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TO MY FATHER.
When your eyes fall upon this page of dedication, and you start to see to whom it is inscribed, your first thought will be of the time far off when I was a child and wrote verses, and when I dedicated them to you who were my public and my critic. Of all that such a recollection implies of saddest and sweetest to both of us, it would become neither of us to speak before the world ; nor would it be possible for us to speak of it to one another, with voices that did not falter. Enough, that what is in my heart when I write thus, will be fully known to yours.
And my desire is that you, who are a witness how if this art of poetry had been a less earnest object to me, it must have fallen from exhausted hands before this day,--that you, who have shared with me in things bitter and sweet, softening or enhancing them, every day, -that you, who hold with me, over all sense of loss and transiency, one hope by one Name, --may accept from me the inscription of these volumes, the exponents of a few years of an existence which has been sustained and comforted by you as well as given. Somewhat more faint-hearted than I used to be, it is my fancy thus to seem to return to a visible personal dependence on you, as if indeed I were a child again; to conjure your beloved image between myself and the public, so as to be sure of one smile,--and to satisfy my heart while I sanctify my ambition, by associating with the great pursuit of my life, its tenderest and holiest affection. Your
E. B. B.
LONDON : 50 WIMPOLE STREET,
TO MRS. BROWNING'S POEMS PUBLISHED IN 1844.
'HE collection here offered to the public consists of Poems which have
Seraphim" and the present; variously coloured, or perhaps shadowed, by the life of which they are the natural expression,-and, with the exception of a few contributions to English or American periodicals, are printed now for the first time.
As the first poem of this collection, the “ Drama of Exile,” is the longest and most important work (to me!) which I ever trusted into the current of publication, I may be pardoned for entreating the reader's attention to the fact, that I decided on publishing it after considerable hesitation and doubt. The subject of the Drama rather fastened on me than was chosen ; and the form, approaching the model of the Greek tragedy, shaped itself under my hand, rather by force of pleasure than of design. But when the excitement of composition had subsided, I felt afraid of my position. My subject was the new and strange experience of the fallen humanity, as it wer: forth from Paradise into the wilderness; with a peculiar reference to Eve', loited grief, which, considering that self-sacrifice belonged to her womanhoox, and the consciousness of originating the Fall to her offence, -appeared to me imperfectly apprehended hitherto, and more expressible by a woman than a
There was room, at least, for lyrical emotion in those first steps into the wilderness,-in that first sense of desolation after wrath, --in that first audible gathering of the recriminating “groan of the whole creation,”-in that first darkening of the hills from the recoiling feet angels,--and in that first silence of the voice of God. And I took pleasure in driving in, like a pile, stroke upon stroke, the Idea of Exile,-admitting Lucifer as an extreme Adam, to represent the ultimate tendencies of sin and loss,—that it might be strong to bear up the contrary idea of the Heavenly love and purity. But when all was done, I felt afraid, as I said before, of my position. I had promised my own prudence to shut close the gates of Eden between Milton and myself, so that none might say I dared to walk in his footsteps. He should be within, I thought, with his Adam and Eve unfallen or falling, and I, without, with my Exiles,- I also an exile! It would not do. The subject, and his glory covering it, swept through the gates, and I stood full in it, against my will, and contrary to my vow,—till I shrank back fearing, almost desponding; hesitating to venture even a passing association with our great poet before the face of the public. Whether at last I took courage for the venture, by a sudden revival of that love of manuscript which should be classed by moral philosophers among the natural affections, or by the encouraging voice of a dear friend, it is not interesting to the reader to inquire. Neither could the fact affect the question ; since I bear, of course, my own responsibilities. For the rest, Milton is too high, and I am too low, to render it necessary for me to disavow any rash emulation of his divine faculty on his own ground; while enough individuality will be granted, I hope, to my poem, to rescue me from that imputation of plagiarism which should be too servile a thing for every sincere thinker. After all, and at the worst, I have only attempted, in respect to Milton, what the Greek dramatists achieved lawfully in respect to Homer.
They constructed dramas on Trojan ground; they raised on the buskin and even clasped with the sock, the feet of Homeric heroes; yet they neither imitated their Homer nor emasculated him. The Agamemnon of Æschylus, who died in the bath, did no harm to, nor suffered any harm from, the Agamemnon of Homer who bearded Achilles. To this analogy-the more favourable to me from the obvious exception in it, that Homer's subject was his own possibly by creation,—whereas Milton's was his own by illustration only,- I appeal. To this analogy-not to this comparison, be it understood -I appeal. For the analogy of the stronger may apply to the weaker; and the reader may have patience with the weakest while she suggests the application.
On a graver point I must take leave to touch, in further reference to my dramatic poem.
The divine Saviour is represented in vision towards the close, speaking and transfigured ; and it has been hinted to me that the intro. duction may give offence in quarters where I should be most reluctant to give any. A reproach of the same class, relating to the frequent recurrence of a Great Name in my pages, has already filled me with regret. How shall I answer these things ? Frankly, in any case. When the old mysteries represented the Holiest Being in a rude familiar fashion, and the people gazed on, with the faith of children in their earnest eyes, the critics of a succeeding age, who rejoiced in Congreve, cried out “Profane.” Yet Andreini's mystery suggested Milton's epic; and Milton, the most reverent of poets, doubting whether to throw his work into the epic form or the dramatic, left, on the latter basis, a rough ground-plan, in which his intention of introducing the “Heavenly Love” among the persons of his drama is extant to the present day. But the tendency of the present day is to sunder the daily life from the spiritual creed, -to separate the worshipping from the acting man,--and by no means to "live by faith.” There is a feeling abroad which appears to me (I say it with deference) nearer to superstition than to religion, that there should be no touching of holy vessels except by consecrated fingers, nor any naming of holy names except in consecrated places. As if life were not a continual sacrament to man, since Christ brake the daily bread of it in His
hands! As if the name of God did not build a church, by the very naming of it! As if the word God were not, everywhere in His creation, and at every moment in His eternity, an appropriate word! As if it could be uttered unfitly, if devoutly! I appeal on these points, which I will not argue, from the conventions of the Christian to his devout heart ; and I beseech him generously to believe of me that I have done that in reverence from which, through reverence, he might have abstained ; and that where he might have been driven to silence by the principle of adoration, I, by the very same principle, have been hurried into speech.
It should have been observed in another place, -the fact, however, being sufficiently obvious throughout the drama,—that the time is from the evening into the night. If it should be objected that I have lengthened my twilight too much for the East, I might hasten to answer that we know nothing of the length of mornings or evenings before the Flood, and that I cannot, for my own part, believe in an Eden without the longest of purple twilights. The evening, aly, of Genesis signifies a “mingling,” and approaches the meaning of our “twilight” analytically. Apart from which considerations, my“exiles” are surrounded, in the scene described, by supernatural appear. ances; and the shadows that approach them are not only of the night.
The next longest poem to the “Drama of Exile,” in the collection, is the “Vision of Poets,” in which I have endeavoured to indicate the necessary relations of genius to suffering and self-sacrifice. In the eyes of the living generation, the poet is at once a richer and poorer man than he used to be ; , he wears better broadcloth, but speaks no more oracles: and the evil of this social incrustation over a great idea is eating deeper and more fatally into our literature than either readers or writers may apprehend fully. I have attempted to express in this poem my view of the mission of the poet, of the self-abnegation implied in it, of the great work involved in it, of the duty and glory of what Balzac has beautifully and truly called “la
patience angélique du génie ;” and of the obvious truth, above all, that if · knowledge is power, suffering should be acceptable as a part of knowledge.
It is enough to say of the other poems, that scarcely one of them is unambitious of an object and a significance.
Since my “Seraphim” was received by the public with more kindness than its writer had counted on, I dare not rely on having put away the faults with which that volume abounded and was mildly reproached. Something indeed I may hope to have retrieved, because some progress in mind and in art every active thinker and honest writer must consciously or unconsciously make, with the progress of existence and experience: and, in some sort-since we learn in suffering what we teach in song,”----my songs may be fitter to teach. But if it were not presumptuous language on the lips of one to whom life is more than usually uncertain, my favourite wish for this work would be, that it be received by the public as a step in the right track, towards a future indication of more value and acceptability.