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JOHN WALKER, LL.B.
FELLOW OF NEW COLLEGE.
IN FOUR VOLUMES.
1. ANCIENT AND MODERN LITERATURE, CRITICISM, AND
II. PHILOSOPHY AND NATURAL HISTORY.
PRINTED FOR LONGMAN, HURST, REES, ORME, AND BROWN, PATER-
ANCIENT AND MODERN
CRITICISM, AND PHILOLOGY.
I. On the Acta Diurna of the Old Romans.
Sine ullis ornamentis monumenta solum temporum, hominum, locorum, gestarumque rerum reliquerunt; dum intelligatur, quid dicant, unam dicendi laudem putant esse brevitatem; non exornatores rerum, sed tantummodo narratores fuerunt. Cic. de Orat. Lib. 2. C. 12.
we are apt to look, either with an eye of contempt or surprize, on the customs of other nations, which differ from our own, so we cannot help being pleased with any, which bear some degree of resemblance to those of our country. The pleasure seems to be stronger, the further we carry our views back into ancient times, and observe this analogy of fashions; whether the veneration usually paid to antiquity itself, heightens the satisfaction; or whether we regard it as the voice of nature pronouncing such a custom rational and useful by the consent of distant ages. To apply this general remark to a particular instance; every body must allow that our newspapers, and the other collections of intelligence periodically published, by the materials they afford for discourse and speculation, contribute very much to the emolument of society; their cheapness brings them into universal use; their variety adapts them to every one's taste: the scholar instructs himself with advice from the literary world; the soldier makes a campaign in safety, and censures the conduct of generals without fear of being punished for mutiny; the politician, inspired by the fumes of the coffee-pot, unravels the knotty intrigues of ministers; the industrious merchant observes the course of trade and navigation; and the honest shopkeeper nods over the account of a robbery and the prices of goods till his pipe is out. One may easily imagine,, that the use and amusement resulting from these diurnal histories render it a custom, not
likely to be confined to one part of the globe, or one period of time. The relations of China mention a gazette published there by authority, and the Roman historians sometimes quote the Acta Diurna, or Daily Advertisers of that empire. It will serve to illustrate the thought at the beginning, by shewing the analogy of customs, and besides furnish a good authority for the readers of newspapers, who may for the future appeal to the practice of the old Romans, if I enter into a little critical essay upon the nature of the writings last mentioned,
The Acta Diurna were journals* of the common occurrences of Rome, as the trials, elections, punishments, buildings, deaths, sacrifices, prodigies, &c. composed under the direction of the magistrates, committed to their care, and laid up with the rest of their records in an edifice, called the Hall of Liberty. They were, like all other public papers, easily gained access to. The historianst appear to have collected materials from them; nor is it improbable, that copies were frequently taken by particular persons, and dispersed about the city, or sent to their friends in the provinces, that no Roman might be ignorant even of the minu test event which happened in the metropolis of the world.
We may find some ground for this supposition in the correspondence between Cicero and Coelius, whilst the former was governor of Cilicia. Coelius had promised to send him the news of Rome, and in order to discharge his com mission with exactness, and gratify the curiosity of his friend, incloses in his first letter a kind of journal of the occur rences of the city. Tully, it appears, would have made a bad figure in a modern coffee-house conversation, for he rallies Coelius about it very humourously in his answer; "Do you think," says he, " that I left it in charge with you to send an account of the matches of gladiators, the adjournments of the courts, and such like articles, which even when I am at Home, nobody ventures to tell me? From you I expect a political sketch of the commonwealth, and not Chrestus's newspaper." Suetonius likewise mentions a little particularity with regard to these Acta Diurna, which may serve to confirm the notion of their bearing a pretty near resemblance to our newspapers. He says, that J. Caesar in his consulship ordered the diurnal acts of the senate and the people
* Vide Justi Lipsii Excursus in Tacitum Ed. Var, v. 1. p. 743.
↑ Suet. in Cres. c. 20. in vita Tib. c. 5. et alias. Tac. L. 13. Suet. in Cal. C. 9. "Fient ista palam, cupiunt et in acta referri." Juv. Sat. 2. 1. 136.
L. 8. Ep. 1. L. 2. Ep. 8.
Vit. Jul. Cæs.
to be published. Augustus, indeed, the same author* ob- serves, forbid the publication of the former to be continued, but there is no reason to think his prohibition extended to the latter. It is certainly suitable to the genius of an absolute monarchy, that its counsels should not be publicly known; but the amusing and trifling topics for discourse, which the common events of a great city afford, are so far from being offensive under such a constitution, that they rather serve to draw off the minds of the people from inquiring into affairs of a more important and secret nature. The antiquaries pretend to have discovered some of these papers: those, which relate to the 585th year of Rome, were first published by Pighiust in his annals. He tells us that they were given him by James Susius, who found them amongst the papers of Ludovicus Vives. He does not seem to doubt in the least of their being genuine, and even makes use of them to correct a passage in Livy. Dodwell‡ inserted them in his Camdenian lectures, together with some additional acta of the year of Rome 691. A friend of his, Hadrian Beverland, had received them from Isaac Vossius, who transcribed them from a parcel of inscriptions, which Petavius had prepared for the press. I shall now communicate to my readers some extracts from the papers themselves,
Aug. C. 36. Primus omnium instituit, ut tam senatus quam populi dis urna acta conficerentur et publicarentur,' These words of Suetonius imply further, that Julius Cæsar was the first who ordered the acts of the senate and people to be drawn up as well as published; and this is one reason amongst others, why some men of learning have suspected the genuineness of these remains of the Acta. But perhaps the force of Suetonius's assertion may be taken off, if we consider that a numerous, grave, and regular body, like the Roman senate, could not possibly carry on the variety of business with dispatch or convenience, unless some registers of their proceedings were taken, which might be referred to, and examined upon occasion. Besides, I think it may be clearly collected from the following passage in one of Tully's Orations, that there were some such registers in being long before the time of Cæsar's consulship. Quid deinde? quid feci? cum scirem ita indicium in tabulas publicas relatum, ut eæ tabulæ privata tamen custodia continerentur; non continui domi, sed dividi passim,' &c. pro Sull. c. 15. Now, as we may reasonably suppose Suetonius less accurate in his assertion with regard to the Acta Senatus, why may not we also suspect his accuracy in the other instance of the Acta Diurna, especially if we consider that the tabulæ publicæ' may include both, and that the Roman historians were very careless in consulting their records, and searching after them? I will lengthen this note no further than by just mentioning that Mr. Wesseling, a German professor, has attacked these Acta Diurna with a good deal of learning and ingenuity. I should make this essay more tedious than it is already, by entering into the controversy, and therefore choose to refer the reader to the book itself.
† Vol. 2.
App. 665 and $90.