Additional Letters of Cato No. 6

The same Subject continued.

Thomas Gordon (Saturday, December 7, 1723)

SIR, It is true, that the ministers whom I mentioned in my last were arbitrary ministers, and committed acts of power, which made them justly terrible; but it is equally true of Cardinal Richelieu, that his justest and his wisest actions created him the most powerful enemies, and the greatest danger: And it is true of every minister, that the good which he does is as odious to faction as his errors are, often more; and that his services to the publick are, in some instances, through misrepresentations, from envy, made distasteful to the people, who must feel those services before their distaste be removed. And if he has made, or they believe that he has made, any ill steps (a case by no means rare), they will be apt to believe that all his steps are ill, to confound the good and the bad, and to hope no good from him. Nor has he any ready way of removing those ill impressions, but by some such sudden and signal act of praise and popularity as perhaps he has no opportunity to perform; and to remove them by degrees, and by a continued series of worthy actions, perhaps the term of his life, or of his power, is not sufficient. And as sometimes the most glorious actions are done with ill views, he who does them will not be more adored by some, than he will be dreaded and reproached by others. And hence the beginning or increase of factions, which almost always extol or condemn implicitly, and by no other rule but that of blind affection and blind antipathy.

And as faction, on one side, will be watching, thwarting, and exposing all that he does; his own party, on the other, will be making advantages of his distresses, and consequently be distressing him more; and he will find it harder to defend himself from his friends, and to preserve their dependence, than to disappoint his foes: Every party hangs together by interest, and every particular means his own. It is impossible to gratify all; and all that are not gratified are disobliged: Whoever therefore is at the head of a party, has but an uneasy station. Whatever blaze he may make, and however absolute he may seem, his disappointments often equal his triumphs; and when we say that he carries all before him, it is because we see his successes, but not his difficulties.

Besides, he has equal trouble and solicitude from small as from great matters. For every little favour which he has to bestow, he has numerous little suitors, as well as several great ones, who become suitors for the small, and think their reputation concerned not to be denied. So that perhaps there are a dozen considerable men soliciting earnestly for one inconsiderable place, and each ready to resent a refusal, and to disappoint him in something of greater moment, if he disappoint them in that, as he must do most of them. Sometimes he has twenty embarrassments of the like nature upon his hand, besides many greater; as particularly, when several considerable men are all candidates for some considerable thing, which can only be given to one; and all the rest are made enemies, or cool friends.

And as there is no greatness without emulation, his attacks from rivals must be incessant, and frequently powerful and dangerous. They who follow power, will themselves never want followers; and such as aim at his place, will never want creatures, nor consequently strength. 1t sometimes happens that one of his own creatures, whom he trusts (as he must trust somebody), shall make use of that trust to supplant him; a method which, I think, is as frequent as any other; and hence he is sometimes persuaded by his false friends into measures which they intend shall destroy him. Sometimes schemes are offered him, which they know he will reject; and then his non-compliance, however honest, is made a crime, and the cause of his disgrace; and he often bears the reproach of the evil counsels which he opposed. Sometimes a step taken to subdue his rivals, shall end in exalting them; and sometimes an advance made to win his enemies, throws him into their power. Add to all this the difficulty of managing the humours of a prince, and of pleasing the people at the same time. A hard task! Princes are afraid of a minister who has too much credit; and he cannot serve them, if he has none. Neither is the favour of the most powerful prince able always to preserve a minister. The demands of the people, or of a great party, often make his dismission unavoidable; of which there are endless instances. Cardinal Richelieu, indeed, found a way to govern the French king and the French nation, in spite of themselves; but 1 have already shewn what uneasinesses he underwent. No prince will love a minister whom he dares not part with; and no minister will care to be of so little importance as to be parted with at pleasure.

It is another plague of greatness, that he who has it has scarce any leisure, any agreeable moments to throw away upon amusements and indolence; even when he is doing no business, the cares of business follow him, with a concern for preserving and enlarging his power, always attacked from one quarter or another, and always liable to be attacked in some weak place or other. The necessity of receiving and of making many applications, of raising some creatures, and gaining others; of disappointing the machinations and assaults of enemies; of making many dispatches, or directing them to be made; of giving access and part of his time to such as have or claim a right to see him, who will always be many, and always resent it if they cannot see him; and of concerting and pursuing favourite projects: 1 say, all this must either engage him entirely, or he cannot expect to stand. Perpetual industry and anxiety are generally the terms upon which he stands; and if he be idle or recluse, his affairs will be in confusion, and he himself pursued with clamour, as neglectful of the publick, and unequal to his trust. Nor will the partiality and authority of the prince be able to protect him long, at least without exposing his own reputation for the idleness of his minister.

When therefore a minister is strongly addicted to his pleasures, it is a great misfortune to a prince, to the people, and himself. A man whose head is often warm with wine, or perpetually possessed with women or gaming, must often neglect business, or do it hastily. This is not only postponing, but sacrificing the publick to pleasure. Thus the Duke of Buckingham involved us in two wars at once, with France and Spain for disappointed lust; and thus the invasion of Italy by Francis I, the unfortunate Battle of Pavia, the loss of a noble army, the long captivity and imprisonment of that great king, were the effects of the passion of one of his ministers for an Italian beauty, whom he was resolved to enjoy once more, at the peril of his master and of his dominions.

It is true that the pleasures of a minister, which do not affect the publick, ought not to offend it; but it is as true, that however private and personal they are, they will give publick offence; and it is his misfortune that they can scarce ever be hid. His haunts and diversions will soon be observed and known. Several people must be trusted, some of them will certainly whisper; and private whispers about publick men will grow to be publick rumours; and amongst the rigid and precise, or those who pretend to be so, the man of pleasure always passes for a debauched man.

A minister is liable to the same or greater censure of misrepresentation in the making or enlarging his fortune. Men may, by accidents, by conspicuous parts, by the caprice of a prince, or by the partiality and weight of a party, arrive at greatness without the assistance of wealth: But wealth is, doubtless, a great help to a man who would rise; and he who is careless of acquiring it, judges ill. It is one of his greatest stays, and sometimes his only one. Now, however fairly he comes by it, it is odds but part of it, if not the whole, will be ascribed to corruption. 1ll-natured comparisons will be made between what he had, which will be generally lessened; and what he has, which will be more generally aggravated; and the fruits of private management and industry will be called publick plunder. So that as the neglect of riches is imprudent, the accumulation of riches is unpopular. I have known great ministers go poor out of employment, when it was thought that their estates were immense; and what others had got was sometimes reckoned ten times greater than it proved.

The last thing which I mention upon this subject is, that men who have once tasted of greatness, can scarce ever after relish a private life. The toils, tumult, and anxieties, inseparable from power, make them often sick of it, but never willing to leave it. Self-love tells them, that as nothing is too much for them, so they are constantly worthy to keep what they have; and as the displacing them is a contradiction to this opinion, and the putting others in their room a declaration that others are more worthy, their pride is and continues inflamed, and they are never to be cured of hatred or emulation towards their successors. So that, besides the loss of power, and consequently of homage, pomp, and submission (a tribute always dear to all mankind), they live ever after angry and affronted; and if they have any pleasure, it is when things go wrong under their successors. Nor can old age and infirmities, unless they be such as render them utterly unfit for business, cure them of this uneasiness and painful ambition. England affords instances of men who have lived forty years after their dismission from power, in a constant struggle to regain it: At fourscore they were in the midst of intrigues: When they had lost all other appetites, their lust of power was in its vigour; upon the brink of the grave, their eyes were unnaturally turned backwards to secular grandeur, and their souls bent upon dominion.

This is one of the greatest curses which attend power, that they who have enjoyed it, can rarely ever after enjoy retirement; which yet they are always extolling, and seeming to long for, while it is out of their reach. In the hurry and solicitude of employment, beset with cares, fears, and enemies, they see the security, ease, and calm of recess; but are never to be reconciled to the terms upon which it is to be had. What! Descend from on high, and from giving laws to a nation, be lost in the multitude, and upon a level with those who adored them, and see others adored in their room; others, whom probably they hated, probably despised! This is a sorrowful and a dreadful thought to ambition; and they consider their discharge as a sentence of ignominy and exile.

G. I am,&c.

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