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deals with experience impressionistically without reference to any central pattern or purpose. It is enough that the separate moments of this experience should each stand forth like
The quick sharp scratch
And blue spurt of a lighted match. One may take as an illustration of this drift towards the melodramatic the “Ring and the Book.” The method of this poem is peripheral, that is, the action is viewed not from any centre but as refracted through the temperaments of the actors. The twelve monologues of which the poem is composed illustrate the tendency of romantic writing to run into some “song of myself” or “tale of my heart.” The “Ring and the Book” is not only off the centre, but is designed to raise a positive prejudice against
a everything that is central. Guido, for example, had observed decorum, had done all the conventional things and is horrible. Pompilia, the beautiful soul, had the great advantage of having had an indecorous start. Being the daughter of a drab, she is not kept from heeding the voice of nature. Caponsacchi again shows the beauty of his soul by violating the decorum of the priesthood. This least representative of priests wins our sympathy, not by his Christianity, but by his lyrical intensity:
O lyric love, half angel and half bird,
And all a wonder and a wild desire! Browning here escapes for once from the clogging intellectualism that makes nearly all the “Ring and the Book” an indeterminate blend of verse and prose, and
1 Like, Bishop Blougram's his "interest 's on the dangerous edge of things."
achieves true poetry though not of the highest type. The hybrid character of his art, due partly to a lack of outer form, to a defective poetical technique, arises even more from a lack of inner form — from an attempt to give a semblance of seriousness to what is at bottom unethical. The aged Pope may well meditate on the revolution that is implied in the substitution of the morality of the beautiful soul for that of St. Augustine." In seeming to accept this revolution Browning's Pope comes near to breaking all records, even in the romantic movement, for paradox and indecorum.
At bottom the war between humanist and romanticist is so irreconcilable because the one is a mediator and the other an extremist. Browning would have us admire his Pompilia because her love knows no limit;? but a secular love like hers must know a limit, must be decorous in short, if it is to be distinguished from mere emotional intensity. It is evident that the romantic ideal of art for art's sake meant in the real world art for sensation's sake. The glorification of a love knowing no limit, that a Browning or a Hugo sets up as a substitute for philosophy and even for religion, is therefore closely affiliated in practice with the libido sentiendi. “It is hard," wrote Stendhal, in 1817, "not to see what the nineteenth century desires. A love of strong emotions is its true character.” The romantic tendency to push every emotion
· Does he take inspiration from the church,
X, 1911-28. • See x, 1367-68.
to an extreme, regardless of decorum, is not much affected by what the romanticist preaches or by the problems he agitates. Doudan remarks of a mother who loses her child
a in Hugo's “Notre Dame de Paris,” that “her rage after this loss has nothing to equal it in the roarings of a lioness
a or tigress who has been robbed of her young. She be comes vulgar by excess of despair. It is the saturnalia of maternal grief. You see that this woman belongs to a world in which neither the instincts nor the passions have that divine aroma which imposes on them some kind of measure -- the dignity or decorum that contains a moral principle; . . . When the passions no longer have this check, they should be relegated to the menagerie along with leopards and rhinoceroses, and, strange circumstance, when the passions do recognize this check they produce more effect on the spectators than unregulated outbursts; they give evidence of more depth.” This superlativeness, as one may say, that Hugo displays in his picture of maternal grief is not confined to the emotional romanticist. It appears, for example, among the intellectual romanticists of the seventeenth century and affected the very forms of language. Molière and others ridiculed the adjectives and adverbs with which the précieuses sought to express their special type of superlativeness and intensity (extrêmement, furieusement, terriblement, etc.). Alfred de Musset's assertion that the chief difference between classicist and romanticist is found in the latter's greater proneness to adjectives is not altogether a jest. It has been said that the pessimist uses few, the optimist many adjectives; but the use of adjectives and above all of superlatives would rather seem to grow with one's expansiveness, and no movement was
ever more expansive than that we are studying. Dante, according to Rivarol, is very sparing of adjectives. His sentence tends to maintain itself by the verb and substantive alone. In this as in other respects Dante is at the opposite pole from the expansionist.
The romantic violence of expression is at once a proof of "soul” and a protest against the tameness and smugness of the pseudo-classicist. The human volcano must overflow at times in a lava of molten words. “Damnation!” cries Berlioz, “I could crush a red-hot iron be tween my teeth.”i The disproportion between the outer incident and the emotion that the Rousseauist expends on it is often ludicrous. The kind of force that the man attains who sees in emotional intensity a mark of spiritual distinction, and deems moderation identical with mediocrity, is likely to be the force of delirium or fever. What one sees in “Werther,” says Goethe himself, is weakness seeking to give itself the prestige of strength; and this remark goes far. There is in some of the romanticists a suggestion not merely of spiritual but of physical anæmia.: Still the intensity is often that of a strong but unbridled spirit. Pleasure is pushed to the point where it
· Letter to Joseph d'Ortigue, January 19, 1833.
• Here is an extreme example from Maigron's manuscript collection (Le Romantisme et les mours, 153). A youth forced to be absent three weeks from the woman he loves writes to her as follows: "Trois semaines, mon amour, trois semaines loin de toi! ... Oh! Dieu m'a maudit!... Hier j'ai erré toute l'après-midi comme une bête fauve, une bête traquée. ... Dans la forêt, j'ai hurlé, hurlé comme un démon ... je me suis roulé par terre ... j'ai broyé sous mes dents des branches que mes mains avaient arrachées. ... Alors, de rage, j'ai pris ma main entre mes dents; j'ai serré, serré convulsivement; le sang a jailli et j'ai craché au ciel le morceau de chair vive ... j'aurais voulu lui cracher mon coeur."
" Maxime Du Camp asserts in his Souvenirs littéraires (1, 118) that this anæmia was due in part to the copious blood-letting to which the physicians of the time, disciples of Broussais, were addicted.
runs over into pain, and pain to the point where it be comes an auxiliary of pleasure. The âcre baiser of the “Nouvelle Héloïse” that so scandalized Voltaire presaged even more than a literary revolution. The poems of A. de Musset in particular contain an extraordinary perversion of the Christian doctrine of purification through suffering. There is something repellent to the genuine Christian as well as to the worldling in what one is tempted to call Musset's Epicurean cult of pain.
Moments of superlative intensity whether of pleasure or pain must in the nature of the case be brief mere spasms or paroxysms; and one might apply to the whole school the term paroxyst and spasmodist assumed by certain minor groups during the past century. The Rousseauist is in general loath to rein in his emotional vehemence, to impair the zest with which he responds to the solicitations of sense, by any reference to the "future and sum of time," by any reference, that is, to an ethical purpose. He would enjoy his thrill pure and unalloyed, and this amounts in practice to the pursuit of the beautiful or sensation-crowded moment. Saint-Preux says of the days spent with Julie that a "sweet ecstasy" ab
' sorbed “their whole duration and gathered it together in a point like that of eternity. There was for me neither past nor future, and I enjoyed at one and the same time the delights of a thousand centuries.”? The superlativist one might suppose could go no further. But in the deliberate sacrifice of all ethical values to the beautiful moment Browning has perhaps improved even on Rousseau:
1 This perversion was not unknown to classical antiquity. Cf. Seneca, To Lucilius, xcix:“Quid turpius quam captare in ipso luctu voluptatem; et inter lacrymas quoque, quod juvet, quaerere?”
? Nouvelle Héloïse, Pt. 11, Lettre vi.