Beacon Lights of History, Volume 04 eBook

John Lord
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 293 pages of information about Beacon Lights of History, Volume 04.
by his imperial policy; and that, while he may have given unity, peace, and law to the Empire, he may have taken away its life.  I do not assert this, or even argue its probability.  It may have been, and it may not have been.  It is an historical puzzle.  There are two sides to all great questions.  But whether or not we can settle with the light of modern knowledge such a point as this, I look upon the defence of imperialism in itself, in preference to constitutional government with all its imperfections, as an outrage on the whole progress of modern civilization, and on whatever remains of dignity and intelligence among the people.


Caesar’s Commentaries, Leges Juliae, Appian, Plutarch, Suetonius, Dion Cassius, and Cicero’s Letters to Atticus are the principal original authorities.  Napoleon III. wrote a dull Life of Caesar, but it is rich in footnotes, which it is probable he did not himself make, since nothing is easier than the parade of learning.  Rollin’s Ancient History may be read with other general histories.  Merivale’s History of the Empire is able and instructive, but dry.  Mr. Froude’s sketch of Caesar is the most interesting I have read, but advocates imperialism.  Niebuhr’s Lectures on the History of Rome is also a standard work, as well as Curtius’s History of Rome.


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A.D. 121-180.


Marcus Aurelius is immortal, not so much for what he did as for what he was.  His services to the State were considerable, but not transcendent.  He was a great man, but not pre-eminently a great emperor.  He was a meditative sage rather than a man of action; although he successfully fought the Germanic barbarians, and repelled their fearful incursions.  He did not materially extend the limits of the Empire, but he preserved and protected its provinces.  He reigned wisely and ably, but made mistakes.  His greatness was in his character; his influence for good was in his noble example.  When we consider his circumstances and temptations, as the supreme master of a vast Empire, and in a wicked and sensual age, he is a greater moral phenomenon than Socrates or Epictetus.  He was one of the best men of Pagan antiquity.  History furnishes no example of an absolute monarch so pure and spotless and lofty as he was, unless it be Alfred the Great or St. Louis.  But the sphere of the Roman emperor was far greater than that of the Mediaeval kings.  Marcus Aurelius ruled over one hundred and twenty millions of people, without check or hindrance or Constitutional restraint.  He could do what he pleased with their persons and their property.  Most sovereigns, exalted to such lofty dignity and power, have been either cruel, or vindictive, or self-indulgent, or selfish, or proud, or hard, or ambitious,—­men who have been stained by crimes, whatever may have

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