according to the flesh; not with eye-service, as men-pleasers,

"Rabbi Ben Ezra, or Ibn Ezra, was a learned Jew, 1092-1167 A.D. Ibn Ezra and Maimonides, whom he is said to have visited in Egypt, were two of the four great Philosophers or Lights of the Jews in the Middle Ages. Ibn Ezra was born at Toledo in Spain, about 1092 or 1093 A.D., or in 1088 according to Graetz, `Geschichte der Juden', vi. 198. He was poor, but studied hard, composed poems wherewith to `Adorn my own, my Hebrew nation', married, had a son Isaac (a poet too), travelled to Africa, the Holy Land, Rome in 1140, Persia, India, Italy, France, England. He wrote many treatises on Hebrew Grammar, astronomy, mathematics, &c., commentaries on the books of the Bible, &c. -- many of them in Rome -- and two pamphlets in England `for a certain Salomon of London'. Joseph of Maudeville was one of his English pupils. He died in 1167, at the age of 75, either in Kalahorra, on the frontier of Navarre, or in Rome. His commentary on Isaiah has been englished by M. Friedlaender, and published by the Society of Hebrew Literature, Truebner, 1873. From the Introduction to that book I take these details. Ibn Ezra believed in a future life. In his commentary on Isaiah 55:3, `AND YOUR SOUL SHALL LIVE', he says, `That is, your soul shall live forever after the death of the body, or you will receive new life through Messiah, when you will return to the Divine Law.' See also on Isaiah 39:18. Of the potter's clay passage, Isaiah 29:16, he has only a translation, `Shall man be esteemed as the potter's clay', and no comment that could ever have given Browning a hint for his use of the metaphor in his poem, even if he had ever seen Ibn Ezra's commentary. See Rabbi Ben Ezra's fine `Song of Death' in stanzas 12-20 of the grimly humorous Holy-Cross Day."

according to the flesh; not with eye-service, as men-pleasers,

-- * "Grammarian" mustn't be understood here in its restricted modern sense; it means rather one devoted to learning, or letters, in general. --

according to the flesh; not with eye-service, as men-pleasers,

Shortly after the revival of learning in Europe.

according to the flesh; not with eye-service, as men-pleasers,

The devoted disciples of a dead grammarian are bearing his body up a mountain-side for burial on its lofty summit, "where meteors shoot, clouds form, lightnings are loosened, stars come and go! Lofty designs must close in like effects: loftily lying, leave him, -- still loftier than the world suspects, living and dying".

This poem is INFORMED throughout with the poet's iterated doctrine in regard to earth life, -- to the relativity of that life. The grammarian, in his hunger and thirst after knowledge and truth, thought not of time. "What's time? Leave Now for dogs and apes! Man has Forever." "Oh, if we draw a circle premature, heedless of far gain, greedy for quick returns of profit, sure bad is our bargain!"

The poem "exhibits something of the life of the Scaligers and the Casaubons, of many an early scholar, like Roger Bacon's friend, Pierre de Maricourt, working at some region of knowledge, and content to labor without fame so long as he mastered thoroughly whatever he undertook" (`Contemporary Rev.', iv., 135).

But the grammarian was true to one side only of Browning's philosophy of life. He disregarded the claims of the physical life, and became "soul-hydropic with a sacred thirst".


-- * "Every lust is a kind of hydropic distemper, and the more we drink the more we shall thirst." -- Tillotson, quoted in `Webster'. --

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