Part 9 out of 13
Caesar does, indeed, send word to the senate--'_The cause is in_ MY
WILL, _I will not come_; (_That_ is enough,' he says, '_to satisfy the
senate_.') And while the conspirators are exchanging glances, and the
daggers are stealing from their sheaths, he offers the strength of his
decree, the immutability 'of his absolute shall,' to the suppliant for
his brother's pardon.
But then Portia gives us to understand, that she, too, has her private
troubles;--that even that excellent man, Brutus, is not without his
moods in his domestic administrations,--for on one occasion, when he
treats her to 'ungentle looks,' and 'stamps his foot,' and angrily
gesticulates her out of his presence, she makes good her retreat,
thinking 'it was but the effect of humour, which,' she says, 'sometime
hath his hour with every man'; and, good and patriotic as Brutus truly
is, Cassius perceives, upon experiment, that after all _he_ too is but
a man, and, with a particular and private nature, as well as a larger
one 'which is the worthier,' and not unassailable through that 'single
I myself': he, too, may be 'thawed from the true quality with that
which melteth fools,'--with words that flatter 'his particular.' In
his conference with him, Cassius addresses himself skilfully to this
weakness;--he poises the name of Caesar with that of Brutus, and, at
the last, he clinches his patriotic appeal, with an appeal to his
personal sentiment, of baffled, mortified emulation; for those
writings, thrown in at his window, purporting to come from several
citizens, 'all tended to the great opinion that Rome held of _his_
name;' and, alas! the Poet will not tell us that this did not
unconsciously wake, in that pure mind, the feather's-weight that was
perhaps needed to turn the scale.
And the very children know, by heart, what a time there was between
these two men afterwards, these men that had 'struck the foremost man
of all the world,' and had congratulated themselves that it was not
murder, and that they were not villains, because it was for justice.
Precious disclosures we have in this scene. It is this very Cassius,
this patriot, who had as lief _not_ BE as submit to injustice; who
brings his avaricious humour, 'his itching palm,' into the state, and
'sells and marts his offices for gold, to undeservers.' Brutus does
indeed come down upon him with a most unlimited burst of patriotic
indignation, which looks, at first, like a mere frenzy of honest
disgust at wrong in the abstract, in spite of the partiality of
friendship; but, when Cassius charges him, afterwards, with
exaggerating his friend's infirmities, he says, frankly, 'I did not,
_till you practised them on_ ME.' And we find, as the dialogue
proceeds, that it is indeed a personal matter with him: Cassius has
refused him gold to pay his legions with.
And see, now, what kind of taunt it is, that Brutus throws in this
same patriot's face after it had been proclaimed, by his order,
through the streets of Rome, that Tyranny 'is dead': after Cassius had
shouted through his own lungs.
'Some to the common pulpits, and cry out LIBERTY, FREEDOM,
It would have been strange, indeed, if in so general and philosophical
a view of the question, that sacred, domestic institution, which,
through all this sublime frenzy for equal rights, maintained itself so
peacefully under the patriot's roof, had escaped without a touch.
'Hear me, for I will speak.
Must I give way and room to your rash choler?
Shall I be frighted _when a madman stares_?'
'Look when I stare, see how the subject quakes.'
This sounds, already, as if Tyranny were not quite dead.
'_Cassius_. O ye gods, ye gods, must I endure all this!
_Brutus_. All this? ay more: Fret till your proud heart break;
_Go, show_ YOUR SLAVES _how choleric you are_,
And bid YOUR BONDMEN tremble. Must _I_ budge?
Must _I_ observe _you_? Must _I stand_ and _crouch
Under your testy humour_? By the gods,
You shall digest the venom of your spleen
Though it do split you.'
So it was a mistake, then, it seems; and, notwithstanding that shout
of triumph, and that bloody flourishing of knives, Tyranny _was not_
But one cannot help thinking that that shout must have sounded rather
strangely in an English theatre just then, and that it was a somewhat
delicate experiment to give Brutus his pulpit on the stage, to
harangue the people from. But the author knew what he was doing. That
cold, stilted harangue, that logical chopping on the side of freedom,
was not going to set fire to any one's blood; and was not there Mark
Antony that plain, blunt man, coming directly after Brutus,--'with his
eyes as red as fire with weeping,' with 'the mantle,' of the military
hero, the popular favourite, _in his hand_, with his glowing oratory,
with his sweet words, and his skilful appeal to the passions of the
people, under his plain, blunt professions,--to wipe out every trace
of Brutus's _reasons_, and lead them whither he would; and would not
the moral of it all be, that with such A PEOPLE,--with such a power as
that, behind the state, there was no use in killing Caesars--that
Tyranny could not die.
'I fear there will a worse one come in his place.'
But this is Rome in her decline, that the artist touches here so
boldly. But what now, if old Rome herself,--plebeian Rome, in the
deadliest onset of her struggle against tyranny, Rome lashed into fury
and conscious strength, rising from under the hard heel of her
oppressors; what if Rome, in the act of creating her Tribunes; or, if
Rome, with her Tribunes at her head, wresting from her oppressors a
constitutional establishment of popular rights,--what if this could be
exhibited, by permission; what bounds as to the freedom of the
discussion would it be possible to establish afterwards? There had
been no National Latin Tragedy, Frederic Schlegel suggests,--because
no Latin Dramatist could venture to do this very thing; but of course
Caesar or Coriolanus on the Tiber was one thing, and Caesar or
Coriolanus on the Thames was another; and an English author might be
allowed, then, to say of the one, with impunity, what it would
certainly have cost him his good right hand, or his ears, or his head,
to say of the other,--what it did cost the Founder of this school in
philosophy his head, to be suspected of saying of the other.
Nevertheless, the great question between an arbitrary and a
constitutional government, the principle of a government which vests
the whole power of the state in the uncontrolled will of a single
individual member of it; the whole history and philosophy of a
military government, from its origin in the heroic ages,--from the
crowning of the military hero on the battle field in the moment of
victory, to the final consummation of its conquest of the liberty of
the subject, could be as clearly set forth under the one form as the
other; not without some startling specialities in the filling up, too,
with a tone in the details now and then, to say the least, not
exclusively antique, for this was a mode of treating classical
subjects in that age, too common to attract attention.
And thus, whole plays could be written out and out, on this very
subject. Take, for instance, but these two, Coriolanus and Julius
Caesar,--plays in which, by a skilful distribution of the argument and
the action, with a skilful interchange of parts now and then,--the
boldest passages being put alternately into the mouths of the Tribunes
and Patricians,--that great question, which was so soon to become the
outspoken question of the nation and the age, could already be
discussed in all its vexed and complicated relations, in all its
aspects and bearings, as deliberately as it could be to-day; exactly
as it was, in fact, discussed not long afterwards in swarms of English
pamphlets, in harangues from English pulpits, in English parliaments
and on English battle-fields,--exactly as it was discussed when that
'lofty Roman scene' came 'to be acted over' here, with the
cold-blooded prosaic formalities of an English judicature.
THE QUESTION OF THE CONSULSHIP;
THE SCIENTIFIC CURE OF THE COMMON-WEAL PROPOUNDED.
'Well, march we on
To give obedience where 'tis truly owed:
Meet we the medicine of the sickly weal,
And _with him_, pour we in our country's purge
_Each drop of us_.
Or so much as it needs
To dew the sovereign Flower, _and drown the weeds_'--_Macbeth_.
'Have you heard the argument?'
THE ELIZABETHAN HEROISM.
'Mildly is the word.'
'In a better hour,
Let what _is meet_ be said it must be _meet_,
And throw their power in the dust.'
It is the Military Chieftain of ancient Rome who pronounces here the
words in which the argument of the Elizabethan revolutionist is so
It is the representative of an heroic aristocracy, not one of ancient
privilege merely, not one armed with parchments only, claiming descent
from heroes; but the yet living leaders of the rabble people to
military conquest, and the only leaders who are understood to be able
to marshal from their ranks an effective force for military defence.
But this is not all. The scope of the poetic design requires here,
under the sheath which this dramatic exhibition of an ancient
aristocracy offers it, the impersonation of another and more sovereign
difference in men; and this poet has ends to serve, to which a mere
historical accuracy in the reproduction of this ancient struggle of
state-factions, in an extinct European common-wealth, is of little
consequence; though he is not wanting in that either, or indifferent
to it, when occasion serves.
From the _speeches_ inserted here and there, we find that this is at
the same time an aristocracy of learning which is put upon the stage
here, that it is an aristocracy of statesmanship and civil ability,
that it is composed of the select men of the state, and not its elect
only; that it is the true and natural head of the healthful body
politic, and not 'the horn of the monster' only. This is the
aristocracy which appears to be in session in the background of this
piece at least, and we are not without some occasional glimpses of
their proceedings, and this is the element of the poetic combination
which comes out in the _dialogue_, whenever the necessary question of
the play requires it.
For it is the collision between the civil interests and the interests
which the unlearned heroic ages enthrone, that is coming off here. It
is the collision between the government which uneducated masses of men
create and confirm, and recreate in any age, and the government which
the enlightened man 'in a better hour' demands, which the common sense
and sentiment of man, as distinguished from the brute, demands,
whether in the one, or the few, or the many.--This is the struggle
which is getting into form and order here,--here _first_. These are
the parties to it, and in the reign of the last of the Tudors and the
first of the Stuarts, they must be content to fight it out on any
stage which their time can afford to lease to them for that
performance, without being over scrupulous as to the names of the
actors, or the historical correctness of the costumes, and other
particulars; not minding a little shuffling in the parts, now and
then, if it suits their poet's convenience, who has no conscience at
all on such points, and who is of the opinion that this is the very
stage which an action of such gravity ought to be exhibited on, in the
first place; and that a very careful and critical rehearsal of it
here, ought to precede the performance elsewhere; though a contrary
opinion was not then without its advocates.
It is as the mouth-piece of this intellectual faction in the state,
while it is as yet an _aristocracy_, contending with the physical
force of it, struggling for the mastery of it with its numerical
majority; it is the Man in the state, the new MAN struggling with the
chief which a popular ignorance has endowed with dominion over him; it
is the HERO who contends for the majesty of reason and the kingdom of
the mind, it is the new speaker, the new, and now at last, commanding
speaker for that law, which was old when this myth was named, which
was not of yesterday when Antigone quoted it, who speaks now from this
Roman's lips, these words of doom,--the reflection on the 'times
deceased,' the prophecy of 'things not yet come to life,' the word of
'In A REBELLION,
When what's not MEET, but what must be, was law,
THEN WERE THEY CHOSEN: in a better hour
Let what _is meet_ be said it must be _meet_,
And throw their power in the dust.'
_Not_ in the old, sombre, Etruscan streets of ancient Rome, _not_
where the _Roman_ market-place, joined the Capitoline hill and began
to ascend it, crossed the road from Palatinus thither, and began to
obstruct it, not in the courts and colonnades of the primeval hill of
palaces, were the terms of this proposal found. And not from the old
logician's chair, was the sweep of their comprehension made; not in
any ancient school of rhetoric or logic were they cast and locked in
that conjunction. It was another kind of weapon that the old _Roman_
Jove had to take in hand, when amid the din of the Roman forum, _he_
awoke at last from his bronze and marble, to his empirical struggle,
his unlearned, experimental struggle with the wolf and her nursling,
with his own baptized, red-robed, usurping Mars. It was not with any
such subtlety as this, that the struggle of state forces which, under
one name or another, sooner or later, in the European states is sure
to come, had hitherto been conducted.
And not from the lips of the haughty patrician chief, rising from the
dust of ages at the spell of genius, to encounter his old plebeian
vanquishers, and fight his long-lost battles o'er again, at a
showman's bidding, for a showman's greed--to be stung anew into
patrician scorn--to repeat those rattling volleys of the old martial
Latin wrath, 'in states unborn' and 'accents then unknown,' for an
hour's idle entertainment, for 'a six-pen'orth or shilling's worth' of
gaping amusement to a playhouse throng, not--NOT from any such source
came that utterance.
It came from the council-table of a sovereignty that was plotting here
in secret then the empire that the sun shall not set on; whose
beginning only, we have seen. It came from the secret chamber of a new
union and society of men,--a union based on a new and, for the first
time, scientific acquaintance with the nature that is in men, with the
sovereignty that is in all men. It was the Poet of this society who
put those words together--the Poet who has heard all its _pros_ and
_cons_, who reports them all, and gives to them all their exact weight
in the new balance of his decisions.
Among other things, it was understood in this association, that the
power, which was at that time supreme in England, was in fact, though
not in name, a _popular_ power,--a power, at least, sustained only by
the popular will, though men had not, indeed, as yet, begun to
perceive that momentous circumstance,--a power which, being 'but the
horn and noise o' the monster,' was able to oppose its '_absolute
shall_' to the embodied wisdom of the state,--not to its ancient
immemorial government only, but to 'its _chartered_ liberties in the
body of the weal,' and 'to a graver bench than ever frowned in
Greece'; and the Poet has put on his record of debates on those
'questions of gravity,' that were agitating then this secret Chamber
of Peers, a distinct demand on the part of this ancient
leadership,--the leadership of 'the honoured number,' the honourable
and right honourable few, that this mass of ignorance, and stupidity,
and blind custom, and incapacity for rule,--this combination of mere
instinctive force, which the physical majority in unlearned times
constitutes, which supplies, in its want, and ignorance, and
passivity, and in its passionate admiration of heroism and love of
leadership, the ready material of tyranny, shall be annihilated, and
cease to have any leadership or voice in the state; and this demand is
put by the Poet into the mouth of one who cannot see from his point of
observation--with his ineffable contempt for the people--what the Poet
sees from his, that the demand, as he puts it, is simply 'the
impossible.' For this is a question in the mixed mathematics, and 'the
_greater part_ carries it.'
That instinctive, unintelligent force in the state--that blind
volcanic force--which foolish states dare to keep pent up within them,
is that which the philosopher's eye is intent on also; he, too, has
marked this as the primary source of mischief,--he, too, is at war
with it,--he, too, would annihilate it; but he has his own mode of
warfare for it; he thinks it must be done with Apollo's own darts, if
it be done when 'tis done, and not with the military chieftain's
This work is one in which the question of heroism and nobility is
scientifically treated, and in the most rigid manner, 'by line and
level,' and through that representative form in which the historical
pretence of it is tried,--through that scientific negation, with its
merely instinctive, vulgar, unlearned ambition--with its monstrous
'outstretching' on the one hand, and its dwarfish limitations on the
other,--through all that finely drawn, historic picture of that which
claims the human subjection, the clear scientific lines of the true
ideal type are visible,--the outline of the true nobility and
government is visible,--towering above that detected insufficiency,
into the perfection of the _human_ form,--into the heaven of the true
divineness,--into the chair of the perpetual dictatorship,--into the
consulship whose year revolves not, whose year is _the state_.
Neither is this true affirmation here in the form of a scientific
abstraction merely. It is not here in the general merely. 'The
Instance,' the particular impersonation of nobility and heroism, which
this play exhibits, is, indeed, the false heroism and nobility. It is
the hitherto uncriticised, and, therefore, uncorrected, popular
affirmation on this subject which is embodied here, and this turns out
to be, as usual, the clearest scientific negative that could be
invented. But in the design, and in all the labour of this piece,--in
the steadfast purpose that is always working out that definition, with
its so exquisite, but thankless, unowned, unrecognised toil, graving
it and pointing it with its pen of diamond in the rock for ever,
approving itself 'to the Workmaster' only,--in this incessant
design,--in this veiled, mysterious authorship,--an historical
approximation to the true type of magnanimity and heroism is always
present. But there is more in it than this.
It is the old popular notion of heroism which fills the foreground;
but the Elizabethan heroism is always lurking behind it, watching its
moment, ready to seize it; and under that cover, it contrives to
advance and pronounce many words, which, in its own name and form, it
could not then have been so prosperously delivered of. Under the
disguise of that historical impersonation--under the mask of that old
Roman hero, other, quite other, heroic forms--historic forms--not
_less_ illustrious, not less memorable, from time to time steal in;
and ere we know it, the suppressed Elizabethan men are on the stage,
and the Theatre is, indeed, the Globe; and it is shaking and flashing
with the iron heel and the thunder of their leadership; and the
thrones of oppression are downfalling; and the ages that seemed 'far
off,' the ages that were nigh, are there--are there as they are
The historical position of the men who could entertain the views which
this Play embodies, in the age in which it was written--the whole
position of the men in whom this idea of nobility and government was
already struggling to become historical--flashes out from that obscure
back-ground into the most vivid historical representation, when once
the light--'the great light' which 'the times give to _true_
interpretations'--has been brought to bear upon it. And it does so
happen, that _that_ is the light which we are particularly directed to
hold up to this particular play, and, what is more, to this particular
point in it. 'So _our_ virtues,' says the old Volscian captain, Tullus
Aufidius, lamenting the limitations of his historical position, and
apologizing for the figure he makes in history--
'So _our virtues_
Lie in the interpretation of THE TIMES.'
['THE TIMES, in many cases, give great light to true
_interpretations_,' says the other, speaking of books, and the method
of reading them; but this one applies that suggestion particularly to
'And power, unto itself most commendable,
Hath not a tomb so evident as a hair
To extol what it hath done.'
The spirit of the Elizabethan heroism is indeed here, and under the
cover of this old Roman story; and under cover of those so marked
differences in the positions which suffice to detain the unstudious
eye, through the medium of that which is common under those
differences, the history of the Elizabethan heroism is here also. The
spirit of it is here, not in that subtler nature only--that yet,
perhaps, subtler, calmer, stronger nature, in which 'blood and
judgment were so well co-mingled'--so well, in such new degree and
proportion, that their balance made a new force, a new generative
force, in history--not in that one only, the one in whom this new
historic form is visible and palpable already, but in the haughtier
and more unbending historic _attitude_, at least, of his great
'co-mate and brother in exile.' It is here in the form of the great
military chieftain of that new heroic line, who found himself, with
all his strategy, involved in a single-handed contest with the state
and its whole physical strength, in his contest with that personal
power in whose single arm, in whose miserable finger-joints, the state
and all its force then lay. Under that old, threadbare, martial
cloak,--under the safe disguise of martial tyranny in 'the
few,'--whenever the business of the play requires it, whenever 'his
cue comes,' _he_ is there. Under that old, rusty Roman helmet, his
smothered speech, his 'speech of fire,' his passionate speech, 'forbid
so long,' drops thick and fast, drops unquenched at last, and glows
for ever. It is the headless Banquo--'the blood-boltered Banquo'--that
stalks through that shadowy background all unharmed; _his Fleance_
lives, and in him 'Nature's copy _is_ eterne.'
His house of kings, with gold-bound brows, and sceptres in their
hands, with _two-fold_ balls and sceptres in their hands--are here
filling the stage, and claiming it to the crack of doom; and now he
'smiles,' he _smiles_ upon his baffled foe, 'and points at them for
The whole difficulty of this great Elizabethan position, and the moral
of it, is most carefully and elaborately exhibited here. No plea at
the bar was ever more finely and eloquently laboured. It was for the
bar of 'foreign nations and future ages' that this defence was
prepared: the speaker who speaks so 'pressly,' is the lawyer; and
there is nothing left unsaid at last. But it is not exhibited in words
merely. It is acted. It is brought out dramatically. It is presented
to the eye as well as to the ear. The impossibility of any other mode
of proceeding under those conditions is not demonstrated in this
instance by a diagram, drawn on a piece of paper, and handed about
among the jury; it is not an exact drawing of the street, and the
house, and the corner where the difficulty occurred, with the number
of yards and feet put down in ink or pencil marks; it is something
much more lively and tangible than that which we have here, under
pardon of this old Roman myth.
For the story, as to this element of it, is indeed not new. The story
of the struggle of the few with the many, of the one with the many, of
the one with 'the many-headed,' is indeed an old one. Back into the
days of demi-gods and gods it takes us. It is the story of the
celestial Titan, with his benefactions for men, and force and
strength, with art to aid them--reluctant art--compelled to serve
their ends, enringing his limbs, and driving hard the stakes. Here,
indeed, in the Fable, in the proper hero of it, it is the struggle of
the 'partliness' of pride and selfish ambition, lifting itself up in
the place of God, and arraying itself against the common-_weal_, as
well as the common-will; but the physical relation of the one to the
many, the position of the individual who differs from his time on
radical questions, the relative strength of the parties to this war,
and the weapons and the mode of warfare inevitably prescribed to the
minority under such conditions--all this is carefully brought out from
the speciality of this instance, and presented in its most general
form; and the application of the result to the position of the man who
contends _for_ the common-weal, against the selfish will, and passion,
and narrowness, and short-sightedness of the multitude, is distinctly
Yes, the Elizabethan part is here; that all-unappreciated and odious
part, which the great men of the Elizabethan time found forced upon
them; that most odious part of all, which, the greatest of his time
found forced upon _him_ as the condition of his greatness. It is here
already, negatively defined, in this passionate defiance, which rings
out at last in the Roman street, when the hero's pride bursts through
his resolve, when he breaks down at last in his studied part, and all
considerations of policy, all regard to that which was dearer to him
than 'his _single mould_,' is given to the winds in the tempest of his
wrath, and he stands at bay, and confronts _alone_ 'the beast with
It is thus that he measures the man he contends with, the antagonist
who is but 'the horn and noise of the monster':--
'Thou injurious TRIBUNE!
Within thine eyes sat _twenty thousand_ deaths,
In thy hands clenched _as many millions_, in
Thy lying tongue _both numbers_, I would say,
Thou liest, unto thee, with voice as free
As I do pray the gods.'
But there was a heroism of a finer strain than that at work in England
then, imitating the graces of the gods to better purpose; a heroism
which must fight a harder field than that, which must fight its own
great battles through alone, without acclamations, without spectators;
which must come off victorious, and never count its 'cicatrices,' or
claim 'the war's garland.'
If we would know the secret of those struggles, those hard conflicts
that were going on here then, in whose results all the future ages of
mankind were concerned, we must penetrate with this Poet the secret of
the Roman patrician's house; we must listen, through that thin poetic
barrier, to the great chief himself, the chief of the unborn age of a
new civilization--the leader, and hero, and conqueror of the ages of
Peace--as he enters and paces his own hall, with the angry fire in his
eyes, and utters there the words for which there is no utterance
without--as he listens there anew to the argument of that for which he
lives, and seeks to reconcile himself anew to that baseness which his
time demands of him.
We must seek, here, not the part of him only who endured long and
much, but was, at last, provoked into a premature boldness, and
involved in a fatal collision with the state, but that of him who
endured to the end, who played his life-long part without
self-betrayal. We must seek, here, not the part of the great martial
chieftain only, but the part of that heroic chief and leader of men
and ages, who discovered, in the sixteenth century, when the chivalry
of the sword was still exalting its standard of honour as supreme,
when the law of the sword was still the world's law, that brute
instinct was not the true valour, that there was a better part of it
than instinct, though he knows and confesses,--though he is the first
to discover, that instinct is a great matter. We must seek, here, _the
words_, the very words of that part which we shall find _acted_
elsewhere,--the part of the chief who was determined, for his part,
'to live and fight another day,' who was not willing to spend
_him_self in such conflicts as those in which he saw his most
illustrious contemporaries perish at his side, on his right hand and
on his left, in the reign of the Tudor, and in the reign of the
Stuart. And he has not been at all sparing of his hints on this
subject over his own name, for those who have leisure to take them.
'The moral of this fable is,' he says, commenting in a certain place,
on the wisdom of _the Ancients_, 'that men should not be confident of
themselves, and imagine that a discovery of their excellences will
always render them acceptable. _For this can only succeed_ according
to _the nature_ and _manners_ of the person they _court or_ solicit,
who, if he be a man not of the same gifts and endowments, but
altogether of a haughty and insolent behaviour--(_here_ represented by
_the person of Juno_)--_they must entirely drop the character_ that
carries the least show of worth or gracefulness; if they proceed upon
_any other_ footing it is _downright folly. Nor_ is it sufficient to
_act_ the deformity of _obsequiousness_, unless they _really change
themselves_, and _become_ abject and contemptible _in their persons_.'
This was a time when abject and contemptible _persons_ could do what
others could not do. Large enterprises, new developments of art and
science, the most radical social innovations, were undertaken and
managed, and very successfully, too, in that age, by persons of that
description, though not without frequent glances on their part, at
that little, apparently somewhat contradictory circumstance, in their
But the fables in which the wisdom of the Moderns, and the secrets of
_their_ sages are lodged, are the fables we are unlocking here. Let us
listen to these 'secrets of policy' for ourselves, and not take them
on trust any longer.
_A room in Coriolanus's house_.
[_Enter Coriolanus and Patricians_.]
_Cor_. Let them _pull all about mine ears_, present me
_Death on the wheel_, or at wild horses' heels,
Or pile ten hills on the Tarpeian rock
That the precipitation might down stretch
Below the beam of sight, yet will I still
_Be thus to them_.
[Under certain conditions that is heroism, no doubt.]
_First Patrician. You do the nobler_.
[For the question is of NOBILITY.]
_Cor_. I muse my mother
Does not approve me further.
I talk of _you_. [_To Volumnia_.]
Why did you wish me milder? Would you have me
_False to my nature_? Rather say _I play
The man I am_.
_Vol_. O sir, sir, sir,
I _would have had you put your power well on
Before you had worn it out_.
Lesser had been
The thwarting of your dispositions, if
You had _not show'd them how you were disposed,
Ere they lacked power to cross you_.
* * * * *
[_Enter Menenius and Senators_.]
_Men_. Come, come, you have been too rough
Something too rough;
You must return, and mend it.
_1 Sen_. _There's no remedy,
Unless_, by _not_ so doing, _our good city
Cleave in the midst and perish_.
_Vol_. Pray be counselled:
_I_ have a _heart_ as little apt as yours
But yet _a brain_ [hear] that leads my use of anger
To better _vantage_.
_Men_. Well said, _noble_ woman;
_Before he should thus stoop to the_ herd, but that
The VIOLENT PIT O' THE TIME, _craves it as_ PHYSIC
For the WHOLE STATE, _I_ would put _mine_ armour on,
Which I can scarcely bear.
[It is the diseased common-weal whose case this Doctor
is undertaking. _That_ is our subject.]
_Cor_. What must I do?
_Men_. Return to the Tribunes.
What then? what then?
_Men_. Repent what you have spoke.
_Cor_. For them? I _can not do it to the gods_:
Must I then do't to _them_?
_Vol_. You are too _absolute_;
_Though_ therein you can never be _too noble
But when extremities speak_. I have heard you say,
HONOR _and_ POLICY [hear] like unsevered friends
_I' the war_ do grow together: _Grant that_, and tell me.
In peace, what _each_ of them by the other loses
That they combine not there?
_Cor_. Tush; tush!
_Men_. _A good demand_.
_Vol_. If _it be honor_, in your wars, to seem
The same you are not, (which FOR YOUR BEST ENDS
_You adopt your policy_), how is it _less_, or _worse_
That it shall hold companionship in peace
With honor, as in war; _since that to both
It stands in like request_?
_Cor_. Why _force you this_? [Truly.]
_Vol_. _Because_ that _now_, IT LIES ON YOU to speak
_To the people, not_ by _your own instruction_,
Nor by the _matter which your heart prompts you_ to,
But with such words that are but rated _in_
_Your tongue_ though but bastards and syllables
_Of no_ allowance, to _your bosom's truth_.
Now this no more dishonors you at all,
Than to take in _a town_ with _gentle words_,
Which else would put you to your fortune, and
THE HAZARD of MUCH BLOOD.--[Hear.]
I would dissemble _with my nature_, where
_My fortune and my friends at stake_ required
_I should do so in honor_. _I am_ in this;
Your wife, your son, these senators, the nobles,
And you will rather show our _general lowts_
How you can frown, than spend a _fawn_ upon them.
For the _inheritance_ of their loves, and _safe-guard_
Of _what that want might ruin_ [hear]
_Come go with us_. Speak fair: you may salve so,
[It is the diseased common-weal we talk of still.]
You may salve so,
Not what is dangerous present, _but_ the _loss_
Of what is past.
[That was this Doctor's method, who was a Doctor of Laws
as well as Medicine, and very skilful in medicines 'palliative'
as well as 'alterative.']
_Vol_. I pry'thee now, my son,
Go to them with this bonnet in thy hand,
And thus far having stretched it (_here_ be with them),
Thy _knee bussing the stones_, for in such business
_Action_ is eloquence, and the _eyes_ of _the ignorant_
More _learned_ than the _ears_--waving thy head,
Which often thus, correcting thy stout heart,
Now humble as the ripest mulberry
That will not hold the handling: or say to them:
Thou art _their_ soldier, and _being bred in broils_,
Hast not the soft way, which thou dost confess
_Were fit for thee to use_, as _they to claim_,
In asking _their good_ loves; but thou wilt frame
Thyself _forsooth hereafter theirs_, so far
As thou hast power and person.
_Go and be ruled: although I know_ thou hadst rather
Follow thine enemy in a fiery gulf
Than flatter him in a bower. Here is Cominius.
_Com. I have been i' the market-place_, and, sir, _'tis fit_
You make STRONG PARTY, _or_ defend yourself
By CALMNESS, or by ABSENCE. ALL's in anger.
_Men. Only fair speech.
I think 'twill serve, if he
Can thereto frame his spirit_.
_Vol_. He must, and will.
Pry'thee now _say_ you will _and go about it_.
_Cor_. Must I go show them my unbarbed sconce? _Must I_
With _my base tongue, give to my noble heart
A lie that it must bear? Well, I will do't:
Yet were there but this single plot to lose,
This mould of Marcius_, they, to dust should grind it,
And throw it against the wind;--to the market-place;
You have put me now to such a part, which never
_I_ shall discharge _to the life_.
_Com_. Come, come, we'll prompt you.
_Vol_. I pry'thee now, sweet son, as thou hast said,
_My_ praises made thee first a soldier [--_Volumnia_--], so
To have my praise for this, _perform a part
Than hast not done before_.
_Cor_. Well, I must do't.
_Away my disposition_, and possess me
Some harlot's spirit! _My throat_ of _war_ be turned,
Which quired with my _drum_ into a pipe!
Small as an eunuch's or the virgin voice
That babies lulls asleep! The smiles of _knaves_
Tent in my cheeks; and school-boy's tears take up
The glasses of my sight! A beggar's tongue
Make _motion through my lips_; and my _arm'd knees
Who bowed but in my stirrup, bend like his_
That _hath received an alms_. I will not do't,
Lest I _surcease_ to _honor mine own truth_,
And _by my body's action teach my mind_
A most _inherent baseness_.
_Vol_. At thy choice, then;
To beg of thee, it is my more dishonor
Than thou of them. Come _all to ruin_; let
_Thy mother_ rather _feel thy pride_, than fear
Thy dangerous stoutness, for _I_ mock at death
With as big a heart as thou. Do as thou list.
Thy _valiantness was mine_, thou suck'dst it from me,
But _owe thy pride thyself_.
_Cor_. Pray be content.
_Mother_ I _am going to the market place_,
Chide me no more. I'll _mountebank their loves_,
Cog their hearts from them, _and come back beloved_
_Of all the trades in Rome_.--[That he will--] Look I am going.
Commend me to my wife. I'll return Consul [--That he will--]
Or never trust to what my tongue can do,
_I' the way of flattery further_.
_Vol. Do your will. [Exit_.]
_Com_. Away, the tribunes do attend you: _arm yourself_
To answer _mildly_; for they are prepared
With accusations as I hear more strong
Than are upon you yet.
_Cor_. _The word is mildly_: Pray you let us go,
Let them accuse me by _invention_, I
Will answer in mine honor.
_Men_. _Ay, but mildly_.
_Cor_. Well, mildly be it then, mildly.
[_The Forum. Enter Coriolanus and his party_.]
_Tribune_. Well, here he comes.
_Men_. _Calmly_, I do beseech you.
_Cor. Ay, as an ostler, that for the poorest piece
Will bear the knave by the volume_.
The honoured gods
Keep Rome in safety, and the CHAIRS of _justice_
Supplied with WORTHY MEN; _plant_ LOVE among us.
_Throng_ OUR LARGE TEMPLES _with the shows_ of PEACE,
_And_ NOT _our_ STREETS _with_ WAR.
_Sen_. AMEN! AMEN!
_Men_. A NOBLE wish.
Thus far the Poet: but the mask through which he speaks is wanted for
other purposes, for these occasional auto-biographical glimpses are
but the side play of the great historical exhibition which is in
progress here, and are introduced in entire subordination to its
It is, indeed, an old story into which all this Elizabethan history is
crowded. That mimic scene in which the great historic instances in the
science of human nature and human life were brought out with such
scientific accuracy, and with such matchless artistic power and
splendour, was, in fact, what the Poet himself, who ought to know,
tells us it is; with so much emphasis,--not merely the mirror of
nature in general, but the daguerreotype of the then yet living age,
the plate which was able to give to the very _body_ of it, its _form
and pressure_. That is what it was. And what is more, it was the only
Mirror, the only Spectator, the only Times, in which the times could
get reflected and deliberated on then, with any degree of freedom and
vivacity. And yet there were minds here in England then, as acute, as
reflective, as able to lead the popular mind as those that compose our
leaders and reviews today. There was a mind here then, reflecting not
'ages past' only, but one that had taken its knowledge of the past
from the present, that found 'in all men's lives,' a history figuring
the nature of the times deceased; prophetic also: and this was the
mind of the one who writes 'spirits are not finely touched but to fine
They had to take old stories,--these sly, ambitious aspirants to
power, who were not disposed to give up their natural right to
dictate, for the lack of an organ, or because they found the proper
insignia of their office usurped: it was necessary that they should
take old stories, or invent new ones, 'to make those slights upon the
banks of Thames, that so did take' not 'Eliza and our James' only, but
that people of whom 'Eliza and our James' were only 'the outstretched
shadows,' 'the monster,' of whose 'noise' these sovereigns, as the
author of this play took it, were 'but the horn.'
They had to take old stories of one kind and another, as they happened
to find them, and vamp them up to suit their purposes; stories, old or
new, they did not much care which.
Old and memorable ones, so memorable that the world herself with her
great faculty of oblivion, could not forget them, but carried them in
her mind from age to age,--stories so memorable that all men knew them
by heart,--so the author could find one to his purpose,--were best for
some things,--for many things; but for others new ones must be
invented; and certainly there would be no difficulty as to that, for
lack of gifts at least, in the mind whence these old ones were coming
out so freshly, in the gloss of their new-coined immortality.
It is, indeed, an old story that we have here, a story of that ancient
Rome, whose 'just, free and flourishing state,' the author of this new
science of policy confesses himself,--under his _universal_ name,--so
childishly enamoured of, that he interests himself in it to a degree
of passion, though he 'neither loves it in its _birth_ or its
_decline_,'--[under its kings or its emperors.]--It is a story of
_Republican_ Rome, and the difference, the radical difference, between
the civil magistracy which represented the Roman people, and that
unconstitutional popular power which the popular tyranny creates, is
by no means omitted in the exposition. That difference, indeed, is
that which makes the representation possible; it is brought out and
insisted on, '_they_ choose their officers;' it is a difference which
is made much of, for it contains one of the radical points in the
But without going into the argument, the large and comprehensive
argument, of this most rich and grave and splendid composition,
crowded from the first line of it to the last, with the results of a
political learning which has no match in letters, which had none then,
which has none now; no, or the world would be in another case than it
is, for it is a political learning which has its roots in the new
philosophy, it is grounded in the philosophy of the nature of things,
it is radical as the _Prima Philosophia_,--without attempting to
exhaust the meaning of a work embodying through all its unsurpassed
vigor and vivacity of poetic representation, the new philosophic
statesman's ripest lore, the patient fruits of 'observation
strange,'--without going into his argument of the whole, the reader
who merely wishes to see for himself, at a glance, in a word, as a
matter of curiosity merely; whether the view here given of the
political sagacity and prescience of the Elizabethan Man of Letters,
is in the least chargeable with exaggeration, has only to look at the
context of that revolutionary speech and proposal, that revolutionary
burst of eloquence which has been here claimed as a proper historical
issue of the age of Elizabeth. He will not have to read very far to
satisfy himself as to that. It will be necessary, indeed, for that
purpose, that he should have eyes in his head, eyes not purely
idiotic, but with the ordinary amount of human speculation in them,
and, moreover, it will be necessary that he should use them,--as eyes
are ordinarily used in such cases,--nothing more. But unfortunately
this is just the kind of scrutiny which nobody has been able to bestow
on this work hitherto, on account of those historical obstructions
with which, at the time it was written, it was found necessary to
guard such discussions, discussions running into such delicate
questions in a manner so essentially incomparably free.
For, in fact, there is no plainer piece of English extant, when one
comes to look at it. All that has been claimed in the Historical part
of this work, [not published in this volume] may be found here without
any research, on the mere surface of the dialogue. Looking at it never
so obliquely, with never so small a fraction of an eye, one cannot
help seeing it.
The reader who would possess himself of the utmost meaning of these
passages, one who would comprehend their farthest reaches, must indeed
be content to wait until he can carry with him into all the parts that
knowledge of the authors general intention in this work, which only a
most thorough and careful study of it will yield.
It is, indeed, a work in which the whole question of government is
seized at its source--one in which the whole difficulty of it is
grappled with unflinching courage and veracity. It is a work in which
that question of classes in the state, which lies on the surface of
it, is treated in a general, and not exclusive manner; or, where the
treatment is narrowed and pointed, as it is throughout in the running
commentary, it is narrowed and pointed to the question of the then yet
living age, and to those momentous developments of it which, 'in their
weak beginnings,' the philosophic eye had detected, and not to a state
of things which had to cease before the first Punic war could be
The question of _classes_, and their respective claims in governments,
is indeed incidentally treated here, but in this author's own
distinctive manner, which is one that is sure to take out,
always--even in his lightest, most sportive handling--the heart of his
subject, so as to leave little else but gleanings to the author who
follows in that track hereafter.
For this is one of those unsurpassably daring productions of the
Elizabethan Muse, which, after long experiment, encouraged by that
protracted immunity from suspicion, and stimulated by the hurrying on
of the great crisis, it threw out at last in the face and eyes of
tyranny, Things which are but intimated in the earlier plays--
political allusions, which are brought out there amid crackling
volleys of conceits, under cover of a battery of quips and jests--
political doctrines, which lie there wrapped in thickest involutions
of philosophic subtleties, are all unlocked and open here on the
surface: he that runs may take them if he will.
CRITICISM OF THE MARTIAL GOVERNMENT.
'Would you proceed _especially_ against _Caius_ MARCIUS?'
'Against him FIRST: He's a _very dog_ to THE COMMONALTY.'
In this exhibition of the social orders to which human society
instinctively tends, and that so-called _state_ into which human
combinations in barbaric ages rudely settles, the _principle_ of the
combination--the principle of gradation, and subjection, and
permanence--is called in question, and exposed as a purely instinctive
principle, as, in fact, only a principle of revolution disguised; and
a higher one, the distinctively human element, the principle of KIND,
is now, for the first time, demanded on scientific grounds, as the
essential principle of any permanent human combination--as the natural
principle, the only one which the science of nature can recognise as a
principle of STATE.
It is the PEACE principle which this great scientific war-hater and
captain of the ages of peace is in search of, with his new _organum_;
though he is philosopher enough to know that, in diseased states, wars
are nature's own rude remedies, her barbarous surgery, for evils yet
more unendurable. He has found himself chosen a justice of the
peace--the world's peace; and it is the principle of permanence, of
law and subjection--in a word, it is the principle of _state_, as
opposed to revolution and dissolution--which he is judging of in
behalf of his kind. And he makes a business of it. He goes about in
his own fashion. He gets up this great war-piece on purpose to find
He has got a state on his stage, which is ceasing to be a _state_ at
the moment in which he shows it to us; a state which has the war
principle--the principle of conquest within no longer working in it
insidiously as government, but developed as war; for it has just
overstepped the endurable point in its mastery. It is a revolution
that is coming off when the curtain rises. For the government has been
gnawing the Roman common-weal at home, with those same teeth it
ravened the Volscians with abroad, till it has reached the vitals at
last, and the common-weal has betaken itself to the Volscian's
weapons:--the people have risen. They are all out when the play begins
on an armed hunt for their rat-like, gnawing, corn-consuming rulers.
They are determined to 'kill them,' and have 'corn at their own
price.' 'If the _wars_ eat us not, _they_ will,' is the word; 'and
there's all THE LOVE _they_ bear us.' '_Rome_ and _her rats_ are at
the point of battle,' cries the Poet. The _one_ side _shall have
bale_, is his prophecy. 'Without _good nature_,' he says elsewhere,
using the term _good_ in its scientific sense, '_men_ are only a
NOBLER kind of VERMIN'; and he makes a most unsparing application of
this principle in his criticisms. Many a splendid historical figure is
made to show its teeth, and rat-like mien and propensities, through
all the splendour of its disguises, merely by the application of his
simple philosophical tests. For the question, as he puts it, is the
question between animal instinct, between mere appetite, and reason;
and the question incidentally arises in the course of the exhibition,
whether the common-weal, when it comes to anything like common-sense,
is going to stand being gnawed in this way, for the benefit of any
individual, or clique, or party.
For the ground on which the classes or estates, and their respective
claims to the government, are tried here, is the ground of the
_common_-weal; and the question as to the fitness of any existing
class in the state for an exclusive, unlimited control of the welfare
of the whole, is more than suggested. That which stops short of the
weal of the whole for its end, is that which is under criticism here;
and whether it exist in 'the one,' or 'the few,' or 'the many,'--and
these are the terms that are employed here,--whether it exist in the
civil magistracy, sustained by a popular submission, or in the power
of the victorious military chief, at the head of his still extant and
resistless armament, it is necessarily rejected as a principle of
sovereignty and permanence, in this purely scientific view of the
human conditions of it. It is a question which this author handles
with a thorough impartiality, in all his political treatises, let them
come in what name and form they will, with more or less clearness,
indeed, as the circumstances seem to dictate.
But _nowhere_ is the whole history of the military government,
collected from the obscurity of the past, and brought out with such
inflexible design--with such vividness and strength of historic
exhibition, as it is _here_. It is traced to its beginnings in the
distinctions which nature herself creates,--those physical, and moral,
and intellectual distinctions, with which she crowns, in her happier
moods, the large resplendent brows of her born kings and masters. It
is traced from its origin in the crowning of the victorious chief on
the field of battle, to the moment in which the sword of military
conquest is turned back on the conquerors by the chief into whose
hands they gave it; and the sword of conquest abroad becomes, at home,
the sword of state.
Nay, this Play goes farther, and embraces the contingency of a foreign
rule--one, too, in which the _conqueror_ takes his surname from the
_conquest_; it brings home 'the enemy of the whole state,' as a king,
in triumph to the capital, whose streets he has filled with mourning;
and though the author does not tell us in this case, at he does in
another, that the nation was awed 'with an offertory of standards' in
the temple, and that 'orisons and Te Deums were again sung,'--the
victor 'not meaning that the people _should forget_ too soon _that he
came in by battle_'--points, not much short of that, in the way of
speciality, are not wanting. More than one conqueror, indeed, looks
out from this old chieftain's Roman casque. 'There is a little touch
of _Harry_ in the scene'; and though the author goes out of his way to
tell us that 'he must by no means say his hero is _covetous_,' it will
not be the Elizabethan Philosopher's fault, if we do not know _which_
Harry it is that says--
_If you have writ your annals true_,'tis there,
That like an eagle in a dove-cote, I
Flutter'd your Volsces in Corioli:
_Alone_, I did it.
* * * * *
_Auf_. Read it, noble lords;
But tell _the traitor_, in the _highest degree_
He hath abused your powers.
_Cor_. Traitor!--How now?
_Auf_. Ay, _traitor_, Marcius.
_Auf_. AY, _Marcius, Caius_ Marcius; Dost thou think
I'll grace thee with THAT ROBBERY, _thy_ STOLEN NAME
CORIOLANUS in CORIOLI?'--[_the conqueror in the conquest_.]
Never, indeed, was 'the garland of war,' whether glistening freshly on
the hero's brow on the fresh battle-field, or whether glittering,
transmuted into civic gold and gems, on the brow of his hereditary
successor, subjected to such a searching process before, as that with
which the Poet, under cover of an _aristocrat's_ pretensions, and
especially under cover of his pretensions to an elective magistracy,
can venture to test it.
This _hero_, who 'speaks of the people as if he were a _god_ to
punish, and not a man of their infirmity,' is on trial for that
pretension from the first scene of this Play to the last. The author
has, indeed, his own views of the fickle, ignorant, foolish
multitude,--such views as any one, who had occasion to experiment on
it personally, in the age of Elizabeth, would not lack the means of
acquiring; and amidst those ebullitions of wrath, which he pours from
his haughty hero's lips, one hears at times a tone that sounds a
little like some other things from the same source, as if the author
had himself, in some way, been brought to look at the subject from a
point of observation, not altogether unlike that from which his hero
speaks; or as if he might, at least, have known how to sympathise with
the haughty and unbending nature, that had been brought into such
deadly collision with it. But in the dramatic representation, though
it is far from being a flattering one, we listen in vain for any echo
of this sentiment. In its rich and kindly humour there is no sneer, no
satire. It is the loving eye of nature's own great pupil--it is the
kindly human eye, that comes near enough to point those jests, and
paint so truly; there is a great human heart here in the scene
embracing the lowly. It was the heart that was putting forth then its
silent but resistless energies into the ages of the human advancement,
to take up the despised and rejected masses of men from their misery,
and make of them truly one _kind_ and kindred.
And though he has had, indeed, his own private experiences with the
multitude, and the passions are, as he intimates--at least as strong
in him as in another, he has his own view, also, of the common
pitifulness and weakness of the human conditions; and he has a view
which is, in his time, all his own, of the instrumentalities that are
needed to reach that level of human nature, and to lift men up from
the mire of these conditions, from the wrong and wretchedness into
which, in their unaided, unartistic, unlearned struggle with
nature,--within and without,--_the kind_ are fallen. And so strong in
him is the sense of this pitifulness, that it predominates over the
sharpness of his genius, and throws the divinest mists and veils of
compassion over the harsh, scientific realities he is constrained to
And, in fact, it takes this monstrous pretence, and claim to _human
leadership_, which he finds passing unquestioned in his time, to bring
him out on this point fairly. The statesmanship of the man who
undertakes to make his own petty personality the measure of a _world_,
who would make, not that reason which is in us _all_, and embraces the
_world_, and which is _not_ personal,--not that conscience which is
the sensibility to reason, and is as broad and impartial as
that--which goes with the reason, and embraces, like that, without
bias, the common weal,--but that which is particular, and private, and
limited to the individual,--his senses,--his passions, his private
affections,--his mere caprice,--his mere will; the motive of the
public action;--the statesmanship of the man who dares to offer these
to an insulted world, as reasons of state; who claims a divine
prerogative to make his single will good against reason; who claims a
divine right to make his private interest outweigh the weal of the
whole; who asks men to obliterate, in their judgment, its essential
principle, that which makes them men, the eternal principle of the
whole;--this is the phenomenon which provokes at last, in this author,
the philosophic ire. The moment this thing shows itself on his stage,
he puts his pity to sleep. He will show up, at last, without any
mercy, in a purely scientific manner, as we see more clearly
elsewhere, the common pitifulness of the human conditions, in the
person of him who claims exemption from them,--who speaks of the
people as if he were a god to punish, and not a man of their
'There is formed in every thing a _double nature_';--this author, who
is the philosopher of _nature_, tells us on another page,--'there is
formed in _every thing_ a double nature OF GOOD, the one as everything
is a total or substantive in itself, the other as it is a _part_ or
_member_ of a greater body; whereof the _latter_ is in degree the
greater and the worthier, because it _tends to the conservation of a
more general form_. Therefore we see the iron in _particular sympathy_
moving to the loadstone; but yet, if _it exceed a certain quantity_,
it forsakes the affection to the loadstone, and, like a good patriot,
moves to the earth. This double nature of good is MUCH MORE
(hear)--much _more_ ENGRAVEN on MAN, if he _de_GENERATE not--(decline
not from the law of his _kind_--for that _more_ is SPECIAL) unto whom
the conservation of DUTY to the PUBLIC ought to be much more
_precious_ than the conservation of life and being, according to that
memorable speech of Pompey THE GREAT, [the truly great, for this is
the question of greatness,] when BEING IN COMMISSION OF PURVEYANCE FOR
A FAMINE AT ROME, and being dissuaded, with great vehemency and
instance, by his friends about him, that he should not hazard himself
to sea in an extremity of weather, answered, 'Necesse est ut eam, non
But we happen to have set out here, in our play, at the very beginning
of it, the specific case alluded to, in this general exhibition of the
radical human law, viz., the case of a famine in Rome, which we shall
find differently treated, in this instance, by the person who aspires
to 'the helm o' the state.'
When the question is of the true nobility and greatness, of the true
statesmanship, of the personal fitness of an individual to assume the
care of the public welfare, the question, of course, as to this double
nature, comes in. We wish to know--if any thing is going to depend
upon his single _will_ in the matter, we must know, which of these two
natures is SOVEREIGN in himself,--which good he supremely
affects,--that of his senses, passions, and private affections, that
good which ends in his private and particular nature,--a good which
has its _due_ place in this system, and is not unnaturally mortified
and depressed, as it is in less scientific ones,--or that good of the
_whole_, which is each man's highest good;--whether he is, in fact, a
_man_, or whether, in the absence of that perfection of the human
form, which should be the end of science and government, he
approximates at all,--or undertakes to approximate at all, to the true
human type;--whether he be, indeed, a man, in the higher sense of that
word, or whether he ranks in the scale of nature, as 'only a _nobler_
kind of vermin,' a _man_, a _noble man_, a man with a divine ideal and
ambition, _degenerate_ into that.
When it is a candidate for the chief magistracy, a candidate for the
supreme power in the state, who is on his trial, of course that
question as to the balance between the public and private affections,
which, those who know how to trace this author's hand, know he is so
fond of trying elsewhere, is sure to come up. The question is, as to
whether there is any affection in this claimant for power, so large
and so noble, that it can embrace heartily the common weal, and take
_that_ to be _its_ good. The trial will be a sharp one. The trial of
human greatness which is magnanimity, must needs be. The question is,
as to whether this is a nature capable of pursuing that end for its
own sake, without respect to its pivate and merely selfish recompence;
whether it is one which has any such means of egress from its
particular self, any such means of coming out of its private and
exclusive motivity, that it can persevere in its care of the Common
Weal, through good and through ill report, through personal wrong and
ingratitude,--abandoning its private claim, and ascending by that
conquest to the divineness.
'What is granted them?'
'Five Tribunes to defend their vulgar wisdoms.'
'The rabble should have first unroofed the city,
Ere so prevailed with me.'
The common people themselves have some inkling of this. This Roman who
has established his claim to rule Romans at home, by killing Volscians
abroad, appears to their simple apprehension, at the moment, at least,
when they find themselves suffering the gnawings of hunger through his
legislation, to have established but a questionable claim to their
And before ever he shows his head on the stage, this question, which
is the question of the play, is already started. For it is the people
who are permitted to come on first of all and explain their wants, and
discuss the military hero's qualifications for rule in that relation,
and that, too, in a not altogether foolish manner. For though the
author knows how to do justice to the simplicity of their politics, he
knows how to do justice also to that practical determination and
straightforwardness and largeness of sense, which even in the common
sense of uneducated masses, is already struggling a little to declare
They have one great piece of political learning which their lordly
legislators lack, and for lack of sense and comprehension cannot have.
They are learned in the doctrine of their own political and social
want; they are full of the most accurate and vivid impressions on that
subject. Their notions of it are altogether different from those vague
general abstract conceptions of it, which the brains of their refined
lordly rulers stoop to admit. The terms which that legislation deals
with, are one thing in the patrician's vocabulary, and another and
quite different thing in the plebeian's; hunger means one thing in the
'patrician's vocabulary,' and another and very different thing in the
plebeian's. They know, too, 'that meat was made for mouths,' and 'that
the gods sent not corn for the rich men only.' They are under the
impression that there ought to be bread for them by some means or
other, when the storehouses that their toil has filled are
overflowing, and though they are not clear as to the process which
should accomplish this result, they have come to the conclusion that
there must be some error somewhere in the legislation of those learned
_few_, to whom they have resigned the task of governing them. They are
strongly of opinion that there must be some mistake in the
calculations by which those venerable wise men and _fathers_, do so
infallibly contrive to sweep the results of the poor man's toil and
privation into their own garners,--calculations which enable the
legislator to enjoy in lordly ease and splendour, the sight of the
plebeian's misery, which enable him to lavish on his idlest whims, to
give to his dogs that which would save lifetimes of unreckoned human
misery. These are their views, and when the play begins, they have
resolved themselves into a committee of the whole, and are out on a
commission of inquiry and administrative reform, armed with bats and
clubs and other weapons,--such as came first to hand, intending to
make short work of it. This is their peace budget, and as to war, they
have some rude notions on that subject, too;--some dim impression that
nature intended them for some other ends than to be sold in the
shambles, as the purchase of some lordly chieftain's title. There's an
incipient statesmanship struggling there in that rude mass, though it
does not as yet get fairly expressed. It will take the tribuneship and
the refinements of the aristocratic leisure, to make the rude wisdom
of want and toil eloquent. But it has found a tribune at last, who
will be able to speak for it, through one mouth or another,
scientifically and to the purpose too, ere all is done.
'Before we proceed any further, _hear me speak_,' he cries, through
the Roman leader's lips; for his Rome, too, if it be not yet 'at the
point of battle,' is drifting towards it rapidly, as he sees well
enough when this speech begins.
But let us take the Play as we find it. Take the first scene of it.
The stage is filled with the people,--not with their representatives,
--but with the people themselves, in their own persons, in the act of
taking the government into their own hands. They are hurrying sternly
and silently through the city streets. There has been no practising of
'goose step,' to teach them that movement. They are armed with clubs,
staves and other weapons, peace weapons, but there is an edge in them
now, fine enough for their purpose. The word of the play is the word
that arrests that movement. The voice of the leader rings out,--it is
a HALT that is ordered.
'BEFORE WE PROCEED ANY FURTHER, HEAR ME SPEAK,' cries one from the
'Speak! speak!' is the reply. They are ready to hear reason. They want
a speaker. They want a voice, though never so rude, to put their stern
inarticulate purpose 'into some frame.'
'You are all resolved rather TO DIE than TO FAMISH,' continues the
first speaker. Yes, that is it precisely; he has spoken the word.
'RESOLVED! RESOLVED!' is the common response; for the revolutionary
point is touched here.
'FIRST, _you know_, Caius Marcius is CHIEF ENEMY to the people'--a
rude grasp at causes. This captain will establish a common
_intelligence_ in his company _before they proceed any further_; that
their acting may be one, and to purpose. For there is no command but
_Cit._ We know't, we know't.
_First Cit._ Let us _kill him_, and we'll have corn at our own price.
Is't a verdict?
_Cit. No _more talking on't_. Let it bone done: away, away.
'_One word_, good citizens,' cries another, 'who thinks that the thing
will bear, perhaps, a little further discussion. And this is the hint
for the first speaker to produce his cause more fully. 'GOOD
CITIZENS,' is the word he takes up. "_We_ are _accounted_ POOR
CITIZENS; the patricians GOOD.' [That is the way the account stands,
then.] 'What AUTHORITY _surfeits_ on would relieve us. If they would
yield us _but the superfluity_ while it were _wholesome_, we might
guess they relieved us _humanely_; but they think we are _too dear_.'
[They love us as we are too well. They want poor people to reflect
their riches. It takes plebeians to make patricians; it takes our
valleys to make their heights.]
'The leanness that _afflicts us_, the object of _our_ misery, is as an
_inventory_ to particularize _their abundance_. _Our_ sufferance is a
gain to _them_.--Let us revenge this with our pikes, ere we become
rakes: for the gods know, I speak this in _hunger_ for bread, and not
in _thirst_ for _revenge_.
_Second Cit_. Would you proceed _especially_ against Caius Marcius?
_First Cit_. Against him _first_;--he's a _very dog_ to the
_Second Cit_. Consider you what _services_ he has done for _his
[That is one of the things which are about to be 'considered.']
_First Cit. Very well_, and could be content to give him good report
for'it, but that he _pays himself_ with _being proud_.
_Second Cit_. Nay, but speak not maliciously.
_First Cit_. I say unto you, what he hath done famously, he _did it to
that end_: though soft-conscienced men can be content to say it was
for HIS COUNTRY, he did it to _please his mother_, and to be _partly_
proud; which he is, even to the _altitude of his virtue_.
_Second Cit_. What he _cannot help_ IN HIS NATURE, you account a
_vice_ in him. You _must in no way_ say he is covetous.
_First Cit. If I must not_, I need not be barren of accusations; he
hath faults with surplus to tire _in repetition_. [_Shouts within_.]
What shouts are these? The other side o' the city is risen. Why stay
we prating here? _To the Capitol_!
_Cit_. Come, come.
_First Cit_. Soft; who comes here?
[_Enter Menenius Agrippa_.]
_Second Cit_. Worthy Menenius Agrippa, one that hath always _loved the
_First Cit_. He's one _honest_ enough [--_honest_--a great word in the
Shakspere philosophy]; would _all the rest_ were so.
[That is a good prayer when it comes to be understood.]
_Men_. What work's, my countrymen, in hand? Where go you, With bats
and clubs? The matter? Speak, I pray you.
_First Cit. Our business is not unknown to_ THE SENATE [Hear]; they
have had _inkling_ this fortnight what we intend to do, which now
we'll show 'em in deeds. They say, poor suitors have strong breaths;
they shall know we have _strong arms, too_.
_Men_. Why, _masters_, my good friends, mine honest neighbours, Will
you undo yourselves_?
_First Cit. We cannot, sir; we are undone already_. [Revolution.]
_Men_. I tell you, friends, _most charitable care_
Have the _patricians_ of you. For your WANTS,--Your
suffering in this dearth, you may as well
_Strike at the heavens_ with your staves, as lift them
Against the Roman State, whose course _will on
The way it takes_, cracking ten thousand curbs
Of more strong link asunder, than can ever
Appear in your impediment. For the dearth,
The _gods, not_ the _patricians_, make it; and
_Your knees_ to them, _not arms, must_ help.
[This sounds very pious, but it is not the piety of the new school.
The doctrine of submission and suffering is indeed taught in it, and
scientifically reinforced; but then it is the patient suffering of the
harm 'which is not within our power' which is commendable, according
to its tenets, and 'a wise and industrious suffering' of it, too. It
is a wise 'accommodating of the nature of man to those points of
nature and fortune which we cannot control,' that is pleasing to God,
according to this creed.]
You are transported by calamity,
Thither where more attends you; and you slander
The helms o' the state, who care for you like _fathers_,
When you curse them as enemies.
_First Cit_. CARE FOR us! _True_, INDEED! They ne'er cared for us yet.
SUFFER us TO FAMISH, and _their_ store-houses CRAMMED WITH GRAIN!
_Make edicts for usury, to support usurers_! Repeal daily any
WHOLESOME ACT _established against the rich_, and provide more
piercing statutes daily to chain up and restrain the poor! If the WARS
eat us not up, THEY WILL; and there's _all the love_ they bear us.
Menenius attempts to counteract these impressions; but his story and
his arguments appear to have some applications which he is not aware
of, and are much more to the purpose of the party in arms than they
are to his own. For it is a story in which the natural subordination
of the parts to the whole in the fabric of human society is
illustrated by that natural instance and symbol of unity and
organization which the single human form itself present; and that
condition of the state which has just been exhibited--one in which the
body at large is dying of inanition that a part of it may
_surfeit_--is a condition which, in the light of this story, appears
to need help of some kind, certainly.
But the platform is now ready. It is the hero's entrance for which we
are preparing. It is on the ground of this sullen want that the author
will exhibit him and his dazzling military virtues. It is as the
doctor of this _diseased common-weal_ that he brings him in with his
'_Enter_ CAIUS MARCIUS.'
and that idea--the idea of the diseased commonwealth, which Menenius
has already set forth--that notion of _parts_ and _partiality_, and
dissonance and dissolution, which is a radical idea in the play, and
runs into its minutest points of phraseology, breaks out at once in
his rough speech.
_Men_. Hail, noble Marcius!
_Mar_. Thanks. What's the matter, you dissentious rogues,
That rubbing the poor itch of your opinion,
Make _yourselves_ scabs.
[It is the _common-weal_ that must be made _whole_ and comely.
OPINION! your opinion.]
_First Cit_. We have ever your good word.
_Mar_. In that will give good words to _thee_, will flatter
Beneath abhorring.--What would you have, you _curs_,
That like nor peace, nor war? the one affrights you,
The other makes you proud. _He_ that trusts you,
_Where he should find you lions, finds you hares_.
_Where foxes, geese_! You are no surer, no
Than is the coal of fire upon the ice,
Or hail-stone in the sun. Your _virtue_ is,
To make _him worthy_ whose _offence subdues him_,
And curse that _justice_ did it. Who deserves greatness
Deserves your hate: and your affections are
A sick man's appetite, who desires most that
Which would increase his evil. _He_ that _depends_
Upon your favours, _swims with_ fins of lead,
And hews down _oaks_ with rushes. Hang ye! Trust ye?
With every minute you do change a mind;
[This is not the principle of _state_, whether in the many or the
And call _him_ noble, that was now your hate,
_Him_ vile, that was your garland. _What's the matter_,
That in these several places of the city
You cry against the noble senate, who,
Under the gods, keep you in awe, _which else
Would feed on one another_?--What's their seeking?
_Men_. For corn at their own rates; _whereof, they say,
The city is well stor'd_.
_Mar_. HANG 'EM! THEY SAY?
THEY'LL SIT BY THE FIRE, and PRESUME to KNOW
WHAT'S DONE I' THE CAPITOL: who's like to rise,
Who thrives, and who declines: side factions, and give out
_Conjectural marriages; making parties strong_,
And _feebling_ such _as stand not in their liking_,
Below their cobbled shoes. _They say, there's grain enough_?
Would the nobility lay aside their ruth,
And let me use my sword, _I'd make a quarry
With thousands of these quartered slaves_, AS HIGH
As I could _prick my lance_.
[The _altitude_ of his virtue;--the _measure_ of his greatness. That
is the tableau of the first scene, in the first act of the play of the
cure of the Common-weal and the Consulship.]
_Men_. Nay, these are almost thoroughly persuaded;
For though abundantly they lack discretion,
Yet are they passing cowardly. But I beseech you,
What says the other troop?
_Mar_. They are _dissolved_: Hang 'em! [Footnote]
_They said, they were an hungry; sigh'd forth proverbs_;--
That _hunger broke stone walls_; that, _dogs_ must eat;
That _meat was made for mouths_; THAT THE GODS SENT NOT
CORN FOR THE RICH MEN ONLY:--With these shreds
They vented their complainings; which being answer'd,
And a petition granted them, _a strange one_,
(To break the _heart of generosity_,
_And make bold power look pale_,) they threw their caps
As they would hang them on the horns o'the moon,
_Shouting their emulation_.
[Footnote: 'The History of Henry VII.,' produced in the Historical
Part of this work, but omitted here, contains the key to these
_Men_. What is granted them.
_Mar_. Five tribunes _to defend their vulgar wisdoms_,
Of their own choice: One's Junius Brutus,
Sicinius Velutus, and I know not--'Sdeath!
The rabble should have first unroof'd the city;
Ere so prevail'd with me; _it will in time
Win upon POWER, and throw forth greater themes_
For INSURRECTION'S arguing.
[Yes, surely it will. It cannot fail of it.]
_Men_. This is strange.
_Mar_. Go, get you _home_, you _fragments_! [_fragments_.]
[_Enter a Messenger_.]
_Mes_. Where's Caius Marcius?
_Mar_. Here; What's the matter?
_Mes_. The news is, Sir, the Volces are in arms.
_Mar_. I am glad on't; then we shall have means _to vent
Our musty superfluity:_--See, our best elders.
[The procession from the Capitol is entering with two of the
new officers of the commonwealth, and the two chief men of
the army, with other senators.]
_First Sen_. Marcius, 'tis true, that you have lately told us;
The Volsces are in arms.
_Mar_. They have a leader,
Tullus Aufidius, that will put you to't.
I sin in envying _his nobility_:
And were I anything but what I am,
I would wish me only he.
_Com_. You have fought together.
_Mar_. Were half to half the world by the ears, and _he
Upon my party, I'd revolt, to make
Only my wars with him_ [Hear, hear].
He is a lion.
That I am proud to _hunt_.
_First Sen_. _Then_, WORTHY _Marcius_,
Attend upon Cominius to these wars.
It is the relation of the spirit of military conquest, the relation of
the military hero, and his government, to the true human need, which
is subjected to criticism here; a criticism which is necessarily an
after-thought in the natural order of the human development.
The transition 'from the casque to the cushion,' that so easy step in
the heroic ages, whether it be 'an entrance by conquest,' foreign or
otherwise, or whether the chieftain's own followers bring him home in
triumph, and the people, whose battle he has won, conduct him to their
chair of state, in either case, that transition appears, to this
author's eye, worth going back, and looking into a little, in an age
so advanced in civilization, as the one in which he finds himself.
For though he is, as any one who will take any pains to inquire, may
easily satisfy himself,--the master in chief of the new science of
nature,--and the deepest in its secrets of any, his views on that
subject appear to be somewhat broader, his aspirations altogether of
another kind, from those, to which his school have since limited
themselves. He does not content himself with pinning butterflies and
hunting down beetles; his scientific curiosity is not satisfied with
classifying ferns and lichens, and ascertaining the proper historical
position of pudding-stone and sand-stone, and in settling the
difference between them and their neighbours. Nature is always, in all
her varieties wonderful, and all 'her infinite book of secrecy,' that
book which all the world had overlooked till he came, was to his eye,
from the first, a book of spells, of magic lore, a Prospero book of
enchantments. He would get the key to her cipher, he would find the
lost alphabet of her unknown tongue; there is no page of her composing
in which he would scorn to seek it--none which he would scorn to read
with it: but then he has, notwithstanding, some _choice_ in his
studies. He is of the opinion that some subjects are nobler than
others, and that those which concern specially the human kind, have a
special claim to their regard, and the secret of those combinations
which result in the varieties of shell-fish, and other similar orders
of being, do _not_ exclusively, or chiefly, engage his attention.
There is another natural curiosity, which strikes the eye of the
founder of the Science of Nature, as quite the most curious and
wonderful thing going, so far, at least, as his observation has
extended, though he is willing to make, as he takes pains to state,
philosophical allowance for the partiality of species in determining
this judgment, and is perfectly willing to concede, that if any
particular species of shell-fish, for instance, were to undertake a
science of things in general, that particular species would, no doubt,
occupy the principal place in that system; especially if arts, tending
to the improvement and elevation of it, were necessarily based on this
larger specific knowledge.
Men, and their proceedings and organisms, men, and their habits and
modes of combining, did appear to the eye of this scientific observer
quite as well worth observing and noting, also, as bees and beavers,
for instance, and their societies; and, accordingly, he made some
observations himself, and notes, too, in this particular department of
his general science. For, as he tells us elsewhere, he did not wish to
map out the large fields of the science of observation in general, and
exhibit to the world, in bare description, the method of it, without
leaving some specimens of his own, of what might be done with it, in
proper hands, under favourable circumstances, selecting for his
experiments the principal and noblest subjects--those of the most
immediate human concern. And he has not only very carefully laboured a
few of these; but he has taken extraordinary pains to preserve them to
us in their proper scientific form, with just as little of the
ligature of the time on them as it was possible to leave.
It is no kind of beetle or butterfly, then, that this philosopher
comes down upon here from the heights of his universal science--his
science of the nature of things in general, but that great Spenserian
monstrosity,--that diseased product of nature, which individual human
nature, in spite of its natural pettiness and helplessness, under
certain favourable conditions of absorption and accretion, may be made
to yield. It is that dragon of lawless power which was overspreading,
in his time, all the common human affairs, and infolding in its gaudy,
baleful wings all the life of men,--it is that which takes from the
first the speculative eye of this new speculator,--this founder of the
science of things, and not of words instead of them. Here is a man of
science, a born naturalist, who understands that _this_ phenomenon
lies in his department, and takes it to be his business, among other
things, to examine it.
It was, indeed, a formidable phenomenon, as it presented itself to his
apprehension; and his own words are always the best, when one knows
how to read them--
'He sits in state, like a thing made for Alexander.' 'When he walks,
he moves like an engine, and the ground shrinks before his treading.'
'He talks like a knell, his hum is a battery; what he bids be done, is
finished at his bidding. He wants nothing of a god but eternity, and
_a heaven_ to throne in.' 'Yes,' is the answer; 'yes, _mercy_, if you
paint him truly.' 'I paint him in character.'
'Is it possible that so short a time can alter the conditions of a
_man_?' inquires the speculator upon this phenomenon, and then comes
the reply--'There's a differency between a grub and a butterfly, yet
_your butterfly was a grub. This Marcius is grown from_ MAN TO DRAGON;
he has wings, he is more than a creeping thing.'
This is Coriolanus at the head of his army; but in Julius Caesar, it
is nature in the wildness of the tempest--it is a night of unnatural
horrors, that is brought in by the Poet to illustrate the enormity of
the evil he deals with, and its unnatural character--'to serve as
instrument of fear and warning unto _some_ MONSTROUS STATE.'
'Now could _I_, Casca,
Name to _thee_ a man most like this dreadful night;
That thunders, lightens, opens graves, and roars
As doth the lion in the Capitol:
A _man no mightier_ than thyself, or me,
In _personal action, yet prodigious grown_,
And fearful, as these strange eruptions are.
_Casca_. Tis _Caesar_ that you mean: Is it not, Cassius?
[I paint him in character.]
_Cassius_. Let it be--WHO IT IS: _For Romans now_
Have thewes and limbs like to their ancestors.'
'I think he'll be to Rome
As is the osprey to the fish, who _takes_ it
By sovereignty of nature.'
FLOWER OF WARRIORS
The poet finds, indeed, this monstrosity full-blown in his time. He
finds it 'in the civil streets,' 'talking plain cannon', 'humming
batteries' in the most unmistakeable manner, with no particular
account of its origin to give, without, indeed, appearing to recollect
exactly how it came there, retaining only a general impression, that a
descent from the celestial regions had, in some way, been effected
during some undated period of human history, under circumstances which
the memory of man was not expected to be able to recall in detail, and
a certificate to that effect, divinely subscribed, was understood to
be included among its properties, though it does not appear to have
been, on the face of it, so absolutely conclusive as to render a
little logical demonstration, on the part of royalty itself,
It was not very far from this time, that a very able and loyal servant
of the crown undertook, openly, to assist the royal memory on this
delicate point; and, though the details of that historical
representation, and the manner of it, are, of course, quite different
from those of the Play, it will be found, upon careful examination,
not so dissimilar in purport as the exterior would have seemed to
imply. The philosopher does not feel called upon, in either case, to
begin by contradicting flatly, in so many words, the theory which he
finds the received one on that point. Even the _poet_, with all his
freedom, is compelled to go to work after another fashion.
'And _thus_ do we, of wisdom, and of reach,
With _windlasses_, and with ASSAYS of BIAS,
By indirections find directions out.'
He has his own way of creating an historical retrospect. No one need
know that it _is_ a retrospect; no one will know it, perhaps, who has
not taken the author's clue elsewhere. The crisis is already reached
when the play begins. The collision between the civil want and the
military government is at its height. It is a revolution on which the
curtain rises. It is a city street filled with dark, angry swarms of
men, who have come forth to seek out this government, in the person of
its chief, who stop only to conduct their summary trial of it, and
then hurry on to execute their verdict.
But the poet arrests this revolution. Before we proceed any further,
'Hear _me_ speak,' he cries, through the lips of the plebeian leader.
The man of science demands a hearing, before this movement proceed any
further. He has a longer story to tell than that with which Menenius
Agrippa appeases his Romans. There is a cry of war in the streets. The
obscure background of that portentous scene opens, and the long vista
of the heroic ages, with all its pomp and stormy splendours, scene
upon scene, grows luminous behind it. The foreground is the same. The
arrested mutineers stand there still, with the frown knit in their
angry brows, with the weapons of their civil warfare in their hands;
there is no stage direction for a change of costume, and none
perceives that they have grown older as they stand, and that the
shadow of the elder time is on them. But the manager of this stage is
one who knows that the elder time of history is the childhood of his
There is a cry of war in that ancient street. The enemy of the infant
state is in arms. The people rush forth to conflict with the leader of
armies at their head. But this time, for the first time in the history
of literature, the philosopher goes with him. The philosopher,
hitherto, has been otherwise occupied. He has been too busy with his
fierce war of words; he has had too much to do with his abstract
generals, his logical majors and minors, to get them in squadrons and
right forms of war, to have any eye for such vulgar solidarities. 'All
men are mortal. Peter and John are men. Therefore Peter and John are
mortal,' he concludes; but that is his nearest and most vivacious
approach to historical particulars, and his cell is broad enough to
contain all that he needs for his processes and ends. He finds enough
and to spare, ready prepared to his hands, in the casual, rude,
unscientific observations and spontaneous distinctions of the vulgar.
His generalizations are obtained from their hasty abstractions. It has
never occurred to him, till now, that he must begin with criticising
these _terms_; that he must begin by making a new and scientific
terminology, which shall correspond to _terms in nature_, and not be
air-lines merely;--that he must take pains to collect them himself,
from severest scrutiny of particulars, before ever he can arrive at
'the notions of nature,' the universal notions, which differ from the
spontaneous specific notions of men, and their chimeras; before ever
he can put man into his true relations with nature, before ever he can
teach him to speak the word which she responds to,--the words of her
dictionary--the word which is _power_.
This is, in fact, the first time that the philosopher has undertaken
to go abroad. It is the first time he has ever been in the army.
Softly, invisibly, he goes. There is nothing to show that he is there.
As modestly, as unnoticed, as the Times 'own correspondent,' amid all
the clang and tumult, the pomp and circumstance of glorious war, he
goes. But he is there notwithstanding. There is no breath of
scholasticism, no perfume of the cell, that the most vigorous and
robust can perceive, in his battle. The scene unwinds with all its
fierce reality, undimmed by the pale cast of thought: the shout is as
wild, the din as fearful, the martial fury rises, as if the old heroic
poet had it still in hand.
But it is not the poet's voice that you hear, bursting forth into
those rhythmical ecstasies of heroic passion,--unless that faint tone
of exaggeration,--that slight prolonging of it, be his. That mad joy
in human blood, that wolfish glare, that lights the hero's eye, gets
no reflection in his: those fiendish boasts are not from _his_ lips.
Through all the frenzy of that demoniacal scene, he is still himself,
with all his _human_ sense about him. Through all the crowded
incidents of that day of blood--into which he condenses, with dramatic
license, the siege and assault of the city, the conquest and plunder
of it, and the conflict in the open field,--he is keeping watch on his
hero. He is eyeing him, and sketching him, as critically as if he were
indeed an entomological or botanical specimen. He is making a specimen
of him, for scientific purposes,--not 'a preservation,'--he does not
think much of dried specimens in science. He proposes to dismiss the
logical Peter and John, and the logical man himself, that abstract
notion which the metaphysicians have been at loggerheads about so
long. It is the true heroism,--it is the sovereign flower which he is
in search of. This specimen that he is taking here will, indeed, go by
the board. He is taking him on his negative table. But for _that_
purpose,--in order to get him on his 'table of rejections,' it is
necessary to take him _alive_. The question is of government, of
supreme power, and universal _suffrage_, of the abnegation of reason,
of the annihilation of judgment, in behalf of a superiority which has
been understood, heretofore, to admit of _no_ question. The question
is of awe and reverence, and worship, and submission. The Poet has to
put his sacrilegious hand through the dust that lies on antique time,
through the sanctity of prescription and time-honoured usage, through
'mountainous error' 'too highly heaped for truth to overpeer,' in
order to make this point in his scientific table. And he wishes to
blazon it a little. He will pin up this old exploded hero--this legacy
of barbaric ages, to the ages of human advancement--in all his
actualities, in all the heroic splendours of his original, without
'diminishing one dowle that's in his plume.'
But this retrospect has not yet reached its limit. It is not enough to
go back, in the unravelling of this business, to the full-grown hero
on the field of victory. 'For that which, in speculative philosophy,
corresponds to the cause in practical philosophy becomes the rule;'
and it is the Cure of the Common Weal, which the poet is proposing,
and having determined to proceed specially against Caius Marcius, or
against him _first_, he undertakes now to 'delve him to the root.' We
are already on the battle field; but before ever a stroke is struck
_there_, before he will attempt to show us the instinct of the warrior
in his _game_,--'he is a lion that I am proud to hunt,'--when all is
ready and just as the hunt is going to begin, he steals softly back to
Rome; he unlocks the hero's private dwelling, he lays open to us the
secrets of that domestic hearth, the secrets of that nursery in which
his hero had had his training; he shows us the breasts from which he
drew that martial fire; he produces the woman alive who sent him to
that field. [Act 1, Scene 3. _An apartment in the martial chieftain's
house; two women, 'on two low stools, sewing_.' 'There is where your
throne begins, whatever it be.'] In that exquisite relief which the
natural graces of youth and womanhood provide for it, in the young,
gentle, feminine wife, desolate in her husband's absence, starting at
the rumour of news from the camp, and driving back from her appalled
conception, the images which her mother-in-law's fearful speech
suggests to her,--in that so beautiful relief, comes out the picture
of the Roman matron, the woman in whom the martial instincts have been
educated and the gentler ones repressed, by the common sentiments of
her age and nation, the woman in whom the common standard of virtue,
the conventional virtue of her time, has annihilated the wife and the
_Virgilia_. Had he died in the business, madam, what then?
_Volumnia_. Then his good report should have been my son,
_I therein would have found issue_.
It is the multiplied force of a common instinct in the nation, it is
the pride of conquest in a whole people, erected into the place of
virtue and usurping all its sanctity, which has entered this woman's
nature and reformed its yielding principles. It is the _Martial_
Spirit that has subdued her, for she is virtuous and religious. It is
her people's god to whom she has borne her son, and in his temple she
has reared him.
But the poet is not satisfied with all this. It is not enough to
introduce us to the hero's mother and permit us to listen to her
confidential account of his birth and training. He will produce the
little Coriolanus himself--Coriolanus in germ--he will show us the
rudiments of those instincts, which his unscientific education has
stimulated into such monstrous 'o'ergrowth' (but _not_ enlightened),
so that the hero on the battle-field who is winning there the oaken
crown, which he will transmit if he can to his posterity, is only,
after all, a boy overgrown,--a boy with his _boyishness unnaturally
prolonged by his culture_,--the impersonation of the childishness of a
childish time,--the crowned impersonation of the instinct which is
SOVEREIGN in an age of instinct. He shows us the drum and the sword in
the nursery, and the boy who would rather look at the military parade
than his schoolmaster;--he shows us the little viperous egg of a hero
torturing and tearing the butterfly, with his 'confirmed countenance,
in one of his father's moods.'
Surely we have reached 'the grub' at last, 'the creeping thing' that
will have one day imperial armies in its wings. And we return from
this little excursion to the field again, in time for the battle; and
when we see the tiger in the man let loose _there_, and the boy's
father comes out in one of his _own_ moods, that we may note it the
better; we begin to observe where we are in the human history, and
what age of the Advancement of Learning it is that this poet is
driving at so stedfastly, and trying to get dated; and whether it is
indeed one from which the advancing ages of Learning can accept the
bourne of the human wisdom, the limit of that advance.
'And to speak _truly_ [and that after all _is_ the best way of
speaking] _Antiquitas seculi juventus mundi_.'
'Those times are the ancient times, when the _world_ is ancient and
not those we account ancient by a computation _backward_ from
_ourselves_.'--_Advancement of Learning_. But that was put down in a
book in which we have only general statements, very wise indeed, and
both new and true, most exactly true, but not ready for practice, as
the author stops to tell us, and it is practice he is aiming at. That
is from a book in which we have only 'the husks and shells of
sciences, _all the kernel_ being forced out,' as the author informs
us, 'by the _torture and press_ of the method.' But it was a method
which saved them, notwithstanding. This is the book that contains the
'nuts,' and _this_ is the kernel that goes in that particular shell or
a corner of it, '_Antiquitas seculi juventus mundi_.'
There, on the spot, he shows us the process by which a king,--an
historic king,--is made. He detects and brings out and blazons, the
moment in which the inequality of fortune begins, in the division of
the spoils of victory. His hero is _not_, as he takes pains to tell
us, covetous,--_unless_ it be a sin to covet honour, if it be, he is
the most offending soul alive;--it is because he is not mercenary,
that his soldiers will enrich him. The poet shows us where the throne
begins, and the machinery of that engine which the earth shrinks from
when it moves. On his stage, it is the moment in which, the soldiers
raise their victorious leader from his feet, and carry him in triumph
above them. We are there at the ceremony, for this is selected,
illuminated history; this, too, is what he calls 'visible history,'
but amid all those martial acclamations and plaudits, the philosopher
contrives to get in a word.
'He that has effected his _good will_, has o'ertaken my act.'
From the field he tracks his hero to the chair of state. First we have
the news of the victory in the city, and its effect:--
'I'll report it
Where _senators_ shall mingle tears with smiles;
Where great _patricians_ shall attend, and _shrug_;
I' the end admire; where ladies shall be frighted,
And, gladly quaked, hear more; where the _dull tribunes_,
That, with the fusty plebeians, hate thine honours,
Shall say against their hearts, We thank the gods
_Our Rome_ hath such a soldier.'
Then we have the hero's return--the conqueror's reception; first in
the city whose battle he has won, and afterwards his reception in the
city he has conquered. Here is the latter:--
'Your native town _you_ entered _like a post_,
And had no welcomes home; but he returns,
Splitting the air with noises.
And _patient fools_,
_Whose children he hath slain, their base throats tear_
WITH GIVING HIM GLORY.'
'A goodly city is this Antium! City,
'Tis _I_ that made thy widows; many an heir
Of _these fair edifices, 'fore my wars_
Have I heard groan and droop. Then know me not,
Lest that thy wives with spits, and boys with stones,
In _puny battle slay me_.' [--_know me not--lest_--'
'Let us kill him, and we will have _corn_, at our own price.']
But the Poet does not forget that it is the proof of the military
virtue, as well as the history of the military power, that he has
undertaken; 'the touch of its nobility,' as he himself words it. He is
trying it by his own exact scientific standard; he is putting the test
to it which the new philosophy, which is the philosophy of nature,
For, in truth, this philosopher, this civilian, is a little jealous of
this simple virtue of valour, which he finds in his time, as in the
barbaric ages, still in such esteem, as 'the chiefest virtue, and that
which most dignifies the haver.' He is of opinion, that there may be
some other profession, beside that of the sword, worth an honest man's
attention; that, if the world were more enlightened, there would be
another kind of glory, that would make 'the garland of war' shrivel.
He thinks that _Jupiter_, and _not Mars_, should reign supreme: that
there is another kind of distinction and leadership, better worth the
public esteem, better deserving the popular gratitude and reverence.
And when he has once taken an analysis of this kind in hand, he is not
going to permit any scruples of delicacy to impair the operation. He
will invade that graceful modesty in the hero, who shrinks from
hearing his exploits narrated. He will analyse that blush, and show us
chemically what its hue is made of. He will bring out those retiring
honours from the haze and mist which the vague, unanalytic, popular
notions, have gathered about them. Tucked up in scarlet, braided with
gold, under its forest of feathers, through all its pomp and blazonry,
through all its drums; and trumpets, and clarions, undaunted by the
popular cry, undaunted by that so potent word of 'patriotism' which
guards it from invasion, he will search it out.
For this purpose he will go a little nearer to it than is the heroic
poet's wont. When the city is wild with the news of this great
victory, and the streets are swarming at the tidings of the hero's
approach, he will take _his_ stand with _the family party_, and beckon
us to a place where we can listen to what is going on _there_, though
the heroics and the blank verse must halt for it.
The glee and fluster might appear to a cool spectator a little
undignified; but then we are understood to be, like Menenius, old
friends of the family, and too much carried away with the excitement
of the moment to be very critical.
_Volumnia_. Honourable Menenius, _my boy, Marcius_, approaches. For
the love of _Juno_, let's go.
_Men_. Ha! Marcius coming home!
_Vol_. Ay, worthy Menenius, and with most prosperous _approbation_.
_Men. Take my cap, Jupiter_, and I thank thee. _Hoo_! Marcius coming