Pliny the Younger (A.D. 62?c.A.D. 113). Letters. The Harvard Classics. 190914.
XXVII. To Baebius Macer
IT gives me great pleasure to find you such a reader of my uncles works as to wish to have a complete collection of them, and to ask me for the names of them all. I will act an index then, and you shall know the very order in which they were written, for the studious reader likes to know this. The first work of his was a treatise in one volume, On the Use of the Dart by Cavalry; this he wrote when in command of one of the cavalry corps of our allied troops, and is drawn up with great care and ingenuity. The Life of Pomponius Secundus,1 in two volumes. Pomponius had a great affection for him, and he thought he owed this tribute to his memory. The History of the Wars in Germany, in twenty books, in which he gave an account of all the battles we were engaged in against that nation. A dream he had while serving in the army in Germany first suggested the design of this work to him. He imagined that Drusus Nero2 (who extended his conquest very far into the country, and there lost his life) appeared to him in his sleep, and entreated him to rescue his memory from oblivion. Next comes a work entitled The Student, in three parts, which from their length spread into six volumes: a work in which are discussed the earliest length training and subsequent education of the orator. Questions of Grammar and Style, in eight books, written in the latter part of Neros reign, when the tyranny of the times made it dangerous to engage in literary pursuits requiring freedom and elevation of tone. He has completed the history which Aufidius Bassus3 left unfinished, and has added to it thirty books. And lastly he has left thirty-seven books on Natural History, a work of great compass and learning, and as full of variety as nature herself. You will wonder how a man as busy as he was could find time to compose so many books, and some of them too involving such care and labour. But you will be still more surprised when you hear that he pleaded at the bar for some time, that he died in his sixty-sixth year, that the intervening time was employed partly in the execution of the highest official duties, partly in attendance upon those emperors who honoured him with their friendship. But he had a quick apprehension, marvellous power of application, and was of an exceedingly wakeful temperament. He always began to study at midnight at the time of the feast of Vulcan, not for the sake of good luck, but for learnings sake; in winter generally at one in the morning, but never later than two, and often at twelve.4 He was a most ready sleeper, insomuch that he would sometimes, whilst in the midst of his studies, fall off and then wake up again. Before day-break he used to wait upon Vespasian (who also used his nights for transacting business in), and then proceed to execute the orders he had received. As soon as he returned home, he gave what time was left to study. After a short and light refreshment at noon (agreeably to the good old custom of our ancestors) he would frequently in the summer, if he was disengaged from business, lie down and bask in the sun; during which time some author was read to him, while he took notes and made extracts, for every book he read he made extracts out of, indeed it was a maxim of his, that no book was so bad but some good might be got out of it. When this was over, he generally took a cold bath, then some light refreshment and a little nap. After this, as if it had been a new day, he studied till supper-time, when a book was again read to him, which he would take down running notes upon. I remember once, his reader having mispronounced a word, one of my uncles friends at the table made him go back to where the word was and repeat it again; upon which my uncle said to his friend, Surely you understood it? Upon his acknowledging that he did, Why, then, said he, did you make him go back again? We have lost more than ten lines by this interruption. Such an economist he was of time! In the summer he used to rise from supper at daylight, and in winter as soon as it was dark: a rule he observed as strictly as if it had been a law of the state. Such was his manner of life amid the bustle and turmoil of the town: but in the country his whole time was devoted to study, excepting only when he bathed. In this exception I include no more than the time during which he was actually in the bath; for all the while he was being rubbed and wiped, he was employed either in hearing some book read to him or in dictating himself. In going about anywhere, as though he were disengaged from all other business, he applied his mind wholly to that single pursuit. A shorthand writer constantly attended him, with book and tablets, who, in the winter, wore a particular sort of warm gloves, that the sharpness of the weather might not occasion any interruption to my uncles studies: and for the same reason, when in Rome, he was always carried in a chair. I recollect his once taking me to task for walking. You need not, he said, lose these hours. For he thought every hour gone that was not given to study. Through this extraordinary application he found time to compose the several treatises I have mentioned, besides one hundred and sixty volumes of extracts which he left me in his will, consisting of a kind of commonplace, written on both sides, in very small hand, so that one might fairly reckon the number considerably more. He used himself to tell us that when he was comptroller of the revenue in Spain, he could have sold these manuscripts to Largius Licinus for four hundred thousand sesterces,5 and then there were not so many of them. When you consider the books he has read, and the volumes he has written, are you not inclined to suspect that he never was engaged in public duties or was ever in the confidence of his prince? On the other hand, when you are told how indefatigable he was in his studies, are you not inclined to wonder that he read and wrote no more than he did? For, on one side, what obstacles would not the business of a court throw in his way? and on the other, what is it that such intense application might not effect? It amuses me then when I hear myself called a studious man, who in comparison with him am the merest idler. But why do I mention myself, who am diverted from these pursuits by numberless affairs both public and private? Who amongst those whose whole lives are devoted to literary pursuits would not blush and feel himself the most confirmed of sluggards by the side of him? I see I have run out my letter farther than I had originally intended, which was only to let you know, as you asked me, what works he had left behind him. But I trust this will be no less acceptable to you than the books themselves, as it may, possibly, not only excite your curiosity to read his works, but also your emulation to copy his example, by some attempts of a similar nature. Farewell.
Note 1. A poet to whom Quintilian assigns the highest rank, as a writer of tragedies, among his contemporaries (book x. c. i. 98). Tacitus also speaks of him in terms of high appreciation (Annals, v. 8). [back]
Note 2. Stepson of Augustus and brother to Tiberius. And amiable an popular prince. He died at the close of his third campaign, from a fracture received by falling from his horse. [back]
Note 3. A historian under Augustus and Tiberius. He wrote part of a history of Rome, which was continued by the elder Pliny; also an account of the German war, to which Quintilian makes allusion (Inst. x. 103), pronouncing him, as a historian, estimable in all respects, yet in some things failing to do himself justice. [back]
Note 4. The distribution of time among the Romans was very different from ours. They divided the night into four equal parts, which they called watches, each three hours in length; and part of these they devoted either to the pleasures of the table or to study. The natural day they divided into twelve hours, the first beginning with sunrise, and the last ending with sunset; by which means their hours were of unequal length, varying according to the different seasons of the year. The time for business began with sunrise, and continued to the fifth hour, being that of dinner, which with them was only a slight repast. From thence to the seventh hour was a time of repose; a custom which still prevails in Italy. The eighth hour was employed in bodily exercises; after which they constantly bathed, and from thence went to supper. M. [back]