The purpose of this book is to deal with Browning, not simply as a poet, but rather as the exponent of a system of ideas on moral and religious subjects, which may fairly be called a philosophy. I am conscious that it is a wrong to a poet to neglect, or even to subordinate, the artistic aspect of his work. At least, it would be a wrong, if our final judgment on his poetry were to be determined on such a method. But there is a place for everything; and, even in the case of a great poet, there is sometimes an advantage in attempting to estimate the value of what he has said, apart from the form in which he has said it. And of all modern poets, Browning is the one who most obviously invites and justifies such a method of treatment. For, in the first place, he is clearly one of that class of poets who are also prophets. He was never merely "the idle singer of an empty day," but one for whom poetic enthusiasm was intimately bound up with religious faith, and who spoke "in numbers," not merely "because the numbers came," but because they were for him the necessary vehicle of an inspiring thought. If it is the business of philosophy to analyze and interpret all the great intellectual forces that mould the thought of an age, it cannot neglect the works of one who has exercised, and is exercising so powerful an influence on the moral and religious life of the present generation.
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