Browning's Philosophy of Life (Optimism)
Browning is a very consistent thinker of optimistic philosophy of life. And as an optimist, he is a moralist and a religious teacher. His optimism is based on life's realities. Life is full of imperfection but in this very imperfection lies hope, according to Browning's philosophical views. Actually the philosophy of Browning is the philosophy of a man looking at the world with more than a glimmer of hope in his eyes. He holds a very distinct place among the writers of the Victorian Age. He is an uncompromising foe of "Scientific Materialism". He preaches God and universality as the central truth of his philosophy of life.
There are a lot of confusions and conflicts in this age. There are the conflicts between art and life, art and morality, content and form, man and woman, classic education and progressive education, flesh and spirit, body and soul and what not.
In this entire prevailed situation, Browning remains unaffected by these confusions and conflicts. He is at heart an optimist. His optimism is clear even in his style of writing a poem that he always picks up his central character in crisis or in some critical situation, then this crisis reaches the climax and ultimately resolved and he ends his poem with optimism. As in his poem "Patriot into Traitor", he says:
'Tis God shall repay one, I am safer so.
As in "Fra Lippo Lippi", he says:
Don't fear me! There is the grey beginning. Zooks!
His poetry has immense variety, but his unchanging philosophical view of human destiny gives unity to it. He does not challenge the old dogmas. He accepts the conventional view of God, the immortality of the soul, and the Christian belief in incarnation.
Browning's optimism is founded on the realities of life. It is not 'blind' as he does not shut his eyes to the evil prevailing in daily life routine. He knows that human life is a mixture of good and evil, of love and the ugliness, of despair and hopefulness, but he derives hope from this very imperfection of life. His optimism "is founded on imperfections of man". In the famous lines of "Pippa Passes", he says:
"God is in his Heaven –
All is right with the world!"
He is hopeful about the struggle of human life. He says persistent struggle gives meaning to life; it does not matter so much if the struggle achieves nothing but failure. The earth of life lies in the "effort to become perfect; not in accomplishment, but in the strife to accomplish. Thus one should
"Welcome each rebuff
That turns earth's smoothness rough,
Each sting that ages not sit nor stand but go" (Last Ride Together)
In the same poem is expressed the thought that no struggle should be considered too painful. Judgement is not passed on the accomplishment, but on the impulse and the intention of the soul which promots the efforts. As stated in Rabbi Ben Ezra,
"All I could never be
All, men ignored in me,
This I war worth to God, whose wheel the Pitcher shared."
On earth these can merely be the "broken arcs"; only in "Heaven, a perfect round."
Browning believes that this life is a preparation for the life to come. In "Evelyn Hope", the lover does not despair as he derives consolation from the optimistic faith that "God creates the love to reward the love". True love is sure to be rewarded in the life after death, if not in this life.
Now, heaven and she are beyond this side,
As in "Andrea Del Sarto", he also says:
"… … … What would one have?
In heaven, perhaps, new chances, one more chance–"
Here Andrea hope for something better in the next life perhaps he says he will be given an opportunity, one more chance to prove his greatness as an artist.
Browning's optimism is firmly based on his faith in the immortality of the soul. The body may die but the soul lives on in the Infinite.
He puts the belief in the form of a fine metaphor that of a potter and the clay he moulds:
"Earth changes, but thy soul and God stands sure:
What entered into thee,
That was, is , and shall be:
Time's wheel runs back or stops: potter and clay endure." (Rabbi Ben Ezra)
The potter stands God, the clay for man and the wheel for time.
Browning believes in the futility of this worldly life. He thinks that failure serves as a source of inspiration for progress as in "Andrea Del Sarto":
Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp,
Or what's heaven for?
As also in "The Last Ride Together":
"We fall to rise, are baffled to fight better
Sleep to wake"
Browning's philosophical view about old age is optimistic which is made explicit in "Rabbi Ben Ezra'. He says old age is the best part of life. So we should not fear the coming of old age
"grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made:
… see all, nor be afraid"
Browning's firm faith in God is beyond any doubt. He is never sceptical about the existence of God controlling the world. Even his knaves have firm faith in God, and rely upon His mercy. They constantly talk of their relation with God, and are sure of their ultimate union with Him. It is love which harmonizes all living beings. It is on love that all Browning's characters build their faith saying:
"God, Thou art Love I build my faith on that"
He knows that whatever God will do , will be for the betterment of human. God's design for human life is whole and flawless. He says-
I, who saw power, see now love perfect too:
Perfect I call thy plan:
…I trust what thou shalt do! (Rabbi Ben Ezra)
Life in this world is worth living because both life and the world are the expressions of Divine Love. The world is beautiful as God created it out of the fullness of His love.
"… …This world's no blot for us,
Not blank; it means intensely, and means good:"
Browning's optimism finds the passion of joy no one has sung more fervently than Browning of the delight of life. David in "Saul", Pippa in "Pippa Passes", Lippo in "Fra Lippo Lippi" and a host of other poems are keenly alive to the pleasure of living. The Rabbi in "Rabbi Ben Ezra" condemns the aesthetic negation of the flesh, and asserts the necessity and moral usefulness of the flesh and the soul:
"As the bird wings and sings,
Let us cry 'All good things
Are ours, nor soul helps flesh more, now, than flesh helps soul"
In the Last Ride Together we find Browning's optimistic attitude towards love.
As he says:
"So, one day more am I deified.
Who knows but the world may end to–night?"
On another place, he says:
"I hoped she would love me; here we ride."
Again at the end of the poem does with the soaring hope that heaven might just prove to be the present situation made permanent
"The instant made eternity, –
And heaven just prove that in and she
Ride, ride together, for ever ride?
Despite, all this we call him as an optimist because of his firm faith in God."
His poems are full of courage and inspiration, telling people that there are no difficulties if they have self-dependence and self-control. It was a good omen for English literature that the two leaders in Poetry, Tennyson and Browning differed from on another. Tennyson was at heart a pessimist. But Browning was at heart a strong optimist.
So, we can safely conclude the Browning speaks out the strongest words of optimistic faith in his Victorian Age of scepticism and pessimism. Of all English poets, no other is so completely, so consciously, so magnificently a teacher of man as is Browning.