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_Pub._ They're not yet met, my father.
_Reg._ Haste--away-- Support my counsel in th' a.s.sembled Senate, Confirm their wav'ring virtue by thy courage, And Regulus shall glory in his boy.
_Pub._ Ah! spare thy son the most ungrateful task.
What!--supplicate the ruin of my father?
_Reg._ The good of Rome can never hurt her sons.
_Pub._ In pity to thy children, spare thyself.
_Reg._ Dost thou then think that mine's a frantic bravery?
That Regulus would rashly seek his fate?
Publius! how little dost thou know thy sire!
Misjudging youth! learn, that like _other_ men, I shun the _evil_, and I seek the _good_; But _that_ I find in _guilt_, and _this_ in _virtue_.
Were it not guilt, guilt of the blackest die, Even to _think_ of freedom at th' expense Of my dear bleeding country? To me, therefore, Freedom and life would be the heaviest evils; But to preserve that country, to restore her, To heal her wounds though at the price of _life_, Or what is dearer far, the price of liberty, Is _virtue_--therefore slavery and death Are Regulus's good--his wish--his choice.
_Pub._ Yet sure our country----
_Reg._ Is a _whole_, my Publius, Of which we all are _parts_; nor should a citizen Regard his interests as distinct from hers; No hopes or fears should touch his patriot soul, But what affect her honour or her shame.
E'en when in hostile fields he bleeds to save her, 'Tis not _his_ blood he loses, 'tis his _country's_; He only pays her back a debt he owes.
To her he's bound for birth and education: Her laws secure him from domestic feuds, And from the foreign foe her arms protect him.
She lends him honours, dignity, and rank, His wrongs revenges, and his merit pays; And like a tender and indulgent mother, Loads him with comforts, and would make his state As blest as nature and the G.o.ds design'd it.
Such gifts, my son, have their alloy of _pain_; And let th' unworthy wretch who will not bear His portion of the public burden lose Th' advantages it yields;--let him retire From the dear blessings of a social life, And from the sacred laws which guard those blessings; Renounce the civilis'd abodes of man, With kindred brutes one common shelter seek In horrid wilds, and dens, and dreary caves, And with their s.h.a.ggy tenants share the spoil; Or if the savage hunters miss their prey, From scatter'd acorns pick a scanty meal;-- Far from the sweet civilities of life; There let him live and vaunt his wretched freedom: While we, obedient to the laws that guard us, Guard _them_, and live or die as they decree.
_Pub._ With reverence and astonishment I hear thee!
Thy words, my father, have convinc'd my reason, But cannot touch my heart:--nature denies Obedience so repugnant. I'm a son.
_Reg._ A poor excuse, unworthy of a Roman!
Brutus, Virginius, Manlius--they were fathers.
_Pub._ 'Tis true, they were; but this heroic greatness, This glorious elevation of the soul, Has been confin'd to fathers.--Rome, till now, Boasts not a son of such unnatural virtue, Who, spurning all the powerful ties of blood, Has labour'd to procure his father's death.
_Reg._ Then be the first to give the great example-- Go, hasten; be thyself that son, my Publius.
_Pub._ My father! ah!--
_Reg._ Publius, no more; begone-- Attend the Senate--let me know my fate; 'Twill be more glorious if announc'd by thee.
_Pub._ Too much, too much thy rigid virtue claims From thy unhappy son. Oh, nature, nature!
_Reg._ Publius! am I a stranger, or thy father?
In either case an obvious duty waits thee: If thou regard'st me as an alien here, Learn to prefer to mine the good of Rome; If as a father--reverence my commands.
_Pub._ Ah! couldst thou look into my inmost soul, And see how warm it burns with love and duty, Thou would'st abate the rigour of thy words.
_Reg._ Could I explore the secrets of thy breast, The virtue I would wish should flourish there Were fort.i.tude, not weak, complaining love.
_Pub._ If thou requir'st my _blood_, I'll shed it all; But when thou dost enjoin the harsher task That I should labour to procure thy death, Forgive thy son--he has not so much virtue.
_Reg._ Th' important hour draws on, and now my soul Loses her wonted calmness, lest the Senate Should doubt what answer to return to Carthage.
O ye protecting deities of Rome!
Ye guardian G.o.ds! look down propitious on her, Inspire her Senate with your sacred wisdom, And call up all that's Roman in their souls!
_Enter_ MANLIUS (_speaking_).
See that the lictors wait, and guard the entrance-- Take care that none intrude.
_Reg._ Ah! Manlius here?
What can this mean?
_Man._ Where, where is Regulus?
The great, the G.o.dlike, the invincible?
Oh, let me strain the hero to my breast.--
_Reg._ (_avoiding him._) Manlius, stand off, remember I'm a slave!
And thou Rome's Consul.
_Man._ I am something more: I am a man enamour'd of thy virtues; Thy fort.i.tude and courage have subdued me.
I _was_ thy _rival_--I am _now_ thy _friend_; Allow me that distinction, dearer far Than all the honours Rome can give without it.
_Reg._ This is the temper still of n.o.ble minds, And these the blessings of an humble fortune.
Had I not been a _slave_, I ne'er had gain'd The treasure of thy friends.h.i.+p.
_Man._ I confess, Thy grandeur cast a veil before my eyes, Which thy reverse of fortune has remov'd.
Oft have I seen thee on the day of triumph, A conqueror of nations, enter Rome; Now, thou hast conquer'd fortune, and thyself.
Thy laurels oft have mov'd my soul to envy, Thy chains awaken my respect, my reverence; Then Regulus appear'd a hero to me, He rises now a G.o.d.
_Reg._ Manlius, enough.
Cease thy applause; 'tis dang'rous; praise like thine Might tempt the most severe and cautious virtue.
Bless'd be the G.o.ds, who gild my latter days With the bright glory of the Consul's friends.h.i.+p!
_Man._ Forbid it, Jove! said'st thou thy _latter_ days?
May gracious heav'n to a far distant hour Protract thy valued life! Be it _my_ care To crown the hopes of thy admiring country, By giving back her long-lost hero to her.
I will exert my power to bring about Th' exchange of captives Africa proposes.
_Reg._ Manlius, and is it thus, is this the way Thou dost begin to give me proofs of friends.h.i.+p?
Ah! if thy love be so destructive to me, What would thy hatred be? Mistaken Consul!
Shall I then lose the profit of my wrongs?
Be thus defrauded of the benefit I vainly hop'd from all my years of bondage?
I did not come to show my chains to Rome, To move my country to a weak compa.s.sion; I came to save her _honour_, to preserve her From tarnis.h.i.+ng her glory; came to s.n.a.t.c.h her From offers so destructive to her fame.
O Manlius! either give me proofs more worthy A Roman's friends.h.i.+p, or renew thy hate.
_Man._ Dost thou not know, that this exchange refus'd, Inevitable death must be thy fate?
_Reg._ And has the name of _death_ such terror in it, To strike with dread the mighty soul of Manlius?
'Tis not _to-day_ I learn that I am mortal.
The foe can only take from Regulus What wearied nature would have shortly yielded; It will be now a voluntary gift, 'Twould then become a tribute seiz'd, not offer'd.
Yes, Manlius, tell the world that as I liv'd For Rome alone, when I could live no longer, 'Twas my last care how, dying, to a.s.sist, To save that country I had liv'd to serve.