Essays and Addresses/Cæsar: a Sketch. By J. A. Froude, M.A.
CÆSAR: A SKETCH.
By J. A. Froude, MA. London, 1879.
In one of his earliest published compositions Macaulay makes Julius Cæsar the central figure in a fragmentary story of which the scene is laid at Rome on the eve of Catiline's conspiracy. The tale opens with a conversation between two of Catiline's friends. Ligarius is strolling back from the Campus Martius to the Forum, when he overtakes Flaminius, who tells him what the political world is saying about the supper-parties at Catiline's house. Cæsar, in particular, has been indicated by Cicero as a dangerous person. Ligarius is astonished. Surely, he says, Cæsar does nothing but gamble, feast, intrigue, read Greek, and write verses. Flaminius, however, knows better. He has just lost a large sum to Cæsar at play, and Cæsar had won the game while carrying on a flirtation which preoccupied him so much that he scarcely looked at the board. "I thought," says Flaminius, "that I had him. All at once I found my counters driven into the corner. Not a piece to move. It cost me two millions of sesterces." While the friends are still talking, the subject of their conversation comes in sight—the elegant Cæsar, whom the gay youth of Rome take to be merely one of themselves, but whose features can be read more truly by those who have felt his easy mastery of whatever he attempts. Slight as this early production of Macaulay's is, it has always seemed to us to suggest how excellent a subject Cæsar would be for a writer who united the qualifications of an historian with imaginative force and dramatic power. Exact scholarship, laborious research, and literary skill have been abundantly devoted in recent times to the illustration of Cæsar's career; yet after all that has been done by Mommsen and by Drumann, by Merivale and by Long, by M. Victor Duruy and by the Imperial biographer who in his account of the Gallic campaigns has at least made a solid contribution to military archæology, one thing still remained for a writer of Cæsar's life to do—to give us a living picture of the man, faithful to such authentic traits as history has preserved, and lending unity to these by such touches as only a sympathetic imagination can supply. This is what Mr Froude has essayed to do. He has approached his subject not simply as a student of history, but also, and more peculiarly, in the spirit of a creative dramatist. An estimate of his work which aims at seizing that which is really distinctive of it will view it especially in the latter aspect. The book is not properly a critical study of the Fall of the Commonwealth; it is rather an artistic study—a "sketch" as Mr Froude calls it, a portrait as it might fairly be called—of Cæsar's character and work. The defects of Mr Froude's performance arise in nearly every case from the same general cause. He has gone to the original sources, Latin and Greek, for the history of the period, and he has frequently used them with signal literary skill; but he has not always attended to the precise meaning of the texts on which he relies. The blemishes which result are of two classes. First, there is a certain number of small inaccuracies in regard to the interpretation of particular phrases, or to Roman political antiquities These inaccuracies lower the claim of the book in a critical sense, but will not, as a rule, seriously mislead the general reader, while the scholar will correct them for himself. Secondly, there are some instances of injustice, springing chiefly from the same source, to the characters of the secondary personages of the drama; these faults are of a graver nature, and ought to receive the author's attention in the next edition of the work. Thus we would suggest that he should consider carefully what Professor Tyrrell urges in the Preface and Introduction to the first volume of his edition of "Cicero's Letters" regarding Cicero's relations to Cæsar, to Clodius, and to Catiline, and regarding the question of Cæsar's complicity in the Catilinarian plot. The estimate of Tiberius Gracchus is hardly, we think, duly appreciative, and the verdict upon Lucullus appears to us unfairly harsh. But it will not be the object of the following pages to examine the questionable points of Mr Froude's work in minute detail. This task has not been neglected by our predecessors in the criticism of the book; and having indicated the nature and bearing of these minor defects, we may therefore pass at once to the consideration of the larger questions which Mr Froude has raised. The general conception of Cæsar's place in history which the "Sketch" unfolds, apart from those merits or flaws of workmanship which only the few can appreciate, constitutes its really distinctive interest, and it is to this that our remarks shall be chiefly directed.
The first condition for a just estimate of Cæsar's public character and work is a clear perception of the point which the downward course of the Republic had reached at the moment when he entered on his career. Mr Froude has aimed at satisfying this condition in the most complete manner, and has accordingly devoted several of his earlier chapters to a narrative of Roman aflairs from the time of the Gracchi. This method has the advantage of developing his views in fuller detail, but we are inclined to think that it is injurious to the artistic effect of his sketch as a whole. Too long an interval elapses between the opening of the drama and the first appearance of the chief actor. Mr Froude is seldom more effective than in describing the tendencies and characteristics of a period which presents vivid contrasts. In this case his object would, we think, have been better attained if he had compressed his preliminary narrative into a general survey, and had not made the reader wait so long for introduction to the central figure of the story. The first part of the book might be described as a detailed proof that the Roman aristocracy had become no less incapable of governing than the Roman mob. It would not be easy to bring any new charge against the Senate of the declining Republic; but the indictment has never been laid with more rhetorical force than by Mr Froude. In following the chief points of this indictment, it will be convenient to recognise two periods: the first, from the Gracchi to Sulla; the second, from Sulla to the first consulship of Cæsar.
"The Senate," says Mr Froude, "was the permanent Council of State, and was the real administrator of the empire. The senate had the control of the treasury, conducted the public policy, appointed from its own ranks the governors of the provinces. It was patrician in sentiment, but not necessarily patrician in composition. The members of it had virtually been elected for life by the people, and were almost entirely those who had been quæstors, ædiles, prætors, or consuls; and these offices had been open to the plebeians. It was an aristocracy, in theory a real one, but tending to become, as civilisation went forward, an aristocracy of the rich."
This account is substantially correct, though, as we shall see presently, it scarcely brings out with sufficient clearness the character which had belonged to the Senate before it began to degenerate. We proceed to trace, with Mr Froude, the process by which senatorial rule was finally discredited. "Caius Gracchus had a broader intellect than his brother, and a character considerably less noble. The land question, he perceived, was but one of many questions. The true source of the disorders of the Commonwealth was the Senate itself. The administration of the empire was in the hands of men totally unfit to be trusted with it." Accordingly, after reviving the agrarian law, Caius Gracchus transferred the judicial functions of the Senate to the knights. "How bitterly must such a measure have been resented by the Senate, which at once robbed them of their protective and profitable privileges, handed them over to be tried by their rivals for their pleasant irregularities, and stamped them at the same time with the brand of dishonesty! How certainly must such a measure have been deserved, when neither consul nor tribune could be found to interpose his veto!" But the Senate were equal to the occasion, and acted after their kind. "Again, as ten years before, the noble lords armed their followers." Caius Gracchus was killed, and "the surviving patriots who were in any way notorious or dangerous were hunted down in legal manner and put to death or banished." From this point down to the Sullan Revolution, Mr Froude represents the Senate as merely going from bad to worse, giving more and more signal proofs, at each new crisis, of shameless selfishness and disastrous incapacity. Jugurtha bribes the senatorial commissioners sent to Africa, and then, "with contemptuous confidence," comes over to Italy, loaded with gold, and bribes the senators themselves at Rome. When the wave of Teutonic invasion comes surging down the northern plains, the prating Senate are as helpless as the howling mob, and the country is saved by Marius and the legions. When the Italians rise in the Social War, and claim the franchise, the Senate discover that they must come to terms if they would escape destruction. They yield, and so gain a breathing-space. Presently the terrible Mithridates crosses the Bosporus, and Greece is up in revolt. As usual, the Senate are utterly unprepared, and this time there is an explosion of fury at Rome. No fleet, no army; the treasury empty; an aristocracy of millionaires and a bankrupt State; the interests of the Commonwealth sacrificed to fill the purses of the few. The panic-stricken Senate command Sulla to save the Republic. But the people remember who opened the Alps to the Germans; they know how much is to be expected from a continuance of "the accursed system." They insist on having Marius. Sulla asserts his claim by marching on Rome, and then goes away to that campaign by which, after four years, he brings Mithridates to sue for peace on his knees. No sooner is he gone than the democrats rise under Cinna. "Again, as so many times before, the supremacy of the aristocrats had been accompanied with dishonour abroad, and the lawless murder of political adversaries at home." Democracy has its bloody triumph under Marius; and then the triumph of aristocracy is signalised with still more horrible atrocities under Sulla.
The Senate now enters on a fresh phase of existence. As an administrative body, it had hopelessly broken down, Sulla gives it a new lease of life, and sends it forth on a new period of probation. The virtual effect of his reforms was to concentrate all independent power in the Senate; to give it the supreme control, legislative and executive; to make it "omnipotent and irresponsible." Once more it fails, and now the failure is final and decisive. When Cæsar was twenty-four years of age the situation had already come to be this: the Roman dominion must suffer disruption, or the existing Constitution must be abolished. The mob manifestly could not govern, and the aristocracy had given irrefutable proof that they could not govern either. Sulla had framed for them the most favourable conditions that an absolute aristocrat could invent, and the result was universal disorder. Spain had been reduced to temporary submission only by the assassination of Sertorius. The sea was abandoned to buccaneers. "Wolves calling themselves Roman senators" preyed at will upon the wretched people of the provinces. Honest and industrious men were robbed of their hardly-earned property. Their wives and daughters were dishonoured, and protests only provoked fresh outrage. Nor was there any hope for the unhappy victims, since they were not enduring the transient calamity of rule by a bad man—they were under the indefeasible tyranny of a dead hand. The insurrection of the slaves showed how the very foundations of Roman society were heaving beneath it. It was quelled, and six thousand miserable beings were impaled along the sides of the Italian highways; but the deadly disease was not remedied, it was only inflamed, by forcible repression. As the Servile War showed what Rome had to fear from the despair of the lowest, the conspiracy of Catiline revealed the danger which menaced it from the discontents of men more highly placed. Catiline's followers were not only "the dangerous classes," the parricides, adulterers, forgers, brigands, pirates; their ranks included ruined men of birth and dissatisfied men of wealth. The fact which gave the conspiracy a plausible significance and a dangerous cohesion was the general disrepute of the government. The trial of Clodius for sacrilege, resulting in his scandalous acquittal, brought fresh infamy on the Senate, causing Cicero, who believed that the Commonwealth had been founded anew in his own consulship, to say, "Unless some god looks favourably on us, all is lost by this single judgment." It was, in fact, the most glaring example which had yet illustrated the depravity of the law courts. The elections to the magistracies became every year more corrupt. Italy was parcelled out into vast estates cultivated by slaves. The colonists of the Gracchan system, the military settlers planted on the lands by Sulla, had alike disappeared, and the agrarian problem remained to be attacked anew. Thus in every department of the State there was a crying need of reform when Cæsar entered on his first consulship. The spirit in which he addressed himself to the task, as conceived by Mr Froude, shall be described in Mr Froude's own words (p. 171):—
"The consulship of Cæsar was the last chance for the Roman aristocracy. He was not a revolutionist. Revolutions are the last desperate remedy when all else has failed. They may create as many evils as they cure, and wise men always hate them. But if revolution was to be escaped, reform was inevitable, and it was for the Senate to choose between the alternatives. Could the noble lords have known then, in that their day, the things that belonged to their peace—could they have forgotten their fishponds and their game preserves, and have remembered that, as the rulers of the civilised world, they had duties which the eternal order of nature would exact at their hands, the shaken constitution might again have regained its stability, and the forms and even the reality of the republic might have continued for another century. It was not to be. Had the Senate been capable of using the opportunity, they would long before have undertaken a reformation for themselves. Even had their eyes been opened, there were disintegrating forces at work which the highest political wisdom could do no more than arrest; and little good is really effected by prolonging artificially the lives of either constitutions or individuals beyond their natural period. From the time when Rome became an empire, mistress of provinces to which she was unable to extend her own liberties, the days of her self-government were numbered. A homogeneous and vigorous people may manage their own affairs under a popular constitution so long as their personal characters remain undegenerate. Parliaments and Senates may represent the general will of the community, and may pass laws and administer them as public sentiment approves. But such bodies can preside successfully only among subjects who are directly represented in them. They are too ignorant, too selfish, too divided, to govern others; and imperial aspirations draw after them, by obvious necessity, an imperial rule. Cæsar may have known this in his heart, yet the most far-seeing statesman will not so trust his own misgivings as to refuse to hope for the regeneration of the institutions into which he is born. He will determine that justice shall be done. Justice is the essence of government, and without justice all forms, democratic or monarchic, are tyrannies alike. But he will work with the existing methods till the inadequacy of them has been proved beyond dispute. Constitutions are never overthrown till they have pronounced sentence on themselves."
Mr Froude's view, then, is this. The Roman Constitution—the Republic with the Senate as the chief depositary of its powers—was irrevocably doomed from the moment that Rome acquired provinces to which the liberties of the Constitution could not be imparted. But the doom was precipitated by the incapacity and the vices of the order from which the Senate was drawn. Cæsar had a loyal desire to give the Constitution a last chance. This was the motive of his legislation in his consulship. He was affirming the only principles on which the existing fabric could be sustained. The senators "groaned and foamed," but it was Cæsar who was trying to save them in spite of themselves. He did his best; but their incorrigible perversity was too much for his disinterested devotion to the task of healing the commonwealth. His effort failed; and then only one course remained.
The brilliant literary power with which Mr Froude has urged the case against the Senate would lend strength to a weak cause. It is the more impressive because, as every student of history knows, the charges which it enforces contain a large element of truth. The senators who regarded an election as an occasion for giving bribes, and a seat on the judicial bench as an opportunity for receiving them—the senators to whom a provincial government meant a boundless license of rapine, who used the highest offices of state in the unscrupulous service of party or family, who trifled with all grave matters, secular or sacred, and found the serious occupation of life in the superintendence of fishponds and aviaries—the senators whose habitual vices were not only those from which modern society revolts, but those which it has agreed not to name—these "noble lords," as Mr Froude delights, with questionable taste, to call them, are by no means imaginary persons. Yet, as we follow the course of the eloquent impeachment, the impression gradually produced upon our mind resembles that described by a listener who was present in Westminster Hall when a master of invective not inferior to Cicero denounced the man who, in a distant province of our Empire, had abused responsibilities vaster than those committed to Verres. The vigour, the imagination, the fire of Burke's opening narrative enchained the audience, but when he passed from narrative to comment,—when the charges of rapacity, cruelty, tyranny were reiterated in general terms,—his declamatory vehemence broke the spell. Mr Froude's statement of the case against the Roman Senate has a similar effect upon us. He first elicits the damning eloquence of facts, and then overlays it with the rhetoric of denunciation.
It is evident that two distinct questions are involved in Mr Froude's statement of the political situation in the last years of the Roman Republic. The first question is: Was the maintenance of the Constitution essentially incompatible with the imperial position which Rome had acquired by foreign conquest? The second question is: Were the actual circumstances of the Constitution so desperate that there was nothing left for Cæsar to do but "to found the military monarchy," or, in other words, to make himself absolute?
The change made in the position of Rome by conquests beyond the Italian peninsula consisted in the extension of Roman power over subjects who could not become citizens. The privileges of free membership in the commonwealth might possibly be imparted to all Italians; but they could not be received, still less exercised, by the heterogeneous mass of populations who successively yielded to the Roman arms. If the practical difficulties of communication imposed by distance and by language could have been overcome, more insuperable obstacles would have remained. Deeply ingrained differences of civilisation, utterly alien modes of thought, would have made it impossible for the foreign races to coalesce into a free civic body with the members of the Italian commonwealth; and, had it been otherwise, their adoption into that body would have been barred by the scorn with which the meanest of the victorious people regarded the noblest of the vanquished. So much must be fully conceded to those who maintain that the military monarchy was a necessity. The basis on which the government of the Republic rested could not have been widened in such a manner as to bring within the circle of its liberties all those around whom it had drawn the girdle of its dominion. Henceforth the self-governing Republic had also to govern dependents. The conditions for a successful performance of this latter task were mainly two—first, a thoroughly efficient military administration; secondly, a supply of provincial governors with adequate political training, and under adequate control. The Senate, Mr Froude holds, was "too ignorant, too selfish, too divided," to satisfy these conditions. We shall come presently to the actual state of things which confronted Cæsar. We are now enquiring whether the Roman Constitution was essentially and necessarily unequal to such a work. As Mr Froude says, the Senate was "in theory" a real aristocracy. But we must remember that it had not always been so "in theory" alone. During the most brilliant period of Roman history it had been a real aristocracy in fact. Government by the Senate was the result of the struggle between patricians and plebeians; and it was the Senate that ruled Rome from the end of the Samnite wars to the conquest of Macedonia—that is, during the earlier and more arduous part of her progress from Italian supremacy to universal empire. The Senate of this period was not an oligarchy of birth or wealth, but a body of practical statesmen, representing the best popular judgment, and protected by life-tenure from servility to popular caprice. Its control of the treasury, of the magistracies, and of foreign affairs was firm enough for political stability, but not too absolute for freedom. The periodical scrutiny by the censors was not as yet a hollow form or a pedantic farce, but operated as an efficient moral check. Above all, the Senate was responsible to an intelligent public opinion, which afforded the best guarantee against reckless appointments or corrupt measures, making itself felt both as an impulse and as a restraint. Mommsen holds as decidedly as Mr Froude that Cæsar obeyed a necessity when he overthrew the Constitution. In quoting Mommsen's description, then, of the Senate as it was at its best, we are not adducing the evidence of a too partial witness:—
"Called to power not through the empty accident of birth, but substantially through the free choice of the nation; confirmed every five years by the stern moral judgment of the worthiest men; holding office for life, and so not dependent on the expiration of its commission or on the varying opinion of the people; having its ranks close and united ever after the equalisation of the orders; embracing in it all that the people possessed of political intelligence and practical statesmanship; absolutely disposing of all financial questions and controlling foreign policy; having complete power over the executive by virtue of its brief duration and of the tribunitian intercession which was at the service of the Senate after the termination of the quarrels between the orders—the Roman Senate was the noblest embodiment of the nation, and in consistency and political sagacity, in unanimity and patriotism, in grasp of power and unwavering courage, the foremost political corporation of all times—an 'assembly of kings' which well knew how to combine despotic energy with republican self-devotedness."
The "despotic energy" of such a Senate was calculated to be at least as effective, for the purposes of empire over foreign subjects, as the despotic energy of a single will; while on other grounds it was decidedly to be preferred, as not depending on the equilibrium of a single character or the term of a single life. This was proved by experiment. For more than a century and a half the Senate efficiently discharged imperial duties, duties the same in kind, though not so wide in scope, as those which were afterwards performed by the military monarchy. The increasing compass of the Roman dominion might demand many modifications of detail, the addition of many special appliances, in the constitutional machinery. But it cannot be said that the scheme of the Constitution itself was essentially and fundamentally inadequate to imperial requirements. If the act by which Cæsar overthrew the Constitution is to be defended as a political necessity, it must be defended on the ground that the Constitution had become diseased beyond the hope of remedy.
The process of decay, which the Gracchi made the first serious effort to arrest, might be described as the break-up of an aristocratic commonwealth into two elements, an oligarchy and a rabble. The Senate was losing public spirit, and the people were becoming incapable of expressing or enforcing a public opinion. Sulla's legislation was the crisis. It does not greatly matter, for our present purpose, what precise view we are to take of Sulla's personal character and genius. The high-born voluptuary who, tearing himself away from dinner-parties and actresses, condescends to become the greatest soldier and then the greatest statesman of his age, and finally, having made these sacrifices, returns to the pursuits of his choice, has naturally exercised the imagination of literary artists. We may conceive him, if we please, as the inspired Don Juan of politics, or we may take the prosaic view, and set him down as a more ordinary compound of ability, cruelty, and lust. But at any rate there is no doubt as to the distinctive mark of his work. It was the remodelling of an oligarchy by an oligarch. The oligarchy was almost destitute of virtues, and the oligarch was wholly exempt from illusions. To paraphrase his own saying, he built the fortress, but he could not answer for the garrison. Mr Froude thoroughly appreciates this aspect of the achievement; but it has another aspect to which, we think, he scarcely does justice. Sulla was, indeed, an aristocrat of the aristocrats; his object was to place the rule of the aristocracy on a permanent basis; but in doing this he was not merely the champion of the optimates against the democrats; he was what any clear-sighted legislator, armed with such powers, must necessarily be in such times—the vindicator of order against anarchy. Montesquieu is by no means a great admirer of Sulla; he points out various ways in which Sulla undermined the Republic, by relaxing the discipline and stimulating the avidity of the army, by setting the example of entering Rome in arms, and so violating the asylum of liberty, by those proscriptions which made men feel that there was no safety save in the camp of a faction, and thus estranged them from the common cause. But he recognises that Sulla's measures were at least calculated to restore the reign of law; and therefore, we think, Montesquieu's view of Sulla is, on the whole, fairer than Mr Froude's. The system which Sulla established could not, indeed, escape early disaster when administered by the men in whose hands he was compelled to leave it; nor, even if these administrators had been more efficient, could it have been permanent without reform. Still, we must credit Sulla with having made the best, on his own principles, of an almost desperate situation. On the assumption that an oligarchy must bear rule by the strong hand, the first duty of legislative prudence was to construct an impregnable citadel. A less prejudiced observer might probably have seen then, as it is more easy for us moderns, wise after the event, to see now, that this assumption was fatal to the oligarchy itself, and disastrous to the commonwealth. At the moment when Sulla interposed, two courses were possible, though not equally easy. One course, that which Sulla took, was to reconstitute the oligarchy in the oligarchic sense, by a more intense concentration of powers. The other course, more difficult, but perfectly feasible for an able and resolute dictator, was to reform the oligarchy in the direction of true aristocracy, by bringing the Senate back as much as possible to the type of that Senate which had ruled Rome from the overthrow of the Samnites to the overthrow of Carthage. A man who had attempted this would have offended the ultra-oligarchs and failed to satisfy the ultra-democrats; but the Right Centre and the Left Centre would have been with him; and, with the peculiar powers of a Roman dictator, he might have left the irreconcilables to be converted by the soothing counsels of time or the sharper admonitions of self-interest. The first step towards the successful attainment of this object would have been to recruit the Senate, not, as Sulla did, exclusively from that order of which it embodied the vices, but in a certain proportion, to be gradually increased, from the educated part of the upper middle class, or, in Roman phrase, from the best Equites. The next step would have been a Land Act, having for its object to restore the class of small farmers, and so to create a healthy nucleus for a lower middle class. When Sulla planted his military colonies, he was the Cadmus of agrarian reform; he was sowing the face of the land with dragon-seed from which armed men were to start up. The gradual disappearance of these settlements under the grinding pressure from above meant not only what the failure of the Gracchan scheme meant, the extinction of so many peasant-holders; it meant, further, that the active elements of disorder were reinforced by innumerable adventurers of military instinct and aptitude, ready for any civil war that promised to repair their fortunes. The distempers of government and society with which Sulla attempted to deal were already beyond the reach of normal legislation, which might occasionally mitigate the virulence of particular symptoms, but could not penetrate to the deeper springs of evil. A dictator, with plenary authority and of intrepid ability, was indispensable, if the progress of the disease was to be arrested. Such a dictator, acting in the temporary political vacuum caused by the suspension of ordinary forces, might replenish the failing sources of health, reinvigorate the sound parts of the Constitution, and, after the breathing-space which his own supremacy secured, 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 driven off the land and was crowded into towns. The rich were extravagant, for life had ceased to have practical interest, except for its material pleasures; the occupation of the higher classes was to obtain money without labour, and to spend it in idle enjoyment. Patriotism survived on the lips, but patriotism meant the ascendency of the party which would maintain the existing order of things, or would overthrow it for a more equal distribution of the good things which alone were valued. Religion, once the foundation of the laws and rule of personal conduct, had subsided into opinion. The educated, in their hearts, disbelieved it. Temples were still built with increasing splendour; the established forms were scrupulously observed. Public men spoke conventionally of Providence, that they might throw on their opponents the odium of impiety; but of genuine belief that life had any serious meaning, there was none remaining beyond the circle of the silent, patient, ignorant multitude. The whole spiritual atmosphere was saturated with cant—cant moral, cant political, cant religious; an affectation of high principle which had ceased to touch the conduct, and flowed on in an increasing volume of insincere and unreal speech."
Social resemblances between widely different ages may be interesting and instructive even when they are little more than superficial; they become dangerous only when they are made the basis of false political parallelisms; and, unlike some writers of the day, Mr Froude has avoided this error. Yet when he says that "on the great subjects of human interest, on morals and politics, on poetry and art, even on religion itself and the speculative problems of life, men (in Cæsar's time) thought as we think, doubted where we doubt, argued as we argue, aspired and struggled after the same objects," he is surely stating an analogy too much as if it were an identity. The moral and mental history of modern civilisation may produce fruits which, at a certain stage of growth, resemble the fruits of two thousand years ago; but they are of a different stock, and, as their root is different, so will be their distinctive development. When Kingsley sought to show us "old friends with new faces" in the Roman Empire of the fourth century, he created one of the most powerful characters in fiction, Raphael ben Ezra; and as surely as Raphael ben Ezra is an intelligent sceptic of the nineteenth century in ancient costume, so surely are the men of Cæsar's age, even when they come upon the stage amid scenic accessories of a modern cast, widely separated in mind and heart from our own. We are not, of course, questioning the analogy which Mr Froude has traced with such vivid effect; but we think that it is important to guard more carefully than he has done against supposing the analogy to be something more. A literal interpretation of the infelicitous platitude that "history repeats itself" has often set students of the past on a false track, and has sometimes lent colour to political sophistries—never more signally than in our own time, and never more audaciously than when the alleged precedent has been drawn from the life of Cæsar. In Cæsar's character there is this special attraction for the modern historian or essayist, that it furnishes him with a magnificent outline which he can fill up very much as he pleases. In a conjectural biography of Shakespeare it would be desirable to avoid representing him as morosely ascetic, or as consumed by a restless solicitude regarding the fate of his publications; and similarly there are a few cardinal errors which every well-informed biographer of Cæsar is expected to shun. Cæsar must not be drawn as an intemperate conqueror or an ambitious visionary; but when his "clemency," his self-mastery, his inexhaustible energy, and the intensely practical character of his comprehensive genius have been noted, all the subtler traits of personality, all those living touches which distinguish a man from a list of qualities, may be supplied with a large freedom of discretion.
No one has seen this more clearly than Mommsen, or has turned it with more brilliant effect into a crowning theme of passionate panegyric. This character without characteristics, he exclaims, is but a nature without deformity or defect. "As the artist can paint everything except consummate beauty, so the historian, when once in a thousand years he falls in with the perfect, can only be silent regarding it. For normality admits doubtless of being expressed, but it gives us only the negative notion of the absence of defect; the secret of nature, whereby in her most finished manifestations normality and individuality are combined, is beyond expression." And so the rapture which thus declares itself inarticulate has no resource but an enthusiastic parody of the immortal lover's words, "beati gli occhi chi la videro viva," blessed are the eyes which beheld that perfection in the flesh. Such perfection, it need not be added, would not have overturned the Roman Constitution to gratify personal ambition, or unless this had been the best course which the loftiest human wisdom could devise. Mommsen justifies the act of Cæsar in substituting his own rule for that of the Senate by precisely the same reasoning which he employs to justify the Senate of an earlier period for superseding the rule of the people. In each case the usurpation was rendered legitimate by "exclusive ability to govern."
Now it is perfectly true that the Senate, as Cæsar found it at the end of the Civil War, had become incapable of governing. The question is whether Cæsar, armed with the powers of the dictatorship, could not have reformed the Senate on a firmer basis than that selected, at the last opportunity, by Sulla—on the basis, namely, not of oligarchy, but of true aristocracy—of the Conservative Republic; and whether, when Cæsar, instead of doing this, established "the military monarchy"—that is, made himself military autocrat—he was obeying the dictates of necessity or of ambition. For our part, we believe that, as all Cæsar's abilities united to make him a consummate impersonation of the Roman faculty of command, so the sovereign motive of his nature was the love of power. Very possibly he may have brought himself to believe that no other course was open to him than that which he adopted. Such a mental phenomenon has not been rare when supreme gifts have had to struggle with supreme temptation. But when it is asserted that there was nothing else possible for him to do, this is an assumption which would not even be plausible were it not for Cæsar's towering eminence in practical ability, military and political, above all the other men of his day. His advocates, who usually delight in theoretic apologies for their practical hero, might almost quote Aristotle's remark that, if you can only find your god-like man, then clearly you ought to make him king.
This personal pre-eminence has in our day enlisted in Cæsar's cause three strains of sympathy, two of which are more or less respectable, while the third has had the prestige of success. The worshippers of heroic force have grovelled before him with all the humility of their strong hearts; those who believe that Providence is always to be found with the big battalions have recognised in Cæsar an instrument of Heaven; and the doctrine that a soldier of fortune is entitled to be a military autocrat, if he can, has paid Cæsar the compliment of distorting his name. Mommsen is a philosophic panegyrist of force, who appears to have the ambition of proving how completely a man of letters may be exempt from everything like weak sentiment. His adoration of victorious strength, more cynical than Carlyle's, is capable not only of idealising unscrupulous success, but also of spurning noble defeat; there is too much of væ victis in his way of describing the fall of the Commonwealth—the sword is hurled with too open bravado into the scale; and if his eloquent rhapsody on Cæsar has the excuse of a generous extravagance, common sense and fairness are alike shocked when we are asked to believe that Cicero was a nonentity who could not excel even in oratory, and when Cato's epitaph is a remark on the irony of the fate which had decreed that the epilogue of a great tragedy should be spoken by the fool. But Mommsen has at least taken care that his defence of Cæsar's autocracy on the plea of "exclusive ability to govern" shall not be confounded with modern Cæsarism. History, he says, must not refuse due honour to the true Cæsar because her verdict may help false Cæsars to beguile the unwary. "History, too, is a Bible, and if she cannot any more than the Bible hinder the fool from misunderstanding and the Devil from quoting her, she, too, will be able to bear with and to requite them both."
The appeal of modern Cæsarism to the career of Julius Cæsar involves, in fact, a double fallacy. The first fallacy consists in representing Cæsar as expressing and fulfilling the will of the people by founding the military monarchy. Cæsar happened, indeed, to have been at the head of the popular party, and that fact contributed in several ways to make his assumption of supreme power more plausible; but the will which he expressed and fulfilled when he became absolute was neither that of the democracy nor that of the oligarchy; it was a more important one, namely, his own. If Pompey had conquered in the Civil War, he also might have founded a military absolutism, had his qualities been equal to the task; but modern apologists would then have found it more difficult to represent the torious leader of the oligarchy as interpreting the desire of the people. The second fallacy consists in supposing that such a crisis as that which had arrived in the Roman society of Cæsar's day could really recur in a modern society which is not based on slavery, and which possesses representative institutions. The only part of the nineteenth-century world in which such a crisis was even possible has been secured against that remote contingency by the events which saved the integrity of the American Union. A theory of imperialism which ignores these profound differences is spanning an impassable gulf with a bridge of cobwebs. Mr Froude's view of Cæsar's work has thus much in common with the two which have been noticed, that he also regards it as a work of necessity. He thus sums up the situation at the close of the Civil War (p. 435):—
"Thus bloodily ended the civil war which the Senate of Rome had undertaken against Cæsar to escape the reforms which were threatened by his second consulship. They had involuntarily rendered their country the best service which they were capable of conferring upon it, for the attempts which Cæsar would have made to amend a system too decayed to benefit by the process had been rendered for ever impossible by their persistence. The free constitution of the Republic had issued at last in elections which were a mockery of representation, in courts of law which were an insult to justice, and in the conversion of the provinces of the empire into the feeding grounds of a gluttonous aristocracy. In the army alone the Roman character and the Roman honour survived. In the imperator, therefore, as chief of the army, the care of the provinces, the direction of public policy, the sovereign authority in the last appeal, could alone thenceforward reside. The Senate might remain as a Council of State; the magistrates might bear their old names and administer their old functions. But the authority of the executive government lay in the loyalty, the morality, and the patriotism of the legions to whom the power had been transferred. Fortunately for Rome, the change came before decay had eaten into the bone, and the genius of the empire had still a refuge from platform oratory and senatorial wrangling in the heart of her soldiers."
The flaw in the reasoning here consists in omitting to distinguish between the position occupied by Cæsar in his first consulship, before the Civil War, and the position which he occupied as dictator at the end of it. Sulla, before his decisive victory over the Marian party, might have tried in vain to carry the measures which he afterwards enforced during the period of his temporary supremacy. Cæsar, as consul in 59 B.C., may have found that the evils of the existing system could not be cured by such piecemeal remedies as the limited resources of ordinary legislation permitted. But it does not follow that a system which cannot be successfully tinkered is therefore incapable of being effectively reconstituted. As master of Rome in 45 B.C., Cæsar had an opportunity of applying such larger and more drastic measures as would have gone to the roots of the disease. He might have endeavoured, by the infusion of a sound element from the equestrian order, to make the Senate once more that which it so long was—not an oligarchy, but a real aristocracy. He might have made a vigorous attempt, for which no similar opening had presented itself since Sulla's time, to restore a healthy public opinion, as a moderating and controlling force in the State, by an agrarian reform which should revive the rural middle class, now sunk in the gulf between the oligarchy and the rabble. If he had pursued these objects with the whole energy of his unrivalled gift for discovering means to any end which he desired, and if he had failed, then, indeed, the military monarchy would stand justified at the bar of history as the least of the evils which an inexorable necessity offered. But his armed self-reliance despaired of the Republic. The only cure which he could find for the distempers of Rome was similar to that which an observer at a safe distance once recommended for the griefs of Ireland; he plunged the forms of the Constitution beneath the flood, and when they rose again to the surface they were no longer tenanted by any living soul that could thwart him with resistance or complaint. The fact that a thing has happened is always a temptation for an ingenious mind to demonstrate that nothing else could have happened. If William III. had given us a military despotism instead of a Whig aristocracy, it would long ago have been proved that the stars in their courses were fighting against everything except that precise result. Cæsar, as we read his history, was a man of intense personal ambition, who attained his goal; having this peculiar good fortune, that when, by extraordinary gifts of character and intellect, he had reached a certain point, the circumstances of the time threw a veil over the final transformation scene of his career. A usurper, in passing from the position of first citizen to that of despot, has usually had to force a few barricades, to strike a few foul blows, before he could pose upon the summit with a serene halo around his brow, the acknowledged saviour of society. Cæsar, once victorious in the Civil War, was stopped by no barricades; he was confronted with his own conscience. It is possible to hold, as we do, that his military absolutism probably was not a necessity, and that a defence of his usurpation which postulates that necessity rests upon an unproved assumption. But on the other hand the task of demonstrating that he could have saved the Republic is made impossible by the fact that, as dictator, he did not try. It is also his advantage that the benefits of law and order which he conferred on Rome are brought into the clearest relief by a background of terrible anarchy and misery. At such a time it is of minor importance whether the man who establishes a strong government is actuated mainly by the love of power or by a disinterested devotion to the commonweal. If he is capable of large and clear views, if he has the requisite energy and patience, he must in either case do a vast amount of good. The crimes and errors of Sulla do not prevent our recognising his merit in this sense; and Sulla can no more be compared with Cæsar than the temporary services which Sulla rendered to the cause of order can be compared with the massive stability of that protection under which Cæsar's legislation placed the life of civilised mankind.
The legend which Titian has made immortal told how, when Charles V. died, the accusing angel came before the heavenly tribunal, urging crimes which no defence could palliate, and how the Supreme Judge himself vindicated the offending soul from the Destroyer, declaring that its stern mission on the earth had been given from above. It is thus, says Mr Froude, that we are to deem of Cæsar:—
"Of Cæsar, too, it may be said that he came into the world at a special time and for a special object. The old religions were dead, from the Pillars of Hercules to the Euphrates and the Nile, and the principles on which human society had been constructed were dead also. There remained of spiritual conviction only the common and human sense of justice and morality; and out of this sense some ordered system of government had to be constructed, under which quiet men could live and labour and eat the fruit of their industry. Under a rule of this material kind, there can be no enthusiasm, no chivalry, no saintly aspirations, no patriotism of the heroic type. It was not to last for ever. A new life was about to dawn for mankind. Poetry and faith and devotion were to spring again out of the seeds which were sleeping in the heart of humanity. But the life which is to endure grows slowly; and as the soil must be prepared before the wheat can be sown, so before the kingdom of Heaven could throw up its shoots there was needed a kingdom of this world where the nations were neither torn in pieces by violence, nor were rushing after false ideals and spurious ambitions. Such a kingdom was the empire of the Cæsars—a kingdom where peaceful men could work, think, and speak as they pleased, and travel freely among provinces ruled for the most part by Gallios who protected life and property, and forbade fanatics to tear each other in pieces for their religious opinions."
This is a nobler conception of Cæsar's place in history than that which rests on the apotheosis of intelligent force; nobler, also, and truer than the view of modern Cæsarism, which differs from Mr Froude's about as widely as a "providential man" differs from a human Providence. But Mr Froude's statement requires some modification before it can bear scrutiny in the cold light of historical fact. It is true that the establishment of imperial order, the repression of such local violence as might otherwise have been exerted by local fanaticism, was so much gained in favour of Christianity, and Mr Froude may be right in conjecturing that, if St Paul had escaped the clutches of an independent Sanhedrim at Jerusalem, he would certainly have been torn to pieces by autonomous silversmiths at Ephesus. If, however, we have any lingering doubts as to whether Cæsar was obeying a necessity when he destroyed the Roman Constitution, these doubts are hardly removed by the suggestion that Providence meant him to pave the way for Christianity; since, though the establishment of imperial order may have been in favour of nascent Christianity, there is one thing which, so far as we can see, would have been more favourable to it still—namely, the establishment of order without the loss of those healthy conditions of public and private life which political freedom tends to conserve, and which despotism sooner or later crushes. The Empire meant political order, but it meant also moral deterioration, boundless luxury and enormous sensuality, a depravity among the highest of the earth from which, even in this age, men dare not withdraw the veil of the dead language to which its hideous secrets were committed by the biographers of emperors, an abject baseness of servility in the vulgar of every rank which can be measured only by the facilities of torture and murder belonging to the human monster whom they adored as a god and dreaded as a fiend, a wide-spread corruption of everything that distinguishes man from the lowest of the brutes, and a fierce exaggeration of every instinct that he shares with them.
If the foundation of the Empire by Cæsar is to be interpreted as a providential arrangement designed to favour the early progress of Christianity, it will be necessary to complete Mr Froude's picture of it, as a reign of law, by arguing that its moral corruption enervated qualities which might otherwise have rallied to the defence of paganism. We have no desire to enter now upon so extensive a field of controversy; but there is one aspect of the matter which the literature of Cæsar's age, and that of the age which immediately succeeded it, brings vividly before every reader. The purest and loftiest characters of the early Empire had this in common with the vilest: they were never very far from the conclusion that life had ceased to be worth living, and that it was better to die than to live. A Roman letter-writer of the first century tells how he was once sailing on Lake Como when a friend pointed out a villa on the shore with a balcony projecting over the water, and described what had lately occurred there. The master of the villa had long suffered from an agonising disease; his wife had besought him that she might see with her own eyes the frightful ulcers that were its seat, saying that no physician would tell him so faithfully as she whether there was any hope of cure. She saw, and despaired; then she gave him her counsel—to die—and said that she would die with him; she bound him to her side, and they sprang together into the lake. The hopeless anguish of that incurable sufferer was but a type of the despair which preyed on many a Roman from whom bodily health could not avert the sickness of the spirit, whom riches could not reconcile to an existence without worthy objects of ambition, whom studious leisure could not compensate for the loss of political energy, or poetry console for the extinction of faith; the true companion who told him the worst, and, as she had helped him to bear his pain, so now exhorted him to end it with a constant mind, was the Stoic philosophy—not deserting him even on the brink of the dark lake, but nerving him with a resolution which was not his own, and yet which was not divine, to spring into the unknown depths.
Against such men, and such were the representatives of the highest moral fortitude that remained to Roman paganism, Christianity came in the strength of an enthusiastic hope, fearing death as little as the Roman feared it, but, unlike the Roman, not afraid to live. And then at last an hour arrived when the new religion was received as an indwelling spirit into the mighty fabric of the Empire, when the kingdom of this world, secular still, became also the kingdom of Christ, when the pillars that upbore the Roman State and the paths that Rome had opened over land and sea sustained a structure and carried a message that were to remain when her dominion had fallen. "Rome alone," cries Claudian, "has taken the conquered to her bosom, and has made men to be one household with one name, and has linked far places in a bond of charity. Hers is that large loyalty to which we owe it that the stranger walks in a strange land as if it were his own, that men can change their homes, that it is a pastime to visit Thule and to explore mysteries at which once we shuddered, that we drink at will the waters of the Rhone and the Orontes, that the whole earth is one people." The benefits which Claudian describes as conferred by the Empire on the temporal intercourse of mankind were shared by the œcumenical commonwealth of the Church; and these benefits, indeed, took their origin from the military despotism which Julius Cæsar founded. But this ultimate result must not be allowed to reflect an unreal glory on the process by which that despotism was first established. Our judgment on the act by which a soldier and statesman of surpassing genius crowned a career of unparalleled success must not be confused by the fancy which would consecrate this act as a necessary part in the scheme of a beneficent Providence. To regard the special work of Cæsar as a direct preparation for the work of Christ is less extravagant, but not essentially less illogical, than it would be to suggest that the moral influence of the Gospel had providentially prepared the Roman world to appreciate the virtues of Marcus Antoninus.
We have indicated those aspects of Cæsar's public character and achievement in which our estimate differs fundamentally from that formed by Mr Froude. But any notice of his book would be very incomplete which concluded without a cordial acknowledgment of its many excellences. A literary artist of such brilliant accomplishments as Mr Froude could scarcely have finer subjects than the Gallic campaigns and the civil war. It might be said that Mr Froude's narrative has the two merits which most conspicuously distinguished Cæsar's strategy, clearness of plan and swiftness of movement. Nothing could be better than the following statement of Cæsar's position at the beginning of the war in Gaul, and of the peculiar feature of the task which lay before him (p. 203):—
"The points in his favour were these. He was the ablest Roman then living, and he had the power of attracting and attaching the ablest men to his service. He had five years in which to look about him and to act at leisure—as much time as had been given Pompey for the East. Like Pompey, too, he was perfectly free. No senatorial officials could encumber him with orders from home. The people had given him his command, and to the people alone he was responsible. Lastly, and beyond everything, he could rely with certainty on the material with which he had to work. The Roman legionaries were no longer yeomen taken from the plough or shopkeepers from the street. They were men more completely trained in every variety of accomplishment than have perhaps ever followed a general into the field before or since. It was not enough that they could use sword and lance. The campaign on which Cæsar was about to enter was fought with spade and pick and axe and hatchet. Corps of engineers he may have had; but if the engineers designed the work, the execution lay with the army, . . . How the legionaries acquired these various arts, whether the Italian peasantry were generally educated in such occupations, or whether on this occasion there was a special selection of the best, of this we have no information. Certain only it was that men and instruments were as excellent in their kind as honesty and skill could make them; and however degenerate the patricians and corrupt the legislature, there was sound stuff somewhere in the Roman Constitution."
A sign, we would venture to remind Mr Froude, that there was one department, at all events, in which the Senate had not been such an utter failure—the administration of the army; and also that the Constitution, sick as it might be, was perhaps not so very sick that there was nothing left for it but to receive the coup de grâce. Mr Froude's power of description finds admirable scope in many of the striking scenes which the campaigns present. We would instance as good examples—and there are many others hardly inferior—Cæsar's battle with the Nervii (p. 221), the battle of Pharsalia (p. 389), Cæsar's repression of the mutiny in the Tenth Legion (p. 415), and the occasion in the African campaign when he dismissed five of his officers for misconduct, after addressing them severally before the assembled tribunes and centurions (p. 422). In these and similar cases, Mr Froude has preserved much of the rapid brevity of the Commentaries, while he has skilfully added such dramatic touches as are required to light up the picture for a modern reader.
Another merit of Mr Froude's sketch is, that he has not sacrificed the secondary characters of his history to the hero. We may occasionally differ from him as to their relative importance or the particular complexion of each, but at least there has been a disposition to do impartial justice. Mommsen set the example of offering a holocaust of reputations at the shrine of his idol, and Mommsen's treatment of Cato, still more of Cicero, is one of the glaring blots upon his work. The imperial biographer of Cæsar dealt more mildly with the dilemma arising from the theory with which he set out; but the general result was that the disreputable persons who had helped Cæsar got off rather easily, and the respectable persons who had opposed him were fortunate if they came in for a little faint praise. Mr Froude surveys the period from a higher point of view, and, if generous to Cæsar, can still afford to be just to Cæsar's contemporaries. Pompey has sometimes been described by the adorers of Cæsar as a sort of anti-Christ, a false light, a lying spirit, an incarnate opposition to the truth. Mr Froude paints him in less imposing colours, as a mock hero who did not even know that he was a sham. "His end was piteous, but scarcely tragic, for the cause to which he was sacrificed was too slightly removed from being ignominious. He was no Phœbus Apollo sinking into the ocean, surrounded with glory. He was not even a brilliant meteor. He was a weak, good man, whom accident had thrust into a place to which he was unequal; and ignorant of himself, and unwilling to part with his imaginary greatness, he was flung down with careless cruelty by the forces which were dividing the world." We are inclined to agree with this estimate; and one reason for believing in its general correctness is, to our mind, the fact that Cicero's intimate knowledge and keen insight had led him to much the same conclusion. Mr Froude's view that Cicero's vanity estranged him from Cæsar's party, because he could not be the first man in it, is, we think, a complete misconception. Cicero had finally chosen his side long before Cæsar had become the foremost Roman: and, for that matter, it was Pompey, not Cicero, whom the Optimates regarded as their head. But, without viewing Cicero as an alarmed egotist, we may admit that no one was better qualified to appreciate the difference between the two leaders. "Cicero," says Mr Froude, "is the second great figure in the history of the time." He describes him as "a tragic combination of magnificent talents, high aspirations, and true desire to do right, with an infirmity of purpose and a latent insincerity of character which neutralised and could almost make us forget his nobler qualities."
"In Cicero Nature half made a great man and left him uncompleted. Our characters are written in our forms, and the bust of Cicero is the key to his history. The brow is broad and strong, the nose large, the lips tightly compressed, the features lean and keen from restless intellectual energy. The loose bending figure, the neck, too weak for the weight of the head, explain the infirmity of will, the passion, the cunning, the vanity, the absence of manliness and veracity. He was born into an age of violence with which he was too feeble to contend. The gratitude of mankind for his literary excellence will for ever preserve his memory from too harsh a judgment."
We sincerely hope that it may; but we think of Dr Mommsen, and our confidence is abated. Immoderate disparagement usually, indeed, corrects itself; and we hail Mr Froude's judgment as a symptom that it is still possible for a modern writer to speak of Cicero in other tones than those of absolute contempt. There is one peculiarity of Cicero's position in history which is so obvious that it would not deserve mention if it were not so constantly forgotten. We have the "Letters," to which he confided every one of those weaknesses which a public man usually aims at concealing from all but his most intimate friends. Every trait of personal vanity, every passing impulse of self-interest, every momentary vacillation of purpose is laid bare before us, to be studied with the same leisurely attention which we devote to Cæsar's modest narrative of his mighty exploits. The modern world is Cicero's valet. Let us suppose that the younger Pliny had been a prominent actor in a great political drama. What detrimental inferences might not a writer with a robust scorn for little infirmities have drawn from the ten books of epistles in which Pliny unfolds how candid friends slowly persuaded him that he was an execrable reader of poetry, and consults one of them as to whether it would be advisable for him to accompany the reading of his freedman with dumb show; or celebrates the praises of his own oratory; or relates how a provincial, hearing that an eminent literary man was at table, exclaimed, "It must be Tacitus or Pliny!" Even Mr Froude, we think, has not made sufficient allowance for the terrible disadvantage which Cicero sustains, relatively to his greatest contemporaries, by being known to us as he was known to his own innermost circle. The character of Cato is less complex, so far as history reveals it, but not, perhaps, less difficult to judge fairly. Mr Froude says—as we think, with good reason—that Cato's animosity to Cæsar "had been originally the natural antipathy which a man of narrow understanding instinctively feels for a man of genius. It had been converted by perpetual disappointment into a monomania, and Cæsar had become to him the incarnation of every quality and every principle which he most abhorred." Much of the truth, though not the whole truth, is told in these words:—
"Ultimus Romanorum has been the epitaph which posterity has written on the tomb of Cato. Nobler Romans than he lived after him; and a genuine son of the old Republic would never have consented to surrender an imperial province to a barbarian prince. But at least he was an open enemy. He would not, like his nephew Brutus, have pretended to be Cæsar's friend, that he might the more conveniently drive a dagger into his side."
This is not Cato's highest praise. His understanding was, indeed, narrow; his political animosities were usually perverse and sometimes malevolent; the programme of the party which he supported could not have saved the Commonwealth, and he himself had not the qualities of a political leader. But the moral cause which he identified with his politics—the cause of honesty and purity in public and private life—was represented by the Republicans whose forlorn hope he led, or it was destitute of representatives in Rome. His "virtue" may have been illiberal, it may often have been impracticable; such as it was, however, it was the only extant antithesis to unblushing corruption and triumphant violence.
We would fain have parted from Mr Froude with a simple record of the pleasure which his "Sketch" has given us, and of the admiration which we feel for the literary power with which it has been executed, widely as we dissent from the conception of Cæsar's career upon which it rests. But we cannot conclude without a word of remark on the resemblance—"strange and startling" indeed, as Mr Froude calls it—which the last lines of the book briefly suggest between the founder of the kingdom of this world and the Founder of a kingdom not of this world. To say that the work of Cæsar was designed by Providence to prepare the work of Christ is a different proposition; that we have already discussed. Here we find the suggestion of a parallel between the personal life of Cæsar and the personal life of Christ. Mr Froude has abstained from developing this paradox, and we shall imitate his reticence, merely expressing our belief that, if it would be easy to compare Cæsar with Christ, it would be still more easy, and considerably more true, to draw the most absolute contrast between them. The tendency to exalt great characters by suggesting the likeness at which Mr Froude hints is alarmingly on the increase in the literature of the day, and we look forward with apprehension to a time when no "tribute" to an imperial policy will be considered complete unless the wreath is inwoven with some delicate allusion of this nature, however distasteful such a comparison might be to the intended recipient. Neither the heavenly nor the earthly king is honoured by rendering to Cæsar that which is not Cæsar's.
- ↑ Edinburgh Review for October, 1879.
- ↑ Thus there is a pervading confusion between the technical Roman sense and the ordinary modern sense of "patrician" and "plebeian," which comes out strongly when Mr Froude infers Cæsar's early lack of political ardour from the fact that he had never been a candidate for the tribuneship. Again, Mr Froude seems to think that all the Leges Juliæ were Julius Cæsar's. The terms of the Lex Aurelia of 70 B.C. are not accurately described (p. 110), no mention being made of the tribuni ærarii as forming one-third of the judices. The term equites is a stumbling-block to Mr Froude; he renders it "young lords" where it simply means "knights" (Sallust, Catil. 49) and "knights" where it means "cavalry" (Cæs. de Bell. Gall. iv. 13). "Libertini" is rendered "sons of freedmen." The "gentile name" is used as if it distinguished men of the same "cognomen" like a modern Christian name, e.g. p. 382. The young Cæsar's complexion is described as "sallow" (p. 68), but "candido colore" means "fair" or "pale."
- ↑ As Professor Tyrrell remarks (and shows in a note on Cic. Ep. I. xii. § 8), evidence is against the tradition of Cicero having defended Catiline on a charge of malversation in Africa; as it is also against the story of Cicero's intimacy with Clodia. Nor, again, is there any reason for referring nosti marinas in Cic. ad Att. i. 16 to an infamous adventure of Clodius.
- ↑ Pp. 22–24 (where, by the way, Plutarch's account of the breach between Tiberius Gracchus and Scipio Æmilianus is not accurately reproduced), pp. 104, 114, 127, &c.