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

For Elvire may be trusted implicitly


again, that as we paddle with our hands under water, we grasp at something which seems a soul. The piece of falsity slips through our fingers, but by the mechanical reaction just described, it sends us upwards into the realm of truth. This is precisely what Fifine has done. Of the earth earthy as she is, she has driven you and me into the realms of abstract truth. We have thus no right to despise her" This discourse is interrupted by a contemptuous allusion to a passage in "Childe Harold," (fourth canto), in which the human intelligence is challenged to humble itself before the ocean.

Elvire is still dissatisfied. The suspicious fact remains, that whatever experience her husband desires to gain, it is always a woman who must supply it. This he frankly admits; and he gives his reason. "Women lend themselves to experiment; men do not. Men are egotists, and absorb whatever comes in their way. Women, whether Fifines or Elvires, allow themselves to be absorbed. You master men only by reducing yourself to their level. You captivate women by showing yourself at your best. Their power of hero-worship is illustrated by the act of the dolphin, 'True woman creature,' which bore the ship-wrecked Arion to the Corinthian coast. Men are not only wanting in true love: their best powers are called forth by hate. They resemble the vine, first 'stung' into 'fertility' by the browsing goat, which nibbled away its tendrils, and gained the 'indignant wine' by the

process. In their feminine characteristics Elvire stands far higher than Fifine; but Fifine is for that very reason more useful as a means of education; for Elvire may be trusted implicitly; Fifine teaches one to take care of himself. They are to each other as the strong ship and the little rotten bark." This comparison is suggested by a boatman whom they lately saw adventurously pushing his way through shoal and sandbank because he would not wait for the tide.

Don Juan begs leave to speak one word more in defence of Fifine and her masquerading tribe; it will recall his early eulogium on her frankness. "All men are actors: but these alone do not deceive. All you are expected to applaud in them is the excellence of the avowed sham."

Don Juan has thus developed his theory that soul is attainable through flesh, truth through falsehood, the real through what only seems; and, as he thinks, justified the conclusion that a man's spiritual life is advanced by every experience, moral or immoral, which comes in his way. He now relates a dream by which, as he says, those abstract reflections have been in part inspired; in reality, it continues, and in some degree refutes them. The dream came to him this morning when he had played himself to sleep with Schumann's Carnival; having chosen this piece because his brain was burdened with many thoughts and fancies which, better than any other, it would enable him to work off; and as he tells this, he enlarges on the faculty of music to register, as well as express, every passing emotion of the human soul. He notes also the constant recurrence of the same old themes, and the caprice of taste which strives as constantly to convert them into something new.

The dream carries him to Venice, and he awakes, in fancy, on some pinnacle above St. Mark's Square, overlooking the Carnival. Here his power of artistic divination--alias of human sympathy, is called into play; for the men and women below him all wear the semblance of some human deformity, of some animal type, or of some grotesque embodiment of human feeling or passion. He throws himself into their midst, and these monstrosities disappear. The human asserts itself; the brute-like becomes softened away; what imperfection remains creates pity rather than disgust. He finds that by shifting his point of view, he can see even necessary qualities in what otherwise struck him as faults.

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