The year after the trial of Verres was that of Cicero’s Ædileship. We know but little of him in the performance of the duties of this office, but we may gather that he performed them to the satisfaction of the people. He did not spend much money for their amusements, although it was the custom of Ædiles to ruin themselves in seeking popularity after this fashion; and yet when, two years afterward, he solicited the Prætorship from the people, he was three times elected as first Prætor in all the comitia — three separate elections having been rendered necessary by certain irregularities and factious difficulties. To all the offices, one after another, he was elected in his first year — the first year possible in accordance with his age — and was elected first in honor, the first as Prætor, and then the first as Consul. This, no doubt, was partly due to his compliance with those rules for canvassing which his brother Quintus is said to have drawn out, and which I have quoted; but it proves also the trust which was felt in him by the people. The candidates, for the most part, were the candidates for the aristocracy. They were put forward with the idea that thus might the aristocratic rule of Rome be best maintained. Their elections were carried on by bribery, and the people were for the most part indifferent to the proceeding. Whether it might be a Verres, or an Antony, or a Hortensius, they took the money that was going. They allowed themselves to be delighted with the games, and they did as they were bid. But every now and then there came up a name which stirred them, and they went to the voting pens — ovilia — with a purpose of their own. When such a candidate came forward, he was sure to be first. Such had been Marius, and such had been the great Pompey, and such was Cicero. The two former were men successful in war, who gained the voices of the people by their victories. Cicero gained them by what he did inside the city. He could afford not to run into debt and ruin himself during his Ædileship, as had been common with Ædiles, because he was able to achieve his popularity in another way. It was the chief duty of the Ædiles to look after the town generally — to see to the temples of the gods, to take care that houses did not tumble down, to look to the cleansing of the streets, and to the supply of water. The markets were under them, and the police, and the recurrent festivals. An active man, with common-sense, such as was Cicero, no doubt did his duty as Ædile well.
He kept up his practice as an advocate during his years of office. We have left to us the part of one speech and the whole of another spoken during this period. The former was in favor of Fonteius, whom the Gauls prosecuted for plundering them as Proprætor, and the latter is a civil case on behalf of Cæcina, addressed to the “Recuperatores,” as had been that for Marcus Tullius. The speech for Fonteius is remarkable as being as hard against the provincial Gauls as his speech against Verres had been favorable to the Sicilians. But the Gauls were barbarians, whereas the Sicilians were Greeks. And it should be always remembered that Cicero spoke as an advocate, and that the praise and censure of an advocate require to be taken with many grains of salt. Nothing that these wretched Gauls could say against a Roman citizen ought to be accepted in evidence! “All the Romans,” he says, “who have been in the province wish well to Fonteius. Would you rather believe these Gauls — led by what feeling? By the opinion of men! Is the opinion, then, of your enemies of greater weight than that of your fellow-citizens, or is it the greater credibility of the witnesses? Would you prefer, then, unknown men to known — dishonest men to honest — foreigners to your own countrymen — greedy men to those who come before you for nothing — men of no religion to those who fear the gods — those who hate the Empire and the name of Rome to allies and citizens who are good and faithful?”1 In every word of this he begs the question so as to convince us that his own case was weak; and when he makes a final appeal to the pity of the judges we are sure that Fonteius was guilty. He tells the judges that the poor mother of the accused man has no other support than this son, and that there is a sister, one of the virgins devoted to the service of Vesta, who, being a vestal virgin, cannot have sons of her own, and is therefore entitled to have her brother preserved for her. When we read such arguments as these, we are sure that Fonteius had misused the Gauls. We believe that he was acquitted, because we are told that he bought a house in Rome soon afterward; but we feel that he escaped by the too great influence of his advocate. We are driven to doubt whether the power over words which may be achieved by a man by means of natural gifts, practice, and erudition, may not do evil instead of good. A man with such a tongue as that of Cicero will make the listener believe almost whatever he will; and the advocate is restrained by no horror of falsehood. In his profession alone it is considered honorable to be a bulwark to deception, and to make the worse appear the better cause. Cicero did so when the occasion seemed to him to require it, and has been accused of hypocrisy in consequence. There is a passage in one of the dialogues, De Oratore, which has been continually quoted against him because the word “fibs” has been used with approval. The orator is told how it may become him to garnish his good story with little white lies —“mendaciunculis.”2 The advice does not indeed refer to facts, or to evidence, or to arguments. It goes no farther than to suggest that amount of exaggeration which is used by every teller of a good story in order that the story may be good. Such “mendaciuncula” are in the mouth of every diner-out in London, and we may pity the dinner-parties at which they are not used. Reference is made to them now because the use of the word by Cicero, having been misunderstood by some who have treated his name with severity, has been brought forward in proof of his falsehood. You shall tell a story about a very little man, and say that he is only thirty-six inches. You know very well that he is more than four feet high. That will be a “mendaciunculum,” according to Cicero. The phrase has been passed on from one enemy to another, till the little fibs of Cicero’s recommending have been supposed to be direct lies suggested by him to all advocates, and therefore continually used by him as an advocate. They have been only the garnishing of his drolleries. As an advocate, he was about as false and about as true as an advocate of our own day.3 That he was not paid, and that our English barristers are paid for the work they do, makes, I think, no difference either in the innocency or the falseness of the practice. I cannot but believe that, hereafter, an improved tone of general feeling will forbid a man of honor to use arguments which he thinks to be untrue, or to make others believe that which he does not believe himself. Such is not the state of things now in London, nor was it at Rome in Cicero’s time. There are touches of eloquence in the plea for Fonteius, but the reader will probably agree with me that the orator was well aware that the late governor who was on his trial had misused those unfortunate Gauls.
In the year following that of Cicero’s Ædileship were written the first of his epistles which have come to us. He was then not yet thirty-nine years old — B.C. 68 — and during that year and the next seven were written eleven letters, all to Atticus. Those to his other friends — Ad Familiares, as we have been accustomed to call them; Ad Diversos, they are commonly called now — began only with the close of his consular year. How it has come to pass that there have been preserved only those which were written after a period of life at which most men cease to be free correspondents, cannot be said with certainty. It has probably been occasioned by the fact that he caused his letters to be preserved as soon as he himself perceived how great would be their value. Of the nature of their value it is hardly possible to speak too highly. I am not prepared, indeed, to agree with the often quoted assertion of Cornelius Nepos that he who has read his letters to Atticus will not lack much of the history of those days.4
A man who should have read them and nothing else, even in the days of Augustus, would not have learned much of the preceding age. But if not for the purpose of history, the letters generally have, if read aright, been all but enough for the purpose of biography. With a view to the understanding of the man’s character, they have, I think, been enough. From them such a flood of light has been turned upon the writer that all his nobility and all his defects, all his aspirations and all his vacillations, have been made visible. We know how human he was, and how, too, he was only human — how he sighed for great events, and allowed himself to think sometimes that they could be accomplished by small man[oe]uvres — how like a man he could be proud of his work and boast — how like a man he could despair and almost die. But I wish it to be acknowledged, by those who read his letters in order that they may also read his character, that they were, when written, private letters, intended to tell the truth, and that if they are to be believed in reference to his weaknesses, they are also to be believed in reference to his strength. If they are singularly transparent as to the man — opening, especially to Atticus, the doors of his soul more completely than would even any girl of the nineteenth century when writing to her bosom friend — they must be taken as being more honestly true. To regard the aspirations as hypocritical, and only the meaner effusions of his mind as emblematic of the true man, is both unreasonable and uncharitable. Nor, I think, will that reader grasp the way to see the truth who cannot teach himself what has in Cicero’s case, been the effect of daring to tell to his friend an unvarnished tale. When with us some poor thought does make its way across our minds, we do not sit down and write it to another, nor, if we did, would an immortality be awarded to the letter. If one of us were to lose his all — as Cicero lost his all when he was sent into exile — I think it might well be that he should for a time be unmanned; but he would either not write, or, in writing, would hide much of his feelings. On losing his Tullia, some father of today would keep it all in his heart, would not maunder out his sorrows. Even with our truest love for our friends, some fear is mingled which forbids the use of open words. Whether this be for good or for evil I will not say, but it is so. Cicero, whether he did or did not know that his letters would live, was impeded by no such fear. He said everything that there was within him — being in this, I should say, quite as unlike to other Romans of the day as he was to ourselves. In the collection as it has come to us there are about fifty letters — not from Cicero — written to Cicero by his brother, by Decimus Brutus, by Plancus, and others. It will, I think, be admitted that their tone is quite different from that used by himself. There are none, indeed, from Atticus — none written under terms of such easy friendship as prevailed when many were written by Cicero himself. It will probably be acknowledged that his manner of throwing himself open to his correspondent was peculiar to him. If this be so, he should surely have the advantage as well as the disadvantage of his own mode of utterance. The reader who allows himself to think that the true character of the man is to be read in the little sly things he said to Atticus, but that the nobler ideas were merely put forth to cajole the public, is as unfair to himself as he is to Cicero.
In reading the entire correspondence — the letters from Cicero either to Atticus or to others — it has to be remembered that in the ordinary arrangement of them made by Grævius5 they are often incorrectly paced in regard to chronology. In subsequent times efforts have been made to restore them to their proper position, and so they should be read. The letters to Atticus and those Ad Diversos have generally been published separately. For the ordinary purpose of literary pleasure they may perhaps be best read in that way. The tone of them is different. The great bulk of the correspondence is political, or quasi-political. The manner is much more familiar, much less severe — though not on that account indicating less seriousness — in those written to Atticus than in the others. With one or two signal exceptions, those to Atticus are better worth reading. The character of the writer may perhaps be best gathered from divided perusal; but for a general understanding of the facts of Cicero’s life, the whole correspondence should be taken as it was written. It has been published in this shape as well as in the other, and will be used in this shape in my effort to portray the life of him who wrote them.6B.C. 68, ætat. 39.
We have three letters written when he was thirty-eight, in the year after his Ædileship. In the first he tells his friend of the death of his cousin, Lucius Cicero, who had travelled with him into Sicily, and alludes to the disagreements which had taken place between Pomponia, the sister of Atticus, and her husband, Quintus Cicero — our Cicero’s brother. Marcus, in all that he says of his brother, makes the best of him. That Quintus was a scholar and a man of parts there can be no doubt; one, too, who rose to high office in the Republic. But he was arrogant, of harsh temper, cruel to those dependent on him, and altogether unimbued with the humanity which was the peculiar characteristic of his brother. “When I found him to be in the wrong,” says Cicero, in his first letter, “I wrote to him as to a brother whom I loved; but as to one younger than myself, and whom I was bound to tell of his fault.” As is usual with correspondents, half the letter is taken up with excuses for not writing sooner; then he gives commissions for the purchase of statues for his Tusculan villa, of which we now hear for the first time, and tells his friend how his wife, Terentia, sends her love, though she is suffering from the gout. Tullia also, the dear little Tullia, “deliciæ nostræ,”7sends her love. In the next, he says how a certain house which Atticus had intended to purchase had been secured by Fonteius for 130,000 sesterces — something over £1000, taking the sesterce at 2 d. This no doubt was part of the plunder which Fonteius had taken from the Gauls. Quintus is getting on better with his wife. Then he tells his friend very abruptly that his father died that year on the eighth day before the kalends of December — on the 24th of November. Some question as to the date of the old man’s death had probably been asked. He gives further commissions as to statues, and declares of his Tusculan villa that he is happy only when he is there. In the third letter he promises that he will be ready to pay one Cincius £170 on a certain day, the price probably of more statues, and gives orders to his friend as to the buying of books. “All my prospect of enjoying myself at my ease depends on your goodness.” These were the letters he wrote when he had just ceased to be Ædile.
From the next two years five letters remain to us, chiefly noticeable from the continued commissions given by Cicero to Atticus for statues. Statues and more statues are wanted as ornaments for his Tusculanum. Should there be more than are needed for that villa, he will begin to decorate another that he has, the Formianum, near Caieta. He wants whatever Atticus may think proper for his “palæstra” and “gymnasium.” Atticus has a library or collection of maps for sale, and Cicero engages to buy them, though it seems that he has not at present quite got the money. He reserves, he says, all his little comings-in, “vindemiolas”— what he might make by selling his grapes as a lady in the country might get a little income from her spare butter — in order that he may have books as a resource for his old age. Again, he bids Atticus not to be afraid but what he, Cicero, will be able to buy them some day — which if he can do he will be richer than Crassus, and will envy no one his mansions or his lawns. He also declares that he has betrothed Tullia, then ten years old, to Caius Piso, son of Lucius Piso Frugi. The proposed marriage, which after three years of betrothal was duly solemnized, was considered to be in all respects desirable. Cicero thought very highly of his son-in-law, who was related to Calpurnius Piso, one of the Consuls of that year. So far everything was going well with our orator.B.C. 67, ætat. 40.
He was then candidate for the Prætorship, and was elected first, as has been already said. It was in that year, too that a law was passed in Rome, at the instance of one Gabinius, a tribune, authorizing Pompey to exterminate the pirates in the Mediterranean, and giving him almost unlimited power for this object. Pompey was not, indeed, named in this law. A single general, one who had been Consul, was to be approved by the Senate, with exclusive command by sea and for fifty miles on shore. He was to select as his own officers a hitherto unheard-of number, all of senatorial rank. It was well understood when the law was worded that Pompey alone could fill the place. The Senate opposed the scheme with all its power, although, seven years before, it had acknowledged the necessity of some measure for extirpating the pirates. But jealousies prevailed, and the Senate was afraid of Pompey. Gabinius, however, carried his law by the votes of the people, and Pompey was appointed.
Nothing tells us more clearly the wretched condition of things in Rome at this time than this infliction of pirates, under which their commerce was almost destroyed. Sulla had reestablished the outside show of a strong government — a government which was strong enough to enable rich men to live securely in Rome; but he had done nothing to consolidate the Empire. Even Lucullus in the East had only partially succeeded, leaving Mithridates still to be dealt with by Pompey. Of what nature was the government of the provinces under Sulla’s aristocracy we learn from the trials of Verres, and of Fonteius, and of Catiline. The Mediterranean swarmed with pirates, who taught themselves to think that they had nothing to fear from the hands of the Romans. Plutarch declares to us — no doubt with fair accuracy, because the description has been admitted by subsequent writers — how great was the horror of these depredations.8 It is marvellous to us now that this should have been allowed — marvellous that pirates should reach such a pitch of importance that Verres had found it worth his while to sacrifice Roman citizens in their place. Pompey went forth with his officers, his fleets, and his money, and cleared the Mediterranean in forty days, as Plutarch says. Floras tells us that not a ship was lost by the Romans, and not a pirate left on the seas.9
In the history of Rome at this time we find men of mark whose characters, as we read, become clear to us, or appear to become clear. Of Marius and of Sulla we have a defined idea. Cæsar, with his imperturbable courage, absence of scruples, and assurance of success, comes home to us. Cicero, I think, we certainly may understand. Catiline, Cato, Antony, and Brutus have left their portraits with us. Of Pompey I must acknowledge for myself that I have but a vague conception. His wonderful successes seem to have been produced by so very little power of his own! He was not determined and venomous as was Marius; not cold-blooded and ruthless as was Sulla; certainly not confident as was Cæsar; not humane as was Cicero; not passionate as Catiline; not stoic as was Cato; not reckless as was Antony, nor wedded to the idea of an oligarchy as was Brutus. Success came in his way, and he found it — found it again and again, till fortune seemed to have adopted him. Success lifted him higher and higher, till at last it seemed to him that he must be a Sulla whether he would or no.10 But he could not endure the idea of a rival Sulla. I doubt whether ambition would have prompted him to fight for the empire of the Republic, had he not perceived that that empire would fall into Cæsar’s hands did he not grasp it himself. It would have satisfied him to let things go, while the citizens called him “Magnus,” and regarded him as the man who could do a great thing if he would, if only no rivalship had been forced upon him. Cæsar did force it on him, and then, as a matter of course, he fell. He must have understood warfare from his youth upward, knowing well the purposes of a Roman legion and of Roman auxiliaries. He had destroyed Sertorius in Spain, a man certainly greater than himself, and had achieved the honor of putting an end to the Servile war when Spartacus, the leader of the slaves and gladiators, had already been killed. He must have appreciated at its utmost the meaning of those words, “Cives Romanus.” He was a handsome man, with good health, patient of labor, not given to luxury, reticent, I should say ungenerous, and with a strong touch of vanity; a man able to express but unable to feel friendship; with none of the highest attributes of manhood, but with all the second-rate attributes at their best; a capable, brave man, but one certain to fall crushed beneath the heel of such a man as Cæsar, and as certain to leave such a one as Cicero in the lurch.
It is necessary that the reader should attempt to realize to himself the personal characteristics of Pompey, as from this time forward Cicero’s political life — and his life now became altogether political — was governed by that of Pompey. That this was the case to a great extent is certain — to a sad extent, I think. The two men were of the same age; but Pompey had become a general among soldiers before Cicero had ceased to be a pupil among advocates. As Cicero was making his way toward the front, Pompey was already the first among Romans. He had been Consul seven years before his proper time, and had lately, as we have seen, been invested with extraordinary powers in that matter of putting down the pirates. In some sort the mantle of Sulla had fallen upon him. He was the leader of what we may call the conservative party. If, which I doubt, the political governance of men was a matter of interest to him, he would have had them governed by oligarchical forms. Such had been the forms in Rome, in which, though the votes of the people were the source of all power, the votes hardly went further than the selection of this or that oligarch. Pompey no doubt felt the expediency of maintaining the old order of things, in the midst of which he had been born to high rank, and had achieved the topmost place either by fortune or by merit. For any heartfelt conviction as to what might be best for his country or his countrymen, in what way he might most surely use his power for the good of the citizens generally, we must, I think, look in vain to that Pompey whom history has handed down to us. But, of all matters which interested Cicero, the governance of men interested him the most. How should the great Rome of his day rise to greater power than ever, and yet be as poor as in the days of her comparative insignificance? How should Rome be ruled so that Romans might be the masters of the world, in mental gifts as well as bodily strength, in arts as well as in arms — as by valor, so by virtue? He, too, was an oligarch by strongest conviction. His mind could conceive nothing better than Consuls, Prætors, Censors, Tribunes, and the rest of it; with, however, the stipulation that the Consuls and the Prætors should be honest men. The condition was no doubt an impossible one; but this he did not or would not see. Pompey himself was fairly honest. Up to this time he had shown no egregious lust for personal power. His hands were clean in the midst of so much public plunder. He was the leader of the conservative party. The “Optimates,” or “Boni,” as Cicero indifferently calls them — meaning, as we should say, the upper classes, who were minded to stand by their order — believed in him, though they did not just at that time wish to confide to him the power which the people gave him. The Senate did not want another Sulla; and yet it was Sulla who had reinstated the Senate. The Senate would have hindered Pompey, if it could, from his command against the pirates, and again from his command against Mithridates. But he, nevertheless, was naturally their head, as came to be seen plainly when, seventeen years afterward, Cæsar passed the Rubicon, and Cicero in his heart acknowledged Pompey as his political leader while Pompey lived. This, I think, was the case to a sad extent, as Pompey was incapable of that patriotic enthusiasm which Cicero demanded. As we go on we shall find that the worst episodes in Cicero’s political career were created by his doubting adherence to a leader whom he bitterly felt to be untrue to himself, and in whom his trust became weaker and weaker to the end.
Then came Cicero’s Prætorship. In the time of Cicero there were eight Prætors, two of whom were employed in the city, and the six others in the provinces. The “Prætor Urbanus” was confined to the city, and was regarded as the first in authority. This was the office filled by Cicero. His duty was to preside among the judges, and to name a judge or judges for special causes.B.C. 66, ætat. 41.
Cicero at this time, when he and Pompey were forty or forty-one, believed thoroughly in Pompey. When the great General was still away, winding up the affairs of his maritime war against the pirates, there came up the continually pressing question of the continuation of the Mithridatic war. Lucullus had been absent on that business nearly seven years, and, though he had been at first grandly victorious, had failed at last. His own soldiers, tired of their protracted absence, mutinied against him, and Glabrio, a later Consul, who had been sent to take the command out of his hands, had feared to encounter the difficulty. It was essential that something should be done, and one Manilius, a Tribune, a man of no repute himself, but whose name has descended to all posterity in the oration Pro Lege Manilia, proposed to the people that Pompey should have the command. Then Cicero first entered, as we may say, on political life. Though he had been Quæstor and Ædile, and was now Prætor, he had taken a part only in executive administration. He had had his political ideas, and had expressed them very strongly in that matter of the judges, which, in the condition of Rome, was certainly a political question of great moment. But this he had done as an advocate, and had interfered only as a barrister of today might do, who, in arguing a case before the judges, should make an attack on some alleged misuse of patronage. Now, for the first time, he made a political harangue, addressing the people in a public meeting from the rostra. This speech is the oration Pro Lego Manilia. This he explains in his first words. Hitherto his addresses had been to the judges — Judices; now it is to the people — Quirites: “Although, Quirites, no sight has ever been so pleasant to me as that of seeing you gathered in crowds — although this spot has always seemed to me the fittest in the world for action and the noblest for speech — nevertheless, not my own will, indeed, but the duties of the profession which I have followed from my earliest years have hitherto hindered me from entering upon this the best path to glory which is open to any good man.” It is only necessary for our purpose to say, in reference to the matter in question, that this command was given to Pompey in opposition to the Senate.
As to the speech itself, it requires our attention on two points. It is one of those choice morsels of polished Latinity which have given to Cicero the highest rank among literary men, and have, perhaps, made him the greatest writer of prose which the world has produced. I have sometimes attempted to make a short list of his chefs d’[oe]uvre— of his tidbits, as I must say, if I am bound to express myself in English. The list would never allow itself to be short, and so has become almost impossible; but, whenever the attempt has been made, this short oration in its integrity has always been included in it. My space hardly permits me to insert specimens of the author’s style, but I will give in an appendix11 two brief extracts as specimens of the beauty of words in Latin. I almost fancy that if properly read they would have a grace about them even to the ears of those to whom Latin is unknown. I venture to attach to them in parallel columns my own translation, acknowledging in despair how impossible I have found it to catch anything of the rhythm of the author. As to the beauty of the language I shall probably find no opponent. But a serious attack has been made on Cicero’s character, because it has been supposed that his excessive praise was lavished on Pompey with a view of securing the great General’s assistance in his candidature for the Consulship. Even Middleton repeats this accusation, and only faintly repels it. M. Du Rozoir, the French critic, declares that “in the whole oration there is not a word which was not dictated to Cicero the Prætor by his desire to become Consul, and that his own elevation was in his thoughts all through, and not that of Pompey.” The matter would be one to us but of little moment, were it not that Cicero’s character for honesty as a politician depends on the truth or falsehood of his belief in Pompey. Pompey had been almost miraculously fortunate up to this period of his life’s career. He had done infinitely valuable service to the State. He had already crushed the pirates. There was good ground for believing that in his hands the Roman arms would be more efficacious against Mithridates than in those of any other General. All that Cicero says on this head, whatever might have been his motive for saying it, was at any rate true.
A man desirous of rising in the service of his country of course adheres to his party. That Cicero was wrong in supposing that the Republic, which had in fact already fallen, could be reestablished by the strength of any one man, could be bolstered up by any leader, has to be admitted; that in trusting to Pompey as a politician he leaned on a frail reed I admit; but I will not admit that in praising the man he was hypocritical or unduly self-seeking. In our own political contests, when a subordinate member of the Cabinet is zealously serviceable to his chief, we do not accuse him of falsehood because by that zeal he has also strengthened his own hands. How shall a patriot do the work of his country unless he be in high place? and how shall he achieve that place except by cooperation with those whom he trusts? They who have blamed Cicero for speaking on behalf of Pompey on this occasion, seem to me to ignore not only the necessities but the very virtues of political life.
One other remarkable oration Cicero made during his Prætorship — that, namely, in defence of Aulus Cluentius Habitus. As it is the longest, so is it the most intricate, and on account of various legal points the most difficult to follow of all his speeches. But there are none perhaps which tell us more of the condition, or perhaps I should say the possibilities, of life among the Romans of that day. The accusation against Roscius Amerinus was accompanied by horrible circumstances. The iniquities of Verres, as a public officer who had the power of blessing or of cursing a whole people, were very terrible; but they do not shock so much as the story here told of private life. That any man should have lived as did Oppianicus, or any woman as did Sassia, seems to prove a state of things worse than anything described by Juvenal a hundred and fifty years later. Cicero was no doubt unscrupulous as an advocate, but he could have gained nothing here by departing from verisimilitude. We must take the picture as given us as true, and acknowledge that, though law processes were common, crimes such as those of this man and of this woman were not only possible, but might be perpetrated with impunity. The story is too long and complicated to be even abridged; but it should be read by those who wish to know the condition of life in Italy during the latter days of the Republic.B.C. 65, ætat. 42.
In the year after he was Prætor — in the first of the two years between his Prætorship and Consulship, B.C. 65 — he made a speech in defence of one Caius Cornelius, as to which we hear that the pleadings in the case occupied four days. This, with our interminable “causes célèbres,” does not seem much to us, but Cicero’s own speech was so long that in publishing it he divided it into two parts. This Cornelius had been Tribune in the year but one before, and was accused of having misused his power when in office. He had incurred the enmity of the aristocracy by attempts made on the popular side to restrain the Senate; especially by the stringency of a law proposed for stopping bribery at elections. Cicero’s speeches are not extant. We have only some hardly intelligible fragments of them, which were preserved by Asconius,12 a commentator on certain of Cicero’s orations; but there is ground for supposing that these Cornelian orations were at the time matter of as great moment as those spoken against Verres, or almost as those spoken against Catiline. Cicero defended Cornelius, who was attacked by the Senate — by the rich men who desired office and the government of provinces. The law proposed for the restriction of bribery at elections no doubt attempted to do more by the severity of its punishment than can be achieved by such means: it was mitigated, but was still admitted by Cicero to be too rigorous. The rancor of the Senate against Cornelius seems to have been due to this attempt; but the illegality with which he was charged, and for which he was tried, had reference to another law suggested by him — for restoring to the people the right of pardon which had been usurped by the Senate. Caius Cornelius seems to have been a man honest and eager in his purpose to save the Republic from the greed of the oligarchs, but — as had been the Gracchi — ready in his eagerness to push his own authority too far in his attempt to restrain that of the Senate. A second Tribune, in the interest of the Senate, attempted to exercise an authority which undoubtedly belonged to him, by inhibiting the publication or reading of the proposed law. The person whose duty it was to read it was stopped; then Cornelius pushed aside the inferior officer, and read it himself. There was much violence, and the men who brought the accusation about Cornelius — two brothers named Cominii — had to hide themselves, and saved their lives by escaping over the roofs of the houses.
This took place when Cicero was standing for the Prætorship, and the confusion consequent upon it was so great that it was for awhile impossible to carry on the election. In the year after his Prætorship Cornelius was put upon his trial, and the two speeches were made.
The matter seems to have been one of vital interest in Rome. The contest on the part of the Senate was for all that made public life dear to such a body. Not to bribe — not to be able to lay out money in order that money might be returned ten-fold, a hundred-fold — would be to them to cease to be aristocrats. The struggles made by the Gracchi, by Livius Drusus, by others whose names would only encumber us here, by this Cornelius, were the expiring efforts of those who really desired an honest Republic. Such were the struggles made by Cicero himself; though there was present always to him an idea, with which, in truth, neither the demagogues nor the aristocrats sympathized, that the reform could be effected, not by depriving the Senate of its power, but by teaching the Senate to use it honestly. We can sympathize with the idea, but we are driven to acknowledge that it was futile.
Though we know that this was so, the fragments of the speeches, though they have been made intelligible to us by the “argument” or story of them prefixed by Asconius in his notes, cannot be of interest to readers. They were extant in the time of Quintilian, who speaks of them with the highest praise.13 Cicero himself selects certain passages out of these speeches as examples of eloquence or rhythm,14 thus showing the labor with which he composed them, polishing them by the exercise of his ear as well as by that of his intellect. We know from Asconius that this trial was regarded at the time as one of vital interest.
We have two letters from Cicero written in the year after his Prætorship, both to Atticus, the first of which tells us of his probable competition for the Consulship; the second informs his friend that a son is born to him — he being then forty-two years old — and that he is thinking to undertake the defence of Catiline, who was to be accused of peculation as Proprætor in Africa. “Should he be acquitted,” says Cicero, “I should hope to have him on my side in the matter of my canvass. If he should be convicted, I shall be able to bear that too.” There were to be six or seven candidates, of whom two, of course, would be chosen. It would be much to Cicero “to run,” as our phrase goes, with the one who among his competitors would be the most likely to succeed. Catiline, in spite of his then notorious character — in the teeth of the evils of his government in Africa — was, from his birth, his connections, and from his ability, supposed to have the best chance. It was open to Cicero to defend Catiline as he had defended Fonteius, and we know from his own words that he thought of doing so. But he did not; nor did Cicero join himself with Catiline in the canvassing. It is probable that the nature of Catiline’s character and intentions were now becoming clearer from day to day. Catiline was tried and acquitted, having, it is said, bribed the judges.
1 Pro Fonteio, xiii.
2 De Oratore, lib. ii., lix.: “Perspicitis, hoc genus quam sit facetum, quam elegans, quam oratorium, sive habeas vere, quod narrare possis, quod tamen, est mendaciunculis aspergendum, sive fingas.” Either invent a story, or if you have an old one, add on something so as to make it really funny. Is there a parson, a bishop, an archbishop, who, if he have any sense of humor about him, does not do the same?
3 Cicero, Pro Cluentio, l., explains very clearly his own idea as to his own speeches as an advocate, and may be accepted, perhaps, as explaining the ideas of barristers of today. “He errs,” he says, “who thinks that he gets my own opinions in speeches made in law courts; such speeches are what the special cases require, and are not to be taken as coming from the advocate as his own.”
4 When the question is discussed, we are forced rather to wonder how many of the great historical doings of the time are not mentioned, or are mentioned very slightly, in Cicero’s letters. Of Pompey’s treatment of the pirates, and of his battling in the East, little or nothing is said, nothing of Cæsar’s doings in Spain. Mention is made of Cæsar’s great operations in Gaul only in reference to the lieutenancy of Cicero’s brother Quintus, and to the employment of his young friend Trebatius. Nothing is said of the manner of Cæsar’s coming into Rome after passing the Rubicon; nothing of the manner of fighting at Dyrrachium and Pharsalia; very little of the death of Pompey; nothing of Cæsar’s delay in Egypt. The letters deal with Cicero’s personal doings and thoughts, and with the politics of Rome as a city. The passage to which allusion is made occurs in the life of Atticus, ca. xvi: “Quæ qui legat non multum desideret historiam contextam illorum temporum.”
5 Jean George Greefe was a German, who spent his life as a professor at Leyden, and, among other classical labors, arranged and edited the letters of Cicero. He died in 1703.
6 It must be explained, however, that continued research and increased knowledge have caused the order of the letters, and the dates assigned to them, to be altered from time to time; and, though much has been done to achieve accuracy, more remains to be done. In my references to the letters I at first gave them, both to the arrangement made by Grævius and to the numbers assigned in the edition I am using; but I have found that the numbers would only mislead, as no numbering has been yet adopted as fixed. Arbitrary and even fantastic as is the arrangement of Grævius, it is better to confine myself to that because it has been acknowledged, and will enable my readers to find the letters if they wish to do so. Should Mr. Tyrrell continue and complete his edition of the correspondence, he will go far to achieve the desired accuracy. A second volume has appeared since this work of mine has been in the press.
7 The peculiarities of Cicero’s character are nowhere so clearly legible as in his dealings with and words about his daughter. There is an effusion of love, and then of sorrow when she dies, which is unRoman, almost feminine, but very touching.
8 I annex a passage from our well known English translation: “The power of the pirates had its foundation in Cilicia. Their progress was the more dangerous, because at first it had been but little noticed. In the Mithridatic war they assumed new confidence and courage, on account of some services which they had rendered the king. After this, the Romans being engaged in civil war at the very gates of their capital, the sea was left unguarded, and the pirates by degrees attempted higher things — not only attacking ships, but islands and maritime towns. Many persons distinguished for their wealth, birth and capacity embarked with them, and assisted in their depredations, as if their employment had been worthy the ambition of men of honor. They had in various places arsenals, ports, and watch-towers, all strongly fortified. Their fleets were not only extremely well manned, supplied with skilful pilots, and fitted for their business by their lightness and celerity, but there was a parade of vanity about them, more mortifying than their strength, in gilded sterns, purple canopies, and plated oars, as if they took a pride and triumphed in their villany. Music resounded, and drunken revels were exhibited on every coast. Here generals were made prisoners; and there the cities which the pirates had seized upon were paying their ransom, to the great disgrace of the Roman power. The number of their galleys amounted to a thousand, and the cities taken to four hundred.” The passage is taken from the life of Pompey.
9 Florus, lib. iii., 6: “An felicitatem, quod ne una cuidam navis amissa est; an vero perpetuitatem, quod amplius piratæ non fuerunt.”
10 Of the singular trust placed in Pompey there are very many proofs in the history of Rome at this period, but none, perhaps, clearer than the exception made in this favor in the wording of laws. In the agrarian law proposed by the Tribune Rullus, and opposed by Cicero when he was Consul, there is a clause commanding all Generals under the Republic to account for the spoils taken by them in war. But there is a special exemption in favor of Pompey. “Pompeius exceptus esto.” It is as though no Tribune dared to propose a law affecting Pompey.
11 See Appendix D.
12 Asconius Pedianus was a grammarian who lived in the reign of Tiberius, and whose commentaries on Cicero’s speeches, as far as they go, are very useful in explaining to us the meaning of the orator. We have his notes on these two Cornelian orations and some others, especially on that of Pro Milone. There are also commentaries on some of the Verrine orations — not by Asconius, but from the pen of some writer now called Pseudo–Asconius, having been long supposed to have come from Asconius. They, too, go far to elucidate much which would otherwise be dark to us.
13 Quint., lib. viii., 3. The critic is explaining the effect of ornament in oratory — of that beauty of language which with the people has more effect than argument — and he breaks forth himself into perhaps the most eloquent passage in the whole Institute: “Cicero, in pleading for Cornelius, fought with arms which were as splendid as they were strong. It was not simply by putting the facts before the judges, by talking usefully, in good language and clearly, that he succeeded in forcing the Roman people to acknowledge by their voices and by their hands their admiration; it was the grandeur of his words, their magnificence, their beauty, their dignity, which produced that outburst.”
14 Orator., lxvii. and lxx.
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