Scanned text contains errors.
for the wits of that day to sport with. (Dion Cass. Ix. 35, and the notes of Reimarus.)
15. Quacstionum Naturalium Libri septe?n9 addressed to Lucilius Junior, is one of the few Roman works in which physical matters are treated of. It is not a systematic work, but a collection oJ natural facts from various writers, Greek and Roman, many of which, are curious. The first book treats of meteors, the second of thunder and lightning, the third of water, the fourth of hail, snow, and ice, the fifth of winds, the sixth of earthquakes and the sources of the Nile, and the seventh of comets. Moral remarks are scattered through the work ; and indeed the design of the whole appears to be to find a foundation for ethic, the chief part of philosophy, in the knowledge of nature (Physic). He says (book vii. c. 30),—"How many things are there besides comets that pass in secret, and never discover themselves to men's eyes ? For God hath not made all things subject to human sight. How little see we of that which is enclosed in so great an orb ? Even he who manageth these things, who hath created them, who hath founded the world, and hath inclosed it about himself, and is the greater and better part of this his work, is not subject to our eyes, but is to be visited by our thoughts." This is the man whom some have called an Atheist.
The judgments on Seneca's writings have been as various as the opinions about his character ; and both in extremes. It has been said of him that he looks best in quotations ; but this is an admission that there is something worth quoting, which cannot be said of all writers. That Seneca possessed great mental powers cannot be doubted. He had seen much of human life, and he knew well what man was. His philosophy, so far as he adopted a system, was the stoical, but it was rather an eclecticism of stoicism than pure stoicism. His style is antithetical, and apparently laboured ; and when there is much labour, there is generally affectation. Yet his language is clear and forcible ; it is not mere words: there is thought always. It would not be easy to name any modern writer who has treated on morality, and has said so much that is practically good and true, or has treated the matter in so attractive a wav.
People will judge of Seneca, as they do of most moral writers, by the measure of their own opinions. The less a man cares for the practical, the real, the less will he value Seneca. The more a man envelops himself in words and ideas without exact meaning, the less will he comprehend a writer who does not merely deal in words, but has ideas with something to correspond to them. Montaigne (Defence of Seneca and Plutarch) says: " the familiarity I have had with these two authors, and the assistance they have lent to my age and to my book, which is wholly compiled of what I have borrowed from them, obliges me to stand up for their honour." In another place (Essay of Books) he compares Seneca and Plutarch in his usual lively way: his opinion of the philosophical works of Cicero is not so favourable as of Seneca's ; and herein many people will agree with him. The judgment of Ritter (Gescliiclite der Philosopkie, vol. iv. p. 189) is a curious specimen of criticism. If Diderot is extravagant in his praise of Seneca, Ritter and others are equally extravagant in their censure. Ritter finds contradictions in Seneca ; and such we may expect in a man who lived the life that he
did. We cannot suppose that his conscience always approved of his acts. A practical philosopher, who has lived in the world, must often have done that which he would wish undone ; and the contradiction which appears between a man's acts and his principles will appear in his writings. Ritter remarks that he has treated of the doctrines of Seneca at some length, because they show how little talent the Romans had for philosophy. Perhaps the historian of Philosophy may provoke a like remark by his criticisms. Seneca applied himself chiefly to Ethic, which in its wide sense is the art of living happily, without which philosophy has no value. To Physic he paid some attention, and he does not undervalue it as an instrument towards an end. Of the other division of philosophy, Logic, he knew little and cared nothing ; and it is of no value except so far as it may be an aid to Physic and Ethic. Ritter says: "his zeal to establish a science which shall be simple and merely adapted for the practical purpose of purity of morals, carries him so far, that he declares even the liberal sciences and philosophical Physic to be useless, so far as they are not capable of application to Ethic. This zeal leads him to expressions which are scarcely reconcileable with a philosophical style of thinking. To wish to know no more than is necessary is a kind of intemperance ; such a knowledge makes us only proud: he considers it as a sample of the prevailing luxury." The passages to which Ritter refers are in the Epistolae (Ep. 88, 106). The latter contains the striking passage: " sed nos ut caetera in supervacuum diffundimus, ita philosophiam ipsam. Quemadmodum omnium rerum, sic litterarum quoque intemperantia labo-ramus ; non vitae, sed scholae discimus." Which is the wiser, Seneca or his critic, let every man judge for himself. There is enough in Ethic, or the practical application of knowledge to life, to employ us all. Those who have no taste for Ethic, as thus understood, may indulge, if they have money and leisure, in the " intemperantia litterarum," of which kind of intemperance a large part of all literature is an example.
Seneca, like other educated Romans, rejected the superstition of his country: he looked upon the ceremonials of religion as a matter of custom and fashion, and nothing more. His religion is simple Deism : the Deity acts in man and in all things ; which is the same thing that Paul said when he addressed the Athenians, " for in him (God) we live and move and have our being" ( Acts, xvii. 28). Indeed there have been persons who, with the help of an active imagination, have made Seneca a Christian, and to have been acquainted with Paul, which is a possible thing, but cannot be proved. The resemblance between many passages in Seneca and passages in the New Testament is merely an accidental circumstance. Similar resemblances occur in the Meditations of the Emperor Marcus Antoninus. The fourteen letters of Seneca to Paul, which are printed in the old editions of Seneca, are apocryphal.
Seneca wrote other works which are no longer extant, though the titles of some of them are known. Quintilian (Inst. Or. x. 1. § 128) says, " he treated also on almost every subject of study ; for both orations of his, and poems, and epistles, and dialogues, are extant." The fragments of the lost works are contained in the complete editions of Seneca. Niebuhr discovered the fragment of a