Source: Introduction to The Political Works of Marcus Tullius Cicero: Comprising his Treatise on the Commonwealth; and his Treatise on the Laws. Translated from the original, with Dissertations and Notes in Two Volumes. By Francis Barham, Esq. (London: Edmund Spettigue, 1841-42). Vol. 1.
A REVIEW of the HISTORY OF CICERO’S COMMONWEALTH.
The celebrated treatise of Cicero, “De Republica;” or the Commonwealth, so highly extolled by ancient writers, and so diligently sought by the scholars of modern Europe, was at length rescued from the slumber of ages, by Angelus Maio, librarian of the Vatican, formerly of the Ambrosian library of Milan, and now raised to the dignity of a Roman cardinal.
In a palimpsest volume, containing a part of Augustin’s Commentary on the Psalms, this learned and ingenious person found that the prior writing, of much greater antiquity, had consisted of the long–lost books of Cicero, De Republica, which he wrote in his fifty–fourth year. Before this, nothing was known of “The Commonwealth,” save a few fragments which had been preserved in the writings of Macrobius, Lactantius, Augustin, Nonius, and others.
Maio published his recovered MSS. (containing the main part of “The Commonwealth,”) at Rome, in 1822. Steinacher published these fragments at Leipsic in 1823. Villemain translated and explained them in Paris, 1823. The work has also been translated at New York, in the United States, 1829; if we may trust the Cyclopædia Americana, by Mr. Featherstonhaugh.
“This work of Cicero, ‘De Republica,’ (say the Editors of the Cyclopœdia Metropolitana,) consisted of a series of Discussions, in six books, on the Origin and Principles of Government. Scipio being the principal speaker, while Lælius, Philus, Manlius, and other personages of like gravity, take part in the dialogue. Till lately, little more than a fragment of the sixth book was understood to be in existence, in which Scipio, under the the fiction of a dream, inculcates the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. In the earlier portion of the work, now recovered by Maio, Scipio discourses on the different kinds of constitutions, and their respective advantages, with a particular reference to that of Rome. In the third book, the subject of Justice is discussed by Lælius and Philus. In the fourth, Scipio treats of Morals and Education. In the fifth and sixth, the duties of Magistrates are explained, and the best means of preventing changes and revolutions in the constitution itself.”
“This (says the Cyclopædia Britannica) is, perhaps, the most valuable contribution which has been made to classical literature in modern times. And it is sufficient to immortalize the learned, sagacious, and indefatigable scholar to whom we are indebted for it; consisting, as it does, of no inconsiderable portion of that treatise which the contemporaries of the Roman orator and Statesman all agree in regarding as his masterpiece.”
It is no wonder, therefore, that the recovery of Cicero’s “Commonwealth” by Maio in 1822, made a most immense stir in the literary world. It was criticised and quoted by all the leading periodicals of Europe and America. Senators and lawyers instantly availed themselves of the long–lost, latefound treasure; and it diffused new light and energy through every department of political science.
It has now taken its eternal station among the grandest monuments of classical antiquity; and the reverence and admiration it commands are as great as ever, though the first excitement of its recovery may partially have subsided. It is time, therefore, to give it that fixed and extensive influence on the political studies of the British people, which it can only secure by a popular translation in their native language.
As Maio recovered the lost “Commonwealth” from a palimpsest parchment, it may be necessary to explain this word to the general reader. The word παλιμψηςτος, according to the Greek lexicographers, is derived from παλιν (again) and ψαω, or ψαιω, (to scrape.) Calepin, Ainsworth, and other Latin etymologists, finding the word palimpsest sometimes written palinxest, have chosen to derive it from Ω̄αλιν and ξεω (to rub.) Thus, Calepin defines it to be, “membrana abrasa et deletitia;” and Ainsworth, “a sort of paper or parchment used generally for writing things the first time, and foul, which might be wiped out, and new wrote in the same place.”
Cicero himself uses the word in this sense in a letter to the lawyer Thebatius, who had written to him on a sheet thus rubbed. “Your letter (says he) is excellent in all respects. As to your writing in palimpsest, I admire your economy; but I wonder what there could have been on this billet which you preferred rubbing out to not writing at all, unless it was one of your briefs. I hope you won’t thus obliterate my epistles to insert your own,” &c. Catullus and others use the word in the same sense.
M. Maio found the MS. of Cicero’s “Commonwealth,” written in large antique letters, on a palimpsest parchment, which had been partially erased and grated off by the monks, in order to insert the Commentaries of their favourite Augustine on David’s Psalms.
It was a matter of the greatest nicety and severest labour to recover the precious words of Cicero, for the superincumbent Commentary of the worthy father was written in very solid characters. Yet, by dint of critical acumen, almost unrivalled, and a most unflinching perseverance, this admirable scholar has rescued these glorious fragments of antiquity, and left them as an indefeasible inheritance to us and our children.
M. Maio has prefixed a very learned and masterly preface to his publication, in which he traces the history of Cicero’s Commonwealth from its early date, through the long and intricate periods of the middle ages. It is peculiarly interesting to observe the intense and eager search which the great heralds of European literature made for the lost Rpublic during this lapse of time. The search was not less anxious and universal than the fabulous inquiry of Isis for the mangled body of Osiris, or of Ceres for her ravished Proserpine, or of Orpheus for his vanished Euridice. But, alas! it was still more unavailing, and men of transcendant genius and scholarship laboured in vain for centuries to regain the eloquent treatise, which a happy chance has now thrown into our hands.
We shall, therefore, take the liberty of translating from Maio’s Latin preface those passages which best elucidate the history of this illustrious treatise. We believe this is their first appearance in a living language.
Of the authors that have noticed Cicero’s Commonwealth, from the Christian Era to the Seventh Century.
It is easy to believe that Cicero’s Commonwealth must have been received by the ancients with intense admiration, when we reflect on the fame of the author, the excellence of the subject, and splendour of the style. Cicero himself tells us, that this, his treatise, was read by Atticus with the utmost relish and satisfaction. Cælius also informed Cicero that these, his political works, were universal favourites. They must soon have attained a very extensive circulation, as is evident from the multitude of ancient authors who mention them. Suetonius eulogizes them in a distinct book. They were cited by Seneca, the elder Pliny, Fronto, Gellius, Macrobius, Eulogius, Servius, Philargyrius, Juvenal the Scholiast, Lampridius, Nonius, Charisius, Diomed, Victorinus, Nectarius, Jerome, Ambrosius, Boetius, Isidore, Priscian, and more particularly by Lactantius and Augustin, each of whom have quoted very splendid passages. Indeed, I believe it was from the title of Cicero’s work de Republica, that Augustine derived the conception of the noblest of his own compositions—de Civitate Dei. That Livy read the political writings of Cicero, cannot be questioned; and we may suspect the same of Dion Cassius, Arnobius, Amianus, Marcellinus, Apuleius, Cyprian, Tertullian, Aurelius, Victor Ampelius, and others. Whether the ancient grammarians wrote comments on this great work of Cicero, we know not; probably, Victorinus might have done so, as Schottus and Patricius fully persuaded themselves. Both these scholars rely on the authority of Jerome, who mentions the Comments of Victorinus on Cicero’s Dialogues, by which name these books may be understood. Nor was this work by any means unknown to the Greeks, though most of them, content with their own national literature, affected to despise that of Rome. Indeed, the Greeks possest so many political treatises in their own language, that they had little need to consult Cicero’s work on the subject, which was notoriously derived from the Platonic fountains. Didymus, however, thought it worth while to draw his bow against Cicero’s politics; but he was speedily refuted by Suetonius, as Amianus and Suidas inform us. Nor is this to be wondered at, since the politics of Plato were exposed to many antagonists even among the Greeks, as Zeno, Aristotle, and Athenæus. The judicious Quinctilian also has noticed Cicero’s politics. In a Vatican palimpsest there likewise exists a Greek political author, or rather some fragments of one. He is neither very ancient, nor very recent—the style of writing belongs to the tenth century—I will not be positive respecting his age. That politician whom Photius has noticed (cod. 37), so well agrees with the Vatican writer, that he appears to be the same man as the writer of the Justinian age, and perhaps may be that Petrus Protector so famed for his political learning. This Vatican Anonymous, whoever he may be, wrote some books, Ω̄ερι πολιτικης επιστημης (on political science). In the fifth book, which treats on the Art of Government (the same subject which occupied the fifth book of Cicero’s Commonwealth), he divides his discourse into several chapters, in one of which he institutes a comparison between the Platonic and the Ciceronian politics, and gives the palm to Cicero. Very fairly, therefore, did the learned Frenchman, Bernardi, who bestowed so much pains on Cicero’s Commonwealth, suspect that Photius’s anonymous Grecian devoted his attention to the imitation of Cicero’s politics. It fortunately happens that we are enabled to publish the fragments of both these works from the Vatican MSS.
On the authors who have noticed Cicero’s Commonwealth from the Seventh to the Twelfth Century.
After Isidore, that is, after the Christian writers of the seventh century, I know not that any one cites the Republic of Cicero earlier than Gerbert, the Frenchman, who, in the tenth century, from being a monk of Florence, an abbot of Bobio and Rheims, became archbishop of Ravenna, and at length, Pope of Rome in 999, under the title of Sylvester II. His learning was so extraordinary for the times in which he lived, as to bring on him an accusation of magic. He constructed spheres, observed the stars through tubes, invented a clock, and made hydraulic organs, on which he played with scientific skill. He also wrote a Latin poem on Music, and is supposed to have introduced the Arabic numerals, together with the game of chess, into Europe. In his 87th epistle, requesting Constantine, the schoolman, to visit him, he says, “Take care of yourself, and also of the writings of Cicero on the Commonwealth, those against Veres, and others, which the father of Roman eloquence wrote in defence of so many of his countrymen.” At that time, therefore, the political works of Cicero were considered extant, since Gerbert orders them to be brought to him without hesitation. But as the Vatican Codex of the Republic was brought to Rome from the Abbey of Bobio, founded by St. Colomban, then under the authority of Gerbert, who was passionately fond of collecting books, it is not too much to believe, that it was the identical Bobian Codex conveyed to Gerbert by Constantine; that there, in after times it was written over by the monks, and at length, after many ages, brought back to Rome, deposited in the Vatican library, and now fortunately discovered by myself. However this may be, we see John of Salisbury, in the 12th century, quoting passages in Cicero de Republica, which we now find only in our edition of it. That quotation especially respecting the poets is much longer in the Saresberian than in Augustin. And in another passage, though he might have taken the beginning of it from Macrobius, the subsequent sentences could only have been derived from the reading of the original. We need not wonder that John of Salisbury should have cited these books, since he lived only two centuries after Gerbert. And Lipsius has told us that he found many touches of the ancient purple in this monkish writer, and splendid fragments of a brighter age. In the same age, Peter of Blois states that he had read Cicero’s Commonwealth. Petrus Pictaviensis likewise quotes a passage from the same work; from which Barthius infers that Peter must have perused the Republic entire.
On the expectations of discovering Cicero’s Commonwealth in the subsequent Centuries.
In subsequent periods, two Greek writers, we allude to Panudes and Gaza, the first of whom flourished in the 15th century, the other somewhat later, translated Scipio’s Dream into the Greek language. But we need not suppose that these Greek interpreters possest the original MS. entire. For Scipio’s Dream, divided from the political portion of the work, occurs in many collections of MSS., besides appearing in the works of Macrobius. We may, therefore, affirm, that after the 12th century, the knowledge of the political writings of Cicero was confined to few, though a report of their existence was still prevalent.
Express mention is indeed made of the books of Cicero’s Commonwealth with other works of the same kind, which Francis Petrarch, under the order of Pope Clement VI., diligently examined at great labour and expence. We have Petrarch’s testimony to this point, in a very prolix epistle, which treats of Cicero’s writings. But his search for the Republic was unsuccessful; and he tells us that he despaired of ever finding it. He was equally unsuccessful in recovering the works of Varro, which he declares he perused when a boy. But to return. Leonard Aretino tells us that Cicero’s Republic was diligently sought for in the time of Pogius, who recovered so many ancient MSS. Writing to Pogius, in the year 1416, to congratulate him on the recovery of Quinctilian, he says, “There is no ancient work, with the exception of Cicero’s Republic, which I more eagerly desired to peruse. Pogius himself was most diligent in seeking for the lost Republic, at the instigation of Francis Barbaro and others. Writing to a friend, he says, that he had deceived himself in the expectation of finding the Republic, as the MS. he supposed to contain it, was nothing more than a copy of Macrobius, including Scipio’s Dream; but that he did not despair of its recovery, for a certain scholar had told him where it existed, and that he would go and hunt for it as soon as possible. As Cardinal Bessario is reported to have offered him a thousand guineas for the discovery of Cicero’s Republic, and as Pogius was a client of his, we must suppose that Bessario employed Pogius in this kind of literary investigation, in which no man was ever more successful.
John Leland, who edited some works of the British writers, relates a current report, that a copy of Cicero de Republica existed towards the end of the 15th century in the library of William Tilley, where it was destroyed by fire.
John Sturmius, in the year 1552, thus writes to Roger Ascham:—“A certain person in this neighbourhood has promised me the books of Cicero’s Commonwealth; I have sent to him six times. If he be but as good as his word, who will be happier than your humble servant? I shall assume all the senatorial gravity of the ancient discipline, if I can but get a sight of them. But as men are now–a–days, I fear ’tis a false report. If it be true, I will let you know, &c.”
Three years after this, Roger Ascham writes to Sturmius thus:—“Card. Pole asks me, whether I have ever seen Cicero’s Commonwealth. He tells me that he has sent a thousand guineas to a certain Polish gentleman, to seek for these books, which he had given him hopes of discovering. I immediately repeated him what you had told me respecting these books, and he requested me to write you again on the subject, that we may know the truth.”
Andreas Patricius, a Pole, in his preface to the fragments of “The Republic,” writes thus: “When I had inscribed these pages, and was silently reflecting on the loss of these inestimable books, my friend and patron, Philip Padnevius, Bishop of Cracow, informed me that he had heard from the late Albert Crisius, a very polite and learned gentleman, that he had seen the first four books of “The Republic” during his embassy to England, in the year 1557, in a certain monastery. On his return, he wished to purchase them and take them with him; but he was informed that the MSS. had unfortunately been stolen in the mean time.”
Peter Ramus, (a great admirer of Cicero,) who lost his life in the massacre of St. Bartholomew, thus expresses himself in the preface to Scipio’s dream: “Whether the six books of ‘The Commonwealth’ have perished, or whether they are kept under the seal of secrecy, as I hear by certain very religious gentlemen in the state, as the Sibylline oracles of old, I dare not affirm.”
Respecting the political works of Cicero, which some have sought in Sarmatia, wonderful things are reported by Bullartius, in his Life of John Zamoscias. He tells us that certain Polish noblemen, after the year 1576, retired from the siege of Pleskof into the interior provinces, and there found, among other monuments of antiquity, the books of Cicero’s “Commonwealth,” addressed to Atticus, written in golden letters. Walchius has either overlooked or despised this passage of Bullartius; for he says not a word on the subject. Bullartius would have more easily persuaded us to receive his report, if he had told us that Greek MSS. were to be found in these regions; for no Latin monuments appear to exist there.
Since M. Mai wrote this notice, Professor Gustavus Munnich, in Cracow, gives an account of the Sarmatian copy of Cicero de Republica, which in 1581 was in possession of a Valhynian nobleman, and has since disappeared. Munnich’s work is entitled “Ciceronis libri de Republica. Notit. Codicis Sarmat. Gottingen, 1825.” According to him, Gozliski used this copy in his work “De perfecto Senatore.” It is true that Gozliski’s “Accomplished Senator” is written according to the Ciceronian scheme of policy; but after a careful perusal we do not find any thing like plagiarism from Cicero’s “Republic.”
In the seventeenth century, continues M. Mai, Caspar Barthius writes thus: ‘I recollect the testimony of a brave man and a learned document, which prove that the books of Cicero’s “Commonwealth,” existed in Germany a few years ago.’ ‘Near the city of Brunswick,’ says J. H. Meibomius, ‘in Saxony, is the Rittershusian monastery, which contained an extensive library. Among the MSS. was one comprising “The Republic.” But this sanctuary of learning has been violated by common soldiers, and other ignoramuses, who have destroyed those treasures of literature which no lapse of ages can repair.”
The same Barthius is said to have told Daumius, that before the thirty years’ war, there existed, in the library of Fulda, in some parchment volumes, the books of Cicero’s “Commonwealth;” but that the violence of the soldiers had destroyed many of these literary treasures.
Such are the words of M. Mai, in relating the history of Cicero’s “Republic,” up to the happy period when he had the good fortune to discover and to decipher the palimpsest MSS. which contained this invaluable composition, in 1822.
In order to carry on the history of this treatise, and to illustrate some of the most important doctrines which it unfolds, we cannot do better than translate the admirable discourse which M. Villemain prefixed to his French Version in 1823. This Discourse is the more important as it embodied the best information on the subject, and as it exercised a very decided influence on the politics of Europe and America.
“Of all the ancient monuments (says M. Villemain) of Latin literature, there were few whose loss occasioned more regrets than the Dialogues of Cicero de Republica. There were few whose discovery could have more profoundly excited the attention of cultivated men, and the curiosity of the public. The great portions which are still deficient in the historic masterpieces of Sallust, Livy, and Tacitus, could scarcely awaken a keener interest.
But the extent of these losses has deprived us of all hope of their recovery. We cannot suppose that the ingenious process which gives to the literary world the MS. which we now publish, will ever be successful enough to restore the vast fragments of these famous historians, and this process is unhappily the only means of communication which remains to that antiquity which is closed against us by death and time. Every other plan is impracticable and desperate. The cinders of Herculaneum are steril as the grave. These treasures of the human mind, which fire seems to have conserved by consuming—these MSS., calcined by flame, in which we still trace letters and words, and which at first excited so many hopes, have in reality satisfied none. They are so delicate, that we destroy them by a touch. For more than thirty years, with incessant toil and diversified talent, we have only derived from a considerable number of MSS. a few mutilated pages of a Treatise on Music, and some Observations on the philosophy of Epicurus. Within a recent date, chemistry, the most analytical and inventive, has exhausted all its efforts to unfold some of these rolls of Herculaneum, and to separate the pages which now form a black and compact mass, externally sprinkled with written characters. The celebrated Sir H. Davy, author of this last test, has scarcely been more successful than his predecessors. He has, according to his own avowal, melted many of these blocks without being able to extract any useful result. And science remains mute and discouraged before this fruitless depository and inheritance which she cannot enjoy.
Be this as it will; an Italian scholar, M. Angelo Mai, possessed by that love of antiquity which has produced so many prodigies of patience, turned his attention to another source of discoveries, from which he has derived treasures that are invaluable to science, and to which we are now indebted for Cicero’s Treatise on the Commonwealth.
Learned men had long remarked, that in the ignorance and penury of the middle ages, they not unfrequently grated the ancient parchment MSS. in order to inscribe them with copies of fresh works, more agreeable to the taste of the time, and which for the most part were preserved by the same preference which had transcribed them.
One of the most learned men in Europe, Father Montfaucon, made this observation, and apparently tried it on a great number of ancient MSS. Let us hear him explain himself, with that candour of erudition at once so respectable and so fascinating. We quote a part of a Dissertation on the Discovery and Use of Cotton Paper.
‘The use of cotton paper (says he) came in very conveniently, at a time when there existed a great dearth of parchment, which has occasioned us the loss of many ancient authors, in the following way. In the twelfth century, the Greeks, plunged in ignorance, bethought them of grating or scraping the writings of ancient MSS. on parchment, and of obliterating their traces, as far as they could, in order to inscribe them with the books of the church. It was thus, to the infinite prejudice of the literary world, Polybius, Dion, Diodorus Siculus, and other authors of whom we retain only fragments, were metamorphosed into triodons, pentecostaries, homilies, and other ecclesiastical books. After an exact search, I can certify, that of the books written on parchment since the twelfth century, the main part are palimpsests, whose ancient writings have been obliterated. But as all the copyists were not equally skilful in thus effacing the primitive authors, we find some in which we can read at least a part of what they intended to erase.’ (Memoires de l’Academie des Inscriptions, vol. vi. p. 606.)
If this same fact happened in the East, where barbarism was never so absolute, and at Constantinople, where there always existed so much bad literature, this miserable resource was adopted far more frequently in the Roman empire, which, so often overwhelmed by barbarians, was left in the sixth century, almost destitute of industry, and plunged in the grossest ignorance. It was about this time that, in the Italian monasteries, the only inviolable asylums where faithful librarians preserved the ancient MSS., they too often resolved to grate these precious parchments, in order to cover them with some new writing. These Latin copyists were often as fortunately imperfect in their craft of grating as those of Greece; but scholars have neglected, till recent times, to examine these double MSS., which remained unnoticed in the libraries.
The learned Angelo Maio, keeper of the Ambrosian library, was one of the first who set himself to examine these literary relics, and to recover those fragments of ancient genius in these neglected MSS., which he has published to Europe, under the designation of palimpsests.
It was thus that in 1814 he discovered and published fragments of the three discourses of Cicero, which lay buried under the verses of Sedulius, a Latin poet of the Middle Ages. I will not attempt to express the transports which this learned scholar must have felt at the moment of the glorious achievement, when, in these old parchments, preserved in a corner of the library of Milan, he beheld, between the barbarous lines of a versifier of the sixth century, the names and the phrases which revealed to him a work of Cicero. It was one of those philosophic yet intense gratifications which had been lost since the fifteenth age, and which we had so little prospect of regaining.
This authentic and incontestible discovery encouraged the patient researches of M. Mai. After some time, an immense MS. of the seventh century, which contained the voluminous acts of the council of Calcedon, presented him on its parchment leaves traces of a preceding writing. These leaves were in fact the collected shreds of many ancient MSS.; and the learned investigator recovered from them new fragments of Cicero, with an ancient commentary, long passages of Symmachus, a celebrated orator of the fourth century, the Greek and Latin epistles of Fronto, an orator equally admired at the decline of the Empire, and finally, some Latin letters of Marcus Aurelius. M. Mai successively published these precious relics; and in 1817 joined thereto the fragments of a very ancient commentary on Virgil, which he had found in a recovered MS. of St. Gregory’s Homilies.
It is easy to conceive that this new method of recovery must, from its very nature, leave many lacunes and gaps, many breakages and damages in the relics thus singularly rescued from destroying time. We observe, likewise, that the application of this process is exposed to hazards which are not all equally propitious. The pumice or grater of the copyist was sometimes exercised on masterpieces, sometimes on inferior works; sometimes it has happened to these palimpsests, as to human prejudices, which overwhelm and obliterate each other, without leaving truth the better or the worse for the change. The sixth age effaced the blunders of the fifth, only to transcribe its own; and thus the foundation and the superstructure were equally worthless.
But M. Mai, and we render homage to his erudite candour, has collected with the same critical accuracy and enthusiasm all the first traces of the characters he could discover under the subsequent writing. He has published the sophistical antitheses and nugacities of Fronto and Symmachus with as religious a scrupulosity as that he now exerts in commenting on Cicero’s Commonwealth, discovered by the same method, and an accident still more fortunate.
This literary devotion, so respectable and so necessary in long and patient investigations, is an additional proof of the perfect sincerity of the learned editor. But here our proofs are superabundant, and doubt on one side is as impossible as fiction on the other. M. Mai, summoned to be librarian of the Vatican at Rome, on account of his earlier labours, and applauded by all the scholars of Europe, made new researches in this unrivalled library. ’Twas there he had the good fortune to discover a MS. formed of the disconnected and half effaced pages of Cicero’s Dialogue, De Republica, which, in the sixth century, or later, had been overlined by a new writing, containing the Commentaries of St. Augustin on the Psalms.
On this MS. M. Mai laboured, beneath the scrutiny of all the scholars of Italy. These precious pages he transcribed literally, without addition, noting the lacunes and gaps with a mournful exactness, preserving the antique orthography, and indicating by italics the least conjectural criticism he was obliged to insert to supply a letter or word irreparably obliterated.
It is sufficient to cast a glance over the learned and ingenuous account of his labours in this respect, to be convinced of the authenticity of his publication, so substantially, we might say judicially, evinced. But among men of taste this is still more strikingly proved by the grand characteristics of patriotic elevation, genius, and eloquence, which distinguish the writings we translate. This kind of moral proof, far more agreeable to the reader than dissertations on the orthography of old words, or on the probable dimensions of letters and points, will naturally conduct us to some details respecting this work of Cicero; the period when this great man composed it; the idea he entertained of it, and expressed in his other writings; the character of the few fragments which had been preserved in a detached form, and their relation to the new discovery of the actual treatise. Lastly, by the aid of this discovery, let us examine the contents of this celebrated treatise, hitherto so imperfectly known, and notice the nature and origin of the doctrines it unfolds, and the passages of political history it illustrates.
In accomplishing a design too arduous for our weakness, we shall be at least consoled by the ever present contemplation of the thoughts of a great man — a fruitful source of intellectual aggrandizement, a noble pleasure, which elevates the understanding, and enables it to enjoy what it cannot rival.
Although time had handed down but few fragments of this celebrated treatise, posterity conceived a high idea of the treasure it had lost, being well aware of the value Cicero himself set upon it, in his letters and in his other works; for there is none of his writings to which he makes more frequent allusion, or of which he speaks with more predilection and joy. We observe by his letters to Atticus, that he began it in the fifty–second year of his age, some time after his banishment, and at a period when, without having resumed his influence, he was occupied in political and juridical studies. Thus, it was not like most of his philosophic treatises — a kind of refuge which he sought in his misfortune and exhaustion. But he devoted the full energy of his agitated life to express these thoughts on the first objects of his ambition and love — policy and patriotism; and this fact explains the very decided and practical character he has given to the present work, if we compare it with the speculative Commonwealth of Plato.
He prepared for its composition by studying the laws and antiquities of the Roman state, and consulted for this purpose the works and the library of the learned Varro, the friend of Atticus. He determined to give his treatise the form of a dialogue, in which Scipio, Æmilianus, and Lœlius were to be the principal interlocutors. He indicates this plan of construction in his letter to Atticus, mentioning his wish to dedicate to Varro one of the prologues which he designed to prefix to each of his six books.
“May I be able to accomplish it (he adds); for I have undertaken a very important and difficult task, and one which demands a great deal of leisure—the very thing in which I am most deficient.”
This same year, during his residence at Cuma, he employed himself in writing this treatise, which he always describes as an arduous and laborious undertaking. “But (says he), if I succeed in making it what I wish, it will be labour well spent; if not, I shall throw it into the sea, which is under my eye while I write it, and I shall commence something else, for I cannot remain idle.” (Scribebam sane illa quæ dixeram Ω̄ολιτικα, spissum sane opus et operosum; sed si ex sententia successerit, bene erit opera posita; sin minus, in illud ipsum dijiciemus mare quod scribentes spectamus, et alia aggrediemur, quoniam quiescere non possumus.”—Ad. Quin. 2. 14.)
Another letter of Cicero to Quintus, dated the same year (b.c. 53), is entirely occupied with this important work, which had made some progress. We shall take care not to break and mangle the valuable details which this letter affords us, which at once declares the author and the great man.
“You ask me (says Cicero), how I am getting on with the work which I undertook to write during my stay at Cuma. I have not relinquished it, nor do I mean to do so; but I have more than once changed my whole plan of composition, and the arrangement of my ideas. I had finished two books, in which, assuming for my epoch the nine days of feasts under the consulate of Tuditanus and Aquilius, I introduced a dialogue between Scipio Africanus, Lœlius, Philus, Manilius, Tubero, Fannius, and Scævola, both sons–in–law of Lœlius. The conversation was altogether respecting the best form of government, and the characteristics of the true citizen; being divided into nine days and nine chapters. The construction of the work advanced propitiously, and the dignity of the personages lent weight to the discourse. But when I had read these two first books at Tusculum, in the presence of Sallust, he told me it was possible to give the style still greater authority, if I spoke in my own person, not being a Heraclitus of Pontus, but a consul, and a man who had taken a part in the greatest affairs of state; that all I attributed to personages so ancient would appear fictitious; that in my book, in which I had discussed the art of oratory, if I had with a good grace avoided introducing in proprià personà any rhetorical illustrations, I had put them in the mouths of gentlemen, I might at least have seen; and finally, that Aristotle himself, in all that he has written on government, and on the qualities of a great man, speaks in his own name. This remark struck me the more forcibly, because, by my plan, I had barred myself from discussing the greatest events of our country, since they are of a much later date than the ages of my personages. In truth, this was the very thing I wished from the first to avoid, lest in describing our times, I should offend our cotemporaries. I desire altogether to escape this danger, and to adopt the form of a dialogue with you. However, if I come to Rome, I will send you what I first wrote; for you may well conceive that I cannot abandon these first books without some annoyance.”
This confidential detail explains to us all the regret which Cicero must have felt in finding his long labour disappointed; and this regret sufficiently manifests the reason why, in spite of these changes of opinion, he resumed his first design, continued the dialogue as he had commenced it, and hastened to finish it with that rapidity which he always combined with discrimination, and which in a life so laborious, and a mind so agitated and restless, appears to have been one of the most remarkable properties of Cicero’s genius. But he took care to limit his treatise to six books.
It was, therefore, under this form that the work was published a little while after the period when Cicero was so eagerly engaged in its composition. It appears that this was given to the world just before his departure for Celicia, in the fifty–fourth year of his age, a. u. 701. Soon after this event, the most talented of all the eminent men, whose letters are found mingled with those of Cicero, we mean Cælius, who constantly wrote him the news of Rome during this period, finishes his first epistle, full of the intrigues of the senate and the forum, in these words: Tui libri politici omnibus vigent. Your political treatise is universally read and much admired. “This (says Middleton) alludes to his Treatise on the Commonwealth, which was drawn up in the form of dialogue, in which the greatest persons of the Republic were introduced. From the fragments of this work, which still remain, it appears to have been a noble performance, and one of his capital pieces, where all the important questions of politics and morality were discussed with the greatest elegance and accuracy.”—(Mid. Life of Cicero.)
At the same epoch, Cicero speaks of them to Atticus, whom he supposes occupied in their perusal, and from whom he requests some political advices relative to the situation of the State. In another letter to his friend, written in the middle of his government, he mentions these six books of the Commonwealth as a recent publication, in which he had bound himself by the strongest engagements to justice and purity in his administration. This was the motive he opposed to the wishes of Atticus, who urged him to favour those measures of rigour and exaction which Brutus had exercised against the city of Salamis, of which he was treasurer. After having described the injustice of such conduct, and his resolution not to foster such corruptions, Cicero adds:—“Let those complain of me who will, I shall resign myself, if justice is on my side, especially since I have bound myself with my six books, as so many sureties which I am delighted to find have obtained your approbation. (Irascatur qui volet, patior, το γαρ ευ μετ εμου, presertim cum sex libris tanquam prædibus me ipsum obstinxerim, quos tibi tam valde probari gaudeo.”—Ad Att. 6. 1.)
How fascinating is the naiveté and ingenuousness of so great a man—Admirable Cicero! in whom vanity itself was turned to the advantage of truth and virtue. Oh that all men in authority and power had thus composed treatises, by which they might be bound to good conduct, and invincibly compelled to justice and moderation.
The idea of his work on the Commonwealth was present to Cicero during the whole epoch of his government in Cilicia, which was in the avaricious tyranny of the Romans a splendid exception, an almost unique example of disinterested equity. This idea enabled him to resist the solicitation and the authority of Brutus—it made him rejoice in the honours which were decreed him by the gratitude of the people he governed—it guided and regulated all his actions. (Reliqua plena adhuc laudis et gratiæ, digna iis libris quos tu dilaudas, conservatæ civitates, cumulate publicis satisfactum offensus contumeliâ nemo.—Ad Att. 6. 3.
When Cicero, after an administration of eighteen months, during which he had changed the condition of his province, and gained a battle, wished to obtain the honours of a triumph, amid the congratulations of his public services, the memory of the principles maintained in his Commonwealth still commanded his attention. He had probably announced in this work that the true citizen ought to serve his country for its own sake, and without regard to honours and dignities; and in this point, the rigorous practice he had recommended, was, perhaps, above his own efforts. Thus, in this embarrassment, satisfied in himself respecting his conduct, scrupulous of indulging the vanity of a triumph, yet not possessing resolution enough to renounce this hope, he writes to his friend with that involuntary candour which so exactly delineates the man:—“If this idea of a triumph had not taken possession of me, which also meets your approbation, you would not have to seek very far for the man I have described in my sixth book. But how can I excuse myself to you who have studied my words so diligently?”—(Ad Att. 7. 3.)
Many other passages in Cicero’s letters recall this cherished work, and reply to the observations of Atticus, who acted the part of a useful and learned critic to his friend. In one of these he combats the reproach of having made Scipio say, incorrectly, that Flavius was the first who published the judicial terms and returns. And he justifies himself with the same ease from another fault, perhaps less innocent, of having ridiculed the theatrical gestures of a certain orator who, doubtless, is no other than the celebrated Hortensius. On two other occasions in his letters, he speaks of his Commonwealth: in one he discusses, with a scrupulosity which appears more worthy of a modern academician than an ancient orator, the manner in which he had used, without a preposition, the word Pyrea, the name of the Athenian poet: in another, to correct a vicious orthography which he had given to the name of a people, and to request Atticus to mark the variation in his copy. The reader will pardon these minutiæ for the same curiosity which induces us to read in Voltaire’s correspondence the inquietudes and distresses of this great writer, on account of a word erroneously printed, or a verse incorrectly recited on the stage.
We would remark, that the epoch which Cicero so carefully occupied in composing this work consecrated to the free institutions of his country, was precisely that which was overwhelming its laws and liberties under Cæsar’s arms. In fact, it was on his return from Cilicia, that Cicero, to use his own expression, saw the Constitution falling into the flames of civil war. Cicero followed Pompey without approving him, or trusting him; and soon he felt the mortification of not finding in this defender of the Roman Constitution the qualities he required of a statesman, in his book on the Commonwealth. For this memorial naturally presented itself to his mind; and he could not help, in writing to Atticus, quoting one passage of it, in which he had made Scipio speak, and which at that season served only to show him all the defects of Pompey.
After Cæsar’s victory, although Cicero, at first retiring from the Senate and the Bar, sought in philosophic studies a peaceful and unsuspicious employment, he did not forget in the works he composed during this melancholy period, that treatise on the Commonwealth, he had so lately written in happier days and brighter hopes. He especially cites it, and refers his reader to it in his Dialogue on Laws (de Legibus), which he appears to have composed as a supplement, and a natural continuation of his former work. In his treatise on Moral Duties, written after Cæsar’s death, at a period when tyranny threatened to survive the immolated Dictator, Cicero again recalls his Dialogue on the Commonwealth, as an immortal Protest against Cæsar, Antony, and their successors. Lastly, in his ingenious, but sceptical treatise on Divination, he speaks of the service he had rendered to the sciences, and enumerates his philosophic writings—“To all these (says he) I must add my six books on the Commonwealth, which I wrote at a period when I held the helm of the state”—a memorial of ambition and glory which he could not forget, and whose loss even his philosophy could not atone.
In collecting from Cicero himself these frequent references, it appears that the book he loved so often to cite, was a kind of Political Testament, in which he flattered himself with having retraced, and fixed for the future, the image of the Constitution to which he devoted his life.
It is needless, therefore, to enquire why this work is no where mentioned in the monuments which remain of the literature of the age of Agustus. We know that the writers of this epoch, with the exception of Livy, feared even to name Cicero, whose glory was so recent, and so severely reproached the crimes of the Triumvirate. Plutarch tells us that one day Augustus found in the hands of one of his nephews, a book which the young man endeavoured to conceal under his robe; the emperor seized it and beheld a work of Cicero. After having perused the greatest part of it standing, he returned it, and added, “This was a wise man, my child, a wise man, and one that loved his country well.” Whatever might have been the unexpected toleration of the emperor on this occasion, we suspect that the book he so generously pardoned, was not the treatise on the Commonwealth.
After the crafty usurpation of Augustus had given rise to the tyranny of Tiberius and the insane despotism of so many monsters, we may easily believe that it was forbidden to praise this work of Cicero, and that they discarded this glorious memorial of ancient Rome, with the same anxiety with which they prescribed the images of the heroes of the Republic. When the senate condemned to death the historian Cremutius Cordus, for having recounted the actions of the great men who were Cicero’s contemporaries, we may suppose that the book in which their maxims were deposited, was not to be celebrated with impunity. Seneca, the feeble defender and martyr of liberty in the court of Nero, cites at some length this work of Cicero, on account of some historical curiosities,—“When (says he) a philologian, a grammarian, and a philosopher lay hands on Cicero’s Commonwealth, each examines it for topics according to his own taste.” Seneca, in this enumeration, forgets those who only examine books in order to fathom the depths of their subjects, Quintilian never mentions the Commonwealth; he praises Domitian. Pliny, the younger, who lived in better and freer times, even Pliny, so full of allusions to ancient literature, and so great an admirer of Cicero’s writing, never ventures to cite these famous dialogues. Pliny, the naturalist, who, in a single work, has given an inventory of all the learning of antiquity, has cited this work of Cicero twice only, and in a style of expression devoid of interest.
Tacitus, in what remains of his writings, comprising the Dialogue of Orators, has never mentioned Cicero’s Commonwealth; and he had little occasion to do so. But we cannot doubt that his great mind was penetrated by reading these political compositions. One passage in his annals, which we shall hereafter notice, shows that he had well considered one of the principal ideas and one of the brightest hopes which Cicero has expressed in his work. We will search no further among the writers of the two first ages of the empire; we should find but few traces of the admiration which attached itself to the finest composition of Cicero; but we may well believe that in secret this work nourished the virtue of Thraseas and Helvidius, and the great men whose heroic deaths have been recorded in history.
Two centuries later, it is noticed in a very curious and interesting manner in the Life of Alexander Severus, by Lampridius. We know that this Alexander, successor to the abominable Heliogabalus, was one of the most virtuous princes that ever rejoiced the earth. He died in his 29th year, assassinated by the soldiers, who could not brook the discipline he had established, and the equal justice with which he enforced it. After having delineated his noble qualities, and his efforts to surmount the vice of absolute power and military dictatorship, the historian adds these remarkable words:—
“After he had overcome the labours of government and war, Alexander devoted his principal attention to Greek literature, studying above all, the books of Plato’s Commonwealth. In Latin, the works he most assiduously perused were the Offices and the Commonwealth of Cicero.”
This same Alexander had in his library the Consecrated Statues of Cicero and Virgil, whom he called the Plato of Poetry. This kind of philosophic and literary idolatry, which, in some elevated and enthusiastic spirits, was substituted for the old fables of polytheism, was little capable of gaining the multitude, and influencing beneficially the manners and destinies of the people. The refined ideas of eternal and immutable justice, of moral duty, and pure reason and liberty, on which the policy and philosophy of Cicero were founded, became every day more enfeebled and effaced in a world almost brutalized by slavery and ignorance. Literature herself could no longer recal them — she was then nothing better than the insipid learning of the sophist and the scholiast. To comment on the real principles of the ancients was altogether above the degradation of that unhappy age, in which nothing past current but expositions of words and phrases. Thus a great number of terms and idioms employed by Cicero in his Commonwealth were preserved as grammatical citations in many profane writers of the fourth and fifth centuries, while his thoughts were utterly neglected.
But, while Pagan civilization, sterile and exhausted, forgot its own history and traditions, and beheld in the philosophic master–pieces of ancient eloquence no more than dead letters, signs, and forms; the Christian church, which had grown strong under persecution, extended a bolder investigation to these venerable compositions — interrogated them, criticised them, and compared them with the sacred depositories of revealed religion. Thus examining all questions, and interdicting no truths, seeking on all sides for arguments against oppression and injustice, she replenished her admirable advocates with the sublime fragments of eloquence derived from those sages who had no longer in Paganism either interpreters or disciples.
Under this point of view, it becomes an object of interest to search in the writers of both religions those passages which they have preserved of Cicero’s Commonwealth. Let us examine not only the grammarian Diomed or Nonius, author of a treatise on the “Propriety of Expressions;” let us also consult the learned collections of Aulus Gellius, and the fragments of the orator Fronto, in which we find the Commonwealth cited to support a peculiar signification of the verb superesse, or of the verb gratificari; and learn that Cicero, in this immortal work, had used an ellipsis or a metaphor with very remarkable nicety.
But when we peruse Lactantius, or Augustine, and investigate that Christian literature, as new and exuberant as the virtues it announced to the world, we find Cicero’s Commonwealth often quoted in the most philosophic and sublime reasonings. There we find, exactly transcribed, and sometimes confirmed or combatted with the utmost eloquence, those passages of the Treatise on the Commonwealth which were almost all we possessed of it till a recent period, but which were enough to give us the highest idea of the original. Lactantius quotes one of those beautiful fragments translated from Plato, which Cicero frequently inserted in his work:—it is a comparison between the just man condemned, and the guilty triumphant. No doubt such illustrations of truth must have been eagerly seized on by the early Christians.
“Suppose (says he) two men, one the best of mortals, of perfect equity and inviolable faith, the other distinguished for audacious villainy. Suppose that the mistaken crowd had arrested this virtuous man for a culprit, and had assented that the wretch on the other side was full of honour and probity. In consequence of this universal opinion, the virtuous man may be tormented, and have his limbs mutilated, and his eyes plucked out; he may be condemned, loaded with fetters, and tortured in flames; he may be rejected by his country, and die of hunger—and in the end, appear to all the most miserable of men, and the most justly miserable. The real offender, on the contrary, may be overwhelmed with homage and congratulation; he may be loved by all the world, and honours, riches, dignities, and all kinds of gratifications may be most profusely lavished on him — he may be, in short, in the estimation of all the world, the most meritorious of men and the most worthy of all possible prosperity. Yet, is there any one blind enough to hesitate in his choice between these two destinies?”—(Lact. Inst.)
The reflection of Lactantius on this passage is fine, and worthy of notice:—“In making this supposition (says he) it seems as if Cicero had foreseen the evils that would befal us, and forewarned us how to bear them for the sake of justice.”
When St. Augustin was engaged against the celebrated heresiarch Pelagius, in a theological controversy on the nature and the fall of man, he also invokes Cicero, and cites this beautiful passage, which Pascal has so eloquently developed:—
“Nature, less like a mother than a step–dame, has cast man into life, with a body naked, frail, and feeble, and a soul which inquietude agitates, and fear depresses, and fatigue exhausts, and passion consumes; and yet there dwells within us, though half extinguished, a certain divine sparkle of intelligence and genius.”
It is thus that Augustin, who in his City of God—a work evidently formed on the idea of Cicero’s Commonwealth—has preserved as one of the arguments which the Roman orator has given for his opinions on the origin and nature of moral powers, this noble principle of the sovereignty of justice, anterior to all the sovereignty of man or human force.
“The public interest (says he) is really the interest of the people, whenever it is regulated in wisdom and justice, either by a king, or by a certain number of nobles, or by the entire people. But when the king becomes corrupt—that is to say, tyrannous; and aristocrats unjust, transforming their alliance into a faction—or the people unjust, violent, headstrong, and overbearing—then, the Commonwealth is not merely corrupted, but extinguished; for it is no longer the interest of the whole people, when it falls into the power of a tyrant or a faction. And the people itself is no longer the people, when it becomes unjust, since it is then no longer a community formed under the sanction of right, and associated by the bond of common utility.”—(August. Civ. Div.)
In another place, Lactantius, who protests against the barbarous decrees by which the despotism of the emperors had crushed the resistance of the primitive Christians, borrows from Cicero, and transmits to posterity, these beautiful words, extracted from the third book of the Commonwealth:—
“There exists one true law, one right reason—conformable to nature, universal, immutable, eternal — whose commands enjoin virtue, and whose prohibitions banish evil. Whatever she orders, whatever she forbids, her words are neither impotent among good men, nor are they potent among the wicked. This law cannot be contradicted by any other law properly so called, nor be violated in any part, nor be abrogated altogether. Neither the senate nor the people can deliver us from obedience to this law. She has no need of new interpreters, or new instruments. She is not one thing at Rome, another at Athens—she is not one thing to–day, and another to–morrow; but in all nations, and in all times, this law must reign always self–consistent, immortal, and imperishable. The Sovereign of the Universe, the King of all creatures, God himself, has given birth, sanction, and publicity to this illimitable law, which man cannot transgress without counteracting himself—without abjuring his own nature; and by this alone, without subjecting himself to the severest expiations, can he always avoid what is called suffering.”
O sublime words! precious and indestructible relics of that primitive revelation which illumined the world—Antique tradition of the Deity, obscurely preserved by the most illustrious sages, too soon overcast by the gross errors of polytheism, and at length restored to mankind by that Christianity which lends to the truth of nature the sanction of heaven.
To these noble fragments, which thus passed from the works of Cicero into those of the early defenders of Christianity, we must add a passage more generally known, for whose preservation we are indebted to a Platonic philosopher. We allude to Scipio’s Dream—an admirable episode in the treatise on the Commonwealth—a sublime fiction, in which Cicero puts into the mouth of a great man the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, in order to give the confirmation of this glorious truth to all earthly laws and institutions. Macrobius, who in the beginning of the fifth century transcribed this fragment, and commented on it, was, like almost all the Latin literati of the period, much occupied in philological curiosities, and a stranger to the inspiring truths of Christianity, whose name he does not mention. But being a Greek by extraction, though he wrote in Latin, he had a taste for that kind of theosophy—that compound of abstraction and illuminism, by which Greece nourished her ancient mythologies, and sought to revive them. What interested him most, and what he developed in his Commentary, are certain chimerical reasonings on those Pythagorean ideas to which Cicero had alluded in passages of Scipio’s Dream, in order to lend to the fundamental truths of his argument a more mysterious and solemn character. Cicero, opening heaven to the eyes of his hero, had named some of the constellations. His commentator makes on this subject an astronomical disquisition, which he adorns with those singular reveries respecting the numbers, by which the ancients mingled transcendental metaphysics with judicious geometry. But we must not be the less grateful to Macrobius, for having quoted in his writings this admirable episode of the work, which time concealed so many ages from our perusal.
During the ignorance of the middle age, Macrobius was preserved, and Cicero’s original was lost. It is but very rarely alluded to by writers since the fifth century. We may, however, conjecture from a passage in Photius, that the Greeks of Byzantium, among whom barbarism was not so far advanced, had some knowledge of this precious monument.
“I have read (says Photius in his Bibliotheca,) a work on politics, in which are introduced two persons conversing, the patrician Menas and Thomas the referendary. This work contains six books, and presents a new form of political society, different from all the ideas entertained by the ancients, which is called the government of justice. As to the essence of this new government, it is composed, according to these two interlocutors, of royalty, aristocracy, and democracy. The reunion of each of these elements, taken in its purity, ought to form the best political constitution.”
What was this work? Photius deceived himself in supposing that the idea of a mixed government was new, and unknown to the ancients; we shall find it in an epoch very far anterior even to the age of Cicero. But at all events, this idea, which surprized Photius, could not have taken its rise under the debasing despotism of the Greek emperors; and in the midst of the theologic controversies, which had in the East already so much degraded the sublimity of Christianity. Would a Greek, living in Constantinople, and in the eighth century, have imagined this form of government, whose model nothing in his experience could furnish? It is, therefore, most likely that this work, in six books, was some incomplete version, or some clumsy abridgement of Cicero’s Commonwealth, in which the imitator, a stranger to the Roman manners and traditions, thought proper to change the names of the personages, without, perhaps, being conscious how much Scipio Africanus was a more interesting interlocutor than Thomas the referendary.
However this may be, there only remains of this Greek work, the brief analysis of Photius; and when at the first revival of letters in Europe, men were occupied in searching for the monuments of antiquity, the dialogue of the Commonwealth was not to be found in any language. Succeeding ages did not appear more successful with regard to this subject; and even in our own age, till the authentic discovery of the book now presented to the public, there were only known of this work the beautiful fragments above cited, Scipio’s Dream, some phrases, some demiphrases, and many terms and words scattered throughout the grammarians and the scholiasts of the middle age.
We know that these fragments, of which the collection formed only twenty pages, have yet inspired a learned scholar with the idea of recomposing the work of Cicero, by gathering from all the treatises of this great man, the thoughts and expressions which related to government and politics. But it may, without difficulty, be conceived, that this plan, even under the most dexterous management, carrying with it as an inevitable condition the amalgamation of the most discordant elements, could not give an idea of the original work. Cicero did not write a familiar epistle, a political letter, an harangue, and a philosophic treatise in the same style. Only think of the singular assortment which would result from a work formed of extracts, in which the same matter was treated in phrases borrowed here and there from the different productions of a writer, eminently skilful in varying his language, according to the occasion, and in adapting it to the different orders of composition. In this point of view, it is possible to conceive that nothing could be less Ciceronian than a work thus compounded from the phrases of Cicero. But without applying this test to the ingenious work of the learned M. Bernardi, we shall only remark, that this use of the then known elements of Cicero’s politics, could have no resemblance to the discovery of M. Angelo Mai, who now presents us from an original MS., the very text of the original dialogue in its primitive form, and, therefore, a collection of thoughts and expressions which Cicero had reserved for this work, and which no other writing of this great man could furnish or supply.
Unfortunately this MS., whose authority cannot be doubted, still presents numerous lacunes and gaps, and the state of laceration in which it has been given to us, the destroyed pages, the incomplete phrases, the interrupted sentences, all attesting the religious fidelity of the editor, diminish the interest of this precious monument, and occasionally obscure its meaning. However, the grand divisions still subsist, the succession of ideas and arguments is evident, the development ample; some of the books are preserved almost entire, and the discovery is entitled to our admiration, incomplete as it is.
From the present publication, the public may therefore judge with confidence if Cicero’s Commonwealth was worthy of so many eulogies and so many regrets. We may also, by the aid of this new discovery, form a more exact idea of the state of political science among the ancients, and, perhaps, throw some new light on the constitution of the Roman state, which the researches of so many scholars have still left obscure and dubious.
Let us endeavour to examine these interesting questions, by ascending to the source from whence the Romans, and particularly Cicero, derived almost all the principles of their sciences and opinions. I speak of the Greeks, who are to be considered as the chief inventors of classic civilization—for nothing is certainly known respecting the Egyptians. The world were little acquainted with the Hebrews, previous to the conquest of Alexander; and the Romans were merely copyists full of genius, but by no means original, especially if they be compared with the Greeks, their models. In truth, this science of government, which among the Romans appeared to have given rise, during many ages, to one theoretical work only, namely, this very book of Cicero, had produced among the Greeks political compositions of all forms, and whose multiplicity was worthy even of modern times. In this respect, the literary inferiority of the Romans may be explained by their national aggrandisement. They were too much occupied with reigning, to indulge in writing. Their motto was—“Tu regere imperio populos, Romane, memento.” And, perhaps, this military and civil domination which overwhelmed so large a portion of the world, was too serious a thing to be made the frequent object of speculative dissertations, after the manner of those Greeks of Peloponessus and Sicily, who reasoned within the peaceful walls of their little cities. For a long time Geneva has printed more political books than Paris.
The idea of political science among the Greeks, immediately recalls the names of two great geniuses, so admirable in different respects, who, after having reigned over ancient literature, have given rise in modern Europe to sects and parties—Aristotle and Plato. One, the most penetrating observer of nature and society; the other, the most brilliant and most sublime of speculative spirits. It will be easily supposed that Cicero, who in his works borrowed so much from them, who even in the contests of the rostrum and the bar continually associated philosophy with politics, would not lose sight in a work on government, of the thoughts which these two great men had expressed on the same subject. It will also be easily conceived that, following up his syncretic and eclectic method, he would make an imitation compounded of their several doctrines; he would temper the theories of Plato by the practical ideas of Aristotle; and especially, he would connect their foreign and dissimilar views with the model that he had before his eyes in the government of a country which he had so ardently loved, and so gloriously preserved.
What, then, were the ideas and illustrations which these great men afforded him? Plato, as Rousseau remarks, had traced in his Commonwealth rather a system of education than a plan of government. He imagined the best way of governing men, was by educating them from the cradle, and even by changing the natural relations of birth. He destroyed family connections, in order, in some measure, to substitute the paternity of the state. He caused the relation of the sexes to disappear; and, taking from women their most amiable virtues, modesty and fidelity, he sought at the same time to free them from all natural weakness, and to render them as robust and warlike as men. In these respects, this theory was only an exaggerated commentary on the rugged institutions of Lacedæmon, written with the enthusiasm and ingenuity of an Athenian philosopher. But the same thing happened to Plato, which happened to Rousseau in his Emilius. In the midst of these general systems, carried to excess, and these fantastical imaginations, he scattered a great number of particular verities, and though his principles might sometimes seem to counteract the laws of morality, he contrived to give to this same morality many sublime developments, and new illustrations, adorned with the grace of his eloquence.
This work, therefore, afforded Cicero, beside the charms of language which he incessantly cultivated, magnificent views of human nature, and that kind of elevated spiritualism which vivifies all science and learning. It is thus that in Scipio’s Dream, that well–known fragment of Cicero’s Commonwealth, is an evident, though embellished representation of the episode in which Plato explains the doctrine of the soul’s immortality, and of its sufferings and rewards, by making an individual slain in battle, and miraculously restored from the tomb, reveal the secrets of futurity. In the body of the work, however, in the choice and arrangement of his ideas, Cicero had but little occasion to imitate Plato, since his plan and object were different—one having attempted to delineate an ideal Commonwealth; the other, to represent an actual political state: one, seeking for perfection in fanciful hypotheses; the other, believing that he had found it in the ancient Roman Constitution.
Cicero, in his letters, complains that Cato, with most virtuous design, and the most austere probity, often prejudiced the interest of the Commonwealth, because he delivered his sentiments as if he lived in the chimerical republic of Plato, and not among the dregs of the people of Romulus. This reproach sufficiently indicates that in a work which he wished to render useful to his cotemporaries, Cicero ought not to have indulged in those purely philosophical theories of which his whole life, and his familiarity with political affairs, proved the vanity and hollowness. But without contriving for men more wisdom and happiness than they could attain, and especially without desiring to change the foundation of human nature, Cicero did not place among impracticable Utopias, the reign of Justice, Law, and Liberty. He felt a reliance on virtue. The generous maxims of the Platonic philosophy had often directed his actions; but they could not be entirely amalgamated with the ideas which he expressed on politics. Thus, in his Commonwealth, he borrows little of the system of Plato, though he sometimes approaches him in the sublimity of his morals.
Aristotle, in his writings almost always takes a direction different from Plato’s, for the same reason which causes a man of profound genius and critical sense, studiously to contradict or refute the testimony of an eloquent improvisateur. Aristotle, who even in his policy was still faithful to his philosophy, and mainly consulted fact and experience, presented to Cicero a treasure of observations and researches of which we have lost the largest part. We know that this great man had made a collection of the laws and constitutions of more than 158 states, from the opulent Carthage, to the poor and insignificant Ithaca. His eight political books were the result of this labour—it may be called the “Spirit of the Laws” of antiquity. If the less advanced state of the world did not open to the Greek philosopher so spacious a field as that which has been traversed by our Montesquieu, it must be confessed that the variety of discoveries is scarcely less, and that almost all social combinations are already classified and analysed in this astonishing work.—(Vide Gillies on the Politics of Aristotle.)
We observe that the wisdom of the ancients, far from excluding monarchy, conceived it under diverse forms—absolute, mixed, modified by laws and customs—and very philosophically compared its advantages with those of republican governments, the most scientific and diversified. But what especially strikes our attention, is to see that the minute and contracted universe of Greece, a portion of Asia, and a few islands, had already exhausted—if we may be allowed the expression, all the political conditions, accidents, and systems, which have prevailed in our modern world, aggrandized by so many new countries, and such marvellous inventions. In this point of view, the book of Aristotle is still singularly interesting. When it was brought from Athens to Rome, which was then so ignorant of all she had not conquered, this light must have appeared entirely novel, even to the most cultivated spirits. Cicero, doubtless, took advantage of it; but, occupied in forming a Roman treatise, and especially desirous of corroborating the political prepossession of his countrymen, and of lending assistance to that ancient constitution, menaced on all sides, it may easily be conceived that he could not adopt the plan of a work, which, by the variety of forms and examples with which it is filled, seems rather adapted to produce scepticism in the choice of a government, and uncertainty in its duration. Thus this great man, who mistrusted Plato as too conjectural, seems also to suspect the experiences and diversified experiments of Aristotle. Perhaps, also, in the height of his Roman pride, he disdained to compile the fleeting institutions of so many small republics; and, perhaps, it cost him too much to believe that his cherished and powerful country would be obliged to submit to the same destiny of corruption and decay.
But the treatises of Plato and Aristotle, masterpieces of the Grecian philosophy, formed but the smallest part of Cicero’s Commonwealth. These great men were followed by a crowd of disciples and expositors, all whose works were familiar to Cicero, a most curious investigator of the literature of Greece.
We have already mentioned the monarchical predilections of the ancients.
The preference that Herodotus, the father of classic history, entertained for the monarchical form of government, such as prevailed in Persia and the oriental kingdoms, is displayed in the celebrated speech which he puts into the mouth of Darius. The speech is this:—
“I think nothing can be imagined better, or more perfect, than the government of a single person. When one only commands, it is difficult for his enemies to penetrate and discover his secret enterprizes. If the sovereign power be lodged in the hands of many, it is next to impossible but that the deliberations must be discovered, and that enmity and ill–will prevail. Each one is jealous of his own opinion; ambition and rivalry promote discord, and hatred transports them into the most violent excesses. Hence arise seditions, murder, and carnage, which insensibly lead again to the ancient government of a monarch. And it is thus that the sovereign authority almost always returns into the hands of a single person. In a popular government, it is impossible but that there must be much corruption and wickedness. It is true, that equality does not in itself engender hatred, but it foments and maintains union among the wicked, who support one another until one among them obtains consideration sufficient to conciliate the people, and in the end he domineers over the multitude; thus he becomes truly a monarch, and often even a despot. We are then constrained to acknowledge that a monarchy is the most natural form of government, since sedition in an aristocratic, and corruption in a democratic form, equally tend to unite the sovereign power and domination in one person.”—(Herodot. Thalia.)
In Beloe’s translation of Herodotus, we find this pointed note attached to this speech:—“Larcher has quoted the following remark of Goguet, which it may be wondered that the vigilance of Bonaparte’s satellites allowed to pass:—
‘The best writers of antiquity have invariably expressed themselves in favour of monarchy. Herodotus, Plato, Aristotle, Zenophon, Socrates, Cicero, Seneca, Tacitus, Plutarch, and others, have considered a monarchical government as the most advantageous and perfect of all those which mankind have invented. It is singular enough that the greater part of the above writers flourished in Republics.’
Cicero did not violate any historical probability in placing the opinions of the Greeks in the mouth of Scipio. He himself tells us that this illustrious man always had in his hand the book of Xenophon’s Cyropœdia, “and with a good reason (says he), for no principles of an active and well regulated government are forgotten in this work.”
But the book of the Cyropœdia only embellished what many of the Greek philosophers had said respecting the advantages of a wise monarchy, contrasted with the miseries of popular licentiousness. It is a remarkable fact, that the desire for this monarchical government had been continually formed in the democracies of Greece and Sicily, by spirits the most illuminated, and the most free from prejudices and passions. In this respect, the philosophy of the ancients was frequently at issue with their practice. This circumstance is sufficiently explained by the nature of those small states in which faction, violence, and popular hallucination left so little space and influence to calm and gentle spirits. There, the people was the absolute autocrat, against whom reason always struggled, and reclaimed the privileges which were due to liberty. We should not have alluded to this movement of the philosophic genius of the ancients, had it not inspired the celebrated sentence of Plato, who desired for the people “a good tyrant, aided by a good senate”—a self–contradictory exclamation, hardly worthy of a sage. But this aversion from popular excesses naturally produced among the philosophers of Greece that most correct theory of mixed and legitimate monarchy, of which history affords us only incomplete models.
That the ancients in general preferred monarchy to other forms of government, appears in their philosophic books; though they could not always maintain it in its appropriate relations to other constitutional powers. This fact is confirmed by the testimony of Keckerman’s Systema Disciplinæ Politicæ, 1608. It is worth translating the passage in which he expresses his opinion on this subject:—
“It is a great question (says he) agitated among the politicians, whether a monarchy is to be preferred to an aristocracy or a democracy (An monarchia sit præferenda aristocratiæ, et democratiæ). If we look to the form of government abstractedly, and in its proper nature, certainly monarchy is entitled to the palm—(monarchia necessario palmam feret). And this monarchy should be such as God exercises over his creatures—for God rules not aristocratically nor democratically, but monarchically. Monarchy is also more conformable to the natural inclination of all creatures—for even the inferior animals retain some image of it, as bees and cranes, horses and cattle. In the regulation of all human families, also, there is one ruler or monarch—namely, the father, or his personal representative. We also learn, from sacred history, that God gave a king to his own people; and the testimonies of nations are evident in their histories, that whenever men constituted political government, they appointed some one to be their prince or king (unicum sibi principem aut regem delegerint). The authority of Homer is well known, and is reverently quoted by Aristotle:—
Ουκ αγαθον πολυκοιρανιη, εις κοιρανος εστω Εις [Editor: illegible character]ασιλευς.
- The authority of many is not good,
- Be there one Lord, one King.
Plato, in his politics, treats largely on the excellence of monarchy. Aristotle declares expressly, “In every variety of natures, we behold some one superior to the rest, who is worthier than the others of the same species.” Seneca, in his book on Benefits, says, that M. Brutus did not act with sufficient prudence, when he slew Cæsar for the sake of liberty, and adds this reason—quia optimus civitatis status est sub justo rege — that the best condition of a state is under a just monarch. Plutarch, in his admirable works on the forms of governments, says—“If the privilege of choosing were granted us, we should not adopt any form but the monarchical.” And in his Life of Solon, after he has told us that infinite factions and seditions arose among the Athenians under their democracy, he adds, “Nothing conduces more to the public security and peace, than that the Commonwealth should be subject to one monarch.”
Aristotle appears to have have preferred the catholic, syncretic, or mixed form of government, as the only one in which king, lords, and commons could unite their strength, and preserve their purity. In his politics, he says that there are three forms of government—the monarchical, the aristocratical, and the timocratical; and adds, that the first is apt to degenerate into a tyranny, the second into an oligarchy, and the third into a democracy. This sentence I thus explain (says Keckerman), and reconcile with other passages, in which he classes democracy under the legitimate forms of government. By the term timocracy, in this chapter, he seems to understand that state of popular rule in which not the vulgar populace (promiscua plebs) but the better and worthier part of the people exercise authority. He defines timocracy to be a legitimate power of the worthier classes of the people (for timocracy is derived from τιμη, honour), acting for the general welfare.
This syncretic or mixed form of government was adopted in the primitive constitutions of Greece and Rome, and was long maintained in Sparta after the rest had unhappily fallen into democratical corruptions. As an example of the mixed government in ancient times (says Keckerman), we may cite that of Sparta or Lacedæmon, whose form was in the beginning purely monarchical, afterwards purely aristocratical, and at length composed of all three forms. Præclarissimi philosophi (says he), rempublicam temperatam extollunt, et Lacedæmoniorum formam summopere laudant, in qua reges et ephori et senatus, fecerunt mixtionem quandam, ut bene dignosci nequeant sub quanam gubernationis specie fuerit ea republica collocanda. The greatest philosophers extol this mixed and modified kind of Commonwealth, and especially commend the Lacedæmonian constitution, in which king, lords, and commons exhibited a certain combination, not to be classed under any of the particular systems of government.”
Montesquieu has said, that the ancients had no very clear idea respecting monarchy, because they were not familiar with a government founded on a body of nobles, and still less with a government founded on a legislative body formed by the representatives of the nation.
This opinion is partially true. The ancients knew little of the system of political representation, and that for two evident reasons—the small number of citizens, and the existence of slaves; a nation almost enclosed within the walls of a single city, and having under its domination a people of slaves, had neither the idea nor the necessity of limiting to a body of representatives a right which was common to all their freemen, and of substituting the election of a few for the presence of the multitude. Thus in these states, too rapidly aggrandized, the universality of their right of suffrage was the direct cause of their destruction. But with respect to the ideas of mixed monarchy, the balance of powers, and a body of nobles—if we find them in Cicero, who endeavoured to revive the ancient Roman constitution, we need not be surprized. These ideas had been long discussed among the Greek philosophers, with a precision and a copiousness very remarkable; though we can only judge of them by a few fragments preserved in the collections of Stobæus. A mixed monarchy was evidently the preference of the Grecian philosophers. “It is necessary (says Archytas, the friend and disciple of Plato), that the best government should be composed of the re–union of all other political constitutions; and that it should include in itself a portion of royalty, oligarchy, aristocracy, and democracy.”—(Stobæi Anthologion.)
The same idea receives a more extensive development, answerable to modern institutions, in another fragment reported by Stobæus, and extracted from a work on the Commonwealth by Hippodamus, a Pythagorean philosopher.
“The laws (says he) will produce a durable empire, if the state is of a character mixed, and composed of all other political constitutions—I mean of all those conformable to the natural order of things. Tyranny, for instance, is of no utility to states, no more than oligarchy. What, therefore, we should lay down as the first foundation is royalty; and in the second place, aristocracy. Royalty, in fact, is a sort of imitation of divine providence; but it is difficult for human weakness to maintain it in this similitude—for it is apt to degenerate through luxury and violence. We, therefore, should not adopt it without limitations, but receive it in that degree of power and influence which is most serviceable to the state. It is of no less importance to establish aristocracy, because the existence of many great men results from it; an emulous ambition among themselves and a frequent substitution of power. The presence of democracy is also necessary; the citizen who forms an integral portion of the entire state has a right to his share in its honours; but this should be vouchsafed in moderation, for the multitude is always assuming and precipitous.”—(Stobœus, p. 251.)
This extraordinary passage, which was written above 2000 years ago, seems almost to be a prediction of the Britannic government, not only in the exterior organization of its elements, but in the secret spring of its action, and the wholesome emulation of the ambitions it developes, which reciprocally superintend each other, and lead by regular gradations to the summit of power. This passage, which we have translated with a fidelity as great as the surprize we experienced in first perusing it, will easily explain the similar ideas which Cicero puts into the mouth of the wise and magnanimous Scipio, familiar with all the philosophy of the Greeks, the friend of Polybius and Panœtius, and the constant adversary of the Gracchi, of whom he was most probably the victim.
We have lost the writings of Panœtius, whom Cicero so largely imitated in his treatise on Offices. But we still retain a portion of Polybius, who instructed Scipio in the Grecian sciences, and who had, doubtless, learned from him the genius of the Roman Commonwealth, so admirably described in his history. We observe in the fragments of his treatise on the different forms of the Commonwealth, that he had revived the ideas of Archytas and Hippodamus.
“The majority of those (says he) who profess to reason on these matters recognize three kinds of government, royalty, aristocracy, and democracy. But it seems to me a very fair question, whether they exhibit these political forms as the only ones in existence, or merely as the best that can be devised. In these points I humbly conceive them to have fallen into error. It is evident we should esteem that as the most excellent constitution, which is mixed, and composed of all the particular forms already mentioned. And here not every domination of a single individual should be called a royalty, but that only which is founded on a just obedience, and which is exercised rather by wisdom than by terror and compulsion. Nor should we believe that every oligarchy is necessarily an aristocracy, but that only which conducts to power, the justest and wisest men. For the same reason, we should not denominate as a democracy, a constitution in which the whole multitude is able to act as it pleases, but that only which maintains the ancient and familiar customs of worship towards God, gratitude towards parents, honour to old men, and obedience to the laws. Such is the assembly of men who, if swayed by the counsel of the majority, we should entitle a democracy.”—(Polyb. in Fragmentis.)
We may learn from these several passages how Cicero in his first book of his dialogue on the Commonwealth, after having separately defined royalty, aristocracy, and democracy, affirms that his own preference was for a fourth political system composed of the union of the essential properties of the three others. A desire to which Tacitus alluded in a subsequent age, when this great man, after describing the three principal modes of government, adds, with an expression of unequivocal regret—“either monarchs, nobles, or the people, govern all nations and cities. That system of government mixed and composed of these, it is easier to extol than obtain, and even if obtained, it can scarcely be durable.” (Cunctas nationes aut urbes, populus, aut primores, aut singuli regunt, delecta ex his et consociata reipublicæ forma, laudari facilius quam evenire,—vel si evenit haud diuturna esse potest.)—Tacit. An. Lib. 4. c. 33.)
We may imagine that Cicero, who had not endured the sad and discouraging experience, which the empire of the Cæsars forced on Tacitus, would express the same aspiration with more force and confidence. After a vivid delineation of the factions of oligarchy, tyranny, and popular licence, he adds these remarkable words:—“When I witness so many calamities, royalty appears to me to be far preferable to these three corrupt governments. But that which is superior even to royalty, is that government which is composed of an equal mixture of the three better forms of constitutions, re–united and modified by each other. I should wish to behold in every state a royal chief and regent. Another portion of power should be placed at the disposal of the nobles; and something should be reserved to the choice and election of the multitude. This constitution evidently possesses the grand characteristic of equability—a condition necessary to the existence of every free people. It likewise presents a great stability. In fact, the first elements I have mentioned, when they are isolated, they easily degenerate, and fall into the opposite extreme, so that a king gives place to a despot, an aristocracy to a factious oligarchy, the people to a mob and a hubbub. They are likewise often dispossessed, and expelled by each other. But in this combined government, which re–unites and amalgamates them, the like disaster cannot happen without supposing monstrous errors in the grandees of the state. For there can be little cause of revolution there, where every one is settled in his appropriate rank, and there is no corruption into which he can fall,” (et non subest quo præcipitet ac decidat.)
A celebrated writer, M. de Chateaubriand, has said that representative government is one of the few great discoveries which among the moderns has created a new universe. But this noble system—is it not rather discoverable in these words of Cicero, than the wild forests of Germany, where Montesquieu pretends to have found it? This passage, whose depth and power must be recognized even through the imperfection of our translation—this passage, in which the idea of Polybius has been so far extended by the genius of Cicero, is it not sufficient to lend an immense and peculiar interest to the precious MS., in which such revelations of ancient wisdom appear, and such distinct anticipations of modern experience?
We must not conclude from hence, that Cicero wished to overturn the Roman constitution—he who showed himself in all his letters so displeased with the power of the first triumvirate, so indignant at beholding Pompey sole consul, so ready to accuse him of usurpation and tyranny. But this great man was most keenly conscious of the defects of the Republic, the perpetually increasing domination of a multitude, always ready to intoxicate themselves with licence and passion, and to deliver over the laws and the empire to the fury of Cataline, or to the glory of Cæsar. He saw that the power of those great men, whose ambition he dreaded, had no better foundation than the abuse of popular government; he saw that the dictatorship was sold to them by a factious magistracy, or transferred by the exclamations of an ignorant mob. On the other hand, it was manifest, that in the first ages of Rome, after the expulsion of the king, the royal authority, rather displaced than destroyed, had entirely fallen into the hands of the consul and the senate, and that it was by favour of this powerful aristocracy and this persevering combination of designs and projects, that the edifice of the grandeur of Rome, was augmented.
Cicero endeavoured to rise, at least in theory, towards this condition of things; and as it often happens to men of genius, he embellished what no longer existed. He attributed to the past a wisdom, a discipline, and regularity, which, perhaps, had never been experienced in Rome. He explained accidental circumstances by general and profound causes; he sought to make the succession of these accidents tally with a system of policy, the wisest and subtlest which his studies and reflections could offer him. This seems to explain the almost historical precision which he has preserved in the second book of his Commonwealth. In this he reviews, one after another, the reigns of the Roman kings—indicates their principal institutions—advances to the establishment of the Republic—examines the different powers which were created to govern it, and marks their date, their motive, and their duration. But these different changes, have they a real connection with the plan of mixed government which he was pleased to describe? Does not Rome always present the same violent conflict of two rival bodies? Is there not a moderating, inviolable, and pacific power wanting therein? and was not the absence of this power most dangerously supplied by the creation of that formidable dictatorship which, once established, must become in a warlike nation the supreme and unappealable authority?
It does not appear that Cicero is any where sincere enough to make this avowal; but it is evident that his genius inspired him in the management of the government, with the idea of seeking a remedy for this defect of the Republic. It was in truth this want of a superintending power, which induced him during his consulship to reestablish the order of knights, and to give to this class of citizens a sufficient preponderance to enable it to become the third body in the state. But whatever the momentary success of this effort might be, it had no other effect than introducing into the state an element of the same nature as the others—tumultuous and variable, like them; and therefore incapable of acting as a limitation and barrier to their excesses.
When we proceed to examine what this great man has said on the advantages of a mixed and moderate government, and compare it with the illusion which discovered to him these advantages in the ancient Roman constitution, we are naturally struck with an important truth—It is this, that the ancient Pagan world could not, owing to the imperfection of its religious creed, rise to the realization of this balanced and attempered monarchy, which so many sages had conceived and desiderated. A fulcrum, a point of support, was wanting. There was no consecration and sanctity in power, there was no authority of moral obligation which was inviolable, simply because it was just. This is, perhaps, the greatest advance which human nature has made by the agency of Christian regeneration. It has supplied power with a much safer foundation than either force or numbers. By this, even in the most barbarous times, Christianity has moderated the violence of the unjustest dominations. Thus our religion, well understood, favours and promotes this beautiful political system, which reconciles progression with stability, and which, under the shelter of a sacred authority, establishes elective powers and popular rights.
It appears that Cicero sought, during his whole life, in his political conduct and his writings, a conservative principle, which might ensure the durability of the noble edifice of Roman greatness. Through despair of attaining it, having saved Rome from Cataline, and conscious that it was reserved for Cæsar, he drew from ancient customs and recollections that support which he no longer expected from the laws, and from the distribution of power. From hence arose this choice of Scipio as his principal interlocutor, in order that he might seize and mark the moment in which the elegance of rising civilization approached and blended with the simplicity of ancient times. From hence arose his perpetual eulogy of antique manners. This veneration of the past, which is equally observable in his Treatise on the Laws, makes him in another place affirm the legislation of the Twelve Tables, simple as they were, superior to the meditations of all the philosophers. But however patriotic this sentiment may be, it sets very narrow bounds to politics. As the progress of civilization is a necessary result of time, to maintain that this progress leads to the destruction of nations, excludes from social life all improvements in education and art. This is to pronounce a sentence of death against all states; this is to subject their existence to a simple and transitory condition.
Cicero was, beyond all doubt, a great and admirable genius. But how far this exclusive predilection for the past, on which he founded his work, is inferior to the noble idea lately expressed by an English orator, a zealous advocate for all civil liberties, during fifty years—for all salutary reforms and ameliorations of society; who exclaimed in proposing a benevolent innovation—“For the ancient nations who relied on false and perishable creeds, civilization lay entirely in the past, and not in the future. But for us disciples of Truth, our civilization is an incessant progress to the highest degrees of light, justice, and humanity.” It is not that Wilberforce was personally superior to Cicero; what we here remark is the superiority of the principle of modern politics over the fragile elements of ancient societies.
But this spectacle of ancient governments, so magnificent during their brief existence, could not fail to furnish Cicero with a multitude of vivid images and profound reflections. He describes their instability with admirable force in a few words. “Their power (says he) is like a ball which is thrown from hand to hand, and which passes from kings to tyrants, from tyrants to aristocrats, from aristocrats to the people, and from them to factions, by which constitutional forms are continually violated.”
With what brilliant eloquence, in the original text, does Cicero delineate all these evils in the state? With what art are they exhibited in the natural course of the dialogue? What sublime sentiments, what accurate science, animates these political sketches, though the succession of ideas is too often interrupted by lacunes in the MSS.?
After having discussed in the First Book the principal forms of constitutions, and exhibited in the Second an embellished picture of the ancient Roman Commonwealth—connecting these historic memorials with interesting digressions on the Grecian cities—Cicero touches in the Third Book, a question which, at first sight, might appear but a trite and superfluous topic, namely, the nature and utility of justice. If we think so, we are deceived, for under diverse disguises, under the names of state interest, expediency, Machiavelism, and policy, this sacred and self–evident principle has always met with gainsayers and adversaries. The problem carries the greatest weight of evidence; but the solution must be continually repeated. Cicero has largely discussed this question in his Offices, in which he draws the most accurate distinctions between the honourable, the honest, the useful, and the agreeable. He here gives his arguments still wider developments; but he still leaves much to be said on a subject, in which the sophisms of interest are multiplied without end.
The following Books naturally lead us to the consideration of the most important departments of the Roman constitution. But our MS. contains but very few relics of this second moiety of the work. Some remnants of the original dialogue, some entire though detached pages, a few phrases and imperfect quotations, alone, serve to give us a general idea of the contents of the Fourth and Fifth Books. We have, however, carefully collected these mutilated monuments—we have endeavoured to illustrate them by historical notices, but we are conscious of the insufficiency and sterility of this attempt. The industrious perseverance of our modern scholars has restored defaced inscriptions, by calculating the number and form of the characters which composed them, and the impressions which the brass pins which fastened these obliterated characters had left in the sculptured marble. Thus, an admirable sagacity has repaired the outrages of time; and, availing itself of the relics of material indications, has re–established the works of the human hand. But this divination cannot be applied to the glorious compositions of thought; we cannot calculate the inspiration of genius by the spaces they might have occupied on a parchment of illegible manuscript. We cannot here employ geometrical hypotheses to elicit the traces of truth irrecoverably extinguished. Thoughts do not necessarily occupy certain spaces. Imagination, eloquence, and sublime sentiment, when thus effaced, vanish into annihilation, and leave not a vestige by which conjecture might resuscitate them. What did these obliterated pages contain? what doctrines did Cicero there discuss—by what illustrations did he adorn them—by what eloquence did he make them fascinating? The isolated phrases, the insignificant expressions which a grammarian has transmitted to us—did they form a portion of some sublime argument—did they carry forward the development of some great moral or political verity? Can you not tell us what Cicero thought and uttered, when he described the most resplendent period of Rome omnipotent, and still free? Alas! to all these questions we can only confess our ignorance. I know not whether the English may not some day reconstruct the Parthenon of Athens, with all the stones which they have successively ravished from it; but no one could rebuild a work of Cicero, even if he possessed its materials; for who can tell what the genius of this illustrious man might have interposed between two of his thoughts? Who can supply the admirable sequence of ideas dictated by his sublime reason.
But it may be said that this discovery thus limited and contracted by such irreparable losses, will therefore add but little to our knowledge respecting the ancient Roman politics. Many obscure and contested questions will, therefore, remain enveloped in the same uncertainty—we cannot deny it; and we are convinced that if the work of Cicero had been found entire, it would be far from satisfying this curious inquisitiveness, and this desire for precision, which the moderns have carried into the study of history and social institutions. And in fact this critical science of history, so imperfect in ancient times, and before the discovery of printing, was, in the age of Cicero, still more dubious and confined than it was during the following centuries. The proof of this may be seen by the resemblance the second book of the Commonwealth bears to the recital of Livy respecting the first periods of Rome. No trace of those curious circumstances, which Tacitus and Pliny subsequently collected, are discoverable concerning the capture of Rome by Porsenna, and the singular state of slavery into which the Romans were sometimes reduced, whose rising fortune Cicero and Livy represent as a continual series of prosperity. In truth, during their first epochs of enthusiasm, states have their complimentary historians as well as kings. False traditions, consecrating glorious actions, are established, and become national prejudices, which are repeated by the literary writers. Time confirms them, and we are no longer permitted to call them in question. At Rome, the exclusive domination of the Patricians or nobles—the depository of religion, learning, and government, placed for a long time in the hands of a single class, still further favoured these fictions, and forbid that examination which might have destroyed them. Cicero himself tells us, that the ostentation of the Greek families, and the abuse of the panegyrics pronounced at the funerals of illustrious personages, introduced into history false events, fabulous consulates, and imaginary triumphs. We may thence easily conceive how these lies concerning these national conceits had, from very early periods, corrupted the Roman annals, and contributed to invest them with that kind of the marvellous for which the critics reproach Titus Livius, and from which is not exempted the eloquent abridgment of the early history of Rome, which Cicero has delineated in the second book of his Commonwealth.
But, even admitting this alteration of facts, ought we not to expect the exact portraiture of institutions? Doubtless, on this point the almost entire destruction of the last books of the Commonwealth has deprived us of many precious records. We must not forget, however, that the ancients (fables and traditions being set aside) treated even contemporaneous history in a manner much less technical and less exact than we do. The same characteristic ought to be found in the exposition of their politics. We should also observe, that the history of a people, written by one of themselves—a national work on the institutions of a country, can never furnish an answer to all the questions that foreign curiosity may form. The reason of this is simple enough. What embarasses strangers is, that what they are most ignorant of in the nation’s history, is always that which is most familiar to its natives, and assumed as a matter of course in the administration of its government and the form of its laws. This is precisely the point neglected by the author, who writes in the scene of the events, and to his fellow–citizens, cognizant of all the detail of their institutions and manners. We must not wonder, therefore, if the great history of Livy leaves so much obscurity on many circumstances respecting the Roman constitution; nor be surprized that almost the whole of the entire books of Cicero’s Commonwealth hardly afford us any new historical light.
How many difficulties present themselves to our minds, after having read the Latin historians? Could the man who has most closely studied the book in which Montesquieu explains, according to their traditions, the grandeur and decline of the Romans—could he solve many questions of the simplest character, and which appertain to the most essential principles of society? What, for example, was the order of the tribunal at Rome?—did it comprehend several degrees of jurisdiction? How was the senate renewed—was it by right of birth, by election, or by virtue of certain offices once discharged? A plebiscitum, or public statute, was it a sovereign law, and could it apply in all affairs? Did the Roman citizens pay a tax? What were the expenses of the state?—or, to extend our curiosity a little further, were the principal magistracies gratuitous? Those dictators, those consuls, whose poverty has been celebrated by history—did they receive no salary from the Republic? Was this usage perpetual—or what period can be assigned for its termination?
In stating these questions, which the most sagacious critic has never resolved, we are persuaded that the last part of Cicero’s work did not contain explanations either positive or exact. None of these supposed difficulties was problematical to his cotemporaries, and those great men whom Cicero represents as conversing together, and who must have instantaneously understood whatever related to the principles and customs of the Roman state, and who, in the rapid course of their conversation, took for granted a multitude of facts and details, which erudition vainly seeks at the present day.
Moreover, in comparing the philosophic generalization which reigns in the finest passages of this dialogue on government, with that practical finesse, that precise experience which Cicero evinces in his letters, I am tempted to believe that he drew a wide distinction between the politics of books and that of actual affairs—and that in the one he did not reveal all the secrets contained in the other. His manner of composing on this subject will not appear indeed so theoretic and paradoxical as that of Plato; but it is still oratorical, and rather moral than practical. His book is an exhortation to patriotism—a panegyric of Rome, and a skilful manifesto in favour of the senate’s authority. In fact, the sort of politics it contains reminds us of the ingenious thoughts and beautiful images of Isocrates, in his eulogy of Athens, rather than the strong exhortations and energetic arguments of Demosthenes in his harrangues. This judgment does not, perhaps, correspond with the first idea that we form of a political work of Cicero—a great statesman, sometime the chief, and always a distinguished citizen of the greatest and politest nation on earth.
An historian of antiquity (Cornelius Nepos,) in speaking of the letters of Cicero to Atticus, says, “He so ably depicts the passions of the chiefs of parties, the blunders of the generals, and the revolutions of the Commonwealth, that he discovers every thing to his reader. From whence we may suppose, that his experience was a kind of divination,—for Cicero not only foresaw and predicted the events which happened during his life, but also prophesied those which happen to this very day.” There is a wide difference between such eulogy, and that reproach of vagueness and indefiniteness, with which some tax the Commonwealth. If there be such a defect, it is explained as we have said, by the motive of the author, and by the nature of the Roman government. A similar observation may apply to Cicero’s orations, and it has been made more than once. These orations, when they turn on the most important state of affairs, appear less forcible, less deplenished with principles and facts, and more ornate and recherché, than those of Demosthenes. The orator is more apparent—the common places of rhetoric and philosophy are more numerous. We seek in vain the exposition of that profound policy which Bossuet and Montesquieu have so admirably described, and by which Rome overmastered the universe. It was because this policy was not published among the people, it could not become the text of eloquence at the bar, it resided in the secret traditions of the senate. There, was studied the art of holding in subordination the tumultuous and reckless populace, of conducting it through the very ways it abominated, and of making it subserve the designs of which it had no suspicion. The government of the Roman state was in its origin a privilege and a mystery, concentrated in the hands of a few families, who united the exercise of all public offices, sacerdotal, senatorial, and judiciary. Though time had effected some breaches in this rampart, and many of the barriers which protected this potent aristocracy had been successively broken by ambitious individuals, it perpetually sought to reestablish itself. It fortified itself with its own concessions, and enriched itself by its own disbursements, embracing and penetrating with its maxims the great men whom the tide of popular favour carried to its bosom. To this mysterious corporation and confraternity, which connected all the members of the patrician families, succeeded an ambitious confederation of dignities, riches, and talents. With the monopoly of religious ceremonials, it so long retained its power, it still preserved the exclusive science of state interests, every day becoming more complicated, more numerous, and more unintelligible to the multitude, by the very grandeur of national victories, and public enterprizes.
It was in vain that the people successively raised up all the supreme dignities, the consuls, and the prætors. The aristocracy of the senate, ever renewed, and always unchangeable, incorporated the consuls and the prætors of the people; and still pressed forward, without staying the course of its vast project, either domestic or foreign. Indefatigable and inflexible! at one time immolating the Gracchi, at another, taking shelter under the sword of Scylla the Proscriptor, and finally, rallying, to strike Cæsar, a force which was not to be found in the other Romans, and which rather resembled the despair of disinherited sovereigns, than the popular violence of ancient times.
A new man, but elevated by this powerful attraction of the aristocracy, Cicero naturally placed himself in the ranks of the senate, though he had devoted his earliest writings to the celebration of Marius. In the senate, he learnt the profound maxim of the Roman government; there he found his power for rescuing Rome from the hands of Cataline. To this, therefore, he for ever attached his glory and his genius. It was there that with the internal police, which sustained the senate against so many storms, he studied the traditions of that all–conquering dexterity which had subjugated and swayed so many kingdoms, so many people, called by the name of allies, and so many cities only nominally free. From thence he transmitted the rule of that stable administration, invincible but often odious, which extended over such distant countries, comprised such dissimilar nations, and so seldom experienced mutinies or rebellions.
By what art was it, that the Romans carried on such distant wars with such small armies? What was the system of their alliances? With what prudence respecting the religions and laws of the vanquished, did they leave to them all that did not oppose their conquest? How did the senate keep in their hands that municipal government with which it had invested Italy? This appears to us to constitute the Roman policy, and this is what Cicero does not even mention in his discourses to the people, and which cannot be found in his Treatise on the Commonwealth. These complete and public expositions of all the interests of the people were useful in the democracy of Athens, and explain the character of the orations of Demosthenes. But in the great Roman aristocracy, the discourses of Cicero in the forum were but artificially–composed speeches, to teach the people no more than it was necessary to reveal to them for the grandeur and the profit of the senate. It was in the cabinet of the senate itself, that Rome’s true policy was discussed. Some letters in which Cicero informs his friend of these private debates, indicate this difference. In truth, the science of politics, properly so called, can never become popular, even in the freest governments. There is always much delusion in the idea that a people conducts its own affairs. The best form of government, is that which makes them fall into the hands of the wisest and the most experienced. Since so many discoveries have extended the reign of intelligence, if there is a nation that according to the difference of times, imitates the policy of the Romans in using commerce as they used conquest, do the secret counsels of those that conduct it, appear in their books and orations? Should we any where discover the mystery of that science of domination, which sways the Continent of India—of that naval genius which holds under its protection all the facilities of commerce, and all the lines of navigation from Malta to Ceylon — of that ever–varying, yet ever consistent legislation which conveys to every part of Europe its alliances, its neutralities, and its armies. Should we therefore be surprized, that the works of antiquity leave us in ignorance concerning the ancients, when even contemporary writers do not instruct us in the events of the day?
But if this treatise of Cicero on the Commonwealth, such as we have it, offers few new details on the constitutional policy of Rome, is not the interest of this precious relic invalidated, and will not public curiosity experience some disappointment? To this we reply, that those general principles above mentioned still remain, which appear to present a direct and powerful bearing on the modern conditions of society. There survives, what is always inestimable—the thought and sentiment of a great man. There survives that eloquence of antiquity which, even when it does not apply to actual affairs, is in itself an object of study, erudition, and taste.
How many points of attraction will the eyes of the intelligent perceive in two hundred new pages of Cicero? To instance merely the literary beauties: with what emotion are we affected in reading the admirable opening of the First Book, in which Cicero presents himself, before he brings forward the actors of his oratorical drama: and where he discovers his whole soul with a sincerity of noble pride, a grandeur, an eloquence, with which his often–remembered consulate never so proudly inspired him in any other of his works! How many graceful delineations and characteristic traits do we find in the remarks which introduce the different personages of the dialogue! What dignity, what elevation, is there in the language of Scipio! We feel that there is not here a Greek sophist with his idle speculations, but Scipio or Cicero himself, discoursing of Rome. You discover few criticisms respecting the selection of historical facts, but you observe the devotion of these great men for the glory of their country. Their enthusiasm instructs and melts us; and the continued charm of dialogue distributed among so few interlocutors, which no man ever managed so well as Cicero—this truthfulness, this purity, this eloquence displayed in the whole conversation respecting the Commonwealth, are they not invaluable discoveries, by which imagination at least may be expanded and embellished?
We might say more, at the risk of being reproached for the mania of admiration apparent in most translators. Every digression in the Commonwealth, however unexciting in itself, seems by reflection to lend a remarkable interest to the rest of the discourse. Thus, in the First Book, the Dialogue commences by an astronomical controversy, apparently superfluous. Having noticed a parhelion, or mock sun, observed in the sky, they take occasion to discourse on the sun and its eclipses—on the planetary orbs—on a moveable sphere invented by Archimedes, and then make a transition to the main subject of the work, in these words: “Why talk we any further on what may happen in the heavens, when we are not sure of the events that happen within our own walls, and in our own country?” All that ignorant and erroneous astronomy may, doubtless, appear to the reader not very edifying; but, perhaps, it may attract a sentiment of respect when he recollects that noble characteristic of philosophic curiosity, and that taste for universal science which animated Cicero; and which, in the midst of a life agitated by so many labours, and in a state of civilization so devoid of scientific discoveries, urged him to investigate with insatiable ardour every means of fresh information.
This man, who had so laboriously studied the art of eloquence, and every day practised it in the senate, the forum, and the courts—this unrivalled orator, who, even during his consulship, still pleaded private causes. In the midst of a life composed of glory, danger, and agitation, and through a series of inquietudes so vividly depicted in his numerous letters, he still studied every thing that it was possible to know in his age. He cultivated poetry; he introduced all the philosophies of Greece to the knowledge of the Romans, and collected the yet imperfect notices of the physical sciences and arts. We find by one of his letters that he employed himself in composing a technical treatise on Geography: just as Voltaire compiled a chronologic abridgment of the history of Germany.” Such is the eloquent introduction which M. Villemain has prefixed to his edition of the Commonwealth.
In consequence of the publication of Professor Munnich of Cracow, above mentioned, in which he notices the Sarmatian copy of Cicero de Republica, and maintains that Gozliski made much use of it in his Accomplished Senator, it is necessary to add a few remarks on this subject.
This Gozliski, one of the most profound politicians that has ever appeared in Europe, was Chancellor and Prime Minister of Poland, under the reign of Sigismund the Second, who succeeded his father, Sigismund the Great, in the year 1548. Gozliski’s book, De Senatore Perfecto, appeared about the year 1550, and made a great stir in Italy, Germany, France, and England. It is now become exceedingly scarce in the original Latin, and so is the English translation by Oldisworth, dated 1733.
Whether Gozliski, as Professor Munnich supposes, had discovered and studied some complete copy of Cicero’s Commonwealth, then existing in Sarmatia, we know not. Certain it is, that Gozliski’s political doctrines are exceedingly similar to those that appear in the Books of Cicero’s Commonwealth, recently recovered by Maio. But yet there is an air of originality in Gozliski’s work, which induces us to believe he was any thing but a plagiarist.
In order to confirm this statement, we shall take the liberty of quoting two or three passages from Gozliski’s “Accomplished Senator;” one of the first and ablest of all the political treatises that have appeared in Modern Europe.
“Monarchy, or kingly government, (says Gozliski) is very aptly represented, according to Aristotle, by the power and authority which a father has over his children, whose office it is to be careful of, and watchful over them; to provide for their sustenance and welfare, and whenever they are disobedient and wicked, to reform, rather than to punish them.
“Plato subdivides this kingly government, and says there are two sorts of kings, one limited and bound down to the observation of known laws and statutes, the other absolute, and under no legal check or restraint. The government (says he) of a single prince, well informed in the knowledge of wholesome laws, and duly restrained to the observation of them, is of all other political forms the best and most eligible.”
“Some have been of opinion (continues Gozliski), that the best settled constitutions consist of three orders and degrees of men in power; and accordingly that the Lacedæmonian state was well formed and constituted, because all power therein was divided between a monarch or king, a senate, or body of nobles, and the people, represented by their ephori, who were elected by and out of their own body. Polybius extols the Roman government above all others whatsoever, because it consisted of a king, senate, and people. These powers, were so well tempered and mingled together that the king could not fly into tyrannic insolence for fear of the people, nor the people despise and insult their king for fear of the senate. This sort of government hath ever been reputed, and with very good reason, to be the best constituted and most excellent; for as it is in music, whether vocal or instrumental, where a multitude and variety of distinct and different notes are put together, in order to make just and true concord; so from an agreement between the upper, middle, and lower orders of mankind, arises (as Cicero speaks), that true political concord which answers to harmony in sounds, and which is cemented and held together by what it naturally produces—the common good and welfare of society.”—(Acc. Sen. p. 35.)
But the resemblance between Cicero and Gozliski appears most strongly in that syncretic and coalitionary spirit which animated both. They were both of them Syncretists, Unionists, and Coalitionists, in the best sense of the terms; and they pleaded the cause of Syncretism with that intense fervour which could only result from a conviction that it was inseparably identified with the progress of all important truth and all social happiness. They saw that union was strength, and they ardently endeavoured, by a wholesome eclecticism and latitudinarianism, to harmonize and aggrandize all that was good, just, and beautiful. They knew that to harmonize truths is the only effectual method of expelling errors, and they knew that it was only by coalescing the pious and the intelligent of all sects and parties, that they could destroy the impiety and madness of schisms and factions.
Thus, while they sought for syncretism, harmony, coalition, and peace in all things, God gave them, as he gave to Solomon of old, largeness of heart, like the sand on the sea shore. For wisdom is synonymous with that enlargement of mind which reconciles all that is true in all sects and parties, by rejecting all that is erroneous.
It cannot be too clearly understood, that if there be a characteristic which distinguishes the sublime politics of Cicero and Gozliski from the spurious crudities of political charlatans; it mainly consists in the august and universal presence of that sublime spirit of syncretism which is every where diffused through their works. This spirit of syncretism, unionism, and coalition forms the very ideosyncracy of their immortal genius. It threw a divine elevation, a moral grandeur, and a sentimental beauty over their unparallelled writings; a concord of philanthropic love and all-embracing charity, pure as the radiance of heaven. And it was this very passion for universal peace and patriotic coalition, which urged them forward to fling the corruscating lightnings of their indignation on the mad and misanthropical leaders of sects and parties, who, under the mask of hypocrisy and self delusion, scatter the seeds of discords, schisms, factions, and bloody hostilities wherever they tread.
With such glorious Syncretists we would take our stand. We would shew that the syncretic, the unionistic, and coalitionary policy, is the only one sanctioned by the authority of Christian revelation and attested by the experience of men. Wherever it has been adopted—wherever this catholic unity of the spirit has been maintained by the bond of peace, there public virtue, prosperity, and happiness have followed; and wherever the malice of hell hath augmented and multiplied the buffooneries of sect and party, “Hope withering fled, and Mercy sighed farewell.” Internal dissentions, suspicions, and recriminations have saddened the fair aspect of social life; and abroad, war hath loosed its diabolical furies, and mingled the tears of desperation with the blood of licenced murder.
“Gozliski (says his translator) wrote at a time when the world was unacquainted with parties, which have since harassed and perplexed other estates and nations, beside our own. Nothing therefore, that he has said, can be suspected of the least tendency towards what himself hath condemned in general with so much zeal and rigour. When parties are silent is the time for him to be heard, not only patiently, but with regard and deference. If any fresh seeds of discord are now sown, or any new fires ready to be kindled, and if Party, our old inveterate enemy, is once more preparing to visit us under a new name, and in another shape, Gozliski’s precepts and institutions, are an admirable prescription for preventing the rise and growth of such a public malady; and by fixing our minds on the one great fundamental principle, the love of our country and the commongood, will divert us from all disputes and debates, unless upon this one thing necessary, and which alone can justify us in our dissentions and disagreements with our fellow–subjects.”
Such was the spirit of syncretism and coalition prevalent in the days of Gozliski. Such was the detestation entertained for all sects and parties, as the cause, either directly or indirectly, of the worst calamities of civil faction and foreign war.
Other authors, in after times, adopted the Syncretic policy of Cicero, and wrote professed Commentaries on his political works. In an historical sketch of this nature, it is necessary to mention them; we must, therefore, briefly notice the works of Bellendenus and Bernardi.
Among those who have sedulously studied the political works of Cicero, one of the earliest and best writers is William Bellenden, or Ballantine, a Scotchman, who spent the main part of his life at Paris. He was professor of the Belles Lettres in the University of Paris, in 1602, and remained long in that capital, even after he was made Master of the Pleas or Requests, by King James I., in England.
In 1616, appeared his celebrated work De Statu, comprising three treatises which he had before published separately, and which had procured him much fame in the literary world. These treatises were entitled: I. De Statu prisci orbis in religione, repolitica et literis. II. Ciceronis Princeps, sive de statu Principis et imperii. III. Ciceronis, Consul, Senator, senatusque Romanus, sive de statu reipublicæ et urbis imperantis orbis.
This work of Bellendenus, comprehending the doctrines of Cicero respecting the history of ancient politics, his views of the office and duties of a prince, and his counsels to senators and lawyers, had become exceedingly scarce, when our learned fellow–countryman, the late Dr. Samuel Parr, republished it in 1787, with an elaborate Latin preface, and dedicated it to his political friends, North, Burke, and Fox.
Parr speaks in the highest terms of Bellendenus. “Litteris fuit iis ornatus (says he) eoque præditus ingenio ut de illo dici possit quod in ore eruditorum percrebuit de Buchanano ου Σκότος ην αλλα φοως Σκοτιης, he was rather to be called the light of Scotland, than a Scotchman.” He next accuses Middleton of having plagiarized from Bellendenus in his Life of Cicero, in a very unconscionable style, without acknowledgment; and he then goes on with considerable ability to sketch the political characters and events of the period. This celebrated preface is, however, so highly spiced with the doctor’s pedantry and petulancy, that it has often come under the lash of the critics.
Dr. Rees has made a very judicious remark on Bellendenus.—“He was an elegant writer,” says the Cyclopædiast, “and a man of extensive knowledge and sound judgment. His Latin style is formed upon that of Cicero; and he embraces every opportunity of interweaving the most choice and proper phrasiology from the Roman Orator, even while he is expressing his own sentiments, so that it is not always easy to distinguish sentences cited from Cicero, from his own language.”
As an instance of this, we will translate the second chapter of his Ciceronis Princeps, treating “of the excellence of the regal empire, and of the cause and origin of kings and laws.”
Cicero, through his mouth–piece, Bellendenus, in this chapter, speaks as follows:—
“To kings and princes were all ancient nations obedient. The regal power was first conferred on the worthiest men, and it mainly prevailed in our own Commonwealth during the earlier form of the government. From these princes, it was delivered down to their descendants, so that to those also who now reign it belongs with the purple and the sceptre, and other insignia, which appertain to the regal authority.
“And it appears to me, that not only among the Medes, (as Herodotus says) but also among our ancestors, limited monarchs were constituted to promote the ends of justice, (fruendæ justiciæ causà videntur olim bene moderati Reges constituti.) For when the people began to be oppressed by those who had the greatest wealth, they naturally flew to some individual distinguished for his virtues, who adopted an equitable government, by which both rich and poor retained their appropriate rights. The same reason which led to the establishment of kings, obtained also with regard to laws; for equal justice must ever have been esteemed desirable; and if the people could find it administered by a just ruler, they would be content. Therefore were laws invented, which speak to all with one and the same voice. This then is plain, that those were appointed to reign whose justice was illustrious, according to the opinion of the people; and when these rulers were wise and learned, there was nothing which men were not willing to concede to their authority.”
In more recent times, a similar collection of Cicero’s political doctrines was attempted by M. Bernardi, who, in 1798, published a work which he entitled “De la Republique ou du meilleur government ouvrage traduit de Cicero, et retabli d’apres’ ses fragmens et ses autres ecrits, avec des notes historique.”
This work, which he divides into six books, is therefore composed of the few fragments of the then known Republic of Cicero, with very large extracts from his Treatise on Laws, his Offices, Orations, and other works. The compilation is executed with a neatness and precision which do credit to the talents of its author.
The conclusion of Bernardi’s elaborate preface is worth translating.—“Philosophy, (says he) was not with Cicero, as with many others, a contemptible hypocrisy, or a vain parade. All those, who, invested with authority, desire to devote it to its appropriate object, namely, the happiness of the people, should read with the deepest attention the letter in which Cicero relates to his brother Quintus, the rules which he ought to follow in the administration of his province. The glory, the wisdom, and the integrity, with which he himself governed Cilicia, prove, that to these precepts he added the force of his example.”
“He was always (continues Bernardi,) a stranger to the factions which divided and tormented Rome, during almost the whole course of his life. He never acknowledged any party, but that of the Commonwealth. When he saw civil war ready to explode, and the mania of destruction overwhelming, not only the wicked, but the just and noble, what efforts did he not make to heal this phren zy of factions, which he detested as the worst of all? He balanced long, whether he should support any party at all. And if he at length adopted that of Pompey, because he believed it most likely to promote the interests of the Commonwealth, he did not blind himself to the abuses to which this general converted his victories. He saw that passions were equally inflamed in both parties, and he dreaded the consequences to the state.
“The principles of the philosophy he professed, less austere than those of Cato, permitted him to survive, without dishonour, the usurpation of Cæsar. When he had once adopted this line of conduct, he submitted with resignation to all the sacrifices which it entailed. To desire the best, to prevent evils, to support misfortunes; these were the grand aims of his wisdom. Thus, whatever impatience the loss of liberty might have occasioned him, he took care to keep it under restraint in his conduct with regard to Cæsar. “I suppose, (says he,) that I should be permitted to speak freely if I lived in a free constitution; but since this is lost, why should I annoy by protestations him who has all the power in his hands, and those who surround him? The wise man can only be responsible for his own acts: and though he sees what is just, he is not bound to contend with more than his match in order to attain it. He must know how to comply with circumstances, and imitate the example of the illustrious philosophers, who could tolerate tyranny at Athens and at Syracuse, and so retained a kind of personal freedom in the midst of their national servitude.”—(Ad famil., 9, 7.)
The Syncretic, Unionistic, and Coalitinary spirit which is the most striking and characteristic of Cicero’s politics, has indirectly diffused itself for ages among the politicians of Europe. It is no wonder, therefore, that in the 15th century, the admirers of Cicero began to expound his Syncretic views in professed works on ecclesiastical and civil policy. Under the name of Catholic Unionists, Syncretists and Eclectics, they eloquently maintained that coalitinary policy was the only Christian and philanthropical policy in existence, and by it they sedulously endeavoured to harmonize the discords and contentions of all churches and states.
Among those who drank deepest into this Ciceronian syncretism and eclecticism, we would cite the names of Picus Mirandola, and Bessarion in Italy. Their philanthropical system was extended in Germany by Reuchlin the ever–wise, the ever–amiable, —a man who combined all that was true in the Papal aud Protestant Churches by rejecting the hallucinations of both. There was also Erasmus, whose Christian philosophy was too sublime and universal to be understood or appreciated by the quarrelsome partizans of his age. And Vives, whose immortal work, “de Concordia et Discordia,” so nobly advocated the syncretic and coalitionary politics of the Ciceronians.
Their example was followed in the Papal Church by those noble and liberal writers, Cassander, Vicelius, Bossuet, Fenelon, Du’Pin, Coura yer, Cane, Ganganelli, Sir Thomas More, Huet, Burigni, Montesquieu, Voltaire, Geddes, Haywarden, Constant, O’Croly, Berresford, Murray, Doyle, Charles Butler, and Lingard.
Such were the Roman Catholic Syncretists, and Roman Catholic Reformers, who have escaped from the contemptible and ignorant bigotry of sectarianism into the glorious liberty of universal love.
Nor has the system of syncretic coalition, so eloquently recommended by Cicero, been less patronized by Protestant writers on ecclesiastical and civil policy. Such syncretists were Calixtus, Bacon, Grotius, Puffendorf, Leibnitz, Wolfius, Selden, (the most learned and exemplary of all the political lawyers that have arisen in Great Britain) Wake, Tillotson, Causabon, Fowler, Hale, Cudworth, More, (that noble band of Syncretists, and Coalitionists distinguished by the name of Latitudinarians,) Locke, Huntington, Whitby, Baxter, Burnet, Mason, Nightingale, Starck, Peel, Hallam, Miller, Noel, and many cotemporary gentlemen, whose minds are too noble to be debased to party, who will not confine to a sect the philantrophy which was meant for mankind, and who endeavour by all means in their power to mitigate that mania of schisms and factions, which is gradually and imperceptibly, but not the less surely and inevitably, undermining the prosperity of our empire.
There was a time which we should sometimes revive in the memory of our country, when great princes had the wisdom to chose a syncretic and coalitionary ministry, composed of the best and wisest men of all sects and parties. There was a time, when such a ministry, acting for the universal good, remained in office for long and illustrious periods, during which they perfected their political talents by sedulous experience, and consolidated, aggrandized, and reformed every department of our unrivalled constitution. In those days, the angel of Patriotism rose superior to the demon of Party; and if oppositions existed, they existed mainly to balance and regulate the eccentricities of the transcendent power. Hence, a wholesome and beautiful harmony prevailed in the senate; action and reaction were equalized, and the people rejoicing in the approved wisdom of their statesmen, augmented social prosperity and individual happiness, without care, anxiety, or molestation.
But woe to a country, when a party ministry is formed for party interest, and factious purposes! By a policy incredibly insignificant, minute, and puerile, they always manage to gratify the few at the expense of the many; they flatter and pamper some sectarian and partial interests, at the expense of the catholic and universal prosperity of the empire. Hence, exactly in proportion as they extend favoritism to one party, they produce disgust in all the rest. And, hence, no sooner is a such a Ministry appointed, than a deadly opposition is organized to lacerate and destroy it; and this not for any patriotic purposes, but for the indulgence of their hostile passions, and the selfish acquisition of place, power, and corrupt emolument.
All this is so notorious, that it needs no notice here. But it is not so notorious, that this insane rivalry of sects, parties, schisms and factions, whatever name they may be called by, is accelerating the revolution and decline of our British empire. “Divide and Conquer,” was the motto by which Rome subdued all nations. She allowed herself to be divided, as she was herself enslaved. It is no less certain in the political world, than it is in the physical, according to the memorable maxim of Selden, “that union is strength, and division is weakness.”
This may appear a very simple truth, but the oblivion of simple truths is the ruin of great empires. As the translator of Cicero, the unrivalled expounder of syncretic policy, who prophesied that the hostilities of parties and factions would prove the ruin of Rome, I would loudly forewarn my fellow countrymen:—as an admirer of Montesquieu, who predicted that this same curse of parties would produce revolution in France:—I protest against this licenced and popular delusion.
The chief reason why we have translated these political works of Cicero is, because they are calculated to impress our fellow–countrymen with the superiority of syncretic and coalitionary policy, and to inspire them with a vehement aversion to the vain sophistications of sects and parties. We know that in this design we shall carry all true Ciceronians along with us, and that they will do what they can collectively and severally to annihilate that demon of partizanship, which, if not destroyed by us, will assuredly bring us to shame.
We are acquainted with no British author who appears more perfectly to have understood and thoroughly relished the Syncretic or Ciceronian policy than the immortal Selden—the noblest and learnedest man that has ever illustrated our national laws. Dr. Wilkins, Dr. Aiken, and of late, Mr. Johnson, in their biographies of this admirable lawyer, have set him forth as one of the safest models that legislators and jurisconsults can follow in modern politics. Selden’s name is assuming a just and potent influence over a large body of modern unionists and coalitionists. We, therefore, cannot better conclude our disquisition on Cicero’s politics than by illustrating that form of development which they assumed in the mind of Selden.
Selden, who was, in fact a very religious man, and as Sir M. Hale assures us, “an earnest professor of the christian faith, and a resolved and serious christian:”—Selden saw at a glance, that the only policy which could possibly deserve the name of christian policy, was the catholic, syncretic, and coalitionary. For inasmuch as christianity is the religion of unity and love, which maintains the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace, every deviation into party spirit, properly so called, is indisputably anti–christian and diabolical.
Therefore, as Johnson well observes, Selden earnestly attached himself to the body of syncretists, unionists, coalitionists, and moderators, and endeavoured, so far as he could, to combine and harmonize the forces and the interests of those stirring and ever–conflicting parties, which may generally be classed under three divisions. 1st. The High Church, Tory, or Conservative. 2dly. The Low Church, Whigs, juste milieu men. 3dly. Dissenters, radicals, levellers, and revolutionists.
Selden appears to have seen, no less clearly than Filmer, that the patriarchal power was the greatest and earliest political power known among men, and it is the necessary foundation of political governments.
“The patriarchal authority (says he) which existed in Adam, Seth, Noah, Melchisedeck, Abraham, and other chief princes of that period, was extended to the judges and prefects, for they united the ecclesiastical and political power. Thus the authority of Moses was twofold; in one respect sacerdotal: in the other, royal, and absolute in public domination. Thus, under the theory of a pontifical sovereign, or sacerdotal prince, he executed sacred and civil functions, as was the case with the patriarchal pontiffs, who succeeded in the line of primogeniture. It is, therefore, acknowledged that Moses was priest and king, and such pontifical emperors were the judges or prefects that succeeded him.” (Vide de Synedris.)
But while he maintained the dignity of patriarchs as a matter of acknowledged precedence, he was no less careful to assert the divine right and sacerdotal functions of kings, and their absolute superintendence over all ecclesiastical as well as civil powers within their own dominions.
Thus, says he, “Many things relating to the supreme ecclesiastical authority, the royal primacy, and the power of the pope and king occur in the books against Bellarmin, Tortus Beccanus, and Suarez, in the reign of James, and some written by himself, in which is powerfully discussed the right of ecclesiastical jurisdiction and excommunication by the ancient laws and customs of the kingdom of Britain, exercised according to the regulations of the king and the royal law, and no otherwise. This power of the keys, and the right of excommunication, they attribute to the king alone, as the sovereign ruler and governor, as the laws of this realm, as the courts of ecclesiastical jurisdiction acknowledge. All which is expressly asserted by that admirable, learned, and exemplary divine, Bishop Andrews, in his answer to Bellarmine.”—(De Synedris.)
Thus Selden agreed with Andrews, Hooker, and Filmer, respecting the divine and sacred and ecclesiastical right of kings. In his Titles of Honour, he speaks as follows:—“As the supremacy of princes and their government is delegate from the Highest, their judgments being also his, so in a general sense they are entitled Gods, even by God himself, because here on earth they should, for their power, be his imitators, and therefore, they may, in this sense, be entitled divine and sacred. Thus Contzen saith, kings may be called divine and sacred, because they are God’s vicars on earth, and declare the sentence of the Deity.”
But while he maintained the divine right as strongly as Filmer or Atterbury, he saw clearly enough that this divine right of kings was not always absolute and entire, but that it was necessarily modified according to the nature of the regency. He observed that “all things were held by the jus divinum, either immediately or mediately,” and this very observation led him to conclude that this divine right might vary infinitely under different circumstances and predicaments.
He also saw that while kings were in one sense appointed by God, that in another sense they were appointed by man. He saw that the divine right did not exclude the human right, but rather went hand in hand with it, and confirmed the voice of the people.
Thus while he took somewhat higher ground than Hoadly, Paley, and Locke, he saw no less clearly than these writers, that kings were appointed on the express condition of protecting and promoting the interests of their people, and that when they broke this condition, they ipso facto forfeited their right of sovereignty.
Selden’s view of the essential condition of all just sovereignty, is well explained by his last biographer, Johnson. “A king (says Selden) is a thing men make for their own sakes—for quietness sake. They grant him certain high privileges and powers; but it is upon the condition that he shall guard their liberties and administer their laws. The moment he neglects either, he has broken the condition, and his privileges are forfeited. Ipso facto, he is reduced to the liabilities of a subject. It matters little whether such a delinquent’s crimes appear in the form of murder, rape, or general tyranny. He has disregarded the purposes for which he was raised to the throne, and no reason, either technical or moral, can convince the understanding that he has not degraded himself, or is not justly brought within the power of the law he has despised. If it be asked who should be his judges? it may be answered, without the fear of a rational objection, that having forfeited his prerogative, he might be arraigned before those to whose integrity he has confided the dispensation of justice.
“If it be asked who shall be his prosecutor? it may be answered, the power to whom the nation next confides the sovereignty, for to that power it delegates the administration of retributive, as well as preventive, justice. The dignity of the delinquent might claim a trial before a loftier tribunal, and the House of Commons might vindicate the rights of the people by impeaching him at the bar of the House of Lords. It would be absurd to admit as a good plea, that these tribunals have no jurisdiction over such an offender. From what has been suggested, it is clear that if the most high tribunal of the realm is assigned to administer to him justice, he can avail himself of no further appeal. The most hardy defender of absolute monarchy, will no longer dare to maintain that a king being once chosen, may violate the nation’s laws, and the laws of God, without the possibility of redress. What sympathy of our nature, or what dictate of our reason would it shock to see a John, a Richard the Third, or a Henry the Eighth, condemned by the laws which he had infracted? There is no writer on the law of nations, that does not acknowledge their right to depose their sovereigns who act in subversion of their laws and liberties. The right is confirmed by Puffendorff, Vattel, Locke, Sidney, Le Clerk, and even Barclay. This cannot, however, excuse the extreme injustice and violence exhibited by the English in their proceedings against Charles the First, or of the French in their bloody murder of Louis the Sixteenth.
Respecting the question whether kings are most properly hereditary or elective, it is the verdict of human experience that hereditary monarchs are generally preferable, on many accounts. The hereditary succession of kings is evidently countenanced by the patriarchal theory which pervaded the Jewish and all the Oriental nations, and from thence Lycurgus adopted it, as the best system, in his Spartan state. Yet occasions have occurred, in many nations, which have usually patronised the hereditary system, that have induced them to resort to the election in order to introduce a new dynasty.
Cicero, in some places, seems to speak highly of the old patriarchal principle of succession, as applied to kings and princes. But this wise preference did not always prevail in his mind, and his desire to eulogize the ancient practices of the Romans, perhaps, in this respect, rather warped his judgment. This is probably the reason why in two or three passages of his Commonwealth, he appears to give the elective system somewhat more praise than it deserves. His arguments, always plausible, ingenious, and ingenious even in a bad cause, have been eloquently discussed by Grotius, Montesquieu, and their followers.
In translating Cicero and the ancient classical writers, we often observe a propriety and correctness in the use of political terms, which we seek in vain in more modern authors. They almost invariably, as Selden has proved in his Titles of Honour, describe their kings, princes, and rulers as the dominative power, combining alike ecclesiastical and civil authority, and regulating alike the affairs of Church and State. They also describe the legislative power, as that of the senate; and the judicial power, as that of the courts of law. All these, according to the ancient authorities, were superior to the executive power, properly so called, inasmuch as counsel, deliberation, and design, are necessarily superior and precedent to the external powers which carry them into execution. The executive power, therefore, in their estimation, was the subservient force of the nation, whether civil or military, which executes the injunctions that are laid on it, as a servant, who has not to order or design, but to work and accomplish.
The dominative power of the crown is, therefore, as much above the legislative and judicial as they are above the executive and the military. But by some strange and mischievous confusion of terms, these words have been used by writers no less grave than Paley and Locke in a false and illegitimate sense.
By thus confounding the supreme dominative power of the crown, which is above the legislative, with the executive, which is below the legislative, they unwittingly degraded dominative power below the legislative, as if the legislature might alter it or abolish it, just as they please. They did not perhaps see, that by this oversight, they gave an unfair advantage to the democratical party, who instantly seized it.
The purity of Locke’s designs, as Mr. Patteson observes, remains at this day unquestioned and established, yet nothing appears more certain (as Heeren has lately proved) than that this great writer so far merged the principle of loyalty in that of liberalism, as to become the political father of the Voltaires, Rousseaus, D’Alemberts, &c., just as they were the parents of the Mirabeaus, La Fayettes, Baillys, Condorcets, and Tom Paines.
- Althusius and the Federal Commonwealth
- Althusius’s Political Thought
- Bryce on America
- Burckhardt’s Pessimistic Conservatism
- Calhoun on Union & Liberty
- Chodorov’s Political Thought
- Chodorov, Socialism via Taxation (1946)
- Cicero’s Commonwealth
- Classics of Political Thought
- Cobden’s Political Thought
- Condorcet, 10th Epoch. Future Progress of Man (1796)
- Constant and Modernity
- Constant’s Political Thought
- Constant, The Liberty of Ancients Compared with that of Moderns (1819)
- Dante on Monarchy
- De Lolme and the English Constitution
- Eighteenth-century middle-class English radicalism
- Étienne de la Boétie, Discourse of Voluntary Servitude (1576)
- French Declaration of Rights
- Friedman on a Volunteer Army
- Friedman on Stability of Freedom
- George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) and the Fabian Society
- Guizot and Representative Government
- Guizot on the rise of the Free Cities
- Herbert & State Compulsion
- Hobbes: Oakeshott’s Introduction to Leviathan
- Hume on the Origin of Government
- Hume’s Essays
- Julian, George Washington (1817-1899)
- Kant’s Political Philosophy
- Kant’s Political Philosophy II
- Karl Marx and the Liberal Critique of Socialism
- Lecky and Democracy
- Leggett and the Doctrine of Equal Rights
- Leoni on Voting and the Market
- Macaulay, Southey’s Colloquies (1830)
- Machan, Spencer A Century Later
- Mackay on the Socialist Dystopia
- Marcus Aurelius and the Scottish Enightenment
- Marxism as Farrago: A Dialog betwen H.B Acton & a Reader
- Milton and Freedom of Speech
- Milton on the Ideal Republic
- Milton on the Right to Depose a Tyrant King
- Milton’s Political Writings
- Minogue on Freedom
- Montesquieu and the Separation of Powers
- Montesquieu’s Mes Pensées: Editor’s Introduction
- Oakeshott and Hobbes
- Paul, The Liberty and Property Defence League
- Penn’s Life and Political Thought
- Personal Rights Association
- Plato’s The Laws - Jowett’s analysis
- Plato’s The Republic - Jowett’s analysis
- Read, To Abdicate or Not
- Richter’s Socialist Dystopia
- Rothbard on the Black Revolution
- Rothbard’s Review of Leoni, Freedom and the Law
- Rousseau as Political Philosopher
- Rousseau’s Political Thought
- Spencer & the State
- Spencer on Education
- Spencer on the Tyranny of Fashion (1854)
- Spencer, Proper Sphere of Government (1843)
- Spencer, The Right to Ignore the State (1851)
- Spinoza’s Political Theory
- Tacitus and Tyranny
- Taylor and American tyranny
- The Earl of Shaftesbury on Liberty and Harmony