Cato (Act Three)



Marcus, Portius.


Thanks to my stars, I have not ranged about

The wilds of life, ere I could find a friend;

Nature first pointed out my Portius to me,

And early taught me, by her secret force,

To love thy person, ere I knew thy merit;

Till, what was instinct, grew up into friendship.


Marcus, the friendships of the world are oft

Confederacies in vice, or leagues of pleasure;

Ours has severest virtue for its basis,

And such a friendship ends not but with life.


Portius, thou know'st my soul in all its weakness,

Then prithee spare me on its tender side,

Indulge me but in love, my other passions

Shall rise and fall by virtue's nicest rules.


When love's well-timed, 'tis not a fault to love.

The strong, the brave, the virtuous, and the wise,

Sink in the soft captivity together.

I would not urge thee to dismiss thy passion,

(I know 'twere vain) but to suppress its force,

Till better times may make it look more graceful.


Alas! thou talk'st like one who never felt

Th' impatient throbs longing of a soul,

That pants, and reaches after distant good.

A lover does not live by vulgar time:

Believe me, Portius, in my Lucia's absence 

Life hangs upon me, and becomes a burthen;

And yet, when I behold the charming maid,

I'm ten times more undone, while hope and fear,

And grief, and rage, and love, rise up at once,

And with variety of pain distract me.


What can thy Portius do to give thee help?


Portius, thou oft enjoy'st the fair one's presence:

Then undertake my cause, and plead it to her

With all the strength and heat of eloquence

Fraternal love and friendship can inspire.

Tell her thy brother languishes to death,

And fades away, and withers in his bloom;

That he forgets his sleep, and loathes his food

That youth, and health, and war, are joyless to him:

Describe his anxious days, and restless nights,

And all the torments that thou seest me suffer.


Marcus, I beg thee give me not an office

That suits with me so ill.  Thou know'st my temper.


Wilt thou behold me sinking in my woes?

And wilt thou not reach out a friendly arm,

To raise me from amidst this plunge of sorrows?


Marcus, thou canst not ask what I'd refuse.

But here believe me, I've a thousand reasons —


I know thou'lt say my passion's out of season;

That Cato's great example and misfortunes

Should both conspire to drive it from my thoughts,

But what's all this to one that loves like me;

Oh Portius, Portius, from my soul I wish

Thou didst but know thyself what 'tis to love!

Then wouldst thou pity and assist thy brother.


What should I do?  If I disclose my passion,

Our friendship's at an end: if I conceal it,

The world will call me false to a friend and brother.



But see where Lucia, at her wonted hour,

Amid the cool of yon high marble arch,

Enjoys the noon-day breeze! observe her, Portius!

That face, that shape, those eyes, that heaven of beauty!

Observe her well, and blame me if thou canst.


She sees us, and advances —


— I'll withdraw,

And leave you for awhile.  Remember, Portius,

Thy brother's life depends upon thy tongue.


Lucia, Portius.


Did not I see your brother Marcus here?

Why did he fly the place, and shun my presence?


Oh Lucia! language is too faint to show

His rage of love; it preys upon his life:

He pines, he sickens, he despairs, he dies:

His passions and his virtues lie confused,

And mixt together in so wild a tumult,

That the whole man is quite disfigur'd in him.

Heavens! would one think 'twere possible for love

To make such ravage in a noble soul!

Oh, Lucia, I'm distress'd!  My heart bleeds for

Even now, while thus I stand blest in thy presence,

A secret damp of grief comes o'er my thoughts,

And I'm unhappy, though thou smilest upon me.


How wilt thou guard thy honour, in the shock

Of love and friendship! think betimes, my Portius,

Think how the nuptial tie, that might ensure

Our mutual bliss, would raise to such a height

Thy brother's griefs, as might perhaps destroy him.


Alas, poor youth! what dost thou think, my Lucia?

His generous, open, undesigning heart

Has begg'd his rival to solicit for him.

Then do not strike him dead with a denial,

But hold him up in life, and cheer his soul

With the faint glimmering of a doubtful hope:

Perhaps, when we have pass'd these gloomy hours,

And weather'd out the storm that beats upon us —


No, Portius, no!  I see thy sister's tears,

Thy father's anguish, and thy brother's death,

In the pursuit of our ill-fated loves.

And, Portius, here I swear, to heaven I swear,

To heaven, and all the powers that judge mankind,

Never to mix my plighted hands with thine,

While such a cloud of mischiefs hangs about us,

But to forget our loves, and drive thee out

From all my thoughts, as far — as I am able.


What hast thou said!  I'm thunderstruck? — recall

Those hasty words, or I am lost for ever.


Has not the vow already pass'd my lips?

The gods have heard it, and 'tis seal'd in heaven.

May all the vengeance that was ever pour'd

On perjur'd heads, o'erwhelm me, if I break it!


Fixt in astonishment, I gaze upon thee;

Like one just blasted by a stroke from heaven,

Who pants for breath, and stiffens, yet alive,

In dreadful looks: a monument of wrath!


At length I've acted my severest part;

I feel the woman breaking in upon me,

And melt about my heart!  My tears will flow.

But oh I'll think no more! the hand of fate

Has torn thee from me, and I must forget thee.


Hard-hearted, cruel maid!


— O stop those sounds,

Those killing sounds! why dost thou frown upon me?

My blood runs cold, my heart forgets to heave,

And life itself goes out at thy displeasure;

The gods forbid us to indulge our loves:

But oh!  I cannot bear thy hate, and live!


Talk not of love: thou never knew'st its force.

I've been deluded, led into a dream

Of fancied bliss.  Oh Lucia, cruel maid!

Thy dreadful vow, loaden with death, still sounds

In my stunn'd ears.  What shall I say or do?

Quick, let us part!  Perdition's in thy presence,

And horror dwells about thee! —  hah, she faints!

Wretch that I am! what has my rashness done?

Lucia, thou injur'd innocence! thou best

And loveliest of thy sex! awake, my Lucia,

Or Portius rushes on his sword to join thee.

— Her imprecations reach not to the tommb,

They shut not out society in death —

But hah! she moves! life wanders up and down

Through all her face, and lights up every charm.


O Portius, was this well! — to frown on her

That lives upon thy smiles! to call in doubt

The faith of one expiring at thy feet,

That loves thee more than ever woman lov'd!

— What do I say? my half-recover'd sensse

Forgets the vow in which my soul is bound.

Destruction stands betwixt us! we must part.


Name not the word; my frighted thoughts run back,

And startle into madness at the sound.


What wouldst thou have me do? consider well

The train of ills our love would draw behind it.

Think, Portius, think, thou seest thy dying brother

Stabb'd at his heart, and all besmear'd with blood,

Storming at heaven and thee! thy awful sire

Sternly demands the cause, th' accursed cause.

That robs him of his son! poor Marcia trembles,

Then tears her hair, and frantic in her griefs

Calls out on Lucia! what could Lucia answer?

Or how stand up in such a scene of sorrow!


To my confusion, and eternal grief,

I must approve the sentence that destroys me.

The mist that hung about my mind, clears up;

And now, athwart the terrors that thy vow

Has planted round thee, thou appear'st more fair,

More amiable, and risest in thy charms.

Loveliest of women! heaven is in thy soul,

Beauty and virtue shine for ever round thee,

Brightening each other! thou art all divine!


Portius, no more!  Thy words shoot through my heart,

Melt my resolves, and turn me all to love.

Why are those tears of fondness in thy eyes?

Why heaves thy heart? why swells thy soul with sorrow?

It softens me too much — farewell, my Portius,


Stay, Lucia stay! what dost thou say — for ever?


Have I not sworn!  If, Portius, thy success

Must throw thy brother on his fate, farewell,

Oh, how shall I repeat the word — for ever!


Thus o'er the dying lamp th' unsteady flame

Hangs quivering on a point, leaps off by fits,

And falls again, as loth to quit its hold.

— Thou must not go, my soul still hoverrs o'er thee,

And can't get loose.


— If the firm Portius shake

to hear of parting, think what Lucia suffers!


'Tis true; unruffled and serene I've met

The common accidents of life, but here

Such an unlook'd-for storm of ills falls on me,

It beats down all my strength.  I cannot bear it.

We must not part.


— What dost thou say! not part!

Hat thou forgot the vow that I have made?

Are there not heavens, and gods, and thunder o'er us!

— But see! thy brother Marcus bends thiis way!

I sicken at the sight.  Once more, farewell,

Farewell, and know thou wrong'st me, if thou think'st

Ever was love, or ever grief, like mine.


Marcus, Portius.


Portius, what hopes?  How stands she?  Am I doom'd

To life or death?


— What wouldst thou have me say?


What means this pensive posture; thou appearest

Like one amazed and terrified.


— I've reason.


Thy downcast looks, and thy disorder'd thoughts

Tell me my fate.  I ask not the success

My cause has found.


— I'm grieved I undertook it.


What! does the barbarous maid insult my heart,

My aching heart! and triumph in my pains?

That I could cast her from my thoughts for ever!


Away! you're too suspicious in you griefs:

Lucia, though sworn never to think of love,

Compassionates your pains, and pities you.


Compassionates my pains, and pities me!

What is compassion when 'tis void of love!

Fool that I was to choose so cold a friend

To urge my cause!   Compassionates my pains!

Prithee what art, what rhetoric didst thou use

To gain this mighty boon?  She pities me!

To one that asks the warm return of love,

Compassion's cruelty, 'tis scorn, 'tis death —


Marcus, no more! have I deserv'd this treatment?


What have I said!  O Portius, O forgive me!

A soul exasperated in ills falls out

With every thing, its friend, its self — but, hah!

What means that shout, big with the sounds of war?

What new alarm?


— A second, louder yet,

Swells in the winds, and comes more full upon us.


Oh, for some glorious cause to fall in battle!

Lucia, thou hast undone me! thy disdain

Has broke my heart; 'tis death must give me ease.


Quick, let us hence; who knows if Cato's life

Stand sure?  O Marcus, I am warm'd, my heart

Leeps at the trumpet's voice, and burns for glory.


Sempronius, with the Leaders of the Mutiny.


At length the winds are rais'd, the storm blows high;

Be it your care, my friends, to keep it up

In its full fury, and direct it right,

Till it has spent itself on Cato's head.

Meanwhile I'll herd among his friends, and seem

One of the number, that whate'er arrive,

My friends and fellow-soldiers may be safe.

First Leader.

We all are safe, Sempronius is our friend

Sempronius is as brave a man as Cato.

But, hark! he enters.  Bear up boldly to him;

Be sure you beat him down, and bind him fast.

This day will end our toils, and give us rest!

Fear nothing, for Sempronius is our friend.


Cato, Sempronius, Lucius, Portius, Marcus, &c.;


Where are these bold intrepid sons of war,

That greatly turn their backs upon the foe,

And to their general send a brave defiance?


Curse on their dastard souls, they stand astonish'd!



Perfidious men! and will you thus dishonour

Your past exploits, and sully all your wars?

Do you confess 'twas not a zeal for Rome,

Nor love of liberty, nor thirst of honour,

Drew you thus far; but hopes to share the spoil

Of conquer'd towns, and plunder'd provinces?

Fired with such motives you do well to join

With Cato's foes, and follow Caesar's banners.

Why did I 'scape th' envenom'd aspic's rage,

And all the fiery monsters of the desert,

To see this day! why could not Cato fall

Without your guilt?  Behold, ungrateful men!

Behold my bosom naked to your swords,

And let the man that's injur'd strike the blow.

Which of you all suspects that he is wrong'd,

Or thinks he suffers greater ills than Cato?

Am I distinguish'd from you but by toils,

Superior toils, and heavier weight of cares!

Painful pre-eminence!   


— By heavens they droop!

Confusion to the villains! all is lost.



Have you forgotten Libya's burning waste,

Its barren rocks, parch'd earth, and hills of sand,

Its tainted air, and all its broods of poison?

Who was the first to explore th' untrodden path

When life was hazarded in every step?

Or, fainting in the long laborious march,

When on the banks of an unlook'd-for stream

You sunk the river with repeated draughts,

Who was the last in all your host that thirsted?


If some penurious source by chance appear'd,

Scanty of waters, when you scoop'd it dry,

And offer'd the full helmet up to Cato,

Did he not dash th' untasted moisture from him?

Did not he lead you through the mid-day sun,

And clouds of dust? did not his temples glow

In the same sultry winds and scorching heats?


Hence, worthless men! hence! and complain to Caesar

You could not undergo the toils of war,

Nor bear the hardships that your leader bore.


See, Cato, see th' unhappy men! they weep!

Fear, and remorse, and sorrow for their crime,

Appear in every look, and plead for mercy.


Learn to be honest men, give up your leaders,

And pardon shall descend on all the rest.


Cato, commit these wretches to my care.

First let them each be broken on the rack,

Then, with what life remains, impaled, and left

To writhe at leisure round the bloody stake.

There let them hang, and taint the southern wind.

The partners of their crime will learn obedience,

When they look up and see their fellow-traitors

Stuck on a fork, and blackening in the sun.


Sempronius, why, why wilt thou urge the fate

Of wretched men?


— How? wouldst thou clear rebellion?

Lucius (good man) pities the poor offenders,

That would imbrue their hands in Cato's blood.


Forbear, Sempronius! — see they suffer death,

But in their deaths remember they are men.

Strain not the laws to make their tortures grievous.

Lucius, the base degenerate age requires

Severity, and justice in its rigour;

This awes an impious, bold, offending world,

Commands obedience, and gives force to laws.

When by just vengeance guilty mortals perish,

The gods behold their punishment with pleasure,

And lay the uplifted thunderbolt aside.


Cato, I execute thy will with pleasure.


Meanwhile we'll sacrifice to Liberty.

Remember, O my friends, the laws, the rights,

The generous plan of power deliver'd down,

From age to age, by your renown'd forefathers,

(So dearly bought, the price of so much blood)

O let it never perish in your hands!

But piously transmit it to your children.

Do thou, great Liberty, inspire our souls,

And make our lives in thy possession happy,

Or our deaths glorious in thy just defence. 


Sempronius, and the Leaders of the Mutiny.

First Leader.

Sempronius, you have acted like yourself.

One would have thought you had been half in earnest.


Villain, stand off! base, groveling, worthless wretches,

Mongrels in faction, poor faint-hearted traitors!

Second Leader.

Nay, now you carry it too far, Sempronius:

Throw off the mask, there are none here but friends.


Know, villains, when such paltry slaves presume

To mix in treason, if the plot succeeds,

They're thrown neglected by: but if it fails, 

They're sure to die like dogs, as you shall do.

Here, take these factious monsters, drag them forth

To sudden death.


Enter Guards.

First Leader.

— Nay, since it comes to this —


Despatch them quick, but first pluck out their tongues,

Lest with their dying breath they sow sedition.


Syphax, Sempronius.


Our first design, my friend, has prov'd abortive;

Still there remains an after-game to play.

My troops are mounted; the Numidian steeds

Snuff up the wind, and long to scour the desert:

Let but Sempronius head us in the flight,

We'll force the gate where Marcus keeps his guard,

And hew down all that would oppose our passage.

A day will bring us into Caesar's camp.


Confusion!  I have fail'd of half my purpose:

Marcia, the charming Marcia's left behind!


How! will Sempronius turn a woman's slave?


Think not thy friend can ever feel the soft

Unmanly warmth, and tenderness of love.

Syphax, I long to clasp that haughty maid,

And bend her stubborn virtue to my passion:

When I have gone thus far, I'd cast her off.


Well said! that's spoken like thyself, Sempronius.

What hinders then, but that thou find her out,

And hurry her away by manly force?


But how to gain admission? for access

Is given to none but Juba, and her brothers.


Thou shalt have Juba's dress, and Juba's guards:

The doors will open, when Numidia's prince

Seems to appear before the slaves that watch them.


Heavens, what a thought is there!  Marcia's my own!

How will my bosom swell with anxious joy,

When I behold her struggling in my arms,

With growing beauty, and disorder'd charms.

While fear and anger, with alternate grace,

Pant in her breast, and vary in her face!

So Pluto, seiz'd of Proserpine, convey'd

To hell's tremendous gloom th' affrighted maid,

There grimly smiled, pleased with the beauteous prize,

Nor envied Jove his sunshine and his skies.


Act Four |  Act Two | Contents