« PreviousContinue »
In truth, it seems sometimes to be a system of the conductor of a war, to give to the sources of gain endless ramifications. The more there are who profit by it, the more numerous are its supporters; and thus the projects of a cabinet become identified with the wishes of the people, and both are gratified in the prosecution
A support more systematic and powerful is, however, given to war, because it offers to the higher ranks of society a profession which unites gentility with profit, and which, without the vulgarity of trade, maintains or enriches them. It is of little consequence to inquire whether the distinction of vulgarity between the toils of war and the toils of commerce be fictitious. In the abstract it is fictitious; but of this species of reputation public opinion holds the arbitrium et jus et norma; and public opinion is in favour of war. The army and the navy, therefore, afford to the middle and higher classes a most acceptable profession. The profession of arms is like the profession of law and physic,—a regular source of employment and profit. Boys are educated for the army as they are educated for the bar; and appear to have no other idea than that war is part of the business of the world. Of younger sons, whose fathers, in pursuance of the unhappy system of primogeniture, do not choose to support them at the expense the heir, the army and the navy are the common resource. They would not know what to do without them. To many of them the news of a peace is a calamity ; and though they may not lift their voices in favour of new hostilities for the sake of gain, it is, unhappily, certain that they often secretly desire it. It is in this manner that much of the rank, the influence, and the wealth of a country becomes interested in the promotion of wars; and when a custom is promoted by wealth, and influence, and rank, what is the wonder that it should be continued ? It is said (if my memory serves me, by Sir Walter Raleigh,)“ he that taketh up his rest to live by this profession, shall hardly be an honest man."
By depending upon war for a subsistence, a powerful inducement is given to desire it; and, when the question of war is to be decided, it is to be feared that the whispers of interest will prevail, and that humanity, and religion, and conscience, will be sacrificed to promote it.
Of those causes of war which consist in the ambition of princes, or statesmen, or commanders, it is not necessary to speak, because no one to whom the world will listen is willing to defend them.
Statesmen, however, have, besides ambition, many purposes of nice policy which make wars convenient; and, when they have such purposes, they are sometimes cool speculators in the lives of men. They who have much patronage have many dependents, and they who have many dependents have much power. By a war, thousands become dependent on a minister; and, if he be disposed, he can often pursue schemes of guilt, and intrench himself in unpunished wickedness; because war enables him to silence the clamour of opposition by an office, and to secure the suffrages of venality by a bribe. He has, therefore, many motives to war,—in ambition, that does not refer to conquest ; or in fear, that extends only to his office or his pocket; and fear or ambition are sometimes more interesting considerations, than the happiness and the lives of men. Cabinets have, in truth, many secret motives to wars, of which people know little. They talk in public of invasion of right, of breaches of treaty, of the necessity of retaliation, when these motives have no influence on their determinations. Some untold purpose of expediency, or the private quarrel of a prince, or the pique or anger of a minister, are often the real motives to a contest, while its promoters are loudly talking of the honour or safety of the country.
But, perhaps, the most operative cause of the popularity of war, and the facility with which we engage in it, consists in this ; that an idea of glory is attached to military exploits, and of honour to the military profession. The glories of battle, and of those who perish in it, or who return in triumph to their country, are favourite topics of declamation with the historian, the biographer, and the poet. They have told us a thousand times of dying heroes, who “resign their lives amidst the joys of conquest, and, filled with the country's glory, smile in death ;” and thus every excitement that eloquence and genius can command, is employed to arouse that ambition for fame, which can be gratified only at the expense
of blood. Into the nature and principles of this fame and glory we have elsewhere inquired; and in the view alike of virtue and of intellect they are low and bad. “Glory is the most selfish of all passions except love.”. “I cannot tell how or why the love of glory is a less selfish principle than the love of riches.” Philosophy and intellect may, therefore, well despise it, and Christianity silently yet emphatically condemns it. “Christianity,” says Bishop Watson, “ quite annihilates the disposition for martial glory.” Another testimony, and from an advocate of war, goes further : No part of the heroic character is the subject of the “commendation, or precepts, or example of Christ ;" but the character the most opposite to the heroic is the subject of them all.
Such is the foundation of the glory which has for so many ages deceived and deluded multitudes of mankind! Upon this foundation a structure has been raised, so vast, so brilliant, so attractive, that the greater portion of mankind are content to gaze in admiration without any inquiry into its basis, or any solicitude for its durability. If, however, it should be, that the gorgeous temple will be able to stand only till Christian truth and light become predominant, it surely will be wise of those who seek a niche in its apartments, as their paramount and final good, to pause ere they proceed.
If they desire a reputation that shall outlive guilt and fiction, let them look to the basis of military fame. If this fame should one day sink into oblivion and contempt, it will not be the first instance in which wide-spread glory has been found to be a glittering bubble, that has burst and been forgotten. Look at the days of chivalry. Of the ten thousand Quixotes of the Middle Ages, where is now the honour or the name ? Yet poets once sang their praises, and the chronicler of their achievements believed he was recording an everlasting fame. Where are now the glories of the tournament ?-glories “of which all Europe rang from side to side.” Where is the champion whom princesses caressed and nobles envied ! Where are now the triumphs of Duns Scotus, and where are the folios that perpetuated his name? The glories of war have indeed outlived these : human passions are less mutable than human follies ; but I am willing to avow my conviction that these glories are alike destined to sink into forgetfulness, and that the time is approaching, when the applauses of heroism and the splendours of conquest will be remembered only as follies and iniquities that are past. Let him who seeks for fame, other than that which an era of Christian purity will allow, make haste ; for every hour that he delays its acquisition will shorten its duration. This is certain, if there be certainty in the promises of Heaven.
Of this factitious glory as a cause of war, Gibbon speaks in the Decline and Fall. “As long as mankind,” says he, “shall continue to bestow more liberal applause on their destroyers than on their benefactors, the thirst of military glory will ever be the vice of the most exalted characters.” “'Tis strange to imagine,” says the Earl of Shaftesbury,“ that war, which of all things appears the most savage, should be the passion of the most heroic spirits.” But he gives us the reason. “By a small misguidance of the affections, a lover of mankind becomes a ravager ; a hero and deliverer becomes an oppressor and destroyer."
Essays on Cristian Morulity.
One of the favourite themes of boasting with the squire, is the noble trees on his estate, which, in truth, has some of the finest that I have seen in England. There is something august and solemn in the great avenues of stately oaks that gather their branches together high in air, and seem to reduce the pedestrians beneath them to mere pigmies. “ An avenue of oaks or elms,” the squire observes, “is the true colonnade that should lead to a gentleman's house. As to stone and marble, any one can rear them at once—they are the work of the day ; but commend me to the colonnades that have grown old and great with the family, and tell by their grandeur how long the family has endured.”
The squire has great reverence for certain venerable trees, gray with moss, which he considers as the ancient nobility of his domain. There is the ruin of an enormous oak, which has been so much battered by time and tempest, that scarce anything is left; though he says Christy recollects when, in his boyhood, it was healthy and flourishing, until it was struck by lightning. It is now a mere trunk, with one twisted bough stretching up into the air, having a green branch at the end of it. This sturdy wreck is much valued by the squire ; he calls it his standard bearer, and compares it to a veteran warrior beaten down in battle, but bearing up his banner to the last. He has actually had a fence built round it, to protect it as much as possible from further injury.
It is with great difficulty that the squire can ever be brought to have any tree cut down on his estate. To some he looks with reverence, as having been planted by his ancestors ; to others with a kind of paternal affection, as having been planted by himself; and he feels a degree of awe in bringing down with a few strokes of the axe what it has cost centuries to build up. I confess I cannot but sympathize, in some degree, with the good squire on the subject. Though brought up in a country overrun with forests, where trees are apt to be considered mere incumbrances, and to be laid low without hesitation or remorse, yet I could never see a fine tree hewn down without concern. The poets, who are naturally lovers of trees, as they are of everything that is beautiful, have artfully awakened great interest in their favour, by representing them as the habitations of sylvan deities ; insomuch that every great tree had its tutelar genius, or a nymph, whose existence was limited its duration. Evelyn, in his “Sylva," makes several pleasing and fanciful allusions to this superstition. “As the fall,” says he, “ of a very aged oak, giving a crack like thunder, has often been heard at many miles' distance ; constrained though I often am to fell them with reluctancy, I do not at any time remember to have heard the groans of those nymphs (grieving to be dispossessed of their ancient habitations), without some emotion and pity.” And again, in alluding to a violent storm that had devastated the woodlands, he says, “Methinks I still hear, sure I am that I still feel, the dismal groans of our forests ; the late dreadful hurricane having subverted so many thousands of goodly oaks, prostrating the trees, laying them in ghastly postures, like whole regiments fallen in battle by the sword of the conqueror, and crushing all that grew beneath them. The public accounts,” he adds, “reckon no less than three thousand brave oaks in one part only of the forest of Dean, blown down.”
I have paused more than once in the wilderness of America to contemplate the traces of some blast of wind, which seemed to have rushed down from the clouds, and ripped its way through the bosom of the woodlands ; rooting up, shivering and splintering the stoutest trees, and leaving a long track of desolation. There was something awful in the vast havoc made amongst these gigantic plants ; and, in considering their magnificent remains, so rudely torn and mangled, and hurled down to perish prematurely on their native soil, I was conscious of a strong movement of the