The Inn Album
Category: Verse
Level 8.22 2:30 h
Robert Browning was a poet and playwright known for his success during the Victorian era. His works contained impressive vocabulary, dark humor, and dramatic monologues. The Inn Album published in 1875 was one of Browning's poems that was somewhat lesser-known. Read this controversial piece disputed by critics and fans alike by a master poet.

The Inn Album

Robert Browning

The Inn Album


The story told in this poem was suggested to Browning, but not followed in all its details, by an adventure of Lord De Ros, a friend of Wellington’s and mentioned frequently by Greville in his Memoirs. The circumstances of De Ros’s villainy were much talked of in London at the time of their occurrence, just before the middle of this century.


“That oblong book’s the Album; hand it here!
Exactly! page on page of gratitude
For breakfast, dinner, supper, and the view!
I praise these poets, they leave margin-space;
Each stanza seems to gather skirts around,
And primly, trimly, keep the foot’s confine,
Modest and maidlike; lubber prose o’ersprawls
And straddling stops the path from left to right.
Since I want space to do my cipher-work,
Which poem spares a corner? What comes first?
‘Hail, calm acclivity, salubrious spot!’
(Open the window, we burn daylight, boy!)
Or see — succincter beauty, brief and bold —
‘If a fellow can dine On rump-steaks and port wine,
He needs not despair Of dining well here’ —
Here!’ I myself could find a better rhyme!
That bard’s a Browning; he neglects the form:
But ah, the sense, ye gods, the weighty sense!
Still, I prefer this classic. Ay, throw wide!
I’ll quench the bits of candle yet unburnt.
A minute’s fresh air, then to cipher-work!
Three little columns hold the whole account:
Ecarté, after which Blind Hookey, then
Cutting-the-Pack, five hundred pounds the cut.
‘T is easy reckoning: I have lost, I think.”

Two personages occupy this room
Shabby-genteel, that’s parlor to the inn
Perched on a view-commanding eminence;
— Inn which may be a veritable house
Where somebody once lived and pleased good taste
Till tourists found his coigne of vantage out,
And fingered blunt the individual mark,
And vulgarized things comfortably smooth.
On a sprig-pattern-papered wall there brays
Complaint to sky Sir Edwin’s dripping stag;
His couchant coast-guard creature corresponds;
They face the Huguenot and Light o’ the World.
Grim o’er the mirror on the mantelpiece,
Varnished and coffined, Salmo ferox glares,
— Possibly at the List of Wines which, framed
And glazed, hangs somewhat prominent on peg.

So much describes the stuffy little room —
Vulgar flat smooth respectability:
Not so the burst of landscape surging in,
Sunrise and all, as he who of the pair
Is, plain enough, the younger personage
Draws sharp the shrieking curtain, sends aloft
The sash, spreads wide and fastens back to wall
Shutter and shutter, shows you England’s best.
He leans into a living glory-bath
Of air and light where seems to float and move
The wooded watered country, hill and dale
And steel-bright thread of stream, a-smoke with mist,
A-sparkle with May morning, diamond drift
O’ the sun-touched dew. Except the red-roofed patch
Of half a dozen dwellings that, crept close
For hillside shelter, make the village-clump,
This inn is perched above to dominate —
Except such sign of human neighborhood,
“And this surmised rather than sensible”
There’s nothing to disturb absolute peace,
The reign of English nature — which means art
And civilized existence. Wildness’ self
Is just the cultured triumph. Presently
Deep solitude, be sure, reveals a Place
That knows the right way to defend itself:
Silence hems round a burning spot of life.
Now, where a Place burns, must a village brood,
And where a village broods, an inn should boast —
Close and convenient: here you have them both.
This inn, the Something-arms — the family’s —
(Don’t trouble Guillim: heralds leave out half!)
Is dear to lovers of the picturesque,
And epics have been planned here; but who plan
Take holy orders and find work to do.
Painters are more productive, stop a week,
Declare the prospect quite a Corot, — ay,
For tender sentiment, — themselves incline
Rather to handsweep large and liberal;
Then go, but not without success achieved
— Haply some pencil-drawing, oak or beech,
Ferns at the base and ivies up the bole,
On this a slug, on that a butterfly.
Nay, he who hooked the salmo pendent here,
Also exhibited, this same May-month,
“Foxgloves: a study” — so inspires the scene,
The air, which now the younger personage
Inflates him with till lungs o’erfraught are fain
Sigh forth a satisfaction might bestir
Even those tufts of tree-tops to the South
I’ the distance where the green dies off to gray,
Which, easy of conjecture, front the Place;
He eyes them, elbows wide, each hand to cheek.
His fellow, the much older — either say
A youngish-old man or man oldish-young —
Sits at the table: wicks are noisome-deep
In wax, to detriment of plated ware;
Above — piled, strewn — is store of playing-cards,
Counters and all that’s proper for a game.
He sets down, rubs out figures in the book,
Adds and subtracts, puts back here, carries there,
Until the summed-up satisfaction stands
Apparent, and he pauses o’er the work:
Soothes what of brain was busy under brow,
By passage of the hard palm, curing so
Wrinkle and crowfoot for a second’s space;
Then lays down book and laughs out. No mistake,
Such the sum-total — ask Colenso else!

Roused by which laugh, the other turns, laughs too —
The youth, the good strong fellow, rough perhaps.

“Well, what’s the damage — three, or four, or five?
How many figures in a row? Hand here!
Come now, there’s one expense all yours not mine —
Scribbling the people’s Album over, leaf
The first and foremost too! You think, perhaps,
They’ll only charge you for a brand-new book
Nor estimate the literary loss?
Wait till the small account comes! ‘To one night’s
Lodging,’ for — ‘beds’ they can’t say, — ‘pound or so;
Dinner, Apollinaris, — what they please,
Attendance not included;’ last looms large
‘Defacement of our Album, late enriched
With’ — let’s see what! Here, at the window, though!
Ay, breathe the morning and forgive your luck!
Fine enough country for a fool like me
To own, as next month I suppose I shall!
Eh? True fool’s-fortune! so console yourself,
Let’s see, however — hand the book, I say!
Well, you ‘ve improved the classic by romance.
Queer reading! Verse with parenthetic prose —
‘Hail, calm acclivity, salubrious spot!’
(Three-two fives) ‘life how profitably spent’
(Five-naught, five-nine fives) ‘yonder humble cot,’
(More and more naughts and fives) ‘in mild content;
And did my feelings find the natural vent
In friendship and in love, how blest my lot!’
Then follow the dread figures — five! ‘Content?’
That’s appetite! Are you content as he —
Simpkin the sonneteer? Ten thousand pounds
Give point to his effusion — by so much
Leave me the richer and the poorer you
After our night’s play; who’s content the most,
If, you, or Simpkin?”

So the polished snob.
The elder man, refinement every inch
From brow to boot-end, quietly replies:

“Simpkin’s no name I know. I had my whim.”

“Ay, had you! And such things make friendship thick.
Intimates, I may boast we were; henceforth,
Friends — shall it not be? — who discard reserve,
Use plain words, put each dot upon each i,
Till death us twain do part? The bargain’s struck!
Old fellow, if you fancy — (to begin — )
I failed to penetrate your scheme last week,
You wrong your poor disciple. Oh, no airs!
Because you happen to be twice my age
And twenty times my master, must perforce
No blink of daylight struggle through the web
There’s no unwinding? You entoil my legs,
And welcome, for I like it: blind me, — no!
A very pretty piece of shuttle-work
Was that — your mere chance question at the club —
‘Do you go anywhere this Whitsuntide?
I’m off for Paris, there’s the Opera — there’s
The Salon, there’s a china-sale, — beside
Chantilly; and, for good companionship,
There’s Such-and-such and So-and-so. Suppose
We start together?’ ‘No such holiday!’
I told you: ‘Paris and the rest be hanged!
Why plague me who am pledged to home-delights?
I’m the engaged now; through whose fault but yours?
On duty. As you well know. Don’t I drowse
The week away down with the Aunt and Niece?
No help: it’s leisure, loneliness, and love.
‘Wish I could take you; but fame travels fast, —
A man of much newspaper-paragraph,
You scare domestic circles; and beside
Would not you like your lot, that second taste
Of nature and approval of the grounds!
You might walk early or lie late, so shirk
Week-day devotions: but stay Sunday o’er,
And morning church is obligatory:
No mundane garb permissible, or dread
The butler’s privileged monition! No!
Pack off to Paris, nor wipe tear away!’
Whereon how artlessly the happy flash
Followed, by inspiration! ‘‘Tell you what —
Let’s turn their flank, try things on t’ other side!
Inns for my money! Liberty’s the life!
We’ll lie in hiding: there’s the crow-nest nook,
The tourist’s joy, the Inn they rave about,
Inn that’s out — out of sight and out of mind
And out of mischief to all four of us —
Aunt and niece, you and me. At night arrive;
At morn, find time for just a Pisgah-view
Of my friend’s Land of Promise; then depart.
And while I’m whizzing onward by first train,
Bound for our own place (since my Brother sulks
And says I shun him like the plague) yourself —
Why, you have stepped thence, start from platform, gay
Despite the sleepless journey, — love lends wings, —
Hug aunt and niece who, none the wiser, wait
The faithful advent! Eh?’ ‘With all my heart,’
Said I to you; said I to mine own self:
‘Does he believe I fail to comprehend
He wants just one more final friendly snack
At friend’s exchequer ere friend runs to earth,
Marries, renounces yielding friends such sport?’
And did I spoil sport, pull face grim, — nay, grave?
Your pupil does you better credit! No!
I parleyed with my pass-book, — rubbed my pair
At the big balance in my banker’s hands, —
Folded a check cigar-case-shape, — just wants
Filling and signing, — and took train, resolved
To execute myself with decency
And let you win — if not Ten thousand quite,
Something by way of wind-up-farewell burst
Of firework-nosegay! Where’s your fortune fled?
Or is not fortune constant after all?
You lose ten thousand pounds: had I lost half
Or half that, I should bite my lips, I think.
You man of marble! Strut and stretch my best
On tiptoe, I shall never reach your height.
How does the loss feel! Just one lesson more!”

The more refined man smiles a frown away.

“The lesson shall be — only boys like you
Put such a question at the present stage.
I had a ball lodge in my shoulder once,
And, full five minutes, never guessed the fact;
Next day, I felt decidedly: and still,
At twelve years’ distance, when I lift my arm
A twinge reminds me of the surgeon’s probe.
Ask me, this day month, how I feel my luck!
And meantime please to stop impertinence,
For — don’t I know its object? All this chaff
Covers the corn, this preface leads to speech,
This boy stands forth a hero. ‘There, my lord!
Our play was true play, fun not earnest! I
Empty your purse, inside out, while my poke
Bulges to bursting? You can badly spare
A doit, confess now, Duke though brother be!
While I’m gold-daubed so thickly, spangles drop
And show my father’s warehouse-apron: pshaw!
Enough! We’ve had a palpitating night!
Good morning! Breakfast and forget our dreams!
My mouth’s shut, mind! I tell nor man nor mouse.’
There, see! He don’t deny it! Thanks, my boy!
Hero and welcome — only, not on me
Make trial of your ‘prentice-hand! Enough!
We’ve played, I’ve lost and owe ten thousand pounds,
Whereof I muster, at the moment, — well,
What’s for the bill here and the back to town.
Still, I’ve my little character to keep;
You may expect your money at month’s end.”

The young man at the window turns round quick —
A clumsy giant handsome creature; grasps
In his large red the little lean white hand
Of the other, looks him in the sallow face.

“I say now — is it right to so mistake
A fellow, force him in mere self-defence
To spout like Mister Mild Acclivity
In album-language? You know well enough
Whether I like you — like’s no album-word,
Anyhow: point me to one soul beside
In the wide world I care one straw about!
I first set eyes on you a year ago;
Since when you’ve done me good — I’ll stick to it —
More than I got in the whole twenty-five
That make my life up, Oxford years and all —
Throw in the three I fooled away abroad,
Seeing myself and nobody more sage
Until I met you, and you made me man
Such as the sort is and the fates allow.
I do think, since we two kept company,
I’ve learnt to know a little — all through you!
It’s nature if I like you. Taunt away!
As if I need you teaching me my place —
The snob I am, the Duke your brother is,
When just the good you did was — teaching me
My own trade, how a snob and millionaire
May lead his life and let the Duke’s alone,
Clap wings, free jackdaw, on his steeple-perch,
Burnish his black to gold in sun and air,
Nor pick up stray plumes, strive to match in strut
Regular peacocks who can’t fly an inch
Over the courtyard-paling. Head and heart
(That’s album-style) are older than you know,
For all your knowledge: boy, perhaps — ay, boy
Had his adventure, just as he were man —
His ball-experience in the shoulder-blade,
His bit of life-long ache to recognize,
Although he bears it cheerily about,
Because you came and clapped him on the back,
Advised him ‘Walk and wear the aching off!’
Why, I was minded to sit down for life
Just in Dalmatia, build a seaside tower
High on a rock, and so expend my days
Pursuing chemistry or botany
Or, very like, astronomy because
I noticed stars shone when I passed the place.
Letting my cash accumulate the while
In England — to lay out in lump at last
As Ruskin should direct me! All or some
Of which should I have done or tried to do,
And preciously repented, one fine day,
Had you discovered Timon, climbed his rock
And scaled his tower, some ten years thence, suppose,
And coaxed his story from him! Don’t I see
The pair conversing! It’s a novel writ
Already, I’ll be bound, — our dialogue!
‘What?’ cried the elder and yet youthful man —
did the eye flash ‘neath the lordly front,
the imposing presence swell with scorn,
the haught high-bred bearing and dispose
with his interlocutor
flabby low-born who, of bulk before,
steadily increased, one stone per week,
his abstention from horse-exercise: —
you, as rich as Rothschild, left, you say
the very year you came of age,
your father manufactured goods —
hight of Manchester —
and partly through a baby case
disappointment I’ve pumped out at last —
here you spend life’s prime in gaining flesh
giving science one more asteroid?’
Brief, my dear fellow, you instructed me,
At Alfred’s and not Istria! proved a snob
May turn a million to account although
His brother be no Duke, and see good days
Without the girl he lost and some one gained.
The end is, after one year’s tutelage,
Having, by your help, touched society,
Polo, Tent-pegging, Hurlingham, the Rink —
I leave all these delights, by your advice,
And marry my young pretty cousin here
Whose place, whose oaks ancestral you behold.
(Her father was in partnership with mine —
Does not his purchase look a pedigree?)
My million will be tails and tassels smart
To this plump-bodied kite, this house and land
Which, set a-soaring, pulls me, soft as sleep,
Along life’s pleasant meadow, — arm left free
To lock a friend’s in, — whose, but yours, old boy?
Arm in arm glide we over rough and smooth,
While hand, to pocket held, saves cash from cards.
Now, if you don’t esteem ten thousand pounds
( — Which I shall probably discover snug
Hid somewhere in the column-corner capped
With ‘Credit,’ based on ‘Balance,’ — which, I swear,
By this time next month I shall quite forget
Whether I lost or won — ten thousand pounds,
Which at this instant I would give … let’s see,
For Galopin — nay, for that Gainsborough
Sir Richard won’t sell, and, if bought by me,
Would get my glance and praise some twice a year, — )
Well, if you don’t esteem that price dirt-cheap
For teaching me Dalmatia was mistake —
Why then, my last illusion-bubble breaks,
My one discovered phœnix proves a goose,
My cleverest of all companions — oh,
Was worth nor ten pence nor ten thousand pounds!
Come! Be yourself again! So endeth here
The morning’s lesson! Never while life lasts
Do I touch card again. To breakfast now!
To bed — I can’t say, since you needs must start
For station early — oh, the down-train still,
First plan and best plan — townward trip be hanged!
You’re due at your big brother’s — pay that debt,
Then owe me not a farthing! Order eggs —
And who knows but there’s trout obtainable?”

The fine man looks wellnigh malignant: then —

“Sir, please subdue your manner! Debts are debts:
I pay mine — debts of this sort — certainly.
What do I care how you regard your gains,
Want them or want them not? The thing I want
Is — not to have a story circulate
From club to club — how, bent on clearing out,
Young So-and-so, young So-and-so cleaned me,
Then set the empty kennel flush again,
Ignored advantage and forgave his friend —
For why? There was no wringing blood from stone!
Oh, don’t be savage! You would hold your tongue,
Bite it in two, as man may; but those small
Hours in the smoking-room, when instance apt
Rises to tongue’s root, tingles on to tip,
And the thinned company consists of six
Capital well-known fellows one may trust!
Next week, it’s in the ‘World.’ No, thank you much.
I owe ten thousand pounds: I’ll pay them!”

“Now, —
This becomes funny. You’ve made friends with me:
I can’t help knowing of the ways and means!
Or stay! they say your brother closets up
Correggio’s long lost Leda: if he means
To give you that, and if you give it me” …

I polished snob off to aristocrat?
You compliment me! father’s apron still
Sticks out from son’s court-vesture; still silk purse
Roughs finger with some bristle sow-ear-born!
Well, neither I nor you mean harm at heart!
I owe you and shall pay you: which premised,
Why should what follows sound like flattery?
The fact is — you do compliment too much
Your humble master, as I own I am;
You owe me no such thanks as you protest.
The polisher needs precious stone no less
Than precious stone needs polisher: believe
I struck no tint from out you but I found
Snug lying first ‘neath surface hairbreadth-deep!
Beside, I liked the exercise: with skill
Goes love to show skill for skill’s sake. You see,
I’m old and understand things: too absurd
It were you pitched and tossed away your life,
As diamond were Scotch-pebble! all the more,
That I myself misused a stone of price.
Born and bred clever — people used to say
Clever as most men, if not something more —
Yet here I stand a failure, cut awry
Or left opaque, — no brilliant named and known.
Whate’er my inner stuff, my outside’s blank;
I’m nobody — or rather, look that same —
I’m — who I am — and know it; but I hold
What in my hand out for the world to see?
What ministry, what mission, or what book
— I’ll say, book even? Not a sign of these!
I began — laughing — ‘All these when I like!’
I end with — well, you ‘ve hit it! — ‘This boy’s check
just as many thousands as he he’ll spare!’
The first — I could, and would not; your spare cash
I would, and could not: have no scruple, pray,
But, as I hoped to pocket yours, pouch mine
— When you are able!”

“Which is — when to be?
I’ve heard, great characters require a fall
Of fortune to show greatness by uprise:
They touch the ground to jollily rebound,
Add to the Album! Let a fellow share
Your secret of superiority!
I know, my banker makes the money breed
Money; I eat and sleep, he simply takes
The dividends and cuts the coupons off,
Sells out, buys in, keeps doubling, tripling cash,
While I do nothing but receive and spend.
But you, spontaneous generator, hatch
A wind-egg; cluck, and forth struts Capital
As Interest to me from egg of gold.
I am grown curious: pay me by all means!
How will you make the money?”

“Mind your own —
Not my affair. Enough: or money, or
Money’s worth, as the case may be, expect
Ere month’s end, — keep but patient for a month!
Who’s for a stroll to station? Ten’s the time;
Your man, with my things, follow in the trap;
At stoppage of the down-train, play the arrived
On platform, and you’ll show the due fatigue
Of the night-journey, — not much sleep, — perhaps,
Your thoughts were on before you — yes, indeed,
You join them, being happily awake
With thought’s sole object as she smiling sits
At breakfast-table. I shall dodge meantime
In and out station-precinct, wile away
The hour till up my engine pants and smokes.
No doubt, she goes to fetch you. Never fear!
She gets no glance at me, who shame such saints!”


So, they ring bell, give orders, pay, depart
Amid profuse acknowledgment from host
Who well knows what may bring the younger back.
They light cigar, descend in twenty steps
The “calm acclivity,” inhale — beyond
Tobacco’s balm — the better smoke of turf
And wood fire, — cottages at cookery
I’ the morning, — reach the main road straightening on
‘Twixt wood and wood, two black walls full of night
Slow to disperse, though mists thin fast before
The advancing foot, and leave the flint-dust fine
Each speck with its fire-sparkle. Presently
The road’s end with the sky’s beginning mix
In one magnificence of glare, due East,
So high the sun rides, — May’s the merry month.

They slacken pace: the younger stops abrupt,
Discards cigar, looks his friend full in face.

“All right; the station comes in view at end;
Five minutes from the beech-clump, there you are!
I say: let’s halt, let’s borrow yonder gate
Of its two magpies, sit and have a talk!
Do let a fellow speak a moment! More
I think about and less I like the thing —
No, you must let me! Now, be good for once!
Ten thousand pounds be done for, dead and damned!
We played for love, not hate: yes, hate! I hate
Thinking you beg or borrow or reduce
To strychnine some poor devil of a lord
Licked at Unlimited Loo. I had the cash
To lose — you knew that! — lose and none the less
Whistle to-morrow: it’s not every chap
Affords to take his punishment so well!
Now, don’t be angry with a friend whose fault
Is that he thinks — upon my soul, I do —
Your head the best head going. Oh, one sees
Names in the newspaper — great This, great That,
Gladstone, Carlyle, the Laureate: — much I care!
Others have their opinion, I keep mine:
Which means — by right you ought to have the things
I want a head for. Here’s a pretty place,
My cousin’s place, and presently my place,
Not yours! I’ll tell you how it strikes a man.
My cousin’s fond of music and of course
Plays the piano (it won’t be for long!)
A brand-new bore she calls a ‘semi-grand
Rosewood and pearl, that blocks the drawing-room,
And cost no end of money. Twice a week
Down comes Herr Somebody and seats himself,
Sets to work teaching — with his teeth on edge —
I’ve watched the rascal. ‘Does he play first-rate?’
I ask: ‘I rather think so,’ answers she —
‘He’s What’s-his-Name!’ — ‘Why give you lessons then?’ —
‘I pay three guineas and the train beside.’ —
‘This instrument, has he one such at home?’ —
‘He? Has to practise on a table-top,
When he can’t hire the proper thing.’ — ‘I see!
You’ve the piano, he the skill, and God
The distribution of such gifts.’ So here:
After your teaching, I shall sit and strum
Polkas on this piano of a Place
You’d make resound with ‘Rule Britannia’!”

I don’t say but this pretty cousin’s place,
Appendaged with your million, tempts my hand
As key-board I might touch with some effect.”

“Then, why not have obtained the like? House, land,
Money, are things obtainable, you see,
By clever head-work: ask my father else!
You, who teach me, why not have learned, yourself?
Played like Herr Somebody with power to thump
And flourish and the rest, not bend demure
Pointing out blunders — ‘Sharp, not natural!
Permit me — on the black key use the thumb!’
There’s some fatality, I’m sure! You say
‘Marry the cousin, that’s your proper move!’
And I do use the thumb and hit the sharp:
You should have listened to your own head’s hint,
As I to you! The puzzle’s past my power,
How you have managed — with such stuff, such means —
Not to be rich nor great nor happy man:
Of which three good things where’s a sign at all?
Just look at Dizzy! Come, — what tripped your heels?
Instruct a goose that boasts wings and can’t fly!
I wager I have guessed it! — never found
The old solution of the riddle fail!
‘Who was the woman?’ I don’t ask, but — ‘Where
I’ the path of life stood she who tripped you?’”

You truly are! I own to fifty years.
Why don’t I interpose and cut out — you?
Compete with five-and-twenty? Age, my boy!”

“Old man, no nonsense! — even to a boy
That’s ripe at least for rationality
Rapped into him, as maybe mine was, once!
I’ve had my small adventure lesson me
Over the knuckles! — likely, I forget
The sort of figure youth cuts now and then,
Competing with old shoulders but young head
Despite the fifty grizzling years!”

Then that means — just the bullet in the blade
Which brought Dalmatia on the brain, — that, too,
Came of a fatal creature? Can’t pretend
Now for the first time to surmise as much!
Make a clean breast! Recount! a secret’s safe
‘Twixt you, me, and the gate-post!”

“ — Can’t pretend,
Neither, to never have surmised your wish!
It’s no use, — case of unextracted ball —
Winces at finger-touching. Let things be!”

“Ah, if you love your love still! I hate mine.”

“I can’t hate.”

“I won’t teach you; and won’t tell
You, therefore, what you please to ask of me:
As if I, also, may not have my ache!”

“My sort of ache? No, no! and yet — perhaps!
All comes of thinking you superior still.
But live and learn! I say! Time’s up! Good jump!
You old, indeed! I fancy there’s a cut
Across the wood, a grass-path: shall we try?
It’s venturesome, however!”

“Stop, my boy!
Don’t think I’m stingy of experience! Life
— It’s like this wood we leave. Should you and I
Go wandering about there, though the gaps
We went in and came out by were opposed
As the two poles still, somehow, all the same
By nightfall we should probably have chanced
On much the same main points of interest —
Both of us measured girth, of mossy trunk,
Stript ivy from its strangled prey, clapped hands
At squirrel, sent a fir-cone after crow,
And so forth, — never mind what time betwixt.
So in our lives; allow I entered mine
Another way than you: ‘t is possible
I ended just by knocking head against
That plaguy low-hung branch yourself began
By getting bump from; as at last you too
May stumble o’er that stump which first of all
Bade me walk circumspectly. Head and feet
Are vulnerable both, and I, foot-sure,
Forgot that ducking down saves brow from bruise.
I, early old, played young man four years since
And failed confoundedly: so, hate alike
Failure and who caused failure, — curse her cant!”

“Oh, I see! You, though somewhat past the prime,
Were taken with a rosebud beauty! Ah —
But how should chits distinguish? She admired
Your marvel of a mind, I’ll undertake!
But as to body … nay, I mean … that is,
When years have told on face and figure” …

Mister Sufficiently-Instructed! Such
No doubt was bound to be the consequence
To suit your self-complacency: she liked
My head enough, but loved some heart beneath
Some head with plenty of brown hair a-top
After my young friend’s fashion! What becomes
Of that fine speech you made a minute since
About the man of middle age you found
A formidable peer at twenty-one?
So much for your mock-modesty! and yet
I back your first against this second sprout
Of observation, insight, what you please.
My middle age, Sir, had too much success!
It’s odd: my case occurred four years ago —
I finished just while you commenced that turn
I’ the wood of life that takes us to the wealth
Of honeysuckle, heaped for who can reach.
Now, I don’t boast: it’s bad style, and beside,
The feat proves easier than it looks: I plucked
Full many a flower unnamed in that bouquet
(Mostly of peonies and poppies, though!)
Good-nature sticks into my buttonhole.
Therefore it was with nose in want of snuff
Rather than Ess or Psidium, that I chanced
On what — so far from ‘rosebud beauty’ … Well —
She’s dead: at least you never heard her name;
She was no courtly creature, had nor birth
Nor breeding — mere fine-lady-breeding; but
Oh, such a wonder of a woman! Grand
As a Greek statue! Stick fine clothes on that,
Style that a Duchess or a Queen, — you know,
Artists would make an outcry: all the more,
That she had just a statue’s sleepy grace
Which broods o’er its own beauty. Nay, her fault
(Don’t laugh!) was just perfection: for suppose
Only the little flaw, and I had peeped
Inside it, learned what soul inside was like.
At Rome some tourist raised the grit beneath
A Venus’ forehead with his whittling-knife —
I wish — now — I had played that brute, brought blood
To surface from the depths I fancied chalk!
As it was, her mere face surprised so much
That I stopped short there, struck on heap, as stares
The cockney stranger at a certain bust
With drooped eyes, — she’s the thing I have in mind, —
Down at my Brother’s. All sufficient prize —
Such outside! Now, — confound me for a prig! —
Who cares? I’ll make a clean breast once for all!
Beside, you’ve heard the gossip. My life long
I’ve been a woman-liker, — liking means
Loving and so on. There’s a lengthy list
By this time I shall have to answer for —
So say the good folk: and they don’t guess half —
For the worst is, let once collecting-itch
Possess you, and, with perspicacity,
Keeps growing such a greediness that theft
Follows at no long distance, — there’s the fact!
I knew that on my Leporello-list
Might figure this, that, and the other name
Of feminine desirability,
But if I happened to desire inscribe,
Along with these, the only Beautiful —
Here was the unique specimen to snatch
Or now or never. ‘Beautiful’ I said —
‘Beautiful’ say in cold blood, — boiling then
To tune of ‘Haste, secure whatever the cost
This rarity, die in the act, be damned,
So you complete collection, crown your list!’
It seemed as though the whole world, once aroused
By the first notice of such wonder’s birth,
Would break bounds to contest my prize with me
The first discoverer, should she but emerge
From that safe den of darkness where she dozed
Till I stole in, that country-parsonage
Where, country-parson’s daughter, motherless,
Brotherless, sisterless, for eighteen years
She had been vegetating lily-like.
Her father was my brother’s tutor, got
The living that way: him I chanced to see —
Her I saw — her the world would grow one eye
To see, I felt no sort of doubt at all!
‘Secure her!’ cried the devil: ‘afterward
Arrange for the disposal of the prize!’
The devil’s doing! yet I seem to think —
Now, when all’s done, — think with ‘a head reposed’
In French phrase — hope I think I meant to do
All requisite for such a rarity
When I should be at leisure, have due time
To learn requirement. But in evil day —
Bless me, at week’s end, long as any year,
The father must begin, ‘Young Somebody,
Much recommended — for I break a rule —
Comes here to read, next Long Vacation.’ — ‘Young!’
That did it. Had the epithet been ‘rich,’
Noble,’ ‘a genius,’ even ‘handsome,’ — but
— ‘Young’!”

“I say — just a word! I want to know — You are not married?”


“Nor ever were?”

“Never! Why?”

“Oh, then — never mind! Go on!
I had a reason for the question.”

“Come, —
You could not be the young man?”

“No, indeed!
Certainly — if you never married her!”

“That I did not: and there’s the curse, you’ll see!
Nay, all of it’s one curse, my life’s mistake
Which nourished with manure that’s warranted
To make the plant bear wisdom, blew out full
In folly beyond fieldflower-foolishness!
The lies I used to tell my womankind!
Knowing they disbelieved me all the time
Though they required my lies, their decent due,
This woman — not so much believed, I’ll say,
As just anticipated from my mouth:
Since being true, devoted, constant — she
Found constancy, devotion, truth, the plain
And easy commonplace of character.
No mock-heroics but seemed natural
To her who underneath the face, I knew
Was fairness’ self, possessed a heart, I judged
Must correspond in folly just as far
Beyond the common, — and a mind to match, —
Not made to puzzle conjurers like me
Who, therein, proved the fool who fronts you, Sir,
And begs leave to cut short the ugly rest!
‘Trust me!’ I said: she trusted. ‘Marry me!’
Or rather, ‘We are married: when, the rite?’
That brought on the collector’s next-day qualm
At counting acquisition’s cost. There lay
My marvel, there my purse more light by much
Because of its late lie-expenditure:
Ill-judged such moment to make fresh demand —
To cage as well as catch my rarity!
So, I began explaining. At first word
Outbroke the horror. ‘Then, my truths were lies!’
I tell you, such an outbreak, such new strange
All-unsuspected revelation — soul
As supernaturally grand as face
Was fair beyond example — that at once
Either I lost — or, if it please you, found
My senses, — stammered somehow — ‘Jest! and now,
Earnest! Forget all else but — heart has loved,
Does love, shall love you ever! take the hand!’
Not she! no marriage for superb disdain,
Contempt incarnate!”

“Yes, it’s different, —
It’s only like in being four years since.
I see now!”

“Well, what did disdain do next,
Think you?”

“That’s past me: did not marry you! —
That’s the main thing I care for, I suppose.
Turned nun, or what?”

“Why, married in a month
Some parson, some smug crop-haired smooth-chinned sort
Of curate-creature, I suspect, — dived down,
Down, deeper still, and came up somewhere else —
I don’t know where — I’ve not tried much to know, —
In short, she’s happy: what the clodpoles call
‘Countrified’ with a vengeance! leads the life
Respectable and all that drives you mad:
Still — where, I don’t know, and that’s best for both.”

“Well, that she did not like you, I conceive.
But why should you hate her, I want to know?”

“My good young friend, — because or her or else
Malicious Providence I have to hate.
For, what I tell you proved the turning-point
Of my whole life and fortune toward success
Or failure. If I drown, I lay the fault
Much on myself who caught at reed not rope,
But more on reed which, with a packthread’s pith,
Had buoyed me till the minute’s cramp could thaw
And I strike out afresh and so be saved.
It’s easy saying — I had sunk before,
Disqualified myself by idle days
And busy nights, long since, from holding hard
On cable, even, had fate cast me such!
You boys don’t know how many times men fail
Perforce o’ the little to succeed i’ the large,
Husband their strength, let slip the petty prey,
Collect the whole power for the final pounce!
My fault was the mistaking man’s main prize
For intermediate boy’s diversion; clap
Of boyish hands here frightened game away
Which, once gone, goes forever. Oh, at first
I took the anger easily, nor much
Minded the anguish — having learned that storms
Subside, and teapot-tempests are akin.
Time would arrange things, mend whate’er might be
Somewhat amiss; precipitation, eh?
Reason and rhyme prompt — reparation! Tiffs
End properly in marriage and a dance!
I said ‘We’ll marry, make the past a blank’ —
And never was such damnable mistake!
That interview, that laying bare my soul,
As it was first, so was it last chance — one
And only. Did I write? Back letter came
Unopened as it went. Inexorable
She fled, I don’t know where, consoled herself
With the smug curate-creature: chop and change!
Sure am I, when she told her shaveling all
His Magdalen’s adventure, tears were shed,
Forgiveness evangelically shown,
‘Loose hair and lifted eye,’ — as some one says.
And now, he’s worshipped for his pains, the sneak!”

“Well, but your turning-point of life, — what’s here
To hinder you contesting Finsbury
With Orton, next election? I don’t see” …

“Not you! But I see. Slowly, surely, creeps
Day by day o’er me the conviction — here
Was life’s prize grasped at, gained, and then let go!
— That with her — maybe, for her — I had felt
Ice in me melt, grow steam, drive to effect
Any or all the fancies sluggish here
I’ the head that needs the hand she would not take
And I shall never lift now, Lo, your wood —
Its turnings which I likened life to! Well, —
There she stands, ending every avenue,
Her visionary presence on each goal
I might have gained had we kept side by side!
Still string nerve and strike foot? Her frown forbids:
The steam congeals once more: I’m old again!
Therefore I hate myself — but how much worse
Do not I hate who would not understand,
Let me repair things — no, but sent a-slide
My folly falteringly, stumblingly
Down, down, and deeper down until I drop
Upon — the need of your ten thousand pounds
And consequently loss of mine! I lose
Character, cash, nay, common-sense itself
Recounting such a lengthy cock-and-bull
Adventure, lose my temper in the act” …

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