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No. 3555 August 24, 1912



1. The Novel in "The Ring and the Book." By Henry James.


II. In Defence of the Brown Rat. By Miss Frances Pitt.


Ill. Fortuna Chance. Chapter XXXIII. Loose Ends. Chapter XXXIV.
In Forma Pauperis. By James Prior. (To be continued.)
IV. Catastrophes in Nature. By the Rev. Robert Christie.



V. Tartarin: The French Comic Giant. By W. L. George.

VI. Snatty. By Jeffery E. Jeffery.
VII. "Mine Eyes to the Hills.".
VIII. On Rest. By H. Belloc.

IX. The Forlorn Hope of Humanity.
X. About Salons.

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XI. The Eternal Allegory. By Ethel Talbot.
XII. The Thrush and the Man. By Katharine Tynan.
XIII. Angels. By Olive Custance.


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If on such an occasion as this-even with our natural impulse to shake ourselves free of reserves-some sharp choice between the dozen different aspects of one of the most copious of our poets becomes a prime necessity, though remaining at the same time a great difficulty, so in respect to the most voluminous of his works the admirer is promptly held up, as we have come to call it; finds himself almost baffled by alternatives. "The Ring and the Book" is so vast and so essentially Gothic a structure, spreading and soaring and branching at such a rate, covering such ground, putting forth such pinnacles and towers and brave excrescences, planting its transepts and chapels and porticoes, its clustered hugeness or inordinate muchness, that with any first approach we but walk vaguely and slowly, rather bewilderedly, round and round it, wondering at what point we had best attempt such entrance as will save our steps and light our uncertainty, most enable us to reach our personal chair, our indicated chapel or shrine, when once within. For it is to be granted that to this inner view the likeness of the literary monument to one of the great religious gives way a little, sustains itself less than in the first, the affronting mass; unless we simply figure ourselves, under the great roof, looking about us through a splendid thickness and dimness of air, an accumulation of spiritual presences or unprofaned mysteries, that makes our impression heavily general-general only-and leaves us helpless for reporting on particulars. The particulars for our purpose have thus their identity much rather in certain features of the twenty faces-either of

Address delivered before the Academic Committee of the Royal Society of Literature in Commemoration of the Centenary of Robert Browning, May 7, 1912.

one or of another of these-that the structure turns to the outer day, and that we can, as it were, sit down before and consider at our comparative ease. I say comparative advisedly, for I cling to the dear old tradition that Browning is "difficult"-which we were all brought up on and which I think we should, especially on a rich retrospective day like this, with the atmosphere of his great career settling upon us as much as possible, feel it a shock to see break down in too many places at once. Selecting my ground, by your kind invitation, for sticking in and planting before you, to flourish so far as it shall, my little sprig of bay, I have of course tried to measure the quantity of ease with which our material may on that noted spot allow itself to be treated. There are innumerable things in "The Ring and the Book"-as the comprehensive image I began with makes it needless I should say; and I have been above all appealed to by the possibility that one of these, pursued for awhile through the labyrinth, but at last overtaken and then more or less confessing its identity, might have yielded up its best essence as a grateful theme, under some fine strong economy of prose treatment. So here you have me talking at once of prose and seeking that connection to help out my


From far back, from my first reading of these volumes, which took place at the time of their disclosure to the world, when I was a fairly young person, the sense, almost the pang, of the novel they might have constituted, sprang sharply from them; so that I was to go on through the years almost irreverently, all but quite profanely, if you will, thinking of the great loose and uncontrolled composition, the great heavy-hanging cluster of related but

unreconciled parts, as a fiction of the so-called historic type, that is, as a suggested study of the manners and conditions from which our own have more or less traceably issued, just tragically spoiled-or as a work of art, in other words, smothered in the producing.

To which I hasten to add my consciousness of the scant degree in which such a fresh start from our author's documents, such a re-projection of them, wonderful documents as they can only have been, may claim a critical basis. Conceive me as simply astride of my different fancy, my other dream, of the matter-which bolted with me, as I have said, at the first alarm.

Browning worked, in this connection, literally upon documents; no page of his long story is more vivid and splendid than that of his find of the Book in the litter of a market-stall in Florence and the swoop of practised perception with which he caught up in it a treasure. Here was a subject stated to the last ounce of its weight, a living and breathing record of facts pitiful and terrible, a mass of matter bristling with revelations and yet at the same time wrapped over with layer upon layer of contemporary appreciation; which appreciation, in its turn, was a part of the wealth to be appreciated. What our great master saw was his situation founded, seated there in positively packed and congested significance, though by just so much as it was charged with meanings and values were those things undeveloped and unexpressed. They looked up at him, even at that first flush and from their market-stall, and said to him, in their compressed compass, as with the muffled rumble of a slow-coming earthquake, "Express us, express us, immortalize us as we'll immortalize you!"-so that the terms of the understanding were so far cogent and clear. It was an understanding,

on their side, with the poet; and, since that poet had produced "Men and Women," "Dramatic Lyrics," "Dramatis Persona" and sundry plays-we needn't even foist on him "Sordello"— he could but understand in his own way. That way would have had to be quite some other, we fully see, had he been by habit and profession, not just the lyric, epic, dramatic commentator, the extractor, to whatever essential potency and redundancy, of the moral of the fable, but the very fabulist himself, the inventor and projector, layer down of the postulate and digger of the foundation. I doubt if we have a precedent for this energy of appropriation of a deposit of stated matter, a block of sense already in position and requiring not to be shaped and squared and caused any further to solidify, but rather to suffer disintegration, be pulled apart, melted down, hammered, by the most characteristic of the poet's processes, to powder-dust of gold and silver, let us say! He was to apply to it his favorite system-that of looking at his subject from the point of view of a curiosity almost sublime in its freedom, yet almost homely in its method, and of smuggling as many more points of view together into that one as the fancy might take him to smuggle, on a scale on which even he had never before applied it; this with a courage and a confidence that, in presence of all the conditions, conditions many of them arduous and arid and thankless even to defiance, we can only pronounce splendid, and of which the issue was to be of a proportioned monstrous magnifi


The one definite forecast for this product would have been that it should figure for its producer as a poem-as if he had simply said, "I embark at any rate for the Golden Isles"; everything else was of the pure incalculable, the frank voyage of adventure. To what extent the Golden Isles were, in fact, to

be reached is a matter we needn't pretend, I think, absolutely to determine; let us feel for ourselves and as we will about it either see our adventurer, disembarked bag and baggage and in possession, plant his flag on the highest eminence within his ring of sea, or, on the other hand, but watch him approach and beat back a little, tack and circle and stand off, always fairly in sight of land, catching rare glimpses and meeting strange airs, but not quite achieving the final coup that annexes the group. He returns to us under either view all scented and salted with his measure of contact; and that for the moment is enough for us-more than enough for me, at any rate, engaged, for your beguilement, in this practical relation of snuffing up what he brings. He brings, however one puts it, a detailed report, which is but another word for a story; and it is with his story, his offered, not his borrowed one-a very different matter-that I am concerned. We are probably most of us so aware of its general content that if I sum this up I may do so briefly. The Book of the Florentine rubbish-heap is the full account (as full accounts were conceived in those days) of the trial before the Roman courts, with enquiries and judgments by the Tuscan authorities intermixed, of a certain Count Guido Franceschini of Arezzo, decapitated, in company with four confederates-these latter hanged-on February 22, 1698, for the murder of his young wife Pompilia Comparini and her adopted parents, Pietro and Violante of that ilk.

The circumstances leading to this climax were primarily his marriage to Pompilia, some years before, in Romeshe being then but in her thirteenth year under the impression, fostered in him by the elder pair, that she was their own child and on this head heiress to moneys settled on them from of old in the event of their having a child.

They had, in fact, had none, and had, in substitution, invented, so to speak, Pompilia, the luckless base-born baby of a woman of lamentable character easily induced to part with her for cash. They bring up the hapless creature as their daughter and as their daughter they marry her, in Rome, to the middle-aged and impecunious Count Guido, a rapacious and unscrupulous fortune-seeker by whose superior social position, as we say, dreadfully decaduto though he be, they are dazzled out of all circumspection. The girl, innocent, ignorant, bewildered and scared, is purely passive, is taken home by her husband to Arezzo, where she is at first attended by Pietro and Violante, and where the direst disappointments await the three. Count Guido proves the basest of men, and his home a place of terror and of torture, from which at the age of seventeen, and shortly prior to her giving birth to an heir to the house, such as it is, she is rescued by a pitying witness of her misery, Canon Caponsacchi, a man of the world and adorning it, yet in holy orders, as men of the world in Italy might then be, who clandestinely helps her, at peril of both of their lives, back to Rome, and of whom it is attested that he has had no other relation with her but this of distinguished and all-disinterested friend in need. The pretended parents have at an early stage thrown up their benighted game, fleeing from the rigor of their dupe's domestic rule, disclosing to him vindictively the part they have played and the consequent failure of any profit to him through his wife, and leaving him in turn to wreak his spite, which has become infernal, on the wretched Pompilia. He pursues her to Rome, on her eventual flight, and overtakes her, with her companion, just outside the gates; but having, by the aid of the local powers, re-achieved possession of her, he contents himself for the time with procur

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