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His hospitable board : they are aware
Of th' unpledg’d bowl, they love not Aconite.
He's gone ; and much I hope these walls alone,
And the mute air are privy to your passion.
Forgive your servant's fears, who sees the danger
Which fierce resentment cannot fail to raise
In haughty youth, and irritated power.
And dost thou talk to me,
to me, of danger,
Of haughty youth, and irritated power,
To her that gave it being, her that arm'd
This painted Jove, and taught his novice hand
To aim the forked bolt; while he stood trembling,
Scard at the sound, and dazzled with its brightness ?
'Tis like, thou hast forgot, when yet a stranger
To adoration, to the grateful steam
Of flattery's incense, and obsequious vows
From voluntary realms, a puny boy,
Deck'd with no other lustre, than the blood
Of Agrippina’s race, he liv'd unknown
To fame or fortune ; haply eyed at distance
Some edileship, ambitious of the power
To judge of weights, and measures; scarcely dar'd
On expectation's strongest wing to soar,
High as the consulate, that empty shade
Of long-forgotten liberty : when I
Oped his young eye to bear the blaze of greatness;
Shew'd him, where empire tower'd, and bade him strike
The noble quarry. Gods! theni was the time
To shrink from danger; fear might then have worn
The mask of prudence : but a heart like mine,
A heart that glows with the pure Julian fire,
If bright ambition from her craggy seat
Display the radiant prize, will mount undaunted,
Gain the rough heights, and grasp the dangerous honour.
Thro’ various life I have pursued your steps,
Have seen your soul, and wonder'd at its daring:
Hence rise my fears. Nor am I yet to learn
How vast the debt of gratitude, which Nero
To such a mother owes; the world, you gave him,
Suffices not to pay the obligation.
I well remember too (for I was present)
When in a secret and dead hour of night,
Due sacrifice perform'd with barb'rous rites
Of mutter'd charms, and solemn invocation,
You bade the Magi call the dreadful powers,
That read futurity, to know the fate
Impending o'er your son: their answer was,
If the son reign, the mother perishes.
Perish (you cry'd) the mother! reign the son! He reigns, the rest is heav'n's; who oft has bade, Ev'n when its will seem'd wrote in lines of blood, Th’unthought event disclose a whiter meaning. Think too how oft in weak and sickly minds The sweets of kindness lavishly indulg'd Rankle to gall; and benefits too great To be repaid, sit heavy on the soul, As unrequited wrongs. The willing homage Of prostrate Rome, the senate's joint applause, The riches of the earth, the train of pleasures, That wait on youth, and arbitrary sway; These were your gift, and with them you bestow'd The very power he has to be ungrateful.
Thus ever grave and undisturb'd reflection
Pours its cool dictates in the madding ear
Of rage, and thinks to quench the fire it feels not.
Say'st thou I must be cautious, must be silent,
And tremble at the phantom I have rais'd ?
Carry to him thy timid counsels. He
heed 'em: tell him too, that one, Who had such liberal power to give, may still With equal power resume that gift, and raise A tempest, that shall sbake her own creation To its original atoms-tell me! say This mighty Emperor, this dreaded Hero, Has he beheld the glittering front of war? Knows his soft ear the trumpet's thrilling voice, And outcry of the battle? Have his limbs Sweat under iron harness? Is he not The silken son of dalliance, nurs'd in Ease And Pleasure's flowery lap ?—Rubellius lives, And Sylla has his friends, tho' school'd by fear To bow the supple knee, and court the times With shows of fair obeisance ; and a call, Like mine, might serve belike to wake pretensions Drowsier than theirs, who boast the genuing blood Of our imperial house.
Did I not wish to check this dangerous passion,
I might remind my mistress that her nod
Can rouse eight hardy legions, wont to stem
With stubborn nerves the tide, and face the rigour
Of bleak Germania's snows. Four, not less brave,
That in Armenia quell the Parthian force
Under the warlike Corbulo, by you
Mark'd for their leader: these by ties confirm’d,
Of old respect and gratitude, are yours.
Surely the Masians too, and those of Egypt,
Have not forgot your sire : the eye of Rome
And the Prætorian camp have long rever'd,
With custom'd awe, the daughter, sister, wife,
And mother of their Cæsars.
Ha! by Juno,
It bears a noble semblance. On this base
Ny great revenge shall rise; or say we sound
The trump of liberty ; there will not want,
Even in the servile senate, ears to own
Her spirit-stirring voice ; Soranus there,
And Cassius; Vetus too, and Thrasea,
Minds of the antique cast, rough, stubborn souls,
That struggle with the yoke. How shall the spark
Unquenchable, that glows within their breasts,
Blaze into freedom, when the idle herd
(Slaves from the womb, created but to stare,
And bellow in the Circus) yet will start,
And shake 'em at the name of liberty,
Stung by à senseless word, a vain tradition,
As there were magic in it? wrinkled beldams
Teach it their grandchildren, as somewhat rare
That anciently appear'd, but when, extends
Beyond their chronicle-oh! 'tis a cause
To arm the hand of childhood, and rebrace
The slacken'd sinews of time-wearied age.
Yes, we may meet, ingrateful boy, we may!
Again the buried genius of old Rome
Shall from the dust uprear his reverend head,
Rous'd by the shout of millions: there before
His high tribunal thou and I appear.
Let majesty sit on thy awful brow,
And lighten from thy eye: around thee call
The gilded swarm that wantons in the sunshine
Of thy full favour; Seneca be there
In gorgeous phrase of labour'd eloquence
To dress thy plea, and Burrhus strengthen it
With his plain soldier's oath, and honest seeming.
Against thee, liberty and Agrippina:
The world, the prize; and fair befall the victors.
But soft! why do I waste the fruitless hours
In threats unexecuted ? Haste thee, fly
These hated walls, that seem to mock my shame,
And cast me forth in duty to their lord.
'Tis time we go, the sun is high advancd,
And, ere mid-day, Nero will come to Baiæ.
My thought aches at him; not the basilisk
More deadly to the sight, than is to me
The cool injurious eye of frozen kindness.
I will not meet its poison. Let him feel
Before he sees me.
Why then stays my sovereign,
Where he so soon may-
Yes, I will be gone,
But not to Antium--all shall be confess'd,
Whate'er the frivolous tongue of giddy fame
Has spread among the crowd ; things, that but whisper'd
Have arch'd the hearer's brow, and rivetted
eyes in fearful ecstacy: no matter
What; so 't be strange, and dreadful.--Sorceries,
Assassinations, poisonings--the deeper
My guilt, the blacker his ingratitude.
And you, ye manes of ambition's victim,
Enshrined Claudius, with the pitied ghosts
Of the Syllani, doom'd to early death,
(Ye unavailing horrors, fruitless crimes!)
If from the realms of night my voice ye hear,
In lieu of penitence, and vain remorse,
Accept my vengeance. Tho' by me ye bled,
He was the cause. My love, my fears for him
Dried the soft springs of pity in my heart,
And froze them up with deadly cruelty.
Yet if your injur'd shades demand my fate,
If murder cries for murder, blood for blood,
Let me not fall alone; but crush his pride,
And sink the traitor in his mother's ruin.
Thus far we're safe. Thanks to the rosy queen
Of amorous thefts: and had her wanton son
Lent us his wings, we could not have beguil'd
With more elusive speed the dazzled sight
Of wakeful jealousy. Be gay securely;
Dispel, my fair, with smiles, the tim'rous cloud
That hangs on thy clear brow. So Helen look'd,
So her white neck reclin'd, so was she borne
By the young Trojan to his gilded bark
With fond reluctance, yielding modesty,
And oft reverted eye, as if she knew not
Whether she fear'd, or wish'd to be pursued.
Popes, April 4, 1742. I own in general I think Agrippina's speech too long; but how to retrench it, I know not: but I have something else to say, and that is in relation to the style, which appears to me too antiquated. Racine was of another opinion ; he no where gives you the phrases of Ronsard: his language is the language of the times, and that of the purest sort; so that his French is reckoned a standard. I will not decide what style is fit for our English stage; but I should rather choose one that bordered upon Cato, than upon Shakspeare. One may imitate (if one can) Shakspeare's manner, his surprising strokes of true nature, his expressive force in painting characters, and all his other beauties; preserving at the same time our own language. Were Shakspeare alive now, he would write a different style from what he did. These are my sentiments upon these matters: perhaps I am wrong, for I am neither a Tarpa, nor am I quite an Aristarchus. You see I write freely both of you and Shakspeare; but it is as good as writing not freely, where you know it is acceptable.
I have been tormented within this week with a most violent cough ; for when once it sets up its note, it will go on, cough after cough, shaking and tearing me for half an hour together; and then it leaves me in a great sweat, as much fatigued as if I had been labouring at the plough. All this description of my cough in prose, is only to introduce another description of it in verse, perhaps not worth your perusal; but it is very
* The editor has obviated this objection, not by retrenching, but by putting part of it into the mouth of Aceronia, and by breaking it in a few other places. Originally it was one continued speech from the line • Thus ever grave and undisturbed reflection to the end of the scene; which was undoubtedly too long for the lungs of any actress.