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Erasmus: What is it that moves people to be so hot for war? What will they get by it?

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

Erasmus: Selections on war

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Desiderius Erasmus
From Colloquy: Charon
Translated by N. Bailey

Alastor.
But what was it that Ossa [Rumor] told you?

Charon.
That the three Monarchs of the World were bent upon one another’s Destruction with a mortal Hatred, and that there was no Part of Christendom free from the Rage of War; for these three have drawn all the rest in to be engag’d in the War with them. They are all so haughty, that not one of them will in the least submit to the other: Nor are the Danes, the Poles, the Scots, nor the Turks at Quiet, but are preparing to make dreadful Havock. The Plague rages every where, in Spain, Britain, Italy, and France; and more than all, there is a new Fire sprung out of the Variety of Opinions, which has so corrupted the Minds of all Men, that there is no such Thing as sincere Friendship any where; But Brother is at Enmity with Brother, and Husband and Wife cannot agree. And it is to be hop’d, that this Distraction will be a glorious Destruction of Mankind, if these Controversies, that are now managed by the Tongue and the Pen, come once to be decided by Arms.

Al.
All that Fame has told you is very true; for I myself, having been a constant Companion of the Furies, have with these Eyes seen more than all this, and that they never at any Time have approv’d themselves more worthy of their Name, than now.

Ch.
But there is Danger, lest some Good Spirit should start up, and of a sudden exhort them to Peace: And Men’s Minds are variable, for I have heard, that among the Living there is one Polygraphus [Erasmus], who is continually, by his Writing, inveighing against Wars, and exhorting to Peace.

Al.
Ay, ay, but he has a long Time been talking to the Deaf. He once wrote a Sort of Hue and Cry after Peace, that was banish’d or driven away; and after that, an Epitaph upon Peace defunct. But then, on the other Hand, there are others that advance our Cause no less than the Furies do themselves.

Ch.
Who are they?

Al.
They are a certain Sort of Animals in black and white Vestments, Ash-colour’d Coats, and various other Dresses, that are always hovering about the Courts of Princes, and are continually instilling into their Ears the Love of War, and exhorting the Nobility and common People to it, haranguing them in their Sermons, that it is a just, holy and religious War. And that which would make you stand in admiration at the Confidence of these Men, is the Cry of both Parties. In France they preach it up, that God is on the French Side, and they can never be overcome, that have God for their Protector. In England and Spain the Cry is, the War is not the King’s, but God’s; therefore, if they do but fight like Men, they depend upon getting the Victory; and if any one should chance to fall in the Battle, he will not die, but fly directly up into Heaven, Arms and all.

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Ch.
But what is it that moves these People to be so hot for War? What will they get by it?

Al.

Because they get more by those that die, than those that live. There are last Wills and Testaments, Funeral Obsequies, Bulls, and a great many other Articles of no despicable Profit. And in the last Place, they had rather live in a Camp, than in their Cells. War breeds a great many Bishops, who were not thought good for any Thing in a Time of Peace.

Ch.
Well, they understand their Business.

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