The Browning Critics

The Browning Critics

BOYD LITZINGER
K. L. KNICKERBOCKER
Copyright Date: 1965
Pages: 448
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt130htw5
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    The Browning Critics
    Book Description:

    The poetry of Robert Browning has been the subject of extensive literary criticism since his death in 1889. Two well-known Browning scholars here present the best of Browning criticism, bringing together from many sources representative evaluations of the poet and his poetry. The twenty-one essays here have been arranged chronologically so that the reader can follow the development of Browning studies and the fluctuations of his poetic reputation. They express varied points of view and are typical of the critical methods used by the Browning scholars. Included are essays by George Santayana, John J. Chapman, G. K. Chesterton, Paul Elmer More, William C. DeVane, Hoxie N. Fairchild, and Richard D. Altick.

    In the introduction Mr. Litzinger and Mr. Knickerbocker review the broad spectrum of Browning criticism. The editors also provide a bibliographic guide to the rapidly growing body of Browning criticism, which supplements and brings up to date previous Browning bibliographies.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6362-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. v-vi)
    Boyd Litzinger and K. L. Knickerbocker
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. ix-xxii)

    Many post-Victorians, like the post-Classicists of the Romantic period, were vigorous iconoclasts eager to demolish the household deities of their fathers, and they went about their work with relish. Tennyson and Browning, dominant for the better part of a century and succeeded by no two poets of similar stature, had to be denigrated or what would become of a sophistication forged in the fire of war and tempered by the roaring meaninglessness of the twenties and the despair of the thirties?

    There is no cosmic scale in sight for weighing the absolute worth of a poet. Once a poet is...

  5. 1891 THE HEART AND THE HEAD
    (pp. 1-25)
    HENRY JONES

    It has been shown that Browning appeals, in defence of his optimistic faith, from the intellect to the heart. His theory rests on three main assumptions:—namely (1) that knowledge of the true nature of things is impossible to man, and that, therefore, it is necessary to find other and better evidence than the intellect can give for the victory of good over evil; (2) that the failure of knowledge is a necessary condition of the moral life, inasmuch as certain knowledge would render all moral effort either futile or needless; (3) that after the failure of knowledge there still...

  6. 1895 BROWNING
    (pp. 26-36)
    GEORGE SAINTSBURY

    Whenever it happens to me to write about Robert Browning, I am always a little apprehensive of the fate of the Trimmer. I have loved and admired his work for full thirty years; but I do not belong to any of the four parties wherein most of mankind are included as regards him. There are those who were Browningites from the first, or almost the first, and have been faithful all through,—a race now naturally diminishing by efflux of time. There are those who began to like him after he himself began to be fashionable, and who, whether they...

  7. 1898 ROBERT BROWNING
    (pp. 37-55)
    JOHN J. CHAPMAN

    There is a period in the advance of any great man’s influence between the moment when he appears and the moment when he has become historical, during which it is difficult to give any succinct account of him. We are ourselves a part of the thing we would describe. The element which we attempt to isolate for purposes of study is still living within us. Our science becomes tinged with autobiography. Such must be the fate of any essay on Browning written at the present time.

    The generation to whom his works were unmeaning has hardly passed away. The generation...

  8. 1900 THE POETRY OF BARBARISM
    (pp. 56-76)
    GEORGE SANTAYANA

    If we would do justice to Browning’s work as a human document, and at the same time perceive its relation to the rational ideals of the imagination and to that poetry which passes into religion, we must keep, as in the case of Whitman, two things in mind. One is the genuineness of the achievement, the sterling quality of the vision and inspiration; these are their own justification when we approach them from below and regard them as manifesting a more direct or impassioned grasp of experience than is given to mildly blatant, convention-ridden minds. The other thing to remember...

  9. 1903 BROWNING AS A LITERARY ARTIST
    (pp. 77-101)
    GILBERT K. CHESTERTON

    Mr. William Sharp, in hisLifeof Browning, quotes the remarks of another critic to the following effect: “The poet’s processes of thought are scientific in their precision and analysis; the sudden conclusion that he imposes upon them is transcendental and inept.”

    This is a very fair but a very curious example of the way in which Browning is treated. For what is the state of affairs? A man publishes a series of poems, vigorous, perplexing, and unique. The critics read them, and they decide that he has failed as a poet, but that he is a remarkable philosopher and...

  10. 1905 WHY IS BROWNING POPULAR?
    (pp. 102-119)
    PAUL ELMER MORE

    It has come to be a matter of course that some new book on Browning shall appear with every season. Already the number of these manuals has grown so large that any one interested in critical literature finds he must devote a whole corner of his library to them—where, the cynical may add, they are better lodged than in his brain. To name only a few of the more recent publications: there was Stopford Brooke’s volume, which partitioned the poet’s philosophy into convenient compartments, labelled nature, human life, art, love, etc. Then came Mr. Chesterton, with his biting paradoxes...

  11. 1912 THE HOMELINESS OF BROWNING: A CENTENARY ARTICLE
    (pp. 120-130)
    DIXON SCOTT

    Criticism being what she is, and the stir of Tennyson’s hundredth birthday party having but newly subsided, today’s proceedings will scarcely be expected to go through without at least one complacent side glance at the rival celebration. It has by now almost become the official opening indeed; all through the sweltering days of the eighties and nineties, when both suns were blazing together, it was a refuge used without stint: instead of attempting to reconcile matters, explain the phenomenon, or of honestly tackling each in turn, our cunning writers used to make a labour saving device of the difficulty—pit...

  12. 1927 HIS SAVING GRACE OF PESSIMISM
    (pp. 131-140)
    FRANCES T. RUSSELL

    It occurred to Chesterton that he could perpetrate another paradox through his perception that Bret Harte was a humorist, an American, yet not an American humorist. But he failed to recognize still another opportunity in spite of its staring him in the face as he composed his brisk biography of Browning. Perhaps he considered it enough to discover the optimism of Byron, and so left at large the equally important pessimism of Browning. For although Browning was certainly robust and ostensibly optimistic, he was not the robust optimist that popular report declared him to be.

    Optimism, it seems, is always...

  13. 1932 THE HARLOT AND THE THOUGHTFUL YOUNG MAN
    (pp. 141-166)
    WILLIAM C. DeVANE

    Early in June 1872, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, already in a desperate mental condition, read the presentation copy of Robert Browning’sFifine at the Fair, flung it from him under the strong conviction that the poem was an attack upon his character, and thus ended a friendship of twenty-five years’ standing. His suspicions have never been explained, except upon grounds of irrationality. His brother, William Michael Rossetti, who was present and in possession of most of the facts of the situation, was compelled at last to conclude that Dante Rossetti was “not entirely sane.” Upon inspectionFifinedoes not immediately yield...

  14. 1946 BLOUGRAM’S APOLOGETICS
    (pp. 167-180)
    F. E. L. PRIESTLEY

    Most interpretations of “Bishop Blougram’s Apology” have started with the assumption that the poem represents one of Browning’s attempts to present the best that a generally contemptible character can say for himself, “an attempt to make a case for a sophistical and indulgent priest at his possible worst.”¹ Such interpretations give to the wordapologyits popular meaning of a confession of error with a plea for lenience in judgment. As Miss Naish pointed out long ago, Browning’s reported comments to Duffy are hard to reconcile with this view of the poem; if Browning drew a portrait of Wiseman as...

  15. 1947 THE VIRGIN AND THE DRAGON
    (pp. 181-196)
    WILLIAM C. DeVANE

    In Browning circles, the year 1946 was one of jubilation. There were ceremonies in London and Florence, abroad, and at home the autumnal but vigorous Browning Societies of such cultural centres as Boston, New York, and Los Angeles were in high celebration, for on September 12, one hundred years ago, Robert Browning, the poet, snatched Elizabeth Barrett, considerably more renowned than himself in her day, from her parental home in Wimpole Street, married her before a handful of witnesses in Marylebone Church, and carried her off to the sun-drenched shores of Italy. On Browning’s part as well as Miss Barrett’s...

  16. 1948 SPECIAL PLEADING IN THE LABORATORY
    (pp. 197-217)
    DONALD SMALLEY

    A fortnight after the publication ofPrince Hohenstiel-Schwangau, Saviour of Society(1871) Browning wrote his friend Isa Blagden:

    By this time you have got my little book and seen for yourself whether I make the best or worst of the case. I think in the main, he [Napoleon III] meant to do what I say, and, but for the weakness, grown more apparent in these last years than formerly, would have done what I say he did not.

    In his next letter to Miss Blagden, Browning added concerning this monologue: “… it is just what I imagine the man might,...

  17. 1949 BROWNING THE SIMPLE-HEARTED CASUIST
    (pp. 218-228)
    HOXIE N. FAIRCHILD

    Has any English poet of comparable historical interest and intrinsic merit received so small an amount of respectable critical attention as Robert Browning? Now that the nineteenth-century spate of “inspirational” eulogy and exegesis has dwindled to the merest trickle, there is need and opportunity for disinterested reexamination of his work. One result of such a study will be our awareness of a paradox. Though by no means a profound philosopher, Browning was a man of much intellectual subtlety. He was fascinated by the difficulties and ambiguities of thought, its sinuous twistings and turnings and casuistical rationalizations. But his deeply convoluted...

  18. 1950 THE INFINITE MOMENT
    (pp. 229-246)
    WILLIAM O. RAYMOND

    Though it is now sixty years since the death of Robert Browning, the time is yet unripe for a definitive estimate of his place amongst English men of letters. During his lifetime he experienced, perhaps to a greater extent than any of his contemporaries, the vicissitudes of a poet’s lot. A long period of depreciation, in which his poetry was a byword for difficulty and obscurity, was followed by a sudden access of fame. From the time of the publication ofThe Ring and the Bookin 1868–69 until his death in 1889, his niche beside Tennyson as one...

  19. 1951 THE PRIVATE LIFE OF ROBERT BROWNING
    (pp. 247-264)
    RICHARD D. ALTICK

    Only a few of those who knew Robert Browning in the 1870’s and 1880’s as an immensely healthy, masculine, vigorous, white-maned gentleman, always on hand at fashionable London soirées, teas, concerts, and exhibitions, seem to have sensed any incongruity in the fact that this voluble, affable man was also a great poet. And of the few who did sense an incongruity, only Henry James felt impelled to invent a legend to explain it.

    It was not easy to meet him and know him without some resort to the supposition that he had literally mastered the secret of dividing the personal...

  20. 1956 A TENTATIVE APOLOGY FOR ROBERT BROWNING
    (pp. 265-275)
    KENNETH L. KNICKERBOCKER

    In one of the early issues of theVictorian Newsletterit was suggested that scholars should revaluate the major literary figures of the nineteenth century. Browning was singled out as particularly ripe for reappraisal. One would assume that such reconsideration would seek to correct the uncritical adulation of the Browningites who met for worship in the various Browning Societies. This sort of correction was not exactly overdue, for adverse attitudes toward Browning have been a regular part of Browning criticism from the beginning. Nevertheless, with more biographical material now available, one could welcome judgments which took this material into account....

  21. 1956 THE RING AND THE BOOK: A RELATIVIST POEM
    (pp. 276-309)
    ROBERT LANGBAUM

    In the same sense that Dante’s great poem can be said to derive its meaning from a Catholic, and Milton’s from a Protestant, ethos—so Browning’sThe Ring and the Bookderives its meaning from the relativist ethos predominant in Western culture since the Enlightenment. The first sign of the poem’s relativism is in Browning’s use of dramatic monologues to tell his story. For though he does not entirely succeed, his aim at least in telling the same story eleven times over through ten dramatic monologues and his own account in Book I, was to replace the objective view of...

  22. 1957 EVE AND THE VIRGIN
    (pp. 310-328)
    ROMA A. KING

    Browning characteristically begins “Andea del Sarto” in the middle of an action, and concentrates the painter’s situation into a single climactic experience. Yet before the drama is finished this pinpointed moment has been related to the whole of Andrea’s drab life. We have both the intense moment of revelation and the slow movement in time of past events which make the painter’s final insight possible.

    The poem is a psychological study in which the time element is an important part of structure. Andrea’s initial surrender to his wife’s demand that he paint for money is totally damning to the artist;...

  23. 1957 BROWNING’S WITLESS DUKE
    (pp. 329-335)
    B. R. JERMAN

    A number of critics who have written on Browning believe that the Duke’s little chat with the emissary of the Count in “My Last Duchess”¹ constitutes a clever man’s instructions as to the sort of behavior he expects of his next wife. Mrs. Sutherland Orr, for example, says that the Duke’s “comments on the countenance of his last Duchess plainly state what he will expect of her successor.”² Others, like Edward Berdoe, S. S. Curry, Ethel C. Mayne, William Lyon Phelps, and Ina B. Sessions,³ not to mention numerous editors and anthologists,⁴ find a similar purpose in the Duke’s monologue....

  24. 1959 BROWNING’S SHREWD DUKE
    (pp. 336-342)
    LAURENCE PERRINE

    B. R. Jerman’s challenge to the traditional view of Browning’s Duke of Ferrara (“Browning’s Witless Duke,”PMLA, LXXII, June 1957, 488–93)¹ should not pass without a rebuttal. According to Jerman, the Duke is not at all the clever man he has usually been thought, who utilizes a casual conversation on his last Duchess to insinuate what he expects of his next one; rather, he is a “witless” man who, blinded by vanity and pride, “does not realize that he has given himself away” to the Count’s emissary, with whom he is speaking. “The excellence of the poem lies in...

  25. 1959 A READING OF THE EARLY NARRATIVES
    (pp. 343-363)
    ROBERT PREYER

    The early poetry of Robert Browning is certainly interesting enough in its kind, and varied enough within its kind, to warrant a special approach. I want here to consider not only the nature of that kind but also Browning’s approach to the making of it; and to explore a little the relations between this early work and the later dramatic monologue which came eventually to replace it. Commentators and biographers have noted that there was indeed a major shift of emphasis around 1840; some have called attention to the poet’s efforts to discount the earlier productions. Yet the nature of...

  26. 1964 HENRY JONES ON BROWNING’S OPTIMISM
    (pp. 364-380)
    PHILIP DREW

    Browning’s fame as a poet in the 1890’s, as Professor Boyd Litzinger has shown,¹ was closely connected with his reputation as an optimistic philosopher. When the philosophy was discredited the poetry suffered also; critics today seldom offer to explore, much less to defend, any areas of Browning’s work that border on the religious or metaphysical. In this article I shall consider in what senses Browning may be correctly termed an optimist and suggest that his optimism is not of a kind which necessarily involves an admission of poetic inadequacy.

    There are two prevalent misconceptions of the nature of Browning’s optimism,...

  27. NOTES
    (pp. 381-390)
  28. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 391-417)
  29. INDEX OF BROWNING’S WORKS
    (pp. 418-420)
  30. GENERAL INDEX
    (pp. 421-426)