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

' wept Hoseyn 'You never have loved my Pearl


"Keep your life, calumniator!--worthless life I freely spare: Mine you freely would have taken--murdered me and my good fame Both at once--and all the better! Go, and thank your own bad aim Which permits me to forgive you!..." (vol. xv. p. 105.)

What course would have remained to him but to seize the pistol, and himself send the bullet into his brain? This tremendous mental situation is, we need hardly say, Mr. Browning's addition to the episode.

The poem contains also some striking reflections on the risks and responsibilities of power; and concludes with an expression of reverent pity for the "great unhappy hero" for whom they proved too great.

"MULEYKEH" is an old Arabian story. The name which heads it is that of a swift, beautiful mare, who was Hoseyn--her owner's, "Pearl." He loved her so dearly, that, though a very poor man, no price would tempt him to sell her; and in his fear of her being stolen, he slept always with her head-stall thrice wound round his wrist: and Buheyseh, her sister, saddled for instantaneous pursuit. One night she was stolen; and Duhl, the thief, galloped away on her and felt himself secure: for the Pearl's speed was such that even her sister had never overtaken her. She chafed, however, under the strange rider, and slackened her pace. Buheyseh, bearing Hoseyn, gained fast upon them; the two mares were already "neck

by croup." Then the thought of his darling's humiliation flashed on Hoseyn's mind. He shouted angrily to Duhl in what manner he ought to urge her. And the Pearl, obeying her master's voice, no less than the familiar signal prescribed by him, bounded forward, and was lost to him forever. Hoseyn returned home, weeping sorely, and the neighbours told him he had been a fool. Why not have kept silence and got his treasure back?

"'And--beaten in speed!' wept Hoseyn: 'You never have loved my Pearl.'" (vol. xv. p. 116.)

The man who gives his name to "PIETRO OF ABANO" was the greatest Italian philosopher and physician of the thirteenth century.[106] He was also an astrologer, pretending to magical knowledge, and persecuted, as Mr. Browning relates. But the special story he tells of him has been told of others also.

Pietro of Abano had the reputation of being a wizard; and though his skill in curing sickness, as in building, star-reading, and yet other things, conferred invaluable services on his fellow-men, he received only kicks and curses for his reward. His power seemed, nevertheless, so enviable, that he was one day, in the archway of his door, accosted by a young Greek, who humbly and earnestly entreated that the secret of that power might be revealed to him. He promised to repay his master with loving gratitude; and hinted that the bargain might be worth the latter's consideration, since nature, in all else his slave, forbade his drinking milk (this is told of the true Pietro): in other words, denied him the affection which softens and sweetens the dry bread of human life. Pietro pretended to consent, and began, to utter, by way of preface, the word "benedicite." The young Greek lost consciousness at its second syllable; and awoke to find himself alone, and with a first instalment of Peter's secret in his mind. "Good is product of evil, and to be effected through it." Acting upon this doctrine, he traded on the weaknesses of his fellow-creatures wherever the opportunity occurred; and attained by this means, first, wealth; next temporal, and then spiritual, power; rising finally to the dignity of Pope. At each stage of this progress, Peter came to him in apparent destitution, and claimed the promised gratitude in an urgent, but very modest prayer for assistance. And each time Peter's presence infused into him a fresh power of unscrupulousness, and sent him a step farther on his way. But each time also the pupil postponed his obligation, till he at last disclaimed it; and--enthroned in the Lateran--was dismissing his benefactor with insult: when the closing syllables--"dicite"--sounded in his ear; and he became conscious of Peter's countenance smiling back at him over his shoulder, and Peter's door being banged in his face. And he then knew that he had lived a lifetime in the fraction of a minute, and that the magician, by means of whom he had done so, justly declined to trust him.


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