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Vatinius, who was noted to a proverb as a common slanderer, and particularly obnoxious for his scurrility against Cicero, was pelted by the populace in the amphitheatre, whilst he was giving them the Gladiators: he complained to the Ædiles of the insult, and got an edict forbidding the people to cast any thing into the area but apples. An arch fellow brought a furious large fir-apple to the famous lawyer Cascellius, and demanded his opinion upon
the edict.— I am of opinion,' says Cascellius,' that your fir-apple is literally and legally an apple, with this proviso, however, that you intend to throw it at Vatinius's head.'
As there is some danger in making too free with old jokes, I shall hold my hand for the present; but if these should succeed in being acceptable to my readers, I shall not be afraid of meeting Mr. Joseph Miller and his modern witticisms with my ancients. In that case I shall not despair of being able to lay before the public a veritable Roman newspaper, compounded of events in the days of Julius Cæsar : by what happy chance I traced this valuable relic, and with what pains I possessed myself of it, may be matter of future explanation : I have the satisfaction however to premise to the reader, that it is written with great freedom, and as well sprinkled with private anecdotes as any of the present, day, whose agreeable familiarity is so charming to every body but the parties concerned: it has also a good dash of the dramatic; and as some fastidious people have been inclined to treat our intelligencers and reviewers with a degree of neglect bordering upon contempt, I shall have pleasure in showing that they have classical authority for all their quirks and conceits, and that they are all written in the true quaint spirit of criticism: it is to be lamented that the Roman theatre furnishes no ladies to match the
heroines of our stage ; but I can produce some encomiums upon Laberius, Roscius, and the famous Publius Syrus, which would not be unapplicable to some of our present capital actors: I ain sorry to be obliged to confess, that they were not in the habit of speaking epilogues in those days; but I have a substitute in a prologue written and spoken by Decimus Laberius, which I am tempted to throw out as a lure to my newspaper ; but I must first explain upon what occasion it was composed.
This Laberius was a Roman knight of good family, and a man withal of high spirit and pretensions, but unfortunately he had a talent for the drama : he read his own plays better than any man then living could act them, for neither Garrick nor Henderson were yet born. P. Clodius, the fine gentleman and rake of the age, had the indecorum to press Laberius to come forward on the public stage, and take the principal character in one of his own plays: Laberius was indignant, and Clodius proceeded to menaces :—• Do your worst,' says the Roman knight, you can but send me to Dyracchium and back again'-proudly intimating that he would suffer the like banishment with Cicero, rather than consent to his demand ; for acting was not then the amusement of people of fashion, and private theatres were not thought of. Julius Cæsar was no less captivated with Laberius's talents than Clodius had been, and being a man not apt to be discouraged by common difficulties, took up the same solicitation, and assailed our Roman knight, who was now sixty years of age, and felt his powers in their decline: conscious of this decline no less than of his own dignity, he resisted the degrading request; he interceded, he implored of Cæsar to excuse him: it was to no purpose, Cæsar had made it his point, and his point he would carry: the word of Cæsar was law, and Laberius, driven out of all his defences, was obliged to submit and comply. Cæsar makes a grand spectacle for all Rome; bills are given out for a play of Laberius, and the principal part is announced to be performed by the author himself; the theatre is thronged with spectators;
all Rome is present, and Decimus Laberius presents himself on the stage, and addresses the audience in the following prologue:-
PROLOGUE BY DECIMUS LABERIUS.
O strong Necessity of whose swift course
• Fortune! fickle source of good and ill,
The original is so superiorly beautiful, that to prevent a bathos I shall insert it after the translation.
Necessitas, cujus cursus transversi impelum
The play which this pathetic prologue was attached to was a comedy, in which Laberius took the character of a slave, and in the course of the plot, as usual, was beaten by his master; in this condition, having marked his habit with counterfeited stripes, he runs upon the stage, and cries out amain-Porro, Quirites! libertatem perdimus— Ingood faith, countrymen, there is an end of freedom. The indignant spectators sent up a shout; it was, in the language of our present playhouse bills, ' a burst of applause; a
most violent burst of applause from a most crowded and brilliant house, overflowing in all parts.' Laberius, not yet content with this atonement to the manes of his knighthood, subjoins the following pointed allusion : Necesse est multos timeat, quem multi timent—. The man whom many fear, must needs fear many. All eyes were now turned upon Cæsar, and the degraded Laberius enjoyed a full revenge.
We may naturally suppose this conduct lost him the favour of Cæsar, who immediately took up Publius Syrus, a Syrian slave, who had been manumitted for his ingenious talents, and was acting in the country theatres with much applause : Cæsar fetched him out of his obscurity, as we bring up an actress from Bath or York, and pitted him against Laberius. It was the triumph of youth and vigour
age and decay, and Cæsar, with malicious civility, said to Laberius, Favente tibi me victus es, Laberi, a Syro— You are surpassed by Syrus in spite of my support.' As Laberius was going out of the theatre, he was met by Syrus, who was in. considerate enough to let an expression escape him, which was very disrespectful to his veteran competitor: Laberius felt the unbecoming insult, and turning to Syrus, gave him this extemporary an
• To stand the first is not the lot of all;
Non possunt primi esse omnes omni in tempore ;