Obrázky stránek
PDF
ePub
[graphic]

A PRIESTESS OF LIBERTY AND HER MESSAGE.

(A Picture of Mrs. Browning.)

"Open my heart and you will see

Graved inside of it 'Italy,'
Such lovers old are I and she;

So it always was, so shall ever be."

[ocr errors]

the golden stylus of the woman proved less mighty than the statesman's firmer pen? Each played well its part in making possible final victory through the sword of Garibaldi.

SUCH

UCH was the love which Robert Browning and his poet-wife bore to the oppressed land beneath whose smiling skies they had made their home. Theirs was the fervent devotion of patriots, not the heated partizanship which manifests itself in the championing of Venezuelan claims, nor even that sincere, but erratic, sympathy which actuated Cuban filibustering. To them the freedom of Italy meant much more than did the liberation of Greece to Byron. In the latter, we cannot but see the Corsair-spirit's detestation of oppression predominating over his love for the oppressed. It was rather against "the unspeakable Turk" than for the Hellene that he strove he loved the slave because he first hated the cruel task-master. With the Brownings, however, affection for Italy was a controling feeling, Not even Mazzini, nor Garibaldi, could suffer more deeply in his nation's degradation than did these English singers. While from the pen of Mazzini came those burning calls for action upon the part of slumbering Italy, no less earnest was the appeal sent to the outer world by the gentle poetess sitting behind her window at Casa Guida. And who will say that

In the poem entitled, "From Casa Guida Windows," there were embodied the impressions and emotions of Elizabeth Browning, as she witnessed the struggle which took place in Tuscany during her residence in Florence. And that song went forth as a message to the nations. Could dying Armenia be blessed with such a priestess, how much more of hope in its future! She made no pretensions to presenting a treatise upon the principles of liberty, nor to formulating any definite plan for immediate action. This was to be the part of others. For her, it was enough that she felt the wrong and hated it-hated with all the intensity of a god-like passion; that her whole being became vocal with love and pity for the bruised and trodden form of lovely Italia.

By the Congress of Vienna, Italy had been placed under petty princes, who owned allegiance to Austria and the Pope. Continued oppression awakened irreconcilable hostility between these rulers and their subjects. An almost universal revolt of the Italian States, in 1848, bade fair to overthrow foreign domination. A republic was declared under the presidency of the

intrepid Mazzini, and upon the same day the tyrannical Duke of Tuscany fled from Florence. Italy's first shout of exultation at her new-found liberty had scarcely died away when the allied forces were disastrously defeated at the battle of Novara. The treacherous French expedition of 1850 was the concluding event of this great revolution. The reaction was merciless. Austrian troops exercised a crushing tyranny, and from time to time Europe shuddered at the recital of dark cruelties, scarcely less atrocious than the outrages of the Kurds in Armenia. Such events were the melancholy inspiration of a poetic outburst that compelled the attention of Christendom In spite of all-for no Cassandra was this prophetess-her faith foretold a time of final triumph.

The poem consists of two parts,written at an interval of about three years, before and after the revolution of 1848. The first is marked by its glowing hope for the liberty of Italy's re-awakened future; the second by its disappointment at the fickleness of the people and its detestation of their rulers' perfidy, still relieved, however, by the light of faith. The opening lines contain pathetic reference to the song of an Italian child passing beneath the window of the poetess, "O, Bella Liberata! Oh! Beauteous Liberty!" is the sweetgrefrain which calls forth that lyrical plaint, so exquisitely tender, declaring the sad inadequateness of mere music to awaken the deadened heart of Italy. Too much there has been, says this singer, of mere poetic sympathy; too much of weak glorying in past greatness by

an unfortunate nation,

"Of her own past, impassioned nympholept." Adopting a more vigorous strain, this Priestess of Liberty and Right sounds forth with sudden passion:

"We do not serve the dead-the past is past,

God lives,

Feeling that nothing definite will result from the impulses of sudden enthusiasm, with another "clarion breath" she exclaims:

Draw new furrows with the healthy morn And plant the great hereafter in this now."

"Will therefore to be strong, O Italy! Will to be noble!

Tyranny must be resisted by force of arms, since the day has not yet come when mankind will

66

announce

Law by freedom; exalt chivalry by peace."

But Italy's greatest need she feels to be a teacher who will convince its sons that they must, in their souls, be free,

"For if we lift a people like mere clay It falls the same

""

Again, she counsels firmness of purpose, and beseeches her adopted countrymen to

"Bring swords; but first bring souls."

With a strong appeal to the nations of Europe, and a sanguine prophecy of the final triumph of Right, the first part of the poem closes.

The opening stanza of the second and shorter portion reverts in thought to the childish song heard three years or so before, and sadly refers to the prophetic feelings which had been disproved by bitter reality. It seems to her as though only a few "thinkers" have any real care for Italy, so weak in purpose have the Tuscans lately proved themselves, and so false their rulers. Fearing that her reproving may be mistaken for lack of sympathy, there well up from her heart strains of tenderest love and pity, like tears, relieving by their expression the strain of an unbearable grief:

"My soul is bitter for your sakes, O, freedom! O, my Florence !"

Such lines, indeed, are tears in words. More strongly than ever does the poetess realize the need of some mighty educative force which will truly prepare the multitude for a state of freedom. Lack of soul-conviction had been the cause of previous

failure. Again, she laments the lack Divine does not have its limit in an of aid from other countries.

æsthetic communion with the soul of Nature; nor do we find, in her, so much a seeing through Nature to Nature's God,' as a knowledge through mankind of the Universal Father. The essence of the spiritual feeling which pervades her work is lovelove for Humanity and Humanity's God. Imbued she was with a sense of the sacredness of poetry, and its relation to the inner life of man. Who can listen to the rhythmic throbbings of her love-burdened heart without experiencing emotions far transcending those aroused by the grandest measures of sound-borne music? Compare it if you will to some masterpiece of organ harmony-though such simile inadequately represents the spell-binding power of its composite beauties-its sadly melodious prelude and finale sweet with golden hope; its crescendos of passion and outbursts of glorious imagery; its plaintive minor strains of reproving tenderness or sweet bewailing; the 'hidden harmonies' of righteous anger or scathing sarcasm; its allegro themes of hope and its andantes of consequent disappointments. Beneath the spell of its completed harmony the listener is filled with strangely conflicting emotions-love for liberty, justice, and all that is noble and true; sympathy with suffering and sorrow; hatred for despotism, religious or temporal; loathing for all that is cowardly or false.

"Alas! great nations have great shames, No pity, O world—

For poor Italia, battered by mischance!" Sadly and earnestly, she beseeches England for,

66

-Alms-God's justice to be done." To the lonely champion, it seems as though only the martyred patriots of other days have been true to native land. Still her faith asserts that their unfinished work will yet be taken up by strong hands. She sings: "Poets are soothsayers yet like those of old," and has faith in her own prophecies. And now, the sight of her brighthaired child awakens a new ardour in her soul. To her he seems God's witness that

the elemental

New springs of life are gushing everywhere,
To cleanse the watercourses."

66

inno-
With

She takes a lesson from the cent trustfulness of childhood. her husband she realizes that: "God's in His Heaven-all's right with the world."

With immediate clearness of vision

she now sees that

"The blank interstices

66

Men take for ruins, He will build into
With pillared marbles rare, or knit across
With generous arches, till the fane's complete."

With words illumined by the beauty of a holy hope and the faith of a child, the poem closes :

"Such cheer I gather from thy smiling Sweet!
The self-same cherub faces which emboss
The Vail, lean inward to the Mercy-seat."

Mrs. Browning by this poem shows herself the poet of humanity. Inanimate nature for her, though she feels its beauties, does not contain the allsatisfying. She conceives of it only in its relation to mankind and its Creator. Her conception of the

the Slowly, very slowly, came world's response to this musician's message. Almost ten years passed ere her faith's prophecy had its fulfilment. And then the land of song was free, but its sweetest singer lay dying in the City of Flowers.

Stambury R. Tarr,

MRS. WARD'S NEW NOVEL.*
A Review.

MRS

RS. WARD'S "Robert Elsmere " was a novel with a purpose, and hence had an importance more on that account than because of its interest as a story. "The History of David Grieve" had less purpose and more of the pure story character. The same may be said of "Marcella." Her new work, "Sir George Tressady," is still more of a

story, the "pur

pose being present, but less prominent.

It will be remembered that Marcella was a young lady who went to London to study art and life, and imbibed certain ideas concerning the injustice of private property, the destructiveness of unrestrained competition, and the sacredness of the rights of labour. Returning to her rural home she was led to take a strong interest in the agricultural poor, and was carried away with schemes for the elevation of their material and intellectual condition. She came to recognize that the labouring man must be educated and refined before he can be placed on that elevated plane where all men are free and equal, and that reforms must come gradually, not precipitately. In "Sir George Tressady," Marcella,

[ocr errors]

now Lady Maxwell, is again the leading figure, and the fin-de-siécle socialistic phenomena are again considered. Sir George Tressady enters the British Parliament with "the common philosophy of the educated and fastidious observer; and it rested on ideas of the greatness of England and the infinity of England's mission, on the

rights of ability to govern as contrasted with the squalid possibilities of democracy, on the natural kingship of the higher races, and on a profound personal admiration for the virtues of the administrator

[graphic]

and the soldier."

He believes

"C

in government to the competent,

and not to the

many." While in

Parliament, he is

brought into op

position to Lord and Lady Maxwell, who are endeavouring to have passed a Bill doing away with" sweating" within the precincts of London. These two persons are still following up the plans of Hallin, who, it will be remembered, "was a lecturer and an economist, a man who lived in the perception of the great paradox, that in our modern world political power has gone to the workman, while yet socially and intellectually he remains

MRS. WARD.

"Sir George Tressady," by Mrs. Humphrey Ward, author of "Marcella," "Robert Elsmere," etc. York: The Macmillan Co. 2 vols. ; cloth, $2.00.

New

little less weak, or starved, or subject, than before."

66

At first, Sir George fought them bitterly and assiduously. By degrees, however, he was brought under the influence of Lady Maxwell, who, now, as ever, remained on the moral side, a creature of strain and effort, tormented by ideals not to be realized, and eager to drive herself in a breathless pursuit of them." The waste of life and health involved in the great clothing industries in East London had been investigated, and Marcella (Lady Maxwell) was deterinined that, by means of her husband's Bill, a reform should be effected. Neither she nor her husband had the smallest belief that any of the great civilised communities would ever see the State the sole landlord and the sole capitalist. To both, possession-private and personal-was one of the first and chiefest elements of human training, but they believed "in protecting the weak from his weakness, the poor from his poverty, in defending the woman and child from the fierce claims of capital. in forcing upon trade after trade the axiom that no man may lawfully build his wealth upon the exhaustion and degradation of his fellow.... Bring the force of the social conscience to bear as keenly and as ardently as you may upon the separate activities of factory and household, farm, and office, and from the results you will only get a richer individual freedom, one more illustration of the divinest law man serves-that he must die to live,' must surrender to obtain."

6

But in spite of Marcella's "passionate sympathy with the multitude who live in disagreeable homes on about a pound a week, she herself was very sensitive to the neighbourhood of beautiful things, to the charm of old homes, cool woods, green lawns, and the rise and fall of Brookshire hills;" she revelled in politics, in social gatherings, in country-house parties, in all that was artistic in English social life;

she was, in short, “the adored, detested, famous woman, typical in so many ways of changing custom and of an expanding world."

The story turns on the courtship of Sir George Tressady and a pretty, scheming young woman who becomes his wife, and quarrels with him as soon as he is safely bound in the bonds of matrimony. Her heartlessness makes the first volume of the book somewhat like a description of a nightmare. Her pettiness, her shallowness, her worldliness are painted in such strong colours that the reader is anxious to turn away; but the inexorable author holds him to his gaze until she is satisfied. Through a strike among the coal-miners upon Sir George's estates, and through jealousy of the friendship which sprang up between Sir George and Marcella, the young wife is partially brought to her senses, but not until Mrs. Ward has told, or rather shown us a great deal about the modern marriage which is often caricatured but very seldom scientifically examined.

The book may be accepted as an admirable pen-picture of the social life of the England of to-day. The hardships of the poor, the bickerings of the poverty-stricken nobility, the struggles of the various social classes are drawn with masterly strokes, and the picture is toned here and therenot enough, perhaps—with the beautiful lives of men and women possessed of the nobility of lineage, of education and of association. The leading figures stand out boldly upon the canvas, and not a necessary detail is omitted. There is not a square inch of the work which the artist has not carefully considered and artistically treated. It is realistic in the extreme, never vuglar, and always according to the highest forms of literary art. As one critic says, "We are struck by the actuality of the characters; they live and breathe, for their creator has lived with them, and has, so to speak, been able to draw from life."

« PředchozíPokračovat »