"The conquering Roman now held the whole world,
sea and land and the course of sun and moon. But he was not satisfied. Now the
waters were stirred and troubled by his loaded ships; if there were any hidden bay
beyond, or any land that promised a yield of yellow gold, that place was Rome's
enemy, fate stood ready for the sorrows of war, and the quest for wealth went on.
There was no happiness in familiar joys, or in pleasures dulled by the common man's
use. The soldier out at sea would praise the bronze of Corinth; bright colours dug
from earth rivalled the purple; here the African curses Rome, here the Chinaman
plunders his marvellous silks, and the Arabian hordes have stripped their own fields
"Yet again more destruction, and peace hurt and bleeding. The wild beast is searched
out in the woods at a great price, and men trouble Hammon deep in Africa to supply
the beast whose teeth make him precious for slaying men; strange ravening creatures
freight the fleets, and the padding tiger is wheeled in a gilded palace to drink the
blood of men while the crowd applauds.
I shrink from speaking plain and betraying our destiny of ruin; boys whose childhood
is hardly begun[p. 255]
are kidnapped in the Persian way, and the powers the
knife has shorn are forced to the service of lust, and in order that the passing of
man's finest age may be hedged round with delay and hold back the hurrying years,
Nature seeks for herself, and finds herself not. So all take their pleasure in
harlotry, and the halting steps of a feeble body, and in flowing hair and numberless
clothes of new names, everything that ensnares mankind.
"Tables of citron-wood are dug out of the soil of Africa and set up, the spots on
them resembling gold which is cheaper than they, their polish reflecting hordes of
slaves and purple clothes, to lure the senses. Round this barren and low-born wood
there gathers a crowd drowned in drink, and the soldier of fortune gorges the whole
spoils of the world while his weapons rust.
"Gluttony is a fine art. The wrasse is brought alive to table in sea-water from
Sicily, and the oysters torn from the banks of the Lucrine lake make a dinner
famous, in order to renew men's hunger by their extravagance. All the birds are now
gone from the waters of Phasis; the shore is quiet; only the empty air breathes on
the lonely boughs.
"The same madness is in public life, the true-born Roman is bought, and changes his
vote for plunder and the cry of gain. The people are corrupt, the house of senators
is corrupt, their support hangs on a price. The freedom and virtue of the old men
had decayed, their power was swayed by largesse, even their dignity was stained by
money and trodden in the dust.
"Cato is beaten and driven out by the mob; his conqueror is more unhappy than he, and
is ashamed to have torn the rods of office from Cato. For the[p. 257]
of the nation and the fall of their character lay in this, that here was not only
one man's defeat. In his person the power and glory of Rome was humbled. So Rome in
her deep disgrace was herself both price and prize, and despoiled herself without an
avenger. Moreover filthy usury and the handling of money had caught the common
people in a double whirlpool, and destroyed them. Not a house is safe, not a man but
is mortgaged; the madness spreads through their limbs, and trouble bays and hounds
them down like some disease sown in the dumb flesh. In despair they turn to
violence, and bloodshed restores the good things lost by luxury. A beggar can risk
everything in safety. Could the spell of healthful reason stir Rome from the filth
where she rolled in heavy sleep, or only madness and war and the lust wakened by the