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The father of Seneca hung upon the favor of the Sophists: he taught them mnemonics, rhetoric and elocution, and the fact that he was a courtly Spaniard was in his favor–we dote on a foreign accent and relish the thing that comes from afar.

Marcus Seneca was getting rich. He never perceived the absurdity of a life of make-believe; but his son, Lucius Seneca, heir to his mother’s discerning mind, when nineteen years old forswore the Sophists, and sided with the unpopular Stoics, much to the chagrin of the father.

Seneca–let us call him so after this–wore the simple white robe of the Stoics, without ornament or jewelry. He drank no wine, and ate no meat. Vegetarianism comes in waves, and it is interesting to see that in an essay on the subject, Seneca plagiarizes every argument put forth by Colonel Ernest Crosby, even to mentioning a butcher as an “executioner,” his goods as “dead corpses,” and the customers as “cannibals.”

This kind of talk did not help the family peace, and the father spoke of disowning the son, if he did not cease affronting the Best Society.

Soon after, the Emperor Tiberius issued an edict banishing all “strange sects who fasted on feast-days, and otherwise displeased the gods.” This was a suggestion for the benefit of the Crosbyites. It is with a feeling of downright disappointment that we find Seneca shortly appearing in an embroidered robe, and making a speech wherein the moderate use of wine is recommended, also the flesh of animals for those who think they need it.

This, doubtless, is the same speech we, too, would have made had we been there; but we want our hero to be strong, and defy even an Emperor, if he comes between the man and his right to eat what he wishes and wear what he listeth, and we blame him for not doing the things we never do. But Seneca was getting on in the world–he had become a lawyer, and his Sophist training was proving its worth. Henry Ward Beecher, in reply to a young man who asked him if he advised the study of elocution, said, “Elocution is all right, but you will have to forget it all before you become an orator.” Seneca was shedding his elocution, and losing himself in his work. A successful lawsuit had brought him before the public as a strong advocate. He was able to think on his feet. His voice was low, musical and effective, and the word, “dulcis,” was applied to him as it was to his brother, Gallio. Possibly there was something in ol’ Marcus Micawber’s pedagogic schemes, after all!

In moderating his Stoic philosophy, Seneca gives us the key to his character: the man wanted to be gentle and kind; he wished to affront neither his father nor society; so he compromised–he would please and placate. Ease and luxury appealed to him, and yet his cool intellect stood off, and reviewing the proceeding pronounced it base. He succumbed to the strongest attraction, and attempted the feat of riding two horses at once.

From his twentieth year, Seneca dallied with the epigram, found solace in a sentence, and got a sweet, subtle joy by taking a thought captive. Lucullus tells us of the fine intoxication of oratory, but neither opium nor oratory imparts a finer thrill than successfully to drive a flock of clauses, and round up an idea, roping it in careless grace, with what my lord Hamlet calls words, words, words.

The early Christian Fathers spoke of him as “our Seneca.” His writings abound in the purest philosophy–often seemingly paraphrasing Saint Paul–and every argument for directness of speech, simplicity, manliness and moderation is put forth. His writings became the rage in Rome: at feasts he read his essays on the Ideal Life, just as the disciples of Tolstoy often travel by the gorge road, and give banquets in honor of the man who no longer attends one; or princely paid preachers glorify the Man who said to His apostles, “Take neither scrip nor purse.”