Poetical Tragedies

Morning: A Tragedy in Five Acts.

by William Wilfred Campbell




PLACE—House of VULPINUS in the city of Avos.


Enter VULPINUS, alone.


     VULP.     He must not prosper. Every honor he wears.
But makes my toil the harder. Nature dread
Did fashion deceit to make my soul its dwelling.
I am a man! although I doubt all men.
I practise that I believe not, where others believe
But practise not. Men’s follies add a zest
To foster mine ambitions. Thus I stand:
I leer at life, but rattle its dice along
To hinder happiness, and ink my soul
In petty evils where I shirk the large.
The kind of man I am I’d have you know,
Modern in all things, rounded by a wall
Of small conventions. What is life but this?
Comfort and safety, these two make a world;
Much to cavil at, little to uphold,
With just a spice of what the gods call sin
To build a conscience whereon I may play
The devil’s tune played since this world began.
Life a sensation finely tempered out
To fibred hardiness, desire a flame
To warm your hands at, yea, but not to burn in.
Your heroes, statesmen, poets! All veneer,
Cloaks of folly or of humbug all,
To cheat the pride and hide the animal.
Now, he is such, this aged Leonatus,
Trusting, impassioned, impractical in all,
Building high dreams of human consequence,
Deluded by dead histories of old ghosts
Of high achievement, rearing up a dream
That man is godlike, stranding in a mire
Of present impossibilities. Now, me,—
I meet the present, watching for the lie,
To make it slave to opportunity.
To-morrow is to-morrow. Fair or foul,
Kind or sinister its face may be—
But safer far to sip the sure to-day.
I never gained, but eke I never lost;
It is a motto in our family.
I never worked a grossly hideous deed;
In wisdom’s plot it is not necessary
To him, secure, who sanely bides his chance
To climb those ladders of human lust and blood
Built ’gainst the walls of this world’s power and weakness.
I deal not with heroics or ideals;
Fancy or emotion savor not
The sauce that my mind stews in, rather fact—
Cold, hard and brutal, never-bending fact.
The past and future lumber not my dream.
Heredity? Who follows far his tree
May meet a gallows. Better kill the past.
Little it matters us, who find it hard
To kill the present. Now, this kind of man,
This vague, high dreamer, with his skyward gaze,
His bubble words, I ne’er could understand.
He runs too wide, not broken to the traces,
Where ploughs the furrow of this practical world.
He mocks your hopes, your schemes, you cannot use him.
In short, not biddable to the common mind,
He smacks of lunacy. Now, such a man,
To reach the coping-stone, the leadership,
And wield the scepter I have waited for,
’Tis mad confusion! Gods! were there a God
I’d say he played me false, to see this man,
Without one scheme, one crooking of his thumb,
Rise up and near the place my whole life’s aim
Hath burned to reach. Haply, indeed, yea,
There is no God, and I am in the right,
Strong in the false, the scheme, the lurking plot,
That moves the issues of this foolish world.
Wreck him? Yea, I will. I’ll use this world
To confuse its high imaginings; its base mud
To kill its miasmas that do rise therefrom.


Enter SLINK.


Here comes my plodding ass with golden ears.
(to SLINK) How go my slow ambitions?


     SLINK.     Well, well, my master, solidly and sure,

As build my fortunes, who do help you to them.


     VULP.     You ne’er forget yourself.


     SLINK.     ’Tis my one sure protection. They who crawl,

’Chance may not tumble, but may lose themselves
By overforgetting.


     VULP.     Were it not greater yet to lose your fame

In a greater greatness?


     SLINK.     Your preachments may for others, such poor babble

May catch the silly world, but not for Slink,
Who knows you well. I trust me to the ground
Of solid substance. Put that in your reckoning.


     VULP.     Beware, you, Slink! I, who do doubt all things,

Doubt even dust. This puffball of existence,
Beware its haze, it may deceive you yet.


     SLINK.     Yet all its dust prevents you not to kick it

At opportunity. Nay, you cannot shake
The groundward citadel of my solid hopes.
Were all the office of high existence held,
Virtues, prerogatives, in the nether balance,
I’d take my gold.


     VULP.     And drop the plaudits and the gaudy show,

The stilt-walk of this life, in either slime?


     SLINK.     Yea, all of it. ’Tis too hazardous.


     VULP.     Of truth thou art material, but thou art

That iron-ballasted man to do my work.


     SLINK.     Yea, master, and to get paid for it.


     VULP.     Yea. (aside) But my certain, never-soaring friend,

The devil at my elbow, he will see
Thy cellar floor will sell thee in the end,
And seen thee floundering in that very mist
Thy soul abhors, where my doubts even drift.
Not even a toad shall be allowed to stand;
’Twould damn my philosophy. (to SLINK) Now to business.
Where are our sensible friends, the men of plots?


     SLINK.     Even now they come.


     VULP.     And primed?


     SLINK.     Even to the touch-holes, each a ready flame,

To thunder at your concussions.


     VULP.     ’Twill do. But how of this proud girl,

This Morning?


     SLINK.     She is beyond me. Where she swims in light

I may only tiptoe, blink afar.


     VULP.     Curse her! curse her! but even her I doubt;

She is a woman!


     SLINK.     But a large one, far too white and high

For our poor counsels. Yea, she makes me burn
Even in her twilight. She will not leave her father.


     VULP.     She is a woman. The force that built this world

Up out of slimy mud, bred butterflies
To feed on carrion. Fear you not this Morning,
She is a woman—


     SLINK.     And loves Lord Varra.


     VULP.     Sirrah! you hound! you keep your reptile place,

Or I will crush you into that same dust
Your soul is made of!
[Leaps at him.]


     SLINK.     Master! Pardon, pardon!


     VULP.     Ha! Yea, yea, I am indeed a fool.

A frenzied fool, my wise and trusty Slink.
’Twas but a weakness, a passion of the moment
That stormed and caught me. Did I fright thee, Slink?


     SLINK.     Yea, master, such a madness in thy face,

Thine attitude, it seemed me that thou wert
The devil’s whirlwind roused to sweep me off
And end my plottings.


     VULP.     ’Twas but a passing fit. But mind you, Slink,

I will yet trample her, and him, her author,
Yea, all of them. Doubt I heaven and hell,
And clouds and sun, the very earth itself;
At least, at least, my soul, be sure of this,
Thou’lt drink thy vengeance!


     SLINK.     (aside) He feels, this devil feels; then, mark

my wisdom,
For all his plots he, too, is lost, is lost!
Amid this vague uncertainty I alone
Walk safe, in soundness.




     LUP.     Hail, most Cautious! learned Lupinus, hail!
Where is thine egg that hatches certain plot,
That crows loud downfall?


     VULP.     (rising) Hail, most splendid and rarest!

To what high, golden favor of the gods
Do we owe this visit?


     LUP.     Since when hath Vulpin called on any gods,

Save those of evil? Flatter you not so high.
If such there be, who stand in splendid white,
They stand there but to damn.


     VULP.     What new, green jealousy, of envious life,

Hath added this tart of canker to thy tongue?


     LUP.     Jealousy! jealousy! who dares match Lupina

With such a word?


     VULP.     Nay, I but wondered. Who wears your loveliness

Need fear no rival, be she goddess or woman.
But what of Morning?


     LUP.     Ha, thou acid! there thy gratings bite.

I hate that woman with as deep a hate
As thine ambitions—


     VULP.     Ha! Well?


     LUP.     To supplant her father!


     VULP.     Enough! enough! we understand each other.


     LUP.     May I speak here?


     VULP.     This is my Slink, as safe as mine own shadow.


     SLINK.     Yea, safer!


     LUP.     I know him well. He oft hath tendered me

Duties for golden favors.


     SLINK.     (aside) It is a way I have, for the material

To grant the immaterial, for the solids
To give away the shadow, ha, ha, ha!
Slink, Slink, my soul, sound sense begot thee.
[Rubs his hands.


     LUP.     (to VULP) My time is short; what is thy subtle plan,

Thou master of plots?


     VULP.     ’Tis subtler than your deepest thoughts do dream.


     LUP.     Then is it placed in hell or lower down.


     VULP.     It is but this: His power is built on strands

Of vague traditions of the public mind.
A wintry eminence that my flame of spite
May melt in mistiness. He represents
The popular ideal of all that’s good,
Strong with the people, priests and monied men,
For such vague virtues as honor, rectitude,
Piety, and an unrivalled credit,—
In short, to sum up, they, for myriad reasons,
Worship in him what they are not themselves.
Now, I do know this rotten, humbug world,
This cancerous garden called Society,
This animal, conglomerated self,
Where each doth dream that he can sin in secret,
And borrow from the common cloak of virtue
Which squat convention mantles over all,
Patched up of creed and cant and wherewithal
Mock-modesty doth curtain the obscene—
I know this myriad maggot’s shallow wit.
They trust in him because he lives their dream;
But when in true coined words he utters it,
’Twill startle them to dread of his bare presence.
Iron is a virtuous force until we dread
That it may fall upon us. Powder a friend,
Till wakens a horrored hint unto our souls
That it may blow us up. So ’tis with these.
As I know life, the bare and brutal truth
Is the most heinous creature blinks the day.
Now, mark me, madam, give me your wit’s aid,
And I will such a picture to you show
Of this base world’s adherence, love’s decline,
You will marvel at it. I will teach you how
The popular god is but an idol gilt
With self-deception; but the pinchbeck mirror
Wherein the public love to glass themselves,
All pure and upright, void of what they are;
Which when it mirrors their true hideousness,
They’d straightway shatter it, as doth the African
Destroy his fetish.


     LUP.     Ha, thus you would? You’d kill him through his virtues?

But what of Morning, will she give Varra up?


     VULP.     Nay, he will give her up. He is too proud,

Too much the patrician he to graft the wreck
Of such a ruined tree.


     LUP.     And then?


     VULP.     Then, madam, your own force, your woman’s wit,

Must garner in this Varra. Mine to destroy,
Or build mine own.


     LUP.     Yea, I am with you just as far—as far—


     VULP.     As you can trust me. So far I with you.


     LUP.     And that is just—


     VULP.     As our self-interests- roads do lie together.


     LUP.     Had you been but a man, you might have been

A soul worth saving.


     VULP.     And what now, madam?


     LUP.     Failure incarnate.


     VULP.     With these deep schemes, these plots to build

My fate?


     LUP.     I half believe me yet that you will fail.

Schemes deep as yours, built on more solid base,
Have basely crumbled. Your very eternal doubt,
Your sinister scoff at all that’s worth living,
But makes me doubt you. You are but the shell,
The puffball mock of some prenatal man
Who wasted his all in some anterior world,
And here sits sneering, gnawing, day by day,
A mask of emptiness.


     VULP.     Nay, more than that. I have in me the acid

That eats on bitter things. I am a file
That, evenly oiled, doth gnaw the iron of life
To show its qualities. Even I serve my purpose.


     LUP.     Well, fare you well, and do you serve me now,

You may convert me.


     VULP.     Nay, rather Varra.



     SLINK.     I like her not.


     VULP.     She is an embodied passion; fear her not.


     SLINK.     She minds me much of lightning, so uncertain

Where she may strike.


     VULP.     Then her uncertainty saves—




Welcome, good gentlemen, upon the hour;
You show your qualities.


     GROWL.     I hope we can be trusted.


     SNOUT.     We are nothing if not practical.


     GROSS.     Business, then pleasure, close each other run,

But not together.


     VULP.     What is your world?


     GROSS.     Apart from business, gold and all it brings.


     GROWL.     A pipe and my old cash-book are enough;

So keep your world, it is but sorry stuff.


     VULP.     You show me spirits safe, akin to mine.

I speak you plain, I am a man of action.
My creed is fact, my religion common-sense.


     SNOUT.     Good!


     VULP.     Now, hearken. In short, as men who serve the public,

You have ambitions!


     GROWL.     We are not here for nothing.


     SNOUT.     Life is our oyster.


     GROSS.     Yea, we would open it.


     VULP.     With a silver knife.


     SLINK.     (aside) Yea, with a golden one.


     VULP.     Now, in public matters where your interests lie,

You have your plans.


     GROWL.     We have, be we not cheated fools; as practical men

We have our plans.


     VULP.     Then fare them well, when old Leonatus rules.


     SNOUT.     Leonatus?


     VULP.     Yea, Leonatus.


     GROWL.     Leonatus, yea, just the man we want

To blind the public while we soak the lucre
Down out of the treasury.


     VULP.     Then you mistake your man!


     GROSS.     Bah! He is too credulous to worry us,

A turret cock to flaunt and bellow words
While we work i’ the cellar.


     SLINK.     (rubbing his hands) Yea, i’ the gold-pits.


     VULP.     ’Tis just where you are fools, you little know

The insensate soul of this inflated idol.
He’ll wreck your fondest and your richest dreams
To gain the popular plaudits. Nay, believe me,
As practical men you want a practical leader.


     GROWL.     What is your plan?


     VULP.     To make this marplot impossible.


     GROWL.     Impossible?


     SNOUT.     Impossible! Leonatus impossible; thou art mad!

Why, sirrah, he owns the city!


     VULP.     Nothing more than each of us might own

Had we the wheedling of this foolish public.
I want your backing. Do you give me aid,
We’ll open this people’s coffers with our nails.


     SNOUT.     Yea, we are yours!


     GROSS.     Yea, doubly so.


     GROWL.     Your plan! Speak out, your plan!


     SNOUT.     Yea, read your plan, wise builder of our fortunes.


     VULP.     My plan is this. To-morrow, in council gathered,

To choose the city’s chiefest senator,
By my connivance secretly arranged,
This old Leonatus will so loose himself
Of infidelities and doctrines dire,
The city will stand astounded, men and gods
Parting in horror from his ruined house.


     GROWL.     You will do this?


     VULP.     I will; but come and see.


     GROSS.     And your reward?


     VULP.     I’d take his place! (all start back) Dost doubt my ability?


     GROSS.     Thou art our man, if thou canst make this wonder,

For evermore.


     SNOUT.     Yea, we will work thine orderings, do thy bring

Us near the coffers.


     GROWL.     Yea, use us well, but play us false and hell

Will seem too mild to what thy fate shall answer.


     VULP.     Nay, fear me not; we are in one ripe cause

That soon will shake its golden fruit upon us.
Now gather all the looser, baser sort,
And when I signal, howl this idol down.

[All drink wine.

We’ll build this government for the men of sense,
And bury the fools who’d cavil at our intents
In their own follied thunders.


     All.     (drinking) Death to Leonatus, life to the coming rule,

The rule of practical men!