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

A Belvedere which he had constructed in his grounds


The

first interruption to their happiness was a summons to Miranda, from his mother in Paris, to come and answer for his excessive expenditure. The immorality of his life she had condoned (a curious proof of this is given), for she hoped it would be its own cure. But "his architectural freaks, above all, a Belvedere which he had constructed in his grounds, were a reckless waste of substance which she could not witness without displeasure." She had immense influence with her son; and he took her rebuke so much to heart, that he only left her to fling himself into the Seine. He was brought out alive; but lay for a month at death's door, and made no progress towards recovery till he had been restored to Clara's care; and Clara was painfully winning him back to health, when the telegraphic wires flashed a second summons upon him. His presence was again demanded in the maternal home. "The business was urgent. Its nature he would learn on arrival."

He hastened to his mother's house, to find her a corpse--laid out with all the ghastly ceremonial which Catholic fancy could devise--and to be told that his misconduct had killed her. The tribe of cousins, who had planned the _coup de theatre_, were there to enjoy its result. This did not fail them. Miranda fainted away. As soon as consciousness returned, he made his act of atonement. He foreswore the illegal bond. He willed away his fortune to his kinsfolk; and would retain of it, from that moment, only a pittance

for himself, and the means of honourable subsistence for Clara. They were to meet in the same house a week later, to arrange in what manner that sinful woman should be acquainted with the facts.

The day came. The cousins arrived. Miranda did not appear. He had broken down at the funeral in a fresh outburst of frenzied grief; but from this he had had time to recover. Someone peeped into his room. There he stood, by a blazing fire, a small empty coffer by his side, engaged in reading some letters which he had taken from it. Whose they were, and what the reading had told him, was quickly shown. He replaced them in the box, plunged this in the fire; and reiterating the words, "Burn, burn and purify my past!" held it there till both his hands had been consumed; no sign of pain escaping him. He was dragged away by main force, protesting against this hindrance to his salvation. "He was not yet purified. SHE was not yet burned out of him." In his bed he raved and struggled against the image which again rose before his eyes, which again grew and formed itself in his flesh.

The delirium was followed by three months of exhaustion. The moment the sick man could "totter" out of his room, he found his way to her whom he had abjured, and who was in Paris calmly awaiting his return to her. She came back with him. He introduced her to his kinsmen. "It was all right," he said; "Clara would henceforth be--his brother; he would still fulfil his bond." From this, however, he departed, in so far as not to content himself with a pittance. He sold his business to the "cousinry," and, as they considered, on hard terms. He and Clara then returned to Clairvaux.

And now, as Mr. Browning interprets the situation, his experience had entered on a new phase. He had tested the equal strength of the earthly and the heavenly powers, and he knew that he could elude neither, and that neither could be postponed to the other. He no longer strove to compromise between these opposing realities, but threw his whole being into the struggle to unite them. He adhered to his unlawful love. His acts of piety and charity became grotesque in their excessiveness. (Of these again particulars are given.) Two years went by; and then, one April morning, Miranda climbed his Belvedere, and was found, soon after, dead, on the turf below. There seemed no question of accident. The third attempt at suicide had succeeded.


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