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Still wore their habitual expression of reckless daring. His adherents, to the number of 3000, imitated the example of their leader. Each perished at his post, and not one freeborn citizen was taken alive either in the fight or in the pursuit. The victory cost the consular army dear, for all the bravest were slain or grievously wounded.
Although we possess only a one-sided history of this famous conspiracy ; although much that has been recorded seems so marvellous and incredible, that many have regarded the whole narrative as little better than a fabric of misrepresentation and falsehood, built up by violent political animosity, and resting on a very slender basis of truth ; although it cannot be denied that some of the particulars, set down by Dion Cassius (xxxvii. 30) and alluded to by others (e. g. Sail. Cat. 32) of the revolting rites by which, the compact between the associates was ratified, are evidently vulgar exaggerations ; although little reliance can be placed on the self-panegyrics of Cicero, who would studiously seek to magnify the danger in order to enhance the merits of his own exertions ; yet upon a careful and dispassionate investigation, we shall discover no reasonable ground for entertaining any doubts with regard to the general accuracy of the facts as presented to us by Sallust, whose account is throughout clear and consistent, and is corroborated in all the most important details by the information transmitted from other sources. Nor, upon a close examination into the circumstances of the individuals concerned, of the times, and of the state of public feeling and public morals, shall we have much difficulty in forming a distinct idea of the character of Catiline himself, of the motives by which he was stimulated, and of the calculations by which he was encouraged to anticipate success.
Trained in the wars of Sulla, he was made familiar from his earliest youth with civil strife, acquired an indifference to human suffering, and imbibed an utter contempt for the constitutional forms and government of his country, which had been so freely neglected or violated by his patron. The wealth quickly acquired was recklessly squandered in the indulgence of coarse sensuality; and, although his shattered fortunes may have been to a certain extent repaired by a wealthy marriage, and by the plunder of a province, yet the relief was but temporary; his pleasures were too costly; a considerable portion of his ill-gotten gains would be expended in bribing the different juries who pronounced his innocence, and his necessities soon became pressing. The remorse too produced by his frightful vices and crimes—remorse which was betrayed by the haggard cheek, the bloodshot eye, the wild glance, and the unsteady step, so graphically depicted by the historian—must have given rise to a frame of mind which would eagerly desire to escape from reflection, and seek relief in fierce excitement. On the other hand, the consciousness of those great mental and physical powers, from which even his most bitter enemies could not withhold a tribute of admiration, combined with the extensive popularity which he had acquired among the young by his agreeable address, varied accomplishments, and unwearied zeal in ministering to their pleasures, must have tended to augment his natural self-confidence, to foster his pride, and to stimulate his ambition. How soon the idea of
destroying the liberties of his country may have entered his thoughts it is impossible to discover, but we can readily believe that the career of Sulla was ever present to his imagination, that his grand aim was to become what the dictator had been, and that, provided this end was accomplished, he felt little scrupulous about the means employed. And, in truth, when he looked abroad, the moment seemed most propitious for the advancement of a man of daring and powerful intellect uncontrolled by principle. The leading statesmen were divided into factions which eyed each other with the bitter jealousy engendered during the convulsions in which they had played an active part some twenty years before. The younger nobility, as a class, were thoroughly demoralized, for the most part bankrupts in fortune as well as in fame, eager for any change which might relieve them from their embarrassments, while it held out the promise of unrestrained licence. The rabble were restless and. discontented, filled with envy and hatred against the rich and powerful, ever ready to follow at the bidding of any seditious demagogue. Thus, at home, the dominant party in the senate and the equates or capitalists alone felt a deep interest in the stability of the government. Moreover, a wide-spread feeling of disaffection extended over the whole of Italy. Many of the veterans of Sulla, accustomed to riotous living and profuse expenditure, had already squandered their hoards, and looked forward with anxiety to the renewal of these scenes of blood which they had found by experience so profitable; while the multitudes whose estates had been confiscated, whose relations had been proscribed, and who themselves were suffering under civil disabilities in consequence of their connexion with those who had thus perished, were eagerly watching for any movement which might give them a chance of becoming oppressors, robbers, and murderers in their turn.
Never was the executive weaker. The senate and magistrates were wasting their energies in petty disputes, indifferent to the great interests of the commonwealth; Pompey, at the head of all the best troops of the republic, was prosecuting a long-protracted and doubtful war in the East; there was no army in Italy, where all was hushed in a treacherous calm. If then, Catiline, surrounded as he was by a large body of retainers all devotedly attached to his person, and detached from society at large by the crimes which he had suggested or promoted, had succeeded in striking his first great blow, had he assassinated the consuls and the most able of the senators, the chances were, that the waverers among the higher ranks would have at once espoused his cause, that the populace would have been intimidated or gained over, and that thousands of ruined and desperate men would have rushed from all quarters to his support, enabling him to bid defiance to any force which could have been brought to bear upon the city until the return of Pompey from the East. But Pompey might never return, or might not return victorious, or, at all events, a long period must elapse, and ample time would be given for negotiations or resistance. Such were the probabilities which led on Catiline to hazard all upon one great throw;—but the Fortune of Rome prevailed, the gambler was ruined, and the state saved.
(Sail. Caiilin. ; Dion Cass. xxxvi. 27, xxxvii. 10, 29—42; Liv. Epit. 101, 102; Cic. in Catilin,