to ask if its chief personages are to be met with every

In `My Last Duchess', the speaker is a soulless VIRTUOSO -- a natural product of a proud, arrogant, and exclusive aristocracy, on the one hand, and on the other, of an old and effete city, like Ferrara, where art, rather than ministering to soul-life and true manliness of character, has become an end to itself -- is valued for its own sake.

to ask if its chief personages are to be met with every

The Duke is showing, with the weak pride of the mere virtuoso, a portrait of his last Duchess, to some one who has been sent to negotiate another marriage. We see that he is having an entertainment or reception of some kind in his palace, and that he has withdrawn from the company with the envoy to the picture-gallery on an upper floor. He has pulled aside the curtain from before the portrait, and in remarking on the expression which the artist, Fra Pandolf, has given to the face, he is made to reveal a fiendish jealousy on his part, occasioned by the sweetness and joyousness of his late Duchess, who, he thought, should show interest in nothing but his own fossilized self. "She had," he says, "a heart -- how shall I say? -- too soon made glad, too easily impressed; she liked whate'er she looked on, and her looks went everywhere. Sir, 'twas all one! My favour at her breast, the dropping of the daylight in the West, the bough of cherries some officious fool broke in the orchard for her, the white mule she rode with round the terrace -- all and each would draw from her alike the approving speech, or blush, at least. She thanked men, -- good! but thanked somehow -- I know not how -- as if she ranked my gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name with anybody's gift."

to ask if its chief personages are to be met with every

Her fresh interest in things, and the sweet smile she had for all, due to a generous soul-life, proved fatal to the lovely Duchess: "Oh sir, she smiled, no doubt, whene'er I passed her; but who passed without much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands; then all smiles stopped together."

to ask if its chief personages are to be met with every

He succeeded, and he seems to be proud of it, in shutting off all her life-currents, pure, and fresh, and sparkling, as they were, and we must suppose that she than sank slowly and uncomplainingly away. What a deep pathos there is in "then all smiles stopped together"!

*

-- * "I gave commands" certainly must not be understood to mean commands for her death, as it is understood by the writer of the articles in `The Saint Paul's Magazine' for December, 1870, and January, 1871. { See Preface: Note to the Third Edition.} --

The contemptible meanness and selfishness of jealousy were never exhibited with greater power, than they are exhibited in this short monologue -- a power largely due to the artistic treatment. The jealousy of Leontes, in `The Winter's Tale', of Shakespeare, is nobility itself, in comparison with the Duke's. How distinctly, while indirectly, the sweet Duchess is, with a few masterly touches, placed before us! The poet shows his artistic skill especially in his indirect, reflected portraitures.

This short composition, comprising as it does but fifty-six lines, is, of itself, sufficient to prove the poet a consummate artist. Tennyson's TECHNIQUE is quite perfect, almost "faultily faultless", indeed; but in no one of his compositions has he shown an equal degree of art-power, in the highest sense of the word.

"That's my last Duchess painted on the wall, Looking as if she were alive. I call That piece a wonder, now: Fra Pandolf's hands Worked busily a day, and there she stands. Will't please you sit and look at her? I said, `Fra Pandolf' by design: for never read Strangers like you that pictured countenance, The depth and passion of its earnest glance, But to myself they turned (since none puts by The curtain I have drawn for you, but I) And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst, How such a glance came there; so, not the first Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, 'twas not Her husband's presence only, called that spot Of joy into the Duchess' cheek: perhaps Fra Pandolf chanced to say `Her mantle laps Over my lady's wrist too much', or `Paint Must never hope to reproduce the faint Half-flush that dies along her throat': such stuff Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough For calling up that spot of joy. She had A heart -- how shall I say? -- too soon made glad, Too easily impressed; she liked whate'er She looked on, and her looks went everywhere. Sir, 'twas all one! My favour at her breast, The dropping of the daylight in the West, The bough of cherries some officious fool Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule She rode with round the terrace -- all and each Would draw from her alike the approving speech, Or blush, at least. She thanked men, -- good! but thanked Somehow -- I know not how -- as if she ranked My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name With anybody's gift. Who'd stoop to blame This sort of trifling? Even had you skill In speech -- (which I have not) -- to make your will Quite clear to such an one, and say, `Just this Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss, Or there exceed the mark' -- and if she let Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse, -- E'en then would be some stooping; and I choose Never to stoop. Oh sir, she smiled, no doubt, Whene'er I passed her; but who passed without Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands; Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands As if alive. Will't please you rise? We'll meet The company below, then. I repeat, The Count your master's known munificence Is ample warrant that no just pretence Of mine for dowry will be disallowed; Though his fair daughter's self, as I avowed At starting, is my object. Nay, we'll go Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though, Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity, Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!

*

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