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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

The Un-Solomonized James I.

By William Stith (1707–1755)

[Born in Virginia. Died at Williamsburg, Va., 1755. The History of the First Discovery and Settlement of Virginia. 1747.]

IF more than a century is not enough to un-solomonize that silly monarch, I must give up all my notions of things. A king’s character, whilst he lives, is, and ought to be sacred, because his authority depends upon it. But when his authority, the reason of it’s being sacred, determines, the inviolableness of his character is also at an end. And I take it to be the main part of the duty and office of an historian, to paint men and things in their true and lively colors; and to do that justice to the vices and follies of princes and great men, after their death, which it is not safe or proper to do, whilst they are alive. And herein, as I judge, chiefly consist the strength and excellency of Tacitus and Suetonius. Their style and manner are far inferior to Livy’s, and the writers of the Julian and Augustan ages. But they have more than painted, and exposed alive to view, the greatest train of monsters that ever disgraced a throne, or did dishonor to human nature: and thereby have obtained to themselves a rank among the best and most valuable writers.

King James I. fell indeed far short of the Cæsar’s superlative wickedness and supremacy in vice. He was, at best, only very simple and injudicious, without any steady principle of justice and honor; which was rendered the more odious and ridiculous, by his large and constant pretensions to wisdom and virtue. And he had, in truth, all the forms of wisdom; forever erring very learnedly, with a wise saw, or Latin sentence, in his mouth. For he had been bred up under Buchanan, one of the brightest geniuses and most accomplished scholars of that age, who had given him Greek and Latin in great waste and profusion, but it was not in his power to give him good sense. That is the gift of God and nature alone, and it is not to be taught; and Greek and Latin without it, only cumber and overload a weak head, and often render the fool more abundantly foolish. I must therefore confess, that I have ever had, from my first acquaintance with history, a most contemptible opinion of this monarch; which has perhaps been much heightened and increased, by my long studying and conning over the materials of this history. For he appears, in his dealings with the company, to have acted with such mean arts and fraud, and such little tricking, as highly misbecome majesty. And I am much mistaken, if his arbitrary proceedings and unjust designs will appear from any part of his history more fully, than from these transactions with the company and colony; which have been thus far unknown to the English historians, and will perhaps be still thought too insignificant for their notice. However, I hope my speaking my mind thus sincerely and impartially will give no umbrage or offence to any man, or party of men. For I declare myself to be of no party; but have labored solely with a view to find out and relate the truth.