The statue of Caesar writing his Commentaries, which serves as the subject of the remarkable study by M. Henri Martin that we are about to read, was cast in the workshops of Messrs Broquin and Laîné. It had already been exhibited in marble by the author, Mr. S. Dénéchau.
We were pleased to find this remarkable work, published in bronze with a superiority already appreciated in various models executed by Messrs. Broquin and Laîné, better known until now as founders, but whom this happy attempt and the just reward which was awarded to them by the jury, place in the first rank of the too small number of publishers of art bronze. We congratulate them on having chosen so well and succeeded so well.
Towards the first half of the century that preceded the Christian era, the Roman Republic tended to dissolve, both through the excess of the grandeur of the State and through the excess of inequality between individuals. Democracy, at the moment when it seemed to have conquered everything in law, ceased to exist in fact, and inequality was incomparably greater than in the days of the old patricians and the old plebeians, who were equally ploughmen and soldiers, and almost as simple in morals as each other. Now the great were richer than kings, and their estates were as large as provinces; small property, on the other hand, the true basis of democracy, disappeared more and more, and the plebeian became either a soldier who fought in wars for most of his life, or a proletarian uprooted from the soil.
Great and small alike lost the principles and morals of citizenship. Corruption loosened the bond of the family as well as that of the State.
Everything was shaken, if nothing else had collapsed.
It was then that Caesar appeared. Caesar was not the author of the evil; but he resolved to hasten its progress and to take advantage of it, in order to establish, on the ruins of the Republic, not the temporary dictatorship of Marius or Sylla, but absolute power under lasting conditions.
Never has a man been more aware of himself and his work, never has he more clearly determined the goal or more skilfully calculated the means, never has he more completely fulfilled all the conditions of his role. Role is the right word, for men of this character are above all actors like the authors of great historical dramas in which everything is sacrificed to the brilliance of the lead role, to the glory of the hero; the world is for them only the theatre which must resound with their fame. They are the opposite of those other great men of action whose ambition is subordinated to a goal higher than their personality, to a conception of duty, and who are the servants of the idea.
Among those great dominators who subordinate everything to themselves, instead of subordinating themselves to the conception of a divine order of the world or an ideal of nationality, and who make themselves gods on earth, Caesar is undoubtedly the first. Combining all talents with all knowledge, solidity of character with all types of spirit, equalling the first orators in the tribune, like the first writers with pen in hand, while he surpassed all generals and foolish politicians, joining grace to strength, and the most seductive as well as the most formidable of men, he had, it has been claimed, all the vices and not a single flaw; It may at least be said that, if he committed crimes from the point of view of law and morality, he did not commit a fault from the point of view of success.
He had that complete balance which has been lacking in the great modern man whom he is often compared with, and who equalled him in military and administrative genius, but was far from equalling him in political genius. Caesar's coolness and serenity seem to have been denied only once, when faced with the young Gaul who had won a battle over him and nearly wrested his fortune from his hands.
Caesar was neither good nor bad, neither humane nor cruel; he was one or the other according to circumstances; he was all that it was useful for him to be. Most often, however, he was generous to his Roman adversaries, and implacable to his foreign adversaries, the Barbarians, as they were called, when he did not hope to reduce them to his instruments. Not believing in the gods any more than in the institutions of his homeland, free from all prejudices and scruples, he remained a Roman on condition that he concentrated Rome in him and through him. He loved Rome as his own, and his soldiers as his voluntary and necessary instruments, and as a part of himself.
The old political society, sick as it was, still retained its vitality. Liberty still had great men in her service, and fought more than one great battle.
It took all the genius of Caesar and all the skill of Augustus to finish off the great wounded. One could apply here in advance the word of Macbeth:
"Who could have believed that there was still so much blood in his veins! "
If the mind can hesitate before this excuse of inevitability which is put forward in favour of the founders of the Empire, the heart revolts; for Caesar and Augustus did not inherit from a dead man; they killed to inherit.
Caesar had what he wanted; in his lifetime, success; after him, an immense prestige, against which the feeling of the just has always protested, but which, always fought, has never been dispelled. His name has remained the symbol of absolute authority, the very type of force that fascinates peoples at the same time as it subjugates them, the ideal of domination among men.
What was the character of what Caesar founded?
This vast establishment of the Empire undoubtedly had a splendid exterior! He covered the Roman world with those countless monuments whose imposing remains we admire. By absorbing the ancient peoples into its unity, it brought about that peace, at least relative, that famous pax romana which, despite the interruptions of civil wars and proscriptions, spread the brilliant Hellenic-Latin civilisation throughout the West.
But what lay beneath this shining surface, and on what principle did the state rest?
The old order had been founded on duty, on the devotion of the citizen to the fatherland, to the laws of the fatherland, to the gods of the fatherland. The new order was based on obedience to one man and on the favour of the prince, who fictitiously personified the people, resigning all their rights for the benefit of one. No more political rights and consequently no more duties.
The great pontiff Caesar had been quite frankly an atheist. Augustus, who felt that a state could not stand on this foundation, tried to repair the crumbling Pantheon, and, as little believer as his predecessor, he smeared the empire with a veneer of superstition. It is not a religion of this kind, but a religion of the future, a religion of the future, a religion of the future. It was not such a religion that could remake Curtius and Decius.
In reality, no higher principle hovered over the Roman world any longer. Night was upon the souls.
What decides against the empire is not Caligula, it is Marcus Aurelius.
The empire had not only wise and foolish tyrants, Augustus and Caligula; it had princes who were the very opposite of tyrants. Virtue, armed with absolute power, was powerless; the virtuous emperors gave a few days' respite to the human race; they could leave nothing behind. They did not revive a decomposed and lost society.
To judge Caesar and his work, we must ask ourselves what would have become of the world if the Galilean had not appeared. It is true that it has been said that Caesar was necessary to level the ground on which the Galilean was to sow the good seed; but should we judge a man by what he did without knowing it, or by what he wanted to do?
©L'Exposition Universelle de 1867 Illustrée