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MRS BARRETT BROWNING-AURORA LEIGH,
THERE is some necessity, we think, will continue to snarl until they are at the present time, of applying the pitched ignominiously into a quarryrules of criticism to the critics ; for hole with a stone of reasonable weight it cannot be denied that many who suspended to their necks. Subaquewear the robes of Aristarchus are no ous snarling we believe to be imposmore entitled to the style of literary sible, else doubtless they would excensors, than is the American Lynch pend their last energies in snarling to the title of a legitimate judge. at the tadpoles. Nothing can more forcibly demon- When a nuisance becomes so unistrate the anarchy which prevails in versal as this, most people cease to the republic of letters, than the fact regard it seriously. Men of strong that persons of narrow education, nerves and equable temperament limited views, confined sympathies, stride along without regarding their and inordinate prejudice, take upon clamorous following, though those of themselves, every day, without hesi- weaker nerve are sometimes startled tation, the responsibilities of the re- and disturbed. If indeed there was viewer; and under cover of the edi- a common feeling in the pack—if a torial“we," pronounce judgment upon a plausible reason could be assigned the efforts of their superiors. The why some five-and-twenty animals of complaint, no doubt, is an old one, different breeds should combine in a but the evil has been steadily increas general yelp—if it could be shown ing. Formerly critics were scarce, that your hat was of such a texture and, in consequence, as well known or so long in use that they all took as mastiffs in a country parish. Their offence at it, or that your coat was so deep bow-wow, even when they were monstrously bad that they deemed it unnecessarily surly, had something their duty to protest against it, or in it of power and significance : now, that you walked along the road with the traveller cannot pass through a the air of a ticket-of-leave man or a village without having a whole pack thimblerigger, their assault might, of curs yelping vociferously at his in a certain measure, be justified. heels. Powerless to bite, they are But they have no common motive. numerous enough to annoy; and they One barks at you because he objects seem to consider, perhaps with reason, to your hat; another, because your that incessant barking is an indis- breeches are not to his liking; a third, pensable condition of their existence, because he thinks you supercilious; Instead of remaining quiet under a fourth, because you righteously beshelter of the peat-stack or haycock, stowed a kick upon the carcass of a as well-conditioned animals should cousin of his own; a fifth, because do when nobody is attempting to you come from a different parish ; a molest them, they dash forward fran- sixth, because he considers barking a tically on the advent of each new- proof of genius ; and a seventh, becomer on the highway, and expend a cause from puppydom upwards he monstrous deal of unavailing breath has had a tendency towards heredibefore they slink back to their accus- tary hydrophobia. Each has a sepatomed lurking-places. Possibly, upon rate motive for dislike, though the cry more minute acquaintance, some of be general ; and even the possession them may prove to be rather amiable of good qualities will not protect you tykes in their way-fellows who at- from their assault. Where there is tack the passenger more from exube- envy, a very small matter indeed will rance of spirits than from malice, and serve to elicit hatred. Witness the who think that there is something instance of the Athenian, who asked wonderfully clever in the utterance Aristides to inscribe his own name on of their canine music. But there are the shell of banishment, because he others whose existence is a perpetual was weary of hearing him denomsnarl—who have snarled from the day inated “the just.” they were littered till now; and who To criticism, however stringent, we do not object, provided the critic performer on the flute that he is not deals fairly and honourably with his a master of the bassoon. subject. For many years Maga has We must know, or at all events been a choice repertory of criticism ; endeavour to ascertain, what especial but we shall not go the length of say- talent has been vouchsafed to a man, ing that her judgments have been before we can form a just estimate of infallible. No individual critic that the use which he has made of it. For ever lived has been infallible ; and in talent, though it may be cultivated a college of critics there must needs to an almost indefinite extent, cannot be diversity of opinion. Maga has be acquired-it is a gift from the erred, sometimes on the side of over- Creator. No man is so universal a praise, sometimes, though much more genius that he is not debarred by rarely, on the side of undue deprecia- nature from certain pursuits, in which tion; but throughout she has striven others, perhaps less gifted, can achieve to be honest, kindly, and sincere. To distinction; and it is this diversity of be supercilious is not in her nature; talent which makes the world of art though she may at times have dealt so large. Therefore we reject, as utrather sharply with impostors, and terly spurious and unprincipled, that indulged in a vein of humour, while school of criticism which, in each noticing the efforts of worthy aspi- branch of art, sets up a model, and rants, which has wounded their self- judges of all new productions accordconceit. But never has she degraded ing to their likeness to the idol. herself by an unworthy attack ; still Work may be better or worse accordless can it be said that she has allowed ing to the degree of labour bestowed extraneous matters to influence her upon it, but we are not entitled to literary verdicts. We swear by the demand impossibilities from any one. beard of Buchanan, that all of us have All authors, after they have once tried to hold the balance equally ; gained possession of the public ear, and if in any instance we have failed, are liable for the future to be tried what wonder is it, since popular fable by their own standard. This is, to a proclaims that, long ago, Astræa certain extent, a disadvantage ; for has ascended to the heavens ?
it by no means rarely happens that The first duty of a critic is to form the first work of an author is also as near an estimate as may be of the his best, either because his earlier measure of power possessed by the impulses have been stronger than his author whom he is reviewing. If he later ones; because, through flattery, neglects this, his performance will be he has been led to suppose that his worthless, because, in art, every indi- measure of power is greater than it vidual ought to be judged according is in reality; or because he has to the extent of his gifts. It would adopted false theories of art, and so be a gross error to institute a com- has gone astray. It may be an unparison between the Apollo Belvidere comfortable thing for a poet to shiver and the Farnese Hercules. The one under the shade of his own laurels ; is the embodiment in marble of god still there is consolation in knowing like grace ; the other the incarnation that he was the planter of the tree. of physical strength. In like manner There is no escape from this kind of a poet may have peculiar excellencies criticism, which proceeds upon a of his own, though he is not gifted strictly natural and correct principle, with the universality of Shakespeare, and is moreover calculated to check the majesty of Milton, or the nervous that intellectual drowsiness which is energy of Dryden. To try him by often the result of success. No authe standard of each or all of these thor is the worse for being shaken would be manifestly unfair, for he is rather roughly by the shoulder when a worker in another field, and has he exhibits symptoms of somnolence. been differently endowed. There is Nay, though he may be a little peevish no analogy between the trades of the at first, he will ultimately, if he is a embroiderer and the blacksmith. We fellow of any sense, be grateful to his do not expect a display of power from monitor for having roused him from the one, or delicate workmanship a lethargy which might be fatal to from the other. It is no blame to the his fame.
For the application of his gifts, taper in a religious procession. They every author is responsible. He may were married; but the wife died exercise them well and usefully, or shortly after she had given birth to he may apply them to ignoble pur- her sole daughter, Aurora. The poses. He may, by the aid of art, widower, in a frenzy of grief, withexhibit them in the most attractive drew to a cottage among the mounform, or his execution may be mean tains, and there occupied his time and slovenly. In the one case he is in the education of his child, who soon deserving of praise ; in the other he became a proficient in the classics. is liable to censure. Keeping this
“The trick of Greek principle in view, we shall proceed And Latin he had taught me, as he would to the consideration of this new Have taught me wrestling or the game of volume from the pen of Mrs Brown- . fives, . . ing,—a lady whose rare genius has
If such he had known,-most like a shipalready won for her an exalted place
Who heaps his single platter with goats' among the poets of the age. En cheese dowed with a powerful intellect, she And scarlet berries; or like any man at least has no reason to anticipate
Who loves but one, and so gives all at once, the treatment prophesied for her
Because he has it, rather than because
He counts it worthy. Thus my father literary heroine, Aurora :
gave; “You never can be satisfied with praise And thus, as did the woman formerly Which men give women when they judge By young Achilles, when they pinned the a book
veil Not as men's work, but as mere woman's Across the boy's audacious front, and swept work,
With tuneful laughs the silver-fretted Expressing the comparative respect
rocks. Which means the absolute scorn. "Oh, He wrapt his little daughter in his large excellent!
Man's doublet, careless did it fit or no." What grace! what facile turns! what fluent sweeps!
This mode of tuition—the same, by What delicate discernment – almost the way, which Dominie Sampson thought!
proposed for the mental culture of The book does honour to the sex, we hold. Among our female authors we make room
Lucy Bertram-had a strong effect For this fair writer, and congratulate
upon the character of Aurora, who The country that produces in these times throughout the poem discourses in Such women, competent to-spell.' a most learned manner. When she Mrs Browning takes the field like
was only thirteen her father died, Britomart or Joan of Arc, and de
and she was brought away, most reclares that she will not accept cour
luctantly, from her pleasant Italy, to tesy or forbearance from the critics
dwell in foggy England with a virgin on account of her sex. She chal aunt, who is thus described :lenges a truthful opinion, and that
"I think I see my father's sister stand opinion she shall have.
Upon the hall-step of her country-house Aurora Leigh is a story of the pre
To give me welcome. She stood straight
and calm, sent time in nine books. When we Her somewhat narrow forehead braided say a story, it must not be under tight stood in the sense of a continuous As if for taming accidental thoughts narrative or rather poem of action. From possible pulses ; brown hair pricked
with grey for a great portion of the work is re
By frigid use of life (she was not old, flective. Still there is a story which Although my father's elder by a year), we shall trace for the information of A nose drawn sharply, yet in delicate lines; the reader, abstaining in the mean A close mild mouth, a little soured about time from comment, and not making
The ends, through speaking unrequited
loves, more quotations than are necessary
necessary Or peradventure niggardly half-truths; for its elucidation. The poem is a Eyes of no colour, once they might have monologue, and the opening scene smiled, is laid in Tuscany.
But never, never have forgot themselves The father of Aurora Leigh, an
In smiling; cheeks, in which was yet a rose
Of perished summers, like a rose in a book, Englishman of fortune and a scholar,
Kept more for ruth than pleasure,-if past fell in love with a young Florentine bloom, girl, whom he first saw bearing a Past fading also.
She had lived, we'll say, The marts and temples, the triumphal
At poetry's divine first finger-touch,
Convicted of the great eternities
So Aurora began to make verses,
She had a cousin, Romney Leigh,
“Romney, Romney Leigh.
I have not named my cousin hitherto, crease, Preserved her intellectual. She had lived
And yet I used him as a sort of friend; A sort of cage-bird life, born in a cage,
My elder by few years, but cold and shy Accounting that to leap from perch to
And absent-tender, when he thought of
Which scarcely was imperative, grave be-
As well as early master of Leigh Hall, live
Whereof the nightmare sate upon his
Repressing all its seasonable delights, to her cage,
And agonising with a ghastly sense
Of universal hideous want and wrong
To incriminate possession. When he came Bring the clean water; give out the fresh
From college to the country, very oft seed.”
He crossed the hills on visits to my aunt,
With gifts of blue grapes from the hotThis prim old lady was not exactly houses, to Miss Aurora's mind ; indeed, there A book in one hand,-mere statistics (if Tas not much love lost between I chanced to lift the cover), count of all them. for Aunt Marjory had been The goats whose beards are sprouting
down toward hell, sorely incensed, and with good rea
Against God's separating judgment-hour. se s3 will presently appear, at her And she, she almost loved him,--even alTrother's marriage with a foreigner, lowed
2 perer thoroughly forgave thé That sometimes he should seem to sigh ambter. However, she did her
my way ;
It made himn easier to be pitiful,
And sighing was his gift."
israction in such things as are This young gentleman, after his
i tanght to English girls, an own odd fashion, has conceived an a regimen which excited attachment for Aurora ; nor is he an
vindest disgust in Aurora. object of total indifference to her, E s be bad strength enough to though her mind is more occupied C e though occasionally with versification than with love.
de ; and her patience The two characters, male and female, s retarded by finding are meant to stand in strong contrast sants in a garret. These to each other. Romney is a Social
els, and lighting ist, bent on devoting himself to the ne perceived her regeneration of mankind, and the
improvement of the condition of the
working classes, by carrying into efS ie sme was ripe,
fect the schemes of Fourier and
Owen—the aim of Aurora is, through Is the earth s l fires
Art, to raise the aspirations of the est and, people. The man is physical, the
woman metaphysical. The one is
no em don the from
for increasing bodily comfort, the him, was in fact carrying out that other for stimulating the mind. intention. Otherwise Aurora is a Both are enthusiasts, and both are beggar, for her aunt has no fortune intolerably dogmatic. Now it so to leave her. Such suggestions as happens that, on the morning of the these, when they occur in romance twentieth anniversary of her birth- and poetry, always prove arguments day, Miss Aurora sallies forth early, in favour of obstinacy; and Aurora, with the laudable purpose of crown- even though she likes Romney, fixes ing herself after the manner of Co- upon them as insuperable obstacles rinna, and is surprised by Romney to the marriage :in the act of placing an ivy wreath upon her brows. Romney has picked
“Romney now was turned up a volume of her manuscript po- Who had tied himself to marry--me, in
To a benefactor, to a generous man, ems, which he returns, not, however,
stead with any complimentary phrase, but Of such a woman, with low timorous lids rather sneeringly, and forth with be- He lifted with a sudden word one day, gins to read her a lecture, in a high And left, perhaps, for my sake.-Ah, self
tied puritanical strain, upon the vanity of By a contract, male Iphigenia, bound her pursuits. This, of course, rouses At a fatal Aulis, for the winds to change, the ire of Aurora, who retorts with (But loose him—they'll not change), he great spirit on his materialistic ten well might seem dencies. In the midst of this dis
A little cold and dominant in love!
He had a right to be dogmatical, cussion he has the bad taste to pro
This poor, good Romney. Love, to him, pose, not so much, as he puts it,
was made through love, but because he wants A simple law-clause. If I married him, a helpmate to assist him in the erec- I would not dare to call my soul my own, tion of public washing-houses, soup
Which so he had bought and paid for : kitchens, and hospitals ; whereupon
And every heart-beat down there in the our high-souled poetess flies off at a bill,-tangent :
Not one found honestly deductible 16. What you love, From any use that pleased him! He might Is not a woman, Romney, but a cause : You want a helpmate, not a mistress, sir- My body into coins to give away A wife to help your ends-in her no end! Among his other paupers ; change my sons, Your cause is noble, your ends excellent, While I stood dumb as Griseld, for black But I, being most unworthy of these and babes that,
Or piteous foundlings; might unquestioned Do otherwise conceive of love. Farewell.' set
My right hand teaching in the Ragged * Farewell, Aurora ? you reject me thus ?' Schools, He said.
My left hand washing in the Public Baths, Why, sir, you are married long
What time my angel of the Ideal stretched
Both his to me in vain! I could not claim ago. You have a wife already whom you love,
The poor right of a mouse in a trap, to Your social theory. Bless you both, I say.
squeal, For my part. I am scarcely meek enough
And take so much as pity, from myself.” To be the handmaid of a lawful spouse. Do I look a Hagar, think you ?'"
In short, she will be her own mis
tress, and work out her own indeAunt Marjory, when she hears of
pendence. Her aunt dies, leaving this refusal, is frantic, and rates Au- Aurora about three
U- Aurora about three hundred pounds. rora soundly for rejecting a fortune She peremptorily rejects a large sum laid at her feet. She explains that,
of money which Romney, with deliby a special clause in the Leigh en
- cate generosity, had attempted to tail, offspring by a foreign wife were place at her disposal, without allowcut off from succession - that no
hoing her to incur the sense of obligasooner was Aurora born than the tion, and starts for the metropolis :next heir, Romney Leigh's father, proposed that a marriage should be
I go hence arranged between his son and the To London, to the gathering-place of
souls, child, so that the penalties of disin
To live mine straight out, vocally, in herison might be avoided-and that books ; Romney, by asking her to marry Harmoniously for others, if indeed