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

Of which Hakeem must have formed the last


Charles

has become his father's heir through the death of an older and better loved son. He has been thrust into the shade by the favourite, now Victor's wife, and by the Minister d'Ormea; his sensitive nature crushed into weakness, his loftiness of purpose never called into play. He seems precisely the person of whom to make at once a screen and a tool. But he has scarcely been crowned when it is evident that he will be neither. He assumes the character of king at the same time as the function; and by his honesty, courage, and humanity, restores the prosperity of his country, and the honour of his house. He secures even the devotion, interested though it be, of the unscrupulous d'Ormea himself.

Victor, however, is restless in his obscurity; and by the end of the year is scheming for the recovery of his crown. He presents himself before his son, and demands that it be restored to him; denouncing what he considers the weakness of King Charles' rule. Charles refuses, gently but firmly, to abandon what has become for him the post of duty; and King Victor departs, to conspire openly against him. D'Ormea is active in detecting the conspiracy and unveiling it; and Victor is brought back to the palace, this time a prisoner.

But Charles does not receive him as such. His filial piety is outraged by the unnatural conflict; and his wife Polixena has vainly tried to convince him that there is a higher because less obvious virtue

in resisting than in giving way. He once more acknowledges his father as King. And both he and his wife are soon aware that in doing so, he is only humouring the caprice of a dying man. "_I have no friend in the wide world_ is the old King's cry. Give me what I have no power to take from you."

"So few years give it quietly, My son! It will drop from me. See you not? A crown's unlike a sword to give away-- That, let a strong hand to a weak hand give! But crowns should slip from palsied brows to heads Young as this head:...." (vol. iii. p. 162-3.)

Charles places the crown on his father's head. A strange conflict of gratified ambition, of remorseful tenderness, of dreamy regret, stirs the failing spirit. But command and defiance flash out in the old King's last words.

This death on the stage is the only point on which Mr. Browning diverges from historical truth. King Victor lived a year longer, in a modified captivity to which his son had most unwillingly consigned him; and he is made to suggest this story in the half-insanity of his last moments as one which may be told to the world; and will give his son the appearance of reigning, while he remains, in secret, King.

"THE RETURN OF THE DRUSES" is a tragedy in five acts, fictitious in plot, but historical in character. The Druses of Lebanon are a compound of several warlike Eastern tribes, owing their religious system to a caliph of Egypt, Hakeem Biamr Allah; and probably their name to his confessor Darazi, who first attempted to promulgate his doctrine among them; some also impute to the Druse nation a dash of the blood of the Crusaders. One of their chief religious doctrines was that of divine incarnations. It seems to have originated in the pretension of Hakeem to be himself one; and as organized by the Persian mystic Hamzi, his Vizier and disciple, it included ten manifestations of this kind, of which Hakeem must have formed the last. Mr. Browning has assumed that in any great national emergency, the miracle would be expected to recur; and he has here conceived an emergency sufficiently great to call it forth.

The Druses, according to him, have colonized a small island belonging to the Knights of Rhodes, and become subject to a Prefect appointed by the Order. This Prefect has almost extirpated the Druse sheikhs, and made the remainder of the tribe victims of his cruelty and lust. The cry for rescue and retribution, if not loud, is deep. It finds a passionate response in the soul of Djabal, a son of the last Emir, who escaped as a child from the massacre of his family, and took refuge in Europe; and who now returns, with a matured purpose of patriotic and personal revenge. He has secured an ally in the young Lois de Dreux--an intended Knight of the Order, and son of a Breton Count, whose hospitality he has enjoyed--and induced him to accompany him to the islet, and pass his probation there. This, he considers, will facilitate the murder of the Prefect, which is an essential part of his plan; and he has obtained the promise of the Venetians, who are hostile to the Knights, to lend their ships for his countrymen's escape as soon as the death of the tyrant shall have set them free.


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