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Charles Lever: The self-serving drunken oblivion of war

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

Charles Lever
From The Confessions of Harry Lorrequer (1839)

Lever

While the rigours of the conscription had invaded every family in France, from Normandy to La Vendée – while the untilled fields, the ruined granaries, the half-deserted villages, all attested the depopulation of the land, those talismanic words, l’Empereur et la gloire, by some magic mechanism seemed all-sufficient not only to repress regret and suffering, but even stimulate pride, and nourish valour; and even yet, when it might be supposed that like the brilliant glass of a magic lantern, the gaudy pageant had passed away, leaving only the darkness and desolation behind it – the memory of those days under the empire survives untarnished and unimpaired, and every sacrifice of friends or fortune is accounted but little in the balance when the honour of la belle France, and the triumphs of the grande armée are weighted against them. The infatuated and enthusiastic followers of this great man would seem, in some respects, to resemble the drunkard in the vaudeville, who alleged as his excuse for drinking, that whenever he was sober his poverty disgusted him. “My cabin,” said he, “is a cell, my wife a mass of old rags, my child a wretched object of misery and malady. But give me brandy; let me only have that, and then my hut is a palace, my wife is a princess, and my child the very picture of health and happiness;” so with these people – intoxicated with the triumphs of their nation, tête montée with victory, they cannot exist in the horror of sobriety which peace necessarily enforces; and whenever the subject turns in conversation upon the distresses of the time or the evil prospects of the country, they call out, not, like the drunkard, for brandy, but in the same spirit they say, “Ah, if you would again see France flourishing and happy, let us once more have our croix d’honneur, our epaulets, our voluntary contributions, our Murillos, our Velasquez, our spoils from Venice, and our increased territories to rule over.”

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