CHAPTER VII. ROMAN LITERATURE.
Xenophon is the last of the trio of the Greek historians, whose writings are classical and inimitable. [Footnote: Born probably about 444 B.C.] He is characterized by great simplicity and absence of affectation. His "Anabasis," in which he describes the expedition of the younger Cyrus and the retreat of the ten thousand Greeks, is his most famous book. But his "Cyropaedia," in which the history of Cyrus is the subject, although still used as a classic in colleges for the beauty of the style, has no value as a history, since the author merely adopted the current stories of his hero without sufficient investigation. Xenophon wrote a variety of treatises and dialogues, but his "Memorabilia" of Socrates is the most valuable. All antiquity and all modern writers unite in giving to Xenophon great merit as a writer, and great moral elevation as a man.
If we pass from the Greek to the Latin historians, - to those who were as famous as the Greek, and whose merit has scarcely been transcended in our modern times, if, indeed, it has been equaled, - the great names of Sallust, of Caesar, of Livy, of Tacitus, rise up before us, together with a host of other names we have not room or disposition to present, since we only aim to show that the ancients were at least our equals in this great department of prose composition. The first great masters of the Greek language in prose were the historians, so far as their writings have descended, although it is probable that the orators may have shaped the language before them, and given it flexibility and refinement. The first great prose writers of Rome were the orators. Nor was the Latin language fully developed and polished until Cicero appeared. But we do not write a history of the language: we speak only of those who wrote immortal works in the various departments of learning.
As Herodotus did not arise until the Greek language had been already formed by the poets, so no great prose writer appeared among the Romans for a considerable time after Plautus, Terence, Ennius, and Lucretius flourished.
The first great historian was Sallust, the contemporary of Cicero, born B.C. 86, the year that Marius died. Q. Fabius Pictor, M. Portius Cato, L. Cal. Piso had already written works which are mentioned with respect by the Latin authors, but they were mere annalists or antiquarians, like the chroniclers of the Middle Ages, and had no claim as artists. Sallust made Thucydides his model, but fell below him in genius and elevated sentiment. He was born a plebeian, and rose to distinction by his talents, but was ejected from the Senate for his profligacy. Afterwards he made a great fortune as praetor and governor of Numidia, and lived in magnificence on the Quirinal - one of the most profligate of the literary men of antiquity. We possess but a small portion of his works, but the fragments which have come down to us show peculiar merit. He sought to penetrate the human heart, and reveal the secret motives which actuate the conduct of men. His style is brilliant, but his art is always apparent. He is clear and lively, but rhetorical. Like Voltaire, who inaugurated modern history, he thought more of style than of accuracy of facts. He was a party man, and never soared beyond his party. He aped the moralist, but erected egotism and love of pleasure into proper springs of action, and honored talent disconnected with virtue. Like Carlyle, he exalted strong men, and because they were strong. He was not comprehensive like Cicero, or philosophical like Thucydides, although he affected philosophy as he did morality. He was the first who deviated from the strict narratives of events, and also introduced much rhetorical declamation, which he puts into the mouths of his heroes. [Footnote: The best translations of this author are those by Stewart, 1806, and Murphy, 1807.] He wrote for eclat.
Caesar, as an historian, ranks higher, and no Roman ever wrote purer Latin than he. But his historical works, however great their merit, but feebly represent his transcendent genius - the most august name of antiquity. He was mathematician, architect, poet, philologist, orator, jurist, general, statesman - imperator. In eloquence he was only second to Cicero. The great value of his history is in the sketches of the productions, the manners, the customs, and the political state of Gaul, Britain, and Germany. His observations on military science, on the operation of sieges, and construction of bridges and military engines, are valuable. But the description of his military operations is only a studied apology for his crimes, even as the bulletins of Napoleon were set forth to show his victories in the most favorable light. His fame rests on his victories and successes as a statesman rather than on his merits as an historian, even as Louis Napoleon will live in history for his deeds rather than as the apologist of Caesar. [Footnote: SeeHistory of Caesar, by Napoleon, a work more learned than popular, however greatly he may be indebted to the labors of others.] The "Commentaries" resemble the history of Herodotus more than any other Latin production, at least in style; they are simple and unaffected, precise and elegant, plain and without pretension.