A Roman Gentleman Under the Empire

EVERY traveler who has left Italy by the St. Gothard railway must remember that visionary view at the head of Lake Como, which seems to resume, in one swift and shining tableau, all the multiform aspects of loveliness and grandeur, the graces of nature and the glories of art, which constitute the rich dowry of the queenly country to which he is bidding a reluctant farewell. For one supreme instant, he has all Italy in view: infinite breadth of deep blue water and infinite translucence of caressing air ; a bright little town, with arcaded piazza and climbing loggie, cathedral dome and clustering campanili, set like a jewel at the meeting of the lake’s encircling arms ; majestic mountain outlines floating away upon either hand, a silvery gleam of snow upon the topmost peaks, if the season be yet early ; fortress towers and airy belfries and penciled spires of the cypress crowning every outlying spur, and leading the eye down through shimmering olive orchards and smiling vineyard rows, to where modest hamlets dip their feet in the lapping water, and stately villas gleam out from amid their ilex and laurel shrubbery, far down the vanishing shores. “ Te, Larie, maxume ! ” are the words that spring unbidden to the lips of Italy’s parting guest, as he gazes, with an eye twice dazzled, it may be, by the consummate beauty of this great transformation scene and the sudden dimness of his own vision ; and other words of the Mantuan come sighing through his memory, and he thinks of that piteous company of the shades, flinging out their wan arms toward life itself as it receded from them, ripœ ulterioris amore.

One moment more, and it is all snatched away. The tunnel has engulfed him, as the shadow of the dark valley may close over a man who has received his death-warrant at a banquet, and Italy is hidden from the eye of sense.

Fortunately, the frontier station at Chiasso, on the other side of the mountain, is not, after all, an “ unreturning bourne,” and one may die to Italy many times in the course of a natural life. The last time that the present writer did so was on the Tuesday of Easter week, 1885, after having passed the better part of Sunday and Monday in and about the singularly rich and quaint cathedral of Como, which has been so little exploité by artists and travelers, in comparison with most, that one revels in its negligent splendor with something very like the delight of discovery.

Up the singular facade on either side the deeply sculptured portal rise, one above another, a long line of niches, and as we explore them in their order, trying to identify by his or her symbol the mitred or palm-bearing occupant of each, we come upon two figures which display no Christian insignia whatever, but sit there, nevertheless, with all the tranquil dignity of antecedent right, simply robed in the sculpturesque folds of the senatorial toga. Long since made happily at home among the invading saints, the two Plinies, uncle and nephew, father and son by adoption and by devotion, look benignly down upon their beautiful and beloved native place,1 the Novum Comum of later Roman history. Nay, these two gifted sons of the elder world, and especially the delightful and communicative junior, through whom almost alone the other is personally known to us, are far more deeply associated with the long life of the little town and the ideal beauty of the region than any of those others, with the solemn name upon their foreheads, who declare so plainly, by all we know of their doings, that they ever sought, while here, another and an unearthly country.

“ What is doing at Como ? ” writes the younger Pliny to his friend Caninius Rufus, in one of the earliest of his first series of letters. “ What of that delightful country-seat of yours, with the unfading greenery of its cloister, its impenetrable plane-trees, the grassy banks, flower-studded, of its little canal, the lake lying beneath you, subservient to all your needs ? ” And then there is the merry epistle in which he thanks his friend Romanus for affording him a precedent for his own extravagance : —

“ You write that you are engaged in building. I am enchanted. Now I can cite you as an example, for of course it is reasonable to do what you are doing! The only difference is that you build by the Bay of Baiæ, and I by the Larian lake.” And then he goes on to say that, amid the rather extensive property which he holds along the lovely shores of Como, there are two places for which he has a special predilection, the villas which he has named Tragedy and Comedy : because the former is, as it were, set up on buskins, while the latter dawdles in socks. Tragedy stands high, on the dorsal ridge of a steep promontory, with a wide outlook over two bays. Comedy nestles on the water-side, in the shore’s encircling arms.

And again he writes to Caninius, in whimsical impatience of the toils — nay, the chains — which happen, just then, to bind him to his busy life in Rome : “ Are you studying, or fishing, or hunting, or all three ? They may all be managed at once beside our dear Como. For the lake gives you fish, and the surrounding forest game, and the deep quietude invites to study. . . . Ah me, I envy you! It exasperates me to think that 1 cannot have what I long for as sick men long for wine and baths and running water.”

The most casual allusion to Como is enough to make the younger Pliny’s diction thrill, and to inform it thoroughly with life and color. No matter if the story be a sad one which he has to tell, the warm touch of his own loving pride in a most fair birthplace is never absent. “ What a difference it makes who does a thing ! ” he says on one occasion, beginning a letter to Marcus, at once abruptly and reflectively. “ I was sailing the other day on our Larian lake, when an old friend pointed out to me a villa, with a chamber projecting over the water.” From the window of this room. Pliny is told that a husband and wife, bound fast together, had lately leaped into the waves and perished. The wife, when she found that her husband was attacked by a cruel and incurable malady, had encouraged him to the deed, offering to go with him and show him the way to death. “ I do not see,” muses Pliny, “ that there is any difference between this action and that famous one of Arria, the wife of Pætus (Pœte, non dolet), except that Arria was a great lady, whereas the other was a comparatively obscure person, of whom one never would have heard but for my old fellow-townsman. ”

It was all, as we know, in accordance with the highest morality of the time, and we shall see hereafter how strongly Pliny was all his life swayed by his intimate connection with that illustrious family of confessors and martyrs for freedom, the descendants of the first Arria and of Cæcina Pætus. At present we are concerned only to picture to ourselves the scene of the quiet tragedy in question, and to note the softening of the Comensian’s voice as he describes it. Fate had ordained that the varied action of his own crowded life should pass in scenes which were almost all of them conspicuous for natural beauty : with his uncle at Verona, in which Ruskin long since taught us to see one of the three cities in all the world most beautiful for situation ; on the pleasant foot-hills of the Apennines, near the sources of the Tiber; by the matchless Gulf of Baia ; and among the haunted shades and rosemary-wreathed avenues of that property of the Chigi which we call Castel Fusano. But whatever degree of truth there may be in the popular persuasion that the men of the old world in general cared little for landscape beauty (and we fancy there is not much), here, at least, was one who enjoyed scenery exactly as we enjoy it; who was never quite happy unless nature turned a fair countenance upon him, and he could feel, or fancy, himself in sympathy with earth and sea and sky ; on whom we have abundant evidence to show that his rare privileges of “ location ” were by no means thrown away.

Caius Cæcilius, who was later on to receive through adoption by his already famous uncle the name of Plinius Secundus, Was born at Novum Comum, A. D. 62. His gentile name Cæcilius, though not among the most élite of all the Roman patronymics, was yet an old and excellent one, and he displays an amiable and not unbecoming touch of family pride in the letter to the grandfather of his second wife, Calpurnia, in which he laments the disappointment of his first hope of issue by her; but he presses his confidence (not justified, by the way) that there will yet be a family to transmit his name, and to whom he will be able to leave his non subitas imagines, — as who should say, “Our family portraits were not painted yesterday.”

His own father, also a Caius Cæcilius, died while he was a mere lad. They were not, apparently a physically vigorous or long-lived race. He had a very distinguished guardian, the general Verginius Rufus, who also held estates on the Lake of Como, and who was absent with the army in Spain when the elder Caius died, A. D. 71. The boy’s maternal uncle, the elder Pliny, by whom he was now adopted, was something over forty years of age, and a man of irregular but extraordinarily varied capacity and achievement. Soldier, sailor, statesman, and courtier, beside being the author of seventy-five books of natural history and political and military memoirs, many of which have come down to us, he was at this period in the full prime of his laborious life. A highly distinguished man, yet what we know of the sensitive and affectionate nature of his adoptive son makes us particularly glad of the assurance that the boy’s mother went with him to his new home in her brother’s house. The younger Pliny always writes of his uncle with loyal reverence for his imposing character, and humble and unfeigned admiration of his tireless energy in study and the encyclopaedic nature of his attainments, while he has left us a thrilling narrative of his tragical end. But there is nowhere the glow of filial fondness, the touch of tearful enthusiasm, with which he writes of those other great friends of his family and guardians of his youth, Verginius and Corellius Rufus. It is hardly possible, in fact, not to infer a something of at least outward asperity and sternness in the elder Pliny, an almost fierce preoccupation with his own affairs, and a rather ostentatious disdain of the ordinary weaknesses of humanity. There must have been drawbacks to the pleasure of visiting a man, however illustrious, who insisted upon always having loud reading during dinner, and who once, when a guest begged the reader to repeat a passage which he had pronounced hurriedly, turned sharply upon the gentleman, and asked if he had not understood the words. The latter admitted that he had. “ Why did you interrupt the reading, then ? We might have had ten verses more in the time it took ! ” In that house, indeed, education must have been conducted as by steam-power. But the boy from Como proved an apt pupil. At the age of fourteen, or about four years after his adoption, he produced a Greek tragedy. “ What sort of a thing was it, do you ask ? ” he says to the friend to whom he has just laughingly cited this proof of his precocity. “ Ah, that I don’t know ! They called it a tragedy.”

In the lurid light of the next scene in which he is brought vividly before us, we see our young gentleman almost unnaturally preoccupied with his books. For he was not yet eighteen, when, on a certain sultry noontide late in the summer of the year 79, anxiety was excited in the seaside villa at Misenum, where the elder Pliny was then commanding the Roman fleet, by a singular spectacle, visible on the further side of the lovely bay. The high lands of the opposite shore were, in those days, barely distinguishable one from another. The fatal cone, with its gracefully sloping sides and the delicate amethystine tints the æsthete loves, was not there, and all the fair hills alike were occupied and tilled to their summits and bright with vines and corn. From one of these, however, which proved only too soon to be Vesuvius, a dense column of smoke was now discerned, spinning upward, and spreading itself abroad when high in heaven, into the semblance of a gigantic parasolpine. The four - oared galley, which served the admiral as a species of light cutter, was ordered to be manned at once, and the enthusiast set forth, tablets in hand, to investigate and take notes of so unparalleled a phenomenon. He gave his nephew permission to accompany him, but the youth declined, on the score of some writing which he had to finish.

There is no need of repeating here for the thousandth time, in all its ghastly particulars, the tale of what followed. The elder Pliny went to his death, as the world knows well ; and “ the mood,” to quote his nephew, “ of mere philosophic curiosity in which that voyage was undertaken gave place to one of sublime self-devotion.” He pressed on, though the very shore appeared to shudder and recede as he drew near it,intent upon reaching the point from which all others were flying, and on carrying encouragement, and if possible aid, to friends whose frightful danger became every instant more and more apparent. He effected a landing, with difficulty, not far from Herculaneum; and, if we detect a touch of stoical affectation in the elaborate dinner toilette which he made in the quaking villa of his friend Pompouianus, and in the assumed cheerfulness of his behavior during the evening, there can have been none, it would appear, about the profound slumber into which he afterwards fell, and from which the awe-stricken servants dared not arouse him until the court into which his bed-chamber opened was so filled by the horrible ashen snow, which had now been falling for hours, that his escape seemed doubtful. He might almost as well have been left to die in his first heavy sleep. He quitted the house along with its other occupants, all having first tied pillows over their heads to protect them from the continually dropping pumice-stones. Their hope was that they might yet be able to reach the boats, and put off from the wreckladen shore ; but the fragile philosopher sank down, at no great distance, suffocated, apparently, by a sudden burst of sulphurous vapor from the now flaming mountain side, and the slaves who were supporting him fled in terror. Two days later, when the horrible darkness which had engulfed the devoted region was beginning to clear, his body was found, undisfigured, lying as if outstretched for peaceful slumber, and the suspense of those whom he had left so lightly was at an end.

The great author Tacitus, writing years afterward, in the interests of his history, to the younger Pliny for the particulars of his uncle’s death, was so moved by the letter in which these details are given that he replied begging for an equally minute account of what befell the mother and son at home in the villa. No wonder Pliny prefaces his answer with the “ Quanquam animus meminisse horret ” of Æneas at the court of Dido. But having done so, he proceeds to bring before our eyes with startling distinctness the scene at Misenum. The pupil, too, bitten, as was quite natural by the same stoical mania as the master, made a feint, at first, of despising the awful peril, and although unable to sleep through the first night, for the incessant earthquake shocks, he sat himself down, early on the livid morning of August 25th (dubius et quasi languidus dies), in the court between the villa and the sea, and called for his books. “Was it courage or mere braggadocio ? ” he says. “ I was only seventeen. I told them to bring me a volume of Livy, which I proceeded to read with the utmost coolness, and even to make extracts, according to a plan which I was following.” His mother came and sat beside him, with the speechless patience of a brave woman in extremity; but the average reader will doubtless feel more sympathy with the indignation of the “ gentleman from Spain,” who was visiting at the villa, and who did his best to dissipate both the apathetic resignation of the lady and the insensate security of the boy.

The earthquake shocks were now increasing in violence every moment; the shore upon which they looked began to broaden out, from the awful recession of the whole body of water, and deepsea fishes were seen sprawling upon the sands, while a wall of dense blackness, incessantly riven by blades of tortuous flame, “ like lightnings, only greater,” and revealing a background of active fire, moved slowly toward them from the further side of the bay. “ Then that friend from Spain said sharply and with authority, ‘ If your brother, lady, and your uncle, boy, is yet living ’ (he was dead, as we know, hours before), ‘he certainly desires you to be saved. If he is dead, his last hope was that you would survive him. Why, then, do you not quit this place ? ’ And we answered that we could not, we dared not, take measures for our own safety, while still in doubt about his.” The Spaniard appears to have washed his hands of them at this point, and made off for a place of possible shelter, and the mother and son were soon fain to follow. The darkness was close upon them now, and the sea seemed yawning. Capri was already hidden, and the projecting point of Misenum. “ Then my mother began to entreat, to command, me to save myself. I was young, and could fly. Sbe was too old, she said, too unwieldy. She would die happy if she had not to think that she had caused my death as well. But I answered that I desired not safety apart from her, and I flung my arm around her, and compelled her to hasten her steps. She yielded, but sadly accusing herself, all the while, of being a drag upon me. Ashes had been falling for some time, but not very thickly. Now, however, on looking behind, I saw that impenetrable blackness close upon us, pouring over the land like a deluge.

‘ Let us turn aside,’ I cried, ‘ while we can still see, lest we stumble and be trampled under foot by the great crowd of fugitives ! ’ And we had scarcely sat down when darkness swallowed us up; not the dark of a cloudy and moonless night, but that of a tight room when the lamp has just been extinguished. We could hear the shrieks of women, the sobbing of children, the clamor of men. Some called their little ones, and some their parents, and some their wives. They sought and recognized one another by the voice only. Some mourned for themselves, and others for their friends. In very terror of death, some prayed for death to come. A good many invoked the gods, but the greater number concluded that the gods themselves were no more, and that the last eternal night of prophecy had settled upon the world.”

Who can ever again round the exquisite Bay of Baia without thinking of that scene? Through the voluptuous content of the idle voyager in the dazzling loveliness of the prospect there runs an involuntary shiver of awe, when he remembers what was once concentrated there of human anguish and terror. Are the sleepy splendors of that matchless view one whit less treacherous than of old ? “ Ecco il monte nuovo, signore,” says the insouciant coachman, waving his whip toward a bare, conical hill at no great distance, and proceeds to relate how that particular eminence was thrust up in a single night only a century or two ago, one time when the earthquakes were astir. It is a grewsome sight. “ The earth hath bubbles as the water hath,” and there could not well be a more effectual memento mori at the great feast of beauty than the smooth sides of the monte nuovo.

The letter from which we have been quoting goes on briefly to describe the slow lifting of the pall of darkness from the altered and desolated land. The mother and son must have returned to the villa as early as the following day, since it was there they got the authentic news of its master’s death, and perhaps received his body for burial. The insignificant town of Pompeii, at the foot of the mountain, which was afterwards known to have been cntirely destroyed, is not so much as mentioned in either of these letters.

It is no marvel if Baia wooed the younger Pliny no more, nor did he, so far as we know, ever revisit it. He was to complete his education under the auspices of his guardian, Verginius Rufus, already mentioned, a Roman yet nobler than his uncle in the sense of being a living exponent of the best traditions of the republic. That great man had already, for nearly a decade, been living in retirement. In A. D. 68, the last year of the sinister reign of Nero, Verginius had been consul and commander of the Roman forces in Gaul, and had quelled a formidable rising there, headed by Julius Vindex, proprætor of the province. When the news of Nero’s death reached the army, the troops at once and by acclamation offered to place Verginius on the imperial throne, but he refused. Galba, on whom their choice next fell, may very naturally have distrusted the popularity of Verginius with the soldiers. At all events, he superseded him in the command of the army, and took him back with himself to Rome, as his own most trusty counselor. When Galba’s brief reign had ended in his violent death, and Otho had succeeded him, Verginius was made consul for the second time. When Otho also perished, after a six months’ ascendency, the empire was again offered to Verginius, and again declined. This second refusal was regarded as so insulting by the army that they turned furiously against their former favorite, and he was arraigned on a capital accusation before Vitellius, whose inglorious reign occupied the remaining six months of the eventful year 69. Verginius escaped death, but turned his back forthwith upon ungrateful Rome, and deigned to take no further part in public affairs for many a long year. It was chiefly, no doubt, from his hereditary estates on the Parian lake that the high-minded soldier looked sadly and sternly on at the iniquities enacted in the city during the ten years’ rule of Vespasian and the two years’ rule of Titus, culminating in that veritable Reign of Terror which came to an almost despaired - of end when the unspeakable Domitian drew his last hated breath in the year 96.

Corellius Rufus was of the same family and the same politics as Verginius.2 Both men were of an antique type, and steadfastly attached, though fallen on evil days, to the civic and domestic ideals of a purer time. Both died, Verginius in very advanced years, just as a better era was beginning fully to declare itself under the auspices of Trajan, and Pliny records with profound sorrow, in two of his first-published letters, the end of each. Verginius had been recalled from his retirement at the age of eighty-three, and made consul for the third time, under Nerva, in 96. Pliny says that he was apparently in perfect health, and showed no sign of senility except a slight tremulousness in his hands; but, unhappily, he met with a fatal accident on the very day of his investiture with office. When he rose to make the ceremonial speech of acknowledgment to the Emperor for the honor he had received, his foot slipped upon the marble pavement; he fell and broke his thigh, and the aged sinews refused to reunite. He lingered for some months in great suffering, and then died. “ He has gone full of years and honors,” writes Pliny to Romanus, “ as even his enemies admit; but we, — how can we help mourning and missing him as a figure of the by-gone time? And I, in particular, who loved him in his private as much as I admired him in his public capacity, who lived next door to him, who was left in his charge, to whom he was a living monument of my own father’s love for me, I must needs weep as though his death had been premature ; and yet mayhap it is wrong to weep at all, or to call that death which is rather the end of this great man’s mortality than of his life. ... I think of Verginius, I see Verginius, in my vain yet vivid fancy I hear him speak, I address him. I hold him by the hand. It may be that we have, and that we shall yet have, other citizens who will be his equals in valor. We can have none who will rival his glory.”

The circumstances of the death of Corellius Rufus, who was possibly a younger brother of the preceding, were far sadder. He had been all his life a victim to hereditary gout, which he managed to control for many years by the strictest temperance in living. After he had reached middle age, however, his sufferings became terribly aggravated. “ He was racked,” as Pliny says, by intolerable anguish, not in his feet alone, but in every joint of his frame. “ I went to see him,” he goes on, “ once in the time of Domitian, and found him lying at his suburban villa. The slaves left the room, as their custom was, when an intimate friend came in, and even his wife, though worthy of all confidence and able to keep any secret, withdrew. Then when he had rolled his eye around ” (to make sure that they were alone), “ ‘ Why.’ said he, ‘ do you suppose that I have endured these torments all this while? Simply that I might have the satisfaction of surviving that scoundrel’ (meaning Domitian) ‘ by a single day.’ Ah,” continues Pliny, “ if he had had a body equal to his soul, he would have done what he so ardently desired.” We know that the patience of Corellius held out— the interval was probably short — until the end of Domitian’s tyranny actually came. Then, under the influence of a yet more terrible access of his malady, he began quietly to abstain from food. At the end of the fourth day, his wife Hispulla, in an agony of alarm, sent for Pliny to come and try to dissuade him from suicide. Pliny hastened to the spot, but a messenger from Hispulla met him, on his arrival, to tell him that his intervention would be of no use. The physician had just been pressing food upon him, and he had answered by a single Greek word, κϵκρικα, — My mind is made up. “ The word,” says Pliny, whose pulses always beat quicker at any trait of heroism, “thrilled me as much with admiration as with sorrow. What a friend I have lost! What a man ! He had completed his sixty-seventh year, which is a tolerably long life even for the robust. I know it. He is released from perpetual suffering. I know it. He did not forsake his family until the republic, which was dearer to him than all his kindred, was in a flourishing condition. I know that, too. But I mourn as for the departure of a young and strong man. I am distressed — perhaps you will think it weak — on my own account. I have lost the witness of my life, the monitor, the master. In short, I can only say, as I said to my comrade Calvisius in the freshness of my bereavement, ‘ I fear that I shall henceforth live more carelessly.’ ”

What tenderness is here ! What simplicity and rectitude of spirit! If the modern mind shrinks from the calm acceptance, not to say acclamation, of suicide as a conclusive solution for the ills of life, even Christian moralists know how difficult it is to fix, on strictly ethical grounds, the guilt of the man who takes his own life in extremity. There is plenty of proof, scattered all through the correspondence, of Pliny’s untiring devotion to the interests, especially of the women, of the family of Corellius, after his death. There is the letter in which he recommends to Corellia Hispulla, the daughter of the deceased, a tutor for her son. “It would be hard to say whether I more loved or revered the very saintly and weighty character of your father ; and you yourself will be ever dear to me, not for your own sake only, but for that of his memory. Needs must, therefore, that I should desire, and strive also as much as in me lies, that your boy should be like his grandfather. And on the whole, though his father and uncle were prominent men, and their father was widely known and esteemed, I would rather he resembled his maternal grandfather.” The mother was young, no doubt, for the child in question was evidently her only one, and, up to this time, she had kept him always with her. But now Pliny strongly recommends her to place him under the care of a certain Julius Genitor, whose manner and method may be thought a little severe, he says, by contrast with the lax fashions of the time, but his eloquence is in universal repute. “ And then there are such obscure depths and secret hiding-places in the life of man ! You may accept me as guarantee for Julius about all these. Your son will hear nothing from this man which will not profit him. He will learn nothing which he had better never have known.”

It was, no doubt, the same Corellia, the daughter of Rufus, whom he held himself bound, by his obligations to her father, to defend in a lawsuit she had with one Caius Cæcilius, a consul elect, and probably a near relative of his own ; albeit, as he observes to his friend Gallus, the case was an odd one for a woman to be involved in, and likely to bring some unpopularity upon himself. The same fascinating mixture of chivalrous deference and kindly good sense marks all his correspondence with and about women. There is the amusing note to his mother-in-law, Pompeia Celerina, a very great lady indeed, apparently, with several big houses, which Pliny has been visiting in succession, and where he finds the service so exact and so admirably ordered that he thinks with comic despair of the free and easy fashions of his own people. “ I hope you will come and see us, however,” he says in substance. “ I would like at least to make an effort to return your hospitality, and perhaps my servants might be a little waked up by your coming, although they do not put themselves out in the least for me. That’s the way it is when masters are too easy.”

It seems almost certain, both from the slightly ceremonious though bantering tone of this letter and from its position early in the first book, which we know to have been collected and arranged, and probably published, by Pliny himself in 97, — the year of his second marriage, — that Pompeia was the mother of his first wife, of whom otherwise we know much less than of the charming Calpurnia, who succeeded her. Calpurnia, moreover, must have been very early left an orphan, since she was, of a certainty, a mere girl at the time of her marriage; and the guardians invariably mentioned are her aunt and her grandfather. It was the latter, Calpurnius Fabatus, who was also one of the landed gentry on the Lake of Como, and probably connected, at least by marriage, with the family of Corellius Rufus, who wrote to Pliny to inquire whether he were prepared to stand by a rather romantically generous bargain, just concluded, in his name, by his freedman Hermes, whereby he agreed to sell, at considerably less than its market value, to Corellia, the sister (not the daughter) of Corellius Rufus, his share—five twelfths — of an estate on the Larian lake, to which, with two others, he had just fallen heir. The whole estate, it seemed, had been advertised for sale, and Pliny replies, explaining the circumstances in full. Of course, he says, he shall carry out the agreement. He is much attached to Corellia, both for her brother’s sake and because she was his (Pliny’s) mother’s most intimate friend. Her husband, Minutius Fuscus, is also a valued friend of his own. The last time he was in those parts, Corellia had told him of her strong desire to own some land upon the lake. “ I offered her,” he says, “ anything of mine, at her own price, except my paternal and maternal estates. These I could not part with, even to Corellia. So when this legacy fell in, I wrote her that the farms of which it consisted would be for sale, and Hermes was the bearer of the letter. She said that she wanted my share immediately, and he promised it to her. You see, of course, that I must sustain the man, who in fact acted just as I should have done myself. I hope the co-heirs will not be vexed at my having sold separately, which, however, I had a perfect right to do. They are not obliged to follow my example. They are not bound to Corellia as I am, and may consult expediency where I can think only of affection.”

We are glad to know that the lady in question fully appreciated Pliny’s generosity, and that her hurry to conclude the bargain was not sharp practice, but mere feminine impatience to have what she had set her heart upon. Here is Pliny’s last word upon the subject, in the shape of a little note to herself, so handsome, so neatly expressed, and so entirely modern in tone that we must give it literally and in full: —

“ It is extremely honorable in you, my dear Corellia, to request and even require so imperiously that I would permit you to pay me for those fields after the rate of ninety thousand sestertii, the whole estate3 (at which rate a twentieth part has already been sold at auction), instead of seventy thousand, on which we agreed. But I, on my part, ‘ request and require ’ that you would look a little to my honor in this matter, as well as your own; and that, for this once, you would suffer me to oppose you in the same spirit in which I usually obey.”

The same frank courtesy between the sexes, the same prevailing sweetness and refinement of family and social relations, meet us on almost every page of the miscellaneous correspondence, and lead us gradually to the cheering conclusion that even under the worst of the emperors the state of the great body of Roman society was less black than it has been painted for us by dramatic literati and despairing politicians. Of the manners of the imperial “ set,” and of the enormously rich in the city, par excellence, and in the great provincial centres, the less said, no doubt, the better. But it is perfectly clear that many of the old republican nobility stood disdainfully aloof from the orgies of these magnificent snobs, and cherished with rigid exclusiveness their own simpler and nobler fashions ; while the great body of the ever silent middle class is likely, from the very limitation of their means, to have followed their example, rather than the other. In short, it may be doubted whether the passionate epigrams of Tacitus and the matter-of-fact coarseness of Suetonius illustrate any more fairly the average morality of the Roman people in the first century of our era than the Pall-Mall Gazette illustrates the immemorial sanctities of English domesticity ; than Zola and his crew the prevailing wholesomeness and simplicity of family life in the French provinces ; than Tourguenief (I will not say Tolstöi) the steadfast and rather puritanic piety, the religious resignation and virtuous traditions, long and loyally preserved, of innumerable Greek Christians in Russia. The great censors tell the truth, — alas, yes ! — and tell it in words of fire which we do well to heed; but there is always another truth, humbler, broader, let us trust more fundamental, whose disciples are too modest and too truly delicate even to speak directly in their own defense.

How could there be a purer and more artless ideal of girlhood than may be gathered from Pliny’s dolorous lament over the death of the daughter of his friend Fundanus ? “ She was not quite

fifteen, but she had the composure of a matron, the discretion of an old lady, while yet she was full of girlish graces and virginal modesty. How she used to cling to her father’s neck ! How shyly, yet affectionately, she would salute us, her father’s friends! How she loved her nurses, her masters, her tutors! — every one for the service which he rendered her. How diligent and how clever she was in her studies, how refined and restrained in her amusements ! How patiently, quietly, heroically, she bore her last illness ! She obeyed her physicians, she encouraged her father and sister, and, as her strength declined, she still kept them up by the buoyancy of her spirit. All this lasted until the very end. Neither the tedium of illness nor the fear of death itself could break her down. . . . She was betrothed; the wedding-day was fixed; we had been bidden. What a change from joy to anguish ! ”

The vivid glimpses which we get of Pliny’s youthful second wife, Calpurnia, both in the letter to her aunt Hispulla, in which he thanks the latter for having made the young lady exactly what she is, and in the two or three charming letters to herself, which are included in the collection, reveal a similar type of character; animated, perhaps, in the case of Calpurnia (since we know that she studied, with enthusiasm, the subjects in which her husband was interested), by a more brilliant and striking order of talent. For one, at least, of the love letters, the shortest, it is quite necessary to find room : —

“ My longing to see you, Calpurnia, dear, is incredible. I account for it, first, by my love ; and secondly, by the fact that we have so seldom been separated. This is why I lie awake so far into the night, meditating upon you. This is why, in the hours when I have been used to see you, my very feet carry me to your apartment, only to turn away again from the vacant threshold, sad and sick at heart, like a man who has been shut out. I never forget my trouble save when I am in the Forum, engaged upon the cases of my friends. You may fancy what sort of a life I lead, when my rest is in labor and my solace in anxiety.”

But there was a grander and more commanding type of Roman womanhood than Calpurnia’s, or that of the poor little rose-bud whose untimely withering Pliny has so pathetically recorded ; one with which the course of his life made him intimately acquainted, and which cannot have failed to exercise a deep influence on the mind of a man so sensitive to sublime and stirring emotions. The whole family history of Fannia and the two Arrias is so remarkable, and so clearly illustrates the position of the aristocratic irréconciliables under the empire, and the obstinate vitality of some, at least, of the primitive Roman virtues, that space must be made for an outline of it here.

In the second year of the reign of the divine Claudius, A. D. 42, twenty years before Pliny’s birth, Cæcina Pætus had been sentenced to die for participation in the revolt of Scribonianus. His wife was the famous Arria of the Latin anecdota, with whom every schoolboy (and girl) is familiar, who stabbed herself in her husband’s presence, and then handed him the knife, saying, “ Pætus, it gives no pain.”

But Pliny has recorded for us, in a letter to Nepos, which he prefaces by the remark that it is not always their most illustrious deeds for which people are most renowned, sundry other anecdotes of the same queen of tragedy, which invest her with a slightly softer and more human interest. Her husband and her son lay very ill at the same time. The boy died, and the mother, fearful lest the shock should prove mortal to his father, managed to conceal the fact from him for many days. She made all the arrangements for her son’s funeral, giving way, when alone, to the agony of her own grief, but contriving to assume, before her husband, a mien of perfect brightness and composure, promptly answering the father’s restless inquiries by, “ Bene quievit,” or “ Libenter cibum sumsit,” — “ He has rested well,” “ He has taken food with a relish.” “And when,” says Pliny, “ her tears would have their way, she would go out for a little and weep freely, and then come back, her face quite serene, — tanquam orbitatem foris reliquisset, — as if she had left her bereavement outside the door.”

She was in Illyricum with her husband when he was arrested; and when the officers would not allow her to embark with him, she hired a small fishing-smack, and followed close in the wake of the vessel to Rome. The wife of Scribonianus was one of the witnesses against Pætus, and Arria reproached her, in the Emperor’s presence, with unutterable scorn, for having survived her own husband. “ Shall I listen to you,” she cried, “ who saw Scribonianus slain in your very arms, and yet live?” Her son-inlaw, Thrasea, suspecting her purpose of suicide on the condemnation of Pætus, tried earnestly to dissuade her, and asked her if she would wish his wife, her daughter Arria, to do the like if he were condemned to die. Her answer was, “ If my daughter had lived with you as long and as harmoniously as I have lived with Pætus, I would indeed.” And when her children still continued to entreat her, she rose in a sort of fury, dashed her head against the wall, and fell senseless to the ground. “ You see,” she said to them, when they had restored her to consciousness, " I shall be able to find death by a hard way, if you deny me an easy one.”

The man whom she defied was already following in his father-in-law’s footsteps. Thrasea was a native of Padua. His family name was probably Fannius, whence the name of his daughter, and he was in some way related, no doubt, to the accomplished Caius Fannius, who was engaged, at the time of his death, on a work upon the crimes of Nero, and to whom the Emperor’s ghost appeared and interdicted his work, one night when he was composing in bed, according to custom. Thrasea was a prominent Stoic, and his beautiful house in Rome a favorite resort of the Stoic philosophers from Greece, and of the old Roman party generally. He was no less wretched and restive under the tyranny of Nero than Pætus had been under that of Claudius, and about the year 57, the third of Nero’s reign, he incurred the undying spite of one Cossutianus Capito by supporting the Cilicians in their complaints of the maladministration of the latter, when he was governor of their province. Two years later Thrasea gave deep offense to Nero by rising and leaving the Senate before his turn came to speak, when Nero attempted to browbeat that body into a formal sanction of the murder of Agrippina. He had been accustomed to assent by silence to the craven acts of approval continually passed by the intimidated Senate, but could not, on this critical occasion, forbear a more significant protest. Nero took no notice of it at the time, but treasured his revenge. When the Senate went in a body to Antium, to congratulate the Emperor on the birth of a daughter (by Poppæa), Thrasea alone was forbidden to enter the imperial presence, and received the prohibition very calmly, as an intimation of his approaching end. He had frequently said, in his Stoic phraseology, “ Nero can kill, but cannot harm, me.” Now, however, instead of courting death, as his own more headstrong son-in-law, Helvidius Priscus, was to do, he simply retired from public life, and lived very quietly; but Nero was not to be appeased, and “ having,” in the words of Tacitus, “ already put to death many eminent men, he resolved to slay virtue itself in the person of Thrasea.” The prosecution was placed in the hands of Thrasea’s old enemy, Cossutianus Capito.

A certain fiery youth, —flagrans juvenis, — Rusticus, a tribune of the people, offered to veto the decree, but Thrasea would not suffer it. The Senate met in the Temple of Venus Genetrix, and bodies of troops guarded the place and all its avenues of approach, and intimidated that once august body into a condemnation, not, however, without the expression of many misgivings and much pity, especially for the son-in-law Helvidius. A friend of Thrasea’s was appointed to carry the news of the decree to the house of the accused, and found him, at nightfall, sitting tranquilly in his garden, with the usual circle gathered about him, and talking with the Cynic philosopher Demetrius ; “ as it seemed, from the expression of his face, and from certain words which were overheard, concerning the nature of the soul and the severance of the spirit from the body,”—de natura animœ et dissociatione spiritus corporisque. There was a burst of lamentation from his assembled friends, all of whom he begged to go quietly away, and not emphasize their associatiou with a condemned man ; and when his wife would fain have followed her mother’s example, he forbade the sacrifice, for their children’s sake.

The manner of his death being left to his own choice, he took with him into his bed-chamber Demetrius, who had brought the message, and Helvidius Priscus, the husband of Fannia, and there had the veins of both arms cut, saying as the blood gushed forth, “ Let us offer a libation to Jupiter the Deliverer.” “ Look on, young man,” he continued (no doubt to Helvidius), “and may the gods long avert the omen ! Still, considering the time in which you have been born, it is well for you to stay your soul by examples of constancy.” Afterwards, when he had begun to suffer agonies through the slowness of his death, he turned to Demetrius, and said —

And here, with painful abruptness, the curtain falls upon Thrasea. The Annals of Tacitus, from which these details are taken, break off at this point; and never was the pen of the peerless historian more potent, his concentrated phraseology more thoroughly charged with emotion, than in these, which, to our irremediable regret, must remain his last words for us.

It was now the turn of Helvidius Priscus, the husband of Fannia, to represent for a time the high traditions, descending regularly in the female line, of this intrepid race. He too was an ardent Stoic, “ and in his youth,” says Tacitus, he had studied much, in order that he might enter upon public life with a mind fortified against misfortune.”

His name was already in the mouths of men, for he had been quæstor in Achaia, where he won the love of the provincials by his righteous rule, and tribune of the people six years before. He also had a son and namesake, by an earlier marriage, at the time when he wedded Fannia, whose relations with her step-child were always, however, of the most tender and intimate character, and who appears to have succeeded in thoroughly imbuing him with the spirit of her family. A strong affection subsisted between the elder Helvidius and his father-in-law, Thrasea, and perfect accord in their political as well as philosophical principles; and they kept up until the death of the latter, according to Juvenal, the habit of solemnly celebrating, at Thrasea’s house, the birthdays of Brutus and Cassius and other great republican festivals. This was, of course, a proceeding most obnoxious to the government, and Helvidius had far less of tact and circumspection than his elder. He would seem systematically to have courted the dangers which his education had prepared him to affront, and can hardly be acquitted of a certain perversity and foolhardiness in his republican protestantism. Having escaped with only a sentence of banishment at the time of Thrasea’s execution, he went with his wife, Fannia, to Apollonia in Macedonia, and remained there until Nero’s death in 68. Recalled to Rome by Galba, he immediately brought to trial Eprius Marcellus, one of his father-in-law’s accusers, but failed to effect his condemnation. When Galba was murdered Helvidius obtained the corpse, and saw it buried. A prætor in 70, he put himself resolutely forward in the Senate, in opposition to the tyranny of Vespasian, who was then in the East; and on the return of Vespasian to Rome, he appears to have given himself seriously and systematically to the business of browbeating the Emperor, omitting his name from all the edicts which he published as prætor, and saluting him only by his private name of Vespasian.

Epictetus, who admired Helvidius greatly, has left on record the following conversation, in which he unquestionably treated the divine Vespasian sans façons :

“ Vespasian forbade Helvidius Priscus to enter the Senate. Helvidius Priscus replied that so long as he was a member of that body he should attend its sessions.

Vespasian. " Then keep silence when you are there.”

Helvidius Priscus. “ If not asked by you for my opinion, I will keep silent,”

V. “ But I am obliged to ask it.”

H. P. “ Then I must say what seems to me just.”

V. “ If you do, I will put you to death.”

H. P. " Did I ever claim that I was immortal? You do your part, and I will do mine. Yours is to kill, mine to die without fear; yours to banish, mine to go into exile without repining.”

And banished he accordingly was, along with Fannia, and shortly after murdered, judicially, in exile.

The Emperor is said, however, to have repented of the order for his execution, and to have endeavored to recall it, when too late. Fanina immediately took measures to have her husband’s biography written, in a republican sense, by Herennius Senecio, who lost his life in consequence of his performance ; and the resolute widow was again requested to withdraw, and henceforth keep her distance from Rome.

Meanwhile, her step-son and pupil, the second Helvidius Priscus, who was probably very near the age of Pliny, and had become one of his most intimate friends, was ready and apparently eager to take up the banner of opposition. All that we know concerning the circumstances of his banishment is contained in a letter written by Pliny to Quadratus, who had been reading with great interest the official report of the proceedings in the Senate, when, immediately on the accession of Nerva in 96, Pliny publicly arraigned the accusers of the second Helvidius, and, after conducting the case with great skill and spirit, triumphantly secured his rehabilitation. Quadratus now writes, asking for some further particulars of the affair, which Pliny willingly gives, congratulating himself upon the whole matter very frankly.

His knightly reputation as the natural defender of distressed ladies appears in the fact that it was he to whom Anteia, the wife of the younger Helvidius, instantly applied for sympathy and help, when the incubus which had paralyzed the whole civilized world for fifteen years was lifted by the death of Domitian. All the preliminary consultations appear to have been held with those three patriotic women of three successive generations,—Anteia, Fannia, the widow of the elder Helvidius Priscus, and the aged Arria, the still surviving widow of Thrasea; the last two having but just returned to Rome after their third exile.

It was a time of great private sorrow with Pliny, for the wife of his own youth was only a few weeks dead ; but he would not suffer his personal depression to interfere with his public duty and the vindication of his friend’s name. “ I reflected,” he observes naively, " the moment Domitian was dead, that now I had got a great and noble opportunity to succor those who had been suffering unjustly, to arraign the true criminals, and to bring myself forward. And though I was devotedly attached not only to Helvidius, but to Arria and Fannia, yet I was less influenced by personal affection than by civic indignation, reverence for law, and the desire of furnishing a righteous precedent.”

Before resuming the thread of Pliny’s own history, we may notice the only two allusions which the letters contain to the subsequent fortunes of the family of Thrasea. Both are of a peculiar and affecting character. In a letter to one Priscus, perhaps a relative of his friend, Pliny deplores the dangerous illness of Fannia, contracted through exposure and fatigue at the bedside of Junia, a vestal virgin, whom she had been nursing, at first voluntarily, afterwards by order of the pontiffs. It was the regular custom, if the vestals fell seriously ill, that they should be removed from their house in the Forum, and delivered to the care of some distinguished Roman matron; but Fannia’s strength, which may well have been impaired by the shocks and hardships of her life, had broken down under the strain. She had a racking cough and obstinate fever, and seemed to be failing in rapid consumption. Pliny had evidently no hope, and he dwells with mournful admiration on the retrospect of her noble life. He recalls how, during the trial of Senecio for having written her husband’s memoir, Fannia was interrogated as to whether she had requested the preparation of the book. “ I did request it,” was her quiet answer. “ And did you furnish notes to the narrative ? ” “ I did.” “ Was your mother Arria privy to your intention ? ” “ She was not.” From first to last, says Pliny, not a quiver in her intonations, not a sign of fear. “ And yet,” he proceeds, “ how gentle she was, how polished ! Just as lovable as she was admirable ! ” And he adds that he shall feel as if the foundations of his own house were shaken when Fannia is no more.

The one remaining reference to the doom which seemed to pursue this interesting race relates how the younger Helvidius had two beautiful daughters, both of whom were early married, and died within a few days of each other, each in her first confinement, and leaving an infant girl.

The year in which Pliny secured the reversal of the sentence against his friend Helvidius — that of the accession of Nerva — was the thirty-fifth of his own age. He was now in the flower of his manly prime, and in the seventeen years which had elapsed since he said good-by to his ill-fated home at Misenum he had made himself an honorable and, as the rather capricious Muse of History has willed it, an undying name. He was a successful lawyer, with a large and very lucrative practice. He was renowned as one of the most accomplished scholars of his day, an enthusiastic student and unstinted patron of letters. He was on terms of intimacy with all the other literati of the period, — with Tacitus, Martial, Suetonius, and Silicus Italicus, — and was a great favorite in society.

With Tacitus he had a warm and enduring friendship, untroubled by the faintest touch of jealousy on Pliny’s part, who freely acknowledged his own inferiority to the great historian. “ I was never more flattered in my life,” he writes to his friend Maximus, " than by something which Tacitus told me the other day. He said that,during the last games in the circus, he was sitting next a Roman knight, with whom he fell into quite a learned conversation. At last the knight said, ‘ Excuse me, but are you a Roman or a provincial ? ’ Tacitus replied, ‘ I think you must know me by my works.’ ‘ Oh, then,’ cried the knight, ‘ you are either Tacitus or Pliny, and which ? ’ I cannot begin to tell you,” Pliny adds, “ how delightful this was to me.”

Scattered through the nine books of letters of Pliny’s own editing there are a score or more to Tacitus, most of them relating to literary matters, of which the flavor has pretty thoroughly evaporated, thereby offering a strange contrast to the universal and imperishable human interest of the story of the great eruption. On one occasion he naively suggests that Tacitus should find a place in his history for a detailed account of the celebrated suit which he and Herennius Senecio (the man who suffered for writing the life of Helvidius at Fannia’s request) had successfully conducted, on behalf of the province of Bætica, against its unprincipled governor, Bæbius Massa.

There was undoubtedly a touch of vanity in our friend’s composition, but vanity, after all, of that candid and lovable sort which goes along with a disposition to take the most favorable view of all humanity, one’s self included. Selfpraise, moreover, was not thought unbecoming by the Romans.

In the years between twenty and thirty-five, Pliny had gone through the regular grades of public office which had to be traversed by every Roman who aspired to political distinction. He had been decemvir under Domitian in 81, military tribune in 82, when he served with the army in Syria, quæstor in 87, tribune of the people in 91, and soon afterwards prætor. He tells us in one place that he abstained from pleading causes during his tribunate; and several circumstances go to show that he found it both agreeable and prudent to keep as much as possible in the shade during the last three frenzied years of Domitian. It appeared, after the death of the tyrant, that Pliny’s escape had been rather narrow, for a complaint had already been lodged against him by the notorious informer Regulus, which would undoubtedly have been prosecuted if the Emperor had lived longer. Now, however, an honorable career was once more open to the talents of decent men. In 98, when Pliny had been, as before mentioned, disappointed in the hope of an heir by his second marriage, he received from Trajan, who had just succeeded Nerva, a grant of the immunities awarded to the father of three children, and was made prefect of the treasury of Saturn. In the year 100, at the age of thirty-eight, he was consul with Tertullus, in 101 he was made commissioner of the Tiber, in 103 he was augur. It was during these crowded and upon the whole brilliantly successful years that Pliny became possessed, over and above, his patrimonial estates, of those two beautiful country-seats of which he was so extravagantly fond, and of which he has left us a curiously detailed description : the suburban villa, namely, at Laurentum on the Mediterranean, a few miles from Ostia, to which he could ride down from Rome after a day’s work in the courts; and the great Tuscan farm at Tifernum on the Tiber, the modern Città di Castello. The description of the Laurentine villa in particular is so circumstantial that every reader thinks, until he has tried, that it would be perfectly easy to reconstruct it. Various attempts have been made, which differ rather amusingly among themselves, the best being undoubtedly that of a Frenchman named Haudebourt, who visited the spot in 1830, and was confident that he discovered authentic remains of the building within the limits of the estate of Castel Fusano. The general plan of the house is, however, perfectly clear. It was a long, low structure, fronting the Mediterranean shore, and set close to the water’s edge, which has advanced about half a mile since Pliny’s day. From the entrance-hall at the back, which was approached by a driveway through closely set shrubbery, you passed on through a “ D-shaped court,” surrounded by pillars, and a second hall, to the chief dining-room of the mansion, which projected over the sea from the centre of the front, so that, as Pliny says, “ you heard through windows, open on three sides, the lapping of the waves, and looked back through the long vista of halls and courts and entrance porch to the woods in the rear of the villa, and the Alban hills beyond.” The wing of the mansion which extended along the Mediterranean leftwards from the state dining-room was only one story in height, and terminated in a library, with book-shelves and cabinets built into the wall, and “ curved into an apse, so that its windows might take the sun all round.” The wing which ran backwards toward the woods, at a right angle from the first, contained the rooms appropriated to the slaves ; “ but they are so nice,” observes the master, with honorable pride, “ that they might serve for my guests as well.” On the other side — to the right, that is to say, of the projecting triclinium—came a group of living or reception rooms: first a cubiculum politissimum ;4 then a pièce which might serve either for a parlor or a small supper-room, “exceedingly bright, with sunshine and a broad sea-view;” behind this two small suites of parlor and bedroom, “ sheltered from all the winds.” Then came the elaborate arrangement of baths indispensable in the house of a Roman gentleman ; then two towers, with delightful rooms in the upper stories ; then a tennis-court, and a garden “ sweet with violets ” and sur rounded by walks bordered with rosemary and box, and pergole wreathed in vines. These charming pleasuregrounds were again embraced and sheltered on two sides, for on the front they were open to the sea, by what Pliny evidently considered the great architectural feature of his mansion,—a long colonnade, with an arrangement of casements which could be closed on the side from which the wind blew, so that it was always pleasant to walk there, and which, by the style of its architecture, was really, he opines, more suitable for a public work than for the modest dwelling of a private individual. Where the cloister abutted on the sea, there was a third tower, with an apartment reserved for the master’s sole behoof, where he could shut himself up to his favorite studies, and feel “ as if he had retired from the villa itself.”

But after all, the Laurentine villa was only a bijou, an unpretending suburban retreat from the social and professional excitements of the city close at hand. The Tuscan estate was very different. A much more magnificent house was there, and a great farm also, with laborers’ dwellings and agricultural activities on a large scale. There Pliny was lord of the manor, patron and benefactor of the whole region round, and especially of the town of Tifernum, whose temple he rebuilt at his own expense; and he defers by a few days a promised visit with his new wife to her grandfather and guardian, because it would never do for them not both to be present at its dedication. There also, by way of performing his whole duty as a country gentleman, he sometimes hunted in the mountains, though the genuine sportsman will smile to hear that he always took his book along, and will be quite ready to join in the mirth which was evidently excited by the fact that once he actually trapped three boars, sitting and reading, all the while, in sight of the nets.

Here in Umbria, as everywhere, he reveled in the scenery: “ The outlines of the landscape are most beautiful. Imagine a sort of immense natural amphitheatre, a broad plain surrounded by mountains, which are clothed to their summits in magnificent old woods. . . . The summer climate is balmy. There is always life in the air, but they are breezes rather than winds which blow there. . . . The meadows, which are starred with flowers, produce clover and other herbage of the sweetest and most tender quality. They are watered by a multitude of small streams, tributaries of the Tiber, which is still navigable where it divides my fields, and, though shrunken in summer, is quite equal in winter and in spring to taking my produce to the city. The view of the site from the mountain above is enchanting. You seem to be gazing upon some exquisitely composed picture rather than upon solid land.” (How true this is to the curiously ideal character, the inalienable picturesque, of the Italian landscape in all time!) “The villa crowns the summit of a low hill, and the ascent is so gradual that you make it unconsciously. Far behind are the Apennines.” The beauteous region commanded by the windows of this country home, the valley of the upper Tiber traversed by the great Flaminian highway, was then cultivated through all its length, and overflowing with the glorious abundance of the most generous land on earth. It was reserved, during the next few centuries, for ruthless ravage and ultimate desolation. It was to be the marching-ground of all the great barbarian armies. The hordes of Alaric and Attila, the slightly more disciplined forces of Odoacer and Theodoric, of Witegis and Belisarius, surged back and forth over that fair expanse; taking and retaking its strongholds, trampling upon its crops, feasting on its fatness, burning its villages, murdering its tenantry. But no prevision of those ghastly scenes in the long death agony of the Roman state troubled the bright outlook of the kindly lord of Tifernum, who thought—as everybody else did, in the relief of that particular moment — that the affairs of the world had once for all taken a decided turn for good, with the accession of Trajan to the empire.

In the year 103 Pliny received the enviable appointment of governor of Bithynia, in Asia Minor; and the only letters of his which can be referred to the time of his residence abroad are official communications to Trajan on matters connected with the administration of his province. These have been preserved, along with the answers of the Emperor, in the tenth and last book of the collection. To the student of general history they are more important than all the rest; but to the dilettante, who is merely looking for illustrations of the nature of the man and his family and social environment, they are, with one notable exception, inferior in interest to the less formal epistles. They show Pliny ever anxious, as we might have expected, to further the interests of the provincials ; cautious and conscientious almost to a fault in administering their affairs. He will not, even in the smallest matter, act upon his own responsibility solely : and Trajan, whose wise answers reveal a singular breadth and liberality of mind as well as great practical good sense, appears almost vexed sometimes at being so incessantly referred to. Pliny is full of enthusiasm about all matters connected with the sanitary improvement and external decoration of the cities of his province, and Trajan shows himself wisely indulgent, the friend of all true progress. Only when Pliny begs to have artists and skilled laborers sent from Rome, that the works in question may be accomplished in the highest style, Trajan very properly insists that he shall make use, as far as possible, of local talent and of native craftsmen.

But suddenly, amid this mass of antiquated and mildly interesting matter, the qualification of by-gone fancies and discussion of long-perished interests, a chord is touched which vibrates in our own hearts, and that intensely. When Pliny has fortified his anxious mind by seeking the Emperor’s direct advice on the weighty matters of the theatre to be repaired at Nicæa, and the baths to be rebuilt at Claudiopolis, and the introduction of water by an aqueduct into Nicomedia, he ventures, with a somewhat more than usually apologetic preamble, to request more specific directions concerning the course he is to pursue with reference to that large and rapidly increasing secret society, whose members call themselves Christians. Are they to be condemned, he asks, without distinction of age and sex, and are they to be pardoned if they show themselves repentant? (Detur ne penitentiœ venia. And strangely indeed the employment strikes us of the very phraseology so soon to be appropriated to the uses of what was then the party of the future !) Must these people be punished merely for the name they bear, whether or no it may have been associated with acts of insubordination ? Pliny professes to have mixed himself up in this perplexing matter as little as possible, and says that when complaints were lodged against members of the sect, or society, in question, his custom was merely to ask the accused if they were Christians. If they assented, the inquiry was repeated twice, accompanied by a threat of torture. If they confessed a third time, they were ordered to be taken away. " For I considered it my duty, ” says Pliny, " to punish them for their inflexible and positively vicious obstinacy, without reference to what they said. . . . There was presented to me,” he goes on, “ an anonymous document, containing the names of a great many who denied that they were or ever had been Christians. These men I summoned, and if they invoked the gods, and offered wine and frankincense to your likeness, which I had caused to be placed among the images of the gods for this very purpose, and if they also cursed the name of Christ, I considered that they ought to be let go. They say, however, that those who are truly Christians cannot be coerced into doing any one of these things. There were those who admitted that they had once been Christians, some three years ago, and some more, but none so many as twenty ; and these did curse the Christ. However, even these protested that the sum and substance of their offense had been that they were accustomed to meet together on a certain day, before light, and sing a hymn to Christ as it were to a god, and take a sort of oath {sacramentum), not for any wicked purpose ; but that they would never commit theft, or adultery, or violence of any kind, or break their word, or abuse a trust; and that after the ceremony I have described they separated, meeting together only to take their food at a common table, quite promiscuously, but without any improprieties ; and that they had desisted from doing even this after that edict of mine, issued in accordance with your command, for the suppression of hetairias. I thought it the more needful on this account that two female slaves, who were called ministrœ, should be examined by torture ; but even so I found no proof of anything more than an insensate and depraved superstition. I therefore suspended the inquiry, and hereby refer the matter to you.”

Once again he apologizes, on the ground of the rapid spread of this infection among all sorts of people, and that, not in the large towns only, but among the rural population. On the other hand, he adds, it is undoubtedly true that a great many deserted temples have lately been reoccupied, and solemn services restored where they had been intermitted for a long time. The sale of victims for sacrifice has also become much more brisk, and on the whole it seems to the optimistic governor that everything is ready for a great revival, if only a locus penitentiœ be offered to the erring.

No one can fail to detect the resemblance between Pliny’s tone with reference to Christianity and that in which a modern conservative statesman, of a mild disposition, might speak of Nihilism, or any other secret and presumably dangerous organization of to-day. Is there anywhere, at this moment, a reigning sovereign at once philosophic and secure enough to emulate the temperance and magnanimity of Trajan’s concise reply ?

“ I fully approve, my dear Secundus, of the course which you have pursued toward those who were accused before you of being Christians. It is not possible to lay down a rule which shall be applicable to every case ; but, in general, it is not advisable for you to seek out these men. If they are actually accused before you, and the accusations established, they must be punished, of course. But if they deny that they are now Christians, and substantiate their denial by invoking our gods, then, whatever suspicion may attach to them in the past, they are, by all means, to be pardoned. Anonymous accusations are not to be received in the case of any offense whatever. They furnish the worst possible precedent, and are not in harmony with the spirit of our time.”

It is very difficult to understand, in view of these candid and perspicuous letters, how the story can ever have been started that Pliny himself became a Christian in Bithynia. Anything more profoundly, artlessly, sincerely, and, so to speak, righteously pagan it would be impossible to imagine. It was exactly seventy years after the death of our Lord. Verginius and Cæcina Pætus, even Thrasea and the elder Pliny, were contemporary with Him.

Yet the “ fruits of the spirit” ripened richly in many of those pagan souls. Who dare deny it ? The most enlightened Christian benevolence could not well have devised anything more wise and noble than the benefactions which Pliny made in his lifetime to his beloved native place, and the bequests by which these were supplemented. He gave a public library to Como, and the interest of a large amount for its maintenance. He established a school of rhetoric there, agreeing to pay a third part of the salary of the professor, provided the rest were subscribed by the citizens. He also pledged a considerable sum, secured by a sort of mortgage upon landed property of his along the lake, the interest of which was to be applied to the education of the children of poor gentlemen and to providing dowries for the girls. He left money for the establishment of public baths at Como, and there may still be seen, in the Brera at Milan, a mutilated stone containing a fragment of the inscription in his honor, supposed to have been set above the entrance to the building. There was yet another sum of money, the interest of which was to be divided among a hundred of his own freedmen, so long as any of these survived ; and when they were all gone it was to be applied to an annual public festival for the entire population of Como. It is plain that he thought out the conditions of his charities as carefully as the most scrupulous philanthropist of modern days could do. To his slaves he was, in the best sense of the word, a paternal ruler: watching them in illness; mourning their loss ; remitting their burdens if the crops were bad ; encouraging them to make wills, and seeing that the provisions of these testaments were carried out; sending one of his freedmen to Forum Julii (Fréjus) on the Riviera, in the hope of curing his cough, with as many injunctions to his friend Paullinus, to whose care he recommends him, as if he were introducing an invalid of the greatest consequence. And what shall we say of the letter to Geminius, in which he so gracefully expounds his refined and almost transcendental theory of " motes " and “ beams ” ? “I consider him the most excellent and admirable of all men,” he writes, “who overlooks the errors of others, on the ground that he himself sins every day, and yet strives as earnestly to abstain from sin as if he never overlooked a fault in any one. Let us all endeavor, at home, abroad, in every situation of life, to be implacable to ourselves, but merciful to others, even to those who never pardon any but themselves. Let us never forget the word of that gentlest, and for the selfsame reason that greatest, of men, Thrasea, — ‘ He who hates vices hates men.’ ”

And there is another letter to the same Geminius, with whom he seems to have been fond of discussing the higher ethics, in which he speaks of some one whom Geminius had praised for his liberality to certain persons. “ And I praise him, too,” replies Pliny, “provided he has not been liberal to these alone. I would have a man generous to his country, his neighbors, his kindred, his friends, and most of all his poor friends. Not like some who are most lavish with those who are able to give most to them.”

The last of Pliny’s letters to Trajan announces the death of his wife’s grandfather, Calpurnius Fabatus, his own townsman and highly valued friend, who had done something toward filling the place in his life left void by the deaths of Verginius and Corellius, eight years before. Pliny explains that, under the circumstances, he has broken over his hitherto invariable rule, and sent Calpurnia back to Italy under an imperial safe-conduct, that she may arrive as early as possible ; and Trajan answers graciously that the step, though irregular, was quite justifiable. This is literally the last we hear of Calpurnia, and there are only the most meagre subsequent allusions in the classical writers to Pliny himself. It was probably the second and last year of his administration in Bithynia, and he was then forty-three years of age. All the authorities are agreed that he died under fifty, but it cannot have been, as one writer maintains, while still abroad, since we have a letter, dated ten years after the death of Verginius, — that is to say in 106, — in which he writes, with warm indignation, of the laziness and bad faith of the person who had been charged with the erection of the great man’s monument. Pliny left no children by either marriage.

All the more, perhaps, because the place, time, and manner of his death are uncertain, because his familiar name vanishes without flourish or warning from the records in which it occupied for a time so interesting and conspicuous a place, do we seem to feel his genial presence beside us in every spot with which that name is associated ; most of all in those whose beauty, by intense appreciation and affection, he has made peculiarly his own. As we loiter along the shores of Como, we always fancy him sitting in the shade, high up on some wooded hillside, lost, for the time being, to all outward sights and sounds in his beloved book, while airy huntsmen follow their prey along the sylvan reaches. Or, haply, we are threading the enchanted solitude of the mysterious pineta upon the Ostian shore ; and as we stoop to add to our gathered clusters of pale pink heath a little pale blue rosemary, “ for remembrance ” of him, we hear the tapping of an elastic footstep upon the mossy flag-stones of the path behind us, and an outstretched hand waves gayly and invitingly toward a glade in the dim forest, through which we see gleam, for a moment, in all their pristine glory, the sunny colonnades of the Laurentine villa.

Harriet Waters Preston.

  1. Though identified by long residence with Verona, it seems almost certain that the elder no less than the younger Pliny was born at Como, on some one of the ancestral estates on the border of the Lari an lake.
  2. So, doubtless, was Caninius Rufus, whom Pliny envies his easy country life at Como, in a letter already quoted.
  3. Say the difference between four thousand and three thousand dollars.
  4. A cubiculum was any room furnished with couches. If it were merely a bedroom, it was usually called a cubiculum nocturnum.