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LIFE AND WRITINGS
SALLUST has been generally considered as the first among the Romans who merited the title of historian. This celebrated writer was born at Amiternum, in the territory of the Sabines, in the year of Rome 668. He received his education in the latter city, and, in his early youth, appears to have been desirous to devote himself to literary pursuits. But it was not easy for one residing in the capital to escape the contagious desire of military or political distinction. He obtained the situation of Quaestor, which entitled him to a seat in the Senate, at the age of twenty-seven; and, about six years afterwards, he was elected tribune of the Commons. While in this office, he attached himself to the fortunes of Caesar, and, along with one of his colleagues, conducted the prosecution against Milo for the murder of Clodius. In the year of the city 704 he was excluded from the Senate, on the pretext of immoral conduct, but more probably from the violence of the patrician party, to which he was opposed. Aulus Gellius, on the authority of Varro's treatise, Pius aut de Pace, informs us that he incurred this disgrace in consequence of an intrigue with Fausta, the wife of Milo, who caused him to be scourged by his slaves. It has been doubted, however, by modern critics, whether it was the historian Sallust who was thus punished, or his nephew Crispus Sallustius, to whom Horace has addressed the second ode of the second book.
* Dunlop's Roman Literature, vol. ii. p. 143. seqq. Lond. ed.
It seems indeed unlikely, that, in such a corrupt age, an amour with a woman of Fausta's abandoned character should have been the real cause of his expulsion from the Senate. After undergoing this ignominy, which for the present baffled all his hopes of preferment, he quitted Rome, and joined his patron, Caesar, in Gaul. He continued to follow the fortunes of that commander, and, in particular, bore a share in the expedition to Africa, where the scattered remains of Pompey's party had united. That region being finally subdued, Sallust was left by Caesar as Praetor of Numidia; and about the same time married Terentia the divorced wife of Cicero. He remained only a year in his government; but, during that period, enriched himself by despoiling the province. On his return to Rome, he was accused by the Numidians, whom he had plundered, but escaped with impunity by means of the protection of Caesar, and was quietly permitted to betake himself to a luxurious retirement with his ill-gotten wealth. He chose for his favourite retreats a villa at Tibur, which had belonged to Caesar, and a magnificent palace, which he built in the suburbs of Rome, surrounded by delightful pleasure-grounds, afterwards well known and celebrated by the name of the Gardens of Sallust. One front of this splendid mansion faced the street, where he constructed a spacious market-place, in which every article of luxury was sold in abundance. The other front looked to the gardens, which were contiguous to those of Lucullus, and occupied the extremity of the Viminal and Pincian hills. In them every beauty of nature, and every embellishment of art, that could delight or gratify the senses, seem to have been assembled. Umbrageous walks, open parterres, and cool porticoes, displayed their various attractions. Amidst shrubs and flowers of every hue and odour, interspersed with statues of the most exquisite workmanship, pure streams of water preserved the verdure of the earth and the temperature of the air; and while, on the one hand, the distant prospect caught the eye, on the other, the close retreat invited to repose or meditation. These gardens included within their precincts the most magnificent baths, a temple to Venus, and a circus, which Sallust repaired and ornamented. Possessed of such attractions, the Sallustian palace and gardens became, after the death of their
original proprietor, the residence of successive emperors.
In these gardens, or his villa at Tibur, Sallust passed the concluding years of his life, dividing his time between literary avocations and the society of his friends, among whom he numbered Lucullus, Messala, and Cornelius Nepos.
Such being his friends and studies, it seems highly improbable that he indulged in that excessive libertinism which has been attributed to him on the erroneous supposition that he was the Sallust mentioned by Horace in the first book of his Satires. The subject of Sallust's character is one which has excited some investigation and interest, and on which very different opinions have been formed. That he was a man of loose morals, is evident; and it cannot be denied that he rapaciously plundered his province, like most Roman governors of the day. But it seems doubtful if he was that monster of iniquity he has been sometimes represented. He was extremely unfortunate in the first permanent notice taken of his character by his contemporaries. The decided enemy of Pompey and his faction, he had said of that celebrated chief, in his General History, that he was a man, "oris probi, animo invere cundo.' Lenaeus, the freedman of Pompey, avenged his master, by the most virulent abuse of his enemy,* in a work which should rather be regarded as a frantic satire than an * Suetonius, De Grammaticis.
historical document. Of the injustice which he has done to the Life of the historian, we may in some degree judge from what he says of him as an author. He calls him, as we farther learn from Suetonius, "nebulonem vita scriptisque monstrosum; praeterea priscorum Catonisque ineruditissimum furem.' The Life of Sallust, by Asconius Pedianus, which was written in the age of Augustus, and might have acted, at the present day, as a corrective, or palliative, of the unfavourable impression produced by this injurious libel, has unfortunately perished; and the next work on the subject now extant is a professed rhetorical declamation against the character of Sallust, which was given to the world in the name of Cicero, but was not written till long after the death of that orator, and is now generally assigned by critics to a rhetorician in the reign of Claudius, called Porcius Latro. The calumnies invented or exaggerated by Lenaeus, and propagated in the scholastic theme of Porcius Latro, have been adopted by Le Clerc, professor of Hebrew at Amsterdam, and by Professor Meisner, of Prague, in their respective accounts of the Life of Sallust. His character has received more justice from the prefatory Memoir and notes of De Brosses, his French translator, and from the researches of Wieland in Germany.
From what is known of Fabius Pictor, and his immediate successors, it must be apparent, that the art of historic composition at Rome was in the lowest state, and that Sallust had no model to imitate among the writers of his own country. He therefore naturally recurred to the productions of the Greek historians. The native exuberance and loquacious familiarity of Herodotus were not adapted to his taste; and simplicity, such as that of Xenophon, is, of all things, the most difficult to attain : he therefore chiefly emulated Thucydides, and attempted to transplant into his own language the vigour and conciseness of the Greek historian; but the strict imitation with which he followed him has gone far to lessen the effect of his own original genius. The first work of Sallust was the Conspiracy of Catiline. There exists, however, some doubt as to the precise period of its composition. The general opinion is, that it was written immediately after the author went out of office as Tribune of the Commons, that is, A. U. C. 703. And the composition of the Jugurthine War, as well as of his General