Livy’s History of Rome
Source: Translator's Introduction to Livy's The History of Rome by Titus Livius. Translated from the Original with Notes and Illustrations by George Baker, A.M.. First American, from the Last London Edition, in Six Volumes (New York: Peter A. Mesier et al., 1823).
Titus Livius, the illustrious author of the Roman History, descended from a noble family in Rome, and was born at Patavium, now called Padua, in Italy, in the 694th year of Rome, fifty-eight years before the commencement of the Christian æra.
Like many other literary men, his life was contemplative, rather than active; very few particulars, therefore, concerning him, have come down to us. He resided at Rome for a considerable time, where he was much noticed, and highly honoured, by Augustus; to whom he was previously known, it is said, by some writings which he had dedicated to him. Seneca, however, is silent upon the subject of this supposed dedication, though he mentions the work itself, which, he says, consisted of moral and philosophical dialogues.
He appears to have conceived the project of writing his history, immediately upon his settling at Rome; or, perhaps, he came thither for the purpose of collecting the necessary materials for that great work.
Augustus appointed him preceptor to his grandson Claudius, afterwards emperor. But he seems not much to have attended to the advantage which might have resulted from so advantageous a connection, and to have occupied himself, entirely, in the composition of his history; parts of which, as they were finished, he read to Augustus and Macænas.
Distracted with the tumult, and disgusted, it may be, with the intrigues and cabals of Rome, he sought retirement and tranquillity in the beautiful country, and delightful climate, of Naples. Here, enjoying uninterrupted literary ease and quiet, he continued his labour, and finished his work, comprising, in an hundred and forty-two books, the history of Rome, from the foundation of that city to the death of Drusus, containing a period of seven hundred and forty-three years, ending nine years before the birth of our Saviour. Having completed this great work, he returned to pass the remainder of his days in his native country, where he died, 17, at the age of seventy-five years.
What family he left behind him, is not known. Quintilian, however, mentions that he had a son, for whose instruction he drew up some excellent observations on rhetoric; and there is also reason to suppose that he had a daughter, married to Lucius Magius, an orator, who is advantageously spoken of by Seneca.
How highly his works were esteemed, and himself personally honoured and respected, may be gathered from the manner in which he is mentioned by many ancient authors. Tacitus tells us,* that “T. Livius, that admirable historian, not more distinguished by his eloquence than by his fidelity, was so lavish in his praise of Pompey, that Augustus called him the Pompeian: and yet his friendship for him was unalterable.” The younger Pliny informs us,* that “a certain inhabitant of the city of Cadiz was so struck with the illustrious character of Livy, that he travelled to Rome on purpose to see that great genius; and as soon as he had satisfied his curiosity, returned home.”
Of the hundred and forty-two books, of which the history of Rome originally consisted, thirty-five only have come down to us. The contents of the whole, the hundred and thirty-seventh and eighth excepted, have been preserved; compiled, as some, without any good reason, have supposed, by Livy himself; while others, with equal improbability, have asserted them to be the work of Lucius Florus, author of a portion of Roman history. Whoever may have been the compiler, a fact as useless, as it is now impossible to ascertain, they are highly curious; and although they contain but a faint outline, yet they serve to convey some idea of the original, and greatly excite regret at the loss of so large a portion of this valuable work.
The parts of this history which we now possess, are, the first decade: for it appears, from his having prefixed separate prefatory introductions to each portion, that the author had divided his work into distinct parts, consisting each of ten books. The first decade commences with the foundation of the city of Rome, and rapidly runs over the affairs of four hundred and sixty years. The second decade is lost: it comprised a period of seventy-five years; the principal occurrence in it was the first Punic war, in which the Romans, after a long and arduous struggle, were finally victorious. The third decade is extant: it contains a particular and well-detailed account of the second Punic war; the longest, as our author himself observes, and the most hazardous war, the Romans had ever been engaged in; in the course of which they gained so many advantages, and acquired so much military experience, that no nation was ever able, afterwards, to withstand them. The fourth decade contains the Macedonian war against Philip, and the Asiatic against Antiochus. These are related at considerable length, insomuch that the ten books comprise a space of twenty-three years only. Of the fifth decade, the first five books only remain, and these very imperfect. They give an account of the war with Perseus king of Macedonia, who gains several advantages against the Romans, but is at length subdued, and his kingdom reduced to the form of a Roman province; of the corruption of several Roman governors in the administration of the provinces, and their punishment; and of the third Punic war, which lasted only five years.
Of the remaining books, it has been already said, that the contents only have been preserved; and they serve to show us the greatness of our loss, the greatest literary loss, perhaps, owing to the ravages of the time. Livy had employed forty-five books in the history of six centuries; but so many, so various, and so interesting were the events, which he had before him for selection, in the latter period of the Republic, that it took him above double that number to relate the occurrences of little more than an hundred and twenty years. From the admirable manner in which he has written the former part of his History, we may judge of what must have been the merit of this latter part, which fails us, unfortunately, at a most remarkable period, when rational curiosity is raised to the highest pitch. Nor can we doubt the excellence of its execution, when we consider how much better, and how much more copious his materials must have been; for, besides what he could draw from his own personal knowledge, having lived among, and conversed familiarly with, the most considerable men in the empire, who were themselves principal actors in the important transactions which he relates, he had access to the best possible written materials; to the memoirs of Sylla, Cæsar, Labienus, Pollio, Augustus, and many others which were then extant. What would we not give for the picture, finished by so able a hand, from the sketches of such masters? What delight would it not afford us, to see the whole progress of a government from liberty to servitude?—the whole series of causes and effects, apparent and real, public and private?—those which all men saw, and all good men opposed and lamented, at the time; and those which were so disguised to the prejudices, to the partialities, of a divided people, and even to the corruption of mankind, that many did not, and that many could pretend they did not, discern them, till it was too late to resist them? I own, says a noble author,* I should be glad to exchange what we have of this History, for what we have not.
Much as our historian was admired, and highly as he was respected, yet he was not without his detractors. He was charged with patavinity in his writings. The first person who brought this charge against him, seems to have been Asinius Pollio, a polite and elegant writer, and a distinguished ornament of the age of Augustus.*
In what this patavinity consisted, no ancient author having defined it, it is not now easy to say; and, accordingly, it is a matter which has been much disputed. Some will have it, that it was a political term, and that it signified an attachment to the Pompeian party: others contend that it meant a hatred to the Gauls; that it was symbolical of some blameable particularity, they know not what. The more probable opinion, however, seems, from the term itself, to be, that it signified some provincial peculiarity of dialect. Ancient Italy, like modern Italy, had its differences, not of idiom merely, but of language, in every different province. In proportion as their language varies, at this day, from the purity of the Tuscan dialect, they become almost unintelligible to each other: with difficulty can a Venetian and a Neapolitan converse together; that is, the people: for the well-educated in every country learn to speak and write the dialect of the metropolis; although, if brought up in their own provinces, however nearly their language may approach the purity of that of the capital, yet it will ever retain some tincture of provinciality.
If this supposition of the meaning of the word patavinity be right, the fact, upon such authority as that of Pollio, must be admitted; although in what, precisely, it consisted, it is not, at present, perhaps, possible to determine. Much has been written upon the subject, which in reality seems now to be an idle inquiry; and, as a dissertation upon this matter could afford neither instruction nor entertainment to the mere English reader, for whose use the following translation is principally intended, we shall dismiss the subject with observing, that what Quintilian has not told us, no modern scholar will ever, it is probable, have penetration enough to discover: and we may be also allowed to suppose that, whatever these peculiarities may have been, as that great critic has not thought them worth pointing out, they cannot have been either very numerous, or of very material consequence.
Nor will, perhaps, another objection, made by modern critics, be deemed of much greater weight. They dislike, it seems, the plan of his History, and they found that dislike, chiefly on the speeches which he so frequently introduces, which, they contend, it is not probable could have been spoken upon the occasions alleged; and therefore they pronounce them to be violations of truth. That many of them were not spoken by the persons to whom they are ascribed, nor upon the occasions alleged, must be admitted: but they do not, upon that account, violate the truth of history. Nobody can suppose that our author ever meant to impose upon his readers, and to make them believe that what he has given us, as said by the different persons whom he introduces, was really said by them: the supposition is absurd. He could only mean to vary his style; and to enliven and embellish matter, which, if continued in the even and unvaried tone of narration, would be sometimes heavy and tedious; making these supposed speeches a vehicle for conveying, and that in a very lively manner, the arguments for and against a proposed measure; and he thus often brings into them a relation of facts, chiefly facts of remoter times, and much more agreeably than he could have interwoven them into his narrative, which should always be progressive. Modern historians, it is true, have rejected this plan: but Livy is not reprehensible, because his ideas of historic structure were different from theirs. He chose rather to conform himself to a custom which prevailed very generally before his time, and which succeeding writers, of great taste and judgment, have approved and adopted. The conduct of Livy, in this respect, if necessary, might be justified by the example of Herodotus, Xenophon, Polybius, Sallust, Tacitus, and others, whose histories abound with speeches. These speeches frequently give a more perfect idea of the character of the supposed speaker, than could easily have been done by mere description; and it must be acknowledged, that the facts which they sometimes contain, would, if thrown into formal narrative, with episodes and digressions, lose much of their animation and force, and consequently much of their grace and beauty.
When we consider the use of such speeches, we shall not perhaps feel inclined to give them up, although many are to be held as mere fictions; contrived, however, with much ingenuity, and for the laudable purpose of conveying useful reflections and salutary admonitions. But though it be admitted, that several of them are fictitious, yet it may be contended that they are not all so. Many of those delivered in the senate, in popular assemblies, in conventions of ambassadors, and other the like occasions, are most probably genuine; and, if they are so, they furnish us with very curious specimens of ancient eloquence. Public speakers among the Romans were in the habit of publishing their speeches upon particular occasions; and others, delivered upon important occurrences, would, doubtless, be noted down, and circulated, by those who were curious about, and probably interested in, the subjects of them. We know that, in our own times, the substance of speeches in the British parliament, and other assemblies, has often been accurately collected, and carefully preserved; and we may, therefore, reasonably suppose that speeches in the Roman senate, upon matters in which the whole community were deeply interested, would be heard with equal attention, and preserved with equal care.
A charge, of a very heavy nature, has been brought against our author, which, were it well founded, would utterly disqualify him from writing a credible history. He is accused of superstitious credulity. That he was of a serious and religious turn of mind is sufficiently apparent from many passages in his history, in which he severely reprehends the licentiousness and profligacy of the times he lived in, and applauds the simplicity of conduct, and sanctity of manners, of ancient days, when “that disregard of the gods, which prevails in the present age, had not taken place; nor did every one, by his own interpretations, accommodate oaths and the laws to his particular views, but rather adapted his practice to them.”* Again, speaking of Spurius Papirius, he describes him as a “youth, born in an age when that sort of learning which inculcates contempt of the gods was yet unknown.”† Numberless passages, to this effect, might be cited; suffice it, however, to observe, that, while reprehending, with strong indignation, the profane, the impious, and the immoral among his countrymen, he omits no opportunity of applauding the virtuous and the good.
But, to be religious is one thing; to be superstitious is another. He has certainly recorded many and monstrous prodigies; to enumerate which would be both tedious and disgusting. As, however, they were not merely the subject of popular tales and vulgar conversation, but the objects of particular attention, noticed always by the magistrates, and even by the senate, whom we frequently find ordering expiations of them, it was his duty, as an historian, to relate them, since they thus made a part of the public transactions of the times. And this he does with great caution; apparently anxious lest he should be supposed to believe in such absurdities, and protesting, as it were, against the imputation of superstition. Thus, upon an occasion where he relates extraordinary prodigies, (more extraordinary, indeed, than in any other part of his history,) he introduces his account of them by saying,—“Numerous prodigies were reported to have happened this year; and the more they were credited by simple and superstitious people, the more such stories multiplied.”* He generally prefaces the mention of all such, with a reserve as to his own belief of them:—“Many prodigies were reported.”† “It was believed that crows had not only torn with their beaks some gold in the capitol, but had even eaten it.”‡ And again; “Fires from heaven, breaking out in various places, had, as was said,”§ &c. Nor is he at all scrupulous in declaring these numerous prodigies to derive their origin from superstitious weakness; thus,—“So apt is superstitious weakness to introduce the deities into the most trivial occurrences”∥ “The mention of one prodigy was, as usual, followed by reports of others.”¶ “From this cause arose abundance of superstitious notions; and the minds of the people became disposed both to believe and to propagate accounts of prodigies, of which a very great number were reported.”** “The consuls expiated several prodigies which had been reported.”†† “Several deceptions of the eyes and ears were credited.”‡‡ One is almost tempted to think, that those who charge our author with credulity, had never read him; otherwise, how could they overlook such passages as these, and especially the following, in which he seems aware that such a charge might be brought against him, and labours to obviate it?—“In proportion as the war was protracted to a greater length, and successes and disappointments produced various alterations, not only in the situations, but in the sentiments of men, superstitious observances, and these mostly introduced from abroad, gained such ground among the people in general, that it seemed as if either mankind, or the deities, had undergone some sudden change.”*
From the passages here adduced, and very many others to the same purport might be quoted, it may be confidently pronounced, that our author was not the dupe of those vulgar rumours, those “deceptions of the eyes and ears,” which yet he has thought it his duty to record. And, in truth, it seems as if the people themselves, at least the more enlightened of them, were equally inclined, if established custom would have allowed, to disregard them: “They grew weary,” we are told, “not only of the thing itself, but of the religious rites enjoined in consequence; for neither could the senate be convened, nor the business of the public be transacted, the consuls were so constantly employed in sacrifices and expiations.”† And accordingly, with a view to diminish the reports of these miracles, and the troublesome ceremonies consequent thereupon, the consuls, by direction of the senate, published an edict, that when “on any day public worship should be ordered, in consequence of the report of an earthquake, no person should report another earthquake on that day.”* Indeed, how very little faith the senate really had in omens, prodigies, and auspices, we may learn from a remarkable order made by them, upon receiving from a consul the report of unfavourable omens, in no less than three victims successively sacrificed; “they ordered him,” says the Historian, “to continue sacrificing the larger victims, until the omens should prove favourable.”†
It may be asked,—if Livy, the senate, and very many, perhaps the greater number, of the people, disbelieved these omens and prodigies, why relate them? He answers the question himself; “I am well aware,” he says, “that, through the same disregard to religion, which has led men into the present prevailing opinion, of the gods never giving portents of any future events, no prodigies are now either reported to government, or recorded in histories. But, for my part, while I am writing the transactions of ancient times, my sentiments, I know not how, become antique; and I feel a kind of religious awe, which compels me to consider that events, which the men of those times, renowned for wisdom, judged deserving of the attention of government, and of public expiation, must certainly be worthy of a place in my History.”‡ And, in truth, it must be allowed, that an account of the religious ceremonies, and the superstitious observances, of different nations at different periods, forms not the least curious chapter in the history of the human mind.
A still heavier charge hath been brought against our author; indeed, the heaviest that can be alleged against an historian; namely, the violation of the first great law of history; which is, not to dare to assert any thing false, and not to suppress any truth.* He who could not be warped by views of private interest, has yet been supposed, from an excess of zeal for the honour and glory of his country, in some instances to have gone beyond the truth, in others to have suppressed it.
It has been already mentioned how highly he was esteemed by Augustus, and that he had even received no inconsiderable marks of favour from him. Yet he does not seem to have courted this esteem, or those favours, by any particular attention on his part; nor to have endeavoured to repay them, by the only return which authors can make, the loading their patrons with perhaps undeserved praises. Although, at the time when he wrote his History, Augustus was in complete possession of the Roman empire, yet he names him but three times, and then but in a slight and cursory manner; not availing himself of the opportunity to heap adulation upon him, but simply giving him that praise to which he was unquestionably entitled. On occasion of shutting the temple of Janus, he takes the opportunity of mentioning, that it had been but twice shut since the reign of Numa; the first time in the consulship of Titus Manlius, on the termination of the first Punic war, and that “the happiness of seeing it shut again, the gods granted to our own times, when, after the battle of Actium, the emperor, Cæsar Augustus, established universal peace on land and sea.”* As Augustus was highly vain of this circumstance, had our author’s disposition led him to flatter this master of the world, it would have afforded him an excellent opportunity; as would another occasion, where, speaking of spolia opima, deposited by Cossus in one of the temples, he appeals to the testimony of Augustus Cæsar, whom he styles “the founder or restorer of all our temples.”† But above all, he might have found a niche for him, as well as others of his family, when he mentions the distinguished victory gained by Livius and Nero over Hasdrubal.‡ He relates the affair itself in very splendid terms, and bestows the most exalted praises on the admirable conduct of those victorious generals. He who was thus rigidly tenacious, when private motives, friendship, or interest might have swayed him, is, nevertheless, accused, from national vanity, of having written with partiality; and of having sometimes exaggerated, and sometimes concealed, the truth.
It must be acknowledged that, when the grandeur of the Roman empire presents itself to his mind, he is not always sufficiently reserved in the terms which he uses. Thus, speaking of Cincinnatus,§ so early as the 296th year of Rome, he calls him “the sole hope of the empire of Rome,” at a time when we know that this thus pompously announced empire extended not more than twenty miles beyond the city. And again, not many years after,* he introduces Canuleius boasting of its “eternal duration and immense magnitude.”† When we find him applying such magnificent terms to the Roman state, then in its infancy, we must suppose him to have forgot the period of which he was writing, and to have had present to his mind the splendor and extent to which it had attained at the time when he himself lived and wrote. He even puts the same language into the mouths of foreigners, and of enemies: he makes Hannibal call Rome “the capital of the world,”‡ at a time when the Romans had not even the whole of Italy in subjection, and no possessions whatever out of Italy, except a part of Sicily and Sardinia. In the same vainglorious boasting strain he tells us,§ that the Romans “were never worsted by the enemy’s cavalry, never by their infantry, never in open fight, never on equal ground.” He seems here not to have recollected, what he afterwards acknowledges,∥ that, in the first battle with Hannibal, “it manifestly appeared that the Carthaginian was superior in cavalry; and, consequently, that open plains, such as those between the Po and the Alps, were unfavourable to the Romans.” Although he thus asserts, in unqualified terms, that the Romans were never worsted in the open field, yet he gives very just and candid accounts, not only of this battle with Hannibal, but of another also against the same commander, and of that of the Allia, against the Gauls, in every one of which the Romans were completely overthrown.
But these, it is probable, should rather be considered as inadvertencies than falsehoods; and, however inclined we may be to overlook or excuse them, we shall not, perhaps, find it so easy to justify some other omissions, or changes, which he has made in his narrative, respecting facts which, if fairly and fully related, would do no honour to his country; or would tend, in some degree, to tarnish the lustre of those celebrated characters which he holds up to our admiration.
Polybius is allowed to be an author of consummate judgment, indefatigable industry, and strict veracity. Livy himself admits that he is entitled to entire credit. He takes extraordinary pains to investigate the causes of the second Punic war, and to determine which of the two nations had incurred the guilt of breach of treaty. He discusses the matter at considerable length;* stating accurately, and carefully examining, the facts and arguments urged on both sides; and brings the matter to this issue,—that, if the war is to be considered as taking its rise from the destruction of Saguntum, the Carthaginians were in the wrong; but by no means so, if the matter be taken up somewhat higher, and the taking of Sardinia by the Romans, and the imposing a tribute upon that island, be included in the account: for that, then, the Carthaginians did no more than take occasion to avenge an injury done them.
Now, how stands the account of this affair, according to Livy?* From this disquisition of Polybius, he carefully selects, and strongly states, every thing which tends to favour the cause of the Romans; but passes over in silence every fact, and every argument, urged by the Greek historian in favour of the Carthaginians; and thus he makes the worse appear the better cause.
It has been urged in defence of Livy, that, in his twelfth book, he gave the account of the affair of Sardinia: and that, if that book had not been lost, it might from thence have appeared, that the conduct of the Romans in that transaction was perfectly justifiable; and that, consequently, what he has suppressed of Polybius’s argument, he has omitted, not so much to favour the cause of his own countrymen, as because he knew the allegations therein to be false. It must, however, be observed, that Polybius was neither a Roman nor a Carthaginian; that he has always been held to be an historian of the highest credit, and the strictest impartiality; that he lived nearer the times he writes of than Livy, and was a most diligent inquirer into the truth of the facts which he relates in his history; that he was by no means unfriendly to the Romans, but the contrary, taking all opportunities to speak of them with the highest praise.
It is not meant here to detract from the merit of Livy as an historian, by the mention of such particulars as these. It may be assumed as a maxim, that no historian of his own country can be, strictly speaking, impartial: he may intend to be so; but the mind will be under an involuntary bias, influenced by some secret inclination, of which he himself may be unconscious; he may believe what he asserts, and yet it may not be true.
Another instance of his partiality to his countrymen may be found in his account of the murder of Brachyllas,* who, he tells us, was made Bœotarch, or chief magistrate of the Bœotians, “for no other reason, than because he had been commander of the Bœotians serving in the army of Philip; passing by Zeuxippus, Pisistratus, and the others who had promoted the alliance with Rome.” That these men, offended at present, and alarmed about future consequences, resolved to take off Brachyllas, and accordingly procured six assassins, who put him to death. In these, and other circumstances, our author perfectly agrees with Polybius, whose account of this whole affair he seems to have almost literally copied; with the omission, however, out of tenderness for the character of Quintius, of a very material circumstance; which is, that the project of murdering Brachyllas was first opened in a conference between Zeuxis, Pisistratus, and Quintius, who told them, that he would not himself do any thing to promote it; but that, if they were disposed to the execution of such a plan, he would do nothing to obstruct it: and he adds, that he directed them to confer upon the matter with Alexamenes, the Ætolian, who was the person, he says, that procured the assassins.
Another, and a very remarkable instance of partiality to the character of his countrymen, we have in his celebrated account of Scipio Africanus; who seems, above all others mentioned in his History, to have engaged his fondest, and, as he himself admits, his partial attention: for when he first introduces him, he does it in the most advantageous manner, as a youth who had scarcely attained to manhood, rescuing his father, who was wounded in a battle with Hannibal. “This,” says he,* “is the same youth who is, hereafter, to enjoy the renown of terminating this war, and to receive the title of Africanus, on account of his glorious victory over Hannibal and the Carthaginians.” He then, in a manner, avows his partiality; for he tells us, that Cœlius attributes the honour of saving the consul to a slave, by nation a Ligurian: “but I rather wish the account to be true which gives it to his son; and so the fact is represented by most authors, and generally believed.”
That Scipio was a most accomplished character, eminently distinguished by his military talents, valour, coolness, patience under difficulties, and moderation in victory, of most gentle manners, and a most generous temper, never has been, nor ever will be denied. But, if other writers knew the truth, and have spoken it, he was not that model of absolute perfection which Livy paints him: and perhaps, had he been the cold and unimpassioned stoic, which he describes him to have been, he had deserved less praise than is undoubtedly due to him, when considered, as other authors represent him, of a very different temperament.
That he generously restored a beautiful captive to her parents, and to her intended spouse, Livy and Polybius are agreed; but they differ somewhat in the account of that affair. Polybius tells us,* that a party of Roman youth, having taken captive a damsel of exquisite beauty, brought her to Scipio, whom they knew to be much attached to the sex; and he makes Scipio say to them, that “a more acceptable gift could not have been presented to him, were he in a private station: but that, in his situation of general, he could by no means accept of it.” Livy suppresses entirely the circumstance of his favourite’s amorous disposition: and yet, what he represents him as saying to Allucius, bears so strong a resemblance to his answer, recorded by Polybius, though he gives it a different turn, to accommodate it to his purpose, that we cannot doubt his having had this passage in his eye: “If my thoughts were not totally employed by the affairs of the public, and if I were at liberty to indulge in the pleasurable pursuits adapted to my time of life,”† &c.
That Scipio, with all his perfections, was not that mirror of chastity which Livy is desirous of representing him, we learn, also, from an anecdote related by Valerius Maximus,‡ who highly praises the amiable temper and patient forbearance of his wife Æmilia, “who,” he tells us, “knew of his attachment to a female slave, and yet concealed the fact, that there might be no stain upon so illustrious a character.”
Such are the principal facts alleged to prove our historian’s neglect of veracity in his narration: rigorous, and, it may be, invidious scrutiny, has noted some few more; but they are of little importance: and, as it is not improbable, so it is not unfair to suppose, that the paucity of cotemporary historians may have induced those, who were also predisposed, to believe that to be false, which fuller information might perhaps have proved to be true. Why may we not believe that he had better opportunities of knowing the truth than the Greek historian? He admits Polybius to be an author of credit, and yet he differs from him without scruple: he cannot, then, surely, be thought to mean more than that he was a writer of integrity, who compiled his history with fidelity, according to the best information he was able to obtain: that he did not wilfully falsify any fact, rather than that every fact he relates is strictly and absolutely true. He acknowledges him for his master, but does not conceive himself bound to swear to his words.
Besides, it is but doing justice to our author to observe, that if, in some few, and those not very material instances, he may have deviated from the truth, if he has done so, it is never with an ill-design: if he palliates a fault, or suppresses a fact, it is not so much for the purpose of lessening the reputation, or tarnishing the glory of others, whether nations or individuals, as to aggrandize the character of his own nation. He allows himself in a practice which some of his countrymen have, since his time, carried to a much greater, as well as a more blameable extent, and which has received the name of pious fraud.
But, whatever may be the case, whether our author must lie under the reproach of softening facts in some instances, or even of suppressing them in others, yet will his genius and talents, as an historian, ever be respected. He cannot be denied the merit of having furnished us with a perfect model of historical composition, in the purest and most elegant style; more remarkable for perspicuity of narration, and neatness of expression, than for depth of reasoning, or pomp of diction. Although he seldom digresses, and but rarely indulges in moral observations or philosophical reflections, yet he never loses sight of what he himself lays down in his preface as the great object of history: the furnishing “clear and distinct examples of every line of conduct; that we may select for ourselves, and for the state to which we belong, such as are worthy of imitation; and carefully noting such, as, being dishonourable in their principles, are equally so in their effects, learn to avoid them.”
All that the present writer feels it necessary to say, upon delivering to the public a new translation of so esteemed a work as Livy’s History, is, that it has been the employment, and amusement, of many years,—a very laborious, but not unuseful, occupation: and that, if he be not deceived by self-love, and the partiality of a few friends, who have taken the trouble of looking into the work, it will be found not altogether unworthy of public acceptance.
The translator had intended a much more copious commentary, than that which now accompanies this work; and, in that view, he had prepared several dissertations upon the manners and customs of the Romans; their senate; their laws; their religious rites; their arts of war, navigation, and commerce, &c. But he acknowledges, with much pleasure, that he has since found his labour, upon those subjects, rendered unnecessary by the publication of Dr. Adam’s Koman Antiquities: a work so excellent in its kind, that whoever has the instruction of youth committed to his care, will do them injustice, if he omits to recommend it to their perusal. The notes, therefore, which are added, and which the translator now thinks it his duty to make as few, and as short as possible, are such only as were deemed more immediately necessary to render some passages intelligible to the mere English reader.
It hath been an usual practice, in prefaces to works of this kind, for the authors of them to load the labours of their predecessors with abuse: a practice, of which the present translator acknowledges he neither sees the necessity, nor the utility. For, should he succeed in disparaging the works of others in the humble walk of translation; should he be able to prove them ever so wretchedly executed, it will by no means follow from thence, that his is better. That he thinks it so, is clear from his presuming to publish it. But, as the public has an undoubted right to judge for itself, and will most assuredly exercise that right, the success of every work, of whatever kind, must ultimately depend upon its own merit.
To the public judgment, therefore, he submits his labour; knowing that every endeavour of his, except that of rendering it worthy of acceptance, would be useless; and that, in spite of his utmost exertions, his book will stand or fall by its own merit or demerit, whichever shall be found to preponderate. The public candour he has no reason to doubt; and he awaits its decision with tranquillity, but not without anxiety.
[* ]Annal. iv. 34.
[* ]Ep. II. 3.
[* ]Quintil. Instit. i. 5. viii. 1.
[* ]B. iii. 46.
[† ]B. x. 40.
[* ]B. xxiv. 10.
[† ]B. xxvii. 4.
[‡ ]B. xxx. 2.
[§ ]B. xxxix. 22.
[∥ ]B. xxvii. 23.
[¶ ]Ib. 37.
[** ]B. xxix. 14.
[†† ]B. xxiv. 44.
[* ]B. xxv. 1.
[† ]B. xxxiv. 55.
[* ]B. xxxiv. 55.
[† ]B. xli. 15.
[‡ ]B. xlii. 13.
[* ]Cic. de Orat.
[* ]B. i. 19.
[† ]B. iv. 20.
[‡ ]B. xxvii. 47, 48, 49.
[§ ]B. iii. 26.
[* ]Y. R. 310.
[† ]B. iv. 4.
[‡ ]B. xxi. 30.
[§ ]B. ix. 19.
[∥ ]B. xxi. 47.
[* ]Lib. x.
[* ]B. xxi. 19.
[* ]B. xxxiii. 27, 28.
[* ]B. xxxi. 46.
[* ]Lib. x.
[† ]B. xxxvi. 50.
[‡ ]Lib. vi. 7.
- Bede’s History of England
- Bright and 19th Century English Liberalism
- Gibbon on the Decline of the Empire in the West
- History in the Colonial Library
- Hoover, Herbert (1874-1964)
- Hume and Revolution
- Hume the Historian
- Hume’s Religious Partiality in his History of England
- Hume, The Progress of English Liberty (1778)
- James Mill on Writing his Critical History of India
- Jefferson, History, and the Rights of Expatriated Men
- Kames on Progress and Providence
- King Alfred’s translation of Boethius
- Lecky on Gibbon
- Lecky on writing a history of morals
- Livy’s History of Rome
- Millar and the English Government
- Pufendorf’s History of the German Empire
- Thierry on Conquest, Class, and the Theory of History
- Trevor-Roper on the General Crisis of the 17thC