Gilbert Burnet

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[T]he chief Design of our whole Law, and of all the several Rules of our Constitution, is to secure and maintain our Liberty.

Gilbert Burnet (18 September 1643 – 17 March 1715) was a Scottish philosopher and historian, and Bishop of Salisbury. He was fluent in Dutch, French, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. Burnet was highly respected as a cleric, a preacher, an academic, a writer and a historian. He was always closely associated with the Whig party, and was one of the few close friends in whom King William III confided.

Quotes[edit]

  • It is certain, That the Law of Nature has put no difference nor subordination among Men, except it be that of Children to Parents, or of Wives to their Husbands; so that with Relation to the Law of Nature, all Men are born free; and this Liberty must still be supposed entire, unless so far as it is limited by Contracts, Provisions, or Laws. For a Man can either bind himself to be a Servant, or sell himself to be a Slave, by which he becomes in the power of another, only so far as it was provided by the Contract: since all that Liberty which was not expresly given away, remains still entire: so that the Plea for Liberty always proves it self, unless it appears that: it is given up or limited by any special Agreement.
    • An Enquiry into the Measures of Submission to the Supream Authority, quoted in Gilbert Burnet, A Collection of Eighteen Papers, Relating to the Affairs of Church & State, During the Reign of King James the Second (1689), p. 119
  • [I]n the management of this Civil Society, great distinction is to be made, between the Power of making Laws for the regulating the Conduct of it, and the Power of executing those Laws: The Supream Authority must still be supposed to be lodged with those who have the Legislative Power reserved to them, but not with those who have only the Executive; which is plainly a Trust, when it is separated from the Legislative Power.
    • An Enquiry into the Measures of Submission to the Supream Authority, quoted in Gilbert Burnet, A Collection of Eighteen Papers, Relating to the Affairs of Church & State, During the Reign of King James the Second (1689), p. 120
  • The measures of Power, and by consequence of Obedience, must be taken from the express Laws of any State or Body of Men, from the Oaths that they swear, or from immemorial Prescription, and a long Possession, which both give a Title, and in a long Tract of Time make a bad one be came good, face Prescription, when it passes the Memory of Man, and is not disputed by any other Pretender, gives by the common Sense of all Men a just and good Title: so upon the whole matter, the degrees of all Civil Authority are to be taken either from express Laws, immemorial Customs, or from particular Oaths, which the Subjects swear to their Princes: this being still to be laid down for a Principle, that in all the Disputes between Power and Liberty, Power must always be proved, but Liberty proves it self; the one being founded only upon a Positive Law, and the other upon the Law of Nature.
    • An Enquiry into the Measures of Submission to the Supream Authority, quoted in Gilbert Burnet, A Collection of Eighteen Papers, Relating to the Affairs of Church & State, During the Reign of King James the Second (1689), p. 122
  • [T]he chief Design of our whole Law, and of all the several Rules of our Constitution, is to secure and maintain our Liberty.
    • An Enquiry into the Measures of Submission to the Supream Authority, quoted in Gilbert Burnet, A Collection of Eighteen Papers, Relating to the Affairs of Church & State, During the Reign of King James the Second (1689), p. 127
  • The chief glory of Princes, and the chief of their Titles...is, That they are God's Deputies and Vicegerents here on earth; that they re­present him, and by consequence, that they ought to resemble him. The outward respect paid them, carries a proportion to that Character of Divinity which is on them, and that supposes an imitation of the Divine Perfections in them.
    • A Sermon Preached at White-Hall, On the 26th of Novemb. 1691. Being the Thanksgiving-Day for the Preservation of the King, and the Reduction of Ireland (1691), p. 2
  • [T]he queen spoke to myself [in 1711]... I asked leave to speak my mind plainly; which she granted: I said, any treaty by which Spain and the West Indies were left to king Philip, must in a little while deliver up all Europe into the hands of France; and, if any such peace should be made, she was betrayed, and we were all ruined; in less than three years' time she would be murdered, and the fires would be again raised in Smithfield: I pursued this long, till I saw she grew uneasy; so I withdrew.
    • Bishop Burnet's History of His Own Time, Vol. VI (1823; second edition, 1833), p. 71

Quotes about Burnet[edit]

  • Damn him, he has told a great deal of truth, but where the devil did he learn it?
    • Francis Atterbury on Burnet's History, quoted in C. H. Firth, 'Introduction', T. E. S. Clarke and H. C. Foxcroft, A Life of Gilbert Burnet, Bishop of Salisbury (1907), p. xxxv
  • Nor could any be more qualified for writing the History of his own Times, for he was Curious and Inquisitive, and had a large Acquaintance, and the Opportunity of conversing with all sorts of Persons, of all Ranks, from the Throne downwards. He never heard of any Person of Note, whether at home or abroad, whom he did not take some Opportunity of visiting; and if they were not of themselves ready to declare what they knew, he endeavoured to draw them into it by his curious Questions, as I have been informed by those who knew his ways; so that without Question, there were few who could know more, or so much of the Transactions of these Times he writes of.
    • John Cockburn, A Specimen of Some Free and Impartial Remarks on Publick Affairs and Particular Persons, Especially Relating to Scotland, Occasioned by Dr. Burnet's "History of his own Times" [1724], p. 66
  • Bishop Burnet was a man of the most extensive knowledge I ever met with; had read and seen a great deal, with a prodigious memory, and a very indifferent judgment: he was extremely partial, and readily took every thing for granted that he heard to the prejudice of those that he did not like: which made him pass for a man of less truth than he really was. I do not think he designedly published any thing he believed to be false. He had a boisterous vehement manner of expressing himself, which often made him ridiculous, especially in the house of lords, when what he said would not have been thought so, delivered in a lower voice, and a calmer behaviour. His vast knowledge occasioned his frequent rambling from the point he was speaking to, which ran him into discourses of so universal a nature, that there was no end to be expected but from a failure of his strength and spirits, of both which he had a larger share than most men; which were accompanied with a most invincible assurance.
    • Lord Dartmouth, quoted in Bishop Burnet's History of His Own Time, Vol. I (1823; second edition, 1833), p. 5, note

External links[edit]

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