George Savile, 1st Marquess of Halifax

English politician (1633-1695)

George Savile, 1st Marquess of Halifax (November 11, 1633April 5, 1695) was an English statesman, writer, and politician.

The condition of mankind is to be weary of what we do know, and afraid of what we do not.
When by habit a man cometh to have a bargaining soul, its wings are cut, so that it can never soar. It bindeth reason an apprentice to gain, and instead of a director, maketh it a drudge.


  • Our nature hardly allows us to have enough of anything without having too much.
    • On Dr. Gilbert Burnet (1643-1715), Bishop of Salisbury : as cited in The Library of Literary Criticism of English and American Authors: 1639-1729 , ed. Charles Wells Moulton, H. Malkan (1910) p. 591.

The Anatomy of an Equivalent (1688)

  • Every single Act either weakeneth or improveth our Credit with other Men ; and as an habit of being just to our Word will confirm, so an habit of too freely dispensing with it must necessarily destroy it.
    • The Anatomy of an Equivalent : from The Complete Works of George Savile, First Marquess of Halifax (1912), ed. Sir Walter Alexander Raleigh, Clarendon Press p. 123.

The Lady's New Year's Gift: or Advice to a Daughter (1688)

  • A Husband without Faults is a dangerous Observer.
  • In your Clothes avoid too much Gaudy ; do not value your self upon an Imbroidered Gown ; and remember, that a reasonable Word, or an obliging Look, will gain you more respect, than all your fine Trappings.
  • Remember that Children and Fools want every thing because they want Wit to distinguish: and therefore there is no stronger Evidence of a Crazy Understanding, than the making too large a Catalogue of things necessary, when in truth there are so very few things that have a right to be placed in it.
  • A Princely Mind will undo a private Family.
  • Love is a Passion that hath Friends in the Garrison.
  • The Triumph of Wit is to make your good Nature subdue your Censure; to be quick in seeing Faults, and slow in exposing them. You are to consider, that the invisible thing called a Good Name, is made up of the Breath of Numbers that speak well of you; so that if by a disobliging Word you silence the meanest, the Gale will be less strong which is to bear up your Esteem.
  • The sight of a drunkard is a better sermon against that vice than the best that was ever preached on that subject.

A Character of King Charles II (1750)

  • A very great Memory often forgetteth how much Time is lost by repeating things of no Use.

Political, Moral, and Miscellaneous Reflections (1750)


Political Thoughts and Reflections

  • The People are never so perfectly backed, but that they will kick and fling if not stroked at seasonable times.
    • Of Fundamentals.
  • A Prince who will not undergo the Difficulty of Understanding, must undergo the Danger of Trusting.
    • Of Princes.
  • Nothing is less forgiven than setting Patterns Men have no mind to follow.
    • Princes (their Rewards of Servants).
  • Men are so unwilling to displease a Prince, that it is as dangerous to inform him right, as to serve him wrong.
    • Princes (their Rewards of Servants).
  • Most Mens' Anger about Religion is as if two Men should quarrel for a Lady they neither of them care for.
    • Religion.
  • When the People contend for their Liberty, they seldom get any thing by their Victory but new Masters.
    • Of Prerogative, Power and Liberty.
  • Laws are generally not understood by three sorts of persons, viz. by those who make them, by those who execute them, and by those who suffer, if they break them.
    • Of Laws.
  • If the Laws could speak for themselves, they would complain of the Lawyers in the first Place.
    • Of Laws.
  • The best Party is but a kind of Conspiracy against the rest of the Nation. They put every body else out of their Protection. Like the Jews to the Gentiles, all others are the Offscowrings of the World.
    • Of Parties.
  • Men are not hang'd for stealing Horses, but that Horses may not be stolen.
    • Of Punishment.
  • Malice is of a low Stature, but it hath very long Arms.
  • Of Malice and Envy.
  • The best way to suppose what may come, is to remember what is past.
    • Miscellaneous Thoughts and Reflections.
  • Anger is never without an Argument, but seldom with a good one.
    • Of Anger.

Moral Thoughts and Reflections

  • There is Reason to think the most celebrated Philosophers would have been Bunglers at Business ; but the Reason is because they despised it.
  • Popularity is a Crime from the Moment it is sought ; it is only a Virtue where Men have it whether they will or no.
  • No Man is so much a Fool as not to have Wit enough sometimes to be a Knave ; nor any so cunning a Knave, as not to have the Weakness sometimes to play the Fool.
  • In this Age, when it is said of a Man, He knows how to live , it may be imply’d he is not very honest.
  • It is Ill-manners to silence a Fool, and Cruelty to let him go on.
  • Most men make little other use of their Speech than to give evidence against their own Understanding.
  • Hope is generally a wrong Guide, though it is very good Company by the way. It brusheth through Hedge and Ditch till it cometh to a great Leap, and there it is apt to fall and break its Bones.
  • Malice is of a low Stature, but it hath very long Arms. It often reacheth into the next World, Death itself is not a Bar to it.
  • Malice, like Lust, when it is at the Height, doth not know Shame.
  • The vanity of teaching often tempteth a Man to forget he is a Blockhead.
  • The first mistake belonging to business is the going into it.
  • Men make it such a point of honour to be fit for business that they forget to examine whether business is fit for a man.
  • It is not a reproach but a compliment to learning, to say, that great scholars are less fit for business; since the truth is, business is so much a lower thing than learning, that a man used to the last cannot easily bring his stomach down to the first.
  • If Men considered how many Things there are that Riches cannot buy, they would not be so fond of them.
  • They who are of opinion that Money will do every thing, may very well be suspected to do every thing for Money.
  • Money hath too great a Preference given to it by States, as well as by particular Men.
  • A Little Learning misleadeth, and a great deal often stupifieth the Understanding.
  • When by habit a man cometh to have a bargaining soul, its wings are cut, so that it can never soar. It bindeth reason an apprentice to gain, and instead of a director, maketh it a drudge.
  • Weak men are apt to be cruel.[1]
  • Folly is often more cruel in the consequence, than malice can be in the intent.
  • The condition of mankind is to be weary of what we do know, and afraid of what we do not.

Miscellaneous Thoughts and Reflections

  • Modesty is oftner mistaken than any other Virtue.
  • Men who borrow their Opinions can never repay their Debts. They are Beggars by Nature, and can therefore never get a Stock to grow rich upon.
  • A Man is to go about his own Business as if he had not a Friend in the World to help him in it.
  • If Men would think how often their own Words are thrown at their Heads, they would less often let them go out of their Mouths.
  • A man that should call every thing by its right Name, would hardly pass the Streets without being knock'd down as a common Enemy.
  • A Man may so overdo it in looking too far before him, that he may stumble the more for it.
  • He that leaveth nothing to chance will do few things ill, but he will do very few things.
  • A wise man will keep his Suspicions muzzled, but he will keep them awake.
  • Suspicion seldom wanteth Food to keep it up in Health and Vigour. It feedeth upon every thing it seeth, and is not curious in its Diet.
  • MANY Men swallow the being cheated, but no Man could ever endure to chew it.
  • Men take more pains to hide than to mend themselves.
  • THE best way to suppose what may come, is to remember what is past.
  • The best Qualification of a Prophet is to have a good Memory.
  • Some Mens Memory is like a Box, where a Man should mingle his Jewels with his old Shoes.
  • A Man may dwell so long upon a Thought, that it may take him Prisoner.
  • Half the Truth is often as arrant a Lye, as can be made.
  • It is a general Mistake to think the Men we like are good for every thing, and those we do not, good for nothing.
  • A Man who is Master of Patience, is Master of everything else.
  • Nothing hath an uglier Look to us than Reason, when it is not of our side.
  • MISPENDING a Man's time is a kind of self-homicide, it is making Life to be of no use.
  • Nothing would more contribute to make a Man wise, than to have always an Enemy in his view.

Quotes about Halifax

  • Among the statesmen of those times Halifax was, in genius, the first. His intellect was fertile, subtle, and capacious. His polished, luminous, and animated eloquence, set off by the silver tones of his voice, was the delight of the House of Lords. His conversation overflowed with thought, fancy, and wit. His political tracts well deserve to be studied for their literary merit, and fully entitle him to a place among English classics. To the weight derived from talents so great and various he united all the influence which belongs to rank and ample possessions. Yet he was less successful in politics than many who enjoyed smaller advantages. Indeed, those intellectual peculiarities which make his writings valuable frequently impeded him in the contests of active life. For he always saw passing events, not in the point of view in which they commonly appear to one who bears a part in them, but in the point of view in which, after the lapse of many years, they appear to the philosophic historian. With such a turn of mind, he could not long continue to act cordially with any body of men. All the prejudices, all the exaggerations, of both the great parties in the state moved his scorn. He despised the mean arts and unreasonable clamours of demagogues. He despised still more the doctrines of divine right and passive obedience. He sneered impartially at the bigotry of the Churchman and at the bigotry of the Puritan. He was equally unable to comprehend how any man should object to Saints' days and surplices, and how any man should persecute any other man for objecting to them. In temper he was what, in our time, is called a Conservative: in theory he was a Republican. Even when his dread of anarchy and his disdain for vulgar delusions led him to side for a time with the defenders of arbitrary power, his intellect was always with Locke and Milton. Indeed, his jests upon hereditary monarchy were sometimes such as would have better become a member of the Calf's Head Club than a Privy Councillor of the Stuarts. In religion he was so far from being a zealot that he was called by the uncharitable an atheist: but this imputation he vehemently repelled; and in truth, though he sometimes gave scandal by the way in which he exerted his rare powers both of reasoning and of ridicule on serious subjects, he seems to have been by no means unsusceptible of religious impressions.
  • He was the chief of those politicians whom the two great parties contemptuously called Trimmers. Instead of quarrelling with this nickname, he assumed it as a title of honour, and vindicated, with great vivacity, the dignity of the appellation. Everything good, he said, trims between extremes. The temperate zone trims between the climate in which men are roasted and the climate in which they are frozen. The English Church trims between the Anabaptist madness and the Papist lethargy. The English constitution trims between Turkish despotism and Polish anarchy. Virtue is nothing but a just temper between propensities any one of which, if indulged to excess, becomes vice. Nay, the perfection of the Supreme Being himself consists in the exact equilibrium of attributes, none of which could preponderate without disturbing the whole moral and physical order of the world. Thus Halifax was a Trimmer on principle. He was also a Trimmer by the constitution both of his head and of his heart. His understanding was keen, sceptical, inexhaustibly fertile in distinctions and objections; his taste refined; his sense of the ludicrous exquisite; his temper placid and forgiving, but fastidious, and by no means prone either to malevolence or to enthusiastic admiration. Such a man could not long be constant to any band of political allies. He must not, however, be confounded with the vulgar crowd of renegades. For though, like them, he passed from side to side, his transition was always in the direction opposite to theirs. He had nothing in common with those who fly from extreme to extreme, and who regard the party which they have deserted with an animosity far exceeding that of consistent enemies. His place was on the debatable ground between the hostile divisions of the community, and he never wandered far beyond the frontier of either. The party to which he at any moment belonged was the party which, at that moment, he liked least, because it was the party of which at that moment he had the nearest view. He was therefore always severe upon his violent associates, and was always in friendly relations with his moderate opponents. Every faction in the day of its insolent and vindictive triumph incurred his censure; and every faction, when vanquished and persecuted, found in him a protector. To his lasting honour it must be mentioned that he attempted to save those victims whose fate has left the deepest stain both on the Whig and on the Tory name.