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George Savile, Marquess of Halifax, was born in
1630, of an old Yorkshire family. He first came into great political prominence in the struggles of the Exclusion Bill, and was recognized chief of the “ Trimmers." His pamphlets were mostly anonymous, but their style is unmistakable, and they are among the origins of pointed political writing in England. He died in 1695.
THE CHARACTER OF A TRIMMER. To conclude ; our Trimmer is so fully satisfied of the truth
of these principles by which he is directed, in reference to the public, that he will neither be hectored and threatened, laughed nor drunk out of them; and instead of being converted by the arguments of his adversaries to their opinions, he is very much confirmed in his own by them. He professes solemnly, that were it in his power to choose, he would rather have his ambition bounded by the commands of a great and wise master, than let it range with a popular license, though crowned with success; yet he cannot commit such a sin against the glorious thing called Liberty, nor let his soul stoop so much below itself, as to be content without repining to have his reason wholly subdued, or the privilege of acting like a sensible creature torn from him by the imperious dictates of unlimited authority, in what hand soever it happens to be placed. What is there in this that is so criminal, as to deserve the penalty of that most singular apophthegm, "A Trimmer is worse than a rebel !” What do angry men ail, to rail so against moderation ? Does it not look as if they were going to some very scurvy extreme, that is too strong to be digested by the more considering part of mankind ? These arbitrary methods, besides the injustice of them, are, God be thanked, very unskilful too ; for they fright the birds, by talking so loud, from coming into the nets that are laid for them ; and when men agree to rifle a house, they seldom give warning, or blow a trumpet ; but there are some small statesmen, who are so full charged with their own expectations, that they cannot contain.
And kind Heaven, by sending such a seasonable curse upon their undertakings, has made their ignorance an antidote against their malice. Some of these cannot treat peaceably ; yielding will not satisfy them, they will have men by storm.
There are others that must have plots to make their service more necessary, and have an interest to keep them alive, since they are to live upon them; and persuade the king to retrench his own greatness, so as to shrink into the head of a party, which is the betraying him into such an unprincely mistake, and to such a wilful diminution of himself, that they are the last enemies he ought to allow himself to forgive. Such men, if they could, would prevail with the sun to shine only upon them and their friends, and to leave all the rest of the world in the dark. This is a very unusual monopoly, and may come within the equity of the law, which makes it treason to imprison the king : When such unfitting bounds are put to his favour, and he confined to the narrow limits of a particular set of men, that would inclose him ; these honest and loyal gentlemen, if they may be allowed to bear witness for themselves, make a king their engine, and degrade him into a property, at the very time that their fattery would make him believe they paid divine worship to him. Besides these, there is a flying squadron on both sides, they are afraid the world should agree ; small dabblers in conjuring, that raise angry apparitions to keep men from being reconciled, like wasps that fly up and down, buz and sting men to keep them unquiet ; but these insects are commonly short-lived creatures, and no doubt in a little time mankind will be rid of them. They were giants at least who fought once against heaven, but for such pigmies as these to contend against it, is such a provoking folly, that the insolent bunglers ought to be laughed and hissed out of the world for it. They should consider, there is a soul in that great body the people, which may for a time be drowsy and unactive, but when the leviathan is roused, it moves like an angry creature, and will neither be convinced nor resisted. The ople can never agree to show their united powers, till they are extremely tempted and provoked to it; so that to apply cupping-glasses to a great beast naturally disposed to sleep, and to force the tame thing, whether it will or no, to be valiant, must be learnt out of some other book than Machiavil, who would never have prescribed such a preposterous method. It is to be remembered, that if princes have law and authority on their sides, the people on theirs may have Nature, which is a formidable adversary. Duty, Justice, Religion, nay, even human prudence too, bids the people suffer anything rather than resist ; but uncorrected Nature, where'er it feels the smart, will run to the nearest remedy. Men's passions, in this case, are to be considered as well as their duty, let it be never so strongly enforced; for if their passions are provoked, they being as much a part of us as our limbs, they lead men into a short way of arguing, that admits no distinction; and from the foundation of self-defence, they will draw inferences that will have miserable effects upon the quiet of a government.
Our Trimmer therefore dreads a general discontent, because he thinks it differs from a rebellion, only as a spotted fever does from the plague, the same species under a lower degree of malignity; it works several ways, sometimes like a slow poison that has its effects at a great distance from the time it was given; sometimes like dry flag prepared to catch at the first fire, or like seed in the ground ready to sprout up on the first shower : In every shape 'tis fatal, and our Trimmer thinks no pains or precaution can be so great as to prevent it.
In short, he thinks himself in the right, grounding his opinion upon that truth, which equally hates to be under the oppressions of wrangling sophistry on the one hand, or the short dictates of mistaken authority on the other.
Our Trimmer adores the goddess Truth, though in all ages she has been scurvily used, as well as those that worshipped her : 'Tis of late become such a ruining virtue, that Mankind seems
to be agreed to commend and avoid it ; yet the want of practice, which repeals the other laws, has no influence upon the law of truth, because it has root in Heaven, and an intrinsic value in itself, that can never be impaired : She shows her greatness in this, that her enemies, even when they are successful, are ashamed to own it. Nothing but power full of truth has the prerogative of triumphing, not only after victories, but in spite of them, and to put conquest herself out of countenance. She may be kept under and suppressed, but her dignity still remains with her, even when she is in chains. Falsehood with all her impudence, has not enough to speak ill of her before her face : such majesty she carries about her, that her most prosperous enemies are fain to whisper their treason ; all the power upon the earth can never extinguish her : she has lived in all ages; and let the mistaken zeal of prevailing authority christen any opposition to it with what name they please, she makes it not only an ugly and unmannerly, but a dangerous thing to persist : She has lived very retired indeed, nay, sometimes so buried, that only some few of the discerning part of Mankind could have a glimpse of her ; with all that, she has eternity in her, she knows not how to die, and from the darkest clouds that shade and cover her, she breaks from time to time with triumph for her friends, and terror to her enemies.
Our Trimmer therefore, inspired by this divine virtue, thinks fit to conclude with these assertions, that our climate is a Trimmer, between that part of the world where men are roasted, and the other where they are frozen : That our church is a Trimmer, between the frenzy of platonic visions, and the lethargic ignorance of popish dreams : That our laws are Trimmers, between the excess of unbounded power, and the extravagance of liberty not enough restrained : That true virtue hath ever been thought a Trimmer, and to have its dwelling in the middle between the two extremes : That even God Almighty himself is divided between his two great attributes, his Mercy and his Justice.
In such company, our Trimmer is not ashamed of his name, and willingly leaves to the bold champions of either extreme, the honour of contending with no less adversaries than Nature, Religion, Liberty, Prudence, Humanity, and Common Sense.
P. 100, I. 22. Equity, ie, reasonable construction, range.
P. 101, 1. 31. So great as to prevent it. Not that it is impossible to prevent it by pains and precaution, but that no exertion or precaution is of such importance as the prevention of it.