CHAPTER X. INTERNAL CONDITION OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE.
Indeed, the Romans were a worldly, selfish, Epicurean people, for whom we can feel but little admiration in any age of the republic. They never were finely moulded. They had no sentiment, unless in the earlier ages, it took the form of glory and patriotism. In their prosperity, they were proud and scornful. In adversity, they buried themselves in low excesses. They were not easily moved by softening influences. They had no lofty idealism, like the Greeks; nor were they even social, as they were. They were disgustingly practical. Oui bono? - "who shall show us any good?" - this was their by-word, this the sole principle of their existence. They were jealous of their dignity, and carried away by pomps and show. They were fond of etiquette and ceremony, and were conventional in all their habits. They had very little true intellectual independence, and were slaves of fashion as they were of ceremony and dress. They were inordinately greedy of social position and of social distinctions. They loved titles and surnames and inequalities of rank. They plumed themselves on taking a common-sense view of life, disdaining all lofty standards. They were dazzled by an outside life, and cared but little for the great certitudes on which real dignity and happiness rest. They had no conception of philanthropy. They lived for themselves. Nor had they veneration for ideal worth or beauty or abstract truth. They were reserved and reticent and haughty in social life. They were superstitious, and believed in dreams and omens and talismans. They were hospitable to their friends, but chiefly to display their wealth and pomp. They were coarse and indecent in banquets. They loved money supremely, but squandered it recklessly to gratify vanity. They had no high conceptions of art. They were copyists of the Greeks, and never produced any thing original but jurisprudence. They did not even add to the arts and sciences, which they applied to practical purposes. Their literature never produced a sentimentalist; their philosophy never soared into idealism; their art never ventured upon new creations. Their supreme ambition was to rule, and to rule despotically. They gloried in slavery, and degraded women and trod upon the defenseless. They had no pity, no gentleness, no delicacy of feeling. They could not comprehend a disinterested action. They lived to eat and drink, and wear robes of purple, and ride in chariots of silver, and receive greetings in the market-place, and be attended by an army of sycophants, flatterers, and slaves. What was elevated and what was pure were laughed at as unreal, as dreamy, as transcendental. All science was directed to utilities, and utilities were wines, rare fishes and birds, carpets, silks, cooking, palaces, chariots, horses, pomps. Their supreme idea was conquest, dominion over man, over beast, over seas, over nature - all with a view of becoming rich, comfortable, honorable. This was their Utopia. Epicurus was their god. Sensualism was the convertible term for their utilities, and pervaded their literature, their social life, and their public efforts; extinguishing poetry, friendship, affections, genius, self-sacrifice, lofty sentiments - the real utilities which make up our higher life, and fit man for an ever-expanding felicity. Practically, they were atheists - unbelievers of what is fixed and immutable in the soul, and glorious in the soul's aspirations. They had will and passion, sagacity and the power to rule, by which they became aggrandized; but they were wanting in those elements and virtues which endear their memory to mankind. They were both tyrants and sensualists; fitted to make conquests, unfitted to enjoy them. In an important sense, they were great civilizers, but their civilization pertained to material life. They worshiped the god of the sense, rather than the god of the reason; and, compared with the Greeks, bequeathed but little to our times which we value, except laws and maxims of government, and ideas of centralized power.