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Moses In The Bulrushes. A Sacred Drama

"Let me assert eternal Providence,
And justify the ways of God to Man." ~ Paradise Lost.

Persons Of The Drama.

Hebrew Woman.
Jochebed, Mother of Moses.
Miriam, his Sister.

Egyptians.
The Princess, King Pharaoh's Daughter
Melita; and other Attendants.

SCENE-- On the Banks of the Nile.
The subject is taken from the Second Chapter of the Book of Exodus.

PART I.

Jochebed, Miriam.

Jochebed.
Why was my pray'r accepted? why did Heav'n
In anger hear me when I ask'd a son?
Ye dames of Egypt, ye triumphant mothers,
You no imperial tyrant marks for ruin;
You are not doom'd to see the child you bore,
The babes you fondly nurture, bleed before you!
You taste the transports of a mother's love,
Without a mother's anguish! Wretched Israel!
Can I forbear to mourn the different lot
Of thy sad daughters! -- Why did God's own hand
Rescue his chosen race by Joseph's care?
Joseph, th' elected instrument of Heav'n,
Decreed to save illustrious Abraham's sons,
What time the famine rag'd in Canaan's land.
Israel, who then was spared, must perish now!
   Thou great mysterious Pow'r, who has involv'd
Thy wise decrees in darkness, to perplex
The pride of human wisdom, to confound
The daring scrutiny, and prove the faith
Of thy presuming creatures! hear me now!
O vindicate thy honour; clear this doubt;
Teach me to trace this maze of Providence!
Why save the fathers, if the sons must perish?

Miriam.
Ah me, my mother! whence these floods of grief?

Jochebed.
My son! my son! I cannot speak the rest;
Ye who have sons can only know my fondness;
Ye who have lost them, or who fear to lose,
Can only know my pangs! none else can guess them
A mother's sorrows cannot be deceiv'd
But by a mother -- Would I were not one.

Miriam.
With earnest pray'rs thou didst request this son,
And Heaven has granted him.

Jochebed.
                 O sad estate
Of human wretchedness! so weak is man,
So ignorant and blind, that did not God
Sometimes withhold in mercy what we ask,
We should be ruin'd at our own request.
Too well thou know'st, my child, the stern decree
Of Egypt's cruel king, heart-hearted Pharaoh;
"That every male of Hebrew mother born
Must die." Oh! do I live to tell it thee?
Must die a bloody death! My child, my son,
My youngest born, my darling must be slain.

Miriam.
The helpless innocent, and must he die?

Jochebed.
No; if a mother's tears, a mother's prayers,
A mother's fond precautions can prevail,
He shall not die. I have a thought, my Miriam,
Will bless the secret purpose of my soul,
To save his precious life.

Miriam.
        Hop'st thou that Pharaoh----

Jochebed.
I have no hope in Pharaoh, much in God;
Much in the Rock of Ages.

Miriam.
             Think, O think,
What perils thou already hast incurr'd,
And shun the greater which may yet remain.
Three months, three dangerous months, thou hast preserv'd
Thy infant's life, and in thy house conceal'd him!
Should Pharaoh know!

Jochebed.
               Oh! let the tyrant know,
And feel what he inflicts! Yes, hear me, Heaven!
Send thy right aiming thunderbolts -- But hush,
My impious murmurs! Is it not thy will,
Thou infinite in mercy? Thou permit'st
This seeming evil for some latent good.
Yes, I will laud thy grace, and bless thy goodness
For what I have, and not arraign thy wisdom
For what I fear to lose. Oh, I will bless thee
That Aaron will be spared! that my first born
Lives safe and undisturb'd; that he was given me
Before this impious persecution raged!

Miriam.
And yet who knows but the fell tyrant's rage
May reach his precious life?

Jochebed.
                I fear for him,
For thee, for all. A doting parent lives
In many lives; through many a nerve she feels;
From child to child the quick affections spread,
For ever wandering, yet for ever fix'd.
Nor does division weaken, nor the force
Of constant operation e'er exhaust
Parental love. All other passions change
With changing circumstances; rise or fall,
Dependent on their object; claim returns;
Live on reciprocation, and expire
Unfed by hope. A mother's fondness reigns
Without a rival, and without an end.

Miriam.
But say what Heaven inspires to save thy son

Jochebed.
Since the dear fatal morn which gave him birth,
I have revolv'd in my distracted mind
Each means to save his life: and many a thought
Which fondness prompted prudence has opposed
As perilous and rash. With these poor hands
I've framed a little ark of slender reeds;
With pitch and slime I have secured the sides,
In this frail cradle I intend to lay
My little helpless infant, and expose him
Upon the banks of Nile.

Miriam.
           'Tis full of danger.

Jochebed.
'Tis danger to expose and death to keep him.

Miriam.
Yet, oh! reflect. Should the fierce crocodile,
The native and the tyrant of the Nile,
Seize the defenceless infant!

Jochebed.
              Oh, forbear!
Spare my fond heart! Yet not the crocodile,
Nor all the deadly monsters of the deep,
To me are half so terrible as Pharaoh,
That heathen king, that royal murderer.

Miriam.
Should he escape, which yet I dare not hope,
Each sea-born monster, yet the wind and waves
He cannot 'scape.

Jochebed.
        Know, God is every where;
Not to one narrow, partial spot confined;
No, not to chosen Irael; he extends
Through all the vast infinitude of space;
At his command the furious tempests rise--
The blasting of the breath of his displeasure.
He tells the world of waters when to roar;
And, at his bidding, winds and seas are calm:
In him, not in an arm of flesh, I trust;
In him, whose promise never yet has fail'd,
I place my confidence.

Miriam.
           What must I do?
Command thy daughter; for thy words have waked
An holy boldness in my youthful breast.

Jochebed.
Go then, my Miriam, go, and take the infant.
Buried in harmless slumbers there he lies:
Let me not see him -- spare my heart that pang.
Yet sure one little look may be indulged,
And I may feast my fondness with his smiles,
And snatch one last, last kiss. -- No more, my heart;
That rapture would be fatal. -- I should keep him.
I could not doom to death the babe I clasp'd:
Did ever mother kill her sleeping boy?
I dare not hazard it -- The task be thine.
Oh! do not wake my child; remove him softly;
And gently lay him on the river's brink.

Miriam.
Did those magicians, whom the sons of Egypt
Consult and think all-potent, join their skill;
And was it great as Egypt's sons believe;
Yet all their secret wizard arts combined,
To save his little ark of bulrushes,
Thus fearfully exposed, could not affect it:
Their spells, their incantations, and dire charms,
Could not preserve it.

Jochebed.
           Know this ark is charm'd
With incantations Pharaoh ne'er employed;
With spells which impious Egypt ne'er knew;
With invocations to the living God,
I twisted every slender reed together,
And with a prayer did every ozier weave.

Miriam.
I go.-----------

Jochebed.
   Yet ere thou goest, observe me well;
When thou hast lalid him in his watery bed,
Oh, leave him not! but at a distance wait,
And mark what Heaven's high will determines for him.
Lay him among the flags on yonder beach,
Just where the royal gardens meet the Nile.
I dare not follow him, Suspicion's eye
Would note my wild demeanour! Miriam, yes,
The mother's fondness would betray the child.
Farewell! God of my fathers, oh protect him!

PART II.

Enter Miriam, after having deposited the Child.

Miriam.
Yes, I have laid him in his wat'ry bed,
His wat'ry grave, I fear! -- I tremble still;
It was a cruel task -- still I must weep!
But ah! my mother! who shall soothe thy griefs?
The flags and sea-weeds will a while sustain
Their precious load; but it must sink ere long!
Sweet babe, farewell! Yet think not I will leave thee;
No, I will watch thee till the greedy waves
Devour thy little bark; I'll sit me down
Ad sing to thee, sweet babe; thou canst not hear,
But 'twill amuse me, while I watch thy fate.

[She sits down on a Bank, and sings.]

SONG.
Thou who canst make the feeble strong,
O God of Israel, hear my song;
Not mine such notes as Egypt's daughters raise;
'Tis thee, O God of Hosts, I strive to praise.

Ye winds, the servants of the Lord,
Ye waves, obedient to his word,
Oh, spare the babe committed to your trust;
And Israel shall confess the Lord is just.

Though doom'd to find an early grave,
This infant, Lord, thy pow'r can save:
And he whose death's decreed by Pharaoh's hand,
May rise a prophet to redeem the land.

[She rises, and looks out.]

What female form bends hitherward her steps,
Of royal port she seems; perhaps some friends,
Rais'd by the guardian care of bounteous Heav'n
To prop the falling house of Levi. -- Soft,
I'll listen unperceiv'd; these trees will hide me.

[She stands behind]

Enter the Princess of Egypt, attended by a train of Ladies.

Princess.
No further, virgins; here I mean to rest,
To taste the pleasant coolness of the breeze;
Perhaps to bathe in this translucent stream.
Did not our holy law enjoin the ablution
Frequent and regular, it still were needful
To mitigate the fervours of our clime.
Melita, stay -- the rest at distance wait.

[They all go out except one.]

The Princess looks out.

Sure, or I must mistake, or I perceive
Upon the sedgy margin of the Nile
A chest; entangled in the reeds it seems
Discern'st thou aught?

Melita.
      Something, but what I know not.

Princess.
Go and examine what this sight may mean.

[Exit Maid.]

Miriam behind.

O blest, beyond my hopes! he is discover'd;
My brother will be sav'd! who is this stranger?
Ah! 'tis the princess, cruel Pharaoh's daughter.
If she resemble her inhuman Sire,
She must be cruel too; yet fame reports her
Most merciful and mild. -- Great Lord of all.
By whose good spirit bounteous thoughts are given
And deeds of love performed -- be gracious now,
And touch her soul with mercy!

Re-enter Melita.

Princess.
          Well, Melita,
Hast thou discover'd what the vessel is?

Melita.
  Oh, princess, I have seen the strangest sight;
Within the vessel lies a sleeping babe,
A fairer infant have I never seen.

Princess.
Who knows but some unhappy Hebrew woman
Has thus expos'd her infant, to evade
The stern decree of my too cruel Sire.
Unhappy mothers! oft my heart has bled
In secret anguish o'er your slaughter'd sons;
Powerless to save, yet hating to destroy.

Melita.
Should this be so, my Princess knows the danger.

Princess.
No danger should deter from acts of mercy.

Miriam behind.
A thousand blessings on her princely head!

Princess.
Too much the sons of Jacob have endur'd
From royal Pharaoh's unrelenting hate;
Too much our house has crush'd their alien race.
Is't not enough that cruel task-masters
Grind them by hard oppression? not enough
That iron bondage bows their spirits down?
Is't not enough my Sire his greatness owes,
His palaces, his fanes magnificent,
Those structures which the world with wonder views,
To much insulted Israel's patient race?
To them his growing cities owe their splendour;
Their toils fair Rameses and Pythom built;
And shall we fill the measure of our crimes,
And crown our guilt with murder? and shall I
Sanction the sin I hate? forbid it, Mercy!

Melita.
I know thy father fears the strength
Of this still growing race, who flourish more
The more they are oppress'd: he dreads their numbers.

Princess.
Apis forbid! Pharaoh afraid of Israel!
Yet should this outcast race, this hapless people,
E'er grow to such a formidable greatness,
(Which all the gods avert whom Egypt worships)
This infant's life can never serve their cause,
Nor can his single death prevent their greatness.

Melita.
Trust not to that vain hope. By weakest means
And most unlikely instrument, full oft
Are great events produc'd. This rescu'd child
Perhaps may live to serve his upstart race
More than an host.

Princess.
          How ill does it beseem
Thy tender years, and gentle womanhood,
To steel thy breast to Pity's sacred touch!
So weak, so unprotected is our sex,
So constantly expos'd, so very helpless,
That did not Heav'n itself enjoin compassion,
Yet human policy should make us kind,
Lest in the rapid turn of Fortune's wheel,
We live to need the pity we refuse.
Yes, I will save him -- Mercy, thou hast conquer'd!
Lead on -- and from the rushes we'll remove
The feeble ark which cradles this poor babe.

[The Princess and her Maid go out.]

Miriam comes forward.
How poor were words to speak my boundless joy!
The princess will protect him! bless her, heav'n!

[She looks out after the Princess, and describes her action.]

With what impatient steps she seeks the shore!
Now she approaches where the ark is laid!
With what compassion, with what angel-sweetness,
She bends to look upon the infant's face!
She takes his little hand in her's -- he wakes --
She smiles upon him -- hark, alas! he cries;
Weep on, sweet babe! weep on, till thou hast touch'd
Each chord of pity, waken'd every sense
Of melting sympathy, and stol'n her soul.
She takes him in her arms -- O lovely Princess!
How goodness heightens beauty, now she clasps him
With fondness to her heart, she gives him now
With tender caution to her damsel's arms:
She points her to the palace, and again
This way the princess bends her gracious steps;
The virgin train retire and bear the child.

Re-enter the Princess and her Maid.

Princess.
Did ever innocence and infant beauty
Plead with such dumb but powerful eloquence?
If I, a stranger, feel these soft emotions,
What must the mother who expos'd him feel?
Go, fetch a woman of the Hebrew race,
That she may nurse the babe; -- and, by her garb,
Lo, such a one is here!

Miriam.
         Princess, all hail!
Forgive the bold intrusion of thy servant,
Who stands a charm'd spectator of thy goodness.

Princess.
I have redeem'd an infant from the waves,
Whom I intend to nurture as mine own.

Miriam.
My transports will betray me! [Aside.] Gen'rous Princess.

Princess.
Know'st thou a matron of the Hebrew race
To whom I may confide him?

Miriam.
                Well I know
A prudent matron of the house of Levi;
Her name is Jochebed, the wife of Amram;
Of gentle manners, fam'd throughout her tribe
For soft humanity; full well I know
That she will rear him with a mother's love.
[Aside.] Oh, truly spoke! a mother's love indeed!
To her despairing arms I mean to give
This precious trust! the nurse shall be the mother.

Princess.
With speed conduct this matron to the palace.
Yes, I will raise him up to princely greatness,
And he shall be my son! I'll have him train'd
By choicest sages, in the deepest lore
Of Egypt's sapient sons; his name be Moses,
For I have drawn him from the perilous flood.
              [They go out]

Miriam kneels.
Thou Great Unseen! who causest gentle deeds,
And smilest on what thou causest; thus I bless thee,
That thou didst deign consult the tender make
Of yielding human hearts, when thou ordain'st
Humanity a virtue! didst not make it
A rigorous exercise to counteract
Some strong desire within; to war and fight
Against the powers of Nature; but didst bend
The natural bias of the soul to mercy:
Then madest that mercy duty! Gracious Power!
Mad'st the keen rapture exquisite as right;
Beyond the joys of sense; as pleasure sweet,
As reason vigorous, and as instinct strong!

PART III.

Enter Jochebed.

I've almost reach'd the place -- with cautious steps
I must approach the spot where he is laid,
Lest from the royal gardens any spy me.
Poor babe! ere this the pressing calls of hunger
Have broke thy short repose; the chilling waves,
Ere this, have drench'd thy little shivering limbs.
What must my babe have suffered -- No one sees me,
But soft, does no one listen! Ah! how hard,
How very hard for fondness to be prudent!
Now is the moment to embrace and feed him.
       [She looks out.]
Where's Miriam, she has left her little charge,
Perhaps through fear; perhaps she was detected.
How wild is thought! how terrible conjecture!
A mother's fondness frames a thousand fears,
With thrilling nerve feels every real ill,
And shapes imagined miseries into being.
       [She looks towards the River.]
Ah me! Where is he? soul-distracting sight!
He is not there -- he's lost, he's gone, he's drown'd!
Toss'd by each beating surge my infant floats.
Cold, cold, and watery is thy grave, my child!
Oh no -- I see the ark -- Transporting sight!
                [She goes towards it.]
I have it here. Alas, the ark is empty!
The casket's left, the precious gem is gone!
You spared him, pitying spirits of the deep
But vain your mercy; some insatiate beast,
Cruel as Pharaoh, took the life you spared--
And I shall never, never see my boy!

Enter Miriam.

Jochebed.
Come and lament with my thy brother's loss!

Miriam.
Come and adore with me the God of Jacob!

Jochebed.
Miriam! -- the child is dead!

Miriam.
            He lives! he lives!

Jochebed.
Impossible -- Oh, do not mock my grief!
See'st thou that empty vessel!

Miriam.
             From that vessel
The Egyptian Princess took him.

Jochebed.
          Pharaoh's daughter?
Then still he will be slain: a bloodier death
Will terminate his woes.

Miriam.
               His life is safe
For know, she meants to rear him as her own.

Jochebed.
          [Falls on her knees in rapture.]
To God the Lord the glory be ascrib'd!
Oh, magnified for ever be THY might
Who mock'st all human forethought! who o'er rulest
The hearts of sinners to perform thy work,
Defeating their own purpose! who canst plant
Unlook'd-for mercy in a heathen's heart,
And from the depth of evil bring forth good!
                         [She rises.]

Miriam.
O blest event, beyond our warmest hopes.

Jochebed.
What! shall my son be nurtured in a court,
In princely grandeur bred? taught every art
And every wondrous science Egypt knows;
Yet ah! I tremble, Miriam; should he learn
With Egypt's polished arts her baneful faith!
Oh, worse exchange for death! yes, should he learn
In yon proud palace to disown His hand
Who thus has saved him: should he e'er embrace
(As sure he will, if bred in Pharaoh's court)
The gross idolatries which Egypt owns,
Her graven images, her brutish gods,
Then shall I wish he had not been preserv'd
To shame his fathers and deny his faith.

Miriam.
Then, to dispel thy fears and crown thy joy,
Hear further wonders -- Know, the generous Princess
To thine own care thy darling child commmits.

Jochebed.
Speak, while my joy will give me leave to listen!

Miriam.
By her commission'd, thou behold'st me here,
To seek a matron of the Hebrew race
To nurse him; thou, my mother, art that matron,
I said I knew thee well; that thou would'st rear him
E'en with a mother's fondness; she who bare him
(I told the Princess) would not love him more.

Jochebed.
Fountain of Mercy! whose pervading eye
Can look within and read what passes there,
Accept my thoughts for thanks! I have no words,
My soul, o'erfraught with gratitude rejects
The aid of language -- Lord! behold my heart.

Miriam.
Yes, thou shalt pour into his infant mind
The purest precepts of the purest faith.

Jochebed.
Oh! I will fill his tender soul with virtue,
And warm his bosom with Devotion's flame!
And me, celestial Spirit, with thy grace,
And be my labours with thy influence crown'd.
Without it they were vain. Then, then, my Miriam,
When he is furnish'd 'gainst the evil day,
With God's whole armour, girt with sacred Truth,
And as a breastplate wearing Righteousness,
Arm'd with the Spirit of God, the shield of Faith,
And with the helmet of Salvation crown'd,
Inured to watching, and disposed to pray'r;
Then may I send him to a dangerous court,
And safely trust him in a perilous world,
Too full of tempting snares and fond delusions.

Miriam.
May bounteous Heaven thy pious cares reward!

Jochebed.
O Amram! oh, my husband! when thou com'st
Wearied at night to rest thee from the toils
Imposed by haughty Pharaoh, what a tale
Have I to tell thee! Yes, thy darling son
Was lost, and is restored; was dead, and lives!

Miriam.
How joyful shall we spend the live-long night
In praises to Jehovah, who thus mocks
All human foresight, and converts the means
Of seeming ruin into great deliverance.

Jochebed.
Had not my child been doom'd to such strange perils
As a fond mother trembles to recall,
He had not been preserved.

Miriam.
             And mark still further;
Had he been saved by any other hand,
He had been still exposed to equal ruin.

Jochebed.
Then let us join to bless the hand of Heaven,
That this poor outcast of the house of Israel,
Condemn'd to die by Pharaoh, kept in secret
By my adventurous fondness; then exposed
E'en by that very fondness which conceal'd him,
Is now, to fill the wondrous round of mercy,
Preserved from perishing by Pharaoh's daughter,
Saved by the very hand that sought to crush him!
  Wise and unsearchable are all thy ways,
Thou God of mercies! -- Lead me to my child.