« PreviousContinue »
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 inward1 counsellors had need also be wise men, and especially true and trusty to the king's ends, as it was with King Henry VII of England, who in his greatest business imparted himself to none, except it were to Morton and Fox.
For weakness of authority the fable showeth the remedynay, the majesty of kings is rather exalted than diminished when they are in the chair of council,—neither was there ever prince bereaved of his dependencies by his council, except where there hath been either an over-greatness in one counsellor, or an over-strict combination in divers;2 which are things soon found and holpen.3
For the last inconvenience, that men will counsel with an eye to themselves; certainly,'Non inveniet fidem super terrain,'4 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 princes, above all, draw to themselves such natures. Besides, counsellors are Dot commonly so united but that one counsellor keepeth sentinel over another; so that if. any 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:
'PrincipU est virtus maxims 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 his master's business, than in his nature; for then he is like to advise him, and not to feed his humour. It is of singular use to princes if they take the opinions of their council both separately and together; for private opinion is more free, but opinion before others is more reverend. In private, men are more bold in their own humours, and, in consort,1 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 . 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'2 as in an idea of 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'3—' 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 the actors upon the stage.
1 Inward. Intimate. 'All my inward friends abhorred me.'—Job xix. 19. s Divers. Several; sundry.
'Divers new opinions, diverse and dangerous.'—Shakeejxre.
3 Holpen. Helped. 'They shall be holpen with a little help.'—Dan. xi. 34.
4 'He will not find faith upon the earth.'—Luke xviii. 18.
5 'The greatest virtue of a prince is to know his man.'
The councils 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 council. It were better that, in causes of weight, the matter were propounded one day, and not spoken to till next day, 'in nocte consilium;' * so was it done in the commission of union between England and Scotland, which was a grave and orderly assembly. I commend set days for petitions; for both it gives the suitors more certainty for their attendance, and it frees the meetings for matters of estate,5 that they may 'hoc agere.'6 In choice of committees for ripening business for the council, it is better to choose indifferent7 persons, than to make an indiflferency 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 councils, and but one council 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 councils out of their particular professions (as lawyers, seamen, mintmen,* and the like), be first heard before committees, and then, as occasion serves, before the council; and let them not come in multitudes, or in a tribunitious 3 manner; for that is to clamour4 councils, 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 council, 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, will sing him a song of 'placebo.' *
1 Consort. Assembly; council.
'In one consort there sat. Cruel Bevenge, and rancorous Despite, Disloyal Treason, and heart-burning Hate.'—Spenser. ''According to their kinds.' * 'The dead are the best counsellors.'
4 'In night is counsel.'
5 Matters of estate. Public affairs. 'I hear her talk of matter* of estate and the Ssnale.'—Sen Jons<m. ''Do this one thing.'
7 Indifferent . Neutral; not inclined to one side more than another.
'It is better to choose indifferent persons, than to make an indifferency by putting in those that are strong on both sides.'
Bacon is here speaking of committees; but there is, in reference to all legislative assemblies, a very general apprehension of a complete preponderance of some extreme party; which arises, I conceive, from not taking into account the influence which, in every assembly, and every society, is always exercised (except in some few cases of very extraordinary excitement, and almost of temporary disorganization) by those who are in a minority. On this subject I take leave to extract a passage from The Kingdom of Christ.1
1 Save. Except. 'Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes, sare one.'— 2 Car. xi.
J Mintman. Skilled in coinage. 'He that thinketh Spain to be some jrrcm' overmatch for this estate, is no good mintvuin, but takes greatness of kingdm" according to their bulk and currency, and not after their intrinsic value.'—Bacon's War with Spain.
* Tribunitious. Like the Roman Plebeian Tribune.
4 Clamour. To stun with noise. (Rarely used an sin active verb.) 'Clamour your tongues.'—Shakcspere.
* Plncelxi. I will pleam. Used to denote anything soothing.
'It might appear at first sight—and such is usually the expectation of a child of ordinary intelligence, and of all those who are deficient in an intelligent study of history, or observation of what is passing in the world,—that whatever party might, in any meeting, or in any community, obtain a majority, or in whatever other way, a superiority, would be certain to carry out their own principles to the utmost, with a total disregard of all the rest; so that in a senate for instance, consisting, suppose, of 100 members, a majority, whether of 51 to 49, or of 70 to 30, or of 95 to S, would proceed in all respects as if the others had no existence: and that no mutual concessions or compromises could take place except between parties exactly balanced. In like manner a person wholly ignorant of Mechanics might suppose that a body acted on by several unequal forces in different directions would obey altogether the strongest, and would move in the direction of that; instead of moving, as we know it ordinarily does, in a direction not coinciding with any one of them.
'And experience shows that in human affairs as well as in Mechanics, such expectations are not well founded. If no tolerably wise and good measures were ever carried except in an assembly where there was a complete predominance of men sufficiently enlightened and public-spirited to have a decided preference for those measures above all others, the world would, I conceive, be much worse governed than it really is.
'No doubt, the larger the proportion of judicious and patriotic individuals, the better for the community; but it seems to be the appointment of Providence that the prejudices, and passions, and interests of different men should be so various as not only to keep one another somewhat in check, but often to bring about, or greatly help to bring about, mixed results, often far preferable to anything devised or aimed at by any of the parties.
'The British Constitution, for instance, no intelligent reader of history would regard as wholly or chiefly the work of men fully sensible of the advantages of a government so mixed and balanced. It was in great measure the result of the efforts, partially neutralizing each other, of men who leaned, more or less, some of them towards pure Monarchy, and others towards Republicanism. And again, though no one can doubt how great an advance (it is as yet only an advance) of the principle of religious toleration, and of making a final appeal to Seripture alone, is due to the Reformation, yet the Reformers were slow in embracing these principles. They were at first nearly as much disposed as their opponents to force their own interpretations of Scripture on every one, and to call in the magistrate to suppress heresy by force. But not being able to agree among themselves whose interpretation of Scripture should he received as authoritative, and who should be entrusted with the sword that was to extirpate heresy, compromises and mutual concessions gradually led more and more to the practical adoption of principles whose theoretical truth and justice is, even yet, not universally perceived.
1 Kingdom of Chrid, 4th edition, Appendix to Essay II. note O, pp. 348, 549. 35'. ;**•
'And similar instances may be found in every part of history. Without entering into a detailed examination of the particular mode in which, on each occasion, a superior party is influenced by those opposed to them—either from reluctance to drive them to desperation, or otherwise,—certain it is, that, looking only to the results,—the practical working of any government,—in the long run, and in the general course of measures,—we do find something corresponding to the composition of forces in Mechanics; and we find, oftener than not, that the course actually pursued is better (however faulty) than could have been calculated on from the character of the greater part of those who administer the government. The wisest and most moderate, even when they form but a small minority, are often enabled amidst the conflict of those in opposite extremes, to bring about decisions, less wise and just indeed than they themselves would have desired, but far better thau those of either of the extreme parties.
'Of course we are not to expect the same exact uniformity of effects in human affairs as in Mechanics. It is not meant that each decision of every Assembly or Body of men will necessarily be the precise 'resultant* (as it is called in Natural Philosophy)