A Tragedy in Five Acts

by William Wilfred Campbell




PLACE—House of VARRA in the city of Avos.

TIME—A year later.

Enter VARRA alone.


     VAR.     Now I am damned by mine own puerile nature;
And for a base, brute cowardice of the blood,
An innate fear, a credulous heredity,
Have lost forever a flower and star of women.
Why have I sunk to shame my manhood thus,
Which stood upon foundations of a soul,
Strong, clear, emancipate from superstition,
To be the puppet of a weak convention
Which drags the dregs of our humanity down?
I am no more the Varra that I was,
But some poor shadow of my former hopes.
I wake at morn heart-hungered for her voice,
That ever haunts me as the evening wind
Or stars of midnight, ever elusive, raised
To some far height. This is my destiny,
To writhe forever upon this bed of death
Of my poor hopings, dregs of a weak soul
That knew not truth and golden opportunity;
And call forever in vain on one loved name.
Morning! lost, true Morning!




     VAR.     (coldly) Good morrow, gentlemen!


     LANG.     Ah, we are short this morning!


     POSE.     Rather should you say, our friend is not in form.


     DESP.     (to VARRA) What demon hath seized you?

You are not yourself.


     VAR.     Say, rather, Varra now hath found himself

A hollow cocoon, blowing in the wind
Of some dead wasted summer, whence hath flown
That shining golden chrysalis of youth,
Oh, never to return!


     LANG.     Ah! why not summon your doctor? Bleeding and physic

Will medicine you unto a lighter spirit.
Would hear Pose’s sonnet?


     VAR.     Fiends of darkness! No! I am quite damned already!


     POSE.     Yea, hear it, Varra. It hath just the touch

To ease you from those grosser common feelings
And lift you to that fine artistic mood.
A flout on feelings! What are feelings but
The uses of art? The impression is what we want!
Color, rhythm, nature’s greens and violets:
The pose, the form, the effect, the true perspective!
Art is this, never to express
The common, the formless; ever to eschew
The painful, or those horrid things men call
Realities. It deals with sweet suggestions
Of soul impressions, caught from azure edges
Of the inevitable.


     VAR.     Stop him!

Or crush him with a bootjack! My whole soul
Lifts its gorge to hear him. This base art,
Which stands to-day for all that’s base in life,
That fills the bill to all that’s shallow and sensual,
That never knew a pure or holy feeling,
That shrivels nature’s splendors down to “tone,”
Her greatest dreams to base inanities,
In name of literature; so far removed
Are its disciples, false, from love and life,
That if they ever knew the real and true,
Their souls have long forgotten. This, your art!
It stands for will to paint this pinchbeck city,
Its putrid sores and festering emptiness,
And catalogue its vile enormities
As pale impressions, symbols of somewhat
Which neither reason nor holiness ever knew.
Heaven as far from you as its great blue,
Even hell too real to harbor your vile crew.
Ye are a nastiness, where lack of thought
Is gravest sin; where shallow conceit skips in
Those perilous paths angels would fear to tread.
You chronicle life’s greatness in your jargon,
Jabbering the letter who never the spirit knew,
But fled from its pure wings as from a horror.


     LANG.     Our Varra is crazed! What will Lupina say?


     POSE.     I am o’erwhelmed! This will spoil my spirit

For most a week. This philistine tirade
Doth shatter the idealities!


     VAR.     Begone, ye painted dolls, ye pointed beards!

Weak, strutting chatterers in the form of men!
Effeminate slanderers of the man that was!
Base canters of the vilest cant, more base
Than base religion! Louse harpies on this heap,
This carrion heap of what was once a mountain
Of human greatness! Ye who have helped to damn
Weak souls like mine!
[Exeunt POSE and LANGUID, VARRA driving them out.


     DESP.     Varra, my friend, what means this sudden frenzy?


     VAR.     Would Heaven there came a whirlwind would sweep out

That purblind crew and all their shameless kind,
And clear this world of carrion. Would to Heaven
That I were man to do it!


     DESP.     Why, late you honored those men, you called them friends.


     VAR.     Did I? Then I was fool who stooped so low;

In manhood’s name, they never were my friends.
Doth not each strut the dandy, puerile fop,
Each face enmask the mummery and the lie,
That barren lack of all which is sincere
And truly noble? Why doth not life awake
And break these butterflies upon the wheel
Of some rude overthrow?


     DESP.     You do surprise me!


     VAR.     Yea, I do feel like one of sudden waked

From some foul sleep, to find his best life’s morning
Gone on ahead, and he left far behind!


     DESP.     Couldst thou not rise and overtake it yet?


     VAR.     Overtake! Couldst overtake the wind

That blew rose-petals round thy golden youth,
That waked the sunbeam mornings long ago;
The streams that sang thy childhood to the sea;
Those splendid sunsets dipped beyond life’s ocean?
Then might I catch my longings! Nay, we are
But broken towers of dreams that might have been;
Poor waifs of some old manhood on the shore
Of human wreck that never harbored men,
Save old Leonatus!


     DESP.     Leonatus? Thou, too, hast harbored him

In higher thought?


     VAR.     Despond, dost thou not know he was our greatest?

Too splendid, towering, vastly capable,
For this doomed people who hath sunk to sleep
All self-compunction. He was in truth a man,
Who faced the morning, while the cringing bats
Blinked round the twilight where his loftier gaze
Read higher hopes above the lower moan
And iron writhings of the surfs of life.
Yea, Despond, mark you well, he was a soul
Who would be all or nothing! Compromise?
He? Never! He was all of the mountains, looking up
To their great tops; where in earth’s vaster dooms,
Ever the great ones, splendid of old days,
Went out with God alone. So he hath gone,
Lost, lost to us and this poor city’s doom.


     DESP.     Then we are done. This canker eats my heart,

Forever and forever; day and night,
I hate myself, and all that dwells therein.
My soul is all a furnace of revolt
Against all nature. And this mood of thine
Hath opened my floodgates, erstwhile closed by shame.


     VAR.     Thou, too, hast suffered in long-passioned silence!


     DESP.     Yea, truth!

Alone we came into this world; alone
We tread its awful corridors; alone
We go blindfold adown its dusks of death.
No loneliness so lonely as this dread
Soul-loneliness:--Varra, I am resolved
To end this being!—


     VAR.     Nay, nay; thou shalt not. Thou art in a sleep,

A moral sleep, wherein the soul doth walk
As one who dreams!


     DESP.     Once I was all a visionary spirit,

Filled with rich dreams of loftiness and love
That made life splendid, till I met Vulpinus.


     VAR.     Vulpinus! He, that arch-conspirator!

That toad upon this dunghill of our dreams!
Who hath the keys of vile iniquity,
And battens his iron doors on our poor hopes!


     DESP.     I loved a maid; I thought her all life’s good,

Its beauty and its morning dream to me.
Thou knowest the thrill! I lived upon her presence,
As flowers dwell in the sunlight, satisfied;
Till this Vulpinus slowly sowed a seed,
A graft of hideous doubt within my soul
And wrecked its morning.


     VAR.     He lied!


     DESP.     Nay, he never lied!

Love was too strong to break upon a lie.
His genius was to show the evil side;
And truth grim evil’s surest instrument
When subtly used. He but showed me truth,
And opened mine eyes.


     VAR.     Opened your eyes to what?


     DESP.     He showed me she was mine in seeming only:

That though I should possess her evermore,
She was not mine, but, like a vagrant wind,
There lived an hundred adulteries in her eyes,
Each day and hour, to pleasure other men.


     VAR.     But, she was yours?


     DESP.     In person only, and her wifely will

Would have been mine; but those rare finest fancies,
Those blossoms of love, longings of heart and brain,
I could not claim them, they were never mine.
I am not a brute. I could not wed a maid,
Were she however sweet and pure in act,
And dutiful and fond in outward mien,
And feel that somewhere hidden in her soul
There burned ideals of some possible man
I could not realize. ’Twould breed a madness,
A dread confusion, wrecking heart and brain
And all existence.


     VAR.     Then ’twas this wrecked you?


     DESP.     I ne’er was wrecked who ne’er was in a storm;

But, all unlaunched, upon the shores of being
I lie, unheeding all, unheeded still.
Unto the brute I could not all descend,
So drifted idly, neither good nor ill;
A creature without effort, aim or will;
But ever at my heartstrings that old pain
At this dread life and its brute mystery.


     VAR.     Thou art a spirit marred by maladmixture

Of Nature’s elements. Let me patch thee up,
And launch thee on this sea of our rude woes,
And make an end with me, or, striving, dare
Grim, muffled destiny.


     DESP.     What meanest thou?


     VAR.     I mean to late achieve, with broken wing,

That flight of daring our spirits had long essayed
Had we been like Leonatus.


     DESP.     What flight of daring?


     VAR.     This vile Vulpinus must be hounded down

From off his dunghill of this city’s ill,
Where, foul usurper, he hath perched o’er long.


     DESP.     And you! you would do this?


     VAR.     The people call me. Even in my sleep

I hear the cry of suffering multitudes,
The credulous poor, long battened on by leeches,
Sinister, sensual, of the public blood.


     DESP.     And who will back you?


     VAR.     The people. They shall bleed

To purge this cancer that doth need the knife.
Hourly from each home there rises up
A piteous cry to Heaven, shaming our silence.
I, too, loved a woman, as thou knowest,
But ruined my life and lost her by my folly.
We are but wrecks, but perchance we may yet
Tumble this heap of our foiled destinies.


     DESP.     Yea, I am with you, failure that I am.

It is but death, and come it in what form,
Its face is welcome.


     VAR.     Then come to-night. The truth I tell you now.

The city is aroused. A loyal band,
Stern and resolved, do rally at my back
To wreak grim vengeance on Vulpinus’ horde
And restore Leonatus, whom they now deplore
And greatly long for. Bring a trusted friend,
If thou hast any. We will pitch our fortunes
On this rude downfall.


     DESP.     But what of this thy marriage? Hast no thought

Of fair Lupina?


     VAR.     Lupina? In this going she will go.

Forced was she on mine idle apathy.
But now I’m roused, I’ll lift a sea of troubles
And throw them from me. Am I yet a man
Who dreamed of Morning, would take this passion-flame
To cherished wifehood? Be upon the hour;
To-night at midnight Vulpin’s sun doth set.
[Both go out.
[Stage darkens. After a pause, sounds without as of men fighting, clash of arms and battle calls. After a time, enter
VARRA and others, with swords, and assisting DESPOND, who staggers, sword in hand.


     VAR.     We triumph at last. The city now is ours,

And vile Vulpinus fled! How that loved name,
Leonatus, did fire the multitude
And sweep oppression back like some foul tide!


     DESP.     (feebly) Ah, Leonatus!


     VAR.     But thou, my friend!

[Supporting him as he falls.


     DESP.     Hath won his end at last.

The loneliness is ended; gladly now
Into the greater loneliness I go.


     VAR.     (laying him tenderly down) High, life-marred spirit, too late I

  knew thy worth;
But art a conqueror even in thy death!
(rising and turning to his followers) Now we go forth to find Leonatus,
Our city’s greatest. He shall be our King!


     All.     Leonatus! Leonatus!