Woman in the Nineteenth Century

by Margaret Fuller

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From a Criticism on Browning's Poems

"The return of the Druses," a "Blot in the 'Scutcheon, and "Colombo's Birthday," all have the same originality of conception, delicate penetration into the mysteries of human feeling, atmospheric individuality, and skill in picturesque detail. All three exhibit very high and pure ideas of Woman, and a knowledge, very rare in man, of the ways in which what is peculiar in her office and nature works. Her loftiest elevation does not, in his eyes, lift her out of nature. She becomes, not a mere saint, but the goddess-queen of nature. Her purity is not cold, like marble, but the healthy, gentle energy of the flower, instinctively rejecting what is not fit for it, with no need of disdain to dig a gulf between it and the lower forms of creation. Her office to man is that of the muse, inspiring him to all good thoughts and deeds. The passions that sometimes agitate these maidens of his verso are the surprises of noble hearts unprepared for evil; and even their mistakes cannot cost bitter tears to their attendant angels.

The girl in the "Return of the Druses" is the sort of nature Byron tried to paint in Myrrha. But Byron could only paint women as they were to him. Browning can show what they are in themselves. In "A Blot in the 'Scutcheon," we see a lily, storm-struck, half-broken, but still a lily. In "Colombe's Birthday," a queenly rose-bud, which expands into the full-glowing rose before our eyes. It is marvellous in this drama how the characters are unfolded to us by the crisis, which not only exhibits, but calls to life, the higher passions and the thoughts which were latent within them.

We bless the poet for these pictures of women, which, however the common tone of society, by the grossness and levity of the remarks bandied from tongue to tongue, would seem to say to the contrary, declare there is still in the breasts of men a capacity for pure and exalting passion,—for immortal tenderness.

Of Browning's delicate sheaths of meaning within meaning, which must be opened slowly, petal by petal, as we seek the heart of a flower, and the spirit-like, distant breathings of his lute, familiar with the secrets of shores distant and enchanted, a sense can only be gained by reading him a great deal; and we wish "Bells and Pomegranates" might be brought within the reach of all who have time and soul to wait and listen for such!

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