NAPOLEON'S LIFE OF CESAR.*
THE Caner of to-day will not be lowered by his commentaries. There is scarcely a hostile criticism to which Napoleon's Lift of Cissar is not fairly open—tediousness, inflation, double entendre, vanity of a most egregious and, to us, scarcely intelligible kind, and yet it is a great book, may on the whole elevate an Imperial reputation. The knowledge of which it is full is compressed till whole chapters read like extracts from some great dictionary, the style, too full of thought, suggests the grace of step which may yet remain to a woman with child, the leading dogma is false from the beginning, the nuance is always one "I paint a portrait—from a mirror." And yet gravid and tumid, sophistical and egoistic, the book is a great book. Nobody capable of understanding it who reads it through will doubt that its author has a great brain, a head at once capable of invention and generalization, a mind which gazes on the great plain of history from an eminence, and not from an equal level. The scholar who reads it carefully will con- vict the Emperor of one or two very serious mistakes, the histo- rian may demur ab initio to his view of the bases upon which the power of the Patriciat rested, the critic can point to an epigram or two which is sophistical without being pointed, and the politician, if citizen of a free State, will solemnly protest against this new Encyclical of autocracy, this condemnation of all that is peculiar to liberty in favour of the divine right of statesman- ship and power. Not one of those classes will, however, declare the Life a poor Life, a work either in conception or exe- cution unworthy of a ruler of men. Not one will, we think, deny that its perusal has given him new ideas, that through it runs a view consistent, intelligible, and great, that he has risen from it with his perceptions enlarged, his judgment of Roman history
half unconsciously but still obviously modified. He may struggle against its leading idea, as the French critics do, he may utterly deny and repudiate it, as Englishmen will do, but he will never
• The History of lutists Cesar. French-EnglIsh. London: Cassell, Potter, and Galpin.
again contend that it is one beneath or outside the region of fair and temperate discussion; The idea of the work is that there came a time to Rome, that there will therefore come to all great nations a time in which, if Society isnot to fall to piecei, to perish
as by the succession of involuntary suicides possible in a mad- honse, the energies of the people must be concentrated in the hands of an individual, who thenceforward will be for all good purposes the State, who may personally be intriguant; lecher, murderer, villain,—as a Pontifex Maximus may also be,—but who, having the brain to interpret and fulfil the hidden needs of Mankind, to read the auguries which imperil nations, is thence- forward to be obeyed, assumes thenceforward that authority by right divine which the Middle Ages attributed at once to birth and to nomination by the mouth-piece of the Church Universal. We deny alike and equally postulate and eoncbision, that Rothe would have perished but for Caisar, and that the world can again need Gassars. The far greater question which underlies them both, whether if Rome had perished humanity would have lost any- thing, we leave findiscussed. We know on that point just as little as lsiapoleon, and are content to believe first, that as God rules and permitted the Empire, the Empire had its place in human history, and secondly, that as incomplete work can never be good work, and, Roine was incomplete without the Caesar,—the domi- nation of 'the race without the doniinion of the city, the domiii- iiih.Of the city without the dominance of the individual,—it was as well that the Caesar should be born as that the poppy should yield flower and " head." Bid when Caesar, because he was, is claimed as a principle we deny him. That Rome needed some One who should restore the sanctity of the law, the power of the State over its factions, the right of the people as against pseudo- leaders of ' the people, the sovereignty of the community as above the section which bore arms, cannot be queationed by any man who Understands the history of the time That it was impossible to fulfil the want without merging law—that concrete and active expreision of tbe soundeSt judgnients and strongest a *hole nation—in the will of an individlial is NaPoieon's unjustified assumption. His deduCtion that the case can recur is still more entirely baseless. It is intelligible that among a Pa- gan Peojile, with only the republiCan and the monarchical formulis before them; in 'it warlike and therefore uninventive age, men should imagine that only a genius could interpret a race; only an individitabe beyond cOrrtiption, only a military chief be Strong enough to coerce the factions. But the world since Cm.sar has discovered a better interpreter of the nations than genius, a force less bribable than individual ascendency, a power greater than that of military orga.nitation, • namely, representative government, and the man who aspires to be Camar now must show not that he represents the nation, not that he is above corruption, not that he is strong only, but that he represents better, that he is less dor- 'ruptible, that he is far more powerful than the Representative Body, which, unlike him, can perform its task without repressing Rational Life. The people of Rome, grown great leaders and rulers of men; were indeed compelled by nature, by their successes as by their weaknesses, to abdicate their' personal and immediate rule, but that in the abdicatiOn they were bound to enthrone a personal representative is pure assertion. Suppose Caesar with his adminis- trative power had entertained and fulfilled the idea which we think we can prove was in the brain of Marius, to transmute the ancient Senate into a true representation of Rome, Rome in the broadest sense of that great word, were to have re-invigorated the sovereign body, made it responsible, invested it with that strange power of change to meet circumstances which belongs neither to the Patriciat, nor to the individual King, nor to an edifice, nor to a law, nor to any other work of man's hand save a parliament alone, how then? Is it proved that Augustus would then have been needed, or that Caligula would haye been unavoidable ? Napoleon writing of the ancient world may have held himself re- leased from the need of discussing that point—though he under- stands Marius, andexpressly condemns Clodius for re-establishing " Collegia," is e., political clubs—but till he has answered it his theory has no bearing on modern life.
Let us set aside the theory, which is, however, made unnaturally prominent by Napoleon's idea, patent through all the later chapters of his volume, that his own antitype is not Caesar Augustus, but Julius Cann; and tarn to the book itself. Its special merit is, we think, clear. It is the judgment of a Statesman versed in affairs, conversant with a people Roman in many of their ideas, Roman in more of their institutions, a people forined under the Roman law and Roman conseription, of a man famlliar with democratic principles and autocratic systems, with 'the guid- ance of armies and the government of a nation military yet full of free ideas, upon a society which at one moment developed the results which France for one moment is now developing. It is a written opinion on Roman history by a man who, himself pos- sessed at once of the literary and the statesmanlike powers, understands how Caine Gracchus could be formidable, for he expelled Louis Blanc; how Sylla could be reverenced, for his opponent was Cavaignac ; how Crassus could be powerful, for he knew Laffitte ; how a popular orator could lead masses, for he witnessed the scenes of 1848 ;—of a man who can realize the strength of an aristocracy when possessed of wealth, for he has lived in England; the cry of a democracy, for he has comprehended i'rance ; e needs which evolved a Cse.sar, for they placed himself upon a Cmar's throne. Every-where through the book there is this
mOdern thought applied to ancient, half-revealed facts, this mag- nesium light set burning in the recesses of the Catacombs. Is it possible to defend or to explain the main fact of British history better than this?—
" That corner of land, situated on the bank of the Tiber, and predes- tined to hold the empire of the world, inclosed within itself, as we see, fruitful germs which demanded a rapid expansion. This could only he effected by the absolute independence of the most enlightened class, seizing for its own profit all the prerogatives of royalty. The aristocratic government has this advantage over monarchy, that it is more able in its duration, more constant in its designs, more faithful to tradi- tions, and that it can dare everything, because where a great number share the responsibility no one is individually responsible. Rome, with its narrow limits, had no longer need of the concentration of authority in a single band; but it was in need of a new order of things, which should give to the great free access to the supreme power, and should second, by the allurement of honours, the development of the faculties of each. The grand object was to create a race of men of choice, who, succeeding each other with the same principles and the same virtues, should perpetuate, from generation to generation, the system most cal- culated to assure the greatness of their country. The fall of the kingly power was thus an event favourable to the development of Rome. The patricians monopolized alone during a long time the civil, military, and religious employments, and, these employments being for the most part annual, there was in the Senate hardly a member who had not filled thorn ; so that this assembly was composed of men formed to the com- bats of the Foram as well as to those of the field of battle, schooled in the difficulties of the administration, and indeed worthy, by an experience laboriously acquired, to preside over the destinies of the Republic: They were not classed, as men are in our modern society, in envious and rival specialities; the warrior was not seen there despising the civilian, the lawyer or orator standing apart from the man of action, or the priest ieolating himself from all the others. In order to raise himself to State dignities, and merit the suffiages of his fellow-citizena, the patrician was constrained from his youngest age to undergo the most varied trials. lb was required to possess dexterity of body, eloquence, aptness for military exercises, the knowledge of civil and religious laws, the talent Of commanding an army or directing a fleet, of administrating the town or commanding a province ; and the obligation of these different apprenticeships not only gave a full flight to all capacities, but it united, in 'the eyes of the people, upon the, magistrate invested with different dignities, the consideration attached to each of them: During a Tong time, he who was honoured with the confidence of his fellow-citizens, besides nobility of birth, enjoyed the triple prestige given by the fundtion of judge, priest, and warrior."
Yet it is the Roman, not the English Patriciat which Napoleon describes. Or is it conceivable that any intellect could devise a subtler apology for the base entourage, the opprobrium of his own reign, than this ?—
"In times of transition, when a choice must be made between a glorious past and an unknown future, the rock is, that bold and un- scrupuloaa men alone thrust themselves forward ; others, more timid, and the slaves of prejudices, remain in the shade, or' offer some obstacle to the movement which hurries away society into new ways. It is always a great evil for a country, a prey to agitations, when the party of the honest, or that of the good, as Cicero calls them, do not embrace the new ideas, to direct by moderating them. Hence profound divisions. On the one side, unknown men often take possession of the' good or bad passions- of the crowd; on the other, honourable men, immoveable or morose, oppose all progress, and by their obstinate resistance excite legitimide impatience and laMentable violence. The opposition of these last has the double inconvenience of leaving the way clear to those who are less worthy than themselves, and of throwing doubts into the minds of that floating mass, which judges parties much more by the honourable- ness of men than by the value of ideas. . . . To constitute his party, it is true, he had recourse to agents but little estimated ; the best archi- tect can build only with the materials under his hand ; but his constant endeavour was to associate to himself the most trustworthy men, and he spared no effort to gain by turns Pompey, Crassus, Cicero, Servilius, Csapio, Q. Faits Calenus, Serv. Sulpicins, and many others. In moments of transition, when the old system is at an end, and the new not yet established, the greatest difficulty consists, not in overcoming the obstacles which are in the way of the advent of a regime demanded by the country, but to establish the latter solidly, by establishing it upon the concurrence of honourable men penetrated with the new ideas, and steady in their principles."
Cromwell's instruments and Washington's were not of the baser kind; but still there is all that can be said for Fleury and Persigny said well, and the history of Rome is illustrated by the saying. The Emperor clearly believes that the history of Rome throughout is that of a struggle between aristocracy and democracy, the ancient families who built up the greatness of the State and their
own fortunes and the people formed partly by their conquests—the democracy of which the Gracchi were the orators, Sylla the curb, Marius the stern soldier, and Caesar the most competent and suc- cessful ruler. His description of the growth of the factions, though like all the book too compressed, is full of interest, for he shows us the policy of the parties, the social causes of their inveteracy, the special character of the Roman demos, a vast crowd of scarred and poverty-stricken soldiers, the efforts of the patricians to com- promise by surrendering every power save the greatest—their pro- perty and their control of religion ; the difficulties which sprang from the dual executive, the necessity for incessant wars to dis- tract popular attention and thin the demos, the reasons which made agrarian laws seem even to men like Cmsar absolutely essential to the safety of a State which otherwise would have con- tained only latifundia—say plantations—and slaves. Slavery is declared in one coldly wise sentence to be dangerous to order, as creating a class " disinherited of all the advantages though 'intimately bound up with all the wants of ordinary life," and the risk which from this cause hung over Rome is never quite lost sight of. We see in fact the society of Rome as it existed just before the Empire, the patricians legally masters of the basin of the Mediterranean, ruling and plun- dering all round the great inland sea ; the plebs poverty- strieken but all trained to arms, and immensely numerous through the comprehension of Italy within the city privileges ; the armies Marian, i. e., democratic at heart despite tneir adherence to Sylla, the Jacobin violence of all parties, and the ascendency acquired by three nobles, Pompey as conqueror, Crassus as owner of the bulk of the town property of Rome, Caesar as a noble with Marian ideas and Marian connections among the great democracy. The author explains the point on which the struggle turned, the bitter poverty of the citizens, who nevertheless were legally ultimate masters of the republic, and who though possessed of the 'whole suffrage, were still grateful to Crassus for a dole of corn, ready to accept bribes at the bands of any noble wealthy enough to purchase masses. It is not till half the volume is done that the subject of this biography comes upon the stage.
The Emperor's estimate of Caesar is not yet complete, and it is hardly fair to criticize it till he has reached a subsequent stage in career. Eta. contents himself for the present by eulogizing his hero and explaining his claims to the affections of Rome. Chief of a bonze so old that he could without seeming absurd declare himself on 'the hustings representative of Anchises and Venus, he was still the nephew and heir of Marius, whom the democracy had loved. Thoroughly educated, and full of that artificial, almost foppish refinement which is almost a quality with the true patrician, his great abilities were early perceived by Sylla, who gave him his first political start in life, and he is thus described on his entry into public affairs :—
"To his natural qualities. developed by a brilliant education, were added physical advantages. His tall stature, his rounded and well-pro- portioned limbs, stamped his person with a grace that distinguished hint from all others. He had black eyes, a piercing look, a pale complexion, a straight and high nose. His mouth, small and regular, but with rather thick lips, gave a kindly expression to the lower part of his face, whilst his breadth of brow betokened the development of the intellectual faculties. His face was full, at least, in his youth ; for in his busts. doubtless made towards the end of his life, his features are thinner, and bear traces of fatigue. He had a sonorous and penetrating voice, a noble gesture, and an air of dignity reigned over all his person. His constitution at first delicate, became robust by a frugal regimen and the habit of exposing himself to the inclemency of the weather. Accustomed from his youth to all bodily exercises, he was a bold horseman, and bore privations and fatigues without difficulty. Habitually temperate, his health was impaired neither by excess of labour nor by excess of pleasure. However, on two occasions—the first at Corduba, the second at Thapsus—he was seized with nervous attacks, wrongly mistaken for epilepsy.'
The Emperor does not disguise his excessive passion for women, indeed he uses it as a repIAT to very much graver charges, or his ambition, but describes him as free from personal rancour, and in a measure at least froni personal self seeking. In the bold and somewhat rhetorical close of this first vollinie; he claims for his hero the praise of deep convictions and steady adherence to them, and shows that the instant he became Consul he carried out the measures his party had always demanded. If we were to select a chapter as evidence of the author's power, it would be his account of Cmsar's agrarian law, the remarkable series of measures by which he transformed a hiindred thousand proletaries into Italian yeomen, relieved Rome of its most serious danger—the crowd of impoverished veterans, satisfied the claims of the Italian colonists, and yet abstained from either plundering or affronting the great aristocracy which had for ages resisted these laws. The idea of the whole chapter is to describe Caesar as a statesman
above the factions, a man so great that he could realize the wants of the demos without feeling hatred against other orders in the State. In this the Emperor succeeds, and succeeds also in reminding the world that except against the Orleans family he himself has never betrayed any personal spite. Throughout the book there is a backward glance upon his own situation, upon the measures which he, also heir of Marius, also a statesman, also representative of order and democracy, has taken, which if it sometimes impairs his impartiality, always lights up the ancient time with new and strangely powerful glare.
We should have said something of the English translation, which bears traces of hurry, but for one fact. The Emperor read the proofs himself, and as he knows English just as well as French, the words must be accepted as conveying at all events the meaning he intended to express.