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Seekers after God by Frederic William Farrar

Part 2 out of 5

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unfaithfulness of Urgulania, Claudius divorced her, and ordered the
child to be stripped naked and exposed to die. His second wife, Aelia
Petina, seems to have been an unsuitable person, and her also he
divorced. His third and fourth wives lived to earn a colossal
infamy--Valeria Messalina for her shameless character, Agrippina the
younger for her unscrupulous ambition.

Messalina, when she married, could scarcely have been fifteen years old,
yet she at once assumed a dominant position, and secured it by means of
the most unblushing wickedness.

But she did not reign so absolutely undisturbed as to be without her own
jealousies and apprehensions; and these were mainly kindled by Julia and
Agrippina, the two nieces of the Emperor. They were, no less than
herself, beautiful, brilliant, and evil-hearted women, quite ready to
make their own coteries, and to dispute, as far as they dared, the
supremacy of a bold but reckless rival. They too, used their arts, their
wealth, their rank, their political influence, their personal
fascinations, to secure for themselves a band of adherents, ready, when
the proper moment arrived, for any conspiracy. It is unlikely that, even
in the first flush of her husband's strange and unexpected triumph,
Messalina should have contemplated with any satisfaction their return
from exile. In this respect it is probable that the Emperor succeeded in
resisting her expressed wishes; so that the mere appearance of the two
daughters of Germanicus in her presence was a standing witness of the
limitations to which her influence was subjected.

At this period, as is usual among degraded peoples, the history of the
Romans degenerates into mere anecdotes of their rulers. Happily,
however, it is not our duty to enter on the _chronique scandaleuse_ of
plots and counterplots, as little tolerable to contemplate as the
factions of the court of France in the worst periods of its history. We
can only ask what possible part a philosopher could play at such a
court? We can only say that his position there is not to the credit of
his philosophical professions; and that we can contemplate his presence
there with as little satisfaction as we look on the figure of the
worldly and frivolous bishop in Mr. Frith's picture of "The Last Sunday
of Charles II. at Whitehall."

And such inconsistencies involve their own retribution, not only in loss
of influence and fair fame, but even in direct consequences. It was so
with Seneca. Circumstances--possibly a genuine detestation of
Messalina's exceptional infamy--seem to have thrown him among the
partisans of her rivals. Messalina was only waiting her opportunity to
strike a blow. Julia, possibly as being the younger and the less
powerful of the two sisters, was marked out as the first victim, and the
opportunity seemed a favourable one for involving Seneca in her ruin.
His enormous wealth, his high reputation, his splendid abilities, made
him a formidable opponent to the Empress, and a valuable ally to her
rivals. It was determined to get rid of both by a single scheme. Julia
was accused of an intrigue with Seneca, and was first driven into exile
and then put to death. Seneca was banished to the barren and
pestilential shores of the island of Corsica.

Seneca, as one of the most enlightened men of his age, should have aimed
at a character which would have been above the possibility of suspicion:
but we must remember that charges such as those which were brought
against him were the easiest of all to make, and the most impossible to
refute. When we consider who were Seneca's accusers, we are not forced
to believe his guilt; his character was indeed deplorably weak, and the
laxity of the age in such matters was fearfully demoralising; but there
are sufficient circumstances in his favour to justify us in returning a
verdict of "Not guilty." Unless we attach an unfair importance to the
bitter calumny of his open enemies, we may consider that the general
tenor of his life has sufficient weight to exculpate him from an
unsupported accusation.

Of Julia, Suetonius expressly says that the crime of which she was
accused was uncertain, and that she was condemned unheard. Seneca, on
the other hand, was tried in the Senate and found guilty. He tells us
that it was not Claudius who flung him down, but rather that, when he
was falling headlong, the Emperor supported him with the moderation of
his divine hand; "he entreated the Senate on my behalf; he not only
_gave_ me life, but even _begged_ it for me. Let it be his to consider,"
adds Seneca, with the most dulcet flattery, "in what light he may wish
my cause to be regarded; either his justice will find, or his mercy will
make, it a good cause. He will alike be worthy of my gratitude, whether
his ultimate conviction of my innocence be due to his knowledge or to
his will."

This passage enables us to conjecture how matters stood. The avarice of
Messalina was so insatiable that the non-confiscation of Seneca's
immense wealth is a proof that, for some reason, her fear or hatred of
him was not implacable. Although it is a remarkable fact that she is
barely mentioned, and never once abused, in the writings of Seneca, yet
there can be no doubt that the charge was brought by her instigation
before the senators; that after a very slight discussion, or none at
all, Claudius was, or pretended to be convinced of Seneca's culpability;
that the senators, with their usual abject servility, at once voted him
guilty of high treason, and condemned him to death, and the confiscation
of his goods; and that Claudius, perhaps from his own respect for
literature, perhaps at the intercession of Agrippina, or of some
powerful freedman, remitted part of his sentence, just as King James I.
remitted all the severest portions of the sentence passed on
Francis Bacon.

Neither the belief of Claudius nor the condemnation of the Senate
furnish the slightest valid proofs against him. The Senate at this time
were so base and so filled with terror, that on one occasion a mere word
of accusation from the freedman of an Emperor was sufficient to make
them fall upon one of their number and stab him to death upon the spot
with their iron pens. As for poor Claudius, his administration of
justice, patient and laborious as it was, had already grown into a
public joke. On one occasion he wrote down and delivered the wise
decision, "that he agreed with the side which had set forth the truth."
On another occasion, a common Greek whose suit came before him grew so
impatient at his stupidity as to exclaim aloud, "You are an old fool."
We are not informed that the Greek was punished. Roman usage allowed a
good deal of banter and coarse personality. We are told that on one
occasion even the furious and bloody Caligula, seeing a provincial
smile, called him up, and asked him what he was laughing at. "At you,"
said the man, "you look such a humbug." The grim tyrant was so struck
with the humour of the thing that he took no further notice of it. A
Roman knight against whom some foul charge had been trumped up, seeing
Claudius listening to the most contemptible and worthless evidence
against him, indignantly abused him for his cruel stupidity, and flung
his pen and tablets in his face so violently as to cut his cheek. In
fact, the Emperor's singular absence of mind gave rise to endless
anecdotes. Among other things, when some condemned criminals were to
fight as gladiators, and addressed him before the games in the sublime
formula--"Ave, Imperator, morituri te salutamus!" ("Hail, Caesar! doomed
to die, we salute thee!") he gave the singularly inappropriate answer,
"Avete vos!" ("Hail ye also!") which they took as a sign of pardon, and
were unwilling to fight until they were actually forced to do so by the
gestures of the Emperor.

The decision of such judges as Claudius and his Senate is worth very
little in the question of a man's innocence or guilt; but the sentence
was that Seneca should be banished to the island of Corsica.



So, in A.D. 41, in the prime of life and the full vigour of his
faculties, with a name stained by a charge of which he may have been
innocent, but of which he was condemned as guilty, Seneca bade farewell
to his noble-minded mother, to his loving aunt, to his brothers, the
beloved Gallio and the literary Mela, to his nephew, the ardent and
promising young Lucan, and, above all--which cost him the severest
pang--to Marcus, his sweet and prattling boy. It was a calamity which
might have shaken the fortitude of the very noblest soul, and it had by
no means come upon him single handed. Already he had lost his wife, he
had suffered from acute and chronic ill-health, he had been bereaved but
three weeks previously of another little son. He had been cut short by
the jealousy of one emperor from a career of splendid success; he was
now banished by the imbecile subservience of another from all that he
held most dear.

We are hardly able to conceive the intensity of anguish with which an
ancient Roman generally regarded the thought of banishment. In the long
melancholy wail of Ovid's "Tristia;" in the bitter and heart-rending
complaints of Cicero's "Epistles," we may see something of that intense
absorption in the life of Rome which to most of her eminent citizens
made a permanent separation from the city and its interests a thought
almost as terrible as death itself. Even the stoical and heroic Thrasea
openly confessed that he should prefer death to exile. To a heart so
affectionate, to a disposition so social, to a mind so active and
ambitious as that of Seneca, it must have been doubly bitter to exchange
the happiness of his family circle, the splendour of an imperial court,
the luxuries of enormous wealth, the refined society of statesmen, and
the ennobling intercourse of philosophers for the savage wastes of a
rocky island and the society of boorish illiterate islanders, or at the
best, of a few other political exiles, all of whom would be as miserable
as himself, and some of whom would probably have deserved their fate.

The Mediteranean rocks selected for political exiles--Gyaros, Seriphos,
Scyathos, Patmos, Pontia, Pandataria--were generally rocky, barren,
fever-stricken places, chosen by design as the most wretched conceivable
spots in which human life could be maintained at all. Yet these islands
were crowded with exiles, and in them were to be found not a few
princesses of Caesarian origin. We must not draw a parallel to their
position from that of an Eleanor, the wife of Duke Humphrey, immured in
Peel Castle in the Isle of Man, or of a Mary Stuart in the Isle of Loch
Levin--for it was something incomparably worse. No care was taken even
to provide for their actual wants. Their very lives were not secure.
Agrippa Posthumus and Nero, the brothers of the Emperor Caligula, had
been so reduced by starvation that both of the wretched youths had been
driven to support life by eating the materials with which their beds
were stuffed. The Emperor Caius had once asked an exile, whom he had
recalled from banishment, in what manner he had been accustomed to
employ his time on the island. "I used," said the flatterer, "to pray
that Tiberius might die, and that you might succeed." It immediately
struck Caius that the exiles whom he had banished might be similarly
employed, and accordingly he sent centurions round the islands to put
them all to death. Such were the miserable circumstances which might be
in store for a political outlaw.[30] If we imagine what must have been
the feelings of a d'Espremenil, when a _lettee de cachet_ consigned him
to a prison in the Isle d'Hieres; or what a man like Burke might have
felt, if he had been compelled to retire for life to the Bermudas; we
may realize to some extent the heavy trial which now befel the life
of Seneca.

[Footnote 30: Among the Jews the homicides who had fled to a city of
refuge were set free on the high priest's death, and, in order _to
prevent them from praying for his death_, the mother and other relatives
of the high priest used to supply them with clothes and other
necessaries. See the author's article on "Asylum" in Kitto's
_Encyclopedia_ (ed. Alexander.)]

Corsica was the island chosen for his place of banishment, and a spot
more uninviting could hardly have been selected. It was an island
"shaggy and savage," intersected from north to south by a chain of wild,
inaccessible mountains, clothed to their summits with gloomy and
impenetrable forests of pine and fir. Its untamable inhabitants are
described by the geographer Strabo as being "wilder than the wild
beasts." It produced but little corn, and scarcely any fruit-trees. It
abounded, indeed, in swarms of wild bees, but its very honey was bitter
and unpalatable, from being infected with the acrid taste of the
box-flowers on which they fed. Neither gold nor silver were found
there; it produced nothing worth exporting, and barely sufficient for
the mere necessaries of its inhabitants; it rejoiced in no great
navigable rivers, and even the trees, in which it abounded, were neither
beautiful nor fruitful. Seneca describes it in more than one of his
epigrams, as a

"Terrible isle, when earliest summer glows
Yet fiercer when his face the dog-star shows;"

and again as a

"Barbarous land, which rugged rocks surround,
Whose horrent cliffs with idle wastes are crowned,
No autumn fruit, no tilth the summer yields,
Nor olives cheer the winter-silvered fields:
Nor joyous spring her tender foliage lends,
Nor genial herb the luckless soil befriends;
Nor bread, nor sacred fire, nor freshening wave;--
Nought here--save exile, and the exile's grave!"

In such a place, and under such conditions, Seneca had ample need for
all his philosophy. And at first it did not fail him. Towards the close
of his first year of exile he wrote the "Consolation to his mother
Helvia," which is one of the noblest and most charming of all his works.

He had often thought, he said, of writing to console her under this deep
and wholly unlooked-for trial, but hitherto he had abstained from doing
so, lest, while his own anguish and hers were fresh, he should only
renew the pain of the wound by his unskilful treatment. He waited,
therefore till time had laid its healing hand upon her sorrows,
especially because he found no precedent for one in his position
condoling with others when he himself seemed more in need of
consolation, and because something new and admirable would be required
of a man who, as it were, raised his head from the funeral pyre to
console his friends. Still he now feels impelled to write to her,
because to alleviate her regrets will be to lay aside his own. He does
not attempt to conceal from her the magnitude of the misfortune, because
so far from being a mere novice in sorrow, she has tasted it from her
earliest years in all its varieties; and because his purpose was to
conquer her grief, not to extenuate its causes. Those many miseries
would indeed have been in vain, if they had not taught her how to bear
wretchedness. He will prove to her therefore that she has no cause to
grieve either on his account, or on her own. Not on his--because he is
happy among circumstances which others would think miserable and because
he assures her with his own lips that not only is he _not_ miserable,
but that he can never be made so. Every one can secure his own
happiness, if he learns to seek it, not in external circumstances, but
in himself. He cannot indeed claim for himself the title of wise, for,
if so, he would be the most fortunate of men, and near to God Himself;
but, which is the next best thing, he has devoted himself to the study
of wise men, and from them he has learnt to expect nothing and to be
prepared for all things. The blessings which Fortune had hitherto
bestowed on him,--wealth, honours, glory,--he had placed in such a
position that she might rob him of them all without disturbing him.
There was a great _space_ between them and himself, so that they could
be _taken_ but not _torn_ away. Undazzled by the glamour of prosperity,
he was unshaken by the blow of adversity. In circumstances which were
the envy of all men he had never seen any real or solid blessing, but
rather a painted emptiness, a gilded deception; and similarly he found
nothing really hard or terrible in ills which the common voice has so

What, for instance, was exile? it was but a change of place, an absence
from one's native land; and, if you looked at the swarming multitudes in
Rome itself, you would find that the majority of them were practically
in contented and willing exile, drawn thither by necessity, by ambition,
or by the search for the best opportunities of vice. No isle so wretched
and so bleak which did not attract some voluntary sojourners; even this
precipitous and naked rock of Corsica, the hungriest, roughest, most
savage, most unhealthy spot conceivable, had more foreigners in it than
native inhabitants. The natural restlessness and mobility of the human
mind, which arose from its aetherial origin, drove men to change from
place to place. The colonies of different nations, scattered all over
the civilized and uncivilized world even in spots the most chilly and
uninviting, show that the condition of place is no necessary ingredient
in human happiness. Even Corsica had often changed its owners; Greeks
from Marseilles had first lived there, then Ligurians and Spaniards,
then some Roman colonists, whom the aridity and thorniness of the rock
had not kept away.

"Varro thought that nature, Brutus that the consciousness of virtue,
were sufficient consolations for any exile. How little have I lost in
comparison with those two fairest possessions which I shall everywhere
enjoy--nature and my own integrity! Whoever or whatever made the
world--whether it were a deity, or disembodied reason, or a divine
interfusing spirit, or destiny, or an immutable series of connected
causes--the result was that nothing, except our very meanest
possessions, should depend on the will of another. Man's best gifts lie
beyond the power of man either to give or to take away. This Universe,
the grandest and loveliest work of nature, and the Intellect which was
created to observe and to admire it, are our special and eternal
possessions, which shall last as long as we last ourselves. Cheerful,
therefore, and erect, let us hasten with undaunted footsteps
whithersoever our fortunes lead us.

"There is no land where man cannot dwell,--no land where he cannot
uplift his eyes to heaven; wherever we are, the distance of the divine
from the human remains the same. So then, as long as my eyes are not
robbed of that spectacle with which they cannot be satiated, so long as
I may look upon the sun and moon, and fix my lingering gaze on the other
constellations, and consider their rising and setting and the spaces
between them and the causes of their less and greater speed,--while I
may contemplate the multitude of stars glittering throughout the heaven,
some stationary, some revolving, some suddenly blazing forth, others
dazzling the gaze with a flood of fire as though they fell, and others
leaving over a long space their trails of light; while I am in the midst
of such phenomena, and mingle myself, as far as a man may, with things
celestial,--while my soul is ever occupied in contemplations so sublime
as these, what matters it what ground I tread?

"What though fortune has thrown me where the most magnificent abode is
but a cottage? the humblest cottage, if it be but the home of virtue,
may be more beautiful than all temples; no place is narrow which can
contain the crowd of glorious virtues; no exile severe into which you
may go with such a reliance. When Brutus left Marcellus at Mitylene, he
seemed to be himself going into exile because he left that illustrious
exile behind him. Caesar would not land at Mitylene, because he blushed
to see him. Marcellus therefore, though he was living in exile and
poverty, was living a most happy and a most noble life.

"'One self-approving hour whole worlds outweighs
Of stupid starers and of loud huzzas;
And more true joy Marcellus exiled feels,
Than Caesar with a senate at his heels.'

"And as for poverty every one who is not corrupted by the madness of
avarice and luxury know that it is no evil. How little does man need,
and how easily can he secure that! As for me, I consider myself as
having lost not wealth, but the trouble of looking after it. Bodily
wants are few--warmth and food, nothing more. May the gods and goddesses
confound that gluttony which sweeps the sky, and sea and land for birds,
and animals, and fish; which eats to vomit and vomits to eat, and hunts
over the whole world for that which after all it cannot even digest!
They might satisfy their hunger with little, and they excite it with
much. What harm can poverty inflict on a man who despises such excesses?
Look at the god-like and heroic poverty of our ancestors, and compare
the simple glory of a Camillus with the lasting infamy of a luxurious
Apicius! Even exile will yield a sufficiency of necessaries, but not
even kingdoms are enough for superfluities. It is the soul that makes us
rich or poor: and the soul follows us into exile, and finds and enjoys
its own blessings even in the most barren solitudes.

"But it does not even need philosophy to enable us to despise poverty.
Look at the poor: are they not often obviously happier than the rich?
And the times are so changed that what we would now consider the poverty
of an exile would then have been regarded as the patrimony of a prince.
Protected by such precedents as those of Homer, and Zeno, and Menenius
Agrippa, and Regulus, and Scipio, poverty becomes not only safe but
even estimable.

"And if you make the objection that the ills which assail me are not
exile only, or poverty only, but disgrace as well, I reply that the soul
which is hard enough to resist one wound is invulnerable to all. If we
have utterly conquered the fear of death, nothing else can daunt us.
What is disgrace to one who stands above the opinion of the multitude?
what was even a death of disgrace to Socrates, who by entering a prison
made it cease to be disgraceful? Cato was twice defeated in his
candidature for the praetorship and consulship: well, this was the
disgrace of those honours, and not of Cato. No one can be despised by
another until he has learned to despise himself. The man who has learned
to triumph over sorrow wears his miseries as though they were sacred
fillets upon his brow, and nothing is so entirely admirable as a man
bravely wretched. Such men inflict disgrace upon disgrace itself. Some
indeed say that death is preferable to contempt; to whom I reply that he
who is great when he falls is great in his prostration, and is no more
an object of contempt than when men tread on the ruins of sacred
buildings, which men of piety venerate no less than if they stood.

"On my behalf therefore, dearest mother; you have no cause for endless
weeping: nor have you on your own. You cannot grieve for me on selfish
grounds, in consequence of any personal loss to yourself; for you were
ever eminently unselfish, and unlike other women in all your dealings
with your sons, and you were always a help and a benefactor to them
rather than they to you. Nor should you give way out of a regret and
longing for me in my absence. We have often previously been separated,
and, although it is natural that you should miss that delightful
conversation, that unrestricted confidence, that electrical sympathy of
heart and intellect that always existed between us, and that boyish glee
wherewith your visits always affected me, yet, as you rise above the
common herd of women in virtue, the simplicity, the purity of your life,
you must abstain from feminine tears as you have done from all feminine
follies. Consider how Cornelia, who had lost ten children by death,
instead of wailing for her dead sons, thanked fortune that had made her
sons _Gracchi_. Rutilia followed her son Cotta into exile so dearly did
she love him, yet no one saw her shed a tear after his burial. She had
shown her affection when it was needful, she restrained her sorrow when
it was superflous. Imitate the example of these great women as you have
imitated their virtues. I want you not to _beguile_ your sorrow by
amusements or occupations, but to _conquer_ it. For you may now return
to those philosophical studies in which you once showed yourself so apt
a proficient, and which formerly my father checked. They will gradually
sustain and comfort you in your hour of grief.

"And meanwhile consider how many sources of consolation already exist
for you. My brothers are still with you; the dignity of Gallio, the
leisure of Mela, will protect you; the ever-sparkling mirth of my
darling little Marcus will cheer you up; the training of my little
favourite Novatilla will be a duty which will assuage your sorrow. For
your father's sake, too, though he is absent from you, you must moderate
your lamentations. Above all, your sister--that truly faithful, loving,
and high-souled lady, to whom I owe so deep a debt of affection for her
kindness to me from my cradle until now,--she will yield you the
fondest sympathy and the truest consolation.

"But since I know that after all your thoughts will constantly revert to
me, and that none of your children will be more frequently before your
mind than I,--not because they are less dear to you than I, but because
it is natural to lay the hand most often upon the spot which pains,--I
will tell you how you are to think of me. Think of me as happy and
cheerful, as though I were in the midst of blessings; as indeed I am,
while my mind, free from every care, has leisure for its own pursuits,
and sometimes amuses itself with lighter studies, sometimes, eager for
truth, soars upwards to the contemplation of its own nature, and the
nature of the universe. It inquires first of all about the lands and
their situation; then into the condition of the surrounding sea, its
ebbings and flowings; then it carefully studies all this terror-fraught
interspace between heaven and earth, tumultuous with thunders and
lightnings, and the blasts of winds, and the showers of rain, and snow
and hail; then, having wandered through all the lower regions, it bursts
upwards to the highest things, and revels in the most lovely--spectacle
of that which is divine, and, mindful of its own eternity, passes into
all that hath been and all that shall be throughout all ages."

Such in briefest outline, and without any of that grace of language with
which Seneca has invested it, is a sketch of the little treatise which
many have regarded as among the most delightful of Seneca's works. It
presents the picture of that grandest of all spectacles--

"A good man struggling with the storms of fate."

So far there was something truly Stoical in the aspect of Seneca's
exile. But was this grand attitude consistently maintained? Did his
little raft of philosophy sink under him, or did it bear him safely over
the stormy waves of this great sea of adversity.



There are some misfortunes of which the very essence consists in their
continuance. They are tolerable so long as they are illuminated by a ray
of hope. Seclusion and hardship might even come at first with some charm
of novelty to a philosopher who, as was not unfrequent among the amateur
thinkers of his time, occasionally practised them in the very midst of
wealth and friends. But as the hopeless years rolled on, as the efforts
of friends proved unavailing, as the loving son, and husband, and father
felt himself cut off from the society of those whom he cherished in such
tender affection, as the dreary island seemed to him ever more barbarous
and more barren, while season after season added to its horrors without
revealing a single compensation, Seneca grew more and more disconsolate
and depressed. It seemed to be his miserable destiny to rust away,
useless, unbefriended, and forgotten. Formed to fascinate society, here
there were none for him to fascinate; gifted with an eloquence which
could keep listening senates hushed, here he found neither subject nor
audience; and his life began to resemble a river which, long before it
has reached the sea, is lost in dreary marshes and choking sands.

Like the brilliant Ovid, when he was banished to the frozen wilds of
Tomi, Seneca vented his anguish in plaintive wailing and bitter verse.
In his handful of epigrams he finds nothing too severe for the place of
his exile. He cries--

"Spare thou thine exiles, lightly o'er thy dead,
Alive, yet buried, be thy dust bespread."

And addressing some malignant enemy--

"Whoe'er thou art,--thy name shall I repeat?--
Who o'er mine ashes dar'st to press thy feet,
And, uncontented with a fall so dread,
Draw'st bloodstained weapons on my darkened head,
Beware! for nature, pitying, guards the tomb,
And ghosts avenge th' invaders of their gloom,
Hear, Envy, hear the gods proclaim a truth,
Which my shrill ghost repeats to move thy ruth,
WRETCHES ARE SACRED THINGS,--thy hands refrain:
E'en sacrilegious hands from TOMBS abstain."

The one fact that seems to have haunted him most was that his abode in
Corsica was a living death.

But the most complete picture of his state of mind, and the most
melancholy memorial of his inconsistency as a philosopher, is to be
found in his "Consolation to Polybius." Polybius was one of those
freedmen of the Emperor whose bloated wealth and servile insolence were
one of the darkest and strangest phenomena of the time. Claudius, more
than any of his class, from the peculiar imbecility of his character,
was under the powerful influence of this class of men; and so dangerous
was their power that Messalina herself was forced to win her ascendency
over her husband's mind by making these men her supporters, and
cultivating their favour. Such were "the most excellent Felix," the
judge of St. Paul, and the slave who became a husband to three
queens,--Narcissus, in whose household (which moved the envy of the
Emperor) were some of those Christians to whom St. Paul sends greetings
from the Christians of Corinth,[31]--Pallas, who never deigned to speak
to his own slaves, but gave all his commands by signs, and who actually
condescended to receive the thanks of the Senate, because he, the
descendant of Etruscan kings, yet condescended to serve the Emperor and
the Commonwealth; a preposterous and outrageous compliment, which
appears to have been solely due to the fact of his name being identical
with that of Virgil's young hero, the son of the mythic Evander!

[Footnote 31: Rom. xvi. 11.]

Among this unworthy crew a certain Polybius was not the least
conspicuous. He was the director of the Emperor's studies,--a worthy
Alcuin to such a Charlemagne. All that we know about him is that he was
once the favourite of Messalina, and afterwards her victim, and that in
the day of his eminence the favour of the Emperor placed him so high
that he was often seen walking between the two consuls. Such was the man
to whom, on the occasion of his brother's death, Seneca addressed this
treatise of consolation. It has come down to us as a fragment, and it
would have been well for Seneca's fame if it had not come down to us at
all. Those who are enthusiastic for his reputation would gladly prove it
spurious, but we believe that no candid reader can study it without
perceiving its genuineness. It is very improbable that he ever intended
it to be published, and whoever suffered it to see the light was the
successful enemy of its illustrious author.

Its sad and abject tone confirms the inference, drawn from an allusion
which it contains, that it was written towards the close of the third
year of Seneca's exile. He apologises for its style by saying that if it
betrayed any weakness of thought or inelegance of expression this was
only what might be expected from a man who had so long been surrounded
by the coarse and offensive _patois_ of barbarians. We need hardly
follow him into the ordinary topics of moral philosophy with which it
abounds, or expose the inconsistency of its tone with that of Seneca's
other writings. He consoles the freedman with the "common commonplaces"
that death is inevitable; that grief is useless; that we are all born to
sorrow; that the dead would not wish us to be miserable for their sakes.
He reminds him that, owing to his illustrious position, all eyes are
upon him. He bids him find consolation in the studies in which he has
always shown himself so pre-eminent, and lastly he refers him to those
shining examples of magnanimous fortitude, for the climax of which, no
doubt, the whole piece of interested flattery was composed. For this
passage, written in a _crescendo_ style, culminates, as might have been
expected, in the sublime spectacle of Claudius Caesar. So far from
resenting his exile, he crawls in the dust to kiss Caesar's beneficent
feet for saving him from death; so far from asserting his
innocence--which, perhaps, was impossible, since to do so might have
involved him in a fresh charge of treason--he talks with all the
abjectness of guilt. He belauds the clemency of a man, who, he tells us
elsewhere, used to kill men with as much _sang froid_ as a dog eats
offal; the prodigious powers of memory of a divine creature who used to
ask people to dice and to dinner whom he had executed the day before,
and who even inquired as to the cause of his wife's absence a few days
after having given the order for her execution; the extraordinary
eloquence of an indistinct stutterer, whose head shook and whose broad
lips seemed to be in contortions whenever he spoke.[32] If Polybius
feels sorrowful, let him turn his eyes to Caesar; the splendour of that
most great and radiant deity will so dazzle his eyes that all their
tears will be dried up in the admiring gaze. Oh that the bright
occidental star which has beamed on a world which, before its rising,
was plunged in darkness and deluge, would only shed one little beam
upon him!

[Footnote 32: These slight discrepancies of description are taken from
counter passages of _Consol, ad Polyb._. and the _Ludus de Morte

No doubt these grotesque and gorgeous flatteries, contrasting strangely
with the bitter language of intense hatred and scathing contempt which
Seneca poured out on the memory of Claudius after his death, were penned
with the sole purpose of being repeated in those divine and benignant
ears. No doubt the superb freedman, who had been allowed so rich a share
of the flatteries lavished on his master, would take the opportunity--if
not out of good nature, at least out of vanity,--to retail them in the
imperial ear. If the moment were but favourable, who knows but what at
some oblivious and crapulous moment the Emperor might be induced to sign
an order for our philosopher's recall?

Let us not be hard on him. Exile and wretchedness are stern trials, and
it is difficult for him to brave a martyr's misery who has no conception
of a martyr's crown. To a man who, like Seneca, aimed at being not only
a philosopher, but also a man of the world--who in this very treatise
criticises the Stoics for their ignorance of life--there would not have
seemed to be even the shadow of disgrace in a private effusion of
insincere flattery intended to win the remission of a deplorable
banishment. Or, if we condemn Seneca, let us remember that Christians,
no less than philosophers, have attained a higher eminence only to
exemplify a more disastrous fall. The flatteries of Seneca to Claudius
are not more fulsome, and are infinitely less disgraceful, than those
which fawning bishops exuded on his counterpart, King James. And if the
Roman Stoic can gain nothing from a comparison with the yet more
egregious moral failure of the greatest of Christian thinkers---Francis
Bacon, Viscount St. Alban's--let us not forget that a Savonarola and a
Cranmer recanted under torment, and that the anguish of exile drew even
from the starry and imperial spirit of Dante Alighieri words and
sentiments for which in his noblest moments he might have blushed.



Of the last five years of Seneca's weary exile no trace has been
preserved to us. What were his alternations of hope and fear, of
devotion to philosophy and of hankering after the world which he had
lost, we cannot tell. Any hopes which he may have entertained respecting
the intervention of Polybius in his favour must have been utterly
quenched when he heard that the freedman, though formerly powerful with
Messalina, had forfeited his own life in consequence of her
machinations. But the closing period of his days in Corsica must have
brought him thrilling news, which would save him from falling into
absolute despair.

For the career of Messalina was drawing rapidly to a close. The life of
this beautiful princess, short as it was, for she died at a very early
age, was enough to make her name a proverb of everlasting infamy. For a
time she appeared irresistible. Her personal fascination had won for her
an unlimited sway over the facile mind of Claudius, and she had either
won over by her intrigues, or terrified by her pitiless severity, the
noblest of the Romans and the most powerful of the freedmen. But we see
in her fate, as we see on every page of history, that vice ever carries
with it the germ of its own ruin, and that a retribution, which is all
the more inevitable from being often slow, awaits every violation of the
moral law.

There is something almost incredible in the penal infatuation which
brought about her fall. During the absence of her husband at Ostia, she
wedded in open day with C. Silius, the most beautiful and the most
promising of the young Roman nobles. She had apparently persuaded
Claudius that this was merely a mock-marriage, intended to avert some
ominous auguries which threatened to destroy "the husband of Messalina;"
but, whatever Claudius may have imagined, all the rest of the world knew
the marriage to be real, and regarded it not only as a vile enormity,
but also as a direct attempt to bring about a usurpation of the
imperial power.

It was by this view of the case that the freedman Narcissus roused the
inert spirit and timid indignation of the injured Emperor. While the
wild revelry of the wedding ceremony was at its height, Vettius Valens,
a well-known physician of the day, had in the license of the festival
struggled up to the top of a lofty tree, and when they asked him what he
saw, he replied in words which, though meant for jest, were full of
dreadful significance, "I see a fierce storm approaching from Ostia." He
had scarcely uttered the words when first an uncertain rumour, and then
numerous messengers brought the news that Claudius knew all, and was
coming to take vengeance. The news fell like a thunderbolt on the
assembled guests. Silius, as though nothing had happened, went to
transact his public duties in the Forum; Messalina instantly sending for
her children, Octavia and Britannicus, that she might meet her husband
with them by her side, implored the protection of Vibidia, the eldest of
the chaste virgins of Vesta, and, deserted by all but three companions,
fled on foot and unpitied, through the whole breadth of the city, until
she reached the Ostian gate, and mounted the rubbish-cart of a market
gardener which happened to be passing. But Narcissus absorbed both the
looks and the attention of the Emperor by the proofs and the narrative
of her crimes, and, getting rid of the Vestal by promising her that the
cause of Messalina should be tried, he hurried Claudius forward, first
to the house of Silius, which abounded with the proofs of his guilt, and
then to the camp of the Praetorians, where swift vengeance was taken on
the whole band of those who had been involved in Messalina's crimes. She
meanwhile, in alternative paroxysms of fury and abject terror, had taken
refuge in the garden of Lucullus, which she had coveted and made her own
by injustice. Claudius, who had returned home, and had recovered some of
his facile equanimity in the pleasures of the table, showed signs of
relenting; but Narcissus knew that delay was death, and on his own
authority sent a tribune and centurions to despatch the Empress. They
found her prostrate on the ground at the feet of her mother Lepida, with
whom in her prosperity she had quarrelled, but who now came to pity and
console her misery, and to urge her to that voluntary death which alone
could save her from imminent and more cruel infamy. But the mind of
Messalina, like that of Nero afterwards, was so corrupted by wickedness
that not even such poor nobility was left in her as is implied in the
courage of despair. While she wasted the time in tears and lamentations,
a noise was heard of battering at the doors, and the tribune stood by
her in stern silence, the freedman with slavish vituperation. First she
took the dagger in her irresolute hand, and after she had twice stabbed
herself in vain, the tribune drove home the fatal blow, and the corpse
of Messalina, like that of Jezebel, lay weltering in its blood in the
plot of ground of which her crimes had robbed its lawful owner.
Claudius, still lingering at his dinner, was informed that she had
perished, and neither asked a single question at the time, nor
subsequently displayed the slightest sign of anger, of hatred, of pity,
or of any human emotion.

The absolute silence of Seneca respecting the woman who had caused him
the bitterest anguish and humiliation of his life is, as we have
remarked already, a strange and significant phenomenon. It is clearly
not due to accident, for the vices which he is incessantly describing
and denouncing would have found in this miserable woman their most
flagrant illustration, nor could contemporary history have furnished a
more apposite example of the vindication by her fate of the stern
majesty of the moral law. But yet, though Seneca had every reason to
loathe her character and to detest her memory, though he could not have
rendered to his patrons a more welcome service than by blackening her
reputation, he never so much as mentions her name. And this honourable
silence gives us a favourable insight into his character. For it can
only be due to his pitying sense of the fact that even Messalina, bad as
she undoubtedly was, had been judged already by a higher Power, and had
met her dread punishment at the hand of God. It has been conjectured,
with every appearance of probability, that the blackest of the scandals
which were believed and circulated respecting her had their origin in
the published autobiography of her deadly enemy and victorious
successor. The many who had had a share in Messalina's fall would be
only too glad to poison every reminiscence of her life; and the deadly
implacable hatred of the worst woman who ever lived would find peculiar
gratification in scattering every conceivable hue of disgrace over the
acts of a rival whose young children it was her dearest object to
supplant. That Seneca did not deign to chronicle even of an enemy what
Agrippina was not ashamed to write,--that he spared one whom it was
every one's interest and pleasure to malign,--that he regarded her
terrible fall as a sufficient claim to pity, as it was a sufficient
Nemesis upon her crimes,--is a trait in the character of the philosopher
which has hardly yet received the credit which it deserves.



Scarcely had the grave closed over Messalina when the court was plunged
into the most violent factions about the appointment of her successor.
There were three principal candidates for the honour of the aged
Emperor's hand. They were his former wife, Aelia Petina, who had only
been divorced in consequence of trivial disagreements, and who was
supported by Narcissus; Lollia Paulina, so celebrated in antiquity for
her beauty and splendour, and who for a short time had been the wife of
Caius; and Agrippina the younger, the daughter of the great Germanicus,
and the niece of Claudius himself. Claudius, indeed, who had been as
unlucky as Henry VIII. himself in the unhappiness which had attended his
five experiments of matrimony, had made the strongest possible
asseverations that he would never again submit himself to such a yoke.
But he was so completely a tool in the hands of his own courtiers that
no one attached the slightest importance to anything which he had said.

The marriage of an uncle with his own niece was considered a violation
of natural laws, and was regarded with no less horror among the Romans
than it would be among ourselves. But Agrippina, by the use of means the
most unscrupulous, prevailed over all her rivals, and managed her
interests with such consummate skill that, before many months had
elapsed, she had become the spouse of Claudius and the Empress of Rome.

With this princess the destinies of Seneca were most closely
intertwined, and it will enable us the better to understand his
position, and his writings, if we remember that all history discloses to
us no phenomenon more portentous and terrible than that presented to us
in the character of Agrippina, the mother of Nero.

Of the virtues of her great parents she, like their other children, had
inherited not one; and she had exaggerated their family tendencies into
passions which urged her into every form of crime. Her career from the
very cradle had been a career of wickedness, nor had any one of the many
fierce vicissitudes of her life called forth in her a single noble or
amiable trait. Born at Oppidum Ubiorum (afterwards called in her honour
Colonia Agrippina, and still retaining its name in the form Cologne),
she lost her father at the age of three, and her mother (by banishment)
at the age of twelve. She was educated with bad sisters, with a wild and
wicked brother, and under a grandmother whom she detested. At the age of
fourteen she was married to Cnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus, one of the most
worthless and ill-reputed of the young Roman nobles of his day. The
gossiping biographies of the time still retain some anecdotes of his
cruelty and selfishness. They tell us how he once, without the slightest
remorse, ran over a poor boy who was playing on the Appian Road; how on
another occasion he knocked out the eye of a Roman knight who had given
him a hasty answer; and how, when his friend congratulated him on the
birth of his son (the young Claudius Domitius, afterwards the Emperor
Nero), he brutally remarked that from people like himself and Agrippina
could only be born some monster destined for the public ruin.

Domitius was forty years old when he married Agrippina, and the young
Nero was not born till nine years afterwards. Whatever there was of
possible affection in the tigress-nature of Agrippina was now absorbed
in the person of her child. For that child, from its cradle to her own
death by his means, she toiled and sinned. The fury of her own ambition,
inextricably linked with the uncontrollable fierceness of her love for
this only son, henceforth directed every action of her life. Destiny had
made her the sister of one Emperor; intrigue elevated her into the wife
of another; her own crimes made her the mother of a third. And at first
sight her career might have seemed unusually successful, for while still
in the prime of life she was wielding, first in the name of her husband,
and then in that of her son, no mean share in the absolute government of
the Roman world. But meanwhile that same unerring retribution, whose
stealthy footsteps in the rear of the triumphant criminal we can track
through page after page of history, was stealing nearer and nearer to
her with uplifted hand. When she had reached the dizzy pinnacle of
gratified love and pride to which she had waded through so many a deed
of sin and blood, she was struck down into terrible ruin and violent
shameful death, by the hand of that very son for whose sake she had so
often violated the laws of virtue and integrity, and spurned so often
the pure and tender obligations which even the heathen had been taught
by the voice of God within their conscience to recognize and to adore.

Intending that her son should marry Octavia, the daughter of Claudius,
her first step was to drive to death Silanus, a young nobleman to whom
Octavia had already been betrothed. Her next care was to get rid of all
rivals possible or actual. Among the former were the beautiful Calpurnia
and her own sister-in-law, Domitia Lepida. Among the latter was the
wealthy Lollia Paulina, against whom she trumped up an accusation of
sorcery and treason, upon which her wealth was confiscated, but her life
spared by the Emperor, who banished her from Italy. This half-vengeance
was not enough for the mother of Nero. Like the daughter of Herodias in
sacred history, she despatched a tribune with orders to bring her the
head of her enemy; and when it was brought to her, and she found a
difficulty in recognizing those withered and ghastly features of a
once-celebrated beauty, she is said with her own hand to have lifted one
of the lips, and to have satisfied herself that this was indeed the head
of Lollia. To such horrors may a woman sink, when she has abandoned the
love of God; and a fair face may hide a soul "leprous as sin itself."
Well may Adolf Stahr observe that Shakespeare's Lady Macbeth and
husband-murdering Gertrude are mere children by the side of this awful
giant-shape of steely feminine cruelty.

Such was the princess who, in the year A.D. 49, recalled Seneca from
exile.[33] She saw that her cruelties were inspiring horror even into a
city that had long been accustomed to blood, and Tacitus expressly tells
us that she hoped to counterbalance this feeling by a stroke of
popularity in recalling from the waste solitudes of Corsica the
favourite philosopher and most popular author of the Roman world. Nor
was she content with this public proof of her belief in his innocence
of the crime which had been laid to his charge, for she further procured
for him the Praetorship, and appointed him tutor and governor to her
youthful son. Even in taking this step she did not forget her ambitious
views; for she knew that Seneca cherished a secret indignation against
Claudius, and that Nero could have no more wise adviser in taking steps
to secure the fruition of his imperial hopes. It might perhaps have been
better for Seneca's happiness if he had never left Corsica, or set his
foot again in that Circean and bloodstained court. Let it, however, be
added in his exculpation, that another man of undoubted and scrupulous
honesty,--Afranius Burrus--a man of the old, blunt, faithful type of
Roman manliness, whom Agrippina had raised to the Prefectship of the
Praetorian cohorts, was willing to share his danger and his
responsibilities. Yet he must have lived from the first in the very
atmosphere of base and criminal intrigues. He must have formed an
important member of Agrippina's party, which was in daily and deadly
enmity against the party of Narcissus. He must have watched the
incessant artifices by which Agrippina secured the adoption of her son
Nero by an Emperor whose own son Britannicus was but three years his
junior. He must have seen Nero always honoured, promoted, paraded before
the eyes of the populace as the future hope of Rome, whilst Britannicus,
like the young Edward V. under the regency of his uncle, was neglected,
surrounded with spies, kept as much as possible out of his father's
sight, and so completely thrust into the background from all observation
that the populace began seriously to doubt whether he were alive or
dead. He must have seen Agrippina, who had now received the
unprecedented honour of the title "Augusta" in her lifetime, acting
with such haughty insolence that there could be little doubt as to her
ulterior designs upon the throne. He must have known that his splendid
intellect was practically at the service of a woman in whom avarice,
haughtiness, violence, treachery, and every form of unscrupulous
criminality had reached a point hitherto unmatched even in a corrupt and
pagan world. From this time forth the biography of Seneca must assume
the form of an apology rather than of a panegyric.

[Footnote 33: Gallio was Proconsul of Achaia about A.D. 53, when St.
Paul was brought before his tribunal. Very possibly his elevation may
have been due to the restoration of Seneca's influence.]

The Emperor could not but feel that in Agrippina he had chosen a wife
even more intolerable than Messalina herself. Messalina had not
interfered with the friends he loved, had not robbed him of the insignia
of empire, had not filled his palace with a hard and unfeminine tyranny,
and had of course watched with a mother's interest over the lives and
fortunes of his children. Narcissus would not be likely to leave him
long in ignorance that, in addition to her other plots and crimes,
Agrippina had been as little true to him as his former unhappy wife. The
information sank deep into his heart, and he was heard to mutter that it
had been his destiny all along first to bear, and then to avenge, the
enormities of his wives. Agrippina, whose spies filled the palace, could
not long remain uninformed of so significant a speech; and she probably
saw with an instinct quickened by the awful terrors of her own guilty
conscience that the Emperor showed distinct signs of his regret for
having married his niece, and adopted her child to the prejudice, if not
to the ruin, of his own young son. If she wanted to reach the goal which
she had held so long in view no time was to be lost. Let us hope that
Seneca and Burrus were at least ignorant of the means which she took to
effect her purpose.

Fortune favoured her. The dreaded Narcissus, the most formidable
obstacle to her murderous plans, was seized with an attack of the gout.
Agrippina managed that his physician should recommend him the waters of
Sinuessa in Campania by way of cure. He was thus got out of the way, and
she proceeded at once to her work of blood. Entrusting the secret to
Halotus, the Emperor's _praegustator_--the slave whose office it was to
protect him from poison by tasting every dish before him--and to his
physician, Xenophon of Cos, she consulted Locusta, the Mrs. Turner of
the period of this classical King James, as to the poison best suited to
her purpose. Locusta was mistress of her art, in which long practice had
given her a consummate skill. The poison must not be too rapid, lest it
should cause suspicion; nor too slow, lest it should give the Emperor
time to consult for the interests of his son Britannicus; but it was to
be one which should disturb his intellect without causing immediate
death. Claudius was a glutton, and the poison was given him with all the
more ease because it was mixed with a dish of mushrooms, of which he was
extravagantly fond. Agrippina herself handed him the choicest mushroom
in the dish, and the poison at once reduced him to silence. As was too
frequently the case, Claudius was intoxicated at the time, and was
carried off to his bed as if nothing had happened. A violent colic
ensued, and it was feared that this, with a quantity of wine which he
had drunk, would render the poison innocuous. But Agrippina had gone too
far for retreat, and Xenophon, who knew that great crimes if frustrated
are perilous, if successful are rewarded, came to her assistance. Under
pretence of causing him to vomit, he tickled the throat of the Emperor
with a feather smeared with a swift and deadly poison. It did its work,
and before morning the Caesar was a corpse.[34]

[Footnote 34: There is usually found among the writings of Seneca a most
remarkable burlesque called _Ludus de Morte Caesaris_. As to its
authorship opinions will always vary, but it is a work of such undoubted
genius, so interesting, and so unique in its character, that I have
thought it necessary to give in an Appendix a brief sketch of its
argument. We may at least _hope_ that this satire, which overflows with
the deadliest contempt of Claudius, is not from the same pen which wrote
for Nero his funeral oration. It has, however, been supposed (without
sufficient grounds) to be the lost [Greek: Apokolokuntoois] which Seneca
is said to have written on the apotheosis of Claudius. The very name is
a bitter satire. It imagines the Emperor transformed, not into a God,
but into a gourd--one of those "bloated gourds which sun their speckled
bellies before the doors of the Roman peasants." "The Senate decreed his
_divinity_; Seneca translated it into _pumpkinity_" (Merivale, _Rom.
Emp_. v. 601). The _Ludus_ begins by spattering mud on the memory of the
divine Claudius; it ends with a shower of poetic roses over the glory of
the diviner Nero!]

As has been the case not unfrequently in history, from the times of
Tarquinius Priscus to those of Charles II., the death was concealed
until everything had been prepared for the production of a successor.
The palace was carefully watched; no one was even admitted into it
except Agrippina's most trusty partisans. The body was propped up with
pillows; actors were sent for "by his own desire" to afford it some
amusement; and priests and consuls were bidden to offer up their vows
for the life of the dead. Giving out that the Emperor was getting
better, Agrippina took care to keep Britannicus and his two sisters,
Octavia and Antonia, under her own immediate eye. As though overwhelmed
with sorrow she wept, and embraced them, and above all kept Britannicus
by her side, kissing him with the exclamation "that he was the very
image of his father," and taking care that he should on no account
leave her room. So the day wore on till it was the hour which the
Chaldaeans declared would be the only lucky hour in that unlucky
October day.

Noon came; the palace doors were suddenly thrown open: and Nero with
Burrus at his side went out to the Praetorian cohort which was on guard.
By the order of their commandant, they received him with cheers. A few
only hesitated, looking round them and asking "Where was Britannicus?"
Since, however, he was not to be seen, and no one stirred in his favour,
they followed the multitude. Nero was carried in triumph to the camp,
made the soldiers a short speech, and promised to each man of them a
splendid donative. He was at once saluted Emperor. The Senate followed
the choice of the soldiers, and the provinces made no demur. Divine
honors were decreed to the murdered man, and preparations made for a
funeral which was to rival in its splendour the one which Livia had
ordered for Augustus. But the will--which beyond all doubt had provided
for the succession of Britannicus--was quietly done away with, and its
exact provisions were never known.

And on the first evening of his imperial power, Nero, well aware to whom
he owed his throne, gave to the sentinel who came to ask him the pass
for the night the grateful and significant watchword of "Optima
Mater,"--"the best of mothers!"



The imperial youth, whose destinies are now inextricably mingled with
those of Seneca, was accompanied to the throne by the acclamations of
the people. Wearied by the astuteness of an Augustus, the sullen wrath
of a Tiberius, the mad ferocity of a Caius, the senile insensibility of
a Claudius, they could not but welcome the succession of a bright and
beautiful youth, whose fair hair floated over his shoulders, and whose
features displayed the finest type of Roman beauty. There was nothing in
his antecedents to give a sinister augury to his future development, and
all classes alike dreamt of the advent of a golden age. We can
understand their feelings if we compare them with those of our own
countrymen when the sullen tyranny of Henry VIII. was followed by the
youthful virtue and gentleness of Edward VI. Happy would it have been
for Nero if his reign, like that of Edward, could have been cut short
before the thick night of many crimes had settled down upon the promise
of its dawn. For the first five years of Nero's reign--the famous
_Quinquennium Neronis_--were fondly regarded by the Romans as a period
of almost ideal happiness. In reality, it was Seneca who was ruling in
Nero's, name. Even so excellent an Emperor as Trajan is said to have
admitted "that no other prince had nearly equalled the praise of that
period." It is indeed probable that those years appeared to shine with
an exaggerated splendour from the intense gloom which succeeded them;
yet we can see in them abundant circumstances which were quite
sufficient to inspire an enthusiasm of hope and joy. The young Nero was
at first modest and docile. His opening speeches, written with all the
beauty of thought and language which betrayed the _style_ of Seneca no
less than his habitual sentiments, were full of glowing promises. All
those things which had been felt to be injurious or oppressive he
promised to eschew. He would not, he said, reserve to himself, as
Claudius had done, the irresponsible decision in all matters of
business; no office or dignity should be won from him by flattery or
purchased by bribes; he would not confuse his own personal interests
with those of the commonwealth; he would respect the ancient
prerogatives of the Senate; he would confine his own immediate attention
to the provinces and the army.

Nor were such promises falsified by his immediate conduct. The odious
informers who had flourished in previous reigns were frowned upon and
punished. Offices of public dignity were relieved from unjust and
oppressive burdens. Nero prudently declined the gold and silver statues
and other extravagant honours which were offered to him by the corrupt
and servile Senate, but he treated that body, which, fallen as it was,
continued still to be the main representative of constitutional
authority, with favour and respect. Nobles and officials begun to
breathe more freely, and the general sense of an intolerable tyranny was
perceptibly relaxed. Severity was reserved for notorious criminals, and
was only inflicted in a regular and authorized manner, when no one
could doubt that it had been deserved. Above all, Seneca had
disseminated an anecdote about his young pupil which tended more than
any other circumstance to his wide spread popularity. England has
remembered with gratitude and admiration the tearful reluctance of her
youthful Edward to sign the death-warrant of Joan Boucher; Rome,
accustomed to a cruel indifference to human life, regarded with
something like transport the sense of pity which had made Nero, when
asked to affix his signature to an order for execution, exclaim, "_How I
wish that I did not know how to write_!"

It is admitted that no small share of the happiness of this period was
due to the firmness of the honest Burrus, and the wise, high-minded
precepts of Seneca. They deserve the amplest gratitude and credit for
this happy interregnum, for they had no easy task to perform. Besides
the difficulties which arose from the base and frivolous character of
their pupil, besides the infinite delicacy which was requisite for the
restraint of a youth who was absolute master of such gigantic destinies,
they had the task of curbing the wild and imperious ambition of
Agrippina, and of defeating the incessant intrigues of her many powerful
dependents. Agrippina had no doubt persuaded herself that her crimes had
been mainly committed in the interest of her son; but her conduct showed
that she wished him to be a mere instrument in her hands. She wished to
govern him, and had probably calculated on doing so by the assistance of
Seneca, just as our own Queen Caroline completely managed George II.
with the aid of Sir Robert Walpole. She rode in a litter with him;
without his knowledge she ordered the poisoning of M. Silanus, a brother
of her former victim, she goaded Narcissus to death, against his will;
through her influence the Senate was sometimes assembled in the palace,
and she took no pains to conceal from the senators that she was herself
seated behind a curtain where she could hear every word of their
deliberations;--nay, on one occasion, when Nero was about to give
audience to an important Armenian legation, she had the audacity to
enter the audience-chamber, and advance to take her seat by the side of
the Emperor. Every one else was struck dumb with amazement, and even
terror, at a proceeding so unusual; but Seneca, with ready and admirable
tact, suggested to Nero that he should rise and meet his mother, thus
obviating a public scandal under the pretext of filial affection.

But Seneca from the very first had been guilty of a fatal error in the
education of his pupil. He had governed him throughout on the ruinous
principle of _concession_. Nero was not devoid of talent; he had a
decided turn for Latin versification, and the few lines of his
composition which have come down to us, _bizarre_ and effected as they
are, yet display a certain sense of melody and power of language. But
his vivid imagination was accompained by a want of purpose; and Seneca,
instead of trying to train him in habits of serious attention and
sustained thought, suffered him to waste his best efforts in pursuits
and amusements which were considered partly frivolous and partly
disreputable, such as singing, painting, dancing, and driving. Seneca
might have argued that there was, at any rate, no great harm in such
employments, and that they probably kept Nero out of worse mischief. But
we respect Nero the less for his indifferent singing and harp-twanging
just as we respect Louis XVI. less for making very poor locks; and, if
Seneca had adopted a loftier tone with his pupil from the first, Rome
might have been spared the disgraceful folly of Nero's subsequent
buffooneries in the cities of Greece and the theatres of Rome. We may
lay it down as an invariable axiom in all high education, that it is
_never_ sensible to permit what is bad for the supposed sake of
preventing what is worse. Seneca very probably persuaded himself that
with a mind like Nero's--the innate worthlessness of which he must early
have recognised--success of any high description would be simply
impossible. But this did not absolve him from attempting the only noble
means by which success could, under any circumstances, be attainable.
Let us, however, remember that his concessions to his pupil were mainly
in matters which he regarded as indifferent--or, at the worst, as
discreditable--rather than as criminal; and that his mistake probably
arose from an error in judgment far more than from any deficiency in
moral character.

Yet it is clear that, even intellectually, Nero was the worse for this
laxity of training. We have already seen that, in his maiden-speech
before the Senate, every one recognized the hand of Seneca, and many
observed with a sigh that this was the first occasion on which an
Emperor had not been able, at least to all appearance, to address the
Senate in his own words and with his own thoughts. Tiberius, as an
orator, had been dignified and forcible; Claudius had been learned and
polished; even the disturbed reason of Caligula had not been wanting in
a capacity for delivering forcible and eloquent harangues; but Nero's
youth had been frittered away in paltry and indecorus accomplishments,
which had left him neither time nor inclination for weightier and
nobler pursuits.

The fame of Seneca has, no doubt, suffered grieviously from the
subsequent infamy of his pupil; and it is obvious that the dislike of
Tacitus to his memory is due to his connexion with Nero. Now, even
though the tutor's system had not been so wise as, when judged by an
inflexible standard, it might have been, it is yet clearly unjust to
make him responsible for the depravity of his pupil; and it must be
remembered, to Seneca's eternal honour, that the evidence of facts, the
testimony of contemporaries, and even the grudging admission of Tacitus
himself, establishes in his favour that whatever wisdom and moderation
characterized the earlier years of Nero's reign were due to his
counsels; that he enjoyed the cordial esteem of the virtuous Burrus;
that he helped to check the sanguinary audacities of Agrippina; that the
writings which he addressed to Nero, and the speeches which he wrote for
him, breathed the loftiest counsels; and that it was not until he was
wholly removed from power and influence that Nero, under the fierce
impulses of despotic power, developed those atrocious tendencies of
which the seeds had long been latent in his disposition. An ancient
writer records the tradition that Seneca very early observed in Nero a
savagery of disposition which he could not wholly eradicate; and that to
his intimate friends he used to observe that, "when once the lion tasted
human blood, his innate cruelty would return."

But while we give Seneca this credit, and allow that his _intentions_
were thoroughly upright, we cannot but impugn his _judgment_ for having
thus deliberately adopted the morality of expedience; and we believe
that to this cause, more than to any other, was due the extent of his
failure and the misery of his life. We may, indeed, be permitted to
doubt whether Nero himself--a vain and loose youth, the son of bad
parents, and heir to boundless expectations--would, under any
circumstances, have grown up much better than he did; but it is clear
that Seneca might have been held in infinitely higher honour but for the
share which he had in his education. Had Seneca been as firm and wise as
Socrates, Nero in all probability would not have been much worse than
Alcibiades. If the tutor had set before his pupil no ideal but the very
highest, if he had inflexibly opposed to the extent of his ability every
tendency which was dishonourable and wrong, he might _possibly_ have
been rewarded by success, and have earned the indelible gratitude of
mankind; and if he had failed he would at least have failed nobly, and
have carried with him into a calm and honourable retirement the respect,
if not the affection, of his imperial pupil. Nay, even if he had failed
_completely_, and lost his life in the attempt, it would have been
infinitely better both for him and for mankind. Even Homer might have
taught him that "it is better to die than live in sin." At any rate he
might have known from study and observation that an education founded on
compromise must always and necessarily fail. It must fail because it
overlooks that great eternal law of retribution for and continuity in
evil, which is illustrated by every single history of individuals and of
nations. And the education which Seneca gave to Nero--noble as it was in
many respects, and eminent as was its partial and temporary success--was
yet an education of compromises. Alike in the studies of Nero's boyhood
and the graver temptations of his manhood, he acted on the
foolishly-fatal principle that

"Had the wild oat not been sown,
The soil left barren scarce had grown,
The grain whereby a man may live."

Any Christian might have predicted the result; one would have thought
that even a pagan philosopher might have been enlightened enough to
observe it. We often quote the lines--

"The child is father of the man,"


"Just as the twig is bent the tree inclines."

But the ancients were quite as familiar with the same truth under other
images. "The cask," wrote Horace, "will long retain the odour of that
which has once been poured into it when new." Quintilian, describing the
depraved influences which surrounded even the infancy of a Roman child,
said, "From these arise _first familiarity, then nature_."

No one has laid down the principle more emphatically than Seneca
himself. Take, for instance, the following passage from his Letters, on
evil conversation. "The conversation," he says, "of these men is very
injurious; for, even if it does no immediate harm, it leaves its seeds
in the mind, and follows us even when we have gone from the speakers,--a
plague sure to spring up in future resurrection. Just as those who have
heard a symphony carry in their ears the tune and sweetness of the song
which entangles their thoughts, and does not suffer them to give their
whole energy to serious matters; so the conversation of flatterers and
of those who praise evil things, lingers longer in the mind than the
time of hearing it. Nor is it easy to shake out of the soul a sweet
sound; it pursues us, and lingers with us, and at perpetual intervals
recurs. Our ears therefore must be closed to evil words, and that to the
very first we hear. For when they have once begun and been admitted,
they acquire more and more audacity;" and so he adds a little
afterwards, "our days flow on, and irreparable life passes beyond our
reach." Yet he who wrote these noble words was not only a flatterer to
his imperial pupil, but is charged with having deliberately encouraged
him in a foolish passion for a freedwoman named Acte, into which Nero
fell. It was of course his duty to recall the wavering affections of the
youthful Emperor to his betrothed Octavia, the daughter of Claudius, to
whom he had been bound by every tie of honour and affection, and his
union with whom gave some shadow of greater legitimacy to his practical
usurpation. But princes rarely love the wives to whom they owe any part
of their elevation. Henry VII. treated Elizabeth of York with many
slights. The union of William III. with Mary was overshadowed by her
superior claim to the royal power; and Nero from the first regarded with
aversion, which ended in assassination, the poor young orphan girl who
recalled to the popular memory his slender pretensions to hereditary
empire, and whom he regarded as a possible rival, if her cowed and
plastic nature should ever become a tool in the hands of more powerful
intriguers. But we do not hear of any attempt on Seneca's part to urge
upon Nero the fulfillment of this high duty, and we find him sinking
into the degraded position of an accomplice with young profligates like
Otho, as the confident of a dishonourable love. Such conduct, which
would have done discredit to a mere courtier, was to a Stoic
disgraceful. But the principle which led to it is the very principle to
which we have been pointing,--the principle of moral compromise, the
principle of permitting and encouraging what is evil in the vain hope of
thereby preventing what is worse. It is hardly strange that Seneca
should have erred in this way, for compromise was the character of his
entire life. He appears to have set before himself the wholly impossible
task of being both a genuine philosopher and a statesman under the
Caesars. He prided himself on being not only a philosopher, but also a
man of the world, and the consequence was, that in both capacities he
failed. It was as true in Paganism as it is in Christianity, that a man
_must_ make his choice between duty and interest--between the service of
Mammon and the service of God. No man ever gained anything but contempt
and ruin by incessantly halting between two opinions.

And by not taking that lofty line of duty which a Zeno or an Antisthenes
would have taken, Seneca became more or less involved in some of the
most dreadful events of Nero's reign. Every one of the terrible doubts
under which his reputation has suffered arose from his having permitted
the principle of expedience to supercede the laws of virtue. One or two
of these events we must briefly narrate.

We have already pointed out that the Nemesis which for so many years had
been secretly dogging the footsteps of Agrippina made her tremble under
the weight of its first cruel blows when she seemed to have attained the
highest summit of her ambition. Very early indeed Nero began to be
galled and irritated by the insatiate assumption and swollen authority
of "the best of mothers." The furious reproaches which she heaped upon
him when she saw in Acte a possible rival to her power drove him to take
refuge in the facile and unphilosophic worldliness of Seneca's
concessions, and goaded him almost immediately afterwards into an
atrocious crime. He naturally looked on Britannicus, the youthful son of
Claudius, with even more suspicion and hatred than that with which he
regarded Octavia. Kings have rarely been able to abstain from acts of
severity against those who might become claimants to the throne. The
feelings of King John towards Prince Arthur, of Henry IV. towards the
Earl of March, of Mary towards Lady Jane Grey, of Elizabeth towards Mary
Stuart, of King James towards Lady Arabella Stuart, resembled, but
probably by no means equalled in intensity, those of Nero towards his
kinsman and adoptive brother. To show him any affection was a dangerous
crime, and it furnished a sufficient cause for immediate removal if any
attendant behaved towards him with fidelity. Such a line of treatment
foreshadowed the catastrophe which was hastened by the rage of
Agrippina. She would go, she said, and take with her to the camp the
noble boy who was now of full age to undertake those imperial duties
which a usurper was exercising in virtue of crimes which she was now
prepared to confess. Then let the mutilated Burrus and the glib-tongued
Seneca see whether they could be a match for the son of Claudius and the
daughter of Germanicus. Such language, uttered with violent gestures and
furious imprecations, might well excite the alarm of the timid Nero. And
that alarm was increased by a recent circumstance, which showed that all
the ancestral spirit was not dead in the breast of Britannicus. During
the festivities of the Saturnalia, which were kept by the ancients with
all the hilarity of the modern Christmas, Nero had been elected by lot
as "governor of the feast," and, in that capacity, was entitled to issue
his orders to the guests. To the others he issued trivial mandates which
would not make them blush; but Britannicus in violation of every
principle of Roman decorum, was ordered to stand up in the middle and
sing a song. The boy, inexperienced as yet even in sober banquets, and
wholly unaccustomed to drunken convivialities, might well have faltered;
but he at once rose, and with a steady voice began a strain--probably
the magnificent wail of Andromache over the fall of Troy, which has been
preserved to us from a lost play of Ennius--in which he indicated his
own disgraceful ejection from his hereditary rights. His courage and his
misfortunes woke in the guests a feeling of pity which night and wine
made them less careful to disguise. From that moment the fate of
Britannicus was sealed. Locusta, the celebrated poisoner of ancient
Rome, was summoned to the councils of Nero to get rid of Britannicus, as
she had already been summoned to those of his mother when she wished to
disembarrass herself of Britannicus's father. The main difficulty was to
avoid discovery, since nothing was eaten or drunk at the imperial table
till it had been tasted by the _praegustator_. To avoid this difficulty
a very hot draught was given to Britannicus, and when he wished for
something cooler a swift and subtle poison was dropped into the cold
water with which it was tempered. The boy drank, and instantly sank from
his seat, gasping and speechless. The guests started up in
consternation, and fixed their eyes on Nero. He with the utmost coolness
assured them that it was merely a fit of epilepsy, to which his brother
was accustomed, and from which he would soon recover. The terror and
agitation of Agrippina showed to every one that she at least was
guiltless of this dark deed; but the unhappy Octavia, young as she was,
and doubly terrible on every ground as the blow must have been to her,
sat silent and motionless, having already learnt by her misfortunes the
awful necessity for suppressing under an impassive exterior her
affections and sorrows, her hopes and fears. In the dead of night, amid
storms and murky rain, which were thought to indicate the wrath of
heaven, the last of the Claudii was hastily and meanly hurried into a
dishonourable grave.

We may believe that in this crime Seneca had no share whatever, but we
can hardly believe that he was ignorant of it after it had been
committed, or that he had no share in the intensely hypocritical edict
in which Nero bewailed the fact of his adoptive brother's death, excused
his hurried funeral, and threw himself on the additional indulgence and
protection of the Senate. Nero showed the consciousness of guilt by the
immense largesses which he distributed to the most powerful of his
friends, "Nor were there wanting men," says Tacitus, in a most
significant manner, "_who accused certain people, notorious for their
high professions, of having at that period divided among them villas and
houses as though they had been so much spoil_." There can hardly be a
doubt that the great historian intends by this remark to point at
Seneca, to whom he tries to be fair, but whom he could never quite
forgive for his share in the disgraces of Nero's reign. That avarice was
one of Seneca's temptations is too probable; that expediency was a
guiding principle of his conduct is but too evident; and for a man with
such a character to rebut an innuendo is never an easy task. Nay more,
it was _after_ this foul event, at the close of Nero's first year, that
Seneca addressed him in the extravagant and glowing language of his
treatise on Clemency. "The quality of mercy," and the duty of princes to
practise it, has never been more eloquently extolled; but it is
accompanied by a fulsome flattery which has in it something painfully
grotesque as addressed by a philosopher to one whom he knew to have been
guilty, that very year, of an inhuman fratricide. Imagine some Jewish
Pharisee,--a Nicodemus or a Gamaliel--pronouncing an eulogy on the
tenderness of a Herod, and you have some picture of the appearance which
Seneca's consistency must have worn in the eyes of his contemporaries.

This event took place A.D. 55, in the first year of Nero's
_Quinquennium_, and the same year was nearly signalized by the death of
his mother. A charge of pretended conspiracy was invented against her,
and it is probable that but for the intervention of Burrus, who with
Seneca was appointed to examine into the charge, she would have fallen a
very sudden victim to the cowardly credulity and growing hatred of her
son. The extraordinary and eloquent audacity of her defence created a
reaction in her favour, and secured the punishment of her accusers. But
the ties of affection could not long unite two such wicked and imperious
natures as those of Agrippina and her son. All history shows that there
can be no real love between souls exceptionally wicked, and that this is
still more impossible when the alliance between them has been sealed by
a complicity in crime. Nero had now fallen into a deep infatuation for
Poppaea Sabina, the beautiful wife of Otho, and she refused him her hand
so long as he was still under the control of his mother. At this time
Agrippina, as the just consequence of her many crimes, was regarded by
all classes with a fanaticism of hatred which in Poppaea Sabina was
intensified by manifest self-interest. Nero, always weak, had long
regarded his mother with real terror and disgust, and he scarcely needed
the urgency of constant application to make him long to get rid of her.
But the daughter of Germanicus could not be openly destroyed, while her
own precautions helped to secure her against secret assassination. It
only remained to compass her death by treachery. Nero had long compelled
her to live in suburban retirement, and had made no attempt to conceal
the open rapture which existed between them. Anicetus, admiral of the
fleet at Misenum, and a former instructor of Nero, suggested the
expedient of a pretended public reconciliation, in virtue of which
Agrippina should be invited to Baiae, and on her return should be placed
on board a vessel so constructed as to come to pieces by the removal of
bolts. The disaster might then be attributed to a mere naval accident,
and Nero might make the most ostentatious display of his affection
and regret.

The invitation was sent, and a vessel specially decorated was ordered to
await her movements. But, either from suspicion or from secret
information, she declined to avail herself of it, and was conveyed to
Baiae in a litter. The effusion of hypocritical affection with which she
was received, the unusual tenderness and honour with which she was
treated, the earnest gaze, the warm embrace, the varied conversation,
removed her suspicions, and she consented to return in the vessel of
honour. As though for the purpose of revealing the crime, the night was
starry and the sea calm. The ship had not sailed far, and Crepereius
Gallus, one of her friends, was standing near the helm, while a lady
named Acerronia was seated at her feet as she reclined, and both were
vieing with each other in the warmth of their congratulations upon the
recent interview, when a crash was heard, and the canopy above them
which had been weighted with a quantity of lead, was suddenly let go.
Crepereius was crushed to death upon the spot; Agrippina and Acerronia
were saved by the projecting sides of the couch on which they were
resting; in the hurry and alarm, as accomplices were mingled with a
greater number who were innocent of the plot, the machinery of the
treacherous vessel failed. Some of the rowers rushed to one side of the
ship, hoping in that manner to sink it, but here too their councils were
divided and confused. Acerronia, in the selfish hope of securing
assistance, exclaimed that she was Agrippina, and was immediately
despatched with oars and poles; Agrippina, silent and unrecognized,
received a wound upon the shoulder, but succeeded in keeping herself
afloat till she was picked up by fishermen and carried in safety to
her villa.

The hideous attempt from which she had been thus miraculously rescued
did not escape her keen intuition, accustomed as it was to deeds of
guilt; but, seeing that her only chance of safety rested in
dissimulation and reticense, she sent her freedman Agerinus to tell her
son that by the mercy of heaven she had escaped from a terrible
accident, but to beg him not to be alarmed, and not to come to see her
because she needed rest.

The news filled Nero with the wildest terror, and the expectation of an
immediate revenge. In horrible agitation and uncertainty he instantly
required the presence of Burrus and Seneca. Tacitus doubts whether they
may not have been already aware of what he had attempted, and Dion, to
whose gross calumnies, however, we need pay no attention, declares that
Seneca had frequently urged Nero to the deed, either in the hope of
overshadowing his own guilt, or of involving Nero in a crime which
should hasten his most speedy destruction at the hands of gods and men.
In the absence of all evidence we may with perfect confidence acquit the
memory of these eminent men from having gone so far as this.

It must have been a strange and awful scene. The young man, for Nero was
but twenty-two years old, poured into the ears their tumult of his
agitation and alarm. White with fear, weak with dissipation, and
tormented by the furies of a guilty conscience, the wretched youth
looked from one to another of his aged ministers. A long and painful
pause ensued. If they dissuaded him in vain from the crime which he
meditated their lives would have been in danger; and perhaps they
sincerely thought that things had gone so far that, unless Agrippina
were anticipated, Nero would be destroyed. Seneca was the first to break
that silence of anguish by inquiring of Burrus whether the soldiery
could be entrusted to put her to death. His reply was that the
praetorians would do nothing against a daughter of Germanicus and that
Anicetus should accomplish what he had promised. Anicetus showed himself
prompt to crime, and Nero thanked him in a rapture of gratitude. While
the freedman Agerinus was delivering to Nero his mother's message,
Anicetus dropped a dagger at his feet, declared that he had caught him
in the very act of attempting the Emperor's assassination, and hurried
off with a band of soldiers to punish Agrippina as the author of
the crime.

The multitude meanwhile were roaming in wild excitement along the shore;
their torches were seen glimmering in evident commotion about the scene
of the calamity, where some were wading into the water in search of the
body, and others were shouting incoherent questions and replies. At the
rumour of Agrippina's escape they rushed off in a body to her villa to
express their congratulations, where they were dispersed by the soldiers
of Anicetus, who had already token possession of it. Scattering or
seizing the slaves who came in their way, and bursting their passage
from door to door, they found the Empress in a dimly-lighted chamber,
attended only by a single handmaid. "Dost thou too desert me?"
exclaimed the wretched woman to her servant, as she rose to slip away.
In silent determination the soldiers surrounded her couch, and Anicetus
was the first to strike her with a stick. "Strike my womb," she cried to
him faintly, as he drew his sword, "for it bore Nero." The blow of
Anicetus was the signal for her immediate destruction: she was
dispatched with many wounds, and was buried that night at Misenum on a
common couch and with a mean funeral. Such an end, many years
previously, this sister, and wife, and mother of emperors had
anticipated and despised; for when the Chaldaeans had assured her that
her son would become Emperor, and would murder her, she is said to have
exclaimed, "Occidat dum imperet," "Let him slay me if he but reign."

It only remained to account for the crime, and offer for it such lying
defences as were most likely to gain credit. Flying to Naples from a
scene which had now become awful to him,--for places do not change as
men's faces change, and, besides this, his disturbed conscience made him
fancy that he heard from the hill of Misenum the blowing of a ghostly
trumpet and wailings about his mother's tomb in the hours of night,--he
sent from thence a letter to the Senate, saying that his mother had been
punished for an attempt upon his life, and adding a list of her crimes,
real and imaginary, the narrative of her _accidental_ shipwreck, and his
opinion that her death was a public blessing. The author of this
shameful document was Seneca, and in composing it he reached the nadir
of his moral degradation. Even the lax morality of a most degenerate age
condemned him for calmly sitting down to decorate with the graces of
rhetoric and antithesis an atrocity too deep for the powers of
indignation. A Seneca could stoop to write what a Thrasea Paetus could
scarcely stoop to hear; for in the meeting of the Senate at which the
letter was recited, Thrasea rose in indignation, and went straight home
rather than seem to sanction by his presence the adulation of a

And the composition of that guily, elaborate, shameful letter was the
last prominent act of Seneca's public life.



Nor was it unnatural that it should be. Moral precepts, philosophic
guidance were no longer possible to one whose compliances or whose
timidity had led him so far as first to sanction matricide, and then to
defend it. He might indeed be still powerful to recommend principles of
common sense and political expediency, but the loftier lessons of
Stoicism, nay, even the better utterances of a mere ordinary Pagan
morality, could henceforth only fall from his lips with something of a
hollow ring. He might interfere, as we know he did, to render as
innocuous as possible the pernicious vanity which made Nero so ready to
degrade his imperial rank by public appearances on the orchestra or in
the race-course, but he could hardly address again such noble teachings
as that of the treatise on Clemency to one whom, on grounds of political
expediency, he had not dissuaded from the treacherous murder of a
mother, who, whatever her enormities, yet for his sake had sold her
very soul.

Although there may have been a strong suspicion that foul play had been
committed, the actual facts and details of the death of Agrippina would
rest between Nero and Seneca as a guilty secret, in the guilt of which
Seneca himself must have his share. Such a position of things was the
inevitable death-blow, not only to all friendship, but to all
confidence, and ultimately to all intercourse. We see in sacred history
that Joab's participation in David's guilty secret gave him the absolute
mastery over his own sovereign; we see repeatedly in profane history
that the mutual knowledge of some crime is the invariable cause of
deadly hatred between a subject and a king. Such feelings as King John
may be supposed to have had to Hubert de Burgh, or King Richard III. to
Sir James Tyrrel, or King James I. to the Earl of Somerset, such
probably, in still more virulent intensity, were the feelings of Nero
towards his whilome "guide, philosopher, and friend."

For Nero very soon learnt that Seneca was no longer _necessary_ to him.
For a time he lingered in Campania, guiltily dubious as to the kind of
reception that awaited him in the capital. The assurances of the vile
crew which surrounded him soon made that fear wear off, and when he
plucked up the courage to return to his palace, he might himself have
been amazed at the effusion of infamous loyalty and venal acclamation
with which he was received. All Rome poured itself forth to meet him;
the Senate appeared in festal robes with their wives and girls and boys
in long array; seats and scaffoldings were built up along the road by
which he had to pass, as though the populace had gone forth to see a
triumph. With haughty mein, the victor of a nation of slaves, he
ascended the Capitol, gave thanks to the gods, and went home to betray
henceforth the full perversity of a nature which the reverence for his
mother, such as it was, had hitherto in part restrained. But the
instincts of the populace were suppressed rather than eradicated. They
hung a sack from his statue by night in allusion to the old punishment
of parricides, who were sentenced to be flung into the sea, tied up in a
sack with a serpent, a monkey, and a cock. They exposed an infant in the
Forum with a tablet on which was written, "I refuse to rear thee, lest
thou shouldst slay thy mother." They scrawled upon the blank walls of
Rome an iambic line which reminded all who read it that Nero, Orestes,
and Alcmaeon were murderers of their mothers. Even Nero must have been
well aware that he presented a hideous spectacle in the eyes of all who
had the faintest shade of righteousness among the people whom he ruled.

All this took place in A.D. 59, and we hear no more of Seneca till the
year 62, a year memorable for the death of Burrus, who had long been his
honest, friendly, and faithful colleague. In these dark times, when all
men seemed to be speaking in a whisper, almost every death of a
conspicuous and high-minded man, if not caused by open violence, falls
under the suspicion of secret poison. The death of Burrus may have been
due (from the description) to diphtheria, but the popular voice charged
Nero with having hastened his death by a pretended remedy, and declared
that, when the Emperor visited his sick bed, the dying man turned away
from his inquiries with the laconic answer, "I am well."

His death was regretted, not only from the memory of his virtues, but
also from the fact that Nero appointed two men as his successors, of
whom the one, Fenius Rufus, was honorable but indolent; the other and
more powerful, Sofonius Tigellinus had won for himself among cruel and
shameful associates a pre-eminence of hatred and of shame.

However faulty and inconsistent Seneca may have been, there was at any
rate no possibility that he should divide with a Tigellinus the
direction of his still youthful master. He was by no means deceived as
to the position in which he stood, and the few among Nero's followers in
whom any spark of honour was left informed him of the incessant
calumnies which were used to undermine his influence. Tigellinus and his
friends dwelt on his enormous wealth and his magnificent villas and
gardens, which could only have been acquired with ulterior objects, and
which threw into the shade the splendour of the Emperor himself. They
tried to kindle the inflammable jealousies of Nero's feeble mind by
representing Seneca as attempting to rival him in poetry, and as
claiming the entire credit of his eloquence, while he mocked his divine
singing, and disparaged his accomplishments as a harper and charioteer
because he himself was unable to acquire them. Nero, they urged was a
boy no longer; let him get rid of his schoolmaster, and find sufficient
instruction in the example of his ancestors.

Foreseeing how such arguments must end; Seneca requested an interview
with Nero; begged to be suffered to retire altogether from public life;
pleaded age and increasing infirmities as an excuse for desiring a calm
retreat; and offered unconditionally to resign the wealth and honours
which had excited the cupidity of his enemies, but which were simply due
to Nero's unexampled liberality during the eight years of his
government, towards one whom he had regarded as a benefactor and a
friend. But Nero did not choose to let Seneca escape so lightly. He
argued that, being still young, he could not spare him, and that to
accept his offers would not be at all in accordance with his fame for
generosity. A proficient in the imperial art of hiding detestation under
deceitful blandishments, Nero ended the interview with embraces and
assurances of friendship. Seneca thanked him--the usual termination, as
Tacitus bitterly adds, of interviews with a ruler--but nevertheless
altered his entire manner of life, forbade his friends to throng to his
levees, avoided all companions, and rarely appeared in public--wishing
it to be believed that he was suffering from weak health, or was wholly
occupied in the pursuit of philosophy. He well knew the arts of courts,
for in his book on Anger he has told an anecdote of one who, being asked
how he had managed to attain so rare a gift as old age in a palace,
replied, "By submitting to injuries, and _returning thanks for them_."
But he must have known that his life hung upon a thread, for in the very
same year an attempt was made to involve him in a charge of treason as
one of the friends of C. Calpurnius Piso, an illustrious nobleman whose
wealth and ability made him an object of jealousy and suspicion, though
he was naturally unambitious and devoid of energy. The attempt failed at
the time, and Seneca was able triumphantly to refute the charge of any
treasonable design. But the fact of such a charge being made showed how
insecure was the position of any man of eminence under the deepening
tyranny of Nero, and it precipitated the conspiracy which two years
afterwards was actually formed.

Not long after the death of Burrus, when Nero began to add sacrilege to
his other crimes, Seneca made one more attempt to retire from Rome; and,
when permission was a second time refused, he feigned a severe illness,
and confined himself to his chamber. It was asserted, and believed, that
about this time Nero made an attempt to poison him by the
instrumentality of his freedman Cleonicus, which was only defeated by
the confession of an accomplice or by the abstemious habits of the
philosopher who now took nothing but bread and fruit, and never quenched
his thirst except out of the running stream.

It was during those two years of Seneca's seclusion and disgrace that an
event happened of imperishable interest. On the orgies of a shameful
court, on the supineness of a degenerate people, there burst--as upon
the court of Charles II.--a sudden lightning-flash of retribution. In
its character, in its extent, in the devastation and anguish of which it
was the cause, in the improvements by which it was followed, in the
lying origin to which it was attributed, even in the general
circumstances of the period and character of the reign in which it
happened, there is a close and singular analogy between the Great Fire
of London in 1666 and the Great Fire of Rome in 64. Beginning in the
crowded part of the city, under the Palatine and Caelian Hills, it
raged, first for six, and then again for three days, among the
inflammable material of booths and shops, and driven along by a furious
wind, amid feeble and ill-directed efforts to check its course, it burst
irresistibly over palaces, temples, and porticoes, and amid the narrow
tortuous streets of old Rome, involving in a common destruction the most
magnificent works of ancient art, the choicest manuscripts of ancient
literature, and the most venerable monuments of ancient superstition. In
a few touches of inimitable compression, such as the stern genius of the
Latin language permits, but which are too condensed for direct
translation, Tacitus has depicted the horror of the scene,--wailing of
panic-stricken women, the helplessness of the very aged and the very
young, the passionate eagerness for themselves and for others, the
dragging along of the feeble or the waiting for them, the lingering and
the hurry, the common and inextricable confusion. Many, while they
looked backward, were cut off by the flames in front or at the sides; if
they sought some neighboring refuge, they found it in the grasp of the
conflagration; if they hurried to some more distant spot, that too was
found to be involved in the same calamity. At last, uncertain what to
seek or what to avoid, they crowded the streets, they lay huddled
together in the fields. Some, having lost all their possessions, died
from the want of daily food; and others, who might have escaped died of
a broken heart from the anguish of being bereaved of those whom they had
been unable to rescue; while, to add to the universal horror, it was
believed that all attempts to repress the flames were checked by
authoritive prohibition; nay more, that hired incendiaries were seen
flinging firebrands in new directions, either because they had been
bidden to do so, or that they might exercise their rapine undisturbed.

The historians and anecdotists of the time, whose accounts must be taken
for what they are worth, attribute to Nero the origin of the
conflagration; and it is certain that he did not return to Rome until
the fire had caught the galleries of his palace. In vain did he use
every exertion to assist the homeless and ruined population; in vain did
he order food to be sold to them at a price unprecedentedly low, and
throw open to them the monuments of Agrippa, his own gardens, and a
multitude of temporary sheds. A rumour had been spread that, during the
terrible unfolding of that great "flower of flame," he had mounted to
the roof of his distant villa, and delighted with the beauty of the
spectacle, exulting in the safe sensation of a new excitement, had
dressed himself in theatrical attire, and sung to his harp a poem on the
burning of Troy. Such a heartless mixture of buffoonery and affectation
had exasperated the people too deeply for forgiveness, and Nero thought
it necessary to draw off the general odium into a new channel, since
neither his largesses nor any other popular measures succeeded in
removing from himself the ignominy of this terrible suspicion. What
follows is so remarkable, and, to a Christian reader, so deeply
interesting, that I will give it in the very words of that great
historian whom I have been so closely following.

"Therefore, to get rid of this report, Nero trumped up an accusation
against a sect, detested for their atrocities, whom the common people
called Christians, and inflicted on them the most recondite punishments.
Christ, the founder of this sect, had been capitally punished by the
Procurator Pontius Pilate, in the reign of Tiberius; and this damnable
superstition, repressed for the present, was again breaking out, not
only through Judaea, where the evil originated, but even through the
City, whither from all regions all things that are atrocious or shameful
flow together and gain a following. Those, therefore, were first
arrested who confessed their religion, and then on their evidence a vast
multitude were condemned, not so much on the charge of incendiarism, as
for their hatred towards the human race. And mockery was added to their
death; for they were covered in the skins of wild beasts and were torn
to death by dogs, or crucified, or set apart for burning, and after the
close of the day were reserved for the purpose of nocturnal
illumination. Nero lent his own gardens for the spectacle, and gave a
chariot-race, mingling with the people in the costume of a charioteer,
or driving among them in his chariot; by which conduct he raised a
feeling of commiseration towards the sufferers, guilty though they were,
and deserving of the extremest penalties, as though they were being
exterminated, not for the public interests, but to gratify the savage
cruelty of one man."

Such are the brief but deeply pathetic particulars which have come down
to us respecting the first great persecution of the Christians, and such
must have been the horrid events of which Seneca was a contemporary, and
probably an actual eye-witness, in the very last year of his life.
Profoundly as in all likelihood he must have despised the very name of
Christian, a heart so naturally mild and humane as his must have
shuddered at the monstrous cruelties devised against the unhappy
votaries of this new religion. But to the relations of Christianity with
the Pagan world we shall return in a subsequent chapter and we must now
hasten to the end of our biography.



The false charge which had been brought against Seneca, and in which the
name of Piso had been involved, tended to urge that nobleman and his
friends into a real and formidable conspiracy. Many men of influence and
distinction joined in it, and among others Annaeus Lucanus, the
celebrated poet-nephew of Seneca, and Fenius Rufus the colleague of
Tigellinus in the command of the imperial guards. The plot was long
discussed, and many were admitted into the secret, which was
nevertheless marvellously well kept. One of the most eager conspirators
was Subrius Flavus, an officer of the guards, who suggested the plan of
stabbing Nero as he sang upon the stage, or of attacking him as he went
about without guards at night in the galleries of his burning palace.
Flavus is even said to have cherished the design of subsequently
murdering Piso likewise, and of offering the imperial power to Seneca,
with the full cognisance of the philosopher himself.[35] However this
may have been--and the story has no probability--many schemes were
discussed and rejected, from the difficulty of finding a man
sufficiently bold and sufficiently in earnest to put his own life to
such imminent risk. While things were still under discussion, the plot
was nearly ruined by the information of Volusius Proculus, an admiral of
the fleet, to whom it had been mentioned by a freedwoman of the name of
Ephicharis. Although no sufficient evidence could be adduced against
her, the conspirators thought it advisable to hasten matters, and one of
them, a senator named Scaevinus, undertook the dangerous task of
assassination. Plautius Lateranus, the cousul-elect, was to pretend to
offer a petition, in which he was to embrace the Emperor's knees and
throw him to the ground, and then Scaevinus was to deal the fatal blow.
The theatrical conduct of Scaevinus--who took an antique dagger from the
Temple of Safety, made his will, ordered the dagger to be sharpened, sat
down to an unusually luxurious banquet, manumitted or made presents to
his slaves, showed great agitation, and finally ordered ligaments for
wounds to be prepared,--awoke the suspicions of one of his freedmen
named Milichus, who hastened to claim a reward for revealing his
suspicions. Confronted with Milichus, Scaevinus met and refuted his
accusations with the greatest firmness; but when Milichus mentioned
among other things that, the day before, Scaevinus had held a long and
secret conversation with another friend of Piso named Natalis, and when
Natalis, on being summoned, gave a very different account of the subject
of this conversation from that which Scaevinus had given, they were both
put in chains; and, unable to endure the threats and the sight of
tortures, revealed the entire conspiracy. Natalis was the first to
mentioned the name of Piso, and he added the hated name of Seneca,
either because he had been the confidential messenger between the two,
or because he knew that he could not do a greater favour to Nero than by
giving him the opportunity of injuring a man whom he had long sought
every possible opportunity to crush. Scaevinus, with equal weakness,
perhaps because he thought that Natalis had left nothing to reveal,
mentioned the names of the others, and among them of Lucan, whose
complicity in the plot would undoubtedly tend to give greater
probability to the supposed guilt of Seneca. Lucan, after long denying
all knowledge of the design, corrupted by the promise of impunity, was
guilty of the incredible baseness of making up for the slowness of his
confession by its completeness, and of naming among the conspirators his
chief friend Gallus and Pollio, and his own mother Atilla. The woman
Ephicharis, slave though she had once been, alone showed the slightest
constancy, and, by her brave unshaken reticence under the most
excruciating and varied tortures, put to shame the pusillanimous
treachery of senators and knights. On the second day, when, with limbs
too dislocated to admit of her standing, she was again brought to the
presence of her executioners, she succeeded, by a sudden movement, in
strangling herself with her own girdle.

[Footnote 35: See Juv. _Sat_. viii. 212.]

In the hurry and alarm of the moment the slightest show of resolution
would have achieved the object of the conspiracy. Fenius Rufus had not
yet been named among the conspirators, and as he sat by the side of the
Emperor, and presided over the torture of his associates, Subrius Flavus
made him a secret sign to inquire whether even then and there he should
stab Nero. Rufus not only made a sign of dissent, but actually held the
hand of Subrius as it was grasping the hilt of his sword. Perhaps it
would have been better for him if he had not done so, for it was not
likely that the numerous conspirators would long permit the same man to
be at once their accomplice and the fiercest of their judges. Shortly
afterwards, as he was urging and threatening, Scaevinus remarked, with a
quiet smile, "that nobody knew more about the matter than he did
himself, and that he had better show his gratitude to so excellent a
prince by telling all he knew." The confusion and alarm of Rufus
betrayed his consciousness of guilt; he was seized and bound on the
spot, and subsequently put to death.

Meanwhile the friends of Piso were urging to take some bold and sudden
step, which, if it did not succeed in retrieving his fortunes, would at
least shed lustre on his death. But his somewhat slothful nature,
weakened still further by a luxurious life, was not to be aroused, and
he calmly awaited the end. It was customary among the Roman Emperors at
this period to avoid the disgrace and danger of public executions by
sending a messenger to a man's house, and ordering him to put himself to
death by whatever means he preferred. Some raw recruits--for Nero dared
not intrust any veterans with the duty--brought the mandate to Piso, who
proceeded to make a will full of disgraceful adulation towards Nero,
opened his veins, and died. Plautius Lateranus was not even allowed the
poor privilege of choosing his own death, but, without time even to
embrace his children, was hurried off to a place set apart for the
punishment of slaves, and there died, without a word, by the sword of a
tribune whom he knew to be one his own accomplices.

Lucan, in the prime of his life and the full bloom of his genius, was
believed to have joined the plot from his indignation at the manner in
which Nero's jealousy had repressed his poetic fame, and forbidden him
the opportunity of public rectitations. He too opened his veins; and as
he felt the deathful chill creeping upwards from the extremities of his
limbs, he recited some verses from his own "Pharsalia," in which he had
described the similar death of the soldier Lycidas. They were his last
words. His mother Atilla, whom to his everlasting infamy, he had
betrayed, was passed over as a victim too insignificant for notice, and
was neither pardoned nor punished.

But, of all the many deaths which were brought about by this unhappy and
ill-managed conspiracy, none caused more delight to Nero than that of
Seneca, whom he was now able to dispatch by the sword, since he had been
unable to do so by secret poison. What share Seneca really had in the
conspiracy is unknown. If he were really cognisant of it, he must have
acted with consummate tact, for no particle of convincing evidence was
adduced against him. All that even Natalis could relate was, that when
Piso had sent him to complain to Seneca of his not admitting Piso to
more of his intercourse, Seneca had replied "that it was better for them
both to hold aloof from each other, but that his own safety depended on
that of Piso." A tribune was sent to ask Seneca as to the truth of this
story, and found,--which was in itself regarded as a suspicious
circumstance,--that on that very day he had returned from Campania to a
villa four miles from the city. The tribune arrived in the evening, and
surrounded the villa with soldiers. Seneca was at supper, with his wife
Paulina and two friends. He entirely denied the truth of the evidence,
and said that "the only reason which he had assigned to Piso for seeing
so little of him was his weak health and love of retirement. Nero, who
knew how little prone he was to flattery, might judge whether or no it
was likely that he, a man of consular rank, would prefer the safety of a
man of private station to his own." Such was the message which the
tribune took back to Nero, whom he found sitting with his dearest and
most detestable advisers, his wife Poppaea and his minister Tigellinus.
Nero asked "whether Seneca was preparing a voluntary death." On the
tribune replying that he showed no gloom or terror in his language or
countenance, Nero ordered that he should at once be bidden to die. The
message was taken, and Seneca, without any sign of alarm, quietly
demanded leave to revise his will. This was refused him, and he then
turned to his friends with the remark that, as he was unable to reward
their merits as they had deserved, he would bequeath to them the only,
and yet the most precious, possession left to him, namely, the example
of his life, and if they were mindful of it they would win the
reputation alike for integrity and for faithful friendship. At the same
time he checked their tears, sometimes by his conversation, and
sometimes with serious reproaches, asking them "where were their
precepts of philosophy, and where the fortitude under trials which
should have been learnt from the studies of many years? Did not every
one know the cruelty of Nero? and what was left for him to do but to
make an end of his master and tutor after the murder of his mother and
his brother?" He then embraced his wife Paulina, and, with a slight
faltering of his lofty sternness, begged and entreated her not to enter
on an endless sorrow, but to endure the loss of her husband by the aid
of those noble consolations which she must derive from the contemplation
of his virtuous life. But Paulina declared that she would die with him,
and Seneca, not opposing the deed which would win her such permanent
glory, and at the same time unwilling to leave her to future wrongs,
yielded to her wish. The veins of their arms were opened by the same
blow; but the blood of Seneca, impoverished by old age and temperate
living, flowed so slowly that it was necessary also to open the veins of
his legs. This mode of death, chosen by the Romans as comparatively
painless, is in fact under certain circumstances most agonizing. Worn
out by these cruel tortures, and unwilling to weaken his wife's
fortitude by so dreadful a spectacle, glad at the same time to spare
himself the sight of _her_ sufferings, he persuaded her to go to another
room. Even then his eloquence did not fail. It is told of Andre Chenier,
the French poet, that on his way to execution he asked for writing
materials to record some of the strange thoughts which filled his mind.
The wish was denied him, but Seneca had ample liberty to record his last
utterances. Amanuenses were summoned, who took down those dying
admonitions, and in the time of Tacitus they still were extant. To us,
however, this interesting memorial of a Pagan deathbed is
irrevocably lost.

Nero, meanwhile, to whom the news of these circumstances was taken,
having no dislike to Paulina, and unwilling to incur the odium of too
much bloodshed, ordered her death to be prohibited and her wounds to be
bound. She was already unconscious, but her slaves and freedmen
succeeded in saving her life. She lived a few years longer, cherishing
her husband's memory, and bearing in the attenuation of her frame, and
the ghastly pallor of her countenance, the lasting proofs of that deep
affection which had characterised their married life.

Seneca was not yet dead, and, to shorten these protracted and useless
sufferings, he begged his friend and physician Statius Annaeus to give
him a draught of hemlock, the same poison by which the great philosopher
of Athens had been put to death. But his limbs were already cold, and
the draught proved fruitless. He then entered a bath of hot water,
sprinkling the slaves who stood nearest to him, with the words that he
was pouring a libation to Jupiter the Liberator.[36] Even the warm
water failed to make the blood flow more speedily, and he was finally
carried into one of those vapour baths which the Romans called
_sudatoria_, and stifled with its steam. His body was burned privately,
without any of the usual ceremonies. Such had been his own wish,
expressed, not after the fall of his fortunes, but at a time when his
thoughts had been directed to his latter end, in the zenith of his great
wealth and conspicuous power.

[Footnote 36: Sicco Polentone, an Italian, who wrote a Life of Seneca
(d. 1461), makes Seneca a secret Christian, and represents this as an
invocation of Christ, and says that he baptized himself with the water
of the bath!]

So died a Pagan philosopher, whose life must always excite our interest
and pity, although we cannot apply to him the titles of great or good.
He was a man of high genius, of great susceptibility, of an ardent and
generous temperament, of far-sighted and sincere humanity. Some of his
sentiments are so remarkable for their moral beauty and profundity that
they forcibly remind us of the expressions of St. Paul. But Seneca fell
infinitely short of his own high standard, and has contemptuously been
called "the father of all them that wear shovel hats." Inconsistency is
written on the entire history of his life, and it has earned him the
scathing contempt with which many writers have treated his memory. "The
business of a philosopher," says Lord Macaulay, in his most scornful
strain, "was to declaim in praise of poverty, with two millions sterling
out at usury; to meditate epigrammatic conceits about the evils of
luxury in gardens which moved the envy of sovereigns; to rant about
liberty while fawning on the insolent and pampered freedmen of a tyrant;
to celebrate the divine beauty of virtue with the same pen which had
just before written a defence of the murder of a mother by a son."
"Seneca," says Niebuhr, "was an accomplished man of the world, who
occupied himself very much with virtue, and may have considered himself
to be an ancient Stoic. He certainly believed that he was a most
ingenious and virtuous philosopher; but he acted on the principle that,
as far as he himself was concerned, he could dispense with the laws of
morality which he laid down for others, and that he might give way to
his natural propensities."

In Seneca's life, then, we see as clearly as in those of many professing
Christians that it is impossible to be at once worldly and righteous.
Seneca's utter failure was due to the vain attempt to combine in his own
person two opposite characters--that of a Stoic and that of a courtier.
Had he been a true philosopher, or a mere courtier, he would have been
happier, and even more respected. To be both was absurd: hence, even in
his writings, he was driven into inconsistency. He is often compelled to
abandon the lofty utterances of Stoicism, and to charge philosophers
with ignorance of life. In his treatise on a Happy Life he is obliged to
introduce a sort of indirect autobiographical apology for his wealth and
position.[37] In spite of his lofty pretensions to simplicity, in spite
of that sort of amateur asceticism which, in common with other wealthy
Romans, he occasionally practised, in spite of his final offer to
abandon his entire patrimony to the Emperor, we fear that he cannot be
acquitted of an almost insatiable avarice. We need not indeed believe
the fierce calumnies which charged him with exhausting Italy by a
boundless usury, and even stirring up a war in Britain by the severity
of his exactions; but it is quite clear that he deserved the title of
_Proedives_, "the over-wealthy," by which he has been so pointedly
signalized. It is strange that the most splendid intellects should so
often have sunk under the slavery of this meanest vice. In the Bible we
read how the "rewards of divination" seduced from his allegiance to God
the splendid enchanter of Mesopotamia:

"In outline dim and vast
Their fearful shadows cast
The giant form of Empires on their way
To ruin:--one by one
They tower and they are gone,
Yet in the prophet's soul the dreams of avarice stay.

"No sun or star so bright,
In all the world of light,
That they should draw to heaven his downward eye:
He hears the Almighty's word,
He sees the angel's sword,
Yet low upon the earth his heart and treasure lie."

[Footnote 37: See _Ad. Polyb_. 37: _Ep_. 75; _De Vit. Beat_. 17, 18,

And in Seneca we see some of the most glowing pictures of the nobility
of poverty combined with the most questionable avidity in the pursuit of
wealth. Yet how completely did he sell himself for naught. It is the
lesson which we see in every conspicuously erring life, and it was
illustrated less than three years afterwards in the terrible fate of the
tyrant who had driven him to death. For a short period of his life,
indeed, Seneca was at the summit of power; yet, courtier as he was, he
incurred the hatred, the suspicion, and the punishment of all the three
Emperors during whose reigns his manhood was passed. "Of all
unsuccessful men," says Mr. Froude, "in every shape, whether divine or
human, or devilish, there is none equal to Bunyan's Mr.
Facing-both-ways--the fellow with one eye on heaven and one on
earth--who sincerely preaches one thing and sincerely does another, and
from the intensity of his unreality is unable either to see or feel the
contradiction. He is substantially trying to cheat both God and the
devil, and is in reality only cheating himself and his neighbours. This
of all characters upon the earth appears to us to be the one of which
there is no hope at all, a character becoming in these days alarmingly
abundant; and the aboundance of which makes us find even in a Reineke an
inexpressible relief." And, in point of fact, the inconsistency of
Seneca's life was a _conscious_ inconsistency. "To the student," he
says, "who professes his wish to rise to a loftier grade of virtue, I
would answer that this is my _wish_ also, but I dare not hope it. _I am
preoccupied with vices. All I require of myself is, not to be equal to
the best_, but only _to be better than the bad_." No doubt Seneca meant
this to be understood merely for modest depreciation; but it was far

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