Historical Sketches, Volume I (of 3)
by John Henry Newman
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But we have dwelt long enough on the internal peculiarities of the Ottomans; now let us shift the scene, and view them in the presence of their enemies, and in their external relations both above and below them; and then at once a very different prospect presents itself for our contemplation. However, the first remark I have to make is one which has reference still to their internal condition, but which does not properly come into consideration, till we place them in the presence of rival and hostile nations and races. Moral degeneracy is not, strictly speaking, a cause of political ruin, as I have already said; but its existence is of course a point of the gravest importance, when we would calculate the chance which a people has of standing the brunt of war and insurrection. It is a natural question to ask whether the Osmanlis, after centuries of indulgence, have the physical nerve and mental vigour which carried them forward through such a course of fortunes, till it enthroned them in three quarters of the world. Their numbers are diminished and diminishing; their great cities are half emptied; their villages have disappeared; I believe that even out of the fraction of Mahometans to be found amid their European population, but a miserable minority are Osmanlis. Too much stress, however, must not be laid on this circumstance. Though the Osmanlis are the conquering race, it requires to be shown that they have ever had much to do, as a race, with the executive of the Empire. While there are some vigorous minds at the head of affairs, while there is a constant introduction of foreigners into posts of authority and power, while Curd and Turcoman supply the cavalry, while Egypt and other Pachalics send their contingents, while the government can manage to combine, or to steer between, the fanaticism of its subjects and the claims of European diplomacy, there is a certain counterbalance in the State to the depravity and worthlessness, whatever it be, of those who have the nominal power.

A far more formidable difficulty, when we survey their external prospects, is that very peculiarity, which, internally considered, is so much in their favour—the simplicity of their internal unity, and the individuality of their political structure. The Turkish races, as being conquerors, of course are only a portion of the whole population of their empire; for four centuries they have remained distinct from Slavonians, Greeks, Copts, Armenians, Curds, Arabs, Jews, Druses, Maronites, Ansarians, Motoualis; and they never can coalesce with them. Like other Empires, they have kept their sovereign position by the insignificance, degeneracy, or mutual animosities of the several countries and religions which they rule, and by the ruthless tyranny of their government. Were they to relax that tyranny, were they to relinquish their ascendancy, were they to place their Greek subjects, for instance, on a civil equality with themselves, how in the nature of things could two incommunicable races coexist beside each other in one political community? Yet if, on the other hand, they refuse this enfranchisement of their subjects, they will have to encounter the displeasure of united Christendom.

Nor is it a mere question of political practicability or expedience: will the Koran, in its laxest interpretation, admit of that toleration, on which the Frank kingdoms insist? yet what and where are they without the Koran?

Nor do we understand the full stress of the dilemma in which they are placed, until we have considered what is meant by the demands and the displeasure of the European community. Pledged by the very principle of their existence to barbarism, the Turks have to cope with civilized governments all around them, ever advancing in the material and moral strength which civilization gives, and ever feeling more and more vividly that the Turks are simply in the way. They are in the way of the progress of the nineteenth century. They are in the way of the Russians, who wish to get into the Mediterranean; they are in the way of the English, who wish to cross to the East; they are in the way of the French, who, from the Crusades to Napoleon, have felt a romantic interest in Syria; they are in the way of the Austrians, their hereditary foes. There they lie, unable to abandon their traditionary principles, without simply ceasing to be a state; unable to retain them, and retain the sympathy of Christendom;—Mahometans, despots, slave merchants, polygamists, holding agriculture in contempt, Europe in abomination, their own wretched selves in admiration, cut off from the family of nations,[89] existing by ignorance and fanaticism, and tolerated in existence by the mutual jealousies of Christian powers as well as of their own subjects, and by the recurring excitement of military and political combinations, which cannot last for ever.


And, last of all, as if it were not enough to be unable to procure the countenance of any Christian power, except on specific conditions prejudicial to their existence, still further, as the alternative of their humbling themselves before the haughty nations of the West whom they abhor, they have to encounter the direct cupidity, hatred, and overpowering pressure of the multitudinous North, with its fanaticism almost equal, and its numbers superior, to their own; a peril more awful in imagination, from the circumstance that its descent has been for so many centuries foretold and commenced, and of late years so widely acquiesced in as inevitable. Seven centuries and a half have passed, since, at the very beginning of the Crusades, a Greek writer still extant turns from the then menacing inroads of the Turks in the East, and the long centuries of their triumph which lay in prospect, to record a prophecy, old in his time, relating to the North, to the effect that in the last days the Russians should be masters of Constantinople. When it was uttered no one knows; but it was written on an equestrian statue, in his day one of the special monuments of the Imperial City, which had one time been brought thither from Antioch. That statue, whether of Christian or pagan origin is not known, has a name in history, for it was one of the works of art destroyed by the Latins in the taking of Constantinople; and the prediction engraven on it bears at least a remarkable evidence of the congruity in itself, if I may use the word; of that descent of the North upon Constantinople, which, though not as yet accomplished, generation after generation grows more probable.

It is now a thousand years since this famous prophecy has been illustrated by the actual incursions of the Russian hordes. Such was the date of their first expedition against Constantinople; their assaults continued through two centuries; and, in the course of that period, they seemed to be nearer the capture of the city than they have been at any time since. They descended the Dnieper in boats, coasted along the East of the Black Sea, and so came round by Trebizond to the Bosphorus, plundering the coast as they advanced. At one time their sovereign had got possession of Bulgaria, to the south of the Danube. Barbarians of other races flocked to his standard; he found himself surrounded by the luxuries of the East and West, and he marched down as far as Adrianople, and threatened to go further. Ultimately he was defeated; then followed the conversion of his people to Christianity, which for a period restrained their barbarous rapacity; after this, for two centuries, they were under the yoke and bondage of the Tartars; but the prophecy, or rather the omen, remains, and the whole world has learned to acquiesce in the probability of its fulfilment. The wonder rather is, that that fulfilment has been so long delayed. The Russians, whose wishes would inspire their hopes, are not solitary in their anticipations: the historian from whom I have borrowed this sketch of their past attempts,[90] writing at the end of last century, records his own expectation of the event. "Perhaps," he says, "the present generation may yet behold the accomplishment of a rare prediction, of which the style is unambiguous and the date unquestionable." The Turks themselves have long been under the shadow of its influence; even as early as the middle of the seventeenth century, when they were powerful, and Austria and Poland also, and Russia distant and comparatively feeble, a traveller tells us that, "of all the princes of Christendom, there was none whom the Turks so much feared as the Czar of Muscovy." This apprehension has ever been on the increase; in favour of Russia, they made the first formal renunciation of territory which had been consecrated to Islam by the solemnities of religion,—a circumstance which has sunk deep into their imaginations; there is an enigmatical inscription on the tomb of the Great Constantine, to the effect that "the yellow-haired race shall overthrow Ismael;" moreover, ever since their defeats by the Emperor Leopold, they have had a surmise that the true footing of their faith is in Asia; and so strong is the popular feeling on the subject, that in consequence their favourite cemetery is at Scutari on the Asiatic coast.[91]


It seems likely, then, at no very remote day, to fare ill with the old enemy of the Cross. However, we must not undervalue what is still the strength of his position. First, no well-authenticated tokens come to us of the decay of the Mahometan faith. It is true that in one or two cities, in Constantinople, perhaps, or in the marts of commerce, laxity of opinion and general scepticism may to a certain extent prevail, as also in the highest class of all, and in those who have most to do with Europeans; but I confess nothing has been brought home to me to show that this superstition is not still a living, energetic principle in the Turkish population, sufficient to bind them together in one, and to lead to bold and persevering action. It must be recollected that a national and local faith, like the Mahometan, is most closely connected with the sentiments of patriotism, family honour, loyalty towards the past, and party spirit; and this the more in the case of a religion which has no articles of faith at all, except those of the Divine Unity and the mission of Mahomet. To these must be added more general considerations: that they have ever prospered under their religion, that they are habituated to it, that it suits them, that it is their badge of a standing antagonism to nations they abhor, and that it places them, in their own imagination, in a spiritual position relatively to those nations, which they would simply forfeit if they abandoned it. It would require clear proof of the fact, to credit in their instance the report of a change of mind, which antecedently is so improbable.

And next it must be borne in mind that, few as may be the Osmanlis, yet the raw material of the Turkish nation, represented principally by the Turcomans, extends over half Asia; and, if it is what it ever has been, might under circumstances be combined or concentrated into a formidable Power. It extends at this day from Asia Minor, in a continuous tract, to the Lena, towards Kamtchatka, and from Siberia down to Khorasan, the Hindu Cush, and China. The Nogays on the north-east of the Danube, the inhabitants of the Crimea, the populations on each side of the Don and Wolga, the wandering Turcomans who are found from the west of Asia, along the Euxine, Caspian, and so through Persia into Bukharia, the Kirghies on the Jaxartes, are said to speak one tongue, and to have one faith.[92] Religion is a bond of union, and language is a medium of intercourse; and, what is still more, they are all Sunnites, and recognize in the Sultan the successor of Mahomet.

Without a head, indeed, to give them a formal unity, they are only one in name. Nothing is less likely than a resuscitation of the effete family of Othman; still, supposing the Ottomans driven into Asia, and a Sultan of that race to mount the throne, such as Amurath, Mahomet, or Selim, it is not easy to set bounds to the influence the Sovereign Pontiff of Islam might exert, and to the successes he might attain, in rallying round him the scattered members of a race, warlike, fanatical, one in faith, in language, in habits, and in adversity. Nay, even supposing the Turkish Caliph, like the Saracenic of old, still to slumber in his seraglio, he might appoint a vicegerent, Emir-ul-Omra, or Mayor of the Palace, such as Togrul Beg, to conquer with his authority in his stead.

But, supposing great men to be wanting to the Turkish race, and the despair, natural to barbarians, to rush upon them, and defeat, humiliation, and flight to be their lot; supposing the rivalries and dissensions of Pachas, in themselves arguing no disaffection to their Sultan and Caliph, should practically lead to the success of their too powerful foes, to the divulsion of their body politic, and the partition of their territory; should this be the distant event to which the present complications tend, then the fiercer spirits, I suppose, would of their free will return into the desert, as a portion of the Kalmucks have done within the last hundred years. Those, however, who remained, would lead the easiest life under the protection of Russia. She already is the sovereign ruler of many barbarian populations, and, among them, Turks and Mahometans; she lets them pursue their wandering habits without molestation, satisfied with such service on their part as the interests of the empire require. The Turcomans would have the same permission, and would hardly be sensible of the change of masters. It is a more perplexing question how England or France, did they on the other hand become their masters, would be able to tolerate them in their reckless desolation of a rich country. Rather, such barbarians, unless they could be placed where they would answer some political purpose, would eventually share the fate of the aboriginal inhabitants of North America; they would, in the course of years, be surrounded, pressed upon, divided, decimated, driven into the desert by the force of civilization, and would once more roam in freedom in their old home in Persia or Khorasan, in the presence of their brethren, who have long succeeded them in its possession.

* * * * *

Many things are possible; one thing is inconceivable,—that the Turks should, as an existing nation, accept of modern civilization; and, in default of it, that they should be able to stand their ground amid the encroachments of Russia, the interested and contemptuous patronage of Europe, and the hatred of their subject populations.


[87] Tour through Armenia, etc.

[88] Gibbon.

[89] Since this was written, they have been taken into the European family by the Treaty of 1856, and the Sultan has become a Knight of the Garter. This strange phenomenon is not for certain to the advantage of their political position.

[90] Gibbon.

[91] Thornton, ii. 89; Formby, p. 24; Eclectic Rev., Dec., 1828.

[92] Pritchard.


Cardinal Fisher, in his Assert. Luther. Confut., fol. clxi., gives the following list of Popes who, up to his time, had called on the Princes of Christendom to direct their arms against the Turks:—Urban II., Paschal II., Gelasius II., Calistus II., Eugenius III., Lucius III., Gregory VIII., Clement III., Coelestine III., Innocent III., Honorius III., Gregory IX., Innocent IV., Alexander IV., Gregory X., John XXII., Martin IV., Nicolas IV., Innocent VI., Urban V.


The following passages, as being upon the subject of the foregoing Lectures, are extracted from the lively narrative of an Expedition to the Jordan and Dead Sea by Commander Lynch, of the United States Navy.

1. He was presented to Sultan Abdoul Medjid in February, 1848. He says: "On the left hung a gorgeous crimson velvet curtain, embroidered and fringed with gold" [the ancient Tartar one was of felt], "and towards it the secretary led the way. His countenance and his manner exhibited more awe than I had ever seen depicted in the human countenance. He seemed to hold his breath; and his step was so soft and stealthy, that once or twice I stopped, under the impression that I had left him behind, but found him ever beside me. There were three of us in close proximity, and the stairway was lined with officers and attendants; but such was the death-like stillness that I could distinctly hear my own foot-fall. If it had been a wild beast slumbering in his lair that we were about to visit, there could not have been a silence more deeply hushed."

2. "I presented him, in the name of the President of the United States, with some biographies and prints, illustrative of the character and habits of our North American Indians, the work of American artists. He looked at some of them ... and said that he considered them as evidences of the advancement of the United States in civilization, and would treasure them as a souvenir of the good feeling of its Government towards him. At the word 'civilization,' pronounced in French, I started, for it seemed singular, coming from the lips of a Turk, and applied to our country." The author accounts for it by observing that the Sultan is but a beginner in French, and probably meant by "civilization" arts and sciences.

3. He saw the old Tartar throne, which puts one in mind of Attila's queen, Zingis's lieutenant, and Timour. "The old divan, upon which the Sultans formerly reclined when they gave audience, looks like an overgrown four-poster, covered with carbuncles, turquoise, amethysts, topaz, emeralds, ruby, and diamond: the couch was covered with Damascus silk and Cashmere shawls."

4. "Anchored in the Bay of Scio. In the afternoon, the weather partially moderating, visited the shore. From the ship we had enjoyed a view of rich orchards and green fields; but on landing we found ourselves amid a scene of desolation.... We rode into the country.... What a contrast between the luxuriant vegetation, the bounty of nature, and the devastation of man! Nearly every house was unroofed and in ruins, not one in ten inhabited, although surrounded with thick groves of orange-trees loaded with the weight of their golden fruit."

"While weather-bound, we availed ourselves of the opportunity to visit the ruins [of Ephesus]. There are no trees and but very few bushes on the face of this old country, but the mountain-slopes and the valleys are enamelled with thousands of beautiful flowers.... Winding round the precipitous crest of a mountain, we saw the river Cayster ... flowing through the alluvial plain to the sea, and on its banks the black tents of herdsmen, with their flocks of goats around them." As Chandler had seen them there ninety years ago.

5. "The tomb of Mahmood is a sarcophagus about eight feet high and as many long, covered with purple cloth embroidered in gold, and many votive shawls of the richest cashmere thrown over it.... At the head is the crimson tarbouch which the monarch wore in life, with a lofty plume, secured by a large and lustrous aigrette of diamonds. The following words are inscribed in letters of gold on the face of the tomb:—'This is the tomb of the layer of the basis of the civilization of his empire; of the monarch of exalted place, the Sultan victorious and just, Mahmood Khan, son of the victorious Abd' al Hamid Khan. May the Almighty make his abode in the gardens of Paradise! Born,' etc."

"From the eager employment of Franks, the introduction of foreign machinery, and the adoption of improved modes of cultivating the land, the present Sultan gives the strongest assurance of his anxiety to promote the welfare of his people."

San Stefano "possesses two things in its near vicinity, of peculiar interest to an American—a model farm and an agricultural school. The farm consists of about 2,000 acres of land, especially appropriated to the culture of the cotton-plant. Both farm and school are under the superintendence of Dr. Davis of South Carolina.... Besides the principal culture, he is sedulously engaged in the introduction of seeds, plants, domestic animals, and agricultural instruments. The school is held in one of the kiosks of the Sultan, which overlooks the sea."

At Jaffa, Dr. Kayat, H.B.M. Consul, "has encouraged the culture of the vine; has introduced that of the mulberry and of the Irish potato; and by word and example is endeavouring to prevail on the people in the adjacent plain to cultivate the sweet potato.... In the court-yard we observed an English plough of improved construction."

He speaks in several places of the remains of the terrace cultivation (vid. above, p. 128) of Palestine.

6. "We visited the barracks, where a large number of Turkish soldiers, shaved and dressed like Europeans except the moustache and the tarbouch, received us with the Asiatic salute.... The whole caserne was scrupulously clean, the bread dark coloured, but well baked and sweet. The colonel, who politely accompanied us, said that the bastinado had been discontinued, on account of its injuring the culprit's eyes."

... "Here," in the Palace, "we saw the last of the White Eunuchs; the present enlightened Sultan having pensioned off those on hand, and discontinued their attendance for ever."

"In an extensive, but nearly vacant building, was an abortive attempt at a museum."

"It is said, but untruly, that the slave market of Constantinople has been abolished. An edict, it is true, was some years since promulgated, which declared the purchase and sale of slaves to be unlawful; the prohibition, however, is only operative against the Franks, under which term the Greeks are included."

7. "Every coloured person, employed by the Government, receives monthly wages; and, if a slave, is emancipated at the expiration of seven years, when he becomes eligible to any office beneath the sovereignty. Many of the high dignitaries of the empire were originally slaves; the present Governor of the Dardanelles is a black, and was, a short time since, freed from servitude."

"The secretary had the most prepossessing countenance of any Turk I had yet seen, and in conversation evinced a spirit of inquiry and an amount of intelligence that far surpassed my expectations.... His history is a pleasing one. He was a poor boy, a charity scholar in one of the public schools. The late Sultan Mahmood requiring a page to fill a vacancy in his suite, directed the appointment to be given to the most intelligent pupil. The present secretary was the fortunate one; and by his abilities, his suavity and discretion, has risen to the highest office near the person of majesty."


[The dates, as will be seen, are fixed on no scientific principal, but are taken as they severally occur in approved authors.]



I. Tartar Empire of the Turks in the north and centre of Asia 500-700

II. Their subjection, education, and silent growth, under the Saracens 700-1000

III. Their Gaznevide Empire in Hindostan 1000-1200

IV. Their Seljukian Empire in Persia and Asia Minor 1048-1100

V. Decline of the Seljukians, yet continuous descent of their kindred tribes to the West 1100-1300

VI. Their Ottoman Empire in Asia, Africa, and Europe, growing for 270 years 1300-1571

VII. Their Ottoman Empire declining for 270 years 1571-1841



Semiramis lost in the Scythian desert p. 13 — The Scythians celebrated by Homer pp. 29, 39 900 The Scythians occupy for twenty-eight years the Median kingdom in the time of Cyaxares pp. 15, 22 (Prideaux) 633 Cyrus loses his life in an expedition against the Scythian Massagetae p. 14 (Clinton) 529 Darius invades Scythia north of the Danube, p. 16 (Clinton) 508 Zoroaster p. 66 (Prideaux) 492 Alexander's campaign in Sogdiana p. 18 (Clinton) 329


Ancient Empire of the Huns in further Asia ends; their consequent emigration westward p. 26 (Gibbon) 100

The White Huns of Sogdiana pp. 26, 34, 52, 60, 67 after 100

Main body of the Huns invade the Goths on the north of the Danube p. 22 (L'Art de verifier les dates) 376

Attila and his Huns ravage the Roman Empire pp. 27, 28 441-452

Mission of St. Leo to Attila pp. 29, 31 453

Tartar Empire of the Turks pp. 49-52 (L'Art, etc., Gibbon), about 500-700 Chosroes the Second captures the Holy Cross p. 53 (L'Art, etc.) 614 Mahomet assumes the royal dignity. The Hegira p. 69 (L'Art) 622 The Turks from the Wolga settled by the Emperor Heraclius in Georgia against the Persians p. 53 (Gibbon) 626 The Turks invade Sogdiana p. 68 (Gibbon) 626 Heraclius recovers the Holy Cross p. 53 (L'Art, etc.) 628 Death of Mahomet p. 69 (L'Art) 632 Yezdegerde, last King of Persia, flying from the Saracens, is received and murdered by the Turks in Sogdiana p. 69 (Universal History) 654 The Saracens reduce the Turks in Sogdiana p. 70 (L'Art, and Univ. Hist.) 705-716

The Caliphate transferred from Damascus to Bagdad p. 76 (L'Art) 762 Harun al Raschid p. 77 (L'Art) 786 The Turks taken into the pay of the Caliphs p. 77 (L'Art) 833, etc. The Turks tyrannize over the Caliphs p. 79 (L'Art) 862-870 The Caliphs lose Sogdiana p. 80 (L'Art) 873 The Turkish dynasty of the Gaznevides in Khorasan and Sogdiana p. 80 (Dow) 977 Mahmood the Gaznevide pp. 80-84 (Dow) 997

Seljuk the Turk pp. 84-89 (Univ. Hist.) 985 The Seljukian Turks wrest Sogdiana and Khorasan from the Gaznevides p. 89 (Dow) 1041 Togrul Beg, the Seljukian, turns to the West pp. 89, 92 (Baronius) 1048 Sufferings of Christians on pilgrimage to Jerusalem pp. 98-101 (Baronius) 1064 Alp Arslan's victory over the Emperor Diogenes p. 93 (Baronius) 1071 St. Gregory the Seventh's letter against the Turks p. 98 (Sharon Turner) 1074 Jerusalem in possession of the Turks p. 98 (L'Art) 1076 Soliman, the Seljukian Sultan of Roum, establishes himself at Nicaea p. 131 (L'Art) 1082

The Council of Placentia under Urban the Second pp. 109, 137 (L'Art) 1095 The first Crusade p. 109 (L'Art) 1097 Conquests of Zingis Khan and the Moguls pp. 32-34 (L'Art) 1176-1259 Richard Coeur de Lion in Palestine p. 140 (L'Art) 1190 Institution of Mamlooks p. 217 about 1200 Constantinople taken by the Latins p. 139 (L'Art) 1203 Greek Empire of Nicaea p. 121 (L'Art) 1206 The Greek Emperor Vataces encourages agriculture in Asia Minor p. 121 (L'Art) 1222-1255

The Moguls subjugate Russia p. 225 (L'Art) 1236 Mission of St. Louis to the Moguls pp. 35-41 (L'Art) 1253 The Turks attack the north and west coast of Asia Minor p. 93 (Univ. Hist.) 1266-1296 Marco Polo p. 37 1270 End of the Seljukian kingdom of Roum p. 132 (L'Art) 1294

Othman p. 132 1301 The Popes retire to Avignon for seventy years p. 143 (L'Art) 1305 Orchan, successor to Othman, originates the institution of Janizaries p. 134 (L'Art) 1326-1360 Battle of Cressy p. 140 1346 Battle of Poitiers, p. 140 1356 Wicliffe, p. 139 1360 Amurath institutes the Janizaries pp. 113, 215, 218 (Gibbon) 1370 Conquests of Timour p. 32 (L'Art) 1370, etc. Schismatical Pontiffs for thirty-eight years p. 143 (L'Art) 1378-1417 Battle of Nicopolis p. 146 (L'Art) 1393 Timour defeats and captures Bajazet p. 144 (L'Art) 1402 Timour at Samarcand pp. 38, 45 (L'Art) 1404 Timour dies on his Chinese expedition p. 46 1405

Henry the Fourth of England dies, p. 141 1413 Battle of Agincourt pp. 140, 145 1415 Huss p. 140 1415 Henry the Fifth of England dies p. 142 1422 Maid of Orleans p. 141 1428 Battle of Varna p. 147 (L'Art) 1442 Constantinople taken by the Ottomans p. 147 1453 John Basilowich rescues Russia from the Moguls p. 47 (L'Art) about 1480 Luther p. 140 1517 Soliman the Great pp. 148, 192 1520 St. Pius the Fifth p. 153 1568 Battle of Lepanto pp. 156, 189 1571





If the following sketch of Cicero's life and writings be thought unworthy of so great a subject, the Author must plead the circumstances under which it was made.

In the spring of 1824, when his hands were full of work, Dr. Whately paid him the compliment of asking him to write it for the Encyclopaedia Metropolitana, to which he was at that time himself contributing. Dr. Whately explained to him that the Editor had suddenly been disappointed in the article on Cicero which was to have appeared in the Encyclopaedia, and that in consequence he could not allow more than two months for the composition of the paper which was to take its place; also, that it must contain such and such subjects. The Author undertook and finished it under these conditions.

In the present Edition (1872) he has in some places availed himself of the excellent translations of its Greek and Latin passages, made by the Reverend Henry Thompson in the Edition of 1852.








6. HIS ORATIONS, Sec. 11 291

7. HIS STYLE, Sec. 12 295

8. THE ORATORS OF ROME, Sec. 13 297



Marcus Tullius Cicero was born at Arpinum, the native place of Marius,[93] in the year of Rome 648 (A.C. 106), the same year which gave birth to the Great Pompey. His family was ancient and of Equestrian rank, but had never taken part in the public affairs of Rome,[94] though both his father and grandfather were persons of consideration in the part of Italy to which they belonged.[95] His father, being a man of cultivated mind himself, determined to give his two sons the advantage of a liberal education, and to fit them for the prospect of those public employments which a feeble constitution incapacitated himself from undertaking. Marcus, the elder of the two, soon displayed indications of a superior intellect, and we are told that his schoolfellows carried home such accounts of him, that their parents often visited the school for the sake of seeing a youth who gave such promise of future eminence.[96] One of his earliest masters was the poet Archias, whom he defended afterwards in his Consular year; under his instructions he was able to compose a poem, though yet a boy, on the fable of Glaucus, which had formed the subject of one of the tragedies of AEschylus. Soon after he assumed the manly gown he was placed under the care of Scaevola, the celebrated lawyer, whom he introduces so beautifully into several of his philosophical dialogues; and in no long time he gained a thorough knowledge of the laws and political institutions of his country.[97]

This was about the time of the Social war; and, according to the Roman custom, which made it a necessary part of education to learn the military art by personal service, Cicero took the opportunity of serving a campaign under the Consul Pompeius Strabo, father of Pompey the Great. Returning to pursuits more congenial to his natural taste, he commenced the study of Philosophy under Philo the Academic, of whom we shall speak more particularly hereafter.[98] But his chief attention was reserved for Oratory, to which he applied himself with the assistance of Molo, the first rhetorician of the day; while Diodotus the Stoic exercised him in the argumentative subtleties for which the disciples of Zeno were so generally celebrated. At the same time he declaimed daily in Greek and Latin with some young noblemen, who were competitors with him in the same race of political honours.

Of the two professions,[99] which, from the contentiousness of human nature, are involved in the very notion of society, while that of arms, by its splendour and importance, secures the almost undivided admiration of a rising and uncivilized people, legal practice, on the other hand, becomes the path to honours in later and more civilized ages, by reason of the oratorical accomplishments to which it usually gives scope. The date of Cicero's birth fell precisely during that intermediate state of things, in which the glory of military exploits lost its pre-eminence by means of the very opulence and luxury which were their natural issue; and he was the first Roman who found his way to the highest dignities of the State with no other recommendation than his powers of eloquence and his merits as a civil magistrate.[100]

The first cause of importance he undertook was his defence of Sextus Roscius; in which he distinguished himself by his spirited opposition to Sylla, whose favourite Chrysogonus was prosecutor in the action. This obliging him, according to Plutarch, to leave Rome on prudential motives, he employed his time in travelling for two years under pretence of his health, which, he tells us,[101] was as yet unequal to the exertion of pleading. At Athens he met with T. Pomponius Atticus, whom he had formerly known at school, and there renewed with him a friendship which lasted through life, in spite of the change of interests and estrangements of affection so common in turbulent times.[102] Here too he attended the lectures of Antiochus, who, under the name of Academic, taught the dogmatic doctrines of Plato and the Stoics. Though Cicero felt at first considerable dislike of his philosophical views,[103] he seems afterwards to have adopted the sentiments of the Old Academy, which they much resembled; and not till late in life to have relapsed into the sceptical tenets of his former instructor Philo.[104] After visiting the principal philosophers and rhetoricians of Asia, in his thirtieth year he returned to Rome, so strengthened and improved both in bodily and mental powers, that he soon eclipsed in his oratorical efforts all his competitors for public favour. So popular a talent speedily gained him the suffrage of the Commons; and, being sent to Sicily as Quaestor, at a time when the metropolis itself was visited with a scarcity of corn, he acquitted himself in that delicate situation with such address as to supply the clamorous wants of the people without oppressing the province from which the provisions were raised.[105] Returning thence with greater honours than had ever been before decreed to a Roman Governor, he ingratiated himself still farther in the esteem of the Sicilians by undertaking his celebrated prosecution of Verres; who, though defended by the influence of the Metelli and the eloquence of Hortensius, was at length driven in despair into voluntary exile.

Five years after his Quaestorship, Cicero was elected AEdile, a post of considerable expense from the exhibition of games connected with it. In this magistracy he conducted himself with singular propriety;[106] for, it being customary to court the people by a display of splendour in these official shows, he contrived to retain his popularity without submitting to the usual alternative of plundering the provinces or sacrificing his private fortune. The latter was at this time by no means ample; but, with the good sense and taste which mark his character, he preserved in his domestic arrangements the dignity of a literary and public man, without any of the ostentation of magnificence which often distinguished the candidate for popular applause.[107]

After the customary interval of two years, he was returned at the head of the list as Praetor;[108] and now made his first appearance in the rostrum in support of the Manilian law. About the same time he defended Cluentius. At the expiration of his Praetorship, he refused to accept a foreign province, the usual reward of that magistracy;[109] but, having the Consulate full in view, and relying on his interest with Caesar and Pompey, he allowed nothing to divert him from that career of glory for which he now believed himself to be destined.


It may be doubted, indeed, whether any individual ever rose to power by more virtuous and truly honourable conduct; the integrity of his public life was only equalled by the correctness of his private morals; and it may at first sight excite our wonder that a course so splendidly begun should afterwards so little fulfil its early promise. Yet it was a failure from the period of his Consulate to his Pro-praetorship in Cilicia, and each year is found to diminish his influence in public affairs, till it expires altogether with the death of Pompey. This surprise, however, arises in no small degree from measuring Cicero's political importance by his present reputation, and confounding the authority he deservedly possesses as an author with the opinions entertained of him by his contemporaries as a statesman. From the consequence usually attached to passing events, a politician's celebrity is often at its zenith in his own generation; while the author, who is in the highest repute with posterity, may perhaps have been little valued or courted in his own day. Virtue indeed so conspicuous as that of Cicero, studies so dignified, and oratorical powers so commanding, will always invest their possessor with a large portion of reputation and authority; and this is nowhere more apparent than in the enthusiastic welcome with which he was greeted on his return from exile. But unless other qualities be added, more peculiarly necessary for a statesman, they will hardly of themselves carry that political weight which some writers have attached to Cicero's public life, and which his own self-love led him to appropriate.

The advice of the Oracle,[110] which had directed him to make his own genius, not the opinion of the people, his guide to immortality (which in fact pointed at the above-mentioned distinction between the fame of a statesman and of an author), at first made a deep impression on his mind; and at the present day he owes his reputation principally to those pursuits which, as Plutarch tells us, exposed him to the ridicule and even to the contempt of his contemporaries as a "pedant and a professor."[111] But his love of popularity overcame his philosophy, and he commenced a career which gained him one triumph and ten thousand mortifications.

It is not indeed to be doubted that in his political course he was more or less influenced by a sense of duty. To many it may even appear that a public life was best adapted for the display of his particular talents; that, at the termination of the Mithridatic war, Cicero was in fact marked out as the very man to adjust the pretensions of the rival parties in the Commonwealth, to withstand the encroachments of Pompey, and to baffle the arts of Caesar. And if the power of swaying and controlling the popular assemblies by his eloquence; if the circumstances of his rank, Equestrian as far as family was concerned, yet almost Patrician from the splendour of his personal honours; if the popularity derived from his accusation of Verres, and defence of Cornelius, and the favour of the Senate acquired by the brilliant services of his Consulate; if the general respect of all parties which his learning and virtue commanded; if these were sufficient qualifications for a mediator between contending factions, Cicero was indeed called upon by the voice of his country to that most arduous and honourable post. And in his Consulate he had seemed sensible of the call: "All through my Consulate," he declares in his speech against Piso, "I made a point of doing nothing without the advice of the Senate and the approval of the People. I ever defended the Senate in the Rostrum, in the Senate House the People, and united the populace with the leading men, the Equestrian order with the Senate."

Yet, after that eventful period, we see him resigning his high station to Cato, who, with half his abilities, little foresight, and no address,[112] possessed that first requisite for a statesman, firmness. Cicero, on the contrary, was irresolute, timid, and inconsistent.[113] He talked indeed largely of preserving a middle course,[114] but he was continually vacillating from one to the other extreme; always too confident or too dejected; incorrigibly vain of success, yet meanly panegyrizing the government of an usurper. His foresight, sagacity, practical good sense, and singular tact, were lost for want of that strength of mind which points them steadily to one object. He was never decided, never (as has sometimes been observed) took an important step without afterwards repenting of it. Nor can we account for the firmness and resolution of his Consulate, unless we discriminate between the case of resisting and exposing a faction, and that of balancing contending interests. Vigour in repression differs widely from steadiness in mediation; the latter requiring a coolness of judgment, which a direct attack upon a public foe is so far from implying, that it even inspires minds naturally timid with unusual ardour.


His Consulate was succeeded by the return of Pompey from the East, and the establishment of the First Triumvirate; which, disappointing his hopes of political power, induced him to resume his forensic and literary occupations. From these he was recalled, after an interval of four years, by the threatening measures of Clodius, who at length succeeded in driving him into exile. This event, which, considering the circumstances connected with it, was one of the most glorious of his life, filled him with the utmost distress and despondency. He wandered about Greece bewailing his miserable fortune, refusing the consolations which his friends attempted to administer, and shunning the public honours with which the Greek cities were eager to load him.[115] His return, which took place in the course of the following year, reinstated him in the high station he had filled at the termination of his Consulate, but the circumstances of the times did not allow him to retain it. We refer to Roman history for an account of his vacillations between the several members of the Triumvirate; his defence of Vatinius to please Caesar; and of his bitter political enemy Gabinius, to ingratiate himself with Pompey. His personal history in the meanwhile furnishes little worth noticing, except his election into the college of Augurs, a dignity which had been a particular object of his ambition. His appointment to the government of Cilicia, which took place about five years after his return from exile, was in consequence of Pompey's law, which obliged those Senators of Consular or Praetorian rank, who had never held any foreign command, to divide the vacant provinces among them. This office, which we have above seen him decline, he now accepted with feelings of extreme reluctance, dreading perhaps the military occupations which the movements of the Parthians in that quarter rendered necessary. Yet if we consider the state and splendour with which the Proconsuls were surrounded, and the opportunities afforded them for almost legalized plunder and extortion, we must confess that this insensibility to the common objects of human cupidity was the token of no ordinary mind. The singular disinterestedness and integrity of his administration, as well as his success against the enemy, also belong to the history of his times. The latter he exaggerated from the desire, so often instanced in eminent men, of appearing to excel in those things for which nature has not adapted them.

His return to Italy was followed by earnest endeavours to reconcile Pompey with Caesar, and by very spirited behaviour when Caesar required his presence in the Senate. On this occasion he felt the glow of self-approbation with which his political conduct seldom repaid him: he writes to Atticus,[116] "I believe I do not please Caesar, but I am pleased with myself, which has not happened to me for a long while." However, this effort at independence was but transient. At no period of his public life did he display such miserable vacillation as at the opening of the civil war.[117] We find him first accepting a commission from the Republic; then courting Caesar; next, on Pompey's sailing for Greece, resolving to follow him thither; presently determining to stand neuter; then bent on retiring to the Pompeians in Sicily; and, when after all he had joined their camp in Greece, discovering such timidity and discontent as to draw from Pompey the bitter reproof, "I wish Cicero would go over to the enemy, that he may learn to fear us."[118]

On his return to Italy, after the battle of Pharsalia, he had the mortification of learning that his brother and nephew were making their peace with Caesar, by throwing on himself the blame of their opposition to the conqueror. And here we see one of those elevated points of character which redeem the weaknesses of his political conduct; for, hearing that Caesar had retorted on Quintus Cicero the charge which the latter had brought against himself, he wrote a pressing letter in his favour, declaring his brother's safety was not less precious to him than his own, and representing him not as the leader, but as the companion of his voyage.[119]

Now too the state of his private affairs reduced him to much perplexity; a sum he had advanced to Pompey had impoverished him, and he was forced to stand indebted to Atticus for present assistance.[120] These difficulties led him to take a step which it has been customary to regard with great severity; the divorce of his wife Terentia, though he was then in his sixty-second year, and his marriage with his rich ward Publilia, who of course was of an age disproportionate to his own.[121] Yet, in reviewing this proceeding, we must not adopt the modern standard of propriety, forgetful of a condition of society which reconciled actions even of moral turpitude with a reputation for honour and virtue. Terentia was a woman of a most imperious and violent temper, and (what is more to the purpose) had in no slight degree contributed to his present embarrassments by her extravagance in the management of his private affairs.[122] By her he had two children, a son, born a year before his Consulate, and a daughter whose loss he was now fated to deplore. To Tullia he was tenderly attached, not only from the excellence of her disposition, but from her literary tastes; and her death tore from him, as he so pathetically laments to Sulpicius, the only comfort which the course of public events had left him.[123] At first he was inconsolable; and, retiring to a little island near his estate at Antium, he buried himself in the woods, to avoid the sight of man.[124] His distress was increased by the conduct of his new wife Publilia; whom he soon divorced for testifying joy at the death of her stepdaughter. On this occasion he wrote his Treatise on Consolation, with a view to alleviate his grief; and, with the same object, he determined on dedicating a temple to his daughter, as a memorial of her virtues and his affection. His friends were assiduous in their attentions; and Caesar, who had treated him with extreme kindness on his return from Egypt, signified the respect he bore his character by sending him a letter of condolence from Spain,[125] where the remains of the Pompeian party still engaged him. Caesar, moreover, had shortly before given a still stronger proof of his favour, by replying to a work which Cicero had drawn up in praise of Cato;[126] but no attentions, however considerate, could soften Cicero's vexation at seeing the country he had formerly saved by his exertions now subjected to the tyranny of one master. His speeches, indeed, for Marcellus and Ligarius, exhibit traces of inconsistency; but for the most part he retired from public business, and gave himself up to the composition of those works which, while they mitigated his political sorrows, have secured his literary celebrity.


The murder of Caesar, which took place in the following year, once more brought him on the stage of public affairs; but as our present paper is but supplemental to the history of the times, we leave to others to relate what more has to be told of him, his unworthy treatment of Brutus, his coalition with Octavius, his orations against Antonius, his proscription, and his violent death, at the age of sixty-four. Willingly would we pass over his public life altogether; for he was as little of a great statesman as of a great commander. His merits are of another kind and in a higher order of excellence. Antiquity may be challenged to produce a man more virtuous, more perfectly amiable than Cicero. None interest more in their life, none excite more painful emotions in their death. Others, it is true, may be found of loftier and more heroic character, who awe and subdue the mind by the grandeur of their views, or the intensity of their exertions. But Cicero engages our affections by the integrity of his public conduct, the correctness of his private life, the generosity,[127] placability, and kindness of his heart, the playfulness of his wit, the warmth of his domestic attachments. In this respect his letters are invaluable. "Here," says Middleton, "we may see the genuine man without disguise or affectation, especially in his letters to Atticus; to whom he talked with the same frankness as to himself, opened the rise and progress of each thought; and never entered into any affair without his particular advice."[128]

It must be confessed, indeed, that this private correspondence discloses the defects of his political conduct, and shows that they were partly of a moral character. Want of firmness has been repeatedly mentioned as his principal failing; and insincerity is the natural attendant on a timid and irresolute mind. On the other hand, it must not be forgotten that openness and candour are rare qualities in a statesman at all times, and while the duplicity of weakness is despised, the insincerity of a powerful but crafty mind, though incomparably more odious, is too commonly regarded with feelings of indulgence. Cicero was deficient, not in honesty, but in moral courage; his disposition, too, was conciliatory and forgiving; and much which has been referred to inconsistency should be attributed to the generous temper which induced him to remember the services rather than the neglect of Plancius, and to relieve the exiled and indigent Verres.[129] Much too may be traced to his professional habits as a pleader; which led him to introduce the licence of the Forum into deliberative discussions, and (however inexcusably) even into his correspondence with private friends.

Some writers, as Lyttelton, have considered it an aggravation of Cicero's inconsistencies, that he was so perfectly aware, as his writings show, of what was philosophically and morally upright and honest. It might be sufficient to reply, that there is a wide difference between calmly deciding on an abstract point, and acting on that decision in the hurry of real life; that Cicero in fact was apt to fancy (as all will fancy when assailed by interest or passion) that the circumstances of his case constituted it an exception to the broad principles of duty. Besides, he considered it to be actually the duty of a statesman to accommodate theoretical principle to the exigencies of existing circumstances. "Surely," he says in his defence of Plancius, "it is no mark of inconsistency in a statesman to determine his judgment and to steer his course by the state of the political weather. This is what I have been taught, what I have experienced, what I have read; this is what is recorded in history of the wisest and most eminent men, whether at home or abroad; namely, that the same man is not bound always to maintain the same opinions, but those, whatever they may be, which the state of the commonwealth, the direction of the times, and the interests of peace may demand."[130] Moreover, he claimed for himself especially the part of mediator between political rivals; and he considered it to be a mediator's duty alternately to praise and blame both parties, even to exaggeration, if by such means it was possible either to flatter or frighten them into an adoption of temperate measures.[131] "Cicero," says Plutarch, "used to give them private advice, keeping up a correspondence with Caesar, and urging many things upon Pompey himself, soothing and persuading each of them."[132]


But such criticism on Cicero as Lyttelton's proceeds on an entire misconception of the design and purpose with which the ancients prosecuted philosophical studies. The motives and principles of morals were not so seriously acknowledged as to lead to a practical application of them to the conduct of life. Even when they proposed them in the form of precept, they still regarded the perfectly virtuous man as the creature of their imagination rather than a model for imitation—a character whom it was a mental recreation rather than a duty to contemplate; and if an individual here or there, as Scipio or Cato, attempted to conform his life to his philosophical conceptions of virtue, he was sure to be ridiculed for singularity and affectation.

Even among the Athenians, by whom philosophy was, in many cases, cultivated to the exclusion of every active profession, intellectual amusement, not the discovery of Truth, was the principal object of their discussions. That we must thus account for the ensnaring questions and sophistical reasonings of which their disputations consisted, has been noticed by writers on Logic;[133] and it was their extension of this system to the case of morals which brought upon their Sophists the irony of Socrates and the sterner rebuke of Aristotle. But if this took place in a state of society in which the love of speculation pervaded all ranks, much more was it to be expected among the Romans, who, busied as they were in political enterprises, and deficient in philosophical acuteness, had neither time nor inclination for abstruse investigations; and who considered philosophy simply as one of the many fashions introduced from Greece, "a sort of table furniture," as Warburton well expresses it, a mere refinement in the arts of social enjoyment.[134] This character it bore both among friends and enemies. Hence the popularity which attended the three Athenian philosophers who had come to Rome on an embassy from their native city; and hence the inflexible determination with which Cato procured their dismissal, through fear, as Plutarch tells us,[135] lest their arts of disputation should corrupt the Roman youth. And when at length, by the authority of Scipio,[136] the literary treasures of Sylla, and the patronage of Lucullus, philosophical studies had gradually received the countenance of the higher classes of their countrymen, still, in consistency with the principle above laid down, we find them determined in their adoption of this or that system, not so much by the harmony of its parts, or by the plausibility of its reasonings, as by its suitableness to the particular profession and political station to which they severally belonged. Thus, because the Stoics were more minute than other sects in inculcating the moral and social duties, we find the Roman jurisconsults professing themselves followers of Zeno;[137] the orators, on the contrary, adopted the disputatious system of the later Academics;[138] while Epicurus was the master of the idle and the wealthy. Hence, too, they confined the profession of philosophical science to Greek teachers; considering them the sole proprietors, as it were, of a foreign and expensive luxury, which the vanquished might suitably have the duty of furnishing, and which the conquerors could well afford to purchase.

Before the works of Cicero, no attempts worth considering had been made for using the Latin tongue in philosophical subjects. The natural stubbornness of the language conspired with Roman haughtiness to prevent this application.[139] The Epicureans, indeed, had made the experiment, but their writings were even affectedly harsh and slovenly,[140] and we find Cicero himself, in spite of his inexhaustible flow of rich and expressive diction, making continual apologies for his learned occupations, and extolling philosophy as the parent of everything great, virtuous, and amiable.[141]

Yet, with whatever discouragement his design was attended, he ultimately triumphed over the pride of an unlettered people, and the difficulties of a defective language. He was indeed possessed of that first requisite for eminence, an enthusiastic attachment to the studies he was recommending. But, occupied as he was with the duties of a statesman, mere love of literature would have availed little, if separated from that energy and breadth of intellect by which he was enabled to pursue a variety of objects at once, with equally perserving and indefatigable zeal. "He suffered no part of his leisure to be idle," says Middleton, "or the least interval of it to be lost; but what other people gave to the public shows, to pleasures, to feasts, nay, even to sleep and the ordinary refreshments of nature, he generally gave to his books, and the enlargement of his knowledge. On days of business, when he had anything particular to compose, he had no other time for meditating but when he was taking a few turns in his walks, where he used to dictate his thoughts to his scribes who attended him. We find many of his letters dated before daylight, some from the senate, others from his meals, and the crowd of his morning levee."[142] Thus he found time, without apparent inconvenience, for the business of the State, for the turmoil of the courts, and for philosophical studies. During his Consulate he delivered twelve orations in the Senate, Rostrum, or Forum. His Treatises de Oratore and de Republica, the most finished perhaps of his compositions, were written at a time when, to use his own words, "not a day passed without his taking part in forensic disputes."[143] And in the last year of his life he composed at least eight of his philosophical works, besides the fourteen orations against Antony, which are known by the name of Philippics.

Being thus ardent in the cause of philosophy, he recommended it to the notice of his countrymen, not only for the honour which its introduction would reflect upon himself (which of course was a motive with him), but also with the fondness of one who esteemed it "the guide of life, the parent of virtue, the guardian in difficulty, and the tranquillizer in misfortune."[144] Nor were his mental endowments less adapted to the accomplishment of his object than the spirit with which he engaged in the work. Gifted with great versatility of talent, with acuteness, quickness of perception, skill in selection, art in arrangement, fertility of illustration, warmth of fancy, and extraordinary taste, he at once seizes upon the most effective parts of his subject, places them in the most striking point of view, and arrays them in the liveliest and most inviting colours. His writings have the singular felicity of combining brilliancy of execution with never-failing good sense. It must be allowed that he is deficient in depth; that he skims over rather than dives into the subjects of which he treats; that he had too great command of the plausible to be a patient investigator or a sound reasoner. Yet if he has less originality of thought than others, if he does not grapple with his subject, if he is unequal to a regular and lengthened disquisition, if he is frequently inconsistent in his opinions, we must remember that mere soundness of view, without talent for display, has few recommendations for those who have not yet imbibed a taste even for the outward form of knowledge,[145] that system nearly precludes freedom, and depth almost implies obscurity. It was this very absence of scientific exactness which constituted in Roman eyes a principal charm of Cicero's compositions.[146]

Nor must his profession as a pleader be forgotten in enumerating the circumstances which concurred to give his writings their peculiar character. For, however his design of interesting his countrymen in Greek literature, however too his particular line of talent, may have led him to explain rather than to invent; yet he expressly informs us it was principally with a view to his own improvement in Oratory that he devoted himself to philosophical studies.[147] This induced him to undertake successively the cause of the Stoic, the Epicurean, or the Platonist, as an exercise for his powers of argumentation; while the wavering and unsettled state of mind, occasioned by such habits of disputation, led him in his personal judgment to prefer the sceptical tenets of the New Academy.


Here then, before enumerating Cicero's philosophical writings, an opportunity is presented to us of redeeming the pledge we have given elsewhere in our Encyclopaedia,[148] to consider the system of doctrine which the reformers (as they thought themselves) of the Academic school introduced about 300 years before the Christian era.

We shall not trace here the history of the Old Academy, or speak of the innovations on the system of Plato, silently introduced by the austere Polemo. When Zeno, however, who was his pupil, advocated the same rigid tenets in a more open and dogmatic form,[149] the Academy at length took the alarm, and a reaction ensued. Arcesilas, who had succeeded Polemo and Crates, determined on reverting to the principles of the elder schools;[150] but mistaking the profession of ignorance, which Socrates had used against the Sophists on physical questions, for an actual scepticism on points connected with morals, he fell into the opposite extreme, and declared, first, that nothing could be known, and therefore, secondly, nothing should be maintained.[151]

Whatever were his private sentiments (for some authors affirm his esoteric doctrines to have been dogmatic[152]), he brought forward these sceptical tenets in so unguarded a form, that it required all his argumentative powers, which were confessedly great, to maintain them against the obvious objections which were pressed upon him from all quarters. On his death, therefore, as might have been anticipated, his school was deserted for those of Zeno and Epicurus; and during the lives of Lacydes, Evander, and Hegesinus, who successively filled the Academic chair, being no longer recommended by the novelty of its doctrines,[153] or the talents of its masters, it became of little consideration amid the wranglings of more popular philosophies. Carneades,[154] therefore, who succeeded Hegesinus, found it necessary to use more cautious and guarded language; and, by explaining what was paradoxical, by reservations and exceptions, in short, by all the arts which an acute and active genius could suggest, he contrived to establish its authority, without departing, as far as we have the means of judging, from the principle of universal scepticism which Arcesilas had so pertinaciously advocated.[155]

The New Academy,[156] then, taught with Plato, that all things in their own nature were fixed and determinate; but that, through the constitution of the human mind, it was impossible for us to see them in their simple and eternal forms, to separate appearance from reality, truth from falsehood.[157] For the conception we form of any object is altogether derived from and depends on the sensation, the impression, it produces on our own minds ([Greek: pathos energeias, phantasia]). Reason does but deduce from premisses ultimately supplied by sensation. Our only communication, then, with actual existences being through the medium of our own impressions, we have no means of ascertaining the correspondence of the things themselves with the ideas we entertain of them; and therefore can in no case be certain of the truthfulness of our senses. Of their fallibility, however, we may easily assure ourselves; for in cases in which they are detected contradicting each other, all cannot be correct reporters of the object with which they profess to acquaint us. Food, which is the same as far as sight and touch are concerned, tastes differently to different individuals; fire, which is the same to the eye, communicates a sensation of pain at one time, of pleasure at another; the oar appears crooked in the water, while the touch assures us it is as straight as before it was immersed.[158] Again, in dreams, in intoxication, in madness, impressions are made upon the mind, vivid enough to incite to reflection and action, yet utterly at variance with those produced by the same objects when we are awake, or sober, or in possession of our reason.[159]

It appears, then, that we cannot prove that our senses are ever faithful to the things they profess to report about; but we do know they often produce erroneous impressions of them. Here then is room for endless doubt; for why may they not deceive us in cases in which we cannot detect the deception? It is certain they often act irregularly; is there any consistency at all in their operations, any law to which these varieties may be referred?

It is undeniable that an object often varies in the impression which it makes upon the mind, while, on the other hand, the same impression may arise from different objects. What limit is to be assigned to this disorder? is there any sensation strong enough to assure us of the presence of the object which it seems to intimate, any such as to preclude the possibility of deception? If, when we look into a mirror, our minds are impressed with the appearance of trees, fields, and houses, which are unreal, how can we ascertain beyond all doubt whether the scene we directly look upon has any more substantial existence than the former?[160]

From these reasonings the Academics taught that nothing was certain, nothing was to be known ([Greek: katalepton]). For the Stoics themselves, their most determined opponents, defined the [Greek: kataleptike phantasia] (the phantasy or impression which involved knowledge[160a]) to be one that was capable of being produced by no object except that to which it really belonged.[161]

Since then we cannot arrive at knowledge, we must suspend our decision, pronounce absolutely on nothing, nay, according to Arcesilas, never even form an opinion.[162] In the conduct of life, however, probability[163] must determine our choice of action; and this admits of different degrees. The lowest kind is that which suggests itself on the first view of the case ([Greek: phantasia pithane], or persuasive phantasy); but in all important matters we must correct the evidence of our senses by considerations derived from the nature of the medium, the distance of the object, the disposition of the organ, the time, the manner, and other attendant circumstances. When the impression has been thus minutely considered, the phantasy becomes [Greek: aperiodeumene], or approved on circumspection; and if during this examination no objection has arisen to weaken our belief, the highest degree of probability is attained, and the phantasy is pronounced unembarrassed with doubt, or [Greek: aperispastos].[164]

Sextus Empiricus illustrates this as follows:[165] If on entering a dark room we discern a coiled rope, our first impression may be that it is a serpent—this is the persuasive phantasy. On a closer inspection, however, after walking round it ([Greek: periodeusantes]), or on circumspection, we observe it does not move, nor has it the proper colour, shape, or proportions; and now we conclude it is not a serpent; here we are determined in our belief by the [Greek: periodeumene phantasia], and we assent to the circumspective phantasy. For an instance of the third and most accurate kind, viz., that with which no contrary impression interferes, we may refer to the conduct of Admetus on the return of Alcestis from the infernal regions. He believes he sees his wife; everything confirms it; but he cannot simply acquiesce in that opinion, because his mind is embarrassed or distracted [Greek: perispatai] from the knowledge he has of her having died; he asks, "What! do I see my wife I just now buried?" (Alc. 1148.) Hercules resolves his difficulty, and his phantasy is in repose, or [Greek: aperispastos].

The suspension then of assent ([Greek: epoche]) which the Academics enjoined, was, at least from the time of Carneades,[166] almost a speculative doctrine;[167] and herein lay the chief difference between them and the Pyrrhonists; that the latter altogether denied the existence of the probable, while the former admitted there was sufficient to allow of action, provided we pronounced absolutely on nothing.

Little more can be said concerning the opinions of a sect whose fundamental maxim was that nothing could be known, and nothing should be taught. It lay midway between the other philosophies; and in the altercations of the various schools it was at once attacked by all,[168] yet appealed to by each of the contending parties, if not to countenance its own sentiments, at least to condemn those advocated by its opponents,[169] and thus to perform the office of an umpire.[170] From this necessity, then, of being prepared on all sides for attack,[171] it became as much a school of rhetoric as of philosophy,[172] and was celebrated among the ancients for the eloquence of its masters.[173] Hence also its reputation was continually varying: for, requiring the aid of great abilities to maintain its exalted and arduous post, it alternately rose and fell in estimation, according to the talents of the individual who happened to fill the chair.[174] And hence the frequent alterations which took place in its philosophical tenets; which, depending rather on the arbitrary determinations of its present head, than on the tradition of settled maxims, were accommodated to the views of each successive master, according as he hoped by sophistry or concession to overcome the repugnance which the mind ever will feel to the doctrines of universal scepticism.

And in these continual changes it is pleasing to observe that the interests of virtue and good order were uniformly promoted; interests to which the Academic doctrines were certainly hostile, if not necessarily fatal. Thus, although we find Carneades, in conformity to the plan adopted by Arcesilas,[175] opposing the dogmatic principles of the Stoics concerning moral duty,[176] and studiously concealing his private views even from his friends;[177] yet, by allowing that the suspense of judgment was not always a duty, that the wise man might sometimes believe though he could not know;[178] he in some measure restored the authority of those great instincts of our nature which his predecessor appears to have discarded. Clitomachus pursued his steps by innovations in the same direction;[179] Philo, who followed next, attempting to reconcile his tenets with those of the Platonic school,[180] has been accounted the founder of a fourth academy—while, to his successor Antiochus, who embraced the doctrines of the Porch,[181] and maintained the fidelity of the senses, it has been usual to assign the establishment of a fifth.


We have already observed that Cicero in early life inclined to the doctrines of Plato and Antiochus, which, at the time he composed the bulk of his writings, he had abandoned for those of Carneades and Philo.[182] Yet he was never so entirely a disciple of the New Academy as to neglect the claims of morality and the laws. He is loud in his protestations that truth is the great object of his search: "For my own part, if I have applied myself especially to this philosophy, through any love of display or pleasure in disputation, I should condemn not only my folly, but my moral condition. And, therefore, unless it were absurd, in an argument like this, to do what is sometimes done in political discussions, I would swear by Jupiter and the divine Penates that I burn with a desire of discovering the truth, and really believe what I am saying."[183] And, however inappropriate this boast may appear, he at least pursues the useful and the magnificent in philosophy; and uses his academic character as a pretext rather for a judicious selection from each system than for an indiscriminate rejection of all.[184] Thus, in the capacity of a statesman, he calls in the assistance of doctrines which, as an orator, he does not scruple to deride; those of Zeno in particular, who maintained the truth of the popular theology, and the divine origin of augury, and (as we noticed above) was more explicit than the other masters in his views of social duty. This difference of sentiment between the magistrate and the pleader is strikingly illustrated in the opening of his treatise de Legibus; where, after deriving the principles of law from the nature of things, he is obliged to beg quarter of the Academics, whose reasonings he feels could at once destroy the foundation on which his argument rested. "My treatise throughout," he says, "aims at the strengthening of states and the welfare of peoples. I dread therefore to lay down any but well considered and carefully examined principles; I do not say principles which are universally received, for none are such, but principles received by those philosophers who consider virtue to be desirable for its own sake, and nothing whatever to be good, or at least a great good, which is not in its own nature praiseworthy." These philosophers are the Stoics; and then, apparently alluding to the arguments of Carneades against justice, which he had put into the mouth of Philus in the third book of his de Republica, he proceeds: "As to the Academy, which puts the whole subject into utter confusion, I mean the New Academy of Arcesilas and Carneades, let us persuade it to hold its peace. For, should it make an inroad upon the views which we consider we have so skilfully put into shape, it will make an extreme havoc of them. The Academy I cannot conciliate, and I dare not ignore."[185]

And as, in questions connected with the interests of society, he thus uniformly advocates the tenets of the Porch, so in discussions of a physical character we find him adopting the sublime and glowing sentiments of Pythagoras and Plato. Here, however, having no object of expediency in view to keep him within the bounds of consistency, he scruples not to introduce whatever is most beautiful in itself, or most adapted to his present purpose. At one time he describes the Deity as the all-pervading Soul of the world, the cause of life and motion;[186] at another He is the intelligent Preserver and Governor of every separate part.[187] At one time the soul of man is in its own nature necessarily eternal, without beginning or end of existence;[188] at another it is represented as a portion, or the haunt of the one infinite Spirit;[189] at another it is to enter the assembly of the Gods, or to be driven into darkness, according to its moral conduct in this life;[190] at another, it is only in its best and greatest specimens destined for immortality;[191] sometimes that immortality is described as attended with consciousness and the continuance of earthly friendships;[192] sometimes as but an immortality of name and glory;[193] more frequently however these separate notions are confused together in the same passage.

Though the works of Aristotle were not given to the world till Sylla's return from Greece, Cicero appears to have been a considerable proficient in his philosophy,[194] and he has not overlooked the important aid it affords in those departments of science which are alike removed from abstract reasoning and fanciful theorizing. To Aristotle he is indebted for most of the principles laid down in his rhetorical discussions,[195] while in his treatises on morals not a few of his remarks may be traced to the same acute philosopher.[196]

The doctrines of the Garden alone, though some of his most intimate friends were of the Epicurean school, he regarded with aversion and contempt; feeling no sort of interest in a system which cut at the very root of that activity of mind, industry, and patriotism, for which he himself both in public and private was so honourably distinguished.[197]

Such then was the New Academy, and such the variation of opinion which, in Cicero's judgment, was not inconsistent with the profession of an Academic. And, however his adoption of that philosophy may be in part referred to his oratorical habits, or his natural cast of mind, yet, considering the ambition which he felt to inspire his countrymen with a taste for literature and science,[198] we must conclude with Warburton[199] that, in acceding to the system of Philo, he was strongly influenced by the freedom of thought and reasoning which it allowed to his literary works, the liberty of illustrating the principles and doctrines, the strong and weak parts, of every Grecian school. Bearing then in mind his design of recommending the study of philosophy, it is interesting to observe the artifices of style and manner which, with this end, he adopted in his treatises; and though to enter minutely into this subject would be foreign to our present purpose, it may be allowed us to make some general remarks on the character of works so eminently successful in accomplishing the object for which they were undertaken.


The obvious peculiarity of Cicero's philosophical discussions is the form of dialogue in which most of them are conveyed. Plato, indeed, and Xenophon, had, before his time, been even more strictly dramatic in their compositions; but they professed to be recording the sentiments of an individual, and the Socratic mode of argument could hardly be displayed in any other shape. Of that interrogative and inductive conversation, however, Cicero affords but few specimens;[200] the nature of his dialogue being as different from that of the two Athenians as was his object in writing. His aim was to excite interest; and he availed himself of this mode of composition for the life and variety, the ease, perspicuity, and vigour which it gave to his discussions. His dialogue is of two kinds: according as the subject of it is beyond or under controversy, it assumes the shape of a continued treatise, or a free disputation; in the latter case imparting clearness to what is obscure, in the former relief to what is clear. Thus his practical and systematic treatises on rhetoric and moral duty, when not written in his own person, are merely divided between several speakers who are the mere organs of his own sentiments; while in questions of a more speculative cast, on the nature of the gods, on the human soul, on the greatest good, he uses his academic liberty, and brings forward the theories of contending schools under the character of their respective advocates. The advantages gained in both cases by the form of dialogue are evident. In controverted subjects he is not obliged to discover his own views, he can detail opposite arguments forcibly and luminously, and he is allowed the use of those oratorical powers in which, after all, his great strength lay. In those subjects, on the other hand, which are uninteresting because they are familiar, he may pause or digress before the mind is weary and the attention begins to flag; the reader is carried on by easy journeys and short stages, and novelty in the speaker supplies the want of novelty in the matter. Nor does Cicero discover less skill in the execution of these dialogues than address in their method. It were idle to enlarge upon the beauty, richness, and taste of compositions which have been the admiration of every age and country. In the dignity of his speakers, their high tone of mutual courtesy, the harmony of his groups, and the delicate relief of his contrasts, he is inimitable. The majesty and splendour of his introductions, which generally address themselves to the passions or the imagination, the eloquence with which both sides of a question are successively displayed, the clearness and terseness of his statements on abstract points, the grace of his illustrations, his exquisite allusions to the scene or time of the supposed conversation, his digressions in praise of philosophy or great men, his quotations from Grecian and Roman poetry; lastly, the melody and fulness of his style, unite to throw a charm round his writings peculiar to themselves. To the Roman reader they especially recommended themselves by their continual and most artful references to the heroes of the old republic, who now appeared but exemplars, and (as it were) patrons of that eternal philosophy, which he had before, perhaps, considered as the short-lived reveries of ingenious but inactive men. Nor is there any confusion, want of keeping, or appearance of effort in the introduction of the various beauties we have been enumerating, which are blended together with so much skill and propriety, that it is sometimes difficult to point out the particular sources of the admiration which they inspire.


The series of his rhetorical works[201] has been preserved nearly complete, and consists of the De Inventione, De Oratore, Brutus sive de claris Oratoribus, Orator sive de optimo genere Dicendi, De partitione Oratoria, Topica, and de optimo genere Oratorum. The last-mentioned, which is a fragment, is understood to have been the proem to his translation (now lost) of the speeches of Demosthenes and AEschines, De Corona. These he translated with the view of defending, by the example of the Greek orators, his own style of eloquence, which, as we shall afterwards find, the critics of the day censured as too Asiatic in its character; and hence the proem, which still survives, is on the subject of the Attic style of oratory. This composition and his abstracts of his own orations[202] are his only rhetorical works not extant, and probably our loss is not very great. The Treatise on Rhetoric, addressed to Herennius, though edited with his works, and ascribed to him by several of the ancients, is now generally attributed to Cornificius, or some other writer of the day.

The works, which we have enumerated, consider the art of rhetoric in different points of view, and thus receive from each other mutual support and illustration, while they prevent the tediousness which might else arise, if they were moulded into one systematic treatise on the general subject. Three are in the form of dialogue; the rest are written in his own person. In all, except perhaps the Orator, he professes to have availed himself of the principles of the Aristotelic and Isocratean schools, selecting what was best in each of them, and, as occasion might offer, adding remarks and precepts of his own.[203] The subject of Oratory is considered in three distinct lights;[204] with reference to the case, the speaker, and the speech. The case, as respects its nature, is definite or indefinite; with reference to the hearer, it is judicial, deliberative, or descriptive; as regards the opponent, the division is fourfold—according as the fact, its nature, its quality, or its propriety is called in question. The art of the speaker is directed to five points: the discovery of persuasives (whether ethical, pathetical, or argumentative), arrangement, diction, memory, delivery. And the speech itself consists of six parts: introduction, statement of the case, division of the subject, proof, refutation, and conclusion.

His treatises De Inventione and Topica, the first and nearly the last of his compositions, are both on the invention of arguments, which he regards, with Aristotle, as the very foundation of the art; though he elsewhere confines the term eloquence, according to its derivation, to denote excellence of diction and delivery, to the exclusion of argumentative skill.[205] The former of these works was written at the age of twenty, and seems originally to have consisted of four books, of which but two remain.[206] In the first of these he considers rhetorical invention generally, supplies commonplaces for the six parts of an oration promiscuously, and gives a full analysis of the two forms of argument, syllogism and induction. In the second book he applies these rules particularly to the three subject-matters of rhetoric, the deliberative, the judicial, and the descriptive, dwelling principally on the judicial, as affording the most ample field for discussion. This treatise seems for the most part compiled from the writings of Aristotle, Isocrates, and Hermagoras;[207] and as such he alludes to it in the opening of his De Oratore as deficient in the experience and judgment which nothing but time and practice can impart. Still it is an entertaining, nay, useful work; remarkable, even among Cicero's writings, for its uniform good sense, and less familiar to the scholar only because the greater part has been superseded by the compositions of his riper years.

His Topica, or treatise on commonplaces, has less extent and variety of plan, being little else than a compendium of Aristotle's work on the same subject. It was, as he informs us in its proem, drawn up from memory on his voyage from Italy to Greece, soon after Caesar's murder, and in compliance with the wishes of Trebatius, who had some time before urged him to undertake the translation.[208]

Cicero seems to have intended his De Oratore, De claris Oratoribus, and Orator, to form one complete system.[209] Of these three noble works the first lays down the principles and rules of the rhetorical art; the second exemplifies them in the most eminent speakers of Greece and Rome; and the third shadows out the features of that perfect orator, whose superhuman excellences should be the aim of our ambition. The De Oratore was written when the author was fifty-two, two years after his return from exile; and is a dialogue between some of the most illustrious Romans of the preceding age on the subject of oratory. The principal speakers are the orators Crassus and Antonius, who are represented unfolding the principles of their art to Sulpicius and Cotta, young men just rising in the legal profession. In the first book, the conversation turns on the subject-matter of rhetoric, and the qualifications requisite for the perfect orator. Here Crassus maintains the necessity of his being acquainted with the whole circle of the arts, while Antonius confines eloquence to the province of speaking well. The dispute for the most part seems verbal; for Cicero himself, though he here sides with Crassus, yet elsewhere, as we have above noticed, pronounces eloquence, strictly speaking, to consist in beauty of diction. Scaevola, the celebrated lawyer, takes part in this preliminary discussion; but, in the ensuing meetings, makes way for Catulus and Caesar, the subject leading to such technical disquisitions as were hardly suitable to the dignity of the aged Augur.[210] The next morning Antonius enters upon the subject of invention, which Caesar completes by subjoining some remarks on the use of humour in oratory; and Antonius, relieving him, finishes the morning discussion with treating of arrangement and memory. In the afternoon the rules for propriety and elegance of diction are explained by Crassus, who was celebrated in this department of the art; and the work concludes with his handling the subject of delivery and action. Such is the plan of the De Oratore, the most finished perhaps of Cicero's compositions. An air of grandeur and magnificence reigns throughout. The characters of the aged senators are finely conceived, and the whole company is invested with an almost religious majesty, from the allusions interspersed to the melancholy destinies for which its members were reserved.

His treatise De claris Oratoribus was written after an interval of nine years, about the time of Cato's death, when he was sixty-one, and is thrown into the shape of a dialogue between Brutus, Atticus, and himself. He begins with Solon, and after briefly mentioning the orators of Greece, proceeds to those of his own country, so as to take in the whole period from the time of Junius Brutus down to himself. About the same time he wrote his Orator; in which he directs his attention principally to diction and delivery, as in his De Inventione and Topica he considers the matter of an oration.[211] This treatise is of a less practical nature than the rest.[212] It adopts the principles of Plato, and delineates the perfect orator according to the abstract conceptions of the intellect rather than the deductions of observation and experience. Hence he sets out with a definition of the perfectly eloquent man, whose characteristic it is to express himself with propriety on all subjects, whether humble, great, or of an intermediate character;[213] and here he has an opportunity of paying some indirect compliments to himself. With this work he was so well satisfied that he does not scruple to declare, in a letter to a friend, that he was ready to rest on its merits his reputation for judgment in Oratory.[214]

The treatise De partitione Oratoria, or on the three parts of rhetoric, is a kind of catechism between Cicero and his son, drawn up for the use of the latter at the same time with the two preceding. It is the most systematic and perspicuous of his rhetorical works, but seems to be but the rough draught of what he originally intended.[215]


The connection which we have been able to preserve between the rhetorical writings of Cicero cannot be attained in his moral, political, and metaphysical treatises; partly from the extent of the subject, partly from the losses occasioned by time, partly from the inconsistency which we have warned the reader to expect in his sentiments. In our enumeration, therefore, we shall observe no other order than that which the date of their composition furnishes.

The earliest now extant is part of his treatise De Legibus, in three books; being a sequel to his work on Politics. Both were written in imitation of Plato's treatises on the same subjects.[216] The latter of these (De Republica) was composed a year after the De Oratore,[217] and seems to have vied with it in the majesty and interest of the dialogue. It consisted of a series of discussions in six books on the origin and principles of government, Scipio being the principal speaker, but Laelius, Philus, Manilius, and other personages of like gravity taking part in the conversation. Till lately, but a fragment of the fifth book was understood to be in existence, in which Scipio, under the fiction of a dream, inculcates the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. But in the year 1822, Monsignor Mai, librarian of the Vatican, published considerable portions of the first and second books, from a palimpsest manuscript of St. Austin's Commentary on the Psalms. In the part now recovered, Scipio discourses on the different kinds of constitutions and their respective advantages; with a particular reference to that of Rome. In the third book, the subject of justice was discussed by Laelius and Philus; in the fourth, Scipio treated of morals and education; while in the fifth and sixth, the duties of a magistrate were explained, and the best means of preventing changes and revolutions in the constitution itself. In the latter part of the treatise, allusion was made to the actual posture of affairs in Rome, when the conversation was supposed to have occurred, and the commotions excited by the Gracchi.

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