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charity, like other virtues, may be improperly and unseasonably exerted ; that while we are relieving Frenchmen, there remain many Englishmen unrelieved ; that while we lavish pity on our enemies, we forget the misery of our friends.
Grant this argument all it can prove, and what is the conclusion ? That to relieve the French is good action, but that a better may be conceived. This is all the result, and this all is very little. To do the best can seldom be the lot of man ; it is sufficient if, when opportunities are presented, he is ready to do good. How little virtue could be practised, if beneficence were to wait always for the most proper objects, and the noblest occasions ; occasions that may never happen, and objects that may never be found.
It is far from certain, that a single Englishman will suffer by the charity to the French. New scenes of misery make new impressions ; and much of the charity which produced these donations, may be supposed to have been generated by a species of calamity never known among us before. Some imagine that the laws have provided all necessary relief in common cases, and remit the poor to the care of the public ; some have been deceived by fictitious misery, and are afraid of encouraging imposture ; many have observed want to be the effect of vice, and consider casual almsgiver's as patrons of idleness. But all these difficulties vanish in the present case ; we know that for the prisoners of war there is no legal provision ; we see their distress, and are certain of its cause ; we know that they are poor and naked, and poor and naked without a crime,
But it is not necessary to make any concessions. The opponents of this charity must allow it to be good, and will not easily prove it not to be the best. That charity is best, of which the consequences are most extensive ; the relief of enemies has a tendency to unite mankind in fraternal affection ; to soften the acrimony of adverse nations, and dispose them to peace and amity ; in the mean time, it alleviates captivity, and takes away something from the miseries of war. The rage of war, however mitigated, will always fill the world with calamity and horror ; let it not then be unnecessarily extended ; let animosity and hostility cease together; and no man be longer deemed an enemy, than while his sword is drawn against us.
The effects of these contributions may, perhaps, reach still further. Truth is best supported by virtue ; we may hope from those who feel or who see our charity, that they shall no longer detest as heresy that religion, which makes its professors the followers of Him, who has commanded us to “ do good to them that hate us."
1 ON THE
ENGLISH COMMON SOLDIERS.*
By those who have compared the military genius of the English with that of the French nation, it is remarked, that the French officers will always lead, if the soldiers will follow; and that the English soldiers will always follow, if their officers will lead.
In all pointed sentences, some degree of accuracy must be sacrificed to conciseness ; and, in this comparison, our officers seem to lose what our soldiers gain. I know not any reason for supposing that the English officers are less willing than the French to lead ; but it is, I think, universally allowed, that the English soldiers are more willing to follow. Our nation may boast, beyond any other people in the world, of a kind of epidemic bravery, diffused equally through all its ranks. We can show a peasantry of heroes, and fill our arınies with
* This short paper was added to some editions of The Idler, when collected into volumes, but not by Dr. Johnson as Mr. Boswell asserts, nor to the early editions of that work,
clowns, whose courage may vie with that of their general.
There may be some pleasure in tracing the causes of this plebeian magnanimity. The qualities which commonly make an army formidable, are long habits of regularity, great exactness of discipline, and great confidence in the commander. Regularity may, in time, produce a kind of mechanical obedience to signals and commands, like that which the perverse Cartesians impute to animals ; discipline may, impress such an awe upon the mind, that any danger shall be less dreaded than the danger of punishment ; and confidence in the wisdom or fortune of the general, may induce the soldiers to follow him blindly to the most dangerous enterprise.
What may be done by discipline and regularity, may be seen in the troops of the Russian empress and Prus. sian monarch. We find that they may be broken without confusion, and repulsed without flight.
But the English troops have none of these requisites in any eminent degree. Regularity is by no means part of their character; they are rarely exercised, and therefore show very little dexterity in their evolutions as bodies of men, or in the manual use of their weapons as individuals ; they neither are thought by others, nor by themselves, more active or exact than their enemies, and therefore derive none of their courage from such imaginary superiority.
The manner in which they are dispersed in quarters over the country during times of peace, naturally produces laxity of discipline ; they are very little in sight of their officers; and, when they are not engaged in the slight duty of the guard, are suffered to live every man
his own way.
The equality of English privileges, the impartiality of our laws, the freedom of our tenures, and the prosperity of our trade, spose us very little to reverence superi
It is not to any great esteem of the officers that the English soldier is indebted for his spirit in the hour of battle ; for perhaps it does not often happen that he thinks much better of his leader than of himself. The French count, who has lately published the Art of War, remarks how much soldiers are animated, when they see all their dangers shared by those who were born to be their masters, and whom they consider as beings of a different rank. The Englishman despises such motives of courage ; he was born without a master ; and looks not on any man, however dignified by lace or titles, as deriving from nature any claims to his respect, or inheriting any qualities superior to his own.
There are some, perhaps, who would imagine that every Englishman fights better than the subjects of absolute governments, because he has more to defend. But what has the English more than the French soldier? Property they are both commonly without. Liberty is, to the lowest rank of every nation, little more than the choice of working or starving; and this choice is, I suppose, equally allowed in every country. The English soldier seldom has his head very full of the constitution ; nor has there been, for more than a century, any war that put the property or liberty of a single Englishman in danger.