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REVIEW OF MEMOIRS
COURT OF AUGUSTUS.
By THOMAS BLACKWELL, J.U.D. Principal of
Marisal-College in the University of Aberdeen.
THE first Effect which this Book has upon the
Reader is that of disgusting him with the Author's Vanity. He endeavours to persuade the World, that here are some new Treasures of Literature spread before his Eyes; that something is discovered, which to this happy Day had been concealed in Darkness; that by his Diligence Time had been robbed of fome valuable Monument which he was on the Point of devouring; and that Names and Facts doomed to Oblivion are now restored to Fame.
How must the unlearned Reader be surprised, when he shall be told that Mr. Blackwell has neither digged in the Ruins of any demolished City, nor found out the Way to the Library of Fez; nor had a fingle Book in his Hands, that has not been in the Poffeffion of every Man that was inclined to read it, for Years and Ages, and that his Book relates to a People who above all others have furVol. III.
nished nished Employment to the Studious, and Amusements to the Idle; who have scarcely left behind them a Coin or a Stone, which has not been examined and explained a thousand Times, and whose Dress, and Food, and Houfhold Stuff it has been the Pride of Learning to understand.
A Man need not fear to incur the Imputation of vitious Diffidence or affected Humility, who should have forborn to promise many Novelties, when he perceived such Multitudes of Writers possessed of the same Materials, and intent upon the fame Purpose. Mr. Blackwell knows well the Opinion of Horace, concerning those that open' their Undertakings with magnificent Promises; and he knows likewise the Dictates of common Sense and common Honesty, Names of greater Authority than that of Horace, who direct that no Man fhould promise what he cannot perform.
I do not mean to declare that this Volume has nothing New, or that the Labours of those who have gone before our Author, have made his Performance an useless Addition to the Burden of Literature. New Works may be constructed with old Materials, the Disposition of the Parts may shew Contrivance, the Ornaments intersperfed may difcover Elegance.
It is not always without good Effect that Men of proper Qualifications write in Succession on the same Subject, even when the latter add nothing to the Information given by the former; for the same Ideas may be delivered more intelligibly or more delightfully by one than by another, or with Attractions that may lure Minds of a different Form. No Writer pleases all, and every Writer may please fome.
But after all, to inherit is not to acquire; to decorate is not to make; and the Man who had nothing to do but to read the ancient Authors, who mention the Roman Affairs, and reduce them to
Common-places, ought not to boast himself as a great Benefactor to the studious World.
After a Preface of Boast, and a Letter of Flattery, in which he seems to imitate the Address of Horace in his vile potabis modicis Sabinum-he opens his Book with telling us, that the Roman Republic, « after the horrible Profcription, was no more at
bleeding Rome. The regal Power of her Consuls, the Authority of her Senate, and the Majesty of
her People, were now trampled under Foot; these « [for those] divine Laws and hallowed. Customs, o that had been the Essence of her Constitution
were set at Nought, and her best Friends were lying exposed in their Blood.'
These were surely very dismal Times to those who suffered; but I know not why any one but a Schoolboy in his Declamation should whine over the Commonwealth of Rome, which grew great only by the Misery of the rest of Mankind. The Romans, like others, as soon as they grew rich grew corrupt, and, in their Corruption, fold the Lives and Freedoms of themselves, and of one another.
About this Time Brutus had his Patience put to the highest Trial: He had been married to • Clodia ; but whether the Family did not pleafe
him, or whether he was disfatisfied with the Lady's · Behaviour during his Absence, he foon enter<tained Thoughts of a Separation. This raised a good Deal of Talk, and the Women of the Clodian Fanily inveighed bitterly against Brutus—but he married Portia, who was worthy of such a Father
as M. Cato, and such a Husband as M. Brutus. "She had a Soul capable of an exalted Paffion, and I found a proper Object to raise and give it a Sanc'tion ; she did not only love but adored her Hus. • band; his Worth, his Truth, his every shining and • heroic Quality, made her gaze on him like a God, while the endeariny Returns of Esteem and Ten
• derness she met with, brought her Joy, her Pride, every
Wish to center in her beloved Brutus.' When the Reader has been awakened by this rapturous Preparation, he hears the whole Story of Portia in the same luxuriant Stile, till she breathed out her last, a little before the bloody Profcription, and Brutus complained heavily of his Friends at
Rome, as not having paid due Attention to his Lady in the declining State of her Health.'
He is a great Lover of modern Terms. His Senators and their Wives are Gentlemen and Ladies. In this Review of Brutus's Army, who was under the Command of gallant Men, not braver Officers, than true Patriots, he tells us that Sextus the Queftor was
Paymaster, Secretary at War, and Commisary General, and that the sacred Discipline of the Romans
required the closest Connection, like that of Fa(ther and Son, to subsist between the General of an • Army and his Questor. Cicero was General of the
Cavalry, and the next General Officer was Flavius, Master of the Artillery, the elder Lentulus was Ad
miral, and the younger rode in the Band of VolunSteers; under these the Tribunes, with
others « too tedious to name.' Lentulus, however, was but a subordinate Officer; for we are informed afterwards, that the Romans had made Sextus Pompeius Lord High Admiral in all the Seas of their Dan minions.
Among other Affectations of this Writer is a furious and unnecessary Zeal for Liberty, or rather for one Form of Government as preferable to another. This indeed might be suffered, because political Institution is a Subject in which Men have always differed, and if they continue to obey their lawful Governors, and attempt not to make Innovations for the Sake of their favourite Schemes, they may differ for ever without any just Reproach from one another. But who can bear the hardy Champion who ventures nothing? Who in full Security undertakes the Defence of the Affaffination of Cæfar, and declares his Resolution to speak plain? Yet let not just Sentiments be overlooked: He has justly observed, that the greater Part of Mankind will be naturally prejudiced against Brutus, for all feel the Benefits of private Friendship; but few can discern the Advantages of a well constituted Government.
We know not whether some Apology may not be necessary for the Distance between the first Account of this Book and its Continuation. The Truth is, that this Work not being forced upon our Attention by much public Applause or Censure, was sometimes neglected, and sometimes forgotten; nor would it, perhaps, have been now resumed, but that we might avoid to disappoint our Readers by an abrupt Desertion of any Subject.
It is not our Design to criticise the Facts of this History, but the Style; not the Veracity, but the Address of the Writer; for, an Account of the ancient Romans, as it cannot nearly interest any present Reader, and must be drawn from Writings that have been long known, can owe its Value only to the Language in which it is delivered, and the Reflections with which it is accompanied. Dr. Blackwell, however, seems to have heated his Imagination so as to be much affected with every Event, and to believe that he can affect others. Enthusiasm is indeed sufficiently contagious; but I never found any of his Readers much enamoured of the glorious Pompèy, the Patriot approv’d, or much incensed against the lawless Cæfar, whom this Author probably stabs every Day and Night in his sleeping or waking Dreams.
He is come too late into the World with his Fury for Freedom, with his Brutus and Casius. We have all on this Side of the Tweed long lince settled