PUBLIC CAREER.--IMPEACHMENT OF VERRES. Increasing reputation as a brilliant and successful pleader, and the social influence which this brought with it, secured the rapid succession of Cicero to the highest public offices. Soon after his marriage he was elected Quaestor--the first step on the official ladder--which, as he already possessed the necessary property qualification, gave him a seat in the Senate for life. The Aedileship and Praetorship followed subsequently, each as early, in point of age, as it could legally be held. His practice as an advocate suffered no interruption, except that his Quaestorship involved his spending a year in Sicily. The Praetor who was appointed to the government of that province had under him two quaestors, who were a kind of comptrollers of the exchequer; and Cicero was appointed to the western district, having his headquarters at Lilybaeum. In the administration of his office there he showed himself a thorough man of business. There was a dearth of corn at Rome that year, and Sicily was the great granary of the empire. The energetic measures which the new Quaestor took fully met the emergency. He was liberal to the tenants of the State, courteous and accessible to all, upright in his administration, and, above all, he kept his hands clean from bribes and peculation. The provincials were as much astonished as delighted: for Rome was not in the habit of sending them such officers. They invented honours for him such as had never been bestowed on any minister before. [Footnote 1: The Quaestors (of whom there were at this time twenty) acted under the Senate as State treasurers. The Consul or other officer who commanded in chief during a campaign would be accompanied by one of them as paymaster-general. The Aediles, who were four in number, had the care of all public buildings, markets, roads, and the State property generally. They had also the superintendence of the national festivals and public games. The duties of the Praetors, of whom there were eight, were principally judicial. The two seniors, called the 'City' and 'Foreign' respectively, corresponded roughly to our Home and Foreign Secretaries. These were all gradual steps to the office of Consul.] [Footnote 2: The provinces of Rome, in their relation to the mother-state of Italy, may be best compared with our own government of India, or such of our crown colonies as have no representative assembly. They had each their governor or lieutenant-governor, who must have been an ex-minister of Rome: a man who had been Consul went out with the rank of "pro-consul",--one who had been Praetor with the rank of "pro-praetor". These held office for one or two years, and had the power of life and death within their respective jurisdictions. They had under them one or more officers who bore the title of Quaestor, who collected the taxes and had the general management of the revenues of the province. The provinces at this time were Sicily, Sardinia with Corsica, Spain and Gaul (each in two divisions); Greece, divided into Macedonia and Achaia (the Morea); Asia, Syria, Cilicia, Bithynia, Cyprus, and Africa in four divisions. Others were added afterwards, under the Empire.] No wonder the young official's head (he was not much over thirty) was somewhat turned. "I thought", he said, in one of his speeches afterwards--introducing with a quiet humour, and with all a practised orator's skill, one of those personal anecdotes which relieve a long speech--"I thought in my heart, at the time, that the people at Rome must be talking of nothing but my quaestorship". And he goes on to tell his audience how he was undeceived. "The people of Sicily had devised for me unprecedented honours. So I left the island in a state of great elation, thinking that the Roman people would at once offer me everything without my seeking. But when I was leaving my province, and on my road home, I happened to land at Puteoli just at the time when a good many of our most fashionable people are accustomed to resort to that neighbourhood. I very nearly collapsed, gentlemen, when a man asked me what day I had left Rome, and whether there was any news stirring? When I made answer that I was returning from my province--'Oh! yes, to be sure', said he; 'Africa, I believe?' 'No', said I to him, considerably annoyed and disgusted; 'from Sicily'. Then somebody else, with the air of a man who knew all about it, said to him--'What! don't you know that he was Quaestor at _Syracuse_?' [It was at Lilybaeum--quite a different district.] No need to make a long story of it; I swallowed my indignation, and made as though I, like the rest, had come there for the waters. But I am not sure, gentlemen, whether that scene did not do me more good than if everybody then and there had publicly congratulated me. For after I had thus found out that the people of Rome have somewhat deaf ears, but very keen and sharp eyes, I left off cogitating what people would hear about me; I took care that thenceforth they should see me before them every day: I lived in their sight, I stuck close to the Forum; the porter at my gate refused no man admittance--my very sleep was never allowed to be a plea against an audience". [Footnote 1: Defence of Plancius, c. 26, 27.] Did we not say that Cicero was modern, not ancient? Have we not here the original of that Cambridge senior wrangler, who, happening to enter a London theatre at the same moment with the king, bowed all round with a gratified embarrassment, thinking that the audience rose and cheered at _him_? It was while he held the office of Aedile that he made his first appearance as public prosecutor, and brought to justice the most important criminal of the day. Verres, late Praetor in Sicily, was charged with high crimes and misdemeanours in his government. The grand scale of his offences, and the absorbing interest of the trial, have led to his case being quoted as an obvious parallel to that of Warren Hastings, though with much injustice to the latter, so far as it may seem to imply any comparison of moral character. This Verres, the corrupt son of a corrupt father, had during his three years' rule heaped on the unhappy province every evil which tyranny and rapacity could inflict. He had found it prosperous and contented: he left it exhausted and smarting under its wrongs. He met his impeachment now with considerable confidence. The gains of his first year of office were sufficient, he said, for himself; the second had been for his friends; the third produced more than enough to bribe a jury. The trials at Rome took place in the Forum--the open space, of nearly five acres, lying between the Capitoline and Palatine hills. It was the city market-place, but it was also the place where the population assembled for any public meeting, political or other--where the idle citizen strolled to meet his friends and hear the gossip of the day, and where the man of business made his appointments. Courts for the administration of justice--magnificent halls, called _basilicae_--had by this time been erected on the north and south sides, and in these the ordinary trials took place; but for state trials the open Forum was itself the court. One end of the wide area was raised on a somewhat higher level--a kind of daïs on a large scale--and was separated from the rest by the Rostra, a sort of stage from which the orators spoke. It was here that the trials were held. A temporary tribunal for the presiding officer, with accommodation for counsel, witnesses, and jury, was erected in the open air; and the scene may perhaps best be pictured by imagining the principal square in some large town fitted up with open hustings on a large scale for an old-fashioned county election, by no means omitting the intense popular excitement and mob violence appropriate to such occasions. Temples of the gods and other public buildings overlooked the area, and the steps of these, on any occasion of great excitement, would be crowded by those who were anxious to see at least, if they could not hear. Verres, as a state criminal, would be tried before a special commission, and by a jury composed at this time entirely from the senatorial order, chosen by lot (with a limited right of challenge reserved to both parties) from a panel made out every year by the praetor. This magistrate, who was a kind of minister of justice, usually presided on such occasions, occupying the curule chair, which was one of the well-known privileges of high office at Rome. But his office was rather that of the modern chairman who keeps order at a public meeting than that of a judge. Judge, in our sense of the word, there was none; the jury were the judges both of law and fact. They were, in short, the recognised assessors of the praetor, in whose hands the administration of justice was supposed to lie. The law, too, was of a highly flexible character, and the appeals of the advocates were rather to the passions and feelings of the jurors than to the legal points of the case. Cicero himself attached comparatively little weight to this branch of his profession;--"Busy as I am", he says in one of his speeches, "I could make myself lawyer enough in three days". The jurors gave each their vote by ballot,--'guilty', 'not guilty', or (as in the Scotch courts) 'not proven',--and the majority carried the verdict. But such trials as that of Verres were much more like an impeachment before the House of Commons than a calm judicial inquiry. The men who would have to try a defendant of his class would be, in very few cases, honest and impartial weighers of the evidence. Their large number (varying from fifty to seventy) weakened the sense of individual responsibility, and laid them more open to the appeal of the advocates to their political passions. Most of them would come into court prejudiced in some degree by the interests of party; many would be hot partisans. Cicero, in his treatise on 'Oratory', explains clearly for the pleader's guidance the nature of the tribunals to which he had to appeal. "Men are influenced in their verdicts much more by prejudice or favour, or greed of gain, or anger, or indignation, or pleasure, or hope or fear, or by misapprehension, or by some excitement of their feelings, than either by the facts of the case, or by established precedents, or by any rules or principles whatever either of law or equity". Verres was supported by some of the most powerful families at Rome. Peculation on the part of governors of provinces had become almost a recognised principle: many of those who held offices of state either had done, or were waiting their turn to do, much the same as the present defendant; and every effort had been made by his friends either to put off the trial indefinitely, or to turn it into a sham by procuring the appointment of a private friend and creature of his own as public prosecutor. On the other hand, the Sicilian families, whom he had wronged and outraged, had their share of influence also at Rome, and there was a growing impatience of the insolence and rapacity of the old governing houses, of whose worst qualities the ex-governor of Sicily was a fair type. There were many reasons which would lead Cicero to take up such a cause energetically. It was a great opening for him in what we may call his profession: his former connection with the government of Sicily gave him a personal interest in the cause of the province; and, above all, the prosecution of a state offender of such importance was a lift at once into the foremost ranks of political life. He spared no pains to get up his case thoroughly. He went all over the island collecting evidence; and his old popularity there did him good service in the work. There was, indeed, evidence enough against the late governor. The reckless gratification of his avarice and his passions had seldom satisfied him, without the addition of some bitter insult to the sufferers. But there was even a more atrocious feature in the case, of which Cicero did not fail to make good use in his appeal to a Roman jury. Many of the unhappy victims had the Roman franchise. The torture of an unfortunate Sicilian might be turned into a jest by a clever advocate for the defence, and regarded by a philosophic jury with less than the cold compassion with which we regard the sufferings of the lower animals; but "to scourge a man that was a Roman and uncondemned", even in the far-off province of Judea, was a thought which, a century later, made the officers of the great Empire, at its pitch of power, tremble before a wandering teacher who bore the despised name of Christian. No one can possibly tell the tale so well as Cicero himself; and the passage from his speech for the prosecution is an admirable specimen both of his power of pathetic narrative and scathing denunciation, "How shall I speak of Publius Gavius, a citizen of Consa? With what powers of voice, with what force of language, with what sufficient indignation of soul, can I tell the tale? Indignation, at least, will not fail me: the more must I strive that in this my pleading the other requisites may be made to meet the gravity of the subject, the intensity of my feeling. For the accusation is such that, when it was first laid before me, I did not think to make use of it; though I knew it to be perfectly true, I did not think it would be credible.--How shall I now proceed?--when I have already been speaking for so many hours on one subject--his atrocious cruelty; when I have exhausted upon other points well-nigh all the powers of language such as alone is suited to that man's crimes;--when I have taken no precaution to secure your attention by any variety in my charges against him,--in what fashion can I now speak on a charge of this importance? I think there is one way--one course, and only one, left for me to take. I will place the facts before you; and they have in themselves such weight, that no eloquence--I will not say of mine, for I have none--but of any man's, is needed to excite your feelings. "This Gavius of Consa, of whom I speak, had been among the crowds of Roman citizens who had been thrown into prison under that man. Somehow he had made his escape out of the Quarries, and had got to Messana; and when he saw Italy and the towers of Rhegium now so close to him, and out of the horror and shadow of death felt himself breathe with a new life as he scented once more the fresh air of liberty and the laws, he began to talk at Messana, and to complain that he, a Roman citizen, had been put in irons--that he was going straight to Rome--that he would be ready there for Verres on his arrival. [Footnote 1: This was one of the state prisons at Syracuse, so called, said to have been constructed by the tyrant Dionysius. They were the quarries from which the stone was dug for building the city, and had been converted to their present purpose. Cicero, who no doubt had seen the one in question, describes it as sunk to an immense depth in the solid rock. There was no roof; and the unhappy prisoners were exposed there "to the sun by day and to the rain and frosts by night". In these places the survivors of the unfortunate Athenian expedition against Syracuse were confined, and died in great numbers.] "The wretched man little knew that he might as well have talked in this fashion in the governor's palace before his very face, as at Messana. For, as I told you before, this city he had selected for himself as the accomplice in his crimes, the receiver of his stolen goods, the confidant of all his wickedness. So Gavius is brought at once before the city magistrates; and, as it so chanced, on that very day Verres himself came to Messana. The case is reported to him; that there is a certain Roman citizen who complained of having been put into the Quarries at Syracuse; that as he was just going on board ship, and was uttering threats--really too atrocious--against Verres, they had detained him, and kept him in custody, that the governor himself might decide about him as should seem to him good. Verres thanks the gentlemen, and extols their goodwill and zeal for his interests. He himself, burning with rage and malice, comes down to the court. His eyes flashed fire; cruelty was written on every line of his face. All present watched anxiously to see to what lengths he meant to go, or what steps he would take; when suddenly he ordered the prisoner to be dragged forth, and to be stripped and bound in the open forum, and the rods to be got ready at once. The unhappy man cried out that he was a Roman citizen--that he had the municipal franchise of Consa--that he had served in a campaign with Lucius Pretius, a distinguished Roman knight, now engaged in business at Panormus, from whom Verres might ascertain the truth of his statement. Then that man replies that he has discovered that he, Gavius, has been sent into Sicily as a spy by the ringleaders of the runaway slaves; of which charge there was neither witness nor trace of any kind, or even suspicion in any man's mind. Then he ordered the man to be scourged severely all over his body. Yes--a Roman citizen was cut to pieces with rods in the open forum at Messana, gentlemen; and as the punishment went on, no word, no groan of the wretched man, in all his anguish, was heard amid the sound of the lashes, but this cry,--'I am a Roman citizen!' By such protest of citizenship he thought he could at least save himself from anything like blows--could escape the indignity of personal torture. But not only did he fail in thus deprecating the insult of the lash, but when he redoubled his entreaties and his appeal to the name of Rome, a cross--yes, I say, a cross--was ordered for that most unfortunate and ill-fated man, who had never yet beheld such an abuse of a governor's power. "O name of liberty, sweet to our ears! O rights of citizenship, in which we glory! O laws of Porcius and Sempronius! O privilege of the tribune, long and sorely regretted, and at last restored to the people of Rome! Has it all come to this, that a Roman citizen in a province of the Roman people--in a federal town--is to be bound and beaten with rods in the forum by a man who only holds those rods and axes--those awful emblems--by grace of that same people of Rome? What shall I say of the fact that fire, and red-hot plates, and other tortures were applied? Even if his agonised entreaties and pitiable cries did not check you, were you not moved by the tears and groans which burst from the Roman citizens who were present at the scene? Did you dare to drag to the cross any man who claimed to be a citizen of Rome?--I did not intend, gentlemen, in my former pleading, to press this case so strongly--I did not indeed; for you saw yourselves how the public feeling was already embittered against the defendant by indignation, and hate, and dread of a common peril". He then proceeds to prove by witnesses the facts of the case and the falsehood of the charge against Gavius of having been a spy. "However", he goes on to say, addressing himself now to Verres, "we will grant, if you please, that your suspicions on this point, if false, were honestly entertained". "You did not know who the man was; you suspected him of being a spy. I do not ask the grounds of your suspicion. I impeach you on your own evidence. He said he was a Roman citizen. Had you yourself, Verres, been seized and led out to execution, in Persia, say, or in the farthest Indies, what other cry or protest could you raise but that you were a Roman citizen? And if you, a stranger there among strangers, in the hands of barbarians, amongst men who dwell in the farthest and remotest regions of the earth, would have found protection in the name of your city, known and renowned in every nation under heaven, could the victim whom you were dragging to the cross, be he who he might--and you did not know who he was--when he declared he was a citizen of Rome, could he obtain from you, a Roman magistrate, by the mere mention and claim of citizenship, not only no reprieve, but not even a brief respite from death? "Men of neither rank nor wealth, of humble birth and station, sail the seas; they touch at some spot they never saw before, where they are neither personally known to those whom they visit, nor can always find any to vouch for their nationality. But in this single fact of their citizenship they feel they shall be safe, not only with our own governors, who are held in check by the terror of the laws and of public opinion--not only among those who share that citizenship of Rome, and who are united with them by community of language, of laws, and of many things besides--but go where they may, this, they think, will be their safe guard. Take away this confidence, destroy this safeguard for our Roman citizens--once establish the principle that there is no protection in the words, 'I am a citizen of Rome'--that praetor or other magistrate may with impunity sentence to what punishment he will a man who says he is a Roman citizen, merely because somebody does not know it for a fact; and at once, by admitting such a defence, you are shutting up against our Roman citizens all our provinces, all foreign states, despotic or independent--all the whole world, in short, which has ever lain open to our national enterprise beyond all". He turns again to Verres. "But why talk of Gavius? as though it were Gavius on whom you were wreaking a private vengeance, instead of rather waging war against the very name and rights of Roman citizenship. You showed yourself an enemy, I say, not to the individual man, but to the common cause of liberty. For what meant it that, when the authorities of Messana, according to their usual custom, would have erected the cross behind their city on the Pompeian road, you ordered it to be set up on the side that looked toward the Strait? Nay, and added this--which you cannot deny, which you said openly in the hearing of all--that you chose that spot for this reason, that as he had called himself a Roman citizen, he might be able, from his cross of punishment, to see in the distance his country and his home! And so, gentlemen, that cross was the only one, since Messana was a city, that was ever erected on that spot. A point which commanded a view of Italy was chosen by the defendant for the express reason that the dying sufferer, in his last agony and torment, might see how the rights of the slave and the freeman were separated by that narrow streak of sea; that Italy might look upon a son of hers suffering the capital penalty reserved for slaves alone. "It is a crime to put a citizen of Rome in bonds; it is an atrocity to scourge him; to put him to death is well-nigh parricide; what shall I say it is to crucify him?--Language has no word by which I may designate such an enormity. Yet with all this yon man was not content. 'Let him look', said he, 'towards his country; let him die in full sight of freedom and the laws'. It was not Gavius; it was not a single victim, unknown to fame, a mere individual Roman citizen; it was the common cause of liberty, the common rights of citizenship, which you there outraged and put to a shameful death". But in order to judge of the thrilling effect of such passages upon a Roman jury, they must be read in the grand periods of the oration itself, to which no translation into a language so different in idiom and rhythm as English is from Latin can possibly do justice. The fruitless appeal made by the unhappy citizen to the outraged majesty of Rome, and the indignant demand for vengeance which the great orator founds upon it--proclaiming the recognised principle that, in every quarter of the world, the humblest wanderer who could say he was a Roman citizen should find protection in the name--will be always remembered as having supplied Lord Palmerston with one of his most telling illustrations. But this great speech of Cicero's--perhaps the most magnificent piece of declamation in any language--though written and preserved to us was never spoken. The whole of the pleadings in the case, which extend to some length, were composed for the occasion, no doubt, in substance, and we have to thank Cicero for publishing them afterwards in full. But Verres only waited to hear the brief opening speech of his prosecutor; he did not dare to challenge a verdict, but allowing judgment to go by default, withdrew to Marseilles soon after the trial opened. He lived there, undisturbed in the enjoyment of his plunder, long enough to see the fall and assassination of his great accuser, but only (as it is said) to share his fate soon afterwards as one of the victims of Antony's proscription. Of his guilt there can be no question; his fear to face a court in which he had many friends is sufficient presumptive evidence of it; but we must hesitate in assuming the deepness of its dye from the terrible invectives of Cicero. No sensible person will form an opinion upon the real merits of a case, even in an English court of justice now, entirely from the speech of the counsel for the prosecution. And if we were to go back a century or two, to the state trials of those days, we know that to form our estimate of a prisoner's guilt from such data only would be doing him a gross injustice. We have only to remember the exclamation of Warren Hastings himself, whose trial, as has been said, has so many points of resemblance with that of Verres, when Burke sat down after the torrent of eloquence which he had hurled against the accused in his opening speech for the prosecution;--"I thought myself for the moment", said Hastings, "the guiltiest man in England". The result of this trial was to raise Cicero at once to the leadership--if so modern an expression may be used--of the Roman bar. Up to this time the position had been held by Hortensius, the counsel for Verres, whom Cicero himself calls "the king of the courts". He was eight years the senior of Cicero in age, and many more professionally, for he is said to have made his first public speech at nineteen. He had the advantage of the most extraordinary memory, a musical voice, and a rich flow of language: but Cicero more than implies that he was not above bribing a jury. It was not more disgraceful in those days than bribing a voter in our own. The two men were very unlike in one respect; Hortensius was a fop and an exquisite (he is said to have brought an action against a colleague for disarranging the folds of his gown), while Cicero's vanity was quite of another kind. After Verres's trial, the two advocates were frequently engaged together in the same cause and on the same side: but Hortensius seems quietly to have abdicated his forensic sovereignty before the rising fame of his younger rival. They became, ostensibly at least, personal friends. What jealousy there was between them, strange to say, seems always to have been on the side of Cicero, who could not be convinced of the friendly feeling which, on Hortensius's part, there seems no reason to doubt. After his rival's death, however, Cicero did full justice to his merits and his eloquence, and even inscribed to his memory a treatise on 'Glory', which has been lost.