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- Lectures and Essays - 60/67 -


by Lucan, who, though detestable as an epic poet, sometimes in his political passages, and especially in his characters, shews himself the countryman of Tacitus. Pompey is there described with truth as combining the desire of supreme power with a lingering respect for the constitution. The great aristocrat is painted as simple in his habits of life, and his household as uncorrupted by the fortunes of its lord--the last relics of the control imposed by the spirit of the republic on private luxury, which was soon to be released by the Empire from all restraint and carried to the most revolting height.

Marcus Cato was the one man whom, living and dead, Caesar evidently dreaded. The Dictator even assailed his memory in a brace of pamphlets entitled Anti-Cato, of the quality of which we have one or two specimens, in Plutarch, from which we should infer that they were scurrilous and slanderous to the last degree; a proof that even Caesar could feel fear, and that in Caesar, too, fear was mean. Dr Mommsen throws himself heartily into Caesar's antipathy, and can scarcely speak of Cato without something like loss of temper. The least uncivil thing which he says of him, is that he was a Don Quixote, with Favonius for his Sancho. The phrase is not a happy one, since Sancho is not the caricature but the counterfoil of Don Quixote; Don Quixote being spirit without sense and Sancho sense without spirit. Imperialism, if it could see itself, is in fact a world of Sanchos and it would not be the less so if every Sancho of the number were master of the whole of physical science, and used it to cook his food. Of the two court poets of Caesar's successor, one makes Cato preside over the spirits of the good in the Elysian fields, while the other speaks with respect, at all events, of the soul which remained unconquered in a conquered world--"Et cuneta terrarum subacta praeter atrocem animum Catonis." Paterculus, an officer of Tiberius and a thorough Caesarian, calls Cato a man of ideal virtue ("homo virtuti simillimus") who did right not for appearance sake, but because it was not in his nature to do wrong. When the victor is thus overawed by the shade of the vanquished, the vanquished can hardly have been a "fool." Contemporaries may be mistaken as to the merits of a character, but they cannot well be mistaken as to the space which it occupied in their own eyes. Sallust, the partizan of Marius and Caesar, who had so much reason to hate the senatorial party, speaks of Caesar and Cato as the two mighty opposites of his time, and in an elaborate parallel ascribes to Caesar the qualities which secure the success of the adventurer; to Cato those which make up the character of the patriot. It is a mistake to regard Cato the younger as merely an unseasonable repetition of Cato the elder. His inspiration came not from a Roman, but from a Greek school, which, with all its errors and absurdities, and in spite of the hypocrisy of many of its professors, really aimed highest in the formation of character; and the practical teachings and aspirations of which, embodied in the Reflections of Marcus Aurelius, it is impossible to study without profound respect for the force of moral conception and the depth of moral insight which they sometimes display. Cato went to Greece to sit at the feet of a Greek teacher in a spirit very different from the national pride of his ancestor. It is this which makes his character interesting: it was an attempt at all events to grasp and hold fast a high rule of life in an age when the whole moral world was sinking in a vortex of scoundrelism, and faith in morality, public or private, had been lost. Of course the character is formal, and in some respects even grotesque. But you may trace formalism, if you look closely enough, in every life led by a rule; in everything in fact between the purest spiritual impulse on one side and abandoned sensuality on the other.

Attempts to revive old Roman simplicity of dress and habits in the age of Lucullus, were no doubt futile enough: yet this is only the symbolical garb of the Hebrew prophet. The scene is in ancient Rome, not in the smoking-room of the House of Commons. The character as painted by Plutarch, who seems to have drawn from the writings of contemporaries, is hard of course, but not cynical. Cato was devoted to his brother Caepio, and when Caepio died, forgot all his Stoicism in the passionate indulgence of his grief, and all his frugality in lavishing gold and perfumes on the funeral. Caesar in "Anti-Cato" accused him of sifting the ashes for the gold, which, says Plutarch, is like charging Hercules with cowardice. Where the sensual appetites are repressed, whatever may be the theory of life, the affections are pretty sure to be strong, unless they are nipped by some such process as is undergone by a monk. Cato's resignation of his fruitful wife to a childless friend, revolting as it is to our sense, betokens not so much brutality in him as coarseness of the conjugal relations at Rome. Evidently the man had the power of touching the hearts of others. His soldiers, though he has given them no largesses, and indulged them in no license, when he leaves them, strew their garments under his feet. His friends at Utica linger at the peril of their lives to give him a sumptuous funeral. He affected conviviality like Socrates. He seems to have been able to enjoy a joke too at his own expense. He can laugh when Cicero ridicules his Stoicism in a speech; and when in a province he meets the inhabitants of a town turning out, and thinks at first that it is in his own honour, but soon finds that it is in honour of a much greater man, the confidential servant of Pompey, at first his dignity is outraged, but his anger soon gives place to amusement. That his public character was perfectly pure, no one seems to have doubted; and there is a kindliness in his dealings with the dependants of Rome which shews that had he been an emperor he would have been such an emperor as Trajan--a man whom he probably resembled, both in the goodness of his intentions and in the limited powers of his mind. Impracticable, of course, in a certain sense he was; but his part was that of a reformer, and to compromise with the corruption against which he was contending would have been to lose the only means of influence, which, having no military force and no party, he possessed--the unquestioned integrity of his character. He is said by Dr. Mommsen to have been incapable of even conceiving a policy. By policy I suppose is meant one of those brilliant schemes of ambition with which some literary men are fond of identifying themselves, fancying, it seems, that thereby they themselves after their measure play the Caesar. The policy which Cato conceived was simply that of purifying and preserving the Republic. So far, at all events, he had an insight into the situation, that he knew the real malady of the State to be want of public spirit, which he did his best to supply. And the fact is, that he did more than once succeed in a remarkable way in stemming the tide of corruption. Though every instinct bade him struggle to the last, he had sense enough to see the state of the case, and to advise that, to avert anarchy, supreme power should be put into the hands of Pompey, whose political superstition, if not his loyalty, there was good reason to trust. When at last civil war broke out, Cato went into it like Falkland, crying "peace;" he set his face steadily against the excesses and cruelties of his party; and when he saw the field of Dyrrhaeium covered with his slain enemies, he covered his face and wept. He wept a Roman over Romans, but humanity will not refuse the tribute of his tears. After Pharsalus he cherished no illusion, as Dr Mommsen himself admits, and though he determined himself to fall fighting, he urged no one else to resistance: he felt that the duty of an ordinary citizen was done. His terrible march over the African desert shewed high powers of command, as we shall see by comparing it with the desert march of Napoleon. Dr. Mommsen ridicules his pedantry in refusing, on grounds of loyalty, to take the commandership-in-chief over the head of a superior in rank. Cato was fighting for legality, and the spirit of legality was the soul of his cause. But besides this, he was himself without experience of war; and by declining the nominal command he retained the real control. He remained master to the last of the burning vessel. Our morality will not approve of his voluntary death; but then our morality would give him a sufficient motive for living, even if he was to be bound to the car of the conqueror. Looking to Roman opinion, he probably did what honour dictated; and those who prefer honour to life are not so numerous that we can afford to speak of them with scorn. "The fool," says Dr Mommsen, when the drama of the republic closes with Cato's death--"The fool spoke the Epilogue" Whether Cato was a fool or not, it was not he that spoke the Epilogue. The Epilogue was spoken by Marcus Aurelius, whose principles, political as well as philosophical, were identical with those for which Cato gave his life. All that time the Stoic and Republican party lived, sustained by the memory of its martyrs, and above them all by that of Cato. At first it struggled against the Empire; at last it accepted it, and when the world was weary of Caesars, assumed the government and gave humanity the respite of the Antonines. The doctrine of continuity is valid for all parties alike, and the current of public virtue was not cut off by Pharsalus. On the whole, remote as the character of Cato is in some respects from our sympathies, absurd as it would be if taken as a model for our imitation, I recognise it as a proof of the reality and indestructibility of moral force, even when pitted against the masters of thirty legions.

Against Cicero, again, Dr. Mommsen is so bitter, he is so determined to suppress as well as to degrade him, that it would be difficult even to make out from his pages who and what the once divine Tully was. Much of Dr. Mommsen's dashing criticism on Cicero's writings appears just, though we might trust the critic more if we did not find him in the next page evading the unwelcome duty of criticising Caesar's "Bellum Civile," under cover of some sentimental remarks about the difference between hope and fulfilment in a great soul. Cicero was no philosopher, in the highest sense of the term; yet it is not certain that he did not do some service to humanity by promulgating, in eloquent language, a pretty high and liberal morality, which both modified monkish ethics, and, when monkish ethics fell, and brought down Christian ethics in their fall, did something to supply the void. The Orations, even the great Philippic, I must confess I could never enjoy. But all orations, read long after their delivery, are like spent missiles, wingless and cold: they retain the deformities of passion, without the fire. A speech embodying great principles may live with the principles which it embodies; otherwise happy are the orators whose speeches are lost. The Letters it is not so easy to give up, especially when we consider of how many graceful and pleasant compositions of the same kind, of how many self-revelations, which have brought the hearts of men nearer to each other, those letters have been the model. That, however, which pleases most in Cicero is that he is, for his age, a thoroughly and pre- eminently civilized man. He hates gladiatorial shows; he despises even the tasteless pageantry of the Roman theatre; he heartily loves books; he is saving up all his earnings to buy a coveted library for his old age; he has a real enthusiasm for great writers; he breaks through national pride, and feels sincerely grateful to the Greeks as the authors; of civilization, rogues though he knew them to be in his time; he mourns, albeit with an apology, over the death of a slave; his slaves evidently are attached to him, and are faithful to him at the last; he writes to his favourite freedman with all the warmth of equal friendship. In his writings--in the "De Legibus," for instance--you will find principles of humanity far more comprehensive than those by which the policy of the empire was moulded. His tastes were pure and refined, and though he multiplied his villas, and decorated them with cost and elegance, it is certain that he was perfectly free alike from the prodigal ostentation and from the debauchery of the time indeed his vast intellectual industry implies a temperate life. For the game- preserving tendencies of the great oligarchs, he had a hearty dislike and contempt; in spite of the ill-looking, though obscure, episode of his divorce from his wife Terentia, he was evidently a man of strong family affections, the natural adjuncts of moral purity; he is inconsolable for the death of his daughter, spends days in melancholy wandering in the woods, and finds consolation only in erecting a temple to the beloved shade. His faults of character, both in private and public, are glaring, and the only thing to be said in excuse of his vanity is that it is so frank, and says plainly, "Puff me," not "Puff me not." As a political adventurer of the higher class, pushing his way under an aristocratic government by his talents and his training, received in course of time into the ranks of the aristocracy, yet never one of them, he will bear comparison with Burke. He resembles Burke, too, in his religious constitutionalism and reverence for the wisdom of political ancestors and perhaps his hope of creating a party at once conservative and reforming, by a combination of the moneyed interest


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