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tiffs over their punch and their cigars. But, for the first time in the history of our much-striving and much-stumbling race, a man's respect for women and for the womanly mind is coming, and that very rapidly, to be accepted, by the cleverest and the most cultivated of his own sex, as a final standard of his own character and capacity.
The blue-stocking of the last century, terror of gods and men, is happily extinct, having gone out with the dodo about thirty years since; the Laura Matilda is rarely to be found, excepting in the more remote villages of the interior; and the " strong-minded
man of the present day excites, in both sexes, such intense emotions of dislike and disgust as human nature keeps in reserve for monsters alone, woman being no longer expected to be weak or odious. Our grandfathers used to patronize our grandmothers in the most humiliating way: when a young lady made herself ridiculous by an affectation of sentiment, she was held to be in her vocation, and her follies were ranked with the pets and poutings of a child; when an elderly spinster dished up theological twaddle with her tea, and buttered her toast with Greek, the gentlemen in bobwigs only smiled supreme; for women must be either silly or sinful, and, of course, it was better that they should be nonsensical than naughty.
These things we have changed; not completely, to be sure, but, so far changed, that a woman may now enjoy the reputation of being clever without ceasing to be regarded as a woman, so far that the noblest truths and the loftiest principles are not necessarily brought to scorn when they are spoken by a woman's lips, or written by a woman's pen.
This is a glory of our age which should never be forgotten by those who mean to paint its portrait, or to analyze its character a present glory and the herald of brighter glories yet to be. For the world can no more spare the intellect of woman than it can dispense with the affections of man; and infinite good will result to us and to our children, we may be sure, from the growing recognition of this truth, and the consequent acceptance, into our literature and our life, of a new and noble spirit. When the follies of the fanatical friends of "Woman's Rights" shall
have been utterly forgotten, for the lack of a modern Aristophanes to preserve their memory in a new Ecclesiasuza, and that golden year arrives, of which the poet prophesies, the year of the
"World's great bridals, chaste and calm, Whence springs the crowning race of human kind;"
when mannish women and womanish men shall have become alike impossible, and each respecting each, and each by the other respected, man and woman find peace at last and harmony in the ordered freedom of dual but equal lives, then at least, if not before, the names of the women who have illustrated the literature of the present age will become as stars in the minds of men for the "sweet influences" they shall forever rain upon the race. Those women have done more for the world than plant its garden-plats with tube-roses and with tulips. They have breathed the summer breath of their own souls into this generation. The faith, the hope, the earnestness of woman are found everywhere contending with the doubt, the despair, the listless apathy into which we, miserable moneymaking, self-seeking men, had fallen. Those immortal instincts and sovereign passions, without which literature languishes, because without them life grows worthless, are more inextinguishable, it would seem, in woman than in man. Swift and warm as the sunlight are her sympathies and her convictions, and, pouring their genial splendor upon the chilled and frozen temper of man, they set free again the fettered currents of his inward life. In every age, the hearts of women have kept the hopes of the world, and, within the narrow circle of the home, it has never been possible wholly to deny to the intellect of woman its proper sphere and its legitimate authority. That the intellect of woman could fill its sphere and wield its authority in the wider circle of the world, without drawing away into itself the precious life of her affections and her graces, men used to doubt. But they can doubt no long
It was idle to appeal, against this skepticism, to the examples of exceptional women in the past; but, beneath the constellated heaven of the present, skep ticism has become ridiculous. It must be silenced now, as Napoleon, upon the deck of his war-vessel, sailing over the
still southern sea in the starlit summer night, silenced the atheist wrangling of his friends, with a finger lifted to the skies.
An ancient Hindoo sage, whose name is so absurd that we shall not risk the mention of it, has left on record, in one of the many thousand scriptures of his race, his own deliberate conviction, that all the wisdom of the Vedas, and all that has been written in books, is to be found concealed in the heart of a woman." All the world has secretly agreed with the Hindoo sage; and, had there been no women on the earth, there would certainly have been no books written worth the reading. It was surely time that she, who had been the cause of literature in others, should vindicate her own creative capacity. This she has done, and, whatever else may be said for or against our much-debated, bepraised, and berated nineteenth century, this, at least, will remain to be said of it forever-that it saw the first great age of female authorship.
There were women in ancient Greece who wrote like women, or, at least, like Grecian women; and there were women in mediæval Italy who wrote as became the country women and the friends of a Petrarch or an Angelo. There have been women in every age who wrote the most delightful possible letters, and journals, and diaries; putting their personal histories, feelings, or fancies into that inimitable, felicitous female dialect which, in every language, moves as nimbly as a woman's wit, and charms as subtly as her smile. But, through all
the range of history, we look in vain for any class of female authers, original, powerful, unquestionably excellent, and, at the same time, distinctively feminine, until we come down to our own days. If the "large utterance of the early gods" is hushed among us now, we may have the consolation of knowing that we have been the first to hear the silvery speech of the goddesses. Since the times of Madame de Stael, who, to be sure, was not much of a goddess, and still less of a woman, and who did her best to make a man of herself, but of whom it must be always borne in mind, that she fell upon evil days, when every body had been suddenly emancipated, and nobody was really free-since the times of Madame de Stael in France, and of Mary Wollstonecraft in England, think how many charming, how many
moving things have been said to us in that silvery goddess-speech!
Even the Arabian carpet of the imagination can hardly carry us back to the days when Mrs. Carter and Madame Dacier were esteemed marvels for doing men's work almost as well as men, and the woman who published a book won for herself the same sort of fame which was achieved by Madame D'Angerville when she climbed Mont Blanc. The lioness is now become at least as common and familiar a creature as the lion, and it is simple truth, which nobody fears to utter, that one meets with women who have not ceased to be women in becoming authors, quite as often as with men who, in becoming authors, have continued to be men
You might annihilate the works and obliterate the names of all the women who ever wrote books, from the time of the Exodus down to the French revolution, without sensibly damaging the literary renown of any country upon earth; but, take the women of the last seventy years out of the Pantheon, and how many a dismal, deserted niche will stare you reproachfully in the face!
And it is in the literatures of England and America that women have won their place most loyally, and with the least abdication of their womanhood. The old Teutonic spirit of our forest ancestors, whose glory it was, that they "consulted their women on all occasions of importance," survives and shines again, in the reception which the Anglo-Saxon race has given to the Sybilline leaves of its modern prophet
morality is mannish. The discipline to which she subjects Consuelo is a discipline of which a man might conceive for himself, but from the thought of which a woman should recoil with a natural shudder. That sad man's name, "George Sand," is for us the symbol and sign of all that is most deplorable in the training of the splendid genius which has made it immortal. No such nom-de-plume could, for a moment, conceal the womanhood of the greatest female writers of our own race.
Within the small and fragile person of Charlotte Bronte, for instance, there throbbed a life as vivid and as passionate as that which tinges the pages of "Lélia" or "Indiana" with its fiery glow.
Pent in her poor secluded home, among the Yorkshire hills, the slight, hard-favored daughter of the English parish priest had to struggle with womanly instincts as warm, and with a thirst of love as keen as the instincts that were outraged, and the thirst that was not quenched in the spirit of the granddaughter of Marshal Saxe. But all this vivid, passionate life, these instincts pressed by fate, this thirst ungratified, never wrought upon Charlotte Bronte any unwomanly change of nature; never dimmed the delicacy of her perceptions; never chilled her deeper inward sympathies. When you read Jane Eyre," or " Shirley," or "Villette," you feel that you are standing face to face with a woman who has seen a thousand illusions vanish without losing her faith in the realities which survive all illusion-a woman too clear-sighted to be sentimental, but too sincere to scoff. Nothing can less resemble that dismal disgrace of civilization, the "femme incomprise," than this proud, passionate creature, thwarted but not perverted-vexed but not vitiated— swift-sighted to pierce every disguise of falsehood, but strong-hearted with the immortal hope of truth.
Though not all of one genius, most of the femalo writers, whose names are likely to survive the present age, have been of one spirit with Charlotte Bronte, and, like her, have done honor to their sex in doing service to their art. What author of our times has held more loyally to the great aims of authorship than Elizabeth Browning, and yet where shall we look for a more
womanly woman than she? We speak as if to those who know her personally; for there never was a writer whose words were more transparent than hers to betray the living soul within them; and those who know her poems, do, indeed, know herself-know her lofty ambition and her modest spirit-her constancy to right and her gentleness in judgment-her ardor and her tenderness. There is nothing paltry in her purposes, and nothing morbid in her moods. She writes, because, in the long solitude of her earlier years and the love-lit happiness of her womanhood, a thousand thoughts have grown up within her that could not be repressed from utterance; but she writes as one who knows that the thought most precious to ourselves is worth little to the world unless it be fitly uttered. She does not sing merely to unburden her own heart, but also to enrich the hearts of those who hear her; and her first hope for all her poems doubtless is, that they may truly add to the world's stock of beauty and of truth.
We give to a new poem from her, therefore, an artist's welcome, first heartily receiving it and rejoicing in the real life it is so sure to bring to us; then, as heartily reviewing it, to measure our artist's progress by the standard of her earlier works. For Mrs. Browning is one of the few writers of our time in whom we recognize a steady progress; and because her faults were always as sharply defined and as specially hers as her powers are, it has not been difficult to note her upward steps. In her first-published poems, the whole idiosyncrasy of the writer was far from being revealed, though it was very clearly indicated. The melody of her poems was broken, and their phraseology unequal. They reminded you of the strong mountain-brooks that, far up in the forest, fight their new way over the rocks with lapses of smooth flowing, and intervals of sudden cataract. hardly needed any external evidence to satisfy you that these were the first works of a woman of genius, who had lived a very sad, peculiar life, and had trained herself in studies as unusual as her experience. Her pedantries of allusion were no pedantries at all; her quaintnesses and obscurities of phrase had no savor of affectation. She had acquired those tricks of thought and speech, just as those, who live much alone and sor
row greatly, acquire tricks of manuer and of bearing quite their own. They were in her the evidences not of an imitative and incapable nature, but of an isolated and intensely individual life. And all, who had eyes to see and hearts to understand, hoped very high things of this new singer. That she sang like the nightingale, against a thorn and in the dusk, saddened but did not diminish our hopes of her; and when we heard that the sunlight had suddenly broken in upon her existence, and that the solitary sufferer in England had become the happy wife in Italy, we all felt that, however long a time the age might have to wait for its recognized poet, of its poetess, at least, we were
Nor was our confidence unfounded. Already, though but in the prime of her years, Mrs. Browning has made her name a household word in the best and most cultivated homes of the Old World and the New, and the influence of her spirit, grave as sweet, and earnest as serene, may be traced in lines of light by every observing man, through all the circle of his acquaintance. The imitation of her mannerisms and her faults, which is obvious in the recent writings of so many women, is an unmistakable indication of the interest which she has inspired, and the attention which she has commanded. And the little harm which the imitation may do to our literature, need not, surely, trouble us much, when weighed against the great good which the influence will do to our life. What does it matter that a dozen young ladies, reading "Bertha in the Lane," should, for several years thereafter, write nonsensically of being "Flooded with a Dark," while they themselves, and so many hundreds more that write no nonsense at all, live better lives, and think better thoughts, and are more womanly-strong, and sweet, and just, for the inbreathed spirit of that beautiful, sad story? Or, who could turn from the lovely picture of the Lady Geraldine, drawing all men "On to love her, And to worship the divineness of the smile bid in her eyes,"
to worry himself about a whole train of
"Resonant steam-eagles Following far on the direction of her floating
dove-like hand ?"
Heaven forbid we should be thought VOL. II.-3
to underrate the importance of words and of style. As concerning the artist herself, they are of supreme importance; for their perfection or imperfection will make to her the difference between a wide-enduring fame and a final esoteric reputation. We know this well, and Mrs. Browning knows it, too, and means to use her knowledge, we opine. For we note in her, as we said before, a steady progress and a gradual emancipation of her mind from those habits of expression which she had acquired in the narrow circle to which she at first addressed herself. Between the world, whose singer she ought to be, and herself, there was long interposed a barrier of rare old books and rare living friends, making up an audience of whose presence alone she was vitally aware. Gallicisms, and Grecisms, and Miltonisms, were little heeded in that audience, or, perhaps, if heeded, praised. But, of late years, she has overlooked this barrier, we judge, and so purifies her speech that it may go further and fare more happily.
In the whole of that charming volume, made up of "Casa Guidi Windows" and the" Sonnets from the Portuguese," you will not easily find so many obscurities and incoherencies of speech as you shall stumble over in one page of the " Drama of Exile,' or a dozen verses of the Vision of Poets." And then, after you have marked this fact, and turn back again to the "Drama of Exile," or the " Vision of Poets," how plain it becomes to you that the writer of those "Sonnets," which alone, had no other woman ever put pen to paper in the world, would suffice to pillory Jean Jacques Rousseau for his absurd blasphemy about the " incapacity of women to write well of love!" has only to go back to these earlier works, with the firm hand and the clear eye she has now acquired, in order to beat the gold of them out anew into lovely and worthy shapes. In fact, we doubt if it would be possible for Mrs. Browning now to talk, as Miss Barrett once did, about
"Goethe with that reaching eye
His soul reached out from far and high,
For Mrs. Browning would see, as Miss Barrett did, that here was something worth saying, but, also, which Miss Barrett did not see, that here was something very badly said. If we hoped this
in reading "Casa Guidi Windows," we have become sure of it in reading "Aurora Leigh." For this best and longest of Mrs. Browning's poems is at once a confession of her artistic creed and a witness to her faithful works.
"Aurora Leigh" is the heroine of an She autobiographical novel, in verse. writes her story to explain her life, or but to record it, as you please, sets down on paper the sorrows and the strength, the trials and the triumph of long years, that so she may put them behind her and press on to the new years waiting before her.
The victim, in her childhood, like "Jane Eyre," of a decent tyranny, and, in her womanhood, like Tennyson's "Princess," the proud dreamer of a prouder dream, Aurora Leigh, fortunate in her genius, neither loses heart under the tyranny, nor goes mad in the dream.
Let us tell her story, that our readers may see its significance, and hasten to study it for themselves.
Aurora is born in Florence, of an Italian mother, "whose rare blue eyes were shut from seeing" her sweet child, ere five summers had passed over her. This was the first gulf opened in her life, for
And kissing full sense into empty words;
Become aware and unafraid of Love.
Such good Aurora's father could not do; though all his heart was in his love for her. For she alone remained to him of all the glory of his life. He was an "austere Englishman," who, wandering off to Florence to study drains and husbandry, had there, most unawares, received his sacramental gift with eucharistic meanings, from the chanting procession that he looked upon with "comfortable island-scorn;" for, as the train of priestly banners, cross, and psalm went by him in the square,
"A face flashed like a cymbal on his face, Transfiguring him to music,"
and he loved. Beloved by such a man with love so sudden and complete,
Aurora's mother, when she died, took his life with her from the world, and it was but for a few years that the child grew beside his knee,
"His grave lips Contriving such a miserable smile As if he knew needs must, or she should die."
They lived among the mountains above Pelago, alone there with their old Italian servant, Assunta, and with the picture of the beautiful dead mother. The father taught the child strange scraps of scholar-learning, giving her all his knowledge, not because it was the best for her, but the best he had to give her, and he must give her all he had. And there he died, his last words breathing out to her the sum of his fe's lesson, "Love!"
And when he had died, there came a stranger who took the child away from poor old Assunta and her mountain home, her mother's picture, and her blue Italy, to carry her far away across the sea to pious, and parked, and cloudy England, to a hard new life in a hard new world.
It was her father's sister who received her there, standing upon the hall-step of her country house, to give the poor child welcome. And what a welcome!
"She stood straight and calm, Her somewhat narrow forehead braided tight, As if for taming accidental thoughts From possible pulses; brown hair pricked with gray
By frigid use of life (she was not old,
But never, never have forgot themselves
"She had lived, we'll say,