The family and early years of Seneca.
The exact date of Seneca’s birth is uncertain, but it took place in all probability about seven years before the commencement of the Christian era. It will give to his life a touch of deep and solemn interest if we remember that, during all those guilty and stormy scenes amid which his earlier destiny was cast, there lived and taught in Palestine the Son of God, the Saviour of the world.
The problems which for many years tormented his mind were beginning to find their solution, amid far other scenes, by men whose creed and condition he despised. While Seneca was being guarded by his attendant slave through the crowded and dangerous streets of Rome on his way to school, St. Peter and St. John were fisher-lads by the shores of Gennesareth; while Seneca was ardently assimilating the doctrine of the stoic Attalus, St. Paul, with no less fervancy of soul, sat learning at the feet of Gamaliel; and long before Seneca had made his way, through paths dizzy and dubious, to the zenith of his fame, unknown to him that Saviour had been crucified through whose only merits he and we can ever attain to our final rest.
Seneca was about two years old when he was carried to Rome in his nurse’s arms. Like many other men who have succeeded in attaining eminence, he suffered much from ill-health in his early years. He tells us of one serious illness from which he slowly recovered under the affectionate and tender nursing of his mother’s sister. All his life long he was subject to attacks of asthma, which, after suffering every form of disease, he says that he considers to be the worst. At one time his personal sufferings weighed so heavily on his spirits that nothing save a regard for his father’s wishes prevented him from suicide: and later in life he was only withheld from seeking the deliverance of death by the tender affection of his wife Paulina. He might have used with little alteration the words of Pope, that his various studies but served to help him
“Through this long disease, my life.”
The recovery from this tedious illness is the only allusion which Seneca has made to the circumstances of his childhood. The ancient writers, even the ancient poets, but rarely refer, even in the most cursory manner, to their early years. The cause of this reticence offers a curious problem for our inquiry, but the fact is indisputable. Whereas there is scarcely a single modern poet who has not lingered with undisguised feelings of happiness over the gentle memories of his childhood, not one of the ancient poets has systematically touched upon the theme at all. From Lydgate down to Tennyson, it would be easy to quote from our English poets a continuous line of lyric songs on the subject of boyish years. How to the young child the fir-trees seemed to touch