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OF THE TRUE GREATNESS, ETC.
A man ought warily to begin charges, which once begun will continue: but in matters that return not he may be more magnificent.
The true Greatness of Kingdoms and
The speech of Themistocles, the Athenian, which was haughty and arrogant, in taking so much to himself, had been a grave and wise observation and censure, applied at large to others. Desired at a feast to touch a lute, he said, “ he could not fiddle, but yet he could make a small town a great city.” These words (holpen a little with a metaphor,) may express two differing abilities in those that deal in business of estate; for, if a true survey be taken of counsellors and statesmen, there may be found, though rarely, those which can make a small state great, and yet cannot fiddle: as, on the other side, there will be found a great many that can fiddle very cunningly, but yet are so far from being able to make a small state great, as their gift lieth the other way; to bring a great and flourishing estate to ruin and decay: and, certainly, those degenerate arts and shifts, whereby many counsellors and governors gain both favour with their masters, and estimation with the vulgar, deserve no better name than fiddling; being things rather pleasing for the time, and graceful to themselves only, than tending to the weal and advancement of the state which they serve.
There are also, no doubt, counsellors and governors which may be held sufficient, negotiis pares,” able to manage affairs, and to keep them from precipices and manifest inconveniences; which, nevertheless, are far from the ability to raise and amplify an estate in power, means, and fortune: but be the workmen what they may be, let us speak of the work; that is, the true greatness of kingdoms and estates, and the means thereof. An argument fit for great and mighty princes to have in their hand; to the end, that neither by over-measuring their forces they lose themselves in vain enterprises; nor, on the other side, by undervaluing them, they descend to fearful and pusillanimous counsels.
The greatness of an estate, in bulk and territory, doth fall under measure; and the greatness of finances and revenue doth fall under computation. The population may appear by musters; and the number and greatness of cities and towns by cards and maps; but yet there is not any thing, amongst civil affairs, more subject to error than the right valuation and true judgment concerning the power and forces of an estate. The kingdom of heaven is compared, not to any great kernel, or nut, but to a grain of mustardseed; which is one of the least grains, but hath in it a property and spirit hastily to get up and spread. So are there states great in territory, and yet not apt to enlarge or command: and some that have but a small dimension of stem, and yet are apt to be the foundation of great monarchies.
Walled towns, stored arsenals and armories, goodly races of horse, chariots of war, elephants, ordnance, artillery, and the like; all this is but a sheep in a lion's skin, except the breed and disposition of the people be stout and warlike. Nay, number, itself, in
armies importeth not much, where the people are of weak courage; for, as Virgil saith, “ It never troubles the wolf how many the sheep be.” The army of the Persians, in the plains of Arbela, was such a vast sea of people, as it did somewhat astonish the commanders in Alexander's army, who came to him, therefore, and wished him to set upon them by night; but he answered, “ he would not pilfer the victory;" and the defeat was easy. When Tigranes, the Armenian, being encamped upon a hill with four hundred thousand men, discovered the army of the Romans, being not above fourteen thousand, marching towards him, he made himself merry with it, and said, “ Yonder men are too many for an embassage, and too few for a fight;" but, before the sun set, he found them enow to give him the chase with infinite slaughter. Many are the examples of the great odds between number and courage; so that a man may truly make a judgment, that the principal point of greatness, in any state, is to have a race of military men. Neither is money the sinews of war, (as it is trivially said,) where the sinews of men's arms in base and effeminate people are failing; for Solon said well to Cresus, when in ostentation he showed him his gold, Sir, if any other come that hath better iron than you, he will be master of all this gold.” Therefore, let any prince, or state, think soberly of his forces, except his militia of natives be of good and valiant soldiers; and let princes, on the other side, that have subjects of martial disposition, know their own strength, unless they be otherwise wanting unto themselves. As for mercenary forces, (which is the help in this case,) all examples show that, whatsoever estate, or prince, doth rest upon them, he may spread his feathers for a time, but he will mew them soon after.
The blessing of Judas and Issachar will never meet; that the same people, or nation, should be both the lion's whelp, and the ass between burdens: neither will it be, that a people overlaid with taxes should ever become valiant and martial. It is true, that taxes, levied by consent of the estate, do abate men's courage less; as it hath been seen notably in the exercises of the Low Countries;