Friday, August 24, 1711.
Ohiae per phyll_on geneae toiaede kai andr_on].
Hom. ‘Il.’ 6, v. 146.
There is no sort of People whose Conversation is so pleasant as that of military Men, who derive their Courage and Magnanimity from Thought and Reflection. The many Adventures which attend their Way of Life makes their Conversation so full of Incidents, and gives them so frank an Air in speaking of what they have been Witnesses of, that no Company can be more amiable than that of Men of Sense who are Soldiers. There is a certain irregular Way in their Narrations or Discourse, which has something more warm and pleasing than we meet with among Men who are used to adjust and methodize their Thoughts.
I was this Evening walking in the Fields with my Friend Captain SENTRY, and I could not, from the many Relations which I drew him into of what passed when he was in the Service, forbear expressing my Wonder, that the Fear of Death, which we, the rest of Mankind, arm ourselves against with so much Contemplation, Reason and Philosophy, should appear so little in Camps, that common Men march into open Breaches, meet opposite Battalions, not only without Reluctance but with Alacrity. My Friend answered what I said in the following manner:
‘What you wonder at may very naturally be the Subject of Admiration to all who are not conversant in Camps; but when a Man has spent some time in that way of Life, he observes a certain Mechanick Courage which the ordinary Race of Men become Masters of from acting always in a Crowd: They see indeed many drop, but then they see many more alive; they observe themselves escape very narrowly, and they do not know why they should not again. Besides which general way of loose thinking, they usually spend the other Part of their Time in Pleasures upon which their Minds are so entirely bent, that short Labours or Dangers are but a cheap purchase of Jollity, Triumph, Victory, fresh Quarters, new Scenes, and uncommon Adventures.’
Such are the Thoughts of the Executive Part of an Army, and indeed of the Gross of Mankind in general; but none of these Men of Mechanical Courage have ever made any great Figure in the Profession of Arms. Those who are formed for Command, are such as have reasoned themselves, out of a Consideration of greater Good than Length of Days, into such a Negligence of their Being, as to make it their first Position, That it is one Day to be resigned; and since it is, in the Prosecution of worthy Actions and Service of Mankind they can put it to habitual Hazard. The Event of our Designs, say they, as it relates to others, is uncertain; but as it relates to ourselves it must be prosperous, while we are in the Pursuit of our Duty, and within the Terms upon which Providence has ensured our Happiness, whether we die or live. All [that ] Nature has prescribed must be good; and as Death is natural to us, it is Absurdity to fear it. Fear loses its Purpose when we are sure it cannot preserve us, and we should draw Resolution to meet it from the Impossibility to escape it. Without a Resignation to the Necessity of dying, there can be no Capacity in Man to attempt any thing that is glorious: but when they have once attained to that Perfection, the Pleasures of a Life spent in Martial Adventures, are as great as any of which the human Mind is capable. The Force of Reason gives a certain Beauty, mixed with the Conscience of well-doing and Thirst of Glory, to all which before was terrible and ghastly to the Imagination. Add to this, that the Fellowship of Danger, the common good of Mankind, the general Cause, and the manifest Virtue you may observe in so many Men, who made no Figure till that Day, are so many Incentives to destroy the little Consideration of their own Persons. Such are the Heroick Part of Soldiers who are qualified for Leaders: As to the rest whom I before spoke of, I know not how it is, but they arrive at a certain Habit of being void of Thought, insomuch that on occasion of the most imminent Danger they are still in the same Indifference. Nay I remember an Instance of a gay French-man, who was led on in Battle by a superior Officer, (whose Conduct it was his Custom to speak of always with Contempt and Raillery) and in the Beginning of the Action received a Wound he was sensible was mortal; his Reflection on this Occasion was, I wish I could live another Hour, to see how this blundering Coxcomb will get clear of this Business.