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Editors, however, are not wholly in fault. Minds are so different, that a passage, which is unintelligible to one, will be comprehended at a glance by another; nay, even the same individual may be completely puzzled at one time, and yet, if he recurs to the phrase the next day, the whole meaning will flash upon him at once, and he wonders that he was so dull before. Besides this, it may be added that nothing is more ingenious than stupidity. Experience alone could convince one of the vast amount and variety of blunders which a dull student is capable of making, and of the number of Greek and Latin bugbears which start up in his path; and no human foresight can predict when and where they will occur. Hence editors are sometimes blamed for neglecting to interpret passages which none but Dulness herself could help understanding. In making notes for the present edition, the Editor has omitted all such information as could be easily obtained from the Classical Dictionary, and Geography, and Adam's Roman Antiquities. His object has been, first, to explain the most difficult passages in the text, or to offer what seemed the best interpretation where commentators disagree; and, besides this, to give a good English translation of expressions, which, perhaps, may be very intelligible, but which, from the peculiarity of their idiom, may be difficult to render in our language. Finally, he has endeavored to point out the most remarkable literary merits of the Latin historian.
The whole has been condensed in such a manner as to fulfil the purpose of the Publishers of offering to the student a cheap edition. This object will at least be accomplished; and the Editor hopes that many may thereby be induced to peruse the works of one of the most attractive of the ancient writers.
Boston, September 3d, 1838.
HISTORICAL Compositions may be divided into two distinct classes records of events by eye-witnesses, or by those who conversed with eye-witnesses; and accounts written at a period when all who were contemporaneous with the circumstances narrated have ceased to live.
Each of these classes has its peculiar merits and defects. The former class is more likely than the latter to be stamped with the private feelings and prejudices of the writer. He lived in the midst of the events he commemorates; perhaps had a share in promoting them; and was swayed by feelings of friendship or enmity in detailing the exploits, or painting the characters, of the most important actors. If the circumstances which he records were of an exciting kind; if they involved questions of a political nature; if they arrayed on opposite sides the interests and passions of men; if they brought about the triumph of one party, and the ruin of another; if they were such as to affect the welfare, happiness, and life of the greater portion of a community, it can hardly be supposed that they are described with entire impartiality by one why shared in the excitement, whose passions were roused, and whose fortunes were pledged in support of one side or the
Still we shall find that, in this class of history, events are described with a vividness and accuracy, and, at the same time, with a degree of ease and freedom, which could only be found in one who witnessed them. The narration becomes, in the hands of such a writer, almost dramatic; the scenes seem to be presented visibly before us, and to assume a reality and distinctness as if they were acted out. Characters are strongly marked, and yet possess a complete individuality, and an accordance with nature, which make us immediately recognize them as real, living men.
Numerous circumstances are mentioned with which none but a contemporary historian could have been acquainted; but which, though perhaps of small consequence in themselves, still tend to increase the impression of truth and reality which we receive from the details.
The confidence to be placed in this kind of history must be measured by the individual character of the author. Does he appear to have been influenced by party feeling, passion, or prejudice? Has his work, generally, the air of candor, sincerity, and the wish to do justice to all? Does the love of truth pervade his writings? Does the account he gives, agree, in the main, with the most approved histories by contemporary writers? Such are the questions to be asked respecting his work; and according to the answers we must form our opinion of its merits.
The second class of historical compositions is less likely to be tinctured with prejudice or passion. The writer lives at a time when all that violence of feeling which was roused by the events, has died away, and the actions of men are viewed in a true light; their motives justly appreciated, their capacities rated as they deserve, and their whole character stamped by the opinion of posterity. A variety of authors, both those who lived during the times they commemorate, and those who were subsequent to them, yet before his day, are open to him; and he is able to compare, verify, contrast, and select. His history is a more philosophical work than the narrative of an author's own times. The very character of such a work requires that it should be more elaborate, more studied, and more learned. The writer has a better opportunity to preserve the just perspective of history; he knows exactly what occurrences are to be placed in the foreground, and in a strong light, and what, from their comparative insignificance, must be kept out of sight, or only placed in the dim distance: he is able to manage the gradual and delicate shading of his picture so that the whole shall produce a single and decided effect, not so much by the minuteness of the detail, as by the combination, blending, and harmony of the entire piece. The philosophy of history, the art of representing past events with due reference to their importance, to their bearing upon each other, and to their influence upon the future; the power of giving to one age a correct impression with regard to the men, manners, and events of a former age,best studied in such histories as these.
The degree of faith to be placed in this second class of historical writings is to be decided not merely by the character of the
author for veracity and fairness, but by the amount of his learning, the variety of authority which came within his reach, the wisdom displayed in judging between historical contradictions, and the sagacity evinced in forming opinions from the various materials presented to him from which to frame the history.
The former class must, from its very nature, embrace but a small portion of time; but writings of this kind, from their minute and accurate detail, their glowing description, and their reality, are more likely to be interesting and amusing than the other kind, compared with which they are like moving panoramas by the side of still paintings. They are principally valuable as forming materials for the future historian. They are the pure, original sources, the very elements, of history. When their truth is once accredited, their value increases from age to age; and they acquire the same sort of authority as legal precedents.
To this class of historical writings belong the works of Sallust. This writer was born so soon after the termination of the Jugurthine war, that he was undoubtedly acquainted with many who had been engaged in it; and while he held the prætorship of Numidia, he visited the scenes of the most memorable events in the war, and acquainted himself with the geography of the country, besides collecting several original documents, which he caused to be translated into Latin for his own benefit. He was thus enabled to give a minute and graphic description of the principal events in the war. He had seen the places where the most remarkable incidents took place; he had stood on the fields where the bloodiest battles had been fought; and perhaps learned from some veteran, who had borne his share in the contest, how the whole fearful drama had passed, - where the armies had been stationed, in what order they advanced, — on what spot they encountered each other in the onset, where the fierce king of Numidia had charged with his formidable cavalry, and whither he retreated when his troops had spent their vain fury upon the ponderous phalanx of the Romans. All the scene was before him, as if he himself had witnessed it. He had traversed the same plains and wildernesses, crossed the rivers, ascended the mountains that lay in the path of the Roman army. He had penetrated to the distant cities of the desert, surveyed their walls, and scaled the cliffs whose summits were capped with impregnable fortresses; and accordingly we find in his writings a vividness of description and a reality which could be expected from no author who had not enjoyed equal advantages.
Sallust was living at Rome when the conspiracy of Catiline broke out, and was personally acquainted with most of the leaders in that dangerous plot. The picture of Catiline is evidently drawn from the life. The author himself had studied the appear ance of this remarkable man; he had seen the unsteady and fitful gait, the disordered dress, the changeful expression, the eye glaring with the fires of passion or the frenzy of remorse. He had listened to the eloquence of Cæsar, of Cato, and of Cicero; he had seen the terror which overspread the city on the breaking out of the conspiracy, and had witnessed the universal joy when it was quelled. The characters he draws were intimately known to him; the scenes described were familiar; the whole course of the conspiracy had passed under his eye.
The merit of correctness and impartiality is generally allowed to Sallust. If he has failed in these qualities in any portion of his works, it is in speaking of Cicero. He is thought not to have done full justice to the conspicuous and important part which the great orator took in quelling the formidable conspiracy of Catiline, and it is supposed that he was influenced by private feeling in omitting to place in their true light the energy, wisdom, and boldness of the man, who, for his transcendent merits, was hailed as the father of his country.
Sallust devoted the earlier portion of his life to public duties, into which he seems to have entered rather in the hope of personal aggrandizement than from any feeling of patriotism. His career has been stigmatized as shamefully corrupt, both in his public and private relations; though it is thought that the charge of libertinism must be shared with his nephew, Crispus Sallustius. He followed the fortunes of Cæsar; and, after the victory at Pharsalia, and the defeat of the remnant of Pompey's adherents in Africa, in which war Sallust bore a part, he was rewarded by Cæsar with the pretorship of Numidia. He acquired an immense fortune by the plunder of this province, and, the year following, returned to Rome, to devote the remainder of his life to the pursuits of refined and voluptuous leisure.
He built within the precincts of Rome a magnificent palace, which he filled with every thing that could minister to the senses, or contribute in any way to the promotion of Epicurean enjoyment. His gardens were extensive, and of unrivalled beauty, and embraced within their limits a circus, a temple of Venus, - which was a model of classic architecture, and extensive and costly baths. Here, surrounded by every object that could gratify the