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Robert Browning was born near London in 1812, and was educated at London University. He went to Italy at an early age, and studied Italian literature and history with an ardor which has colored all his works. It is seldom that fate or inclination brings together in the marriage relation two persons so thoroughly alike as Robert and Eizabeth Browning. There are differences between them of course, but they are of a sort that must be left for a more refined analysis than our limits allow. Masculine strength, keen insight, hardjolting verse, thought buried under obscure phrases, but relieved by an occasional grim humor, and by some of the loveliest poetic touches, are the elements of Browning's verse. His poetry, like that of Mrs. Browning, will have a limited number of admirers, and those will inevitably include the most cultivated minds; but it can never be, and never was intended to be, popular.
HOW THEY BROUGHT THE GOOD NEWS FROM GHENT TO AIX.
I SPRANG to the stirrup, and Joris and he:
Not a word to each other; we kept the great pace
'Twas a moonset at starting ; but while we drew near
At Aerschot up leaped of a sudden the sun,
And his low head and crest, just one sharp ear bent back
By Hasselt Dirck groaned; and cried Joris, “Stay spur!
So we were left galloping, Joris and I,
“How they'll greet us !” — and all in a moment his roan
Then I cast loose my buff-coat, each holster let fall,
And all I remember is friends flocking round,
ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING.
Elizabeth Barrett was born in London in 1809, and received a thorough education. She began to write at an early age, and published a volume of poems in her seventeenth year. Everything from her pen exhibited great natural power, but her genius had a singular and unpleasant development; every critic admitted the intellect that animated the sinewy verse, but none except earnest students cared to undertake the necessary labor to read it. The solution of a mathematical problem, or the comprehension of a proposition in mechanics or metaphysics, might give an exalted pleasure in the mastery, but we should hardly consider mathematics or any other science a part of literature, or their perusal a literary pleasure. Mrs. Browning by her later poems has gained a right to a more general recognition, but a certain obscurity hangs over her best productions; and her sincere admirers constitute a circle of friends that, if fit, are certainly few. The turning point in her life, as well as in her poetical career, was her marriage with the poet Robert Browning, which occurred in 1846, on her recovery from a long and severe sickness. In 1851 she published a poem called Casa Guidi Windows, upon modern Italian subjects ; this was followed, in 1856, by Aurora Leigh, a narrative poem. Among all thoughtful and cultured persons her poems must hold a very high rank; though sealed to casual and unreflecting readers, they have an innate vigor and a spiritual insight very rare in any author. And this does not refer merely to intellectual subjects ; even the passion of love has had a new and positive illumination in her verse. The characteristics we have endeavored to describe are sufficient to place her most striking poems outside of a merely elementary course of reading; but they will not be forgotten by the maturer student; and whoever enjoys the contact with a masculine mind of the highest order cannot neglect them.
Mrs. Browning died at Florence in 1861.
Then one her gladsome face did bring,
He lay down in his grief to die,
Charles Dickens was born at Portsmouth in 1812, where his father, a clerk in the Navy Pay office, then resided. At seven years of age he was sent to a private school ; and on the completion of his course, his father wished him to follow the profession of law: but this was not to the youth's liking, and he prepared himself to become a parliamentary reporter. Not much is known as to the thoroughness or extent of the education he received, but his reading was of a sort to foster and develop his natural tastes. In David Copperfield he mentions the novels of Smollett, Fielding, Goldsmith, De Foe, Cervantes, Le Sage, and others, in a tone of familiar affection which only a long intimacy could have inspired.
His first sketches were published in the Monthly Magazine, and were signed “Boz." These were collected in 1836, and issued in two volumes with illustrations by Cruikshank The Pickwick Papers appeared in monthly parts in 1836–7, and were received with an enthusiasm that increased to the end of the series. The publishers, it is said, made a profit of twenty thousand pounds on this single work; the author received thirty-five husdred pounds; but, as he had agreed to write for fifteen pounds a number, he was munificently overpaid. All of Dickens's novels have some traces of his genius, both in the conception of humorous or grotesque characters and in vivid descriptive passages. But the peculiar quality of his humor, and the flowering of his genius in characterization, are to be seen only in “Pickwick.” And, though it is written with little more of plot than would suffice for a day's ramble in the country, it has almost the effect of a perfect work of art in its natural order of events. Almost every one of Dickens's novels appears to have been written with a purpose. It is the "burden " of a modern prophet against some form of wrong. Thus in Oliver Twist there are weighty suggestions for parochial officers; in Nich. olas Nickleby there is a terrible exposition of the brutalities practised in certain cheap boarding-schools; the moral of Barnaby Rudge is directed against capital punishment ; Bleak House has, coiled up in its dim chambers, an interminable spider's-web of a chancery suit. And in every one there is something of that spirit of cheerfulness, kindness, and charity, which has found so touching an expression in the Christmas Carol.
It would take us far beyond proper limits to give an appreciative notice of the characters he has created. His works furnish a larger number of sharply-drawn and easily-recognized figures than can be found in the pages of any English author, not excepting Shakespeare. But Dickens often incarnates a passion, a loveliness, a deformity, a trick of manner, or a whim. His marked characters lack the rounded symmetry of life, and, fascinating as they may be, they are always in a measure "theatrical." But, though he inclines to sketching the nobler traits of mankind, it is singular that he has never drawn one character of ether sex that is highly gifted, personally beautiful, and thoroughly noble at the same time. Not one of his countless youths or maidens comes to us with the radiance with which Shakespeare, Scott, or Goethe has painted the kindling of genius and the glow of feeling in the young and the beautiful. As pictures of Englishmen, the best and the vilest, — as sketches of odd but not wholly incredible traits, and of society among the middle and lower classes, – they are as wonderful as the plates of Hogarth. His novels have had more reade ers, probably, than any published in our language.