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consult, are fit to be the judge of it. He may be treacherous, and, though corruption or malice, endeavour to poison me, or have other defects that render him unfit to be trusted; but I cannot by any corrupt passion be led wilfully to do him injustice, and if I mistake, 'tis only to my own hurt. The like may be said of lawyers, stewards, pilots, and generally of all that do not act for themselves, but for those who employ them.
I KNOW there have been wise and good kings; but they had not an absolute power, nor would have accepted it, though it had been offered: much less can I believe that any of them would have transmitted such a power to their posterity, when none of them could know, any more than Solomon, whether his son would be a wise man or a fool. No man knowing what men will be, especially if they come to the power by succession, which may properly enough be called by chance, 'tis reasonably to be feared they will be bad, and consequently necessary so to limit their power, that if they prove to be so, the commonwealth may not be destroyed, which they were instituted to preserve.
MEN are so subject to vices and passions, that they stand in need of some restraint in every condition; but most especially when they are in
power. The rage of a private man may be pernicious to one, or a few of his neighbours; but the fury of an unlimited prince would drive whole nations into ruin: and those very men who have lived modestly when they had little power, have often proved the most savage of all monsters, when they thought nothing able to resist their rage. 'Tis said of Caligula, that no man ever knew a better servant, or a worse master. The want of restraint made him a beast, who might have continued to be a man.
SOLOMON, in preferring a wise child before an old and foolish king that will not be advised, shews that an old king may be a fool, and he that is not advised is one. Some are so naturally brutish and stupid, that neither education nor time will mend them. 'Tis probable that Solomon took what care he could to instruct his son Rehoboam, but he was certainly a fool at forty years of age, and we have no reason to believe that he deserved a better name. He seems to have been the very fool his father intended, who, though brayed in a mortar, would never leave his folly: he would not be advised, though the hand of God was against him; ten tribes revolted from him, and the city and temple were pillaged by the Egyptians. Neither experience nor afflictions could mend him, and he is called to this day by his own countrymen, stultitia gentium.
MANY children come to be kings when they have no experience, and die, or are deposed before they can gain any. Many are by nature so sottish, that they can learn nothing: others falling under the power of women, or corrupt favourites and ministers, are persuaded and seduced from the good ways to which their own natural understanding or experience might lead them; the evils drawn upon themselves or their subjects, by the errors committed in the time of their ignorance, are often grievous, and sometimes irreparable, though they should be made wise by time and experience. A person of royal birth and excellent wit, was so sensible of this, as to tell me, "That "the condition of kings was most miserable, "inasmuch as they never heard truth, till they
were ruined by lies, and then every one was "ready to tell it to them, not by way of advice, "but reproach, and rather to vent their own spite, "than to seek a remedy to the evils brought upon "them and the people." Others attain to crowns when they are of full age, and have experience as men, but none as kings, and therefore are apt to commit as great mistakes as children: and upon the whole matter, all the histories of the world shew, that instead of profound judgment and incomparable wisdom, there is no sort of men that do more frequently and entirely want it.
WE sometimes see those upon thrones, who, by
God and nature, seem to have been designed for the most sordid offices; and those have been known to pass their lives in meanness and poverty, who had all the qualities that could be desired in princes. There is likewise a kind of ability to dispatch some sort of affairs, that princes who continue long in a throne, may to a degree acquire or increase. Some men take this for wisdom; but King James more rightly called it by the name of kingcraft; and as it principally consists in dissimulation, and the arts of working upon men's passions, vanities, private interests, or vices, to make them, for the most part, instruments of mischief, it has the advancement or security of their own persons for object, is frequently exercised with all the excesses of pride, avarice, treachery, and cruelty; and no men have been ever found more notoriously to deflect from all that deserves praise in a prince, or a gentleman, than those that have most excelled in it.
"TIS in vain to say, that a wise and good counsel may supply the defects, or correct the vices of a young, foolish, and ill-disposed king. Foolish or ill princes will never choose such as are wise and good, but favouring those who are most like to themselves, will prefer such as second their vices, humours, and personal interests, and by so doing, will rather fortify and rivet the evils that
are brought upon the nation through their defects, than cure them. This was evident in Rehoboam: he had good counsel, but he would not hearken to it. We know too many of the same sort; and though it were not impossible (as Machiavelli says it is) for a weak prince to receive any benefit from a good counsel, we may certainly conclude that a people can never expect any good from a counsel chosen by one who is weak or vicious.
IT was in vain to give good counsel to Sardanapalus; and none could défend the Assyrian empire, when he lay wallowing amongst his whores, without any other thought than of his lusts. None could preserve Rome, when Domitian's chief business was to kill flies, and that of Honorius to take care of his hens. The monarchy of France must have perished under the base kings they call les roys faineants, if the sceptre had not been wrested out of their unworthy hands. The world is full of examples in this kind: and when it pleases God to bestow a just, wise, and valiant king as a blessing upon a nation, 'tis only a momentary help, his virtues end with him; and there being neither any divine promise nor human reason moving us to believe that they shall always be renewed and continued in his successors, men cannot rely upon it; and to allege a possibility of such a thing, is nothing to the purpose.