Page images

to defend by argument; for in the end our understanding of it and belief in it depends just on the extent of our experience. He illustrates his conviction that Love is Power in several definite directions : by showing the necessity of Love for the accomplishment of any real good among men ; by dwelling on its sublimity in man, even to the extent of saying

A loving worm, within its clod,
Were diviner than a loveless God

Amid his worlds. He illustrates it by showing the faint beginnings of Love in the natural world, among the animals, and by dwelling on the beauty and sublimity of Nature ;1 again, by showing how the process of natural evolution finds its consummation in man, while “in completed man begins anew a tendency to God.” In a more directly argumentative mood, Browning occasionally faces the problem of the evil in the world, which we


1 This is much more in the background in Browning than in other modern poets, because of his supreme interest in human nature; but see the noble nature-pieces in Paracelsus and Pauline.

condemn when judged by the standard of human love and goodness; and in effect he says: “ The Power which has produced the world has also produced us and the standard by which we condemn the world ; if that Power is the source of the evil in the world it is also the source of the human love which spends itself in overcoming the evil.” In Saul an impressive form is given to this argument:

[ocr errors]

Do I find Love so full in my nature, God's ultimate gift, That I doubt His own love can compete with it? Here,

the parts shift ? Here, the creature surpass the Creator,—the end, what

Began? Would I fain in my impotent yearning do all for this

man, And dare doubt He alone shall not help him, who yet

alone can ? Would I suffer for him that I love? so wouldst Thou

so wilt Thou ! So shall crown Thee the topmost, ineffablest, uttermost

crown, And Thy Love fill infinitude wholly!

“He who did most, must bear most;" and we, who share in that doing, must share in the bearing. We must share in the eternal sacrifice and pain of creation,—we must share in its eternal labouring and giving, else we shall be excluded likewise from its eternal joy :

Rejoice we are allied

To That which doth provide
And not partake, effect and not receive !

A spark disturbs our clod ;

Nearer we hold of God Who gives, than of His tribes that take, I must believe. This reminds us of what James Hinton finely said :

Herein lies the mystery of pain ; that in association with love it ceases to be an evil. The pains of martyrs or the losses of self-sacrificing devotion are never classed among the evil things of the world. They are its bright places rather,— the culminating points at which humanity has displayed its true glory and reached its perfect level. An irrepressible pride and gladness are the feelings they elicit: a pride which no regret can drown, a gladness which no indignation can overpower. ... Doubtless we are right to loathe and repudiate pain and count its endurance an evil ; . .. but the question is, what is the happiness for which human nature is fitted, to which it should aspire ? . . . Should pain be merely absent, or swallowed up in Love and turned to joy??

This brings us to Browning's most original and profound thought in the everlasting problem of reconciling Power and Love.

1 Mystery of Pain, pp. 12-38.

The growth of goodness is positively impossible without conflict with evil. Evil is “stuff for transmuting”; it exists in order that goodness may grow in strength by the exercise of overcoming and transforming the evil. This is the idea which Comte hinted at,—that the Good is a power which can realise itself only through actual conflicts and oppositions among partial and imperfect goods. To justify this view, Browning analyses the manifold forms of evil, —even the very worst, -searching them through and through to find their meaning and whither they tend to go ; and he concludes that there is no failure or misery or corruption which does not have right in it a germ of goodness. Hence he can say, in La Saisiaz :I see the good of evil, why our world began at worst: Since time means amelioration, tardily enough displayed, Yet a mainly onward moving, never wholly retrograde. We know more though we know little, we grow stronger,

though still weak; Partly see though all too purblind, stammer though we

cannot speak. And of human progress in general, Paracelsus says :

All with a touch of nobleness, despite
Their error, upward tending all though weak;
Like plants in mines which never saw the sun,
But dream of him, and guess where he may be,

And do their best to climb and get to him. Hence the victory of goodness comes through its work in transforming evil, -not annihilating it, but rearranging the material and turning it to good purposes, “unmaking to remake.” The same law holds of goodness as of truth : truth is a transforming power which can be realised only through the conflict of partial truths : so it is with goodness. This is why it is possible for life to “succeed, in that it seems to fail.” 1 Man, who is liable to err, thereby proves himself higher than the star-fish; it is whole in body and soul, but

What's whole can increase no more,
Is dwarfed and dies, since here's its sphere.

Abt Vogler asks,

What is our failure here but a triumph's evidence
For the fulness of the days ? Have we withered or


[merged small][ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »