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.Still we cannot entirely withhold our sympathy from
the offender of whose conduct Pliny complains in an
amusing letter to his friend Senecio. " This year," he
says, " has brought us a great crop of poets. During
the whole month of April, there was scarcely a day on
which some one did not give a reading. I am de-
lighted to see that literature nourishes, that the powers
of our writers have the opportunity of displaying
themselves : yet audiences come but slowly to listen.
Many persons sit in the lounging-places, and waste in
gossip the time that they should spend in listening.
They even have news brought to them whether the
reader has entered, whether he has spoken his preface,
whether he has got through a considerable part of his
manuscript. Then at last they come, but come slowly
and reluctantly : even then they do not stop, but go
away before the end ; some, indeed, in secret and by
stealth, others with perfect openness and freedom.
Good heavens ! our fathers can remember how the
Emperor Claudius, walking one day in the palace, and
hearing a great shouting, inquired the cause. They
told him that Nonianus was reading ; whereupon he
entered the room, wholly unexpected by the reader.
Now, the idlest of men, after having been invited
long before to attend, and reminded over and over again
of the engagement, either do not come at all, or, if



PUBLIC READINGS. 87

they come, complain of having ' lost a day ! ' the fact
being that they have not lost it. I," continues Pliny,
" have failed scarcely a single reader. True, most of them
were my friends : and, indeed, there are scarcely any
who love literature who are not also on friendly terms
with me. This is the reason why I have stayed longer
in town than I had intended to do. At last I am at
liberty to seek my country retirement, and to write
something something which I shall not read ; for I do
not wish to seem to have been obliging rather than
listening to my friends."

Sometimes it happened that one or other of the
unwilling auditors, whom a friendly compulsion had
brought to assist in proceedings which did not interest
him, would avenge himself by an unwelcome interrup-
tion. We have spoken of Passennus Paullus, a writer
of elegiac verses, modelled after the compositions of
his townsman and relative, Propertius. Passennus had
collected a number of friends to hear him read a new
volume ', among them a lawyer, Javolenus Priscus by
name, with whom he was on very intimate terms. The
poet began, " Priscus, you bid me ;" but was astounded
by a sudden interruption from his friend, " / do not
bid you." We may illustrate this incident by suppos-
ing that Pope is reading in public his " Essay on Man,"
and has got as far as the opening words, " Come now,
my St John," when St John (Bolingbroke), who is
one of his audience, interrupts him with " Come,
indeed ! not I." " Javolenus," says Pliny, " is a
man of doubtful sanity, though he takes a share in
public business, is summoned to consultations, and



88 PLINY'S LETTERS.

even gives opinions on civil law." The fact is, that he
was a very distinguished lawyer, some of whose legal
wisdom is still preserved in the Pandects of Justinian.
Possibly, in a fit of absence, while his mind was wan-
dering to scenes more congenial and familiar, he was
startled by hearing his name, and made the ludicrous
reply which Pliny has preserved. Or if Passennus
was one of the poets who had occupied with their
readings nearly every day in April, one of the
busiest months, it must be remembered, for lawyers,
and Javolenus had been dragged from court to attend
them, his " J don't bid you" may have been the
expression of a pent-up annoyance, which no feelings
of friendship could restrain. However this may
be, we can very well imagine that, as Pliny says,
the interruption threw something of a damp on the
proceedings; and we can appreciate the wisdom of
his advice, that " those who mean to read in public
should not only be sane themselves, but also bring
sane friends to hear them." Pliny's own practice
in this matter he himself describes in a letter which
shows both good sense and good feeling.* He had
been writing, it seems, some poems of a lighter kind.
" I chose," he continues, " for producing these, the
most seasonable time and place. To accustom them
in good time to be heard by listeners that are taking
their ease, and at the dinner-table, I collected my
friends in the month of July, when the law courts
have least to do, and put writing-desks before their
chairs. It so happened that on the morning of the
day I was called away to an unexpected case in court.
* Epist. viii. 21.



PUBLIC READINGS. 89

This gave me opportunity for some words of preface.
I begged my friends not to think that it showed me
wanting in respect to what I had in hand if, when
meaning to read, though it was only to friends and to
a small audience (another word for friends), I did not
abstain from the business of the forum. I added, that
even in writing I followed this order put my friend-
ship before my pleasures, my business before my amuse-
ments, and wrote firstly for my friends, secondly for
myself. My book contained a variety of compositions
and metres. Tis thus that I am accustomed, trusting
but little to my talent, to avoid the risk of being
wearisome. My reading lasted two days. The ap-
proval of my audience made this necessary ; and yet,
while some readers pass over part of their volume, and
make a merit of passing it over, I pass over nothing,
and tell my hearers as much. I read everything, be-
cause I want to correct everything, a thing which
those who read extracts only cannot do. The other
plan, you may say, is more modest, and possibly more
respectful. "Well, but this is more honest and more
affectionate. Genuine affection is so confident of affec-
tion in return, as not to be afraid of wearying a friend.
Besides, what benefit do one's companions confer if
they assemble only for the sake of pleasing themselves 1
It is very like indolence, when a man would sooner
hear his friend read a book already good, than help to
make it good. Doubtless, in your general affection for
me, you will want to read as soon as possible this book,
which is still ' fermenting.' You shall read it, but
after it has passed through my hands again. This was
my reason for reading it aloud."



CHAPTEE VIII.

COMUM, PLINY'S BIRTHPLACE HIS LIVELY INTEREST
IN ITS WELFARE.

COMUM, as has been said, was in all probability the
birthplace of both the elder and the younger Pliny.
There is much of direct and indirect evidence to con-
nect them with the place. Tradition is distinctly in
favour of it. The numerous allusions which are made
to it in the letters, and the fact that our friend had
several little villas on the margin of the Lake of Como,
seem to point to the same conclusion.

Comum was in that northern part of Italy which
was known to the Eomans as Cisalpine Gaul. It was
at the extremity of one of the two southern branches
of the Lake of Como, about 28 miles to the north of
Milan. It passed out of the hands of the Gauls into
the possession of the Romans in B.C. 196, when a great
victory, won by the famous Marcellus, the conqueror
of Syracuse, over the united strength of the Gauls,
carried the Roman territory as far as the foot of the
Alps, and made Como and Milan Roman towns. Julius
Caesar added five thousand new colonists to the pop-



COMUM AND ITS LAKE. 91

ulation of the place, and from that time it became one
of the most prosperous towns of the north of Italy.
It had several natural advantages. Its beautiful and
attractive situation at the foot of the Alps, and on the
shores of a lovely lake, was greatly in its favour : it
also lay very conveniently in the way of a much-fre-
quented route across the Rhaetian Alps. The elder
Pliny speaks of its iron-foundries as being the most
famous in Italy. Thus it happily combined the vari-
ous elements which make up the prosperity of a pro-
vincial town.

Pliny often in his letters alludes to the picturesque
Lake of Como, and seems to have taken peculiar
delight in its scenery. He calls it once or twice
" our Larius," the name by which Virgil mentions it.
One may fairly infer that he would hardly have
spoken of it in this manner, had not he and his
family been long and closely connected with the neigh-
bourhood. Many a rich Roman had his villa on its
banks, which, as they rose in a somewhat steep ascent
from the water, were clothed with olive-woods, vine-
yards, and chestnut-groves. The lower slopes pre-
sented to the eye an abundance of rural wealth, and
the quiet beauty which is always its accompaniment ;
above, at no great distance, were all the wildness and
grandeur of mountain scenery.

There are some pleasing touches in the following
letter, written, as it would appear, to a fellow-towns-
man of Pliny, who is encouraged to use so delight-
ful a retreat as Comum as a stimulus to literary
work :



92 PLINY'S LETTERS.



PLINY TO CANINIUS BUFUS.*

" How is our dear darling Comum looking ? Tell
me about that lovely villa, about the colonnade where
it is always spring, about the shady plane-tree walk,
about the green and flowery banks of that little stream,
and of the charming lake below, which serves at once
the purpose of use and beauty. What have you to
tell me about the carriage-drive, as firm as it is soft,
and the sunny bath-room, and your dining-rooms, both
for a large and a select circle of friends, and your
various chambers of rest and repose by day or night ?
Do these delightful attractions share you by turns, or
are you, as usual, called away from them by the pres-
sure of important business engagements connected with
your property? If all these delights have you to
themselves, you are indeed most fortunate ; if not, you
are like most other people. Why not leave (for it is
high time) these wretched degrading cares to others,
and give yourself up in the deep repose of such a snug
retreat to reading and study ? Make these your busi-
ness and your recreation, your labour and your rest,
the subjects of your waking and even of your sleeping
thoughts. Work at something and produce some-
thing which will be yours for ever. All your other
possessions will pass from one master to another ; this
alone, when once yours, will be yours for ever. I
know the temper and the genius which I am seeking
to stimulate. Only strive to think yourself what the

* Epist. i. 3.



HIS INTEREST IN COMUM. 93

world will think you, if you do yourself justice.
Farewell"

The lively interest which Pliny took in his native
place is pleasantly attested by the following letter :

PLINY TO ANNIUS SEVERUS.*

"Out of a legacy that was left me I have just
bought a statue of Corinthian "bronze. It is small, but
thoroughly clever and done to the life at least, in my
judgment, which, in matters of this sort, and perhaps
of every sort, is not worth much. However, I really
do see the merits of this statue. It is a nude figure,
and its faults, if it has any, are as clearly observable
as its beauties. It represents an old man standing up.
The bones, the muscles, the veins, and the very
wrinkles, all look like life. The hair is thin, the fore-
head broad, the face shrunken, the throat lank, the
arms hang down feebly, the chest is fallen in, and the
belly sunk. Looked at from behind, the figure is just
as expressive of old age. The bronze, to judge from
its colour, has the marks of great antiquity. In short,
it is in all respects a work which would strike the eye
of a connoisseur, and which cannot fail to charm an
ordinary observer. This induced me, novice as I am
in such matters, to buy it. However, I bought it not
to put in my own house (for I have never had there a
Corinthian bronze), but with the intention of placing
it in some conspicuous situation in the place of my
birth, perhaps in the temple of Jupiter, which has the
best claim to it. It is a gift well worthy of a temple
* Epist. iii. 6.



94 PLINY'S LETTERS.

and of a god. Do you, with that kind attention
which you always give to my requests, undertake this
matter, and order a pedestal to be made for it out of
any marble you please, and let my name, and, if you
think fit, my various titles, be engraven upon it. I
will send you the statue by the first person who will
not object to the trouble ; or, what I am sure you will
like better, I will bring it myself, for I intend, if I
can get away from business, to take a run into your
parts. I see joy in your looks when I promise to
come ; but your joy will soon go when I tell you that
my visit will be only for a few days, for the work
which keeps me here will prevent my making a longer
stay. Farewell. "

The two following letters will show that Pliny's
anxiety for the welfare of his native town took a much
higher range than that of a simply graceful act of
liberality. He did his best to make provision for the
enlightenment of the inhabitants, by presenting them
with a library and helping them to establish a school
It appears that on the first occasion he made a speech
to the burgesses of Comum, in which he no doubt
dwelt on the pleasure and advantages of intellectual
culture ; and in the following letter he explains the
motives which prompted him to this particular act of
munificence. He mentions in it an interesting cir-
cumstance, which has about it a singularly modern
character. In the spirit of the benevolent patron, he
has established a fund for the maintenance and educa-
tion of the children of distressed gentlefolks :



HIS INTEREST IN COMUM. 95

PLI^Y TO POMPEIUS SATUBNINUS.*

"Nothing could have been more seasonable than
the letter in which you begged me to send you some
of my literary efforts, as at the time I had intended to
do so. You have, in fact, put spurs into the willing
horse, and saved yourself the excuse of refusing the
trouble, and me the awkwardness of asking the favour.
Without any hesitation, then, I avail myself of your
offer, and you must now take the consequences of it
without reluctance. But don't expect anything new
from such a lazy man as myself. I am going to ask
you to revise once more the speech I made to my fel-
low-townsmen when I dedicated the public library to
their use. I remember that you have already given me
a few general criticisms, but I now beg of you not only
to take a general view of the whole speech, but to criti-
cise it in detail. When you have done this, I shall
still be at liberty to publish or to keep it back. And
perhaps my doubtfulness in the matter will be deter-
mined one way or the other as the process of correction
goes on ; for careful revision will either show it to be
not worth publishing, or will make it fit to be pub-
lished. Yet my chief difficulty in deciding arises not
so much from the character of the composition as from
its subject-matter. The style may be ever so plain and
unpretentious, yet it is embarrassing to modesty to have
to speak not only of my ancestors' munificence, but also
of my own. It is a dangerous and slippery situation,
though necessity draws one into it. People do not
* Epist. i. 7.



9G PLINY'S LETTERS.

listen very patiently to the praise which we bestow on
others ; how difficult, then, must it be to get a favour-
able hearing when we have to talk about ourselves or
our ancestors ! Virtue by itself is apt to be disliked
especially so, when glory and distinction attend it ;
and the world is never so little likely to misrepresent
or to carp at good actions, as when they pass unobserved
and without applause. Hence I have often asked my-
self, Is this composition, whatever its merits, due to
my own vanity or to regard for others ? I see that
many things which may be quite proper and necessary
at a particular time, lose all their usefulness and grace
when the occasion is past. In the case before us, what
could have been more useful than to explain at length
the grounds and motives of my liberality 1 First, it
engaged my mind in good and ennobling thoughts ; it
made me take a lengthened survey of the nobleness of
such thoughts ; then, it effectually guarded me from
that repentance which is sure to follow on an impulsive
act of generosity. All this trained me to the habit of
despising mere wealth. I find that all men naturally
like to keep what they have got ; for myself, a love of
liberality has been the result of long and matured
reflection, and has set me free from that slavery to
avarice which is so common in the world. My bounty,
I thought, would be the more praiseworthy, as it would
be recognised as the result of deliberate purpose and
not of sudden impulse. Add to all this, that what I
engaged to do was not to exhibit games or a gladiatorial
show, but to establish an annual fund for the mainten-
ance and education of poor people of respectable family.



HIS INTEREST IN COMUM. 97

Pleasures -which merely appeal to the eye and the ear,
so far from wanting a speech to recommend them, often
need to be discouraged by eloquent argument ; whereas,
if you can induce a man to undertake the tiresome work
of education, you must attract him not only by pay,
but also by the most seductive allurements of a per-
suasive rhetoric. If physicians find that they must
coax their patients into adopting a wholesome though
perhaps unpleasant regimen, how much more ought a
man who, out of regard to the public welfare, has to
recommend a highly useful but not very popular bene-
faction, to win the people over by persuasiveness of
argument, especially when, like myself, he has to plead
for an institution solely for the benefit of those who
are parents, and to do his best to persuade a large
number who are yet childless to wait patiently for a
privilege in which only a few can immediately share 1
As, however, at the time I thought of the public good
more than of my own personal reputation, and with
that view explained my motives, so now I am afraid
that if I publish my speech, people will say that I do
it for my own credit rather than for the good of others.
Persons who confer public benefits, and then afterwards
set them off in speeches, seem to have conferred them
simply in order to talk about them. In my own case,
a special circumstance weighs much with me. My
speech was not delivered before an assembly of all the
people of the town, but only before the corporation in
the town-hall. I fear it would hardly be consistent in
me, after having avoided popular applause when I made
the speech, to appear now to covet the same applause by
A. c. vol. xi. G



98 PLINY'S LETTERS.

publishing it, and, though I thus kept out of the town-
hall the mass of the people for whose benefit the li-
brary was given, to be afterwards thrusting a parade
of my liberality on those to whom it can do no good
except by way of example. Such are my reasons for
hesitating in this matter. Your judgment, which I
shall esteem a sufficient sanction for my conduct, will
decide me. Farewell"

Still more interesting, because simpler and less self-
conscious, is the following letter, in which he describes
his offer to his townspeople to contribute largely to the
establishment of a -school for their youth :

PLINY TO TACITUS.*

" I am glad to hear of your safe arrival at Rome. I
am always anxious to see you, and especially just now.
I shall stay a few more days at Tusculum, that I may
finish a little work I have in hand ; for I am afraid
that if I break it off when I have all but completed it,
I shall find it difficult to take it up again. Meanwhile,
that I may lose no time, I send off this letter, so to
speak, in advance of me, to ask a favour of you which
I shall soon ask in person. First, let me tell you the
occasion of it. Being lately at my native town, a
young lad, son of one of my neighbours, came to pay
me a complimentary call. ' Do you go to school 1 ' I
asked him. ' Yes,' he replied. ' Where ? ' 'At Medio-
lanum.' t ' Why not here 1 ' ' Because,' said his father,
who had come with him, ' we have no professors here.'
* Epist iv. 17. t Milan.



ENDOWMENT OF A SCHOOL. 99

' No professors ! Why, surely,' I replied, ' it would be
very much to the interest of all you fathers ' (and, for-
tunately, several fathers heard what I said) ' to have
your sons educated here rather than anywhere else.
Wher e can they live more pleasantly than in their own
town ? or be bred up more virtuously than under their
parents' eyes, or at less expense than at home ? What
an easy matter it would be, by a general contribution,
to hire teachers, and to apply to their salaries the
money which you now spend on lodging, journeys,
and all you have to purchase for your sons at a dis-
tance from home. I have no children myself; I look
on my native town in the light of a child or a parent,
and I am ready to advance a third part of any sum
which you think fit to raise for the purpose. I would
even promise the whole amount, were I not afraid that
my benefaction might be spoilt by jobbery, as I see
happens in many towns where teachers are engaged at
the public expense. There is only one way of meeting
this evil. If the choice of professors is left solely to
the parents, the obligation to choose rightly will be
enforced by the necessity of having to pay towards the
professors' salaries. Those who would perhaps be
careless in administering another's bounty, will cer-
tainly be careful about their own expenses, and will
see that none but those who deserve it receive any
money, when they must at the same time receive theirs
as welL So take counsel together, and be encouraged
by my example, and be assured that the greater my
proportion of the expense shall be, the better shall I
be pleased. You can do nothing more for the good of



100 PLINY'S LETTERS.

your children, or more acceptable to your native town.
Your sons will thus receive their education in the place
of their birth, and be accustomed from their infancy to
love and to cling to their native soil. I trust that you
may secure such eminent teachers that the neighbour-
ing towns will be glad to draw their learning from
hence ; so that, as you now send your children else-
where to be educated, other people's children may
hereafter flock hither for instruction.'

" I thought it advisable to explain the whole affair
to you circumstantially, that you may see more clearly
how much obliged I should be if you will undertake
what I request. 1 entreat you, in consideration of the
importance of the matter, to look out among the mul-
titude of men of letters whom the reputation of your
genius draws round you, some teachers to whom we
may apply, but without as yet tying ourselves down to
any particular man. I leave everything to the parents ;
I wish them to judge, and select as they think fit j I
take on myself nothing but the trouble and expense.
If any one shall be found who has confidence in his
own ability, let him go there ; but he must understand
that he goes with no assurance but that derived from
his own merit."

There is an inscription at Como in honour of a gram-
marian named Septicianus, which seems to imply that
Pliny's proposal to the townspeople was accepted, and
bore fruit.



CHAPTER IX.
PLINY'S FAMILY AND FRIENDS.

IT is not too much to say that the glimpses which we
get of Pliny's domestic life of the man as he lived
among his family and friends make as pleasant a
picture as anything of the kind that is to be found
in classical literature. There are letters, indeed, of
Cicero which are full of the same kind of interest ; hut,
unhappily, we know too much about Cicero. It is
impossible, for instance, as we read the affectionate
language which he addresses to his wife Terentia, to
help recollecting that in later life he divorced this
same Terentia, and married a ward of his own ; and
the recollection, though it need not make us doubt the
sincerity of his language, cannot but diminish the
pleasure with which we regard the writer in this aspect
of his life. It might, of course, be objected, that it is
well for Pliny's character, and for our own satisfaction,
that we know far less about him ; but it is a fact that
all that we do know is of the pleasantest kind. There
is not a syllable in what he says about his wife, his
kindred, his friends, that we could wish to be changed ;



102 PLINY'S LETTERS.

not a syllable that hints at his being other than an
affectionate, just, blameless man. Nor is there from
other sources a breath of scandal against his name.
One is apt to think, after reading such terrible books
as Suetonius's 'Lives of the Caesars' and Juvenal's


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