We now come to that period of Cicero’s life in which, by common consent of all who have hitherto written of him, he is supposed to have shown himself as least worthy of his high name. Middleton, who certainly loved his hero’s memory and was always anxious to do him justice, condemns him. “It cannot be denied that in this calamity of his exile he did not behave himself with that firmness which might reasonably be expected from one who had borne so glorious a part in the Republic.” Morabin, the French biographer, speaks of the wailings of his grief, of its injustice and its follies. “Cicéron était trop plein de son malheur pour donner entrée à de nouvelles espérances,” he says. “Il avait supporté ce malheur avec peu de courage,” says another Frenchman, M. Du Rozoir, in introducing us to the speeches which Cicero made on his return. Dean Merivale declares that “he marred the grace of the concession in the eyes of posterity”— alluding to the concession made to popular feeling by his voluntary departure from Rome, as will hereafter be described —“by the unmanly lamentations with which he accompanied it.” Mommsen, with a want of insight into character wonderful in an author who has so closely studied the history of the period, speaks of his exile as a punishment inflicted on a “man notoriously timid, and belonging to the class of political weather-cocks.” “We now come,” says Mr. Forsyth, “to the most melancholy period of Cicero’s life, melancholy not so much from its nature and the extent of the misfortunes which overtook him, as from the abject prostration of mind into which he was thrown.” Mr. Froude, as might be expected, uses language stronger than that of others, and tells us that “he retired to Macedonia to pour out his sorrows and his resentments in lamentations unworthy of a woman.” We have to admit that modern historians and biographers have been united in accusing Cicero of want of manliness during his exile. I propose — not, indeed, to wash the blackamoor white — but to show, if I can, that he was as white as others might be expected to have been in similar circumstances.
We are, I think, somewhat proud of the courage shown by public men of our country who have suffered either justly or unjustly under the laws. Our annals are bloody, and many such have had to meet their death. They have done so generally with becoming manliness. Even though they may have been rebels against the powers of the day, their memories have been made green because they have fallen like brave men. Sir Thomas More, who was no rebel, died well, and crowned a good life by his manner of leaving it. Thomas Cromwell submitted to the axe without a complaint. Lady Jane Grey, when on the scaffold, yielded nothing in manliness to the others. Cranmer and the martyr bishops perished nobly. The Earl of Essex, and Raleigh, and Strafford, and Strafford’s master showed no fear when the fatal moment came. In reading the fate of each, we sympathize with the victim because of a certain dignity at the moment of death. But there is, I think, no crisis of life in which it is so easy for a man to carry himself honorably as that in which he has to leave it. “Venit summa dies et ineluctabile tempus.” No doubting now can be of avail. No moment is left for the display of conduct beyond this, which requires only decorum and a free use of the pulses to become in some degree glorious. The wretch from the lowest dregs of the people can achieve it with a halter round his neck. Cicero had that moment also to face; and when it came he was as brave as the best Englishman of them all. But of those I have named no one had an Atticus to whom it had been the privilege of his life to open his very soul, in language so charming as to make it worth posterity’s while to read it, to study it, to sift it, and to criticise it. Wolsey made many plaints in his misery, but they have reached us in such forms of grace that they do not disparage him; but then he too had no Atticus. Shaftesbury and Bolingbroke were dismissed ministers and doomed to live in exile, the latter for many years, and felt, no doubt, strongly their removal from the glare of public life to obscurity. We hear no complaint from them which can justify some future critic in saying that their wails were unworthy of a woman; but neither of them was capable of telling an Atticus the thoughts of his mind as they rose. What other public man ever had an Atticus to whom, in the sorrows which the ingratitude of friends had brought upon him, he could disclose every throb of his heart?
I think that we are often at a loss, in our efforts at appreciation of character, and in the expressions of our opinion respecting it, to realize the meaning of courage and manliness. That sententious Swedish Queen, one of whose foolish maxims I have quoted, has said that Cicero, though a coward, was capable of great actions, because she did not know what a coward was. To doubt — to tremble with anxiety — to vacillate hither and thither between this course and the other as to which may be the better — to complain within one’s own breast that this or that thing has been an injustice — to hesitate within one’s self, not quite knowing which way honor may require us to go — to be indignant even at fancied wrongs — to rise in wrath against another, and then, before the hour has passed, to turn that wrath against one’s self — that is not to be a coward. To know what duty requires, and then to be deterred by fear of results — that is to be a coward; but the man of many scruples may be the greatest hero of them all. Let the law of things be declared clearly so that the doubting mind shall no longer doubt, so that scruples may be laid at rest, so that the sense of justice may be satisfied — and he of whom I speak shall be ready to meet the world in arms against him. There are men, very useful in their way, who shall never doubt at all, but shall be ready, as the bull is ready, to encounter any obstacles that there may be before them. I will not say but that for the coarse purposes of the world they may not be the most efficacious, but I will not admit that they are therefore the bravest. The bull, who has no imagination to tell him what the obstacle may do to him, is not brave. He is brave who, fully understanding the potentiality of the obstacle, shall, for a sufficient purpose, move against it.
This Cicero always did. He braved the murderous anger of Sulla when, as a young man, he thought it well to stop the greed of Sulla’s minions. He trusted himself amid the dangers prepared for him, when it was necessary that with extraordinary speed he should get together the evidence needed for the prosecution of Verres. He was firm against all that Catiline attempted for his destruction, and had courage enough for the responsibility when he thought it expedient to doom the friends of Catiline to death. In defending Milo, whether the cause were good or bad, he did not blench.1 He joined the Republican army in Macedonia though he distrusted Pompey and his companions. When he thought that there was a hope for the Republic, he sprung at Antony with all the courage of a tigress protecting her young; and when all had failed and was rotten around him, when the Republic had so fallen that he knew it to be gone — then he was able to give his neck to the swordsman with all the apparent indifference of life which was displayed by those countrymen of our own whom I have named.
But why did he write so piteously when he was driven into exile? Why, at any rate, did he turn upon his chosen friend and scold him, as though that friend had not done enough for friendship? Why did he talk of suicide as though by that he might find the easiest way of escape?
I hold it to be natural that a man should wail to himself under a sense, not simply of misfortune, but of misfortune coming to him from the injustice of others, and specially from the ingratitude of friends. Afflictions which come to us from natural causes, such as sickness and physical pain, or from some chance such as the loss of our money by the breaking of a bank, an heroic man will bear without even inward complainings. But a sense of wrong done to him by friends will stir him, not by the misery inflicted, but because of the injustice; and that which he says to himself he will say to his wife, if his wife be to him a second self, or to his friend, if he have one so dear to him. The testimony by which the writers I have named have been led to treat Cicero so severely has been found in the letters which he wrote during his exile; and of these letters all but one were addressed either to Atticus or to his wife or to his brother.2 Twenty-seven of them were to Atticus. Before he accepted a voluntary exile, as the best solution of the difficulty in which he was placed — for it was voluntary at first, as will be seen — he applied to the Consul Piso for aid, and for the same purpose visited Pompey. So far he was a suppliant, but this he did in conformity with Roman usage. In asking favor of a man in power there was held to be no disgrace, even though the favor asked were one improper to be granted, which was not the case with Cicero. And he went about the Forum in mourning —“sordidatus”— as was the custom with men on their trial. We cannot doubt that in each of these cases he acted with the advice of his friends. His conduct and his words after his return from exile betray exultation rather than despondency.
It is from the letters which he wrote to Atticus that he has been judged — from words boiling with indignation that such a one as he should have been surrendered by the Rome that he had saved, by those friends to whom he had been so true to be trampled on by such a one as Clodius! When a man has written words intended for the public ear, it is fair that he should bear the brunt of them, be it what it may. He has intended them for public effect, and if they are used against him he should not complain. But here the secret murmurings of the man’s soul were sent forth to his choicest friend, with no idea that from them would he be judged by the “historians to come in 600 years,”3 of whose good word he thought so much. “Quid vero historiæ de nobis ad annos DC. prædicarint!” he says, to Atticus. How is it that from them, after 2000 years, the Merivales, Mommsens, and Froudes condemn their great brother in letters whose lightest utterances have been found worthy of so long a life! Is there not an injustice in falling upon a man’s private words, words when written intended only for privacy, and making them the basis of an accusation in which an illustrious man shall be arraigned forever as a coward? It is said that he was unjust even to Atticus, accusing even Atticus of lukewarmness. What if he did so — for an hour? Is that an affair of ours? Did Atticus quarrel with him? Let any reader of these words who has lived long enough to have an old friend, ask himself whether there has never been a moment of anger in his heart — of anger of which he has soon learned to recognize the injustice? He may not have written his anger, but then, perhaps, he has not had the pen of a Cicero. Let those who rebuke the unmanliness of Cicero’s wailings remember what were his sufferings. The story has yet to be told, but I may in rough words describe their nature. Everything was to be taken from him: all that he had — his houses, his books, his pleasant gardens, his busts and pictures, his wide retinue of slaves, and possessions lordly as are those of our dukes and earls. He was driven out from Italy and so driven that no place of delight could be open to him. Sicily, where he had friends, Athens, where he might have lived, were closed against him. He had to look where to live, and did live for a while on money borrowed from his friends. All the cherished occupations of his life were over for him — the law courts, the Forum, the Senate, and the crowded meetings of Roman citizens hanging on his words. The circumstances of his exile separated him from his wife and children, so that he was alone. All this was assured to him for life, as far as Roman law could assure it. Let us think of the condition of some great and serviceable Englishman in similar circumstances. Let us suppose that Sir Robert Peel had been impeached, and forced by some iniquitous sentence to live beyond the pale of civilization: that the houses at Whitehall Gardens and at Drayton had been confiscated, dismantled, and levelled to the ground, and his rents and revenues made over to his enemies; that everything should have been done to destroy him by the country he had served, except the act of taking away that life which would thus have been made a burden to him. Would not his case have been more piteous, a source of more righteous indignation, than that even of the Mores or Raleighs? He suffered under invectives in the House of Commons, and we sympathized with him; but if some Clodius of the day could have done this to him, should we have thought the worse of him had he opened his wounds to his wife, or to his brother, or to his friend of friends?
Had Cicero put an end to his life in his exile, as he thought of doing, he would have been a second Cato to admiring posterity, and some Lucan with rolling verses would have told us narratives of his valor. The judges of today look back to his half-formed purposes in this direction as being an added evidence of the weakness of the man; but had he let himself blood and have perished in his bath, he would have been thought to have escaped from life as honorably as did Junius Brutus It is because he dared to live on that we are taught to think so little of him — because he had antedated Christianity so far as to feel when the moment came that such an escape was, in truth, unmanly. He doubted, and when the deed had not been done he expressed regret that he had allowed himself to live. But he did not do it — as Cato would have done, or Brutus.
It may be as well here to combat, in as few words as possible, the assertions which have been made that Cicero, having begun life as a democrat, discarded his colors as soon as he had received from the people those honors for which he had sought popularity. They who have said so have taken their idea from the fact that, in much of his early forensic work, he spoke against the aristocratic party. He attacked Sulla, through his favorite Chrysogonus, in his defence of Roscius Amerinus. He afterward defended a woman of Arretium in the spirit of antagonism to Sulla. His accusation of Verres was made on the same side in politics, and was carried on in opposition to Hortensius and the oligarchs. He defended the Tribune Caius Cornelius. Then, when he became Consul, he devoted himself to the destruction of Catiline, who was joined with many, perhaps with Cæsar’s sympathy, in the conspiracy for the overthrow of the Republic. Cæsar soon became the leader of the democracy — became rather what Mommsen describes as “Democracy” itself; and as Cicero had defended the Senate from Catiline, and had refused to attach himself to Cæsar, he is supposed to have turned from the political ideas of his youth, and to have become a Conservative when Conservative ideas suited his ambition.
I will not accept the excuse put forward on his behalf, that the early speeches were made on the side of democracy because the exigencies of the occasion required him to so devote his energies as an advocate. No doubt he was an advocate, as are our barristers of today, and, as an advocate, supported this side or that; but we shall be wrong if we suppose that the Roman “patronus” supplied his services under such inducements. With us a man goes into the profession of the law with the intention of making money, and takes the cases right and left, unless there be special circumstances which may debar him from doing so with honor. It is a point of etiquette with him to give his assistance, in turn, as he may be called on; so much so, that leading men are not unfrequently employed on one side simply that they may not be employed on the other side. It should not be urged on the part of Cicero that, so actuated, he defended Amerinus, a case in which he took part against the aristocrats, or defended Publius Sulla, in doing which he appeared on the side of the aristocracy. Such a defence of his conduct would be misleading, and might be confuted. It would be confuted by those who suppose him to have been “notoriously a political trimmer,” as Mommsen has4 called him; or a “deserter,” as he was described by Dio Cassius and by the Pseudo–Sallust,5 by showing that in fact he took up causes under the influence of strong personal motives such as rarely govern an English barrister. These motives were in many cases partly political; but they operated in such a manner as to give no guide to his political views. In defending Sulla’s nephew he was moved, as far as we know, solely by private motives. In defending Amerinus he may be said to have attacked Sulla. His object was to stamp out the still burning embers of Sulla’s cruelty; but not the less was he wedded to Sulla’s general views as to the restoration of the authority of the Senate. In his early speeches, especially in that spoken against Verres, he denounces the corruption of the senatorial judges; but at that very period of his life he again and again expresses his own belief in the glory and majesty of the Senate. In accusing Verres he accused the general corruption of Rome’s provincial governors; and as they were always past-Consuls or past-Prætors, and had been the elite of the aristocracy, he may be said so far to have taken the part of a democrat; but he had done so only so far as he had found himself bound by a sense of duty to put a stop to corruption. The venality of the judges and the rapacity of governors had been fit objects for his eloquence; but I deny that he can be fairly charged with having tampered with democracy because he had thus used his eloquence on behalf of the people.
He was no doubt stirred by other political motives less praiseworthy, though submitted to in accordance with the practice and the known usages of Rome. He had undertaken to speak for Catiline when Catiline was accused of corruption on his return from Africa, knowing that Catiline had been guilty. He did not do so; but the intention, for our present purpose, is the same as the doing. To have defended Catiline would have assisted him in his operations as a candidate for the Consulship. Catiline was a bad subject for a defence — as was Fonteius, whom he certainly did defend — and Catiline was a democrat. But Cicero, had he defended Catiline, would not have done so as holding out his hand to democracy. Cicero, when, in the Pro Lege Manilia, he for the first time addressed the people, certainly spoke in opposition to the wishes of the Senate in proposing that Pompey should have the command of the Mithridatic war; but his views were not democratic. It has been said that this was done because Pompey could help him to the Consulship. To me it seems that he had already declared to himself that among leading men in Rome Pompey was the one to whom the Republic would look with the most security as a bulwark, and that on that account he had resolved to bind himself to Pompey in some political marriage. Be that as it may, there was no tampering with democracy in the speech Pro Lege Manilia. Of all the extant orations made by him before his Consulship, the attentive reader will sympathize the least with that of Fonteius. After his scathing onslaught on Verres for provincial plunder, he defended the plunderer of the Gauls, and held up the suffering allies of Rome to ridicule as being hardly entitled to good government. This he did simply as an advocate, without political motive of any kind — in the days in which he was supposed to be currying favor with democracy — governed by private friendship, looking forward, probably, to some friendly office in return, as was customary. It was thus that afterward he defended Antony, his colleague in the Consulship, whom he knew to have been a corrupt governor. Autronius had been a party to Catiline’s conspiracy, and Autronius had been Cicero’s school-fellow; but Cicero, for some reserved reason with which we are not acquainted, refused to plead for Autronius. There is, I maintain, no ground for suggesting that Cicero had shown by his speeches before his Consulship any party adherence. The declaration which he made after his Consulship, in the speech for Sulla, that up to the time of Catiline’s first conspiracy forensic duties had not allowed him to devote himself to party politics, is entitled to belief: we know, indeed, that it was so. As Quæstor, as Ædile, and as Prætor, he did not interfere in the political questions of Rome, except in demanding justice from judges and purity from governors. When he became Consul then he became a politician, and after that there was certainly no vacillation in his views. Critics say that he surrendered himself to Cæsar when Cæsar became master. We shall come to that hereafter; but the accusation with which I am dealing now is that which charges him with having abandoned the democratic memories of his youth as soon as he had enveloped himself with the consular purple. There had been no democratic promises, and there was no change when he became Consul.
In truth, Cicero’s political convictions were the same from the beginning to the end of his career, with a consistency which is by no means usual in politicians; for though, before his Consulship, he had not taken up politics as a business he had entertained certain political views, as do all men who live in public. From the first to the last we may best describe him by the word we have now in use, as a conservative. The government of Rome had been an oligarchy for many years, though much had been done by the citizens to reduce the thraldom which an oligarchy is sure to exact. To that oligarchy Cicero was bound by all the convictions, by all the practices, and by all the prejudices of his life. When he speaks of a Republic he speaks of a people and of an Empire governed by an oligarchy; he speaks of a power to be kept in the hands of a few — for the benefit of the few, and of the many if it might be-but at any rate in the hands of a few. That those few should be so select as to admit of no new-comers among them, would probably have been a portion of his political creed, had he not been himself a “novus homo.” As he was the first of his family to storm the barrier of the fortress, he had been forced to depend much on popular opinion; but not on that account had there been any dealings between him and democracy. That the Empire should be governed according to the old oligarchical forms which had been in use for more than four centuries, and had created the power of Rome — that was his political creed. That Consuls, Censors, and Senators might go on to the end of time with no diminution of their dignity, but with great increase of justice and honor and truth among them — that was his political aspiration. They had made Rome what it was, and he knew and could imagine nothing better; and, odious as an oligarchy is seen to be under the strong light of experience to which prolonged ages has subjected it, the aspiration on his part was noble. He has been wrongly accused of deserting “that democracy with which he had flirted in his youth.” There had been no democracy in his youth, though there had existed such a condition in the time of the Gracchi. There was none in his youth and none in his age. That which has been wrongly called democracy was conspiracy — not a conspiracy of democrats such as led to our Commonwealth, or to the American Independence, or to the French Revolution; but conspiracy of a few nobles for the better assurance of the plunder, and the power, and the high places of the Empire. Of any tendency toward democracy no man has been less justly accused than Cicero, unless it might be Cæsar. To Cæsar we must accord the merit of having seen that a continuation of the old oligarchical forms was impracticable This Cicero did not see. He thought that the wounds inflicted by the degeneracy and profligacy of individuals were curable. It is attributed to Cæsar that he conceived the grand idea of establishing general liberty under the sole dominion of one great, and therefore beneficent, ruler. I think he saw no farther than that he, by strategy, management, and courage might become this ruler, whether beneficent or the reverse. But here I think that it becomes the writer, whether he be historian, biographer, or fill whatever meaner position he may in literature, to declare that no beneficence can accompany such a form of government. For all temporary sleekness, for metropolitan comfort and fatness, the bill has to be paid sooner or later in ignorance, poverty, and oppression. With an oligarchy there will be other, perhaps graver, faults; but with an oligarchy there will be salt, though it be among a few. There will be a Cicero now and again — or at least a Cato. From the dead, stagnant level of personal despotism there can be no rising to life till corruption paralyzes the hands of power, and the fabric falls by its own decay Of this no proof can be found in the world’s history so manifest as that taught by the Roman Empire.
I think it is made clear by a study of Cicero’s life and works, up to the period of his exile, that an adhesion to the old forms of the Roman Government was his guiding principle. I am sure that they who follow me to the close of his career will acknowledge that after his exile he lived for this principle, and that he died for it. “Respublica,” the Republic, was the one word which to his ear contained a political charm. It was the shibboleth by which men were to be conjured into well-being. The word constitution is nearly as potent with us. But it is essential that the reader of Roman history and Roman biography should understand that the appellation had in it, for all Roman ears, a thoroughly conservative meaning. Among those who at Cicero’s period dealt with politics in Rome — all of whom, no doubt, spoke of the Republic as the vessel of State which was to be defended by all persons — there were four classes. These were they who simply desired the plunder of the State — the Catilines, the Sullas of the day, and the Antonys; men such as Verres had been, and Fonteius, and Autronius. The other three can be best typified each by one man. There was Cæsar, who knew that the Republic was gone, past all hope. There was Cato —“the dogmatical fool Cato” as Mommsen calls him, perhaps with some lack of the historian’s dignity — who was true to the Republic, who could not bend an inch, and was thus as detrimental to any hope of reconstruction as a Catiline or a Cæsar. Cicero was of the fourth class, believing in the Republic, intent on saving it, imbued amid all his doubts with a conviction that if the “optimates” or “boni”— the leading men of the party — would be true to themselves, Consuls, Censors, and Senate would still suffice to rule the world; but prepared to give and take with those who were opposed to him. It was his idea that political integrity should keep its own hands clean, but should wink at much dirt in the world at large. Nothing, he saw, could be done by Catonic rigor. We can see now that Ciceronic compromises were, and must have been, equally ineffective. The patient was past cure. But in seeking the truth as to Cicero, we have to perceive that amid all his doubts, frequently in despondency, sometimes overwhelmed by the misery and hopelessness of his condition, he did hold fast by this idea to the end. The frequent expressions made to Atticus in opposition to this belief are to be taken as the murmurs of his mind at the moment; as you shall hear a man swear that all is gone, and see him tear his hair, and shall yet know that there is a deep fund of hope within his bosom. It was the ingratitude of his political friends, his “boni” and his “optimates,” of Pompey as their head, which tried him the sorest; but he was always forgiving them, forgiving Pompey as the head of them, because he knew that, were he to be severed from them, then the political world must be closed to him altogether.
Of Cicero’s strength or Cicero’s weakness Pompey seems to have known nothing. He was no judge of men. Cæsar measured him with a great approach to accuracy. Cæsar knew him to be the best Roman of his day; one who, if he could be brought over to serve in Cæsarean ranks, would be invaluable — because of his honesty, his eloquence, and his capability; but he knew him as one who must be silenced if he were not brought to serve on the Cæsarean side. Such a man, however, might be silenced for a while — taught to perceive that his efforts were vain — and then brought into favor by further overtures, and made of use. Personally he was pleasant to Cæsar, who had taste enough to know that he was a man worthy of all personal dignity. But Cæsar was not, I think, quite accurate in his estimation, having allowed himself to believe at the last that Cicero’s energy on behalf of the Republic had been quelled.B.C. 58, ætat. 49.
Now we will go back to the story of Cicero’s exile. Gradually during the preceding year he had learned that Clodius was preparing to attack him, and to doubt whether he could expect protection from the Triumvirate. That he could be made safe by the justice either of the people or by that of any court before which he could be tried, seems never to have occurred to him. He knew the people and he knew the courts too well. Pompey no doubt might have warded off the coming evil; such at least was Cicero’s idea. To him Pompey was the greatest political power as yet extant in Rome; but he was beginning to believe that Pompey would be untrue to him. When he had sent to Pompey a long account of the grand doings of his Consulship, Pompey had replied with faintest praises. He had rejected the overtures of the Triumvirate. In the last letter to Atticus in the year before, written in August,6 he had declared that the Republic was ruined; that they who had brought things to this pass — meaning the Triumvirate — were hostile; but, for himself, he was confident in saying that he was quite safe in the good will of men around him. There is a letter to his brother written in November, the next letter in the collection, in which he says that Pompey and Cæsar promise him everything. With the exception of two letters of introduction, we have nothing from him till he writes to Atticus from the first scene of his exile.
When the new year commenced, Clodius was Tribune of the people, and immediately was active. Piso and Gabinius were Consuls. Piso was kinsman to Piso Frugi, who had married Cicero’s daughter,7and was expected to befriend Cicero at this crisis. But Clodius procured the allotment of Syria and Macedonia to the two Consuls by the popular vote. They were provinces rich in plunder; and it was matter of importance for a Consul to know that the prey which should come to him as Proconsul should be worthy of his grasp. They were, therefore, ready to support the Tribune in what he proposed to do. It was necessary to Cicero’s enemies that there should be some law by which Cicero might be condemned. It would not be within the power of Clodius, even with the Triumvirate at his back, to drive the man out of Rome and out of Italy, without an alleged cause. Though justice had been tabooed, law was still in vogue. Now there was a matter as to which Cicero was open to attack. As Consul he had caused certain Roman citizens to be executed as conspirators, in the teeth of a law which enacted that no Roman citizen should be condemned to die except by a direct vote of the people. It had certainly become a maxim of the constitution of the Republic that a citizen should not be made to suffer death except by the voice of the people. The Valerian, the Porcian, and the Sempronian laws had all been passed to that effect. Now there had been no popular vote as to the execution of Lentulus and the other conspirators, who had been taken red-handed in Rome in the affair of Catiline. Their death had been decreed by the Senate, and the decree of the Senate had been carried out by Cicero; but no decree of the Senate had the power of a law. In spite of that decree the old law was in force; and no appeal to the people had been allowed to Lentulus. But there had grown up in the constitution a practice which had been supposed to override the Valerian and Porcian laws. In certain emergencies the Senate would call upon the Consuls to see that the Republic should suffer no injury, and it had been held that at such moments the Consuls were invested with an authority above all law. Cicero had been thus strengthened when, as Consul, he had struggled with Catiline; but it was an open question, as Cicero himself very well knew. In the year of his Consulship — the very year in which Lentulus and the others had been strangled — he had defended Rabirius, who was then accused of having killed a citizen thirty years before. Rabirius was charged with having slaughtered the Tribune Saturninus by consular authority, the Consuls of the day having been ordered to defend the Republic, as Cicero had been ordered. Rabirius probably had not killed Saturninus, nor did any one now care whether he had done so or not. The trial had been brought about notoriously by the agency of Cæsar, who caused himself to be selected by the Prætor as one of the two judges for the occasion;8 and Cæsar’s object as notoriously was to lessen the authority of the Senate, and to support the democratic interest. Both Cicero and Hortensius defended Rabirius, but he was condemned by Cæsar, and, as we are told, himself only escaped by using that appeal to the people in support of which he had himself been brought to trial. In this, as in so many of the forensic actions of the day, there had been an admixture of violence and law. We must, I think, acknowledge that there was the same leaven of illegality in the proceedings against Lentulus. It had no doubt been the intention of the constitution that a Consul, in the heat of an emergency, should use his personal authority for the protection of the Commonwealth, but it cannot be alleged that there was such an emergency, when the full Senate had had time to debate on the fate of the Catiline criminals. Both from Cæsar’s words as reported by Sallust, and from Cicero’s as given to us by himself, we are aware that an idea of the illegality of the proceeding was present in the minds of Senators at the moment. But, though law was loved at Rome, all forensic and legislative proceedings were at this time carried on with monstrous illegality. Consuls consulted the heavens falsely; Tribunes used their veto violently; judges accepted bribes openly; the votes of the people were manipulated fraudulently. In the trial and escape of Rabirius, the laws were despised by those who pretended to vindicate them. Clodius had now become a Tribune by the means of certain legal provision, but yet in opposition to all law. In the conduct of the affair against Catiline Cicero seems to have been actuated by pure patriotism, and to have been supported by a fine courage; but he knew that in destroying Lentulus and Cethegus he subjected himself to certain dangers. He had willingly faced these dangers for the sake of the object in view. As long as he might remain the darling of the people, as he was at that moment, he would no doubt be safe; but it was not given to any one to be for long the darling of the Roman people. Cicero had become so by using an eloquence to which the Romans were peculiarly susceptible; but though they loved sweet tongues, long purses went farther with them. Since Cicero’s Consulship he had done nothing to offend the people, except to remain occasionally out of their sight; but he had lost the brilliancy of his popularity, and he was aware that it was so.
In discussing popularity in Rome we have to remember of what elements it was formed. We hear that this or that man was potent at some special time by the assistance coming to him from the popular voice. There was in Rome a vast population of idle men, who had been trained by their city life to look to the fact of their citizenship for their support, and who did, in truth, live on their citizenship. Of “panem et circenses” we have all heard, and know that eleemosynary bread and the public amusements of the day supplied the material and æsthetic wants of many Romans. But men so fed and so amused were sure to need further occupations. They became attached to certain friends, to certain patrons, and to certain parties, and soon learned that a return was expected for the food and for the excitement supplied to them. This they gave by holding themselves in readiness for whatever violence was needed from them, till it became notorious in Rome that a great party man might best attain his political object by fighting for it in the streets. This was the meaning of that saying of Crassus, that a man could not be considered rich till he could keep an army in his own pay. A popular vote obtained and declared by a faction fight in the forum was still a popular vote, and if supported by sufficient violence would be valid. There had been street fighting of the kind when Cicero had defended Caius Cornelius, in the year after his Prætorship; there had been fighting of the kind when Rabirius had been condemned in his Consulship. We shall learn by-and-by to what extent such fighting prevailed when Clodius was killed by Milo’s body-guard. At the period of which we are now writing, when Clodius was intent on pursuing Cicero to his ruin, it was a question with Cicero himself whether he would not trust to a certain faction in Rome to fight for him, and so to protect him. Though his popularity was on the wane — that general popularity which, we may presume, had been produced by the tone of his voice and the grace of his language — there still remained to him that other popularity which consisted, in truth, of the trained bands employed by the “boni” and the “optimates,” and which might be used, if need were, in opposition to trained bands on the other side.
The bill first proposed by Clodius to the people with the object of destroying Cicero did not mention Cicero, nor, in truth, refer to him. It purported to enact that he who had caused to be executed any Roman citizen not duly condemned to death, should himself be deprived of the privilege of water or fire.9 This condemned no suggested malefactor to death; but, in accordance with Roman law, made it impossible that any Roman so condemned should live within whatever bounds might be named for this withholding of fire and water. The penalty intended was banishment; but by this enactment no individual would be banished. Cicero, however, at once took the suggestion to himself, and put himself into mourning, as a man accused and about to be brought to his trial. He went about the streets accompanied by crowds armed for his protection; and Clodius also caused himself to be so accompanied. There came thus to be a question which might prevail should there be a general fight. The Senate was, as a body, on Cicero’s side, but was quite unable to cope with the Triumvirate. Cæsar no doubt had resolved that Cicero should be made to go, and Cæsar was lord of the Triumvirate. On behalf of Cicero there was a large body of the conservative or oligarchical party who were still true to him; and they, too, all went into the usual public mourning, evincing their desire that the accused man should be rescued from his accusers.
The bitterness of Clodius would be surprising did we not know how bitter had been Cicero’s tongue. When the affair of the Bona Dea had taken place there was no special enmity between this debauched young man and the great Consul. Cicero, though his own life had ever been clean and well ordered, rather affected the company of fast young men when he found them to be witty as well as clever. This very Clodius had been in his good books till the affair of the Bona Dea. But now the Tribune’s hatred was internecine. I have hitherto said nothing, and need say but little, of a certain disreputable lady named Clodia. She was the sister of Clodius and the wife of Metellus Celer. She was accused by public voice in Rome of living in incest with her brother, and of poisoning her husband. Cicero calls her afterward, in his defence of Cælius, “amica omnium.” She had the nickname of Quadrantaria10 given to her, because she frequented the public baths, at which the charge was a farthing. It must be said also of her, either in praise or in dispraise, that she was the Lesbia who inspired the muse of Catullus. It was rumored in Rome that she had endeavored to set her cap at Cicero. Cicero in his raillery had not spared the lady. To speak publicly the grossest evil of women was not opposed to any idea of gallantry current among the Romans. Our sense of chivalry, as well as decency, is disgusted by the language used by Horace to women who once to him were young and pretty, but have become old and ugly. The venom of Cicero’s abuse of Clodia annoys us, and we have to remember that the gentle ideas which we have taken in with our mother’s milk had not grown into use with the Romans. It is necessary that this woman’s name should be mentioned, and it may appear here as she was one of the causes of that hatred which burnt between Clodius and Cicero, till Clodius was killed in a street row.
It has been presumed that Cicero was badly advised in presuming publicly that the new law was intended against himself, and in taking upon himself the outward signs of a man under affliction. “The resolution,” says Middleton, “of changing his gown was too hasty and inconsiderate, and helped to precipitate his ruin.” He was sensible of his error when too late, and oft reproaches Atticus that, being a stander-by, and less heated with the game than himself, he would suffer him to make such blunders. And he quotes the words written to Atticus: “Here my judgment first failed me, or, indeed, brought me into trouble. We were blind, blind I say, in changing our raiment and in appealing to the populace. * * * I handed myself and all belonging to me over to my enemies, while you were looking on, while you were holding your peace; yes, you, who, if your wit in the matter was no better than mine, were impeded by no personal fears.”11 But the reader should study the entire letter, and study it in the original, for no translator can give its true purport. This the reader must do before he can understand Cicero’s state of mind when writing it, or his relation to Atticus; or the thoughts which distracted him when, in accordance with the advice of Atticus, he resolved, while yet uncondemned, to retire into banishment. The censure to which Atticus is subjected throughout this letter is that which a thoughtful, hesitating, scrupulous man is so often disposed to address to himself. After reminding Atticus of the sort of advice which should have been given — the want of which in the first moment of his exile he regrets — and doing this in words of which it is very difficult now to catch the exact flavor, he begs to be pardoned for his reproaches. “You will forgive me this,” he says. “I blame myself more than I do you; but I look to you as a second self, and I make you a sharer with me of my own folly.” I take this letter out of its course, and speak of it as connected with that terrible period of doubt to which it refers, in which he had to decide whether he would remain in Rome and fight it out, or run before his enemies. But in writing the letter afterward his mind was as much disturbed as when he did fly. I am inclined, therefore, to think that Middleton and others may have been wrong in blaming his flight, which they have done, because in his subsequent vacillating moods he blamed himself. How the battle might have gone had he remained, we have no evidence to show; but we do know that though he fled, he returned soon with renewed glory, and altogether overcame the attempt which had been made to destroy him.
In this time of his distress a strong effort was made by the Senate to rescue him. It was proposed to them that they all as a body should go into mourning on his behalf; indeed, the Senate passed a vote to this effect, but were prevented by the two Consuls from carrying it out. As to what he had best do he and his friends were divided. Some recommended that he should remain where he was, and defend himself by street-fighting should it be necessary. In doing this he would acknowledge that law no longer prevailed in Rome — a condition of things to which many had given in their adherence, but with which Cicero would surely have been the last to comply. He himself, in his despair, thought for a time that the old Roman mode of escape would be preferable, and that he might with decorum end his life and his troubles by suicide. Atticus and others dissuaded him from this, and recommended him to fly. Among these Cato and Hortensius have both been named. To this advice he at last yielded, and it may be doubted whether any better could have been given. Lawlessness, which had been rampant in Rome before, had, under the Triumvirate, become almost lawful. It was Cæsar’s intention to carry out his will with such compliance with the forms of the Republic as might suit him, but in utter disregard to all such forms when they did not suit him. The banishment of Cicero was one of the last steps taken by Cæsar before he left Rome for his campaigns in Gaul. He was already in command of the legions, and was just without the city. He had endeavored to buy Cicero, but had failed. Having failed, he had determined to be rid of him. Clodius was but his tool, as were Pompey and the two Consuls. Had Cicero endeavored to support himself by violence in Rome, his contest would, in fact have been with Cæsar.
Cicero, before he went, applied for protection personally to Piso the Consul, and to Pompey. Gabinius, the other Consul, had already declared his purpose to the Senate, but Piso was bound to him by family ties. He himself relates to us in his oration, spoken after his return, against this Piso, the manner of the meeting between him and Rome’s chief officer. Piso told him — so at least Cicero declared in the Senate, and we have heard of no contradiction — that Gabinius was so driven by debts as to be unable to hold up his head without a rich province; that he himself, Piso, could only hope to get a province by taking part with Gabinius; that any application to the Consuls was useless, and that every one must look after himself.12 Concerning his appeal to Pompey two stories have been given to us, neither of which appears to be true. Plutarch says that when Cicero had travelled out from Rome to Pompey’s Alban villa, Pompey ran out of the back-door to avoid meeting him. Plutarch cared more for a good story than for accuracy, and is not worthy of much credit as to details unless when corroborated. The other account is based on Cicero’s assertion that he did see Pompey on this occasion. Nine or ten years after the meeting he refers to it in a letter to Atticus, which leaves no doubt as to the fact. The story founded on that letter declares that Cicero threw himself bodily at his old friend’s feet, and that Pompey did not lend a hand to raise him, but told him simply that everything was in Cæsar’s hands. This narrative is, I think, due to a misinterpretation of Cicero’s words, though it is given by a close translation of them. He is describing Pompey when Cæsar after his Gallic wars had crossed the Rubicon, and the two late Triumvirates — the third having perished miserably in the East — were in arms against each other. “Alter ardet furore et scelere” he says.13 Cæsar is pressing on unscrupulous in his passion. “Alter is qui nos sibi quondam ad pedes stratos ne sublevabat quidem, qui se nihil contra hujus voluntatem aiebat facere posse.” “That other one,” he continues — meaning Pompey, and pursuing his picture of the present contrast —“who in days gone by would not even lift me when I lay at his feet, and told me that he could do nothing but as Cæsar wished it.” This little supposed detail of biography has been given, no doubt, from an accurate reading of the words; but in it the spirit of the writer’s mind as he wrote it has surely been missed. The prostration of which he spoke, from which Pompey would not raise him, the memory of which was still so bitter to him, was not a prostration of the body. I hold it to have been impossible that Cicero should have assumed such an attitude before Pompey, or that he would so have written to Atticus had he done so. It would have been neither Roman nor Ciceronian, as displayed by Cicero to Pompey. He had gone to his old ally and told him of his trouble, and had no doubt reminded him of those promises of assistance which Pompey had so often made. Then Pompey had refused to help him, and had assured him, with too much truth, that Cæsar’s will was everything. Again, we have to remember that in judging of the meaning of words between two such correspondents as Cicero and Atticus, we must read between the lines, and interpret the words by creating for ourselves something of the spirit in which they were written and in which they were received. I cannot imagine that, in describing to Atticus what had occurred at that interview nine years after it had taken place, Cicero had intended it to be understood that he had really grovelled in the dust.
Toward the end of March he started from Rome, intending to take refuge among his friends in Sicily. On the same day Clodius brought in a bill directed against Cicero by name and caused it to be carried by the people, “Ut Marco Tullio aqua et igni interdictum sit”— that it should be illegal to supply Cicero with fire and water. The law when passed forbade any one to harbor the criminal within four hundred miles of Rome, and declared the doing so to be a capital offence. It is evident, from the action of those who obeyed the law, and of those who did not, that legal results were not feared so much as the ill-will of those who had driven Cicero to his exile. They who refused him succor did do so not because to give it him would be illegal, but lest Cæsar and Pompey would be offended. It did not last long, and during the short period of his exile he found perhaps more of friendship than of enmity; but he directed his steps in accordance with the bearing of party-spirit. We are told that he was afraid to go to Athens, because at Athens lived that Autronius whom he had refused to defend. Autronius had been convicted of conspiracy and banished, and, having been a Catilinarian conspirator, had been in truth on Cæsar’s side. Nor were geographical facts sufficiently established to tell Cicero what places were and what were not without the forbidden circle. He sojourned first at Vibo, in the extreme south of Italy, intending to pass from thence into Sicily. It was there that he learned that a certain distance had been prescribed; but it seems that he had already heard that the Proconsular Governor of the island would not receive him, fearing Cæsar. Then he came north from Vibo to Brundisium, that being the port by which travellers generally went from Italy to the East. He had determined to leave his family in Rome, feeling, probably, that it would be easier for him to find a temporary home for himself than for him and them together. And there were money difficulties in which Atticus helped him.14 Atticus, always wealthy, had now become a very rich man by the death of an uncle. We do not know of what nature were the money arrangements made by Cicero at the time, but there can be no doubt that the losses by his exile were very great. There was a thorough disruption of his property, for which the subsequent generosity of his country was unable altogether to atone. But this sat lightly on Cicero’s heart. Pecuniary losses never weighed heavily with him.
As he journeyed back from Vibo to Brundisium friends were very kind to him, in spite of the law. Toward the end of the speech which he made five years afterward on behalf of his friend C. Plancius he explains the debt of gratitude which he owed to his client, whose kindness to him in his exile had been very great. He commences his story of the goodness of Plancius by describing the generosity of the towns on the road to Brundisium, and the hospitality of his friend Flavius, who had received him at his house in the neighborhood of that town, and had placed him safely on board a ship when at last he resolved to cross over to Dyrrachium. There were many schemes running in his head at this time. At one period he had resolved to pass through Macedonia into Asia, and to remain for a while at Cyzicum. This idea he expresses in a letter to his wife written from Brundisium. Then he goes, wailing no doubt, but in words which to me seem very natural as coming from a husband in such a condition: “O me perditum, O me afflictum;"15 exclamations which it is impossible to translate, as they refer to his wife’s separation from himself rather than to his own personal sufferings. “How am I to ask you to come to me?” he says; “you a woman, ill in health, worn out in body and in spirit. I cannot ask you! Must I then live without you? It must be so, I think. If there be any hope of my return, it is you must look to it, you that must strengthen it; but if, as I fear, the thing is done, then come to me. If I can have you I shall not be altogether destroyed.” No doubt these are wailings; but is a man unmanly because he so wails to the wife of his bosom? Other humans have written prettily about women: it was common for Romans to do so. Catullus desires from Lesbia as many kisses as are the stars of night or the sands of Libya. Horace swears that he would perish for Chloe if Chloe might be left alive. “When I am dying,” says Tibullus to Delia, “may I be gazing at you; may my last grasp hold your hand.” Propertius tells Cynthia that she stands to him in lieu of home and parents, and all the joys of life. “Whether he be sad with his friends or happy, Cynthia does it all.” The language in each case is perfect; but what other Roman was there of whom we have evidence that he spoke to his wife like this? Ovid in his letters from his banishment says much of his love for his wife; but there is no passion expressed in anything that Ovid wrote.
Clodius, as soon as the enactment against Cicero became law, caused it be carried into effect with all its possible cruelties. The criminal’s property was confiscated. The house on the Palatine Hill was destroyed, and the goods were put up to auction, with, as we are told, a great lack of buyers. His choicest treasures were carried away by the Consuls themselves. Piso, who had lived near him in Rome, got for himself and for his father-in-law the rich booty from the town house. The country villas were also destroyed, and Gabinius, who had a country house close by Cicero’s Tusculan retreat, took even the very shrubs out of the garden. He tells the story of the greed and enmity of the Consuls in the speech he made after his return, Pro Domo Sua,16 pleading for the restitution of his household property. “My house on the Palatine was burnt,” he says, “not by any accident, but by arson. In the mean time the Consuls were feasting, and were congratulating themselves among the conspirators, when one boasted that he had been Catiline’s friend, the other that Cethegus had been his cousin.” By this he implies that the conspiracy which during his Consulship had been so odious to Rome was now, in these days of the Triumvirate, again in favor among Roman aristocrats.
He went across from Brundisium to Dyrrachium, and from thence to Thessalonica, where he was treated with most loving-kindness by Plancius, who was Quæstor in these parts, and who came down to Dyrrachium to meet him, clad in mourning for the occasion. This was the Plancius whom he afterward defended, and indeed he was bound to do so. Plancius seems to have had but little dread of the law, though he was a Roman officer employed in the very province to the government of which the present Consul Piso had already been appointed. Thessalonica was within four hundred miles, and yet Cicero lived there with Plancius for some months.
The letters from Cicero during his exile are to me very touching, though I have been told so often that in having written them he lacked the fortitude of a Roman. Perhaps I am more capable of appreciating natural humanity than Roman fortitude. We remember the story of the Spartan boy who allowed the fox to bite him beneath his frock without crying. I think we may imagine that he refrained from tears in public, before some herd of school-fellows, or a bench of masters, or amid the sternness of parental authority; but that he told his sister afterward how he had been tortured, or his mother as he lay against her bosom, or perhaps his chosen chum. Such reticences are made dignified by the occasion, when something has to be won by controlling the expression to which nature uncontrolled would give utterance, but are not in themselves evidence either of sagacity or of courage. Roman fortitude was but a suit of armor to be worn on state occasions. If we come across a warrior with his crested helmet and his sword and his spear, we see, no doubt, an impressive object. If we could find him in his night-shirt, the same man would be there, but those who do not look deeply into things would be apt to despise him because his grand trappings were absent. Chance has given us Cicero in his night-shirt. The linen is of such fine texture that we are delighted with it, but we despise the man because he wore a garment — such as we wear ourselves indeed, though when we wear it nobody is then brought in to look at us.
There is one most touching letter written from Thessalonica to his brother, by whom, after thoughts vacillating this way and that, he was unwilling to be visited, thinking that a meeting would bring more of pain than of service. “Mi frater, mi frater, mi frater!” he begins. The words in English would hardly give all the pathos. “Did you think that I did not write because I am angry, or that I did not wish to see you? I angry with you! But I could not endure to be seen by you. You would not have seen your brother; not him whom you had left; not him whom you had known; not him whom, weeping as you went away, you had dismissed, weeping himself as he strove to follow you.”17 Then he heaps blame on his own head, bitterly accusing himself because he had brought his brother to such a pass of sorrow. In this letter he throws great blame upon Hortensius, whom together with Pompey he accuses of betraying him. What truth there may have been in this accusation as to Hortensius we have no means of saying. He couples Pompey in the same charge, and as to Pompey’s treatment of him there can be no doubt. Pompey had been untrue to his promises because of his bond with Cæsar. It is probable that Hortensius had failed to put himself forward on Cicero’s behalf with that alacrity which the one advocate had expected from the other. Cicero and Hortensius were friends afterward, but so were Cicero and Pompey. Cicero was forgiving by nature, and also by self-training. It did not suit his purposes to retain his enmities. Had there been a possibility of reconciling Antony to the cause of the “optimates” after the Philippics, he would have availed himself of it.
Cicero at one time intended to go to Buthrotum in Epirus, where Atticus possessed a house and property; but he changed his purpose. He remained at Thessalonica till November, and then returned to Dyrrachium, having all through his exile been kept alive by tidings of steps taken for his recall. There seems very soon to have grown up a feeling in Rome that the city had disgraced itself by banishing such a man; and Cæsar had gone to his provinces. We can well imagine that when he had once left Rome, with all his purposes achieved, having so far quieted the tongue of the strong speaker who might have disturbed them, he would take no further steps to perpetuate the orator’s banishment. Then Pompey and Clodius soon quarrelled. Pompey, without Cæsar to direct him, found the arrogance of the Patrician Tribune insupportable. We hear of wheels within wheels, and stories within stories, in the drama of Roman history as it was played at this time. Together with Cicero, it had been necessary to Cæsar’s projects that Cato also should be got out of Rome; and this had been managed by means of Clodius, who had a bill passed for the honorable employment of Cato on state purposes in Cyprus. Cato had found himself obliged to go. It was as though our Prime-minister had got parliamentary authority for sending a noisy member of the Opposition to Asiatic Turkey for six months There was an attempt, or an alleged attempt, of Clodius to have Pompey murdered; and there was street-fighting, so that Pompey was besieged, or pretended to be besieged, in his own house. “We might as well seek to set a charivari to music as to write the history of this political witches’ revel,” says Mommsen, speaking of the state of Rome when Cæsar was gone, Cicero banished, and Pompey supposed to be in the ascendant.18 There was, at any rate, quarrelling between Clodius and Pompey, in the course of which Pompey was induced to consent to Cicero’s return. Then Clodius took upon himself, in revenge, to turn against the Triumvirate altogether, and to repudiate even Cæsar himself. But it was all a vain hurly-burly, as to which Cæsar, when he heard the details in Gaul, could only have felt how little was to be gained by maintaining his alliance with Pompey. He had achieved his purpose, which he could not have done without the assistance of Crassus, whose wealth, and of Pompey, whose authority, stood highest in Rome; and now, having had his legions voted to him, and his provinces, and his prolonged term of years, he cared nothing for either of them.
There is a little story which must be repeated, as against Cicero, in reference to this period of his exile, because it has been told in all records of his life. Were I to omit the little story, it would seem as though I shunned the records which have been repeated as opposed to his credit. He had written, some time back, a squib in which he had been severe upon the elder Curio; so it is supposed; but it matters little who was the object or what the subject. This had got wind in Rome, as such matters do sometimes, and he now feared that it would do him a mischief with the Curios and the friends of the Curios. The authorship was only matter of gossip. Could it not be denied? “As it is written,” says Cicero, “in a style inferior to that which is usual to me, can it not be shown not to have been mine?”19 Had Cicero possessed all the Christian virtues, as we hope that prelates and pastors possess them in this happy land, he would not have been betrayed into, at any rate, the expression of such a wish. As it is, the enemies of Cicero must make the most of it. His friends, I think, will look upon it leniently.
Continued efforts were made among Cicero’s friends at Rome to bring him back, with which he was not altogether contented. He argues the matter repeatedly with Atticus, not always in the best temper. His friends at Rome were, he thought, doing the matter amiss: they would fail, and he would still have to finish his days abroad. Atticus, in his way to Epirus, visits him at Dyrrachium, and he is sure that Atticus would not have left Rome but that the affair was hopeless. The reader of the correspondence is certainly led to the belief that Atticus must have been the most patient of friends; but he feels, at the same time, that Atticus would not have been patient had not Cicero been affectionate and true. The Consuls for the new year were Lentulus and Metellus Nepos. The former was Cicero’s declared friend, and the other had already abandoned his enmity. Clodius was no longer Tribune, and Pompey had been brought to yield. The Senate were all but unanimous. But there was still life in Clodius and his party; and day dragged itself after day, and month after month, while Cicero still lingered at Dyrrachium, waiting till a bill should have been passed by the people. Pompey, who was never whole-hearted in anything, had declared that a bill voted by the people would be necessary. The bill at last was voted, on the 14th of August, and Cicero, who knew well what was being done at Rome, passed over from Dyrrachium to Brundisium on the same day, having been a year and four months absent from Rome. During the year B.C. 57, up to the time of his return, he wrote but three letters that have come to us — two very short notes to Atticus, in the first of which he declares that he will come over on the authority of a decree of the Senate, without waiting for a law. In the second he falls again into despair, declaring that everything is over. In the third he asks Metellus for his aid, telling the Consul that unless it be given soon the man for whom it is asked will no longer be living to receive it. Metellus did give the aid very cordially.
It has been remarked that Cicero did nothing for literature during his banishment, either by writing essays or preparing speeches; and it has been implied that the prostration of mind arising from his misfortunes must have been indeed complete, when a man whose general life was made marvellous by its fecundity had been repressed into silence. It should, however, be borne in mind that there could be no inducement for the writing of speeches when there was no opportunity of delivering them. As to his essays, including what we call his Philosophy and his Rhetoric, they who are familiar with his works will remember how apt he was, in all that he produced, to refer to the writings of others. He translates and he quotes, and he makes constant use of the arguments and illustrations of those who have gone before him. He was a man who rarely worked without the use of a library. When I think how impossible it would be for me to repeat this oft-told tale of Cicero’s life without a crowd of books within reach of my hand, I can easily understand why Cicero was silent at Thessalonica and Dyrrachium. It has been remarked also by a modern critic that we find “in the letters from exile a carelessness and inaccuracy of expression which contrasts strongly with the style of his happier days.” I will not for a moment put my judgment in such a matter in opposition to that of Mr. Tyrrell — but I should myself have been inclined rather to say that the style of Cicero’s letters varies constantly, being very different when used to Atticus, or to his brother, or to lighter friends such as Poetus and Trebatius; and very different again when business of state was in hand, as are his letters to Decimus Brutus, Cassius Brutus, and Plancus. To be correct in familiar letters is not to charm. A studied negligence is needed to make such work live to posterity — a grace of loose expression which may indeed have been made easy by use, but which is far from easy to the idle and unpractised writer. His sorrow, perhaps, required a style of its own. I have not felt my own untutored perception of the language to be offended by unfitting slovenliness in the expression of his grief.
1 See the evidence of Asconius on this point, as to which Cicero’s conduct has been much mistaken. We shall come to Milo’s trial before long.
2 The statement is made by Mr. Tyrrell in his biographical introduction to the Epistles.
3 The 600 years, or anni DC., is used to signify unlimited futurity.
4 Mommsen’s History, book v., ca. v.
5 [Greek: Automalos ônomazeto] is the phrase of Dio Cassius. “Levissume transfuga” is the translation made by the author of the “Declamatio in Ciceronem.” If I might venture on a slang phrase, I should say that [Greek: automalos] was a man who “went off on his own hook.” But no man was ever more loyal as a political adherent than Cicero.
6 Ad Att., ii., 25.
7 We do not know when the marriage took place, or any of the circumstances; but we are aware that when Tullia came, in the following year, B.C. 57, to meet her father at Brundisium, she was a widow.
8 Suetonius, Julius Cæsar, xii.: “Subornavit etiam qui C. Rabirio perduellionis diem diceret.”
9 “Qui civem Romanum indemnatum perimisset, ei aqua at igni interdiceretur.”
10 Plutarch tells us of this sobriquet, but gives another reason for it, equally injurious to the lady’s reputation.
11 Ad Att., lib. iii., 15.
12 In Pisonem, vi.
13 Ad Att., lib. x., 4.
14 We are told by Cornelius Nepos, in his life of Atticus, that when Cicero fled from his country Atticus advanced to him two hundred and fifty sesterces, or about £2000. I doubt, however, whether the flight here referred to was not that early visit to Athens which Cicero was supposed to have made in his fear of Sulla.
15 Ad Fam., lib. xiv., iv.: “Tullius to his Terentia, and to his young Tullia, and to his Cicero,” meaning his boy.
16 Pro Domo Sua, xxiv.
17 Ad Quin. Fra., 1, 3.
18 The reader who wishes to understand with what anarchy the largest city in the world might still exist, should turn to chapter viii. of book v. of Mommsen’s History.
19 Ad Att., lib. iii., 12.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01