Home  »  Complete Poetical Works by Alexander Pope  »  Prologue to Mr. Addison’s Cato

Alexander Pope (1688–1744). Complete Poetical Works. 1903.

Poems: 1713–17

Prologue to Mr. Addison’s Cato

  • This prologue was written in 1713, after Addison had given Pope two of the main causes which led to their estrangement; and itself led the way for the third. Addison’s faint praise of the Pastorals, and disagreement with Pope as to the advisability of revising The Rape of the Lock, had not as yet led to their estrangement. But when not long after the presentation of Cato, Pope ventured to become its champion against the attacks of John Dennis, Addison’s quiet disclaimer of responsibility for his anonymous defender cut Pope to the quick.

  • TO wake the soul by tender strokes of art,

    To raise the genius, and to mend the heart;

    To make mankind, in conscious virtue bold,

    Live o’er each scene, and be what they behold:

    For this the Tragic Muse first trod the stage,

    Commanding tears to stream thro’ ev’ry age:

    Tyrants no more their savage nature kept,

    And foes to virtue wonder’d how they wept.

    Our author shuns by vulgar springs to move

    The Hero’s glory, or the Virgin’s love;

    In pitying Love, we but our weakness show,

    And wild Ambition well deserves its woe.

    Here tears shall flow from a more gen’rous cause,

    Such tears as patriots shed for dying laws.

    He bids your breasts with ancient ardour rise,

    And calls forth Roman drops from British eyes:

    Virtue confess’d in human shape he draws,

    What Plato thought, and godlike Cato was:

    No common object to your sight displays,

    But what with pleasure Heav’n itself surveys,

    A brave man struggling in the storms of fate,

    And greatly falling with a falling state.

    While Cato gives his little senate laws,

    What bosom beats not in his country’s cause?

    Who sees him act, but envies ev’ry deed?

    Who hears him groan, and does not wish to bleed?

    Ev’n when proud Cæsar, midst triumphal cars,

    The spoils of nations, and the pomp of wars,

    Ignobly vain, and impotently great,

    Show’d Rome her Cato’s figure drawn in state;

    As her dead father’s rev’rend image past,

    The pomp was darken’d, and the day o’ercast;

    The triumph ceas’d, tears gush’d from ev’ry eye,

    The world’s great Victor pass’d unheeded by;

    Her last good man dejected Rome ador’d,

    And honour’d Cæsar’s less than Cato’s sword.

    Britons, attend: be worth like this approv’d,

    And show you have the virtue to be mov’d.

    With honest scorn the first famed Cato view’d

    Rome learning arts from Greece, whom she subdued;

    Your scene precariously subsists too long

    On French translation and Italian song.

    Dare to have sense yourselves; assert the stage;

    Be justly warm’d with your own native rage:

    Such plays alone should win a British ear

    As Cato’s self had not disdain’d to hear.