Venice Preserv'd/Act I

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     Scene.—St. Mark's.

     [Enter Priuli and Jaffier, L.

     Priuli. (r.) No more! I'll hear no more! Begone and leave me!

     Jaf. Not hear me! By my sufferings, but you shall!
     My lord—my lord! I'm not that abject wretch
     You think me. Patience! where's the distance throws
     Me back so far, but I may boldly speak
     In right, though proud oppression will not hear me?

     Priuli. Have you not wronged me?

     Jaf. Could my nature e'er
     Have brooked injustice, or the doing wrongs,
     I need not now thus low have bent myself
     To gain a hearing from a cruel father.—
     Wronged you?

     Priuli. Yes, wronged me! In the nicest point,
     The honour of my house, you've done me wrong.
     You may remember (for I now will speak,
     And urge its baseness) when you first came borne
     From travel, with such hopes as made you looked on
     By all men's eyes, a youth of expectation;
     Pleased with your growing virtue, I received you;
     Courted, and sought to raise you to your merits;
     My house, my table, nay, my fortune too,
     My very self was yours; you might have used me
     To your best service; like an open friend,
[8] I treated, trusted you, and thought you mine:
     When, in requital of my best endeavours,
     You treacherously practised to undo me;
     Seduced the weakness of my age's darling,
     My only child, and stole her from my bosom.
     Oh! Belvidera!

     Jaf. 'Tis to me you owe her:
     Childless you had been else, and in the grave
     Your name extinct; no more Priuli heard of.
     You may remember, scarce five years are past,
     Since in your brigantine you sailed to see,
     The Adriatic wedded by our duke;
     And I was with you: your unskilful pilot
     Dashed us upon a rock; when to your boat
     You made for safety; entered first yourself;—
     The affrighted Belvidera, following next,
     As she stood trembling on the vessel's side,
     Was, by a wave, washed off into the deep;
     When instantly I plunged into the sea,
     And buffeting the billows to her rescue,
     Redeemed her life with half the loss of mine.
     Like a rich conquest, in one hand I bore her,
     And with the other dashed the saucy waves,
     That thronged and pressed to rob me of my prize.
     I brought her, gave her to your despairing arms;
     Indeed, you thanked me; but a nobler gratitude
     Rose in her soul: for from that hour she loved me,
     Till for her life she paid me with herself.

     Priuli. You stole her from me; like a thief you stole her,
     At dead of night; that cursed hour you chose
     To rifle me of all my heart held dear.
     May all your joys in her prove false, like mine!
     A sterile fortune, and a barren bed,
     Attend you both: continual discord make
     Your days and nights bitter and grievous still:
     May the hard hand of a vexatious need
     Oppress and grind you; till at last you find
     The curse of disobedience all your portion.

     Jaf. Half of your curse you have bestowed in vain,
     Heav'n has already crowned our faithful loves
     With a young boy, sweet as his mother's beauty:
[9] May he live to prove more gentle than his grandsire,
     And happier than his father.

     Priuli. Rather live
     To bait thee for his bread, and din your ears
     With hungry cries; whilst his unhappy mother
     Sits down and weeps in bitterness of want.

     Jaf. You talk as if 'twould please you.

     Priuli. 'T would, by heaven!

     Jaf. Would I were in my grave?

     Priuli. And she, too, with thee:
     For, living here, you're but my cursed remembrances,
     I once was happy!

     Jaf. You use me thus, because you know my soul
     Is fond of Belvidera. You perceive
     My life feeds on her, therefore thus you treat me
     Were I that thief, the doer of such wrongs
     As you upbraid me with, what hinders me
     But I might send her back to you with contumely,
     And court my fortune where she would be kinder?

     Priuli. You dare not do't.

     Jaf. Indeed, my lord, I dare not.
     My heart, that awes me, is too much my master:
     Three years are past since first our vows were plighted,
     During which time, the world must bear me witness,
     I've treated Belvidera like your daughter,
     The daughter of a senator of Venice:
     Distinction, place, attendance, and observance,
     Due to her birth, she always has commanded:
     Out of my little fortune, I've done this;
     Because, (though hopeless e'er to win your nature)
     The world might see I loved her for herself;
     Not as the heiress of the great Priuli.

     Priuli. No more.

     Jaf. Yes, all, and then, adieu forever.
     [Pausing with clasped hands.
     There's not a wretch that lives on common charity
     But's happier than I; for I have known
     The luscious sweets of plenty; every night
     Have slept with soft content about my head,
     And never waked, but to a joyful morning:
     Yet now must fall, like a full ear of corn,
     Whoso blossom 'scaped, yet's withered in the ripenin.

[10] Priuli. Home, and be humble; study to retrench;
     Discharge the lazy vermin of thy hall,
     Those pageants of thy folly:
     Reduce the glitt'ring trappings of thy wife
     To humble weeds, fit for thy little state: [Going.
     Then to some suburb cottage both retire;
     Drudge to feed loathsome life; get brats and starve—
     Home, home, I say! [Exit, R.

     Jaf. (C.) Yes, if my heart would let me——
     This proud, this swelling heart: home I would go,
     But that my doors are hateful to my eyes,
     Filled and damned up with gaping creditors!
     I've now not fifty ducats in the world,
     Yet still I am in love, and pleased with ruin.
     Oh, Belvidera! Oh! she is my wife—
     And we will bear our wayward fate together,
     But ne'er know comfort more.

     [Enter Pierre, L. S. E.

     Pierre. (L. C.) My friend, good morrow;
     How fares the honest partner of my heart?
     What, melancholy! not a word to spare me!

     Jaf. (C.) I'm thinking, Pierre, how that damned
     starving quality,
     Called honesty, got footing in the world.

     Pierre. Why, powerful villainy first set it up,
     For its own ease and safety. Honest men
     Are the-soft easy cushions on which knave's
     Repose and fatten. Were all mankind villains,
     They'd starve each other; lawyers would want practice,
     Cut-throats, reward: each man would kill his brother
     Himself; none would be paid or hanged for murder.
     Honesty! 'twas a cheat, invented first
     To bind the hands of bold deserving rogues,
     That fools and cowards might sit safe in power,
     And lord it uncontrolled above their betters.

     Jaf. Then honesty is but a notion?

     Pierre. Nothing else;
     Like wit, much talked of, not to be defined:
     He that pretends to most, too, has least share in't
     Tis a ragged virtue. Honesty! no more on't.

     Jaf. Sure, thou art honest?

[11] Pierre. So, indeed, men think me;
     But they're mistaken, Jaffier; I'm a rogue,
     As well as they;
     A fine, gay, bold-faced villain as thou seest me!
     'Tis true. I pay my debts, when they're contracted;
     I steal from no man; would not cut a throat
     To gain admission to a great man's purse;
     Would not betray my friend,
     To get his place or fortune; I scorn to flatter
     A blown-up fool above me, or crush the wretch beneath me;
     Yet, Jaffier, for all this, I am a villain.

     Jaf. (R. C.) A villain!

     Pierre. Yes, a most notorious villain;
     To see the sufferings of my fellow-creatures,
     And own myself a man; to see our senators
     Cheat the deluded people with a show
     Of liberty, which yet they ne'er must taste of.
     They say, by them our hands are free from fetters;
     Yet whom they please, they lay in basest bonds;
     Bring whom they please to infamy and sorrow;
     Drive us, like wrecks, down the rough tide of power,
     Whilst no hold's left to save us from destruction.
     All that bear this are villains, and I one,
     Not to rouse up at the great call of nature,
     And check the growth of these domestic spoilers,
     That make us slaves, and tell us 'tis our charter!

     [Walks, L.

     Jaf. I think no safety can be here for virtue,
     And grieve, my friend, as much as thou, to live
     In such a wretched state as this of Venice,
     Where all agree to spoil the public good,
     And villains fatten with the brave man's labours.

     Pierre. [Returns to L. C.]
     We've neither safety, unity, nor peace,
     For the foundation's lost of common good;
     Justice is lame, as well as blind, amongst us;
     The laws (corrupted to their ends that make them,)
     Serve but for instruments of some new tyranny,
     That every day starts up, t'enslave us deeper.
     Now [Lays his hand on Jaffier's arm,] could this glorious
     cause but find out friends
[12] To do it right, oh, Jaffier! then might'st thou
     Not wear those seals of woe upon thy face;
     The proud Priuli should be taught humanity,
     And learn to value such a son as thou art.
     I dare not speak, but my heart bleeds this moment.

     Jaf. Cursed be the cause, though I, thy friend, be part on't:
     Let me partake the troubles of thy bosom,
     For I am used to misery, and perhaps
     May find a way to sweeten't to thy spirit.

     Pierre. [Turns, L. and looks over a shoulder.] Too soon
     'twill reach thy knowledge—

     Jaf. Then from thee
     Let it proceed. There's virtue in thy friendship,
     Would make the saddest tale of sorrow pleasing,
     Strengthen my constancy, and welcome ruin.

     Pierre. Then thou art ruined!

     Jaf. That I long since knew;
     I and ill fortune have been long acquainted.

     Pierre. I passed this very moment by thy doors,
     And found them guarded by a troop of villains;
     "The sons of public rapine were destroying."
     They told me, by the sentence of the law
     They had commission to seize all thy fortune:
     Nay, more, Priuli's cruel band had signed it.
     Here stood a ruffian, with a horrid face,
     Lording it o'er a pile of massy plate,
     Tumbled into a heap for public sale:
     There was another making villainous jests
     At thy undoing: he had ta'en possession
     Of all thy ancient, most domestic ornaments;
     Rich hangings, intermixed and wrought with gold
     The very bed, which, on thy wedding night,
     Received thee to the arms of Belvidera,
     The scene of all thy joys, was violated
     By the coarse hands of filthy dungeon villains,
     And thrown amongst the common lumber.

     Jaf.Now, thank heaven—

     Pierre. Thank heaven! for what?

     Jaf.That I'm not worth a ducat.

     Pierre. Curse thy dull stars, and the worse fate of Venice,
[13] Where brothers, friends, and fathers, all are false;
     Where there's no truth, no trust; where innocence
     Stoops under vile oppression, and vice lords it.
     Hadst thou but seen, as I did, how, at last,
     Thy beauteous Belvidera, like a wretch
     That's doomed to banishment, came weeping forth,
     Whilst two young virgins, on whose arms she leaned,
     Kindly looked up, and at her grief grew sad,
     As if they catched the sorrows that fell from her:
     Ev'n the lewd rabble, that were gathered round
     To see the sight, stood mute when they beheld her;
     Governed their roaring throats, and grumbled pity:
     I could have hugged the greasy rogues; they pleased me.

     Jaf. I thank thee for this story, from my soul;
     Since now I know the worst that can befall me.
     Ah, Pierre! I have a heart that could have borne
     The roughest wrong my fortune could have done me;
     But when I think what Belvidera feels,
     The bitterness her tender spirits taste of,
     I own myself a coward. Bear my weakness,
     If, throwing thus my arms about thy neck, [Embrace,
     I play the boy, and blubber in thy bosom.
     Oh, I shall drown thee with my sorrows.

     Pierre. Burn,
     First, burn and level Venice to thy ruin.
     What! starve, like beggars' brats, in frosty weather,
     Under a hedge, and whine ourselves to death!
     Thou, or thy cause, shall never want assistance,
     Whilst I have blood or fortune fit to serve thee:
     Command my heart, thour't every way its master.

     Jaf. No; there's a secret pride in bravely dying.

     Pierre. Rats die in holes and corners, dogs run mad
     Man knows a braver remedy for sorrow—
     Revenge, the attribute of gods; they stamped it,
     With their great image, on our natures. Die!
     Consider well the cause that calls upon thee,
     And, if thou'rt base enough, die then. Remember
     Thy Belvidera suffers; Belvidera!
     Die!—damn first!—What! be decently interred
     In a church-yard, and mingle thy brave dust—
     With stinking rogues, that rot in winding-sheets,
     Surfeit-slain fools, the common dung o'th' soil!

[14] Jaf. Oh—

     Pierre. Well said, out with't—swear a little—

     Jaf. Swear! By sea and air; by earth, by heaven and hell,
     I will revenge my Belvidera's tears! [Both go to the R.
     Hark thee, my friend—Priuli—is—a senator!

     Pierre. A dog!

     Jaf. Agreed. [Return to C.

     Pierre. Shoot him!

     Jaf. With all my heart!
     No more—where shall we meet at night?

     Pierre. I'll tell thee:
     On the Rialto, every night at twelve,
     I take my evening's walk of meditation:
     There we two'll meet, and talk of precious mischief.

     Jaf. Farewell!

     Pierre. At twelve.

     Jaf.At any hour: my plagues
     Will keep me waking.

     [Exit Pierre, R.

     (R. C.) Tell me why, good Heaven,
     Thou mad'st me what I am, with all the spirit,
     Aspiring thoughts, and elegant desires,
     That fill the happiest man! Ah, rather, why
     Didst thou not form me sordid as my fate,
     Base-minded, doll, and fit to carry burdens!
     Why have I sense to know the curse that's on me?
     Is this just dealing, nature! Belvidera!
     Poor Belvidera!

     Bel. [Without.] Lead me, lead me, my virgins.
     To that kind voice.

     [Enter Belvidera, L.

     My lord, my love, my refuge! [Leans on Jaffier, R. C.
     Happy my eyes when they behold thy face!
     My heavy heart will leave its doleful beating
     At sight of thee, and bound with sprightful joys.
     Oh, smile! as when our loves were in their spring,
     And cheer my fainting soul!

     Jaf. (R. C.) As when our loves
     Were in their spring! Has, then, my fortune changed thee?
     Art thou not, Belvidera, still the same,
[15] Kind, good, and tender, as my arms first found thee?
     If thou art altered, where shall I have harbour?
     Where ease my loaded heart? [Part] Oh! where complain?

     Bel. (C.) Does this appear like change, or love decaying,
     When thus I throw myself Into thy bosom,
     With all the resolution of strong truth!

     [Leans on Jaffier, R. C.

                                      I joy more in thee
     Than did thy mother, when she hugged thee first,
     And blessed the gods for all her travail past.

     Jaf. Can there in woman be such glorious faith?
     Sure, all ill stories of thy sex are false! [Part.
     Oh, woman! lovely woman! Nature made thee
     To temper man: we had been brutes without you!
     Angels are painted fair to look like you:
     There's in you all that we believe of heaven;
     Amazing brightness, purity, and truth,
     Eternal joy, and everlasting love! [Embrace.

     Bel. If love be treasure, we'll be wondrous rich;
     Oh! lead me to some desert, [Part,] wide and wild,
     Barren as our misfortunes, where my soul
     May have its vent, where I may tell aloud
     To the high heavens, and ev'ry list'ning planet,
     With what a boundless stock my bosom's fraught.

     Jaf. [Taking her hand.] Oh, Belvidera! doubly I'm a beggar;
     Undone by fortune, and in debt to thee.
     Want, worldly want, that hungry meagre fiend,
     Is at my heels, and chases me in view.
     Canst thou bear cold and hunger? Can these limbs,
     Framed for the tender offices of love,
     Endure the bitteer gripes of smarting poverty?
     When banished by our miseries abroad,
     (As suddenly we shall be) to seek, out,
     In some far climate, where our names are strangers,
     For charitable succour; wilt thou then,
     When in a bed of straw we shrink together,
     And the bleak winds shall whistle round our heads;
     Wilt thou then talk thus to me? Wilt thou then
     Hush my cares thus, and shelter me with love?

     Bel. Oh! I will love thee, even in madness love thee!
[16] Though my distracted senses should forsake me,
     I'd find some intervals when my poor heart
     Should 'suage itself, and be let loose to thine.
     Though the bare earth be all our resting place,
     Its roots our food, some cliff our habitation,
     I'll make this arm a pillow for thine head;
     And, as thou sighing liest, and swelled with sorrow,
     Creep to thy bosom, pour the balm of love
     Into thy soul, and kiss thee to thy rest; [Part.
     Then praise our God, and watch thee till the morning.

     Jaf. Hear this, you Heav'ns, and wonder how you made her!
     Reign, reign, ye monarchs, that divide the world;
     Busy rebellion ne'er will let you know
     Tranquillity and happiness like mine;
     Like gaudy ships, the obsequious billows fall,
     And rise again, to lift you in your pride;
     They wait but for a storm, and then devour you:

     [Belvidera crosses, R.
     I, in my private bark already wrecked,
     Like a poor merchant, driven to unknown land,
     That had, by chance, picked up his choicest treasure,
     In one dear casket, and saved only that,

     [Returns to Jaffier

     Since I must wander farther on the shore,
     Thus [Taking her arm,] hug my little, but my precious store,
     Resolved to scorn, and trust my fate no more. [Exeunt, L.