Page images
PDF
EPUB

election, would have been in a minority, though not a very large minority.

There have been in the United States several elections of President, in which the candidates were so nearly equal in votes, that no one can doubt that if the Americans had had the same constitution as ours, the Sovereign might have fixed on either as Premier. Now, this is undoubtedly a matter of practical importance; and whether it be thought a good or an evil that our Sovereign should have such a power, that he does possess it, and that it is no trifle, is evident.

If, therefore, our Sovereign is to be accounted a cypher, it must be, not in the sense in which that metaphor is ordinarily applied, but in a stricter sense. A cypher,—a mere round 0, —stands for nothing by itself; but adds tenfold to whatever figures aje placed before it. And even so, our Sovereign, if standing alone, and at variance in his political views with all his subjects, or nearly all of them, is powerless; but as a supporter of this or of that person, party, or measure, that may be favoured by a considerable portion of his subjects, he may give the preponderance to either. 5 is less than 6; but 50, i.e., 5 with a cypher added, is more.

And after all, the same kind of check (in a minor degree, and in a less convenient form) on the power of the Sovereign, must exist even under a despotism. No despot can long govern completely against the will of nearly all those of his subjects—whether the People or the Army—who possess the physical force. A Dey in Barbary must have some—and these not inconsiderable in number—to execute his commands. He may, however, go on misgoverning longer than a constitutional king could do; and the check comes at last, not in the shape of a remonstrance, on which he might amend, but of a bowstring or a dagger.

On the whole, the degree, and the kind, of regal power, and of check to that power, existing under our constitution, are what the most judicious will perceive to be the best adapted to give steadiness to an administration, and to moderate the violence of political agitations in the most effectual way that is consistent with the liberty we enjoy. 'We combine the advantages of different forms, by having a king holding the office of highest dignity, which no one of a different family can aspire to, and remaining fixed, under all changes of Ministers and Parliaments, and yet restrained by Parliament from oppressing bis subjects, or disregarding their wishes.

'No good king will feel himself lowered in point of dignity by such restraints; but the contrary. For as it is a nobler office to have the command of even a small number of men than a large herd of cattle, so it is more honourable to be the ruler of a free People than the absolute master of a multitude of slaves.

'And moreover, in an absolute monarchy, a wise and worthy king, who had laboured hard for the welfare of his People, would be grieved at the thought that some of his successors, who might be foolish and tyrannical, would undo all the good he had been doing.

'It should be remembered, too, that a certain degree of restraint on the power of a Ruler is the best safeguard against the danger of a Revolution, which might destroy his power altogether; as the experience of what has often taken place in Europe, and other quarters of the world, plainly shows.

'This is set forth in the following fable :—

''Once on a time a paper kite

Was mounted to a wondrous height,
Where, giddy with its elevation,
It thus expressed self-admiration:

See how yon crowds of gazing people
Admire my flight above the steeple;
How would they wonder if they knew
All that a kite like me can do?
Were I but free, I'd take a flight,
And pierce the clouds beyond their sight;
But ah! like a poor pris'ner bound
My string confines me near the ground;
I'd brave the eagle's tow'ring wing,
Might I but fly without a string.'
It tugg'd and pull'd, while thus it spoke,
To break the string,—at last it broke;
Depriv'd at once of all its stay,
In vain it try'd to soar away;

Unable its own weight to bear,
It tiutter'd downward in the air;
Unable its own course to guide,
The winds soon plung'd it in the tide.
Ah! foolish kite, thou hadst no wing;
How couldst thou fly without a string?
Sovereigns who wish to cast away
Wholesome restraints upon your sway,
Be taught in time, that moderation
Will best secure your lofty station.
Who soars uncheck'd may find too late
A sudden downfall is his fate.'

'There are many persons now living who can remember the time when almost all the countries of Europe, except our own, were under absolute governments. Since then, most of those countries have passed through, at least, one or two, and some of them six or seven, violent and bloody revolutions; and none of them, even yet, have settled under a constitution which even the people of those States themselves would think better than ours, if as good.''

1 This passage is from Lesnous on the Britidi Constitution, L. ii. § 2.

ESSAY XX. OF COUNSEL.

THE greatest trust between man and man, is the trust of giving counsel; for in other confidences men commit the parts of life, their lands, their goods, their children, their eredit, some particular affair; but to such as they make their counsellors they commit the whole—»by how much the more they are obliged to all faith and integrity. The wisest princes need not think it any diminution to their greatness, or derogation to their sufficiency, to rely upon counsel. God himself is not without, but hath made it one of the great names of the blessed Son, the 'Counsellor.'' Solomon hath pronounced that 'in counsel is stability.'2 Things will have their first or second agitation; if they be not tossed upon the arguments of counsel, they will be tossed upon the waves of fortune, and be full of inconstancy, doing and undoing, like the reeling of a drunken man. Solomon's son found the force of counsel, as his father saw the necessity of it: for the beloved kingdom of God was first rent and broken by ill counsel—upon which counsel there are set for our instruction the two marks whereby bad counsel is for ever best discerned, that it was young counsel, for the persons, and violent counsel, for the matter.

The ancient times do set forth in figure both the incorporation and inseparable conjunction of counsel with Kings, and the wise and politic use of counsel by Kings; the one, in that they say Jupiter did marry Metis, which signifieth counsel, whereby they intend that sovereignty is married to counsel; the other in that which followeth, which was thus:—they say, after Jupiter was married to Metis, she conceived by him and was with child, but Jupiter suffered her not to stay till she brought forth, but ate her up, whereby he became himself with child, and was delivered of Pallas armed out of his head.3 Which monstrous fable containeth a secret of empire how kings are to make use of their counsel of state—that first, they ought to refer matters unto them, which is the first begetting or impregnation: but when they are elaborate, moulded, and shaped in the womb of

[ocr errors]

their council, and grow ripe and ready to be brought forth, that then they suffer not their council to go through with the resolution' and direction, as if it depended on them, but take the matter back into their own hands, and make it appear to the world, that the decrees and final directions (which, because they come forth with prudence and power, are resembled to Pallas armed) proceeded from themselves, and not only from their authority, but (the more to add reputation to themselves) fyjm their head and device.

Let us now speak of the inconveniences of counsel, and of the remedies. The inconveniences that have been noted in calling and using counsel, are three:—first, the revealing of affairs, whereby they become less secret; secondly, the weakening of the authority of princes, as if they were less of themselves; thirdly, the danger of being unfaithfully counselled, and more for the good of them that counsel, than of him that is counselled—for which inconveniences, the doctrine of Italy, and practice of France, in some kings' times, hath introduced cabinet councils—a remedy worse than the disease.

As to secrecy, princes are not bound to communicate all matters with all counsellors, but may extract and select— neither is it necessary, that he that consulteth what he should do, should declare what he will do; but let princes beware that the unsecreting2 of their affairs comes not from themselves: and as for cabinet councils, it may be their motto, 'Plenus rimarum sum.'3 One futile4 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

1 Resolution. Final decision.

'V the progress of this business,
Ere a determinate resolution.
The bishops did require a respite.'—Shakespere.

* Unsecreting. The disclosing; the divulging. Shakespere has the adjective 'unsecret:'

'Why have I blabbed? Who should be true to us
When we are Bo unsecret to ourselves ?'—Sliakespere.

* 'Full of chinks am I.'—Ter. Eun. 1. 11, 25.
4 Futile. Talkative. See page 83.

Q

« PreviousContinue »