Every Inch A King.
Apology for a Dead King.
AFTER all this, when some rough Strokes of the Pencil have made several Parts of the 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 whilst Abroad, nor by 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.
What therefore an angry Philosopher would call Lewdness, let frailer Men call a Warmth and Sweetness of the Blood, that would not be confined in the communicating itself; an over-flowing of Good-nature, of which he had such a Stream, that it would not be restrained within the Banks of a crabbed and unsociable Virtue.
If he had sometimes less Firmness than might have been wished; let the kindest Reason be given, and is 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 every body 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 Specifick to preserve us in Peace for his own 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.
Ruin saw this, and therefore removed him first to make way for further Overturnings.
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 practice. 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.
Should no body throw a Stone at his Faults but those who are free from them, there would be but a slender Shower.
What private Man will throw Stones at him because he loved? Or what Prince, because he dissembled?
If he either trusted, or forgave his Enemies, or in some Cases neglected his Friends, more than could in Strictness be allowed; let not those Errors be so arraigned as take away the Privilege that seemeth to be due to Princely Frailties. If Princes are under the Misfortune of being accused to govern ill, their Subjects have the less right to fall hard upon them, since they generally so little deserve to be governed well.
The truth is, the Calling of a King, with all its glittering, hath such an unreasonable weight upon it, that they may rather expect to be lamented, than to be envied; for being set upon a Pinacle, where they are exposed to Censure, if they do not do more to answer Mens Expectations, than corrupted Nature will allow.
It is but justice therefore to this Prince, to give all due Softenings to the less shining Parts of his Life; to offer Flowers and Leaves to hide, instead of using Aggravations to expose them.
Let his Royal Ashes than lie soft upon him, and cover him from harsh and unkind Censures; which though they should not be unjust, can never clear themselves from being indecent.
—George Savile, Halifax;
A Character of King Charles II,
“Chap. VII, Conclusion” (1750).