“That fierce light that beats upon the throne,”
the life of Marcus Aurelius shows no moral stain, it is still more remarkable that the free and beautiful boyhood of this Roman prince had early learnt to recognise only the excellences of his teachers, their patience and firmness, their benevolence and sweetness, their integrity and virtue. Amid the frightful universality of moral corruption he preserved a stainless conscience and a most pure soul; he thanked God in language which breathes the most crystalline delicacy of sentiment and language, that he had preserved uninjured the flower of his early life, and that under the calm influences of his home in the country, and the studies of philosophy, he had learnt to value chastity as the sacred girdle of youth, to be retained and honoured to his latest years. “Surely,” says Mr. Carlyle, “a day is coming when it will be known again what virtue is in purity and continence of life; how divine is the blush of young human cheeks; how high, beneficent, sternly inexorable is the duty laid on every creature in regard to these particulars. Well, if such a day never come, then I perceive much else will never come. Magnanimity and depth of insight will never come; heroic purity of heart and of eye; noble pious valour to amend us and the age of bronze and lacquers, how can they ever come? The scandalous bronze-lacquer age of hungry animalisms, spiritual impotencies, and mendacities will have to run its course till the pit swallow it.”
THE LIFE AND THOUGHTS OF MARCUS AURELIUS.
On the death of Hadrian in A. D. 138, Antoninus Pius succeeded to the throne, and, in accordance with the late Emperor’s conditions, adopted Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Commodus. Marcus had been betrothed at the age of fifteen to the sister of Lucius Commodus, but the new Emperor broke off the engagement, and betrothed him instead to his daughter Faustina. The marriage, however, was not celebrated till seven years afterwards, A.D. 146.
The long reign of Antoninus Pius is one of those happy periods that have no history. An almost unbroken peace reigned at home and abroad. Taxes were lightened, calamities relieved, informers discouraged; confiscation were rare, plots and executions were almost unknown. Throughout the whole extent of his vast domain the people loved and valued their Emperor, and the Emperor’s one aim was to further, the happiness of his people. He, too, like Aurelius, had learnt that what was good for the bee was good for the hive. He strove to live as the civil administrator, of an unaggressive and united republic; he disliked war, did not value the military title of Imperator, and never deigned to accept a triumph.