Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO HIS Royal Highness, FREDERIC PRINCE of WALES. - The Works of Tacitus, vol. 3 - Gordon's Discourses II, History (Books 1-2)
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TO HIS Royal Highness, FREDERIC PRINCE of WALES. - Publius Cornelius Tacitus, The Works of Tacitus, vol. 3 - Gordon’s Discourses II, History (Books 1-2) [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. 3.
Part of: The Works of Tacitus, 4 vols.
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TO HIS Royal Highness, FREDERIC PRINCE of WALES.
IN presuming to lay the following Work before Your Royal Highness, I am encouraged by the dignity of the subject, by the great name of Tacitus, and, by the sincerity of my own heart, conscious of honest and loyal intentions, and sincerely attached to the interest of Your Illustrious Family, as well as unfeignedly devoted to that of Your Person. But what gives me higher assurance, is a persuasion, that no attempt to serve and vindicate the cause of Liberty can fail of being countenanced by Your Royal Highness. Such countenance is worthy of a Prince of the House of Hanover, worthy of an Heir Apparent to the British Crown. Since this Cause is the noble foundation of Your Royal Father’s Government, as we firmly hope it will be the glory of Yours, and as it is indeed the genuine glory of all Princes, glory arising from a true, a god-like source, even the well-being of Society and the general good of man. It is what all good and wise Princes will pursue, as the surest bulwark of their Throne, as the brightest ornament in their Crown, and the best warrant for future praise.
Indeed ever suitable to the spirit and reign of a Prince will be his fame when he ceases to reign. After his death, men will use him as he in his life-time used them, with resentment or applause, with honour or reproach. A living Prince who is hated may be flattered, perhaps the more flattered for being hated, as flattery is often no more than a disguise for aversion, at least for the want of affection; and, the grosser it is, the more it answers the end. Nay, every Prince in the world would surely abhor all flatterers, if he considered that whoever flatters him must needs also contemn him: Since it can never be supposed, that any would venture to mislead him by vile arts to gain selfish ends, unless they entertained withal a very mean opinion of his understanding. But when death, which flatters no man, has bereft him of his power and lustre, when he is laid low, and can no longer terrify or prefer, flattery which only followed his fortune, and studied to deceive him for interest, will, like all false friends, desert his memory. Then, though perhaps he was never told that he had any faults (whereas from some no man was ever exempt) a thousand will probably be objected to him, perhaps with many invidious aggravations. Even they who had fed him with constant incense, and long blinded him with the smoke of it, instead of now vindicating one whom so lately they adored, will perhaps join in the cry against him, and be foremost in upbraiding him with errors which they would never suffer him to see, probably caused him to commit.
Such, Sir, is the experience to be learned from History, such the useful lessons which it affords to Princes. They will there see that, where fear or interest governs the hearts of men, guile will be apt to guide their tongues, and that, as it is in the power of Princes to hurt or oblige numbers, there will always be numbers ready to deceive them; and they can hope to hear plain truth but from very few; that there have been some, indeed too many, who seem never to have heard any truth at all, at least, where it was of any importance to their duty and government, though it so nearly concerned them; because from their hearing or not hearing it, infinite good or infinite evil was to redound to their people, as well as to their own quiet and fame.
Hence History is to be carefully consulted as a faithful Monitor, upon which nor awe nor hopes have any influence; a Monitor which nakedly represents the actions of Princes and the result of those actions, what measures tended to their credit and ease, what to their anguish and dishonour; how liable they are to be deceived, how readily abandoned by deceivers; how several very good men proved very bad Princes, by being misled by evil servants, such as carefully deprived them of the counsel and assistance of the best; and how differently men speak of Princes and to Princes, how differently of the living and of the dead. And hence may be seen the apparent, the precious value of truth, how many have been undone for want of hearing it, how many might have prospered better had they known it.
From History a Prince will discern, that a Country well governed does well reward and secure its Governor, but that by evil Government he is precluded from all tranquillity here, and from any honourable name hereafter: That whatever destroys his people is destructive to himself, for they are his glory and strength. So that in taking an affectionate care of his people he does but fortify his Throne, of which they are the best guards; does but procure his own ease and stability, and purchase an excellent and unperishing name.
It will be there learned that he may indeed find men to serve him even where his commands are unjust; but, besides that services which are disliked are seldom chearfully performed, they who perform them will first or last, to excuse themselves, throw all the blame and scandal upon him. He will find that of just commands only no Prince has any cause to be ashamed; and that all honest services every honest man will be forward to execute, all men ready to justify: That between the interest of a Prince who acts justly, and the interest of his people, there can never be any competition or disagreement: That whatever he gains from them unjustly, will yield him bitter fruits; that though many will be ready to humour him at all adventures, none are fit, none worthy to serve him, but such as in serving him study also the happiness of his subjects; that to exhaust or oppress them, to vitiate and debase them, can never be for his interest, nor such as do it for him or advise him to do it, his real friends: That whatever measures of his injure the Public, must be injurious to him, and that nothing which is unjust can bring him any real advantage.
He will see that, in the nature and ordinary course of things, evil counsels are followed by painful consequences, and that no pursuits whatever which are not worthy and upright, can secure rest and comfort to the human soul: That the most successful conquerors, the most fortunate wicked men, have by their wicked counsels been bereft of all calmness and internal felicity (for, other than internal there is none) and lived under perpetual insecurity, or perpetual struggles and anxiety: That the great, the able and accomplished Caesar was often pressed by distress and despair, ready to fly his Country, threatened with being tried and condemned as a Public Criminal, ready to fall upon his own sword; and that after a restless life, full of hurry and perplexity, full of fears and cares, he perished just as he had established his Tyranny, though with it he could not establish his own happiness: That whoever makes numbers unhappy and discontented, cannot expect to be easy and happy himself: That happy, truly happy, is he who does good to all men, who causes whole Nations to rejoice and to bless him: That had Caesar, in order to preserve and secure Public Liberty, done what he did to destroy it, had he for this glorious end exerted the same industry and admirable talents, what an amiable character he had been, in what security he might have lived! or that he had certainly died in renown, however he had died.
History will shew, that the most powerful Princes in the world grow insecure as soon as they grow oppressive; when so great a Monarch as John Basilowitz of Muscovy, he who held States so vast in extent, and authority without bounds, could negotiate as he did, with the Embassador of our greater Queen Elizabeth (greater because beloved, and observing the Laws) for a retreat and protection in England under an apprehension of being expelled from his own Kingdom; a fate which he daily dreaded, though he had many flatterers who applauded all his oppressions and errors, especially his extreme bigotry to Saints and Masses: That thus insecure, thus miserable and fearful did the rigor of his Government and overmuch Power render him; and in such safety and credit did that excellent Queen reign, because her Throne was established in Liberty and Righteousness. She might have said with the renowned Emperor Cyrus, that she could not conceive how a Prince could fail of being beloved, if he seriously endeavoured to be so.
As in History a Prince will see cause for not distrusting his faithful servants, since from overmuch diffidence, as well as from overmuch confidence, he may alike hurt himself; he will likewise perceive the necessity of inspecting his own affairs, and of not trusting blindly to others: He will see what a mean figure such Princes made, who lazily transferred their great office to Favourites, will see their uneasy and unfortunate reigns. From hence he will make the same observation which Schah Abbas the Emperor of Persia made to a creature of his, who told him, that he degraded the Royal Majesty by being seen too much by his people. “No, said that able Prince: It is owing to the tricks and frauds of Flatterers, that a Prince is shut up in solitude, whence they themselves may have the more scope to tyrannize in his Name. He who would truly reign, must see all, and direct all.” He will find cause for giving up guilty Ministers to the just complaints of his subjects, and for supporting the innocent against all the clamours of faction, since the best may be traduced, and the bad, to save themselves, may ruin him.
He will there learn, that all the doings of a Prince, however studiously concealed, are in danger of being commonly known; that all his pursuits, counsels, and pleasures are likely in time to be published and canvassed, probably misconstrued, and judged with rigor: That to all his actions, to all his words, there will be many officious witnesses, many greedy, perhaps unfaithful listeners: That this is a lot unseparably annexed to an elevated state; and thence he will be convinced how much it concerns him to do and to say nothing unworthy of himself, nothing justly to offend his People.
He will find the noblest designs for the Public Good often marred by malignant spirits, through private pique and the gratification of a particular passion; find one man, or party of men, frequently combining to distress, perhaps to destroy their Country. because another man, or party of men, was employed to serve it or to save it. He will find personal and domestic feuds often producing popular factions, and even convulsions in the State, such as have threatened its downfal; like the first quarrel between Livius Drusus and Servilius Caepio at Rome, in the time of the Commonwealth, a quarrel that rent all the City into angry Parties. Yet from what mighty cause did it begin? From no other than that the two families happened to bid upon one another for a Gold Ring at an Auction. Hence he will learn to stifle betimes the beginning of faction in the State.
He will find that a Prince trusting to flattery and surrounded with flatterers, is often long hated before he knows that he is not beloved, nay, whilst he is persuaded that he is. Hence he will resolve to beware of such as are always soothing him, resolve, in order to gain the love of his People, to do things which shall convince them that he loves them, as the surest way of making them love him, and of knowing that they do.
He will perceive that all the goods of Fortune are transient and perishing, that Fortune, even when she smiles most, may prove untoward and desert him, like that of the great Kings of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar, who, whilst secure of their power, boasting in their might, and resigned to luxury and banquetting, felt a terrible reverse, the one degraded, the other slain. He will find, that of all the felicities of this world, and amongst all its possessions, Virtue alone is that which can never perish, never forsake him. Nor power nor youth, nor pleasure can be stayed or secured against malice, and time, and accidents. But Virtue is a sure support, always present and unchangeable, above envy, above rage and fate. Even he who perishes for his Virtue, is happier than one who by oppressing Virtue acquires Empires.
By Virtue Your Royal Highness will easily conceive to be here understood the solid and extensive Virtue of a Prince, such as prompts him to do good to all men, such as restrains him from injuring any, and not an unmanly fondness for fanciful observances and forms, nor a propensity to monkish devotions, nor his fostering and enriching Hypocrites and Bigots; things which such men generally miscall by that venerable name, or at least consider as equivalents for the want of it in other and more important instances, to the notable misguidance, and sometimes to the ruin of Kings, such especially as were devout, but tyrannical, and by humouring Bigots, were encouraged in their Tyranny.
He will find, that as true Valour is a glorious quality, which has no other aim than the welfare of Society, and the chastisement of such as disturb it; so a wanton Spirit of fighting and conquering is always mischievous to the world, without bringing him who has it any solid advantages, but always much guilt, danger and disquiet; that it proves generally pernicious to himself, almost ever destructive to the conquered: That such diffusive mischief is but diffusive infamy, though he may judge so ill as to aim at public adoration and fame; and that it were desirable, for the quiet and welfare of human-kind, that such romantic Destroyers, such sanguinary Lunatics, were locked up in Mad-houses, or in Dens, with their less mischievous brethren, possessed with humbler distraction, and satiated with less blood.
He will see much ground for approving the advice of Isocrates, not to envy Princes who possess vast territories, but only to emulate such as know how to preserve and improve their own. He will be convinced, that Princes who have the smallest Dominions, have enough to do, if they will do it well; and that vast Empires, instead of growing more flourishing and populous, grow generally Desarts. He will perceive the unspeakable advantages of public Liberty, the singular prosperity of Free States, how superior to such as are not free, in Strength, People, and Wealth; that all these advantages accrue to the Prince, whenever he wants them for public ends; and that no other ends can he have, if he consult his duty and glory, since in promoting the felicity of his State both his glory and his duty are found: That he who separates himself from his People, can only earn insecurity and reproach; nor aught else can he expect but reproach, and the severest, if he strive against the happiness of his Subjects, and bring misery upon those whom he is bound to cherish and protect. He will consider what anguish it must be to a Prince whose Subjects are oppressed and enslaved, to see how infinitely such as are free surpass his, to compare their plenty and ease with the poverty and meanness of his own. He will find small Free States contending against great Empires with superior Prowess and Might; find a single City baffling the efforts of mighty absolute Kings, like that of Seleucia, which for several years together repulsed the whole power of Parthia; and that Tacitus had reason to say, that the Romans had always found the Germans, who were ever a free People, a much more terrible enemy than the mighty Parthian Monarchy.
Your Royal Highness is born to govern a People the most free upon earth, a People always free, yet always obedient to Royal Authority tempered by Laws, but ever impatient of encroachments and oppression. This is the character given them by Tacitus sixteen hundred years ago, “That they chearfully complied with the levies of men, with the imposition of Tribute, and with all the duties of Government, provided they received no illegal treatment or insults from their Governors: for, those they bore with impatience; nor had they been any further subdued by the Romans, than only to obey just Laws, but never to submit to be Slaves.”
Such, Sir, was the Genius of the British People then, such it has continued, and such it remains: They were always peaceable Subjects to Princes who observed the Laws, very uneasy and discontented under such as set themselves above Law, and therefore lost all by grasping at too much. As long as the chief Ruler kept his Oath, the people kept their Allegiance, generally longer. They have been always fond of Monarchy modelled and limited by Laws. Nor does such limitation infer any insufficiency or defect in this sort of Government, but only that the Monarch is secured against committing errors, and suffering for them, from hurting himself and his people. It is undoubtedly the most desirable and complete form that the good fortune of men has hitherto produced, or their wit been capable of contriving, and allows all the Liberty and Protection which Subjects can want from Government, all the true Grandeur and Dignity which Princes can desire from Empire, even the unlimited Power of doing good. Of more Liberty than it affords us we are hardly capable, and an endeavour to extend it much further might break it: As indeed Liberty, as well as Power, then always ceases to be secure, whenever it is turned into licentiousness. No civilized Nation in the World enjoys so much; nor is there any Government existing, where the malice of men in Power has less scope than here, or fewer opportunities of distressing or destroying such as they dislike.
This Constitution has indeed been often shaken, sometimes oppressed; but having its foundations very deep and strong, it still recovered its ancient frame and vigour, to its own honour, and to the lasting contumely, often to the ruin, of such as had crushed it. The power of the Crown, and the privileges of the Subjects, are fortunately proportioned. They have Liberty enough to make them happy: The Crown has authority enough to maintain and increase that happiness, and therefore possesses all the glory which can adorn a Crown. This is the true and substantial renown of Princes. Any other renown than this is all adulterate and forged; nor could there be greater vanity than that of a late enterprizing Monarch, who pretended to high glory, though to gain it he was beggaring and oppressing his Subjects. A Prince can then truly boast his glory, when his People can boast their freedom and ease. This, Sir, is the lot with which we are now blessed under the mild and just Government of Your Royal Father; and, when he has finished his Reign with great renown, and length of days, we see much cause for presuming upon the same happy lot from the Reign of Your Royal Highness.
As in the following History, composed by a man of extraordinary wisdom, there are found many excellent rules and lessons for the conduct of Princes, with many affecting warnings taken from the ill fate of such as observed not these rules, I humbly present it to Your Royal Highness. This I do with very affectionate zeal for your interest and honour, and am utterly unbiassed by any such motives as usually produce Dedications to Princes. The whole of my request and ambition is, that this Address, and the following History and Discourses, may be graciously accepted, and that to myself may be allowed the honour of being ever esteemed, what I sincerely am, with intire duty, submission and respect,
SIR, YourRoyal Highness’s Most Humble, Most Dutiful, and Most Obedient Servant,