Puslapio vaizdai

At the moment when the Tartars went to sacrifice the son of Zamti, Idamé tears him away from them, crying out that they deceived them, and that he was not the son of the king. The Tartars believed it, for, as Osman says, in verses which smack of the philosopher rather than the Tartar,

His eyes, his presence, his voice, his sobs, his clamors,
His intrepid fury in the midst of his tears,
All seem to announce, by this grand character,
The cry of nature and the heart of a mother.

Act ii. scene 7.

Very soon Idamé herself arrives, furious, desperate, reproaching her husband for the cruel sacrifice which he wished to make; and then commences the opposition between the sentiments of the father and those of the mother. Mind, says Zamti,

Mind to save your king.

Idamé. I must sacrifice my son!

Zamti. Such is our misfortune.
You are a citizen before being a mother.

Idamé. What! Has nature so little power over you?
Zamti. She has too much of it, but less than my duty :
And I owe more to the blood of my unfortunate master,
Than to this obscure child, to whom I have given birth.
Idame. No; I do not know this horrible virtue.
I have seen our walls in ashes, and this throne overturned;
I have wept over the frightful disgraces of our kings;
But by what still more lamentable madness
Do you wish, by hastening the death of your wife,
To sacrifice the blood of a son whom they do not wish.
These buried kings, now mingled with the dust,
Are they gods to you, whose thunder you dread?
To these powerless gods, sleeping in their tombs,
Have you made a vow to sacrifice your son?
Alas! great and small, subjects and monarchs,
Distinguished for a moment by trivial works,
Equal by nature, equal by misfortune,
Each mortal is burdened with his own grief.

Go: the name of subject is not more sacred to us
Than those sacred names of father and husband.
Nature and marriage, these are the first laws,
The duties, the ties of whole nations.

These laws proceed from the gods; the rest are human.

Act ii. scene 3.

What fault do we find with this piece? The sentiments are not false; they are declamatory. The fault of declamation is, that it takes away, even from true sentiments, the accents of truth. Can Zamti and Idamé, when their son is ready to perish, enter into a discussion with regard to the duties of a citizen and a father? The sentiments which Idamé expresses are those of a mother, but of a mother who reflects and who moralizes upon her feelings. But nothing can be more ill-timed than the analyzing of the passion at the critical moment of the play. The passion which knows the secret of its own emotion, and which explains the cause of it, is no longer a passion; as it proceeds from the mind, it is to the mind also that it addresses itself; the heart no longer gives audience. We are aware that Idamé does not proclaim the equality of men before death, so as to dispense with sacrificing her son for the safety of the Orphan. We are, nevertheless, constrained by the sententious tone of this discussion. The philosophical contest between paternal tenderness, which yields to a superior duty, and maternal tenderness, which is a supreme law for Idamé, concludes by interesting us more than the peril of the son of Idamé and the royal Orphan. We weigh the opposite arguments; we inquire, in our turn, if it is better, in such a moment, to be a citizen or a father; we read a treatise on duties instead of witnessing a tragedy.



HOWEVER strong and ardent maternal love may be, there are nevertheless passions which extinguish it; there are mothers who forget nature; there are ambitious or coquetish women, who no longer remember that they are mothers. Such is, in Rodogune, the Cleopatra of Corneille; such is The Coquette Mother of Quinault.

We may remark that it is only the bad passions which attack and shake maternal love. The good respect it, for all the virtues aid and sustain, instead of combating each other. Religious enthusiasm itself does not destroy maternal love. We read in the acts of the martyrs that Saint Perpetua, having at last succeeded in having her child with her in her prison, “The prison," says she, "immediately became to me a palace, so that I preferred this abode to any that they could have chosen for me." These are touching words, and manifest the harmony which exists between piety and the sweetest affections of the human heart. It is otherwise with ambition and vanity. They drive away maternal love from the heart of which they take possession; and vanity, mean and contemptible as it is in its nature, is not in this respect less imperious and tyrannical than ambition Ismene, in The Coquette Mother, is not less heartless than Cleopatra in Rodogune.

The character of Cleopatra in Corneille, is odious from one end of the piece to the other; it inspires nothing but horror. Never a single emotion of maternal tenderness, never a single remorse is felt by this mother, who wishes her two sons to perish in order to destroy her rival; never

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is nature reclaimed in her heart; and when she exhibits it, it is to do violence to it, and sacrifice it to her ambition and her revenge:

And you, you wish me
The ridiculous return of a foolish virtue,

A tenderness as dangerous as it is importunate?
I do not wish for a son the husband of Rodogune,

And I no longer see in him the remains of my blood,

If he drives me from the throne and puts her in my rank.
Act v. scene 1.

Nevertheless, the sweet and natural sentiments have their part in Rodogune, and pity is contrasted with horror. The touching and pure affection which the two brothers feel for each other, and the interest which it excites, compensate for the dread which Cleopatra inspires. What we admire in this tragedy is: that where the good sentiments disappear in the mother, they reappear in the two brothers, and fraternal love comes to make amends to us for the forgetfulness of maternal tenderness. Thus the sweet and pure emotions recover their ascendant, and the spectator is not condemned to the torment of finding nothing which is worthy of esteem and pity; he is disposed to pity these two brothers, who, terrified at their both loving Rodogune and finding themselves rivals, promise each other never to be wanting in fraternal friendship:

Notwithstanding the splendor of a thr
Let us cause friendship to reign so powerfully in our souls,
That extinguishing in their loss a corrupting regret,
Let us find our happiness in fraternal love.

and the love of a woman,

Act. i. scene 3.

This noble and touching friendship of the two brothers resists the efforts which Cleopatra makes. She in vain endeavors to arm them against each other; they repel her odious counsels. Cleopatra, desperate at seeing the virtue of her sons thwart her schemes of revenge and ambition, not being able to count upon them either to strike Rodogune, or to destroy each other, relies only upon herself; for she does not think of renouncing her hatred or her ambition, she does not think of becoming a mother again. She feigns it for a moment, but only that she may more effectually destroy her enemies, that is to say, her rival and her children. She

braves every thing, the vengeance of the gods and the vengeance of men. Let us hear this invocation of hatred and anger, the most terrible which the Theatre has ever witnessed:

I must either condemn, or crown my hatred.
Were the people in madness for its new masters
To water their tombs with my odious blood,
Were the Parthian avenger to find me defenceless,
Were Heaven to equal the punishment to my offence,
I would never consent to abandon the throne!

It would be better to die by a stroke of lightning,
It would be better to merit the strangest fate.
Let Heaven fall upon me, provided I'm avenged!
I would receive the blow with a calm visage!
It is sweet to perish after our enemies.
And with whatever rigor destiny treats me,
I lose less in dying than in living their subject.

Act v. scene 1.

Never were ambition, anger, revenge, all the passions which can devour the human heart, expressed with more grandeur and energy. Let us not forget, however, and it is here that the thought returns of the observations which we are making with regard to maternal love; the title of mother which Cleopatra preserves, although she so cruelly forgets it, this same title, in rendering it more criminal, contributes to render it more terrible, and lends to her passions a terrible grandeur worthy of tragedy. If Cleopatra were not a mother, she would immediately lose a part of the tragic horror which she inspires. She would be no more than an ordinary ambitious woman;-she would be only an angry and vindictive woman. It is necessary, in order to terrify us, that we should remember those maternal sentiments which she has extinguished; and the sacred title of mother is still felt even where it is destroyed.

But if Corneille avails himself, as a tragic poet, of this title of mother, which renders Cleopatra more frightful, he has also taken care to inform us that, in those courts of Asia, which he has understood and painted with so much penetration, in those countries where the family tie is loosened and destroyed by polygamy, their morals and usages diminish the strength of maternal sentiments. One is no longer son, husband, or father; one is king; one is neither daughter nor

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