These habits and sentiments throw considerable light on Seneca’s character. They show that even from his earliest days he was capable of adopting self-denial as a principle, and that to his latest days he retained many private habits of a simple and honourable character, even when the exigencies of public life had compelled him to modify others. Although he abandoned an unusual abstinence out of respect for his father, we have positive evidence that he resumed in his old age the spare practices which in his enthusiastic youth he had caught from the lessons of high-minded teachers. These facts are surely sufficient to refute at any rate those gross charges against the private character of Seneca, venomously retailed by a jealous Greekling like Dio Cassius, which do not rest on a tittle of evidence, and seem to be due to a mere spirit of envy and calumny. I shall not again allude to these scandals because I utterly disbelieve them. A man who in his “History” could, as Dio Cassius has done, put into the mouth of a Roman senator such insane falsehoods as he has pretended that Fufius Calenus uttered in full senate against Cicero, was evidently actuated by a spirit which disentitles his statements to my credence. Seneca was an inconsistent philosopher both in theory and in practice; he fell beyond all question into serious errors, which deeply compromise his character; but, so far from being a dissipated or luxurious man, there is every reason to believe that in the very midst of wealth and splendour, and all the temptations which they involve, he retained alike the simplicity of his habits and the rectitude of his mind. Whatever may have been the almost fabulous value of his five hundred tables of cedar and ivory, they were rarely spread with any more sumptuous entertainment than water, vegetables, and fruit. Whatever may have been the amusements common among his wealthy and noble contemporaries, we know that he found his highest enjoyment in the innocent pleasures of his garden, and took some of his exercise by running races there with a little slave.
THE STATE OF ROMAN SOCIETY.
We have gleaned from Seneca’s own writings what facts we could respecting his early education. But in the life of every man there are influences of a far more real and penetrating character than those which come through the medium of schools or teachers. The spirit of the age; the general tone of thought, the prevalent habits of social intercourse, the political tendencies which were moulding the destiny of the nation,—these must have told, more insensibly indeed but more powerfully, on the mind of Seneca than even the lectures of Sotion and of Attalus. And, if we have had reason to fear that there was much which was hollow in the fashionable education, we shall see that the general aspect of the society by which our young philosopher was surrounded from the cradle was yet more injurious and deplorable.