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the constraining cause of the deed." She bound herself
to him, and both perished together. Pliny wonders
that he never before heard of the incident. The
action, he says, was equal to the splendid self-devotion
of Arria, but the actor was less famous. We can under-
stand how much there was in the circumstances of the
imperial period, even in its brighter days, to render the
interest in life less vivid than with ourselves. The very
luxury with which a wealthy Roman was as a matter
of course surrounded may well have become tiresome
and oppressive, and a comparatively slight cause may
have been enough to prevail on him to escape from its
ennui. On the whole, the teachings of the Stoic phi-
losophy encouraged a healthier view of life, and no
doubt braced up many who were wavering to bear with
patience present ills and troubles. Pliny seems to
have generally approved this aspect of Stoicism. One
of his friends was suffering from a tedious and severe
illness, and had made up his mind that, if the physicians
should pronounce it incurable, he would put an end to
his life. Should, however, there be a prospect of ultimate
recovery, he was determined to bear with it, though it
might be long and painful ; this, he thought, he owed
to his wife, to his daughter, to his friends, and, among
others, to Pliny. His resolution is heartily commended



HIS POLITICAL VIEWS. 167

by Pliny as in the highest degree noble and praise-
worthy. " To rush on death," he says, " in a rash and
headlong fashion, is a vulgar and commonplace act ; to
weigh and anxiously consider the various motives
which urge one to it, and to choose between life and
death according to the guidance of reason, is the mark
of a great mind." He thus satisfies himself with a
sort of compromise, leaning, however, to the better
view, from which the Stoics in theory allowed no
exception.

Imperialism is necessarily unfavourable to the
development of political opinions. Those of Pliny
were perhaps somewhat colourless. It would have
been absurd affectation in him to have professed
attachment to the old republican ideas, which he
as well as Tacitus knew could not possibly be
revived.

In the senate, indeed, which still preserved some-
thing of its old state, if not of its power, he always
felt the liveliest interest. He frequently speaks of its
proceedings, and expresses no little delight and pride
when these really possessed something of the importance
which accorded with the nominal dignity of the as-
sembly. More than once he mentions measures which
were being taken, either by its own or by the Emperor's
action, to increase its efficiency. One of these passages
bears so closely on a subject which is just now on the
surface in our own political life, that, though it has
recently been quoted more than once, we must not
omit it. Open voting in the election to offices of state
had caused, it seems, in the senate, proceedings so un-



168 PLINY'S LETTERS.

dignified, and even disgraceful, that recourse was had
to the ballot. " I fear," says Pliny, " lest, as time
goes on, abuses spring up from this very remedy of
ours. There is a danger lest, when our votes are
silent, a want of honourable feeling come upon us.
For how few are equally careful of honour in secret
and in public ! Many stand in awe of public opinion,
few of conscience."

But it was to the Emperor, as the real power in
the state, that he was compelled to look. Under
a ruler like Trajan he may well have sincerely be-
lieved that freedom and order were so united as to
make the prospects of the Eoman world really hope-
ful. His Panegyric of Trajan has unquestionably an
unpleasant tone of flattery running through its artifi-
cial and elaborate sentences ; and it is, we feel, the
last of his compositions from which we should wish
to form an estimate of him. Still, there can be no
reason for doubting that it reflected Pliny's genuine
political sentiments. There is a perpetual contrast
between Trajan's beneficent rule and Domitian's hide-
ous tyranny. Thought and speech were now free, fear
unknown ; it was easy and pleasant to obey. The
world was happy and contented, and every stranger
was anxious to obtain the safeguard and privileges of
Eoman citizenship. The comfort and prosperity of
the provinces were anxiously studied. " How must
every province," says Pliny, " rejoice in being tinder
our protection, now that a prince is on the throne
able and willing to transfer from one region to another



fflS LAST DAYS. 169

the produce of the earth a prince who purveys for
lands separated from Rome by seas and continents,
as he provides for the capital itself. Nowhere is the
climate so constant as to insure universal fertility, but
Caesar has it in his power to correct the season's
caprice ; and although he cannot make a blighted or
barren tract immediately fruitful, he can arrest the
hand of famine. That we should have one master
over us is infinitely better for us than a freedom full
of strife and discord." Pliny's good-nature, and wish
to see people happy and comfortable, naturally inclined
him to think well of a government which secured for
the world at large so many material advantages, while
it allowed the men of cultivation and of letters to
express their thoughts as freely as his friend Tacitus
was able to do in his Annals and History.

Of Pliny's last days, of even the date of his death,
we know nothing. We gather that he was alive A.D.
107 from one of the Letters, in which he complains that
ten years after the death of Verginius Eufus (who
died A.D. 97) the monument which ought to have been
erected over his grave was still unfinished. Pliny was
then in his forty-seventh year. The Letters were pub-
lished in his lifetime, and as no later allusion to con-
temporary events occurs in them, their appearance may
be conjecturally attributed to that or the following
year. From that time he disappears entirely from OUT
sight. It is not without pain that we take so abrupt
a leave of one of the most interesting characters of an-
tiquity. We cannot, indeed, call him a man of genius ;

A. c. vol. xi M



170 PLINY'S LETTE&S.

and we may trace some weak lines in the portrait
which he has painted for us of himself. But it would
not be easy to find in ancient literature, or indeed in
modern, one who approaches more closely to the best
modern ideal of a well-bred, cultivated, blameless
gentleman.



END OP PLINY'S LETTERS.



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