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Antoninus died 7th March, 161, in his palace of Lorium, with the calmness of an accomplished sage. When he felt death approaching, he, like a plain individual, put his family affairs in order, and commanded to be transferred into the chamber of his adopted son, Marcus-Aurelius, the golden statue of Fortune which had hitherto always stood in the apartment of the emperor. To the Tribune in attendance he gave the watchword Æquanimitas; then, turning himself, he appeared to fall asleep. Every order of the State rivalled each other in doing homage to his memory. There were established in his honour priesthoods, games, and societies. His piety, his clemency, and his holiness were the subjects of unusual eulogiums.

It was remarked that during the whole of his reign he had not caused to be shed a drop of 2Roman blood, nor a drop of blood of foreigners. In piety, in his religious observance of ceremonies, as well as in the happiness and security he had been able to give to the empire, he was compared to Numa.

Antoninus would have had the reputation of being the best of sovereigns if he had not designated for his successor a man equal to himself in goodness and in modesty—one who joined to these shining qualities talent, and a charm which make an image to live in the recollection of mankind. Simple, amiable, full of sweet gaiety, Antoninus was a philosopher without pretending to be so, and almost without knowing it. Marcus-Aurelius was a philosopher whose humanity and sincerity were admirable, but yet reflective. In this respect Antoninus was the greater. His kindness did not lead him to commit mistakes. He was not tormented by the evil instincts which gnawed at the heart of his adopted son. That extraneous evil, that restless study of self, that demon of scrupulousness, that fever of perfection, are the indications of a nature less strong than distinguished. The most beautiful thoughts are those which men do not commit to writing; but let it be added that we should have known nothing of Antoninus if Marcus-Aurelius had not handed down to us that exquisite portrait of his adopted father, in which he seems, by reason of humility, to have applied himself to paint an image superior to what he himself was, Antoninus resembled a Christ who would not have had an Evangel; Marcus-Aurelius a Christ who would have written his own.

It is the glory of sovereignty that two models of irreproachable virtue are to be found in its ranks, and that the most beautiful lessons of patience and disinterestedness could proceed from a condition which we may suppose was unreservedly exposed 3to all the seductions of pleasure and vanity. The throne sometimes is an aid to virtue; and Marcus-Aurelius certainly would not have been what he was if it had not been that he exercised supreme power. It is the faculties which such an exceptional position alone puts into exercise, alongside of the reality, which make it appear to better advantage. It is disadvantageous to fame when the sovereign, the servant of all, cannot allow his genius to have free scope; but such a situation, when there is brought to bear on it an elevated soul, is very favourable to the development of the individual genius and talent which constitute the moralist. The sovereign really worthy of the name observes humanity from his exalted position in the most complete manner. His point of view resembles that of the philosophical historian—that which results from those sweeping glances cast over our poor species; it is a sweet sentiment mixed with resignation, piety, and hope. The cold severity of an artist cannot belong to a sovereign. The first condition of art is freedom; but the sovereign, subjected as he is to the prejudices of middle-class society, is the least free of men. He has not the right to his own opinions; he has hardly any right to his own tastes. A crowned Goethe even could not avow that royal disdain for bourgeois ideas, that haughty indifference to practical results, which are the essential characteristics of the artist; but one can imagine the mind of a good sovereign like that of a sympathetic Goethe, a Goethe converted to the good, brought to see that there is something greater than art, led to estimate men by the habitual nobleness of his thoughts and by the feeling of his own happiness.

Such were these two admirable sovereigns, Antoninus the Pious and Marcus-Aurelius, at the head of the greatest empire that ever existed. History only 4presents another example of this heredity of wisdom upon the throne, in the persons of the three great Mogul emperors, Baber, Humaïoun, Akbar, the latter of whom shows, when compared with Marcus-Aurelius, some traits of striking resemblance. The salutary principle of adoption had made of the imperial court, in the second century, a true nursery of virtue. The noble and learned Nerva, in establishing that principle, assured the happiness of the human species for nearly three hundred years, and gave to the world the most beautiful century of progress which has been conserved by the memory of man.

It is Marcus-Aurelius himself who has sketched for us in the first book of his Thoughts this latter admirable plan, in which we see moving, in a celestial light, the noble and pure features of his father, mother, ancestors and masters. Thanks to him, we can comprehend what the old Roman families, who had witnessed the reign of the bad emperors, guarded still of honesty, dignity, right, the civil spirit, and, if I may say so, republican. People lived there in the admiration of Cato, of Brutus, of Thraseas, and of the great Stoics, whose souls had not been subjugated by tyranny. The reign of Domitian was there abhorred. The sages who opposed him without flinching were honoured as heroes. The advent of the Antonines was only the succession to power of the society whose just colours Tacitus has handed down to us, a society of sages brought into existence by the league of all those who had revolted against the despotism of the first Cæsars.

Neither the oriental pomps of some oriental royalties, founded upon the baseness and the stupidity of men, nor the pedantic pride of the royalties of the middle ages, founded upon an exaggerated sentiment of heredity, and upon the 5simple faith of the Germanic races in the rights of blood, can give us an idea of this wholly republican sovereignty of Nerva, of Trajan, of Hadrian, of Antoninus, and of Marcus-Aurelius. There was nothing of the hereditary prince or of right divine; none of the military captain; it was a kind of grand civil magistrature, with nothing which resembled a court, nor which stripped the emperor of his individual character. Marcus-Aurelius was neither little nor much of a king in the proper sense of the term; his fortune was immense, but consisted wholly of patrimony; his aversion to the Cæsars (the emperors before Nerva), whom he regarded as a species of Sardanapalus, magnificent, debauched and cruel, appeared at every minute of his life. The civility of his manners was perfection; he gave back to the Senate the whole of its ancient importance; when he was at Rome he never missed a sitting, nor quitted his place until the Consul had pronounced the formula: Nihil vos moramur, Patres conscripti.

The sovereignty thus possessed in common by a group of the élite of men, which bound them together or separated them, according to the exigencies of the moment, lost a part of that attraction which renders it so dangerous. One reached the throne without having to canvass for it, but also without owing it to birth or to a kind of abstract right; one attained to it undeceived, wearied of men, prepared by long authority. The empire was a burden, which one accepted when one’s hour came, without one’s dreaming of precipitating that hour. Marcus-Aurelius was designated for it so young that the idea of reigning had hardly any commencement, and did not exercise over his mind a moment’s seduction. At eight years old, when he was already prœsul of the Salic priests, Hadrian remarked this brooding, sweet child, and 6loved him for his good nature, his docility, and his incapacity to lie. At ten years old, the empire was assured to him. He waited patiently for it for twenty-two years. The evening on which Antoninus felt himself to be dying, and caused to be carried into his chamber the statue of Fortune, had for him neither surprise nor joy. He had for a long time been surfeited by the joys which he had never tasted; he had, by reason of the profoundness of his philosophy, perceived their absolute vanity.

His youth had been tranquil and pleasant, divided between the pleasures of the country, exercises in Latin rhetoric in the slightly frivolous manner of his master Fronto, and philosophical meditations. Greek pedagogy had attained its perfection, and, as happens in these sort of things, perfection was approaching decadence. The lettered men and the philosophers were divided in opinion, and were engaged in ardent combat. The rhetoricians dreamed only of affected ornaments of discourse; philosophers favoured almost baldness and negligence of expression. In spite of his friendship for Fronto, and his adjurations against the latter, Marcus-Aurelius was soon an adept in philosophy. Junius Rusticus became his favourite master, and won him wholly over to the severe discipline which he opposed to the ostentation of the rhetoricians. Rusticus continued to be the confidant and the intimate counsellor of his august pupil, who acknowledged having received from him his taste for a simple style, for a demeanour noble and serious, not to mention a still superior benefit, to wit: “I am indebted to him for my knowledge of he ‘Conversations of Epictetus,’ which he lent me from his own library.” Claudius Severus, the peripatetic, laboured to the same end, and ultimately led young Marcus to philosophy. 7Marcus had a habit of calling him his brother, and appeared to have had for him a deep attachment.

Philosophy was at that time a kind of religious profession, implying mortification and rules almost monastic. From the age of twelve Marcus assumed the philosophic mantle, learned to sleep upon a hard bed and to practise all the austerities of ascetic stoicism. It required his mother on several occasions to induce him to spread a few skins upon his couch. His health was more than once affected by this excessive rigour. But that did not prevent him from presiding at feasts, or from fulfilling his duties as a youthful prince, with that affable air which in him was the result of the greatest disinterestedness.

His hours were as strict as those of a religious recluse. In spite of his feeble health, he could, thanks to the sobriety of his régime and to the strictness of his morals, lead a life of labour and fatigue. He had not what is called esprit, and he had very little passion. Esprit rarely succeeds apart from a certain amount of malignity. It is accustomed to do this by turns which are neither wholly good-natured nor troublesome. Marcus understood nothing perfectly—except duty. What he lacked was the kissing of a fairy at his birth, a thing quite philosophical in its way; I mean, the art of unbending to nature and to gaiety, which teaches that abstinence and sustenance are not everything, and that life might as well be summed up in “laughter and mirth.”

In every art he had for masters the most eminent professors. Claudius Severus instructed him in peripateticism; Apollonius of Chalcis was brought expressly from the East by Antoninus to take charge of his adopted son, who appears to have been a perfect preceptor; Sextus of Cheronea, the nephew of Plutarch, the accomplished stoic; Diognetus, who 8trained him to love asceticism; Claudius Maximus, always brimful of fine sentences; Alexander of Cotyus, who taught him Greek; Herodus Atticus, who recited to him the ancient harangues of Athens. His exterior was that of his masters themselves; habits simple and modest, beard almost neglected, body attenuated and reduced to a shadow, eyes twitching with hard labour. No study, not even that of painting, was strange to him. With Greek he was familiar; when he reflected on philosophical subjects he thought in that language; but his solid mind discovered the folly of literary exercises, in which Hellenic education was lost; his Greek style, though correct, has something artificial which smells of the midnight oil. Morality was to him the last word of existence, and he brought to bear on it constant application.

How did these respectable pedagogues, none of them of any consequence, succeed in forming such a man? This is a question which one asks himself with some surprise. To judge of it by the ordinary analogies, it had all the appearance that an education so overdone would turn out to be the very worst. But to speak the truth, superior to all these masters who had been selected from every corner of the globe, Marcus had a single master whom he revered above them all; and that was Antoninus. The moral value of the man is in proportion to his faculty of admiration. It was because Marcus-Aurelius had by his side the most beautiful model of a perfect life, and one whom he understood and loved, that he became what he was.

Beware of “Cæarising” or losing your true colour; that approaches. Preserve thyself simple, good, pure, grave, the enemy of pomp, the friend of justice and religion, benevolent, human, firm in the practice of duties. Make every effort to remain such as philosophy would have thee do; revere the gods, watch the preservation of men. Life is short, the only fruit of earthly life is to maintain one’s soul in a holy 9frame, to do actions useful to society. Act always like a disciple of Antoninus; recall to thyself his constancy in the accomplishments of the prescriptions of reason, the equanimity of his disposition in all situations, his holiness, his serenity of countenance, his extreme gentleness, his contempt for vain-glory, his determination to penetrate the meaning of things; how he never allowed anything to pass before he had examined and well understood it; how he bore unjust reproaches without recriminating; how he did nothing with precipitation; how he would not listen to detractors; how carefully he studied character and action; neither spiteful nor fastidious, nor suspicious, nor sophistical: content with so little as to house, sleep, garments, food, service; laborious, patient, sober, so much so that he could occupy himself till night in the same business without having to leave for his necessary wants, except at the usual hours. And that friendship always constant, equable, and that goodness in supporting contradiction, and that joy in receiving counsel better than his own: and that piety without superstition! Think of these things, so that the last hour may find thee like him, with a consciousness of good accomplished.

The consequence of this austere philosophy might have produced stiffness and severity. But here it was that the rare goodness of the nature of Marcus-Aurelius shone out in all its brilliancy. His severity was confined only to himself. The fruit of this great tension of mind is inexhaustible benevolence. His whole life was a study of how to render good for evil. After some sad experience of human perversity, he can only contrive in the evening to note down the following: “If thou canst do it, correct them; in the contrary case, remember thou how thou must act towards those who had bestowed kindness on thee. The gods themselves are benevolent to these creatures; they aid them (so great is their bounty!), bestow on them health, riches, and glory; to thee it is permitted to do as the gods.” Another day men were very wicked; for here is what he writes on his tablets: “Such is the order of nature: some men of that sort must, of necessity, act thus. To wish that it be otherwise is to wish that the fig-tree should produce no figs. Remember thou, in a word, this: In a very short time thou and he will die; soon after, your names will be remembered 10no more.” These reflections on universal forgiveness recur continually.

It is on rare occasions that he mixes with that superlative kindness an imperceptible smile. “The best way to revenge oneself on the wicked is not to render them like for like,” or, with a soft emphasis of pride: “It is a royal thing, when one does good, to remember the evil that is in himself.” One day he has to reproach himself: “Thou hast forgotten that this holy relationship re-unites each man with the human species; a relationship not of blood and of birth, but a participation in the same intelligence. Thou hast forgotten that the reasonable soul of each person is a god, a thing derived from the Supreme Being.”

In the business of life he must have been exquisite, though, no doubt, a little simple, like the majority of men who are very good. He was sincerely humble, without hypocrisy, make-believe, or studied deceit. One of the maxims of the excellent emperor was that the wicked are unhappy, that one is wicked only in spite of himself and through ignorance; he grieves for those who are not like himself; he did not believe in the right of imposing on them.

He perceived clearly the baseness of men, but he did not avow it. This habit of blinding oneself willingly was the defect of the hearts of the élite. The world not being such as they would wish it, they deceived themselves in order to see it otherwise than it was. Hence he was a little lenient in his judgments. With Marcus-Aurelius, this pliableness produces in us sometimes a cause of irritation. If we were to believe him, his masters, several of whom were mediocre enough, must have been without exception superior men. We should have to admit that everybody about him was virtuous. It is at such a point as this that we 11are compelled to ask if that brother, upon whom he has made so great an eulogium in his acts of thanks to the gods, was not his brother by adoption, the debauched Lucius Verus. It is certain that the good emperor was capable of gross illusions when the matter in hand was the rendering to others their proper meed of virtue.

No person of sense will deny that his was a great soul. But had he a great mind? Yes; since he saw into the infinite depths of duty and of conscience. He lacked decision only in one point. He never dared deny absolutely the supernatural. We certainly can share his dread of atheism; we understand perfectly what he meant when he speaks to us of his horror of a world without God and without Providence. But that which we little comprehend is when he speaks to us seriously of the gods intervening in human affairs through the will of particular persons. The meagreness of his scientific education can alone explain such weakness. To protect himself from vulgar errors, he had neither the nimbleness of Hadrian nor the adroitness of Lucian. But it must be added that those errors were in him of no consequence. The supernatural was not the base of his piety. His religion was limited to some medical superstitions, and to a patriotic condescension for old usages. The initiations of Eleusis did not appear to have occupied a large place in his moral life. His virtue, like that of the present day, rested on reason and upon nature. Saint Louis was a very virtuous man, and, according to the ideas of his time, a very good sovereign, because he was a Christian. Marcus-Aurelius was the most pious of men, not because he was a pagan, but because he was an accomplished man. He was the embodiment of human nature, and not of a fixed religion. Whatever may be the religious and philosophical revolutions of the 12future, his grandeur will not suffer any reproach, for it rests entirely upon that which can never perish—upon excellence of heart.

To live with the gods! He who lives with the gods here shows always a mind contented with the lot which has fallen to him, and is obedient to the genius which Jupiter has separated, even as it were a part of himself, to serve as our director and guide. This genius is the intelligence and the reasoning faculty of each one.

The world is either but chaos—successive aggregation or segregation—or it is providence, order, and unity. In the first case, why should we desire to remain in such a cloaca? The segregation alone will know how to reach me. In the latter case, I adore, I rest myself, I have confidence in him who governs.

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