OF all the principles of human action, Religion is the strongest. It is often, indeed, overcome by others, and even by those which may be considered as very weak antagonists; yet, on great emergencies it surmounts them all, and it is master of them all for general and continued operation. In every country and nation, under some form or other, though often dark and distorted, it holds warfare with vice and immorality; either by destroying corrupted selfishness, or by rendering it tributary. And dear and intolerable to the feelings of nature are the tributes it will voluntarily offer,—fasting, scourging, wounds and humiliation;—the humiliation of all worldly distinction, when the light of reason as well as the robe of dignity are thrown aside. A great philosophical writer of our own days, after having mentioned some of the sceptical works of Hume, says, "Should not rather the melancholy histories which he has exhibited of the follies and caprices of superstition, direct our attention to

those sacred and indelible characters of the human mind, which all these perversions of reason are unable to obliterate—? ∗ ∗ ∗ ∗ In truth, the more striking the contradictions and the more ludicrous the ceremonies, to which the pride of human reason has thus been reconciled, the stronger is our evidence that Religion has a foundation in the nature of man. ∗ ∗ ∗ ∗ ∗ ∗ ∗ Where are those truths in the whole circle of the sciences, which are so essential to human happiness, as to procure an easy access, not only for themselves, but for whatever opinions may happen to be blended with them? Where are the truths so venerable and commanding, as to impart their own sublimity to every mode of expression by which they are conveyed; and which, in whatever scene they have habitually occupied the thoughts, consecrate every object which it presents to our senses, and the very ground we have been accustomed to tread? To attempt to weaken the authority of such impressions, by a detail of the endless variety of forms which they derive from casual association, is surely an employment unsuitable to the dignity of philosophy. To the vulgar it may be amusing in this as in other instances, to indulge their wonder at what is new or uncommon; but to the philosopher it belongs to perceive, under all these various disguises, the workings of the same common nature; and in the superstitions of
Egypt no less than in the lofty visions of Plato, to recognize the existence of those moral ties which unite the heart of man to the Author of his being."

Many various circumstances, which it suits not my present purpose to mention, have produced this combination of gloomy, cruel, and absurd superstitions with Religion, even in nations and eras possessing much refinement of literature and perfection of the arts. But Religion, when more happily situated, grows from a principle into an affection,—an exalted, adoring devotion; and is then to be regarded as the greatest and noblest emotion of the heart. Considering it in this light, I have ventured, with diffidence and awe, to make it the subject of the following Drama.

The Martyr, whom I have endeavoured to pourtray, is of a class which I believe to have been very rare, except in the first ages of Christianity. There have been many Martyrs in the world. Some have sacrificed their lives for the cause of Reformation in the Church, with the zeal and benevolence of patriotism: some for the maintenance of its ancient doctrines and rites, with the courage of soldiers in the breach of their beleaguered city: some for intricate points of doctrine, with the fire of controvertists, and the honour of men who disdained to compromise what they believed to be the truth, or under im-

pressions of conscience which they durst not disobey; but, from the pure devoted love of God, as the great Creator and benevolent Parent of men, few have suffered but when Christianity was in its simplest and most perfect state, and more immediately contrasted with the mean, cheerless conceptions and popular fables of Paganism.

We may well imagine that, compared to the heathen deities, those partial patrons of nations and individuals, at discord amongst themselves, and invested with the passions and frailties of men, the great and only God, Father of all mankind, as revealed in the Christian Faith, must have been an idea most elevating, delightful, and consonant to every thing noble and generous in the human understanding or heart. Even to those who, from the opinions of their greatest philosophers, had soared above vulgar belief to one universal God, removed in his greatness from all care or concern for his creatures, the character of the Almighty God and beneficent Parent joined, who cares for the meanest of his works, must have been most animating and sublime, supposing them to be at the same time unwarped by the toils and pride of learning.

But when the life and character of Jesus Christ, so different from every character that had ever appeared upon earth, was unfolded to them

as the Son, and sent of God,—sent from Heaven to declare his will on earth, and with the love of an elder brother, to win us on to the attainment of an exalted state of happiness, which we had forfeited,— sent to suffer and intercede for benighted wanderers, who were outcasts from their Father's house; can we conceive mingled feelings of gratitude, adoration, and love, more fervent, and more powerfully commanding the soul and imagination of man, than those which must then have been excited by this primitive promulgation of the Gospel? Such converts, too, were called from the uncertain hope (if hope it might be termed) of a dreary, listless, inactive existence after death, so little desirable, that their greatest poet makes his noblest hero declare, he would refer being the meanest hind who breathes the upper air, to the highest honours of that dismal state.
"Through the thick gloom his friend Achilles knew,
And as he speaks the tears descend in dew;
Com'st thou alive to view the Stygian bounds,
Where the wan spectres walk eternal rounds;
Nor fear'st the dark and dismal waste to tread,
Throng'd with pale ghosts, familiar with the dead?
To whom with sighs: I pass these dreadful gates
To seek the Theban, and consult the fates:
For still distress'd I roam from coast to coast,
Lost to my friends, and to my country lost.

But sure the eye of time beholds no name
So bless'd as thine in all the rolls of fame;
Alive we hail'd thee with our guardian gods,
And dead, thou rul'st a king in these abodes.
Talk not of ruling in this dolorous gloom,
Nor think vain words (he cried) can ease my doom;
Rather I'd choose laboriously to bear
A weight of woes, and breathe the vital air,
A slave to some poor hind that toils for bread,
Than reign the scepter'd monarch of the dead."

They were called, I repeat it, from hopes like these to the assurance of a future life, so joyful, active, spiritual and glorious, that the present faded in the imagination from before it as a shadow. "Eye hath not seen nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart, the joy that is prepared for those who love God," is one of the many expressions of the Christian apostles on this lofty theme; who counted the greatest happiness of the present life as unworthy to be compared to the rewards of the righteous after death, where, according to their different degrees of worth, unsullied with any feeling of envy, they should shine in their blessedness as one star differeth from another star in glory. A transition from prospects so mean and depressing as the former to hopes so dignified, spiritual and animating as the latter, might well have a power over the mind which nothing could shake or subdue; and this transition none

but the first race of Christians could experience, at least in so great a degree.

And those enlarged conceptions, those ennobling and invigorating hopes came to them in the pure simplicity of the Gospel as taught by Christ and his apostles. They had no subtle points of faith mixed with them as matters of necessary belief; which the fathers of succeeding times, and too often the pious missionaries of the present, have pressed upon their bewildered converts with greater perseverance and earnestness than the general precepts and hopes of Christianity. Those ancient converts also had

before their eyes a testimony of heroic endurance which till then had been unknown to the world. Who, in preceding times, had given his body to the flames for his belief in any religious notions, taught or entertained by the learned or unlearned? It was a thing hitherto unknown to the heathens; and it is not very marvellous that abstract doctrines of philosophers, taught to their disciples as such, or popular deities, many in number, and of local, limited power, with moral attributes ascribed to them inferior to those of a virtuous mortal man, should be little calculated to raise those strong excitements in the mind, from which religious persecutions did at first proceed amongst Christians, who, from intemperate zeal and narrow conceptions, deemed a right belief in every doctrine of the Church necessary to salvation. Diana of the Ephesians could peaceably hold her state in conjunction with any god or goddess of Greece, Scythia, Persia, or Egypt; but this toleration, which proceeded from any cause rather than the excellence of their religion, was changed into the most bloody and ferocious persecution upon
the divulging of a faith which was altogether incompatible with their theologies, and must therefore, should it prevail, overturn them entirely. Under these circumstances, the most enlightened Pagans, whose toleration has so often been praised, became the first persecutors, and Christians the first martyrs. And then it was that a new spectacle was exhibited to mankind; then it was that the sublimity of man's immortal soul shone forth in glory which seemed supernatural. Men and women, young and old, suffered for their faith all that flesh and blood can suffer; yea, joyfully and triumphantly.

In beholding such terrific and interesting spectacles, many were led to enquire into the cause of such super-human resolution, and became converts and martyrs in their turn; and it will be found, in the accounts of those ancient persecutions, that many Roman soldiers, and sometimes officers of high rank, were amongst the earlier Christians who laid down their lives for their religion. It was indeed natural that the invincible fortitude of those holy sufferers, fronting death with such noble intrepidity, should attract the admiration and sympathy of the generous and brave, whose pride it was to meet death undauntedly in a less terrific form; and we may easily imagine also, that a generous and elevated mind, under the immediate pressure of

such odious tyranny as some of the Roman emperors exercised on their senators and courtiers, would turn from this humiliating bondage to that promise of a Father's house in which there are many mansions, and turn to it with most longing and earnest aspirations. The brave man, bred in the camp and the field, encompassed with hardships and dangers, would be little encumbered with learning or philosophy, therefore more open to conviction; and when returned from the scenes of his distant warfare, would more indignantly submit to the capricious will of a voluptuous master. These considerations have led me to the choice of any hero, and have warranted me in representing him as a noble Roman soldier:—one whose mind is filled with adoring awe and admiration of the sublime, but parental character of the Deity, which is for the first time unfolded to him by the early teachers of Christianity;—one whose heart is attracted by the beautiful purity, refinement, and benignant tenderness, and by the ineffable generosity of him who visited earth as his commissioned Son,—attracted powerfully, with that ardour of affectionate admiration which binds a devoted follower to his glorious chief.

But though we may well suppose unlearned soldiers to be the most unprejudiced and ardent of the early Christian proselytes, we have good

reason to believe that the most enlightened minds of those days might be strongly moved and attracted by the first view of Christianity in its pure, uncorrupted state. All their previous notions of religion, as has been already said, whether drawn from a popular or philosophical source, were poor and heartless compared to this. Their ideas on the subject, which I have already quoted, having passed through the thoughts and imagination of their greatest poet, could surely contract no meanness nor frigidity there, but must be considered as represented in the most favourable light which their received belief could possibly admit. We must place ourselves in the real situation of those men, previous to their knowledge of the sacred Scripture, and not take it for granted that those elevated conceptions of the Supreme Being and his paternal Providence which modern deists have in fact, though unwilling to own it, received from the Christian revelation, belonged to them. It has been observed by an author, whose name I ought not to have forgotten, that the ideas of the Deity expressed in the writings of philosophers, subsequently to the Christian era, are more clear and sublime than those which are to be found in heathen writers of an earlier period. I therefore represent him also as a Roman, cultivated, contemplative, and refined.


Martyrs of this rank and character were not, I own, mentioned amongst those belonging to the first persecutions under Nero, but in those which followed, during the first and second century of the Christian era, when the stories which had been propagated of the shocking superstitions and wickedness of the sect began to lose their credit. But I conceive myself warranted to take this liberty, as the supposed recentness of the promulgation of the Gospel gives (if I may so express it) a greater degree of zest to the story, and by no means alters the principles and feelings which must have actuated the martyrs, this whole period being still that of pure Christianity unencumbered with many perplexing and contradictory doctrines which followed, when churchmen had leisure to overlay the sacred scriptures with a multitude of explanatory dissertations, and with perverse, presumptuous ingenuity to explain the plain passages by the obscure, instead of the obscure by the plain.

In this representation of religious devotion in its early primitive state, it has been my desire to keep clear from all fanatical excess which in after times too often expressed itself in the wildest incoherent rhapsodies; the language of a natural delirium, proceeding from a vain endeavour to protract, by forced excitement, the

ecstacy of a few short moments, and to make that a continued state of the mind which was intended, by its beneficent Creator, only for its occasional and transient joy. Of this we may be well assured; for if otherwise indulged, it would have rendered men incapable of the duties of social life; those duties which the blessed founder of our religion did so constantly and so earnestly inculcate. That I am too presumptuous in attempting to represent it at all, is a charge which, if it be brought against me, I ought to bear with meekness; for when it first offered itself to my mind as the subject of a drama, I shrunk from it as a thing too sacred to be displayed in such a form. But in often considering the matter, this impression at last gave way to a strong desire of showing the noblest of all human emotions in a light in which it has but seldom been contemplated; and I trust that through the following pages, whatever defects may be found, and no doubt there are many, want of reverence will not be amongst the number.

I would gladly pass over the lyrical part of the piece, without remark, were it not that I fear I may have offended the classical reader, by having put into the mouths of Roman soldiers a hymn in honour of their deities so homely and unpoetical. This too will more likely offend,

after the beautiful and splendid effusions on this subject which have been so much and justly admired in a recent drama. But I wished to make them express what I conceived to be the actual feelings and notions of such men regarding the objects of their worship, not the rich descriptive imaginations of a learned and poetical high priest. Besides, had I possessed talents requisite for the successful imitation of such classical affluence, it would scarcely have accorded with the general tenor of the piece and the simplicity of the hymns of the Christians; I should therefore have injured the general effect, as well as the supposed faithfulness of the particular passage, regarding its description of real characters. It at least appears so to me.

I need scarcely observe to the reader, that the subject of this piece is too sacred, and therefore unfit for the stage. I have endeavoured, however, to give it so much of dramatic effect as to rouse his imagination in perusing it to a lively representation of the characters, action, and scenes, belonging to the story; and this, if I have succeeded, will remove from it the dryness of a mere dramatic poem. Had I considered it as fit for theatrical exhibition, the reasons that withhold me from publishing my other manuscript plays, would have held good regarding this.


Before I take leave of my reader, I must be permitted to say, that the following Drama has been written for a long time, and read by a few my friends several years ago. When Mr. Milman's beautiful drama on a similar subject was published, I began to be afraid that, were I to keep it much longer in manuscript, some other poet, in an age so fertile in poetic genius, might offer to the public that which might approach still nearer to the story of my piece, and give it, when published, not only all its own native defects to contend with, but those also arising from the unavoidable flatness of an exhausted subject. I therefore determined to publish it as soon as other duties permitted me, and many have intervened to prevent the accomplishment of my wish. In preparing it for the press, I have felt some degree of scruple in retaining its original title of The Martyr, but I could not well give it any other. The public, I hope, and Mr. Milman, I am certain, are sufficiently my friends not to find fault with this circumstance, which has not arisen from presumption.

asterisk. ∗ Stewart's Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind, vol. i. p. 368.

asterisk. ∗Pope's Odyssey, 11th book.

asterisk. ∗ Dr. Samuel Clarke, in a sermon on the Powers and Wisdom of the Gospel, hath this passage: "And whereas the best and greatest philosophers were in continual disputes, and in many degrees of uncertainty, concerning the very fundamentals and most important doctrines of truth and reason, amongst those, on the contrary, who embraced the Gospel of Christ, there never was the least room for dispute about any fundamental; all Christians at all times and in all places having ever been baptized into the profession of the same faith and into an obligation to obey the same commandments. And it being notorious that all the contentions that ever arose in the Christian world have been merely about several additions which every sect and party, in direct contradiction to the express command of their master, have endeavoured presumptuously to annex by their own authority to his doctrines and to his laws. How much, therefore, and how just ground soever has been given by those who call themselves Christians to the reproach of them which are without, yet Christ himself, that is, the Gospel in its native simplicity as delivered by him, has abundantly to all reasonable persons among the Gentiles manifested itself to be the wisdom of God; as well as it appeared to be the power of God in signs and wonders to the Jews." — Clarke's Sermons, vol. v. Serm. 12th.