ROME has not for many years beheld so striking and memorable a spectacle as was lately exhibited in the public funeral of Virginius Rufus, one of her greatest citizens, and no less fortunate than illustrious. For he lived thirty years after achieving fame, he read his actions in the pages of poets and historians, and thus made one among his survivors. He was thrice raised to the dignity of Consul, that he who refused to be the first of princes, might at least be the highest of subjects. He escaped the resentment of those emperors to whom his virtues had rendered him suspect, and even odious, and left the best, the most amicable of princes firmly seated on the throne, as if providence had purposely preserved him to receive the honour of this public funeral. He arrived, in full tranquillity and universally revered, to the eightyfourth year of his age, still enjoying robust health, excepting only a paralytic disorder in his hands, which however was attended with no pain. His passage to death, alone, was severe and tedious; but even this was matter for praise. As he was rehearsing his speech of thanks to the Emperor, who had raised him to the consulship, a volume, which chanced to be inconveniently large for him to hold, escaped by its sheer weight the grasp that age and his upright posture doubly enfeebled. In hastily endeavouring to recover it, he missed his footing on the smooth slippery pavement; fell down, and broke his hipbone; which fracture, as it was unskilfully set at first, and having besides the infirmities of age to contend with, could never be brought to unite again.
The funeral obsequies paid to the memory of this great man have done honour to the Emperor, to the present age, and also to Eloquence herself. The consul Cornelius Tacitus pronounced his funeral oration: for the series of his felicities was crowned by the applause of the most eloquent of orators. He died full of years and of glory, as illustrious by the honours he refused, as by those he accepted. Still, however, he will be missed and lamented by us, as the bright model of a bygone age; especially by myself, who not only admired him as a patriot, but loved him as a friend. We were not only natives of the same province, and of neighbouring towns, but our estates were contiguous. Besides, he was also left guardian to me, and treated me with the affection of a parent. Whenever I offered myself a candidate for any employment, he constantly honoured me with his support; though he had long since renounced friendly services of this nature, he would always hasten from his rural retirement to attend my formal entry upon an office. At the time when it is customary for the priests to nominate such as they judge worthy to be received into their sacred office, he constantly proposed me. Even in his last sickness, being apprehensive he might be named one of the five commissioners appointed by the senate to reduce the public expenses, he fixed upon me, young as I am, to carry his excuses, in preference to so many other friends of superior age and dignity; and in a very obliging manner assured me, that had he a son of his own, he would nevertheless have employed me in that office.
Thus I am constrained to lament his death, as if it were immature, and pour out the fullness of my grief in the bosom of my friend; if indeed it be permissible to grieve at all upon this occasion, or to call that event death, which to such a man, is rather to be looked upon as the period of his mortality than of his life. For he lives, and will continue to live for ever; and his fame will be spread farther by the recollection and the tongues of men now that he is removed from their sight.
I had many other things to write to you, but my mind is so entirely taken up with this subject, that I cannot call it off to any other. Virginius is constantly in my thoughts; tbe vain but lively impressions of him are continually before my eyes, and I am for ever fondly imagining that I hear him, converse with him, and embrace him. There are, perhaps, and possibly possibly hereafter will be, some few Romans who may rival him in virtue; but not one, I am persuaded, that will ever equal him in glory. Farewell.