Pliny the Younger (A.D. 62?–c.A.D. 113). Letters.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.
XXXV. To Severus
I WAS obliged by my consular office to compliment the emperor in the name of the republic; but after I had performed that ceremony in the senate in the usual manner, and as fully as the time and place would allow, I thought it agreeable to the affection of a good subject to enlarge those general heads, and expand them into a complete discourse. My principal object in doing so was, to confirm the emperor in his virtues, by paying them that tribute of applause which they so justly deserve; and at the same time to direct future princes, not in the formal way of lecture, but by his more engaging example, to those paths they must pursue if they would attain the same heights of glory. To instruct princes how to form their conduct, is a noble but difficult task, and may, perhaps, be esteemed an act of presumption: but to applaud the character of an accomplished prince, and to hold out to posterity, by this means, a beacon-light, as it were, to guide succeeding monarchs, is a method equally useful, and much more modest. It afforded me a very singular pleasure that when I wished to recite this panegyric in a private assembly, my friends gave me their company, though I did not solicit them in the usual form of notes or circulars, but only desired their attendance, “should it be quite convenient to them,” and “if they should happen to have no other engagement.” You know the excuses generally made at Rome to avoid invitations of this kind; how prior invitations are usually alleged; yet, in spite of the worst possible weather, they attended the recital for two days together; and when I thought it would be unreasonable to detain them any longer, they insisted upon my going through with it the next day. Shall I consider this as an honour done to myself or to literature? Rather let me suppose to the latter, which, though well-nigh extinct, seems to be now again reviving amongst us. Yet what was the subject which raised this uncommon attention? No other than what formerly, even in the senate, where we had to submit to it, we used to grudge even a few moments’ attention to. But now, you see, we have patience to recite and to attend to the same topic for three days together; and the reason of this is, not that we have more eloquent writing now than formerly, but we write under a fuller sense of individual freedom, and consequently more genially than we used to. It is an additional glory therefore to our present emperor that this sort of harangue, which was once as disgusting as it was false, is now as pleasing as it is sincere. But it was not only the earnest attention of my audience which afforded me pleasure; I was greatly delighted too with the justness of their taste: for I observed that the more nervous parts of my discourse gave them peculiar satisfaction. It is true, indeed, this work, which was written for the perusal of the world in general, was read only to a few; however, I would willingly look upon their particular judgment as an earnest of that of the public, and rejoice at their manly taste as if it were universally spread. It was just the same in eloquence as it was in music, the vitiated ears of the audience introduced a depraved style; but now, I am inclined to hope, as a more refined judgment prevails in the public, our compositions of both kinds will improve too; for those authors whose sole object is to please will fashion their works according to the popular taste. I trust, however, in subjects of this nature the florid style is most proper; and am so far from thinking that the vivid colouring I have used will be esteemed foreign and unnatural that I am most apprehensive that censure will fall upon those parts where the diction is most simple and unornate. Nevertheless, I sincerely wish the time may come, and that it now were, when the smooth and luscious, which has affected our style, shall give place, as it ought, to severe and chaste composition.—Thus have I given you an account of my doings of these last three days, that your absence might not entirely deprive you of a pleasure which, from your friendship to me, and the part you take in everything that concerns the interest of literature, I know you would have received, had you been there to hear. Farewell.