MINOR CHARACTERISTICS. Not content with his triumphs in prose, Cicero had always an ambition--to be a poet. Of his attempts in this way we have only some imperfect fragments, scattered here and there through his other works, too scanty to form any judgment upon. His poetical ability is apt to be unfairly measured by two lines which his opponents were very fond of quoting and laughing at, and which for that reason have become the best known. But it is obvious that if Wordsworth or Tennyson were to be judged solely by a line or two picked out by an unfavourable reviewer--say from 'Peter Bell' or from the early version of the 'Miller's Daughter'--posterity would have a very mistaken appreciation of their merits. Plutarch and the younger Pliny, who had seen more of Cicero's poetry than we have, thought highly of it. So he did himself; but so it was his nature to think of most of his own performances; and such an estimate is common to other authors besides Cicero, though few announce it so openly. Montaigne takes him to task for this, with more wit, perhaps, than fairness. "It is no great fault to write poor verses; but it is a fault not to be able to see how unworthy such poor verses were of his reputation". Voltaire, on the other hand, who was perhaps as good a judge, thought there was "nothing more beautiful" than some of the fragments of his poem on 'Marius', who was the ideal hero of his youth. Perhaps the very fact, however, of none of his poems having been preserved, is some argument that such poetic gift as he had was rather facility than genius. He wrote, besides this poem on 'Marius', a 'History of my Consulship', and a 'History of my Own Times', in verse, and some translations from Homer. He had no notion of what other men called relaxation: he found his own relaxation in a change of work. He excuses himself in one of his orations for this strange taste, as it would seem to the indolent and luxurious Roman nobles with whom he was so unequally yoked. "Who after all shall blame me, or who has any right to be angry with me, if the time which is not grudged to others for managing their private business, for attending public games and festivals, for pleasures of any other kind,--nay, even for very rest of mind and body,--the time which others give to convivial meetings, to the gaming-table, to the tennis-court,--this much I take for myself, for the resumption of my favourite studies?" In this indefatigable appetite for work of all kinds, he reminds us of no modern politician so much as of Sir George Cornewall Lewis; yet he would not have altogether agreed with him in thinking that life would be very tolerable if it were not for its amusements. He was, as we have seen, of a naturally social disposition. "I like a dinner-party", he says in a letter to one of his friends; "where I can say just what comes uppermost, and turn my sighs and sorrows into a hearty laugh. I doubt whether you are much better yourself, when you can laugh as you did even at a philosopher. When the man asked--'Whether anybody wanted to know anything?' you said you had been wanting to know all day when it would be dinner-time. The fellow expected you to say you wanted to know how many worlds there were, or something of that kind". [Footnote 1: These professional philosophers, at literary dinner-parties, offered to discuss and answer any question propounded by the company.] He is said to have been a great laugher. Indeed, he confesses honestly that the sense of humour was very powerful with him--"I am wonderfully taken by anything comic", he writes to one of his friends. He reckons humour also as a useful ally to the orator. "A happy jest or facetious turn is not only pleasant, but also highly useful occasionally;" but he adds that this is an accomplishment which must come naturally, and cannot be taught under any possible system. There is at least sufficient evidence that he was much given to making jokes, and some of them which have come down to us would imply that a Roman audience was not very critical on this point. There is an air of gravity about all courts of justice which probably makes a very faint amount of jocularity hailed as a relief. Even in an English law-court, a joke from the bar, much more from the bench, does not need to be of any remarkable brilliancy in order to be secure of raising a laugh; and we may fairly suppose that the same was the case at Rome. Cicero's jokes were frequently nothing more than puns, which it would be impossible, even if it were worth while, to reproduce to an English ear. Perhaps the best, or at all events the most intelligible, is his retort to Hortensius during the trial of Verres. The latter was said to have feed his counsel out of his Sicilian spoils--especially, there was a figure of a sphinx, of some artistic value, which had found its way from the house of the ex-governor into that of Hortensius. Cicero was putting a witness through a cross-examination of which his opponent could not see the bearing. "I do not understand all this", said Hortensius; "I am no hand at solving riddles". "That is strange, too", rejoined Cicero, "when you have a sphinx at home". In the same trial he condescended, in the midst of that burning eloquence of which we have spoken, to make two puns on the defendant's name. The word "_Verres_" had two meanings in the old Latin tongue: it signified a "boar-pig", and also a "broom" or "sweeping-brush". One of Verres's friends, who either was or had the reputation of being a Jew, had tried to get the management of the prosecution out of Cicero's hands. "What has a Jew to do with _pork_?" asked the orator. Speaking, in the course of the same trial, of the way in which the governor had made "requisitions" of all the most valuable works of art throughout the island, "the broom", said he, "swept clean". He did not disdain the comic element in poetry more than in prose; for we find in Quinitilian  a quotation from a punning epigram in some collection of such trifles which in his time bore Cicero's name. Tiro is said to have collected and published three volumes of his master's good things after his death; but if they were not better than those which have come down to us, as contained in his other writings, there has been no great loss to literature in Tiro's 'Ciceroniana'. He knew one secret at least of a successful humourist in society: for it is to him that we owe the first authoritative enunciation of a rule which is universally admitted--"that a jest never has so good an effect as when it is uttered with a serious countenance". [Footnote 1: De Orat. II. 54.] [Footnote 2: 'Libellus Jocularis', Quint. viii. 6.] Cicero had a wonderful admiration for the Greeks. "I am not ashamed to confess", he writes to his brother, "especially since my life and career have been such that no suspicion of indolence or want of energy can rest upon me, that all my own attainments are due to those studies and those accomplishments which have been handed down to us in the literary treasures and the philosophical systems of the Greeks". It was no mere rhetorical outburst, when in his defence of Valerius Flaccus, accused like Verres, whether truly or falsely, of corrupt administration in his province, he thus introduced the deputation from Athens and Lacedaemon who appeared as witnesses to the character of his client. "Athenians are here to-day, amongst whom civilisation, learning, religion, agriculture, public law and justice, had their birth, and whence they have been disseminated over all the world: for the possession of whose city, on account of its exceeding beauty, even gods are said to have contended: which is of such antiquity, that she is said to have bred her citizens within herself, and the same soil is termed at once their mother, their nurse, and their country: whose importance and influence is such that the name of Greece, though it has lost much of its weight and power, still holds its place by virtue of the renown of this single city". He had forgotten, perhaps, as an orator is allowed to forget, that in the very same speech, when his object was to discredit the accusers of his client, he had said, what was very commonly said of the Greeks at Rome, that they were a nation of liars. There were excellent men among them, he allowed--thinking at the moment of the counter-evidence which he had ready for the defendant--but he goes on to make this sweeping declaration: "I will say this of the whole race of the Greeks: I grant them literary genius, I grant them skill in various accomplishments, I do not deny them elegance in conversation, acuteness of intellect, fluent oratory; to any other high qualities they may claim I make no objection: but the sacred obligation that lies upon a witness to speak the truth is what that nation has never regarded". [Footnote 1: Defence of Val. Flaccus, c. 4.] There was a certain proverb, he went on to say, "Lend me your evidence", implying--"and you shall have mine when you want it;" a Greek proverb, of course, and men knew these three words of Greek who knew no Greek besides. What he loved in the Greeks, then, was rather the grandeur of their literature and the charm of their social qualities (a strict regard for truth is, unhappily, no indispensable ingredient in this last); he had no respect whatever for their national character. The orator was influenced, perhaps, most of all by his intense reverence for the Athenian Demosthenes, whom, as a master in his art, he imitated and well-nigh worshipped. The appreciation of his own powers which every able man has, and of which Cicero had at least his share, fades into humility when he comes to speak of his great model. "Absolutely perfect", he calls him in one place; and again in another, "What I have attempted, Demosthenes has achieved". Yet he felt also at times, when the fervour of genius was strong within him, that there was an ideal of eloquence enshrined in his own inmost mind, "which I can _feel_", he says, "but which I never knew to exist in any man". He could not only write Greek as a scholar, but seems to have spoken it with considerable ease and fluency; for on one occasion he made a speech in that language, a condescension which some of his friends thought derogatory to the dignity of a Roman. From the Greeks he learnt to appreciate art. How far his taste was really cultivated in this respect is difficult for us to judge. Some passages in his letters to Atticus might lead us to suspect that, as Disraeli concludes, he was rather a collector than a real lover of art. His appeals to his friend to buy up for him everything and anything, and his surrender of himself entirely to Atticus's judgment in such purchases, do not bespeak a highly critical taste. In a letter to another friend, he seems to say that he only bought statuary as "furniture" for the gymnasium at his country-seat; and he complains that four figures of Bacchanals, which this friend had just bought for him, had cost more than he would care to give for all the statues that ever were made. On the other hand, when he comes to deal with Verres's wholesale plunder of paintings and statues in Sicily, he talks about the several works with considerable enthusiasm. Either he really understood his subject, or, like an able advocate, he had thoroughly got up his brief. But the art-notices which are scattered through his works show a considerable acquaintance with the artist-world of his day. He tells us, in his own admirable style, the story of Zeuxis, and the selection which he made from all the beauties of Crotona, in order to combine their several points of perfection in his portrait of Helen; he refers more than once, and always in language which implies an appreciation of the artist, to the works of Phidias, especially that which is said to have cost him his life--the shield of Minerva; and he discusses, though it is but by way of illustration, the comparative points of merit in the statues of Calamis, and Myron, and Polycletus, and in the paintings of the earlier schools of Zeuxis, Polygnotus, and Timanthes, with their four primitive colours, as compared with the more finished schools of Protogenes and Apelles.