A Celebration of Women Writers

"Aristomenes Act I." by Anne Kingsmill Finch, Countess of Winchilsea (1661 - 1720)
From Winchilsea, Anne (Kingsmill) Finch, Countess of. Miscellany Poems, on Several Occasions, London: printed for J[ohn] B[arber] and sold by Benj. Tooke at the Middle-Temple-Gate, William Taylor in Pater-Noster-Row, and James Round, in Exchange-Alley, Cornhil, 1713. p. 297-316.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

[Page 297]


A pleasant Plain by a Wood-side; beyond it are seen, on one side, some of the Shepherds Hamlets; on the other (at a distance) the Walls of Phærea, a Garrison of the Lacedemonians.

Enter Climander meeting Arcasius; both drest like Shepherds.

Clim. HAst thou provided me a Horse and Arms,
A Sword, Arcasius, that when Time has freed me
From the Severe Injunctions of a Father,
May fill my Hand, instead of this vile Hook,
And fit it for the Work, a Prince is born to?
  Arca. Unwillingly, I have obey'd your Orders;
But, 'till to-morrow's, and the next day's Sun
Shall light the angry, and contentious World,
Your Promise to your Father is in Force;
As well as the Assurance, which you gave,
That in my Custody these Arms shou'd rest,
Until that fatal Time demands their Use.

[Page 298]

  Clim. Call it not Fatal; Oh! that 'twere arriv'd!
That Aristomenes, the Spartan Terrour,
Were leading me, this moment, bravely on
Through Dangers, equal to the Cause he fights for,
Preserving these free Plains from foreign Bondage!
Though in the Strife this Body strew'd the Ground,
To Fame, and Publick Good an early Victim.
  Arca. O wretched Rhodes! Thy Ruin is pronounc'd,
And thou beneath th'impending Plagues may'st perish;
Since He, whom Oracles appoint to Aid thee
Thus wishes with his Own, to sell thy Safety,
For the rash Praise of an intruding Warriour.
  Clim. No more of Oracles!
Which oftner we fulfil by heedless Chance,
Than the vain Study to pursue their Meaning;
Which makes me banish, from my lab'ring Thoughts,
Those Mystick Words, which serve but to perplex them.
  Arc. From Mine they will not part, nor shou'd from Yours;
Which to prevent, ev'n now I will repeat them;

    The Isle of Rhodes shall be of Peace bereft,
    Unless it by the Heir thereof be left,
    And that He wed, ere he returns agen,
    The Beauteous Daughter of the Best of Men;

[Page 299]

    Whose Father's presence there shall save the State,
    And smooth the threatning Brow of angry Fate.

  Clim. But, Who this Man, or, Where his Daughter is,
Was left in Darkness, to employ our Search:
Yet, in Obedience, Hither did I come
To feed a Flock, and mix with simple Swains;
Because the Priests, who sway in Princes Courts,
Declar'd, that perfect Innocence, and Virtue
Was to be found but in their lowly Rank,
And There, the Best of Men was to be sought for.
  Arc. 'Tis True, they did; and therefore urg'd our Prince;
That slighting (in a Case of such Importance)
The Pride of Titles, and of equal Birth,
You might espouse One of these Rural Maids,
Whose Parents harmless Presence in our Land
Might bring the Blessings of the Gods upon us;
And, lest the Wars (which still infest these Countries)
Shou'd tempt you from the Fates, and his Design,
How strictly did He Charge it on your Duty,
That, 'till the Time, which now, Two Days must end,
You shou'd not leave these Plains, to seek the Camp!
  Clim. Nor have I done it, as Thyself can witness;
But here have spent the long and lazy Hours,
Carelessly stretch'd beneath some Sylvan Shade,
And only sent my Wishes to their Tents;
But ere the Battle (which is soon intended)

[Page 300]

Shall meet in glorious Tryal of their Right,
I will be there, and side with the Messenians.
  Arc.Oh! that you wou'd not!
That first your Native Country might be serv'd,
Think on her Danger, and your Sovereign's Will:
'Twas to the Reed, and not the wrangling Trumpet
He bid you listen, to secure his Peace;
Nor have you look'd with Love, as he requir'd,
On any Shepherdess, tho' ne'er so Fair,
Or born of Parents, harmless as their Flocks.
Low on my Knees, my Lord, let me prevail,       [He Kneels.
That, when the Time, decreed you, do's expire,
You will not prosecute this rash Design;
But go with me yet farther on these Plains,
And seek to please your Father, and the Gods,
In such safe, humble ways, as they direct us.
  Clim. Nay, prithee, do not kneel; it grates my Nature:       [Raises him.
But trust me, when we have subdued these Countries
When Lacedemon's Kings shall sue for Peace,
And make great Aristomenes Returns
Agreeing to his Merits, and their Wrongs,
And I have gain'd such Honour as becomes me;
Whate'er thou doest request shall be observ'd:
And tho' my Soul finds such vast disproportion
Betwixt the Thoughts, with which she is inspir'd,
And those, that lodge in these poor Country Maids;

[Page 301]

    Yet shall my Duty o'er my Temper rise,
    I'll trust (like Others) only to my Eyes,
    And think, that Women in Perfection are,
    Tho ne'er so Ignorant, if Young and Fair,

  Arc. Ha!       [A Noise is heard of distant Drums.
Sure I hear the distant Sound of Drums.       [Aside.
Heav'n grant what I've been told, and kept so secret,
Of a Design this Day to end the War,
Be not a Truth too tempting for my Reasons!

Enter frighted, Thæta and Lamia, Shepherdesses.

  Lamia. Oh! may we here be safe, tell us Climander?
For all the Lawns, that lie beyond the Hill,
Where still our Flocks were us'd to feed in peace,
Are fill'd with War, and dark with flying Arrows:
The Sheep disperse, whilst none regard their Safety,
But call on Pan, to shield th' advent'rous Chief,
The noble Aristomenes from Danger.
  Clim. Hear me, Arcasius, hear and do not thwart me;       [Aside to Arc.
Not tye me to a few remaining Hours:
For, by the horrid Shield, that bears the Gorgon,
I Swear; if thou refuse to arm me now
With what I sent thee lately to provide,
These feet shall bear me sandal'd to the Battle,
This flow'ry Wreath shall mix with their stern Helmets,
And Death I'll take, if not impower'd to give it.

[Page 302]

  Arc. Oh! do not ask my Aid; but in this Tryal,
Call all your fainting Virtue to assist
And help you keep your Promise to your Father.
  Clim. I did not promise him to be a Coward,
To let the Sound of War thus strike my Sense,
Yet keep my Heart in a cool, even Temper.
Hark! this way comes the Noise, and I will meet it.
[As he is going, a confus'd Noise and Cry is heard within.
  Arc. They're Cries of Grief, and not the Shouts of Battle.
I hope All's past, lest He and Rhodes shou'd perish.

Enter meeting, Climander, Clinias, and other Shepherds.

  1st Shep. Ruin'd, Undone!
  Clin. Let every Shepherd weep!
Turn their sweet Harmony to Sighs and Groans!
To the fierce Wolves deliver up their Flocks,
And leave Messenia to the cruel Victor!
  Clim. The Victor, Clinias! is the Fight then over ?
  Clin. It is, and We again the Slaves of Sparta.
  Clim. Then Aristomenes must sure be breathless,
And, if he's Dead, fall'n in his Country's Cause:
The Gods have giv'n Him Fame, whilst We are Wretched.
  Clin. Oh! He's not Dead, but Living in their Power,

[Page 303]

Which, 'tis believ'd, they'll use with utmost Rigour:
Pressing too far on the Auxiliary Troops,
The Foe surrounding bore him from his Horse,
Then with the Thongs of their curs'd Cretan Bows
Bound his strong Arms, and lead him off, in Triumph.
  Clim. Convert, ye Powers, to Blood and Tears that Triumph!
Rescue from their vile Hands the noble Prey,
And send him warmer Friends than Demagetus,       [Aside.
Who, knowing not his Person, lov'd his Valour!
O ill-tim'd Duty, how hast thou betray'd me!
Where is Aristor ? Where's the brave Alcander ?       [To them.
  Clim. The first may share in his great Father's Fate,
For ought, as yet, the Army can discover:
Alcander heads, but cannot lead them on,
And 'tis believ'd they quickly will forsake him;
Such cold Dismay and Terrour has possess'd 'em!
Yet ere we part, forever part from hence,
(If so the cruel Tyrant shou'd Decree)
Let us appoint one sad and solemn Meeting,
Where all the Ensigns of our former Mirth
May be defac'd and offer'd to his Praise.
That made our Nights secure, and bless'd our Days.

[Page 304]

  1st Shep. So let it be!
Again, one Ev'ning on these Plains we'll meet.
  2nd Shep. But never tread them more with chearful Feet.
      [Exeunt Shepherds and Shepherdesses.
  Clim. Cruel Arcasius ! How hast thou undone me,
Charming me, with thy Tears, to this soft Circle,
Whilst the bright Spirit, Honour is gone by,
And borne away on never-turning Pinions!
Why wou'd'st thou thus contrive against my Fame,
And rob my fiery Youth of this first War,
(For which it languish'd with a Lover's Fondness)
By saying still 'twou'd last, 'till Time had freed me?
But I will yet pursue it thro' Despair,
And share their Ruin, tho' deny'd their Glory.
      [As he's going Arc. kneels.
  Arc. Yet, this last time, behold my bended Knees,
Which if you slight shall of the Gods implore
A hasty Death, to fall on old Arcasius:
Nor think, this Posture means to cross your way;
For, by those Powers I swear; if they will Fight
As much, we hear 'tis doubted by the Shepherds,
I will not sue, to keep you from the Army,
Or bring on me your future Life's Reproaches.
Let me obtain but This, for all my Service,
To be first sent to sound their Disposition,
Which I'll relate with Truth, and help your Purpose:
In this Attempt Two Hours will not be lost;
Oh! give so much, to save his Life, that loves you.

[Page 305]

  Clim. Thou has obtain'd it, by thy promis'd Aid,
And my long Knowledge of the Truth that guides thee.
About it then, whilst, in that shady Grove,
I with impatience wait for thy Return.
  Arc. Which shall not be prolong'd my Lord, believe me.       [Exeunt severally.

Enter several Soldiers, running over the Stage, and throwing away their Arms.

  1st Sold. Away, away, haste to the Woods for Shelter.
  2nd Sold. Do they begin to sally from the Town?
  3rd Sold. I know not; look behind him, he that will.
Here lies my Way       [They run into the Wood.

Enter more, doing as the former.

  1st Sold. Farewell the Wars! Oh! never such a General!
  2nd Sold. Never such Sorrow! never such a General!

Enter more.

  2nd Sold. What, is the Army all dispers'd, and broken!       [To them.
  3rd Sold. No, but the Wisest of them do as We do.
Away, away

[Page 306]

Enter Alcander meeting them.

  Alcand. Why do ye fly my Friends, and cast these from ye?
For shame! like Men, that once have known their Use,
Take 'em again, and wait, or seek the Foe.
  3rd Sold. Seek 'em, for what?
We cannot find our General out amongst 'em:
'Tis thought they've made sure Work with him already;
And now you'd have us run upon their Swords.
We thank you, Captain. Come away, away!
      [Exit follow'd by some others.
  Alc. Oh! yet my Fellow-Soldiers, stay and hear me;
Can ye so soon forget your Noble General,
Your Aristomenes, whose Courage fed ye,
And by whose Conduct, ye have slept securely
In reach of Foes, that trebled ye in Number!
Can ye forget the Care, that heal'd your Wounds;
The Tongue, that prais'd them; or those Liberal Hands,
That pour'd down Gold, faster than they your Blood!
  1st Sold. No; were he but amongst us, we'd Dye with him.
  2nd Sold. We are no Cowards, Captain, nor Ungrateful.
But since they say, He's Dead, What can we do?

[Page 307]

  Alcand. Go back, and keep a little while together;
At least, 'till there are Tydings from the Town:
Then, if he lives, we may attempt his rescue;
Or, if he's Dead, in a most just despair
Burn their accurst Phærea o'er their Heads,
And then disperse, when we're so far reveng'd.
Do this my Friends; Come, come, I know you will:
You lov'd the General
  1st Sold. Cursed be He, that did not!
  2nd Sold. We will go back, but ne'er shall see him more.
  3rd Sold. Then we will Fight no more, that's sure enough.
  4th Sold. Howe'er, let's follow the brave Captain here,
And stay, 'till we're inform'd as he advises.
  Alcand. Come, I will march before you.
Take up your Arms and trust, my Friends, to me:
Your Lives shall not be set on idle Hazards;
Lose no more time, but let us join the Army.
      [They take up their Arms, and Exeunt.

Enter Herminia and Barina, Disguis'd like Shepherdesses.

  Herm. Alas! Barina, whither wilt thou lead me?
  Bar. To Safety, Madam, poor and humble Safety,
Which in those Hamlets, now within our Sight,
The Shepherds find, with whom we may partake it.

[Page 308]

  Herm. Thus far indeed thou'st brought me on to seek it,
Urging the Danger of a Virgin's Honour,
When left defenceless to the Conqueror's Will:
But dost thou think, we may not thro' these Woods
Find out some gloomy Cave to Men unknown,
And there expiring, sleep secure for ever?
  Bar. Why shou'd we Dye,
Since Aristomenes may yet be Living?
  Herm. Oh! that thou hads't not named him!
      [She starts and weeps.
'Till we were lodg'd, where Grief
Might have its Course; for now 'twill flow
And stop our farther Passage, barring the Sight
Which shou'd conduct our Steps.
  Bar. It must not Madam, nor must you indulge it,
But put on chearful Looks to suit this Habit,
And make the World believe you what you seem.
  Herm. I cannot do it.
In the midst of Sport
I shou'd forget the gay, fantastick Scene,
And drop these Tears, when Smiles were most expected.
  Bar. Then 'tis in vain farther to seek for Shelter:
Let us return and wait in your Pavilion,
'Till Anaxander shall command you thence
To serve the base Delight of some proud Spartan.
  Herm. Oh! yet avert that Fate, ye angry Powers!
I yield, Barina; make me what thou wilt:
See, I no more am sad; look on this Brow;

[Page 309]

Canst thou read here that I have lost a Father,
The best, the fondest, and the dearest Father?
Forgive the tender Thought, that breeds this Change;
I'll weep it off, and smile again to please thee.
  Bar. No; I'll weep too, for his, that's past,
And your approaching Ruin.
  Herm. Alas! I had forgot, but now am Calm:
What must I do? indeed I will observe thee.
  Bar. Then not far hence, conceal'd within this Grove
Wait my Return, who must go find the Shepherds,
And frame some Story; that when you appear,
Thro' no Enquiries we become suspected:
And in my absence, be your Thoughts employ'd
To bend your Mind to what the Times require.
  Herm. To Fate and thy Advice I will submit,
Suit to my alter'd State my low Desire;
My Fare be plain, and homely my Attire,
My Tresses with a simple Fillet bind,
Face the hot Sun, and wither in the Wind;
In my parch'd Hand a rural Crook be found,
The Trees my Curtains, and my Bed the Ground:
That Fortune (who at Greatness aims her Blow)
When thus disguis'd may not a Princess know.       [Exeunt.

[Page 310]

The SCENE changes to a Street in the Town of Phærea (the Lacedemonian Garrison) a Rabble and many common Soldiers in the Street.

  1st Sold. All's done, all's done my Fellows.
We may now go home to our Wives, and our Shops.
  1st Rabble. Ay, that we may; we have caught him at last,
That has been our Back-friend so long,
As one may say
  2nd Sold. Nay, I'll be sworn,
Thou never look'd'st him in the Face:
But we shall have the tossing, and the tumbling of him
As soon as ever the sowre-fac'd Senators
Have dismiss'd their Judgements upon him.
  3rd Rabble. Ay, I'll warrant ye, shall we;
Here, here he comes; bear back, bear back.

[Aristomenes bound and guarded is conducted over the Stage, the Rabble crouding and following him with confus'd Cries and Shouts, Exeunt.

The SCENE changed, discovers a Council-Chamber in Anaxander's Palace: Anaxander, Clarinthus, and several Lords of Sparta.

  Anax. Most, happily, my Lords, we now are met,
To see those Hands in servile Fetter's ty'd

[Page 311]

Which broke the Bondage of the proud Messenians
Whom Sparta long had held in hard Subjection.
Ere yet their Captive General do's appear,
Be it amongst your selves, My Lords, resolved
What Course will answer best our Ends upon them.
Speak you, Clarinthus, for'most of the Assembly;
And then, let ev'ry one add what he pleases.
  Clar. Short be my Speech, and plain, as is the way
Which must secure what Lacedemon toils for:
Let him resign that Country, kept by him
From the entire Subjection, to our Yoke;
Or let his speedy Death deliver to Us
What his too active Life has long kept back.
  Anax. What say the rest?
  All the Sen. All, all agree to this.
  Clar. No middle Course can be of use to Sparta.
  A Lord. Bring in the Pris'ner; 'tis the King's Command.

Aristomenes is brought in by the Guard.
Aristor in a Spartan Dress presses in amongst the Croud, whilst Phila appears at the Door.

  Anax. At last, we see the Hero can be Conquer'd,       [To Clar.
  Clar.Not in his Looks; for they are haughty still,
And so his Mind will prove, if I mistake not.
  Anax. That you, our Pris'ner now, of late our Foe,

[Page 312]

Have urg'd that Country, where you rule in Chief,
To break our Yoke, and make Incursions on us,
Since known to all, will justify our Sentence
Which is; That you shall meet the Death deserv'd,
Unless to keep our Quiet for the future,
You bring again Messenia to our Sway,
Paying such Tribute, as shall be impos'd
By Us, the Lords of that offensive State.
This is the Choice, we kindly set before you,
And wish, that you wou'd take the safest Part,
  Aristom. Enslave my Country, to secure my Life!
That Pow'r forbid it, under whose Protection
I've often fought her Battles with Success,
And drove th' ill-grounded War home to your Sparta!
  Clar.He braves us in his Bonds: then you wou'd Dye.
  Aristom. I do not say I wou'd;
I am a Man, and Nature bars that saying:
Yet I dare Dye; no Spartan here, but knows it.
But since the Fates (whose Wills we best can read,
When thus unfolded in their dire Events)
Tell me by these vile Bonds I must submit;
Propose the gentlest Bargain you can make,
And if I find my Life bears equal Weight,
I am content to take it, else 'tis Yours.
  Anax. 'Tis not for Us to wave, or change our Terms,
Mistaken Man, who think not of our Power,
And that we may command what we propose:
Since the first Sally, now, must take Possession

[Page 313]

Of what your frighted Rout will soon abandon.
  Aristom. My frighted Rout!
Ye basely wrong with foul reproachful Names
Those valiant Troops, which yet ye cannot Conquer:
For know, thou proud insulting Anaxander,
There's at their head a resolute young Man,
That will not 'bate thee in his strict Account
One Sigh or Groan, thy Tortures or thy Dungeons
Shall wrest in Dying from his Father's Bosom.

Anaxander and the Senate talk among themselves, whilst Aristor comes forward upon the Stage.

But there he stands!       [Aside seeing Aristor.
Aristor thro' that Spartan Dress I view,
And ne'er, till now, wish'd not to see my Son.
Protect him from their Knowledge, some kind Pow'r,
If Youth, or Virtue e'er engag'd your Pity!
  Clar. Let it be so, and speedily perform'd,       [Aloud.
For He'll ne'er yield to what has been demanded.
  Anax. You nam'd the Dungeon, with a Threaten too
Of swift Revenge, thinking to fright our Justice:
But we'll take care, first, to perform our Part,
Then, venture what your daring Son can offer.
The Dungeon is his Sentence, thither bear him.
  Aristor. Not till this Hand has done a swifter Justice.
      [Draws and runs at Anax.
  Anax. Ha! what means this, my Guards!
      [He avoids the thrust: Phila runs in.

[Page 314]

  Phila. Help, Soldiers, help; seize that distracted Spartan.
Who now has got a Sword; Disarm, and take him.
      [They disarm him.
  Aristor. 'Tis false; stand off, ye Slaves, and know I am
  Phila. Oh! stop his Mouth; for if he raves, he Dyes.
      [They stop his Mouth with a Handkerchief.
  Aristom. As sure as now he Lives, had he spoke more       [Aside.
Therefore be blest the Stratagem that stopt him!
  Anax. What means this, Phila; speak, Who is this Madman?
  Phila. One by a Friend entrusted to my Care,
Sent from the Country here to find a Cure;
But hearing, as the Croud pass'd by his Lodgings,
That Aristomenes wou'd soon be Sentenc'd,
He broke his Ward, and fancy'd He must save him.
I have pursu'd him, 'till I am faint with Crying,
And am confounded at his frantick Passion.
Oh! Royal Sir, forgive it
  Anax. We do, and pity him: remove him hence,
Then, to thy Mistress, my dear Daughter, Go
And say we now again shall soon see Sparta.
  Phila. I shall my Lord!
Now follow me, I'll lead ye to his Lodgings.       [To the Guards.
      [Exit Phila with the Guards bearing off Aristor.

[Page 315]

  Aristom. Whoe'er she be,
May Heaven reward her, if she means his Safety.       [Aside.
Now I can meditate on my own Fortunes,
And slight the worst can reach me.
  Anax. He's deep in Thought which may produce a Change.
Again, I'll try him       [To Clar.
Now, Aristomenes, that this wild Chance
Has given you time to think upon our Sentence,
Have you enough consider'd of its Horror,
To bend your stubborn Will to our Demands?
  Aristom. Yes, Anaxander, I have weigh'd it well:
That active Faculty, which we call Phancy,
Soon as you spoke, dragg'd me thus bound by Slaves
Thro' the throng'd Streets, exciting several Passions;
The Barb'rous Croud shouted their clamorous Joy,
Because unpunish'd they might sport with Blood;
Old Men and Matrons, destin'd long for Death,
With envious Pleasure saw me forc'd before them
To tread that Path, in spight of vigorous Nature,
Whilst tender Virgins turned aside their Heads,
And dropt, in Silence, the soft Tears of Pity:
But, Oh! the Soldiers; from the Soldier's hands
Methoughts I saw their Swords neglected thrown,
When Fortune shew'd they cou'd not save the Bravest
(If once she frown'd) from such a Fate as mine.
  Clar. He'll move the Croud; urge him to speak directly.

[Page 316]

  Anax. All this is from the purpose; plainly tell
Whether you'll meet our Mercy, or the Dungeon.
  Aristom. My Train of Thoughts to that dark Cave had led me;
I stood reclined upon the horrid Brim,
And gaz'd into it, 'till my baffl'd Sight
Piercing beyond the many jetting Rocks
That help to break by turns the falling Body,
Was lost in Shades, where it must rest for-ever:
And ready now to be pushed rudely off,
This was my last, and best Reflection on it,
That there dwelt Peace, which is not to be found
In his dark Bosom, that has sold his Country.
  Anax. Away with him to instant Tryal of it:
See this obey'd, and plunge him headlong down;
There, he'll have Time, if Life, for such fine Thoughts.
Away, and bring me word it is perform'd.
      [Exeunt Anax. and Lords.

Aristomenes born off.

  Rabble and Sold. Away, away; the Dungeon, the Dungeon.
Peace and Prosperity to Lacedemon!       [Exeunt.


Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom