6 AUGUST 1921, Page 20


WE seem to be always recording American contributions to scholarship and belles-lettres. Only a few months ago we deal t with a fascinating study of Dryden turned out, if we remember rightly, by a university press, certainly by what the Elizabethans called " a university pen." To-day we are dealing with a study in ancient polite letters, given to the world by the University of California Press. Further, the present writer is guiltily conscious that there is a learned volume awaiting its turn on his writing-table dealing with the Illuminati Society in America, printed by the Columbia University Press. It is one of an historical and literary series of which the volumes are as frequent in appearance as they are fresh in treatment and subject. The system under which post-graduates in America are set to write theses produces hundreds of delightful surprises for the scholars of the whole English-speaking world. Now some young and yet ripe student discovers or redis- covers one of the greatest thinkers in economics like Nassau Senior. The modern world thought of him merely as ‘a Victorian Platonist who made all the statesmen of his age, from Thiers to Tocqueville, or from Guizot to Renan, talk in true Socratic fashion. Yet an American explorer has lately proved that all the while Senior's original and flexible mind held the true and inner doctrines of Value and Exchange. Again, there this year came a knight-errant to lead us through the forests of "Romance." He found a pathway through the crowding under- growth of books which deal with that strange word and its stranger history.

Cicero, if he has to be expressed in the terms of our own language and history, belongs to the early eighteenth century. If we may be allowed to stand on our heads for a minute, we might suggest that he had no more use for an ivy-clad abbey, a mouldering turret, a miracle play, or a Chaucerian legend, than Lord Halifax, Sir Robert Walpole, Lord Cobham, or Bubb Doddington. We had almost added Mr. Pelham or the first Lord Holland, but there arises before us a piece of Carpenter's Gothic even anterior to Strawberry Hill, in the first connexion, and in the second the castellated ruins which, according to. Gray, were enough to terrify mariners shipwrecked on the Goodwin Sands. Though Cicero, when looked at from our point of view, is so purely a man of the period 1700-1745, that does not make him uninteresting. Rather it renders him for ua one of the most fascinating of historical personalities. He was a politician, a talking politician, and a lawyer politician before anything Else. At the same time he was a man of colossal intelligence and true learning, and was endowed with an instinct for the right word and the right way of putting a statement in an argument, to which the history of literature affords us no parallels, or affords a parallel only in Macaulay. Cicero is far ahead of Burke on the side of belies-kttres.

There is perhaps only one man in the world who ever had a greater power over words. That man was Shakespeare. Shakespeare had, besides, knowledge of the human heart and an understanding of the mainsprings of human action of which Cicero had not the slightest conception. Beyond this sympathy of comprehension, carried to the highest possible point, Shakespeare was possessed of the power of passion in its supreme form. That is why he is the true artist, Not only in his work do we realize that art lives only by passion, but that he at any rate had the power to impassion himself on every conceivable subject. When he willed it, there was nothing he touched that he did not make vibrate with feeling. What is more, with him we never look coldly on and say, " How interesting !" Here is a man treating with passion a fat, blousy old reprobate • Clew : A Biography. By Upstart Petereson. University of California Banat Berkeley. like Falstaff " unbuttoning on benches " after dinner, and treating him with the fondness which the true artist must always lavish on the children of his brain. We have to say of Shakespeare that not only could he himself be passionate over anything, but that he can pass on the ,passion to hie millions of readers. He has stamped the image of his passion for all time on the things he writes about.

But though this great quality gives Shakespeare an mi. rivalled power over words, Cicero's verbal powers were almost as great. Indeed, his greatness in this respect is often quite uncanny. The masterly way in which he controls the torrent of his tongue and steers his little cockleshell of an argument through the terrible rapids without a mishap makes one feel almost hysterical. As one reads one feels certain that the boat must be upset or dashed against the opposing rocks. But no, it always comes safe through and finishes its headlong course quite neatly. Before we realize what has happened it is tied up exactly at the very spot at which Cicero intended it should be tied up when he began his oration.

Cicero would no doubt have been much happier if he had lived in the unspacious days of Queen Anne and George I. He would have been incredibly comfortable in those surroundings. There was enough revolution in the air to give him the political interest and excitement which he loved, and never so much as to endanger his position, or to tempt the pious and patriotic politician to be cringing or disingenuous. A periwigged patriotism would have suited him to a "T." But alas for poor Cicero's happiness, he was born in a terrible age, an age of earthquake and eclipse, the age of Pompey and Caesar, and of their feud of the giants. Cicero longed pathetically for a respectable republic. Yet such was the ignominy of the times that he had to spend the beat years of his life skirmishing with such people as Caesar and Pompey, Catiline and Mark Antony, Dolabella and Octavius, Brutus and Cassius, and all the motley and ignoble crew that thronged the Forum and caught the World's great hands. He had even to endure the supreme humiliation of seeing dark and venal ladies and other " designing females " like Cleopatra upsetting his schemes. He liked a touch of political intrigue with " the sex " well enough, but it must not be pushed too far. It must be conducted with decency and decorum, and without bloodshed or corruption, or at any rate with the very minimum of such nasty things.

To a man of this kind the political atmosphere prevailing practically during his whole life was a long moral martyrdom. He was always having to make compromises between principles and safety and loathing himself for doing so. By the way, how the motto " Safety First " confronting him on every 'bus would have wrung Cicero's heart had he lived in these days ! It was on that principle that he almost always, in fact, acted in politics. Yet his whole life was a pretence that he did nothing of the kind. His inner maxim was, " Never do an ignoble or unpatriotic act unless it is positively necessary." Nevertheless, he hated hedging and playing for safety, and having to be sly, cautious, and cynical. The force of circumstances would not even allow him to stand neutral. He would have been willing to be neutral on a moral issue, to borrow a famous phrase from our own age, but he could not even attain to this ambiguous refuge.

In one of his letters to Atticus he brings this out with great poignancy. Atticus, after the way of a " hard-shell " business friend when he writes to a politician, advised him to keep clear of embarrassments and not to commit himself too much to either side, and so forth and so on. Cicero wails back in effect, `. Whet is the use of this talk about not committing oneself ? You forget there are only two lobbies, and I have got to be in one of them. When the Quaestor says, Marcus Tullius, which way do you vote ? I am done. I can't scuttle out or abstain. I am ' for it' one way or the other. I must, however much I dislike it, come out in my true, or at any rate in some colours. To sit perpetually on the fence would merely be to make myself hated by both sides, or lose all my influence and my position. In fact, I should commit political suicide. It is a horrible position for me, and you don't help me a bit." And so poor Tullius toils on, letting other people down, or howling at the way in which they let him down, never quite severing him- self from anyone, and therefore never really enjoying the con- fidence of anyone.

Yet, curiously enough, such was the admiration Cicero inspired amongst cultivated and responsible Romans that even in those days so full of death, dread, and disaster he would almost certainly have lived if power had not passed for a certain tints into the hands of so brutal a savage as Mark Antony. Caesar, with his coolness of mind and temperate cynicism, took the exact measure of Cicero, and had evidently decided to spare him whatever happened as a kind of museum specimen : " One of our old-time moralists : useful if absurd." Pompey, had he won, though apparently he had no great use for Cicero, would never have punished him for " hedging off a bit " and reducing his liabilities on the Caesarian side. And Octavius, if he had had his own way, would almost certainly have saved Cicero and would no doubt have used him as he used Horace and Virgil. We can well believe that if Cicero had not been hacked to pieces by Antony's bravoes, as might easily have happened if he had been a little more prompt and skilful at getting away, he would have been allowed by the Divus Augustus to go for a short period of exile to Spain or somewhere. When he came back he would have helped the astute Medician bourgeois autocrat, not of Tuscany but of all the world, to place the empire on a basis of respectable logic with a dash of reasonable religion, the whole refreshed with a sound agricultural and commercial policy—" more crops and less conquests." We can imagine that Cicero's last two books, De Rusticis and De Imperio, would have been most edifying and would have justified the ways of the Emperor to mankind in a manner which would have enchanted all peoples that do dwell in the world of letters down to this present.

It is difficult, when one writes about Cicero, not to be a little scornful, and yet that is rather a poor, though obviously a very easy, way of treating him. Cicero's faults were all on the surface, and, owing to his intense respectability and virtuousness, he is the least difficult man to quiz who ever lived. Yet all the same he was a most lovable man and a man of supreme ability. Nobody can read his books or read a good biography of him like the one before us without coming under the wand of the enchanter. He was so human and so pleasant and so dignified, always " so exceedingly nice."

One likes him even when he is most upset and shocked at the goings on of his relations, for all the time he shows a genuine sense of humour. When he has to tell Atticus how very badly the great banker's sister Pomponia, married to Cicero's brother Quintus, behaved on a certain occasion, you may still see through the words the humorously pursed-up lips of the old gentleman and the naughty 'glint of amusement in his eye. He tells with infinite gusto the painful story of the frightful scene she made before the tenants' dinner, of her going to bed and refusing to eat the nice supper sent up to her room, and of how she declared that she had been made a stranger in her own house, meaning, of course, that she intended her husband should be the stranger ! Then Cicero drops a delightful word or two that makes us glow with amusement. As he finishes the story of the row he interjects to Atticus : " You will say that was no great matter. But you should have seen—and heard— your sister." That " heard " shows the real humorist. He is making use of his own reticent, hushed voice to give a comic touch.

Very characteristically, he does not seem to have faced the music himself, but to have kept quite quiet all the time. He -wants Atticus, however, to give his sister a good talking to, and thus ends the Letter : " So you may tell Pomponia from me that on that day she did not act like a lady." Clearly she was lacking in that " humanitas " which was a religion to Cicero.

But we have left ourselves little room to say anything about Mr. Petersson's book, which is really a crime, for it is an exceedingly able book and will give real pleasure to every intelligent reader, whether he knows Latin or not. Even if Roman history has hitherto been a closed book to him, or even if he knows only about the world of to-day, he will like Mr. Petersson's book. The author has taken all the personal

allusions in Cicero's speeches—and they are multitudinous—

all the letters, and all the avowedly biographical writings and allusions in the essays, and has pieced them together, amplified by the varied allusions to Cicero in general Latin literature.

He has made a most full and attractive biography. We get Cicero's own words, not so much in long quotations as in modified incorporations in the text. The task was a difficult one, not owing to the lack of material, but owing to the vast amount.. Curiously enough, as Mr. Petersson points out, there is no one in antiquity, and very few people in comparatively modern times, of whom we know so much and in such intimate detail as we know of Cicero. To this mass of material Mr. Petersson brings not only a highly analytical mind but a mind of grelt sympathy. He never over-praises Cicero, but he never treats him with • bitterness or indignity. He always makes out the best case for his client when there is a case, as there usually is. The book, indeed, has a charming evenness of temper throughout. The author throws no vitriol ; there is no vituperation, no grandiose moral tone about the book. The hardest thing he says about anyone, and it is an excellent thing, is his description of Atticus. He calls him a " con summate neutral." So he was. He kept his head upon his shoulders when better men went to the ground.

Mr. Petersson has written a most attractive biography. We wish it every possible success. No man of intelligence with a thirst for Roman history who wants a good holiday. book can do better than order it. Let us end with Julius Caesar's masterly summing-up of Cicero : " If any man is good-natured it is Cicero, and yet I have no doubt that he hates me thoroughly." How characteristic of Caesar was the personal comment !