Ground covered by the Correspondence.

The correspondence of Cicero, as preserved for us by his freedman Tiro, does not open till the thirty-ninth year of the orator's life, and is so strictly contemporary, dealing so exclusively with the affairs of the moment, that little light is thrown by it on by his previous life. It does not become continuous till the year after his consulship (B.C. 62). There are no letters in the year of the consulship itself or the year of his canvass for the consulship (B.C. 64 and 63). It begins in B.C. 68, and between that date and B.C. 65 there are only eleven letters. We have, therefore, nothing exactly contemporaneous to help us to form a judgment on the great event which coloured so much of his after life, the suppression of the Catilinarian conspiracy and the execution of the conspirators, in the last month of his consulship. But setting aside the first eleven letters, we have from that time forward a correspondence illustrating, as no other document in antiquity does, the hopes and fears, the doubts and difficulties, of a keen politician living through the most momentous period of Roman history, the period of the fall of the Republic, beginning with Pompey's return from the East in B.C. 62, and ending with the appearance of the young Octavian on the scene and the formation of the Triumvirate in B.C. 43, of whose victims Cicero was one of the first and most illustrious. It is by his conduct and speeches during this period that Cicero's claim to be a statesman and a patriot must be judged, and by his writings in the same period that his place in literature must chiefly be assigned. Before B.C. 63 his biography, if we had it, would be that of the advocate and the official, no doubt with certain general views on political questions as they occurred, but not yet committed definitely to a party, or inclined to regard politics as the absorbing interest of his life. In his early youth his hero had been his fellow townsman Marius, in whose honour he composed a poem about the time of taking the toga virilis. But it was as the successful general, and before the days of the civil war. And though he served in the army of Sulla in the Marsic war (B.C. 90—88), he always regarded his cruelties with horror, however much he may have afterwards approved of certain points of his legislation. It was not till the consulship that he became definitely a party man 1 and an Optimate, and even then his feelings were much distracted by a strong belief—strangely ill-founded—that Pompey would be as successful as a statesman as he had been fortunate as a general. For him he had also a warm personal attachment, which never seems to have wholly died out, in spite of much petulance of language. This partly accounts for the surrender of B.C. 56, and his acquiescence in the policy of the triumvirs, an acquiescence never hearty indeed, as far as Caesar and Crassus were concerned, but in which he consoled himself with the belief that nothing very unconstitutional could be done while Pompey was practically directing affairs at Rome.

1 That Cicero up to the time of his consulship had been connected rather with the populares is illustrated by Quintus (de Petit 1) urging him to make it clear that he had never been a demagogue, but that if he had ever spoken "in the spirit of the popular party, he had done so with the view of attracting Pompey."

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