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

For the work of Fust is complete

service rendered to the cause

of Truth. The process of engraving on gold, furtively witnessed in a Tuscan workshop, has suggested to him the manufacture of metallic types, and he has been for years secluded with the conception of his printing-press, and glowing visions of that winged word which should one day fly forth at his command. Complacent ignorance and stupidity have buzzed freely about him as he sat unaided and alone in what Mr. Browning poetically depicts as the prolonged travail of a portentous mental birth; and, as we are led to imagine, much well-meant remonstrance and advice rebounded from his closed door. But at the moment in question the door is open, for the work of Fust is complete. Seven "Friends" present themselves prepared to lecture him for his good and for that of their city (Mayence) which is endangered by his compact with the Devil; and the ensuing intensely humorous colloquy supplies him with the fitting occasion for distributing specimens of his new art and displaying the mechanism through which its apparent magic is achieved. He then pours forth his soul in an impassioned utterance, half soliloquy, half prayer, in which gratitude for his own redemption tempers the sense of triumph in the world-wide intellectual deliverance he has been privileged to effect, and becomes a tribute of adoration to that Absolute of Creative Knowledge, the law of which he has obeyed; which stirs in the unconsciousness of the ore and plant, and impels man to Its realization step by step in the ever-receding,
ever-present vision of his own ignorance.

He owns, however, when the talk is resumed, that his happiness is not free from cloud: since the wings which he has given to truth will also aid the diffusion of falsehood; and the note of humour returns to the situation when this contingency asserts itself in the mind of some of the "friends." These worthies have passed through the descending scale of feeling proper to such persons on such an occasion. They have received Fust's invention as diabolical--as wonderful--as very simple after all; and now the fact stares them in the face that, printing being so simple, the Hussite may publish his heresies as well as the Churchman his truth, and the old sure remedy of burning him and his talk together will no longer avail. One of the two Divines on whom this impresses itself had indeed "been struck by it from the first."

The poem concludes with a joke on the name of Huss, which (I am told) is the Bohemian equivalent for "goose," and his reported prophecy of the advent and the triumph of Luther: which prophecy Fust re-echoes.[140]


[Footnote 121: We must remark that these arguments are not directed against Atheism and its naturalistic philosophy, which supplies, in Mr. Browning's judgment, a consistent, if erroneous, solution of the problem. They only attack the position of those who would retain the belief in a personal God, and yet divest Him of every quality which makes such a Being thinkable.]

[Footnote 122: It has been wrongly inferred from the passage in question that Mr. Browning admits the pretensions of science to solve the problems of the universe.]

[Footnote 123: The "goddess-sent plague" woven by Lachesis into the destiny of Admetus was a vengeance of Artemis which befell him on the day of his marriage. He had slighted her by omitting the usual sacrifice, and in punishment of this she sent a crowd of serpents to meet him in the nuptial chamber; but Apollo effected a reconciliation between them.]

[Footnote 124: He had, as a young man, so great an admiration for one of Bartoli's works, "De' Simboli trasportati al Morale," that when he travelled he always carried it with him.]

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