DXXXI (F VI, 7)
AULUS CAECINA TO CICERO (AT ROME)FOR my book not having been delivered to you so quickly, forgive my timidity, and pity my position. My son, I am told, was very much alarmed at the book 1 being put in circulation, and with reason—since it does not matter so much in what spirit it is written, as in what spirit it is taken—for fear lest a stupid thing like that should stand in my light, and that too when I am still suffering for the sins of my pen. In that matter my fate has been a strange one: for whereas a slip of the pen is cured by erasure, and stupidity is punished by loss of reputation, my mistake is corrected by exile: though my greatest crime is having spoken ill of the enemy when engaged in active service. There was no one on our side, I presume, who did not pray for victory for himself; no one who, even when offering sacrifice for something else, did not breathe a wish for Caesar's speedy defeat. If he imagines that not to be the case, he is a very fortunate man. If he does know it, and has no delusion on the subject, why be angry with a man who has written something against his views, when he has pardoned all those who offered every sort of petition to the gods against his safety? But to return to my subject, the cause of my fear was this. I have written about you, on my honour, sparingly and timidly, not merely checking myself, but almost beating a retreat. Now everyone knows that this style of writing ought not merely to be free, but even vehement and lofty. One is thought to have a free hand in attacking another, yet you must take care not to fall into mere violence: it is not open to one to praise oneself, lest the result should be the vice of egotism: there is no other course than to praise the man, on whom any blame that you may cast is necessarily set down to weakness or jealousy. And I rather think that you will like it all the better, and think it more suited to your present position. For what I could not do in good style, it was in my power first of all not to touch upon, and, as next best, to do so as sparingly as possible. But after all I did check myself: I softened many phrases, cut out many, and a very large number I did not write down at all. Then, as in a ladder, if you were to remove some rounds, cut out others, leave some loosely fastened, you would be contriving the means of a fall, not preparing a way of ascent, just so with a writer's genius: if it is at once hampered and frustrated by so many disadvantages, what can it produce worth listening to or likely to satisfy? When, indeed, I come to mention Caesar himself, I tremble in every limb, not from fear of his punishing, but of his criticising me. For I do not know Caesar thoroughly. What do you think of a courage that talks thus to itself? "He will approve of this: that expression is open to suspicion." "What if I change it to this? But I fear that will be worse." Well, suppose I am praising some one: "Shan't I offend him ?" Or when I am criticising some one adversely: "What if it is against his wish ?" "He punishes the pen of a man engaged in a campaign: what will he do to that of a man conquered and not yet restored ?" You yourself add to my alarm, because in your Orator you shield yourself under the name of Brutus, 2 and try to make him a party to your apology. When the universal "patron" does this, what ought I to do—an old client of yours, and now everyone's client? Amidst such misgivings therefore created by fear, and on the rack of such blind suspicion, when most of what one writes has to be adapted to what one imagines are the feelings of another, not to one's own judgment, I feel how difficult it is to come off successfully, though you have not found the same difficulty, because your supreme and surpassing genius has armed you for every eventuality. Nevertheless, I told my son to read the book to you, and then to take it away, or only to give it to you on condition that you would promise to correct it, that is, if you would give it a totally new complexion. About my journey to Asia, though the necessity for my making it was very urgent, I have obeyed your commands. Why should I urge you to exert yourself for me? You are fully aware that the time has come when my case must be decided. There is no occasion, my dear Cicero, for you to wait for my son. He is a young man: he cannot from his warmth of feeling, or his youth, or his timidity, think of all necessary measures. The whole business must rest on you: you is all my hope. Your acuteness enables you to hit upon the measures which Caesar likes, and which win his favour. Everything must originate with you, and be brought to the desired conclusion by you. You have great influence with Caesar himself, very great with all his friends. If you will convince yourself of this one thing, that your duty is not merely to do what you are asked—though that is a great and important thing—but that the whole burden rests on you, you will carry it through: unless—which I don't believe—my misfortunes make me too inconsiderate, or my friendship too bold, in placing this burden upon you. But your lifelong habits suggest an excuse for both: for from your habit of exerting yourself for your friends, your intimates have come not so much to hope for that favour at your hands, as to demand it as a right. As for my book, which my son will give you, I beg that you will not let it out of your hands, or that you will so correct it as to prevent it doing me any harm.