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Take the judgment of others; we need not ihy doctrine. Let that alone which is well established and secure. Spare these institutions, venerable through a thousand years. Leave changes to the gods.'
Probus was about to reply, when we were strangely interrupted. While we had been conversing, there had stood before me, in the midst of the floor of the apartment, a man, whose figure, face, and demeanor were such, that I hardly could withdraw my eye from him. He was tall and gaunt, beyond all I ever saw, and erect as a Prætorian in the ranks. His face was strongly Roman, thin, and bony, with sunken cheeks, a brown and wrinkled skin — not through age, but exposure
and eyes more wild and fiery than ever glared in the head of Hun or hyena. He seemed a living fire-brand of death and ruin. As we talked, he stood there motionless, sometimes casting glances at our group, but more frequently fixing them upon a roll which he held in his hands.
As Varus uttered the last words, this man suddenly left his post, and reaching us with two or three strides, shook his long finger at Varus, saying, at the same time :
* Hold, blasphemer!' The Prefect started, as if struck, and gazing a moment with unfeigned amazement at the figure, then immediately burst into a laugh, crying out:
• Ha! ha! Who in the name of Hecate have we here? Ha ! ha! ha! he seems just escaped from the Vivaria.'
Thy laugh,' said the figure, “is the music of a sick and dying soul. It is a rebel's insult against the majesty of heaven; ay, laugh on ! That is what the devils do; it is the merriment of hell. What time they burn not, they laugh. But enough. Hold now thy scoffing, Prefect Varus, for high as thou art, I fear thee not ; no! not wert thou twice Aurelian, instead of Varus. I have a word for thee. Wilt hear it ?'
• With delight, Bubo. Say on.'
* It was thy word just now, “Rome needs not this doctrine,' was it not ?
• If I said it not, it is a good saying, and I will father it.' “Rome needs not this doctrine ; she is well enough; let her alone!' These were thy words. Need not, Varus, the streets of Rome a cleansing river to purify them? Dost thou think them well enough, till all the fountains have been let loose to purge them ? Is Tarquin's sewer a place to dwell in ? Could all the waters of Rome sweeten it? The people of Rome are fouler than her highways. The sewers are sweeter than the very worshippers of our temples. Thou knowest somewhat of this. Wast ever present at the rites of Bacchus ? - or those of the Cyprian goddess ? Nay, blush not yet. Didst ever hear of the gladiator Pollex ? — of the woman Cæcina ?- of the boy Lælius, and the fair girl Faunia? - proffered and sold by the parents, Pollex and Cæcina, to the loose pleasures of Gallienus ? Now I give thee leave to blush! Is it nought that the one half of Rome is sunk in a sensuality, a beastly drunkenness and lust, fouler than that of old which, in Judea, called down the fiery vengeance of the insulted heavens ? Thou knowest well, both from early experience and because of thy office, what the purlieus of the
theatres are, and places worse than those, and which to name were an offence. But to you they need not be named. Is all this, Varus, well enough? Is this that venerable order thou wouldst not have disturbed ? Is that to be charged as impiety, and atheism, which aims to change and reform it? Are they conspirators, and rebels, and traitors, whose sole office and labor is to mend these degenerate morals, to heal these corrupting sores, to pour a better life into the rotting carcass of this guilty city? Is it for our amusement, or our profit, that we go about this always dangerous work? Is it a pleasure to hear the gibes, jests, and jeers of the streets, and the places of public resort ? Will you not believe that it is for some great end, that we do and bear as thou seest -even the redemption, and purifying, and saving of Rome? I love Rome, even as a mother, and for her am ready to die. I have bled for her freely in battle, in Gaul, upon the Danube, in Asia, and in Egypt. I am willing to bleed for her at home, even unto death, if that blood might, through the blessing of God, be a stream to cleanse her putrifying members. But O, holy Jesus ! why waste I words upon one whose heart is harder than the nether mill-stone! Thou preachedst not to Pilate, nor didst thou work thy wonders for Herod. Varus, beware!'
And with these words, uttered with a wild and threatening air, he abruptly turned away, and was lost in the crowds of the street.
While he raved, the Prefect maintained the same unruffled de. meanor as before. His customary smile played around his mouth, a smile like no other I ever saw. To a casual observer, it would seem like every other smile, but to one who watches him, it is evi. dent that it denotes no hilarity of heart, for the eyes accompany it not with a corresponding expression, but on the contrary, look forth from their beautiful cavities with glances that speak of any thing rather than of peace and good will. So soon as the strange being who had been declaiming bad disappeared, the Prefect, turning to me, as he drew up his gown around him, said:
“I give you joy, Piso, of your coadjutor. A few more of the same fashion, and Rome is safe.' And saluting us with urbanity, he sallied from the shop.
I had been too much amazed, myself, during this scene, to do any thing else than stand still, and listen, and observe. As for Probus, I saw him to be greatly moved, and give signs of even deep distress. He evidently knew who the person was — as I saw him make more than one ineffectual effort to arrest him in his harangue — and as evidently held him in respect, seeing he abstained from all interruption of a speech that he felt to be provoking wantonly the passions of the Prefect, and of many who stood around, from whom, so soon as the man of authority had withdrawn, angry words broke forth abundantly.
* Well did the noble Prefect say, that wild animal had come forth like a half-famished tiger from the Vivaria,' said one.
It is singular, observed another, that a man who pretends to reform the state, should think to do it by putting it into a rage with him, and all he utters.'
• Especially singular,' added a third, that the advocate of a religion that, as I hear, condemns violence, and consists in the strictness with which the passions are governed, should suppose that he was
doing any other work than cutting a breach into his own citadel, by such ferocity. But it is quite possible his wits are touched.'
'No, I presume not,' said the first; “this is a kind of zeal which, if I have observed aright, the Christians hold in esteem.'
As these separated to distant parts of the shop, I said to Probus, who seemed heavily oppressed by what had occurred, “What dæmon,' said I, dwells in that body that has just departed ?'
· Well do you say dæmon. The bitter mind of that man seems oftimes seized upon by some foul spirit, and bound, and which acts and speaks in its room. But do you not know him ?'
• No, truly; he is a stranger to me, as he appeared to be to all.'
• Nevertheless, you have been in his company. You forget not the Mediterranean voyage !
By no means. I enjoyed it highly, and recall it ever with delight.'
• Do you not remember, at the time I narrated to you the brief story of my life, that, as I ended, a rough voice from among the soldiers exclaimed, 'Where now are the gods of Rome ?' This is that man, the soldier Macer; then bound with fellow soldiers to the service in Africa, now a Christian preacher.'
I see it now. That man impressed me then with his thin form and all-devouring eyes. But the African climate, and the gash across his left cheek, and which seems to have slightly disturbed the eye, upon that side, have made him a different being, and almost a ter
Is he sound and sane ?! Perfectly so,' replied Probus, 'unless we may say that souls earnestly devoted and zealous, are mad. There is not a more righteous soul in Rome. His conscience is bare, and shrinking like a fresh wound. His breast is warm and fond as a woman's. His penitence for the wild errors of his pagan youth, a consuming fire, which, while it redoubles his ardor in doing what he may in the cause of truth, rages in secret, and, if the sword or the cross claim him not, will bring him to the grave. He is utterly incapable of fear. All the racks and dungeons of Rome, with their tormentors, could not terrify him.'
• You now interest me in him. I must see and know him. It might be of service to him and to all, Probus, methinks, if he could be brought to associate with those whose juster notions might influence his, and modify them to the rule of truth.'
• I fear not. What he sees, he sees clearly and strongly, and by itself. He understands nothing of one truth bearing upon another, and adding to it, or taking from it. Truth is truth with him — and as his own mind perceives it. not another's. His conscience will allow him in no accommodations to other men's opinions or wishes. He is impatient under an argument as a war-horse under the rein, after the trumpet sounds. It is unavoidable, therefore, but he should possess great power among the Christians of Rome. His are the bold and decisive qualifications that strike the common mind. There is glory and applause in following and enduring under such a leader. Many are fain to believe him divinely illuminated and impelled, to unite the characters of teacher and prophet ; and from knowing that he is so regarded by others, Macer has come almost to believe it himself. He is tending more and more to construe every impulse of
his own mind into a divine suggestion, and, I believe, honestly experiences difficulty in discriminating between them. Still, I do not deny that it would be of advantage for him more and more to come in contact with sober and enlightened minds. I shall take pleasure, at some fitting moment, to accompany you to his humble dwelling; the rather as I would show you, also, his wife and children, all of whom are, like himself, Christians.'
• I shall not forget the promise.'
Whereupon we separated. I then searched for Publius, and making my purchases, returned home, Milo following with the books.
As Milo relieved himself of his burden, discharging it upon the floor of the library, I overheard him to say:
• Lie there, accursed rolls ! May the flames consume you, ere you are again upon my shoulders ! For none but Piso would I have done what I have. Let me to the temple and expiate.'
What words are these ? cried Solon, emerging from a recess. Who dares to heap curses upon books, which are the soul embalmed and made imperishable ? What have we here? Aha! a new treasure for these vacant shelves, and most trimly ordered.'
. These, venerable Greek,' exclaimed Milo, waving him away, 'are books of magic! - oriental magic! Have a care ! A touch may be fatal. Our noble master affects the Egyptians.'
Magic !' exclaimed Solon, with supreme contempt ; ‘art thou so idiotic as to put credence in such fancies ? Away! - hinder me not !' And saying so, he eagerly grasped a volume, and unrolling it, to the beginning of the work, dropped it suddenly, as if bitten by a serpent.
• Ha!' cried Milo, 'said I not so ? Art so idiotic, learned Solon, as to believe in such fancies? How is it with thee? Is thy blond hot or cold ? — thy teeth loose or fast ? — thy arm withered or swollen ?
Solon stood surveying the pile, with a look partly of anger, partly of sorrow.
Neither, fool!' he replied. These possess not the power or worth fabled of magic. They are books of dreams, visions, reveries, wbich are to the mind what fogs would be for food, and air for drink, innutritive and vain. Papias ! - Irenæus ! — Hegesippus ! — Polycarp! Origen! — whose names are these, and to whom familiar? Some are Greek, some are Latin, but not a name famous in the world meets my eye. But we will order them on their shelves, and trust that time, which accomplishes all things, will restore reason to Piso. Milo, essay thy strength — my limbs are feeble — and lift these upon yonder marble ; so may age deal gently with you.'
• Not for their weight in wisdom, Solon, would I again touch them. I have borne them hither, and if the priests speak truly, my life is worth not an obolus. I were mad to tempt my fate farther.'
• Avaunt thee, then, for a fool and a slave, as thou art !'
• Nay now, master Solon, thy own wisdom forsakes thee. Philosophers, they say, are ever possessors of themselves, though for the rest, they be beggars.
“Beggars !' sayest thou ? Avaunt ! I say, or Papias shall teach thee' and he would have launched the father at the head of Milo, but that, with quick instincts, he shot from the apartment, and left the pedagogue to do his own bidding.
So, Fausta, you see the Solon is still the inimitable old man he was, and Milo tbe fool he was. Think not me worse than either, for hoping so to entertain you. I know that in your solitude and grief, even such pictures may be welcome.
When I related to Julia the scene and the conversation at the shop of Publius, she listened not without agitation, and expresses her fears lest such extravagances, repeated and become common, should inflame the minds both of the people and their rulers against the Christians. Though I agree with her in lamenting the excess of zeal displayed by many of the Christiaus, and their needless assaults upon the characters and faith of their opposers, I cannot apprehend serious consequences from them, because they are so few and rare, and are palpable exceptions to the general character which I believe the whole city would unite in ascribing to the Christians. Their mildness and pacific temper are perhaps the very traits by which they are most distinguished, with which they are indeed continually reproached. Yet individual acts are often the remote causes of vast universal evil - of bloodshed, war, and revolution. Macer alone is enough to set on fire a city, a continent, a world.
I rejoice, I cannot tell you how sincerely, in all your progress. I do not doubt in the ultimate return of the city to its former populousness and wealth, at least. Aurelian has done well for you at last. His disbursements for the Temple of the Sun, alone, are vast, and must be more than equal to its perfect restoration. Yet his overthrown column you will scarce be tempted to rebuild. Forget not to assure Gracchus and Calpurnius of my affection. Farewell.