The dependent scholar! The great man’s licensed friend! — if friend, not slave, is to be the word. Believe me, Timocles, amid the humiliation and drudgery of his lot, I know not where to turn for a beginning. Many, if not most, of his hardships are familiar to me; not, heaven knows, from personal experience, for I have never been reduced to such extremity, and pray that I never may be; but from the lips of numerous victims; from the bitter outcries of those who were yet in the snare, and the complacent recollections of others who, like escaped prisoners, found a pleasure in detailing all that they had been through. The evidence of the latter was particularly valuable. Mystics, as it were, of the highest grade, Dependency had no secrets for them. Accordingly, it was with keen interest that I listened to their stories of miraculous deliverance from moral shipwreck. They reminded me of the mariners who, duly cropped, gather at the doors of a temple, with their tale of stormy seas and monster waves and promontories, castings out of cargoes, snappings of masts, shatterings of rudders; ending with the appearance of those twin brethren 25 so indispensable to nautical story, or of some other deus ex machina, who, seated at the masthead or standing at the helm, guides the vessel to some sandy shore, there to break up at her leisure — not before her crew (so benevolent is the God!) have effected a safe landing. The mariner, however, is liberal in embellishment, being prompted thereto by the exigencies of his situation; for by his appearance as a favourite of heaven, not merely a victim of fortune, the number of the charitable is increased. It is otherwise with those whose narrative is of domestic storms, of billows rising mountain high (if so I may phrase it) within four walls. They tell us of the seductive calm that first lured them on to those waters, of the sufferings they endured throughout the voyage, the thirst, the sea-sickness, the briny drenchings; and how at last their luckless craft went to pieces upon some hidden reef or at the foot of some steep crag, leaving them to swim for it, and to land naked and utterly destitute. All this they tell us: but I have ever suspected them of having convenient lapses of memory, and omitting the worst part for very shame. For myself, I shall have no such scruple. All that I have heard, or can reasonably infer, of the evils of dependence, I shall place before you. For either, friend, my penetration is at fault, or you have long had a hankering for this profession.
Yes, I have seen it from the first, whenever the conversation has fallen on this subject of salaried intellects. ‘Happy men!’ some enthusiast has cried. ‘The elite of Rome are their friends. They dine sumptuously, and call for no reckoning. They are lodged splendidly, and travel comfortably — nay, luxuriously — with cushions at their backs, and as often as not a fine pair of creams in front of them. And, as if this were not enough, the friendship they enjoy and the handsome treatment they receive is made good to them with a substantial salary. They sow not, they plough not; yet all things grow for their use.’ How I have seen you prick up your ears at such words as these! How wide your mouth has opened to the bait!
Now I will have a clear conscience in this matter. I will not be told hereafter that I saw you swallowing this palpable bait, and never stirred a finger to snatch it from you, and show you the hook while there was yet time; that I watched you nibbling, saw the hook well in and the fish hauled up, and then stood by shedding useless tears. A grave charge, indeed, were I to leave it in your power to bring it; such neglect would admit of no palliation. You shall therefore hear the whole truth. Now, in leisurely fashion, from without, not hereafter from within, shall you examine this weel from which no fish escapes. You shall take in hand this hook of subtle barb. You shall try the prongs of this eel-spear against your inflated cheek; and if you decide that they are not sharp, that they would be easily evaded, that a wound from them would be no great matter, that they are deficient in power and grasp — then write me among those who have cowardice to thank for their empty bellies; and for yourself, take heart of grace, and swoop upon your prey, and cormorant-wise, if you will, swallow all at a gulp.
But however much the present treatise is indebted to you for its existence, its application is not confined to you who are philosophers, whose ambition it is to form your conduct upon serious principles; it extends to the teachers of literature, of rhetoric, of music — to all, in short, whose intellectual attainments can command a maintenance and a wage. And where the life, from beginning to end, is one and the same for all, the philosopher (I need not say), so far from being a privileged person, has but the additional ignominy of being levelled with the rest, and treated by his paymaster with as scant ceremony as the rest. In conclusion, whatever disclosures I may be led to make, the blame must fall in the first instance on the aggressors, and in the second instance on those who suffer the aggression. For me, unless truth and candour be crimes, I am blameless.
As to the vulgar rabble of trainers and toadies, illiterate, mean-souled creatures, born to obscurity, should we attempt to dissuade them from such pursuits, our labour would be wasted. Nor can we fairly blame them, for putting up any affront, rather than part with their employers. The life suits them; they are in their element. And what other channel is there, into which their energies could be directed? Take away this, their sole vocation, and they are idle cumberers of the earth. They have nothing, then, to complain of; nor are their employers unreasonable in turning these humble vessels to the use for which they were designed. They come into a house prepared for such treatment from the first; it is their profession to endure and suffer wrong.
But the case of educated men, such as I have mentioned above, is another matter; it calls for our indignation, and for our utmost endeavours to restore them to liberty. I think it will not be amiss, if I first examine into the provocations under which they turn to a life of dependence. By showing how trivial, how inadequate these provocations are, I shall forestall the main argument used by the defenders of voluntary servitude. Most of them are content to cloak their desertion under the names of Poverty and Necessity. It is enough, they think, to plead in extenuation, that they sought to flee from this greatest of human ills, Poverty. Theognis comes pat to their purpose. His
Poverty, soul-subduing Poverty,
is in continual requisition, together with other fearful utterances of our most degenerate poets to the same effect. Now if I could see that they really found an escape from poverty in the lives they lead, I would not be too nice on the point of absolute freedom. But when we find them (to use the expression of a famous orator) ‘faring like men that are sick,’ what conclusion is then left to us to draw? What but this, that here again they have been misled, the very evil which they sold their liberty to escape remaining as it was? Poverty unending is their lot. From the bare pittance they receive nothing can be set apart. Suppose it paid, and paid in full: the whole sum is swallowed up to the last farthing, before their necessities are supplied. I would advise them to think upon better expedients; not such as are merely the protectors and accomplices of Poverty, but such as will make an end of her altogether. What say you, Theognis? Might this be a case for,
Steep plunge from crags into the teeming deep?
For when a pauper, a needy hireling, persuades himself that by being what he is he has escaped poverty, one cannot avoid the conclusion that he labours under some mistake.
Others tell a different tale. For them, mere poverty would have had no terrors, had they been able, like other men, to earn their bread by their labours. But, stricken as they were by age or infirmity, they turned to this as the easiest way of making a living. Now let us consider whether they are right. This ‘easy’ way may be found to involve much labour before it yields any return; more labour perhaps than any other. To find money ready to one’s hand, without toil or trouble on one’s own part, would indeed be a dream of happiness. But the facts are otherwise. The toils and troubles of their situation are such as no words can adequately describe. Health, as it turns out, is nowhere more essential than in this vocation, in which a thousand daily labours combine to grind the victim down, and reduce him to utter exhaustion. These I shall describe in due course, when I come to speak of their other grievances. For the present let it suffice to have shown that this excuse for the sale of one’s liberty is as untenable as the former.
And now for the true reason, which you will never hear from their lips. Voluptuousness and a whole pack of desires are what induce them to force their way into great houses. The dazzling spectacle of abundant gold and silver, the joys of high feeding and luxurious living, the immediate prospect of wallowing in riches, with no man to say them nay — these are the temptations that lure them on, and make slaves of free men; not lack of the necessaries of life, as they pretend, but lust of its superfluities, greed of its costly refinements. And their employers, like finished coquettes, exercise their rigours upon these hapless slaves of love, and keep them for ever dangling in amorous attendance; but for fruition, no! never so much as a kiss may they snatch. To grant that would be to give the lover his release, a conclusion against which they are jealously on their guard. But upon hopes he is abundantly fed. Despair might else cure his ardent passion, and the lover be lover no more. So there are smiles for him, and promises; always something shall be done, some favour shall be granted, a handsome provision shall be made for him — some day. Meanwhile, old age steals upon the pair; the superannuated lover ceases from desire, and his mistress has nothing left to give. Life has gone by, and all they have to show for it is hope.
Well now, that a man for the sake of pleasure should put up with every hardship is perhaps no great matter. Devoted to this one object, he can think of nothing, but how to procure it. Let that pass. Though it seems but a scurvy bargain, a bargain for a slave; to sell one’s liberty for pleasures far less pleasant than liberty itself. Still, as I say, let that pass, provided the price is paid. But to endure unlimited pain, merely in the hope that pleasure may come of it, this surely is carrying folly to the height of absurdity. And men do it with their eyes open. The hardships, they know, are certain, unmistakable, inevitable. As to the pleasure, that vague, hypothetic pleasure, they have never had it in all these years, and in all reasonable probability they never will. The comrades of Odysseus forgot all else in the Lotus: but it was while they were tasting its sweets. They esteemed lightly of Honour: but it was in the immediate presence of Pleasure. In men so occupied, such forgetfulness was not wholly unnatural. But to dwell a prisoner, with Famine for company, to watch one’s neighbour fattening on the Lotus, and keeping it all to himself, and to forget Honour and Virtue in the bare prospect of a possible mouthful — by Heaven, it is too absurd, and calls in good truth for Homeric scourgings.
Such, as nearly as I can describe them, are men’s motives for taking service with the rich, for handing themselves over bodily, to be used as their employers think fit. There is one class, however, of which I ought perhaps to make mention — those whose vanity is gratified by the mere fact of being seen in the company of well-born and well-dressed men. For there are those who consider this a distinguished privilege; though for my own part I would not give a fig to enjoy and to be seen enjoying the company of the King of Persia, if I was to get nothing by it.
And now, since we understand what it is that these men would be at, let us mentally review their whole career; — the difficulties that beset the applicant before he gains acceptance; his condition when he is duly installed in his office; and the closing scene of his life’s drama. You may perhaps suppose that his situation, whatever its drawbacks, is at least attainable without much trouble; that you have but to will it, and the thing is done in a trice. Far from it. Much tramping about is in store for you, much kicking of heels. You will rise early, and stand long before your patron’s closed door; you will be jostled; you will hear occasional comments on your impudence. You will be exposed to the vile gabble of a Syrian porter, and to the extortions of a Libyan nomenclator, whose memory must be fee’d, if he is not to forget your name. You must dress beyond your means, or you will be a discredit to your patron; and select his favourite colours, or you will be out of harmony with your surroundings. Finally, you will be indefatigable in following his steps, or rather in preceding them, for you will be thrust forward by his slaves, to swell his triumphal progress. And for days together you will not be favoured with a glance.
But one day the best befalls you. You catch his eye; he beckons you to him, and puts a random question. In that supreme moment what cold sweats, what palpitations, what untimely tremors are yours! and what mirth is theirs who witness your confusion! ‘Who was the king of the Achaeans?’ is the question: and your answer, as likely as not, ‘A thousand sail.’ With the charitable this passes for bashfulness; but to the impudent you are a craven, and to the ill-natured a yokel. This first experience teaches you that the condescensions of the great are not unattended with danger; and as you depart you pronounce upon yourself a sentence of utter despair. Thereafter,
many a sleepless night,
Many a day of strife shall be thy lot —
not for the sake of Helen, not for the towers of Troy, but for the sevenpence halfpenny of your desire. At length some heaven-sent protector gives you an introduction: the scholar is brought up for examination. For the great man, who has but to receive your flatteries and compliments, this is an agreeable pastime: for you, it is a life-and-death struggle; all is hazarded on the one throw. For it will of course occur to you, that if you are rejected at the first trial, you will never pass current with any one else. A thousand different feelings now distract you. You are jealous of your rivals (for we will assume that there is competition for the post); you are dissatisfied with your own replies; you hope; you fear; you cannot remove your eye from the countenance of your judge. Does he pooh-pooh your efforts? You are a lost man. Was that a smile? You rejoice, and hope rises high. It is only to be expected, that many of the company are your enemies, and others your rivals, and each has his secret shaft to let fly at you from his lurking-place. What a picture! The venerable grey-beard being put through his paces. Is he any use? Some say yes, others no. Time is taken for consideration. Your antecedents are industriously overhauled. Some envious compatriot, some neighbour with a trivial grievance, is asked his opinion; he has but to drop a word of ‘loose morality,’ and your business is done; ‘the man speaks God’s truth!’ Every one else may testify to your character: their evidence proves nothing; they are suspected; they are venal. The fact is, you must gain every point; there must be no hitch anywhere. That is your only chance of success.
And now, take it that you have succeeded — beyond all expectation. Your words have found favour with the great man. Those friends, by whose judgement in such matters he sets most store, have made no attempt to alter his decision. His wife approves his choice; the steward and the major-domo have neither of them anything against you. No aspersions have been cast on your character; all is propitious, every omen is in your favour. Hail, mighty conqueror, wreathed in the Olympian garland! Babylon is yours, Sardis falls before you. The horn of plenty is within your grasp; pigeons shall yield you milk.
Now, if your crown is to be of anything better than leaves, there must be some solid benefits to compensate you for the labours you have undergone. A considerable salary will be placed at your disposal, and you will draw upon it without ceremony, whenever you have occasion. You will be a privileged person in every respect. As for toils, and muddy tramps, and wakeful nights, the time for those have gone by. Your prayers have been heard: you will take your ease, and sleep your fill. You will do the work you were engaged to do, and not a stroke besides. This, indeed, is what you have a right to expect. There would be no great hardship in bowing one’s neck to a yoke so light, so easy — and so superbly gilded. But alas, Timocles, many, nay all of these requirements are unsatisfied. Your office, now that you have got it, is attended with a thousand details insufferable to all but slaves. Let me rehearse them to you; you shall judge for yourself whether any man with the slightest pretence to culture would endure such treatment.
Let me begin with your first invitation to dinner, which may reasonably be expected to follow, as an earnest of the patronage to come. It is brought to you by a most communicative slave, whose goodwill it must be your first care to secure. Five shillings is the least you can slip into his palm, if you would do the thing properly. He has scruples. ‘Really, sir — couldn’t think of it; no, indeed, sir.’ But he is prevailed upon at last, and goes off, grinning from ear to ear. You then look out your best clothes, have your bath, make yourself as presentable as possible, and arrive — in fear and trembling lest you should be the first, which would wear an awkward air, just as it savours of ostentation to arrive last. Accordingly you contrive to hit on the right moment, are received with every attention, and shown to your place, a little above the host, separated from him only by a couple of his intimates. And now you feel as if you were in heaven. You are all admiration; everything you see done throws you into ecstasies. It is all so new and strange! The waiters stare at you, the company watch your movements. Nor is the host without curiosity. Some of his servants have instructions to observe you narrowly, lest your glance should fall too often on his wife or children. The other guests’ men perceive your amazement at the novel scene, and exchange jesting asides. From the fact that you do not know what to make of your napkin, they conclude that this is your first experience of dining-out. You perspire with embarrassment; not unnaturally. You are thirsty, but you dare not ask for wine, lest you should be thought a tippler. The due connexion between the various dishes which make their appearance is beyond you: which ought you to take first? which next? There is nothing for it but to snatch a side glance at your neighbour, do as he does, and learn to dine in sequence. On the whole, your feelings are mingled, your spirit perturbed, and stricken with awe. One moment you are envying your host his gold, his ivory, and all his magnificence; the next, you are pitying yourself — that miserable nonentity which calls its existence life; and then at intervals comes the thought, ‘how happy shall I be, sharing in these splendours, enjoying them as if they were my own!’ For you conceive of your future life as one continual feast; and the smiling attendance of gracious Ganymedes gives a charming finish to the picture. That line of Homer keeps coming to your lips: Small blame to Trojan or to greaved Achaean, if such happiness as this was to be the reward of their toils and sufferings. Presently healths are drunk. The host calls for a large beaker, and drinks to ‘the Professor,’ or whatever your title is to be. You, in your innocence, do not know that you ought to say something in reply; you receive the cup in silence, and are set down as a boor.
Apart from this, your host’s pledge has secured you the enmity of many of his old friends, with some of whom it was already a grievance, that an acquaintance of a few hours’ standing should sit above men who have been drinking the cup of slavery for years. Tongues are busy with you at once. Listen to some of them. ‘So! We are to give place to new-comers! It wanted but this. The gates of Rome are open to none but these Greeks. Now what is their claim to be set over our heads? I suppose they think they are conferring a favour on us with their wordy stuff?’ ‘How he did drink, to be sure!’ says another. ‘And did you see how he shovelled his food down, hand over hand? Mannerless starveling! He has never so much as dreamt of white bread before. ’Twas the same with the capon and pheasant; much if he left us the bones to pick!’ ‘My dear sirs’ (cries number three), ‘I give him five days at the outside; after which you will see him at our end of the table, making like moan with ourselves. He is a new pair of shoes just now, and is treated with all ceremony. Wait till he has been worn a few times, and the mud has done its work; he will be flung under the bed, poor wretch, like the rest of us, to be a receptacle for bugs.’ Such are some among the many comments you excite; and, for all we know, mischief may be brewing at this moment.
Meanwhile, you are the guest of the evening, and the principal theme of conversation. Your unwonted situation has led you on to drink more than was advisable. For some time you have been feeling uncomfortable effects from your host’s light, eager wine. To get up before the rest would be bad manners: to remain is perilous. The drinking is prolonged; subject upon subject is started, spectacle after spectacle is produced; for your host is determined that you shall see all he has to show. You suffer the torments of the damned. You see nothing of what is going forward: some favourite singer or musician is performing — you hear him not; and while you force out some complimentary phrase, you are praying that an earthquake may swallow up all, or that the news of a fire may break up the party.
Such, my friend, is your first dinner, the best you will ever get. For my part, give me a dinner of herbs, with liberty to eat when I will and as much as I will. I shall spare you the recital of the nocturnal woes that follow your excess. The next morning, you have to come to terms as to the amount of your salary, and the times of payment. Appearing in answer to his summons, you find two or three friends with him. He bids you be seated, and begins to speak. ‘You have now seen the sort of way in which we live — no ostentation, no fuss; everything quite plain and ordinary. Now you will consider everything here as your own. It would be a strange thing, indeed, were I to entrust you with the highest responsibility of all, the moral guidance of myself and my children’— if there are children to be taught —‘and yet hesitate to place the rest at your disposal. Something, however, must be settled. I know your moderate, independent spirit. I quite realize that you come to us from no mercenary motive, that you are influenced only by the regard and uniform respect which will be assured to you in this house. Still, as I say, something must be settled. Now, my dear sir, tell me yourself, what you think right; remembering that there is something to be expected at the great festivals; for you will not find me remiss in that respect, though I say nothing definite at present; and these occasions, as you know, come pretty frequently in the course of the year. This consideration will no doubt influence you in settling the amount of your salary; and apart from that, it sits well on men of culture like yourself, to be above the thought of money.’ Your hopes are blasted at the words, and your proud spirit is tamed. The dream of the millionaire and landed proprietor fades away, as you gradually catch his parsimonious drift. Yet you smirk appreciation of the promise. You are to ‘consider everything as your own’; there, surely, is something solid? ’Tis a draught (did you but know it)
That wets the lips, but leaves the palate dry. After an interval of embarrassment, you leave the matter to his decision. He declines the responsibility, and calls for the intervention of one of the company: let him name a sum, at once worthy of your acceptance, and not burdensome to his purse, which has so many more urgent calls upon it. ‘Sir,’ says this officious old gentleman, who has been a toady from his youth, ‘Sir, you are the luckiest man in Rome. Deny it if you can! You have gained a privilege which many a man has longed for, and is not like to obtain at Fortune’s hands. You have been admitted to enjoy the company and share the hearth and home of the first citizen of our empire. Used aright, such a privilege will be more to you than the wealth of a Croesus or a Midas. Knowing as I do how many there are — persons of high standing — who would be glad to pay money down, merely for the honour and glory of the acquaintanceship, of being seen in his company, and ranking as his friends and intimates — knowing this, I am at a loss for words in which to express my sense of your good fortune. You are not only to enjoy this happiness, but to be paid for enjoying it! Under the circumstances, I think we shall satisfy your most extravagant expectations, if we say’— and he names a sum which in itself is of the smallest, quite apart from all reference to your brilliant hopes. However, there is nothing for it but to submit with a good grace. It is too late now for escape; you are in the toils. So you open your mouth for the bit, and are very manageable from the first. You give your rider no occasion to keep a tight rein, or to use the spur; and at last by imperceptible degrees you are quite broken in to him.
The outside world from that time watches you with envy. You dwell within his courts; you have free access; you are become a person of consequence. Yet it is now incomprehensible to you how they can suppose you to be happy. At the same time, you are not without a certain exultation: you cheat yourself from day to day with the thought that there are better things to come. Quite the contrary turns out to be the case. Your prospects, like the proverbial sacrifice of Mandrobulus, dwindle and contract from day to day. Gradually you get some faint glimmerings of the truth. It begins to dawn upon you at last, that those golden hopes were neither more nor less than gilded bubbles: the vexations, on the other hand, are realities; solid, abiding, uncompromising realities. ‘And what are these vexations?’ you will perhaps exclaim; ‘I see nothing so vexatious about the matter; I know not what are the hardships and the drudgery alluded to.’ Then listen. And do not confine yourself to the article of drudgery, but keep a sharp look-out for ignominy, for degradation, for everything, in short, that is unworthy of a free man.
Let me remind you then, to begin with, that you are no longer free-born, no longer a man of family. Birth, freedom, ancestry, all these you will leave on the other side of the door, when you enter upon the fulfilment of your servile contract; for Freedom will never bear you company in that ignoble station. You are a slave, wince as you may at the word; and, be assured, a slave of many masters; a downward-looking drudge, from morning till night
serving for sorry wage.
Then again, you are a backward pupil: Servitude was not the nurse of your childhood; you are getting on in years when she takes you in hand; accordingly, you will do her little credit, and give little satisfaction to your lord. Recollections of Freedom will exercise their demoralizing influence upon you, causing you to jib at times, and you will make villanous work of your new profession. Or will your aspirations after Freedom be satisfied, perhaps, with the thought, that you are no son of a Pyrrhias or a Zopyrion, no Bithynian, to be knocked down under the hammer of a bawling auctioneer? My dear sir, when pay-day comes round each month, and you mingle in the herd of Pyrrhiases and Zopyrions, and hold out your hand for the wage that is due to you, what is that but a sale? No need of an auctioneer, for the man who can cry his own wares, and hawks his liberty about from day to day. Wretch! (one is prompted to exclaim, and particularly when the culprit is a professed philosopher) Wretch! Were you captured and sold by a pirate or a brigand, you would bewail your lot, and think that Fortune had dealt hardly with you. Were a man to lay violent hands on you, and claim a master’s rights in you, loud and bitter would be your outcry: ‘By heaven and earth, ’tis monstrous! I appeal to the laws!’ And now, at an age at which a born slave may begin to look towards Freedom, now for a few pence do you sell yourself, your virtue and wisdom, in one parcel? And could Plato’s noble words, could all that Chrysippus and Aristotle have said, of the blessings of freedom and the curse of slavery, raise no compunction in you? Do you count it no shame to be pitted against toadies and vulgar parasites? no shame to sit at the noisy banquets of a promiscuous, and for the most part a disreputable company, a Greek among Romans, wearing the foreign garb of philosophy, and stammering their tongue with a foreign accent? How fulsome are your flatteries on these occasions! how indecent your tipplings! And next morning the bell rings, and up you must get, losing the best of your sleep, to trudge up and down with yesterday’s mud still on your shoes. Were lupines and wild herbs so scarce with you? had the springs ceased to give their wonted supply, that you were brought to such a pass? No, the cause of your captivity is too clear. Not water, not lupines were the object of your desire, but dainty viands and fragrant wines; and your sin has found you out: you are hooked like a pike by your greedy jaws. We have not far to look for the reward of gluttony. Like a monkey with a collar about its neck, you are kept to make amusement for the company; fancying yourself supremely happy, because you are unstinted in the matter of dried figs. As to freedom and generosity, they are fled, with the memories of Greece, and have left no trace behind them. And would that that were all, the disgrace of falling from freedom to servitude! Would that your employments were not those of a very menial! Consider: are your duties any lighter than those of a Dromo or a Tibius? As to the studies in which your employer professed an interest when he engaged you, they are nothing to him. Shall an ass affect the lyre? Remove from these men’s minds the gold and the silver, with the cares that these involve, and what remains? Pride, luxury, sensuality, insolence, wantonness, ignorance. Consuming must be their desire, doubt it not, for the wisdom of Homer, the eloquence of Demosthenes, the sublimity of Plato!
No, your employer has no need of your services in this direction. On the other hand, you have a long beard and a venerable countenance; the Grecian cloak hangs admirably upon your shoulders, and you are known to be a professor of rhetoric, or literature, or philosophy; it will not be amiss, he thinks, to have such pursuits represented in the numerous retinue that marches before him. It will give him an air of Grecian culture, of liberal curiosity in fact. Friend, friend! your stock-intrade would seem to be not words of wisdom, but a cloak and a beard. If you would do your duty, therefore, be always well in evidence; begin your unfailing attendance from the early hours of the morning, and never quit his side. Now and again he places a hand upon your shoulder, and mutters some nonsense for the benefit of the passers-by, who are to understand that though he walk abroad the Muses are not forgotten, that in all his comings and goings he can find elegant employment for his mind. Breathless and perspiring, you trot, a pitiable spectacle, at the litter’s side; or if he walks — you know what Rome is — up hill and down dale after him you tramp. While he is paying a call on a friend, you are left outside, where, for lack of a seat, you are fain to take out your book and read standing.
Night finds you hungry and thirsty. You snatch an apology for a bath; and it is midnight or near it before you get to dinner. You are no longer an honoured guest; no longer do you engage the attention of the company. You have retired to make room for some newer capture. Thrust into the most obscure corner, you sit watching the progress of dinner, gnawing in canine sort any bones that come down to you and regaling yourself with hungry zest on such tough mallow-leaves — the wrappers of daintier fare — as may escape the vigilance of those who sit above you. No slight is wanting. You have not so much as an egg to call your own; for there is no reason why you should expect to be treated in the same way as a stranger; that would be absurd. The birds that fall to your lot are not like other birds. Your neighbour gets some plump, luscious affair; you, a poor half-chicken, or lean pigeon, an insult, a positive outrage in poultry. As often as not, an extra guest appears unexpectedly, and the waiter solves the difficulty by removing your share (with the whispered consolation that you are ‘one of the family’), and placing it before the new-comer. When the joint, be it pork or venison, is brought in to be carved, let us hope that you stand well with the carver, or you will receive a Promethean helping of ‘bones wrapped up in fat.’ And the way in which a dish is whisked past you, after remaining with your neighbour till he can eat no more! — what free man would endure it, though he were as innocent of gall as any stag? And I have said nothing yet of the wine. While the other guests are drinking of some rare old vintage, you have vile thick stuff, whose colour you must industriously conceal with the help of a gold or silver cup, lest it should betray the estimation in which the drinker is held. It would be something if you could get enough even of this. Alas! you may call and call: the waiter is
as one that marketh not.
Many are your grievances; nay, all is one huge grievance. And the climax is reached, when you find yourself eclipsed by some minion, some dancing-master, some vile Alexandrian patterer of Ionic lays. How should you hope to rank with the minister of Love’s pleasures, with the stealthy conveyer of billets-doux? You cower shamefaced in your corner, and bewail your hard lot, as well you may; cursing your luck that you have never a smattering of such graceful accomplishments yourself. I believe you wish that you could turn love-songs, or sing other men’s with a good grace; perceiving as you do what a thing it is to be in request. Nay, you could find it in you to play the wizard’s, the fortune-teller’s part; to deal in thrones and in millions of money. For these, too, you observe, make their way in the world, and are high in favour. Gladly would you enter on any one of these vocations, rather than be a useless castaway. Alas, even these are beyond you; you lack plausibility. It remains for you to give place to others; to endure neglect, and keep your complaints to yourself.
Nay, more. Should some slave whisper that you alone withheld your praise, when his mistress’s favourite danced or played, the neglect may cost you dear. Then let your dry throat be as busy as any thirsty frog’s. See to it, that your voice is heard leading the chorus of applause; and time after time, when all else are silent, throw in some studied servile compliment. The situation is not without humour. Hungry as you are, ay, and thirsty into the bargain, you must anoint yourself with oil of gladness, and crown your head with garlands. It reminds one of the offerings made by recent mourners at a tomb. The tomb gets the ointment and the garlands, while the mourners drink and enjoy the feast.
If your patron is of a jealous disposition, and has a young wife or handsome children, and you are not wholly without personal attractions, then beware! you are on dangerous ground. Many are the ears of a king, and many the eyes, that see not the truth only, but ever something over and above the truth, lest they should seem to fail of their office. Imagine yourself, therefore, at a Persian banquet. Keep your eyes downwards, lest a eunuch should catch them resting on one of the concubines. For see, there stands another with his bow ever on the stretch: one glance at the forbidden object as you raise your cup, and his arrow is through your jaw before you can put it down.
And now dinner is over; you retire, and snatch a little sleep. But at cock-crow you are aroused. ‘Wretch! Worm that I am!’ you exclaim. ‘To sacrifice the pursuits, the society of former days, the placid life wherein sleep was measured by inclination, and my comings and goings were unfettered, and all to precipitate myself bodily into this hideous gulf! And why? What, in God’s name, is my glorious recompense? Was there no other way? Could I not have provided for myself better than this, and preserved liberty and free-will into the bargain? Alas! the lion is fast bound in the net. I am haled hither and thither. Pitiable is my lot, where no honour is to be won, no favour to be hoped for. Untaught, unpractised in the arts of flattery, I am pitted against professionals. I am no choice spirit, no jolly companion; to raise a laugh is beyond me. My presence (well do I know it) is a vexation to my patron, and then most when he is in his most gracious mood. He finds me sullen; and how to attune myself to him I know not. If I wear a grim face, I am a sour fellow, scarcely to be endured. If I assume my most cheerful expression, my smiles arouse his contempt and disgust. As well attempt to act a comic part in the mask of tragedy! And what is the end of it all? My present life has been another’s: do I look to have a new life which shall be my own?’
Your soliloquy is interrupted by the bell. The old routine awaits you: you must trudge, and you must stand; and first anoint your limbs, if you would hold out to the end. Dinner will be the same as ever, and go on as late as ever. The change from all your former habits, the wakeful night, the violent exercise, the exhaustion, are slowly undermining your health at this moment, and preparing you for consumption or colic, for asthma or the delights of gout. However, you hold out in spite of all, though many a time your right place would be in bed. But that would never do: that looks like shamming, like shirking your work. The result is that you grow as pallid as a man at the point of death.
So much for your city life. And now for an excursion into the country. I will content myself with a single detail. As likely as not it is a wet day. Your turn for the carriage (as might be expected) comes last. You wait and wait, till at last its return is out of the question, and you are squeezed into some vehicle with the cook, or with my lady’s friseur, without even a proper allowance of straw. I shall make no scruple of relating to you an experience of Thesmopolis the Stoic, which I had from his own mouth; a most amusing incident, and just the sort of thing one might expect to find happening again. He was in the service of a certain wealthy and luxurious lady of quality, whom on one occasion he had to accompany on a journey from Rome. The fun began at once. The philosopher received as his travelling companion a beardless exquisite of the pitch-plastering persuasion, by whom, you may be certain, my lady set great store; his name, she informed the philosopher, was ‘Robinetta.’ Is not this a promising start? — the grave and reverend Thesmopolis, with his hoary beard (you know what a long, venerable affair it is), side by side with this rouged and painted ogler, whose drooping neck and plucked throat suggested the vulture rather than the robin! ’Twas all that Thesmopolis could do to persuade him not to wear his hair-net; and as it was he had a sad journey of it, with the fellow singing and whistling all the time — I daresay he would have danced there and then, if Thesmopolis had not prevented him. But there was more to come, as you will see. ‘Thesmopolis,’ cries my lady, calling him to her, ‘I have a great favour to ask of you; now please don’t say no, and don’t wait to be asked twice, there’s a good creature.’ Of course, he said he would do anything she wished. ‘I only ask you, because I know you are to be trusted; you are so good-natured and affectionate! I want you to take my little dog Myrrhina in with you, and see that she wants for nothing. Poor little lady! she is soon to become a mother. These hateful, inattentive servants take no notice of me when we are travelling, much less of her. You will be doing me a great kindness, I assure you, in taking charge of her; I am so fond of the sweet little pet!’ She prayed and almost wept; and Thesmopolis promised. Imagine the ludicrous picture. The little beast peeping out from beneath the philosophic cloak; within licking distance of that beard, which perhaps still held traces of the thick soup of yesterday; yapping away with its shrill pipe of a voice, as Maltese terriers will; and no doubt taking other liberties, which Thesmopolis did not think worth mentioning. That night at dinner, the exquisite, his fellow traveller, after cracking a passable joke here and there at the expense of the other guests, came to Thesmopolis. ‘Of him,’ he remarked, ‘I have only this to say, that our Stoic has turned Cynic.’ According to what I heard, the little animal actually littered in his mantle!
Such are the caprices, nay, the insults, let me rather say, with which the patron gradually breaks the spirit of his dependants. I know myself of an orator, a very free speaker, who was actually ordered to stand up and deliver a speech at table; and a masterly speech it was, trenchant and terse. He received the congratulations of the company on being timed by a wine — instead of a water-clock; and this affront, it is said, he was content to put up, for the consideration of 8 pounds. But what of that? Wait till you get a patron who has poetical or historical tendencies, and spouts passages of his own works all through dinner: you must praise, you must flatter, you must devise original compliments for him — or die in the attempt. Then there are the beaux, the Adonises and Hyacinths, as you must be careful to call them, undeterred by the eighteen inches or so of nose that some of them carry on their faces. Do your praises halt? ’Tis envy, ’tis treason! Away with you, Philoxenus that you are, to Syracusan quarries! — Let them be orators, let them be philosophers, if they will: what matter for a solecism here and there? Find Attic elegance, find honey of Hymettus in every word; and pronounce it law henceforth, to speak as they speak.
If we had only men to deal with, it would be something: but there are the women too. For among the objects of feminine ambition is this, of having a scholar or two in their pay, to dance attendance at the litter’s side; it adds one more to the list of their adornments, if they can get the reputation of culture and philosophy, of turning a song which will bear comparison with Sappho’s. So they too keep their philosopher, their orator, or their litterateur; and give him audience — when, think you? Why, at the toilet, by all that is ridiculous, among the rouge-pots and hair-brushes; or else at the dinner-table. They have no leisure at other times. As it is, the philosopher is often interrupted by the entrance of a maid with a billet-doux. Virtue has then to bide her time; for the audience will not be resumed till the gallant has his answer.
At rare intervals, at the Saturnalia or the Feast of Minerva, you will be presented with a sorry cloak, or a worn-out tunic; and a world of ceremony will go to the presentation. The first who gets wind of the great man’s intention flies to you with the news of what is in store for you; and the bringer of glad tidings does not go away empty-handed. The next morning a dozen of them arrive, conveying the present, each with his tale of how he spoke up for you, or the hints he threw out, or how he was entrusted with the choice, and chose the best. Not a man of them but departs with your money in his pocket, grumbling that it is no more.
As to that salary, it will be paid to you sixpence at a time, and there will be black looks when you ask for it. Still, you must get it somehow. Ply your patron therefore with flatteries and entreaties, and pay due observance to his steward, and let it be the kind of observance that stewards like best; nor must you forget your kind introducer. You do get something at last; but it all goes to pay the tailor, the doctor, or the shoemaker, and you are left the proud possessor of nothing at all.
Meanwhile, jealousy is rife, and some slander is perhaps working its stealthy way to ears which are predisposed to hear anything to your discredit. For your employer perceives that by this time incessant fatigues have worn you out; you are crippled, you are good for nothing more, and gout is coming on. All the profit that was to be had of you, he has effectually sucked out. Your prime has gone by, your bodily vigour is exhausted, you are a tattered remnant. He begins to look about for a convenient dunghill whereon to deposit you, and for an able-bodied substitute to do your work. You have attempted the honour of one of his minions: you have been trying to corrupt his wife’s maid, venerable sinner that you are! — any accusation will serve. You are gagged and turned out neck and crop into the darkness. Away you go, helpless and destitute, with gout for the cheering companion of your old age. Whatever you once knew, you have unlearnt in all these years: on the other hand, you have developed a paunch like a balloon; a monster insatiable, inexorable, which has acquired a habit of asking for more, and likes not at all the unlearning process. It is not to be supposed that any one else will give you employment, at your age; you are like an old horse, whose very hide has deteriorated in value. Not to mention that the worst interpretation will be put upon your late dismissal; you will be credited with adultery, or poisoning, or something of that kind. Your accuser, you see, is convincing even in silence; whereas you — you are a loose-principled, unscrupulous Greek. That is the character we Greeks bear; and it serves us right; I see excellent grounds for the opinion they have of us. Greek after Greek who enters their service sets up (in default of any other practical knowledge) for wizard or poisoner, and deals in love-charms and evil spells; and these are they who talk of culture, who wear grey beards and philosophic cloaks! When these, who are accounted the best of us, stand thus exposed, when men observe their interested servility, their gross flatteries at table and elsewhere, it is not to be wondered at that we have all fallen under suspicion. Those whom they have cast off, they hate, and seek to make an end of them altogether; arguing, naturally enough, that men who know their secrets, and have seen them in all their nakedness, may divulge many a foible which will not bear the light; and the thought is torment to them. The fact is, that these great men are for all the world like handsomely bound books. Outside are the gilt edges and the purple cover: and within? a Thyestes feasts upon his own children; an Oedipus commits incest with his mother; a Tereus woos two sisters at once. Such are these human books: their brilliancy attracts all eyes, but between the purple covers lurks many a horrid tale. Turn over the pages of any one of them, and you find a drama worthy the pen of Sophocles or Euripides: close the volume — all is gilt edge and exquisite tooling. Well may they hate the confidants of such crimes, and plot their destruction! What if the outcast should take to rehearsing in public the tragedy that he has got by heart?
I am minded to give you, after the manner of Cebes, a life-picture of Dependence; with this before your eyes, you may judge for yourself, whether it is the life for you. I would gladly call in the aid of an Apelles or a Parrhasius, an Aetion or a Euphranor, but no such perfect painters are to be found in these days; I must sketch you the picture in outline as best I can. I begin then with tall golden gates, not set in the plain, but high upon a hill. Long and steep and slippery is the ascent; and many a time when a man looks to reach the top, his foot slips, and he is plunged headlong. Within the gates sits Wealth, a figure all of gold (so at least she seems); most fair, most lovely. Her lover painfully scales the height, and draws near to the door; and that golden sight fills him with amazement. The beautiful woman in gorgeous raiment who now takes him by the hand is Hope. As she leads him in, his spirit is stricken with awe. Hope still shows the way; but two others, Despair and Servitude, now take charge of him, and conduct him to Toil, who grinds the poor wretch down with labour, and at last hands him over to Age. He looks sickly now, and all his colour is gone. Last comes Contempt, and laying violent hands on him drags him into the presence of Despair; it is now time for Hope to take wing and vanish. Naked, potbellied, pale and old, he is thrust forth, not by those golden gates by which he entered, but by some obscure back-passage. One hand covers his nakedness; with the other he would fain strangle himself. Now let Regret meet him without, dropping vain tears and heaping misery on misery — and my picture is complete.
Examine it narrowly in all its details, and see whether you like the idea of going in at my golden front door, to be expelled ignominiously at the back. And whichever way you decide, remember the words of the wise man: ‘Blame not Heaven, but your own choice.’
25 The Dioscuri, Castor and Pollux, who were supposed to appear to sailors in distress.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:52