Page images



consideration. But such slanders did more harm to the writer than to the subject of his libel.

Cæsar's pamphlet has long been forgotten, and Cato’s life, in spite of the sneers of Mommsen-and other blind worshippers of the dictator, will long continue to appeal to all who love an honest man. We no longer write tragedies to his glory; we grant that he was a little impracticable, a little grotesque, a phenomenon rather than a model. Yet we feel that it is well with the state which has such men. Ten Catos might have saved the Roman Republic; one could only be a voice crying in the wilderness, prophesying the inevitable ill, which, unaided, he could not ward off. Like the Persian noble in Herodotus, he could exclaim, “What the gods have decreed it is not possible to avert, but surely the direst of all human ills is to abound in knowledge, yet to have no power to hold back the evil day.”



In Cato we have had to deal with a man who should have been born in an earlier age, who knew it, and who went through life with his eyes open, fighting against the inevitable, though he knew that it must come in spite of all his striving. Now we have to survey a still more unhappy and pathetic career, that of a man who did not even know the signs of the times, and went on blindly seeking he did not quite know what, and doing infinite mischief just because he did not know what he wanted.

There have been, alike in ancient and in modern history, great generals who were also great statesmen, for good or for evil, like Cæsar, or Frederick the Great, or Napoleon. There have also been great generals to whom all insight into the verities of contemporary politics was denied, and who yet insisted upon interfering in them, and found it easy to do so. For the multitude is always prone to credit great generals with universal genius in statecraft, just as it is equally prone to credit great orators with the same faculty. For it seems to be easy to forget that excellence in strategy and in oratory are about equally remote in character from excellence in statesmanship. Cicero or Burke, not to mention more modern names, cut poor figures as practical politicians, but even more pathetically futile are the great men of war who have been put at the head of the state by their admirers, and have gone astray in the Forum. The best example in modern times is probably our own Wellington, whose mismanagement had no



mean part in bringing England to the edge of that revolution which she only escaped by the great Reform Bill of 1832. The best example in ancient history is undoubtedly Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, three times the potential master of Rome, who thrice refused to lay firm hold of the helm that was thrust into his grasp, and yet could never quite keep his fingers from itching to handle it. Never did a man's virtues combine more fatally with his weaker qualities to bring about not only his own ruin, but the wreck of his country. A sternly stoical and self-repressing Pompey would have crushed down the ambition in his heart, and steeled himself to despise any misrepresentation and injustice that fell to his lot, like Phocion of old. He would have done the Republic no harm, though he might not have proved its saviour. On the other hand, a purely self-seeking and unscrupulous Pompey would have been able to seize the control of the state with ease, and might have tried whatsoever constitutional experiments he pleased. Perhaps the Republic might have fared none the worse if he had done so; he might have become its ruler without the civil war which Cæsar had to face. His opportunities were far better than those of Cæsar for gaining supreme power, without having to wade to the throne through oceans of Roman blood.

But Pompey was neither wholly unselfish nor wholly unscrupulous. Hence it came to pass that he took neither of the alternative paths, but fidgeted about between the two, sometimes obeying the impulse of ambition, sometimes that of loyalty, so that all his actions seem incoherent and inconsequent, and the general trend of his career appears both destructive to the constitution and disastrous to himself. Yet it is hard to grow very indignant with him; his personal virtues are too conspicuous, and his character too far above the level of the other Romans of his time. He was so ungratefully treated by those he

[ocr errors]

fain would have served, and his final end was so piteous, that we are forced to shut our eyes to the mischief (mostly unintentional) which he did, and to view his whole life with sympathy rather than with impatience.

It is hardly necessary to say that Mommsen's estimate of Pompey is no more to be taken seriously than his estimates of Cicero, or Cato, or Cæsar. It is as misleading to treat him as a mere drill-sergeant, as to call Cicero a "fluent Consular," or Cato a "mere Don Quixote,” or

' Cæsar a beneficent and unselfish saviour of society. He was in reality no military pedant but an excellent general and organiser. In war he fared well, save when he came in contact with the two men of first-rate military genius who crossed his path, Sertorius and Cæsar. Against them he fought not ingloriously, till the fatal day at Pharsalus, when he for the first time met with complete disaster, ruined not so much by his own fault as by the rashness of his officers and the inexperience of his men.

But it was not so much as a soldier that Pompey appeals to the student of those last troublous days. In that time of corrupt and degenerate Romans it is a relief to come upon a leading man who was neither a profligate nor an unscrupulous adventurer. Pompey's private life was worthy of the old times of the Republic for its modesty, honesty, and purity. No one ever accused him of greed, of debauchery, or of malevolence; "he was the slowest man at asking and the readiest at giving in Rome,” says Plutarch. Nor was he merely honest and upright; he also possessed the virtue--rare above all others in that age-of humanity, shown not only to fellow-citizens, but even to foreigners and enemies. In all his Eastern and his Western campaigns, one of the most remarkable points is his habitual kindliness and moderation to the vanquished. Not only open foreign foes, but even outcasts, like the pirates of Cilicia, found in him a merciful conqueror. Any




other man would have crucified those robbers along the coasts which they had plundered. Pompey turned them into colonists in his new cities in the Isaurian region, where, strangely enough, they repaid his confidence by turning out good settlers. Even the Jews, whose feelings he had outraged by forcing his way into the Holy of Holies at Jerusalem, speak nothing of him but good. Of all Roman conquerors he was undoubtedly the most just and merciful. He had not, like his rival Cæsar, huge stains of massacre upon his reputation, such as the execution of the senate of the Veneti or the treacherous slaughter of the 430,000 Usipetes and Tencteri. He would have been wholly incapable of that worst act of all, the saving in prison for six years of such a gallant enemy as Vercingetorix, in order that he might be duly led in chains and put to death in the Tullianum, when his callous victor's long-delayed triumph should take place. No one ever could accuse Pompey of deliberate and cold blooded cruelty of such a cast as this. The only captives that Pompey ever slew were Romans and traitors, men whom it might have been profitable to spare, as Cæsar might very possibly have done, but whose crimes he thought too great for pardon. We shall have to tell the story of the deaths of Carbo, of Brutus, and of Perpenna in their proper places.

Gnaeus Pompeius was born in B.C. 106. He was the son of Gn. Pompeius Strabo, a man of equestrian rank, who had (first of his house) raised himself to consular office by his military achievements in the great Social war with the revolted Italians. Thus Pompey, though not a novus homo himself, was the son of one. Their family seems to have been for some time settled in Picenum, where we find both the father and his son after him exercising great local influence. Strabo, though a man of good abilities, had a sinister reputation. He played a rather equivocal part in the first year of the civil war between


« EelmineJätka »