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in regular form, and then to carry on the government to their own advantage. Apart from the character of the men who engaged in it, it does not seem to have been any more criminal in its origin or plans than any “ring” or cabal by which a personal interest seeks its ends through the forms of constitutional election. Only when, after three years' attempt, it was finally defeated at the polls, and appealed to armed insurrection, did it take the shape of treason. And even then it kept the formalities of civil and military authority, and rejected the help of slaves; claiming that its real object was to rid the state of an oppressive and selfish oligarchy. That its real aim was to destroy the state — which Cicero asserts was, at any rate, so well disguised, that the party which succeeded in overcoming it fell into odium as enemies of the people, and found their own ruin in its defeat.
These circumstances have made the true character and aims of the conspiracy one of the riddles of Roman politics. Cicero, in a well-known passage (Cat. II.), ranges the conspirators in five “ dangerous classes,” of which the most respectable were men of large estates heavily mortgaged, whose debts made them ready to welcome any sort of change. But they, as he shows, could have no real interest in a revolution. And it may be safe, perhaps, along with many critics, to dismiss the stories of bloody rites, criminal oaths, and desperate designs of massacre and conflagration, as the tales of frightened fancy and political hate. But of the reckless and criminal character of its leaders, and the mischief they would have done if they had got into office, there seems
no reason for doubt. As candidate, Cicero had beaten them fairly in a hard-fought battle at the polls. As consul, he had worked, actively and effectually, to block their further political game. When they were finally defeated, in the fall elections of his consular year, and lost heart to try again, he was vigilant, shrewd, intrepid, and successful, in tracking their schemes of open violence, and forcing the development of their plot beyond the walls.
His colleague Antonius - whom, half by bribery and half by flattery or threats, he had turned against them pelled, with whatever reluctance, to take the field to fight them; and, though conveniently lame on the day of battle, had forced upon him the military glory of their defeat. The conspiracy proper was quite annihilated by this blow. No avowed leader or accomplice in it seems to have been left in Rome. And it was not till the coalition of Cæsar, Pompey, and Crassus, three years later, gave new hope to the enemies of the Senate, and Clodius succeeded Catiline as the leader of what was most ferocious and desperate in Rome, that Cicero met the penalty of his great political error, the illegal death of the conspirators.
In the logic of events, this conspiracy was a sequel to the revolution of Sulla, and a prelude to the overthrow of the republic by Cæsar. While nominally a conservative, Sulla had been, in reality, an innovator of the most dangerous type. He had set himself in armed opposition to a reform, which, though disfigured from the times of the Gracchi by many acts of violence, might yet have saved for many generations the free political life of Rome. The great political crime of Sulla was that he deliberately destroyed the existing constitution, to restore by force that which had been outgrown a hundred years before. A still more fatal policy was to subvert the popular life of the Italian communities, and to destroy, as far as he could, the remains of that free
which though in arms against Rome in the “ Social War” made now the best hope of the Republic. The dictator must provide landed estates for his veterans, whatever came of it; and the wide-spread ruin and despair that rose from this made the chief reliance of the conspiracy The horrible civil war, with its massacres on one side and its proscriptions on the other, had fatally corrupted the very springs of political morality. It had even destroyed (so to speak) the political sense. Politics had been bad enough before. Party controversies had often resulted in assassination, massacre, and exile. Now, it was deliberately resolved to settle all such questions by the sword. When Sulla (B. C. 88), on being directed by the authority of the State to surrender his command to Marius, refused to obey, but marched instead upon the city, and put his antagonists to the sword, the Republic was at an end. Though nominally restored, it was after this an empty form. It opened the field for the swift victories of Pompey, the eloquent career of Cicero, the brilliant exploits of Cæsar. But its political life was a series of violences, conspiracies, and cabals. The real power was only waiting for the man who had the capacity and the will to take it. When the forces of faction were at length exhausted, the wary craft of Octavianus easily gathered the ripe spoils of empire.
The conspiracy of Catiline was, at most, a futile attempt to do what Sulla had done once, and what Cæsar did afterwards. It failed, partly because it was undertaken by an incompetent chief; but mainly because it was an impatient effort to hasten the natural course of events. The revolutions of Sulla and of Cæsar grew out of a long series of transactions; they were seen coming, and prepared for long beforehand. It was otherwise in Catiline's case. There was no great convulsion which his success might seem to heal, no war of parties to which he might offer the bribe of peace. There was discontent enough to appeal to, and misgovernment enough to assail. And it may be that he was used by wilier and abler plotters, to feel whether the time was ripe. But the success of such a movement could have been nothing but a pure tyranny, without even the plea of necessity, which Cæsar and perhaps Sulla might urge. It is, therefore, not a great event of history, but only an episode, or at most a significant incident. It grew out of the disorder of the times; it also reacted upon them, did much immediate mischief, and probably hastened the final catastrophe. Still, if we knew nothing of it except the fact that it took place, the real loss to history would be slight and indirect. We could not afford, it is true, to lose Sallust's narrative of the conspiracy, or Cicero's orations against its chief. But we could very well afford to exchange them for other things which we have lost,- works of the same authors, and no greater in extent.
Of Sallust Caius SALUSTIUS CRISPUS — we know little that is worth knowing, except the bare outlines of his life, and the fact that he was a constant partisan of Cæsar. He was born B. C. 86, just twenty years later than Cicero. He was never very prominent in the politics of Rome, though he says that in his youth he had strong inducements to enter public life. His private life was charged as scandalous; he was once, it is said, soundly thrashed by Milo for attentions to his wife, and was afterwards expelled from the Senate by the partisans of Pompey. He served Cæsar rather inefficiently in the Civil War; and was made by him governor (proprætor) of the provinces of Africa and Numidia. Here he gathered the usual spoils of great wealth, and the rarer treasure of historic material which he used in his romantic and striking narrative of the career of Jugurtha, the great Numidian chieftain. His gardens in Rome were proverbial for luxury and splendor; and he lived in retired indulgence, apart from the later struggles of the Commonwealth, till his death in B. C. 35.
As historian, it was the plan of Sallust to write out the history of his own times, beginning with the death of Sulla. He seems also to have touched upon earlier events, especially the Social or Marsic War; and his history of Jugurtha may be regarded as a sort of introduction to the civil wars of Marius, whose earlier political career is told in it. His practice was to write in episodes, or fragments; and of his more general scheme only the narrative of Catiline's conspiracy remains, with a few speeches and letters, which are little else than pieces of rhetorical composition.
The ancients ranked Sallust very high as a writer, and did not scruple to compare him to Thucydides.* Modern
* Sed non historia cesserit Græcis, nec opponere Thucydidi Salustium verear. Quint. x. 1, 101.
criticism does not support this view. His merits as a writer are doubtless very great. He is master of a terse, sententious, manly style, - oris probi, animo inverecundo, - and
tells his story with considerable narrative power. But, compared with Thucydides or with Tacitus, his writings show no real earnestness or dignity; the elaborate political disquisitions and moral reflections seem forced ; his descriptions, though vigorous and compact, lack that wonderful vividness which we find in those great historians. He gives the impression of a rhetorician, saying - finely - what he thinks it
is proper for him to say, rather than expressing genuine feelings and opinions. He has been called a pessimist, cynical, and blasé; and has been accused of unfairness, particularly of hostility to Cicero. But this last charge is certainly not made out: the “Catiline," at least, is remarkably free from partisan feeling, except as it may perhaps echo the scandals or the temper of the period. And the debaucheries, of which Sallust's earlier career is accused, were greatly atoned by the honest attempt he seems to have made, later in his life, to leave a fit and instructive record of a remarkable time.