Such in briefest outline, and without any of that grace of language with which Seneca has invested it, is a sketch of the little treatise which many have regarded as among the most delightful of Seneca’s works. It presents the picture of that grandest of all spectacles—
“A good man struggling with the storms of fate.”
So far there was something truly Stoical in the aspect of Seneca’s exile. But was this grand attitude consistently maintained? Did his little raft of philosophy sink under him, or did it bear him safely over the stormy waves of this great sea of adversity.
SENECA’S PHILOSOPHY GIVES WAY.
There are some misfortunes of which the very essence consists in their continuance. They are tolerable so long as they are illuminated by a ray of hope. Seclusion and hardship might even come at first with some charm of novelty to a philosopher who, as was not unfrequent among the amateur thinkers of his time, occasionally practised them in the very midst of wealth and friends. But as the hopeless years rolled on, as the efforts of friends proved unavailing, as the loving son, and husband, and father felt himself cut off from the society of those whom he cherished in such tender affection, as the dreary island seemed to him ever more barbarous and more barren, while season after season added to its horrors without revealing a single compensation, Seneca grew more and more disconsolate and depressed. It seemed to be his miserable destiny to rust away, useless, unbefriended, and forgotten. Formed to fascinate society, here there were none for him to fascinate; gifted with an eloquence which could keep listening senates hushed, here he found neither subject nor audience; and his life began to resemble a river which, long before it has reached the sea, is lost in dreary marshes and choking sands.
Like the brilliant Ovid, when he was banished to the frozen wilds of Tomi, Seneca vented his anguish in plaintive wailing and bitter verse. In his handful of epigrams he finds nothing too severe for the place of his exile. He cries—
“Spare thou thine
exiles, lightly o’er thy dead,
Alive, yet buried, be thy dust bespread.”
And addressing some malignant enemy—