Prologue to Mr. Addison's Cato

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Prologue to Mr. Addison's Cato  (1713) 
by Alexander Pope

To wake the soul by tender strokes of art,
To raise the genius, and to mend the heart;
To make mankind, in conscious virtue bold,
Live o’er each scene, and be what they behold:
For this the Tragic Muse first trod the stage,
Commanding tears to stream thro’ ev’ry age:
Tyrants no more their savage nature kept,
And foes to virtue wonder’d how they wept.
Our author shuns by vulgar springs to move
The Hero’s glory, or the Virgin’s love;
In pitying Love, we but our weakness show,
And wild Ambition well deserves its woe.
Here tears shall flow from a more gen’rous cause,
Such tears as patriots shed for dying laws.
He bids your breasts with ancient ardour rise,
And calls forth Roman drops from British eyes:
Virtue confess’d in human shape he draws,
What Plato thought, and godlike Cato was:
No common object to your sight displays,
But what with pleasure Heav’n itself surveys,
A brave man struggling in the storms of fate,
And greatly falling with a falling state.
While Cato gives his little senate laws,
What bosom beats not in his country’s cause?
Who sees him act, but envies ev’ry deed?
Who hears him groan, and does not wish to bleed?
Ev’n when proud Cæsar, midst triumphal cars,
The spoils of nations, and the pomp of wars,
Ignobly vain, and impotently great,
Show’d Rome her Cato’s figure drawn in state;
As her dead father’s rev’rend image past,
The pomp was darken’d, and the day o’ercast;
The triumph ceas’d, tears gush’d from ev’ry eye,
The world’s great Victor pass’d unheeded by;
Her last good man dejected Rome ador’d,
And honour’d Cæsar’s less than Cato’s sword.
Britons, attend: be worth like this approv’d,
And show you have the virtue to be mov’d.
With honest scorn the first famed Cato view’d
Rome learning arts from Greece, whom she subdued;
Your scene precariously subsists too long
On French translation and Italian song.
Dare to have sense yourselves; assert the stage;
Be justly warm’d with your own native rage:
Such plays alone should win a British ear
As Cato’s self had not disdain’d to hear.


This work was published before January 1, 1923, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.