Additional Letters of Cato No. 3

The same Subject continued.

Thomas Gordon (Saturday, November 2, 1723)

SIR, I have already sent you a letter about the condition of an arbitrary prince: I here send you another; and what is said in both does in some respects concern all princes, especially all princes who do not make the fixed and standing laws of their country the rules of their government. For though I do not think it possible for any prince, the wisest and most vigilant, and virtuous to avoid all the inconveniences which I have observed usually to attend a crown; yet it is my opinion, that a prince of a legal and limited state, who defends the laws and rights of his people to his peopleís advantage, will be defended by his people and the laws; that a righteous administration will be too powerful for unrighteous factions, and make him safe in the love of his subjects, against the leaders and deceivers of parties, and against the intrigues of his own servants, who will be obliged to serve him faithfully in their own defence, and cannot distress him where his people love him. But as this has been the condition of few, very few princes, they have generally reduced themselves to the evils and hardships which I have already mentioned in part, and shall now further set forth.

Such princes are generally poor, notwithstanding their great revenues. Their income is scarce ever well husbanded. The great number of officers necessary to gather it in, must all be paid suitable to the grandeur and bounty of a prince; and it is well if they do not finger more of it, much more than their pay; so that it comes into his coffers with large abatements; and the bulk of his rents is far short of the name, yet by that name his wealth is computed; and hence expectations from him are higher than his ability to answer them.

If his money be wasted in his receipts, it is still more so in his issues. His revenues are distributed, as well as collected, by a great number of officers, with great salaries, who, in the payment of his bills, frequently value their own gain more than their masterís credit, and keep in their hands for their own use the money which they should pay away for his. For this reason he buys almost every thing extremely dear, sometimes at double, nay, treble its value; because they who will sell have large interest for slow and uncertain payment: Neither is it uncommon, that those who buy for him, combine with those who sell to him, and divide the profits of an extravagant bill: Even officers who do not conspire against his purse out of sordidness, frequently do it to oblige their friends; so that he is at least cheated on one side. I have known a piece of ground sold to a king at fifty times its value, and an old house for not much less; and the like enormous prices received for a piece of painting, for a horse, and for a paltry rarity, which, for the benefit of a friend, they who had his ear persuaded him to purchase.

But besides all this, let his revenues be as great as they will, the demands upon them are commonly greater. Every service done him costs him dear; and it is well if he pays not equally dear for disservice and treachery; a price which yet he is obliged sometimes knowingly to pay, to deceive and flatter an enemy, or a false friend, whom he dares not crush. The pretensions too of those who never served him, but fancy that they did, or that they can, are infinite; and they will be too apt to distress him without provocation, if he do not reward them without cause, or beyond their merit. Whatever they do for him, or think they can do, claims a high price, not according to its worth, but according to their own conceit, and to his grandeur; and all his gratuities are expected to be great, how small soever they and their pretensions are who expect them: Others, who think they can hurt him, will make a virtue of not being mischievous; but not a virtue which is to be its own reward, but such a virtue as will seek revenge where it is not rewarded; so that he must pay as well for false services, and for no services, as for real services; his foes for sparing him, and his friends for defending him, and both rather according to the measure of their own selfish value and importance, than suitably to reason, or even to his ability.

And as such princes are, I think without exception, oppressors of their people, they must fear those whom they oppress, and depend for their security either upon a nobility or an army, or upon an army only; two sorts of men equally ambitious and insatiable, who will expect to riot upon the spoils of the prince, as he does upon the spoils of the people, and will turn upon him if he disappoint their avarice and pride, nor spare him if he spare his subjects.

The Roman emperors were no longer safe than they were feeding the soldiery with largesses, and sometimes all that they had to bestow was not a sufficient bribe to save their lives. The immense revenue of the whole Roman world was too little for the soldiery alone, though the provinces were ransacked, tortured, and exhausted, to increase it. The emperor was but a name: The soldiers were the state, the governors of the state, and the gentle landlords of Europe, Asia, and Africa; as the Great Turk is at this day but the creature and property of the janizaries, who are the real disposers of the Turkish diadem, and the real governors, or rather emperors, of Turkey. He who has the name, is but the gatherer of their rents; and they hold him in such alarms, that he is scarce secure of his life for a day, and in such necessities, that to satiate them, he is forced to be daily killing and plundering his bashaws, glutted with the plunder of the provinces; which to supply this constant and progressive plunder, are reduced to regions of gloomy solitude and desolation: And all this wealth of so great and so fine a portion of the earth does but end in a fee to a tribe of rogues, renegades, and vagabonds, to save their masterís life.

No princeís coffers are full enough to answer all demands; and as to the places and bounties which he has to bestow, he may engage by them a number of people in his interest; but he makes a greater number of enemies, because to every such favour there are many pretenders, and all are disgusted but he who gains it; and the boundary between disgust and enmity is so very small in such cases, that it is scarce to be measured, or indeed discerned. Where twenty people aim at the same thing, he can make a friend of but one.

Hence such a prince must be subject to perpetual and painful hypocrisy, by being obliged to soften disappointments with good words, which, perhaps he does not mean; and with fair promises, which he cannot keep. It behoves him to please all that he can please, and to provoke none wilfully; for, in spite of his greatest complaisance, many will be provoked by disappointments which he cannot prevent.

No sort of men are under such great restraints as to liberty of speech princes as are; nor can the greatest power give them this freedom with any safety. For, besides that a loose in mirth and jests affects their dignity, and weakens its awe, their words are all thought to have design in them, and are readily caught up and misapplied, especially where they seem any way to relate to their own power, or to the persons of men. Caesar did at least hasten the conspiracy again him by a miserable pun of his: He said, that Sulla, who had resigned the dictatorship, was a novice in letters; he could not dictate.

From these words of his, perhaps spoken in pure jest, the measure of his ambition was taken, though I think there were much better proofs against him. Galba was murdered by his guards, for an honest unwary speech of his: He declared, he would choose soldiers, and not purchase them: And Cassius Chaerea, captain of the guards to Caligula, put that prince to death, for ral- lying him upon his effeminacy.

All satirical railleries are the more felt, and the least forgiven, the higher they come. A sarcasm from a superior is an insult, because it cannot be returned. No man cares to bear a severe jest, which only serves to shew him how much lower he is than the person who makes it; and therefore no wise or good- natured man will make such jests. Greatness is so naturally apt to be proud, that we generally expect no better from it, and are ready to see pride in great men where they really have none, or shew none; and because we hate pride, we are apt to hate greatness, which we consider as the cause of pride: an imputation which all great men can never be too careful to avoid; and let them be ever so careful and complaisant, they will never wholly avoid it: And therefore stateliness of behaviour, and imperious airs, are signs of great want of sense, and the certain causes of hate.

Great men can never be too well-bred. We are naturally quick-sighted enough to see the difference between us and them, and can only be reconciled to it by their treating us as if there was none; but supercilious pains taken on their side, will surely create distaste and enmity on ours. We think that they owe us a sort of amends for being greater than we; and if they can pay us with affability and condescension, they pay easily, and have no occasion to complain.

Caesar was never forgiven for receiving the Roman magistracy sitting: And some passionate expressions of King Charles I against the Parliament, did him more mischief than all his former encroachments upon the constitution; as these expressions created personal enemies, and a fear and distrust of his spirit and sincerity. His father, still less capable of supporting the dignity of a crown, and of preserving the affections of his people, had such a wild mixture of timidity and pride, and familiarity, that many of them hated him, more despised him, and yet none feared him. He would sacrifice his reputation with his people to the titillation of a poor pun, and manifest his passion for absolute power, rather than smother a wretched witticism, or a quaint conceit, hardly worthy of a country school-master. When a fit of bouncing was upon him, then he was the oldest king in Europe, and, he trowed, the wisest, and would be master of the purses of his subjects; but when the Parliament had put him into a fright, then they had an humble sermon from him, larded with scraps of Latin, upon the duty and restraints of a sovereign; and logick was chopped, and distinctions were made, upon that head.

His private conversation was low and cheap; and when the crown was off, the King was never seen; his tongue never lay still, and his usual themes were far unworthy of royalty: He delighted in sifting metaphysical questions, and in discussing dark points in divinity, and in smutty and familiar jokes; and it was usual with him to fall upon men with rude language and ill breeding: His condescension to others was as full of meannesses, and the obscenities and fulsome style of his letters are below the lowest mechanick. It was impossible to khow him and reverence him. Those who were raised by him, and most obliged to him, treated him with contempt, and hectored him when they could not wheedle him: And it was usual with him to give and take such language, as no gentleman would give or take. He was particularly free of his oaths and his kisses, practices beneath a great or a grave man. He was so ignorant of his character, and so fond of logick, that from a great king he descended to be a disputant on one side in a squabble of divines. His reputation abroad was as low as at home. He talked much of king- craft; but his maxims, which he was always uttering, were poor ones, and foreign princes derided him. In their treaties with one another, they either took no notice of this keeper of the balance of Europe, or always outwitted him. 1n his own negotiations with them, they over-reached and baffled him, even to wantonness; and treated his long letters and his learned labours with small regard: His premoni tion to princes, and his books of divinity, had no influence on the powers of Christendom.

King Charles II had more sense, and more accomplishments: He had the parts and address of a gentleman; but he was too ludicrous for a King. He had many pleasant stories, and told them well: He made very good jests, and diverted his friends over a bottle. But the monarch suffered in the merry companion, and his good-nature was the occasion of many ill-natured railleries. His great familiarities with his subjects made them very familiar with the dignity of the diadem; and he never made so many jests as were made upon him. The freedoms which his own dear friends the wits used with their sovereign, and their sarcasms upon so great a prince, are astonishing.

Scarce any of the words of a prince fall to the ground; they therefore ought to be cautious what words they utter. Whatever he says, and his manner of saying it, will be apt to make impressions either to his advantage or disadvantage. His sayings quickiy fly abroad, and are at the mercy of every interpreter; and when once his words are publick, it depends no longer upon himself what meaning his words shall bear. The publick rarely distinguish the man from the King; but with them in every thing he acts and speaks as a King, and consequently by all his words and actions that come abroad, his royal dignity is affected, though they regard neither.

My next letter shall be upon the same subject.

G I am,&c.

 Cato's Letters

 Classical Liberals