Pliny the Younger (A.D. 62?–c.A.D. 113). Letters.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.
LI. To Nonius Maximus
I AM deeply afflicted with the news I have received of the death of Fannius; in the first place, because I loved one so eloquent and refined, in the next, because I was accustomed to be guided by his judgment—and indeed he possessed great natural acuteness, improved by practice, rendering him able to see a thing in an instant. There are some circumstances about his death, which aggravate my concern. He left behind him a will which had been made a considerable time before his decease, by which it happens that his estate is fallen into the hands of those who had incurred his displeasure, whilst his greatest favourites are excluded. But what I particularly regret is, that he has left unfinished a very noble work in which he was employed. Notwithstanding his full practice at the bar, he had begun a history of those persons who were put to death or banished by Nero, and completed three books of it. They are written with great elegance and precision, the style is pure, and preserves a proper medium between the plain narrative and the historical: and as they were very favourably received by the public, he was the more desirous of being able to finish the rest. The hand of death is ever, in my opinion, too untimely and sudden when it falls upon such as are employed in some immortal work. The sons of sensuality, who have no outlook beyond the present hour, put an end every day to all motives for living, but those who look forward to posterity, and endeavour to transmit their names with honour to future generations by their works—to such, death is always immature, as it still snatches them from amidst some unfinished design. Fannius, long before his death, had a presentiment of what has happened: he dreamed one night that as he was lying on his couch, in an undress, all ready for his work, and with his desk, as usual in front of him, Nero entered, and placing himself by his side, took up the three first books of this history, which he read through and then departed. This dream greatly alarmed him, and he regarded it as an intimation that he should not carry on his history any farther than Nero had read, and so the event has proved. I cannot reflect upon this accident without lamenting that he was prevented from accomplishing a work which had cost him so many toilsome vigils, as it suggests to me, at the same time, reflections on my own mortality, and the fate of my writings: and I am persuaded the same apprehensions alarm you for those in which you are at present employed. Let us then, my friend, while life permits, exert all our endeavours, that death, whenever it arrives, may find as little as possible to destroy. Farewell.