No. 152

Friday, August 24, 1711, [Steele.

Like leaves on trees the race of man is found.--Pope --Hom. II. 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 shoulddraw 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 m 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.

I remember two young Fellows who rid in the same Squadron of a Troop of Horse, who were ever together; they eat, they drank, they intreagued; in a word, all their Passions and Affections seemed to tend the same Way, and they appeared serviceable to each other in them. We were in the Dusk of the Evening to march over a River, and the Troop these Gentlemen belonged to were to be transported in a Ferry-boat, as fast as they could. One of the Friends was now in the Boat, while the other was drawn up with others by the Waterside waiting the Return of the Boat. A Disorder happened in the Passage by an unruly Horse; and a Gentleman who had the Rein of his Horse negligently under his Arm, was forced into the Water by his Horse's Jumping over. The Friend on the Shore cry'd out, Who's that is drowned trow? He was immediately answer'd, Your Friend, Harry Thompson. He very gravely reply'd, Ay, he had a mad Horse. This short Epitaph from such a Familiar, without more Words, gave me at that Time under Twenty, a very moderate Opinion of the Friendship of Companions. Thus is Affection and every other Motive of Life in the Generality rooted out by the present busie Scene about them: they lament Do Man whose Capacity can be supplied by another; and where Men converse without Delicacy, the next Man you meet will serve as well as he whom you have lived. With half your Life. To such the Devastation of Countries, the Misery of Inhabitants, the Cries of the Pillaged, and the silent Sorrow of the great Unfortunate, are ordinary Objects; their Minds are bent upon the little Gratifications of their own Senses and Appetites, forgetful of Compassion, insensible of Glory, avoiding only Shame; their whole Hearts taken up with the trivial Hope of meeting and being merry. These are the People who make up the Gross of the Soldiery: But the fine Gentleman in that Band of Men is such a One as I have now in my Eye, who is foremost in all Danger to which he is ordered. His Officers are his Friends and Companions, as they are Men of Honour and Gentlemen; the private Men his Brethren, as they are of his Species. He is beloved of all that behold him: They wish him in Danger as he views their Ranks, that they may have Occasions to save him at their own Hazard. Mutual Love is the Order of the Files where he commands; every Man afraid for himself and his Neighbour, not lest their Commander should punish them, but lest he should be offended. Such is his Regiment who knows Mankind, and feels their Distresses. so far as to prevent them. Just in distributing what is their Due, he would think himself below their Tailor to wear a Snip of their Cloaths in Lace upon his own: and below the most rapacious Agent, should he enjoy a Farthing above his own Pay. Go on, brave Man, immortal Glory is thy Fortune, and immortal Happiness thy Reward.


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2. This is told in the 'Memoirs of Conde' of the Chevalier de Flourilles, a lieutenant-general of his killed in 1674, at the Battle of Senelf.