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Senators, Citizens, Guards, Attendants, &c.
SCENE,--During a great part of the Play, at Rome; afterwards at Sardle; and
HIS tragedy, which is one of Shakspeare's three Roman dramas, of which Coriolanus and Antony and Cleopatra are the others, is named after the famous Caius JULIUS CÆSAR, whose assassination forms one of the great leading
features of it. In pursuance of the plan which we have prescribed to ourselves, it will be well to give some account of him.
He was born B.o. 100, and in the year of Rome, 654; his father's name was Lucius Cæsar, and his mother's was Aurelia ; she was a sister of the celebrated Marius, the rival of Sylla, whose contests for the supreme power Julius Cæsar, in his early boyhood, witnessed. At the age of seventeen, he was made a priest of Jupiter; and his promising talents and ambition gave occasion to Sylla to say, that in young Cæsar he foresaw that many Mariuses existed, and that those who were solicitous for his advancement, would through him bring about the ruin of their country's liberties. It was not without difficulty that Cæsar escaped the proscription which Sylla set on foot against him; but having done so, he left Rome, and went to Asia, where he began his military career under Thermus, the Roman governor, by whom, at the capture of Mitylene, he was rewarded with the civic crown. Sylla dying soon after, he returned to the capitol, where he made himself remarkable by a prosecution which he instituted against Dolabella, for extortion in his province. In this, however, he was defeated by Hortensius, the great orator, and by Cotta.
It was, probably, finding himself beaten in this matter, which induced him to proceed to Rhodes, in order to study oratory and law under Apollonius Molo, who was noted for his talents at that time, and amongst other illustrious pupils, had the honour of numbering Cicero, the most distinguished of Roman orators and lawyers. As he was returning to Rome, he was seized by pirates, who, after ill-treating him, offered him his liberty for thirty talents; he gave them forty, but no sooner was be out of their power, than, finding a ship, and manning it, he pursued them, and took and impaled them all; thus early giving a promise of that spirit and decision which in after years made him second to no general that ever lived before or since. Finding that the Marian faction, to which he had at first joined himself, was unpopular, he sided with Pompey, and, together with Cicero, was the means of passing the Manilian Law, by which that general was endued with extraordinary powers, for the purpose of terminating the war, which had lasted so long against Mithridates, King of Pontus. By thus exalting the man who was his most formidable rival, he created jealousy against him, and split the Roman people into various factions, of one of which he made himself the head, and so laid the foundations for his undermining the patrician interest, and raising himself on its ruins.
In the famous conspiracy of Catiline, when that traitor had been slain, and his accomplices were to be punished, Cæsar, still in opposition to the patrician cause, defended and excused them; and by his conduct, nearly lost his life at the hands of the enraged equites. But it was to the populace that he looked ; he hoped, by favouring them, to retain them on his side, and set them against the senate and the aristocracy, who were his strongest rivals; and when they were subjugated, he deemed, and not unwisely, that the enslaving of the people would be easier work. In doing this he did not spare any expense ; his largesses and bribes were showered forth with a most prodigal hand; and when his own means were dissipated, he borrowed money of his friends, so that when he was appointed governor of Spain, he owed no less than 2,000,0001. He had, before this, served in the inferior offices of the state, having been prætor, ædile, &c. After remaining in Spain for some time, during which he managed both to amass a sufficient sum to pay the enormous debt above mentioned, and to put into his own coffers enough to give him greater influence than ever amongst his countrymen, he once more returned to the city, where he found that in his absence a quarrel had sprung up between Pompey and Crassus. He reconciled them, and giving his daughter Julia in marriage to the former, he contrived, by the united efforts of these two men, to obtain the consulship the next year. In conjunction with them he formed what is generally called the first triumvirate, by which these three divided amongst them the whole of the possessions of the Roman empire. Gaul fell to the lot of Cæsar, whither he immediately proceeded, and where he remained upwards of ten years. His government was one continued series of wars and of victories; the hitherto invincible Gauls were defeated in every engagement, eight hundred cities were brought under the Roman yoke, three hundred states were made tributary, three millions of men were beaten in battle, of whom one million were slain, and one million led into captivity; and Gaul thus became really-what it was before only nominally—a Roman province. Nor should we omit to state, that at this time he invaded Britain in two expeditions, and added it to the possessions of his country. The account of his government in Gaul he has given us himself in his Commentaries, which are justly reckoned a most perfect specimen of writing : so excellent, indeed, are they, that some have not hesitated to assert, that if he had turned his attention to the profession of an author instead of a soldier, he would have excelled in one as much as he did in the other, and have been second to none, even of the greatest of Latin writers.
But whilst Cæsar was thus active in Gaul, his great contemporary, Pompey, was not idle at Rome. Crassus was now dead, as was also Julia, the daughter of Cæsar, and the wife of Pompey; whilst they lived a balance of power, and a semblance, at least, of friendship was kept up between the rivals; but when they were gone, every obstacle to an open rupture was removed, and their jealousy, which had long smouldered, burst out into an open flame. Everything for which Cæsar asked of the Senate, was refused by the intrigues of Pompey ; and at length a decree was passed to deprive him of his government of Gaul ; and Marc Antony, who, as tribune of the people, opposed it, was insulted, and forced to fly for refuge to the camp of him whose cause he had thus espoused. This was a sufficient excuse for Cæsar to declare war against his former associate, and he almost immediately crossed the river Rubicon, which was the boundary of his province, and invaded Italy, at the head of a large army, composed, in part, of those veterans who had shared his conquests in Gaul, Germany, and Britain. Italy and Rome, from which Pompey had fled, in less than two months, submitted to the arms of the conqueror, and all the money of the public treasury fell into his hands, with which he rewarded those who had been faithful to his standard.
Soon after the contending armies met at Pharsalia, and in a sharp battle the victory declared itself for Cæsar, who was thus, after the murder of Pompey, which took place in Egypt, the sole arbiter of the Roman world. From this time the career of Cæsar was one of continued success, and a series of splendid achievements. In vain did Cato, Scipio, Juba, and the sons of Pompey, oppose him ; everything fell before him; and returning to Rome in triumph over five nations, Gaul, 'Egypt, Spain, Pontus and Africa, he was proclaimed perpetual dictator, or supreme ruler of Rome.
But there were still Romans left who loved the liberty of their ancestors, and who would not hesitate, therefore, to remove one who had so outraged, as they considered, everything that was to them most sacred and most dear-amongst these were Cassius and Brutus ; the latter was a personal friend of Cæsar, who had spared his life at the battle of Pharsalia, and loved him so as to treat him as his son. Still he did not shrink from joining a conspiracy against the life of him, who, however dear personally, was aiming at making himself a tyrant, and destroying the liberty of Rome, and was, therefore, the object of hatred to all who would keep inviolate the ancient republic. At a meeting of the senate, at which it was intended to have made Cæsar king, upon a given signal the conspirators surrounded him, and fell on him with their daggers. But the courage of the conqueror of the world did not even then desert him, and he defended himself most manfully, wounding some of his assailants, and throwing down others, till he saw his beloved Brutus amongst them, when, exclaiming, “ Et tu, Brute !" " and thou, too, O Brutus !" he muffled up his face in his mantle, and fell down at the feet of Pompey's statue, pierced with twenty-three ? wounds. This happened on the 15th of March, forty
(1) Shakspeare says, three and thirty wounds ; ” but this number differs from the commonly received account.