There must always be something arbitrary in the choice and isolation of a period of social history for special study. No period can, from one point of view, be broken off and isolated from the immemorial influences which have moulded it, from the succession of coming ages which it will help to fashion. And this is specially true of the history of a race at once so aggressive, yet so tenacious of the past, as the Roman. The national fibre was so tough, and its tone and sentiment so conservative under all external changes, that when a man knows any considerable period of Roman social history, he may almost, without paradox, be said to know a great deal of it from Romulus to Honorius.
evotion of literary amateurs to poetic composition and its causes--The influence of the great Augustan models read at school--Signs of decay in literature--The growing love of the archaic style--Immense literary ambition of the time--Attempts of Nero and Domitian to satisfy it by public literary competitions--The plague of recitations--Pliny believes in the duty of attending them--The weariness and emptiness of life in the capital--The charm of the country--Roman country seats on the Anio or the Laurentine and Campanian shores--The sites of these villas--Their furniture and decorations--Doubtful appreciation of works of art--The gardens of the villa--The routine of a country gentleman's day--The financial management of an estate--Difficulties with tenants--Pliny's kindness to freedmen and slaves--The darker side of slavery--Murder of a master--Pliny's views on suicide--Tragedies in his circle--Pliny's charity and optimism--The solidarity of the aristocratic class--Pliny thinks it a duty to assist the career o