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On War
by [?]

The first proposition is, that war cannot be abolished. The second, and more offensive–that war ought not to be abolished. First, therefore, concerning the first. One at a time. Sufficient for the page is the evil thereof! How came it into any man’s heart, first of all, to conceive so audacious an idea as that of a conspiracy against war? Whence could he draw any vapor of hope to sustain his preliminary steps? And in framing his plot, which way did he set his face to look out for accomplices? Revolving this question in times past, I came to the conclusion–that, perhaps, this colossal project of a war against war, had been first put in motion under a misconception (natural enough, and countenanced by innumerable books) as to the true historical origin of wars in many notorious instances. If these had arisen on trivial impulses, a trivial resistance might have intercepted them. If a man has once persuaded himself, that long, costly, and bloody wars had arisen upon a point of ceremony, upon a personal pique, upon a hasty word, upon some explosion of momentary caprice; it is a natural inference, that strength of national will and public combinations for resistance, supposing such forces to have been trained, organized, and, from the circumstances of the particular nation, to be permanently disposable for action, might prove redundantly effective, when pointed against a few personal authors of war, so presumably weak, and so flexible to any stern counter-volition as those must be supposed, whose wars argued so much of vicious levity. The inference is unexceptionable: it is the premises that are unsound. Anecdotes of war as having emanated from a lady’s tea-table or toilette, would authorize such inference as to the facilities of controlling them. But the anecdotes themselves are false, or false substantially. All anecdotes, I fear, are false. I am sorry to say so, but my duty to the reader extorts from me the disagreeable confession, as upon a matter specially investigated by myself, that all dealers in anecdotes are tainted with mendacity. Where is the Scotchman, said Dr. Johnson, who does not prefer Scotland to truth? but, however this may be, rarer than such a Scotchman, rarer than the phoenix, is that virtuous man, a monster he is, nay, he is an impossible man, who will consent to lose a prosperous anecdote on the consideration that it happens to be a lie. All history, therefore, being built partly, and some of it altogether, upon anecdotage, must be a tissue of lies. Such, for the most part, is the history of Suetonius, who may be esteemed the father of anecdotage; and being such, he (and not Herodotus) should have been honored with the title, Father of Lies. Such is the Augustan history, which is all that remains of the Roman empire; such is the vast series of French memoirs, now stretching through more than three entire centuries. Are these works, then, to be held cheap, because their truths to their falsehoods are in the ratio of one to five hundred? On the contrary, they are better, and more to be esteemed on that account; because, now they are admirable reading on a winter’s night; whereas, written on the principle of sticking to the truth, they would have been as dull as ditch water. Generally, therefore, the dealers in anecdotage are to be viewed with admiration, as patriotic citizens, willing to sacrifice their own characters, lest their countrymen should find themselves short of amusement. I esteem them as equal to Codrus, Timoleon, William Tell, or to Milton, as regards the liberty of unlicensed printing. And I object to them only in the exceptional case of their being cited as authorities for an inference, or as vouchers for a fact. Universally, it may be received as a rule of unlimited application,–that when an anecdote involves a stinging repartee, or collision of ideas, fancifully and brilliantly related to each other by resemblance or contrast, then you may challenge it as false to a certainty. One illustration of which is–that pretty nearly every memorable propos, or pointed repartee, or striking mot, circulating at this moment in Paris or London, as the undoubted property of Talleyrand, (that eminent knave,) was ascribed at Vienna, ninety years ago, to the Prince de Ligne, and thirty years previously, to Voltaire, and so on, regressively, to many other wits (knaves or not); until, at length, if you persist in backing far enough, you find yourself amongst Pagans, with the very same repartee, etc., doing duty in pretty good Greek; [Footnote: This is literally true, more frequently than would be supposed. For instance, a jest often ascribed to Voltaire, and of late pointedly reclaimed for him by Lord Brougham, as being one that he (Lord B.) could swear to for his, so characteristic seemed the impression of Voltaire’s mind upon the tournure of the sarcasm, unhappily for this waste of sagacity, may be found recorded by Fabricius in the Bibliotheca Graeca, as the jest of a Greek who has been dead for about seventeen centuries. The man certainly did utter the jest; and 1750 years ago. But who it was that he stole it from is another question. To all appearance, and according to Lord Brougham’s opinion, the party robbed must have been M. de Voltaire. I notice the case, however, of the Greek thefts and frauds committed upon so many of our excellent wits belonging to the 18th and 19th centuries, chiefly with a view to M. de Talleyrand–that rather middling bishop, but very eminent knave. He also has been extensively robbed by the Greeks of the 2d and 3d centuries. How else can you account for so many of his sayings being found amongst their pages? A thing you may ascertain in a moment, at any police office, by having the Greeks searched: for surely you would never think of searching a bishop. Most of the Talleyrand jewels will be found concealed amongst the goods of these unprincipled Greeks. But one, and the most famous in the whole jewel-case, sorry am I to confess, was nearly stolen from the Bishop, not by any Greek, but by an English writer, viz., Goldsmith, who must have been dying about the time that his Excellency, the diplomatist, had the goodness to be born. That famous mot about language, as a gift made to man for the purpose of concealing his thoughts, is lurking in Goldsmith’s Essays. Think of that! Already, in his innocent childhood, whilst the Bishop was in petticoats, and almost before he had begun to curse and to swear plainly in French, an Irish vagabond had attempted to swindle him out of that famous witticism which has since been as good as a life-annuity to the venerable knave’s literary fame.] sometimes, for instance in Hierocles, sometimes in Diogenes Laertius, in Plutarch, or in Athenaeus. Now the thing you know claimed by so many people, could not belong to all of them: all of them could not be the inventors. Logic and common sense unite in showing us that it must have belonged to the moderns, who had clearly been hustled and robbed by the ancients, so much more likely to commit a robbery than Christians, they being all Gentiles–Pagans–Heathen dogs. What do I infer from this? Why, that upon any solution of the case, hardly one worthy saying can be mentioned, hardly one jest, pun, or sarcasm, which has not been the occasion and subject of many falsehoods–as having been au-(and men)-daciously transferred from generation to generation, sworn to in every age as this man’s property, or that man’s, by people that must have known they were lying, until you retire from the investigation with a conviction, that under any system of chronology, the science of lying is the only one that has never drooped. Date from Anno Domini, or from the Julian era, patronize Olympiads, or patronize (as I do, from misanthropy, because nobody else will) the era of Nabonassar,–no matter, upon every road, thicker than mile-stones, you see records of human mendacity, or (which is much worse, in my opinion,) of human sympathy with
other people’s mendacity.