Cato, a Tragedy/Act I
Enter PORTIUS and MARCUS.
Por. The dawn is overcast, the morning low'rs,
And heavily in clouds brings on the day,
The great, the important day, big with the fate
Of Cato and of Rome——Our father's death
Would fill up all the guilt of civil war,
And close the scene of blood. Already Caesar
Has ravaged more than half the globe, and sees
Mankind grown thin by his destructive sword:
Should he go farther, numbers would be wanting
To form new battles, and support his crimes.
Ye gods, what havoc does ambition make
Among your works!
Marc. Thy steady temper, Portius,
Can look on guilt, rebellion, fraud, and Caesar,
In the calm lights of mild philosophy;
I'm tortured e'en to madness, when I think
On the proud victor—ev'ry time he's named,
Pharsalia rises to my view!—I see
Th' insulting tyrant, prancing o'er the field,
Strew'd with Rome's citizens, and drench'd in slaughter;
His horse's hoofs wet with patrician blood!
Oh, Portius! is there not some chosen curse,
Some hidden thunder in the stores of Heav'n,
Red with uncommon wrath, to blast the man
Who owes his greatness to his country's ruin?
Por. Believe me, Marcus, 'tis an impious greatness,
And mix'd with too much horror to be envied:
How does the lustre of our father's actions,
Through the dark cloud of ills that cover him,
Break out, and burn with more triumphant brightness!
His sufferings shine, and spread a glory round him;
Greatly unfortunate, he fights the cause
Of honour, virtue, liberty, and Rome.
His sword ne'er fell, but on the guilty head;
Oppression, tyranny, and pow'r usurp'd,
Draw all the vengeance of his arm upon them.
Marc. Who knows not this? but what can Cato do
Against a world, a base, degenerate world,
That courts the yoke, and bows the neck to Caesar?
Pent up in Utica, he vainly forms
A poor epitome of Roman greatness,
And, cover'd with Numidian guards, directs
A feeble army, and an empty senate,
Remnants of mighty battles fought in vain.
By Heav'n, such virtue, join'd with such success,
Distracts my very soul! Our father's fortune
Would almost tempt us to renounce his precepts.
Por. Remember what our father oft has told us:
The ways of Heav'n are dark and intricate,
Puzzled in mazes, and perplex'd with errors;
Our understanding traces them in vain,
Lost and bewilder'd in the fruitless search;
Nor sees with how much art the windings run,
Nor where the regular confusion ends.
Marc. These are suggestions of a mind at ease:—
Oh, Portius! didst thou taste but half the griefs
That wring my soul, thou couldst not talk thus coldly.
Passion unpitied, and successless love,
Plant daggers in my heart, and aggravate
My other griefs.—Were but my Lucia kind——
Por. Thou see'st not that thy brother is thy rival;
But I must hide it, for I know thy temper. [Aside.
Now, Marcus, now thy virtue's on the proof:
Put forth thy utmost strength, work every nerve,
And call up all thy father in thy soul:
To quell the tyrant love, and guard thy heart
On this weak side, where most our nature fails,
Would be a conquest worthy Cato`s son.
Mar. Portius, the counsel which I cannot take,
Instead of healing, but upbraids my weakness,
Bid me for honour plunge into a war.
Of thickest foes, and rush on certain death,
Then shalt thou see that Marcus is not slow
To follow glory, and confess his father.
Love is not to be reason'd down, or lost
In high ambition, and a thirst of greatness;
'Tis second life, it grows into the soul,
Warms every vein, and beats in every pulse,
I feel it here: my resolution melts —
Por. Behold young Juba, the Numidian prince,
With how much care he forms himself to glory,
And breaks the fierceness of his native temper,
To copy out our father's bright example.
He loves our sister Marcia, greatly loves her;
His eyes, his looks, his actions, all betray it;
But still the smother'd fondness burns within him;
When most it swells, and labours for a vent,
The sense of honour, and desire of fame,
Drive the big passion back into his heart.
What! shall an African, shall Juba's heir,
Reproach great Cato's son, and show the world
A virtue wanting in a Roman soul?
Marc. Portius, no more! your words leave stings behind them.
Whene'er did Juba, or did Portius, show
A virtue that has cast me at a distance,
And thrown me out in the pursuits of honour?
Por. Marcus, I know thy gen'rous temper well;
Fling but the appearance of dishonour on it,
It straight takes fire, and mounts into a blaze.
Marc. A brother's suff'rings claim a brother's pity.
Por. Heav'n knows, I pity thee——Behold my eyes,
Ev'n whilst I speak—Do they not swim in tears?
Were but my heart as naked to thy view,
Marcus would see it bleed in his behalf.
Marc. Why then dost treat me with rebukes, instead
Of kind condoling cares, and friendly sorrow?
Por. Oh, Marcus! did I know the way to ease
Thy troubled heart, and mitigate thy pains,
Marcus, believe me, I could die to do it.
Marc. Thou best of brothers, and thou best of friends!
Pardon a weak distemper'd soul, that swells
With sudden gusts, and sinks as soon in calms,
The sport of passions. But Sempronius comes:
He must not find this softness hanging on me. [Exit MARCUS.
Sem. Conspiracies no sooner should be form'd
Than executed. What means Portius here?
I like not that cold youth. I must dissemble,
And speak a language foreign to my heart. [Aside.
Good-morrow, Portius; let us once embrace,
Once more embrace, while yet we both are free.
To-morrow, should we thus express our friendship,
Each might receive a slave into his arms;
This sun, perhaps, this morning sun's the last
That e'er shall rise on Roman liberty.
Por. My father has this morning call'd together
To this poor hall, his little Roman senate,
(The leavings of Pharsalia) to consult
If he can yet oppose the mighty torrent
That bears down Rome and all her gods before it,
Or must at length give up the world to Caesar.
Sem. Not all the pomp and majesty of Rome
Can raise her senate more than Cato's presence.
His virtues render our assembly awful,
They strike with something like religious fear,
And make even Caesar tremble at the head
Of armies flush'd with conquest. Oh, my Portius!
Could I but call that wond'rous man my father,
Would but thy sister Marcia be propitious
To thy friend's vows, I might be blest indeed!
Por. Alas, Sempronius! wouldst thou talk of love
To Marcia, whilst her father's life's in danger?
Thou might'st as well court the pale, trembling vestal,
When she beholds the holy flame expiring.
Sem. The more I see the wonders of thy race,
The more I'm charm'd. Thou must take heed, my Portius;
The world has all its eyes on Cato's son;
Thy father's merit sets thee up to view,
And shows thee in the fairest point of light,
To make thy virtues or thy faults conspicuous.
Por. Well dost thou seem to check my ling'ring here
In this important hour—I'll straight away,
And while the fathers of the senate meet
In close debate, to weigh th' events of war,
I'll animate the soldiers' drooping courage
With love of freedom and contempt of life;
I'll thunder in their ears their country's cause,
And try to rouse up all that's Roman in them.
'Tis not in mortals to command success,
But we'll do more, Sempronius—we'll deserve it. [Exit.
Sem. Curse on the stripling! how he apes his sire!
Ambitiously sententious—But I wonder
Old Syphax comes not; his Numidian genius
Is well disposed to mischief, were he prompt
And eager on it; but he must be spurr'd,
And every moment quicken'd to the course.
Cato has used me ill; he has refused
His daughter Marcia to my ardent vows.
Besides, his baffled arms, and ruin'd cause,
Are bars to my ambition. Caesar's favour,
That show'rs down greatness on his friends, will raise me
To Rome's first honours. If I give up Cato,
I claim, in my reward, his captive daughter.
But Syphax comes——
Syph. Sempronius, all is ready;
I've sounded my Numidians, man by man,
And find them ripe for a revolt: they all
Complain aloud of Cato's discipline,
And wait but the command to change their master.
Sem. Believe me, Syphax, there's no time to waste;
Ev'n while we speak, our conqueror comes on,
And gathers ground upon us every moment.
Alas! thou know'st not Caesar's active soul,
With what a dreadful course he rushes on
From war to war. In vain has nature form'd
Mountains and oceans t'oppose his passage;
He bounds o'er all, victorious in his march:
The Alps and Pyreneans sink before him,
Through winds and waves and storms he works his way,
Impatient for the battle: one day more
Will set the victor thund'ring at our gates.
But, tell me, hast thou yet drawn o'er young Juba?
That still would recommend thee more to Caesar,
And challenge better terms.
Syph. Alas! he's lost!
He's lost, Sempronius; all his thoughts are full
Of Cato's virtues—But I'll try once more
(For every instant I expect him here)
If yet I can subdue those stubborn principles
Of faith and honour, and I know not what,
That have corrupted his Numidian temper,
And struck th' infection into all his soul.
Sem. Be sure to press upon him every motive.
Juba's surrender, since his father's death,
Would give up Afric into Caesar's hands,
And make him lord of half the burning zone.
Syph. But is it true, Sempronius, that your senate
Is call'd together? Gods! thou must be cautious;
Cato has piercing eyes, and will discern
Our frauds, unless they're cover'd thick with art.
Sem. Let me alone, good Syphax, I'll conceal
My thoughts in passion ('tis the surest way);
I'll bellow out for Rome, and for my country,
And mouth at Caesar, till I shake the senate.
Your cold hypocrisy's a stale device,
A worn-out trick: wouldst thou be thought in earnest,
Clothe thy feign'd zeal in rage, in fire, in fury!
Syph. In troth, thou'rt able to instruct grey hairs,
And teach the wily African deceit.
Sem. Once more be sure to try thy skill on Juba.
Meanwhile I'll hasten to my Roman soldiers,
Inflame the mutiny, and underhand
Blow up their discontents, till they break out
Unlook'd for, and discharge themselves on Cato.
Remember, Syphax, we must work in haste;
Oh, think what anxious moments pass between
The birth of plots, and their last fatal periods!
Oh, 'tis a dreadful interval of time,
Fill'd up with horror all, and big with death!
Destruction hangs on every word we speak,
On every thought, till the concluding stroke
Determines all, and closes our design. [Exit.
Syph. I'll try if yet I can reduce to reason
This headstrong youth, and make him spurn at Cato.
The time is short; Caesar comes rushing on us—
But hold! young Juba sees me, and approaches!
Jub. Syphax, I joy to meet thee thus alone.
I have observed of late thy looks are fall'n,
O'ercast with gloomy cares and discontent;
Then tell me, Syphax, I conjure thee, tell me,
What are the thoughts that knit thy brow in frowns,
And turn thine eye thus coldly on thy prince?
Syph. 'Tis not my talent to conceal my thoughts,
Or carry smiles and sunshine in my face,
When discontent sits heavy at my heart;
I have not yet so much the Roman in me.
Jub. Why dost thou cast out such ungenerous terms
Against the lords and sov'reigns of the world?
Dost thou not see mankind fall down before them,
And own the force of their superior virtue?
Is there a nation in the wilds of Afric,
Amidst our barren rocks and burning sands,
That does not tremble at the Roman name?
Syph. Gods! where's the worth that sets these people up
Above your own Numidia's tawny sons?
Do they with tougher sinews bend the bow?
Or flies the javelin swifter to its mark,
Launch'd from the vigour of a Roman arm?
Who like our active African instructs
The fiery steed, and trains him to his hand?
Or guides in troops th' embattled elephant
Laden with war? These, these are arts, my prince,
In which your Zama does not stoop to Rome.
Jub. These all are virtues of a meaner rank:
Perfections that are placed in bones and nerves.
A Roman soul is bent on higher views;
To civilize the rude unpolish'd world,
And lay it under the restraint of laws;
To make man mild, and sociable to man;
To cultivate the wild licentious savage
With wisdom, discipline, and liberal arts;
Th' embellishments of life: virtues like these
Make human nature shine, reform the soul,
And break our fierce barbarians into men.
Syph. Patience, kind heavens! — excuse an old man's warmth.
What are these wondrous civilizing arts,
This Roman polish, and this smooth behaviour,
That render man thus tractable and tame?
Are they not only to disguise our passions,
To set our looks at variance with our thoughts,
To check the starts and sallies of the soul,
And break off all its commerce with the tongue;
In short, to change us into other creatures,
Than what our nature and the gods design'd us?
Jub. To strike thee dumb: turn up thy eyes to Cato!
There may'st thou see to what a godlike height
The Roman virtues lift up mortal man.
While good, and just, and anxious for his friends,
He's still severely bent against himself;
Renouncing sleep, and rest, and food, and ease,
He strives with thirst and hunger, toil and heat;
And when his fortune sets before him all
The pomps and pleasures that his soul can wish,
His rigid virtue will accept of none.
Syph. Believe me, prince, there's not an African
That traverses our vast Numidian deserts
In quest of prey, and lives upon his bow,
But better practises those boasted virtues.
Coarse are his meals, the fortune of the chase;
Amidst the running stream he slakes his thirst;
Toils all the day, and, at the approach of night,
On the first friendly bank he throws him down,
Or rests his head upon a rock till morn;
Then rises fresh, pursues his wonted game,
And if the following day he chance to find
A new repast, or an untasted spring,
Blesses his stars, and thinks it luxury.
Jub. Thy prejudices, Syphax, won't discern
What virtues grow from ignorance and choice,
Nor how the hero differs from the brute.
But grant that others could with equal glory
Look down on pleasures, and the baits of sense;
Where shall we find the man that bears affliction,
Great and majestic in his griefs, like Cato?
Heavens! With what strength, what steadiness of mind,
He triumphs in the midst of all his sufferings!
How does he rise against a load of woes,
And thank the gods that threw the weight upon him!
Syph. 'Tis pride, rank pride, and haughtiness of soul;
I think the Romans call it stoicism.
Had not your royal father thought so highly
Of Roman virtue, and of Cato's cause,
He had not fall'n by a slave's hand inglorious.
Nor would his slaughter'd army now have lain
On Afric`s sands, disfigur'd with their wounds,
To gorge the wolves and vultures of Numidia.
Jub. Why dost thou call my sorrows up afresh?
My father's name brings tears into my eyes.
Syph. Oh, that you'd profit by your father's ills!
Jub. What wouldst thou have me do?
Syph. Abandon Cato.
Jub. Syphax, I should be more than twice an orphan
By such a loss.
Syph. Ay, there's the tie that binds you!
You long to call him father. Marcia's charms
Work in your heart unseen, and plead for Cato.
No wonder you are deaf to all I say.
Jub. Syphax, your zeal becomes importunate;
I've hitherto permitted it to rave,
And talk at large; but learn to keep it in,
Lest it should take more freedom than I'll give it.
Syph. Sir, your great father never used me thus.
Alas, he's dead! but can you e'er forget
The tender sorrows, and the pangs of nature,
The fond embraces, and repeated blessings,
Which you drew from him in your last farewell?
Still must I cherish the dear, sad remembrance,
At once to torture and to please my soul.
The good old king, at parting, wrung my hand,
(His eyes brimful of tears) then sighing cried,
Pr'ythee be careful of my son!——His grief
Swell'd up so high, he could not utter more.
Jub. Alas! thy story melts away my soul!
That best of fathers! how shall I discharge
The gratitude and duty that I owe him?
Syph. By laying up his counsels in your heart.
Jub. His counsels bade me yield to thy direction:
Then, Syphax, chide me in severest terms,
Vent all thy passion, and I'll stand its shock,
Calm and unruffled as a summer sea,
When not a breath of wind flies o'er its surface.
Syph. Alas! my prince, I'd guide you to your safety.
Jub. I do believe thou wouldst; but tell me how?
Syph. Fly from the fate that follows Caesar's foes.
Jub. My father scorn'd to do it.
Syph. And therefore died.
Jub. Better to die ten thousand thousand deaths,
Than wound my honour.
Syph. Rather say, your love.
Jub. Syphax, I've promised to preserve my temper;
Why wilt thou urge me to confess a flame
I long have stifled, and would fain conceal?
Syph. Believe me, prince, though hard to conquer love,
'Tis easy to divert and break its force.
Absence might cure it, or a second mistress
Light up another flame, and put out this.
The glowing dames of Zama's royal court
Have faces flush'd with more exalted charms;
The sun, that rolls his chariot o'er their heads,
Works up more fire and colour in their cheeks:
Were you with these, my prince, you'd soon forget
The pale, unripen'd beauties of the north.
Jub. 'Tis not a set of features, or complexion,
The tincture of a skin, that I admire:
Beauty soon grows familiar to the lover,
Fades in his eye, and palls upon the sense.
The virtuous Marcia tow'rs above her sex:
True, she is fair (Oh, how divinely fair!),
But still the lovely maid improves her charms,
With inward greatness, unaffected wisdom,
And sanctity of manners; Cato's soul
Shines out in every thing she acts or speaks,
While winning mildness and attractive smiles
Dwell in her looks, and, with becoming grace,
Soften the rigour of her father's virtue.
Syph. How does your tongue grow wanton in her praise!
But on my knees, I beg you would consider—
Jub. Ha! Syphax, is't not she?—She moves this way;
And with her Lucia, Lucius's fair daughter.
My heart beats thick—I pr'ythee, Syphax, leave me.
Syph. Ten thousand curses fasten on them both!
Now will the woman, with a single glance,
Undo what I've been lab'ring all this while. [Exit SYPHAX.
Enter MARCIA and LUCIA.
Jub. Hail, charming maid! How does thy beauty smooth
The face of war, and make even horror smile!
At sight of thee my heart shakes off its sorrows;
I feel a dawn of joy break in upon me,
And for a while forget th' approach of Caesar.
Marcia. I should be grieved, young prince, to think my presence
Unbent your thoughts, and slacken'd them to arms,
While, warm with slaughter, our victorious foe
Threatens aloud, and calls you to the field.
Jub. Oh, Marcia, let me hope thy kind concerns
And gentle wishes follow me to battle!
The thought will give new vigour to my arm,
And strength and weight to my descending sword,
And drive it in a tempest on the foe.
Marcia. My pray'rs and wishes always shall attend
The friends of Rome, the glorious cause of virtue,
And men approved of by the gods and Cato.
Jub. That Juba may deserve thy pious cares,
I'll gaze for ever on thy godlike father,
Transplanting one by one, into my life,
His bright perfections, till I shine like him.
Marcia. My father never, at a time like this,
Would lay out his great soul in words, and waste
Such precious moments.
Jub. Thy reproofs are just,
Thou virtuous maid; I'll hasten to my troops,
And fire their languid souls with Cato's virtue.
If e'er I lead them to the field, when all
The war shall stand ranged in its just array,
And dreadful pomp, then will I think on thee;
Oh, lovely maid! then will I think on thee;
And, in the shock of charging hosts, remember
What glorious deeds should grace the man who hopes
For Marcia's love. [Exit JUBA.
Lucia. Marcia, you're too severe;
How could you chide the young good-natured prince,
And drive him from you with so stern an air,
A prince that loves, and dotes on you to death?
Marcia. 'Tis therefore, Lucia, that I chide him from me;
His air, his voice, his looks, and honest soul,
Speak all so movingly in his behalf,
I dare not trust myself to hear him talk.
Lucia. Why will you fight against so sweet a passion,
And steel your heart to such a world of charms?
Marcia. How, Lucia! wouldst thou have me sink away
In pleasing dreams, and lose myself in love,
When ev'ry moment Cato's life's at stake?
Caesar comes arm'd with terror and revenge,
And aims his thunder at my father's head.
Should not the sad occasion swallow up
My other cares, and draw them all into it?
Lucia. Why have I not this constancy of mind,
Who have so many griefs to try its force?
Sure, Nature form'd me of her softest mould,
Enfeebled all my soul with tender passions,
And sunk me ev'n below my own weak sex:
Pity and love, by turns, oppress my heart.
Marcia. Lucia, disburden all thy cares on me,
And let me share thy most retired distress.
Tell me, who raises up this conflict in thee?
Lucia. I need not blush to name them, when I tell thee
They're Marcia's brothers, and the sons of Cato.
Marcia. They both behold thee with their sister's eyes,
And often have reveal'd their passion to me.
But tell me, whose address thou favour`st most?
I long to know, and yet I dread to hear it.
Lucia. Which is it Marcia wishes for?
Marcia. — For neither —
And yet for both — the youths have equal share
In Marcia's wishes, and divide their sister:
But tell me, which of them is Lucia's choice?
Lucia. Marcia, they both are high in my esteem,
But in my love — why wilt thou make me name him?
Thou know'st it is a blind and foolish passion,
Pleas'd and disgusted with it knows not what —
Marcia. O Lucia, I'm perplex'd, O tell me which
I must hereafter call my happy brother?
Lucia. Suppose 'twere Portius, could you blame my choice?—
Oh, Portius, thou hast stolen away my soul!
With what a graceful tenderness he loves:
And breathes the softest, the sincerest vows!
Complacency, and truth, and manly sweetness
Dwell ever on his tongue, and smooth his thoughts.
Marcus is over warm, his fond complaints
Have so much earnestness and passion in them,
I hear him with a secret kind of horror,
And tremble at his vehemence of temper.
Marcia. Alas, poor youth! how can'st thou throw him from thee?
Lucia, thou know'st not half the love he bears thee;
Whene'er he speaks of thee, his heart's in flames,
He sends out all his soul in every word,
And thinks, and talks, and looks like one transported.
Unhappy youth! How will thy coldness raise
Tempests and storms in his afflicted bosom!
I dread the consequence.
Lucia. You seem to plead
Against your brother Portius.
Marcia. Heav'n forbid.
Had Portius been the unsuccessful lover,
The same compassion would have fall'n on him.
Lucia. Was ever virgin love distress'd like mine!
Portius himself oft falls in tears before me
As if he mourn'd his rival's ill success;
Then bids me hide the motions of my heart,
Nor show which way it turns—so much he fears
The sad effect that it will have on Marcus.
Marcia. He knows too well how easily he's fired,
And would not plunge his brother in despair,
But waits for happier times, and kinder moments.
Lucia. Alas! too late I find myself involv'd
In endless griefs, and labyrinths of woe,
Born to afflict my Marcia's family,
And sow dissension in the hearts of brothers.
Tormenting thought! it cuts into my soul.
Marcia. Let us not, Lucia, aggravate our sorrows,
But to the gods submit the event of things.
Our lives, discolour'd with our present woes,
May still grow bright, and smile with happier hours.
So the pure limpid stream, when foul with stains
Of rushing torrents and descending rains,
Works itself clear, and, as it runs, refines,
Till, by degrees, the floating mirror shines;
Reflects each flower that on the border grows,
And a new heav'n in its fair bosom shows. [Exeunt.