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sometimes in sheer raving blasphemy, as when he expressed his furious
indignation against Jupiter for presuming to thunder while he was
supping, or looking at the pantomimes; but most of all in a ferocity
which makes Seneca apply to him the name of "Bellua," or "wild monster,"
and say that he seems to have been produced "for the disgrace and
destruction of the human race."

We will quote from the pages of Seneca but one single passage to justify
his remark "that he was most greedy for human blood, which he ordered
to stream in his very presence with such eagerness as though he were
going to drink it up with his lips." He says that in one day he scourged
and tortured men of consular and quaestorial parentage, knights and
senators, not by way of examination, but out of pure caprice and rage;
he seriously meditated the butchery of the entire senate; he expressed a
wish that the Roman people had but a single neck, that he might strike
it off at one blow; he silenced the screams or reproaches of his victims
sometimes by thrusting a sponge in their mouths, sometimes by having
their mouths gagged with their own torn robes, sometimes by ordering
their tongues to be cut out before they were thrown to the wild beasts.
On one occasion, rising from a banquet, he called for his slippers,
which were kept by the slaves while the guests reclined on the purple
couches, and so impatient was he for the sight of death, that, walking
up and down his covered portico by lamplight with ladies and senators,
he then and there ordered some of his wretched victims to be beheaded in
his sight.

It is a singular proof of the unutterable dread and detestation inspired
by some of these Caesars, that their mere countenance is said to have
inspired anguish. Tacitus, in the life of his father-in-law Agricola,
mentions the shuddering recollection of the red face of Domitian, as it
looked on at the games. Seneca speaks in one place of wretches doomed to
undergo stones, sword, fire, and _Caius_; in another he says that he had
tortured the noblest Romans with everything which could possibly cause
the intensest agony, - with cords, plates, rack, fire, and, as though it
were the worst torture of all, with his look! What that look was, we
learn from Seneca himself, "His face was ghastly pale, with a look of
insanity; his fierce, dull eyes were half-hidden under a wrinkled brow;
his ill-shaped head was partly bald, partly covered with dyed-hair; his
neck covered with bristles, his legs thin, and his feet mis-shapen." Woe
to the nation that lies under the heel of a brutal despotism; treble woe
to the nation that can tolerate a despot so brutal as this! Yet this was
the nation in the midst of which Seneca lived, and this was the despot
under whom his early manhood was spent.

"But what more oft in nations grown corrupt,
And by their vices brought to servitude,
Than to love bondage more than liberty,
Bondage with ease than strenuous liberty?"

It was one of the peculiarities of Caius Caesar that he hated the very
existence of any excellence. He used to bully and insult the gods
themselves, frowning even at the statues of Apollo and Jupiter of the
Capitol. He thought of abolishing Homer, and order the works of Livy and
Virgil to be removed from all libraries, because he could not bear that
they should be praised. He ordered Julius Graecinus to be put to death
for no other reason than this, "That he was a better man than it was
expedient for a tyrant that any one should be;" for, as Pliny tells us,
the Caesars deliberately preferred that their people should be vicious
than that they should be virtuous. It was hardly likely that such a man
should view with equanimity the rising splendour of Seneca's reputation.
Hitherto, the young man, who was thirty-five years old at the accession
of Caius, had not written any of his philosophic works, but in all
probability he had published his early, and no longer extant, treatises
on earthquakes, on superstitions, and the books _On India_, and _On the
Manners of Egypt_, which had been the fruit of his early travels. It is
probable, too, that he had recited in public some of those tragedies
which have come down to us under his name, and in the composition of
which he was certainly concerned. All these works, and especially the
applause won by the public reading of his poems, would have given him
that high literary reputation which we know him to have earned. It was
not, however, this reputation, but the brilliancy and eloquence of his
orations at the bar which excited the jealous hatred of the Emperor.
Caius piqued himself on the possession of eloquence; and, strange to
say, there are isolated expressions of his which seem to show that, in
lucid intervals, he was by no means devoid of intellectual acuteness.
For instance, there is real humour and insight in the nicknames of "a
golden sheep" which he gave to the rich and placid Silanus, and of
"Ulysses in petticoats," by which he designated his grandmother, the
august Livia. The two epigrammetic criticisms which he passed upon the
style of Seneca are not wholly devoid of truth; he called his works
_Commissiones meras_, or mere displays.[25] In this expression he hit
off, happily enough, the somewhat theatrical, the slightly pedantic and
pedagogic and professorial character of Seneca's diction, its rhetorical
ornament and antitheses, and its deficiency in stern masculine
simplicity and strength. In another remark he showed himself a still
more felicitous critic. He called Seneca's writings _Arenu sine Calce_,
"sand without lime," or, as we might say, "a rope of sand." This epigram
showed a real critical faculty. It exactly hits off Seneca's short and
disjointed sentences, consisting as they often do of detached
antitheses. It accords with the amusing comparison of Malebranche, that
Seneca's composition, with its perpetual and futile recurrences, calls
up to him the image of a dancer who ends where he begins.

[Footnote 25: Suet. _Calig._ liii.]

But Caius did not confine himself to clever and malignant criticism. On
one occasion, when Seneca was pleading in his presence, he was so
jealous and displeased at the brilliancy and power of the orator that he
marked him out for immediate execution. Had Seneca died at this period
he would probably have been little known, and he might have left few
traces of his existence beyond a few tragedies of uncertain
authenticity, and possibly a passing notice in the page of Dio or
Tacitus. But destiny reserved him for a more splendid and more
questionable career. One of Caius's favourites whispered to the Emperor
that it was useless to extinguish a waning lamp; that the health of the
orator was so feeble that a natural death by the progress of his
consumptive tendencies would, in a very short time, remove him out of
the tyrant's way.

Throughout the remainder of the few years during which the reign of
Caius continued, Seneca, warned in time, withdrew himself into complete
obscurity, employing his enforced leisure in that unbroken industry
which stored his mind with such encyclopaedic wealth. "None of my days,"
he says, in describing at a later period the way in which he spent his
time, "is passed in complete ease. I claim even a part of the night for
my studies. I do not _find leisure_ for sleep, but I _succumb_ to it,
and I keep my eyes at their work even when they are wearied and drooping
with watchfulness. I have retired, not only from men, but from affairs,
and especially from my own. I am doing the work for posterity; I am
writing out things which may prove of advantage to them. I am
intrusting to writing healthful admonitions - compositions, as it were,
of useful medicines."

But the days of Caius drew rapidly to an end. His gross and unheard-of
insults to Valerius Asiaticus and Cassius Chaereas brought on him
condign vengeance. It is an additional proof, if proof were wanting, of
the degradation of Imperial Rome, that the deed of retribution was due,
not to the people whom he taxed; not to the soldiers, whole regiments of
whom he had threatened to decimate; not to the knights, of whom scores
had been put to death by his orders; not to the nobles, multitudes of
whom had been treated by him with conspicuous infamy; not even to the
Senate, which illustrious body he had on all occasions deliberately
treated with contumely and hatred, - but to the private revenge of an
insulted soldier. The weak thin voice of Cassius Chaereas, tribune of
the praetorian cohort, had marked him out for the coarse and calumnious
banter of the imperial buffoon; and he determined to avenge himself, and
at the same time rid the world of a monster. He engaged several
accomplices in the conspiracy, which was nearly frustrated by their want
of resolution. For four whole days they hesitated, while day after day,
Caius presided in person at the bloody games of the amphitheatre. On the
fifth day (Jan. 24, A.D. 41), feeling unwell after one of his gluttonous
suppers, he was indisposed to return to the shows, but at last rose to
do so at the solicitation of his attendants. A vaulted corridor led from
the palace to the circus, and in that corridor Caius met a body of noble
Asiatic boys, who were to dance a Pyrrhic dance and sing a laudatory ode
upon the stage. Caius wished them at once to practice a rehearsal in his
presence, but their leader excused himself on the grounds of
hoarseness. At this moment Chaereas asked him for the watchword of the
night. He gave the watchword, "Jupiter." "Receive him in his wrath!"
exclaimed Chaereas, striking him on the throat, while almost at the same
moment the blow of Sabinus cleft the tyrant's jaw, and brought him to
his knee. He crouched his limbs together to screen himself from further
blows, screaming aloud, "I live! I live!" The bearers of his litter
rushed to his assistance, and fought with their poles, but Caius fell
pierced with thirty wounds; and, leaving the body weltering in its
blood, the conspirators rushed out of the palace, and took measures to
concert with the Senate a restoration of the old Republic. On the very
night after the murder the consuls gave to Chaereas the long-forgotten
watchword of "Liberty." But this little gleam of hope proved delusive to
the last degree. It was believed that the unquiet ghost of the murdered
madman haunted the palace, and long before it had been laid to rest by
the forms of decent sepulchre, a new emperor of the great Julian family
was securely seated upon the throne.



CHAPTER VI.

THE REIGN OF CLAUDIUS, AND THE BANISHMENT OF SENECA.

While the senators were deliberating, the soldiers were acting. They
felt a true, though degraded, instinct that to restore the ancient forms
of democratic freedom would be alike impossible and useless, and with
them the only question lay between the rival claimants for the vacant
power. Strange to say that, among these claimants, no one seems ever to
have thought of mentioning the prince who became the actual successor.

There was living in the palace at this time a brother of the great
Germanicus, and consequently an uncle of the late emperor, whose name
was Claudius Caesar. Weakened both in mind and body by the continuous
maladies of an orphaned infancy, kept under the cruel tyranny of a
barbarous slave, the unhappy youth had lived in despised obscurity among
the members of a family who were utterly ashamed of him. His mother
Antonia called him a monstrosity, which Nature had begun but never
finished; and it became a proverbial expression with her, as is said to
have been the case with the mother of the great Wellington, to say of a
dull person, "that he was a greater fool than her son Claudius." His
grandmother Livia rarely deigned to address him except in the briefest
and bitterest terms. His sister Livilla execrated the mere notion of
his ever becoming emperor. Augustus, his grandfather by adoption, took
pains to keep him as much out of sight as possible, as a
wool-gathering[26] and discreditable member of the family, denied him
all public honours, and left him a most paltry legacy. Tiberius, when
looking out for a successor, deliberately passed him over as a man of
deficient intellect. Caius kept him as a butt for his own slaps and
blows, and for the low buffoonery of his meanest jesters. If the unhappy
Claudius came late for dinner, he would find every place occupied, and
peer about disconsolately amid insulting smiles. If, as was his usual
custom, he dropped asleep, after a meal, he was pelted with olives and
date-stones, or rough stockings were drawn over his hands that he might
be seen rubbing his face with them when he was suddenly awaked.

[Footnote 26: He calls him [Greek meteoros] which implies awkwardness
and constant absence of mind.]

This was the unhappy being who was now summoned to support the falling
weight of empire. While rummaging the palace for plunder, a common
soldier had spied a pair of feet protruding from under the curtains
which shaded the sides of an upper corridor. Seizing these feet, and
inquiring who owned them, he dragged out an uncouth, panic-stricken
mortal, who immediately prostrated himself at his knees and begged hard
for mercy. It was Claudius, who scared out of his wits by the tragedy
which he had just beheld, had thus tried to conceal himself until the
storm was passed. "Why, this is Germanicus!" [27] exclaimed the soldier,
"let's make him emperor." Half joking and half in earnest, they hoisted
him on their shoulders - for terror had deprived him of the use of his
legs - and hurried him off to the camp of the Praetorians. Miserable and
anxious he reached the camp, an object of compassion to the crowd of
passers-by, who believed that he was being hurried off to execution. But
the soldiers, who well knew their own interests, accepted him with
acclamations, the more so as, by a fatal precedent, he promised them a
largess of more than 80_l_. apiece. The supple Agrippa (the Herod of
Acts xii.), seeing how the wind lay, offered to plead his cause with the
Senate, and succeeded partly by arguments, partly by intimidation, and
partly by holding out the not unreasonable hopes of a great improvement
on the previous reign.

[Footnote 27: The full name of Claudius was Tiberius Claudius Drusus
Caesar Germanicus.]

For although Claudius had been accused of gambling and drunkenness, not
only were no _worse_ sins laid to his charge, but he had successfully
established some claim to being considered a learned man. Had fortune
blessed him till death with a private station, he might have been the
Lucien Bonaparte of his family - a studious prince, who preferred the
charms of literature to the turmoil of ambition. The anecdotes which
have been recorded of him show that he was something of an
archaeologist, and something of a philologian. The great historian Livy,
pitying the neglect with which the poor young man was treated, had
encouraged him in the study of history; and he had written memoirs of
his own time, memoirs of Augustus, and even a history of the civil wars
since the battle of Actium, which was so correct and so candid that his
family indignantly suppressed it as a fresh proof of his stupidity.

Such was the man who, at the age of fifty, became master of the
civilized world. He offers some singular points of resemblance to our
own "most mighty and dread sovereign," King James I. Both were learned,
and both were eminently unwise;[28] both of them were authors, and both
of them were pedants; both of them delegated their highest powers to
worthless favourites, and both of them enriched these favourites with
such foolish liberality that they remained poor themselves. Both of them
had been terrified into constitutional cowardice by their involuntary
presence at deeds of blood. Both of them, though of naturally good
dispositions, were misled by selfishness into acts of cruelty; and both
of them, though laborious in the discharge of duty, succeeded only in
rendering royalty ridiculous. King James kept Sir Walter Raleigh in
prison, and Claudius drove Seneca into exile. The parallel, so far as I
am aware, has never been noticed, but is susceptible of being drawn out
into the minutest particulars.

[Footnote 28: "Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers," says our own poet.
Heraclitus had said the same thing more than two thousand years before
him, [Greek: polumaoiae ou didasho].]

One of his first acts was to recall his nieces, Julia and Agrippina,
from the exile into which their brother had driven them; and both these
princesses were destined to effect a powerful influence on the life of
our philosopher.

What part Seneca had taken during the few troubled days after the murder
of Caius we do not know. Had he taken a leading part - had he been one of
those who, like Chaereas, opposed the election of Claudius as being
merely the substitution of an imbecile for a lunatic, - or who, like
Sabinus, refused to survive the accession of another Caesar, - we should
perhaps have heard of it; and we must therefore assume either that he
was still absent from Rome in the retirement into which he had been
driven by the jealousy of Caius, or that he contented himself with
quietly watching the course of events. It will be observed that his
biography is not like that of Cicero, with whose life we are acquainted
in most trifling details; but that the curtain rises and falls on
isolated scenes, throwing into sudden brilliancy or into the deepest
shade long and important periods of his history. Nor are his letters and
other writings full of those political and personal allusions which
convert them into an autobiography. They are, without exception,
occupied exclusively with philosophical questions, or else they only
refer to such personal reminiscences as may best be converted into the
text for some Stoical paradox or moral declamation. It is, however,
certain from the sequel that Seneca must have seized the opportunity of
Caius's death to emerge from his politic obscurity, and to occupy a
conspicuous and brilliant position in the imperial court.

It would have been well for his own happiness and fame if he had adopted
the wiser and manlier course of acting up to the doctrines he professed.
A court at most periods is, as the poet says,

"A golden but a fatal circle,
Upon whose magic skirts a thousand devils
In crystal forms sit tempting Innocence,
And beckon early Virtue from its centre;"

but the court of a Caius, of a Claudius, or of a Nero, was indeed a
place wherein few of the wise could find a footing, and still fewer of
the good. And all that Seneca gained from his career of ambition was to
be suspected by the first of these Emperors, banished by the second, and
murdered by the third.

The first few acts of Claudius showed a sensible and kindly disposition;
but it soon became fatally obvious that the real powers of the
government would be wielded, not by the timid and absent-minded
Emperor, but by any one who for the time being could acquire an
ascendency over his well-intentioned but feeble disposition. Now, the
friends and confidents of Claudius had long been chosen from the ranks
of his freedmen. As under Louis XI. and Don Miguel, the barbers of these
monarchs were the real governors, so Claudius was but the minister
rather than the master of Narcissus his private secretary, of Polybius
his literary adviser, and of Pallas his accountant. A third person, with
whose name Scripture has made us familiar, was a freedman of Claudius.
This was Felix, the brother of Pallas, and that Procurator who, though
he had been the husband or the paramour of three queens, trembled before
the simple eloquence of a feeble and imprisoned Jew.[29] These men
became proverbial for their insolence and wealth; and once, when
Claudius was complaining of his own poverty, some one wittily replied,
"that he would have abundance if two of his freedmen would but admit him
into partnership with them."

[Footnote 29: Acts xix.]

But these men gained additional power from the countenance and intrigues
of the young and beautiful wife of Claudius, Valeria Messalina. In his
marriage, as in all else, Claudius had been pre-eminent in misfortune.
He lived in an age of which the most frightful sign of depravity was
that its women were, if possible, a shade worse than its men; and it was
the misery of Claudius, as it finally proved his ruin, to have been
united by marriage to the very worst among them all. Princesses like the
Berenice, and the Drusilla, and the Salome, and the Herodias of the
sacred historians were in this age a familiar spectacle; but none of
them were so wicked as two at least of Claudius's wives. He was
betrothed or married no less than five times. The lady first destined
for his bride had been repudiated because her parents had offended
Augustus; the next died on the very day intended for her nuptials. By
his first actual wife, Urgulania, whom he had married in early youth, he
had two children, Drusus and Claudia; Drusus was accidentally choked in
boyhood while trying to swallow a pear which had been thrown up into the
air. Very shortly after the birth of Claudia, discovering the
unfaithfulness of Urgulania, Claudius divorced her, and ordered the
child to be stripped naked and exposed to die. His second wife, Aelia
Petina, seems to have been an unsuitable person, and her also he
divorced. His third and fourth wives lived to earn a colossal
infamy - Valeria Messalina for her shameless character, Agrippina the
younger for her unscrupulous ambition.

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

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

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

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

Seneca, as one of the most enlightened men of his age, should have aimed
at a character which would have been above the possibility of suspicion:
but we must remember that charges such as those which were brought


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