( Originally Published Late 1800's )
On the twelfth of July, too or 102 B. C., the great Caesar was born. The only son of Caius Julius and Aurelia. His father had been praetor ; Aurelia was a strict dignified lady of the old school, unaffected by the lately imported fashions. The parents were rich, but the habits of the household were simple and severe, and being a nephew of Caius Marius it is easy to define the political opinions which prevailed in the family. Caesar was the greatest man of the Roman world. It is not without reason that his name has remained as the title of sovereignty, or that his memory survives as the standard. of commanding greatness. In every relation of life he attained, apparently without effort, the highest excellence. As a citizen, a politician, an orator, a general, a companion man of letters and a far-seeing statesman, he stands without a peer among the men of ancient Rome. He entered into action at a great crisis of his country's history. A strong individuality, firmness and unity of character and purpose, he had gradually won for Rome the supremacy of Laconium, Italia and the world. But the qualities which were able to subdue an empire were not able to govern it. Time was now past when the senate presented an example of dignity and magnanimity and when a sense of law and justice sufficient to exterminate a cruelty which seemed to know no limit. It was truer now than in the time of Livy or Horace that Rome was falling to pieces by the weight of its own greatness. The equality of Latins and Italians with the citizens of Rome might be won by the efforts of a demagogue, but could only be insured by an entire change of government. Failing to effect the purposes of government had diminished the sense of responsibility of the ruling class. Jugurtha had discovered that Roman virtue was accessable to bribes. The government of pro-vinces had once gratified and aroused the avarice of statesmen. The riches of the world which were beginning to flow into the imperial city excited the desire for more. There existed at the same time the demoralization which accompanies the failure of old principles of government and the unsettled discontent for the adjustment of pressing difficulties. Rome was passing from a Republic to an Empire.
We may credit the Gracchi with a far-seeing grasp of the needs of their country ; but they appeared to their cotemporaries as mischievous revolutionists. Both were assasinated by men who could not see the justice of their demands. Sulla tried to give new strength and power to a system which had sunk into decay. Marius tried also to save a state, crumbling to its fall. The incompetence of statesmen to understand or regulate the age, led to the employment of violence and bloodshed. A domestic enemy had scaled the walls of Rome, and each political victory was sealed with the blood of the vanquished. The senate which had conquered the world was unable to defend itself. It could neither recover its former power nor bring into being a new constitution. It could not exercise the ordinary functions of government without intrusting to a citizen powers which might be turned against its own existence. If Rome had perished in this crisis, she would have left but a faint impress upon the nations which owed her sovereignty. The long reign of law and order from which we derive the chief legacies which Rome has left to the modern world, was yet to come. That the newly founded empire did not fall before the onset of an Eastern despot or break up into separate provinces, governed by rebellious citizens is probably due to Julius Caesar.
Caesar displayed at the outset of his career the same versatility, energy, and courage which distinguished him till its close. He was ordered by Sulla to put away his wife, because she was connected with the Marian party. He refused to obey, although he lost his wife's dower, priesthood, and fortune. He was obliged to leave Rome to avoid the dictator's anger. The time of his absence was devoted to his country's services. His diplomacy served to obtain a fleet from the King of Bythinia, which he used in the reduction of Mytilene, and by his personal bravery in the siege, he won from Marcus Thermus the reward of a civic crown. He served against the pirates in Cilicia ; taken prisoner by them, he sent the main body of his companions and attendants to seek his ransom. During his stay with them, he ingratiated himself with his captors, and promised them in jest one day that when he should be free he would return and crucify them, and he kept his word. When he was released, he armed some vessels at Miletus, found the pirates where he had left them, took them to Pergamus, and handed them over to the civil authorities When Caesar was forty years of age he had been twelve years at Rome, had won distinction on the forum, and had held the various offices of the government. In the ripeness of age and experience, it was now time for him to lay aside the toga and take up the sword. In 6i B. C. he obtained his first import-ant military command, and laid the foundation of a reputation as the greatest of generals, which should never be allowed to overshadow his higher merits as a statesman and patriot. This first campaign was carried on in Galacia and Portugal. Little positive in-formation remains to us in regard to it, but he seems to have exhibited on a small field the same qualities which distinguished him in a larger sphere in the Gallic conquest. He was proclaimed imperator by the soldiers, was voted a triumph by the senate, and made his fortune secure. In 59 B. C. Cćsar and Bibulus were consuls. The coalition with Pompey and Crassus, known as the first triumvirate, had been consummated, and Caesar was now the most powerful man in Rome. Bibulus was a devoted follower of the senate, and, of course, an opponent of Caesar's views and policy. He offered a vain resistance to Caesar's measures, and when he found that he could not pre-vent their being carried, he retired to his house, and announced his determination to "observe the heavens" during the remainder of his consulship. We do not possess a full account of Caesar's legislative measures, but that they were broad and full of utility for the pressing needs of the times we are all well assured. He laid down his office a more popular man than when he took it up. He was assigned the province of Cisalpine Gaul and Northern Italy, with four legions.
The conquest of Gaul, which occupied Caesar during the next eight years, is so well known that it need not be recounted here. He conquered the barbarian tribes upon the Rhine ; crossed that river not far from its mouth ; made a successful raid into Germany ; conquered the tribes in Western France ; crossed the channel into Britain ; consolidated and organized a strong and prosperous province ; and suppressed one revolt after another, until the Gauls were completely and thoroughly subjugated, and the Gallic province was permanently added to the dominions of Rome. In 49 B. C. his army lay on the confines of Italy. The members of the triumvirate had met at Lucca in 56 B. C. It was there arranged that he should be consul in 48 B. C. He was finally ordered to give up the command and return to Rome. He had but one legion left. To this he could trust, however, and with it he crossed the Rubicon in January of that year. He conquered Italy, Egypt, Asia, and Greece, and re-turned to celebrate his triumph in July, 46 B. C. This civil war of four years had been celebrated by the battles of Thapsus and Pharsalus, and when he returned to the Imperial City, he came as the conqueror of Rome. He was now virtually king, and perhaps the world will never come to an agree-ment in regard to his motives and the spirit of his action. That he was a great man, all the world agree that he was a wise and shrewd statesman is just as certain ; that he was the champion of the popular rights of Rome is still a matter of fierce debate; that he is the central figure in Roman history no one can for a moment deny. On the ides of March 44 B. C. Csar was assassinated in the Senate House. He fell, pierced with twenty-two wounds, at the foot of Pompey's statue—" The greatest and noblest Roman of them all." The world has placed Caesar among its heroes, and no doubt the brilliant Mommsen has done his memory and his career ample justice. The poet Dante relates to us with an appalling reality that in the centre of the earth, in the bottom of the pit of Hell, Lucifer holds in his three mouths the three greatest malefactors the world has ever seen—Brutus and Cassius, who betrayed their sovereign and their country, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed his master with a kiss.
" Of Caesar, 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 labor 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 forever. 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 Caesars—a kingdom where peaceful men could work, think, and speak as they pleased and travel freely among pro-vinces 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. ` It is not lawful for us to put any man to death' was the complaint of the Jewish priests to the Roman governor. Had Europe and Asia been covered with independent nations, each with a local religion represented in its ruling powers, Christianity must have been stifled in its cradle. If St. Paul had escaped the Sanhedrim at Jerusalem, he would have been torn to pieces by the silversmiths at Ephesus. The appeal to Caesar judgment-seat was the shield of his mission, and alone made possible his success.
" And this spirit, which confined government to its simplest duties, while it left opinion unfettered, was especially present in Julius Csar himself. From cant of all kinds he was totally free. He was a friend of the people, but he indulged in no enthusiasm for liberty. He never dilated on the beauties of virtue or complimented, as Cicero did, a providence in which he did not believe. He was too sincere to stoop to unreality. He held to the facts of this life and to his own convictions ; and as he found no reason for supposing that there was a life beyond the grave, he did not pretend to expect it. He respected the religion of the Roman State as an institution established by the laws. He encouraged, or left unmolested, the creeds and practices of the uncounted sects or tribes who were gathered under the eagles. But his own writings contain nothing to indicate that he himself had any religious belief at all. He saw no evidence that the gods practically interfered in human affairs. He never pretended that Jupiter was on his side. He thanked his soldiers after a victory, but he did not order Te Deems to be sung for it ; and in the absence of these conventionalisms, he perhaps showed more real reverence than he could have displayed by the freest use of the formulas of pietism.
" He fought his battles to establish some tolérable degree of justice in the government of this world ; and he succeeded, though he was murdered for doing it." J. A. FROUDE.
Under different circumstances Caesar might have won a high reputation as a man of letters as he has acquired as a general and statesman. He studied the art of eloquence and became one of the popular pleaders at the bar. As an orator he was acknowledged to be second only to Cicero. His literary reputation rests upon the Commentaries concerning the Gallic war, the most faultless piece of Latin composition that we possess. It is perhaps unfortunate that so great a work should have been studied in the primary course of the scholars of the world. In our sketch of Caesar we have said nothing in regard to the blots on his life, and the stain upon his character. They are not founded on evidence that is at all trust-worthy and are grossly inconsistent with the character of a man like Caesar. We have seen fit, therefore, to pass them over in silence and perhaps he merited the marvellous personality with which the genius of Shakespeare has endowed him as " The foremost man of all the world."