Carlyle at His Zenith (1848-53)

By David Alec Wilson | Go to book overview

IX
BROWNING AND COLERIDGE (1849)

GAVAN DUFFY writes,1--'I begged him to tell me something of the author of Bells and Pomegranates. in which I took great delight.' He quoted and described it. Carlyle heard him out and replied:--" Robert Browning has a powerful intellect, and among the men engaged in literature in England just now is one of the few from whom it is possible to expect something. He is somewhat uncertain about his career, and I myself have perhaps contributed to the trouble by assuring him that poetry is no longer a field where any true or worthy success can be won or deserved. If a man has anything to say entitled to the attention of rational creatures, all mortals will come to recognise after a little that there is a more effectual way of saying it than in metrical numbers. Poetry used to be regarded as the natural, and even the essential, language of feeling, but it is not at all so; there is not a sentiment in the gamut of human passion which cannot be adequately expressed in prose. Browning's earliest works have been loudly applauded by undiscerning people, but he is now heartily ashamed of them, and hopes in the end to do something altogether different from 'Sordello' and "'Paracelsus.'""

Then Carlyle told of his first meeting with Browning and the true story of the courtship of Miss Barrett, concluding,-- "They married and are living together in Italy, like the hero and heroine of a medieval romance."

Duffy presently quoted a letter from a friend to whom he had lent 'Sordello,' enquiring whether it might be the sacred book of the Irvingite Church, written in their unknown tongue? And asking why poetry should be more abstruse than mathematics? Meanwhile he quoted a poem of Coleridge's to show its "most astonishing resemblance to one of Browning's various styles," such as "in a smaller man would suggest palpable imitation."

____________________
1
Conversations with Carlyle, by Sir C. Gavan Duffy, pp. 56-62.

-122-

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