Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

fitting to call vile; but he had never belonged to any other party, and his hire was the honours and influence which his commanding intellect must have won in any civilized society. Except in the case of Burke, never perhaps has such genius reaped so little political reward. Whether Cicero “took the wrong side in the politics of his country'depends on the other question, Which was the right side? This question is answered against Cicero, first, by unscrupulous theorists, who are smitten with an inordinate lust for despotism; or who, like Mommsen, gaze upon Caesar with inarticulate rapture.* These speak as if Cicero should have seen that his cherished Republic was no longer possible; that everything had long since been tending to monarchy; that Caesar was the genius destined to erect a great structure, “to have laid any stone of which Fould have been enough to have secured the immortality of any man.'† In the work of C. Gracchus, which laid the foundation of the tyrannis, Cicero only saw the seditio of a turbulent tribune who sought to excite the people against constituted authority. In the Gabinian and Manilian Laws, which established the tyrannis, he only saw large honours conferred on one to whom he looked as the champion of the Optimates. Whether Caesar formed or did not form clearly the design of establishing a tyrannis, he certainly did not avow it. It is remarkable how, during his whole career,

*'As the artist can paint everything except consummate beauty, so the historian, when once in a thousand years he falls in with the perfect, can only be silent regarding 1... The secret of Nature, whereby in her most finished manifestations normality and individuality are combined, is beyond expression.'-Momm. Hist. Rom. iv. 457.

+ It must not be forgotten that the spheres of the historian and of the biographer do not completely coincide. If it is the duty of the historian to seek to solve the question, what was the real character of the Catilinarian conspiracy, it is no less the duty & the biographer to try to discover what was the actual opinion of Cicero about its sature and origin. The conspirators may have been democrats; but if Cicero thought they were anarchists, the biographer is bound to construct his analysis of Cicero's charucter as if they were anarchists. The Republic, no doubt, was sick of a mortal disease, bet Cicero thought it was curable. A dagger was plunged to the heart of the Republic, and Cicero did not apprehend that it would be fatal to pluck the weapon from the wound. | l'esar may have come to deliver the people from oppression, but Cicero thought he was/ coming to establish a despotism. Mommsen has an amazing power of seizing the ZeitFeut of an epoch, and in marshalling his facts so as to point out, amid a mass of appareatly isolated phenomena, some prevailing and characteristic tendency; but he forgets that bis Caesars and Ciceros were struggling under a dust of battle which two thousand years have hardly cleared away. He forgets that his estimate of the influence of Caesar on history may still be quite just, though Caesar dreamed not of the fine issues to which his spirit was so finely touched.

LA, auto

even the most acute of his contemporaries failed to appreciate the colossal proportions of Caesar as a historical figure. They stood too near the canvas to judge of the effect.

But again, the question which I have put has been answered

, against Cicero by those who are enamoured of liberty, of whom is du f. Bound Mr. Beesly. They argue as if Cicero knew well that the aristo

s cracy were 'a vile party,' who were determined to maintain their friend. privileges of oppression, as if he said to himself, ' Caesar is coming

to rescue the people from the tyranny of a dominant class, but he shall not do so; we shall resist him, and oppress them still. Now, it never occurred to Cicero that the people were being oppressed; if he had been told that Caesar was coming to restore them their liberty, he would have asked when had they lost it;* and it would have seemed a strange reflection to him that a gang of ruined aristocrats like Curio, Dolabella, Antony, under the leadership of one who boasted his descent from the heroes of the Iliad, from Venus Aphrodite, from the kings and the gods of Rome, were coming to wrest the despoiled liberties of the people from the usurping hands of a Varro, a Cicero, and a Cato—from two burghers of Reate and Arpinum, and the descendant of a Tusculan peasant. But the fact is that Caesar, when once launched in the war, did not claim for himself the character of a liberator.t He spoke of his consulship refused to him, his province taken away, and his army disbanded. We hear nothing about an oppressed people, or a champion of democracy. Cicero saw in the approach of Caesar but peril to his dear Republic. Nor could he possibly have diagnosed the disease by which the Republic was slowly dying. When a Saturninus or a Catiline was crushed, he thought the Republic was cured. He did not see that these were but recurring symptoms of a deeplyseated and fatal malady. The Republic on which Cicero centred his faith and love, to which he devoted his pen and tongue, and for which he gave his life, was the Commonwealth of the Scipios. I Such a Commonwealth existed now only in an imagination which

er of a lik uched in the peasant.

* Gaston Boissier, Cicéron et ses amis, p. 64.

# He claimed it at the very commencement of the struggle (De Bell. Civ. i. 22), but dropped the cry when he crossed the Rubicon.

It is from this period that Cicero loves to take his interlocutors in his dialogues He professes to Pompeius (Ep. xiii. fin.) that his highest aspiration is to play Lelius to the Scipio of Pompeius ; and in choosing a fictitious name under which to correspond with Atticus, he calls himself Laelius.

took memories for hopes. But surely the Commonwealth of the Scipios, which fired the enthusiasm of Virgil under Augustus, and of Lucan under Nero, was no unworthy object of the devotion of Cicero.* There are some who so lust to see “brute Power increase that they can sneer at the struggle of Chaeronea, and smile at the death-pains of Poland; that they can but shout vae rictis over the defeated, however noble or unequal the struggle. To me it seems that none but such as these ought to be able to view with indifference the fall of the Roman Republic, or to wonder why Cicero clung with such reverential homage to the Commonwealth, and even to the faint, pale ghost of the Commonwealth, which, in the times of the First Triumvirate,

Did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets.

And if it be contended that Cicero showed some want of insight in not seeing that monarchy was inevitable, we may reply that his was a blindness which contrasts favourably with the perspicacity which taught Atticus to make his peace with Caesar and Antonius so secure. +

* The benefits of the Empire were of course very great to the world. The provincials especially had good reason to bless it. But we must enter on the per contra side of the account—the great weakening of the manly fibre of the Roman character. Compare the independent tone of Cicero's letters with the grovelling adulation of Pliny. Nay, take the Machiavellian letter of Quintus on the tactics of a candidate for consulship (Ep. xü.); nothing could be more worldly and politic than its precepts; but what an advantage in dignity it has over some of the epistles of Horace. The one teaches to flatter the public; the other to cringe to the Emperor.

† An able and encouraging review of the first edition of this volume (Times, August 16, 1880), would put the matter in a nutshell by asking, Did Cicero sincerely believe Pompeius to be the champion of the Republic? I give the whole passage, as it rigorously expresses the reviewer's conception of Cicero's attitude towards Pompeius :

"It is interesting to notice Cicero's estimate of Pompeius at different stages of his tareer. His real opinion of the man is contained in a curious passage in Att., Bk. i. :

He is affectionate towards me openly ; but his dislike is sufficiently obvious. He has no courtesy, no candour, no high-mindedness in his public life, no brilliancy, no resolation, no generosity.' Pompeius's behaviour in face of the victorious advance of Caesar in Italy is thus described : But our Gnæus—is it not incredible and heartbreaking ?--is completely prostrate! He has no heart, no head, no activity, no troops.' It was indeed a cruel disappointment to one who had written to Cælius two years before that Pompeius was a great citizen, and of mind and discretion adequate to all possible emergencies.' But Cicero's contempt for the man himself vanishes when he regards him as the representative of the optima causa, the champion of the Senate and the ancient constitution. He then thinks only of the dignity of Pompeius's position ; of

1 In a word, Cicero, like every politician, was actuated by mixed motives in the line which he took. He desired to achieve the commanding position to which he felt that his powers entitled him; but he did not wish to reach by crooked paths an eminence, however great. He was ambitious to rise, but he was ambitious to rise by inspiring his fellow-countrymen with a strong and abiding sense of those pre-eminent abilities of which he was conscious, and to use his power, when attained, in the honest service of the best interests of the State, as he conceived them. That vanity and self laudation, which is so repugnant to our sense of fitness, was a vice not only of the man, but also of the age, though no doubt he was vain to a degree conspicuous even then. How different from ours was the spirit of the time when even Caesar, on whose “marvellous serenity’Mommsen dwells so lovingly, could send such a letter to the senate as veni, ridi, vici. With what ridicule would such a dispatch now be received by Parliament and the Press. Cicero lived in an epoch when pro-consuls sought and found the many ties which bind him to himself: he calls him his dear friend, with whom he stands or falls. But did Cicero sincerely believe Pompeius to be the champion of the Republic? This is the nutshell in which the whole question of this part of Cicero's policy lies. If he did believe it, it was his stern duty to adhere to the Pompeians. If he did not, it was open to him either to remain neutral, or to side with whichever leader was in his opinion best fitted to govern the State. Cicero makes no disguise to Atticus of his opinion on this point. In March of 49 he writes :

“What both rivals seek is absolute power; they have not cared one jot for the prosperity and honour of the State. Nor, indeed, did Pompeius leave the city because he could not defend it, nor Italy because he was driven thence; but from the beginning his design was to move every land and sea, to incite barbarian kings to bring savage nations against Italy, to assemble the largest armies he could. That is the sort of Sullan dominion which many of his suite have long been thirsting for. Do you think an arrangement might not have been come to between the two? Why, such might be framed even at this moment; but our friend (Pompeius) will have none of it; both rivals, I repeat, wish to reign.'

“ Thus it is clear that Cicero knew that Pompeius was only using the Constitution as a peg on which to hang his pretensions. Possessing this knowledge, Cicero had no justification for the course he took.”—Times, Monday, Aug. 16, 1880.

To this I answer that a fair and full examination of Cicero's letters shows that he did look on Pompeius as the champion of the Republic, while Caesar was its declared foe; and that it is unfair to set against the prevailing tone of the letters the hasty expression of a momentary fear, the feverish outburst of distracted petulance. Undoubtedly Cicero does speak of Pompeius as being actuated, like Caesar, only by personal motives; but it is in the tone in which a good Tory might have sometimes said of Lord Beaconsfield — I declare he is as bad as Gladstone.' The evidence is set forth in Appendix A.

their · laurels in a must cake,' and on their return to Rome enjoyed the empty pageantry of a triumph or a supplicatio, which was often but a mockery of their demonstrated incompetence. But, in spite of characteristic weaknesses, Cicero was a great power in his age. In the opinion of his contemporaries he saved Rome in the time of Catiline, and did his best to save it in the time of Antonius. When once fairly embarked in politics, Cicero was eminently serviceable to the party of his adoption. For these services he has been condemned by Mommsen, but has won the enthusiastic praise of Pliny, who rightly sees the splendid triumphs of a born orator, not the enforced drudgery of a slighted hireling, in the speeches which persuaded the people to abandon the Agrarian Law, that is, their food,'* and to spare Roscius; and which induced the descendants of the Sullan proscripts to relinquish their claim to office. It was the same magic power which extorted from the iudices the condemnation of Verres, and which sent Catiline half stunned from the Senate. It would be very easy to add to Pliny a long array of enthusiastic admirers of Cicero among ancient writers. The eloquent eulogy of Velleius Paterculus (ii. 66) has often been quoted, and Quintilian (Inst. Or. xii. 1, 15) has given a noble testimony to the patriotism of Cicero : Cremutius Cordus, quoted by Seneca (Suas. vü.), writes that he was conspicuous not only for the greatness but the number of his virtues'; and Livy (Sen. ibid.) says that 'to praise him as he deserves we ought to have another Cicero.' But these witnesses are superfluous to him who reads the letters as they have been read by all historians from Niebuhr to Merivale; while Mommsen and Drumann would no doubt dismiss their evidence with a sneer, and again betake themselves to their aete d'accusation. + * Plin. Nat. Hist. vii. 31.

+ I quote here the concluding words of an admirably just and learned account of the life of Cicero in the Quarterly Review, by Mr. Strachan-Davidson, of Balliol College, Oxford :

“His is one of those characters whose faults lie on the surface; and the preservation of his most secret letters has withdrawn the veil which hides the weakness and the pettiness of most men from the eyes of posterity. His memory has thus been subjected to a test of unprecedented sharpness. Nevertheless, the faithful friends who resolved to present to the world his confidential utterances, unspoiled by editorial garbling, have not only earned our gratitude by the gift of a unique historical monument, but have judged most nobly and most truly what was due to the reputation of Cicero. As it was in his lifetime, so it has been with his memory: those who have known him most in

« AnteriorContinuar »