« ZurückWeiter »
diate or distinct images to the mind, “no jutting frieze, buttress, or coigne of vantage” for poetry 6 to make its pendant bed and procreant cradle in.” The language of poetry naturally falls in with the language of power. The imagination is an exaggerating and exclusive faculty : it takes from one thing to add to another : it accumulates circumstances together to give the greatest possible effect to a favourite object. The understanding is a dividing and measuring faculty : it judges of things, not according to their immediate impression on the mind, but according to their relations to one another.
The one is a monopolizing faculty, which seeks the greatest quantity of present excitement by inequality and disproportion ; the other is a distributive faculty, which seeks the greatest quantity of ultimate good, by justice and proportion. The one is an aristocratical, the other a republican faculty. The principle of poetry is a very anti-levelling principle. It aims at effect, it exists by contrast. It admits of no medium. It is every thing by excess. It rises above the ordinary standard of sufferings and crimes. It presents a dazzling appearance.
It shews its head turretted, crowned, and crested. Its front is gilt and bloodstained. Before it “it carries noise, and behind it tears.” It has its altars and its victims, sacrifices, human sacrifices. Kings, priests, nobles, are its trainbearers, tyrants and slaves its executioners.—“ Carpage is its daughter.”—Poetry is right-royal. It puts the individual for the species, the one above the infinite many, might before right. A lion huuting a flock of sheep or a herd of wild asses is a more poeti
cal object than they ; and we even take part with the lordly beast, because our vanity or some other feeling makes us disposed to place ourselves in the situation of the strongest party. So we feel some concern for the poor citizens of Rome when they meet together to compare their wants and grievances, till Coriolanus comes in and with blows and big words drives this set of " poor rats,” this rascal scum, to their homes and beggary before him. There is nothing heroical in a multitude of miserable rogues not wishing to be starved, or complaining that they are like to be so: but when a single man comes forward to brave their cries and to make them submit to the last indignities, from mere pride and self-will, our admiration of his prowess is immediately converted into contempt for their pusillanimity. The insolence of power is stronger than the plea of necessity. The tame submission to usurped authority, or even the natural resistance to it, has nothing to excite or flatter the imagination : it is the assumption of a right to insult or oppress others that carries an imposing air of superiority with it. We had rather be the oppressor than the oppressed. The love of power in ourselves and the admiration of it in others are both natural to man: the one makes him a tyrant, the other a slave. Wrong dressed out in pride, pomp, and circumstance has more attraction than abstract right.-Coriolanus complains of the fickleness of the people : yet the instant he cannot gratify his pride and obstinacy at their expense, he turns bis arms against his country. If his country was not worth defending, why did he build his pride on its defence ?
He is a conqueror and a hero ; he conquers other countries, and makes this a plea for enslaving his own ; and when he is prevented from doing so, he leagues with its enemies to destroy his country. He rates the people as if he were a God to punish, and not a man of their infirmity.” He scoffs at one of their tribunes for maintaining their rights and franchises : “ Mark you his absolute shall ?" not marking his own absolute will to take every thing from them, his impatience of the slightest opposition to his own pretensions being in proportion to their arrogance and absurdity. If the great and powerful had the beneficence and wisdom of Gods, then all this would have been well : if with a greater knowledge of what is good for the people, they had as great a care for their interest as they have themselves, if they were seated above the world, sympathizing with the welfare but not feeling the passions of men, receiving neither good nor hurt from them, but bestowing their benefits as free gifts on them, they might then rule over them Jike another Providence. But this is not the case. Coriolanus is unwilling that the senate should shew their “ cares” for the people, lest their “cares” should be construed into “fears," to the subversion of all due authority; and he is no sooner disappointed in his schemes to deprive the people, not only of the cares of the state, but of all power to redress themselves, than Volumnia is made madly to exclaim,
“ Now the red pestilence strike all trades in Rome, And occupations perish."
This is but natural : it is but natural for a mother to have more regard for her son than for a whole
city; but then the city should be left to take some care of itself. The care of the state cannot, we here bee, be safely entrusted to maternal affection, or to the domestick charities of high life. The great have private feelings of their own, to which the interests of humanity and justice must courtesy. Their interests are so far from being the same as those of the community, that they are in direct and necessary opposition to them; their power is at the expense of our weakness; their riches of our poverty; their pride of our degradation; their splendour of our wretchedness; their tyranny of our servitude. If they had the superiour knowledge ascribed to them (which they have not) it would only render them 80 much more formidable ; and from Gods would convert them into Devils. The whole dramatick moral of CORIOLANUS is, that those who have little shall have less, and that those who have much shall take all that others have left. The people are poor; therefore they ought to be starved. They are slaves; therefore they ought to be beaten. They work hard; therefore they ought to be treated like beasts of burden. They are ignorant; therefore they ought not to be allowed to feel that they want food, or clothing, or rest, that they are enslaved, oppressed, and miserable. This is the logick of the imagination and the passions; which seek to aggrandise what excites admiration, and to heap contempt on misery, to raise power into tyranny, and to make tyranny absolute; to thrust down that which is low still lower, and to make wretches desperate : to exalt magistrates into kings, kings into gods; to degrade subjects to the
rank of slaves, and slaves to the condition of brutes. The history of mankind is a romance, a mask, a tragedy, constructed upon the principles of poetical justice ; it is a noble or royal hunt, in which what is sport to the few is death to the many, and in which the spectators halloo and encourage the strong to set upon the weak, and cry havock in the chase, though they do not share in the spoil. We may depend upon it that what men delight to read in books, they will put in practice in reality.
One of the most natural traits in this play is the difference of the interest taken in the success of Coriolanus by his wife and mother. The one is only anxious for his honour; the other is fearful for his life.
" Volumnia. Methinks I hither hear your husband's drum
Virgilia. His bloody brow! Oh Jupiter, no blood.
Volumnia. Away, you fool; it more becomes a man
When she hears the trumpets that proclaim her son's return, she says in the true spirit of a Roman matron,
" These are the ushers of Martius : before him