Page images

strains too much after effect, he is on the whole a far more natural and straightforward writer than most of his contemporaries.

It has been usual to regard Cicero as the representative of the most perfect Latinity, and Tacitus as a man of genius belonging to a declining age and infected by many of its chief literary vices. This view ignores several important considerations and requires some correction. It is true that the style of Cicero, from its general conformity to certain precise and definite rules, is fitted to be a model of Latinity in a sense in which that of Tacitus cannot be. A modern scholar feels instinctively that the first is much more suitable for imitation, but it is, we think, a great mistake to claim on this ground for Cicero a distinct superiority over Tacitus. Cicero indeed was enabled by his great abilities and wide culture to give a richness and flexibility to the Latin language which it had not known before his time, and we may venture to affirm that without him there could not have been a Tacitus. If, however, we are to measure excellence of style by its capacity of adequately representing the profound and subtle ideas of a really great thinker, we shall see good reason for placing Tacitus in at least as high a rank as Cicero. In vividness of imagination, in insight into the intricacies of human character, in the breadth and comprehensiveness of his historical faculty, he stands first among Roman writers. These qualities are continually reflected in his style. In the language of the time, permeated as it was with Greek ideas and phrases, be found an instrument ready to his hand ; he used it with a consummate mastery of its various resources, and succeeded in giving to great thoughts a singularly characteristic expression.



THE Life of Agricola is the most perfect specimen we possess of ancient biography. It was written, we are told, in a spirit of filial affection to commemorate the virtues of a good man and the successes of a great general. All that was most characteristic of a Roman of the highest type found a place in Agricola. An able officer, a just and at the same time a popular governor, a vigorous reformer of abuses, a conqueror of hitherto unknown regions, he was also a man of mental culture, and of singular gentleness and amiability. He had every quality which could attract the sympathy and admiration of his son-in-law. The present work was no doubt intended to be something more than the customary 'laudatio' which was pronounced in memory of an eminent man, though its style, resembling occasionally that of the orator rather than the historian, shows it to bave been of a kindred

T. A.


character, It was designed as a κτήμα ες αεί, in which it might be felt that a record of the achievements of Roman arms was happily blended with an affectionate testimony to individual worth and distinction. For English readers, its purpose has been thoroughly fulfilled. Its bearing on one of the earliest passages of our history must always make it of interest to us.

Besides a description of the geography of Britain and of the general character of its inhabitants, in accordance with the best information which Tacitus could procure, we have also a brief outline of the Roman operations in the country previous to Agricola's arrival. The actual subjugation of Britain and its formation into a province cannot be said to have been even attempted earlier than the reign of Claudius. It had indeed been twice invaded by Caesar in B.C. 55 and 54, but Caesar, as Tacitus observes, was rather the discoverer than the conqueror of the island. During the reigns of Augustus, Tiberius and Caligula Britain was left to itself. In A. D. 43 an expedition was undertaken by the direction of the emperor Claudius under the command of Aulus Plautius who seems to have advanced as far as the northern bank of the Thames and with Vespasian as his legatus to have gained a firm footing for the Romans. In the following year Claudius invaded Britain in person and defeated one of its most powerful tribes, the Trinobantes, who occupied Hertford and Essex. This success was followed by the submission of the Regni in Sussex and of the Iceni in Norfolk and Suffolk. Plautius was succeeded by Ostorius Scapula in A. D. 47, by whom the military colony of Camulodunum (Colchester) was established in A.D. 50. From this time the southern part of Britain (proxima pars Britanniae) may be considered to have been reduced to the form of a province. Camulodunum was practically the capital. Succeeding governors did little to extend the Roman dominion. In A. D. 61 the province was all but lost. The Iceni under Boudicea suddenly rose in rebellion, stormed Camulodunum and massacred its garrison. They were however completely beaten by Suetonius Paulinus, the governor, and the southern Britons were effectually reconquered while the northern were overawed. During the following years the country was gradually Romanised, and the colonies of Camulodunum, Veru. lamium and Londinium which had been destroyed in the insurrection of Boudicea recovered their position. Vespasian's reign from A.D. 69 to 79, saw the work of conquest still further advanced under Cerialis and his successor Frontinus. The Silures in South Wales and the Brigantes in Yorkshire yielded to the Roman

Agricola, who had served with credit under Cerialis and who became proconsul of Britain A. D. 78, in succession to Frontinus, found on his arrival by far the greater portion of the country already conquered, though much remained to be done to secure thoroughly the submission of the people.

The chief interest of this biography is evidently intended to centre in the grand event of the seventh year of Agricola's campaigns, the defeat of the con


federate Caledonian tribes by which the subjugation of Britain to its furthest limits was finally achieved. The description of the preparations for the battle and of the battle itself would occupy a space altogether out of proportion to the rest of the work were it not meant by the author to claim the first place in the interest of his readers. Both the scene and the event appear to have deeply impressed the mind of Tacitus. The critical struggle, as it seemed to him, was fought out on the last confines of the world, and it added to the glory of Rome the renown of a triumph which completed the conquest of her most inaccessible and intractable province. The speeches of the rival generals which introduce it, are elaborate specimens of Tacitean eloquence. That of the Caledonian chief is conceived in the true spirit of the barbarian and is marked by a fierce impetuosity; that of Agricola is calm and dignified, and implies the consciousness of superior strength, which is the fruit of discipline and civilisation.

Soon after his decisive success, which excited the jealousy and ill-will of Domitian, Agricola returned to Rome. Of the last eight years of his life, which were passed in retirement, Tacitus tells us but little. In a few burning words he dwells on the horrors of the closing period of Domitian's reign and hints, though he forbears explicitly to assert, as Dion Cassius does, that Agricola was one of the Emperor's numerous victims.

The text of the Agricola presents many difficulties. In three or four passages it is probably hopelessly

« PreviousContinue »