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consolation can we bring to ease the pain of the
Epicurean ? " Put a nosegay to his nostrils burn
perfumes before him crown him with roses and wood-
bine ! " But perfumes and garlands can do little in
such case ; pleasures may divert, but they can scarcely

Again, the Cyrenaics bring at the best but Job's
comfort. No man will bear his misfortunes the more
lightly by bethinking himself that they are unavoid-
able that others have suffered before him that pain
is part and parcel of the ills which flesh is heir to.
Why grieve at all? Why feed your misfortune by
dwelling on it? Plunge rather into active life and
forget it, remembering that excessive lamentation over
the trivial accidents of humanity is alike unmanly and
unnecessary. And as it is with grief, so it is with
envy, lust, anger, and those other "perturbations of
the mind " which the Stoic Zeno rightly declares to
be "repugnant to reason and nature." From such
disquietudes it is the wise man who is free.

The fifth and last book discusses the great question,
Is virtue of itself sufficient to make life happy ? The
bold conclusion is, that it is sufficient. Cicero is not
content with the timid qualifications adopted by the
school of the Peripatetics, who say one moment that
external advantages and worldly prosperity are nothing,
and then again admit that, though man may be happy
without them, he is happier with them, which is


making the real happiness imperfect after all. Men
differ in their views of life. As in the great Olympic
games, the throng are attracted, some by desire of gain,
some by the crown of wild olive, some merely by the
spectacle ; so, in the race of life, we are all slaves to
some ruling idea, it may be glory, or money, or wis-
dom. But they alone can be pronounced happy whose
minds are like some tranquil sea "alarmed by no
fears, wasted by no griefs, inflamed by no lusts, ener-
vated by no relaxing pleasures, and such serenity
virtue alone can produce."

These ' Disputations ' have always been highly ad-
mired. But their popularity was greater in times
when Cicero's Greek originals were less read or under-
stood. Erasmus carried his admiration of this treatise
to enthusiasm. " I cannot doubt," he says, " but that
the mind from which such teaching flowed was in-
spired in some sort by divinity."


The treatise 'De Officiis,' known as Cicero's ' Offices,'
to which we pass next, is addressed by the author to
his son, while studying at Athens under Cratippus ;
possibly in imitation of Aristotle, who inscribed his
Ethics to his son Nicomachus. It is a treatise on
the duties of a gentleman "the noblest present,"
says a modern writer, "ever made by parent to a
child."* "Written in a far higher tone than Lord
Chesterfield's letters, though treating of the same sub-
* Kelsall.


ject, it proposes and answers multifarious questions
which must occur continually to the modern Christian
as well as to the ancient philosopher. " What makes
an action right or wrong ? What is a duty ? What is
expediency? How shall I learn to choose between
my principles and my interests t And lastly (a point
of casuistry which must sometimes perplex the strict-
est conscience), of two ' things honest,' * which is most

The key-note of his discourse throughout is Honour ;
and the word seems to carry with it that magic force
which Burke attributed to chivalry " the unbought
grace of life the nurse of heroic sentiment and manly
enterprise." Noblesse oblige, and there is no state of
life, says Cicero, without its obligations. In their due
discharge consists all the nobility, and in their neglect
all the disgrace, of character. There should be no
selfish devotion to private interests. We are born not
for ourselves only, but for our kindred and fatherland.
We owe duties not only to those who have benefited
but to those who have wronged us. We should render
to all their due ; and justice is due even to the lowest
of mankind : what, for instance (he says with a hard-
ness which jars upon our better feelings), can be lower
than a slave ? Honour is that " unbought grace " which
adds a lustre to every action. In society it produces

* The English " Honesty " and " Honour " alike fail to con-
vey the full force of the Latin honestits. The word expresses
a progress of thought from comeliness and grace of person to
a noble and graceful character all whose works are done in
honesty and honour.


courtesy of manners ; in business, under the form of
truth, it establishes public credit. Again, as equity, it
smooths the harsh features of the la\v. In war it pro-
duces that moderation and good faith between contend-
ing armies which are the surest basis of a lasting peace.
And so in honour are centred the elements of all the
virtues wisdom and justice, fortitude and temperance;
and "if," he says, reproducing the noble words of
Plato, as applied by him to Wisdom, " this ' Honour '
could but be seen in her full beauty by mortal eyes,
the whole world would fall in love with her."

Such is the general spirit of this treatise, of which
only the briefest sketch can be given in these pages.

Cicero bases honour on our inherent excellence of
nature, paying the same noble tribute to humanity as
Kant some centuries after : " On earth there is nothing
great but man ; in man there is nothing great but
mind." Truth is a law of our nature. Man is only
" lower than the angels ; " and to him belong prero-
gatives which mark him off from the brute creation
the faculties of reason and discernment, the sense of
beauty, and the love of law and order. And from this
arises that fellow-feeling which, in one sense, " makes
the whole world kin " the spirit of Terence's famous
line, which Cicero notices (applauded on its recitation,
as Augustin tells us, by the cheers of the entire audi-
ence in the theatre)

" Homo sum human! nihil a me alienum puto ; " *

* " I am a man I hold that nothing which concerns man-
kind can be matter of unconcern to me. "


for (he continues) " all men by nature love one another,
and desire an intercourse of words and action." Hence
spring the family affections, friendship, and social ties ;
hence also that general love of combination, which
forms a striking feature of the present age, resulting
in clubs, trades - unions, companies, and generally in
what Mr Carlyle terms " swannery."

Next to truth, justice is the great duty of mankind.
Cicero at once condemns " communism " in matters of
property. Ancient immemorial seizure, conquest, or
compact, may give a title ; but " no man can say that
he has anything his own by a right of nature." In-
justice springs from avarice or ambition, the thirst of
riches or of empire, and is the more dangerous as it
appears in the more exalted spirits, causing a dissolu-
tion of all ties and obligations. And here he takes oc-
casion to instance " that late most shameless attempt
of Caesar's to make himself master of Rome."

There is, besides, an injustice of omission. You
may wrong your neighbour by seeing him wronged
without interfering. Cicero takes the opportunity of
protesting strongly against the selfish policy of those
lovers of ease and peace, who, " from a desire of
furthering their own interests, or else from a churlish
temper, profess that they mind nobody's business but
their own, in order that they may seem to be men of
strict integrity and to injure none," and thus shrink
from taking their part in "the fellowship of life."
He would have had small patience with our modern
doctrine of non-intervention and neutrality in nations
any more than in men. Such conduct arises (he says)


from the false logic with which men cheat their con-
science ; arguing reversely, that whatever is the best
policy is honesty.

There are two ways, it must be remembered, in
which one man may injure another force and fraud ;
but as the lion is a nobler creature than the fox, so
open violence seems less odious than secret villany.
No character is so justly hateful as

K A rogue in grain,
Veneered with sanctimonious theory."

Nations have their obligations as well as individuals,
and war has its laws as well as peace. The struggle
should be carried on in a generous temper, and not in
the spirit of extermination, when "it has sometimes
seemed a question between two hostile nations, not
which should remain a conqueror, but which should
remain a nation at alL"

!N"o mean part of justice consists in liberality, and
this, too, has its duties. It is an important question,
how, and when, and to whom, we should give ? It is
possible to be generous at another person's expense :
it is possible to injure the recipient by mistimed
liberality ; or to ruin one's fortune by open house and
prodigal hospitality. A great man's bounty (as he
says in another place) should be a common sanctuary
for the needy. " To ransom captives and enrich the
meaner folk is a nobler form of generosity than pro-
viding wild beasts or shows of gladiators to amuse the
mob." Charity should begin at home ; for relations

A. C. Vol. ix. M


and friends hold the first place in our affections ; but
the circle of our good deeds is not to be narrowed
by the ties of blood, or sect, or party, and " our
country comprehends the endearments of all." We
should act in the spirit of the ancient law "Thou
shalt keep no man from the running stream, or from
lighting his torch at thy hearth." Our liberality
should be really liberal, like that charity which
Jeremy Taylor describes as "friendship to all the

Another component principle of this honour is cour-
age, or " greatness of soul," which (continues Cicero)
has been well denned by the Stoics as " a virtue con-
tending for justice and honesty ; " and its noblest form
is a generous contempt for ordinary objects of ambi-
tion, not " from a vain or fantastic humour, but from
solid principles of reason." The lowest and commoner
form of courage is the mere animal virtue of the

But a character should not only be excellent, it
should be graceful. In gesture and deportment men
should strive to acquire that dignified grace of manners
" which adds as it were a lustre to our lives." They
should avoid affectation and eccentricity ; " not to care
a farthing what people think of us is a sign not so
much of pride as of immodesty." The want of tact
the saying and doing things at the wrong time and
place produces the same discord in society as a false
note in music ; and harmony of character is of more
consequence than harmony of sounds. There is a
grace in words as well as in conduct : we should


avoid unseasonable jests, " and not lard our talk with
Greek quotations." *

In the path of life, each should follow the bent of
his own genius, so far as it is innocent

" Honour and shame from no condition rise ;
Act well your part there all the honour lies."

Nothing is so difficult (says Cicero) as the choice of
a profession, inasmuch as " the choice has commonly
to be made when the judgment is weakest." Some
tread in their father's steps, others beat out a fresh
line of their own ; and (he adds, perhaps not without
a personal reference) this is generally the case with
those born of mean parents, who propose ta carve
their own way in the world. But the parvenu of
Arpinum the 'new man,' as aristocratic jealousy
always loved to call him is by no means insensible
to the true honours of ancestry. " The noblest inher-
itance," he says, "that can ever be left by a father to
his son, far excelling that of lands and houses, is the
fame of his virtues and glorious actions ; " and saddest
of all sights is that of a noble house dragged through
the mire by some degenerate descendant, so as to be a
by-word among the populace, "which may" (he con-
cludes) " be justly said of but too many in our times."

The Roman's view of the comparative dignity of
professions and occupations is interesting, because his
prejudices (if they be prejudices) have so long main-

* This last precept Cicero must have considered did not
apply to letter-writing, otherwise he was a notorious offender
against his own rule.


tained their ground amongst us moderns. Tax-gather-
ers and usurers are as unpopular now as ever the
latter very deservedly so. Eetail trade is despicable,
we are told, and " all mechanics are by their profes-
sion mean." Especially such trades as minister to
mere appetite or luxury butchers, fishmongers, and
cooks; perfumers, dancers, and suchlike. But medi-
cine, architecture, education, farming, and even whole-
sale business, especially importation and exportation,
are the professions of a gentleman. " But if the mer-
chant, satisfied with his profits, shall leave the seas and
from the harbour step into a landed estate, such a man
seems justly deserving of praise." "We seem to be
reading the verdict of modern English society delivered
by anticipation two thousand years ago.

The section ends with earnest advice to all, that they
should put their principles into practice. " The deepest
knowledge of nature is but a poor and imperfect busi-
ness, unless it proceeds into action. As justice con-
sists in no abstract theory, but in upholding society
among men, as " greatness of soul itself, if it be iso-
lated from the duties of social life, is but a kind of un-
couth churlishness," so it is each citizen's duty to leave
his philosophic seclusion of a cloister, and take his place
in public life, if the times demand it, " though he be
able to number the stars and measure out the world."

The same practical vein is continued in the next
book. What, after all, are a man's real interests ? what
line of conduct will best advance the main end of his
life ? Generally, men make the fatal mistake of assum-
ing that honour must always clash with their interests ;


while in reality, says Cicero, " they would obtain their
ends best, not by knavery and underhand dealing, but
by justice and integrity." The right is identical with
the expedient. " The way to secure the favour of the
gods is by upright dealing ; and next to the gods, no-
thing contributes so much to men's happiness as men
themselves." It is labour and co-operation which have
given us all the goods which we possess.

Since, then, man is the best friend to man, and
also his most formidable enemy, an important question
tobe discussed is the secret of influence and popularity
" the art of winning men's affections." For to govern
by bribes or by force is not really to govern at all ; and
no obedience based on fear can be lasting " no force
of power can bear up long against a current of public
hate." Adventurers who ride rough-shod over law (he
is thinking again of Csesar) have but a short-lived reign ;
and " liberty, when she has been chained up a while,
bites harder when let loose than if she had never been
chained at all." * Most happy was that just and moder-
ate government of Eome in earlier times, when she was
" the port and refuge for princes and nations in their
hour of need." Three requisites go to form that popu-
.lar character which has a just influence over others;
we must win men's love, we must deserve their confi-

* It is curious to note how, throughout the whole of this
argument, Cicero, whether consciously or unconsciously, works
upon the principle that the highest life is the political life, and
that the highest object a man can set before him is the obtain-
ing, by legitimate means, influence and authority amongst his


dence, and we must inspire them with an admiration
for our abilities. The shortest and most direct road to
real influence is that which Socrates recommends " for
a man to be that which he wishes men to take him

Then follow some maxims which show how thor-
oughly conservative was the policy of our philosopher.
The security of property he holds to be the security
of the state. There must be no playing with vested
rights, no unequal taxation, no attempt to bring all
things to a level, no cancelling of debts and redistribu-
tion of land (he is thinking of the baits held out by
Catiline), none of those traditional devices for winning
favour with the people, which, tend to destroy that
social concord and unity which make a common-
wealth. " What reason is there," he asks, " why,
when I have bought, built, repaired, and laid out much
money, another shall come and enjoy the fruits of it 1 "

And as a man should be careful of the interests of the
social body, so he should be of his own. But Cicero
feels that in descending to such questions he is
somewhat losing sight of his dignity as a moralist.
" You will find all this thoroughly discussed," he says
to his son, " in Xenophon's (Economics a book
which, when I was just your age, I translated from
the Greek into Latin." [One wonders whether young
Marcus took the hint.] " And if you want instruction
in money matters, there are gentlemen sitting on the

* "Not being less but more than all
The gentleness he seemed to be."

Tennyson : ' In Memoriam.'


Exchange who will teach you much better than the

The last book opens with a saying of the elder
Cato's, which Cicero much admires, though he says
modestly that he was never able in his own case quite
to realise it " I am never less idle than when I am
idle, and never less alone than when alone." Retire-
ment and solitude are excellent things, Cicero always
declares ; generally contriving at the same time to
make it plain, as he does here, that his own heart is in
the world of public life. But at least it gives him time
for writing. He " has written more in this short time,
since the fall of the Commonwealth, than in all the
years during which it stood."

He here resolves the question, If honour and interest
seem to clash, which is to give way? Or rather, it has
been resolved already ; if the right be always the ex-
pedient, the opposition is seeming, not real. He puts
a great many questions of casuistry, but it all amounts
to this : the good man keeps his oath, " though it were
to his own hindrance." But it is never to his hin-
drance ; for a violation of his conscience would be the
greatest hindrance of all.

In this treatise, more than in any of his other phi-
losophical works, Cicero inclines to the teaching of the
Stoics. In the others, he is rather the seeker after
truth than the maintainer of a system. His is the
critical eclecticism of the ' New Academy ' the spirit
so prevalent in our own day, which fights against the
shackles of dogmatism. And with all his respect for
the nobler side of Stoicism, he is fully alive to its de-


fects ; though it was not given to him to see, as Mil-
ton saw after him, the point wherein that great system
really failed the " philosophic pride " which was the
besetting sin of all disciples in the school, from Cato to
Seneca :

" Ignorant of themselves, of God much more,

Much of the soul they talk, but all awry ;
And in themselves seek virtue, and to themselves
All glory arrogate, to God give none ;
Kather accuse Him under usual names,
Fortune, or Fate, as one regardless quite
Of mortal things." *

Yet, in spite of this, such men were as the salt of the
earth in a corrupt age ; and as we find, throughout the
more modern pages of history, great preachers de-
nouncing wickedness in high places, Bourdaloue and
Massillon pouring their eloquence into the heedless
ears of Louis XIV. and his courtiers Sherlock and
Tillotson declaiming from the pulpit in such stirring
accents that " even the indolent Charles roused him-
self to listen, and the fastidious Buckingham forgot to
sneer " t so, too, do we find these "monks of heathen-
dom," as the Stoics have been not unfairly called,
protesting in their day against that selfish profligacy
which was fast sapping all morality in the Roman
empire. No doubt (as Mr Lecky takes care to tell us),
their high principles were not always consistent with
their practice (alas ! whose are 1) ; Cato may have ill-
used his slaves, Sallust may have been rapacious, and
* Paradise Regained. t Macaulay.


Seneca wanting in personal courage. Yet it was surely
something to have set up a noble ideal, though they
might not attain to it themselves, and in " that hideous
carnival of vice" to have kept themselves, so far as
they might, unspotted from the world. Certain it is
that no other ancient sect ever came so near the light
of revelation. Passages from Seneca, from Epictetus,
from Marcus Aurelius, sound even now like fragments
of the inspired writings. The Unknown God, whom
they ignorantly worshipped as the Soul or Reason of
the World, is in spite of Milton's strictures the
beginning and the end of their philosophy. Let us
listen for a moment to their language. " Prayer should
"be only for the good." " Men should act according to
the spirit, and not according to the letter of their
faith." " Wouldest thou propitiate the godsl Be
good : he has worshipped them sufficiently who has
imitated them." It was from a Stoic poet. Aratus,
that St Paul quoted the great truth which was the
rational argument against idolatry " For we are also
His offspring, and " (so the original passage concludes)
" we alone possess a voice, which is the image of
reason:" It is in another poet of the same school that
we find what are perhaps the noblest lines in all Latin
poetry. Persius concludes his Satire on the common
hypocrisy of those prayers and offerings to the gods
which were but a service of the lips and hands, in
words of which an English rendering may give the
sense but not the beauty : " Nay, then, let us offer
to the gods that which the debauched sons of great
Messala can never bring on their broad chargers,


a soul wherein the laws of God and man are
blended, a heart pure to its inmost depths, a
breast ingrained with a noble sense of honour.
Let me but bring these with me to the altar, and I
care not though my offering be a handful of corn."
"With these grand words, fit precursors of a purer
creed to come, we may take our leave of the Stoics,
remarking how thoroughly, even in their majestic
egotism, they represented the moral force of the nation
among whom they nourished ; a nation, says a modern
preacher, "whose legendary and historic heroes could
thrust their hand into the flame, and sec it consumed
without a nerve shrinking ; or come from captivity on
parole, advise their countrymen against a peace, and
then go back to torture and certain death ; or devote
themselves by solemn self-sacrifice like the DeciL
The world must bow before such men ; for, uncon-
sciously, here was a form of the spirit of the Cross
self-surrender, unconquerable fidelity to duty, sacrifice
for others." *

* F. W. Robertson, Sermons, i 218.

Portions of three treatises by Cicero upon Political
Philosophy have come down to us : 1. 'De Republica'; a
dialogue on Government, founded chiefly on the 'Re-
public ' of Plato : 2. ' De Legibus ' ; a discussion on Law
in the abstract, and on national systems of legislation :
3. ' De Jure Civili ' ; of which last only a few fragments
exist His historical works have all perished.



IT is. difficult to separate Cicero's religion from his
philosophy. Iri both he was a sceptic, "but in the
better sense of the word. His search after truth was
in no sneering or incredulous spirit, but in that of a
reverent inquirer. "We must remember, in justice to
him, that an earnest - minded man in his day could
hardly take higher ground than that of the sceptic.
The old polytheism was dying out in everything but.
in name, and there was nothing to take its place.

His religious belief, so far as we can gather it,
was rather negative than positive. In the speculative
treatise which he has left us, ' On the Nature of the
Gods,' he examines all the current creeds of the day,
but leaves his own quite undefined.

The treatise takes the form, like the rest, of an
imaginary conversation. This is supposed to have taken
place at the house of Aurelius Cotta, then Pontifex
Maximus an office which answered nearly to that of
Minister of religion. The other speakers are Balbus,
Velleius, and Cicero himself, who acts, however,

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Online LibraryW. Lucas (William Lucas) CollinsCicero → online text (page 12 of 24)