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PREFACE TO THE SECOND EDITION, ........
§ 2. ON TAE STYLE OF THE LETTERS, . . . . . . . . .
§ 1. ON THE CHARACTER OF CICERO AS A Public Man.
In putting forth an edition of the Letters of Cicero in their order as written, one may dispense with the labour of telling over again the oft-told tale of Cicero's life. The salient facts are set down in a short summary prefixed to each year of Cicero's correspondence. But it will be convenient to take a broad view of Cicero's position in public and private life before we enter on the study of a series of letters which present to us the picture of the downfall of the Roman Republic. No picture could be sadder than this. The most tragic of spectacles is the baffled strength of a blind giant, the helplessness of a Hercules Furens or a Samson Agonistes. And it is with feelings not different that we regard that Republic which had developed such great vital forces, such a disciplined subordination of imagination to logic, and of the individual to the State, slipping into a despotism through the unworthiness of an oligarchy who were unconscious of her decadence, or even indifferent to it.
The present instalment of the correspondence of Cicero includes only eighty-nine letters. But these are of the highest interest, as they follow the fortunes of Cicero from his entrance into public life through his exile to his restoration. I hope to be able to prefix to future volumes of this work some estimate of the character of Cicero as it appears in the letters of those volumes. My observations at present will mainly have reference to the earlier part of Cicero's career.
The gusts which had menaced the Republic from without had died away before the storm began to brew within. The year after Cicero's birth witnessed the conclusion of the Jugurthine War by Marius and his quaestor Sulla-ominous conjunction; and Cicero was only six years of age when Marius and the pro-consul Catulus—the ideal optimate of Cicero—by their victory over the Cimbri, made Rome safe from the Germans. Henceforth “foreign levy' is but a tool in the hands of 'treason domestic. In the year of the city 666 (b. c. 88), the tribune P. Sulpicius, in transferring to Marius the command and province of Sulla, first exercised a power which was afterwards fatal to the Republic—a power which was crushed by Sulla, which was restored by Pompeius, which made Pompeius despot by the Gabinian and Manilian Laws, and which finally ruined him. In 669 (b. c. 85) we have a definite foretaste of the Empire in the spectacle of two rival Roman generals-Flaccus and Fimbria-opposing, each in his own interest, Mithridates, the common foreign foe.
In 674 (b.c. 80), at the age of 26 (just ten years before his famous prosecution of Verres, which may be looked on as launching him in public life), Cicero pleaded his first public cause. As the last words of the Master-Orator were a denunciation of the tyranny of Antonius, so the maiden speech of the rising advocate was levelled against the oppression of Sulla.* It is evident that the charge of parricide brought against Sex. Roscius of Ameria was a political charge; yet in this speech, as well as in his defence of a woman of Arretium the following year, Cicero dared to lift up his voice against injustice, even though not only fear, but strong public partisanship, might have sealed the lips of one who describes the regime of Sulla in the words recuperata respublica (Brut. 311).
This bold step on the part of Cicero has been reflected on in two different ways. Plutarch ascribes to the fear of Sulla’s vengeance the departure of Cicero for Greece in the following year. This theory shows clearly how dangerous must have appeared to Plutarch the bold front shown to the powerful dictator, but can hardly be accepted as accounting for the journey to Greece, inasmuch as the tyrant threw down the dagger the very year of Cicero's absence. But again, Cicero has been accused of showing in this proceeding a readiness to coquet with democracy. Now this is an entirely misleading point of view, and rests on a misconception of the Roman Bar in the days of Cicero.
* He thus describes its nature in the De Officiis (ii. 51): maxime autem et gloria paritur et gratia defensionibus, eoque maior si quando accidit ut ei subveniatur, qui potentis alicuius opibus circumveniri urgerique videatur : ut nos et saepe alias et adolescentes contra L. Sullae dominantis opes pro S. Roscio Amerino fecimus : quae, ut scis, exstat
The young Roman of promise seeking to work his way into political eminence was forced to adopt the profession of an advocate. And how does the advocate distinguish himself? By winning his case ; and we have seen by the passage from the De Officiis just quoted, that the more difficult and dangerous was the case to handle, the more fitted it was to supply to the daring advocate a step on the ladder of promotion. The young Roman aspirant to political distinction looked about for someone to impeach or some one to defend as his only means of gaining public notice. There was hardly a man of eminence at Rome who had not appeared both as prosecutor and as defendant. Plutarch tells us that Cato Maior was prosecuted nearly fifty times, and he was constantly engaged in the prosecution of others.
In the year 689 (b.c. 65) Cicero, in a far more democratic speech, defended the tribune Cornelius, against whom the aristocrats had trumped up a charge of treason. Cicero spoke in defence of the tribune for four successive days. This speech, embellished as it was with an elaborate eulogy of Pompeius, is quoted by Quintilian (iv. 3, 13) as an illustrious instance of the power with which a great orator can wield his digressions.* In another passage (viii. 3, 3), Quintilian again refers to the same speech in these words :
Nec fortibus modo sed etiam fulgentibus armis proeliatur in causa Cicero Cornelii ; qui non consecutus esset docendo iudicem tantum et utiliter demum ac Latine perspicueque dicendo, ut populus Romanus admirationem suam non acclamatione tantum sed etiam plausu confiteretur. Sublimitas profecto et magnificentia et nitor et auctoritas expressit illum fragorem. Nec tam insolita laus esset prosecuta dicentem, si usitata et ceteris similis fuisset oratio. Atque ego illos credo, qui aderant, nec sensisse, quid facerent, nec sponte iudicioque plausisse; sed velut mente captos et, quo essent in loco, ignaros erupisse in hunc voluptatis affectum.
* Cicero calls these rhetorical artifices kautal in one of his letters, Att. i. 14, 4.