Michel de Montaigne
Translated by Charles Cotton
From Of Diversion
Whoever shall ask a man, “What interest have you in this siege?” – “The interest of example,” he will say, “and of the common obedience to my prince: I pretend to no profit by it; and for glory, I know how small a part can affect a private man such as I: I have here neither passion nor quarrel.” And yet you shall see him the next day quite another man, chafing and red with fury, ranged in battle for the assault; ’tis the glittering of so much steel, the fire and noise of our cannon and drums, that have infused this new rigidity and fury into his veins. A frivolous cause, you will say. How a cause? There needs none to agitate the mind; a mere whimsy without body and without subject will rule and agitate it.
From Upon Some Verses of Virgil
Every one avoids seeing a man born, every one runs to see him die; to destroy him a spacious field is sought out in the face of the sun, but, to make him, we creep into as dark and private a corner as we can: ’tis a man’s duty to withdraw himself bashfully from the light to create; but ’tis glory and the fountain of many virtues to know how to destroy what we have made: the one is injury, the other favour: for Aristotle says that to do any one a kindness, in a certain phrase of his country, is to kill him.
[I]s it not seen that in places where faults are crimes, crimes are but faults…?
Translated by Charles Cotton
Men plough, girt with arms; ever delighting in fresh robberies, and living by rapine.
Armati terram exercent, semperque recentes
Convectare juvat praedas; et vivere rapto.
Shall impious soldiers have these new-ploughed grounds?
Impius haec tam culta novalia miles habebit!
From The Odes
Translated by Charles Cotton
Let my old age have a fixed seat; let there be a limit to fatigues from the sea, journeys, warfare.
Sit meae sedes utinam senectae,
Sit modus lasso maris, et viarum,
Alas! our crimes and our fratricides are a shame to us! What crime does this bad age shrink from? What wickedness have we left undone? What youth is restrained from evil by the fear of the gods? What altar is spared?
Eheu! cicatricum, et sceleris pudet,
Fratrumque: quid nos dura refugimus
Aetas? quid intactum nefasti
Liquimus? Unde manus inventus
Metu Deorum continuit? quibus
From De Rerum Natura
Translated by William Ellery Leonard
Mother of Rome, delight of Gods and men,
Lull to a timely rest
O’er sea and land the savage works of war,
For thou alone hast power with public peace
To aid mortality; since he who rules
The savage works of battle, puissant Mars,
How often to thy bosom flings his strength
O’ermastered by the eternal wound of love –
And there, with eyes and full throat backward thrown,
Gazing, my Goddess, open-mouthed at thee,
Pastures on love his greedy sight, his breath
Hanging upon thy lips. Him thus reclined
Fill with thy holy body, round, above!
Pour from those lips soft syllables to win
Peace for the Romans, glorious Lady, peace!
Michel de Montaigne
From Of Coaches
Translated by Charles Cotton
Our world has lately discovered another…as large, well-peopled, and fruitful as this whereon we live…
As to boldness and courage, stability, constancy against pain, hunger, and death, I should not fear to oppose the examples I find amongst them to the most famous examples of elder times that we find in our records on this side of the world. Far as to those who subdued them, take but away the tricks and artifices they practised to gull them, and the just astonishment it was to those nations to see so sudden and unexpected an arrival of men with beards, differing in language, religion, shape, and countenance, from so remote a part of the world, and where they had never heard there was any habitation, mounted upon great unknown monsters, against those who had not only never seen a horse, but had never seen any other beast trained up to carry a man or any other loading; shelled in a hard and shining skin, with a cutting and glittering weapon in his hand, against them, who, out of wonder at the brightness of a looking glass or a knife, would exchange great treasures of gold and pearl; and who had neither knowledge, nor matter with which, at leisure, they could penetrate our steel: to which may be added the lightning and thunder of our cannon and harquebuses, enough to frighten Caesar himself, if surprised, with so little experience, against people naked, except where the invention of a little quilted cotton was in use, without other arms, at the most, than bows, stones, staves, and bucklers of wood; people surprised under colour of friendship and good faith, by the curiosity of seeing strange and unknown things; take but away, I say, this disparity from the conquerors, and you take away all the occasion of so many victories. When I look upon that in vincible ardour wherewith so many thousands of men, women, and children so often presented and threw themselves into inevitable dangers for the defence of their gods and liberties; that generous obstinacy to suffer all extremities and difficulties, and death itself, rather than submit to the dominion of those by whom they had been so shamefully abused; and some of them choosing to die of hunger and fasting, being prisoners, rather than to accept of nourishment from the hands of their so basely victorious enemies: I see, that whoever would have attacked them upon equal terms of arms, experience, and number, would have had a hard, and, peradventure, a harder game to play than in any other war we have seen.
Michel de Montaigne
Translated by George B. Ives
From Cowardice, the Mother of Cruelty
What is it that, in these days, makes our quarrels ever deadly; and that, whereas our fathers had some stages in revenge, we now begin with the extreme degree, and at the outset speak of nothing but killing? What is this, if it is not cowardice?
If we thought to be always masters of our foes by force, and to domineer over him at our pleasure, we should be very sorry that he should escape us, as he does by dying…
From Of the Useful and the Honorable
[O]ne man said to the Mamertines that statutes had no force against armed men; another, to a tribune of the people, that the times of justice and of war were not the same; and a third, that the noise of arms prevented him from hearing the voice of laws…
This is a lesson suited to this time; we need not armour our heart: it is enough that our backs be armoured; it is enough to dip our pens in ink without dipping them in blood…Let us deprive of this pretext of rightness those who are by nature wicked and blood-thirsty and treacherous; let us turn our backs on this heinous and insane justice, and hold fast to more human copies.
I would not put so high a price upon wisdom. I do not so much consider what a man does, as what it costs him not to do worse.
Translated by W. H. D. Rouse
“I will strip murderous Ares of his ragged bucklers, I will bind the lord of battle, and carry him off, and make him Killer the Gentle…that I may see Ares a slave…”
“[C]lamp with chains of bronze Ares the governor of iron!”
Cadmos for all that did not neglect Athena’s injunction. He reaped the stubble of giants springing up ever anew. One he struck with windswift spear over the breast, hit one on the broad neck by the collarbone shearing the bones of the hairy throat: another he tore with hurtling stone while he sowed as far as the belly. The blood of the dreadful giants flowed in rivers; Ares slipt in the gore staining his limbs with crimson, and Victory’s robe was reddened with purple drops while she stood beside the battle…
Then by the wise counsel of Pallas he lifted a stone high above the giants’ heads; and they drunken with gory lust for Enyo, went wild with warlike fury and destroyed each other with the steel of their cousin, and found burial in the dust. One fought with another: with ruddy gore the surface of the shield was drenched and spotted and darkened, as a giant died; the crop of that field was shorn by the brother-murdering blade of an earthgrown knife.
From On Southey’s Letter to William Smith (1817)
Mr Southey then talks of the Established Church, whom, as well as the Government, in his courtly way, he accuses of having for centuries “neglected its first and paramount duty,” the bettering the condition of the people; of Savings Banks, of colonies of disbanded soldiers and sailors; of columns of Waterloo and Trafalgar, of diminishing the poor-rates, and improving the morals of the people, so that they may live without eating; of the glories of our war-expenditure, and of the necessity of keeping up the same expenditure in time of peace. “Never indeed,” he exclaims, “was there a more senseless cry than that which is at this time raised for retrenchment in the public expenditure, as a means of alleviating the present distress.” [This senseless, cry, however, is either an echo of, or was echoed by, the Prince Regent in his Speech from the Throne. Is there no better understanding between Mr Southey and the Prince Regent’s advisers?] – “That distress arises from a great and sudden diminution of employment, occasioned by many coinciding causes, the chief of which is, that the war-expenditure of from forty to fifty millions yearly, has ceased.” – [No, the chief is, that our war-expenses of from forty to fifty millions yearly and for ever, are continued, and that our war-monopoly of trade to pay them with has ceased.] – “Men are out of employ” – [True.]….”the evil is, that too little is spent,’ [Because we have wasted too much.] – “and as a remedy, we are exhorted to spend less.” [Yes, to waste less, or to spend what we have left in things useful to ourselves, and not in Government gimcracks, whether of peace or war. Is it better, does Mr Southey think, that ten poor men should keep ten pounds a-piece in their pockets, which they would of course spend in food, clothing, fuel, &c. for themselves and families, or that this hundred pounds, that is, ten pound a-piece, should be paid out of the pockets of those ten poor men in taxes, which, added to Mr Croker’s salary, would enable him to keep another horse, to pay for the feed, furniture, saddle, bridle, whip, and spurs? We ask Mr Southey this question, and will put the issue of the whole argument upon the answer to it. The money would be spent equally in either case, say in agriculture, in raising corn for instance, wheat or oats: but the corn raised and paid for by it in the one instance would go into the belly of the poor man and his family: in the other, into the belly of Mr Croker’s horse. Does that make no difference to Mr Southey? Answer, Man of Humanity! Or, if Mr Southey, the Man of Humanity, will not answer let Mr Malthus, the Man of God, answer for him! Again, what would go to pay for a new saddle for the Secretary of the Admiralty, would buy the poor man and his family so many pair of shoes in the year; or what would pay for an extra straw litter for his sleek gelding, would stuff a flock-bed for the poor-man’s children! Does not Mr Southey understand this question yet? We have given him a clue to the whole difference between productive and unproductive labour, between waste and economy, between taxes and no taxes, between a war-expenditure and what ought to be a peace-establishment, between money laid out and debts contracted in gunpowder, in cannon, in ships of war, in scattering death, money laid out in paying for food, furniture, houses, the comforts, necessaries, and enjoyments of life. Let Mr Southey take the problem and the solution with him to Italy, study it there amidst a population, half Lazzaroni, half Monks: let him see his error, and return an honest man! But if he will not believe us, let him at least believe himself. In the career of his triumph about our national monuments, he has fallen into one of the most memorable lapses of memory we ever met with. “In proportion, “says he, “to their magnificence, also, will be the present benefit, as well as the future good; for they are not like the Egyptian pyramids, to be raised by bondsmen under rigorous taskmasters: the wealth which is taken from the people returns to them again, like vapours, which are drawn imperceptibly from the earth, but distributed to it in refreshing dews and fertilizing showers. What bounds could imagination set to the welfare and glory of this island, if a tenth part, or even a twentieth of what the war expenditure has been, were annually applied in improving and creating harbours, in bringing our roads to the best possible state, in colonizing our waste lands, in reclaiming fens and conquering tracks from the sea, in encouraging the liberal arts, in erecting churches, in building and endowing schools and colleges, in making war upon physical and moral evil with the whole artillery of wisdom and righteousness, with all the resources of science, and all the ardour of enlightened and enlarged benevolence!”
Well done, Mr Southey. No man can argue better, when he argues against himself. What! one-twentieth part of this enormous waste of money laid out in war, which has sunk the nation into the lowest state of wretchedness, would, if wisely and beneficially laid out in works of peace, have raised the country to the pinnacle of prosperity and happiness! Mr Southey in his raptures forgets his war-whoop, and is ready to exclaim with Sancho Panza, when the exploits of knight-errantry are over, and he turns all his enthusiasm to a pastoral account, “Oh what delicate wooden spoons shall I carve! What crumbs and cream shall I devour!” Mr Southey goes on to state, among other items, that “Government should reform its prisons .” But Lord Castlereagh, soon after the war-addition to Mr Croker’s peace-salary, said that this was too expensive. In short, the author sums up all his hopes and views in the following sentences: – “Government must reform the populace, the people must reform themselves.” The interpretation of which is, The Government must prevent the lower classes from reading any thing; the middle classes should read nothing but the Quarterly Review. This is the true Reform, and compared with this, all else is flocci, nauci, nihili, piti.”
Honoré de Balzac
From La Peau de chagrin (1831)
“War, Power, Art…are all forms of demoralization, equally remote from the faculties of humanity…Are not generals, ministers, and artists carried, more or less, towards destruction by the need of violent distractions, in an existence so remote from ordinary life as theirs?…
“In war, is not man an angel of extirpation, a sort of executioner on a grand scale? Must not the spell be strong indeed that makes us undergo such horrid sufferings so hostile to our weak frames, sufferings that encircle every strong passion with a hedge of thorns?…She has never given herself time to wipe the stains from her feet that are steeped in blood to the ankle. Mankind at large is carried away by fits of intoxication, as nature by its accessions of love.”
“Napoleon left us glory, at any rate, my good friend!” exclaimed a naval officer who had never left Brest.
“Glory is a poor bargain; you buy it dear, and it will not keep. Does not the egotism of the great take the form of glory, just as for no-bodies it is their own well-being?”
“You are very fortunate, sir – ”
“The first inventor of ditches must have been a weakling, for society is only useful to the puny. The savage and the philosopher, at either extreme of the moral scale, hold property in equal horror.”
“[Is] not that the sum-up of all religious, political, or literary dissertations? Man is a clown dancing on the edge of an abyss.”
Have you ever launched into the immensity of time and space as you read the geological writings of Cuvier? Carried by his fancy, have you hung as if suspended by a magician’s wand over the illimitable abyss of the past? When the fossil bones of animals belonging to civilizations before the Flood are turned up in bed after bed and layer of layer of the quarries of Montmartre or among the schists of the Ural range, the soul receives with dismay a glimpse of millions of peoples forgotten by feeble human memory and unrecognized by permanent divine tradition, peoples whose ashes cover our globe with two feet of earth that yields bread to us and flowers.
Montaigne: God would not favor so unjust an enterprise as insulting and quarreling with another nation for profit
Michel de Montaigne
From Of Bad Means Employed for a Good End
Translated by George B. Ives
The Romans…purposely fostered wars with some of their enemies…to keep their men in action…
At the time of the treaty of Brétigny, Edward the Third, King of England, did not choose to include in the general peace that he made with our king the controversy about the duchy of Bretagne, in order that he might have a place where he could dispose of his troops, and that the multitude of English whom he had employed in his affairs on this side of the Channel might not be thrown back into England. The same thing was one of the reasons why our King Philippe consented to send Jean, his son, to the war overseas, in order that he might carry with him a great number of young hot-bloods…
There are many in these days who reason in like manner, desiring that this direct heat of emotion which exists among us might be directed to some neighboring war; for fear that these peccant humours which prevail in our body politic at the present moment, if they are not drawn off elsewhere, will keep our fever still at its height, and finally bring about our total ruin. And, truly, a foreign war is a much milder evil than civil war; but I do not think that God would favour so unjust an enterprise as insulting and quarreling with another nation for profit.
[We] see every day in our wars thousands of men from other lands pledging for money their blood and their lives, in broils in which they have no interest.
From On the Effects of War and Taxes (1817)
We have been twenty years at war, and have laid out five hundred millions in war taxes; and what have we gained by it? Where are the proceeds? If it has not been thrown away in what produces no return, if it has not been sunk in the war, as much as if it bad been sunk in the sea, if the government as good factors for the general weal have laid out all this enormous sum in useful works, in productive labour, let them give us back the principal and the interest, (which is just double) and keep the profits to themselves – instead of which, they have made away with the principal, and come to us to pay them the interest in taxes. They have nothing to shew for either, but spiked cannon, rotten ships, gunpowder blown into the air, heaps of dead men’s sculls, the turned heads and coats of Poets Laureate, with the glories of Trafalgar and Waterloo, which however will pay no scores. Let them set them up at auction, and see what they will fetch. Not a sous! We have killed so many French, it is true. But we had better have spent powder and shot in shooting at crows. Though we have laid the ghost of the French Revolution, we cannot “go to supper” upon the carcase. If the present distress aud difficulty arise merely from our no longer having a bug-bear to contend with, or because, (as Mr. Southey says) the war is no longer a customer to the markets, to the amount of fifty millions a year, why not declare war upon the Man in the Moon to-morrow, and never leave off till we have sent him to keep Bonaparte company at St. Helena? Why, it is but ordering so many cannon and cutlasses, no matter for what purpose – and equipping, and fantastically accoutring so many loyal corps of minions of the moon, Diana’s foresters, and “the manufactures of Birmingham and Sheffield would revive to-morrow.” If we had howitzers before of a prodigious size, let us have bombs of a calibre that Lord Castlereagh never dreamt of; and instead of iron balls, golden ones. Why not? The expense would be the greater. If we made the eardi ring before, let us now make the welkin roar. The absurdity would be as costly, and more bloodless. A voyage to the moon would take at least as much time, as many lives and millions to acoomplish, as the. march to Paris. But then our merchants would not meanwhile get a monopoly of the trade of Europe, to stimulate their laggard patriotism, nor would the sovereigns of Europe be able to plant the standard of Legitimacy on the horns of the moon! – But though we have nothing to shew for the money we have madly squandered in war, we have some thing to pay for it (rather more than we can afford) to contractors, monopolists, and sinecurists, to the great fundholders and borough-mongers, to those who have helped to carry on, and to those who have been paid for applauding this sport-royal, as the most patriotic and profitable employment of the wealth and resources of a country. These persons, the tax-receivers, have got a mortgage on the property, health, strength, and skill of the rest of the community, who pay the taxes, which bows their industry to the ground and deprives them of the necessary means of subsistence. The principal of the debt which the nation has contracted has been laid out in unproductive labour, in inflicting the mischiefs and miseries of war; and the interest is for the most part equally laid out in unproductive labour, in fomenting the pride and luxury of those who have made their fortunes by the war and taxes.
Need we ask any farther, how war and taxes, sinecures and monopolies, by degrees, weaken, impoverish, and ruin a State ? Or whether they can go on increasing for ever? There is an excess of inequality and oppression, of luxury and want, which no state can survive; as there is a point at which the palsied frame can no longer support itself, and at which the withered tree falls to the ground.
If a sovereign exhausts the wealth and strength of a country in war, he’ll end in being a king of slaves and beggars.
Mr. Southey, in his late pamphlet, has very emphatically described the different effects of money laid out in war and peace. “What bounds,” he exclaims, “could imagination set to the welfare and glory of this island, if a tenth part, or even a twentieth of what the war expenditure has been, were annually applied in improving and creating harbours in bringing roads to the best possible repair, in colonizing upon our waste lands, in reclaiming fens, and conquering tracts from the sea, in encouraging the liberal arts, endowing schools and churches,” etc. This is a singular slip of the pen in so noisy and triumphant a war-monger as the Poet Laureate. The pinnacle of prosperity and glory to which he would by these means raise the country, does not seem quite so certain. The other extreme of distress and degradation, to which the war-system has reduced it, is deep and deplorable indeed.
Translated by A.S. Kline
Pythagoras’s Teachings: Vegetarianism
There was a man here, Pythagoras, a Samian by birth, who had fled Samos and its rulers, and, hating their tyranny, was living in voluntary exile. Though the gods were far away, he visited their region of the sky, in his mind, and what nature denied to human vision he enjoyed with his inner eye. When he had considered every subject, through concentrated thought, he communicated it widely in public, teaching the silent crowds, who listened in wonder to his words, concerning the origin of the vast universe, and of the causes of things; and what the physical world is; what the gods are; where the snows arise; what the origin of lightning is; whether Jupiter, or the storm-winds, thunder from colliding clouds; what shakes the earth; by what laws the stars move; and whatever else is hidden; and he was the first to denounce the serving of animal flesh at table; the first voice, wise but not believed in, to say, for example, in words like these:
‘Human beings, stop desecrating your bodies with impious foodstuffs. There are crops; there are apples weighing down the branches; and ripening grapes on the vines; there are flavoursome herbs; and those that can be rendered mild and gentle over the flames; and you do not lack flowing milk; or honey fragrant from the flowering thyme. The earth, prodigal of its wealth, supplies you with gentle sustenance, and offers you food without killing or shedding blood.
‘Flesh satisfies the wild beast’s hunger, though not all of them, since horses, sheep and cattle live on grasses, but those that are wild and savage: Armenian tigers, raging lions, and wolves and bears, enjoy food wet with blood. Oh, how wrong it is for flesh to be made from flesh; for a greedy body to fatten, by swallowing another body; for one creature to live by the death of another creature! So amongst such riches, that earth, the greatest of mothers, yields, you are not happy unless you tear, with cruel teeth, at pitiful wounds, recalling Cyclops’s practice, and you cannot satisfy your voracious appetite, and your restless hunger, unless you destroy other life!
‘But that former age, that we call golden, was happy with the fruit from the trees, and the herbs the earth produced, and did not defile its lips with blood. Then birds winged their way through the air in safety, and hares wandered, unafraid, among the fields, and its own gullibility did not hook the fish: all was free from trickery, and fearless of any guile, and filled with peace. But once someone, whoever he was, the author of something unfitting, envied the lion’s prey, and stuffed his greedy belly with fleshy food, he paved the way for crime. It may be that, from the first, weapons were warm and bloodstained from the killing of wild beasts, but that would have been enough: I admit that creatures that seek our destruction may be killed without it being a sin, but while they may be killed, they still should not be eaten.
‘From that, the wickedness spread further, and it is thought that the pig was first considered to merit slaughter because it rooted up the seeds with its broad snout, and destroyed all hope of harvest. The goat was led to death, at the avenging altar, for browsing the vines of Bacchus. These two suffered for their crimes! What did you sheep do, tranquil flocks, born to serve man, who bring us sweet milk in full udders, who give us your wool to make soft clothing, who give us more by your life than you grant us by dying? What have the oxen done, without guile or deceit, harmless, simple, born to endure labour?
‘He is truly thankless, and not worthy of the gift of corn, who could, in a moment, remove the weight of the curved plough, and kill his labourer, striking that work-worn neck with his axe, that has helped turn the hard earth as many times as the earth yielded harvest. It is not enough to have committed such wickedness: they involve the gods in crime, and believe that the gods above delight in the slaughter of suffering oxen! A victim of outstanding beauty, and without blemish (since to be pleasing is harmful), distinguished by sacrificial ribbons and gold, is positioned in front of the altar, and listens, unknowingly, to the prayers, and sees the corn it has laboured to produce, scattered between its horns, and, struck down, stains with blood those knives that it has already caught sight of, perhaps, reflected in the clear water.
‘Immediately they inspect the lungs, ripped from the still-living chest, and from them find out the will of the gods. On this (so great is man’s hunger for forbidden food) you feed, O human race! Do not, I beg you, and concentrate your minds on my admonitions! When you place the flesh of slaughtered cattle in your mouths, know and feel, that you are devouring your fellow-creature.
Michel de Montaigne
Translated by George B. Ives
From Desire is Increased by Difficulty
Perchance the ease of attack serves, among other conditions, to shield my house from the violence of our civil wars. Defence attracts the attempt, and defiance the offence. I have weakened the design of the soldiers, depriving their exploit of risk and of all manner of military glory, which is wont to serve them as pretext and excuse. A brave deed is always an honourable one in times when justice is dead. I render the conquest of my house a dastardly and treacherous act…Our fathers did not dream of building frontier strongholds. The means of assailing – that is to say, without artillery and without an army – and taking our houses by surprise increases every day beyond the means of protection. Men’s wits are universally whetted in that direction. Invasion concerns all men; not so defence: that concerns only the rich…
We are right in discrediting the forms of pretence seen in war; for what is easier for a skilfull man than to avoid dangers, and to swagger when his heart is full of cowardice? There are so many ways of shunning occasions of risking oneself individually, that we shall have deceived the world a thousand times before we are engaged in a dangerous strait; and even when we find ourselves caught in it, we can, for the nonce, cloak our play with a bold countenance and confident speech, although our heart is quaking within us.
[In] a whole battle in which ten thousand men are maimed or killed, there are not fifteen that are talked of…For, to kill one man, or two, or ten, to offer oneself bravely to death, is in truth something to each of us, for we risk every thing; but to the world they are things so common, so many of them are seen every day, and so many of the like are needed to produce a noteworthy effect, that we cannot expect any special commendation for them…
Of so many thousands of valiant men who have died in France during the last fifteen hundred years, arm in hand, there are not a hundred who have come to our knowledge. The memory, not of the leaders only, but of the battles and victories, is buried.
From Letters from Spain (1830)
Translated by Emily Mary Waller and Mary Helena Dey
It must be admitted, to the shame of humanity, that war…with all its horrors, has extraordinary charms, especially for those who contemplate it from a safe distance.
A ring of soldiers around them held back the curious. This is why: the gallows (for gallows it was), is erected by forced labour; and the conscripted workmen cannot refuse their services without being held guilty of rebellion. As a sort of compensation, the authorities take care they their work, which public opinion regards as almost dishonourable, shall be more or less secretly done. For this purpose soldiers surround them and keep the crowd at a distance, and they work only at night; so that it is almost impossible to recognise them, and they run no risk of being called gallows-carpenters.
I understood why the monks, and above all those of the mendicant orders, exercise so much influence over the lower classes. They are in reality (if intolerant liberals will permit me to say so) the support and consolation of the unfortunate from birth until death.
From The Mysteries of the People (1842-1843)
The Branding Iron
Translated by Daniel De Leon
“You seem to be in good spirits this morning, my dear children! What is the reason of your joy?”
“Grandmother, it is our brother Corbe, who made us laugh.”
“What did Corbe do that was so funny?”
“He plucked all the feathers off his white turtle dove – and she screeched so – she screeched -”
“And you laughed – you laughed – you little imps!”
“Yes, grandmother, but our little brother Merovee wept.”
“Did he laugh so hard that he cried?”
“Oh, no; I wept because the bird bled.”
“And I thereupon told Merovee: ‘You have no courage, if blood frightens you! And when we go to battle, will you weep there also at the sight of blood?'”
“And while Corbe was saying so to Merovee, I took a knife and cut the dove’s head off. Oh, I am not afraid of blood; not I; and when I am a big man I shall go to war, not so grandmother?”
“Ah, children! You know not what you are wishing. It is easy to amuse yourselves cutting off the heads of doves, without feeling obliged some day to go to war. To make war means to ride day and night, suffer hunger, heat and cold, to sleep under tents, and what is worst of all, run the risk of being wounded and killed, all of which causes great pain. Is it not far better, dear children, to promenade quietly in a cart or a litter, to lie down in a soft bed, eat dainties, have fun all day long, and please your whims? The blood of royal families is too precious a thing to expose it recklessly, my pretty little kinglets. You have your leudes to go to war and fight the enemy in battle, your servants to kill the people who may displease or offend you; your priests to order the people to obey you. So, you see, all you have to do is to amuse yourselves, to enjoy the delights of life, happy children that you are, having nothing to say but ‘I will.’ Do you understand these words well, my dear little ones?…”
No, never yet was promised land better calculated to reward industry with abundance. Half way up the slope of the hill, the purple colored vines; above the vineyards, the agricultural fields, on which the stubble of rye and wheat left from the last harvest is here and there seen burning. The fertile acreage stretches up to the skirts of the forests that crown the surrounding eminences, within which the spacious valley is locked. Below the vineyards are meadowlands watered by the river. Numerous flocks of sheep and herds of horses browse and graze upon the succulent pasture. The bells of the bulls and wethers are heard tinkling their rural melody. Here and yonder carts drawn by oxen slowly roll over the ground where the stubble was burned the day before, or four-wheeled wagons slowly descend the slopes of the vineyards and wend their way towards the common wine-presses, which, together with the stables, the sheep-folds and the pig-sties, all alike common, are located in the neighborhood of the river. Several workshops also lie contiguous to the river; the wash and spinning houses, where the flax is prepared and the wool washed preparatorily to being transformed into warm clothing; there also are situated the tanneries, the forges, the mills equipped with enormous grind-stones. Peace, security, contentment and work are seen everywhere reflected in the valley. The sound of the beetles of the washerwomen and the curriers, the clang of the blacksmiths’ hammers, the joyful cries of the men and women engaged at the vintage, the rhythmic chant of the husbandmen keeping time to the even and slow gait of the draft-oxen, the rustic flute of the shepherds,- all these sounds, including the hum of the swarming bees, another set of indefatigable toilers, who are busily gathering the honey from the last autumnal flowers, – all these different sounds, from the furthest and vaguest to the nearest and loudest, mingle into one harmony that is at once sweet and imposing; it is the voice of labor and happiness rising heavenward as a continuous thanksgiving.
“The swords, always the swords! Thus the best of things turn to evil through abuse and hot-headedness!”
From Illustrations of Vetus (1813)
[T]here is, in our opinion, a third extreme of English faction (if Vetus will spare us the anomaly) not less, absurd, and more mischievous than either of the others: we mean those who are the blind adherents of every minister who happens to been engaged in a war, however unnecessarily or wantonly it may have been begun, or however weakly and wickedly carried on: who see no danger in repeated disgraces, and impending ruin provided we are obstinately bent on pursuing the same dreadful career which has led to them; who, when our losses come thronging in upon us, urge us to persist till we recover the advantages we have lost, and, when we recovered them, force us on till we lose all again; with whom peace, in a time of adverse fortune, is dishonour, and in the pride of success, madness: who only exaggerate “our pretensions at a peace,” that they may never be complied with; who assume a settled unrelenting purpose in our adversary to destroy us, in order to inspire us with the same principle of never-ending hostility against him: who leave us no alternative but eternal war, or inevitable ruin: who irritate the hatred and the fears of both parties, by spreading abroad incessantly a spirit of defiance, suspicion, and the most galling contempt: who, adapting every aspect of affairs to their own purposes, constantly return in the same circle to the point from which they set out: with whom peace is always unattainable, war always necessary!
From the moment that we make the destruction of an enemy (be he who he may) the indispensable condition of our safety, our destruction from that moment becomes necessary to his, and an act of self-defence… “What has this nation of Saxon warriors ever yet endured from France but injury and affliction?” Yet we have made a shift to exist as a nation under all this load of calamity. We still breathe and live notwithstanding some intervals of repose, some short resting places afforded us, before this morbid inspector Doctor Pedro Positive injoined his preposterous regimen of incessant war as necessary to lasting peace, and to our preservation as a people!
[I]f it is once laid down and acted upon as a maxim in national morality, that the best and most desirable security of a state is in the destruction of its neighbours, or that there is to be an unrelenting ever watchful critical approximation to this object as far as possible, there is an end of civil society…Terrified with the phantom of imaginary danger, he would have us rush headlong on the reality. We are obstinately to refuse the enjoyment of a moment’s repose, and proceed to commit willful dilapidation on the estate of our happiness, because it is not secured to us by an everlasting tenure. Placed at the mercy of the malice or hypocrisy of every venal alarmist, our only resource must be to seek a refuge from our fears in our own destruction, or to find the gratification of our revenge in that of others…That exclusive patriotism which claims for our country an exemption from “contingent danger” which would place its wealth, its power, or even its safety beyond the reach of chance and the fluctuation of human affairs, claims for it an exemption from the common lot of human nature. That exclusive patriotism which seeks to enforce this claim (equally impious and unwise) by the absolute conquest of rival states, tempts the very ruin it professes to avert.
[T]he hired scribbler of a profligate newspaper sits secure and self-satisfied at his desk – with a venomed word, or a lie that looks like truth, sends thousands of his countrymen to death, – receives his pay, and scribbles on, regardless of the dying and the dead! – And this is patriotism.
From What is the People? (1818)
We appeal to the pen, and they answer us with the point of the bayonet; and, at one time, when that had failed, they were for recommending the dagger…They exalt the war-whoop of the Stock Exchange into the voice of undissembled patriotism, while they set down the cry for peace as the work of the Jacobins, the ventriloquism of the secret enemies of their country…Loyalty, patriotism, and religion, are regarded as the natural virtues and plain unerring instincts of the common people: the mixture of Ignorance or prejudice is never objected to in these: it is only their love of liberty or hatred of oppression that are discovered, by the same liberal-minded junto, to be proofs of a base and vulgar disposition….The voice of (he country has been for war, because the Voice of the King was for it, which was echoed by Parliament, both Lords and Commons, by Clergy and Gentry, and by the populace, till…the cry for war became so popular that all those who did not join in it…were “persecuted, insulted, and injured in their persons, fame, and fortune.”
Jules Barbey D’Aurevilly
From Bewitched (1852)
Translated by Louis Collier Willcox
All wine has its dregs and every army its brutes. They were those horrible brutes which one finds in the slums of every war, belonging to the inevitable race of jackals who come to sully the blood they lap up after the lions have passed…
Despite the impostures of civilizations there is at the heart of man an eternal barbarism. Recent events have shown us that men are ever ready to recommence past horrors.
[I]t is always what one understands the least that one explains best. The human mind avenges its ignorance by its errors.
Michel de Montaigne
From Apology for Raymond Sebond
Translated by George B. Ives
As for war, which is the mightiest and most magnificent of human actions, I should like to know if we choose to make use of it as an argument in favour of any prerogative, or, on the contrary, as testifying to our weakness and imperfection; for, truly, in the ability to overcome and kill one another, to despoil and injure our own species, there is not much to make it desired by those beasts who have it not…
For those upheavals of war which astound us with their dreadfulness; that storm of sound and outcries, –
Then the glitter rises to the sky, and the whole earth around gleams with brass, and a noise is raised by the mighty trampling of men, and the mountains, struck by the shouting, reverberate the sound to the stars of heaven; –
that terrifying array of so many thousands of armed men; all the fury and ardour and courage – one could laugh in noting by what futile causes it is set in motion, and by what trivial causes suppressed.
[T]his furious monster with so many arms and so many heads is still man, feeble, unfortunate, and miserable. It is but an ant-hill stirred up and excited,
The black troop goes over the fields.
From The Geography
Translated by Horace Leonard Jones
Because of the scarcity of horses most of the Carmanians use asses, even for war; and they sacrifice an ass to Ares, the only god they worship, and they are a warlike people. No one marries before he has cut off the head of an enemy and brought it to the king; and the king stores the skull in the royal palace; and he then minces the tongue, mixes it with flour, tastes it himself, and gives it to the man who brought it to him, to be eaten by himself and his family; and that king is held in the highest repute to whom the most heads have been brought.
Translated by John Dryden
The year after, Poblicola was made consul the fourth time, when a confederacy of the Sabines and Latins threatened a war…There were appearances of great preparation and of a formidable confederacy. Amongst the Sabines there was one Appius Clausus, a man of great wealth and strength of body, but most eminent for his high character and eloquence; yet, as is usually the fate of great men, he could not escape the envy of others, which was much occasioned by his dissuading the war…Knowing how welcome these reports would be to the multitude, and how offensive to the army and the abettors of the war, he was afraid to stand a trial…
Diopithes proposed a decree, that public accusations should be laid against persons who neglected religion, or taught new doctrines about things above, directing suspicion, by means of Anaxagoras, against Pericles himself. The people receiving and admitting these accusations and complaints, at length, by this means, they came to enact a decree, at the motion of Dracontides, that Pericles should bring in the accounts of the moneys he had expended, and lodge them with the Prytanes; and that the judges, carrying their suffrage from the altar in the Acropolis, should examine and determine the business in the city. This last clause Hagnon took out of the decree, and moved that the causes should be tried before fifteen hundred jurors, whether they should be styled prosecutions for robbery, or bribery, or any kind of malversation. Aspasia, Pericles begged off, shedding, as Aeschines says, many tears at the trial, and personally entreating the jurors. But fearing how it might go with Anaxagoras, he sent him out of the city. And finding that in Phidias’s case he had miscarried with the people, being afraid of impeachment, he kindled the war, which hitherto had lingered and smothered, and blew it up into a flame; hoping, by that means, to disperse and scatter these complaints and charges, and to allay their jealousy; the city usually throwing herself upon him alone, and trusting to his sole conduct, upon the urgency of great affairs and public dangers, by reason of his authority and the sway he bore.
The repute of his integrity and courage had, by this time, gained him a considerable influence and authority in Rome, when the senate, favouring the wealthier citizens, began to be at variance with the common people, who made sad complaints of the rigorous and inhuman usage they received from the money-lenders. For as many as were behind with them, and had any sort of property, they stripped of all they had, by the way of pledges and sales; and such as through former exactions were reduced already to extreme indigence, and had nothing more to be deprived of, these they led away in person and put their bodies under constraint, notwithstanding the scars and wounds that they could show in attestation of their public services in numerous campaigns; the last of which had been against the Sabines, which they undertook upon a promise made by their rich creditors that they would treat them with more gentleness for the future, Marcus Valerius, the consul, having, by order from the senate, engaged also for the performance of it. But when, after they had fought courageously and beaten the enemy, there was, nevertheless, no moderation or forbearance used, and the senate also professed to remember nothing of that agreement, and sat without testifying the least concern to see them dragged away like slaves and their goods seized upon as formerly, there began now to be open disorders and dangerous meetings in the city; and the enemy, also, aware of the popular confusion, invaded and laid waste the country. And when the consuls now gave notice, that all who were of an age to bear arms should make their personal appearance, but found no one regard the summons, the members of the government, then coming to consult what course should be taken, were themselves again divided in opinion; some thought it most advisable to comply a little in favour of the poor, by relaxing their overstrained rights, and mitigating the extreme rigour of the law, while others withstood this proposal; Marcius in particular, with more vehemence than the rest, alleging that the business of money on either side was not the main thing in question, urged that this disorderly proceeding was but the first insolent step towards open revolt against the laws, which it would become the wisdom of the government to check at the earliest moment.
There had been frequent assemblies of the whole senate, within a small compass of time, about this difficulty, but without any certain issue; the poor commonalty, therefore, perceiving there was likely to be no redress of their grievances, on a sudden collected in a body, and, encouraging each other in their resolution, forsook the city, with one accord, and seizing the hill which is now called the Holy Mount, sat down by the river Anio, without committing any sort of violence or seditious outrage, but merely exclaiming, as they went along, that they had this long time past been, in fact, expelled and excluded from the city by the cruelty of the rich; that Italy would everywhere afford them the benefit of air and water and a place of burial, which was all they could expect in the city, unless it were, perhaps, the privilege of being wounded and killed in time of war for the defence of their creditors. The senate, apprehending the consequences, sent the most moderate and popular men of their own order to treat with them.
The Speeches of Western and Broughan (1816)
This is a sore subject; and it is here handled with much tenderness and delicacy. It puts one in mind of the traveller’s nose, and the nuns of Strasburgh, in the tale of Slaukenbergius. “I will touch it, said one; I dare not touch it, said another; I wish I had touched it, said a third; let me touch it, said a fourth.” While the gentlewomen were debating the point, the traveller with the great nose rode on. It would be no ungracious task to treat of the distresses of the country, if all were distressed alike; but that is not the case; nor is it possible to trace the necessities of one part of the community to their source, or to hint at a remedy, without glancing invidiously at the superfluities of others. “Why, there’s the rub, that makes calamity of so long life.” The speeches before us are to the subject what a veil is to a lady’s face, or a blind to a window. Almost all that has been said or written upon it is a palpable delusion – an attempt to speak out and say nothing; to oppose something that might be done, and propose something that cannot be done; to direct attention to the subject, and divert it from it; to do something and nothing; and to come to this potent conclusion, that while nothing is done, nothing can be done. “But have you then any remedy to propose instead?” What sort of a remedy do you mean? “Oh, one equally safe and efficacious, that shall set every thing to rights, and leave every thing just as it is, that does not touch either the tythes or the national debt, nor places and pensions, nor property of any kind, except the poor’s fund; that you may take from them to make them independent of the rich, as you leave Lord Camden in possession of thirty thousand a year to make him independent of the poor.” – Why, then, what if the Lord Chancellor and the Chancellor of the Exchequer were to play a game at push-pin on the top of St. Paul’s; or if Mr Brougham and Mr Horner were to play at cat’s-cradle on the top of the Monument; or if the little garden between the Speaker’s house and the river-side were to be sown with pearls and cockle-shells? Or if – Pshaw! Patience, and shuffle the cards.
The great problem of our great problem-finders appears to be, to take nothing from the rich, and give it to the poor. That will never do. We find them and their schemes of diversion well described in Rabelais, book v. chap. xxii.
“How Queen Whims’ officers were employed; and how the said Lady retained us among her Abstractors.”
“I then saw a great number of the queen’s officers, who made blackamoors white as fast as hops, just rubbing their bellies with the bottom of a pannier.
“Others, with three couples of foxes in one yoke, ploughed a sandy shore, and did not lose their seed.
“Others washed burnt tiles, and made them lose their colour.
“Others extracted water out of pumice-stones, braying them a good while in a mortar, and changed their substance.
“Others sheared asses, and thus got long fleece wool.
“Others gathered off of thorns grapes, and figs off of thistles.
“Others stroked he-goats by the dugs, and saved their milk; and much they got by it.
“Others washed asses’ heads without losing their soap.
“Others taught cows to dance, and did not lose their fiddling.
“Others pitched nets to catch the wind, and took cock-lobsters in them.
“Others out of nothing made great things, and made great things return to nothing.
“Others made a virtue of necessity, and the best of a bad market, which seemed to me a very good piece of work.
“I saw two Gibroins by themselves keeping watch on the top of a tower, and we were told they guarded the moon from the wolves.”
The war has cost the country five or six hundred millions of money. This has not been a nominal expence, a playing at ducks and drakes with the King’s picture on the water, or a manufacturing of bank-notes, and then lighting our pipes with them, but real bona fide waste of the means, wealth, labour, produce or resources of the country, in the carrying on of the war. About one hundred of these five or six hundred millions have been sent directly out of the country in loans to our Allies, from the year 1793 to the year 1815, inclusive, during which period there is not a single year in which we did not (from our desire of peace with the legitimate government of that country) subsidise one or all of the powers of Europe to carry on war against the rebels, regicides, republicans and usurpers of France. Now the interest on this money alone would be five millions yearly, which would be nearly enough to pay the amount of the poor-rates of the whole country, which is seven millions of our yearly taxes, or might at least be applied to mitigate the mild severity of Mr Malthus’s sweeping clauses on that defenceless part of the subject. Here is a hundred millions then gone clean out of the country: there are four of five hundred millions more which have been sunk in the expenses of the war, and which might as well have been sunk in the sea; or what has been saved out of the wreck by those who have been most active in running the vessel aground, is in the hands of persons who are in no hurry that the public should go snacks with them in their excessive good fortune. In all three cases, and under each several head of loans, waste, or monopoly, John Bull pays the piper, or the interest of the whole money in taxes. He is just so many hundred millions the worse for the war, (whoever may be the better for it) not merely in paper, which would be nothing, nor in golden guineas, which would be something; but in what is better and more substantial than either, in goods and chattels, in the produce of the soil, and the work of his hands – in the difference between what the industry of man, left to itself, produces in time for peace for the benefit of man, and what the same industry, under the direction of government, produces in time of war for the destruction of others, without any benefit to himself, real, imaginary, or pretended; we mean in a physical and economical point of view, which is here the question – a question, which seems to last when the religion, politics, and morality of the affair are over. We have said that the expenses of the war might as well have been sunk in the sea; and so they might, for they have been sunk in unproductive labour, that is, in maintaining large establishments, and employing great numbers of men in doing nothing or mischief; for example, in making ships to destroy other ships, guns and gun-powder to blow out men’s brains, pikes and swords to run them through the body, drums and fifes to drown the noise of cannon and the whizzing of bullets, in making caps and coats to deck the bodies of those who live by killing others; in buying up pork and beef, butter and cheese to enable them to do this with more effect: in barracks, in transport-ships, in baggage and baggage-waggons, on horses, bridles and saddles in suttlers and followers of the camp, in chaplains of the regiment, in common trulls, and the mistresses of generals and commanders in chief; in contractors, in army and navy agents, their partners, clerks, relations, dependents, wives, families, servants in and out of livery, their town and country houses, coaches, curricles, parks, gardens, grottos, hot-houses, green-houses, pictures, statues, libraries; in treasury scribes, in secretaries and under-secretaries of state, of the foreign, colonial, and war departments, with their swarms of underlings, all of whom are maintained out the labour and sweat of the country, and for all of whom, and for all that they do (put together) the country is not one pin the better, or at least, one penny more in pocket, than if they were at the bottom of the Channel. The present may have been the most just and necessary war, in a political, moral and religious point of view, that ever was engaged in; but it has also been the most expensive; and what is worse, the expense remains just the same, though it may have been the most unjust and unnecessary in the world. We have paid for it and we must pay for it equally in either case, and wholly out of our own pockets. The price of restoring the Pope, the Inquisition, the Bourbons and the doctrine of Divine Right, is half of our nine hundred millions of debt. That is the amount of the government bill of costs, presented to John Bull for payment, not of the principle but the interest; that is what he has got by the war; the load of taxes at his back, with which he comes out of his glorious five and twenty-years’ struggle, like Christian’s load of sins, which whether it will not fall off from his back like Christian’s, into the Slough of Despond, will be seen before long. The difference between the expense of war or a peace establishment is just the difference between a state of productive and unproductive labour. Now this whole question, which from its complexity puzzles many people, and has given rise to a great deal of partly wilful and partly shallow sophistry, may be explained in two words. – Suppose I give a man five shillings a day for going out in a boat and catching fish for me. This is paying for productive labour: that is, I give him so much for what he does, or a claim upon so much of the public stock: but in taking so much from the stock, by laying out his five shillings, he adds so much to it by his labour, or the disposal of his time it catching fish. But if I, having the money to do what I please with, give him five shillings a day for shooting at crows, he is paid equally for his trouble, and accordingly takes so much from the public stock, while he adds nothing to it but so much carrion. So if the government pay him so much a-day for shooting at Frenchmen and Republicans, this is a tax, a loss, a burthen to the country, without any thing got by it; for we cannot, after all, eat Frenchmen and Republicans when we have killed them. War is in itself is a thriving, sensible traffic only to cannibals! Again – if I give a man five shillings for making a pair of shoes, this is paying for productive labour, viz. for labour that is useful, and that must be performed by some one; but if I give the same man five shillings for standing on his head or behind my chair while I am picking my teeth, or for running up a hill and down again for a wager – this is unproductive labour, nothing comes of it, and though the man who thus idly employed live by it, others starve, upon whose pittance and whose labour he lives through me. Such is the nature and effect of war; all the energies of which tend to waste, and to throw an additional and heavy burthen upon the country, in proportion to the extent and length of time that it is carried on. It creates so many useless members of the community: every man paid by the war out of the taxes paid by the people, is, in fact, a dead body fastened to a living one, that by its weight drags it to the earth. A five and twenty years’ war, and nine hundred millions in debt, are really a couple of millstones round the neck of a country, that must naturally press her down a little in the scale of prosperity. That seems to be no riddle. We defy any sophist to answer this statement of the necessary tendency of war in its general principle to ruin and impoverish a country. We are not to wonder, when it does so; but when other causes operate to counteract or retard this tendency. What is extraordinary in our own case is, that the pernicious effects of war have been delayed so long, not that they have come upon us at last. – That money laid out in war is thrown away is self-evident from this single circumstance, that government never refund. The reason is, because they never do any thing with their money that produces money again. They are the worst bankers in the world. The exchequer is a true Sinking Fund. If you lend money to a farmer, a manufacturer, a merchant, he employs it in getting something done for which others will pay, because it is useful; as in raising corn, in weaving cotton, in bringing home sugar or tobacco. But money sunk in a war brings in no returns – except of killed and wounded. What will any one give the government for the rotten bones that lie buried at Walcheren, or the dry ones at Waterloo? Not a six-pence. They cannot make a collection of wooden legs or dangling sleeves from the hospitals at Greenwich or Chelsea to set up a raffle or a lottery. They cannot bring the fruits of war to auction, or put up the tottering throne of the Bourbons to the best bidder. They can neither bring back a drop of the blood that has been shed, nor recover a shilling of the treasure that has been wasted. If the expenses of the war are not a burden to the people, which must sink it according to their weight, why do not government take the whole of this thriving concern into their own hands, and pay the national debt out of the Droits of Admiralty? In short, the way to ascertain this point is, by the old method of reductio ad absurdam: Suppose we had to pay the expense of such another peace-establishment and such another war. Who does not see that they would eat up the whole resources of the country, as the present peace-establishment and the actual debt do just one half?
“Come, let us leave off children’s play, and go to push-pin.”
The war has wasted the resources of the country in foolery, which the country has now to pay for in a load of taxes on its remaining resources, its actual produce and labour. The tax-gatherer is a government-machine that takes sixty-five millions a-year from the bankrupt pockets of the nation, to give to those who have brought it into that situation; who take so much from the necessaries of life belonging to the poor, to add to the superfluities of the rich; who adds so much to the hard labour of the working part of the community, to “relieve the killing languor and over-laboured lassitude of those who have nothing to do;” who, in short, out of the grinding poverty and ceaseless toil of those who pay the taxes, enables those who receive them to live in luxury and idleness.
Mr Burke, whom we have just quoted, has said that “if the poor were to cut the throats of the rich, they would not have a meal the more for it.” First, (for truth is the first thing in our thoughts, and not to give offence the second) this is a falsehood; a greater one than the answer of a Bond-street lounger, who coming out of a confectioner’s shop, where he has had a couple of basins of turtle-soup, an ice, some jellies, and a quantity of pastry, as he saunters out picking his teeth and putting the change into his pockets, says to a beggar at the door, “I have nothing for you.” We confess, we have always felt it an awkward circumstance to be accosted in this manner, when we have been caught in the act of indulging a sweet tooth, and it costs us an additional penny. The rich and poor may at present be compared to the two classes of frequenters of pastry-cooks’ shops, those on the outside and those on the in. We would seriously advise the later, who see the gaunt faces staring at them through the glass door, to recollect, that though custard is nicer than bread, bread is the greatest necessary of the two. – We had forgot Mr Burke’s sophism, to which we reply in the second place, that the cutting of throats is a figure of speech, like the dagger which he produced in the House of Commons, not necessary to the speculative decision of the question. The most civil, peaceable, and complaisant way of putting it is this – whether if the rich were to give all that they are worth to the poor, the latter would be none the richer for it? If so, the rich would be none the poorer, and so far could be no losers on Mr Burke’s own hypotheses, which supposes, with that magnanimity of contempt for plain matter of fact which distinguished the author’s theories, that the rich have nothing, and the poor have every thing? Had not Mr Burke a pension of 4000£. a year? Was this nothing? But even this is not the question neither. It is not, whether if the rich were to part with all they have to the poor (which is a mere absurdity) but whether if the rich do not take all they have left from the poor (which we humbly hope is a proposition that has common sense in it) the latter may not be the better off with something to live upon than with nothing? Whether, if the whole load of taxes could be taken off from them, it would not be a relief to them? Whether, if half the load of taxes were taken off from them, it would not be a relief to them? Whether, if any part of the load of taxes that can be taken off from them were taken off, it would not be in the same proportion be relief to them? We will venture to say, that no one will deny these propositions who does not receive so much a year for falsehood and impudence. The resistance which is made to the general or abstract principle is not intended to prevent the extreme sweeping application of that principle to the plundering or (as Mr Burke will have it) to the cutting of the throats of the rich, but it is a manoeuvre, by getting rid of the general principle altogether, viz. that the extravagance and luxury of the rich, war, taxes, &c. have a tendency to increase the distresses of the poor, or measures of retrenchment and reform to lighten those distresses – to give carte-blanche to the government to squander the wealth, the blood, the happiness of the nation at pleasure; to grant jobs, places, pensions, sinecures, reversions without end, to grind down, to starve and impoverish the country with systematic impunity. It is a legerdemain trick played off by hireling politicians, to enable their patrons and employers to pick our pockets and laugh in our faces at the same time.
It has been said by such person that taxes are not a burthen to the country; that the wealth collected in taxes returns through those who receive to those who pay them, only divided more equally and beneficially among all parties, just (they say) as the vapours and moisture of the earth collected in the clouds return to enrich the soil in soft and fertilizing showers. We shall set ourselves to shew that this is not true.
Suppose a society of ten persons, without taxes to pay, and who live on their own labour on the produce of the ground, and the exchange of one commodity among themselves for another. Some of these persons will be naturally employed in tilling the ground, others in tending cattle, others in making instruments of husbandry, others in waving cloth, others in making shoes, others in building houses, others in making roads, others in buying and selling, other in fetching and carrying what the others want. All will be employed in something that they want themselves, or that others want. In such a state of society, nothing will be given for nothing. If a man has a bushel of wheat, and only wants half of it, he will give the other half to some one, for making him a coat or a pair of shoes. As every one will be paid for what he does out of the earnings of the labour of others, no one will waste his time or his strength in doing any thing that is not wanted by some one else, that is not as useful and necessary to his subsistence and comfort, and more so, than the commodity which he gives in exchange for it. There will be no unproductive labour. What each person gets will be either in proportion to what he has done for himself, or what he has added to the comforts of others. Exchange there will be no robbery. The wealth of all will be the results of the exertions of each individual, and will circulate equally and beneficially, because those who produce that wealth will share it among themselves. This is an untaxed state of society, where wealth changes hands indeed, but finds its level, notwithstanding. – Now suppose two other individuals to be fastened upon this society of ten persons – a government-man and a fund-holder. They change the face of it in an instant. The equilibrium, the balance is upset. The amount of the wealth of the society before was a thousand pound a-year, suppose. The two new-comers take a writ out of their pockets, by which they quietly lay hands on five hundred of it as their fair portion. Where are the ten persons now? Mr Burke, Mr Coleridge, Mr Vanstitart, The Courier, say – Just where they were before! We say, No such thing. For three reasons: 1. It cannot be denied that the interlopers, the government-man and his friend, the fund-holder, who has lent him money to sport with on all occasions, are substantial bona fide persons, like other men., who live by eating, drinking &c. and who, if they only shared equally with the other ten what they had got amongst them, (for they added nothing to the common stock) must be a sufficient burthen upon the rest, that is, must diminish the comforts or increase the labour of each person one-fifth. To hear the other side talk, one would suppose that those who raise and are paid out of the taxes never touch a farthing of them, that they have no occasion for them, that they neither eat nor drink, nor buy clothing, or build houses with them; that they live upon air, or that harmless food, bank notes (a thing not to speak of), and that all the money they are so anxious to collect is distributed by them again for the sole benefit of others, or passes back through the Exchequer, as if it were a conduit-pipe or empty tunnel, in the hands of the original proprietors, without diminution or diversion. Now this is not so. 2. Not only do our government-man and his friend live like other people upon their means, but they live better than other people for they have better means, that is, these two take half of what the other ten get. They would be fools if they gave it back to them; no, depend upon it, they lay out their five hundred a-year upon themselves, for their own sole use, benefit, pleasure, mirth and pastime. For each of these gentleman has just five times as much to spend as any of those that he lives upon at free cost, and he has nothing to do but to think how he shall spend it. He eats and drinks as much as he can, and always of the best and most costly. It is pretended that the difference in the consumption of the produce of the soil is little or nothing, for a poor man’s belly will hold as much as a rich man’s. But not if the one is full, and the other empty. The man who lives upon the taxes, feasts upon venison and turtle, and crams himself to the throat with fish, flesh, and fowl; the man who pays the taxes, upon a crust of mouldy bread, and fat rusty bacon: the man who receives the taxes drinks rich and sparkling wines, hock and canary; the man who pays them, sour small beer. If the poor man gets drunk and leads an idle life, his family starve: the rich man drinks his three bottles a day and does nothing, while his family live on the fat of the land. If the poor man dies of hard labour and poor living, his family comes to the parish; if the rich man dies of hard living and want of exercise, he leaves his family to be provided for by the state. But, 3. All that the government-man and the fund-holder do not spend upon their bellies, in reveling and gormandising, they lay out upon their backs, their houses, their carriages, &c in inordinate demands upon the labour of the former ten persons, who are now employed, not in working for one another, but in pampering the pride, ostentation, vanity, folly, or vices of our two gentleman comers. After glutting their physical appetites, they take care to apply all the rest to the gratification of their factitious, arbitrary, and fantastic wants, which are unlimited, and which the universe could not supply. “They toil not, neither do they spin, and yet even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these:” – while the poor are clothed in rags, and the dogs lick up their sores. The money that is taken from you and me, or the more industrious members of the community, and that we should have laid on in having snug, comfortable houses built for us all, or two bed-rooms for our families instead of one, is employed, now that it has got into the tax-gatherer’s hands, in hiring the same persons to build two enormous houses for the government-man and the fund-holder, who live in palaces while we live in hovels. What are we, the people, the original ten men, the better for that? The taxes enable those who receive them to pay our masons, carpenters, &c. for working for them. If we had not been forced to pay the money in taxes, the same persons would have been employed by us for our common benefit. Suppose the government-man takes it into his head to build a colossus, a rotunda, a pyramid, or any thing else equally absurd and gigantic, it would, we say, be a nuisance in proportion to its size. It would be ten times as great a nuisance if it was ten times bigger. If it covered a whole county, it would ruin the landed interest. If it was spread over the whole country, the country must starve. When the government-man and the fund holder, have got their great houses built, they must next have them furnished with proportionable magnificence, and by the same means; with Persian and Turkey carpets, with Egyptian sofas, down beds, silk curtains, china vases, services of plate, tables chairs, stoves, glasses, mirrors, chandeliers, paper hangings, pictures, busts, ornaments, kickshaws without number, while you and I live on a mud floor, with bare walls, stuck with a penny ballad, with a joint-stool to sit upon, a tea-pot without a tea-spout to drink out of, a truckle-bed or some straw and a blanket to lie upon! Yet Mr. Burke says, that if we were suddenly converted into state-pensioners with thirty-thousand a-year, we could not furnish our houses a bit the better for it. This is like Lord Peter, in the Tale of a Tub. Then the government-man and his friend must have their train of coaches, horses, dogs, footmen dressed in blue, green, yellow, and red, lazy rascals, making work for the taylor, the hatter, the shoe-maker, the button-maker, the hair-dresser, the gold and silver laceman, to powder, dress and trick them out, that they may lounge behind their mistresess’ coaches, walk before their sedan chairs, help on their master’s stockings, block up his doors, and perform a variety of little nameless offices much to the ease and satisfaction of the great, but not of the smallest benefit to any one else. With respect to the article of dogs and horses, a word in Mr Malthus’s ear. They come under the head of consumption, and a swinging item they are. They eat up the food of the children of the poor. The pleasure and coach-horses kept in this kingdom consume as much of the produce of the soil as would maintain all the paupers in it. Let a tax be laid upon them directly, to defray the expense of the poor-rates, and to suspend the operation of Mr Malthus’s geometrical and arithmetical ratios. We see no physical necessity why that ingenious divine should put a stop to the propagation of the species that he may keep two sleek geldings in his stable. We have lately read Swift’s account of the Houyuhyms and Yahoos. There is some truth in it; but still it has not reconciled us to Mr Malthus’s proposal of starving the children of the poor to feed the horses of the rich. But no more of that! We have said enough at present to shew how taxes fly away with the money of a nation; how they go into the hands of the government-man and the fund holder, and do not return into the pockets of the people, who pay them. For the future, Mr. Burke’s assertion, that the taxes are like the vapours that ascend into the clouds and return to earth in fertilizing showers, may pass for an agreeable metaphor, but for nothing more. A pretty joke truly, this of people’s receiving their taxes back again in payment for what the rich want of them. It is as if I should buy a pound of beef in a butcher’s shop, and take the money out of his own till to pay him! It is as if a bill is presented to me for payment, and I ask the notary for the money to take it up with! It is as if a Noble Earl was to win 50,000 pounds. of a Noble Duke over-night, and offer to return it to him the next morning, for one of his estates! It is as if Mr Burke had been robbed of a bond for 4000 pounds. and the fortunate possessor had offered to restore it, on receiving in lieu his house and gardens at Beaconsfield! Having thus pointed out the nature of the distress, we need not inquire far for the remedy.
From Roman History
Translated by Frederick W. Shipley
As Gracchus fled, and was running down the steps which led from the Capitol, he was struck by the fragment of a bench, and ended by an untimely death the life which he might have made a glorious one. This was the beginning in Rome of civil bloodshed, and of the licence of the sword. From this time on right was crushed by might, the most powerful now took precedence in the state, the disputes of the citizens which were once healed by amicable agreements were now settled by arms, and wars were now begun not for good cause but for what profit there was in them. Nor is this to be wondered at; for precedents do not stop where they begin, but, however narrow the path upon which they enter, they create for themselves a highway whereon they may wander with the utmost latitude; and when once the path of right is abandoned, men are hurried into wrong in headlong haste, nor does anyone think a course is base for himself which has proven profitable to others.
Though I frequently search for the reasons why men of similar talents occur exclusively in certain epochs and not only flock to one pursuit but also attain like success, I can never find any of whose truth I am certain, though I do find some which perhaps seem likely, and particularly the following. Genius is fostered by emulation, and it is now envy, now admiration, which enkindles imitation, and, in the nature of things, that which is cultivated with the highest zeal advances to the highest perfection; but it is difficult to continue at the point of perfection, and naturally that which cannot advance must recede. And as in the beginning we are fired with the ambition to overtake those whom we regard as leaders, so when we have despaired of being able either to surpass or even to equal them, our zeal wanes with our hope; it ceases to follow what it cannot overtake, and abandoning the old field as though pre-empted, it seeks a new one. Passing over that in which we cannot be pre-eminent, we seek for some new object of our effort. It follows that the greatest obstacle in the way of perfection in any work is our fickle way of passing on at frequent intervals to something else.
[W]e are naturally more inclined to praise what we have heard than what has occurred before our eyes; we regard the present with envy, the past with veneration, and believe that we are eclipsed by the former, but derive instruction from the latter.
Michel de Montaigne
From Of Cruelty
Translated by Charles Cotton
I could hardly persuade myself, before I saw it with my eyes, that there could be found souls so cruel and fell, who, for the sole pleasure of murder, would commit it; would hack and lop off the limbs of others; sharpen their wits to invent unusual torments and new kinds of death, without hatred, without profit, and for no other end but only to enjoy the pleasant spectacle of the gestures and motions, the lamentable groans and cries of a man dying in anguish. For this is the utmost point to which cruelty can arrive:
“Ut homo hominem, non iratus, non timens,
tantum spectaturus, occidat.”
[“That a man should kill a man, not being angry, not
in fear, only for the sake of the spectacle.”
–Seneca, Ep., 90.]
For my own part, I cannot without grief see so much as an innocent beast pursued and killed that has no defence, and from which we have received no offence at all; and that which frequently happens, that the stag we hunt, finding himself weak and out of breath, and seeing no other remedy, surrenders himself to us who pursue him, imploring mercy by his tears:
Atque imploranti similis,”
[“Who, bleeding, by his tears seems to crave mercy.”
–Aenead, vii. 501.]
has ever been to me a very unpleasing sight; and I hardly ever take a beast alive that I do not presently turn out again. Pythagoras bought them of fishermen and fowlers to do the same:
“Primoque a caede ferarum,
Incaluisse puto maculatum sanguine ferrum.”
[“I think ’twas slaughter of wild beasts that first stained
the steel of man with blood.” – Ovid, Met., xv. 106.]
Those natures that are sanguinary towards beasts discover a natural proneness to cruelty. After they had accustomed themselves at Rome to spectacles of the slaughter of animals, they proceeded to those of the slaughter of men, of gladiators. Nature has herself, I fear, imprinted in man a kind of instinct to inhumanity; nobody takes pleasure in seeing beasts play with and caress one another, but every one is delighted with seeing them dismember, and tear one another to pieces.
Translated by John Dryden
“[We] do but desire a deliverance equally expedient for them and us; only more glorious and honourable on the Volscian side, who, as superior in arms, will be thought freely to bestow the two greatest of blessings, peace and friendship, even when they themselves receive the same. If we obtain these, the common thanks will be chiefly due to you as the principal cause; but if they be not granted, you alone must expect to bear the blame from both nations. The chance of all war is uncertain, yet thus much is certain in the present, that you, by conquering Rome, will only get the reputation of having undone your country; but if the Volscians happen to be defeated under your conduct, then the world will say, that, to satisfy a revengeful humour, you brought misery on your friends and patrons.”
Marcellus, at length recalled by the people of Rome to the immediate war at home, to illustrate his triumph, and adorn the city, carried away with him a great number of the most beautiful ornaments of Syracuse. For, before that, Rome neither had, nor had seen, any of those fine and exquisite rarities; nor was any pleasure taken in graceful and elegant pieces of workmanship. Stuffed with barbarous arms and spoils stained with blood, and everywhere crowned with triumphal memorials and trophies, she was no pleasant or delightful spectacle for the eyes of peaceful or refined spectators; but, as Epaminondas named the fields of Boeotia the stage of Mars; and Xenophon called Ephesus the workhouse of war; so, in my judgment, may you call Rome, at that time (to use the words of Pindar), “the precinct of the peaceless Mars.” Whence Marcellus was more popular with the people in general, because he had adorned the city with beautiful objects that had all the charms of Grecian grace and symmetry; but Fabius Maximus, who neither touched nor brought away anything of this kind from Tarentum, when he had taken it, was more approved of by the elder men. He carried off the money and valuables, but forbade the statues to be moved; adding, as it is commonly related, “Let us leave to the Tarentines these offended gods.” They blamed Marcellus, first for placing the city in an invidious position, as it seemed now to celebrate victories and lead processions of triumph, not only over men, but also over the gods as captives…
He triumphed upon the Alban mount, and thence entered the city in ovation, as it is called in Latin, in Greek eua; but in this ovation he was neither carried in a chariot, nor crowned with laurel, nor ushered by trumpets sounding; but went afoot with shoes on, many flutes or pipes sounding in concert, while he passed along, wearing a garland of myrtle, in a peaceable aspect, exciting rather love and respect than fear. Whence I am, by conjecture, led to think that, originally, the difference observed betwixt ovation and triumph did not depend upon the greatness of the achievements, but the manner of performing them. For they who, having fought a set battle, and slain the enemy, returned victors, led that martial, terrible triumph, and, as the ordinary custom then was in lustrating the army, adorned the arms and the soldiers with a great deal of laurel. But they who without force, by colloquy, persuasion, and reasoning, had done the business, to these captains custom gave the honour of the unmilitary and festive ovation. For the pipe is the badge of peace, and myrtle the plant of Venus, who more than the rest of the gods and goddesses abhors force and war. It is called ovation, not as most think, from the Greek euasmus, because they act it with shouting and cries of Eua: for so do they also the proper triumphs. The Greeks have wrested the word to their own language, thinking that this honour, also, must have some connection with Bacchus, who in Greek has the titles of Euius and Thriambus. But the thing is otherwise. For it was the custom for commanders, in their triumph, to immolate an ox, but in their ovation, a sheep: hence they named it Ovation, from the Latin ovis. It is worth observing, how exactly opposite the sacrifices appointed by the Spartan legislator are to those of the Romans. For at Lacedaemon, a captain, who had performed the work he had undertook by cunning, or courteous treaty, on laying down his command, immolated an ox; he that did the business by battle, offered a cock; the Lacedaemonians, though most warlike, thinking exploit performed by reason and wisdom to be more excellent and more congruous to man, than one effected by mere force and courage. Which of the two is to be preferred I leave to the determination of others.