« PreviousContinue »
great agitators. He would naturally, therefore, be the favourite mark of the Plebeian satirists; nor would they have been at a loss to find a point on which he was open to attack. His grandfather, named like himself, Appius Claudius, had left a name as much"detested as that of Sextus Tarquinius. He had been Consul more than seventy years before the introduction of the Licinian laws. By availing himself of a singular crisis in public feeling, he had obtained the consent of the Commons to the abolition of the Tribuneship, and had been the chief of that Council of Ten to which the whole direction of the State had been committed. In a few months his administration had become universally odious. It was swept away by an irresistible outbreak of popular fury; and its memory was still held in abhorrence by the whole city. The immediate cause of the downfall of this execrable government was said to have been an attempt made by Appius Claudius on the chastity of a beautiful young girl of humble birth. The story ran, that the Decemvir, unable to succeed by bribes and solicitations, resorted to an outrageous act of tyranny. A vile dependant of the Claudian house laid claim to the damsel as his slave. The cause was brought before the tribunal. of Appius. The wicked magistrate, in defiance of the clearest proofs, gave judgment for the claimant; but the girl's father, a brave soldier, saved her from servitude and dishonour by stabbing her to the heart in the sight of the whole Forum. That blow was the signal for a general explosion. Camp and city rose at once; the Ten were pulled down; the
Tribuneship was re-established; and Appius escaped the hands of the executioner only by a voluntary death. It can hardly be doubted that a story so admirably adapted to the purposes both of the poet and of the demagogue would be eagerly seized upon by minstrels burning with hatred against the Patrician order, against the Claudian house, and especially against the grandson and namesake of the infamous Decemvir. In order that the reader may judge fairly of these fragments of the lay of Virginia, he must imagine himself a Plebeian who has just voted for the re-election of Sextius and Licinius. All the power of the Patricians has been exerted to throw out the two great champions of the Commons. Every Posthumius, AEmilius, and Cornelius has used his influence to the utmost. Debtors have been lot out of the workhouses on condition of voting against the men of the people; clients have been posted to hiss and interrupt the favourite candidates; Appius Claudius Crassus has spoken with more than his usual eloquence and asperity; all has been in vain; Licinius and Sextus have a fifth time carried all the tribes; work is suspended; the booths are closed; the Plebeians bear on their shoulders the two champions of liberty through the Forum. Just at this moment it is announced that a popular poet, a zealous adherent of the Tribunes, has made a new song which will cut the Claudian family to the heart. The crowd gathers round him, and calls on him to recite it. He takes his stand on the spot where, according to tradition, Virginia, more than seventy years ago, was seized by the pander of Appius, and he begins his story.
*RAGMENTS OF A LAY sung IN THE ForuM on the DAY wherron Lucius sex-rius sexortNUs LATERANUs AND CALUs Licinius calvus stolo were Elected TRIBUNEs or Tits" CoMMONS THE FIFTII TIME, IN THE YEAR or TIIE CITY cccLxxxii.
Ys good men of the Commons, with loving hearts and true,
Of all the wicked Ten still the names are held accursed,
He stalked along the Forum like Twelve axes waited on him,
ke King Tarquin in his pride: six marching on a side;
The townsmen shrank to right and left, and eyed askance with fear
That brow of hate,
that mouth of scorn, marks all the kindred still; for never was there Claudius yet but wished the commons in: Nor lacks he fit attendance; for close behind his heels,
With outstretched chin and crouching pace, the client Marcus steals,
His loins girt up to run with speed, be the errand what it may, g
Just then, as through one cloudless chink in a black stormy sky Shines out the dewy morning-star, a fairyoung girl came by. With her small tablets in her hand, and her satchel on her arm, Home she went bounding from the school, nor dreamed of shame or harm And past those dreaded axes she innocently ran, With bright, frank brow that had not learned to blush at gaze of man; And up the Sacred Street she turned, and, as she danced along, She warbled gayly to herself lines of the good old song, How for a sport the princes came spurring from the camp, And found Lucrece, combing the fleece, under the midnight lamp.The maiden sang as sings the lark, when up he darts his flight, From his nest in the green April corn, to meet the morning light; And Appius heard her sweet young voice, and saw her sweet young face, And loved her with the accursed love of his accursed race, And all along the Forum, and up the Sacred Street, His vulture eye pursued the trip of those small glancing feet.
Over the Alban mountains the light of morning broke; From all the roofs of the Seven Hills curled the thin wreaths of smoke: The city gates were opened; the Forum, all alive, With buyers and with sellers was humming like a hive. Blithely on brass and timber the craftsman's stroke was ringing, And blithely o'er her panniers the market-girl was singing, And blithely young Virginia came smiling from her home: Ah! wo for young Virginia, the sweetest maid in Rome! With her small tablets in her hand, and her satchel on her arm, Forth she went bounding to the school, nor dreamed of shame or harm. She crossed the Forum shining with stalls in alleys gay, And just had reached the very spot whereon I stand this day, When up the varlet Marcus came; not such as when erewhile He crouched behind his patron's heels with the true client smile : He came with lowering forehead, swollen features, and clenched fist, And strode across Virginia's path, and caught her by the wrist. Hard strove the frighted maiden, and screamed with look aghast; And at her scream from right and left the folk came running fast; The money-changer Crispus, with his thin silver hairs, And Hanno from the stately booth glittering with Punic wares, And the strong smith Muraena, grasping a half-forged brand, And Wolero the flesher, his cleaver in his hand. All came in wrath and wonder; for all knew that fair child; And, as she passed them twice a day, all kissed their hands and smiled; And the strong smith Muraena gave Marcus such a blow, The caitiff reeled three paces back, and let the maiden go. Yet glared he fiercely round him, and growled in harsh, fell tone, “She’s mine, and I will have her. I seek but for mine own: She is my slave, born in my house, and stolen away and sold, The year of the sore sickness, ere she was twelve hours old. 'Twas in the sad September, the month of wail and fright, Two augurs were borne forth that morn; the Consul died ere night. I wait on Appius Cladius; I waited on his sire: Let him who works the client wrong, beware the patron's ire P"
So spake the varlet Marcus; and dread and silence came
Forth through the throng of gazers the young Icilius pressed,
“Now, by your children's cradles, now, by your father's graves, Be men to-day, Quirites, or be forever slaves! For this did servius give us laws? For this did Lucrece bleed! for this was the great vengeance done on Tarquin's evil seed? For this did those false sons make red the axes of their sire? a For this did Scaevola's right hand hiss in the Tuscan fire? Shall the vile fox-earth awe the race that stormed the lion's den? shall we, who could not brook one lord, crouch to the wicked Ten" Oh for that ancient spirit, which curbed the Senate's will! Oh for the tents which in old time whitened the Sacred Hill! In those brave days our fathers stood firmly side by side; They faced the Marcian fury; they tamed the Fabian pride: They drove the fiercest Quinctius an outcast forth from Rome; They sent the haughtiest Claudius with shivered fasces home. But what their care bequeathed us our madness flung away: All the ripe fruit of threescore years was blighted in a day. Exult, ye proud Patricians! The hard-fought fight is o'er. We strove for honours—'twas in vain: for freedom-'tis no more. No crier to the polling, summons the eager throng; No Tribune breathes the word of might that guards the weak from wrong Our very hearts, that were so high, sink down beneath your will. Riches, and lands, and power, and state—ye have them:-keep them still Still keep the holy fillets; still keep the purple gown, The axes, and the curule chair, the car, and laurel crown: Still press us for your cohorts, and, when the fight is done, * Still fill your garners from the soil which our good swords have won. Still, like a spreading ulcer, which leech-craft may not cure, Let your foul usance eat away the substance of the poor Still let your haggard debtors bear all their fathers bore; Still let your dens of torment be noisome as of yore; No fire when Tiber freezes; no air in dog-star heat; And store of rods for freeborn backs, and holes for freeborn feet. Heap heavier still the setters; bar closer still the grate; Patient as sheep we yield us up unto your cruel hate. But, by the Shades beneath us, and by the Gods above, Add not unto your cruel hate your yet more cruel love! Have ye not graceful ladies, whose spotless lineage springs From Consuls, and High Pontiffs, and ancient Alban kings? Ladies, who deign not on our paths to set their tender feet, Who from their cars look down with scorn upon the wondering street Who in Corinthian mirrors their own proud smiles behold, And breathe of Capuan odours, and shine with Spanish gold 1 Then leave the poor Plebeian his single tie to life— The sweet, sweet love of daughter, of sister, and of wife, The gentle speech, the balm for all that his vexed soul endures, The kiss, in which he half forgets even such a yoke as yours. Still let the maiden's beauty swell the father's breast with pride; Still let the bridegroom's arms enfold an unpolluted bride. Spare us the inexpiable wrong, the unutterable shame, That turns the coward's heart to steel, the sluggard's blood to flame. Lest, when our latest hope is fled, ye taste of our despair, And learn by proof, in some wild hour, how much the wretched dare."
- - o - - - - -
Straightway Virginius led the maid a little space aside, To where the reeking shambles stood, piled up with horn and hide, Close to yon low dark archway, where, in a crimson flood, Leaps down to the great sewer the gurgling stream of blood. Hard by, a flesher on a block had laid his whittle down: Virginius caught the whittle up, and hid it in his gown. And then his eyes grew very dim, and his throat began to swell, And in a hoarse, changed voice he spake, “Farewell, sweet child! Farewell Oh!, how I loved my darling ! Though stern Isometimes be, To thee, thou know'st, I was not so. Who could be so to thee!
And how my darling loved me! How glad she was to hear
- My footsteps on the threshold when I came back last year!
Then, for a little moment, all people held their breath; .
A cry as if the Volscians were coming o'er the wall.
When Appius Claudius saw that deed, he shuddered and sank down, And hid his face some little space with the corner of his gown, Till, with white lips and bloodshot eyes, Virginius tottered nigh, And stood before the judgment-seat, and held the knife on high. “Oh! dwellers in the nether gloom, avengers of the slain, By this dear blood I cry to you, do right between us twain; And even as Appius Claudius hath dealt by me and mine, Deal you by Appius Claudius and all the Claudian line !” - So spake the slayer of his child, and turned, and went his way; But first he cast one haggard glance to where the body lay, And writhed, and groaned a fearful groan; and then, with steadfast fees Strode right across the market-place unto the Sacred Street.
Then up sprang Appius Claudius: “Stop him; alive or dead!
By this the flood of people was swollen from every side, And streets and porches round were filled with that o'erflowing tido And close around the body gathered a little train Of them that were the nearest and dearest to the slain. They brought a bier, and hung it with many a cypress crown, And gently they uplifted her, and gently laid her down. The face of Appius Claudius wore the Claudian scowl and sneer, *And in the Claudian note he cried, “What doth this rabble here? Have they no crafts to mind at home, that hitherward they stray! Ho! lictors, clear the market-place, and fetch the corpse away!” Till then the voice of pity and fury was not loud, But a deep sullen murmur wandered among the crowd. Wol. IV-71
Like the moaning noise that goes before the whirlwind on the deep,