Poetical Tragedies

Morning: A Tragedy in Five Acts.

by William Wilfred Campbell




PLACE—A public hall in Avos.

Enter a crowd of citizens and retainers, Councillors and the LORD PROTINUS, father to VARRA, who ascends a throne. Priests in a crowd on one side; merchants in a crowd on the other. Enter VULPINUS, SLINK, SNOUT, GROWL, GROSS, followed by a rabble who scatter through the audience. Enter several ladies, among them MORNING and LUPINA; and, with several friends, LEONATUS, followed by VARRA, and BLUFF, who stand apart.

(Loud cries outside. Hail, Leonatus, hail!)


     PROTINUS.      Most noble lords and citizens of Avos,

We are in session now assembled here,
Under the gods, in this fit public presence
To choose our city’s chiefest senator.
The people’s choice is he who rules himself,
In face of gods and men well thought of all
In piety and rule of public deed.
We have one such, the good Leonatus.


(Voices. Hail, Leonatus!)


     VULP.      Most noble lord!


     PROT.      Speak, what is thy will?


     VULP.      It is a custom, by our ancient laws,

That when the city chooses its chief lord
To that high office honored by yourself
And others noble, to the public weal;
That he should pledge him to the public mind,
Here ’mid the priests and citizens of the state;
And, should a doubt arise of his integrity,
He may be challenged by the several guilds
Which represent us.


     PROT.      This is custom of late, it seems me, hath been honored

More in the breach than in its strict observance.


     VULP.      Our ancient customs should not thus decline;

They stand for freedom and the public weal.
It is a sign of lack of piety,
A falling off from those old holy laws
By which we showed obedience to the gods.


     Chief Priest.      He speaketh truth. The city groweth too lax.

To keep the public faith from falling off
Into a warping infidelity,
’Tis needful that our rulers show their trust
In those dread doctrines of our ancient faith.


     Other Priests.      ‘Tis right and just; and we, as one, demand it.


     PROT.      ‘Tis but a form. We grant it, reverend sirs.

Leonatus, our city’s trusted son,
Honored and reputed all these years,
Will gladly meet this custom.


     LEON.      ’Tis my wish, most noble Protinus.


     GROWL.      And I, who speak for several ancient guilds,

For safety of old customs and old rights,
Would also question Leonatus.


     PROT.      Your prayer is granted, though ’tis obsolete;

No ancient law unchanged must go unchallenged.


     VULP.      Yea, wise Protinus, piety and prudence

Would help us ’scape the penalties of the gods.
These holy men who wait on Deity
And veil its thunders, should we not respect
Their high prerogatives?


     BLUFF.      O rare Vulpinus! thou pillar of religion!


     A Councillor.      This mocking giber hath grown sudden pious.


     VULP.      And these most powerful merchants! Owe we not

A gratitude from the city which their toil
And care and wit and opulence hath built?


     PROT.      (aside) It is an able advocate he grows!

I had not thought he had it in his brain.


     A Councillor.      But the people?


     Priests and Merchants.      We are the people!


     PROT.      Most noble Leonatus, stand you forth in presence

Of these true senators of our ancient city
Who choose you for this high and ancient office,
The greatest in their gift. We honor you,
Our gravest and our noblest citizen,
Well known among us; upright, wise and pious;
Fulfilling your duty unto gods and men.
Ere we administer the final oath,
Standing there before Almighty Heaven,
Speaking as only to the holy gods,
See that you answer to the councilors
Who give you challenge.


     Councillors.      Hail, Leonatus!


     BLUFF.      He is a god, and I his chiefest servant!


     LEON.      Most noble Protinus, lords and fellow-councillors,

For this I thank you. If I have a thought,
It is my sense of great unworthiness
For this high office. It I never sought:
But, seeking me, I take it with a prayer
That truth be mine, and grave responsibility.
This is mine answer to your sober choice.
(to the High Priest) Now, Reverent Sir, I wait your pious question.


     High Priest.      Leonatus, our city’s faithful son,

Amid the power and splendor of this world,
Which shifts and passes, men should never lose
Their sense of duty to the immortal gods.
Now we, who represent the ancient creeds,
Those truths which, crumbling, Heaven would fall upon us
In direst anger—we, the holy priests,
In name of Heaven and gods demand a tax,
A heavy tax, be laid upon our city
To rear once more the ruin of our temple.


     LEON.      A tax! you ask a tax?


     High Priest.      We do, my lord.


     LEON.      You do not mean revival of that tax,

That tyrannous burden our fathers abrogated
In the last revolution!


     High Priest.      We do, my lord. The times are ripe again.

The gods have waited. Now we must regain
Our olden powers, our ancient privileges.


     LEON.      I grant it not. I never will rebind

Old tyrannous burdens on a franchised people.


     High Priest.      The people, Leonatus! We speak for the people.

We who rule their fears, who loose or bind,
Who hold their dreads and hopes, who guide their minds,
We are the people!


     LEON.      ’Tis mad! ’tis tyrannous!


     High Priest.      Tyrannous, sirrah! Dare you say religion

Can act a tyranny?


     LEON.      Most Reverend, whatever is unjust

Creates a tyranny.


     VULP.      Ha! he blasphemes!


     BLUFF.      My master! He beards the priests! Oh, he is lost,

And I am misbegotten!


     High Priest.      Leonatus, you dare? You dare think thus?


     LEON.      I dare but think the truth.


     High Priest.      I ask you here—you who do dare assume

The highest office religion allows the State
To grant you—here, in presence of your peers,
What is your duty to the holy priesthood?


     LEON.      To follow their teachings in so far as they

Are God’s.


     High Priest.      So far as they are God’s? Man, you blaspheme!


     Councillors.      Can we have known this man?


     VULP.      He shows himself! Soon will he be as bare

As any waste land.


     BLUFF.      Now am I damned, who tagged to such a master!


     LEON.      Blaspheme, forsooth! Am I a waking dream,

Or you the phantoms, that truth could be a lie?
I speak buy my convictions. I am here
To deal in rectitude.


     PROT.      Leonatus, beware! You go too far!


     LEON.      I go too far? If but to reach the truth

Affronts this dizzy eminence, I am
Too low for it.


     High Priest.      What is your creed?


     LEON.      My creed? You ask my creed? You who have lived

So close to my ambitions all these years;
Have weighed my deeds, my aims, mine every act
In life’s sharp balance; have known me from my birth;
Do ask my creed?—then I refuse to answer!
Here is my life, its pages all these years,
Doth it not tell you? Then no lie of mine,
Lanterned in the very light of truth,
Could climb unto your favor.


     High Priest.      Then you are infidel?


     LEON.      If but to love the truth, to hate the lie,

To seek for Deity in every door of life
Is to be infidel, then I am infidel.


     High Priest.      Then you have a faith?


     LEON.      I have a faith, a dim but trusting faith,

That they who climb to God must reach to Him
Across the nobleness and self-denial,
The glory, honor and truth and high resolve
And all that lifts and makes a splendor here.


     High Priest.      Then you would fight the priesthood?


     LEON.      I fight nothing that is true and pure.

Only the evil.


     High Priest.      Then our tax is evil?


     LEON.      What else but evil which would oppress a city

And sink its liberties?


     High Priest.      This man blasphemes the gods!

[Uproar among priests.


     PROT.      Leonatus, this is terrible! We had not thought

That you were such a man!


     VULP.      (aside) Nor did he know it himself—who readeth now,

Who would be mover of the mob’s wild will,
His true picture in the public heart,
And damns himself in the doing.


     LEON.      Nor I myself. Have I a single friend

Who will say my words are truth?
[His friends all leave him.


     All.      We cannot! we cannot!


     GROWL.      My lord, I, too, would ask Leonatus

Would he be favorable to a public tax
To encourage business.


     LEON.      What! Another tax? What gross madness this

Of grim oppression now hath caught you?


     GROWL.      Then for the merchants I would speak, my lord,

We are with the priests.


     PROT.      Leonatus, you are discarded!


     LEON.      This is a marvelous world!


     VULP.      (aside) Now is my chance! (to Senators)

Most noble Senators,
This tax is just. The city must be ruled
By prudence and wisdom. Poor Leonatus
Sees but in visions. We who deal with facts
Read stern necessity in the public needs.


     Priests and Merchants.      (urged by GROWL, SNOUT, and SLINK)

  Vulpinus! Vulpinus!
Give us the wise Vulpinus!


     PROT.      Vulpinus is elected.


     All.      Hail, Vulpinus!


     PROT.      Vulpinus, take my chair; I give you place;

Your wisdom is your power. (to LEONATUS) Leonatus,
We must hereafter be as strangers. You
Have read yourself a fool.


     LEON.      A fool, to love the truth! to keep the right!

Heaven be merciful to a poor old man,
Rebuked by superior evidence that this world
Is not what he would have it! Is there no friend
Would even whisper me right?—is there not one?


     A Councillor.      Leonatus, we dismiss you. You are mad,

Or have a devil!


     LEON.      Nay, I am rock to this. Though all alone,

I keep the truth.


     VULP.      My lords, I have a painful duty to perform.

There is another law among our statutes,
That if a man who be proved infidel
Shall be convict of any overt act
To seize high office, under these our laws
He shall be outlawed, his goods confiscate,
And he condemned to banishment or death.
[Many start.


     PROT.      Is this the edict?


     VULP.      It is, my lord. ’Tis graven in our laws.


     MORN.      (starting in horror) Father! oh, my father!

(to VULP.) Thou subtle devil! Now I sound thy deeps!
But, be it for ages, thou shalt not succeed!
(to the Priests) You would not do this! See, he is my father!


     VULP.      Hold her back! (ascends the rostrum) We will be merciful.

We will ’void death and grant him banishment.


     LEON.      Nay, grant me death! I would not live one hour,

Knowing this world at its face value now!


     MORN.      Father!


     LEON.      My child, keep firm and trust in God. These fiends

May work their worst: I conquer in the end.


     VULP.      Lord Priest, do your duty. By our law

The infidel is by a special curse
Shut out from all. Do you pronounce him the ban.


     LEON.      Curse me, banish me, do what you will:

Bastioned in truth, these white old hairs defy you!


     High Priest.      (coming forward and lifting his hands)

Back from him! He is outcast from his kind!


     MORN.      (throws herself on her knees) Nay, nay, do not this ill! He

  never wronged you!
You know not all the good that he hath done.
The poor should rise in blessing at his name.
He is a simple man, whose pious heart
Hath ever leaned toward truth. Ye would not curse him?
By my youth, a daughter’s tears, I beg you
Do not this hideous act! ’Twill bring a curse
On your whole city!


     High Priest.      Back, girl, you plead in vain!


     MORN.      Then I appeal to Heaven from your ill.

Yea, I look up
From your injustice to the heart of God!


     VULP.      Remove the girl!


     MORN.      Father!


     VULP.      Now draw the line!

[The High Priest and Priests circle about LEONATUS.]


     High Priest.      Henceforth thou art accursed, from thy race
Shut out, from kindred, friendships, fellow-men;
The very dogs shall shun thee on the street.


     MORN.      Nay, father!

[Would go to him. VARRA would hold her back.


(to VARRA) And thou?


     VAR.      I love thee, Morning! Stay, oh, stay with me!

I love thee as my life; but he is doomed.


     MORN.      And I love thee: wilt thou, then, come with me?


     VAR.      Where?


     MORN.      There where my father stands!


     VAR.      I dare not! ’Tis too terrible! O Morning,

I cannot go!


     MORN.      Never!

[Rushing forward and clasping her father, who stands alone.


Though all forsake you, you are not alone!


     LEON.      Great Heaven, be kind! My daughter, my poor daughter!


     MORN.      (turning to the High Priest and speaking in loud

  command) Now, Sir, God

waits! Now curse his daughter, too!