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A Handbook to the Works of Browning (6th ed.)

And its chiefly dramatic character


He

leaves the "bust" in the region of fancy, by stating that it no longer exists. But he tells us that it was executed in "della Robbia" ware, specimens of which, still, at the time he wrote, adorned the outer cornice of the palace. The statue is one of the finest works of John of Bologna.

The partial darkening of the Via Larga by the over-hanging mass of the Riccardi (formerly Medici) Palace[63] is figuratively connected in the poem with the "crime" of two of its inmates: the "murder," by Cosimo dei Medici and his (grand) son Lorenzo, of the liberties of the Florentine Republic.

The smallness of this group, and its chiefly dramatic character, show how little direct teaching Mr. Browning's works contain. There is, however, direct instructiveness in another and larger group, which has too much in common with all three foregoing to be included in either, and will be best indicated by the term "critical." In certain respects, indeed, this applies to several, perhaps to most, of those which I have placed under other heads; and I use it rather to denote a lighter tone and more incidental treatment, than any radical difference of subject or intention.

CRITICAL POEMS.

"Old Pictures in Florence." } Dramatic Lyrics. "Respectability." } Published in "Men "Popularity." } and Women." "Master

Hugues of Saxe-gotha." } 1855. "A Light Woman." Dramatic Romances. Published in "Men and Women." 1855. "Transcendentalism." ("Men and Women.") 1855. "How it Strikes a Contemporary." ("Men and Women.") 1855. "Dis aliter Visum; or, Le Byron de nos Jours." ("Dramatis Personae.") 1864. "At the Mermaid." } "House." } "Shop." } "Pacchiarotto, and other "Pisgah Sights," I. and II. } Poems." 1876. "Bifurcation." } "Epilogue." }

The first and fourth of these are significant from the insight they give into Mr. Browning's conception of art. We must allow, in reading them, for the dramatic and therefore temporary mood in which they were written, and deduct certain utterances which seem inconsistent with the breadth of the author's views. But they reflect him truly in this essential fact, that he considers art as subordinate to life, and only valuable in so far as it expresses it. This means, not that his standard is realistic: but that it is entirely human; it could scarcely be otherwise in a mind so devoted to the study of human life; but these very poems display also, on Mr. Browning's part, a loving familiarity with the works of painters, sculptors, and musicians, and a practical understanding of them, which might easily have resulted in a partial acceptance of artistic standards as such, and of the policy of art for art; and it is only through the breadth and strength of his dramatic genius, that artistic sympathies in themselves so strong could be subjected to it.

In music, this position appears at first sight to be reversed; for Mr. Browning rejects the dramatic theory which would convert it into a direct expression of human thought. Here, however, the poet in him comes into play. He leaves the plastic arts to express what may be both felt and thought; and calls on music to express what may be felt but not thought. In this sense he accepts it as an independent science subject to its own ideals and to its own laws. But this only means that, in his opinion, the relation of music to human life is different from that of plastic art: the one revealing the unknown, while the other embodies what is known.


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