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description of spies and informers, whether poor or rich, mercenary or volunteer.* If they fail, they will feel the comfort of having discharged their duty.
The Manners of Tory Courtiers, and of those who ape them, as People
of Fashion, inconsistent with Manliness, Truth, and Honesty; and their Prevalence injurious to a free Constitution, and the Happiness
of Human Nature. AMONG a thousand anecdotes of the frivolity of the governing part of a despotic country, I select the
* I subjoin a curious passage from the 14th book of Ammianus Marcellinus, on the manner in which spies executed their office, under the imperial authority of Constantius Gallus.
“Excogitatum est super his, ut homines quidam ignoti, vilitate ipsa parùm cavendi, ad colligendos rumores per Antiochiæ latera cuncta destinarentur, relaturi quæ audirent. Hi peragranter et dissimulanter honoratorum circulis assistendo, prevadendoque divitum domus egentium habitu, quicquid noscere poterant vel audire, latenter intromissi per posticas in regiam, nuntiabant : id observantes conspiratione concordi, ut fingerent quædam, et cognita duplicarent in pejus : laudes vero supprimerent Cæsaris, quos invitis quamplurimis, formido malorum impendentium exprime
5. "Another expedient was to place at every corner of the city certain obscure persons, not likely to excite suspicion or caution, because of their apparent insignificancy, who were to repeat whatever they heard. These persons, by standing near gentlemen, or getting entrance into the houses of the 'rich, in the disguise of poverty, reported whatever they saw or heard, at court being priyately admitted into the place by the back stairs : having concerted it between themselves to add a great deal, from their own invention, to whatever they really saw or heard, and to make the matter ten times worse. They agreed also to suppress the mention of those (loyal songs or toasts, or) speeches, in favour of the emperor, which the dread of impending evil squeezed out of many against their will and better judgment.” The decline of the Roman empire was distinguished by spies and informers : it is to be hoped that the use of spies and informers does not portend the decline of the British empire.
following, merely as a slight specimen of the trifling disposition of those who, as they pretend, claim their elevated situations for the good of mankind. “In the summer of the year 1775, the queen of France, being dressed in a light-brown silk, the king good-naturedly observed, it was couleur de puce, the colour of fleas; and instantly every lady in the land was uneasy till she had dressed herself in a silk gown of a flea colour. The rage was caught by the men; and the dyers worked night and day, without being able to supply the demand for flea colour. They nicely distinguished between an old and a young flea, and subdivided even the shades of its body. The belly, the back, the thigh, the head, were all marked by varying tints. This prevailing colour promised to be the fashion of the winter. The silkmercers found it would hurt their trade. They therefore presented her majesty with patterns of new satins; who having chosen one, Monsieur exclaimed, it was the colour of her majesty’s hair! “Immediately the fleas ceased to be favourites at court, and all were eager to be dressed in the colour of her majesty's hair. Servants were sent off at the moment from Fontainbleau to Paris, to purchase velvets, ratteens, and cloths of this colour. The current price of an ell in the morning had been forty livres, and it rose in the evening to eighty and ninety. The demand was so great, and the anxiety so eager, that some of her majesty's hair was actually obtained by bribery, and sent to the Gobelins, to Lyons, and other manufactories, that the exact shade might be caught and religiously preserved.” Such was the little, mean, adulatory spirit of the court of France, and of the people who at that time imitated the court with more than apish mimicry. To show how little there is of truth and honesty in
such servility, be it remembered, that the nation so eager to catch the very colour of the queen's hair, soon afterwards murderously cut off the head on which it grew. Nothing silly, nothing overstrained, can be lasting, because it wants a solid foundation. Let kings be careful how they confide in court compliments and the addresses of corruption. Mastiffs guard their master and his house better than spaniels.
While such a spirit prevails among the great, it is impossible that the happiness of man can be duly regarded by those who claim a right to govern him. Were frivolity and meanness are general, it is impossible that the people can be wise or happy. Gaiety, founded on levity or affectation, is not happiness. It laughs and talks, while the heart is either unmoved or dejected. Happiness is serious. The noise of folly is intended to dissipate thought; but no man would wish his thoughts to be dissipated, who finds any thing within him to think of with complacency.
Princes have always something important to think of, which, it might be supposed, would preclude the necessity of trifling amusements to kill time. Yet courts have always been remarkable for frivolity. This frivolity is not only contemptible in itself, unworthy of rational beings, especially when executing a most momentous trust, but productive of meanness, weakness, and corruption. Long experience has associated with the idea of a courtier in despotic courts, duplicity, insincerity, violation of promises, adulation, all the base and mean qualities, rendered still baser and meaner, by assuming, on public occasions, the varnish of hypocrisy.
Erasmus gives directions to a young man, in the manner of Swift, how to conduct himself at court. I believe they have never been presented to the English
reader, and therefore I shall take the liberty of translating them, not only for the sake of affording amusement, but that it may be duly considered, whether or not persons who form their manners and principles after such models, are likely to be the friends of man, the assertors or the guardians of liberty: whether the slaves of fashion, who seem to separate themselves from others, as if they were a chosen tribe among the sons of men; as if they were made of such clay as forms the porcelain, while others are merely earthen ware; whether, I say, the slaves of fashion, which always apes a court in all its extravagancies, are likely to consult the happiness of the majority of mankind, the middle, lowest, and most useful classes, whom they despise, as an inferior species of beings; as the whites in the West Indies formerly looked down upon the negroes with disdain. - - - “As you are now going to live at court,” (says Erasmus,) “I advise you, in the first place, never to repose the smallest degree of confidence in any man there who professes himself your friend, though he may smile upon you, and embrace you, and promise you; aye, and confirm his promise with an oath. Believe no man there a sincere friend to you; and do you take care to be a sincere friend to no man. Nevertheless, you must pretend to love all you see, and show the utmost suavity of manners and attentions to every individual. These attentions cost you not a farthing; therefore you may be as lavish of them as you please. Pay your salutations with the softest smiles in your countenance, shake hands with the appearance of most ardent cordiality, bow and give way to all, stand cap in hand, address every body by their titles of honour, praise withoutbounds, and promise most liberally, - - - -
“I would have you every morning, before you go to the levee, practise in making up your face for the day at your looking-glass at home, that it may be ready to assume any part in the farce, and that no glimpse of your real thoughts and feelings may appear. You must study your gestures carefully at home, that in the acting of the day your countenance, person, and conversation may all correspond, and assist each other in keeping up your character at the court masquerade. - .
“These are the elements of the courtier's philosophy, in learning which, no man can be an apt scholar, unless he first of all divests himself of all sense of shame; and leaving his natural face at home, puts on a vizor, and wears it constantly too. In the next place, get scent of the various cabals and parties of the court; but be not in a hurry to attach yourself to any of them, till you have duly reconnoitred. When you have found out who is the king's favourite, you have your cue; mind to keep on the safe side of the vessel. If the king's favourite be a downright fool, you must not scruple to flatter him, so long as he is in favour with the god of your idolatry. . . - :
“The god himself, to be sure, will require the main efforts of your skill. As often as you happen to be in the presence, you must exhibit a face of apparently honest delight, as if you were transported with the privilege of being so near the royal person. When once you have observed what he likes and dislikes, your business is done.” -
He proceeds to advise his pupil to pursue his own interest, regardless of all honour and honesty, whenever they may be violated without detection. He tells him, in consulting his interest, to pay more court to enemies than friends, that he may turn their hearts,