Front Page Titles (by Subject) Sect. VII.: The pestilent tendency of flattering Counsels, and the Glory of such as are sincere. - The Works of Tacitus, vol. 1 - Gordon's Discourses, Annals (Books 1-3)
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Sect. VII.: The pestilent tendency of flattering Counsels, and the Glory of such as are sincere. - Publius Cornelius Tacitus, The Works of Tacitus, vol. 1 - Gordon’s Discourses, Annals (Books 1-3) [120 AD]
The Works of Tacitus. In Four Volumes. To which are prefixed, Political Discourses upon that Author by Thomas Gordon. The Second Edition, corrected. (London: T. Woodward and J. Peele, 1737). Vol. 1.
Part of: The Works of Tacitus, 4 vols.
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The pestilent tendency of flattering Counsels, and the Glory of such as are sincere.
WHAT a poisonous thing is Flattery? By it Princes are misled into a persuasion that all their measures of Oppression, all their acts of Frenzy and Rage, are just measures of Government, that forced praise is real affection, that they themselves are popular when they are abhorred; and thus they are kept from repenting or amending, because, relying upon the assurances of Flatterers, they cannot find that they have done amiss, or see any thing to be mended. The Flatterers of Nero ridiculed Seneca, and railed at him, and persuaded that Prince he wanted no Tutors. The same did the Flatterers of Commodus in relation to the old Counsellors; which had been his father’s. Nero and Commodus followed the advice of their Flatterers, and reigned mischievously, and died tragically, and their memories are abhorred. Thus they are kept hoodwinked and secure, till the first thing they open their eyes upon, is their Throne tottering or overturned, and perhaps an executioner’s knife at their breast; and even when things are come to that extremity, there will be those to misrepresent and flatter, as in the case of Galba; a few moments before he was massacred, he was soothed with false assurances of security o .
How pernicious too is such falsification even to those that practise it; since though they mean it out of selfishness and for security, yet by sanctifying upon all occasions the Oppression and Destruction of others, they do but invite their own! Whereas were matters laid honestly before Princes, that this measure is a Grievance, that an Oppression, and that whatever is unjust to others is dangerous to themselves, they would prefer caution with safety, to humour and wilfulness accompanied with peril; they would grow into a habit of doubting, deliberateing and enquiring; of submitting their own judgment to that of others; of remembering that they are what they are for the sake of their People, and that they ought to have no Will, nor Interest, but the public Will and the public Interest.
Had Nero pursued the good Rules of Government dictated by Seneca and Burrus, and proposed by himself in his first Speech to the Senate; had he avoided the counsels of that bloody and detestable sycophant Tigellinus, and of others like him, he might have ended his reign with as much renown as he began it, and left a memory revered as much as it is now detested. And would the Confidents of Princes, instead of debasing themselves into the characters of Parasites, instead of abusing their trust, and bringing infamy upon their masters and themselves; would they, instead of this, give upright counsel, such as conduced to the good of all men, they would, besides the praise of well-doing, take the best method to secure themselves, their fortunes and families in the general security: or, should they be rewarded with disgrace, or even with death, they would have the approbation of their own Consciences, the applauses of the Living, and the praises of Posterity. But while they sooth the Prince in his jealousies and violence, and encourage him in destroying such as he, or such as they fear or dislike, they set him a lesson and example for turning the edge of his fury upon themselves, whenever he becomes prompted by his humour or caprice; a case often happening, and always to be apprehended. The Courtiers and Flatterers of the Emperor Caracalla, to humour him, concurred with him in the murder of his brother Geta; and, after that murder, though committed by his own hand, were themselves murdered for their wicked complaisance, and amongst them Letus his Favourite and Confident. Yet he was so far from remorse for shedding his brother’s blood, that he massacred every friend and adherent to his brother, to the number of twenty thousand, in a short time. Tiberius, of all his Friends, Confidents and Counsellors, scarce let one escape a violent end, unless where by a natural death they prevented it: and they who had been the Ministers of his Tyranny, hardly ever failed to fall by it. He indeed protected them from the resentment and prosecution of others; but he generally poured vengeance upon them himself p . Vescularius Atticus and Julius Marinus, were two of his most ancient intimates; they had accompanied him during his retirement at Rhodes, and never forsook him in his retreat at Capreæ; they had abetted his Tyranny, and assisted him in his cruel Counsels, nor does it appear that they had ever offended him by any good Counsel. Vescularius was his manager and inter-agent in the perfidious plot to destroy that noble Roman Libo Drusus; and by the co-operation of Marinus, Sejanus had worked the overthrow of Curtius Atticus. Was not all this merit enough, at least, to have redeemed their own lives? It was not; they fell themselves victims to his cruelty, as to satiate his cruelty they had made others fall: ad mortem aguntur: quo lætius acceptum, says Tacitus,sua exempla in consultores recidisse; their tragical end was followed with the more joy, for that upon their own heads had thus recoiled the precedents of their own traiterous devising. In truth, these instruments of cruelty are generally abhorred by the Princes that use them. Anicetus Admiral of the Gallies to Nero, conducted and perpetrated the murder of his mother Agrippina, and for a short space continued in some small favour with the Prince; but was afterwards held in greater aversion; for, says Tacitus, the Ministers of evil Counsels are by Princes beheld as men whose looks continually upbraid them q . Such too was the fate of Cleander under Commodus, who loved him, was governed by him, and cut off his head. How differently related is the fate of Burrus, suspected to have been poisoned by Neror : Mighty and lasting was the sorrow of Rome for his death, for the Romans remembered his virtues; and a little before s , While the calamities of the Public were growing daily more heavy and bitter, the resources of the Public were diminished, and Burrus died. How nobly too is the tragedy of Seneca recounted! it is too long to find room here.
I shall end this Discourse with observing, that as Flattery is the effect of dread and falshood; as the most tyrannical Princes are most flattered, and men of the falsest minds are the greatest Flatterers; this consideration should be a lesson to Princes and great men, to weigh the actions they do against the praises they receive; and if they find themselves righteous, they may conclude their panegyrics to be sincere. Let them reflect upon their acts of benevolence or oppression, and how they have used their people. They would also do well to examine what sort of men they are who praise them; whether men of virtue and honour, lovers of truth, lovers of their Country, and of human-kind; or whether they are those unlimited Sycophants, whose custom and rule it is to extol at random all the sayings and doings of Princes, worthy and unworthy t .
[o ]Quidam minora vero, ne tum quidem obliti adulationis.
[p ]Scelerum ministros, ut perverti ab aliis nolebat; ita plerumque satiatus, & oblatis in eandem operam recentibus, veteres & prægraves adflixit.
[q ]Ut exprobrantes aspiciuntur.
[r ]Civitati grande desiderium ejus manfit per memoriam virtutis.
[s ]Gravescentibus in dies publicis malis, subsidia minuebantur, concessitque vita Burrus.
[t ]Quibus omnia principis, honesta atque inhonesta laudare mos est.