Margaret Fuller, Critic: Writings from the New-York Tribune, 1844-1846

By Judith Mattson Bean; Joel Myerson | Go to book overview

Browning's Poems

Robert Browning is scarcely known in this country, as, indeed, in his own, his fame can spread but slowly, from the nature of his works. On this very account,—of the peculiarity of his genius,—we are to diffuse the knowledge that there is such a person, thinking and writing, so that those who, here and there, need just him, and not another, may know where to turn.

Our first acquaintance with this subtle and radiant mind was through his “Paracelsus,” of which we cannot now obtain a copy, and must write from a distant memory.1

It is one of those attempts, that illustrate the self-consciousfness of this age, to represent the fever of the Soul pining to embrace the secret of the universe in a single trance. Men who are once seized with this fever, carry thought upon the heart as a cross, instead of finding themselves daily warmed and enlightened to more life and joy by the sacred fire to which their lives daily bring fresh fuel.

Sometimes their martyrdoms greatly avail, as to positive achievements of knowledge for their own good and that of all men; but, oftener, they only enrich us by experience of the temporary limitations of the mind, and the inutility of seeking to transcend, instead of working within, them.

Of this desire, to seize at once as a booty what it was intended we should legitimately win by gradual growth, alchemy and the elixir vitae were, in the middle ages, apt symbols. In seeking how to prolong life, men wasted its exquisite spring-time and splendid summer, lost the clues they might have gained by initiation to the mysteries of the present existence. They sought to make gold in crucibles, through study of the laws which govern the material world, while within them, was a crucible and a fire beneath it, which only needed watch-

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1
Paracelsus was published in 1835. Fuller probably borrowed it from Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1842 (see Letters, 3:104).

-390-

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