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

It is so that Furini has lived and learned


It

is so that Furini has lived and learned. He has found his lesson in the study of the human frame. There, as on a rock of experience, he has planted his foot, finding confusion and instability wherever he projected this beyond it; striking out sparks of knowledge at every stamp on the firm ground. He has learned that the Cause of Life is external, because he has seen how the soul permeates and impels the body, how it makes it an instrument of its own raptures and a sharer in them; and he believes that that which caused the soul and thus gifted it will ultimately silence the spiritual conflict with Evil and perfect Its own creation. He believes this because Evil has revealed itself to him as the necessary complement of Good--the antitype through which alone the type defines itself; as a condition of knowledge; as a test of what is right; as a motive to life and virtue so indispensable that it must exist as illusion if it did not exist as fact; because, therefore, its existence cannot detract from the goodness of the First Cause or the promise which that contains.

This constant assertion of the necessity of evil would land Mr. Browning in a dilemma, if the axiom were presented by him in any character of dogmatic truth: since it claims priority for certain laws of thought over a Being which, if Omnipotent, must have created them. But the anomaly disappears in the more floating outlines of a poetic personal experience; and Mr. Browning (alias Furini)

once more assures us that what he "knows" of the nature and mode of action of the First Cause he knows for himself only. How it operates for others is of the essence of the mystery which enfolds him. Whether even the means of his own instruction is reality or illusion, fiction or fact, is beyond his ken; he is satisfied that it should be so.

Mr. Browning reverts to his defence of the nude in the description of a picture--exhibited last year at the Grosvenor Gallery--the subject of which he offers to Furini for treatment in the manner described.[129]

With GERARD DE LAIRESSE is a critical reminiscence of the unreal and mythological in art, and its immediate subject a Belgian painter, born at Liege, but who nourished at Amsterdam in the second half of the seventeenth century. De Lairesse was a man of varied artistic culture as well as versatile skill; but he was saturated with the pseudo-classical spirit of the later period of the renaissance; and landscape itself scarcely existed for him but as a setting for mythological incident or a subject for embellishment by it. This is curiously apparent in a treatise on the Art of Painting, which he composed, and, by a form of dictation, also illustrated, when at the age of fifty he had lost his sight. An English version of this fell into Mr. Browning's hands while he was yet a child, and the deep and, at the time, delightful impression which it made upon him is the motive of the present poem. Foremost in his memory is an imaginary "Walk,"[130] in which the exercise of fancy which the author practises and, Mr. Browning tells us, enjoins, is strikingly displayed by his "conjecturing" Phaeton's tomb from the evidence of a carved thunderbolt in an empty sepulchre, and the remains of the "Chariot of the Sun" from a piece of broken wheel and some similar fragment buried in the adjoining ground.

The remembrance converts itself into a question: the poet's fancy no longer peoples the earth with gods and goddesses; has his insight become less vivid? has the poetic spirit gone back? The answer is unwavering; retrogression is not in the creative plan. The poet does not go back. He is still as of yore a seer; he has only changed in this, that his chosen visions are of the soul; their objects are no longer visible unrealities, but the realities which are unseen. He can still, if he pleases, evoke those as these, and Mr. Browning proceeds to show it by calling up a series of dissolving views representing another "walk."


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