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us often to praise men, whom, at a later time, we shall have to blame. Criticism, forgetful and harsh, too often condemns beginnings which are laudable, having in view the end which it knows, of which it has a view beforehand. But we do not choose to know this end; whatever this man may do to-morrow, we note for his advantage the good which he does to-day: the end will come soon enough.” This is the true method of writing history; this is the true method of judging men. Unfortunately we cannot trace the career of many individuals with that particularity of date and circumstance which would enable us to do justice. Plutarch does not draw characters in the mass in the modern way: he gives us both the good and the bad, in detail : but with little regard sometimes to time and circumstance. He has treated Brutus with partiality: he finds only one act in his life to condemn (chap: xlvi.). The great condemnation of Brutus is, that acting in the name of virtue, he did not know what it was; that fighting for his country, he was fighting for a party; his Roman republic was a republic of aristocrats; his people was a fraction of the Roman citizens; he conceived no scheme for regenerating a whole nation : he engaged in a death struggle in which we can feel no sympathy. His name is an idle abused theme for rhetoric; and his portrait must be drawn, ill or well, that the world may be disabused.
Drumann (Geschichte Roms, Junii, p. 34,) has carefully collected the acts of Brutus; and he has judged him severely, and, I think, truly.
Brutus had moderate abilities, with great industry and much learning: he had no merit as a general, but he had the courage of a soldier; he had the reputation of virtue, and he was free from many of the vices of his contemporaries: he was sober and temperate. Of enlarged political views he had none; there is not a sign of his being superior in this respect to the mass of his contemporaries. When the Civil War broke out, he joined Pompeius, though Pompeius had murdered his father. If he gave up his private enmity, as Plutarch says, for what he believed to be the better cause, the sacrifice was honourable; if there were other motives, and I believe there were, his choice of his party does him no credit. His conspiracy against Cæsar can only be justified by those, if there are such, who think that a usurper ought to be got rid of in any way. But if a man is to be murdered, one does not expect those to take a part in the act who, after being enemies, have received favours from him, and professed to be friends. The
murderers should at least be a man's declared enemies who have just wrongs to avenge. Though Brutus was dissatisfied with things under Cæsar, he was not the first mover in the conspiracy. He was worked upon by others, who knew that his character and personal relation to Cæsar would in a measure sanctify the deed; and by their persuasion, not his own resolve, he became an assassin in the name of freedom, which meant the triumph of his party, and in the name of virtue, which meant nothing.
The act was bad in Brutus as an act of treachery; and it was bad as an act of policy. It failed in its object, the success of a party, because the death of Cæsar was not enough: other victims were necessary,
and Brutus would not have them. He put himself at the head of a plot, in which there was no plan : he dreamed of success and forgot the
He mistook the circumstances of the times and the character of the men.
His conduct after the murder was feeble and uncertain ; and it was also as illegal as the usurpation of Cæsar. “ He left Rome as Prætor without the permission of the Senate; he took possession of a province which, even according to Cicero's testimony, had been assigned to another; he arbitrarily passed beyond the boundaries of his province, and set his effigy on the coins.” (Drumann.) He attacked the Bessi in order to give his soldiers booty, and he plundered Asia to get money for the conflict against Cæsar and Antonius, for the mastery of Rome and Italy. The means that he had at his disposal show that he robbed without measure and without mercy; and never was greater tyranny exercised over helpless people in the name of liberty, than the wretched inhabitants of Asia experienced from Brutus the Liberator' and Cassius the last of the Romans.' But all these great resources were thrown away in an ill-conceived and worse executed campaign.
Temperance, industry, and unwillingness to shed blood, are noble qualities in a citizen and a soldier; and Brutus possessed them. But great wealth gotten by ill means is an eternal reproach ; and the trade of money-lending carried on in the names of others, with unrelenting greediness, is both avarice and hypocrisy. Cicero, the friend of Brutus, is the witness for his wealth, and for his unworthy means to increase it.
Reflecting men in all ages have a philosophy. With the educated Greeks and Romans, philosophy was religion. The vulgar belief
under whatever name it may be, is never the belief of those who have leisure for reflection. The vulgar rich and vulgar poor are immersed in sense; the man of reflection strives to emerge from it. To him the things which are seen are only the shadows of the unseen; forms without substance, but the evidence of the substantial; for the invisible things of God from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made" (Epistle to the Romans,
Brutus was from his youth up a student of philosophy, and well versed in the systems of the Greeks. Untiring industry and a strong memory had stored his mind with the thoughts of others, but he had not capacity enough to draw profit from his intellectual as he did from his golden treasures. His mind was a barren field on which no culture could raise an abundant crop. His wisdom was the thoughts of others, and he had ever ready in his mouth something that others had said. But to utter other men's wisdom is not enough: a man must make it his own by the labour of independent thought. Philosophy and superstition were blended in his mind, and they formed a chaos in his bewildered brain, as they always will do; and the product is “Gorgons and Hydras and Chimæras dire.” In the still of night phantoms floated before his wasted strength and watchful eyes ; perhaps the vision of him, the generous and the brave, who had saved the life of an enemy in battle, and fell by his hand in the midst of peace. Conscience was his tormentor, for truth was stronger than the illusions of a self-imputed virtue. Though Brutus had condemned Cato's death, he died by his own hand, not with the stubborn resolve of Cato, who would not yield to a usurper, but merely to escape from his enemies. A Roman might be pardoned for not choosing to become the prisoner of a Roman, but his grave should have been the battle-field, and the instrument should have been the hands of those who were fighting against the cause which he proclaimed to be righteous and just. Cato's son bettered his father's example: he died on the plain of Philippi in the ranks of the enemy. Brutus died without belief in the existence of that virtue which he had affected to follow: the triumph of a wrongful cause, as he conceived it, was a proof that virtue was an empty name. He forgot the transitory nature of all individual existences, and thought that justice perished with him. But a true philosopher does not make himself a central point, nor his own misfortunes a final catastrophe. He looks both backwards and forwards, to the past and the future, and views himself as a small link in the great chain of events which holds all things together. Brutus died in despair, with the courage, but not with the faith, of a martyr.
When men talk of tyranny and rise against it, the name of Brutus is invoked; a mere name and nothing else. What single act is there in the man's life which promised the regeneration of his country and the freedom of mankind ? Like other Romans, he only thought of maintaining the
supremacy of Rome : his ideas were no larger than theirs ; he had no sympathy for those whom Rome governed and oppressed. For his country, he had nothing to propose : its worn-out political constitution he would maintain, not amend; indeed, amendment was impossible. Probably he dreaded anarchy and the dissolution of social order, for that would have released his creditors and confiscated his valuable estates. But Cæsar's usurpation was not an anarchy; it was a monarchy, a sole rule; and Brutus, who was ambitious, could not endure that. It may be said that if the political views of Brutus were narrow, he was only like most of his countrymen. But why then is he exalted, and why is his name invoked? What single title had he to distinction, except what Cæsar gave him? A man of unknown family, the son of a woman whom Cæsar had debauched, pardoned after fighting against his mother's lover, raised by him to the prætorship, and honoured with Cæsar's friendship-he has owed his distinction to nothing else than murdering the man whose genius he could not appreciate, but whose favours he had enjoyed.
His spurious philosophy has helped to save him from the detestation which is his due; but the false garb should be stripped off. A Stoic, an ascetic, and nothing more, is a mere negation. The active virtues of Brutus are not recorded. If he sometimes did an act of public justice (chap. 35), it was not more than many other Romans have done. To reduce this philosopher to his true level, we ask, what did he say or do that showed a sympathy with all mankind ? Where is the evidence that he had the feeling of justice which alone can regenerate a nation? But it may be said, why seek in a Roman of his age what we cannot expect to find? Why then elevate him above the rest of his age
and consecrate his name? Why make a hero of him who murdered his benefactor, and then ran away from the city which he was to save_from we know not what? And why make a virtuous man of him who was only austere, and who did not believe in the virtue that he professed?
As to statesmanship, nobody has claimed that for
The deputy of Arras [Robespierre), poor, and despised even by his own party, won the confidence of the people by their belief in his probity; and he deserved it. Fanatical and narrow-minded, he was still a man of principles. Untiring industry, unshaken faith, and poverty, the guarantee of his probity, raised him slowly to distinction, and enabled him to destroy all who stood between him and the realization of an unbending theory. Though he had sacrificed the lives of others, he scorned to save his own by doing what would have contradicted his principles : he respected the form of legality, when its substance no longer existed, and refused to sanction force when it would have been used for his own protection (Lamartine, Histoire des Girondins, livr. lxi. 9). A great and memorable example of crime, of fanaticism, and of virtue; of a career commenced in the cause of justice, in truth, faith, and sincerity; of a man who did believe in virtue, and yet spoiled the cause in which he embarked, and left behind him a name for universal execration.
Treachery at home, enmity abroad, and misconduct in its own leaders, made the French revolution result in anarchy, and then in a tyranny. The Civil Wars of Rome resulted in a monarchy, and there was nothing else in which they could end. The Roman monarchy or the Empire was a natural birth. The French Empire was an abortion. The Roman Empire was the proper growth of the ages that had preceded it: they could produce nothing better. In a few years after the battle of Philippi, Cæsar Octavianus got rid of his partner Antonius; and, under the administration of Augustus, the world enjoyed comparative peace, and the Roman Empire was established and consolidated. The genius of Augustus, often ill appreciated, is demonstrated by the results of his policy. He restored order to a distracted state, and transmitted his power to his successors. The huge fabric of Roman greatness, resting on its ancient foundations, only crumbled beneath the assaults that time and new circumstances make against all political institutions.