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Seekers after God by Frederic William Farrar

Part 4 out of 5

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in certain parts of India, when the natives want to catch the monkeys
they make holes in cocoa-nuts, and fill them with sugar. The monkeys
thrust in their hands and fill them with sugar; the aperture is too
small to draw the paws out again when thus increased in size; the
monkeys have not the sense to loose their hold of the sugar, and so they
are caught. This little anecdote will enable the reader to relish the
illustration of Epictetus. "When little boys thrust their hands into
narrow-mouthed jars full of figs and almonds, when they have filled
their hands they cannot draw them out again, and so begin to howl. Let
go a few of the figs and almonds, and you'll get your hand out. And so
_you_, let go your desires. Don't desire many things, and you'll get
what you _do_ desire." "Blessed is he that expecteth nothing, for he
shall not be disappointed!"

Another of the constant precepts of Epictetus is that we should aim
high; we are not to be common threads in the woof of life, but like the
laticlave on the robe of a senator, the broad purple stripe which gave
lustre and beauty to the whole. But how are we to know that we are
qualified for this high function? How does the bull know, when the lion
approaches, that it is his place to expose himself for all the herd? If
we have high powers we shall soon be conscious of them, and if we have
them not we may gradually acquire them. Nothing great is produced at
once,--the vine must blossom, and bear fruit, and ripen, before we have
the purple clusters of the grape,--"first the blade, then the ear, after
that the full corn in the ear."

But whence are we to derive this high sense of duty and possible
eminence? Why, if Caesar had adopted you, would you not show your proud
sense of ennoblement in haughty looks; how is it that you are not proud
of being sons of God? You have, indeed, a body, by virtue of which many
men sink into close kinship with pernicious wolves, and savage lions,
and crafty foxes, destroying the rational within them, and so becoming
greedy cattle or mischievous vermin; but above and beyond this, "If,"
says Epictetus, "a man have once been worthily interpenetrated with the
belief that we all have been in some special manner born of God, and
that God is the Father of gods and men, I think that he will never have
any ignoble, any humble thoughts about himself." Our own great Milton
has hardly expressed this high truth more nobly when he says, that "He
that holds himself in reverence and due esteem, both for the dignity of
God's image upon him, and for the price of his redemption, which he
thinks is visibly marked upon his forehead, accounts himself both a fit
person to do the noblest and godliest deeds, and much better worth than
to deject and defile, with such a debasement and pollution as sin is,
himself so highly ransomed, and ennobled to a new friendship and filial
relation with God."

"And how are we to know that we have made progress? We may know it if
our own wills are bent to live in conformity with nature; if we be
noble, free, faithful, humble; if desiring nothing, and shunning nothing
which lies beyond our power, we sit loose to all earthly interests; if
our lives are under the distinct governance of immutable and noble laws.

"But shall we not meet with troubles in life? Yes, undoubtedly; and are
there none at Olympia? Are you not burnt with heat, and pressed for
room, and wetted with showers when it rains? Is there not more than
enough clamour, and shouting, and other troubles? Yet I suppose you
tolerate and endure all these when you balance them against the
magnificence of the spectacle? And, come now, have you not received
powers wherewith to bear whatever occurs? Have you not received
magnanimity, courage, fortitude? And why, if I am magnanimous, should I
care for anything that can possibly happen? what shall alarm or trouble
me, or seem painful? Shall I not use the faculty for the ends for which
it was granted me, or shall I grieve and groan at all the accidents of
life? On the contrary, these troubles and difficulties are strong
antagonists pitted against us, and we may conquer them, if we will, in
the Olympic game of life.

"But if life and its burdens become absolutely intolerable, may we not
go back to God, from whom we came? may we not show thieves and robbers,
and tyrants who claim power over us by means of our bodies and
possessions, that they have _no power_? In a word, may we not commit
suicide?" We know how Shakespeare treats this question:--

"For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
Th' oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
Which patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? Who would these fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
_But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered country from whose bourne
No traveller returns, puzzles the will:
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of_?"

But Epictetus had no materials for such an answer. I do not remember a
single passage in which he refers to immortality or the life to come,
and it is therefore probable either that he did not believe in it at
all, or that he put it aside as one of those things which are out of our
own power. Yet his answer is not that glorification of suicide which we
find throughout the tragedies of Seneca, and which was one of the
commonplaces of Stoicism. "My friends," he says, "wait God's good time
till He gives you the signal, and dismisses you from this service; then
dismiss yourself to go to Him. But for the present restrain yourselves,
inhabiting the spot which He has at present assigned you. For, after
all, this time of your sojourn here is short, and easy for those who are
thus disposed; for what tyrant, or thief, or judgment-halls, are objects
of dread to those who thus absolutely disesteem the body and its
belongings? Stay, then, and do not depart without due cause."

It will be seen that Epictetus permits suicide without extolling it,
for in another place (ii. 1) he says: "What is pain? A mere ugly mask;
turn it, and see that it is so. This little flesh of ours is acted on
roughly, and then again smoothly. If it is not for your interest to bear
it, the door is open; if it is for your interest--endure. It is right
that under all circumstances the door should be open, since so men end
all trouble."

This power of _endurance_ is completely the keynote of the Stoical view
of life, and the method of attaining to it, by practising contempt for
all external accidents, is constantly inculcated. I have already told
the anecdote about Agrippinus by which Epictetus admiringly shows that
no extreme of necessary misfortune could wring from the true Stoic a
single expression of indignation or of sorrow.

The inevitable, then, in the view of the Stoics, comes from God, and it
is our duty not to murmur against it. But this being the guiding
conception as regards ourselves, how are we to treat others? Here, too,
our duties spring directly from our relation to God. It is that relation
which makes us reverence ourselves, it is that which should make us
honour others. "Slave! will you not bear with your own brother, who, has
God for his father no less than you? But they are wicked,
perhaps--thieves and murderers. Be it so, then they deserve all the more
pity. You don't exterminate the blind or deaf because of their
misfortunes, but you pity them: and how much more to be pitied are
wicked men? Don't execrate them. Are you yourself so _very_ wise?"

Nor are the precepts of Epictetus all abstract principles; he often
pauses to give definite rules of conduct and practice. Nothing, for
instance, can exceed the wisdom with which he speaks of habits (ii. 18),
and the best means of acquiring good habits and conquering evil ones.
He points out that we are the creatures of habit; that every single act
is a definite grain in the sand-multitude of influences which make up
our daily life; that each time we are angry or evil-inclined we are
adding fuel to a fire, and virulence to the seeds of a disease. A fever
may be cured, but it leaves the health weaker; and so also is it with
the diseases of the soul. They leave their mark behind them.

Take the instance of anger. "Do you wish not to be passionate? do not
then cherish the habit within you, and do not add any stimulant thereto.
Be calm at first, and then number the days in which you have not been in
a rage. I used to be angry every day, now it is only every other day,
then every third, then every fourth day. But should you have passed even
thirty days without a relapse, then offer a sacrifice to God. For the
habit is first loosened, then utterly eradicated. 'I did not yield to
vexation today, nor the next day, nor so on for two or three months, but
I restrained myself under various provocations.' Be sure, if you can say
_that_, that it will soon be all right with you."

But _how_ is one to do all this? that is the great question, and
Epictetus is quite ready to give you the best answer he can. We have,
for instance, already quoted one passage in which (unlike the majority
of Pagan moralists) he shows that he has thoroughly mastered the ethical
importance of controlling even the _thought_ of wickedness. Another
anecdote about Agrippinus will further illustrate the same doctrine. It
was the wicked practice of Nero to make noble Romans appear on the stage
or in gladiatorial shows, in order that he might thus seem to have their
sanction for his own degrading displays. On one occasion Florus, who
was doubting whether or not he should obey the mandate, consulted
Agrippinus on the subject. "_Go by all means_," replied Agrippinus.
"But why don't _you_ go, then?" asked Florus. "_Because"_, said
Agrippinus, "_I do not deliberate about it_." He implied by this answer
that to hesitate is to yield, to deliberate is to be lost; we must act
always on _principles_, we must never pause to calculate _consequences_.
"But if I don't go," objected Florus, "I shall have my head cut off."
"Well, then, go, but _I_ won't." "Why won't you go?" "Because I do not
care to be of a piece with the common thread of life; I like to be the
purple sewn upon it."

And if we want a due _motive_ for such lofty choice Epictetus will
supply it. "Wish," he says, "to win the suffrages of your own inward
approval, wish to appear beautiful to God. Desire to be pure with your
own pure self, and with God. And when any evil fancy assails you, Plato
says, 'Go to the rites of expiation, go as a suppliant to the temples of
the gods, the averters of evil.' But it will be enough should you even
rise and depart to the society of the noble and the good, to live
according to their examples, whether you have any such friend among the
living or among the dead. Go to Socrates, and gaze on his utter mastery
over temptation and passion; consider how glorious was the conscious
victory over himself! What an Olympic triumph! How near does it place
him to Hercules himself.' So that, by heaven, one might justly salute
him, 'Hail, marvellous conqueror, who hast conquered, not these
miserable boxers and athletes, nor these gladiators who resemble them.'
And should you thus be accustomed to train yourself, you will see what
shoulders you will get, what nerves, what sinews, instead of mere
babblements, and nothing more. This is the true athlete, the man who
trains himself to deal with such semblances as these. Great is the
struggle, divine the deed; it is for kingdom, for freedom, for
tranquillity, for peace. Think on God; call upon Him as thine aid and
champion, as sailors call on the Great Twin Brethren in the storm. And
indeed what storm is greater than that which rises from powerful
semblances that dash reason out of its course? What indeed but semblance
is a storm itself? Since, come now, remove the fear of death, and bring
as many thunders and lightnings as thou wilt, and thou shalt know how
great is the tranquillity and calm in that reason which is the ruling
faculty of the soul. But should you once be worsted, and say that you
will conquer _hereafter_, and then the same again and again, know that
thus your condition will be vile and weak, so that at the last you will
not even know that you are doing wrong, but you will even begin to
provide excuses for your sin; and then you will confirm the truth of
that saying of Hesiod,--

"'The man that procrastinates struggles ever with ruin.'"

Even so! So early did a heathen moralist learn the solemn fact that
"only this once" ends in "there is no harm in it." Well does Mr.
Coventry Patmore sing:--

"How easy to keep free from sin;
How hard that freedom to recall;
For awful truth it is that men
_Forget_ the heaven from which they fall."

In another place Epictetus warns us, however, not to be too easily
discouraged in our attempts after good;--and, above all, never to
_despair_. "In the schools of the wrestling master, when a boy falls he
is bidden to get up again, and to go on wrestling day by day till he has
acquired strength; and we must do the same, and not be like those poor
wretches who after one failure suffer themselves to be swept along as by
a torrent. You need but _will_" he says, "and it is done; but if you
relax your efforts, you will be ruined; for ruin and recovery are both
from within.--And what will you gain by all this? You will gain modesty
for inpudence, purity for vileness, moderation for drunkenness. If you
think there are any better ends than these, then by all means go on in
sin, for you are beyond the power of any god to save."

But Epictetus is particularly in earnest about warning us that to
_profess_ these principles and _talk_ about them is one thing--to act up
to them quite another. He draws a humorous picture of an inconsistent
and unreal philosopher, who--after eloquently proving that nothing is
good but what pertains to virtue, and nothing evil but what pertains to
vice, and that all other things are indifferent--goes to sea. A storm
comes on, and the masts creak, and the philosopher screams; and an
impertinent person stands by and asks in surprise, "Is it then _vice_ to
suffer shipwreck? because, if not, it can be no evil;" a question which
makes our philosopher so angry that he is inclined to fling a log at his
interlocutor's head. But Epictetus sternly tells him that the
philosopher never was one at all, except in name; that as he sat in the
schools puffed up by homage and adulation, his innate cowardice and
conceit were but hidden under borrowed plumes; and that in him the name
of Stoic was usurped.

"Why," he asks in another passage, "why do you call yourself a Stoic?
Why do you deceive the multitude? Why do you act the Jew when you are a
Greek? Don't you see on what terms each person is called a Jew? or a
Syrian? or an Egyptian? And when we see some mere _trimmer_ we are in
the habit of saying, 'This is no Jew; he is only acting the part of
one,' but when a man takes up the entire condition of a proselyte,
thoroughly imbued with Jewish doctrines, then he both _is_ in reality
and is _called_ a Jew. So we philosophers too, dipped in a false dye,
_are Jews in name, but in reality are something else_.... We call
ourselves philosophers when we cannot even play the part of men, as
though a man should try to heave the stone of Ajax who cannot lift ten
pounds." The passage is interesting not only on its own account, but
because of its curious similarity both with the language and with the
sentiment of St. Paul--"He is not a Jew who is one outwardly, neither is
that circumcision which is outward in the flesh, but he is a Jew who is
one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit and
not in the latter; whose praise is not of men, but of God."

The best way to become a philosopher in deed is not by a mere study of
books and knowledge of doctrines, but by a steady diligence of actions
and adherence to original principles, to which must be added consistency
and self control. "These principles," says Epictetus, "produce
friendship in a house, unanimity in a city, peace in nations; they make
a man grateful to God, bold under all circumstances, as though dealing
with things alien and valueless. Now we are capable of writing these
things, and reading them, and praising them when they are read, but we
are far enough off following them. Hence comes it that the reproach of
the Lacedaemonians, that they are 'lions at home, foxes at Ephesus,'
will also apply to us; in the school we are lions, out of it foxes."

These passages include, I think, all the most original, important, and
characteristic conceptions which are to be found in the _Discourses_.
They are most prominently illustrated in the long and important chapter
on the Cynic philosophy. A genuine Cynic--one who was so, not in
brutality of manners or ostentation of rabid eccentricity, but a Cynic
in life and in his inmost principles--was evidently in the eyes of
Epictetus one of the loftiest of human beings. He drew a sketch of his
ideal conception to one of his scholars who inquired of him upon
the subject.

He begins by saying that a true Cynic is so lofty a being that he who
undertakes the profession without due qualifications kindles against him
the anger of heaven. He is like a scurrilous Thersites, claiming the
imperial office of an Agamemnon. "If you think," he tells the young
student, "that you can be a Cynic merely by wearing an old cloak, and
sleeping on a hard bed, and using a wallet and staff, and begging, and
rebuking every one whom you see effeminately dressed or wearing purple,
you don't know what you are about--get you gone; but if you know what a
Cynic really is, and think yourself capable of being one, then consider
how great a thing you are undertaking.

"First as to yourself. You must be absolutely resigned to the will of
God. You must conquer every passion, abrogate every desire. Your life
must be transparently open to the view of God and man. Other men conceal
their actions with houses, and doors, and darkness, and guards; your
house, your door, your darkness, must be a sense of holy shame. You must
conceal nothing; you must have nothing to conceal. You must be known as
the spy and messenger of God among mankind.

"You must teach men that happiness is not there, where in their
blindness and misery they seek it. It is not in strength, for Myro and
Ofellius were not happy: not in wealth, for Croesus was not happy: not
in power, for the Consuls are not happy: not in all these together, for
Nero, and Sardanapalus, and Agamemnon sighed, and wept, and tore their
hair, and were the slaves of circumstances and the dupes of semblances.
It lies in yourselves: in true freedom, in the absence or conquest of
every ignoble fear; in perfect self-government; in a power of
contentment and peace, and the 'even flow of life' amid poverty, exile,
disease, and the very valley of the shadow of death. Can you face this
Olympic contest? Are your thews and sinews strong enough? Can you face
the fact that those who are defeated are also disgraced and whipped?

"Only by God's aid can you attain to this. Only by His aid can you be
beaten like an ass, and yet love those who beat you, preserving an
unshaken unanimity in the midst of circumstances which to other men
would cause trouble, and grief, and disappointment, and despair.

"The Cynic must learn to do without friends, for where can he find a
friend worthy of him, or a king worthy of sharing his moral sceptre? The
friend of the truly noble must be as truly noble as himself, and such a
friend the genuine Cynic cannot hope to find. Nor must he marry;
marriage is right and honourable in other men, but its entanglements,
its expenses, its distractions, would render impossible a life devoted
to the service of heaven.

"Nor will he mingle in the affairs of any commonwealth: his commonwealth
is not Athens or Corinth, but mankind.

"In person he should be strong, and robust, and hale, and in spite of
his indigence always clean and attractive. Tact and intelligence, and a
power of swift repartee, are necessary to him. His conscience must be
clear as the sun. He must sleep purely, and wake still more purely. To
abuse and insult he must be as insensible as a stone, and he must place
all fears and desires beneath his feet. To be a Cynic is to be this:
before you attempt it deliberate well, and see whether by the help of
God you are capable of achieving it."

I have given a sketch of the doctrines of this lofty chapter, but fully
to enjoy its morality and eloquence the reader should study it entire,
and observe its generous impatience, its noble ardour, its vivid
interrogations, "in which," says M. Martha, "one feels as it were a
frenzy of virtue and of piety, and in which the plenitude of a great
heart tumultuously precipitates a torrent of holy thoughts."

Epictetus was not a Christian. He has only once alluded to the
Christians in his works, and there it is under the opprobrious title of
"Galileans," who practised a kind of insensibility in painful
circumstances and an indifference to worldly interests which Epictetus
unjustly sets down to "mere habit." Unhappily it was not granted to
these heathen philosophers in any true sense to know what Christianity
was. They ignorantly thought that it was an attempt to imitate the
results of philosophy, without having passed through the necessary
discipline. They viewed it with suspicion, they treated it with
injustice. And yet in Christianity, and in Christianity alone, they
would have found an ideal which would have surpassed their loftiest
conceptions. Nor was it only an impossible _ideal_; it was an ideal
rendered attainable by the impressive sanction of the highest authority,
and one which supported men to bear the difficulties of life with
fortitude, with peacefulness, and even with an inward joy; it ennobled
their faculties without overstraining them; it enabled them to
disregard the burden of present trials, not by vainly attempting to deny
their bitterness or ignore their weight, but in the high certainty that
they are the brief and necessary prelude to "a far more exceeding and
eternal weight of glory."




The life of the noblest of Pagan Emperors may well follow that of the
noblest of Pagan slaves. Their glory shines the purer and brighter from
the midst of a corrupt and deplorable society. Epictetus showed that a
Phrygian slave could live a life of the loftiest exaltation; Aurelius
proved that a Roman Emperor could live a life of the deepest humility.
The one--a foreigner, feeble, deformed, ignorant, born in squalor, bred
in degradation, the despised chattel of a despicable freedman,
surrounded by every depressing, ignoble, and pitiable circumstance of
life--showed how one who seemed born to be a wretch could win noble
happiness and immortal memory; the other--a Roman, a patrician, strong,
of heavenly beauty, of noble ancestors, almost born to the purple, the
favourite of Emperors, the greatest conquerer, the greatest philosopher,
the greatest ruler of his time-proved for ever that it is possible to be
virtuous, and tender, and holy, and contented in the midst of sadness,
even on an irresponsible and imperial throne. Strange that, of the two,
the Emperor is even sweeter, more simple, more admirable, more humbly
and touchingly resigned, than the slave. In him, Stoicism loses all its
haughty self-assertion, all its impracticable paradox, for a manly
melancholy which at once troubles and charms the heart. "It seems," says
M. Martha, "that in him the philosophy of heathendom grows less proud,
draws nearer and nearer to a Christianity which it ignored or which it
despised, and is ready to fling itself into the arms of the 'Unknown
God.' In the sad _Meditations_ of Aurelius we find a pure serenity,
sweetness, and docility to the commands of God, which before him were
unknown, and which Christian grace has alone surpassed. If he has not
yet attained to charity in all that fulness of meaning which
Christianity has given to the word he has already gained its unction,
and one cannot read his book, unique in the history of Pagan philosophy,
without thinking of the sadness of Pascal and the gentleness of Fenelon.
We must pause before this soul, so lofty and so pure, to contemplate
ancient virtue in its softest brilliancy, to see the moral delicacy to
which profane doctrines have attained--how they laid down their pride,
and how penetrating a grace they have found in their new simplicity. To
make the example yet more striking, Providence, which, according to the
Stoics, does nothing by chance, determined that the example of these
simple virtues should bloom in the midst of all human grandeur--that
charity should be taught by the successor of blood stained Caesars, and
humbleness of heart by an Emperor."

Aurelius has always exercised a powerful fascination over the minds of
eminent men "If you set aside, for a moment, the contemplation of the
Christian verities," says the eloquent and thoughtful Montesquieu,
"search throughout all nature, and you will not find a grander object
than the Antonines.... One feels a secret pleasure in speaking of this
Emperor; one cannot read his life without a softening feeling of
emotion. He produces such an effect upon our minds that we think better
of ourselves, because he inspires us with a better opinion of mankind."
"It is more delightful," says the great historian Niebuhr, "to speak of
Marcus Aurelius than of any man in history; for if there is any sublime
human virtue it is his. He was certainly the noblest character of his
time, and I know no other man who combined such unaffected kindness,
mildness, and humility, with such conscientiousness and severity towards
himself. We possess innumerable busts of him, for every Roman of his
time was anxious to possess his portrait, and if there is anywhere an
expression of virtue it is in the heavenly features of Marcus Aurelius."

Marcus Aurelius was born on April 26, A.D. 121. His more correct
designation would be Marcus Antoninus, but since he bore several
different names at different periods of his life, and since at that age
nothing was more common than a change of designation, it is hardly worth
while to alter the name by which he is most popularly recognised. His
father, Annius Verus, who died in his Praetorship, drew his blood from a
line of illustrious men who claimed descent from Numa, the second King
of Rome. His mother, Domitia Calvilla, was also a lady of consular and
kingly race. The character of both seems to have been worthy of their
high dignity. Of his father he can have known little, since Annius died
when Aurelius was a mere infant; but in his _Meditations_ he has left us
a grateful memorial of both his parents. He says that from his
grandfather he learned (or, might have learned) good morals and the
government of his temper; from the reputation and remembrance of his
father, modesty and manliness; from his mother, piety, and beneficence,
and _abstinence not only from evil deeds, but even from evil thoughts_;
and, further, simplicity of life far removed from the habits of
the rich.

The childhood and boyhood of Aurelius fell during the reign of Hadrian.
The times were better than those which we have contemplated in the
reigns of the Caesars. After the suicide of Nero and the brief reigns of
Galba and Otho, the Roman world had breathed more freely for a time
under the rough good humour of Vespasian and the philosophic virtue of
Titus. The reign of Domitian, indeed, who succeeded his brother Titus,
was scarcely less terrible and infamous than that of Caius or of Nero;
but that prince, shortly before his murder, had dreamt that a golden
neck had grown out of his own, and interpreted the dream to indicate
that a better race of princes should follow him. The dream was
fulfilled. Whatever may have been their other faults, Nerva, Trajan,
Hadrian, were wise and kind-hearted rulers; Antoninus Pius and Marcus
Aurelius were among the very gentlest and noblest sovereigns whom the
world has ever seen.

Hadrian, though an able, indefatigable, and, on the whole, beneficial
Emperor, was a man whose character was stained with serious faults. It
is, however, greatly to his honour that he recognized in Aurelius, at
the early age of six years, the germs of those extraordinary virtues
which afterwards blessed the empire and elevated the sentiments of
mankind. "Hadrian's bad and sinful habits left him," says Niebuhr, "when
he gazed on the sweetness of that innocent child. Playing on the boy's
paternal name of _Verus_, he called him _Verissimus_, 'the most true.'"
It is interesting to find that this trait of character was so early
developed in one who thought that all men "should speak as they think,
with an accent of heroic verity."

Toward the end of his long reign, worn out with disease and weariness,
Hadrian, being childless, had adopted as his son L. Ceionius Commodus, a
man who had few recommendations but his personal beauty. Upon his death,
which took place a year afterwards, Hadrian, assembling the senators
round his sick bed, adopted and presented to them as their future
Emperor Arrius Antoninus, better known by the surname of Pius, which he
won by his gratitude to the memory of his predecessor. Had Aurelius been
older--he was then but seventeen--it is known that Hadrian would have
chosen _him_, and not Antoninus, for his heir. The latter, indeed, who
was then fifty-two years old, was only selected on the express condition
that he should in turn adopt both Marcus Aurelius and the son of the
deceased Ceionius. Thus, at the age of seventeen, Aurelius, who, even
from his infancy, had been loaded with conspicuous distinctions, saw
himself the acknowledged heir to the empire of the world.

We are happily able, mainly from his own writings, to give some sketch
of the influences and the education which had formed him for this
exalted station.

He was brought up in the house of his grandfather, a man who had been
three times consul. He makes it a matter of congratulation, and
thankfulness to the gods, that he had not been sent to any public
school, where he would have run the risk of being tainted by that
frightful corruption into which, for many years, the Roman youth had
fallen. He expresses a sense of obligation to his great-grandfather for
having supplied him with good teachers at home, and for the conviction
that on such things a man should spend liberally. There was nothing
jealous, barren, or illiberal, in the training he received. He was fond
of boxing, wrestling, running; he was an admirable player at ball, and
he was fond of the perilous excitement of hunting the wild boar. Thus,
his healthy sports, his serious studies, his moral instruction, his
public dignities and duties, all contributed to form his character in a
beautiful and manly mould. There are, however, three respects in which
his education seems especially worthy of notice;--I mean the
_diligence_, the _gratitude_, and the _hardiness_ in which he was
encouraged by others, and which he practised with all the ardour of
generous conviction.

1. In the best sense of the word, Aurelius was _diligent_. He alludes
more than once in his _Meditations_ to the inestimable value of time,
and to his ardent desire to gain more leisure for intellectual pursuits.
He flung himself with his usual undeviating stedfastness of purpose into
every branch of study, and though he deliberately abandoned rhetoric, he
toiled hard at philosophy, at the discipline of arms, at the
administration of business, and at the difficult study of Roman
jurisprudence. One of the acquisitions for which he expresses gratitude
to his tutor Rusticus, is that of reading carefully, and not being
satisfied with the superficial understanding of a book. In fact, so
strenuous was his labour, and so great his abstemiousness, that his
health suffered by the combination of the two.

2. His opening remarks show that he remembered all his teachers--even
the most insignificant--with sincere _gratitude_. He regarded each one
of them as a man from whom something could be learnt, and from whom he
actually _did_ learn that something. Hence the honourable respect--a
respect as honourable to himself as to them--which he paid to Fronto, to
Rusticus, to Julius Proculus, and others whom his noble and
conscientious gratitude raised to the highest dignities of the State. He
even thanks the gods that "he made haste to place those who brought him
up in the station of honour which they seemed to desire, without putting
them off with mere _hopes_ of his doing it some time after, because they
were then still young." He was far the superior of these men, not only
socially but even morally and intellectually; yet from the height of his
exalted rank and character he delighted to associate with them on the
most friendly terms, and to treat them, even till his death, with
affection and honour, to place their likenesses among his household
gods, and visit their sepulchres with wreaths and victims.

3. His _hardiness_ and self-denial were perhaps still more remarkable. I
wish that those boys of our day, who think it undignified to travel
second-class, who dress in the extreme of fashion, wear roses in their
buttonholes, and spend upon ices and strawberries what would maintain a
poor man for a year, would learn how _infinitely more noble_ was the
abstinence of this young Roman, who though born in the midst of
splendour and luxury, learnt from the first to loathe the petty vice of
gluttony, and to despise the unmanliness of self-indulgence. Very early
in life he joined the glorious fellowship of those who esteem it not
only a duty but a pleasure

"To scorn delights, and live laborious days,"

and had learnt "endurance of labour, and to want little, and to work
with his own hands." In his eleventh year he became acquainted with
Diognetus, who first introduced him to the Stoic philosophy, and in his
twelfth year he assumed the Stoic dress. This philosophy taught him "to
prefer a plank bed and skin, and whatever else of the kind belongs to
the Grecian discipline." It is said that "the skin" was a concession to
the entreaties of his mother, and that the young philosopher himself
would have chosen to sleep on the bare boards or on the ground. Yet he
acted thus without self-assertion and without ostentation. His friends
found him always cheerful; and his calm features,--in which a dignity
and thoughtfulness of spirit contrasted with the bloom and beauty of a
pure and honourable boyhood,--were never overshadowed with ill-temper or
with gloom.

The guardians of Marcus Aurelius had gathered around him all the most
distinguished literary teachers of the age. Never had a prince a greater
number of eminent instructors; never were any teachers made happy by a
more grateful, a more humble, a more blameless, a more truly royal and
glorious pupil. Long years after his education had ceased, during his
campaign among the Quadi, he wrote a sketch of what he owed to them.
This sketch forms the first book of his _Meditations_, and is
characterised throughout by the most unaffected simplicity and modesty.

The _Meditations_ of Marcus Aurelius were in fact his private diary,
they are a noble soliloquy with his own heart, an honest examination of
his own conscience; there is not the slightest trace of their having
been intended for any eye but his own. In them he was acting on the
principle of St. Augustine: "Go up into the tribunal of thy conscience,
and set thyself before thyself." He was ever bearing about--

"A silent court of justice in himself,
Himself the judge and jury, and himself
The prisoner at the bar."

And writing amid all the cares and distractions of a war which he
detested, he averted his eyes from the manifold wearinesses which daily
vexed his soul, and calmly sat down to meditate on all the great
qualities which he had observed, and all the good lessons that he might
have learnt from those who had instructed his boyhood, and surrounded
his manly years.

And what had he learnt?--learnt heartily to admire, and (_we_ may say)
learnt to practise also? A sketch of his first book will show us. What
he had gained from his immediate parents we have seen already, and we
will make a brief abstract of his other obligations.

From "his governor"--to which of his teachers this name applies we are
not sure--he had learnt to avoid factions at the races, to work hard,
and to avoid listening to slander; from Diognetus, to despise frivolous
superstitions, and to practise self-denial; from Apollonius, undeviating
steadiness of purpose, endurance of misfortune, and the reception of
favours without being humbled by them; from Sextus of Chaeronea (a
grandson of the celebrated Plutarch), tolerance of the ignorant, gravity
without affectation, and benevolence of heart; from Alexander, delicacy
in correcting others; from Severus, "a disposition to do good, and to
give to others readily, and to cherish good hope, and, to believe that I
am beloved of my friends;" from Maximus, "sweetness and dignity, and to
do what was set before me without complaining;" from Alexander the
Platonic, "_not frequently to say to any one, nor to write in a letter,
that I have no leisure_; nor continually to excuse the neglect of
ordinary duties by alleging urgent occupations."

To one or two others his obligations were still more characteristic and
important. From Rusticus, for instance, an excellent and able man, whose
advice for years he was accustomed to respect, he had learnt to despise
sophistry and display, to write with simplicity, to be easily pacified,
to be accurate, and--an inestimable benefit this, and one which tinged
the colour of his whole life--to become acquainted with the _Discourses_
of Epictetus. And from his adoptive father, the great Antoninus Pius, he
had derived advantages still more considerable. In him he saw the
example of a sovereign and statesman firm, self-controlled, modest,
faithful, and even tempered; a man who despised flattery and hated
meanness; who honoured the wise and distinguished the meritorious; who
was indifferent to contemptable trifles, and indefatigable in earnest
business; one, in short, "who had a perfect and invincible soul," who,
like Socrates, "was able both to abstain from and to enjoy those things
which many are too weak to abstain from and cannot enjoy without
excess." [67] Piety, serenity, sweetness, disregard of empty fame,
calmness, simplicity, patience, are virtues which he attributes to him
in another full-length portrait (vi. 30) which he concludes with the
words, "Imitate all this, that thou mayest have as good a conscience
when thy last hour comes as he had."

[Footnote 67: My quotations from Marcus Aurelius will be made (by
permission) from the forcible and admirably accurate translation of Mr.
Long. In thanking Mr. Long, I may be allowed to add that the English
reader will find in his version the best means of becoming acquainted
with the purest-and noblest book of antiquity.]

He concludes these reminiscenses of thankfulness with a summary of what
he owed to the gods. And for what does he thanks the gods? for being
wealthy, and noble, and an emperor? Nay, for no vulgar or dubious
blessings such as these, but for the guidance which trained him in
philosophy, and for the grace which kept him from sin. And here it is
that his genuine modesty comes out. As the excellent divine used to say
when he saw a criminal led past for execution, "There, but for the grace
of God, goes John Bradford," so, after thanking the gods for the
goodness of all his family and relatives, Aurelius says, "Further, I owe
it to the gods that I was not hurried into any offence against any of
them, _though I had a disposition which, if opportunity had offered_,
might have led me to do something of this kind; but through their favour
there never was such a concurrence of circumstances as put me to the
trial. Further, that I was subjected to a ruler and father who took away
all pride from me, and taught me that it was possible to live in a
palace without guards, or embroidered dresses, or torches, and statues,
and such-like show, but to live very near to the fashion of a private
person, without being either mean in thought or remiss in action; that
after having fallen into amatory passions I was cured; that though it
was my mother's fate to die young, she spent the last years of her life
with me; that whenever I wished to help any man, I was never told that I
had not the means of doing it;--that I had abundance of good masters for
my children: for all these thing require the help of the gods
and fortune."

The whole of the Emperor's _Meditations_ deserve the profound study of
this age. The self-denial which they display is a rebuke to our
ever-growing luxury; their generosity contrasts favourably with the
increasing bitterness of our cynicism; their contented acquiescence in
God's will rebukes our incessant restlessness; above all, their constant
elevation shames that multitude of little vices, and little meannesses,
which lie like a scurf over the conventionality of modern life. But this
earlier chapter has also a special value for the young. It offers a
picture which it would indeed be better for them and for us if they
could be induced to study. If even under

"That fierce light that beats upon the throne,"

the life of Marcus Aurelius shows no moral stain, it is still more
remarkable that the free and beautiful boyhood of this Roman prince had
early learnt to recognise only the excellences of his teachers, their
patience and firmness, their benevolence and sweetness, their integrity
and virtue. Amid the frightful universality of moral corruption he
preserved a stainless conscience and a most pure soul; he thanked God in
language which breathes the most crystalline delicacy of sentiment and
language, that he had preserved uninjured the flower of his early life,
and that under the calm influences of his home in the country, and the
studies of philosophy, he had learnt to value chastity as the sacred
girdle of youth, to be retained and honoured to his latest years.
"Surely," says Mr. Carlyle, "a day is coming when it will be known again
what virtue is in purity and continence of life; how divine is the blush
of young human cheeks; how high, beneficent, sternly inexorable is the
duty laid on every creature in regard to these particulars. Well, if
such a day never come, then I perceive much else will never come.
Magnanimity and depth of insight will never come; heroic purity of
heart and of eye; noble pious valour to amend us and the age of bronze
and lacquers, how can they ever come? The scandalous bronze-lacquer age
of hungry animalisms, spiritual impotencies, and mendacities will have
to run its course till the pit swallow it."



On the death of Hadrian in A. D. 138, Antoninus Pius succeeded to the
throne, and, in accordance with the late Emperor's conditions, adopted
Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Commodus. Marcus had been betrothed at the
age of fifteen to the sister of Lucius Commodus, but the new Emperor
broke off the engagement, and betrothed him instead to his daughter
Faustina. The marriage, however, was not celebrated till seven years
afterwards, A.D. 146.

The long reign of Antoninus Pius is one of those happy periods that have
no history. An almost unbroken peace reigned at home and abroad. Taxes
were lightened, calamities relieved, informers discouraged; confiscation
were rare, plots and executions were almost unknown. Throughout the
whole extent of his vast domain the people loved and valued their
Emperor, and the Emperor's one aim was to further, the happiness of his
people. He, too, like Aurelius, had learnt that what was good for the
bee was good for the hive. He strove to live as the civil administrator,
of an unaggressive and united republic; he disliked war, did not value
the military title of Imperator, and never deigned to accept a triumph.

With this wise and eminent prince, who was as amiable in his private
relations as he was admirable in the discharge of his public duties,
Marcus Aurelius spent the next twenty-three years of his life. So close
and intimate was their union, so completely did they regard each other
as father and son, that during all that period Aurelius never slept more
than twice away from the house of Antoninus. There was not a shade of
jealousy between them; each was the friend and adviser of the other,
and, so far from regarding his destined heir with suspicion, the Emperor
gave him the designation "Caesar," and heaped upon him all the honours
of the Roman Commonwealth. It was in vain that the whisper of malignant
tongues attempted to shake this mutual confidence. Antoninus once saw
the mother of Aurelius in earnest prayer before the statue of Apollo.
"What do you think she is praying for so intently?" asked a wretched
mischief-maker of the name of Valerius Omulus: "it is that you may die,
and her son reign." This wicked suggestion might have driven a prince of
meaner character into violence and disgust, but Antoninus passed it over
with the silence of contempt.

It was the main delight of Antoninus to enjoy the quiet of his country
villa. Unlike Hadrian, who traversed immense regions of his vast
dominion, Antoninus lived entirely either at Rome, or in his beautiful
villa at Lorium, a little seacoast village about twelve miles from the
capital. In this villa he had been born, and here he died, surrounded by
the reminiscences of his childhood. In this his real home it was his
special pleasure to lay aside the pomp and burden of his imperial rank.
"He did not," says Marcus, "take the bath at unseasonable hours; he was
not fond of building houses, nor curious about what he eat, nor about
the texture and colour of his clothes, nor about the beauty of his
slaves." Even the dress he wore was the work of the provincial artist
in his little native place. So far from checking the philosophic tastes
of his adopted son he fostered them, and sent for Apollonius of Chalcis
to be his teacher in the doctrines of Stoicism. In one of his notes to
Fronto, Marcus draws the picture of their simple country occupations and
amusements. Hunting, fishing, boxing, wrestling, occupied the leisure of
the two princes, and they shared the rustic festivities of the vintage.
"I have dined," he writes, "on a little bread.... We perspired a great
deal, shouted a great deal, and left some gleanings of the vintage
hanging on the trellis work.... When I got home I studied a little, but
not to much advantage I had a long talk with my mother, who was lying on
her couch." Who knows how much Aurelius and how much the world may have
gained from such conversation as this with a mother from whom he had
learnt to hate even the thought of evil? Nor will any one despise the
simplicity of heart which made him mingle with the peasants as an
amateur vintager, unless he is so tasteless and so morose as to think
with scorn of Scipio and Laelius as they gathered shells on the
seashore, or of Henry IV. as he played at horses with his little boys on
all-fours. The capability of unbending thus, the genuine cheerfulness
which enters at due times into simple amusements, has been found not
rarely in the highest and purest minds.

For many years no incident of importance broke the even tenor of
Aurelius's life. He lived peaceful, happy, prosperous, and beloved,
watching without envy the increasing years of his adopted father. But in
the year 161, when Marcus was now forty years old, Antoninus Pius, who
had reached the age of seventy-five, caught a fever at Lorium. Feeling
that his end was near, he summoned his friends and the chief men of
Rome to his bedside, and there (without saying a word about his other
adopted son, who is generally known by the name of Lucius Verus)
solemnly recommended Marcus to them as his successor; and then, giving
to the captain of the guard the watchword of "Equanimity," as though his
earthly task was over he ordered to be transferred to the bedroom of
Marcus the little golden statue of Fortune, which was kept in the
private chamber of the Emperors as an omen of public prosperity.

The very first public act of the new Emperor was one of splendid
generosity, namely, the admission of his adoptive brother Lucius Verus
into the fullest participation of imperial honours, the Tribunitian and
proconsular powers, and the titles Caesar and Augustus. The admission of
Lucius Verus to a share of the empire was due to the innate modesty of
Marcus. As he was a devoted student, and cared less for manly exercises,
in which Verus excelled, he thought that his adoptive brother would be a
better and more useful general than himself, and that he could best
serve the State by retaining the civil administration, and entrusting to
his brother the management of war. Verus, however, as soon as he got
away from the immediate influence and ennobling society of Marcus, broke
loose from all decency, and showed himself to be a weak and worthless
personage, as unfit for war as he was for all the nobler duties of
peace, and capable of nothing but enormous gluttony and disgraceful
self-indulence. Two things only can be said in his favour; the one,
that, though depraved, he was wholly free from cruelty; and the other,
that he had the good sense to submit himself entirely to his brother,
and to treat him with the gratitude and deference which were his due.

Marcus had a large family by Faustina, and in the first year of his
reign his wife bore twins, of whom the one who survived became the
wicked and detested Emperor Commodus. As though the birth of such a
child were in itself an omen of ruin, a storm of calamity began at once
to burst over the long tranquil State. An inundation of the Tiber flung
down houses and streets over a great part of Rome, swept away multitudes
of cattle, spoiled the harvests, devastated the fields, and caused a
distress which ended in wide-spread famine. Men's minds were terrified
by earthquakes, by the burning of cities, and by plagues or noxious
insects. To these miseries, which the Emperors did their best to
alleviate, was added the horrors of wars and rumours of wars. The
Partians, under their king Vologeses, defeated and all but destroyed a
Roman army, and devastated with impunity the Roman province of Syria.
The wild tribes of the Catti burst over Germany with fire and sword; and
the news from Britain was full of insurrection and tumult. Such were the
elements of trouble and discord which overshadowed the reign of Marcus
Aurelius from its very beginning down to its weary close.

As the Partian war was the most important of the three, Verus was sent
to quell it, and but for the ability of his generals--the greatest of
whom was Avidius Cassius--would have ruined irretrievably the fortunes
of the Empire. These generals, however, vindicated the majesty of the
Roman name, and Verus returned in triumph, bringing back with him from
the East the seeds of a terrible pestilence which devastated the whole
Empire and by which, on the outbreak of fresh wars, Verus himself was
carried off at Aquileia.

Worthless as he was, Marcus, who in his lifetime had so often pardoned
and concealed his faults, paid him the highest honours of sepulcre, and
interred his ashes in the mausoleum of Hadrian. There were not wanting
some who charged him with the guilt of fratricide, asserting that the
death of Verus had been hastened by his means!

I have only one reason for alluding to atrocious and contemptible
calumnies like these, and that is because--since no doubt such whispers
reached his ears--they help to account for that deep unutterable
melancholy which breathes through the little golden book of the
Emperor's _Meditations_. We find, for instance, among them this isolated

"A black character, a womanish character, a stubborn character, bestial,
childish, animal, stupid, counterfeit, scurrilous, fraudulent,

We know not of whom he was thinking--perhaps of Nero, perhaps of
Caligula, but undoubtedly also of men whom he had seen and known, and
whose very existence darkened his soul. The same sad spirit breathes
also through the following passages:--

"Soon, very soon, thou wilt be ashes, or a skeleton, and either a name,
or not even a name; but name is sound and echo. And the things which are
much valued in life are empty, and rotten, and trifling, and _little
dogs biting one another, and little children quarrelling, laughing, and
then straightway weeping. But fidelity, and modesty, and justice, and
truth are fled_

"'Up to Olympus from the wide-spread earth.'"

(v. 33.)

"It would be a man's happiest lot to depart from mankind without having
had a taste of lying, and hypocrisy, and luxury, and pride. However to
_breathe out one's life when a man has had enough of those things_ is
the next best voyage, as the saying is." (ix. 2.)

"_Enough of this wretched life, and murmuring, and apish trifles._ Why
art thou thus disturbed? What is there new in this? What unsettles
thee?... Towards the gods, then, now become at last more simple and
better." (ix. 37.) The thought is like that which dominates through the
Penitential Psalms of David,--that we may take refuge from men, their
malignity and their meanness, and find rest for our souls in God. From
men David has _no_ hope; mockery, treachery, injustice, are all that he
expects from them,--the bitterness of his enemies, the far-off
indifference of his friends. Nor does this greatly trouble him, so long
as he does not wholly lose the light of _God's_ countenance. "I had no
place to flee unto, and no man cared for my soul. I cried unto thee, O
Lord, and said, _Thou_ art my hope, and my portion in the land of the
living." "Cast me not away from Thy presence, and take not Thy Holy
Spirit from me."

But whatever may have been his impulse at times to give up in despair
all attempt to improve the "little breed" of men around him, Marcus had
schooled his gentle spirit to live continually in far other feelings.
Were men contemptible? It was all the more reason why he should himself
be noble. Were men petty, and malignant, and passionate and unjust? In
that proportion were they all the more marked out for pity and
tenderness, and in that proportion was he bound to the utmost of his
ability to show himself great, and forgiving, and calm, and true. Thus
Marcus turns his very bitterest experience to gold, and from the
vilenesses of others, which depressed his lonely life, so far from
suffering himself to be embittered as well as saddened, he only draws
fresh lessons of humanity and love.

He says, for instance, "Begin the morning by saying to thyself, _I shall
meet with the busybody, the ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious,
unsocial. All these things happen to them by reason of their ignorance
of what is good and evil_. But I who have seen the nature of the good
that it is beautiful, and of the bad that it is ugly, and the nature of
him that does wrong that is akin to me,... and that it partakes of the
same portion of the divinity, I can neither be injured by any of them,
for no one can fix on me what is ugly, nor can I be angry with my
kinsman, nor hate him. _For we are made for co-operation,_ like feet,
like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of the upper and lower teeth. To
act against one another then is contrary to nature; and _it_ is acting
against one another to be vexed and turn away." (ii. 1.) Another of his
rules, and an eminently wise one, was to fix his thoughts as much as
possible on the virtues of others, rather than on their vices. "When
thou wishest to delight thyself, think of the _virtues_ of those who
live with thee--the activity of one, the modesty of another, the
liberality of a third, and some other good quality of a fourth." What a
rebuke to the contemptuous cynicism which we are daily tempted to
display! "An infinite being comes before us," says Robertson, "with a
whole eternity wrapt up in his mind and soul, and we _proceed to
classify him, put a label upon him, as we would upon a jar, saying, This
is rice, that is jelly, and this pomatum_; and then we think we have
saved ourselves the necessity of taking off the cover, How differently
our Lord treated the people who came to Him!... consequently, at His
touch each one gave out his peculiar spark of light."

Here, again, is a singularly pithy, comprehensive, and beautiful piece
of advice:--

"Men exist for the sake of one another. _Teach them or bear with them_"
(viii. 59.)

And again: "The best way of revenging thyself is not to become like the
wrong doer."

And again, "If any man has done wrong, the harm is his own. But perhaps
he has not done wrong." (ix. 38.)

Most remarkable, however, are the nine rules which he drew up for
himself, as subjects for reflection when any one had offended
him, viz.--

1. That men were made for each other: even the inferior for the sake of
the superior, and these for the sake of one another.

2. The invincible influences that act upon men, and mould their opinions
and their acts.

3. That sin is mainly error and ignorance,--an involuntary slavery.

4. That we are ourselves feeble, and by no means immaculate; and that
often our very abstinence from faults is due more to cowardice and a
care for our reputation than to any freedom from the disposition to
commit them.

5. That our judgments are apt to be very rash and premature. "And in
short a man must learn a great deal to enable him to pass a correct
judgment on another man's acts."

6. When thou art much vexed or grieved, consider that man's life is only
a moment, and after a short time we are all laid out dead.

7. That no wrongful act of another can bring shame on us, and that it
is not men's acts which disturb us, but our own opinions of them.

8. That our own anger hurts us more than the acts themselves.

9. That _benevolence is invincible, if it be not an affected smile,_ nor
acting a part. "For what will the most violent man do to thee if thou
continuest benevolent to him? gently and calmly correcting him,
admonishing him when he is trying to do thee harm, saying, '_Not so, my
child: we are constituted by nature for something else: I shall
certainly not be injured, but thou art injuring thyself, my child_' And
show him with gentle tact and by general principles that this is so, and
that even bees do not do as he does, nor any gregarious animal. And this
you must do simply, unreproachfully, affectionately; without rancour,
and if possible when you and he are alone." (xi. 18.)

"_Not so, my child_; thou art injuring thyself, my child." Can all
antiquity show anything tenderer than this, or anything more close to
the spirit of Christian teaching than these nine rules? They were worthy
of the men who, unlike the Stoics in general, considered gentleness to
be a virtue, and a proof at once of philosophy and of true manhood. They
are written with that effusion of sadness and benevolence to which it is
difficult to find a parallel. They show how completely Marcus had
triumphed over all petty malignity, and how earnestly he strove to
fulfil his own precept of always keeping the thoughts so sweet and
clear, that "if any one should suddenly ask, 'What hast thou now in thy
thoughts?' with perfect openness thou mightest immediately answer, 'This
or That,'" In short, to give them their highest praise, they would have
delighted the great Christian Apostle who wrote,--

"Warn them that are unruly, comfort the feeble-minded, support the
weak, be patient towards all men. See that none render evil for evil
unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves,
and to all men." (1 Thess. iv. 14. 15.)

"Count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother." (2. Thess.
iv. 15.)

"Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a
quarrel against any." (Col. iii. 13.)

Nay, are they not even in full accordance with the mind and spirit of
Him who said,--

"If thy brother trespass against thee, _go and tell him his fault
between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee thou hast gained thy

In the life of Marcus Aurelius, as in so many lives, we are able to
trace the great law of compensation. His exalted station, during the
later years of his life, threw him among many who were false and
Pharisaical and base; but his youth had been spent under happier
conditions, and this saved him from falling into the sadness of those
whom neither man nor woman please. In his earlier years it had been his
lot to see the fairer side of humanity, and the recollection of those
pure and happy days was like a healing tree thrown into the bitter and
turbid waters of his reign.



Marcus was now the undisputed lord of the Roman world. He was seated on
the dizziest and most splendid eminence which it was possible for human
grandeur to obtain.

But this imperial elevation kindled no glow of pride or
self-satisfaction in his meek and chastened nature. He regarded himself
as being in fact the servant of all. It was his duty, like that of the
bull in the herd, or the ram among the flocks, to confront every peril
in his own person, to be foremost in all the hardships of war and the
most deeply immersed in all the toils of peace. The registry of the
citizens, the suppression of litigation, the elevation of public morals,
the restraining of consanguineous marriages, the care of minors, the
retrenchment of public expenses, the limitation of gladitorial games and
shows, the care of roads, the restoration of senatorial privileges, the
appointment of none but worthy magistrates--even the regulation of
street traffic--these and numberless other duties so completely absorbed
his attention that, in spite of indifferent health, they often kept him
at severe labour from early morning till long after midnight. His
position indeed often necessitated his presence at games and shows, but
on these occasions he occupied himself either in reading, or being read
to, or in writing notes. He was one of those who held that nothing
should be done hastily, and that few crimes were worse than the waste of
time. It is to such views and such habits that we owe the compositions
of his works. His _Meditations_ were written amid the painful
self-denial and distracting anxieties of his wars with the Quadi and the
Marcomanni, and he was the author of other works which unhappily have
perished. Perhaps of all the lost treasures of antiquity there are few
which we should feel a greater wish to recover than the lost
autobiography of this wisest of Emperors and holiest of Pagan men.

As for the external trappings of his rank,--those gorgeous adjuncts and
pompous circumstances which excite the wonder and envy of mankind,--no
man could have shown himself more indifferent to them. He recognized
indeed the necessity of maintaining the dignity of his high position.
"Every moment," he says, "think steadily as a Roman and a man _to do
what thou hast in hand with perfect and simple dignity_, and affection,
and freedom, and justice" (ii. 5); and again, "Let the Deity which is in
thee be the guardian of a living being, _manly and of ripe age, and
engaged in matters political, and a Roman, and a ruler_, who has taken
his post like a man waiting for the signal which summons him from life"
(iii. 5). But he did _not_ think it necessary to accept the fulsome
honours and degrading adulations which were so dear to many of his
predecessors. He refused the pompous blasphemy of temples and altars,
saying that for every true ruler the world was a temple, and all good
men were priests. He declined as much as possible all golden statues and
triumphal designations. All inevitable luxuries and splendour, such as
his public duties rendered indispensable, he regarded as a mere hollow
show. Marcus Aurelius felt as deeply as our own Shakespeare seems to
have felt the unsubstantiality, the fleeting evanescence of all earthly
things: he would have delighted in the sentiment that,

"_We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded by a sleep_."

"When we have meat before us," he says, "and such eatables, we receive
the impression that this is the dead body of a fish, and this is the
dead body of a bird, or of a pig; _and, again, that this Falerian is
only a little grape-juice, and this purple robe some sheep's wool dyed
with the blood of a shellfish_: such then are these impressions, and
they reach the things themselves and penetrate them, and so we see what
kind of things they are. Just in the same way.... where there are things
which appear most worthy of our approbation, _we ought to lay them bare,
and look at their worthlessness_, and strip them of all the words by
which they are exalted." (vi. 13.)

"What is worth being valued? To be received with clapping of hands? No.
Neither must we value the clapping of tongues, for the praise which
comes from the many is a clapping of tongues." (vi. 16.)

"Asia, Europe, are corners of the universe; all the sea is a drop in the
universe; Athos a little clod of the universe; all the present time is a
point in eternity. All things are _little, changeable, perishable"_
(vi. 36.)

And to Marcus too, no less than to Shakespeare, it seemed that--

"All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;"

for he writes these remarkable words:--

"_The idle business of show, plays on the stage, flocks of sheep, herds,
exercises with spears, a bone cast to little dogs, a bit of bread in
fishponds, labourings of ants, and burden-carrying runnings about of
frightened little mice, puppets pulled by strings_--this is what life
resembles. It is thy duty then in the midst of such things to show good
humour, and not a proud air; to understand however that _every man is
worth just so much as the things are worth about which he
busies himself_."

In fact, the Court was to Marcus a burden; he tells us himself that
Philosophy was his mother, Empire only his stepmother; it was only his
repose in the one that rendered even tolerable to him the burdens of the
other. Emperor as he was, he thanked the gods for having enabled him to
enter into the souls of a Thrasea, an Helvidius, a Cato, a Brutus. Above
all, he seems to have had a horror of ever becoming like some of his
predecessors; he writes:--

"Take care that thou art not made into a Caesar;[68] take care thou art
not dyed with this dye. Keep thyself then simple, good, pure, serious,
free from affectation, a friend of justice, a worshipper of the gods,
kind, affectionate, strenuous in all proper acts. Reverence the gods and
help men. Short is life. There _is only one fruit of this terrene life;
a pious disposition and social acts_." (iv. 19,)

[Footnote 68: Marcus here invents what M. Martha justly calls "an
admirable barbarism" to express his disgust towards such men--[Greek:
ora mae apukaidaoosaes]--"take care not to be _Caesarised_."]

It is the same conclusion as that which sorrow forced from another
weary and less admirable king: "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole
matter: Fear God, and keep His commandments; for this is the whole
duty of man."

But it is time for us to continue the meagre record of the life of
Marcus, so far as the bare and gossiping compilations of Dion
Cassius,[69] and Capitolinus, and the scattered allusions of other
writers can enable us to do so.

[Footnote 69: As epitomised by Xiphilinus.]

It must have been with a heavy heart that he set out once more for
Germany to face the dangerous rising of the Quadi and Marcomanni. To
obtain soldiers sufficient to fill up the vacancies in his army which
had been decimated by the plague, he was forced to enrol slaves; and to
obtain money he had to sell the ornaments of the palace, and even some
of the Empress's jewels. Immediately before he started his heart was
wrung by the death of his little boy, the twin-brother of Commodus,
whose beautiful features are still preserved for us on coins. Early in
the war, as he was trying the depth of a ford, he was assailed by the
enemy with a sudden storm of missiles, and was only saved from imminent
death by being sheltered beneath the shields of his soldiers. One battle
was fought on the ice of the wintry Danube. But by far the most
celebrated event of the war took place in a great victory over the Quadi
which he won in A.D. 174, and which was attributed by the Christians to
what is known as the "Miracle of the Thundering Legion."

Divested of all extraneous additions, the fact which occurred,--as
established by the evidence of medals, and by one of the bass-relievi on
the "Column of Antonine,"--appears to have been as follows. Marcus
Aurelius and his army had been entangled in a mountain defile, into
which they had too hastily pursued a sham retreat of the barbarian
archers. In this defile, unable either to fight or to fly, pent in by
the enemy, burned up with the scorching heat and tormented by thirst,
they lost all hope, burst into wailing and groans, and yielded to a
despair from which not even the strenuous efforts of Marcus could arouse
them. At the most critical moment of their danger and misery the clouds
began to gather, and heavy shows of rain descended, which the soldiers
caught in their shields and helmets to quench their own thirst and that
of their horses. While they were thus engaged the enemy attacked them;
but the rain was mingled with hail, and fell with blinding fury in the
faces of the barbarians. The storm was also accompanied with thunder and
lightning, which seems to have damaged the enemy, and filled them with
terror, while no casualty occured in the Roman ranks. The Romans
accordingly regarded this as a Divine interposition, and achieved a most
decisive victory, which proved to be the practical conclusion of a
hazardous and important war.

The Christians regarded the event not as _providential but as
miraculous_, and attributed it to the prayers of their brethren in a
legion which, from this circumstance, received the name of the
"Thundering Legion." It is however now known that one of the legions,
distinguished by a flash of lightning which was represented on their
shields, had been known by this name since the time of Augustus; and the
Pagans themselves attributed the assistance which they had received
sometimes to a prayer of the pious Emperor and sometimes to the
incantations of an Egyptian sorcerer named Arnuphis.

One of the Fathers, the passionate and eloquent Tertullian, attributes
to this deliverance an interposition of the Emperor in favour of the
Christians, and appeals to a letter of his to the Senate in which he
acknowledged how effectual had been the aid he had received from
Christian prayers, and forbade any one hereafter to molest the followers
of the new religion, lest they should use against him the weapon of
supplication which had been so powerful in his favour. This letter is
preserved at the end of the _Apology_ of Justin Martyr, and it adds
that, not only are no Christians to be injured or persecuted, but that
any one who informed against them is to be burned alive! We see at once
that this letter is one of those impudent and transparent forgeries in
which the literature of the first five centuries unhappily abounds. What
was the real relation of Marcus to the Christians we shall consider

To the gentle heart of Marcus, all war, even when accompanied with
victories, was eminently distasteful; and in such painful and ungenial
occupations no small part of his life was passed. What he thought of war
and of its successes is graphically set forth in the following remark:--

"A spider is proud when it has caught a fly, and another when he has
caught a poor hare, and another when he has taken a little fish in a
net, and another when he has taken wild boars or bears, _and another
when he has taken Sarmatians._ Are not these robbers, when thou
examinest their principles?" He here condemns his own involuntary
actions; but it was his unhappy destiny not to have trodden out the
embers of this war before he was burdened with another far more painful
and formidable.

This was the revolt of Avidius Cassius, a general of the old blunt Roman
type, whom, in spite of some ominous warnings, Marcus both loved and
trusted. The ingratitude displayed by such a man caused Marcus the
deepest anguish; but he was saved from all dangerous consequences by the
wide-spread affection which he had inspired by his virtuous reign.

The very soldiers of the rebellious general fell away from him; and,
after he had been a nominal Emperor for only three months and six days,
he was assassinated by some of his own officers. His head was sent to
Marcus, who received it with sorrow, and did not hold out to the
murderers the slightest encouragement. The joy of success was swallowed
up in regret that his enemy had not lived to allow him the luxury of a
genuine forgiveness. He begged the Senate to pardon all the family of
Cassius, and to suffer this single life to be the only one forfeited in
consequence of civil war. The Fathers received these proofs of clemency
with the rapture which they deserved, and the Senate-house resounded
with acclamations and blessings.

Never had a formidable conspiracy been more quietly and effectually
crushed. Marcus travelled through the provinces which had favoured the
cause of Avidius Cassius, and treated them all with the most complete
and indulgent forbearance. When he arrived in Syria, the correspondence
of Cassius was brought to him, and, with a glorious magnanimity of which
history affords but few examples, he consigned it all to the
flames unread.

During this journey of pacification, he lost his wife Faustina, who died
suddenly in one of the valleys of Mount Taurus. History, or the
collection of anecdotes which at this period often passes as history,
has assigned to Faustina a character of the darkest infamy, and it has
even been made a charge against Aurelius that he overlooked or condoned
her offences. As far as Faustina is concerned, we have not much to say,
although there is strong reason to believe that many of the stories told
of her are scandalously exaggerated, if not absolutely false. Certain it
is, that most of the imputations upon her memory rest on the malignant
anecdotes recorded by Dion, who dearly loved every piece of scandal
which degraded human nature. The _specific_ charge brought against her
of having tempted Cassius from his allegiance is wholly unsupported,
even if it be not absolutely incompatible with what we find in her own
existent letters; and, finally, Marcus himself not only loved her
tenderly, as the kind mother of his eleven children, but in his
_Meditations_ actually thanks the gods for having granted him "such a
wife, so obedient so affectionate, and so simple." No doubt Faustina was
unworthy of her husband; but surely it is the glory and not the shame of
a noble nature to be averse from jealousy and suspicion, and to trust to
others more deeply than they deserve.

So blameless was the conduct of Marcus Aurelius that neither the
malignity of contemporaries nor the sprit of posthumous scandal has
succeeded in discovering any flaw in the extreme integrity of his life
and principles. But meanness will not be baulked of its victims. The
hatred of all excellence which made Caligula try to put down the memory
of great men rages, though less openly, in the minds of many. They
delight to degrade human life into that dull and barren plain "in which
every molehill is a mountain, and every thistle a forest-tree." Great
men are as small in their eyes as they are said to be in the eyes of
their valets; and there are multitudes who, if they find

"Some stain or blemish in a name of note,
Not grieving that their greatest are so small,
Innate themselves with some insane delight,
And judge all nature from her feet of clay,
Without the will to lift their eyes, and see
Her godlike head crown'd with spiritual fire,
And touching other worlds."

This I suppose is the reason why, failing to drag down Marcus Aurelius
from his moral elevation, some have attempted to assail his reputation
because of the supposed vileness of Faustina and the actual depravity of
Commodus. Of Faustina I have spoken already. Respecting Commodus, I
think it sufficient to ask with Solomon: "Who knoweth whether his son
shall be a wise man or a fool?" Commodus was but nineteen when his
father died; for the first three years of his reign he ruled respectably
and acceptably. Marcus Aurelius had left no effort untried to have him
trained aright by the first teachers and the wisest men whom the age
produced; and Herodian distinctly tells us that he had lived virtuously
up to the time of his father's death. Setting aside natural affection
altogether, and even assuming (as I should conjecture from one or two
passages of his _Meditations_) that Marcus had misgivings about his son,
would it have been easy, would it have been even possible, to set aside
on general grounds a son who had attained to years of maturity? However
this may be, if there are any who think it worth while to censure Marcus
because, after all, Commodus turned out to be but "a warped slip of
wilderness," their censure is hardly sufficiently discriminating to
deserve the trouble of refutation.

"But Marcus Aurelius cruelly persecuted the Christians." Let us briefly
consider this charge. That persecutions took place in his reign is an
undeniable fact, and is sufficiently evidenced by the Apologies of
Justin Martyr, of Melito Bishop of Sardis, of Athenagoras, and of
Apollinarius, as well as by the Letter of the Church of Smyrna
describing the martyrdom of Polycarp, and that of the Churches of Lyons
and Vienne to their brethren in Asia Minor. It is fair, however, to
mention that there is some documentary evidence on the other side;
Lactantius clearly asserts that under the reigns of those excellent
princes who succeeded Domitian the Church suffered no violence from her
enemies, and "spread her hands towards the East and the West:"
Tertullian, writing but twenty years after the death of Marcus,
distinctly says (and Eusebius quotes the assertion), that there were
letters of the Emperor, in which he not only attributed his delivery
among the Quadi to the prayers of Christian soldiers in the "Thundering
Legion," but ordered any who informed against the Christians to be most
severely punished; and at the end of the works of Justin Martyr is found
a letter of similar purport, which is asserted to have been addressed by
Marcus to the Senate of Rome. We may set aside these peremptory
testimonies, we may believe that Tertullian and Eusebius were mistaken,
and that the documents to which they referred were spurious; but this
should make us also less certain about the prominent participation of
the Emperor in these persecutions. My own belief is (and it is a belief
which could be supported by many critical arguments), that his share in
causing them was almost infinitesimal. If those who love his memory
reject the evidence of Fathers in his favour, they may be at least
permitted to withhold assent from some of the assertions in virtue of
which he is condemned.

Marcus in his _Meditations_ alludes to the Christians once only, and
then it is to make a passing complaint of the indifference to death,
which appeared to him, as it appeared to Epictetus, to arise, not from
any noble principles, but from mere obstinacy and perversity. That he
shared the profound dislike with which Christians were regarded is very
probable. That he was a cold-blooded and virulent persecutor is utterly
unlike his whole character, essentially at variance with his habitual
clemency, alien to the spirit which made him interfere in every possible
instance to mitigate the severity of legal punishments, and may in short
be regarded as an assertion which is altogether false. Who will believe
that a man who during his reign built and dedicated but one single
temple, and that a Temple to Beneficence; that a man who so far from
showing any jealousy respecting foreign religions allowed honour to be
paid to them all; that a man whose writings breathe on every page the
inmost spirit of philanthropy and tenderness, went out of his way to
join in a persecution of the most innocent, the most courageous, and the
most inoffensive of his subjects?

The true state of the case seems to have been this. The deep calamities
in which, during the whole reign of Marcus the Empire was involved,
caused wide-spread distress, and roused into peculiar fury the feelings
of the provincials against men whose atheism (for such they considered
it to be) had kindled the anger of the gods. This fury often broke out
into paroxisms of popular excitement, which none but the firmest-minded
governers were able to moderate or to repress. Marcus, when appealed to,
simply let the existing law take its usual course. That law was as old
as the time of Trajan. The young Pliny, Governor of Bithynia, had
written to ask Trajan how he was to deal with the Christians, whose
blamelessness of life he fully admitted, but whose doctrines, he said,
had emptied the temples of the gods, and exasperated their worshippers.
Trajan in reply had ordered that the Christians should not be _sought_
for, but that, if they were brought before the governor, and proved to
be contumacious in refusing to adjure their religion, they were then to
be put to death. Hadrian and Antoninus Pius had continued the same
policy, and Marcus Aurilius saw no reason to alter it. But this law,
which in quiet times might become a mere dead letter, might at more
troubled periods be converted into a dangerous engine of persecution, as
it was in the case of the venerable Polycarp, and in the unfortunate
Churches of Lyons and Vienne. The Pagans believed that the reason why
their gods were smiling in secret,--

"Looking over wasted lands,
Blight and famine, plague and earthquake, roaring deeps and fiery

"Clanging fights, and flaming towns, and sinking ships, and praying

was the unbelief and impiety of these hated Galileans, causes of offence
which could only be expiated by the death of the guilty. "Their
enemies," says Tertullian, "call aloud for the blood of the innocent,
alleging this vain pretext for their hatred, that they believe the
Christians to be the cause of every public misfortune. If the Tiber has
overflowed its banks, or the Nile has not overflowed, if heaven has
refused its rain, if famine or the plague has spread its ravages, the
cry is immediate, 'The Christians to the lions.'" In the first three
centuries the cry of "No Christianity" became at times as brutal, as
violent, and as unreasoning as the cry of "No Popery" has often been in
modern days. It was infinitely less disgraceful to Marcus to lend his
ear to the one than it has been to some eminent modern statesmen to be
carried away by the insensate fury of the other.

To what extent is Marcus Aurelius to be condemned for the martyrdoms
which took place in his reign? Not, I think, heavily or
indiscriminately, or with vehement sweeping censure. Common justice
surely demands that we should not confuse the present with the past, or
pass judgment on the conduct of the Emperor as though he were living in
the nineteenth century, or as though he had been acting in full
cognisance of the Gospels and the stones of the Saints. Wise and good
men before him had, in their haughty ignorance, spoken of Christianity
with execration and contempt. The philosophers who surrounded his throne
treated it with jealousy and aversion. The body of the nation firmly
believed the current rumours which charged its votaries with horrible
midnight assemblies, rendered infamous by Thyestian banquets and the
atrocities of nameless superstitions. These foul calumnies--these
hideous charges of cannibalism and incest,--were supported by the
reiterated perjury of slaves under torture, which in that age, as well
as long afterwards, was preposterously regarded as a sure criterion
of truth.

Christianity in that day was confounded with a multitude of debased and
foreign superstitions; and the Emperor in his judicial capacity, if he
ever encountered Christians at all, was far more likely to encounter
those who were unworthy of the name, than to become acquainted with the
meek, unworldly, retiring virtues of the calmest, the holiest, and the
best. When we have given their due weight to considerations such as
these we shall be ready to pardon Marcus Aurelius for having, in this
matter, acted ignorantly, and to admit that in persecuting Christianity
he may most honestly have thought that he was doing God service. The
very sincerity of his belief, the conscientiousness of his rule, the
intensity of his philanthrophy, the grandeur of his own philosophical
tenets, all conspired to make him a worse enemy of the Church than a
brutal Commodus or a disgusting Heliogabalus. And yet that there was not
in him the least _propensity_ to persecute; that these persecutions were
for the most part spontaneous and accidental; that they were in no
measure due to his direct instigation, or in special accordance with his
desire, is clear from the fact that the martyrdoms took place in Gaul
and Asia Minor, _not in Rome_. There must have been hundreds of
Christians in Rome, and under the very eye of the Emperor; nay, there
were even multitudes of Christians in his own army; yet we never hear of
his having molested any of them. Melito, Bishop of Sardis, in addressing
the Emperor, expresses a doubt as to whether he was really aware of the
manner in which his Christian subjects were treated. Justin Martyr, in
his _Apology_, addresses him in terms of perfect confidence and deep
respect. In short he was in this matter "blameless, but unfortunate." It
is painful to think that the venerable Polycarp, and the thoughtful
Justin may have forfeited their lives for their principles, not only in
the reign of so good a man, but even by virtue of his authority; but we
must be very uncharitable or very unimaginative if we cannot readily
believe that, though they had received the crown of martyrdom from his
hands, the redeemed spirits of those great martyrs would have been the
first to welcome this holiest of the heathen into the presence of a
Saviour whose Church he persecuted, but to whose indwelling Spirit his
virtues were due? whom ignorantly and unconsciously he worshipped, and
whom had he ever heard of Him and known Him, he would have loved in his
heart and glorified by the consistency of his noble and stainless life.

The persecution of the Churches in Lyons and Vienne happened in A.D.
177. Shortly after this period fresh wars recalled the Emperor to the
North. It is said that, in despair of ever seeing him again, the chief
men of Rome entreated him to address them his farewell admonitions, and
that for three days he discoursed to them on philosophical questions.
When he arrived at the seat of war, victory again crowned his arms. But
Marcus was now getting old, and he was worn out with the toils, trials,
and travels of his long and weary life. He sunk under mental anxieties
and bodily fatigues, and after a brief illness died in Pannonia, either
at Vienna or Sirmium, on March 17, A.D. 180, in the fifty-ninth year of
his age and the twentieth of his reign.

Death to him was no calamity. He was sadly aware that "there is no man
so fortunate that there shall not be by him when he is dying some who
are pleased with what is going to happen. Suppose that he was a good and
wise man, will there not be at last some one to say of him, 'Let us at
last breathe freely, being relieved from this schoolmaster. It is true
that he was harsh to none of us, but I perceive that he tacitly condemns
us.'... Thou wilt consider this when thou art dying, and wilt depart
more contentedly by reflecting thus: 'I am going away _from a life in
which even my associates, on behalf of whom I have striven, and cared,
and prayed so much, themselves wish me to depart_, hoping perchance to
get some little advantage by it.' Why then should a man cling to a
longer stay here? _Do not, however, for this reason go away less kindly
disposed to them, but preserving thy own character, and continuing
friendly, and benevolent, and kind_" And dreading death far less than he
dreaded any departure from the laws of virtue, he exclaims, "Come
quickly, O Death, for fear that at last I should forget myself." This
utterance has been well compared to the language which Bossuet put into
the mouth of a Christian soul:--"O Death; thou dost not trouble my
designs, thou accomplishest them. Haste, then, O favourable Death!...
_Nunc Dimittis_."

A nobler, a gentler, a purer, a sweeter soul,--a soul less elated by
prosperity, or more constant in adversity--a soul more fitted by virtue,
and chastity, and self-denial to enter into the eternal peace, never
passed into the presence of its Heavenly Father. We are not surprised
that all, whose means permitted it, possessed themselves of his statues,
and that they were to be seen for years afterwards among the household
gods of heathen families, who felt themselves more hopeful and more
happy from the glorious sense of possibility which was inspired by the
memory of one who, in the midst of difficulties, and breathing an
atmosphere heavy with corruption, yet showed himself so wise, so great,
so good a man.

O framed for nobler times and calmer hearts!
O studious thinker, eloquent for truth!
Philosopher, despising wealth and death,
But patient, childlike, full of life and love!



Emperor as he was, Marcus Aurelius found himself in a hollow and
troublous world; but he did not give himself up to idle regret or
querulous lamentations. If these sorrows and perturbations came from the
gods, he kissed the hand that smote him; "he delivered up his broken
sword to Fate the conqueror with a humble and a manly heart." In any
case he had _duties_ to do, and he set himself to perform them with a
quiet heroism--zealously, conscientiously, even cheerfully.

The principles of the Emperor are not reducible to the hard and definite
lines of a philosophic system. But the great laws which guided his
actions and moulded his views of life were few and simple, and in his
book of _Meditations_, which is merely his private diary written to
relieve his mind amid all the trials of war and government, he recurs to
them again and again. "Plays, war, astonishment, torpor, slavery," he
says to himself, "will wipe out those holy principles of thine;" and
this is why he committed those principles to writing. Some of these I
have already adduced, and others I proceed to quote, availing myself, as
before, of the beautiful and scholar-like translation of Mr.
George Long.

All pain, and misfortune, and ugliness seemed to the Emperor to be most
wisely regarded under a threefold aspect, namely, if considered in
reference to the gods, as being due to laws beyond their control; if
considered with reference to the nature of things, as being subservient
and necessary; and if considered with reference to ourselves, as being
dependent on the amount of indifference and fortitude with which we
endure them.

The following passages will elucidate these points of view:--

"The intelligence of the Universe is social. Accordingly it has made the
inferior things for the sake of the superior, and it has fitted the
superior to one another." (v. 30.)

"Things do not touch the soul, for they are eternal, and remain
immovable; but our perturbations come only from the opinion which is
within.... _The Universe is Transformation; life is opinion_" (iv. 3.)

"To the jaundiced honey tastes bitter, and to those bitten by mad dogs
water causes fear; and to little children the ball is a fine thing. Why
then am I angry? Dost thou think that a false opinion has less power
than the bile in the jaundiced, or the poison in him who is bitten by a
mad dog?" (vi. 52.)

"How easy it is to repel and to wipe away every impression which is
troublesome and unsuitable, and immediately to be at tranquillity."
(v. 2.)

The passages in which Marcus speaks of evil as a _relative_ thing,--as
being good in the making,--the unripe and bitter bud of that which shall
be hereafter a beautiful flower,--although not expressed with perfect
clearness, yet indicate his belief that our view of evil things rises in
great measure from our inability to perceive the great whole of which
they are but subservient parts.

"All things," he says, "come from that universal ruling power, either
directly or by way of consequence. _And accordingly the lion's gaping
jaws, and that which is poisonous, and every hurtful thing, as a thorn,
as mud, are after-products of the grand and beautiful_. Do not therefore
imagine that they are of another kind from that which thou dost
venerate, but form a just opinion of the source of all."

In another curious passage he says that all things which are natural and
congruent with the causes which produce them have a certain beauty and
attractiveness of their own; for instance, the splittings and
corrugations on the surface of bread when it has been baked. "And again,
figs when they are quite ripe gape open; and in the ripe olives the very
circumstances of their being near to rottenness adds a peculiar beauty
to the fruit. And _the ears of corn bending down, and the lion's
eyebrows, and the foam which flows from the mouth of wild boars_, and
many other things--though they are far from being beautiful, if a man
should examine them severally--still, because they are consequent upon
the things which are formed by nature, help to adorn them, and they
please the mind; so that if a man should have a feeling and deeper
insight about the things found in the universe there is hardly _one of
those which follow by way of consequence_ which will not seem to him to
be in a manner disposed so as to give pleasure." (iv. 2.)

This congruity to nature--the following of nature, and obedience to all
her laws--is the key-formula to the doctrines of the Roman Stoics.

"Everything which is in any way beautiful is beautiful in itself, and
terminates in itself, not having praise as part of itself. Neither
worse, then, nor better is a thing made by being praised.... _Is such a
thing as an emerald made worse than it was, if it is not praised? or
gold, ivory, purple, a lyre, a little knife, a flower, a shrub_?"
(iv. 20.)

"Everything harmonizes with me which is harmonious to thee, O Universe.
Nothing for me is too early nor too late, which is in due time for thee.
Everything is fruit to me which thy seasons bring, O Nature! from thee
are all things, in thee are all things, to thee all things return. _The
poet says, Dear city of Cecrops; and wilt not thou say, Dear city of
God_?" (iv. 23.)

"Willingly give thyself up to fate, allowing her to spin thy thread into
whatever thing she pleases." (iv. 34.)

And here, in a very small matter--getting out of bed in a morning--is
one practical application of the formula:--

"In the morning when thou risest unwillingly, let these thoughts be
present--'I am rising to the work of a human being. _Why, then, am I
dissatisfied if I am going to do the things for which I exist, and for
which I was brought into the world_? Or have I been made for this, to
lie in the bedclothes and keep myself warm?' 'But this is more
pleasant.' _Dost thou exist, then, to take thy pleasure, and not for
action or exertion_? Dost thou not see the little plants, the little
birds, the ants, the spiders, the bees, working together to put in order
their several parts of the universe? And art thou unwilling to do the
work of a human being, and dost thou not make haste to do that which is
according to thy nature?" (v. 1.) ["Go to the ant, thou sluggard;
consider her ways, and be wise!"]

The same principle, that Nature has assigned to us our proper
place--that a task has been given us to perform, and that our only care
should be to perform it aright, for the blessing of the great Whole of
which we are but insignificant parts--dominates through the admirable
precepts which the Emperor lays down for the regulation of our conduct
towards others. Some men, he says, do benefits to others only because
they expect a return; some men even, if they do not demand any return,
are not _forgetful_ that they have rendered a benefit; but others do not
even know what they have done, but _are like a vine which has produced
grapes, and seeks for nothing more after it has produced its proper
fruit_. So we ought to do good to others as simple and as naturally as a
horse runs, or a bee makes honey, or a vine bears grapes season after
season, without thinking of the grapes which it has borne. And in
another passage, "What more dost thou want when thou hast done a service
to another? Art thou not content to have done an act conformable to thy
nature, and must thou seek to be paid for it, just as if the eye
demanded a reward for seeing, or the feet for walking?"

"Judge every word and deed which is according to nature to be fit for
thee, and be not diverted by the blame which follows...but if a thing is
good to be done or said, do not consider it unworthy of thee." (v. 3.)

Sometimes, indeed, Marcus Aurelius wavers. The evils of life overpower
him. "Such as bathing appears to thee," he says, "_oil, sweat, dirt,
filthy water, all things disgusting--so is every part of life and
everything_" (viii. 24); and again:--"Of human life the time is a point,
and the substance is in a flux, and the perception dull, and the
composition of the whole body subject to putrefaction, and the soul a
whirl, and fortune hard to divine, and fame a thing devoid of judgment."
But more often he retains his perfect tranquillity, and says, "Either
thou livest here, and hast already accustomed thyself to it, or thou
art going away, and this was thine own will; or thou art dying, and hast
discharged thy duty. _But besides these things there is nothing. Be of
good cheer, then_." (x. 22.) "Take me, and cast me where thou wilt, for
then I shall keep my divine part tranquil, that is, content, if it can
feel and act conformably to its proper constitution." (viii. 45.)

There is something delightful in the fact that even in the Stoic
philosophy there was some comfort to keep men from despair. To a holy
and scrupulous conscience like that of Marcus, there would have been an
inestimable preciousness in the Christian doctrine of the "forgiveness
of the sins." Of that divine mercy--of that sin-uncreating power--the
ancient world knew nothing; but in Marcus we find some dim and faint
adumbration of the doctrine, expressed in a manner which might at least
breathe calm into the spirit of the philosopher, though it could never
reach the hearts of the suffering multitude. For "suppose," he says,
"that thou hast detached thyself from the natural unity,--for thou wast
made by nature a part, but now hast cut thyself off--_yet here is the
beautiful provision that it is in thy power again to unite thyself_. God
has allowed this to no other part--after it has been separated and cut
asunder, to come together again. _But consider the goodness with which
He has privileged man; for He has put it in his power, when he has been
separated, to return and to be reunited, and to resume his place_" And
elsewhere he says, "If you cannot maintain a true and magnanimous
character, go courageously into some corner where you _can_ maintain
them; or if even there you fail, depart at once from life, not with
passion, but with modest and simple freedom--which will be to have done
at least _one_ laudable act." Sad that even to Marcus Aurelius death
should have seemed the only refuge from the despair of ultimate failure
in the struggle to be wise and good!

Marcus valued temperance and self-denial as being the best means of
keeping his heart strong and pure; but we are glad to learn he did _not_
value the rigours of asceticism. Life brought with it enough, and more
than enough, of antagonism to brace his nerves; enough, and more than
enough, of the rough wind of adversity in his face to make it
unnecessary to add more by his own actions. "It is not fit," he says,
"that I should give myself pain, for I have never intentionally given
pain even to another." (viii. 42.)

It was a commonplace of ancient philosophy that the life of the wise man
should be a contemplation of, and a preparation for, death. It certainly
was so with Marcus Aurelius. The thoughts of the nothingness of man, and
of that great sea of oblivion which shall hereafter swallow up all that
he is and does, are ever present to his mind; they are thoughts to which
he recurs more constantly than any other, and from which he always draws
the same moral lesson.

"Since it is possible that thou mayest depart from life this very
moment, regulate every act and thought accordingly.... Death certainly,
and life, honour and dishonour, pain and pleasure, all these things
happen equally to good men and bad, being things which make us neither
better nor worse. Therefore they are neither good nor evil." (ii. 11.)

Elsewhere he says that Hippocrates cured diseases and died; and the
Chaldaeans foretold the future and died; and Alexander, and Pompey, and
Caesar killed thousands, and then died; and lice destroyed Democritus,
and other lice killed Socrates; and Augustus, and his wife, and
daughter, and all his descendants, and all his ancestors, are dead; and
Vespasian and all his Court, and all who in his day feasted, and
married, and were sick and chaffered, and fought, and flattered, and
plotted, and grumbled, and wished other people to die, and pined to
become kings or consuls, are dead; and all the idle people who are doing
the same things now are doomed to die; and all human things are smoke,
and nothing at all; and it is not for us, but for the gods, to settle
whether we play the play out, or only a part of it. "_There are many
grains of frankincense on the same altar; one falls before, another
falls after; but it makes no difference._" And the moral of all these
thoughts is, "Death hangs over thee while thou livest: while it is in
thy power be good." (iv. 17.) "Thou hast embarked, thou hast made the
voyage, thou hast come to shore; get out. If, indeed, to another life
there is no want of gods, not even there. But if to a state without
sensation, thou wilt cease to be held by pains and pleasures." (iii. 3.)

Nor was Marcus at all comforted under present annoyances by the thought
of posthumous fame. "How ephemeral and worthless human things are," he
says, "and what was yesterday a little mucus, to-morrow will be a mummy
or ashes." "Many who are now praising thee, will very soon blame thee,
and neither a posthumous name is of any value, nor reputation, nor
anything else." What has become of all great and famous men, and all
they desired, and all they loved? They are "smoke, and ash, and a tale,
or not even a tale." After all their rages and envyings, men are
stretched out quiet and dead at last. Soon thou wilt have forgotten all,
and soon all will have forgotten thee. But here, again, after such
thoughts, the same moral is always introduced again:--"Pass then through
the little space of time conformably to nature, and end the journey in
content, _just as an olive falls off when it is ripe, blessing nature
who produced it, and thanking the tree on which it grew_" "One thing
only troubles me, lest I should do something which the constitution of
man does not allow, or in the way which it does not allow, or what it
does not allow now."

To quote the thoughts of Marcus Aurelius is to me a fascinating task. But
I have already let him speak so largely for himself that by this time
the reader will have some conception of his leading motives. It only
remains to adduce a few more of the weighty and golden sentences in
which he lays down his rule of life.

"To say all in a word, everything which belongs to the body is a stream,
and what belongs to the soul is a dream and vapour; and life is a
warfare, and a stranger's sojourn, and after fame is oblivion. What,
then, is that which is able to enrich a man? One thing, and only
one--philosophy. But this consists in keeping the guardian spirit within
a man free from violence and unharmed, superior to pains and pleasures,
_doing nothing without a purpose, nor yet falsely, and with
hypocrisy_... _accepting all that happens and all that is
allotted_ ... _and finally waiting for death with a cheerful
mind_" (ii. 17.)

"If thou findest in human life anything better than justice, truth,
temperance, fortitude, and, in a word, than thine own soul's
satisfaction in the things which it enables thee to do according to
right reason, and In the condition that is assigned to thee without thy
own choice; if, I say, thou seest anything better than this, turn to it
with all thy soul, and enjoy that which thou hast found to be the best.
But ... if thou findest everything else smaller and of less value than
this, give place to nothing else.... Simply and freely choose the
better, and hold to it." (iii. 6.)

"Body, soul, intelligence: to the body belong sensations, to the soul
appetites, to the intelligence principles." To be impressed by the
senses is peculiar to animals; to be pulled by the strings of desire
belongs to effeminate men, and to men like Phalaris or Nero; to be
guided only by intelligence belongs to atheists and traitors, and "men
who do their impure deeds when they have shut the doors.... There
remains that which is peculiar to the good man, _to be pleased and
content with what happens, and with the thread which is spun for him;
and not to defile the divinity which is planted in his breast_, nor
disturb it by a crowd of images; but to preserve it tranquil, following
it obediently as a god, neither saying anything contrary to truth, nor
doing anything contrary to justice. (iii. 16.)

"Men seek retreats for themselves, houses in the country, sea-shores,
and mountains, and thou too art wont to desire such things very much.
But this is altogether a mark of the commonest sort of men, for it is in
thy power whenever thou shalt chose to retire into thyself. For _nowhere
either with more quiet or with more freedom does a man retire than into
his own soul_, particularly when he has within him such thoughts that by
looking into them he is immediately in perfect tranquillity,--which is
nothing else than the good ordering of the mind." (iv. 3.)

"Unhappy am I, because this has happened to me? Not so, but happy am I
_though_ this has happened to me, because I continue free from pain;
neither crushed by the present, nor fearing the future." (iv. 19.)

It is just possible that in some of these passages some readers may
detect a trace of painful self-consciousness, and _imagine_ that they
detect a little grain of self-complacence. Something of
self-consciousness is perhaps inevitable in the diary and examination
of his own conscience by one who sat on such a lonely height; but
self-complacency there is none. Nay, there is sometimes even a cruel
sternness in the way in which the Emperor speaks of his own self. He
certainly dealt not with himself in the manner of a dissembler with God.
"When," he says (x. 8), "thou hast assumed the names of a man who is
good, modest, rational, magnanimous, cling to those names; and if thou
shouldst lose them, quickly return to them.... _For to continue to_ _be
such as thou hast hitherto been_, and to be torn in pieces, and defiled
in such a life, is the character of a very stupid man, and one over-fond
of his life, and _like those half-devoured fighters with wild beasts,
who, though covered with wounds and gore, still entreat to be kept till
the following day, though they will be exposed in the same state to the
same claws and bites_. Therefore fix thyself in the possession of these
few names: and if thou art able to abide in them, abide as if thou were
removed to the Islands of the Blest." Alas! to Aurelius, in this life,
the Islands of the Blest were very far away. Heathen philosophy was
exalted and eloquent, but all its votaries were sad; to "the peace of
God, which passeth all understanding," it was not given them to attain.
We see Marcus "wise, self-governed, tender, thankful, blameless," says
Mr. Arnold, "yet with all this agitated, stretching out his arms for
something beyond--_tendentemque manue ripae ulterioris amore_"

I will quote in conclusion but three short precepts:--

"Be cheerful, and seek not external help, nor the tranquillity which
others give. _A man must stand erect, not be kept erect by
others_." (iv. 5.)

"_Be like the promontory against which the waves continually break, but
it stands firm and tames the fury of the water around it_" (iv. 49.)

This comparison has been used many a time since the days of Marcus
Aurelius. The reader will at once recall Goldsmith's famous lines:--

"As some tall cliff that rears its awful form,
Swells from the vale, and midway leaves the storm,
Though round its breast the rolling clouds are spread,
Eternal sunshine settles on its head."

"Short is the little that remains to thee of life. _Live as on a
mountain_. For it makes no difference whether a man lives there or here,
if he lives everywhere in the world as in a civil community. Let men
see, let them know a real man who lives as he was meant to live. If they
cannot endure him, let them kill him. For that is better than to live as
men do." (x. 15.)

Such were some of the thoughts which Marcus Aurelius wrote in his diary
after days of battle with the Quadi, and the Marcomanni, and the
Sarmatae. Isolated from others no less by moral grandeur than by the
supremacy of his sovereign rank, he sought the society of his own noble
soul. I sometimes imagine that I see him seated on the borders of some
gloomy Pannonian forest or Hungarian marsh; through the darkness the
watchfires of the enemy gleam in the distance; but both among them, and
in the camp around him, every sound is hushed, except the tread of the
sentinel outside the imperial tent; and in that tent long after midnight
sits the patient Emperor by the light of his solitary lamp, and ever and
anon, amid his lonely musings, he pauses to write down the pure and holy
thoughts which shall better enable him, even in a Roman palace, even on
barbarian battlefields, daily to tolerate the meanness and the
malignity of the men around him; daily to amend his own shortcomings,
and, as the sun of earthly life begins to set, daily to draw nearer and
nearer to the Eternal Light. And when I thus think of him, I know not
whether the whole of heathen antiquity, out of its gallery of stately
and royal figures, can furnish a nobler, or purer, or more lovable
picture than that of this crowned philosopher and laurelled hero, who
was yet one of the humblest and one of the most enlightened of all
ancient "Seekers after God."


A sceptical writer has observed, with something like a sneer, that the
noblest utterances of Gospel morality may be paralleled from the
writings of heathen philosophers. The sneer is pointless, and Christian
moralists have spontaneously drawn attention to the fact. In this
volume, so far from trying to conceal that it is so, I have taken
pleasure in placing side by side the words of Apostles and of
Philosophers. The divine origin of Christianity does not rest on its
morality alone. By the aid of the light which was within them, by
deciphering the law written on their own consciences, however much its
letters may have been obliterated or dimmed, Plato, and Cicero, and
Seneca, and Epictetus, and Aurelius were enabled to grasp and to
enunciate a multitude of great and memorable truths; yet they themselves
would have been the first to admit the wavering uncertainty of their
hopes and speculations, and the absolute necessity of a further
illumination. So strong did that necessity appear to some of the wisest
among them, that Socrates ventures in express words to prophesy the
future advent of some heaven-sent Guide.[70] Those who imagine that
_without_ a written revelation it would have been possible to learn all
that is necessary for man's well-being, are speaking in direct
contradiction of the greatest heathen teachers, in contradiction even of
those very teachers to whose writing they point as the proof of their
assertion. Augustine was expressing a very deep conviction when he said
that in Plato and in Cicero he met with many utterances which were
beautiful and wise, but among them all he never found, "Come unto me,
all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you."
Glorious as was the wisdom of ancient thought, its knowledge respecting
the indwelling of the Spirit, the resurrection of the body, and the
forgiveness of sins, was but fragmentary and vague. Bishop Butler has
justly remarked that "The great doctrines of a future state, the dangers
of a course of wickedness, and the efficacy of repentance are not only
_confirmed_ in the Gospel, but are taught, especially the last is, with
a degree of light to which that of nature is darkness."

[Footnote 70: Xen. Mem. 1, iv. 14; Plato, Alcib. ii.]

The morality of Paganism was, on its own confession, _insufficient_. It
was tentative, where Christianity is authoritative: it was dim and
partial, where Christianity is bright and complete; it was inadequate to
rouse the sluggish carelessness of mankind, where Christianity came in
with an imperial and awakening power; it gives only a _rule_, where
Christianity supplies a _principle_. And even where its teachings were
absolutely coincident with those of Scripture, it failed to ratify them
with a sufficient sanction; it failed to announce them with the same
powerful and contagious ardour; it failed to furnish an absolutely
faultless and vivid example of their practice; it failed to inspire them
with an irresistible motive; it failed to support them with a powerful
comfort under the difficulties which were sure to be encountered in the
aim after a consistent and holy life.

The attempts of the Christian Fathers to show that the truths of ancient
philosophy were borrowed from Scripture are due in some cases to
ignorance and in some to a want of perfect honesty in controversial
dealing. That Gideon (Jerubbaal) is identical with the priest
Hierombalos who supplied information to Sanchoniathon, the Berytian;
that Thales pieced together a philosophy from fragments of Jewish truth
learned in Phoenicia; that Pythagoras and Democritus availed themselves
of Hebraic traditions, collected during their travels; that Plato is a
mere "Atticising Moses;" that Aristotle picked up his ethical system
from a Jew whom he met in Asia; that Seneca corresponded with St. Paul:
are assertions every bit as unhistorical and false as that Homer was
thinking of Genesis when he described the shield of Achilles, or (as
Clemens of Alexandria gravely informs us) that Miltiades won the battle
of Marathon by copying the strategy of the battle of Beth-Horon! To say
that Pagan morality "kindled its faded taper at the Gospel light,
whether furtively or unconsciously taken," and that it "dissembled the
obligation, and made a boast of the splendour as though it were
originally her own, or were sufficient in her hands for the moral
illumination of the world;" is to make an assertion wholly
untenable.[71] Seneca, Epictetus, Aurelius, are among the truest and
loftiest of Pagan moralists, yet Seneca ignored the Christians,
Epictetus despised, and Aurelius persecuted them. All three, so far as
they knew anything about the Christians at all, had unhappily been
taught to look upon them as the most detestable sect of what they had
long regarded as the most degraded and the most detestable of religions.

[Footnote 71: See for various statements in this passage, Josephus, _c.
Apion_. ii. Section 36; Cic. _De Fin_. v. 25; Clem. Alex. _Strom_, 1,
xxii. 150, xxv. v. 14; Euseb.; _Prof. Evang_. x. 4, ix. 5, &c.; Lactant.
_Inst. Div_. iv. 2, &c.]

There is something very touching in this fact; but, if there be
something very touching, there is also something very encouraging. God
was their God as well as ours--their Creator, their Preserver, who left
not Himself without witness among them; who, as they blindly felt after
Him, suffered their groping hands to grasp the hem of His robe; who sent
them rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling their hearts with
joy and gladness. And His Spirit was with them, dwelling in them, though
unseen and unknown, purifying and sanctifying the temple of their
hearts, sending gleams of illuminating light through the gross darkness
which encompassed them, comforting their uncertainties, making
intercession for them with groaning which cannot be uttered. And more
than all, _our_ Saviour was _their_ Saviour, too; He, whom they regarded
as a crucified malefactor was their true invisible King; through His
righteousness their poor merits were accepted; their inward sicknesses
were healed; He whose worship they denounced as an "execrable
superstition" stood supplicating for them at the right hand of the
Majesty on high, helping them (though they knew Him not) to crush all
that was evil within them, and pleading for them when they persecuted
even the most beloved of His saints, "Father, forgive them; for they
know not what they do."

Yes, they too were all His offspring. Even if they had not been, should
we grudge that some of the children's meat should be given unto dogs?
Shall we deny to these "unconscious prophecies of heathendom" their
oracular significance? Shall we be jealous of the ethical loftiness of
a Plato or an Aurelius? Shall we be loth to admit that some power of the
Spirit of Christ, even mid the dark wanderings of Seneca's life, kept
him still conscious of a nobler and a better way, or that some sweetness
of a divine hope inspired the depressions of Epictetus in his slavery?

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