Front Page Titles (by Subject) ZAÏRE - The Works of Voltaire, Vol. X The Dramatic Works Part 1 (Zaire, Caesar, The Prodigal, Prefaces) and Part II (The Lisbon Earthquake and Other Poems).
ZAÏRE - Voltaire, The Works of Voltaire, Vol. X The Dramatic Works Part 1 (Zaire, Caesar, The Prodigal, Prefaces) and Part II (The Lisbon Earthquake and Other Poems). 
From The Works of Voltaire, A Contemporary Version, (New York: E.R. DuMont, 1901), A Critique and Biography by John Morley, notes by Tobias Smollett, trans. William F. Fleming. Vol. X The Dramatic Works Part 1 (Zaire, Caesar, The Prodigal, Prefaces) and Part II (The Lisbon Earthquake and Other Poems).
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- The Works of Voltaire
- The Dramatic Works of Voltaire Vol. X— Part I
- Dramatis PersonÆ.
- An Epistle Dedicatory to Mr. Falkener, an English Merchant, Since Ambassador At Constantinople, With the Tragedy of Zaïre.
- A Second Letter to Mr. Falkener, Then Ambassador to Constantinople.
- Act I.
- Act II.
- Act III.
- Act IV.
- Act V.
- Dramatis PersonÆ.
- Act I.
- Act II.
- Act III.
- The Prodigal
- Dramatis PersonÆ.
- Act I.
- Act II.
- Act III.
- Act IV.
- Act V.
- Preface to Mariamne.
- Preface to Orestes.
- Preface to Catiline.
- Preface to MÉrope.
- Preface to the Prodigal.
- Preface to Nanine.
- 1 Preface to Socrates.
- Note On Mahomet.
- Preface to Julius CÆsar.
- Voltaire the Lisbon Earthquake and Other Poems Vol. X— Part Ii
- Author’s Preface to the Lisbon Earthquake.
- The Lisbon Earthquake. *
- Preface to the Poem On the Law of Nature.
- The Law of Nature.
- The Temple of Taste. *
- The Temple of Friendship.
- Thoughts On the Newtonian Philosophy, Addressed to the Marchioness Du ChÂtelet.
- On the Death of Adrienne Lecouvreur, a Celebrated Actress.
- To the King of Prussia On His Accession to the Throne.
- From Love to Friendship.
- The Worldling. *
- On Calumny.
- The King of Prussia to M. Voltaire.
- The Answer.
- On the English Genius.
- What Pleases the Ladies.
- The Education of a Prince.
- The Education of a Daughter.
- The Three Manners.
- Thelema and Macareus.
- The Origin of Trades.
- The Battle of Fontenoy.
- The Man of the World. *
- The Padlock. *
- In Camp Before Philippsburg, July 3, 1734.
- Answer to a Lady, Or a Person Who Wrote to Voltaire As Such. *
- The Nature of Virtue.
- To the King of Prussia.
- To M. De Fontenelle.
- To Count Algarotti At the Court of Saxony.
- To Cardinal Quirini.
- To Her Royal Highness, the Princess of ***.
- To M. De Cideville.
- To ****.
- Epistle XIII. *
- To the Duke of Richelieu, Marshal of France, In Whose Honor the Senate of Genoa Had Just Before Caused a Statue to Be Erected. *
- To Madam De ***, On the Manner of Living At Paris and Versailles.
- To the Prince of Vendôme.
- To Madam De Gondoin, Afterward Countess of Toulouse, On the Danger She Had Been Exposed to In Passing the Loire In 1719.
- To the Duke Delafeuillade.
- To Marshal Villars. *
- To Monsieur Genonville.
- To the Countess of Fontaine-martel. *
- Written From PlombiÉres to M. Pallu, Intendant of Lyons.
- The Nature of Pleasure.
- The Utility of Sciences to Princes. to the Prince Royal of Prussia, Since King of Prussia.
- Epistle In Answer to a Letter, With Which, Upon His Accession to the Throne, the King of Prussia Honored the Author.
- Epistle to the King, Presented to His Majesty At the Camp Before Freiburg.
- On the Death of the Emperor Charles.
- To the Queen of Hungary.
- Inscribed to the Gentlemen of the Academy of Sciences, Who Sailed to the Polar Circle and the Equator, In Order to Ascertain the Figure of the Earth.
- To M. De Gervasi, the Physician. *
- The Requisites to Happiness.
- To a Lady, Very Well Known to the Whole Town.
- Fanaticism. *
- On Peace Concluded In 1736.
- To AbbÉ Chaulieu. *
- Answer to the Foregoing.
- To President HÉnault, Author of an Excellent Work Upon the History of France.
- Canto of an Epic Poem. *
- Epistle On the Newtonian Philosophy. * to the Marchioness of ChÂtelet.
Osman, Sultan of Jerusalem.
Lusignan, A Prince of the Blood of the ancient Kings of Jerusalem.
|ZAÏRE, }||Slaves of the Sultan.|
|NERESTAN, }||French Gentlemen.|
|ORASMIN, }||Officers of the Sultan.|
Scene, the Seraglio at Jerusalem.
“Zaïre” was written and produced in 1732. During its composition Voltaire wrote to a friend: “Everyone here reproaches me that I do not put more love into my pieces. There shall be love enough this time, I swear, and not mere gallantry. My desire is that there may be nothing so Turkish, so Christian, so amorous, so tender, so infuriate, as that which I am now putting into verse for the pleasure of the public. . . . The names of Montmorenci, Saladire, Jesus, Mahomet, will be in it. There will be mention of the Seine and Jordan, of Paris and Jerusalem. We shall love, we shall baptize, we shall kill, and I will send you the outline as soon as it is done.” The piece was a great success, despite J. B. Rousseau’s adverse criticism. It was played at Berlin, and Geneva; and at Rome on the hundredth anniversary of Voltaire’s death.
An Epistle Dedicatory to Mr. Falkener, an English Merchant, Since Ambassador at Constantinople, with the Tragedy of Zaïre.
You, my dear friend, are an Englishman, and I am a native of France; but lovers of the fine arts are fellow-citizens: men of taste and virtue have pretty nearly the same principles in every country, and form one general commonweal: it is no longer, therefore, matter of astonishment to see a French tragedy dedicated to an Englishman, or an Italian, any more than it would have been, in the days of antiquity, for a citizen of Ephesus, or of Athens, to address his performance to a Grecian of some other city; I lay this tragedy before you, therefore, as my countryman in literature, and my most intimate friend.
I shall, at the same time, have the pleasure of informing my brother Frenchmen here in what light traders are looked upon among you, what regard the English have for a profession so essential to the welfare of their kingdom, and the honor which they have to represent their country in parliament, in the rank of legislators; though trade is despised by our petits-maitres, who, you know as well as myself, both in England and France, are the most contemptible species of being that crawl upon the face of the earth.
My further inducement to correspond with an Englishman, rather than any other man, on subjects of literature, arises from your happy freedom of thought, which never fails to inspire me with bolder ideas, and also with more nervous expression. ‘Whoever converses with me has, for the time at least, my heart at his disposal; if his sentiments are lively and animated, he inflames me: if he is strong and nervous, he raises and supports me: the courtier, who is all dissimulation, makes me insensibly as affected and constrained in my behavior as himself; but a bold and fearless spirit gives me sentiment and courage: I catch fire from him, just as young painters, brought up under Lemoine or Argilière, catch the freedom of their masters’ pencils, and compose with their spirit: thus Virgil admired Homer, followed his steps, and, without being a plagiarist, became his rival.’
You need not be apprehensive of my sending you, with this piece, a long apology and vindication of it: I might indeed have told you why I did not make Zaïre more determined to embrace Christianity before she knew her father; why she keeps the secret from her lover; but those who have any judgment, or any justice, will see my reasons without my pointing them out; and as for those critics that are predetermined not to believe me, it would be lost labor to give them any reasons at all.
All I can boast of is that the piece is tolerably simple; a perfection, in my opinion, that is not to be despised.
‘This happy simplicity was one of the distinguishing beauties of learned antiquity: it is a pity you Englishmen don’t introduce this novelty on your stage, which is so filled with horror, gibbets, and murders: put more truth into your dramatic performances, and more noble images: Addison has endeavored to do it: he was the poet of the wife, but he was too stiff: and, in his boasted “Cato,” the two girls are really very insipid characters: imitate from the great Addison only what is good; polish a little the rude manners of your mild muse; write for all times, and all ages, for fame, and for posterity, and transfuse into your works the simplicity of your manners.’
But I would not have your English poets imagine that I mean to give them “Zaire” as a model: I preach simplicity to them, and easy numbers, but I would not be thought to set up for the saint of my own sermon: if “Zaire” has met with success, I owe it not so much to the merit of the performance, as to the tenderness of the love scenes, which I was wise enough to execute as well as I possibly could: in this I flattered the taste of my audience; and he is generally sure to succeed, who talks more to the passions of men than to their reason: if we are ever so good Christians, we must have a little love besides: and I am satisfied the great Corneille was much in the right of it, not to confine himself, in his “Polyeucte,” merely to the breaking of the statues of Jupiter by the new converts: for such is the depravity of human kind, that perhaps ‘the pious soul of Polyeucte would have but little impression on the audience, and even the Christian verses he declaims would have been received with contempt, if it had not been for his wife’s passion for her favorite heathen, who was certainly more worthy of her love than the good devotee her husband.’
Almost the same accident happened to Zaire; my friends, who frequent the theatre, assured me, that if she had been only converted, she would not have been half so interesting: but she was in love with the most perfect religion in the world, and that has made her fortune. I could not, however, expect to escape censure.
‘Many an inexorable critic has carped at and slashed me, and many a remorseless jester has pretended that I only filched an improbable Romance, which I had not the sense to improve; that I have lamed and spoiled the subject; that the catastrophe is unnatural: they even prognosticated the dreadful hiss with which a disgusted public salutes a miserable poet: but I despised their censures, and risked my play upon the stage; the public was more favorable than they expected, or I deserved: instead of hisses, it received shouts: tears flowed from almost every eye: but I am not puffed up with my success, I assure you I am no stranger to all its faults. I know very well it is absolutely indisputable, that before we can make a perfect work, we must sell ourselves to the devil, which was what I did not choose to do.’
I do not flatter myself that the English will do “Zaire” the same honor they have done to “Brutus,” a translation of which has been played at London: they tell us here, that you have neither devotion enough to be affected by old Lusignan, nor tenderness to feel for Zaire; you love a conspiracy better than an intrigue; upon your stage, they say the word “country” is sure of getting a clap, and so is “love” upon ours; but to say the truth, you have as much love in your tragedies as we have: if you have not the reputation of being tender, it is not that your stage heroes are not in love, but that they seldom express their passion naturally: our lovers talk like lovers; yours like poets.
But if the French are your superiors in gallantry, there are many things, which, in return, we may borrow of you: to the English theatre I am indebted for the liberty which I have taken of bringing the names of our kings and ancient families upon the stage: a novelty of this kind may perhaps be the means of introducing amongst us a species of tragedy hitherto unknown, and which we seem to want. Some happy geniuses will, I have no doubt, rise up, who will bring to perfection that idea, of which “Zaire” is but a slight sketch: as long as literature meets with protection in France, we shall always have writers enough; nature every day forms men of talents and abilities; we have nothing to do but to encourage and employ them: but if those which distinguish themselves are not supported by some honorable recompense, and by the still more pleasing charm of admiration, all the fine arts must soon perish, even though so many edifices have been raised to shelter and protect them: the noble plantation of Louis XIV. would die away for want of culture: the public might still have taste, but there would be no eminent masters: the sculptor in his academy would see a number of indifferent pupils about him, but never have the ambition to imitate Girardon and Pujet: the painter would rest satisfied with excelling his contemporaries, but would never think of rivalling Poussin: may the successor of Louis XIV. always follow the example of that great monarch, who inspired every artist with emulation, encouraged at the same time a Racine and a Van-Robais: he carried our commerce and our glory to the farthest part of the globe, and extended his bounty to foreigners of all nations, who were astonished at the fame and rewards which our court bestowed upon them: wherever merit appeared, it found a patron in Louis XIV.
- Where’er that bounteous star its influence shed,
- Fair merit raised her long-declining head;
- His royal hand spread honors, wealth, and fame,
- Then Viviani, then Cassini came:
- Newton refused a gift from France’s throne,
- Or Newton too, thou knowest, had been our own:
- These are the deeds that raise our Gallia’s fame,
- These, Louis, will immortalize thy name,
- And truly make thee, what thou wert designed,
- The universal monarch of mankind.
You have no foundations equal to the munificent donations of our kings; but then your people supplies the want of them: you do not stand in need of royal favor to honor and reward superior talents of every kind. Steel and Vanbrugh were comedy writers, and at the same time members of parliament: the primacy given to Dr. Tillotson, Newton honored with an important trust, Prior made an ambassador, and Addison a minister of state, are but the common and ordinary consequences of the regard which you pay to merit, and to great men: you heap riches on them while they live, and erect monuments and statues to them after their death: even your celebrated actresses have places in your churches, near the great poets.
‘Your Oldfield, and her predecessor, Bracegirdle, in consideration of their having been so agreeable to the public when in their prime, their course finished, were, by the consent of your whole nation, honored with a pompous funeral, and their remains carried under a velvet pall, and lodged in your church with the greatest magnificence: their spirits, no doubt, are still proud of it, and boast of the honor in the shades below; while the divine Molière, who was far more worthy of it, could scarcely obtain leave to sleep in a churchyard; and the amiable Lecouvreur, whose eyes I closed, could not even so much as obtain two wax-tapers and a coffin; M. de Laubiniere, out of charity, carried away her corpse by night in a hackney-coach to the banks of the river; do you not even now see the god of love breaking his arrows in a rage, and Melopomene in tears, banishing herself from that ungrateful place which Lecouvreur had so long adorned?
But everything, in these our days, conspires to reduce France to that state of barbarism from which Louis XIV. and Cardinal Richelieu had delivered her: that a curse on that policy knows not the value of the fine arts! the world is peopled with nations as powerful as our own; how happens it then that we look on them with so little esteem? For the same reason perhaps that we despise the company of a rich man, whose mind is tasteless and uncultivated. Do not imagine that this empire of wit, this glory of being the universal model for mankind, is a trifling distinction, it is the infallible mark of the grandeur of a kingdom: under the greatest princes the arts have always flourished, and their decay is often succeeded by that of the state itself: history will supply us with ample proofs of it; but this would lead me too far out of my subject: I shall finish this letter, which is already too long, with a little performance, which naturally demands a place at the head of this tragedy: an epistle, in verse, to the actress who played the part of Zaire; I owe her at least this compliment for the manner in which she acquitted herself on that occasion.
‘For the prophet of Mecca never had Greek nor Arabian in his seraglio so beautiful or so genteel: her black eyes, so finely arched and full of tenderness, with her excellent voice, mien and carriage, defended my performance against every auditor that had a mind to be troublesome: but when the reader catches me in his closet, all my honor, I fear, will be lost.’
Adieu, my dear friend, continue to cultivate philosophy and the Belles-lettres, without forgetting to send your ships to the Levant.
I have the honor to remain, &c.
A Second Letter to Mr. Falkener, Then Ambassador to Constantinople.
From the Second Edition of the Tragedy of Zaire
My dear friend,
For your new dignity of ambassador only makes our friendship more respectable, and shall not prevent my making use of a title even more sacred than that of minister; the name of “Friend” is much above that of, “your Excellency.” I now dedicate to the ambassador of a great king and a free nation what I had before addressed to a plain citizen, and an English merchant: those who know how much commerce is respected in your country must know that a tradesman is there sometimes a legislator, a good officer, and a public minister.
Some ridiculous people who had fallen in with the fashion of paying respect to nothing but nobility, thought proper to laugh at the novelty of a dedication to a man who had nothing but merit to recommend him: who took the liberty, on a stage sacred to calumny and bad taste, to insult the author of that dedication, and to reproach the gentleman to whom it was addressed for being a merchant: but we must not, sir, impute to our whole nation an affront so gross and illiberal, that people, ever so uncivilized, would have been ashamed to commit. The magistrates of our police, who are constantly employed in rectifying abuses of this kind, were, to the last degree, surprised at it: but the contempt and ignominy with which the public have branded the acknowledged author of this indignity, are, I hope, a fresh proof of French politeness: those virtues, which form the character of a whole people, are often contradicted, and, as it were, called in question by the vices of an individual: there were some voluptuaries, we know, even at Lacedæmon: there have been low and foolish fellows in England; men without taste. or good breeding, at Athens; and so there are in Paris.
You will, I hope, forget them, sir, as they are forgotten by the world, and receive this second mark of my respect: they are due to you still more than they were before, as this tragedy has made its appearance at London. It has been translated, and acted with so much success, and the author of it spoken of with so much regard and politeness, that I ought to return my public thanks to the whole nation.
I do not know how to acquit my obligations to you by any other means than acquainting my countrymen here with the particulars of the translation, and representation of “Zaire” on the English stage.
Mr. Hill, a man of letters, and one who seems to understand the theatre better than any English author, did me the honor to translate this piece, with the design of introducing something new on your stage, both with regard to the manner of writing tragedies, and of repeating them. I shall speak, by and by, of the representation.
The art of declaiming was for a long time among you entirely unnatural; most of your tragic actors expressed themselves more like poets seized with rapturous enthusiasm than like men inspired by a real passion. Several of your comedians were even more intolerable; they roared out their verses with an impetuous fury that was no more like the natural tone than convulsions and distortions are to an easy and noble carriage. This air of riot and tumult seemed entirely foreign to your nation, which is naturally sober and grave, even to such a degree, as frequently to appear cold and unanimated in the eye of a stranger. Your preachers never indulge themselves in a declamatory tone, and you would laugh at a pleader at the bar, who should work himself up into a passion: the players were the only outrageous set of people in the kingdom. Our actors and actresses also, particularly the latter, were guilty of this for many years. M. Lecouvreur was the first who broke them of it: thus an Italian writer, a man of great sense and parts, speaks of her:
- La legiadra Couvreur sola non trotta
- Per quella strade dove i suoi compagni
- Van di galoppo tutti quanti in frotta,
- Se auvien ch’ella pianga, o che si lagni
- Sensa quelli urli spaventosi loro
- Ti muove si che in pianger l’accompagni.
The same change which Lecouvreur affected on our stage, Mrs. Cibber brought about on yours, in the part of Zaire: how astonishing it is that in every art it should be so long before we arrive at the simple and the natural!
A novelty that must appear still more extraordinary to a Frenchman is, that a gentleman of your country, a man of rank and fortune, should condescend to play the part of Osman. It was an interesting circumstance to see the two principal characters represented, one by a person of condition, and the other by a young actress not above eighteen years of age, who had never repeated a line before in her life. This instance of a gentleman’s exercising his talents for declamation, is not singular among you; it is perhaps more surprising that we should wonder at it: we ought certainly to reflect, that everything in this world depends upon custom and opinion: the court of France have danced on the stage with the actors of the opera, and we thought there was nothing strange in it, but that the fashion of this kind of entertainment should be discontinued. Why should it be more extraordinary for people to write than to dance in public? is there any difference between these two arts, except that the one is as much above the other as the perfections of the mind are superior to those of the body; I have said it before, and I say so still, none of the polite arts are contemptible; and to be ashamed of talents of any kind is of all things the most shameful.
I come now to the translation of “Zaïre,” and the change which has been made among you with regard to the drama.
You had a strange custom, which even Mr. Addison, the chastest of your writers, adopted, so often does custom get the better of sense and reason; I mean, the ridiculous custom of finishing every act by verses in a different taste from the rest of the piece, which verse usually consisted of a simile. Phædra, as she leaves the stage, compares herself to a bitch; Cato to a rock, and Cleopatra to children that cry themselves asleep. The translator of “Zaïre” was the first who dared to maintain the rights of nature against a custom so directly opposite to her. He proscribed this custom, well knowing that passion should always speak its own language, and that the poet should disappear, to make room for the hero.
Upon this principle he has translated plainly, and without any unnecessary ornaments, all the simple verses of the piece, which must have been entirely spoiled by an endeavor to render them beautiful such as;
- On ne peut désirer ce qu’on ne connoît pas.
- J’eusse été prés du Gange esclave des faux dieux
- Chrétienne dans Paris, Musulmane en ces lie ux.
- Mais Orosmane m’aime, & j’ai tout oublié
- Non, la reconnoissance est un foible retour
- Un tribut offensant, trop peu fait pour l’amour.
- Je me croirois haï d’être aimé foiblement.
- Je veux avec excès vous aimer & vous plaire
- L’art n’est pas fait pour toi, tu n’en a pas besoin,
- L’art le plus innocent tient de la perfidie.
All the verses that are in this fine taste of simplicity, are rendered word for word into English: they might very easily have been adorned, but the translator judged in a different manner from several of my countrymen; he liked the verses, and retained therefore all the simplicity of them; the style indeed ought always to be agreeable to the subject; “Alzira,” “Brutus,” and “Zaïre,” for example, required three different kinds of versification: if Berenice complained of Titus, and Ariadne of Theseus, in the style of “Cinna,” neither Berenice nor Ariadne would please or affect us; we can never talk well of love, if we search after any other ornaments but truth and simplicity.
This is not the place to examine whether it be right or wrong to put so much love into our dramatic performances: I will even allow it to be a fault, but it is a fault which will always be universal; nor do I know what name to give that fault, which is the delight of all mankind: of one thing I am satisfied, that the French have succeeded better in it than all other nations, ancient and modern, put together: love appears on our stage with more decorum, more delicacy, and truth than we meet with on any other; and the reason is, because of all nations the French are best acquainted with society: the perpetual commerce and intercourse of the two sexes, carried on with so much vivacity and good breeding, has introduced among us a politeness unknown to all the world but ourselves.
Society principally depends on the fair sex: all those nations who are so unhappy as to confine their women are unsociable: the austerity of your manners, your political quarrels, and religious wars, that rendered you savage and barbarous, deprived you, even down to the age of Charles II. of the pleasures of society, even in the bosom of liberty: the poets, therefore, neither of your country, nor of any other, knew anything of the manner in which love ought to be treated.
Good comedy was utterly unknown amongst us till the days of Molière; as was the art of expressing our sentiments with delicacy till those of Racine, because society had not attained to any degree of perfection before that time: a poet cannot paint in his closet, manners which he has never seen; and would sooner write a hundred odes and epistles than one scene where nature must speak: your Dryden, who was in other respects a great genius, put into the mouth of his heroes in love either high-flown strains of rhetorical flourish, or something indecent, two things equally opposite to tenderness.
If Mr. Racine makes Titus say:
- Depuis cinq ans entiers chaque jour je la vois
- Et croi toujours la voir pour la première fois.
Your Dryden makes Antony say:
- —how I loved,
- Witness ye days and nights, and all ye hours,
- That danced away with down upon your feet,
- As all your business were to count my love,
- One day passed by, and nothing saw but love;
- Another came, and still ’twas only love:
- The suns were wearied out with looking on,
- And I untired with loving—
It is very difficult to conceive that Antony should ever really talk thus to Cleopatra. In the same play, Cleopatra speaks thus to Antony:
- Come to me, come my soldier, to my arms,
- You’ve been too long away from my embraces;
- But when I have you fast, and all my own,
- With broken murmurs, and with amorous sighs,
- I’ll say, you were unkind, and punish you,
- And mark you red with many an eager kiss.
It is not improbable that Cleopatra might frequently talk thus, but indecencies of this kind are not to be represented before a respectable audience: some of your countrymen may perhaps say this is pure nature; but we may tell them in answer, that if it be so, it is that nature which ought carefully to be concealed: it shows but little knowledge of human nature, to imagine that we can please the more by presenting these licentious images; on the contrary, it is shutting up the avenues to true pleasure: where everything is at once discovered, we are disgusted; there remains no more to look for or desire; and in our pursuit of pleasure we meet with languor and satiety: this is the reason why those who are truly qualified for society, taste pleasures far more exquisite than grosser appetites can have any idea of: the spectators, in this case, are like lovers who are satiated by too quick possession; those ideas which, when brought too close, would make us blush, should be seen, as it were, through a cloud. It is this veil to which, to a right mind, they are indebted for all their charms: there is no pleasure without decorum. The French are certainly better acquainted with this than any other nation upon earth; not because they are without genius and spirit, as the unequal and impetuous Dryden has ridiculously asserted; but because, ever since the regency of Anne of Austria, they have been the most sociable and the most polished people in the universe: and this politeness is not an arbitrary thing, like what they call civility, but a law of nature, which they have happily cultivated far beyond any other nation.
The translation of Zaire has, almost throughout his whole piece, strictly observed those decencies of the stage which are common to us both; but there are, at the same time, some places where he has entirely adhered to ancient customs.
For instance, when in the English piece Osman comes to tell Zaire that he can no longer love her, she answers him by rolling upon the ground: the Sultan is not moved at seeing her in this ridiculous posture of despair, and yet the moment after is astonished at Zaire’s weeping, and cries out, “Zaire, thou weepest.” He should have said to her before; “Zaire, thou rollest upon the ground.”
Insomuch that those three words, “Zaire, thou weepest,” which have so fine an effect on our stage, have none on yours, because they were displaced: those familiar and simple expressions derive all their power from the manner in which they are introduced. “My lord, you change countenance,” is nothing of itself: but when these words are pronounced by Mithridates, we shudder at them.
To say nothing but what we ought to say, and that in the manner in which it ought to be said, is a point of perfection which the French have come nigher to than the writers, myself excepted, of other countries: on this subject we have, I think, a right to dictate to them: you can teach us perhaps greater and more useful things, we ought to acknowledge it. The French, who have written against Sir Isaac Newton’s discoveries, with regard to light and colors, are ashamed of it; those who oppose his system of gravitation will soon be still more so.
You ought to submit to our rules of the stage, as we submit to your philosophy: we have made as good experiments on the human heart, as you have in physics: the art of pleasing seems to be the art of Frenchmen; the art of thinking is all your own. Happy are those, sir, who like you, can unite them.
I am, sir, &c.,
- I little thought to see the lovely Zaïre,
- In all the pride of youth and beauty, thus
- Calm and resigned submitting to her fate:
- What sweet delusive hope hath pierced the cloud
- Of grief that hung upon thee, and revived
- Thy drooping heart? this peace of mind hath given
- New lustre to thy charms: no longer now
- Thy eyes are bathed in tears, no longer seek
- Those blissful climes where brave Nerestan promised
- To guide our steps; thou talkest not, as of late
- We heard thee, of those seats of happiness
- Where women reign, by willing slaves adored,
- The queens, the idols of a polished people,
- Though free yet chaste, and wise though unrestrained,
- For social converse fit, and not to fear
- Indebted for their virtue: sighest thou, Zaïre,
- No more for this gay land of liberty?
- Seest thou within these solitary walls
- Aught that is lovely? is the name of slave
- So grateful now, that to the banks of Seine
- Thou wouldst prefer the gloomy Solyma?
- We cannot wish for joys we never knew:
- ’Twas heaven’s supreme degree to fix us here;
- Custom hath made restraint familiar to me:
- I look not now beyond the narrow bounds
- Of this seraglio; every hour it grows
- More pleasing to me, and the world beside
- Is lost to Zaïre: to the noble Osman
- I yield myself, to live beneath his power;
- To honor and obey my royal master
- Is my soul’s utmost hope, and its ambition,
- All else is but a dream.
- Hast thou forgot
- The kind Nerestan, he whose generous friendship
- Promised so oft to free us from the yoke
- Of bondage? how did we admire his virtues,
- His matchless valor, and intrepid zeal!
- The glory he acquired beneath the walls
- Of Damas, where so many Christians fell
- By Osman’s mighty hand! the conqueror then,
- Thou mayest remember, pitied his brave foe,
- And, on his word, permitted him to leave
- The banks of Jordan; we expect him still
- To pay the ransom of our liberty,
- And set us free: must all our hopes be vain?
- Perhaps his promise might exceed his power;
- Two years are past, and yet he’s not returned:
- Alas! my Fatima, a captive stranger,
- To gain his liberty, might promise more
- Than he could e’er perform: he talked, thou knowest,
- Of bringing ransom for ten Christian slaves,
- Would break their fetters, or resume his own:
- I was too credulous, and much admired
- His forward zeal, but I shall think no more on it.
- If yet he should be faithful, and return
- To keep his plighted faith, then wouldst thou not—
- It is not as it was, my Fatima,
- The time is past.
- I’ll not hide
- The secret from my friend; perhaps the Sultan
- May yet conceal it, but thy Zaïre’s heart
- With safety may repose on Fatima:
- Know then, some three months since, when thou wert absent,
- Removed with other slaves from Jordan’s banks,
- Kind heaven, to put a period to our woes,
- Raised up a powerful friend—the mighty Osman—
- He, the Sultan’s self,
- The Christian’s haughty conqueror, is the slave
- Of Zaïre; yes, he loves me, Fatima;
- Nay, blush not, (for I understand thee well)
- Think not I mean to stain my spotless honor,
- Or stoop to be the mistress of a tyrant;
- That I will ever hazard the quick change
- Of transitory passion; no, my friend,
- I am not so far lost to modesty,
- And native pride, as to forget myself;
- Rather than fall so low I would embrace
- The milder fate of slavery and death;
- But I shall more astonish thee: for know,
- I have subdued his haughty soul to love
- Most pure, and most refined: amidst the crowd
- Of rival beauties that contend for Osman,
- I, I alone have fixed his wandering heart,
- And Hymen soon, in spite of all their deep
- And dark intrigues, shall make the Sultan mine
- It is a conquest worthy of thy charms,
- And of thy virtues: I am much surprised,
- But more delighted; may thy happiness
- Be perfect! I shall rank myself with joy
- Amongst thy subjects.
- Be my equal still,
- And share my fortune; royalty with thee
- Divided will make Zaïre doubly happy.
- Pleased with thy choice, long may indulgent heaven
- Smile on thy nuptial bed; may never grief
- Intrude to poison the sweet cup of grandeur,
- By us called happiness! alas, how little
- Doth it deserve the name! but tell me, Zaïre,
- Art thou at ease, and feelest thou naught within
- To check thy joys? hast thou forgot that once
- Thou wert a Christian?
- Ha! what sayest thou? why
- Wouldst thou recall my sorrows, Fatima?
- Alas! I know not who or what I am,
- Not even who gave me birth.
- Nerestan oft
- Hath said, thou wert the daughter of a Christian;
- The cross, which in thy infant years adorned thee,
- Confirms it; still that sacred pledge remains
- Perhaps but to remind thee of the faith
- Which thou hast quitted.
- I’ve no other proof;
- Shall that alone persuade me to embrace
- A faith detested by the man I love?
- Our thoughts, our manners, our religion, all
- Are formed by custom, and the powerful bent
- Of early years: born on the banks of Ganges
- Zaïre had worshipped Pagan deities;
- At Paris I had been a Christian; here
- I am a happy Mussulman: we know
- But what we learn; the instructing parent’s hand
- Graves in our feeble hearts those characters
- Which time retouches, and examples fix
- So deeply in the mind, that naught but God
- Can e’er efface: but thou wert hither brought
- A captive at an age when reason joined
- To sage experience had informed thy soul,
- And well-confirmed its faith: for me, a slave
- Even from my cradle to the Saracens,
- Too late the Christian light broke in upon me;
- Yet far from wishing ill to laws so pure,
- Spite of myself, I own to thee, that cross,
- Whene’er I looked upon it, filled my soul
- With reverential awe, and oft in secret
- Have I invoked its holy aid, ere Osman
- Possessed my heart: thine is a noble faith;
- I honor much those charitable laws
- Which old Nerestan many a time hath told me
- Would wipe off every tear, and make mankind
- One sweet united family of love:
- A Christian must be happy.
- Wherefore then
- Wouldst thou become their most inveterate foe,
- And wed their proud oppressor?
- Wouldst thou have me
- Refuse so fair a present as the heart
- Of Osman? no: I will confess my weakness;
- But for the Sultan, Zaïre had long since
- Embraced thy faith, and been, like thee, a Christian:
- But Osman loves me, and ’tis all forgotten:
- My every thought, my every hope is fixed
- On him alone, and my enraptured soul
- Can dwell on naught but Osman: O, my friend,
- Think on his lovely form, and graceful mind,
- His noble deeds, his glory, and renown:
- The crown he offers is not worth my care;
- The poor return of gratitude would ill
- Repay his passion; love would spurn the gift:
- ’Tis not to Osman’s throne, but Osman’s self,
- That I aspire: perhaps I am to blame;
- But trust me, Fatima, if heaven had doomed him
- To Zaïre’s fate, if he were now, like me,
- A wretched slave, and I on Syria’s throne,
- Or love deceives me much, or I should stoop
- With joy, and raise him up to me and empire.
- But hark, they come this way; perhaps ’tis Osman.
- It is; it must be he; my fluttering heart
- Speaks his arrival; for these two long days
- He hath been absent, but propitious love
- Restores him to my wishes.
osman, zaïre, fatima.
- Virtuous Zaïre,
- Ere Hymen join our hands, permit me here
- To pour forth all my honest heart before you:
- I follow not our eastern monarchs’ laws,
- Nor act by their example; well I know
- How wide a field is left by Mahomet
- For luxury to range in, that at pleasure
- I might command a crowd of kneeling slaves,
- Receive their incense, and return their love;
- From the Seraglio’s peaceful seats deal forth
- My laws, and in the arms of indolence
- Govern my kingdom; but that well I know
- How sloth deludes us, tempting are her charms,
- But fatal is their end: a hundred kings
- Have I beheld, her tributary slaves,
- Our prophet’s most unworthy successors,
- Caliphs that trembled midst the splendid pomp
- Of visionary power, and only held
- The name of kings, who might have lived the lords
- Of all mankind, the conquerors of the world,
- Had they but been, like their great ancestors,
- The masters of themselves: then Solyma
- And Syria fell beneath the valiant Bouillon,
- But heaven, to chastise the impious foe,
- Upraised the arm of mighty Saladin:
- My father conquered Jordan, and to him,
- Unequal to the weight of empire, next
- Succeeded Osman, the disputed lord
- Of a weak kingdom: whilst the haughty Christians,
- Thirsting for blood, thick from the western coast,
- Pour in upon me; whilst the voice of war,
- And the shrill trumpet heard on every side,
- Call us to arms, shall Osman waste his hours
- In the loose dalliance of a soft seraglio?
- No, Zaïre, love, and glory, bear me witness,
- To thee alone I swear eternal truth,
- To take thee for my mistress, and my wife;
- To live thy friend, thy lover, and thy husband;
- Zaïre alone shall with the toils of war
- Divide my heart: think not I mean to trust
- Thy honor to our savage Asian guards,
- Those shameless pandars to the lawless pleasures
- Of their imperious masters; I esteem
- As well as love thee, and to Zaïre’s self
- Its fittest guard, commit my Zaïre’s virtue.
- Thou knowest my heart, on thee alone thou seest
- Osman has placed his hopes of happiness;
- I need not add how wretched it would make
- My future life, shouldst thou repay my fondness
- With the poor cold return of gratitude;
- I love thee, Zaïre, yes, with rapture love thee,
- And hope to find in thee an equal claim:
- I own, whate’er the heart of Osman seeks,
- It seeks with ardor; I should think you hated,
- Did you not love me, with excess of passion:
- Such is my nature; if it suits with thine,
- I am thy husband, but on this condition,
- And only this, if marriage did not make
- Thee happy, I were most supremely wretched.
- Wretched, my lord? O if thy happiness
- Depends on Zaïre’s truth, and Zaïre’s love,
- Never was mortal half so blest as Osman.
- Yes; the fond lover, and the tender wife,
- All thou canst wish for, shalt thou find in Zaire,
- For thou hast raised her far above her sex,
- Above her hopes; O what excess of bliss
- To hold my life, my happiness from thee,
- Such envied bounties from the man I love,
- To be the work of thy creating hand!
- But if among the crowd of rival hearts
- Thy partial favor has selected Zaïre’s,
- O if thy choice—
osman, zaïre, fatima, orasmin.
- My lord, that Christian slave,
- Who, on his promise given, had thy permission
- To visit France, is thence returned, and begs
- An audience.
- My lord, he waits without;
- I did not think a Christian might approach
- Your royal presence in this sacred place.
- In every place access is free to Osman;
- I hate our eastern policy, that hides
- Its tyrants from the public eye, to screen
- Oppression: give him entrance.
osman, zaïre, fatima, orasmin, nerestan.
- Generous Sultan,
- Whose virtues even thy Christian foes admire,
- I come, as bound in honor, to discharge
- My vows, and bring with me the promised ransom
- Of beauteous Zaïre, the fair Selima,
- And ten more Christian prisoners; I have done
- My duty to the captives, do thou thine,
- And set them free; I have bestowed on them
- My little all, and naught remains for me
- But noble poverty; Nerestan still
- Must be thy slave; I have preserved my honor,
- Unblemished, and fulfilled my sacred word.
- Christian, thy virtue merits my best praise;
- But think not Osman e’er will be surpassed
- In generosity; receive thy freedom,
- Take back thy treasures; take my bounty with them;
- I promised thee ten Christian slaves, I’ll give thee
- A hundred more, demand them when thou wilt;
- Let them depart, and teach their countrymen,
- That even in Syria’s plains some virtues dwell;
- Thence let them judge, if they or Osman best
- Deserve to reign in Solyma; but know,
- Old Lusignan must still remain a captive;
- It were not safe to give him liberty;
- Sprung from the royal blood of France, he claims
- A right to govern here, and that alone
- Condemns him to perpetual slavery,
- To groan in chains, and never more behold
- The light of day: I pity him, and yet
- It must be so; cruel necessity
- Compels me to this rigor: and for Zaïre,
- She must remain with me; not all thy gold
- Can purchase her; not the whole race of Christians,
- With all their kings, shall ever force her from me:
- You may depart.
- My lord,
- She is a Christian born; I have your word,
- Your honor, and her own, that she should go
- When I returned: poor Lusignan! could he
- Offend thee? wherefore wouldst thou—
- Christian, hence:
- It is my will; therefore no more: thy pride
- Offends me; go, and ere to-morrow’s sun
- Shines on this palace, leave my kingdom.
- Go, Zaïre, and assume
- Thy empire o’er my palace; there command
- As my Sultana; I will hence, and give
- My orders for our nuptials.
- Didst thou mark,
- Orasmin, that presumptuous slave; he sighed,
- And fixed his eyes upon her.
- O my lord,
- Beware of jealousy.
- Ha! jealous, sayest thou?
- Thinkest thou the pride of Osman will descend
- So low! to love as if I hated her?
- Suspicion but provokes the crime it fears;
- Zaire is truth itself; and O Orasmin
- I love her to idolatry; if e’er
- I could be jealous—if my foolish heart—
- But I will think no more on it; let my soul
- Dwell on the sweet idea of her charms:
- Haste, my Orasmin, and get all things ready
- For the dear happy moment that unites
- Thy sovereign to the object of his wishes:
- One hour I will devote to public cares,
- The rest shall all be given to love and Zaïre.
End of the First Act.
- Joy to our great deliverer, the brave,
- The generous Nerestan, sent by heaven
- To save thy fellow Christians! O come forth,
- Appear amongst us, and receive the tribute
- Due to thy virtues; let the happy few,
- Whom thou has blest with freedom, clasp thy knees,
- And kiss thy gracious hand: they crowd to see
- Their benefactor, do not hide thyself
- From their desiring eyes, but let us all
- O Chatillon, talk not thus
- Of my deservings, I have done no more
- Than was my duty; circumstanced like me,
- Like me thou wouldst have acted.
- Every Christian
- Should sacrifice himself to his religion:
- To leave our own, and think on other’s good,
- Is our first happiness; how blest art thou,
- By gracious heaven appointed to perform
- This noble duty! but, for us, the sport
- Of cruel fortune, slaves in Solyma,
- By Osman’s father left in chains, and long
- Forgotten, here for life we had remained
- In sad captivity, nor e’er beheld
- Our native land, had not thy generous aid
- Stepped in to save us.
- ’Twas the hand of heaven;
- I was but its unworthy instrument;
- Its providence hath softened the fierce soul
- Of youthful Osman: but a bitter draught
- Is poured into my cup of joy; his mercy
- Is cruel and oppressive: God, who sees
- My heart, will bear me witness that I meant
- To serve his cause, and act for him alone;
- For heaven I had reserved a youthful beauty,
- Whom fierce Nouraddin had enslaved, what time
- The proud contemners of our holy faith
- Surprised great Lusignan, myself long-time
- A captive with her; I at length regained
- Short liberty, on promise of return;
- And now had fondly hoped, delusive dream!
- To bring back Zaïre to that happy court
- Where Louis and the virtues reign: already
- The queen, propitious to my friendly zeal,
- Forth from the throne stretched her protecting hand;
- But now alas! the wished-for moment near
- That should have freed her from captivity,
- She must not go; what did I say? she will not;
- Zaïre herself forsakes the Christian faith
- For Osman, for the Sultan, who, it seems,
- Adores her—but we’ll think no more of Zaïre,
- Another cruel care demands our grief,
- Another base refusal; O Chatillon,
- The wretched Christian’s hope is now no more.
- Accept my all, my liberty, my life,
- If it can save them, ’tis at thy disposal.
- Alas! old Lusignan is still a slave,
- The last of his great race, a race of heroes,
- Descended from the valiant Bouillon; he,
- Whom fame has made immortal, still must groan
- In chains, for Osman never will restore him.
- Then all thy goodness, all thy cares are vain:
- What soldier, who e’er held his honor dear,
- Would wish for freedom whilst his chief remains
- In slavery! Thou, Nerestan, couldst not know
- The gallant Lusignan as I have known him,
- For thou wert born, so gracious heaven ordained,
- Long after those sad times of woe and slaughter,
- When I beheld our city fall a prey
- To these barbarians: O if thou hadst seen
- The temple sacked, the holy tomb profaned,
- Fathers, and children, husbands, daughters, wives,
- In flames expiring at the altar’s feet;
- Our good old sovereign, bent beneath the weight
- Of years, and murdered o’er his bleeding sons!
- Then Lusignan, the last of his high race,
- Revived our drooping courage; terrible
- He stood, amidst the carnage of the field,
- His right hand grasped a falchion wet with blood,
- And with the left he pointed to the cross;
- Then cried aloud, “Now countrymen be faithful.”
- The power divine, that favored us this day,
- Protected him in that tremendous hour
- Beneath its friendly wing, and smoothed his path
- To safety and repose: Cæsarea then
- Received our poor remains, where Lusignan
- Was by the general voice proclaimed our king:
- O my Nerestan, the Almighty power,
- To humble haughty man, withholds from him
- Fair virtue’s prize till life’s short race is run;
- We fought long-time for heaven, but fought in vain;
- The sacred city, smoking in its ruins,
- Still lay, when by a treacherous Greek betrayed
- In our asylum, we beheld the flame
- That raged in hapless Sion reach to us,
- And over Cæsarea’s walls with fury spread;
- There, bound in ignominious chains, I saw
- Great Lusignan, superior to misfortune,
- And only weeping for his country’s fate;
- E’er since that fatal hour the good old man,
- The Christians’ father (he deserves that name)
- In a dark dungeon lies, by all neglected,
- By all forgotten: such is the hard fate
- For us he suffers, and whilst he is wretched
- Tell me, Nerestan, how can we be happy?
- Unless we were barbarians: O I loathe
- The destiny that keeps us from each other;
- Thou hast recalled the times and sorrows past;
- I shudder at the sad remembrance of them:
- Cæsarea buried in her smoking ruins,
- Thy prison, and great Lusignan in bondage,
- Were the first objects that my eyes beheld;
- I know thy woes, with them my life began;
- Midst shrieking infants, ravished from the breasts
- Of trembling mothers, was Nerestan borne
- To this seraglio, with my fellow-captive,
- The lovely Zaïre, who, forgive my sighs,
- For this barbarian now hath left her God.
- It is the glory of these Mussulmans
- Thus to seduce the minds of captive Christians;
- Blest be the hand of heaven that saved thy youth
- From their delusions; but, my lord, this Zaïre,
- Though she renounced the Christian faith, may serve
- The Christian cause; her interest with the Sultan,
- Who loves her, may be useful; by what arm
- God sends us help, it matters not; for justice
- With wisdom oft conspires to draw advantage
- Alike from our misfortunes, and our crimes:
- The beauteous Zaïre’s influence may subdue
- The stubborn heart of Osman, and persuade him
- To give us back a hero whom himself
- Must needs admire, and whom he cannot fear.
- But thinkest thou Lusignan would condescend
- To take his liberty on terms like these?
- Or if he would, how can I get from Zaïre
- A moment’s audience? Osman will not grant it:
- Will this seraglio’s gates, for ever barred,
- Open to me? nay, grant I gain admission,
- What can I hope from an apostate woman?
- Nerestan’s presence would reproach her falsehood,
- And she must read her shame upon my brow:
- ’Tis most ungrateful to the generous mind
- To sue for aid of those whom we despise:
- If they refuse, it sorely hurts our pride;
- And if they grant, we blush to accept it of them.
- Yet think on Lusignan, and strive to serve him.
- I must: but how to get at this false woman—
- We’re interrupted; ha! who comes? ’tis Zaïre.
zaïre, chatillon, nerestan.
- [To Nerestan.
- Be not alarmed; by Osman’s leave I come
- To thank the brave Nerestan; do not look
- So sternly on me, nor with bitter words
- Reproach my weakness; I have wished, yet feared,
- To meet thee; why I know not, but my heart
- Still flutters at thy presence; from our birth
- We have been subject to one common fate;
- One prison held us in our infant years;
- Together have we felt the galling yoke
- Of slavery, still by tender friendship made
- Lighter to both: at length thy kinder fate
- Led thee to France, and I was left to mourn
- Thy absence; whether it arose from pity,
- From nobleness of soul, or partial fondness,
- I know now, but thy generous ardor fought
- And gained a ransom for the hapless Zaïre;
- But heaven hath counteracted thy kind purpose,
- And I am doomed for ever to remain
- In Solyma: long time a slave unknown,
- And undistinguished, Zaïre lived, till Osman
- Look’d down upon me; but tho’ fortune smiles
- Propitious now, and offers all her charms
- Of pomp and grandeur, yet I cannot leave
- Without regret my fellow-captive: oft
- Shall I reflect on thee, and on thy goodness,
- And cherish the remembrance of thy virtues:
- Like thee, I will endeavor to relieve
- The wretched, ever will protect the Christians,
- And be a mother to them; for thy sake
- They will be always dear to Zaïre.
- Protect the Christian! you who have forsaken them?
- You, who have trampled on the sacred ashes
- Of Lusignan’s great ancestors!
- O no:
- I hold their virtues in most dear remembrance,
- And come even now to give you back your joy,
- Your hope, the last and greatest of their race:
- Your Lusignan is free, and comes to meet you.
- And shall we see once more our honored father,
- Our best support?
- And shall we owe to Zaïre
- A life so precious?
- When I asked the favor
- I did not hope it, but the generous sultan,
- Beyond my wish, consented, and they soon
- Will bring him here.
- How my heart beats, Chatillon!
- I weep his fate, Nerestan, for, like him,
- I too have languished in captivity;
- Woes which ourselves have felt we always pity.
- Good heaven, what virtue in an infidel!
zaïre, lusignan, chatillon, nerestan,Several Christian Slaves.
- Who calls me from the dark abode of death?
- Am I with Christians? O support me, guide
- My trembling footsteps; I am weak with age
- And with misfortunes: am I free indeed?
- You live to make us happy,
- Us wretched Christians.
- Sure I know that voice:
- Can it be you, Chatillon? do I see
- My friend, my fellow martyr to the faith
- Of our forefathers? where am I? O aid
- My feeble sight!
- This is the palace, sir,
- Built by your royal ancestors, but now
- The seat of fierce Nouraddin’s son.
- Great Osman,
- Its noble master, is a friend to virtue:
- This generous youth,
- [Pointing to Nerestan.
- To thee unknown, from France
- Is late arrived, and kindly brings with him
- The ransom of ten Christian slaves; the sultan,
- Resolved in honor’s path to tread with him,
- To crown their wishes, has delivered thee.
- The sons of France are in their nature noble,
- Beneficent, and brave; I know them well,
- And have experienced their humanity.
- [Turning to Nerestan.
- Hast thou then passed the ocean to relieve
- These wretched captives’ woes, and set us free?
- Say, generous stranger, whom am I to thank
- For this unequalled goodness?
- I am called
- Nerestan; almost from my birth a slave
- In Solyma; I left in earliest years
- The Turkish empire, and with Louis learned
- The rugged talk of war; beneath his banner
- Long time I fought; to him I owe my rank
- And fortune, to the first of monarchs, famed
- Alike for valor and for holy zeal
- To heaven and its true faith: I followed him
- To Charent’s banks, where the fierce English, long
- Unconquered, bent beneath the Gallic power.
- Haste then, and show the venerable marks
- Of thy hard slavery to the best of kings;
- He will reward thee; Paris will revere
- A martyr to the cross, and Louis’ court,
- The asylum of oppressed royalty,
- With open arms receive an injured sovereign.
- I knew the court of France in all its glory;
- When Philip conquered at Bouvines, I fought
- With Montmorency, Melum, and d’Estaing,
- With valiant Nesle, and the renowned Coucy,
- But never shall behold it more; alas!
- Thou seest I am descending to the grave,
- To seek the King of Kings, and ask of him
- The due reward of all my sufferings past.
- Whilst I have life, yet hear me, thou kind witness
- Of my last moments, good Chatillon, thou
- Nerestan, too, and this fair mourner here,
- Who honors with her tears the wretched fate
- Of dying Lusignan: O pity me,
- Pity the most unhappy father sure
- That ever groaned beneath the wrath of heaven!
- Time has no power o’er miseries like mine:
- Still I lament a daughter, and three sons,
- Torn from me in their infancy: Chatillon,
- Thou must remember it.
- I do, my lord,
- And shudder at it now.
- A prisoner with me,
- Cæsarea then in flames, thou sawest my wife
- And two of my dear sons expire.
- I did;
- Loaded with chains I could not help them.
- I was a father, and yet could not die:
- O ye loved infants, from your heavenly mansion
- Look down propitious on my other children,
- If yet they live, O succor and protect them!
- To this seraglio, even where now we stand,
- That daughter and that son whom I lament
- Were by the hands of vile barbarians borne,
- And here condemned to bear the shameful yoke
- Of slavery.
- ’Tis too true; your daughter then
- Was in her cradle; in these arms I held her,
- And scarce had time to sprinkle o’er her face
- The holy water, and pronounce her Christian,
- E’er the rude hands of bloody Saracens
- Rushed in, and tore her from me: thy last son,
- Scarce four years old, just capable of feeling
- His early sorrows, to Jerusalem
- Was carried with his sister.
- How my heart
- Beats at the mournful tale! about that age
- I was a prisoner in Cæsarea; thence,
- Covered with blood, and bound in chains, I followed
- A crowd of Christian slaves.
- Didst thou; O heaven!
- And wert thou brought up here in this seraglio?
- [Looking earnestly at them.
- Alas! perhaps you might have known my children,
- Your age the same; perhaps these eyes—O madam,
- What foreign ornament is that? how long
- May you have worn it?
- Ever since my birth:
- Why sigh you, sir?
- Permit my trembling hands—
- Whence is this strange emotion? O my lord,
- What look you so intently on?
- O heaven!
- O Providence! O eyes, do not deceive
- My fearful hope—’tis she—it was a present
- To my dear wife; my children always wore it
- Upon their birthday: O I faint, I die
- With rapture.
- Ha! what do I hear? my soul
- Is lost in doubt; O say, my lord—
- Great God,
- Who seest my tears, forsake me not; O thou
- Who on this cross didst perish, and for us
- Didst rise again, this is thy work, O haste,
- Complete it, gracious heaven!
- [Turning to Zaire.
- And hast thou kept it
- Indeed so long? and were you prisoners both,
- Both in Cæsarea seized, and brought together?
- Their speech,
- Their features, all confirm it; every look
- Brings their dear mother to my eyes: O heaven,
- Restore my feeble senses thus o’erpowered
- With joy! O madam, O Nerestan, help,
- Chatillon, to support me! O Nerestan,
- If yet I ought to call thee by that name,
- Once thou wert wounded, by a desperate hand;
- I saw the villain strike thee; hast thou not
- The scar upon thy breast?
- Just God! blessed moment!
- O my lord! O Zaïre!
- O blessed discovery! happy hour!
- My son! my daughter! O embrace your father!
- Trust me, Chatillon’s heart rejoices with you.
- I know not how to force me from your arms,
- My dearest children! do I then behold
- Once more my wretched family? my son,
- Thou art the worthy heir of Lusignan:
- But say, my daughter, O dispel the doubts
- That rise to check my happiness! O God,
- That guidest our fortunes, thou who hast restored
- My daughter, have I found a Christian? Zaïre,
- Alas! thou weepest, and thy dejected eyes
- Are turned aside from me: unhappy woman!
- I understand thee but too well: O heaven,
- O guilt! guilt!
- Yes: I’ll not deceive my father:
- Brought up in Osman’s court, and to his laws
- Obedient; punish sir, your wretched daughter;
- I own I was a Mussulman.
- The wrath
- Of heaven pursues me still; and but for thee,
- My son, that word had ended my sad being:
- For thee, O God! and in thy glorious cause,
- These threescore years old Lusignan hath fought,
- But fought in vain; hath seen thy temple fall,
- Thy goodness spurned, thy sacred rites profaned:
- For twenty summers in a dungeon hid,
- With tears have I implored thee to protect
- My children; thou hast given them to my wishes,
- And in my daughter now I find thy foe:
- I am myself, alas! the fatal cause
- Of thy lost faith; had I not been a slave—
- But, O my daughter! thou dear lovely object
- Of all my cares, O think on the pure blood
- Within thy veins, the blood of twenty kings,
- All Christians like myself, the blood of heroes,
- Defenders of the faith, the blood of martyrs:
- Thou art a stranger to thy mother’s fate;
- Thou dost not know, that in the very moment
- That gave thee birth, I saw her massacred
- By those barbarians, whose detested faith
- Thou hast embraced: thy brothers, the dear martyrs,
- Stretch forth their hands from heaven, and wish to embrace
- A sister; O remember them! that God
- Whom thou betrayest, for us, and for mankind,
- Even in this place expired; where I so oft
- Have fought for him, where now his blood by me
- Calls loudly on thee: see you temple, see
- These walls; behold the sacred mountain, where
- Thy Saviour bled; the tomb whence he arose
- Victorious; in each path where’er thou treadest
- Shalt thou behold the footsteps of thy God:
- Wilt thou renounce thy honor and thy father?
- Wilt thou renounce thy maker? O my Zaïre,
- Thou weepest; the blood forsakes thy cheek; I see
- Thy heart is softened to repentance: truth,
- Sent by indulgent heaven, already beams
- On thy enlightened soul; again I find
- My daughter; from the hands of infidels
- To save her thus in happiness and glory.
- Do I indeed once more behold a sister?
- And is her soul—
- Dear author of my life,
- My father, speak; what must I do?
- At once my shame and sorrow with a word,
- And say thou art—a Christian.
- Then, my lord,
- I am a Christian.
- ’Tis enough, O God!
- Thou hearest, receive, and ratify her vow!
zaïre, lusignan, chatillon, nerestan, orasmin.
- Madam, the sultan wills me to inform you,
- You must this moment leave the place, and quit
- These Christian slaves: you, Frenchmen, follow me.
- What dreadful stroke is this?
- Our courage, friends,
- Must now support us.
- O thou,
- Whom now I dare not name, remember me,
- And swear that thou wilt keep the fatal secret.
- Farewell! the rest be left to heaven.
End of the Second Act.
- Orasmin, ’tis not as thy groundless fears
- Suggested to thee; Louis turns no more
- His arms against us; his disgusted people
- Are wearied with the unsuccessful search
- Of climates, which heaven ne’er designed for them:
- They will not leave their seats of ease and plenty
- To languish in Arabia’s sultry deserts,
- And wet our verdant palms in Christian blood:
- Their ships are spread indeed o’er Syria’s sea,
- And Asia trembles at the sight; but know,
- Towards fertile Egypt Louis bends his way,
- In search of Melidor, my secret foe:
- Their quarrels fix but on a firmer base
- The throne of Osman: I have nought to fear
- From Egypt or from France; by their division
- My power is strengthened: prodigal of blood,
- I thank them for it, they destroy each other,
- To save my subjects and avenge my cause.
- Release those Christians; I would please their master,
- And therefore they shall live; let them be sent
- To Louis; it may teach him to respect
- Our holy faith, and know me for his friend:
- Tell him I give him Lusignan, the man
- Who claims by birth alliance to his throne,
- Whom my brave father twice subdued, and kept
- In chains, nor whilst he lived would set him free.
- His name so dear to Christians—
- For his name
- I heed it not.
- O but, my lord, if Louis—
- ’Twere needless to dissemble now, Orasmin,
- ’Tis Zaïre’s will, therefore no more; my heart
- Yields to its conqueror, and Lusignan
- Is given to her; I had not else released
- My pris’ner: Louis is not worth my care;
- But I would make atonement for the wrongs
- Of injured Zaïre and her Christian friends;
- I’ve been too harsh with them: ’tis but an hour
- Before our happy nuptials, and meantime
- I would oblige my Zaïre; she desires
- Some private conference with the brave Nerestan,
- That generous Christian—
- I have, Orasmin: they were slaves together
- Even from their childhood, and perhaps may ne’er
- Behold each other more; she asks, in short,
- Who must not be denied: the rigid laws
- Of our seraglio were not made for Zaïre;
- I hate its cruel, its severe restraint,
- That binds the free-born soul in shameful bonds,
- And makes a virtue of necessity.
- I am not sprung, thank heaven! of Asian blood,
- But, midst the rocks of Tauric Scythia born,
- From my forefathers boast a Scythian heart,
- Fiery and bold, yet generous and humane:
- I would have all partake of Osman’s joy,
- And therefore let Nerestan see her: go,
- Conduct him to her, he attends without;
- Let Zaïre be obeyed.
- Please you to rest
- A moment here, till Zaïre comes.
- Just heaven!
- And must I leave her? cruel fate! to whom,
- To what is she reserved? alas! my father,
- Religion, virtue—but she’s here.
- My sister,
- At length we may converse; but what a time
- Hath heaven appointed for our meeting! ne’er
- Wilt thou behold thy wretched father more.
- His end is nigh:
- His feeble powers, oppressed with sudden joy
- At the unexpected sight of his dear children,
- Are quite exhausted, and the springs of life
- Will soon be motionless; but, O my sister,
- Think how the wretched state of his last moments
- Will be embittered by his cruel doubts
- Concerning thee; uncertain of thy faith
- He dies, and asks with his expiring breath
- If Zaïre is a Christian.
- Am I not
- Thy sister? thinkest thou I will e’er renounce
- Thy faith and mine, forgetful of the tie
- That binds us?
- Yet thou art a stranger to it;
- ’Tis but the morning of that glorious day
- Which must enlighten thee; thou hast not yet
- Received the precious pledge, the sacred stream
- That copious flows to wash our crimes away:
- Swear by our miseries, by our family,
- By all those holy martyrs whence we sprung,
- Thou wilt this day receive the mystic seal,
- The mark distinctive of the living God.
- I swear to thee, by him whom I adore,
- That God whose laws unknowing I revere,
- Henceforth, Nerestan, to embrace thy faith
- And be a Christian: but, O tell me, what
- Doth it require of Zaïre?
- To detest
- Thy tyrant master, and obey the God
- Of our forefathers, that benignant power
- Who died to save us, who conducted me
- To my dear sister, and restored to thee
- Our long-lost father; but, alas! Nerestan
- Cannot instruct thee, mine’s a soldier’s zeal,
- Devoid of knowledge; soon a holy priest
- Shall visit thee, and open the fair book
- Of wisdom, clear thy mind’s obstructed sight,
- And give thee liberty, and life: remember
- Thy oath; take heed that baptism lead thee not
- To curses and to death: but how, my sister,
- Shall I gain leave to bring him to thee? whom
- Must I apply to in this vile seraglio?
- O heaven! that thus the blood of twenty kings,
- The daughter of great Lusignan, that thou,
- Nerestan’s sister, and a Christian, thus
- Should be the slave of Osman! but, no more;
- You understand me, Zaïre: gracious God!
- Were we reserved for this at last?
- Go on,
- My cruel brother, and pursue thy triumph
- O’er Zaïre’s weakness; O thou knowest not yet
- Her secret faults, her sorrows, and her crimes:
- Pity, Nerestan, an unhappy sister,
- Misled, betrayed, and dying with despair:
- I am a Christian, and impatient wait
- The holy water that must purge my heart,
- And wash its stains away: I will not live
- Unworthy of my brother, of myself,
- Of my great ancestors, of thee, my father,
- Afflicted Lusignan! but tell me all,
- What will your Christian laws require of Zaïre?
- How will they punish an unhappy woman,
- Left to repine in sad captivity?
- What, if amidst her sorrows she should find
- A generous patron in a brave barbarian,
- Warmed by his goodness, what if she should feel
- A grateful passion, and give up her heart
- To him that saved her?
- Ha! what sayest thou? rather
- Might instant death—
- Strike, and prevent thy shame;
- For know—
- O heaven! couldst thou, my sister?
- I stand condemned, I am my own accuser:
- Osman adores me, and I meant to wed him.
- To wed him? to wed Osman? can it be?
- Couldst thou, descended from a race of kings,
- Couldst thou, my sister?
- Strike; for know, I love him.
- Shame as thou art to our untainted blood,
- Now, did I listen to the voice of honor,
- Did not the law of that all-saving God
- Whom yet thou knowest not, did not my religion
- Withhold my arm, this moment would I rush
- Into the palace, and there sacrifice
- This vile barbarian, this imperious lover;
- Would plunge the dagger in thy guilty breast,
- Then turn it on my own: O infamy!
- Whilst Louis, the world’s bright example, bears
- His conquering legions to the affrighted Nile,
- But to return on wings of victory
- To free thy captive God, and give him back
- His native walls, meantime Nerestan’s sister
- Renounces all, and weds an infidel:
- And must I tell the good old man, his daughter
- Hath chosen a Tartar for her God? alas!
- Ev’n now thy dying father kneels to heaven
- For Zaïre’s happiness.
- O stay, my brother,
- Perhaps thy Zaïre still deserves thy love;
- Thou dost not know me; spare thy keen reproaches,
- For, O, thy cruel scorn, thy bitter wrath,
- Is worse to me even than the death I asked,
- Which yet thou hast refused me: O Nerestan,
- I know thou art oppressed, I know thou sufferest
- For my misfortunes; but I suffer more:
- Would that kind heaven had taken my wretched life,
- Before this heart glowed with a guilty flame
- For Osman! and yet, who that knew his virtues
- Would not have loved him! he did all for me;
- His generous heart from crowds of fond admirers
- Selected Zaïre; she alone subdued
- His fiery soul, and softened his resentment:
- He hath revived the Christian’s hope; to him
- I owe the dear delight of seeing thee,
- My brother: O Nerestan, thou shouldst pardon,
- Indeed thou shouldst, for I am truly wretched:
- My oath, my duty, my remorse, my father,
- My fatal passion, and thy cruel anger,
- Are punishment enough: repentance fills
- All Zaïre’s soul, and leaves no room for love.
- I blame, yet pity thee: kind heaven, I trust,
- Will never let thee perish in thy sins;
- The arm of God, that makes the weakest strong,
- Will cherish and support a tender flower
- That bends beneath the fury of the storm:
- He will not suffer thy divided heart
- To fluctuate thus ’twixt Him and a barbarian;
- Baptism will quench the guilty flame, and Zaïre
- In the true faith shall live a pious Christian,
- Or die a martyr: promise then thy father,
- Promise thy king, thy country, and that God
- Whose powerful voice thou hast already heard,
- Thou wilt not think of these detested nuptials
- Before the priest hath opened thy dark mind,
- And, in Nerestan’s sight, pronounced thee Christian:
- Say, wilt thou promise, Zaïre?
- Yes; I promise:
- Make me a Christian, make me free; do what
- Thou wilt with Zaïre: but haste, close the eyes
- Of my dear father: would I could go with thee,
- And die before him!
- Sister, fare thee well!
- Since I must leave thee in this hated palace,
- Farewell! remember, I shall soon return
- To save thee from perdition, from thyself,
- And from the powers of hell, by holy baptism.
- I am alone: now hear me, gracious heaven!
- For what am I reserved? O God, command
- This rebel heart not to relinquish thee!
- Am I the daughter of great Lusignan,
- Or Osman’s wife; a lover, or a Christian?
- Ye sacred oaths, my father, and my country,
- All shall be heard, all shall be satisfied!
- But where’s my friend? where is my Fatima?
- In this distressful hour the world forsakes me:
- Deserted, and forlorn, how shall I bear
- The galling weight of these discordant duties!
- O God! I will be thine, and thine alone;
- But, O! preserve me from the sight of Osman,
- The dear, the generous Osman! did I think
- This morn, that ere the day was past, my heart
- Should dread to see him; I whose every hope
- And joy, and happiness, on him alone
- Depended? O! I had no other care,
- No pleasure, but to listen to his love;
- To wish, and wait for, and adore my Osman!
- And now it is a crime to think of him.
- Come forth, my love! for my impatient soul
- Is on the wing, and will not brook delay!
- The torch of Hymen casts its sacred light
- On happy Osman, and the perfumed mosque
- Invites us; Mahomet’s all-powerful God
- Propitious hears and answers to our vows;
- My people on their knees, in fervent prayer,
- United sue for Zaïre’s happiness;
- Whilst thy proud rivals, who disputed long
- My heart with thee, at length confess thy power,
- Pleased to submit, and happy to obey:
- The rites attend thee, and the throne’s prepared;
- Haste then, my love, and make thy Osman happy.
- O grief! O love! O wretched Zaïre!
- Give me thy hand, come, beauteous Zaïre, deign—
- What can I say to him? assist me, heaven!
- O! I must triumph o’er this tender weakness,
- This sweet embarrassment; it makes me love thee
- With double ardor.
- Those sighs, my Zaïre,
- Endear thee more to Osman; ’tis the mark
- Of modest virtue thus to shrink from love;
- But haste, my charmer, and repay my fondness,
- My constancy—
- O Fatima, support me!
- My lord—
- That heaven’s my witness,
- All Zaire’s hopes of happiness were placed
- On thee; my soul desired to call thee mine:
- Not that I sought the splendor of a throne;
- Thoughts distant far and nobler filled my breast:
- I could have wish, to thee and to thy virtues
- United, to have lived in solitude,
- With thee despised the pomp of Asia’s pride,
- And spurned her crowns and sceptres at my feet:
- But O! my lord, these Christians—
- What have they
- To do with Osman, or with Osman’s love?
- Old Lusignan, oppressed with age and sorrow,
- Now touches his last moments.
- Be it so;
- What is that Christian slave to thee, or why
- Feelest thou for him? thou art not of his faith,
- But from thy infant years hast followed mine,
- And worshipped Osman’s God; shall Zaïre weep
- Because an old man pays the debt of nature?
- At such a time as this shall Zaïre mourn?
- Should she not rather centre all her cares
- In Osman now, and think of naught but love?
- If ever I was dear to thee—
- Defer, my lord, a little while
- Our nuptials, let me—
- Ha! what sayest thou? heaven!
- Can Zaïre speak thus?
- O I cannot bear
- His anger.
- O forgive, my lord,
- These sighs! alas, I have forgot myself,
- Forgot my duty, all I owe to thee:
- I cannot bear that look—permit me, sir,
- But for a moment to retire, to hide
- My tears, my grief, my love, and my despair.
- [She goes out.
- Amazement! dumb and motionless I stand
- With horror: did I hear aright, Orasmin,
- Was it to me that Zaïre spoke, to Osman?
- Does she avoid me; fly from me? O heaven!
- What have I seen, and whence this wondrous change?
- She’s gone, she’s lost; I know not who I am,
- Or what, or where.
- You are yourself the cause
- Of your complaint, and but accuse a heart
- Where you and you alone in triumph reign.
- But why those sighs, those tears, that sudden flight!
- Whence that deep sorrow, in her downcast eyes
- So plainly written? O if that wily Frenchman—
- Horrible thought! how dreadfully the light
- Breaks in upon me! ’tis impossible;
- A vile barbarian; O, it cannot be
- Orasmin; thinkest thou that the heart of Osman
- Will e’er descend to fear a Christian slave?
- But tell me, thou perhaps couldst mark her features,
- And understand the language of her eye;
- Am I betrayed? nay, do not hide thy thoughts,
- But let me know my misery: ha! thou tremblest;
- It is enough.
- I would not rive thy heart
- With fond suspicions: I beheld her weep,
- But nothing more; saw naught that could alarm—
- Was I reserved to bear an injury
- Like this? had Zaïre meant to play me false,
- She would have done it with more art; would ne’er
- Have openly avowed her treacherous purpose:
- O no; she must be innocent; but tell me,
- This Frenchman—he, thou sayest too sighed and wept;
- And what of that! he might not sigh for her;
- It was not love perhaps that made him weep;
- Or if it was, why should I fear a slave,
- One who to-morrow parts from her forever?
- Against our laws, my lord, you gave him leave
- To see her twice; he came.
- The traitor! yes,
- I know he did; but if again he dares
- To visit her, I’ll tear the slave to pieces,
- And mix his life-blood with the faithless Zaire’s.
- Pardon, my friend, the transports of a heart
- So deeply pierced; it is by nature warm,
- And has been wounded in the tenderest part:
- I know my rage, Orasmin, and my weakness,
- Know ’tis beneath me to be thus disturbed;
- But Zaïre—O I cannot, will not think it:
- Her heart could ne’er be guilty of such baseness,
- It was not made for falsehood; nor shall Osman
- Stoop to complaint or mean submission; no:
- It were unworthy of a king to wait
- For explanations of this strange conduct:
- I will resume that empire o’er my heart
- Which I had lost, forget the very name
- Of Zaïre: yes; henceforth let my seraglio
- Be shut forever, fear and terror reign
- Within my palace; let despotic power
- Rule unreluctant o’er a race of slaves!
- Osman henceforth shall be an eastern king,
- And reign like them: perhaps we may forget
- Our rank a while, and cast an eye of favor
- Upon our vassals; but to stand in awe
- Of a proud mistress, is most shameful; no:
- To western climes we leave such fond submission
- The dangerous sex, ambitious to enslave
- Our easy hearts, and bend them to their will,
- In Europe rule, but here they must obey.
End of the Third Act.
- How I admire, and how I pity thee!
- The Christian God inspires thee; let not then
- Thy soul despair, for he shall give thee strength
- To break the powerful chains of mighty love.
- When shall I make the glorious sacrifice?
- Thou suest to heaven for pardon, but mayest claim
- Its justice; God will guard thy innocence,
- And shield thy virtue.
- Zaïre never wanted
- His kind protection more.
- The God thou servest
- Will be a father to thee; he shall guide
- Thy wandering steps, speak to thy doubting heart,
- And take thee to his bosom: though the priest
- Dare not attend thee here—
- Alas! my friend,
- How have I pierced the soul of generous Osman,
- And driven him to despair! a dreadful task!
- But ’tis thy will, O God, and I obey:
- Zaïre had been too happy.
- Wilt thou then
- Hazard the victory after all thy toil?
- Unhappy victory, and inhuman virtue!
- Alas! thou knowest not, Fatima, how dear
- They cost me; all my hopes of happiness
- Were fixed on love, and Osman: take my heart,
- Accept my guilty tears, subdue my passion
- Eternal God, and make me all thy own!
- But O my friend, even now the lovely image
- Of my dear generous Osman steps between
- My God and me; that form is still before me,
- Forever in my sight: ye race of kings
- From whom I sprang, my father, mother, country,
- And thou, my God, since you have taken him from me,
- Finish a life that is not worth my care
- Without him; let me die a blameless victim,
- Let Osman close the eyes of her he loved!
- But he has left me, left the wretched Zaïre,
- Inquires not, thinks not of me; O I faint,
- My Fatima, I never can survive it.
- Remember thou art the daughter of a king,
- The favorite of heaven, the chosen of God;
- And will not he protect thee?
- Will he not
- Protect my Osman too? a God of mercy
- Can never hate, can never persecute
- A heart so just, so brave, so good as Osman’s;
- What could he more, had he been born a Christian?
- O that this holy minister would come,
- This blest interpreter of heaven’s high will,
- To ease my wounded heart, and give me comfort!
- Still I have hope that kind benignant God,
- Whose darling attribute is clemency,
- Will not forbid our union, will forgive
- The struggles of a heart so torn as mine;
- Perhaps by raising Zaïre to the throne
- Of Syria he might serve the Christian cause:
- Great Saladin, thou knowest, whose potent arm
- Robbed us of Jordan’s empire, who, like Osman,
- Was famed for mercy, from a Christian sprung.
- Alas! thou seest not that, to calm thy soul,
- Mistaken as thou art—
- I see it all;
- See that my father, country, friends, condemn me;
- See that I follow Lusignan, yet love.
- Adore my Osman; see that still my life
- Is linked with his: O I could wish to see him,
- To throw me at his feet, and tell him all.
- That would destroy thy brother, and endanger
- The Christians, who have no support but thee;
- Thou wouldst betray that God who calls thee back
- From error’s paths, and bids thee follow him.
- O didst thou know the noble heart of Osman!
- He is protector of the Mussulman,
- Therefore the more he loves thee, doubtless, Zaïre,
- Less willing must he be to have thee worship
- A God his faith has taught him to abhor.
- The priest, thou knowest, will visit thee in secret,
- And thou hast promised—
- I will wait for him;
- I’ve promised to preserve the secret still
- From Osman; cruel silence! but to make
- My woes complete, I am no longer loved.
- There was a time when thy deluding charms
- Inflamed my soul; a willing captive then
- I gloried in my chains: I hoped indeed,
- Vain hope! a sovereign sighing at thy feet
- Might claim some kind return, and thought myself
- Beloved by Zaïre; but I am undeceived:
- Yet think not, madam, I will ever stoop
- To mean complaints, or with the whining race
- Of vulgar lovers vindicate my wrongs
- By loud reproaches; no: I am above
- Dissimulation, and am come to tell you
- I mean to treat it with that just contempt
- Which it deserves; think not by female arts,
- Or subtle arguments, to color o’er
- Thy conduct, I disclaim thee, know thee not;
- And, for I would not make thee blush, desire
- The hated cause may be a secret still;
- I would not wish to know it: all is past:
- Another may be found to fill the throne
- Which you despise; another may have eyes
- Perhaps for Osman’s merit, and a heart
- For Osman’s love: I know ’twill cost me dear
- To part from Zaïre, but I am resolved:
- For I had rather lose thee, rather die
- With anguish and despair, than make thee mine,
- If but a sigh escaped thee for another,
- And not for Osman: fare thee well; these eyes
- Must ne’er behold thee more.
- It is thy will
- O, God, to reign unrivalled in my heart,
- And thou hast robbed me now of all:—my lord,
- Since you no longer love me—
- ’Tis too true;
- Honor commands it; I adored thee once,
- But I must leave thee, must renounce thee, ’twas
- Thy own request—beneath another law—
- Zaïre, thou weepest!
- O think not, I beseech you,
- Think not, my lord, I shall regret the pomp
- And splendor of a throne; it is decreed
- That I must lose thee, such is my hard fate:
- But punish me forever, angry heaven,
- If there be aught on earth I shall regret
- But Osman’s heart!
- Amazement? Zaïre said she loved me:
- Why then thou cruel maid, why tear the heart
- Of faithful Osman thus? in my despair,
- Alas! I thought I could command myself
- To love, or hate; but ’tis impossible:
- Zaïre can never be forgotten; no:
- Osman could never harbor such a thought,
- To place another on his throne; forgive
- My rage, my madness; ’twas affected all,
- All false; I could not leave, I could not hate thee;
- It was the only scorn thy tender heart
- Ever experienced: O I love thee still,
- And ever must: but wherefore thus delay
- My happiness? speak, was it fond caprice,
- Or was it fear, or artifice? but art
- Was never made for thee; thou needest it not:
- Even where it is most innocent, it looks
- Like falsehood, and perfidiousness: O Zaïre,
- Let it not break the holy tie that binds us:
- I ever have abhorred it: Osman’s heart
- Is full of naught but truth.
- Despair, and horror!
- O thou art dear to me, indeed thou art,
- Believe me, Osman; and the tender love
- I feel for thee makes me supremely wretched.
- Explain thyself: O heaven! and can it be?
- But thou wert born to make me wretched.
- What dreadful secret, Zaïre,
- Dost thou keep from me? have the Christian slaves
- Conspired against me? speak, am I betrayed?
- Who would betray so good so kind a master?
- No, generous Osman, thou hast naught to fear;
- Zaïre alone is wretched: but her griefs
- Are to herself.
- Great God! is Zaïre wretched?
- Permit me on my knees, my lord, to ask
- One favor of thee.
- Were it Osman’s life,
- Thou mightest command it: speak, and it is thine.
- O would to heaven we could have been united!
- But O, my lord, permit me this one day
- To be alone; leave me to meditate
- On my misfortunes, and to hide my griefs
- From thee; to-morrow all shall be revealed:
- O heaven! what woes dost thou inflict upon me!
- Canst thou—
- If love still pleads for Zaïre, grant her
- This one request! do not refuse me.
- It must be so; I have no will but thine:
- Remember that I sacrifice to thee
- The dearest, happiest moments of my life.
- O talk not thus, my lord, it wounds my heart
- Too deeply.
- You will leave me, Zaïre?
- So soon to seek retirement!
- It is an insult o’er my easy heart;
- The more I think, Orasmin, on her conduct,
- The more am I perplexed; I cannot find
- The hidden cause of this mysterious sorrow:
- By Osman’s partial fondness raised to empire,
- Even in the bosom of that happiness
- Her soul desired, thus loving and beloved,
- Yet are her eyes forever bathed in tears:
- I hate her fond caprice, her discontent
- And causeless grief—yet was not I to blame?
- Did I not slight her? did I not offend
- My Zaïre? wherefore then should I complain?
- I must atone for my injurious transports
- By double kindness, by indulging her
- In every wish: it is enough that Osman
- Is loved by Zaïre: her untainted soul
- Is void of art; hers is the tender age
- Of innocence and truth, when simple nature
- Guides every thought, and dictates every word:
- I will rely on her sincerity:
- I know she loves me; in her eyes I read
- The tender tale; whilst her impatient soul
- Flew to her lovely lips and told me all:
- Can there on earth be hearts so base as e’er
- To boast a passion which they never feel?
osman, orasmin, melidor.
- My lord, the guards have stopped a letter sent
- To Zaïre.
- Give it me: who sent it to her?
- One of those Christian slaves whom you released,
- Who, as he strove to enter the seraglio,
- Was seized, and put in chains.
- Ha! what do I read!
- Leave me—I tremble—
- This may clear up all,
- And set your heart at ease.
- Ha! let me read
- Again; this letter must determine all,
- And fix my fate—“Dear Zaïre, now’s the time
- To meet us; near the mosque thou wilt perceive
- A secret passage; unsuspected thence
- Thou mayest escape, and easily deceive
- Thy keepers; we must hazard all; thou knowest
- My zeal: I wait impatient for thee; haste,
- I cannot live, if thou shouldst prove unfaithful
- What sayest thou, my Orasmin?
- I, my lord?
- I’m shocked, astonished at her.
- Now thou seest
- How I am treated.
- O detested treason!
- You must resent an injury like this:
- You who so lately but on slight suspicion
- So deeply felt the wound; a deed so black,
- I hope, my lord, will cure you of your love.
- Haste, my Orasmin, fly this instant, show her
- That letter—let her tremble, and then plunge
- The dagger in her faithless breast—no, stay,
- Not yet—that Christian first—let him be brought
- Before her—stay—I can determine nothing,
- My rage o’erpowers me; O I faint, support me,
- ’Tis indeed a cruel stroke!
- ’Tis all unfolded now, this dreadful secret,
- That sat so heavy on her guilty heart:
- Beneath the specious veil of modest fear
- She left me for a while; I let her go;
- She wept at parting; wept but to betray me;
- O Zaïre, Zaïre.
- Everything conspires
- To make her doubly guilty: O my lord,
- Fall not a victim to her arts, recall
- Thy wonted courage, and deep sense of wrong.
- This is the gallant, boasted, brave Nerestan,
- The Christian’s hero, that proud son of honor,
- So famed for his sublimity of virtue;
- Admired, nay envied by the jealous Osman;
- Who could not bear a rival in a slave,
- And now he stoops to this vile treachery,
- This base imposture: O but Zaïre—she
- Is far more guilty, O a thousand times
- More vile, more impious—a poor Christian slave,
- I might have left her in her mean estate,
- And not debased her; well she knows what Osman
- Has done for her; ungrateful wretch!
- My lord,
- If midst the horrors of thy troubled soul
- I might be heard—forgive me—but if—
- I’ll see, and talk to her—go, fetch her hither;
- Fly, bring her, slave.
- In this distracted state
- What can you say to her?
- I know not what;
- But I must see her.
- To complain, to threaten,
- To make her weep, to let your easy heart
- Again be softened by her tears, to seek,
- In spite of all your wrongs, some poor pretence
- To justify her conduct: trust me, sir,
- ’Twere better to conceal this paper from her,
- Or send it to her by some hand unknown;
- Thus, spite of all her arts, thou mayest discover
- Her inmost thoughts, and unsuspected trace
- The secret windings of her treacherous heart.
- Dost thou indeed believe that Zaïre’s false?
- But I will tempt my fate, and try her virtue;
- I’ll try how far a bold and shameless woman
- Can urge her falsehood.
- O my lord, I fear,
- A heart like thine—
- Be not alarmed: alas!
- Osman, like Zaïre, never can dissemble:
- But I am master of myself, and know
- How to restrain my anger: yes, Orasmin;
- Since she descends so low—here—take this letter,
- This fatal scroll, choose out a trusty slave,
- And send it to her—go:—I will avoid her:
- Let her not dare approach—just heaven! ’tis she.
osman, zaïre, orasmin.
- I have obeyed your orders, and attend you,
- But own they much surprised me; whence, my lord,
- This sudden message? what important business—
- Business of moment, madam, of much more
- Than you perhaps imagine; I’ve reflected
- On our condition, Zaïre: we have made
- Each other wretched, and ’tis fit we come
- To explanations for our mutual interest:
- Perhaps my care, my tenderness, my bounty,
- The confidence my soul reposed on Zaïre,
- My pride forgot, my sceptre at thy feet,
- All my officious services demanded
- Some kind return from Zaïre; nay perhaps
- Forever courted, and forever pressed
- By a fond lover, thy reluctant heart
- Might yield, mistaking gratitude for love:
- Let us be free and open to each other,
- Answer with truth to my sincerity:
- If love’s supreme unconquerable power
- Pleads for another, if thy doubtful heart
- Uncertain wavers ’twixt his claim and mine,
- Avow it frankly, and I here forgive thee;
- But pause not, let me know my rival, quick,
- Now whilst I’m here, whilst I am speaking to thee,
- A moment more will be too late for pardon.
- Is this a language fit for me to hear,
- Or you to speak, my lord? I’ve not deserved it;
- But know, this injured heart, which heaven hath tried
- With sore affliction, could defy thy power,
- Did it not feel its foolish weakness still
- For Osman; were it not for my fond love,
- That fatal passion, which I ought no more
- To cherish, never should I thus descend
- To justify my conduct: whether heaven,
- That still hath persecuted wretched Zaïre,
- Decrees that we shall pass our lives together,
- I know not; but, whatever be my lot,
- By honor’s sacred laws, that in my heart
- Are deeply graved, I swear, were Zaïre left
- To her own choice, she would reject the vows
- Of powerful monarchs kneeling at her feet;
- All would be hateful to her after Osman:
- But I will tell thee more, will open all
- My foolish heart, will own it sighed for thee
- Long ere thy passion justified my own:
- Never did Zaïre own another master,
- Nor ever will: here, bear me witness, heaven!
- If I offended, if I have deserved
- Eternal wrath; if Zaïre has been guilty,
- If she has been ungrateful, ’twas for thee.
- Good heaven! she talks of tenderness and love,
- Though I have proof before me of her falsehood;
- O black ingratitude! O perjured Zaïre!
- What says my lord? you seem disordered.
- I am not, for thou lovest me.
- That fierce tone,
- And wild demeanor, suit not with thy words;
- Thou talkest of love, yet fillest my heart with terror.
- Canst thou doubt it? yet thy eyes
- Are red with anger; what indignant looks
- They cast upon me; furies in thy aspect!
- Thou dost not doubt me?
- No: I doubt no longer:
- You may retire: be gone.
- Didst thou observe her
- Orasmin? how she braves it to the last
- She glories in her crime; so artful too,
- So calmly, so deliberately false:
- But say, my friend, hast thou dispatched that slave,
- That I may know the worst of Zaïre’s guilt,
- And Osman’s shame?
- I have obeyed your orders;
- Now I may hope you will no longer sigh
- For Zaïre and her treacherous charms; henceforth
- You must behold her with indifference,
- Unless you should at last repent your justice,
- And love resume his empire o’er your heart.
- Orasmin, I adore her more than ever.
- Indeed, my lord? O heaven!
- Methinks I see
- A dawn of hope before me: this young Christian,
- This hated rival, bold, presumptuous, vain
- Full of his country’s levity, perhaps,
- But thinks that Zaïre listened to his vows,
- One look from her might easily deceive him:
- He thinks himself beloved; and he alone
- May be to blame, they may not both be guilty:
- She never saw that letter, I have been
- Too ready to believe myself undone.
- Orasmin, mark me—at the dead of night,
- When darkness lends her sable veil to hide
- The crimes of mortals, soon as this Nerestan
- Comes to the palace, instant let the guard
- Seize him, and bound in fetters bring him to me:
- Leave Zaïre free: thou knowest my heart; thou knowest
- To what excess I love; thou knowest how fierce
- My anger is, how cruel my resentment;
- I tremble but to think on it myself;
- O I have been most shamefully deceived;
- But woe to those who have offended Osman.
End of the Fourth Act.
osman, orasmin,a Slave.
- They’ve told her of it, and she comes to meet him;
- False wretch!—remember, slave, thy master’s fate
- Is in thy hands: give her the Christian’s letter;
- Observe her well, and bring me back her answer;
- Let me know all—but soft, she’s here, Orasmin,
- [To Orasmin.
- Come thou with me, and let thy tender friendship
- Teach me to hide my rage and my despair.
zaïre, fatima,a Slave.
- Who can desire to speak with wretched Zaïre,
- At such a time, when all is horror round me?
- If it should be my brother! but the gates
- Are shut on every side; yet heaven’s high hand,
- To strengthen my weak faith, by secret paths
- Might lead him to me: but what unknown slave—
- This letter, madam, trusted to my hands,
- Will speak my errand.
- [Aside, whilst Zaïre reads the letter.
- Great God!
- Send down thy blessing, and deliver her
- From barbarous Osman!
- Fatima, come near me,
- I must consult with thee.
- [To the slave.
- You may retire;
- Be ready when we call for you: away.
- Read this, my Fatima, and tell me what
- I ought to do: I would obey my brother.
- Say rather, madam, that you would obey
- The will of heaven; ’tis not Nerestan calls,
- It is the voice of God.
- I know it is;
- And I have sworn to serve him: but the attempt
- Is dangerous, to my brother, to myself,
- To all the Christians.
- ’Tis not that alarms you,
- ’Tis not their danger that suggests thy fears,
- ’Tis love: I know thy heart would judge like theirs,
- Like theirs determine, did not love oppose it:
- But O reflect, be mistress of thyself;
- You fear to offend a lover who has wronged,
- Who has insulted you; thou canst not see
- The Tartar’s soul through all his boasted virtues:
- Did he not threaten even while he adored?
- And yet your heart preserves its fond attachment,
- You sigh for Osman still.
- I have no cause
- To hate him, Osman never injured me;
- He offered me a throne, and I refused it;
- The temple was adorned, the rites prepared,
- And I, who ought to have revered his power,
- Despised his offered hand, and braved his anger.
- And canst thou in this great decisive hour
- Neglect thy duty thus to think of love?
- All, all conspires to drive me to despair:
- No power on earth can free me: I would quit
- With joy these walls so fatal to my peace,
- Would wish to see the Christian’s happier clime,
- Yet my fond heart in secret longs to stay
- Forever here: how dreadful my condition!
- I know not what I wish, or what I ought
- To do, and only feel myself most wretched:
- O I have sad forebodings of my fate,
- Avert them, heaven! preserve the Christians, save
- My dearest brother!—when Nerestan’s gone,
- I will take courage, and impart to Osman
- The dreadful secret; tell him to what faith
- This heart is bound, and who is Zaïre’s God;
- I know his generous soul will pity me:
- But, be as it will, whate’er I suffer,
- I never will betray my brother: go,
- And bring him here—call back that slave:
- O God
- Of my forefathers, God of Lusignan,
- And all our race, O let thy hand direct,
- Thine eye enlighten Zaïre!
- Tell the Christian
- Who gave thee this, he may depend on me,
- And Fatima is ready to conduct him.
- Take courage, Zaïre, yet thou mayest be happy.
osman, orasmin,a Slave.
- How lingering time retards my hasty vengeance!
- He comes:—well, slave, what says she? answer me,
- O my lord, her soul was deeply moved:
- She wept, grew pale, and trembled; sent me out,
- Then called me back, and with a faltering voice,
- That spoke a heart oppressed with sorrow, promised
- To meet him there this night.
- [To the slave.
- Away; begone;
- It is enough.—Orasmin, hence, I loath
- The sight of every human being; go,
- And leave me to the horrors of my soul;
- I hate the world, myself, and all mankind.
- Where am I? gracious heaven! O fatal passion!
- Zaïre, Nerestan, ye ungrateful pair,
- Haste, and deprive me of a life which you
- Have made most wretched: O abandoned Zaïre,
- Thou shalt not long enjoy—what ho! Orasmin.
- Cruel Orasmin! thus to leave thy friend
- In his distress! this rival, is he come?
- Detested night, that lendest
- Thy guilty veil to cover crimes like these!
- The faithless Zaïre! after all my kindness—
- Alas! unmoved, and with an eye serene,
- I could have borne the loss of empire, kept
- My peace of mind in poverty and chains,
- But to be thus deceived by her I love—
- What purpose you, my lord? may I request—
- Didst thou not hear a dreadful cry?
- Methought I heard some noise: they’re coming.
- No creature stirs, the whole seraglio’s wrapped
- In sleep: all is silent; night’s dark shade—
- All sleeps
- But guilt, that wakes and spreads its horrors round me:
- To urge her baseness to a height like this!
- O Zaïre, thou couldst never know how much,
- How tenderly I loved, how I adored thee;
- One look from her, Orasmin, guides my fate,
- And makes her Osman blest or cursed forever:
- Pity my rage, away! ungrateful woman!
- And dost thou weep? did Osman weep? O heaven!
- ’Twas the first time I ever wept, Orasmin;
- But they are cruel tears, and death ere long
- Will follow them; thou seest my shame, Orasmin:
- Now, Zaïre, weep, for they are tears of blood.
- Tremble for my love,
- For my hard sufferings, for my vengeance: hark!
- They come; I cannot be deceived; I hear them.
- Close by the palace wall they creep along.
- Fly, seize Nerestan, bring him here in chains
- Before me.
osman, zaïre, fatima.
[In the dark, at the bottom of the stage.
- What do I hear? ’tis the enchanting voice
- That hath so oft seduced me, that false tongue,
- The instrument of guilt and perfidy:
- But now for vengeance—O ’tis she, ’tis Zaïre,
- I cannot strike,
- [He takes out a dagger.
- The uplifted poniard drops
- From my weak hand: O heaven!
- This is the way,
- Come on, support me, Fatima.
- That word awakes my slumbering rage: she dies.
- I tremble every step I take; my heart
- Sinks down with fear: Nerestan, is it you?
- I’ve waited a long time.
- [Runs up to Zaïre and stabs her.
- ’Tis I, false woman!
- ’Tis Osman, whom thou hast betrayed: thou diest.
- [Falling on a sofa.
- O, I am slain; great God!
- I am revenged:
- What have I done? punished the guilty: here
- I’ll leave her:—Ha! her lover, too—now fate
- Completes my vengeance.
SCENE the last.
osman, zaïre, nerestan, orasmin,Slaves.
- Bring the villain hither:
- Approach, thou midnight plunderer, who comest
- To rob me of my all: now, traitor, take
- Thy due reward; prepare thyself for torments,
- For miseries, almost equal to my own:
- You have given orders for his punishment?
- A part of it thou feelest
- Already in thy heart; I see thou lookest
- Around thee for the partner of thy crimes,
- The wretch who has dishonored me—look there.
- What do I see? my sister! Zaïre dead!
- O monster! O unhappy hour!
- Barbarian, ’tis too true:
- Haste, Osman, haste, and shed the poor remains
- Of Lusignan’s high blood; destroy Nerestan,
- The last of our unhappy race: know, tyrant,
- That Lusignan was Zaïre’s wretched father:
- Within these arms the good old man expired:
- And sad Nerestan brought his last farewell,
- His dying words to Zaïre: yes, I came
- To strengthen her weak heart, direct her will,
- And turn her to the Christian faith: alas!
- She had opposed the will of heaven, and now
- Our God hath punished her for loving thee.
- Did Zaïre love me, Fatima?—his sister?
- Did she love Osman, sayest thou?
- Tyrant, yes:
- That was her only crime, and thou hast murdered
- A lovely innocent who still adored
- Her cruel master; still had hopes the God
- Of her forefathers gracious would receive
- The tribute of her tears, and pity her;
- Would have compassion on her artless youth,
- Forgive her weakness, and perhaps one day
- Unite her to thee: O to that excess
- She loved thee, that her heart was long divided
- ’Twixt Osman and her God.
- It is enough;
- I was beloved: away, I’ll hear no more.
- Who next must fall a victim to thy rage?
- Thine and thy father’s hand have spilt the blood
- Of all our race, Nerestan only lives
- To brave thee; haste, and send him to that father
- Whose guiltless daughter thou hast sacrificed:
- Where are your torments? I despise them all:
- I’ve felt the worst thou canst inflict upon me:
- But O if yet, all savage as thou art,
- Thou canst attend to honor’s voice, remember
- The Christian slaves whom thou hast sworn to free:
- Speak, hast thou yet humanity enough
- To keep thy sacred promise? if thou hast,
- I die contented.
- O sir, go in,
- Let me entreat you—let Nerestan—
- Barbarian, what is thy will?
- [After a long pause.
- Take off his chains.
- Orasmin, let his friends be all set free;
- Let the poor Christians have whate’er they wish;
- Give them large presents, and conduct them safe
- To Joppa.
- Reply not, but obey me,
- I am thy sultan, and thy friend; no more,
- But do it instantly—
- [To Nerestan.
- And thou, brave warrior.
- Brave but unfortunate, yet not so wretched
- As Osman is, leave thou this bloody scene,
- And take with thee that victim of my rage,
- The dear, the guiltless Zaïre: to thy king,
- And to thy fellow Christians, when thou tellest
- Thy mournful story, every eye will shed
- A tear for thee; all will detest the crime,
- And some perhaps lament the fate of Osman:
- But take this dagger with thee, which I plunged
- In Zaïre’s breast; tell them I killed the best,
- The sweetest, dearest innocent, that heaven
- Ever formed; this cruel hand destroyed her: tell them
- That I adored, and that I have revenged her:
- [Stabs himself.
- [To his attendants.
- Respect this hero, and conduct him safe.
- Direct me, heaven! ’midst all my miseries,
- And all thy guilt, I must admire thee, Osman;
- Nay more, thy foe Nerestan must lament thee.
End of the Fifth and Last Act.
The passages marked thus ‘ ’ are, in the original, written in a familiar kind of verse, consisting of eight syllables, which M. Voltaire is, in most of his letters, fond of intermingling with his prose: the reader will easily perceive that, however agreeable those rhymes might be to a French ear, both the subject and style, in the greater part of them, are of such a nature, as not to admit of poetical translation into English.
Voltaire was mistaken in this particular, as no translation of his Brutus was ever exhibited on the English stage.
Mr. Falkner, and some other gentlemen of character, were affronted at the Theatre Italienne at Paris, by some injurious reflections thrown out upon them in a contemptible farce exhibited there, which was hissed by the audience.
There is no expression in the English language which fully comprehends the meaning of the French word bienséance, which, notwithstanding, unfortunately for a translator, being a favorite phrase, recurs in almost every page: as does also the word naivete, for which we have no terms in all respects corresponding to it.