[Domett, Browning's fellow poet and friend from early days, is supposdly the the original of Waring in poem, “What became of Waring?” After he returned to England in 1872 from New Zealand, where he had lived for several decades, he visited his old friend and his family many times. In his diary entry of March 9, 1883 he recorded his memory of Browning's early knowledge of Hebrew. — George P. Landow]

One fancies Browning laughing in his sleeve, occasionally in this book at the surprise of his readers as he taunts their ignorance with quotations in the original Hebrew, flung in their faces without a word of explanation, preface or apology. He turns his Rabbinical reading to account in Jochanan Hakkadosh; and it is curious that the philosophy of Man and Nature he puts into the moutli of that worthy seems quite as much German as Jewish, and ever more Hegelian than Mosaic. This of Browning and Hebrew reminds me that many years ago, somewhere between 1835 and 1840, he told me one day he had begun learning that language and was reading the first chapter of Genesis, remarking upon the fine effect of the words in the original of “God said, let there be Light — and tliere was Light”; how the two parts of the verb in the Hebrew, each a single word, sounded — the last like the immediate echo and repercussion as it were, of the first, like two claps of the hand, one quick upon the other, without the slightest pause or interval between them; illustrating beautifully the sudden swift obedience and unhesitating compliance of Nature with the divine command. All this is lost in the English translation from the necessity of using so many little auxiliary verbs or particles to distinguish the different moods and tenses. I don't recollect the original words he quoted and cannot give them, as I don't know a word of Hebrew. [249]


The Diary of Alfred Domett, 1872-1885. Ed. E. A. Horsman. London: Geoffrey Cumberledge/Oxford University Peress, 1953.

Victorian Overview R. Browning

Last modified 4 December 2010