22 JULY 1876, Page 19

MR. SIMCOX'S HISTORY OF TACITUS.* IT is a curious fact,

only too significant of the depressed con- dition of classical learning in England, that the two • chief works of Tacitus have never been edited in this country in any adequate way. It is true that the scholar has not been left with- out assistance. The most brilliant of Roman classics has attracted the labour of several translators, while the text has been eluci- dated by more than one excellent volume of notes. And then there is the admirable edition of Orelli, who seldom leaves any- thing unexplained, and still more seldom makes a mistake. Yet no author so widely read should have been left without a good English edition. Mr. Simeox's work is therefore doubly welcome, for it supplies a need, and supplies it fully. A competent scholar, with all the apparatus of criticism which the labours of predecessors• have furnished, can hardly go far wrong in his exegesis. Still Tacitus peculiarly wants in a commentator not only scholarship, but ingenuity and taste. No prose writer presents so many passages where a choice of meanings is possible, no one wraps up so much in a few words. Mr. Simcox does his choosing and unravelling with most commendable skill.

About the life of Tacitus little now remains to be evolved out of the Beauty materials which have been so repeatedly explored. Mr. Simcox, however, strengthens by an ingenious suggestion the presumption that the Cornelius Tacitus spoken of by the Elder Pliny as having been Procurator of Belgic Gaul was the his- torian's father. This Tacitus had a child of precocious size and weak mind, a misfortune which, in the case of a man of rank, would probably have been concealed from all but intimate friends. If it was thus that Pliny became acquainted with it, what could har- monise better with the fact of the close friendship which we find in the next generation between the younger 'I'acitus and the younger Pliny ? The matter has a certain importance as bearing on the question of the historian's personal knowledge of North-Eastern Gaul and the German border, a knowledge of which some presumption is afforded by his minuteness of detail in describing the campaign of Civilis against

the Generals of Vitellius and Vespasian, and by passages in the Germania. Mr. Simcox is inclined to give an early date for the historian's birth, holding, as we think, rightly, that the younger Pliny's vague expression, ",setate propemodum &quake," must be taken loosely. Here, also, there is a certain importance attaching to the question. If Tacitus was born as early as 54 A.D., and quite possibly earlier, he was old enough to be a fairly competent eye-witness of the scenes which he describes as taking place in Rome during the terrible year of the four Emperors.

On the mental attitude of Tacitus, in regard to political, religious, and ethical questions, there -is always room for remark, and Mr. Simeox's treatment of the subject is remarkably able. He

takes occasion to insinuate a philosophy, with which we utterly dis- agree, when he tells us that the "raw material of moral sentiment in all ages is the habit of adherence to the customs among which we have grown up," and quotes with approval the definition of duty, " to do as other men are doing;" but he analyses the characteristics of Tacitus' mind as they are revealed—and some of them are revealed with remarkable distinctness—in his writings.

The religious tone of the historian's mind is a remarkable phe- nomenon, and not one which we should expect to find in an age which is commonly described as thoroughly sceptical. To this common description, indeed, Mr. Simcox demurs :—

" If wo look to the evidence we have as to the state of religion among Tacitus' contemporaries, we may see signs of a reaction from unbelief, as well as from superstition, that moved men of any religious fooling to rally round the national gods and legitimate ceremonies, as the best hope of truth and the best safeguard of purity ; Domitian himself was not only sincere, but fanatical in his reverence for them ; his personal vices are no more evidence to the contrary than those of Philip IL of Spain, or James IL of England. Any member of Tacitua' circle would ' probably have felt as uneasy at a prodigium non publics procuration as it is said that Voltaire's disciples did, if one found himself at a dinner-party of thirteen ; and the Roman was not in the least ashamed of himself for the superstition, as the Frenchman perhaps would be. Tacitus him- ; self was plainly shocked, and expects his readers to bo so, at Vitellius' I ignorance and carelessness in doing pontifical business on the anniver- • Galena Claosicorum History of radios, according to the Text-of °relit. Ratted, with English Notes and Introduction, by William Henry Simon; ILA., Queen'a I College, Oxford. 2 vela. London: Elsingtoos. 1875.

vary of the Allis. Men who felt dissatisfied with the popular religion as a standard of truth and goodness, nevertheless respected it on ac- count of its untraceable origin, which it was as impossible to disprove as to prove to be really divine. Philosophers might follow Socrates in refusing to believe stories or approve practices contrary to natural morality; practical men might, still oftener, take note that popular beliefs were seldom perfectly verified by facts; but both classes, when brought face to face with the religion they criticised, would have con- fessed that there might be something in it.' Tacitus may have handled and studied the third edition of the Sibylline Books with as good faith and sincere reverence as Crito offered the testamental cock to Aescula. pins."

We might even go beyond this, and say that Tacitus was of a pecu- liarly believing disposition. He relates prodigies with what may be almost called credulity. The famous miracle of Vespasian at Alexandria was evidently accepted by him as a fact.

Mr. Simcox's running commentary on the text is very satis- factory. He is particularly acute in seeing the bearing of the passages on which he is commenting. A propos, for instance, of the expression linguis dissonos, applied to the armies which were about to contend at the first battle of Bedriacum, his note is "historically significant, as showing the importance as well as the large number of Germans in Vitellius' army, and how slightly they were Romanised." So, again, we may instance the way in which Mr. Simcox brings out what he calls Vitellius' pseudo- republicanism. It is refreshing to find some variety in what had seemed the dull level of the man's brutal sensuality. Probably the man had something in him, if it was nothing better than an affected liking for republican institutions.

Of course, in looking through these two volumes, we have occasionally found ourselves differing with Mr. Simcox. In

2, " Sedecim alarum conjuncta signs pulsu sonituque et nube ipsa operient ac superfundent oblitos prmliorumequites equosque," he takes " nube ipsa " to mean " dust." This is probable, but he is hardly right when he adds that it is hardly Latin to speak, as we do, of a cloud of cavalry. Procella is certainly so used ; and nubes is nearly an equivalent. The word ipsa, however, looks as if there was an intentional descent from the more impressive words ' rush' and ' sound' to the less impressive 'dust.' The very dust would be too much for them. But why is oblitos "probablyproleptic?" This is not what we should gather from the former part of the chapter. In ii. 14, is a difficult passage, the answer of the Ligurian woman when questioned by the soldiers about the biding-place of her son,—" Uterum ostendens, Latere respondit." Is " latere " the infinitive of lateo, or the ablative of latus I Surely we may expect the very words of the woman to be quoted. The oratio oblique would be frigid. " He is hidden," too, would be com- mon-place ; but "in my heart," is fine.

A critic is bound to keep up his charter by finding fault, but it is not easy to pick a quarrel with Mr. Simcox. We have not seen a better edition of a classic for many a day.