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even the threat of it will finally destroy the morale of an enemy, so will the threat of cold steel in a cavalry charge. The American Civil War and the Franco-German War prove this; and our South African War proves in addition that without an arme blanche troops will not ride home in the attack, and that rifle fire alone will not always bring decisive results.
The Franco-German War shows us that to obtain satisfactory and continuous results cavalry must have a rifle; the American Civil War and the South African War that they must have an arme blanche; and all the wars of recent years point to the fact that cavalry trained in the use of one arm only will probably succumb to that trained scientifically in both; and if trained only in the use of the firearm it will, by avoiding conflict in the open, have the superiority over that trained in the use of the arme blanche alone; but its operations will be slower, and time is a factor not to be neglected in modern war.
The deductions, therefore, that can be drawn from the above studies of four great campaigns seem to be as follows:
That good fire tactics, when employed, have often been the means to shock action with the arme blanche; that the possession of a rifle and ability to use it has, by enabling it to take greater risks, incited cavalry to even bolder and more offensive tactics; that for moral effect and decisive results mounted action with cold steel has no rival; and, finally, that to enable cavalry to play its important rôle to the best advantage both weapons should be the complement of the other, the rifle assisting the sword as at Winchester, for example, and as the sword should have assisted the rifle at Mars La Tour, for the moral victory of the Prussian cavalry division under Von Barby placed them in a favourable position to check the advance of the French Fourth Corps by dismounted rifle fire, instead of the complete and useless withdrawal that was carried out.
In no war as yet, however, has cavalry been employed which has been equally efficiently trained in both arms; and the practical results of such training must be left to be decided in a future war. The difficulty of such training lies in the careful selection and education of officers, and their power by previous study and practice to hold the balance evenly between the rifle and the sword or lance; for cavalry, more than any other arm, is at the mercy of its leaders.
The ideal to be striven for is no doubt a high one, though not impossible; but until the fallacies of extremists are ruthlessly exposed the lesser evil is, as these wars teach, to be too bold by mounted action rather than too cautious by dismounted tactics.
H. E. BRAINE.
BORN MAY 7, 1812
SOONER or later every writer about Robert Browning has to face the vexed question of his alleged obscurity; and one may as well make it the starting-point, refusing to be brow-beaten by those arrogant persons who not often affirm that his writings are easily intelligible, but disparage the intellects of people whom his poetry perplexes. Browning's poetry is no more to be called simple because Professor Furnivall understood it than the Chinese language is to be called easy because it yielded its secrets to Sir Robert Hart. It has perplexed many readers whom poetry, as a rule, did not perplex. The story of Douglas Jerrold's exultant delight at the discovery that he was not the only person to whom Sordello was incomprehensible is well known. Frederick Tennyson, who met Browning in Italy, found the poet charming, but his poetry 'bewildering.' It has even been related that Frederick Tennyson's greater brother once declared in conversation that Browning would be an unsuitable successor to himself in the office of Laureate because his meaning could only be grasped by the elect.
In the face of that evidence-to which a great deal more evidence of the same kind could be added-the difficulty of Browning can hardly be disputed even by those who claim to have overcome it, and to have placed others in the way of doing so; and it only remains to define the nature of the difficulty and indicate its causes. For, of course, there are many different kinds of literary obscurity: some of them real, and others only apparent. The most pellucid writer may seem obscure to the mass of readers if the subjects of which he treats are complicated and abstruse. Apart from that—and apart from the artificial difficulties attributable to muddle-headed fluency-obscurity is generally due to one of two causes. A man may be obscure because he is over-anxious to explain-and consequently explains too much; or he may be obscure because he explains too little, writing, as it were, chiefly for himself, thinking aloud rather than conversing, taking the line that his meaning is his own business, and leaving his readers to make what they can of it.
The former obscurity is the obscurity of Mr. Henry James. No writer explains more elaborately, or appears more pathetically anxious to make his precise meaning clear. He gives one the impression of a writer perpetually striving-year after year, and decade after decade-to make a plain, straightforward statement of fact which shall embody the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. But truth is a gem with many facets, and, in order that there may be absolutely no deception, Mr. James finds it necessary to exhibit all the facets simultaneously, in long sentences, intricately constructed and ingeniously qualified. The plain, straightforward statement is indubitably there; but it is only by readers whose intelligences are at once as comprehensive and as subtle as Mr. James's that it is readily recognised as such. The others, not being able to think of so many things at once as he requires them to, are a little apt to mistake his careful candour for disingenuous dubiety.
Of that fault, or virtue (whichever it may be), Robert Browning has never been accused. He does not try to lay his mind alongside his readers', but expects his readers to lay their minds alongside his. His poetry, in short, is a record of the working of a mind which has worked without reference to the working of other people's minds. Such an unadorned and unannotated record of the working of any mind would probably be puzzling; the puzzle is necessarily the greater when the mind is at once infinitely complicated and indefatigably restless. The association of ideas in the record appears to proceed by jarring jerks. The unaccustomed reader is continually pulled up and puzzled by the perception of a missing link or the necessity of thinking out the significance of an unusual symbol. The difficulty disappears, or at all events diminishes, when the reader has undergone the influence sufficiently to have learnt to think somewhat in Browning's manner-to have acquired, in short, something of Browning's mental twist. The reader who has not undergone the influence-the hypnosis, as one may almost say-may be of gigantic intellect and yet be baffled by everything except such simple pieces as Evelyn Hope and How they brought the good news from Ghent to Aix.
The deduction has sometimes been drawn that the value of Browning's work is not so much poetical as philosophical and metaphysical; but the people who say that sort of thing are not the metaphysicians and the philosophers. They know better; and anyone else may know better who will take the trouble to compare one of the many Handbooks to Browning with one of the many Handbooks to, let us say, Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. There are plenty of people to whom the two texts,
so long as they are left unexplained, seem equally unintelligible; but there is a world of difference in the intelligibility of the two explanations. The essential message of Kant, reduced to its lowest terms, still conveys no particular meaning to the average man in the street, but requires a further explanation which it is impossible to give to him. The essential message of Browning, as set forth by Mr. Chesterton, or Professor Dowden, or Mrs. Orr, is as easy to apprehend as Little Arthur's History of England or the Proverbial Philosophy of Martin Farquhar Tupper.
To say that is not, of course, to disparage Browning, but merely to refuse to praise him for the wrong reasons, or to apply to his work inapplicable epithets which are not really eulogistic, though they are doubtless meant to be so. Metaphysical speculation is an impersonal thing. To be conducted profitably it needs to be conducted with the precision which is only possible in prose. Let anyone who thinks otherwise try to compose a metrical version of Green's Prolegomena to Ethics, or F. H. Bradley's Logic. The result of the endeavour will be equally bad as poetry and as metaphysics. Browning was far too wise a man to make any such foolish attempt; far too wise to submit himself to the limitations which such a task imposes. His strength lies not in abstract thought, imposing recondite impersonal conclusions, but in rendering the experiences of the individual soul-or, rather, of diverse individual souls-in the presence of urgent but vexatious problems. That, whatever it may be, is not, in the metaphysician's sense, metaphysics. The metaphysician would say of Browning's poems, as the Senior Wrangler said of Milton's, that they prove nothing.' At the same time, they are more convincing than if they did, because their appeal to reason is mingled (as the metaphysician would say that it ought not to be) with the appeal to emotion, and because the conclusion to which they lead is simple and desirable, but is not stripped of its plausibility by being made to appear too easy of attainment.
The one word which is always appearing and reappearing in every exposition of Browning is optimism. It is in the nature of the case that optimism should be popular; but the obvious facts of life are such that a great deal of the current optimism, whether of poetry or of the pulpit, arouses our suspicion and mocks our intelligence. Such optimism, in short, is only pessimism in a thin disguise, instantly and scornfully penetrated by those who have learnt how easily things go wrong.' The bald statement, for instance, that All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds' is really a pessimistic
proposition. The optimistic view is that, however bad the realities, the possibilities are always better.
Browning's optimism is not of that shallow platitudinous kind, and is not, like the conventional optimism of the pulpit, imposed authoritatively without reference to the facts. It may be an emotional outburst, as in 'God's in His Heaven-all's right with the world.' Even when it seems to be reasoned, it rests upon an emotional basis: some sense, not logically demonstrable, of the good which informs, and may proceed from, even evil experience. Above all, it has not that invariable overconfidence which irritates and provokes contention. As it can rise from the probable to the positive, so it can relapse from the positive to the probable. It wrestles with obstinate factsand the wrestling is sometimes too quick to be easily followed; and the substance of it is hope-not only inspired, but also justified, by love.
It is hardly, even in
That, obviously, is not metaphysics. the Euclidean sense, argument. Its value is as an elaboration of an intuition, a record of an experience, and an appeal to an instinct. There have been devout Browningites who have felt that Browning's optimistic conclusions were wider than his premisses warranted. Professor Furnivall was such a one, as he admitted to the present writer only a few months before his death.
The talk had turned, somehow or other, upon Browning's expressions of belief-a belief which he had not always heldin the continuance of a personal life after death: a belief which so clearly had its source, if not its philosophical warrant, in his love for his wife, and the oppressive torture of the thought that there might be no renewal of it in any hereafter. I don't agree,' said the founder of the Browning Society. For my part I'm frankly an agnostic, prepared to wait and see. It's no use pretending that one knows when one doesn't, is it?' But he was none the less an enthusiast because he felt that Browning had dotted the i's and crossed the t's of his creed too precisely. He was under the spell, that is to say, not of the argument, but of the poetry and the personality: an optimist under Browning's influence, for all his agnosticism, abounding in the energy which alternately prompts optimism and results from it, albeit retaining doubts which Browning, in his later years, seemed to have overcome.
In the view of Professor Dowden, Browning's optimism was a reasoned conviction, arrived at not through personal experience, but in spite of it. He certainly did say, in his old age, that the unhappy days in his life had been more numerous than the happy ones; and his unhappiness, as certainly, never reduced