« AnteriorContinuar »
torn sheets and battered sides, stripped of her banners, but having ridden out the storm. And so I feel in regard to this aged England, with the possessions, honours, and trophies, and also with the infirmities of a thousand years gathering around her, irretrievably committed as she now is to many old customs which cannot be suddenly changed; pressed upon by the transitions of trade, and new and all incalculable modes, fabrics, arts, machines, and competing populations-I see her not dispirited, not weak, but well remembering that she has seen dark days before; indeed, with a kind of instinct that she sees a little better in a cloudy day, and that in storm of battle and calamity she has a secret vigour and a pulse like a cannon. I see her in her old age, not decrepit but young, and still daring to believe in her power of endurance and expansion. Seeing this, I say,-All hail! Mother of Nations, mother of heroes, with strength still equal to the time; still wise to entertain and swift to execute the policy which the mind and heart of mankind requires in the present hour. So be it! so let it be.'
ART. III.-The Life of Marcus Tullius Cicero. By William Forsyth, M.A., Q.C. London, 1864.
HE life which men lived in the Republics of Greece and Rome was essentially, so far as we are able to see it and to see into it, a public life-a life in forums and in fields, before dicasts and senators, on foot, in chariots, on horseback-an outof-doors life; the life, in short, of a citizen, not of a man; of one who was bound to look before all things to that which the immediate interests of his Tous or Civitus might seem to suggest, and who was little capable of appreciating anything beyond it. To show how powerless were the best organised forms of polity which the wit and wisdom of Greece and Rome could devise to make man at one with his God, his neighbour, and himself, may well be believed to be part of the Divine purpose which deferred the coming of Christ for a season, until every eye should turn with wistful gaze towards the Desire of all Nations. This however is a wide field; for the present all we wish the reader to bear in mind is the condition in which man lay cabined, cribbed, confined within the thralls of citizenship. If we consider the nature of the moral atmosphere amid which the ancients were placed, or the conditions of thought to which they were subjected, or the principles of action to which they were compelled to yield homage, we shall perceive how greatly we should err in judging even the noblest spirits of antiquity by the measure of the fulness of the stature of Christ. To admit the justice of applying such a standard would be to confess that Christianity
Christianity is indeed as old as the creation,' and to suggest the inquiry, what advantageth it us to be Christian men and women?
While the life of a Roman citizen was thus public-while he was, in himself, a mere cypher which only acquired value by a combination with the City or the State, the significant digit-public, too, in the main, was the literature of Rome. The gravitas, which was the distinguishing feature and highest aim of the Roman character, found its expression in the mannerism, the objectivity, the impersonality, the studied reaching after effect, which we meet with in Roman literature: Les Romains n'étaient point hypocrites: mais ils se formaient au dedans d'eux mêmes pour l'ostentation. Le caractère Romain était un modèle auquel tous les grands hommes adaptaient leur nature particulière; et les écrivains moralistes présentaient toujours le même exemple.' This shrewd remark of Madame de Stael's that the Roman modelled his individual nature on a typal idea or pattern of what he believed to be the character of a Roman citizen, is a valuable clue to the right understanding of Roman literature. The suppression of everything emotionalthe declaration which a Roman writer makes concerning love, D that it is superfluous to show how unsuitable to the dignity of man such a sentiment must necessarily be the raising of the externals of virtue to the same level as virtue itself, as inculcated by Roman moralists-all these facts converge to show that the Roman never showed himself in déshabillé or in mufti,' but always wore the uniform or livery prescribed by his position as member of the State or an inhabitant of the City.
To these general characteristics of Roman literature Cicero forms a solitary and a conspicuous exception. The fact did not escape the attention of the acute author whom we have just quoted. Madame de Stael remarks, 'Cicéron est le seul dont l'individualité perce à travers ses écrits; encore combat-il par son système ce que son amour-propre laisse échapper:' the author of the letters ad Atticum' and 'ad Diversos' being on this point at issue with the author of 'De Officiis' and of the 'De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum.' Although the great bulk of his letters-upwards of eight hundred in number-bear that character of rhetorical effusions which marked letter-writing among the Romans, and which we meet with even in the letters of an Augustine or an Ambrose; still there are not a few, preserved, we may believe, in spite of their author, which conduct us into the inmost recesses of the man's heart, and exhibit the conflict of passions and of feeling with dignity and duty which the Roman and the statesman would have shrunk from laying
bare. We believe we may say, without fear of contradiction, that of Cicero alone in the whole compass of classical antiquity has such an inward picture survived the ravages of time. Of Cicero alone can it be affirmed that we are in many and very considerable instances made acquainted not merely with what he thought it the proper thing to say in public as a vir consularis, or to consign to a set treatise, but with what he felt in his heart of hearts and confided to his friend of friends. Most assuredly, at any rate, to not one of his contemporaries are we able to apply the same test and to mete the same measure that we have at our disposal in the case of Cicero.
The relevancy of these remarks to the just appreciation either of the life of Cicero, or of any work which professes to give an account of it, will be apparent on a moment's reflection. Conyers Middleton and Drumann have hitherto stood at opposite poles as biographers of Cicero. The one has made him out to be all but spotless; the other would have us believe that he was all spot. Each of these writers might, we think, have avoided the errors of excessive adulation and of unwarrantable aspersion into which they have respectively fallen, if they had borne in mind the two considerations which have here been set forth. If the one had remembered how large, how important, how numerous are the elements of character, of thought, of conduct, which distinguish even the highest Pagan excellence from that type of Perfect Manhood which is set before the Christian man, he would, in very justice to the hero whom he set himself to extol, have shrunk from inviting, or at least from suggesting, a comparison which could only turn to confusion; he would not have given occasion to Mr. De Quincey to assert, with congenial calumny, that it was the object of Middleton to paint, in the person of Cicero, a pure Pagan model of scrupulous morality, and to show that in most difficult times he had acted with a self-restraint and a considerate integrity, to which Christian Ethics could have added no element of value.' So again, if the other had adequately reflected on the very exceptional character of the glimpses which Cicero's correspondence gives us into the fits of fretfulness, of pique, of vanity, of despair, which at times clouded the intellect and paralysed the energies of one of the most pure-minded men that ever 'lived in the tide of time,' and which found vent in artless outpourings to bosom friends, never intended to go any further, he would perhaps have hesitated ere he applied to Cicero a standard from which accident, or a more guarded, less confiding nature, had exempted his contemporaries; he would have judged him rather by his acts than by his words, and those acts by the interpretation which Cicero himself put on them; he would
have remembered how often Cicero was exposed to the subtleties of natures less ingenuous than his own; he would have felt that to make such a man an offender for a word was as uncharitable as it was unjust; and would have thought twice before he committed to paper and to print pages upon pages laden with garbled extracts and with railing accusations, which stamp Drumann as the author of one of the most spiteful, malignant, and withal illwritten books that ever disgraced the literature of History and Biography.
Such being the state in which the two most antagonistic writers had left the consideration of Cicero's life and character, it became highly desirable that some one should step forward on a middle ground, and give a strictly fair account of the whole matter. And it was further desirable that the pages of such a writer should be free from any cumbrous polemics or pedantic disquisitions as against either of the advocates of extreme views, but should leave as it were Cicero's life to tell its own tale, putting down only the results of his investigations, but not troubling the reader with the arguments for and against. The work, of which the title stands at the head of this article, seems to us to meet most admirably the requirements of the case. A scholar without pedantry, and a Christian without cant, Mr. Forsyth seems to have seized with praiseworthy tact the precise attitude which it behoves a biographer to take up when narrating the life-the personal life of Cicero. His censures of Cicero are as straight-forward and temperate as, his praises are sober and borne out by facts. He nothing extenuates, with Middleton, on the one hand; he sets down nought in malice, with Drumann, on the other. One of his previous works, 'Hortensius,' containing amongst other things an able and yet popular account of Roman Law and Procedure, showed that he had made himself familiar with subjects which must occupy a large space in every biography of the greatest of Roman orators and advocates; and the work now published will add largely and, we believe, lastingly to the reputation which Mr. Forsyth already and deservedly enjoys. Then, again, the experience derived from the knowledge and practice of his own profession furnished very essential conditions of success towards a right estimate of Cicero's conduct at the Roman bar, and has supplied in the course of the narrative some very interesting parallels and illustrations. On every ground, then, we hail this Life of Cicero as a valuable addition to English literature, and as a very satisfactory monument of the industry, the acumen, and the literary power of its author. The remarks now to be made upon it do not pretend to furnish the
reader with anything like a full or adequate analysis of its contents; all we shall attempt is, to call attention to the most noteworthy portions of the volume, or to those which may seem to us to suggest occasion for further illustration or remark.
The two opening chapters give us an interesting picture of the Boyhood and of the Studies of Cicero. In particular, the notice of the public solemnities usual when the Roman youth entered on his sixteenth year, and laid aside the toga prætexta for the toga pura, may be taken as an illustration of what has been already said of the essentially public character of Roman life:
The custom was for the young man to be conducted by his father or other near relation to the Forum, when he was presented to the Prætor whose tribunal or Court was there, and where the ceremony of the change of dress was performed. He then received the congratulations of his relatives and friends who accompanied him, amidst the applause of the surrounding crowd; for there never was any lack of idlers in the Forum, and indeed, so numerous were they, that old Cato the Censor once proposed that the ground should be paved with sharp stones to make it a less agreeable lounge. After this the youth was conducted along the Via Sacra, which ran through the Forum, up to the Capitol, and a sacrifice was offered at the altar of Jupiter, whose magnificent temple crowned the hill.'-Vol. i. p. 14.
The whole proceeding implied a dedication as solemn to the service of the State as the dedication to the service of God which Confirmation may be said to involve. We see at once how different a life, after this beginning, must needs have been from any of which we in these our days can form any conception; how alien to all our habits of thought and motives of action must have been the motives and the habits which constituted the inner world of the citizen of an ancient republic.
For the rhythm, the richness, and arrangement of his periods, for which the prose of Cicero afterwards became so remarkable, we may well believe that he was indebted to the instruction he received as a boy in the language and literature of Grecce. Mr. Forsyth observes that Greek occupied something of the same position in a course of education at Rome that French does amongst ourselves. Accordingly it was by Greek and not by Latin rhetoricians that Cicero was taught the all-important art of Rhetoric. Greek orations and other writings he got by heart, declaimed, and translated. It seems not improbable that his intimacy with Roscius and Æsopus, the actors, may have either been the occasion or the fruit of a desire to carry out in practice what he recommends in theory in his Treatise De Oratore' and other parts of his works-namely, to study the actor's art with a