Champagny's Caesars Of The Third Century
( Originally Published 1874 )
IN the three volumes before me M. de Champagny completes a great work, undertaken many years ago; and to the earlier part of which I have already called the attention of my readers. It is to any man no small blessing to have been led to select as his own some undertaking the achievement of which is, in itself, important, and for which he is adapted by his position, talents, and attainments. It is a greater blessing still when, after having selected it with judgment, he has not been diverted from it either by human frailty or mutability, or by the distractions and accidents with which in every age the Life of man is beset. His happiness is greater still, if the great task, wisely undertaken and perseveringly pursued, is not broken off unfinished by the shortness of human Iife. This accumulation of happiness, denied to so many great thinkers in every age, has been conceded to few of those, who, in our own, have devoted themselves to a subject of which a thoughtful mind can hardly become wearied, although its extent may alarm any ordinary diligence, the history of the Eternal City, which shines with a double glory, as the centre and metropolis of all that is great, first in the natural order, and subsequently in the kingdom of God Himself upon earth.
The great work in which the History of the Rise of Rome was illustrated by the genius and learning of Niebuhr, was cut short by his death before he had begun the narrative of the Second Punic War. Arnold left the history of that war nearly ended. Gibbon was spared to finish a gigantic work. His record of its commencement and its completion contrasts, as might be expected, so sadly with the language of M. de Champagny that it may be worth while to compare the two. ` It was at Rome, on the 15th of October, 1764, as I sat musing amidst the ruins of the Capitol, while the barefooted friars were singing vespers in the Temple of Jupiter, that the idea of writing the Decline and Fall of the city first entered into my mind.' ' It was on the day, or rather night, of the 27th of June, 1787, between the hours of eleven and twelve, that I wrote the last lines of the last page, in a summer-house in my garden. After laying down my pen, I took several turns in a berceau, or covered walk, of acacias, which commands a prospect of the country, the lake, and the mountains. The air was temperate, the sky was serene, the silver orb of the moon was reflected from the waters, and all nature was silent. I will not dissemble the first emotions of joy on the recovery of my freedom, and, perhaps, the establishment of my fame. Put my pride was soon humbled, and a sober melancholy was spread over my mind, by the idea that I had taken an everlasting leave of an old and agreeable companion, and that, whatsoever might be the future fate of my history, the life of the historian must be short and precarious. . . . The rational pride of an author may be offended rather than flattered by vague indiscriminate praise, but he cannot, he should not be indifferent to the fair testimonies of private and public esteem. Even his moral sympathy may be gratified by the idea, that now, in the present hour, he is imparting some degree of amusement or knowledge to his friends in a distant land, and that one day his mind will be familiar to the grand-children of those who are yet unborn."
To the self.styled philosopher—' Myself'—` my posthumous fame,' is all in all ; the highest thought to which he soars is that of the amusement of friends in a distant land. Now turn to M. de Champagny.
Thirty years ago he wrote
Such an undertaking cannot be the work of a few days. As the Apostle teaches us, ' We know not what shall be on the morrow,' and we ought to say, ' If the Lord will, and if we live we will do this or that.' (Caesar's, vol. i. xxii.)
Ile now ends
Here I bring to a conclusion, not without emotion, these labours
[Etudes] upon the Roman Empire, which have occupied more than forty years of my life, and which, by God's help, have supported and consoled me through the trials of private life, and through the revolutions of our national life, the former very bitter, the last, what-ever else they may have been, full of suffering
In following the course of history from Julius Caesar to Constantine, I have travelled through twelve generations of men, before whose eyes was carried out the greatest revolution, intellectual, moral, and social, which the history of the world exhibits ; a revolution which has no equal in the past, and which, I fear not to pronounce, will have none in the future the revolution which made the world Christian. Whence did it come, and how was it brought about ?
Whence did it come ? I have several times touched this question, and it has been discussed by others, with much more of completeness and eloquence than I could pretend to. On one side are records, ancient, clear, simple, positive, which, until the last few centuries, have been understood literally by all mankind, and which, literally understood, give, in a single word, the full and complete solution of this revolution the intervention of God in the course of this world. On the other side, there are theories, ingenious no doubt, profound we are assured, supported by a mighty armament of learning, learning accumulated from every quarter, and still more by a mighty power of imagination, by a self-confident criticism which throws scorn upon ordinary men, and rather lays down the law to them than aims at convincing them. These theories, while in other respects divergent and contradictory, agree only in accounting for this great event by causes of which it is not always easy to give any account. Between this record, so simply historical and literal, on the one side, and these theories so unintelligible and conflicting on the other, each man can judge for himself; not to say that the controversy does not exactly form part of my subject.
But as to the second question, how was this revolution brought about ? That it has been the whole object of my labours to explain.
After all, was there any need of so much labour ? is there not one fact, as plain as the day, and of which nothing can get rid one fact notorious even to those whose knowledge of history is the most elementary? At the death of Augustus there was not so much as one Christian in the world ; at the death of Constantine, three hundred and twenty-three years later, more than half the world was Christian.
And was this change brought about by material force, by the authority of princes, or by the insurrection of peoples against their princes ? There may no doubt be a question whether or not this or that emperor was a persecutor, and to what point the persecution was carried ; whether it was made chiefly by the authorities or chiefly by the multitude ; whether it was chiefly political or chiefly popular. It is possible, with Dodwell, to reduce the number of martyrs to the lowest possible estimate, or with others to count them by millions. There are questions of detail, upon which discussion is possible ; and legends which may, rightly or wrongly, be considered apocryphal. But what is certain is this that all through these three centuries, force, whenever and in whatever degree it was employed, was always employed against and never in support of Christianity. Force, whether that of the emperor or of the people, the executioner or the rioter, all along acted a part which, if not constant, was at least habitual. The mild Marcus Aurelius himself speaks of the Christians as a set of people accustomed to go to death, from which it follows that it was an habitual practice to lead them to it The one thing certain is that persecution, more or less violent, now and then suspended, but soon renewed, was the legal condition of the Roman Empire. Christianity was all along a thing proscribed, to which some emperors, more humane than the rest, now and then allowed a short respite ; but always a thing proscribed, against which the proscription was never long in resuming its course.
And what force was it that resisted the force thus exerted against Christianity ? Where is there any mention of an insurrection, a league, or a riot among the Christians ? Here was no league of Smalkalde, no conspiracy of Amboise, no 'oath of the tennis-court (serment du jeu de paume, June 20, 1789), no one of the ordinary circumstances of a revolution. Those who were proscribed concealed themselves, or fled ; those who were arrested suffered death without resistance. That is all that can be said. And this is repeated thousands of times (no one, not Dodwell himself, denies that), and each succeeding age saw it repeated more frequently. Every time that force resolved to destroy, it found a greater number to be destroyed, and those whom it destroyed were more numerous. Insomuch that, at last, this war, in which the one party only inflicted death and never suffered it, while the other only suffered and never inflicted it, ended in the triumph of that party which died over that which slew. The sword fell shivered against breasts which offered themselves to it.
And this event stands by itself in the history of the world. This universal resignation, this courage so heroically so constantly passive, and still more this triumph won only by dying, has no single parallel in history. People try to persuade themselves that the sword cannot triumph over ideas. For the honour of the human race one would gladly have it so, but it is a delusion. Ideas, doctrines, and religions have been conquered by the sword. Budhism was resisted by force, and was driven out of India, the land of its birth. The religion of Zoroaster was extirpated in Persia by the sword of the Mahommedans. Druidism was swept away out of the Gauls and Britain ; nor did it find any place of refuge elsewhere.
Sometimes, no doubt, ideas have overcome force, but only when they have employed force in their turn ; when, being persecuted by the sword, they have, rightly or wrongly, taken up the sword to resist. Mahommedanism was victorious because it took up the sword. Protestantism has reigned in Europe because it has met fire and sword with fire and sword. Both one and the other may have had its missioners, but neither would ever have triumphed, if it had not also had its soldiers. No sect, no religion has ever encountered the sword with the absolute passiveness which was the characteristic of the primitive Christians, or if there has been any one which ever practised it, that one has been crushed. Christianity alone, so far as I can learn, has ever submitted itself in this manner ; Christianity alone, most unquestionably, has ever gained such a victory by so submitting itself.
Is it not clear that it was only by a Divine power that this triumph over all human power could have been \von ? The question as to the origin of Christianity is solved by the other question of the means by which it accomplished its victory. It was victorious here below, only because it had its origin from above.
This conclusion is so evident, and the facts on which it rests so incontestable, that if I had only to prove it I need not have undergone so much labour, nor traced so many historical facts nor raised so many questions. But my object in writing was not merely to give a proof of Christianity but to kindle the love of it.
Consider well this point. Our age honours with the name of ideas, many interests and many passions ; and with the name of questions of principle, many mere questions of fact. Most of the objects on which it is occupied are things merely transitory human institutions not Divine laws, facts which pass away, not truths which abide. But the great, the eternal question, turns upon higher truths. Slighted, treated as if they were forgotten, systematically thrown into the shade, and only spoken of in vague terms all this they may be. But they come back, they force themselves on men's notice. Then men are compelled to resort to an utter, brutal, absolute denial of God, of truth, of themselves, and they will more and more be compelled to do so.
More and more decidedly will two things confront each other, leaving in obscurity all that lies between them. On one side atheism the most cynical and radical; on the other, Christianity the most strictly practical. To make a decision and take part with one or the other will be a matter of necessity, no middle position will any longer be tenable.
While then this, the great struggle of our age, is in progress, how can any man, however powerless or obscure, be content not to bring his humble aid ? To speak more strictly, while thereat labour of all ages for the building up of truth in the heart of man is in progress, woe to him who, having the truth in his heart, does not Iabour in her cause, and contribute his little grain of sand to that monument built up of human thought of which the builder is God. In proportion to the limited degree of power vouchsafed to my intellect, and to the goodwill which I have been able (however wavering) to maintain in my heart, I have striven to contribute to this labour. It has almost occupied my life, and I regret that it has not occupied it more entirely. In the midst of the discouragements of human life mental labour is a great consolation and a great support ; but even mental Iabour itself becomes weary, distasteful, burdensome to the soul, except when it is undertaken in the cause of good, of truth, of God.--(Vol. iii. p. 485 et seq.)
It was to exhibit the contrast of M. de Champagny's tone with that of Gibbon that I began my notice of his work by this long quotation from its conclusion. But I do it not without misgivings, for, taken alone, it would give an unjust as well as inadequate notion of that work. It might not unreasonably lead a reader to expect merely a history or estimate of the progress of Christianity in the Empire. The fact, however, is so much the opposite. that he may read whole volumes without having the idea directly suggested to him. Confident of the Divine origin of Christianity, M. de Champagny has never been tempted to doubt that any picture of the age in which it was first given to mankind, and of those during which it was gradually working its way from obscurity to universal dominion, will best illustrate it, in proportion as the account itself is most true and lifelike. And hence, al-though it may, and no doubt was, from first to last, the cherished motive of his inmost heart to illustrate the struggles and the triumph of the Church, yet the means by which he has sought that object are none others than unusual fidelity and life in his picture of the history and manners of the first three centuries. His desire has evidently been that expressed by the illustrious Niebuhr: ' Would that I could write history so vividly, that I could so discriminate what is fluctuating and uncertain, and so develop what is confused and intricate, that everyone as soon as he heard the name of a Greek of the age of Thucydides or Polybius, or of a Roman of the clays of Cato or Tacitus, might be able to form a clear and adequate idea of what he was.' Nothing could more strikingly illustrate the contrast between history as it is in our own day and as it was a century ago, than that men should now propose to themselves such an object. That it should be fully attained is, no doubt, impossible ; but M. de Champagny has at least aimed at the highest excellence, and if he has in any degree fallen short of it, he has more nearly succeeded than any writer known to me.
It might, no doubt, be suspected that a man who wrote the history of the heathen empire, with the Church ever nearest to his heart, would be under a strong temptation to sacrifice truth to his own prejudices. To this it would be an easy and true reply, that every man who has been brought into any relations with Christianity must of necessity either love or hate it ; and that hatred is even more inconsistent than love with historical impartiality. In truth, however, there is much more to be said. The great difficulty of historians, in every age, is to give a picture, in any degree expressive and true, of the people and the times of which they write, not a mere record of their disasters and wars, and of the fortunes and disputes, triumphs and conquests, of their emperors and kings. Oh how precious would have been the information which the least imaginative of the ancient writers could have given us, if only he had been able to foresee that the whole fabric of society as he saw it was about to be swept away, and that times would come when the heirs of a new civilisation, unlike that of his own day as well as distinct from it, would, above all things, prize lively pictures of the daily habits of the men of the world that has passed away ; and would labour assiduously to piece together, at the best very imperfectly, out of chance fragments collected here and there, from poems, histories, orations, letters, and philosophical treatises, a sort of mosaic, which, after all, would by no means equal the picture that might have been given in a few pages by any writer under the Roman Empire, who possessed, even in the most moderate degree, that talent for observation and word-painting by which many writers of our own times have been distinguished. Unfortunately one of the main difficulties of the historian of the Roman Empire, is not merely the inferior quality but the absolute dearth of materials. The periods for which we have any contemporary writer, or even one who, though not contemporary, commands belief by his accuracy and truthfulness, are quite the exception. Every now and then there is a period upon which exceptional light is thrown by some happy accident, like that which enables us to read the whole history of the last agony of the Republic, in the letters, speeches, and philosophical works of Cicero. But these are few and far between ; and there are cases in which we are able to infer that a particular period must have been marked by important changes, rather from the results which they produced than from any positive record of them. There are parts even of the reign of Augustus himself about which very little is known. Above all, even when we know most of the historical events of any period, we have at best very poor and disjointed scraps of information about the life and manners of the mass of the people. And the little we have of this sort is chiefly in the Christian writings. The Acts of the Apostles give us a much better idea than any other book how people lived in the Greek provinces of the Empire under Nero how the population was mixed of Jews and Greeks how many of the Greeks, especially the more religious of both sexes, had already been attracted by the pure theism of the Jews --how some had actually submitted to circumcision, and had become proselytes, while many more devoutly worshipped the One God, without feeling themselves bound (as it is plain they were not) to put on the yoke of the law of Moses. Then, again, as to the relations of the populace, and of the municipal magistrates to the Roman governors ; the practical use of the privileges of the Roman citizen ; the appeal from the sentence of a local judge to the Roman people, at that time represented by Caesar what heathen writer of the same age gives us, in so small a compass, so much real and lifelike historical information ? The same is true of later periods. The letters of S. Cyprian, for instance, unveil to us much of the under working of society in Roman Africa at a period in many respects of great interest, and about which we are most scantily supplied with any professed history. He became Bishop of Carthage A.D. 248 (the fourth year of the Emperor Philip), and was martyred A.D. 258 (the fifth year of Valerian). Yet Gibbon writes the history of those times without so much as alluding either to Cyprian himself or to the persecutions, from one of which he hid himself, continuing the administration of the Church in letters which have been preserved to us, while in another he received the crown of martyrdom. In a later volume, no doubt, he relates, in his own scornful tone, the history of S. Cyprian, in his well-known chapter on ` the conduct of the Roman Government towards the Christians from the reign of Nero to that of Constantine,' but only for the purpose of proving how slight, even in the times of most violent persecution, was the danger of the Christians ; and how great the moderation and forbearance of the persecutors. It can hardly be doubted that if any collection of letters had been preserved, written by and to the leader in any one school of heathen philosophy at that period, Gibbon would have seen that it gave him an opportunity of throwing upon the scanty remains of its history an unexpected gleam of real light. But Cyprian he could not bring himself to forgive for being a Christian, a bishop, a saint, and a martyr, and his name was therefore passed over in the history. And the chapters in which mention is made of Church affairs are so little connected with the rest of his work, that a well-meaning editor, some forty years back (Bowdler), thought he should in no degree lessen the historical value of Gibbon's work by leaving them out altogether. He has, therefore, presented us with a history of the Roman Empire in which no mention at all is made of the very names of any of the great Christian heroes, although they were not only the most remarkable men of those times, but also the men of whom most is known. Yet to Gibbon at least he really has done no injustice ; for Gibbon was as unconsci us as himself that their lives, actions, and deaths formed any part of the history of those times. It would not be easy to find a stronger instance of the injurious effects of anti-religious prejudice, even upon the literary powers of a really great writer.
M. de Champagny, on the contrary, invests his volumes with the most lively interest, by mixing the narrative of the Church its spread, its contests, its sufferings, its martyrdoms with the secular history of the decaying Pagan Empire. No other work with which I am acquainted does this to the same degree. We have histories of the Csars, and we have ecclesiastical histories ; but none which blend the two subjects into one, like the volumes before me. The political and military history is as carefully drawn out as if it were the only subject of the book ; and yet the relations of the Empire to the Church, the sufferings, perils, and con-quests of the divine kingdom, the heresies which strove to corrupt it, and the labours of the saints by whom they were encountered, are all given in their place. The result is, that we not only see the gradual growth of the kingdom of heaven.' from the time when it was sown as a grain of mustard. seed until its branches overshadowed the whole earth, but we see also its connection with the events of each succeeding generation, and especially how its peace and its sufferings depended upon the varying characters of the different inheritors of the power of Augustus and Tiberius.
Another circumstance, to which his hatred of the Church and of Christianity necessarily blinded the eyes of Gibbon, and which, as far as I remember, has passed unobserved, even by our latest English historian of the Caesars (who could not, without gross injustice, be classed with him), is that to which I called attention in my notice of the earlier portion of M. de Champany's book, but which naturally becomes more prominent as we proceed further with the history the leavening even of heathen manners and legislation, and, still more, of the best heathen philosophers, by the ever-increasing influence of Christian faith and morals. As a tide, silently filling up some wide-spreading inland harbour, surrounds and covers, or else bears upon its bosom every object which it Ends there, so was Christianity insinuating itself into every province, every city, every family of the great heathen Empire ; and penetrating, or sweeping before it every established institution. At last a time came when, although there were still many heathens, there was probably not one who had not all his life been in intercourse with companions, friends, instructors, sisters, mother, by whom the great principles of Christian religion and morality were taken for granted rather than maintained. It was impossible that such a state of society should not modify, silently but profoundly, the thoughts and maxims of every heathen who aspired to anything higher than a mere animal life. Many of them, indeed, had an intense hatred for the Christian religion. That could not but be. But even those who hated it most could not shut their eyes to the truth and beauty of its moral and social principles. So great is the power of sympathy, that any man who lives for years in familiar intercourse with those who assume, as first principles, maxims which he rejects when formally stated----nay, which in his conscience and reason he feels to be false and evil will yet try in vain to keep himself wholly uninfluenced by them. This is the great danger experienced by those who, while they deliberately intend to serve God above all things, are obliged, or induced, to live for years with persons in many respects perhaps attractive, but who take for granted that the practical objects to be aimed at in life are worldly pleasures, or honours, or material prosperity, or (even if their pursuits are higher than these) mere intellectual cultivation. The same again is the cause of the danger to which, in our own country especially, Catholics are exposed from the tone of the periodical press. There is no fear of their finding in the 'Times' or the 'Saturday Review' arguments which, as mere reasoning, could be formidable to their faith ; for they can hardly fail to see that the writers (however on other subjects well-informed as well as able) are quite ignorant what Catholics really believe, and unable to understand the grounds on which they believe it. And yet their spiritual health is gradually undermined, as if by living long in an unwholesome atmosphere. An infection like this, combined with the natural voice of conscience, gradually produced an exactly opposite effect upon thoughtful heathens, who were surrounded by Christians. No man, for instance, hated Christianity more than Julian the Apostate ; yet the great object of his reign was to introduce into the notions and manners of the heathen, and especially of the heathen priests, as much as possible of Christian theology and morality.' And, doubtless, the feeling of the most respectable heathens, however they may have shared his hatred of the Christian religion, must have been one of regret that so many men and women, in other respects estimable and even admirable, should unfortunately be Christians. Thus it carne to pass, all through the first three centuries, as Christians became more and more numerous and better known, and their influence more widely spread, that, although the old heathen religion was dying out, and the military, political, and social aspect of the Roman Empire was one of progressive decline, there was still, in one respect, a constant advance. The moral and religious principles which approved themselves to the thoughtful heathen in each generation, were higher than those of the age before. To adopt, in a most real and worthy sense, one of the most unmeaning terms of our day, there was a constant `progress.'
We have, happily, unusual means of tracing this progress ; for it pleased God that just before Christianity was given to the world there was exhibited to it a living example of the highest wisdom and virtue which heathenism could attain, in a man whose exalted station attracted to him the eyes of all his contemporaries ; and whose prominent literary and oratorical talents have placed his letters, philosophical treatises, and orations among the most highly-prized of the comparatively scanty remains of ancient lite-rature which have come down to our own day. We know Cicero as we can hardly know any one of our own countrymen, except those with whom we have spent our lives in habits of intimate familiarity. We are, therefore, able to compare his knowledge and acceptance of the great principles of moral and social duty, with those of men, in all other respects his inferiors, two centuries later. M. de Champagny, when speaking of Marcus Aurelius, thus sums up the comparison :
Beyond a doubt a new progress has taken place. From Cicero to Seneca, from Seneca to Epictetus, from Epictetus to Marcus Aurelius, the light has been gradually increasing. Assuredly it was not that the philosophical ideas of those who came later were either higher, or clearer, or more true ; in them the theory of philosophy was always either poor or wanting. In this respect Cicero could have taught much to those who came later than himself. But this spontaneous drawing towards virtue, independent of the metaphysical ideas which in this respect are more frequently an incumbrance than an assistance, this taste for what is good, which already showed itself through all the impurity of Seneca, which shone out in Musonius, which was so strongly marked in Epictetus, is seen more clearly still in Marcus Aurelius. It is evident that in the course of something more than a hundred years the conscience of the human race has been awakened. Hence is all the merit of these men, all their glory. They have, to speak truly, no other philosophy than this sentiment of right developed and perfected. Marcus Aurelius, for his part, carries it to the very verge of Christianity. If not quite humility there is modesty, and something that goes beyond modesty ; if not charity there is beneficence ; if not Christian mercy there is mildness ; if not the love of the neighbour there is at least love of mankind ; if not the prayer of the Christian there is the prayer of the philosopher. The soul has put off Paganism although not yet clothed with Christianity. —(Antonins, vol. iii. p. 15.)
Marcus Antoninus was the latest of the heathen philosophers whom M. de Champagny was at liberty in this passage to contrast with Cicero. But the case would have been stronger still, if he could have gone later, and contrasted him with Porphyry. Porphyry no doubt has, very justly, a bad name among Christians, because, living as he did immediately before the final victory of Christianity, and having been, to say the least, brought into close contact with it, he not only remained a heathen, but published a work in thirteen books against the Christians. These things, naturally and justly, tell against the man ; but in his case, as in that of Julian, they give us a more striking example of the gradually increasing influence of Christianity, as it became better known, even upon these philosophers by whom it was least loved.
The idea of God. One, Supreme, and Lord of all those inferior beings, which were still by a sort of courtesy styled gods that idea which we have already found in so many of the heathen philosophers who were contemporary with Christianity is more distinct than ever in Porphyry, who came later, and was more familiar with Christian thought. He pronounces a sentence laconically energetic and containing in itself a complete demonstration of the existence of God. ' The One must of necessity come before the many.' The idea of the purely incorporeal Being, which was so often obscured by clouds in the phraseology of the Greek philosophers, stands out here in a clear light. He conceives of God or, if you will, of the first God as unchangeable, without parts ; present everywhere, because He is not anywhere present corporally. The relations of man to God, the supernatural life, the communication of the soul with the Divine Being by a pure act of the mind and without recourse to thieurgia ; prayer offered in a generous and pure spirit almost unknown to heathen prayers, nothing of this is unknown to Porphyry, He is indignant at the merely earthly and material character of Pagan piety and Pagan thought. 'That prayer which is accompanied by evil actions is not pure, and cannot be accepted by God. The wise man is the only priest, the only religious man, the only one who knows how to pray.' What follows seems quite Christian. ' Religion has four principal foundations : Faith, Truth, Hope, Love. Faith is necessary because there is no salvation save for him who turns him-self towards God. It is necessary to give all diligence to apply one-self wholly to know the truth with regard to God. When He is known, it is necessary that He should be loved. When He is loved, it is necessary to feed the soul with noble hopes.'
Porphyry again, after many other philosophers, no doubt, but in a manner much more distinct than they, requires that the soul should break the links which bind her to the body, separating herself from the passions and from the slavery of the body. The body is a burden which is ever weighing us downwards. The body is not oneself. ' I am not this tangible being which is the object of the senses ; I am a-being very different from my body, without colour, without shape, not to be apprehended by human hands, but only to be apprehended by the thoughts! But if I allow myself to be ruled by this appendage alien from my being, and which is no more myself than the chaff is the grain ; if I cleave to the senses which, like an iron nail, fasten together two things so different the flesh and the spirit-I no longer know how to live my proper life. Unless I know how to put off this vestment of the flesh and its affections, so as to run free and unimpeded the course of life, I am lost. Even after death, the soul which has loved the body is weighed down towards Iow places, and lives a life degraded and gross ; but the soul which has subjugated the body, and separated herself from it, which it is the mark of the philosopher to do, that soul will live a celestial life_ The former is charged with gross vapours, and, drawn down by their weight, its habitation will be hell that is ignorance, childishness, and eternal darkness ; the latter, free, disengaged, will mount on high with the spirit which she has received from on high, and which no burden will weigh down, she will mount higher than the stars, she will live in a divine sphere and in an ethereal body.
Porphyry, in fact, understood that man is a fallen creature ; and that the soul of man, united to his body under the conditions in which that union actually exists, no longer lives in its original dignity, We must needs live after the spirit ; and we are in some measure condemned, as if by force, to live after the flesh. 'We have fallen from a higher abode, to which we must return by raising ourselves upon two wings absolutely necessary to us resistance to things of earth, and desire for things divine. We are exiles who would fain return to our country, to that invisible and spotless abode which was once ours by right.'
And to mount thither, Porphyry well knows, suffering is necessary. ' We cannot return by running the race of pleasure. Mountains are not climbed without fatigue or without danger. The path which leads to the summit is none other than vigilance, and the remembrance of the fall which has thrown us down so low as we are.'—(Vol. iii. p. 198.)
To any man at all conversant with the works even of the best and greatest of heathen philosophers, the only difficulty in reading these words is to remember that they were not written by a Christian, and in consequence he naturally judges of them by a standard far more severe than he would think of applying to any merely heathen philosopher. For in them we are struck to find any point on which they have attained the knowledge of religious truth, while in Porphyry there is so much that is purely Christian, that our minds instinctively turn rather to the points on which he falls short of Christian teaching, and contradicts it : for instance, no one who believed that the Word has been made Flesh, would regard the body, as he did, as in itself evil. It is here that the strictest Christian asceticism is divided by a broad line from Gnosticism.
But to say nothing on this subject, let me observe that the facts of history are quite inconsistent with any explanation which would account for this gradual elevation of the religious teaching of the heathen philosophers of the first three centuries by any-thing else than the gradually increasing, though unacknowledged, influence of Christianity with which in each succeeding generation they were brought more and more closely into contact. It cannot be attributed to the natural progress and advancement of the human mind during a period of high civilisation. For beyond a doubt the three centuries between Augustus and Constantine were not a period of intellectual and social development, but of decline. And again, this solution is contrary to facts ; for the Christian thinkers and teachers during the same period, so far from improving upon the principles of their first teachers, made it their highest ambition not to fall below them. This, indeed, was only to be expected by those who know that Christianity was not invented and matured by men, but revealed by God. How it can be accounted for by those who deny its Divine origin one does not see. Such, however, was the fact. During three centuries there stood side by side, in the Roman Empire, acting mutually on each other, two rival systems of religion and morals ; on the one side Christian faith and grace, originating and taking root among classes overlooked and despised by the wise men of the age, and only gradually, as they became more prominent, forcing themselves upon their attention ; on the other, the theology and philosophy which had already been developed to the highest excellence which its nature admitted, by the genius and labours of all the greatest minds of the civilised world, from the day when Socrates began to teach at Athens to the day when Cicero held out his head to the satellites of the Triumvirs. And the result was, that the teaching of the despised and unrefined Galileans, although, at a later period, some of the greatest and most gifted minds that ever existed on earth devoted all their energies to cultivate and promote it, never attained to anything higher than had been taught by the unlettered men who first propagated it ; while that which, before this period began, had engrossed all the greatest men of the world during many centuries, which had already long passed the age of growth, and which promised nothing but decay, gradually admitted into itself many principles before unknown to it, each of which had been from the beginning a first principle of the rival system, and more and more of which were adopted by the philosophers, exactly as the society in which they lived became more and more deeply imbued with that system. Could anything more strongly prove that the improvement of the systems of the philosophers was due, not to any principle of internal growth and development, but to the external influence of Christianity?
In mere notions of religion, also, considerable advance seems to have been made from the same cause, even by men who so far from becoming Christians were among the vilest of heathens. Such at least is the opinion of M. de Champagny, and it seems to me well-founded. Heathens of old times had always been ready to admit new gods. ' The policy of the emperors and the Senate,' says Gibbon, in words often quoted, ' so far as it concerned religion, was happily seconded by the reflections of the enlightened, and by the habits of the superstitious part of their subjects. The various modes of worship which prevailed in the heathen world, were all considered by the people as equally true, by the philosopher as equally false, and by the magistrates as equally useful.
And thus toleration produced not only mutual indulgence but even religious concord.' That is, of course, that the worshipper of the gods of Rome had no feeling that he did anything inconsistent, in offering sacrifice or worship according to the rites of other nations to the gods whom they worshipped. This was the fundamental principle of heathenism, and, so far as I know, it was only among the Hebrew people that the idea of one religion exclusively true ever existed in the ancient world. But late in the history of heathen Rome, one emperor conceived and attempted to carry eut the idea of one supreme god, and one universal religion. He did not indeed deny the existence or forbid the worship of other gods, but he made them all subordinate to the one supreme Syrian god, to whom he had been priest before he attained the Empire, and whom he installed at Rome. The vile moral degradation of this young tyrant, and his doubtful sanity, have induced most writers to suppose that this was merely a wanton freak of the Emperor Elagabalus. M. de Champagny is inclined to think that there may have been in it something deeper.
Under all this, may there not have been a thought in some degree serious ?—some degree of belief in the rites practised ? Not in the boy Caesar, of course, in whom rottenness had come before ripeness, corruption before manhood. But in his mother, perhaps, or in sortie of those around him, the project existed of uniting in the worship of the god of Edessa, all the worships of the Empire. His temple was the dominant temple in which were to meet, directly or indirectly, the prayers and homage of collective humanity. Whatever Rome had of venerated symbols, of sacred and mysterious talismans, was unpityingly summoned to surrender to it. The Emperor-Priest caused himself to be affiliated to all the priesthoods, in order to learn their secret emblems, and to bring their gods to the feet of his god. [The enumeration which follows is striking and picturesque, but we have not room for it.] His idea, or that of those by whom he was directed, was the fusion into one of all the Pagan religions. ' He said,' says Lampridius, 'that all gods were only the servants of his god, some of them his chamberlains, some his guards, some his ministers. It was not merely the religion of Rome that he desired to abolish, it was throughout the whole world that he would have his god Elagabalus alone and everywhere the object of worship.'
Nothing probably could appear to a heathen a stronger sign of madness than this desire to unite all mankind in one religion. But the wretched youth who conceived it had been brought up in Syria, and the religion of the Jews and Christians had unquestionably some attraction for him. We are expressly told that he re-solved to unite in one, not only all the heathen religions, but ' that he would bring to his temple of Mount Palatine the religion of the Samaritans, that of the Jews, and that of the Christians, that so the priesthood of Elagabalus might hold in possession the secrets of all the religions of the world! He even submitted to circumcision, and abstained from pork strange notion for a youth who knew not what abstinence from anything meant But there is positive testimony that his mother's sister, if not actually a Christian (which is one account), had received instruction in Christianity; and there seems little doubt that it was the Christian idea of one God and one Church for all nations, of which he had laid hold, and which he corrupted as he did all else that he touched.
I have devoted a disproportionate space to the development of M. de Champagny's estimate of the indirect and unacknowledged influence of Christianity on the Roman Empire, both because I think that he most clearly establishes the fact ; because, so far as I bave observed, he is the first writer upon those times by whom it has been brought out ; and because, moreover, it gives to this portion of the history of the Roman Empire the interest which it wants in the hands of other historians. Nothing can be more dreary than the narrative of mere decay and corruption--a ruin physical and moral From Gibbon's picture of the period between the accession of Commodus and the accession of Constantine, I cannot help turning with a disgust almost unrelieved. That the barbarians were like wolves baying round a mountain village on some winter night is really the only redeeming feature in it, for it is the only one which presents the hope of something better in the distant future. M. de Champagny, with surprising skill, has contrived to make this period interesting and attractive. This is in great measure because he keeps constantly before us the blessed truth, that this Empire, slowly dying away, not of any external dangers or assaults, but of its deep, internal corruption, held within it a life distinct from its own, which was daily increasing in strength, and preparing to take possession of the new world which was to succeed, when the wretchedness of the old world should no longer be endured by God or by man. I am reminded of the ceremonial so often mentioned in these volumes, and which formed a standing part of the funeral rites of an emperor. At the moment when the pile by which his body was to be consumed was kindled, an eagle, which had been concealed within it, was released, and soared away through the sky. Like it, the Christian Church was in but not of, the decaying Roman Empire : and its freedom and power began with the utter destruction of the Empire. M. de Champagny agrees with all other historians in regarding this period as one of mere decay. He divides the history of the Empire into three. The first period, that of the Caesars, ending with Nero (the last emperor allied by blood to Augustus or Julius) gives us the working out of the system invented and established by Tiberius. Then, (after a few months of civil confusion, in which the purple was worn by three puppets, whom Tacitus compares to those actors who for a few hours present on the stage a royal character), came a succession of wise and good rulers from Vespasian to Marcus Aurelius, under whom the Roman world, for more than a century, enjoyed a remarkable degree of peace and repose, except during the few years of the tyranny of Domitian. This is the period of which M. de Champagny treated in his last work, ' The Antonines,' to which I have already called the attention of my readers. It is regarded by him as an interval during which the decay of the Empire was suspended but not arrested ; during which the wisest and most humane emperor could not help feeling that he might be succeeded by a Nero or a Caligula, but during which, as a matter of fact, the material prosperity of the free portion, at least, of the population of the Empire, was greater than at any other period of heathen history, although not to be compared with that of modern Italy, even at its least prosperous times ; a fact which he is careful to prove by details, because the anti-Christian writers of the eighteenth century have delighted to exaggerate the period of the Antonines into a sort of millennium, in order to depreciate, by comparison, the condition of Christian nations. With the death of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, which took place A.D. 18o, this period ended. Many subsequent emperors, indeed, took the name of Antoninus, and some degree of confusion has been introduced by the inscriptions on their monuments bearing the well-remembered name, (for the practice of distinguishing from each other, by numbers, rulers who bore the same name did not exist in the ancient world), but it was disgraced by their monstrous vices and tyranny, and history has refused to accord it to them. Thus each of the emperors who have ever since been known only as Caracalla and Elagabalus styled himself Marcus Aurelius Antoninus.
The three volumes now before me take up the history, where it was left by the last volume of ' The Antonines,' at the death of Marcus Aurelius, and the accession of his son Commodus. This imposed on the author the necessity of devoting all the rest of his work to the most calamitous and ignominious parti of Roman history. This fact was so strongly on my mind when I took up the first volume, that I felt almost disinclined to read it. But so skilfully has M. de Champagny performed his task, that he has given us a work, with regard to which the only difficulty I have found has been to lay it down. It is one, moreover, quite essential to the full enjoyment of the volumes which have preceded it, and without which, indeed, many things in them would have been incomplete. For instance, one main subject of Roman history must ever be that of the relations of the Empire to the Christian Church. Of the blessed influence of the Church upon the Empire I have already spoken. The history of the action of the Empire towards the Church, on the other hand, is little more than the history of the persecutions. It is a subject little attractive to an un-Christian writer, for he has to record, much against his will, that great phenomenon stated by M. de Champagny, in the extract with which I began the present review, that every inch of ground traversed by the Church, in her triumphal progress of victory over the heathen world, was won for her and secured to her by the blood of her martyrs. The subject, however distasteful, could not be avoided even by Gibbon. He was compelled to treat it, whether he would or not, and the result is his well-known sixteenth chapter, in which, professing to tell ` the conduct of the Roman Government towards the Christians from the reign of Nero to that of Constantine,' he labours, as far as possible, to explain away and palliate the persecutions which he could not wholly deny ; while he throws as much doubt as possible upon every fact connected with them, lessens as much as possible the number of the martyrs. and especially sets himself to engage the interest and sympathies of his readers on the side of the high-minded, philosophical, enlightened men who, no doubt under a mistaken view of the facts, felt it their painful duty to pronounce sentence, and against the score or two of vulgar, wrongheaded, seditious fanatics, whom he admits to have suffered death as Christians at one time or other, and in different provinces of the vast Empire- It is hardly necessary to say that the subject is treated very differently by M. de Champagny. As a critic and a member of the French Academy we cannot suspect him of any tendency to neglect a scrupulous examination of the evidence by which different martyrdoms are proved. But in each successive persecution he gives us the most striking and well-attested records of the sufferings of those whom he loves and reverences as his own brethren and fathers in the common faith ; by whose blood and self sacrifice it has pleased God to preserve to us those blessings which He originally gave us by the Blood and Sacrifice of His Eternal Son. Thus he begins his notice of the last general persecution :
It is, indeed, the era of martyrs. They meet us more abundantly than ever. Already, pressed by our space, we have often abridged the narrative of the persecutions, lest we should weary the reader by the constant repetition of the same cruelties and the same heroism. In future we shall be compelled to abridge them still more. The harvest is so abundant that it is impossible to gather it ear by ear, or even sheaf by sheaf. We shall only cast our eyes over the plain on which the executioners are the mowers, and the angels those who gather in the harvest. We shall pass in silence over many names which the Church has recorded in her annals ; many of the most celebrated names, and of the most popular records. May we be forgiven by these holy ones, if we see in them only the members of the Holiest of Holies, of Him in whom we are all one.—(Vol. iii. p. 330.)
Here is the true Catholic tone. Among Catholics, thank God, there is little ground for the reproach addressed to his countrymen by a poet contemporary with Gibbon.
Patriots have toiled, and in their country's cause Bled nobly ; and their deeds, as they deserve, Receive proud recompense . . .
But martyrs struggle for a brighter prize,
And win it with more pain. Their blood is shed
In confirmation of our noblest claim
Our claim to feed upon immortal Truth,
To walk with God, to be divinely free,
To soar and to anticipate the skies.
Yet few remember them.
They lived unknown
Till persecution dragged them into fame,
And chased them up to Heaven.
Their ashes flew No marble tells us whither,
With their names
No bard embalms and consecrates his song ;
And history, so warm on meaner themes,
Is cold on this.
A most true estimate, alas ! of the general tone of English literature. Nor could there be a more just comparison between the popular feeling of a Protestant and a Catholic people than one between it and that of M. de Champagny. In these volumes he goes through the whole period of the heathen persecutions in the old world. Their character was quite different in the later and in the earlier portion of it At first Christians for the most part were, like their Lord, reluctantly given over to the fury of a popular cry by judges who even in condemning them could not refrain from asking ' what evil have they done?' Under Nero they were thrown to the populace maddened by the burning of Rome. Under Domitian they were confused with the philosophers who had incurred his jealousy. At a still earlier period they had been involved in a momentary jealousy against the Jews. Pliny reported to Trajan that he could find nothing criminal in them except their obstinacy. Thus, in the periods included in M. de Champagny's former series, persecution, though far from unfrequent, was little more than accidental. The power of the magistrate was so absolute, that no set of men could be safe against whom suspicion was once excited, and in them there was at all times peculiarity enough to excite suspicion. Above all, in times of pestilence, (and no age of the world was more severely afflicted with that scourge than that which began with Marcus Aurelius), or when famine threatened, or even when strange portents in the sky alarmed the people, according to the well-known passage of Tertullian ' If the Tiber rises to the walls, or if the Nile does not rise over the fields ; if the heaven bath stood still, or the earth hath moved ; if there is any famine, if any pestilence' the cry was still, the Christians to the lion.' Such was persecution down to the beginning of the period of which these volumes treat. The reign of the Emperor Severus, which marked in many other respects a new era in Roman history, is selected by the author as the first in which persecution was a deliberate act of Roman policy.
The persecution of Severus may be called the first which was a solemn, spontaneous, political act of Roman authority. Nero had given the signal for persecution, but chiefly at Rome and from accidental circumstances. Domitian had been led to proscribe the Christians rather for financial motives than as part of a proclaimed policy. Trajan, Hadrian, Marcus Aurelius himself, had permitted persecution rather than persecuted, maintaining, of course, the legal principle which condemned Christianity, but not always urging its execution, and allowing it to be active or inactive, according to the fanaticism or the indifference of the different peoples, the weakness or wisdom of the Proconsuls. Severus was the first of whom we are told that by a formal, public, dated act, he forbade that Christians should exist, thus rendering the persecution not merely legal but obligatory, not merely possible here and there, but necessary every-where. He first gave the signal for one of those single combats hand to hand, between authority and the Church, which the world was to see many times renewed in the course of this age, always to the disgrace of idolatrous tyranny, and to the glory of Christian patience. This combat was fierce and of long continuance. We have a work of Tertullian, written after the death of Severus, and at least ten years later than the commencement of the persecution, from which it appears that it had not yet been given up. The Church was not in numbers what it was later ; and the administration of the Csars reconstituted by Severus, had a power of action which afterwards steadily diminished. The struggle, therefore, though not more violent, was of longer duration, than those which followed.—(VoL i.P. 259)
It was in this persecution that several of the blessed saints whose names we still daily honour in the canon of the Mass, received their crowns the slave Felicitas, and the noble lady Perpetua, whose martyrdoms, which no one can weary of reading, are given by M. de Champagny in full detail. How little thought those humble martyrs that, age after age, when the very name of Severus should be known only to students, and when the Empire itself should have passed away, their contest and their names should be watchwords in the Christian fight to millions in every clime, men and women of all nations and all languages, wherever the ` world-encircling sun ' looks down upon the habitations of men.
It is impossible to read any of these soul-stirring narratives without being strongly impressed by a sense of the wholly fragmentary character of our knowledge, not only of the history of the martyrs, but of ancient times as a whole. Here and there we have the `genuine acts' of some martyr whose fame is thus pre-served in the Church, while we cannot but feel that there must have been many more, in our judgment quite as well worth pre-serving, which are known only to God. The saints and martyrs would be, of all men, the first to say, ` Even so, Father, for so it hath seemed good in Thy sight.' What to them the applause even of their brethren in the Church, in comparison with the praise of Him for whom they lived, and fought the good fight, and died. ' Receperunt mercedem suam, vani vanurn,' says S. Augustine 1 of the successful candidates for posthumous fame. But so it is ; our acquaintance, for instance, with the details of the persecution in Carthage, under Decius and Valerian, we owe merely to what, speaking in human language, we must call the chance which has preserved to us the letters of S. Cyprian ; our knowledge of the martyrdoms at Lyons and Vienne, to a similar chance which has preserved the letters in which they were reported to the Christians of the East. Who can doubt that many documents as valuable, many narratives as thrilling, must have been wrecked as they floated down the stream of time, set thick as it was with rocks upon which have been lost so many of the most precious relics of ancient literature, whether sacred or secular ?
With regard to the later persecutions, they seem to have partaken, each more decidedly than that which came before it, of the same character of deliberate acts of the central government rather than of popular outbreaks like those of the earlier days. M. de Charnpagny points out also that in the last and most terrible of all, that under Diocletian, there does not seem to have been any of the old popular demand for deeds of blood and cruelty. Christianity had already become so far known as to make it quite impossible that the mass of the people should any longer believe the calumnies against it, as they did in earlier days.
This persecution had much less than those which went before it the support of popular passion. Very seldom on this occasion did the people interfere to denounce, excite, or complain of the backwardness of the magistrates. Sometimes, on the contrary, it did interfere to express sorrow and pity for the victims, and to demand their pardon. Heathenism had lost ground, not only in the number of its adherents, but in its power over their minds. The heathen populace was no longer that of the preceding century. The Christians had lived in the midst of it in too great numbers, and too publicly not to be better understood. Many minds, indifferent or tolerant, had come to think that the worship of God and the worship of the gods (as Tertullian somewhere expresses it) might live side by side. Their reason inclined to the former, although their corrupt hearts shrank from it. The few sincere heathens there were, were a part of the common people, without much reflection or knowledge, in whose eyes the offence of the Christians (whom in other respects they thought worthy people) was to have too much knowledge and too much reflection. Is not that in truth at this very day the offence of Christians in the eyes of the great mass of people who do not wish to know or to reflect ?--(Vol. iii. p. 346.)
The most important change was in the popular estimate of Christian morality. Time was, when strange and horrible stories of monstrous and unutterable impurity practised by the Christians in their secret assemblies were really believed, not merely by the vulgar, but even by educated men. This suspicion could not but be fostered by the care with which Christian reverence compelled them to conceal the real nature of that great act which has at all times formed the principal part of Christian worship. By degrees, however, the popular estimate had become so much modified, that it became the general feeling that Christians, whatever else there might be to say against them, were at least more pure than anyone else. Thus, when a woman named Afra, who was well known to have been a harlot, was brought before the heathen magistrate at Iconium, charged with being a Christian, and admitted the charge, he said, ` You a Christian ! you are not worthy of Christ. It is in vain for you to call Him your God, for He will never acknowledge you as His.' A still more remarkable case is given by M. de Champagny.
An immodest woman carne into a nursery-garden belonging to one Serenus, at an unbecoming hour, professing that she wished to walk there. He reproached her for her boldness, and turned her out. She had a duped husband, who was a favourite servant of the prince, and she complained of having been insulted, and caused Serenus to be summoned before the magistrate. He related what had happened in a simple manner, exposing the artifice of the wretched woman. She was silenced, and her indignant husband took her out of the court. ' But,' said the judge to Serenus, ' who are you ? who but a Christian would have had such a scruple?' ' I am a Christian.' ' How then have you escaped our pursuit ? Have not you sacrificed to the gods ?' 'As long as it was the will of God, He kept me out of notice. I was like the stone which the builders rejected. Now He is pleased to make use of me, and I am ready.' And the Christian suffered death. -(Vol. iii. p. 396.)
The disappearance of this old prejudice was the sign that the long era of persecution was drawing to an end. I cannot help thinking that a similar symptom gives us good hope for our own country. No one who knows England now, and can remember what it was fifty years ago, can fail to observe the great change that has taken place. Then, the notion of respectable men was that Catholics were a race morally degraded. Now, they are disliked by many people, but on the whole it is on the ground of needless strictness. God forbid that any who bear the honoured name should give them reason to think that Catholic men and Catholic women are much the same as other men and women of their own class of society, except that on Sundays they hear Mass instead of going to the Established Church. No doubt there is always some danger of this, when the fear of persecution has passed away. If the Dioclesian persecution found Christians so well prepared, it was because the Church had been sifted and purified by those of Decius, Valerian, and Aurelian in the preceding half-century. When the first of these broke out.
At the first moment the triumph of the emperor's will seemed complete. The Christians had been sleeping calmly, for the persecution had been suspended for eight-and-thirty years, and they had come to regard it only as a heroical tradition of times gone by. They had accustomed themselves to a life, easy, soft, and in some cases half heathen. At the sound of the edict of persecution they started up in terror. The faith which they had received from their fathers, and which they had been carelessly holding, did not seem to them a treasure so precious as their property or their life. They flocked in crowds before the Proconsul : those who held public offices (for the Christians had begun to enter into such offices), because their rank exposed them to more notice, and in some sense called on them to make a decision ; those who had pagan brothers or kindred, because they were urged to it by their kinsfolk ; others because they were cited to appear ; others because they were in a shameful hurry to apostatise. They were led before the idols and sacrificed. Some were pale, trembling, distracted between fear of man and fear of God.
These timid souls, who had not courage either for martyrdom or for apostasy, were a little laughed at by the heathen populace. Others, more firm in appearance; with an unabashed forehead and a confident voice, shamelessly denied that they had ever been Christians. They said true : these, says S. Dionysius of Alexandria, were those of whom our Lord foretold that their salvation would be difficult. Some went still further in their ardour for apostasy. They proclaimed that they had sacrificed to the gods that they had sacrificed without compulsion ; they obtained from the judge a written certificate of their baseness ; they hastened to their shame with an affected joy ; they prevailed on their neighbours to corne ; they brought their children and got the idol's wine poured over their innocent lips. Sometimes when put off to the next day by a magistrate too busy to receive apostasies, they begged and implored.—(Vol. iii. p. 290.)
What picture would the Catholic Church in England present, if persecution should suddenly return upon us ? Doubtless there would be many martyrs. It is from the letters of S. Cyprian, the martyr Archbishop of Carthage, that this description of what he had seen go on before his own eyes is drawn. But would none be found ' asleep ' ? none ' whom the roar of the edicts would startle up in terror' ? none accustomed to a ' life easy and soft,' half Protestant ? and if so, might not London as well as Carthage' see many ' fallen' ?
I have left myself no space to follow M. de Champagny's narrative through what may be called the secular part of his history. In this I feel that I have done him less than justice, because, as I have already said, it is the blending of the two elements together that gives to his volumes their special charm. He has been as conscientiously diligent in one as in the other, and the secular history, although I may not have prepared the reader to expect it, occupies more than two-thirds of the volumes before me. As a French writer living under the Second Empire he could hardly refrain himself from following, with especial care, the history of the fall of Rome under the Caesars, if it were only that he might expose the peculiar corruptions against which his own country had most need to be warned. He is strongly impressed with a truth most certain and momentous, and not less necessary to be urged upon England than upon France ; that the ruin of nations is brought on, not by material or even by political, but by social and moral causes. It is, therefore, the social and moral bearing of political changes, which has always the greatest attraction for the author. With this thought before him, he weighs and estimates the new system introduced into the Roman Empire by Severus, which is indeed the beginning of the political history of the three volumes before me, and the effect produced both upon his family and his successors, as well as upon the public interests, by the new supremacy given by him to the soldier. He estimates in the same way the object and effects of the change introduced by Caracalla, when he admitted the whole world to the citizenship of Rome. In another part of the work we have a most interesting account of the growth of the Roman law, and of the circumstances to which it owes its peculiar characteristics. Lastly, he considers the new system introduced by Diocletian. Upon all these things I designed, when I commenced my work, to enter at some length. But my space is filled, and I have not touched them_ I regret this the less, because I think the extracts I have given will suffice to direct the attention of my readers to the volumes of M. de Champagny himself. He is a writer whose chief characteristic it is, that it is impossible to read him without being set thinking. In words which, in my notice of his former works, I quoted from a French critic, ' Le plus beau privilege des écrivants (lui pensent c'est de faire penser ceux qui les lisent. M. de Champagny fait penser.' The remark is as applicable to this work as to those which preceded it.
I will conclude with a single example of the skill of the author in getting vividly before his readers a picture of the men and manners of times in many respects so unlike our own, as far as decency allows, a qualification which, in striking contrast to Gibbon, he never forgets.
Well, then, let us go into that villa of Laurentum, in which, sick of empire, having signed in a heap twenty edicts, and having written at the foot of a letter the single word farewell, the son of Marcus Aurelius is resting himself in the shade of the bays of his garden. What is he to do today ? We are in the golden age, (the era of Commodus has been officially declared such by a decree of the Senate) ; it is the eve of the Calends of the Herculian month (for by another decree the calendar has been changed, and six of the twelve months have been decorated with the names or titles of Commodus). But even in the golden age, even in the month AElius, in the month Amazonius, even when one is master of the world, ennui will intrude. Upon some thirty letters or edicts just signed, he has been reading the formula magnificent but in the end tiresome—' The Emperor Caesar Lucius AElius Aurelius Commodus Augustus Pius (that title he took on the day when he made one of the lovers of his mother Consul), happy Sarmaticus Maximus Germanicus Britannicus, Pacificator of the world, unconquerable, the Roman Hercules, Pontifex Maximus) eighteen times invested with tribunitial authority, eight times Imperator, Father of his Country, to the Consuls, the Praetors, and the Tribunes of the people, and to the Commodian Senate (for the Senate too had taken this title, the historian says, in derision, but if it laughed you may be sure it was not out loud), to the Senate happy and Cornmodian, health.' Yes, no doubt one is all this . . . . and yet what matter ennui will intrude Marcia comes charged to amuse her terrible husband ' What will my master be pleased to do ?' she says. ' Will he have the circus prepared, and put on the habit of the green faction to win new victories ? Or will the Roman Hercules call for his lion-skin and his club ?' Marcia had given him these fantasies about Hercules. As he must act she wanted to inspire him with a taste for acting some manly character. 'My master knows that I am an Amazon, and I love the combat. Will he like me to take the helmet and cuirass to go out to the combat on the banks of the River Thermodon ? Or will he prefer to be an Amazon himself; and to fight, in a female garb, with the courage of a hero?' ' Yes,' says Commodus, ' I will fight Take off my shoes. Give me a matron's tunic shot with purple and gold. Get ready my domestic arena. Call my gladiators to come and be killed by the first gladiator in the world. What shall I kill ? Men, beasts, elephants, rhinoceros. I have killed at one single time, two elephants, five hippopotamus, some rhinoceros, beasts by the hundred all with a single blow ! And I have pierced the horn of a gazelle with my javelin. No, I should like to spare blood today ; I won't kill anything today, except some cripples and lame men. I am Hercules. Bring me my lion-skin and my club. These poor wretches shall be the Titans ; put some serpents [artificial, N.B.] about their limbs. I am Apollo. I will pierce them with my arrows.'
Marcia, perhaps, tries to suggest some less sanguinary employment. She tells of the few amusements, comparatively innocent, by which he has signalised his days of special good humour. She reminds him that one day he had had two deformed dwarfs served up on a huge silver platter smothered in mustard, and, of his unheard of mercy, had been pleased not only not to eat them, but to enrich them and make them prefects; that another day he had caused the most delicate dishes to be mixed with the dung from his stables, and had pretended to eat of them that the company at his table might be caught by them. Happy for the world when Commodus had had only these disgusting amusememts. But he remembers jokes which were more enjoyable. How for one man he had dressed his beard and cut off his nose ; how he had acted as surgeon for another and cut an artery ; how he had pretended to cut the hair of another and had cut off his ear ; how he had had one enormously fat man embowelled that he might satisfy himself what there could be inside. He remembers how many men be had had deprived of one eye and one leg ; how many he had had killed because they were too hand-some ; how many because he had met them dressed in the style of the barbarians. For so it was that in his private life and in the retirement of his home he had his little private cruelties quite unconnected with politics.
Marcia would try to change these sanguinary instincts. She talks to Commodus of prayers and sacrifices. She hopes to excite some fear of the gods. He replies, ` I have not sacrificed to Isis for a long time. My hair has grown again since I shaved, in order to carry the divine Anubis. Do you remember how, as I held the image in my hand and offered it to be kissed by the servants of Isis, I knocked it violently against their jaws ? And when the poor wretches beat their breasts with the consecrated pine comb, how I made them strike hard ; and the priests of Bellona, when it was their duty to wound their arms with knives, how I made them do it till the blood ran well ? And how I made a serious matter of the trials which precede the initiation to the mysteries of Mithras, trying the courage of the postulants by the sight of bloodshed in real earnest ?' Do what they may, talk to him of his religious rites, of his orgies, of his amusements, of his politics, it is always the man of blood that comes foremost.—(Vol. i. p. 35.)