Page:Machiavelli, Romanes Lecture, 2 June 1897.djvu/44

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Frederick the Great is the hero of the most picturesque of modern historians. That strong ruler, as we all know, took it into his head to write a refutation of the Prince. 'Sir,' said Voltaire, 'I believe the very first advice that Machiavelli would have given to a disciple, would have been that he should write a refutation of his book.' Carlyle contemptuously regrets that his hero should have taken any trouble about the Italian's 'perverse little book,' and its incredible sophistries; pity he was not refuted by a kick from old Frederick William's jackboot; he deserved no more. Carlyle does not let us forget that nobody so quickly turns cynic as your high-flying transcendentalist, just as nobody takes wickedness so easily as the Antinomian who holds the highest doctrine about the incorruptibility of the spiritual nature. The plain truth is that Frederick, alike on his good side and his bad side, alike as the wise law-maker, the thrifty steward, the capable soldier, and as the robber of Silesia, and a leading accomplice, if not the inspirer, of the partition of Poland, was the aptest of all modern types of the perverse book.34 It was reserved for this century to see even that type depraved and distorted.35

The most imposing of all incarnations of the doctrine that reason of State covers all, is Napoleon. Tacitus, said Napoleon, writes romances, Gibbon is no better than a man of sounding words, Machiavelli is the only one of them worth reading. No wonder that he thought so. All those maxims that have most scandalised mankind in the Italian writer of the