Home > Uncategorized > Robert Burton: What fury first brought so devilish, so brutish a thing as war into men’s minds?

Robert Burton: What fury first brought so devilish, so brutish a thing as war into men’s minds?

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

British writers on peace and war

Robert Burton: Hypocrites who make the trumpet of the gospel the trumpet of war

Robert Burton: War’s nuptials, war’s justice

Robert Burton: We hate the hawk because it is always at war

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Robert Burton
From Anatomy of Melancholy

If Democritus were alive now…

What would he have said to see, hear, and read so many bloody battles, so many thousands slain at once, such streams of blood able to turn mills: unius ob noxam furiasque, or to make sport for princes, without any just cause, for vain titles (saith Austin [Augustine]), precedency, some wench, or such like toy, or out of desire of domineering, vainglory, malice, revenge, folly, madness,(goodly causes all, ob quas universus orbis bellis et caedibus misceatur,) whilst statesmen themselves in the mean time are secure at home, pampered with all delights and pleasures, take their ease, and follow their lusts, not considering what intolerable misery poor soldiers endure, their often wounds, hunger, thirst, &c., the lamentable cares, torments, calamities, and oppressions that accompany such proceedings, they feel not, take no notice of it. So wars are begun, by the persuasion of a few debauched, hair-brain, poor, dissolute, hungry captains, parasitical fawners, unquiet hotspurs, restless innovators, green heads, to satisfy one man’s private spleen, lust, ambition, avarice, &c.; tales rapiunt scelerata in praelia causae. Flos hominum, proper men, well proportioned, carefully brought up, able both in body and mind, sound, led like so many beasts to the slaughter in the flower of their years, pride, and full strength, without all remorse and pity, sacrificed to Pluto, killed up as so many sheep, for devils’ food, 40,000 at once. At once, said I, that were tolerable, but these wars last always, and for many ages; nothing so familiar as this hacking and hewing, massacres, murders, desolations – ignoto coelum clangore remugit, they care not what mischief they procure, so that they may enrich themselves for the present; they will so long blow the coals of contention, till all the world be consumed with fire. The siege of Troy lasted ten years, eight months, there died 870,000 Grecians, 670,000 Trojans, at the taking of the city, and after were slain 276,000 men, women, and children of all sorts. Caesar killed a million, Mahomet the second Turk, 300,000 persons; Sicinius Dentatus fought in a hundred battles, eight times in single combat he overcame, had forty wounds before, was rewarded with 140 crowns, triumphed nine times for his good service. M. Sergius had 32 wounds; Scaeva, the Centurion, I know not how many; every nation had their Hectors, Scipios, Caesars, and Alexanders! Our Edward the Fourth was in 26 battles afoot: and as they do all, he glories in it, ’tis related to his honour. At the siege of Hierusalem, 1,100,000 died with sword and famine. At the battle of Cannae, 70,000 men were slain, as Polybius records, and as many at Battle Abbey with us; and ’tis no news to fight from sun to sun, as they did, as Constantine and Licinius, &c. At the siege of Ostend (the devil’s academy) a poor town in respect, a small fort, but a great grave, 120,000 men lost their lives, besides whole towns, dorps, and hospitals, full of maimed soldiers; there were engines, fireworks, and whatsoever the devil could invent to do mischief with 2,500,000 iron bullets shot of 40 pounds weight, three or four millions of gold consumed. Who (saith mine author) can be sufficiently amazed at their flinty hearts, obstinacy, fury, blindness, who without any likelihood of good success, hazard poor soldiers, and lead them without pity to the slaughter, which may justly be called the rage of furious beasts, that run without reason upon their own deaths: quis malus genius, quae furia quae pestis, &c.; what plague, what fury brought so devilish, so brutish a thing as war first into men’s minds? Who made so soft and peaceable a creature, born to love, mercy, meekness, so to rave, rage like beasts, and run on to their own destruction? how may Nature expostulate with mankind, Ego te divinum animal finxi, &c.? I made thee an harmless, quiet, a divine creature: how may God expostulate, and all good men? yet, horum facta (as one condoles) tantum admirantur, et heroum numero habent: these are the brave spirits, the gallants of the world, these admired alone, triumph alone, have statues, crowns, pyramids, obelisks to their eternal fame, that immortal genius attends on them, hac itur ad astra. When Rhodes was besieged, fossae urbis cadaveribus repletae sunt, the ditches were full of dead carcases: and as when the said Suleiman, great Turk, beleaguered Vienna, they lay level with the top of the walls. This they make a sport of, and will do it to their friends and confederates, against oaths, vows, promises, by treachery or otherwise;  – dolus an virtus? quis in hoste requirat? leagues and laws of arms, (silent leges inter arma,) for their advantage, omnia jura, divina, humana, proculcata plerumque sunt; God’s and men’s laws are trampled under foot, the sword alone determines all; to satisfy their lust and spleen, they care not what they attempt, say, or do, Rara fides, probitasque viris qui castra sequuntur. Nothing so common as to have father fight against the son, brother against brother, kinsman against kinsman, kingdom against kingdom, province against province, Christians against Christians: a quibus nec unquam cogitatione fuerunt laesi, of whom they never had offence in thought, word, or deed. Infinite treasures consumed, towns burned, flourishing cities sacked and ruinated, quodque animus meminisse horret, goodly countries depopulated and left desolate, old inhabitants expelled, trade and traffic decayed, maids deflowered, Virgines nondum thalamis jugatae, et comis nondum positis ephaebi; chaste matrons cry out with Andromache, Concubitum mox cogar pati ejus, qui interemit Hectorem, they shall be compelled peradventure to lie with them that erst killed their husbands: to see rich, poor, sick, sound, lords, servants, eodem omnes incommodo macti, consumed all or maimed, &c. Et quicquid gaudens scelere animus audet, et perversa mens, saith Cyprian, and whatsoever torment, misery, mischief, hell itself, the devil, fury and rage can invent to their own ruin and destruction; so abominable a thing is war, as Gerbelius concludes, adeo foeda et abominanda res est bellum, ex quo hominum caedes, vastationes, &c., the scourge of God, cause, effect, fruit and punishment of sin, and not tonsura humani generis as Tertullian calls it, but ruina. Had Democritus been present at the late civil wars in France, those abominable wars – bellaque matribus detestatawhere in less than ten years, ten thousand men were consumed, saith Collignius, twenty thousand churches overthrown; nay, the whole kingdom subverted (as Richard Dinoth adds). So many myriads of the commons were butchered up, with sword, famine, war, tanto odio utrinque ut barbari ad abhorrendam lanienam obstupescerent, with such feral hatred, the world was amazed at it: or at our late Pharsalian fields in the time of Henry the Sixth, betwixt the houses of Lancaster and York, a hundred thousand men slain, one writes; another, ten thousand families were rooted out, that no man can but marvel, saith Comineus, at that barbarous immanity, feral madness, committed betwixt men of the same nation, language, and religion. Quis furor, O civesWhy do the Gentiles so furiously rage, saith the Prophet David, Psal. ii. 1. But we may ask, why do the Christians so furiously rage? Arma volunt, quare poscunt, rapiuntque juventus? Unfit for Gentiles, much less for us so to tyrannise, as the Spaniard in the West Indies, that killed up in 42 years (if we may believe Bartholomeus a Casa, their own bishop) 12 millions of men, with stupend and exquisite torments; neither should I lie (said he) if I said 50 millions. I omit those French massacres, Sicilian evensongs, the Duke of Alva’s tyrannies, our gunpowder machinations, and that fourth fury, as one calls it, the Spanish inquisition, which quite obscures those ten persecutions, – saevit toto Mars impius orbe. Is not this mundus furiosus, a mad world, as he terms it, insanum bellum? are not these mad men, as Scaliger concludes, qui in praelio acerba morte, insaniae, suae memoriam pro perpetuo teste relinquunt posteritati; which leave so frequent battles, as perpetual memorials of their madness to all succeeding ages? Would this, think you, have enforced our Democritus to laughter, or rather made him turn his tune, alter his tone, and weep with Heraclitus, or rather howl, roar, and tear his hair in commiseration, stand amazed; or as the poets feign, that Niobe was for grief quite stupefied, and turned to a stone? I have not yet said the worst, that which is more absurd and mad, in their tumults, seditions, civil and unjust wars, quod stulte sucipitur, impie geritur, misere finitur…[V]alour is much to be commended in a wise man; but they mistake most part, auferre, trucidare, rapere, falsis nominibus virtutem vocant, &c. (‘Twas Galgacus’ observation in Tacitus) they term theft, murder, and rapine, virtue, by a wrong name, rapes, slaughters, massacres, &c. jocus et ludus, are pretty pastimes, as Ludovicus Vives notes. They commonly call the most hair-brain bloodsuckers, strongest thieves, the most desperate villains, treacherous rogues, inhuman murderers, rash, cruel and dissolute caitiffs, courageous and generous spirits, heroical and worthy captains, brave men at arms, valiant and renowned soldiers, possessed with a brute persuasion of false honour, as Pontus Huter in his Burgundian history complains. By means of which it comes to pass that daily so many voluntaries offer themselves, leaving their sweet wives, children, friends, for sixpence (if they can get it) a day, prostitute their lives and limbs, desire to enter upon breaches, lie sentinel, perdu, give the first onset, stand in the fore front of the battle, marching bravely on, with a cheerful noise of drums and trumpets, such vigour and alacrity, so many banners streaming in the air, glittering armours, motions of plumes, woods of pikes, and swords, variety of colours, cost and magnificence, as if they went in triumph, now victors to the Capitol, and with such pomp, as when Darius’ army marched to meet Alexander at Issus. Void of all fear they run into imminent dangers, cannon’s mouth, &c., ut vulneribus suis ferrum hostium hebetent, saith Barletius, to get a name of valour, humour and applause, which lasts not either, for it is but a mere flash this fame, and like a rose, intra diem unum extinguitur, ’tis gone in an instant. Of 15,000 proletaries slain in a battle, scarce fifteen are recorded in history, or one alone, the General perhaps, and after a while his and their names are likewise blotted out, the whole battle itself is forgotten. Those Grecian orators, summa vi ingenii et eloquentiae, set out the renowned overthrows at Thermopylae, Salamis, Marathon, Micale, Mantinea, Cheronaea, Plataea. The Romans record their battle at Cannae, and Pharsalian fields, but they do but record, and we scarce hear of them. And yet this supposed honour, popular applause, desire of immortality by this means, pride and vainglory spur them on many times rashly and unadvisedly, to make away themselves and multitudes of others. Alexander was sorry, because there were no more worlds for him to conquer, he is admired by some for it, animosa vox videtur, et regia, ’twas spoken like a Prince; but as wise Seneca censures him, ’twas vox inquissima et stultissima, ’twas spoken like a Bedlam fool; and that sentence which the same Seneca appropriates to his father Philip and him, I apply to them all, Non minores fuere pestes mortalium quam inundatio, quam conflagratio, quibus, &c. they did as much mischief to mortal men as fire and water, those merciless elements when they rage. Which is yet more to be lamented, they persuade them this hellish course of life is holy, they promise heaven to such as venture their lives bello sacro, and that by these bloody wars, as Persians, Greeks, and Romans of old, as modern Turks do now their commons, to encourage them to fight, ut cadant infeliciterIf they die in the field, they go directly to heaven, and shall be canonised for saints. (O diabolical invention!) put in the Chronicles, in perpetuam rei memoriam, to their eternal memory: when as in truth, as some hold, it were much better (since wars are the scourge of God for sin, by which he punisheth mortal men’s peevishness and folly) such brutish stories were suppressed, because ad morum institutionem nihil habent, they conduce not at all to manners, or good life. But they will have it thus nevertheless, and so they put note of divinity upon the most cruel and pernicious plague of human kind, adore such men with grand titles, degrees, statues, images, honour, applaud, and highly reward them for their good service, no greater glory than to die in the field. So Africanus is extolled by Ennius: Mars, and Hercules, and I know not how many besides of old, were deified; went this way to heaven, that were indeed bloody butchers, wicked destroyers, and troublers of the world, prodigious monsters, hell-hounds, feral plagues, devourers, common executioners of human kind, as Lactantius truly proves, and Cyprian to Donat, such as were desperate in wars, and precipitately made away themselves, (like those Celts in Damascen, with ridiculous valour, ut dedecorosum putarent muro ruenti se subducere, a disgrace to run away for a rotten wall, now ready to fall on their heads,) such as will not rush on a sword’s point, or seek to shun a cannon’s shot, are base cowards, and no valiant men. By which means, Madet orbis mutuo sanguine, the earth wallows in her own blood, Savit amor ferri et scelerati insania belli; and for that, which if it be done in private, a man shall be rigorously executed, and which is no less than murder itself; if the same fact be done in public in wars, it is called manhood, and the party is honoured for it.

Prosperum et felix scelus,
Virtus vocatur. –
We measure all as Turks do, by the event, and most part, as Cyprian notes, in all ages, countries, places, saevitiae magnitudo impunitatem sceleris acquirit; the foulness of the fact vindicates the offender. One is crowned for that which another is tormented: Ille crucem sceleris precium tulit, hic diadema; made a knight, a lord, an earl, a great duke, (as Agrippa notes) for that which another should have hung in gibbets, as a terror to the rest,
et tamen alter,
Si fecisset idem, caderet sub judice morum.

A poor sheep-stealer is hanged for stealing of victuals, compelled peradventure by necessity of that intolerable cold, hunger, and thirst, to save himself from starving: but a great man in office may securely rob whole provinces, undo thousands, pill and poll, oppress ad libitum, flea, grind, tyrannise, enrich himself by spoils of the commons, be uncontrollable in his actions, and after all, be recompensed with turgent titles, honoured for his good service, and no man dare find fault, or mutter at it.

 

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