Front Page Titles (by Subject) DISCOURSE IV.: Of Princes. - The Works of Tacitus, vol. 3 - Gordon's Discourses II, History (Books 1-2)
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DISCOURSE IV.: Of Princes. - 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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The Duty of a Prince, what. His motives to be good, and content with limited Power: That of the Roman Emperors bounded.
IF we now enquire into the duty of a Prince, what else can it be but to conform to the Laws, and see that all others conform; to be vigilant for the public welfare, to consult the good of the whole and of particulars, to prevent oppression and to punish it, to promote virtue and to reward it, to consider himself as made for the People’s protection, not the People for his pleasure, and that where his Subjects reap no advantage, he can reap no glory; to enforce the observance of Law by his example as well as by his judgments, and by his faithful care of his People, merit their affection and fidelitya .
It is thus he must resemble the Deity, nor can he be otherwise the Representative of God than by doing God-like actions. It is not enough that he do things innocent and harmless: it is not enough that he forbear things wicked and mean. What he does must be virtuous, noble, public spirited. Every sordid action, every low artifice he must detest and avoid. He who represents the Almighty, he who guards the Laws and the Lives of men, must be just in observing Law, ambitious to resemble his Maker and Sovereign. How can he, how dare he neglect or injure those for whose sake alone he is what he is? “He who is above all, ought to be better than all,” was the wise and worthy saying of Cyrusb .
Such a Prince, whose only end and pursuit is the People’s good, as it is in truth his only business, will desire no power to hurt them, none such as others under him, or after him, may turn to their prejudice, though he himself would not. Though a Prince perfectly wise and just could never abuse any power, he would not covet power without bounds, because whatever the best Princes have had, the worst will always expect. So that good Princes will be content with a little, a smaller share, that the bad may not have too much. They will look beyond their own time, and contrive that the People may be happy when they themselves are gone. This consideration terribly heightens the crime of Usurpation, and overturning the Laws of a Country. Though he who does it may have good qualities, and possibly desire public good; Yet such as are to come after him may be fools, madmen, bloody savages. Cæsar, therefore, and his fellows are never to be forgiven, never to be excused.
Let a Prince be invested with a power ever so boundless, it is still intended, or ought to be, for the good of men, and he has none to be cruel or wicked. A power to destroy, is not given, but taken, and what is usurped, has no right whatever. No regular, no just power can be derived from the irregular will of man, whatever fine name he takes to himself. “Hard it is for one who has no bounds to his power, to set bounds to his passions;” said the wise and good Marcus Aurelius. Nor did the Roman Emperors pretend to be above the Law, but only above the formality of Law. If they acted otherwise, as they generally did, they gave the lie to truth, and their own professions. Alexander Severus declared, that nothing was so much a part of sovereign power, nothing so much its character, as to live according to the Laws. Trajan professed, that the Prince was so far from being above the Laws, that the Laws were above the Prince. As he took an Oath to obey the Laws, he faithfully observed that Oath; and thence Pliny says, “That all the Emperors before him had made the same professions, but their professions were not believed:” What they had promised to be, he was. The Romans in the times of the Emperors, made a wide difference between a Prince and a Master: the former they considered as a lawful Magistrate, the latter as an Intruder and Usurper. And it was observed of Trajan, that he possessed the place of a lawful Prince, to prevent the exercise of lawless rulec . The Emperor Adrian declared to a public assembly of the Romans, that he would govern like one who had the direction of the People’s affairs, not his own; and Severus owned himself to be no more than the public Steward. Many Emperors used their power mischievously; but such abuse of power was no part of their Commission.
The wisdom of governing by Law ----- No just power without Law ---- Just Government requires sense ---- Any wretch capable of tyrannizing ---- No good man fond of boundless power.
THEY who are set over men, too often forget that they themselves are but men. Indeed such of them who pretended to be above Law and above Humankind, were much worse than beasts, they who claimed Divinity, a disgrace to Humanity. Hence Pliny says to Trajan, who, without arrogating celestial honours, had a spirit truly divine, “That, from the fate of the Princes his predecessors, it was manifest, that none but such as men love, are beloved by the Gods.”
What is it that gives a Prince a right to power? Not his bare will, for then every man who has force, has a right to power, a right to all that downright brutal force can bring him. As the public good is the general rule of Laws, these Laws are the rule and boundaries of the Prince’s power. To these all men are and ought to be subject, he especially who is intrusted with their execution and the care of all men. If the Laws are for the security of the State, why should not the Prince observe them, he to whom the guardianship of the State is committed? The Roman Emperors, even in their acts of Tyranny pretended to observe Law, and under the name of some Law most of their cruelties were perpetrated. Nor durst they avowedly violate the Laws. Thus Claudius was afraid to marry Agrippina, for that there was no Law authorizing an Uncle to marry his Niece. Nor durst he accomplish the marriage till a Decree was purposely made. Thus even the outrageous Nero proceeded in cutting off some of the greatest men: He got them butchered under the form and mockery of Law.
It is the more glory for a Prince to govern regularly, and by the just measure of Equity and Laws; for that, in order to govern well, parts, and prowess, and vigilance are required; but any novice, any savage can exert brutal passion, follow his absurd humour, yield to his headstrong will. It is the easiest thing in the world to exercise disorder and misrule, to gratify private appetite, to create public mischief and disorder. This the frantic Caligula could do, this the infamous Heliogabalus, and this our Richard the second or King John. A madman or a fool may be an able Tyrant: and to be so, fools and madmen are the most aspiring. La Bruyere says, “That for the exercise of Tyranny there is no need of arts or sciences. Those politics which consist only in shedding of blood, are very narrow and void of refinement: They inspire us to kill such who, while they are alive, prove an obstacle to our ambition. This is what a man naturally cruel does without difficulty. It is the most horrible, it is the most gross method of supporting ourselves, or of acquiring grandeur.” Indeed, a wrong head, a wicked heart, and human shape, seem the chief qualifications for a Tyrant.
As unlimited oppression generally follows unlimited power, and as all power that can be abused will be abused, none but a madman, a wicked man, or a changeling will desire unaccountable dominion, whence he can reap no other fruit than guilt and odium, and his People none but misery and pillage. What can be the mark of a viler spirit, what a more detestable character of a man, what more repugnant to the business and duty of a public Father, than to consider the People as his property, not his care; as if millions were created for the sake of aggrandizing one of themselves, often the worst, as a Tyrant is certainly the worst creature in his dominions, let the rest be ever so bad, and bad they must be, as well as wretched. For the breath of Tyranny contaminates all things, destroys the best things, nor can virtue any more than happiness stand before it, or within its reach. It is a maxim with evil Princes to make their subjects evil; and, in order to bear slavery, they must have the abject souls and vices of slaves, must be sordid, ignorant, debauched, void of care for the Public, void of humanity and honour.
How amiable the character of a good Prince, who rules by Justice and Law, who loves and relieves his People.
HENRY the fourth of France used to say, “That in order to reign well, it is not expedient to do whatever we can:” A saying worthy of the wise head and great heart of that brave Prince. As he said, he practised. He always heard with great patience the remonstrances of his Subjects and Parliaments, nor was ashamed to change his opinion, or to depart from points of prerogative; hated to hear Parasites magnify his power, and shew great tenderness for the privileges of Royalty, or to be praised by men unworthy of praise; would not suffer the Provinces to be oppressed to enrich particulars; confessed that he differed not from his Subjects, since he had but two eyes and two feet no more than they. He told an assembly of the principal men of Normandy at Rouen, that he had called them, not blindly to approve what was his will and pleasure, but to receive their counsel, to trust it, and to follow it. This was the language of a man of sense and honour, and he did just the contrary to what a fool or a small spirit would have done. A certain Prince, cotemporary with him, would have probably told such an assembly, “That State-affairs were above their reach,” (and quoted some Latin to prove it) “that they should beware of entrenching upon his Prerogative; that he wanted not their advice, for he was a wise King.”
The word Prerogative was what that great French Monarch was seldom heard to mention. He considered it as given him only for one end, nor could it be given to any Prince for any other, for the sake and support of his People, as were his Revenues to enable him to defend the People, and not to be wasted upon pomp and voluptuousness, as were the Revenues of some other Crowns at that time. An oppressive Prerogative is a monster and contradiction: so are oppressive Revenues, nor will a good Prince think ought due to him which his Subjects are unable to bear or to pay. Henry the fourth abhorred the recent excesses and encroachments of the Royal Authority, and suppressed many duties which the late Tyranny had exacted. In one Edict he forgave the People all the arrears due to the Crown, and wished that his own Revenue had been sufficient, for that then he would have taken nothing out of the purses of his People. The divine Marcus Aurelius remitted all that had been due to the Imperial, or to the public Treasury (for they were distinct) during six and forty years. He declared, “That the public wealth belonged to the Senate and People, that he had nothing of his own, that the very Palace which he lived in was theirs.”
This was the stile, these the concessions of a King and public Father, two characters which should eternally be the same, but too seldom are. Nor were all these professions of theirs the grimace of politicians. Marcus Aurelius and Henry the fourth had no occasion for grimace: Great souls are always sincere. They delighted to see their People happy, and studied to make them so. To accomplish this, Henry the fourth chearfully lessened his revenue, lessened his authority, and restrained his prerogative where his prerogative interfered with the interest and happiness of his People. He was above all little suspicions, above all doubling and deceit; habits so common to men of little minds and little sense. As he wronged no man, he feared none, and his large mind was never fretted with the jealousies usually cleaving to power. He knew no purpose of being higher than others, but to do good to all; and when he found himself too high to assist those below him, he feared not to descend; still secure in the benevolence of his intentions and conduct, as well as in the sufficiency of his own might. He was aware that overbearing pride and prerogative were not the means to win affection or esteem, and that the condescension of a Prince is no contradiction to his dignity, nay, a sure way to raise it: He therefore lived with his People like a father with his children; as was said of a Roman Emperor who resembled him, I mean Trajan, a Prince in all excellencies resembling Henry the fourth. What pity that such Princes, such friends to the world and protectors of men, should ever die!
The miserable Spirit and Infamy of Princes who consider themselves above Law, and independent on their People.
HAD Cato the elder known two such Princes as the above-mentioned, he would not have given such a shocking character of Kings, “That they were all ravening beasts:” a character due to those whom he knew, eastern Tyrants, the constant Enslavers, Oppressors and Butchers of men. Power is indeed a brutal, a hideous thing, when not tempered by Reason and Laws, not employed for the benefit of Society; and such as have it and do not thus use it, are worse than animals of prey, more destructive, more detestable.
One of the greatest and bravest of our Princes was Edward the third. He had many demands made upon him by his Parliaments, and granted them all. Hence he reigned and died in renown. Two of our weakest and worst Kings (at least till then) were Edward the second and Richard the second. These were great zealots for Prerogative, that is for a privilege to be mischievous and unaccountable, and rejected all such demands. Hence their miserable reigns, their calamitous ends, their infamous memory. They were that sort of wretches who set up folly and appetite against duty and human society. Good sense and greatness of mind are always found together, and justice is inseparable from either. Edward the third had equal wisdom and magnanimity, and was just in proportion as he was brave. It was his study to cherish his People, nay, to be great with them, and to be counselled by their Representatives. “He had the honour, says Selden, to be the repairer of the ruins that his father had made, and was a Prince whom you might think by his Story to be seldom at home, and by his Laws seldom abroad.”
Lewis the thirteenth was a great lover of power, in proportion to his great incapacity to exercise it. As a specimen of both, when the People of Tholouse applied to him, by an earnest and unanimous petition, for mercy to the Duke De Montmorency condemned to die, he answered, “That if he followed the inclinations of the People, he should not act like a King.” I question whether his son would have given a better answer, a Prince so flattered for the art of reigning, if his government deserve that name. What strange lofty notions must have possessed the weak head of this Prince, that a King should act for himself against his People! The thing is often too true. But, pray, how should the People act, on their part, upon such an occasion? I mean not the People of Tholouse at that juncture, but a whole Nation, when they find by his administration, that he only considers himself, and not them, or rather makes them only a property to himself. Such as have an unjust power, ill got, or overmuch, or such as intend to abuse their power, are ever jealous and fearful. They are ever fearing those whom they cause to fear, and whom they fear they seek to oppress or destroy. This is the nature and progress of Tyrannyd . In Dr. Burnet’s late History we find a shocking declaration of Charles the second concerning the Duke of Lauderdale, that the Duke had indeed done a great many damned things against the people of Scotland; “but I cannot see, says his Majesty, that he has done any thing against my interest.” A speech upon which I make no reflection, nor can my imagination furnish one that can possibly heighten its horror.
Now besides the infamy, besides the crying iniquity of Lewis the thirteenth, of making his Kingdom groan under the merciless weight of Prerogative exerted in violation of their Birthright, Liberty and Law; all the new power which he usurped was usurped to his Minister. It was the Cardinal who swayed the enormous Scepter, and swayed it terribly, even to the dread and shame of the Monarch, who by setting himself above the Laws, above the remonstrances of his Parliament, did but set the Cardinal above him, and from his excessive weakness, to call it no worse, his Minister derived his excessive power. Henceforward he could not, he durst not either see or hear but by licence from his Eminence.
Princes seeking or possessing arbitrary Power, rarely exercise any themselves: Their Ministers and Creatures generally rule all.
IT is wonderful this strange thirst, this boundless appetite in Princes for unbounded Power, which yet they seldom occupy themselves, but leave to be exercised by others, their Minions or Mistresses. What they gain by putting bonds upon all men, is to be themselves holden in bonds by the meanest or the worst. Lewis the thirteenth, a Prince very insufficient, but very obstinate, one who had no ideas or very short ones of his own, assumed to be the origin and oracle of all Justice and Law; and his passions, infused or managed by the Cardinal, were to be the rule of life, and to determine the fate of all men. The Cardinal, who used the King like a mere machine, was effectually Monarch of France, as all Frenchmen felt, as all Europe saw. He was indeed an extraordinary man, a mighty genius: but as he trod upon the Laws and Liberties of his Country, the best that can be said of him, is, that he was an able destructive Minister. Whoever rules by fancy will ever be a pernicious ruler, let his abilities be what they will.
The sovereignty, and folly, and cruelty of Claudius were all managed by his manumised Slaves, or his Wives; and he had neither discernment or passions but such as they infused. Nor was it peculiar to Claudius to be under such guideance. The rest of the Cæsars were generally subject to the supreme rule of some mean and uncontroulable Favourite. These lofty Emperors who would bear no limits to their authority, exercised in effect none, but, reserving only the name and iniquity of power, devolved the administration and abuse of it upon their vilest domestics, the dregs of human race.
The great Turk, who claims and exercises a power without controul over the lives of all men, who challenges a right to the fortune and property of all, and is Lord of every acre throughout his vast dominions, enjoys from all this enormous, this sounding sovereignty no more than a mighty name and mighty danger. He is seldom seen, seldom does any thing, or knows what is done. With the seal which he delivers to his prime Vizier, he surrenders the absolute disposal of his immense Empire, the absolute direction of his boundless Authority. The Prerogatives of State which he exerts in his own person, are such as concern not the State, at least help it not: He diverts himself with the tricks and grimaces of Mutes and Buffoons, with his Ladies or Pathics, with Dogs and Huntsmen.
It is thus he discharges the duties of a Sovereign, thus guards the Public, and protects Nations. Are these the marks of authority divine, of a power holden immediately from God, sacred and irresistible, as the Mahometan Doctors teach? Are the characteristics of Divinity to be found in the neglect and abuse of Government, as well as in the discharge of it? If he who does the office be the person divinely appointed, as I think he ought, not the Grand Seignior, but the Grand Vizier is the man. How the Turkish Divines reason upon this point, I know not I doubt not but they are provided with good casuistry and distinctions to account for their recommending, as they have sometines done, their Monarch to be dethroned or knocked on the head, though by their principles he was irresistible and sacred. Such force and magic there is in the sage subtleties of this profound Divinity and of these able Divines, and so powerfully do they aid Princes to stand or fall!
A Mahometan preacher was bold enough to tell the Emperor to his face, that instead of defending Buda (then besieged) he went every day a hunting. The rebuke had such an effect, that, as soon as the sermon was ended, his Highness ordered nine hundred of his hunting dogs to be drowned. We see the efficacy of an honest sermon upon a Prince when an honest man is found to preach it, one who aims at truth and reformation, not at flattery and preferment.
Thamas King of Persia was shut up in his Seraglio, drowned in voluptuousness, for ten years together, leaving his Authority to be abused, and his Subjects oppressed and devoured all that while at the lust and discretion of his servants. They therefore were the sovereign Rulers, whilst he had the sovereign Title. In a manner like this are all or most of the great Monarchies in the East conducted. The Monarchs do nothing, and their Ministers do mischief. These Representatives of the Deity are themselves represented by a Woman, or a Pathic, always by a Slave.
Such of our English Kings as had the greatest appetite to absolute rule, as the worst always had, never swayed what violent power they had grasped, but resigned their People, their Dominion and themselves to Creatures and Favourites: Whether the King were a Henry, an Edward or a Richard, a John or a James, it was still a Pierce Gaveston, a Hugh Spencer, a Mountford, a Brember, a Carr or a Peters that misgoverned and oppressed. The King only lent his name and warrant, and often not that; but still blindly approved what they had done, though he knew it not, nor why.
The arbitrary will of Favourites often proves the only Law of a bad and arbitrary Prince — How apt they are to abuse his Power, and at last to desert him.
THE caprice, or passion, or evil counsel of a reigning Favourite, will always pass upon a weak Prince for the rules of Equity and Law. As a Prince who is not controuled by Law will in all probability prove bad, and certainly bad where he rejects Law; so a Minister acting without any check or inquiry from his Master, is not very likely to prove modest and virtuous. The one will be apt to grow domineering and insolent, if the other be credulous and indolent. Such a temptation is seldom withstood, or such an opportunity lost. This was the case and misfortune of Galba. For such, says Tacitus, was his weakness and acquiescence, that by it the avarice of his friends, already insatiable, and ravening according to the measure of his sovereign fortune, was farther heightened and excited; whilst under a Prince thus feeble and credulous, their iniquities were attended with the smaller peril, and with gains the more mighty. Pliny says,d it was always a glaring and sure sign, that the Prince was impotent and contemptible, when his Servants were mighty and powerful.
Richard the second left his Government so entirely to his Favourites, that they were said “to have taken the Kingdom to farm.” They passed Patents, they issued Proclamations, levied Money, spoiled the Subject, all without his knowledge or once asking his consent. Nor other reason had they for setting him above Law, but that they might be lawless. Thus they caused it to be proclaimed in the City of London, “That no person should dare to utter a word or expression against them, on pain of forfeiting all that he had.” Nay, they made the poor weak King swear to them, “not only to be governed and counselled by them alone, but to maintain and defend them, and to live and die with them.” After this it is small wonder that they would not suffer the great persons of the Realm, or the King’s best subjects, to give him any advice or information, or even to approach him, except in their presence. Brember (one of the Minions) caused two and twenty men to be hanged in one night, without law or trial. But this was only a small essay of his power and violence; he had marked out seven or eight thousand obnoxious Citizens to be cut off at once, and prepared a common Hatchet for that purpose, an instrument that providentially served to strike his own head from his body.
Concerning those low and servile spirits at Court, who, in times of peace and corruption, swagger and govern all things with high insolence and disdain, manage little intrigues with notable craft and sufficiency, tell lies, practise falshood, traffic for places, and carefully keep all men of honour, capacity and merit at a due distance; it is worth while to observe, what a miserable figure they make in a time of danger and alarms, confounded, struck with terror, ready to change sides, ready to abandon their old friends and protectors, to submit with mean suppleness to such as they had lately deceived, insulted and oppressed, and to become humble slaves to professed enemies.
Princes guilty of the Oppressions committed by their Authority. Their Ministers are generally, like them, bad or good. A limited Authority safest to Kings and Ministers. The best Ministers obnoxious to clamours.
A PRINCE who permits oppression and cruelty, is cruel and oppressive, though he know it not; for he ought to know, ought to enquire, and to prevent it, or punish it. Why else is he a Prince, and what else is his duty, but to watch for the public good? Nor did ever any reason otherwise, except Tyrants, public enemies and spoilers, with their Flatterers and Minions, who hoped to gain by misleading and corrupting them. What they cannot do themselves they ought to see well done by others, to redress what is ill done, to take care that it be not repeated, and that public examples be made of public criminals. A Prince becomes bad by his idleness as well as by his actions. He is invested with a great trust, the greatest upon earth, one so extensive that upon the well or ill executing of the same depends the felicity or misery of Nations; so that whoever neglects it, is unfit for it, or unworthy of it.
It is allowed that an able and honest Ministry make amends for the indolence or insufficiency of a Prince: but how rarely does it happen that he chuses such? They generally prove like himself, vicious or weak, or make his folly a warrant for their injustice. His choice is determined not by their talents for Government, about which perhaps he is ignorant, perhaps unconcerned, but by taste, or whim, or passion, for some particular quality, or some foolish excellency that he delights in. Peradventure they joak well, or shave well, or procure him Mistresses, or become such themselves, or are notable Musicians, notable Devotees, or notable Drinkers. For such accomplishments, and without any other, Men, and Monks, and Women, and Barbers, and Buffoons and Fidlers have been raised by Kings to rule over Kingdoms.
They who do what they please, seldom do what they ought, and such as may do evil with impunity, generally do it with licentiousness. Nor other sence or security is there against evil, but penalties and the dread of evil. Men are then least likely to offend when they dare not. The power therefore of the highest ought to be bounded, and precautions taken as well against the excesses of Kings, as those of Subjects. Kings themselves should desire it: it is the safest rule as well as the most honourable, and even most profitable; since where the People, secured by the Laws, live unmolested, the Prince will reign in security, and the more free they are, the more able they will be to serve him, the more chearful to support him, as well as more rich and liberal to supply him.
Neither can a Prince under the restriction and guidance of Laws, be long served by worthless, silly, or arbitrary men. They must be men of sense and reputation, otherwise they will soon destroy themselves, or him, or both. In a Nation governed by fixed Laws all men will see, indeed feel, whether the Laws and their Properties are violated, whether they are oppressed against Law, or protected by it. The dignity of the Administration must be supported, decency and gravity preserved, with regularity in the course of business; the Public must be tenderly treated, and particulars civilly used: Else the Crown will fall into contempt, into weakness and distress, the Subject into discontents and rage, all things into confusion. Minions and Underlings may, and probably always will, have secret influence and sway, sometimes enough to hurt and perplex a Minister, who often suffers blame for the ill things which they, in spight of him, dof . But he who conducts the public affairs must be a man of parts, a man of business, and sufficiency, of name and credit.
With all this he must expect to be hardly pressed, often find it a hard task to stand. He will often be thought guilty even where he is most innocent. He will be sure to disoblige some, even by obliging others: Several will think themselves at least as well qualified as he for his place, and, in hopes to be taken in, endeavour to push him out. They will be apt to charge him with crimes at a venture, and probably hate him enough to wish him criminal, or to believe him so. Many will concur in the imputation, some through personal anger, more through natural malignity, most of all through folly. The multitude love changes, some find advantage in it, and many hope to find. Even his excellencies and renown may happen to create him enemies and persecutiong . Perhaps few Ministers ever served a Prince with more faith and sufficiency than Monsieur De Rôny did his great Master Henry the fourth, or with greater regard to the interest of the Public. Yet his credit with the King, though no more than he deserved, and two or three fine employments, however due to his merit, served for a constant pretence to malecontents, and even for the ground of several conspiracies. In matters of great and public moment, it is a difficult thing to please all.
The benefit of standing Laws to Princes and their Ministers, further illustrated. What regard Princes should have to posthumous Fame, what dread of Infamy.
IT is not in a free Country as in one enslaved, where whatever the Prince likes all must seem to approve; where all must bestow their reverence and submission blindfold, where-ever he bestows power and favour, though blindfold too. In a Nation of Freedom and Laws, all men claim a right to judge and censure for themselves, a right which they often abuse and misapply, but ought never to lose. Better it is, that all men say what they please, than one man do what he will. Yet a Minister under all these disadvantages, however obnoxious to clamour and unjust censure, is safer and happier than in the service of a lawless Prince, whose rage is usually more sudden than his favour, and who never accuses but he likewise destroys, often without accuseing; whereas when the Laws govern, Ministers are frequently accused, but seldom hurt; nay, the worst often escape, whilst under a Tyrant the best never do.
To Princes themselves the Laws are the best guides as well as guards. Most men will be apt to flatter them, few to tell them the truth. Let them have recourse, for information, to the Laws, Counsellors which will not cajole nor deceive them, nor betray and desert them, as Favourites and Armies may. Sycophants will tell them, that “they may do what they list,” and, it is like, confirm that impious lie by another equally impious, that “such is the ordinance of God.” The Laws will tell him, that, “whatever he does must be for the good of men; that he has no right to hurt them, no power but what is given him, limited by institutions framed by the wisdom of men, for their own safety and his, and that for their security, and not for his own ease or pride, he is set over them. If he break his bounds, if he violate his trust, he becomes an enemy to God and Man, and must hope for favour from neither, since in the sight of God, the impartial Father of all men, none are high or low but in the sanctity or impiety of their lives, and he who injures and betrays all men is evidently the worst of all.”
Let any Prince judge, which is the more reasonable instructor, the Sycophant or the Laws. (For Sycophants, and the vilest, they all are who tell a Prince that he may overturn the Law) Let him judge which is likely to lead him to most justice and benevolence, to most honour and renown, to most security whilst he lives, to most praise when he is dead: Let him determine with himself, whether he would be a Nero, governed by Parasites and his lusts, detested as a Tyrant, doomed to immortal abhorrence through all ages, or a Titus, who made Justice and Law the measure of his Government, was stiled the delight of human-kind at that time, and has been judged worthy of the same amiable character at all times since. In proportion to the excellence and depravity of a Prince’s reign, will be his same afterwards, illustrious or inglorious.
What can be more delightful to a Prince, than an assurance of being adored when he is dead? What more shocking than to foresee, that he shall be abhorred, or even his memory slighted amongst men? For in the memories of men his most lasting monument must be raised, happy for him if also in their affectionsi . These are the inscriptions, this the character, which cannot be erazed, panegyrics that will not lye, unperishing honours, out of the power of time, and death, and malicek . Such as were by Pliny foretold to Trajan, and such as Trajan still enjoys, still shall enjoy.
Idle Princes seldom come to be able Princes. How much application to business imports them, for their own accomplishment and the good of their Government.
INDOLENT Princes, such as love not business, or are kept from it, besides their being liable to be abused, scarce ever come to be men of great sufficiency, though they may have good natural parts. It is by the continual exercise of the understanding that the understanding is enlarged. A man of much industry, with moderate parts, will be an overmatch for one who has the greatest, but never exerts them. Attention to business and the affairs of life, fills the mind with ideas and reflections, arms it against mistakes and surprizes, and uses it to judging and deciding. But to a spirit untrained and void of experience, every small matter proves a great difficulty, every small difficulty proves discouraging. A man practised in affairs is seldom startled or at a loss, and for every emergency will be apt to find some expedient; for he is used to emergencies, and to provide for them. Every small Clerk will be apt to despise, every little Lawyer be able to outwit a man just come out of a College or a Cloister, though he may make no mean figure there. Even very silly men will acquit themselves notably in business, where it lies in a road and method, and make dispatch where a very bright man not used to it would be strangely puzzled. I have seen a man of poor natural capacity, but well trained in business, triumph over a man of extraordinary talents destitute of experience. Such as are originally weak may acquire artificial abilities, as others of great genius, applying to nothing, will be good for nothing.
As the business of reigning is the most important upon earth, he who is invested with supreme authority, in order to make himself worthy of it, should be extremely careful to qualify himself for it. He should inform himself assiduously, exert himself diligently, and convince all men, that he who bestows every office, is able to discharge, and therefore fit to bear, the highest. It were indeed preposterous, that authority should be in the hands of one who ought to administer it, but cannot, and leaves it all to be administered by others. This was the character of many of the Cæsars, Idiots in Government, Heroes in Tyranny. So that Pliny had just cause to say, That it seemed highly unworthy, that he should confer all dignities, who could sustain none.
It is a misfortune even in a Country where the Laws govern, to have a weak, or, which is the same thing, an indolent Prince; for the administration of an indolent Prince is generally weak; and where he does too little, those who act for him will be apt to do too much. But under a Government limited by Laws, such weakness or neglect in a Prince can do least harm, nor can his will or his folly be pleaded, as in arbitrary Countries, for the cause or cloak of enormities, since his will and his folly are repugnant to the Laws, and may be opposed by Law. All men know how far his power extends, how far others can extend it for him. In absolute Monarchies, not only his will, his fury, his appetites, are Laws, and Laws irresistible, but so likewise are the appetites, and will, and sury of his Officers, who always alledge that, whatever they perpetrate he commands; and who dares doubt or deny it, or go to Court to enquire?
But let a Prince’s power be ever so cautiously restrained, let the Laws which limit and direct him be ever so plain, he will still find an abundant call for all his industry, in chusing his Officers, in observing their Conduct, in overlooking his Revenue, in executing the Laws, in hearing Petitions, in attending to Treaties and Embassadors, in taking care of the Dignity and Tranquillity of the Nation, and even in governing his Family. What more extensive office would a Prince have, if he mean to perform it with conscience and care? Few men are equal to it; the ablest man cannot be too diligent in it.
Henry the fourth of France had a great understanding, because he had made great use of it. From his childhood he was almost continually exercised in distress and affairs, and forced by the former into the latter. As he was a man of great pleasure, had his Kingdom fallen to him early and easily, it is certain he would not have had equal sufficiency; for sufficiency is to be acquired like a science. He was forced to be industrious, vigilant, inquisitive, and therefore was always improving. Thus he became excellently qualified for Government. Henry the third might have proved so too, had he been obliged from his youth and for a long course of years to have struggled for his Crown. He had shewn what he was capable of, whilst yet very young. In truth so great was his reputation in the camp, such ability he had manifested as a Commander, and such hopes were conceived of him as a Prince, that he was chosen King of Poland before he was twenty years old. But through idleness, and sensuality, and flatterers, he became a most miserable Ruler, infamous and sanguinary.
Princes that do nothing, but leave all things to others, will always be minors, as was our Richard the second. Contemptible is that Prince who holds nothing of Sovereignty but the Pageantry and the Crown. Poor Richard lost even that: Nor can any Prince who takes no care to support his own dignity, be secure that his dignity will not fall. Men who are able and good will be kept carefully from him, at least from serving him. The selfish, the false, the mischievous will always be most numerous about him, perhaps exclude all others, at least will always have the most sway, perhaps the only sway. At last perhaps he will bear no counsel but the worstl .
In spight of any human sufficiency or virtue, that a Prince can exert or possess, there will be many abuses growing or creeping in, such as he cannot altogether remove or prevent. But where he is idle, where he is neglectful, disorder will prevail tenfold, corruption walk barefaced, truth and virtue and merit will be brow-beaten or banished, vice and insolence will flourish, the Laws lose their force, the Administration become loose and despised.
Such was the reign of Henry the third of France, such that of Richard the second of England. They minded nothing but pleasure and festivity. Their Government by being neglected, grew corrupt, impotent, scandalous, at last fell to pieces. Yet the former was a capable Prince, indeed capable of great things, and only wanted application; but from his propensity to pleasure he disrelished business and fatigue, and by the pernicious flattery and soothing of Minions and Deceivers, came to drop the reins of Government in their hands, and reserved to himself only the name and danger. Richard the second had the same voluptuous biass, and the like mischievous Leaders. He was not a Natural, nor a Lunatic, nor seems to have wanted a share of sense; but having never been taught, or suffered, or inclined, to exert it, he continued in the state of childhood, simple by habit, foolish for want of industry and experience, and having never discharged the functions of Government, was at last unable to discharge them.
The most wretched and wicked of all Princes are wont to account themselves most sacred, and to claim Attributes divine.
IT is remarkable that both the wretched Princes mentioned in the last Section were strangely conceited of their own power, had high notions of Prerogative, nay, claimed Authority almost divine, and were extremely jealous of Kingship when they exercised none, but left themselves and their Realms to be abused and undone by the Parasites their Masters. This is the spirit of all wretched Princes, to be proud according to the measure of their folly, to be the fonder of power for being the less able to weild it, and to assume an alliance with the Gods when they are too vile or foolish to be accounted men. The Roman Emperors, most signal for cruelty, frenzy and stupidity, never failed to be Gods, or akin to the Gods.
Such Christian Princes as have aimed at Titles and Privileges more than human, would have done well to have remembered, that they were but reviveing the stale pretensions of ancient Tyrants and Pagans, and owning for their Predecessors Madmen, Idiots, Savages, the most detested that ever the earth bore. Nor indeed have any followed these Monsters in this profane and enormous vanity but such as in their other qualities too resembled them, the vicious, the prodigal, the false, the poor spirited, and the debauched, such as could not govern well or chose to govern ill, such as boldly called in Heaven to vindicate what Law and Conscience condemned, and alledged a deputation from above to blast and destroy all things below. When impious designs were entertained, when measures execrable and ruinous were pursued, solemn Oaths violated, Liberty extinguished, all the Laws overturned, Tyranny set up, then a Lieutenancy from God was always forged and pleaded, divine impunity for diabolical deeds, a right from the Father of Mercies, of Justice, and of Men, to commit Cruelty and Injustice, to oppress and butcher.
Visions like these, wild and impious, are refuted by repeating them, and the dishonour of such as maintained and encouraged them, sufficiently exposed. Such too is the mean character of these Princes, such has been their reign and fate, as to vindicate the Deity from the blasphemous imputation of having avowed them.
[a ]Omnia invisere, omnia audire, et undecunque invocatum, slatim velut numen adesse et assistere.
[b ]Un Roy (entant que Roi) n’ai rien proprement sien: il se doit soy mème à autruy. La jurisdiction ne se donne point en faveur du jurisdiciant: C’est en faveur du juridicie; says Montagne. He adds, That a superior is created not for his own advantage, but for that of his inferiors: As a Physician is so for the sick, not for himself.
[c ]Sedem obtinet Principis, ne sit Domino locus.
[d ]Cuncta ferit dum cuncta timet.
[d ]Præcipuum indicium non magni principis, magnos libertos.
[f ]Damnatus culpæ quam alii deliquerant.
[g ]Causa periculi non crimen ullum, sed gloria viri.
[i ]Mihi in animis vestris templa; hæ pulcherrimæ effigies et mansuræ.
[k ]In quos nihil fiammis, nihil senectuti, nihil successoribus liceat.
[l ]Ita formatis principis auribus, ut acerba quæ utilia.