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Marius the epicurean %E2.., p.5

Marius the Epicurean — Volume 2, page 5

 part  #2 of  Marius the Epicurean Series


Marius the Epicurean — Volume 2

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  Paratum cor meum deus! paratum cor meum!

  [57] THE emperor demanded a senatorial decree for the erection ofimages in memory of the dead prince; that a golden one should becarried, together with the other images, in the great procession of theCircus, and the addition of the child's name to the Hymn of the SalianPriests: and so, stifling private grief, without further delay setforth for the war.

  True kingship, as Plato, the old master of Aurelius, had understood it,was essentially of the nature of a service. If so be, you can discovera mode of life more desirable than the being a king, for those whoshall be kings; then, the true Ideal of the State will become apossibility; but not otherwise. And if the life of Beatific Vision beindeed possible, if philosophy really "concludes in an ecstasy,"affording full fruition to the entire nature of man; then, for certainelect souls at least, a mode of life will have been [58] discoveredmore desirable than to be a king. By love or fear you might inducesuch persons to forgo their privilege; to take upon them thedistasteful task of governing other men, or even of leading them tovictory in battle. But, by the very conditions of its tenure, theirdominion would be wholly a ministry to others: they would have takenupon them-"the form of a servant": they would be reigning for thewell-being of others rather than their own. The true king, therighteous king, would be Saint Lewis, exiling himself from the betterland and its perfected company--so real a thing to him, definite andreal as the pictured scenes of his psalter--to take part in or toarbitrate men's quarrels, about the transitory appearances of things.In a lower degree (lower, in proportion as the highest Platonic dreamis lower than any Christian vision) the true king would be MarcusAurelius, drawn from the meditation of books, to be the ruler of theRoman people in peace, and still more, in war.

  To Aurelius, certainly, the philosophic mood, the visions, however dim,which this mood brought with it, were sufficiently pleasant to him,together with the endearments of his home, to make public rule nothingless than a sacrifice of himself according to Plato's requirement, nowconsummated in his setting forth for the campaign on the Danube. Thatit was such a sacrifice was to Marius visible fact, as he saw him [59]ceremoniously lifted into the saddle amid all the pageantry of animperial departure, yet with the air less of a sanguine andself-reliant leader than of one in some way or other already defeated.Through the fortune of the subsequent years, passing and repassing soinexplicably from side to side, the rumour of which reached him amidhis own quiet studies, Marius seemed always to see that central figure,with its habitually dejected hue grown now to an expression of positivesuffering, all the stranger from its contrast with the magnificentarmour worn by the emperor on this occasion, as it had been worn by hispredecessor Hadrian.

  Totus et argento contextus et auro:

  clothed in its gold and silver, dainty as that old divinely constructedarmour of which Homer tells, but without its miraculouslightsomeness--he looked out baffled, labouring, moribund; a merecomfortless shadow taking part in some shadowy reproduction of thelabours of Hercules, through those northern, mist-laden confines of thecivilised world. It was as if the familiar soul which had been sofriendly disposed towards him were actually departed to Hades; and whenhe read the Conversations afterwards, though his judgment of themunderwent no material change, it was nevertheless with the allowance wemake for the dead. The memory of that suffering image, while itcertainly strengthened his adhesion [60] to what he could accept at allin the philosophy of Aurelius, added a strange pathos to what must seemthe writer's mistakes. What, after all, had been the meaning of thatincident, observed as so fortunate an omen long since, when the prince,then a little child much younger than was usual, had stood in ceremonyamong the priests of Mars and flung his crown of flowers with the restat the sacred image reclining on the Pulvinar? The other crowns lodgedthemselves here or there; when, Lo! the crown thrown by Aurelius, theyoungest of them all, alighted upon the very brows of the god, as ifplaced there by a careful hand! He was still young, also, when on theday of his adoption by Antoninus Pius he saw himself in a dream, withas it were shoulders of ivory, like the images of the gods, and foundthem more capable than shoulders of flesh. Yet he was now well-nighfifty years of age, setting out with two-thirds of life behind him,upon a labour which would fill the remainder of it with anxiouscares--a labour for which he had perhaps no capacity, and certainly notaste.

  That ancient suit of armour was almost the only object Aurelius nowpossessed from all those much cherished articles of vertu collected bythe Caesars, making the imperial residence like a magnificent museum.Not men alone were needed for the war, so that it became necessary, tothe great disgust alike of timid persons and of [61] the lovers ofsport, to arm the gladiators, but money also was lacking. Accordingly,at the sole motion of Aurelius himself, unwilling that the publicburden should be further increased, especially on the part of the poor,the whole of the imperial ornaments and furniture, a sumptuouscollection of gems formed by Hadrian, with many works of the mostfamous painters and sculptors, even the precious ornaments of theemperor's chapel or Lararium, and the wardrobe of the empress Faustina,who seems to have borne the loss without a murmur, were exposed forpublic auction. "These treasures," said Aurelius, "like all else thatI possess, belong by right to the Senate and People." Was it not acharacteristic of the true kings in Plato that they had in their housesnothing they could call their own? Connoisseurs had a keen delight inthe mere reading of the Praetor's list of the property for sale. Fortwo months the learned in these matters were daily occupied in theappraising of the embroidered hangings, the choice articles of personaluse selected for preservation by each succeeding age, the greatoutlandish pearls from Hadrian's favourite cabinet, the marvellousplate lying safe behind the pretty iron wicker-work of the shops in thegoldsmiths' quarter. Meantime ordinary persons might have an interestin the inspection of objects which had been as daily companions topeople so far above and remote from them--things so fine also [62] inworkmanship and material as to seem, with their antique and delicateair, a worthy survival of the grand bygone eras, like select thoughtsor utterances embodying the very spirit of the vanished past. The townbecame more pensive than ever over old fashions.

  The welcome amusement of this last act of preparation for the great warbeing now over, all Rome seemed to settle down into a singular quiet,likely to last long, as though bent only on watching from afar thelanguid, somewhat uneventful course of the contest itself. Marius tookadvantage of it as an opportunity for still closer study than of old,only now and then going out to one of his favourite spots on the Sabineor Alban hills for a quiet even greater than that of Rome in thecountry air. On one of these occasions, as if by favour of aninvisible power withdrawing some unknown cause of dejection from aroundhim, he enjoyed a quite unusual sense of self-possession--thepossession of his own best and happiest self. After some gloomythoughts over-night, he awoke under the full tide of the rising sun,himself full, in his entire refreshment, of that almost religiousappreciation of sleep, the graciousness of its influence on men'sspirits, which had made the old Greeks conceive of it as a god. It waslike one of those old joyful wakings of childhood, now becoming rarerand rarer with him, and looked back upon with much regret as a measureof advancing age. In fact, [63] the last bequest of this serene sleephad been a dream, in which, as once before, he overheard those he lovedbest pronouncing his name very pleasantly, as they passed through therich light and shadow of a summer morning, along the pavement of acity--Ah! fairer far than Rome! In a moment, as he arose, a certainoppression of late setting very heavily upon him was lifted away, asthough by some physical motion in the air.

  That flawless serenity, better than the most pleasurable excitement,yet so easily ruffled by chance collision even with the things andpersons he had come to value as the greatest treasure in life, was tobe wholly his to-day, he thought, as he rode towards Tibur, under theearly sunshine; the marble of its villas glistening all the way beforehim on the hillside.
And why could he not hold such serenity of spiritever at command? he asked, expert as he was at last become in the artof setting the house of his thoughts in order. "'Tis in thy power tothink as thou wilt:" he repeated to himself: it was the mostserviceable of all the lessons enforced on him by those imperialconversations.--"'Tis in thy power to think as thou wilt." And werethe cheerful, sociable, restorative beliefs, of which he had there readso much, that bold adhesion, for instance, to the hypothesis of aneternal friend to man, just hidden behind the veil of a mechanical andmaterial order, but only just behind it, [64] ready perhaps even now tobreak through:--were they, after all, really a matter of choice,dependent on some deliberate act of volition on his part? Were theydoctrines one might take for granted, generously take for granted, andled on by them, at first as but well-defined objects of hope, come atlast into the region of a corresponding certitude of the intellect?"It is the truth I seek," he had read, "the truth, by which no one,"gray and depressing though it might seem, "was ever really injured."And yet, on the other hand, the imperial wayfarer, he had been able togo along with so far on his intellectual pilgrimage, let fall manythings concerning the practicability of a methodical and self-forcedassent to certain principles or presuppositions "one could not dowithout." Were there, as the expression "one could not do without"seemed to hint, beliefs, without which life itself must be almostimpossible, principles which had their sufficient ground of evidence inthat very fact? Experience certainly taught that, as regarding thesensible world he could attend or not, almost at will, to this or thatcolour, this or that train of sounds, in the whole tumultuous concourseof colour and sound, so it was also, for the well-trained intelligence,in regard to that hum of voices which besiege the inward no less thanthe outward ear. Might it be not otherwise with those various andcompeting hypotheses, the permissible hypotheses, which, [65] in thatopen field for hypothesis--one's own actual ignorance of the origin andtendency of our being--present themselves so importunately, some ofthem with so emphatic a reiteration, through all the mental changes ofsuccessive ages? Might the will itself be an organ of knowledge, ofvision?

  On this day truly no mysterious light, no irresistibly leading handfrom afar reached him; only the peculiarly tranquil influence of itsfirst hour increased steadily upon him, in a manner with which, as heconceived, the aspects of the place he was then visiting had somethingto do. The air there, air supposed to possess the singular property ofrestoring the whiteness of ivory, was pure and thin. An even veil oflawn-like white cloud had now drawn over the sky; and under its broad,shadowless light every hue and tone of time came out upon the yellowold temples, the elegant pillared circle of the shrine of the patronalSibyl, the houses seemingly of a piece with the ancient fundamentalrock. Some half-conscious motive of poetic grace would appear to havedetermined their grouping; in part resisting, partly going along withthe natural wildness and harshness of the place, its floods andprecipices. An air of immense age possessed, above all, the vegetationaround--a world of evergreen trees--the olives especially, older thanhow many generations of men's lives! fretted and twisted by thecombining forces of [66] life and death, into every conceivable capriceof form. In the windless weather all seemed to be listening to theroar of the immemorial waterfall, plunging down so unassociably amongthese human habitations, and with a motion so unchanging from age toage as to count, even in this time-worn place, as an image ofunalterable rest. Yet the clear sky all but broke to let through theray which was silently quickening everything in the late Februaryafternoon, and the unseen violet refined itself through the air. Itwas as if the spirit of life in nature were but withholding any tooprecipitate revelation of itself, in its slow, wise, maturing work.

  Through some accident to the trappings of his horse at the inn where herested, Marius had an unexpected delay. He sat down in anolive-garden, and, all around him and within still turning to reverie,the course of his own life hitherto seemed to withdraw itself into someother world, disparted from this spectacular point where he was nowplaced to survey it, like that distant road below, along which he hadtravelled this morning across the Campagna. Through a dreamy land hecould see himself moving, as if in another life, and like anotherperson, through all his fortunes and misfortunes, passing from point topoint, weeping, delighted, escaping from various dangers. Thatprospect brought him, first of all, an impulse of lively gratitude: itwas as if he must look round for some one [67] else to share his joywith: for some one to whom he might tell the thing, for his own relief.Companionship, indeed, familiarity with others, gifted in this way orthat, or at least pleasant to him, had been, through one or anotherlong span of it, the chief delight of the journey. And was it only theresultant general sense of such familiarity, diffused through hismemory, that in a while suggested the question whether there had notbeen--besides Flavian, besides Cornelius even, and amid the solitude hehad which in spite of ardent friendship perhaps loved best of allthings--some other companion, an unfailing companion, ever at his sidethroughout; doubling his pleasure in the roses by the way, patient ofhis peevishness or depression, sympathetic above all with his gratefulrecognition, onward from his earliest days, of the fact that he wasthere at all? Must not the whole world around have faded away for himaltogether, had he been left for one moment really alone in it? In hisdeepest apparent solitude there had been rich entertainment. It was asif there were not one only, but two wayfarers, side by side, visiblethere across the plain, as he indulged his fancy. A bird came and sangamong the wattled hedge-roses: an animal feeding crept nearer: thechild who kept it was gazing quietly: and the scene and the hours stillconspiring, he passed from that mere fantasy of a self not himself,beside him in his coming and [68] going, to those divinations of aliving and companionable spirit at work in all things, of which he hadbecome aware from time to time in his old philosophic readings--inPlato and others, last but not least, in Aurelius. Through onereflection upon another, he passed from such instinctive divinations,to the thoughts which give them logical consistency, formulating atlast, as the necessary exponent of our own and the world's life, thatreasonable Ideal to which the Old Testament gives the name of Creator,which for the philosophers of Greece is the Eternal Reason, and in theNew Testament the Father of Men--even as one builds up from act andword and expression of the friend actually visible at one's side, anideal of the spirit within him.

  In this peculiar and privileged hour, his bodily frame, as he couldrecognise, although just then, in the whole sum of its capacities, soentirely possessed by him--Nay! actually his very self--was yetdetermined by a far-reaching system of material forces external to it,a thousand combining currents from earth and sky. Its seemingly activepowers of apprehension were, in fact, but susceptibilities toinfluence. The perfection of its capacity might be said to depend onits passive surrender, as of a leaf on the wind, to the motions of thegreat stream of physical energy without it. And might not theintellectual frame also, still [69] more intimately himself as in truthit was, after the analogy of the bodily life, be a moment only, animpulse or series of impulses, a single process, in an intellectual orspiritual system external to it, diffused through all time andplace--that great stream of spiritual energy, of which his ownimperfect thoughts, yesterday or to-day, would be but the remote, andtherefore imperfect pulsations? It was the hypothesis (boldest, thoughin reality the most conceivable of all hypotheses) which had dawned onthe contemplations of the two opposed great masters of the old Greekthought, alike:--the "World of Ideas," existent only because, and in sofar as, they are known, as Plato conceived; the "creative,incorruptible, informing mind," supposed by Aristotle, so sober-minded,yet as regards this matter left something of a mystic after all. Mightnot this entire material world, the very scene around him, theimmemorial rocks, the firm marble, the olive-gardens, the fallingwater, be themselves but reflections in, or a creation of, that oneindefectible mind, wherein he too became conscious, for an hour, a day,for so many years? Upon what other hypothesis could he so wellunderstand the persistency of al
l these things for his own intermittentconsciousness of them, for the intermittent consciousness of so manygenerations, fleeting away one after another? It was easier toconceive of the material fabric of things as [70] but an element in aworld of thought--as a thought in a mind, than of mind as an element,or accident, or passing condition in a world of matter, because mindwas really nearer to himself: it was an explanation of what was lessknown by what was known better. The purely material world, that close,impassable prison-wall, seemed just then the unreal thing, to beactually dissolving away all around him: and he felt a quiet hope, aquiet joy dawning faintly, in the dawning of this doctrine upon him asa really credible opinion. It was like the break of day over some vastprospect with the "new city," as it were some celestial New Rome, inthe midst of it. That divine companion figured no longer as but anoccasional wayfarer beside him; but rather as the unfailing"assistant," without whose inspiration and concurrence he could notbreathe or see, instrumenting his bodily senses, rounding, supportinghis imperfect thoughts. How often had the thought of their brevityspoiled for him the most natural pleasures of life, confusing even hispresent sense of them by the suggestion of disease, of death, of acoming end, in everything! How had he longed, sometimes, that therewere indeed one to whose boundless power of memory he could commit hisown most fortunate moments, his admiration, his love, Ay! the verysorrows of which he could not bear quite to lose the sense:--one strongto retain them even though [71] he forgot, in whose more vigorousconsciousness they might subsist for ever, beyond that mere quickeningof capacity which was all that remained of them in himself! "Oh! thatthey might live before Thee"--To-day at least, in the peculiarclearness of one privileged hour, he seemed to have apprehended that inwhich the experiences he valued most might find, one by one, anabiding-place. And again, the resultant sense of companionship, of aperson beside him, evoked the faculty of conscience--of conscience, asof old and when he had been at his best, in the form, not of fear, norof self-reproach even, but of a certain lively gratitude.

  Himself--his sensations and ideas--never fell again precisely intofocus as on that day, yet he was the richer by its experience. But foronce only to have come under the power of that peculiar mood, to havefelt the train of reflections which belong to it really forcible andconclusive, to have been led by them to a conclusion, to haveapprehended the Great Ideal, so palpably that it defined personalgratitude and the sense of a friendly hand laid upon him amid theshadows of the world, left this one particular hour a marked point inlife never to be forgotten. It gave him a definitely ascertainedmeasure of his moral or intellectual need, of the demand his soul mustmake upon the powers, whatsoever they might be, which [72] had broughthim, as he was, into the world at all. And again, would he be faithfulto himself, to his own habits of mind, his leading suppositions, if hedid but remain just there? Must not all that remained of life be but asearch for the equivalent of that Ideal, among so-called actualthings--a gathering together of every trace or token of it, which hisactual experience might present?

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