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Philological Museum vol 2/Notice of the Third Volume of Niebuhr's Roman History

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III.

Notice of the third Volume of Niebuhr's Roman History.


The lovers of Roman history and admirers of Niebuhr[1] had looked forward with lively interest to that portion of his work, which was to embrace the period following that with which the second volume of the first edition closed. The elaborate and abstruse investigations which traced the early history of the constitution were not adapted to the taste of all readers ; yet many who either felt little concern in their results, or could not command the patience necessary for following them, would have been very thankful for the new light which the author's sagacity and learning might have been expected to throw on those parts of his subject, with which they were more familiar, or which appeared to them more attractive: while those who had no less keenly enjoyed the researches themselves by which he had been led to his immortal discoveries, than the precious fruits produced by them, still anti- cipated with eagerness a new kind of pleasure and instruction, in accompanying him through the remaining stages of his career. They longed to see how the same great master, who, with such wonderful art, had so often restored the obliterated form of institutions and events by the help of scanty and widely scattered fragments, would work up the rich materials with which the later period supplied him : how he who had shown so vivid a perception of the beauty of the ancient legends, would conceive and reproduce the grandeur of Rome's authentic history : how the same pencil which gave life to the minutest objects that it touched, would portray persons and scenes fitted by their native dignity and importance to rouse even the most torpid imagination : and they desired to hear the same voice which had drawn so many salutary warnings from the struggles of Rome^^s infant liberty, read the great lessons contained in the story of its decay and its extinction. The author himself sympathized with this feeling of his most enlightened admirers: and in the consciousness of powers which had not yet found full room for their noblest kind of exercise, became almost impatient to enter upon the broader and brighter field that lay before him : where he should meet Machiavel and Montesquieu upon their own ground. He expresses this eagerness in his last preface, where after men- tioning the different proportion that his narrative was to bear to his dissertations in the ensuing volume, which was to go down to the second Punic war, he adds : having felt inte- rested and animated by what I had already written I rejoiced, at the time when it seemed that the completion of the re- mainder could not be far off, in the prospect of having here- after to represent and portray men and events."

Under the calamity which overclouded this prospect and disappointed so many wishes, it was still a consolation to learn that some remains of this mighty genius were left be- hind, which might at least enable posterity in some degree to estimate the nature and extent of the loss they had sus- tained in his premature departure. The translators of the last edition were authorized to inform the public, that there had been found among Niebuhr's manuscripts a continuous history from the dictatorship of Publilius, where the original second volume closed, down to the beginning of the first Punic war, written out for the Press ten or twelve years ago: and that this, along with the corrections made in the latter part of the original second volume, embracing the period from the promulgation of the Licinian laws to the dictatorship of Publilius, had been placed in the hands of Savigny, and was expected to be speedily published.

The third volume arrived -in this country some weeks back: but the editor's preface has not yet been received. When it appears it will be accompanied by an index which has perhaps been the cause of the delay. It will probably afford some interesting information about the state of the author's manuscripts, which appear to contain more than was at first expected. In the mean time a brief account of the contents of the third volume may be not unacceptable to many of our readers. It will be confined to two points: a state- ment of the relation in which that part of the volume which corresponds to the latter half of the second in the first edition, stands to the original: and an enumeration of the subjects peculiar to the new volume, which may enable the reader to judge of the proportion which the narrative bears to the antiquarian disquisitions.

The volume opens with a chapter on the Licinian bills. The original chapter on the same subject was interrupted by one on the agrarian institutions, which is now omitted for the reasons mentioned in Vol. II. p. 6l7 (Transl.) In the descrip- tion of the bills themselves, that relating to the domain is now placed second, instead of being preceded, as in ed. 1, by that concerning the Keepers of the Sibylline books, which is distinguished as a preparatory measure from the three prin- cipal bills, and is set in a new and a clearer light. The refu- tation of the vulgar story, which attributed the conduct of Licinius to the influence of female vanity, has been retouched and strengthened. The wisdom shown in the comprehensive character of his legislation is more distinctly pointed out : and the nature of the difficulties which he had to encounter, and of the causes that contributed to his success, is now for the first time fully and luminously explained. The advantages of the consular over the decemviral form of government for the inte- rest of the plebeians are also made more palpable. On the other hand Niebuhr, though restless in the pursuit of truth, was not tormented with the feverish fastidiousness of a KaKiXore'^vo^. The argument with which he suppHes Licinius to meet Livy'^s partial objection, could scarcely have been made more forcible either in thought or expression, and accordingly it has un- dergone no other alteration than the transposition of a few sentences. The provisions of the agrarian bill are repeated with scarcely any change, but with some additional confir- mation, and some interesting illustrations derived from the author's personal familiarity with the existing state of agricul- ture in the Roman territory. Still more deserving of attention are some remarks on the change of circumstances through which the same measure which in the time of Licinius was purely wise, just, and beneficent, became in the hands of a far more virtuous patriot, the elder Gracchus, doubtful in its policy, calamitous in its consequences. The view taken in the first edition of the third bill, that relating to the adjustment between debtors and creditors, remains in sub- stance the same : only the opinion originally exprest that no laws had hitherto been enacted against usury is now retracted on grounds subsequently explained. But there is a very im- portant variation in the description of the struggle by which the bills at length became law : a fragment of the Capitoline Fasti suggests an entirely new explanation of the threatened fine which overcame the opposition of Camillus.

The next chapter. On the new curule dignities of the year 384, contains several important enlargements and cor- rections of that which discussed the same subject in the first ed.; and in particular Livys account of the curule aedile- ship's being thrown open to both orders is shown by the strongest evidence to be altogether erroneous. The follow- ing chapter On the domestic history down to the complete establishment of the plebeian consulship, has undergone few alterations: the most important is the distinction now intro- duced between the opposition of the senate and that of the Patres to the plebeian cause. The original chapter, On the uncial rate of interest, has been incorporated with the fol- lowing one which related the occasion and consequences of the insurrection or mutiny of 408 (413), With regard to the former subject the statement of Tacitus is now admitted and reconciled with Livy's : in other respects the argument and conclusion are unchanged : but the history of the mutiny has been remodelled, and its causes are more clearly explained. In the next chapter which embraces the Military history from SS^ {SS9) to 406 (411)5 Livy's account of the Gallic inroads at the end of the fourth and the beginning of the following century is more decidedly preferred to that of Polybius : and the history of the Hernican and Etruscan wars of the same period is enriched with some additional facts. Much more important additions and corrections have been introduced into the chapter on the confederation between Rome and Latium, which gives a totally different account of the extent of the new Latin state, and a new explanation of the obscure allu- sion in Livy viii. 5 : colonias quoque vestras Latinum Ro^ mano prcetulisse imperium. The dissertation originally in- cluded in this chapter. On the ancient form of the Roman legion, is now separated from it and stands in an entirely new shape by itself under the title: On the earliest constitution of the manipular legion. In the following narrative of the first Samnite war the most material change consists in the description of the Samnite constitution, and the explanation of the causes of enmity between Capua and the Samnite mountaineers. The history of the war itself, a beautiful specimen of Niebuhr'*s powers in this kind of writing, has received but a few slight touches : but we now read with a melancholy interest a note, written, as the editor informs us, in the summer of 1829, in which the long and glorious mili- tary career of M. Valerius is compared with that of the Nestor of German poetry, to whom Niebuhr expresses a hope that he may still be able to dedicate his finished history : little foreboding that before this tribute of gratitude and veneration should meet the public eye, the lips which offered it as well as the ears for which it was intended would be closed in death.

In the next chapter, On the Latin war, the substance of the narrative remains unaltered: but the supposition that the Volscians were included in the Latin confederation before the conclusion of the Samnite war having been abandoned, the original account of the commencement of the Latin war which was founded upon it has been corrected: the relations in which the various Volscian states henceforth stood to Rome and Latium are now differently stated : and the feelings ex- cited at Rome by the Latin claims are more clearly explained. Another interesting alteration is the correction of Livy's erroneous statement (viii. 14.) as to the franchise conferred on Aricia^ Nomentum, and Pedum. This, with the communi- cation of a topographical discovery made by the author at Rome, which determines the position of the Rostra nova, and leads to some interesting conclusions with regard to the form of the old Rostra, is the principal fruit we reap from the new chapter on this subject. But the following one, On the Publilian laws, has been entirely remodelled, and retains little more than the title of the original one. It appears from a note of the editor in a subsequent page to represent the author's latest views of this obscure and important question.

Here then, at page 174, that portion of the new volume which relates to subjects treated of in the first edition ends. With respect to the remainder we cannot perhaps communi- cate the information which it is the object of this notice to give, better than by exhibiting at one view the titles of the chapters, with the number of pages occupied by each, and then subjoining a few explanatory remarks.

Domestic History down to the Caudine peace, p. 174.
Alexander of Epirus 181.
Foreign relations down to the second Samnite war 196.
The second Samnite war 214.
Relations between Rome and the nations bordering on Samnium after the peace 309.
The Etruscan wars down to the beginning of the third Samnite war 320.
Domestic history from the Caudine peace down to the third Samnite war 338.
Cn. Flavius 367.
The Censorship of Q. Fabius and P. Decius 374.
The Ogulnian law 409.
Various occurrences of the same period 413.
The third Samnite war, and the others of the same period 416.
Domestic history from the beginning of the third Samnite war down to the Lucanian 476.

Various occurrences of the same period 495.
The Etruscan and Gallic wars 497.
The Lucanian, Bruttian, fourth Samnite, and Tarentine 0wars 506. Epirus and Pyrrhus 525.
The Roman and Macedonian Tactics 543.
The war with Pyrrhus 553.
Entire subjugation of Italy, and the political rights of the Italian allies 611.
Domestic history and miscellaneous occurrences of the period from the Lucanian to the first Punic war 641.
The first Punic war 657–732.

On the greater part of the titles in this list we need say nothing for the purpose of rousing the reader's curiosity, and indeed our limits confine us to the simple object already an- nounced. We may however express our belief, that Niebuhr will be found to rise with his theme, and that the present volume contains specimens of historical eloquence which will bear a comparison with the masterpieces of ancient and modern times. These have probably lost little or nothing in not having received the authors finishing touches. What is much more to be deplored is, that the narrative is not complete down to the end of the period which it comprehends. There is a chasm in the history of the first Punic war, which in fact ends with the occupation of mount Hercte (Monte Pellegrino) by Hamilcar : on the remaining years of the war we have only the heads of the intended narrative. It is however a great consolation for this loss, that we have the conclusion of the chapter, including remarks on the general consequences of the war, and on the constitution of Sicily as a Roman pro- vince, together with a short sketch of the relations in which the Italian allies stood to Rome at the end of the war. This last is the more valuable on account of another chasm which occurs at the close of the chapter on the political rights of the Italian allies, where the author broke off just as he was about to enter upon a description of their consti- tution—the most mortifying blank, as the editor truly ob- serves, in the whole work. On the other hand in the chap- ters relating to the domestic history we have great reason to regret that they did not receive the corrections and enlarge- ments which would have represented Niebuhr's last views on many interesting points. Thus for instance in the chapter on the domestic history from the beginning of the second Samnite war to the Lucanian, we find it observed that the import of the Publilian laws can scarcely be determined with any degree of certainty from the sources of information at present known to us : an expression which, as the editor ob- serves, would undoubtedly have been modified in a revision of the chapter, since a more decided and precise opinion is given on the subject both in the second volume (in the chapter entitled. The Jirst year after the restoration of freedom) and in the chapter of the present volume On the Publilian laws. The views there proposed are the same, we are informed, that Niebuhr had been in the habit of unfolding; in his lectures: and this remark is interesting, as it suggests a hope, which can scarcely prove altogether fallacious, that even for those parts of his subject on which no fragments are found among his manuscripts, his history has not altogether died with him : and that those treasures of learning which he so freely scat- tered among his academical audiences, have not been wasted and will not long lie buried, but will in due time, though not in the form which the author himself would have given to them, be added to the public store of literature. In the mean while the literary world has cause to rejoice in the addition which the third volume has made to knowledge, the friends of the author in the new monument it has raised to his fame.

 



  1. I trust that these two classes of persons may still be coupled together without impropriety, though the critic who reviewed Niebuhr's work in the 102nd number of the Edinburgh Review appears to intimate that a reverence for Roman story and Roman institutions is not consistent with a similar feeling toward Niebuhr. But perhaps the writer did not mean this to be taken seriously, at least by everybody. It seems more probable that as he more than once betrays a lurking consciousness of his own incompetence for the task he had undertaken—of which a pretty strong proof, though a very minute specimen, was given in No. 1 of this Museum, p. 197—he intended nothing more by his concluding paradox than a playful confession, which those who knew him would easily understand, and which might even be divined by others without any extraordinary sagacity. Thus interpreted, he may be supposed to say: "Niebuhr is said to have devoted the greater part of his life to the study of Roman history; and it is droll enough that I, who care nothing about the subject, and know nothing about his work except what I have picked up in skimming over a few pages of a translation, should have been pronouncing a judgment upon both!" In suggesting this explanation, however, I do not mean to defend the writer's conduct: which, though it may have been a source of amusement to his friends who were in the secret, was not respectful, nor indeed just toward the public. Nor should I have alluded to a production of which it is scarcely possible to speak with gravity, but that I wished to offer a word of praise and congratulation to the Editor of the Edinburgh Review. Every person in his situation, when he orders a piece of criticism, is liable to be now and then taken in by a counterfeit article. In the present case the Editor has made the most honourable and satisfactory amends for the imposition which he was the involuntary instrument of practising upon the public. He has put the same subject into the hands of a totally different person : one who, beside the great advantage of having read the work he professes to review, possesses the capacity of understanding it and appreciating its merits: and who has thus been enabled, instead of a frothy declamation, to give the public a clear and instructive account of its contents.


This work was published before January 1, 1924, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.