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Her. Alas! there is but too much reason to be lieve, they are so: and on this ground, I pity and deplore their condition. We agree in this point, that men do not conduct themselves according to reasonable and just principles : but I, who do not suffer myself to act as they do, must yet regard the dictates of my understanding and feelings, which compel me to love them; and that love fills me with compassion for their mistakes and irregularities. Canst thou condemn me for pitying my own species, my brethren, persons born in the same condition of life, and destined to the same hopes and privileges ? If thou shouldst enter an hospital, where sick and wounded persons reside, would their wounds and distresses excite thy mirth? And yet, the evils of the body bear no comparison with those of the mind. Thou wouldst certainly blush at thy barbarity, if thou hadst been so unfeeling as to laugh at or despise a poor miserable being, who had lost one of his legs : and yet thou art so destitute of humanity, as to ridicule those, who appear to be deprived of the noble powers of the understanding, by the little regard which they pay to its dictates.
Dem. He who has lost a leg is to be pitied, because the loss is not to be imputed to himself: but he who rejects the dictates of reason and conscience, voluntarily deprives himself of their aid. The loss originates in his own folly.
Her. Ah! so much the more is he to be pitied ! A furious maniac, who should pluck out his own eyes, would deserve more compassion than an ordinary blind man,
Dem. Come, let us accommodate the business. There is something to be said on each side of the question. There is every where reason for laughing, and reason for weeping. The world is ridiculous, and I laugh at it: it is deplorable, and thou lamentest over it. Every person views it in his own way, and according to his own temper. One point is unquestionable, that mankind are preposterous : to think right, and to act well, we must think and act differently from them. To submit to the authority, and follow the example of the greater part of men, would render us foolish and miserable.
Her. All this is, indeed, true; but then, thou hast no real love or feeling for thy species. The calamities of mankind excite thy mirth : and this proves that thou hast no regard for men, nor any true repect for the virtues which they have unhappily abandoned.
VIRTUE COMMANDS RESPECT, EVEN FROM THE
DIONYSIUS, PYTHIAS, AND DAMON. Dion. AMAZING! What do I see? It is Pythias just arrived. It is indeed Pythias. I did not think it possible. He is come to die, and to redeem his friend!
Pyth. Yes, it is Pythias. I left the place of my confinement, with no other views, than to pay to Heaven the vows I had made; to settle my family concerns according to the rules of justice; and to
bid adieu to my children, that I might die tranquil and satisfied.
Dion. But why dost thon return? Hast thou no fear of death? Is it not the character of a madman, to seek it thus voluntarily?
Pyth. I return to suffer, though I have not deserved death. Every principle of honour and goodness forbids me to allow my friend to die for me.
Dion. Dost thou, then, love him better than thyself?
Pyth. No; I love him as myself. But I am persuaded that I ought to suffer death, rather than my friend; since it was Pythias whom thou hadst decreed to die. It were not just that Damon should suffer, to deliver me from the death which was designed, not for him, but for me only.
Dion. But thou supposest, that it is as unjust to inflict death upon thee, as upon thy friend.
Pyth. Very true; we are both perfectly innocent; and it is equally unjust to make either of us suffer.
Dion. Why dost thou then assert, that it were injustice to put him to death, instead of thee?
Pyth. It is unjust, in the same degree, to inflict death either on Damon or on myself; but Pythias were highly culpable to let Damon suffer that death, which the tyrant had prepared for Pythias only.
Dion. Dost thou then return hither, on the day appointed, with no other view, than to save the life of a friend, by losing thy own?
Pyth. I return, in regard to thee, to suffer an act of injustice which it is common for tyrants to inflict; and, with respect to Damon, to perform my duty, by rescuing him from the danger he incurred by his generosity to me.
Dion. And now, Damon, let me address myself to thee. Didst thou not really fear, that Pythias would never return; and that thou wouldst be put to death on his account?
Damon. I was but too well assured, that Pythias would punctually return; and that he would be more solicitous to keep his promise, than to preserve his life. Would to heaven, that his relations and friends had forcibly detained him! He would then have lived for the comfort and benefit of good men; and I should have the satisfaction of dying for him!
Dion. What! Does life displease thee?
Damon. Yes; it displeases me, when I see and feel the power of a tyrant.
Dion. It is well! Thou shalt see him no more. I will order thee to be put to death immediately.
Pyth. Pardon the feelings of a man who sympathizes with his dying friend. But remember it was Pythias who was devoted by thee to destruction. I come to submit to it, that I may redeem my friend, Do not refuse me this consolation in my last hour.
Dion. I cannot endure men, who despise death, and set my power at defiance.
Damon. Thou canst not, then, endure virtue.
Dion. No: I cannot endure that proud, disdainful virtue, which contemns life; which dreads no punishment; and which is insensible to the charms of riches and pleasure.
Damon. Thou seest, however, that it is a virtue, which is not insensible to the dictates of honour, justice, and friendship.
Dion. Guards, take Pythias to execution. We shall see whether Damon will continue to despise my authority.
Damon. Pythias, by returning to submit himself to thy pleasure, has merited his life, and deserved thy favour; but I have excited thy indignation, by resigning myself to thy power, in order to save hir be satisfied, then, with this sacrifice, and put me to death.
Pyth. Hold, Dionysius! remember, it was Pythias alone who offended thee: Damon could not
Dion. Alas! what do I see and hear! where am I? How miserable; and how worthy to be so! I have hitherto known nothing of true virtue. I have spent my life in darkness and errour. All my power and honours are insufficient to produce love. I cannot boast of having acquired a single friend, in the course, of a reign of thirty years. And yet these two persons, in a private condition, love one another tenderly, unreservedly confide in each other, are mutually happy, and ready to die for each other's preservation.
Pytk. How couldst thou, who hast never loved any person, expect to have friends? If thou badst loved and respected men, thou wouldst have secured their love and respect. Thou hast feared mankind; and they fear thee; they detest thee.
Dion. Damon, Pythias, condescend to admit me as a third friend, in a connection so perfect. I give you your lives; and I will load you with riches.