Robert Browning.

The complete poetic and dramatic works of Robert Browning online

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Dimly the characters a simpler man
Might read distinct enough. Old eastern books
Say, the fallen prince of morning some short

Remained unchanged in semblance; nay, his

Was hued with triumph : every spirit then
PraisLog, his heart on name the wnile : — a tale 1
Well, Festus, what discover you, I pray ?
Fest. Some foul deed sullies then a lu e which
Were raised supreme ?

Par. Good : I do well, most well I

Why strive to make men hear, feel, tiet them-
With what ia past their power to comprehend ?
I should not strive now : only, having nursed
The faint surmise that one yet walked the earth.
One, at least, not the utter fool of show.
Not absolutely formed to be the dupe
Of shallow plausibilities alone :
One who, in youth, found wise enough to choose
The happiness his riper years approve.
Was yet so anxious for another's sake.
That, ere his friend could rush upon a mad
And ruinous course, the converse of his own,
His gentle spirit essayed, prejudged for him
The perilous path, foresaw its destiny.
And warned the weak one in sach tender words,
Such accents — his whole heart in every tone —
That oft their memorv comforted that friend
When it by right should have increased despair :
— Having beueved, I say, that this one man
Could never lose the light thus from the first
His portion — how should I refuse to grieve
At even mv gain if it disturb our old
Relation, if it make me out more wise ?
Therefore, once more reminding him how well
He prophesied, I note the single flaw
That spoils his prophet's title. In plain words,
You were deceived, and thus were you de-
ceived —
I have not been successful, and yet am
Most miserable ; 't is said at last ; nor vou
Give credit, lest you force me to concede
That common sense yet lives upon the world !
Fest. You surely do not mean to banter me ?
Par. You know, or — if yon have been wise ^
To cleanse your memory of such matters—

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As f ar aa words of mine oonld make it clear,
That 'twas my purpose to find i<
Solely in the fulfilment of my pL

That 't was my purpose to find ioy or grief
Solely in the fulfilment of my plan ^
(> plot or whatsoe'er it was ; rejoicing

Alone as it proceeded prosperously,
Sorrowing tnen only wnen mischance retarded
Its progress. That was in those Wiirzburg days !
Not to prolong a theme I thoroughly hate,
I have pursued this plan with allmy strength ;
And havinjBT failed therein most signally,
Cannot object to ruin utter and drear
As all-excelling would have been the prize
Had fortune favored me. I scarce have right
To vex your frank good spirit late so glad
In my supposed prosperi^, I know.
And, were I lucky in a glut of friends.
Would well agree to let your error live,
Kay, strenjE^en it with tables of success.
But mine is no condition to refuse
The transient solace of so rare a godsend,
Hy solitarv luxury, my one friend :
Accordingly I venture to put off
The wearisome vest of falsehood galling me,
Secure when he is by. I lay me bare.
Prone at his mercy — but he is my friend I
Not tiiat he needs retain his aspect Knve ;
That answers not my purpose : for ^is like,
Some sunny morning — Basel oeing drained
Of its wise poi>ulation, every corner
Of the amphitheatre onunmed with learned

Here (Ecolampadius, looking worlds of wit,
Here Castellanus, as profound as he,
Hunsterus here, Frobenius there, all squeezed
And staring, — that the zany of the show.
Even Paracelsus, shall put off before them
His trappings Mrith a grace but seldom judged
Expedient in such cases : — the grim smile
That will go round ! Is it not therefore best
To venture a rehearsal like the present
In a small way ? Where are the signs I seek.
The first-fruits and fair sample of the scorn
Due to all quacks ? Why, this will never do I
Fest. These are foul vapors. Aureole ; naught

beside I
The effect of watching, study, weariness. ^
Were there a spark of truth in the confusion
Of these wild words, you would not outrage thus
Tour youth's companion. I shall ne'er regard
These wanderings, bred of faintnees and much

'Tis not thus you would trust a trouble to me,
To Michal's friend.

Par. I have said it, dearest Festus !

For the manner, 't is ungracious probably ;
Tou may have it told in broken sobs, one day.
And scalding tears, ere long : but I thought best
To keep that off as long as possible.
Doyou wonder still ?

Fest, No; it must oft fall out

That one whose labor perfects any work.
Shall rise from it with eye so worn that he
Of all men least can measure the extent
Of what he has accomplished. He alone
Who, nothing tasked, is nothing weary too,
May clearly scan the little he effects :
But we, the bystanders, untouched by toil,
Estimate each aright.

Par, This worthy Festus

Is one of them, at last ! 'T is^o with all !
First, they set down all progress as a dream ;
And next, when he whose auick discomfiture
Was counted on, accomplisnes some few
And doubtful steps in his career, — behold.
They look for every inch of ground to vanish
Beneath his tread, so sure they spy success !

Fest. Few doubtful steps? wnen death re-
tires before
Your prince — when the noblest of mankind.
Broken m body or subdued in soul.
May through your skill renew their vigor, raise
The shatteared frame to pristine stateliness ?
When men in racking pam may purchase dreams
Of^hat delights them most, swooning at once
Into a sea of bliss or rapt along
As in a flying sphere of turbulent light ?
When we may look to you as one oMained
To free the flesh from fell disease, as frees
Our Luther's burning tongue the fettered soul ?
When . . .

Par. When and where, the devil, did you get
This notable news ?

Fest. Even from the common voioe ;

From those whose envy, daring not dispute
The wonders it decries, attributes them
To magic and such folly.

Par. FoUy? Why not

To magic, pray ? You find a comfort doubtless
In holding. God ne'er troubles him about
Us or our doings : once we were judsned worth
The devil's tempting . . . loffend: lorgiverae.
And rest content, x our prophecy on tiie whole
Was fur enough as prophessnngs go ;
At fault a little in detail, but quite
Predse enough in the main ; and hereupon
Ipay due homage : you guessed long ago
(The prophet I) 1 should ndl — and I have failed.

Fest. X on mean to tell me, then, the hopes
which fed
Your youth have not been realized as yet ?
Some obstacle has barred them hitherto ?
Or that their innate . . •

Par. As I said but now.

You have a very decent prophet's fame.
So you but shun details here. Little matter
Whether those hopes were mad, — the aims

they sought.
Safe and secure from all ambitious fools ;
Or whether my weak wits are overcome
By what a better spirit would scorn : I f aiL
And now methinks 'twere best to change a

I am a sad fool to have stumbled on.
I say confusedly what comes uppermost ;
But there are times when patience proves at

As now : this morning's strange encounter — yea
Beside me once again I ^ou, whom I guessed
Alive, since hitherto (with Luther ^s leave)
No friend have I among the saints at peace,
To judge by any good their prayers enect.
I knew you womdnave helped me — why not he^
My strange competitor in enterprise,
Bound for the same end by another path.
Arrived, or ill or well, before the time,
At our oisastrous journey's doubtful dose ?

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How ffoes it with Aprile P Ah. they misB

Tour lone sad sonny idleness 01 heayen.

Car martyrs for the world^s sake ; heaven shuts

The poor mad poet is howling hy this time !
Smoe you are my sole friend then, here or there,
I eonld not qnite repress the Taried feelings
This meeting wakens ; they have had their vent,
And now forget them. Do the rear-mice still
Hang like a network on the gate (or what
In my time was a gate) fronting the road
F^m fdssiedeln to Lachen ?

Fest. Trifle not:

Answer me, for my sake alone ! Ton smiled
Just now, when I supposed some deed, unworthy
Toorself , might blot the else so bright result ;
Yet if your motives have continued pnre,
Tour will unfaltering, and in spite of this,
Tou hare experienced a defeat, why then
I say not you would cheerfully withdraw
Kom contest — mortal hearts are not so fash-
ioned —
But sorelv yon would nevertheless withdraw.
Ton aougnt not fame nor gain nor even love,
Ko end distinct from knowledge, — I repeat
Tour Tery words : once satisfied that knowledge
Is a mere dream, you would announce as much,
Toorself the first. But how is the event ?
Ton are defeated — and I Gnd you here !
Par, As though ** here " did not signify de-
feat !
I spoke not of my little labors here,
But of the break-down of my general aims :
For yon, aware of their extent and scope,
To look on these sage lecturings, approved
By beardless boys, and bearded dotards worse,
As a fit consummation of such aims.
Is worthy notice. A professorship
At Basel I Since you see so much in it.
And think my life was reasonably drained
Of life's delignts to render me a match
For duties arauous as such post demands, —
Be it far from me to deny my power
To fill the petty circle lotted out
Of infinite space, or justify the host
Of kooors thence accruing. So, take notice.
This Jewel «ianglmg from my neck preserves
The ieatnres of a prince, mj skiQ restored
To nhurae his people some few years to come :
And all throiu^ a pure whim. He had eased

the earth
Forme, but that the droll desi)air which seized
The Termin of his household, tickled me.
I eame to see. Here driveUed the physician.
Whose most infallible nostrum was at fault ;
There quaked the astrolo^r, whose horoscope
Had promised him intemunable years :
Here a monk fumbled at the sick man's mouth
With some undoubted relic — a sudary
Of the Virgin ; while another piebald knave
Of the same brotherhood (he loved them ever)
Was actively preparing 'neath his nose
Such a snffumigation as, once fired.
Had stunk the patient dead ere he could groan.
I eoned the doctor and upset the brother.
Brushed past the conjurer, vowed that the first

Of stench from the ingredients just alight

Would raise a cross-grained devil in m^ sword.
Not easily laid : and ere an hour the prince
Slept as he never slept aince prince he was.
A day — and I was posting for my life.
Placarded through the town as one whose spite
Had near availed to stop the blessed effects
Of the doctor's nostrum which, well seconded
By the sudary, and most by the costly smoke -«
Not leaving out the strenuous prayers sent up
Hard by in the abbey — raised the prince to life:
To the great reputation of the seer
Who, confident, expected all along
The glad event — the doctor's recomi>ense —
Much largess from his highness to the monks-*
And the vast solace of his loving people,
Whose general satisfaction to increase,
The prince was pleased no longer to defer
The burning of some dozen heretics
Remanded till God's mercy should be shown
Touching his sickness : last of all were joined
Ample mrections to all loval folk
To swell the complement bv seizing me
Who — doubtless some rank sorcerer — endear-

To thwart these pious offices, obstruct
The prince's cure, and frustrate heaven by help
Of certain devils dwelling in his sword.
By luck, the i>rince in his first fit of thanks
Had forced this bauble on me as an earnest
Of further favors. This one case may serve
To give sufficient taste of many such,
So, let them pass. Those shelves support a pile
Of patents, licenses, diplomas, titles
From Germany, France, Spain, and Italy ;
They authorize some honor ; ne'ertheless,
I set more store by this Erasmus sent ;
He trusts me; our Frobenius is his friend.
And him ** I raised " (nay, read it) ''*' from the

I weary you, I see. I merely sought
To show, there 's no great wonder after all
That, while I fill the class-room and attract
A crowd to Basel, I get leave to stay.
And therefore need not scruple to accept
The utmost ther can offer, ir I please :
For 't is but right the world should be prepared
To treat with lavor e'en fantastic wants
Of one like me, used up in serving her.
Just as the mortal, whom the gods in part
Devoured, received in place ofhis lost limb
Some virtue or other — cured disease, I think ;
Tou mind the fables we have read together.

Fest, Tou do not think I comprehend a word.
The time was. Aureole, you were a^t enough
To clothe the airiest thoughts in specious

But surely you must feel how vague and strange
These speeches sound.

Par, Well, then : you know my hopes ;

I am assured, at length, those hopes were vain ;
That truth is just as far from me as ever ;
That I have thrown my life awav ; that sorrow
On that account is idle, and further effort
To mend and patch what 's marred beyond re-

As useless : and all this was taught your friend
Bv the convincing good old-fashioned method
Of force — by sheer compulsion. Is that plain ?

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Fest. Dear Aureole, can it be my fears were
God wills not • . .

Par, Now, 'tis this I most admire —

The constant talk men of your stamp keep up
Of God's will, as they style it ; one would swear
Man had but merely to uplift his eye.
And see the will in question charactered
On the heaven's vault. 'T is hardly wise to moot
Such topics : doubts are many and faith is weak.
I know as much of any will of God
As knows some dumb and tortured brute what

His stem lord, wills from the perplexine blows
That plague him every way; out there, of

Where least he suffers, longest he remains —
My case ; and for such reasons I plod on.
Subdued but not convinced. I know as little
Why I deserve to fail, as why I hoped
Better things in my youth. I simply know
I am no master here, but trained and beaten
Into the path I tread ; and here I stay.
Until some further intimation reach me.
Like an obedient drudge. Though I prefer
To view the whole thing as a task imposed
Which, whether dull or pleasant, must be done —
Tet, I Aeny not, there is made provision
Of joys wmch tastes less jaded might affect ;
Nay, some which please me too, for all my

pride —
Pleasures that once were pains : the iron ring
Festering about a slave's neck grows at length
Lito the flesh it eats. I hate no longer
A host of petty vile delights, undreiuned of
Or spumed before ; such now supply the place
Of my dead aims : as in the antunm woods
Where tall trees used to flourish, from their

Springs up a fungous brood sickly and pale,
Cnill mushrooms colored like a corpse's cheek.
Fest. If I interpret well your words, I own
It troubles me but little that your aims.
Vast in their dawning and most likely grown
Extravagantly since, nave ba£Bed you.
Perchance I am glad ; you merit greater praise ;
Because thev are too glorious to be rained,
You do not blindly clmg to them and die ;
You fell, but have not sullenly refused
To rise, because an angel worsted you
In wrestling, though tne world holds not your

And though too haish and sudden is the change
To yield content as yet, still you puisne
The ungracious path as though 't were rosy-
'T is well : and your reward, or soon or late.
Will come from him whom no man serves in
Par. Ah, very fine ! For my part^ I conceive
The very pausing from all further toil.
Which you find heinous, would become a seal
To the sincerity of all my deeds.
To be consistent I should die at once ;
I calculated on no after^Uf e ;
Yet (how crept in, how fostered, I know not)
Here am I with as passionate regret
For youth and health and love so vainly lavished.

As if their preservation had been first^

And foremost in my dioughts ; and this strange

Humbled me wondrously, and had due force
In rendering me the less averse to follow
A certain counsel, a mysterious warning —
You will not understand — but 't was a man
With aims not mine and yet pursued like mine^
With the same fervor and no more success.
Perishing in my sight ; who summoned me,
As I would shun the ghastly fate I saw,
To serve my race at once ; to wait no longer
That God should interfere in my behalf.
But to distrust myself, put pride away.
And give my gains, imperfect as they were.
To men. I nave not leisure to expkun
How, dnce, a singular series of events
Has raised me to the station you behold.
Wherein I seem to turn to most account
The mere wreck of the past, — perhaps receive
Some feeble glimmering token that God views
And may approve my penance : therefore here
You find me, doing most good or least harm.
And if folks wonder much and profit little
'T is not my fault ; only, I shall reioice
When my part in the farce is shuffled through.
And the curtain falls : I must hold out till then.
Fest, Till when, dear Aureole ?
Par. Till I 'm fairly thrust

From my proud eminence. Fortune is fickle
And even professors fall : should that arrive,
I see no sin in ceding to my bent.
You little fancy what rude shocks apprise us
We sin ; God's intimations rather f^
In clearness than in energy : 't were well
Did they but indicate the course to take
Like that to be forsaken. I would fain
Be spared a further sample. Here I stand,
And nere I stay, be sure, till forced to flit.
Fest. Be you but firm on that head I long

ere then
All I expect will come to pass, I trust :
The cloud that wraps you will have disappeared.
Meantime, I see small chance of such event :
They praise you here as one whose lore, already
Divulged, eclipses all the past can show.
But whose achievements, marvellous as they be>
Are faint anticipations of a glory
About to be revealed. When Basel's crowds
Dismiss their teacher, I shall be content
That he depart.

Par. This favor at their hands

I look for earlier than your view of things
Would warrant. Of the crowd you saw to-day,
Remove the full half sheer amazement draws.
Mere novelty, naught else ; and next, the tribe
Whose innate blockish dulness just perceives
That unless miracles (as seem my works)
Be wrought in their behalf, tneir chance is

To puzzle the devil ; next, the numerous set
Who bitterly hate established schools, and help
The teacher that oppugns them, till he once
Have planted his ovm doctrine, when the

May reckon on their rancor in his turn ;
Tase, too, the sprinkling of sagacious Knaves
Whose cunning runs not counter to the vogu^

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fiat seeks, hj flattery and crafty ntuBiiiff,
To force my system to a premature
Shortr-liTed doTelopment. Whv swell the list ?
Each bas hif end to serve, and nis best way
Of seryin^ it : remove all these, remains
A seantUnff, a poor dozen at the best,
WortfaT to look for synmathy and service.
And likely to draw pront from my pains.

Fest, 'Tis no encouraging picture: still
these few
Redeem tJieir fellows. Once the germ im-
Its growth, if slow, is sure.

Par, God ^rant it so !

I would noake some amends : but if I fail,
Tlie luckless rogues have this excuse to urge,
lliat nmeh is in my method and my manner.
My uncoath habits, my impatient spirit,
Wnich hinders of reception and result
My doctrine: much to say , small skill to speak I
These old aims su£fered not a looking-o£F
Though for an instant ; therefore, omy when
I thus renounce them and resolved to reap
Some present fruit — to teach mankind some

So dearly poTohased — only then I found
Such teacmng was an art requiring cares
And qualities peculiar to itself :
13iat to possess was one thing — to display
Another. WiUi renown first in my thoughts.
Or popular praise, I had soon discovered it :
One grows out little ant to learn these things.

Fest. If it be so, which nowise I believe.
Then needs no waiting fuller dispensation
To leare a labor of so Uttle use.
Why not throw up the irksome charge at once ?

Par, Atask^ataskl

But wherefore hide the whole
Extent of degradation once engaged
In the oonf essing vein ? Despite of all
My fine talk of obedience and repugnance.
Docility and what not, 'tis yet to leam
If when the task shall really be performed.
My inclination free to choose once more,
I shall do aught but slightly modify
The nature of the hated task I quit.
In plain w<»ds, I am spoiled : my life still tends
As first it tended ; I am broken and trained
To my old habits : they are part of me.
I know, and^ none so well, my Uttr'Mnfr ends
Axe proved, impossible : no less, no less.
Even now what humors me, fond fool, as when
Hkit faint ghosts sit with me and flatter me
And send me back content to my dull round ?
How can I change this soul ? — this apparatus
C ou s ir a c t ed solely for their purposes.
So wen adapted to their every want,
To search out and discover, prove and perfect ;
This intricate machine whose most minute
And meanest motions have their charm to me
Though to none else — an aptitude I seize.
An object I peroeiye, a use, a meaning,
A property, a fitness, I exnlain
And ialone : — how can I change my soul ?
And this wronged body, wortluess save when

Under that souI^s dominion — used to care
For its bright master's cares and quite subdue

Its proper crayings — not to ail nor pine .
So he but prosper — whither drag this poor
Tried patient body? GodI how I essayed
To live like that mad poet, for a while.
To love alone ; and how I felt too waiped
And twisted and deformed 1 What shoukl 1 do.
Even though released from drudgery, but re-
Faint, as vou see, and halting, blind and sore,
To my da life and die as I began ?
I cannot feed on beauty for the sake
Of beauty only, nor can drink in balm
From lovely objects for their loveliness ;
My nature cannot lose her first imprint :
I still must hoard and hei^ and class all truths
With one ulterior purpose : I must know !
Would God translate me to his throne, believe
That I should only listen to his word
To further my own aim I For other men.
Beauty is prodigally strewn around.
And I were happy could I quench as they
This mad and thriveless longing, and content

With beauty for itself alone : alas,
I have addressed a frock of heavy mail
Yet may not join the troop of sacred knights ;
And now the forest-creatures flv from me.
The grass-banks cool, the sunbeams warm no

Best follow, dreaming that ere night arrive,
I shall o'ertake the company and ride
Glittering as they 1

Fest, I think I apprehend

What you would say : if you, in truth, design
To enter once more on the life thus left.
Seek not to hide that all this consciousness
Of failure is assumed 1

Par, My friend, my friend,

I toil, you listen ; I explain, perhaps
Ton understand : there our communion ends.
Have you leamt nothing from to-day's dis-
When we would thoroughly know the sick

man's state
We feel awhile the fluttering pulse^ press soft
The hot brow, look upon the langma eye.
And thence divine the rest. Must I lay bare
My heart, hideous and beating,* or tear up
My vitals for your gaze, ere you will deem
Enough made known? You! who are you,

forsooth ?
That is the crowning operation claimed
By the arch-demonstrator — heaven the hall.
And earth the audience. Let Aprile and you
Secure good places : 't will be worth the while.
Fest, Are ^ou mad. Aureole ? What can I
have said
To call for this? I judged from your own
Par, Oh, doubtless I A sick wretch de-
scribes the ape
That mocks him from the bed-foot, and all

You thither turn at once : or he recounts
The perilous journey he has late performed.
And you are puzzlea much how that could be I
You find me here, half stupid and half mad ;
It makes no part of my delight toaeaxoh

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Into.the8e matters, maoh leas nndergro
Another's somtiny ; bat so it chances
That I am led to trust my state to you :
And the event is, you combine, contrast
And ponder on my foolish words as though
They thoroughly conveyed all hidden here —
Here, loathsome with despair and hate and

Ib there no fear, no shrinkine and no shame ?
Will you guess nothing? willyon spare me no-
Must I go deeper? Ay or no?
Fest, Dear friend . . .

Par, True : I am brutal — 'tis a part of it ;
The plague's sign — you are not a laziu^haunter,
How should you know ? Well then, you think

it strange
I should profess to have fiuled utterly,
And yet propose an ultimate return
To oonrses void of hope : and this, because
Ton know not what temptation is, nor how

Online LibraryRobert BrowningThe complete poetic and dramatic works of Robert Browning → online text (page 9 of 198)