So much, however, is certain: Mr. Browning would never have accepted this 'murder story' as the subject of a poem, if he could not in some sense have made it poetical. It was only in an idealized Pompilia that the material for such a process could be found. We owe it, therefore, to the one departure from his usual mode of dramatic conception, that the Poet's masterpiece has been produced.
Others again say that these pedigrees were invented to flatter these families, and state that the Pompilian family descends not from Tatia, but from Lucretia, whom he married after he became king. All, however, agree that Pompilia married Marcius, the son of that Marcius who encouraged Numa to accept the crown.
Any other human transaction that ever was, tragic or comic or plain prosaic, may be looked at in a like spirit, As the world's talk bubbled around the dumb anguish of Pompilia, or the cruelty and hate of Guido, so it does around the hourly tragedies of all times and places. It is characteristic of Mr.
The pictures of Guido, of Pompilia, of Caponsacchi, of Dominus Hyacinthus de Archangelis, of Pope Innocent, are each of them full and adequate, as conceptions of character in active manifestation apart from the truth which the whole composition is meant to illustrate, and which clothes itself in this most excellent drama.
The most interesting of the characters are Guido, the husband, who changes from bold defiance to abject fear; Caponsacchi, the young priest, who aids the wife in her flight from her brutal husband, and is unjustly accused of false motives; Pompilia, the young wife, one of the noblest characters in literature, fit in all respects to rank with Shakespeare's great heroines; and the Pope, a splendid figure, the strongest of all Browning's masculine characters.
This man accompanied Numa to Rome, was made a member of the Senate, and after Numa's death laid claim to the crown, but was worsted by Tullus Hostilius and made away with himself. His son Marcius, who married Pompilia, remained in Rome, and became the father of Ancus Marcius, who was king after Tullus Hostilius, and who was only five years old when Numa died.
Some say that he married Tatia alone, and was the father of one daughter only, named Pompilia; but others, besides her, assign to him four sons, named Pompo, Pinus, Calpus, and Mamercus, from whom descended the four noble families of the Pomponii, Pinarii, Calphurnii, and Mamerci, which for this reason took the title of Rex, that is, king.
In his seventy-fifth year, it filled his days and dreams as though it were a thing of yesterday, singing in his heart a perpetual eucharist. Offhand critics have disposed of it, but the great minds go back to it again and again. In the character of Pompilia the author sought to pay tribute to the woman whose memory was ever in his mind; yet he was too sensitive and shrinking to fully picture her.
A like remark might have been made respecting the book which, in its method and its range of all English books most resembles Browning's poem, and which may indeed be said to take among prose works of fiction a similar place to that held among poetical creations by Browning's tale of Guido and Pompilia.
The feelings of the bad husband about the good wife, for instance, are about as subtle and entangled as any matter on this earth; and Browning really had something to say about them. But he said it in some of the plainest and most unmistakable words in all literature; as lucid as a flash of lightning. "Pompilia, will you let them murder me?"