Pliny the Younger (A.D. 62?–c.A.D. 113). Letters.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.
L. To Titius Aristo
AMONG the many agreeable and obliging instances I have received of your friendship, your not concealing from me the long conversation which lately took place at your house concerning my verses, and the various judgments passed upon them (which served to prolong the talk), is by no means the least. There were some, it seems, who did not disapprove of my poems in themselves, but at the same time censured me in a free and friendly way, for employing myself in composing and reciting them. I am so far, however, from desiring to extenuate the charge that I willingly acknowledge myself still more deserving of it, and confess that I sometimes amuse myself with writing verses of the gayer sort. I compose comedies, divert myself with pantomimes, read the lyric poets, and enter into the spirit of the most wanton muse, besides that, I indulge myself sometimes in laughter, mirth, and frolic, and, to sum up every kind of innocent relaxation in one word, I am a man. I am not in the least offended, though, at their low opinion of my morals, and that those who are ignorant of the fact that the most learned, the wisest, and the best of men have employed themselves in the same way, should be surprised at the tone of my writings: but from those who know what noble and numerous examples I follow, I shall, I am confident, easily obtain permission to err with those whom it is an honour to imitate, not only in their most serious occupations but their lightest triflings. Is it unbecoming me—I will not name any living example, lest I should seem to flatter—but is it unbecoming me to practise what became Tully, Calvus, Pollio, Messala, Hortensius, Brutus, Sulla, Catulus, Scævola, Sulpitius, Varro, the Torquati, Memmius, Gætulicus, Seneca, Lucceius, and, within our own memory, Verginius Rufus? But if the examples of private men are not sufficient to justify me, I can cite Julius Cæsar, Augustus, Nerva, and Tiberius Cæsar. I forbear to add Nero to the catalogue, though I am aware that what is practised by the worst of men does not therefore degenerate into wrong: on the contrary, it still maintains its credit, if frequently countenanced by the best. In that number, Virgil, Cornelius Nepos, and, prior to these, Ennius and Attius, justly deserve the most distinguished place. These last indeed were not senators, but goodness knows no distinction of rank or title. I recite my works, it is true, and in this instance I am not sure I can support myself by their examples. They, perhaps, might be satisfied with their own judgment, but I have too humble an opinion of mine to suppose my compositions perfect, because they appear so to my own mind. My reasons then for reciting are, that, for one thing, there is a certain deference for one’s audience, which excites a somewhat more vigorous application, and then again, I have by this means an opportunity of settling any doubts I may have concerning my performance, by observing the general opinion of the audience. In a word, I have the advantage of receiving different hints from different persons: and although they should not declare their meaning in express terms, yet the expression of the countenance, the movement of the head, the eyes, the motion of a hand, a whisper, or even silence itself will easily distinguish their real opinion from the language of politeness. And so if any one of my audience should have the curiosity to read over the same performance which he heard me read, he may find several things altered or omitted, and perhaps too upon his particular judgment, though he did not say a single word to me. But I am not defending my conduct in this particular, as if I had actually recited my works in public, and not in my own house before my friends, a numerous appearance of whom has upon many occasions been held an honour, but never, surely, a reproach. Farewell.