Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. II. Sixteenth Century to the Restoration
Of the True Greatness of a State
By Francis Bacon (15611626)
From Of the True Greatness of Britain
AND therefore we may conclude, that as largeness of territory, severed from military virtue, is but a burden; so, that treasures and riches severed from the same is but a prey. It resteth therefore to make a reduction of this error also unto a truth by distinction and limitation, which will be in this manner:
For the first of these, it is a thing that cannot be denied, that in equality of valour the better purse is an advantage. For like as in wrestling between man and man, if there be a great overmatch in strength, it is to little purpose though one have the better breath; but, if the strength be near equal, then he that is short-winded will, if the wager consist of many falls, in the end have the worst; so it is in the wars, if it be a match between a valiant people and a cowardly, the advantage of treasure will not serve; but if they be near in valour, then the better moneyed state will be the better able to continue the war, and so in the end to prevail. But if any man think that money can make those provisions at the first encounters, that no difference of valour can countervail, let him look back but into those examples which have been brought, and he must confess that all those furnitures whatsoever are but shows and mummeries, and cannot shroud fear against resolution. For there shall he find companies armed with armour of proof taken out of the stately armouries of kings who spared no cost, overthrown by men armed by private bargain and chance as they could get it: there shall he find armies appointed with horses bred of purpose, and in choice races, chariots of war, elephants, and the like terrors, mastered by armies meanly appointed. So of towns strongly fortified, basely yielded, and the like; all being but sheep in a lions skin, where valour faileth.
For the second point, that competency of treasure is better than surfeit, is a matter of common place or ordinary discourse; in regard that excess of riches, neither in public nor private, ever hath any good effects, but maketh men either slothful and effeminate, and so no enterprisers; or insolent and arrogant, and so overgreat embracers; but most generally cowardly and fearful to lose, according to the adage, Timidus Plutus; so as this needeth no farther speech. But a part of that assertion requireth a more deep consideration, being a matter not so familiar, but yet most assuredly true. For it is necessary in a state that shall grow and enlarge, that there be that composition which the poet speaks of, Multis utile bellum: an ill condition of a state, no question, if it be meant of a civil war, as it was spoken; but a condition proper to a state that shall increase, if it be taken of a foreign war. For except there be a spur in the state, that shall excite and prick them on to wars, they will but keep their own, and seek no farther. And in all experience and stories you shall find but three things that prepare and dispose an estate to war: the ambition of governors, a state of soldiers professed, and the hard means to live of many subjects. Whereof the last is the most forcible and the most constant. And this is the true reason of that event which we observed and rehearsed before, that most of the great kingdoms of the world have sprung out of hardness and scarceness of means, as the strongest herbs out of the barrenest soils.
For the third point, concerning the placing and distributing of treasure in a state, the position is simple; that then treasure is greatest strength to a state, when it is so disposed, as it is readiest and easiest to come by for public service and use: which one position doth infer three conclusions.
For it is not the abundance of treasure in the subjects hands that can make sudden supply of the want of a state; because reason tells us, and experience both, that private persons have least will to contribute when they have most cause; for when there is noise or expectation of wars, then is always the deadest time for moneys, in regard every man restraineth and holdeth fast his means for his own comfort and succour, according as Solomon saith, The riches of a man are as a stronghold in his own imagination: and therefore we see by infinite examples, and none more memorable than that of Constantinus the last Emperor of the Greeks, and the citizens of Constantinople, that subjects do often choose rather to be frugal dispensers for their enemies, than liberal lenders to their prince. Again, wheresoever the wealth of the subject is engrossed into few hands, it is not possible it should be so respondent and yielding to payments and contributions for the public, both because the true estimation or assessment of great wealth is more obscure and uncertain; and because the burden seemeth lighter when the charge lieth upon many hands; and farther, because the same greatness of wealth is for the most part not collected and obtained without sucking it from many, according to the received similitude of the spleen, which never swelleth but when the rest of the body pineth and abateth. And lastly, it cannot be that any wealth should leave a second overplus for the public that doth not first leave an overplus to the private stock of him that gathers it; and therefore nothing is more certain than that those states are least able to aid and defray great charge for wars, or other public disbursements, whose wealth resteth chiefly in the hands of the nobility and gentlemen. For what by reason of their magnificence and waste in expense, and what by reason of their desire to advance and make great their own families, and again upon the coincidence of the former reason, because they are always the fewest; small is the help, as to payments or charge, that can be levied or expected from them towards the occasions of a state. Contrary it is of such states whose wealth resteth in the hands of merchants, burghers, tradesmen, freeholders, farmers in the country, and the like, whereof we have a most evident and present example before our eyes, in our neighbours of the Low Countries, who could never have endured and continued so inestimable and insupportable charge, either by their natural frugality or by their mechanical industry, were it not also that there was a concurrence in them of this last reason, which is, that their wealth was dispersed in many hands, and not engrossed into few; and those hands were not much of the nobility, but most and generally of inferior conditions.