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Singularities of War

WAR kindles enthusiasm, and therefore occasions strange laws and customs. We may observe in it whatever is most noble and heroic mixed with what is most strange and wild. We collect facts, and the reader must draw his own conclusions.

They frequently condemned at Carthage their generals to die after an unfortunate campaign, although they were accused of no other fault. We read in Du Halde that Captain Mancheou, a Chinese, was convicted of giving battle without obtaining a complete victory, and he was punished. With such a perspective at the conclusion of a battle generals will became intrepid, and exert themselves as much as possible, and this is all that is wanted.

When the savages of New France take flight, they pile the wounded in baskets, where they are bound and corded down as we do children in swaddling-clothes.—If they should happen to fall into the hands of the conquerors, they would expire in the midst of torments. It is better therefore that the vanquished should carry them away in any manner, though frequently even at the risk of their lives.

The Spartans were not allowed to combat often with the same enemy. They wished not to inure these to battle; and if their enemies revolted frequently, they were accustomed to exterminate them.

The governors of the Scythian provinces gave annually a feast to those who had valiantly, with their own hands, despatched their enemies. The skulls of the vanquished served for their cups; and the quantity of wine they were allowed to drink was proportioned to the number of skulls they possessed. The youth, who could not yet boast of such martial exploits, contemplated distantly the solemn feast, without being admitted to approach it. This institution formed courageous warriors.

War has corrupted the morals of the people, and has occasioned them to form horrible ideas of virtue. When the Portuguese attacked Madrid, in the reign of Philip V., the courtesans of that city were desirous of displaying their patriotic zeal: those who were most convinced of the envenomed state of their body perfumed themselves, and went by night to the camp of the enemy; the consequence was that in less than three weeks there were more than six thousand Portuguese disabled with venereal maladies, and the greater part died.

Men have frequently fallen into unpardonable contradictions, in attempting to make principles and laws meet which could never agree with each other. The Jews suffered themselves to be attacked without defending themselves on the sabbath-day, and the Romans profited by these pious scruples. The council of Trent ordered the body of the constable of Bourbon, who had fought against the Pope, to be dug up, as if the head of the church was not as much subjected to war as others, since he is a temporal prince.

Pope Nicholas, in his answer to the Bulgarians, forbids them to make war in Lent, unless, he prudently adds, there be an urgent necessity.

Editor’s Notes

 § This article was omitted from the some later editions of the Curiosities.

 ¶ This article is lightly revised from its original in early (1790s) editions of the Curiosities.