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the stump, and this too without any sense of the incongruity. Plutarch has a short passage which served as a hint, not indeed for the matter, but for the style of that speech. “ They do note,” says he, “ that in some of his epistles he counterfeited that brief compendious manner of the Lacedæmonians. As, when the war was begun, he wrote to the Pergamenians in this sort: I understand you have given Dolabella money: if you have done it willingly, you confess you have offended me; if against your wills, show it by giving me willingly.' This was Brutus's manner of letters, which were honoured for their briefness.” The speech in question is far enough indeed from being a model of style either for oratory or any thing else; but it is finely characteristic; while its studied primness and epigrammatic finish contrast most unfavorably with the frank-hearted yet artful eloquence of Antony.
And what a rare significance attaches to the brief scene of Brutus and his drowsy boy Lucius in camp a little before the catastrophe! There, in the deep of the night, long after all the rest have lost themselves in sleep, and when the anxieties of the issue are crowding upon him, — there we have the earnest, thoughtful Brutus hungering intensely for the repasts of treasured thought:
“Look, Lucius, here's the book I sought for so;
I put it in the pocket of my gown.”
What the man is, and where he ought to be, is all signified in these two lines. And do we not taste a dash of benignant irony in the implied repugnance between the spirit of the man and the stuff of his present undertaking? The idea of a bookworm riding the whirlwind of war! The thing is most like Brutus ; but how out of his element, how unsphered from his right place, it shows him! There is a touch of drollery in the contrast, which the richest steeping of poetry does not disguise. I fancy the Poet to have been in a bland intellectual smile, as he wrote that strain of loving earnestness in which the matter is delivered. And the irony is all the more delectable for being so remote and unpronounced ; like one of those choice arrangements in the background of a painting, which, without attracting conscious notice, give a zest and relish to what stands in front. The scene, whether for charm of sentiment or felicity of conception, is one of the finest in Shakespeare. Here too he had a hint from Plutarch: “ Whilst Brutus was in the war, and his head over-busily occupied, having slumbered a little after supper, he spent the rest of the night in dispatching his weightiest causes; and, if he had any leisure left, he would read some book till the third watch of the night.” I must add a part of what Brutus says when Lucius falls asleep in the midst of his song :
“ This is a sleepy tune. — O murderous slumber!
Lay'st thou thy leaden mace upon my boy
It is but right to add that, in the war between Pompey and Cæsar, Brutus, after much vacillation, sided with the former; and, when Pompey's cause was wrecked at Pharsalia, he was one of the first to throw himself on Cæsar's clemency; who thereupon took him to his bosom ; thus behaving with that mixture of far-sightedness and kind-heartedness which is rightly called magnanimity; and as thinking it nobler to charm the hostility out of his enemies than to make them feel his power. These facts, to be sure, are not brought forward in the play, but the sense of them is ; and this too in a way that tells powerfully against the course of Brutus.
Such, to my apprehension, is the Brutus of Shakespeare. But the Brutus of history was neither so immaculate in purpose nor so amiable in temper as the Poet's delineation may lead us to suppose. Merivale has the following in reference to him:
“ He was the son of a father of the same name, who had been a prominent supporter of the Marian party, and finally lost his life by rashly joining in the enterprise of Lepidus. His mother Servilia was half-sister to Marcus Cato, and appears to have been a woman of strong character and more than usual attainments. He was born only fifteen years later than Cæsar himself. But Cæsar's intimacy with Servilia was, it may be presumed, a principal cause of the marked favour with which he distinguished her offspring.
“ The elder Brutus being cut off prematurely, when his son was only eight years of age, the care of his education passed into the hands of his uncle Cato; and the youth became early initiated
preceptor, whose daughter Portia he married, as the purest model of practical and abstract virtue. But, together with many honourable and noble sentiments, he imbibed also from him that morose strictness in the exaction as well as the discharge of legal obligations which, while it is often mistaken for a guaranty of probity, is not incompatible with actual laxity of principle.
“ Accordingly, we find that while, on the one hand, he refrained as a provincial officer from extorting by fraud or violence the objects of his cupidity, he was, on the other, not the less unscrupulous in demanding exorbitant interest for loans advanced to the natives, and enforcing payment with rigid pertinacity. He allowed his agent to urge the most questionable interpretations of the law, and to enforce a rate of interest beyond what Cicero considered either legal or equitable. The bitter reflections which Cicero makes upon the conduct of Brutus mark the strong contrast between the tried and practical friend of virtue and the pedantic aspirant to philosophic renown.”
The characters of Brutus and Cassius are very nicely discriminated, scarce a word falling from either but what smacks of the man. Cassius is much the better conspirator, but much the worse man; and the better in that because the worse in this. For Brutus engages in the conspiracy on grounds of abstract and ideal justice; while Cassius holds it both a wrong and a blunder to go about such a thing without making success his first care. This, accordingly, is what he works for, being reckless of all other considerations in his choice and use of means. Withal he is more impulsive and quick than Brutus, because less under the self-discipline of moral principle. His motives, too, are of a much more mixed and various quality, because his habits of thinking and acting have grown by the measures of experience: he studies to understand men as they are ; Brutus, as he thinks they ought to be. Hence, in every case where Brutus crosses him, Brutus is wrong, and he is right, - right, that is, if success be their aim. Cassius judges, and rightly, I think, that the end should give law to the means; and that “ the honourable men whose daggers have stabb'd Cæsar” should not be hampered with conscientious scruples.
Still Brutus overawes him by his moral energy and elevation of character, and by the open-faced rectitude and purity of his principles. Brutus has no thoughts or aims that he is afraid or ashamed to avow ; Cassius has many which he would fain hide even from himself. And he catches a sort of inspiration and is raised above himself by contact with Brutus. And Cassius, moreover, acts very much from personal hatred of Cæsar, as remembering how, not long before, he and Brutus had stood for the chief Prætorship of the city, and Brutus through Cæsar's favour had got the election. And so the Poet read in Plutarch that “ Cassius being a choleric man, and hating Cæsar privately more than he did the tyranny openly, incensed Brutus against him.” The effect of this is finely worked out by the Poet in the man's affected scorn of Cæsar, and in the scoffing humour in which he loves to speak of him. For such is the natural language of a masked revenge.
The tone of Cassius is further indicated, and with exquisite art, in his soliloquy where, after tempering Brutus to his purpose, and finding how his “honourable metal may be wrought,” he gently slurs him for being practicable to flatteries, and then proceeds to ruminate the scheme for working upon his vanity, and thereby drawing him into the conspiracy; thus spilling the significant fact, that his
own honour does not stick to practise the arts by which he thinks it is a shame to be seduced.
It is a noteworthy point also, that Cassius is too practical and too much of a politician to see any ghosts. Acting on far lower principles than his leader, and such as that leader would spurn as both wicked and base, he therefore does no violence to his heart in screwing it to the work he takes in hand: his heart is even more at home in the work than his head: whereas Brutus, from the wrenching his heart has suffered, keeps reverting to the moral complexion of his first step. The remembrance of this is a thorn in his side ; while Cassius has no sensibilities of nature for such compunctions to stick upon. Brutus is never thoroughly himself after the assassination : that his heart is ill at ease, is shown in a certain dogged tenacity of honour and overstraining of rectitude, as if he were struggling to make atonement with his conscience. The stab he gave Cæsar planted in his own upright and gentle nature a germ of remorse, which, gathering strength from every subsequent adversity, came to embody itself in imaginary sights and sounds; the Spirit of Justice, made an ill angel to him by his own sense of wrong, hovering in the background of his after-life, and haunting his solitary moments in the shape of Cæsar's ghost. And so it is well done, that he is made to see the “ monstrous apparition ” just after his heart has been pierced through with many sorrows at hearing of Portia's shocking death.
The delineation of Portia is completed in a few brief masterly strokes. Once seen, the portrait ever after lives an old and dear acquaintance of the reader's inner man. Like some women I have known, Portia has strength enough to do and suffer for others, but very little for herself. As the daughter of Cato and the wife of Brutus, she has set in her eye a pattern of how she ought to think and act, being " so father'd and so husbanded ”; but still her head floats merged over the ears in her heart; and it is only when