Cato (Act Five)
ACT THE FIFTH.
Cato, solus, sitting in a thoughtful posture: in his
hand Plato's book on the Immortality of the
soul. A drawn sword on the table by him.
It must be so — Plato, thou reason'st well! —
Else whence this pleasing hope, this fond desire,
This longing after immortality?
Or whence this secret dread, and inward horror,
Of falling into naught? why shrinks the soul
Back on herself, and startles at destruction?
'Tis the divinity that stirs within us;
'Tis heaven itself, that points out an hereafter,
And intimates eternity to man.
Eternity? thou pleasing, dreadful, thought!
Through what variety of untried being,
Through what new scenes and changes must we pass?
The wide, th' unbounded prospect, lies before me;
But shadows, clouds, and darkness rest upon it.
Here will I hold. If there's a power above us,
(And that there is all nature cries aloud
Through all her works,) he must delight in virtue;
And that which he delights in, must be happy.
But when! or where! — This world was made for Caesar.
I'm weary of conjectures — This must end them.
[Laying his hand on his sword.
Thus am I doubly arm'd: my death and life,
My bane and antidote are both before me:
This in a moment brings me to an end;
But this informs me I shall never die.
The soul, secured in her existence, smiles
At the drawn dagger, and defies its point.
The stars shall fade away, the sun himself
Grow dim with age, and nature sink in years;
But thou shalt flourish in immortal youth,
Unhurt amidst the wars of elements,
The wrecks of matter, and the crush of worlds.
What means this heaviness that hangs upon me?
This lethargy that creeps through all my senses?
Nature oppress'd, and harass'd out with care,
Sinks down to rest. This once I'll favour her,
That my awaken'd soul may take her flight,
Renewed in all her strength, and fresh with life,
An offering fit for heaven. Let guilt or fear
Disturb man's rest: Cato knows neither of them,
Indifferent in his choice to sleep or die.
But, hah! how's this, my son? why this intrusion?
Were not my orders that I would be private?
Why am I disobey'd?
— Alas! my father!
What means this sword? this instrument of death?
Let me convey it hence!
— Rash youth, forbear!
O let the prayers, th' entreaties of your friends,
Their tears, their common danger, wrest it from you.
Wouldst thou betray me? wouldst thou give me up
A slave, a captive, into Caesar's hands?
Retire, and learn obedience to a father,
Or know, young man! —
— Look not thus sternly on me:
You know I'd rather die than disobey you.
'Tis well! again I'm master of myself.
Now, Caesar, let thy troops beset our gates,
And bar each avenue, thy gathering fleets
O'erspread the sea, and stop up every port;
Cato shall open to himself a passage,
And mock thy hopes —
— O, sir! forgive your son,
Whose grief hangs heavy on him! O, my father!
How am I sure it is not the last time
I e'er shall call you so? be not displeased,
O be not angry with me whilst I weep,
And, in the anguish of my heart beseech you
To quit the dreadful purpose of your soul!
Thou hast been ever good and dutiful.
Weep not, my son. All will be well again.
The righteous gods, whom I have sought to please,
Will succour Cato, and preserve his children.
Your words give comfort to my drooping heart.
Portius, thou mayst rely upon my conduct.
Thy father will not act what misbecomes him.
But go, my son, and see if aught be wanting
Among thy father's friends; see them embarked;
And tell me if the winds and seas befriend them.
My soul is quite weighed down with care, and asks
The soft refreshment of a moment's sleep.
My thoughts are more at ease, my heart revives.
O Marcia, O my sister, still there's hope!
Our father will not cast away a life
So needful to us all, and to his country.
He is retired to rest, and seems to cherish
Thoughts full of peace. He has despatch'd me hence
With orders, that bespeak a mind composed,
And studious for the safety of his friends.
Marcia, take care that none disturb his slumbers.
O ye immortal powers, that guard the just,
Watch round his couch, and soften his repose,
Banish his sorrows, and becalm his soul
With easy dreams; remember all his virtues!
And show mankind that goodness is your care.
Where is you father, Marcia, where is Cato?
Lucia, speak low, he is retired to rest.
Lucia, I feel a gently-dawning hope
Rise in my soul. We shall be happy still.
Alas! I tremble when I think on Cato,
In every view, in every thought I tremble!
Cato is stern, and awful as a god;
He knows not how to wink at human frailty,
Or pardon weakness that he never felt.
Though stern and awful to the foes of Rome,
He is all goodness, Lucia, always mild,
Compassionate, and gentle to his friends.
Fill'd with domestic tenderness, the best,
The kindest father! I have ever found him
Easy, and good, and bounteous to my wishes.
'Tis his consent alone can make us blest.
Marcia, we both are equally involv'd
In the same intricate, perplext distress,
The cruel hand of fate, that has destroyed
They brother Marcus, whom we both lament —
And ever shall lament, unhappy youth!
Has set my soul at large, and now I stand
Loose of my vow. But who knows Cato's thoughts?
Who knows how yet he may dispose of Portius,
Or how he has determined of thyself?
Let him but live! commit the rest to heaven.
Sweet are the slumbers of the virtuous man!
O Marcia, I have seen thy godlike father:
Some power invisible supports his soul,
And bears it up in all its wonted greatness.
A kind refreshing sleep is fallen upon him:
I saw him stretch'd at ease, his fancy lost
In pleasing dreams; as I drew near his couch,
He smiled, and cried, Caesar thou canst not hurt me.
His mind still labours with some dreadful thought.
Lucia, why all this grief, these floods of sorrow?
Dry up thy tears, my child, we all are safe
While Cato lives — his presence will protect us.
Lucius, the horsemen are return'd from viewing
The number, strength, and posture of our foes,
Who now encamp within a short hour's march.
On the high point of yon bright western tower
We ken them from afar, the setting sun
Plays on their shining arms and bunish'd helmets,
And covers all the field with gleams of fire.
Marcia, 'tis time we should awake thy father.
Caesar is still disposed to give us terms,
And waits at distance till he hears from Cato.
Portius, thy looks speak somewhat of importance.
What tidings dost thou bring? methinks I see
Unusual gladness sparkling in thy eyes.
As I was hasting to the port, where now
My father's friends, impatient for a passage,
Accuse the lingering winds, a sail arrived
From Pompey's son, who through the realms of Spain
Calls out for vengeance on his father's death,
And rouses the whole nation up to arms.
Were Cato at their head, once more might Rome
Assert her rights, and claim her liberty.
But hark! what means that groan! O give me way,
And let me fly into my father's presence.
Cato, amidst his slumbers, thinks on Rome,
And in the wild disorder of his soul,
Mourns o'er his country — hah! a second groan! —
Heaven guard us all —
— Alas! 'tis not the voice
Of one who sleeps! 'tis agonizing pain,
'Tis death is in that sound —
— O sight of woe:
O Marcia, what we feared is come to pass!
Cato is fallen upon his sword —
— O Portius,
Hide all the horrors of thy mournful tale,
And let us guess the rest.
— I've raised him up,
And placed him in his chair, where pale, and faint,
He gasps for breath, and, as his life flows from him,
Demands to see his friends. His servants weeping,
Obsequious to his orders, bear him hither.
[The back scene opens, and discovers Cato.
O heaven assist me in this dreadful hour
To pay the last sad duties to my father.
These are thy triumphs, thy exploits, O Caesar!
Now is Rome fallen indeed!
[Cato brought forward in his chair.
— Here set me down —
Portius come near me — are my friends embarked?
Can anything be thought of for their service?
Whilst I yet live, let me not live in vain.
— O Lucius, art thou here? — thou art tooo good! —
Let this our friendship live between our children:
Make Portius happy in thy daughter Lucia,
Alas! poor man, he weeps! — Marcia, my daughter —
— O bend me forward! — Juba loves thee, Marcia.
A senator of Rome, while Rome survived,
Would not have matched his daughter with a king,
But Caesar's arms have thrown down all distinction;
Whoe'er is brave and virtuous, is a Roman. —
— I'm sick to death — O when shall I gett loose
From this vain world, th' abode of guilt and sorrow!
— And yet methinks a beam of light breaaks in
On my departing soul. Alas! I fear
I've been too hasty. O ye powers, that search
The heart of man, and weigh his inmost thoughts,
If I have done amiss, impute it not! —
The best may err, but you are good, and — oh!
There fled the greatest soul that ever warmed
A Roman breast; O Cato! O my friend!
Thy will shall be religiously observed.
But let us bear this awful corpse to Caesar,
And lay it in his sight, that it may stand
A fence betwixt us and the victor's wrath,
Cato, though dead, shall still protect his friends.
From hence, let fierce contending nations know
What dire effects from civil discord flow.
'Tis this that shakes our country with alarms,
And gives up Rome a prey to Roman arms,
Produces fraud, and cruelty, and strife,
And robs the guilty world of Cato's life.
Act Four | Contents