The tyrannies, great and small, of the fourteenth century
afford constant proof that examples such as these were not thrown away. Their
misdeeds cried forth loudly and have been circumstantially told by historians.
As States depending for existence on themselves alone, and scientifically
organized with a view to this object, they present to us a higher interest than
that of mere narrative.
The deliberate adaptation of means to ends, of which no
prince out of Italy had at that time a conception, joined to almost absolute
power within the limits of the State, produced among the despots both men and
modes of life of a peculiar character. The chief secret of government in the
hands of the prudent ruler lay in leaving the incidence of taxation as far as
possible where he found it, or as he had first arranged it. The chief sources
of income were: a land tax, based on a valuation; definite taxes on articles of
consumption and duties on exported and imported goods: together with the
private fortune of the ruling house. The only possible increase was derived
from the growth of business and of general prosperity. Loans, such as we find
in the free cities, were here unknown; a well-planned confiscation was held a
preferable means of raising money, provided only that it left public credit
unshakenan end attained, for example, by the truly Oriental practice of
deposing and plundering the director of the finances.