Front Page Titles (by Subject) DISCOURSE III.: Of public Frugality. - The Works of Tacitus, vol. 3 - Gordon's Discourses II, History (Books 1-2)
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DISCOURSE III.: Of public Frugality. - 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 public Frugality.
The Prodigality of the Emperors; its terrible consequences to the Public, namely, Tyranny, Murders and Oppression.
AMONGST all the weaknesses, vices, and excesses of the Roman Emperors who involved themselves and the Empire in calamities, none contributed more to their own ruin and that of the State, than their Profuseness and Prodigality. And upon all Princes and Courtries in the world the same conduct will have the same effect. “If by popular or vain-glorious bounties we exhaust the Exchequer, by rapine and oppressions we must supply it;” said Tiberius very wisely. It was what his mad Successor did; he wasted the publick money, then robbed and murdered to get more. This was the course of almost all the succeeding Princes, of Caligula, Nero, Otho, Vitellius, Domitian, Commodus, &c. And this the continual cause of lawless oppression and killing. In taxing the People and arraigning particular men, it was not justice or guilt that were considered, but how much money could be acquired. So that wealthy men were always guilty, extravagance and murder succeeded one another naturally, a man who had a great Fortune rarely escaped being a great Traitor, and with his Life he always forfeited his Estate. Oftentimes rich men were put to death without any form at all, but only by a short direction from the Emperor to kill them, and seize all that they had. And Nero, whenever he bestowed any public Office, always told the person; “Thou knowest what my wants require: let our joint endeavours be, that no man possess any thing.”
These Tyrants first brought themselves into necessities by monstrous wastefulness and dissipation, then let loose their bloodhounds to spoil and destroy men and countries for a supply. Nero declared, that he knew no other use of Treasure but to scatter it, and thought the calculation of expence (without which neither the Public nor particulars can subsist) a task only worthy of misers and mean souls; but esteemed such who knew how to lavish and confound, as spirits altogether polite and magnificent. Nor did he admire and applaud his uncle Caligula for any of his execrable exploits, so much as for his consuming, in so short a time, such an immense Treasure left in the Exchequer by Tiberius; that is to say, above one and twenty millions of our money in less than a year. He indeed closely followed the great example, insomuch that he plundered and squandered almost all that that mighty Empire could yield him. He robbed and exhausted Nations, Cities, Churches, and all degrees of men, not only of money and land, but of furniture, pictures and ornaments. From wanting, he proceeded to plundering and killing. So had his pattern and predecessor Caligula, who had at last descended to keep public Stews for money, whither all men were invited to encourage the Emperor, and promote his trade. He likewise kept a public warehouse for the sale of confiscated goods, which he put upon his customers at his own price. Domitian too, when by every wild expence he had drained the Treasury, and involved himself in great straights, had recourse to every expedient, every trick of rapine and spoiling, and to unlimited butchery.
What else could be expected, after such incredible waste, but proportionable barbarity and plunder? Nero had squandered away above seventeen millions, in mad bounties; Vitellius, in a few months, consumed more than seven millions, chiefly in feats of voluptuousness and gluttony. Caligula in one supper spent near eighty thousand pounds, and upon his favourite horse bestowed a stable furnished with ivory and solid gold, besides a great houshold and train. Nero entertained Tiridates in Rome, at the expence of above six thousand pounds a day; and when he went away, presented him with the sum of near eight hundred thousand pounds. To Menecrates the Harper, and to Spicillus the Fencer, he gave the Palaces and patrimonial Estates of noble Romans, even those of the first dignity, such as had been distinguished with triumphal honours. Nor, after this, was it a wonder to see his Lady Poppæa drawn by Mules covered with harnesses of Gold, or bathing herself daily in the warm milk of five hundred she-asses, such as had lately foaled.
The revenue of the world was not equal to the expence and luxury of these Imperial Vultures, frantic with power and elevation. No matter for the misery, the want and beggary of humankind, so these profligates, the worst of the race, might but riot with their vile train of Pandars, Sycophants, Harlots, Buffoons and Informers about them; for in such only they delighted. Nations must be drained of their whole wealth and best blood, to furnish out a debauch for the chief Cannibal and his crew. To pamper a few such as were the curse and disgrace of nature, all the rest were obliged to languish, to sorrow, and to perish. Whenever a new fund was wanted, to carry on the course of voluptuousness and prodigality, it was only laying a heavy Tax upon the miserable People already undone by Taxes, or murdering and confiscating a number of men guilty of being rich, sometimes forty at once.
Only the worst men share in the bounties of an extravagant ‘Prince, and carefully seclude the best — How ruinous his extravagance to himself and the State.
IN the bounties of a prodigal Prince the worst men always share, as by it all the rest are sufferers. Such as really deserve it, are seldom the better for it. The vitious, the idle, the impudent and the false, will naturally flock about him, and be vigilant to keep far from him whatever bears the dangerous marks of honesty, truth, or modesty. Terrible Rivals these to the Minions of Power, and never to be suffered to approach, at least not to be heard when they do. When the poor unfortunate Vitellius, not more unhappy in his own folly than in the falshood and corruption of his Confidents, was undoing himself by precipitate counsel, such of his officers as would have dealt faithfully with him, and advised him profitably, were debarred by the Minions, who had in truth so moulded his soft and simple spirit, that he would hear nothing but what was pleasing and pernicious, and disrelished every honest truth, as unsavoury and bitter. An honest Centurion who honourably ventured to acquaint him with his condition, with the strength and victory of his enemies, with his own weakness and loss, was reviled by him as a Traitor; usage which so incensed the brave man, that, as a proof of his sincerity, he went and slew himself.
Who were they that reaped all the enormous gifts of the Roman Emperors? Who but Fencers, Fidlers, Jesters, Prostitutes, Voluptuaries, Procurers and Accusers, Creatures at once the most wasteful and rapacious, the pests and dishonour of Society and of the Court, but with the Emperors chief Favourites and privy Counsellors. The Government of Vitellius was chiefly conducted by the vilest Mimics and Chariot-drivers; but especially by Asiaticus, his Freed-slave: This last was his Pathic, or Male-Mistress, reckoned one of the richest men in the Empire, and the greatest rogue.
“The followers to a King excessive in gifts, are excessive in demands, and cut them not out by reason, but by example,” says Sir Robert Cotton: “Favours past are not accounted. We love no favours but what are future.” Some of these observations he has taken from Montagne. He adds, that “the more a Prince weakeneth himself in giving, the poorer he is in friends. For such prodigality in a Sovereign ever ends in the rapine of his Subjects.” He instances in Henry the Third. This King, so prodigal and bountiful, was forced to sell his Lands, sell his Jewels, pawn his Countries abroad, nay, his Imperial Crown, and even to rob the Shrine of Edward the Confessor. At last he had not bread for his family, was driven to quit house-keeping, and went about with his Queen and Children, from Abbey to Abbey, humbly seeking victuals and lodging.
A lamentable situation for a King or a Man; yet he deserved no other, and indeed run into it by his great obstinacy, perjury and tyranny. He had sealed, he had signed, and solemnly sworn to observe the great Charter, with many terrible execrations upon himself, or any other that broke it. Yet he afterwards broke it openly, bid open defiance to all Oaths, all Charters and Laws, had recourse to avowed Oppression, called in foreign Counsellors and foreign Guards, became an Enemy to his People and a public Spoiler. But from all his spoiling and oppressing, he gained nothing in the end but the just recompence of such enormous measures, shame and distrust, scorn and beggary. Yet again his Oath was taken, again he swore to observe the great Charter, and was once more reinstated and supplied. But, faithless still, and despising the ties of conscience for the mischievous possession of unjust power, he once more ventured his own Damnation and a War upon his People. It must be owned, he grew wiser near his latter end, and after he had governed fifty years, began to learn from many efforts, many trials and revolutions, after much distress and disgrace, that his greatest power, his greatest safety, consisted in ruling righteously, in obeying the Laws, and using his People well.
“His immoderate liberality, says Sir Robert, he had found but a weak means to win love; but it lost more in gathering, than it gained in the giving. This Bounty bestowed without respect, was taken without grace, discredited the Receiver, detracted from the judgment of the Giver, and blunted the appetites of such as carried their hopes out of virtue and service.” — He that will “lay the foundations of greatness upon popular love, must give the People ease and justice. For they measure the bond of their obedience always by the good that they receive.”
The waste of public Money, its tendency to produce popular Commotions and civil War. — How much men love themselves better than the Public. — Such waste seldom answers any end.
WHENCE began the civil War in Paris, during the minority of Lewis the fourteenth, but from the extreme exactions and oppressions practised to supply the treasury, exhausted by prodigality, and by bounties and pensions to particulars? For the Queen and the Cardinal, to recommend their administration, and strengthen themselves with friends, refused nothing, gave the public money with both hands, and by gratifying Creatures made the People mad. For the poor People must ever pay all, even for their own undoing. It may not be amiss to observe here, that, whilst the People, only were oppressed, the sovereign Courts made no opposition: But as soon as they themselves began to be cramped and squeezed, they presently grew public-spirited, and combined to make a great stand. Thence the famous Arrêt of Union of all the Parliaments. Yet the Parliament of Paris, though acting from such narrow and selfish motives, was thought the refuge of the distressed, and adored by the People, who, unless misled by some false friend, or by some superior passion, are always and naturally grateful.
This behaviour of the Parliament of Paris reminds me of a man who had a place in the Exchequer during our own civil War. The man was a good Cavalier, a great lover of Church and Monarchy. He had an affection for the cause and person of the King, and was concerned for his misfortunes. But whatever befell his Majesty and the Royal Interest, or that of the Church, which were both daily sinking, the good man, though very sorry, still kept his temper and his place, still preached patience and acquiescence to his friends. He saw all the calamities of his Royal Master, saw him taken, imprisoned, hardly used, tried, nay, his head cut off, saw Monarchy it self and Episcopacy utterly abolished: He disliked all this indeed, but bore it all. He was still for submitting to the Powers that were, though he approved them not. At last the Parliament did a thing which effectually set fire to his zeal, by going about to regulate and retrench the Fees of the Exchequer. He then declared, “That if they were for striking at Fundamentals, it was high time for all honest men to look about them.”
No bribe, no liberality can secure men void of natural honour and virtue. Many of those who had been most highly favoured by Princes, and most beholden to their liberality, were the first to desert them, and to turn against them. Many have thought the advantages given them to be no more than what were already due to their merit, and therefore no ties upon them to future service. Besides, many will be bribed and engaged to go certain lengths, but not all. And such largesses, such officious application to men by the means of money, will be apt to pass for an argument of the weakness of the Administration, and the fears of those in Power; and then the Government will be dispised, and the Leeches still craving for more. Or it will be judged that the Court hath evil and dangerous designs; and then too the price will be raised by some; others will quite fall off. Many of all these sorts quite deserted the Queen and the Cardinal; and of such as remained, few were cordial and determined, whatever they appeared.
The wisdom of Parsimony in a Prince ---- The certain distress and disgrace of such as are prodigal.
PRINCES should consider themselves as only Stewards of the public Purse, and what a breach of trust it is, what a breach of honour, nay, how cruel and criminal, to apply the People’s money otherwise than for the People’s benefit, much more to waste it wantonly, or bestow it upon Idlers, Flatterers and Debauchees. I am pleased with the frugality and public spirit of Omar, the second Caliph after Mahomet. He had a jewel of great price sent him, as a present from the Greek Emperor Heraclius, and sold it. His friends advised him to keep it for himself. But Omar said, he could not answer that to the Public. In proportion to this his public frugality, was the steadiness and credit of his Government; and in dealing with particulars, he was equally just and judicious.
Very different were the measures of Othman, the next Caliph, different his reputation and fate. He was partial and profuse to his Creatures, employed them however unqualified, removed the best Officers in the State to make room for them, and upon them wasted the public Treasure, which his predecessors owned to belong to the Public. But Othman said that it was God’s, and that he who was successor to the Apostle of God, had a right to dispose of it as he pleased. It is probable that his Minions and Flatterers, they who gained by his mismanagement and prodigality, had been filling his weak head with wild dreams of his Prerogative and Divine Right, for which doubtless these pernicious hypocrites appeared very zealous. It was what others have done since; that is, they have often so infatuated a Prince with a divine right of doing whatever he pleased, (that is, a power from the good God to be mischievous to men) that he has perished in making the experiment. In which the Almighty did but vindicate his goodness from such a blasphemous imputation, and give these seducers the lye.
Aprofuse Administration is always loose, disrespected and tottering: That of Othman was eminently so, and ended tragically. Public discontents and resentments, popular remonstrances and insurrections, were the natural effects of his misrule. As he had sacrificed all things to his Creatures, and regarded his Family more than the Public; it was no wonder that the People, who were not regarded by him, grew weary of him; no wonder that they were enraged at such a scandalous diffipation of the public money to feed worthless Favourites. And when the People whom he had provoked, had taken up arms against him, could his Favourites, whom he had so dearly purchased, protect him? No: The poor man, having lost all esteem and the hearts of his subjects, was left helpless and forlorn, and butchered in his house with the Alcoran in his lap. For Othman was very devout, and perhaps saying his prayers, when his Secretary was using his name and seal to the destruction of his best subjects, and servants; a practice usual with the Secretary.
Henry the third of France was a most lavish Prince, and according to the measure of his lavishness were his exactions and rapine. He was so buried in riot and sensuality, and his subjects so drained and pillaged, as to have it said of him, that only by his daily and heavy oppressions, they knew him to be alive. Could a more infamous thing be said of a King, one whose duty it is to be daily employed in contriving how to ease and benefit his People? He made a very different use of Sovereignty, and robbed them without mercy to satiate his Minions and his Vice: As if Royalty were only pomp and luxury, and Princes only for themselves.
He reaped the just fruits of such extreme wickedness and folly; and suffered sorely for having made his People suffer. By his prodigality and the barbarous methods which he took to supply it, he drove them to despair; and as the first part of his reign had been wanton and oppressive, the latter part of it was miserable and distressed. He never could recover the esteem and affections of his subjects; so that ambitious men, taking advantage of the scorn and hate borne him by almost all men, hunted him to his grave; and he who had been a man of blood, died in blood. Yet this unhappy Prince had many good qualities, and some great ones. But he was easy and profuse, and thence the property of Sycophants, Minions and Monks, and to his People a very great Tyrant.
His father too had a fine disposition and fine endowments, but his reign was grievous and intolerable; because he was profuse, and therefore rapacious. He loaded his Kingdom with heavy impositions, such as were unknown before, yet all too little to gorge a few Favourites. So that besides the general grinding of the poor people, the rich must be brought under forfeitures, and their estates given to the Leeches about the King. To accomplish this, Laws were stretched or trod under foot, evidence forged, witnesses suborned, and every execrable Court-art tried to destroy the innocent, on purpose to enrich wretches bloated with guilt and crimes. Heresy was one fruitful pretence for worrying and robbing the wealthy, that the Minions might have their spoils. To be innocent was of no availment; nor had any man, marked out for a victim, other remedy than that of redeeming his life and estate by a large price given to the Minions for their interposition with the King, who, for the sake of such blood-thirsty serpents, was become the enemy and spoiler of his People.
The Dutchess of Valentinois, a wicked woman who governed this King and misled him, glutted her self with confiscations; especially those of the Hugonots. He himself the while was necessitous, his Government weak, and full of miscarriages and dishonour. He had spent a large Treasure left him by his father, devoured the substance of his People, seized many Estates, was forty millions in debt, yet the Kingdom not defended, nor his Dominions preserved intire, but on all hands lost and dismembereda .
Such a curse upon a King are venal and voracious Favourites: Such a curse upon the People, is a King governed by them. They never fail to bring misery and desolation upon his People, and upon him necessity and dishonour: Perhaps he escapes not so. A violent death, which shortened the days of that Prince, leaves us only room to conjecture what events his measures might have produced, had he continued them, and his reign been longer.
Public Frugality and public Profusion compared in their effects. ---- Princes brought by extravagance into distress have no resource in the hearts and purses of the People.
PARSIMONIA magnum est vectigal. It is not great Revenue, but great Frugality, that creates plenty, nor a small income, but want of thrift, that brings poverty. Francis the first with a few Taxes was rich, though always in war: Such was the force of good management, that this alone sufficed for so many demands, so many expences. His Successors with numerous Taxes were poor even in peace. Francis was so apprized of the sufficiency of the public Revenue even then, that he advised his son Henry the second to ease the People, and abolish some of the Imposts, especially such as were laid on to support the War. We see how well he profited by such good counsel.
When Princes, who by extravagance and mismanagement are distressed in their Finances, come to be pressed by any public exigency, by disorders at home or war abroad (and to such exigences such Princes will be ever most obnoxious) they then find, perhaps too late, the folly and wickedness of their ill œconomy. The People whom they have provoked and abused will not help them, or, being already impoverished, cannot. Will they then have recourse to their Minions for help to defend their Crown and Dignity, and to repulse an Invader? Nero in the midst of his sports and profusion never had thought of a day of distress, or that he should ever be obliged to ask the Romans for money, and be refused: But he lived to see that day, to find wants, and none to supply them. When the Provinces and Armies were revolting, and he judged an expedition in person necessary to reclaim them, he wanted a fund to set it on foot, and commanded all orders of men to bring in such a proportion of money. But almost all men refused to contribute any thing, and, with common consent, desired, that he would rather recall all the monstrous sums which he had bestowed upon his creatures and implements, the Informers and Accusers. It was a just and a bitter return made to the deadly Tyrant.
Afrugal administration of the public Treasure is a sign of a well-governed State, which can never be well governed where the public Treasure is wasted and misapplied. To the honour of Queen Elizabeth’s reign it was said, (and to her honour too much never can be said) that in her Court Majesty and Thrift strove for pre-eminence: No Prodigality, no Meanness: No Hardships upon the People; no Resentment upon the Queen. She never had oppressed nor drained her People: No wonder she had their hearts, which Mr. Osborne calls, very truly, the Paradise of a Prince.
Her Successor, who was always lavish, was always in wants, and ever hunting after new resources for money; nor did he refuse any that were offered, however heavy, however scandalous. Hence so many Combinations and Monopolies, to the ruin of Trade, and the affliction of the Subject, so many vexatious Prosecutions, so many excessive and arbitrary Fines. The Bloodsuckers about him were continually preying upon him, and forcing him to prey upon the Public. Profuseness created want, and want, which tempts private men to be knaves, makes public men oppressors. All his regular Revenue, all the supplies which he had from Parliaments, with all the advantages which arose from many mean devices, many oppressive tricks to get money, were hardly sufficient to raise and support Favourites, Upstarts, Panders and Voluptuaries.
Could the Public like such an Administration, or honour him? He was accounted at best but a King in Law, not established upon the affections of his People. It was reckoned that his Minions cost England more than Queen Elizabeth had spent in all her Wars. He was fond of all new ways of raising money and squeezing his People, fond of all Forfeitures and Consiscations; affronted his Parliament, so that they cared not to oblige him; deceived them, so that they would no longer trust him; denied their reasonable demands, or granted and then eluded them; descended to all low shifts, and was at last thought unworthy of all confidence, submitted to have the money granted by Parliament deposited in the hands of Commissioners appointed by Parliament, yet afterwards forced it from these Commissioners against all faith and honour solemnly plighted.
A Prince must be extremely despised of whom it could be said, as it was of him, “That he had no designs to hurt any people but his own; and was severe against Deer-stealers, but indulgent to Man-slayers,” since no murder was punished when the murderer had money. In return for all his Prodigality, Falshood and Oppression, he was scorned, hated, and lived in constant uneasiness and distress. In his reign began those discontents which afterwards involved the Nation in the long Civil War.
The greatest Revenues insufficient under ill management----How grievous this to the People, how baneful to the State. The true Liberality of a Prince, what. The vile spirit of flattering Casuists.
NO Revenue whatever is large enough to bear constant embezzlement. The wealth of the new World, the mines of Mexico and Peru, possessed by the Spaniards, could not keep their great Monarchy from scandalous poverty during a long course of years in the late reigns; because the Finances were miserably managed, lavished in misapplications and enormous Pensions, and diverted from the service of the State. By this means, in a great measure, that proud Monarchy, which had aimed at being universal, was become so impotent and helpless, that, far from conquering other countries, she could not defend her own, saw some of her most considerable territories torn from her, and had it not been for some of her neighbours, even such as she had formerly aimed at swallowing up, but now, for their own preservation, obliged to protect that their ancient enemy, she herself had followed the fortune of her Frontiers, and been the sport and purchase of a Conqueror. A few Provinces once her own, not very large, but very frugal, as they had at first beaten her in her best days, assisted her in her worst, and, in the greatness of their fleets and armies employed in her defence, quite surpassed her, as well as in promptness and capacity to fit them out. Can there be a greater instance of the different effects of management and mismanagement?
Under the Ministry of Cardinal Mazarin, during the minority of Lewis the fourteenth, when money was wanted from the Finances for the service of the State, the Superintendents were wont to answer, “That there was none in the Treasury, but the Cardinal would lend the King some.” With honest management the King could not have been so destitute, nor the Cardinal so abounding. When the Emperor Claudius was once complaining of the poverty and emptiness of his Exchequer, it was pertinently observed, “That he might be abundantly rich, if his two governing Freedmen would admit him for a sharer with them.” Narcissus and Pallas were the two meant, they who studied nothing but to ravage and spoil with all their might: No matter what the Public paid; no matter what their Master wanted.
Lewis the fourteenth, who was extremely magnificent, that is, throwed away vast sums in pomp and vanity, when he heard of the great Confederacy forming against him, resolved to abridge his prodigious expence in building, gardens, jewels, &c. For that very year he had, in building only, spent fifteen millions. Nor could he hold his resolution to retrench, notwithstanding the public necessity so pressing, notwithstanding the private poverty so melancholy and affecting. He went on with Prodigality and Taxing. What the poor People had, he would not want; for his pity was by no means so extensive as his power.
To spare, to foster, and to enrich the People, is the true and chief Liberality of a Prince. Detestable is that Bounty which impoverishes all men. It was truly said of Otho, that greatly deceived were they with whom his profusion and extravagances passed, as he would have had them, under the name and guise of Generosity. The man might know how to waste and confound; but to the discreet and beneficent rules of liberality he must have been an utter stranger. I admire a saying of Henry the Great, (who, in truth, was a glorious Prince) that he hoped to see the time when the poorest man in France would be able to have a pullet in his pot; or words to that purpose. This shewed the true and paternal spirit of a King, such a spirit as every King ought to have, else I know no business he has with the Office. What has any King to do but to make the People happy? What have People to do with a King who makes them miserable? Yet, to the dishonour of some of our English Princes, they often claimed payment of the People, and had it, even for reasonable Laws and Concessions, and never parted with any lawless exactions without an Equivalent. They were paid for granting what it was unjust and infamous to deny.
I was out of countenance for a late Prince, one who affected the title of Great (in my opinion very preposterously) upon meeting somewhere with the following Story. He told a Mistress of his, what great peace of mind he had just received from his Confessor, to whom he had imparted his anxiety about his grinding and exhausting his People in so grievous a manner, and how readily the good man had removed all his scruples, by assuring him, that whatever they had was his own, and whatever was his own he might conscientiously take. She is said to have replied, very freely, but very justly; “And were you such a fool as to believe him?” Doubtless there was no slattery, no self-ends, nor view to favour and preferment in the State-Casuistry of this holy hard-hearted knave, who by the law of God could authorize Oppression, and sanctify the enormities of a Tyrant. Surely worse than no Religion is that Religion which extinguishes humanity and warrants barbarity; as wicked as Tyrants are, they who countenance Tyranny, and of all Sycophants such who cajole in the name of the Lord, are the most pestilent and odious.
When King James the first asked Bishop Neal, whether he might not take his People’s money without the ceremony and consent of Parliaments; the Bishop answered roundly, that he might. “God forbid, Sir, but you should: You are the breath of our nostrils.” By such cant, and the impious burlesque of Scripture, he would have warranted the overthrow of the Establishment, and let loose the King to rob his Subjects, contrary to the Duty of a King, contrary to his Coronation-oath, and against Law and the Constitution. Had the Law provided no punishment for such a poisonous parricide, such a declared enemy to Law and Liberty, and all men? To meditate the death of the King is justly made High Treason. The Bishop was for killing the Constitution. To such extreme wickedness and falshood it is probable this unhallowed pedant was led only out of regard to King James’s partiality to Episcopacy, and chiefly to his being the source of ecclesiastical preferments. I know not in what other sense he could be the breath of the Bishop’s nostril: Sure I am it would have been a very lying compliment out of the mouth of the People, had they been fleeced and spoiled against Law, as the good King desired, and the pious Bishop advised. This miserable consideration was to his narrow spirit superior to the felicity of human Society, the Laws of his Country, and all things.
The State of Athens was so sensible of the danger and mischief of embezzling or misapplying the public money, that to prevent it they made the following awful Law: “That whereas a thousand Talents were yearly assigned for the defence of Athens against foreign invasions; if any person presumed to lay out, or but proposed to lay out that money, or any part of it, on any other design, he should suffer death.” And, though by the Law of Athens no free Athenian could be put in bonds, yet such as had wasted or misapplied the public Treasure, were excepted and denied the benefit of it. Many other wise and severe precautions they took to secure the Revenue of their State, and by it the State itself. Nor can any State subsist in honour and security where havock is made in the Exchequer. A Nation as well as a Family may be undone by Profuseness.
Public Frugality advantageous to all; disliked only by a few.----Public Bounties ill bestowed, how dishonourable.
BY all those from whom a Prince takes nothing away, that is to say, by almost all men, he shall be accounted noble and beneficent, and reckoned close and penurious only by a few to whom he gives nothing, says Machiavel; and it is truly said. Let him therefore judge, whether it be not more just, prudent and profitable to oblige and caress his People, though he disgust some particulars, than to cherish and glut a few particulars at the expence of the People. People sometimes love to see a liberal Prince, but care not to feel him, when he is liberal out of their pockets. It must be a melancholy consideration to a Prince (if he consider at all) that by giving a large Pension perhaps to a worthless or wasteful man, he is laying a heavy load upon the backs of hundreds of his best subjects, and oppressing a multitude to be generous or rather prodigal to one. It was a fine and true compliment to Trajan, that he warily restrained all lavishness in the Exchequer, because he never meant to supply it out of the fortunes of the innocent.
It is indeed infamous in any man to accept of bounties from the Public, if he can live without them. They who do so, are at best but public Almsmen; and every man of fortune, who with it has virtue or shame, will scorn the character. What is here said, does not affect such as for serving the Public receive thence an equivalent; since rewards that are due are never scandalous. But, alas! the service is too often over-rated, and when that ceases, the recompence is often continued to such as want it not, as well as given to many who not only do not want it, but never could deserve it. I have known great Largesses and mighty Annuities granted to many for no apparent reason, but that they were shameless enough to ask, and the Prince weak enough to give. If they had any real claim, it was too infamous to be owned: and it is a terrible reproach upon a Prince, when, for a small or a wicked service done to him personally, equal regard is had, and as much liberality shewn, as for any signal service done to the State, perhaps more, and when the Offices of the State, or its Treasure are prostituted to gratify private Jobbs and Intimacies.
When this giving humour prevails, there is no end of Suiters and Claimers. Every man, every woman will have something to alledge, some suffering or some service. Upon the accession, particularly, of a new Prince such claims always abound. “In every shift of Princes, says Sir Robert Cotton, there are few so mean or modest that please not themselves with some probable object of preferment. Men expect payment for doing their duty and assisting the Public, that is assisting themselves, and what is no more than duty they call merit, and merit must be rewarded; and when men are left to measure their own, we may guess it will lose nothing of its extent and value. There are indeed few who think themselves as high in employment as they are in capacity.” When there are not Places enow to gratify pretenders, an equivalent is expected; and when once Pensions multiply, and are given to many worthless people, there can be no satisfactory reason given for refusing others as worthless. Thus the public Revenue comes to be thrown into a fort of average and spoil. Nor when the corruption has gone far, is it an easy matter to cure it; and he who first attempts it, Prince or Minister, will be sure to find a hard task, a torrent of opposition and outrageous clamours: For all the Harpies, all who had not clean hands, will be found to have foul mouths; and when public frugality, when general ease and relief is intended and pursued, injustice and avarice will be imputed. But the reformation, as it is always just, will certainly prove popular at last, when the generality feel benefit from the just disappointment of a fewb .
[a ]Aliis quidem quum omnia raperent, & rapta retinerent, utsi nihil rapuissent, nihil detinuissent, defuerint omnia. Plin. Pan.
[b ]Augeo Principis munus, quum ostendo liberalitati inesse rationem. Ambitio enim, et jactantia, et effusio, et quidvis potius quam liberalitas existimanda est, cui ratio non constat. Plin. Paneg.