Page:Essays and Addresses.djvu/310
launch it on a new term of existence, in which the fortified powers of life should battle with better hope against the insidious approaches of decay and death. The decline of the Republic presents only two moments at which such a dictator appeared and such an enterprise was possible. The first moment was when Sulla stood triumphant above the prostrate democracy, and used his victory to entrench the oligarchy in the most unassailable position that he could devise. The second moment was when the end of the Civil War left Cæsar supreme over the Roman world.
The peculiar fascination of Cæsar's career for our days depends partly on the rather delusive facility with which modern society, especially perhaps English society, thinks to recognise its own features in the Roman society of Cæsar's time. The mirror is hardly flattering—certainly not when it is held up by the deft hand of Mr Froude.
"It was an age of material progress and material civilisation; an age of civil liberty and intellectual culture; an age of pamphlets and epigrams, of salons and dinner parties, of senatorial majorities and electoral corruption. The highest offices of state were open in theory to the meanest citizen; they were confined in fact to those who had the longest purses, or the most ready use of the tongue on popular platforms. Distinctions of birth had been exchanged for distinctions of wealth. The struggles between plebeians and patricians for equality of privilege were over, and a new division had been formed between the party of property and a party who desired a change in the structure of society. The free cultivators were disappearing from the soil. Italy was being absorbed into vast estates, held by a few favoured families and cultivated by slaves, while the old agricultural population was