תמונות בעמוד
PDF
ePub

triumph ; the heart bursting as from ex- staggering, stumbling, straining every cess of joy. The “Rejoice” which is nerve, waving aloft the signal of her athis dying salutation to the Archons, and tested innocence; without voice to cry, its consequent adoption in memory of without an eye to see him but his who the event, belong to the historic basis of faced the assembled crowd. Was it the story. The Greek conception ap- simple horror which struck that one witpears to us too strictly maintained in ness dumb within sight of the pinioned the first verse, where an invocation to victim, and the terrified lookers-on, the Pan is perplexingly involved with an ad- levelled muskets, and the already present dress to the other gods; while towards reprieve, through the brief, breathless, the end of the poem its rounded ca- ultra-conscious moment which deterdences here and there break up into mined the destiny of two lives? pants, like the action of a mechanism of From head to foot in a serpent's twine am’I which the spring is broken. But on the

tightened : I touch ground ? whole the language is singularly little No more than a gibbet's rigid corpse which strained by its adaptation to classic

the fetters rust around ! thought ; and its majestic body of sound Can I speak, can I breathe, can I burst-aught conveys a simplicity of meaning very else but see, see, only see? rarely found under like conditions. And see I do—for there comes in sight-a Mr. Browning's known dramatic faculty Who staggeringly, stumblingly, rises, falls,

man, it sure must be ! of so paving the way to his climax that

rises, at random flings his weight our utmost surprise has in it a sense of On and on, anyhow onward-a man that's mad the inevitable, has a ready-made expres

he arrives too late ! sion in this series of incidents, creating Else why does he wave a something white as they do a tension of feeling to which high-flourished above his head ? the catastrophe is at once a shock and Why does not he call, cry, -curse the fool !

why throw up his arms instead ? a relief ; but it makes its own subjects

take this fist in your own face, fool! Why in the other Idylls, and is the more ap- does not yourself shout “Stay ! parent in proportion as their psycholog. Here's a man comes rushing, might and main, ical interest is more pronounced. The

with something he's mad to say ?” most striking instance of this kind of And a minute, only a moment, to have hell-fire effect occurs in Martin Relph.”

boil up in your brain, “ Martin Relph” is the confession of And ere you can judge things right, choose

heaven,-time's over, repentance vain !, an old man guilty in his youth of witnessing a judicial murder, which a sig- Mr. Browning has thrown not only all nal from him might have prevented, and his power into this situation, but all his who ever since has striven to exorcise subtlety into the open verdict which is the memory of the fact by rehearsing it our final impression of it. He does not publicly at the place and on the anniver- indeed imply that the jealousy at once sary of its occurrence. This rehearsal, confessed and disclaimed is what the sobbed forth in a mingled stream of nar- narrator tries to think it—a figment of rative, ejaculation, and protest, is the his own brain, born of the ingenuity of echo of an anguish deeper even than its a terrified remorse ; but he allows the ostensible cause ; and its last words flash very circumstances of the event to justia sudden, yet expected meaning upon it. fy a doubt if that feeling could be held The man's soul is wrestling, not with responsible. We may at least imagine the memory of a deed, but with the that the latent motive triumphed, if phantom of a motive. He brands him- triumph it did, through the fact of its self as fool and coward for what he has indistinctness; though memory, which done ; but the terms fool and coward knows no perspective but its own, might are only the weapons with which he reject the compromise. The episode refights off the thought, too clamorous to fers to some troublous period of the last be silenced, too terrible to be distinctly century, of which one or two passages expressed, that he was something more. reflect the coarse moral tone, as well as He liked, perhaps loved, the condemned the social and political disorder which girl. Living, she would have belonged rendered it possible. A regiment is to another man. That very man was quartered in a village. Its intended flying towards the place of execution, · movements have become known to the

NEW SERIES. -VOL. XXX., No. I

4

enemy. Treason is suspected ; an ex- for which space has been barely rescued ample, -in other words, a victim requir- from the forest solitudes extending on ed. This is found in the person of an either side of the road from Petersburg innocent girl whose letter to her affianc- to Moscow. The ice and snow of a ed husband is captured, and distorted Russian winter are on the ground. into an evidence of guilt. She is sen- Suddenly there is a “burst of bells ;” a tenced to die unless her loyalty be es- trampling of hoofs; and a sledge beartablished within a week. The burden ing what looks like the dead body of a of proof falls on the lover, and no figure neighbor's wife dashes up to the spot ; in the drama is so pathetic as this man the horse stumbling and falling in the struggling against every hindrance which act. The neighbors gather around. selfishness and stupidity can devise for The woman has only fainted ; a longthe official acknowledgment of that which drawn scream announces her return to nobody disbelieves; and whose maddest consciousness ; by degrees her tale is endeavors only bring him to the side of told. They were about to return tothe woman he would have saved in time gether-she, her husband and her three to die with her. When the smoke of the children, from the distant village to united volley clears away, the frantic which he was summoned perhaps a figure has disappeared. It is found face month ago to help in building a church. downwards in a field still half a mile dis- But fire broke out ; all hands were tant; the hand clenching its signed and needed to suppress it ; and Dmitri must sealed paper ; some blood about the needs despatch his wife and little ones lips. The mortal agony of this retro- homeward in all haste and alone. The spect is nowhere more fully expressed infant in her arms, the two elder boys than in the lines which tell us that it warmly packed at her feet ; old Droog is over.

to carry, and a rising moon to light So, coward it is and coward shall be ! There's them on the well-known way—what

a friend, now! Thanks ! A drink harm could come to them? The good Of water I wanted : and now I can walk, get horse gallops bravely; for the moment home by myself, I think.

he is young again. But presently there Like “Martin Relph," Ivan Ivano- is a sound-a soughing. Droog's ears vitch and “Ned Bratts” read back- fly back to listen. It is the wind-he wards with singular dramatic effect ; but knows it, and plunges on again. But with this distinction, that in the latter there is no wind; the breath goes straight the event is foreshadowed by natural up from their lips ; and there is still the circumstance; in the former by an ar- sound! Low, less low, louder, not to tistic device. The picturesque and rapid be mistaken ; the tread of wolves' feet action of the Russian Idyll is symbolis- in the snow. And now they are in ed by an axe, the description of which sight. They press onwards, line upon stands as a literary frontispiece to it. line, a wedge-like mass widening in the This axe, which is spoken of as in use advance ; through the unnatural dayamong Russian workmen at the present light born of the moon and snow; day, is a peculiar instrument, combin- through the cruel pines which bend no ing with its own special properties those branch to hinder or conceal; distant of many other carpenter's tools, and still, but still gaining on their prey. loses something of dramatic suitability And now one has reached the sledge. by the practised skill implied in such a Her life shall be yielded before her chilconstruction. But the versatility thus dren's. They are safe if they will only suggested is part of its dramatic use. lie still. But Stepan will not be still. It can do all kinds of carpenter's work. He was always the naughty one ; sullen It can on occasion do more. Ivàn and puny; the worst of her little brood. Ivanovitch is wielding such an axe. His She has loved him with heart and soul. mighty strokes are shaping a tree-trunk But how save him in spite of himself ? into a mast. He stands before us with He will not be advised. He is mad with the blue eyes and "honey-colored” fear. And now his brother is shrieking. beard of the northern giant he is intend- She tugs, she struggles. If she must ed to be. The time is that of Peter the lose one, it is the strong, not the weak Great. The place, a Russian village, whom the Tsar requires. Perhaps her

are

hands relax. Perhaps they get entan- haps herself blinded by the sophistries gled. Stepàn is gone. But she escapes which have covered her escape ; and with two.

She is still a rich mother. with the retrospect comes also a reacSome have no boy. Some have, and tion. Sheltered, revived, with kindly lose him.

faces beaming upon her, regret itself is God knows which

melting away in the sweet consciousness Is worse : how pitiful to see your weakling of her security. She weeps, relieving, pine

almost happy tears. It is to Ivan IvanAnd pale and pass away!

ovitch that her narrative has been espeShe is all but content. But hark- cially addressed. His knee has propped the tramp again-not the band, -no- her head. His large paternal hands the numbers are less—the race is slack. have smoothed her hair as she lay. In Some, alas! are feasting, some one mixed impulse of yearning gratitude " full-fed.” But there are enough to and benediction she has slipped on to seize the fresh prey.

Their eyes are her knees before him. like points of brass as they gleam in their

Solemnly level line. One, the same, is at their Iván rose, raised his axe, -for fitly, as she head again. She dashes her fist into knelt, his face ; he may crunch that if he will.

Her head lay : well-apart, each side, her arms Terentii is gathered into her lap; her Lightning-swift thunder-strong one blow-no

hung,-dealt very heartstrings tie him round. The

need of more! bag of relics hangs safe about his neck. Headless she knelt on still : that pine was

sound at core 'Twas through my arms, crossed arms, he

(Neighbors were used to say)-cast-ironnuzzling now with snout,

kerneled—which Now ripping, tooth and claw-plucked, pulled Taxed for a second stroke Ivan Ivánovitch.

Terentii out, A prize indeed! I saw-how could I else but The man was scant of words as strokes. “It see?

had to be : My precious one-I bit to hold back-pulled I could no other : God it was bade ‘Act for

from me! But the babe is safe! He will grow

Then stooping, peering round—what is it now

he lacks? into a man. He will wreak vengeance A proper strip of bark wherewith to wipe his upon the whole brood. She outwits them yet. Day dawns on the farthest Which done, he turns, goes in, closes the door snow. Its rosy light is upon it. Home The others mute remain, watching the bloodis all but reached. Yet again-no

snake wind thank Heaven-not the band ; but, Into a hiding-place among the splinter-heaps. yes ; one is in pursuit! She sees him

A woman not devoid of feeling, but in the distance

in whom even maternal feeling is tramone speck, one spot, one ball

pled out by the fear of suffering and growing bigger at every bound. It is death, belongs, like the axe of Ivàn the same again. She plucks him by the Ivanovitch, rather to modern times; but tongue ; she will tear at it till she there are all the elements of ancient wrenches it out. It has but given him tragedy in the conception of such a a fresh taste of flesh. She falls on the woman, flying from the death she dare infant's body. She covers it with her not face, to the Nemesis which awaits her whole self. The teeth furrow her in the uplifted arm of a friend ; and we shoulder. They grate to the very bone. must ascend to the annals of the Greek What more could a mother do? The gods to find an attitude of moral simbabe is scooped from under her very plicity at once so childish and so subheart. At that moment sense forsakes Jime as that in which the blow is dealt. her.

The second scene in which Ivan IvanoThis, then, is the upshot of the story. vitch appears is a natural sequel to the She has surrendered her children to be first; but Mr. Browning has invested it devoured, and lives to tell it ; yet she also with the conditions of a complete scarcely perceives the extent of her rev- dramatic surprise. The body is removelation. Recalling, rather than relat- ed to the village court of justice, an ing, the horrors of the night, she is per- open space in front of the church, from

me !'"

axe.

wrest

cess.

which the snow has been cleared ; and Yields to its partner place, sinks proudly in the

scale : the Pope, the Starost, and the Pomeschik (Lord), come forth to pass judg

His strength owned weakness, wit-folly, and

courage-fear, ment on the transaction. The Lord Beside the female proved male's mistressunhesitatingly pronounces it murder. only here. He doubts the woman having been guilty The fox-dam, hunger-pined, will slay the felon from a legal point of view, though she who dares assault her whelp: the beaver, stood condemned by the higher stand- stretched on fire, ards of virtue ; and if she had been so, Will die without a groan : no pang avails to he denies its justifying an arbitrary assumption of the right to punish her.

Her young from where they hide-her sanctuHe takes the side of social order

and What's here then? Answer me, thou dead

ary breast. educated common sense. The Pope

one, as I trow, reverses this judgment. He is an aged Standing at God's own bar, he bids thee answer man ; so old, he says, that the number now !

Thrice crowned wast thou each crown of of his years escapes him ; and if he

pride, a child-thy charge, were true to fact instead of to poetry, Where are they? Lost ? Enough: no need he would certainly confirm it.. Both

that thou enlarge the wisdom and the weakness of age On how or why the loss : life left to utter would place him on the side of social Condemns itself beyond appeal. The soldier's prescription, to which faith and custom

post would add all the dignity of moral sanc- Guards from the foe's attack the camp he sention, and all the weight of Christian

tinels : command. But Mr. Browning's pur

That he no traitor proved, this and this only

tells pose did not require this kind of truth.

Over the corpse of him trod foe to foe's sucIt needed not the stereotyped minister of any Christian church, but a priest of Yet-one by one thy crowns torn from thee, that primitive natural religion, of which

thou no less Ivan Ivànovitch is the soldier ; and this

To scare the world, shame God,- livedst !

I hold he saw priest declares that he has lived from

The unexampled sin, ordained the novel law, the dreams of youth into the visions of Whereof first instrument was first intelligence old age ; through the forms of law to its Found loyal here. I hold that, failing human essence in the great Spirit whence it

sense,

The very earth had oped, sky fallen, to efface flows ; and that by that essential law of

Humanity's new wrong, motherhood's first human duty the apparent murderer is disgrace justified. Life, he says, is God's su- Earth oped not, neither fell the sky, for prompt preme gift to man ; maternity, its high- was found est trust and its crowning responsibility.

A man and man enough, head-sober and heart

sound, A mother bears a child : perfection is complete Ready to hear God's voice, resolute to obey. So far in such a birth. Enabled to repeat Ivan Ivanovitch, I hold, has done, this day, The miracle of life, -herself was born so just

No otherwise than did, in ages long ago, A type of womankind, that God sees fit to trust Moses when he made known the purport of Her with the holy task of giving life in turn.

that flow Crowned by this crowning pride,-how say

Of fire athwart the law's twain-tables ! I proyou, should she spurn,

claim Regality-discrowned, unchilded, by her choice Ivan Ivanovitch God's servant ! Of barrenness exchanged for fruit which made

At which name rejoice

Uprose that creepy whisper from out the Creation, though life's self were lost in giving crowd, is wont birth

To swell and surge and sink when fellow men To life more fresh and fit to glorify God's confront earth?

A punishment that falls on fellow flesh and How say you, should the hand God trusted blood, with life's torch

Appallingly beheld-shudderingly understood, Kindled to light the world-aware of sparks No less, to be the right, the just, the merciful. that scorch

God's servant," hissed the crowd. Let fall the same ? Forsooth, her flesh a fireflake stings :

The Lord reluctantly yields the point, The mother drops the child ! Among what

and suggests that since the culprit is abmonstrous things Shall she be classed ? Because of motherhood,

solved, no time be lost in informing him each male

of it

too,

And next-as mercy rules the hour-methinks

a new platform, on which their old en'twere well

ergies may be more satisfactorily disYou signify forthwith its sentence, and dispel The doubts and fears, I judge, which busy now

played. Such effects have been more the head

often illustrated by fact than fiction ; Law puts a halter round—a halo-you, in- and it remains perhaps for Mr. Brownstead !

ing's genius to clothe them in their more Ivan Ivanovitch need no longer skulk serious dramatic possibilities. Meanin concealment

while, he gives them in a reductio ad

Ned So, while the youngers raised the corpse, the absurdum in the case before us. elders trooped

Bratts is a notorious publican and sinner Silently to the house : where halting, some of Bunyan's time, whose imagination one stooped,

has been fired by reading the “ Pilgrim's Listened beside the door ; all there was silent Progress” while still in the full bloom Then they held counsel ; then pushed door of his iniquity. It has been borne in and, passing through,

upon him that Christian, or as he calls Stood in the murderer's presence.

him, Christmas, is himself ; and since,

Iván Ivánovitch Knelt, building on the floor that Kremlin rare

as he fancies, it is too late for him to go and rich

through all the stages of the Pilgrim's He deftly cut and carved on lazy winter nights. journey to heaven, he determines to take Some five young faces watched, breathlessly, a short cut to it by giving up himself as, to rights,

and his wife Tabby to justice, and being Piece upon piece, he reared the fabric nigh complete.

hanged with her. He carries out this Stėscha, 'Ivan's old mother, sat spinning by intention at a Special Assize which is the heat

held in the town of Bedford on the first Of the oven where his wife Kátia stood baking day of its Summer Fair ; and just as

bread. Iván's self

, as he turned his honey-colored the heat, the crowding, and the excitehead,

ment of the Court-house are at their Was just in act to drop, 'twixt fir-cones,-each highest, the bulky couple force their way

into it, book in hand, and Ned opens The scooped-out yellow gourd presumably the the catalogue of their joint transgres

home Of Kolokol the Big : the bell, therein to hitch,

sions. We can picture to ourselves -An acorn-cup-was ready : Ivan Ivánovitch some of the features of this double ocTurned with it in his mouth.

casion : its cynical cruelties, its riotous They told him he was free mirth; the fires of genuine religious As air to walk abroad. “How otherwise ?"'. asked he.

passion smouldering beneath. But

when to this are added the influences of The shortest and slightest of the six a temperature that would suspend the poems alone separates the thrilling ex- existence of our more delicate nineteenth citements of “Ivan Ivànovitch” from century, but only serves to madden the the grotesque tragedy and saturnine hu- blood of the seventeenth, we acknowlmor of “Ned Bratts," which latter edge that the poet's own words are recomposition carries with it a full taste quired to do justice to his conception : of the author's quality, not only in that humor itself, but in the fact that he has 'Twas Bedford Special Assize, one daft Midchosen to make it, as far as outward ar- summer's Day : rangement goes, the last impression of A broiling blasting June,- -was never it's like,

men say: the book. Nothing indeed could sur

Corn stood sheaf-ripe already, and trees looked pass the ingenuity with which he con

yellow as that ; trives to scarify fastidious sensibilities Ponds drained dust-dry, the cattle lay foaming without violating by a word the natural around each flat. and historical consistency of a really ed- Inside town, dogs went mad, and folks kept ifying transaction ; and his obvious de

bibbing beer

While the parsons prayed for rain. 'Twas light in the achievement compels our horrible, yes—but queer. sympathy. The subject belongs to a Queer-for the sun laughed gay, yet nobody fertile and curious class of mental phe

moved a hand nomena ; the effects of religious conver

To work one stroke at his trade : as given to

understand sion on natures, which religion cannot That all was come to a stop, work and such transform, but which simply adopt it as worldly ways,

« הקודםהמשך »