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Laurentinum by A. A. B.

If anybody ever could have enjoyed living in heathen times, it must have been Pliny the Younger. A friend of ours calls him the gentlemanly letter writer, and so he was. He wrote letters which must have been treats to his correspondents. It is well that some of his notes did not require answers, for, as the letters of "the parties of the second part" are irretrievably lost, the annoyance one feels over a one-sided record is somewhat abated. Only the imperial replies are preserved. But, as we have said, Caius Plinius Caecilius Secundus (nephew to the ponderously fat and still more ponderously learned C. Plinius Secundus, who, like Leibnitz in latter times, sat, wrote, was read to, slept, and ate in his arm-chair for days together) must have enjoyed living. If he had not had so gentle a disposition and so loving a recollection of his uncle, we might have fancied him terribly bored by that worthy; for the elder Pliny was a heluo miraculorum, believing in and jotting down everything he heard, saw or read, like the immortal Mr. Pickwick. A book or a reader was ever at his elbow—a tablet or parchment ever within reach. And all this was undertaken or done for his nephew's advantage. There could have been but little pleasure in having such a guardian, though the nephew's easy, loving temper and delicate constitution caused him to be petted a good deal. A lucky dyspepsia (the Romans must have had the dyspepsia from eating the messes their Greek cooks put upon their tables) spared him from continuous attendance upon his uncle's studies. Then, too, Pliny was under his uncle's charge only for a few years, for Pliny the Elder lost his life in the famous eruption of Vesuvius. He was lord high admiral of the Mediterranean west of Italy; and of course when the eruption was reported at Misenum, at the admiralty-house, he must needs view it. It was too remarkable a thing not to have a high place in his Natural History. He ordered out his light galley. The rest we all know—how the admiral was as brave as he was fat, and seeing the danger in which so many friends with whom he had often supped were put, attempted to help some of them. So, because of the widow Rectina and his good friend Pomponianus, he came to his sad death.

It was not so very great a loss to his nephew, now turned of eighteen—a likely youth, of course well connected, and now his uncle's heir. Caius Pliny went through the steps of the civil service with credit to himself, though his advancement was checked during Domitian's reign. He was indeed a consul, but then many consuls were appointed during the year. But it was much more prudent for him to keep quiet. He had a good practice—for this, though not strictly accurate, is the nearest term by which to designate his legal employment—and, to take a leap beyond the time we are speaking of, he was about twenty-five years afterward governor of Bithynia, whence he wrote his famous letter to the emperor Trajan about the Christians in his province. Of this letter much has been said, but we think that Pliny has not always been rightly judged about it. He was too conservative a man to be a persecutor, but was not much above or beyond his own time. And he wrote of the Christians as being a religio illicita—an illegal assembly of heretics—as regarded the state religion, which it was his duty to defend. It was wrong to persecute the Christians—wrong on general principles, wrong on particular axioms. But, alas! it has taken nearly seventeen more centuries of fiercer persecutors than Pliny proved to be to learn this little fact. All this is, as he would have said, obiter—by the way. It has, however, a good deal to do indirectly with his good living; for, as we were saying, C.P.C. Secundus lived very well indeed—not extravagantly, but comfortably.

Now, to live well or comfortably, it is needful to have something wherewith to live thus comfortably. The start which C.P. Secundus gave C.P.C. Secundus lifted him up into a successful lawyer, a sort of public orator. As heir to his uncle's estate, and as coheir to estates of deceased friends, and as a public man, he amassed considerable property. He could undoubtedly—and we undoubtingly believe he did—do this with scrupulous honesty. His fees, salaries and legacies he took pains to earn. Legacies he claimed as they were left him, though he stooped to no fawning to obtain them, and in at least one instance returned the property to the natural (though he says undeserving) heir. If so, let us give him due credit for generosity. Certainly, he was not selfish or illiberal. He assisted his friends with money and influence, as well as advice, and he gave to his native town, Comum, a public library, besides an endowment of three hundred thousand sesterces ($12,000) yearly for ever to maintain children born of free parents. How long this endowment lasted we cannot say, but it must, at any rate, have disappeared in the dilapidations caused three hundred and fifty years afterward by the Gothic invaders of Italy. Then he had two villas at least, besides his town-house, with slaves, attendants and following to match. This will suffice to show that he had the wherewithal. But could he enjoy it? He was a literary man: his uncle had settled that for him. He was an oratorical light in the Senate. His letters show that he was a gentleman, whose delicacy of feeling was as fine as the lauded courtesies of modern times. As proof that he was a gentleman, and that he knew how to distinguish a good from a poor dinner, and as proof, too, of the good advice he was wont to give away as freely as good money, we will put in his letter to Avitus upon occasion of a dinner he had just attended:

"Cains Pliny to his own Avitus, greeting: It would take too long, and do no good, to tell you how, though not on familiar terms, I came to dine with a man who piques himself upon his elegant and correct, though sordid and profuse, entertainments. They are so in this: he placed before the select few some rare delicacies—before the rest he put indifferent or little food. Even of the wine there were but three sorts, and these, besides, in little flagons—evidently not that you should choose" but to prevent your choosing—one sort for himself and us, another for his poorer friends, a third for his and our freedmen. A neighbor on the same couch asked me what I thought of it: Did I approve? 'No.' 'Then what is your rule?' 'I put the same things before all my guests, for I ask them to sup, not to grade them in my esteem: I equalize in all things those I invite to my table.' 'Even the freedmen?' 'Yes, for then they are my guests, and not freedmen.' He replied,' It must cost you a good deal.' 'Very little.' 'How so?' 'Thus: I drink then what my freedmen drink, not they my wines.' And truly, if you will but restrain your taste a little, it is not hard to join in drinking with the many at your table. To be sure, fastidious taste must be repressed, and, as it were, brought under control, if you spare that expense in which one consults rather his own gratification than the feelings of others. But why all this? I write, so that the luxury of some under the specious guise of economy may not impose upon you as a well-disposed youth. And so, out of pure good-will to you, I draw instances from my experience to advise or warn you. There is nothing to be more carefully avoided than that upstart society compounded of meanness and luxury, for these twain, bad enough apart, are abominable when joined together. Vale!"

Now, gentle reader, yourself being judge, we submit to your honor that here are good sense, delicate taste and refinement combined. Two things also must be noted: First, we are glad to find that the well-disposed youth to whom we were introduced in Mr. Adams's Latin Grammar some twenty-odd years ago turns out to be this kindly young man in whom C.P.C. Secundus, Jr., takes such an interest: we are sure he is a deserving young man, and will turn out a brilliant diner-out; only it would have been more ingenuous in Mr. Adams to have told us plainly that it was Avitus whose character was being formed by the famous C.P.C. Secundus, generally known as Pliny the Younger; and then we might have profited by the tuition. Again, the freedman was not one in the sense in which we use the term, but one who was emancipated and a member (not always a menial member) of his patron's family. The African as a slave had just begun to be a common servant in wealthy households, but the libertus was often of better blood than many a citizen. You will remember that Horace was the son of such a freedman. So again we hold it proven that Pliny knew how to enjoy his opportunities of good living—opportunities acquired partly by inheritance, partly by his ability and deserts. He had a well-balanced, self-poised character, and so could trust himself temperare gulce—to eat, drink and enjoy life temperately. He was tested in the troublous times of Domitian. By living quietly, by adroitly parrying pointed and dangerous questions, by avoiding public life, he managed to pass through a very difficult reign; for it was a difficult time under an emperor who spared not even flies: certainly it was the only way in which he ever battled with Beelzebub. Now we hold that had C.P.C. Secundus been anything beyond an amateur epicure—if he had been a gourmand—he would have fatally said or done something that would have prevented his ever writing any more letters to friends or to General Trajanus. To be a well-balanced eater is, cceteris paribus, to be a well-balanced man. Perhaps Pliny was too fastidious to be a proper epicure even—too fastidious in other directions, we mean. And he had learned some habits from his early training which would interfere materially with habitual attention to the pleasures of the table. But we protest we did not intend, even as a first object, to bring up the table as the main proof of Pliny's enjoyment of the good things of this life. We wanted to show you, courteous reader, something of how he lived, and it is necessary to learn his habits in order to decide whether he enjoyed the things which Providence had given him. He had learned of his uncle the bad habit of reading or of being read to at meal-times. He did not indulge in it, he says, when he had company, but only when his family was present. His protestation does not avail him: this plea rather aggravated the rudeness. For, however formal etiquette may be laid aside in the bosom of his family, a paterfamilias is none the less bound to observe the laws of courtesy. But it yet leads us to notice that C.P.C. loved his wife and children. His wife was the daughter of one Fabatus, who would most undoubtedly have been long since forgotten but that his son-in-law wrote him model letters, sometimes on business, sometimes on his health, sometimes about visits that had been delayed—generally complimentary, always short, always implying high reverence for the father of a well-loved wife. But he carried the family passion for reading to excess. One of his regrets is that his favorite reader is consumptive, and, despite a season in Egypt for his health, was still suffering. So he sends him to the country-seat of a friend, to see if the country air and good nursing will not restore him. It was an accomplishment to read well that added to the value of a slave, and Pliny prized his "boy" accordingly. This is but a slight indication of the excess to which he carried his love for reading and scribbling. If he could not read, he must scribble; so he scribbled when out hunting! If he had been fishing with a book in his hand, that had been excusable. But we do not believe that the Romans took kindly to fishing as a sport. They bred their fish in private fish-ponds—piscinae—and they had a revolting habit of fattening their fish. Old Izaak would have abhorred the very thought of casting a line for such prey: sickening thoughts of cannibalism would have filled him with horror. But C.P.C. consented to hunt one day, so he writes to Tacitus. Did he ride after the dogs, spear in hand, to kill the fierce wild-boar? Not he. He; sat down by the nets with tablets on his knee, under the quiet shade, and meditated and enjoyed the solitude, and scribbled to his heart's content. Here a doubt arises. Let us whisper it: Did he inherit the avuncular tendency to obesity? We have seen no hint of this, and of course it would not enter into his correspondence; but it is possible. At all events, our natural conclusion is, that he was too literary to be merely a bon vivant. No, he was a shrewd reader of human nature, a man of rare taste, of strong sense, and fond of an equable life. He had means, and often, if not always, the proper leisure to live well. And by living well we mean, not that he indulged in a greedy enjoyment of the good things of this life, nor yet in a profuse and gaudy display, but that, being a heathen, he lived as an upright heathen lawyer, magistrate, statesman and millionaire should live.

It was needful for him, then, having the wherewithal, and being a refined and well-balanced man, to have the place where to live well. Did he have this? Yes: he had two villas—one a summer residence near the mountains, and a winter one sixteen miles from Rome, near Laurentum. This was the villa of Laurentinum. It was fitted up with every then known comfort and convenience which a man of wealth, pleasure and taste could want and thoroughly enjoy. As he was fond of showing his winter-house, we may go back just seventeen hundred and eighty years and introduce you as his friend Gallus. It is so long since that Pliny would not detect you, and we shall have the benefit of his own guidance in the intricacies of his spacious villa. We will take his advice, and instead of traveling in the clumsy rheda over the sandy road, we will ride out on horseback. The views along the road are pretty—now in a woody skirt, now by meadows in which the sheep and cattle find a later pasturage than higher up the country; so, by a winding path, we come upon a roomy and hospitable villa. This is Laurentinum, near Laurentum. We come before the atrium: a slave announces us, and the courteous master welcomes us on the steps of a porch shaped like the letter D, with pleasant transparent mica windows, and roofed over as a protection against showers. Thence he ushers us into a cheerful entrance-hall: "Let me show you my winter retreat. Your room is in rather a distant part of my little villa, and it is nearly time to bathe. Let me conduct you." We see that our friend is rather proud of his home, and so he ought to be, for we find it a snug retreat for a vacation. Now let us see when and how he enjoys himself after his labors in either of the courts. Let us follow him out of the hall into the dining-room, which has a pleasant southern outlook upon the sea. The murmuring waves echo in it. It has innumerable doors, and windows reaching to the floor, and is as pleasant as the banquet-room of the Americus Club-house. You look out upon, as it were, triple seas: so too from the atrium, the portico and the hall you can look over woods, hills or the sea. Through the hall again, into an ample chamber, then out to a smaller one, which lets in the rising sunlight on the one side and the purple glow of sunset on the other. Here, too, is a partial view of the sea. These rooms are protected from all but fair-weather winds. The great dining-room is the pleasant—weather room. Then next beyond is the apsidal chamber, which admits continuous sunshine through its many windows. Book-presses stand against the partition wall, to hold the books in constant use. "My uncle, good Gallus, taught me not to lose an hour. Behind this is the dormitory, properly tempered according to the season: farther on are the servants' and freedmen's apartments. But here is your room. After the bath we will see the rest. The bath is here between these cool dressing-rooms: you must need it after your dusty ride, my Gallus.

"My friend Spurenna lives pleasantly. I spent a few days with him not long ago. Early in the morning he takes a stroll of three miles. If he has visitors, he chats with them on some improving subject—if not, he reads. Then with books and conversation he fills up the interval till it is time to ride, when, with his wife and a friend or two—perhaps myself—he takes a drive of seven or eight miles. Till it is time to bathe he amuses us with his graceful lyrics, in Greek as well as in Latin. He bathes about two or three o'clock, and then suns himself; for by bathing and rubbing and sunning he fights off the ills of advancing years. Then a lunch. Then dinner, which is served on antique solid silver. Have you enjoyed your bath, my Gallus? The tank is large enough, certainly, for one to swim in. Now, as we pass back, see how conveniently the bathing-house, heater and perfuming-rooms adjoin. Here are my fish-ponds: the poor things can look out upon the sea if they choose. And now my tennis-court, quite a warm place late in the afternoon. Here is a turret with two sunny rooms under it: that one yonder is a pleasant sunlit supper-room, with views of sea and beaches and villas. Yonder is the villa once owned by Hortensius, Cicero's great rival, you remember. It is not in good repair, and is rather old-fashioned too. A third turret has under it a large larder and store-room, and a spacious bed-chamber. In that sunny room, again, you can escape the crash of the surges, which only penetrates here as a gentle murmur. In truth, good Gallus, where there are so many wintry changes on a coast like this, I like to be able to change too. High winds and storms on a seashore compel us to have protected dining-rooms. This one we are now in looks out upon my garden and the shaded alley round it. We will dine early, and in the front triclinium this pleasant evening.... In the country here we have not all the delicacies that the city commands, but by the aid of Ostia and yonder village we manage tolerably.... Some wine? Falernian, that my good uncle bought forty years ago. The wax on the jar is stiff with age. There is nothing I delight in more than in gathering my wife and children around me, as you see. And I make you a member of my household at once by not laying aside my rule. My reader is hoarse to-day, or I would have some interesting extracts out of my uncle's notebook read. Some grapes? They are late October vines. We can look out of those side windows upon the white-sailed galleys that go by. My uncle was admiral of the western fleet, you know, and though I have only been a civil officer, yet I have a sort of love for the sea; and this is one thing that makes Laurentinum so dear to me. Have you dined so simply? Your ride has not given you the appetite it gives me. Fatigue is your true appetizer, and if that fails I cannot hope that these autumn figs will tempt you."

Our host runs on thus at a great rate, and is evidently bent on showing us the rest of his comfortable villa before the daylight fails us:

"So you would see the retreat I claim as my own den? Let us pass back into the box-alley. The box does not grow well unless sheltered from the winds and the beating sunshine; so the gaps in the hedge I fill up with rosemary. You see that the inside of the alley is formed by vines. The shadowy, tender lawn under them is a pleasant place to walk on barefoot. The fig and mulberry are the only trees that grow well here. The garden is backed by two sunny rooms again, and behind that is the kitchen garden. And here is the long covered way near the public work. It has twice as many windows opening out as it has opposite opening into my garden, and on blowing as well as windless days the shutters are ever open. In front is my colonnade, fringed with violets. Here is my basking-walk. You see how it shelters one, too, from the African winds. It cuts off the wind from the other side in winter. It has advantages both for winter and summer: according to the season and the shade, you can enjoy the sea-view or can get the cool of the garden and alley. Then those open windows always keep the air astir. This summer-like place is my special delight, for I planned it myself."

And indeed, my pseudo Gallus, let me remark that, being myself a native of the Mediterranean, I can enter better than you can into the childish delight that our friend Caius Plinius expresses. It is a joy which is not to be found in the nature of the American to sleep in the tropic heats of a July sun. Winter is abhorrent to the nature of every Levanter. To bask upon the shore of the Mediterranean, with the calm lazy sea at your feet and the winds cut off from your back, is the only decent way of hibernating. But this is in your ear as we pass along, and you will have to repress the smile on your lips or change it into a sign of courteous pleasure, or he will detect the impostor.

Now then: "Here is my sun-chamber. It looks out on the colonnade, the sea and the sunshine. It leads into the covered walk by this window, and into my bed-chamber by this door. But hither. Seaward there is a letter cabinet on the division wall. It is entered from the bed-chamber, and can be separated effectually by these curtains and this transparent door. You see it has only a lounge and a couple of arm-chairs. At your feet is the sea, behind you the house, over head the woods: windows look out on either side. My bed-room is convenient, and yet I am far from the babble of the household. Not the trampling of the waves, no sounds of storm, no flash of lightning, even daylight cannot penetrate here unless the shutters are opened. It is so secret and quiet and hidden because it is in the corridor between the bed-room walls and the garden wall, and so every sound is deadened. A small oven is added to the bed-chamber, which by this narrow opening admits heat when required. There lie the antechamber and the bed-room, which get the sun all the day long. What do you think of my den, my Gallus? When I betake myself to this retreat I seem to have left my home behind me; and especially in the Saturnalia I delight in it. When the rest of the house is given up to the license of noisy festivals, no noises can disturb my reveries, no clamors interfere with my studies."

Let us express our admiration of so well-appointed an abode with cautious terms, and let us say that we might wonder if any one could help longing for such a home. Let us be careful that we do not betray ourselves by asking after modern improvements, as you, O Mask, might do, but you are not house-hunting to-day.

"Yes, this is comfortable and delightful, but it has one drawback. There is no spring in the whole enclosure; but we try to make up for it by wells, or rather fountains. But along this wonderful shore you have only to dig a little and there oozes out at once—I cannot call it water, a humor rather, which is unsophisticated brine, on account of the sea so near by, I suppose. Those forests supply us with wood: Ostia supplies us with everything else that cannot be got in yonder village. You see how I live and enjoy myself, and you must be a very ingrained cit indeed if you do not instantly decide to settle down amongst us. There is a little farm not far off: let me negotiate it for you."

It is time for us to vanish, for he will next propose to buy the Hortensian villa from the improvident prodigal who holds it, and will make you settle down here in spite of yourself, and so make a respectable heathen out of you; for of course you have not the courage to whisper in his ear that you are a Christian: his oven is not yet cooled down.

But now own, as we are back in the nineteenth century without a single hair singed, does not C.P.C. Secundus live well as a man who is upright, just, loving his family, honoring and serving the emperor, attending to his own business and enjoying his vacations in a gentlemanly way, though he will become a heathen persecutor before he dies?