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Robert Greene: Then the stormy threats of wars shall cease

August 20, 2016 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

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Robert Greene
From The Honorable Historie of Frier Bacon and Frier Bongay
Modern rendering by RR

Roger Bacon:

I find by deep prescience of my art,
Which once I tempered in my secret cell,
That here where Brutus built his New Troy
From forth the royal garden of a king
So rich and fair a bud shall flourish out
Whose brightness shall outshine proud Phœbus’ flower,
And overshadow Albion with her leaves.
Till then Mars shall be master of the field,
But then the stormy threats of wars shall cease —
The horse shall stamp as careless of the pike,
Drums shall be turned to timbrels of delight;
With wealthy favours plenty shall enrich
The strand that gladdened wandering Brutus to see,
And peace from heaven shall shelter in those leaves
That gorgeously beautify this matchless flower.

***

I find by deep prescience of mine art,
Which once I temper’d in my secret cell,
That here where Brute did build his Troynovant,
From forth the royal garden of a king
Shall flourish out so rich and fair a bud,
Whose brightness shall deface proud Phœbus’ flower,
And over-shadow Albion with her leaves.
Till then Mars shall be master of the field,
But then the stormy threats of wars shall cease –
The horse shall stamp as careless of the pike,
Drums shall be turn’d to timbrels of delight;
With wealthy favours plenty shall enrich
The strand that gladded wandering Brute to see,
And peace from heaven shall harbour in those leaves
That gorgeous beautify this matchless flower.

Categories: Uncategorized

Edmund Spenser: Wars can nought but sorrows yield

August 16, 2016 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Edmund Spenser: The first to attack the world with sword and fire

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Edmund Spenser
From The Faerie Queene

The longer life, I wote the greater sin,
The greater sin, the greater punishment;
All those great battels which thou boasts to win,
Through strife, and bloodshed, and avengement,
Now prais’d, hereafter dear thou shalt repent:
For, life must life, and blood must blood repay.
Is not enough thy evil life forespent?

***

Thence-forth the suit of earthly conquest shun,
And wash thy hands from guilt of bloody field:
For, blood can nought but sin, and wars but sorrows yield.

***

What need of arms, where peace doth ay remain
(Said he) and battles none are to be fought?

***
Soon as thy dreadful trump begins to sound,
The God of war with his fierce equipage
Thou dost awake, sleep never he so sound,
And feared nations dost with Horror stern astound.

***

From Mutabilitie

And drad Bellona, that hath doth sound on hie
Warres and allarums unto Nations wide,
That make both heaven and earth to tremble at her pride…

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Thomas Wyatt: Children of the gun

August 15, 2016 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Thomas Wyatt: Wax fat on innocent blood: I cannot leave the state to Caesar

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Thomas Wyatt
Description of a Gun

Vulcan begat me: Minerva me taught:
Nature, my mother: Craft nourish’d me year by year:
Three bodies are my food: my strength is in naught:
Anger, wrath, waste, and noise are my children dear.
Guess, friend, what I am: and how I am wraught:
Monster of sea, or of land, or of elsewhere.
Know me, and use me: and I may thee defend:
And if I be thine enemy, I may thy life end.

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Edmund Spenser: The first to attack the world with sword and fire

August 13, 2016 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Edmund Spenser: Wars can nought but sorrows yield

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Edmund Spenser
From The Faerie Queene

The cruel steel so greedily doth bite
In tender flesh, that streams of blood down flow,
With which the arms that earst so bright did show,
Into a pure vermillion now are dy’d.
Great ruth in all the gazers hearts did grow,
Seeing the gored wounds to gape so wipe,
That victory they dare not wish to either side.

***

Where in a dungeon deep huge numbers lay,
Of caytive wretched thralls, that wailed night and day.
…great Nimrod was,
That first the world with sword and fire warrayd;
And after him, old Ninus far did pass
In princely pomp, of all the world obey’d…
All these together in one heap were thrown,
Like carcases of beasts in butcher’s stall.
And in another corner wide were strown
The antique ruins of the Romans fall:
Great Romulus the grandsire of them all,
Proud Tarquin, and too lordly Lentulus,
Stout Scipio, and stubborn Hannibal,
Ambitious Sylla, and stern Marius,
High Caesar, great Pompey, and fierce Antonius
A dunghill of dead carcases he spy’d,
The dreadful spectacle of that sad house of Pride.

Categories: Uncategorized

Thomas Nashe: Swords may not fight with fate

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

British writers on peace and war

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Thomas Nashe
From A Litany In Time Of Plague

Strength stoops unto the grave,
Worms feed on Hector brave;
Swords may not fight with fate,
Earth still holds open her gate.
“Come, come!” the bells do cry.
I am sick, I must die.
Lord, have mercy on us!

***

From The Unfortunate Traveller
Modern rendering by RR

Overseas with my implements I got me, where hearing the king of France and the Swiss were together by the ears, I made towards them as fast as I could, thinking to thrust myself into that faction that was the strongest. It was my good luck or my ill, I know not which, to come to the fighting of the battle where I saw an awful spectacle of bloodshed on both sides, here the unwieldy Swiss wallowing in their gore, like an ox in his dung, there the sprightly French sprawling and turning on the stained grass, like a roach [carp] newly taken out of the stream. All the ground was strewn with battle axes, as the carpenters’ yard with chips. The plain appeared like a quagmire, overspread as it was with trampled dead bodies. In one place you might behold a heap of dead murdered men overwhelmed by a falling steed instead of a tombstone, in another place a bundle of bodies fettered together in their own bowels, and as the tyrant Roman emperors  used to tie condemned living caitiffs face-to-face to dead corpses, so were the half-living here mixed with squeezed carcasses long putrefied. Any man might give arms that was an actor in that battle, for there were more arms and legs scattered in the field that day than will be gathered up until doomsday. The French king himself in this conflict was much distressed, the brains of his own men sprinkled in his face.

***

Ouer sea with my implements I got me, where hearing the king of France and the Swizers were together by the ears, I made towards them as fast as I could, thinking to thrust my selfe into that faction that was strongest It was my good lucke or my ill, I know not which, to come iust to ye fighting of the battel, where I sawe a wonderfull spectacle of bloud shed on both sides, here the vnwildie swizers wallowing in their gore, like an oxe in his doung, there the sprightly French sprawling and turning on the stayned grasse, like a roach newe taken out of the streame, all the ground was strewed as thicke with battle axes, as the carpenters yard with chips. The plaine appeared like a quagmire, ouerspread as it was with trampled dead bodies. In one place might you beholde a heape of dead murthered men ouerwhelmed with a falling steed, in stead of a tombe stone, in another place a bundle of bodies fettered together in theyr owne bowels, and as the tyrant Romane Empereurs vsed to tie condemned liuing caitifes face to face to dead corses, so were the halfe liuing here mixt with squeazed carcases long putrifide. Anie man might giue armes that was an actor in that battell, for there were more armes and legs scattered in the field that daie, than will be gathered vp till dooms daie, the French king himselfe in this conflict was much distressed, the braines of his owne men sprinkled in his face…

Categories: Uncategorized

Richard Crashaw: In Hell’s palaces

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

British writers on peace and war

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Richard Crashaw
From Sospetto d’Herode

Mongst all the Palaces in Hells …

There has the purple Vengeance a proud seat,
Whose ever-brandisht Sword is sheath’d in blood.
About her Hate, Wrath, Warre, and slaughter sweat;
Bathing their hot limbs in life’s pretious flood.
There rude impetuous Rage do’s storme, and fret:
And there, as Master of this murd’ring brood,
Swinging a huge Sith stands impartiall Death,
With endlesse businesse almost out of Breath.

For Hangings and for Curtaines, all along
The walls, (abominable ornaments!)
Are tooles of wrath, Anvills of Torments hung;
Fell Executioners of foule intents,
Nailes, hammers, hatchets sharpe, and halters strong,
Swords, Speares, with all the fatall Instruments
Of sin, and Death, twice dipt in the dire staines
Of Brothers mutuall blood, and Fathers braines.

***

What busy motions, what wild Engines stand
On tiptoe in their giddy Braynes? th’ have fire
Already in their Bosomes; and their hand
Already reaches at a sword: They hire
Poysons to speed thee; yet through all the Land
What one comes to reveale what they conspire?
Goe now, make much of these; wage still their wars
And bring home on thy Brest more thanklesse scarrs.

Categories: Uncategorized

Fulke Greville: The shames of peace are the pride of war

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

British writers on peace and war

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Fulke Greville
From A Treatise of Warres
Modern rendering by RR

Peace is the harvest of man’s rich creation,
Where wit and pain have scope to sow and reap
The mind, by arts to work her elevation…

If peace be such, what must we think of war,
But horror from above, below confusion,
Where the unhappy only happy are,
As making mischief ever her conclusion;
Scourges of God, figures of hell to come,
Of vanity, a vain, infamous tomb.

Where neither throne nor crown have reverence,
Sentence, nor wit nor sergeant be in fashion;
All terror scorned, of guiltiness no sense;
A discipline whereof the rule is passion;
And as men’s vices beasts’ chief virtues are,
So be the shames of peace the pride of war.

***

Peace is the haruest of Mans rich creation,
Where Wit and Paine haue scope to sow, and reape
The minde, by Arts, to worke her eleuation…

If Peace be such, what must we thinke of Warre,
But Horrour from aboue, below Confusion,
Where the vnhappy onely happy are,
As making mischiefe euer her conclusion ;
Scourges of God, figures of hell to come,
Of vanity, a vaine, infamous tombe.
Where neither Throne, nor Crowne haue reuerence,
Sentence, nor Writ, nor Sergeant be in fashion ;
All terror scorn’d, of guiltinesse no sense ;
A Discipline whereof the rule is Passion :
And as mens vices, beasts chiefe vertues are,
So be the shames of Peace, the Pride of Warre.

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Christopher Smart: Rejoice with the dove. Pray that all guns be nailed up.

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

British writers on peace and war

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Christopher Smart
From Jubilate Agno

For I bless the PRINCE of PEACE and pray that all the guns may be nail’d up, save such are for the rejoicing days.

For I meditate the peace of Europe amongst family bickerings and domestic jars.

For he that walked upon the sea, hath prepared the floods with the Gospel of peace.

Let Maaseiah bless with the Drone, who with the appearance of a Bee is neither a soldier nor an artist, neither a swordsman nor smith.

 

Let Elias which is the innocency of the Lord rejoice with the Dove.

Let Jael rejoice with the Plover, who whistles for his live, and foils the marksmen and their guns.

Let Zurishaddai with the Polish Cock rejoice – The Lord restore peace to Europe.

Let Chesed rejoice with Strepsiceros, whose weapons are the ornaments of his peace.

Let Ibhar rejoice with the Pochard – a child born in prosperity is the chiefest blessing of peace.

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Samuel Butler: Religion of war

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

British writers on peace and war

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Samuel Butler
From Hudibras (1663)

Great on the bench, great in the saddle,
That could as well bind o’er, as swaddle;
Mighty he was at both of these,
And styl’d of war, as well as peace.
(So some rats, of amphibious nature,
Are either for the land or water).

The diff’rence was so small, his brain
Outweigh’d his rage but half a grain;
Which made some take him for a tool
That knaves do work with, call’d a fool…

For his Religion, it was fit
To match his learning and his wit;
‘Twas Presbyterian true blue;
For he was of that stubborn crew
Of errant saints, whom all men grant
To be the true Church Militant;
Such as do build their faith upon
The holy text of pike and gun;
Decide all controversies by
Infallible artillery;
And prove their doctrine orthodox
By apostolic blows and knocks;
Call fire and sword and desolation,
A godly thorough reformation…

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John Donne: The horror and ghastliness of war

July 31, 2016 1 comment

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

British writers on peace and war

John Donne: War and misery are one thing

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John Donne
From Sermon preached at Whitehall, April 20, 1620

From the first temporall blessing of peace, we may consider the lovelinesse, the amiablenesse of that, if we looke upon the horror and gastlinesse of warr: either in Effigie, in that picture of warre, which is drawn in every leafe of our own Chronicles, in the blood of so many Princes, and noble families, or if we looke upon warre it self, at that distance at which it cannot hurt us…In all Cities, disorderly and facinorous men, covet to draw themselves into the skirts and suburbs of those Cities, that so they may be the nearer the spoyle, which they make upon passengers. In all Kingdomes that border upon other Kingdomes, and in Islands which have no other border but the Sea, particular men, who by dwelling in those skirts and borders, may make their profit of spoile, delight in hostility, and have an adversenesse and detestation of peace: but it is not so within: they who till the earth, and breed up cattell, and imploy their industry upon Gods creatures, according to Gods ordinance, feele the benefit and apprehend the sweetnesse, and pray for the continuance of peace.

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Philip Massinger: Famine, blood, and death, Bellona’s pages

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

British writers on peace and war

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Philip Massinger
From The Picture (1630)

…I have observed,
When horrid Mars, the touch of whose rough hand
With palsies shakes a kingdom, hath put on
His dreadful helmet, and with terror fills
The place where he, like an unwelcome guest,
Resolves to revel, how the lords of her, like
The tradesman, merchant, and litigious pleader,
And such like scarabs bred in the dung of peace,
In hope of their protection, humbly offer
Their daughters to their beds, heirs to their service,
And wash with tears their sweat, their dust, their scars:
But when those clouds of war, that menaced
A bloody deluge to the affrighted state,
Are, by their breath, dispersed, and overblown,
And famine, blood, and death, Bellona’s pages,
[Are] Whipt from the quiet continent to Thrace…

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Thomas Fuller: As though there were not enough men-murdering engines

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

British writers on peace and war

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Thomas Fuller
From David’s Hainous Sinne

Were there not used in the days of yore
Enough men-murdering engines? But our age
Witty in wickedness must make them more,
By new found plotts mens malice to inrage:
So that fire-spitting canons to the cost
Of Christian blood all valour have ingrost,
Whose finding makes that many a life is lost.

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Appian: Drawing the sword for mutual slaughter. The tears of fratricide.

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

Appian: War fueled by blood and gold, excuse for expenditure of one, expropriation of the other

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Appian
From The Civil Wars
Translated by Horace White

When all was in readiness on both sides they waited for some time in profound silence, hesitating, looking steadfastly at each other, each expecting the other to begin the battle. They were stricken with sorrow for the great host, for never before had such large Roman armies confronted the same danger together. They had pity for the valor of these men (the elite of both parties), especially because they saw Romans embattled against Romans. As the danger came nearer, the ambition that had inflamed and blinded them was extinguished, and gave place to fear. Reason purged the mad passion for glory, estimated the peril, and exposed the cause of the war, showing how two men contending with each other for supremacy had put themselves in a position where the one who should be vanquished could no longer hold even the humblest place, and how so great a number of the nobility were incurring the same risk on their account. The leaders reflected also that they, who had lately been friends and relatives by marriage, and had coöperated with each other in many ways to gain rank and power, had now drawn the sword for mutual slaughter and were leading to the same impiety those serving under them, men of the same city, of the same tribe, blood relations, and in some cases brothers against brothers. Even these circumstances were not wanting in this battle; because many unexpected things must happen when thousands of the same nation come together in the clash of arms. Reflecting on these things each of them was seized with unavailing repentance, and since this day was to decide for each whether he should be the highest or the lowest of the human race, they hesitated to begin the fight. It is said that both of them shed tears.

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Thomas Wyatt: Wax fat on innocent blood: I cannot leave the state to Caesar

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

British writers on peace and war

Thomas Wyatt: Children of the gun

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Thomas Wyatt
From Mine Own John Poynz

I cannot speak and look like a saint,
Use willes for wit, and make deceit a pleasure,
And call craft counsel, for profit still to paint.
I cannot wrest the law to fill the coffer
With innocent blood to feed myself fat,
And do most hurt where most help I offer.
I am not he that can allow the state
Of him Caesar, and damn Cato to die,
That with his death did scape out of the gate
From Caesar’s hands (if Livy do not lie)
And would not live where liberty was lost;
So did his heart the common weal apply.

***

And he that dieth for hunger of the gold
Call him Alexander…

Say he is rude that cannot lie and feign;
The lecher a lover; and tyranny
To be the right of a prince’s reign.
I cannot, I; no, no, it will not be!

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Matthew Arnold: Tolstoy’s commandments of peace

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

British writers on peace and war

Leo Tolstoy: Selections on war

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Matthew Arnold
From Count Leo Tolstoi

He extracts this central doctrine, or rule of Jesus, from the Sermon on the Mount, and presents it in a body of commandments – Christ’s commandments; the pith, he says, of the New Testament as the Decalogue is the pith of the Old. These all-important commandments of Christ are ‘commandments of peace,’ and five in number. The first commandment is: ‘Live in peace with all men…’

If these five commandments were generally observed, says Count Tolstoi, all men would become brothers. Certainly the actual society in which we live would be changed and dissolved. Armies and wars would be renounced.

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John Dryden and Lucretius: Venus and Mars: Lull the world in universal peace

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

British writers on peace and war

John Dryden: All your care is to provide the horrid pomp of war

John Dryden: In peace the thoughts of war he could remove

John Dryden and Horace: Happy is he who trumpets summon not to war

Lucretius: Lull to a timely rest the savage works of war

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Lucretius
From On the Nature of Things
Translated by John Dryden

Delight of humankind, and Gods above,
Parent of Rome; propitious Queen of Love,
Whose vital pow’r, Air, Earth, and Sea supplies,
And breeds what e’r is born beneath the rolling skies:
For every kind, by thy prolific might,
Springs, and beholds the regions of the light.
Thee, Goddess, thee the clouds and tempests fear,
And at thy pleasing presence disappear:
For thee the land in fragrant flow’rs is dress’d;
For thee the Ocean smiles, and smooths her wavy breast;
And heav’n it self with more serene and purer light is blest.
For when the rising Spring adorns the Mead,
And a new Scene of Nature stands display’d,
When teeming buds, and cheerful greens appear,
And Western gales unlock the lazy year:
The joyous Birds thy welcome first express;
Whose native Songs thy genial fire confess;
Then salvage Beasts bound o’re their slighted food,
Strook with thy darts, and tempt the raging flood.
All Nature is thy Gift; Earth, Air, and Sea:
Of all that breaths, the various progeny,
Stung with delight, is goaded on by thee.
O’re barren Mountains, o’re the flowery Plain,
The leafy Forest, and the liquid Main
Extends thy uncontroll’d and boundless reign.
Through all the living Regions dost thou move,
And scatter’st, where thou goest, the kindly seeds of Love:
Since then the race of every living thing
Obeys thy pow’r; since nothing new can spring
Without thy warmth, without thy influence bear,
Or beautiful, or lovesome can appear;
Be thou my aid; My tuneful Song inspire,
And kindle with thy own productive fire;
While all thy Province, Nature, I survey,
And sing to Memmius an immortal lay
Of heav’n, and Earth, and every where thy wondrous power display:
To Memmius, under thy sweet influence born,
Whom thou with all thy gifts and graces dost adorn.
The rather then assist my Muse and me,
Infusing Verses worthy him and thee.
Meantime on Land and Sea let barb’rous discord cease,
And lull the list’ning world in universal peace
To thee Mankind their soft repose must owe;
For thou alone that blessing canst bestow;
Because the brutal business of the war
Is manag’d by thy dreadful Servant’s care;
Who oft retires from fighting fields, to prove
The pleasing pains of thy eternal Love:
And panting on thy breast supinely lies,
While with thy heavenly form he feeds his famish’d eyes;
Sucks in with open lips thy balmy breath,
By turns restor’d to life, and plung’d in pleasing death.
There while thy curling limbs about him move,
Involv’d and fetter’d in the links of Love,
When wishing all, he nothing can deny,
Thy Charms in that auspicious moment try;
With winning eloquence our peace implore,
And quiet to the weary World restore.

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George Herbert: Make war to cease

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

British writers on peace and war

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George Herbert
L’Envoy

King of glorie, King of peace,
With the one make warre to cease;
With the other blesse thy sheep,
Thee to love, in thee to sleep.
Let not Sinne devoure thy fold,
Bragging that thy bloud is cold;
That thy death is also dead,
While his conquests dayly spread;
That thy flesh hath lost his food,
And thy Crosse is common wood.
Choke him, let him say no more,
But reserve his breath in store,
Till thy conquest and his fall
Make his sighs to use it all;
And then bargain with the winde
To discharge what is behind.

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Soame Jenyns: The soldier’s scarlet glowing from afar shows his bloody occupation’s war

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

British writers on peace and war

Soame Jenyns: One good-natured act more praises gain than armies overthrown, and thousands slain

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Soame Jenyns
Selections

The soldier’s scarlet glowing from afar,
Shews that his bloody occupation’s war.

***

No more applause would on ambition wait,
And laying waste the world be counted great,
But one good-natured act more praises gain
Than armies overthrown, and thousands slain;
No more would brutal rage disturb our peace,
But envy, hatred, war, and discord cease…

***

Observe the quick migrations Learning makes,
How harass’d nations trembling she forsakes,
And haste away to build her downy nest
In happier climates, with peace and plenty blest.
***

Sometimes some famed historian’s pen
Recalls past ages past agen,
Where all I see, thro’ every page,
Is but how men, with senseless rage,
Each other rob, destroy and burn,
To serve a priest’s or a statesman’s turn;
Tho’ loaded with a diff’rent aim,
Yet always asses much the same…

***

Each, form’d for all, promotes thro’ private care
The public good, and justly tastes its share.
All understand their great Creator;s will,
Strive to me happy, and in that fulfill;
Mankind excepted, lord of all beside,
But only slave to folly, vice, and pride;
‘Tis he that deaf to this command alone,
Delights in others woe, and courts his own;
Racks and destroys with tort’ring steel and flame,
For lux’ry brutes, and man himself for fame;
Set Superstition high on Virtues’ throne,
Then thinks his Maker’s temper like his own;
Hence are his altars stained with reeking gore,
As if he could atone for crimes by more…

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John Dryden and Horace: Happy is he who trumpets summon not to war

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

John Dryden: All your care is to provide the horrid pomp of war

John Dryden: In peace the thoughts of war he could remove

John Dryden and Lucretius: Venus and Mars: Lull the world in universal peace

Horace: Let there be a limit to warfare

Horace: Transcending war

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Horace
From the Second Epode
Translated by John Dryden

How happy in his low degree,
How rich in humble Poverty, is he,
Who leads a quiet country life!
Discharg’d of business, void of strife,
And from the gripeing Scrivener free.
(Thus, e’re the Seeds of Vice were sown,
Liv’d Men in better Ages born,
Who Plow’d, with Oxen of their own,
Their small paternal field of Corn.)
Nor Trumpets summon him to War
Nor drums disturb his morning Sleep,

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Thomas Day: Wages abhorred war with humankind

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

British writers on peace and war

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Thomas Day
From The Desolation of America (1777)

I see, I see, swift bursting through the shade,
The cruel soldier, and the reeking blade.
And there the bloody cross of Britain waves,
Pointing to deeds of death an host of slaves.
To them unheard the wretched tell their pain,
And every human sorrow sues in vain:
Their hardened bosoms never knew to melt;
Each woe unpitied, and each pang unfelt. –
See! where they rush, and with a savage joy,
Unsheathe the sword, impatient to destroy.
Fierce as the tiger, bursting from the wood,
With famished jaws, insatiable of blood!

***

Lo! Britain bended to the servile yoke,
Her fire extinguished, and her spirit broke,
Beneath the pressure of [a tyrant’s] sway,
Herself at once the spoiler and the prey,
Detest[s] the virtues she can boast no more
And envies every right to every shore!
At once to nature and to pity blind,
Wages abhorrèd war with humankind.
And wheresoe’er her ocean rolls his wave,
Provokes an enemy, or meets a slave.

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William Davenant : War, the sport of kings, increases the number of dead

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

British writers on peace and war

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William Davenant
The Soldier Going to the Field

Preserve thy sighs, unthrifty girl!
To purify the air;
Thy tears to thread, instead of pearl,
On bracelets of thy hair.

The trumpet makes the echo hoarse,
And wakes the louder drum,
Expense of grief gains no remorse,
When sorrow should be dumb.

For I must go where lazy peace
Will hide her drowsy head;
And, for the sport of kings, increase
The number of the dead.

But first I’ll chide thy cruel theft:
Can I in war delight,
Who, being of my heart bereft
Can have no heart to fight?

Thou knowest the sacred laws of old,
Ordained a thief should pay,
To quit him of his theft, sevenfold
What he had stolen away.

Thy payment shall but double be;
O then with speed resign
My own seducèd heart to me,
Accompanied with thine.

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Thomas Carew: They’ll hang their arms upon the olive bough

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

British writers on peace and war

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Thomas Carew
From In answer to an Elegiacall Letter upon the death of the King of Sweden from Aurelan Townsend, inviting me to write on that subject

And (since ’twas but his Church-yard) let him have
For his owne ashes now no narrower Grave
Than the whol German Continents vast womb,
Whilst all her Cities doe but make his Tomb.

But let us that in myrtle bowers sit
Vnder secure shades use the benefit
Of peace and plenty…

But these are subjects proper to our clyme.
Torueyes, Masques, Theaters better become
Our Halcyon dayes; what though the German Drum
Bellow for freedome and revenge? the noyse
Concernes not us, nor should divert our joyes;
Nor ought the thunder of their Carabins
Drown the sweet Ayres of our tun’d Violins;

Beleeve me friend, if their prevailing powers
Gain them a calm security like ours,
They’l hang their Armes upon the Olive bough.
And dance, and revell then, as we doe now…

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Geoffrey Chaucer: The city to the soldier’s rage resigned; successless wars and poverty behind

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

British writers on peace and war

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Geoffrey Chaucer
From Palamon and Arcite
Rendered by John Dryden

But in the dome of mighty Mars the red
With different figures all the sides were spread;
This temple, less in form, with equal grace,
Was imitative of the first in Thrace;
For that cold region was the loved abode
And sovereign mansion of the warrior god.
The landscape was a forest wide and bare,
Where neither beast nor human kind repair,
The fowl that scent afar the borders fly,
And shun the bitter blast, and wheel about the sky.
A cake of scurf lies baking on the ground,
And prickly stubs, instead of trees, are found;
Or woods with knots and knares deformed and old,
Headless the most, and hideous to behold;
A rattling tempest through the branches went,
That stripped them bare, and one sole way they bent.
Heaven froze above severe, the clouds congeal,
And through the crystal vault appeared the standing hail.
Such was the face without: a mountain stood
Threatening from high, and overlooked the wood:
Beneath the lowering brow, and on a bent,
The temple stood of Mars armipotent;
The frame of burnished steel, that cast a glare
From far, and seemed to thaw the freezing air.
A straight long entry to the temple led,
Blind with high walls, and horror over head;
Thence issued such a blast, and hollow roar,
As threatened from the hinge to heave the door;
In through that door a northern light there shone;
‘Twas all it had, for windows there were none.
The gate was adamant; eternal frame,
Which, hewed by Mars himself, from Indian quarries came,
The labour of a God; and all along
Tough iron plates were clenched to make it strong.
A tun about was every pillar there;
A polished mirror shone not half so clear.
There saw I how the secret felon wrought,
And treason labouring in the traitor’s thought,
And midwife Time the ripened plot to murder brought.
There the red Anger dared the pallid Fear;
Next stood Hypocrisy, with holy leer,
Soft, smiling, and demurely looking down,
But hid the dagger underneath the gown;
The assassinating wife, the household fiend;
And far the blackest there, the traitor-friend.
On the other side there stood Destruction bare,
Unpunished Rapine, and a waste of war;
Contest with sharpened knives in cloisters drawn,
And all with blood bespread the holy lawn.
Loud menaces were heard, and foul disgrace,
And bawling infamy, in language base;
Till sense was lost in sound, and silence fled the place.
The slayer of himself yet saw I there,
The gore congealed was clotted in his hair;
With eyes half closed and gaping mouth he lay,
And grim as when he breathed his sullen soul away.
In midst of all the dome, Misfortune sate,
And gloomy Discontent, and fell Debate,
And Madness laughing in his ireful mood;
And armed Complaint on theft; and cries of blood.
There was the murdered corps, in covert laid,
And violent death in thousand shapes displayed:
The city to the soldier’s rage resigned;
Successless wars, and poverty behind:
Ships burnt in fight, or forced on rocky shores,
And the rash hunter strangled by the boars:
The new-born babe by nurses overlaid;
And the cook caught within the raging fire he made.
All ills of Mars’ his nature, flame and steel;
The gasping charioteer beneath the wheel
Of his own car; the ruined house that falls
And intercepts her lord betwixt the walls:
The whole division that to Mars pertains,
All trades of death that deal in steel for gains
Were there: the butcher, armourer, and smith,
Who forges sharpened fauchions, or the scythe.
The scarlet conquest on a tower was placed,
With shouts and soldiers’ acclamations graced:
A pointed sword hung threatening o’er his head,
Sustained but by a slender twine of thread.
There saw I Mars his ides, the Capitol,
The seer in vain foretelling Caesar’s fall;
The last Triumvirs, and the wars they move,
And Antony, who lost the world for love.
These, and a thousand more, the fane adorn;
Their fates were painted ere the men were born,
All copied from the heavens, and ruling force
Of the red star, in his revolving course.
The form of Mars high on a chariot stood,
All sheathed in arms, and gruffly looked the god;
Two geomantic figures were displayed
Above his head, a warrior and a maid,
One when direct, and one when retrograde.

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Abraham Cowley: To give peace and then the rules of peace

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

British writers on peace and war

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Abraham Cowley
From Davideis (1656)

Oft Strangers’ Iron Scepters bruis’d the Land
(Such still are those born by a Conquering Hand)
Oft pity’ing God did well-form’d Spirits raise,
Fit for the toilsome business of their days,
To free the groaning Nation, and to give
Peace first, and then the Rules in Peace to live.
But they whose stamp of Power did chiefly
In Characters too fine for most men’s Eye,
Graces and Gifts Divine; not painted bright
With state to awe dull minds, and force t’affright,
Were ill obey’d whil’st Living, and at death,
Their Rules and Pattern vanisht with their breath.
The hungry Rich all near them did devour,
Their Judge was Appetite, and their Law was Power.
Not want it self could Luxury restrain,
For what that empti’d, Rapine fill’d again.
Robbery the Field, Oppression sackt the Town;
What the Swords Reaping spar’d, was glean’d by th’Gown.
At Courts, and Seats of Justice to complain,
Was to be robb’d more vexingly again.
Nor was their Lust less active or less bold,
Amidst this rougher search of Blood and Gold.

Alarmed all by one fair stranger’s Eyes,
As to a sudden War the Town does rise
Shaking and pale, half dead e’re they begin
The strange and wanton Trag’edy of their sin,
All their wild Lusts they force her to sustain,
Till by shame, sorrow, weariness, and pain,
She midst their loath’d, and cruel kindness dies;
Of monstrous Lust th’ innocent Sacrifice.
This did (’tis true) a Civil War create
(The frequent curse of our loose-govern’d State)…

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John Dryden: All your care is to provide the horrid pomp of war

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

British writers on peace and war

John Dryden: In peace the thoughts of war he could remove

John Dryden and Horace: Happy is he who trumpets summon not to war

John Dryden and Lucretius: Venus and Mars: Lull the world in universal peace

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John Dryden
Excerpts

The cutthroat sword and the clamorous gown shall jar,
In sharing their ill-gotten spoils of war;
Chiefs shall be grudg’d the part which they pretend…

(The Medal)

***

“War,” he sung, “is toil and trouble;
Honor, but an empty bubble;
Never ending, still beginning,
Fighting still, and still destroying…”

(Alexander’s Feast)

***

Never content with what you had before,
But true to change, and Englishmen all o’er.
New honor calls you hence, and all your care
Is to provide the horrid pomp of war.
In plume and scarf, jack boots and Bilbo blade,
Your silver goes, that should support our trade.

(The Prophetess)

***

How blest is he, who leads a country life,
Unvex’d with anxious cares, and void of strife!
Who, studying peace and shunning civil rage,
Enjoy’d his youth, and now enjoys his age…

Enough for Europe has our Albion fought:
Let us enjoy the peace our blood has bought.
When once the Persian King was put to Flight,
The weary Macedons refus’d to fight:
Themselves their own Mortality confess’d;
And left the son of Jove, to quarrel for the rest.

Ev’n Victors are by Victories undone;
Thus Hannibal, with foreign laurels won,
To Carthage was recall’d, too late to keep his own.
While sore of battle, while our wounds are green,
Why should we tempt the doubtful die again?
In wars renew’d, uncertain of success,
Sure of a share, as umpires of the peace.

Some overpoise of sway, by turns they share;
In peace the people, and the prince in war:
Consuls of mod’rate pow’r in calms were made;
When the Gauls came, one sole dictator sway’d.

Patriots, in peace, assert the people’s right,
With noble stubbornness resisting might:
No lawless mandates from the court receive,
Nor lend by force; but in a body give.

(To My Honor’d Kinsman, John Driden)

***
“Beaumont, Fletcher, and Jonson (who were only capable of bringing us to that degree of perfection which we have), were just then leaving the world; as if in an age of so much horror, wit, and those milder studies of humanity, had no further business among us. But the Muses, who ever follow peace, went to plant in another country…”

(An Essay on Dramatic Poesy)

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Coventry Patmore: Peace in life and art

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

British writers on peace and war

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Coventry Patmore
From Peace in Life and Art (1889)

If we compare ancient with modern art, and the minds and manners of our far ancestors with the minds and manners of the present time, it can hardly fail to strike us that the predominant presence of peace in the former and its absence in the latter constitute the most characteristic difference. Peace, as it was held to be the last effect and reward of a faithful life, was regarded as the ideal expression of life in painting, sculpture, poetry, and architecture; and accordingly the tranquil sphere of all the greatest of great art is scarcely troubled by a tear or a smile. This peace is no negative quality. It does not consist in the mere absence of disturbance by pain or pleasure. It is the peace of which St. Thomas says “perfect joy and peace are identical,” and is the atmosphere of a region in which smiles and tears are alike impertinences. In such art the expression of pain and pleasure is never an end, as it almost always is with us moderns, but a means of glorifying that peace which is capable of supporting either without perturbation.” Peace,” says again the great writer above quoted, “is the tranquillity of order, and has its seat in the will.”

***

Delights and pleasures demand, no less than grief and pain, to be subordinated to peace, in order to become worthy of life and art. The cynicism and the corrupt melancholy of much of our modern life and art are the inevitable results of the desires being set upon delights and pleasures in which there is not peace.

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John Dryden: In peace the thoughts of war he could remove

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

British writers on peace and war

John Dryden: All your care is to provide the horrid pomp of war

John Dryden and Horace: Happy is he who trumpets summon not to war

John Dryden and Lucretius: Venus and Mars: Lull the world in universal peace

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John Dryden
From Absalom and Achitophel (1681)

In Peace the thoughts of War he coud remove
And seem’d as he were onely born for Love.

***

Well knew the value of a peaceful reign;
And, looking backward with a wise afright,
Saw Seams of wounds, dishonest to the sight:
In contemplation of whose ugly Scars,
They curst the memory of Civil Wars.

***

Some thought they God’s Anointed meant to slay
By Guns, invented since full many a day…

***

To ply him with new Plots shall be my care;
Or plunge him deep in some Expensive War;
Which, when his Treasure can no more supply,
He must, with the Remains of Kingship, buy.

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William Shenstone: Let the gull’d fool the toils of war pursue

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

British writers on peace and war

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William Shenstone
From The Judgement of Hercules (1741)

“Let the gull’d fool the toils of war pursue,
Where bleed the many to enrich the few
Where Chance from Courage claims the boasted prize;
Where, though she give, your country oft denies…”

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George Moore: War and disillusionment

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

British writers on peace and war

Irish writers on peace and war

George Moore: Murder pure and simple, impossible to revive the methods of Tamburlaine

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George Moore
From Ave (1911)

“England is, at present, the ugliest country. Oh, I have changed towards England. I try to forget that I once thought differently, for when I remember myself (my former self) I hate myself as much as I hate England.

“Doesn’t the lack of humour in the newspapers surprise you? This morning I read in the Pall Mall that we are an Imperial people, and being an Imperial people we must think Imperially, and presumably do everything else Imperially. Splendid, isn’t it? Everything, the apple-trees included, must be Imperial. We won’t eat apples except Imperial apples, and the trees are conjured to bear no others, but the apple-trees go on flowering and bearing the same fruit as before…”

***

It would be better to get away from London and waste no more time joining people in their walks, to try to persuade them that London was an ugly city, or to wring some admission from them that the Boer War was shameful…

***

The incident is one among hundreds of similar incidents, all pointing to the same fact that nothing but the war interested me as a subject of conversation or of thought. Every day the obsession became more terrible, and the surrender of my sanity more imminent. I shall try to tell the story as it happened, but fear that some of it will escape my pen; yet it is all before me clear as my reflection in the glass: that evening, for instance, when I walked with a friend through Berkeley Square and fell out with my friend’s appearance, so English did it seem to me to be, for he wore his clothes arrogantly; yet it was not his clothes so much as his sheeplike face that angered me. We were dining at the same house that night, and on looking round the dinner-table I saw the same sheep in everybody, in the women as much as in the men. Next day in Piccadilly I caught sight of it in every passer-by; every man and woman seemed to wear it, and everybody’s bearing and appearance suggested to me a repugnant, sensual cosmopolitanism; a heartless lust for gold was read by me in their faces – ‘for the goldfields of Pretoria which they haven’t gotten yet, and never will get, I hope.’

In the dusk England seemed to rise up before me in person, a shameful and vulgar materialism from which I turned with horror, and this passionate revolt against England was aggravated by memories of my former love of England, and, do what I would,

I could not forget that I had always met in England a warm heart, a beautiful imagination, firmness and quiet purpose. But I just had to forget that I ever thought well of England, or to discover that I had been mistaken in England. To bring the point as clearly as I may before the reader, I will ask him to think of a man who has lived happily and successfully with a woman for many years, and suddenly discovers her to be a criminal or guilty of some infidelity towards him; to be, at all events, one whose conduct and capacities are not those that he had credited her with. As his suspicions multiply, the beauties which he once read in her face and figure fade, and her deportment becomes aggressive, till she can no longer cross the room without exciting angry comment in his mind. A little later he finds that he cannot abide in the house, so offensive is it to him; the disposition of the furniture reminds him of her; and one day the country through which they used to walk together turns so distasteful that he longs to take the train and quit it for ever. How the change has been accomplished he does not know, and wonders. The hills and the woods compose the landscape as they did before, but the poetry has gone out of them; no gleam of sunlight plays along the hillsides for him, and no longer does the blue hill rise up far away like a land out of which dreams come and whither they go. The world exists only in our ideas of it, and as my idea of England changed England died, so far as I was concerned; an empty materialism was all I could see around me; and with this idea in my mind my eyes soon saw London as a great sprawl of brick on either side of a muddy river without a statue that one could look upon with admiration.

***

They must have felt that my departure was decreed, though no reasons were given, except that the Boer War had rendered any further stay in England impossible to me.

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Menander: Inglorious military vainglory

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

Plutarch: Selections on war and peace

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Plutarch
From On Inoffensive Self-Praise
Translated by Phillip H. De Lacey and Benedict Einarson

Witness the character in Menander:

He murders me. The feasting makes me thin.
Good God! The wit! The military wit!
What airs he gives himself, the blasted windbag!

These are the feelings and language to which we are prompted not only by soldiers and the newly rich with their flaunting and ostentatious talk, but also by sophists, philosophers, and commanders who are full of their own importance and hold forth on the theme; and if we remember that praise of oneself always involves dispraise from others, that this vainglory has an inglorious end, the audience being left, as Demosthenes says, with a feeling of vexation, not with any belief in the truth of the self-portrait, we shall avoid talking about ourselves unless we have in prospect some great advantage to our hearers or to ourselves.

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Hermann Sudermann: Militarism and its terminus

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

German writers on peace and war

Hermann Sudermann: War irrigates the soil with blood, fertilizes it with corpses

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Hermann Sudermann
From The Mad Professor: A Novel of the Bismarck Years (1926)
Translated by Isabel Leighton and Otto P. Schinnerer

“…I spoke before of German tragedy and it was part of this tragedy that the German Empire was not created by those who for decades had propagated the idea as their own, but rather by one of those factions which hitherto had been one of its bitterest enemies. For that reason perforce, a different result eventuated from that originally intended. It arose out of the stench of powder and of blood and this stench will cling to it whether it likes it or not, as long as it exists. Therefore, the growing preparedness, therefore, what one calls, in praise or in censure, German Militarism; therefore, too the sword rattling the entire world over. And the worst of it is, it sprang into existence through a conflict with a people upon whose friendship, if we want to advance intellectually, we are more dependent than upon the good will of any nation anywhere around us…Not only France but all the West stand in opposition and secret hatred against us, and the more we try to arm ourselves against it, the more intense it will become, and the more we shall appear as destroyers of peace and enemies of mankind in their eyes. How do we, we sleepy Germans, we, the so-called nation of poets and thinkers, come to be branded with this suspicion? And sometimes at night when I can’t sleep, I think of a passage which I read in one of the minor prophets of the Old Testament and which foretells the fall of Assyria. It reads: ‘And I will cast abominable filth upon thee, and make thee vile, and will set thee as a gazing-stock. And it shall come to pass that all they that look upon thee shall flee from thee, and say, Nineveh is laid waste; who will bemoan her?'”

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Antiphanes: War and personal destiny

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

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Antiphanes
From The Soldier
Translated by Charles Burton Gulick

“Any mortal man who counts on having anything he owns secure for life is very much mistaken. For either a war-tax snatches away all he has saved, or he becomes involved in a lawsuit and loses all, or he is fined after serving in the War Office…or called to serve as trierarch, he hangs himself, or sailing in his ship he is captured somewhere…”

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John Gay: Parallel lives. Highwaymen and soldiers.

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

British writers on peace and war

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John Gay
From The Beggar’s Opera

Jemmy…Why are the Laws levell’d at us? are we more dishonest than the rest of Mankind? What we win, Gentlemen, is our own by the Law of Arms, and the Right of Conquest.

***

Let us take the Road.
Hark! I hear the Sound of Coaches!
The Hour of Attack approaches,
To your Arms, brave Boys, and load.
See the Ball I hold!
Let the Chymists toil like Asses,
Our Fire their Fire surpasses,
And turns all our Lead to Gold.

***

A Fox may steal your Hens, Sir,
A Whore your Health and Pence, Sir,
Your Daughter rob your Chest, Sir,
Your Wife may steal your Rest, Sir.
A Thief your Goods and Plate.
But this is all but picking,
With Rest, Pence, Chest and Chicken;
It ever was decreed, Sir,
If Lawyer’s Hand is fee’d, Sir,
He steals your whole Estate.

***

Beggar. Through the whole Piece you may observe such a Similitude of Manners in high and low Life, that it is difficult to determine whether (in the fashionable Vices) the fine Gentlemen imitate the Gentlemen of the Road, or the Gentlemen of the Road the fine Gentlemen. – Had the Play remained, as I at first intended, it would have carried a most excellent Moral. ’Twould have shewn that the lower Sort of People have their Vices in a degree as well as the Rich: And that they are punish’d for them.

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Charles Brockden Brown: Such is the spectacle exhibited in every field of battle

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

American writers on peace and against war

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Charles Brockden Brown
From Edgar Huntley (1799)

My faltering hand rendered this second bullet ineffectual. One expedient, still more detestable, remained. Having gone thus far, it would have been inhuman to stop short. His heart might easily be pierced by the bayonet, and his struggles would cease.

This task of cruel lenity was at length finished. I dropped the weapon and threw myself on the ground, overpowered by the horrors of this scene. Such are the deeds which perverse nature compels thousands of rational beings to perform and to witness! Such is the spectacle, endlessly prolonged and diversified, which is exhibited in every field of battle; of which habit and example, the temptations of gain, and the illusions of honor, will make us, not reluctant or indifferent, but zealous and delighted actors and beholders!

Thus, by a series of events impossible to be computed or foreseen, was the destruction of a band, selected from their fellows for an arduous enterprise, distinguished by prowess and skill, and equally armed against surprise and force, completed…

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Benito Pérez Galdós: Good God! why are there wars?

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

Spanish writers on war and peace

Benito Pérez Galdós: Cannon should be cast into church bells

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Benito Pérez Galdós
From Trafalgar (1882)
Translated by Clara Bell

There were both English and Spaniards in our boat – though most Spaniards – and it was strange to note how they fraternized, helping and encouraging each other in their common danger, and quite forgetting that only the day before they had been killing each other in hideous fight, more like wild beasts than men. I looked at the English who rowed with as good a will as our own sailors, I saw in their faces the same tokens of fear or of hope, and above all the same expression, sacred to humanity, of kindness and fellowship which was the common motive of all. And as I noted it I said to myself: “Good God! why are there wars? Why cannot these men be friends under all the circumstances of life as they are in danger? Is not such a scene as this enough to prove that all men are brothers?”

But the idea of nationality suddenly occurred to me to cut short these speculations, and my geographical theory of islands. “To be sure,” said I to myself, “the islands must need want to rob each other of some portion of the land, and that is what spoils everything. And indeed there must be a great many bad men there who make wars for their own advantage, because they are ambitious and wish for power, or are avaricious and wish for wealth. It is these bad men who deceive the rest – all the miserable creatures who do the fighting for them; and to make the fraud complete, they set them against other nations, sow discord and foment envy – and here you see the consequences. I am certain” – added I to myself, “that this can never go on; I will bet two to one that before long the inhabitants of the different Islands will be convinced that they are committing a great folly in making such tremendous wars, and that a day will come when they will embrace each other and all agree to be like one family.” So I thought then; and now, after sixty years of life, I have not seen that day dawn.

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Benito Pérez Galdós: Cannon should be cast into church bells

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

Spanish writers on war and peace

Benito Pérez Galdós: Good God! why are there wars?

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Benito Pérez Galdós
From Trafalgar (1882)
Translated by Clara Bell

“This is not living !” Dona Francisca went on, throwing up her arms: “God forgive me, but I hate the sea, though they say it is one of His most glorious works. What is the use of the Holy Inquisition, will you tell me, if it is not to burn those diabolical ships of war to ashes? What is the good of this incessant firing of cannon, – balls upon balls, all directed against four boards, as you may say, which are soon smashed to leave hundreds of hapless wretches to drown in the sea? Is not that provoking God? – And yet you men are half-wild as soon as you hear a cannon fired! Merciful Heaven ! my flesh creeps at the sound, and if every one was of my way of thinking, we should have no more sea-fights, and the cannon would be cast into bells. Look here, Alonso,” she said, standing still in front of her husband, “it seems to me that they have done you damage enough already; what more do you want? You and a parcel of madmen like yourself…?

***

“This is a pretty state of things, sir, – yes, and the fault is yours; yours,” she went on, raising her voice and turning purple. “Yes, senor, yours, who offend God by killing so many people – and if you would go to church and tell your beads instead of wanting to go in those, diabolical ships of war, the devil would not find time to trot round Spain so nimbly, playing the mischief with us all.”

 

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Diogenes Laertius: Steel and eloquence

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

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Diogenes Laertius
From Lives of Eminent Philosophers
Translated by R.D. Hicks

[Demetrius said] that all that steel could achieve in war was won in politics by eloquence.

***

[Solon] compared laws to spiders’ webs, which stand firm when any light and yielding object falls upon them, while a larger thing breaks through and makes off.

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Spanish writers on war and peace

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Montesquieu: Wars abroad aggravate conflicts at home

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

French writers on war and peace

Montesquieu: Distemper of militarism brings nothing but public ruin

Montesquieu: Military glory leads to torrents of blood overspreading the earth

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Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu
From Spirit of the Laws
Translated by Thomas Nugent

If a prince is shut up in a seraglio, he cannot leave his voluptuous abode without alarming those who keep him confined. They will not bear that his person and power should pass into other hands. He seldom, therefore, wages war in person, and hardly ventures to intrust the command to his generals.

A prince of this stamp, unaccustomed to resistance in his palace, is enraged to see his will opposed by armed force; hence he is generally governed by wrath or vengeance…War, therefore, is carried on under such a government in its full natural fury, and less extent is given to the law of nations than in other states.

***

Most of the European nations are still governed by the principles of morality. But if from a long abuse of power or the fury of conquest, despotic sway should prevail to a certain degree, neither morals nor climate would be able to withstand its baleful influence: and then human nature would be exposed, for some time at least, even in this beautiful part of the world, to the insults with which she has been abused in the other three.

***

The real power of a prince does not consist so much in the facility he meets with in making conquests as in the difficulty an enemy finds in attacking him, and, if I may so speak, in the immutability of his condition. But the increase of territory obliges a government to lay itself more open to an enemy.

***

It was a saying of the Lord of Coucy to King Charles V “that the English are never weaker, nor more easily overcome, than in their own country.” The same was observed of the Romans; the same of the Carthaginians; and the same will happen to every power that sends armies to distant countries, in order to re-unite by discipline and military force those who are divided among themselves by political or civil interests. The state finds itself weakened by the disorder that still continues, and more so by the remedy.

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Montesquieu: Military glory leads to torrents of blood overspreading the earth

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

French writers on war and peace

Montesquieu: Distemper of militarism brings nothing but public ruin

Montesquieu: Wars abroad aggravate conflicts at home

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Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu
From Spirit of the Laws
Translated by Thomas Nugent

The right…of war is derived from necessity and strict justice. If those who direct the conscience or councils of princes do not abide by this maxim, the consequence is dreadful: when they proceed on arbitrary principles of glory, convenience, and utility, torrents of blood must overspread the earth.

But, above all, let them not plead such an idle pretext as the glory of the prince: his glory is nothing but pride; it is a passion, and not a legitimate right.

It is true the fame of his power might increase the strength of his government ; but it might be equally increased by the reputation of his justice.

***

The authors of our public law, guided by ancient histories, without confining themselves to cases of strict necessity, have fallen into very great errors. They have adopted tyrannical and arbitrary principles, by supposing the conquerors to be invested with I know not what right to kill: thence they have drawn consequences as terrible as the very principle, and established maxims which the conquerors themselves, when possessed of the least grain of sense, never presumed to follow. It is a plain case, that when the conquest is completed, the conqueror has no longer a right to kill, because he has no longer the plea of natural defence and self-preservation.

What has led them into this mistake is, that they imagined a conqueror had a right to destroy the state; whence they inferred that he had a right to destroy the men that compose it: a wrong consequence from a false principle. For from the destruction of the state it does not at all follow that the people who compose it ought to be also destroyed. The state is the association of men, and not the men themselves; the citizen may perish, and the man remain.

From the right of killing in the case of conquest, politicians have drawn that of reducing to slavery – a consequence as ill grounded as the principle.

***

To prevent the executive power from being able to oppress, it is requisite that the armies with which it is intrusted should consist of the people, and have the same spirit as the people, as was the case at Rome till the time of Marius. To obtain this end, there are only two ways, either that the persons employed in the army should have sufficient property to answer for their conduct to their fellow-subjects, and be enlisted only for a year, as was customary at Rome; or if there should be a standing army, composed chiefly of the most despicable part of the nation, the legislative power should have a right to disband them as soon as it pleased; the soldiers should live in common with the rest of the people; and no separate camp, barracks, or fortress should be suffered.

 

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Montesquieu: Distemper of militarism brings nothing but public ruin

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

French writers on war and peace

Montesquieu: Military glory leads to torrents of blood overspreading the earth

Montesquieu: Wars abroad aggravate conflicts at home

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Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu
From Spirit of the Laws
Translated by Thomas Nugent

A new distemper has spread itself over Europe, infecting our princes, and inducing them to keep up an exorbitant number of troops. It has its redoublings, and of necessity becomes contagious. For as soon as one prince augments his forces, the rest, of course, do the same; so that nothing is gained thereby but the public ruin. Each monarch keeps as many armies on foot as if his people were in danger of being exterminated: and they give the name of peace to this general effort of all against all. Thus is Europe ruined to such a degree that were private people to be in the same situation as the three most opulent powers of this part of the globe, they would not have necessary subsistence. We are poor with the riches and commerce of the whole world; and soon, by thus augmenting our troops, we shall be all soldiers, and be reduced to the very same situation as the Tartars.

Great princes, not satisfied with hiring or buying troops of petty states, make it their business on all sides to pay subsidies for alliances, that is, generally to throw away their money.

The consequence of such a situation is the perpetual augmentation of taxes; and the mischief which prevents all future remedy is, that they reckon no more upon their revenues, but in waging war against their whole capital. It is no unusual thing to see governments mortgage their funds even in time of peace, and to employ what they call extraordinary means to ruin themselves -means so extraordinary, indeed, that such are hardly thought of by the most extravagant young spendthrift.

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Armando Palacio Valdés: “He would be better with a pickaxe in his hand, and more useful to his country”

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

Armando Palacio Valdés
From The Grandee (1893)
Translated by Rachell Challice

He had a military bearing and quite a martial aspect, with his white moustache, large rolling eyes, thick eyebrows, and powerful hands. Nevertheless, there was not a kinder man in the Spanish dominions. His career had been cast in Exchequer offices, and he always expressed strong opinions against the power of the army. He maintained that the blood-suckers of the State were not those employed in civil functions, but the army and navy. The fact was demonstrated by the production of figures and notes on the subject, when he would quite lose himself in bureaucratic divagations. He said that war was caused by the thirst for blood emanating from the superfluous energy of the nation. This was a phrase he had read in the Boletin de Contribuciones Indirectas and appropriated as his own with marked effect. He said soldiers were vagrants, and his aversion to all uniforms and epaulettes was extreme. When the Corporation of Lancia talked of applying to the government for a regiment to garrison the city, he, as councillor, opposed the measure most resolutely.

What was the good of bringing a lot of spongers into the neighbourhood? Instead of having the comfort of being at some distance from a regiment, they would have all the disadvantages of harbouring one. Everything would get dear, for the colonels and officers liked to live well and have the best of everything, “after all the hard work they did to earn it,” he added, ironically…

***

Mateo gnashed his teeth, and gave utterance to sounds indicative of his hatred of the armed force, and then exclaimed in an ironical tone:

“How delightful to see warriors in time of peace!”

“You are quite cracked about them, Don Cristobal. Soldiers are very useful.”

“Useful!” exclaimed the Pensioner, in a rage. “What use are they I should like to know? How are they useful?”

“They keep the peace, man.”

“They keep war, you mean. The Civil Guard can keep us from rogues, but they foment dissensions and cause the ruin of the country. Directly they see the enemy appear, they take care to go off in another direction, and then they get appointments, crosses, and pensions. I maintain that as long as there are soldiers, there will be no peace in Spain.”

“But, Don Cristobal, supposing a foreign nation attacked us?”

The Pensioner gave an ironical smile and shook his head several times before replying.

“Get along, silly; why the only country that could attack us by land is France, and if France should ever do so, what good would these stupid little officers in uniform be to us?”

“Well, apart from that, soldiers are good for trade. The shops profit by them, and the hotel-keepers benefit also.”

Manuel Antonio only defended the military to aggravate Mateo, but there was a shade of irony in his present remarks that was excessively aggravating.

“That is just what it is! And it is that which annoys me so, for where does the money come from that they spend, you foolish fellow? Why, from you and from me, and from that gentleman; in fact, from every one who pays anything to the State in one form or another. The result is that they spend without producing, and so set a bad example in the towns; for idleness is a corrupting influence to those that are inclined to be lazy. Do you know what the army costs? Why, the naval and military Ministers take between them half of the national grant. That is to say, justice, religion, the expenses of the maintenance of our relations with other countries, and the working of all material interests, do not take as much to keep as these scarlet trousered young gentlemen. If other nations of Europe have a great army, what is that to do with it? Let them have it. Besides, they can allow themselves this luxury because they have money. But we are a poor little nation with only outside show. Besides, in other countries there are international complications, from which we are fortunately free. France is too afraid of the intervention of other countries to attack us, but if perchance it did attack us, it would conquer us just as much with an army as without one.”

The Pensioner was very emphatic in his arguments, which, with his eyes blazing with anger, he enforced with vehement gesticulations of the hands.

Manuel Antonio was delighted at seeing him get into a rage; and at that moment the little company of officers passed near with a polite “Good-day,” which they all returned excepting Don Cristobal, who took no notice of the greeting.

“I really think you go too far, Don Cristobal. Now what do you think of Captain Nuñez who has just gone by? Is he not a perfect gentleman with courteous, pleasant manners?”

“He would be better with a pickaxe in his hand, and more useful to his country,” returned the Pensioner crossly.

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Stephen Crane: An Episode of War

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

American writers on peace and against war

Stephen Crane: There was crimson clash of war

Stephen Crane: War Is Kind

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Stephen Crane
An Episode of War

The lieutenant’s rubber blanket lay on the ground, and upon it he had poured the company’s supply of coffee. Corporals and other representatives of the grimy and hot-throated men who lined the breastwork had come for each squad’s portion.

The lieutenant was frowning and serious at this task of division. His lips pursed as he drew with his sword various crevices in the heap until brown squares of coffee, astoundingly equal in size, appeared on the blanket. He was on the verge of a great triumph in mathematics, and the corporals were thronging forward, each to reap a little square, when suddenly the lieutenant cried out and looked quickly at a man near him as if he suspected it was a case of personal assault. The others cried out also when they saw blood upon the lieutenant’s sleeve.

He had winced like a man stung, swayed dangerously, and then straightened. The sound of his hoarse breathing was plainly audible. He looked sadly, mystically, over the breastwork at the green face of a wood, where now were many little puffs of white smoke. During this moment the men about him gazed statue-like and silent, astonished and awed by this catastrophe which happened when catastrophes were not expected – when they had leisure to observe it.

As the lieutenant stared at the wood, they too swung their heads, so that for another instant all hands, still silent, contemplated the distant forest as if their minds were fixed upon the mystery of a bullet’s journey.

The officer had, of course, been compelled to take his sword into his left hand. He did not hold it by the hilt. He gripped it at the middle of the blade, awkwardly. Turning his eyes from the hostile wood, he looked at the sword as he held it there, and seemed puzzled as to what to do with it, where to put it. In short, this weapon had of a sudden become a strange thing to him. He looked at it in a kind of stupefaction, as if he had been endowed with a trident, a sceptre, or a spade.

Finally he tried to sheath it. To sheath a sword held by the left hand, at the middle of the blade, in a scabbard hung at the left hip, is a feat worthy of a sawdust ring. This wounded officer engaged in a desperate struggle with the sword and the wobbling scabbard, and during the time of it he breathed like a wrestler.

But at this instant the men, the spectators, awoke from their stone-like poses and crowded forward sympathetically. The orderly-sergeant took the sword and tenderly placed it in the scabbard. At the time, he leaned nervously backward, and did not allow even his finger to brush the body of the lieutenant. A wound gives strange dignity to him who bears it. Well men shy from this new and terrible majesty. It is as if the wounded man’s hand is upon the curtain which hangs before the revelations of all existence – the meaning of ants, potentates, wars, cities, sunshine, snow, a feather dropped from a bird’s wing; and the power of it sheds radiance upon a bloody form, and makes the other men understand sometimes that they are little. His comrades look at him with large eyes thoughtfully. Moreover, they fear vaguely that the weight of a finger upon him might send him headlong, precipitate the tragedy, hurl him at once into the dim, grey unknown. And so the orderly-sergeant, while sheathing the sword, leaned nervously backward.

There were others who proffered assistance. One timidly presented his shoulder and asked the lieutenant if he cared to lean upon it, but the latter waved him away mournfully. He wore the look of one who knows he is the victim of a terrible disease and understands his helplessness. He again stared over the breastwork at the forest, and then turning went slowly rearward. He held his right wrist tenderly in his left hand as if the wounded arm was made of very brittle glass.

And the men in silence stared at the wood, then at the departing lieutenant – then at the wood, then at the lieutenant.

As the wounded officer passed from the line of battle, he was enabled to see many things which as a participant in the fight were unknown to him. He saw a general on a black horse gazing over the lines of blue infantry at the green woods which veiled his problems. An aide galloped furiously, dragged his horse suddenly to a halt, saluted, and presented a paper. It was, for a wonder, precisely like an historical painting.

To the rear of the general and his staff a group, composed of a bugler, two or three orderlies, and the bearer of the corps standard, all upon maniacal horses, were working like slaves to hold their ground, preserve, their respectful interval, while the shells boomed in the air about them, and caused their chargers to make furious quivering leaps.

A battery, a tumultuous and shining mass, was swirling toward the right. The wild thud of hoofs, the cries of the riders shouting blame and praise, menace and encouragement, and, last the roar of the wheels, the slant of the glistening guns, brought the lieutenant to an intent pause. The battery swept in curves that stirred the heart; it made halts as dramatic as the crash of a wave on the rocks, and when it fled onward, this aggregation of wheels, levers, motors, had a beautiful unity, as if it were a missile. The sound of it was a war-chorus that reached into the depths of man’s emotion.

The lieutenant, still holding his arm as if it were of glass, stood watching this battery until all detail of it was lost, save the figures of the riders, which rose and fell and waved lashes over the black mass.

Later, he turned his eyes toward the battle where the shooting sometimes crackled like bush-fires, sometimes sputtered with exasperating irregularity, and sometimes reverberated like the thunder. He saw the smoke rolling upward and saw crowds of men who ran and cheered, or stood and blazed away at the inscrutable distance.

He came upon some stragglers, and they told him how to find the field hospital. They described its exact location. In fact, these men, no longer having part in the battle, knew more of it than others. They told the performance of every corps, every division, the opinion of every general. The lieutenant, carrying his wounded arm rearward, looked upon them with wonder.

At the roadside a brigade was making coffee and buzzing with talk like a girls’ boarding-school. Several officers came out to him and inquired concerning things of which he knew nothing. One, seeing his arm, began to scold. “Why, man, that’s no way to do. You want to fix that thing.” He appropriated the lieutenant and the lieutenant’s wound. He cut the sleeve and laid bare the arm, every nerve of which softly fluttered under his touch. He bound his handkerchief over the wound, scolding away in the meantime. His tone allowed one to think that he was in the habit of being wounded every day. The lieutenant hung his head, feeling, in this presence, that he did not know how to be correctly wounded.

The low white tents of the hospital were grouped around an old schoolhouse. There was here a singular commotion. In the foreground two ambulances interlocked wheels in the deep mud. The drivers were tossing the blame of it back and forth, gesticulating and berating, while from the ambulances, both crammed with wounded, there came an occasional groan. An interminable crowd of bandaged men were coming and going. Great numbers sat under the trees nursing heads or arms or legs. There was a dispute of some kind raging on the steps of the school-house. Sitting with his back against a tree a man with a face as grey as a new army blanket was serenely smoking a corn-cob pipe. The lieutenant wished to rush forward and inform him that he was dying.

A busy surgeon was passing near the lieutenant. “Good-morning,” he said, with a friendly smile. Then he caught sight of the lieutenant’s arm and his face at once changed. “Well, let’s have a look at it.” He seemed possessed suddenly of a great contempt for the lieutenant. This wound evidently placed the latter on a very low social plane. The doctor cried out impatiently, “What mutton-head had tied it up that way anyhow?” The lieutenant answered, “Oh, a man.”

When the wound was disclosed the doctor fingered it disdainfully. “Humph,” he said. “You come along with me and I’ll ‘tend to you.” His voice contained the same scorn as if he were saying, “You will have to go to jail.”

The lieutenant had been very meek, but now his face flushed, and he looked into the doctor’s eyes. “I guess I won’t have it amputated,” he said.

“Nonsense, man! Nonsense! Nonsense!” cried the doctor. “Come along, now. I won’t amputate it. Come along. Don’t be a baby.”

“Let go of me,” said the lieutenant, holding back wrathfully, his glance fixed upon the door of the old school-house, as sinister to him as the portals of death.

And this is the story of how the lieutenant lost his arm. When he reached home, his sisters, his mother, his wife sobbed for a long time at the sight of the flat sleeve. “Oh, well,” he said, standing shamefaced amid these tears, “I don’t suppose it matters so much as all that.”

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Edmund Gosse: War and the brutalities of the real thing

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

British writers on peace and war

Siegfried Sassoon: Selections on war

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Edmund Gosse
From Mr. Sassoon’s Satires (1927)

The time has even now hardly come when we can speak of the War with calm, or even consider its aspects without repugnance. But these poems of Mr. Sassoon’s were received with more than reluctance, even with a kind of disgust. The shouting was over, the laurels were cut, but people at home were still unwilling to recognise the brutalities of the real thing. In France, M. Barbusse startled everybody with his dreadful book “Le Feu”; here though much less sensation was caused by the less violent poems of Mr. Sassoon, the movement was identical; it was an unwilling transition from a pink world to a black one, from illusion to reality…

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Jean Paul Richter: The Goddess of Peace

April 14, 2016 1 comment

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

German writers on peace and war

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Jean Paul Richter
From The Titan (1800-1803)
Translated by Charles T. Brooks

The Goddess of Peace seemed to have here her church and her church seat…Thy soul, still covered with its chrysalis shell, confounds as yet the horizon of the eye with the horizon of the heart, and outer elevation with inner, and soars through the physical heaven after the ideal one! For the same power which in the presence of great thoughts lifts our head and our body and expands the chest, raises the body also even with the dark yearning after greatness, and the chrysalis swells with the beating wings of the Psyche; yes, it must needs be, that by the same band wherewith the soul draws up the body the body also can lift up the soul.

***

But in every noble heart burns a perpetual thirst for a nobler, in the fair, for a fairer; it wishes to behold its ideal out of itself, in bodily presence, with glorified or adopted form, in order the more easily to attain to it, because the lofty man can ripen only by a lofty one, as diamond can be polished only by diamond…

The first journey, especially when Nature casts over the long road nothing but white radiance and orange-blossoms and chestnut-shadows, imparts to the youth what the last journey often takes away from the man, – a dreaming heart, wings for the ice-chasms of life, and wide-open arms for every human breast.

***

Exalted Nature! when we see and love thee, we love our fellow-men more warmly; and when we must pity or forget them, thou still remainest with us, reposing before the moist eye like a verdant chain of mountains in the evening red…

What a form! From a dry, haggard face projected between eyes which gleamed on, half hid beneath their sockets, a contemptuous nose with a proud curl, – there stood a cherub with the germ of the fall, a scornful, imperious spirit, who could not love aught, not even his own heart, hardly a higher, -one of those terrible beings who exalt themselves above men, above misfortune, above the earth, and above conscience, and to whom it is all the same whatever human blood they shed, whether another’s or their own.

***

The youth, like all young men and hermits, had too severe notions of courtiers and men of the world: he held them to be decided basilisks and dragons, – although I can still excuse that, if he means by basilisks only what the naturalists mean, – wingless lizards, – and by dragons, nothing but winged ones, and thus regards them only as amphibia, hardly less cold and odious than Linnæus defines such to be.

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Leo Tolstoy: Prescription for peace

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

Russian writers on war

Leo Tolstoy: Selections on war

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Leo Tolstoy
From The Kreutzer Sonata (1889)
Translated by Margaret Wettlin

“Observe this: If the aim of human life is goodness, kindness, love; if the aim of human life is what is told us in the prophecies, that all people are to be united by love, that the sword is to be exchanged for the ploughshare, and all the rest, then what is it that prevents us from achieving this aim? Our passions. And of all the passions, the strongest, the most vicious and persistent, is sexual, carnal love, and therefore if the passions are subdued, especially this, then the prophecies will be fulfilled and mankind will be united into one, the aim of human life will be achieved, and there will no longer be anything to live for. As long as mankind exists it is inspired by the ideal, and certainly not the ideal of pigs and rabbits, which is to have as many offspring as possible, nor the ideal of monkeys and Parisians, which is to get the most refined enjoyment out of sexual indulgence. It is the ideal of goodness achieved through continence and purity. Man always has and always will strive to attain this…”

“Slavery is nothing but a state in which some people reap the benefit of the forced labour of others. Slavery can be abolished only when people no longer wish to reap the benefit of the forced labour of others because they consider it sinful or shameful. But what they actually do is to change the outer forms of slavery by forbidding the sale of slaves, and they fancy (and convince themselves) that slavery has been abolished, not seeing and not wishing to see that slavery continues to exist because people go on wanting to reap the benefit of other people’s labour and consider it right and just to do so. So long as this is considered right, there will be found people who, being stronger and more cunning than others, will bring about slavery.”

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Charles Nodier: Painful to the eyes and the heart of he who cherishes liberty

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

French writers on war and peace

Charles Nodier: Fruitless is the glory of battles

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Charles Nodier
From Promenade from Dieppe to the Mountains of Scotland (1821)
Translated unknown

Farther on the austere rocks of Dunbarton terminate the prospect, and resemble a vast natural cupola of which the river is the avenue. By little and little they open, advance, and discover to the eye that basaltic mass so striking, and at the same time so strange, which incloses between two enormous side walls, divided by a percussion that can only be attributed to the most ancient revolutions of the globe, the most dismal castle with which feudality ever terrified the eyes of nations. Groups of red soldiers, who throw their looks down its desolate depth, from the top of the fortifications, render this spectacle still more painful to the eyes and the heart of a traveller who cherishes liberty…

It is worth observing that there is nothing more difficult to efface than blood. It is the testimony which always arises against the murderer; out of a hundred accusations of homicide, there is not a single one in which it does not serve as an indication. It even cries out in the presence of history and posterity…

Tender and affectionate sentiments not only form the happiness of the individual: they have an influence on the welfare of nations as well as on that of families…

There is a time of life when we no longer exert, on all that surrounds us, that power of sensibility which drags along, which domineers, which makes us fear, and, above all, makes us love; a time when, notwithstanding the soul, still energetic, still young, preserves in the sole possession of its recollections something delicious, which only manifests itself in the calm of solitude…

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Suetonius: Caligula and military glory

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

Suetonius: Not let slip any pretext for war, however unjust and dangerous

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Suetonius
From Lives of the Twelve Caesars
Translated by J. C. Rolfe

So much for Caligula as emperor; we must now tell of his career as a monster…

He had but one experience with military affairs or war, and then on a sudden impulse; for having gone to Mevania to visit the river Clitumnus and its grove, he was reminded of the necessity of recruiting his body-guard of Batavians and was seized with the idea of an expedition to Germany. So without delay he assembled legions and auxiliaries from all quarters, holding levies everywhere with the utmost strictness, and collecting provisions of every kind on an unheard of scale. Then he began his march and made it now so hurriedly and rapidly, that the praetorian cohorts were forced, contrary to all precedent, to lay their standards on the pack-animals and thus to follow him; again he was so lazy and luxurious that he was carried in a litter by eight bearers, requiring the inhabitants of the towns through which he passed to sweep the roads for him and sprinkle them to lay the dust.

On reaching his camp, to show his vigilance and strictness as a commander, he dismissed in disgrace the generals who were late in bringing in the auxiliaries from various places, and in reviewing his troops he deprived many of the chief centurions who were well on in years of their rank, in some cases only a few days before they would have served their time, giving as a reason their age and infirmity; then railing at the rest for their avarice, he reduced the rewards given on completion of full military service to six thousand sesterces.

All that he accomplished was to receive the surrender of Adminius, son of Cynobellinus king of the Britons, who had been banished by his father and had deserted to the Romans with a small force; yet as if the entire island had submitted to him, he sent a grandiloquent letter to Rome, commanding the couriers who carried it to ride in their post-chaise all the way to the Forum and the House, and not to deliver it to anyone except the consuls, in the temple of Mars the Avenger, before a full meeting of the senate.

Presently, finding no one to fight with, he had a few Germans of his body-guard taken across the river and concealed there, and word brought him after luncheon with great bustle and confusion that the enemy were close at hand. Upon this he rushed out with his friends and a part of the praetorian cavalry to the woods close by, and after cutting the branches from some trees and adorning them like trophies, he returned by torchlight, taunting those who had not followed him as timorous and cowardly, and presenting his companions and the partners in his victory with crowns of a new kind and of a new name, ornamented with figures of the sun, moon and stars, and called exploratoriae. Another time some hostages were taken from a common school and secretly sent on ahead of him, when he suddenly left a banquet and pursued them with the cavalry as if they were runaways, caught them, and brought them back in fetters, in this farce too showing immoderate extravagance. On coming back to the table, when some announced that the army was assembled, he urged them to take their places just as they were, in their coats of mail. He also admonished them in the familiar line of Vergil to “bear up and save themselves for better days.”

Meanwhile he rebuked the absent senate and people in a stern edict because “while Caesar was fighting and exposed to such dangers they were indulging in revels and frequenting the theatres and their pleasant villas.”

Finally, as if he intended to bring the war to an end, he drew up a line of battle on the shore of the Ocean, arranging his ballistas and other artillery; and when no one knew or could imagine what he was going to do, he suddenly bade them gather shells and fill their helmets and the folds of their gowns, calling them “spoils from the Ocean, due to the Capitol and Palatine.” As a monument of his victory he erected a lofty tower, from which lights were to shine at night to guide the course of ships, as from the Pharos.Then promising the soldiers a gratuity of a hundred denarii each, as if he had shown unprecedented liberality, he said, “Go your way happy; go your way rich.”

Then turning his attention to his triumph, in addition to a few captives and deserters from the barbarians he chose all the tallest of the Gauls, and as he expressed it, those who were “worthy of a triumph,” as well as some of the chiefs. These he reserved for his parade, compelling them not only to dye their hair red and to let it grow long, but also to learn the language of the Germans and assume barbarian names. He also had the triremes in which he had entered the Ocean carried overland to Rome for the greater part of the way. He wrote besides to his financial agents to prepare for a triumph at the smallest possible cost, but on a grander scale than had ever before been known, since the goods of all were at their disposal.

Before leaving the province he formed a design of unspeakable cruelty, that of butchering the legions that had begun the mutiny years before just after the death of Augustus, because they had beleaguered his father Germanicus, their leader, and himself, at the time an infant; and though he was with difficulty turned from this mad purpose, he could by no means be prevented from persisting in his desire to decimate them. Accordingly he summoned them to an assembly without their arms, not even wearing their swords, and surrounded them with armed horsemen. But seeing that some of the legionaries, suspecting his purpose, were stealing off to resume their arms, in case any violence should be offered them, he fled from the assembly and set out for the city in a hurry, turning all his ferocity upon the senate, against which he uttered open threats, in order to divert the gossip about his own dishonour. He complained among other things that he had been cheated of his fairly earned triumph; whereas a short time before he had himself given orders that on pain of death no action should be taken about his honours.

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Mark Aldanov: War was the only subject she avoided

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

Russian writers on war

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Mark Aldanov
From For Thee the Best (1945)
Translated by Nicholas Wreden

She liked to engage a pleasant person in a pleasant conversation on mundane or even spiritual matters. She loved to speculate on what awaits us in the next world. War was the only subject she avoided. People were being maimed for no reason, and if a man returned home without a leg how could he enjoy liberty?

***

Later, perhaps much later and probably by accident, history would discover which among these statesmen had actually been insane. Sometimes, even history might not reveal the full truth. The most talented actors disappear from the stage to the accompaniment of boos and hisses, and only the buffoons remain and enjoy tremendous, continuous popularity…

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Charles Nodier: Fruitless is the glory of battles

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

French writers on war and peace

Charles Nodier: Painful to the eyes and the heart of he who cherishes liberty

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Charles Nodier
From Promenade from Dieppe to the Mountains of Scotland (1821)
Translated unknown

The church of St. Paul is the Pantheon of the illustrious men of the last generation, beginning with Johnson and Reynolds, of whom there are statues. Around them are monuments of a number of officers, who were killed during the last thirty years, fighting against France. Fruitless is the glory of battles, which plants a palm wherever it sinks a grave!

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The armoury of the Tower of London is of very little importance to the traveller who has seen the arsenal of Venice, or any other great collection of instruments invented for the destruction of man. It is always, more or less, nothing but an armourer’s shop…

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In a very industrious and very intelligent nation, the docks are the most extraordinary monument of the industry, and perhaps of the intelligence of man. They are certainly the most useful. They have this incontestible advantage over columns and pyramids which bear above the clouds the parade of our impotence and vanity. The statue of the founder of the docks is not erected at the expense of the sweat, the tears, and the blood of his countrymen…

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