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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

The Roman Father

By John Howard Payne (1791–1852)

[From Brutus; or, the Fall of Tarquin. A Tragedy. 1818.]


BRU.Romans, the blood which hath been shed this day

Hath been shed wisely. Traitors, who conspire

Against mature societies, may urge

Their acts as bold and daring; and though villains,

Yet they are manly villains; but to stab

The cradled innocent, as these have done,

To strike their country in the mother-pangs

Of struggling childbirth, and direct the dagger

To freedom’s infant throat, is a deed so black

That my foiled tongue refuses it a name.[A pause.]

There is one criminal still left for judgment;

Let him approach.

TITUS is brought in by the Lictors.

Romans! forgive this agony of grief;

My heart is bursting, nature must have way,—

I will perform all that a Roman should,

I cannot feel less than a father ought.

[Gives a signal to the Lictors to fall back, and advances from the judgment seat.]
Well, Titus, speak, how is it with thee now?

Tell me, my son, art thou prepared to die?

TIT.Father, I call the powers of heaven to witness

Titus dares die, if so you have decreed.

The gods will have it so.
BRU.They will, my Titus;

Nor heaven, nor earth, can have it otherwise.

It seems as if thy fate were preordained

To fix the reeling spirits of the people,

And settle the loose liberty of Rome.

’Tis fixed. O, therefore, let not fancy cheat thee:

So fixed thy death, that ’tis not in the power

Of mortal man to save thee from the axe.

TIT.The axe! O heaven! then must I fall so basely?

What, shall I perish like a common felon?

BRU.How else do traitors suffer? Nay, Titus, more,

I must myself ascend yon sad tribunal,

And there behold thee meet this shame of death,

With all thy hopes, and all thy youth upon thee,

See thy head taken by the common axe,

All,—if the gods can hold me to my purpose,—

Without one groan, without one pitying tear.

TIT.Die like a felon—ha! a common felon!

But I deserve it all. Yet here I fail;

This ignominy quite unmans me.

O, Brutus, Brutus! Must I call you father,[Kneels.]

Yet have no token of your tenderness,

No sign of mercy,—not even leave to fall

As noble Romans fall, by my own sword?

Father, why should you make my heart suspect

That all your late compassion was dissembled?

How can I think that you did ever love me?

BRU.Think that I love thee by my present passion,

By these unmanly tears, these earthquakes here,

These sighs that strain the very strings of life;

Let these convince you that no other cause

Could force a father thus to wrong his nature.

TIT.O hold, thou violated majesty![Rises.]

I now submit with calmness to my fate.

Come forth, ye executioners of justice,

Come, take my life, and give it to my country!

BRU.Embrace thy wretched father. May the gods

Arm thee with patience in this awful hour.

The sovereign magistrate of injured Rome,

Bound by his high authority, condemns

A crime, thy father’s bleeding heart forgives.

Go, meet thy death with a more manly courage

Than grief now suffers me to show in parting;

And, while she punishes, let Rome admire thee!

No more! Farewell! Eternally farewell!

TIT.O, Brutus! O, my father!

BRU.What would’st thou say, my son?

TIT.Wilt thou forgive me? Don’t forget Tarquinia

When I shall be no more.

BRU.Leave her to my care.

TIT.Farewell, forever!

BRU.Forever![Reascends the Tribunal.]

Lictors, attend! Conduct your prisoner forth!

BRU.To death! When you do reach the spot,

My hand shall wave your signal for the act,

Then let the trumpet’s sound proclaim it done!

[Titus in conducted out by the Lictors. Brutus remains seated on the Tribunal.]
Poor youth! Thy pilgrimage is at an end!

A few sad steps have brought thee to the brink

Of that tremendous precipice, whose depth

No thought of man can fathom. Justice now

Demands her victim! A little moment,

And I am childless. One effort, and ’tis past!—

Justice is satisfied, and Rome is free!