Pliny the Younger (A.D. 62?–c.A.D. 113). Letters.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.
XVI. To Catilius Severus
I AM at present (and have been a considerable time) detained in Rome, under the most stunning apprehensions. Titus Aristo, whom I have a singular admiration and affection for, is fallen into a long and obstinate illness, which troubles me. Virtue, knowledge, and good sense, shine out with so superior a lustre in this excellent man that learning herself, and every valuable endowment, seem involved in the danger of his single person. How consummate his knowledge, both in the political and civil laws of his country! How thoroughly conversant is he in every branch of history or antiquity? In a word, there is nothing you might wish to know which he could not teach you. As for me, whenever I would acquaint myself with any abstruse point, I go to him as my store-house. What an engaging sincerity, what dignity in his conversation! how chastened and becoming is his caution! Though he conceives, at once, every point in debate, yet he is as slow to decide as he is quick to apprehend; calmly and deliberately sifting and weighing every opposite reason that is offered, and tracing it, with a most judicious penetration, from its source through all its remotest consequences. His diet is frugal, his dress plain; and whenever I enter his chamber, and view him reclined upon his couch, I consider the scene before me as a true image of ancient simplicity, to which his illustrious mind reflects the noblest ornament. He places no part of his happiness in ostentation, but in the secret approbation of his conscience, seeking the reward of his virtue, not in the clamorous applause of the world, but in the silent satisfaction which results from having acted well. In short, you will not easily find his equal, even among our philosophers by outward profession. No, he does not frequent the gymnasia or porticoes nor does he amuse his own and others’ leisure with endless controversies, but busies himself in the scenes of civil and active life. Many has he assisted with his interest, still more with his advice, and withal in the practice of temperance, piety, justice, and fortitude, he has no superior. You would be astonished, were you there to see, at the patience with which he bears his illness, how he holds out against pain, endures thirst, and quietly submits to this raging fever and to the pressure of those clothes which are laid upon him to promote perspiration. He lately called me and a few more of his particular friends to his bedside, requesting us to ask his physicians what turn they apprehended his distemper would take; that, if they pronounced it incurable, he might voluntarily put an end to his life; but if there were hopes of a recovery, how tedious and difficult soever it might prove, he would calmly wait the event; for so much, he thought, was due to the tears and entreaties of his wife and daughter, and to the affectionate intercession of his friends, as not voluntarily to abandon our hopes, if they were not entirely desperate. A true hero’s resolution this, in my estimation, and worthy the highest applause. Instances are frequent in the world, of rushing into the arms of death without reflection and by a sort of blind impulse; but deliberately to weigh the reasons for life or death, and to be determined in our choice as either side of the scale prevails, shows a great mind. We have had the satisfaction to receive the opinion of his physicians in his favour: may heaven favour their promises and relieve me at length from this painful anxiety. Once easy in my mind, I shall go back to my favourite Laurentum, or, in other words, to my books, my papers and studious leisure. Just now, so much of my time and thoughts are taken up in attendance upon my friend, and anxiety for him, that I have neither leisure nor inclination for any reading or writing whatever. Thus you have my fears, my wishes, and my after-plans. Write me in return, but in a gayer strain, an account not only of what you are and have been doing, but of what you intend doing too. It will be a very sensible consolation to me in this disturbance of mind, to be assured that yours is easy. Farewell.