Act 1

Robert Browning

TIME, 14—.

SCENE.—LURIA’S Camp between Florence and Pisa.




BRACCIO, as dictating to his Secretary; PUCCIO standing by.

Brac. [to PUC.] Then, you join battle in an hour?

Puc.                                                            Not I;
Luria, the Captain.

Brac. [to the Sec.] “In an hour, the battle.”
[To PUC.] Sir, let your eye run o’er this loose digest
And see if very much of your report
Have slipped away through my civilian phrase.
Does this instruct the Signory aright
How army stands with army?

Puc. [taking the paper.] All seems here:
—That Luria, seizing with our City’s force
The several points of vantage, hill and plain,
Shuts Pisa safe from help on every side,
And baffling the Lucchese arrived too late,
Must, in the battle he delivers now,
Beat her best troops and first of chiefs.

Brac.                                                        So sure?
Tiburzio’s a consummate captain too!

Puc. Luria holds Pisa’s fortune in his hand.

Brac. [to the Sec.] “The Signory hold Pisa in their hand!”
Your own proved soldiership’s our warrant, sir:
So, while my secretary ends his task,
Have out two horsemen, by the open roads,
To post with it to Florence!

Puc. [returning the paper.] All seems here;
Unless. . . Ser Braccio, ’tis my last report!
Since Pisa’s outbreak, and my overthrow,
And Luria’s hastening at the city’s call
To save her, as he only could, no doubt;
Till now that she is saved or sure to be,—
Whatever you tell Florence, I tell you:
Each day’s note you, her Commissary, make
Of Luria’s movements, I myself supply.
No youngster am I longer, to my cost;
Therefore while Florence gloried in her choice
And vaunted Luria, whom but Luria, still,
As if zeal, courage, prudence, conduct, faith,
Had never met in any man before,
I saw no pressing need to swell the cry.
But now, this last report and I have done—
So, ere to-night comes with its roar of praise,
’Twere not amiss if some one old i’ the trade
Subscribed with, “True, for once rash counsel’s best;
“This Moor of the bad faith and doubtful race,
“This boy to whose untried sagacity,
“Raw valour, Florence trusts without reserve
“The charge to save her, justifies her choice;
“In no point has this stranger failed his friends;
“Now praise!” I say this, and it is not here.

Brac. [to the Sec]. Write, “Puccio, superseded in the charge
“By Luria, bears full witness to his worth,
“And no reward our Signory can give
“Their champion but he’ll back it cheerfully.”
Aught more? Five minutes hence, both messengers!

[PUCCIO goes.

Brac. [after a pause, and while he slowly tears the paper into shreds.]
I think. . . pray God, I hold in fit contempt
This warfare’s noble art and ordering,
And,—once the brace of prizers fairly matched,
Poleaxe with poleaxe, knife with knife as good,—
Spit properly at what men term their skill. . . 
Yet here I think our fighter has the odds;
With Pisa’s strength diminished thus and thus,
Such points of vantage in our hands and such,
With Lucca off the stage, too,—all’s assured:
Luria must win this battle. Write the Court,
That Luria’s trial end and sentence pass!

Sec.    Patron,—

Brac.                    Aye, Lapo?

Sec.                                            If you trip, I fall;
’Tis in self-interest I speak—

Brac.                                    Nay, nay,
You overshoot the mark, my Lapo! Nay!
When did I say pure love’s impossible?
I make you daily write those red cheeks thin,
Load your young brow with what concerns it least,
And, when we visit Florence, let you pace
The Piazza by my side as if we talked,
Where all your old acquaintances may see:
You’d die for me, I should not be surprised!
Now then!

Sec.            Sir, look about and love yourself!
Step after step the Signory and you
Tread gay till this tremendous point’s to pass;
Which, pass not, pass not, ere you ask yourself,
Bears the brain steadily such draughts of fire,
Or too delicious may not prove the pride
Of this long secret Trial you dared plan,
Dare execute, you solitary here,
With the grey-headed toothless fools at home,
Who think themselves your lords, they are such slaves?
If they pronounce this sentence as you bid,
Declare the treason, claim its penalty,—
And sudden out of all the blaze of life,
On the best minute of his brightest day,
From that adoring army at his back,
Thro’ Florence’ joyous crowds before his face,
Into the dark you beckon Luria. . . 

Brac.                                                Then—
Why, Lapo, when the fighting-people vaunt,
We of the other craft and mystery,
May we not smile demure, the danger past?

Sec.    Sir, no, no, no,—the danger, and your spirit
At watch and ward? Where’s danger on your part,
With that thin flitting instantaneous steel,
’Gainst the blind bull-front of a brute-force world?
If Luria, that’s to perish sure as fate,
Should have been really guiltless after all?

Brac.    Ah, you have thought that?

Sec.                                    Here I sit, your scribe,
And in and out goes Luria, days and nights;
This Puccio comes; the Moor his other friend,
Husain; they talk—all that’s feigned easily;
He speaks (I would not listen if I could),
Heads, orders, counsels;—but he rests sometimes,—
I see him stand and eat, sleep stretched an hour
On the lynx-skins, yonder; hold his bared black arms
Into the sun from the tent-opening; laugh
When his horse drops the forage from his teeth
And neighs to hear him hum his Moorish songs,
That man believes in Florence, as the Saint
Tied to the wheel believes in God!

Brac.                                        How strange—
You too have thought that!

Sec.                                Do but you think too,
And all is saved! I only have to write,
The man seemed false awhile, proves true at last;
Bury it. . . so I write to the Signory. . . 
Bury this Trial in your breasts for ever,
Blot it from things or done or dreamed about,
So Luria shall receive his meed to-day
With no suspicion what reverse was near,—
As if no meteoric finger hushed
The doom-word just on the destroyer’s lip.
Motioned him off, and let life’s sun fall straight.

Brac. [looks to the wall of the tent.]    Did he draw that?

Sec.                        With charcoal, when the watch
Made the report at midnight; Lady Domizia
Spoke of the unfinished Duomo, you remember;
That is his fancy how a Moorish front
Might join to, and complete, the body,—a sketch,—
And again where the cloak hangs, yonder in the shadow.

Brac.    He loves that woman.

Sec.                                    She is sent the spy
Of Florence,—spies on you as you on him:
Florence, if only for Domizia s sake,
Is surely safe. What shall I write?

Brac.                                            I see—
A Moorish front, nor of such ill design!
Lapo, there’s one thing plain and positive;
Man seeks his own good at the whole world’s cost.
What? If to lead our troops, stand forth our chiefs,
And hold our fate, and see us at their beck,
Yet render up the charge when peace returned,
Have ever proved too much for Florentines,
Even for the best and bravest of ourselves—
If in the struggle when the soldier’s sword
Should sink its point before the statist’s pen,
And the calm head replace the violent hand,
Virtue on virtue still have fallen away
Before ambition with unvarying fate,
Till Florence’ self at last in bitterness
Be forced to own such falls the natural end,
And, sparing further to expose her sons
To a vain strife and profitless disgrace,
Declare “The Foreigner, one not my child,
“Shall henceforth lead my troops, reach height by height
“The glory, then descend into the shame;
“So shall rebellion be less guilt in him,
“And punishment the easier task for me “
—If on the best of us this brand she set,
Can I suppose an utter alien here,
This Luria, our inevitable foe,
Confessed a mercenary and a Moor,
Born free from any ties that bind the rest
Of common faith in Heaven or hope on Earth,
No Past with us, no Future,—such a Spirit
Shall hold the path from which our staunchest broke,
Stand firm where every famed precursor fell?
My Lapo, I will frankly say, these proofs
So duly noted of the man’s intent,
Are for the doting fools at home, not me;
The charges here, they may be true or false,
—What is set down? Errors and oversights,
This dallying interchange of courtesies
With Pisa’s General,—all that, hour by hour,
Puccio’s pale discontent has furnished us,
Of petulant speeches, inconsiderate acts,
Now overhazard, overcaution now;
Even that he loves this Lady who believes
She outwits Florence, and whom Florence posted
By my procurement here, to spy on me,
Lest I one minute lose her from my sight—
She who remembering her whole House’s fall,
That nest of traitors strangled in the birth,
Now labours to make Luria. . . . poor device
As plain. . . . the instrument of her revenge!
—That she is ever at his ear to prompt
Inordinate conceptions of his worth,
Exorbitant belief in its reward,
And after, when sure disappointment follows,
Proportionable rage at such a wrong—
Why, all these reasons, while I urge them most,
Weigh with me less than least; as nothing weigh!
Upon that broad Man’s heart of his, I go!
On what I know must be, yet while I live
Will never be, because I live and know!
Brute-force shall not rule Florence! Intellect
May rule her, bad or good as chance supplies,—
But Intellect it shall be, pure if bad,
And Intellect’s tradition so kept up
Till the good comes—’twas Intellect that ruled,
Not Brute-force bringing from the battle-field
The attributes of wisdom, foresight’s graces
We lent it there to lure its grossness on;
All which it took for earnest and kept safe
To show against us in our market-place,
Just as the plumes and tags and swordsman’s gear
(Fetched from the camp where at their foolish best
When all was done the frightened nobody)
Perk in our faces in the street, forsooth,
With our own warrant and allowance. No!
The whole procedure’s overcharged,—its end
In too strict keeping with the bad first step.
To conquer Pisa was sheer inspiration?
Well then, to perish for a single fault,
Let that be simple justice!—There, my Lapo!
A Moorish front ill suits our Duomo’s body—
Blot it out—and bid Luria’s sentence come!

    [LURIA who, with DOMIZIA, has entered unobserved
        at the close of the last phrase, now advancing.

And Luria, Luria, what of Luria now?

Brac. Ah, you so close, Sir? Lady Domizia too?
I said it needs must be a busy moment
For one like you—that you were now i’ the thick
Of your duties, doubtless, while we idlers sate. . . . 

Lur.    No—in that paper,—it was in that paper
What you were saying!

Brac.                                Oh—my day’s dispatch!
I censure you to Florence: will you see?

Lur. See your dispatch, your last, for the first time?
Well, if I should, now? For in truth, Domizia,
He would be forced to set about another,
In his sly cool way, the true Florentine,
To mention that important circumstance;
So while he wrote I should gain time, such time!
Do not send this!

Brac.                        And wherefore?

Lur.                                            These Lucchese
Are not arrived—they never will arrrive!
And I must fight to-day, arrived or not;
And I shall beat Tiburzio, that is sure:
And then will be arriving my Lucchese,
But slowly, oh so slowly, just in time
To look upon my battle from the hills,
Like a late moon, of use to nobody!
And I must break my battle up, send forth,
Surround on this side, hold in check on that—
Then comes to-morrow, we negotiate,
You make me send for fresh instructions home,
—Incompleteness, incompleteness!

Brac.                                        Ah, we scribes!
Why, I had registered that very point,
The non-appearance of our foes’ ally,
As a most happy fortune; both at once
Were formidable—singly faced, each falls.

Lur.    So no great battle for my Florentines!
No crowning deed, decisive and complete,
For all of them, the simple as the wise,
Old, young, alike, that do not understand
Our wearisome pedantic art of war,
By which we prove retreat may be success,
Delay—best speed,—half loss, at times,—whole gain:
They want results—as if it were their fault!
And you, with warmest wish to be my friend,
Will not be able now to simply say
“Your servant has performed his task—enough!
“You ordered, he has executed: good!
“Now walk the streets in holiday attire,
“Congratulate your friends, till noon strikes fierce,
“Then form bright groups beneath the Duomo’s shade!
No! you will have to argue and explain,
Persuade them all is not so ill in the end,
Tease, tire them out!    Arrive, arrive, Lucchese!

Dom. Well, you will triumph for the Past enough,
Whatever be the Present’s chance—no service
Falls to the ground with Florence; she awaits
Her saviour, will receive him fittingly.

Lur.    Ah, Braccio, you know Florence. . . . will she, think you,
Receive one. . . what means “fittingly receive?”
—Receive compatriots, doubtless—I am none
And yet Domizia promises so much!

Brac.    Kind women still give men a woman’s prize.
I know not o’er which gate most boughs will arch,
Nor if the Square will wave red flags or blue—
I should have judged, the fullest of rewards
Our State gave Luria, when she made him chief
Of her whole force, in her best Captain’s place.

Lur.    That my reward? Florence on my account
Relieved Ser Puccio?—mark you, my reward!
And Puccio’s having all the fight’s true joy—
Goes here and there, directs, may fight himself,
While I must order, stand aloof, o’ersee!
That was my calling—there was my true place!
I should have felt, in some one over me,
Florence impersonate, my visible Head,
As I am over Puccio,—taking life
Directly from her eye!—They give me you!
But do you cross me, set me half to work?
I enjoy nothing—but I will, for once!
Decide, shall we join battle? may I wait?

Brac.    Let us compound the matter; wait till noon;
Then, no arrival,—

Lur.                        Ah, noon comes too fast!
I wonder, do you guess why I delay
Involuntarily the final blow
As long as possible? Peace follows it!
Florence at peace, and the calm studious heads
Come out again, the penetrating eyes;
As if a spell broke, all’s resumed, each art
You boast, more vivid that it slept awhile!
’Gainst the glad heaven, o’er the white palace-front
The interrupted scaffold climbs anew;
The walls are peopled by the Painter’s brush;
The Statue to its niche ascends to dwell;
The Present’s noise and trouble have retired
And left the eternal Past to rule once more.—
You speak its speech and read its records plain,
Greece lives with you, each Roman breathes your friend,
—But Luria—where will then be Luria’s place?

Dom.    Highest in honour, for that Past’s own sake,
Of which his actions, sealing up the sum
By saving all that went before from wreck,
Will range as part, with which be worshipped too.

Lur. Then I may walk and watch you in your streets
Leading the life my rough life helps no more,
So different, so new, so beautiful—
Nor fear that you will tire to see parade
The club that slew the lion, now that crooks
And shepherd-pipes come into use again?
For very lone and silent seems my East
In its drear vastness—still it spreads, and still
No Braccios, no Domizias anywhere—
Not ever more!—Well, well, to-day is ours!

Dom. [to BRAC.] Should he not have been one of us?

Lur.                                                                Oh, no!
Not one of you, and so escape the thrill
Of coming into you, and changing thus,—
Feeling a soul grow on me that restricts
The boundless unrest of the savage heart!
The sea heaves up, hangs loaded o’er the land,
Breaks there and buries its tumultuous strength;
Horror, and silence, and a pause awhile;
Lo, inland glides the gulf-stream, miles away,
In rapture of assent, subdued and still,
’Neath those strange banks, those unimagined skies!
Well, ’tis not sure the quiet lasts for ever!
Your placid heads still find our hands new work;
Some minutes’ chance—there comes the need of mine—
And, all resolved on, I too hear at last.
Oh, you must find some use for me, Ser Braccio!
You hold my strength; ’twere best dispose of it!
What you created, see that you find food for—
I shall be dangerous else!

Brac.                            How dangerous, Sir?

Lur. Oh, there are many ways, Domizia warns me,
And one with half the power that I possess,
Grows very formidable! Do you doubt?
Why, first, who holds the army. . . . 

Dom.                                                While we talk
Morn wears, we keep you from your proper place
In the field!—

Lur.                        Nay, to the field I move no more!
My part is done, and Puccio’s may begin!
I cannot trench upon his province longer
With any face.—You think yourselves so safe?
Why see—in concert with Tiburzio, now—
One could. . . 

Dom.                    A trumpet!

Lur.                                        My Lucchese at last!
Arrived, as sure as Florence stands! your leave!

[Springs out.

Dom. How plainly is true greatness characters
By such unconsciousness as Luria’s here,
And sharing least the secret of itself!
Be it with head that schemes or hand that acts,
Such save the world which none but they could save,
Yet think whate’er they did, that world could do.

Brac. Yes: and how worthy note, that those same great ones
In hand or head, with such unconsciousness
And all its due entailed humility,
Should never shrink, so far as I perceive,
From taking up whatever offices
Involve the whole world’s safety or mishap,
Into their mild hands as a thing of course!
The Statist finds it natural to lead
The mob who might as easily lead him—
The Soldier marshals men who know as much—
Statist and Soldier verily believe!
While we poor scribes. . . . you catch me thinking, now,
That I shall in this very letter write
What none of you are able! To it, Lapo!

[DOMIZIA goes.
This last, worst, all affected childish fit
Of Luria’s, this be-praised unconsciousness,
Convinces me: the Past was no child’s play;
It was a man beat Pisa,—not a child.
All’s mere dissimulation—to remove
The fear, he best knows we should entertain.
The utmost danger was at hand. Is’t written?
Now make a duplicate, lest this should fail,
And speak your fullest on the other side.

Sec. I noticed he was busily repairing
My half-effacement of his Duomo sketch,
And, while he spoke of Florence, turned to it,
As the Mage Negro King to Christ the Babe.—
I judge his childishness the true relapse
To boyhood of a man who has worked lately,
And presently will work, so, meantime plays:
Whence more than ever I believe in him.

Brac. [after a pause.] The sword! At best, the soldier, as he says,
In Florence—the black face, the barbarous name,
For Italy to boast her show of the age,
Her man of men!—To Florence with each letter!

Luria - Contents    |     Act II

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