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pervading her womanhood. She has all of her son's essential strength and greatness of character, and is nearly as proud withal as he: but her pride has a much less individual and unsocial cast; he is the chief matter of her pride, while self is the chief matter of his : she is proud of him too far more for her country's sake than either for his or her own : her supreme ambition is that he should be the greatest among the Romans; and she would have his greatness stand in being more a Roman than any of the others. Hence her pride flames out in fierce resentment at the sentence of exile : her maternal heart boils over with passion, insomuch that to those who are nowise in sympathy with her anger she seems insane; and she bangs away at the Tribunes with the wildest notes of imprecation:
“I would the gods had nothing else to do
Of what lies heavy to't”; then hotly remonstrates against the quiet weeping grief of her daughter-in-law :
“Anger's my meat ; I sup upon myself,
In anger, Juno-like.” Against the people also she goes into a lingual tempest, and speaks as if she would gladly see Rome burnt, since Rome rejects her heart's idol; but the sequel shows this to be all because she is so intensely Roman in spirit: when things come to the pinch, her actions speak quite another language; and she is as far from sympathizing with her son in his selfish vindictiveness as she had been from sympathizing with the people’s madness in banishing him. That a Roman should fight his way to the highest honours in Rome, is just what she believes in ; but that he should fight for any thing but Rome, is beyond her conception. So, when she sees her son waging war against his country, where his home and all its treasures are, she considers him to have
renounced the only cause for fighting at all. It seems to her that he is making war against the one sole object or end of war; and she will rather disclaim her part in him than take part with him; nay, will rather die with Rome than see him grow by the death of that for which alone, in her view, a Roman should wish to live.
As the mother's pride is tempered by a more disinterested and patriotic spirit than the son's, so she holds a much more firm and steady course: her words, in moments of high resentment, fly about wildly indeed, but her heart sticks fast to its cherished aims. And her energy of thought and purpose, if not greater than her son's, yet in the end triumphs over his, because it proceeds on grounds less selfish and personal. She knows and feels that the gods are with her in it. The Poet wisely, and out of his own invention, represents her as exhorting him to temporize with the people, and to use arts for conciliating them which have no allowance in his bosom’s truth :
“I pr’ythee now, my son,
Thou art their soldier, and, being bred in broils,
For even so, like a true woman, as she is, she “would dissemble with her nature, where her fortune and her friends at stake requir’d she should do so in honour.” To her sense and judgment of things, deeds are to be weighed more by their ends and effects in regard of others than by their intrinsic quality to the doer's mind; that is, a man should act rather with a view to help and gladden and comfort those about him, to serve his country and his kind, than to feed his moral egotism, or any sullen pride or humour of self-applause. It is even a rule of honour with her, that a man should, in his action, be more considerate of what will further the welfare and happiness of others than of what will please himself, or accord with any inward or ideal standard of his own. And so it is rightly in woman's nature, as being less wilful and more sympathetic in her reason, to judge of actions mainly by the practical consequences which she hopes or fears therefrom; I mean the consequences not only or chiefly to herself, but to those whom she loves. Therefore it is that women have so often been peace-makers in men's wars of opinions and passions and ideas; and I know not what would become of human society if their softer bosom did not come in to mitigate the sharpness of the brain.
Volumnia, though something more admirable than lovely in her style, is a capital representative of the oid Roman matronly character, in which strength and dignity seem to have had rather the better of sweetness and delicacy, but which enshrined the very soul of rectitude and honour. And what a story does the life of this mother and this son, with their reciprocal action and influence, as set forth in the play, tell us of the old Roman domestic system, and of the religious awe of motherhood which formed so large and powerful an element in the social constitution of that wonderful people! What a comment, too, does all this, taken together with the history of that nation, read upon the Divine precept, “Honour thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee”! For reverence of children to their parents is the principle that binds together successive generations in one continuous life. It is only by men's thinking and acting as in “ the presence of canonized forefathers,” that the elements of disorder in human nature can be withheld from running to fatal extremes. So that the loosening or impairing of this tie may well be feared as the beginning
of domestic and social dissolution; since they who forget or disown their fathers and mothers will naturally be for gotten and disowned in turn by their children; if indeed the very soul of parental instinct and religion does not get stifled out of them under a stress of luxury and selfishness. For the decay of filial respect and piety has sometimes gone so far, that men and women have come to regard it as among the greatest of evils to be fathers and mothers.
Tullus Aufidius makes a very effective foil to Coriolanus, the contrast between them being pressed forward in just the right way to show off the vein of true nobleness which there is in the latter. He has all the pride and passionateness of the hero, without any of his gratitude and magnanimity. In Coriolanus the spirit of rivalry and emulation never passes the bounds of honour; in the other, it turns to downright personal envy and hate. The hero glories in him as an antagonist, and loves to whip him in fair fight, but is far above all thought of ruining him or stabbing him in the dark. The shocking speech of Aufidius, in the first scene where he appears after the taking of Corioli, is a skilful forecast and premonition of his transport of baseness at the close:
"Nor sleep nor sanctuary,
Wash my fierce hand in 's heart.” Hereupon Coleridge comments as follows: “I have such deep faith in Shakespeare's heart-lore, that I take for granted that this is in nature; although I cannot in myself discover any germ of possible feeling, which could wax and unfold itself into such a sentiment.” The speech is hard indeed; but I do not take it as a fair index of the speaker's real mind : it seems to me but one of those violent ebullitions of rage in which men's hearts are not so bad as their tongues; the impulsive extravagance of a very ambitious and inconstant nature writhing in an agony of disappointment. In such cases, dark thoughts often bubble up from unseen depths in the mind, yet do not crystallize into character. Still it must be owned that Aufidius comes pretty near putting the thought of the speech into act at last. Verplanck has a happy comment on the passage : “ The mortification of defeat embitters Aufidius' rivalry into hatred. When, afterwards, his banished rival appeals to his nobler nature, that hatred dies away, and his generous feeling revives. Bitter jealousy and hatred again grow up, as his glories are eclipsed by his former adversary; yet this dark passion, too, finally yields to a generous sorrow at his rival's death. I think I have observed very similar alternations of such mixed motives and sentiments, in eminent men, in the collisions of political life.”