Front Page Titles (by Subject) ACT I. - The Works of Voltaire, Vol. VIII The Dramatic Works Part 1 (Mérope, Olympia, The Orphan of China, Brutus) and Part II (Mahomet, Amelia, Oedipus, Mariamne, Socrates).
ACT I. - Voltaire, The Works of Voltaire, Vol. VIII The Dramatic Works Part 1 (Mérope, Olympia, The Orphan of China, Brutus) and Part II (Mahomet, Amelia, Oedipus, Mariamne, Socrates). 
The Works of Voltaire. A Contemporary Version. A Critique and Biography by John Morley, notes by Tobias Smollett, trans. William F. Fleming (New York: E.R. DuMont, 1901). In 21 vols. Vol. VIII The Dramatic Works Part 1 (Mérope, Olympia, The Orphan of China, Brutus) and Part II (Mahomet, Amelia, Oedipus, Mariamne, Socrates).
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brutus. the senate.
The scene represents part of the house appointed for the consuls on the Tarpeian mount: at a distance is seen the temple of the capitol. The senators are assembled between the temple and the house, before the altar of Mars: the two consuls, Brutus and Valerius Publicola preside; the senators ranged in a semicircle, behind them the lictors with their fasces.
- At length, my noble friends, Rome’s honored senate,
- The scourge of tyrants, you who own no kings
- But Numa’s gods, your virtues, and your laws,
- Our foe begins to know us: this proud Tuscan,
- The fierce Porsenna, Tarquin’s boasted friend,
- Pleased to protect a tyrant like himself;
- He who o’er Tiber’s banks hath spread his hosts,
- And borne his head so loftily, now speaks
- In lowlier terms, respects the senate’s power,
- And dreads the sons of freedom and of Rome:
- This day he comes, by his ambassador,
- To treat of peace, and Aruns, sent by him,
- Demands an audience: he attends even now
- Your orders in the temple: you’ll determine
- Or to refuse or to admit him to us.
- Whate’er his errand be, let him be sent
- Back to his king; imperial Rome should never
- Treat with her foes till she has conquered them:
- Thy valiant son, the avenger of his country,
- Has twice repulsed Etruria’s haughty monarch,
- And much we owe to his victorious arm:
- But this is not enough; Rome, still besieged,
- Sees with a jealous eye the tyrant’s friends:
- Let Tarquin yield to our decrees; the laws
- Doomed him to exile; let him leave the realm,
- And purge the state of royal villainy;
- Perhaps we then may listen to his prayers.
- But this new embassy, it seems, has caught
- Your easy faith: can you not see that Tarquin,
- Who could not conquer, thinks he may deceive you.
- I never loved these king’s ambassadors,
- The worst of foes beneath the mask of friendship;
- Who only bear an honorable title,
- And come to cheat us with impunity;
- Armed with state-cunning, or elate with pride,
- Commissioned to insult us, or betray.
- Listen not, Rome, to their deluding tongues;
- Stranger to art, thy business is, to fight;
- Conquer the foes that murmur at thy glory,
- Punish the pride of kings, or fall thyself;
- Such be thy treaties.
- Rome already knows
- How much I prize her safety and her freedom;
- The same my spirit, and the same my purpose,
- I differ in opinion from Valerius;
- And must confess, this first great homage paid
- The citizens of Rome, to me is grateful.
- I would accustom the despotic power
- Of princes on an easy level first
- To treat with our renowned commonweal,
- Till heaven shall crown our arms with victory,
- And make them subjects; then, Publicola,
- As such we’ll use them: meantime, Aruns comes,
- Doubtless to mark the state of Rome, to count
- Her treasures, and observe her growing power,
- And therefore would I have him be admitted;
- Would have him know us fully: a king’s slave
- Shall look on men; the novelty may please him:
- Let him at leisure cast his eyes o’er Rome,
- Let him behold her in your patriot breasts,
- You are her best defence; let him revere
- The God who calls us hither; let him see
- The senate, hear and tremble.
- I submit;
- [The senators rise and come forward to give their votes.
- The general voice is yours: Rome and her Brutus
- Must be obeyed: for me, I disapprove it:
- Lictors, attend, and introduce him to us:
- Never may Rome repent of this!
- [To Brutus.
- On thee
- Our eyes are fixed; on Brutus, who first broke
- Our chains; let freedom use a father’s voice,
- And speak by thee.
the senate, aruns, albinus.
[Aruns enters, preceded by two lictors, with Albinus, his friend; he passes by the consuls and senate, salutes them, and sits down on a seat prepared for him towards the front of the stage.
- With pleasure I behold
- This great assembly, Rome’s illustrious senate,
- And her sage consuls, famed for truth and justice,
- Which ne’er till now suffered reproach or blame:
- I know your deeds, and I admire your virtues;
- Unlike the wild licentious multitude,
- The vulgar crowd, whom party rage or joins
- Or disunites, who love and hate by turns,
- They know not why, taught in one changeful hour
- To boast or beg, to rail or to obey;
- Whose rashness—
- Stop, and learn with more respect
- To treat the citizens of Rome; for know,
- It is the senate’s glory and her praise
- To represent that brave and virtuous people
- Whom thou hast thus reviled: for ourselves,
- Let us not hear the voice of flattery;
- It is the poison of Etrurian courts,
- But ne’er has tainted yet a Roman senate.
- On with thy message.
- Little doth the pride
- Of Rome affect me; but I own I feel
- For her misfortunes, and would plead her cause
- With filial love: you see the gathering storm
- Hangs o’er your heads, and threatens sure destruction:
- In vain hath Titus striven to save his country;
- With pity I behold that noble youth,
- Whose ardent courage labors to support
- Expiring Rome, and make her fall more glorious:
- His victories cost you dear; they thin your ramparts,
- And weaken your small force: no longer then
- Refuse a peace so needful to your safety.
- The senate bears a father’s love to Rome,
- So does Porsenna to the hapless kings
- Whom you oppress: but tell me, you who judge
- Depending monarchs, you who thus determine
- The rights of all mankind, was it not here,
- Even at these altars, at this capitol,
- You called the gods to witness your allegiance,
- And bound your faith to your acknowledged king,
- To Tarquin? Say, what power has broken the tie?
- Who snatched the diadem from Tarquin’s head?
- Who can acquit you of your oaths?
- Talk not of ties dissolved by guilt, of gods
- Whom he renounced, or rights which he has lost;
- We paid him homage, bound ourselves by oath,
- Oaths of obedience, not of slavery:
- But since thou bidst us call to our remembrance,
- The senate making vows for Tarquin’s health,
- And kneeling at his feet, remember thou,
- That on this sacred spot, this altar here,
- Before the same attesting gods, that Tarquin
- Swore to be just; such was the mutual bond
- Of prince and people, and he gave us back
- The oath we made, when he forgot his own:
- Since to Rome’s laws no more he pays obedience,
- Rome is no longer subject to his power,
- And Tarquin is the rebel, not his people.
- But, grant it true, that power unlimited,
- And absolute dominion, had misled
- The unhappy monarch from the paths of duty,
- Is there a man from human error free?
- Is there a king without some human weakness?
- Or if there were, have you a right to punish,
- You, who were born his subjects; you, whose duty
- Is to obey? The son doth never arm
- Against the sire, but with averted eyes
- Laments his errors, and reveres him still:
- And not less sacred are the rights of kings;
- They are our fathers, and the gods alone
- Their judges: if in anger heaven sometimes
- Doth send them down, why would you therefore call
- For heavier chains, and judgments more severe?
- Why violate the laws you would defend,
- And only change your empire to destroy it?
- Taught by misfortune, best of monitors,
- Tarquin henceforth, more worthy of his throne,
- Will be more wise and just; the legal bonds
- Of king and people now may be confirmed
- By happiest union; public liberty
- Shall flourish then beneath the awful shade
- Of regal power.
- Aruns, ’tis now too late:
- Each nation has its laws, by nature given,
- Or changed by choice: Etruria, born to serve,
- Hath ever been the slave of kings or priests;
- Loves to obey, and, happy in her chains,
- Would bind them on the necks of all mankind.
- Greece boasts her freedom; soft Ionia bends
- Beneath a shameful bondage; Rome had once
- Her kings, but they were never absolute:
- Her first great citizen was Romulus,
- With him his people shared the weight of empire;
- Numa was governed by the laws he made;
- Rome fell at last indeed beneath herself,
- When from Etruria she received her kings,
- Or from Porsenna; tyranny and vice
- From your corrupted courts flowed in upon us.
- Forgive us, gods, the crime of sparing Tarquin
- So many years! at length his murderous hands,
- Dyed with our blood, have broke the shameful chain
- Of our long slavery, and the Roman people
- Have through misfortune found the road to virtue:
- Tarquin restores the rights by Tarquin lost,
- And by his crimes has fixed the public safety:
- We’ve taught the Etruscans how to shake off tyrants,
- And hope they’ll profit by the fair example.
- [The consuls descend towards the altar, and the senate rises.
- O Mars, thou god of battles, and of Rome!
- Thou who dost guard these sacred walls, and fight
- For thy own people, on thy altar here
- Deign to accept our solemn oaths, for me
- And for the senate, for thy worthy sons:
- If in Rome’s bosom there be found a traitor,
- Who weeps for banished kings, and seeks once more
- To be a slave, in torments shall he die;
- His guilty ashes, scattered to the winds,
- Shall leave behind a more detested name,
- Even than those tyrant kings which Rome abhors.
- [Stepping towards the altar.
- And on this altar, which you thus profane,
- I call that god to witness, in the name
- Of him whom you oppress, the injured Tarquin,
- And great Porsenna, his avenger, here
- I swear eternal war with you, O Romans!
- And your posterity—
- [The senators are going off towards the capitol.
- A moment stop
- Ere you depart, O senators! and hear
- What I have more to offer: Tarquin’s daughter,
- Must she too fall a sacrifice to Rome?
- With ignommious fetters will ye bind
- Her royal hands, to triumph o’er her father,
- Whose treasures you detain? Ungenerous victors!
- As if the right of conquest gave them to you:
- Where are his riches? was it for the spoil
- You robbed him of his throne? let Brutus speak,
- And own the plunder.
- Little dost thou know
- Of Rome, her manners, and her noble nature;
- But learn, mistaken man, her great protectors,
- The friends of truth and justice, are grown old
- In honest poverty; above the pride
- Of wealth, which they disdain; it is their boast
- To conquer kings, who love such tinsel greatness.
- Take back your gold, it is beneath our notice;
- And for the hateful tyrant’s hapless daughter,
- Though I abhor the wretched race, yet know
- The senate has consigned her to my care:
- She hath not tasted here the baneful cup
- Of flattery, that sweet poison of a court,
- Or viewed the pomp and dangerous luxury
- Of Tarquin’s palace: little did her youth
- Profit by them; but all that to her age
- And sex was due, all her misfortunes claimed,
- She hath received: let her return this day
- To Tarquin; Brutus yields her back with joy:
- Naught should the tyrant have within these walls
- But Rome’s fixed hatred, and the wrath of heaven:
- You have a day to carry off your treasures,
- That must suffice: meantime, the sacred rights
- Of hospitality await thee here;
- Beneath my roof thou mayest remain in safety:
- The senate thus by me decrees: bear thou
- Our answer to Porsenna, and then tell
- Proud Tarquin, you have seen a Roman senate.
- [Turning to the senators.
- Let us, my friends, adorn the capitol
- With laurel wreaths, that round the brows of Titus
- Have spread their noble shade; the arrows too,
- And bloody ensigns, his victorious hand
- Hath wrested from the Etruscans: ever thus,
- From age to age, may the successful race
- Of Brutus still defend their much loved country:
- Thus, O ye gods, may you protect us ever;
- Guide the son’s arm, and bless the father’s councils!
[Supposed to have retired from the hall of audience into an apartment of Brutus’ house.
- Didst thou observe the fierce unbending spirit
- Of this proud senate, which believes itself
- Invincible? and so perhaps it might be,
- Were Rome at leisure to confirm her sons
- In valor and in wisdom: liberty,
- That liberty, my friend, which all adore,
- And I admire, though I would wrest it from them,
- Inspires the heart of man with nobler courage
- Than nature gives, and warmth almost divine.
- Beneath the Tarquin’s yoke, a slavish court
- Enfeebled their corrupted hearts, and spoiled
- Their active valor; whilst their tyrant kings,
- Busied in conquering their own subjects, left
- Our happier Etruscans in the arms of peace;
- But if the senate should awake their virtues,
- If Rome is free, Italia soon must fall:
- These lions, whom their keepers made so gentle,
- Will find their strength again, and rush upon us;
- Let us then stop this rapid stream of woes,
- Even at its source, and free a sinking world
- From slavery; let us bind these haughty Romans
- Even with the chains which they would throw on us,
- And all mankind.—But will Messala come,
- May I expect him here? and will he dare—
- My Lord, he will attend you; every minute
- We look for him; and Titus is our friend.
- Have you conferred; may I depend on him?
- Messala, if I err not, means to change
- His own estate, rather than that of Rome;
- As firm and fearless as if honor guided,
- And patriot love inspired him; ever secret,
- And master of himself; no passions move
- No rage disturbs him; in his height of zeal
- Calm and unruffled.
- Such he seemed to me
- When first I saw him at the court of Tarquin;
- His letters since—but, see, he comes.
aruns, messala, albinus.
- Thou generous friend of an unhappy master,
- Will neither Tarquin’s nor Porsenna’s gold
- Shake the firm faith of these rough senators?
- Will neither fear, nor hope, nor pleasure bend
- Their stubborn hearts? These fierce patrician chiefs.
- That judge mankind, are they without or vice
- Or passion? is there aught that’s mortal in them?
- Their boasts are mighty, but their false pretence
- To justice, and the fierce austerity
- Of their proud hearts, are nothing but the thirst
- Of empire; their pride treads on diadems;
- Yet whilst they break one chain, they forge another.
- These great avengers of our liberty,
- Armed to defend it, are its worst oppressors:
- Beneath the name of patrons they assume
- The part of monarchs; Rome but changed her fetters,
- And for one king hath found a hundred tyrants.
- Is there amongst your citizens a man
- Honest enough to hate such shameful bondage?
- Few, very few, yet feel their miseries:
- Their spirits, still elate with this new change,
- Are mad with joy: the meanest wretch among them,
- Because he helped to pull down monarchy,
- Assumes its pride, and thinks himself a king:
- But I’ve already told you I have friends,
- Who with reluctance bend to this new yoke;
- Who look with scorn on a deluded people,
- And stem the torrent with unshaken firmness;
- Good men and true, whose hands and hearts were made
- To change the state of kingdoms, or destroy them.
- What may I hope from these brave Romans? say,
- Will they serve Tarquin?
- They’ll do anything;
- Their lives are thine; but think not, like blind vassals,
- They will obey a base ungrateful master:
- They boast no wild enthusiastic zeal,
- To fall the victims of despotic power,
- Or madly rush on death to save a tyrant,
- Who will not know them. Tarquin promises
- Most nobly, but when he shall be their master,
- Perhaps he then may fear, perhaps forget them.
- I know the great too well: in their misfortunes
- No friends so warm; but in prosperity,
- Ungrateful oft, they change to bitterest foes:
- We are the servile tools of their ambition;
- When useless, thrown aside with proud disdain,
- Or broke without remorse when we grow dangerous.
- Our friends expect conditions shall be made;
- On certain terms you may depend upon them:
- They only ask a brave and worthy leader
- To please their fickle taste; a man well known,
- And well respected; one who may have power
- To force the king to keep his plighted faith
- If we succeed; and if we fail, endued
- With manly courage to avenge our cause.
- You wrote me word the haughty Titus—
- Is Rome’s support, the son of Brutus; yet—
- How does he brook the senate’s base reward
- For all his services? he saved the city,
- And merited the consulship, which they,
- I find, refuse him.
- And he murmurs at it.
- I know his proud and fiery soul is full
- Of the base injury: for his noble deeds,
- Naught has he gained but a vain empty triumph;
- A fleeting shadow of unreal bliss:
- I am no stranger to his throbbing heart,
- And strength of passion; in the paths of glory
- So lately entered, ’twere an easy task
- To turn his steps aside; for fiery youth
- Is easily betrayed: and yet what bars
- To our design! a consul, and a father;
- His hate of kings; Rome pleading for her safety;
- The dread of shame, and all his triumphs past.
- But I have stole into his heart, and know
- The secret poison that inflames his soul:
- He sighs for Tullia.
- Scarce could I draw the secret from his breast;
- He blushed himself at the discovery,
- Ashamed to own his love; for midst the tumult
- Of jarring passions, still his zeal prevails
- For liberty.
- Thus on a single heart,
- And its unequal movements, must depend,
- Spite of myself, the fate of Rome: but hence,
- Albinus, and prepare for Tarquin’s tent.
- [Turning to Messala.
- We’ll to the princess: I have gained some knowledge,
- By long experience, of the human heart:
- I’ll try to read her soul; perhaps her hands
- May weave a net to catch this Roman senate.
End of the First Act.