Copyright
W. Lucas (William Lucas) Collins.

Cicero online

. (page 10 of 24)
Online LibraryW. Lucas (William Lucas) CollinsCicero → online text (page 10 of 24)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


He was certainly a remarkable example in his own
case of its being possible to grow old gracefully and
usefully, if, as he tells us, he was at that age still able
to take part in the debates in the Senate, was busy
collecting materials for the early history of Rome, had
quite lately begun the study of Greek, could enjoy
a country dinner-party, and had been thinking of
taking lessons in playing on the lyre.

He states four reasons why old age is so commonly
considered miserable. First, it unfits us for active em-
ployment; secondly, it weakens the bodily strength;
thirdly, it deprives us of nearly all pleasures ; fourthly
and lastly, it is drawing near death. As to the first, the
old senator argues very fairly that very much of the
more important business of life is not only transacted
by old men, but in point of fact, as is confessed by the
very name and composition of the Roman Senate, it is
thought safest to intrust it to the elders in the state.
The pilot at the helm may not be able to climb the
mast and run up and down the deck like the younger
sailor, but he steers none the worse for being old. He
quotes some well-known examples of tbis from Roman
annals; examples which might be matched by obvious
instances in modern English history. The defence
which he makes of old age against the second charge
loss of muscular vigour is rather more of the
nature of special pleading. He says little more than



142 ESSAY ON 'OLD AGE.'

that mere muscular strength, after all, is not much
wanted for our happiness : that there are always com-
parative degrees of strength; and that an old man
need no more make himself unhappy because he has
not the strength of a young man, than the latter does
because he has not the strength of a bull or an ele-
phant. It was very well for the great wrestler Milo
to be able to carry an ox round the arena on his
shoulders; but, on the whole, a man does not often
want to walk about with a bullock on his back.
The old are said, too, to lose their memory. Cato
thinks they can remember pretty well all that they
care to remember. They are not apt to forget who
owes them money; and "I never knew an old man
forget," he says, " where he had buried his gold."
Then as to the pleasures of the senses, which age un-
doubtedly diminishes our power of enjoying. " This,"
says Cato, " is really a privilege, not a deprivation ;
to be delivered from the yoke of such tyrants as our
passions to feel that we have 'got our discharge'
from such a warfare is a blessing for which men ought
rather to be grateful to their advancing years." And
the respect and authority which is by general consent
conceded to old age, is a pleasure more than equivalent
to the vanished pleasures of youth.

There is one consideration which the author has not
placed amongst his four chief disadvantages of growing
old, which, however, he did not forget, for he notices
it incidentally in the dialogue, the feeling that we
are growing less agreeable to our friends, that our com-
pany is less sought after, and that we are, in short,



ESSAY ON 'OLD AGE.' 143

becoming rather ciphers in society. This, in a con-
dition of high civilisation, is really perhaps felt by
most of us as the hardest to bear of all the ills to
which old age is liable. "We should not care so much
about the younger generation rising up and making us
look old, if we did not feel that they are " pushing us
from our stools." Cato admits that he had heard some
old men complain that " they were now neglected by
those who had once courted their society," and he
quotes a passage from the comic poet Csecilius :

" This is the bitterest pang in growing old,
To feel that we grow hateful to our fellows."

But he dismisses the question briefly in his own case
by observing with some complacency that he does not
think his young friends find his company disagreeable
an assertion which Scipio and Leelius, who occa-
sionally take part in the dialogue, are far too well
bred to contradict. He remarks also, sensibly enough,
that though some old persons are no doubt considered
disagreeable company, this is in great measure their
own fault : that testiness and ill - nature (qualities
which, as he observes, do not usually improve with
age) are always disagreeable, and that such persons
attributed to their advancing years what was in truth
the consequence of their unamiable tempers. It is not
all wine which turns sour with age, nor yet all tem-
pers ; much depends on the original quality. The old
Censor lays down some maxims which, like the pre-
ceding, have served as texts for a goo'd many modern
writers, and may be found expanded, diluted, or



144 ESSAY ON 'OLD AGE.

strengthened, in the essays of Addison and Johnson,
and in many of their followers of less repute. " I
never could assent," says Cato, " to that ancient and
inuch-bepraised proverb, that * you must become an
old man early, if you wish to be an old man long.' "
Yet it was a maxim which was very much acted upon
by modern Englishmen a generation or two back.
It was then thought almost a moral duty to retire
into old age, and to assume all its disabilities as well as
its privileges, after sixty years or even earlier. At
present the world sides with Cato, and rushes perhaps
into the other extreme ; for any line at which old age
now begins would be hard to trace either in dress or
deportment. " We must resist old age, and fight
against it as a disease." Strong words from the old
Roman ; but, undoubtedly, so long as we stop short
of the attempt to affect juvenility, Cato is right. "We
should keep ourselves as young as possible. He speaks
shrewd sense, again, when he says " As I like to see
a young man who has something old about him, so I
like to see an old man in whom there remains some-
thing of the youth : and he who follows this maxim
may become an old man in body, but never in heart."
" What a blessing it is," says Southey, " to have a
boy's heart ! " Do we not all know these charming
old people, to whom the young take almost as heartily
as to their own equals in age, who are the favourite
consultees in all amusements, the confidants in all
troubles ?

Cato is made to place a great part of his own enjoy-
ment, in these latter years of his, in the cultivation of



USSAF O.r 'OLD AGE.' 145

his farm and garden (he had written, we must remem-
ber, a treatise 'De Ee Eustica,' a kind of Eoman
' Book of the Farm,' which we have still remaining).
He is enthusiastic in his description of the pleasures
of a country gentleman's life, and, like a good farmer,
as no doubt he was, becomes eloquent upon the grand
subject of manures. Gardening is a pursuit which he
holds in equal honour that " purest of human plea-
sures," as Bacon calls it. On the subject of the country
life generally he confesses an inclination to become
garrulous the one failing which he admits may be
fairly laid to the charge of old age. The picture of
the way of living of a Eoman gentleman-farmer, as he
draws it, must have presented a strong contrast with
the artificial city-life of Eome.

" Where the master of the house is a good and care-
ful manager, his wine-cellar, his oil-stores, his larder,
are always well stocked ; there is a fulness throughout
the whole establishment; pigs, kids, lambs, poultry,
milk, cheese, honey, all are in abundance. The pro-
duce of the garden is always equal, as our country-folk
say, to a second course. And all these good things
acquire a double relish from the voluntary labours of
fowling and the chase. What need to dwell upon
the charm of the green fields, the well-ordered planta-
tions, the beauty of the vineyards and olive-groves 1
In short, nothing can be more luxuriant in produce,
or more delightful to the eye, than a well-cultivated
estate ; and,- to the enjoyment of this, old age is so far
from being any hindrance, that it rather invites and
allures us to such pursuits."

A. c. vol. ix. K



146 ESSAY ON 'OLD AGE.'

He has no patience with what has been called the
despondency of old age the feeling, natural enough at
that time of life, hut not desirable to be encouraged, that
there is no longer any room for hope or promise in the
future which gives so much of its interest to the present.
He will not listen to the poet when he says again

" He plants the tree that shall not see the fruit."

The answer which he would make has been often put
into other and more elaborate language, but has a
simple grandeur of its own. " If any should ask the
aged cultivator for whom he plants, let him not hesi-
tate to make this reply, ' For the immortal gods, who,
as they willed nie to inherit these possessions from my
forefathers, so would have me hand them on to those
that shall come after.' "

The old Eoman had not the horror of country society
which so many civilised Englishmen either have or
affect. "I like a talk," he says, " over a cup of wine."
" Even when I am down at my Sabine estate, I daily
make one at a party of my country neighbours, and
we prolong our conversation very frequently far into
the night." The words are put into Cato's mouth, but
the voice is the well-known voice of Cicero. We find
him here, as in his letters, persuading himself into the
belief that the secret of happiness is to be found in the
retirement of the country. And his genial and social
nature beams through it all. We are reminded of his
half-serious complaints to Atticus * of his importunate
visitors at.Formise, the dinner-parties which he was, as

* See p. 44.



JSSSAY ON 'OLD AGE.' 147

we say now, " obliged to go to," and which he so evi-
dently enjoyed.*

He is careful, however, to remind his readers that
old age, to be really either happy or venerable, must
not be the old age of the mere voluptuary or the de-
bauchee ; that the grey head, in order to be, even in
his pagan sense, " a crown of glory," must have been
"found in the way of righteousness." Shakespeare
might have learned from Cicero in these points the
moral which he puts into the mouth of his Adam

" Therefore mine age is as a lusty winter,
Frosty but kindly."

It is a miserable old age, says the Eoman, which is
obliged to appeal to its grey hairs as its only claim
to the respect of its juniors. " Neither hoar hairs nor
wrinkles can arrogate reverence as their right. It
is the life whose opening years have been honourably
spent which reaps the reward of reverence at its close."
In discussing the last of the evils which accompany
old age, the near approach of death, Cicero rises to
something higher than his usual leveL His Cato will
not have death to be an evil at all ; it is to him the
escaping from " the prison of the body," the " getting
the sight of land at last after a long voyage, and com-
ing into port." Nay, he does not admit that death is

* "A clergyman was complaining of the want of society in
the country where he lived, and said, ' They talk of nmts '
(i.e., young cows). 'Sir,' said Mr Salusbury, 'Mr Johnson
would learn to talk of runts ; ' meaning that I was a man who
would make the most of my situation, whatever it was. " Bos-
well's Life. Cicero was like Dr Johnson.



148 ESSAY ON 'OLD AGE.'

death. " I have never been able to persuade myself,"
he says, quoting the words of Cyrus in Xenophon, "that
our spirits were alive while they were in these mortal
bodies, and died only when they departed out of them;
or that the spirit then only becomes void of sense
when it escapes from a senseless body; but that rather
when freed from all admixture of corporality, it is pure
and uncontaminated, then it most truly has sense."
" I am fully persuaded," he says to his young listeners,
" that your two fathers, my old and dearly - loved
friends, are living now, and living that life which
only is worthy to be so called." And he winds up the
dialogue with the very beautiful apostrophe, one of the
last utterances of the philosopher's heart, well known,
yet not too well known to be here quoted

" It likes me not to mourn over departing life, as
many men, and men of learning, have done. Nor can
I regret that I have lived, since I have so lived that I
may trust I was not born in vain ; and I depart out of
life as out of a temporary lodging,, not as out of my
home. For nature has given it to us as an inn to
tarry at by the way, not as a place to abide in. O
glorious day ! when I shall set out to join that blessed
company and assembly of disembodied spirits, and
quit this crowd and rabble of life ! For I shall go my
way, not only to those great men of whom I spoke,
but to my own son Cato, than whom was never better
man born, nor more full of dutiful affection ; whose
body I kid on the funeral pile an office he should
rather have done for me.* But his spirit has never left

* Burke touches the same key in speaking of his son : " I



JESSA Y ON 'FRIENDSHIP.' U9

me ; it still looks fondly back upon me, though it has
gone assuredly into those abodes where he knew that
I myself should follow. And this my great loss I
seemed to bear with calmness ; not that I bore it un-
disturbed, but that I still consoled myself with the
thought that the separation between us could not be
for long. And if I err in this in that I believe the
spirits of men to be immortal I err willingly ; nor
would I have this mistaken belief of mine uprooted so
long as I shall live. But if, after I am dead, I shall
have no consciousness, as some curious philosophers
assert, then I am not afraid of dead philosophers
laughing at my mistake."



The essay on ' Friendship '. is dedicated by the author
to Atticus an appropriate recognition, as he says, of
the long and intimate friendship which had existed
between themselves. It is thrown, like the other, into
the form of a dialogue. The principal speaker here is
one of the listeners in the former case Laelius, sur-
named the Wise who is introduced as receiving a visit
from his two sons-in-law, Fannius and Scaevola (the
great lawyer before mentioned*), soon after the sudden
death of his great friend, the younger Scipio Afri-
canus. Laelius takes the occasion, at the request of the
young men, to give them his views and opinions on
the subject of Friendship generally. This essay is per-

live in an inverted order. They who ought to have succeeded
me have gone before me : they who should have been to me as
posterity are in the place of ancestors. "
* P. 6.



150 ESSAY ON 'FRIENDSHIP'

haps more original than that upon ' Old Age,' but cer-
tainly is not so attractive to a modern reader. Its
great merit is the grace and polish of the language ;
but the arguments brought forward to prove what an
excellent thing it is for a man to have good friends,
and plenty of them, in this world, and the rules for his
behaviour towards them, seem to us somewhat trite
and commonplace, whatever might have been their
effect upon a Roman reader.

Cicero is indebted to the Greek philosophers for the
main outlines of his theory of friendship, though his
acquaintance with the works of Plato and Aristotle was
probably exceedingly superficial. He holds, with them,
that man is a social animal; that " we are so constituted
by nature that there must be some degree of association
between us all, growing closer in proportion as we are
brought into more intimate relations one with another."
So that the social bond is a matter of instinct, not of
calculation ; not a cold commercial contract of profit
and loss, of giving and receiving, but the fulfilment
of one of the yearnings of our nature. Here he is in
full accordance with the teaching of Aristotle, who, of
all the various kinds of friendship to which he allows
the common name, pronounces that which is founded
merely upon interest upon mutual interchange, by
tacit agreement, of certain benefits to be the least
worthy of such a designation. Friendship is defined
by Cicero to be " the perfect accord upon all questions,
religious and social, together with mutual goodwill and
affection." This " perfect accord," it must be confessed,
is a very large requirement. He follows his Greek



ESSAY ON 'FRIENDSHIP: 151

masters again in holding that true friendship can
exist only amongst the good ; that, in fact, all friendship
must assume that there is something good and lovable
in the person towards whom the feeling is entertained :
it may occasionally be a mistaken assumption ; the
good quality we think we see in our friend may
hare no existence save in our own partial imagination ;
but the existence of the counterfeit is an incontestable
evidence of the true original. And the greatest attrac-
tion, and therefore the truest friendships, will always
be of the good towards the good.

He admits, however, the notorious fact, that good
persons are sometimes disagreeable ; and he confesses
that we have a right to seek in our friends amiability
as well as moral excellence. " Sweetness," he says
anticipating, as all these ancients so provokingly do,
some of our most modern popular philosophers
" sweetness, both in language and in manner, is a very
powerful attraction in the formation of friendships."
He is by no means of the same opinion as Sisyphus in
Lord Lytton's < Tale of Miletus '

" Now, then, I know thoii really art my friend,
None but true friends choose such unpleasant words."

He admits that it is the office of a friend to tell un-
pleasant truths sometimes ; but there should be a cer-
tain amount of this indispensable " sweetness " to
temper the bitterness of the advice. There are some
friends who are continually reminding you of what
they have done for you " a disgusting set of people
verily they aro," cays our author. And there are others



152 ESSAY ON 'FRIENDSHIP:

who are always thinking themselves slighted ; "in
which case there is generally something of which they
are conscious in themselves, as laying them open to
contemptuous treatment."

Cicero's own character displays itself in this short
treatise. Here, as everywhere, he is the politician.
He shows a true appreciation of the duties and the
qualifications of a true friend ; but his own thoughts
are running upon political friendships. Just as when,
in many of his letters, he talks about "all honest
men," he means " our party ; " so here, when he talks
of friends, he cannot help showing that it was of the
essence of friendship, in his view, to hold the same
political opinions, and that one great use of friends was
that a man should not be isolated, as he had sometimes
feared he was, in his political course. When he puts
forward the old instances of Coriolanus and Gracchus,
and discusses the question whether their " friends" were
or were not bound to aid them in their treasonable
designs against the state, he was surely thinking of the
factions of his own times, and the troublesome brother-
hoods which had gathered round Catiline and Clodius.
Be this as it may, the advice which he makes Laelius
give to his younger relatives is good for all ages, modern
or ancient : " There is nothing in this world more valu-
able than friendship." " Next to the immediate blessing
and providence of Almighty God," Lord Clarendon was
often heard to say, " I owe all the little I know, and
the little good that is in me, to the friendships and
conversation I have still been used to, of the most excel-
lent men in their several kinds that lived in that age."



CHAPTEE XL
CICERO'S PHILOSOPHY.
'THE TRUE ENDS OF LIFE.'*

PHILOSOPHY was to the Eoman what religion is to us.
It professed to answer, so far as it might be answered,
Pilate's question, "What is truth?" or to teach men,
as Cicero described it, " the knowledge of things
human and divine." Hence the philosopher invests
his subject with all attributes of dignity. To him
Philosophy brings all blessings in her train. She is
the guide of life, the medicine for his sorrows, " the
fountain-head of all perfect eloquence the mother of
all good deeds and good words." He invokes with
affectionate reverence the great name of Socrates the
sage who had " first drawn wisdom down from heaven."
No man ever approached his subject more richly
laden with philosophic lore than Cicero. Snatching
every leisure moment that he could from a busy life,
he devotes it to the study of the great minds of former
ages. Indeed, he held this study to be the duty of
* 'De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum."



154 CICERO'S PHILOSOPHY.

the perfect orator ; a knowledge of the human mind
was one of his essential qualifications. Nor could he
conceive of real eloquence without it ; for his defini-
tion of eloquence is, "wisdom speaking fluently."*
But such studies were also suited to his own natural
tastes. And as years passed on, and he grew weary of
civil discords and was harassed by domestic troubles,
the great orator turns his back upon the noisy city,
and takes his parchments of Plato and Aristotle to be
the friends of his councils and the companions of his
solitude, seeking by their light to discover Truth,
which Democritus had declared to be buried in the
depths of the sea.

Yet, after all, he professes to do little more than
translate. So conscious is he that it is to Greece that
Home is indebted for all her literature, and so con-
scious, also, on the part of his countrymen, of what he
terms " an arrogant disdain for everything national,"
that he apologises to his readers for writing for the
million in their mother-tongue. Yet he is not content,
as he says, to be " a mere interpreter." He thought
that by an eclectic process adopting and rearranging
such of the doctrines of his Greek masters as approved
themselves to his own judgment he might make his
own work a substitute for theirs. His ambition is to
achieve what he might well regard as the hardest of
tasks a popular treatise on philosophy ; and he has
certainly succeeded. He makes no pretence to origi-
nality ; all he can do is, as he expresses it, " to array
Plato in a Latin dress," and "present this stranger
* " Copiose loquens sapientia,"



'THE TRUE ENDS OF LIFE: 155

from beyond the seas with the freedom of his native
city." And so this treatise on the Ends of Life a
grave question even to the most careless thinker is,
from the nature of the case, both dramatic and rhetor-
ical. Representatives of the two great schools of philo-
sophy the Stoics and Epicureans plead and counter-
plead in his pages, each in their turn; and their
arguments are based on principles broad and universal
enough to be valid even now. For now, as then,
men are inevitably separated into two classes amiable
men of ease, who guide their conduct by the rudder-
strings of pleasure who for the most part " leave the
world " (as has been finely said) " in the world's debt,
having consumed much and produced nothing ;"* or,
on the other hand, zealous men of duty,

" Who scorn delights and live laborious days,"

and act according to the dictates of their honour or
their conscience. In practice, if not in theory, a man
must be either Stoic or Epicurean.

Each school, in this dialogue, is allowed to plead its
own cause. "Listen" (says the Epicurean) "to the
voice of nature that bids you pursue pleasure, and do
not be misled by that vulgar conception of pleasure as
mere sensual enjoyment ; our opponents misrepresent
us when they say that we advocate this as the highest
good ; we hold, on the contrary, that men often obtain
the greatest pleasure by neglecting this baser kind.
Your highest instances of martyrdom of Decii
devoting themselves for their country, of consuls
* Lord Derby.



156 CICERO'S PHILOSOPHY.

putting their sons to death to preserve discipline
are not disinterested acts of sacrifice, but the choice
of a present pain in order to procure a future pleasure.
Vice is but ignorance of real enjoyment. Temperance
alone can bring peace of mind ; and the wicked, even
if they escape public censure, 'are racked night and
day by the anxieties sent upon them by the immortal
gods.' We do not, in this, contradict your Stoic ; we,
too, affirm that only the wise man is really happy.
Happiness is as impossible for a mind distracted by
passions, as for a city divided by contending fac-
tions. The terrors of death haunt the guilty wretch,
' who finds out too late that he has devoted him-
self to money or power or glory to no purpose.' But
the wise man's life is unalloyed happiness. Kejoicing
in a clear conscience, 'he remembers the past with
gratitude, enjoys the blessings of the present, and
disregards the future.' Thus the moral to be drawn
is that which Horace (himself, as he expresses it, ' one
of the litter of Epicurus ') impresses on his fair friend


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 10 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24

Online LibraryW. Lucas (William Lucas) CollinsCicero → online text (page 10 of 24)