Front Page Titles (by Subject) DISCOURSE V.: The same subject continued. - The Works of Tacitus, vol. 3 - Gordon's Discourses II, History (Books 1-2)
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DISCOURSE V.: The same subject continued. - 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 same subject continued.
The example of a Prince its efficacy: When good how advantageous to his People and himself.
BY the actions of a Prince, the spirit of a Prince is discerned. If he do nothing, it is not he who reigns: If what he does be bad, he had better not reign. One upon whom the felicity of all depends, is under a continual call and obligation to see that none be miserable, that none be wronged or unredressed: and because his own example is of universal influence, beyond that of exhortation, or of precepts, or of preachments, indeed more cogent than Law itself, or penalties, or terrors, it behoves him to shew himself wise and virtuous. How glorious is it for a Prince, when it becomes the glory of all men to imitate him? How scandalous, when he is only their guide to baseness and debauchery? The goodness of his demeanour should vie with the greatness of his powera . In vain will he cause vice to be punished, if he himself be vicious: even in his executing of just Laws, he will be accounted unjust, if he himself observe them not; nor will the frowns of Justice be found of such force, as the countenance and pattern of him who holds, or should hold, her scales.
In Peru, during the Government of the Inca’s, when any of the Royal Blood, or of the prime Nobles, violated the Law, they were punished more severely than a common Subject, forfeited all their Privileges, were degraded from their hereditary Honours, and accounted Traitors and Tyrants. It was thought reasonable to debase those who had shewn themselves base, and to make an example of such as by their great figure and credit were likely to draw others after their track. Upon the like motives a criminal Magistrate there was punished according to his character and quality, rather than to that of his crime, from an opinion that in a Minister of Justice the least evil was not to be tolerated, since he was appointed to eradicate evils, and obliged to be more observant of the Laws than his inferiors. It was said of the Inca’s, that they took such an affectionate care of their Subjects, as to merit being stiled rather Fathers of their Country, and Guardians of their Pupils, than Kings over Subjects. They were called by the Indians, Lovers of the Poor. Such should every Prince be, and appear to be. His life and conduct are a perpetual standard: All men see it, most men follow it, and according to the course of his life will be the course of morality or debauchery.
Vespasian in a few years (for he reigned not many) by the practice of frugality made all men frugal, and in that short space stopped a torrent of profusion which had been flowing for a hundred years before. Henry the third debauched all France, as did Richard the second all England. Manners as well as fashions beginning from the Court, the corrupt manners there become quickly universal. The Nobility, especially the young Nobility, perceived and followed the taste and pleasures of the King: The Gentry next, then the Commonalty, fell all into the fashion of their superiors. The reign of the great Queen Elizabeth and that of her Successor, sufficiently shew, how far the example of a virtuous or a voluptuous Prince can go towards making their People riotous or sober, as well as towards ennobling or debasing their spirits. The public Manners are best ascertained by those of public Rulers, and the surest cure for the irregularities of Subjects, is the regularity of Princes; since even Example alone without Authority, goes further than Authority without Example, says Plinyb to Trajan, who was indeed a pattern to his Subjects as well as to all succeeding Princes. He adds, that the fear of punishment is but an unsure guide to right morals.
Neither is the Virtue and Morality of a Prince of greater advantage to his People than to himself. Virtuous Subjects are always peaceable, nor will they fail to honour a virtuous Governor. It is the debauched, the riotous, the idle, who are prone to sedition, love public changes, and promote them. Whatsoever particular points a Prince may carry by debauching his People, it cannot be the stability of his Throne, whatever he may think. A People who have abandoned their Virtue will readily abandon their King; nor does he deserve any other, if it was he who first corrupted them. From a vicious People it is madness to hope for virtuous Principles, such as those of just allegiance and fidelity. Where no integrity is left, no honour can be expected; and when they are corrupted so far as to sell or throw away their Liberties, which is the highest degree of corruption, what other or lesser degree will they be ashamed of? Nor can one who has made them universally vile, complain, with a good grace, that they prove vile to him. It is but a part of what he taught them.
It is said of China, that when the Emperor proves licentious and bad, when he neglects his duty and the administration, and falls into enormities and vice, the face of the whole Empire becomes altered, and the People, otherwise sober and wise, grow riotous, unruly, debauched, and tumultuous. So that for his own sake he is obliged to be sober and orderly, obliged to preserve, at least, all the appearances of innocence and virtue. Yet the Monarchy of China is the most compleatly framed of any that the world ever produced, supported by admirable orders and maxims, all settled into reverence and authority by the approbation and usage of numerous ages. But all their admirable maxims and orders are insufficient where the good example of the Prince is wanting to inforce them. The Chinese therefore maintain, that by the virtue of the King the People becomes virtuous, and that he is responsible to Heaven for the wicked manners of his Kingdom. They say, it is a small matter for a Prince to punish crimes; He ought by the example of his own virtue to prevent crimes in others.
The innocence therefore of a Prince’s life is the best guide to his People, and the surest guard of his Person and Diadem. This is what Pliny says to Trajanc . Many of the Princes before him, besides their own pestilent examples, had forced the People, and all orders of men, by all the influence and terrors of Tyranny, to be debauched, dishonourable, contemptible, and wicked; that all men being corrupt, they themselves might not be seen worse than the rest, and no man have credit or virtue enough to be terrible to the Tyrants. Their policy was as absurd as it was abominable, and their fate proved a warning to Princes and all men, to avoid following their destructive example. Where God doth not bless, man will not, says Mr. Selden.
By the necessity of setting a good example, I do not mean that a Prince should be debarred from diversions and pleasure, but only from such as tend to corrupt the public Manners. With such pleasures of his as hurt not his People, the People have nothing to do. Most of the greatest Princes, as well as the best that ever reigned, were men of pleasure, which is almost universally the effect of much Genius and Fire. Nor does it avail how much they love it, if they pursue it with decency, and neglect not business and their duty. The Emperor Titus, he who was called the delight of mankind, was a man of gallantry, but his gallantries never interfered with his occupations. It is true, says Tacitus, that his soul, youthful and amorous, was not indifferent to Berenice; but from hence arose no neglect or relaxation in his conducting affairs of Duty and Trust. His father Vespasian had the same turn, loved gay amusements, but governed carefully. Trajan was addicted to wine and other delights, yet an able and faithful Steward of the Empire. Adrian loved diversions, but never neglected affairs. Solon, a very wise man and worthy Lawgiver, never made any scruple to own his fondness for Ladies, Musick and Wine; nor even in his old age had he lost that taste, or was ashamed of it.
The Character of a Prince to be learnt from that of his Company and Favourites, and his designs by the Opinions which become in fashion about him.
FROM the Characters and Principles of the men whom a Prince promotes or favours, his own may be learnt or presumed Trajan shewed what he himself was, by the excellency of the persons preferred and countenanced by him. In all things unlike the preceding Emperors, who chose the worst and vilest of all men, he chose the best and most virtuous. Hence he manifested to the world what sort of men and pursuits pleased him best. About him were found no Informers, no Accusers, no Advocates for lawless Power, no Instruments of Oppression, no Flatterers, no Calumniators. The former Princes had chosen Ministers, not so much for their ability in managing affairs, as for their dexterity in administring to their voluptuousness or fury, not Statesmen to rule the State, but Buffoons and Pandars to humour the Prince, or Ruffians and Spoilers to rob and kill for him.
What else but wickedness, cruelty, continual excesses and misrule could be foreseen or expected from Princes perpetually surrounded with Parasites, Jesters, Harlots, powerful Slaves and Assassins? What else to be presumed of Princes, who caressed and advanced the most opprobrious, the blackest and most detestable of all Villains; but that they disliked, distrusted, and would probably destroy every able, every worthy man? Was it not natural to imagine that an Emperor who was daily told that he might do what he pleased, would do what he pleased, and grow lawless when he was informed that he was above Law.
One of Nero’s Favourites, a hireling Orator employed to legitimate Tyranny and Murder by Law and Haranguing, to traduce innocent men by invectives before they were surrendered to the executioner, told the Tyrant his Master, that “he did but tire himself and his advocates by proceeding so leisurely with the Senate, in arraigning and cutting them off one by one, when he might, by saying but a single word, have the whole Body destroyed at one blow.” For such slackness, this faithful Counsellor blamed the bloody Tyrant, as too gentle and over-deliberate. This advice was short and decisive, and not at all disgustful. Nero shewed by abundant liberalities and honours how highly he esteemed the man, preferred him to the Consular and Pontifical Honours, and recompensed him with a bounty of fifty thousand pounds, part of the spoils of such noble Romans as he had hunted down and worried for the Imperial sport of his sacred Sovereign Nero.
When such men and such doctrines prevail, it is easy to guess what will follow, at least what is intended. No man will care to give pernicious counsel but where he knows it will be pleasing, nor will a Prince hear it unless he be inclinable to take it. He only who has a mind to do what he ought not, will like to be told that he may; and the will of the Prince is then preached up when Law and Liberty are to be pulled down. What means or avails the propagating of arbitrary Maxims, but to justify and introduce arbitrary Proceedings? They are too odious to be spread where no great design is to be served by doing it. Nor need any man desire a surer sign, that universal slavery is intended by the Court, than when universal submission to it is inculcated upon the People.
This consideration alone leaves no excuse or apology to be made for those reigns, when such slavish Tenets were every where maintained, and the vile Maintainers of these Tenets countenanced, hired and preferred: when from the public Tribunals and public Pulpits, places sacred to Law and Truth, it became fashionable, nay, became the only and surest way of rising there, to assert that there was no Law save in the wild Will of one, who though sworn to defend Law, might lawfully overturn it; to assert impious falshoods manifest to all men, to father such falshoods upon the God of truth, under his holy name to shelter outrageous oppressions, to bind up the hands of the oppressed; to maintain that the lives of men, which they held from God, their property, which was secured to them by the Constitution, the Constitution itself contrived by the wisdom of men for their own preservation, and defended through ages by their virtue and bravery, were all at the mere mercy and lust of him who was solemnly bound to protect all, but might, if he so listed, destroy them all, without opposition; nay, all opposition was damnable. When all this was notorious, constant, universal, the language of Power, the style of Favourites, and the road to favour, what doubt could remain whither it all tended? To prevent all doubts, arbitrary measures were pursued, whilst arbitrary principles were promoted. The persons of men were illegally imprisoned, illegal fines imposed, estates violently seized, and the Public confidently robbed.
Doctrines in defence of lawless Power, and against civil Liberty, to be punished as Treason against the Public. How Princes discover their spirit.----They seldom take warning.
THE Parliament of Paris mantained, that there were crimes which the King could not pardon, such as any great mischief or indignity done to the State. Pray what treatment is due to a deliberate opinion, declared and urged, that a State may be destroyed, all its Laws annulled, and all men in it made miserable slaves, whenever the chief Magistrate thinks fit? Can there be a greater crime, a greater indication of malice against the Public, or a higher evil intended and avowed? Or can the Authors of such horrible positions be acceptable to any but a horrible Tyrant, to a Nero, or one who would be as bad as he, one who hates his People, pursues an interest destructive of theirs, and is consequently their enemyd ?
An English Prince, who longed for power unlimited, though he made miserable Use of what he had, was wont to say, “That a Crown was not worth having, if he that wore it must be thus controuled by a parcel of fellows.” He meant the Parliament, who must have been fellows indeed, and bad ones, if the worst of them was worse than himself. He had been trusted with vast sums of the public money for the service of the Public, had betrayed that trust, sunk the money, or applied it against the Public, and after so vile a fraud, instead of penitence and shame, had the face to complain that he was not entrusted with the whole without limitation or inquiry. He had Parasites enough to tell him that it was his right, and over the Kingdom there were Impostors more than enough to persuade People to believe and submit to it, men who for some preferment, or for better preferment to themselves, had the assurance to tell a great Nation, that they ought to bear bondage: Nor did ought but the power of forcery and delusion keep the shameless deluders from being stoned.
Such dreadful doctrines, however, and corresponding practices, alarmed all men who had preserved their honesty and their senses, and there ensued such a struggle between him and his People as soured and inflamed them, and made him miserable, fearful and insecure all the rest of his reign. By pursuing the like Politics, by countenancing the like arbitrary Maxims, his Father had come to be first disliked, then distrusted, at last undone. But he had not wisdom and virtue enough to profit by this example, no more than his immediate Successor, who made such an open claim of doing what he pleased with his Kingdoms, that his Kingdoms, to save themselves, drove him out. Even the holy men, who for many years had blinded him with a belief, that he might violate his Oath and Trust with safety, as soon as they found the weight of his oppressive hand, which they had encouraged him to exert, turned fiercely against him, and bad him open defiance. Too few Princes take warning. They are often so blinded by their own wilfulness and sovereign fortune, or by the soothings of flatterers, especially of such as flatter them in strains of piety, and mislead them in the name of the Lord, that their doom sometimes comes upon them, before they are apprized of danger.
King Eric, heir to Queen Margaret, who reigned over Sweden, Denmark and Norway, was deposed whilst yet exulting in his power, security, and violence, and despising the cries of his People, whom he had barbarously oppressed. Yet his Successors proved not wiser, nor, consequently, safer. Confiding in their own strength, and too often instigated by the Clergy, they rioted in Oppression, Barbarity and Massacres, till the evil hour overtook them unforeseen, when they had quite forfeited all title to pity and assistance. The Emperor Charles the fifth was a Prince of sense, yet grew rash and wanton through good fortune, and was insolent to his captives, some of them great Princes, whom he carried about, from place to place, in a very injurious manner. Whence, says Thuanus, he gained not a Triumph by the victory, but the most inveterate hate by his Triumph. But amidst his glory and pride, sudden distress and fears overtook him: At Ausburg his soldiers mutinied with great fury, for want of their pay; nor was his dread and danger less from the citizens, who immediately took arms to defend their houses from being plundered.
Nero was diverting himself in the Theatre, when news came of the revolt of Gaul, and Vitellius immersed in debauchery when Vespasian was proclaimed Emperor. Caligula and Domitian were concerting more murders, at the instant that they themselves were pierced with the fatal knife; so was Commodus. When men have a while done evil actions with success, they begin to think either that they are not evil, or that they may be repeated with equal safety. They do not consider that punishment often comes the surer for coming slow, and that by proceeding in their crimes, they are but advancing to meet it. Wicked men cease to do wickedly when it is out of their power, and only necessity can reform them.
Of the Veracity of Princes----The folly of Falshood----The worst and silliest men practise it most ---- it is inseparable from Tyranny.
IF we consider the character of a Prince for Veracity or the want of it, it is certain that as he values his word or disregards it, he himself will be disregarded or valued. The same man can never be accounted honourable and false, nor is it possible for him to follow Falshood, but the fame of Falshood will follow him. To gain belief to words, actions must follow. Evasions and chicaning can never save him: by such shifts and meannesses he will be thought the more mean. When a man is once known to be a knave and a lyar, what man of sense or honest man will trust him; and when a Prince is found to falsify and play low tricks, what Nation will trust him? For no man, nor Prince, was ever false or treacherous in many instances, without being discovered; and a treacherous temper, once detected, becomes both hated and impotent. Tiberius in whatever he said was thought to mean something else, even when he did not.
In Falshood there is no excellence or praise. Any Blockhead, any Lunatic can be a lyar. Caligula, who was really crazy, could be exceeding false, and though he owned himself above shame, yet practised craft. He was full of darkness and equivocation, and a great dissembler: a lesson which he had learnt early and carefully in the Court of Tiberius.
The silliest people are the greatest lyars, and the most gross and stupid Nations have been found deceitful and hollow. For deceit is not peculiar to Courts, though it may be much improved there, nor has any man cause to value himself upon an accomplishment common amongst Barbarians and Canibals, indeed fit for none else. Tyrants, who are worse than Canibals, are always false. Nero was so in a sovereign degree, so by nature, so by education, and could kiss and wheedle such as he hated, and meant to destroy. Thus he behaved to his Mother, thus to Seneca, treated them with much fondness, with many embraces, and caused them to be murdered. Even the stupid Vitellius could falsify and deceive, could cover the rancour of his heart under great complaisance and familiarity. Domitian was as false as either, sudden and subtle in his cruelty; and whenever he was most implacable, appeared most moderate and merciful. I believe the same to be generally true of all Tyrants ancient or later, as well as of John Basilowitz, Lewis the eleventh, and Muly of Morocco. It is the first lesson that they learn, it is the most easy, and it is necessary that he who has an evil heart should hide it, and conceal or disguise his wicked purposes.
When men are continually pursuing mischievous designs, they will be apt to practise continual hypocrisy; for no man will own his intentions to be bad: and such as are conscious of their own depraved inclinations will be prone to suspect others, will study to over reach whomsoever they suspect, will hate those who are like themselves, as well as those who are not. Hence the constant commerce of insincerity amongst corrupt and designing men: when base motives govern their actions, guile governs their tongues, and fair words cover dark ends.
This is a terrible situation, and wretched policy. He who deceives all men, will be deceived by all: For no man will trust, no man will love one who cheats every man. Hatred grows as naturally out of distrust, as love out of confidence. I do not find that Tiberius had one sincere friend in the world; for he had, or was believed to have had, a friendship for no man. So that as all men feared or suspected him, he was hated by all, trusted by none. It was dealing with him according to his own measure: Had he loved his People, he might have had their love, and been faithfully served, had he acted faithfully.
Princes of noble and good minds scorn to deceive: thence their Glory and Popularity.
QUEEN Elizabeth, who regarded her Subjects as her Children, was by her Subjects honoured as their common Parent, and as such she lived with them, as did Trajan with the Romans. She never broke her faith with her People, never deceived them. They suspected her of no evil designs, as they saw she practised none; and were zealous for her glory, because her glory was for their good. They liked to see her great, since she sought no greatness which tended to make them less, none in which they had not a share. She retained their obedience by the strongest tye, that of their affections; their affections were engaged by the strongest and most natural bonds, those of their own interest; nor knew she what it was to have an interest distinct from theirs, much less an opposite interest. The greatest contest between her and her People, her and her Parliaments, was that of mutual confidence and zeal, as was said of the above-mentioned Emperor and the Roman Senate.
Mr. Selden says of her, that “to her People she committed her considence under God, and they to her their chiefest treasure upon earth.” He says, that she once refused a subsidy as too much, would take but one half, and thanked the People for the remnant; “a courtesy, says he, that rang loud abroad, to the shame of other Princes.” I think it is the same Author who observes, that “to a Prince who spares them, the People will always be liberal, and a good Prince will spare a liberal People.” It is no wonder that under her the Credit of the Exchequer was as high as that of the Exchange. These were ways to endear her Government to all men, ways to endear Monarchy when conducted by such a Monarch. In her days were seen no struggles for a Commonwealth, nor did her Subjects wish for a plurality of Rulers, when they were happier under one. Monarchy must grow terrible before it grows odious, oppressive ere people long to shake it off; nor will they have recourse to another form of Government, till driven to it for relief. Princes are censured when they bear insults and encroachments from one another, and blamed if they take not vengeance. Is not equal consideration, at least some consideration, to be had to the honour and preservation of a People when oppressed and worried by their Rulers, men whom they pay so dearly, and support so nobly, to secure and protect them, an office which that illustrious Queen performed with such benevolence and wisdom?
Her glorious cotemporary Henry the fourth of France, to his other great qualities added that of great Veracity, in this, as in every thing else, very different from the two Princes his immediate Predecessors. In the Court of Charles the ninth, Falshood and Treachery prevailed; and these vices were accompanied by all others, by cruelties, debauchery, poisonings and assassinations, by all sorts of oppressions, all sorts of misrule. Henry the third was found to be so fraudulent and false, that his promises passed for snares, and by having deceived all men, could be trusted by none. For his known want of faith so often given and broken, he was abandoned by his subjects; and even his oaths, even declarations under his hand, passed for nothing but proofs that he would certainly violate them. At the same time the King of Navarre (afterward Henry the fourth) who had never failed in his word, was trusted by every body. Even his enemies trusted him: When upon occasion he had offered them hostages, they refused the same, and desired only his word: Yes, his mortal enemies the Spaniards, upon coming to a treaty with him, refused hostages, and sought only his word.
This was Virtue, this was Wisdom; and what Prince who knows the value, the glory and advantage of it, would be without it? A worthy Minister of his, the President Jeannin, a man of excellent understanding, was famed for equal probity, and acted in Counsel, acted in Negotiations, and with particular men, without any refinings or doublings, or little artifices. These are what a man truly wise despises, what none but the apes of wise men practise. Henry the fourth held his honour so sacred, as to declare, “That he would lose his Crown rather than cause the least suspicion of breaking his Word, even to his greatest enemies.”
The consequences of Falshood in a Prince, Scorn and Impotence----It is the mark of a poor and dishonest Spirit----Great and virtuous Spirits abhor it.
THERE is a meanness, a deformity in tricking and lying, such as a great and a good mind scorns as well as detests. In truth the honour of Henry the fourth and of Queen Elizabeth, their steadiness and nobleness of mind, were so known and prized, that as far as their names were known, their persons were feared or reverenced. They despised that sort of Kingcraft so unmanly and pedantic, which a cotemporary Prince used to boast of, and by which he made himself little in the eyes of the world, and of his People. His Falshood was so notorious, and be so notoriously decried for his Falshood, that the only fruit he reaped from it, was impotence and contempt. He had no kind of credit abroad, worse than none at home; his treaties were abortive, his mediations slighted, his resentments laughed at; and he who called himself the wisest King in Europe, was really the Dupe and the Jest of all Christendom. The only people who could depend upon him, were his Favourites, and these he durst not deceive: as often as he dared he did, and when he was about to part with one of them for ever, he could ask him, after many kisses, “For God’s sake, when shall I see thee again?” Then turn round and say, “I hope in God I shall never see thy face more.” With foreign States his promises and his menaces were alike disregarded, because alike unexecuted, and with his People their Prince had not so much credit as a Banker. He had so often, so shamefully, forfeited his credit, perverted the public trust, wasted the public money, that he was thought unworthy of all farther confidence. The most disgraceful of all Bankrupts, is a King bankrupt of his Honour.
The Romans, the greatest People that the Sun ever saw, as they were great in their fortune and valour, were so also in their honour, which they observed with signal punctuality, and by it gained renown with all nations, who whilst they could depend upon their faith, adhered with fidelity to their interest. Some of their allies were so obstinate in their adherence to the Romans, that rather than relinquish them they suffered the sword, famine and utter destruction, nay, destroyed themselves. They held treachery in such detestation, that when a traiterous Schoolmaster in a Town which they besieged, offered to procure it to be surrendered by betraying all his scholars, the children of the principal Inhabitants, into the hands of the Roman General, they abhorred the proposal, and gave up the villain even to their enemies. The same noble courtesy they did to King Pyrrhus, whilst yet desolating Italy: When his physician proposed to poison him for a certain reward, they rejected the execrable proposal, and communicated it to his Master. Long afterwards, when they had lost their Liberty, and with it too much of their virtue, they yet refused the offer of Adgandestrius a Prince of Germany, who undertook, “That if the Senate would send him poison, he would dispatch Arminius;” the most terrible foe that they had ever found in that country. The answer of the Senate was very noble, “That not by snares and blows in the dark, but openly armed, and in the day of battle, the Roman People pursued vengeance against their enemies.” The Romans, Queen Elizabeth, and Henry the fourth, had great Spirits, great Honour, but were not accomplished in little falsifications, such as the abovementioned Prince gloried in by the name of Kingcraft. It was well he had some cause of glorying.
Tyranny worse than Anarchy, or rather nothing but Anarchy.
IT is usually said, that bad Government is better than none; a proposition which is far from self-evident. I am apt to think that absolute Tyranny is worse than Anarchy; for I can easily suppose popular confusion to be less mischievous than a settled active Tyranny, that it will do no less harm, and is likely to end sooner. All tumults are in their nature, and must be, short in duration, must soon subside, or settle into some order. But Tyranny may last for ages, and go on destroying, till at last it has left nothing to destroy. What can the most dreadful Anarchy produce but a temporary work of desolation and fury, what but violation of Law and Life? And can Government be said to exist, where all Justice is neglected, where all Violence and Oppression is committed, where lawless Will is the only reason, where the ravages of blind appetite, and of the blind sword; are the only administration?
If this be Government, what is Anarchy? Is obedience due to aught but Law and Protection? Is he a Governor who spoils and kills? Am I obliged to pay duty and reverence to my enemy, to a common robber? By doings, and not by titles and names, is a Governor distinguished from an enemy; and less vengeance is due to a professed spoiler, than to a spoiling Magistrate. What have Societies to do with such a destructive Traitor, but to exterminate or destroy him, before he has destroyed society and all men? An Oppressor under the name of a Ruler, is the most detestable Oppressor; and, by such impudence and mockery, should but quicken universal resentment. I know of no argument for destroying Anarchy, but what is full as strong for the destruction of Tyranny.
Bad Princes ought to be treated with severity and abhorrence, in honour and justice to the good ---- No worthy Prince offended to see a wicked Prince exposed.
IN discoursing on Princes, I have treated the good with all possible reverence, as the tender Fathers of their People, as benevolent Guardians of Law and Righteousness, as Friends to human kind: A divine Character, which can never be too much prized, never too much extolled. If towards the bad I have shewn equal indignation, I hope I shall want no excuse, since it was equally just. They who honour worthy Princes, cannot avoid detesting Princes that are wicked; nor can such as hate not the wicked, ever truly love the worthy, says Plinye to Trajan, who, I dare say, believed him, and must needs find it a genuine compliment to his own excellent reign, to see those of the preceding Tyrants well exposed, since the blacker theirs appeared, the brighter his must shine. To expose them was to praise him, and it is chiefly by such opposition of characters, that his friend the Consul adorns that of the Emperor, in his immortal Panegyric, a Master-piece of Eloquence, Truth and good Sense, and a continued Invective against Domitian, and the other Imperial Savages, who had stained and perverted the Sovereignty. It is thus, in a great measure, that he applauds Trajan, and his method was just.
To reverence bad Princes, is to rob and injure the good, as reverence is the reward and perquisite of well-doing. If no evil whatsoever can be entitled to respect, what claim to it have the authors of evil, they especially who commit the highest? Do the Indians well in adoring mischievous Demons? Were the ancient Pagans wise in their wild worship of fire, fevers and crocodiles? Was any beast of prey, were all beasts of prey, half so destructive as Nero? Were the ravages of the Conflagration or a Pestilence worse than his ravages? Are men bound to reverence the plagues, the tormentors, and the consumers of men? To speak respectfully of bad men, Princes or others, is not reverence but flattery, and flattery is abuse. Before men can be brought to adore a hurtful being, they must be first (so far at least) divested of their senses, and struck blind by superstition, and then it is reverence without reason, consequently nothing. Who would value himself upon the trances of a mad-man, mistaking you for a Deity, and adoring you?
A good Prince should indeed take it amiss to perceive bad ones spared, as it will argue a presumption that he approves them, or will come to resemble them: An imputation which he should fear and abhor. He will therefore, for his own sake, encourage all freedom to examine and display their behaviour and memory. Nor can he discourage this as long as he means not to do as they did. Pliny asserts it roundly, as a matter of the utmost certainty: “That, when of an evil Prince posterity says nothing, it is evident that the present Prince follows his steps.” When Commodus put one to death for reading the life of Caligula, freely written by Suetonius, what could the Public infer, but that he knew his own conduct to be like that of Caligula? Trajan, who was a virtuous Prince, cared not how contumeliously the name and memories of Tyrants were used: Nor was aught a greater proof of the excellence of his administration, and the integrity of his heart, than that in his reign it was safe for all men to inveigh against evil Government, and evil Prinees, as the same Pliny observes; and elsewhere, still complimenting that glorious Emperor; “We then shew how passionately we love good Princes, when we are seen utterly to abhor the bad.” Tacitus says, to the deathless praise of this reign, that such was the rare felicity of the times, “That you might entertain what sentiments you pleased, and declare what sentiments you entertained.”
In consequence of such true principles, these two noble Authors treat Nero, Domitian and their fellows, as Monsters, Beasts, and Executioners; and thus must every honest, every rational Author treat such Princes. Pliny says, that Domitian was “the Spoiler, the Butcher of every excellent Person; a most treacherous Prince; a most rapacious Robber.” With such bitter and terrible names did a Roman Consul treat a wicked Emperor, in presence of a good one, Pliny before Trajan, nay, speaking to Trajan. Tacitus is not more tender: like the other, he loved virtue, and hated vice too much to be so.
[a ]Par omnibus, et hoc tantum cæteris major quo melior.
[b ]Vita principis censura est, eaque perpetua — non tam imperio nobis opus est, quam exemplo.
[c ]Discimus experimento, fidelissimam custodiam principis, ipsius innocentiam.
[d ]Tempus fuit, et nimium diu fuit, quo alia adversa, alia secunda principi et nobis.
[e ]Neque enim satis amarint bonos Principes, qui malos satis non oderint.