W. Lucas (William Lucas) Collins.

Cicero online

. (page 3 of 24)
Online LibraryW. Lucas (William Lucas) CollinsCicero → online text (page 3 of 24)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

invented ; and it is possible that, with all his natural
self-complacency, he might have felt a little uncomfort-
able under the compliment, when he remembered on
whom he had originally bestowed it upon that Caius
Marius, whose death in his bed at a good old age,
after being seven times consul, he afterwards uses as
an argument, in the mouth of one of his imaginary
disputants, against the existence of an overruling Pro-
vidence. In the prime of his manhood he reached the
great object of a Roman's ambition he became virtu-
ally Prime Minister of the republic : for he was elected,
by acclamation rather than by vote, the first of the two
consuls for the year, and his colleague, Caius Antonius
(who had beaten the third candidate, the notorious


Catiline, by a few votes only) was a man who valued
his office chiefly for its opportunities of peculation,
and whom Cicero knew how to manage. It is true
that this high dignity so jealous were the old re-
publican principles of individual power would last
only for a year ; but that year was to be a most eventful
one, both for Cicero and for Eome. The terrible days
of Marius and Sylla had passed, only to leave behind
a taste for blood and licence amongst the corrupt aris-
tocracy and turbulent commons. There were men
amongst the younger nobles quite ready to risk their
lives in the struggle for absolute power ; and the mob
was ready to follow whatever leader was bold enough
to bid highest for their support.

It is impossible here to do much more than glance
at the well-known story of Catiline's conspiracy. It
was the attempt of an able and desperate man to make
himself and his partisans masters of Eome by a bloody
revolution. Catiline was a member of a noble but im-
poverished family, who had borne arms under Sylla, and
had served an early apprenticeship in bloodshed under
that unscrupulous leader. Cicero has described his
character in terms which probably are not unfair, be-
cause the portrait was drawn by him, in the course of
his defence of a young friend who had been too much
connected with Catiline, for the distinct purpose of
showing the popular qualities which had dazzled and
attracted so many of the youth of Eome.

" He had about him very many of, I can hardly say
the visible tokens, but the adumbrations of the
highest qualities. There was in his character that


which tempted him to indulge the worst passions, hut
also that which spurred him to energy and hard work.
Licentious appetites hurnt fiercely within him, hut there
was also a strong love of active military service. I be-
lieve that there never lived on earth such a monster of
inconsistency, such a compound of opposite tastes and
passions hrought into conflict with each other. Who
at one time was a greater favourite with our most
illustrious men ? Who was a closer intimate with our
very "basest? Who could he more greedy of money
than he was ? Who could lavish it more profusely 7
There were these marvellous qualities in the man, he
made friends so universally, he retained them hy his
ohliging ways, he was ready to share what he had with
them all, to help them at their need with his money,
his influence, his personal exertions not stopping
short of the most audacious crime, if there was need of
it. He could change his very nature, and rule himself
by circumstances, and turn and bend in any direction.
He lived soberly with the serious, he was a boon com-
panion with the gay ; grave with the elders, merry with
the young ; reckless among the desperate, profligate
with the depraved. With a nature so complex and
many-sided, he not only collected round him wicked
and desperate characters from all quarters of the world,
but he also attracted many brave and good men by his
simulation of virtue. It would have been impossible for
him to have organised that atrocious attack upon the
Commonwealth, unless that fierce outgrowth of de-
praved passions had rested on some under-stratum of
agreeable qualities and powers of endurance."


Born in the same year with Cicero, his unsuccessful
rival for the consulship, and hating him with the im-
placable hatred with which a bad, ambitious, and able
man hates an opponent who is his superior in ability
and popularity as well as character, Catiline seems to
have felt, as his revolutionary plot ripened, that be-
tween the new consul and himself the fates of Rome
must choose. He had gathered round him a band of
profligate young nobles, deep in debt like himself, and
of needy and unscrupulous adventurers of all classes.
He had partisans who were collecting and drilling
troops for him in several parts of Italy. The pro-
gramme was assassination, abolition of debts, confisca-
tion of property : so little of novelty is there in re-
volutionary principles. The first plan had been to
murder the consuls of the year before, and seize the
government. It had failed through his own impatience.
He now hired assassins against Cicero, choosing the
opportunity of the election of the incoming consuls,
which always took place some time before their en-
trance on office. But the plot was discovered, and the
election was put off. When it did take place, Cicero
appeared in the meeting, wearing somewhat ostenta-
tiously a corslet of bright steel, to show that he knew
his danger ; and Catiline's partisans found the place of
meeting already occupied by a strong force of the
younger citizens of the middle class, who had armed
themselves for the consul's protection. The election
passed off quietly, and Catiline was again rejected. A
second time he tried assassination, and it failed so
watchful and well informed was the intended victim.

A. c. vol. ix.


And now Cicero, perhaps, was roused to a conscious-
ness that one or other must fall ; for in the unusually
determined measures which he took in the suppression
of the conspiracy, the mixture of personal alarm with
patriotic indignation is very perceptible. By a for-
tunate chance, the whole plan of the conspirators was
betrayed. Eebel camps had been formed not only in
Italy, but in Spain and Mauritania : Eome was to be
set on fire, the slaves to be armed, criminals let loose,
the friends of order to be put out of the way. The
consul called a meeting of the senate in the temple of
Jupiter Stator, a strong position on "the Palatine Hill,
and denounced the plot in all its details, naming even
the very day fixed for the outbreak. The arch-conspir-
ator had the audacity to be present, and Cicero addressed
him personally in the eloquent invective which has
come to us as his "First Oration against Catiline."
His object was to drive his enemy from the city to the
camp of his partisans, and thus to bring matters at
once to a crisis for which he now felt himself prepared.
This daily state of public insecurity and personal danger
had lasted too long, he said :

" Therefore, let these conspirators at once take their
side; let them separate themselves from honest citizens,
and gather themselves together somewhere else ; ' let
them put a wall between us, as I have often said. Let
us have them no longer thus plotting the assassination
of a consul in his own house, overawing our courts of
justice with armed bands, besieging the senate-house
with drawn swords, collecting their incendiary stores to
burn our city. Let us at last be able to read plainly


in every Eoman's face whether he bo loyal to his
country or no. I may promise you this, gentlemen of
the Senate there shall be no lack of diligence on the
part of your consuls ; there will be, I trust, no lack of
dignity and firmness on your own, of spirit amongst
the Eoman knights, of unanimity amongst all honest
men, but that when Catiline has once gone from us,
everything will be not only discovered and brought
into the light of day, but also crushed, ay, and
punished. Under such auspices, I bid you, Catiline,
go forth to wage your impious and unhallowed war,
go, to the salvation of the state, to your own over-
throw and destruction, to the ruin of all who have joined
you in your great wickedness and treason. And thou,
great Jupiter, whose worship Romulus founded here
coeval with our city ; whom we call truly the ' Stay' *
of our capital and our empire ; thou wilt protect thine
own altars and the temples of thy kindred gods, the walls
and roof-trees of our homes, the lives and fortunes of
our citizens, from yon man and his accomplices. These
enemies of all good men, invaders of their country,
plunderers of Italy, linked together in a mutual bond of
crime and an alliance of villany, thou wilt surely visit
with an everlasting punishment, living and dead ! "

Catiline's courage did not fail him. He had been
sitting alone for all the other senators had shrunk
away from the bench of which he had taken possession.
He rose, and in reply to Cicero, in a forced tone of
humility protested his innocence. He tried also an-
other point. Was he, a man of ancient and noble
* ' Stater.'


family, to be hastily condemned by his fellow-nobles
on the word of this * foreigner,' as he contemptuously
called Cicero this parvenu from Arpinum ? But the
appeal failed ; his voice was drowned in the cries of
'traitor' which arose on all sides, and with threats
and curses, vowing that since he was driven to despera-
tion he would involve all Rome in his ruin, he rushed
out of the Senate-house. At dead of night he left the
city, and joined the insurgent camp at Faesulae.

When the thunders of Cicero's eloquence had driven
Catiline from the Senate-house, and forced him to
join his fellow-traitors, and so put himself in the
position of levying open war against the state, it re-
mained to deal with those influential conspirators who
had been detected and seized within the city walls.
In three subsequent speeches in the Senate he justi-
fied the course he had taken in allowing Catiline to
escape, exposed further particulars of the conspiracy,
and urged the adoption of strong measures to crush
it out within the city. Even now, not all Cicero's
eloquence, nor all the efforts of our imagination to
realise, as men realised it then, the imminence of
the public danger, can reconcile the summary pro-
cess adopted by the consul with our English notions
of calm and deliberate justice. Of the guilt of the
men there was no doubt ; most of them even admitted
it. But there was no formal trial ; and a few hours
after a vote of death had been passed upon them in a
hesitating Senate, Lentulus and Cethegus, two mem-
bers of that august body, with three of their com-
panions in guilt, were brought from their separate


places of confinement, with, some degree of secrecy (as
appears from different writers), carried down into the
gloomy prison -vaults of the Tullianum,* and there
quietly strangled, by the sole authority of the consul.
Unquestionably they deserved death, if ever poli-
tical criminals deserved it : the lives and liberties of
good citizens were in danger; it was necessary to
strike deep and strike swiftly at a conspiracy which
extended no man knew how widely, and in which men
like Julius Csesar and Crassus were strongly suspected
of being engaged. The consuls had been armed with
extra-constitutional powers, conveyed by special reso-
lution of the Senate in the comprehensive formula
that they " were to look to it that the state suffered
no damage." Still, without going so far as to call this
unexampled proceeding, as the German critic Momm-
sen does, " an act of the most brutal tyranny," it is
easy to understand how Mr Forsyth, bringing a calm
and dispassionate legal judgment to bear upon the
case, finds it impossible to reconcile it with our ideas
of dignified and even-handed justice, t It was the
hasty instinct of self-preservation, the act of a weak
government uncertain of its very friends, under the
influence of terror a terror for which, no doubt, there
were abundant grounds. When Cicero stood on the
prison steps, where he had waited to receive the report

* A state dungeon, said to have been built in the reign of Ser-
vius Tullius. It was twelve* feet under ground. Executions
often took place there, and the bodies of the criminals were
afterwards thrown down the Gemonian steps (which were close
at hand) into the Forum, for the people to see.

t Life of Cicero, p. 119.


of those who were making sure work with the prisoners
within, and announced their fate to the assembled
crowd below in the single word " Vixerunt" (a
euphemism which we can only weakly translate into
"They have lived their life"), no doubt he felt that
he and the republic held theirs from that moment by
a firmer tenure ; no doubt very many of those who
heard him felt that they could breathe again, now that
the grasp of Catiline's assassins was, for the moment at
all events, off their throats ; and the crowd who fol-
lowed the consul home were sincere enough when they
hailed such a vigorous avenger as the ' Father of his
Country.' But none the less it was that which poli-
ticians have called worse than a crime it was a politi-
cal blunder ; and Cicero came to find it so in after
years ; though partly from his immense self-apprecia-
tion, and partly from an honest determination to stand
by his act and deed in all its consequences he never
suffered the shadow of such a confession to appear in
his most intimate correspondence. He claimed for
himself ever afterwards the sole glory of having saved
the state by such prompt and decided action ; and in
this he was fully borne out by the facts : justifiable
or unjustifiable, the act was his; and there were
burning hearts at Borne which dared not speak out
against the popular consul, but set it down to his sole
account against the day of retribution.

For the present, however, all went successfully.
The boldness of the consul's measures cowed the dis-
affected, and confirmed the timid and wavering. His
colleague Antonius himself by no means to be de-


pended on at this crisis, having but lately formed
a coalition with Catiline as against Cicero in the elec-
tion for consuls had, by judicious management, been
got away from Eome to take the command against the
rebel army in Etruria. He did not, indeed, engage in
the campaign actively in person, having just now a
fit of the gout, either real or pretended; but his
lieutenant-general was an old soldier who cared chiefly
for his duty, and Catiline's band reckless and des-
perate men who had gathered to his camp from all
motives and from all quarters were at length brought
to bay, and died fighting hard to the last. Scarcely a
man of them, except the slaves and robbers who had
swelled their ranks, either escaped or was made
prisoner. Catiline's body easily recognised by his
remarkable height was found, still breathing, lying
far in advance of his followers, surrounded by the dead
bodies of the Eoman legionaries for the loss on the
side of the Eepublic had been very severe. The last
that remained to him of the many noble qualities which
had marked his earlier years was a desperate personal

For the month that yet remained of his consulship,
Cicero was the foremost man in Eome and, as a
consequence, in the whole world. Nobles and com-
mons vied in doing honour to the saviour of the state.
Catulus and Cato men from whose lips words of
honour came with a double weight saluted him pub-
licly by that memorable title of Pater Patrice; and
not only the capital, but most of the provincial towns
of Italy, voted him some public testimony of his un-


rivalled services. No man had a more profound appre-
ciation of those services than the great orator himself.
It is possible that other men have felt quite as vain of
their own exploits, and on far less grounds \ but surely
no man ever paraded his self-complacency like Cicero.
His vanity was indeed a thing to marvel at rather
than to smile at, because it was the vanity of so able
a man. Other great men have been either too really
great to entertain the feeling, or have been wise enougli
to keep it to themselves. But to Cicero it must have
been one of the enjoyments of his life. He harped
upon his consulship in season and out of season, in his
letters, in his judicial pleadings, in his public speeches
(and we may be sure in his conversation), until one
would think his friends must have hated the subject
even more than his enemies. He wrote accounts of it
in prose and verse, in Latin and Greek and, no doubt,
only limited them to those languages because they were
the only ones he knew. The well-known line which
provoked the ridicule of critics like Juvenal and Quin-
tilian, because of the unlucky jingle peculiarly unpleas-
ant to a Eoman ear

" O fortunatam natam me consule Komam ! "

expresses the sentiment which rhyme or no rhyme,
reason or no reason he was continually repeating in
some form or other to himself and to every one who
would listen.

His consulship closed in glory ; but on his very last
day of office there was a warning voice raised amidst
the triumph, which might have opened his eyes


perhaps it did to the troubles which were to come.
He stood up in the Rostra to make the usual address
to the people on laying down his authority. Metellus
Nepos had "been newly elected one of the tribunes :
it was his office to guard jealously all the rights and
privileges of the Roman commons. Influenced, it is
said, by Csesar possibly himself an undiscovered parti-
san of Catiline he dealt a blow at the retiring consul
under cover of a discharge of duty. As Cicero was
about to speak, he interposed a tribune's ' veto ' ; no
man should be heard, he said, who had put Roman
citizens to death icithout a trial. There was consterna-
tion in the Forum. Cicero could not dispute what
was a perfectly legal exercise of the tribune's power ;
only, in a few emphatic words which he seized the
opportunity of adding to the usual formal oath on quit-
ting office, he protested that his act had saved Rome.
The people shouted in answer, " Thou hast said true !"
and Cicero went home a private citizen, but with that
hearty tribute from his grateful countrymen ringing
pleasantly in his ears. But the bitter words of Metel-
lus were yet to be echoed by his enemies again and
again, until that fickle popular voice took them up,
and howled them after the once popular consul.

Let us follow him for a while into private life ; a
pleasanter companionship for us, we confess, than the
unstable glories of the political arena at Rome. In
his family and social relations, the great orator wins
from us an amount of personal interest and sympathy
which he fails sometimes to command in his career
as a statesman. At forty-five years of age he has


become a very wealthy man has bought for some-
thing like 30,000 a noble mansion on the Palatine
Hill ; and besides the old-fashioned family seat near
Arpinum now become his own by his father's death
he has built, or enlarged, or bought as they stood, villas
at Antium, at Formise, at Pompeii, at Cumae, at Puteoli,
and at half-a-dozen other places, besides the one fav-
ourite spot of all, which was to him almost what Ab-
botsford was to Scott, the home which it was the
delight of his life to embellish his country-house
among the pleasant hills of Tusculum.* It had once
belonged to Sulla, and was about twelve miles from
Eome. In that beloved building and its arrangements
he indulged, as an ample purse allowed him, not only
a highly-cultivated taste, but in some respects almost a
whimsical fancy. " A mere cottage," he himself terms
it in one place ; but this was when he was deprecating
accusations of extravagance which were brought against
him, and we all understand something of the pride
which in such matters " apes humility." He would
have it on the plan of the Academia at Athens, with
its palcestra and open colonnade, where, as he tells us,
he could walk and discuss politics or philosophy with
his friends. Greek taste and design were as fashion-
able among the Eomans of that day as the Louis
Quatorze style was with our grandfathers. But its
grand feature was a library, and its most valued furni-
ture was books. Without books, he said, a house was
but a body without a soul He entertained for these

* Near the modern town of Frascati. But there is no cer-
tainty as to the site of Cicero's villa.


treasures not only the calm love of a reader, but the
passion of a bibliophile ; he was particular about his
bindings, and admired the gay colours of the covers in
which the precious manuscripts were kept as well as
the more intellectual beauties within. He had clever
Greek slaves employed from time to time in making
copies of all such works as were not to be readily pur-
chased. He could walk across, too, as he tells us, to
his neighbour's, the young Lucullus, a kind of ward
of his, and borrow from the library of that splendid
mansion any book he wanted. His friend Atticus
collected for him everywhere manuscripts, paintings,
statuary; though for sculpture he professes not to
care much, except for such subjects as might form ap-
propriate decorations for his palaestra and his library.
Very pleasant must have been the days spent together
by the two friends so alike in their private tastes and
habits, so far apart in their chosen course of life when
they met there in the brief holidays which Cicero stole
from the law-courts and the Forum, and sauntered in
the shady walks, or lounged in the cool library, in
that home of lettered ease, where the busy lawyer and
politician declared that he forgot for a while all the
toils and vexations of public life.

He had his little annoyances, however, even in these
happy hours of retirement. Morning calls were an
infliction to which a country gentleman was liable in
ancient Italy as in modern England. A man like
Cicero was very good company, and somewhat of a
lion besides and country neighbours, wherever he set
np his rest, insisted on bestowing their tediousness on


him. His villa at Forniiae, his favourite residence
next to Tusculum, was, he protested, more like a public
hall. Most of his visitors, indeed, had the considera-
tion not to trouble him after ten or eleven in the fore-
noon (fashionable calls in those days began uncomfort-
ably early) ; but there were one or two, especially his
next-door neighbour, Arrius, and a friend's friend,
named Sebosus, who were in and out at all hours : the
former had an unfortunate taste for philosophical dis-
cussion, and was postponing his return to Rome (he
was good enough to say) from day to day in order to
enjoy these long mornings in Cicero's conversation.
Such are the doleful complaints in two or three of the
letters to Atticus ; but, like all such complaints, they
were probably only half in earnest : popularity, even
at a watering-place, was not very unpleasant, and the
writer doubtless knew how to practise the social philo-
sophy which he recommends to others, and took his
place cheerfully and pleasantly in the society which
he found about him not despising his honest neigh-
bours because they had not all adorned a consulship
or saved a state.

There were times when Cicero fancied that this
rural life, with all its refinements of wealth and taste
and literary leisure, was better worth living than the
public life of the capital. His friends and his books,
he said, were the company most congenial to him ;
" politics might go to the dogs ; " to count the waves
as they rolled on the beach was happiness ; he " had
rather be mayor of Antium than consul at Rome " ;
" rather sit in his own library with Atticus in their


favourite seat under the bust of Aristotle than, in
the curule chair." It is true that these longings for
retirement usually followed some political defeat or
mortification ; that his natural sphere, the only life in
which he could be really happy, was in the keen ex-
citement of party warfare the glorious battle-field of
the Senate and the Forum. The true key-note of his
mind is to be found in these words to his friend Ccelius :
" Cling to the city, my friend, and live in her light :
all employment abroad, as I have felt from my earliest
manhood, is obscure and petty for those who have

Online LibraryW. Lucas (William Lucas) CollinsCicero → online text (page 3 of 24)