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970

TACITUS.

observing the precision of the writer as to those Germans who were best known to the Romans from being near the Rhine. That the hearsay accounts of more remote tribes must partake of the defects of all such evidence, is obvious ; and we cannot easily tell whether Tacitus embellished that which he heard obscurely told. But to consider the Germany as a fiction, is one of those absurdities which need only be recorded, not refuted. Much has been written as to the special end that Tacitus had in view in writing this work ; but this discus­sion is merely an offshoot of ill-directed labour ; a sample of literary intemperance. [seneca, p. 782.]

The dialogue entitled De Oratoribus, if it is the work of Tacitus, and it probably is, must be his earliest work, for it was written in the sixth year of Vespasian (c. 17). The style is more easy than that of the Annals, more diffuse, less condensed ; but there is no obvious difference between the style of this Dialogue and the Histories, nothing so striking as to make us contend for a different authorship. Besides this, it is nothing unusual for \vorks of the same author which are written at dif­ferent times to vary greatly in style, especially if they treat of different matters. The old MSS. at­tribute this Dialogue to Tacitus. One of the speakers in the dialogue attributes the decline of eloquence at Rome to the neglect of the arduous study of the old Roman orators, to which Cicero has left his testimony ; but another speaker, Ma-ternus, has assigned a direct and immediate cause, which was the change in the political constitution. Oratory is not the product of any system of government, except one in which the popular ele­ment is strong.

The Annals of Tacitus, the work of a mature age, contain the chief events of the period which they embrace, arranged under their several years (AnnaL iv. 71). There seems no peculiar pro­priety in giving the name of Annales to this work, simply because the events are arranged in the order of time. The work of Livy may just as well be called Annals. In the Annals of Tacitus the Princeps or Emperor is the centre about which events are grouped, a mode of treating history which "cannot be entirely thrown aside in a mo­narchical system, but which in feeble hands merges the history of a people in the personality of their ruler. Thus in Tacitus, the personal history of Tiberius, Claudius, and Nero, fill up a large space. Yet the most important public events, both in Italy and the provinces, are not omitted, though every thing is treated as subordinate to the exhi­bition of imperial power. The Histories which were written before the Annals, are in a more diffuse style, and the treatment of the extant part is different from that of the Annals. Tacitus wrote the Histories as a contemporary ; the Annals as not a contemporary. They are two distinct works, not parts of one ; which is clearly shown by the very different proportions of the two works : the first four books of the Histories comprise about a year, and the first four books of the Annals com­prise fourteen years.

It was his purpose in the Annals to show the general condition of the empire of which Rome was the centre, and the emperor the representative: not only to show the course of events, but also their causes (Hist. i. 4) ; for this remark, which is made in the Histories, may be applied also to the Annals. But the history of despotism in any form does not

TACITUS.

convey the political instruction that is derived from the history of a free people. Tacitus claims the merit of impartiality (AnnaL i. 1), because he lived after the events that he describes ; but a writer who is not a contemporary may have passions or prejudices as well as one who is. In his Histories (i. 1) he states that neither to Galba, nor to Otho, nor to Vitellius, did he owe obligations, nor had he received from them any wrong. From Vespasian and his sons, Titus and Domitian, he had received favours ; yet, in the commencement of his life of Agricola, he has recorded the horrors of Domitian's reign ; nor can we suppose that in the lost books of the Histories, he allowed the tyrant to escape without merited chastisement.

The history of the empire presents the spectacle of a state without any political organisation, by which the tyranny of a ruler could be checked when it became insupportable. The only means were assassination ; and the only power that either the emperor could use to maintain himself, or a conspirator could employ to seize the power or secure it for another, was the soldiery. From this alternate subjection to imperial tyranny and military violence, there were no means of escape, nor does Tacitus ever give even the most distant hint that the restoration of the republic was either possible or desirable ; or that there were any means of public security, except in the accident of an able emperor to whom a revolution might give the su­preme power. Yet this empire, a prey to the vices of its rulers, and to intestine commotion, had its favourable side. The civilised world obeyed a re­volution which was accepted in Rome, and the provinces were at peace with one another under this despotic yoke. France did not invade Italy nor Spain ; Greece was not invaded by barbarians from the north ; Asia Minor and Syria were protected from the worse than Roman despotism, the despotism of Asia ; and Egypt and the north of Africa enjoyed protection against invaders, even though they sometimes felt the rapacity of a go­vernor. The political, condition of the Roman em­pire under the Caesars is a peculiar phase of Euro­pean history. Tacitus has furnished some materials for it ; but his method excluded a large and compre­hensive view of the period which is comprised within his Annals. The treatment in the Histories has a wider range. The general review of the condition of the empire at the time of Nero's death is a rapid, but comprehensive sketch (i. 1, &c.).

The moral dignity of Tacitus is impressed upon his works ; the consciousness of a love of truth, of the integrity of his purpose. His great power is in the knowledge of the human mind, his insight into the motives of human conduct ; and he found materials for this study in the history of the em­perors, and particularly Tiberius, the arch-hypocrite, and perhaps half madman. We know men's in­tellectual powers, because they seek to display them: their moral character is veiled under silence and reserve, which are sometimes diffidence, but more frequently dissimulation. But dissimulation alone is not a sufficient cloke ; it merely seeks to hide and cover, and, as the attempt to conceal ex­cite^ suspicion, it is necessary to divert the vigilance of this active inquisitor. The dissembler, therefore, assumes the garb of goodness ; and thus he is hy­pocrite complete. The hypocrite is a better citizen than the shameless man, because by his hypocrisy he acknowledges the supremacy of goodness, while

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