All of the political applications of types we have thus far observed in Casa Guidi Windows have been strictly orthodox ones. On the other hand, when Barrett Browning takes the oppressed people of a disunited, conquered Italy as equivalent to Christ, she introduces us to secularized or extended versions of this form of religious symbolism. According to Casa Guidi Windows, the ruling members of the Church
take the advantage, agonizing Christ
By rustier nails than those of Cedron's brook,
In the people's body very cheaply priced, --
And quote high priesthood out of Holy Book,
While buying death-fields with the sacrificed.
This passage represents secularized typology because it abandons orthodox religious typological relations in making the people equivalent to Christ Himself. Although members of the Church of Christ can be taken to be antitypes both of those things which prefigure Christ and of Christ Himself, one cannot take the people of Italy in the same manner. First of all, being a member of a nation is not at all the same thing as being a member of the Church of Christ. Moreover, one suspects that an Evangelical, such as Mrs Browning, would not literally accept that most Italians, as Roman Catholics, belonged to a church which enabled them to be considered part of Christ Mystical.
Such secularized types, which can only be employed when many in one's audience have a knowledge of biblical typology, have several valuable effects for the political writer and polemicist. To begin with, they permit the Victorian writer to communicate with his audience in terms of a recognizable, culturally acceptable narrative or structure which has many powerful associations attached to it. Types, which have the power to generate the entire Gospel scheme, also provide a particularly economical way of assigning moral and spiritual value to various political figures, conditions, or events. Once one has employed a type which suggests the people have the virtues and greatness of Christ, one has already implicitly charged any of their opponents with possessing satanic natures. One important result of such economical assignment of moral value with typological imagery is that it is often used to particular effect as a device of political invective.
Swinburne, a master of such invective, frequently employs secularized versions of commonplace types for both praise and blame. "The Armada" (1888), which he wrote to commemorate the three-hundredth anniversary of England's great victory over Spain, exemplifies both uses. When he addresses Pope Sixtus and Philip of Spain, telling them that "England's heel is upon you," one might not be certain that he is alluding to Genesis 3:15; but when he later applies the second half of this prophetic type to England, he makes sure that one recognizes his allusion to the commonplace type that was always taken to announce a universal battle between good and evil which would eventually end in the complete triumph of Christ over Satan. Swinburne tells England:
Freedom lives by the grace she gives thee, born again from thy deathless youth:
Faith should fail, and the world turn pale, wert thou the prey of the serpent's tooth.
Greed and fraud, unabashed, unawed, may strive to sting thee at heel in vain.
Christ was to bruise the head of the serpent, who in turn would bruise the heel of the seed of woman — a prophecy commonly understood to refer to the Crucifixion.
Swinburne, who has made England take the place of Christ in this version of the type, further modifies it by omitting the expected suffering of the world saviour. His strategy, in other words, is to introduce the subject of the bruised heel to make certain his audience recognizes the allusion to Genesis 3:15, but he manipulates and modifies the type for his own purposes, which do not include advancing the notion of sacrificial atonement. Swinburne's replacement of Christ by England as saviour makes the triumph of the English fleet over the Armada one of those centers to human history analogous to that provided for Christians by the appearance, earthly ministry, and sacrificial death of Jesus. At the same time, his use of this typological allusion defines the greatness of England for his audience.
Swinburne again uses Genesis 3:15 to praise a nation that fought to be free in "A Song of Italy" (1867) when he praises
Milan, whose imperial tread Bruised once the German head;
Whose might, by northern swords left desolate Set foot on fear and fate.
Like Swinburne's poetic celebration of England's defeat of the Armada, his poem on the liberation of Italy makes a nation's battles appear to play a major role in a universal struggle of good with evil. Again, part of his procedure in secularizing this commonplace type is to leave out a crucial portion of its significance. He makes a somewhat different modification of it in "A Counsel," one of the "Diræ" (1869) written in imitation of Hugo's poems of political invective. There he sets the initial conceit in motion and then does not complete it, for he instructs the "strong Republic" that he hopes will come into being:
When thy foot's tread hath crushed their crowns and creeds Care thou not then to crush the beast that bleeds, The snake whose belly cleaveth to the sod, Nor set thine heel on men as on their deeds; But let the worm Napoleon crawl untrod, Nor grant Mastai the gallows of his God.
The implication is that, greater than the Christian saviour, a republican Italy is so far above these evil men that it need not crush them physically. A truly free nation, it appears, is greater and more gracious than Christ. Literature from Dante to Swift shows that writers have long used types to attack political opponents, and like his predecessors Swinburne uses typological allusion to aggrandize parties he favors and savage those he opposes. What is new, however, is that this Victorian political poet who often makes effective use of typology does not believe in Christianity.
None the less, he can use types because he reinterprets his major terms and makes, for example, England, Italy, Garibaldi, or the people take the place of Christ. Purporting to discover the same moral principles in the political situations he interprets as are contained in Gospel events, he can effectively apply the interpretive modes of what was for him a despised religion — and he can do so with effect and without alienating his Victorian contemporaries. Like Ruskin after he lost his early Evangelical belief, Swinburne frequently employs vocabulary, rhetoric, and iconography which appeal to many in the contemporary audience. In "Super Flumina Babylonis" (1871), he presents Christ's passion, death, and resurrection as simultaneously the antitype of Israel's Babylonian captivity and deliverance and also a type of Italy's enslavement and coming freedom. Resurrection becomes equivalent to the Risorgimento. Rather than beginning with his usual equivalence of Christ and Italy, he opens the poem with an allusion to Psalm 137, which begins: "By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down; yet, we wept when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows, in the midst thereof. For there they that carried us away captive, required of us a song." Swinburne gives these lines his own intonation [follow for other uses of this psalm] and characteristically omits important elements irrelevant to his purpose, for he begins "Super Flumina Babylonis:"
By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept,
That for ages of agony hast endured, and slept, And wouldst not see.
Swinburne, who does not choose to take advantage of the original psalm's statements about a poetry of exile, also establishes a moral and spiritual distance between his speaker and Zion which does not exist in the original psalm. He moves from a position "By the waters of Babylon" to one "By the waters of Italy" and finally to those "By the hillside of Calvary" and "By the stone of the Sepulchre."
Although the poet obviously expects his reader to perceive the standard prefigurative relation between the sufferings of Israel and those of Christ, he does not use them primarily to serve as types of Italy.3 Rather, when Swinburne mentions Israel or Christ he really means Italy: in other words, he is not so much employing types as he is using both parts of a typological relation for a political allegory. Like so many Victorian political writers, he uses the events of Christ's passion and death for an elaborate analogy whose moral and spiritual values are conveniently known to his audience. Comparing Italy to Christ endows this then oppressed nation with a spiritual status and grants its people's sufferings a quasi-religious value. Although Swinburne usually alludes to types as a means of emphasizing and aggrandizing the sufferings of an oppressed people, he here employs a somewhat different strategy, using them to suggest the hope of secular "resurrection." Although in his conceit Risorgimento becomes equal to Resurrection, he does not make any fuller equation of Christ and Italy. The nation's sufferings do not, for example, atone to a higher power for anything. Another way of stating Swinburne's modifications of a typological scheme is to observe that since he believes that suffering is essentially without meaning or purpose, he can use types only to emphasize the fact of such suffering and the hope of its end; he cannot really use them to provide a higher, spiritual meaning for earthly pain.
This characteristic Swinburnean use of Christ's passion and death appears in poems which present, not Italy, but its common people in terms of the Saviour Himself. "Christmas Antiphones" (1871) thus presents the oppressed poor crucified on the tree of life, and "The Litany of Nations" (1871), which presents an image of "the bloodsweat of the people in the garden/ Inwalled of kings," makes the condition of the masses equivalent to Christ's agony in the garden. None the less, despite the poet's skillful manipulation of such aspects of the Gospel narrative, he does not use them, as a believer might, to suggest any full equivalence between the people and Christ, since he cannot accept any of its emphases other than that upon innocent suffering. This same approach to Christian belief and the typology which that belief created appears in "Before a Crucifix" (1871 ), which is one of Swinburne's most effective political poems. The poem begins as a meditation upon a weather-scarred roadside crucifix, presumably in Italy, to which the poor bring their sorrows. After admitting that he has neither "tongue nor knee/ For prayer," Swinburne addresses the shrine as if it were Christ and demands if His coming had produced only a suffering race of men praying to a suffering image of man.
Swinburne's chief point, however, is not that Christianity has done so little good but that it has done so much harm, and so he continues his interrogation by asking:
It was for this then, that thy speech
Was blown about the world in flame And men's souls shot up out of reach
Of fear or lust or thwarting shame That thy faith over souls should pass As sea-winds burning the grey grass? . . .
It was for this, that men should make
Thy name a fetter on men's necks,
Poor men's made poorer for thy sake,
And women's withered out of sex? It was for this, that slaves should be, Thy word was passed to set men free?
The nineteenth wave of the ages rolls
Now deathward since thy death and birth. Hast thou fed full men's starved-out souls?
Hast thou brought freedom upon earth? Or are there less oppressions done In this wild world under the sun?
Having thus bitterly interrogated Christ, Swinburne turns to his actual target, the Roman Catholic Church. He e plains to Christ that His supposed priests have used His suffering to establish their tyrannical dominion over men. Heaping up satirical analogies, types, and parodied types, the poet charges that priests and prelates have enslaved the people while enriching themselves:
The thirst that made thy dry throat shrink
To their moist mouths commends the drink.
he toothed thorns that bit thy brows
Lighten the weight of gold on theirs;
Thy nakedness enrobes thy spouse
With the soft sanguine stuff she wears
Whose old limbs use for ointment yet
Thine agony and bloody sweat.
After thus attacking the Roman Church in lines which echo and in part parody Keble's "Gunpowder Treason," Swinburne makes his chief indictment: that Christ's priests, who exploit the suffering of Jesus as a means of enriching themselves, crucify the people and force them continually to reenact the agonies of their supposed Saviour.
With iron for thy linen bands
And unclean cloths for winding-sheet
They bind the people's nail-pierced hands,
They hide the people's nail-pierced feet;
And what man or what angel known
Shall roll back the sepulchral stone?
The poet expects us to answer that he and the heroes of Italian liberty and reunification will be the men who will issue in that nation's true Risorgimento, which has now fully become a true, not a priestly, resurrection. Like preachers contrasting the true, complete law of the Gospel with the relatively false and incomplete Old Testament law, Swinburne finds some hint of a higher gospel of freedom, and its chief comerstone must be that the people abandon a false, enslaving religion with its "phantom of a Christless cross/ Shadowing the sheltered heads of kings." Democracy must be an entirely new movement independent of the false priests of a false religion. Swinburne, who cannot accept that the people's centuries of suffering atoned for any sin or produced any spiritual development, commands those who would be free:
Set not thine hand unto their cross.
Give not thy soul up sacrificed.
Change not the gold of faith for dross
Of Christian creeds that spit on Christ.
Let not thy tree of freedom be
Regrafted from that rotting tree.
Swinburne, much like Puritan and Evangelical tractwriters attacking the Roman Church, soon makes it clear that "the gold of faith" of which he writes is no purified Christianity or even one almost completely redefined in the manner of some extreme Broad Church sympathizers. His faith is faith in man and representative democracy. Swinburne, who despises both the theory and practice of Christianity, has produced a tour de force of polemical virtuosity in "Before a Crucifix" by employing the trick of setting up the ideas and images of this religion to attack itself. After charging Christ with having failed to bring anything but oppression to the world, Swinburne condemns His supposed priests, first for having enriched themselves and second for having crushed the people beneath tyranny, poverty, and ignorance.
At this point he uses the passion and crucifixion of Christ as a powerful device of invective, for he holds that the Church has, in essence, crucified the people. Having set forth the corruptions of Christianity, Swinburne can now urge the masses to free themselves from its bonds. He then closes "Before a Crucifix" with a final necessary twist, attacking the notion that Christ could be a God and thereby preventing any reader from believing that a purified Christianity could exist. According to Swinburne, who is still meditating upon the battered, sun- and rain-bleached crucifix, "This dead God here against my face/ Hath help for no man." He has never done any good, nor can he, says Swinburne, and in the penultimate stanza he asks what high nature could possibly exist in a God who sees the worship of His satanic priests, "and is dumb?" Therefore, "No soul that lived, loved, wrought, and died,/ Is this their carrion crucified." In other words, having employed Christ to bludgeon the enemies of man, Swinburne then easily tosses away his weapon when no longer needed.
As will be obvious, such a use of the Christian mythos and its associated types can arise only at a particular moment in the history of Christianity. To employ secular, extended, or parodied types, an author only has to have acquired some knowledge of biblical typology, but if he wishes to communicate effectively with his audience, its members must also share that knowledge. Although secularized extensions of typology appear any time when readers have been taught to study their Bibles for prefigurations of Christ, Swinburnean uses of types to attack the religion of which they are a part can only appear very frequently at a particular cultural moment. They require a point in the spiritual and religious history of an age characterized by the fact that many in the writer's intended audience possess a thorough knowledge of Christian typology but no longer accept its authenticity. Before then such secularized types would immediately alienate the writer's audience, and afterwards, say, in the second half of the twentieth century, most in his audience would fail to understand these allusions. As Swinburne,s scriptural allusions in "Dolores" (1866) demonstrate, he was often willing to risk alienating many of his readers; but when he came to see himself as the bard of Italian freedom, he began to take more care to prevent such possible alienation. Like so many other Victorians, this atheistic poet found scriptural typology an effective means of communicating with an audience many of whose members possessed a knowledge of scriptural exegetics. Matthew Amold well realized that his century was a time of transition, and such a time grants unexpected privileges to its artists and writers who work close enough to older traditions and structures of meaning (such as Christian typology) to enjoy the comforts they provide and yet are distant enough from them to feel free to handle them ironically.
Before closing our examination of Swinburne's manipulation of political types, we would do well to emphasize how detailed, how expert such manipulations could be during the reign of Victoria. For our purposes two examples will suffice. The first, a passage from "A Song of Italy" (1867), exemplifies Swinburne's employing types to aggrandize political martyrs and victims as he urges the coming "priestless Rome that shalt be" to treasure the memories of all who died to make her thus free.
Be the least
To thee indeed a priest,
Priest and bumt-offering and blood-sacrifice Given without prayer or price,
A holier immolation than men wist, A costlier eucharist,
A sacrament more saving.
Swinburne's skillful citation of the Old Testament prefigurations of Christ, priesthood, and the Eucharist is blasphemous finally only because it makes man more important and higher than God, and he is close enough to a High Church reading of martyrdom that it is possible to conceive a similar conceit by Keble or Newman. In fact, Hopkins's "The Wreck of the Deutschland" (1876), the work of a High Church convert to Roman Catholicism, employs a similar extravagant conceit to effect the poem,s elegiac resolution. Hopkins claims that the chief of the exiled German nuns was an antitype of the Blessed Virgin, since in calling for Christ she supposedly brought Him forth to a waiting world; and while the poet does not claim, like Swinburne, that this victim of political oppression is greater than Mary, his citation of a typological relation does have much the same extravagance.
Swinburne's own extravagance, which can both create the impression of great energy and also ultimately weary his reader, appears more characteristically when he applies the image of the Eucharist to attack the enemies of freedom. His "Birthday Ode" (1880) for Victor Hugo tells his master that empire had defiled freedom while murder, empire's servant, "plies lust, with hideous human sacrifice:
With offering of an old man and a child,
With holy body and blood, inexpiable Communion in the sacrament of hell,
Till, reeking from their monstrous eucharist,
The lips wax cold that murdered where they kissed.
This passage, unlike Swinburne's use of eucharistic imagery in "A Song of Italy," exists on the vaguely defined border between extended typology and parodic inversion of Christian ideas and symbols. Properly speaking, the poet does not cite either a type of Christ or something from His life which is fulfilled in the lives of believers. If one takes the murdering kiss to be the antitype of Judas,s kiss, however, one could legitimately interpret the entire passage as an elaborate system of inverted types and antitypes — or at least an extension of them. Patrick Fairbairn, we recall, allowed that "the form of evil which from time to time confronted the type, could serve "as itself the type of something similar, which should afterwards arise as a counter-form of evil to the antitype. Antichrist, therefore, may be said to have had his types as well as Christ" (1.145). Although Swinburne obviously does not believe in Christ, he takes great delight in making His Church and the states aligned with it appear in the guise of Antichrist.
Last modified 4 April 2015