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The one ministry would have capitulated on terms; the other surrendered nearly at discretion. The one proposed to confer something of a free-will boon; the other yielded avowedly to intimidation.
'There is no secrecy comparable to celerity.'
We have an illustration of the importance of 'celerity in the execution,' in circumstances in the history of our government of a later date than the instance above mentioned. A ministry which had established a certain system about which there had been much controversy, was succeeded by those of the opposite party; and these were eagerly looked to, by men of all parties, to see whether they would support that system in its integrity, or abolish, or materially modify it. They were warned of the importance of coming to a speedy decision one way or the other, and of clearly proclaiming it at once, in order to put a stop to false hopes and false fears. And it was pointed out to them that those who had hitherto opposed that system were now, avowedly, resting on their oars, and waiting to see what course the ministers they favoured would adopt. This warning was conveyed in a letter, pressing for a speedy answer: the answer came in a year and a half! and after every encouragement had been given, during the interim of hesitation, to the opponents of the system to come forward to commit themselves anew to their opposition (which they did), then at length the system was adopted and approved, and carried on in the face of these marshalled opponents, embittered by disappointment, and indignant at what they regarded as betrayal!
So much for taking one's time, and proceeding leisurely!
In another case, a measure of great benefit to the empire was proposed, which was approved by almost all sensible and public-spirited men acquainted with the case, but unacceptable to those who wished to 'fish in troubled waters,' and had sagacity enough to perceive the tendency of the measure,—and also by some few whose private interest was opposed to that of the Public, and by several others who were either misled by the above, or afraid of losing popularity with them. The wise course would have been, to make the exact arrangements, secretly, for all the details, and then at once to bring forward the measure; which which is now irrecoverably silted up, and how he could, fifty years hence, though not at present, reclaim from the sea thousands of acres of fertile land at the delta of some river. Hence the proverb—
would at once, and with ease, have been carried. Instead of this, the design was announced publicly, long before, so as to afford ample time and opportunity for getting up petitions, and otherwise organizing opposition; and then advantage was taken of some flaw in the details of the measure, which had been overlooked, and might easily have been remedied: and thus the measure was defeated.
It was as if a general should proclaim a month beforehand the direction in which he meant to march, so as to allow the enemy to prepare all kinds of obstacles; and then, when he had begun his march, to be forced to turn back, from having left his pontoons and his artillery behind!
'To shoot off before the time, or to teach dangers to come on by over-early buckling towards them, is another extreme.'
This error of taking some step prematurely, or of doing at one stride what had better have been done gradually, arises often, in a sensible man, from a sense of the shortness and uncertainty of life, and an impatience to 'see of the labour of his soul and be satisfied, ' instead of leaving his designs to be carried into execution, or to be completed, by others, who may perhaps not do the work so well, or may be defeated by some rally of opponents.
And sometimes it is even wise, under the circumstances, to proceed more hastily than would have been advisable if one could have been sure of being able to proceed without obstacles. It would have been, for instance, in itself, better to relax gradually the laws interfering with free trade, than to sweep them away at once. But the interval would have been occupied in endeavours, which might have been successful, to effect a kind of counter-revolution, and re-establish those laws. And so it is with many other reforms.
A man who plainly perceives that, as Bacon observes, there are some cases which call for promptitude, and others which require delay, and who has also sagacity enough to perceive which is which, will often be mortified at perceiving that he has come too late for some things, and too soon for others;—that he is like a skilful engineer, who perceives how he could, fifty years earlier, have effectually preserved an important harbour
'He that is truly wise and great,
1 See Proverbs and Precepts for Copy-pieces for Schools.
ESSAY 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 of one that hath studied men more than books. Such men are fitter for practice than for counsel, and they are good but in their own alley: turn them to new men, and they have lost their aim; so as1 the old rule, to know a fool from a wise man, 'Mitte ambos nudos ad ignotos, et videbis/2 doth scarce hold for them. And because these cunning men are like haberdashers of small wares, it is not amiss to set forth their shop.
It is a point of cunning to wait8 upon him with whom you speak, with your eye, as the Jesuits give it in precept—for there be many wise men that have secret hearts and transparent countenances; yet this would4 be done with a demure abasing of your eye sometimes, as the Jesuits also do use.
Another is, that when you have anything to obtain of present dispatch, you entertain and amuse the party with whom you deal with some other discourse, that he be not too much awake to make objections. I know a counsellor and secretary, that never came to Queen Elizabeth of England with bills to sign, but he would always first put her into some discourse of state, that she might the less mind the bills.
The like surprise may be made by moving5 things when the party is in haste, and cannot stay to consider advisedly of that1 is moved.
1 As. That. See page 23.
* 'Send both naked to strangers, and thou shalt know.'
* Wait upon him with your eye. To look watchfully to him. 'As the eyes of
servants look unto the hands of their masters, so our eyes wait upon the
Lord our God.'—Ps. cxxiii. 2.
* Would. Should.
6 Move. To propose.
'Let me but move one question to your daughter.'—Shakespere.
If a man would cross a business that he doubts some other would handsomely and effectually move, let him pretend to wish it well, and move it himself, in such sort as may foil it.
The breaking off in the midst of that one was about to say, as if he took himself up, breeds a greater appetite in him with whom you confer to know more.
And because it works better when anything seemeth to be gotten from you by question, than if you offer it of yourself, you may lay a bait for a question, by showing another visage and countenance than you are wont; to the end, to give occasion for the party to ask what the matter2 is of the change, as Nehemiah did,—' And I had not before that time been sad before the king.'3
In things that are tender and unpleasing, it is good to break the ice by some whose words are of less weight, and to reserve the more weighty voice to come in as by chance, so that he may be asked the question upon the other's speech; as Narcissus did, in relating to Claudius the marriage of Messalina and Silius.4
In things that a man would not be seen in himself, it is a point of cunning to borrow the name of the world; as to say, 'The world says, ' or, 'There is a speech abroad.'
I know one that, when he wrote a letter, he would put that which was most material in the postscript, as if it had been a bye matter.
I knew another that, when he came to have speech, he would pass over that he intended most, and go forth, and come back again, and speak of it as a thing he had almost forgot.
Some procure themselves to be surprised at such times as it is like the party, that they work upon, will suddenly come upon them, and be found with a letter in their hand, or doing somewhat which they are not accustomed, to the end they may
1 That. That which. See page 73. 3 Matter. Cause.
'To your quick-conceiving discontent, I'll read you matter deep and dangerous.'—Shaketpere. 5 Nehemiah ii. 1. * Tacit. Ann. xi. 29, tea.