The Ring and the Book, by Robert Browning

Juris Doctor Johannes-Baptista Bottinius

Fisci et Rev. Cam. Apostol. Advocatus

Had I God’s leave, how I would alter things!

If I might read instead of print my speech —

Ay, and enliven speech with many a flower

Refuses obstinately blow in print

As wildings planted in a prim parterre —

This scurvy room were turned an immense hall;

Opposite, fifty judges in a row;

This side and that of me, for audience — Rome:

And, where yon window is, the Pope should be —

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Watch, curtained, but yet visibly enough.

A buzz of expectation! Through the crowd,

Jingling his chain and stumping with his staff,

Up comes an usher, louts him low, “The Court

“Requires the allocution of the Fisc!”

I rise, I bend, I look about me, pause

O’er the hushed multitude: I count — One, two —

Have ye seen, Judges, have ye, lights of law —

When it may hap some painter, much in vogue

Throughout our city nutritive of arts,

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Ye summon to a task shall test his worth,

And manufacture, as he knows and can,

A work may decorate a palace-wall,

Afford my lords their Holy Family —

Hath it escaped the acumen of the Court

How much a painter sets himself to paint?

Suppose that Joseph, Mary and her Babe

A- journeying to Egypt prove the piece:

Why, first he sedulously practiseth,

This painter — girding loin and lighting lamp —

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On what may nourish eye, make facile hand;

Getteth him studies (styled by draughtsmen so)

From some assistant corpse of Jew or Turk

Or, haply, Molinist, he cuts and carves —

This Luca or this Carlo or the like:

To him the bones their inmost secret yield,

Each notch and nodule signify their use,

On him the muscles turn, in triple tier,

And pleasantly entreat the entrusted man —

“Familiarise thee with our play that lifts

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“Thus, and thus lowers again, leg, arm, and foot!”

— Ensuring due correctness in the nude.

Which done, is all done? Not a whit, ye know!

He — to art’s surface rising from her depth —

If some flax-polled soft-bearded sire be found,

May simulate a Joseph (happy chance!)

Limneth exact each wrinkle of the brow,

Loseth no involution, cheek or chap,

Till lo, in black and white, the senior lives!

Is it a young and comely peasant-nurse

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That poseth? (be the phrase accorded me!)

Each feminine delight of florid lip,

Eyes brimming o’er and brow bowed down with love,

Marmoreal neck and bosom uberous —

Glad on the paper in a trice they go

To help his notion of the Mother-Maid:

Methinks I see it, chalk a little stumped!

Yea and her babe — that flexure of soft limbs,

That budding face imbued with dewy sleep,

Contribute each an excellence to Christ.

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Nay, since he humbly lent companionship,

Even the poor ass, unpanniered and elate

Stands, perks an ear up, he a model too;

While clouted shoon, staff, scrip and water-gourd —

Aught may betoken travel, heat and haste —

No jot nor tittle of these but in its turn

Ministers to perfection of the piece:

Till now, such piece before him, part by part —

Such prelude ended — pause our painter may,

Submit his fifty studies one by one,

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And in some sort boast “I have served my lords.”

But what? And hath he painted once this while?

Or when ye cry “Produce the thing required,

“Show us our picture shall rejoice its niche,

“Thy Journey through the Desert done in oils!”—

What, doth he fall to shuffling ’mid his sheets,

Fumbling for first this, then the other fact

Consigned to paper — “studies,” bear the term! —

And stretch a canvas, mix a pot of paste,

And fasten here a head and there a tail,

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(The ass hath one, my Judges!) so dove-tail

Or, rather, ass-tail in, piece sorrily out —

By bits of reproduction of the life —

The picture, the expected Family?

I trow not! do I miss with my conceit

The mark, my lords? — not so my lords were served!

Rather your artist turns abrupt from these,

And preferably buries him and broods

(Quite away from aught vulgar and extern)

On the inner spectrum, filtered through the eye,

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His brain-deposit, bred of many a drop,

E pluribus unum: and the wiser he!

For in that brain — their fancy sees at work,

Could my lords peep indulged — results alone,

Not processes which nourish the result,

Would they discover and appreciate — life

Fed by digestion, not raw food itself,

No gobbets but smooth comfortable chyme

Secreted from each snapped-up crudity —

Less distinct, part by part, but in the whole

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Truer to the subject — the main central truth

And soul o’ the picture, would my Judges spy —

Not those mere fragmentary studied facts

Which answer to the outward frame and flesh —

Not this nose, not that eyebrow, the other fact

Of man’s staff, woman’s stole or infant’s clout,

But lo, a spirit-birth conceived of flesh,

Truth rare and real, not transcripts, fact and false.

The studies — for his pupils and himself!

The picture be for our eximious Rome

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And — who knows? — satisfy its Governor,

Whose new wing to the villa he hath bought

(God give him joy of it) by Capena, soon

(’Tis bruited) shall be glowing with the brush

Of who hath long surpassed the Florentine,

The Urbinate and . . . what if I dared add,

Even his master, yea the Cortonese —

I mean the accomplished Ciro Ferri, Sirs!

(— Did not he die? I’ll see before I print.)

End we exordium, Phœbus plucks my ear!

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Thus then, just so and no whit otherwise,

Have I— engaged as I were Ciro’s self,

To paint a parallel, a Family,

The patriarch Pietro with his wise old wife

To boot (as if one introduced Saint Anne

By bold conjecture to complete the group)

And juvenile Pompilia with her babe,

Who, seeking safety in the wilderness,

Were all surprised by Herod, while outstretched

In sleep beneath a palm-tree by a spring,

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And killed — the very circumstance I paint,

Moving the pity and terror of my lords —

Exactly so have I, a month at least,

Your Fiscal, made me cognisant of facts,

Searched out, pried into, pressed the meaning forth

Of every piece of evidence in point,

How bloody Herod slew these innocents —

Until the glad result is gained, the group

Demonstrably presented in detail,

Their slumber and his onslaught — like as life.

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Yea and, availing me of help allowed

By law, discreet provision lest my lords

Be too much troubled by effrontery —

The rack, law plies suspected crime withal —

(Law that hath listened while the lyrist sang

Lene tormentum ingenio admoves,”

Gently thou joggest by a twinge the wit,

Plerumque duro,” else were slow to blab!)

Through this concession my full cup runs o’er:

The guilty owns his guilt without reserve.

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Therefore by part and part I clutch my case

Which, in entirety now — momentous task —

My lords demand, so render them I must,

Since, one poor pleading more and I have done.

But shall I ply my papers, play my proofs,

Parade my studies, fifty in a row,

As though the Court were yet in pupilage

And not the artist’s ultimate appeal?

Much rather let me soar the height prescribed

And, bowing low, proffer my picture’s self!

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No more of proof, disproof — such virtue was,

Such vice was never in Pompilia, now!

Far better say “Behold Pompilia!”—(for

I leave the family as unmanageable,

And stick to just one portrait, but life-size.)

Hath calumny imputed to the fair

A blemish, mole on cheek or wart on chin,

Much more, blind hidden horrors best unnamed?

Shall I descend to prove you, point by point,

Never was knock-knee known nor splay-foot found

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In Phryne? (I must let the portrait go,

Content me with the model, I believe)—

— I prove this? An indignant sweep of hand,

Dash at and doing away with drapery,

And — use your eyes, Athenians, smooth she smiles!

Or — since my client can no longer smile,

And more appropriate instances abound —

What is this Tale of Tarquin, how the slave

Was caught by him, preferred to Collatine?

Thou, even from thy corpse-clothes virginal,

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Look’st the lie dead, Lucretia!

Thus at least

I, by the guidance of antiquity,

(Our one infallible guide) now operate,

Sure that the innocency shown is safe;

Sure, too, that, while I plead, the echoes cry

(Lend my weak voice thy trump, sonorous Fame!)

“Monstrosity the Phrynean shape shall mar,

“Lucretia’s soul comport with Tarquin’s lie,

“When thistles grow on vines or thorns yield figs,

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“Or oblique sentence leave this judgment-seat!”

A great theme: may my strength be adequate!

For — paint Pompilia, dares my feebleness?

How did I unaware engage so much

— Find myself undertaking to produce

A faultless nature in a flawless form?

What’s here? Oh, turn aside nor dare the blaze

Of such a crown, such constellation, say,

As jewels here thy front, Humanity!

First, infancy, pellucid as a pearl;

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Then, childhood — stone which, dew-drop at the first,

(An old conjecture) sucks, by dint of gaze,

Blue from the sky and turns to sapphire so:

Yet both these gems eclipsed by, last and best,

Womanliness and wifehood opaline,

Its milk-white pallor — chastity — suffused

With here and there a tint and hint of flame —

Desire — the lapidary loves to find.

Such jewels bind conspicuously thy brow,

Pompilia, infant, child, maid, woman, wife —

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Crown the ideal in our earth at last!

What should a faculty like mine do here?

Close eyes, or else, the rashlier hurry hand!

Which is to say — lose no time but begin!

Sermocinando ne declamem, Sirs,

Ultra clepsydram, as our preachers say,

Lest I exceed my hour-glass. Whereupon,

As Flaccus prompts, I dare the epic plunge —

Begin at once with marriage, up till when

Little or nothing would arrest your love,

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In the easeful life o’ the lady; lamb and lamb,

How do they differ? Know one, you know all

Manners of maidenhood: mere maiden she.

And since all lambs are like in more than fleece,

Prepare to find that, lamb-like, she too frisks —

O’ the weaker sex, my lords, the weaker sex!

To whom, the Teian teaches us, for gift,

Not strength — man’s dower — but beauty, nature gave,

“Beauty in lieu of spears, in lieu of shields!”

And what is beauty’s sure concomitant,

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Nay, intimate essential character,

But melting wiles, deliciousest deceits,

The whole redoubted armoury of love?

Therefore of vernal pranks, dishevellings

O’ the hair of youth that dances April in,

And easily-imagined Hebe-slips

O’er sward which May makes over-smooth for foot —

These shall we pry into? — or wiselier wink,

Though numerous and dear they may have been?

For lo, advancing Hymen and his pomp!

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Discedunt nunc amores, loves, farewell!

Maneat amor, let love, the sole, remain!

Farewell to dewiness and prime of life!

Remains the rough determined day: dance done,

To work, with plough and harrow! What comes next?

’Tis Guido henceforth guides Pompilia’s step,

Cries “No more friskings o’er the foodful glebe,

“Else, ’ware the whip!” Accordingly — first crack

O’ the thong — we hear that his young wife was barred,

Cohibita fuit, from the old free life,

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Vitam liberiorem ducere.

Demur we? Nowise: heifer brave the hind?

We seek not there should lapse the natural law,

The proper piety to lord and king

And husband: let the heifer bear the yoke!

Only, I crave he cast not patience off,

This hind; for deem you she endures the whip,

Nor winces at the goad, nay, restive, kicks?

What if the adversary’s charge be just,

And all untowardly she pursue her way

With groan and grunt, though hind strike ne’er so hard?

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If petulant remonstrance made appeal,

Unseasonable, o’erprotracted — if

Importunate challenge taxed the public ear

When silence more decorously had served

For protestation — if Pompilian plaint

Wrought but to aggravate Guidonian ire —

Why, such mishaps, ungainly though they be,

Ever companion change, are incident

To altered modes and novelty of life:

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The philosophic mind expects no less,

Smilingly knows and names the crisis, sits

Waiting till old things go and new arrive.

Therefore, I hold a husband but inept

Who turns impatient at such transit-time,

As if thus running from the rod would last!

Since, even while I speak, the end is reached

Success awaits the soon-disheartened man,

The parents turn their backs and leave the house,

The wife may wail but none shall intervene,

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He hath attained his object, groom and bride

Partake the nuptial bower no soul to see,

Old things are passed and all again is new,

Over and gone the obstacles to peace,

Novorum — tenderly the Mantuan turns

The expression, some such purpose in his eye —

Nascitur ordo! Every storm is laid,

And forth from plain each pleasant herb may peep,

Each bloom of wifehood in abeyance late:

(Confer a passage in the Canticles.)

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But what if, as ’tis wont with plant and wife,

Flowers — after a suppression to good end,

Still, when they do spring forth — sprout here, spread there

Anywhere likelier than beneath the foot

O’ the lawful good-man gardener of the ground?

He dug and dibbled, sowed and watered — still

’Tis a chance wayfarer shall pluck the increase.

Just so, respecting persons not too much,

The lady, foes allege, put forth each charm

And proper floweret of feminity

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To whosoever had a nose to smell

Or breast to deck: what if the charge be true?

The fault were graver had she looked with choice,

Fastidiously appointed who should grasp,

Who, in the whole town, go without the prize!

To nobody she destined donative,

But, first come was first served, the accuser saith

Put case her sort of . . . in this kind . . . escapes

Were many and oft and indiscriminate —

Impute ye as the action were prepense,

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The gift particular, arguing malice so?

Which butterfly of the wide air shall brag

“I was preferred to Guido”— when ’tis clear

The cup, he quaffs at, lay with olent breast

Open to gnat, midge, been and moth as well?

One chalice entertained the company;

And if its peevish lord object the more,

Mistake, misname such bounty in a wife,

Haste we to advertise him — charm of cheek,

Lustre of eye, allowance of the lip,

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All womanly components in a spouse,

These are no household-bread each stranger’s bite

Leaves by so much diminished for the mouth

O’ the master of the house at supper-time:

But rather like a lump of spice they lie,

Morsel of myrrh, which scents the neighbourhood

Yet greets its lord no lighter by a grain.

Nay, even so, he shall be satisfied!

Concede we there was reason in his wrong,

Grant we his grievance and content the man!

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For lo, Pompilia, she submits herself;

Ere three revolving years have crowned their course,

Off and away she puts this same reproach

Of lavish bounty, inconsiderate gift

O’ the sweets of wifehood stored to other ends:

No longer shall he blame “She none excludes,”

But substitute “She laudably sees all,

“Searches the best out and selects the same.”

For who is here, long sought and latest found,

Waiting his turn unmoved amid the whirl,

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Constans in levitate,”— Ha, my lords?

Calm in his levity — indulge the quip! —

Since ’tis a levite bears the bell away,

Parades him henceforth as Pompilia’s choice.

’Tis no ignoble object, husband! Doubt’st?

When here comes tripping Flaccus with his phrase

“Trust me, no miscreant singled from the mob,

Crede non illum tibi de scelesta

Plebe delectum,” but a man of mark,

A priest, dost hear? Why then, submit thyself!

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Priest, ay and very phœnix of such fowl,

Well-born, of culture, young and vigorous,

Comely too, since precise the precept points —

On the selected levite be there found

Nor mole nor scar nor blemish, lest the mind

Come all uncandid through the thwarting flesh!

Was not the son of Jesse ruddy, sleek,

Pleasant to look on, pleasant every way?

Since well he smote the harp and sweetly sang,

And danced till Abigail came out to see,

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And seeing smiled and smiling ministered

The raisin-duster and the cake of figs,

With ready meal refreshed the gifted youth,

Till Nabal, who was absent shearing sheep,

Felt heart sink, took to bed (discreetly done —

They might have been beforehand with him else)

And died — would Guido had behaved as well!

But ah, the faith of early days is gone,

Heu prisca fides! Nothing died in him

Save courtesy, good sense and proper trust,

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Which, when they ebb from souls they should o’erflow,

Discover stub, weed, sludge and ugliness.

(The Pope, you know, is Neapolitan

And relishes a sea-side simile.)

Deserted by each charitable wave,

Guido, left high and dry, shows jealous now!

Jealous avouched, paraded: tax the fool

With any peccadillo, he responds

“Truly I beat my wife through jealousy,

“Imprisoned her and punished otherwise,

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“Being jealous: now would threaten, sword in hand,

“Now manage to mix poison in her sight,

“And so forth: jealously I dealt, in fine.”

Concede the fact and what remains to prove?

Have I to teach my masters what effect

Hath jealousy and how, befooling men,

It makes false true, abuses eye and ear,

Turns the mist adamantine, loads with sound

Silence, and into void and vacancy

Crowds a whole phalanx of conspiring foes?

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Therefore who owns “I watched with jealousy

“My wife” adds “for no reason in the world!”

What need that who says “madman” should remark

“The thing he thought a serpent proved an eel?”—

Perchance the right Comacchian, six foot length,

And not an inch too long for that same pie

(Master Arcangeli has heard of such)

Whose succulence makes fasting bearable;

Meant to regale some moody splenetic

Who pleases to mistake the donor’s gift,

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And spies — I know not what Lernæan snake

I’ the luscious Lenten creature, stamps forsooth

The dainty in the dust.

        Enough! Prepare,

His lunes announced, for downright lunacy!

Insanit homo, threat succeeds to threat,

And blow redoubles blow — his wife, the block.

But, if a block, shall not she jar the hand

That buffets her? The injurious idle stone

Rebounds and fits the head of him who flung.

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Causeless rage breeds, i’ the wife now, rageful cause,

Tyranny wakes rebellion from its sleep.

Rebellion, say I? — rather, self-defence,

Laudable wish to live and see good days,

Pricks our Pompilia on to fly the foe

By any means, at any price — nay, more,

Nay, most of all, i’ the very interest

Of the foe that, baffled of his blind desire

At any price, is truliest victor so.

Shall he effect his crime and lose his soul?

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No, dictates duty to a loving wife.

Far better that the unconsummate blow,

Adroitly baulked by her, should back again,

Correctively admonish his own pate!

Crime then — the Court is with me? — she must crush;

How crush it? By all efficacious means;

And these — why, what is woman should they be?

“With horns the bull, with teeth the lion fights,

“To woman,” quoth the lyrist quoted late,

“Nor teeth, nor horns, but beauty, Nature gave!”

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Pretty i’ the Pagan! Who dares blame the use

Of the armoury thus allowed for natural —

Exclaim against a seeming-dubious play

O’ the sole permitted weapon, spear and shield

Alike, resorted to i’ the circumstance

By poor Pompilia? Grant she somewhat plied

Arts that allure, the magic nod and wink,

The witchery of gesture, spell of word,

Whereby the likelier to enlist this friend,

Yet stranger, as a champion on her side?

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Such, being but mere man, (’twas all she knew),

Must be made sure by beauty’s silken bond,

The weakness that subdues the strong, and bows

Wisdom alike and folly. Grant the tale

O’ the husband, which is false, for proved and true

To the letter — or the letters, I should say,

The abominations he professed to find

And fix upon Pompilia and the priest —

Allow them hers — for though she could not write,

In early days of Eve-like innocence

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That plucked no apple from the knowledge-tree,

Yet, at the Serpent’s word, Eve plucks and eats

And knows — especially how to read and write:

And so Pompilia — as the move o’ the maw,

Quoth Persius, makes a parrot bid “Good-day!”

A crow salute the concave, and a pie

Endeavour at proficiency in speech —

So she, through hunger after fellowship,

May well have learned, though late, to play the scribe:

As indeed, there’s one letter on the list

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Explicitly declares did happen here.

“You thought my letters could be none of mine,”

She tells her parents —“mine, who wanted skill;

“But now I have the skill, and write, you see!”

She needed write love-letters, so she learned,

Negatas artifex sequi voces”— though

This letter nowise ’scapes the common lot,

But lies i’ the condemnation of the rest,

Found by the husband’s self who forged them all.

Yet, for the sacredness of argument,

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For this once an exemption shall it plead —

Anything, anything to let the wheels

Of argument run glibly to their goal!

Concede she wrote (which were preposterous)

This and the other epistle — what of it?

Where does the figment touch her candid fame?

Being in peril of her life —“my life,

“Not an hour’s purchase,” as the letter runs —

And having but one stay in this extreme,

And out of the wide world a single friend —

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What could she other than resort to him,

And how with any hope resort but thus?

Shall modesty dare bid a stranger brave

Danger, disgrace, nay death in her behalf —

Think to entice the sternness of the steel

Save by the magnet moves the manly mind?

— Most of all when such mind is hampered so

By growth of circumstance athwart the life

O’ the natural man, that decency forbids

He stoop and take the common privilege,

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Say frank “I love,” as all the vulgar do.

A man is wedded to philosophy,

Married to statesmanship; a man is old;

A man is fettered by the foolishness

He took for wisdom and talked ten years since;

A man is, like our friend the Canon here,

A priest, and wicked if he break his vow:

He dare to love, who may be Pope one day?

Suppose this man could love, though, all the same —

From what embarrassment she sets him free

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Should one, a woman he could love, speak first —

“’Tis I who break reserve, begin appeal,

“Confess that, whether you love me or no,

“I love you!” What an ease to dignity,

What help of pride from the hard high-backed chair

Down to the carpet where the kittens bask,

All under the pretence of gratitude!

From all which, I deduce — the lady here

Was bound to proffer nothing short of love

To the priest whose service was to save her. What?

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Shall she propose him lucre, dust o’ the mine,

Rubbish o’ the rock, some diamond, muckworms prize,

Or pearl secreted by a sickly fish?

Scarcely! She caters for a generous taste.

’Tis love shall beckon, beauty bid to breast,

Till all the Samson sink into the snare!

Because, permit the end — permit therewith

Means to the end!

        How say you, good my lords?

I hope you heard my adversary ring

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The changes on this precept: now, let me

Reverse the peal! Quia dato licito fine,

Ad illum assequendum ordinata

Non sunt damnanda media — licit end

Enough was the escape from death, I hope,

To legalise the means illicit else

Of feigned love, false allurement, fancied fact.

Thus Venus losing Cupid on a day,

(See that Idyllium Moschi) seeking help,

In the anxiety of motherhood,

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Allowably promised “Who shall bring report

“Where he is wandered to, my winged babe,

“I give him for reward a nectared kiss;

“But who brings safely back the truant’s self,

“His be a super-sweet makes kiss seem cold!”

Are not these things writ for example-sake?

To such permitted motive, then, refer

All those professions, else were hard explain,

Of hope, fear, jealousy, and the rest of love!

He is Myrtillus, Amaryllis she,

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She burns, he freezes — all a mere device

To catch and keep the man may save her life,

Whom otherwise nor catches she nor keeps!

Worst, once, is best now: in all faith, she feigns:

Feigning — the liker innocence to guilt,

The truer to the life is what she feigns!

How if Ulysses — when, for public good

He sunk particular qualms and played the spy,

Entered Troy’s hostile gate in beggar’s garb —

How if he first had boggled at this clout,

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Grown dainty o’er that clack-dish? Grime is grace

To whoso gropes amid the dung for gold.

Hence, beyond promises, we praise each proof

That promise was not simply made to break —

No moonshine- structure meant to fade at dawn:

So call —(proofs consequent and requisite)—

What enemies allege of — more than words,

Deeds — meeting at the window, twilight-tryst,

Nocturnal entertainment in the dim

Old labyrinthine palace; lies, we know —

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Inventions we, long since, turned inside out,

Would such external semblance of intrigue

Demonstrate that intrigue must lurk perdue?

Does every hazel-sheath disclose a nut?

He were a Molinist who dared maintain

That midnight meetings in a screened alcove

Must argue folly in a matron — since

So would he bring a slur on Judith’s self,

Commended beyond women that she lured

The lustful to destruction through his lust.

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Pompilia took not Judith’s liberty,

No faulchion find you in her hand to smite —

No damsel to convey the head in dish,

Of Holophernes — style the Canon so —

Or is it the Count? If I entangle me

With my similitudes — if wax wings melt,

And earthward down I drop, not mine the fault:

Blame your beneficence, O Court, O sun,

Whereof the beamy smile affects my flight!

What matter, so Pompilia’s fame revive

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I’ the warmth that proves the bane of Icarus?

Yea, we have shown it lawful, necessary

Pompilia leave her husband, seek the house

O’ the parents: and because ’twixt home and home

Lies a long road with many a danger rife,

Lions by the way and serpents in the path,

To rob and ravish — much behoves she keep

Each shadow of suspicion from fair fame,

For her own sake much, but for his sake more,

The ingrate husband! Evidence shall be,

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Some witness to the world how white she walks

I’ the mire she wanders through ere Rome she reach.

And who so proper witness as a priest?

Gainsay ye? Let me hear who dares gainsay!

I hope we still can punish heretics!

“Give me the man,” I say with him of Gath,

“That we may fight together” None, I think:

The priest is granted me.

        Then, if a priest,

One juvenile and potent: else, mayhap,

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That dragon, our Saint George would slay, slays him.

And should fair face accompany strong hand,

The more complete equipment: nothing mars

Work, else praiseworthy, like a bodily flaw

I’ the worker: as ’tis said Saint Paul himself

Deplored the check o’ the puny presence, still

Cheating his fulmination of its flash,

Albeit the bolt therein went true to oak.

Therefore the agent, as prescribed, she takes —

A priest, juvenile, potent, handsome too —

610

In all obedience: “good,” you grant again.

Do you? I would ye were the husband, lords!

How prompt and facile might departure be!

How boldly would Pompilia and the priest

March out of door, spread flag at beat of drum,

But that inapprehensive Guido grants

Neither premiss nor yet conclusion here,

And, purblind, dreads a bear in every bush!

For his own quietude and comfort, then,

Means must be found for flight in masquerade

620

At hour when all things sleep. —“Save jealousy!”

Right, judges! Therefore shall the lady’s wit

Supply the boon thwart nature baulks him of,

And do him service with the potent drug

(Helen’s nepenthe, as my lords opine)

Shall respite blessedly each frittered nerve

O’ the much-enduring man: accordingly,

There lies he, duly dosed and sound asleep,

Relieved of woes, or real or raved about.

While soft she leaves his side, he shall not wake;

630

Nor stop who steals away to join her friend,

Nor do him mischief should he catch that friend

Intent on more than friendly office — nay,

Nor get himself raw head and bones laid bare

In payment of his apparition!

        Thus

Would I defend the step — were the thing true

Which is a fable — see my former speech —

That Guido slept (who never slept a wink)

Through treachery, an opiate from his wife,

640

Who not so much as knew what opiates mean.

Now she may start: but hist — a stoppage still!

A journey is an enterprise which costs!

As in campaigns, we fight and others pay,

Suis expensis, nemo militat.

’Tis Guido’s self we guard from accident,

Ensuring safety to Pompilia, versed

Nowise in misadventures by the way,

Hard riding and rough quarters, the rude fare,

The unready host. What magic mitigates

650

Each plague of travel to the unpractised wife?

Money, sweet Sirs! And were the fiction fact,

She helped herself thereto with liberal hand

From out the husband’s store — what fitter use

Was ever husband’s money destined to?

With bag and baggage thus did Dido once

Decamp — for more authority, a queen!

So is she fairly on her route at last,

Prepared for either fortune: nay and if

The priest, now all a-glow with enterprise,

660

Cool somewhat presently when fades the flush

O’ the first adventure, clouded o’er belike

By doubts, misgivings how the day may die,

Though born with such auroral brilliance — if

The brow seem over-pensive and the lip

’Gin lag and lose the prattle lightsome late —

Vanquished by tedium of a prolonged jaunt

In a close carriage o’er a jolting road,

With only one young female substitute

For seventeen other Canons of ripe age

670

Were wont to keep him company in church —

Shall not Pompilia haste to dissipate

The silent cloud that, gathering, bodes her bale? —

Prop the irresoluteness may portend

Suspension of the project, check the flight,

Bring ruin on them both? — use every means,

Since means to the end are lawful? What i’ the way

Of wile should have allowance like a kiss

Sagely and sisterly administered,

Sororia saltem oscula? We find

680

Such was the remedy her wit applied

To each incipient scruple of the priest,

If we believe — as, while my wit is mine

I cannot — what the driver testifies,

Borsi, called Venerino, the mere tool

Of Guido and his friend the Governor —

The avowal I proved wrung from out the wretch,

After long rotting in imprisonment,

As price of liberty and favour: long

They tempted, he at last succumbed, and lo

690

Counted them out full tale each kiss required —

“The journey was one long embrace,” quoth he.

Still, though we should believe the driver’s lie,

Nor even admit as probable excuse,

Right reading of the riddle — as I urged

In my first argument, with fruit perhaps —

That what the owl-like eyes (at back of head!)

O’ the driver, drowsed by driving night and day,

Supposed a vulgar interchange of love,

This was but innocent jog of head ’gainst head,

700

Cheek meeting jowl as apple may touch pear

From branch and branch contiguous in the wind,

When Autumn blusters and the orchard rocks.

The rapid run and the rough road were cause

O’ the casual ambiguity, no harm

I’ the world to eyes awake and penetrative.

Yet — not to grasp a truth I can forego

And safely fight without and conquer still —

Say, she kissed him, and he kissed her again!

Such osculation was a potent means,

710

A very efficacious help, no doubt:

This with a third part of her nectar did

Venus imbue: why should Pompilia fling

The poet’s declaration in his teeth? —

Pause to employ what — since it had success,

And kept the priest her servant to the end —

We must presume of energy enough,

No whit superfluous, so permissible?

The goal is gained: day, night and yet a day

Have run their round: a long and devious road

720

Is traversed — many manners, various men

Passed in review, what cities did they see,

What hamlets mark, what profitable food

For after-meditation cull and store!

Till Rome, that Rome whereof — this voice,

Would it might make our Molinists observe.

That she is built upon a rock nor shall

Their powers prevail against her! — Rome, I say,

Is all but reached; one stage more and they stop

Saved: pluck up heart, ye pair, and forward, then!

730

Ah, Nature — baffled she recurs, alas!

Nature imperiously exacts her due,

Spirit is willing but the flesh is weak,

Pompilia needs must acquiesce and swoon,

Give hopes alike and fears a breathing-while.

The innocent sleep soundly: sound she sleeps.

So let her slumber, then, unguarded save

By her own chastity, a triple mail,

And his good hand whose stalwart arms have borne

The sweet and senseless burthen like a babe

740

From coach to couch — the serviceable man!

Nay, what and if he gazed rewardedly

On the pale beauty prisoned in embrace,

Stooped over, stole a balmy breath perhaps

For more assurance sleep was not decease —

Ut vidi,” “how I saw!” succeeded by

Ut perii,” “how I sudden lost my brains!”

— What harm ensued to her unconscious quite?

For, curiosity — how natural!

Importunateness — what a privilege

750

In the ardent sex! And why curb ardour here?

How can the priest but pity whom he saved?

And pity is how near to love, and love

How neighbourly to unreasonableness!

And for love’s object, whether love were sage

Or foolish, could Pompilia know or care,

Being still sound asleep, as I premised?

Thus the philosopher absorbed by thought,

Even Archimedes, busy o’er a book

The while besiegers sacked his Syracuse,

760

Was ignorant of the imminence o’ the point

O’ the sword till it surprised him: let it stab,

And never knew himself was dead at all.

So sleep thou on, secure whate’er betide!

For thou, too, hast thy problem hard to solve —

How so much beauty is compatible

With so much innocence!

        Fit place, methinks,

While in this task she rosily is lost,

To treat of and repel objection here

770

Which — frivolous, I grant — but, still misgives

My mind, it may have flitted, gadfly-like,

And teazed the Court at times — as if, all said

And done, there still seemed, one might nearly say,

In a certain acceptation, somewhat more

Of what may pass for insincerity,

Falsehood, throughout the course Pompilia took,

Than befits Christian. Pagans held, we know,

We always ought to aim at good and truth,

Not always put one thing in the same words:

780

Non idem semper dicere sed spectare

Debemus. But the Pagan yoke was light;

“Lie not at all,” the exacter precept bids:

Each least lie breaks the law — is sin, ye hold.

I humble me, but venture to submit —

What prevents sin, itself is sinless, sure:

And sin, which hinders sin of deeper dye,

Softens itself away by contrast so.

Conceive me! Little sin, by none at all,

Were properly condemned for great: but great,

790

By greater, dwindles into small again.

Now, what is greatest sin of womanhood?

That which unwomans it, abolishes

The nature of the woman — impudence.

Who contradicts me here? Concede me, then,

Whatever friendly fault may interpose

To save the sex from self-abolishment

Is three-parts on the way to virtue’s rank!

Now, what is taxed here as duplicity,

Feint, wile and trick — admitted for the nonce —

800

What worse do one and all than interpose,

Hold, as it were, a deprecating hand,

Statuesquely, in the Medicean mode,

Before some shame which modesty would veil?

Who blames the gesture prettily perverse?

Thus — lest ye miss a point illustrative —

Admit the husband’s calumny — allow

That the wife, having penned the epistle fraught

With horrors, charge on charge of crime, she heaped

O’ the head of Pietro and Violante —(still

810

Presumed her parents)— and despatched the thing

To their arch-enemy Paolo, through free choice

And no sort of compulsion in the world —

Put case that she discards simplicity

For craft, denies the voluntary act,

Declares herself a passive instrument

I’ the hands of Guido; duped by knavery,

She traced the characters, she could not write,

And took on trust the unread sense which, read,

Were recognised but to be spurned at once.

820

Allow this calumny, I reiterate!

Who is so dull as wonder at the pose

Of our Pompilia in the circumstance?

Who sees not that the too-ingenuous soul,

Repugnant even at a duty done

Which brought beneath too scrutinising glare

The misdemeanours — buried in the dark —

Of the authors of her being, she believed —

Stung to the quick at her impulsive deed,

And willing to repair what harm it worked,

830

She — wise in this beyond what Nero proved,

Who, when needs were the candid juvenile

Should sign the warrant, doom the guilty dead,

“Would I had never learned to write,” quoth he!

— Pompilia rose above the Roman, cried

“To read or write I never learned at all!”

O splendidly mendacious!

        But time fleets:

Let us not linger: hurry to the end,

Since end does flight and all disastrously.

840

Beware ye blame desert for unsuccess,

Disparage each expedient else to praise,

Call failure folly! Man’s best effort fails.

After ten years’ resistance Troy fell flat:

Could valour save a town, Troy still had stood.

Pompilia came off halting in no point

Of courage, conduct, the long journey through:

But nature sank exhausted at the close,

And, as I said, she swooned and slept all night.

Morn breaks and brings the husband: we assist

850

At the spectacle. Discovery succeeds.

Ha, how is this? What moonstruck rage is here?

Though we confess to partial frailty now,

To error in a woman and a wife,

Is ’t by the rough way she shall be reclaimed?

Who bursts upon her chambered privacy?

What crowd profanes the chaste cubiculum?

What outcries and lewd laughter, scurril gibe

And ribald jest to scare the ministrant

Good angels that commerce with souls in sleep?

860

Why, had the worst crowned Guido to his wish,

Confirmed his most irrational surmise,

Yet there be bounds to man’s emotion, checks

To an immoderate astonishment.

’Tis decent horror, regulated wrath,

Befit our dispensation: have we back

The old Pagan licence? Shall a Vulcan clap

His net o’ the sudden and expose the pair

To the unquenchable universal mirth?

A feat, antiquity saw scandal in

870

So clearly, that the nauseous tale thereof —

Demodocus his nugatory song —

Hath ever been concluded modern stuff

Impossible to the mouth of the grave Muse,

So, foisted into that Eighth Odyssey

By some impertinent pickthank. O thou fool,

Count Guido Franceschini, what were gained

By publishing thy shame thus to the world?

Were all the precepts of the wise a waste —

Bred in thee not one touch of reverence?

880

Why, say thy wife — admonish we the fool —

Were false, and thou bid chronicle thy shame,

Much rather should thy teeth bite out thy tongue,

Dump lip consort with desecrated brow,

Silence become historiographer,

And thou — thine own Cornelius Tacitus!

But virtue, barred, still leaps the barrier, lords!

— Still, moon-like, penetrates the encroaching mist

And bursts, all broad and bare, on night, ye know!

Surprised, then, in the garb of truth, perhaps,

890

Pompilia, thus opposed, breaks obstacle,

Springs to her feet, and stands Thalassian- pure,

Confronts the foe — nay, catches at his sword

And tries to kill the intruder, he complains.

Why, so she gave her lord his lesson back,

Crowned him, this time, the virtuous woman’s way,

With an exact obedience; he brought sword,

She drew the same, since swords are meant to draw.

Tell not me ’tis sharp play with tools on edge!

It was the husband chose the weapon here.

900

Why did not he inaugurate the game

With some gentility of apophthegm

Still pregnant on the philosophic page,

Some captivating cadence still a- lisp

O’ the poet’s lyre? Such spells subdue the surge,

Make tame the tempest, much more mitigate

The passions of the mind, and probably

Had moved Pompilia to a smiling blush.

No, he must needs prefer the argument

O’ the blow: and she obeyed, in duty bound,

910

Returned him buffet ratiocinative —

Ay, in the reasoner’s own interest,

For wife must follow whither husband leads,

Vindicate honour as himself prescribes,

Save him the very way himself bids save!

No question but who jumps into a quag

Should stretch forth hand and pray one “Pull me out

“By the hand!” such were the customary cry:

But Guido pleased to bid “Leave hand alone!

“Join both feet, rather, jump upon my head,

920

“I extricate myself by the rebound!”

And dutifully as enjoined she jumped —

Drew his own sword and menaced his own life,

Anything to content a wilful spouse.

And so he was contented — one must do

Justice to the expedient which succeeds,

Strange as it seem: at flourish of the blade,

The crowd drew back, stood breathless and abashed,

Then murmured “This should be no wanton wife,

“No conscience-stricken creature, caught i’ the act,

930

“And patiently awaiting our first stone:

“But a poor hard-pressed all-bewildered thing,

“Has rushed so far, misguidedly perhaps,

“Meaning no more harm than a frightened sheep.

“She sought for aid; and if she made mistake

“I’ the man could aid most, why — so mortals do:

“Even the blessed Magdalen mistook

“Far less forgiveably: consult the place —

“Supposing him to be the gardener,

“‘Sir,’ said she, and so following.” Why more words?

940

Forthwith the wife is pronounced innocent:

What would the husband more than gain his cause,

And find that honour flash in the world’s eye,

His apprehension was lest soil had smirched?

So, happily the adventure comes to close

Whereon my fat opponent grounds his charge

Preposterous: at mid-day he groans “How dark!”

Listen to me, thou Archangelic swine!

Where is the ambiguity to blame,

The flaw to find in our Pompilia? Safe

950

She stands, see! Does thy comment follow quick

“Safe, inasmuch as at the end proposed;

“But thither she picked way by devious path —

“Stands dirtied, no dubiety at all!

“I recognise success, yet, all the same,

“Importunately will suggestion prick —

“What, had Pompilia gained the right to boast

“‘No devious path, no doubtful patch was mine,

“‘I saved my head nor sacrificed my foot?’

“Why, being in a peril, show mistrust

960

“Of the angels set to guard the innocent?

“Why rather hold by obvious vulgar help

“Of stratagem and subterfuge, excused

“Somewhat, but still no less a foil, a fault,

“Since low with high, and good with bad is linked?

“Methinks I view some ancient bas-relief.

“There stands Hesione thrust out by Troy,

“Her father’s hand has chained her to a crag,

“Her mother’s from the virgin plucked the vest,

“At a safe distance both distressful watch,

970

“While near and nearer comes the snorting orc.

“I look that, white and perfect to the end,

“She wait till Jove despatch some demigod;

“Not that — impatient of celestial club

“Alcmena’s son should brandish at the beast —

“She daub, disguise her dainty limbs with pitch,

“And so elude the purblind monster! Ay,

“The trick succeeds, but ’tis an ugly trick,

“Where needs have been no trick!”

        My answer? Faugh!

980

Nimis incongrue! Too absurdly put!

Sententiam ego teneo contrariam,

Trick, I maintain, had no alternative.

The heavens were bound with brass — Jove far at feast

(No feast like that thou didst not ask me to,

Arcangeli — I heard of thy regale!)

With the unblamed Æthiop — Hercules spun wool

I’ the lap of Omphale, while Virtue shrieked —

The brute came paddling all the faster. You

Of Troy, who stood at distance, where’s the aid

990

You offered in the extremity? Most and least,

Gentle and simple, here the Governor,

There the Archbishop, everywhere the friends,

Shook heads and waited for a miracle,

Or went their way, left Virtue to her fate.

Just this one rough and ready man leapt forth!

— Was found, sole anti-Fabius (dare I say)

To restore things, with no delay at all,

Qui, haud cunctando, rem restituit! He,

He only, Caponsacchi ’mid a crowd,

1000

Caught Virtue up, carried Pompilia off

Thro’ the gaping impotence of sympathy

In ranged Arezzo: what you take for pitch,

Is nothing worse, belike, than black and blue,

Mere evanescent proof that hardy hands

Did yeoman’s service, cared not where the gripe

Was more than duly energetic: bruised,

She smarts a little, but her bones are saved

A fracture, and her skin will soon show sleek.

How it disgusts when weakness, false-refined,

1010

Censures the honest rude effective strength —

When sickly dreamers of the impossible

Decry plain sturdiness which does the feat

With eyes wide open!

        Did occasion serve,

I could illustrate, if my lords allow;

Quid vetat, what forbids, I aptly ask

With Horace, that I give my anger vent,

While I let breathe, no less, and recreate

The gravity of my Judges, by a tale —

1020

A case in point — what though an apologue

Graced by tradition — possibly a fact?

Tradition must precede all scripture, words

Serve as our warrant ere our books can be:

So, to tradition back we needs must go

For any fact’s authority: and this

Hath lived so far (like jewel hid in muck)

O’ the page of that old lying vanity

Called “Sepher Toldoth Yeschu:” God be praised,

I read no Hebrew — take the thing on trust:

1030

But I believe the writer meant no good

(Blind as he was to truth in some respects)

To our pestiferous and schismatic . . . well,

My lords’ conjecture be the touchstone, show

The thing for what it is! The author lacks

Discretion, and his zeal exceeds: but zeal —

How rare in our degenerate day! Enough!

Here is the story — fear not, I shall chop

And change a little, else my Jew would press

All too unmannerly before the Court.

1040

It happened once — begins this foolish Jew,

Pretending to write Christian history —

That three, held greatest, best and worst of men,

Peter and John and Judas, spent a day

In toil and travel through the country-side

On some sufficient business — I suspect,

Suppression of some Molinism i’ the bud.

Foot- sore and hungry, dropping with fatigue,

They reached by nightfall a poor lonely grange,

Hostel or inn: so, knocked and entered there.

“Your pleasure, great ones?”—“Shelter, rest and food!”

1051

For shelter, there was one bare room above;

For rest therein, three beds of bundled straw:

For food, one wretched starveling fowl, no more —

Meat for one mouth, but mockery for three.

“You have my utmost.” How should supper serve?

Peter broke silence. “To the spit with fowl!

“And while ’tis cooking, sleep! — since beds there be,

“And, so far, satisfaction of a want.

“Sleep we an hour, awake at supper-time,

1060

“Then each of us narrate the dream he had,

“And he whose dream shall prove the happiest, point

“The clearliest out the dreamer as ordained

“Beyond his fellows to receive the fowl,

“Him let our shares be cheerful tribute to,

“His the entire meal, may it do him good!”

Who could dispute so plain a consequence?

So said, so done: each hurried to his straw,

Slept his hour’s-sleep and dreamed his dream, and woke.

“I,” commenced John, “dreamed that I gained the prize

1070

“We all aspire to: the proud place was mine,

“Throughout the earth and to the end of time

“I was the Loved Disciple: mine the meal!”

“But I,” proceeded Peter, “dreamed, a word

“Gave me the headship of our company,

“Made me the Vicar and Vice-regent, gave

“The keys of Heaven and Hell into my hand,

“And o’er the earth, dominion: mine the meal!”

“While I,” submitted in soft under-tone

The Iscariot — sense of his unworthiness

1080

Turning each eye up to the inmost white —

With long-drawn sigh, yet letting both lips smack,

“I have had just the pitifullest dream

“That ever proved man meanest of his mates,

“And born foot-washer and foot-wiper, nay

“Foot-kisser to each comrade of you all!

“I dreamed I dreamed; and in that mimic dream

“(Impalpable to dream as dream to fact)

“Methought I meanly chose to sleep no wink

“But wait until I heard my brethren breathe;

“Then stole from couch, slipped noiseless to the door,

1091

“Slid downstairs, furtively approached the hearth,

“Found the fowl duly brown, both back and breast,

“Hissing in harmony with the cricket’s chirp,

“Grilled to a point; said no grace but fell to,

“Nor finished till the skeleton lay bare.

“In penitence for which ignoble dream,

“Lo, I renounce my portion cheerfully!

“Fie on the flesh — be mine the etherial gust,

“And yours the sublunary sustenance!

1100

“See, that whate’er be left, ye give the poor!”

Down the two scuttled, one on other’s heel,

Stung by a fell surmise; and found, alack,

A goodly savour, both the drumstick-bones,

And that which henceforth took the appropriate name

O’ the merry-thought, in memory of the fact

That to keep wide awake is our best dream.

So — as was said once of Thucydides

And his sole joke, “The lion, lo, hath laughed!”—

Just so, the Governor and all that’s great

1110

I’ the city, never meant that Innocence

Should starve thus while Authority sat at meat.

They meant to fling a bone at banquet’s end,

Wished well to our Pompilia — in their dreams,

Nor bore the secular sword in vain — asleep:

Just so the Archbishop and all good like him

Went to bed meaning to pour oil and wine

I’ the wounds of her, next day — but long ere day,

They had burned the one and drunk the other: while

Just so, again, contrariwise, the priest

1120

Sustained poor Nature in extremity

By stuffing barley-bread into her mouth,

Saving Pompilia (grant the parallel)

By the plain homely and straightforward way

Taught him by common-sense. Let others shriek

“Oh what refined expedients did we dream

“Proved us the only fit to help the fair!”

He cried “A carriage waits, jump in with me!”

And now, this application pardoned, lords —

This recreative pause and breathing-while —

1130

Back to beseemingness and gravity!

For Law steps in: Guido appeals to Law,

Demands she arbitrate — does well for once.

O Law, of thee how neatly was it said

By that old Sophocles, thou hast thy seat

I’ the very breast of Jove, no meanlier throned!

Here is a piece of work now, hitherto

Begun and carried on, concluded near,

Without an eye-glance cast thy sceptre’s way;

And, lo the stumbling and discomfiture!

1140

Well may you call them “lawless,” means men take

To extricate themselves through mother-wit

When tangled haply in the toils of life!

Guido would try conclusions with his foe,

Whoe’er the foe was and whate’er the offence;

He would recover certain dowry-dues:

Instead of asking Law to lend a hand,

What pother of sword drawn and pistol cocked,

What peddling with forged letters and paid spies,

Politic circumvention! — all to end

1150

As it began — by loss of the fool’s head,

First in a figure, presently in a fact.

It is a lesson to mankind at large.

How other were the end, would men be sage

And bear confidingly each quarrel straight,

O Law, to thy recipient mother-knees!

How would the children light come and prompt go,

This, with a red-cheeked apple for reward,

The other, peradventure red-cheeked too

I’ the rear, by taste of birch for punishment.

1160

No foolish brawling murders any more!

Peace for the household, practice for the Fisc,

And plenty for the exchequer of my lords!

Too much to hope, in this world: in the next,

Who knows? Since, why should sit the Twelve enthroned

To judge the tribes, unless the tribes be judged?

And ’tis impossible but offences come:

So, all’s one lawsuit, all one long leet-day!

Forgive me this digression — that I stand

Entranced awhile at Law’s first beam, outbreak

1170

O’ the business, when the Count’s good angel bade

“Put up thy sword, born enemy to the ear,

“And let Law listen to thy difference!”

And Law does listen and compose the strife,

Settle the suit, how wisely and how well!

On our Pompilia, faultless to a fault,

Law bends a brow maternally severe,

Implies the worth of perfect chastity,

By fancying the flaw she cannot find.

Superfluous sifting snow, nor helps nor harms:

1180

’Tis safe to censure levity in youth,

Tax womanhood with indiscretion, sure!

Since toys, permissible to-day, become

Follies to-morrow: prattle shocks in church:

And that curt skirt which lets a maiden skip,

The matron changes for a trailing robe.

Mothers may risk thus much with half-shut eyes

Nodding above their spindles by the fire,

On the chance to hit some hidden fault, else safe.

Just so, Law hazarded a punishment —

1190

If applicable to the circumstance,

Why, well — if not so apposite, well too.

“Quit the gay range o’ the world,” I hear her cry,

“Enter, in lieu, the penitential pound:

“Exchange the gauds of pomp for ashes, dust:—

“Leave each mollitious haunt of luxury,

“The golden-garnished silken-couched alcove,

“The many-columned terrace that so tempts

“Feminine soul put foot forth, nor stop ear

“To fluttering joy of lover’s serenade,

1200

“Leave these for cellular seclusion; mask

“And dance no more, but fast and pray; avaunt —

“Be burned, thy wicked townsman’s sonnet-book!

“Welcome, mild hymnal by . . . some better scribe!

“For the warm arms, were wont enfold thy flesh,

“Let wire-shirt plough and whip-cord discipline!”

If such an exhortation proved, perchance,

Inapplicable, words bestowed in waste,

What harm, since law has store, can spend nor miss?

And so, our paragon submits herself,

1210

Goes at command into the holy house

And, also at command, comes out again:

For, could the effect of such obedience prove

Too certain, too immediate? Being healed,

Go blaze abroad the matter, blessed one!

Art thou sound forthwith? Speedily vacate

The step by pool-side, leave Bethesda free

To patients plentifully posted round,

Since the whole need not the physician! Brief,

She may betake her to her parents’ place.

1220

Welcome her, father, with wide arms once more,

Motion her, mother, to thy breast again!

For why? The law relinquishes its charge,

Grants to your dwelling-place a prison’s style,

But gives you back Pompilia; golden days,

Redeunt Saturnia regna! Six weeks slip,

And she is domiciled in house and home

As though she thence had never budged at all.

And thither let the husband, joyous — ay,

But contrite also — quick betake himself,

1230

Proud that his dove which lay among the pots

Hath mued those dingy feathers — moulted now,

Shows silver bosom clothed with yellow gold.

Quick, he shall tempt her to the perch she fled,

Bid to domestic bliss the truant back!

O let him not delay! Time fleets how fast,

And opportunity, the irrevocable,

Once flown will flout him! Is the furrow traced?

If field with corn ye fail preoccupy,

Darnel for wheat and thistle-beards for grain,

1240

Infelix lolium, carduus horridus,

Will grow apace in combination prompt,

Defraud the husbandman of his desire.

Already — hist — what murmurs ’monish now

The laggard? — doubtful, nay, fantastic bruit

Of such an apparition, such return

Interdum, to anticipate the spouse,

Of Caponsacchi’s very self! ’Tis said

When nights are lone and company is rare,

His visitations brighten winter up.

1250

If so they did — which nowise I believe —

How can I? — proof abounding that the priest,

Once fairly at his relegation place

Never once left it — still, admit he stole

A midnight march, would fain see friend again,

Find matter for instruction in the past,

Renew the old adventure in such chat

As cheers a fireside! He was lonely too,

He, too, must need his recreative hour.

Should it amaze the philosophic mind

1260

If one, was wont the enpurpled cup to quaff,

Have feminine society at will,

Being debarred abruptly from all drink

Save at the spring which Adam used for wine,

Dread harm to just the health he hoped to guard,

And, meaning abstinence, gain malady?

Ask Tozzi, now physician to the Pope!

“Little by little break”—(I hear he bids

Master Arcangeli my antagonist,

Who loves good cheer — and may indulge too much —

1270

So I explain the logic of the plea

Wherewith he opened our proceedings late)—

“Little by little break a habit, Don!

“Become necessity to feeble flesh!”

And thus, nocturnal taste of intercourse

(Which never happened — but, suppose it did)

May have been used to dishabituate

By sip and sip this drainer to the dregs

O’ the draught of conversation — heady stuff,

Brewage which broached, it took two days and nights

1280

To properly discuss o’ the journey, Sirs!

Such is the second-nature, men call use,

That undelightful objects get to charm

Instead of chafe: the daily colocynth

Tickles the palate by repeated dose,

Old sores scratch kindly, the ass makes a push,

Although the mill-yoke-wound be smarting yet,

For mill-door bolted on a holiday —

And must we marvel if the impulse urge

To talk the old story over now and then,

1290

The hopes and fears, the stoppage and the haste —

Subjects of colloquy to surfeit once?

“Here did you bid me twine a rosy wreath!”

“And there you paid my lips a compliment!”

“There you admired the tower could be so tall!”

“And there you likened that of Lebanon

“To the nose o’ the beloved!”— Trifles — still,

Forsan et hœc olim,”— such trifles serve

To make the minutes pass in winter-time,

Husband, return then, I re-counsel thee!

1300

For, finally, of all glad circumstance

Should make a prompt return imperative,

What i’ the world awaits thee, dost suppose?

O’ the sudden, as good gifts are wont befall,

What is the hap of the unconscious Count?

That which lights bonfire and sets cask a-tilt,

Dissolves the stubborn’st heart in jollity.

O admirable, there is born a babe,

A son, an heir, a Franceschini last

And best o’ the stock! Pompilia, thine the palm!

1310

Repaying incredulity with faith,

Ungenerous thrift of each marital debt

With bounty in profuse expenditure,

Pompilia will not have the old year end

Without a present shall ring in the new —

Bestows upon her parsimonious lord

An infant for the apple of his eye,

Core of his heart, and crown completing life,

The summum bonum of the earthly lot!

“We,” saith ingeniously the sage, “are born

1320

“Solely that others may be born of us.”

So, father, take thy child, for thine that child,

Oh nothing doubt! In wedlock born, law holds

Baseness impossible, since “filius est

Quem nuptiœ demonstrant,” twits the text

Whoever dares to doubt.

        Yet doubt he dares!

O faith where art thou flown from out the world?

Already on what an age of doubt we fall!

Instead of each disputing for the prize,

1330

The babe is bandied here from that to this.

Whose the babe? “Cujum pecus?” Guido’s lamb?

An Melibœi?” Nay, but of the priest!

Non sed Ægonis!” Some one must be sire:

And who shall say in such a puzzling strait,

If there were not vouchsafed some miracle

To the wife who had been harassed and abused

More than enough by Guido’s family

For non-production of the promised fruit

Of marriage? What if Nature, I demand,

1340

Touched to the quick by taunts upon her sloth,

Had roused herself, put forth recondite power,

Bestowed this birth to vindicate her sway?

Like to the favour, Maro memorised,

Was granted Aristæus when his hive

Lay empty of the swarm, not one more bee —

Not one more babe to Franceschini’s house —

And lo, a new birth filled the air with joy,

Sprung from the bowels of the generous steed!

Just so a son and heir rejoiced the Count!

1350

Spontaneous generation, need I prove

Were facile feat to Nature at a pinch?

Let whoso doubts, steep horsehair certain weeks,

In water, there will be produced a snake;

A second product of the horse, which horse

Happens to be the representative —

Now that I think on’t — of Arezzo’s self

The very city our conception blessed!

Is not a prancing horse the City-arms?

What sane eye sees not such coincidence?

1360

Cur ego, boast thou, my Pompilia, then,

Desperem fieri sine conjuge

Mater — how well the Ovidian distich suits! —

Et parere intacto dummodo

Casta viro? but language baffles here.

Note, further, as to mark the prodigy,

The babe in question neither took the name

Of Guido, from the sire presumptive, nor

Giuseppe, from the sire potential, but

Gaetano — last saint of the hierarchy,

1370

And newest namer for a thing so new:

What other motive could have prompted choice?

Therefore be peace again: exult, ye hills!

Ye vales rejoicingly break forth in song!

Incipe, parve puer, begin, small boy,

Risu cognoscere patrem, with a smile

To recognise thy parent! Nor do thou

Boggle, oh parent, to return the grace —

Nec anceps hare, pater, puero

Cognoscendo — one might well eke out the prayer!

1380

In vain! The perverse Guido doubts his eyes

Distrusts assurance, lets the devil drive;

Because his house is swept and garnished now,

He, having summoned seven like himself,

Must hurry thither, knock and enter in,

And make the last worse than the first, indeed!

Is he content? We are. No further blame

O’ the man and murder! They were stigmatised

Befittingly: the Court heard long ago

My mind o’ the matter, which, outpouring full,

1390

Has long since swept, like surge i’ the simile

Of Homer, overborne both dyke and dam,

And whelmed alike client and advocate:

His fate is sealed, his life as good as gone,

On him I am not tempted to waste word.

Yet though my purpose holds — which was and is

And solely shall be to the very end,

To draw the true effigiem of a saint,

Do justice to perfection in the sex —

Yet, let not some gross pamperer o’ the flesh

1400

And niggard in the spirit’s nourishment,

Whose feeding hath offuscated his wit

Rather than law — he never had, to lose —

Let not such advocate object to me

I leave my proper function of attack!

“What’s this to Bacchus?”—(in the classic phrase,

Well used, for once) he hiccups probably.

O Advocate o’ the poor, thou born to make

Their blessing void — beati pauperes!

By painting saintship I depicture sin,

1410

Beside the pearl, I prove how black the jet,

And through Pompilia’s virtue, Guido’s crime.

Back to her, then — with but one beauty more,

End we our argument — one crowning grace

Pre-eminent ’mid agony and death.

For to the last Pompilia played her part,

Used the right means to the permissible end,

And, wily as an eel that stirs the mud

Thick overhead, so baffling spearman’s thrust,

She, while he stabbed her, simulated death,

1420

Delayed, for his sake, the catastrophe,

Obtained herself a respite, four days’ grace,

Whereby she told her story to the world,

Enabled me to make the present speech,

And, by a full confession, saved her soul.

Yet hold, even here would malice leer its last,

Gurgle its choaked remonstrance: snake, hiss free!

Oh, that’s the objection? And to whom? — not her

But me, forsooth — as, in the very act

Of both confession and, what followed close,

1430

Subsequent talk, chatter and gossipry,

Babble to sympathising he and she

Whoever chose besiege her dying bed —

As this were found at variance with my tale,

Falsified all I have adduced for truth,

Admitted not one peccadillo here,

Pretended to perfection, first and last,

O’ the whole procedure — perfect in the end,

Perfect i’ the means, perfect in everything,

Leaving a lawyer nothing to excuse,

1440

Reason away and show his skill about!

— A flight, impossible to Adamic flesh,

Just to be fancied, scarcely to be wished,

And, anyhow, unpleadable in court!

“How reconcile,” gasps Malice, “that with this?”

Your “this,” friend, is extraneous to the law,

Comes of men’s outside meddling, the unskilled

Interposition of such fools as press

Out of their province. Must I speak my mind?

Far better had Pompilia died o’ the spot

1450

Than found a tongue to wag and shame the law,

Shame most of all herself — did friendship fail,

And advocacy lie less on the alert.

Listen how these protect her to the end!

Do I credit the alleged narration? No!

Lied our Pompilia then, to laud herself?

Still, no; — clear up what seems discrepancy?

The means abound — art’s long, though time is short,

So, keeping me in compass, all I urge

Is — since, confession at the point of death,

1460

Nam in articulo mortis, with the Church

Passes for statement honest and sincere,

Nemo presumitur reus esse — then,

If sure that all affirmed would be believed,

’Twas charity, in one so circumstanced,

To spend her last breath in one effort more

For universal good of friend and foe,

And — by pretending utter innocence,

Nay, freedom from each foible we forgive —

Re-integrate — not solely her own fame,

1470

But do the like kind office for the priest

Whom the crude truth might treat less courteously,

Indeed, expose to peril, abbreviate

The life and long career of usefulness

Presumably before him: while her lord,

Whose fleeting life is forfeit to the law —

What mercy to the culprit if, by just

The gift of such a full certificate

Of his immitigable guiltiness,

She stifled in him the absurd conceit

1480

Of murder as it were a mere revenge!

— Stopped confirmation of that jealousy

Which, had she but acknowledged the first flaw,

The faintest foible, might embolden him

To battle with his judge, baulk penitence,

Bar preparation for impending fate.

Whereas, persuade him he has slain a saint

Who sinned not in the little she did sin,

You urge him all the brisklier to repent

Of most and least and aught and everything!

1490

Next — if this view of mine, content ye not,

Lords, nor excuse the genial falsehood here,

’Tis come to our Triarii, last resource,

We fall back on the inexpugnable,

Submit you — she confessed before she talked!

The sacrament obliterates the sin:

What is not — was not, in a certain sense.

Let Molinists distinguish, “Souls washed white

“Were red once, still show pinkish to the eye!”

We say, abolishment is nothingness

1500

And nothingness has neither head nor tail

End nor beginning; — better estimate

Exorbitantly, than disparage aught

Of the efficacity of the act, I hope!

Solvuntur tabulœ? May we laugh and go?

Well — not before (in filial gratitude

To Law, who, mighty mother, waves adieu)

We take on us to vindicate Law’s self —

For — yea, Sirs — curb the start, curtail the stare! —

Remains that we apologize for haste

1510

I’ the Law, our lady who here bristles up

“And my procedure? Did the Court mistake?

“(Which were indeed a misery to think)

“Did not my sentence in the former stage

“O’ the business bear a title plain enough?

Decretum”— I translate it word for word —

“‘Decreed: the priest, for his complicity

“‘I’ the flight and deviation of the dame,

“‘As well as for unlawful intercourse,

“‘Is banished three years:’ crime and penalty,

1520

“Declared alive. If he be taxed with guilt

“How can you call Pompilia innocent?

“If they be innocent, have I been just?”

Gently, O mother, judge men! — whose mistake

Is in the poor misapprehensiveness.

The Titulus a-top of your decree

Was but to ticket there the kind of charge

You in good time would arbitrate upon.

Title is one thing — arbitration’s self,

Probatio, quite another possibly.

1530

Subsistit, there holds good the old response.

Responsio tradita, we must not stick,

Quod non sit attendendus Titulus,

To the Title, sed Probatio, but to Proof,

Resultans ex processu, and result

O’ the Trial, and the style of punishment,

Et pœna per sententiam imposita;

All is tentative, till the sentence come,

Mere indication of what men expect,

And nowise an assurance they shall find.

1540

Lords, what if we permissibly relax

The tense bow, as the law-god Phœbus bids,

Relieve our gravity at close of speech?

I traverse Rome, feel thirsty, need a draught,

Look for a wine-shop, find it by the bough

Projecting as to say “Here wine is sold!”

So much I know — “sold:” but what sort of wine?

Strong, weak, sweet, sour, home made or foreign drink?

That much must I discover by myself.

“Wine is sold,” quoth the bough, “but good or bad,

1550

“Find, and inform us when you smack your lips!”

Exactly so, Law hangs her title forth,

To show she entertains you with such case

About such crime: come in! she pours, you quaff.

You find the Priest good liquor in the main,

But heady and provocative of brawls.

Remand the residue to flask once more,

Lay it low where it may deposit lees,

I’ the cellar: thence produce it presently,

Three years the brighter and the better!

1560

        Thus,

Law’s son, have I bestowed my filial help,

And thus I end, tenax proposito;

Point to point as I purposed have I drawn

Pompilia, and implied as terribly

Guido: so, gazing, let the world crown Law —

Able once more, despite my impotence,

And helped by the acumen of the Court,

To eliminate, display, make triumph truth!

What other prize than truth were worth the pains?

1570

There’s my oration — much exceeds in length

That famed Panegyric of Isocrates,

They say it took him fifteen years to pen.

But all those ancients could say anything!

He put in just what rushed into his head,

While I shall have to prune and pare and print.

This comes of being born in modern times

With priests for auditory. Still, it pays.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/browning/robert/ring/book9.html

Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:32