Front Page Titles (by Subject) DISCOURSE I.: Of the Emperors who are the subject of the ensuing History: Of their Ministers, their Misfortunes, and the causes of their Fall. - The Works of Tacitus, vol. 3 - Gordon's Discourses II, History (Books 1-2)
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DISCOURSE I.: Of the Emperors who are the subject of the ensuing History: Of their Ministers, their Misfortunes, and the causes of their Fall. - 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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Of the Emperors who are the subject of the ensuing History: Of their Ministers, their Misfortunes, and the causes of their Fall.
An Idea ofNero’s Reign, how mildly it began, how terrible it grew. The deceitfulness of prosperity.
NERO at first proposed to reign after the model of Augustus, and, upon all occasions, courted the fame of Clemency, Liberality and Courtesy; did every thing that was generous and benevolent to the Public; shewed every act of mercy and tenderness to particulars; wished, that he could not write, when he was to sign an execution; was continually doing popular and expensive things. For these he was extremely flattered: Flattery infatuated him with vanity; and by his extravagances he became necessitous. Hence the beginning of his cruelty and rapine. He surrendered himself intirely to a course of luxury, and engaged the City in it; loved Shews and Pantomimes, found the people loved them, and thence promoted them assiduously and continually, and at last obliged men of the first quality to act in them, as he himself did.
This course at last grew tiresome, he first contemptible, then hated. He threw off all care of public affairs and the duty of an Emperor, to attend the Theatre, and gain the unprincely glory of singing and acting. There followed continual murders, parricides, false accusations and excesses, as if his life had been a constant struggle to shew how wicked, how execrably bad, a human creature vested with great power may be. He murdered his brother Britannicus, murdered his mother Agrippina, his wife Octavia, his wife Poppæa, Antonia his wife’s sister, because she would not marry him, Vestinus the Consul, to have his wife; murdered most of his own kindred, all of them that were signal for merit or fortune, or splendor, or popularity, Rufius Crispinus his wife’s son, Seneca his ancient Præceptor and Counsellor, with Burrus Captain of his guards, a venerable and excellent person: as also all the rich freedmen at court, all such ancient men as had at first promoted his adoption, and then his sovereignty. At last he murdered men by heaps with their families and children, by the knife, by poison, by drowning, by starving, by torture and casting them headlong; and all for any cause or no cause, some for their name or that of their ancestors, some for their faces, looks and temper. He robbed the Provinces, robbed the Temples, wasted the public Treasure, murdered the best men, oppressed all, and brought all things into a state of dissolution and desolation. These with him were the measures of Government, such as he said his predecessors (though brutal and raging Tyrants) had failed in, and he blamed them for not understanding their own powera . He destroyed Rome by fire, meant to destroy the Senate by the sword, and rejoiced at the first tydings of a revolt, as thence he hoped for a pretence to sack and pillage the Provinces.
Princes in the flow of their power and grand fortune (things so apt to turn the head and swell the heart) should prevent overmuch giddiness and insolence, naturally cleaving to grandeur, by supposing themselves now and then in a state of distress, and considering the great possibility of a change: They should at least put themselves in the place of others, their subjects and inferiors, and as they would then wish to be used by their Prince, let them use their People. They should reflect how much a tumult of spirit caused by prosperity darkens or suspends the understanding; they therefore ought to suspend their joy and stifle their vanity and passions, to consult and exercise their reason. Instead of this, they seldom quit their exultation till that quits them, nor hear reason till reason can do them no good, but only serve to reproach and torment them. Croesus King of Lydia could not bear the behaviour of Solon, for telling him honest truth and refusing to magnify his power and felicity. But when misfortune and captivity had abated his pride, and brought him to his senses; when he who had been lately so elated and happy, saw a dreadful doom prepared for him, he could sigh, and call mournfully upon the name of Solon, and prefer his wisdom to the wealth of the world. Croesus seems to have been a man of sense and natural moderation, but blinded by fortune and flattery.
The weakness ofGalba,and the iniquities of his Ministers.
GALBA, with an heart altogether upright and well-meaning, for want of prudence, activity and a good head, fell into measures quite unpopular and odious. His severity to the soldiery was ill-timed, so was his strictness and parcimony; and he who was a new Prince, unestablished, and should have courted all men because he wanted the assistance of all, behaved himself so as to disoblige the Armies, the Senate, the Equestrian Order, and the People. Besides, he was blindly controuled, and his authority abused by his servants and ministers, men who were continually prostituting the credit and character of their Master to their own vile gain and wicked passions. By them all things were set to sale, Offices, Provinces, public Revenues, public Justice, and the lives of men both innocent and guilty. He was old, they were insatiable, and eager to make the most of a short reign; and as he was easy and credulous, they were daring and rapacious. From him they enjoyed their place and honours and all their advantages, but employed the same not for his benefit, but their own: Nay, every service which they did to themselves was pernicious to him, since whilst they reaped all the profit, he bore all the odium.
In truth no Prince will be long reckoned good, when his Ministers are known to be bad; and if they are much hated, he will not be much beloved. Few Princes, if any, escape reproach where their Ministers are believed to deserve it. It must be owned that Ministers are often wronged, and suffer imputations very ill-grounded and unjust; nay, perhaps, will be ever doomed to suffer such, from the nature of their post and power; and where they do so, it is but reasonable and generous to protect them. But here the guilt was glaring, and their iniquities manifest to all men but Galba. He whom of all men it most imported to know it, knew it not. As he never inquired into their behaviour, nor blamed it, they never mended it, nor feared him. The sad fate which this their corruption and his own indolence and incuriosity brought upon him, is a sufficient warning to Princes either never to trust implicitly to the advice and conduct of any Ministers, or at least to be well assured that the men are such as may be implicitly trusted. The best of them have weaknesses, and passions, and partialities, enow to lead them into rashness and mistakes: There are therefore perhaps none of them so perfectly innocent and wise, as to render a discerning Prince secure that their management, however uninspected, however unaccountable, will yet be righteous and immaculate. Ministers no more than their Masters ought to be left without restriction and controul. It may perhaps be right in some few instances to deceive a Prince, it may be of public advantage to mislead the Public: But such a latitude will be ever more likely to be abused than well applied.
The folly of the evil measures pursued by these Ministers, how pernicious to themselves and to the Emperor.
NOT to dwell upon the ingratitude and vileness of Galba’s Ministers, thus to abuse, discredit and ruin a Prince to whom they owed all things, and to sacrifice him, his glory and diadem, to sordid interest, which was the smallest thing that they ought to have sacrificed for him, their ancient Emperor, and so good a Master; the measures which they took proved pernicious to themselves. Their policy was folly, and though they pursued nothing but their interest, they were not interested enough. The best interest is that which provides for our own reputation and security. Now the Ministers of Galba, by every step which they took, invited and hastened their own doom. Their safety and establishment depended upon his, and these they were continually weakening and rendering odious and contemptible, and themselves detestable. Their daily oppressions, their daily acts of venality and rapine, multiplied their enemies without measure. Nay, to their own enormous guilt they added the odium of that of others, even that of the most execrable instruments of Nero’s Tyranny, Tigellinus and Halotus, men whose execution was demanded by the universal voice of the Roman People. Indeed had these two sons of blood been less guilty than they really were, it had been but just, as well as politic and popular, to have devoted their impure lives to the Manes of so many illustrious Romans murdered by them, and to the honest rage of the Public. But this was only justice and reason, it was only obliging the People and strengthening their Master: small considerations with Vinius, and Laco, and Icelus, in comparison of filling their coffers and gratifying private passions! They protected both; and thence gained to their Prince what they never studied to avert, infinite public hate, but to themselves what they aimed at, and what every one may conjecture. It is probable too that they dreaded the precedent of punishing any man for having done what they themselves were doing. Yet their very wealth contributed to their destruction and that of their families.
But besides the influence of money and example, Titus Vinius who chiefly protected Tigellinus, had another view which is finely expressed by Tacitus; namely, “thence to purchase means of shelter and escape in time to come. For this is the policy of every desperate offender, from distrust of present fortune, and dread of change, to arm himself betimes with private favour against the public hate. Hence it comes, that for the protection of innocence no regard is shewn; but the guilty combine for mutual exemption from punishment.” Such was the selfish wisdom of Vinius: But his wisdom proved weakness; for, by protecting the abhorred Tigellinus, he drew fresh abhorrence upon himself. The People, after Otho had succeeded, were so bent upon the execution of Tigellinus, that an uproar ensued, and many seditious clamours, till the sentence was passed for his doom, now over-late, as it was plainly forced, and therefore could claim no thanks. For, under Otho too, the same policy and corruption prevailing, justice against that monster was hardly procured.
Such confederacies between guilty men in power and guilty men out of power, are frequent and natural; and no man who is corrupt or intends to be, will care to join in punishing any man for corruption. Mucianus, the prime Confident of Vespasian, entertained the Senate with a long discourse in behalf of the Accusers. Yes, the Favourite of Vespasian, a Prince who prosessed to cure and remove the mischiefs of former tyranny, became an advocate for the Accusers, the sorest instruments of that tyranny. How consistent was this! and what hopes it must give the Senate and People of Rome of seeing better days? What came he for? If it was to save the Romans, why save their worst enemies? If he meant altogether to secure the Flock why so tender of the Wolves, unless he found wolfish inclinations in himself? What a comfortable reflection to the Public, that after myriads of men slain, after so many millions spent, after so many struggles and battles, and so much crying desolation, they were to have no change but that of names, and no Prince without oppressors! The Candidates for place and power are always bent upon public reformation, till they have an opportunity of making one, and then find it needless, or dangerous, or unseasonable. They are great enemies to oppression, till they are in a capacity of oppressing. Then, as their own guilt grows, they become very merciful to the guilty. This is the spirit of man, this the round of things. Great redresses are still wanted, still promised, still unperformed. Such Mockery is not new, and never will be old.
All wickedness is folly; nor can I recollect an instance where evil doings have not been followed by painful consequences to the doers. They were either disappointed, or found new difficulties, or met with infamy and mortification, or infecurity, or some grief and uneasiness after the iniquity, such as rendered the committing of it a greater affliction than pleasure. Neither in the fortune of Alexander, or Cæsar, or Mahomet, or of any other the most resplendent criminal against Truth, and Liberty, and Peace, is ought to be found to invalidate this reasoning. Even in their beloved pursuits of power, they could have no pure delight: Though they valued not the liberties and lives of men, yet as they valued their own security, and success, and fame, they must needs feel many inward struggles, many apprehensions and distrusts, many doubts about the issue, many anxieties for themselves, and their party and causea . If worthy pursuits also are often attended with evils, the testimony of a good conscience and of good men at least makes these evils the lighter.
However true or disputable these speculations be, it is certain that the Ministers of Galba, by their corrupt and selfish management, brought a bloody fate upon themselves as well as upon their Prince; a Prince who, from the integrity of his intention, merited a better, but from his blind reliance upon such wicked men could not reasonably hope for any other.
Galba’s blindness in trusting intirely to his Favourites, who by their wickedness blasted his reign, and their own hopes.
HAD Galba been blessed with good Counsellors, he would in all probability have proved an excellent Prince. He had many public and private virtues; he was temperate, frugal, free from ambition, an enemy to the insolence of the soldiery, and wished well to the Commonwealth. But what availed his good qualities, when he exercised them not? He himself robbed no man, but those under him robbed all men; and he, who should not have employed bad men, or at least should have restrained or punished them, incurred the same censure and blame as if he himself had done the evil, or authorized it. The People justly expect protection and paternal usage from their Prince, and where they find it not, will think the Prince answerable. Why does he undertake the Office? Why is he raised so high above others, and all men, but for the good of all? Why was Nero deposed, if things were not mended under Galba? Why a new Prince chosen, but for the ease of the Public after a reign of Violence and Tyranny? Vain is the change of men, where measures are not changedb .
Galba left the administration, he left his own fate and glory to his Favourites; and his Favourites sold him to dishonour, and a violent death, turned the State into a market and shambles; and whilst they were yet glutting their cruelty and avarice, the hand of vengeance overtook them, though it was reasonably judged that some of them had tried to secure a retreat, and had purposely betrayed Galba to merit favour from Otho. It is the way of such men: when they have foolishly or wantonly ruined their Master’s affairs, their last office to him is to revolt from him, and perhaps it proves the first instance of their dealing sincerely with him. But whether they really meditated treason or not, they were believed to have done it: Such was the public opinion of their vileness and falshood; and such always will be the general rule of judging, that from men notoriously wicked every sort and degree of wickedness will be apprehended.
It is worth observing here how short-sighted and imperfect was the ambition of these men, and how foolishly, as well as wickedly, they marred what they aimed at. Was it glory and power? By consulting and establishing those of their Master, they would have reaped an abundant share to themselves. Good men would have applauded and assisted them; bad men would have feared them: They would have had inward peace, perhaps protection, from their own good works, reverence from the public voice, and the praises of posterity. By the same honest means they might have acquired wealth, and ample fortunes, with the approbation of all men, and probably left it to the peaceable possession of their families. They had the largest opportunities for raising and establishing their name: They were the first Ministers in the great and opulent Empire of Rome, vested with the first dignities, and first in favour; and they served a Prince easy to his servants, too easy, one never disposed to check or change them.
As he came to the Empire with great expectation, and popular favour, had his administration proved steady and virtuous, all revolts might have been prevented, or, through his superior credit and strength, easily defeated, and he might have gone to his grave in peace and glory. Both his Rivals were in their persons extremely unpopular, both loathed for their vices, both desperately poor, neither of them esteemed in War, neither thought qualified for the arts of Peace, one a stupid Glutton, one an abandoned Debauchee. He himself had conducted Armies with renown, governed Provinces with integrity. His race was noble, his life innocent; he possessed great wealth, and was by all men esteemed capable and worthy of swaying the Sceptre. What more probable, than that his reign might have lasted peaceably as long as his life, had his reign been well conducted? where a fairer prospect for his Ministers than under himself? By betraying him they betrayed themselves: by ill serving him, they ruined themselves. What could they expect from Otho or Vitellius, but to be considered as real Traitors, or at best as corrupt and wretched Counsellors? the former always detested, the latter always despised, even by such as profit by them. Amurath the Turkish Emperor cut off the head of the Persian Governor who betrayed a City into his hands. Myr Mahmud dealt severely with those who had held a traiterous correspondence with him from Ispahan, declared their names infamous, their estates confiscated, and had them all put to death, and their carcasses thrown into the streets. Thus too the Emperor Maximin served Macedo who had prompted his bosom-friend Quartinus to revolt, and then slew him to make a merit with Maximin, who, for all his wicked merit, put him to death.
The infatuation of men in power; they generally rely upon it as never to end, and thence boldly follow the bent of their passions. Instances of this. Guilty Ministers how dangerous.
WHAT I have observed in the last Section was reasonable and obvious. But in the tumult of rampant passions, reason is not heard. Those Ministers were transported with the sudden change of their condition, and giddy with the direction of Imperial Power. The present temptation, the prevailing appetite was too strong to be resisted; and, without regard to consequences, to the Emperor’s honour and safety, to the public good, to their own infamy and danger, they blindly followed every impulse of concupiscence and revenge. Men in a torrent of prosperity seldom think of a day of distress, or great men, that their greatness will ever cease. This seems to be a sort of a curse upon power, a vanity and infatuation blended with the nature of it: as if it were possible, nay, easy, to bind the fickleness of fortune, and ensure happiness for a term of years. It is from this foolish assurance, often cleaving to very able men, that those in authority often act with such boldness and insolence, as if their reign were never to end, and they were for ever secure against all after-reckonings, all casualities and disgrace. From whence else comes it, but from such blind security in the permanence of their condition, and in the impunity of their actions, that Ministers have sometimes concerted schemes of general oppression and pillage, schemes to depreciate or evade the Laws, restraints upon Liberty, and projects for arbitrary Rule? Had they thought that ever they themselves should suffer in the common oppression, Would they have advised methods of oppressing? Would they have been for weakening or abrogating the Laws, had they dreamed that they should come to want the protection of Law? Would they have aimed at abolishing Liberty, had they apprehended that they were at any time to fall from power; or at establishing despotic Rule, but for the sake of having the direction of it against others, without feeling its weight and terrors in their own particulars?
A great man near an hundred years ago is changed with having contrived such a model of government for one of our English Kings, as was intirely arbitrary and Turkish, a model deliberately digested in writing. Such a monstrous change of mind had ensued the change of his condition: Formerly he had breathed a very different and opposite spirit, and asserted Liberty with uncommon zeal: It was when he came to sway the State that he altered his stile; which it is probable he would not have altered, had he not imagined that his sway was to have no end. He lived to see it at an end. He, who had but too lightly esteemed Laws and Liberty, and the Lives of men, was bereft of Liberty and Life in a manner contrary to the forms of Law; and as he had promoted lawless and unaccountable power, he fell by an effort of power, unusual and extraordinary. A wicked Minister, who declared in a succeeding reign, that he hoped to see the King’s Edicts (that is, his absolute will and humour) have the force of Laws, and pass for Laws, made this declaration in plenitude of favour, which, as he meant not by any virtue of his to lose, he hoped never to forfeit; made it at a time when his head would have been employed in framing such Edicts. When afterwards he was abandoned to disgrace, I trust he had different sentiments about kingly power, and perhaps would not willingly have seen his life and estate taken away by a proclamation.
Such a reverse in the fortunes of men, especially of great men, who depend upon the caprice, and whim, and breath of another, were easy to be imagined, did not self-love darken the understanding. The greatest men, nay, the wisest men, when they are blind, are exceeding blind. How few of them have provided against an evil day! How few secured themselves a resource of friendship and affection from the Public, in case of a storm at Court, and the frowns of a Crown! nay, what some of them have done to serve the Crown against the People, has been a motive with the Crown (and a politic motive, though not always a just one, at least not generous) to sacrifice them to the pleasure and revenge of the People. Thus Cæsar Borgia used Romiro D’Orco, Governor of Romagna, one first employed to commit cruelties, then executed for having committed them; and thus the Great Turk often uses his Bashaws.
To return to Galba; no Prince was ever more unhappy in his Favourites: They were very wicked, very guilty men; nor can any Prince, who entertains such, be happy or secure. Mr. Selden, discoursing of Edward II. and his Minions, says, “Thus Favourites, instead of cement between Prince and People, becoming rocks of offence, bring ruin sometimes to all, but always to themselves.” Those of Galba had but their deserts: Their Master merited a better fate, and chiefly through their guilt his blood was shed. Great guilt in Ministers is threatening to a Prince. When they can no longer support their Master, nor their Master them, their next course will probably be to desert him, or to rebel against him. As by their wicked administration they had betrayed his interest and dignity, destroyed his reputation, the dearest interest which a Prince can have, incensed and estranged the minds of his people, who are the surest support which a Prince can rely on, it is by no means unnatural, if at last they destroy him whom they had already undone. I shall hereafter prove this by many examples.
Weak and evil Princes rarely profit by able Ministers; they like flatterers better: These frustrate the good advice of others.
EVEN when these Roman Emperors happened to have good Ministers, they rarely made any good use of them, but followed the advice of others and worse: For with bad they were always provided. Hence it is, that as a weak or an evil Prince seldom has good counsel, he is seldom the better for it when he has. Suetonius Paulinus and Marius Celsus were able men, and probably would have made the cause of Otho triumphant, had Otho pursued their counsels. But about all such Princes, for one honest or able man, there will be many foolish and base, and it is great odds but these have much more influence and weight; as they are more forward and impudent, more positive and sanguine, more prone to flatter him, and assure him of success (a method which goes great lengths with Princes); and, as they are worse judges of measures, less concerned about events. Perhaps too they have already made, or mean to make terms for themselves, whatever becomes of their Master. So Cæcina came to desert Vitellius, and to espouse the cause of Vespasian, when he was assured that the merits of his treason would be rewarded by the latter. Perhaps they are bent upon the ruin of some Rival at Court, For this has also happened, that men have betrayed their own cause out of pique to some particular Leader in it; Armies have been often suffered, by one of the Commanders, to be cut to pieces, purely to bring disgrace upon the other, and Laco, Captain of the guards to Galba, even in the last struggle of his Prince for saving his life and Empire, opposed every counsel, however wholesome, which came from any one else, particularly from Titus Vinius.
Titianus, Otho’s brother, and Proculus, Captain of his guards, thwarted and frustrated every good advice, every rational project of Paulinus and Celsus, and as they were better flatterers, they were better heard. They were both very wicked men; Proculus particularly excelled in slander and whispering, and was an adroit Courtier. It was thus that this man, full of craft and injustice, came easily to surpass in credit all who were more righteous than himself. Otho, moreover, as well as these his Favourites, dreaded and distrusted every able man, relied chiefly upon talebearers, and made his chief court to the common soldiers. So did Vitellius, and so probably will most weak and guilty Princes. They dislike to see any man exceed them in prowess, and public estimation, or to possess the credit arising from address, good conduct, and military exploits. Nay, such of them as most eminently want Governors, are sometimes the most fearful of being governed. Lewis the thirteenth dreaded the great capacity of Cardinal Richelieu, and hated his person; as did Nero the person and authority of Seneca.
The danger of serving such Princes ill, is not greater than that of serving them over-well, nor perhaps so great: and many great Ministers and Generals have been ill used and undone for doing eminent service, and discharging their duty with applause; such as Caius Silius, Antonius Primus, and Gonsalo, the great Spanish Captain, under Ferdinand the Catholic. From this weakness and pride of theirs, they are sometimes prone of themselves to follow the advice of weak counsellors rather than of such as are able and sufficient, partly from jealousy of the latter, partly from an ambition of being thought to do notable things without them, and of reaping all the praise themselves, at least of seeing it reaped by such whose moderate ability and character gives them no umbrage.
Hence the signal miscarriages of Princes who have wise Ministers but neglect their wise advice. Nero was assisted, or might have been, by the counsels of Seneca and Burrus, and it was no fault of theirs that he proved a detestable Tyrant. What advice he took, was that of Sycophants, Debauchees, Pandars, of the worst and off-cast of humankind. These told him what an accomplished Prince he was, what ripeness of judgment he had, what maturity of years; and being no longer a child, it was high time for him to shake off his Tutor. For towards Seneca they bore notable rancour and antipathy, as was natural to such profligates who then swarmed at Court; and whilst he was there, he still proved some check to the brutal spirit of Nero; a thing which pleased not the Courtiers, nor Nero himself: For with such Princes flattery in their servants is more palatable and prevailing than virtue and ability.
How difficult it is for a worthy man to serve a bad Prince, and how dangerous.
IN like manner was Otho hurried through evil counsel and conduct into evil fortune, though served by such Leaders as Paulinus and Celsus. Such is the risque which an able and worthy man incurs by serving a weak Prince, even to have his good counsels rejected, and to bear the blame and discredit of evil counsels which he had disapproved. For upon the most signal Minister all the reproach will be apt to rest, and he must bear the infamy of the worst; nor perhaps will it be safe for him to disown the foolish and disastrous measures which he opposed, lest he thence cast a blemish upon his Master. Even some able Princes have looked with an evil eye upon the person and credit of an able Minister, and perhaps it is the fafest way of advising the best of them, to let the advice seem to come from themselves. Such is the slippery situation of good Ministers under Princes wise or weak; a situation not to be envied.
Otho miscarried; and as Paulinus and Celsus were thought his directors, they were likewise thought traitors: so infamous were the measures which he had pursued, and which they in truth had opposed. Yet afterwards Paulinus and Proculus meanly descended, for their own safety, to confess that they had contrived them purposely; and for favour from Vitellius pleaded the merit of having betrayed Otho. Vitellius too was vain enough to believe, that, out of pure regard for him, they had really stained themselves with such foul dishonour. It was shameful to own that they had, though they had not. But so differently do men construe actions done for them and against them, and so rare it is to find the bravest men completely brave, any more than the wisest men completely wise. The qualities of all men are limited, and subject to inconstancy; else such a man as Paulinus, who had so often ventured his life for glory, would never have studied to save it by infamy. It was, however, much less criminal to assume guilt, than to have earned it.
It must be owned, it required either very great virtue or very great folly to serve such Princes as some of these Emperors were; though it was cruel and unjust to betray them. By raising to the Diadem such men as Otho and Vitellius, it looked as if the design had been, not to find one fit to restore the Roman State, shaken, ravaged, and tyrannized by the bloody Nero, but to chuse one purely for his resemblance of that Monster, one as monstrous as he. They were both guilty of the same debauchery and excesses, both studied to imitate him, and to restore his name and honours; nay, divine honours were already paid solemnly to his Manes. It was even reckoned one of Otho’s qualifications for reigning, that in his manners he so neatly resembled Nero. For this the soldiers adored him; and for this the common people loved him, as they had Nero, and as the vulgar ever will any man who gratifies them with idleness, and the means of debauchery. What, for example, is more pernicious to a State, to public Virtue, to private Industry and Innocence, than rioting and idle holy-days? Yet what more dear to the populace than such debauched and riotous days, and the holy idle men who encourage them? I speak of Italy, and other Popish countries.
In serving such Princes, there was neither honour nor security to one’s self, nor benefit to the Public. Their chief delight was in feats of prodigality and voluptuousness, in Jesters, Pathics and Buffoons, and all the execrable retainers to Nero’s Court. They thought that the business of Sovereignty consisted in excesses and sensuality. Their measures of Government were to oppress and exhaust the State, to depress or destroy every good man, to countenance and employ the most profligate: Or, if they employed men of merit, they did it against their will, and the more they were obliged to such men, the more they hated them; as Vitellius did Junius Blæsus, a man nobly born, of a princely spirit, and equal fortune, one who served him generously, and at a vast expence furnished him with a princely train, which the great poverty of Vitellius could not yet afford: For all this he incurred the Emperor’s distaste, and was repaid in hollow flattery, and sincere hate. Who could chearfully serve a creature whom he could not help despising, and probably had cause to fear, one by whom he knew himself dreaded, perhaps hated?
Under wicked Princes, how natural and common it is to wish for a change. Their different treatment living and dead. In what a Prince is chiefly to confide.
DOUBTLESS all good men, all prudent men, all who wished the good of the Empire, the tranquillity of Rome, and security to themselves, had their eye upon a change. A better there might be, a worse there could not. All endeavours exerted in behalf of such rash, raging and polluted Tyrants, tended only to prolong public misery and disgrace, as well as the ruin and perils of particulars. They who served them with most applause, must expect distrust and ill usage in return, at best to be dismissed, perhaps to be destroyed, as was that glorious Commander Corbulo by Nero, and the illustrious Agricola thought to have been by Domitian. Men wicked and corrupt are always suspicious; and it was natural for them to dread and hate the best men for being the best. Nor could either Otho or Vitellius, with a good grace, complain of being deserted and betrayed. It was no more than they themselves had done to Galba, who confided in them whilst they were revolting from him.
Besides, such was their character with the Public and the public opinion concerning them, such the wrong measures which they took, such the weak and evil counsellors whom they followed, that it was manifest they could not stand. And when Princes begin to totter, the zeal of their adherents always begins to slacken. They who were the foremost to flatter them, are also foremost to censure them; and, as a Prince in power never fails to have merit and applause, a Prince who is fallen or falling, never wants faults and reproach. It was thus with Galba: How much zeal, how many warm professions did he find whilst he stood? How many upbraidings, how much contumely pursued him after he fell? It was thus with Otho, thus with Vitellius. They were adored and traduced, as fortune was seen to espouse them or to forsake them. And thus it will be with all Princes. It is seldom that they will hear truth, seldom that others will venture to tell it. They must therefore form a judgment of the opinion of the Public, and of their own stability, from their own actions and administration, from the character of the Ministers whom they employ, and of the measures which they pursue, and not from the sayings and soothings of those about them, nor from the shouts of a crowd, nor from the fidelity of their Generals. All these lights may be deceitful, and have deceived many. But a righteous conduct may be boldly trusted. At worst, who would not rather fall by it, than subsist by vileness and iniquity? He who falls through virtue is a gainer, whatever he loses; as he who gains by wickedness is certainly a loser, whatever he gains. Virtue is equivalent to all things, and the wages of wickedness are worse than nothing. Nor is this speculation only, and mere refining, but holds in practice, and the commerce of life.
[a ]Negavit quemquam principum scisse quod sibi liceret.
[a ]Si recludantur tyrannorum mentes, posse aspici laniatus et ictus----sævitia, libid[Editor:illegible letters] malis consultis animus dilaceretur.
[b ]Eadem novæ aulæ mala, æquè gravia, non æquè excusata.