The martyr: a drama in three acts


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THE MARTYR.ACT I.

SCENE I.— A private apartment in the house of SULPICIUS. Enter SULPICIUS and ORCERES by opposite sides. SULPICIUS. So soon returned!—I read not in thy face
Aught to encourage or depress my wishes.
How is it noble friend?

ORCERES. Ev'n as it was e'er I received my mission.
Cordenius Maro is on public duty;
I have not seen him.—When he knows your offer
His heart will bound with joy, like eaglet plum'd
Whose out-stretch'd pinions wheeling round and round,
Shape their first circles in the sunny air.

SULPICIUS. And with good cause.

ORCERES. Methinks I see him now!
A face with blushes mantling to the brow,
Eyes with bright tears surcharged, and parted lips
Quiv'ring to utter joy which hath no words.


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SULPICIUS. His face, indeed, as I have heard thee say,
Is like a wave which sun and shadow cross;
Each thought makes there its momentary mark.

ORCERES. And then his towering form, and vaulting step,
As tenderness gives way to exultation!
O it had been a feast to look upon him;
And still shall be.

SULPICIUS. Art thou so well convinced—
He loves my little damsel?—She is fair,
But seems to me too simple, gay, and thoughtless,
For noble Maro. Heiress as she is
To all my wealth, had I suspected sooner,
That he had smother'd wishes in his breast
As too presumptuous, or that she in secret
Preferr'd his silent homage to the praise
Of any other man, I had most frankly
Removed all hindrance to so fair a suit.
For, in these changeling and degenerate days,
I scarcely know a man of nobler worth.

ORCERES. Thou scarcely know'st! Say certainly thou dost not.
He is, to honest right, as simply true
As shepherd child on desert pasture bred,
Where falsehood and deceit have never been;
And to maintain them, ardent, skilful, potent,
As the shrewd leader of unruly tribes.
A simple heart and subtle spirit join'd,

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Make such an union as in Nero's court,
May pass for curious and unnatural.

SULPICIUS. But is the public duty very urgent
That so untowardly delays our happiness?

ORCERES. The punishment of those poor Nazarenes,
Who, in defiance of imperial power,
To their forbidden faith and rites adhere
With obstinacy most astonishing.

SULPICIUS. A stubborn contumacy unaccountable!

ORCERES. There's sorcery in it, or some stronger power.
But be it what it may, or good or ill,
They look on death in its most dreadful form,
As martial heroes on a wreath of triumph.
The fires are kindled in the place of death,
And bells toll dismally. The life of Rome
In one vast clust'ring mass hangs round the spot,
And no one to his neighbour utters word,
But in an alter'd voice; with breath restrain'd,
Like those who speak at midnight near the dead.
Cordenius heads the band that guards the pile;
So station'd, who could speak to him of pleasure?
For it would seem as an ill-omen'd thing.

SULPICIUS. Cease; here comes Portia, with a careless face:
She knows not yet the happiness that waits her.

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ORCERES. Who brings she with her thus, as if compell'd
By playful force?

SULPICIUS. 'Tis her Numidian Page; a cunning imp,
Who must be wooed to do the thing he's proud of.

Enter PORTIA, dragging SYPHAX after her,
speaking as she enters.
PORTIA. Come in, deceitful thing!—I know thee well;
With all thy sly affected bashfulness,
Thou'rt bold enough to sing in Cesar's court,
With the whole senate present.␣␣␣[to ORC.
Prince of Parthia,
I knew not you were here; but yet I guess
The song which this sly creature sings so well,
Will please you also.

ORCERES. How can it fail, fair Portia, so commended?

SULPICIUS. What is this boasted lay?

PORTIA. That tune, my father,
Which you so oft have tried to recollect;
But linked with other words, of new device,
That please my fancy well.—Come, sing it, boy!

SULPICIUS. Nay, sing it Syphax, be not so abash'd,
If thou art really so.—Begin, begin!

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But speak thy words distinctly as thou sing'st,
That I may have their meaning perfectly.

  • SONG.

  • The storm is gath'ring far and wide,
    Yon mortal hero must abide.
    Power on earth, and power in air,
    Falchion's gleam and lightning's glare;
    Arrows hurtling thro' the blast;
    Stones from flaming meteor cast:
    Floods from burthen'd skies are pouring,
    O'er mingled strife of battle roaring;
    Nature's rage and Demon's ire,
    Belt him round with turmoil dire:
    Noble hero! earthly wight!
    Brace thee bravely for the fight.

    And so, indeed, thou tak'st thy stand,
    Shield on arm and glaive in hand;
    Breast encased in burnish'd steel,
    Helm on head, and pike on heel;
    And, more than meets the outward eye,
    The soul's high-temper'd panoply,
    Which every limb for action lightens,
    The form dilates, the visage brightens:
    Thus art thou, lofty, mortal wight!
    Full nobly harness'd for the fight.
    ORCERES. The picture of some very noble hero
    These lines pourtray.


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    SULPICIUS. So it should seem; one of the days of old.

    PORTIA. And why of olden days? There liveth now
    The very man—a man—I mean to say,
    There may be found amongst our Roman youth,
    One, who in form and feelings may compare
    With him whose lofty virtues these few lines
    So well describe.

    ORCERES. Thou mean'st the lofty Gorbus.

    PORTIA. Out on the noisy braggart! Arms without
    He hath, indeed, well burnish'd and well plumed,
    But the poor soul, within, is pluck'd and bare,
    Like any homely thing.

    ORCERES Sertorius Galba then?

    PORTIA. O, stranger still!
    For if he hath no lack of courage, certes,
    He hath much lack of grace. Sertorius Galba!

    ORCERES. Perhaps thou mean'st Cordenius Maro, lady.
    Thy cheeks grow scarlet at the very name,
    Indignant that I still should err so strangely.

    PORTIA. No, not indignant, for thou errest not;
    Nor do I blush, albeit thou think'st I do,
    To say, there is not of our Romans one,

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    Whose martial form a truer image gives
    Of firm heroic courage.

    SULPICIUS. Cease, sweet Portia;
    He only laughs at thy simplicity.

    ORCERES. Simplicity seen through a harmless wile,
    Like to the infant urchin, half concealed
    Behind his smiling dam's transparent veil.
    The song is not a stranger to mine ear,
    Methinks I've heard it, passing thro' those wilds,
    Whose groves and caves, if rumour speak the truth,
    Are by the Nazarenes or Christians haunted.

    SULPICIUS. Let it no more be sung within my walls:
    A chaunt of their's to bring on pestilence!
    Sing it no more. What sounds are those I hear?

    ORCERES. The dismal death-drum and the crowd without.
    They are this instant leading past your door
    Those wretched Christians to their dreadful doom.

    SULPICIUS. We'll go and see them pass.

    [Exeunt hastily, SULPICIUS, ORCERES. PORTIA. (Stopping her ears.) I cannot look on them, nor hear the sound.
    I'll to my chamber.

    PAGE. May not I, I pray,
    Look on them as they pass?


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    PORTIA. No; go not, child:
    'Twill frighten thee; it is a horrid sight.

    PAGE. Yet, an it please you, lady, let me go.

    PORTIA. I say it is a horrid, piteous sight,
    Thou wilt be frighten'd at it.

    PAGE. Nay, be it e'er so piteous or so horrid,
    I have a longing, strong desire to see it.

    PORTIA. Go then; there is in this no affectation:
    There's all the harden'd cruelty of man
    Lodged in that tiny form, child as thou art.

    [Exeunt, severally.
  • SCENE II.
  • An Open Square, with Buildings.

    Enter CORDENIUS MARO, at the head of his Soldiers, who draw up on either Side: then enters a long procession of public Functionaries, &c. conducting Martyrs to the place of Execution, who, as they pass on, sing together in unison: one more noble than the others, walking first.

  • SONG.

  • A long farewell to sin and sorrow,
    To beam of day and evening shade!
    High in glory breaks our morrow,
    With light that cannot fade.

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    While mortal flesh in flame is bleeding,
    For humble penitence and love,
    Our Brother and our Lord is pleading
    At mercy's throne above.

    We leave the hated and the hating,
    Existence sad in toil and strife;
    The great, the good, the brave are waiting
    To hail our opening life.

    Earth's faded sounds our ears forsaking,
    A moment's silence death shall be;
    Then, to heaven's jubilee awaking,
    Faith ends in victory.

    [Exeunt Martyrs, &c. &c. CORDENIUS with his Officers and Soldiers still remaining; the Officers on the front, and CORDENIUS apart from them in a thoughtful posture.

    FIRST OFFICER. Brave Varus marches boldly at the head
    Of that deluded band.

    SECOND OFFICER. Are these the men, Who hateful orgies hold
    In dens and deserts, courting, with enchantments,
    The intercourse of demons?

    THIRD OFFICER. Aye, With rites
    Cruel and wild. To crucify a babe,
    And, while it yet hangs shrieking on the rood,
    Fall down and worship it! device abominable!

    FIRST OFFICER. Dost thou believe it?


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    THIRD OFFICER. I can believe or this or any thing
    Of the possess'd and mad.

    FIRST OFFICER. What demonry, thinkest thou, possesses Varus?

    SECOND OFFICER. That is well urged. ␣␣␣(to the other.) ␣␣Is he a maniac?
    Alas, that I should see so brave a soldier
    Thus, as a malefactor, led to death!

    FIRST OFFICER. Viewing his keen enliven'd countenance
    And stately step, one should have rather guess'd
    He led victorious soldiers to the charge:
    And they, indeed, appeared to follow him
    With noble confidence.

    THIRD OFFICER. 'Tis all vain seeming.
    He is a man, who makes a show of valour
    To which his deeds have born slight testimony.

    CORDENIUS.␣␣(advancing indignantly.) Thou liest; a better and a braver soldier
    Ne'er fronted foe, or closed in bloody strife.

    [Turning away angrily to the back ground. FIRST OFFICER. Our chief, methinks, is in a fretful mood,
    Which is not usual with him.

    SECOND OFFICER. He did not seem to listen to our words.
    But see, he gives the signal to proceed;

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    We must advance, and with our closing ranks
    The fatal pile encircle.

    [Exeunt in order, whilst a chorus of Martyrs is heard at a distance.
  • SCENE III.
  • An Apartment in a Private House.
    Enter two
    Christian Women, by opposite sides. FIRST WOMAN. Hast thou heard any thing?

    SECOND WOMAN. Nought, save the murmur of the multitude,
    Sinking at times to deep and awful silence,
    From which again a sudden burst will rise
    Like mingled exclamations, as of horror
    Or admiration. In these neighbouring streets
    I have not met a single citizen,
    The town appearing uninhabited.
    But wherefore art thou here? Thou should'st have stayed
    With the unhappy mother of poor Cælus.

    FIRST WOMAN. She sent me hither in her agony
    Of fear and fearful hope.

    SECOND WOMAN. Ha! does she hope deliverance from death?

    FIRST WOMAN. O no! thou wrong'st her, friend; it is not that:
    Deliverance is her fear, and death her hope.

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    A second time she bears a mother's throes
    For her young stripling, whose exalted birth
    To endless life is at this fearful crisis,
    Or earned or lost. May heaven forfend the last
    He is a timid youth, and soft of nature:
    God grant him strength to bear that fearful proof!

    SECOND WOMAN. Here comes our reverend father.
    Enter a CHRISTIAN FATHER. What tidings dost thou bring? are they in bliss?

    FATHER. Yes, daughter, as I trust, they are ere this
    In high immortal bliss. Cælus alone—

    FIRST WOMAN. He hath apostatized! O woe is me!
    O woe is me for his most wretched mother!

    FATHER. Apostatized! No; stripling as he is,
    His fortitude, where all were braced and brave,
    Shone paramount.
    For his soft downy cheek and slender form
    Made them conceive they might subdue his firmness,
    Therefore he was reserved till noble Varus
    And his compeers had in the flames expired.
    Then did they court and tempt him with fair promise

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    Of all that earthly pleasure or ambition
    Can offer, to deny his holy faith.
    But he, who seem'd before so meek and timid,
    Now suddenly embued with holy grace,
    Like the transition of some watery cloud
    In passing o'er the moon's refulgent disc,
    Glowed with new life; and from his fervid tongue
    Words of most firm indignant constancy
    Pour'd eloquently forth; then to the pile.
    Sprung lightly up, like an undaunted warrior
    Scaling the breach of honour; or, alas!
    As I have seen him midst his boyish mates,
    Vaulting aloft for every love of motion.

    FIRST WOMAN. High heaven be prais'd for this!—Thine eyes beheld it?

    FATHER. I saw it not: the friend who witness'd it,
    Left him yet living midst devouring flame,
    Therefore I spoke of Cælus doubtfully,
    If he as yet belong'd to earth or heaven.

    [They cover their faces, and remain silent.
    Enter a CHRISTIAN BROTHER. BROTHER. Lift up your heads, my sisters! let your voices
    In grateful thanks be rais'd! Those ye lament,
    Have earthly pangs for heavenly joy exchanged.
    The manly Varus and the youthful Cælus,

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    The lion and the dove, yoke-fellows link'd,
    Have equal bliss and equal honour gain'd.

    FIRST WOMAN. And prais'd be God, who makes the weakest strong!
    I'll to his mother with the blessed tidings.

    [Exit. FATHER. Let us retire and pray. How soon our lives
    May have like ending, God alone doth know!
    O! may like grace support us in our need!

    [Exeunt.
  • SCENE IV.
  • An Open Space in front of a Temple.

    Enter CORDENIUS, as returned from the Execution with his Soldiers, who, upon a signal from him, disperse and leave him alone. He walks a few paces slowly, then stops and continues for a short time in a thoughtful posture.

    CORDENIUS. There is some power in this, or good or ill,
    Surpassing nature. When the soul is roused
    To desp'rate sacrifice, 'tis ardent passion,
    Or high exalted virtue that excites it.
    Can loathsome demonry in dauntless bearing,
    Outdo the motives of the lofty brave?
    It cannot be! There is some power in this

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    Mocking all thought—incomprehensible.
    [Remains for a moment silent and thoughtful, while Sylvius enters behind him unperceived. Delusion! ay, 'tis said the cheated sight
    Will see unreal things; the cheated ear
    List to sweet sounds that are not; even the reason
    Maintain conclusions wild and inconsistent.
    We hear of this:—the weak may be deluded;
    But is the learn'd, th' enlighten'd, noble Varus
    The victim of delusion?—Can it be?
    I'll not believe it.

    SYLVIUS (advancing to him). No, believe it not.

    CORDENIUS. (starting). Ha! one so near me!
    I have seen thy face before; but where?—who art thou?

    SYLVIUS. Ev'n that Centurion of the Seventh Legion,
    Who, with Cordenius Maro, at the siege
    Of Fort Volundum , mounted first the breach;
    And kept the clust'ring enemy in check,
    Till our encouraged Romans followed us.

    asterisk. ∗ A strong fort in Armenia, taken by Corbulo in Nero's reign.

    CORDENIUS. My old companion then, the valiant Sylvius.


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    Thou'st done hard service since I saw thee last:
    Thy countenance is mark'd with graver lines
    Than in those greener days: I knew thee not.
    Where goest thou now? I'll bear thee company.
    SYLVIUS. I thank thee: yet thou may'st not go with me.
    The way that I am wending suits not thee,
    Tho' suiting well the noble and the brave.
    It were not well, in fiery times like these
    To tempt thy generous mind.

    CORDENIUS. What dost thou mean?

    SYLVIUS.␣␣(after looking cautiously round to see that nobody is near). Did I not hear thee commune with thyself
    Of that most blessed Martyr gone to rest,
    Varus Dobella?

    CORDENIUS. How blessed? My unsettled thoughts were busy
    With things mysterious; with those magic powers
    That work the mind to darkness and destruction;
    With the sad end of the deluded Varus.

    SYLVIUS. Not so, not so! The wisest prince on earth,
    With treasured wealth and armies at command,

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    Ne'er earn'd withal such lofty exaltation
    As Varus now enjoys.

    CORDENIUS. Thy words amaze me, friend; what is their meaning?

    SYLVIUS. They cannot be explain'd with hasty speech
    In such a place. If thou would'st really know—
    And may such light.——

    CORDENIUS. Why dost thou check thy words,
    And look so much disturb'd, like one in doubt?

    SYLVIUS. What am I doing! Zeal, perhaps, betrays me.
    Yet, wherefore hide salvation from a man
    Who is so worthy of it?

    CORDENIUS. Why art thou agitated thus? What moves thee?

    SYLVIUS. And would'st thou really know it?

    CORDENIUS. Dost thou doubt me?
    I have an earnest, most intense desire.

    SYLVIUS. Sent to thy heart, brave Roman, by a Power

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    Which I may not resist. ␣␣[Bowing his head.
    But go not with me now in open day.
    At fall of eve, I'll meet thee in the suburb,
    Close to the pleasure-garden of Sulpitius;
    Where in a bushy crevice of the rock
    There is an entry to the catacombs,
    Known but to few.

    CORDENIUS. Ha! to the catacombs!

    SYLVIUS. A dismal place, I own, but heed not that;
    For there thou'lt learn what, to thy ardent mind,
    Will make this world but as a thorny pass
    To regions of delight; man's natural life
    With all its varied turmoil of ambition,
    But as the training of a wayward child
    To manly excellence; yea, death itself
    But as a painful birth to life unending.
    The word eternal has not to thine ears,
    As yet, its awful, ample sense conveyed.

    CORDENIUS. Something possesses thee.

    SYLVIUS. Yes, noble Maro;
    But it is something which can ne'er possess
    A mind that is not virtuous.—Let us part;
    It is expedient now.—All good be with thee!


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    CORDENIUS. And good be with thee, also, valiant soldier!

    SYLVIUS. (returning as he is about to go out). At close of day, and near the pleasure-garden,—
    The garden of Sulpitius.

    CORDENIUS. I know the spot, and will not fail to meet thee.

    [Exeunt.
    About this text
    Courtesy of University of California, Davis. General Library. Digital Intitiatives Program.; http://digital.lib.ucdavis.edu/projects/bwrp
    http://content.cdlib.org/view?docId=kt5290133g&brand=oac4
    Title: Martyr
    By:  Baillie, Joanna, 1762-1851, creator, British Women Romantic Poets Project
    Date: 2001 (issued)
    Contributing Institution: University of California, Davis. General Library. Digital Intitiatives Program.; http://digital.lib.ucdavis.edu/projects/bwrp
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