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men effeminate, luxurious, and inactive? and can you deny that wit and learning are often made subservient to very bad purposes?
Cad. I will own that there are some natures so happily formed, they scarcely want the assistance of a master, and the rules of art, to give them force or grace in every thing they do. But these favoured geniuses are few. As learning flourishes only where ease, plenty, and mild government subsist; in so rich a soil, and under so soft a climate, the weeds of luxury will spring up among the flowers of art: but the spontaneous weeds would grow more rank, if they were allowed the undisturbed possession of the field. Letters keep a frugal temperate nation from growing ferocious, a rich one from becoming entirely sensual and debauched. Every gift of Heaven is sometimes abused; but good sense and fine talents, by a natural law, gravitate towards virtue. Accidents may drive them out of their proper direction; but such accidents are an alarming omen, and of dire portent to the times. For if virtue cannot keep to her allegiance those men, who in their hearts confess her divine right, and know the value of her laws, on whose fidelity and obedience can she depend? May such geniuses never descend to flatter vice, encourage folly, or propagate irreligion; but exert all their powers in the service of virtue, and celebrate the noble choice of those, who, like Hercules, preferred her to pleasure!
NOTHING IS GREAT THAT IS UNNATURAL AND AFFECTED.
PLINY THE ELDER AND PLINY THE YOUNGER.
Pliny the E. THE account that you give me, nephew, of your behaviour, amidst the terrours and perils that accompanied the first eruption of Vesuvius, does not please me much. There was more of vanity in it than of true magnanimity. Nothing is great that is unnatural and affected. When the earth was shaking beneath you, when the whole heaven was darkened with sulphurous clouds; when all nature seemed falling into its final destruction, to be reading Livy, and making extracts, was an absurd affectation. To meet danger with courage, is manly; but to be insensible of it, is brutal stupidity; and to pretend insensibility, where it cannot be supposed, is ridiculous falseness. When you afterwards refused to leave your aged mother, and save yourself without her, you indeed acted nobly. It was also becoming a Roman to keep up her spirit, amidst all the horrours of that tremendous scene, by showing yourself undismayed. But the real merit and glory of this part of your behaviour is sunk by the other, which gives an air of ostentation and vanity to the whole.
Pliny the Y. That vulgar minds should consider my attention to my studies, in such a conjuncture, as unnatural and affected, I should not much wonder. But that you would blame it as such, I did not apprehend; you, whom no business could separate from the Muses; you, who approached nearer to
the fiery storm, and fell by the suffocating heat of
Pliny the E. This happened in doing my duty. Let me recal to your remembrance all the particulars, and then you shall judge yourself on the difference of your behaviour and mine. I was the prefect of the Roman fleet, which then lay at Misenum. On the first account I received of the very unusual cloud that appeared in the air, I ordered a vessel to carry me out, to some distance from the shore, that I might the better observe the phænomenon, and endeavour to discover its nature and cause. This I did, as a philosopher, and it was a curiosity proper and natural to an inquisitive mind. I offered to take you with me, and surely you should have gone; for Livy might have been read at any other time, and such spectacles are not frequent. When I came out from my house, I found all the inhabitants of Misenum flying to the sea. That I might assist them, and all others who dwelt on the coast, I immediately commanded the whole fleet to be put out; and I sailed with it all round the Bay of Naples, steering particularly to those parts of the shore where the danger was greatest, and from whence the affrighted people were endeavouring to escape with the most trepidation. Thus I happily preserved some thousands of lives; noting at the same time, with an unshaken composure and freedom of mind, the several phænomena of the eruption. Towards night, as we approached to the foot of Mount Vesuvius, our galleys were covered with ashes, the showers of which grew continually hotter and hotter: then pumice-stones, and burnt and broken
pyrites began to fall on our heads; and we were stopped by the obstacles which the ruins of the volcano had suddenly formed, by falling into the sea, and almost filling it up, on that part of the coast. I then commanded my pilot to steer to the villa of my friend Pomponianus, which, you know, was situated in the inmost recess of the bay. The wind was very favourable to carry me thither, but would not allow him to put off from the shore, as he was desirous to do. We were therefore constrained to pass the night in his house. The fa
mily watched, and I slept ;till the heaps of pumicestones, which incessantly fell from the clouds, that had by this time been impelled to that side of the bay, rose so high in the area of the apartment I lay in, that, if I had staid any longer, I could not have got out; and the earthquakes were so violent, as to threaten every moment the fall of the house. We, therefore, thought it more safe to go into the open air, guarding our heads, as well as we were able, with pillows tied upon them. The wind continuing contrary, and the sea very rough, we all. remained on the shore, till the descent of a sulphurous and fiery vapour suddenly oppressed and overpowered me. In all this I hope that I acted as the duty of my station required, and with true magnanimity. But on this occasion, and in many other parts of your conduct, I must say, my dear nephew, there was a mixture of vanity blended with your virtue, which impaired and disgraced it. Without that, you would have been one of the worthiest men whom Rome has ever produced; for none excelled you in sincere integrity of heart and greatness of sentiments. Why would you lose
the substance of glory by seeking the shadow ?— Your eloquence had, I think, the same fault as your manners: it was generally too affected. You professed to make Cicero your guide and pattern; but when one reads his panegyric upon Julius Cæsar, in his oration for Marcellus, and yours upon Trajan, the first seems the genuine language of truth and nature, raised and dignified with all the majesty of the most sublime oratory: the latter appears the harangue of a florid rhetorician, more desirous to shine, and to set off his own wit, than to extol the great man whose virtues he was praising.
Pliny the Y. I will not question your judgment either of my life or my writings. They might both have been better, if I had not been too solicitous to render them perfect. It is perhaps some excuse for the affectation of my style, that it was the fashion of the age in which I wrote. But it is mortifying to me to say much on this subject. Permit me therefore to resume the contemplation of that on which our conversation turned before. What a direful calamity was the eruption of Vesuvius, which you have been describing! Do not you remember the beauty of that fine coast, and of the mountain itself, before it was torn with the violence of those internal fires, that forced their way through its surface? The foot of it was covered with cornfields and rich meadows, interspersed with splendid villas, and magnificent towns: the sides of it were clothed with the best vines in Italy. How quick, how unexpected, how terrible was the change! All was at once overwhelmed with ashes,