Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

Cold cabbage anyway (people didn't like Brown? No! ), Lord Mandelson's memoirs read like the work of a robot with a dictaphone. Contrast the letters of the Roman statesman Cicero (106-43 BC ).

'I talk to you, ' Cicero said to his chum Atticus, 'as though I were talking to myself, ' and in doing so he reveals the man: cultured, liberal and humane, witty and stylish, nervous, vain and indiscrete, but perhaps most of all, ever dependent for peace of mind on the views of others.

'Think what I must be suffering, ' he tells Atticus, 'when I am considered mad, if I say what is right about politics, servile, if I say what is expedient, defeated and helpless, if I say nothing.' As a consequence, he spent most of his time vainly trying to determine the course of action by advising others - Pompey, Caesar, the young Octavian - rather than seizing the initiative himself.

He thought hard about principles. In a letter to Atticus at the start of the civil war between Pompey and Caesar, he says that, to prevent himself breaking down completely, he is asking himself the following questions: under a tyranny, should one - remain in one's country? …

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