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

Pompilia's perfect fame is restored


"Narrow and short, a corpse's length, no more: And by it, in the due receptacle, The little rude brown lamp of earthenware, The cruse, was meant for flowers, but held the blood, The rough-scratched palm-branch, and the legend left _Pro Christo_." (vol. x. p. 265)

"And how does human law, in its 'inadequacy' and 'ineptitude' defend the just? How has it attempted to clear Pompilia's fame? By submitting, as its best resource, that wickedness was bred in her flesh and bone. For himself he cannot judge, unless by the assurance of Christ, if he have not lost much by renouncing the world: for he has lost love, and knowledge, and perhaps the means of bringing goodness from its ideal conception into the actual life of man. But the bubble, fame--worldly praise and appreciation--he has done well to set these aside."

"And what is all this preaching," resumes Bottinius, "but a way of courting fame? The inflation of it! and the spite! and the Molinism! As its first pleasant consequence, Gomez, who had intended to appeal from the absurd decision of the Court, declines to ask the lawyers for farther help.[29] There is an end of that job and its fee. Nevertheless, his 'blatant brother' shall soon see if law is as inadequate, and advocacy as impotent, as he fancies. Providence is this time in their favour. Pompilia was consigned to the 'Convertite' (converted ones). She was therefore a

sinner. Guido has been judged guilty: but there was no word as to the innocence of his wife. The sisterhood claims, therefore, the property which accrued to her through her parents' death, and which she has left in trust for her son. Who but himself--the Fisc--shall support the claim, and show the foul-mouthed friar that his dove was a raven after all." (He too can drive left and right horses on occasion.)

This he actually did. But once more the Pope intervened: and Mr. Browning proceeds to give the literal substance of the "Instrument" of justification as it lies before him. In this, Pompilia's "perfect fame" is restored, and her representative, Domenico Tighetti, secured against all molestations of her heir and his ward, which the Most Venerable Convent, etc. etc., may commit or threaten.

What became of that child, Gaetano, as he was called after the new-made saint? Did he live a true scion of the paternal stock, whose heraldic symbols Mr. Browning has described by Count Guido's mouth?--

"Or did he love his mother, the base-born, And fight i' the ranks, unnoticed by the world?" (vol. x. p. 277.)

This question Mr. Browning asks himself, but is unable to answer. He concludes his book by telling us its intended lesson, and explaining why he has chosen to present it in this artistic form. The lesson is that which we have already learned from his Pope's thoughts:--

"... our human speech is naught, Our human testimony false, our fame And human estimation words and wind." (vol. x. p. 277.)

Art, with its indirect processes, can alone raise up a living image of that truth which words distort in the stating.


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