« PreviousContinue »
cabinet counsels, it may be their motto, plenus rimarum sum : (they are full of leaks :] one futile person that maketh it his glory to tell, will do more hurt than many that know it their duty to conceal. It is true there be some affairs which require extreme secrecy, which will hardly go beyond one or two persons besides the king: neither are those counsels unprosperous ; for, besides the secrecy, they commonly go on constantly in one spirit of direction, without distraction. But then it must be a prudent king, such as is able to grind with a hand-mill ;) and those inward counsellors had need also be wise men, and especially true and trusty to the king's ends; as it was with King Henry the Seventh of England, who in his greatest business imparted himself to none, except it were to Morton and Fox.
For weakening of authority; the fable2 showeth the remedy. Nay, the majesty of kings is rather exalted than diminished when they are in the chair of counsel ;' neither was there ever prince bereaved of his dependances 3 by his counsel ; except where there hath been either an over-greatness in one counsellor or an overstrict combination in divers; which are things soon found and holpen.
For the last inconvenience, that men will counsel with an eye to themselves; certainly, non inveniet fidem super terram she will not find faith on the earth,] is meant of the nature of times, and not of all particular persons. There be that are in nature faithful, and sincere, and plain, and direct; not crafty and involved; let
1 si rex prudens sit, et proprio marte validus. 2 That is, the fable of Jupiter and Metis. 8 auctoritate suâ imminutum.
princes, above all, draw to themselves such natures. Besides, counsellors are not commonly so united, but that one counsellor keepeth sentinel over another ; so that if any do counsel out of faction or private ends, it commonly comes to the king's ear. But the best remedy is, if princes know their counsellors, as well as their counsellors know them :
Principis est virtus maxima nosse suos.
And on the other side, counsellors should not be too speculative into their sovereign's person. The true composition of a counsellor is rather to be skilful in their master's business, than in his nature; for then he is like to advise him, and not feed his humour. It is of singular use to princes if they take the opinions of their counsel both separately and together. For private opinion is more free; but opinion before others is more reverent. In private, men are more bold in their own humours; and in consort, men are more obnoxious to others' humours; therefore it is good to take both; and of the inferior sort rather in private, to preserve freedom ; of the greater rather in consort, to preserve respect.2 It is in vain for princes to take counsel concerning matters, if they take no counsel likewise concerning persons; for all matters are as dead images; and the life of the execution of affairs resteth in the good choice of persons. Neither is it enough to consult concerning persons secundum genera, as in an idea, or mathematical description, what the kind and character of the person should be ; for the greatest errors are committed, and the most judgment is shown, in the choice of individuals. It was truly said, optimi consiliarii mortui : (the best counsellors are the dead:] books will speak plain when counsellors blanch. Therefore it is good to be conversant in them, specially the books of such as themselves have been actors upon the stage.
1 gravior. 2 ut modestius sententiam ferant.
The counsels at this day in most places are but familiar meetings, where matters are rather talked on than debated. And they run too swift to the order or act of counsel. It were better that in causes of weight, the matter were propounded one day and not spoken to till the next day ; in nocte consilium : (night is the season for counsel.] So was it done in the Commission of Union between England and Scotland; which
days for petitions ; for both it gives the suitors more certainty for their attendance, and it frees the meetings for matters of estate, that they may hoc agere. In choice of committees for ripening business for the counsel, it is better to choose indifferent persons, than to make an indifferency by putting in those that are strong on both sides. I commend also standing commissions; as for trade, for treasure, for war, for suits, for some provinces; for where there be divers particular counsels and but one counsel of estate (as it is in Spain), they are, in effect, no more than standing commissions : save that they have greater authority. Let such as are to inform counsels out of their particular professions, (as lawyers, seamen, mintmen, and the like,) be first heard before committees; and then, as occasion serves, before the counsel. And let them not come in multitudes, or in a tribunitious manner ;
1 qui et ipsi gubernacula rerum tractarunt.
for that is to clamour counsels, not to inform them. A long table and a square table, or seats about the walls, seem things of form, but are things of substance ; for at a long table a few at the upper end, in effect, sway all the business; but in the other form there is more use of the counsellors' opinions that sit lower. A king, when he presides in counsel, let him beware how he opens his own inclination too much in that which he propoundeth ; for else counsellors will but take the wind of him, and instead of giving free counsel, sing him a song of placebo.
XXI. OF DELAYS. FORTUNE is like the market; where many times, if you can stay a little, the price will fall. And again, it is sometimes like Sibylla's offer; which at first offereth the commodity at full, then consumeth part and part, and still holdeth up the price. For occasion (as it is in the common verse) turneth a bald noddle, after she hath presented her locks in front, and no hold taken ; or at least turneth the handle of the bottle first to be received, and after the belly, which is hard to clasp. There is surely no greater wisdom than well to time the beginnings and onsets of things.2 Dangers are no more light, if they once seem light; and more dangers have deceived men than forced them. Nay, it were better to meet some dangers half way, though they come nothing near, than to keep too long a watch upon their approaches ; for if a man watch too long, it is
1 se ad nutum ejus applicabunt.
odds he will fall asleep. On the other side, to be de ceived with too long shadows (as some have been when the moon was low and shone on their enemies' back), and so to shoot off before the time; or to teach dangers to come on, by over early buckling towards them ;' is another extreme. The ripeness or unripeness of the occasion (as we said) must ever be well weighed ; and generally it is good to commit the beginnings of all great actions to Argos with his hundred eyes, and the ends to Briareus with his hundred hands; first to watch, and then to speed. For the helmet of Pluto, which maketh the politic man go invisible, is secrecy in the counsel and celerity in the execution. For when things are once come to the execution, there is no secrecy comparable to celerity; like the motion of a bullet in the air, which flieth so swift as it outruns the eye.
XXII. OF CUNNING. We take Cunning for a sinister or crooked wisdom. And certainly there is a great difference between a cunning man and a wise man; not only in point of honesty, but in point of ability. There be that can pack the cards, and yet cannot play well ; so there are some that are good in canvasses and factions, that are otherwise weak men. Again, it is one thing to understand persons, and another thing to understand matters; for many are perfect in men's humours, that are not greatly capable of the real part of business ; which is the constitution 2 of one that hath studied men more
1 pericula premature obviando accersere. 2 constitutio ipsissima.