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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Julius Cæsar (100–44 B.C.)
Critical and Biographical Introduction by John Howell Westcott (b. 1858)
 
“TRULY a wonderful man was Caius Julius Cæsar,” says Captain Miles Standish. Truly wonderful he was on each of his many sides: as soldier, statesman, orator, and author, all of the first rank—and a respectable critic, man of science and poet besides.  1
  As a writer of Latin prose, and as an orator, he was second to Cicero alone in the age that is called the Ciceronian; and no third is to be named with these two. Yet among his contemporaries his literary power was an insignificant title to fame, compared with his overwhelming military and political genius. Here he stood alone, unrivaled, the most successful conqueror and civilizer of all history, the founder of the most majestic political fabric the world has ever seen. There have been other generals, statesmen, authors, as great as Cæsar; but the extraordinary combination of powers in this one man goes very far toward making good the claim that he was the most remarkable man in history.  2
  He was born 100 B.C., a member of the great Julian gens, which claimed descent from Æneas and Venus, the glories of which are celebrated in Vergil’s immortal epic. Thus the future leader of the turbulent democracy, and the future despot who was to humble the nobles of Rome, was by birth an aristocrat of bluest blood. His life might easily have come to an untimely end in the days of Sulla’s bloody ascendency, for he was connected by marriage with Marius and Cinna. Sulla was persuaded to spare him, but clearly saw, even then, that “in Cæsar there were many Mariuses.”  3
  All young Romans of rank were expected to go through a term of at least nominal military service. Cæsar’s apprenticeship was in Asia Minor in 80 B.C. He distinguished himself at the storming of Mytilene, and afterwards served in Cilicia. He began his political and oratorical career by the prosecution of Cornelius Dolabella, one of the nobility, on a charge of extortion. About 75 B.C. he was continuing his studies at Rhodes, then a famous school of eloquence. Obtaining the quæstorship in 67 B.C., he was assigned to duty in the province of Further Spain. Two years later he became ædile. At the age of thirty-seven he was elected pontifex maximus over two powerful competitors. Entirely without religious belief, as far as we can judge, he recognized the importance of this portion of the civil order, and mastered the intricate lore of the established ceremonial. In this office, which he held for life, he busied himself with a Digest of the Auspices and wrote an essay on Divination.  4
  After filling the prætorship in 62 B.C., he obtained, as proprætor, the governorship of his old province of Further Spain, which he was destined to visit twice in later years as conqueror in civil war. His military success at this time against the native tribes was such as to entitle him to the honor of a triumph. This he was obliged to forego in order to stand at once for the consulship, which office he held for the year 59 B.C. He had previously entered into a private agreement with Pompey and Crassus, known as the First Triumvirate. Cæsar had always presented himself as the friend of the people; Pompey was the most famous man of the time, covered with military laurels, and regarded, though not with perfect confidence, as the champion of the Senatorial party. Crassus, a man of ordinary ability, was valuable to the other two on account of his enormous wealth. These three men agreed to unite their interests and their influence. In accordance with this arrangement Cæsar obtained the consulship, and then the command for five years, afterward extended to ten, of the provinces of Gaul and Illyricum. It was while proconsul of Gaul in the years 58–50 B.C. that he subjugated and organized “All Gaul,” which was far greater in extent than the country which is now France; increased his own political and material resources; and above all formed an army, the most highly trained and efficient the world had yet seen, entirely faithful to himself, by means of which he was able in the years 49–46 B.C. to defeat all his political antagonists and to gain absolute power over the State.  5
  He held the consulship again in 48 and 46 B.C., and was consul without a colleague in 45 and 44 B.C., as well as dictator with authority to remodel the Constitution. While his far-reaching plans of organization and improvement were incomplete, and when he was about to start upon a war against the Parthians on the eastern frontier of the empire, he was murdered March 15th, 44 B.C., by a band of conspirators headed by Brutus and Cassius.  6
  For purposes of a literary judgment of Cæsar we have of his own works in complete or nearly complete form his military memoirs only. His specifically literary works have all perished. A few sentences from his speeches, a few of his letters, a few wise or witty sayings, an anecdote or two scattered about in the pages of other authors, and six lines of hexameter verse, containing a critical estimate of the dramatist Terence, are all that remain as specimens of what is probably forever lost to us.  7
  An enumeration of his works, so far as their titles are known, is the best evidence of his versatility. A bit of criticism here and there shows the estimation in which Cæsar the writer and orator was held by his countrymen and contemporaries. Besides the military memoirs and the works spoken of above in connection with his pontificate, we may mention, as of a semi-official character, his astronomical treatise On the Stars (De Astris), published in connection with his reform of the calendar, when dictator, shortly before the end of his life.  8
  Cicero alludes to a collection of witty sayings (Apophthegms) made by Cæsar, with evident satisfaction at the latter’s ability to distinguish the real and the false Ciceronian bons mots.  9
  Like most Roman gentlemen, Cæsar wrote in youth several poems, of which Tacitus grimly says that they were not better than Cicero’s. This list includes a tragedy, ‘Œdipus,’ ‘Laudes Herculis’ (the Praises of Hercules), and a metrical account of a journey into Spain (Iter).  10
  A grammatical treatise in two books (De Analogia), dedicated to Cicero, to the latter’s immense gratification, was written on one of the numerous swift journeys from Italy to headquarters in Gaul. Passages from it are quoted by several subsequent writers, and an anecdote preserved by Aulus Gellius in his Noctes Atticæ I. 10. 4, wherein a young man is warned by Cæsar to avoid unusual and far-fetched language “like a rock,” is supposed to be very characteristic of his general attitude in matters of literary taste. The ‘Anticatones’ were a couple of political pamphlets ridiculing Cato, the idol of the republicans. This was small business for Cæsar, but Cato had taken rather a mean advantage by his dramatic suicide at Utica, and deprived Cæsar of the “pleasure of pardoning him.”  11
  Of Cæsar’s orations we have none but the most insignificant fragments—our judgment of them must be based on the testimony of ancient critics. Quintilian speaks in the same paragraph (Quintilian X. 1, 114) of the “wonderful elegance of his language” and of the “force” which made it “seem that he spoke with the same spirit with which he fought.” Cicero’s phrase “magnifica et generosa” (Cicero, Brutus, 261), and Fronto’s “facultas dicendi imperatoria” (Fronto, Ep. p. 123), indicate “some kind of severe magnificence.”  12
  Collections of his letters were extant in the second century, but nothing now remains except a few brief notes to Cicero, copied by the latter in his correspondence with Atticus. This loss is perhaps the one most to be regretted. Letters reveal their author’s personality better than more formal species of composition, and Cæsar was almost the last real letter-writer, the last who used in its perfection the polished, cultivated, conversational language, the Sermo urbanus.  13
  But after all, we possess the most important of his writings, the Commentaries on the Gallic and Civil Wars. The first may be considered as a formal report to the Senate and the public on the conduct of his Gallic campaigns; the latter, as primarily intended for a defense of his constitutional position in the Civil War.  14
  They are memoirs, half way between private notes and formal history. Cicero says that while their author “desired to give others the material out of which to create a history, he may perhaps have done a kindness to conceited writers who wish to trick them out with meretricious graces” (to “crimp with curling-irons”), “but he has deterred all men of sound taste from ever touching them. For in history a pure and brilliant conciseness of style is the highest attainable beauty.” “They are worthy of all praise, for they are simple, straightforward and elegant, with all rhetorical ornament stripped from them as a garment is stripped” (Cicero, Brutus, 262.)  15
  The seven books of the Gallic War are each the account of a year’s campaigning. They were written apparently in winter quarters. When Cæsar entered on the administration of his province it was threatened with invasion. The Romans had never lost their dread of the northern barbarians, nor forgotten the capture of Rome three centuries before. Only a generation back, Marius had become the national hero by destroying the invading hordes of Cimbri and Teutones. Cæsar purposed to make the barbarians tremble at the Roman name. This first book of the Commentaries tells how he raised an army in haste, with which he outmarched, outmanœuvred and defeated the Helvetian nation. This people, urged by pressure behind and encouragement in front, had determined to leave its old home in the Alpine valleys and to settle in the fairer regions of southeastern France. Surprised and dismayed by Cæsar’s terrific reception of their supposed invincible host, they had to choose between utter destruction and a tame return, with sadly diminished numbers, to their old abodes. Nor was this all the work of the first year. Ariovistus, a German king, also invited by a Gallic tribe, and relying on the terror of his nation’s name, came to establish himself and his people on the Gallic side of the Rhine. He too was astonished at the tone with which Cæsar ordered him to depart, but soon found himself forced to return far more quickly than he had come.  16
  Having thus vindicated the Roman claim to the frontiers of Gaul against other invaders, the proconsul devoted his second summer to the subjugation of the Belgæ, the most warlike and the most remote of the Gauls. The second book tells how this was accomplished. There was one moment when the conqueror’s career came near ending prematurely. One of the Belgian tribes, the valiant Nervii, surprised and nearly defeated the Roman army. But steady discipline and the dauntless courage of the commander, never so great as in moments of mortal peril, saved the day, and the Nervii are immortalized as the people who nearly destroyed Cæsar.  17
  These unprecedented successes all round the eastern and northern frontiers thoroughly established Roman prestige and strengthened Rome’s supremacy over the central Gauls, who were already her allies, at least in name. But much yet remained to do. The work was but fairly begun. The third book tells of the conquest of the western tribes. The most interesting episode is the creation of a fleet and the naval victory over the Venĕti on the far-away coast of Brittany. In the fourth year Cæsar crossed the Rhine, after building a wonderful wooden bridge in ten days, carried fire and sword among the Germans on the further bank, and returned to his side of the river, destroying the bridge behind him. Modern schoolboys wish he had never built it. Later in the season he made an expedition into Britain. This was followed in the fifth year by an invasion of the island in greater force. To people of our race this portion of the Commentaries is especially interesting. The southern part of the country was overrun, the Thames was crossed some miles above London, and several victories were gained, but no organized conquest was attempted. That remained for the age of Claudius and later emperors.  18
  During the ensuing winter, on account of the scarcity of provisions, the Roman troops had to be quartered in separate detachments at long distances. One of these was treacherously destroyed by the Gauls, and the others were saved only by the extraordinary quickness with which Cæsar marched to their relief on hearing of their imminent danger. The chief part in this rising had been taken by the Eburones, led by their king Ambiorix. A large part of the sixth book is occupied with the recital of Cæsar’s vengeance upon these people and their abettors, and with the vain pursuit of Ambiorix. The remainder contains an elaborate contrast of the manners and customs of the Gauls and Germans, which forms an important source for the history of the primitive institutions of these nations. The seventh book is the thrilling tale of the formidable rising of all the Gauls against their conquerors, under the leadership of Vercingetorix, an Arvernian chief. This man was a real hero,—brave, patriotic, resourceful, perhaps the only worthy antagonist that Cæsar ever met. This war strained to the utmost Cæsar’s abilities and the disciplined valor of his legions. The Gauls nearly succeeded in undoing all the work of six years, in destroying the Roman army and in throwing off the Roman yoke. In this campaign, more conspicuously than ever before, Cæsar’s success was due to the unexampled rapidity of his movements. So perfect had become the training of his troops and their confidence in his ability to win under all circumstances, that after a campaign of incredible exertions they triumphed over the countless hosts of their gallant foes, and in the next two years the last embers of Gaulish independence were finally stamped out. In all his later wars, Cæsar never had anything to fear from Gaul. As we read the story of Avaricum, of Gergovia, of Alesia, our sympathy goes out to the brave barbarians who were fighting for liberty—but we have to remember that though the cause of freedom failed, the cause of civilization triumphed. The eighth book, containing the account of the next two years, 51 and 50 B.C., was written by one of Cæsar’s officers, Aulus Hirtius.  19
  The first book of the Civil War begins with the year 49 B.C., where the struggle between Cæsar and the Senatorial party opens with his crossing of the Rubicon, attended by the advanced guard of his legions. Pompey proved a broken reed to those who leaned upon him, and Cæsar’s conquest of the Italian peninsula was little else than a triumphal progress through the country. The enemy retired to the eastern shore of the Adriatic to muster the forces of the East on the side of the aristocracy, leaving Cæsar in possession of the capital and of the machinery of government. The latter part of the book contains the account of the campaign against Pompey’s lieutenants in Spain, which was won almost without bloodshed, by masterly strategy, and which ended with the complete possession of the peninsula. The second book describes the capture of Marseilles after a long siege, and the tragic defeat and death of Curio, a brave but rash young officer sent by Cæsar to secure the African province. In the third book (48 B.C.) we have the story of the campaign against Pompey; first the audacious blockade for months of Pompey’s greatly superior forces near Dyrrachium on the Illyrian coast: and when that failed, of the long march into Thessaly, where Pompey was at last forced into battle, against his judgment, by his own officers, on the fatal plains of Pharsalia; of the annihilation of the Senatorial army; of Pompey’s flight to Egypt; of his treacherous murder there; of Cæsar’s pursuit. The books on the Alexandrian, the African, and the Spanish wars, which continue the narrative down to Cæsar’s final victory at Munda in southern Spain, are by other and inferior hands. The question of their authorship has been the subject of much controversy and conjecture.  20
  Under this modest title of ‘Commentaries,’ in the guise of a simple narrative of events, Cæsar puts forth at once an inimitable history and a masterly apology. The author speaks of himself in the third person, tells of the circumstances of each situation in a quiet moderate way, which carries with it the conviction on the reader’s part of his entire truthfulness, accuracy, and candor. We are persuaded that the Cæsar about whom he tells could not have acted otherwise than he did. In short, he exercises the same spell over our minds that he cast over the hearts of men twenty centuries ago.  21
  There is nothing that so fascinates and enchains the imagination of men as power in another man. This man could captivate a woman by his sweetness or tame an angry mob of soldiers with a word; could mold the passions of a corrupt democracy or exterminate a nation in a day; could organize an empire or polish an epigram. His strength was terrible. But all this immense power was marvelously balanced and under perfect control. Nothing was too small for his delicate tact. Nothing that he did was so difficult but we feel he could have done more. Usually his means seemed inadequate to his ends. But it was Cæsar who used them.  22
  The Commentaries show us this man at his work. They show him as an organizer of armies and alliances, a wily diplomatist, an intrepid soldier, an efficient administrator, a strategist of inspired audacity, a tactician of endless resources, an engineer of infinite inventiveness, an unerring judge of men. But he never boasts, except in speeches to hearten discouraged troops. He does not vilify or underrate his enemies.  23
  His soldiers trusted him implicitly; there was no limit to their zeal. They found in him a generous appreciation of their deeds. Many a soldier and centurion has received immortality at his hands as the guerdon of valor. He describes a victory of Labienus with as much satisfaction as if it had been his own, and praises another lieutenant for his prudent self-restraint when tempted by a prospect of success. And he tells with hearty admiration of the devoted Gauls who sacrificed their lives one after another in a post of danger at Avaricum. Even in the Civil War no officers deserted him except Labienus and two Gaulish chiefs.  24
  It was difficult to deceive him. His analysis of other men’s motives is as merciless as it is passionless. He makes us disapprove the course of his antagonists with the same moderate but convincing statement with which he recommends his own. Few men can have had as few illusions as he. One would scarcely care to possess such an insight into the hearts of others. He seems to feel little warmth of indignation, and never indulges in invective. But woe to those who stood in the way of the accomplishment of his objects. Dreadful was the punishment of those who revolted after making peace. Still, even his vengeance seems dictated by policy rather than by passion. He is charged with awful cruelty because he slew a million men and sold another million into slavery. But he did not enjoy human suffering. These were simply necessary incidents in the execution of his plans. It is hard to see how European civilization could have proceeded without the conquest of Gaul, and it is surely better to make a conquest complete, rapid, overpowering, that the work may have to be done but once.  25
  It is hard not to judge men by the standards of our own age. The ancients rarely felt an international humanity, and in his own time “Cæsar’s clemency” was proverbial. As he was always careful not to waste in useless fighting the lives of his soldiers, so he was always true to his own precept, “Spare the citizens.” The way in which he repeatedly forgave his enemies when they were in his power was an example to many a Christian conqueror. The best of his antagonists showed themselves bloodthirsty in word or act; and most of them, not excepting Cicero, were basely ungrateful for his forbearance. His treatment of Cicero was certainly most handsome—our knowledge of it is derived mainly from Cicero’s letters. Perhaps this magnanimity was dashed with a tinge of kindly contempt for his fellow-citizens; but whatever its motives, it was certainly wise and benign at the beginning of the new era he was inaugurating. He was no vulgar destroyer, and did not desire to ruin in order to rule.  26
  He is charged with ambition, the sin by which the angels fell. It is not for us to fathom the depths of his mighty mind. Let us admit the charge. But it was not an ignoble ambition. Let us say that he was so ambitious that he laid the foundations of the Roman Empire and of modern France; that his services to civilization and his plans for humanity were so broad that patriots were driven to murder him.  27
  Some of Cæsar’s eulogists have claimed for him a moral greatness corresponding to his transcendent mental power. This is mistaken zeal. He may stand as the supreme representative of the race in the way of practical executive intellect. It is poor praise to put him into another order of men, with Plato or with Paul. Their greatness was of another kind. We cannot speak of degrees. He is the exponent of creative force in political history—not of speculative or ethical power.  28
  Moreover, with all his originality of conception and power of execution, Cæsar lacked that kind of imagination which makes the true poet, the real creative artist in literature. Thus we observe the entire absence of the pictorial element in his writings. There is no trace of his ever being affected by the spectacular incidents of warfare nor by the grandeur of the natural scenes through which he passed. The reason may be that his intellect was absorbed in the contemplation of men and motives, of means and ends. We cannot conceive of his ever having been carried out of himself by the rapture of inspiration. Such clearness of mental perception is naturally accompanied by a certain coolness of temperament. A man of superlative greatness must live more or less alone among his fellows. With his immense grasp of the relations of things in the world, Cæsar cannot have failed to regard men to some extent as the counters in a great game—himself the player. So he used men, finding them instruments—efficient and zealous, often—of his far-reaching plans. He was just in rewarding their services—more than just: he was generous and kind. But he did not have real associates, real friends; therefore it is not surprising that he met with so little gratitude. Even his diction shows this independence, this isolation. It would be difficult to find an author of any nation in a cultivated age so free from the influence of the language of his predecessors. Cæsar was unique among the great Roman writers in having been born at the capital. Appropriately he is the incarnation of the specifically Roman spirit in literature, as Cicero was the embodiment of the Italian, the Hellenic, the cosmopolitan spirit.  29
  Toward the close of Cæsar’s career there are some signs of weariness observable—a certain loss of serenity, a suspicion of vanity, a dimming of his penetrating vision into the men about him. The only wonder is that mind and body had not succumbed long before to the prodigious strain put upon them. Perhaps it is well that he died when he did, hardly past his prime. So he went to his setting, like the other “weary Titan,” leaving behind him a brightness which lasted all through the night of the Dark Ages. Cæsar died, but the imperial idea of which he was the first embodiment has proved the central force of European political history even down to our time.  30
  Such is the man who speaks to us from his pages still. He was a man who did things rather than a man who said things. Yet who could speak so well? His mastery of language was perfect, but in the same way as his mastery of other instruments. Style with him was a means rather than an end. He had the training which others of his kind enjoyed. Every Roman noble had to learn oratory. But Cæsar wrote and spoke with a faultless taste and a distinction that no training could impart. So we find in his style a beauty which does not depend upon ornament, but upon perfect proportion; a diction plain and severe almost to baldness; absolute temperateness of expression. The descriptions are spirited, but never made so by strained rhetoric; the speeches are brief, manly, business-like; the arguments calm and convincing; always and everywhere the language of a strong man well inside the limits of his power.  31
  The chief ancient authorities for the life of Cæsar, besides his own works, are Suetonius in Latin, Plutarch and Appian in Greek. Among modern works of which he is made the subject may be mentioned ‘Jules César,’ by Napoleon III. (Paris, 1865); continued by Colonel Stoffel, with an Atlas; ‘Cæsar, a Sketch,’ by J. A. Froude (London, 1886); ‘Cæsar,’ by A. Trollope (London, 1870); ‘Cæsar,’ by T. A. Dodge, U. S. A. (Boston, 1893).  32
 
 
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