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Tobias Smollett: The war glories of a demagogue

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

British writers on peace and war

Tobias Smollett: War contractors fattened on the blood of the nation

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Tobias Smollett
From The History and Adventures of an Atom

Success of any kind is apt to perturb the weak brain of a Japonese [Englishman]; but the acquisition of any military trophy, produces an actual delirium. – The streets of Meaco [London] were filled with the multitudes who shouted, whooped and hollowed. They made processions with flags and banners; they illuminated their houses; they extolled lan-on-i [Major-General Sir William Johnson], a provincial captain of Fatsisio [North America], who had by accident repulsed a body of the enemy and reduced an old barn which they had fortified. They magnified Brut-an-tiffi [Frederick the Great]; they deified orator Taycho [William Pitt the Elder]; they drank, they damned, they squabbled, and acted a thousand extravagancies which I shall not pretend to enumerate or particularize. Taycho, who knew their trim, seized this opportunity to strike while the iron was hot. – He forthwith mounted an old tub, which was his public rostrum, and waving his hand in an oratorial attitude, was immediately surrounded with the thronging populace. – I have already given you a specimen of his manner, and therefore shall not repeat the tropes and figures of his harangue: but only sketch out the plan of his address, and specify the chain of his argument alone. He assailed them in the way of paradox, which never fails to produce a wonderful effect upon a heated imagination and a shallow understanding. Having, in his exordium, artfully fascinated their faculties, like a juggler in Bartholomew-fair, by means of an assemblage of words without meaning or import; he proceeded to demonstrate, that a wife and good man ought to discard his maxims the moment he finds they are certainly established on the foundation of eternal truth. That the people of Japan ought to preserve the farm of Yesso [Hanover], as the apple of their eye, because nature had disjoined it from their empire; and the maintenance of it would involve them in all the quarrels of Tartary [the German states]: that it was to be preserved at all hazards, because it was not worth preserving: that all the power and opulence of Japan ought to be exerted and employed in its defence, because, by the nature of its situation, it could not possibly be defended: that Brut-an-tiffi was the great protector of the religion of the Bonzas [Anglican clergymen], because he had never shewn the least regard to any religion at all: that he was the fast friend of Japan, because he had more than once acted as a rancorous enemy to this empire, and never let slip the least opportunity of expressing his contempt for the subjects of Niphon [Great Britain]: that he was an invincible hero, because he had been thrice beaten, and once compelled to raise a siege in the course of two campaigns: that he was a prince of consummate honour, because he had in the time of profound peace, usurped the dominions and ravaged the countries of his neighbours, in defiance of common honesty; in violation of the most solemn treaties: that he was the most honourable and important ally that the empire of Japan could choose, because his alliance was to be purchased with an enormous annual tribute, for which he was bound to perform no earthly office of friendship or assistance; because connexion with him effectually deprived Japan of the friendship of all the other princes and states of Tartary; and the utmost exertion of his power could never conduce, in the smallest degree, to the interest or advantage of the Japonese empire.

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The Dairo [the English monarch] rejoiced in his success, the first-fruits of which consisted in their agreeing to maintain an army of twenty thousand Tartar mercenaries, who were reinforced by the flower of the national troops of Japan, sent over to defend the farm of Yesso; and in their consenting to prolong the annual tribute granted to Brut-an-tiffi, who, in return for this condescension, accommodated the Dairo with one of his free-booting captains to command the Yessite army.

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As the war of Yesso, therefore, engrossed all the specie of Niphon, and some currency was absolutely necessary to the subsistence of the Japonese, the orator contrived a method to fave the expence of solid food. He composed a meal that should fill their bellies, and, at the same time, protract the intoxication of their brains, which it was so much his interest to maintain.

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The people had been so well prepared for infatuation, by the speeches of Taycho, and the tidings of success from Tartary, that every passenger greedily swallowed the drench, and in a little time the whole nation was converted; that is, they were totally freed from those troublesome and impertinent faculties of reason and reflection, which could have served no other purpose but to make them miserable under the burthens to which, their backs were now subjected. They offered up all their gold and silver, their jewels, their furniture and apparel, at the shrine of Fakkubasi [House of Hanover], singing psalms and hymns in praise of the White Horse [of Hanover]. They put arms into the hands of their children, and drove them into Tartary.

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The Chinese [French] were successful in other parts of Fatsisio. They demolished some forts, they defeated some parties, and massacred some people, belonging to the colonies of Japan. Perhaps the tidings of these disasters would have roused the people of Niphon from the lethargy of intoxication in which they were overwhelmed, had not their delirium been kept up by some fascinating amulets from Tartary: these were no other than the bubbles which Brut-an-tiffi swelled into mighty victories over the Chinese and Ostrog [Austria]; though, in fact, he had been severely cudgelled, and more than once in very great danger of crucifixion. Taycho presented the monster with a bowl of blood, which he told it this invincible ally had drawn from its enemies the Chinese, and, at the fame time, blowed the gay bubbles athwart its numerous eyes. The hydra lapped the gore with signs of infinite relish; groaned and grunted to fee the bubbles dance; exclaimed, “O rare Taycho!” and relapsed into the arms of slumber. Thus passed the first campaign of Taycho’s administration.

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