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to make a small state great, as their gift lieth the other way, to bring a great and flourishing estate to ruin and decay. And certainly those degenerate arts and shifts, whereby many counsellors and governors gain both favour with their masters, and estimation with the vulgar, deserve no better name than fiddling; being things rather pleasing for the time, and graceful to themselves only, than tending to the weal and advancement of the state which they serve. There are also, no doubt, counsellors and governors which may be held sufficient (negotiis pares) able to manage affairs, and to keep them from precipices, and manifest inconveniences, which nevertheless are far from the ability to raise and amplify an estate in power, means, and fortune. But be the workmen what they may be, let us speak of the work; that is, the true Greatness of Kingdoms and Estates, and the means thereof. An argument fit for great and mighty Princes to have in their hand, to the end that neither by overmeasoring their forces, they leese themselves in vain enterprises; nor on the other side, by undervaluing them, they descend to fearful and pusillanimous counsels.
The Greatness of an Estate in bulk and territory, doth fall under measure; and the Greatness of Finances and Revenue, doth fall under computation. The population may appear by musters, and the number and greatness of cities and towns by oards and maps. But yet there is not any thing among civil affairs more subject to error, than the right valuation, and true judgment, concerning the power and forces of an Estate.
The Kingdom of Heaven is compared not. to any great kernel or nut, but to a grain of mustard-seed; which is one of the least grains, but hath in it a property and spirit hastily to get up and spread. So are there states great in territory, and yet not apt to enlarge or command; and some that have but a small dimension of stem, and yet apt to be the foundations of great monarchies.
Walled towns, stored arsenals and armouries, goodly races of horse, chariots of war, elephants, ordnance, artillery, and the like—all this is but a sheep in a lion's skin, except the breed and disposition of the people be stout and warlike. Nay, number (itself) in armies importeth not much, where the people is of weak courage: tor, (as Virgil saith) "it never troubles a wolf, how many the sheep be." The army of the Persians, in the plains of Arbela, was such a vast sea of people, as it did somewhat astonish the commanders in Alexander's army; who came to him therefore, and wished him to set upon them by night; but he answered, " He would not pilfer the victory:" and the defeat was easy. When Tigranes the Armenian, being encamped upon a hill with 400,000 men, discovered the army of the Romans, being not above 14,000 marching towards him, he made himself merry with it, and said, "Yonder men are too many for an embassage, and too few for a fight:" but before the sun set, he found them enough to give him the chase with infinite slaughter. Many are the examples of great odds between number and courage; so that a man may truly make a judgment, that the principal point of Greatness in any State, is, to have a race of military men. Neither is money the sinews of war (as it is trivially said), where the sinews of men's arms in base and effeminate people are failing. For Solon said well to Creesus, (when in ostentation he showed him his gold) "Sir, if any other come, that hath better iron than you, he will be master of all this gold." Therefore let any Prince or State think soberly of his forces, except his militia of natives be of good and valiant soldiers. And let princes on the other side, that have subjects of martial disposition, know their own strength, unless they be otherwise wanting unto themselves. As for mercenary forces (which is the help in this case), all examples show, that whatsoever Estate or Prince doth rest upon them, "he may spread his feathers for a time, but he will mew them soon after."
The blessing of Juda and Isachar will never meet, "That the same people or nation should be both the lion's whelp, and ass between burthens:" neither will it be, that a people over-laid with taxes, should ever become valiant and martial. It is true, that taxes levied by consent of the state, do abate men's courage less, as it hath been seen notably in the excises of the Low Countries; and in some degree, in the subsidies of England: for you must note, that we speak now of the heart, and not of the purse. So that although the same tribute and tax, laid by consent, or by imposing, be all one to the purse, yet it works diversely upon the courage: so that you may conclude, "that no people overcharged with tribute, is fit for empire."
Let States that aim at Greatness take heed how their nobility and gentlemen do multiply too fast. For that maketh the common subject grow to be a peasant, and base swain, driven out of heart, and in effect but a gentleman's labourer: even as voumay see in coppice woods. "If you leave your staddles too thick, you shall never have clean underwood, but shrubs and bushes." So in countries, if the gentlemen be too many, the commons will be base: and you will bring it to that, that not the hundred poll will be tit for an helmet; especially as to the infantry, w hich is the nervt of an army : and so there will be great population and little Strength. This which 1 speak of, hath been no where better seen, than by comparing of England and France; whereof England, though far less in territory and population, hath been nevertheless an overmatch; in regard the middle people of England make good soldiers, which the peasants of France do not. And herein the device of King Henry the Seventh (whereof I have spoken largely in the history of his life) was profound and admirable, in making farms and houses of husbandry, of a standard; that is, maintained with such a proportion of land unto them, as may breed a subject to live in convenient plenty, and no servile condition; and to keep the plough in the hands of the owners and not mere hirelings. And thus indeed you shall attain to Virgil's character which he gives to ancient Italy:
"A land powerful in arms, and formed for fertility of soil."
Neither is that state (which, for any thing I know, is almost peculiar to England, and hardly to be found any where else, except it be perhaps in Poland) to be passed over—I mean the state of free servants and attendants upon noblemen and gentlemen, which are no ways inferior to the yeomanry for arms: and therefore, out of all question, the splendour and magnificence, and great retinues,and hospitality of noblemen and gentlemen received into custom, doth much conduce unto martial great