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Erasmus: The Soldier and the Carthusian

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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: The Soldier and the Carthusian
Translated by N. Bailey

The Argument.
This Colloquy sets out to the Life, the Madness of young Men that run into the Wars, and the Life of a pious Carthusian, which without the love of Study, can’t but be melancholy and unpleasant. The Manners of Soldiers, the Manners and Diet of Carthusians. Advice in chusing a Way of getting a Livelihood. The Conveniency of a single Life, to be at Leisure for Reading and Meditation. Wicked Soldiers oftentimes butcher Men for a pitiful Reward. The daily Danger of a Soldier’s Life.

SOLDIER.
Good Morrow, my Brother.

CARTHUSIAN.
Good Morrow to you, dear Cousin.

Sol.
You put too much Confidence in Habits, Meats, Forms of Prayer, and outward Ceremonies, and neglect the Study of Gospel Religion.

Cart.
It is none of my Business to judge what others do: As to myself, I place no Confidence in these Things, I attribute nothing to them; but I put my Confidence in Purity of Mind, and in Christ himself.

Sol.
Why do you observe these Things then?

Cart.
That I may be at Peace with my Brethren, and give no Body Offence. I would give no Offence to any one for the Sake of these trivial Things, which it is but a very little Trouble to observe. As we are Men, let us wear what Cloaths we will. Men are so humoursome, the Agreement or Disagreement in the most minute Matters, either procures or destroys Concord. The shaving of the Head, or Colour of the Habit does not indeed, of themselves, recommend me to God: But what would the People say, if I should let my Hair grow, or put on your Habit? I have given you my Reasons for my Way of Life; now, pray, in your Turn, give me your Reasons for yours, and tell me, were there no good Physicians in your Quarter, when you listed yourself for a Soldier, leaving a young Wife and Children at Home, and was hired for a pitiful Pay to cut Men’s Throats, and that with the Hazard of your own Life too? For your Business did not lie among Mushrooms and Poppies, but armed Men. What do you think is a more unhappy Way of living, for a poor Pay, to murder a Fellow Christian, who never did you Harm, and to run yourself Body and Soul into eternal Damnation?

Sol.
Why, it is lawful to kill an Enemy.

Cart.
Perhaps it may be so, if he invades your native Country: Nay, and it is pious too, to fight for your Wife, Children, your Parents and Friends, your Religion and Liberties, and the publick Peace. But what is all that to your fighting for Money? If you had been knocked on the Head, I would not have given a rotten Nut to redeem the very Soul of you.

Sol.
No?

Cart.
No, by Christ, I would not. Now which do you think is the harder Task, to be obedient to a good Man, which we call Prior, who calls us to Prayers, and holy Lectures, the Hearing of the saving Doctrine, and to sing to the Glory of God: Or, to be under the Command of some barbarous Officer, who often calls you out to fatiguing Marches at Midnight, and sends you out, and commands you back at his Pleasure, exposes you to the Shot of great Guns, assigns you a Station where you must either kill or be killed?

Sol.
There are more Evils than you have mentioned yet.

Cart.
If I shall happen to deviate from the Discipline of my Order, my Punishment is only Admonition, or some such slight Matter: But in War, if you do any Thing contrary to the General’s Orders, you must either be hang’d for it, or run the Gantlope; for it would be a Favour to have your Head cut off.

Sol.
I can’t deny what you say to be true.

Cart.
And now your Habit bespeaks, that you han’t brought much Money Home, after all your brave Adventures.

Sol.
As for Money, I have not had a Farthing this good While; nay, I have gotten a good Deal into Debt, and for that Reason I come hither out of my Way, that you might furnish me with some Money to bear my Charges.

Cart.
I wish you had come out of your Way hither, when you hurried yourself into that wicked Life of a Soldier. But how come you so bare?

Sol.
Do you ask that? Why, whatsoever I got of Pay, Plunder, Sacrilege, Rapine and Theft, was spent in Wine, Whores and Gaming.

Cart.
O miserable Creature! And all this While your Wife, for whose Sake God commanded you to leave Father and Mother, being forsaken by you, sat grieving at Home with her young Children. And do you think this is Living, to be involved in so many Miseries, and to wallow in so great Iniquities?

Sol.
The having so many Companions of my Wickedness, made me insensible of my Evil.

Cart.
But I’m afraid your Wife won’t know you again.

Sol.
Why so?

Cart.
Because your Scars have made you the Picture of quite another Man. What a Trench have you got here in your Forehead? It looks as if you had had a Horn cut out.

Sol.
Nay, if you did but know the Matter, you would congratulate me upon this Scar.

Cart.
Why so?

Sol.
I was within a Hair’s Breadth of losing my Life.

Cart.
Why, what Mischief was there?

Sol.
As one was drawing a Steel Cross-bow, it broke, and a Splinter of it hit me in the Forehead.

Cart.
You have got a Scar upon your Cheek that is above a Span long.

Sol.
I got this Wound in a Battel.

Cart.
In what Battel, in the Field?

Sol.
No, but in a Quarrel that arose at Dice.

Cart.
And I see I can’t tell what Sort of Rubies on your Chin.

Sol.
O they are nothing.

Cart.
I suspect that you have had the Pox.

Sol.
You guess very right, Brother. It was the third Time I had that Distemper, and it had like to have cost me my Life.

Cart.
But how came it, that you walk so stooping, as if you were ninety Years of Age; or like a Mower, or as if your Back was broke?

Sol.
The Disease has contracted my Nerves to that Degree.

Cart.
In Truth you have undergone a wonderful Metamorphosis: Formerly you were a Horseman, and now of a Centaur, you are become a Kind of semi-reptile Animal.

Sol.
This is the Fortune of War.

Cart.
Nay, ’tis the Madness of your own Mind. But what Spoils will you carry Home to your Wife and Children? The Leprosy? for that Scab is only a Species of the Leprosy; and it is only not accounted so, because it is the Disease in Fashion, and especially among Noblemen: And for this very Reason, it should be the more carefully avoided. And now you will infect with it those that ought to be the dearest to you of any in the World, and you yourself will all your Days carry about a rotten Carcass.

Sol.
Prithee, Brother, have done chiding me. I have enough upon me without Chiding.

Cart.
As to those Calamities, I have hitherto taken Notice of, they only relate to the Body: But what a Sort of a Soul do you bring back with you? How putrid and ulcered? With how many Wounds is that sore?

Sol.
Just as clean as a Paris common Shore in Maburtus’s Road, or a common House of Office.

Cart.
I am afraid it stinks worse in the Nostrils of God and his Angels.

Sol.
Well, but I have had Chiding enough, now speak to the Matter, of something to bear my Charges.

Cart.
I have nothing to give you, but I’ll go and try what the Prior will do.

Sol.
If any Thing was to be given, your Hands would be ready to receive it; but now there are a great many Difficulties in the Way, when something is to be paid.

Cart.
As to what others do, let them look to that, I have no Hands, either to give or take Money: But we’ll talk more of these Matters after Dinner, for it is now Time to sit down at Table.

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