Alfred de Vigny
From Servitude et grandeur militaires (1835)
Translated by Humphrey Hare
The army is blind and dumb, strikes down unquestioningly those to whom it is opposed, desires nothing for itself and acts under compulsion; it is a machine wound up to kill…
In looking closely at the life of the armed forces – the daily burden imposed upon us by successive governments – we shall indeed find, as I have said, that the soldier’s lot is the most melancholy relic if barbarism (next to capital punishment) that lingers on among mankind…
The life is regular, monotonous and dull. The hours are as muffled and sullen as the drum that marks their passing. Bearing and demeanor are as uniform as the dress. The animation of youth and the sluggishness of age are reduced to the same denominator, which is that of Service. The Service in which one serves is the mould into which one’s character is thrown and there changed, recast, shaped for ever to a common pattern. The Man is lost in the Soldier.
Military bondage is as oppressive and inflexible as the iron mask of the unknown prisoner and confers upon all soldiers and aspect of uniformity and reserve.
I shall choose among my memories those that seem to me at once to clothe, most fitly and decently, a chosen subject, and to show how many conditions, which are opposed to the development of character and intelligence, arise from the gross bondage and primitive customs of standing armies.
Their crown is a crown of of thorns, and among its spokes there is none, I think, more painful than passive obedience…
Alfred de Vigny
From Servitude et grandeur militaires (1835)
Translated by Humphrey Hare
We cannot sufficiently forestall the time when the army is identified with the nation if we are ever to see the day when armies and war exist no more, when the world consists of but one nation unanimous at last as regards its social structure – an event which should already have occurred ages ago.
The army is a nation within a nation; this is a defect of our times.
The fate of a modern army is quite other [than that of the Middle Ages to the middle of the eighteenth century], and the centralization of power has made it what it is. It is a body divorced from the great body of the nation, resembling a child in its lagging intelligence, a child, moreover, forbidden to grow up. The modern army, as soon as it ceases to be at war, becomes a kind of constabulary. It is ashamed, knowing neither its duty nor its status, whether it rules the state or is its slave; a body searching in vain for its own soul.
Scandinavian writers on peace and war
From Corinna (1886)
Since her father occupied the highest rank in their circle of friends, everybody treated him with an amount of respect which is rarely shown to equals, and as she was the general’s daughter, she was treated in the same way. She held the rank of a general and she knew it.
There was always an orderly sitting in the hall who rose with much clanking and clashing of steel and stood at attention whenever she went in or out. At the balls none but the majors dared to ask her for a dance; she looked upon a captain as a representative of an inferior race, and a lieutenant as a naughty boy.
She fell into the habit of appreciating people entirely according to their rank. She called all civilians “fishes,” poorly-clad people “rascals,” and the very poor “the mob.”
As she belonged to an old family which on her father’s side, had squandered its strength in a soulless militarism, drink and dissipation, and on her mother’s had suppressed fertility to prevent the splitting up of property, Nature seemed to have hesitated about her sex at the eleventh hour; or perhaps had lacked strength to determine on the continuation of the race.
From De re publica
Translated by Francis Barham
No war can be undertaken by a just and wise state, unless for faith or self–defence…
All wars, undertaken without a proper motive, are unjust. And no war can be reputed just, unless it be duly announced and proclaimed, and if it be not preceded by a rational demand for restitution.
When Alexander inquired of a pirate by what right he dared to infest the sea with his little brigantine: “By the same right (he replied) which is your warrant for conquering the world.”…This same Alexander, this mighty general, who extended his empire over all Asia, how could he, without violating the property of other men, acquire such universal dominion, enjoy so many pleasures, and reign without bound or limit?
Now if Justice, as you assert, commands us to have mercy upon all; to exercise universal philanthropy; to consult the interests of the whole human race; to give every one his due, and to injure no sacred, public, or foreign rights – how shall we reconcile this vast and all–embracing justice with worldly wisdom and policy, which teach us how to gain wealth, power, riches, honours provinces, and kingdoms from all classes, peoples, and nations?
If we were to examine the conduct of states by the test of justice, as you propose, we should probably make this astounding discovery, that very few nations, if they restored what they have usurped, would possess any country at all, – with the exception, perhaps, of the Arcadians and Athenians, who, I presume, dreading that this great act of retribution might one day arrive, pretend that they were sprung from the earth like so many of our field mice.
There is a true law, a right reason, conformable to nature, universal, unchangeable, eternal, whose commands urge us to duty, and whose prohibitions restrain us from evil. Whether it enjoins or forbids, the good respect its injunctions, and the wicked treat them with indifference. This law cannot be contradicted by any other law, and is not liable either to derogation or abrogation. Neither the senate nor the people can give us any dispensation for not obeying this universal law of justice. It needs no other expositor and interpreter than our own conscience. It is not one thing at Rome and another at Athens; one thing to–day and another to–morrow; but in all times and nations this universal law must for ever reign, eternal and imperishable. It is the sovereign master and emperor of all beings.
From Holy Trinity Night
Translated by Lotta M. Löfgren
“What has become of the sacred promise of peace on our earth?
Human intentions are noble, peace is our greatest desire;
Forced into violence and war, to betrayal and treacherous language –
Harken to roars of the damned who have lost all faith in goodness;
Life is ugly, an evil, yet people abominate evil.
Does he not suffer who sevenfold battered the already conquered?
Mankind’s intentions were good, but life insisted on evil…”
From Diderich the Terrible (1724)
Translated by Henry Alexander
JEW. Who are you?
HENRIK. I’m Christopher Battering-ram.
JEW. Christopher Battering-ram! That’s a strange name.
HENRIK. That name’s a proud one. Open up!
JEW. A little patience, sir.
HENRIK. What d’you mean, patience? I’m an officer.
JEW. And I’m a resident here.
HENRIK. That’s just like saying: “You’re Joergen the Hat-maker and I’m Alexander the Great.” Open up, or you’re a dead man!
JEW. (coming out) What do you want, mounseer?
HENRIK. Perhaps you don’t know Christopher Battering-ram?
JEW. No, sir.
HENRIK. Haven’t you read my name in the papers?
JEW. No, Mr. Battering-ram.
HENRIK. Haven’t you heard of the battle of Ragusa?
JEW. No, sir.
HENRIK. You civilians are as stupid as oxen.
JEW. Everyone knows something; maybe I understand some things you don’t understand.
HENRIK. What do you understand? Heark’ee, poltroon! What’s a counterscarp?
JEW. I don’t know.
HENRIK. What’s a ravelin?
JEW. I don’t know.
HENRIK. A company in square formation?
JEW. I don’t understand that.
HENRIK. A Gregory regiment?
JEW. I’m not a soldier.
HENRIK. An approach of petards?
JEW. I don’t know that either.
HENRIK. An escort, a battalion, a squadron, an order of battle, an order for the ramparts, a protective volley, a platoon, a bastion, a company, a dromedary, a military commissar?
JEW. Mounseer, I don’t understand any military language.
HENRIK. Then you’re as annoying as a brure beast.
MENSCHENSKRAEK…The Turks were so terrified of my name that they wouldn’t try to take any plunder, I’d make them so sick of that business. I dare say that all by myself in battles here and there I killed twenty thousand men, and once during one month I massacred two thousand Janissaries with my own hand. Isn’t that so, Christopher Battering-ram?
MENSCHENSKRAEK. That’s why the general himself gave me the name Menschenskraek (“The Terrible”).
ELVIRE. Is that possible? Is that how you got your name?
MENSCHENSKRAEK. Yes, he himself did me the honor of presenting me to the Duke of Dalmatia with these words: Your Highness, here is a second Scanderberg, the scourge of the Turks.
MENSCHENSKRAEK. Nothing was more pleasant to me than to meet a whole company of armed Turks all by myself. Isn’t that so, Battering-ram?
MENSCHENSKRAEK. I had the Turkish vizier Mahometh Podolski by the heels, but just at that moment a bomb came and blew my hand back, so he escaped that time. But it’s only a short respite. I’ll never forget how he shrieked in Turkish: oh, la, la, la.
ELVIRE: What does that mean in our language?
MENSCHENSKRAEK. It means: Oh, great Mahomet, help me against this this strong warrior Menshencskraek.
ELVIRE. Can those few words mean so much?
MENSCHENSKRAEK. Yes, the Turkish language is very rich.
From Miles Gloriosus, or The Braggart Captain
Translated by Henry Thomas Riley
What do you remember?
I do remember this. In Cilicia there were a hundred and fifty men, a hundred in Cryphiolathronia, thirty at Sardis, sixty men of Macedon, whom you slaughtered altogether in one day.
What is the sum total of those men?
It must be as much: you keep the reckoning well.
Yet I have none of them written down; still, so I remember it was.
By my troth, you have a right good memory.
Besides, in Cappadocia, you would have killed five hundred men altogether at one blow, had not your sabre been blunt.
I let them live, because I was quite sick of fighting.
Why should I tell you what all mortals know, that you, Pyrgopolinices, live alone upon the earth, with valour, beauty, and achievements most unsurpassed? All the women are in love with you, and that not without reason, since you are so handsome…
This city is Ephesus; then, the Captain, my master, who has gone off hence to the Forum, a bragging, impudent, stinking fellow, brimful of lying and lasciviousness, says that all the women are following him of their own accord. Wherever he goes, he is the laughing-stock of all…
From The Death of Ahasuerus (1960)
Translated by Naomi Walford
“I’d left the others and was roving on my own…yes, I was a soldier; there was war, of course, there always was…”
“The war went on for many years…She lived in the midst of brutality, whoring and drunkenness there in the baggage-train, among those lecherous women whom the army dragged with it until they became so worn out, used up and ill that they straggled behind or were chased away, while in their place others were sucked in on the march through that ravaged, plundered country…”
“Then the war came to an end at last – if such a thing as war can end. We soldiers were disbanded – ‘sent home,’ as they called it, although we had no homes and turned bandit instead…”
“Disgust and loathing I felt too for the life itself – this life of rough soldiering and banditry – this criminal life that seemed to fill the world, to lay waste the world, expose it to senseless devastation; to shame, misery and despair. The criminal life I had led so long – I and all these others. Why was I in it, why was I just like all the others? How could I endure it, stoop to it? What sort of life was it? How could I go on? I became more and more revolted by this existence, my own shameless existence, and by myself.”
“The region I was walking in was deserted. That I’d already seen, but now I saw how deserted it really was, and in what way. It was no wilderness, but cultivated land; yet the fields lay untended; they could not have been tilled for a very long time, for they were full of saplings and bushes and here and there half-grown trees; the forest had broken into those fields again and won them back. Not a soul was to be seen anywhere, not any trace of one. It was forsaken.
“It came as no surprise, for many places were in the same state. For years war had rolled its devastation over this land, and was no doubt the cause of its neglect. And perhaps there were no folk left to cultivate it. After the war, plague had spread more swiftly than before, and claimed many more victims than the war itself; whole tracts of country were quite depopulated, and lay abandoned and desolate…”
Michel de Montaigne
Translated by Charles Cotton
From Of Managing the Will
Our greatest agitations have ridiculous springs and causes: what ruin did our last Duke of Burgundy run into about a cartload of sheepskins! And was not the graving of a seal the first and principal cause of the greatest commotion that this machine of the world ever underwent? – for Pompey and Caesar were but the offsets and continuation of the two others: and I have in my time seen the wisest heads in this kingdom assembled with great ceremony, and at the public expense, about treaties and agreements, of which the true decision, in the meantime, absolutely depended upon the ladies’ cabinet council, and the inclination of some bit of a woman.
The poets very well understood this when they put all Greece and Asia to fire and sword about an apple [the Trojan War]. Look why that man hazards his life and honour upon the fortune of his rapier and dagger; let him acquaint you with the occasion of the quarrel; he cannot do it without blushing: the occasion is so idle and frivolous.
A little thing will engage you in it; but being once embarked, all the cords draw; great provisions are then required, more hard and more important. How much easier is it not to enter in than it is to get out? Now we should proceed contrary to the reed, which, at its first springing, produces a long and straight shoot, but afterwards, as if tired and out of breath, it runs into thick and frequent joints and knots, as so many pauses which demonstrate that it has no more its first vigour and firmness; ’twere better to begin gently and coldly, and to keep one’s breath and vigorous efforts for the height and stress of the business. We guide affairs in their beginnings, and have them in our own power; but afterwards, when they are once at work, ’tis they that guide and govern us, and we are to follow them.
From Of Physiognomy
A monstrous war! Other wars are bent against strangers, this against itself, destroying itself with its own poison. It is of so malignant and ruinous a nature, that it ruins itself with the rest; and with its own rage mangles and tears itself to pieces. We more often see it dissolve of itself than through scarcity of any necessary thing or by force of the enemy. All discipline evades it; it comes to compose sedition, and is itself full of it; would chastise disobedience, and itself is the example; and, employed for the defence of the laws, rebels against its own. What a condition are we in! Our physic makes us sick!
I underwent the inconveniences that moderation brings along with it in such a disease: I was robbed on all hands; to the Ghibelline I was a Guelph, and to the Guelph a Ghibelline
From Of Experience
Pain, pleasure, love and hatred are the first things that a child is sensible of: if, when reason comes, they apply it to themselves, that is virtue.
Between ourselves, I have ever observed supercelestial opinions and subterranean manners to be of singular accord.
‘Tis to much purpose to go upon stilts, for, when upon stilts, we must yet walk with our legs; and when seated upon the most elevated throne in the world, we are but seated upon our breech. The fairest lives, in my opinion, are those which regularly accommodate themselves to the common and human model without miracle, without extravagance.
Michel de Montaigne
Translated by Charles Cotton
From Of Diversion
Whoever shall ask a man, “What interest have you in this siege?” – “The interest of example,” he will say, “and of the common obedience to my prince: I pretend to no profit by it; and for glory, I know how small a part can affect a private man such as I: I have here neither passion nor quarrel.” And yet you shall see him the next day quite another man, chafing and red with fury, ranged in battle for the assault; ’tis the glittering of so much steel, the fire and noise of our cannon and drums, that have infused this new rigidity and fury into his veins. A frivolous cause, you will say. How a cause? There needs none to agitate the mind; a mere whimsy without body and without subject will rule and agitate it.
From Upon Some Verses of Virgil
Every one avoids seeing a man born, every one runs to see him die; to destroy him a spacious field is sought out in the face of the sun, but, to make him, we creep into as dark and private a corner as we can: ’tis a man’s duty to withdraw himself bashfully from the light to create; but ’tis glory and the fountain of many virtues to know how to destroy what we have made: the one is injury, the other favour: for Aristotle says that to do any one a kindness, in a certain phrase of his country, is to kill him.
[I]s it not seen that in places where faults are crimes, crimes are but faults…?
Translated by Charles Cotton
Men plough, girt with arms; ever delighting in fresh robberies, and living by rapine.
Armati terram exercent, semperque recentes
Convectare juvat praedas; et vivere rapto.
Shall impious soldiers have these new-ploughed grounds?
Impius haec tam culta novalia miles habebit!
From The Odes
Translated by Charles Cotton
Let my old age have a fixed seat; let there be a limit to fatigues from the sea, journeys, warfare.
Sit meae sedes utinam senectae,
Sit modus lasso maris, et viarum,
Alas! our crimes and our fratricides are a shame to us! What crime does this bad age shrink from? What wickedness have we left undone? What youth is restrained from evil by the fear of the gods? What altar is spared?
Eheu! cicatricum, et sceleris pudet,
Fratrumque: quid nos dura refugimus
Aetas? quid intactum nefasti
Liquimus? Unde manus inventus
Metu Deorum continuit? quibus
From De Rerum Natura
Translated by William Ellery Leonard
Mother of Rome, delight of Gods and men,
Lull to a timely rest
O’er sea and land the savage works of war,
For thou alone hast power with public peace
To aid mortality; since he who rules
The savage works of battle, puissant Mars,
How often to thy bosom flings his strength
O’ermastered by the eternal wound of love –
And there, with eyes and full throat backward thrown,
Gazing, my Goddess, open-mouthed at thee,
Pastures on love his greedy sight, his breath
Hanging upon thy lips. Him thus reclined
Fill with thy holy body, round, above!
Pour from those lips soft syllables to win
Peace for the Romans, glorious Lady, peace!
Michel de Montaigne
From Of Coaches
Translated by Charles Cotton
Our world has lately discovered another…as large, well-peopled, and fruitful as this whereon we live…
As to boldness and courage, stability, constancy against pain, hunger, and death, I should not fear to oppose the examples I find amongst them to the most famous examples of elder times that we find in our records on this side of the world. Far as to those who subdued them, take but away the tricks and artifices they practised to gull them, and the just astonishment it was to those nations to see so sudden and unexpected an arrival of men with beards, differing in language, religion, shape, and countenance, from so remote a part of the world, and where they had never heard there was any habitation, mounted upon great unknown monsters, against those who had not only never seen a horse, but had never seen any other beast trained up to carry a man or any other loading; shelled in a hard and shining skin, with a cutting and glittering weapon in his hand, against them, who, out of wonder at the brightness of a looking glass or a knife, would exchange great treasures of gold and pearl; and who had neither knowledge, nor matter with which, at leisure, they could penetrate our steel: to which may be added the lightning and thunder of our cannon and harquebuses, enough to frighten Caesar himself, if surprised, with so little experience, against people naked, except where the invention of a little quilted cotton was in use, without other arms, at the most, than bows, stones, staves, and bucklers of wood; people surprised under colour of friendship and good faith, by the curiosity of seeing strange and unknown things; take but away, I say, this disparity from the conquerors, and you take away all the occasion of so many victories. When I look upon that in vincible ardour wherewith so many thousands of men, women, and children so often presented and threw themselves into inevitable dangers for the defence of their gods and liberties; that generous obstinacy to suffer all extremities and difficulties, and death itself, rather than submit to the dominion of those by whom they had been so shamefully abused; and some of them choosing to die of hunger and fasting, being prisoners, rather than to accept of nourishment from the hands of their so basely victorious enemies: I see, that whoever would have attacked them upon equal terms of arms, experience, and number, would have had a hard, and, peradventure, a harder game to play than in any other war we have seen.
Michel de Montaigne
Translated by George B. Ives
From Cowardice, the Mother of Cruelty
What is it that, in these days, makes our quarrels ever deadly; and that, whereas our fathers had some stages in revenge, we now begin with the extreme degree, and at the outset speak of nothing but killing? What is this, if it is not cowardice?
If we thought to be always masters of our foes by force, and to domineer over him at our pleasure, we should be very sorry that he should escape us, as he does by dying…
From Of the Useful and the Honorable
[O]ne man said to the Mamertines that statutes had no force against armed men; another, to a tribune of the people, that the times of justice and of war were not the same; and a third, that the noise of arms prevented him from hearing the voice of laws…
This is a lesson suited to this time; we need not armour our heart: it is enough that our backs be armoured; it is enough to dip our pens in ink without dipping them in blood…Let us deprive of this pretext of rightness those who are by nature wicked and blood-thirsty and treacherous; let us turn our backs on this heinous and insane justice, and hold fast to more human copies.
I would not put so high a price upon wisdom. I do not so much consider what a man does, as what it costs him not to do worse.
Translated by W. H. D. Rouse
“I will strip murderous Ares of his ragged bucklers, I will bind the lord of battle, and carry him off, and make him Killer the Gentle…that I may see Ares a slave…”
“[C]lamp with chains of bronze Ares the governor of iron!”
Cadmos for all that did not neglect Athena’s injunction. He reaped the stubble of giants springing up ever anew. One he struck with windswift spear over the breast, hit one on the broad neck by the collarbone shearing the bones of the hairy throat: another he tore with hurtling stone while he sowed as far as the belly. The blood of the dreadful giants flowed in rivers; Ares slipt in the gore staining his limbs with crimson, and Victory’s robe was reddened with purple drops while she stood beside the battle…
Then by the wise counsel of Pallas he lifted a stone high above the giants’ heads; and they drunken with gory lust for Enyo, went wild with warlike fury and destroyed each other with the steel of their cousin, and found burial in the dust. One fought with another: with ruddy gore the surface of the shield was drenched and spotted and darkened, as a giant died; the crop of that field was shorn by the brother-murdering blade of an earthgrown knife.
From On Southey’s Letter to William Smith (1817)
Mr Southey then talks of the Established Church, whom, as well as the Government, in his courtly way, he accuses of having for centuries “neglected its first and paramount duty,” the bettering the condition of the people; of Savings Banks, of colonies of disbanded soldiers and sailors; of columns of Waterloo and Trafalgar, of diminishing the poor-rates, and improving the morals of the people, so that they may live without eating; of the glories of our war-expenditure, and of the necessity of keeping up the same expenditure in time of peace. “Never indeed,” he exclaims, “was there a more senseless cry than that which is at this time raised for retrenchment in the public expenditure, as a means of alleviating the present distress.” [This senseless, cry, however, is either an echo of, or was echoed by, the Prince Regent in his Speech from the Throne. Is there no better understanding between Mr Southey and the Prince Regent’s advisers?] – “That distress arises from a great and sudden diminution of employment, occasioned by many coinciding causes, the chief of which is, that the war-expenditure of from forty to fifty millions yearly, has ceased.” – [No, the chief is, that our war-expenses of from forty to fifty millions yearly and for ever, are continued, and that our war-monopoly of trade to pay them with has ceased.] – “Men are out of employ” – [True.]….”the evil is, that too little is spent,’ [Because we have wasted too much.] – “and as a remedy, we are exhorted to spend less.” [Yes, to waste less, or to spend what we have left in things useful to ourselves, and not in Government gimcracks, whether of peace or war. Is it better, does Mr Southey think, that ten poor men should keep ten pounds a-piece in their pockets, which they would of course spend in food, clothing, fuel, &c. for themselves and families, or that this hundred pounds, that is, ten pound a-piece, should be paid out of the pockets of those ten poor men in taxes, which, added to Mr Croker’s salary, would enable him to keep another horse, to pay for the feed, furniture, saddle, bridle, whip, and spurs? We ask Mr Southey this question, and will put the issue of the whole argument upon the answer to it. The money would be spent equally in either case, say in agriculture, in raising corn for instance, wheat or oats: but the corn raised and paid for by it in the one instance would go into the belly of the poor man and his family: in the other, into the belly of Mr Croker’s horse. Does that make no difference to Mr Southey? Answer, Man of Humanity! Or, if Mr Southey, the Man of Humanity, will not answer let Mr Malthus, the Man of God, answer for him! Again, what would go to pay for a new saddle for the Secretary of the Admiralty, would buy the poor man and his family so many pair of shoes in the year; or what would pay for an extra straw litter for his sleek gelding, would stuff a flock-bed for the poor-man’s children! Does not Mr Southey understand this question yet? We have given him a clue to the whole difference between productive and unproductive labour, between waste and economy, between taxes and no taxes, between a war-expenditure and what ought to be a peace-establishment, between money laid out and debts contracted in gunpowder, in cannon, in ships of war, in scattering death, money laid out in paying for food, furniture, houses, the comforts, necessaries, and enjoyments of life. Let Mr Southey take the problem and the solution with him to Italy, study it there amidst a population, half Lazzaroni, half Monks: let him see his error, and return an honest man! But if he will not believe us, let him at least believe himself. In the career of his triumph about our national monuments, he has fallen into one of the most memorable lapses of memory we ever met with. “In proportion, “says he, “to their magnificence, also, will be the present benefit, as well as the future good; for they are not like the Egyptian pyramids, to be raised by bondsmen under rigorous taskmasters: the wealth which is taken from the people returns to them again, like vapours, which are drawn imperceptibly from the earth, but distributed to it in refreshing dews and fertilizing showers. What bounds could imagination set to the welfare and glory of this island, if a tenth part, or even a twentieth of what the war expenditure has been, were annually applied in improving and creating harbours, in bringing our roads to the best possible state, in colonizing our waste lands, in reclaiming fens and conquering tracks from the sea, in encouraging the liberal arts, in erecting churches, in building and endowing schools and colleges, in making war upon physical and moral evil with the whole artillery of wisdom and righteousness, with all the resources of science, and all the ardour of enlightened and enlarged benevolence!”
Well done, Mr Southey. No man can argue better, when he argues against himself. What! one-twentieth part of this enormous waste of money laid out in war, which has sunk the nation into the lowest state of wretchedness, would, if wisely and beneficially laid out in works of peace, have raised the country to the pinnacle of prosperity and happiness! Mr Southey in his raptures forgets his war-whoop, and is ready to exclaim with Sancho Panza, when the exploits of knight-errantry are over, and he turns all his enthusiasm to a pastoral account, “Oh what delicate wooden spoons shall I carve! What crumbs and cream shall I devour!” Mr Southey goes on to state, among other items, that “Government should reform its prisons .” But Lord Castlereagh, soon after the war-addition to Mr Croker’s peace-salary, said that this was too expensive. In short, the author sums up all his hopes and views in the following sentences: – “Government must reform the populace, the people must reform themselves.” The interpretation of which is, The Government must prevent the lower classes from reading any thing; the middle classes should read nothing but the Quarterly Review. This is the true Reform, and compared with this, all else is flocci, nauci, nihili, piti.”
Honoré de Balzac
From La Peau de chagrin (1831)
“War, Power, Art…are all forms of demoralization, equally remote from the faculties of humanity…Are not generals, ministers, and artists carried, more or less, towards destruction by the need of violent distractions, in an existence so remote from ordinary life as theirs?…
“In war, is not man an angel of extirpation, a sort of executioner on a grand scale? Must not the spell be strong indeed that makes us undergo such horrid sufferings so hostile to our weak frames, sufferings that encircle every strong passion with a hedge of thorns?…She has never given herself time to wipe the stains from her feet that are steeped in blood to the ankle. Mankind at large is carried away by fits of intoxication, as nature by its accessions of love.”
“Napoleon left us glory, at any rate, my good friend!” exclaimed a naval officer who had never left Brest.
“Glory is a poor bargain; you buy it dear, and it will not keep. Does not the egotism of the great take the form of glory, just as for no-bodies it is their own well-being?”
“You are very fortunate, sir – ”
“The first inventor of ditches must have been a weakling, for society is only useful to the puny. The savage and the philosopher, at either extreme of the moral scale, hold property in equal horror.”
“[Is] not that the sum-up of all religious, political, or literary dissertations? Man is a clown dancing on the edge of an abyss.”
Have you ever launched into the immensity of time and space as you read the geological writings of Cuvier? Carried by his fancy, have you hung as if suspended by a magician’s wand over the illimitable abyss of the past? When the fossil bones of animals belonging to civilizations before the Flood are turned up in bed after bed and layer of layer of the quarries of Montmartre or among the schists of the Ural range, the soul receives with dismay a glimpse of millions of peoples forgotten by feeble human memory and unrecognized by permanent divine tradition, peoples whose ashes cover our globe with two feet of earth that yields bread to us and flowers.
Montaigne: God would not favor so unjust an enterprise as insulting and quarreling with another nation for profit
Michel de Montaigne
From Of Bad Means Employed for a Good End
Translated by George B. Ives
The Romans…purposely fostered wars with some of their enemies…to keep their men in action…
At the time of the treaty of Brétigny, Edward the Third, King of England, did not choose to include in the general peace that he made with our king the controversy about the duchy of Bretagne, in order that he might have a place where he could dispose of his troops, and that the multitude of English whom he had employed in his affairs on this side of the Channel might not be thrown back into England. The same thing was one of the reasons why our King Philippe consented to send Jean, his son, to the war overseas, in order that he might carry with him a great number of young hot-bloods…
There are many in these days who reason in like manner, desiring that this direct heat of emotion which exists among us might be directed to some neighboring war; for fear that these peccant humours which prevail in our body politic at the present moment, if they are not drawn off elsewhere, will keep our fever still at its height, and finally bring about our total ruin. And, truly, a foreign war is a much milder evil than civil war; but I do not think that God would favour so unjust an enterprise as insulting and quarreling with another nation for profit.
[We] see every day in our wars thousands of men from other lands pledging for money their blood and their lives, in broils in which they have no interest.
From On the Effects of War and Taxes (1817)
We have been twenty years at war, and have laid out five hundred millions in war taxes; and what have we gained by it? Where are the proceeds? If it has not been thrown away in what produces no return, if it has not been sunk in the war, as much as if it bad been sunk in the sea, if the government as good factors for the general weal have laid out all this enormous sum in useful works, in productive labour, let them give us back the principal and the interest, (which is just double) and keep the profits to themselves – instead of which, they have made away with the principal, and come to us to pay them the interest in taxes. They have nothing to shew for either, but spiked cannon, rotten ships, gunpowder blown into the air, heaps of dead men’s sculls, the turned heads and coats of Poets Laureate, with the glories of Trafalgar and Waterloo, which however will pay no scores. Let them set them up at auction, and see what they will fetch. Not a sous! We have killed so many French, it is true. But we had better have spent powder and shot in shooting at crows. Though we have laid the ghost of the French Revolution, we cannot “go to supper” upon the carcase. If the present distress aud difficulty arise merely from our no longer having a bug-bear to contend with, or because, (as Mr. Southey says) the war is no longer a customer to the markets, to the amount of fifty millions a year, why not declare war upon the Man in the Moon to-morrow, and never leave off till we have sent him to keep Bonaparte company at St. Helena? Why, it is but ordering so many cannon and cutlasses, no matter for what purpose – and equipping, and fantastically accoutring so many loyal corps of minions of the moon, Diana’s foresters, and “the manufactures of Birmingham and Sheffield would revive to-morrow.” If we had howitzers before of a prodigious size, let us have bombs of a calibre that Lord Castlereagh never dreamt of; and instead of iron balls, golden ones. Why not? The expense would be the greater. If we made the eardi ring before, let us now make the welkin roar. The absurdity would be as costly, and more bloodless. A voyage to the moon would take at least as much time, as many lives and millions to acoomplish, as the. march to Paris. But then our merchants would not meanwhile get a monopoly of the trade of Europe, to stimulate their laggard patriotism, nor would the sovereigns of Europe be able to plant the standard of Legitimacy on the horns of the moon! – But though we have nothing to shew for the money we have madly squandered in war, we have some thing to pay for it (rather more than we can afford) to contractors, monopolists, and sinecurists, to the great fundholders and borough-mongers, to those who have helped to carry on, and to those who have been paid for applauding this sport-royal, as the most patriotic and profitable employment of the wealth and resources of a country. These persons, the tax-receivers, have got a mortgage on the property, health, strength, and skill of the rest of the community, who pay the taxes, which bows their industry to the ground and deprives them of the necessary means of subsistence. The principal of the debt which the nation has contracted has been laid out in unproductive labour, in inflicting the mischiefs and miseries of war; and the interest is for the most part equally laid out in unproductive labour, in fomenting the pride and luxury of those who have made their fortunes by the war and taxes.
Need we ask any farther, how war and taxes, sinecures and monopolies, by degrees, weaken, impoverish, and ruin a State ? Or whether they can go on increasing for ever? There is an excess of inequality and oppression, of luxury and want, which no state can survive; as there is a point at which the palsied frame can no longer support itself, and at which the withered tree falls to the ground.
If a sovereign exhausts the wealth and strength of a country in war, he’ll end in being a king of slaves and beggars.
Mr. Southey, in his late pamphlet, has very emphatically described the different effects of money laid out in war and peace. “What bounds,” he exclaims, “could imagination set to the welfare and glory of this island, if a tenth part, or even a twentieth of what the war expenditure has been, were annually applied in improving and creating harbours in bringing roads to the best possible repair, in colonizing upon our waste lands, in reclaiming fens, and conquering tracts from the sea, in encouraging the liberal arts, endowing schools and churches,” etc. This is a singular slip of the pen in so noisy and triumphant a war-monger as the Poet Laureate. The pinnacle of prosperity and glory to which he would by these means raise the country, does not seem quite so certain. The other extreme of distress and degradation, to which the war-system has reduced it, is deep and deplorable indeed.
Translated by A.S. Kline
Pythagoras’s Teachings: Vegetarianism
There was a man here, Pythagoras, a Samian by birth, who had fled Samos and its rulers, and, hating their tyranny, was living in voluntary exile. Though the gods were far away, he visited their region of the sky, in his mind, and what nature denied to human vision he enjoyed with his inner eye. When he had considered every subject, through concentrated thought, he communicated it widely in public, teaching the silent crowds, who listened in wonder to his words, concerning the origin of the vast universe, and of the causes of things; and what the physical world is; what the gods are; where the snows arise; what the origin of lightning is; whether Jupiter, or the storm-winds, thunder from colliding clouds; what shakes the earth; by what laws the stars move; and whatever else is hidden; and he was the first to denounce the serving of animal flesh at table; the first voice, wise but not believed in, to say, for example, in words like these:
‘Human beings, stop desecrating your bodies with impious foodstuffs. There are crops; there are apples weighing down the branches; and ripening grapes on the vines; there are flavoursome herbs; and those that can be rendered mild and gentle over the flames; and you do not lack flowing milk; or honey fragrant from the flowering thyme. The earth, prodigal of its wealth, supplies you with gentle sustenance, and offers you food without killing or shedding blood.
‘Flesh satisfies the wild beast’s hunger, though not all of them, since horses, sheep and cattle live on grasses, but those that are wild and savage: Armenian tigers, raging lions, and wolves and bears, enjoy food wet with blood. Oh, how wrong it is for flesh to be made from flesh; for a greedy body to fatten, by swallowing another body; for one creature to live by the death of another creature! So amongst such riches, that earth, the greatest of mothers, yields, you are not happy unless you tear, with cruel teeth, at pitiful wounds, recalling Cyclops’s practice, and you cannot satisfy your voracious appetite, and your restless hunger, unless you destroy other life!
‘But that former age, that we call golden, was happy with the fruit from the trees, and the herbs the earth produced, and did not defile its lips with blood. Then birds winged their way through the air in safety, and hares wandered, unafraid, among the fields, and its own gullibility did not hook the fish: all was free from trickery, and fearless of any guile, and filled with peace. But once someone, whoever he was, the author of something unfitting, envied the lion’s prey, and stuffed his greedy belly with fleshy food, he paved the way for crime. It may be that, from the first, weapons were warm and bloodstained from the killing of wild beasts, but that would have been enough: I admit that creatures that seek our destruction may be killed without it being a sin, but while they may be killed, they still should not be eaten.
‘From that, the wickedness spread further, and it is thought that the pig was first considered to merit slaughter because it rooted up the seeds with its broad snout, and destroyed all hope of harvest. The goat was led to death, at the avenging altar, for browsing the vines of Bacchus. These two suffered for their crimes! What did you sheep do, tranquil flocks, born to serve man, who bring us sweet milk in full udders, who give us your wool to make soft clothing, who give us more by your life than you grant us by dying? What have the oxen done, without guile or deceit, harmless, simple, born to endure labour?
‘He is truly thankless, and not worthy of the gift of corn, who could, in a moment, remove the weight of the curved plough, and kill his labourer, striking that work-worn neck with his axe, that has helped turn the hard earth as many times as the earth yielded harvest. It is not enough to have committed such wickedness: they involve the gods in crime, and believe that the gods above delight in the slaughter of suffering oxen! A victim of outstanding beauty, and without blemish (since to be pleasing is harmful), distinguished by sacrificial ribbons and gold, is positioned in front of the altar, and listens, unknowingly, to the prayers, and sees the corn it has laboured to produce, scattered between its horns, and, struck down, stains with blood those knives that it has already caught sight of, perhaps, reflected in the clear water.
‘Immediately they inspect the lungs, ripped from the still-living chest, and from them find out the will of the gods. On this (so great is man’s hunger for forbidden food) you feed, O human race! Do not, I beg you, and concentrate your minds on my admonitions! When you place the flesh of slaughtered cattle in your mouths, know and feel, that you are devouring your fellow-creature.