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

Second wife of Eccelino da Romano


"... mind is nothing but disease, And natural health is ignorance." (vol. ii. p. 122.)

We feel that henceforward his path will be all downhill.

In the fifth and closing scene, thirteen years later, Paracelsus "attains" again, and for the last time. He is dying. Festus watches by him in his hospital cell with a very touching tenderness; and as Paracelsus awakes from a period of lethargy to a delirious remembrance of his past life, he soothes and guides him to an inspired calm in which its true meaning is revealed to him. The half prophetic death-bed vision includes everything which experience had taught him; and a great deal which we cannot help thinking only a more modern experience could have taught. It disclaims all striving after absolute knowledge, and asserts the value of limitation in every energy of life. The passage in which he describes the faculties of man, and which begins

"Power--neither put forth blindly, nor controlled Calmly by perfect knowledge;" (vol. ii. p. 168.)

contains the natural lesson of the speaker's career, supposing him in a condition to receive it. But it also reflects Mr. Browning's constant ideal of a fruitful and progressive existence; and the very beautiful monologue of which it forms part is, so far as it goes, his actual confession of faith. The scientific idea

of evolution is here distinctly foreshadowed: though it begins and ends, in Mr. Browning's mind, in the large Theism which was and is the basis of his religious belief.

The poem is followed by an historical appendix, which enables the reader to verify its facts, and judge Mr. Browning's interpretation of them.

"SORDELLO." (1840.)

"Sordello" is, like "Paracelsus," the imaginary reconstruction of a real life, in connection with contemporary facts; but its six "books" present a much more complicated structure. The historical part of "Paracelsus" is all contained in the one life. In "Sordello" it forms a large and moving background, which often disputes our attention with the central figure, and sometimes even absorbs it: projecting itself as it were in an artistic middle distance, in which fact and fancy are blended; while the mental world through which the hero moves, is in its way, as restless and as crowded as the material. It may save time and trouble to readers of the poem to know something of its historical foundation and poetic motive, before making any great effort to disentangle its various threads; but it will always be best to read it once without this key: since the story, involved as it is, has a sustained dramatic interest which is destroyed by anticipating its course.

The historical personages who take part in it directly and indirectly, are

Ghibellines. Guelphs.

ECCELINO DA ROMANO II., AZZO, LORD OF ESTE Surnamed the Monk: (father and son). married, first to Agnes Este; secondly to Adelaide, RICHARD, COUNT OF SAN a Tuscan. BONIFACIO (father and son). TAURELLO SALINGUERRA, a soldier, married, first to Retrude, of the family of the German Emperor Frederick the Second; and secondly, in advanced life, to Sofia, fifth daughter of Eccelino the Monk.

ADELAIDE, second wife of Eccelino da Romano.

PALMA (properly Cunizza), Eccelino's daughter by Agnes Este.


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