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The Caesars by Thomas de Quincey

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readily accepted by Agrippina: the emperor accompanied her to the place of
embarkation, took a most tender leave of her, and saw her set sail. It was
necessary that the vessel should get into deep water before the experiment
could be made; and with the utmost agitation this pious son awaited news
of the result. Suddenly a messenger rushed breathless into his presence,
and horrified him by the joyful information that his august mother had met
with an alarming accident; but, by the blessing of Heaven, had escaped
safe and sound, and was now on her road to mingle congratulations with her
affectionate son. The ship, it seems, had done its office; the mechanism
had played admirably; but who can provide for every thing? The old lady,
it turned out, could swim like a duck; and the whole result had been to
refresh her with a little sea-bathing. Here was worshipful intelligence.
Could any man's temper be expected to stand such continued sieges? Money,
and trouble, and infinite contrivance, wasted upon one old woman, who
absolutely would not, upon any terms, be murdered! Provoking it certainly
was; and of a man like Nero it could not be expected that he should any
longer dissemble his disgust, or put up with such repeated affronts. He
rushed upon his simple congratulating friend, swore that he had come to
murder him, and as nobody could have suborned him but Agrippina, he
ordered her off to instant execution. And, unquestionably, if people will
not be murdered quietly and in a civil way, they must expect that such
forbearance is not to continue for ever; and obviously have themselves
only to blame for any harshness or violence which they may have rendered

It is singular, and shocking at the same time, to mention, that, for this
atrocity, Nero did absolutely receive solemn congratulations from all
orders of men. With such evidences of base servility in the public mind,
and of the utter corruption which they had sustained in their elementary
feelings, it is the less astonishing that he should have made other
experiments upon the public patience, which seem expressly designed to try
how much it would support. Whether he were really the author of the
desolating fire which consumed Rome for six [Footnote: But a memorial
stone, in its inscription, makes the time longer: "Quando urbs per novem
dies arsit Neronianis temporibus."] days and seven nights, and drove the
mass of the people into the tombs and sepulchres for shelter, is yet a
matter of some doubt. But one great presumption against it, founded on its
desperate imprudence, as attacking the people in their primary comforts,
is considerably weakened by the enormous servility of the Romans in the
case just stated: they who could volunteer congratulations to a son for
butchering his mother, (no matter on what pretended suspicions,) might
reasonably be supposed incapable of any resistance which required courage
even in a case of self-defence, or of just revenge. The direct reasons,
however, for implicating him in this affair, seem at present insufficient.
He was displeased, it seems, with the irregularity and unsightliness of
the antique buildings, and also with the streets, as too narrow and
winding, (_angustiis flexurisque vicorum_.) But in this he did but
express what was no doubt the common judgment of all his contemporaries,
who had seen the beautiful cities of Greece and Asia Minor. The Rome of
that time was in many parts built of wood; and there is much probability
that it must have been a _picturesque_ city, and in parts almost
grotesque. But it is remarkable, and a fact which we have nowhere seen
noticed, that the ancients, whether Greeks or Romans, had no eye for the
picturesque; nay, that it was a sense utterly unawakened amongst them; and
that the very conception of the picturesque, as of a thing distinct from
the beautiful, is not once alluded to through the whole course of ancient
literature, nor would it have been intelligible to any ancient critic; so
that, whatever attraction for the eye might exist in the Rome of that day,
there is little doubt that it was of a kind to be felt only by modern
spectators. Mere dissatisfaction with its external appearance, which must
have been a pretty general sentiment, argued, therefore, no necessary
purpose of destroying it. Certainly it would be a weightier ground of
suspicion, if it were really true, that some of his agents were detected
on the premises of different senators in the act of applying combustibles
to their mansions. But this story wears a very fabulous air. For why
resort to the private dwellings of great men, where any intruder was sure
of attracting notice, when the same effect, and with the same deadly
results, might have been attained quietly and secretly in so many of the
humble Roman _coenacula_?

The great loss on this memorable occasion was in the heraldic and
ancestral honors of the city. Historic Rome then went to wreck for ever.
Then perished the _domus priscorum ducum hostilibus adhuc spoliis
adornatæ_; the "rostral" palace; the mansion of the Pompeys; the Blenheims
and the Strathfieldsays of the Scipios, the Marcelli, the Paulli, and the
Cæsars; then perished the aged trophies from Carthage and from Gaul; and,
in short, as the historian sums up the lamentable desolation, "_quidquid
visendum atque memorabile ex antiquitate duraverat_." And this of itself
might lead one to suspect the emperor's hand as the original agent; for by
no one act was it possible so entirely and so suddenly to wean the people
from their old republican recollections, and in one week to obliterate the
memorials of their popular forces, and the trophies of many ages. The old
people of Rome were gone; their characteristic dress even was gone; for
already in the time of Augustus they had laid aside the _toga_, and
assumed the cheaper and scantier _pænula_, so that the eye sought in vain
for Virgil's

"Romanes rerum dominos gentemque _togatam_."

Why, then, after all the constituents of Roman grandeur had passed away,
should their historical trophies survive, recalling to them the scenes of
departed heroism, in which they had no personal property, and suggesting
to them vain hopes, which for them were never to be other than chimeras?
Even in that sense, therefore, and as a great depository of heart-stirring
historical remembrances, Rome was profitably destroyed; and in any other
sense, whether for health or for the conveniences of polished life, or for
architectural magnificence, there never was a doubt that the Roman people
gained infinitely by this conflagration. For, like London, it arose from
its ashes with a splendor proportioned to its vast expansion of wealth and
population; and marble took the place of wood. For the moment, however,
this event must have been felt by the people as an overwhelming calamity.
And it serves to illustrate the passive endurance and timidity of the
popular temper, and to what extent it might be provoked with impunity,
that in this state of general irritation and effervescence, Nero
absolutely forbade them to meddle with the ruins of their own dwellings--
taking that charge upon himself, with a view to the vast wealth which he
anticipated from sifting the rubbish. And, as if that mode of plunder were
not sufficient, he exacted compulsory contributions to the rebuilding of
the city so indiscriminately, as to press heavily upon all men's finances;
and thus, in the public account which universally imputed the fire to him,
he was viewed as a twofold robber, who sought to heal one calamity by the
infliction of another and a greater.

The monotony of wickedness and outrage becomes at length fatiguing to the
coarsest and most callous senses; and the historian, even, who caters
professedly for the taste which feeds upon the monstrous and the
hyperbolical, is glad at length to escape from the long evolution of his
insane atrocities, to the striking and truly scenical catastrophe of
retribution which overtook them, and avenged the wrongs of an insulted
world. Perhaps history contains no more impressive scenes than those in
which the justice of Providence at length arrested the monstrous career of

It was at Naples, and, by a remarkable fatality, on the very anniversary
of his mother's murder, that he received the first intelligence of the
revolt in Gaul under the Proprætor Vindex. This news for about a week he
treated with levity; and, like Henry VII. of England, who was nettled, not
so much at being proclaimed a rebel, as because he was described under the
slighting denomination of "one Henry Tidder or Tudor," he complained
bitterly that Vindex had mentioned him by his family name of Ænobarbus,
rather than his assumed one of Nero. But much more keenly he resented the
insulting description of himself as a "miserable harper," appealing to all
about him whether they had ever known a better, and offering to stake the
truth of all the other charges against himself upon the accuracy of this
in particular. So little even in this instance was he alive to the true
point of the insult; not thinking it any disgrace that a Roman emperor
should be chiefly known to the world in the character of a harper, but
only if he should happen to be a bad one. Even in those days, however,
imperfect as were the means of travelling, rebellion moved somewhat too
rapidly to allow any long interval of security so light-minded as this.
One courier followed upon the heels of another, until he felt the
necessity for leaving Naples; and he returned to Rome, as the historian
says, _prætrepidus_; by which word, however, according to its genuine
classical acceptation, we apprehend is not meant that he was highly
alarmed, but only that he was in a great hurry. That he was not yet under
any real alarm (for he trusted in certain prophecies, which, like those
made to the Scottish tyrant "kept the promise to the ear, but broke it to
the sense,") is pretty evident, from his conduct on reaching the capitol.
For, without any appeal to the senate or the people, but sending out a few
summonses to some men of rank, he held a hasty council, which he speedily
dismissed, and occupied the rest of the day with experiments on certain
musical instruments of recent invention, in which the keys were moved by
hydraulic contrivances. He had come to Rome, it appeared, merely from a
sense of decorum.

Suddenly, however, arrived news, which fell upon him with the force of a
thunderbolt, that the revolt had extended to the Spanish provinces, and
was headed by Galba. He fainted upon hearing this; and falling to the
ground, lay for a long time lifeless, as it seemed, and speechless. Upon
coming to himself again, he tore his robe, struck his forehead, and
exclaimed aloud--that for him all was over. In this agony of mind, it
strikes across the utter darkness of the scene with the sense of a sudden
and cheering flash, recalling to us the possible goodness and fidelity of
human nature--when we read that one humble creature adhered to him, and,
according to her slender means, gave him consolation during these trying
moments; this was the woman who had tended his infant years; and she now
recalled to his remembrance such instances of former princes in adversity,
as appeared fitted to sustain his drooping spirits. It seems, however,
that, according to the general course of violent emotions, the rebound of
high spirits was in proportion to his first despondency. He omitted
nothing of his usual luxury or self-indulgence, and he even found spirits
for going _incognito_ to the theatre, where he took sufficient interest in
the public performances, to send a message to a favorite actor. At times,
even in this hopeless situation, his native ferocity returned upon him,
and he was believed to have framed plans for removing all his enemies at
once--the leaders of the rebellion, by appointing successors to their
offices, and secretly sending assassins to dispatch their persons; the
senate, by poison at a great banquet; the Gaulish provinces, by delivering
them up for pillage to the army; the city, by again setting it on fire,
whilst, at the same time, a vast number of wild beasts was to have been
turned loose upon the unarmed populace--for the double purpose of
destroying them, and of distracting their attention from the fire. But, as
the mood of his frenzy changed, these sanguinary schemes were abandoned,
(not, however, under any feelings of remorse, but from mere despair of
effecting them,) and on the same day, but after a luxurious dinner, the
imperial monster grew bland and pathetic in his ideas; he would proceed to
the rebellious army; he would present himself unarmed to their view; and
would recall them to their duty by the mere spectacle of his tears. Upon
the pathos with which he would weep he was resolved to rely entirely. And
having received the guilty to his mercy without distinction, upon the
following day he would unite _his_ joy with _their_ joy, and would chant
hymns of victory (_epinicia_)--"which by the way," said he, suddenly,
breaking off to his favorite pursuits, "it is necessary that I should
immediately compose." This caprice vanished like the rest; and he made an
effort to enlist the slaves and citizens into his service, and to raise by
extortion a large military chest. But in the midst of these vascillating
purposes fresh tidings surprised him--other armies had revolted, and the
rebellion was spreading contagiously. This consummation of his alarms
reached him at dinner; and the expressions of his angry fears took even a
scenical air; he tore the dispatches, upset the table, and dashed to
pieces upon the ground two crystal beakers--which had a high value as
works of art, even in the _Aurea Domus_, from the sculptures which adorned

He now prepared for flight; and, sending forward commissioners to prepare
the fleet at Ostia for his reception, he tampered with such officers of
the army as were at hand, to prevail upon them to accompany his retreat.
But all showed themselves indisposed to such schemes, and some flatly
refused. Upon which he turned to other counsels; sometimes meditating a
flight to the King of Parthia, or even to throw himself on the mercy of
Galba; sometimes inclining rather to the plan of venturing into the forum
in mourning apparel, begging pardon for his past offences, and, as a last
resource, entreating that he might receive the appointment of Egyptian
prefect. This plan, however, he hesitated to adopt, from some apprehension
that he should be torn to pieces in his road to the forum; and, at all
events, he concluded to postpone it to the following day. Meantime events
were now hurrying to their catastrophe, which for ever anticipated that
intention. His hours were numbered, and the closing scene was at hand.

In the middle of the night he was aroused from slumber with the
intelligence that the military guard, who did duty at the palace, had all
quited their posts. Upon this the unhappy prince leaped from his couch,
never again to taste the luxury of sleep, and dispatched messengers to his
friends. No answers were returned; and upon that he went personally with a
small retinue to their hotels. But he found their doors every where
closed; and all his importunities could not avail to extort an answer.
Sadly and slowly he returned to his own bedchamber; but there again he
found fresh instances of desertion, which had occurred during his short
absence; the pages of his bedchamber had fled, carrying with them the
coverlids of the imperial bed, which were probably inwrought with gold,
and even a golden box, in which Nero had on the preceding day deposited
poison prepared against the last extremity. Wounded to the heart by this
general desertion, and perhaps by some special case of ingratitude, such
as would probably enough be signalized in the flight of his personal
favorites, he called for a gladiator of the household to come and dispatch
him. But none appearing,--"What!" said he, "have I neither friend nor
foe?" And so saying, he ran towards the Tiber, with the purpose of
drowning himself. But that paroxysm, like all the rest, proved transient;
and he expressed a wish for some hiding-place, or momentary asylum, in
which he might collect his unsettled spirits, and fortify his wandering
resolution. Such a retreat was offered to him by his _libertus_ Phaon, in
his own rural villa, about four miles distant from Rome. The offer was
accepted; and the emperor, without further preparation than that of
throwing over his person a short mantle of a dusky hue, and enveloping his
head and face in a handkerchief, mounted his horse, and left Rome with
four attendants. It was still night, but probably verging towards the
early dawn; and even at that hour the imperial party met some travellers
on their way to Rome (coming up, no doubt, [Footnote: At this early hour,
witnesses, sureties, &c., and all concerned in the law courts, came up to
Rome from villas, country towns, &c. But no ordinary call existed to
summon travellers in the opposite direction; which accounts for the
comment of the travellers on the errand of Nero and his attendants.] on
law business)--who said, as they passed, "These men are certainly in chase
of Nero." Two other incidents, of an interesting nature, are recorded of
this short but memorable ride; at one point of the road, the shouts of the
soldiery assailed their ears from the neighboring encampment of Galba.
They were probably then getting under arms for their final march to take
possession of the palace. At another point, an accident occurred of a more
unfortunate kind, but so natural and so well circumstantiated, that it
serves to verify the whole narrative; a dead body was lying on the road,
at which the emperor's horse started so violently as nearly to dismount
his rider, and under the difficulty of the moment compelled him to
withdraw the hand which held up the handkerchief, and suddenly to expose
his features. Precisely at this critical moment it happened that an old
half-pay officer passed, recognised the emperor, and saluted him. Perhaps
it was with some purpose of applying a remedy to this unfortunate
rencontre, that the party dismounted at a point where several roads met,
and turned their horses adrift to graze at will amongst the furze and
brambles. Their own purpose was, to make their way to the back of the
villa; but, to accomplish that, it was necessary that they should first
cross a plantation of reeds, from the peculiar state of which they found
themselves obliged to cover successively each space upon which they trode
with parts of their dress, in order to gain any supportable footing. In
this way, and contending with such hardships, they reached at length the
postern side of the villa. Here we must suppose that there was no regular
ingress; for, after waiting until an entrance was pierced, it seems that
the emperor could avail himself of it in no more dignified posture, than
by creeping through the hole on his hands and feet, (_quadrupes per
angustias receptus_.)

Now, then, after such anxiety, alarm, and hardship, Nero had reached a
quiet rural asylum. But for the unfortunate concurrence of his horse's
alarm with the passing of the soldier, he might perhaps have counted on a
respite of a day or two in this noiseless and obscure abode. But what a
habitation for him who was yet ruler of the world in the eye of law, and
even _de facto_ was so, had any fatal accident befallen his aged
competitor! The room in which (as the one most removed from notice and
suspicion) he had secreted himself, was a cella, or little sleeping closet
of a slave, furnished only with a miserable pallet and a coarse rug. Here
lay the founder and possessor of the Golden House, too happy if he might
hope for the peaceable possession even of this miserable crypt. But that,
he knew too well, was impossible. A rival pretender to the empire was like
the plague of fire--as dangerous in the shape of a single spark left
unextinguished, as in that of a prosperous conflagration. But a few brief
sands yet remained to run in the emperor's hour-glass; much variety of
degradation or suffering seemed scarcely within the possibilities of his
situation, or within the compass of the time. Yet, as though Providence
had decreed that his humiliation should pass through every shape, and
speak by every expression which came home to his understanding, or was
intelligible to his senses, even in these few moments he was attacked by
hunger and thirst. No other bread could be obtained (or, perhaps, if the
emperor's presence were concealed from the household, it was not safe to
raise suspicion by calling for better) than that which was ordinarily
given to slaves, coarse, black, and, to a palate so luxurious, doubtless
disgusting. This accordingly he rejected; but a little tepid water he
drank. After which, with the haste of one who fears that he may be
prematurely interrupted, but otherwise, with all the reluctance which we
may imagine, and which his streaming tears proclaimed, he addressed
himself to the last labor in which he supposed himself to have any
interest on this earth--that of digging a grave. Measuring a space
adjusted to the proportions of his person, he inquired anxiously for any
loose fragments of marble, such as might suffice to line it. He requested
also to be furnished with wood and water, as the materials for the last
sepulchral rites. And these labors were accompanied, or continually
interrupted by tears and lamentations, or by passionate ejaculations on
the blindness of fortune, in suffering so divine an artist to be thus
violently snatched away, and on the calamitous fate of musical science,
which then stood on the brink of so dire an eclipse. In these moments he
was most truly in an _agony_, according to the original meaning of
that word; for the conflict was great between two master principles of his
nature: on the one hand, he clung with the weakness of a girl to life,
even in that miserable shape to which it had now sunk; and like the poor
malefactor, with whose last struggles Prior has so atrociously amused
himself, "he often took leave, but was loath to depart." Yet, on the other
hand, to resign his life very speedily, seemed his only chance for
escaping the contumelies, perhaps the tortures, of his enemies; and, above
all other considerations, for making sure of a burial, and possibly of
burial rites; to want which, in the judgment of the ancients, was the last
consummation of misery. Thus occupied, and thus distracted--sternly
attracted to the grave by his creed, hideously repelled by infirmity of
nature--he was suddenly interrupted by a courier with letters for the
master of the house; letters, and from Rome! What was their import? That
was soon told--briefly that Nero was adjudged to be a public enemy by the
senate, and that official orders were issued for apprehending him, in
order that he might be brought to condign punishment according to the
method of ancient precedent. Ancient precedent! _more majorum!_ And
how was that? eagerly demanded the emperor. He was answered--that the
state criminal in such cases was first stripped naked, then impaled as it
were between the prongs of a pitchfork, and in that condition scourged to
death. Horror-struck with this account, he drew forth two poniards, or
short swords, tried their edges, and then, in utter imbecility of purpose,
returned them to their scabbards, alleging that the destined moment had
not yet arrived. Then he called upon Sporus, the infamous partner in his
former excesses, to commence the funeral anthem. Others, again, he
besought to lead the way in dying, and to sustain him by the spectacle of
their example. But this purpose also he dismissed in the very moment of
utterance; and turning away despairingly, he apostrophized himself in
words reproachful or animating, now taxing his nature with infirmity of
purpose, now calling on himself by name, with adjurations to remember his
dignity, and to act worthy of his supreme station: _ou prepei Neroni_,
cried he, _ou prepeu næphein dei en tois toidætois ale, eleire seauton_--
i.e. "Fie, fie, then Nero! such a season calls for perfect self-
possession. Up, then, and rouse thyself to action."

Thus, and in similar efforts to master the weakness of his reluctant
nature--weakness which would extort pity from the severest minds, were it
not from the odious connection which in him it had with cruelty the most
merciless--did this unhappy prince, _jam non salutis spem sed exitii
solatium quærens_, consume the flying moments, until at length his ears
caught the fatal sounds or echoes from a body of horsemen riding up to the
villa. These were the officers charged with his arrest; and if he should
fall into their hands alive, he knew that his last chance was over for
liberating himself, by a Roman death, from the burthen of ignominious
life, and from a lingering torture. He paused from his restless motions,
listened attentively, then repeated a line from Homer--

Ippon m' ochupodon amphi chtupos ouata ballei

(The resounding tread of swift-footed horses reverberates upon my ears);--
then under some momentary impulse of courage, gained perhaps by figuring
to himself the bloody populace rioting upon his mangled body, yet even
then needing the auxiliary hand and vicarious courage of his private
secretary, the feeble-hearted prince stabbed himself in the throat. The
wound, however, was not such as to cause instant death. He was still
breathing, and not quite speechless, when the centurion who commanded the
party entered the closet; and to this officer, who uttered a few hollow
words of encouragement, he was still able to make a brief reply. But in
the very effort of speaking he expired, and with an expression of horror
impressed upon his stiffened features, which communicated a sympathetic
horror to all beholders.

Such was the too memorable tragedy which closed for ever the brilliant
line of the Julian family, and translated the august title of Cæsar from
its original purpose as a proper name to that of an official designation.
It is the most striking instance upon record of a dramatic and extreme
vengeance overtaking extreme guilt; for, as Nero had exhausted the utmost
possibilities of crime, so it may be affirmed that he drank off the cup of
suffering to the very extremity of what his peculiar nature allowed. And
in no life of so short a duration, have there ever been crowded equal
extremities of gorgeous prosperity and abject infamy. It may be added, as
another striking illustration of the rapid mutability and revolutionary
excesses which belonged to what has been properly called the Roman
_stratocracy_ then disposing of the world, that within no very great
succession of weeks that same victorious rebel, the Emperor Galba, at
whose feet Nero had been self-immolated, was laid a murdered corpse in the
same identical cell which had witnessed the lingering agonies of his
unhappy victim. This was the act of an emancipated slave, anxious, by a
vindictive insult to the remains of one prince, to place on record his
gratitude to another. "So runs the world away!" And in this striking way
is retribution sometimes dispensed.

In the sixth Cæsar terminated the Julian line. The three next princes in
the succession were personally uninteresting; and, with a slight reserve
in favor of Otho, whose motives for committing suicide (if truly reported)
argue great nobility of mind, [Footnote: We may add that the unexampled
public grief which followed the death of Otho, exceeding even that which
followed the death of Germanicus, and causing several officers to commit
suicide, implies some remarkable goodness in this Prince, and a very
unusual power of conciliating attachment.] were even brutal in the tenor
of their lives and monstrous; besides that the extreme brevity of their
several reigns (all three, taken conjunctly, having held the supreme power
for no more than twelve months and twenty days) dismisses them from all
effectual station or right to a separate notice in the line of Cæsars.
Coming to the tenth in succession, Vespasian, and his two sons, Titus and
Domitian, who make up the list of the twelve Cæsars, as they are usually
called, we find matter for deeper political meditation and subjects of
curious research. But these emperors would be more properly classed with
the five who succeed them--Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, and the two Antonines;
after whom comes the young ruffian, Commodus, another Caligula or Nero,
from whose short and infamous reign Gibbon takes up his tale of the
decline of the empire. And this classification would probably have
prevailed, had not the very curious work of Suetonius, whose own life and
period of observation determined the series and cycle of his subjects, led
to a different distribution. But as it is evident that, in the succession
of the first twelve Cæsars, the six latter have no connection whatever by
descent, collaterally, or otherwise, with the six first, it would be a
more logical distribution to combine them according to the fortunes of the
state itself, and the succession of its prosperity through the several
stages of splendor, declension, revival, and final decay. Under this
arrangement, the first seventeen would belong to the first stage; Commodus
would open the second; Aurelian down to Constantine or Julian would fill
the third; and Jovian to Augustulus would bring up the melancholy rear.
Meantime it will be proper, after thus briefly throwing our eyes over the
monstrous atrocities of the early Cæsars, to spend a few lines in
examining their origin, and the circumstances which favored their growth.
For a mere hunter after hidden or forgotten singularities; a lover on
their own account of all strange perversities and freaks of nature,
whether in action, taste, or opinion; for a collector and amateur of
misgrowths and abortions; for a Suetonius, in short, it may be quite
enough to state and to arrange his cabinet of specimens from the
marvellous in human nature. But certainly in modern times, any historian,
however little affecting the praise of a philosophic investigator, would
feel himself called upon to remove a little the taint of the miraculous
and preternatural which adheres to such anecdotes, by entering into the
psychological grounds of their possibility; whether lying in any
peculiarly vicious education, early familiarity with bad models,
corrupting associations, or other plausible key to effects, which, taken
separately, and out of their natural connection with their explanatory
causes, are apt rather to startle and revolt the feelings of sober
thinkers. Except, perhaps, in some chapters of Italian history, as, for
example, among the most profligate of the Papal houses, and amongst some
of the Florentine princes, we find hardly any parallel to the atrocities
of Caligula and Nero; nor indeed was Tiberius much (if at all) behind
them, though otherwise so wary and cautious in his conduct. The same tenor
of licentiousness beyond the needs of the individual, the same craving
after the marvellous and the stupendous in guilt, is continually emerging
in succeeding emperors--in Vitellius, in Domitian, in Commodus, in
Caracalla--every where, in short, where it was not overruled by one of two
causes, either by original goodness of nature too powerful to be mastered
by ordinary seductions, (and in some cases removed from their influence by
an early apprenticeship to camps,) or by the terrors of an exemplary ruin
immediately preceding. For such a determinate tendency to the enormous and
the anomalous, sufficient causes must exist. What were they?

In the first place, we may observe that the people of Rome in that age
were generally more corrupt by many degrees than has been usually supposed
possible. The effect of revolutionary times, to relax all modes of moral
obligation, and to unsettle the moral sense, has been well and
philosophically stated by Mr. Coleridge; but that would hardly account for
the utter licentiousness and depravity of Imperial Rome. Looking back to
Republican Rome, and considering the state of public morals but fifty
years before the emperors, we can with difficulty believe that the
descendants of a people so severe in their habits could thus rapidly
degenerate, and that a populace, once so hardy and masculine, should
assume the manners which we might expect in the debauchees of Daphne (the
infamous suburb of Antioch) or of Canopus, into which settled the very
lees and dregs of the vicious Alexandria. Such extreme changes would
falsify all that we know of human nature; we might _à priori_
pronounce them impossible; and in fact, upon searching history, we find
other modes of solving the difficulty. In reality, the citizens of Rome
were at this time a new race, brought together from every quarter of the
world, but especially from Asia. So vast a proportion of the ancient
citizens had been cut off by the sword, and partly to conceal this waste
of population, but much more by way of cheaply requiting services, or of
showing favor, or of acquiring influence, slaves had been emancipated in
such great multitudes, and afterwards invested with all the rights of
citizens, that, in a single generation, Rome became almost transmuted into
a baser metal; the progeny of those whom the last generation had purchased
from the slave merchants. These people derived their stock chiefly from
Cappadocia, Pontus, &c., and the other populous regions of Asia Minor; and
hence the taint of Asiatic luxury and depravity, which was so conspicuous
to all the Romans of the old republican severity. Juvenal is to be
understood more literally than is sometimes supposed, when he complains
that long before his time the Orontes (that river which washed the
infamous capital of Syria) had mingled its impure waters with those of the
Tiber. And a little before him, Lucan speaks with mere historic gravity
when he says--

------"Vivant Galatæque Syrique
Cappadoces, Gallique, extremique orbis Iberi,
Armenii, Cilices: _nam post civilia bella
Hic Populus Romanus erit."
[Footnote: Blackwell, in his Court of Augustus, vol. i. p. 382, when
noticing these lines upon occasion of the murder of Cicero, in the final
proscription under the last triumvirate, comments thus: "Those of the
greatest and truly Roman spirit had been murdered in the field by Julius
Cæsar; the rest were now massacred in the city by his son and successors;
in their room came Syrians, Cappadocians, Phrygians, and other
enfranchised slaves from the conquered nations;"--"these in half a century
had sunk so low, that Tiberius pronounced her very senators to be
_homines ad sermtutem natos_, men born to be slaves."]

Probably in the time of Nero, not one man in six was of pure Roman
descent. [Footnote: Suetonius indeed pretends that Augustus, personally at
least, struggled against this ruinous practice--thinking it a matter of
the highest moment, "Sincerum atque ab omni colluvione peregrini et
servilis sanguinis incorruptum servare populum." And Horace is ready with
his flatteries on the same topic, lib. 3, Od. 6. But the facts are against
them; for the question is not what Augustus did in his own person, (which
at most could not operate very widely except by the example,) but what he
permitted to be done. Now there was a practice familiar to those times;
that when a congiary or any other popular liberality was announced,
multitudes were enfranchised by avaricious masters in order to make them
capable of the bounty, (as citizens,) and yet under the condition of
transferring to their emancipators whatsoever they should receive; _ina
ton dæmosios d domenon siton lambanontes chata mæna--pherosi tois
dedochasi tæn eleutherian_ says Dionysius of Halicarnassus, in order
that after receiving the corn given publicly in every month, they might
carry it to those who had bestowed upon them their freedom. In a case,
then, where an extensive practice of this kind was exposed to Augustus,
and publicly reproved by him, how did he proceed? Did he reject the new-
made citizens? No; he contented himself with diminishing the proportion
originally destined for each, so that the same absolute sum being
distributed among a number increased by the whole amount of the new
enrolments, of necessity the relative sum for each separately was so much
less. But this was a remedy applied only to the pecuniary fraud as it
would have affected himself. The permanent mischief to the state went
unredressed.] And the consequences were suitable. Scarcely a family has
come down to our knowledge that could not in one generation enumerate a
long catalogue of divorces within its own contracted circle. Every man had
married a series of wives; every woman a series of husbands. Even in the
palace of Augustus, who wished to be viewed as an _exemplar_ or ideal
model of domestic purity, every principal member of his family was tainted
in that way; himself in a manner and a degree infamous even at that time.
[Footnote: Part of the story is well known, but not the whole. Tiberius
Nero, a promising young nobleman, had recently married a very splendid
beauty. Unfortunately for him, at the marriage of Octavia (sister to
Augustus) with Mark Anthony, he allowed his young wife, then about
eighteen, to attend upon the bride. Augustus was deeply and suddenly
fascinated by her charms, and without further scruple sent a message to
Nero--intimating that he was in love with his wife, and would thank him to
resign her. The other, thinking it vain, in those days of lawless
proscription, to contest a point of this nature with one who commanded
twelve legions, obeyed the requisition. Upon some motive, now unknown, he
was persuaded even to degrade himself farther; for he actually officiated
at the marriage in character of father, and gave away the young beauty to
his rival, although at that time six months advanced in pregnancy by
himself. These humiliating concessions were extorted from him, and yielded
(probably at the instigation of friends) in order to save his life. In the
sequel they had the very opposite result; for he died soon after, and it
is reasonably supposed of grief and mortification. At the marriage feast,
an incident occurred which threw the whole company into confusion: A
little boy, roving from couch to couch among the guests, came at length to
that in which Livia (the bride) was lying by the side of Augustus, on
which he cried out aloud,--"Lady, what are you doing here? You are
mistaken--this is not your husband--he is there," (pointing to Tiberius,)
"go, go--rise, lady, and recline beside _him_."] For the first 400
years of Rome, not one divorce had been granted or asked, although the
statute which allowed of this indulgence had always been in force. But in
the age succeeding to the civil wars men and women "married," says one
author, "with a view to divorce, and divorced in order to marry. Many of
these changes happened within the year, especially if the lady had a large
fortune, which always went with her, and procured her choice of transient
husbands." And, "can one imagine," asks the same writer, "that the fair
one, who changed her husband every quarter, strictly kept her matrimonial
faith all the three months?" Thus the very fountain of all the "household
charities" and household virtues was polluted. And after that we need
little wonder at the assassinations, poisonings, and forging of wills,
which then laid waste the domestic life of the Romans.

2. A second source of the universal depravity was the growing inefficacy
of the public religion; and this arose from its disproportion and
inadequacy to the intellectual advances of the nation. _Religion_, in
its very etymology, has been held to imply a _religatio_, that is, a
reiterated or secondary obligation of morals; a sanction supplementary to
that of the conscience. Now, for a rude and uncultivated people, the Pagan
mythology might not be too gross to discharge the main functions of a
useful religion. So long as the understanding could submit to the fables
of the Pagan creed, so long it was possible that the hopes and fears built
upon that creed might be practically efficient on men's lives and
intentions. But when the foundation gave way, the whole superstructure of
necessity fell to the ground. Those who were obliged to reject the
ridiculous legends which invested the whole of their Pantheon, together
with the fabulous adjudgers of future punishments, could not but dismiss
the punishments, which were, in fact, as laughable, and as obviously the
fictions of human ingenuity, as their dispensers. In short, the civilized
part of the world in those days lay in this dreadful condition; their
intellect had far outgrown their religion; the disproportions between the
two were at length become monstrous; and as yet no purer or more elevated
faith was prepared for their acceptance. The case was as shocking as if,
with our present intellectual needs, we should be unhappy enough to have
no creed on which to rest the burden of our final hopes and fears, of our
moral obligations, and of our consolations in misery, except the fairy
mythology of our nurses. The condition of a people so situated, of a
people under the calamity of having outgrown its religious faith, has
never been sufficiently considered. It is probable that such a condition
has never existed before or since that era of the world. The consequences
to Rome were--that the reasoning and disputatious part of her population
took refuge from the painful state of doubt in Atheism; amongst the
thoughtless and irreflective the consequences were chiefly felt in their
morals, which were thus sapped in their foundation.

3. A third cause, which from the first had exercised a most baleful
influence upon the arts and upon literature in Rome, had by this time
matured its disastrous tendencies towards the extinction of the moral
sensibilities. This was the circus, and the whole machinery, form and
substance, of the Circensian shows. Why had tragedy no existence as a part
of the Roman literature? Because--and _that_ was a reason which would
have sufficed to stifle all the dramatic genius of Greece and England--
there was too much tragedy in the shape of gross reality, almost daily
before their eyes. The amphitheatre extinguished the theatre. How was it
possible that the fine and intellectual griefs of the drama should win
their way to hearts seared and rendered callous by the continual
exhibition of scenes the most hideous, in which human blood was poured out
like water, and a human life sacrificed at any moment either to caprice in
the populace, or to a strife of rivalry between the _ayes_ and the
_noes_, or as the penalty for any trifling instance of awkwardness in
the performer himself? Even the more innocent exhibitions, in which brutes
only were the sufferers, could not but be mortal to all the finer
sensibilities. Five thousand wild animals, torn from their native abodes
in the wilderness or forest, were often turned out to be hunted, or for
mutual slaughter, in the course of a single exhibition of this nature; and
it sometimes happened, (a fact which of itself proclaims the course of the
public propensities,) that the person at whose expense the shows were
exhibited, by way of paying special court to the people and meriting their
favor, in the way most conspicuously open to him, issued orders that all,
without a solitary exception, should be slaughtered. He made it known, as
the very highest gratification which the case allowed, that (in the
language of our modern auctioneers) the whole, "without reserve," should
perish before their eyes. Even such spectacles must have hardened the
heart, and blunted the more delicate sensibilities; but these would soon
cease to stimulate the pampered and exhausted sense. From the combats of
tigers or leopards, in which the passions could only be gathered
indirectly, and by way of inference from the motions, the transition must
have been almost inevitable to those of men, whose nobler and more varied
passions spoke directly, and by the intelligible language of the eye, to
human spectators; and from the frequent contemplation of these authorized
murders, in which a whole people, women [Footnote: Augustus, indeed,
strove to exclude the women from one part of the circension spectacles;
and what was that? Simply from the sight of the _Athletæ_, as being
naked. But that they should witness the pangs of the dying gladiators, he
deemed quite allowable. The smooth barbarian considered; that a license of
the first sort offended against decorum, whilst the other violated only
the sanctities of the human heart, and the whole sexual character of
women. It is our opinion, that to the brutalizing effect of these
exhibitions we are to ascribe not only the early extinction of the Roman
drama, but generally the inferiority of Rome to Greece in every department
of the fine arts. The fine temper of Roman sensibility, which no culture
could have brought to the level of the Grecian, was thus dulled for
_every_ application.] as much as men, and children intermingled with
both, looked on with leisurely indifference, with anxious expectation, or
with rapturous delight, whilst below them were passing the direct
sufferings of humanity, and not seldom its dying pangs, it was impossible
to expect a result different from that which did in fact take place,--
universal hardness of heart, obdurate depravity, and a twofold degradation
of human nature, which acted simultaneously upon the two pillars of
morality, (which are otherwise not often assailed together,) of natural
sensibility in the first place, and, in the second, of conscientious

4. But these were circumstances which applied to the whole population
indiscriminately. Superadded to these, in the case of the emperor, and
affecting _him_ exclusively, was this prodigious disadvantage--that
ancient reverence for the immediate witnesses of his actions, and for the
people and senate who would under other circumstances have exercised the
old functions of the censor, was, as to the emperor, pretty nearly
obliterated. The very title of _imperator_, from which we have derived our
modern one of _emperor_, proclaims the nature of the government, and the
tenure of that office. It was purely a government by the sword, or
permanent _stratocracy_ having a movable head. Never was there a people
who inquired so impertinently as the Romans into the domestic conduct of
each private citizen. No rank escaped this jealous vigilance; and private
liberty, even in the most indifferent circumstances of taste or expense,
was sacrificed to this inquisitorial rigor of _surveillance_ exercised on
behalf of the State, sometimes by erroneous patriotism, too often by
malice in disguise. To this spirit the highest public officers were
obliged to bow; the consuls, not less than others. And even the occasional
dictator, if by law irresponsible, acted nevertheless as one who knew that
any change which depressed his party, might eventually abrogate his
privilege. For the first time in the person of an imperator was seen a
supreme autocrat, who had virtually and effectively all the
irresponsibility which the law assigned, and the origin of his office
presumed. Satisfied to know that he possessed such power, Augustus, as
much from natural taste as policy, was glad to dissemble it, and by every
means to withdraw it from public notice. But he had passed his youth as
citizen of a republic; and in the state of transition to autocracy, in his
office of triumvir, had experimentally known the perils of rivalship, and
the pains of foreign control, too feelingly to provoke unnecessarily any
sleeping embers of the republican spirit. Tiberius, though familiar from
his infancy with the servile homage of a court, was yet modified by the
popular temper of Augustus; and he came late to the throne. Caligula was
the first prince on whom the entire effect of his political situation was
allowed to operate; and the natural results were seen--he was the first
absolute monster. He must early have seen the realities of his position,
and from what quarter it was that any cloud could arise to menace his
security. To the senate or people any respect which he might think proper
to pay, must have been imputed by all parties to the lingering
superstitions of custom, to involuntary habit, to court dissimulation, or
to the decencies of external form, and the prescriptive reverence of
ancient names. But neither senate nor people could enforce their claims,
whatever they might happen to be. Their sanction and ratifying vote might
be worth having, as consecrating what was already secure, and conciliating
the scruples of the weak to the absolute decision of the strong. But their
resistance, as an original movement, was so wholly without hope, that they
were never weak enough to threaten it.

The army was the true successor to their places, being the _ultimate_
depository of power. Yet, as the army was necessarily subdivided, as the
shifting circumstances upon every frontier were continually varying the
strength of the several divisions as to numbers and state of discipline,
one part might be balanced against the other by an imperator standing in
the centre of the whole. The rigor of the military _sacramentum_, or
oath of allegiance, made it dangerous to offer the first overtures to
rebellion; and the money, which the soldiers were continually depositing
in the bank, placed at the foot of their military standards, if sometimes
turned against the emperor, was also liable to be sequestrated in his
favor. There were then, in fact, two great forces in the government acting
in and by each other--the Stratocracy, and the Autocracy. Each needed the
other; each stood in awe of each. But, as regarded all other forces in the
empire, constitutional or irregular, popular or senatorial, neither had
any thing to fear. Under any ordinary circumstances, therefore,
considering the hazards of a rebellion, the emperor was substantially
liberated from all control. Vexations or outrages upon the populace were
not such to the army. It was but rarely that the soldier participated in
the emotions of the citizen. And thus, being effectually without check,
the most vicious of the Cæsars went on without fear, presuming upon the
weakness of one part of his subjects, and the indifference of the other,
until he was tempted onwards to atrocities, which armed against him the
common feelings of human nature, and all mankind, as it were, rose in a
body with one voice, and apparently with one heart, united by mere force
of indignant sympathy, to put him down, and "abate" him as a monster. But,
until he brought matters to this extremity, Cæsar had no cause to fear.
Nor was it at all certain, in any one instance, where this exemplary
chastisement overtook him, that the apparent unanimity of the actors went
further than the _practical_ conclusion of "abating" the imperial
nuisance, or that their indignation had settled upon the same offences. In
general the army measured the guilt by the public scandal, rather than by
its moral atrocity; and Cæsar suffered perhaps in every case, not so much
because he had violated his duties, as because he had dishonored his

It is, therefore, in the total absence of the checks which have almost
universally existed to control other despots, under some indirect shape,
even where none was provided by the laws, that we must seek for the main
peculiarity affecting the condition of the Roman Cæsar, which peculiarity
it was, superadded to the other three, that finally made those three
operative in their fullest extent. It is in the perfection of the
stratocracy that we must look for the key to the excesses of the autocrat.
Even in the bloody despotisms of the Barbary States, there has always
existed in the religious prejudices of the people, which could not be
violated with safety, one check more upon the caprices of the despot than
was found at Rome. Upon the whole, therefore, what affects us on the first
reading as a prodigy or anomaly in the frantic outrages of the early
Cæsars--falls within the natural bounds of intelligible human nature, when
we state the case considerately. Surrounded by a population which had not
only gone through a most vicious and corrupting discipline, and had been
utterly ruined by the license of revolutionary times, and the bloodiest
proscriptions, but had even been extensively changed in its very elements,
and from the descendants of Romulus had been transmuted into an Asiatic
mob;--starting from this point, and considering as the second feature of
the case, that this transfigured people, _morally_ so degenerate,
were carried, however, by the progress of civilization to a certain
intellectual altitude, which the popular religion had not strength to
ascend--but from inherent disproportion remained at the base of the
general civilization, incapable of accompanying the other elements in
their advance;--thirdly, that this polished condition of society, which
should naturally with the evils of a luxurious repose have counted upon
its pacific benefits, had yet, by means of its circus and its gladiatorial
contests, applied a constant irritation, and a system of provocations to
the appetites for blood, such as in all other nations are connected with
the rudest stages of society, and with the most barbarous modes of
warfare, nor even in such circumstances without many palliatives wanting
to the spectators of the circus;--combining these considerations, we have
already a key to the enormities and hideous excesses of the Roman
Imperator. The hot blood which excites, and the adventurous courage which
accompanies, the excesses of sanguinary warfare, presuppose a condition of
the moral nature not to be compared for malignity and baleful tendency to
the cool and cowardly spirit of amateurship, in which the Roman (perhaps
an effeminate Asiatic) sat looking down upon the bravest of men,
(Thracians, or other Europeans,) mangling each other for his recreation.
When, lastly, from such a population, and thus disciplined from his
nursery days, we suppose the case of one individual selected, privileged,
and raised to a conscious irresponsibility, except at the bar of one
extra-judicial tribunal, not easily irritated, and notoriously to be
propitiated by other means than those of upright or impartial conduct, we
lay together the elements of a situation too trying for poor human nature,
and fitted only to the faculties of an angel or a demon; of an angel, if
we suppose him to resist its full temptations; of a demon, if we suppose
him to use its total opportunities. Thus interpreted and solved, Caligula
and Nero become ordinary men.

But, finally, what if, after all, the worst of the Cæsars, and those in
particular, were entitled to the benefit of a still shorter and more
conclusive apology? What if, in a true medical sense, they were insane? It
is certain that a vein of madness ran in the family; and anecdotes are
recorded of the three worst, which go far to establish it as a fact, and
others which would imply it as symptoms--preceding or accompanying. As
belonging to the former class, take the following story: At midnight an
elderly gentleman suddenly sends round a message to a select party of
noblemen, rouses them out of bed, and summons them instantly to his
palace. Trembling for their lives from the suddenness of the summons, and
from the unseasonable hour, and scarcely doubting that by some anonymous
_delator_ they have been implicated as parties to a conspiracy, they
hurry to the palace--are received in portentous silence by the ushers and
pages in attendance--are conducted to a saloon, where (as in every where
else) the silence of night prevails, united with the silence of fear and
whispering expectation. All are seated--all look at each other in ominous
anxiety. Which is accuser? Which is the accused? On whom shall their
suspicion settle--on whom their pity? All are silent--almost speechless--
and even the current of their thoughts is frost-bound by fear. Suddenly
the sound of a fiddle or a viol is caught from a distance--it swells upon
the ear--steps approach--and in another moment in rushes the elderly
gentleman, grave and gloomy as his audience, but capering about in a
frenzy of excitement. For half an hour he continues to perform all
possible evolutions of caprioles, pirouettes, and other extravagant feats
of activity, accompanying himself on the fiddle; and, at length, not
having once looked at his guests, the elderly gentleman whirls out of the
room in the same transport of emotion with which he entered it; the panic-
struck visitors are requested by a slave to consider themselves as
dismissed: they retire; resume their couches:--the nocturnal pageant has
"dislimned" and vanished; and on the following morning, were it not for
their concurring testimonies, all would be disposed to take this
interruption of their sleep for one of its most fantastic dreams. The
elderly gentleman, who figured in this delirious _pas seul_--who was
he? He was Tiberius Cæsar, king of kings, and lord of the terraqueous
globe. Would a British jury demand better evidence than this of a
disturbed intellect in any formal process _de lunatico inquirendo_?
For Caligula, again, the evidence of symptoms is still plainer. He knew
his own defect; and purposed going through a course of hellebore.
Sleeplessness, one of the commonest indications of lunacy, haunted him in
an excess rarely recorded. [Footnote: No fiction of romance presents so
awful a picture of the ideal tyrant as that of Caligula by Suetonius. His
palace--radiant with purple and gold, but murder every where lurking
beneath flowers; his smiles and echoing laughter--masking (yet hardly
meant to mask) his foul treachery of heart; his hideous and tumultuous
dreams--his baffled sleep--and his sleepless nights--compose the picture
of an Æschylus. What a master's sketch lies in these few lines:
"Incitabatur insomnio maxime; neque enim plus tribus horis nocturnis
quiescebat; ac ne his placida quiete, at pavida miris rerum imaginibus: ut
qui inter ceteras pelagi quondam speciem colloquentem secum videre visus
sit. Ideoque magna parte noctis, vigilse cubandique tsedio, nunc toro
residens, nunc per longissimas porticus vagus, invocare identidem atque
exspectare lucem consueverat:"--i. e., But, above all, he was tormented
with nervous irritation, by sleeplessness; for he enjoyed not more than
three hours of nocturnal repose; nor these even in pure untroubled rest,
but agitated by phantasmata of portentous augury; as, for example, upon
one occasion he fancied that he saw the sea, under some definite
impersonation, conversing with himself. Hence it was, and from this
incapacity of sleeping, and from weariness of lying awake, that he had
fallen into habits of ranging all the night long through the palace,
sometimes throwing himself on a couch, sometimes wandering along the vast
corridors, watching for the earliest dawn, and anxiously invoking its
approach.] The same, or similar facts, might be brought forward on behalf
of Nero. And thus these unfortunate princes, who have so long (and with so
little investigation of their cases) passed for monsters or for demoniac
counterfeits of men, would at length be brought back within the fold of
humanity, as objects rather of pity than of abhorrence, would be
reconciled to our indulgent feelings, and, at the same time, made
intelligible to our understandings.


The five Cæsars who succeeded immediately to the first twelve, were, in as
high a sense as their office allowed, patriots. Hadrian is perhaps the
first of all whom circumstances permitted to show his patriotism without
fear. It illustrates at one and the same moment a trait in this emperor's
character, and in the Roman habits, that he acquired much reputation for
hardiness by walking bareheaded. "Never, on any occasion," says one of his
memorialists (Dio,) "neither in summer heat nor in winter's cold, did he
cover his head; but, as well in the Celtic snows as in Egyptian heats, he
went about bareheaded." This anecdote could not fail to win the especial
admiration of Isaac Casaubon, who lived in an age when men believed a hat
no less indispensable to the head, even within doors, than shoes or
stockings to the feet. His astonishment on the occasion is thus expressed:
"Tantum est _hæ aschæsis_:" such and so mighty is the force of habit
and daily use. And then he goes on to ask--"Quis hodie nudum caput radiis
solis, aut omnia perurenti frigori, ausit exponere?" Yet we ourselves, and
our illustrious friend, Christopher North, have walked for twenty years
amongst our British lakes and mountains hatless, and amidst both snow and
rain, such as Romans did not often experience. We were naked, and yet not
ashamed. Nor in this are we altogether singular. But, says Casaubon, the
Romans went farther; for they walked about the streets of Rome [Footnote:
And hence we may the better estimate the trial to a Roman's feelings in
the personal deformity of baldness, connected with the Roman theory of its
cause, for the exposure of it was perpetual.] bareheaded, and never
assumed a hat or a cap, a _petasus_ or a _galerus_, a Macedonian _causia_,
or a _pileus_, whether Thessalian, Arcadian, or Laconic, unless when they
entered upon a journey. Nay, some there were, as Masinissa and Julius
Cæsar, who declined even on such an occasion to cover their heads. Perhaps
in imitation of these celebrated leaders, Hadrian adopted the same
practice, but not with the same result; for to him, either from age or
constitution, this very custom proved the original occasion of his last

Imitation, indeed, was a general principle of action with Hadrian, and the
key to much of his public conduct; and allowably enough, considering the
exemplary lives (in a public sense) of some who had preceded him, and the
singular anxiety with which he distinguished between the lights and
shadows of their examples. He imitated the great Dictator, Julius, in his
vigilance of inspection into the civil, not less than the martial police
of his times, shaping his new regulations to meet abuses as they arose,
and strenuously maintaining the old ones in vigorous operation. As
respected the army, this was matter of peculiar praise, because peculiarly
disinterested; for his foreign policy was pacific; [Footnote:
"Expeditiones sub eo," says Spartian, "graves nullæ fuerunt. Bella etiam
silentio pene transacta." But he does not the less add, "A militibus,
propter curam exercitus nimiam, multum amatus est."] he made no new
conquests; and he retired from the old ones of Trajan, where they could
not have been maintained without disproportionate bloodshed, or a jealousy
beyond the value of the stake. In this point of his administration he took
Augustus for his model; as again in his care of the army, in his
occasional bounties, and in his paternal solicitude for their comforts, he
looked rather to the example of Julius. Him also he imitated in his
affability and in his ambitious courtesies; one instance of which, as
blending an artifice of political subtlety and simulation with a
remarkable exertion of memory, it may be well to mention. The custom was,
in canvassing the citizens of Rome, that the candidate should address
every voter by his name; it was a fiction of republican etiquette, that
every man participating in the political privileges of the State must be
personally known to public aspirants. But, as this was supposed to be, in
a literal sense, impossible to all men with the ordinary endowments of
memory, in order to reconcile the pretensions of republican hauteur with
the necessities of human weakness, a custom had grown up of relying upon a
class of men, called _nomenclators_, whose express business and
profession it was to make themselves acquainted with the person and name
of every citizen. One of these people accompanied every candidate, and
quietly whispered into his ear the name of each voter as he came in sight.
Few, indeed, were they who could dispense with the services of such an
assessor; for the office imposed a twofold memory, that of names and of
persons; and to estimate the immensity of the effort, we must recollect
that the number of voters often far exceeded one quarter of a million. The
very same trial of memory he undertook with respect to his own army, in
this instance recalling the well known feat of Mithridates. And throughout
his life he did not once forget the face or name of any veteran soldier
whom he ever had occasion to notice, no matter under what remote climate,
or under what difference of circumstances. Wonderful is the effect upon
soldiers of such enduring and separate remembrance, which operates always
as the most touching kind of personal flattery, and which, in every age of
the world, since the social sensibilities of men have been much developed,
military commanders are found to have played upon as the most effectual
chord in the great system which they modulated; some few, by a rare
endowment of nature; others, as Napoleon Bonaparte, by elaborate mimicries
of pantomimic art. [Footnote: In the true spirit of Parisian mummery,
Bonaparte caused letters to be written from the War-office, in his own
name, to particular soldiers of high military reputation in every brigade,
(whose private history he had previously caused to be investigated,)
alluding circumstantially to the leading facts in their personal or family
career; a furlough accompanied this letter, and they were requested to
repair to Paris, where the emperor anxiously desired to see them. Thus was
the paternal interest expressed, which their leader took in each man's
fortunes; and the effect of every such letter, it was not doubted, would
diffuse itself through ten thousand other men.]

Other modes he had of winning affection from the army; in particular that,
so often practised before and since, of accommodating himself to the
strictest ritual of martial discipline and castrensian life. He slept in
the open air, or, if he used a tent (papilio), it was open at the sides.
He ate the ordinary rations of cheese, bacon, &c.; he used no other drink
than that composition of vinegar and water, known by the name of _posca_,
which formed the sole beverage allowed in the Roman camps. He joined
personally in the periodical exercises of the army--those even which were
trying to the most vigorous youth and health: marching, for example, on
stated occasions, twenty English miles without intermission, in full armor
and completely accoutred. Luxury of every kind he not only interdicted to
the soldier by severe ordinances, himself enforcing their execution, but
discountenanced it (though elsewhere splendid and even gorgeous in his
personal habits) by his own continual example. In dress, for instance, he
sternly banished the purple and gold embroideries, the jewelled arms, and
the floating draperies so little in accordance with the-severe character
of "_war in procinct_" [Footnote: "_War in procinct_"--a phrase of
Milton's in Paradise Regained, which strikingly illustrates his love of
Latin phraseology; for unless to a scholar, previously acquainted with the
Latin phrase of _in procinctu_, it is so absolutely unintelligible as to
interrupt the current of the feeling.] Hardly would he allow himself an
ivory hilt to his sabre. The same severe proscription he extended to every
sort of furniture, or decorations of art, which sheltered even in the
bosom of camps those habits of effeminate luxury--so apt in all great
empires to steal by imperceptible steps from the voluptuous palace to the
soldier's tent--following in the equipage of great leading officers, or of
subalterns highly connected. There was at that time a practice prevailing,
in the great standing camps on the several frontiers and at all the
military stations, of renewing as much as possible the image of distant
Rome by the erection of long colonnades and piazzas--single, double, or
triple; of crypts, or subterranean [Footnote: "_Crypts_"--these, which
Spartian, in his life of Hadrian, denominates simply _cryptæ_, are the
same which, in the Roman jurisprudence, and in the architectural works of
the Romans, yet surviving, are termed _hypogæa deambulationes, i. e._
subterranean parades. Vitruvius treats of this luxurious class of
apartments in connection with the Apothecæ, and other repositories or
store-rooms, which were also in many cases under ground, for the same
reason as our ice-houses, wine-cellars, &c. He (and from him Pliny and
Apollonaris Sidonius), calls them _crypto-porticus_ (cloistral
colonnades); and Ulpian calls them _refugia_ (sanctuaries, or places of
refuge); St. Ambrose notices them under the name of _hypogæa_ and _umbrosa
penetralia_, as the resorts of voluptuaries: _Luxuriosorum est_, says he,
_hypogæa quærere--captantium frigus æstivum_; and again he speaks of
_desidiosi qui ignava sub terris agant otia_.] saloons, (and sometimes
subterranean galleries and corridors,) for evading the sultry noontides of
July and August; of verdant cloisters or arcades, with roofs high over-
arched, constructed entirely out of flexile shrubs, box-myrtle, and
others, trained and trimmed in regular forms; besides endless other
applications of the _topiary_ [Footnote: "_The topiary art_"--so called,
as Salmasius thinks, from _ropæion, a rope_; because the process of
construction was conducted chiefly by means of cords and strings. This art
was much practised in the 17th century; and Casaubon describes one, which
existed in his early days somewhere in the suburbs of Paris, on so
elaborate a scale, that it represented Troy besieged, with the two hosts,
their several leaders, and all other objects in their full proportion.]
art, which in those days (like the needlework of Miss Linwood in ours),
though no more than a mechanic craft, in some measure realized the effects
of a fine art by the perfect skill of its execution. All these modes of
luxury, with a policy that had the more merit as it thwarted his own
private inclinations, did Hadrian peremptorily abolish; perhaps, amongst
other more obvious purposes, seeking to intercept the earliest buddings of
those local attachments which are as injurious to the martial character
and the proper pursuits of men whose vocation obliges them to consider
themselves eternally under marching orders, as they are propitious to all
the best interests of society in connection with the feelings of civic

We dwell upon this prince not without reason in this particular; for,
amongst the Cæsars, Hadrian stands forward in high relief as a reformer of
the army. Well and truly might it be said of him--that, _post Cæsarem
Octavianum labantem disciplinam, incurid superiorum principum, ipse
retinuit_. Not content with the cleansings and purgations we have
mentioned, he placed upon a new footing the whole tenure, duties, and
pledges, of military offices. [Footnote: Very remarkable it is, and a fact
which speaks volumes as to the democratic constitution of the Roman army,
in the midst of that aristocracy which enveloped its parent state in a
civil sense, that although there was a name for a _common soldier_ (or
_sentinel_, as he was termed by our ancestors)--viz. _miles gregarius_, or
_miles manipularis_--there was none for an _officer_; that is to say, each
several rank of officers had a name; but there was no generalization to
express the idea of an officer abstracted from its several species or
classes.] It cannot much surprise us that this department of the public
service should gradually have gone to ruin or decay. Under the senate and
people, under the auspices of those awful symbols--letters more
significant and ominous than ever before had troubled the eyes of man,
except upon Belshazzar's wall--S.P.Q.R., the officers of the Roman army
had been kept true to their duties, and vigilant by emulation and a
healthy ambition. But, when the ripeness of corruption had by dissolving
the body of the State brought out of its ashes a new mode of life, and had
recast the aristocratic republic, by aid of its democratic elements then
suddenly victorious, into a pure autocracy--whatever might be the
advantages in other respects of this great change, in one point it had
certainly injured the public service, by throwing the higher military
appointments, all in fact which conferred any authority, into the channels
of court favor--and by consequence into a mercenary disposal. Each
successive emperor had been too anxious for his own immediate security, to
find leisure for the remoter interests of the empire: all looked to the
army, as it were, for their own immediate security against competitors,
without venturing to tamper with its constitution, to risk popularity by
reforming abuses, to balance present interest against a remote one, or to
cultivate the public welfare at the hazard of their own: contented with
obtaining _that_, they left the internal arrangements of so formidable a
body in the state to which circumstances had brought it, and to which
naturally the views of all existing beneficiaries had gradually adjusted
themselves. What these might be, and to what further results they might
tend, was a matter of moment doubtless to the empire. But the empire was
strong; if its motive energy was decaying, its _vis inertia_ was for ages
enormous, and could stand up against assaults repeated for many ages:
whilst the emperor was in the beginning of his authority weak, and pledged
by instant interest, no less than by express promises, to the support of
that body whose favor had substantially supported himself. Hadrian was the
first who turned his attention effectually in that direction; whether it
were that he first was struck with the tendency of the abuses, or that he
valued the hazard less which he incurred in correcting them, or that,
having no successor of his own blood, he had a less personal and affecting
interest at stake in setting this hazard at defiance. Hitherto, the
highest regimental rank, that of tribune, had been disposed of in two
ways, either civilly upon popular favor and election, or upon the express
recommendation of the soldiery. This custom had prevailed under the
republic, and the force of habit had availed to propagate that practice
under a new mode of government. But now were introduced new regulations:
the tribune was selected for his military qualities and experience: none
was appointed to this important office, "_nisi barbâ plenâ_" The
centurion's truncheon, [Footnote: _Vitis_: and it deserves to be
mentioned, that this staff, or cudgel, which was the official engine and
cognizance of the Centurion's dignity, was meant expressly to be used in
caning or cudgelling the inferior soldiers: "_propterea_ vitis in manum
data," says Salmasius, "_verberando scilicet militi qui deliquisset_." We
are no patrons of corporal chastisement, which, on the contrary, as the
vilest of degradations, we abominate. The soldier, who does not feel
himself dishonored by it, is already dishonored beyond hope or redemption.
But still let this degradation not be imputed to the English army
exclusively.] again, was given to no man, "_nisi robusto et bonæ famæ_."
The arms and military appointments (_supellectilis_) were revised; the
register of names was duly called over; and none suffered to remain in the
camps who was either above or below the military age. The same vigilance
and jealousy were extended to the great stationary stores and repositories
of biscuit, vinegar, and other equipments for the soldiery. All things
were in constant readiness in the capital and the provinces, in the
garrisons and camps, abroad and at home, to meet the outbreak of a foreign
war or a domestic sedition. Whatever were the service, it could by no
possibility find Hadrian unprepared. And he first, in fact, of all the
Cæsars, restored to its ancient republican standard, as reformed and
perfected by Marius, the old martial discipline of the Scipios and the
Paulli--that discipline, to which, more than to any physical superiority
of her soldiery, Rome had been indebted for her conquest of the earth; and
which had inevitably decayed in the long series of wars growing out of
personal ambition. From the days of Marius, every great leader had
sacrificed to the necessities of courting favor from the troops, as much
as was possible of the hardships incident to actual service, and as much
as he dared of the once rigorous discipline. Hadrian first found himself
in circumstances, or was the first who had courage enough to decline a
momentary interest in favor of a greater in reversion; and a personal
object which was transient, in favor of a state one continually revolving.

For a prince, with no children of his own, it is in any case a task of
peculiar delicacy to select a successor. In the Roman empire the
difficulties were much aggravated. The interests of the State were, in the
first place, to be consulted; for a mighty burthen of responsibility
rested upon the emperor in the most personal sense. Duties of every kind
fell to his station, which, from the peculiar constitution of the
government, and from circumstances rooted in the very origin of the
imperatorial office, could not be devolved upon a council. Council there
was none, nor could be recognised as such in the State machinery. The
emperor, himself a sacred and sequestered creature, might be supposed to
enjoy the secret tutelage of the Supreme Deity; but a council, composed of
subordinate and responsible agents, could _not_. Again, the auspices of
the emperor, and his edicts, apart even from any celestial or supernatural
inspiration, simply as emanations of his own divine character, had a value
and a consecration which could never belong to those of a council--or to
those even which had been sullied by the breath of any less august
reviser. The emperor, therefore, or--as with a view to his solitary and
unique character we ought to call him--in the original irrepresentable
term, the imperator, could not delegate his duties, or execute them in any
avowed form by proxies or representatives. He was himself the great
fountain of law--of honor--of preferment--of civil and political
regulations. He was the fountain also of good and evil fame. He was the
great chancellor, or supreme dispenser of equity to all climates, nations,
languages, of his mighty dominions, which connected the turbaned races of
the Orient, and those who sat in the gates of the rising sun, with the
islands of the West, and the unfathomed depths of the mysterious
Scandinavia. He was the universal guardian of the public and private
interests which composed the great edifice of the social system as then
existing amongst his subjects. Above all, and out of his own private
purse, he supported the heraldries of his dominions--the peerage,
senatorial or prætorian, and the great gentry or chivalry of the Equites.
These were classes who would have been dishonored by the censorship of a
less august comptroller. And, for the classes below these,--by how much
they were lower and more remote from his ocular superintendence,--by so
much the more were they linked to him in a connection of absolute
dependence. Cæsar it was who provided their daily food, Cæsar who provided
their pleasures and relaxations. He chartered the fleets which brought
grain to the Tiber--he bespoke the Sardinian granaries whilst yet
unformed--and the harvests of the Nile whilst yet unsown. Not the
connection between a mother and her unborn infant is more intimate and
vital, than that which subsisted between the mighty populace of the Roman
capital and their paternal emperor. They drew their nutriment from him;
they lived and were happy by sympathy with the motions of his will; to him
also the arts, the knowledge, and the literature of the empire looked for
support. To him the armies looked for their laurels, and the eagles in
every clime turned their aspiring eyes, waiting to bend their flight
according to the signal of his Jovian nod. And all these vast functions
and ministrations arose partly as a natural effect, but partly also they
were a cause of the emperor's own divinity. He was capable of services so
exalted, because he also was held a god, and had his own altars, his own
incense, his own worship and priests. And that was the cause, and that was
the result of his bearing, on his own shoulders, a burthen so mighty and

Yet, if in this view it was needful to have a man of talent, on the other
hand there was reason to dread a man of talents too adventurous, too
aspiring, or too intriguing. His situation, as Cæsar, or Crown Prince,
flung into his hands a power of fomenting conspiracies, and of concealing
them until the very moment of explosion, which made him an object of
almost exclusive terror to his principal, the Cæsar Augustus. His
situation again, as an heir voluntarily adopted, made him the proper
object of public affection and caresses, which became peculiarly
embarrassing to one who had, perhaps, soon found reasons for suspecting,
fearing, and hating him beyond all other men.

The young nobleman, whom Hadrian adopted by his earliest choice, was
Lucius Aurelius Verus, the son of Cejonius Commodus. These names were
borne also by the son; but, after his adoption into the Ælian family, he
was generally known by the appellation of Ælius Verus. The scandal of
those times imputed his adoption to the worst motives. "_Adriano_,"
says one author, ("_ut malevoli loquuntur_) _acceptior formâ quam
moribus_" And thus much undoubtedly there is to countenance so shocking an
insinuation, that very little is recorded of the young prince but such
anecdotes as illustrate his excessive luxury and effeminate dedication to
pleasure. Still it is our private opinion, that Hadrian's real motives
have been misrepresented; that he sought in the young man's extraordinary
beauty--[for he was, says Spartian, _pulchritudinis regiæ_]--a plausible
pretext that should he sufficient to explain and to countenance his
preference, whilst under this provisional adoption he was enabled to
postpone the definitive choice of an imperator elect, until his own more
advanced age might diminish the motives for intriguing against himself. It
was, therefore, a mere _ad interim_ adoption; for it is certain, however
we may choose to explain that fact, that Hadrian foresaw and calculated on
the early death of Ælius. This prophetic knowledge may have been grounded
on a private familiarity with some constitutional infirmity affecting his
daily health, or with some habits of life incompatible with longevity, or
with both combined. It is pretended that this distinguished mark of favor
was conferred in fulfilment of a direct contract on the emperor's part, as
the price of favors such as the Latin reader will easily understand from
the strong expression of Spartian above cited. But it is far more probable
that Hadrian relied on this admirable beauty, and allowed it so much
weight, as the readiest and most intelligible justification to the
multitude, of a choice which thus offered to their homage a public
favorite--and to the nobility, of so invidious a preference, which placed
one of their own number far above the level of his natural rivals. The
necessities of the moment were thus satisfied without present or future
danger;--as respected the future, he knew or believed that Verus was
marked out for early death; and would often say, in a strain of compliment
somewhat disproportionate, applying to him the Virgilian lines on the
hopeful and lamented Marcellus,

"Ostendent terris hunc tantum fata, neque ultra
Esse sinent."

And, at the same time, to countenance the belief that he had been
disappointed, he would affect to sigh, exclaiming--"Ah! that I should thus
fruitlessly have squandered a sum of three [Footnote: In the original
_ter millies_, which is not much above two millions and 150 thousand
pounds sterling; but it must be remembered that one third as much, in
addition to this popular largess, had been given to the army.] millions
sterling!" for so much had been distributed in largesses to the people and
the army on the occasion of his inauguration. Meantime, as respected the
present, the qualities of the young man were amply fitted to sustain a
Roman popularity; for, in addition to his extreme and statuesque beauty of
person, he was (in the report of one who did not wish to color his
character advantageously) "_memor families suce, comptus, decorus, oris
venerandi, eloquentice, celsioris, versufacilis, in republicâ etiam non
inutilis_." Even as a military officer, he had a respectable [Footnote:--
"nam bene gesti rebus, vel potius feliciter, etsi nori summi--medii tamen
obtinuit ducis famam."] character; as an orator he was more than
respectable; and in other qualifications less interesting to the populace,
he had that happy mediocrity of merit which was best fitted for his
delicate and difficult situation--sufficient to do credit to the emperor's
preference--sufficient to sustain the popular regard, but not brilliant
enough to throw his patron into the shade. For the rest, his vices were of
a nature not greatly or necessarily to interfere with his public duties,
and emphatically such as met with the readiest indulgence from the Roman
laxity of morals. Some few instances, indeed, are noticed of cruelty; but
there is reason to think that it was merely by accident, and as an
indirect result of other purposes, that he ever allowed himself in such
manifestations of irresponsible power--not as gratifying any harsh
impulses of his native character. The most remarkable neglect of humanity
with which he has been taxed, occurred in the treatment of his couriers;
these were the bearers of news and official dispatches, at that time
fulfilling the functions of the modern post; and it must be remembered
that as yet they were not slaves, (as afterwards by the reformation of
Alexander Severus,) but free citizens. They had been already dressed in a
particular livery or uniform, and possibly they might wear some symbolical
badges of their profession; but the new Cæsar chose to dress them
altogether in character as winged Cupids, affixing literal wings to their
shoulders, and facetiously distinguishing them by the names of the four
cardinal winds, (Boreas, Aquilo, Notus, &c.) and others as levanters or
hurricanes, (Circius, &c.) Thus far he did no more than indulge a
blameless fancy; but in his anxiety that his runners should emulate their
patron winds, and do credit to the names which he had assigned them, he is
said to have exacted a degree of speed inconsistent with any merciful
regard for their bodily powers.[Footnote: This, however, is a point in
which royal personages claim an old prescriptive right to be unreasonable
in their exactions and some, even amongst the most humane of Christian
princes, have erred as flagrantly as Ælius Verus. George IV., we have
understood, was generally escorted from Balkeith to Holyrood at a rate of
twenty-two miles an hour. And of his father, the truly kind and paternal
king, it is recorded by Miss Hawkins, (daughter of Sir J. Hawkins, the
biographer of Johnson, &c.) that families who happened to have a son,
brother, lover, &c. in the particular regiment of cavalry which furnished
the escort for the day, used to suffer as much anxiety for the result as
on the eve of a great battle.] But these were, after all, perhaps, mere
improvements of malice upon some solitary incident. The true stain upon
his memory, and one which is open to no doubt whatever, is excessive and
extravagant luxury--excessive in degree, extravagant and even ludicrous in
its forms. For example, he constructed a sort of bed or sofa--protected
from insects by an awning of network composed of lilies, delicately
fabricated into the proper meshes, &c., and the couches composed wholly of
rose-leaves; and even of these, not without an exquisite preparation; for
the white parts of the leaves, as coarser and harsher to the touch,
(possibly, also, as less odorous,) were scrupulously rejected. Here he lay
indolently stretched amongst favorite ladies,

"And like a naked Indian slept himself away."

He had also tables composed of the same delicate material--prepared and
purified in the same elaborate way--and to these were adapted seats in the
fashion of sofas (_accubationes_,) corresponding in their materials,
and in their mode of preparation. He was also an expert performer, and
even an original inventor, in the art of cookery; and one dish of his
discovery, which, from its four component parts, obtained the name of
_tetrapharmacum_, was so far from owing its celebrity to its royal
birth, that it maintained its place on Hadrian's table to the time of his
death. These, however, were mere fopperies or pardonable extravagancies in
one so young and so exalted; "quæ, etsi non decora," as the historian
observes, "non tamen ad perniciem publicam prompta sunt." A graver mode of
licentiousness appeared in his connections with women. He made no secret
of his lawless amours; and to his own wife, on her expostulating with him
on his aberrations in this respect, he replied--that "_wife_" was a
designation of rank and official dignity, not of tenderness and affection,
or implying any claim of love on either side; upon which distinction he
begged that she would mind her own affairs, and leave him to pursue such
as he might himself be involved in by his sensibility to female charms.

However, he and all his errors, his "regal beauty," his princely pomps,
and his authorized hopes, were suddenly swallowed up by the inexorable
grave; and he would have passed away like an exhalation, and leaving no
remembrance of himself more durable than his own beds of rose-leaves, and
his reticulated canopies of lilies, had it not been that Hadrian filled
the world with images of his perfect fawn-like beauty in the shape of
colossal statues, and raised temples even to his memory in various cities.
This Cæsar, therefore, dying thus prematurely, never tasted of empire; and
his name would have had but a doubtful title to a place in the
imperatorial roll, had it not been recalled to a second chance for the
sacred honors in the person of his son--whom it was the pleasure of
Hadrian, by way of testifying his affection for the father, to associate
in the order of succession with the philosophic Marcus Aurelius Antoninus.
This fact, and the certainty that to the second Julius Verus he gave his
own daughter in marriage, rather than to his associate Cæsar Marcus
Aurelius, make it evident that his regret for the elder Verus was
unaffected and deep; and they overthrow effectually the common report of
historians--that he repented of his earliest choice, as of one that had
been disappointed not by the decrees of fate, but by the violent defect of
merits in its object. On the contrary, he prefaced his inauguration of
this junior Cæsar by the following tender words--Let us confound the
rapine of the grave, and let the empire possess amongst her rulers a
second Ælius Verus.

"_Diis aliter visum est:_" the blood of the Ælian family was not
privileged to ascend or aspire: it gravitated violently to extinction; and
this junior Verus is supposed to have been as much indebted to his
assessor on the throne for shielding his obscure vices, and drawing over
his defects the ample draperies of the imperatorial robe, as he was to
Hadrian, his grandfather by fiction of law, for his adoption into the
reigning family, and his consecration as one of the Cæsars. He, says one
historian, shed no ray of light or illustration upon the imperial house,
except by one solitary quality. This bears a harsh sound; but it has the
effect of a sudden redemption for his memory, when we learn--that this
solitary quality, in virtue of which he claimed a natural affinity to the
sacred house, and challenged a natural interest in the purple, was the
very princely one of--a merciful disposition.

The two Antonines fix an era in the imperial history; for they were both
eminent models of wise and good rulers; and some would say, that they
fixed a crisis; for with their successor commenced, in the popular belief,
the decline of the empire. That at least is the doctrine of Gibbon; but
perhaps it would not be found altogether able to sustain itself against a
closer and philosophic examination of the true elements involved in the
idea of declension as applied to political bodies. Be that as it may,
however, and waiving any interest which might happen to invest the
Antonines as the last princes who kept up the empire to its original
level, both of them had enough of merit to challenge a separate notice in
their personal characters, and apart from the accidents of their position.

The elder of the two, who is usually distinguished by the title of _Pius_,
is thus described by one of his biographers:--"He was externally of
remarkable beauty; eminent for his moral character, full of benign
dispositions, noble, with a countenance of a most gentle expression,
intellectually of singular endowments, possessing an elegant style of
eloquence, distinguished for his literature, generally temperate, an
earnest lover of agricultural pursuits, mild in his deportment, bountiful
in the use of his own, but a stern respecter of the rights of others; and,
finally, he was all this without ostentation, and with a constant regard
to the proportions of cases, and to the demands of time and place." His
bounty displayed itself in a way, which may be worth mentioning, as at
once illustrating the age, and the prudence with which he controlled the
most generous of his impulses:--"_Finus trientarium_," says the historian,
"_hoc est minimis usuris exercuit, ut patrimonio suo plurimos adjuvaret_."
The meaning of which is this:--in Rome, the customary interest for money
was what was called _centesimæ usuræ_; that is, the hundredth part, or one
per cent. But, as this expressed not the annual, but the _monthly_
interest, the true rate was, in fact, twelve per cent.; and that is the
meaning of _centesimæ usuræ_. Nor could money be obtained any where on
better terms than these; and, moreover, this one per cent, was exacted
rigorously as the monthly day came round, no arrears being suffered to lie
over. Under these circumstances, it was a prodigious service to lend money
at a diminished rate, and one which furnished many men with the means of
saving themselves from ruin. Pius then, by way of extending his aid as far
as possible, reduced the monthly rate of his loans to one-third per cent.,
which made the annual interest the very moderate one of four per cent. The
channels, which public spirit had as yet opened to the beneficence of the
opulent, were few indeed: charity and munificence languished, or they were
abused, or they were inefficiently directed, simply through defects in the
structure of society. Social organization, for its large development,
demanded the agency of newspapers, (together with many other forms of
assistance from the press,) of banks, of public carriages on an extensive
scale, besides infinite other inventions or establishments not yet
created--which support and powerfully react upon that same progress of
society which originally gave birth to themselves. All things considered,
in the Rome of that day, where all munificence confined itself to the
direct largesses of a few leading necessaries of life,--a great step was
taken, and the best step, in this lending of money at a low interest,
towards a more refined and beneficial mode of charity.

In his public character, he was perhaps the most patriotic of Roman
emperors, and the purest from all taint of corrupt or indirect ends.
Peculation, embezzlement, or misapplication of the public funds, were
universally corrected: provincial oppressors were exposed and defeated:
the taxes and tributes were diminished; and the public expenses were
thrown as much as possible upon the public estates, and in some instances
upon his own private estates. So far, indeed, did Pius stretch his
sympathy with the poorer classes of his subjects, that on this account
chiefly he resided permanently in the capital--alleging in excuse, partly
that he thus stationed himself in the very centre of his mighty empire, to
which all couriers could come by the shortest radii, but chiefly that he
thus spared the provincialists those burthens which must else have
alighted upon them; "for," said he, "even the slenderest retinue of a
Roman emperor is burthensome to the whole line of its progress." His
tenderness and consideration, indeed, were extended to all classes, and
all relations, of his subjects; even to those who stood in the shadow of
his public displeasure as State delinquents, or as the most atrocious
criminals. To the children of great treasury defaulters, he returned the
confiscated estates of their fathers, deducting only what might repair the
public loss. And so resolutely did he refuse to shed the blood of any in
the senatorial order, to whom he conceived himself more especially bound
in paternal ties, that even a parricide, whom the laws would not suffer to
live, was simply exposed upon a desert island.

Little indeed did Pius want of being a perfect Christian, in heart and in
practice. Yet all this display of goodness and merciful indulgence, nay,
all his munificence, would have availed him little with the people at
large, had he neglected to furnish shows and exhibitions in the arena of
suitable magnificence. Luckily for his reputation, he exceeded the general
standard of imperial splendor not less as the patron of the amphitheatre
than in his more important functions. It is recorded of him--that in one
_missio_ he sent forward on the arena a hundred lions. Nor was he less
distinguished by the rarity of the wild animals which he exhibited than by
their number. There were elephants, there were crocodiles, there were
hippopotami at one time upon the stage: there was also the rhinoceros, and
the still rarer _crocuta_ or _corocotta_, with a few _strepsikerotes_.
Some of these were matched in duels, some in general battles with tigers;
in fact, there was no species of wild animal throughout the deserts and
sandy Zaarras of Africa, the infinite _steppes_ of Asia, or the lawny
recesses and dim forests of then sylvan Europe, [Footnote: And not
impossibly of America; for it must be remembered that, when we speak of
this quarter of the earth as yet undiscovered, we mean--to ourselves of
the western climates; since as respects the eastern quarters of Asia,
doubtless America was known there familiarly enough; and the high bounties
of imperial Rome on rare animals, would sometimes perhaps propagate their
influence even to those regions.] no species known to natural history,
(and some even of which naturalists have lost sight,) which the Emperor
Pius did not produce to his Roman subjects on his ceremonious pomps. And
in another point he carried his splendors to a point which set the seal to
his liberality. In the phrase of modern auctioneers, he gave up the wild
beasts to slaughter "without reserve." It was the custom, in ordinary
cases, so far to consider the enormous cost of these far-fetched rarities
as to preserve for future occasions those which escaped the arrows of the
populace, or survived the bloody combats in which they were engaged. Thus,
out of the overflowings of one great exhibition, would be found materials
for another. But Pius would not allow of these reservations. All were
given up unreservedly to the savage purposes of the spectators; land and
sea were ransacked; the sanctuaries of the torrid zone were violated;
columns of the army were put in motion--and all for the transient effect
of crowning an extra hour with hecatombs of forest blood, each separate
minute of which had cost a king's ransom.

Yet these displays were alien to the nature of Pius; and, even through the
tyranny of custom, he had been so little changed, that to the last he
continued to turn aside, as often as the public ritual of his duty allowed
him, from these fierce spectacles to the gentler amusements of fishing and
hunting. His taste and his affections naturally carried him to all
domestic pleasures of a quiet nature. A walk in a shrubbery or along a
piazza, enlivened with the conversation of a friend or two, pleased him
better than all the court festivals; and among festivals, or anniversary
celebrations, he preferred those which, like the harvest-home or feast of
the vintagers, whilst they sanctioned a total carelessness and dismissal
of public anxieties, were at the same time colored by the innocent gaiety
which belongs to rural and to primitive manners. In person this emperor
was tall and dignified (_staturâ elevatâ decorus;_) but latterly he
stooped; to remedy which defect, that he might discharge his public part
with the more decorum, he wore stays. [Footnote: In default of whalebone,
one is curious to know of what they were made:--thin tablets of the
linden-tree, it appears, were the best materials which the Augustus of
that day could command.] Of his other personal habits little is recorded,
except that, early in the morning, and just before receiving the
compliments of his friends and dependents, (_salutatores_,) or what in
modern phrase would be called his _levee_, he took a little plain bread,
(_panem siccum comedit_,) that is, bread without condiments or
accompaniments of any kind, by way of breakfast. In no meal has luxury
advanced more upon the model of the ancients than in this: the dinners
(_cænæ_) of the Romans were even more luxurious, and a thousand times more
costly, than our own; but their breakfasts were scandalously meagre; and,
with many men, breakfast was no professed meal at all. Galen tells us that
a little bread, and at most a little seasoning of oil, honey, or dried
fruits, was the utmost breakfast which men generally allowed themselves:
some indeed drank wine after it, but this was far from being a common
practice. [Footnote: There is, however, a good deal of delusion prevalent
on such subjects. In some English cavalry regiments, the custom is for the
privates to take only one meal a day, which of course is dinner; and by
some curious experiments it has appeared that such a mode of life is the
healthiest. But at the same time, we have ascertained that the quantity of
porter or substantial ale drunk in these regiments does virtually allow
many meals, by comparison with the washy tea breakfasts of most

The Emperor Pius died in his seventieth year. The immediate occasion of
his death was--not breakfast nor _cæna_, but something of the kind.
He had received a present of Alpine cheese, and he ordered some for
supper. The trap for his life was baited with toasted cheese. There is no
reason to think that he ate immoderately; but that night he was seized
with indigestion. Delirium followed; during which it is singular that his
mind teemed with a class of imagery and of passions the most remote (as it
might have been thought) from the voluntary occupations of his thoughts.
He raved about the State, and about those kings with whom he was
displeased; nor were his thoughts one moment removed from the public
service. Yet he was the least ambitious of princes, and his reign was
emphatically said to be bloodless. Finding his fever increase, he became
sensible that he was dying; and he ordered the golden statue of
Prosperity, a household symbol of empire, to be transferred from his own
bedroom to that of his successor. Once again, however, for the last time,
he gave the word to the officer of the guard; and, soon after, turning
away his face to the wall against which his bed was placed, he passed out
of life in the very gentlest sleep, "_quasi dormiret, spiritum reddidit_;"
or, as a Greek author expresses it, _kat iso hypno to malakotato_. He was
one of those few Roman emperors whom posterity truly honored with the
title of _anaimatos_ (or bloodless;) _solusque omnium prope principum
prorsus sine civili sanguine et hostili vixit_. In the whole tenor of his
life and character he was thought to resemble Numa. And Pausanias, after
remarking on his title of _Eusebæs_ (or Pius), upon the meaning and origin
of which there are several different hypotheses, closes with this
memorable tribute to his paternal qualities--_doxæ de emae, kai to onoma
to te Kyros pheroito an tos presbyteros, Pater anthropon kalemenos_: _but,
in my opinion, he should also bear the name of Cyrus the elder--being
hailed as Father of the Human Race_.

A thoughtful Roman would have been apt to exclaim, _This is too good to
last_, upon finding so admirable a ruler succeeded by one still more
admirable in the person of Marcus Aurelius. From the first dawn of his
infancy this prince indicated, by his grave deportment, the philosophic
character of his mind; and at eleven years of age he professed himself a
formal devotee of philosophy in its strictest form,--assuming the garb,
and submitting to its most ascetic ordinances. In particular, he slept
upon the ground, and in other respects he practised a style of living the
most simple and remote from the habits of rich men [or, in his own words,
_tho lithon chatha tæn diaitan, chai porro tæs pleousiachæs hagogæs_];
though it is true that he himself ascribes this simplicity of life to the
influence of his mother, and not to the premature assumption of the
stoical character. He pushed his austerities indeed to excess; for Dio
mentions that in his boyish days he was reduced to great weakness by
exercises too severe, and a diet of too little nutriment. In fact, his
whole heart was set upon philosophic attainments, and perhaps upon
philosophic glory. All the great philosophers of his own time, whether
Stoic or Peripatetic, and amongst them Sextus of Cheronæa, a nephew of
Plutarch, were retained as his instructors. There was none whom he did not
enrich; and as many as were fitted by birth and manners to fill important
situations, he raised to the highest offices in the State. Philosophy,
however, did not so much absorb his affections, but that he found time to
cultivate the fine arts, (painting he both studied and practised,) and
such gymnastic exercises as he held consistent with his public dignity.
Wrestling, hunting, fowling, playing at cricket (_pila_), he admired and
patronized by personal participation. He tried his powers even as a
runner. But with these tasks, and entering so critically, both as a
connoisseur and as a practising amateur, into such trials of skill, so
little did he relish the very same spectacles, when connected with the
cruel exhibitions of the circus and amphitheatre, that it was not without
some friendly violence on the part of those who could venture on such a
liberty, nor even thus, perhaps, without the necessities of his official
station, that he would be persuaded to visit either one or the
other.[Footnote: So much improvement had Christianity already accomplished
in the feelings of men since the time of Augustus. That prince, in whose
reign the founder of this ennobling religion was born, had delighted so
much and indulged so freely in the spectacles of the amphitheatre, that
Mæcenas summoned him reproachfully to leave them, saying, "Surge tandem,

It is the remark of Capitoline, that "gladiatoria spectacula omnifariam
temperavit; temperavit etiam scenicas donationes;"--he controlled in every
possible way the gladiatorial spectacles; he controlled also the rates of
allowance to the stage performers. In these latter reforms, which simply
restrained the exorbitant salaries of a class dedicated to the public
pleasures, and unprofitable to the state, Marcus may have had no farther
view than that which is usually connected with sumptuary laws. But in the
restraints upon the gladiators, it is impossible to believe that his
highest purpose was not that of elevating human nature, and preparing the
way for still higher regulations. As little can it be believed that this
lofty conception, and the sense of a degradation entailed upon human
nature itself, in the spectacle of human beings matched against each other
like brute beasts, and pouring out their blood upon the arena as a
libation to the caprices of a mob, could have been derived from any other
source than the contagion of Christian standards and Christian sentiments,
then beginning to pervade and ventilate the atmosphere of society in its
higher and philosophic regions. Christianity, without expressly affirming,
every where indirectly supposes and presumes the infinite value and
dignity of man as a creature, exclusively concerned in a vast and
mysterious economy of restoration to a state of moral beauty and power in
some former age mysteriously forfeited. Equally interested in its
benefits, joint heirs of its promises, all men, of every color, language,
and rank, Gentile or Jew, were here first represented as in one sense (and
that the most important) equal; in the eye of this religion, they were, by
necessity of logic, equal, as equal participators in the ruin and the
restoration. Here first, in any available sense, was communicated to the
standard of human nature a vast and sudden elevation; and reasonable
enough it is to suppose, that some obscure sense of this, some sympathy
with the great changes for man then beginning to operate, would first of
all reach the inquisitive students of philosophy, and chiefly those in
high stations, who cultivated an intercourse with all the men of original
genius throughout the civilized world. The Emperor Hadrian had already
taken a solitary step in the improvement of human nature; and not, we may
believe, without some sub-conscious influence received directly or
indirectly from Christianity. So again, with respect to Marcus, it is
hardly conceivable that he, a prince so indulgent and popular, could have
thwarted, and violently gainsaid, a primary impulse of the Roman populace,
without some adequate motive; and none _could_ be adequate which was
not built upon some new and exalted views of human nature, with which
these gladiatorial sacrifices were altogether at war. The reforms which
Marcus introduced into these "crudelissima spectacula," all having the
common purpose of limiting their extent, were three. First, he set bounds
to the extreme cost of these exhibitions; and this restriction of the cost
covertly operated as a restriction of the practice. Secondly,--and this
ordinance took effect whenever he was personally present, if not oftener,
--he commanded, on great occasions, that these displays should be
bloodless. Dion Cassius notices this fact in the following words:--"The
Emperor Marcus was so far from taking delight in spectacles of bloodshed,
that even the gladiators in Rome could not obtain his inspection of their
contests, unless, like the wrestlers, they contended without imminent
risk; for he never allowed them the use of sharpened weapons, but
universally they fought before him with weapons previously blunted."
Thirdly, he repealed the old and uniform regulation, which secured to the
gladiators a perpetual immunity from military service. This necessarily
diminished their available amount. Being now liable to serve their country
usefully in the field of battle, whilst the concurrent limitation of the
expenses in this direction prevented any proportionate increase of their
numbers, they were so much the less disposable in aid of the public
luxury. His fatherly care of all classes, and the universal benignity with
which he attempted to raise the abject estimate and condition of even the
lowest _Pariars_ in his vast empire, appears in another little
anecdote, relating to a class of men equally with the gladiators given up
to the service of luxury in a haughty and cruel populace. Attending one
day at an exhibition of rope-dancing, one of the performers (a boy) fell
and hurt himself; from which time the paternal emperor would never allow
the rope-dancers to perform without mattrasses or feather-beds spread
below, to mitigate the violence of their falls.] In this he meditated no
reflection upon his father by adoption, the Emperor Pius, (who also, for
aught we know, might secretly revolt from a species of amusement which, as
the prescriptive test of munificence in the popular estimate, it was
necessary to support;) on the contrary, he obeyed him with the
punctiliousness of a Roman obedience; he watched the very motions of his
countenance; and he waited so continually upon his pleasure, that for
three-and-twenty years which they lived together, he is recorded to have
slept out of his father's palace only for two nights. This rigor of filial
duty illustrates a feature of Roman life; for such was the sanctity of
law, that a father created by legal fiction was in all respects treated
with the same veneration and affection, as a father who claimed upon the
most unquestioned footing of natural right. Such, however, is the
universal baseness of courts, that even this scrupulous and minute
attention to his duties, did not protect Marcus from the injurious
insinuations of whisperers. There were not wanting persons who endeavored
to turn to account the general circumstances in the situation of the
Cæsar, which pointed him out to the jealousy of the emperor. But these
being no more than what adhere necessarily to the case of every heir
_as_ such, and meeting fortunately with no more proneness to
suspicion in the temper of the Augustus than they did with countenance in
the conduct of the Cæsar, made so little impression, that at length these
malicious efforts died away, from mere defect of encouragement.

The most interesting political crisis in the reign of Marcus was the war
in Germany with the Marcomanni, concurrently with pestilence in Rome. The
agitation of the public mind was intense; and prophets arose, as since
under corresponding circumstances in Christian countries, who announced
the approaching dissolution of the world. The purse of Marcus was open, as
usual, to the distresses of his subjects. But it was chiefly for the
expense of funerals that his aid was claimed. In this way he alleviated
the domestic calamities of his capital, or expressed his sympathy with the
sufferers, where alleviation was beyond his power; whilst, by the energy
of his movements and his personal presence on the Danube, he soon
dissipated those anxieties of Rome which pointed in a foreign direction.
The war, however, had been a dreadful one, and had excited such just fears
in the most experienced heads of the State, that, happening in its
outbreak to coincide with a Parthian war, it was skilfully protracted
until the entire thunders of Rome, and the undivided energies of her
supreme captains, could be concentrated upon this single point. Both
[Footnote: Marcus had been associated, as Cæsar and as emperor, with the
son of the late beautiful Verus, who is usually mentioned by the same
name.] emperors left Rome, and crossed the Alps; the war was thrown back
upon its native seats--Austria and the modern Hungary: great battles were
fought and won; and peace, with consequent relief and restoration to
liberty, was reconquered for many friendly nations, who had suffered under
the ravages of the Marcomanni, the Sarmatians, the Quadi, and the Vandals;
whilst some of the hostile people were nearly obliterated from the map,
and their names blotted out from the memory of men.

Since the days of Gaul as an independent power, no war had so much alarmed
the people of Rome; and their fear was justified by the difficulties and
prodigious efforts which accompanied its suppression. The public treasury
was exhausted; loans were an engine of fiscal policy, not then understood
or perhaps practicable; and great distress was at hand for the State. In
these circumstances, Marcus adopted a wise (though it was then esteemed a
violent or desperate) remedy. Time and excessive luxury had accumulated in
the imperial palaces and villas vast repositories of apparel, furniture,
jewels, pictures, and household utensils, valuable alike for the materials
and the workmanship. Many of these articles were consecrated, by color or
otherwise, to the use of the _sacred_ household; and to have been
found in possession of them, or with the materials for making them, would
have entailed the penalties of treason. All these stores were now brought
out to open day, and put up to public sale by auction, free license being
first granted to the bidders, whoever they might be, to use, or otherwise
to exercise the fullest rights of property upon all they bought. The
auction lasted for two months. Every man was guaranteed in the peaceable
ownership of his purchases. And afterwards, when the public distress had
passed over, a still further indulgence was extended to the purchasers.
Notice was given--that all who were dissatisfied with their purchases, or
who for other means might wish to recover their cost, would receive back
the purchase-money, upon returning the articles. Dinner-services of gold
and crystal, murrhine vases, and even his wife's wardrobe of silken robes
interwoven with gold, all these, and countless other articles were
accordingly returned, and the full auction prices paid back; or were
_not_ returned, and no displeasure shown to those who publicly displayed
them as their own. Having gone so far, overruled by the necessities of the
public service, in breaking down those legal barriers by which a peculiar
dress, furniture, equipage, &c., were appropriated to the imperial house,
as distinguished from the very highest of the noble houses, Marcus had a
sufficient pretext for extending indefinitely the effect of the
dispensation then granted. Articles purchased at the auction bore no
characteristic marks to distinguish them from others of the same form and
texture: so that a license to use any one article of the _sacred_ pattern,
became necessarily a general license for all others which resembled them.
And thus, without abrogating the prejudices which protected the imperial
precedency, a body of sumptuary laws--the most ruinous to the progress of
manufacturing skill, [Footnote: Because the most effectual extinguishers
of all ambition applied in that direction; since the very excellence of
any particular fabric was the surest pledge of its virtual suppression by
means of its legal restriction (which followed inevitably) to the use of
the imperial house.] which has ever been devised--were silently suspended.
One or two aspiring families might be offended by these innovations, which
meantime gave the pleasures of enjoyment to thousands, and of hope to

But these, though very noticeable relaxations of the existing prerogative,
were, as respected the temper which dictated them, no more than everyday
manifestations of the emperor's perpetual benignity. Fortunately for
Marcus, the indestructible privilege of the _divina domus_ exalted it
so unapproachably beyond all competition, that no possible remissions of
aulic rigor could ever be misinterpreted; fear there could be none, lest
such paternal indulgences should lose their effect and acceptation as pure
condescensions. They could neither injure their author, who was otherwise
charmed and consecrated, from disrespect; nor could they suffer injury
themselves by misconstruction, or seem other than sincere, coming from a
prince whose entire life was one long series of acts expressing the same
affable spirit. Such, indeed, was the effect of this uninterrupted
benevolence in the emperor, that at length all men, according to their
several ages, hailed him as their father, son, or brother. And when he
died, in the sixty-first year of his life (the 18th of his reign), he was
lamented with a corresponding peculiarity in the public ceremonial, such,
for instance, as the studied interfusion of the senatorial body with the
populace, expressive of the levelling power of a true and comprehensive
grief; a peculiarity for which no precedent was found, and which never
afterwards became a precedent for similar honors to the best of his

But malice has the divine privilege of ubiquity; and therefore it was that
even this great model of private and public virtue did not escape the
foulest libels: he was twice accused of murder; once on the person of a
gladiator, with whom the empress is said to have fallen in love; and
again, upon his associate in the empire, who died in reality of an
apoplectic seizure, on his return from the German campaign. Neither of
these atrocious fictions ever gained the least hold of the public
attention, so entirely were they put down by the _prima facie_
evidence of facts, and of the emperor's notorious character. In fact his
faults, if he had any in his public life, were entirely those of too much
indulgence. In a few cases of enormous guilt, it is recorded that he
showed himself inexorable. But, generally speaking, he was far otherwise;
and, in particular, he carried his indulgence to his wife's vices to an
excess which drew upon him the satirical notice of the stage.

The gladiators, and still more the sailors of that age, were constantly to
be seen playing naked, and Faustina was shameless enough to take her
station in places which gave her the advantages of a leisurely review; and
she actually selected favorites from both classes on the ground of a
personal inspection. With others of greater rank she is said even to have
been surprised by her husband; in particular with one called Tertullus, at
dinner. [Footnote: Upon which some _mimographus_ built an occasional
notice of the scandal then floating on the public breath in the following
terms: One of the actors having asked "_Who was the adulterous paramour?_"
receives for answer, _Tullus_. Who? he asks again; and again for three
times running he is answered, _Tullus_. But asking a fourth time, the
rejoinder is, Jam dixi _ter Tullus_.] But to all remonstrances on this
subject, Marcus is reported to have replied, "_Si uxorem dimittimus,
reddamus et dotem;_" meaning that, having received his right of succession
to the empire simply by his adoption into the family of Pius, his wife's
father, gratitude and filial duty obliged him to view any dishonors
emanating from his wife's conduct as joint legacies with the splendors
inherited from their common father; in short, that he was not at liberty
to separate the rose from its thorns. However, the facts are not
sufficiently known to warrant us in criticising very severely his behavior
on so trying an occasion.

It would be too much for human frailty, that absolutely no stain should
remain upon his memory. Possibly the best use which can be made of such a
fact is, in the way of consolation to any unhappy man, whom his wife may
too liberally have endowed with honors of this kind, by reminding him that
he shares this distinction with the great philosophic emperor. The
reflection upon this story by one of his biographers is this--"Such is the
force of daily life in a good ruler, so great the power of his sanctity,
gentleness, and piety, that no breath of slander or invidious suggestion
from an acquaintance can avail to sully his memory. In short, to Antonine,
immutable as the heavens in the tenor of his own life, and in the
manifestations of his own moral temper, and who was not by possibility
liable to any impulse or 'shadow of turning' from another man's
suggestion, it was not eventually an injury that he was dishonored by some
of his connections; on him, invulnerable in his own character, neither a
harlot for his wife, nor a gladiator for his son, could inflict a wound.
Then as now, oh sacred lord Diocletian, he was reputed a god; not as
others are reputed, but specially and in a peculiar sense, and with a
privilege to such worship from all men as you yourself addressed to him--
who often breathe a wish to Heaven, that you were or could be such in life
and merciful disposition as was Marcus Aurelius."

What this encomiast says in a rhetorical tone was literally true. Marcus
was raised to divine honors, or canonized [Footnote: In reality, if by
_divus_ and _divine honors_ we understand a saint or spiritualized being
having a right of intercession with the Supreme Deity, and by his temple,
&c., if we understand a shrine attended by a priest to direct the prayers
of his devotees, there is no such wide chasm between this pagan
superstition and the adoration of saints in the Romish church, as at first
sight appears. The fault is purely in the names: _divus_ and _templum_ are
words too undistinguishing and generic.] (as in Christian phrase we might
express it.) That was a matter of course; and, considering with whom he
shared such honors, they are of little account in expressing the grief and
veneration which followed him. A circumstance more characteristic, in the
record of those observances which attested the public feeling, is this--
that he who at that time had no bust, picture, or statue of Marcus in his
house, was looked upon as a profane and irreligious man. Finally, to do
him honor not by testimonies of men's opinions in his favor, but by facts
of his own life and conduct, one memorable trophy there is amongst the
moral distinctions of the philosophic Cæsar, utterly unnoticed hitherto by
historians, but which will hereafter obtain a conspicuous place in any
perfect record of the steps by which civilization has advanced, and human
nature has been exalted. It is this: Marcus Aurelius was the first great
military leader (and his civil office as supreme interpreter and creator
of law consecrated his example) who allowed rights indefeasible--rights
uncancelled by his misfortune in the field, to the prisoner of war. Others
had been merciful and variously indulgent, upon their own discretion, and
upon a random impulse to some, or possibly to all of their prisoners; but
this was either in submission to the usage of that particular war, or to
special self-interest, or at most to individual good feeling. None had
allowed a prisoner to challenge any forbearance as of right. But Marcus
Aurelius first resolutely maintained that certain indestructible rights
adhered to every soldier, simply as a man, which rights, capture by the
sword, or any other accident of war, could do nothing to shake or to
diminish. We have noticed other instances in which Marcus Aurelius
labored, at the risk of his popularity, to elevate the condition of human
nature. But those, though equally expressing the goodness and loftiness of
his nature, were by accident directed to a perishable institution, which
time has swept away, and along with it therefore his reformations. Here,
however, is an immortal act of goodness built upon an immortal basis; for
so long as armies congregate, and the sword is the arbiter of
international quarrels, so long it will deserve to be had in remembrance,
that the first man who set limits to the empire of wrong, and first
translated within the jurisdiction of man's moral nature that state of war
which had heretofore been consigned, by principle no less than by
practice, to anarchy, animal violence, and brute force, was also the first
philosopher who sat upon a throne.

In this, and in his universal spirit of forgiveness, we cannot but
acknowledge a Christian by anticipation; nor can we hesitate to believe,
that through one or other of his many philosophic friends, [Footnote: Not
long after this, Alexander Severus meditated a temple to Christ; upon
which design Lampridius observes,--_Quod et Hadrianus cogitâsse
fertur;_ and, as Lampridius was himself a pagan, we believe him to have
been right in his report, in spite of all which has been written by
Casaubon and others, who maintain that these imperfect temples of Hadrian
were left void of all images or idols,--not in respect to the Christian
practice, but because he designed them eventually to be dedicated to
himself. However, be this as it may, thus much appears on the face of the
story,--that Christ and Christianity had by that time begun to challenge
the imperial attention; and of this there is an indirect indication, as it
has been interpreted, even in the memoir of Marcus himself. The passage is
this: "Fama fuit sane quod sub philosophorum specie quidam rempublicam
vexarent et privates." The _philosophi_, here mentioned by Capitoline, are
by some supposed to be the Christians; and for many reasons we believe it;
and we understand the molestations of the public services and of private
individuals, here charged upon them, as a very natural reference to the
Christian doctrines falsely understood. There is, by the way, a fine
remark upon Christianity, made by an infidel philosopher of Germany, which
suggests a remarkable feature in the merits of Marcus Aurelius. There
were, as this German philosopher used to observe, two schemes of thinking
amongst the ancients, which severally fulfilled the two functions of a
sound philosophy, as respected the moral nature of man. One of these
schemes presented us with a just ideal of moral excellence, a standard
sufficiently exalted: this was the Stoic philosophy; and thus far its
pretensions were unexceptionable and perfect. But unfortunately, whilst
contemplating this pure ideal of man as he ought to be, the Stoic totally
forgot the frail nature of man as he is; and by refusing all compromises
and all condescensions to human infirmity, this philosophy of the Porch
presented to us a brilliant prize and object for our efforts, but placed
on an inaccessible height.

On the other hand, there was a very different philosophy at the very
antagonist pole,--not blinding itself by abstractions too elevated,
submitting to what it finds, bending to the absolute facts and realities
of man's nature, and affably adapting itself to human imperfections. This
was the philosophy of Epicurus; and undoubtedly, as a beginning, and for
the elementary purpose of conciliating the affections of the pupil, it was
well devised; but here the misfortune was, that the ideal, or _maximum
perfectionis_, attainable by human nature, was pitched so low, that the
humility of its condescensions and the excellence of its means were all to
no purpose, as leading to nothing further. One mode presented a splendid
end, but insulated, and with no means fitted to a human aspirant for
communicating with its splendors; the other, an excellent road, but
leading to no worthy or proportionate end. Yet these, as regarded morals,
were the best and ultimate achievements of the pagan world. Now
Christianity, said he, is the synthesis of whatever is separately
excellent in either. It will abate as little as the haughtiest Stoicism of
the ideal which it contemplates as the first postulate of true morality;
the absolute holiness and purity which it demands are as much raised above
the poor performances of actual man, as the absolute wisdom and
impeccability of the Stoic. Yet, unlike the Stoic scheme, Christianity is
aware of the necessity, and provides for it, that the means of
appropriating this ideal perfection should be such as are consistent with
the nature of a most erring and imperfect creature. Its motion is
_towards_ the divine, but _by_ and _through_ the human. In fact, it offers
the Stoic humanized in his scheme of means, and the Epicurean exalted in
his final objects. Nor is it possible to conceive a practicable scheme of
morals which should not rest upon such a synthesis of the two elements as
the Christian scheme presents; nor any other mode of fulfilling that
demand than, such a one as is there first brought forward, viz., a double
or Janus nature, which stands in an equivocal relation,--to the divine
nature by his actual perfections, to the human nature by his participation
in the same animal frailties and capacities of fleshly temptation. No
other vinculum could bind the two postulates together, of an absolute
perfection in the end proposed, and yet of utter imperfection in the means
for attaining it.

Such was the outline of this famous tribute by an unbelieving philosopher
to the merits of Christianity as a scheme of moral discipline. Now, it
must be remembered that Marcus Aurelius was by profession a Stoic; and
that generally, as a theoretical philosopher, but still more as a Stoic
philosopher, he might be supposed incapable of descending from these airy
altitudes of speculation to the true needs, infirmities, and capacities of
human nature. Yet strange it is, that he, of all the good emperors, was
the most thoroughly human and practical. In evidence of which, one body of
records is amply sufficient, which is, the very extensive and wise reforms
which he, beyond all the Cæsars, executed in the existing laws. To all the
exigencies of the times, and to all the new necessities developed by the
progress of society, he adjusted the old laws, or supplied new ones. The
same praise, therefore, belongs to him, which the German philosopher
conceded to Christianity, of reconciling the austerest ideal with the
practical; and hence another argument for presuming him half baptized into
the new faith.] whose attention Christianity was by that time powerful to
attract, some reflex images of Christian doctrines--some half-conscious
perception of its perfect beauty--had flashed upon his mind. And when we
view him from this distant age, as heading that shining array, the Howards
and the Wilberforces, who have since then in a practical sense hearkened
to the sighs of "all prisoners and captives"--we are ready to suppose him
addressed by the great Founder of Christianity, in the words of Scripture,
"_Verily, I say unto thee, Thou art not far from the kingdom of

As a supplement to the reign of Marcus Aurelius, we ought to notice the
rise of one great rebel, the sole civil disturber of his time, in Syria.
This was Avidius Cassius, whose descent from Cassius (the noted
conspirator against the great Dictator, Julius) seems to have suggested to
him a wandering idea, and at length a formal purpose of restoring the
ancient republic. Avidius was the commander-in-chief of the Oriental army,
whose head-quarters were then fixed at Antioch. His native disposition,
which inclined him to cruelty, and his political views, made him, from his
first entrance upon office, a severe disciplinarian. The well known
enormities of the neighboring Daphne gave him ample opportunities for the
exercise of his harsh propensities in reforming the dissolute soldiery. He
amputated heads, arms, feet, and hams: he turned out his mutilated
victims, as walking spectacles of warning; he burned them; he smoked them
to death; and, in one instance, he crucified a detachment of his army,
together with their centurions, for having, unauthorized, gained a
splendid victory, and captured a large booty on the Danube. Upon this the
soldiers mutinied against him, in mere indignation at his tyranny.
However, he prosecuted his purpose, and prevailed, by his bold contempt of
the danger which menaced him. From the abuses in the army, he proceeded to
attack the abuses of the civil administration. But as these were protected
by the example of the great proconsular lieutenants and provincial
governors, policy obliged him to confine himself to verbal expressions of
anger; until at length, sensible that this impotent railing did but expose
him to contempt, he resolved to arm himself with the powers of radical
reform, by open rebellion. His ultimate purpose was the restoration of the
ancient republic, or, (as he himself expresses it in an interesting
letter, which yet survives,) "_ut in antiquum statum publica forma
reddatur_;" _i.e._ that the constitution should be restored to its
original condition. And this must be effected by military violence and the
aid of the executioner--or, in his own words, _multis gladiis, multis
elogiis_, (by innumerable sabres, by innumerable records of condemnation.)
Against this man Marcus was warned by his imperial colleague Lucius Verus,
in a very remarkable letter. After expressing his suspicions of him
generally, the writer goes on to say--"I would you had him closely
watched. For he is a general disliker of us and of our doings; he is
gathering together an enormous treasure, and he makes an open jest of our
literary pursuits. You, for instance, he calls a philosophizing old woman,
and me a dissolute buffoon and scamp. Consider what you would have done.
For my part, I bear the fellow no ill will; but again, I say, take care
that he does not do a mischief to yourself, or your children."

The answer of Marcus is noble and characteristic: "I have read your
letter, and I will confess to you I think it more scrupulously timid than
becomes an emperor, and timid in a way unsuited to the spirit of our
times. Consider this--if the empire is destined to Cassius by the decrees

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