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But time, irrevocable time, is flown ;
And let us utter thanks for blessings sown
And reap'd-what hath been, and what is our own.
Two or three days passed by after the conversation just recorded before we met together again in HARTLEY'S library. When we did meet rural poetry gave place in large measure to familiar intercourse and easy chit-chat; for this was our last evening at Lynton. HARTLEY, it will be remembered, had promised to give us, in succinct form, his views of Mrs. Barrett Browning's poetry; and, upon my starting the subject, he drew forth a manuscript from his pocket, and, having requested our permission to do so, read the following essay :
"On the 29th of June, 1861, died, at Florence, one of the chief poets of modern times, and the greatest female poet of any age or country. The announcement of Mrs. Barrett Browning's death appeared in The Times among the other notifications which are daily inserted therein 'for a consideration;' but the leading journal of our country paid no tribute to the genius of this illustrious lady, nor even recognized by the insertion of a paragraph
from other papers, the service she has rendered to English literature. I noted at the time another peculiarity, which is, perhaps, illustrative of the age; namely, the lack of tributary verses to Mrs. Browning's memory. The Damons and Corydons who sang or chirped on such occasions in the olden time were altogether mute. Better, indeed, that it should be so, if such elegies gave expression to a meretricious sorrow; but the emotion called forth by the death of so true a poet might, one would imagine, have found honest vent in a poetical In Memoriam. I dare believe that by hundreds of her countrymen Mrs. Browning's death was felt almost as a personal bereavement; and I am only expressing feebly, what I and many besides me feel strongly, that the loss of this noble poet, in the full flush of her fame and genius, is especially to be deplored at a time when in the world of poetry so much that is pinchbeck passes current for genuine metal.
"It is impossible, perhaps it is not desirable, when reading a woman's works, to forget entirely the sex of the Women are dearer to men as women than as Intensely as we may admire the intellectual power of a large-brained woman,' we care more, and we ought to care more, for those attributes which are essentially feminine. Imagine, if that be possible, that the Merry Wives of Windsor,' or 'King Henry the Fourth,' had been conceived by a female dramatist, and say if any words can express too strongly the strange revulsion of feeling with which we should peruse them? Indeed, although every poet's life should be, as Milton declared, a true poem, it seems especially needful that the
female poet should, by the daily beauty of her behaviour as wife, mother, and friend, pay the homage due to her vocation. It may be true perhaps, that in her anxiety worthily to fulfil her work as a poet, Mrs. Browning sometimes sacrifices, in appearance, the graceful proprieties of her sex. She belongs, doubtless, to the order of the strong poets,' as an old writer terms them; but I am very sure that the propriety she sacrifices is only a conventional garb, and that the tenderness and purity of her feelings are at least equal to the force of her intellect. The woman whose mental acquisitions were almost as extraordinary as her poetic genius, whose first work was anEssay on Mind,' who translated Eschylus when a mere girl, and took up Plato for pastime, who read. almost every book worth reading in almost every language,' and who, like Milton himself, regarded intense study as her portion in this life, might well be forgiven if her learning took the form of pedantry, and if the winning manners and gentle ways of a well-nurtured English lady had been lost in the uncouth habits and oppressive singularities of a genuine blue-stocking. How far this was from being the case her friends can tell, and many of her best poems declare. 'They who know Mrs. Barrett Browning,' said Mary Russell Mitford, are apt to lose sight altogether of her learning and of her genius, and to think of her only as the most charming person they have ever met.' Yes, if in losing the author of 'Casa Guidi Windows,' of Lady Geraldine's Courtship,' and of Bertha in the Lane,' we have lost a great poet, it is also true that a tender, loving, affectionate Englishwoman has been buried in that grave at Florence.
"Perhaps of all modern poets, Mrs. Browning makes the largest demands upon the patient study and intellectual culture of her readers. It is necessary to dwell, as it were, in her atmosphere, to catch the tone of her thought, to accustom the ear to the peculiar rhythm of her song, before you can heartily appreciate her power or give her the place to which she is entitled among our English poets. It is very true that all noble poetry requires to be read and re-read, aloud and in silence, to be pondered over and treasured up in the memory before the fulness of its sweets can be rifled or its wisdom discovered, but in Shakspeare, in Spenser, in Milton, the surface-meaning is at least apparent at a glance, and some amount of enjoyment may be derived from the most cursory perusal of their poems. Generally speaking, this is not the case with Mrs. Browning. She is not, and never will be, a popular poet; for, with all her high qualities, she lacked the bold, definite, pictorial expression by means of which some of our greatest poets have gained the applause of the multitude and ranked among the most popular. That Mrs. Browning is deficient in this respect may be freely acknowledged; and, so far as her limited success with the public arises from obscurity of thought or language, it shows a want of completeness in her genius, and that she has not been strong enough to resist a temptation to which most of her contemporaries have yielded. And it must be freely owned that in struggling to deliver right the music of her nature,' Mrs. Browning will sometimes write in questionable English and express thoughts which convey but a faint meaning to her readers.
"An occasional obscurity of style is not, however, the
only fault in Mrs. Browning's poetry which hinders its popularity. Her taste is not equal to her power.
"The poet's strength of wing is marvellous; but in her flights she is sometimes over-born by the elements, and drifts hither and thither in turbulent commotion. Yet at such moments no sign of weakness is apparent. It is not the failure of power, but rather its misdirection, of which we, as lookers on, are conscious; and, though we may wish to see her hovering in a calmer atmosphere, we have no fear that, when thus swayed by the storm, she will be subdued by it. Another defect must be noted. Mrs. Browning, in spite of her deep earnestness, and of a tenderness and pathos which are 'pure womanly,' has but little sympathy with the common cares of common people. I say this even while that spirit-stirring and magnificent 'Lay of the Children' is ringing in my ears. In her poems she utters all herself into the air,' and in doing so gives us strains equal oftentimes to the 'large utterance of the early gods' of poetry. But as we read we feel that we are holding intercourse with one who is better acquainted with her own heart than with the heart of humanity. The poem into which Mrs. Browning has thrown her highest convictions is the most striking evidence that she is wanting in dramatic skill, and of her inability to pass from that inner world of which she is sole proprietress and which she has peopled with so much beauty. The characters in Aurora Leigh' are abstractions; their flesh is attenuated, their blood lacks consistency and colour. They are emanations from the intellectual life of the poet, and have no independent existence of their own. This inability to escape from