It ill becomes me, Senators of Rome, me, Regulus, after having so often stood in this venerable assembly, clothed with the supreme dignity of the republic, to stand before you to-day, a captive,--the captive of Carthage. Though outwardly free, yet the heaviest of chains, the pledge of a Roman Consul, makes me the bondsman of the Carthaginians. They have my promise to return to them in the event of the failure of this their embassy.
But, Conscript Fathers, Senators, there is but one course to be pursued. Abandon all thought of peace! Reject the overtures of Carthage! Reject them wholly and unconditionally! What? What? Give back to her a thousand able-bodied men, and receive in return this one, attenuated, war-worn, fever-wasted frame,--this weed, whitened in a dungeon's darkness, pale and sapless, which no kindness of the sun, no softness of the summer breeze, can ever restore to life and vigor? It must not, shall not be! Oh, were Regulus what he was once, before captivity had unstrung his sinews and enervated his limbs, he might pause; he might think he were worth a thousand of the foe; he might say, "Make the exchange, Rome shall not lose by it!" But now, alas, 'tis gone,--that impetuosity of strength which could once make him a leader indeed, to penetrate a phalanx, or guide a pursuit. His very armor would be a burden now! His battlecry would be drowned in the din of onset! His sword would fall harmless upon his opponents shield!
But if he cannot live, he can at least die, for his country. Do not deny him this supreme consolation. Consider! Every indignity, every torture which Carthage shall heap on his dying hours, will be better than a trumpet's call to your armies. They will remember only Regulus, their fellow-soldier and their leader. They will forget his defeats. They will regard only his services to the Republic. Tunis, Sicily, Sardinia, every well-fought field, won by his blood and theirs, will flash on their remembrance and kindle their avenging wrath!
And so shall Regulus, though dead, fight as he never fought before against the foe.
Conscript Fathers, there is another theme,--my family. Forgive the thought. To you and to Rome, I commit them. I leave no legacy but my name, no testament but my example.
And you, ambassadors of Carthage, now in this august presence, I have spoken, not as you expected. I am your captive. Lead me back to whatever fate may await me. Doubt not that you shall find that to Roman hearts country is dearer than life, and integrity more precious than freedom.
Epes Sargent, 1812-1880, was an American author and journalist. For a number of years he was editor of the "Boston Evening Transcript."
Historical: Regulus was a celebrated Roman general. As consul he led the Roman forces against the Carthaginians and defeated them in a number of engagements, but finally was himself defeated and taken prisoner by the Carthaginians. After five years of captivity he was sent to Rome to negotiate for peace and an exchange of prisoners. Though he had been promised his liberty, if the Romans should accept the treaty, yet when he appeared before the Roman senate, he denounced the terms most emphatically. Accordingly he returned to Carthage, where he suffered a cruel death.