Home > Uncategorized > Francisco de Quevedo: The soldierly virtues of ardor, candor, honor and valor

Francisco de Quevedo: The soldierly virtues of ardor, candor, honor and valor


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

Francisco de Quevedo: Metal against metal: Learning causes peace to be sought after


Francisco de Quevedo
From Vida del Buscón (1626)
Translated by Charles Duff


“Why I have been these six months at the Court asking for a Decoration, after twenty years’ service, and having shed my blood in the King’s service – as these wounds show”. He pointed to a scar as long as your hand in his groin – a bubo as clear as daylight – and two marks on his heels which he said were shots: but I decided they were chilblains, from a couple of the same sort I have myself. He removed his hat to show me his face, torn with the marks of sixteen bullets and a long gash which split his nostrils, not to mention smaller cuts which made it look like a map all covered with lines. “These,” said he, “I received at Paris in the service of God and King, for whom I suffered my countenance to be carved; in return I have received nothing but fair words which are nowadays equivalent to foul actions. Read these papers, learned Graduate, for by Heavens, a more remarkable man, as God lives, never went into field of battle.”


I lay down with a sore heart, and the soldier called the landlord and gave him charge of the papers in the tin cannisters, together with a bundle of superannuated shirts…The soldier talked in his sleep about his pound, as though it were not beyond retrieving. When it was time to get up he called sharply for a light, which was brought; and the landlord gave the soldier his bundle, forgetting the papers. The wretched Ensign made the house ring with his shouts for the services to be delivered [and as you know, Sir, “services” is the polite expression for chamber-pots]. At this landlord was alarmed, and as we pressed for him to hand over the services he ran out, supposing we were all taken with a looseness, and returned with three close-stools saying, “Here is one for each of you. Do you require more?” This dissimulation made the soldier stand up sword in hand and in his shirt pursue the landlord, swearing he would murder him for that scurvy joke (he who had been at the battles of Lepanto, San Quentin, and a host of others!) of bringing chamber-pots instead of the documentary evidence of his services. We ran after him to restrain him and were hard put to do so, whilst the landlord cried, “You asked me for services, Sir, and how was I to know that they give such a name to certificates of military exploits?”


When darkness came the fraternity of rogues and sharpers made towards our habitation. I entered the house to find the ragged soldier holding up a wax torch he had received for the purpose of attending a funeral, of which he thought the better and consequently made off with the torch. This fellow’s name was Megazo, from Olías, a leading man in comedy and now a famous fighter of Moors – in a sword dance. When we talked with anybody that had served in Flanders he would say he had been in China; and if he happened to meet a man who had been in China he would declare he had served in Flanders. He spoke continually and at great length of forming a camp, but could never lay hands on the wherewithal except by maybe lousing his own body; he raved about castles although he had scarcely seen one, even on a coin; he extolled the memory of Don Juan of Lepanto and often in my hearing commended Don Luis Quijada for a generous and true friend; he knew by heart the names of notable Turks, famous galleons and great captains, which knowledge he acquired from a popular ballad brimful of such things: as a matter of fact he was so utterly unacquainted with maritime affairs that if he happened to be discoursing about Don Juan of Lepanto’s famous encounter, he would say that yon fellow Lepanto was a very brave Moor…

From Los Sueños (1627)
Translated by Roger L’Estrange

As if human blood were not all of a colour; as if nature had not brought them into the world the common way, or moulded them of the same materials with the meanest wretches upon the earth. And then, for such as have military charges and commands, how many great officers are there, that without any consideration of their own, or their princes’ honour, fall to spoil and pillage? Cozening the State with false musters, and the soldiers of their pay; and giving them, instead of their due from the prince, a liberty of taking what is not due from the people; forcing them to take the bread out of the poor labourers’ mouths to fill their own bellies, and protecting them, when they have done, in the most execrable outrages imaginable. And when the poor soldier comes at last to be dismissed, or disbanded; lame, sick, beggarly, naked almost, and enraged; with nothing left him to trust to but the highway to keep him from starving…

“Look on that side, now,” says he, and so I did; and there I saw the poor cavalier in a huge furnace, with the first inventors of nobility, and arms: as Cain, Cham, Nimrod, Esau, Romulus, Tarquin, Nero, Caligula, Domitian, Heliogabalus; and a world other brave fellows, that had made themselves famous by usurpation and blood…

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