Front Page Titles (by Subject) DISCOURSE VIII.: The same subject continued. - The Works of Tacitus, vol. 3 - Gordon's Discourses II, History (Books 1-2)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
DISCOURSE VIII.: 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.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
The same subject continued.
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.
IT is a matter of grief and concern, though not always of wonder, to see the best servants of a Prince often supplanted, often undone by the worst, to see his truest friends depressed, and the most pernicious parasites triumph, to consider the vile lyes and contemptible causes by which the bad undermine and undo the good. Junius Blæsus was one of the most illustrious Romans, of a princely Spirit, and his Fortune like his Race, very noble. He was Governor of Lionese Gaul, and espoused the cause of Vitellius early and cordially; nay, bore at first all the expence of his Imperial State and Train; for such was the poverty of Vitellius, that he could not as yet support the same himself. For such splendid instances of his zeal Vitellius returned him many open commendations, and much secret hatred.
A man of so much esteem and merit the false and spiteful Courtiers could not bear. They bore him special enmity, for that, in a reputation glorious and popular, he so far surpassed themselves contaminated with every sort of infamy. A man so dangerous to the Tribe, by being so much better than they, and so much above them, must therefore be taken off, and as he was perfectly innocent, some fault must be forged, and the simple Emperor alarmed with the shadow of some terrible Treason. A terrible one indeed they found: Blæsus happened to sup with a Friend, whilst the Emperor happened to be out of order. This was aggravated to him, and this embittered him. Here was ground and encouragement enough to proceed to a direct charge; it was all that the plotters wanted, they who made it their business to dive with a curious eye into all the passions and disgusts of the Prince. Instantly one of the body is dispatched to impeach him. The Impeacher made a dismal, a weeping harangue, how “Blæsus was making merry, and the Emperor’s life at stake, nor could aught secure it but the death of such an insolent criminal.” The argument prevailed: The foolish Emperor ordered him to be poysoned, and, as brutish as foolish, went full of glaring joy to see him in his agonies; nay, boasted, that he had feasted his eyes with the sight of an enemy expiring.
This was the unworthy, the tragical end of Junius Blæsus, procured by the poysonous tongues of traducers; a man venerable for the antiquity of his house, signal for elegance of manners, signal for uprightness of heart; in his faith towards Vitellius obstinately firm, free from all vice, from all ambition and intrigues, so far from coveting any hasty honour, much less sovereignty, that he could hardly escape being judged worthy to be Sovereign. The truth is, he had been already tried by the Courtiers and false friends of Vitellius, and by them tempted to desert him, but tempted in vain. This alone might prompt some of them to destroy him. It was what many supposed to have occasioned the death of Fonteius Capito commander in Germany under Galba: Cornelius Aquinus, and Fabius Valens, two Colonels of Legions, instigated him to rebel, and upon his refusal slew him, then charged him with Rebellion.
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, distress him, and murder him.
AS no good Minister can be fafe where such mischievons Minions prevail, so neither can a Prince nor his State. It is not the honour of the Prince, it is not the ease and benefit of the Country that they seek and consider; it is only their own interest and advantage, and this they will pursue, though to the ruin of Prince or State. King James the fifth of Scotland had a fair opportunity of establishing a lasting peace with England. Henry the eighth his Uncle, then at great variance with the Pope, the Emperor and Spain, willing to strengthen himself at home, even desirous to settle the succession upon his Nephew, courted him to an alliance; nay, to an interview and conference at York. Nothing could promise fairer for the advantage of Scotland, for many ages harrassed and desolated by wars with England, nothing prove more honourable and beneficial to the Scotch King than the entail of the English Crown and the support of his Uncle. Henry the eighth had then only a daughter, Mary, and she was declared illegitimate. King James therefore, by the advice of his Council, declared his acceptance of the proposal; the English Embassadors returned highly satisfied, and highly pleased their Master, who made great preparations at York for the entertainment of his Nephew.
But the Scotch King had Minions about him of more prevalence with him than his Council, or his Honour or his Interest, if these two can be parted. To these Minions the Clergy apply, and with large bribes engage them to dissuade the King from keeping his word. Some of the Minions too were Clergymen, and in the name of all laboured to debauch and deceive the King. They frightened and cheated him with the word Heresy. And whatever offended the Clergy, be it man or thing, must surely be an enemy to God and the King, and consequently very bad and terrible. They said, it was grown up in England, and growing fast in Scotland, and shewed him what notable profit would accrue to him from suppressing it, and enriching himself with the estates of such as professed, and of such as favoured it. With this they gave him a list of their names, encouraging him to plunder and burn the best and richest of his subjects.
The King listened to the proposal too greedily, and communicated it to the Laird of Grange his Treasuret. This was an honest and bold Man, who freely shewed his Master the monstrous iniquity and mischief of such counsel, exposed the evil and rapacious hearts of the Bishops, their corrupt practices, unsufferable pride, ambitious designs, and ungodly lives, with their utter unfitness to be trusted in Council, or with any civil concerns; represented, how rashly and perniciously one of his Predecessors, King David, had stripped the Crown of its Patrimony to endow Bishopricks and Abbeys; whence his Majesty was now so poor, the Prelates so rich, so prodigal and assuming, that they strove to be Masters and Directors in all things. Thus he convinced the King, and recovered him to his first reasonable purpose of closing with England; insomuch that his Majesty, next time the Prelates approached him, fell upon them with great bitterness, for having endeavoured to mislead him into such cruelties against so many Noblemen and Barons, to the danger of his own Estate. “Wherefore, said he, gave my Predecessors so many lands and rents to the Kirk? Was it to maintain Hawks, Dogs and Whores to a number of idle Priests? The King of England burns, the King of Denmark beheads you: I shall stick you with this Whingar.” Wherewith, says Sir James Melvil (from whom I quote these words) he drew out his dagger, and they fled from his presence in great fear.
He now fully resolved to keep his promise with his Uncle of England, as tending both to his advancement and honour. But his resolution held not. The Bishops were not easily baulked nor ashamed, nor wont to relax when interest, or dominion, or revenge was in view. Again they assail the Minions, particularly Oliver Sinclair, with store of gold, promised him high honours by their weight and procurement, especially the command of the Army against England, could he bring his Master to violate his Faith, and break with his Uncle. Their next step was to undo the Treasurer, by defaming him to the King: “He was proud, he was a Heretic (an imputation always powerful, however stale and foolish) he carried an English new Testament in his pouch; nay, he was so arrogant, that he would not procure Women for the King, nor prostitute his Son’s Wife to his Majesty’s Pleasure.” For this was one article of the charge against him, and urged by a venerable Prelate. It was usual for these Favourites to furnish the young King with Women, married or unmarried, thus to preserve their favour.
When the King vindicated his Minister, as a plain, frank Gentleman, whom he loved well, and to whom he begrudged no reward; the Prior of Pittenween replied and said, “Sir, the heir (heiress) of Kelly is a lusty fair Lass, and I dare pledge my life, that if your Majesty will send for her presently, he shall refuse to send her to you.” (The Lady was betrothed to the Treasurer’s Son.) A godly proposal, and it took. The King signed an order for the Lady to be brought to him; nay, the Prelates and their Faction contrived that a brother Prelate, the Prior of Pittenween, should carry it, and return with the fair prize. The Treasurer refused to comply, for good reasons: amongst others, the reverend Envoy was his known Enemy, and a known Debauchee. The Prior however who had gained the main point, rejoiced in the denial, and by it enraged the King, nay, from him a warrant was obtained to seize the Treasurer, and commit him to the Castle of Edinburgh.
He was aware of their mischievous devices, and hastened to Court. The King lowered, nor would speak to him. He boldly asked his Majesty, Why such a change, so much displeasure presently after so much favour, and for what offence? The King replied, “Why did thou refuse to send me the maiden whom I wrote for, and gave despiteful language to him I sent for her?” The Treasurer said, that he thought himself meetest to bring her, nor would he trust the Prior, as he knew him to be one infamous for rapes, a man the most notorious of any in Scotland for debauching of women, whether wives or virgins. Such failings, it seems, the holy man had, but was zealous for the Hierarchy against Heretics and his Country. “Hast thou then brought the Gentlewoman with thee?” said the King. Yes, Sir, said the Treasurer. This softened him. “Alas, saith the King, they have set out so many leasings against thee, that they have obtained of me a warrant to put thee in ward: But I shall mend it with a contrary order.”
The Treasurer answered with lamentation; “My life, Sir, or warding is a small matter: but it breaks my heart, that the world should hear of your Majesty’s facility.” For he had learnt, that in his absence they had made the King send to England to contradict his promise, and refuse to meet his Uncle. His lamentations availed not: The worst counsels had swayed him. The Prelates, and other Minions corrupted by them, and subservient to them, rule the King. Harry the eighth rages, vows to revenge so much scorn, and sends away an Army to lay Scotland desolate by fire and sword. The Scotch King too raises forces, but forces without heart, as in a cause undertaken for the pleasure of the Prelates against their Country. This damped their spirits, but what quite finished their dejection and despair was, to see Oliver Sinclair, a Minion and Hireling of the Prelates, declared General of the Army.
The Lords and principal Officers, through indignation that the Court and Country should be governed by such vile instruments as the Bishops and their Creatures, refused to fight under such a worthless Commander; nay, suffered themselves to be all taken prisoners. The whole Army was overthrown, the Kingdom defenceless, and exposed to the ravages of a victorious enemy, and the poor King to anguish and disgrace. Against the Bishops all mouths were open, all men enraged, to see the Country perishing to satiate their fury and ambition: The King heard the general outcry, his eyes were opened, and, in the fulness of his heart, he dropped some expressions of resentment against his ghostly and execrable advisers; for which expressions they soon took severe vengeance.
Such men never retract, never forgive. The Realm was under the spoiling hand of Enemies and Invaders, the Army routed, the Nobility provoked, the People miserable and murmuring, the King distressed, and his Honour lost. Did all this soften the Bishops? No: to accomplish their malice and good services to the Public and their Sovereign, they murder him by poison. For, with their other politics and wholsome severities derived from Rome, they had learnt the art of making an Italian Posset, and with this, administered by some of their faithful villains about him, they shut up the days and reign of James the fifth, first deprived him of his Innocence, next of his honest Counsellors, then of his Peace and Honour, lastly of his Life.
Were not these notable Directors of a Monarch’s power and conscience? Nay, even dying and dead they abused him, as well as they had whilst alive. One of them attending him at his death, dictated a Will for him, and what he himself caused to be written, when the poor King was expiring, he boldly declared to be the King’s Will afterwards. To such an amazing power in wickedness and want of shame had the Clergy then grown by their enormous increase of property. But they were popish Clergy: The Protestant sort thirst not after wealth, and where they have it, are too meek to become proud and abuse it, too conscientious to neglect the cure of souls, and live in luxury, too modest to haunt Courts, too disinterested and sincere to flatter Princes, too just and impartial to preach selfish doctrines tending to raise themselves by the purse, or subserviency, or sufferings of others.
Reflections upon the fate of KingJamesthe fifth of Scotland seduced and undone by Minions, who withdrew him from the direction of an honest Minister.
SUCH was the fate of James the fifth, a Prince of spirit and good qualities, but debauched, abused and undone by wicked and crafty Minions, Pandars and Seducers; such the dismal issue of false and unjust Counsels, of forsaking honest and worthy advisers, to follow the deceitful, the selfish and corrupt; and such ample ground had Sir James Melvil for saying as he does of Princes, especially of young Princes, and their favour to those who misguide and ruin them. “They were carried away by the craft and envy of such as could subtilly creep into their favour, by flattery and by joining together in a deceitful bond of fellowship, every one of them setting out the other, as meetest and ablest for the service of their Prince, to the wrack of him and his Country; craving the Prince to be secret, and not to communicate his secrets to any but their Society. Thus the Prince’s good qualities being smothered by such a company, were commonly led after the passions and particularities of those, who shot only at their own marks: Some of them continually possessing his ear, and debarring therefrom all honest, true and plain speakers; so that no more hope could be left of a gracious Government, nor place for good men to help the Prince and Country, wherethrough fell out many foul, strange, and sad accidents, as may be afterwards seen and read: Princes misused, and abused, their Country robbed, their best and truest servants wracked, and the wicked instruments at last perished with all their high and fine pretences; others, ay, (always) such-like, succeeding in their place, never one taking example to become more temperate and discreet, because of the destruction of those who went before them; but as highly and fiercely following their greedy, vain and ambitious pretences, obtained the like tragical reward.”
He afterwards quotes the complaint made by Monsieur de Boussie, when left and disliked by the Prince his Master. “Alas, wherefore should men be earnest to surpass their neighbours in worthiness and fidelity, seeing that Princes, who get the fruits of our labours, like not to hear of plainness, but of pleasant speeches, and are easily altered without occasion upon their truest Servants?”
Where Flattery is encouraged, Flatterers rule, and sincerity is banished. Ministers sometimes fall not through guilt but faction; yet always accused of guilt.
WHEN a Prince will bear no Minister that tells him the truth, and only exalts those who sooth and flatter him, the best Flatterer is always sure to be the first Minister, and his Master will be pleasantly deceived instead of being faithfully and unacceptably served. The Marquiss do Vieville, Superintendent of the Finances to Lewis the thirteenth, gained his favour and preferment by extolling the King’s spirit and conduct, in commanding his armies in person. Though that Prince had no sufficiency in war, he liked to hear that he had, perhaps believed it; for what is more vain than power, what more credulous than vanity? At the same time his Chancellor de Sillery fell under displeasure and lost his employment, for blaming these military rambles. His Son too, Monsieur de Puysieux, Secretary of State, was afterwards removed, on pretence, that the King could not trust a Man who was doubtless soured by the disgrace of his Father.
To the disgrace of that Minister almost the whole band of Courtiers contributed, all from causes personal and distinct. The Queen-Mother hated him for his superior credit with the King; Cardinal Richlieu, for having opposed his elevation to the Purple; the Prince of Conde, for forwarding a Peace with the Hugonots, whence his own credit was lessened or lost in the Army; the Count of Soissons for retarding his marriage with the King’s Sister; de Thoiras for discrediting him with the King; the Duke de Bellegarde for opposing the resignation of his employment to a kinsman. These were their true motives, though very opposite to those that they avowed. They charged him with insolence to the King, infidelity in his trust, and corruption. Whatever faults he might have, his faults had no share in his disgrace.
Favour at Court is a brittle thing. That of Vieville, the Superintendent, had its period and declension. Though he had flattered the King and lyed for his honour, the King gave him up to the jealousy and displeasure of the Cardinal, a more terrible antagonist than the Monarch himself. Falling Ministers are always faulty, and must be: It would be preposterous and unjust to pull them down, yet own them innocent. Vieville was accused of many heavy crimes, “with deciding great affairs of his own head; with altering the King’s orders; with sending directions to Embassadors, without communication with the King or Council; with doing acts of injustice, and throwing the odium upon the King, and with gratifying his pride and passions at the expence of the King’s honour.”
To the honour of that Minister it must be owned, that upon trial, all the uproar and pompous charges against him for malversation and corruption in the Treasury, appeared groundless. In truth, in all the efforts of faction and rivalship men do not study to punish Truth, but Reproach. The Cardinal wanted to ruin him. It is so probable that men in office may be guilty, that if such guilt be but boldly charged, it will be readily believed. When the suspicion is once well raised, it will hardly fail of being well received. This serves the turn, and proves a good warrant for disgracing an innocent man once thought guilty. Indeed when prejudices subside, and popular heat cools, it is probable his innocence will begin to appear and be credited; but first he is disgraced or undone, and his Competitors already triumph, till perhaps they meet with the same measure from others.
The Eunuchs of Schah Hussein falsly charged the first Minister behind his back with a conspiracy, and produced a forged Letter to support it. By that Letter it was to be executed in a few hours. The Emperor was frightened, and gave immediate orders to arrest him. The Emperor considered the Eunuchs as his guardian angels, who by their vigilance had saved him, yet would needs be so just as to hear that great Man in his own defence. He defended himself gloriously, exposed their execrable fraud, and manifested his own innocence. But what signified his innocence, or the Emperor’s conviction, for his eyes were put out? Of this the cruel villains had taken present care, that he might never stand in their way in the same post, or any post again.
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.
IN the reign of Richard the second, Sir Richard Scroope was promoted to be Lord Chancellor of England, a Person reckoned so accomplished and just, that he was raised to that Great Trust at the request of the Parliament, both Lords and Commons. He was indeed too just to hold it long. He would not serve the turn of the Favourites, and the Favourites would not let him serve the King and Kingdom. They had begged Grants of diverse Lordships lately fallen to the Crown: But what the King had weakly granted, the Chancellor honestly refused to confirm. He alledged “the King’s wants and debts, with the necessity of satisfying his creditors; that no good Subject should prefer his own advantage to the King’s interest, private lucre to public good: Already they had received from his Majesty abundant Largesses; and it was but modest to ask no more.” This repulse fired them, and to the King they went with grievous accusations against the Chancellor: “He was obstinate, he contemned his Majesty’s Commands; he must suffer exemplary punishment for his disobedience and scorn of the Royal Authority, which would otherwise fall into public contempt.”
This was enough to incense the undiscerning King, who sends in a fury to demand the Seal. Doubtless it was from pure tenderness for the King’s Honour (whom they were cheating and robbing) and with no eye to any interest of their own, that they arraigned the Chancellor, and asserted the Prerogative. Nor is it to be imagined, that they did not represent him abroad in ugly colours, as proud and insolent, engrossing all favour to himself, injureing the King’s best friends, nay, acting the part of a King himself. Nor were all these imputations more than what others had deserved, and therefore likely enough to be believed of the Chancellor, who was thus severely censured, thus ungratefully dismissed, for his uncommon faith and integrity.
The good Chancellor reaped one advantage of which neither Malice, nor Power, nor Time could deprive him. He is recorded in the History of his Country, as a glorious Magistrate, an upright Minister, a faithful Patriot: whilst his supplanters bear such a Character as they deserve, that of Sycophants, public Robbers, Enemies to King and People. Thus it is that virtue triumphs over vice, and for ever triumphs; this the immortal reward of men who faithfully serve their Country, who worthily discharge public Trust. The fruits of base actions perish; their infamy only is sure to remain. It is a dreadful lot, that of being hated to all following generations. How amiable is the contrary lot, to be beloved and praised whilst there are Men and Letters in the World? Such are the different and lasting lots of a ChancellorJefferies, and a ChancellorCowper.