Or, as he puts it in another place: 'What is sensible always strikes the memory more strongly, and sooner impresses itself, than what is intellectual. Thus the memory of brutes is excited by sensible, but not by intellectual things. And therefore it is easier to retain the image of a sportsman hunting, than of the corresponding notion of invention—of an apothecary ranging his boxes, than of the corresponding notion of disposition—of an orator making a speech, than of the term Eloquence—or a boy repeating verses, than the term Memory—or of A PLAYER acting his part, than the corresponding notion of—ACTION.'
So, also, 'Tom o' Bedlam' was a better word for 'houseless misery,' than all the king's prayer, good as it was, about 'houseless heads, and unfed sides,' in general, and 'looped, and windowed raggedness.'
'We construct,' says this author, in another place—rejecting the ordinary history as not suitable for scientific purposes, because it is 'varied, and diffusive, and confounds and disturbs the understanding, unless it be fixed and exhibited in due order'—we construct 'tables and combinations of instances, upon such a plan and in such order, that the understanding be enabled to act upon them.'
I'll meet thee at Phillippi.
In Julius Caesar, the most splendid and magnanimous representative of arbitrary power is selected—'the foremost man of all the world,'—even by the concession of those who condemn him to death; so that here it is the mere abstract question as to the expediency and propriety of permitting any one man to impose his individual will on the nation. Whatever personalities are involved in the question here—with Brutus, at least—tend to bias the decision in his favour. For so he tells us, as with agitated step he walks his orchard on that wild night which succeeds his conference with Cassius, revolving his part, and reading, by the light of the exhalations whizzing in the air, the papers that have been found thrown in at his study window.
'It must be by his death: and, for my part, I know no personal cause to spurn at him, BUT FOR THE GENERAL. He would be crown'd:— How that might change his nature, there's the question. It is the bright day that brings forth the adder; And that craves wary walking. Crown him? That;— And then, I grant, we put a sting in him, That at his will he may do danger with. The abuse of greatness is, when it disjoins Remorse from power: And, to speak truth of Caesar, I have not known when his affections sway'd More than his reason. But 't is a common proof, That lowliness is young ambition's ladder, Whereto the climber upward turns his face: But when he once attains the utmost round, He then unto the ladder turns his back, Looks in the clouds, scorning the base degrees By which he did ascend: So Caesar may; Then, lest he may, PREVENT. And, since the quarrel, Will bear no colour for the thing he is, Fashion it thus; that what he is, augmented, Would run to these, and these extremities: And therefore think him as a serpent's egg, Which, hatch'd, would, AS HIS KIND, grow mischievous; AND KILL HIM IN THE SHELL.'
Pretty sentiments these, to set before a king already engaged in so critical a contest with his subjects; pleasant entertainment, one would say, for the representative of a monarchy that had contrived to wake the sleeping Brutus in its dominions,—that was preparing, even then, for its own death-struggle on this very question, which this Brutus searches to its core so untenderly.
'Have you heard the argument?' says the 'bloat king' in Hamlet. 'Is there no offence in it?'
Now, let the reader suppose, for one instant, that this work had been produced from the outset openly, for what any reader of common sense will perceive it to be, with all its fire, an elaborate, scholarly composition, the product of the profoundest philosophic invention, the fruit of the ripest scholarship of the age;—let him suppose, for argument's sake, that it had been produced for what it is, the work of a scholar, and a statesman, and a courtier,—a statesman already jealously watched, or already, perhaps, in deadly collision with this very power he is defining here so largely, and tracking to its ultimate scientific comprehensions;—and then let the reader imagine, if he can, Elizabeth or James, but especially Elizabeth, listening entranced to such passages as the one last quoted, with an audience disposed to make points of some of the 'choice Italian' lines in it.
Does not all the world know that scholars, men of reverence, men of world-wide renown, men of every accomplishment, were tortured, and mutilated, and hung, and beheaded, in both these two reigns, for writings wherein Caesar's ambition was infinitely more obscurely hinted at—writings unspeakably less offensive to majesty than this?
But, then, a Play was a Play, and old Romans would be Romans; there was, notoriously, no royal way of managing them; and if kings would have tragical mirth out of them, they must take their treason in good part, and make themselves as merry with it as they could. The poor Poet was, of course, no more responsible for these men than Chaucer was for his pilgrims. He but reported them.
And besides, in that broad, many-sided view of the subject which the author's evolution of it from the root involves,—in that pursuit of tyranny in essence through all its disguises,—other exhibitions of it were involved, which might seem, to the careless eye, purposely designed to counteract the effect of the views above quoted.
The fact that mere arbitrary will, that the individual humour and bias, is incapable of furnishing a rule of action anywhere,—the fact that mere will, or blind passion, whether in the One, or the Few, or the Many, should have no part, above all, in the business of the STATE,—should lend no colour or bias to its administration,—the fact that 'the general good,' 'the common weal,' which is justice, and reason, and humanity,—the 'ONE ONLY MAN,'—should, in some way, under some form or other, get to the head of that and rule, this is all which the Poet will contend for.
But, alas, HOW? The unspeakable difficulties in the way of the solution of this problem,—the difficulties which the radical bias in the individual human nature, even under its noblest forms, creates,—the difficulties which the ignorance, and stupidity, and passion of the multitude created then, and still create, appear here without any mitigation. They are studiously brought out in their boldest colours. There's no attempt to shade them down. They make, indeed, the TRAGEDY.
And it is this general impartial treatment of his subjects which makes this author's writings, with all their boldness, generally, so safe; for it seems to leave him without any bias for any person or any party—without any opinion on any topic; for his truth embraces and resolves all partial views, and is as broad as nature's own.
And how could he better neutralise the effect of these patriotic speeches, and prove his loyalty in the face of them, than to show as he does, most vigorously and effectively, that these patriots themselves, so rebellious to tyranny, so opposed to the one-man power in others, so determined to die, rather than submit to the imposition of the humours of any man, instead of law and justice,—were themselves but men, and were as full of will and humours, and as ready to tyrannise with them, too, upon occasion, as Caesar himself; and were no more fit to be trusted with absolute power than he was, nor, in fact, half so fit.
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, ENFRANCHISEMENT.' (Enfranchisement?)
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 dead.
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 tersely comprehended.
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 new ages.
'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 weapon.
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 here.
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 lives.]
'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 HIS.'
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 made.
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 many heads.'
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 himself 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 history.
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.
Cor. Well, 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] NOBLE lady!
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.
Pry'thee now 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 requisitions.
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 issues.'
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 poetic intention.
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 begun.
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 it.
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 lay bare.
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 infirmity.
'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 deGENERATE 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 ut vivam.'
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 submission.
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 itself.
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 mass.
'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 that here.
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 commonalty.
Second Cit. Consider you what services he has done for his country?
[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 people.
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.]
Alack! 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 sword;
'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 one].
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 readings.]
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.