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SCENE I. The Senate.
SEM. ROME still survives in this assembled senate!
Let us remember we are Cato's friends,
And act like men who claim that glorious title.
Luc. Cato will soon be here, and open to us
The occasion of our meeting. Hark! he comes!
[A sound of trumpets.
May all the guardian gods of Rome direct him!
. CATO. Fathers, we once again are met in council.
Cæsar's approach has summoned us together,
And Rome attends her fate from our resolves :
How shall we treat this bold, aspiring man?
Success still follows him and backs his crimes;
Pharsalia gave him Rome; Egypt has since
Received his yoke, and the whole Nile is Cæsar's.
Why should I mention Juba's overthrow,
And Scipio's death? Numidia's burning sands
Still smoke with blood. 'Tis time we should decree
What course to take. Our foe advances on us,
And envies us ev'n Libya's sultry deserts.
Fathers, pronounce your thoughts, are they still fixt
To hold it out, and fight it to the last?
Or are your hearts subdued at length, and wrought
By time and ill success to a submission?
My voice is still for war.
Gods! can a Roman senate long debate
Which of the two to choose, slavery or death!
No, let us rise at once, gird on our swords,
And, at the head of our remaining troops,
Attack the foe, break through the thick array
Of his thronged legions, and charge home upon him.
Perhaps some arm, more lucky than the rest,
May reach his heart, and free the world from bondage.
Rise, fathers, rise! 'tis Rome demands your help;
3 Before the author wrote this and the following scene, he had warmed his patriotism, as well as imagination, with the Philippics of Cicero.
Rise, and revenge her slaughtered citizens,
Or share their fate! the corps of half her senate
Manure the fields of Thessaly, while we
Sit here, deliberating in cold debates,
If we should sacrifice our lives to honour,
Or wear them out in servitude and chains.
Rouse up, for shame! our brothers of Pharsalia
Point at their wounds, and cry aloud-To battle!
Great Pompey's shade complains that we are slow,
And Scipio's ghost walks unrevenged amongst us!
CATO. Let not a torrent of impetuous zeal
Transport thee thus beyond the bounds of reason :
True fortitude is seen in great exploits,
That justice warrants, and that wisdom guides,
All else is towering phrensy and distraction.
Are not the lives of those who draw the sword
In Rome's defence intrusted to our care?
Should we thus lead them to a field of slaughter,
Might not the impartial world with reason say
We lavished at our deaths the blood of thousands,
To grace our fall, and make our ruin glorious?
Lucius, we next would know what's your opinion.
Luc. My thoughts, I must confess, are turned on peace.
Already have our quarrels filled the world
With widows and with orphans: Scythia mourns
Our guilty wars, and earth's remotest regions
Lie half unpeopled by the feuds of Rome:
'Tis time to sheath the sword, and spare mankind.
It is not Cæsar, but the gods, my fathers,
The gods declare against us, and repel
Our vain attempts. To urge the foe to battle,
(Prompted by blind revenge and wild despair,)
Were to refuse the awards of Providence,
And not to rest in Heaven's determination.
Already have we shown our love to Rome,
Now let us show submission to the gods.
We took up arms, not to revenge ourselves,
But free the commonwealth; when this end fails,
Arms have no further use: our country's cause,
That drew our swords, now wrests 'em from our hands,
And bids us not delight in Roman blood,
Unprofitably shed; what men could do
Is done already heaven and earth will witness,
If Rome must fall, that we are innocent.
SEM. This smooth discourse and wild behaviour oft
Conceal a traitor-something whispers me
All is not right-Cato, beware of Lucius. [Aside to Cato.
CATO. Let us appear nor rash nor diffident:
Immoderate valour swells into a fault,
And fear, admitted into public councils,
Betrays like treason. Let us shun 'em both.
Fathers, I cannot see that our affairs
Are grown thus desperate. We have bulwarks round us;
Within our walls are troops inured to toil
In Afric's heats, and seasoned to the sun;
Numidia's spacious kingdom lies behind us,
Ready to rise at its young prince's call.
While there is hope, do not distrust the gods;
But wait at least till Cæsar's near approach
Force us to yield. 'Twill never be too late
To sue for chains and own a conqueror.
Why should Rome fall a moment ere her time?
No, let us draw her term of freedom out
In its full length, and spin it to the last,
So shall we gain still one day's liberty;
And let me perish, but in Cato's judgment,
A day, an hour, of virtuous liberty
Is worth a whole eternity in bondage.
MAR. Fathers, this moment, as I watched the gates,
Lodged on my post, a herald is arrived
From Cæsar's camp, and with him comes old Decius,
The Roman knight; he carries in his looks
Impatience, and demands to speak with Cato.
CATO. By your permission, fathers, bid him enter.
Decius was once my friend, but other prospects
Have loosed those ties, and bound him fast to Cæsar.
His message may determine our resolves.
DECIUS, CATO, &c.
DEC. Cæsar sends health to Cato.
Could he send it
To Cato's slaughtered friends, it would be welcome.
Are not your orders to address the senate?
DEC. My business is with Cato: Cæsar sees
The straits to which you're driven; and, as he knows
Cato's high worth, is anxious for your life.
CATO. My life is grafted on the fate of Rome:
Would he save Cato, bid him spare his country.
Tell your dictator this: and tell him Cato
Disdains a life which he has power to offer.
DEC. Rome and her senators submit to Cæsar ;
Her generals and her consuls are no more,
Who checked his conquests, and denied his triumphs.
Why will not Cato be this Cæsar's friend?
CATO. Those very reasons thou hast urged forbid it.
DEC. Cato, I've orders to expostulate
And reason with you, as from friend to friend:
Think on the storm that gathers o'er your head,
And threatens every hour to burst upon it;
Still may you stand high in your country's honours,
Do but comply, and make your peace with Cæsar.
Rome will rejoice, and cast its eyes on Cato,
As on the second of mankind.
I must not think of life on such conditions.
DEC. Cæsar is well acquainted with your virtues,
And therefore sets this value on your life:
Let him but know the price of Cato's friendship,
And name your terms.
Bid him disband his legions,
Restore the commonwealth to liberty,
Submit his actions to the public censure,
And stand the judgment of a Roman senate:
Bid him do this, and Cato is his friend.
DEC. Cato, the world talks loudly of your wisdom-
CATO. Nay more, though Cato's voice was ne'er employed
To clear the guilty, and to varnish crimes,
Myself will mount the rostrum in his favour,
And strive to gain his pardon from the people.
DEC. A style like this becomes a conqueror.
CATO. Decius, a style like this becomes a Roman.
DEC. What is a Roman, that is Cæsar's foe?
CATO. Greater than Cæsar: he's a friend to virtue.
DEC. Consider, Cato, you 're in Utica,
And at the head of your own little senate;
You don't now thunder in the Capitol,
With all the mouths of Rome to second you.
CATO. Let him consider that, who drives us hither:
'Tis Cæsar's sword has made Rome's senate little,
And thinned its ranks. Alas! thy dazzled eye
Beholds this man in a false glaring light,
Which conquest and success have thrown upon him;
Didst thou but view him right, thou'dst see him black
With murder, treason, sacrilege, and crimes
That strike my soul with horror but to name 'em.
I know thou look'st on me, as on a wretch
Beset with ills, and covered with misfortunes;
But, by the gods I swear, millions of worlds
Should never buy me to be like that Cæsar.
DEC. Does Cato send this answer back to Cæsar,
For all his generous cares, and proffered friendship? CATO. His cares for me are insolent and vain :
Presumptuous man! the gods take care of Cato.
Would Cæsar show the greatness of his soul,
Bid him employ his care for these my friends,
And make good use of his ill-gotten power,
By sheltering men much better than himself.
DEC. Your high unconquered heart makes you forget
You are a man. You rush on your destruction---
But I have done. When I relate hereafter
The tale of this unhappy embassy,
All Rome will be in tears.
SEMPRONIUS, LUCIUS, CATO, &c.
Cato, we thank thee.
The mighty genius of immortal Rome
Speaks in thy voice, thy soul breathes liberty:
Cæsar will shrink to hear the words thou utterest,
And shudder in the midst of all his conquests.
Luc. The senate owns its gratitude to Cato,
Who with so great a soul consults its safety,
And guards our lives, while he neglects his own.