Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. III. Seventeenth Century
Liberty, and the English Constitution
By George Savile, Marquis of Halifax (16331695)
From The Character of a Trimmer
OUR Trimmer owns a passion for liberty, yet so restrained that it does not in the least impair or taint his allegiance; he thinks it hard for a soul that does not love liberty, ever to raise itself to another world; he takes it to be the foundation of all virtue, and the only seasoning that gives a relish to life; and tho the laziness of a slavish subjection has its charms for the more gross and earthy part of mankind, yet to men made of a better sort of clay all that the world can give without liberty has no taste. It is true, nothing is sold so cheap by unthinking men; but that does no more lessen the real value of it, than a country fellows ignorance does that of a diamond in selling it for a pot of ale. Liberty is the mistress of mankind, she has powerful charms which so dazzle us that we find beauties in her which perhaps are not there, as we do in other mistresses; yet, if she was not a beauty, the world would not run mad for her; therefore, since the unreasonable desire of it cannot be entirely suppressed, those who would take it away from a people possessed of it are likely to fail in the attempting, or be very unquiet in the keeping of it.
Our Trimmer admires our blessed constitution, in which dominion and liberty are so well reconciled. It gives to the prince the glorious power of commanding freemen, and to the subject the satisfaction of seeing the power so lodged, as that their liberties are secure; it does not allow the Crown such a ruining power, as that no grass can grow whereer it treads, but a cherishing and protecting power; such a one as hath a grim aspect only to the offending subjects, but is the joy and the pride of all the good ones; their own interest being so bound up in it, as to engage them to defend and support it; and though in some instances the king is restrained, yet nothing in the government can move without him; our laws make a distinction between vassalage and obedience, between devouring prerogatives and a licentious ungovernable freedom; and as of all the orders of building the composite is the best, so ours, by a happy mixture and a wise choice of what is best in others, is brought into a form that is our felicity who live under it, and the envy of our neighbour that cannot imitate it.
Our government is in a just proportion; no tympany,1 no unnatural swelling either of power or liberty; and whereas in all overgrown monarchies, reason, learning, and equity are hangd in effigy for mutineers, here they are encouraged and cherished, as the surest friends to a government established upon the foundation of law and justice. When all is done, those who look for perfection in this world, may look as the Jews have for their Messias; and therefore our Trimmer is not so unreasonably partial, as to free our government from all objections. No doubt, there have been fatal instances of its sickness and, more than that, of its mortality, for some time, though by a miracle it hath been revived again. But till we have another race of mankind, in all constitutions that are bounded, there will ever be some matter of strife and contention; and, rather than want pretensions, mens passions and interests will raise them from the most inconsiderable causes.
Our government is like our climate; there are winds which are sometimes loud and unquiet, and yet with all the trouble they give us, we owe great part of our health unto them in that they clear the air, which else would be like a standing pool, and instead of refreshment would be a disease unto us.