In Praise of Julius Caesar

But, for Caesar, the all-accomplished statesman, the splendid orator, the man of elegant habits and polished taste, the patron of the fine arts in a degree transcending all example of his own or the previous age, and as a man of general literature so much beyond his contemporaries, except Cicero, that he looked down even upon the brilliant Sylla as an illiterate person–to class such a man with the race of furious destroyers exulting in the desolations they spread is to err not by an individual trait, but by the whole genus.

The Attilas and the Tamerlanes, who rejoice in avowing themselves the scourges of God, and the special instruments of his wrath, have no one feature of affinity to the polished and humane Caesar, and would as little have comprehended his character as he could have respected theirs.

Even Cato, the unworthy hero of Lucan, might have suggested to him a little more truth in this instance, by a celebrated remark which he made on the characteristic distinction of Caesar, in comparison with other revolutionary disturbers; for, said he, whereas others had attempted the overthrow of the state in a continued paroxysm of fury, and in a state of mind resembling the lunacy of intoxication, Caesar, on the contrary, among that whole class of civil disturbers, was the only one who had come to the task in a temper of sobriety and moderation…

Thomas De Quincey, De Bello Gallico, and Other Commentaries of Julius Caesar

The English author De Quincey, who wrote from is not very well know, which is too bad. Most who know of him at all are familiar with Confessions of an Opium Eater, but just about anything he ever wrote is worth reading. Look at that majestic prose above. Sure it’s languid and loping in getting to the point, but so what? So is Henry James. If you can’t hack it, go back to your bodice-ripper or thriller.

As a pure stylist, De Quincey has to be one of the finest writers of the past 200 years. I can’t get enough of this prose. Check out those 50-100 word sentences! Damn. You have to catch your breath while you read them.

Nice comments about Caesar too. Sure he was a conquering imperialist bastard, but he was one of the classiest, most refined and educated ones that ever lived. After him, who else?

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