Saturday, 30 May 2009

On Parliaments

“In Parliaments, Men wrangle in behalf of Liberty, that do as little care for it, as they deserve it.”

George Savile, Marquis of Halifax, “Of Parliaments”, A Character of King Charles the Second, and Political, Moral, and Miscellaneous Thoughts and Reflections (London: J. and R. Tonson and S. Draper, 1750), p.104.

“[B]ut as Swine are to Gardens and orderly Plantations, so are Tumults to Parliaments, and Plebeian concourses to publique Councels, turning all into disorders and sordid confusions.”

King Charles the First, Eikon Basilike (London: R. Royston, 1648), reproduced as Eikon Basilike, or The King’s Book, ed. E. Almack (London: The De La More Press, 1903), p.12. (Soon after this book was published, doubt was cast on the king’s authorship, mostly notably by John Milton in his Eikonoklastes, and by Bishop John Gauden, who claimed himself as the author, despite eyewitnesses who affirmed it to be the king's work. In the learned view of the editor of the fore-mentioned reproduction, King Charles most probably was the author. David Hume also thought so. See his History of England, Vol.V, (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1854), p.278, as did Christopher Wordsworth, who has written the most thorough account: see his Who Wrote Eikon Basilike? (London: John Murray, 1824).)


xlbrl said...

I am convinced the English lost their liberty well before the Americans did because they have had, essentially, a unicameral legislature for two centuries.
The lone American state to experiment in that form was Pennsylvania, because Franklin liked the promise of effeciency it presented. But Franklin then also changed his mind with great effeciency after observing it, and there was no doubt the federal legislature would be bicameral. An effecient bureaucratic state is more dangerous to liberty than a bungling one.
You could always do things in your system we could not do, until now. I think we have just opened that box.

dearieme said...

They were a clever mob, the Stuart kings. But Charles I and James VII & II were not awfully good at kinging.

Deogolwulf said...

"An effecient bureaucratic state is more dangerous to liberty than a bungling one."

No doubt.

"I think we have just opened that box."

Good luck!


I believe that Hume gives a fairish portrait of Charles I:

“The character of this prince, as that of most men, if not of all men, was mixed; but his virtues predominated extremely above his vices, or more properly speaking, his imperfections: for scarce any of his faults rose to that pitch as to merit the appellation of vices. To consider him in the most favourable light, it may be affirmed that his dignity was free from pride, his humanity from weakness, his bravery from rashness, his temperance from austerity, his frugality from avarice: all these virtues, in him, maintained their proper bounds, and merited unreserved praise. To speak the most harshly of him, we may affirm, that many of his good qualities were attended with some latent frailty, which, though seemingly inconsiderable, was able, when seconded by the extreme malevolence of his fortune, to disappoint them of all their influence: his beneficent disposition was clouded by a manner not very gracious; his virtue was tinctured with superstition; his good sense was disfigured by a deference to persons of a capacity inferior to his own; and his moderate temper exempted him not from hasty and precipitate resolutions. He deserves the epithet of a good, rather than of a great man; and was more fitted to rule in a regular established government, than either to give way to the encroachments of a popular assembly, or finally to subdue their pretensions. He wanted suppleness and dexterity sufficient for the first measure: he was not endowed with the vigour requisite for the second. Had he been born an absolute prince, his humanity and good sense had rendered his reign happy, and his memory precious: had the limitations on prerogative been in his time quite fixed and certain, his integrity had made him regard as sacred the boundaries of the constitution. Unhappily, his fate threw him into a period when the precedents of many former reigns savoured strongly of arbitrary power, and the genius of the people ran violently towards liberty. And if his political prudence was not sufficient to extricate him from so perilous a situation, he may be excused; since even after the event, when it is commonly easy to correct all errors, one is at a loss to determine what conduct, in his circumstances, could have maintained the authority of the crown, and preserved the peace of the nation. Exposed, without revenue, without arms, to the assault of furious, implacable, and bigoted factions, it was never permitted him, but with the most fatal consequences, to commit the smallest mistake; a condition too rigorous to be imposed on the greatest human capacity.

“Some historians have rashly questioned the good faith of this prince: but for this reproach, the most malignant scrutiny of his conduct, which in every circumstance is now thoroughly known, affords not any reasonable foundation. On the contrary, if we consider the extreme difficulties to which he was so frequently reduced, and compare the sincerity of his professions and declarations; we shall avow, that probity and honour ought justly to be numbered among his most shining qualities. In every treaty, those concessions which he thought he could not in conscience maintain, he never could, by any motive or persuasion, be induced to make. And though some violations of the petition of right may perhaps be imputed to him; these are more to be ascribed to the necessity of his situation, and to the lofty ideas of royal prerogative, which, from former established precedents, he had imbibed, than to any failure in the integrity of his principles.”

David Hume, The History of England, Vol.V, (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1854), ch.LIX, pp.272-3

“[W]e stand astonished that, among a civilized people, so much virtue could ever meet with so fatal a catastrophe.”

Ibid., p.275.

xlbrl said...

What a remarkable judgement it is that Hume provides of a man. It evokes a John Locke response through its crafting--"I can as certainly know this proposition to be true as I know a triangle has three angles equal to two right ones."
I wonder if Hume would afford so much careful deliberation to examining the King of America.
"Of all sciences there is none where first appearances are more deceitful than politics.
When men are the most sure and arrogant, they are commonly the most mistaken."

James Higham said...

Now that's interesting because I have a series of quotes coming up, of which Halifax is one.

Interesting thoughts, Deogolwulf.