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

Satan vanishes through the ceiling


Mr. Browning, however, bids the young Greek persevere; since he might ransack Peter's books, without discovering a better secret for gaining power over the masses, than the "cleverness uncurbed by conscience," which he perhaps already possesses.[107]

"DOCTOR ----" is an old Hebrew legend, founded upon the saying that a bad wife is stronger than death. Satan complains, in his character of Death, that man has the advantage of him: since he may baffle him, whenever he will, by the aid of a bad woman; and he undertakes to show this in his own person. He comes to earth, marries, and has a son, who in due time must be supplied with a profession. This son is too cowardly to be a soldier, and too lazy to be a lawyer; Divinity is his father's sphere. So Satan decides that he shall be a doctor; and endows him with a faculty which will enable him to practise Medicine, without any knowledge of it at all. The moment he enters a sick room, he will see his father spiritually present there; and unless he finds him seated at the sick's man's head, that man is not yet doomed. Thus endowed, Doctor ----can cure a patient who was despaired of, with a dose of penny-royal, and justly predict death for one whose only ailment is a pimple. His success carries all before it. One day, however, he is summoned to the emperor, who lies sick; and the emperor offers gold, and power, and, lastly, his daughter's hand, as the price of his recovery. But this time Satan sits at the head of the bed, and not even such an appeal to his pride and greed will induce him to grant the patient even a temporary reprieve. The son, thus driven to bay, pretends to be struck by a sudden thought. "He will try the efficacy of the mystic Jacob's staff." He whispers to an attendant to bid his mother bring it; and as Satan's Bad Wife enters the room, Satan vanishes through the ceiling, leaving a smell of sulphur behind him. The Emperor gets well; but Doctor ----renounces the promised gold: for it was to be the Princess's dowry; and he is too wise to accept it on the condition of saddling himself with a wife.

"PAN AND LUNA" describes a mythical adventure of Luna--the moon, given by Virgil in the Georgics; and has for its text a line from them (III. 390):

"Si credere dignum est."[108]

According to the legend, Luna was one night entrapped by Pan who lay in wait for her in the form of a cloud, soft and snowy as the fleece of a certain breed of sheep; and, Virgil continues, followed him to the woodland, "by no means spurning him." But Mr. Browning tells the story in a manner more consonant with the traditional modesty of the "Girl-Moon." She was, he says, distressed by the exposure of her full-orbed charms, as she flew bare through the vault of heaven: the protecting darkness ever vanishing before her; and she took refuge for concealment in the cloud of which the fleecy billows were to close and contract about her, in the limbs of the goat-god. How little she accepted this her first eclipse, may be shown, he thinks, by the fact that she never now lingers within a cloud longer than is necessary to "rip" it through.

"JOCOSERIA."

The volume so christened (grave and gay), published 1883, shows a greater variety of subject and treatment than do the Dramatic Idyls, and its contents might be still more easily broken up; but they are also best given in their original form. They are--


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