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Francis Hutcheson: To poets, war is impetuous, cruel, undistinguishing monster

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

British writers on peace and war

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Francis Hutcheson
From An Inquiry Into the Original of Our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue

Upon this same sense is founded the power of that great beauty in poetry, the prosopopoeia, by which every affection is made a person; every natural event, cause, object, is animated by moral epithets…War is an impetuous, cruel, undistinguishing monster, whom no virtue, no circumstance of compassion, can move from his bloody purposes. The steel is unrelenting; the arrow and spear are impatient to destroy, and carry death on their points. Our modern engines of war are also frightful personages, counterfeiting with their rude throats the thunder of Jove…

[The poets] show us Peace as springing up from the Earth, and mercy looking down from Heaven.

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When one reads the fourth book of Homer, and is prepared, from the council of the Gods, to imagine the bloody Sequel, and amidst the most beautiful Description which ever was imagined of shooting an Arrow, meets with its moral Epithet:

μελαινάων ἕρμ’ ὀδυνᾴων
The source of blackest woes

he will find himself more moved by this circumstance, than by all the profusion of natural description which man could imagine.

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A late ingenious author justly observes, “That the various sects, parties, factions, cabals of mankind in larger societies are all influenced by a public spirit…That all the contentions of the different factions, and even the fiercest wars against each other are influenced by a sociable public spirit in a limited system.” But certain it is, that men are little obliged to those who often artfully raise and foment this party spirit; to cantonize them into several sects for the defence of very trifling cause…

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The idea of an ill-natured villain is too frightful ever to become familiar to any mortal. Hence we shall find that the basest actions are dressed in some tolerable mask…Fire, sword and desolation among enemies [appears] a just, thorough defence of our country…

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Beauty gives a favourable presumption of good moral dispositions, and acquaintance confirms this into a real love of esteem, or begets it, where there is little beauty. This raises an expectation of the greatest moral pleasures along with the sensible, and a thousand tender sentiments of humanity and generosity; and makes us impatient for a society which we imagine big with unspeakable moral pleasures: where nothing is indifferent, and every trifling service, being an evidence of this strong love. Esteem, is mutually received with the rapture and gratitude of the greatest benefit, and of the most substantial obligation. And where prudence and good-nature influence both sides, this society may answer all their expectations…

This powerful determination even to a limited benevolence, and other moral sentiments, is observed to give a strong bias to our minds toward a universal goodness, tenderness, humanity, generosity, and contempt of private good in our whole conduct; besides the obvious Improvement it occasions in our external deportment, and in our relish of beauty, order, and harmony. As soon as a heart, before hard and obdurate, is soften’d in this flame, we shall observe arising along with it, a Love of poetry, music, the beauty of nature in rural scenes, a contempt of other selfish pleasures of the external senses, a neat dress, a humane deportment, a delight in and emulation of everything which is gallant, generous and friendly.

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