« Guy Patin | ‘Lost Articles’ | Innovation »

The Plinies

PLINY was by much too bold to advance, in his Natural History, lib. 7. cap. 35. that the soul is not immortal. This is a dreadful sentiment to be disseminated throughout a state; for, if this principle is established, the good will no more hope for a recompence of their miseries, nor the bad dread a punishment for their crimes.

To deny the immortality of the soul (as Mr. Monnoye observes) was not, in the days of Pliny, so bold an opinion as it would be now. It was then allowed to follow the opinions of Epicurus, who believed in the mortality of the soul; and Lucretius, in his celebrated poem, establishes this doctrine. Seneca, stoic as he was, anticipates, in several passages of his works, the sentiment and even the expressions of Pliny.

Pliny was certainly a man of irreproachable character: but the truth is, that, like most of the Romans, he aspired to glory, by shewing that he could be an honest man without the hope of any future reward, The sentiment is noble, but let it be confined to the narrow circle of speculative philosophy.

Pliny, to express at the same time the invention and the malice of men, says, in writing on Arrows, that they have given wings to iron, and taught it to fly like a bird—had he even added, like a ravenous vulture, perhaps it might have heightened this poetical image. Had he lived when gunpowder, fire-arms, and bombs, were invented, what metaphors could the philosopher have found to equal his indignation! Ariosto and Milton have satirized this diabolical machinery, when they gave them to be employed by the demons.

The Elder Pliny, who was so intimately acquainted with the human heart, says, on the subject of Crystal Vases, that their fragility enhances their price; and that it is the boast of Luxury to make use of things that may, at the slightest blow, entirely perish.

The Younger Pliny has given (a French wit observes) so exact a description of his house, that it looks as if he wished to dispose of it. Men of taste are fond of perpetuating those scenes which their lives have been passed in embellishing.

This writer has given us this admirable sentiment—That He is a good man, and of strict morals, who pardons every one, as if he himself committed faults every day; and yet, who endeavours to abstain from them, as if he pardoned no one.

Pliny the younger was a servile imitator of Cicero, (whom indeed he adored) even in the minutest occurrences of life. This we may trace throughout his elegant epistles. In the thirty-third letter of the seventh book he intreats Tacitus, his friend, to notice him in his history. This favour he had before asked, in the sixteenth letter of the sixth book. A similar mode of proceeding was practised by Cicero. This great orator, in one of his letters, had the excessive vanity of writing to Lucceius, to direct him in what manner he should mention him: and he begs him, that, in his annals, he would reserve an entire volume for his consulship! Whatever may be the vanity of the moderns, they appear to have more art than the ancients in disguising it.