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word from its English adaptation to the chastity of womanhood, or as both from the old-curiosity-shop sense of articles of virtù.
Look back at Edmund Waller, now; and you shall find him monopolising virtue on the side of Cæsar.
But living virtue, all achievements past,
And here observe, by the way, that whereas supple Waller, then of course an anti-loyalist, thus wrote against Brutus, to please Oliver Cromwell; royal Master Abraham Cowley wrote in praise of Brutus, innocent of all design not to please the Royal Family of England. Whereby hangs a tale. For, after Charles the Second's restoration, Cowley, who, says Isaac Disraeli, had commemorated in an ode "the genius of Brutus, with all the enthusiasm of a votary of liberty,"-solicited some reward for his sufferings and services in the royal cause; whereupon the Chancellor is reported to have "turned on him with a severe countenance," and said, "Mr. Cowley, your pardon is your reward." For it seems the ode was then considered to be of a dangerous tendency among half the nation; Brutus would be the model of enthusiasts, who were sullenly bending their neck under the yoke of royalty. "Charles II. feared the attempt of desperate men; and he might have forgiven Rochester a loose pasquinade, but not Cowley a solemn invocation."+ Et tu Brute! had a poignant personal meaning for Cowley, as often as, moping in his solitary cottage, he remembered him of that unlucky Ode.
The old book whence this anecdote of an Ode and its consequences is derived, is so little known, and by its title is so pertinent to our theme, that the title deserves present citation in full. To wit, "The Judgment of Dr. Prideaux in Condemning the Murder of Julius Cæsar by the Conspirators as a most villanous act, maintained." The date on said title-page being the seventh year of a Hanoverian dynasty in these realms.
The discharge of a present evil, moralises old Montaigne, is no cure, if a general amendment of condition does not follow. Whoever only proposes to himself to remove that which offends him, falls short; for good does not necessarily succeed evil; another evil may ensue, and a worse, as it happened to Cæsar's slayers, who brought the republic to such a pass that they had reason to repent their meddling with it."‡ Michel appends a sort of wish that later generations in general, and his own French one in particular, had been less apt to take a leaf out of Brutus his book. And it must be owned, as the due of retributive history, that historians often find scope for a fling at Brutus, as the setter of more than one bad example. There is the true Gibbonian sneer in Mr. Gibbon's account of the conspiracy in the fifteenth century, of Rienzi's imitator, that "inflexible Roman," Stephen Porcaro, the forfeit
* Waller, A Panegyric to my Lord Protector.
of whose life that humane Pope, Nicholas the Fifth, was so averse to accept: "But Porcaro had learned from the younger Brutus, that with tyrants no faith or gratitude should be observed."* And the lesson thus learnt, he set about practising, to his cost.
Goethe says somewhere that the murder of Cæsar was the most senseless act that the Romans ever committed. A truer word was never spoken, says Niebuhr; who even adds, that the result of it could not possibly have been any other than that which did follow the deed.
Poetry may vindicate the ultimus Romanorum, as by the impassioned accents of Byron's Bertuccio Faliero,
-What were we,
If Brutus had not lived? He died in giving
Of true Venetians, sprung from Roman sires.†
But the philosophers are not persuaded by the poets, in this matter. Brutus's conspiracy against Cæsar can only, the Niebuhr school assert, 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 part in the act, who, after being enemies, have received favours from him, and professed to be friends. The murderers should at least, it is submitted, 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 means. He mistook the circumstances of the times and the character of the man. His conduct after the murder was feeble and uncertain; and it was also as illegal as the usurpation of Cæsar."
Brutus, the aristocrat," writes Sir Bulwer Lytton, "stabs his patron, that patricians might again trample on plebeians, and that posterity might talk of him."S
M. Ampère tries to give point to the relation between Brutus and his patron, and patron's estimate of protégé, in an imaginary dialogue between the latter and Cleopatra, who keeps expressing an instinctive dis
* Gibbon, Roman Empire, ch. lxx.
+ Byron, Marino Faliero, Act II. Sc. 2.
Maltravers loquitur, in "Alice," book ii. ch. vi.
like and distrust of Brutus, after the manner (with a difference) of Cæsar's misgivings of lean sinister-looking Cassius, in Shakspeare:
De Brutus Servilie est la mère; est-il vrai
asks the Queen of Egypt, coming to the point, point-blank. Cæsar is diplomatic in his response, is careful not to commit himself, and orders his words with discretion:
Moi, je te repondrai
Par le très-sage mot du grand poëte Homère:
Je n'aime par Brutus, il est, dit-on, farouche,
Il faut aimer Brutus.
Nous ne saurions tomber d'accord sur ce point-là.*
Whatever the Rambouillet set and précieuses of the seventeenth century may have done, it must be allowed that Antony's Serpent of old Nile (and mighty prosy she is, in M. Ampère's version) shows no disposition whatever to paint Brutus dameret.
The plot, by the way, of Voltaire's tragedy, La Mort de César,-from which tragedy, as if to prevent all possibility of Brutus inclining to become dameret, or galant, all female characters are austerely excluded,is founded on the assumption that Brutus was the son of great Julius. All very well for the stage, especially the French stage; but as a fact, which must go for what it is worth, Brutus was only fifteen years younger than this his putative père.
We have seen what Mrs. Browning says of Michael Angelo's unfinished bust, at Florence, of the patriot, from whose example John Keats thanked Mr. Cowden Clarke, nearly fifty years since, for teaching him "stern duty," when pointing out, in common with the might of Alfred and the shaft of Tell,
The hand of Brutus, that so grandly fell
And we have seen the reason Mrs. Browning assigns for the great sculptor's leaving such a head unfinished. Other reasons have been suggested. One is that of the cardinal who wrote a distich under the
*César, par J. J. Ampère, pp. 282 sq.
Keats, to Charles Cowden Clarke, 1816.
bust, to this effect: that as the sculptor was forming this effigy of Brutus in marble, he remembered his act of guilt, and refrained.
Dum Bruti effigiem sculptor de marmore finxit,
In mentem sceleris venit, et abstinuit.
Then comes an English nobleman, who fires with resentment at the inscription, and extemporises a counter-irritating distich, to this effect: that the sculptor would have formed a Brutus, but the vast and manifold virtue of the man flashed upon his thought: he stopped and remained in astonished admiration.
Brutum effinxisset sculptor, sed mente recursat
Now which, asks Samuel Taylor Coleridge, is the nobler and more moral sentiment, the Italian cardinal's or the English nobleman's? The cardinal would appeal to the doctrine of general consequences, and pronounce the death of Cæsar a murder, and Brutus an assassin. For (he would say) "if one man may be allowed to kill another because he thinks him a tyrant, religious or political frenzy may stamp the name of tyrant on the best of kings: regicide will be justified under the pretence of tyrannicide, and Brutus be quoted as authority for the Clements and Ravaillacs. From kings it may pass to generals and statesmen, and from these to any man whom an enemy or enthusiast may pronounce unfit to live. Thus we may have a cobbler of Messina in every city, and bravos in our streets as common as those of Naples, with the name of Brutus on their stilettos."
But Coleridge is clear against the cardinal-(it was in S. T. C.'s Morning Post days, when he was all anxiety to secure a Brutus against the then despot of France)-so he pits his Englishman against the scarlet hat, and makes him maul the clause, " because he thinks him a tyrant." No! Coleridge's Englishman would reply,-not because the patriot thinks him a tyrant, but because he knows him to be so, and knows likewise, that the vilest of his slaves cannot deny the fact, that he has by violence raised himself above the laws of his country-because he knows that all good and wise men equally with himself abhor the fact. "As to your Neapolitan bravos, if the act of Brutus who
In pity to the general wrong of Rome,
authorised by the laws of his country, in manifest opposition to all selfish interests, in the face of the senate, and instantly presenting himself and his cause first to that senate, and then to the assembled commons, by them to stand acquitted or condemned-if such an act as this, with all its vast outjutting circumstances of distinction, can be confounded by any mind, not frantic, with the crime of a cowardly skulking assassin who hires out his dagger for a few crowns to gratify a hatred not his own, or even with the deed of that man who makes a compromise between his revenge and his cowardice, and stabs in the dark the enemy whom he dared not meet in the open field, or summon before the laws of his country-what actions can be so different, that they may not be equally confounded?" If no distinction, Coleridge further argues, full and satisfactory to the conscience and common sense of mankind, be afforded by the detestation and horror excited in all men (even in the meanest and most vicious, if they are not wholly monsters) by the act
of the assassin, contrasted with the "fervent admiration felt by the good and wise in all ages when they mention the name of Brutus;" contrasted with "the fact that the honour or disrespect with which that name was spoken of, became an historic criterion of a noble or a base age ;" and if, once more, it is in vain that our own hearts answer to the question of the poet :
Is there among the adamantine spheres,
Wheeling unshaken thro' the boundless void,
When guilt brings down the thunder, call'd aloud
And bade the father of his country, hail!
If, argues Coleridge, all this be fallacious and insufficient, can we have firmer reliance on a cold ideal calculation of imaginary consequences, which, if they were general, could not be consequences at all;-for they would be effects of the frenzy or frenzied wickedness, which alone could confound actions so utterly dissimilar?
"No! would the ennobled descendant of our Russells or Sidneys conclude [that is to say, the hypothetical English nobleman who shows fight against the cardinal's distich aforesaid]. No! calumnious bigot! never yet did a human being become an assassin from his own or the general admiration of the hero Brutus; but I dare not warrant, that villains might not be encouraged in their trade of secret murder, by finding their own guilt attributed to the Roman patriot, and might not conclude, that if Brutus be no better than an assassin, an assassin can be no worse than Brutus."+
The same line of argument is an oft-trodden one in Coleridge's contributions to the Courier and Morning Post, when Wanted a Brutus! was the burden of his strain against the First Consul turned Emperor, and Killing No Murder the apparent terminus ad quem of his rhetoric.
Here is another example from another portion of his leading articles, in which he is again trying to reduce to an absurdity the quest of a general rule in tyrannicide cases-each single instance being itself, he contends, a species, to be tried on its own grounds, and resting its whole pretences for acquittal or mitigation of censure, on its peculiarity ;besides that in all such cases, men neither act by a rule, nor judge by a rule, but in both one and the other are determined by their feelings. Ravaillac, he then goes on to suggest, was perhaps as sincere and disinterested in his enthusiasm as Brutus: " yet all Europe, both at the time, and ever since, has held the one in abhorrence, while the name of the other was never pronounced without love and honour even in the worst ages by any noble-minded Roman." The feelings of mankind at large, he repeats, have crowned the one and branded the other; and "Mr. Whitbread and the rest, who would teach us to condemn Brutus by a
* Akenside, Pleasures of the Imagination, b. ii. †The Friend, by S. T. Coleridge, vol. ii. essay xi. Feb.-VOL. CXXX. NO. DXVIII.