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tiet, (shall take the negative where they take the affirmative,) quod et acutum genus est, et ad usus civium non inutile: nosque ea scripta, reliquaque ejusdem generis et legimus libenter, et legemus : hæc, quæ vitam continent omnem, negligentur ? Nam, ut sint illa vendibiliora, hæc uberiora certe
The work consists of five books. We have before had occasion to notice, how both here and elsewhere, Cicero opens the Epicurean doctrine, and discusses it in detail. It is defended by Torquatus, and confuted by Cicero, in a conversation held at his Cuman villa, in presence of Triarius, a young man of distinction, brought on a visit by Torquatus. The five books give the supposed substance of three dialogues. The scene of the last, occupying the fifth book, is laid at Athens. Piso explains the opinions of the Old Academy*, or the Peripatetics, in presence of Cicero, his brother Quintus, his cousin Lucius, and Atticus. He addresses the whole work to Brutus, in return for a dedication of the same kind on the part of Brutus, prefixed to his Treatise on Virtue.
In a short time after the publication of this last work, he produced another of equal dignity, which he entitled Tusculan Disputations. This also consisted of five books, on as many different questions of philosophy, bearing the most strongly on the practice of life, and involving topics the most essential to human happiness. In the first book the question is put, “Sed quæ sunt ea, quæ dicis te majora moliri ?”. The answer is, “Ut doceam, si possim, non modo malum non esse, sed bonum etiam esse mortem.” He states the subject of the second book on temperate and rational grounds; not with the extravagance of the Stoics:—“Nec tam quærendum est, dolor malumne sit, quam firmandus animus ad dolorem ferendum.'
* The Academics, by adopting the probable instead of the certain, preserved the balance between the two extremes, and were moderate in their opinions. Plutarch was one of them : his maxim was, Μηδέν άγαν:
With the same practical good sense is the question of the third book set down, and the real ground of manly fortitude settled:-“Hæc igitur præmeditatio futurorum malorum, lenit eorum adventum, quæ venientia longe ante videris.” In the fourth book he complains that the philosophers treat moral subjects, and the means of attaining happiness, with more of scholastic subtlety and formal method, than of practical utility:-Quia Chrysippus, et Stoici, cum de animi perturbationibus disputant, magnam partem in his partiendis et definiendis occupati sunt : illa eorum perexigua oratio est, qua medeantur animis, nec eos turbulentos esse patiantur.” This deficiency he endeavours to supply. In the opening of the fifth book, he thus addresses Brutus:— “ Placere enim tibi admodum sensi, et ex eo libro, (De Virtute, quem ad me accuratissime scripsisti, et ex multis sermonibus tuis, virtutem ad beate vivendum se ipsa esse contentam." To establish that proposition, is the final object of the discussion.
It was Cicero's habit, during his intervals of leisure, to invite some of his friends into the country. Not being much of a game-preserver, not knowing spring guns, setting no traps, and maintaining no warfare with poachers, he was reduced to the necessity of killing time by such conversation, as could not but involve the improvement of the mind, and the enlargement of the understanding. It is not here meant to be insinuated, that the entertainment was wholly speculative; or that he did not give very good dinners. But they were accompanied with what persons addicted to curious and uncommon quotation would call, “ the feast of reason and the flow of soul :" nor did they at all resemble a dinner party, at which a friend of mine was present many years ago in the west of England. Had the thing happened last week, and in the east, nothing should have induced me to divulge it. The company consisted of squires and clergy. When the cloth was removed, one of the guests, no matter whether lay or clerical, produced a horse's hoof from his pocket, and laid it on the table with the dessert. This gave rise, as was intended, to an animated and scientific Tusculana Quæstio on farriery.
The treatise in question recounts the diversions of five days, among a party of Cicero's friends at his Tusculan villa. Hence, the title of Tusculan Disputations. It is a point of considerable nicety, how far the different dialogues of this kind are to be ranked as mere fictions, for the purpose of communicating a dramatic air and enlivening dry discussion, or whether they be the literal records of a real debate; or lastly, the heads of somewhat desultory conversations, expanded, methodised, coloured by a more masterly hand, heightened by the ornaments of eloquence and the sublime of philosophy. That they were, on some occasions, far from literal, has been shown by the change of names for
purposes of personal compliment. Were we to consider them as absolute romances, we should lose all the antiquarian interest derived from the machinery. Medio tutissimus ibis, as the recondite quoter would express himself. However much or little of the actual words might have been spoken, we may suppose the parties mentioned, to have been carried down to the villa by the host : that the mornings were employed in declamation and rhetorical exercises. We have every reason to believe it a fact that Cicero had built a gallery there, called the Academy, for the purpose of philosophical conferences. Thither the company was in the habit of retiring in the afternoon; and there he held a school after the manner of the Greeks, and invited his guests to call for any subject they might desire to hear explained. Whatever
of the party proposed, was made the argument of that day's debate. Either therefore Cicero, who was an adept on all philosophical subjects, and versed in the theories of all the schools, contented himself to write on any subject, in which his visitors might most wish to be instructed ; or they paid their host the compliment of calling for such subjects, as from any thing dropt in previous conversation, they might suppose him most inclined to talk about, and ultimately to write upon. It matters not to us, which way the selection arose ; this hypothesis is sufficient to give the vehicle of dialogue, so insipid where the occasion and the characters are entirely fictitious, a local habitation, as our friend would say, and names of historical interest. These conferences, on the present occasion five, he was in the habit of collecting into writing ; but as we do not know that there was any short-hand, and are sure there was no Boswell, it should seem as if Dr. Middleton had stated the thing too strongly, in saying that they were given “ in the very words and manner in which they really passed.”
Another of Cicero's celebrated discourses is that on Fate. It arose from a conversation with Hirtius, at his villa near Puteoli, where they spent several days together to enjoy the spring. He is supposed about the same time to have finished his translation of Plato's dialogue, entitled Timæus, on the nature and origin of the universe. He was also employing himself on a work of a different kind, which had been long on his hands : a history of his own times; which might have been more appropriately called an explanation and justification of his own conduct. It was full of free and severe reflections on Cæsar and Crassus, and others who had abused their power to the oppression of the commonwealth. He gave it the modest denomination of Anecdotes. It was not to be published, as too hazardous ; but to be shown only to a few friends. It was written, as before observed, after the manner of the historian Theopompus, who indulged in the severity of a satirist, and the invective of a misanthrope.
He began his Book of Offices at his countryseat near Naples, designed, as he tells us, for the use and instruction of his son, that the time passed in an excursion of pleasure might not be entirely lost. He also composed there an oration, adapted to the circumstances of the time, and sent it to Atticus, to be suppressed or brought forward at his discretion; besides which he engaged to finish, and send to his friend shortly, his secret history or anecdotes in the manner of Heraclides, to be carefully concealed in his cabinet.
He wrote a treatise also on the Nature of the Gods. In all these books an incautious reader is apt to be misled; but an attentive one never can.