The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume X. The Age of Johnson.
§ 17. Middletons Life of Cicero
Though Gibbon overtops all contemporary English historical writers who concerned themselves with ancient history—in the sense in which it long remained customary to employ the term—it may be well to note in this place a few of the more important productions in this field by lesser writers. The general public was not supplied with many nutritious droppings from academical tables, still largely supplied with the same “classical” fare; and, in the field of ancient history in particular, its illpaid labourers had, like Oliver Goldsmith, to turn out as best they might a “popular” history of Greece or of Rome. Meanwhile, the demands of a more fastidious section of readers for more elaborate works on ancient history were by no means clamorous. The great success of Conyers Middleton’s History of the Life of Marcus Tullius Cicero (1741) had proved, as an exception, how barren this branch of classical work had hitherto remained, and, albeit he was a voluminous writer, his other publications of this class had been, in the main, ancillary to his historical magnum opus. Though he describes it in his preface as a “life and times” rather than a “life” of his hero, it is constructed on biographical lines, and contributed in its way to nourish the single-minded devotion to Cicero, as a politician hardly less than as a writer, which, at a later date, was to suffer ruthless shocks. Nor should another production be passed by, which was directly due to its author’s unwillingness to remain content with the French Jesuit history of Rome that had hitherto commanded the field, supplemented by the more discursive writings of Aubert de Vertot and Basil Kennett. Nathaniel Hooke, the friend of Pope from his youth to the hour of his death, dedicated to the poet the first volume of his Roman History from the Building of Rome to the Ruin of the Commonwealth, which appeared in 1738, though the fourth and concluding volume was not published till 1771, eight years after the author’s death. Hooke also wrote Observations on the Roman Senate (1758); but he is best known as the literary editor of the famous Account of the Conduct of the Dowager Duchess of Marlborough (1742). His Roman History, though, of course, obsolete, especially in its earliest sections (as to the chronology of which he falls in with the chronological conclusions of Newton), is written clearly and simply; moreover, his sympathies are broad, and, though his narrative may, at times, lack proportion, it shows that he had a heart for the plebs and could judge generously of Julius Cæsar.