Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. III. Seventeenth Century
Concluding Considerations on the Character of Charles II.
By George Savile, Marquis of Halifax (16331695)
From A Character of King Charles II.
AFTER all this, when some rough strokes of the pencil have made several parts of his picture look a little hard, it is a justice that would be due to every man, much more to a prince, to make some amends, and to reconcile men as much as may be to it by the last finishing.
He had as good a claim to a kind interpretation as most men. First, as a prince: living and dead, generous and well-bred men will be gentle to them; next, as an unfortunate prince in the beginning of his time, and a gentle one in the rest.
A prince neither sharpened by his misfortunes while abroad, nor of his power when restored, is such a shining character, that it is a reproach not to be so dazzled with it, as not to be able to see a fault in its full light. It would be a scandal in this case to have an exact memory. And if all who are akin to his vices, should mourn for him, never prince would be better attended to his grave. He is under the protection of common frailty, that must engage men for their own sakes not to be too severe, where they themselves have so much to answer.
If he had sometimes less firmness than might have been wished, let the kindest reason be given, and if that should be wanting, the best excuse. I would assign the cause of it to be his loving at any rate to be easy, and his deserving the more to be indulged in it, by his desiring that everybody else should be so.
If he sometimes let a servant fall, let it be examined whether he did not weigh so much upon his master, as to give him a fair excuse. That yieldingness, whatever foundations it might lay to the disadvantage of posterity, was a specific to preserve us in peace for his time. If he loved too much to lie upon his own down-bed of ease, his subjects had the pleasure, during his reign, of lolling and stretching upon theirs. As a sword is sooner broken upon a feather-bed than upon a table, so his pliantness broke the blow of a present mischief much better than a more immediate resistance would perhaps have done.
If he dissembled, let us remember, first, that he was a king, and that dissimulation is a jewel of the crown; next, that it is very hard for a man not to do sometimes too much of that, which he concludeth necessary for him to practise. Men should consider, that as there would be no false dice, if there were no true ones, so if dissembling is grown universal, it ceaseth to be foul play, having an implied allowance by the general practice. He that was so often forced to dissemble in his own defence, might the better have the privilege sometimes to be the aggressor, and to deal with men at their own weapon.
Subjects are apt to be as arbitrary in their censure, as the most assuming kings can be in their power. If there might be matter for objections, there is not less reason for excuses; the defects laid to his charge, are such as may claim indulgence from mankind.