The Lives of the Twelve Caesars

Upon the plan of those Memoirs, he afterwards composed a Latin poem in
three books, in which he carried down the history to the end of his
exile, but did not publish it for several years, from motives of
delicacy. The three books were severally inscribed to the three Muses;
but of this work there now remain only a few fragments, scattered in
different parts of his other writings. He published, about the same
time, a collection of the principal speeches which he had made in his
consulship, under the title of his Consular Orations. They consisted
originally of twelve; but four are entirely lost, and some of the rest
are imperfect. He now published also, in Latin verse, a translation of
the Prognostics of Aratus, of which work no more than two or three small
fragments now remain. A few years after, he put the last hand to his
Dialogues upon the Character and Idea of the perfect Orator. This
admirable work remains entire; a monument both of the astonishing
industry and transcendent abilities of its author. At his Cuman villa,
he next began a Treatise on Politics, or on the best State of a City, and
the Duties of a Citizen. He calls it a great and a laborious work, yet
worthy of his pains, if he could succeed in it. This likewise was
written in the form of a dialogue, in which the speakers were Scipio,
Laelius, Philus, Manilius, and other great persons in the former times of
the Republic. It was comprised in six books, and survived him for
several ages, though it is now unfortunately lost. From the fragments
which remain, it appears to have been a masterly production, in which all
the important questions in politics and morality were discussed with
elegance and accuracy.

(62) Amidst all the anxiety for the interests of the Republic, which
occupied the thoughts of this celebrated personage, he yet found leisure
to write several philosophical tracts, which still subsist, to the
gratification of the literary world. He composed a treatise on the
Nature of the Gods, in three books, containing a comprehensive view of
religion, faith, oaths, ceremonies, etc. In elucidating this important
subject, he not only delivers the opinions of all the philosophers who
had written anything concerning it, but weighs and compares attentively
all the arguments with each other; forming upon the whole such a rational
and perfect system of natural religion, as never before was presented to
the consideration of mankind, and approaching nearly to revelation. He
now likewise composed in two books, a discourse on Divination, in which
he discusses at large all the arguments that may be advanced for and
against the actual existence of such a species of knowledge. Like the
preceding works, it is written in the form of dialogue, and in which the
chief speaker is Laelius. The same period gave birth to his treatise on
Old Age, called Cato Major; and to that on Friendship, written also in
dialogue, and in which the chief speaker is Laelius. This book,
considered merely as an essay, is one of the most entertaining
productions of ancient times; but, beheld as a picture drawn from life,
exhibiting the real characters and sentiments of men of the first
distinction for virtue and wisdom in the Roman Republic, it becomes
doubly interesting to every reader of observation and taste. Cicero now
also wrote his discourse on Fate, which was the subject of a conversation
with Hirtius, in his villa near Puteoli; and he executed about the same
time a translation of Plato’s celebrated Dialogue, called Timaeus, on the
nature and origin of the universe. He was employing himself also on a
history of his own times, or rather of his own conduct; full of free and
severe reflections on those who had abused their power to the oppression
of the Republic. Dion Cassius says, that he delivered this book sealed
up to his son, with strict orders not to read or publish it till after
his death; but from this time he never saw his son, and it is probable
that he left the work unfinished. Afterwards, however, some copies of it
were circulated; from which his commentator, Asconius, has quoted several
particulars.

During a voyage which he undertook to Sicily, he wrote his treatise on
Topics, or the Art of finding Arguments on any Question. This was an
abstract from Aristotle’s treatise on the same subject; and though he had
neither Aristotle nor any other book to assist him, he drew it up from
his memory, and finished it as he sailed along the coast of Calabria.
The last (63) work composed by Cicero appears to have been his Offices,
written for the use of his son, to whom it is addressed. This treatise
contains a system of moral conduct, founded upon the noblest principles
of human action, and recommended by arguments drawn from the purest
sources of philosophy.

Such are the literary productions of this extraordinary man, whose
comprehensive understanding enabled him to conduct with superior ability
the most abstruse disquisitions into moral and metaphysical science.
Born in an age posterior to Socrates and Plato, he could not anticipate
the principles inculcated by those divine philosophers, but he is justly
entitled to the praise, not only of having prosecuted with unerring
judgment the steps which they trod before him, but of carrying his
researches to greater extent into the most difficult regions of
philosophy. This too he had the merit to perform, neither in the station
of a private citizen, nor in the leisure of academic retirement, but in
the bustle of public life, amidst the almost constant exertions of the
bar, the employment of the magistrate, the duty of the senator, and the
incessant cares of the statesman; through a period likewise chequered
with domestic afflictions and fatal commotions in the Republic. As a
philosopher, his mind appears to have been clear, capacious, penetrating,
and insatiable of knowledge. As a writer, he was endowed with every
talent that could captivate either the judgment or taste. His researches
were continually employed on subjects of the greatest utility to mankind,
and those often such as extended beyond the narrow bounds of temporal
existence. The being of a God, the immortality of the soul, a future
state of rewards and punishments, and the eternal distinction of good and
evil; these were in general the great objects of his philosophical
enquiries, and he has placed them in a more convincing point of view than
they ever were before exhibited to the pagan world. The variety and
force of the arguments which he advances, the splendour of his diction,
and the zeal with which he endeavours to excite the love and admiration
of virtue, all conspire to place his character, as a philosophical
writer, including likewise his incomparable eloquence, on the summit of
human celebrity.

The form of dialogue, so much used by Cicero, he doubtless adopted in
imitation of Plato, who probably took the hint of it from the colloquial
method of instruction practised by Socrates. In the early stage of
philosophical enquiry, this mode of composition was well adapted, if not
to the discovery, at least to the confirmation of moral truth; especially
as the practice was then not uncommon, for speculative men to converse
together on important subjects, for mutual information. In treating of
any subject respecting which the different sects of philosophers differed
(64) from each other in point of sentiment, no kind of composition could
be more happily suited than dialogue, as it gave alternately full scope
to the arguments of the various disputants. It required, however, that
the writer should exert his understanding with equal impartiality and
acuteness on the different sides of the question; as otherwise he might
betray a cause under the appearance of defending it. In all the
dialogues of Cicero, he manages the arguments of the several disputants
in a manner not only the most fair and interesting, but also such as
leads to the most probable and rational conclusion.

After enumerating the various tracts composed and published by Cicero, we
have now to mention his Letters, which, though not written for
publication, deserve to be ranked among the most interesting remains of
Roman literature. The number of such as are addressed to different
correspondents is considerable, but those to Atticus alone, his
confidential friend, amount to upwards of four hundred; among which are
many of great length. They are all written in the genuine spirit of the
most approved epistolary composition; uniting familiarity with elevation,
and ease with elegance. They display in a beautiful light the author’s
character in the social relations of life; as a warm friend, a zealous
patron, a tender husband, an affectionate brother, an indulgent father,
and a kind master. Beholding them in a more extensive view, they exhibit
an ardent love of liberty and the constitution of his country: they
discover a mind strongly actuated with the principles of virtue and
reason; and while they abound in sentiments the most judicious and
philosophical, they are occasionally blended with the charms of wit, and
agreeable effusions of pleasantry. What is likewise no small addition to
their merit, they contain much interesting description of private life,
with a variety of information relative to public transactions and
characters of that age. It appears from Cicero’s correspondence, that
there was at that time such a number of illustrious Romans, as never
before existed in any one period of the Republic. If ever, therefore,
the authority of men the most respectable for virtue, rank, and
abilities, could have availed to overawe the first attempts at a
violation of public liberty, it must have been at this period; for the
dignity of the Roman senate was now in the zenith of its splendour.

Cicero has been accused of excessive vanity, and of arrogating to himself
an invidious superiority, from his extraordinary talents but whoever
peruses his letters to Atticus, must readily acknowledge, that this
imputation appears to be destitute of truth. In those excellent
productions, though he adduces the strongest arguments for and against
any object of consideration, that the (65) most penetrating understanding
can suggest, weighs them with each other, and draws from them the most
rational conclusions, he yet discovers such a diffidence in his own
opinion, that he resigns himself implicitly to the judgment and direction
of his friend; a modesty not very compatible with the disposition of the
arrogant, who are commonly tenacious of their own opinion, particularly
in what relates to any decision of the understanding.

It is difficult to say, whether Cicero appears in his letters more great
or amiable: but that he was regarded by his contemporaries in both these
lights, and that too in the highest degree, is sufficiently evident. We
may thence infer, that the great poets in the subsequent age must have
done violence to their own liberality and discernment, when, in
compliment to Augustus, whose sensibility would have been wounded by the
praises of Cicero, and even by the mention of his name, they have so
industriously avoided the subject, as not to afford the most distant
intimation that this immortal orator and philosopher had ever existed.
Livy however, there is reason to think, did some justice to his memory:
but it was not until the race of the Caesars had become extinct, that he
received the free and unanimous applause of impartial posterity. Such
was the admiration which Quintilian entertained of his writings, that he
considered the circumstance or being delighted with them, as an
indubitable proof of judgment and taste in literature. Ille se
profecisse sciat, cui Cicero valde placebit. [105]

In this period is likewise to be placed M. Terentius Varro, the
celebrated Roman grammarian, and the Nestor of ancient learning. The
first mention made of him is, that he was lieutenant to Pompey in his
piratical wars, and obtained in that service a naval crown. In the civil
wars he joined the side of the Republic, and was taken by Caesar; by whom
he was likewise proscribed, but obtained a remission of the sentence. Of
all the ancients, he has acquired the greatest fame for his extensive
erudition; and we may add, that he displayed the same industry in
communicating, as he had done in collecting it. His works originally
amounted to no less than five hundred volumes, which have all perished,
except a treatise De Lingua Latina, and one De Re Rustica. Of the former
of these, which is addressed to Cicero, three books at the beginning are
also lost. It appears from the introduction of the fourth book, that
they all related to etymology. The first contained such observations as
might be made against it; the second, such as might be made in its
favour; and the third, observations upon it. He next proceeds to
investigate the origin of (66) Latin words. In the fourth book, he
traces those which relate to place; in the fifth, those connected with
the idea of time; and in the sixth, the origin of both these classes, as
they appear in the writings of the poets. The seventh book is employed
on declension; in which the author enters upon a minute and extensive
enquiry, comprehending a variety of acute and profound observations on
the formation of Latin nouns, and their respective natural declinations
from the nominative case. In the eighth, he examines the nature and
limits of usage and analogy in language; and in the ninth and last book
on the subject, takes a general view of what is the reverse of analogy,
viz. anomaly. The precision and perspicuity which Varro displays in this
work merit the highest encomiums, and justify the character given him in
his own time, of being the most learned of the Latin grammarians. To the
loss of the first three books, are to be added several chasms in the
others; but fortunately they happen in such places as not to affect the
coherency of the author’s doctrine, though they interrupt the
illustration of it. It is observable that this great grammarian makes
use of quom for quum, heis for his, and generally queis for quibus. This
practice having become rather obsolete at the time in which he wrote, we
must impute his continuance of it to his opinion of its propriety, upon
its established principles of grammar, and not to any prejudice of
education, or an affectation of singularity. As Varro makes no mention
of Caesar’s treatise on Analogy, and had commenced author long before
him, it is probable that Caesar’s production was of a much later date;
and thence we may infer, that those two writers differed from each other,
at least with respect to some particulars on that subject.

This author’s treatise De Re Rustica was undertaken at the desire of a
friend, who, having purchased some lands, requested of Varro the favour
of his instructions relative to farming, and the economy of a country
life, in its various departments. Though Varro was at this time in his
eightieth year, he writes with all the vivacity, though without the
levity, of youth, and sets out with invoking, not the Muses, like Homer
and Ennius, as he observes, but the twelve deities supposed to be chiefly
concerned in the operations of agriculture. It appears from the account
which he gives, that upwards of fifty Greek authors had treated of this
subject in prose, besides Hesiod and Menecrates the Ephesian, who both
wrote in verse; exclusive likewise of many Roman writers, and of Mago the
Carthaginian, who wrote in the Punic language. Varro’s work is divided
into three books, the first of which treats of agriculture; the second,
of rearing of cattle; and the third, of feeding animals for the use of
the table. (67) In the last of these, we meet with a remarkable instance
of the prevalence of habit and fashion over human sentiment, where the
author delivers instructions relative to the best method of fattening
rats.

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