The Concept of Nature in Nineteenth-Century English Poetry

By Joseph Warren Beach | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XVI
BROWNING

BROWNING was, if possible, even less of a "naturalist" than Tennyson. By nature he means for the most part, like Tennyson, the world of science. But Mr. Stevenson has shown that he was less well acquainted with science than Tennyson, much less effectually aware of the contemporary implications of science.1 And he was at least as insistent as Tennyson on the necessity of finding man's destiny and the meaning of the world outside the frame of nature.

It is true that Browning often shows his theoretical interest in scientific studies. Tribute to the joys of scientific research is offered in "Paracelsus"--

Still seizing fresh pretence
To turn the knowledge and the rapture wrung
As an extreme, last boon from destiny,
Into occasion for new coverings,
New strifes, new triumphs . . .2

This pleasure taken in scientific research is apparent again in certain poems in which Browning refers to the marvelous "mechanics" of natural life. In "Cleon":

. . . the shell sucks fast the rock, The fish strikes through the sea, the snake both swims And slides, forth range the beasts, the birds take flight, Till life's mechanics can no further go . . .

In "La Saisiaz," he acknowledges--

. . . that power that went
To the making of the worm there in yon clod its tenement,

-435-

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