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THE LITERATURE OF THE STORY OF JULIUS CÆSAR.
THE original sources for the biography of Julius Cæsar are, of course, classical. Of these, so far as regards the present drama, the most valuable, and that which, therefore, deserves to be first mentioned, is that remarkable series of (forty-six) memoirs of distinguished Greeks and Romans,' arranged in companion pairs, entitled 'Parallel Lives' (Blou napáxino), composed by the Greek rhetorician, Plutarch, the only writer of antiquity who has earned a lasting reputation as a biographer. Plutarch was a native of Chæronea, a small city in Boeotia, born about 50 A.D., who taught rhetoric by lectures delivered in the Greek language at Rome, where he flourished during the reigns of Vespasian, Titus, Domitian, and Trajan; and wrote his Lives, in honourable retirement in the city of his birth, during the decline of his long and intellectual life. His great work is remarkable for the poetic delineation and the dramatic vividness of the characters he portrays. The reason of this, as he himself states it, is : 'I do not write histories, but lives; nor do the most conspicuous acts of necessity exhibit a man's virtue or his vice, but oftentimes some slight circumstance, a word or a jest, shows a man's character better than battles with the slaughter of tens of thousands, and the greatest arrays of armies and sieges of cities. Now, as painters produce a likeness by a representation of the countenance and of the expression of the eyes, without troubling about the other parts of the body, so I must be allowed to look rather into the signs of a man's character, and thus give a portrait of his life, leaving others to describe great events and battles.' this account, Plutarch has always been popular, charming his readers into love for his writings. Literary historians tell us that Plutarch's Lives were translated into modern Greek in the fourteenth century. The earliest Latin version of them appeared at Rome, in two folio volumes, about 1470.
The first Greek edition was printed by Philip Giunta, in folio, at Florence in 1517. In 1559 Jacques Amyot issued the first French translation, and it forms one of the earliest books in which an attractive prose style was exhibited in France. This work exercised an immense influence on Montaigne, and what is still more important for our present purpose, it stirred [Sir] Thomas North to translate the fine work of the famous Greek biographer. His version appeared in 1579-80, when Shakespeare was fifteen, and other editions of dates 1595, 1603, 1612, 1631, 1656, and 1676, prove that it was an acceptable addition to English letters. It bore as its title • The Lives of the noble Greecians and Romans, compared together by that grave, learned philosopher and historiographer, Plutarke of Chæronea. Translated out of Greeke into French by James Amyot, Abbot of Bellozane, Bishop of Auxerre, one of the king's privy counsel, and great Amner of Fraunce, and out of French into English by Thomas North.' To North’s Plutarch, in the main we owe—as R. C. Trench, D.D., remarks—Shakespeare's three great Roman plays, reproducing the ancient world as no other modern poetry has ever done—I refer to Coriolanus, Julius Cæsar, and Antony and Cleopatra.
His Julius Cæsar will abundantly bear out what I have just affirmed—a play dramatically and poetically standing so high that it only just falls short of that supreme rank which Lear and Othello, Hamlet and Macbeth, claim for themselves, without rival or competitor even from among the creations of the same poet's brains. It is scarcely an exaggeration to say that the whole [plot of the] play
is to be found in Plutarch. Shakespeare has indeed thrown a rich mantle of poetry over all, which is often wholly his own; but of the incidents there is almost nothing which he does not owe to Plutarch, even as continually he owes the very wording to Sir Thomas North.'
Caius Suetonius Tranquillus, who flourished in Plutarch's old age, collected a large amount of curious, minute, piquant, solid, and valuable material regarding the Cæsars, and narrates his histories of them in a precise, plain, blunt, lively, and forcible manner, giving his details
drily, circumstantially, and impartially. His Lives of the Twelve Cæsars, from the mightiest Julius'—whose biography he commences by relating the events of his sixteenth year-to Domitian, inclusive, was first printed in 1470. The History of the Twelve Cæsars
* Plutarch: Five Lectures by R. C. Trench, D.D., 2d edition, 1874, pp. 65, 66.
was translated into English by Philemon Holland, the translator-general of the age,' in 1606.
Appianus of Alexandria, who is the author of a Roman History (Pwpaïký loropla) in twenty-four books, written in a clear, simple, easy style-of which only portions, however, have come down to us—also supplies particulars of Cæsar's life. An English translation of this ‘aunciente historie,' by W, B., was entered at Stationers' Hall in 1577, and published in quarto by Raufe Newberry and Henrie Bynneman in 1579. Dion Cassius Cocceianus wrote a history of Rome in Greek, giving only a brief résumé of events up till the time of Julius Cæsar, but from that time onwards the narrative is more extended. Books 37 to 54, which are nearly entire, contain a pretty full history of the period between 65-10 B.C., and supply valuable materials for the biography of Cæsar. The second book of the Historia Romana of Velleius Paterculus, a work which professes only to be an epitome of its subject, but which serves in part as a substitute for the lost books of Livy, communicates in a fluent and clear manner a considerable amount of information on the civil wars, the partisan contentions in Rome, and the life of the dictator. From the Letters and Orations of Cicero several specific items have been culled, and by the critical collection and interpretation of these original sources (with a few scraps gathered from other authors, such as the poems of Virgil, Horace, Ovid, etc., and the table of contents of some of the lost books of Livy's History), a pretty complete life of Cæsar, and a very good estimate of his career and character, have been formed. There is extant a Life of Julius Cæsar, ascribed to Julius Celsus of Constantinople, in the sixth century; but this, as has been shown by C. E. Charles Schneider, in his Petrarche Historia Julii Cæsaris, Lipsiæ, 1827, may pretty certainly be ascribed to the pen of the Restorer of Letters in Italy, the author of Vitarum Virorum illustrium Epitome, 1527, whose Ciceronianism is as well known as his sonnets and canzoni. This production seems to have first given form to the biography of Cæsar, as it is known to the modern world, and upon it, in a great measure, those memoirs of Rome's chief military genius, which appeared in the earlier eras of printing, are modelled. Probably through this work of Petrarch's, and Chaucer's friendship with its author, the life of Cæsar became a subject of literary interest in the land over which he exerted a conqueror's force, and in whose literature his fame and fate have had added unto them,
* The light that never was on sea or land,
Dan John Lydgate issued from the press of Richard Pynson, in 1496, The Boke of John Bocas (Giovanni Boccaccio), Descrying the Fall of Princes, Princesses, and other Nobles, a metrical version of the best Latin prose work of the author of the Decameron, entitled De Casibus virorum (et feminarum) illustrium, from the French translation made of it by Laurent de Premierfait. This work became a powerful influence in the English literature of after-times. On it, a famous collection of poems, which 'illuminates with no common lustre that interval of darkness which occupies the annals of English poetry from Surrey to Spenser, was modelled.' 'The Mirror of Magistrates, wherein may be seen, by example of others, with how grievous plagues vices are punished, and how frayl and unstable worldly prosperitie is found, even of those whom fortune seemeth most highly to favour,' was a widely popular book, and went through many editions. In the edition of 1587, John Higgins introduced Cæsar's Legend showing 'how Caius Julius Cæsar, which first made this realme tributarie to the Romans, was slayne in the Senate House'-founding upon Bocas, and imitating, while acknowledging, the power of Lydgate's prior production. As bearing closely on the question of the possible literary sources from which Shakespeare drew the inspiration for his splendid tragedy, it may be both useful and interesting to quote a few stanzas.
In doing so we use the 1815 edition (of 150 copies), issued by Joseph Hazlewood, where the following extract will be found, pp. 272-275: 41 'For when, in Rome, I was Dictator chose
And Emperor or Captayne sole for aye,
Because above the rest I bore the sway.
Unless it likte me first and was approvde by me. 42 'This they enviede who 'saed alofte to clim[b]e; As Cassius, who the Prætorship did crave,
-1, ii. And Brutus eke, his friend who bare the crime
Of my despatch; for they did first deprave