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Glimpses of kindness and right intent are shown when Agrippina recalled Seneca, and when she became the mother of the motherless children of Claudius. She publicly adopted these children, and for a time gave them every attention and advantage that was bestowed upon her own son. Gibbon says for one woman to mother another woman’s children is a diplomatic card often played, but Gibbon sometimes quibbles.

Gradually the fierce desire of Agrippina’s heart began to manifest itself. She plotted and arranged that Nero should marry Octavia, the daughter of Claudius. Octavia was seven years older than Nero, but the sooner the marriage could be brought about, the better–it would give her a double hold on the throne. To this end suitors for the hand of Octavia were disgraced by false charges, and sent off into exile, and the same fate came to at least three young women who stood in the way.

But the one real obstacle was Claudius himself–he was sixty, and might be so absurd as to live to be eighty. Locusta, a famous professional chemist, was employed, and the deed was done by Agrippina serving the deadly dish herself. The servants carried Claudius off to bed, thinking he was merely drunk, but he was to wake no more.

Burrus, the blunt and honest old soldier, Captain of the Pretorian Guard, sided with Agrippina; Brittanicus, the son of Claudius, was kept out of the way, and Nero was proclaimed Emperor.

Here Seneca seems to have shown his good influence, and sent home a desire in the heart of Agrippina to serve her people with moderation and justice. She had attained her ends: her son, a youth of fifteen, was Emperor, and his guardian, the great and gentle Seneca, the man of her own choosing, was the actual ruler. She was the sister of one Emperor, wife of another, and now mother of a third–surely this was glory enough to satisfy one woman’s ambition!

Then there came to Rome the famed Quinquennium Neronis, when, for five years, peace and plenty smiled. It is a trite saying that men who can not manage their own finances can look after those of a nation, but Seneca was a businessman who proved his ability to manage his own private affairs and also succeeded in managing the exchequer of a kingdom. During his reign, gladiatorial contests were relieved of their savage brutality, work was given to many, education became popular, and people said, “The Age of Augustus has returned.”

But the greatest men are not the greatest teachers. Seneca’s policy with his pupil, Nero, was one of concession.

A close study of the youth of Nero reveals the same traits that outcrop in one-half the students at Harvard–traits ill-becoming to grown-up men, but not at all alarming in youth. Nero was self-willed and occasionally had tantrums–but a tantrum is only a little whirl-wind of misdirected energy. A tantrum is life plus–it is better far than stagnation, and usually works up into useful life, and sometimes into great art. We have some verses written by Nero in his seventeenth year that show a good Class B sophomoric touch. He danced, played in the theatricals, raced horses, fought dogs, twanged the harp, and exploited various other musical instruments. He wasn’t nearly so bad as Alcibiades, but his mother lavished on him her maudlin love, and allowed the fallacy to grow in his mind concerning the divinity that doth hedge a king. In fact, when he asked his mother about his real father, she hid the truth that his father was a rogue–perhaps to shield herself, for it is only a very great person who can tell the truth–and led him to believe his paternal parent was a god, and his birth miraculous. Now, let such an idea get into the head of the average freshman and what will be the result? A woman can tell a full-grown man that he is the greatest thing that ever happened, and it does no special harm, for the man knows better than to go out on the street and proclaim it; but you tell a boy of eighteen such pleasing fallacies, and then have fawning courtiers back them up, and at the same time give the youth free access to the strong box, and it surely would be a miracle if he is not doubly damned, and quickly, too. Agrippina would not allow the blunt old Burrus to discipline her boy, and Seneca’s plan was one of concession–he loved peace. He hated to thwart the boy, because he knew that it would arouse the ire of the mother, whose love had run away with her commonsense. Love is beautiful–soft, yielding, gentle love–but the common law of England upholds wife-beating as being justifiable and desirable on certain occasions.