Cato (Act Two)
ACT THE SECOND.
Rome still survives in this assembled senate!
Let us remember we are Cato's friends,
And act like men who claim that glorious title.
Cato will soon be here, and open to us
Th' occasion of our meeting. Hark! he comes!
[A sound of trumpets.
May all the guardian gods of Rome direct him!
Fathers, we once again are met in council.
Caesar's approach has summon'd 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
Receiv'd his yoke, and the whole Nile is Caesar'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 even Libya's sultry deserts.
Fathers, pronounce your thoughts, are they still fix'd
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 throng'd 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;
Rise, and revenge her slaughter'd 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 unreveng'd amongst us!
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 phrenzy 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 lavish'd at our death the blood of thousands,
To grace our fall, and make our ruin glorious!
Lucius, we next would know what's your opinion?
My thoughts, I must confess, are turn'd on peace.
Already have our quarrels fill'd the world
With widows and with orphans: Scythia morns
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 Caesar, 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 th' 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 farther use; our country's cause,
That drew our swords, now wrests them 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.
This smooth discourse and mild behaviour oft
Conceal a traitor — something whispers me
All is not right — Cato, beware of Lucius.
[Aside to Cato.
Let us appear not rash nor diffident:
Immoderate valour swells into a fault,
And fear, admitted into public counsels,
Betrays like treason. Let us shun them 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 season'd 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 Caesar'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.
Fathers, this moment, as I watch'd the gates
Lodg'd on my post, a herald is arrived
From Caesar's camp, and with him comes old Decius,
The Roman knight; he carries in his looks
Impatience, and demands to speak with 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 Caesar.
His message may determine our resolves.
Decius, Cato, & c.
Caesar sends health to Cato. —
— Could he send it
To Cato's slaughter'd friends, it would be welcome.
Are not your orders to address the senate?
My business is with Cato: Caesar sees
The straits to which you're driven; and, as he knows
Cato's high worth, is anxious for your life.
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.
Rome and her senators submit to Caesar.
Her generals and her consuls are no more,
Who check'd his conquests, and denied his triumphs.
Why will not Cato be this Caesar's friend?
Those very reasons thou hast urged forbid it.
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 Caesar.
Rome will rejoice, and cast its eyes on Cato,
As on the second of mankind.
— No more!
I must not think of life on such conditions.
Caesar 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.
Cato, the world talks loudly of your wisdom —
Nay more, though Cato's voice was ne'er employ'd
To clear the guilty, and to varnish crimes,
Myself will mount the rostum in his favour,
And strive to gain his pardon from the people.
A style like this becomes a conqueror.
Decius, a style like this becomes a Roman.
What is a Roman, that is Caesar's foe?
Greater than Caesar: he's a friend to virtue.
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.
Let him consider that who drives us hither:
'Tis Caesar's sword has made Rome's senate little,
And thinn'd 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 them.
I know thou look'st on me, as on a wretch
Beset with ills, and cover'd with misfortunes;
But, by the gods I swear, millions of worlds
Should never buy me to be like that Caesar.
Does Cato send this answer back to Caesar,
For all his generous cares, and proffer'd friendship?
His cares for me are insolent and vain:
Presumptuous man! the gods take care of Cato.
Would Caesar 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 shelt'ring men much better than himself.
Your high unconquer'd 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. [Exit Decius.
Sempronius, Lucius, Cato, & c.
— Cato, we thank thee.
The mighty genius of immortal Rome
Speaks in thy voice, thy soul breathes liberty:
Caesar will shrink to hear the words thou utter'st,
And shudder in the midst of all his conquests.
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.
Sempronius gives no thanks on this account.
Lucius seems fond of life; but what is life?
'Tis not to stalk about, and draw fresh air
From time to time, or gaze upon the sun;
'Tis to be free. When liberty is gone,
Life grows insipid, and has lost its relish.
O could my dying hand but lodge a sword
In Caesar's bosom, and revenge my country,
By heav'ns I could enjoy the pangs of death,
And smile in agony!
— Others, perhaps,
May serve their country with as warm a zeal,
Though 'tis not kindled into so much rage.
This sober conduct is a mighty virtue
In lukewarm patriots.
— Come! No more, Sempronius,
All here are friends to Rome, and to each other.
Let us not weaken still the weaker side
By our divisions.
— Cato, my resentments
Are sacrificed to Rome — I stand reprov'd.
Fathers, 'tis time you come to a resolve.
Cato, we all go into your opinion.
Caesar's behaviour has convinc'd the senate
We ought to hold it out till terms arrive.
We ought to hold out till death; but, Cato,
My private voice is drown'd amid the senate's.
Then let us rise, my friends, and strive to fill
This little interval, this pause of life
(While yet our liberty and fates are doubtful)
With resolution, friendship, Roman bravery,
And all the virtues we can crowd into it;
That heav'n may say, it ought to be prolong'd.
Fathers, farewell! — The young Numidian prince
Comes forward, and expects to know our counsels.
Juba, the Roman senate has resolv'd,
Till time give better prospects, still to keep
The sword unsheath'd, and turn its edge on Caesar.
The resolution fits a Roman senate.
But, Cato, lend me for a while thy patience,
And condescend to hear a young man speak.
My father, when some days before his death
He order'd me to march for Utica.
(Alas, I thought not then his death so near!)
Wept o'er me, prest me in his aged arms,
And, as his griefs gave way, "My son," said he,
"Whatever fortune shall befall thy father,
Be Cato's friend, he'll train thee up to great
And virtuous deeds: do but observe him well,
Thou'lt shun misfortunes, or thou'lt learn to bear them."
Juba, thy father was a worthy prince,
And merited, alas! a better fate;
But heaven thought otherwise.
— My father's fate,
In spite of all the fortitude that shines
Before my face, in Cato's great example,
Subdues my soul, and fills my eyes with tears.
It is an honest sorrow, and becomes thee.
My father drew respect from foreign climes:
The kings of Afric sought him for their friend;
Kings far remote, that rule, as fame reports,
Behind the hidden sources of the Nile,
In distant worlds, on t'other side the sun:
Oft have their black ambassadors appear'd.
Loaden with gifts, and fill'd the courts of Zama.
I am no stranger to thy father's greatness.
I would not boast the greatness of my father,
But point out new alliances to Cato.
Had we not better leave this Utica,
To arm Numidia in our cause, and court
Th' assistance of my father's powerful friends?
Did they know Cato, our remotest kings
Would pour embattled multitudes about him;
Their swarthy hosts would darken all our plains,
Doubling the native horror of the war,
And making death more grim.
— And canst thou think
Cato will fly before the sword of Caesar?
Reduced, like Hannibal, to seek relief
From court to court, and wander up and down
A vagabond in Afric!
— Cato, perhaps
I'm too officious, but my forward cares
Would fain preserve a life of so much value.
My heart is wounded, when I see such virtue
Afflicted by the weight of such misfortunes.
Thy nobleness of soul obliges me.
But know, young prince, that valour soars above
What the world calls misfortune and affliction.
These are not ills; else would they never fall
On heaven's first favourites, and the best of men:
The gods, in bounty, work up storms about us,
That give mankind occasion to exert
Their hidden strength, and throw out into practice
Virtues, which shun the day, and lie conceal'd
In the smooth seasons and the calms of life.
I'm charm'd whene'er thou talk'st! I pant for virtue!
And all my soul endeavours at perfection.
Dost thou love watchings, abstinence, and toil,
Laborious virtues all! learn them from Cato:
Success and fortune must thou learn from Caesar.
The best good fortune that can fall on Juba,
The whole success, at which my heart aspires,
Depends on Cato.
— What does Juba say?
Thy words confound me.
— I would fain retract them,
Give them me back again. They aim'd at nothing.
Tell me thy wish, young prince; make not my ear
A stranger to thy thoughts.
— Oh! They're extravagant;
Still let me hide them.
— What can Juba ask
That Cato will refuse?
— I fear to name it.
Marcia — inherits all her father's virtue.
— What wouldst thou say?
— Cato, thou hast a daughter.
Adieu, young prince: I would not hear a word
Should lessen thee in my esteem: remember
The hand of fate is over us, and heav'n
Exacts severity from all our thoughts:
It is not now a time to talk of aught
But chains or conquest; liberty or death.
How is this, my prince! What, cover'd with confusion?
You look as if yon stern philosopher
Had just now chid you.
— Syphax, I'm undone!
I know it well.
— Cato thinks meanly of me.
And so will all mankind.
— I've opened to him
The weakness of my soul, my love for Marcia.
Cato's a proper person to intrust
A love-tale with.
— Oh! I could pierce my heart,
My foolish heart! was ever wretch like Juba?
Alas! my prince, how are you chang'd of late!
I've known young Juba rise, before the sun,
To beat the thicket where the tiger slept,
Or seek the lion in his dreadful haunts:
How did the colour mount into your cheeks,
When first you rous'd him to the chase! I've seen you
Even in the Libyan dog-days, hunt him down,
Then charge him close, provoke him to the rage
Of fangs and claws, and stooping from your horse
Rivet the panting savage to the ground.
Prithee, no more!
— How would the old king smile
To see you weigh the paws, when tipp'd with gold,
And throw the shaggy spoils about your shoulders!
Syphax, this old man's talk (though honey flow'd
In every word) would now lose all its sweetness.
Cato's displeas'd, and Marcia lost for ever!
Young prince, I yet could give you good advice.
Marcia might still be yours.
— What say'st thou, Syphax?
By heavens, thou turn'st me all into attention.
Marcia might still be yours.
— As how, dear Syphax?
Juba commands Numidia's hardy troops,
Mounted on steeds unused to the restraint
Of curbs and bits, and fleeter than the wind:
Give but the word, we'll snatch this damsel up,
And bear her off.
— Can such dishonest thoughts
Rise up in man! wouldst thou seduce my youth
To do an act that would destroy my honour?
Gods! I could tear my beard to hear you talk!
Honour's a fine imaginary notion,
That draws in raw and unexperienced men
To real mischiefs, while they hunt a shadow.
Wouldst thou degrade thy prince into a ruffian?
The boasted ancestors of these great men,
Whose virtues you admire, were all such ruffians.
This dread of nations, this almighty Rome,
That comprehends in her wide empire's bounds
All under heaven, was founded on a rape.
You Scipios, Caesars, Pompeys, and your Catos,
(These gods on earth) are all the spurious brood
Of violated maids, of ravish'd Sabines.
Syphax, I fear that hoary head of thine
Abounds too much in our Numidian wiles.
Indeed, my prince, you want to know the world;
You have not read mankind; your youth admires
The throes and swellings of a Roman soul,
Cato's bold flights, th' extravagance of virtue.
If knowledge of the world makes man perfidious,
May Juba ever live in ignorance!
Go, go, you're young.
— Gods! must I tamely bear
This arrogance unanswer'd! Thou'rt a traitor,
A false old traitor.
— I have gone too far. [Aside.
Cato shall know the baseness of thy soul.
I must appease this storm, or perish in it. [Aside.
Young prince, behold these locks that are grown white
Beneath a helmet in your father's battles.
Those locks shall ne'er protect thy insolence.
Must one rash word, th' infirmity of age,
Throw down the merit of my better years?
This the reward of a whole life of service?
— Curse on the boy! How steadily he heaars me!
Is it because the throne of my forefathers
Still stands unfill'd, and that Numidia's crown
Hangs doubtful yet, whose head it shall inclose,
Thou thus presumest to treat thy prince with scorn?
Why will you rive my heart with such expressions?
Does not old Syphax follow you to war?
What are his aims? why does he load with darts
His trembling hand, and crush beneath a casque
His wrinkled brows? what is it he aspires to?
Is it not this? to shed the slow remains,
His last poor ebb of blood, in your defence?
Syphax, nor more! I would not hear you talk.
Not hear me talk! what, when my faith to Juba,
My royal master's son, is call'd in question?
My prince may strike me dead, and I'll be dumb:
But whilst I live I must not hold my tongue,
And languish out old age in his displeasure.
Thou know'st the way too well into my heart,
I do believe thee loyal to thy prince.
What greater instance can I give? I've offer'd
To do an action, which my soul abhors,
And gain you whom you love, at any price.
Was this thy motive? I have been too hasty.
And 'tis for this my prince has call'd me traitor.
Sure thou mistakest; I did not call thee so.
You did indeed, my prince, you called me traitor:
Nay, farther, threaten'd you'd complain to Cato.
Of what, my prince, would you complain to Cato?
That Syphax loves you, and would sacrifice
His life, nay more, his honour, in your service.
Syphax, I know thou lov'st me, but indeed
Thy zeal for Juba carried thee too far.
Honour's sacred tie, the law of kings,
The noble mind's distinguishing perfection,
That aids and strengthens virtue, where it meets her,
And imitates her actions, where she is not:
It ought not to be sported with.
— By heavens!
I'm ravish'd when you talk thus, though you chide me!
Alas! I've hitherto been used to think
A blind officious zeal to serve my king
The ruling principle that ought to burn
And quench all others in a subject's heart.
Happy the people, who preserve their honour
By the same duties that oblige their prince!
Syphax, thou now beginn'st to speak thyself.
Numidia's grown a scorn among the nations
For breach of public vows. Our Punic faith
Is infamous, and branded to a proverb.
Syphax, we'll join our cares, to purge away
Our country's crimes, and clear her reputation.
Believe me, prince, you make old Syphax weep
To hear you talk — but 'tis with tears of joy.
If e'er your father's crown adorn your brows,
Numidia will be blest by Cato's lectures.
Syphax, thy hand! we'll mutually forget
The warmth of youth, and frowardness of age:
Thy prince esteems thy worth, and loves thy person.
If e'er the sceptre comes into my hand,
Syphax shall stand the second in my kingdom.
Why will you overwhelm my age with kindness?
My joy grows burthensome, I sha'n't support it.
Syphax, farewell: I'll hence, and try to find
Some blest occasion that may set me right
In Cato's thoughts. I'd rather have that man
Approve my deeds, than worlds for my admirers.
Young men soon give, and soon forget affronts,
Old age is slow in both — A false old traitor!
Those words, rash boy, may chance to cost thee dear,
My heart had still some foolish fondness for thee
But hence! 'tis gone: I give it to the winds: —
Caesar, I'm wholly thine —
— All hail, Sempronius!
Well, Cato's senate is resolv'd to wait
The fury of a siege before it yields.
Syphax, we both were on the verge of fate:
Lucius declared for peace, and terms were offer'd
To Cato by a messenger from Caesar.
Should they submit, ere our designs are ripe,
We both must perish in the common wreck,
Lost in a general undistiguish'd ruin.
But how stands Cato?
— Thou has seen mount Atlas:
While storms and tempests thunder on its brows,
And oceans break their billows at its feet,
It stands unmoved, and glories in its height.
Such is that haughty man; his towering soul,
Midst all the shocks and injuries of fortune,
Rises superior, and looks down on Caesar.
But what's this messenger?
— I've practis'd with him,
And found a means to let the victor know
That Syphax and Sempronius are his friends.
But let me now examine in my turn:
Is Juba fix'd?
— Yes — but it is to Cato.
I've tried the force of every reason on him,
Sooth'd and caress'd, been angry, sooth'd again,
Laid safety, life, and interest in his sight;
But all are vain, he scorns them all for Cato.
Come, 'tis no matter, we shall do without him.
He'll make a pretty figure in a triumph,
And serve to trip before the victor's chariot.
Syphax, I now may hope thou hast forsook
Thy Juba's cause, and wishest Marcia mine.
May she be thine as fast as thou wouldst have her!
Syphax, I love that woman; though I curse
Her and myself, yet spite of me, I love her.
Make Cato sure, and give up Utica,
Caesar will ne'er refuse thee such a trifle.
But are thy troops prepar'd for a revolt?
Does the sedition catch from man to man,
And run among their ranks?
— All, all is ready,
The factious leaders are our friends, that spread
Murmurs and discontents among the soldiers.
They count their toilsome marches, long fatigues,
Unusual fastings, and will bear no more
This medley of philosophy and war.
Within an hour they'll storm the senate-house.
Meanwhile I'll draw up my Numidian troops
Within the square, to exercise their arms,
And, as I see occasion, favour thee.
I laugh to think how your unshaken Cato
Will look aghast, while unforeseen destruction
Pours in upon him thus from every side.
So, where our wide Numidian wastes extend,
Sudden, th' impetuous hurricanes descend,
Wheel through the air, in circling eddies play,
Tear up the sands, and sweep whole plains away.
The helpless traveller, with wild surprise,
Sees the dry desert all around him rise,
And smother'd in the dusty whirlwind dies.
Act Three | Act One | Contents