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MARCIA, Daughter to Cato,
LUCIA, Daughter to Lucius, .
SCENE, A large Hall in the Governor's Palace of Utica.
ACT I.-SCENE I.
POR. THE dawn is overcast, the morning lowers,
And heavily in clouds brings on the day,
The great, the important day, big with the fate
Of Cato and of Rome.2-Our father's death
Would fill up all the guilt of civil war,
And close the scene of blood. Already Cæsar
Has ravaged more than half the globe, and sees
Mankind grown thin by his destructive sword:
While the present humour of idolizing Shakspeare continues, no quarter will be given to this poem; though it be the master-piece of the author, and was the pride of the age in which it was written.-But a time will come, when, not as a tragedy, indeed, (for which the subject was unfit,) but as a work of art and taste, it will be supremely admired by all candid and judicious critics.
2 This opening of the drama is too solemn and declamatory. The author speaks,—not his "Persona dramatis." Horace has given a caution against this misconduct, in his ridicule of "Fortunam Priami cantabo, et nobile bellum," which was addressed to the tragic, as well as epic poet.
Should he go further, numbers would be wanting
To form new battles, and support his crimes.
Ye gods, what havoc does ambition make
Among your works!
Thy steady temper, Portius,1
Can look on guilt, rebellion, fraud, and Cæsar,
In the calm lights of mild philosophy;
I'm tortured ev'n to madness, when I think
On the proud victor: every time he's named
Pharsalia rises to my view!-I see
The insulting tyrant, prancing o'er the field
Strowed with Rome's citizens, and drenched 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 heaven,
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 mixt 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 power usurped,
Draw all the vengeance of his arm upon 'em.
MAR. 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 Cæsar ?
Pent up in Utica he vainly forms
A poor epitome of Roman greatness,
And, covered with Numidian guards, directs
A feeble army, and an empty senate,
Remnants of mighty battles fought in vain.
By heavens, such virtues, joined with such success,
Distract my very soul: our father's fortune
Would almost tempt us to renounce his precepts.
1 This a little palliates the indecorum, just now observed; and may let us see that the poet himself was aware of it (so exact was his taste); but it does not wholly excuse it.
POR. Remember what our father oft has told us :
The ways of heaven are dark and intricate,
Puzzled in mazes, and perplexed with errors:
Our understanding traces 'em in vain,
Lost and bewildered in the fruitless search;
Nor sees with how much art the windings run,
Nor where the regular confusion ends.
MAR. 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,1 and aggravate
My other griefs. Were but my Lucia kind!
POR. Thou seest 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.
MAB. 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 reasoned 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 smothered fondness burns within him.
A strange, unnatural phrase; which yet hath made its fortune in modern tragedy. Besides, if these words have any meaning, it was ridiculous to add "and aggravate my other griefs."
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?
MAR. Portius, no more! your words leave stings behind 'em.
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 generous temper well;
Fling but the appearance of dishonour on it,
It straight takes fire, and mounts into a blaze.
MAR. A brother's sufferings claim a brother's pity.
POR. Heaven 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.
MAR. Why then dost treat me with rebukes, instead
Of kind, condoling cares, and friendly sorrow?
POR. O Marcus! did I know the way to ease
Thy troubled heart, and mitigate thy pains,
Marcus, believe me, I could die to do it.
MAR. Thou best of brothers, and thou best of friends!
Pardon a weak, distempered 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.
SEM. Conspiracies no sooner should be formed
Than executed. What means Portius here?
I like not that cold youth. I must dissemble,
And speak a language foreign to my heart.
Good-morrow, Portius! let us once embrace,
Once more embrace; whilst yet we both are free.
Cold youth.] Finely observed. Men of cold passions have quick eyes, and are no fit company for such men as Sempronius, whether they speak from the heart, or dissemble: hence the indignant reproof of his passion, and the abrupt departure from his flatteries.
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 called together
To this poor hall his little Roman senate,
(The leavings of Pharsalia,) to consult
If yet he can oppose the mighty torrent
Thou bears down Rome, and all her gods, before it,
Or must at length give up the world to Cæsar.
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 ev'n Cæsar tremble at the head
Of armies flushed with conquest: 0 my Portius!
Could I but call that wondrous man my father,
Would but thy sister Marcia be propitious
To thy friend's vows, I might be blessed 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,1
When she beholds the holy flame expiring.
SEM. The more I see the wonders of thy race,
The more I'm charmed. Thou must take heed, my
The world has all its eyes on Cato's son. [Portius!
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 lingering here
On this important hour!-I'll straight away,
And while the fathers of the senate meet
In close debate to weigh the 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 'em.
'Tis not in mortals to command success,
But we 'll do more, Sempronius; we 'll deserve it. [Exit.
1 Wonderfully exact, both in the sentiment and expression.-The imagery, too, is in character; the speaker being a person of the purest virtue, and a Roman.