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Browning’s "Christmas Eve"
by [?]

To those to whom the religion of Christ has been the law of liberty; who by that door have entered into the universe of God, and have begun to feel a growing delight in all the manifestations of God, it is cause of much joy to find that, whatever may be the position taken by men of science, or by those in whom the intellect predominates, with regard to the Christian religion, men of genius, at least, in virtue of what is child-like in their nature, are, in the present time, plainly manifesting deep devotion to Christ. There are exceptions, certainly; but even in those, there are symptoms of feelings which, one can hardly help thinking, tend towards him, and will one day flame forth in conscious worship. A mind that recognizes any of the multitudinous meanings of the revelation of God, in the world of sounds, and forms, and colours, cannot be blind to the higher manifestation of God in common humanity; nor to him in whom is hid the key to the whole, the First-born of the creation of God, in whose heart lies, as yet but partially developed, the kingdom of heaven, which is the redemption of the earth. The mind that delights in that which is lofty and great, which feels there is something higher than self, will undoubtedly be drawn towards Christ; and they, who at first looked on him as a great prophet, came at length to perceive that he was the radiation of the Father’s glory, the likeness of his unseen being.

A description of the poem may, perhaps, both induce to the reading of it, and contribute to its easier comprehension while being perused. On a stormy Christmas Eve, the poet, or rather the seer (for the whole must be regarded as a poetic vision), is compelled to take refuge in the “lath and plaster entry” of a little chapel, belonging to a congregation of Calvinistic Methodists, who are at the time assembling for worship. Wonderful in its reality is the description of various of the flock that pass him as they enter the chapel, from

“the many-tattered
Little old-faced, peaking sister-turned-mother
Of the sickly babe she tried to smother
Somehow up, with its spotted face,
From the cold, on her breast, the one warm place:”

to the “shoemaker’s lad;” whom he follows, determined not to endure the inquisition of their looks any longer, into the chapel. The humour of the whole scene within is excellent. The stifling closeness, both of the atmosphere and of the sermon, the wonderful content of the audience, the “old fat woman,” who

“purred with pleasure,
And thumb round thumb went twirling faster,
While she, to his periods keeping measure,
Maternally devoured the pastor;”

are represented by a few rapid touches that bring certain points of the reality almost unpleasantly near. At length, unable to endure it longer, he rushes out into the air. Objection may, probably, be made to the mingling of the humorous, even the ridiculous, with the serious; at least, in a work of art like this, where they must be brought into such close proximity. But are not these things as closely connected in the world as they can be in any representation of it? Surely there are few who have never had occasion to attempt to reconcile the thought of the two in their own minds. Nor can there be anything human that is not, in some connexion or other, admissible into art. The widest idea of art must comprehend all things. A work of this kind must, like God’s world, in which he sends rain on the just and on the unjust, be taken as a whole and in regard to its design. The requisition is, that everything introduced have a relation to the adjacent parts and to the whole suitable to the design. Here the thing is real, is true, is human; a thing to be thought about. It has its place amongst other phenomena, with which, however apparently incongruous, it is yet vitally connected within.