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ARISTIDBS, AT ROME, TO THALIA, AT ATHENS.
Amstides, a descendant of Aristides the Just, having formed a design of writing the history of Rome, conceived no place so proper for such pursuit as Rome itself, as he could there have the most accurate information, and the most favourable opportunities for deep research. Upon arriving at Rome he commences a correspondence with a Grecian lady, whom he has long regarded with affection, and who had desired him to inform her of the state of society, of manners, and of the arts. The following is their correspondence.
At length I am arrived at the city of the world; the motives, my dear Thalia, for visiting this grand emporium of the arts, of commerce, and of luxury, you are acquainted with, and it is no small pleasure to me that I not only gained your consent to my voyage, but your most candid approbation. For the investigating the annals of this wonderful city, aad the making myself acquainted with its customs, I hare to visit the capitol, and to mix with those inhabitants who are equally remote from poverty and splendour. For information concerning the fine arts, an excellent introduction, which I obtained from Titus Pomponius, whose love for our city, and elegance of manners, has gained him the title of Atticus, to M. T. Cicero, shall again avail me. You will think it an extraordinary riling that an introduction to a man who is dead should be of any Service, but, my dearest Thalia, you should consider that this dead man is Cicero, and to be acquainted with Cicero is a sufficient passport into the best company. I hope you received the letter which I sent from Sicily, by a ship bound to Corinth. I hope likewise you shed tears while reading what I suffered from the confinement of th»
ship, from the fury of the elements, and from the manners and language of my companions; all these however were drowned in the reflection that every gale of wind was wafting me farther from a woman, who is esteemed, even at Athens, the most beautiful, the wisest, and most amiable in Greece. I shall not enlarge upon this subject; simpathy will do more by secret and undefineable means than all the powers of rhetoric, or all the charms of poesy.
The entrance of the Tibur is rather difficult; but the beauty of its shores is beyond description ; figure to yourself a river sufficiently wide to be of importance from any point of prospect, whose banks are decorated with the richest pasture, in which are browzing sheep, goats, and every kind of animal that Italy produces; here a fine promontory juts out, covered with aged oak, and denies a distant prospect; three a villa belonging to the first nobleman in Rome enlivens the scene, with persons reposing, during the heat of the sun, under colonnades of the richest marble. Now the river winds along a narrow valley, in which perhaps sits a solitary shepherd, playing upon his pipe the joys or the anxieties of love, and close beside him, sheltered by an over-arching pine, his faithful shepher.dess is listening with arch meaning to his tale. In fact, the varieties of scenery and beauty are innumerable, and while gliding along these faery landscapes, the presence of my Thalia was alone wanting to render my happiness complete,
As we approached the city, the villas were more finished, and the excessive refinement of art had contributed to render them more uniform, and consequently less pleasing. Rome, like Persepolis and Susa, in the time of my great ancestor, seems to be governed by fashion : this is even extended to their houses and pleasure grounds, and when you see one you see the plan of every one. To the propriety of this remark our captain assents, with the exception that most of these belong to the richer plebeians, and that the villas of the nobility are distinguished by purity of taste : of this I shall hereafter be a better judge.
Rome, from the river, has a grandeur of effect which you can scarcely conceive, and its consequence upon my nerves I am at a loss to describe. It stands upon seven hills, which circumstance contributes to a variety of light and shade which no other city can boast: thus while one department is lighted up with the splendour of the meridian sun, another is partially or entirely shaded. The description that Titus Pomponius gave us of Rome is by no mean* applicable to its present'state, as the munificence of Augustus Caesar has had such an influence upon all his courtiers, that it is esteemed;
the surest way to gain his approbation and affection to give every degree of encouragement to the fine arts. In such a case you may naturally suppose architecture is not neglected; indeed such are the improvements which his suggestions have occasioned, that it is a subject of honourable boast with him, that Rome came to him of wood, but he should leave it of marble. Such a period as this is most happy for information and instruction, the inhabitants are gaining a polish which however it may sometimes descend to frivolity, is nevertheless extremely agreeable to a stranger, as it facilitates his intercourse, and renders his inquisitiveness less irksome to himself and less noticed by others.
The absence of M. Metellus, to whom I was personally known at Rhodes, gives me as much leisure to survey the city of Rome itself, as his presence will enable me to gain a knowledge of its manners. In such esteem is he held here that the letters of T. Pomponius will be no farther useful, than as an honourable testimony of his friendship and affection.
The capitol first demanded my most serious attention, and upon learning the absence of my friend, I soothed my disappointment by surveying its contents. It stands upon four acres of ground, and is decorated with the gifts of many individuals, and the spoils of many nations ; I could not behold, without a pang, the thresholds and pillars of which Sylla deprived the temple of Jupiter Olympius, a sacrilege which we have so frequently lamented and deprecated. It is impossible to describe the horror with which those turbulent and disgraceful times are mentioned, and It is only to allude to them and the late civil wars, to draw from every one their applause and admiration of the present government, which mixes, with a judicious caution, a well-timed lenity with a salutary severity.
A fire destroyed this fabric in the year before the dictatorship of Sylla, who took advantage of his authority to rebuild it. The Sybylline prophecies which had been there preserved since the reign of Tarquinius Superbus were consumed, and it was not till after much toil and expence that copies of them could be procured from Greece to supply their places. These hooks are kept by ten priests, and are never consulted but upon the most urgent and important occasions; I am therefore unable to examine or to hear the contents of them.
As I was walking hither, I saw a woman, whom I afterwards learnt was a Vestal virgin, preceded by the Fasces; a criminal was at the same instant passing to execution; the glow of pity beamed in her intelligent eye, and she delivered him from the hands of justice. This is one of the peculiar privileges the Vestals enjoy, and an important one it is; indeed these unfortunates deserve some rccompence for their perpetual watchfulness and strict chastity for the long period of thirty years.
The capitol contains many scarce manuscripts and annals of the city, which I shall hare to consult; as I shall therefore visit it so often, I shall reserve its description for some future opportunity; nor shall I expatiate upon its immense riches, towards which Augustus hasbeen a most liberal benefactor, and which' would, perhaps, exceed the measure of your belief.
On my return, the architect, who is repairing my house, and who, I assure you, is a man of great intelligence, proposed a game at Latrunculi. Though you are no gamester, I shall give you the history of this diversion, which may be deemed a science. Pyrrhus, besieging a city, which occupied so much time that his soldiers began to murmur, invented this game, which is an epitome of the art of war;"the soldiers were so infatuated with it, that they ceased their murmurs, and applied with the greatest eagerness to besiege, in idea, though they disliked the reality.
I am at present extremely busy in adjusting my wardrobe, aad trotting my servants in such a train of employment as will disburden toe of any anxiety on their account. You must therefore excuse this short letter, and rest satisfied with the assurance that my absence from you i3 the only discount upon tlie pleasures I have in anticipation.
The divine attention to our happiness in the structure of our nature, is to be discerned in that ignorance of futurity in which we are left; and in. that propensity to paint it fair with which we are formed: in consequence of which, if infmite wisdom appoint us to jiass through painful experience, infmite mercy, prior to our passage through it, allows us the happiness of pleasing expectation, and the curtain which conceals the scene before us, becomes the canvas upon which fancy may sketch futurity in such forms, and paint it in such colours, as are most alluring to the eye of nature. There is a farther proof, to seek no more, of the benignity that formed us, in that power of memory, which is not only an instrument of knowledge and virtue, but also a source of exquisite pleasure. In that
wonderful mirror within us, which reflects the figure of the past; that mighty magician in the mind, that conjures back departed events; pulls them into his presence from whatever distance they are flown to, by the potency of his mysterious spells; command* the suns that have long gone down to rise over again; and the pleasures that have taken their flight to spread a returning wing. That powerful faculty which enables man to hold fast the fleeting years; to fix the volatile moments; to bid time stand still; and the past become the present; which enables the old man to renew his "youth; to rekindle his ardour; to repeat his life. Thus, while in the morning of life the pictures of hope adom the darkness offuturity, and make that darkness their tablet;—in the evening of our days the pencil of memory is employed to lay its enlivening colours upon the dead and gloomy wall that bounds the pursuits, and the expectations of man upon earth!
True dignity results as much from a just sense of what we owe to others, as of what we owe to ourselves.
Vanity is conspicuous self-love. Modesty is self-love concealed. Who thinks not of himself, is neither vain nor modest.
If you perceive that a man is cunning, you may be certain he is not sufficiently so.
To attempt to conceal our faults from those with whom we live constantly, is a difficult task. It is even easier to correct them.
Disease follows the footsteps of intemperance, as poverty overtakes those of idleness.
Knowledge is a treasure of which study is the key. It is the ornament of the rich, and the riches of the poor.
The man who sinks to the level of his misfortunes, exci tea. pity: he who rises superior to them inspires admiration; and makes persons, of a similar character, almost envy him.
To be satisfied with persons in general we must not see them too near. They are like those landscapes, which, viewed at a certain distance, appear charming; but, if a traveller descend the hill, and enter this inviting country, what does he often find but dirty, thorny, and rugged paths?
The person who, on every occasion, can resist a first impulse, may certainly claim a superiority over others.
^.generosity," says Madame de Sillery, "does not consist in giving, but in making some sacrifice i» order to give."