THE author who terms himself " Michael Field " keeps up his reputation for force and a certain grim grandeur of conception better than he keeps up his reputation for lyrical sweetness. There was more of beauty in the softer passages of Fair Rosamund than in all that be has since published put together. The Father's Tragedy was dismally, almost gruesomely ultra- masculine, and the same must be said, we fear, of Brutus Ultor, with all its claims on our admiration. At remote intervals, we find, as in the description of Lucretia by her husband, passages of real beauty ; bat for the most part, the author loves the gruesome aspects of strength even better than the calmer and nobler. In his short but ambitions dedication " to the people of England," Michael Field hopes that his drama may help to keep the English people " as valorous, as unflinching, and as capable of noble discipline as Rome's earliest sons," and that it may renew in them "such reverence for justice as may enable them to be relentless in the infliction, patient in the endurance, of her penalties, and, above all, obedient to the restraints and impulse of that nameless awe of which Goethe wrote,— "Das Schaudern ist der Mensobheit bestes Theil."
This line of Goethe's our author translates, " Awe is the best part of humanity ;" but surely that would have been the proper translation had "Ehrfurcht" stood in the place of "Schaudern." The curdling of the blood, the shiver which is excited by some- thing uncanny, whether spiritual, moral, or physical, or, as usually must be the case, something that is composed of more than one of these elements, is the true English equivalent for " Das Schaudern;" and Goethe, when he spoke of it as the boat part of humanity,—we do not remember where the line occurs,— must have been referring in somewhat exaggerated terms to the valve of this horror of what is unnatural as a protective instinct, rather than intending to characterise the sense of awe which is inspired by the grandest types of human nobility and virtue. True awe, the German " Ehrfurcht," is felt for godlike qualities alone; but such qualities can never cause the curdling of the blood which is represented by the German "Schandern."
• Brutus Uttar. By Michael Field. London; George Bell and Sons.
A thrill of the blood these higher qualities may cause, but it is the thrill of reverence for the superhuman or supernatural, not for the infrahuman or unnatural. Now, it seems to us that Michael Field too much confuses the one with the other. The picture of Brutus in his highest mood, in the second part of this drama,—contains that which should excite true awe in its best sense ; and very fine the picture is. But the earlier part of the drama is devoted to an attempt to excite that painful and dangerous curdling of the blood which is useful only as a warning and protecting instinct is useful, and on which it is impossible to dwell with the sort of horrible fascination with which Michael Field dwells on it, without doing mischief to ourselves instead of service. Doubtless Goethe himself was not guiltless of the same error. Instead of using the warning instincts for their natural purpose,—namely, to turn us away from that which it is dangerous to contemplate, he sometimes turned on them his microscopic eye, much as Michael Field has done here, with anything but good results. Michael Field says, justly enough, in his epilogue that " in the present day, while the baser aspects of life are unshudderingly exposed, the obscure nativity of good- ness is unvisited, and the honour of the human spirit uncredited and unsung." Well, we have no fault to find with his tribute to the nativity of goodness in his earlier picture of Lucretia, but we have never been able to recognise that her conduct, as the tradi- tion gives it, was, even when measured by a pagan standard of virtue, in any true sense noble. She cared far more for her reputation and her revenge than she cared for protecting herself against the horror and sin for which she demanded revenge ; and, so far as we can judge, Michael Field has presented her character in the earlier scenes in a light inconsistent with this pagan view of it, and consistent only with the view which a pure and noble nature ought to take of this horrible situation. Again, we think that if he had not been so willing " to expose un- shudderingly the baser aspects" of Tarquin's hideous crime, he would have produced a much more complete and unique effect by his drama as a whole. It is a mistake to imagine that horror of what is beneath human nature, requires the same sort of full delineation which is due to awe for what is above it.
This is our chief criticism. A good deal more of reserve in the earlier part of the drama, and a faller development of the later,—especially if mingled with something of profounder pity in the heart of Brutus for the mother's natural horror at the pitiless justice he dealt out to her sons,—would have made this drama altogether noble. As it is, we find a portion of it quite too horrible, and the resentment with which Brutus regards his wife's estrangement from him when he has put his sons to death, hardly worthy of the character portrayed.
We will give as a specimen of the great power of the play, part of the scene in which Tarquin's scornful ambition is first delineated, and the hidden meaning of the oracle, which pro- nounced that he should rule Rome who first kissed his mother, is suggested. Brutus, it will be seen, though wearing intention- ally a mask of dullness, is not a mere feigner of a character alien to his own, but is supposed really to have one of those half-sluggish natures which only slowly become aware of their own aims :— " SCRNIZ II.—The Roman Camp before Ardea. A lent : revelry and feasting. Sexres, AMINO, COLLATINUS, and BRUTUS.
Sextus. Let ns wreathe the mighty cup, Then with song we'll lift it up,
And, before we drain the glow
Of the juice that foams below
Flowers and cool leaves round the brim,
Let us swell the praise of him Who is tyrant of the heart, Cupid with his flaming dart.
Pride before his face is bowed, Strength and heedless beauty cowed ; Underneath his fatal wings Bend, diecrowned, the heads of kings ; Maidens blanch beneath his eye, And its laughing mastery ; Through each laud his arrows sound ; By his fetters all are bound.
Aruns. Brother, I drink ; yet verily I swear
You are so bent on empire that you praise The monarchy of love with jealous tones.
Yet is your rule assured, for you were first
To take the seal of Delphic prophecy From pressure of our mother's startled mouth.
You hold the bond of Fate, and yet you cherish A grudging humour in your very worship Of lordly Cupid.
Sextus. I would have all things Mine to their centre. Bruns.Dullard, do you hear ? He'd reach the core of your stupidity, And call it his.
Brutus. My common, homely pith,
Like that within the votive cherry-wand I gave the god at Delphi ! It is stuff
Scarce worth a prince's grasp. [Aside.] I filled the wood
With gold, confessing, in Apollo's sight, My inner nature brutishly involved, And covered up with folly.
Arens. Collatine, He laid a knotted staff upon the altar. 'Twas richly clownish.
Brutus. [Aside.] As it ever is To dedicate oneself.
Collatinus. Fantastic friend,
What meant thy deed ?
Brutus. I could not cheat the god With dazzling show, who am a simpleton— [Aside] A mask I wear to save my forfeit life
From royal sentence, and I fear its weight Presses my brain. I shall grow imbecile.
Sextus. He fell among the laurels of the temple,
Tripped by his stumbling feet. 'Tie piteous How chance for ever treats him as her slave.
[To Baines.] Hast been to watch the workmen in the fosse, Hest balanced every sigh against each lash, And registered the spadefuls of red earth, As it were dyed with blood ? Comrades, I've seen Our lack-brain Lucius stand an hour in silence Watching the filthy toil.
Brutus. [Aside] Because I share The dumb, subservient, despairing life Of these degraded thousands, and my heart Beats slowly to their sluggish pulses, I Am made a beast by kingly wickedness, Derided and nnpitied ; I, as they, Have hints of mighty faculties within, Dim, terrible, august.
Sextus. Leave muttering !
These herds who found our palaces, and raise Our temple on the Capitol, are born As cattle for their labour ; stripes alone Can teach the rout activity. Enough !
Such slavish vermin are no festal theme.
We'll serve these delieates. Ho! bring wild figs, A dish of honey ! While our appetites Are tempted by the choicest viands, such As luxury is sage enough to relish, Our Dullard in his pot of humble sweet Shall dip his sorry fruit. We'll watch him feed To give conviviality an edge."
That last moody muttering of Brutus seems to us characteristic of Michael Field's peculiar power. The picture, too, given in this scene, of Lucretia, in whose suicide the Roman Republic is supposed to have had its birth, is the most simply beautiful passage in the drama,—a drama which aims less at beauty than at force :—
" Collatinus. Blithe modesty, free honour, loveliness That bath its sweet protection in itself,—
These are her praise, her holy wealth, and glory.
The flush of vernal bloom is on her cheek, If she but breathe her heartfelt thoughts; her brows Are golden as the pure moon's youngest curve, Golden her hair ; as unclosed marigolds, Her brown, unfaltering eyes meet gracious looks, And take them for the sun ; her lips, like shells, Bear music round their rims, and in her voice The ear bath all her beauty o'er again."
After Lucretia's suicide, there is a scene of no great mark, except so far as one or two very noble speeches of Brutus give it mark, in which the body of Lucretia is shown to the people, and declared to be the highest imaginable ideal for Vesta's statue,—in other words, a representation of chastity, " fearful, intimate, provoking holy thoughts." But there is one very powerful dramatic touch in the scene,—where Collatinus, Lucretia's husband, asks for a post of danger in the war with Tarquin :- " Collatinus. I would bespeak
Some post of danger.
Brutes. From Luoretia's side You stir not : you are lawful treasurer Of our new city's wealth."
These two lines, we think, show a dramatic power greater than any other passage in the play.
Again, the scene in which Brutus first muses on his newly assumed power, and warns his sons to enter, so far as it may be possible for them, into the austere spirit of Republican Rome, is of great strength : -
" Brutus. A magistrate, chief governor !—and all My nature fashioned votive to express
The perilous ambitions and desires Of the dull, weary, struggling multitude. I would have been a sacred messenger, Chosen from its very ranks. I feel its wrongs, Its wantonness, its imbecility, The deep fidelity of its despair, Even to my inmost blood-drop. And my place Is with authority ; the liotors stand About me. I must deal with punishment, Repression, and the lips I thought were loosed For freedom's service, now mast only move To the slow terms of law. The senators Confirm me in my powers, and sever me From the common people. Yet the time will come They shall have heralds of their own. Meanwhile I am made absolute o'er life and death; I legislate, command. Ye holy gods, Arraign me if I rule in insolence, With arbitrary choice. Come hither, sons !
[Re-enter Titus and Ttazaws.]
Your mother tells me that your days are changed; You miss your wonted company,—the hours Misspent with haughty princes, and the youth Who acorn the laws that, in the ilex-grove, The Muse, religious-voiced, to Noma taught, The later mandates Serving decreed, And that great natural awe that guards the heart From brutish degradation.
Tiberius. Needless fear !
I miss them not the least.
Titus. Oh, but I do !
And father, who can chat with empty air, Or with the fountain keep good fellowship ?
For one complains, the other answers not.
Brutus. Better discourse with the god haunted airs,
Or the cool genius stirring in the well, Than deal with godless tyrants. Give your minds Noble companionship. Have you no friends, That you with Pinder must be closeted ; No thoughts to ripen into enterprise; No hallowed sighs that need interpreting From youth's own augurs ? Youth with youth is quick At divination of the holy things That make mysterious passage through its sky.
Take counsel with your fellows; they I trust, Are honourable youths ?
Tiberius. Sir, we attend
Titus. Gods, we must be grave !
Brutus. Nay, Titus, nay. You have your mother's brows,
Candid and blithe : do not suppress yourself. Now tyranny is dead, there is no need Of any slavish habit, and to feign Is not a Roman art. Farewell, and guard
Your breasts from discontent. [Exit."
That sympathy of Brutus with the multitude and "its wrongs, its wantonness, its imbecility " (though we admit to a serious difficulty as to what the author means by the deep fidelity of the common herd's despair), at the very moment when he is called to rule it and impose upon it the sacred yoke of law, is expressed with true genius ; and the shadow of the coming calamity in the collision between the sombre rule of Brutes and the frivolous youthfulness of his sons is finely cast. The last scene in the life of Publia,—the wife of Brutus, and mother of the sons whom Brutus condemns to death,—is a very fine one, and finest of all, perhaps, is the soliloquy of Brutes when he finds her gone :-
" Brutes. Nay, Pinder, back ! Before I enter in I know what is. [Exit VINDEX.] 0 death, how soft
Thou work'st thy sentence ! The reproach is gone, And these young lips, that I have never touched Since her sons' kiss, recoil from me no more.
Farewell, farewell ! I have no part in ye; My murderer's work is done. Now, when the Lars Are wreathed, on happy days of festival, When families are gathered round the hearth, What worship shall I bring ? Before the gods I stand abhorred and monstrous. Shall I hope To found a state upon a rifled home, A murdered matron, a polluted house ?
Can chastity and justice win no awe Save by such sacrifice? Alt me ! What guilt It takes to breed one virtue. Would that heaven
Might judge me in the midst of my remorse,
And, by this urn and slowly blanching corpse, Assign my doom. I would feel punishment, For in myself I cannot stiffer more ;
I grow a blank, and shall bo imbecile
Unless I am afflicted."
But it was a pity to conclude this scene with the very poor lyrics in which the Lares encourage Brutus, and the Lemures lament their growing separation from Romans of the Brutus type.
On the whole, we should say that this play stands next to Fair Rosamund among Michael Field's achievements, but that it does not reach that high-water mark.