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

The world has been no vale of tears to me


"A GRAMMARIAN'S FUNERAL" describes the rendering of the last honours to one whose life has consumed itself in the pursuit of knowledge. The knowledge pursued has been pedantic and minute, but for him it represented a mighty truth; and he has refused to live, in the world's sense, till he had mastered that truth, co-extensive, as he believed it, with life everlasting. Like Sordello, though in a different way, he would KNOW before he allowed himself to BE. He would realize the Whole; he would not discount it. His disciples are bearing him to a mountain-top, that the loftiness of his endeavour may be symbolized by his last resting-place. He is to lie

"where meteors shoot, clouds form, Lightnings are loosened." (vol. v. p. 159.)

where the new morning for which he waited will figuratively first break upon him.

"JOHANNES AGRICOLA IN MEDITATION" is a glowing and fantastic description of the privileges of the "elect," cast in the form of a monologue, and illustrated in the person of the speaker. Johannes Agricola was a German reformer of the sixteenth century, and alleged founder of the sect of the Antinomians: a class of Christians who extended the Low Church doctrine of the insufficiency of good works, and declared the children of God to be exempt from the necessity of performing them; absolved from doing right, because unable to do wrong; because no

sin would be accounted to them as such. Some authorities contend that he personally rejected only the Mosaic, not the moral law; but Mr. Browning has credited him with the full measure of Antinomian belief, and makes him specially exult in the Divine assurance that the concentrated venom of the worst committed sins can only work in him for salvation. He also comments wonderingly on the state of the virtuous man and woman, and of the blameless child, "undone," as he was saved, before the world began; whose very striving is turned to sin; whose life-long prayer and sacrifice can only end in damnation. But, as he declares, he praises God the more that he cannot understand Him; that His ways are inscrutable, that His love may not be bought.

"CONFESSIONS" is the answer of a dying man to the clergyman's question: does he "view the world as a vale of tears?" His fancy is living through a romance of past days, of which the scene comes back to him in the arrangement of physic-bottles on a table beside him, while the curtain, which may be green, but to his dying eyes is blue, makes the June weather about it all. He is seeing the girl he loved, as watching for him from a terrace near the stopper of that last and tallest bottle in the row; and he is retracing the path by which he could creep, unseen by any eyes but hers, to the "rose-wreathed" gate which was their trysting-place. "No, reverend sir," is the first and last word of his reply, "the world has been no vale of tears to me."

"MAY AND DEATH" expresses a mourner's wish, so natural to the egotism of a deep sorrow, that the season which robbed him of his friend's life should bury all its sweetness with him. The speaker retracts this wish, in justice to the many pairs of friends who have each their right to happiness. But there is, he says, one red-streaked plant which their May might spare, since one wood alone would miss it. For its leaf is dashed as with the blood of Spring; and whenever henceforth it grows in that same place, the drop will have been drawn from his heart.[97]


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