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

The Abate be alive a year hence


"Repentance!

if he repent for twelve hours, will he die the less on the thirteenth? He has broken the social law, and is about to pay for it. What has he to repent of but that he has made a mistake? Religion! who of them all believes in it? Not the Pope himself; for religion enjoins mercy; it is meant to temper the harshness of the law: and he destroys the life which the law has given over to him to save. What man of them all shows by his acts that he believes; or would be treated otherwise than as a lunatic if he did? Let those who will, halt between belief and unbelief. It has not been in him to do so. Give him the certainty of another world, and he would have lived for it. Owning no such certainty, he has lived for this one; he has sought its pleasures and avoided its pains. Only he has carried the thing too far. The world has decreed limits to every man's pleasure; it limits this for the good of all; and it has made unlawful the excess of pleasure which turns to someone else's pain. He has exceeded the lawful amount of pleasure, and he pays for it by an extra dose of pain."

"There the matter ends. But his judges want more--a few edifying lies wherewith to show that he did not die impenitent, and stop the mouth of anyone who may hint, the day after the execution, that old men are too fond of putting younger ones out of the way. They shall have his confession; but it must be the truth."

"He killed his wife because he hated

her; because, whether it were her fault or not, she was a stumbling-block in his path. He had been outraged by her aversion, exasperated by her patience, maddened by her never putting herself in the wrong. While her parents were with her, she resisted and clamoured, and then her presence could be endured; but they were left alone together, and then everything was changed. Day by day, and all day, he was confronted by her automatic obedience, by her dumb despair. She rose up and lay down--she spoke or was silent at his bidding; neither a loosened hair, nor a crumple in the dress, giving token of resistance; he might have strangled her without her making a sign. She eloped from him, yet he could not surprise her in the commission of a sin: and he returned from his pursuit of her, ridiculous when he should have been triumphant. He took his revenge at last. And now that he might tell his story and find no one to controvert it--how he came to claim his wife and child, and found no child, but the lover by the wife's side; was attacked, defended himself, struck right and left, and thus did the deed--she survives, by miracle, to confute him, to condemn him, and worst of all, to forgive him."

"He has been ensnared by his opportunities from first to last. He failed to save himself from retribution, only because he was drunk with the sudden freedom from this hateful load. And Pompilia haunts him still. Her stupid purity will freeze him even in death. It will rob him of his hell--where the fiend in him would burn up in fiery rapture--where some Lucrezia might meet him as his fitting bride--where the wolf-nature frankly glutted would perhaps leave room for some return to human form. For she cannot hate. It would grieve her to know him there; and--if there be a hell--it will be barred to him in consideration for her."

"The Cardinal, the Abate, they too are petrifactions in their way! He may rave another twelve hours, and it will be useless." Yet he makes one more effort to move them. He reminds the Cardinal of the crimes he has committed--of the help he will need when a new Pope is to be elected; of the possible supporter who may then be in his grave. Then fiercely turning on them both; "the Cardinal have a chance indeed, when there is an Albano in the case! The Abate be alive a year hence, with that burning hollow cheek and that hacking cough!--Well, _he_ will die bold and honest as he has lived."


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