Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAP. IV. - The True Interest and Political Maxims, of the Republic of Holland
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CHAP. IV. - Pieter de la Court, The True Interest and Political Maxims, of the Republic of Holland 
The True Interest and Political Maxims of the Republic of Holland (London: John Campbell, Esq, 1746).
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Some cases laid down, in which it seems advisable for Holland to engage in a war; and yet those being well weighed, it is concluded, that Holland nevertheless ought to seek for peace.
Enquiry made whether it be advisable,HAVING in the two last chapters clearly shewed what Holland’s maxims ought to be, and have been of old, viz. peace for her inhabitants, to pursue the same by all convenient means, and decline war: yet in several cases whereby our people might be incumbered, or vexed, or in danger to be so, and when it may be presumed that our free-state by revolution of time and affairs, may run the hazard of being ruined; it may be doubted, whether it would not be advisable for Holland to begin an offensive war.
To make no war, tho to free our selves from foreign taxes?I shall therefore give you my thoughts about some of them, and do say, that we ought never to undertake a war by reason of any foreign imposition or toll whatsoever upon goods; for those remedies will always be worse for Holland than the disease. And the same seems to be with much more conveniency removed, by charging their commodities as much here, as our wares, merchants and mariners are charged in those parts. In all such cases we generally find, that either the high impositions are prohibitions of themselves, or that the traffick in those over-burdened commodities thrives as well as before: for if by those tolls the commodities burdened are prevented from being imported, he then that so charged them, immediately finds thereby so great a loss, that of his own accord he usually takes off this imposition.
And of this we have innumerable examples; for histories are filled with wars which have been in vain carried on, by reason of the raising such tolls, as the erectors themselves have at last been glad to lessen, or take wholly away: as lately in September 1662, the republick of Venice perceiving how much their traffick by sea was diminished, of their own motion discharged two tolls, the one named 6 per cent. and the other on goods that came westward from sea.
Not to ballance the states of Europe?On the other side, there occurs to my thoughts another great piece of folly, viz. that the merchants of Holland, and the state itself being founded upon traffick, should yet make use of it for a perpetual maxim, and continue in their present unfortified condition, in which often, for fear of a future and sharper war, they will be contriving to balance the states of Europe.We must endeavour first to grow strong and healthful. For when we have impregnably fortified all our cities and frontiers, as we ought, we may then, according to the interest of our state say to all people, give peace in our days, O Lord. And if the worst happens, by sitting still we shall so strengthen and improve our land, sea-forces, and treasure, that no power will be easily brought to attack us, but rather some weaker state. Whereas now on the contrary, we exhaust our treasure, and weaken ourselves every way, not knowing whether we shall ever overcome these inconveniences, which, either by want of fortifications, or our obstinacy, we pull down upon our own heads: and being weaker by our own negligence or wantonness, we may, after having wrestled with those difficulties, more easily fall from one weakness into another, and so be at last over-powered.
As all skilful physicians hold it for a good maxim,* that one means of preserving health, is to refrain from health-drinking: so they always dissuade from taking physick in time of health, for fear of future sickness, because thereby we frequently bring sickness and death upon ourselves; whereas by good fortifications, and temporizing, we may escape, chi ha tempo ha vita. And in all cases physick weakens the body, and the continual use of it shortens a man’s life. And therefore we may well make use of that wholesom counsel, as most agreeable to our provinces, viz. of using no physician: for if Holland takes care to provide every thing necessary, and then stands in its own defence; it is not to be overpowered by any potentate on earth. If we run to quench every fire, for fear the war should pass over others, and kindle in our own buildings, we shall certainly consume ourselves by degrees, and by our own actions be ruined.
Holland’s interest, since the weakness of the Spaniard, is perfectly another thing.In short, Holland taking due care of things, is so powerful as not to be conquered by any, except perhaps by England, if that nation shall be willing to ruin itself: so that we may truly say, that if Holland, for fear of a war, shall begin a war, it must for fear of the smoak leap into the fire. And this folly cannot be excused in any measure by that maxim which we used here, in the beginning of our troubles, *war is better than uncertain peace: for seeing we then made war for our freedom, or at least the shadow of it, against our own prince, it is certain that all peace, of what nature soever, would have disarmed the states of these provinces, and deprived them of their strength. And on the other side, the king of Spain remaining prince of these countries, and able to keep on foot some standing forces in all his other territories, might have made himself, at any time, absolute lord of these parts, without regard either to promises, oaths or seals; and then have punished all those at his will and pleasure, who at any time had opposed him.
But now, God be praised, the states of Holland living in a time of peace, are alone in possession of all the strength of the country, and are able to govern it better than in war, without the controul of any, according to their own pleasures:Whether an uncertain peace be worse than a war. so that the contrary is now true in Holland,* war is much worse than an uncertain peace, and among all pernicious things, except the intollerable slavery of being governed by the will of a single person, nothing is more mischievous than a war: for if war be the very worst thing that can befal a nation, then an uncertain peace must be bad, because a war is likely to ensue.
But some may further ask, seeing peace is so necessary for Holland, whether out of a strong desire of a firm and lasting peace, we ought not, when once engaged, to continue in war, till we have compelled the enemy to a well-grounded peace?
No such thing as a certain peace.To this I answer; if we consider the uncertainty of this world, especially in Europe, and that we by traffick and navigation have occasion to deal with all nations, we ought to hold for a firm and general maxim, that an assured peace is, in relation to Holland, a mere chimera, a dream, a fiction, used only by those, who, like syrens or mermaids, endeavour, by their melodious singing of a pleasant and firm peace, to delude the credulous Hollanders, till they split upon the rocks.
Therefore it is, and will remain a truth, that next to the freedom of the rulers and inhabitants at home, nothing is more necessary to us than peace with all men, and in such a time of peace to make effectual provision for good fortifications on the frontiers of our provinces; to keep a competent number of men of war at sea; to husband our treasure at home, and, as soon as possibly we may, to take off those imposts that are most burdensom, especially that of convoys; holding ourselves assured, that without these means, whereby to procure a firm peace, and to preserve our country in prosperity, as far as the wickedness of this world will admit, all other expedients will be found prejudicial to Holland; and that we on the contrary, relying on these maxims and means, ought always to wait till others make war upon us, directly and indeed; because by our diligent and continual preparation, they would soon understand, that there is more to be gotten by us in a time of peace and good trading, than by war, and the ruin of trade.
That ’tis unadvisable to stand only on one’s defence, answer’d.But because these conclusions concerning the prosperity of Holland, seem to oppose the known rules of polity; 1st, That a defensive war is a consumptive war; and 2dly, That no rulers can subsist, unless they put on the skin of a lion, as well as that of the fox; I shall give you my thoughts upon these two maxims. And truly if we may say of subjects, as the Italians,
we may with as good reason say of those that govern,
It is true of monarchs and sovereign lords, not of free republicks.But he who looks further into matters shall find, that in using these maxims there is great distinction to be made. For tho’ it be true of monarchs and princes, who will suffer no fortifications, that a defensive is a consumptive war; yet in republicks which live by traffick, and have fortified themselves well, all offensive war is prejudicial and consuming: so that such countries can never subsist without good fortifications in this world, where the lovers of peace cannot always obtain their wish.
Because they are single, and do greatly oppress their subjects.The truth is, great monarchs are justly compar’d to the lion, who is king of beasts, never contented with the produce of their own country, but living upon the flesh of their enemies, I wish I could not say subjects, conquering and plundering their neighbours, and burdening their own people with taxes and contributions.Whereas the rulers of a republick are many, and govern more gently. Yet tho’ they appropriate to themselves all the advantages of the country, they would still be deficient in strength, if by means of the fox’s skin they could not sometimes answer their enemies, and even their own subjects, and escape the snares laid for them by others. Whereas republicks governing with more gentleness, wisdom, and moderation, have naturally a more powerful and numberless train of inhabitants adhering to them than monarchs, and therefore stand not in need of such maxims, especially those that subsist by trade, who ought in this matter to follow the commendable example of a cat: for she never converses with strange beasts, but either keeps at home, or accompanies those of her own species, meddling with none, but in order to defend her own; very vigilant to provide for food, and preserve her young ones:They must naturally be shy of a war. she neither barks nor snarls at those that provoke or abuse her; so shy and fearful, that being pursued, she immediately takes her flight into some hole or place of natural strength, where she remains quiet till the noise be over. But if it happens that she can by no means avoid the combat, she is more fierce than a lion, defends herself with tooth and nail, and better than any other beast, making use of all her well-husbanded strength, without the least neglect or fainting in her extremity. So that by these arts that species enjoy more quiet every where, live longer, are more acceptable, and in greater number than lions, tygers, wolves, foxes, bears, or any other beasts of prey, which often perish by their own strength, and are taken where they lie in wait for others.
Holland, tho’ she stoutly defended herself against Spain, rather to be compar’d to a cat than a lion.A cat indeed is outwardly like a lion, yet she is, and will remain but a cat still; and so we who are naturally merchants, cannot be turned into soldiers. But because the cat of Holland hath a great round head, fiery eyes, a dreadful beard, sharp teeth, fierce claws, a long tail, and a thick hairy coat, by means of our merchants; our stadtholder and captain-general from time to time, and after him some of our allies or rulers, who had reaped profit by war, have made use of all the said features, and the stout defence which this cat made when she was straitned and pinch’d by the Spanish lion, as so many reasons to prove that she was become a lion; and have made her so far to believe it, against most manifest truth, that they have prevailed with her for fifty years successively to fall upon other beasts, and fight with them.Tho’ by bearing impositions she may be compared to an ass. But the sad experience of what is past, the decay of all inward strength, the death of the last captain-general, and the free government of the state, which by God’s unspeakable goodness ensued, ought certainly to take off the scales from the eyes of the stupid Hollander, and so make him see and know, that Holland by so doing was no lion, but a burden-bearing ass.In times of our stadtholders. For the conquests obtained by her labour and blood, have not served to feed her, but to break her back, and to make our former captain-general, and the stadtholders, so to increase in power, that they became formidable to their masters, the states of the respective provinces, and especially to the states of Holland; and still serve to make some of the crafty allies of our union, and some few slavish rulers to live voluptuously, knowing how to procure many military employments and profits for their children and friends, and are therefore continually advising Holland to prosecute the war.
And therefore must by degrees leave that ill custom.And tho’ Holland, since the last sixteen years, seems very well to have apprehended the mischief received by the lion’s skin, yet she seems not to have discerned the fraudulent damage of the fox’s, which will be found well nigh as mischievous: for Holland hath very imprudently made use of the fox’s skin in Poland and Denmark. Upon the whole matter, ’tis certainly best for Holland to strengthen her frontiers and inland cities so soon as may be; and when they are impregnably fortified, let her not engage herself with any but her next and oldest allies, of the other United Provinces, and leave the rest of the world to take their course: and this done, let us only concern ourselves with our own affairs, according to the good proverb, That which burns you not, cool not. And because it seems to me that such evident truths make the deepest impressions, and are best apprehended by proverbs and fables, I shall conclude this chapter with the following fables.
The first fable.
The lion, king of beasts, having heard many complaints of his subjects concerning the cruel persecution and murders committed by the huntsmen, and fearing that if he should any longer bear such unrighteous dealings, he should lose his royal honour and respect among his subjects, went in person to fight the huntsman, who first by his shooting, afterwards by his lance, and lastly with his sword, so wounded the approaching lion, that he was necessitated to fly;Which is illustrated by certain fables. First, of the lion and huntsman. and having lost much of his strength by his wounds, and more of his honour and esteem by his flight, said, with a lamentable voice, to my sorrow I find the truth of this proverb, * The strength of Samson is not sufficient for one that is resolved to revenge evil with evil: but he that can wait, and be patient, shall find his enemy defeated to his hand.By gaining time many evils may be overcome. What need had I to streighten this crooked piece of wood? It had been better for me to have left those injuries to time, and perhaps some tiger, wolf, or bear, having with like imprudence sought out the huntsman, might have been strong and fortunate enough to have killed him in the fight.
The second fable.
A fable of a wise man and a fool.A certain strong wise man, meeting a strong fool, who had undertaken to force a stiver from every man he met, gave him a stiver without a blow or a word. Whereupon some of his acquaintance, young people, blam’d him for it, using these words: God hath given you at least as much strength, and more wisdom than to this leud fellow, whereby you would undoubtedly have had the victory, and delivered the world from this rascal; whereas contrarily, * you will be despised, if you do this. But the wise man answered, they that buy their peace do best; and besides, I know it is ill fighting with a strong fool; but you know not the value of your own peace, welfare and lite, and much less the manner of the world.For peacesake we ought to yield somewhat. For tho’ I were not an old merchant, but a prudent soldier, yet I shall tell you, that he who will not bestow a stiver to keep peace, must have his sword always drawn. And he that will be always fighting, tho’ with the benefit of ten advantages against one danger, must certainly lay out more than ten stivers to buy arms: and as where there is hewing of wood, there will be splinters flying on every side; so after a man hath suffered the smart, he must give a good reward to the chirurgeon and physician, even when the best happens: the bucket will come broken home at last; and the best fighters at last find their masters; for the stoutest Hercules is sometimes soonest beaten. Next said he, time will inform you that I am not to streighten all the crooked wood I shall meet in this world:Confirm’d by the fable of a frog and a crab. for I assure you it will happen to this strong fool, as it did formerly with the foolish frog, who finding a wise crab swimming in the water, threatened to kill him if he found him any more there. The good-natur’d crab thinking, as those who willingly shun a mad ox which they might kill with a gun, that he would also shun this creature, gave the frog good words, swimming immediately backward according to its custom, and giving place to him. But because stupidity causes boldness and self-conceit, the frog concluded that he was stronger than the crab, and so fell upon him. The crab defended herself stoutly, and at last pinch’d the frog immediately dead. And seeing the world is full of fools, I tell you that this coxcomb growing too confident by a few good successes, will soon find another fool who will knock him o’the head, and rid the world of him. It is certainly much better that a fool, and not a wise man, should put his life in the ballance with this fool. Which prediction was soon after verified by experience; for a while after this fool setting upon other people, found at last as foolish, cross and strong a fellow as himself, that would rather fight than give him a stiver, who knock’d him down and kill’d him. Upon which the wise man caused some sayings to be engraven over him, among which were these:And some old proverbs.The number of fools is infinite; and to cure a fool, requires one and a half; for without blows it cannot be done.
The third fable.
The fable of a fox, wolf and bear.A certain fox conceiting himself not able to subsist, if the wolves and bears lived in mutual amity, stirred up the one against the other; and afterwards fearing lest the wolf which favour’d him less, should get the better, and then finding himself without enemy, should destroy him, resolved to strengthen the bear privately with food, which he had spared for himself, and to see the fight between them, under pretence of being mediator, but really to feed upon the blood of the conquer’d; which when he tasted, he was so transported with the relish, that rather than forbear the blood, he let the bear have so much of his other natural food, that he was grown weak. But the two combating beasts, observing this ill design of the pretended mediator, and his weakness together, destroyed this blood thirsty fox, the one premeditately, the other by the fortune of the war; besides, he fell unpitied. For suppose the wolf and bear had grown so weak by the fox’s artifices, that they could not have hurt him; yet there were lions, tigers, and other beasts of prey, which could as certainly and easily have devoured him, because he had lost his strength, and could no longer in any extremity run to his hole, and thereby save and defend himself.
Thus God and nature punisheth those that abuse their strength, and takes the crafty in their own subtilty. * As false selt-love is the root of all mischief, so prudence and well-grounded self-love is the only cause of all good and virtuous actions. Pursuant to which, as we say, Do well, and look not backward, is the greatest polity Holland can use. And the richest blessing which God can pour down upon a nation, is to unite the interests thereof to peace, and the welfare of mankind: according to the good rule, *He that loves himself aright, is a friend to all the world.
The fourth fable.
Of the fox, cat and huntsman.A certain self-conceited fox in a deriding manner asking a well-meaning cat, how she could free her self from all the ill accidents of this world; the cat answered, that she was not offended when any thing was said of her in deriding way.
Small business with uprightness is much better,In a word, said she, I shew those that would hurt me the greatest kindness, by which I avoid all enmity: for my only art of all arts is, to avoid harm. Upon this the fox flouted with the cat, saying, † This is indeed a very pretty science becoming an unarmed roundhead; but I that am witty and crafty will lord it over others: and besides that, I live without want and care, for in an instant I can shake out a bag full of artifices. But while he was thus braving it out, and negligent, a huntsman with his dogs was come so near him, that not being able to escape, he was taken in his subtilty by the dogs, and killed, while the cat with her only slight, and ever necessary fortification, fled for her life, running up a lofty tree and so saved her self:Than much clutter with great craft. and from thence saw the case of the fox pulled over his ears, comforting her self in the mean time with this song,
It is again concluded, that peace above all things is necessary for Holland.This therefore is the great and necessary art for Holland, notwithstanding the maxims before objected, viz. to maintain peace, and fortify our frontiers, and never unnecessarily to meddle with parting of princes that are in war by our ambassadors and arbitrations: for by these means we shall be certainly drawn into the charge of a war, and besides are like to gain the reward of parters, and bring the war or the hatred of both parties upon our selves, besides the consumption of our treasure in expensive embassies, even when the best happens. And tho’ the troubles of this world cannot be avoided always either by force or art, yet we ought to keep out of them as much as we can with all our strength, prudence and polity. And if notwithstanding all this, war should be made upon Holland, she will gain a double reputation, when with the encouragement of her own strength, long before provided, together with the justice and necessity of her defence, she shall overcome the danger. Besides, the opposition we should be able to make, as well as the just hatred that always attends the aggressor, and the consequences that might follow the conquest of this country, would alarm other princes, and give them time to deliver us.
And tho’ I know these maxims will always be rejected by most of the idle gentry, soldiers of fortune, and the sottish rabble, as if we relying only on our impregnable fortifications, and standing on our defence, should by that means lose all that name and reputation we have acquired; to which I shall only say that all is not gold that glisters, and rusty silver is more valued by men of understanding than glittering copper: so whatever is profitable to a nation, brings also a good reputation to perpetuity. ’Tis likewise certain, that whatever reduceth Holland to weakness, tho’ it were under the most glorious title of the world, will really cause it to lie under an everlasting shame and reproach. All which God grant may be rightly apprehended by the upright, and (now) really free magistrates of Holland, while this leaky ship of the commonwealth may yet by labour be kept above water.
[* ]Una salus sanis nullam potare salutem.
[* ]Pace dubia bellum potius.
[* ]Bellum pace dubia pejus, & malorum omnium pessimum.
[* ]Bonis nocet quisquis pepercerit malis: & malum quod quis impedire potuit, nec impedit, fecisse videtur; veterem ferendo injuriam invitas novam.
[* ]Qui sibi vere amicus est, hunc omnibus scito amicum.
[† ]Lepidum caput sed cerebrum non habes.