfulness. And the real aim of the play is not dramatic. It is too isolated an aim to be dramatic. It is to build up and image the noble character of Luria, and it reaches that end with dignity.

The other characters are but foils to enhance the solitary greatness of Luria. Braccio is a mere voice, a theory who talks, and, at the end, when he becomes more human, he seems to lose his intelligence. The Secretaries have no individuality. Domizia causes nothing, and might with advantage be out of the play. However, when, moved by the nobleness of Luria, she gives up her revenge on Florence, she speaks well, and her outburst is poetical. Puccio is a real personage, but a poor fellow. Tiburzio is a pale reflection of Luria. Husain alone has some personality, but even his Easternness, which isolates him, is merged in his love of Luria. All of them only exist to be the scaffolding by means of which Luria’s character is built into magnificence, and they disappear from our sight, like scaffolding, when the building is finished.

There are fine things in the poem: the image of Florence; its men, its streets, its life as seen by the stranger-eyes of Luria; the contrast between the Eastern and the Latin nature; the picture of hot war; the sudden friendship of Luria and Tiburzio, the recognition in a moment of two high hearts by one another; the picture of Tiburzio fighting at the ford, of Luria tearing the letter among the shamed conspirators; the drawing of the rough honest soldier-nature in Puccio, and, chief of all, the vivid historic painting of the time and the type of Italian character at the time of the republics.

The first part of A Soul’s Tragedy is written in poetry and the second in prose. The first part is dull but the second is very lively and amusing; so gay and clever that we begin to wish that a good deal of Browning’s dramas had been written in prose. And the prose itself, unlike his more serious prose in his letters and essays, is good, clear, and of an excellent style. The time of the play is in the sixteenth century; but there is nothing in it which is special to that time: no scenery, no vivid pictures of street life, no distinct atmosphere of the period. It might just as well be of the eighteenth or nineteenth century. The character of Chiappino may be found in any provincial town. This compound of envy, self-conceit, superficial cleverness and real silliness is one of our universal plagues, and not uncommon among the demagogues of any country. And he contrasts him with Ogniben, the Pope’s legate, another type, well known in governments, skilled in affairs, half mocking, half tolerant of the “foolish people,” the alluring destroyer of all self-seeking leaders of the people. He also is as common as Chiappino, as modern as he is ancient. Both are representative types, and admirably drawn. They are done at too great length, but Browning could not manage them as well in Drama as he would have done in a short piece such as he placed in Men and Women. Why this little thing is called A Soul’s Tragedy I cannot quite understand. That title supposes that Chiappino loses his soul at the end of the play. But it is plain from his mean and envious talk at the beginning with Eulalia that his soul is already lost. He is not worse at the end, but perhaps on the way to betterment. The tragedy is then in the discovery by the people that he who was thought to be a great soul is a fraud. But that conclusion was not Browning’s intention. Finally, if this be a tragedy it is clothed with comedy. Browning’s humour was never more wise, kindly, worldly and biting than in the second act, and Ogniben may well be set beside Bishop Blougram. It would be a privilege to dine with either of them.

Every one is in love with Pippa Passes, which appeared immediately after Sordello. It may have been a refreshment to Browning after the complexities and metaphysics of Sordello, to live for a time with the soft simplicity of Pippa, with the clear motives of the separate occurrences at Asolo, with the outside picturesque world, and in a lyric atmosphere. It certainly is a refreshment to us. It is a pity so little was done by Browning in this pleasant, graceful, happy way. The substance of thought in it and its intellectual force are just as strong as in Sordello or Paracelsus, and are concerned, especially in the first two pieces, with serious and weighty matters of human life. Beyond the pleasure the poem gives, its indirect teaching is full of truth and beauty; and the things treated of belong to many phases of human life, and touch their problems with poetic light and love. Pippa herself, in her affectionate, natural goodness, illuminates the greater difficulties of life in a single day more than Sordello or Paracelsus could in the whole course of their lives.

It may be that there are persons who think lightly of Pippa Passes in comparison with Fifine at the Fair, persons who judge poetry by the difficulties they find in its perusal. But Pippa Passes fulfils the demands of the art of poetry, and produces in the world the high results of lovely and noble poetry. The other only does these things in part; and when Fifine at the Fair and even Sordello are in the future only the study of pedants, Pippa Passes will be an enduring strength and pleasure to all who love tenderly and think widely. And those portions of it which belong to Pippa herself, the most natural, easy and simplest portions, will be the sources of the greatest pleasure and the deepest thought. Like Sordello’s song, they will endure for the healing, comforting, exalting and impelling of the world.

I have written of her and of other parts of the poem elsewhere. It only remains to say that nowhere is the lyric element in Browning’s genius more delightfully represented than in this little piece of mingled song and action. There is no better love-lyric in his work than

You’ll love me yet! and I can tarry
Your love’s protracted growing;

and the two snatches of song which Pippa sings when she is passing under Ottima’s window and the Monsignore’s “The year’s at the spring” and “Overhead the tree-tops meet” possess, independent of the meaning of the words and their poetic charm, a freshness, dewiness, morning ravishment to which it is difficult to find an equal. They are filled with youth and its delight, alike of the body and the soul. What Browning’s spirit felt and lived when he was young and his heart beating with the life of the universe, is in them, and it is their greatest charm.