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

There is no doubt in his mind that Guido deserves to die


Bottinius,

on the other hand, does not admit that the husband's honour has been attacked; but he defends the wife's conduct, more by extenuating the acts of which she is accused, than by denying them. His denials are generally parenthetic: and imply that the whether she did certain things is much less important than the why and the how; and though he professes to present her as a pearl of purity, he shows his standard of female purity to be very low.

Mr. Browning might easily have composed a more genuine defence from the known facts of the case; but he represents these quibblings and counter-quibblings as equally beside the mark. The question of the murderer's guilt was being judged on broader grounds; and the supposed talkers on either side are aware of this. De Archangelis and Bottinius both know that their cleverness will benefit no one but themselves, and for this reason they are as much concerned to show how good a case they can make out of a doubtful one, as to prove that their case is in itself good. Each is thinking of his opponent, and how best to parry his attack; and their arguments are relieved by a brisk exchange of personalities, in which "de Archangelis" includes his subordinate "Spreti"--"advocate of the poor"--whose learned contribution to this paper warfare has probably aroused his jealousy.

Mr. Browning has also displayed the hollowness of the proceedings by making "de Archangelis" the very opposite

of his saturnine and blood-thirsty client: the last person we could think of as in sympathy with him. He is a coarse good-natured paterfamilias, whose ambitions are all centred on an eight-year-old son, whose birthday it is; and his defence of the murder is concocted under frequent interruptions, from the thought of Cinuncino (little Giacinto, or Hyacinth), and the fried liver and herbs which are to form part of his birthday feast. Bottinius is a vain man, occupied only with himself, and regretting nothing so much as that he may not display his rhetorical powers, by delivering his speech instead of writing it.

Count Guido, with his accomplices, has been condemned to death. His friends have appealed from the verdict, on the ground of his being, though in a minor degree, a priest. The answer to this appeal rests with the head of the Church. The next monologue is therefore that of

THE POPE. The reflections here imagined grow out of a double fact. Innocent the Twelfth refused to shelter Count Franceschini with his accomplices from the judgment of the law, and thus assumed the responsibility of his death. He had reached an age at which so heavy a responsibility could not be otherwise than painful. As Mr. Browning depicts him, his decision is made. From dawn to dark he has been studying the case, piecing together its fragmentary truths, trying its merits with "true sweat of soul." There is no doubt in his mind that Guido deserves to die. But he has to nerve himself afresh before he gives the one stroke of his pen, the one touch to his bell, which shall send this soul into eternity; and that is what we see him doing.


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