Marius the Epicurean, Volume Two by Walter Horatio PaterHis sensations and ideas

Scanned and proofed by Alfred J. Drake ( MARIUS THE EPICUREAN, VOLUME TWO WALTER HORATIO PATER London: 1910. (The Library Edition.) NOTES BY THE E-TEXT EDITOR: Notes: The 1910 Library Edition employs footnotes, a style inconvenient in an electronic edition. I have therefore placed an asterisk immediately after each of Pater’s footnotes and a +
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Scanned and proofed by Alfred J. Drake (


London: 1910. (The Library Edition.)


Notes: The 1910 Library Edition employs footnotes, a style inconvenient in an electronic edition. I have therefore placed an asterisk immediately after each of Pater’s footnotes and a + sign after my own notes, and have listed each chapter’s notes at that chapter’s end.

Pagination and Paragraphing: To avoid an unwieldy electronic copy, I have transferred original pagination to brackets. A bracketed numeral such as [22] indicates that the material immediately following the number marks the beginning of the relevant page. I have preserved paragraph structure except for first-line indentation.

Hyphenation: I have not preserved original hyphenation since an e-text does not require line-end or page-end hyphenation.

Greek typeface: For this full-text edition, I have transliterated Pater’s Greek quotations. If there is a need for the original Greek, it can be viewed at my site,, a Victorianist archive that contains the complete works of Walter Pater and many other nineteenth-century texts, mostly in first editions.


Cheimerinos oneiros, hote mêkistai hai vyktes.+

+”A winter’s dream, when nights are longest.” Lucian, The Dream, Vol. 3.



15. Stoicism at Court: 3-13
16. Second Thoughts: 14-28
17. Beata Urbs: 29-40
18. “The Ceremony of the Dart”: 41-56 19. The Will as Vision: 57-72


20. Two Curious Houses–1. Guests: 75-91 21. Two Curious Houses–2. The Church in Cecilia’s House: 92-108 22. “The Minor Peace of the Church”: 109-127 23. Divine Service: 128-140
24. A Conversation Not Imaginary: 141-171 25. Sunt Lacrimae Rerum: 172-185
26. The Martyrs: 186-196
27. The Triumph of Marcus Aurelius: 197-207 28. Anima Naturaliter Christiana: 208-224



[3] THE very finest flower of the same company–Aurelius with the gilded fasces borne before him, a crowd of exquisites, the empress Faustina herself, and all the elegant blue-stockings of the day, who maintained, people said, their private “sophists” to whisper philosophy into their ears winsomely as they performed the duties of the toilet–was assembled again a few months later, in a different place and for a very different purpose. The temple of Peace, a “modernising” foundation of Hadrian, enlarged by a library and lecture-rooms, had grown into an institution like something between a college and a literary club; and here Cornelius Fronto was to pronounce a discourse on the Nature of Morals. There were some, indeed, who had desired the emperor Aurelius himself to declare his whole mind on this matter. Rhetoric was become almost a function of the state: philosophy was upon the throne; and had from time to time, by [4] request, delivered an official utterance with well-nigh divine authority. And it was as the delegate of this authority, under the full sanction of the philosophic emperor–emperor and pontiff, that the aged Fronto purposed to-day to expound some parts of the Stoic doctrine, with the view of recommending morals to that refined but perhaps prejudiced company, as being, in effect, one mode of comeliness in things–as it were music, or a kind of artistic order, in life. And he did this earnestly, with an outlay of all his science of mind, and that eloquence of which he was known to be a master. For Stoicism was no longer a rude and unkempt thing. Received at court, it had largely decorated itself: it was grown persuasive and insinuating, and sought not only to convince men’s intelligence but to allure their souls. Associated with the beautiful old age of the great rhetorician, and his winning voice, it was almost Epicurean. And the old man was at his best on the occasion; the last on which he ever appeared in this way. To-day was his own birthday. Early in the morning the imperial letter of congratulation had reached him; and all the pleasant animation it had caused was in his face, when assisted by his daughter Gratia he took his place on the ivory chair, as president of the Athenaeum of Rome, wearing with a wonderful grace the philosophic pall,–in reality neither more nor less than the loose woollen cloak of the common soldier, but fastened [5] on his right shoulder with a magnificent clasp, the emperor’s birthday gift.

It was an age, as abundant evidence shows, whose delight in rhetoric was but one result of a general susceptibility–an age not merely taking pleasure in words, but experiencing a great moral power in them. Fronto’s quaintly fashionable audience would have wept, and also assisted with their purses, had his present purpose been, as sometimes happened, the recommendation of an object of charity. As it was, arranging themselves at their ease among the images and flowers, these amateurs of exquisite language, with their tablets open for careful record of felicitous word or phrase, were ready to give themselves wholly to the intellectual treat prepared for them, applauding, blowing loud kisses through the air sometimes, at the speaker’s triumphant exit from one of his long, skilfully modulated sentences; while the younger of them meant to imitate everything about him, down to the inflections of his voice and the very folds of his mantle. Certainly there was rhetoric enough:–a wealth of imagery; illustrations from painting, music, mythology, the experiences of love; a management, by which subtle, unexpected meaning was brought out of familiar terms, like flies from morsels of amber, to use Fronto’s own figure. But with all its richness, the higher claim of his style was rightly understood to lie in gravity and self-command, and an especial care for the [6] purities of a vocabulary which rejected every expression unsanctioned by the authority of approved ancient models.

And it happened with Marius, as it will sometimes happen, that this general discourse to a general audience had the effect of an utterance adroitly designed for him. His conscience still vibrating painfully under the shock of that scene in the amphitheatre, and full of the ethical charm of Cornelius, he was questioning himself with much impatience as to the possibility of an adjustment between his own elaborately thought-out intellectual scheme and the “old morality.” In that intellectual scheme indeed the old morality had so far been allowed no place, as seeming to demand from him the admission of certain first principles such as might misdirect or retard him in his efforts towards a complete, many-sided existence; or distort the revelations of the experience of life; or curtail his natural liberty of heart and mind. But now (his imagination being occupied for the moment with the noble and resolute air, the gallantry, so to call it, which composed the outward mien and presentment of his strange friend’s inflexible ethics) he felt already some nascent suspicion of his philosophic programme, in regard, precisely, to the question of good taste. There was the taint of a graceless “antinomianism” perceptible in it, a dissidence, a revolt against accustomed modes, the actual impression of which on other [7] men might rebound upon himself in some loss of that personal pride to which it was part of his theory of life to allow so much. And it was exactly a moral situation such as this that Fronto appeared to be contemplating. He seemed to have before his mind the case of one–Cyrenaic or Epicurean, as the courtier tends to be, by habit and instinct, if not on principle–who yet experiences, actually, a strong tendency to moral assents, and a desire, with as little logical inconsistency as may be, to find a place for duty and righteousness in his house of thought.

And the Stoic professor found the key to this problem in the purely aesthetic beauty of the old morality, as an element in things, fascinating to the imagination, to good taste in its most highly developed form, through association–a system or order, as a matter of fact, in possession, not only of the larger world, but of the rare minority of élite intelligences; from which, therefore, least of all would the sort of Epicurean he had in view endure to become, so to speak, an outlaw. He supposed his hearer to be, with all sincerity, in search after some principle of conduct (and it was here that he seemed to Marius to be speaking straight to him) which might give unity of motive to an actual rectitude, a cleanness and probity of life, determined partly by natural affection, partly by enlightened self-interest or the feeling of honour, due in part even to the mere fear of penalties; no element of which, [8] however, was distinctively moral in the agent himself as such, and providing him, therefore, no common ground with a really moral being like Cornelius, or even like the philosophic emperor. Performing the same offices; actually satisfying, even as they, the external claims of others; rendering to all their dues–one thus circumstanced would be wanting, nevertheless, in the secret of inward adjustment to the moral agents around him. How tenderly–more tenderly than many stricter souls–he might yield himself to kindly instinct! what fineness of charity in passing judgment on others! what an exquisite conscience of other men’s susceptibilities! He knows for how much the manner, because the heart itself, counts, in doing a kindness. He goes beyond most people in his care for all weakly creatures; judging, instinctively, that to be but sentient is to possess rights. He conceives a hundred duties, though he may not call them by that name, of the existence of which purely duteous souls may have no suspicion. He has a kind of pride in doing more than they, in a way of his own. Sometimes, he may think that those men of line and rule do not really understand their own business. How narrow, inflexible, unintelligent! what poor guardians (he may reason) of the inward spirit of righteousness, are some supposed careful walkers according to its letter and form. And yet all the while he admits, as such, no moral world at all: no [9] theoretic equivalent to so large a proportion of the facts of life.

But, over and above such practical rectitude, thus determined by natural affection or self-love or fear, he may notice that there is a remnant of right conduct, what he does, still more what he abstains from doing, not so much through his own free election, as from a deference, an “assent,” entire, habitual, unconscious, to custom–to the actual habit or fashion of others, from whom he could not endure to break away, any more than he would care to be out of agreement with them on questions of mere manner, or, say, even, of dress. Yes! there were the evils, the vices, which he avoided as, essentially, a failure in good taste. An assent, such as this, to the preferences of others, might seem to be the weakest of motives, and the rectitude it could determine the least considerable element in a moral life. Yet here, according to Cornelius Fronto, was in truth the revealing example, albeit operating upon comparative trifles, of the general principle required. There was one great idea associated with which that determination to conform to precedent was elevated into the clearest, the fullest, the weightiest principle of moral action; a principle under which one might subsume men’s most strenuous efforts after righteousness. And he proceeded to expound the idea of Humanity–of a universal commonwealth of mind, which [10] becomes explicit, and as if incarnate, in a select communion of just men made perfect.

Ho kosmos hôsanei polis estin+–the world is as it were a commonwealth, a city: and there are observances, customs, usages, actually current in it, things our friends and companions will expect of us, as the condition of our living there with them at all, as really their peers or fellow-citizens. Those observances were, indeed, the creation of a visible or invisible aristocracy in it, whose actual manners, whose preferences from of old, become now a weighty tradition as to the way in which things should or should not be done, are like a music, to which the intercourse of life proceeds–such a music as no one who had once caught its harmonies would willingly jar. In this way, the becoming, as in Greek–to prepon: or ta êthê+ mores, manners, as both Greeks and Romans said, would indeed be a comprehensive term for duty. Righteousness would be, in the words of “Caesar” himself, of the philosophic Aurelius, but a “following of the reasonable will of the oldest, the most venerable, of cities, of polities–of the royal, the law-giving element, therein–forasmuch as we are citizens also in that supreme city on high, of which all other cities beside are but as single habitations.” But as the old man spoke with animation of this supreme city, this invisible society, whose conscience was become explicit in its inner circle of inspired souls, of whose [11] common spirit, the trusted leaders of human conscience had been but the mouthpiece, of whose successive personal preferences in the conduct of life, the “old morality” was the sum,–Marius felt that his own thoughts were passing beyond the actual intention of the speaker; not in the direction of any clearer theoretic or abstract definition of that ideal commonwealth, but rather as if in search of its visible locality and abiding-place, the walls and towers of which, so to speak, he might really trace and tell, according to his own old, natural habit of mind. It would be the fabric, the outward fabric, of a system reaching, certainly, far beyond the great city around him, even if conceived in all the machinery of its visible and invisible influences at their grandest–as Augustus or Trajan might have conceived of them–however well the visible Rome might pass for a figure of that new, unseen, Rome on high. At moments, Marius even asked himself with surprise, whether it might be some vast secret society the speaker had in view:–that august community, to be an outlaw from which, to be foreign to the manners of which, was a loss so much greater than to be excluded, into the ends of the earth, from the sovereign Roman commonwealth. Humanity, a universal order, the great polity, its aristocracy of elect spirits, the mastery of their example over their successors–these were the ideas, stimulating enough in their way, [12] by association with which the Stoic professor had attempted to elevate, to unite under a single principle, men’s moral efforts, himself lifted up with so genuine an enthusiasm. But where might Marius search for all this, as more than an intellectual abstraction? Where were those elect souls in whom the claim of Humanity became so amiable, winning, persuasive–whose footsteps through the world were so beautiful in the actual order he saw–whose faces averted from him, would be more than he could bear? Where was that comely order, to which as a great fact of experience he must give its due; to which, as to all other beautiful “phenomena” in life, he must, for his own peace, adjust himself?

Rome did well to be serious. The discourse ended somewhat abruptly, as the noise of a great crowd in motion was heard below the walls; whereupon, the audience, following the humour of the younger element in it, poured into the colonnade, from the steps of which the famous procession, or transvectio, of the military knights was to be seen passing over the Forum, from their trysting-place at the temple of Mars, to the temple of the Dioscuri. The ceremony took place this year, not on the day accustomed–anniversary of the victory of Lake Regillus, with its pair of celestial assistants–and amid the heat and roses of a Roman July, but, by [13] anticipation, some months earlier, the almond-trees along the way being still in leafless flower. Through that light trellis-work, Marius watched the riders, arrayed in all their gleaming ornaments, and wearing wreaths of olive around their helmets, the faces below which, what with battle and the plague, were almost all youthful. It was a flowery scene enough, but had to-day its fulness of war-like meaning; the return of the army to the North, where the enemy was again upon the move, being now imminent. Cornelius had ridden along in his place, and, on the dismissal of the company, passed below the steps where Marius stood, with that new song he had heard once before floating from his lips.


10. +Transliteration: Ho kosmos hôsanei polis estin. Translation: “The world is like a city.”

10. +Transliteration: to prepon . . . ta êthê. Translation: “That which is seemly . . . mores.”


[14] AND Marius, for his part, was grave enough. The discourse of Cornelius Fronto, with its wide prospect over the human, the spiritual, horizon, had set him on a review–on a review of the isolating narrowness, in particular, of his own theoretic scheme. Long after the very latest roses were faded, when “the town” had departed to country villas, or the baths, or the war, he remained behind in Rome; anxious to try the lastingness of his own Epicurean rose-garden; setting to work over again, and deliberately passing from point to point of his old argument with himself, down to its practical conclusions. That age and our own have much in common– many difficulties and hopes. Let the reader pardon me if here and there I seem to be passing from Marius to his modern representatives –from Rome, to Paris or London.

What really were its claims as a theory of practice, of the sympathies that determine [15] practice? It had been a theory, avowedly, of loss and gain (so to call it) of an economy. If, therefore, it missed something in the commerce of life, which some other theory of practice was able to include, if it made a needless sacrifice, then it must be, in a manner, inconsistent with itself, and lack theoretic completeness. Did it make such a sacrifice? What did it lose, or cause one to lose?

And we may note, as Marius could hardly have done, that Cyrenaicism is ever the characteristic philosophy of youth, ardent, but narrow in its survey–sincere, but apt to become one-sided, or even fanatical. It is one of those subjective and partial ideals, based on vivid, because limited, apprehension of the truth of one aspect of experience (in this case, of the beauty of the world and the brevity of man’s life there) which it may be said to be the special vocation of the young to express. In the school of Cyrene, in that comparatively fresh Greek world, we see this philosophy where it is least blasé, as we say; in its most pleasant, its blithest and yet perhaps its wisest form, youthfully bright in the youth of European thought. But it grows young again for a while in almost every youthful soul. It is spoken of sometimes as the appropriate utterance of jaded men; but in them it can hardly be sincere, or, by the nature of the case, an enthusiasm. “Walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes,” is, indeed, most often, [16] according to the supposition of the book from which I quote it, the counsel of the young, who feel that the sunshine is pleasant along their veins, and wintry weather, though in a general sense foreseen, a long way off. The youthful enthusiasm or fanaticism, the self- abandonment to one favourite mode of thought or taste, which occurs, quite naturally, at the outset of every really vigorous intellectual career, finds its special opportunity in a theory such as that so carefully put together by Marius, just because it seems to call on one to make the sacrifice, accompanied by a vivid sensation of power and will, of what others value–sacrifice of some conviction, or doctrine, or supposed first principle–for the sake of that clear- eyed intellectual consistency, which is like spotless bodily cleanliness, or scrupulous personal honour, and has itself for the mind of the youthful student, when he first comes to appreciate it, the fascination of an ideal.

The Cyrenaic doctrine, then, realised as a motive of strenuousness or enthusiasm, is not so properly the utterance of the “jaded Epicurean,” as of the strong young man in all the freshness of thought and feeling, fascinated by the notion of raising his life to the level of a daring theory, while, in the first genial heat of existence, the beauty of the physical world strikes potently upon his wide-open, unwearied senses. He discovers a great new poem every spring, with a hundred delightful things he too has felt, but [16] which have never been expressed, or at least never so truly, before. The workshops of the artists, who can select and set before us what is really most distinguished in visible life, are open to him. He thinks that the old Platonic, or the new Baconian philosophy, has been better explained than by the authors themselves, or with some striking original development, this very month. In the quiet heat of early summer, on the dusty gold morning, the music comes, louder at intervals, above the hum of voices from some neighbouring church, among the flowering trees, valued now, perhaps, only for the poetically rapt faces among priests or worshippers, or the mere skill and eloquence, it may be, of its preachers of faith and righteousness. In his scrupulous idealism, indeed, he too feels himself to be something of a priest, and that devotion of his days to the contemplation of what is beautiful, a sort of perpetual religious service. Afar off, how many fair cities and delicate sea-coasts await him! At that age, with minds of a certain constitution, no very choice or exceptional circumstances are needed to provoke an enthusiasm something like this. Life in modern London even, in the heavy glow of summer, is stuff sufficient for the fresh imagination of a youth to build its “palace of art” of; and the very sense and enjoyment of an experience in which all is new, are but enhanced, like that glow of summer itself, by the [18] thought of its brevity, giving him something of a gambler’s zest, in the apprehension, by dexterous act or diligently appreciative thought, of the highly coloured moments which are to pass away so quickly. At bottom, perhaps, in his elaborately developed self-consciousness, his sensibilities, his almost fierce grasp upon the things he values at all, he has, beyond all others, an inward need of something permanent in its character, to hold by: of which circumstance, also, he may be partly aware, and that, as with the brilliant Claudio in Measure for Measure, it is, in truth, but darkness he is, “encountering, like a bride.” But the inevitable falling of the curtain is probably distant; and in the daylight, at least, it is not often that he really shudders at the thought of the grave–the weight above, the narrow world and its company, within. When the thought of it does occur to him, he may say to himself:–Well! and the rude monk, for instance, who has renounced all this, on the security of some dim world beyond it, really acquiesces in that “fifth act,” amid all the consoling ministries around him, as little as I should at this moment; though I may hope, that, as at the real ending of a play, however well acted, I may already have had quite enough of it, and find a true well-being in eternal sleep.

And precisely in this circumstance, that, consistently with the function of youth in general, Cyrenaicism will always be more or [19] less the special philosophy, or “prophecy,” of the young, when the ideal of a rich experience comes to them in the ripeness of the receptive, if not of the reflective, powers–precisely in this circumstance, if we rightly consider it, lies the duly prescribed corrective of that philosophy. For it is by its exclusiveness, and by negation rather than positively, that such theories fail to satisfy us permanently; and what they really need for their correction, is the complementary influence of some greater system, in which they may find their due place. That Sturm und Drang of the spirit, as it has been called, that ardent and special apprehension of half-truths, in the enthusiastic, and as it were “prophetic” advocacy of which, devotion to truth, in the case of the young– apprehending but one point at a time in the great circumference–most usually embodies itself, is levelled down, safely enough, afterwards, as in history so in the individual, by the weakness and mere weariness, as well as by the maturer wisdom, of our nature. And though truth indeed, resides, as has been said, “in the whole”–in harmonisings and adjustments like this–yet those special apprehensions may still owe their full value, in this sense of “the whole,” to that earlier, one-sided but ardent pre-occupation with them.

Cynicism and Cyrenaicism:–they are the earlier Greek forms of Roman Stoicism and Epicureanism, and in that world of old Greek [20] thought, we may notice with some surprise that, in a little while, the nobler form of Cyrenaicism–Cyrenaicism cured of its faults–met the nobler form of Cynicism half-way. Starting from opposed points, they merged, each in its most refined form, in a single ideal of temperance or moderation. Something of the same kind may be noticed regarding some later phases of Cyrenaic theory. If it starts with considerations opposed to the religious temper, which the religious temper holds it a duty to repress, it is like it, nevertheless, and very unlike any lower development of temper, in its stress and earnestness, its serious application to the pursuit of a very unworldly type of perfection. The saint, and the Cyrenaic lover of beauty, it may be thought, would at least understand each other better than either would understand the mere man of the world. Carry their respective positions a point further, shift the terms a little, and they might actually touch.

Perhaps all theories of practice tend, as they rise to their best, as understood by their worthiest representatives, to identification with each other. For the variety of men’s possible reflections on their experience, as of that experience itself, is not really so great as it seems; and as the highest and most disinterested ethical formulae, filtering down into men’s everyday existence, reach the same poor level of vulgar egotism, so, we may fairly suppose that all the highest spirits, from [21] whatever contrasted points they have started, would yet be found to entertain, in the moral consciousness realised by themselves, much the same kind of mental company; to hold, far more than might be thought probable, at first sight, the same personal types of character, and even the same artistic and literary types, in esteem or aversion; to convey, all of them alike, the same savour of unworldliness. And Cyrenaicism or Epicureanism too, new or old, may be noticed, in proportion to the completeness of its development, to approach, as to the nobler form of Cynicism, so also to the more nobly developed phases of the old, or traditional morality. In the gravity of its conception of life, in its pursuit after nothing less than a perfection, in its apprehension of the value of time–the passion and the seriousness which are like a consecration–la passion et le sérieux qui consacrent–it may be conceived, as regards its main drift, to be not so much opposed to the old morality, as an exaggeration of one special motive in it.

Some cramping, narrowing, costly preference of one part of his own nature, and of the nature of things, to another, Marius seemed to have detected in himself, meantime,–in himself, as also in those old masters of the Cyrenaic philosophy. If they did realise the monochronos hêdonê+ as it was called–the pleasure of the “Ideal Now”– if certain moments of their lives were high-pitched, passionately coloured, intent with sensation, [22] and a kind of knowledge which, in its vivid clearness, was like sensation–if, now and then, they apprehended the world in its fulness, and had a vision, almost “beatific,” of ideal personalities in life and art, yet these moments were a very costly matter: they paid a great price for them, in the sacrifice of a thousand possible sympathies, of things only to be enjoyed through sympathy, from which they detached themselves, in intellectual pride, in loyalty to a mere theory that would take nothing for granted, and assent to no approximate or hypothetical truths. In their unfriendly, repellent attitude towards the Greek religion, and the old Greek morality, surely, they had been but faulty economists. The Greek religion was then alive: then, still more than in its later day of dissolution, the higher view of it was possible, even for the philosopher. Its story made little or no demand for a reasoned or formal acceptance. A religion, which had grown through and through man’s life, with so much natural strength; had meant so much for so many generations; which expressed so much of their hopes, in forms so familiar and so winning; linked by associations so manifold to man as he had been and was–a religion like this, one would think, might have had its uses, even for a philosophic sceptic. Yet those beautiful gods, with the whole round of their poetic worship, the school of Cyrene definitely renounced.

[23] The old Greek morality, again, with all its imperfections, was certainly a comely thing.–Yes! a harmony, a music, in men’s ways, one might well hesitate to jar. The merely aesthetic sense might have had a legitimate satisfaction in the spectacle of that fair order of choice manners, in those attractive conventions, enveloping, so gracefully, the whole of life, insuring some sweetness, some security at least against offence, in the intercourse of the world. Beyond an obvious utility, it could claim, indeed but custom–use- and-wont, as we say–for its sanction. But then, one of the advantages of that liberty of spirit among the Cyrenaics (in which, through theory, they had become dead to theory, so that all theory, as such, was really indifferent to them, and indeed nothing valuable but in its tangible ministration to life) was precisely this, that it gave them free play in using as their ministers or servants, things which, to the uninitiated, must be masters or nothing. Yet, how little the followers of Aristippus made of that whole comely system of manners or morals, then actually in possession of life, is shown by the bold practical consequence, which one of them maintained (with a hard, self-opinionated adherence to his peculiar theory of values) in the not very amiable paradox that friendship and patriotism were things one could do without; while another–Death’s-advocate, as he was called–helped so many to self-destruction, by his [24] pessimistic eloquence on the evils of life, that his lecture-room was closed. That this was in the range of their consequences–that this was a possible, if remote, deduction from the premisses of the discreet Aristippus–was surely an inconsistency in a thinker who professed above all things an economy of the moments of life. And yet those old Cyrenaics felt their way, as if in the dark, we may be sure, like other men in the ordinary transactions of life, beyond the narrow limits they drew of clear and absolutely legitimate knowledge, admitting what was not of immediate sensation, and drawing upon that “fantastic” future which might never come. A little more of such “walking by faith,” a little more of such not unreasonable “assent,” and they might have profited by a hundred services to their culture, from Greek religion and Greek morality, as they actually were. The spectacle of their fierce, exclusive, tenacious hold on their own narrow apprehension, makes one think of a picture with no relief, no soft shadows nor breadth of space, or of a drama without proportionate repose.

Yet it was of perfection that Marius (to return to him again from his masters, his intellectual heirs) had been really thinking all the time: a narrow perfection it might be objected, the perfection of but one part of his nature–his capacities of feeling, of exquisite physical impressions, of an imaginative sympathy–but still, a true perfection of those capacities, wrought out [25] to their utmost degree, admirable enough in its way. He too is an economist: he hopes, by that “insight” of which the old Cyrenaics made so much, by skilful apprehension of the conditions of spiritual success as they really are, the special circumstances of the occasion with which he has to deal, the special felicities of his own nature, to make the most, in no mean or vulgar sense, of the few years of life; few, indeed, for the attainment of anything like general perfection! With the brevity of that sum of years his mind is exceptionally impressed; and this purpose makes him no frivolous dilettante, but graver than other men: his scheme is not that of a trifler, but rather of one who gives a meaning of his own, yet a very real one, to those old words– Let us work while it is day! He has a strong apprehension, also, of the beauty of the visible things around him; their fading, momentary, graces and attractions. His natural susceptibility in this direction, enlarged by experience, seems to demand of him an almost exclusive pre-occupation with the aspects of things; with their aesthetic character, as it is called–their revelations to the eye and the imagination: not so much because those aspects of them yield him the largest amount of enjoyment, as because to be occupied, in this way, with the aesthetic or imaginative side of things, is to be in real contact with those elements of his own nature, and of theirs, which, for him at [26] least, are matter of the most real kind of appre-hension. As other men are concentrated upon truths of number, for instance, or on business, or it may be on the pleasures of appetite, so he is wholly bent on living in that full stream of refined sensation. And in the prosecution of this love of beauty, he claims an entire personal liberty, liberty of heart and mind, liberty, above all, from what may seem conventional answers to first questions.

But, without him there is a venerable system of sentiment and idea, widely extended in time and place, in a kind of impregnable possession of human life–a system, which, like some other great products of the conjoint efforts of human mind through many generations, is rich in the world’s experience; so that, in attaching oneself to it, one lets in a great tide of that experience, and makes, as it were with a single step, a great experience of one’s own, and with great consequent increase to one’s sense of colour, variety, and relief, in the spectacle of men and things. The mere sense that one belongs to a system–an imperial system or organisation–has, in itself, the expanding power of a great experience; as some have felt who have been admitted from narrower sects into the communion of the catholic church; or as the old Roman citizen felt. It is, we might fancy, what the coming into possession of a very widely spoken language might be, with a great literature, which is also [27] the speech of the people we have to live among.

A wonderful order, actually in possession of human life!–grown inextricably through and through it; penetrating into its laws, its very language, its mere habits of decorum, in a thousand half- conscious ways; yet still felt to be, in part, an unfulfilled ideal; and, as such, awakening hope, and an aim, identical with the one only consistent aspiration of mankind! In the apprehension of that, just then, Marius seemed to have joined company once more with his own old self; to have overtaken on the road the pilgrim who had come to Rome, with absolute sincerity, on the search for perfection. It defined not so much a change of practice, as of sympathy–a new departure, an expansion, of sympathy. It involved, certainly, some curtailment of his liberty, in concession to the actual manner, the distinctions, the enactments of that great crowd of admirable spirits, who have elected so, and not otherwise, in their conduct of life, and are not here to give one, so to term it, an “indulgence.” But then, under the supposition of their disapproval, no roses would ever seem worth plucking again. The authority they exercised was like that of classic taste–an influence so subtle, yet so real, as defining the loyalty of the scholar; or of some beautiful and venerable ritual, in which every observance is become spontaneous and almost mechanical, yet is found, [28] the more carefully one considers it, to have a reasonable significance and a natural history.

And Marius saw that he would be but an inconsistent Cyrenaic, mistaken in his estimate of values, of loss and gain, and untrue to the well-considered economy of life which he had brought with him to Rome–that some drops of the great cup would fall to the ground–if he did not make that concession, if he did but remain just there.


21. +Transliteration: monochronos hêdonê. Pater’s definition “the pleasure of the ideal present, of the mystic now.” The definition is fitting; the unusual adjective monochronos means, literally, “single or unitary time.”


“Many prophets and kings have desired to see the things which ye see.”

[29] THE enemy on the Danube was, indeed, but the vanguard of the mighty invading hosts of the fifth century. Illusively repressed just now, those confused movements along the northern boundary of the Empire were destined to unite triumphantly at last, in the barbarism, which, powerless to destroy the Christian church, was yet to suppress for a time the achieved culture of the pagan world. The kingdom of Christ was to grow up in a somewhat false alienation from the light and beauty of the kingdom of nature, of the natural man, with a partly mistaken tradition concerning it, and an incapacity, as it might almost seem at times, for eventual reconciliation thereto. Meantime Italy had armed itself once more, in haste, and the imperial brothers set forth for the Alps.

Whatever misgiving the Roman people may [30] have felt as to the leadership of the younger was unexpectedly set at rest; though with some temporary regret for the loss of what had been, after all, a popular figure on the world’s stage. Travelling fraternally in the same litter with Aurelius, Lucius Verus was struck with sudden and mysterious disease, and died as he hastened back to Rome. His death awoke a swarm of sinister rumours, to settle on Lucilla, jealous, it was said, of Fabia her sister, perhaps of Faustina–on Faustina herself, who had accompanied the imperial progress, and was anxious now to hide a crime of her own–even on the elder brother, who, beforehand with the treasonable designs of his colleague, should have helped him at supper to a favourite morsel, cut with a knife poisoned ingeniously on one side only. Aurelius, certainly, with sincere distress, his long irritations, so dutifully concealed or repressed, turning now into a single feeling of regret for the human creature, carried the remains back to Rome, and demanded of the Senate a public funeral, with a decree for the apotheôsis, or canonisation, of the dead.

For three days the body lay in state in the Forum, enclosed in an open coffin of cedar-wood, on a bed of ivory and gold, in the centre of a sort of temporary chapel, representing the temple of his patroness Venus Genetrix. Armed soldiers kept watch around it, while choirs of select voices relieved one another in the chanting of hymns or monologues from the great tragedians.

[31] At the head of the couch were displayed the various personal decorations which had belonged to Verus in life. Like all the rest of Rome, Marius went to gaze on the face he had seen last scarcely disguised under the hood of a travelling-dress, as the wearer hurried, at night-fall, along one of the streets below the palace, to some amorous appointment. Unfamiliar as he still was with dead faces, he was taken by surprise, and touched far beyond what he had reckoned on, by the piteous change there; even the skill of Galen having been not wholly successful in the process of embalming. It was as if a brother of his own were lying low before him, with that meek and helpless expression it would have been a sacrilege to treat rudely.

Meantime, in the centre of the Campus Martius, within the grove of poplars which enclosed the space where the body of Augustus had been burnt, the great funeral pyre, stuffed with shavings of various aromatic woods, was built up in many stages, separated from each other by a light entablature of woodwork, and adorned abundantly with carved and tapestried images. Upon this pyramidal or flame-shaped structure lay the corpse, hidden now under a mountain of flowers and incense brought by the women, who from the first had had their fondness for the wanton graces of the deceased. The dead body was surmounted by a waxen effigy of great size, arrayed in the triumphal ornaments. [32] At last the Centurions to whom that office belonged, drew near, torch in hand, to ignite the pile at its four corners, while the soldiers, in wild excitement, flung themselves around it, casting into the flames the decorations they had received for acts of valour under the dead emperor’s command.

It had been a really heroic order, spoiled a little, at the last moment, through the somewhat tawdry artifice, by which an eagle–not a very noble or youthful specimen of its kind–was caused to take flight amid the real or affected awe of the spectators, above the perishing remains; a court chamberlain, according to ancient etiquette, subsequently making official declaration before the Senate, that the imperial “genius” had been seen in this way, escaping from the fire. And Marius was present when the Fathers, duly certified of the fact, by “acclamation,” muttering their judgment all together, in a kind of low, rhythmical chant, decreed Caelum–the privilege of divine rank to the departed.

The actual gathering of the ashes in a white cere-cloth by the widowed Lucilla, when the last flicker had been extinguished by drops of wine; and the conveyance of them to the little cell, already populous, in the central mass of the sepulchre of Hadrian, still in all the splendour of its statued colonnades, were a matter of private or domestic duty; after the due accomplishment of which Aurelius was at [33] liberty to retire for a time into the privacy o his beloved apartments of the Palatine. And hither, not long afterwards, Marius was summoned a second time, to receive from the imperial hands the great pile of Manuscripts it would be his business to revise and arrange.

One year had passed since his first visit to the palace; and as he climbed the stairs to-day, the great cypresses rocked against the sunless sky, like living creatures in pain. He had to traverse a long subterranean gallery, once a secret entrance to the imperial apartments, and in our own day, amid the ruin of all around it, as smooth and fresh as if the carpets were but just removed from its floor after the return of the emperor from the shows. It was here, on such an occasion, that the emperor Caligula, at the age of twenty- nine, had come by his end, the assassins gliding along it as he lingered a few moments longer to watch the movements of a party of noble youths at their exercise in the courtyard below. As Marius waited, a second time, in that little red room in the house of the chief chamberlain, curious to look once more upon its painted walls– the very place whither the assassins were said to have turned for refuge after the murder–he could all but see the figure, which in its surrounding light and darkness seemed to him the most melancholy in the entire history of Rome. He called to mind the greatness of that popularity and early [34] promise–the stupefying height of irresponsible power, from which, after all, only men’s viler side had been clearly visible–the overthrow of reason–the seemingly irredeemable memory; and still, above all, the beautiful head in which the noble lines of the race of Augustus were united to, he knew not what expression of sensibility and fineness, not theirs, and for the like of which one must pass onward to the Antonines. Popular hatred had been careful to destroy its semblance wherever it was to be found; but one bust, in dark bronze-like basalt of a wonderful perfection of finish, preserved in the museum of the Capitol, may have seemed to some visitors there perhaps the finest extant relic of Roman art. Had the very seal of empire upon those sombre brows, reflected from his mirror, suggested his insane attempt upon the liberties, the dignity of men?–“O humanity!” he seems to ask, “what hast thou done to me that I should so despise thee?”–And might not this be indeed the true meaning of kingship, if the world would have one man to reign over it? The like of this: or, some incredible, surely never to be realised, height of disinterestedness, in a king who should be the servant of all, quite at the other extreme of the practical dilemma involved in such a position. Not till some while after his death had the body been decently interred by the piety of the sisters he had driven into exile. Fraternity [35] of feeling had been no invariable feature in the incidents of Roman story. One long Vicus Sceleratus, from its first dim foundation in fraternal quarrel on the morrow of a common deliverance so touching–had not almost every step in it some gloomy memory of unnatural violence? Romans did well to fancy the traitress Tarpeia still “green in earth,” crowned, enthroned, at the roots of the Capitoline rock. If in truth the religion of Rome was everywhere in it, like that perfume of the funeral incense still upon the air, so also was the memory of crime prompted by a hypocritical cruelty, down to the erring, or not erring, Vesta calmly buried alive there, only eighty years ago, under Domitian.

It was with a sense of relief that Marius found himself in the presence of Aurelius, whose gesture of friendly intelligence, as he entered, raised a smile at the gloomy train of his own thoughts just then, although since his first visit to the palace a great change had passed over it. The clear daylight found its way now into empty rooms. To raise funds for the war, Aurelius, his luxurious brother being no more, had determined to sell by auction the accumulated treasures of the imperial household. The works of art, the dainty furniture, had been removed, and were now “on view” in the Forum, to be the delight or dismay, for many weeks to come, of the [36] large public of those who were curious in these things. In such wise had Aurelius come to the condition of philosophic detachment he had affected as a boy, hardly persuaded to wear warm clothing, or to sleep in more luxurious manner than on the bare floor. But, in his empty house, the man of mind, who had always made so much of the pleasures of philosophic contemplation, felt freer in thought than ever. He had been reading, with less self-reproach than usual, in the Republic of Plato, those passages which describe the life of the philosopher-kings–like that of hired servants in their own house– who, possessed of the “gold undefiled” of intellectual vision, forgo so cheerfully all other riches. It was one of his happy days: one of those rare days, when, almost with none of the effort, otherwise so constant with him, his thoughts came rich and full, and converged in a mental view, as exhilarating to him as the prospect of some wide expanse of landscape to another man’s bodily eye. He seemed to lie readier than was his wont to the imaginative influence of the philosophic reason–to its suggestions of a possible open country, commencing just where all actual experience leaves off, but which experience, one’s own and not another’s, may one day occupy. In fact, he was seeking strength for himself, in his own way, before he started for that ambiguous earthly warfare [37] which was to occupy the remainder of his life. “Ever remember this,” he writes, “that a happy life depends, not on many things–en oligistois keitai.”+ And to-day, committing himself with a steady effort of volition to the mere silence of the great empty apartments, he might be said to have escaped, according to Plato’s promise to those who live closely with philosophy, from the evils of the world.

In his “conversations with himself” Marcus Aurelius speaks often of that City on high, of which all other cities are but single habitations. From him in fact Cornelius Fronto, in his late discourse, had borrowed the expression; and he certainly meant by it more than the whole commonwealth of Rome, in any idealisation of it, however sublime. Incorporate somehow with the actual city whose goodly stones were lying beneath his gaze, it was also implicate in that reasonable constitution of nature, by devout contemplation of which it is possible for man to associate himself to the consciousness of God. In that New Rome he had taken up his rest for awhile on this day, deliberately feeding his thoughts on the better air of it, as another might have gone for mental renewal to a favourite villa.

“Men seek retirement in country-houses,” he writes, “on the sea- coast, on the mountains; and you have yourself as much fondness for such places as another. But there is little proof of culture therein; since the privilege is yours of [38] retiring into yourself whensoever you please,– into that little farm of one’s own mind, where a silence so profound may be enjoyed.” That it could make these retreats, was a plain consequence of the kingly prerogative of the mind, its dominion over circumstance, its inherent liberty.–“It is in thy power to think as thou wilt: The essence of things is in thy thoughts about them: All is opinion, conception: No man can be hindered by another: What is outside thy circle of thought is nothing at all to it; hold to this, and you are safe: One thing is needful– to live close to the divine genius within thee, and minister thereto worthily.” And the first point in this true ministry, this culture, was to maintain one’s soul in a condition of indifference and calm. How continually had public claims, the claims of other persons, with their rough angularities of character, broken in upon him, the shepherd of the flock. But after all he had at least this privilege he could not part with, of thinking as he would; and it was well, now and then, by a conscious effort of will, to indulge it for a while, under systematic direction. The duty of thus making discreet, systematic use of the power of imaginative vision for purposes of spiritual culture, “since the soul takes colour from its fantasies,” is a point he has frequently insisted on.

The influence of these seasonable meditations–a symbol, or sacrament, because an intensified [39] condition, of the soul’s own ordinary and natural life–would remain upon it, perhaps for many days. There were experiences he could not forget, intuitions beyond price, he had come by in this way, which were almost like the breaking of a physical light upon his mind; as the great Augustus was said to have seen a mysterious physical splendour, yonder, upon the summit of the Capitol, where the altar of the Sibyl now stood. With a prayer, therefore, for inward quiet, for conformity to the divine reason, he read some select passages of Plato, which bear upon the harmony of the reason, in all its forms, with itself–“Could there be Cosmos, that wonderful, reasonable order, in him, and nothing but disorder in the world without?” It was from this question he had passed on to the vision of a reasonable, a divine, order, not in nature, but in the condition of human affairs–that unseen Celestial City, Uranopolis, Callipolis, Urbs Beata–in which, a consciousness of the divine will being everywhere realised, there would be, among other felicitous differences from this lower visible world, no more quite hopeless death, of men, or children, or of their affections. He had tried to-day, as never before, to make the most of this vision of a New Rome, to realise it as distinctly as he could,–and, as it were, find his way along its streets, ere he went down into a world so irksomely different, to make his practical effort towards it, with a soul full of [40] compassion for men as they were. However distinct the mental image might have been to him, with the descent of but one flight of steps into the market-place below, it must have retreated again, as if at touch of some malign magic wand, beyond the utmost verge of the horizon. But it had been actually, in his clearest vision of it, a confused place, with but a recognisable entry, a tower or fountain, here or there, and haunted by strange faces, whose novel expression he, the great physiognomist, could by no means read. Plato, indeed, had been able to articulate, to see, at least in thought, his ideal city. But just because Aurelius had passed beyond Plato, in the scope of the gracious charities he pre- supposed there, he had been unable really to track his way about it. Ah! after all, according to Plato himself, all vision was but reminiscence, and this, his heart’s desire, no place his soul could ever have visited in any region of the old world’s achievements. He had but divined, by a kind of generosity of spirit, the void place, which another experience than his must fill.

Yet Marius noted the wonderful expression of peace, of quiet pleasure, on the countenance of Aurelius, as he received from him the rolls of fine clear manuscript, fancying the thoughts of the emperor occupied at the moment with the famous prospect towards the Alban hills, from those lofty windows.


37. +Transliteration: en oligistois keitai. Definition “it lies in the fewest [things].”


[41] THE ideas of Stoicism, so precious to Marcus Aurelius, ideas of large generalisation, have sometimes induced, in those over whose intellects they have had real power, a coldness of heart. It was the distinction of Aurelius that he was able to harmonise them with the kindness, one might almost say the amenities, of a humourist, as also with the popular religion and its many gods. Those vasty conceptions of the later Greek philosophy had in them, in truth, the germ of a sort of austerely opinionative “natural theology,” and how often has that led to religious dryness–a hard contempt of everything in religion, which touches the senses, or charms the fancy, or really concerns the affections. Aurelius had made his own the secret of passing, naturally, and with no violence to his thought, to and fro, between the richly coloured and romantic religion of those old gods who had still been human beings, and a very abstract speculation upon the impassive, [42] universal soul–that circle whose centre is everywhere, the circumference nowhere–of which a series of purely logical necessities had evolved the formula. As in many another instance, those traditional pieties of the place and the hour had been derived by him from his mother:–para tês mêtros to theosebes.+ Purified, as all such religion of concrete time and place needs to be, by frequent confronting with the ideal of godhead as revealed to that innate religious sense in the possession of which Aurelius differed from the people around him, it was the ground of many a sociability with their simpler souls, and for himself, certainly, a consolation, whenever the wings of his own soul flagged in the trying atmosphere of purely intellectual vision. A host of companions, guides, helpers, about him from of old time, “the very court and company of heaven,” objects for him of personal reverence and affection–the supposed presence of the ancient popular gods determined the character of much of his daily life, and might prove the last stay of human nature at its weakest. “In every time and place,” he had said, “it rests with thyself to use the event of the hour religiously: at all seasons worship the gods.” And when he said “Worship the gods!” he did it, as strenuously as everything else.

Yet here again, how often must he have experienced disillusion, or even some revolt of [43] feeling, at that contact with coarser natures to which his religious conclusions exposed him. At the beginning of the year one hundred and seventy-three public anxiety was as great as ever; and as before it brought people’s superstition into unreserved play. For seven days the images of the old gods, and some of the graver new ones, lay solemnly exposed in the open air, arrayed in all their ornaments, each in his separate resting-place, amid lights and burning incense, while the crowd, following the imperial example, daily visited them, with offerings of flowers to this or that particular divinity, according to the devotion of each.

But supplementing these older official observances, the very wildest gods had their share of worship,–strange creatures with strange secrets startled abroad into open daylight. The delirious sort of religion of which Marius was a spectator in the streets of Rome, during the seven days of the Lectisternium, reminded him now and again of an observation of Apuleius: it was “as if the presence of the gods did not do men good, but disordered or weakened them.” Some jaded women of fashion, especially, found in certain oriental devotions, at once relief for their religiously tearful souls and an opportunity for personal display; preferring this or that “mystery,” chiefly because the attire required in it was suitable to their peculiar manner of beauty. And one morning Marius [44] encountered an extraordinary crimson object, borne in a litter through an excited crowd–the famous courtesan Benedicta, still fresh from the bath of blood, to which she had submitted herself, sitting below the scaffold where the victims provided for that purpose were slaughtered by the priests. Even on the last day of the solemnity, when the emperor himself performed one of the oldest ceremonies of the Roman religion, this fantastic piety had asserted itself. There were victims enough certainly, brought from the choice pastures of the Sabine mountains, and conducted around the city they were to die for, in almost continuous procession, covered with flowers and well-nigh worried to death before the time by the crowds of people superstitiously pressing to touch them. But certain old-fashioned Romans, in these exceptional circumstances, demanded something more than this, in the way of a human sacrifice after the ancient pattern; as when, not so long since, some Greeks or Gauls had been buried alive in the Forum. At least, human blood should be shed; and it was through a wild multitude of fanatics, cutting their flesh with knives and whips and licking up ardently the crimson stream, that the emperor repaired to the temple of Bellona, and in solemn symbolic act cast the bloodstained spear, or “dart,” carefully preserved there, towards the enemy’s country– [45] towards that unknown world of German homes, still warm, as some believed under the faint northern twilight, with those innocent affections of which Romans had lost the sense. And this at least was clear, amid all doubts of abstract right or wrong on either side, that the ruin of those homes was involved in what Aurelius was then preparing for, with,–Yes! the gods be thanked for that achievement of an invigorating philosophy!–almost with a light heart.

For, in truth, that departure, really so difficult to him, for which Marcus Aurelius had needed to brace himself so strenuously, came to test the power of a long-studied theory of practice; and it was the development of this theory–a theôria, literally–a view, an intuition, of the most important facts, and still more important possibilities, concerning man in the world, that Marius now discovered, almost as if by accident, below the dry surface of the manuscripts entrusted to him. The great purple rolls contained, first of all, statistics, a general historical account of the writer’s own time, and an exact diary; all alike, though in three different degrees of nearness to the writer’s own personal experience, laborious, formal, self-suppressing. This was for the instruction of the public; and part of it has, perhaps, found its way into the Augustan Histories. But it was for the especial guidance of his son Commodus that he had permitted himself to break out, here [46] and there, into reflections upon what was passing, into conversations with the reader. And then, as though he were put off his guard in this way, there had escaped into the heavy matter-of- fact, of which the main portion was composed, morsels of his conversation with himself. It was the romance of a soul (to be traced only in hints, wayside notes, quotations from older masters), as it were in lifelong, and often baffled search after some vanished or elusive golden fleece, or Hesperidean fruit-trees, or some mysterious light of doctrine, ever retreating before him. A man, he had seemed to Marius from the first, of two lives, as we say. Of what nature, he had sometimes wondered, on the day, for instance, when he had interrupted the emperor’s musings in the empty palace, might be that placid inward guest or inhabitant, who from amid the pre-occupations of the man of practical affairs looked out, as if surprised, at the things and faces around. Here, then, under the tame surface of what was meant for a life of business, Marius discovered, welcoming a brother, the spontaneous self-revelation of a soul as delicate as his own,–a soul for which conversation with itself was a necessity of existence. Marius, indeed, had always suspected that the sense of such necessity was a peculiarity of his. But here, certainly, was another, in this respect like himself; and again he seemed to detect the advent of some [47] new or changed spirit into the world, mystic, inward, hardly to be satisfied with that wholly external and objective habit of life, which had been sufficient for the old classic soul. His purely literary curiosity was greatly stimulated by this example of a book of self-portraiture. It was in fact the position of the modern essayist,–creature of efforts rather than of achievements, in the matter of apprehending truth, but at least conscious of lights by the way, which he must needs record, acknowledge. What seemed to underlie that position was the desire to make the most of every experience that might come, outwardly or from within: to perpetuate, to display, what was so fleeting, in a kind of instinctive, pathetic protest against the imperial writer’s own theory–that theory of the “perpetual flux” of all things–to Marius himself, so plausible from of old.

There was, besides, a special moral or doctrinal significance in the making of such conversation with one’s self at all. The Logos, the reasonable spark, in man, is common to him with the gods–koinos autô pros tous theous+–cum diis communis. That might seem but the truism of a certain school of philosophy; but in Aurelius was clearly an original and lively apprehension. There could be no inward conversation with one’s self such as this, unless there were indeed some one else, aware of our actual thoughts and feelings, pleased or displeased at [48] one’s disposition of one’s self. Cornelius Fronto too could enounce that theory of the reasonable community between men and God, in many different ways. But then, he was a cheerful man, and Aurelius a singularly sad one; and what to Fronto was but a doctrine, or a motive of mere rhetoric, was to the other a consolation. He walks and talks, for a spiritual refreshment lacking which he would faint by the way, with what to the learned professor is but matter of philosophic eloquence.

In performing his public religious functions Marcus Aurelius had ever seemed like one who took part in some great process, a great thing really done, with more than the actually visible assistants about him. Here, in these manuscripts, in a hundred marginal flowers of thought or language, in happy new phrases of his own like the impromptus of an actual conversation, in quotations from other older masters of the inward life, taking new significance from the chances of such intercourse, was the record of his communion with that eternal reason, which was also his own proper self, with the divine companion, whose tabernacle was in the intelligence of men–the journal of his daily commerce with that.

Chance: or Providence! Chance: or Wisdom, one with nature and man, reaching from end to end, through all time and all existence, orderly disposing all things, according to [49] fixed periods, as he describes it, in terms very like certain well-known words of the book of Wisdom:–those are the “fenced opposites” of the speculative dilemma, the tragic embarras, of which Aurelius cannot too often remind himself as the summary of man’s situation in the world. If there be, however, a provident soul like this “behind the veil,” truly, even to him, even in the most intimate of those conversations, it has never yet spoken with any quite irresistible assertion of its presence. Yet one’s choice in that speculative dilemma, as he has found it, is on the whole a matter of will.–“‘Tis in thy power,” here too, again, “to think as thou wilt.” For his part he has asserted his will, and has the courage of his opinion. “To the better of two things, if thou findest that, turn with thy whole heart: eat and drink ever of the best before thee.” “Wisdom,” says that other disciple of the Sapiential philosophy, “hath mingled Her wine, she hath also prepared Herself a table.” Tou aristou apolaue:+ “Partake ever of Her best!” And what Marius, peeping now very closely upon the intimacies of that singular mind, found a thing actually pathetic and affecting, was the manner of the writer’s bearing as in the presence of this supposed guest; so elusive, so jealous of any palpable manifestation of himself, so taxing to one’s faith, never allowing one to lean frankly upon him and feel wholly at rest. Only, he [50] would do his part, at least, in maintaining the constant fitness, the sweetness and quiet, of the guest-chamber. Seeming to vary with the intellectual fortune of the hour, from the plainest account of experience, to a sheer fantasy, only “believed because it was impossible,” that one hope was, at all events, sufficient to make men’s common pleasures and their common ambition, above all their commonest vices, seem very petty indeed, too petty to know of. It bred in him a kind of magnificence of character, in the old Greek sense of the term; a temper incompatible with any merely plausible advocacy of his convictions, or merely superficial thoughts about anything whatever, or talk about other people, or speculation as to what was passing in their so visibly little souls, or much talking of any kind, however clever or graceful. A soul thus disposed had “already entered into the better life”:–was indeed in some sort “a priest, a minister of the gods.” Hence his constant “recollection”; a close watching of his soul, of a kind almost unique in the ancient world.–Before all things examine into thyself: strive to be at home with thyself!–Marius, a sympathetic witness of all this, might almost seem to have had a foresight of monasticism itself in the prophetic future. With this mystic companion he had gone a step onward out of the merely objective pagan existence. Here was already a master in that craft of self-direction, which was about to [51] play so large a part in the forming of human mind, under the sanction of the Christian church.

Yet it was in truth a somewhat melancholy service, a service on which one must needs move about, solemn, serious, depressed, with the hushed footsteps of those who move about the house where a dead body is lying. Such was the impression which occurred to Marius again and again as he read, with a growing sense of some profound dissidence from his author. By certain quite traceable links of association he was reminded, in spite of the moral beauty of the philosophic emperor’s ideas, how he had sat, essentially unconcerned, at the public shows. For, actually, his contemplations had made him of a sad heart, inducing in him that melancholy–Tristitia–which even the monastic moralists have held to be of the nature of deadly sin, akin to the sin of Desidia or Inactivity. Resignation, a sombre resignation, a sad heart, patient bearing of the burden of a sad heart:–Yes! this belonged doubtless to the situation of an honest thinker upon the world. Only, in this case there seemed to be too much of a complacent acquiescence in the world as it is. And there could be no true Théodicé in that; no real accommodation of the world as it is, to the divine pattern of the Logos, the eternal reason, over against it. It amounted to a tolerance of evil.

The soul of good, though it moveth upon a way thou canst but little understand, yet prospereth on the journey:

[52] If thou sufferest nothing contrary to nature, there can be nought of evil with thee therein.

If thou hast done aught in harmony with that reason in which men are communicant with the gods, there also can be nothing of evil with thee–nothing to be afraid of:

Whatever is, is right; as from the hand of one dispensing to every man according to his desert:

If reason fulfil its part in things, what more dost thou require?

Dost thou take it ill that thy stature is but of four cubits?

That which happeneth to each of us is for the profit of the whole.

The profit of the whole,–that was sufficient!+

–Links, in a train of thought really generous! of which, nevertheless, the forced and yet facile optimism, refusing to see evil anywhere, might lack, after all, the secret of genuine cheerfulness. It left in truth a weight upon the spirits; and with that weight unlifted, there could be no real justification of the ways of Heaven to man. “Let thine air be cheerful,” he had said; and, with an effort, did himself at times attain to that serenity of aspect, which surely ought to accompany, as their outward flower and favour, hopeful assumptions like those. Still, what in Aurelius was but a passing expression, was with Cornelius (Marius could but note the contrast) nature, and a veritable physiognomy. With Cornelius, in fact, it was nothing less than the joy which Dante apprehended in the blessed spirits of the perfect, the outward semblance of which, like a reflex of physical light upon human faces from “the land which is very far off,” we may trace from Giotto onward to its consummation in the work of Raphael–the serenity, the [53] durable cheerfulness, of those who have been indeed delivered from death, and of which the utmost degree of that famed “blitheness “of the Greeks had been but a transitory gleam, as in careless and wholly superficial youth. And yet, in Cornelius, it was certainly united with the bold recognition of evil as a fact in the world; real as an aching in the head or heart, which one instinctively desires to have cured; an enemy with whom no terms could be made, visible, hatefully visible, in a thousand forms–the apparent waste of men’s gifts in an early, or even in a late grave; the death, as such, of men, and even of animals; the disease and pain of the body.

And there was another point of dissidence between Aurelius and his reader.–The philosophic emperor was a despiser of the body. Since it is “the peculiar privilege of reason to move within herself, and to be proof against corporeal impressions, suffering neither sensation nor passion to break in upon her,” it follows that the true interest of the spirit must ever be to treat the body–Well! as a corpse attached thereto, rather than as a living companion–nay, actually to promote its dissolution. In counterpoise to the inhumanity of this, presenting itself to the young reader as nothing less than a sin against nature, the very person of Cornelius was nothing less than a sanction of that reverent delight Marius had always had in the visible body of man. Such delight indeed had been but [54] a natural consequence of the sensuous or materialistic character of the philosophy of his choice. Now to Cornelius the body of man was unmistakeably, as a later seer terms it, the one true temple in the world; or rather itself the proper object of worship, of a sacred service, in which the very finest gold might have its seemliness and due symbolic use:–Ah! and of what awe-stricken pity also, in its dejection, in the perishing gray bones of a poor man’s grave!

Some flaw of vision, thought Marius, must be involved in the philosopher’s contempt for it–some diseased point of thought, or moral dulness, leading logically to what seemed to him the strangest of all the emperor’s inhumanities, the temper of the suicide; for which there was just then, indeed, a sort of mania in the world. “‘Tis part of the business of life,” he read, “to lose it handsomely.” On due occasion, “one might give life the slip.” The moral or mental powers might fail one; and then it were a fair question, precisely, whether the time for taking leave was not come:- -“Thou canst leave this prison when thou wilt. Go forth boldly!” Just there, in the bare capacity to entertain such question at all, there was what Marius, with a soul which must always leap up in loyal gratitude for mere physical sunshine, touching him as it touched the flies in the air, could not away with. There, surely, was a sign of some crookedness in the natural power of apprehension. It was the [55] attitude, the melancholy intellectual attitude, of one who might be greatly mistaken in things–who might make the greatest of mistakes.

A heart that could forget itself in the misfortune, or even in the weakness of others:–of this Marius had certainly found the trace, as a confidant of the emperor’s conversations with himself, in spite of those jarring inhumanities, of that pretension to a stoical indifference, and the many difficulties of his manner of writing. He found it again not long afterwards, in still stronger evidence, in this way. As he read one morning early, there slipped from the rolls of manuscript a sealed letter with the emperor’s superscription, which might well be of importance, and he felt bound to deliver it at once in person; Aurelius being then absent from Rome in one of his favourite retreats, at Praeneste, taking a few days of quiet with his young children, before his departure for the war. A whole day passed as Marius crossed the Campagna on horseback, pleased by the random autumn lights bringing out in the distance the sheep at pasture, the shepherds in their picturesque dress, the golden elms, tower and villa; and it was after dark that he mounted the steep street of the little hill-town to the imperial residence. He was struck by an odd mixture of stillness and excitement about the place. Lights burned at the windows. It seemed that numerous visitors were within, for the courtyard was crowded with litters and horses [56] in waiting. For the moment, indeed, all larger cares, even the cares of war, of late so heavy a pressure, had been forgotten in what was passing with the little Annius Verus; who for his part had forgotten his toys, lying all day across the knees of his mother, as a mere child’s ear- ache grew rapidly to alarming sickness with great and manifest agony, only suspended a little, from time to time, when from very weariness he passed into a few moments of unconsciousness. The country surgeon called in, had removed the imposthume with the knife. There had been a great effort to bear this operation, for the terrified child, hardly persuaded to submit himself, when his pain was at its worst, and even more for the parents. At length, amid a company of pupils pressing in with him, as the custom was, to watch the proceedings in the sick-room, the eminent Galen had arrived, only to pronounce the thing done visibly useless, the patient falling now into longer intervals of delirium. And thus, thrust on one side by the crowd of departing visitors, Marius was forced into the privacy of a grief, the desolate face of which went deep into his memory, as he saw the emperor carry the child away–quite conscious at last, but with a touching expression upon it of weakness and defeat–pressed close to his bosom, as if he yearned just then for one thing only, to be united, to be absolutely one with it, in its obscure distress.


42. +Transliteration: para tês mêtros to theosebes. Translation: “rites deriving from [his] mother.”

47. +Transliteration: koinos autô pros tous theous. Translation: “common to him together with the gods.”

49. +Transliteration: Tou aristou apolaue. Translation: “[Always] take the best.”

52. +Not indented in the original.


Paratum cor meum deus! paratum cor meum!

[57] THE emperor demanded a senatorial decree for the erection of images in memory of the dead prince; that a golden one should be carried, together with the other images, in the great procession of the Circus, and the addition of the child’s name to the Hymn of the Salian Priests: and so, stifling private grief, without further delay set forth for the war.

True kingship, as Plato, the old master of Aurelius, had understood it, was essentially of the nature of a service. If so be, you can discover a mode of life more desirable than the being a king, for those who shall be kings; then, the true Ideal of the State will become a possibility; but not otherwise. And if the life of Beatific Vision be indeed possible, if philosophy really “concludes in an ecstasy,” affording full fruition to the entire nature of man; then, for certain elect souls at least, a mode of life will have been [58] discovered more desirable than to be a king. By love or fear you might induce such persons to forgo their privilege; to take upon them the distasteful task of governing other men, or even of leading them to victory in battle. But, by the very conditions of its tenure, their dominion would be wholly a ministry to others: they would have taken upon them-“the form of a servant”: they would be reigning for the well-being of others rather than their own. The true king, the righteous king, would be Saint Lewis, exiling himself from the better land and its perfected company–so real a thing to him, definite and real as the pictured scenes of his psalter–to take part in or to arbitrate men’s quarrels, about the transitory appearances of things. In a lower degree (lower, in proportion as the highest Platonic dream is lower than any Christian vision) the true king would be Marcus Aurelius, drawn from the meditation of books, to be the ruler of the Roman people in peace, and still more, in war.

To Aurelius, certainly, the philosophic mood, the visions, however dim, which this mood brought with it, were sufficiently pleasant to him, together with the endearments of his home, to make public rule nothing less than a sacrifice of himself according to Plato’s requirement, now consummated in his setting forth for the campaign on the Danube. That it was such a sacrifice was to Marius visible fact, as he saw him [59] ceremoniously lifted into the saddle amid all the pageantry of an imperial departure, yet with the air less of a sanguine and self-reliant leader than of one in some way or other already defeated. Through the fortune of the subsequent years, passing and repassing so inexplicably from side to side, the rumour of which reached him amid his own quiet studies, Marius seemed always to see that central figure, with its habitually dejected hue grown now to an expression of positive suffering, all the stranger from its contrast with the magnificent armour worn by the emperor on this occasion, as it had been worn by his predecessor Hadrian.

Totus et argento contextus et auro:

clothed in its gold and silver, dainty as that old divinely constructed armour of which Homer tells, but without its miraculous lightsomeness–he looked out baffled, labouring, moribund; a mere comfortless shadow taking part in some shadowy reproduction of the labours of Hercules, through those northern, mist-laden confines of the civilised world. It was as if the familiar soul which had been so friendly disposed towards him were actually departed to Hades; and when he read the Conversations afterwards, though his judgment of them underwent no material change, it was nevertheless with the allowance we make for the dead. The memory of that suffering image, while it certainly strengthened his adhesion [60] to what he could accept at all in the philosophy of Aurelius, added a strange pathos to what must seem the writer’s mistakes. What, after all, had been the meaning of that incident, observed as so fortunate an omen long since, when the prince, then a little child much younger than was usual, had stood in ceremony among the priests of Mars and flung his crown of flowers with the rest at the sacred image reclining on the Pulvinar? The other crowns lodged themselves here or there; when, Lo! the crown thrown by Aurelius, the youngest of them all, alighted upon the very brows of the god, as if placed there by a careful hand! He was still young, also, when on the day of his adoption by Antoninus Pius he saw himself in a dream, with as it were shoulders of ivory, like the images of the gods, and found them more capable than shoulders of flesh. Yet he was now well-nigh fifty years of age, setting out with two-thirds of life behind him, upon a labour which would fill the remainder of it with anxious cares–a labour for which he had perhaps no capacity, and certainly no taste.

That ancient suit of armour was almost the only object Aurelius now possessed from all those much cherished articles of vertu collected by the Caesars, making the imperial residence like a magnificent museum. Not men alone were needed for the war, so that it became necessary, to the great disgust alike of timid persons and of [61] the lovers of sport, to arm the gladiators, but money also was lacking. Accordingly, at the sole motion of Aurelius himself, unwilling that the public burden should be further increased, especially on the part of the poor, the whole of the imperial ornaments and furniture, a sumptuous collection of gems formed by Hadrian, with many works of the most famous painters and sculptors, even the precious ornaments of the emperor’s chapel or Lararium, and the wardrobe of the empress Faustina, who seems to have borne the loss without a murmur, were exposed for public auction. “These treasures,” said Aurelius, “like all else that I possess, belong by right to the Senate and People.” Was it not a characteristic of the true kings in Plato that they had in their houses nothing they could call their own? Connoisseurs had a keen delight in the mere reading of the Praetor’s list of the property for sale. For two months the learned in these matters were daily occupied in the appraising of the embroidered hangings, the choice articles of personal use selected for preservation by each succeeding age, the great outlandish pearls from Hadrian’s favourite cabinet, the marvellous plate lying safe behind the pretty iron wicker-work of the shops in the goldsmiths’ quarter. Meantime ordinary persons might have an interest in the inspection of objects which had been as daily companions to people so far above and remote from them–things so fine also [62] in workmanship and material as to seem, with their antique and delicate air, a worthy survival of the grand bygone eras, like select thoughts or utterances embodying the very spirit of the vanished past. The town became more pensive than ever over old fashions.

The welcome amusement of this last act of preparation for the great war being now over, all Rome seemed to settle down into a singular quiet, likely to last long, as though bent only on watching from afar the languid, somewhat uneventful course of the contest itself. Marius took advantage of it as an opportunity for still closer study than of old, only now and then going out to one of his favourite spots on the Sabine or Alban hills for a quiet even greater than that of Rome in the country air. On one of these occasions, as if by favour of an invisible power withdrawing some unknown cause of dejection from around him, he enjoyed a quite unusual sense of self- possession–the possession of his own best and happiest self. After some gloomy thoughts over-night, he awoke under the full tide of the rising sun, himself full, in his entire refreshment, of that almost religious appreciation of sleep, the graciousness of its influence on men’s spirits, which had made the old Greeks conceive of it as a god. It was like one of those old joyful wakings of childhood, now becoming rarer and rarer with him, and looked back upon with much regret as a measure of advancing age. In fact, [63] the last bequest of this serene sleep had been a dream, in which, as once before, he overheard those he loved best pronouncing his name very pleasantly, as they passed through the rich light and shadow of a summer morning, along the pavement of a city–Ah! fairer far than Rome! In a moment, as he arose, a certain oppression of late setting very heavily upon him was lifted away, as though by some physical motion in the air.

That flawless serenity, better than the most pleasurable excitement, yet so easily ruffled by chance collision even with the things and persons he had come to value as the greatest treasure in life, was to be wholly his to-day, he thought, as he rode towards Tibur, under the early sunshine; the marble of its villas glistening all the way before him on the hillside. And why could he not hold such serenity of spirit ever at command? he asked, expert as he was at last become in the art of setting the house of his thoughts in order. “‘Tis in thy power to think as thou wilt:” he repeated to himself: it was the most serviceable of all the lessons enforced on him by those imperial conversations.–“‘Tis in thy power to think as thou wilt.” And were the cheerful, sociable, restorative beliefs, of which he had there read so much, that bold adhesion, for instance, to the hypothesis of an eternal friend to man, just hidden behind the veil of a mechanical and material order, but only just behind it, [64] ready perhaps even now to break through:–were they, after all, really a matter of choice, dependent on some deliberate act of volition on his part? Were they doctrines one might take for granted, generously take for granted, and led on by them, at first as but well-defined objects of hope, come at last into the region of a corresponding certitude of the intellect? “It is the truth I seek,” he had read, “the truth, by which no one,” gray and depressing though it might seem, “was ever really injured.” And yet, on the other hand, the imperial wayfarer, he had been able to go along with so far on his intellectual pilgrimage, let fall many things concerning the practicability of a methodical and self-forced assent to certain principles or presuppositions “one could not do without.” Were there, as the expression “one could not do without” seemed to hint, beliefs, without which life itself must be almost impossible, principles which had their sufficient ground of evidence in that very fact? Experience certainly taught that, as regarding the sensible world he could attend or not, almost at will, to this or that colour, this or that train of sounds, in the whole tumultuous concourse of colour and sound, so it was also, for the well-trained intelligence, in regard to that hum of voices which besiege the inward no less than the outward ear. Might it be not otherwise with those various and competing hypotheses, the permissible hypotheses, which, [65] in that open field for hypothesis–one’s own actual ignorance of the origin and tendency of our being–present themselves so importunately, some of them with so emphatic a reiteration, through all the mental changes of successive ages? Might the will itself be an organ of knowledge, of vision?

On this day truly no mysterious light, no irresistibly leading hand from afar reached him; only the peculiarly tranquil influence of its first hour increased steadily upon him, in a manner with which, as he conceived, the aspects of the place he was then visiting had something to do. The air there, air supposed to possess the singular property of restoring the whiteness of ivory, was pure and thin. An even veil of lawn-like white cloud had now drawn over the sky; and under its broad, shadowless light every hue and tone of time came out upon the yellow old temples, the elegant pillared circle of the shrine of the patronal Sibyl, the houses seemingly of a piece with the ancient fundamental rock. Some half-conscious motive of poetic grace would appear to have determined their grouping; in part resisting, partly going along with the natural wildness and harshness of the place, its floods and precipices. An air of immense age possessed, above all, the vegetation around–a world of evergreen trees–the olives especially, older than how many generations of men’s lives! fretted and twisted by the combining forces of [66] life and death, into every conceivable caprice of form. In the windless weather all seemed to be listening to the roar of the immemorial waterfall, plunging down so unassociably among these human habitations, and with a motion so unchanging from age to age as to count, even in this time-worn place, as an image of unalterable rest. Yet the clear sky all but broke to let through the ray which was silently quickening everything in the late February afternoon, and the unseen violet refined itself through the air. It was as if the spirit of life in nature were but withholding any too precipitate revelation of itself, in its slow, wise, maturing work.

Through some accident to the trappings of his horse at the inn where he rested, Marius had an unexpected delay. He sat down in an olive- garden, and, all around him and within still turning to reverie, the course of his own life hitherto seemed to withdraw itself into some other world, disparted from this spectacular point where he was now placed to survey it, like that distant road below, along which he had travelled this morning across the Campagna. Through a dreamy land he could see himself moving, as if in another life, and like another person, through all his fortunes and misfortunes, passing from point to point, weeping, delighted, escaping from various dangers. That prospect brought him, first of all, an impulse of lively gratitude: it was as if he must look round for some one [67] else to share his joy with: for some one to whom he might tell the thing, for his own relief. Companionship, indeed, familiarity with others, gifted in this way or that, or at least pleasant to him, had been, through one or another long span of it, the chief delight of the journey. And was it only the resultant general sense of such familiarity, diffused through his memory, that in a while suggested the question whether there had not been–besides Flavian, besides Cornelius even, and amid the solitude he had which in spite of ardent friendship perhaps loved best of all things–some other companion, an unfailing companion, ever at his side throughout; doubling his pleasure in the roses by the way, patient of his peevishness or depression, sympathetic above all with his grateful recognition, onward from his earliest days, of the fact that he was there at all? Must not the whole world around have faded away for him altogether, had he been left for one moment really alone in it? In his deepest apparent solitude there had been rich entertainment. It was as if there were not one only, but two wayfarers, side by side, visible there across the plain, as he indulged his fancy. A bird came and sang among the wattled hedge- roses: an animal feeding crept nearer: the child who kept it was gazing quietly: and the scene and the hours still conspiring, he passed from that mere fantasy of a self not himself, beside him in his coming and [68] going, to those divinations of a living and companionable spirit at work in all things, of which he had become aware from time to time in his old philosophic readings–in Plato and others, last but not least, in Aurelius. Through one reflection upon another, he passed from such instinctive divinations, to the thoughts which give them logical consistency, formulating at last, as the necessary exponent of our own and the world’s life, that reasonable Ideal to which the Old Testament gives the name of Creator, which for the philosophers of Greece is the Eternal Reason, and in the New Testament the Father of Men–even as one builds up from act and word and expression of the friend actually visible at one’s side, an ideal of the spirit within him.

In this peculiar and privileged hour, his bodily frame, as he could recognise, although just then, in the whole sum of its capacities, so entirely possessed by him–Nay! actually his very self–was yet determined by a far-reaching system of material forces external to it, a thousand combining currents from earth and sky. Its seemingly active powers of apprehension were, in fact, but susceptibilities to influence. The perfection of its capacity might be said to depend on its passive surrender, as of a leaf on the wind, to the motions of the great stream of physical energy without it. And might not the intellectual frame also, still [69] more intimately himself as in truth it was, after the analogy of the bodily life, be a moment only, an impulse or series of impulses, a single process, in an intellectual or spiritual system external to it, diffused through all time and place–that great stream of spiritual energy, of which his own imperfect thoughts, yesterday or to-day, would be but the remote, and therefore imperfect pulsations? It was the hypothesis (boldest, though in reality the most conceivable of all hypotheses) which had dawned on the contemplations of the two opposed great masters of the old Greek thought, alike:–the “World of Ideas,” existent only because, and in so far as, they are known, as Plato conceived; the “creative, incorruptible, informing mind,” supposed by Aristotle, so sober-minded, yet as regards this matter left something of a mystic after all. Might not this entire material world, the very scene around him, the immemorial rocks, the firm marble, the olive-gardens, the falling water, be themselves but reflections in, or a creation of, that one indefectible mind, wherein he too became conscious, for an hour, a day, for so many years? Upon what other hypothesis could he so well understand the persistency of all these things for his own intermittent consciousness of them, for the intermittent consciousness of so many generations, fleeting away one after another? It was easier to conceive of the material fabric of things as [70] but an element in a world of thought–as a thought in a mind, than of mind as an element, or accident, or passing condition in a world of matter, because mind was really nearer to himself: it was an explanation of what was less known by what was known better. The purely material world, that close, impassable prison-wall, seemed just then the unreal thing, to be actually dissolving away all around him: and he felt a quiet hope, a quiet joy dawning faintly, in the dawning of this doctrine upon him as a really credible opinion. It was like the break of day over some vast prospect with the “new city,” as it were some celestial New Rome, in the midst of it. That divine companion figured no longer as but an occasional wayfarer beside him; but rather as the unfailing “assistant,” without whose inspiration and concurrence he could not breathe or see, instrumenting his bodily senses, rounding, supporting his imperfect thoughts. How often had the thought of their brevity spoiled for him the most natural pleasures of life, confusing even his present sense of them by the suggestion of disease, of death, of a coming end, in everything! How had he longed, sometimes, that there were indeed one to whose boundless power of memory he could commit his own most fortunate moments, his admiration, his love, Ay! the very sorrows of which he could not bear quite to lose the sense:–one strong to retain them even though [71] he forgot, in whose more vigorous consciousness they might subsist for ever, beyond that mere quickening of capacity which was all that remained of them in himself! “Oh! that they might live before Thee”–To-day at least, in the peculiar clearness of one privileged hour, he seemed to have apprehended that in which the experiences he valued most might find, one by one, an abiding-place. And again, the resultant sense of companionship, of a person beside him, evoked the faculty of conscience–of conscience, as of old and when he had been at his best, in the form, not of fear, nor of self-reproach even, but of a certain lively gratitude.

Himself–his sensations and ideas–never fell again precisely into focus as on that day, yet he was the richer by its experience. But for once only to have come under the power of that peculiar mood, to have felt the train of reflections which belong to it really forcible and conclusive, to have been led by them to a conclusion, to have apprehended the Great Ideal, so palpably that it defined personal gratitude and the sense of a friendly hand laid upon him amid the shadows of the world, left this one particular hour a marked point in life never to be forgotten. It gave him a definitely ascertained measure of his moral or intellectual need, of the demand his soul must make upon the powers, whatsoever they might be, which [72] had brought him, as he was, into the world at all. And again, would he be faithful to himself, to his own habits of mind, his leading suppositions, if he did but remain just there? Must not all that remained of life be but a search for the equivalent of that Ideal, among so-called actual things–a gathering together of every trace or token of it, which his actual experience might present?




“Your old men shall dream dreams.”+

[75] A NATURE like that of Marius, composed, in about equal parts, of instincts almost physical, and of slowly accumulated intellectual judgments, was perhaps even less susceptible than other men’s characters of essential change. And yet the experience of that fortunate hour, seeming to gather into one central act of vision all the deeper impressions his mind had ever received, did not leave him quite as he had been. For his mental view, at least, it changed measurably the world about him, of which he was still indeed a curious spectator, but which looked further off, was weaker in its hold, and, in a sense, less real to him than ever. It was as if he viewed it through a diminishing glass. And the permanency of this change he could note, some years later, when it [76] happened that he was a guest at a feast, in which the various exciting elements of Roman life, its physical and intellectual accomplishments, its frivolity and far-fetched elegances, its strange, mystic essays after the unseen, were elaborately combined. The great Apuleius, the literary ideal of his boyhood, had arrived in Rome,–was now visiting Tusculum, at the house of their common friend, a certain aristocratic poet who loved every sort of superiorities; and Marius was favoured with an invitation to a supper given in his honour.

It was with a feeling of half-humorous concession to his own early boyish hero-worship, yet with some sense of superiority in himself, seeing his old curiosity grown now almost to indifference when on the point of satisfaction at last, and upon a juster estimate of its object, that he mounted to the little town on the hillside, the foot- ways of which were so many flights of easy-going steps gathered round a single great house under shadow of the “haunted” ruins of Cicero’s villa on the wooded heights. He found a touch of weirdness in the circumstance that in so romantic a place he had been bidden to meet the writer who was come to seem almost like one of the personages in his own fiction. As he turned now and then to gaze at the evening scene through the tall narrow openings of the street, up which the cattle were going home slowly from the [77] pastures below, the Alban mountains, stretched between the great walls of the ancient houses, seemed close at hand–a screen of vaporous dun purple against the setting sun–with those waves of surpassing softness in the boundary lines which indicate volcanic formation. The coolness of the little brown market-place, for profit of which even the working-people, in long file through the olive-gardens, were leaving the plain for the night, was grateful, after the heats of Rome. Those wild country figures, clad in every kind of fantastic patchwork, stained by wind and weather fortunately enough for the eye, under that significant light inclined him to poetry. And it was a very delicate poetry of its kind that seemed to enfold him, as passing into the poet’s house he paused for a moment to glance back towards the heights above; whereupon, the numerous cascades of the precipitous garden of the villa, framed in the doorway of the hall, fell into a harmless picture, in its place among the pictures within, and scarcely more real than they–a landscape-piece, in which the power of water (plunging into what unseen depths!) done to the life, was pleasant, and without its natural terrors.

At the further end of this bland apartment, fragrant with the rare woods of the old inlaid panelling, the falling of aromatic oil from the ready-lighted lamps, the iris-root clinging to the dresses of the guests, as with odours from the [78] altars of the gods, the supper- table was spread, in all the daintiness characteristic of the agreeable petit-maître, who entertained. He was already most carefully dressed, but, like Martial’s Stella, perhaps consciously, meant to change his attire once and again during the banquet; in the last instance, for an ancient vesture (object of much rivalry among the young men of fashion, at that great sale of the imperial wardrobes) a toga, of altogether lost hue and texture. He wore it with a grace which became the leader of a thrilling movement then on foot for the restoration of that disused garment, in which, laying aside the customary evening dress, all the visitors were requested to appear, setting off the delicate sinuosities and well-disposed “golden ways” of its folds, with harmoniously tinted flowers. The opulent sunset, blending pleasantly with artificial light, fell across the quiet ancestral effigies of old consular dignitaries, along the wide floor strewn with sawdust of sandal-wood, and lost itself in the heap of cool coronals, lying ready for the foreheads of the guests on a sideboard of old citron. The crystal vessels darkened with old wine, the hues of the early autumn fruit– mulberries, pomegranates, and grapes that had long been hanging under careful protection upon the vines, were almost as much a feast for the eye, as the dusky fires of the rare twelve-petalled roses. A favourite animal, white as snow, brought by one of the visitors, purred its way [79] gracefully among the wine-cups, coaxed onward from place to place by those at table, as they reclined easily on their cushions of German eider-down, spread over the long-legged, carved couches.

A highly refined modification of the acroama–a musical performance during supper for the diversion of the guests–was presently heard hovering round the place, soothingly, and so unobtrusively that the company could not guess, and did not like to ask, whether or not it had been designed by their entertainer. They inclined on the whole to think it some wonderful peasant-music peculiar to that wild neighbourhood, turning, as it did now and then, to a solitary reed- note, like a bird’s, while it wandered into the distance. It wandered quite away at last, as darkness with a bolder lamplight came on, and made way for another sort of entertainment. An odd, rapid, phantasmal glitter, advancing from the garden by torchlight, defined itself, as it came nearer, into a dance of young men in armour. Arrived at length in a portico, open to the supper-chamber, they contrived that their mechanical march-movement should fall out into a kind of highly expressive dramatic action; and with the utmost possible emphasis of dumb motion, their long swords weaving a silvery network in the air, they danced the Death of Paris. The young Commodus, already an adept in these matters, who had condescended to [80] welcome the eminent Apuleius at the banquet, had mysteriously dropped from his place to take his share in the performance; and at its conclusion reappeared, still wearing the dainty accoutrements of Paris, including a breastplate, composed entirely of overlapping tigers’ claws, skilfully gilt. The youthful prince had lately assumed the dress of manhood, on the return of the emperor for a brief visit from the North; putting up his hair, in imitation of Nero, in a golden box dedicated to Capitoline Jupiter. His likeness to Aurelius, his father, was become, in consequence, more striking than ever; and he had one source of genuine interest in the great literary guest of the occasion, in that the latter was the fortunate possessor of a monopoly for the exhibition of wild beasts and gladiatorial shows in the province of Carthage, where he resided.

Still, after all complaisance to the perhaps somewhat crude tastes of the emperor’s son, it was felt that with a guest like Apuleius whom they had come prepared to entertain as veritable connoisseurs, the conversation should be learned and superior, and the host at last deftly led his company round to literature, by the way of bindings. Elegant rolls of manuscript from his fine library of ancient Greek books passed from hand to hand about the table. It was a sign for the visitors themselves to draw their own choicest literary curiosities from their bags, as their contribution to the banquet; and one of them, a [81] famous reader, choosing his lucky moment, delivered in tenor voice the piece which follows, with a preliminary query as to whether it could indeed be the composition of Lucian of Samosata,+ understood to be the great mocker of that day:–

“What sound was that, Socrates?” asked Chaerephon. “It came from the beach under the cliff yonder, and seemed a long way off.–And how melodious it was! Was it a bird, I wonder. I thought all sea-birds were songless.”

“Aye! a sea-bird,” answered Socrates, “a bird called the Halcyon, and has a note full of plaining and tears. There is an old story people tell of it. It was a mortal woman once, daughter of Aeolus, god of the winds. Ceyx, the son of the morning-star, wedded her in her early maidenhood. The son was not less fair than the father; and when it came to pass that he died, the crying of the girl as she lamented his sweet usage, was, Just that! And some while after, as Heaven willed, she was changed into a bird. Floating now on bird’s wings over the sea she seeks her lost Ceyx there; since she was not able to find him after long wandering over the land.”

“That then is the Halcyon–the kingfisher,” said Chaerephon. “I never heard a bird like it before. It has truly a plaintive note. What kind of a bird is it, Socrates?”

“Not a large bird, though she has received [82] large honour from the gods on account of her singular conjugal affection. For whensoever she makes her nest, a law of nature brings round what is called Halcyon’s weather,–days distinguishable among all others for their serenity, though they come sometimes amid the storms of winter–days like to-day! See how transparent is the sky above us, and how motionless the sea!–like a smooth mirror.”

True! A Halcyon day, indeed! and yesterday was the same. But tell me, Socrates, what is one to think of those stories which have been told from the beginning, of birds changed into mortals and mortals into birds? To me nothing seems more incredible.”

“Dear Chaerephon,” said Socrates, “methinks we are but half-blind judges of the impossible and the possible. We try the question by the standard of our human faculty, which avails neither for true knowledge, nor for faith, nor vision. Therefore many things seem to us impossible which are really easy, many things unattainable which are within our reach; partly through inexperience, partly through the childishness of our minds. For in truth, every man, even the oldest of us, is like a little child, so brief and babyish are the years of our life in comparison of eternity. Then, how can we, who comprehend not the faculties of gods and of the heavenly host, tell whether aught of that kind be possible or no?–What a tempest you saw [83] three days ago! One trembles but to think of the lightning, the thunderclaps, the violence of the wind! You might have thought the whole world was going to ruin. And then, after a little, came this wonderful serenity of weather, which has continued till to-day. Which do you think the greater and more difficult thing to do: to exchange the disorder of that irresistible whirlwind to a clarity like this, and becalm the whole world again, or to refashion the form of a woman into that of a bird? We can teach even little children to do something of that sort,–to take wax or clay, and mould out of the same material many kinds of form, one after another, without difficulty. And it may be that to the Deity, whose power is too vast for comparison with ours, all processes of that kind are manageable and easy. How much wider is the whole circle of heaven than thyself?–Wider than thou canst express.

“Among ourselves also, how vast the difference we may observe in men’s degrees of power! To you and me, and many another like us, many things are impossible which are quite easy to others. For those who are unmusical, to play on the flute; to read or write, for those who have not yet learned; is no easier than to make birds of women, or women of birds. From the dumb and lifeless egg Nature moulds her swarms of winged creatures, aided, as some will have it, by a divine and secret [84] art in the wide air around us. She takes from the honeycomb a little memberless live thing; she brings it wings and feet, brightens and beautifies it with quaint variety of colour:–and Lo! the bee in her wisdom, making honey worthy of the gods.

“It follows, that we mortals, being altogether of little account, able wholly to discern no great matter, sometimes not even a little one, for the most part at a loss regarding what happens even with ourselves, may hardly speak with security as to what may be the powers of the immortal gods concerning Kingfisher, or Nightingale. Yet the glory of thy mythus, as my fathers bequeathed it to me, O tearful songstress! that will I too hand on to my children, and tell it often to my wives, Xanthippe and Myrto:–the story of thy pious love to Ceyx, and of thy melodious hymns; and, above all, of the honour thou hast with the gods!”

The reader’s well-turned periods seemed to stimulate, almost uncontrollably, the eloquent stirrings of the eminent man of letters then present. The impulse to speak masterfully was visible, before the recital was well over, in the moving lines about his mouth, by no means designed, as detractors were wont to say, simply to display the beauty of his teeth. One of the company, expert in his humours, made ready to transcribe what he would say, the sort of [85] things of which a collection was then forming, the “Florida” or Flowers, so to call them, he was apt to let fall by the way–no impromptu ventures at random; but rather elaborate, carved ivories of speech, drawn, at length, out of the rich treasure-house of a memory stored with such, and as with a fine savour of old musk about them. Certainly in this case, as Marius thought, it was worth while to hear a charming writer speak. Discussing, quite in our modern way, the peculiarities of those suburban views, especially the sea-views, of which he was a professed lover, he was also every inch a priest of Aesculapius, patronal god of Carthage. There was a piquancy in his rococo, very African, and as it were perfumed personality, though he was now well- nigh sixty years old, a mixture there of that sort of Platonic spiritualism which can speak of the soul of man as but a sojourner m the prison of the body–a blending of that with such a relish for merely bodily graces as availed to set the fashion in matters of dress, deportment, accent, and the like, nay! with something also which reminded Marius of the vein of coarseness he had found in the “Golden Book.” All this made the total impression he conveyed a very uncommon one. Marius did not wonder, as he watched him speaking, that people freely attributed to him many of the marvellous adventures he had recounted in that famous romance, [86] over and above the wildest version of his own actual story–his extraordinary marriage, his religious initiations, his acts of mad generosity, his trial as a sorcerer.

But a sign came from the imperial prince that it was time for the company to separate. He was entertaining his immediate neighbours at the table with a trick from the streets; tossing his olives in rapid succession into the air, and catching them, as they fell, between his lips. His dexterity in this performance made the mirth around him noisy, disturbing the sleep of the furry visitor: the learned party broke up; and Marius withdrew, glad to escape into the open air. The courtesans in their large wigs of false blond hair, were lurking for the guests, with groups of curious idlers. A great conflagration was visible in the distance. Was it in Rome; or in one of the villages of the country? Pausing for a few minutes on the terrace to watch it, Marius was for the first time able to converse intimately with Apuleius; and in this moment of confidence the “illuminist,” himself with locks so carefully arranged, and seemingly so full of affectations, almost like one of those light women there, dropped a veil as it were, and appeared, though still permitting the play of a certain element of theatrical interest in his bizarre tenets, to be ready to explain and defend his position reasonably. For a moment his fantastic foppishness and his pretensions to ideal [87] vision seemed to fall into some intelligible congruity with each other. In truth, it was the Platonic Idealism, as he conceived it, which for him literally animated, and gave him so lively an interest in, this world of the purely outward aspects of men and things.–Did material things, such things as they had had around them all that evening, really need apology for being there, to interest one, at all? Were not all visible objects–the whole material world indeed, according to the consistent testimony of philosophy in many forms–“full of souls”? embarrassed perhaps, partly imprisoned, but still eloquent souls? Certainly, the contemplative philosophy of Plato, with its figurative imagery and apologue, its manifold aesthetic colouring, its measured eloquence, its music for the outward ear, had been, like Plato’s old master himself, a two-sided or two-coloured thing. Apuleius was a Platonist: only, for him, the Ideas of Plato were no creatures of logical abstraction, but in very truth informing souls, in every type and variety of sensible things. Those noises in the house all supper-time, sounding through the tables and along the walls:–were they only startings in the old rafters, at the impact of the music and laughter; or rather importunities of the secondary selves, the true unseen selves, of the persons, nay! of the very things around, essaying to break through their frivolous, merely transitory surfaces, to remind one of abiding essentials beyond them, [88] which might have their say, their judgment to give, by and by, when the shifting of the meats and drinks at life’s table would be over? And was not this the true significance of the Platonic doctrine?–a hierarchy of divine beings, associating themselves with particular things and places, for the purpose of mediating between God and man–man, who does but need due attention on his part to become aware of his celestial company, filling the air about him, thick as motes in the sunbeam, for the glance of sympathetic intelligence he casts through it.

“Two kinds there are, of animated beings,” he exclaimed: “Gods, entirely differing from men in the infinite distance of their abode, since one part of them only is seen by our blunted vision–those mysterious stars!–in the eternity of their existence, in the perfection of their nature, infected by no contact with ourselves: and men, dwelling on the earth, with frivolous and anxious minds, with infirm and mortal members, with variable fortunes; labouring in vain; taken altogether and in their whole species perhaps, eternal; but, severally, quitting the scene in irresistible succession.

“What then? Has nature connected itself together by no bond, allowed itself to be thus crippled, and split into the divine and human elements? And you will say to me: If so it be, that man is thus entirely exiled from the immortal gods, that all communication is denied [89] him, that not one of them occasionally visits us, as a shepherd his sheep–to whom shall I address my prayers? Whom, shall I invoke as the helper of the unfortunate, the protector of the good?

“Well! there are certain divine powers of a middle nature, through whom our aspirations are conveyed to the gods, and theirs to us. Passing between the inhabitants of earth and heaven, they carry from one to the other prayers and bounties, supplication and assistance, being a kind of interpreters. This interval of the air is full of them! Through them, all revelations, miracles, magic processes, are effected. For, specially appointed members of this order have their special provinces, with a ministry according to the disposition of each. They go to and fro without fixed habitation: or dwell in men’s houses”–

Just then a companion’s hand laid in the darkness on the shoulder of the speaker carried him away, and the discourse broke off suddenly. Its singular intimations, however, were sufficient to throw back on this strange evening, in all its detail–the dance, the readings, the distant fire–a kind of allegoric expression: gave it the character of one of those famous Platonic figures or apologues which had then been in fact under discussion. When Marius recalled its circumstances he seemed to hear once more that voice of genuine