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THE RIGHT HONOURABLE
THOMAS, EARL OF DANBY,
VISCOUNT LATIMER, AND BARON OSBORNE OF
KIVETON IN YORKSHIRE ;
LORD HIGH TREASURER OF ENGLAND,
COUNCIL, AND KNIGHT OF THE MOST NOBLE
ORDER OF THE GARTER.*
MY LORD, THE gratitude of poets is so troublesome a virtue to great men, that you are often in danger of your own benefits : For you are threatened with some epistle, and not suffered to do good in quiet, or to compound for their silence whom you have obliged. Yet, I confess, I neither am or ought to be surprised at this indulgence; for your lordship has the same
* The person, to whom these high titles now belonged, was Sir Thomas Osborne, a Baronet of good family, and decayed estate; part of which had been lost in the royal cause. He was of a bold undaunted character, and stood high for the prerogative. Hence he was thought worthy of being sworn into the Privy Council during the administration of the famous Cabal ; and when that was dissolved by the secession of Shaftesbury and the resignation of Clifford, he was judged a proper person to succeed the latter as Lord High Treasurer. He was created Earl of Danby, and was supposed to be deeply engaged in the attempt to new-model
our Constitution on a more arbitrary plan; having been even heard to say, when sitting in judgment, that a new proclamation from the Crown was superior to an old act of Parliament. Nevertheless, he was persecuted as well by the faction of the Duke of York, to whom he was odious for having officiously introduced the fa. mous Popish Plot to the consideration of Parliament, as by the popular party, who hated him as a favourite minister. Accordingly, in 1678, he was impeached by a vote of the House of Commons, and in consequence, notwithstanding the countenance of the King, was deprived of all his offices, and finally committed to the Tower, where he remained for four years. Sir John Reresby has these reflections on Lord Danby's greatness and sudden fall: " It was but a few months before, that few things were transacted at court, but with the privity or consent of this great man; the King's brother, and favourite mistress, were glad to be fair with him, and the general address of all men of business was to him, who was not only treasurer, but prime minister also, who not only kept the purse, but was the first, and greatest confident in all affairs of state. But now he is neglected of all, forced to hide his head as a criminal, and in danger of losing all he has got, and his life therewith: His family, raised from privacy to the degree of Marquis, (a patent was then actually passing to invest him with that dignity) is now on the brink of falling below the humble stand of a yeoman; nor would almost the meanest subject change conditions with him now, whom so very lately the greatest beheld with envy.” Memoirs, p. 85.
As he was obnoxious to all parties, Lord Danby would probably have been made a sacrifice, had not the disturbances, which arose from the various plots of the time, turned the attention of his enemies to other subjects. He was liberated in 1683-4, survived the Revolution, was created Duke of Leeds, and died in 1712. His character was of the most decided kind; he was fertile in expedients, and had always something new to substitute for those which failed; a faculty highly acceptable to Charles, who loved to be relieved, even were it but in idea, from the labour of business, and the pressure of difficulty. In other points, he was probably not very scrupulous, since even Dryden found cause to say at length, that
Danby's matchless impudence
right to favour poetry, which the great and noble have ever had :
Carmen amat, quisquis carmine digna gerit.
There is somewhat of a tie in nature betwixt those who are born for worthy actions, and those who can transmit them to posterity; and though ours be much the inferior part, it comes at least within the verge of alliance; nor are we unprofitable members of the commonwealth, when we animate others to those virtues, which we copy and describe from you.
It is indeed their interest, who endeavour the subversion of governments, to discourage poets and historians; for the best which can happen to them, is, to be forgotten: But such who, under kings, are the fathers of their country, and by a just and prudent ordering of affairs preserve it, have the same reason to cherish the chroniclers of their actions, as they have to lay up in safety the deeds and evidences of their estates; for such records are their undoubted titles to the love and reverence of after-ages. Your lordship's administration has already taken up a considerable part of the English annals; and many of its most happy years are owing to it. His majesty, the most knowing judge of men, and the best master, has acknowledged the ease and benefit he receives in theincomes of his treasury,which you found, not only disordered, but exhausted. All things were in the confusion of a chaos, without form or method, if not reduced beyond it, even to annihilation; so that you had not only to separate the jarring elements, but (if that boldness of expression might be allowed me) to create them. Your enemies had so embroiled the management of your office, that they looked on your advancement as the instrument of your ruin. And as if the clogging of the revenue, and the confusion of accounts, which you found in your entrance, were not sufficient, they added their own weight of malice to the public calamity, by forestalling the credit which should cure it. Your friends on the other side were only capable of pitying, but not of aiding you; no farther help or counsel was remaining to you, but what was founded on yourself; and that indeed was your security; for your diligence, your constancy, and your prudence, wrought more surely within, when they were not disturbed by any outward motion. The highest virtue is best to be trusted with itself; for assistance only can be given by a genius superior to that which it assists; and it is the noblest kind of debt, when we are only obliged to God and nature. This then, my lord, is your just commendation, that you have wrought out yourself a way to glory, by those very means that were designed for your destruction: You have not only restored, but advanced the revenues of your master, without grievance to the subject; and, as if that were little, yet the debts of the exchequer, which lay heaviest both on the crown, and on private persons, have by your conduct been established in a certainty of satisfaction.* An action so much the more great and honourable, because the case was without the ordinary relief of laws; above the hopes of the afflicted, and beyond the narrowness of the treasury to redress, had it been managed by a less able hand. It is certainly the happiest, and most unenvied part of all your fortune, to do good to many, while you do injury to none; to receive at once the prayers of the subject, and the praises of the prince; and, by the care of your conduct, to give him means of exerting the chiefest (if any be the chiefest) of his royal virtues, his distributive justice to the deserving, and his bounty and compassion to the wanting. The disposition of princes towards their people cannot be better discovered than in the choice of their ministers; who, like the animal spirits betwixt the soul and body, participate somewhat of both natures, and make the communication which is betwixtthem. A king, who is just and moderate in his nature, who rules according to the laws,whom God has made happy by forming the temper of his soul to the constitution of his government, and who makes us happy, by assuming over us no other sovereignty than that wherein our welfare and liberty consists; a prince, I say, of so excellent a character, and so suitable to the wishes of all good men, could not better have conveyed himself into his people's apprehensions, than in your lordship’s person; who so lively express the same virtues, that you seem not so much a copy, as an emanation of him, Moderation is doubtless an establishment of greatness; but there is a steadiness of temper which is likewise requisite in a minister of state; so equal a mixture of both virtues, that he may stand like an isthmus betwixt the two encroaching seas of arbitrary power, and lawless anarchy. The undertaking would be difficult to any but an extraordinary genius, to stand at the line, and to divide the limits ; to pay what is due to the great representative of the nation, and neither to enhance, nor to yield up, the undoubted prerogatives of the crown. These, my lord, are the proper virtues of a noble Englishman, as indeed they are properly English virtues ; no people in the world being capable of using them, but we who have the
* This alludes to the stop of payments in exchequer, in 1671-2; a desperate measure recommended by Clifford, to secure money for the war against Holland.