Front Page Titles (by Subject) Sect. II.: A sure rule for a Prince to know when he is advised faithfully. The duty of a Minister to warn Princes with freedom. The interest of Princes to hear a Minister patiently. Few will tell them truth, when telling it is offensive. A wise Prince wil - The Works of Tacitus, vol. 3 - Gordon's Discourses II, History (Books 1-2)
Sect. II.: A sure rule for a Prince to know when he is advised faithfully. The duty of a Minister to warn Princes with freedom. The interest of Princes to hear a Minister patiently. Few will tell them truth, when telling it is offensive. A wise Prince wil - 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.
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- To His Royal Highness, Frederic Prince of Wales.
- Political Discourses Upon Tacitus
- The Introduction.
- Discourse I.: Of the Emperors Who Are the Subject of the Ensuing History: of Their Ministers, Their Misfortunes, and the Causes of Their Fall.
- Sect. I.: An Idea of Nero ’s Reign, How Mildly It Began, How Terrible It Grew. the Deceitfulness of Prosperity.
- Sect. II.: The Weakness of Galba, and the Iniquities of His Ministers.
- Sect. III.: The Folly of the Evil Measures Pursued By These Ministers, How Pernicious to Themselves and to the Emperor.
- Sect. IV.: Galba ’s Blindness In Trusting Intirely to His Favourites, Who By Their Wickedness Blasted His Reign, and Their Own Hopes.
- Sect. V.: The Infatuation of Men In Power; They Generally Rely Upon It As Never to End, and Thence Boldly Follow the Bent of Their Passions. Instances of This. Guilty Ministers How Dangerous.
- Sect. VI.: Weak and Evil Princes Rarely Profit By Able Ministers; They Like Flatterers Better: These Frustrate the Good Advice of Others.
- Sect. VII.: How Difficult It Is For a Worthy Man to Serve a Bad Prince, and How Dangerous.
- Sect. VIII.: Under Wicked Princes, How Natural and Common It Is to Wish For a Change. Their Different Treatment Living and Dead. In What a Prince Is Chiefly to Confide.
- Discourse II.: Of Competition Amongst the Ministers of a Prince, and Their Corruption. the Evil Effects of Indolence In a Prince.
- Sect. I.: Discord Between Ministers, How Fatal to Their Masters.
- Sect. II.: An Indolent Prince a Ready Prey to the Falsest and Worst of All Men: These Disgrace His Reign, and Provoke His People. — Their Amazing Corruption.
- Sect. III.: The Reign of an Indolent Prince, How Destructive It May Prove, However Harmless the Man. Into What Contempt He Falls.
- Sect. IV.: A Prince Beset With Evil Counsellors, How Fast He Improves In Evil.
- Discourse III.: Of Public Frugality.
- Sect. I.: The Prodigality of the Emperors; Its Terrible Consequences to the Public, Namely, Tyranny, Murders and Oppression.
- Sect. II.: 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.
- Sect. III.: 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.
- Sect. IV.: The Wisdom of Parsimony In a Prince —— the Certain Distress and Disgrace of Such As Are Prodigal.
- Sect. V.: 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.
- Sect. VI.: 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.
- Sect. VII.: Public Frugality Advantageous to All; Disliked Only By a Few.——public Bounties Ill Bestowed, How Dishonourable.
- Discourse IV.: Of Princes.
- Sect. I.: The Duty of a Prince, What. His Motives to Be Good, and Content With Limited Power: That of the Roman Emperors Bounded.
- Sect. II.: 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.
- Sect. III.: How Amiable the Character of a Good Prince, Who Rules By Justice and Law, Who Loves and Relieves His People.
- Sect. IV.: The Miserable Spirit and Infamy of Princes Who Consider Themselves Above Law, and Independent On Their People.
- Sect. V.: Princes Seeking Or Possessing Arbitrary Power, Rarely Exercise Any Themselves: Their Ministers and Creatures Generally Rule All.
- Sect. VI.: 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.
- Sect. VII.: 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.
- Sect. VIII.: The Benefit of Standing Laws to Princes and Their Ministers, Further Illustrated. What Regard Princes Should Have to Posthumous Fame, What Dread of Infamy.
- Sect. IX.: 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.
- Sect. X.: The Most Wretched and Wicked of All Princes Are Wont to Account Themselves Most Sacred, and to Claim Attributes Divine.
- Discourse V.: The Same Subject Continued.
- Sect. I.: The Example of a Prince Its Efficacy: When Good How Advantageous to His People and Himself.
- Sect. II.: 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.
- Sect. III.: 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.
- Sect. IV.: Of the Veracity of Princes——the Folly of Falshood——the Worst and Silliest Men Practise It Most —— It Is Inseparable From Tyranny.
- Sect. V.: Princes of Noble and Good Minds Scorn to Deceive: Thence Their Glory and Popularity.
- Sect. VI.: 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.
- Sect. VII.: Tyranny Worse Than Anarchy, Or Rather Nothing But Anarchy.
- Sect. VIII.: 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.
- Discourse VI.: Of Bigotry In Princes.
- Sect. I.: The Mischief of Bigotry In a Prince: Its Strange Efficacy, and What Chimera’s Govern It.
- Sect. II.: How Easily a Bigotted Prince Is Led Against Reason and Interest: What Ravages He Is Apt to Commit.
- Sect. III.: A Bigotted Prince How Subject to Be Drawn Into Guilt and Folly — the Dictates of Bigotry How Opposite to Those of True Religion.
- Sect. IV.: Further Instances of the Great Mischiefs Occasioned By Bigotry of Princes.
- Discourse VII.: Of Ministers.
- Sect. I.: The Choice of Ministers How Much It Imports Prince and People. of What Sad Consequence to Both, When Bad. the Bad Only Serve Themselves, Not Their Master.
- Sect. II.: A Sure Rule For a Prince to Know When He Is Advised Faithfully. the Duty of a Minister to Warn Princes With Freedom. the Interest of Princes to Hear a Minister Patiently. Few Will Tell Them Truth, When Telling It Is Offensive. a Wise Prince Wil
- Sect. III.: Ministers to Be Narrowly Observed, As Well As Heard. They Sometimes Combine to Nourish Corruption and Blind the Prince. How Nearly It Concerns Him That All About Him Be Uncorrupt.
- Sect. IV.: What Selfish Ends the Counsellors of Princes Sometimes Pursue, Yet Pretend Public Good. They Gratify Private Passion to the Ruin of the State. What a Reproach to a Prince the Corruption of His Servants.
- Sect. V.: Under a Prince Subject to Be Blindly Managed, a Change of Ministers Rarely Mends the Administration He Often Hates His Ministers, Yet Still Employs Them. Ministers Most In Danger Where the Prince Has Most Power.
- Sect. VI.: Ministers Trusted Without Controul, Sometimes Threatening and Perillous to a Prince. How Fatal This Often to Themselves, and to the State.
- Sect. VII.: The Great Mischief of Exalting Favourites Beyond Measure, Especially Such As Command Great Armies.
- Discourse VIII.: The Same Subject Continued.
- Sect. I.: Good Ministers Often Ruined and Destroyed For Their Virtue By a Combination of the Bad. the Spight and Wicked Arts of the Latter. How Ready to Charge Their Own Guilt Upon the Innocent.
- Sect. II.: How Hard It Is For a Good Minister to Support Himself With a Prince Surrounded By Sycophants and Seducers, Or to Preserve Him and His State. Their Execrable Stratagems to Execute Their Malice. How Such Sometimes Abuse the Prince, Mislead Him, D
- Sect. III.: Reflections Upon the Fate of King James the Fifth of Scotland Seduced and Undone By Minions, Who Withdrew Him From the Direction of an Honest Minister.
- Sect. IV.: Where Flattery Is Encouraged, Flatterers Rule, and Sincerity Is Banished. Ministers Sometimes Fall Not Through Guilt But Faction; Yet Always Accused of Guilt.
- Sect. V.: A Minister May Be Disgraced For His Virtue, and Fidelity to His Prince. Mercenary Courtiers Certain Enemies to Upright Ministers. Justice Done to Both By Time and History.
- Discourse IX.: Of the People.
- Sect. I.: The Variable Character of the People: Very Good Or Very Bad, According to Their Education and Government. Hence the Improvement Or Depravation of Their Manners.
- Sect. II.: The People Under Good Government Apt to Be Peaceable and Grateful: Often Patient Under Oppression: Often Moderate In Opposing Oppressors: Inclinable to Justice When Not Misled.
- Sect. III.: The People Generally Fond of Old Names and Habits. the Difference Between the Same People Under Different Governments: How Generous and Friendly When Free; How Vicious and False When Enslaved.
- Sect. IV.: The People When Deceived By Names and Deluders, How Extremely Blind and Cruel, Yet Mean Well.
- Sect. V.: The Power of Delusion Further Illustrated. the Dreadful Wickedness and Impieties Committed Under the Name of Religion. Religious Cheats Surpass All Others.
- Sect. VI.: The People Not Turbulent Unless Seduced Or Oppressed: Slow to Resist Oppressors: Sometimes Mild Even In Their Just Vengeance: Brave In Defence of Their Liberties.
- Discourse X.: The Same Subject Continued.
- Sect. I.: The Infatuation of Men In Power: They Are Much Apter to Oppress, Than the People to Rebel. People Oppressed Rejoice In Public Misfortunes. In Disputes Between Magistrates and People, the Former Generally to Blame.
- Sect. II.: The Gentleness of the People In Their Pursuit of Justice Against Oppressive Magistrates. How Readily Men Who Have Oppressed the Law, Seek the Protection of the Laws. the People Not Revengeful: They Shew Mercy Where They Have Found None.
- Sect. III.: The People Not Hard to Be Governed, Nor Unconstant, Nor Ungrateful, At Least Not So Often As They Are Accused.
- Sect. IV.: The People Falsly Charged With Fickleness, and Ingratitude, and Rebellion In Resisting Oppressors and Tyrants. All Tyrants, All Who Assume Lawless Rule, Are Rebels, and the Greatest.
- Sect. V.: People Who Are Slaves Love Not Their Prince So Affectionately, Nor Can Defend Him So Bravely, As Those Who Are Free.
- Sect. VI.: The Weak and Precarious Condition of the Greatest Prince, Who Is Not Beloved By His People. No Tyrant Can Be, and Why.
- Discourse XI.: Of Nobility.
- Sect. I.: The Political Cause of Nobility. They Are Readily Respected By the People: Apt to Oppress. Nobility Without Virtue, What. the Spirit of Nobility, What It Ought to Be.
- Sect. II.: The Duty of a Nobleman to His Country. In Virtue and Public Spirit He Ought to Surpass Others.
- Sect. III.: A Nobleman Void of Good Qualities, Or Possessed With Bad, a Miserable Character. the Baseness and Corruption of the Roman Nobility; Its Fatal Consequence.
- Sect. IV.: The Beginning of Public Corruption Generally From the Nobility: How Ruinous This to the Public, and to Themselves.
- Sect. V.: The Advantages of Public Liberty to the Nobility. How Fast Tyrants Destroy Them. the Strange Degeneracy of the Roman Nobility: Contemptible, Yet Proud: Subject to Be Degraded For Base Morals Or Poverty.
- Sect. VI.: Public Virtue Justly Due From the Nobility to the Public. They Ought to Be Zealous For Liberty Upon Their Own Account.
- Discourse XII.: Of Public Teaching and Teachers.
- Sect. I.: Whoever Is Head of the State Ought to Be Head of the Religon of the State. the Force of Early Impressions, With Their Use and Abuse.
- Sect. II.: The Ignorance of the People No Pledge of Security to to Their Governors. the Ignorant Rabble Always Most Tumultuous.
- Sect. III.: The Untaught Vulgar, How Liable to Be Seduced. the Great Power of Their Teachers Over Them.
- Sect. IV.: The Deceitfulness of Doctrines Which Are Against Reason and Nature.
- Sect. V.: The Foregoing Reasoning Further Illustrated. How Much It Behoves Rulers That Their Subjects Be Well and Rationally Taught.
- Sect. VI.: Power In the Hands of the Public Teachers How Dangerous to Rulers; and How Ill It Suits With Christianity.
- Sect. VII.: The Absurdity of Implicit Belief In Any Set of Teachers, With Its Mischievous and Monstrous Consequences. the Natural Progress of Persecution.
- Sect. VIII.: The Will of God Not Deposited With Any Set of Men. the Use of Public Teaching, With the Character Necessary to Public Teachers. How Much They Are Corrupted By Pomp and Great Wealth.
- Sect. IX.: Public Teachers Have No Power, No Creation But From the State. Their Folly and Ill Policy In Claiming Any Other.
- Sect. X.: The Fatal and Ungodly Consequences of Allowing Force In Matters of Religion and Conscience; How Inconsistent With the Nature and End of Religious Teaching. the Contempt of Public Teachers, Whence It Arises, and the Cry of Priestcraft How Founded
- Sect. XI.: Power In the Hands of Any Public Teachers, Leads Naturally to Popery, and Is Popery. How Apt They Are to Differ Amongst Themselves, Yet Claim Conformity From All Others. Persuasion and Good Example Their Only Province; the Sanctity of Their Doi
- Sect. XII.: How It Is That Public Teachers Fail of Respect, Or Gain It.
- Sect. XIII.: Excessive Revenues of the Public Teachers, How Pernicious to the World. a Decent and Easy Maintenance to Be Allowed Them.
- Sect. XIV.: An Inquiry Why the Christian Dispensation Has, With All Its Advantages and Excellencies, So Little Mended the World. Whether and How Far Public Teachers Are Chargeable With This.
- Sect. XV.: Of Public Spirit, Its Use and Efficacy. How Little Promoted By Public Teachers. Some Considerations Upon the Importance and Character of Public Spirit.
- The History of Tacitus.
- Book I.
- Book II.
A sure rule for a Prince to know when he is advised faithfully. The duty of a Minister to warn Princes with freedom. The interest of Princes to hear a Minister patiently. Few will tell them truth, when telling it is offensive. A wise Prince will encourage it.
HERE therefore is a rule for a Prince to judge of the fidelity of his Ministers, by considering whether their counsel be good or evil: If it be unjust, or cruel, or unpopular, though it may be pleasing, it is certainly faithless. No Prince is advised well, who is not advised honestly, and whosoever serves him wickedly, serves him falsly; since no service is due to him, none ought to be done for him, and none will profit him, but what is righteous and honourable. All the actions of a Prince, all his pursuits should tend to glory and popularity, and from just actions alone all genuine glory arises. Agesilaus King of Sparta said well, when the necessity was urged of complying with the Great King, a title always given to the Monarch of Persia, “The Great King is not greater than I, unless he be juster.” Plutarch, who mentions this, adds, that he thus settled the true, the Royal Standard of Greatness, which is to be estimated by Justice, not by Force. What glory can follow wickedness in any shape, however disguised by art, or new named by flattery?
From the Governors of men nothing should be found but what is for the good of men; when that good is not pursued, but evil felt instead of good, the Governors are deemed infamous, because by them Government is perverted. When the sword given for protection, is turned upon the givers, and, instead of protecting, slays, he who weilds it will be accounted unworthy to hold it. This is what all wise Princes know, what such as know it not should be told, and what honest Ministers will always tell. What else is the use of Counsel and of Counsellors? It is betraying a Prince to suffer him to do evil unwarned; how much worse to lead him into it? He will certainly suffer for it at last. Danger naturally accompanies wicked actions, especially wicked actions that affect the State. One danger surely attends such actions, the danger of infamy, of all others the greatest, such as a Prince ought to dread more than death. Now what is due to men who train and sooth a Prince into the worst, the most shocking doom that can befall him, that of being odious to the present and all succeeding generations? For the infamy of Princes is ever as immortal as their glory, perhaps more, as men are apter to reproach than to praise. Thus Nero is oftener mentioned than Titus, Caligula than Trajan.
Hence it imports a Prince to be patient of counsel, to court information, and prize men who tell him truth, to hate slatterers who always conceal or disguise it, and to submit his own opinion and pursuits to be examined, canvassed, and even contradicted. If he be peevish and imperious, wedded to his own sentiments, hate free speech, and discourage such as use it, he must expect, that his servants will utterly neglect their duty, when it is thus dangerous or fruitless to do it. When it becomes safer to deceive him than to counsel him, few or none will be apt to counsel him, many will be ready to deceive him: all his measures will be extolled, the worst perhaps most of all, because they want it most, and he may be fondest of the foolishest. Many reasons will be found to support that which is most against reason, and he may go on with great ease, because free from contradiction, boldly, because blindly, and meet ruin with applause. Perhaps he will feel the blow before he knows it to be coming, and, just at the approach of death, learn that he has a disease. Too many are apt to flatter wantonly, but almost all men will flatter when they are forced to it. Few men in the world will venture a Prince’s displeasure, fewer their employments, and scarce any their lives, to tell him uncourtly truths. When Nero had thrown off all shame and restraints, was already debasing his dignity in the face of the world, and engaged in harping and in singing-matches upon the public Stage, it was no longer possible or safe to admonish him of the ruinous course which he followed. So that what his worst sycophants encouraged, his best friends seemed to approve. Even Burrus joined in applauding him whilst his heart ached for him. He proceeded in his scandalous pursuits with such ardour as to destroy whomever he found to dislike them, hoping for applause from all men, not for Reigning but for Acting: The Theatre was his scene of glory, and in theatrical diversions he was engaged when he received news of the conspiracy formed to deprive him of empire and life. He was undone before any one was found bold enough to tell him, that he was undoing himself.
Exceeding singular and hardly ever to be expected is such resolute honesty as an Emperor of China once found in his Mandarins. He had given himself over to acts of Tyranny, and was proceeding in them. His Ministers modestly but truly represented to him the enormity and evil tendency of his conduct. He immediately caused these Ministers to be executed: Others made the same representations, and had the same fate. In the next the like stiffness and integrity was still found, and against them too the like bloody sentence pronounced. Yet more remained to bear a testimony equally virtuous and daring. By this their perseverance, so sleddy and undaunted, his stubbornness was overcome, he relented, and, yielding to conviction, changed his course of reigning.
Virtue so disinterested, so heroic, is seldom seen. In the beginning of the civil wars in France, during the minority of the late King, when all things were running into confusion, a present remedy wanted, and a Council called to find one, out of seven or eight Counsellors who composed it, not one was found who spoke as he thought, for fear of offending the Queen Regent; insomuch that, as the sure way to please her, all studied to deceive her. Fear is not wont to speak truth. When perfect sincerity is expected, perfect freedom must be allowed; nor has one who is apt to be angry when he hears truth, any cause to wonder that he does not hear it. A Prince of temper and sense, one who has patience to hear, and capacity to distinguish, need seldom be deceived. Queen Elizabeth, Trajan, and Henry the fourth of France not only encouraged freedom in their Ministers, and took advice in Council, but abroad and from all men.
De Rosni, the great Confident of Henry the fourth, used to treat him with so much plainness, nay, sometimes with such roughness, as none but a very wise King, who knew his value, and the use of plain speaking, would have borne. A foolish Prince (and such are always proudest) would have banished him for ever, perhaps done worse. That great Prince found cause to consult others besides his Ministers, when enquiring how to ease his People oppressed by the Farmers of the Revenue, he learnt that some of his Privy Council were so mean to be Pensioners to these rapacious Farmers, had share of their wicked gains, and thence supported them in all their rapine and oppressions. He discovered too, that all tricks and artifices were used to keep him from knowing the state of his Revenue, and the accounts perplexed on purpose to make it impossible, at least extremely difficult and tedious.