Between Two Worlds


A Magazine Of Literature, Science, Art, and Politics.

THE modern pilgrim of the Rhine sometimes wearies a little of the excessively spectacular character of the scenery along its banks. Every gray tower is ticketed, and every leafy isle supplied with its proper legend. They sell on all the boats, and you are adroit indeed if you can avoid buying, a lithographed plan of the river, neatly bound in red, and furnished with a scale of miles where so many fractions of an inch are accurately assigned to each appropriate emotion. You seem to catch the creaking of the machinery by which the long panorama is unrolled; you are dunned, so to speak, for your enthusiasm : and unless you are very warmly in sympathy with the spirit and aims of United Germany, you will half grudge the act of homage which will punctually be required of you the instant you descry aloft upon the outermost spur of the beautiful Niederwald, opposite Bingen and the mouth of the Nahe, the brawny presentment in bronze of Germania Victrix.

If such be the traveler’s wayward mood, and so languid his devotion to the Goddess of Success, he is counseled to turn aside from the grand route where the pretty town of Coblenz marks the confluence with the Rhine of the fairest of its tributary streams. Once within the valley of the Moselle, he will feel a soothing change creep over the spirit of his dream. The loud hum of the boastful present subsides ; the strident voice of the tourist is hushed, and quenched the fiery gleam of his Baedeker ; and over the rich and softly smiling scene — the golden grain-fields and the rose-tinted soil — broods a quiet so profound that the distant echoes become audible of a song sung in its praise a millennium and a half ago; nor have any fitter phrases yet been discovered in which to celebrate the peculiar beauty of the Moselthal than those of a minor Latin poet of the fourth century, by no means a man of surpassing genius, but one who anticipated, after a remarkable fashion, what we are pleased to call the modern sentiment for landscape.

He begins his idyl — for so he has himself named the song of the Moselle — by telling how he " crossed the swift Nahe under a hazy sky,” and after a wondering glance at the massive fortifications recently added to the even then ancient town of Bingen, which had suffered severely during the revolt in Gaul that followed the murder of Vitellius, he plunged into the seemingly pathless forest on the left bank of the Rhine ; and following that great Roman military road, still existing in parts, and known to the peasants of the region as the Steinstrasse, he struck the Moselle at the fortified camp and castle of Tabernæ, now Bern Castel. He was bound for immemorial Trèves, Augusta Trevirorum, the Rome of the North, and seat, for the moment, of the Western Empire ; and from this point onward we take leave to follow his footsteps.

“Here,” he says, with an evident reminiscence of Vergil’s Elysium, “ the fields enjoy a purer air, and bright Apollo rides the purple ether in serene light. No longer does the eye go vainly seeking a heaven obscured by the green darkness of closely interlacing boughs. The gracious vision thus revealed seems to restore me to my own country and the culture of smiling Bordeaux. . . . Hail, O River, joy of the fields and the husbandman, to whom the Belgians owe a city of imperial state, — green river of the grassy banks, and hills all redolent of the grape ! Thou art a pathway for ships, like the ocean, yet fullest softly, as a river should. Thou rivalest the lakes in clearness and the brooks in murmuring music, and thy waters are good to drink as those of the coolest fountain. In thee alone are gathered all the varied charms of lake, and stream, and sea ! ”

“ The Moselle,” writes a lively correspondent, after the publication of the idyl, “ has acquired an immense popularity through its transfiguration in your divine verse. I, too, knew the river when I followed the standards of our immortal princes into those parts ; and I thought it a very respectable stream, but not one of the greatest. Now, however, I discover from your stately stanzas that it is longer than Egyptian Nile, and colder than Sarmatian Ister, and clearer than our own Fucinus. In short, if I did not know you to be a man of strict veracity, even in your poetical flights, I could scarcely credit all the wonderful things you say of the origin and course of the Moselle.”

“ Go to with your costly pavements of Phrygian marble,” proceeds the rapt singer, “ but give me Nature’s workmanship in the firm sands that line these humid shores and keep no tell-tale impress of the human foot. Thine even bed is visible through all its crystal deeps. Thou hast no secrets, River! Open to the eye as the blessed air itself in all its clearness, where gently breathing winds allow us to explore the void, the steadfast gaze descends far, far into thy flood, and under the unruffled surface the very penetralia lie open of thy liquid shrine. Dissolving shapes of light come and go in the dark blue of the transparent water, as the furrowed sand surges to its gentle motion, or the grasses tremble upon the wreathèd verge, or the waving plants, whose home is in the stream, sustain the soft shock of the pulsing tide. The pebbles flash and vanish, and the mosses gleam greenly 1 against the silver sands. Such is the picture the Scots of Britain see, when the receding tide lays bare green algæ and red coral, and those translucent blossoms of the conch-shell, the pearls that rich men love, — necklaces displayed beneath the wave, as it were in mockery of our parures.”

The poet then salutes by name the fish of the Gallic stream. Trout and Salmon, Perch and Tench, Salmon-trout and Pike, are distinguished, as well as a host of lesser fry, and one huge, mysterious creature, only to he compared in his rush along the Moselle to a “ whale in the Atlantic.”

To which of these species, one wonders, belonged the fish which figures in the Christian version of the Ring of Polycrates ? For we are told by the biographer of Arnulf, Bishop of Metz, how, “ when the latter was doing penance for certain excesses, it chanced that he crossed a bridge over the Moselle ; and perceiving the undertow, and the deep whirlpools into which his gaze could not penetrate, but bearing a confident hope in his mind, he drew from his finger a ring and cast it where the water was deepest, saying as he did so, ‘ I shall deem myself loosed from the bonds of sin when I receive back that which I cast away.’ One day, many years after, when he had assumed the duties of the bishopric, a fisherman caught a fish, which the Bishop — for he abstained from meat, — ordered cooked for his evening meal. And when the servant cleaned it, as his wont was, he found the self-same ring in the fish’s intestines. Wondering at the occurrence, but ignorant of the circumstances, he took it to Arnulf. When the latter saw it, he recognized it at once, and, glad of the remission of his sins, he returned thanks to Almighty God, yet led thenceforth no easier life, but rather strove to practice greater austerities.”

From the population of the waters the poet turns his attention to the riverside vineyards, and “ the bounty of Bacchus ” attracts his roving gaze.

“ For tier above tier, as in a natural theatre, in all the curves and recesses of the winding shore, and on the sunny slopes and the bare ledges, and along the verge of the sheer cliffs in longdrawn lines, the ordered vines arise. The folk who till them are merry at their toil; the countrymen make haste over the hill-tops or adown their sides, calling to one another with lusty shouts. . . . The gliding boatman flings out to the belated hind snatches of mocking song, which the rocks and the rustling woods repeat far down the river valley.”

The poet next brings his pagan lore to bear, and sets himself to people the sylvan scene with a fantastic masque of “ rustic satyrs and blue-eyed nymphs.” “ Goat-footed Pans ” — for he recognizes more than one — 11 plunge in pursuit of the startled Naiads, and Panopea flies for protection to the Oreads in the hills.” Yet still the real distracts his eye from the imaginary loveliness ; the “ fair humanities ” of the old religion are fictitious even to the Latin singer. “ These are sports,” he confesses, “ which no eye hath seen. I may not describe them fully. Let us respect the mystery which has been confided to the Moselle’s keeping. But there where the solid hill is mirrored in the glaucous current, the eye may revel freely. The river-bed is sown with vines, the liquid leaves unfold, and oh, what a color is that the waves receive, when evening shadows lengthen, and the clear stream is cloven by the mountains’ verdant wedge! The crest thereof wavers with swift undulations, the visionary vine-spray trembles, the grape swells to ripeness in the pellucid deep.”

“ The deluded voyager counts the growing plants beneath his prow, as he glides, in bark canoe, along the line where the hill’s image meets the river, and the river laps the confines of the umbrageous bank.”

Presently, for the course of our author’s rippling song is devious as that of his subject, he harks back to his mythology ; then returns to describe in mock heroics the fisherman’s cruel onslaught upon the finny people of the stream ; then suddenly breaks off, abashed, as it would appear, by the unexpected magnificence of the country-seats whose towers he begins to discern upon the hill-tops, and which inform him that he is approaching the suburbs of that majestic capital where his journeyings are to end.

“ Who can depict the infinitely varied charms of these great houses, distinguish one from another and indicate the architecture of each ? Dædalus, who built Apollo’s temple at Cumæ, need not disdain to own them, nor Philo of Athens, nor Menecrates of Ephesus, nor Ictinus of the far-famed Parthenon, nor Archimedes. . . . Here a villa springs from a cornice of natural rock ; another has laid its foundations on the outrunning margin of the stream ; another has made its own the deep bay formed by a bend of the river ; and yet another, perched upon the steepest cliff of all, commands a vast prospect over fruitful tracts and forest lands, where the enraptured eye revels as in its own domain. One has planted its foot in the moist meadows, and is well consoled for the lack of mountain grandeur by the daring pitch of its lofty roof, and a tower that soars like that of the Egyptian Pharos. . . . And what of the porticoes beside the verdant lawns, the gleaming colonnades, the steaming baths ? . . . A Cumæan might fancy that he had found another Baiæ here, with all the wealth and splendor, but without the insidious enervation, of the old.”

The tributaries of the Moselle are then celebrated by name, and the Rhine is admonished to “ gather up its green veil and draw aside its azure skirts,” to make room for this peerless ally. The singer’s enthusiasm kindles, and his Muse preens her wings for a final flight. “ The bard of Smyrna or the bard of Mantua might have given thee a place beside the Simois, divine Moselle ! The Tiber need not boast itself above thee. Forgive me, mighty Rome,” he cries, as if alarmed at his own temerity, “ and avert from me all evil, and save me from that Nemesis which has no Latin name; for have not the Cæsars themselves here fixed the seat of their empire ? ”

And so, his pompous apostrophe concluded, with a fall rapid as that of a lark from the clouds, yet by no means ungraceful, the poet makes us his parting bow and tells us his name. “ I, Ausonius of Bordeaux, yet bearing a memory of Italy in my name ; late come as a guest among the Belgæ, from my home under the shadow of the Pyrenees in the uttermost parts of Gaul, where laughing Aquitaine softens the rudeness of indigenous manners, have dared attune my slender lyre to sing this song. Hereafter, when the days of my tutorship are ended, and the Cæsars, father and beloved son, shall have dismissed me to the nest of my old age, crowned with all the honors of a Roman citizen, if any sap yet trickle in my veins, I will renew this theme, I will make thee famous, O Moselle ! — not at thy source only, but in all the lands thou threadest in thy sinuous goings, until thou yieldest up thy watery life at the gates of Germany.”

“ If my song have so much merit as may charm an idle hour, thy name shall live upon men’s lips. The fountains, and the living lakes, and all blue rivers shall know thee, and the groves where our fathers adored their [Druid ?] gods. The Alpine streams shall do thee reverence, — the Drôme, and the Durance, and the swift Rhone that cleaves the twofold city ; 2 and last I will present thee to my own Garonne.”

Making all due allowance for the flattery which a court poet is doubtless bound to bestow not only on the person of his royal master, but on his capital and its environs, we have still an astonishing picture here of the civilization once convoyed by the Roman standards to the very end of the habitable globe. And now let us see what history has to tell us of the flowery poet, and the persons and events with which his name is associated.

When the old chroniclers observe that, in A. D. 367, “ real wool fell from heaven, mixed with rain,” they seem to fancy that they are recording the chief event of the year. We may be sure, however, that the eulogist of the Moselle thought otherwise; for this was the very date at which Ausonius was summoned by the Emperor Valentinian to be the tutor of his son Gratian, a boy of eight, on whom had just been conferred the purple robe and the title of Augustus.

It was barely three years since the Pannonian general, Valentinian, in the forty-third year of his age, had received the imperial insignia at the hands of the Roman legions ; and forthwith, dividing with his weaker brother, Valens, the unwieldy kingdom of the world, had left the latter to reign in Constantinople, while he himself established his headquarters in the remote northern capital, which had borne, since the time of the first Roman Emperors, the name of Augusta Trevirorum.

The man to whom Valentinian entrusted the training of his heir-apparent was twelve years his own senior; born, therefore, in 309. He was quite old enough to remember the apparition of the fiery cross to the great Constantine, and to have seen with his own eyes the conversion of the court, its revulsion to the ancient worship under Julian the Apostate, and the reërection of the mystic labarum after that brilliant but foredoomed enthusiast had met his tragic end upon the Asian plains. The Christian fathers who bequeathed their names to the Athanasian creed and to the Arian heresy both flourished in the lifetime of the royal instructor; but he himself, amid the shock of warring faiths and under the fire of rival heresies, remained serenely indifferent; and though conforming as a matter of course to the customs of a nominally Christian court so long as he was a member of it, he retained, if we are to judge by his voluminous writings, to the last day of a long life, an easy balance of private opinion. He retained the full vigor of his faculties, also; and beside repolishing, according to promise, the idyl of the Moselle, he edited for publication, in the leisurely evening of his days, a great deal of his early writing.

He likewise composed a series of short elegies on the wide circle of relatives whom he had survived, which he collected under the name of Parentalia,3 and which afford no end of interesting glimpses into the family life of that obscure time. The father of Decius Magnus Ausonius was an eminent physician of Burdigala, or Bordeaux, a man of modest connections, but of much personal distinction, who had married into that upper social circle where what Ausonius calls the “ traditions of the Roman Optimates ” were plainly equivalent to a patent of nobility. Of his mother, Æmilia Æonia, he has left a picture, slightly formal, indeed, but so graceful that it seems worth while attempting to preserve its poetic form : —

“Æonia, mother, with thy blended strain
Of race, from Burgundy and Aquitaine,
Thine were the graces of the perfect wife,
The busy fingers, the inviolate life,
Thine husband’s trust, the empire of thy boys,
A stately mien, a fund of quiet joys.
Thy long embrace among the peaceful dead
Make warm my father’s tomb as once his bed.”

A piquant contrast to the portrait of this gentle and high-bred lady is presented by that of her strong-minded sister, the boy’s maiden aunt, Æmilia Hilary. She was a second mother to him, he says, and shall be commemorated with a son’s affection. She acquired the pet name of Hilarius (masculine form, observe) in her cradle, because she was so strong and merry, and had the look of a pleasant boy. When she grew up she made profound studies in medicine, “ more virum,” and “ her sex was ever hateful to her.” This vigorous creature lived to be sixty-three, but I can find no proof of what is assumed by some commentators, that hers was a religious consecration to a life of virginity. Pallas Athene is formally saluted as the patroness, and the soul cheerfully dismissed to the Elysian fields, of her brother, the poet’s maternal uncle, Æmilius Magnus Arborius, under whose tuition he himself was early placed. This Arborius was the great man of the family, a lawyer and lecturer on rhetoric, of much eminence at Toulouse; employed also, for a while, as tutor, at Constantinople, to one of the sons of Constantine the Great.

Ausonius’s maternal grandfather, a political exile from the neighborhood of Vienne, “ connected with many noble houses, ’ a very fine old gentleman indeed, was deeply versed in astrology, but was obliged to conceal his proficiency on account of the severe laws lately enacted against magic of all kinds. “ He could read,” says the family annalist, using textually the ever familiar quotation, the “ sidera conscia fati, and he drew my own horoscope at my nativity, but kept it carefully concealed until the zeal of my mother brought it to light,” when it appeared that the poet’s future honors were there explicitly foretold.

Ausonius had two sisters and a brother; and one of the former, Julia Dryadia, is an interesting figure. Her accomplished husband, Pomponius Maximus, may have traced his descent from Cicero’s best beloved correspondent; but Julia was early left a widow, and returned to her father’s house “ to die where he died.” The fatal event, which, in the first despair of her untimely bereavement, she perhaps anticipated with desire, was, however, long delayed. She lived to a great age in the home of her childhood, a clever woman, given to deep researches like her aunt Hilary. When Ausonius observes that “ her one care was to know the true God, and to love himself above all others,” we may, I think, safely conclude that she alone, of all that large and prosperous family circle, was seriously attracted toward the new faith.

His long and thorough course of instruction at Toulouse concluded, Ausonius established himself in his native Bordeaux as teacher of grammar and rhetoric. He was a master of the Latin tongue, but owns that he never spoke Greek with fluency, whereas his father, the physician, was thoroughly versed in the latter language, but expressed himself with difficulty in Latin. One wonders in what dialect they conversed with each other !

Ausonius married, soon after his return, Attusia Lucania Sabina, a lady, as we might have trusted him not to omit to mention, of “ renowned senatorial stock,” whom he mourns in an elaborate threnody. She was to him “ et dolor atque decus, like Pallas to the aged Evander, for she died at twenty-seven, leaving him with two children, a girl and a boy. He says that at the time of writing he had paid Sabina’s virtues the tribute of a thirty-six years’ celibacy, and he certainly did not marry again, but there is plenty of proof in the not too edifying mass of his miscellaneous writings that he consoled himself in less legitimate ways.

The poet, says loosely, in the preface to his letters, that he was thirty years old when he assumed the duties of a professor of language, and that he exercised them for thirty years. In point of fact, he was fifty-eight when he received the appointment of tutor to the son of Valentinian, and left his native town for distant Trèves. The journey across the entire breadth of Gaul must have looked formidable in those days; and cold misgivings can hardly have been absent from the mind of one who had for years been “a man in authority.” when he consented to wait on the caprices of a master so choleric that he had a habit of briefly requesting refractory servants to “ change their heads ”— by the help of the executioner. A yet more gruesome illustration of the terrors which encompassed Valentinian’s throne is found in the tale, indignantly denied by certain Christian apologists, but apparently as well attested as any fact of his reign, that he kept, by way of household pets and guardians of his bedchamber, two she-bears, who rejoiced in the playful names of Innocentia and Mica Aurea, and who were fed on human flesh.

In the Ordo Nobilium Urbium, a series of short poems by Ausonius on the sixteen great cities of the world, the sixth place is assigned to Trèves. Only “ Rome the golden, home of the gods,” Constantinople and Carthage, Antioch and Alexandria, are suffered to take precedence of the seat of V alentinian. Nevertheless, he writes of Trèves briefly and formally, as he might have done if he had never seen the place ; not at all with that vivid realization and wealth of picturesque and splendid detail which he lavishes upon Arles, and even upon Milan. Now, he may very well have seen, and probably did see, the “ little Gallic Rome ” upon the Rhone, while he was a student at Toulouse ; but Milan he can hardly have visited before the year of his consulate, — 379, — if even then. The chronology of his writings is not easy to make out, but I am inclined to think that the Ordo Nobilium Urbium, like the quatrains on the Cæsars, after the style of

“ First William the Norman,
Then William his son,”

the abstracts from the Iliad and Odyssey, the epitaphs on the heroes of Troy, and perhaps also the Play of the Seven Wise Men were originally prepared for the behoof of his classes, — as aids to memory or by way of combining instruction with amusement, — then amplified and rearranged at a much later period. It must have been after he went back to end his days at Bordeaux that he concluded the tale of his great cities by a disproportionately long and loving tribute to the charms of his native place : —

All-glorious Rome led off this procession. Let Bordeaux share her honors by bringing up the rear. This is my fatherland, but Rome is above all fatherlands. Bordeaux I love, but Rome I worship. A citizen of the one, a consul in both, here was my cradle, and there my curule chair.”

It matters the less, in one sense, however, that we have no very graphic record of the Gallic poet’s first impressions of Trèves, since an almost unequaled proportion of the monuments which constituted its glory in the fourth century are still in existence, — the greatest of them all, the Black Gate of Mars and the enormous Basilica where Constantine delivered judgment, hardly altered in their outward aspect since his day. Local tradition claims for the city on the Moselle an antiquity which might have appeared hoary even to Ausouius. “ Ante Romani Treviris stetit annis MCCC” is the complacent inscription which may be still read on the walls of the beautiful Rothes Haus, once a mediæval town hall, and now a pleasant inn.

Otto of Freising, in his twelfth-century Chronicle, explains the matter thus : “ When Ninus, the Assyrian king, was dead, his wife, Semiramis, reigned in his stead, and the men of Trèves say that she cast out her step-son, Trebates, who built him a fleet, and passed by sea from Asia to Europe, and so along the Rhine and the Moselle to the most beautiful valley in Gaul, where he founded the fairest and richest of her cities, which he called Treviris, after his own name.”

This, of course, is palpable nonsense. Trebates must be bidden to go hang, along with the British Brutus; but what was the ancient and mysterious fact which underlay the fixed notion of the town’s ante-Roman origin, and put Otto upon his mettle to invent the son of Ninus ?

The great mass of Roman work at present extant at Trèves : the Basilica before mentioned ; the amphitheatre, grass-grown, but intact in form ; the stately baths between the two, which were thermœ surely, as they used always to be called, and only adjuncts of the imperial palace; the quadrilateral nucleus of the strange cathedral, with its massive monolithic pillars ; the extensive and luxurious villas lying between these public buildings and the river, — all these things are plainly and indisputably of late Roman origin. But to the not over-learned spectator, who judges merely by what he sees, and by comparison with what he may have seen previously in the far south of Europe, the gigantic Porta Nigra, and the indestructible foundations of the bridge over the Moselle, composed, like it, of massive blocks of stone laid without cement, whisper a curiously different story. It is not the Roman Forum nor the Colosseum of which one is irresistibly reminded, but Volterra Cervetri, possibly Pæstum or Mycenæ, or, more faintly, the Pont du Gard.

Of the latest authorities on the Porta Nigra, every German Ph. D. confidently contradicts every other. One sees marks about its architecture which refer it clearly to the time of Claudian. Another is equally sure that it was one of Constantine’s own buildings. They smile superior when Winckelmann says that if this structure were in Italy we should unhesitatingly refer it to 450 B. C. ; and, among them, they have covered with confusion a certain enthusiastic antiquary named Wyttenbach, who gives, in the Trierische Kronik for March, 1817, the text of an inscription in something very like Etruscan characters, laid bare in his day, upon the northwest side of the monument. The Dutch architect, De Bioul, translator of Vitruvius, protests through the medium of the same periodical, in 1820, that he has found no exact parallel to the style of the Black Gate save in the so-called Cyclopean remains of Sicily and the Abruzzi; and one architectural dreamer offers the suggestion that the gate and the bridge were constructed as defensive works, at the time of Julius Cæsar’s invasion, by architects from Narbonnensian Gaul, where Greek traditions had prevailed at a much earlier day.

We must leave the savants to their ever congenial differences. There the stupendous thing stands, and is likely to stand while the world remains, — a darkly frowning mystery, with cavernous archways and huge flanking towers ; a considerable portion of its height still covered by the accumulation of the soil, yet even so, reducing the modern suburb about it almost to the proportions of a child’s toy village by its proximity ; and under its grim shadow Ausonius passed, as we do, into the heart of the town.

Enough remains pretty plainly to suggest that the Roman city extended southwesterly along the right bank of the Moselle much farther than modern Trèves ; that the old bridge divided it nearly in halves ; and that a great main thoroughfare, following for some distance the line of the present boulevard, ran from it past the principal forum to the thermæ, the amphitheatre, the circus, and the great public gardens upon the rising ground ; while the Roman wall embraced all these structures, being carried, as Ausonius distinctly tells us, up and along the hills. Somewhere between the river and the amphitheatre, but nearer the former, one cannot help fancying, than the most conspicuous of the visible Roman remains, lay the imperial palace where the poet was to be lodged. It was the same in which Helena, the mother of Constantine, — not the fair young creature of Caliari’s vision, but a wrinkled woman of eighty, — had that revelation of the true cross which drew her, thus late in life, as a pilgrim to Jerusalem.

The court was ostensibly Christian, and one of the first offices required of the new-comer in his capacity of laureate was the composition of an Easter Hymn. It was duly forthcoming : very courtly in diction, and at the same time so fervent in spirit and so accurately orthodox in doctrine that even our facile Burdigalian could hardly have composed it without help from the promptings of some more earnest devotee.4 Plenty of such there were, in and about Trèves, living the contemplative life under the very shadow of the court; as we know from the haunting story, so pathetically told by St. Augustine in his Confessions, of those two officers of Gratian’s household who, wearying, one sultry afternoon, of the everlasting games in the circus, rambled out into the gardens and up the hill, and came within ear-shot of the lodge of certain anchorites, and stood rooted to the spot until dusk, listening while one read aloud the life of the holy hermit Antonins of Egypt: the charm and refreshment of which tale so wrought upon their jaded spirits that, then and there, they renounced the world and the glittering service of the palace, and gave themselves to a life of prayer.

No such call to self-devotion and effacement was received by Ausonius ; but he entered upon his pedagogic duties with a very proper zeal, insomuch that the naturally amiable and docile Gratian became erelong a prodigy of youthful accomplishments. He betrayed the hopes of the world afterward, as prodigies are too apt to do ; and it would indeed be strange if, along with an abundance of book-learning, a certain frivolity of spirit had not been imparted to the pupil of a man who could produce the Easter Hymn one day, and on the next, by way of epithalamium, an abominable cento of Vergilian verses, wrested without shame from their true sense and connection ; who could close his Griplms.5 or riddling disquisition on the mystic properties of the number three, by observing that there are three Gorgons, three Harpies, three Furies, three prophesying Sibyls, three drinks to a toast, and three persons in the Trinity ; and one of whose most exquisite productions, from a purely literary point of view, the Dream of Cupid Crucified, must have seemed full of blasphemous allusion to the earnest Christians of that day.

The nine years of the reign of Valentinian which remained were years of almost incessant warfare. The Alemanni revolted, and were put down only to rise again. The Saxons were perpetually “ raiding ” along the confines of Gaul. The Picts and Scots grew troublesome in Britain, and Valentinian sent to subdue these rudest of barbarians a brave general, afterwards most unjustly disgraced, whom history will remember as the father of the Emperor Theodosius. Discontented Africa was reduced to order by the same elder Theodosius. All this while the great Gothic war was raging in the East, taxing to their utmost, and farther, the resources of Valens. In the year 374 the Quadi and Sarmatians invaded Pannonia, or Hungary, Valentinian’s native province ; laying waste the affrighted country, and just failing to capture the Princess Constantia, a granddaughter of Constantine the Great, who was on her way across Europe to marry the pupil of Ausonius.

The news of this last outbreak reached Trèves too late for a military expedition to be organized the same year ; but early in the ensuing spring, Valentinian himself set out for the Danube, resolved to punish the Quadi without mercy. All summer long he burned and slew, and when autumn arrived, and he had gone into winter quarters near the modern town of Presburg, a deputation of the Quadi visited him with offers of humble submission. The Emperor rose to reply to the ambassadors, worked himself, by degrees, into a furious passion, as he talked, and finally fell back in a fit, and expired in the arms of his attendants, November 17, 375.

Gratian was now sixteen, and living with his girlish wife at Trèves. A thoroughbred youth, of pleasant manners and athletic no less than literary attainments, he was fairly popular with the legions. But a rival was forthcoming in the person of his infant half-brother, who was presented to the army of the Danube in the arms of his mother Justina, the second wife of Valentinian,1 not far from the spot where Maria Theresa showed her son to the chivalrous Hungarians thirteen hundred odd years later. The little prince, who bore his father’s name, was so well received by the soldiers that it was thought politic to acknowledge him at Trèves as Gratian’s associate in the empire; though he can hardly have borne a very active part in the councils of the state during the short lifetime of his elder brother.

These were the days when honors fairly rained upon Ausonius and his family. His father, the physician, at the mature age of ninety, was made prefect of Illyricum ; he himself, prefect of Italy and Africa. His son Hesperius became proconsul of Africa, to be succeeded, at the end of his first year of office, by Thalassius, the second husband of the poet’s only daughter. In 378, Ausonius and his son were joint prefects of Gaul, and toward the close of the same year the joyful tidings arrived from the camp of Gratian, who had gone eastward, with an army, to assist his uncle Valens against the invading Goths and Huns, that Ausonius was consul-designate for the year 379.

It was a shadowy dignity indeed, compared to what it had been in the great Roman days; and the letter in which Ausonius returns thanks for the longcoveted honor is fulsome and verbose, — altogether unpleasant reading. A much livelier interest attaches to his New Year’s Hymn, or invocation to Janus for a prosperous consulate, which is dated the day before the auspicious Kalends of January.6“ Jane, veni ; novas anne, veni ; renovate veni Sol! ” This refrain of “ Come, Janus ! New Year, come ! Come, new-born Sun ! ” recurs at the beginning of each division of the poem, and every season of the year and every sign of the zodiac is besought for happy omens. It is impossible not to see how much more congenial to Ausonius’s pen was the imagery of Olympus than that of the Christian heaven; yet at heart, I believe, he was no more of a Roman pagan than of a Christian disciple. Paganism was the nominal creed of that imposing social caste into which both Ausonius and his father had married. It was the thing to be versed in its myths, and to have its phraseology come trippingly from the tongue ; but there are incidental allusions scattered throughout his writings, such as that in the Idyl of the Moselle to the groves of the ancestral worship, which lead one to suspect that the traditions of this Ansonian race, despite the Latin name they prized, were altogether Druidical. It was really not so very long since, together with the garments, the gods of Rome had been adopted in Gaul; and the Druid priests had certainly a large following there quite a century later than this.

When Valens had met his end at Adrianople, there devolved upon Gratian, still only nineteen years of age, the heavy responsibility of selecting a colleague to whom to delegate the management of the Eastern Empire. He made an admirable choice ; and though it may well have been “ more by hit than any good wit ” that the great Theodosius was recalled from his dignified retirement in Spain, the world, and especially the Church, are none the less indebted to Gratian for this appointment, — the most beneficent of his public acts, and the last which could be thus described. After the date of the young sovereign’s return from the East to the capital on the Moselle, his career was a perpetual fiasco. He took counsel of unworthy advisers, he gave himself up to the pleasures of the chase in the wild woods of Germany and Belgium, and he scandalized his court beyond measure by adopting the barbarous dress of his Scythian body-guard. The story of the last years of Gratian’s reign, which had opened so fairly, might be summed up in the scathing sentence on a contemporary of the late Master of Trinity: “ He devoted all the time he could spare from the exigencies of his ” singular “ toilet to the neglect of his public duties.”

But the end came quickly. In 383, the Spanish general Maximus, then holding a command in Britain, revolted, and was hailed by his own legions as Emperor. The British youth flocked to his standard ; he invaded Gaul; the demoralized Gratian fled before him, only to be overtaken and murdered at Lyons, in the twenty-fifth year of his age and the ninth of his independent reign.

How Maximus was for a while associated with Theodosius in the empire of the world, while Justina’s little Valentinian, now a twelve-year-old boy, held a sort of side court at Milan ; how Ambrose, the great bishop, went as ambassador from Milan to Maximus at Trèves; how the latter threw off the mask of friendship in 387, and invaded Italy ; how Theodosius, marching westward to oppose him, saw, loved, and espoused the Princess Galla, Justina’s beautiful daughter; how the rebel was routed and slain at Aquileia, almost on the very spot where the great Constantine had fallen, — all these deeply interesting incidents belong to the general history of the time. It concerns us chiefly, for the moment, to know that Ausonius, who had been constrained to live almost in hiding during the four years of Maximus’s ascendency, emerges with a pæan of joy after his destruction, and gives Aquileia a place among his eminent cities wholly on the strength of its having witnessed the usurper’s end. “ Thou art justly celebrated for thy port and thy ramparts, but still more for this.”7

The Emperor Theodosius made friendly advances to our poet, who subsequently dedicated to him his collected epigrams, partly original and partly translations ; but court life had ceased to charm him, nor could Trèves any longer be a congenial place of residence for Ausonius. The Cæsar who had summoned him thither and the Cæsar whose mind he had formed were both dead, and he himself was past seventy years of age. His “ eye was not dim nor his natural force abated,” and life had plenty of interest remaining for him, even though he stood encompassed by the graves of a family and a dynasty ; but he felt an irresistible drawing toward the scenes of his childhood, and the verses in which he addressed the paternal villa on the Garonne, when returning to take up his permanent abode there, are among the simplest and most heartfelt of his which we possess.

He speaks of it modestly, as a very small estate ; but when we learn that he had two hundred acres of arable land, and a hundred in vineyards, fifty in meadows, and of woodland twice as much as all the rest; that there was a lake on the property; and that the flux and reflux of the tidal river which divided it carried him back and forth between his place and Bordeaux in the easiest and most delightful manner, according as his mood required society or solitude, we surmise that the retired courtier had all the comforts of life about him, and wherewith to feed, even to fatness, the philosophic spirit he had so nobly resolved to cultivate.

There was plenty of rubbish, and worse than rubbish, in the early notebooks and portfolios whose contents he now undertook to set in order; but he had plainly not the heart to sacrifice a scrap of his own writing, and here and there, among his naughty epigrams, occurs a pure and shapely gem, like this of Echo to the Painter : —

“ Ah, foolish limner, why essay to paint
The lineaments of an unseen face divine ?
Daughter of air and speech, mother of faint
Presentments, an unreal voice is mine!
Following all tones until afar they die,
I bring their semblance hack in mockery :
Yet in the windings of thine ear dwell I,
And thou must, paint a sound, wouldst thou paint me! ”

Of even finer texture, a trifle oversweet, perhaps, but more poetic, in the modern sense, than anything else of Ausonius’s except the Moselle and the Dream of Cupid, already mentioned, is the idyl entitled Roses, which was long attributed to Vergil. I offer a more or less remote imitation of it: —

“ Spring morning! and, in all the saffron air,
The tingling freshness of a day to be !
The breeze that runs before the sun-steeds, ere
They kindle fire, appeared to summon me,
And I went forth, by the prim garden-beds,
To taste that early sweetness, and behold
The bending blades dew - frosted, and the heads
Of the tall plants impearled, and, heavyrolled,
O’er spreading leaves the sky-drops crystalline.
There, too, were roses, as in Pæstum gay:
Dim through the morning mist I saw them shine,
Save where, at intervals, a blinding ray
Flashed from a gem that Sol would soon devour.
Verily, one know not if the; rosy Dawn
Borrowed her blushes from the rosy flower.
Or this from her, —for that the two had on
The same warm color, the same dewy veil!
Yea, and why not ? For flower alike and star
Live under Lady Venus, and exhale,
Mayhap, the self-same fragrance. But afar
The planet’s breath is wafted and is spent,
The blossom sheds its perfume at our side ;
Yet still they wear the one habiliment
The Paphian goddess bade them, — murexdyed.
A moment more, and the young buds were seen
Bursting their star-like sheathings. One was there
Who sported yet a fairy helm of green,
And one a crimson coronal did wear;
And one was like a stately pyramid
Tipped, at the apex, with a purple spire ;
And one the foldings of her veil undid
From her fair head, as moved by the desire
To number her own petals. Quick, ’t is done !
The smiling casket opens, and we see
The crocus therein hidden from the sun
Dense-seeded. But another rose, ah me !
With flame-like hair afloat upon the breeze,
Paled suddenly, of all her glory shorn.
‘ Alas for the untimely fate of these
Who age the very hour wherein they ‘re born! ‘
I cried: and even so, the chevelure
Of yon poor blossom dropped upon the mould,
Clothing it, far and wide, with color pure !
How can the same sun-rising see unfold
And fade so many shapes of loveliness ?
Ah, cruel Nature, with thy boon of flowers
Too quick withdrawn! Ah, youth grim age doth press!
Ah, life of roses, told in one day’s hours!
The morning-star beholds a birth divine
Whereof the evening-star shall find no trace.
Think then upon the rose’s endless line,
Since the one rose revisiteth her place
Never again ! And gather, sweetest maid,
Gather young roses in the early dew
Of thine own years, remembering how they fade,
And how, for thee, the end is hastening too ! ”

What a multitude of echoes these dulcet lines, have awakened ! Here are Waller and Herrick with their “ Go, lovely rose ! ” and “ Gather ye roses, while ye may! ” And yonder is Ronsard : —

Donc si vous me croyez, mignonne,
Tandis que vostre âge fleuronne,
En sa plus verte nouveauté
Cueillez, cueillez vostre jeunesse
Comme á cette fleur, la vieillesse
Fera ternir vostre beauté ! ”

While from a point yet more remote comes the heavier sigh of Omar Khayyám : —

44 Each morn a thousand roses brings, you say :
Yes, — but where leaves the rose of yesterday ? ”

These last lines remind one curiously of Fitzgerald’s conjecture that the best of all vehicles for translating the Persian poet would be post-classical Latin.

Beside the Idyls and the Epigrams, Ausonius made a collection of his Eclogues,— the majority of them very flat and tame. By far the most interesting member of this series is by another hand than his. After a dozen more or less mechanical verses describing the signs of the Zodiac, this note occurs in one of the manuscript copies of Ausonius : “ The following lines on the same subject are by Quintus Cicero.” The note may possibly not have been inserted by the poet, and the lines themselves do not particularly signify, except for their associations. But they are all of the younger Cicero’s poetry that we have, anil they carry one back more than four hundred years before Ausonius’s time, to that weariful winter in Cæsar’s Gaulish camp, before Quintus Cicero had had the chance to distinguish himself in action, when Marcus wrote to him from Rome, 44 I am glad to know that you are using your pen.”

Another poem, of considerable length and no little incidental interest, but not written by Ausonius, helps to swell the bulk of his collected works. Its author was one Paulinus, called, from the place of his birth, Paulinus of Pella. He was a grandson of our poet, and has left us a sketch of his own checkered life in halting hexameters ; entitled, half submissively, as it would seem, and half ironically, Eucharisticon, or A Thanksgiving. He had been reared in great luxury in Macedonia, where his father Hesperius held high office for many years. Perhaps he might have written Latin with more elegance, Paulinus himself observes, if the servants who were about him in his infancy had not all spoken Greek. His parents were only too tender and indulgent, and on the first suspicion of his being overworked by his masters they had him drop all study, and give himself wholly to a life of amusement. If they had but consecrated him to the Christian God in his tender years ! But, instead, he was not even baptized until after his father’s death. It was to please them rather than himself that, he married 44 a penniless lass, wi’ a lang pedigree.” 14Sed semel impositum statuens tolerare laborem,” —but his mind once made up to it, so to speak, he devoted all his energies to the restoration of her encumbered estates. A Gothic invasion, however, soon swept away the fruits of his labor, leaving him greatly impoverished ; and his father dying soon after, an avaricious brother disputed and tried to wrest from him his paternal inheritance. Then his wife died, and his two sons ; and now, at the time of writing, in his eighty-fifth year, he has left only one little piece of landed property, for which a barbarian Goth pays him a scanty rent, barely sufficing for the needs of his lonely old age of penitence and prayer.

So much for the immediate posterity of Ausonius. It remains to say a word concerning his principal correspondents, of whom the most important was undoubtedly the great pagan consular Symmachus, whose epistles, together with Ausonius’s replies, will be considered in another place. Hardly less interesting is the correspondence with another Paulinus, a much more moving and memorable figure than that of Ausonius’s grandson. This was Pontius Paulinus, the sainted Bishop of Nola, who had been a favorite pupil of the poet during the professorate of the latter at Bordeaux. Born in 353 or 354, of a distinguished senatorial family in Spain, he had reflected the utmost credit upon his whilom teacher. He had made a name in contemporary letters, he had been consul, he had married a wife as wealthy as himself, but also, as the event proved, of an equally unworldly temper.

Ausonius’s letters to this Paulinus divide themselves naturally into two groups : those written before and those written after the conversion of the younger man, which took place in 390. The earlier ones are altogether light and facetious in tone. The master incloses a scrap of his own poetry ; pure nonsense, he is fain to admit, but merely flung off on the spur of the moment, in the joy of hearing from his dear Paulinus. The latter, however, must really not pay his old tutor such extravagant compliments ! It is the one blemish on the style of the very cleverest young fellow Ausonius has ever known. Then there are humorous thanks for a present of olive oil; and a promise to look over and correct, if there be occasion,— though he deprecates the idea,—some lines of Paulinus’s own.

All these apparently belong to the time before Ausonius was bidden to the court at Trèves. During the interval of his absence, Paulinus was being gradually weaned from the world which had flattered him so broadly at the outset of his career. He made the acquaintance of Bishop Ambrose. His wife’s nature was deeply religious, and her influence over him was doubtless great. Finally, about the time of Ausonius’s return to his native province, the rumor began to circulate that Pontius Paulinas and his wife had retired to their Spanish estates, thereto meditate in silence and récueillement the purpose of a yet more thorough renunciation of the world.

Ausonius, the ornament of a Christian court, the tutor of a Christian prince, indignantly refuses to believe anything of the sort. He writes to Paulinus in terms of warm remonstrance. There can be no occasion for so extreme, so fanatical a step, — no reason why the friends of the brilliant young consular should be called to deplore the desolation and pillage of his fair estate, its division among a hundred claimants! Will he not give his old master the satisfaction of hearing that he is about to return to his true place in Bordeaux ?

Then, after an interval, comes a yet more imperious letter, “ I did think that the sorrow expressed in my last might have moved you, Paulinas, —— that you would at least have vouchsafed me one word in answer to my affectionate pleading. But apparently you have taken a vow of silence, and you mean to keep it. Has not then the friend of your youth something of a father’s right with you, and do you not owe him the deference of a son?” Ausonius is very much inclined to blame Paulinus’s wife in this matter, and suggests rather sarcastically that he might send him a line in cipher, if he is afraid of his “ Tanaquil.”

In a third and last appeal, Ausonius first takes the line of lamenting his friend’s treachery to the Muses; then drops into a more pathetic strain. “ In any case, I cannot see what hinders your writing to say good-by to me, and to wish me well. . . . O my best beloved Paulinus, how changed you must be ! This is the work of the wild woods of Vasconia and the snowy solitudes of the Pyrenees ! Fie upon them, and upon all Iberia! . . . But, O goddesses of Bœotia, hear ye my prayer, and restore our lost singer to the Muses of Latium ! ”

At last the answer comes. The three letters of Ausonius had reached Paulinus at the same time, it appears, and only in the fourth year after his retirement to Spain. The reply is very full and very tender: written in verse to show that Paulinus has not quite forgotten the ways of the Muses ; the manner of it graceful, and even gay in parts ; but breathing from every line the rapture of an accepted sacrifice and the peace of unalterable resolve. “ Not merely to my life’s end will I love thee, my father,” he says in the closing lines. “My heart will see, my spirit will embrace, thee after death ! To whatever place our common Father may appoint me, I will bear thee, in the arms of my soul! For if the vital essence cannot perish, neither, of a surety, can it forget ! ”

This pious and impassioned letter must have reached Ausonius, and mollified him a little, one would think, by its thoroughly human sweetness, only a very little while before his death, which took place in 394. In the same year Paulinus removed to Nola, in Italy, perhaps to be nearer Ambrose. He was made bishop of the diocese fifteen years later, and died at that beautiful spot in 431.

If the tones of these late letters to his distinguished pupil leave no shadow of doubt concerning the way of thinking into which Ausonius completely relapsed after his return to Bordeaux, we may equally gather from Paulinus’s pleading reply that the old courtier never alienated the affections, however he may have belied the hopes, of the more sincere and saintly among his Christian friends.

H. W. P. and L. D.

“ Musketaquid, a goblin strong,
Of shard and flint makes jewels gay ;
They lose their grief who hear his song,
And where he winds is the day of day.”
  1. Compare Emerson on Concord River : —
  2. Arles.
  3. The name Parentalia is derived from that festival of February 19th, kept by the Romans from the days of Numa in commemoration of the dead. It was believed to date back to the time of Æneas, who had consecrated that day to the manes of his father Anchises. The spirit of Ausonius’s Parentalia is purely and simply pagan.
  4. We seem to detect the work of the same hand in the really beautiful Morning Hymn, inserted by Ausonius in an unfinished poem called the Ephemeris, which was designed to commemorate, in separate numbers, the occupations of each successive hour in the day. The other fragments are as light in tone as possible, — their one serious line, expressing a half-awed suspicion of an invisible presence, being rejected as spurious by tlie best commentators ; while the number which succeeds the Morning Hymn begins with the words, “ Well now, enough of devotion! ”
  5. A γρȋϕos, or γρȋπos, was a fish-net; and the name, Suidas says, was applied to “ a tangled and difficult discourse, of which the meaning is not immediately apparent.”
  6. The charge of polygamy brought against Valentinian by the historian Socrates may be dismissed as a calumny.
  7. The whole month of January was specially consecrated to the double-faced deity of Peace and War.
  8. Barely sixty years later these ramparts were leveled by “ Attila, Scourge of God,” and a remnant of the inhabitants of Aquileia escaped to the islands of the lagoons, and planted in humiliation, poverty, and tears the seed of Venice.