Front Page Titles (by Subject) DISCOURSE II.: Of competition amongst the Ministers of a Prince, and their corruption. The evil effects of indolence in a Prince. - The Works of Tacitus, vol. 3 - Gordon's Discourses II, History (Books 1-2)
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DISCOURSE II.: Of competition amongst the Ministers of a Prince, and their corruption. The evil effects of indolence in a Prince. - 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 competition amongst the Ministers of a Prince, and their corruption. The evil effects of indolence in a Prince.
Discord between Ministers, how fatal to their Masters.
THE strife and discord between the Ministers of a Prince, who wants authority to controul them, and capacity to make advantage of their difference, never fail to be of mischievous consequence. The Ministers of Galba were daily striving not to serve him, not to save the State, but to distress and disappoint one another. Between the Ministers of Vitellius the like enmity prevailed. He could do nothing without them, they did nothing but contend with one another; and by seeming partial to Valens he provoked Cæcina to hate him, and at last revolt from him. For Sabinus (Vespasian’s brother) knew his disgusts, and improved them; and by representing his unequal usage from Vitellius, drew him to embrace the party of Vespasian. Nor was this his desertion and infidelity a new or uncommon thing: It is the usual result of such competitions. When an ambitious man cannot engross the whole power and favour. he will renounce what he has, though ever so much, and concur with an enemy to pull down a rival. With such men the fear of public and avowed enemies is not so prevalent and alarming as that of a secret Competitor. Cardinal Mazarin was abhorred by the faction of the Frondeurs, yet concerted with them for the ruin of the Prince of Condé, even when the Frondeurs were offering the Prince their assistance to destroy the Cardinal, whom the Prince had protected from their vengeance. The Prince afterwards, in emulation to the Cardinal, called in the Spaniards, the natural enemies of France.
The vile and malicious Eunuchs, they who governed all things under Schah Hussein, Emperor of Persia (a few years since deposed by the Agvans) were more afraid of their own Generals, especially if they proved honest and able, than of these Barbarians and public enemies. They were therefore continually destroying every brave commander, and thence daily advancing the interest and conquests of the invaders. This will account for their hasty and amazing success. Yet after they had gained many Provinces, were ravaging the heart of the Empire, and advancing with terror and rapidity to besiege the Capital, the Emperor having appointed a faithful and experienced General, had regained most of the country, and was upon the point of retrieving all; till the Eunuchs, the execrable governing Eunuchs, set themselves, with all their might and malice, to ruin his preserver and the preserver of the State, because no man should have more credit than themselves. They effected their wicked purpose, and made that good-natured easy Prince believe, that his deliverer was his enemy, and they themselves his only vigilant guardians, whilst they were disgracing his Government, and overturning his Throne.
When an army was defeated, one faction at Court (for the wretched Eunuchs were always divided into two) never failed to rejoice; as the General being preferred by one faction, was always and certainly maligned by the other. The loss of Armies, the desolation of the Kingdom, the dishonour of their Royal Master, the miseries of the poor unoffending People, touched them not. They hated domestic rivals more than public enemies. There followed, or rather there attended such competition and misrule, an intire dissolution of government. No Magazines, no stores, no experienced officers; nothing fit for the field. Even when all was lost but the Capital, and that was besieged; when the sword was pressing them from without, fear and famine within, these merciless wretches forbore not to cabal against every effort for deliverance, because no man should have the glory of effecting it, and thence endanger or eclipse them.
An indolent Prince a ready prey to the falsest and worst of all men: These disgrace his Reign, and provoke his people. — Their amazing corruption.
WHEN a Prince neglects himself and his own credit, all men will be apt to neglect him: The worst men will be sure to gather about him, and then the best men cannot serve him. Schah Hussein had been served by able Ministers, brave Generals; but the Eunuchs disappointed all their endeavours, and often destroyed their fortunes and lives. Weak and indolent Princes always trust men too much or too little; and it behoves every Prince to be wary what sort of persons he entertains about him in any station, since all such, however low, will always have some degree of influence and be able to hurt him. If they cannot mislead him (which yet they will probably endeavour, probably accomplish) they can at least discredit him either by reviling him, or by behaving themselves corruptly, and thence bring a stain upon him. For a Prince always suffers by the ill behaviour and depravity of his servants, especially where they meddle in the distribution of favours or punishments.
Galba’s common domestics and even his slaves were considerable enough to dishonour the Sovereignty of their Master, because they were known to sell all places and all acts of grace. The Emperor, who should have considered the desert of particulars, should have considered their capacity and pretensions, as well as his own reputation and the justice of bestowing benefits worthily, neglected this useful and important duty, and left it to the administration of his domestics, who discharged it to his reproach and their own gain. With these mercenary and faithless knaves it availed not how much or how fast they disgraced, and consequently ruined their good old Master, provided they could by his indulgence and their own villainy acquire money: Though every step that they took to raise themselves in this dishonourable way, was a step taken to sink him, since in his fame and reputation, which they were thus polluting and pulling down, his best strength lay.
Indeed it never fails to sour and provoke the People, People of all ranks, when they see underlings and upstarts, perhaps vagabonds and strangers, rise, by the mere countenance and indolence of a Prince, into pomp and wealth; see his Butler or his Barber possessed of fortune sufficient for the qualifications of many Senators. If upon themselves only they brought public odium, it were of little moment; but by such infamous gain they bring infamy upon their Patron and their Prince, not to mention the just resentment of all such whose reasonable pretensions are thus defeated. So considerable is the evil and danger to a Prince in having venal minds about him. Galba was as much undone by the corruption of his servants, as by the corruption and violence of the soldiers.
To the Emperor Schah Hussein there was no access but through the favour of the Eunuchs, nor any merit considered by them but that of money. These filthy slaves sold the royal protection, sold the royal favours to the best bidder, and made public traffic of public employments and justice. Hence all emulation in merit was extinguished, where no sufficiency, no virtue was regarded. Hence also public oppression, with private extortion and rapine, in all forms; since they who had exhausted themselves to purchase places, were forced to exercise all sorts of villainy and spoil to repay themselves, and to feed their insatiable Patrons the Eunuchs with continual bribes for protection and impunity. Thus all Persia groaned under depredations and licensed spoilers. Formerly no thefts or robberies were known amongst them, because the Governors of the places and provinces were answerable for the damage, and took special care to prevent it. But under Schah Hussein robbery was common, and even encouraged, because the Governors had a share, or, in civiller words, a perquisite. Nor had they ought to fear from justice, for none was stirring. As long as they had prudence and a purse to fee the Eunuchs, they might spoil and ravage without mercy or shame. He must be a very simple knave, unworthy to be an oppressor, who would not resign a part to save himself and the whole.
The Eunuchs, the most barbarous bloodsuckers that Persia had ever seen, were, forsooth, such enemies to blood, that they taught the Emperor a cruel piece of false mercy, that of putting no man to death for any crime whatsoever. Thus these pious deceivers secured themselves. Then by their advice he turned all punishments into pecuniary mulcts; but, as his conscience scrupled to receive amercements for sin and crimes, they who taught his conscience this tender lesson for their own good, had the fingering of all these fines. Thus these gentle hypocrites enriched themselves.
The public Tax in Persia was fixed and certain, and every town paid yearly such a limited and constant sum. This the Governors could not alter: But as the mulcts for offences are arbitrary, they were discovering perpetual offences and raising perpetual fines, and thus pillaged the people of sums mighty and uncertain. They used by these money-penalties to levy at once six times more upon some towns than these towns paid to the public Tax in a whole year. Even by the Governor of Isaphan, the capital of the Empire, and seat of Government, thieves and robbers were put to ransom. Such as had not robbed sufficiently to satisfy him and gain his favour and a release, were kept in jayl, yet let out at nights to rob again and again; and by their last robberies they cleared themselves of punishment for all the former.
The Reign of an indolent Prince, how destructive it may prove, however harmless the man. Into what contempt he falls.
NOW whence all the abovementioned crying injustice, whence this absence of all equal protection and depravation of all Law in Persia; whence all this anarchy and spoil of the greater over the smaller, this general and rampant iniquity, this sacrifice and oppression of innocence? Came it not all from one root, the baseness and corruption of those about the Throne, and the weakness of him upon it? Schah Hussein was a Prince of infinite good nature, full of generosity, full of mercy and compassion; his mind of that delicacy and tenderness, that he was startled and alarmed upon haveing shot a Duck in one of his canals, when he meant only to have frightened her. He thought himself polluted with blood, and for expiation had recourse to acts of devotion and alms-deeds. For he had likewise a world of religion; so much religion, that when fire had seized the great Hall of the Palace, full of wealth and rich furniture, he would not suffer it to be extinguished, for fear of opposing the decrees of Providence. He gave immense Charities, built Monasteries, endowed Hospitals, performed long Pilgrimages, one Pilgrimage of six hundred miles.
Now what availed his good-nature, what his compassion or his religion? He would not hurt a Duck, but suffered his Subjects to be pillaged and undone, brought war and desolation upon his Country. The poor man saw the Duck killed, but saw not the oppressions of his people, nor heard their cries. He seemed to have no other Kingdom or care than his Seraglio. The Ladies there, not his Subjects, had all his time and benevolence; and the Governor of a City or Province was sure to please him, if he sent him a fine Woman! No matter how that Governor used or abused the People. About this Schah Hussein made no enquiry: If he had, his faithful advisers the Eunuchs were beforehand retained to make a favourable answer. In truth, these indulgent Tutors of his, had consulted his ease so much in withdrawing him from all the cares and fatigues of Government, by assuming the whole of that painful task to themselves, that he seemed not to believe himself interested in the concerns or fate of his own Empire. When he was told that the public enemy approached to Isaphan; he said, “It was the business of the Ministers to look to that; they had armies ready. For his part, if his Palace at Farabath were but left him, he should be content.” Into what insensibility, what weakness, and, therefore, into what contempt, had this poor harmless Prince brought himself, by trusting blindly to selfish seducers.
Than a Prince, or a State, or great Man fallen into contempt, nothing is more contemptible, nothing is more insecure. This, I think, is an observation of Livy. Even that religious or rather superstitious turn, with which these designing hypocrites had bewitched Schah Hussein, the better to govern their Dupe by such ghostly fears, was of pernicious consequence to his People. In one long pilgrimage which he took, to visit the tomb of a Saint, as he travelled accompanied with all his Seraglio and a guard of sixty thousand men, he oppressed and ruined all the Provinces through which he passed, and wasted more treasure than would have served for many expeditions against the invaders of Persia.
A Prince who neglects his affairs will always be contemned, and from the moment he is contemned, he ceases to be secure. People will be turning their eyes and minds towards a Successor, growing impatient for a change, and perhaps be ready to make one. At best, though they may wish him well, they cannot esteem him. What esteem could the Public entertain for Philip the fourth of Spain, when they saw him marching to defend his Kingdom against the French, accompanied, not with a number of Officers, but with a troop of Comedians. For such had been the contrivance of the Count Duke Olivares, to keep him from marching too fast, and from meddling with affairs, and seeing public mismanagements. What wonder if the affairs of that Prince were so loosely conducted, if his designs miscarried, and that great Monarchy, for so long a time, made so small a figure, when the Monarch himself was resigned to absolute indolence, and not he but his Favourites reigned? Small will be the credit of a Nation abroad, when the administration is loose or wretched at home, and small the regard for a Prince who exercises not the duty of one. Philip was a good man, but a bad King, as it is possible that a good King may be a bad man.
A Prince beset with evil Counsellors, how fast he improves in evil.
A PRINCE who is naturally weak, or, which is the same thing, has ability, but does not apply it, is always sure of being surrounded by the worst of all men, who will be flocking about him as eagerly as a party of robbers about a rich booty, and wil exert equal zeal to keep far from him all such who are not so bad as themselves. If they find him weak, they will make him wicked; if they find him wicked, they will make him worse. If they cannot make him directly cruel, they will at least make him idle, and idleness in a Prince is cruelty; since he who governs all men, ought to be more vigilant than all. A Prince who minds not affairs, let his intention be ever so good, is liable to be eternally abused and misled; for without experience, and examination, and attending to the course of things, he can form no judgment about them; but must trust altogether to the judgment and representation of others, and thence becomes their property and machine.
The most mischievous of all the Roman Emperors (and more mischievous the world never saw) were yet made worse by their Favourites and Flatterers. The cruelty of Tiberius was heightened by the bloody counsels of Sejanus; Macro promoted the monstrous excesses of Caligula; and the brutal Nero was made more brutal by the instigation of Tigellinus. Of all human vermin the worst are found in debauched Courts; and even a well-disposed Prince, if he be but credulous and lazy, can hardly escape being managed and corrupted by them, especially if he be addicted to pleasure. They will be continually laying baits for him, devising new scenes of voluptuousness, and keeping him immersed in sensuality.
The Emperor Commodus was carefully educated by several learned men placed about him by his father the excellent Marcus Aurelius, who at his death left him in the hands of his own ancient friends and worthy Ministers. But he soon became weary of virtuous Men, became soon corrupted by Flatterers and debauched Courtiers, abandoned the duty of an Emperor, and surrendered himself to ease and luxury. In this course he was encouraged by his reigning Favourites, particularly by Cleander, who, whilst he was sunk in voluptuousness, studied to destroy him, and set up himself. Sejanus too, from managing the whole business of the Empire, found himself in a condition of aspiring to be Emperor.
When a Prince runs thus, like Commodus, into these dangers (though they were dangers of his own making, and arose from his mismanagement and folly) they sour his spirit, make him distrustful of all men, and thence mischievous and cruel to all. Thus from purposes perhaps harmless at first, he becomes at last a Tyrant. This was the fate and character of Commodus, who in the beginning chiefly attended to pleasure: This withdrew him from Government and the business of a Prince: Others ruled; he grew despised: Conspiracies were formed against him: These incensed him; and from being an idle voluptuary, he commenced a bloody Tyrant. He greedily hearkened to all slanders, all defamations; thought all men wicked; contracted fierce enmity to every thing that was good; abhorred and banished from his presence all men who had virtue or wisdom, as men ill sorting with his reign and genius and degenerated into a devouring savage; would see none about him but Buffoons, Pimps, Pandars, Gladiators and Charioteers, wretches as polluted as himself, and so vile as to give him no umbrage; and set himself, to butcher and destroy all who were obnoxious to him or them. Hence he grew further detested, and found that he was; and thence his fresh sallies of Fury and Tyranny. Such is the gradation, and so naturally does evil beget and multiply evil!