Home > Uncategorized > Stendhal and Byron: Military leprosy; fronts of brass and feet of clay

Stendhal and Byron: Military leprosy; fronts of brass and feet of clay

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Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

Stendhal: Dreaming of the Marshall and his glory…

Stendhal: You’ve got to learn the business before you can become a soldier

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Stendhal
From Comments on a reply to General Ségur (1825)

Three quarters of the officers engaged in the Moscow expedition are referred to in M. de Ségur’s History, but, according to the partisans of the nation’s honour, he has said things that ought never to have escaped the lips of a Frenchman. As a historian, he has ventured to tell the truth. He says, for example, that there was a secret agreement between Napoleon and the army. The army was mowed down by the cannon as rapidly as the English armies which you send to Ava or the Cape are wiped out by tropical diseases. The French armies submitted to this horrible lottery, and, in return, Napoleon promised them not only the advantages of pillage (that would have been a peccadillo) but licence to murder the citizens on whom they were billeted (the baker in Cassel is one example), to murder the maires de commune in France; and to pillage their own wagon train, as they did in Spain in 1809, thus causing the defeat of the French army. M. de Ségur has committed a crime which the army will never forgive him: he has directed the attention of the French to the military leprosy introduced into France by Napoleon.

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George Gordon Byron
From Ode to Napoleon Buonoparte (1814)

‘Tis done — but yesterday a King!
And arm’d with Kings to strive —
And now thou art a nameless thing:
So abject — yet alive!
Is this the man of thousand thrones,
Who strew’d our earth with hostile bones,
And can he thus survive?
Since he, miscall’d the Morning Star,
Nor man nor fiend hath fallen so far.

Ill-minded man! why scourge thy kind
Who bow’d so low the knee?
By gazing on thyself grown blind,
Thou taught’st the rest to see.
With might unquestion’d, — power to save, —
Thine only gift hath been the grave,
To those that worshipp’d thee;
Nor till thy fall could mortals guess
Ambition’s less than littleness!

Thanks for that lesson — It will teach
To after-warriors more
Than high Philosophy can preach,
And vainly preach’d before.
That spell upon the minds of men
Breaks never to unite again,
That led them to adore
Those Pagod things of sabre sway
With fronts of brass, and feet of clay.

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