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Samuel Butler: Valor in modern warfare

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

British writers on peace and war

Samuel Butler: Religion of war

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Samuel Butler
From Hudibras

And therefore I, with reason, chose
This stratagem t’ amuse our foes;
To make an honourable retreat,
And wave a total sure defeat;
For those that fly may fight again,
Which he can never do that’s slain.
Hence timely running’s no mean part
Of conduct in the martial art;
By which some glorious feats atchieve,
As citizens by breaking thrive;
And cannons conquer armies, while
They seem to draw off and recoil;
Is held the gallantest course, and bravest
To great exploits, as well as safest;
That spares th’ expence of time and pains,
And dangerous beating out of brains;
And in the end prevails as certain
As those that never trust to fortune;
But make their fear do execution
Beyond the stoutest resolution;
As earthquakes kill without a blow,
And, only trembling, overthrow,
If th’ ancients crown’d their bravest men
That only sav’d a citizen,
What victory could e’er be won,
If ev’ry one would save but one
Or fight endanger’d to be lost,
Where all resolve to save the most?
By this means, when a battle’s won,
The war’s as far from being done;
For those that save themselves, and fly,
Go halves, at least, i’ th’ victory;
And sometimes, when the loss is small,
And danger great, they challenge all;
Print new additions to their feats,
And emendations in Gazettes;
And when, for furious haste to run,
They durst not stay to fire a gun,
Have done’t with bonfires, and at home
Made squibs and crackers overcome;
To set the rabble on a flame,
And keep their governors from blame;
Disperse the news the pulpit tells,
Confirm’d with fire-works and with bells;
And though reduc’d to that extream,
They have been forc’d to sing Te Deum;
Yet, with religious blasphemy,
By flattering Heaven with a lie
And for their beating giving thanks,
Th’ have rais’d recruits, and fill’d their banks;
For those who run from th’ enemy,
Engage them equally to fly;
And when the fight becomes a chace,
Those win the day that win the race
And that which would not pass in fights,
Has done the feat with easy flights;
Recover’d many a desp’rate campaign
With Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Champaign;
Restor’d the fainting high and mighty
With brandy-wine and aqua-vitae;
And made ’em stoutly overcome
With bachrach, hoccamore, and mum;
Whom the uncontroul’d decrees of fate
To victory necessitate;
With which, although they run or burn
They unavoidably return:
Or else their sultan populaces
Still strangle all their routed Bassas.

Quoth HUDIBRAS, I understand
What fights thou mean’st at sea and land,
And who those were that run away,
And yet gave out th’ had won the day;
Although the rabble sous’d them for’t,
O’er head and ears in mud and dirt.
‘Tis true, our modern way of war
Is grown more politick by far,
But not so resolute, and bold,
Nor ty’d to honour, as the old.
For now they laugh at giving battle,
Unless it be to herds of cattle;
Or fighting convoys of provision,
The whole design o’ the expedition:
And not with downright blows to rout
The enemy, but eat them out:
As fighting, in all beasts of prey,
And eating, are perform’d one way,
To give defiance to their teeth
And fight their stubborn guts to death;
And those atchieve the high’st renown,
That bring the others’ stomachs down,
There’s now no fear of wounds, nor maiming;
All dangers are reduc’d to famine;
And feats of arms, to plot, design,
Surprize, and stratagem, and mine;
But have no need nor use of courage,
Unless it be for glory or forage:
For if they fight, ’tis but by chance,
When one side vent’ring to advance,
And come uncivilly too near,
Are charg’d unmercifully i’ th’ rear;
And forc’d with terrible resistance,
To keep hereafter at a distance;
To pick out ground to incamp upon,
Where store of largest rivers run,
That serve, instead of peaceful barriers,
To part th’ engagements of their warriors;
Where both from side to side may skip,
And only encounter at bo-peep:
For men are found the stouter-hearted,
The certainer th’ are to be parted,
And therefore post themselves in bogs,
As th’ ancient mice attack’d the frogs,
And made their mortal enemy,
The water-rat, their strict ally.
For ’tis not now, who’s stout and bold,
But who bears hunger best, and cold;
And he’s approv’d the most deserving,
Who longest can hold out at starving;
And he that routs most pigs and cows,
The formidablest man of prowess.
So th’ emperor CALIGULA,
That triumph’d o’er the British Sea,
Took crabs and oysters prisoners,
Lobsters, ‘stead of cuirasiers,
Engag’d his legions in fierce bustles
With periwinkles, prawns, and muscles;
And led his troops with furious gallops, 365
To charge whole regiments of scallops
Not like their ancient way of war,
To wait on his triumphal carr
But when he went to dine or sup
More bravely eat his captives up;
And left all war, by his example,
Reduc’d to vict’ling of a camp well.

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