What other letters from Cicero we possess were written almost exclusively with the view of keeping the army together, and continuing the contest against Antony. There are among them a few introductory letters of little or no interest. And these military despatches, though of importance as showing the eager nature of the man, seem, as we read them, to be foreign to his nature. He does not understand war, and devotes himself to instigating men to defend the Republic, of whom we suspect that they were not in the least affected by the words they received from him. The correspondence as to this period of his life consists of his letters to the Generals, and of theirs to him. There are nearly as many of the one as of the other, and the reader is often inclined to doubt whether Cicero be writing to Plancus or Plancus to Cicero. He remained at Rome, and we can only imagine him as busy among the official workshops of the State, writing letters, scraping together money for the troops, struggling in vain to raise levies, amid a crowd of hopeless, doubting, disheartened Senators, whom he still kept together by his eloquence as Republicans, though each was eager to escape.
But who can be made Consuls in the place of Pansa and Hirtius? Octavian, who had not left Italy after the battle of Mutina, was determined to be one; but the Senate, probably under the guidance of Cicero, for a time would not have him. There was a rumor that Cicero had been elected — or is said to have been such a rumor. Our authority for it comes from that correspondence with Marcus Brutus on the authenticity of which we do not trust, and the date of which we do not know.1 “When I had already written my letter, I heard that you had been made Consul. When that is done I shall believe that we shall have a true Republic, and one supported by its own strength.” But probably neither was the rumor true, nor the fact that there was such a rumor. It was not thus that Octavian meant to play his part. He had been passed over by Cicero when a General against Antony was needed. Decimus had been used, and Hirtius and Pansa had been employed as though they had been themselves strong as were the Consuls of old. So they were to Cicero — in whose ears the very name of Consul had in it a resonance of the magnificence of Rome. Octavian thought that Pansa and Hirtius were but Cæsar’s creatures, who at Cæsar’s death had turned against him. But even they had been preferred to him. In those days he was very quick to learn. He had been with the army, and with Cæsar’s soldiers, and was soon instructed in the steps which it was wise that he should take. He put aside, as with a sweep of his hand, all the legal impediments to his holding the Consulship. Talk to him of age! He had already heard that word “boy” too often. He would show them what a boy would do. He would let them understand that there need be no necessity for him to canvass, to sue for the Consulship cap in hand, to have morning levees and to know men’s names — as had been done by Cicero. His uncle had not gone through those forms when he had wanted the Consulship. Octavian sent a military order by a band of officers, who, marching into the Senate, demanded the office. When the old men hesitated, one Cornelius, a centurion, showed them his sword, and declared that by means of that should his General be elected Consul. The Greek biographers and historians, Plutarch, Dio, and Appian, say that he was minded to make Cicero his fellow-Consul, promising to be guided by him in everything; but it could hardly have been so, with the feelings which were then hot against Cicero in Octavian’s bosom. Dio Cassius is worthy of little credit as to this period, and Appian less so, unless when supported by Latin authority. And we find that Plutarch inserts stories with that freedom which writers use who do not suppose that others coming after them will have wider sources of information than their own. Octavian marched into Rome with his legions, and had himself chosen Consul in conjunction with Quintius Pedius, who had also been one of the coheirs to Cæsar’s will. This happened in September. Previous to this Cicero had sent to Africa for troops; but the troops when they came all took part with the young Cæsar.
A story is told which appears to have been true, and to have assisted in creating that enmity which at last induced Octavian to assent to Cicero’s death. He was told that Cicero had said that “the young man was to be praised, and rewarded, and elevated!”2 The last word, “tollendum,” has a double meaning; might be elevated to the skies — or to the “gallows.” In English, if meaning the latter, we should say that such a man must be “put out of the way.” Decimus Brutus told this to Cicero as having been repeated by Sigulius, and Cicero answers him, heaping all maledictions upon Sigulius. But he does not deny the words, or their intention — and though he is angry, he is angry half in joke. He had probably allowed himself to use the witticism, meaning little or nothing — choosing the phrase without a moment’s thought, because it contained a double meaning. No one can conceive that he meant to imply that young Cæsar should be murdered. “Let us reward him, but for the moment let us be rid of him.” And then, too, he had in the same sentence called him a boy. As far as evidence goes, we know that the words were spoken. We can trust the letter from Decimus to Cicero, and the answer from Cicero to Decimus. And we know that, a short time afterward, Octavian, sitting in the island near Bologna with Antony, consented that Cicero’s name should be inserted in the fatal list as one of those doomed to be murdered.
In the mean time Lepidus had taken his troops over to Antony, and Pollio joined them soon afterward with his from Spain. After that it was hardly to be expected that Plancus should hesitate. There has always been a doubt whether Plancus should or should not be regarded as a traitor. He held out longer than the others, and is supposed to have been true in those assurances which he made to Cicero of Republican fervor. Why was he bound to obey Cicero, who was then at Rome, sending out his orders without official authority? While the Consuls had been alive he could obey the Consuls; and at the Consuls’ death he could for a while follow the spirit of their instructions. But as that spirit died away he found himself without orders other than Cicero’s. In this condition was it not better for him to go with the other Generals of the Empire rather than to perish with a falling party? In addition to this it will happen at such a time that the soldiers themselves have a will of their own. With them the name of Cæsar was still powerful, and to their thinking Antony was fighting on dead Cæsar’s side. When we read the history of this year, the fact becomes clear that out of Rome Cæsar’s name was more powerful than Cicero’s eloquence. Governed by such circumstances, driven by events which he could not control, Plancus has the merit of having been the last among the doubtful Generals to desert the cause which Cicero had at heart. Cassius and Brutus in the East were still collecting legions for the battle of Philippi. With that we shall have no trouble here. In the West, Plancus found himself bound to follow the others, and to join Antony and Lepidus in spite of the protestations he had made. To those who read Cicero’s letters of this year the question must often arise whether Plancus was a true man. I have made his excuse to the reader with all that I can say in his favor. The memory of the man is, however, unpleasant to me.
Decimus, when he found himself thus alone, endeavored to force his way with his army along the northern shore of the Adriatic, so as to join Marcus Brutus in Macedonia. To him, as one of those who had slain Cæsar, no power was left of deserting. He was doomed unless he was victorious. He was deserted by his soldiers, who left him in batches, and at last was taken alive, when wandering through the country, and sent (dead) to Antony. Marcus Brutus and Cassius seem to have turned a deaf ear to all Cicero’s entreaties that they should come to his rescue. Cicero in his last known letter — which however was written as far back as in July — is very eager with Cassius: “Only attempts are heard of your army, very great in themselves, but we expect to hear of deeds. * * * Nothing can be grander or more noble than yourself, and therefore it is that we are longing for you here in Rome. * * * Believe me that everything depends on you and Brutus — that we are waiting for both of you. For Brutus we are waiting constantly.”3 This was after Lepidus had gone, but while Plancus was supposed to be as yet true — or rather, not yet false. He did, no doubt, write letters to Brutus urging him in the same way. Alas, alas! it was his final effort made for the Republic.
In September Octavian marched into Rome as a conqueror, at the head of those troops from Africa which had been sent as a last resource to help the Republicans. Then we may imagine that Cicero recognized the fact that there was left nothing further for which to struggle. The Republic was done, his dream was over, and he could only die. Brutus and Cassius might still carry on the contest; but Rome had now fallen a second time, in spite of his efforts, and all hope must have fled from him. When Cæsar had conquered at Pharsalia, and on his return from the East had graciously met him at Brundisium, and had generously accorded to him permission to live under the shadow of his throne, the time for him must have been full of bitterness. But he had not then quite realized the meaning of a tyrant’s throne. He had not seen how willingly the people would submit themselves, how little they cared about their liberty; nor had he as yet learned the nature of military despotism. Rome had lived through Sulla’s time, and the Republic had been again established. It might live through Cæsar’s period of command. When Cæsar had come to him and supped with him, as a prince with one of his subjects, his misery had been great. Still there was a hope, though he knew not from whence. Those other younger men had felt as he had felt — and Cæsar had fallen. To his eyes it was as though some god had interfered to restore to him, a Roman, his ancient form of government. Cæsar was now dead, and all would be right — only that Antony was left alive. There was need for another struggle before Consuls, Prætors, and Ædiles could be elected in due order; and when he found that the struggle was to be made under his auspices, he girded up his loins and was again happy. No man can be unhappy who is pouring out his indignation in torrents, and is drinking in the applause of his audience. Every hard word hurled at Antony, and every note of praise heard in return, was evidence to him of his own power. He did believe, while the Philippics were going on, that he was stirring up a mighty power to arouse itself and claim its proper dominion over the world. There were moments between in which he may have been faint-hearted — in which he may have doubted as to young Cæsar — in which he feared that Pansa might escape from him, or that Decimus would fall before relief could reach him; but action lent a pleasantness and a grace to it all. It is sweet to fight with the hope of victory. But now, when young Cæsar had marched into Rome with his legions, and was doubtless prepared to join himself to Antony, there was no longer anything for Cicero to do in this world.
It is said, but not as I think on good authority, that Cicero went out to meet Cæsar — and if to meet him, then also to congratulate him. Appian tells us that in the Senate Cicero hastened to congratulate Cæsar, assuring him how anxious he had been to secure the Consulship for him, and how active. Cæsar smiled, and said that Cicero had perhaps been a little late in his friendship.4 Dio Cassius only remarks that Cæsar was created Consul by the people in the regular way, two Consuls having been chosen; and adds that the matter was one of great glory to Cæsar, seeing that he had obtained the Consulship at an unusually early age.5 But, as I have said above, their testimony for many reasons is to be doubted. Each wrote in the interest of the Cæsars, and, in dealing with the period before the Empire, seems only to have been anxious to make out some connected story which should suit the Emperor’s views. Young Cæsar left Rome still with the avowed purpose of proceeding against Antony as against one declared by the Senate to be an enemy; but the purpose was only avowed. Messengers followed him on the road, informing him that the ban had been removed, and he was then at liberty to meet his friend on friendly terms. Antony had sent word to him that it was not so much his duty as young Cæsar’s to avenge the death of his uncle, and that unless he would assist him, he, Antony, would take his legions and join Brutus and Cassius.6 I prefer to believe with Mr. Forsyth that Cicero had retired with his brother Quintus to one of his villas. Plutarch tells us that he went to his Tusculan retreat, and that on receiving news of the proscriptions he determined to remove to Astura, on the sea-side, in order that he might be ready to escape into Macedonia. Octavian, in the mean time, having caused a law to be passed by Pedius condemning all the conspirators to death, went northward to meet Antony and Lepidus at Bononia, the Bologna of today. Here it was necessary that the terms of the compact should be settled by which the spoils of the world should be divided among them; and here they met, these three men, on a small river island, remote from the world — where, as it is supposed, each might think himself secure from the other. Antony and Lepidus were men old in craft — Antony in middle life, and Lepidus somewhat older. Cæsar was just twenty-one; but from all that we have been able to gather as to that meeting, he was fully able to hold his own with his elders. What each claimed as his share in the Empire is not so much matter of history as the blood which each demanded. Paterculus says that the death-warrants which were then signed were all arranged in opposition to Cæsar.7 But Paterculus wrote as the servant of Tiberius, and had been the servant of Augustus. It was his object to tell the story as much in favor of Augustus as it could be told. It is said that, debating among themselves the murders which each desired for his own security, young Cæsar, on the third day only, gave up Cicero to the vengeance of Antony. It may have been so. It is impossible that we should have a record of what took place from day to day on that island. But we do know that there Cicero’s death was pronounced, and to that doom young Cæsar assented. It did not occur to them, as it would have done to Julius Cæsar at such a time, that it would be better that they should show their mercy than their hatred. This proscription was made by hatred and not by fear. It was not Brutus and Cassius against whom it was directed — the common enemies of the three Triumviri. Sulla had attempted to stamp out a whole faction, and so far succeeded as to strike dumb with awe the remainder. But here the bargain of death was made by each against the other’s friends. “Your brother shall go,” said Antony to Lepidus. “If so, your uncle also,” said Lepidus to Antony. So the one gave up his brother and the other his uncle, to indulge the private spleen of his partner; and Cicero must go to appease both. As it happened, though Cicero’s fate was spoken, the two others escaped their doom. “Nothing so bad was done in those days,” says Paterculus, “that Cæsar should have been compelled to doom any one to death, or that such a one as Cicero should have been doomed by any.”8 Middleton thinks, and perhaps with fair reason, that Cæsar’s objection was feigned, and that his delay was made for show. A slight change in quoting the above passage, unintentionally made, favors his view; “Or that Cicero should have been proscribed by him,” he says, turning “ullo” into “illo.” The meaning of the passage seems to be, that it was sad that Cæsar should have been forced to yield, or that any one should have been there to force him. As far as Cæsar is concerned, it is palliative rather than condemnatory. Suetonius, indeed, declares that though Augustus for a time resisted the proscription, having once taken it in hand he pursued it more bloodily than the others.9 It is said that the list when completed contained the names of three hundred Senators and two thousand Knights; but their fate was for a time postponed, and most of them ultimately escaped. We have no word of their deaths, as would have been the case had they all fallen. Seventeen were named for instant execution, and against these their doom went forth. We can understand that Cicero’s name should have been the first on the list.
We are told that when the news reached Rome the whole city was struck with horror. During the speaking of the Philippics the Republican party had been strong and Cicero had been held in favor. The soldiers had still clung to the memory of Cæsar; but the men of mark in the city, those who were indolent and rich and luxurious, the “fish-ponders” generally, had thought that, now Cæsar was dead, and especially as Antony had left Rome, their safest course would be to join the Republic. They had done so, and had found their mistake. Young Cæsar had first come to Rome and they had been willing enough to receive him, but now he had met Antony and Lepidus, and the bloody days of Sulla were to come back upon them. All Rome was in such a tumult of horror and dismay that Pedius, the new Consul, was frightened out of his life by the clamor. The story goes that he ran about the town trying to give comfort, assuring one and another that he had not been included in the lists, till, as the result of it all, he himself, when the morning came, died from the exertion and excitement.
There is extant a letter addressed to Octavian — supposed to have been written by Cicero, and sometimes printed among his works — which, if written by him, must have been composed about this time. It no doubt was a forgery, and probably of a much later date; but it serves to show what were the feelings presumed to have been in Cicero’s bosom at the time. It is full of abuse of Antony, and of young Cæsar. I can well imagine that such might have been Cicero’s thoughts as he remembered the praise with which he had laden the young man’s name; how he had decreed to him most unusual honors and voted statues for him. It had all been done in order that the Republic might be preserved, but had all been done in vain. It must have distressed him sorely at this time as he reflected how much eulogy he had wasted. To be sneered at by the boy when he came back to Rome to assume the Consulship, and to be told, with a laugh, that he had been a little late in his welcome! And to hear that the boy had decreed his death in conjunction with Antony and Lepidus! This was all that Rome could do for him at the end — for him who had so loved her, suffered so much for her, and been so valiant on her behalf! Are you not a little late to welcome me as one of my friends? the boy had said when Cicero had bowed and smiled to him. Then the next tidings that reached him contained news that he was condemned! Was this the youth of whom he had declared, since the year began, that “he knew well all the boy’s sentiments; that nothing was dearer to the lad than the Republic, nothing more reverent than the dignity of the Senate?” Was it for this that he had bade the Senate “fear nothing” as to young Octavian, “but always still look for better and greater things?” Was it for this that he had pledged his faith for him with such confident words —“I promise for him, I become his surety, I engage myself, conscript fathers, that Caius Cæsar will always be such a citizen as he has shown himself today?”10 And thus the young man had redeemed his tutor’s pledges on his behalf! “A little late to welcome me, eh?” his pupil had said to him, and had agreed that he should be murdered. But, as I have said, the story of that speech rests on doubtful authority.
Had not Cicero too rejoiced at the uncle’s murder? And having done so, was he not bound to endure the enmity he had provoked? He had not indeed killed Cæsar, or been aware that he was to be killed; but still it must be said of him that, having expressed his satisfaction at what had been done, he had identified himself with those who had killed him, and must share their fate. The slaying of a tyrant was almost by law enjoined upon Romans — was at any rate regarded as a virtue rather than a crime. There of course arises the question, who is to decide whether a man be a tyrant? and the idea being radically wrong, becomes enveloped in difficulty out of which there is no escape. But there remains as a fact the existence of the feeling which was at the time held to have justified Brutus — and also Cicero. A man has to inquire of his own heart with what amount of criminality he can accuse the Cicero of the day, or the young Augustus. Can any one say that Cicero was base to have rejoiced that Cæsar had been killed? Can any one not regard with horror the young Consul, as he sat there in the privacy of the island, with Antony on one side and Lepidus on the other, and then in the first days of his youth, with the down just coming on his cheeks, sending forth his edict for slaughtering the old friend of the Republic?B.C. 43, ætat. 64.
It is supposed that Cicero left Rome in company with his brother Quintus, and that at first they went to Tusculum. There was no bar to their escaping from Italy had they so chosen, and probably such was their intention as soon as tidings reached them of the proscription. It is pleasant to think that they should again have become friends before they died. In truth, Marcus the elder was responsible for his brother’s fate. Quintus had foreseen the sun rising in the political horizon, and had made his adorations accordingly. He, with others of his class, had shown himself ready to bow down before Cæsar. With his brother’s assent he had become Cæsar’s lieutenant in Gaul, such employment being in conformity with the practice of the Republic. When Cæsar had returned, and the question as to power arose at once between Cæsar and Pompey, Quintus, who had then been with his brother in Cilicia, was restrained by the influence of Marcus; but after Pharsalia the influence of Marcus was on the wane. We remember how young Quintus had broken away and had joined Cæsar’s party. He had sunk so low that he had become “Antony’s right hand.” In that direction lay money, luxury, and all those good things which the government of the day had to offer. Cicero was so much in Cæsar’s eyes, that Cæsar despised the elder and the younger Quintus for deserting their great relative, and would hardly have them. The influence of the brother and the uncle sat heavily on them. The shame of being Cæsarean while he was Pompeian, the shame of siding with Antony while he sided with the Republic, had been too great for them. While he was speaking his Philippics they could not but be enthusiastic on the same side. And now, when he was proscribed, they were both proscribed with him. As the story goes, Quintus returned from Tusculum to Rome to seek provision for their journey to Macedonia, there met his son, and they both died gallantly. Antony’s hirelings came upon the two together, or nearly together, and, finding the son first, put him to the torture, so to learn from him the place of his father’s concealment; then the father, hearing his son’s screams, rushed out to his aid, and the two perished together. But this story also comes to us from Greek sources, and must be taken for what it is worth.
Marcus, alone in his litter, travelled through the country to his sea-side villa at Astura. Then he went on to Formiæ, sick with doubt, not knowing whether to stay and die, or encounter the winter sea in such boat as was provided for him. Should he seek the uncomfortable refuge of Brutus’s army? We can remember his bitter exclamations as to the miseries of camp life. He did go on board; but was brought back by the winds, and his servants could not persuade him to make another attempt. Plutarch tells us that he was minded to go to Rome, to force his way into young Cæsar’s house and there to stab himself, but that he was deterred from this melodramatic death by the fear of torture. The story only shows how great had been the attention given to every detail of his last moments, and what the people in Rome had learned to say of them. The same remark applies to Plutarch’s tale as to the presuming crows who pecked at the cordage of his sails when his boat was turned to go back to the land, and afterward with their beaks strove to drag the bedclothes from off him when he lay waiting his fate the night before the murderers came to him.
He was being carried down from his villa at Formiæ to the sea-side when Antony’s emissaries came upon him in his litter. There seem to have been two of them — both soldiers and officers in the pay of Antony — Popilius Lænas and Herennius. They overtook him in the wood, through which paths ran from the villa down to the sea-shore. On arriving at the house they had not found Cicero, but were put upon his track by a freedman who had belonged to Quintus, named Philologus. He could hardly have done a kinder act than to show the men the way how they might quickly release Cicero from his agony. They went down to the end of the wood, and there met the slaves bearing the litter. The men were willing to fight for their master; but Cicero, bidding them put down the chair, stretched out his neck and received his death-blow. Antony had given special orders to his servants. They were to bring Cicero’s head and his hands — the hands which had written the Philippics, and the tongue which had spoken them — and his order was obeyed to the letter. Cicero was nearly sixty-four when he died, his birthday being on the 3d of January following. It would be hardly worth our while to delay ourselves for a moment with the horrors of Antony’s conduct, and those of his wife Fulvia — Fulvia the widow of Clodius and the wife of Antony — were it not that we may see what were the manners to which a great Roman lady had descended in those days in which the Republic was brought to an end. On the rostra was stuck up the head and the hands as a spectacle to the people, while Fulvia specially avenged herself by piercing the tongue with her bodkin. That is the story of Cicero’s death as it has been generally told.
We are told also that Rome heard the news and saw the sight with ill-suppressed lamentation. We can easily believe that it should have been so. I have endeavored, as I have gone on with my work, to compare him to an Englishman of the present day; but there is no comparing English eloquence to his, or the ravished ears of a Roman audience to the pleasure taken in listening to our great orators. The world has become too impatient for oratory, and then our Northern senses cannot appreciate the melody of sounds as did the finer organs of the Roman people. We require truth, and justice, and common-sense from those who address us, and get much more out of our public speeches than did the old Italians. We have taught ourselves to speak so that we may be believed — or have come near to it. A Roman audience did not much care, I fancy, whether the words spoken were true. But it was indispensable that they should be sweet — and sweet they always were. Sweet words were spoken to them, with their cadences all measured, with their rhythm all perfect; but no words had ever been so sweet as those of Cicero. I even, with my obtuse ears, can find myself sometimes lifted by them into a world of melody, little as I know of their pronunciation and their tone. And with the upper classes — those who read — his literature had become almost as divine as his speech. He had come to be the one man who could express himself in perfect language. As in the next age the Eclogues of Virgil and the Odes of Horace became dear to all the educated classes because of the charm of their expression, so in their time, I fancy, had become the language of Cicero. It is not surprising that men should have wept when they saw that ghastly face staring at them from the rostra, and the protruding tongue and the outstretched hands. The marvel is that, seeing it, they should still have borne with Antony.
That which Cicero has produced in literature is, as a rule, admitted to be excellent; but his character as a man has been held to be tarnished by three faults — dishonesty, cowardice, and insincerity. As to the first, I have denied it altogether, and my denial is now submitted to the reader for his judgment. It seems to have been brought against him not in order to make him appear guilty, but because it has appeared to be impossible that, when others were so deeply in fault, he should have been innocent. That he should have asked for nothing, that he should have taken no illicit rewards, that he should not have submitted to be feed, but that he should have kept his hands clean while all around him were grasping at everything — taking money, selling their aid for stipulated payments, grinding miserable creditors — has been too much for men to believe. I will not take my readers back over the cases brought against him, but will ask them to ask themselves whether there is one supported by evidence fit to go before a jury. The accusations have been made by men clean-handed themselves; but to them it has appeared unreasonable to believe that a Roman oligarch of those days should be an honest gentleman.
As to his cowardice, I feel more doubt as to my power of carrying my readers with me, though no doubt as to Cicero’s courage. Cowardice in a man is abominable. But what is cowardice? and what courage? It is a matter in which so many errors are made! Tinsel is so apt to shine like gold and dazzle the sight! In one of the earlier chapters of this book, when speaking of Catiline, I have referred to the remarks of a contemporary writer: “The world has generally a generous word for the memory of a brave man dying for his cause!” “All wounded in front,” is quoted by this author from Sallust. “Not a man taken alive! Catiline himself gasping out his life ringed around with corpses of his friends.” That is given as a picture of a brave man dying for his cause, who should excite our admiration even though his cause were bad. In the previous lines we have an intended portrait of Cicero, who, “thinking, no doubt, that he had done a good day’s work for his patrons, declined to run himself into more danger.” Here is one story told of courage, and another of fear. Let us pause for a moment and regard the facts. Catiline, when hunted to the last gasp, faced his enemy and died fighting like a man — or a bull. Who is there cannot do so much as that? For a shilling or eighteen-pence a day we can get an army of brave men who will face an enemy — and die, if death should come. It is not a great thing, nor a rare, for a man in battle not to run away. With regard to Cicero the allegation is that he would not be allowed to be bribed to accuse Cæsar, and thus incur danger. The accusation which is thus brought against him is borrowed from Sallust, and is no doubt false; but I take it in the spirit in which it is made. Cicero feared to accuse Cæsar, lest he should find himself enveloped, through Cæsar’s means, in fresh danger. Grant that he did so. Was he wrong at such a moment to save his life for the Republic — and for himself? His object was to banish Catiline, and not to catch in his net every existing conspirator. He could stop the conspiracy by securing a few, and might drive many into arms by endeavoring to encircle all. Was this cowardice? During all those days he had to live with his life in his hands, passing about among conspirators who he knew were sworn to kill him, and in the midst of his danger he could walk and talk and think like a man. It was the same when he went down into the court to plead for Milo, with the gladiators of Clodius and the soldiery of Pompey equally adverse to him. It was the same when he uttered Philippic after Philippic in the presence of Antony’s friends. True courage, to my thinking, consists not in facing an unavoidable danger. Any man worthy of the name can do that. The felon that will be hung tomorrow shall walk up to the scaffold and seem ready to surrender the life he cannot save. But he who, with the blood running hot through his veins, with a full desire of life at his heart, with high aspirations as to the future, with everything around him to make him happy — love and friendship and pleasant work — when he can willingly imperil all because duty requires it, he is brave. Of such a nature was Cicero’s courage.
As to the third charge — that of insincerity — I would ask of my readers to bethink themselves how few men are sincere now? How near have we approached to the beauty of truth, with all Christ’s teaching to guide us? Not by any means close, though we are nearer to it than the Romans were in Cicero’s days. At any rate we have learned to love it dearly, though we may not practise it entirely. He also had learned to love it, but not yet to practise it quite so well as we do. When it shall be said of men truly that they are thoroughly sincere, then the millennium will have come. We flatter, and love to be flattered. Cicero flattered men, and loved it better. We are fond of praise, and all but ask for it. Cicero was fond of it, and did ask for it. But when truth was demanded from him, truth was there.
Was Cicero sincere to his party, was he sincere to his friends, was he sincere to his family, was he sincere to his dependents? Did he offer to help and not help? Did he ever desert his ship, when he had engaged himself to serve? I think not. He would ask one man to praise him to another — and that is not sincere. He would apply for eulogy to the historian of his day — and that is not sincere. He would speak ill or well of a man before the judge, according as he was his client or his adversary — and that perhaps is not sincere. But I know few in history on whose positive sincerity in a cause his adherents could rest with greater security. Look at his whole life with Pompey — as to which we see his little insincerities of the moment because we have his letters to Atticus; but he was true to his political idea of a Pompey long after that Pompey had faded from his dreams. For twenty years we have every thought of his heart; and because the feelings of one moment vary from those of another, we call him insincere. What if we had Pompey’s thoughts and Cæsar’s, would they be less so? Could Cæsar have told us all his feelings? Cicero was insincere: I cannot say otherwise. But he was so much more sincere than other Romans as to make me feel that, when writing his life, I have been dealing with the character of one who might have been a modern gentleman.
1 Ad Brutum, lib. i., 4.
2 Ad Div., lib. xi., 20: “Ipsum Cæsarem nihil sane de te questum, nisi quod diceret, te dixisse, laudandum adolescentem, ornandum, tollendum.”
3 Ad Div., lib. xii., 10.
4 Appian, lib. iii., 92.
5 Dio Cassius, lib. xlvi., 46.
6 Vell. Paterculus, lib. ii., 65.
7 Vell. Paterculus, lib. ii., 66: “Repugnante Cæsare, sed frustra adversus duos, instauratum Sullani exempli malum, proscriptio.”
8 Vell. Paterculus, lib. ii., 66: “Nihil tam indignum illo tempore fuit, quam quod aut Cæsar aliquem proscribere coactus est, aut ab ullo Cicero proscriptus est.”
9 Suetonius, Augustus, 27: “In quo restitit quidem aliquamdiu collegis, ne qua fieret proscriptio, sed inceptam utroque acerbius exercuit.”
10 Phil., iv., ca. xviii.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55