Robert Browning

Ian Jack and Robert Inglesfield (eds), The Poetical Works of Robert Browning, Vol. 5: Men and Women

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pg 401Editor’s NoteHOLY-CROSS DAY. Critical Apparatuson which the jews were forced to attend an annual christian sermon in rome.

["Now was come about Holy-Cross Day, and now must my lord Critical Apparatuspreach his first sermon to the Jews: as it was of old cared for in the Editor’s Notemerciful bowels of the Church, that, so to speak, a crumb at least from her conspicuous table here in Rome should be, though but Editor’s Notevonce yearly, cast to the famishing dogs, under-trampled andEditor’s Note bespitten-upon beneath the feet of the guests. And a moving sight in Editor’s Notetruth, this, of so many of the besotted blind restif and ready-to-perish Editor’s NoteCritical ApparatusHebrews! now maternally brought—nay (for He saith, 'Compel them to come in') haled, as it were, by the head and hair, and against Editor’s Notextheir obstinate hearts, to partake of the heavenly grace. What Editor’s Noteawakening, what striving with tears, what working of a yeasty Editor’s Noteconscience! Nor was my lord wanting to himself on so apt an occasion; witness the abundance of conversions which did Editor’s Noteincontinently reward him: though not to my lord be altogether the xvglory."—Diary by the Bishop's Secretary, 1600.]

Critical ApparatusWhat the Jews really said, on thus being driven to church, was rather to this effect:—

  • iii.
  • 13Higgledy piggledy, packed we lie,
  • 14Rats in a hamper, swine in a stye,
  • pg 40315Wasps in a bottle, frogs in a sieve,
  • 16Worms in a carcase, fleas in a sleeve.
  • Editor’s Note17Hist! square shoulders, settle your thumbs
  • Editor’s Note18And buzz for the bishop—here he comes.
  • pg 404vi.
  • 31See to our converts—you doomed black dozen—
  • Editor’s Note32No stealing away—nor cog nor cozen!
  • 33You five, that were thieves, deserve it fairly;
  • Critical Apparatus34You seven, that were beggars, will live less sparely;
  • Editor’s Note35You took your turn and dipped in the hat,
  • 36Got fortune—and fortune gets you; mind that!
  • vii.
  • Editor’s Note37Give your first groan—compunction's at work;
  • Editor’s Note38And soft! from a Jew you mount to a Turk.
  • 39Lo, Micah,—the selfsame beard on chin
  • 40He was four times already converted in!
  • 41Here's a knife, clip quick—it's a sign of grace—
  • Editor’s Note42Or he ruins us all with his hanging-face.
  • viii.
  • 43Whom now is the bishop a-leering at?
  • 44I know a point where his text falls pat.
  • 45I'll tell him to-morrow, a word just now
  • 46Went to my heart and made me vow
  • Editor’s NoteCritical Apparatus47I meddle no more with the worst of trades—
  • Critical Apparatus48Let somebody else pay his serenades.
  • ix.
  • 49Groan all together now, whee—hee—hee!
  • Editor’s Note50It's a-work, it's a-work, ah, woe is me!
  • 51It began, when a herd of us, picked and placed,
  • pg 405Editor’s Note52Were spurred through the Corso, stripped to the waist;
  • 53Jew brutes, with sweat and blood well spent
  • 54To usher in worthily Christian Lent.
  • xi.
  • Editor’s Note61But now, while the scapegoats leave our flock,
  • 62And the rest sit silent and count the clock,
  • 63Since forced to muse the appointed time
  • 64On these precious facts and truths sublime,—
  • 65Let us fitly employ it, under our breath,
  • 66In saying Ben Ezra's Song of Death.
  • xii.
  • 67For Rabbi Ben Ezra, the night he died,
  • 68Called sons and sons' sons to his side,
  • Critical Apparatus69And spoke, "This world has been harsh and strange;
  • pg 406Critical Apparatus70"Something is wrong: there needeth a change.
  • 71"But what, or where? at the last or first?
  • Editor’s Note72"In one point only we sinned, at worst.
  • xiii.
  • Editor’s Note73"The Lord will have mercy on Jacob yet,
  • 74"And again in his border see Israel set.
  • 75"When Judah beholds Jerusalem,
  • Editor’s Note76"The stranger-seed shall be joined to them:
  • Critical Apparatus77"To Jacob's House shall the Gentiles cleave.
  • 78"So the Prophet saith and his sons believe.
  • xiv.
  • 79"Ay, the children of the chosen race
  • 80"Shall carry and bring them to their place:
  • 81"In the land of the Lord shall lead the same,
  • 82"Bondsmen and handmaids. Who shall blame,
  • 83"When the slaves enslave, the oppressed ones o'er
  • Critical Apparatus84"The oppressor triumph for evermore?
  • xvi.
  • Editor’s Note91"Thou! if thou wast He, who at mid-watch came,
  • Editor’s Note92"By the starlight, naming a dubious name!
  • Critical Apparatus93"And if, too heavy with sleep—too rash
  • 94"With fear—O Thou, if that martyr-gash
  • 95"Fell on Thee coming to take thine own,
  • Editor’s Note96"And we gave the Cross, when we owed the Throne—
  • xvii.
  • Editor’s Note97"Thou art the Judge. We are bruised thus.
  • 98"But, the Judgment over, join sides with us!
  • 99"Thine too is the cause! and not more thine
  • Editor’s Note100"Than ours, is the work of these dogs and swine,
  • Critical Apparatus101"Whose life laughs through and spits at their creed!
  • 102"Who maintain Thee in word, and defy Thee in deed!
  • xix.
  • 109"By the torture, prolonged from age to age,
  • 110"By the infamy, Israel's heritage,
  • Editor’s Note111"By the Ghetto's plague, by the garb's disgrace,
  • 112"By the badge of shame, by the felon's place,
  • Critical Apparatus113"By the branding-tool, the bloody whip,
  • Editor’s Note114"And the summons to Christian fellowship,—

[Pope Gregory XVI. abolished this bad business of the Sermon.—R. B.]

Notes Settings

Notes

Editor’s Note
Title and epigraph: see introduction.
Critical Apparatus
sub-title 1855P (ON . . . . ROME.)
Critical Apparatus
epigraph ii 1863S for by the
Editor’s Note
iii merciful bowels: cf. Luke 1: 78 (alternative reading): 'Through the bowels of the mercy of our God'.
a crumb: Matt. 15: 27.
Editor’s Note
v under-trampled: not in OED2. Melchiori points out that trampling is often used in the OT in connection with the enemies of Israel.
Editor’s Note
vi bespitten-upon: not in OED2: cf. Mark 14: 65.
Editor’s Note
vii besotted: intellectually or morally blind.
restif: 'Unwilling to stir; resolute against going forward': Johnson.
ready-to-perish Hebrews: cf. Deut. 26.5 'A Syrian ready to perish was my father'.
Critical Apparatus
viii 1855P56 now paternally brought—
Editor’s Note
viii maternally: by Mother Church.
'Compel them to come in': Luke 14: 23.
Editor’s Note
x obstinate hearts: cf. Deut. 2: 30.
partake of the heavenly grace: 1 Cor. 10: 27, 30.
Editor’s Note
xi yeasty: foamy, 'working'.
Editor’s Note
xii wanting to himself: not living up to his own stature.
Editor’s Note
xiv incontinently: immediately.
not to my lord . . . altogether: 1 Cor. 9: 16 ff.
Critical Apparatus
xvi 185563 Though what
Editor’s Note
1 Fee, faw, fum!: cf. King Lear, iii. iv. 178–80: 'Child Rowland to the dark tower came, / His word was still "Fie, foh, and fum, / I smell the blood of a British man." ' See, as well as the epigraph to 'Childe Roland', 'A Lovers' Quarrel', 131–3. Barbara Melchiori points out (p. 99 and n.) that there is a variant with 'a Christian man!'
bubble and squeak!: a cheap dish of cabbage and potato fried together, sometimes with scraps of meat. Used here to show contempt.
Editor’s Note
2 Blessedest Thursday: this cannot refer to giovedi grasso, part of the Carnival season which occurs in late winter. Since 14 September may occur on any day of the week, perhaps we are to imagine that in the year to which the poem refers Holy-Cross Day happens to be a Thursday. The speaker, who knows little of Catholic practices and cares nothing for them, is of course being satirical.
Editor’s Note
3 Rumble and tumble: as in 'The Pied Piper', 109–10.
Editor’s Note
4 savoury: 'Pleasing to the smell': Johnson.
smug: 'Nice; spruce': Johnson.
gruff: 'Sour of aspect; harsh of manners":.Johnson.
Critical Apparatus
6 1855P63 sermon-time
Editor’s Note
10 To handsel: 'To use or do anything the first time': Johnson. Here, to be the first to be shaved, as a sign of conversion. Cf. the law of the Nazarites, Num. 6: 5, Judg. 13: 5.
Critical Apparatus
11 1855P65 leave
Editor’s Note
11 Fair play's a jewel: proverbial: first recorded in Fenimore Cooper, The Pioneers, ch. 17 (1823), and Scott, Redgauntlet (1824), ch. xxi.
Critical Apparatus
12 1855P65 church.
Editor’s Note
12 on a line: as at the beginning of a race.
Editor’s Note
17 settle your thumbs: i.e. stop twiddling them in impatience.
Editor’s Note
18 buzz: cf. Evelyn's 'humming' (in introduction above). This may signify contempt, as in Hamlet, ii. ii. 389, or a pretence of interest.
Editor’s Note
19 Bow, wow, wow: 'With these words . . . we are back with Old Mother Hubbard in the realm of nursery rhymes': Melchiori, 100.
Editor’s Note
20 an acorned hog: cf. Cymbeline, ii. v. 16, 'a full-acorn 'd boar'. Orthodox Jews do not eat the flesh of pigs. Cf. 24.
Editor’s Note
22 hour-glass: to time his sermon with.
Editor’s Note
23 chine: back.
Editor’s Note
24 laps: dewlaps, pendulous folds of flesh about the throat.
Critical Apparatus
28 1855P65 thingumbob.
Editor’s Note
28 thingumbob: probably a cross, which the speaker does not care to name.
Editor’s Note
29 quotha: forsooth.
Critical Apparatus
*30 {reading of 1855P84S} 1888, 1889 next DC, BrU next.
Editor’s Note
30 curtsey: by 1755 Johnson already limits the word to the genuflection made by women.
what comes next: the sermon.
Editor’s Note
32 nor cog nor cozen!: the two words, both meaning 'cheat', occur together in Tusser: see OED2, 'Cog', v.3
Critical Apparatus
34 1855P, 1856 sparely.
Editor’s Note
35 dipped in the hat: drew lots.
Editor’s Note
37 your first groan: cf. Rom. 8: 23.
Editor’s Note
38 mount: in the spiritual scale.
Critical Apparatus
47 1880S To meddle
Editor’s Note
47 the worst of trades: usury.
Critical Apparatus
48 1880S84S serenades!
Editor’s Note
50 a-work: i.e. the religious yeast is 'working' in him. Cf. 'Saul', 94.
Editor’s Note
52 the Corso: during the period of Carnival a number of races were run along this street, one of them a race for Jews, who were obliged to run naked. Dr Bonnie J. Blackburn tells us that Pope Paul II moved them to the Via del Corso so that he could watch the finishing-line from his palace in the Piazza di Venezia.
Editor’s Note
55 the hangman: his office included the infliction of other forms of punishment and persecution. our bounds; those of the ghetto in Rome. In 1814 the Pope allowed a few Jews to live outside it, and in 1847 Pius IX decided to destroy the gates and walls, but he had to bow to public opinion and refrain.
Critical Apparatus
56 1855P56 to this church 1855P63 hounds.
Editor’s Note
56 pricked: drove.
Critical Apparatus
58 1855P63 creed.
Editor’s Note
59 to even the odd: to complete the reckoning.
Editor’s Note
61 scapegoats: commonly, as here, people who are blamed for the sins (real or imagined) of a whole body. For the original meaning, see Lev. 16.
Critical Apparatus
69 1855P63S strange,
Critical Apparatus
70 1855P63S wrong,
Editor’s Note
72 one point: failing to recognize Christ as the Messiah.
Editor’s Note
73 "The Lord will have mercy: a close following of Isa. 14: 1–2, as Barbara Melchiori points out: 'For the Lord will have mercy on Jacob, and will yet choose Israel, and set them in their own land: and the strangers shall be joined with them, and they shall cleave to the house of Jacob. And the people shall take them, and bring them to their place: and the house of Israel shall possess them in the land of the Lord for servants and handmaids: and they shall take them captives, whose captives they were; and they shall rule over their oppressors'.
Editor’s Note
76 stranger-seed: not in OED2.
Critical Apparatus
77 1880S cleave,
Critical Apparatus
84 1880S84S evermore!
Critical Apparatus
*85 {reading of DC, BrU, 1889} 1855P84S keep: 1888 keep
Editor’s Note
86 fold the hands: cf. Prov. 6: 10: 'A little folding of the hands to sleep'.
Editor’s Note
87 at watch and ward: 'Continuous vigilance; guard by night (watch) and by day (ward)': Brewer, who points out that the phrase originated in feudal times.
Critical Apparatus
88 1855P63S Till the Christ
Editor’s Note
90 cock-crow: Matt. 26: 34.
Editor’s Note
91 who at mid-watch came: in Matt. 26: 40 we read how Christ came to his disciples, and found them asleep, and said to Peter, 'What, could ye not watch with me one hour?'
Editor’s Note
92 a dubious name: that of Peter, the doubter.
Critical Apparatus
93 1855P63S if we were too
Editor’s Note
96 we gave the Cross: we Jews, who should have recognized you as the Messiah, crucified you.
Editor’s Note
97 bruised: 'To crush or mangle with [a] heavy blow': Johnson. Cf. Isa. 53: 10.
Editor’s Note
100 these dogs and swine: both considered unclean by the Jews. Cf. ll. 19 and 24.
Critical Apparatus
101 1855P84S creed,
Critical Apparatus
103 1855P65 be
Editor’s Note
104 Barabbas: at the bidding of the Jews, Pilate released this murderer, rather than Christ: Mark 15: 6ff. Here he represents the Roman Catholic Church.
Critical Apparatus
105 1855P65 but
Editor’s Note
105 sore: extremely serious.
Critical Apparatus
107 1863S defiance of them
Editor’s Note
107 pay: repay.
Editor’s Note
108 make amends: because they are equally wicked.
Editor’s Note
111 the Ghetto's plague: the plague constituted by the Ghetto. The ghetto in Rome was instituted by Paul IV in 1556. The situation of the Jews depended on the character of the Pope. At certain times the persecution was relaxed. In some periods the men were supposed to wear yellow hats or vests, yellow being the colour of betrayal. Cf. Vol. I, p. 453.
Critical Apparatus
113–14 1855P Each heavier to us as these braggarts waxed, | Each lighter whenever their power relaxed—
Editor’s Note
114 the summons to Christian fellowship: the climax of our indignities.
Critical Apparatus
115 1855P63S our proofs, that
Critical Apparatus
116 1863S Could wrest
Editor’s Note
116 the Devil's crew: the Roman Catholic Church.
Critical Apparatus
119 1855P56 march, a band final note 1855P75 [The present Pope abolished 1880S84S [The late Pope abolished 1855P business.—R.B.]
Editor’s Note
120 the Pleasant Land: 'The passage is taken from Jeremiah in the Old Testament, but by substituting "Christ's name" for "the name of the Lord" Browning has greatly altered the meaning. The Lord in Jeremiah was Jehovah, the God of Israel, whereas the promise to fight in Christ's name can only mean a conversion to Christianity. Rabbi Ben Ezra's Song of Death therefore concludes in an invitation to the conversion of the Jews. If this fact had been stressed before, the question of the authenticity of the Song of Death could hardly have arisen': Melchiori, 110–11.
note: Pope Gregory XVI died on 1 June 1846. The sermons stopped finally in 1847, which was early in the pontificate of Pius IX, 'The present Pope', in the words of 1855.
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