The Life of Cicero, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter vi.

After the Battle.

B.C. 48, ætat. 59.

In the autumn of this year Cicero had himself landed at Brundisium. He remained nearly a year at Brundisium, and it is melancholy to think how sad and how long must have been the days with him. He had no country when he reached the nearest Italian port; it was all Cæsar’s, and Cæsar was his enemy. There had been a struggle for the masterdom between two men, and of the two the one had beaten with whom Cicero had not ranged himself. He had known how it would be. All the Getæ, and the men of Colchis, and the Armenians, all the lovers of the fish-ponds and those who preferred the delicacies of Baiæ to the work of the Forum, all who had been taught to think that there were provinces in order that they might plunder, men who never dreamed of a country but to sell it, all those whom Cæsar was determined either to drive out of Italy or keep there in obedience to himself, had been brought together in vain. We already know, when we begin to read the story, how it will be with them and with Cæsar. On Cæsar’s side there is an ecstasy of hope carried to the very brink of certainty; on the other is that fainting spirit of despair which no battalions can assuage. We hear of no Scæva and of no Crastinus on Pompey’s side. Men change their nature under such leading as was that of Cæsar. The inferior men become heroic by contact with the hero; but such heroes when they come are like great gouts of blood dabbled down upon a fair cloth. Who that has eyes to see can look back upon the career of such a one and not feel an agony of pain as the stern man passes on without a ruffled face, after ordering the right hands of those who had fought at Uxellodunum to be chopped off at the wrist, in order that men might know what was the penalty of fighting for their country?

There are men — or have been, from time to time, in all ages of the world — let loose, as it were, by the hand of God to stop the iniquities of the people, but in truth the natural product of those iniquities. They have come and done their work, and have died, leaving behind them the foul smell of destruction. An Augustus followed Cæsar, and him Tiberius, and so on to a Nero. It was necessary that men should suffer much before they were brought back to own their condition. But they who can see a Cicero struggling to avoid the evil that was coming — not for himself but for the world around him — and can lend their tongues, their pens, their ready wits to ridicule his efforts, can hardly have been touched by the supremacy of human suffering.

It must have been a sorry time with him at Brundisium. He had to stay there waiting till Cæsar’s pleasure had been made known to him, and Cæsar was thinking of other things. Cæsar was away in Egypt and the East, encountering perils at Alexandria which, if all be true that we have heard, imply that he had lived to be past fear. Grant that a man has to live as Cæsar did, and it will be well that he should be past fear. At any rate he did not think of Cicero, or thinking of him felt that he was one who must be left to brood in silence over the choice he had made. Cicero did brood — not exactly in silence — over the things that fate had done for him and for his country. For himself, he was living in Italy, and yet could not venture to betake himself to one of the eighteen villas which, as Middleton tells us, he had studded about the country for his pastime. There were those at Tusculum, Antium, Astura, Arpinum — at Formiæ, at Cumæ, at Puteoli, and at Pompeii. Those who tell us of Cicero’s poverty are surely wandering, carried away by their erroneous notions of what were a Roman nobleman’s ideas as to money. At no period of his life do we find Cicero not doing what he was minded to do for want of money, and at no period is there a hint that he had allowed himself in any respect to break the law. It has been argued that he must have been driven to take fees and bribes and indirect payments, because he says that he wanted money. It was natural that he should occasionally want money, and yet be in the main indifferent. The incoming of a regular revenue was not understood as it is with us. A man here and there might attend to his money, as did Atticus. Cicero did not; and therefore, when in want of it, he had to apply to a friend for relief. But he always applies as one who knows well that the trouble is not enduring. Is it credible that a man so circumstanced should have remained with those various sources of extravagance which it would have been easy for him to have avoided or lessened? We are led to the conviction that at no time was it expedient to him to abandon his villas, though in the hurry-scurry of Roman affairs it did now and again become necessary for him to apply to Atticus for accommodation. Let us think what must have been Cæsar’s demands for money. Of these we hear nothing, because he was too wise to have an Atticus to whom he wrote everything, or too wary to write letters upon business which should be treasured for the curiosity of after-ages.

To be hopeful and then tremulous; to be eager after success and then desponding; to have believed readily every good and then, as readily, evil; to have relied implicitly on a man’s faith, and then to have turned round and declared how he had been deceived; to have been very angry and then to have forgiven — this seems to have been Cicero’s nature. Verres, Catiline, Clodius, Piso, and Vatinius seem to have caused his wrath; but was there one of them against whom, though he did not forgive him, his anger did not die out? Then, at last, he was moved to an internecine fight with Antony. Is there any one who has read the story which we are going to tell who will not agree with us that, if after Mutina Octavius had thought fit to repudiate Antony and to follow Cicero’s counsels, Antony would not have been spared?

Nothing angers me so much in describing Cicero as the assertion that he was a coward. It has sprung from a wrong idea of what constitutes cowardice. He did not care to fight; but are all men cowards who do not care to fight when work can be so much better done by talking? He saw that fighting was the work fit for men of common clay, or felt it if he did not see it. When men rise to such a pitch as that which he filled, and Cæsar and Pompey, and some few others around them, their greatest danger does not consist in fighting. A man’s tongue makes enemies more bitter than his sword. But Cicero, when the time came, never shirked his foe. Whether it was Verres or Catiline, or Clodius or Antony, he was always there, ready to take that foe by the throat, and ready to offer his own in return. At moments such as that there was none of the fear which stands aghast at the wrath of the injured one, and makes the man who is a coward quail before the eyes of him who is brave.

His friendship for Pompey is perhaps, of all the strong feelings of his life, the one most requiring excuse, and the most difficult to excuse. For myself I can see why it was so; but I cannot do that without acknowledging in it something which derogated from his greatness. Had he risen above Pompey, he would have been great indeed; for I look upon it as certain that he did see that Pompey was as untrue to the Republic as Cæsar. He saw it occasionally, but it was not borne in upon him at all times that Pompey was false. Cæsar was not false. Cæsar was an open foe. I doubt whether Pompey ever saw enough to be open. He never realized to himself more than men. He never rose to measures — much less to the reason for them. When Cæsar had talked him over, and had induced him to form the Triumvirate, Pompey’s politics were gone. Cicero never blanched. Whether, full of new hopes, he attacked Chrysogonus with all the energy of one to whom his injured countrymen were dear, or, with the settled purpose of his life, he accused Verres in the teeth of the coming Consul Hortensius; whether in driving out Catiline, or in defending Milo; whether, even, in standing up before Cæsar for Marcellus, or in his final onslaught upon Antony, his purpose was still the same. As time passed on he took to himself coarser weapons, and went down into the arena and fought the beasts at Ephesus. Alas, it is so with mankind! Who can strive to do good and not fight beasts? And who can fight them but after some fashion of their own? He was fighting beasts at Ephesus when he was defending Milo. He was an oligarch, but he wanted the oligarchy round him to be true and honest! It was impossible. These men would not be just, and yet he must use them. Milo and Cælius and Curio were his friends. He knew them to be bad, but he could not throw off from him all that were bad men. If by these means he could win his way to something that might be good, he would pardon their evil. As we make our way on to the end of his life we find that his character becomes tarnished, and that his high feelings are blunted by the party which he takes and the men with whom he associates.

He did not, indeed, fall away altogether. The magistracy offered to him, the lieutenancy offered to him, the “free legation” offered to him, the last appeal made to him that he would go to Rome and speak a few words — or that he would stay away and remain neutral — did not move him. He did not turn conspirator and then fight for the prize, as Pompey had done. But he had, for so many years, clung to Pompey as the leader of a party; had had it so dinned into his ears that all must depend on Pompey; had found himself so bound up with the man who, when appealed to as to his banishment, had sullenly told him he could only do as Cæsar would have him; whom he had felt to be mean enough to be stigmatized as Sampsiceramus, him of Jerusalem, the hero of Arabia; whom he knew to be desirous of doing with his enemies as Sulla had done with his — that, in spite of it all, he clung to him still!

I cannot but blame Cicero for this, but yet I can excuse it. It is hard to have to change your leader after middle life, and Cicero could only have changed his by becoming a leader himself. We can see how hopeless it was. Would it not have been mean had he allowed those men to go and fight in Macedonia without him? Who would have believed in him had he seemed to be so false? Not Cato, not Brutus, not Bibulus, not Scipio, not Marcellus. Such men were the leaders of the party of which he had been one. Would they not say that he had remained away because he was Cæsar’s man? He must follow either Cæsar or Pompey. He knew that Pompey was beaten. There are things which a man knows, but he cannot bring himself to say so even to himself. He went out to fight on the side already conquered; and when the thing was done he came home with his heart sad, and lived at Brundisium, mourning his lot.

From thence he wrote to Atticus, saying that he hardly saw the advantage of complying with advice which had been given to him that he should travel incognito to Rome. But it is the special reason given which strikes us as being so unlike the arguments which would prevail today: “Nor have I resting-places on the way sufficiently convenient for me to pass the entire daytime within them.”1 The “diversorium” was a place by the roadside which was always ready should the owner desire to come that way. It must be understood that he travelled with attendants, and carried his food with him, or sent it on before. We see at every turn how much money could do; but we see also how little money had done for the general comfort of the people. Brundisium is above three hundred miles from Rome, and the journey is the same which Horace took afterward, going from the city.2 Much had then been done to make travelling comfortable, or at any rate cheaper than it had been four-and-twenty years before. But now the journey was not made. He reminds Atticus in the letter that if he had not written through so long an interval it was not because there had been a dearth of subjects. It had been no doubt prudent for a man to be silent when so many eyes and so many ears were on the watch. He writes again some days later, and assures Atticus that Cæsar thinks well of his “lictors!” Oh those eternal lictors! “But what have I to do with lictors,” he says, “who am almost ordered to leave the shores of Italy?”3 And then Cæsar had sent angry messages. Cato and Metellus had been said to have come home. Cæsar did not choose that this should be so, and had ordered them away. It was clearly manifest to every man alive now that Cæsar was the actual master of Italy.

During the whole of this winter he is on terms with Terentia, but he writes to her in the coldest strain. There are many letters to Terentia, more in number than we have ever known before, but they are all of the same order. I translate one here to show the nature of his correspondence: “If you are well, I am so also. The times are such that I expect to hear nothing from yourself, and on my part have nothing to write. Nevertheless, I look for your letters, and I write to you when a messenger is going to start. Voluminia ought to have understood her duty to you, and should have done what she did do better. There are other things, however, which I care for more, and grieve for more bitterly — as those have wished who have driven me from my own opinion.”4 Again he writes to Atticus, deploring that he should have been born — so great are his troubles — or, at any rate, that one should have been born after him from the same mother. His brother has addressed him in anger — his brother, who has desired to make his own affairs straight with Cæsar, and to swim down the stream pleasantly with other noble Romans of the time. I can imagine that with Quintus Cicero there was nothing much higher than the wealth which the day produced. I can fancy that he was possessed of intellect, and that when it was fair sailing with our Consul it was all well with Quintus Cicero; but I can see also that, when Cæsar prevailed, it was occasionally a matter of doubt with Quintus whether his brother should not be abandoned among other things which were obtrusive and vain. He could not quite do it. His brother compelled him into propriety, and carried him along within the lines of the oligarchy. Then Cæsar fell, and Quintus saw that the matter was right; but Cæsar, though he fell, did not altogether fall, and therefore Quintus after all turned out to be in the wrong. I fancy that I can see how things went ill with Quintus.

B.C. 47, ætat. 60.

Cæsar, after the battle of the Pharsalia, had followed Pompey, but had failed to catch him. When he came upon the scene in the roadstead at Alexandria, the murder had been effected. He then disembarked, and there, as circumstances turned out, was doomed to fight another campaign in which he nearly lost his life. It is not a part of my plan to write the life of Cæsar, nor to meddle with it further than I am driven to do in seeking after the sources of Cicero’s troubles and aspiration; but the story must be told in a few words. Cæsar went from Alexandria into Asia, and, flashing across Syria, beat Pharnaces, and then wrote his famous “Veni, vidi, vici,” if those words were ever written. Surely he could not have written them and sent them home! Even the subservience of the age would not have endured words so boastful, nor would the glory of Cæsar have so tarnished itself. He hurried back to Italy, and quelled the mutiny of his men by a masterpiece of stage-acting. Simply by addressing them as “Quirites,” instead of “Milites,” he appalled them into obedience. On this journey into Italy he came across Cicero. If he could be cruel without a pang — to the arranging the starvation of a townful of women, because they as well as the men must eat — he could be magnificent in his treatment of a Cicero. He had hunted to the death his late colleague in the Triumvirate, and had felt no remorse; though there seems to have been a moment when in Egypt the countenance of him who had so long been his superior had touched him. He had not ordered Pompey’s death. On no occasion had he wilfully put to death a Roman whose name was great enough to leave a mark behind. He had followed the convictions of his countrymen, who had ever spared themselves. To him a thousand Gauls, or men of Eastern origin, were as nothing to a single Roman nobleman. Whether there can be said to have been clemency in such a course it is useless now to dispute. To Cæsar it was at any rate policy as well. If by clemency he meant that state of mind in which it is an evil to sacrifice the life of men to a spirit of revenge, Cæsar was clement. He had moreover that feeling which induces him who wins to make common cause — in little things — with those who lose. We can see Cæsar getting down from his chariot when Cicero came to meet him, and, throwing his arms round his neck, walking off with him in pleasant conversation; and we can fancy him talking to Cicero pleasantly of the greatness which, in times yet to come, pursuits such as his would show in comparison with those of Cæsar’s. “Cedant arma togæ; concedat laurea linguæ,” we can hear Cæsar say, with an irony expressed in no tone of his voice, but still vibrating to the core of his heart, as he thought so much of his own undoubted military supremacy, and absolutely nothing of his now undoubted literary excellence.

B.C. 47, ætat. 60.

But to go back a little; we shall find Cicero still waiting at Brundisium during August and September. In the former of these months he reminds Atticus that “he cannot at present sell anything, but that he can put by something so that it may be in safety when the ruin shall fall upon him.”5 From this may be deduced a state of things very different to that above described, but not contradicting it. I gather from this unintelligible letter, written, as he tells us, for the most part in his own handwriting, that he was at the present moment under some forfeiture of the law to Cæsar. It may well be that, as one adjudged to be a rebel to his country, his property should not be salable. If that were so, Cæsar in some of these bland moments must have revoked the sentence — and at such a time all sentences were within Cæsar’s control — because we know that on his return Cicero’s villas were again within his own power. But he is in sad trouble now about his wife. He has written to her to send him twelve thousand sesterces, which he had as it were in a bag, and she sends him ten, saying that no more is left. If she would deduct something from so small a sum, what would she do if it were larger?6 Then follow two letters for his wife — a mere word in each — not a sign of affection nor of complaint in either of them. In the first he tells her she shall be informed when Cæsar is coming — in the latter, that he is coming. When he has resolved whether to go and meet him or to remain where he is till Cæsar shall have come upon him, he will again write. Then there are three to Atticus, and two more to Terentia. In the first he tells him that Cæsar is expected. Some ten or twelve days afterward he is still full of grief as to his brother Quintus, whose conduct has been shameful. Cæsar he knows is near at hand, but he almost hopes that he will not come to Brundisium. In the third, as indeed he has in various others, he complains bitterly of the heat: it is of such a nature that it adds to his grief. Shall he send word to Cæsar that he will wait upon him nearer to Rome?7 He is evidently in a sad condition. Quintus, it must be remembered, had been in Gaul with Cæsar, and had seen the rising sun. On his return to Italy he had not force enough to declare a political conviction, and to go over to Cæsar boldly. He had indeed become lieutenant to his brother when in Cilicia, having left Cæsar for the purpose. He afterward went with his brother to the Pharsalus, assuring the elder Cicero that they two would still be of the same party. Then the great catastrophe had come, when Cicero returned from that wretched campaign to Brundisium, and remained there in despair as at some penal settlement. Quintus followed Cæsar into Asia with his son, and there pleaded his own cause with him at the expense of his brother. Of Cæsar we must all admit that, though indifferent to the shedding of blood, arrogant, without principle in money and without heart in love, he was magnificent, and that he injured none from vindictive motives. He passed on, leaving Quintus Cicero, who as a soldier had been true to him, without, as we can fancy, many words. Cicero afterward interceded for his brother who had reviled him, and Quintus will ever after have to bear the stain of his treachery. Then came the two letters for his wife, with just a line in each. If her messenger should arrive, he will send her word back as to what she is to do. After an interval of nearly a month, there is the other — ordering, in perfectly restored good-humor, that the baths shall be ready at the Tusculan villa: “Let the baths be all ready, and everything fit for the use of guests; there will probably be many of them.”8 It is evident that Cæsar has passed on in a good-humor, and has left behind him glad tidings, such as should ever brighten the feet of the conqueror.

It is singular that, with a correspondence such as that of Cicero’s, of which, at least through the latter two or three years of his life, every letter of his to his chief friend has been preserved, there should have been nothing left to us from that friend himself. It must have been the case, as Middleton suggests, that Atticus, when Cicero was dead, had the handling of the entire MS., and had withdrawn his own; either that, or else Cicero and Atticus mutually agreed to the destruction of their joint labors, and Atticus had been untrue to his agreement, knowing well the value of the documents he preserved. That there is no letter from a woman — not even a line to Cicero from his dear daughter — is much to be regretted. And yet there are letters — many from Cælius, who is thus brought forward as almost a second and a younger Atticus — and from various Romans of the day. When we come to the latter days of his life, in which he had taken upon himself the task of writing to Plancus and others as to their supposed duty to the State, they become numerous. There are ten such from Plancus, and nine from Decimus Brutus; and there is a whole mass of correspondence with Marcus Brutus — to be taken for what it is worth. With a view to history, they are doubtless worth much; but as throwing light on Cicero’s character, except as to the vigor that was in the man to the last, they are not of great value. How is it that a correspondence, which is for its main purpose so full, should have fallen so short in many of its details? There is no word, no allusion derogatory to Atticus in these letters, which have come to us from Cælius and others. We have Atticus left to us for our judgment, free from the confession of his own faults, and free also from the insinuations of others. Of whom would we wish that the familiar letters of another about ourselves should be published? Would those objectionable epithets as to Pompey have been allowed to hold their ground had Pompey lived and had they been in his possession?

But, in reading histories and biographies, we always accept with a bias in favor of the person described the anecdotes of those who talk of them. We know that the ready wit of the surrounding world has taken up these affairs of the moment and turned them into ridicule — then as they do now. We discount the “Hierosolymarius.” We do not quite believe that Bibulus never left the house while an enemy was to be seen; but we think that a man may be expected to tell the truth of himself; at any rate, to tell no untruth against himself. We think that Cicero of all men may be left to do so — Cicero, who so well understood the use of words, and could use them in his own defence so deftly. I maintain that it has been that very deftness which has done him all the harm. Not one of those letters of the last years would have been written as it is now had Cicero thought, when writing it, that from it would his conduct have been judged after two thousand years. “No,” will say my readers, “that is their value; they would not have otherwise been true, as they are. We should not then have learned his secrets.” I reply, “It is a hard bargain to make: others do not make such bargains on the same terms. But be sure, at any rate, that you read them aright: be certain that you make the necessary allowances. Do not accuse him of falsehood because he unsays on a Tuesday the words he said on the Monday. Bear in mind on his behalf all the temporary ill that humanity is heir to. Could you, living at Brundisium during the summer months, ‘when you were scarcely able to endure the weight of the sun,’9 have had all your intellects about you, and have been able always to choose your words?” No, indeed! These letters, if truth is to be expected from them, have to be read with all the subtle distinctions necessary for understanding the frame of mind in which they were written. His anger boils over here, and he is hot. Here tenderness has mastered him, and the love of old days. He is weak in body just now, and worn out in spirit; he is hopeless, almost to the brink of despair; he is bright with wit, he is full of irony, he is purposely enigmatic — all of which require an Atticus who knew him and the people among whom he had lived, and the times in which the events took place, for their special reading. Who is there can read them now so as accurately to decipher every intended detail? Then comes some critic who will not even attempt to read them — who rushes through them by the light of some foregone conclusion, and missing the point at which the writer subtly aims, tells us of some purpose of which he was altogether innocent! Because he jokes about the augurship, we are told how miserably base he was, and how ready to sell his country!

During the whole of the last year he must have been tortured by various turns of mind. Had he done well in joining himself to Pompey? and having done so, had he done well in severing himself, immediately on Pompey’s death, from the Pompeians? Looking at the matter as from a stand-point quite removed from it, we are inclined to say that he had done well in both. He could not without treachery have gone over to Cæsar when Cæsar had come to the gate of Italy, and, as it were with a blast of his trumpet, had demanded the Consulship, a triumph, the use of his legions, and the continuance of his military power. “Let Pompey put down his, and I will put down mine,” he had said. Had Pompey put down his, Pompey and Cicero, Cato and Brutus, and Bibulus would all have had to walk at the heels of Cæsar. When Pompey declared that he would contest the point, he declared for them all. Cicero was bound to go to Pharsalia. But when, by Pompey’s incompetence, Cæsar was the victor; when Pompey had fallen at the Nile, and all the lovers of the fish-ponds, and the intractable oligarchs, and the cutthroats of the Empire, such as young Pompey had become, had scattered themselves far and wide, some to Asia, some to Illyricum, some to Spain, and more to Africa — as a herd of deer shall be seen to do when a vast hound has appeared among them, with his jaws already dripping with blood — was Cicero then to take his part with any of them? I hold that he did what dignity required, and courage also. He went back to Italy, and there he waited till the conqueror should come.

It must have been very bitter. Never to have become great has nothing in it of bitterness for a noble spirit. What matters it to the unknown man whether a Cæsar or a Pompey is at the top of all things? Or if it does matter — as indeed that question of his governance does matter to every man who has a soul within him to be turned this way or that — which way he is turned, though there may be inner regrets that Cæsar should become the tyrant, perhaps keener regrets, if the truth were all seen, that Pompey’s hands should be untrammelled, who sees them? I can walk down to my club with my brow unclouded, or, unless I be stirred to foolish wrath by the pride of some one equally vain, can enjoy myself amid the festivities of the hour. It is but a little affair to me. If it come in my way to do a thing, I will do my best, and there is an end of it. The sense of responsibility is not there, nor the grievous weight of having tried but failed to govern mankind. But to have clung to high places; to have sat in the highest seat of all with infinite honor; to have been called by others, and, worse still, to have called myself, the savior of my country; to have believed in myself that I was sufficient, that I alone could do it, that I could bring back, by my own justice and integrity, my erring countrymen to their former simplicity — and then to have found myself fixed in a little town, just in Italy, waiting for the great conqueror, who though my friend in things social was opposed to me body and soul as to rules of life — that, I say, must have been beyond the bitterness of death.

During this year he had made himself acquainted with the details of that affair, whatever it might be, which led to his divorce soon after his return to Rome. He had lived about thirty years with his wife, and the matter could not but have been to him the cause of great unhappiness. Terentia was not only the mother of his children, but she had been to him also the witness of his rise in life and the companion of his fall. He was one who would naturally learn to love those with whom he was conversant. He seems to have projected himself out of his own time into those modes of thought which have come to us with Christianity, and such a separation from this woman after an intercourse of so many years must have been very grievous to him. All married Romans underwent divorce quite as a matter of course. There were many reasons. A young wife is more agreeable to the man’s taste than one who is old. A rich wife is more serviceable than a poor. A new wife is a novelty. A strange wife is an excitement. A little wife is a relief to one overburdened with the flesh; a buxom wife to him who has become tired of the pure spirit. Xanthippe asks too much, while Griselda is too tranquil. And then, as a man came up in the world, causes for divorce grew without even the trouble of having to search for faults. Cæsar required that his wife should not be ill spoken of, and therefore divorced her. Pompey cemented the Triumvirate with a divorce. We cannot but imagine that, when men had so much the best of it in the affairs of life, a woman had always the worst of it in these enforced separations. But as the wind is tempered to the shorn lamb, so were divorces made acceptable to Roman ladies. No woman was disgraced by a divorce, and they who gave over their husbands at the caprice of a moment to other embraces would usually find consolation. Terentia when divorced from Cicero was at least fifty, and we are told she had the extreme honor of having married Sallust after her break with Cicero. They say that she married twice again after Sallust’s death, and that having lived nearly through the reign of Augustus, she died at length at the age of a hundred and three. Divorce at any rate did not kill her. But we cannot conceive but that so sudden a disruption of all the ties of life must have been grievous to Cicero. We shall find him in the next chapter marrying a young ward, and then, too, divorcing her; but here we have only to deal with the torments Terentia inflicted on him. What those torments were we do not know, and shall never learn unless by chance the lost letters of Atticus should come to light. But the general idea has been that the lady had, in league with a freedman and steward in her service, been guilty of fraud against her husband. I do not know that we have much cause to lament the means of ascertaining the truth. It is sad to find that the great men with whose name we are occupied have been made subject to those “whips and scorns of time” which we thought to be peculiar to ourselves, because they have stung us. Terentia, Cicero’s wife two thousand years ago, sent him word that he had but £100 left in his box at home, when he himself knew well that there must be something more. That would have gone for nothing had there not been other things before that, many other things. So, in spite of his ordering at her hands the baths and various matters to be got ready for his friends at his Tusculum, a very short time after his return there he had divorced her.

During this last year he had been engaged on what has since been found to be the real work of his life. He had already written much, but had written as one who had been anxious to fill up vacant spaces of time as they came in his way. From this time forth he wrote as does one who has reconciled himself to the fact that there are no more days to be lost if he intends, before the sun be set, to accomplish an appointed task. He had already compiled the De Oratore, the De Republica, and the De Legibus. Out of the many treatises which we have from Cicero’s hands, these are they which are known as the works of his earlier years. He commenced the year with an inquiry, De Optimo Genere Oratorum, which he intended as a preface to the translations which he made of the great speeches of Æschines and Demosthenes, De Corona. These translations are lost, though the preface remains. He then translated, or rather paraphrased the Timæus of Plato, of which a large proportion has come down to us, and the Protagoras, of which we have lost all but a sentence or two. We have his Oratoriæ Partitiones, in which, in a dialogue between himself and his son, he repeats the lessons on oratory which he has given to the young man. It is a recapitulation, in short, of all that had been said on a subject which has since been made common, and which owed its origin to the work of much earlier years. It is but dull reading, but I can imagine that even in these days it may be useful to a young lawyer. There is a cynical morsel among these precepts which is worth observing, “Cito enim arescit lachryma præsertim in alienis malis;"10 and another grandly simple, “Nihil enim est aliud eloquentia nisi copiose loquens sapientia.” Can we fancy anything more biting than the idea that the tears caused by the ills of another soon grow dry on the orator’s cheek, or more wise than that which tells us that eloquence is no more than wisdom speaking eloquently? Then he wrote the six Paradoxes addressed to Brutus — or rather he then gave them to the world, for they were surely written at an earlier date. They are short treatises on trite subjects, put into beautiful language, so as to arrest the attention of all readers by the unreasonableness of their reasoning. The most remarkable is the third, in which he endeavored to show that a man cannot be wise unless he be all-wise, a doctrine which he altogether overturns in his De Amicitia, written but four years afterward. Cicero knew well what was true, and wrote his paradox in order to give a zest to the subject. In the fourth and the sixth are attacks upon Clodius and Crassus, and are here republished in what would have been the very worst taste amid the politeness of our modern times. A man now may hate and say so while his foe is still alive and strong; but with the Romans he might continue to hate, and might republish the words which he had written, eight years after the death of his victim.

I know nothing of Cicero’s which so much puts us in mind of the struggles of the modern authors to make the most of every word that has come from them, as do these paradoxes. They remind us of some writer of leading articles who gets together a small bundle of essays and then gives them to the world. Each of them has done well at its time, but that has not sufficed for his ambition; therefore they are dragged out into the light and put forward with a separate claim for attention, as though they could stand well on their own legs. But they cannot stand alone, and they fall from having been put into a position other than that for which they were intended when written.

1 Ad Att., lib. xi., 5.

2 Horace, Sat., lib. i., sat. 5.

3 Ad Att., lib. xi., 7.

4 Ad Div., xiv., 16.

5 Ad Att., lib. xi., 24.

6 Ad Att., lib. xi., 24.

7 Ibid., lib. xi., 20–22.

8 Ad Div., xiv., 22, 20. The numbers going the wrong way is only an indication that the letters were wrongly placed by Grævius.

9 Ad Att., lib. xi., 22.

10 Oratoriæ Partitiones, xvii., xxiii.

Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:43