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On The Bravery Of The English Common Soldiers
by [?]

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 epidemick bravery, diffused equally through all its ranks. We can show a peasantry of heroes, and fill our armies with 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 emperess, and Prussian 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, dispose us very little to reverence superiours. 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 superiour 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.

Whence, then, is the courage of the English vulgar? It proceeds, in my opinion, from that dissolution of dependence, which obliges every man to regard his own character. While every man is fed by his own hands, he has no need of any servile arts; he may always have wages for his labour; and is no less necessary to his employer, than his employer is to him. While he looks for no protection from others, he is naturally roused to be his own protector; and having nothing to abate his esteem of himself, he, consequently, aspires to the esteem of others. Thus every man that crowds our streets is a man of honour, disdainful of obligation, impatient of reproach, and desirous of extending his reputation among those of his own rank; and, as courage is in most frequent use, the fame of courage is most eagerly pursued. From this neglect of subordination, I do not deny, that some inconveniencies may, from time to time, proceed: the power of the law does not, always, sufficiently supply the want of reverence, or maintain the proper distinction between different ranks; but good and evil will grow up in this world together; and they who complain, in peace, of the insolence of the populace, must remember, that their insolence in peace is bravery in war.