« AnteriorContinuar »
degree the grace, the dignity and the decorum of a Roman patrician, and he added to them the more modern accomplishments of a polished Senator. He was gentle in his demeanour, easy of access and affable to all, kindly to his friends, without either candour or frankness; and unpretending in all circumstances. He permitted no liberties, and he affected no state. He entertained scarcely any attachments, and he neither exposed nor censured the insincerities which he suspected, if impotent to betray him. Throughout, his whole constitution was that of a consummate actor; he was hardly a hypocrite, for it was his nature to act, and every appearance of nature in him was the result of the most deliberate art. He could retrieve an error with a witticism, before it was perceived by others, or atone for an unpremeditated injustice with the delusive flattery of a fascinating speech, with a skill and tact and promptitude and heartless insincerity, which would have done credit to any of the Stuarts. In every thing he was an automaton of the most perfect and ingenious construction ;-self-contained, self-sustained, self-moving-governed by springs and weights, and intricate wheels within himself; but without one spark of human animation to irradiate the regular movements of the machinery. He indulged neither malice, nor envy, nor irony, nor scorn, nor any bad passion which might prey upon himself without furthering his plans, or he might be assimilated to a mummy tenanted and set in motion by Mephistophiles. But he had all the outward semblances of life and of humanity, and furnished to the world an example of the intellect working with its highest powers in a human body, to which no human heart was vouchsafed.
Octavius was equally insensible to flattery and derision. He accepted either with equal indifference. He sometimes rewarded the one, and occasionally punished the other, but without any apparent pleasure or displeasure. The fulsome compliments of Ovid fell like thick snow flakes around him ; they produced no effect. They excited neither indignation nor disgust. They neither cooled his severity, nor awakened any compassionate feeling. The superb callousness of his heart and intellect remained unaffected by all that influences ordinary men. He could laugh at the ridicule which was showered on him by popular epigrams, when it suited his purpose to do so ;* he could visit venial or accidental errors with remorseless penalties when it was even remotely expedient. His feelings seem to have been reached by only three circumstances in his life : when he stole Livia from her husband and married her; when he heard of the loss of Varus and his three legions; and when he thought of the infamous debaucheries of his daughter and grand-daughter. When the recollection of his domestic disgraces was forced upon his mind, he was wont to exclaim
ATO' Opelov dyapós o 'Eusval, a youós rúrodéoba.t
Former services gave no permanent claim on his affection, his gratitude, or his generosity; previous opposition did not preclude his favours, or diminish his regard. He crushed Antony, by whom he had risen to his splendid elevation; he spared Lepidus, and while he appropriated all his powers, he left his honours untouched. The energy and the ambition of the one was his ruin; the indolence and negligence of the other his safeguard. He sacrificed Cicero, who had been his eulogist and enthusiastic advocate, and who confided in his good offices to the last ; he rescued many of his bitterest enemies who had been included in the lists of proscription.
There was nothing heroic in the disposition of the youthful Octavius, except it was his unfluctuating impassibility. There was nothing particularly mean in his nature, except the whole composition of his clay, and the mould in which it had been cast. He did many things, however, which the flatterers of his reign regarded as grand achievements, and which the echoes of succeeding times have estimated as great. He also committed some iniquities which cannot be contemplated without detestation. He attempted no brilliant military displays, but he suffered no mortification from his numerous repulses and defeats. His failures as a general were proverbial ;* but they offerded neither his pride nor his vanity. There was no deficiency of physical courage
* Suetonius Vit. Octavii., c. c. lv. Ivi. + Suetonios ibid., c. lxv.
in his character; he had as much as became a Roman and a - patrician: but he never displayed more than the occasion
imperatively demanded. There was no signal want of military conduct or sagacity, notwithstanding his ill success at the head of his forces; yet, he had no warlike aspirations. He loved peace as a man and as a statesman, for the personal ease and the national benefit which it afforded. He tolerated war as a necessity, and prosecuted it as long as an advantage remained to be conquered. He resigned with equal cheerfulness the dangers and the honours of a campaign to his generals; and he never seemed to envy their successes by which he so well knew how to profit. He granted triumphs to more than thirty of his commanders, and the ornaments of a triumph to a great many more.f Passionless, cunning, sagacious, cautious, but large-minded, provident and comprehensive in his views, he was governed in all his acts by the most asiute and unerring policy alone, and passed through the long and brilliant career which he created for himself, devoid of virtues, except such as were merely negative, and untarnished by other foibles than those which he consciously indulged as ministering to his own ends.
It was characteristic of the estimation in which Augustus was held by his contemporaries, if not altogether a just judgment, that his friends excused his adulteries, on the ground that they were dictated not by passion and licentiousness, but by a deliberate design of detecting the projects of his adversaries through the looseness of their wives. I
No usurper ever invited more liberally the views and assistance of others; none was ever more entirely governed by his own undivulged counsels. He regularly encouraged and assisted at the deliberations of the Senate, fostering the
* * "Et deinde bello Siciliensi epigramma vulgatum est; Postquam bis classe victus naves perdidit, Aliquando ut vincat, ludit assidue aleam."- Suetonius Vit. Octavii., c. lxx. + Suetonius ibid., c. xxxviii.
Suetonius ibid., c. Ixix.
utmost freedom of debate. He endured opposition with courtesy, and even insult with forbearance; he listened deferentially and with a ceremonious homage to the sentiments of Roman Senators, but he pursued his own course in all niatters but the most trivial. He consulted his friends, his partisans, his officers, most assiduously; but less for the purpose of being guided by their advice, than for the sake of assuring himself that he had not, in arriving at his own (predetermined conclusions, overlooked any conflicting considerations of importance. Mæcenas and Agrippa might discuss in cabinet council the expediency of restoring the Republic ;* and the garrulous Suetonius assures us that Augustus twice entertained this idea ;t but, beneath the mask of their duly published disputations, he marched all his forces by a lateral movement, and in the most masterly manner, towards the consolidation of an autocratic empire under the thin varnish of republican pretences. Perhaps he was not so entirely negligent of the opinions and suggestions of his counsellors as he appeared to be. He rarely acted upon them at the time of their delivery; but he might treasure them up, for nothing escaped him, to be employed in contingencies, when they had all the semblance of being spontaneously originated by himself. Certain it is, that no precedent, no example of past history, no accessible information, was ever slighted by him. He was much more inclined to suggest measures to bis ministers, friends and officials, and to give them the labour, the credit, or the , odium of their execution, than openly to borrow the real benefit of their advice. The Pantheon was the creation of Agrippa, but probably the idea of the Emperor, and mainly constructed with his public or private funds; yet the honours of the inscription were accorded to the nominal builder, whose statue was placed at the entrance vis-à-vis to that of Octavius. The assumption of equality between the prince and his agent was noticed, but altogether unreproved ; so trebly barred was all exit to the feelings of that unrivalled schemer, who so fully embodied
* Dion Cassius, Hist. Rom. lib. lii., c. i.xli. + Suetonius Vit. Octavii., c. xxviii.
the Italian's conception of a diplomatist—" volto aperto e bocca chiusa.”*
The manner in which Octavius treated Agrippa and his other great minister and early friend, Mæcenas, was not the least significant feature of his memorable career. They were cherished with uniform cordiality, received with a total absence of ceremony, favoured with entire intimacy,t trusted with almost unlimited power, and sustained with unwavering constancy; but no new or extraordinary honours were devised for them, nor were they ever advanced beyond the dignity to which the services of the one, and the birth of the other, entitled them. No jealousy of their successes, of their influence or their popularity, was ever displayed ; probably none was ever felt. But Octavius fully appreciated the extent of power which they derived from their positions, and to prevent the confidence of their stability from impairing their complete fidelity and subservience, he dexterously impressed them, by artfully contrived issues of events, with a sense of the precariousness of their tenure, rather than intimated by act or word, distrust or superior authority. Thus he kept them attached firmly and with devotion to his interests; and, while he rendered them utterly impotent to do any thing in opposition to himself, even if such a conception could be harboured by them, he rendered them all powerful in his service.
The ambition of Agrippa, it is true, might have whispered to him the hope of succeeding or removing Augustus. It was scarcely manifested by any outward sign or act. If such a dream was even obscurely entertained, it was divined and defeated by Augustus, but without any change in the smooth and deceptive cordiality of his manner. It was very likely with the object of embarrassing any treachery on the part of Agrippa, more than from any affection or any purpose of increasing his attachment to himsell, that he connected him with himself by a double marriage into the imperial family. In the early years of his ministry, Agrippa had been married
* Dion Cas. lib. lii., c. xxvii. v. Merivale Rom. under the Empire, c. xxx., vol. iii., p. 436.
+ Dion Cass. lib. lii. c. i.