« ForrigeFortsett »
The sublime Longinus, who, in somewhat a later period, and in the court of a Syrian queen, preserved the spirit of ancient Athens, observes and laments, this degeneracy of his contemporaries, which debased their sentiments, enerwated their courage, and depressed their talents. “In the same manner,” he says, “as some children always remain pigmies, whose infant limbs have been too closely confined; thus our tender minds, fettered by the prejudices and habits of a just servitude, are unable to expand themselves, or to attain that well-proportioned greatness which we admire in the ancients, who, living under a popular government, wrote with the same freedom as they acted.” This diminu
Trajan, Hadrian, and the Antonines gave to learning a patronage more conspicuously honourable and more profitably remunerative than that which it received from Augustus. Literary merit was not only invited to their courts, but rewarded by high office. Plutarch was appointed praefect of Illyricum, and Arrian of Cappadocia. Suetonius, Lucian, ian, Maximus Tyrius, and others, were raised to eminent distinction. The example and the munificence of successive emperors were vainly exerted to revive the drooping spirit of heathen literature. They could not check the torpor which was ever creeping stealthily onward, and by which the Roman world was so enfeebled, that, reversing the law of social progress, it had not sufficient energy left to civilize barbarian conquerors.-ED.] * Longin. de Sublim. c. 44, p. 229, edit. Toll. Here, too, we may say of Longinus, “His own example strengthens all his laws.” Instead of proposing his sentiments with a manly boldness, he insinuates them with the most guarded caution, puts them into the mouth of a friend, and, as far as we can collect from a corrupted text, makes a show of refuting them himself. “The spirit of ancient Athens,” for which Gibbon gives Longinus credit, must be seen only in his style of writing, if we would make this praise consistent with the subsequent censure, which the note conveys. In the latter, a line of Pope's Essay on Criticism, (v. 680,) which makes the lofty language of the Treatise “On the Sublime,” an example of its laws, is acutely applied to the description given by Longinus of the degeneracy of his age, and to his mode of manifesting his own sentiments. I doubt whether that application be as true as it is skilful. Pearce and some other interpreters of Longinus have understood the passage as Gibbon did, but, as it appears to me, without any sufficient ground. Longinus says that he had heard a philosopher assign their altered form of government as the true cause of the debasement of literature, since democracy alone can nurture strong minds, &c. Gibbon's extract is taken from the speech or argument of this philosopher, which is rather the extravagant effusion of a violent king-hater than a faithful historica; delineation. Longinus then replies. He cannot perceive that the form. of government had such mighty influence, or that it is so impossible to nurse high thoughts under monarchial sway. Human nature is always dissatisfied with its actual position. I am rather of opinion, he said,
78 IDEA OF A MON ATCHY. [CH. III.
tive stature of mankind, if we pursue the metaphor, was cually sinking below the old standard, and the Roman world was indeed peopled by a race of pigmies; when the fierce iants of the north broke in, and mended the puny breed. hey restored a manly spirit of freedom; o after the revolution of ten centuries, freedom became the happy parent of taste and science.
CHAPTER III.-of THE CONSTITUTION of THE Roman EMPIRE, IN THE
THE obvious definition of a monarchy seems to be that of a State, in which a single person, by whatsoever name he may be distinguished, is intrusted with the execution of the laws, the management of the revenue, and the command of the army. But, unless public liberty is protected by intrepid and vigilant guardians, the authority of so formidable a magistrate will soon degenerate into despotism. The influence of the clergy, in an age of superstition, might be usefully employed to assert the rights of mankind; but so intimate is the connexion between the throne and the altar, that the banner of the church has very seldom been seen on the side of the people.* A martial nobility and stubborn commons, possessed of arms, tenacious of property, and collected into constitutional assemblies, form the only balance
that energy and spirit have been depressed by the universal misery, which incessant wars have produced, and the abject sentiments, which everywhere prevail. The thoughts of all are engrossed by gain and indulgence of appetite. A boundless luxury, with its attendant vices, pervades society. These unfit men for noble thoughts, quench aspirations after immortal things, and degrade our souls to the dust. This slavery is more certain, and in its consequences worse, than any publicly recognized servitude, "what use could those make of freedom who are unable to bear it? &c. In this there is no political hypocrisy. The whole history of Longinus, the bold designs with which he inspired the great queen, Zenobia, his influence over her, and the undaunted fearlessness with which he met his fate, these all absolve him from any suspicion of timidity or temporizing me.” o: o of an author is the best commentary on such passago.T
* [In superstitiousages, often enough, not to serve the people?..” State, but to promote to jf the church itself, to which all others were subordinate. Still the power of the popes was sometimes useful, in restraining the vi. of rulers or oftening the manner-" a people.-WENck.]
capable of preserving a free constitution against the enterprises of an aspiring prince. Every barrier of the Roman constitution had been levelod by the vast ambition of the dictator; every fence had been extirpated by the cruel hand of the triumvir. . After the victory of Actium, the fate of the Roman world depended on the will of Octavianus, surnamed Caesar, by his uncle’s adoption, and afterwards Augustus, by the flattery of the senate. The conqueror was at the head of forty-four veteran legions,” conscious of their own strength, and of the weakness of the constitution, habituated, during twenty years’ civil war, to every act of blood and violence, and passionately devoted to the house of Caesar, from whence alone they had received, and expected, the most lavish rewards. The provinces, long oppressed by the ministers of the republic, sighed for the government of a single person, who would be the master, not the accomplice, of those petty tyrants. The eople of Rome, viewing, with a secret pleasure, the humiiation of the aristocracy, demanded only bread and public shows, and were supplied with both by the liberal hand of Augustus. The . and polite Italians, who had almost universally embraced the philosophy of Epicurus, enjoyed the present blessings of ease and tranquillity, and suffered not the pleasing dream to be interrupted by the memory of their old tumultuous freedom. With its power, the senate had lost its dignity; many of the most noble families were extinct. The republicans of spirit and ability had perished in the field of battle, or in the roscription.t. The door of the assembly had been designedly left open for a mixed multitude of more than a thousand persons, who reflected disgrace upon their rank, instead of deriving honour from it.: The reformation of the senate was one of the first steps in which Augustus laid aside the tyrant, and professed himself the father of his country. He was à. censor; and, in
* Orosius, 6, 18. [The authority of Orosius, to which Gibbon here. refers, is of little value, when better can be obtained. Dion Saosius (lib. 55, c. 20) says, that Augustus had only twenty-five logions. According to Appian, the triumvirs had no more than forty-three, after they had united all their forces—wenck.)
t.The pleasing picture, here presented, has been thus far copied from Tacitus. Annal. iib. 1, c. 2–winck.) + Julius Caesar introduced oldiers, strangers, and half-barbarians, into the senate. (Sueton. in Casar, c. 77, 80.) The abuse became still more scandalous after his death. 80 RESIGNATION OF AUGUSTU's. [CH. III.
concert with his faithful Agrippa, he examined the list of the senators, expelled a few members, whose vices or whose obstinacy required a public example,” persuaded near two Hundred to prevent the shame of an expulsion by a voluntary retreat, raised the qualification of a senator to about 30,000l., created a sufficient number of patrician families, and accepted for himself the honourable title of Prince of the Senate,t which had always been bestowed, by the censors, on the citizen the most eminent for his honours and serJicest But whilst he thus restored the dignity, he destroyed the independence, of the senate. The principles, of a free constitution are irrecoverably lost, when the legislative power is nominated by the executive.S Before an assembly thus modelled and prepared, Augustus ronounced a studied oration, which displayed his patriotism, and disguised his ambition. “He lamented, yet excused, his past conduct. Filial piety had required at his hands the revenge of his father's murder; the humanity of his owr nature had sometimes given way to the stern laws of neces:
• [Suetonius and Dion Cassius know nothing of these. At the first hint from Augustus, fifty withdrew voluntarily, and a hundred and forty more followed reluctantly...These nearly, make up the two hundred mentioned by Gibbon.—WENck.] + [Princeps Senatus This title onferred no real power, but was an honourable distinction since its assumption by Augustus, the word princeps has been used to denote supreme authority, and in a gradually more extended sense, has been adopted from the Latin into modern languages—WENck.] [It obtained this meaning at an early period, for Horace (lib. 4, Carm. 14) thus addressed Augustus:
O qua sol habitabiles
Illustratoras, maxime principum ! In the first ode of the second book, supposed to have been writ” “” years sooner, it seems to have a narrower range in “ principum amicitias."—ED.] + Dion Cassius, l. 53, p. 693. Sueo. August. c. 35. § [Åugustus, who had at that time only the name of Öctavius, had been appointed to the office of censo, which, by the republican constitution, empowered him to reform the senate. expel unworthy members, appoint the “ princeps senatus,” &c.; this was called “senatum legere.” In the time of the Republic it wo not unusual for a censor to name himself “chief of the senate." (See Livy, lib. 27, 1.11, and lib. 40, 1.51.) Dion Cassius affirms that this accorded with ancient usage (p. 496). The admission of a certain number of families into the order of patricians was authorized by an exposs decree of the senate, or senatus consultus. Bools or, rosváong are words of Dion. But it must be remembered that the sena” not the “legislative power.”—WENck.]
sity, and to a forced connexion with two unworthy colleagues: as long as Antony lived, the republic forbade him to abandon her to a degenerate Roman, and a barbarian queen. He was now at liberty to satisfy his duty and his inclination. He solemnly restored the senate and people to all their ancient rights; and wished only to mingle with the crowd of his fellow-citizens, and to share the blessings which he had obtained for his country.” It would require the pen of Tacitus (if Tacitus had assisted at this assembly) to describe the various emotions of the senate; those that were suppressed, and those that were affected. It was dangerous to trust the sincerity of Augustus; to seem to distrust it was still more dangerous. The respective advantages of monarchy and a republic have often divided speculative inquirers; the present greatness of the Roman state, the corruption of manners, and the licence of the soldiers, supplied new arguments to the advocates of Tonarchy; and these general views of government were again warped by the hopes and fears of each individual. Amidst this confusion of sentiments, the answer of the senate was unanimous and decisive. They refused to accept the resignation of Augustus; they conjured him not to desert the republic which he had saved. After a decent resistance, the crafty tyrant submitted to the orders of the senate, and consented to receive the government of the provinces, and the general command of the Roman armies, under the well-known names of proconsul and imperator.f But he would receive them only for ten years. Even before the expiration of that period, he hoped that the wounds of civil discord would be completely healed, and that the reublic, restored to its pristine health and vigour, would no onger require the dangerous interposition of so extraordinary a magistrate. The memory of this comedy, repeated several times during the life of Augustus, was preserved to the last ages of the empire, by the peculiar pomp with which * Dion (l.53, p. 698) gives us a prolix and bombast speech on this great occasion. I have borrowed from Suetonius and Tacitus the general language of Augustus. + Imperator (from which we have derived emperor) signified, under the republic, no more than general, and was emphatically bestowed by the soldiers, when on the field of battle they proclaimed their victorious leader worthy of that title. When the Roman emperors assumed it in that sense, they placed it after their name, and marked how often they had ** WOL. I.