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The most noticeable characteristic of Browning's poetry is its obscurity. Mr. G. K. Chesterton, the brilliant author of the “ Life of Browning ” in the English Men of Letters series, says facetiously: “ He was clever enough to understand his own poetry; and, if he understood it, we can understand it.” A feminine admirer once asked Browning, however, what one of his poems meant, and received this reply: “When that poem was written, two people knew what it meant-God and Robert Browning. And now God only knows what it means." Though a good enough story, this anecdote is probably not true. At all events, most of Browning's poems have a meaning which study will reveal. They seem obscure because he has a curious fashion of proclaiming conclusions without bothering to explain how he arrived at them. “The word 'tail foremost,” says Chesterton, “ describes his style.
The tail, the most insignificant part of an animal, is also often the most animated and fantastic. An utterance of Browning is often like a strange animal walking backwards, who flourishes his tail with such energy that everyone takes it for his head.”
To the reader who has made this discovery, however, the poetry of Browning is a perpetual delight. Much of it, indeed, is as clear as Tennyson's. “The Pied Piper of Hamlin," " " Cavalier Tunes,” “How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix,"" Hervé Riel,” “ Incident of the French Camp," " Pheidippides,” and “Tray,” not to mention scores of others, are intelligible to a child. Among Browning's solid contributions to literature are several new forms of poetry. Of these the most noteworthy are the dramatic lyric; the series of detached dramas held together by one character, of which “Pippa Passes ” is the best type; and “ The Ring and the Book," which is the exact converse, being one story told by various persons. The finest thing about Browning, however, was his intense humanity. He was as human as Burns or Byron, but, unlike them and like Shakespeare and Sophocles, he saw life steadily and saw it whole.
QUESTIONS AND EXERCISES 1. What poets influenced Browning's earliest leanings? 2. How was his first poem received ? 3. Read six of Browning's dramatic lyrics and tell to the class the anec
dotes presented in them.
4. What is the structure of “The Ring and the Book "?
obscurity with your classmates and determine whether it is the fault
of the poet or yourselves. 6. From what art did Browning receive most inspiration? 7. Was Browning interested in his fellow-men? Give a reason for your 8. Who was Andrea del Sarto? Who was Fra Lippo Lippi? 9. Does Browning appeal to the intellect or to the emotions, or to both ? 10. Discuss the differences between the work of Tennyson and that of
Suggested Readings.—“ Clive," "Fra Lippo Lippi,". "How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix, Prospice,” “Rabbi Ben Ezra," Childe Roland," “ Saul,” and The Lost Leader will lead the reader on.
G. K. Chesterton's book upon Browning is stimulating.
CHARLES DICKENS (1812–1870)
The one Charles Dickens of the English people.”—Punch.
The great and beneficent genius who through the course of a whole generation held the mind of English-speaking folk spell-bound.”—R. C. Lehman.
' Boz,” wrote a kindly but acute critic about 1840, " is the fictitious signature of a young man named Charles Dickens, who was for some years engaged as a writer in one of the London newspapers, which he enlivened with his humorous and graphic sketches. He has made himself familiar with the peculiarities of the people, chiefly of the middle and lower ranks, which he has the knack of hitting off in a singularly droll and happy manner.” After pointing out the fact that London furnishes a prodigious mine for character description, a mine previously worked only by Smollett and Washington Irving, this same writer adds: “Upon this mine of character and manners Boz has successfully struck. He is now busy in the work of excavation. The chief talent of this clever writer consists in close perception not only of character but of every minute circumstance and local peculiarity.”
The young man who thus made his bow to the British public was born at Landport February 7, 1812. His baptismal name was Charles John Huffham Dickens. His father, a clerk in the navy pay office, was employed during most of Charles's youth at Chatham, and here the boy grew in surroundings composed of soldiers, sailors, Jews, chalk, shrimps, offices, and dock-yard men. A wise schoolmaster, Mr. William Giles, soon discovered his talents and encouraged him to use them, so that, as Dickens himself said, he was a writer when a mere baby, an actor always. Before he was nine he had managed private theatricals, written a tragedy, and read several books of travel, “The Arabian Nights," the English essayists, Mrs. Inchbald's collection of farces, and the novels of Fielding, Smollett, Cervantes, and LeSage. In 1821 misfortune overtook the elder Dickens, who, though honorable and kindly, was a trifle easy-going and may in some other respects have furnished hints for the portrait of Mr. Micawber in “David Copperfield.” At all events he lost his job, allowed his son's education to take care of itself, and soon found himself in jail for debt. Charles in consequence underwent the series of humiliating experiences which he described, twenty-five years later, in those wonderful early chapters of “David Copperfield ” with which every American child is of course familiar. His father's release from prison enabled him to put Charles at a school where the head master, like Mr. Creakle, knew nothing, and the usher, like Mr. Mell, knew everything. From this institution he passed after two or three years of work and play to a clerkship in a law office, where he picked up a sufficient knowledge of legal technicalities and lawyers to satirize both with intelligence and severity. At seventeen he determined to become a newspaper reporter and accordingly set himself to learn the ponderous shorthand of those days, a task in which he found himself seriously handicapped by the lack of a copious vocabulary, which is a possession that can be acquired only by much reading. Strength of will and a determination if he did a thing at all to do it thoroughly enabled him ultimately to overcome both obstacles; in 1831 he obtained employment as a parliamentary reporter; in 1834 he became a reporter on the “Morning Chronicle"; in performing the duties of that fascinating job he was upset in almost every description of vehicle known in England; and when in 1836 his labors as a reporter came to an end he was held to have no equal in the gallery of Parliament.
The latter event was caused by the fact that, in 1833, Dickens had dropped into the letter-box of “ The Monthly Magazine " a paper called “ A Dinner at Poplar Walk.” It had succeeded and had been followed by others; these had been collected into two volumes; and for the copyright he had received 150 pounds, which was an unlucky bargain, as he soon repurchased it for more than thirteen times that sum. This advance in price was due to the extraordinary success of “ The Pickwick Papers,” the first number of which appeared March 31, 1836.
The popularity of " Pickwick” became and remained so great that Dr. Arnold of Rugby was seriously alarmed lest it corrupt the morals of his pupils. Twenty years later young men at Oxford talked nothing but Pickwick and the wittiest of undergraduates set the world at large an examination in “Pickwick," which is only less fascinating and famous than the book itself. To-day it seems to retain its hold