16 APRIL 1932, Page 20

Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar. By John Buchan. (Peter Davies. as.) HE performed the greatest constructive task ever achieved by human hands. He drew the habitable earth into an empire which lasted for live centuries, and he laid the founda- tions of a fabric of law and government which is still standing after two thousand years." This is how Mr. Buchan sums up the claim of Julius Caesar to the recognition of posterity. It is, in truth, a tremendous claim ; but the facts are strong and indisputable, and the verdict that follows upon them is difficult to resist. Many men have influenced their own times or their own surroundings ; but the god-like names of history, the Titanic personalities that have shaped the destiny of mankind not for years but for ages, are necessarily few. In the small gallery of Olympians the figure of Julius Caesar holds a conspicuous place.

Mr. Buchan tells his famous story tersely and well. He makes no parade of high scholarship or pedantic erudition. "It seemed to me better," he says, "to set down my own views without arguing about the evidence." lie was well inspired ; he has given us, within a brief compass and in language which—if at times a trifle overloaded with clichés—is always vigorous and effective, an admirable bird's-eye view of a truly amazing career. He is at his best when following his hero's military exploits. This is perhaps because Caesar himself was happier in the open field than in the turbid waters of.domestic politics. Of the famous Gallic campaign Mr: Buchan gives a vivid picture. Every incident falls

into its place. We seem, as we read, to hear the blare of the Roman trumpets and to see the victorious General on the " summer evening in his tent.

That day he overcame the Nervii."

The campaign has a special place among Caesar's achieve- ments; in no other setting, perhaps, do his essential qualities of greatness stand out in bolder relief. May one be pardoned for quoting, with some small amusement, one sentence from Mr. Buchan's account ? Gaul, as every schoolboy knows.. was "divided into three parts." For this familiar tag Mr. Buchan has devised an ingenuous paraphrase. "Gaul at the time," he tells us, "contained three great tribal con- glomerations." " Conglomerations " is good, as Polonius might have said. Mr. Buchan must have smiled as he wrote the words.

Caesar's political activities take us on to more dubious ground. He lived in an age when honest politics—as we understand the phrase nowadays—were an impossibility. Macaulay's verdict that "he was on the right side, as far as in such a miserable government there could be a right side," is one which most reasonable people will be disposed to accept. It represents in the main Mr. Buchan's own view. Caesar, in his phrase, was "the supreme realist of history." He saw that the old republican forms, to which Cicero clung with such pathetic loyalty, were irrevocably doomed. He had to deal with the circumstances in which he found himself and with the instruments that lay to his hand. If these • instruments were not always worthy ones, if he stooped at times to make use of " gangsterS " like Clodins (the phrase is Mr. Buchan's, who has a liking for modern terminology in these matters), it is scarcely fair to blame him. 116 was but following the normal political methods of his day. He saw, like Pitt after him, that the State stood in dire peril, and that the one man who could save it was himself, In that great article of faith he was steadfast to the end.

Caesar, says Mr. Buchan, was a sceptic and realist ; he " taught no new way of life, no religion " ; there was "no mysticism or superstition in his clear mind.'' fhis raises a speculative problem of the highest interest, upon which it is possible only to touch. How did religion stand in the latter days of Paganism ? What did Caesar and his contemporaries believe ? The old mythology persisted in form, but it can have made little appeal to the cultivated intellects of the first century n.c. Omens and auguries, stories of Mars and Ilia or Jupiter and Ganymede—these were fairy-tales that might amuse children or slaves, but could not impose upon philosophers and statesmen. The state religion had its political value no doubt—sacrifices and festivals played their part in keeping the mob contented (has that point of view disappeared 'entirely, even in our own times 1)—but as an explanation of the mystery of the universe, as a basis of morals or conduct or of human relationship to the unseen powers—what sensible man could be expected to regard it seriously ? Caesar, despite his avowed scepticism, accepted the post of Pontifex Maximus, the highest ecclesiastical office in the State. Could cynicism go further ? Yet it is difficult to believe that he was entirely without religious convictions ; that the principles which guided his life, and to which he adhered with such stubborn tenacity, were based on no higher sanction than personal ambition or political expediency.

"Ito a Napoleon, and yet disbelieve—

Why the man's mad, friend . . . ."

Was Caesar mad too ? Or had he sonic " ampler warrant for it ail" than

"A vague idea of setting thing to rights,

• Policing people efficaciously. More to their profit, most of all to his own I"

To that question the boldest among us may well hesitate to hazard a reply. The secret behind the calm marble brow- s() .familiar to all visitors to the British Museum—reinains a secret -still.