Pliny the Younger (A.D. 62?–c.A.D. 113). Letters.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.
V. To Pompeius Saturninus
NOTHING could be more seasonable than the letter which I received from you, in which you so earnestly beg me to send you some of my literary efforts; the very thing I was intending to do. So you have only put spurs into a willing horse and at once saved yourself the excuse of refusing the trouble, and me the awkwardness of asking the favour. Without hesitation then I avail myself of your offer; as you must now take the consequence of it without reluctance. But you are not to expect anything new from a lazy fellow, for I am going to ask you to revise again the speech I made to my fellow-townsmen when I dedicated the public library to their use. You have already, I remember, obliged me with some annotations upon this piece, but only in a general way; and so I now beg of you not only to take a general view of the whole speech, but, as you usually do, to go over it in detail. When you have corrected it, I shall still be at liberty to publish or suppress it: and the delay in the meantime will be attended with one of these alternatives; for, while we are deliberating whether it is fit for publishing, a frequent revision will either make it so, or convince me that it is not. Though indeed my principal difficulty respecting the publication of this harangue arises not so much from the composition as out of the subject itself, which has something in it, I am afraid, that will look too like ostentation and self-conceit. For, be the style ever so plain and unassuming, yet, as the occasion necessarily led me to speak not only of the munificence of my ancestors, but of my own as well, my modesty will be seriously embarrassed. A dangerous and slippery situation this, even when one is led into it by plea of necessity! For, if mankind are not very favourable to panegyric, even when bestowed upon others, how much more difficult is it to reconcile them to it when it is a tribute which we pay to ourselves or to our ancestors! Virtue, by herself, is generally the object of envy, but particularly so when glory and distinction attend her; and the world is never so little disposed to detract from the rectitude of your conduct as when it passes unobserved and unapplauded. For these reasons, I frequently ask myself whether I composed this harangue, such as it is, merely from a personal consideration, or with a view to the public as well; and I am sensible that what may be exceedingly useful and proper in the prosecution of any affair may lose all its grace and fitness the moment the business is completed: for instance, in the case before us, what could be more to my purpose than to explain at large the motives of my intended bounty? For, first, it engaged my mind in good and ennobling thoughts; next, it enable me, by frequent dwelling upon them, to receive a perfect impression of their loveliness, while it guarded at the same time against that repentance which is sure to follow on an impulsive act of generosity. There arose also a further advantage from this method, as it fixed in me a certain habitual contempt of money. For, while mankind seem to be universally governed by an innate passion to accumulate wealth, the cultivation of a more generous affection in my own breast taught me to emancipate myself from the slavery of so predominant a principle: and I thought that my honest intentions would be the more meritorious as they should appear to proceed, not from sudden impulse, but from the dictates of cool and deliberate reflection. I considered, besides, that I was not engaging myself to exhibit public games or gladiatorial combats, but to establish an annual fund for the support and education of young men of good families but scanty means. The pleasures of the senses are so far from wanting the oratorical arts to recommend them that we stand in need of all powers of eloquence to moderate and restrain rather than stir up their influence. But the work of getting anybody to cheerfully undertake the monotony and drudgery of education must be effected not by pay merely, but by a skilfully worked-up appeal to the emotions as well. If physicians find it expedient to use the most insinuating address in recommending to their patients a wholesome though, perhaps, unpleasant regimen, how much more occasion had he to exert all the powers of persuasion who, out of regard to the public welfare, was endeavouring to reconcile it to a most useful though not equally popular benefaction! Particularly, as my aim was to recommend an institution, calculated solely for the benefit of those who were parents to men who, at present, had no children; and to persuade the greater number to wait patiently until they should be entitled to an honour of which a few only could immediately partake. But as at that time, when I attempted to explain and enforce the general design and benefit of my institution, I considered more the general good of my countrymen, than any reputation which might result to myself; so I am apprehensive lest, if I publish that piece, it may perhaps look as if I had a view rather to my own personal credit than the benefit of others. Besides, I am very sensible how much nobler it is to place the reward of virtue in the silent approbation of one’s own breast than in the applause of the world. Glory ought to be the consequence, not the motive, of our actions; and although it happen not to attend the worthy deed, yet it is by no means the less fair for having missed the applause it deserved. But the world is apt to suspect that those who celebrate their own beneficent acts performed them for no other motive than to have the pleasure of extolling them. Thus, the splendour of an action which would have been deemed illustrious if related by another is totally extinguished when it becomes the subject of one’s own applause. Such is the disposition of mankind, if they cannot blast the action, they will censure its display; and whether you do what does not deserve particular notice, or set forth yourself what does, either way you incur reproach. In may own case there is a peculiar circumstance that weighs much with me: this speech was delivered not before the people, but the Decurii; not in the forum, but the senate; I am afraid therefore it will look inconsistent that I, who, when I delivered it, seemed to avoid popular applause, should now, by publishing this performance, appear to court it: that I, who was so scrupulous as not to admit even those persons to be present when I delivered this speech, who were interested in my benefaction, lest it might be suspected I was actuated in this affair by any ambitious views, should now seem to solicit admiration, by forwardly displaying it to such as have no other concern in my munificence than the benefit of example. These are the scruples which have occasioned my delay in giving this piece to the public; but I submit them entirely to your judgment, which I shall ever esteem as a sufficient sanction of my conduct. Farewell.