CHAPTER VII. ROMAN LITERATURE.
Cicero was not probably equal to his great Grecian rival in vehemence, in force, in fiery argument, which swept every thing away before him; and he was not probably equal to him in original genius; but he was his superior in learning, in culture, and in breadth. [Footnote: Born B.C. 106.] He distinguished himself very early as an advocate; but his first great public effort was in the prosecution of Verres for corruption. Although defended by Hortensius, and the whole influence of the Metelli and other powerful families, Cicero gained his cause, - more fortunate than Burke in his prosecution of Warren Hastings, who was also sustained by powerful interests and families. Burke also resembled Cicero in his peculiarities and in his fortunes more than any modern orator. His speech on the Manilian law, when he appeared as a political orator, greatly contributed to his popularity. I need not describe his memorable career; his successive election to all the highest offices of state, his detection of Catiline's conspiracy, his opposition to turbulent and ambitious partisans, his alienations and friendships, his brilliant career as a statesman, his misfortunes and sorrows, his exile and recall, his splendid services to the state, his greatness and his defects, his virtues and weaknesses, his triumphs and martyrdom. These are foreign to my purpose. No man of heathen antiquity is better known to us, and no man, by pure genius, ever won more glorious laurels. His life and labors are immortal. His virtues and services are embalmed in the heart of the world. Few men ever performed greater literary labors, and in most of its departments. Next to Aristotle, he was the most learned man of antiquity, but performed more varied labors than he, since he was not only great as a writer and speaker, but as a statesman, and was the most conspicuous man in Rome after Pompey and Caesar. He may not have had the moral greatness of Socrates, nor the philosophical genius of Plato, nor the overpowering eloquence of Demosthenes, but he was a master of all the wisdom of antiquity. Even civil law, the great science of the Romans, became interesting in his hands, and is divested of its dryness and technicality. He popularized history, and paid honor to all art, even to the stage. He made the Romans conversant with the philosophy of Greece, and systematized the various speculations. He may not have added to the science, but no Roman, after him, understood so well the practical bearing of all the various systems. His glory is purely intellectual, and it was by pure genius that he rose to his exalted position and influence.
But it was in forensic eloquence that he was preeminent, and in which he had but one equal in ancient times. Roman eloquence culminated in him. He composed about eighty orations, of which fifty-nine are preserved. Some were delivered from the rostrum to the people, and some in the Senate. Some were mere philippics, as savage in denunciation as those of Demosthenes. Some were laudatory; some were judicial; but all were severely logical, full of historical allusion, profound in philosophical wisdom, and pervaded with the spirit of patriotism. "He goes round and round his object, surveys it in every light, examines it in all its parts, retires and then advances, compares and contrasts it, illustrates, confirms, and enforces it, till the hearer feels ashamed of doubting a position which seems built on a foundation so strictly argumentative. And having established his case, he opens upon his opponent a discharge of raillery so delicate and good natured that it is impossible for the latter to maintain his ground against it; or, when the subject is too grave, he colors his exaggerations with all the bitterness of irony and vehemence of passion. But the appeal to the gentler emotions is reserved for the close of the oration, as in the defense of Cluentius, Caelius, Milo, and Flaccus; the most striking instances of which are the poetical bursts of feeling with which he addresses his client, Plaucius, and his picture of the desolate condition of the vestal Fonteia, should her brother be condemned. At other times his peroration contains more heroic and elevated sentiments, as in the invocation of the Alban Altars, and in his defense of Sextius, and that on liberty at the close of the third Philippic." [Footnote: Newman, Hist. Rom. Lit., p. 305.]