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BRA VER Y
ENGLISH COMMON SOLDIERS *.
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 shew 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
* This short paper was added to some editions of The Idler, when collected into volumes, but not by Dr. Johnson, as Mr. Boswell asserts, nor to the early editions of that work. C.
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 empress 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 shew 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, natu
, rally 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 of superiours. Itis not toany greatesteem 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 pro
, tection 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 pro- . ceed: the power of the law does not always suf. ficiently 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.
PLANS offered for the Construction of BLACK
In Three LETTERS, to the Printer of the GAZETTEER.
Dec. 1, 1759. THE Plans which have been offered by different
architects, of different reputation and abilities, for the Construction of the Bridge intended to be built at Black-Friars, are, by the rejection of the greater part, now reduced to a small number; in which small number three are supposed to be much superiour to the rest ; so that only three architects are now properly competitors for the honour of this great employment; by two of whom are proposed semi-circular and by the other elliptical arches.
The question is, therefore, whether an elliptical or semicircular arch is to be preferred ?
The first excellence of a bridge built for com. merce over a large river, is strength; for a bridge which cannot stand, however beautiful, will boast its beauty but a little while; the stronger arch is therefore to be preferred, and much more to be