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S.A. Bent, comp. Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men. 1887.

Charles II.

  • [King of England, son of Charles I.; born May 29, 1630; landed in Scotland, 1649, and was crowned at Scone; defeated at Dunbar and Worcester; fled to France, but was restored to the English throne, 1660; joined the triple alliance against Louis XIV., with whom he soon made a secret treaty; died 1685.]
  • My sayings are my own, my actions are my ministers’.

  • In reply to a verse which Lord Rochester wrote and fastened to the king’s bedroom-door:—
  • “Here lies our sovereign lord the king,
  • Whose word no man relies on:
  • He never says a foolish thing,
  • Nor ever does a wise one.”
  • It was of Rochester, who was removed from the treasury and made lord president,—a more dignified but less important position,—that Viscount Halifax said, “I have seen people kicked down-stairs before, but my Lord Rochester is the first person that I ever saw kicked up-stairs.”
  • One of the king’s sayings which became a proverbial expression was, “as good as a play.” It was said of the debates on Lord Ross’s Divorce Bill, which he attended in the House of Commons, because, says Macaulay, “they amused his sated mind.”
  • Asking Stillingfleet why he read his sermons, the bishop answered, it was from awe of his majesty; asking the king, in turn, why he read his speech from the throne, Charles replied, “Because I have asked them so often for money, that I am ashamed to look them in the face.”
  • Mr. Cowley has not left a better man behind him in England.

  • On the death of Abraham Cowley, the poet, in 1667.
  • George III. passed a different verdict upon ex-Chancellor Loughborough, when told of his death: “Then he has not left a greater knave behind him in my dominions.” It was this unscrupulous politician who, when Alexander Wedderburn, made an unjustifiable attack upon Benjamin Franklin before the Privy Council in 1774; accusing him of obtaining surreptitiously, and sending to America, some letters of government officials in Boston, upon the receipt of which the Americans petitioned for the removal of Gov. Hutchinson and others. After making this charge, Wedderburn added, “He will henceforth esteem it a libel to be called a man of letters,—this man of three letters;” alluding to the Latin word for thief, fur. Plautus speaks of a thief being a man of three letters (trium litterarum homo). Franklin remained silent during this attack; but it was remarked, that when, as American commissioner, he signed the treaty of offensive and defensive alliance with France, in 1778, he wore the same suit of Manchester velvet as on his appearance before the Privy Council. It was all the revenge the amiable philosopher desired; but Horace Walpole wrote, Dec. 11, 1777: “If I were Franklin, I would order the cabinet council to come to me at Paris with ropes about their necks, and kick them back to St. James’s.”
  • My Chancellor Cooper (Shaftesbury) knows more law than all my judges, and more divinity than all my bishops.

  • Shaftesbury, satirized by Dryden under the name of Achitophel, served and betrayed a succession of governments, but timed his treacheries to promote his fortune. To him is attributed—as to Fontenelle and St. Evremond—the reply to the question of what religion he was: “I am of the religion of all sensible men;” and when asked what that was: “That all sensible men agree not to tell.” This definition is used by Lord Beaconsfield in “Endymion,” without acknowledgment (chap. lxxxi.). Whatever his religion may have been, King Charles knew him well enough to say to him when Lord Ashley, “You are the wickedest dog in my dominions;” to which he coolly replied, “Of a subject, I think I am.”
  • It is the custom here for but one man to be allowed to stand uncovered.

  • Removing his hat, when he saw that the Quaker William Penn, during an audience of his Majesty, stood covered. Penn, however, said, “Friend Charles, keep thy hat on!”
  • During a visit of the king to Westminster School, Dr. Busby, who held the position of master for fifty-five years, and educated, it is said, a greater number of distinguished men than any other teacher who ever lived, kept his hat on; giving as an excuse, “The scholars must not know that I have a superior, else it would be all over with my authority.”
  • Charles II. was a good-natured monarch, who did not feel attacks upon his royal dignity. When told by a man in the pillory, that he was there for making pasquinades on the ministry, “Fool,” exclaimed the king, “why didn’t he make them on me? Then nothing would have happened to him!”
  • A Frenchman, Gourville, told Charles in 1674, that a king of England who would be the man of his people would be the greatest monarch in the world. “I will be the man of my people,” replied the king.
  • His brother, the Duke of York, afterwards James II., gave Charles some advice in 1685, on a certain point, which the latter thought would provoke the people to resistance. “Brother,” he said, with a keen insight into James’s character, “I am too old to go again to my travels: you may, if you choose it.” The duke once warned him against walking out without guards; alluding to James’s unpopularity, the king replied, “You may depend upon it that nobody will ever think of killing me to make you king.”
  • The old fool has taken more executions in that naked country than I for the murder of my father.

  • Of the conduct of Gov. Berkeley of Virginia, in executing the adherents of Nathaniel Bacon, who raised a force against the Indians without the governor’s commission, and became involved in conduct considered treasonable. Berkeley was recalled after these executions and confiscations of estates, and died soon after his arrival in England, “imbittered in his last moments, according to a most probable story, by the well-earned gibe which the amiable Charles flung at him.”—LODGE: English Colonies in America.
  • Charles said of George, Prince of Denmark, the good-natured but dull husband of the future Queen Anne, “I have tried him drunk and sober, and can find nothing in him.”
  • When William, Prince of Orange, afterwards William III., all of whose thoughts were on war, married Mary, daughter of the Duke of York, the king said by way of friendly warning, “Nephew, remember that love and war do not agree well together.”
  • He remarked of the first Earl Godolphin, who held many important offices under the last Stuarts, William and Mary, and Anne, “Sidney Godolphin is never in the way, and never out of the way.” Burnet calls him “the silentest and modestest man who was perhaps ever bred in a court.”
  • Jeffreys, afterward the infamous judge, and minion of James II., resigned the recordership of London, on being reprimanded by the House of Commons, which petitioned the king to remove him from all his offices, in 1680: “Jeffreys is not Parliament-proof,” remarked Charles.
  • Presbytery is no religion for a gentleman.

  • To the Earl of Lauderdale, who was captured at Worcester and appeared at the Restoration “in a new suit of clothes,” says Carlyle; “gave up presbytery, not without pangs; and set about introducing the Tulchan apparatus into Scotland; failed, as is well known, and earned from the Scotch people deep-toned universal sound of curses, not yet inaudible.”—Cromwell’s Letters and Speeches. “I took up my politics,” said Sir Walter Scott of his school-days, “as King Charles II. did his religion, from an idea that the Cavalier creed was the more gentlemanlike persuasion of the two.”
  • For its merit I will knight it, and then it will be sir-loin.

  • On asking the name of a piece of beef which particularly pleased him, and being told it was the loin, the king gave it the name it has since borne. (V., however, SKEAT: Etym. Dict.)
  • Do not let poor Nelly starve!

  • On his death-bed; of Eleanor Gwynne, a celebrated beauty, who was born in London about 1650, and, after she had achieved success as an actress, became the king’s mistress.
  • When the queen, Catherine of Braganza, asked the dying king’s pardon for any offence she might unwittingly have given him, he exclaimed, “She ask my pardon, poor woman! I ask hers with all my heart!”