In relating the celebration of their marriage, which took place during the absence of the emperor at Ostia, Tacitus expresses a kind of fear lest posterity should refuse to credit such an enormity, and therefore takes care to inform us, that he had ascertained the truth from the testimony of some old men, who had been witnesses of these infamous transactions. The simple Claudius was the last to discover his wife's baseness, and his own dis honour; and so much was he the dupe of her artifices, that he seemed willing, even after her marriage with Si lius was revealed to him, to receive her again into fa vour, had not Narcissus, afraid lest his own power should be annihilated by this new union, extorted from him an involuntary consent to her death. After the death of Messalina, the emperor married his own niece Agrippi na, who artfully availed herself of the opportunities which her near relationship afforded her, to ingratiate herself into his favour. The abject senate had previously pass ed a decree to recommend and justify this incestuous union, alike revolting to human nature, and abhorrent from the Roman customs and laws. Agrippina, to se cure the popular favour, reversed, as the first act of her power, the sentence of banishment which Messalina had issued against Seneca, and appointed him tutor to her son Domitius. The measures of government, however, anon convinced the Roman people, that they had only exchanged one female tyrant for another. Claudius be came as completely the dupe of Agrippina as he had been formerly of Messalina. To secure the sovereignty for her own son Domitius, to the prejudice of Britanni cus, the son and legitimate heir of Claudius, was the grand object to which all the efforts of her craft and her influ ence were directed. Nor was she more scrupulous than her predecessor in the means which she employed to promote her designs. Every person whom she could con sider as an obstacle in her way, was speedily removed ; and those only were admitted to offices of trust and ho nour, who were dependant on her favour, and devoted to her will. Her schemes were prosecuted with so little reserve, that they were easily seen through by all, and the emperor was privately apprised of the danger which threatened him. In his first alarm, he uttered some me nacing expressions, which came to the ears of Agrippi na. She was aware of her precarious situation, and re solved, by strong and speedy measures, to secure the grand object of her ambition beyond the chance of op position. Shc therefore took an early opportunity of ad ministering poison to her husband, in a dish of mush rooms, of which he was particularly fond. The poison
was effectual, and terminated the life of this contempti ble emperor, A. D. 54, in the 64th year of his age, and the 14th of his reign.
The reign of Claudius, though signalized by no war like achievements of the emperor in person, added some what to the extent of the Roman dominion, and the glo ry of the Roman name. Corbulo and Gallia sustained in Germany the reputation of the imperial army, and Plan tius advanced the eagle in triumph through some of the finest provinces of Britain. With a view of sharing the ho:,our of his generals' successes, Claudius himself came over into our island, and after witnessing some of shL victories of his troops, returned to his capital to adorn his brow with the laurels which the valour of his com manders and their soldiers had earned. Nor was tie less ambitious of literary renown, to which his claims were, if not juster, at least less absurd. He composed seve ral works in the Greek and Latin languages : and we arc infurined by Tacitus, a very competent judge, that his meditated harangues were by no means deficient in cle fiance. Emulous of the fame of Cadmus and Palamede:, he endeavoured to improve the Roman alphabet by the addition of three letters. Posterity, not aware of the utility of this accession, refused to give it the sanction of custom ; though, in the time of Tacitus, the new let ters were still to be seen in many of the public edicts which had been issued during the reign of Claudius. Ile conferred a more essential benefit on his subjects and their posterity, by forming a port at Ostia, at the mouth of the Tiber, for the purpose of providing the city with foreign grain in years of scarcity ; by the grand canal, which he cut, with the view of reclaiming, for agricul ture, the land inundated by the Fucine lake ; and espe cially by the completion of the stupendous aqueduct be gun by Caius, by means of which the city was supplied with the delightful waters which issued from the neigh bouring hills.
On the whole, we cannot contemplate the character of this weak and despicable prince, without joining in the reflection of the judicious historian above-mentioned, that the exaltation of such a man to the imperial throne is to be regarded as an instance of that apparently capri cious contingency in human affairs, which frequently mocks all human calculations.—Illihi, quanto plura re centiuzn scu veicru in revolvo, tanto magis ludibria rcruin mortaliunz cunctis in negotiis observantur : quippe fama, spe,veneratione nouns omnes destizzabantur imperio, quant quern futurum principem fortune in occulto tenebat. Ta citus, Suetonius, Tillemont, Ste. (k.)