‘A wise and reflective man guides himself aright’
This day, March 29th, 1886, I went up to see Robert Browning. … The first point on which we got was how far allegorical interpretation could be legitimately carried in studying his poems. I took my stand on ‘Hugues of Saxe-Gotha’, and he repeated what he had told me before that he had no allegorical intent in his head when he wrote the poem; that it was composed in an organ loft and was merely the expression of a fugue — the construction of which he understood he said, because he had composed fugues himself: it was an involved labyrinth of entanglement leading to nothing — the only allegory in it was its possible reflection of the labyrinth of human life. That was all and he warned me not to go too deep in his poetry in search of allegory. ‘My Last Duchess’ he illustrated from the anecdote of the Proud Duke of Somerset whose name he could not remember, who, on his second wife attempting to sit on his knees, said to her that his first wife who was a Percy would never have taken such a liberty;1 and also from Lord Sandwich warning one of his guests who entered into conversation with Mrs Ray — etc.2 This I notice he related neither with indignation nor contempt, but simply as a fact.
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