Графични страници
PDF файл

intellect shows itself stronger than I had believed it to be, and. secures for her the bondage of a class who could not be subdued by the magnificence of her state, extraordinary as it is. They are captivated by the brilliancy of her wit, set off by her unequalled beauty, and, for a woman, her rare attainments, and hover around her as some superior being. Then for the mass of our rich and noble, her ostentatious state and imperial bearing are all that they can appreciate, all they ask for, and more than enough to enslave them, not only to her reasonable will, but to all her most tyrannical and whimsical caprices. She understands already perfectly the people she is among; and through her quick sagacity, has already risen to a power greater than woman ever before held in Rome.

We see her often — often as ever — and when we see her, enjoy her as well. For with all her ambition of petty rule and imposing state, she possesses and retains a goodness of heart, that endears her to all, in spite of her follies. Julia is still her beloved Julia, and I her good friend Lucius; but it is to Zenobia that she attaches herself most closely; and from her she draws most largely of the kind of inspiration which she covets. And it is to her, I believe, that we may trace much of the admirable wisdom - for such it must be allowed to be with which Livia adorns the throne of the world.

Her residence, when Aurelian is absent from the city, is near us in the palace upon the Palatine; but when he is here, it is more remote, in the enchanted gardens of Sallust. This spot, first ennobted by the presence of the great historian, to whose hand and eye of taste the chief beauties of the scene are to be traced, then afterward selected by Vespasian as an imperial villa, is now lately become the chosen retreat of Aurelian. It has indeed lost part of its charms since it has been embraced by the extension of the new walls within the limits of the city; but enough remain to justify abundantly the preference of a line of emperors. It is there that we see Livia most, as we have been used to do, and where are forcibly brought to our minds the hours passed by us so instructively in the gardens of Zenobia. Often Aurelian is of our company, and throws the light of his strong intellect upon whatever subject it is we discuss. He cannot, however, on such occasions, thoroughly tame to the tone of gentle society, his imperious and almost rude nature. The peasant of Pannonia will sometimes break through, and usurp the place of emperor; but it is only for a moment; for it is amusing to note how the presence of Livia quickly restores him to himself; when, with more grace than one would look for, he acknowledges his fault, ascribing it sportively to the fogs of the German marshes. It amuses us to observe the power which the polished manners and courtly ways of Livia exercise over Aurelian, whose ambition seems now as violently bent upon subduing the world by the displays of taste, grace, and magnificence, as it once was to do it — and is still indeed — by force of arms. Having astonished mankind in one way, he would astonish them again in quite another; and to this later task his whole nature is consecrated with as entire a devotion as ever it was to the other. Livia is in all these things his model and guide ; and never did soldier learn to catch, from the least motion or sign of the general, his will, than does he, to the same end,



study the countenance and the voice of the empress. Yet is there, as you will believe, knowing the character of Aurelian as well as you do, nothing mean or servile in this. He is ever himself, and beneath this transparent surface, artificially assumed, you behold, feature for feature, the lineaments of the fierce soldier glaring forth in all their native wildness and ferocity. Yet we are happy that there exists any charm potent enough to calm, but for hours or days, a nature so stern and cruel as to cause perpetual fears for the violences in which at any moment it may break out. The late slaughter in the very streets of Rome, when the Cælian ran with the blood of fifteen thousand Romans, butchered within sight of their own homes, with the succeeding executions, naturally fill us with apprehensions for the future. We call him generous, and magnanimous, and so he is, compared with former tyrants who have polluted the throne - Tiberias, Commodus, or Maximin; but what title has he to that praise, when tried by the standard which our own reason supplies of those great virtues? I confess it was not always so. His severity was formerly ever on the side of justice; it was indignation at crime or baseness which sometimes brought upon him the charge of cruelty — never the wanton infliction of suffering and death. But it certainly is not so now. A slight cause now rouses his sleeping passions to a sudden fury, often fatal to the first object that comes in his way. But enough of this.

Do not forget to tell me again of the Old Hermit of the mountains, and that you have visited him — if indeed he be yet among the living.

Even with your lively imagination, Fausta, you can hardly form an idea of the sensation which my open assertion of Christian principles and assumption of the Christian name has made in Rome. I intended when I sat down to speak only of this, but see how I have been led away! My letters will be for the most part confined, I fear, to the subjects which engross both myself and Julia most relate to the condition and prospects of the new religion, and to the part which we take in the revolution which is going on. Not that I shall be speechless upon other and inferior topics, but that upon this of Christianity I shall be garrulous and overflowing. I believe that in doing this, I shall consult your preferences as well as my own. I know you to be desirous of principles better than any which as yet you have been able to discover, and that you will gladly learn whatever I may have it in my power to teach you from this quarter. But all the teaching I shall attempt, will be to narrate events as they occur, and state facts as they arise, and leave them to make what impression they may.

When I just spoke of the sensation which my adoption of the Christian system had caused in Rome, I did not mean to convey any idea like this, that it has been rare for the intelligent and cultivated to attach themselves to the despised religion. On the contrary, it would be true were I to say, that those who accept Christianity, are distinguished for their intelligence ; that estimated as a class, and they rank far above the lowest. It is not the dregs of a people who become reformers of philosophy or religion ; who grow dissatisfied with ancient opinions upon exalted subjects, and search about for better, and adopt them. The processes involved in this change, in

such as

their very nature, require intelligence, and imply a character of more than common elevation. It is neither the lowest nor the highest who commence, and at first carry on, a work like this ; but those who fill the intermediate spaces.

The lowest are dead as brute matter to such interests ; the highest — the rich, the fashionable, the noble from opposite causes just as dead — or if they are alive at all, it is with the rage of denunciation and opposition. They are supporters of the decent usages sanctioned by antiquity, and consecrated by the veneration of a long line of the great and noble. Whether they themselves believe in the system which they uphold or not, they are equally tenacious of it. They would preserve and perpetuate it, because it has satisfied, at any rate bound and overawed, the multitude for ages : and the experiment of alteration or substitution is too dangerous to be tried. Most, indeed, reason not, nor philosophize at all, in the matter. The instinct that makes them Romans in their worship of the power and greatness at Rome, and attachment to her civil forms, makes them Romans in their religion, and will summon them, if need be, to die for the one and the other.

Religion and philosophy have accordingly nothing to hope from this quarter. It is those whom we may term the substantial middle classes, who, being least hindered by prejudices and pride of order, on the one hand, and incapacitated by ignorance on the other, have ever been the earliest and best friends of progress in any science. Here you find the retired scholar, the thoughtful and independent farmer, the skilful mechanic, the enlightened merchant, the curious traveller, the inquisitive philosopher - and all fitted, beyond those of either extreme, for exercising a sound judgment upon such questions, and all more interested in them. It is out of these that Christianity has made its converts. They are accordingly worthy of universal respect. I have examined with diligence, and can say that there live not in Rome a purer and more noble company than the Christians. When I say, however, that it is out of these whom I have just specified, that Christianity has made its converts, I do not mean to say out of them exclusively. Some have joined them in the present age, as well as in every age past, from the most elevated in rank and power. If in Nero's palace, and among his chief ministers, there were Christians, if Domitilla, Domitian's niece, was a Christian, if Philip was a Christian, so now a few of the same rank may be counted, who openly, and more who secretly, profess this religion. But they are very few. So that you will not wonder that when the head of the ancient and honorable house of the Pisos, the friend of Aurelian, and allied to the royal family of Palmyra, declared himself to be of this persuasion, no little commotion was observable in Rome not so much among the Christians themselves as among the patricians, among the nobility, in the court and palace of Aurelian. The love of many has grown cold, and the outward tokens of respect are withheld. Brows darkened by the malignant passions of the bigot are bent upon me as I pass along the streets, and inquiries, full of scornful irony, are made after the welfare of my new friends. The emperor changes not his carriage toward me, nor I believe his feelings. I think he is too tolerant of opinion, too much of a man of the world, to desire to curb and restrain the liberty


[ocr errors]

of his friends in the quarter of philosophy and religion. I know, indeed, on the other hand, that he is religious in his way, to the extreme of superstition, but I have observed 10 tokens as yet of any purpose or wish to interfere with the belief or worship of others. He seems like one who, if he may indulge his own feelings in his own way, is not unwilling to concede to others the same freedom.

As I was writing these last sentences, I became conscious of a voice muttering in low tones, as if discoursing with itself, and upon no very agreeable theme. I heeded it not at first, but wrote on. At length it ran thus, and I was compelled to give ear:

• Patience, patience - greatest of virtues, yet hardest of practice! To wait indeed for a kingdom were something, though it were upon a bed of thorns; to suffer for the honor of truth, were more; more in itself, and more in its rewards. But patience, when a fly stings, or a fool speaks, or worse, when time is wasted and lost, is

the virtue mayhap is greater after all — but it is harder, I say, of practice - that is what I say — yet, for that very reason, greater! By Hercules! I believe it is so. So that while I wait here, my virtue of patience is greater than that of these accursed Jews. Patience then, I say, patience!

What in the name of all antiquity,' I exclaimed, turning round as the voice ceased, “is this flood of philosophy for? Wherein have I offended ?'

• Offended !' cried the other: ' Nay, noble master, not offended. According to my conclusion, I owe thee thanks; for while I have stood waiting to catch thy eye and ear, my virtue has shot up like a wild vine. The soul has grown. I ought therefore rather to crave forgiveness of thee, for breaking up a study which was so profound, and doubtless so agreeable, too.'

Agreeable you will certainly grant it, when I tell you I was writing to your ancient friend and pupil, the daughter of Gracchus.'

Ah, the blessings of all the gods upon her! My dreams are still of her. I loved her, Piso, as I never loved beside, either form, shadow, or substance. I used to think that I loved her as a parent loves his child — a brother his sister ; but it was more than that. Aristotle is not so dear to me as she. Bear witness these tears! I would now, bent as I am, travel the Syrian deserts to see her; especially if I might hear from her mouth a chapter of the great philosopher. Never did Greek, always music, seem so like somewhat more divinely harmonious than any thing of earth, as when it came through her lips. Yet, by Hercules ! she played me many a mad prank! 'T would have been better for her and for letters, had I chastised her more, and loved her less. Condescend, noble Piso, to name me to her, and entreat her not to fall away from her Greek. That will be a consolation under all losses, and all sorrows.'

I will not fail to do so. And now in what is my opinion wanted ?

'It is simply in the matter of these volumes, where thou wilt have them bestowed. The cases here, by their superior adorning, seem designed for the great master of all, and his disciples; and it is here I would fain order them. Would it so please thee ?'

*No, Solon, not there. That is designed for a very different Master and his disciples.'

[ocr errors]

Solon looked at me as if unwilling to credit his ears, hoping that something would be added more honorable to the affronted philosopher, and myself. But nothing coming, he said:

'I penetrate - I apprehend. This, the very centre and post of honor, thou reservest for the atheistical Jews. The gods help us ! I doubt I should straight resign my office. Well, well; let us hope that the increase of years will bring an increase of wisdom. We cannot look for fruit on a sapling. Youth seeks novelty. But the gods be thanked! Youth lasts not long, but is a fault daily corrected ; else the world were at a bad pass. Rome is not fallen, nor the form of the Stagyrite hurt for this. But 't is grievous to behold !

So murmuring, as he retreated to the farther part of the library, with his bundle of rolls under his arm, he again busied himself in the labors of his office.

I see, Fausta, the delight that sparkles in your eye, and breaks over your countenance, as you learn that Solon, the incomparable Solon, is one of my household. No one whom I could think of, appeared so well suited to my wants as librarian, as Solon, and I can by no means convey to you an idea of the satisfaction with which he hailed my offer; and, abandoning the rod and the brass tablets, betook himself to a labor which would yield him so much more leisure for the perusal of his favorite authors, and the pursuit of his favorite studies. He is already deep in the question,' whether the walls of Troy were accommodated with thirty-three or thirty-nine gates,' and also in this,

what was the method of construction adopted in the case of the wooden horse, and what was its capacity ? Of his progress in these matters, I will duly inform you.

But I weary your patience. Farewell.

Piso, alluding in this letter to the slaughter on the Cælian Hill, and which happened not long before it was written, I will add here that whatever color it may have pleased Aurelian to give to that affair as if it were occasioned by a dishonest debasement of the coin by the directors of the mint - there is now no doubt, on the part of any who are familiar with the history of that period, that the difficulty originated in a much deeper and more formidable cause, well known to Aurelian himself, but not spoken of by him, in alluding to the event. It is certain, then, that the civil war which then befel, for such it was, was in truth the breaking out of a conspiracy on the

part of the nobles to displace Aurelian — 'a German peasant,' as they scornfully designated him - and set one of their own order upon the throne. They had already bought over the chief manager of the public mint a slave and favorite of Aurelian — and had engaged him in creating, to serve the purposes which they had in view, an immense issue of spurious coin. This they had used too liberally, in effecting some of the preliminary objects of their movement. It was suspected, tried, proved to be false, and traced to its authors. Before they were fully prepared, the conspirators were obliged to take to their arms, as the only way in which to save themselves from the executioner. The contest was one of the bloodiest ever known

« ПредишнаНапред »