Prosper Mérimée: To the shame of humanity, horrors of war have their charm
From Letters from Spain (1830)
Translated by Emily Mary Waller and Mary Helena Dey
It must be admitted, to the shame of humanity, that war…with all its horrors, has extraordinary charms, especially for those who contemplate it from a safe distance.
A ring of soldiers around them held back the curious. This is why: the gallows (for gallows it was), is erected by forced labour; and the conscripted workmen cannot refuse their services without being held guilty of rebellion. As a sort of compensation, the authorities take care they their work, which public opinion regards as almost dishonourable, shall be more or less secretly done. For this purpose soldiers surround them and keep the crowd at a distance, and they work only at night; so that it is almost impossible to recognise them, and they run no risk of being called gallows-carpenters.
I understood why the monks, and above all those of the mendicant orders, exercise so much influence over the lower classes. They are in reality (if intolerant liberals will permit me to say so) the support and consolation of the unfortunate from birth until death.