Rev. W. Lucas Collins

Part 3 out of 3

our feet, we tread upon some history". Then Piso, speaking at Cicero's
request, begs his friends to turn from the degenerate thinkers of their
own day to those giants of philosophy, from whose writings all liberal
learning, all history, and all elegance of language may be derived. More
than all, they should turn to the leader of the Peripatetics, Aristotle,
who seemed (like Lord Bacon after him) to have taken all knowledge as his
portion. From these, if from no other source, we may learn the secret of a
happy life. But first we must settle what this 'chief good' is--this end
and object of our efforts--and not be carried to and fro, like ships
without a steersman, by every blast of doctrine.

[Footnote 1: The Stoics took their name from the 'stoa', or portico in the
Academy, where they _sat_ at lecture, as the Peripatetics (the school
of Aristotle) from the little knot of listeners who followed their master
as he _walked_. Epicurus's school were known as the philosophers of
'the Garden', from the place where he taught. The 'Old Academy' were the
disciples of Plato; the 'New Academy' (to whose tenets Cicero inclined)
revived the great principle of Socrates--of affirming nothing.]

If Epicurus was wrong in placing Happiness

"In corporal pleasure and in careless ease",

no less wrong are they who say that "honour" requires pleasure to be added
to it, since they thus make honour itself dishonourable. And again, to say
with others that happiness is tranquillity of mind, is simply to beg the

Putting, then, all such theories aside, we bring the argument to a
practical issue. Self-preservation is the first great principle of nature;
and so strong is this instinctive love of life both among men and animals,
that we see even the iron-hearted Stoic shrink from the actual pangs of a
voluntary death. Then comes the question, What _is_ this nature that
is so precious to each of us? Clearly it is compounded of body and mind,
each with many virtues of its own; but as the mind should rule the body,
so reason, as the dominant faculty, should rule the mind. Virtue itself is
only "the perfection of this reason", and, call it what you will, genius
or intellect is something divine.

Furthermore, there is in man a gradual progress of reason, growing with
his growth until it has reached perfection. Even in the infant there are
"as it were sparks of virtue"--half-unconscious principles of love and
gratitude; and these germs bear fruit, as the child develops into the man.
We have also an instinct which attracts us towards the pursuit of wisdom;
such is the true meaning of the Sirens' voices in the Odyssey, says the
philosopher, quoting from the poet of all time:

"Turn thy swift keel and listen to our lay;
Since never pilgrim to these regions came,
But heard our sweet voice ere he sailed away,
And in his joy passed on, with ampler mind".[1]

It is wisdom, not pleasure, which they offer. Hence it is that men devote
their days and nights to literature, without a thought of any gain that
may accrue from it; and philosophers paint the serene delights of a life
of contemplation in the islands of the blest.

[Footnote 1: Odyss. xii. 185 (Worsley).]

Again, our minds can never rest. "Desire for action grows with us;" and in
action of some sort, be it politics or science, life (if it is to be
life at all) must be passed by each of us. Even the gambler must ply the
dice-box, and the man of pleasure seek excitement in society. But in the
true life of action, still the ruling principle should be honour.

Such, in brief, is Piso's (or rather Cicero's) vindication of the old
masters of philosophy. Before they leave the place, Cicero fires a parting
shot at the Stoic paradox that the 'wise man' is always happy. How. he
pertinently asks, can one in sickness and poverty, blind, or childless,
in exile or in torture, be possibly called happy, except by a monstrous
perversion of language?[1]

[Footnote 1: In a little treatise called "Paradoxes", Cicero discusses six
of these scholastic quibbles of the Stoics.]

Here, somewhat abruptly, the dialogue closes; and Cicero pronounces no
judgment of his own, but leaves the great question almost as perplexed as
when he started the discussion. But, of the two antagonistic theories, he
leans rather to the Stoic than to the Epicurean. Self-sacrifice and honour
seem, to his view, to present a higher ideal than pleasure or expediency.


Fragments of two editions of this work have come down to us; for almost
before the first copy had reached the hands of his friend Atticus, to whom
it was sent, Cicero had rewritten the whole on an enlarged scale. The
first book (as we have it now) is dedicated to Varro, a noble patron of
art and literature. In his villa at Cumae were spacious porticoes and
gardens, and a library with galleries and cabinets open to all comers.
Here, on a terrace looking seawards, Cicero, Atticus, and Varro himself
pass a long afternoon in discussing the relative merits of the old and
new Academies; and hence we get the title of the work. Varro takes the
lion's share of the first dialogue, and shows how from the "vast and
varied genius of Plato" both Academics and Peripatetics drew all their
philosophy, whether it related to morals, to nature, or to logic. Stoicism
receives a passing notice, as also does what Varro considers the heresy
of Theophrastus, who strips virtue of all its beauty, by denying that
happiness depends upon it.

The second book is dedicated to another illustrious name, the elder
Lucullus, not long deceased--half-statesman, half-dilettante, "with almost
as divine a memory for facts", says Cicero, with something of envy, "as
Hortensius had for words". This time it is at his villa, near Tusculum,
amidst scenery perhaps even now the loveliest of all Italian landscapes,
that the philosophic dialogue takes place. Lucullus condemns the
scepticism of the New Academy--those reactionists against the dogmatism of
past times, who disbelieve their very eyesight. If (he says) we reject the
testimony of the senses, there is neither body, nor truth, nor argument,
nor anything certain left us. These perpetual doubters destroy every
ground of our belief.

Cicero ingeniously defends this scepticism, which was, in fact, the bent
of his own mind. After all, what is our eyesight worth? The ship sailing
across the bay yonder seems to move, but to the sailors it is the shore
that recedes from their view. Even the sun, "which mathematicians affirm
to be eighteen times larger than the earth, looks but a foot in diameter".
And as it is with these things, so it is with all knowledge. Bold indeed
must be the man who can define the point at which belief passes into
certainty. Even the "fine frenzy" of the poet, his pictures of gods
and heroes, are as lifelike to himself and to his hearers as though he
actually saw them:

"See how Apollo, fair-haired god,
Draws in and bends his golden bow,
While on the left fair Dian waves her torch".

No--we are sure of nothing; and we are happy if, like Socrates, we
only know this--that we know nothing. Then, as if in irony, or partly
influenced perhaps by the advocate's love of arguing the case both ways,
Cicero demolishes that grand argument of design which elsewhere he
so carefully constructs,[1] and reasons in the very language of
materialism--"You assert that all the universe could not have been so
ingeniously made without some godlike wisdom, the majesty of which you
trace down even to the perfection of bees and ants. Why, then, did the
Deity, when he made everything for the sake of man, make such a variety
(for instance) of venomous reptiles? Your divine soul is a fiction; it is
better to imagine that creation is the result of the laws of nature, and
so release the Deity from a great deal of hard work, and me from fear; for
which of us, when he thinks that he is an object of divine care, can help
feeling an awe of the divine power day and night? But we do not understand
even our own bodies; how, then, can we have an eyesight so piercing as to
penetrate the mysteries of heaven and earth?"

[Footnote 1: See p. 168.]

The treatise, however, is but a disappointing fragment, and the argument
is incomplete.


The scene of this dialogue is Cicero's villa at Tusculum. There, in his
long gallery, he walks and discusses with his friends the vexed questions
of morality. Was death an evil? Was the soul immortal? How could a man
best bear pain and the other miseries of life? Was virtue any guarantee
for happiness?

Then, as now, death was the great problem of humanity--"to die and go we
know not where". The old belief in Elysium and Tartarus had died away; as
Cicero himself boldly puts it in another place, such things were no longer
even old wives' fables. Either death brought an absolute unconsciousness,
or the soul soared into space. "_Lex non poena mors_"--"Death is a
law, not a penalty"--was the ancient saying. It was, as it were, the close
of a banquet or the fall of the curtain. "While we are, death is not; when
death has come, we are not".

Cicero brings forward the testimony of past ages to prove that death is
not a mere annihilation. Man cannot perish utterly. Heroes are deified;
and the spirits of the dead return to us in visions of the night. Somehow
or other (he says) there clings to our minds a certain presage of future
ages; and so we plant, that our children may reap; we toil, that others
may enter into our labours; and it is this life after death, the desire to
live in men's mouths for ever, which inspires the patriot and the martyr.
Fame to the Roman, even more than to us, was "the last infirmity of noble
minds". It was so in a special degree to Cicero. The instinctive sense of
immortality, he argues, is strong within us; and as, in the words of the
English poet,

"Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting",

so also in death, the Roman said, though in other words:

"Our souls have sight of that immortal sea
Which brought us hither".

Believe not then, says Cicero, those old wives' tales, those poetic
legends, the terrors of a material hell, of the joys of a sensual
paradise. Rather hold with Plato that the soul is an eternal principle of
life, which has neither beginning nor end of existence; for if it were not
so, heaven and earth would be overset, and all nature would stand at gaze.
"Men say they cannot conceive or comprehend what the soul can be, distinct
from the body. As if, forsooth, they could comprehend what it is, when it
is _in_ the body,--its conformation, its magnitude, or its position
there.... To me, when I consider the nature of the soul, there is far more
difficulty and obscurity in forming a conception of what the soul is while
in the body,--in a dwelling where it seems so little at home,--than of
what it will be when it has escaped into the free atmosphere of heaven,
which seems its natural abode".[1] And as the poet seems to us inspired,
as the gifts of memory and eloquence seem divine, so is the soul itself,
in its simple essence, a god dwelling in the breast of each of us. What
else can be this power which enables us to recollect the past, to foresee
the future, to understand the present?

[Footnote 1: I. c. 22.]

There follows a passage on the argument from design which anticipates that
fine saying of Voltaire--"Si Dieu n'existait pas, il faudrait l'inventer;
mais toute la nature crie qu'il existe". "The heavens", says even the
heathen philosopher, "declare the glory of God". Look on the sun and the
stars; look on the alternation of the seasons, and the changes of day and
night; look again at the earth bringing forth her fruits for the use
of men; the multitude of cattle; and man himself, made as it were to
contemplate and adore the heavens and the gods. Look on all these things,
and doubt not that there is some Being, though you see him not, who has
created and presides over the world.

"Imitate, therefore, the end of Socrates; who, with the fatal cup in his
hands, spoke with the serenity of one not forced to die, but, as it were,
ascending into heaven; for he thought that the souls of men, when they
left the body, went by different roads; those polluted by vice and unclean
living took a road wide of that which led to the assembly of the gods;
while those who had kept themselves pure, and on earth had taken a divine
life as their model, found it easy to return to those beings from whence
they came". Or learn a lesson from the swans, who, with a prophetic
instinct, leave this world with joy and singing. Yet do not anticipate
the time of death, "for the Deity forbids us to depart hence without his
summons; but, on just cause given (as to Socrates and Cato), gladly should
we exchange our darkness for that light, and, like men not breaking
prison but released by the law, leave our chains with joy, as having been
discharged by God".

The feeling of these ancients with regard to suicide, we must here
remember, was very different from our own. There was no distinct idea
of the sanctity of life; no social stigma and consequent suffering were
brought on the family of the suicide. Stoic and Epicurean philosophers
alike upheld it as a lawful remedy against the pangs of disease, the
dotage of old age, or the caprices of a tyrant. Every man might, they
contended, choose his own route on the last great journey, and sleep well,
when he grew wearied out with life's fitful fever. The door was always
open (said Epictetus) when the play palled on the senses. You should
quit the stage with dignity, nor drain the flask to the dregs. Some
philosophers, it is true, protested against it as a mere device of
cowardice to avoid pain, and as a failure in our duties as good citizens.
Cicero, in one of his latest works, again quotes with approval the opinion
of Pythagoras, that "no man should abandon his post in life without the
orders of the Great Commander". But at Rome suicide had been glorified by
a long roll of illustrious names, and the protest was made in vain.

But why, continues Cicero, why add to the miseries of life by brooding
over death? Is life to any of us such unmixed pleasure even while it
lasts? Which of us can tell whether he be taken away from good or from
evil? As our birth is but "a sleep and a forgetting", so our death may be
but a second sleep, as lasting as Endymion's. Why then call it wretched,
even if we die before our natural time? Nature has lent us life, without
fixing the day of payment; and uncertainty is one of the conditions of its
tenure. Compare our longest life with eternity, and it is as short-lived
as that of those ephemeral insects whose life is measured by a summer day;
and "who, when the sun sets, have reached old age".

Let us, then, base our happiness on strength of mind, on a contempt of
earthly pleasures, and on the strict observance of virtue. Let us recall
the last noble words of Socrates to his judges. "The death", said he, "to
which you condemn me, I count a gain rather than a loss. Either it is
a dreamless sleep that knows no waking, or it carries me where I may
converse with the spirits of the illustrious dead. _I_ go to death,
_you_ to life; but which of us is going the better way, God only

No man, then, dies too soon who has run a course of perfect virtue; for
glory follows like a shadow in the wake of such a life. Welcome death,
therefore, as a blessed deliverance from evil, sent by the special favour
of the gods, who thus bring us safely across a sea of troubles to an
eternal haven.

The second topic which Cicero and his friends discuss is, the endurance of
pain. Is it an unmixed evil? Can anything console the sufferer? Cicero
at once condemns the sophistry of Epicurus. The wise man cannot pretend
indifference to pain; it is enough that he endure it with courage, since,
beyond all question, it is sharp, bitter, and hard to bear. And what is
this courage? Partly excitement, partly the impulse of honour or of shame,
partly the habituation which steels the endurance of the gladiator. Keep,
therefore--this is the conclusion--stern restraint over the feminine
elements of your soul, and learn not only to despise the attacks of pain,
but also

"The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune".

From physical, the discussion naturally passes to mental, suffering.
For grief, as well as for pain, he prescribes the remedy of the
Stoics--_aequanimitas_--"a calm serenity of mind". The wise man,
ever serene and composed, is moved neither by pain or sorrow, by fear
or desire. He is equally undisturbed by the malice of enemies or the
inconstancy of fortune. But what consolation can we bring to ease the pain
of the Epicurean? "Put a nosegay to his nostrils--burn perfumes before
him--crown him with roses and woodbine"! But perfumes and garlands can do
little in such case; pleasures may divert, but they can scarcely console.

Again, the Cyrenaics bring at the best but Job's comfort. No man will
bear his misfortunes the more lightly by bethinking himself that they are
unavoidable--that others have suffered before him--that pain is part and
parcel of the ills which flesh is heir to. Why grieve at all? Why feed
your misfortune by dwelling on it? Plunge rather into active life and
forget it, remembering that excessive lamentation over the trivial
accidents of humanity is alike unmanly and unnecessary. And as it is with
grief, so it is with envy, lust, anger, and those other "perturbations of
the mind" which the Stoic Zeno rightly declares to be "repugnant to reason
and nature". From such disquietudes it is the wise man who is free.

The fifth and last book discusses the great question, Is virtue of
itself sufficient to make life happy? The bold conclusion is, that it is
sufficient. Cicero is not content with the timid qualifications adopted
by the school of the Peripatetics, who say one moment that external
advantages and worldly prosperity are nothing, and then again admit that,
though man may be happy without them, he is happier with them,--which is
making the real happiness imperfect after all. Men differ in their views
of life. As in the great Olympic games, the throng are attracted, some
by desire of gain, some by the crown of wild olive, some merely by the
spectacle; so, in the race of life, we are all slaves to some ruling idea,
it may be glory, or money, or wisdom. But they alone can be pronounced
happy whose minds are like some tranquil sea--"alarmed by no fears,
wasted by no griefs, inflamed by no lusts, enervated by no relaxing
pleasures,--and such serenity virtue alone can produce".

These 'Disputations' have always been highly admired. But their popularity
was greater in times when Cicero's Greek originals were less read or
understood. Erasmus carried his admiration of this treatise to enthusiasm.
"I cannot doubt", he says, "but that the mind from which such teaching
flowed was inspired in some sort by divinity".


The treatise 'De Officiis', known as Cicero's 'Offices, to which we pass
next, is addressed by the author to his son, while studying at Athens
under Cratippus; possibly in imitation of Aristotle, who inscribed
his Ethics to his son Nicomachus. It is a treatise on the duties of a
gentleman--"the noblest present", says a modern writer, "ever made by
parent to a child".[1] Written in a far higher tone than Lord
Chesterfield's letters, though treating of the same subject, it proposes
and answers multifarious questions which must occur continually to the
modern Christian as well as to the ancient philosopher. "What makes an
action right or wrong? What is a duty? What is expediency? How shall I
learn to choose between my principles and my interests? And lastly (a
point of casuistry which must sometimes perplex the strictest conscience),
of two 'things honest',[2] which is most so?"

[Footnote 1: Kelsall.]

[Footnote 2: The English "Honesty" and "Honour" alike fail to convey the
full force of the Latin _honestus_. The word expresses a progress
of thought from comeliness and grace of person to a noble and graceful
character--all whose works are done in honesty and honour.]

The key-note of his discourse throughout is Honour; and the word seems to
carry with it that magic force which Burke attributed to chivalry--"the
unbought grace of life--the nurse of heroic sentiment and manly
enterprise". _Noblesse oblige_,--and there is no state of life, says
Cicero, without its obligations. In their due discharge consists all the
nobility, and in their neglect all the disgrace, of character. There
should be no selfish devotion to private interests. We are born not for
ourselves only, but for our kindred and fatherland. We owe duties not only
to those who have benefited but to those who have wronged us. We should
render to all their due; and justice is due even to the lowest of mankind:
what, for instance (he says with a hardness which jars upon our better
feelings), can be lower than a slave? Honour is that "unbought grace"
which adds a lustre to every action. In society it produces courtesy of
manners; in business, under the form of truth, it establishes public
credit. Again, as equity, it smooths the harsh features of the law. In war
it produces that moderation and good faith between contending armies which
are the surest basis of a lasting peace. And so in honour are centred the
elements of all the virtues--wisdom and justice, fortitude and temperance;
and "if", he says, reproducing the noble words of Plato, as applied by him
to Wisdom, "this 'Honour' could but be seen in her full beauty by mortal
eyes, the whole world would fall in love with her".

Such is the general spirit of this treatise, of which only the briefest
sketch can be given in these pages.

Cicero bases honour on our inherent excellence of nature, paying the same
noble tribute to humanity as Kant some centuries after: "On earth there is
nothing great but man; in man there is nothing great but mind". Truth is a
law of our nature. Man is only "lower than the angels"; and to him belong
prerogatives which mark him off from the brute creation--the faculties
of reason and discernment, the sense of beauty, and the love of law and
order. And from this arises that fellow--feeling which, in one sense,
"makes the whole world kin"--the spirit of Terence's famous line, which
Cicero notices (applauded on its recitation, as Augustin tells us, by the
cheers of the entire audience in the theatre)--

"Homo sum--humani nihil a me alienum puto:" [1]

for (he continues) "all men by nature love one another, and desire an
intercourse of words and action". Hence spring the family affections,
friendship, and social ties; hence also that general love of combination,
which forms a striking feature of the present age, resulting in clubs,
trades-unions, companies, and generally in what Mr. Carlyle terms

[Footnote 1: "I am a man--I hold that nothing which concerns mankind can
be matter of unconcern to me".]

Next to truth, justice is the great duty of mankind. Cicero at once
condemns "communism" in matters of property. Ancient immemorial seizure,
conquest, or compact, may give a title; but "no man can say that he has
anything his own by a right of nature". Injustice springs from avarice or
ambition, the thirst of riches or of empire, and is the more dangerous as
it appears in the more exalted spirits, causing a dissolution of all ties
and obligations. And here he takes occasion to instance "that late most
shameless attempt of Caesar's to make himself master of Rome".

There is, besides, an injustice of omission. You may wrong your neighbour
by seeing him wronged without interfering. Cicero takes the opportunity of
protesting strongly against the selfish policy of those lovers of ease and
peace, who, "from a desire of furthering their own interests, or else from
a churlish temper, profess that they mind nobody's business but their own,
in order that they may seem to be men of strict integrity and to injure
none", and thus shrink from taking their part in "the fellowship of
life". He would have had small patience with our modern doctrine of
non-intervention and neutrality in nations any more than in men. Such
conduct arises (he says) from the false logic with which men cheat
their conscience; arguing reversely, that whatever is the best policy

There are two ways, it must be remembered, in which one man may injure
another--force and fraud; but as the lion is a nobler creature than the
fox, so open violence seems less odious than secret villany. No character
is so justly hateful as

"A rogue in grain,
Veneered with sanctimonious theory".

Nations have their obligations as well as individuals, and war has its
laws as well as peace. The struggle should be carried on in a generous
temper, and not in the spirit of extermination, when "it has sometimes
seemed a question between two hostile nations, not which should remain a
conqueror, but which should remain a nation at all".

No mean part of justice consists in liberality, and this, too, has its
duties. It is an important question, how, and when, and to whom, we should
give? It is possible to be generous at another person's expense: it is
possible to injure the recipient by mistimed liberality; or to ruin one's
fortune by open house and prodigal hospitality. A great man's bounty (as
he says in another place) should be a common sanctuary for the needy. "To
ransom captives and enrich the meaner folk is a nobler form of generosity
than providing wild beasts or shows of gladiators to amuse the mob".
Charity should begin at home; for relations and friends hold the first
place in our affections; but the circle of our good deeds is not to
be narrowed by the ties of blood, or sect, or party, and "our country
comprehends the endearments of all". We should act in the spirit of the
ancient law--"Thou shalt keep no man from the running stream, or from
lighting his torch at thy hearth". Our liberality should be really
liberal,--like that charity which Jeremy Taylor describes as "friendship
to all the world".

Another component principle of this honour is courage, or "greatness of
soul", which (continues Cicero) has been well defined by the Stoics as
"a virtue contending for justice and honesty"; and its noblest form is a
generous contempt for ordinary objects of ambition, not "from a vain or
fantastic humour, but from solid principles of reason". The lowest and
commoner form of courage is the mere animal virtue of the fighting-cock.

But a character should not only be excellent,--it should be graceful. In
gesture and deportment men should strive to acquire that dignified grace
of manners "which adds as it were a lustre to our lives". They should
avoid affectation and eccentricity; "not to care a farthing what people
think of us is a sign not so much of pride as of immodesty". The want of
tact--the saying and doing things at the wrong time and place--produces
the same discord in society as a false note in music; and harmony of
character is of more consequence than harmony of sounds. There is a grace
in words as well as in conduct: we should avoid unseasonable jests, "and
not lard our talk with Greek quotations".[1]

[Footnote 1: This last precept Cicero must have considered did not apply
to letter-writing, otherwise he was a notorious offender against his own

In the path of life, each should follow the bent of his own genius, so far
as it is innocent--

"Honour and shame from no condition rise;
Act well your part--there all the honour lies".

Nothing is so difficult (says Cicero) as the choice of a profession,
inasmuch as "the choice has commonly to be made when the judgment is
weakest". Some tread in their father's steps, others beat out a fresh line
of their own; and (he adds, perhaps not without a personal reference) this
is generally the case with those born of mean parents, who propose to
carve their own way in the world. But the _parvenu_ of Arpinum--the
'new man', as aristocratic jealousy always loved to call him--is by
no means insensible to the true honours of ancestry. "The noblest
inheritance", he says, "that can ever be left by a father to his son,
far excelling that of lands and houses, is the fame of his virtues and
glorious actions"; and saddest of all sights is that of a noble house
dragged through the mire by some degenerate descendant, so as to be a
by-word among the populace,--"which may" (he concludes) "be justly said of
but too many in our times".

The Roman's view of the comparative dignity of professions and occupations
is interesting, because his prejudices (if they be prejudices) have so
long maintained their ground amongst us moderns. Tax-gatherers and usurers
are as unpopular now as ever--the latter very deservedly so. Retail trade
is despicable, we are told, and "all mechanics are by their profession
mean". Especially such trades as minister to mere appetite or
luxury--butchers, fishmongers, and cooks; perfumers, dancers, and
suchlike. But medicine, architecture, education, farming, and even
wholesale business, especially importation and exportation, are the
professions of a gentleman. "But if the merchant, satisfied with his
profits, shall leave the seas and from the harbour step into a landed
estate, such a man seems justly deserving of praise". We seem to be
reading the verdict of modern English society delivered by anticipation
two thousand years ago.

The section ends with earnest advice to all, that they should put their
principles into practice. "The deepest knowledge of nature is but a
poor and imperfect business", unless it proceeds into action. As justice
consists in no abstract theory, but in upholding society among men,--as
"greatness of soul itself, if it be isolated from the duties of social
life, is but a kind of uncouth churlishness",--so it is each citizen's
duty to leave his philosophic seclusion of a cloister, and take his place
in public life, if the times demand it, "though he be able to number the
stars and measure out the world".

The same practical vein is continued in the next book. What, after all,
are a man's real interests? what line of conduct will best advance the
main end of his life? Generally, men make the fatal mistake of assuming
that honour must always clash with their interests, while in reality, says
Cicero, "they would obtain their ends best, not by knavery and underhand
dealing, but by justice and integrity". The right is identical with
the expedient. "The way to secure the favour of the gods is by upright
dealing; and next to the gods, nothing contributes so much to men's
happiness as men themselves". It is labour and co-operation which have
given us all the goods which we possess.

Since, then, man is the best friend to man, and also his most formidable
enemy, an important question to be discussed is the secret of influence
and popularity--the art of winning men's affections. For to govern by
bribes or by force is not really to govern at all; and no obedience based
on fear can be lasting--"no force of power can bear up long against a
current of public hate". Adventurers who ride rough-shod over law (he is
thinking again of Caesar) have but a short-lived reign; and "liberty, when
she has been chained up a while, bites harder when let loose than if she
had never been chained at all".[1] Most happy was that just and moderate
government of Rome in earlier times, when she was "the port and refuge for
princes and nations in their hour of need". Three requisites go to form
that popular character which has a just influence over others; we must win
men's love, we must deserve their confidence, and we must inspire them
with an admiration for our abilities. The shortest and most direct road to
real influence is that which Socrates recommends--"for a man to be that
which he wishes men to take him for".[2]

[Footnote 1: It is curious to note how, throughout the whole of this
argument, Cicero, whether consciously or unconsciously, works upon the
principle that the highest life is the political life, and that the
highest object a man can set before him is the obtaining, by legitimate
means, influence and authority amongst his fellow-citizens.]

[Footnote 2:

"Not being less but more than all
The gentleness he seemed to be".
--Tennyson: 'In Memoriam'.]

Then follow some maxims which show how thoroughly conservative was the
policy of our philosopher. The security of property he holds to be the
security of the state. There must be no playing with vested rights, no
unequal taxation, no attempt to bring all things to a level, no cancelling
of debts and redistribution of land (he is thinking of the baits held out
by Catiline), none of those traditional devices for winning favour with
the people, which tend to destroy that social concord and unity which
make a common wealth. "What reason is there", he asks, "why, when I have
bought, built, repaired, and laid out much money, another shall come and
enjoy the fruits of it?"

And as a man should be careful of the interests of the social body, so
he should be of his own. But Cicero feels that in descending to such
questions he is somewhat losing sight of his dignity as a moralist.
"You will find all this thoroughly discussed", he says to his son, "in
Xenophon's Economics--a book which, when I was just your age, I translated
from the Greek into Latin". [One wonders whether young Marcus took the
hint.] "And if you want instruction in money matters, there are gentlemen
sitting on the Exchange who will teach you much better than the

The last book opens with a saying of the elder Cato's, which Cicero much
admires, though he says modestly that he was never able in his own case
quite to realise it--"I am never less idle than when I am idle, and never
less alone than when alone". Retirement and solitude are excellent things,
Cicero always declares; generally contriving at the same time to make it
plain, as he does here, that his own heart is in the world of public life.
But at least it gives him time for writing. He "has written more in this
short time, since the fall of the Commonwealth, than in all the years
during which it stood".

He here resolves the question, If honour and interest seem to clash, which
is to give way? Or rather, it has been resolved already; if the right be
always the expedient, the opposition is seeming, not real. He puts a great
many questions of casuistry, but it all amounts to this: the good man
keeps his oath, "though it were to his own hindrance". But it is never to
his hindrance; for a violation of his conscience would be the greatest
hindrance of all.

In this treatise, more than in any of his other philosophical works,
Cicero inclines to the teaching of the Stoics. In the others, he is
rather the seeker after truth than the maintainer of a system. His is the
critical eclecticism of the 'New Academy'--the spirit so prevalent in our
own day, which fights against the shackles of dogmatism. And with all his
respect for the nobler side of Stoicism, he is fully alive to its defects;
though it was not given to him to see, as Milton saw after him, the point
wherein that great system really failed--the "philosophic pride" which was
the besetting sin of all disciples in the school, from Cato to Seneca:

"Ignorant of themselves, of God much more,

* * * * *

Much of the soul they talk, but all awry;
And in themselves seek virtue, and to themselves
All glory arrogate,--to God give none;
Rather accuse Him under usual names,
Fortune, or Fate, as one regardless quite
Of mortal things".[1]

[Footnote 1: Paradise Regained.]

Yet, in spite of this, such men were as the salt of the earth in a corrupt
age; and as we find, throughout the more modern pages of history, great
preachers denouncing wickedness in high places,--Bourdaloue and Massillon
pouring their eloquence into the heedless ears of Louis XIV, and his
courtiers--Sherlock and Tillotson declaiming from the pulpit in such
stirring accents that "even the indolent Charles roused himself to listen,
and the fastidious Buckingham forgot to sneer"[1]--so, too, do we find
these "monks of heathendom", as the Stoics have been not unfairly called,
protesting in their day against that selfish profligacy which was fast
sapping all morality in the Roman empire. No doubt (as Mr. Lecky takes
care to tell us), their high principles were not always consistent with
their practice (alas! whose are?); Cato may have ill-used his slaves,
Sallust may have been rapacious, and Seneca wanting in personal courage.
Yet it was surely something to have set up a noble ideal, though they
might not attain to it themselves, and in "that hideous carnival of vice"
to have kept themselves, so far as they might, unspotted from the world.
Certain it is that no other ancient sect ever came so near the light of
revelation. Passages from Seneca, from Epictetus, from Marcus Aurelius,
sound even now like fragments of the inspired writings. The Unknown God,
whom they ignorantly worshipped as the Soul or Reason of the World,
is--in spite of Milton's strictures--the beginning and the end of their
philosophy. Let us listen for a moment to their language. "Prayer should
be only for the good". "Men should act according to the spirit, and not
according to the letter of their faith". "Wouldest thou propitiate the
gods? Be good: he has worshipped them sufficiently who has imitated
them". It was from a Stoic poet, Aratus, that St. Paul quoted the great
truth which was the rational argument against idolatry--"For we are also
His offspring, and" (so the original passage concludes) "we alone
possess a voice, which is the image of reason". It is in another poet
of the same school that we find what are perhaps the noblest lines in
all Latin poetry. Persius concludes his Satire on the common hypocrisy
of those prayers and offerings to the gods which were but a service of
the lips and hands, in words of which an English rendering may give the
sense but not the beauty: "Nay, then, let us offer to the gods that which
the debauched sons of great Messala can never bring on their broad
chargers,--a soul wherein the laws of God and man are blended,--a heart
pure to its inmost depths,--a breast ingrained with a noble sense of
honour. Let me but bring these with me to the altar, and I care not
though my offering be a handful of corn". With these grand words, fit
precursors of a purer creed to come, we may take our leave of the Stoics,
remarking how thoroughly, even in their majestic egotism, they
represented the moral force of the nation among whom they flourished; a
nation, says a modern preacher, "whose legendary and historic heroes
could thrust their hand into the flame, and see it consumed without a
nerve shrinking; or come from captivity on parole, advise their
countrymen against a peace, and then go back to torture and certain
death; or devote themselves by solemn self-sacrifice like the Decii. The
world must bow before such men; for, unconsciously, here was a form of
the spirit of the Cross-self-surrender, unconquerable fidelity to duty,
sacrifice for others".[2]

[Footnote 1: Macaulay.]

[Footnote 2: F.W. Robertson, Sermons, i. 218.]

Portions of three treatises by Cicero upon Political Philosophy have come
down to us: 1. I De Republica'; a dialogue on Government, founded chiefly
on the 'Republic' of Plato: 2. 'De Legibus'; a discussion on Law in the
abstract, and on national systems of legislation 3. 'De Jure Civili';
of which last only a few fragments exist. His historical works have all



It is difficult to separate Cicero's religion from his philosophy. In both
he was a sceptic, but in the better sense of the word. His search after
truth was in no sneering or incredulous spirit, but in that of a reverent
inquirer. We must remember, in justice to him, that an earnest-minded man
in his day could hardly take higher ground than that of the sceptic. The
old polytheism was dying out in everything but in name, and there was
nothing to take its place.

His religious belief, so far as we can gather it, was rather negative than
positive. In the speculative treatise which he has left us, 'On the Nature
of the Gods', he examines all the current creeds of the day, but leaves
his own quite undefined.

The treatise takes the form, like the rest, of an imaginary conversation.
This is supposed to have taken place at the house of Aurelius Cotta, then
Pontifex Maximus--an office which answered nearly to that of Minister
of religion. The other speakers are Balbus, Velleius, and Cicero
himself,--who acts, however, rather in the character of moderator than
of disputant. The debate is still, as in the more strictly philosophical
dialogues, between the different schools. Velleius first sets forth the
doctrine of his master Epicurus; speaking about the gods, says one of his
opponents, with as much apparent intimate knowledge "as if he had just
come straight down from heaven". All the speculations of previous
philosophers--which he reviews one after the other--are, he assures the
company, palpable errors. The popular mythology is a mere collection of
fables. Plato and the Stoics, with their Soul of the world and their
pervading Providence, are entirely wrong; the disciples of Epicurus alone
are right. There are gods; that much, the universal belief of mankind in
all ages sufficiently establishes. But that they should be the laborious
beings which the common systems of theology would make them,--that they
should employ themselves in the manufacture of worlds,--is manifestly
absurd. Some of this argument is ingenious. "What should induce the Deity
to perform the functions of an Aedile, to light up and decorate the world?
If it was to supply better accommodation for himself, then he must have
dwelt of choice, up to that time, in the darkness of a dungeon. If such
improvements gave him pleasure, why should he have chosen to be without
them so long?"

No--the gods are immortal and happy beings; and these very attributes
imply that they should be wholly free from the cares of business--exempt
from labour, as from pain and death. They are in human form, but of an
ethereal and subtile essence, incapable of our passions or desires. Happy
in their own perfect wisdom and virtue, they

"Sit beside their nectar, careless of mankind".

Cotta--speaking in behalf of the New Academy--controverts these views.
Be these your gods, Epicurus, as well say there are no gods at all. What
reverence, what love, or what fear can men have of beings who neither wish
them, nor can work them, good or ill? Is idleness the divinest life? "Why,
'tis the very heaven of schoolboys; yet the schoolboys, on their holiday,
employ themselves in games". Nay, he concludes, what the Stoic Posidonius
said of your master Epicurus is true--"He believed there were no gods, and
what he said about their nature he said only to avoid popular odium". He
could not believe that the Deity has the outward shape of a man, without
any solid essence; that he has all the members of a man, without the power
to use them; that he is a shadowy transparent being, who shows no favour
and confers no benefits on any, cares for nothing and does nothing; this
is to allow his existence of the gods in word, but to deny it in fact.

Velleius compliments his opponent on his clever argument, but desires that
Balbus would state his views upon the question. The Stoic consents; and,
at some length, proceeds to prove (what neither disputant has at all
denied) the existence of Divine beings of some kind. Universal belief,
well-authenticated instances of their appearance to men, and of the
fulfilment of prophecies and omens, are all evidences of their existence.
He dwells much, too, on the argument from design, of which so much use has
been made by modern theologians. He furnishes Paley with the idea for his
well-known illustration of the man who finds a watch; "when we see a dial
or a water-clock, we believe that the hour is shown thereon by art, and
not by chance".[1] He gives also an illustration from the poet Attius,
which from a poetical imagination has since become an historical incident;
the shepherds who see the ship Argo approaching take the new monster for a
thing of life, as the Mexicans regarded the ships of Cortes. Much more,
he argues, does the harmonious order of the world bespeak an intelligence
within. But his conclusion is that the Universe itself is the Deity; or
that the Deity is the animating Spirit of the Universe; and that the
popular mythology, which gives one god to the Earth, one to the Sea, one
to Fire, and so on, is in fact a distorted version of this truth. The very
form of the universe--the sphere--is the most perfect of all forms, and
therefore suited to embody the Divine.

[Footnote 1: De Nat. Deor. ii. 34. Paley's Nat. Theol. ch. i.]

Then Cotta--who though, as Pontifex, he is a national priest by vocation,
is of that sect in philosophy which makes doubt its creed--resumes his
objections. He is no better satisfied with the tenets of the Stoics than
with those of the Epicureans. He believes that there are gods; but, coming
to the discussion as a dispassionate and philosophical observer, he finds
such proofs as are offered of their existence insufficient. But this third
book is fragmentary, and the continuity of Cotta's argument is broken by
considerable gaps in all the manuscripts. There is a curious tradition,
that these portions were carefully torn out by the early Christians,
because they might prove too formidable weapons in the hands of
unbelievers. Cotta professes throughout only to raise his objections in
the hope that they may be refuted; but his whole reasoning is destructive
of any belief in an overruling Providence. He confesses himself puzzled by
that insoluble mystery--the existence of Evil in a world created and ruled
by a beneficent Power. The gods have given man reason, it is said; but man
abuses the gift to evil ends. "This is the fault", you say, "of men, not
of the gods. As though the physician should complain of the virulence of
the disease, or the pilot of the fury of the tempest! Though these are but
mortal men, even in them it would seem ridiculous. Who would have asked
your help, we should answer, if these difficulties had not arisen? May we
not argue still more strongly in the case of the gods? The fault, you say,
lies in the vices of men. But you should have given men such a rational
faculty as would exclude the possibility of such crimes". He sees, as
David did, "the ungodly in prosperity". The laws of Heaven are mocked,
crimes are committed, and "the thunders of Olympian Jove are silent". He
quotes, as it would always be easy to quote, examples of this from
all history: the most telling and original, perhaps, is the retort of
Diagoras, who was called the Atheist, when they showed him in the temple
at Samothrace the votive tablets (as they may be seen in some foreign
churches now) offered by those shipwrecked seamen who had been saved from
drowning. "Lo, thou that deniest a Providence, behold here how many have
been saved by prayer to the gods!" "Yea", was his reply; "but where are
those commemorated who were drowned?"

The Dialogue ends with no resolution of the difficulties, and no
conclusion as to the points in question. Cicero, who is the narrator of
the imaginary conference, gives it as his opinion that the arguments of
the Stoic seemed to him to have "the greater probability". It was the
great tenet of the school which he most affected, that probability was the
nearest approach that man could make to speculative truth. "We are not
among those", he says, "to whom there seems to be no such thing as truth;
but we say that all truths have some falsehoods attached to them which
have so strong a resemblance to truth, that in such cases there is no
certain note of distinction which can determine our judgment and assent.
The consequence of which is that there are many things probable; and
although they are not subjects of actual perception to our senses, yet
they have so grand and glorious an aspect that a wise man governs his life
thereby".[1] It remained for one of our ablest and most philosophical
Christian writers to prove that in such matters probability was
practically equivalent to demonstration.[2] Cicero's own form of
scepticism in religious matters is perhaps very nearly expressed in the
striking anecdote which he puts, in this dialogue, into the mouth of the

[Footnote 1: De Nat. Deor. i. 5.]

[Footnote 2: "To us, probability is the very guide of life".--Introd. to
Butler's Analogy.]

"If you ask me what the Deity is, or what his nature and attributes are,
I should follow the example of Simonides, who, when the tyrant Hiero
proposed to him the same question, asked a day to consider of it. When the
king, on the next day, required from him the answer, Simonides requested
two days more; and when he went on continually asking double the time,
instead of giving any answer, Hiero in amazement demanded of him the
reason. 'Because', replied he, 'the longer I meditate on the question, the
more obscure does it appear'".[1]

[Footnote 1: De Nat. Deor. i. 22.]

The position of Cicero as a statesman, and also as a member of the College
of Augurs, no doubt checked any strong expression of opinion on his part
as to the forms of popular worship and many particulars of popular belief.
In the treatise which he intended as in some sort a sequel to this
Dialogue on the 'Nature of the Gods'--that upon 'Divination'--he states
the arguments for and against the national belief in omens, auguries,
dreams, and such intimations of the Divine will.[1] He puts the defence
of the system in the mouth of his brother Quintus, and takes himself the
destructive side of the argument: but whether this was meant to give his
own real views on the subject, we cannot be so certain. The course of
argument employed on both sides would rather lead to the conclusion that
the writer's opinion was very much that which Johnson delivered as to the
reality of ghosts--"All argument is against it, but all belief is for it".

[Footnote 1: There is a third treatise, 'De Fato', apparently a
continuation of the series, of which only a portion has reached us. It is
a discussion of the difficult questions of Fate and Free-will.]

With regard to the great questions of the soul's immortality, and a state
of future rewards and punishments, it would be quite possible to gather
from Cicero's writings passages expressive of entirely contradictory
views. The bent of his mind, as has been sufficiently shown, was towards
doubt, and still more towards discussion; and possibly his opinions were
not so entirely in a state of flux as the remains of his writings seem to
show. In a future state of some kind he must certainly have believed--that
is, with such belief as he would have considered the subject-matter to
admit of--as a strong probability. In a speculative fragment which has
come down to us, known as 'Scipio's Dream', we seem to have the creed of
the man rather than the speculations of the philosopher. Scipio Africanus
the elder appears in a dream to the younger who bore his name (his
grandson by adoption). He shows him a vision of heaven; bids him listen
to the music of the spheres, which, as they move in their order, "by a
modulation of high and low sounds", give forth that harmony which men have
in some poor sort reduced to notation. He bids him look down upon the
earth, contracted to a mere speck in the distance, and draws a lesson of
the poverty of all mere earthly fame and glory. "For all those who have
preserved, or aided, or benefited their country, there is a fixed and
definite place in heaven, where they shall be happy in the enjoyment of
everlasting life". But "the souls of those who have given themselves up to
the pleasures of sense, and made themselves, as it were, the servants of
these,--who at the bidding of the lusts which wait upon pleasure have
violated the laws of gods and men,--they, when they escape from the body,
flit still around the earth, and never attain to these abodes but after
many ages of wandering". We may gather that his creed admitted a Valhalla
for the hero and the patriot, and a long process of expiation for the

There is a curious passage preserved by St. Augustin from that one of
Cicero's works which he most admired--the lost treatise on 'Glory'--which
seems to show that so far from being a materialist, he held the body to be
a sort of purgatory for the soul.

"The mistakes and the sufferings of human life make me think sometimes
that those ancient seers, or Interpreters of the secrets of heaven and the
counsels of the Divine mind, had some glimpse of the truth, when they said
that men are born in order to suffer the penalty for some sins committed
in a former life; and that the idea is true which we find in Aristotle,
that we are suffering some such punishment as theirs of old, who fell into
the hands of those Etruscan bandits, and were put to death with a studied
cruelty; their living bodies being tied to dead bodies, face to face, in
closest possible conjunction: that so our souls are coupled to our bodies,
united like the living with the dead".

But whatever might have been the theological side, if one may so express
it, of Cicero's religion, the moral aphorisms which meet us here and there
in his works have often in them a teaching which comes near the tone of
Christian ethics. The words of Petrarch are hardly too strong--"You would
fancy sometimes it was not a Pagan philosopher but a Christian apostle who
was speaking".[1] These are but a few out of many which might be quoted:
"Strive ever for the truth, and so reckon as that not thou art mortal, but
only this thy body, for thou art not that which this outward form of thine
shows forth, but each man's mind, that is the real man--not the shape
which can be traced with the finger".[2] "Yea, rather, they live who have
escaped from the bonds of their flesh as from a prison-house". "Follow
after justice and duty; such a life is the path to heaven, and into yon
assembly of those who have once lived, and now, released from the body,
dwell in that place". Where, in any other heathen writer, shall we
find such noble words as those which close the apostrophe in the
Tusculans?--"One single day well spent, and in accordance with thy
precepts, were better to be chosen than an immortality of sin!"[3] He is
addressing himself, it is true, to Philosophy; but his Philosophy is here
little less than the Wisdom of Scripture: and the spiritual aspiration is
the same--only uttered under greater difficulties--as that of the Psalmist
when he exclaims, "One day in thy courts is better than a thousand!"
We may or may not adopt Erasmus's view of his inspiration--or rather,
inspiration is a word which has more than one definition, and this would
depend upon which definition we take; but we may well sympathise with the
old scholar when he says--"I feel a better man for reading Cicero".

[Footnote 1: "Interdum non Paganum philosophum, sed apostolum loqui

[Footnote 2: 'The Dream of Scipio'.]

[Footnote 3: Tusc., v. 2.]



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