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Sir Francis Bacon


Essay 20

Of Counsell.
1 THe greatest Trust, betweene Man and Man, is the Trust of Giuing Counsell. For in other Confidences, Men commit the parts of life; Their Lands, their Goods, their Child, their Credit, some particular Affaire; But to such, as they make their Counsellours, they commit the whole: By how much the more, they are obliged to all Faith and integrity. The wisest Princes, need not thinke it any diminution to their Greatnesse, or derogation to their Sufficiency, to rely vpon Counsell. God himselfe is not without: But hath made it one of the great Names, of his blessed Sonne; The Counsellour, Salomon hath pronounced, that In Counsell is Stability. Things will haue their first, or second Agitation; If they be not tossed vpon the Arguments of Counsell, they will be tossed vpon the Waues of Fortune; And be full of Inconstancy, doing, and vndoing, like the Reeling of a drunken man. Salomons Sonne found the Force of Counsell, as his Father saw the Necessity of it. For the Beloued Kingdome of God was first rent, and broken by ill Counsell; Vpon which Counsell, there are set, for our Instruction, the two Markes, whereby Bad Counsell is, for euer, best discerned: That it was young Counsell, for the Persons; And Violent Counsell, for the Matter.
2 The Ancient Times doe set forth in Figure, both the Incorporation, and inseparable Coniunction of Counsel with Kings; And the wise and Politique vse of Counsell by Kings: The one, in that they say, Iupiter did marry Metis, which signifieth Counsell: Whereby they intend, that Soueraignty is married to Counsell: The other, in that which followeth, which was thus: They say after Iupiter was married to Metis, she conceiued by him, and was with Childe; but Iupiter suffered her not to stay, till she brought forth, but eat her vp; Wherby he became himselfe with Child, and was deliuered of Pallas Armed, out of his Head. Which monstrous Fable, containeth a Secret of Empire; How Kings are to make vse of their Councell of State. That first, they ought to referre matters vnto them, which is the first Begetting or Impregnation; But when they are elaborate, moulded, and shaped, in the Wombe of their Councell, and grow ripe, and ready to be brought forth; That then, they suffer not their Councell to goe through with the Resolution, and direction, as if it depended on them; But take the matter backe into their owne Hands, and make it appeare to the world, that the Decrees, and finall Directions, ( which, because they come forth with Prudence, and Power, are resembled to Pallas Armed) proceeded from themselues: And not onely from their Authority, but ( the more to adde Reputation to Themselues ) from their Head, and Deuice.
3 Let vs now speake of the Inconueniences of Counsell, and of the Remedies. The Inconueniences, that haue been noted in calling, and vsing Counsell, are three. First, the Reuealing of Affaires, whereby they become lesse Secret. Secondly, the Weakning of the Authority of Princes, as if they were lesse of Themselues. Thirdly, the Danger of being vnfaithfully counselled, and more for the good of them that counsell, then of him that is counselled. For which Inconueniences, the Doctrine of Italy, and Practise of France, in some Kings times, hath introduced Cabinet Counsels; A Remedy worse then the Disease.
4 As to Secrecy; Princes are not bound to communicate all Matters, with all Counsellors; but may extract and select. Neither is it necessary, that he that consulteth what he should doe, should declare what he will doe. But let Princes beware, that the vnsecreting of their Affaires, comes not from Themselues. And as for Cabinet Counsels, it may be their Motto; Plenus rimarum sum: One futile person, that maketh it his glory to tell, will doe more hurt, then many, that know it their duty to conceale. It is true, there be some Affaires, which require extreme Secrecy, which will hardly go beyond one or two persons, besides the King: Neither are those Counsels vnprosperous: For besides the Secrecy, they commonly goe on constantly in one Spirit of Direction, without distraction. But then it must be a Prudent King, such as is able to Grinde with a Hand-Mill; And those Inward Counsellours, had need also, be Wise Men, and especially true and trusty to the Kings Ends; As it was with King Henry the Seuenth of England, who in his greatest Businesse, imparted himselfe to none, except it were to Morton, and Fox.
5 For Weakening of Authority; The Fable sheweth the Remedy. Nay the Maiesty of Kings, is rather exalted, then diminished, when they are in the Chaire of Counsell: Neither was there euer Prince, bereaued of his Dependances, by his Councell; Except where there hath beene, either an Ouergreatnesse in one Counsellour, Or an Ouerstrict Combination in Diuers; which are Things soone found, and holpen.
6 For the last Inconuenience, that Men will Counsell with an Eye to themselues; Certainly, Non inueniet Fidem super terram, is meant of the Nature of Times, and not of all particular Persons; There be, that are in Nature, Faithfull, and Sincere, and Plaine, and Direct; Not Crafty, and Inuolued: Let Princes, aboue all, draw to themselues such Natures. Besides, Counsellours are not Commonly so vnited, but that one Counsellour keepeth Centinell ouer Another; So that if any do Counsell out of Faction, or priuate Ends, it commonly comes to the Kings Eare. But the best Remedy is, if Princes know their Counsellours, as well as their Counsellours know Them: Principis est Virtus maxima nosse suos. And on the other side, Counsellours should not be too speculatiue, into their Soueraignes Person. The true Composition of a Counsellour, is rather to be skilfull in their Masters Businesse, then in his Nature; For then he is like to Aduise him, and not to Feede his Humour. It is of singular vse to Princes, if they take the Opinions of their Counsell, both Seperately, and Together. For Priuate Opinion is more free; but Opinion before others is more Reuerend. In priuate, Men are more bold in their owne Humours; And in Consort, Men are more obnoxious to others Humours; Therefore it is good to take both: And of the inferiour Sort, rather in priuate, to preserue Freedome; Of the greater, rather in Consort, to preserue Respect. It is in vaine for Princes to take Counsel concerning Matters, if they take no Counsell likewise concerning Persons: For all Matters, are as dead Images; And the Life of the Execution of Affaires, resteth in the good Choice of Persons. Neither is it enough to consult concerning Persons, Secundum genera, as in an Idea, or Mathematicall Description, what the Kinde and Character of the Person should be; For the greatest Errours are committed, and the most Iudgement is shewne, in the choice of Indiuiduals. It was truly said; Optimi Consiliarij mortui; Books will speake plaine, when Counsellors Blanch. Therefore it is good to be conuersant in them; Specially the Bookes of such, as Themselues haue been Actors vpon the Stage.
7 The Counsels, at this Day, in most Places, are but Familiar Meetings; where Matters are rather talked on, then debated. And they run too swift to the Order or Act of Counsell. It were better, that in Causes of weight, the Matter were propounded one day, and not spoken to, till the next day; In Nocte Consilium. So was it done, in the Commission of Vnion, between England and Scotland; which was a Graue and Orderly Assembly. I commend set Daies for Petitions: For both it giues the Suitors more certainty for their Attendance; And it frees the Meetings for Matters of Estate, that they may Hoc agere. In choice of Committees, for ripening Businesse, for the Counsell, it is better to choose Indifferent persons, then to make an Indifferency, by putting in those, that are strong, on both sides. I commend also standing Commissions; As for Trade; for Treasure; for Warre; for Suits; for some Prouinces: For where there be diuers particular Counsels, and but one Counsell of Estate, ( as it is in Spaine ) they are in effect no more, then Standing Commissions; Saue that they haue greater Authority. Let such, as are to informe Counsels, out of their particular Professions, ( as Lawyers, Sea-men, Mint-men, and the like ) be first heard, before Committees; And then, as Occasion serues, before the Counsell. And let them not come in Multitudes, or in a Tribunitious Manner; For that is, to clamour Counsels, not to enforme them. A long Table, and a square Table, or Seats about the Walls, seeme Things of Forme, but are Things of Substance; For at a long Table, a few at the vpper end, in effect, sway all the Businesse; But in the other Forme, there is more vse of the Counsellours Opinions, that sit lower. A King, when he presides in Counsell, let him beware how he Opens his owne Inclination too much, in that which he propoundeth: For else Counsellours will but take the Winde of him; And in stead of giuing Free Counsell, sing him a Song of Placebo.

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