« IndietroContinua »
MORE DIFFICULT PASSAGES
But her spirit was invincible. When the tidings of the disaster of Thrasymenus reached the city, the people crowded to the Forum and called upon the magistrates to tell them the whole truth. The praetor peregrinus, M. Pomponius Matho, ascended the rostra, and said to the assembled multitude, “We have been beaten in a great battle; our army is destroyed; and C. Flaminius, the consul, is killed. Our colder temperaments scarcely enable us to conceive the effect of such tidings on the lively feelings of the people of the south, or to image to ourselves the cries, the tears, the hands uplifted in prayer, or clenched in rage, the confused sound of ten thousand voices giving utterance with breathless rapidity to their feelings of eager interest, of terror, of grief, or of fury. All the northern gates of the city were beset with crowds of wives and mothers, imploring every fresh fugitive from the fatal field for some tidings of those most dear to them.
Strange and delusive destiny of man! The Pope was at his villa of Malliana when he received intelligence that his party had triumphantly entered Milan : he abandoned himself to the exultation arising naturally from the successful completion of an important enterprise, and looked cheerfully on at the festivities his people were preparing on the occasion. He paced backwards and forwards till deep in the night, between the window and a blazing hearth—it was the month of November. Somewhat exhausted, but still in high spirits, he arrived at Rome, and the rejoicings there celebrated for his triumph were not yet concluded when he was attacked by a mortal disease. “Pray for me,” said he to his servants, “ that I may yet make you all happy.” We see that he loved life,—but his hour was come, he had not time to receive the viaticum nor extreme unction. So suddenly, so prematurely, and surrounded by hopes so bright, he died -as the poppy fadeth.
After the mutual and repeated discharge of missile weapons, in which the archers of Scythia might signalize their superior dexterity, the cavalry and infantry of the two armies were furiously mingled in closer combat. The Huns, who fought under the eyes of their king, pierced through the doubtful and feeble centre of the allies, separated their wings from each other, and wheeling with a rapid effort to the left, directed their whole force against the Visigoths. As Theodoric rode along the ranks, to animate his troops, he received a mortal wound from the javelin of Andages, a noble Ostrogoth, and immediately fell from his horse. The wounded king was oppressed in the general disorder, and trampled under the feet of his own cavalry; and this important death served to explain the ambiguous answer of the haruspices.
Meanwhile Charles, satisfied with the easy and almost bloodless victory which he had gained, and advancing slowly with the precaution necessary in an enemy's country, did not yet know the whole extent of his own good fortune. But at last, a messenger despatched by the slaves acquainted him with the success of their noble effort for the recovery of their liberty; and at the same time deputies arrived from the town, in order to present him the keys of their gates, and to implore his protection from military violence. While he was deliberating concerning the proper measures for this purpose, the soldiers, fearing that they should be deprived of the booty which they had expected, rushed suddenly and without orders into the town, and began to kill and plunder without distinction. It was then too late to restrain their cruelty, their avarice, or licentiousness.
Above thirty thousand of the innocent inhabitants perished on that unhappy day, and ten thousand were carried away as slaves.
In far different plight, and with far other feelings than those with which they had entered the pass of Caudium did the Roman army issue out from it again upon the plain of Campania. Defeated and disarmed, they knew not what reception they might meet with from their Campanian allies; it was possible that Capua might shut her gates against them, and go over to the victorious enemy. But the Campanians behaved faithfully and generously; they sent supplies of arms, of clothing, and of provisions, to meet the
Romans even before they arrived at Capua ; they sent new cloaks, and the lictors and fasces of their own magistrates, to enable the consuls to resume their fitting state; and when the army approached their city the Senate and people went out to meet them, and welcomed them both individually and publicly with the greatest kindness. No attentions, however, could soothe the wounded pride of the Romans : they could not bear to raise their eyes from the ground, nor to speak to anyone : full of shame they continued their march to Rome; when they came near to it, all those soldiers who had a home in the country dispersed and escaped to their several homes singly and silently : whilst those who lived in Rome lingered without the walls till the sun was set, and stole to their homes under cover of the darkness. The consuls were obliged to enter the city publicly and in the light of day, but they looked upon themselves as no longer worthy to be the chief magistrates of Rome, and they shut themselves up at home in privacy.
He was rash, but with a calculated rashness, which the event never failed to justify. His greatest successes were due to the rapidity of his movements, which brought him on the enemy before they heard of his approach. He travelled sometimes a hundred miles a day, reading or writing in his carriage, through countries without roads, and crossing rivers without bridges. In battle he sometimes rode; but he was more often on foot, bareheaded, and in a conspicuous dress, that he might be seen and recognised. Again and again by his own efforts he recovered a day that was half-lost. He once seized a panic-stricken standard-bearer, turned him
round, and told him that he had mistaken the direction of
He never misled his army as to an enemy's strength, or if he mis-stated their numbers it was only to exaggerate.
We must take men as we find them. No man can live up to the best which is in him. To expect a human creature to be all genius, all intellect, all virtue, all dignity, would be as absurd as to expect that midnight should be all stars. Curiosity in the lives of great men is to a certain degree legitimate, and even profitable ; but there is perhaps a danger of it being carried too far. To find the great on a level with ourselves may gratify our vanity, but it may sometimes lead to very erroneous results. Mr. Hookam Frere once related the following anecdote about Canning :- I remember one day going to consult Canning on a matter of great importance to me, when he was staying at Enfield. We walked into the woods. As we passed some ponds I was surprised to find that it was new to him that tadpoles turn into frogs. “Now, don't you," he added, “ go and tell that story to the next fool you meet.” Canning could rule, and did rule, a great nation ; but people are apt to think that a man who does not know the natural history of frogs must be an imbecile in the treatment of men.'
When the conqueror, having passed within the lines, saw the most beautiful city of his age stretched beneath his feet, the sense alike of his own magnificent success and of that