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

Again Balaustion has her answer


is he approaching the age of steel?" Balaustion asks, well knowing that he is not. "His play failed last year. Was his triumph to-night due to a gentler tone? Is he teaching mankind that brute blows are not human fighting, still less the expression of godlike power; and that ignorance and folly are convicted by their opposites, not by themselves?"

"Not he, indeed," he replies; "he improves on his art: he does not turn it topsy-turvy. _He_ does not work on abstractions. _His_ power is not that of the recluse. He wants human beings with their approbation and their sympathy, and his Athens, to be pleased in her own way. He leaves the rest to Euripides. Real life is the grist to _his_ mill. It is clear enough, however, that the times are against him. Every year more restrictions; Euripides with his priggishness; Socrates with his books and his moonshine, and his supercilious ways: never resenting his (Aristophanes') fun, nor seeming even to notice it[40], not condescending to take exception to any but the 'tragedians;' as if he, the author of the 'Birds,' was a mere comic poet!" Then follows a tirade on the variety of his subjects; their depth, their significance, and the mawkishness and pedantry which they are intended to confute.

"Drunk! yes, he owns that he is." This in answer to a look from Balaustion, which has rebuked a too hazardous joke--"Drink is the proper inspiration. How else was he beaten in the 'Clouds,'

his masterpiece, but that his opponent had inspired himself with drink, and he this time had not?[41] Purity! he has learned what that is worth"--With more in the same strain. Now, however, that his adventure is told, the tumult of feeling in some degree subsides, and the more serious aspects of the apology will come into play.

Balaustion and her husband, seeing the sober mood return, once more welcome "the glory of Aristophanes" to their house, and bid him on his side share in their solemnity, and commemorate Euripides with them. This calls his attention to the portrait of the dead poet; those implements of his work which were his tokens of friendship to Balaustion; the papyrus leaf inscribed with the Herakles itself; and he cannot resist a sneer at this again unsuccessful play. His hostess rebukes him grandly for completing the long outrage on the living man by this petty attack on his "supreme calm;" and as supreme calmness means death, he begins musing on the immunities which death confers, and their injustice. "Give him only time and he will pulverize his opponents; _he_ will show them whether this work of his is unintelligible, or that other will not live. But let them die; and they slink out of his reach with their malice, stupidity, and ignorance, while survivors croak 'respect the dead' over the hole in which they are laid. At all events, he retorts on them when he can--unwisely perhaps, since those he flings mud at are only immortalized by the process. Euripides knew better than to follow his example."

Again Balaustion has her answer. "He has volleyed mud at Euripides himself while pretending to defend the same cause: the cause of art, of knowledge, of justice, and of truth;" and she makes his cheek burn by reminding him of what petty and what ignoble witticisms that mud was made up. At last he begins in real earnest. "Balaustion, he understands, condemns comedy both in theory and in practice, from the calm and rational heights to which she, with her tragic friend, has attained. Here are his arguments in its favour."

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