Ancient Classics for English Readers
edited by the
REV. W. LUCAS COLLINS, M.A.
REV. W. LUCAS COLLINS, M.A.
AUTHOR OF 'ETONIANA', 'THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS', ETC.
I have to acknowledge my obligations to Mr. Forsyth's well-known 'Life of Cicero', especially as a guide to the biographical materials which abound in his Orations and Letters. Mr. Long's scholarly volumes have also been found useful. For the translations, such as they are, I am responsible. If I could have met with any which seemed to me more satisfactory, I would gladly have adopted them.
I. BIOGRAPHICAL—EARLY LIFE AND EDUCATION, II. PUBLIC CAREER—IMPEACHMENT OF VERRES, III. THE CONSULSHIP AND CATILINE, IV. EXILE AND RETURN, V. CICERO AND CAESAR, VI. CICERO AND ANTONY, VII. CHARACTER AS POLITICIAN AND ORATOR, VIII. MINOR CHARACTERISTICS, IX. CICERO's CORRESPONDENCE, X. ESSAYS ON 'OLD AGE' AND 'FRIENDSHIP', XI. CICERO'S PHILOSOPHY, XII. CICERO'S RELIGION.
EARLY LIFE AND EDUCATION.
When we speak, in the language of our title-page, of the 'Ancient Classics', we must remember that the word 'ancient' is to be taken with a considerable difference, in one sense. Ancient all the Greek and Roman authors are, as dated comparatively with our modern era. But as to the antique character of their writings, there is often a difference which is not merely one of date. The poetry of Homer and Hesiod is ancient, as having been sung and written when the society in which the authors lived, and to which they addressed themselves, was in its comparative infancy. The chronicles of Herodotus are ancient, partly from their subject-matter and partly from their primitive style. But in this sense there are ancient authors belonging to every nation which has a literature of its own. Viewed in this light, the history of Thucydides, the letters and orations of Cicero, are not ancient at all. Bede, and Chaucer, and Matthew of Paris, and Froissart, are far more redolent of antiquity. The several books which make up what we call the Bible are all ancient, no doubt; but even between the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel and the Epistles of St. Paul there is a far wider real interval than the mere lapse of centuries.
In one respect, the times of Cicero, in spite of their complicated politics, should have more interest for a modern reader than most of what is called Ancient History. Forget the date but for a moment, and there is scarcely anything ancient about them. The scenes and actors are modern—terribly modern; far more so than the middle ages of Christendom. Between the times of our own Plantagenets and Georges, for instance, there is a far wider gap, in all but years, than between the consulships of Caesar and Napoleon. The habits of life, the ways of thinking, the family affections, the tastes of the Romans of Cicero's day, were in many respects wonderfully like our own; the political jealousies and rivalries have repeated themselves again and again in the last two or three centuries of Europe: their code of political honour and morality, debased as it was, was not much lower than that which was held by some great statesmen a generation or two before us. Let us be thankful if the most frightful of their vices were the exclusive shame of paganism.
It was in an old but humble country-house, neat the town of Arpinum, under the Volscian hills, that Marcus Tullius Cicero was born, one hundred and six years before the Christian era. The family was of ancient 'equestrian' dignity, but as none of its members had hitherto borne any office of state, it did not rank as 'noble'. His grandfather and his father had borne the same three names—the last an inheritance from some forgotten ancestor, who had either been successful in the cultivation of vetches (cicer), or, as less complimentary traditions said, had a wart of that shape upon his nose. The grandfather was still living when the little Cicero was born; a stout old conservative, who had successfully resisted the attempt to introduce vote by ballot into his native town, and hated the Greeks (who were just then coming into fashion) as heartily as his English representative, fifty years ago, might have hated a Frenchman. "The more Greek a man knew", he protested, "the greater rascal he turned out". The father was a man of quiet habits, taking no part even in local politics, given to books, and to the enlargement and improvement of the old family house, which, up to his time, seems not to have been more than a modest grange. The situation (on a small island formed by the little river Fibrenus) was beautiful and romantic; and the love for it, which grew up with the young Cicero as a child, he never lost in the busy days of his manhood. It was in his eyes, he said, what Ithaca was to Ulysses,
"A rough, wild nurse-land, but whose crops are men".
[Footnote 1: The Equites were originally those who served in the Roman cavalry; but latterly all citizens came to be reckoned in the class who had a certain property qualification, and who could prove free descent up to their grandfather.]
[Footnote 2: Now known as Il Fiume della Posta. Fragments of Cicero's villa are thought to have been discovered built into the walls of the deserted convent of San Dominico. The ruin known as 'Cicero's Tower' has probably no connection with him.]
There was an aptness in the quotation; for at Arpinum, a few years before, was born that Caius Marius, seven times consul of Rome, who had at least the virtue of manhood in him, if he had few besides.
But the quiet country gentleman was ambitious for his son. Cicero's father, like Horace's, determined to give him the best education in his power; and of course the best education was to be found in Rome, and the best teachers there were Greeks. So to Rome young Marcus was taken in due time, with his younger brother Quintus. They lodged with their uncle-in-law, Aculeo, a lawyer of some distinction, who had a house in rather a fashionable quarter of the city, and moved in good society; and the two boys attended the Greek lectures with their town cousins. Greek was as necessary a part of a Roman gentleman's education in those days as Latin and French are with us now; like Latin, it was the key to literature (for the Romans had as yet, it must be remembered, nothing worth calling literature of their own); and, like French, it was the language of refinement and the play of polished society. Let us hope that by this time the good old grandfather was gathered peacefully into his urn; it might have broken his heart to have seen how enthusiastically his grandson Marcus threw himself into this newfangled study; and one of those letters of his riper years, stuffed full of Greek terms and phrases even to affectation, would have drawn anything but blessings from the old gentleman if he had lived to hear them read.
Young Cicero went through the regular curriculum—grammar, rhetoric, and the Greek poets and historians. Like many other youthful geniuses, he wrote a good deal of poetry of his own, which his friends, as was natural, thought very highly of at the time, and of which he himself retained the same good opinion to the end of his life, as would have been natural to few men except Cicero. But his more important studies began after he had assumed the 'white gown' which marked the emergence of the young Roman from boyhood into more responsible life—at sixteen years of age. He then entered on a special education for the bar. It could scarcely be called a profession, for an advocate's practice at Rome was gratuitous; but it was the best training for public life;—it was the ready means, to an able and eloquent man, of gaining that popular influence which would secure his election in due course to the great magistracies which formed the successive steps to political power. The mode of studying law at Rome bore a very considerable resemblance to the preparation for the English bar. Our modern law-student purchases his admission to the chambers of some special pleader or conveyancer, where he is supposed to learn his future business by copying precedents and answering cases, and he also attends the public lectures at the Inns of Court. So at Rome the young aspirant was to be found (but at a much earlier hour than would suit the Temple or Lincoln's Inn) in the open hall of some great jurist's House, listening to his opinions given to the throng of clients who crowded there every morning; while his more zealous pupils would accompany him in his stroll in the Forum, and attend his pleadings in the courts or his speeches on the Rostra, either taking down upon their tablets, or storing in their memories, his dicta upon legal questions. In such wise Cicero became the pupil of Mucius Scaevola, whose house was called "the oracle of Rome"—scarcely ever leaving his side, as he himself expresses it; and after that great lawyer's death, attaching himself in much the same way to a younger cousin of the same name and scarcely less reputation. Besides this, to arm himself at all points for his proposed career, he read logic with Diodotus the Stoic, studied the action of Esop and Roscius—then the stars of the Roman stage—declaimed aloud like Demosthenes in private, made copious notes, practised translation in order to form a written style, and read hard day and night. He trained severely as an intellectual athlete; and if none of his contemporaries attained such splendid success, perhaps none worked so hard for it. He made use, too, of certain special advantages which were open to him—little appreciated, or at least seldom acknowledged, by the men of his day—the society and conversation of elegant and accomplished women. In Scaevola's domestic circle, where the mother, the daughters, and the grand-daughters successively seem to have been such charming talkers that language found new graces from their lips, the young advocate learnt some of his not least valuable lessons. "It makes no little difference", said he in his riper years, "what style of expression one becomes familiar with in the associations of daily life". It was another point of resemblance between the age of Cicero and the times in which we live—the influence of the "queens of society", whether for good or evil.
[Footnote 1: These dicta, or 'opinions', of the great jurists, acquired a sort of legal validity in the Roman law-courts, like 'cases' with us.]
But no man could be completely educated for a public career at Rome until he had been a soldier. By what must seem to us a mistake in the Republican system—a mistake which we have seen made more than once in the late American war—high political offices were necessarily combined with military command. The highest minister of state, consul or praetor, however hopelessly civilian in tastes and antecedents, might be sent to conduct a campaign in Italy or abroad at a few hours' notice. If a man was a heaven-born general, all went well; if not, he had usually a chance of learning in the school of defeat. It was desirable, at all events, that he should have seen what war was in his youth. Young Cicero served his first campaign, at the age of eighteen, under the father of a man whom he was to know only too well in after life—Pompey the Great—and in the division of the army which was commanded by Sylla as lieutenant-general. He bore arms only for a year or two, and probably saw no very arduous service, or we should certainly have beard of it from himself; and he never was in camp again until he took the chief command, thirty-seven years afterwards, as pro-consul in Cilicia. He was at Rome, leading a quiet student-life—happily for himself, too young to be forced or tempted into an active part—during the bloody feuds between Sylla and the younger Marius.
He seems to have made his first appearance as an advocate when he was about twenty-five, in some suit of which we know nothing. Two years afterwards he undertook his first defence of a prisoner on a capital charge, and secured by his eloquence the acquittal of Sextus Roscius on an accusation of having murdered his father. The charge appears to have been a mere conspiracy, wholly unsupported by evidence; but the accuser was a favourite with Sylla, whose power was all but absolute; and the innocence of the accused was a very insufficient protection before a Roman jury of those days. What kind of considerations, besides the merits of the case and the rhetoric of counsel, did usually sway these tribunals, we shall see hereafter. In consequence of this decided success, briefs came in upon the young pleader almost too quickly. Like many other successful orators, he had to combat some natural deficiencies; he had inherited from his father a somewhat delicate constitution; his lungs were not powerful, and his voice required careful management; and the loud declamation and vehement action which he had adopted from his models—and which were necessary conditions of success in the large arena in which a Roman advocate had to plead—he found very hard work. He left Rome for a while, and retired for rest and change to Athens.
The six months which he spent there, though busy and studious, must have been very pleasant ones. To one like Cicero, Athens was at once classic and holy ground. It combined all those associations and attractions which we might now expect to find in a visit to the capitals of Greece and of Italy, and a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Poetry, rhetoric, philosophy, religion—all, to his eyes, had their cradle there. It was the home of all that was literature to him; and there, too, were the great Eleusinian mysteries—which are mysteries still, but which contained under their veil whatever faith in the Invisible and Eternal rested in the mind of an enlightened pagan. There can be little doubt but that Cicero took this opportunity of initiation. His brother Quintus and one of his cousins were with him at Athens; and in that city he also renewed his acquaintance with an old school-fellow, Titus Pomponius, who lived so long in the city, and became so thoroughly Athenian in his tastes and habits, that he is better known to us, as he was to his contemporaries, by the surname of Atticus, which was given him half in jest, than by his more sonorous Roman name. It is to the accidental circumstance of Atticus remaining so long a voluntary exile from Rome, and to the correspondence which was maintained between the two friends, with occasional intervals, for something like four-and-twenty years, that we are indebted for a more thorough insight into the character of Cicero than we have as to any other of the great minds of antiquity; nearly four hundred of his letters to Atticus, written in all the familiar confidence of private friendship by a man by no means reticent as to his personal feelings, having been preserved to us. Atticus's replies are lost; it is said that he was prudent enough, after his friend's unhappy death, to reclaim and destroy them. They would perhaps have told us, in his case, not very much that we care to know beyond what we know already. Rich, luxurious, with elegant tastes and easy morality—a true Epicurean, as he boasted himself to be—Atticus had nevertheless a kind heart and an open hand. He has generally been called selfish, somewhat unfairly; at least his selfishness never took the form of indifference or unkindness to others. In one sense he was a truer philosopher than Cicero: for he seems to have acted through life on that maxim of Socrates which his friend professed to approve, but certainly never followed,—that "a wise man kept out of public business". His vocation was certainly not patriotism; but the worldly wisdom which kept well with men of all political colours, and eschewed the wretched intrigues and bloody feuds of Rome, stands out in no unfavourable contrast with the conduct of many of her soi-disant patriots. If he declined to take a side himself, men of all parties resorted to him in their adversity; and the man who befriended the younger Marius in his exile, protected the widow of Antony, gave shelter on his estates to the victims of the triumvirate's proscription, and was always ready to offer his friend Cicero both his house and his purse whenever the political horizon clouded round him,—this man was surely as good a citizen as the noisiest clamourer for "liberty" in the Forum, or the readiest hand with the dagger. He kept his life and his property safe through all those years of peril and proscription, with less sacrifice of principle than many who had made louder professions, and died—by a singular act of voluntary starvation, to make short work with an incurable disease—at a ripe old age; a godless Epicurean, no doubt, but not the worst of them.
We must return to Cicero, and deal somewhat briefly with the next few years of his life. He extended his foreign tour for two years, visiting the chief cities of Asia Minor, remaining for a short time at Rhodes to take lessons once more from his old tutor Molo the rhetorician, and everywhere availing himself of the lectures of the most renowned Greek professors, to correct and improve his own style of composition and delivery. Soon after his return to Rome, he married. Of the character of his wife Terentia very different views have been taken. She appears to have written to him very kindly during his long forced absences. Her letters have not reached us; but in all her husband's replies she is mentioned in terms of apparently the most sincere affection. He calls her repeatedly his "darling"—"the delight of his eyes"—"the best of mothers;" yet he procured a divorce from her, for no distinctly assigned reason, after a married life of thirty years, during which we find no trace of any serious domestic unhappiness. The imputations on her honour made by Plutarch, and repeated by others, seem utterly without foundation; and Cicero's own share in the transaction is not improved by the fact of his taking another wife as soon as possible—a ward of his own, an almost girl, with whom he did not live a year before a second divorce released him. Terentia is said also to have had an imperious temper; but the only ground for this assertion seems to have been that she quarrelled occasionally with her sister-in-law Pomponia, sister of Atticus and wife of Quintus Cicero; and since Pomponia, by her own brother's account, showed her temper very disagreeably to her husband, the feud between the ladies was more likely to have been her fault than Terentia's. But the very low notion of the marriage relations entertained by both the later Greeks and Romans helps to throw some light upon a proceeding which would otherwise seem very mysterious. Terentia, as is pretty plain from the hints in her husband's letters, was not a good manager in money matters; there is room for suspicion that she was not even an honest one in his absence, and was "making a purse" for herself; she had thus failed in one of the only two qualifications which, according to Demosthenes—an authority who ranked very high in Cicero's eyes—were essential in a wife, to be "a faithful house-guardian" and "a fruitful mother". She did not die of a broken heart; she lived to be 104, and, according to Dio Cassius, to have three more husbands. Divorces were easy enough at Rome, and had the lady been a rich widow, there might be nothing so improbable in this latter part of the story, though she was fifty years old at the date of this first divorce.
[Footnote 1: Cato, who is the favourite impersonation of all the moral virtues of his age, divorced his wife—to oblige a friend!]
PUBLIC CAREER.—IMPEACHMENT OF VERRES.
Increasing reputation as a brilliant and successful pleader, and the social influence which this brought with it, secured the rapid succession of Cicero to the highest public offices. Soon after his marriage he was elected Quaestor—the first step on the official ladder—which, as he already possessed the necessary property qualification, gave him a seat in the Senate for life. The Aedileship and Praetorship followed subsequently, each as early, in point of age, as it could legally be held. His practice as an advocate suffered no interruption, except that his Quaestorship involved his spending a year in Sicily. The Praetor who was appointed to the government of that province had under him two quaestors, who were a kind of comptrollers of the exchequer; and Cicero was appointed to the western district, having his headquarters at Lilybaeum. In the administration of his office there he showed himself a thorough man of business. There was a dearth of corn at Rome that year, and Sicily was the great granary of the empire. The energetic measures which the new Quaestor took fully met the emergency. He was liberal to the tenants of the State, courteous and accessible to all, upright in his administration, and, above all, he kept his hands clean from bribes and peculation. The provincials were as much astonished as delighted: for Rome was not in the habit of sending them such officers. They invented honours for him such as had never been bestowed on any minister before.
[Footnote 1: The Quaestors (of whom there were at this time twenty) acted under the Senate as State treasurers. The Consul or other officer who commanded in chief during a campaign would be accompanied by one of them as paymaster-general.
The Aediles, who were four in number, had the care of all public buildings, markets, roads, and the State property generally. They had also the superintendence of the national festivals and public games.
The duties of the Praetors, of whom there were eight, were principally judicial. The two seniors, called the 'City' and 'Foreign' respectively, corresponded roughly to our Home and Foreign Secretaries. These were all gradual steps to the office of Consul.]
[Footnote 2: The provinces of Rome, in their relation to the mother-state of Italy, may be best compared with our own government of India, or such of our crown colonies as have no representative assembly. They had each their governor or lieutenant-governor, who must have been an ex-minister of Rome: a man who had been Consul went out with the rank of "pro-consul",—one who had been Praetor with the rank of "pro-praetor". These held office for one or two years, and had the power of life and death within their respective jurisdictions. They had under them one or more officers who bore the title of Quaestor, who collected the taxes and had the general management of the revenues of the province. The provinces at this time were Sicily, Sardinia with Corsica, Spain and Gaul (each in two divisions); Greece, divided into Macedonia and Achaia (the Morea); Asia, Syria, Cilicia, Bithynia, Cyprus, and Africa in four divisions. Others were added afterwards, under the Empire.]
No wonder the young official's head (he was not much over thirty) was somewhat turned. "I thought", he said, in one of his speeches afterwards—introducing with a quiet humour, and with all a practised orator's skill, one of those personal anecdotes which relieve a long speech—"I thought in my heart, at the time, that the people at Rome must be talking of nothing but my quaestorship". And he goes on to tell his audience how he was undeceived.
"The people of Sicily had devised for me unprecedented honours. So I left the island in a state of great elation, thinking that the Roman people would at once offer me everything without my seeking. But when I was leaving my province, and on my road home, I happened to land at Puteoli just at the time when a good many of our most fashionable people are accustomed to resort to that neighbourhood. I very nearly collapsed, gentlemen, when a man asked me what day I had left Rome, and whether there was any news stirring? When I made answer that I was returning from my province—'Oh! yes, to be sure', said he; 'Africa, I believe?' 'No', said I to him, considerably annoyed and disgusted; 'from Sicily'. Then somebody else, with the air of a man who knew all about it, said to him—'What! don't you know that he was Quaestor at Syracuse?' [It was at Lilybaeum—quite a different district.] No need to make a long story of it; I swallowed my indignation, and made as though I, like the rest, had come there for the waters. But I am not sure, gentlemen, whether that scene did not do me more good than if everybody then and there had publicly congratulated me. For after I had thus found out that the people of Rome have somewhat deaf ears, but very keen and sharp eyes, I left off cogitating what people would hear about me; I took care that thenceforth they should see me before them every day: I lived in their sight, I stuck close to the Forum; the porter at my gate refused no man admittance—my very sleep was never allowed to be a plea against an audience".
[Footnote 1: Defence of Plancius, c. 26, 27.]
Did we not say that Cicero was modern, not ancient? Have we not here the original of that Cambridge senior wrangler, who, happening to enter a London theatre at the same moment with the king, bowed all round with a gratified embarrassment, thinking that the audience rose and cheered at him?
It was while he held the office of Aedile that he made his first appearance as public prosecutor, and brought to justice the most important criminal of the day. Verres, late Praetor in Sicily, was charged with high crimes and misdemeanours in his government. The grand scale of his offences, and the absorbing interest of the trial, have led to his case being quoted as an obvious parallel to that of Warren Hastings, though with much injustice to the latter, so far as it may seem to imply any comparison of moral character. This Verres, the corrupt son of a corrupt father, had during his three years' rule heaped on the unhappy province every evil which tyranny and rapacity could inflict. He had found it prosperous and contented: he left it exhausted and smarting under its wrongs. He met his impeachment now with considerable confidence. The gains of his first year of office were sufficient, he said, for himself; the second had been for his friends; the third produced more than enough to bribe a jury.
The trials at Rome took place in the Forum—the open space, of nearly five acres, lying between the Capitoline and Palatine hills. It was the city market-place, but it was also the place where the population assembled for any public meeting, political or other—where the idle citizen strolled to meet his friends and hear the gossip of the day, and where the man of business made his appointments. Courts for the administration of justice—magnificent halls, called basilicae—had by this time been erected on the north and south sides, and in these the ordinary trials took place; but for state trials the open Forum was itself the court. One end of the wide area was raised on a somewhat higher level—a kind of dais on a large scale—and was separated from the rest by the Rostra, a sort of stage from which the orators spoke. It was here that the trials were held. A temporary tribunal for the presiding officer, with accommodation for counsel, witnesses, and jury, was erected in the open air; and the scene may perhaps best be pictured by imagining the principal square in some large town fitted up with open hustings on a large scale for an old-fashioned county election, by no means omitting the intense popular excitement and mob violence appropriate to such occasions. Temples of the gods and other public buildings overlooked the area, and the steps of these, on any occasion of great excitement, would be crowded by those who were anxious to see at least, if they could not hear.
Verres, as a state criminal, would be tried before a special commission, and by a jury composed at this time entirely from the senatorial order, chosen by lot (with a limited right of challenge reserved to both parties) from a panel made out every year by the praetor. This magistrate, who was a kind of minister of justice, usually presided on such occasions, occupying the curule chair, which was one of the well-known privileges of high office at Rome. But his office was rather that of the modern chairman who keeps order at a public meeting than that of a judge. Judge, in our sense of the word, there was none; the jury were the judges both of law and fact. They were, in short, the recognised assessors of the praetor, in whose hands the administration of justice was supposed to lie. The law, too, was of a highly flexible character, and the appeals of the advocates were rather to the passions and feelings of the jurors than to the legal points of the case. Cicero himself attached comparatively little weight to this branch of his profession;—"Busy as I am", he says in one of his speeches, "I could make myself lawyer enough in three days". The jurors gave each their vote by ballot,—'guilty', 'not guilty', or (as in the Scotch courts) 'not proven',—and the majority carried the verdict.
But such trials as that of Verres were much more like an impeachment before the House of Commons than a calm judicial inquiry. The men who would have to try a defendant of his class would be, in very few cases, honest and impartial weighers of the evidence. Their large number (varying from fifty to seventy) weakened the sense of individual responsibility, and laid them more open to the appeal of the advocates to their political passions. Most of them would come into court prejudiced in some degree by the interests of party; many would be hot partisans. Cicero, in his treatise on 'Oratory', explains clearly for the pleader's guidance the nature of the tribunals to which he had to appeal. "Men are influenced in their verdicts much more by prejudice or favour, or greed of gain, or anger, or indignation, or pleasure, or hope or fear, or by misapprehension, or by some excitement of their feelings, than either by the facts of the case, or by established precedents, or by any rules or principles whatever either of law or equity".
Verres was supported by some of the most powerful families at Rome. Peculation on the part of governors of provinces had become almost a recognised principle: many of those who held offices of state either had done, or were waiting their turn to do, much the same as the present defendant; and every effort had been made by his friends either to put off the trial indefinitely, or to turn it into a sham by procuring the appointment of a private friend and creature of his own as public prosecutor. On the other hand, the Sicilian families, whom he had wronged and outraged, had their share of influence also at Rome, and there was a growing impatience of the insolence and rapacity of the old governing houses, of whose worst qualities the ex-governor of Sicily was a fair type. There were many reasons which would lead Cicero to take up such a cause energetically. It was a great opening for him in what we may call his profession: his former connection with the government of Sicily gave him a personal interest in the cause of the province; and, above all, the prosecution of a state offender of such importance was a lift at once into the foremost ranks of political life. He spared no pains to get up his case thoroughly. He went all over the island collecting evidence; and his old popularity there did him good service in the work.
There was, indeed, evidence enough against the late governor. The reckless gratification of his avarice and his passions had seldom satisfied him, without the addition of some bitter insult to the sufferers. But there was even a more atrocious feature in the case, of which Cicero did not fail to make good use in his appeal to a Roman jury. Many of the unhappy victims had the Roman franchise. The torture of an unfortunate Sicilian might be turned into a jest by a clever advocate for the defence, and regarded by a philosophic jury with less than the cold compassion with which we regard the sufferings of the lower animals; but "to scourge a man that was a Roman and uncondemned", even in the far-off province of Judea, was a thought which, a century later, made the officers of the great Empire, at its pitch of power, tremble before a wandering teacher who bore the despised name of Christian. No one can possibly tell the tale so well as Cicero himself; and the passage from his speech for the prosecution is an admirable specimen both of his power of pathetic narrative and scathing denunciation, "How shall I speak of Publius Gavius, a citizen of Consa? With what powers of voice, with what force of language, with what sufficient indignation of soul, can I tell the tale? Indignation, at least, will not fail me: the more must I strive that in this my pleading the other requisites may be made to meet the gravity of the subject, the intensity of my feeling. For the accusation is such that, when it was first laid before me, I did not think to make use of it; though I knew it to be perfectly true, I did not think it would be credible.—How shall I now proceed?—when I have already been speaking for so many hours on one subject—his atrocious cruelty; when I have exhausted upon other points well-nigh all the powers of language such as alone is suited to that man's crimes;—when I have taken no precaution to secure your attention by any variety in my charges against him,—in what fashion can I now speak on a charge of this importance? I think there is one way—one course, and only one, left for me to take. I will place the facts before you; and they have in themselves such weight, that no eloquence—I will not say of mine, for I have none—but of any man's, is needed to excite your feelings.
"This Gavius of Consa, of whom I speak, had been among the crowds of Roman citizens who had been thrown into prison under that man. Somehow he had made his escape out of the Quarries, and had got to Messana; and when he saw Italy and the towers of Rhegium now so close to him, and out of the horror and shadow of death felt himself breathe with a new life as he scented once more the fresh air of liberty and the laws, he began to talk at Messana, and to complain that he, a Roman citizen, had been put in irons—that he was going straight to Rome—that he would be ready there for Verres on his arrival.
[Footnote 1: This was one of the state prisons at Syracuse, so called, said to have been constructed by the tyrant Dionysius. They were the quarries from which the stone was dug for building the city, and had been converted to their present purpose. Cicero, who no doubt had seen the one in question, describes it as sunk to an immense depth in the solid rock. There was no roof; and the unhappy prisoners were exposed there "to the sun by day and to the rain and frosts by night". In these places the survivors of the unfortunate Athenian expedition against Syracuse were confined, and died in great numbers.]
"The wretched man little knew that he might as well have talked in this fashion in the governor's palace before his very face, as at Messana. For, as I told you before, this city he had selected for himself as the accomplice in his crimes, the receiver of his stolen goods, the confidant of all his wickedness. So Gavius is brought at once before the city magistrates; and, as it so chanced, on that very day Verres himself came to Messana. The case is reported to him; that there is a certain Roman citizen who complained of having been put into the Quarries at Syracuse; that as he was just going on board ship, and was uttering threats—really too atrocious—against Verres, they had detained him, and kept him in custody, that the governor himself might decide about him as should seem to him good. Verres thanks the gentlemen, and extols their goodwill and zeal for his interests. He himself, burning with rage and malice, comes down to the court. His eyes flashed fire; cruelty was written on every line of his face. All present watched anxiously to see to what lengths he meant to go, or what steps he would take; when suddenly he ordered the prisoner to be dragged forth, and to be stripped and bound in the open forum, and the rods to be got ready at once. The unhappy man cried out that he was a Roman citizen—that he had the municipal franchise of Consa—that he had served in a campaign with Lucius Pretius, a distinguished Roman knight, now engaged in business at Panormus, from whom Verres might ascertain the truth of his statement. Then that man replies that he has discovered that he, Gavius, has been sent into Sicily as a spy by the ringleaders of the runaway slaves; of which charge there was neither witness nor trace of any kind, or even suspicion in any man's mind. Then he ordered the man to be scourged severely all over his body. Yes—a Roman citizen was cut to pieces with rods in the open forum at Messana, gentlemen; and as the punishment went on, no word, no groan of the wretched man, in all his anguish, was heard amid the sound of the lashes, but this cry,—'I am a Roman citizen!' By such protest of citizenship he thought he could at least save himself from anything like blows—could escape the indignity of personal torture. But not only did he fail in thus deprecating the insult of the lash, but when he redoubled his entreaties and his appeal to the name of Rome, a cross—yes, I say, a cross—was ordered for that most unfortunate and ill-fated man, who had never yet beheld such an abuse of a governor's power.
"O name of liberty, sweet to our ears! O rights of citizenship, in which we glory! O laws of Porcius and Sempronius! O privilege of the tribune, long and sorely regretted, and at last restored to the people of Rome! Has it all come to this, that a Roman citizen in a province of the Roman people—in a federal town—is to be bound and beaten with rods in the forum by a man who only holds those rods and axes—those awful emblems—by grace of that same people of Rome? What shall I say of the fact that fire, and red-hot plates, and other tortures were applied? Even if his agonised entreaties and pitiable cries did not check you, were you not moved by the tears and groans which burst from the Roman citizens who were present at the scene? Did you dare to drag to the cross any man who claimed to be a citizen of Rome?—I did not intend, gentlemen, in my former pleading, to press this case so strongly—I did not indeed; for you saw yourselves how the public feeling was already embittered against the defendant by indignation, and hate, and dread of a common peril".
He then proceeds to prove by witnesses the facts of the case and the falsehood of the charge against Gavius of having been a spy. "However", he goes on to say, addressing himself now to Verres, "we will grant, if you please, that your suspicions on this point, if false, were honestly entertained".
"You did not know who the man was; you suspected him of being a spy. I do not ask the grounds of your suspicion. I impeach you on your own evidence. He said he was a Roman citizen. Had you yourself, Verres, been seized and led out to execution, in Persia, say, or in the farthest Indies, what other cry or protest could you raise but that you were a Roman citizen? And if you, a stranger there among strangers, in the hands of barbarians, amongst men who dwell in the farthest and remotest regions of the earth, would have found protection in the name of your city, known and renowned in every nation under heaven, could the victim whom you were dragging to the cross, be he who he might—and you did not know who he was—when he declared he was a citizen of Rome, could he obtain from you, a Roman magistrate, by the mere mention and claim of citizenship, not only no reprieve, but not even a brief respite from death?
"Men of neither rank nor wealth, of humble birth and station, sail the seas; they touch at some spot they never saw before, where they are neither personally known to those whom they visit, nor can always find any to vouch for their nationality. But in this single fact of their citizenship they feel they shall be safe, not only with our own governors, who are held in check by the terror of the laws and of public opinion—not only among those who share that citizenship of Rome, and who are united with them by community of language, of laws, and of many things besides—but go where they may, this, they think, will be their safe guard. Take away this confidence, destroy this safeguard for our Roman citizens—once establish the principle that there is no protection in the words, 'I am a citizen of Rome'—that praetor or other magistrate may with impunity sentence to what punishment he will a man who says he is a Roman citizen, merely because somebody does not know it for a fact; and at once, by admitting such a defence, you are shutting up against our Roman citizens all our provinces, all foreign states, despotic or independent—all the whole world, in short, which has ever lain open to our national enterprise beyond all".
He turns again to Verres.
"But why talk of Gavius? as though it were Gavius on whom you were wreaking a private vengeance, instead of rather waging war against the very name and rights of Roman citizenship. You showed yourself an enemy, I say, not to the individual man, but to the common cause of liberty. For what meant it that, when the authorities of Messana, according to their usual custom, would have erected the cross behind their city on the Pompeian road, you ordered it to be set up on the side that looked toward the Strait? Nay, and added this—which you cannot deny, which you said openly in the hearing of all—that you chose that spot for this reason, that as he had called himself a Roman citizen, he might be able, from his cross of punishment, to see in the distance his country and his home! And so, gentlemen, that cross was the only one, since Messana was a city, that was ever erected on that spot. A point which commanded a view of Italy was chosen by the defendant for the express reason that the dying sufferer, in his last agony and torment, might see how the rights of the slave and the freeman were separated by that narrow streak of sea; that Italy might look upon a son of hers suffering the capital penalty reserved for slaves alone.
"It is a crime to put a citizen of Rome in bonds; it is an atrocity to scourge him; to put him to death is well-nigh parricide; what shall I say it is to crucify him?—Language has no word by which I may designate such an enormity. Yet with all this yon man was not content. 'Let him look', said he, 'towards his country; let him die in full sight of freedom and the laws'. It was not Gavius; it was not a single victim, unknown to fame, a mere individual Roman citizen; it was the common cause of liberty, the common rights of citizenship, which you there outraged and put to a shameful death".
But in order to judge of the thrilling effect of such passages upon a Roman jury, they must be read in the grand periods of the oration itself, to which no translation into a language so different in idiom and rhythm as English is from Latin can possibly do justice. The fruitless appeal made by the unhappy citizen to the outraged majesty of Rome, and the indignant demand for vengeance which the great orator founds upon it—proclaiming the recognised principle that, in every quarter of the world, the humblest wanderer who could say he was a Roman citizen should find protection in the name—will be always remembered as having supplied Lord Palmerston with one of his most telling illustrations. But this great speech of Cicero's—perhaps the most magnificent piece of declamation in any language—though written and preserved to us was never spoken. The whole of the pleadings in the case, which extend to some length, were composed for the occasion, no doubt, in substance, and we have to thank Cicero for publishing them afterwards in full. But Verres only waited to hear the brief opening speech of his prosecutor; he did not dare to challenge a verdict, but allowing judgment to go by default, withdrew to Marseilles soon after the trial opened. He lived there, undisturbed in the enjoyment of his plunder, long enough to see the fall and assassination of his great accuser, but only (as it is said) to share his fate soon afterwards as one of the victims of Antony's proscription. Of his guilt there can be no question; his fear to face a court in which he had many friends is sufficient presumptive evidence of it; but we must hesitate in assuming the deepness of its dye from the terrible invectives of Cicero. No sensible person will form an opinion upon the real merits of a case, even in an English court of justice now, entirely from the speech of the counsel for the prosecution. And if we were to go back a century or two, to the state trials of those days, we know that to form our estimate of a prisoner's guilt from such data only would be doing him a gross injustice. We have only to remember the exclamation of Warren Hastings himself, whose trial, as has been said, has so many points of resemblance with that of Verres, when Burke sat down after the torrent of eloquence which he had hurled against the accused in his opening speech for the prosecution;—"I thought myself for the moment", said Hastings, "the guiltiest man in England".
The result of this trial was to raise Cicero at once to the leadership—if so modern an expression may be used—of the Roman bar. Up to this time the position had been held by Hortensius, the counsel for Verres, whom Cicero himself calls "the king of the courts". He was eight years the senior of Cicero in age, and many more professionally, for he is said to have made his first public speech at nineteen. He had the advantage of the most extraordinary memory, a musical voice, and a rich flow of language: but Cicero more than implies that he was not above bribing a jury. It was not more disgraceful in those days than bribing a voter in our own. The two men were very unlike in one respect; Hortensius was a fop and an exquisite (he is said to have brought an action against a colleague for disarranging the folds of his gown), while Cicero's vanity was quite of another kind. After Verres's trial, the two advocates were frequently engaged together in the same cause and on the same side: but Hortensius seems quietly to have abdicated his forensic sovereignty before the rising fame of his younger rival. They became, ostensibly at least, personal friends. What jealousy there was between them, strange to say, seems always to have been on the side of Cicero, who could not be convinced of the friendly feeling which, on Hortensius's part, there seems no reason to doubt. After his rival's death, however, Cicero did full justice to his merits and his eloquence, and even inscribed to his memory a treatise on 'Glory', which has been lost.
THE CONSULSHIP AND CATILINE.
There was no check as yet in Cicero's career. It had been a steady course of fame and success, honestly earned and well deserved; and it was soon to culminate in that great civil triumph which earned for him the proud title of Pater Patriae—the Father of his Country. It was a phrase which the orator himself had invented; and it is possible that, with all his natural self-complacency, he might have felt a little uncomfortable under the compliment, when he remembered on whom he had originally bestowed it—upon that Caius Marius, whose death in his bed at a good old age, after being seven times consul, he afterwards uses as an argument, in the mouth of one of his imaginary disputants, against the existence of an overruling Providence. In the prime of his manhood he reached the great object of a Roman's ambition—he became virtually Prime Minister of the republic: for he was elected, by acclamation rather than by vote, the first of the two consuls for the year, and his colleague, Caius Antonius (who had beaten the third candidate, the notorious Catiline, by a few votes only) was a man who valued his office chiefly for its opportunities of peculation, and whom Cicero knew how to manage. It is true that this high dignity—so jealous were the old republican principles of individual power—would last only for a year; but that year was to be a most eventful one, both for Cicero and for Rome. The terrible days of Marius and Sylla had passed, only to leave behind a taste for blood and licence amongst the corrupt aristocracy and turbulent commons. There were men amongst the younger nobles quite ready to risk their lives in the struggle for absolute power; and the mob was ready to follow whatever leader was bold enough to bid highest for their support.
It is impossible here to do much more than glance at the well-known story of Catiline's conspiracy. It was the attempt of an able and desperate man to make himself and his partisans masters of Rome by a bloody revolution. Catiline was a member of a noble but impoverished family, who had borne arms under Sylla, and had served an early apprenticeship in bloodshed under that unscrupulous leader. Cicero has described his character in terms which probably are not unfair, because the portrait was drawn by him, in the course of his defence of a young friend who had been too much connected with Catiline, for the distinct purpose of showing the popular qualities which had dazzled and attracted so many of the youth of Rome.
"He had about him very many of, I can hardly say the visible tokens, but the adumbrations of the highest qualities. There was in his character that which tempted him to indulge the worst passions, but also that which spurred him to energy and hard work. Licentious appetites burnt fiercely within him, but there was also a strong love of active military service. I believe that there never lived on earth such a monster of inconsistency,—such a compound of opposite tastes and passions brought into conflict with each other. Who at one time was a greater favourite with our most illustrious men? Who was a closer intimate with our very basest? Who could be more greedy of money than he was? Who could lavish it more profusely? There were these marvellous qualities in the man,—he made friends so universally, he retained them by his obliging ways, he was ready to share what he had with them all, to help them at their need with his money, his influence, his personal exertions—not stopping short of the most audacious crime, if there was need of it. He could change his very nature, and rule himself by circumstances, and turn and bend in any direction. He lived soberly with the serious, he was a boon companion with the gay; grave with the elders, merry with the young; reckless among the desperate, profligate with the depraved. With a nature so complex and many-sided, he not only collected round him wicked and desperate characters from all quarters of the world, but he also attracted many brave and good men by his simulation of virtue. It would have been impossible for him to have organised that atrocious attack upon the Commonwealth, unless that fierce outgrowth of depraved passions had rested on some under-stratum of agreeable qualities and powers of endurance".
Born in the same year with Cicero, his unsuccessful rival for the consulship, and hating him with the implacable hatred with which a bad, ambitious, and able man hates an opponent who is his superior in ability and popularity as well as character, Catiline seems to have felt, as his revolutionary plot ripened, that between the new consul and himself the fates of Rome must choose. He had gathered round him a band of profligate young nobles, deep in debt like himself, and of needy and unscrupulous adventurers of all classes. He had partisans who were collecting and drilling troops for him in several parts of Italy. The programme was assassination, abolition of debts, confiscation of property: so little of novelty is there in revolutionary principles. The first plan had been to murder the consuls of the year before, and seize the government. It had failed through his own impatience. He now hired assassins against Cicero, choosing the opportunity of the election of the incoming consuls, which always took place some time before their entrance on office. But the plot was discovered, and the election was put off. When it did take place, Cicero appeared in the meeting, wearing somewhat ostentatiously a corslet of bright steel, to show that he knew his danger; and Catiline's partisans found the place of meeting already occupied by a strong force of the younger citizens of the middle class, who had armed themselves for the consul's protection. The election passed off quietly, and Catiline was again rejected. A second time he tried assassination, and it failed—so watchful and well informed was the intended victim. And now Cicero, perhaps, was roused to a consciousness that one or other must fall; for in the unusually determined measures which he took in the suppression of the conspiracy, the mixture of personal alarm with patriotic indignation is very perceptible. By a fortunate chance, the whole plan of the conspirators was betrayed. Rebel camps had been formed not only in Italy, but in Spain and Mauritania: Rome was to be set on fire, the slaves to be armed, criminals let loose, the friends of order to be put out of the way. The consul called a meeting of the senate in the temple of Jupiter Stator, a strong position on the Palatine Hill, and denounced the plot in all its details, naming even the very day fixed for the outbreak. The arch-conspirator had the audacity to be present, and Cicero addressed him personally in the eloquent invective which has come to us as his "First Oration against Catiline". His object was to drive his enemy from the city to the camp of his partisans, and thus to bring matters at once to a crisis for which he now felt himself prepared. This daily state of public insecurity and personal danger had lasted too long, he said:
"Therefore, let these conspirators at once take their side; let them separate themselves from honest citizens, and gather themselves together somewhere else; let them put a wall between us, as I have often said. Let us have them no longer thus plotting the assassination of a consul in his own house, overawing our courts of justice with armed bands, besieging the senate-house with drawn swords, collecting their incendiary stores to burn our city. Let us at last be able to read plainly in every Roman's face whether he be loyal to his country or no. I may promise you this, gentlemen of the Senate—there shall be no lack of diligence on the part of your consuls; there will be, I trust, no lack of dignity and firmness on your own, of spirit amongst the Roman knights, of unanimity amongst all honest men, but that when Catiline has once gone from us, everything will be not only discovered and brought into the light of day, but also crushed,—ay, and punished. Under such auspices, I bid you, Catiline. go forth to wage your impious and unhallowed war.—go, to the salvation of the state, to your own overthrow and destruction, to the ruin of all who have joined you in your great wickedness and treason. And thou, great Jupiter, whose worship Romulus founded here coeval with our city;—whom we call truly the 'Stay' of our capital and our empire; thou wilt protect thine own altars and the temples of thy kindred gods, the walls and roof-trees of our homes, the lives and fortunes of our citizens, from yon man and his accomplices. These enemies of all good men, invaders of their country, plunderers of Italy, linked together in a mutual bond of crime and an alliance of villany, thou wilt surely, visit with an everlasting punishment, living and dead'".
[Footnote 1: 'Stator'.]
Catiline's courage did not fail him. He had been sitting alone—for, all the other senators had shrunk away from the bench of which he had taken possession. He rose, and in reply to Cicero, in a forced tone of humility protested his innocence. He tried also another point. Was he,—a man of ancient and noble family;—to be hastily condemned by his fellow-nobles on the word of this 'foreigner', as he contemptuously called Cicero—this parvenu from Arpinum? But the appeal failed; his voice was drowned in the cries of 'traitor' which arose on all sides, and with threats and curses, vowing that since he was driven to desperation he would involve all Rome in his ruin, he rushed out of the Senate-house. At dead of night he left the city, and joined the insurgent camp at Faesulae.
When the thunders of Cicero's eloquence had driven Catiline from the Senate-house, and forced him to join his fellow-traitors, and so put himself in the position of levying open war against the state, it remained to deal with those influential conspirators who had been detected and seized within the city walls. In three subsequent speeches in the Senate he justified the course he had taken in allowing Catiline to escape, exposed further particulars of the conspiracy, and urged the adoption of strong measures to crush it out within the city. Even now, not all Cicero's eloquence, nor all the efforts of our imagination to realise, as men realised it then, the imminence of the public danger, can reconcile the summary process adopted by the consul with our English notions of calm and deliberate justice. Of the guilt of the men there was no doubt; most of them even admitted it. But there was no formal trial; and a few hours after a vote of death had been passed upon them in a hesitating Senate, Lentulus and Cethegus, two members of that august body, with three of their companions in guilt, were brought from their separate places of confinement, with some degree of secrecy (as appears from different writers), carried down into the gloomy prison-vaults of the Tullianum, and there quietly strangled, by the sole authority of the consul. Unquestionably they deserved death, if ever political criminals deserved it: the lives and liberties of good citizens were in danger; it was necessary to strike deep and strike swiftly at a conspiracy which extended no man knew how widely, and in which men like Julius Caesar and Crassus were strongly suspected of being engaged. The consuls had been armed with extra-constitutional powers, conveyed by special resolution of the Senate in the comprehensive formula that they "were to look to it that the state suffered no damage". Still, without going so far as to call this unexampled proceeding, as the German critic Mommsen does, "an act of the most brutal tyranny", it is easy to understand how Mr. Forsyth, bringing a calm and dispassionate legal judgment to bear upon the case, finds it impossible to reconcile it with our ideas of dignified and even-handed justice. It was the hasty instinct of self-preservation, the act of a weak government uncertain of its very friends, under the influence of terror—a terror for which, no doubt, there were abundant grounds. When Cicero stood on the prison steps, where he had waited to receive the report of those who were making sure work with the prisoners within, and announced their fate to the assembled crowd below in the single word "Vixerunt" (a euphemism which we can only weakly translate into "They have lived their life"), no doubt he felt that he and the republic held theirs from that moment by a firmer tenure; no doubt very many of those who heard him felt that they could breathe again, now that the grasp of Catiline's assassins was, for the moment at all events, off their throats; and the crowd who followed the consul home were sincere enough when they hailed such a vigorous avenger as the 'Father of his Country'. But none the less it was that which politicians have called worse than a crime—it was a political blunder; and Cicero came to find it so in after years; though—partly from his immense self-appreciation, and partly from an honest determination to stand by his act and deed in all its consequences—he never suffered the shadow of such a confession to appear in his most intimate correspondence. He claimed for himself ever afterwards the sole glory of having saved the state by such prompt and decided action; and in this he was fully borne out by the facts: justifiable or unjustifiable, the act was his; and there were burning hearts at Rome which dared not speak out against the popular consul, but set it down to his sole account against the day of retribution.
[Footnote 1: A state dungeon, said to have been built in the reign of Servius Tullius. It was twelve feet under ground. Executions often took place there, and the bodies of the criminals were afterwards thrown down the Gemonian steps (which were close at hand) into the Forum, for the people to see.]
[Footnote 2: Life of Cicero, p. 119.]
For the present, however, all went successfully. The boldness of the consul's measures cowed the disaffected, and confirmed the timid and wavering. His colleague Antonius—himself by no means to be depended on at this crisis, having but lately formed a coalition with Catiline as against Cicero in the election for consuls—had, by judicious management, been got away from Rome to take the command against the rebel army in Etruria. He did not, indeed, engage in the campaign actively in person, having just now a fit of the gout, either real or pretended; but his lieutenant-general was an old soldier who cared chiefly for his duty, and Catiline's band—reckless and desperate men who had gathered to his camp from all motives and from all quarters—were at length brought to bay, and died fighting hard to the last. Scarcely a man of them, except the slaves and robbers who had swelled their ranks, either escaped or was made prisoner. Catiline's body—easily recognised by his remarkable height—was found, still breathing, lying far in advance of his followers, surrounded by the dead bodies of the Roman legionaries—for the loss on the side of the Republic had been very severe. The last that remained to him of the many noble qualities which had marked his earlier years was a desperate personal courage.
For the month that yet remained of his consulship, Cicero was the foremost man in Rome—and, as a consequence, in the whole world. Nobles and commons vied in doing honour to the saviour of the state. Catulus and Cato—men from whose lips words of honour came with a double weight—saluted him publicly by that memorable title of Pater Patriae; and not only the capital, but most of the provincial towns of Italy, voted him some public testimony of his unrivalled services. No man had a more profound appreciation of those services than the great orator himself. It is possible that other men have felt quite as vain of their own exploits, and on far less grounds; but surely no man ever paraded his self-complacency like Cicero. His vanity was indeed a thing to marvel at rather than to smile at, because it was the vanity of so able a man. Other great men have been either too really great to entertain the feeling, or have been wise enough to keep it to themselves. But to Cicero it must have been one of the enjoyments of his life. He harped upon his consulship in season and out of season, in his letters, in his judicial pleadings, in his public speeches (and we may be sure in his conversation), until one would think his friends must have hated the subject even more than his enemies. He wrote accounts of it in prose and verse, in Latin and Greek—and, no doubt, only limited them to those languages because they were the only ones he knew. The well-known line which provoked the ridicule of critics like Juvenal and Quintilian, because of the unlucky jingle peculiarly unpleasant to a Roman ear:
"O fortunatam natam me consule Romam!"
expresses the sentiment which—rhyme or no rhyme, reason or no reason—he was continually repeating in some form or other to himself and to every one who would listen.
His consulship closed in glory; but on his very last day of office there was a warning voice raised amidst the triumph, which might have opened his eyes—perhaps it did—to the troubles which were to come. He stood up in the Rostra to make the usual address to the people on laying down his authority. Metellus Nepos had been newly elected one of the tribunes: it was his office to guard jealously all the rights and privileges of the Roman commons. Influenced, it is said, by Caesar—possibly himself an undiscovered partisan of Catiline—he dealt a blow at the retiring consul under cover of a discharge of duty. As Cicero was about to speak, he interposed a tribune's 'veto'; no man should be heard, he said, who had put Roman citizens to death without a trial. There was consternation in the Forum. Cicero could not dispute what was a perfectly legal exercise of the tribune's power; only, in a few emphatic words which he seized the opportunity of adding to the usual formal oath on quitting office, he protested that his act had saved Rome. The people shouted in answer, "Thou hast said true!" and Cicero went home a private citizen, but with that hearty tribute from his grateful countrymen ringing pleasantly in his ears. But the bitter words of Metellus were yet to be echoed by his enemies again and again, until that fickle popular voice took them up, and howled them after the once popular consul.
Let us follow him for a while into private life; a pleasanter companionship for us, we confess, than the unstable glories of the political arena at Rome. In his family and social relations, the great orator wins from us an amount of personal interest and sympathy which he fails sometimes to command in his career as a statesman. At forty-five years of age he has become a very wealthy man—has bought for something like L30,000 a noble mansion on the Palatine Hill; and besides the old-fashioned family seat near Arpinum—now become his own by his father's death—he has built, or enlarged, or bought as they stood, villas at Antium, at Formiae, at Pompeii, at Cumae, at Puteoli, and at half-a-dozen other places, besides the one favourite spot of all, which was to him almost what Abbotsford was to Scott, the home which it was the delight of his life to embellish—his country-house among the pleasant hills of Tusculum. It had once belonged to Sulla, and was about twelve miles from Rome. In that beloved building and its arrangements he indulged, as an ample purse allowed him, not only a highly-cultivated taste, but in some respects almost a whimsical fancy. "A mere cottage", he himself terms it in one place; but this was when he was deprecating accusations of extravagance which were brought against him, and we all understand something of the pride which in such matters "apes humility". He would have it on the plan of the Academia at Athens, with its palaestra and open colonnade, where, as he tells us, he could walk and discuss politics or philosophy with his friends. Greek taste and design were as fashionable among the Romans of that day as the Louis Quatorze style was with our grandfathers. But its grand feature was a library, and its most valued furniture was books. Without books, he said, a house was but a body without a soul. He entertained for these treasures not only the calm love of a reader, but the passion of a bibliophile; he was particular about his bindings, and admired the gay colours of the covers in which the precious manuscripts were kept as well as the more intellectual beauties within. He had clever Greek slaves employed from time to time in making copies of all such works as were not to be readily purchased. He could walk across, too, as he tells us, to his neighbour's, the young Lucullus, a kind of ward of his, and borrow from the library of that splendid mansion any book he wanted. His friend Atticus collected for him everywhere—manuscripts, paintings, statuary; though for sculpture he professes not to care much, except for such subjects as might form appropriate decorations for his palaestra and his library. Very pleasant must have been the days spent together by the two friends—so alike in their private tastes and habits, so far apart in their chosen course of life—when they met there in the brief holidays which Cicero stole from the law-courts and the Forum, and sauntered in the shady walks, or lounged in the cool library, in that home of lettered ease, where the busy lawyer and politician declared that he forgot for a while all the toils and vexations of public life.
[Footnote 1: Near the modern town of Frascati. But there is no certainty as to the site of Cicero's villa.]
He had his little annoyances, however, even in these happy hours of retirement. Morning calls were an infliction to which a country gentleman was liable in ancient Italy as in modern England. A man like Cicero was very good company, and somewhat of a lion besides; and country neighbours, wherever he set up his rest, insisted on bestowing their tediousness on him. His villa at Formiae, his favourite residence next to Tusculum, was, he protested, more like a public hall. Most of his visitors, indeed, had the consideration not to trouble him after ten or eleven in the forenoon (fashionable calls in those days began uncomfortably early); but there were one or two, especially his next-door neighbour, Arrius, and a friend's friend, named Sebosus, who were in and out at all hours: the former had an unfortunate taste for philosophical discussion, and was postponing his return to Rome (he was good enough to say) from day to day in order to enjoy these long mornings in Cicero's conversation. Such are the doleful complaints in two or three of the letters to Atticus; but, like all such complaints, they were probably only half in earnest: popularity, even at a watering-place, was not very unpleasant, and the writer doubtless knew how to practise the social philosophy which he recommends to others, and took his place cheerfully and pleasantly in the society which he found about him—not despising his honest neighbours because they had not all adorned a consulship or saved a state.
There were times when Cicero fancied that this rural life, with all its refinements of wealth and taste and literary leisure, was better worth living than the public life of the capital. His friends and his books, he said, were the company most congenial to him; "politics might go to the dogs;" to count the waves as they rolled on the beach was happiness; he "had rather be mayor of Antium than consul at Rome"; "rather sit in his own library with Atticus in their favourite seat under the bust of Aristotle than in the curule chair". It is true that these longings for retirement usually followed some political defeat or mortification; that his natural sphere, the only life in which he could be really happy, was in the keen excitement of party warfare—the glorious battle-field of the Senate and the Forum. The true key-note of his mind is to be found in these words to his friend Coelius: "Cling to the city, my friend, and live in her light: all employment abroad, as I have felt from my earliest manhood, is obscure and petty for those who have abilities to make them famous at Rome". Yet the other strain had nothing in it of affectation, or hypocrisy: it was the schoolboy escaped from work, thoroughly enjoying his holiday, and fancying that nothing would be so delightful as to have holidays always. In this, again, there was a similarity between Cicero's taste and that of Horace. The poet loved his Sabine farm and all its rural delights—after his fashion; and perhaps thought honestly that he loved it more than he really did. Above all, he loved to write about it. With that fancy, half-real, perhaps, and half-affected, for pastoral simplicity, which has always marked a state of over-luxurious civilisation, he protests to himself that there is nothing like the country. But perhaps Horace discharges a sly jest at himself, in a sort of aside to his readers, in the person of Alphius, the rich city money-lender, who is made to utter that pretty apostrophe to rural happiness:
"Happy the man, in busy schemes unskilled, Who, living simply, like our sires of old, Tills the few acres which his father tilled, Vexed by no thoughts of usury or gold". Martin's 'Horace'
And who, after thus expatiating for some stanzas on the charms of the country, calls in all his money one week in order to settle there, and puts it all out again (no doubt at higher interest) the week after. "O rus, quando to aspiciam!" has been the cry of public men before and since Cicero's day, to whom, as to the great Roman, banishment from political life, and condemnation to perpetual leisure, would have been a sentence that would have crushed their very souls.
He was very happy at this time in his family. His wife and he loved one another with an honest affection; anything more would have been out of the natural course of things in Roman society at any date, and even so much as this was become a notable exception in these later days. It is paying a high honour to the character of Cicero and his household—and from all evidence that has come down to us it may be paid with truth—that even in those evil times it might have presented the original of what Virgil drew as almost a fancy picture, or one to be realised only in some happy retirement into which the civilised vices of the capital had never penetrated—
"Where loving children climb to reach a kiss— A home of chaste delights and wedded bliss."
His little daughter, Tullia, or Tulliola, which was her pet name (the Roman diminutives being formed somewhat more elegantly than ours, by adding a syllable instead of cutting short), was the delight of his heart in his earlier letters to Atticus he is constantly making some affectionate mention of her—sending her love, or some playful message which his friend would understand. She had been happily married (though she was then but thirteen at the most) the year before his consulship; but the affectionate intercourse between father and daughter was never interrupted until her early death. His only son, Marcus, born after a considerable interval, who succeeded to Tullia's place as a household pet, is made also occasionally to send some childish word of remembrance to his father's old friend:
"Cicero the Little sends his compliments to Titus the Athenian"—"Cicero the Philosopher salutes Titus the Politician." These messages are written in Greek at the end of the letters. Abeken thinks that in the originals they might have been added in the little Cicero's own hand, "to show that he had begun Greek;" "a conjecture", says Mr. Merivale, "too pleasant not to be readily admitted". The boy gave his father some trouble in after life. He served with some credit as an officer of cavalry under Pompey in Greece, or at least got into no trouble there. Some years after, he wished to take service in Spain, under Caesar, against the sons of Pompey; but the father did not approve of this change of side. He persuaded him to go to Athens to study instead, allowing him what both Atticus and himself thought a very liberal income—not sufficient, however, for him to keep a horse, which Cicero held to be an unnecessary luxury. Probably the young cavalry officer might not have been of the same opinion; at any rate, he got into more trouble among the philosophers than he did in the army. He spent a great deal more than his allowance, and one of the professors, whose lectures he attended, had the credit of helping him to spend it. The young man must have shared the kindly disposition of his father. He wrote a confidential letter to Tiro, the old family servant, showing very good feeling, and promising reformation. It is doubtful how far the promise was kept. He rose, however, subsequently to place and power under Augustus, but died without issue; and, so far at least as history knows them, the line of the Ciceros was extinct. It had flashed into fame with the great orator, and died out with him.
[Footnote 1: "Interia dulces pendent circum oscula nati; Casta pudicitiam servat domus".—Georg. ii. 524.]
[Footnote 2: See 'Letters to Atticus', ii. 9, 12; Merivale's translation of Abeken's 'Cicero in Seinen Briefen', p. 114.]
All Cicero's biographers have found considerable difficulty in tracing, at all satisfactorily, the sources of the magnificent fortune which must have been required to keep up, and to embellish in accordance with so luxurious a taste, so many residences in all parts of the country. True, these expenses often led Cicero into debt and difficulties; but what he borrowed from his friends he seems always to have repaid, so that the money must have come in from some quarter or other. His patrimony at Arpinum would not appear to have been large; he got only some L3000 or L4000 dowry with Terentia; and we find no hint of his making money by any commercial speculations, as some Roman gentlemen did. On the other hand, it is the barest justice to him to say that his hands were clean from those ill-gotten gains which made the fortunes of many of the wealthiest public men at Rome, who were criminals in only a less degree than Verres—peculation, extortion, and downright robbery in the unfortunate provinces which they were sent out to govern. Such opportunities lay as ready to his grasp as to other men's, but he steadily eschewed them. His declining the tempting prize of a provincial government, which was his right on the expiration of his praetorship, may fairly be attributed to his having in view the higher object of the consulship, to secure which, by an early and persistent canvass, he felt it necessary to remain in Rome. But he again waived the right when his consulship was over; and when, some years afterwards, he went unwillingly as pro-consul to Cilicia, his administration there, as before in his lower office in Sicily, was marked by a probity and honesty quite exceptional in a Roman governor. His emoluments, confined strictly within the legal bounds, would be only moderate, and, whatever they were, came too late in his life to be any explanation of his earlier expenditure. He received many valuable legacies, at different times, from personal friends or grateful clients who died childless (be it remembered how the barrenness of the marriage union had become then, at Rome, as it is said to be in some countries now, the reproach of a sensual and effete aristocracy); he boasts himself, in one of his 'Philippics', that he had received from this source above L170,000. Mr. Forsyth also notices the large presents that were made by foreign kings and states to conciliate the support and advocacy of the leading men at Rome—"we can hardly call them bribes, for in many cases the relation of patron and client was avowedly established between a foreign state and some influential Roman: and it became his duty, as of course it was his interest, to defend it in the Senate and before the people". In this way, he thinks, Cicero held "retainers" from Dyrrachium; and, he might have added, from Sicily. The great orator's own boast was, that he never took anything for his services as an advocate; and, indeed, such payments were forbidden by law. But with all respect for Cicero's material honesty, one learns from his letters, unfortunately, not to put implicit confidence in him when he is in a boasting vein; and he might not look upon voluntary gifts, after a cause was decided, in the light of payment. Paetus, one of his clients, gave him a valuable library of books; and one cannot believe that this was a solitary instance of the quiet evasion of the Cincian law, or that there were not other transactions of the same nature which never found their way into any letter of Cicero's that was likely to come down to us.
[Footnote 1: The principle passed, like so many others, from the old Roman law into our own, so that to this very day, a barrister's fees, being considered in the nature of an honorarium, or voluntary present made to him for his services, are not recoverable by law.]
HIS EXILE AND RETURN.
We must return to Rome. Cicero had never left it but for his short occasional holiday. Though no longer in office, the ex-consul was still one of the foremost public men, and his late dignity gave him important precedence in the Senate. He was soon to be brought into contact, and more or less into opposition, with the two great chiefs of parties in whose feuds he became at length so fatally involved. Pompey and Caesar were both gradually becoming formidable, and both had ambitious plans of their own, totally inconsistent with any remnant of republican liberty—plans which Cicero more or less suspected, and of that suspicion they were probably both aware. Both, by their successful campaigns, had not only acquired fame and honours, but a far more dangerous influence—an influence which was to overwhelm all others hereafter—in the affection of their legions. Pompey was still absent in Spain, but soon to return from his long war against Mithridates, to enjoy the most splendid triumph ever seen at Rome, and to take the lead of the oligarchical party just so long and so far as they would help him to the power he coveted. The enemies whom Cicero had made by his strong measures in the matter of the Catilinarian conspiracy now took advantage of Pompey's name and popularity to make an attack upon him. The tribune Metellus, constant to his old party watchword, moved in the Senate that the successful general, upon whom all expectations were centred, should be recalled to Rome with his army "to restore the violated constitution". All knew against whom the motion was aimed, and what the violation of the constitution meant; it was the putting citizens to death without a trial. The measure was not passed, though Caesar, jealous of Cicero even more than of Pompey, lent himself to the attempt.
But the blow fell on Cicero at last from a very different quarter, and from the mere private grudge of a determined and unprincipled man. Publius Clodius, a young man of noble family, once a friend and supporter of Cicero against Catiline, but who had already made himself notorious for the most abandoned profligacy, was detected, in a woman's dress, at the celebration of the rites of the Bona Dea—a kind of religious freemasonry amongst the Roman ladies, the mysteries of which are very little known, and probably would in any case be best left without explanation. But for a man to have been present at them was a sacrilege hitherto unheard of, and which was held to lay the whole city under the just wrath of the offended goddess. The celebration had been held in the house of Caesar, as praetor, under the presidency of his wife Pompeia; and it was said that the object of the young profligate was an intrigue with that lady. The circumstances are not favourable to the suspicion; but Caesar divorced her forthwith, with the often-quoted remark that "Caesar's wife must not be even suspected". For this crime—unpardonable even in that corrupt society, when crimes of far deeper dye passed almost unreproved—Clodius was, after some delay, brought to public trial. The defence set up was an alibi, and Cicero came forward as a witness to disprove it: he had met and spoken with Clodius in Rome that very evening. The evidence was clear enough, but the jury had been tampered with by Clodius and his friends; liberal bribery, and other corrupting influences of even a more disgraceful kind, had been successfully brought to bear upon the majority of them, and he escaped conviction by a few votes. But he never forgave the part which Cicero had taken against him; and from that time forth the latter found a new, unscrupulous, indefatigable enemy, of whose services his old opponents gladly availed themselves. Cicero himself for some time underrated this new danger. He lost no opportunity of taunting the unconvicted criminal in the bitterest terms in the Senate, and of exchanging with him—very much to the detriment of his own character and dignity, in our modern eyes—the coarsest jests when they met in the street. But the temptation to a jest, of whatever kind, was always irresistible to Cicero: it was a weakness for which he more than once paid dearly, for they were remembered against him when be had forgotten them. Meanwhile Clodius—a sort of milder Catiline, not without many popular qualities—had got himself elected tribune; degrading himself formally from his own order of nobles for that purpose, since the tribune must be a man of the commons. The powers of the office were formidable for all purposes of obstruction and attack; Clodius had taken pains to ingratiate himself with all classes; and the consuls of the year were men of infamous character, for whom he had, found a successful means of bribery by the promise of getting a special law passed to secure them the choice of the richest provincial governments—those coveted fields of plunder—of which they would otherwise have had to take their chance by lot. When all was ripe for his revenge, he brought before the people in full assembly the following bill of pains and penalties:—"Be it enacted, that whoever has put to death a Roman citizen uncondemned in due form of trial, shall be interdicted from fire and water". Such was the legal form of words which implied banishment from Rome, outlawry, and social excommunication. Every man knew against whom the motion was levelled. It was carried—carried in spite of the indignation of all honest men in Rome, in spite of all Cicero's humiliating efforts to obtain its rejection.
It was in vain that he put on mourning, as was the custom with those who were impeached of public crimes, and went about the streets thus silently imploring the pity of his fellow-citizens. In vain the whole of his own equestrian order, and in fact, as he declares, "all honest men" (it was his favourite term for men of his own party); adopted the same dress to show their sympathy, and twenty thousand youths of good family—all in mourning—accompanied him through the city. The Senate even met and passed a resolution that their whole house should put on mourning too. But Gabinius, one of the consuls, at once called a public meeting, and warned the people not to make the mistake of thinking that the Senate was Rome.
In vain, also, was any personal appeal which Cicero could make to the only two men who might have had influence enough to sway the popular vote. He was ostensibly on good terms both with Pompey and Caesar; in fact, he made it his policy so to be. He foresaw that on their future course would probably depend the fate of Rome, and he persuaded himself, perhaps honestly, that he could make them "better citizens". But he trusted neither; and both saw in him an obstacle to their own ambition. Caesar now looked on coldly, not altogether sorry at the turn which affairs had taken, and faintly suggested that perhaps some "milder measure" might serve to meet the case. From Pompey Cicero had a right to look for some active support; indeed, such had been promised in case of need. He threw himself at his feet with prayers and tears, but even this last humiliation was in vain; and he anticipated the execution of that disgraceful edict by a voluntary withdrawal into exile. Piso, one of the consuls, had satirically suggested that thus he might "save Rome" a second time. His property was at once confiscated; his villas at Tusculum and at Formiae were plundered and laid waste, the consuls claiming the lion's share of the spoil; and Clodius, with his armed mob, set fire to the noble house on the Palatine, razed it to the ground, and erected on the site a temple to—Liberty!
Cicero had friends who strongly urged him to defy the edict; to remain at Rome, and call on all good citizens to arm in his defence. Modern historians very generally have assumed that, if he could have made up his mind to such a course, it would probably have been successful. He was to rely, we suppose, upon those "twenty thousand Roman youths "—rather a broken reed to trust to (remembering what those young gallants were), with Caesar against him, now at the head of his legions just outside the gates of Rome. He himself seriously contemplated suicide, and consulted his friends as to the propriety of such a step in the gravest and most business-like manner; though, with our modern notions on the subject, such a consultation has more of the ludicrous than the sublime. The sensible and practical Atticus convinced him that such a solution of his difficulties would be the greatest possible mistake—a mistake, moreover, which could never be rectified.
But almost any course would have become him better than that which he chose. Had he remained and faced Clodius and his bravos manfully—or had he turned his back upon Rome for ever, and shaken the dust off his feet against the ungrateful city, and become a noble pensioner upon Atticus at Buthrotum—he would have died a greater man. He wandered from place to place sheltered by friends whose unselfish loyalty marks their names with honour in that false and evil generation—Sica, and Flaccus, and Plancius—bemoaning himself like a woman,—"too blinded with tears to write", "loathing the light of day". Atticus thought he was going mad. It is not pleasant to dwell upon this miserable weakness of a great mind, which Cicero's most eager eulogists admit, and which his detractors have not failed to make the most of. Nor is it easy to find excuse for him, but we will give him all the benefit of Mr. Forsyth's defence:
"Seldom has misfortune so crushed a noble spirit, and never, perhaps, has the 'bitter bread of banishment' seemed more bitter to any one than to him. We must remember that the love of country was a passion with the ancients to a degree which it is now difficult to realise, and exile from it even for a time was felt to be an intolerable evil. The nearest approach to such a feeling was perhaps that of some favourite under an European monarchy, when, frowned upon by his sovereign, he was hurled from place and power, and banished from the court. The change to Cicero was indeed tremendous. Not only was he an exile from Rome, the scene of all his hopes, his glories, his triumphs, but he was under the ban of an outlaw. If found within a certain distance from the capital, he must die, and it was death to any one to give him food or shelter. His property was destroyed, his family was penniless, and the people whom he had so faithfully served were the authors of his ruin. All this may be urged in his behalf, but still it would have been only consistent with Roman fortitude to have shown that he possessed something of the spirit of the fallen archangel".
[Footnote 1: Forsyth's Life of Cicero, p. 190.]
His exile lasted nearly a year and a half. Long before that time there had come a reaction in his favour. The new consuls were well disposed towards him; Clodius's insolence had already disgusted Pompey; Caesar was absent with his legions in Gaul; his own friends, who had all along been active in his favour (though in his querulous mood he accused them of apathy) took advantage of the change, his generous rival Hortensius being amongst the most active; and all the frantic violence of Clodius and his party served only to delay for a while the return which they could not prevent. A motion for his recall was carried at last by an immense majority.
Cicero had one remarkable ally on that occasion. On one of the days when the Senate was known to be discussing his recall, the 'Andromache' of Ennius was being played in the theatre. The popular actor Esop, whose name has come down to us in conjunction with that of Roscius, was playing the principal character. The great orator had been his pupil, and was evidently regarded by him as a personal friend. With all the force of his consummate art, he threw into Andromache's lament for her absent father his own feelings for Cicero. The words in the part were strikingly appropriate, and he did not hesitate to insert a phrase or two of his own when he came to speak of the man
"Who with a constant mind upheld the state, Stood on the people's side in perilous times, Ne'er reeked of his own life, nor spared himself".