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Horace Walpole: The glory of war and soldiering


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

British writers on peace and war

Horace Walpole: Selections on war and peace


Horace Walpole
From letters to Horace Mann in 1743 and 1745

I write to you in the greatest hurry in the world, but write I will. Besides, I must wish you joy; you are warriors; nay, conquerors; two things quite novel in this war, for hitherto it has been armies without fighting, and deaths without killing. We talk of this battle as of a comet; “Have you heard of the battle?” it Is so strange a thing, that numbers imagine you may go and see it at Charing Cross. Indeed, our officers, who are going to Flanders, don’t quite like it; they are afraid it should grow the fashion to fight, and that a pair of colours should be no longer a sinecure.

I stayed till to-day, to be able to give you some account of the battle of Tournay: the outlines you will have heard already. We don’t allow it to be a victory on the French side: but that is, just as a woman is not called Mrs. till she is married, though she may have had half-a-dozen natural children. In short, we remained upon the field of battle three hours: I fear, too many of us remain there still!

I believe you will have the Gazette sent tonight; but lest it should not be printed time enough, here is a list of the numbers, as it came over this morning.

British foot 1237 killed.
Ditto horse 90 ditto.
Ditto foot 1968 wounded.
Ditto horse 232 ditto.
Ditto foot 457 missing.
Ditto horse 18 ditto.
Hanoverian foot 432 killed.
Ditto horse 78 ditto.
Ditto foot 950 wounded.
Ditto horse 192 ditto.
Ditto horse and foot 53 missing.
Dutch 625 killed and wounded.
Ditto 1019 missing.

So the whole hors de combat is above seven thousand three hundred. The French own the loss of three thousand; I don’t believe many more, for it was a most desperate and rash perseverance on our side. The Duke behaved very bravely and humanely; but this will not have advanced the peace.

However coolly the Duke may have behaved, and coldly his father, at least his brother has outdone both. He not only went to the play the night the news came, but in two days made a ballad. It is in imitation of the Regent’s style, and has miscarried in nothing but the language, the thoughts, and the poetry.

From a letter to Horace Mann
October 14, 1746

You will have been alarmed with the news of another battle lost in Flanders, where we have no Kings of Sardinia. We make light of it; do not allow it to be a battle, but call it “the action near Lieofe.” Then we have whittled down our loss extremely, and will not allow a man more than three hundred and fifty English slain out of the four thousand. The whole of it, as it appears to me, is, that we gave up eight battalions to avoid fighting; as at Newmarket people pay their forfeit when they fore-see they should lose the race; though, if the whole army had fought, and we had lost the day, one might have hoped to have come off for eight battalions.

Then they tell you that the French had four-and-twenty-pounders, and that they must beat us by the superiority of their cannon; so that to me it is grown a paradox, to war with a nation who have a mathematical certainty of beating you ; or else it is still a stranger paradox, why you cannot have as large cannon as the French. This loss was balanced by a pompous account of the triumphs of our invasion of Bretagne; which, in plain terms, I think, is reduced to burning two or three villages and reimbarking….

From a letter to H.S. Conway
June 8, 1747

I made no remarks on your campaign, because, as you say, you do nothing at all; which, though very proper nutriment for a thinking head, does not do quite so well to write upon. If any one of you can but contrive to be shot upon your post, it is all we desire, shall look upon it as a great curiosity, and will take care to set up a monument to the person so slain ; as we are doing by vote to Captain Cornewall, who was killed at the beginning of the action in the Mediterranean four years ago. In the present dearth of glory, he is canonized; though, poor man! he had been tried twice the year before for cowardice.

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