Essay On War


'Essay on War', by Nathaniel Bloomfield* 

MAN'S sad necessity, destructive War,
Sweeps to the grave the surplus of his sons,
Where'er the kindly clime and soil invite
To Love; and multiply the Human Race.
Around the World, in every happier spot
Where Earth spontaneous gives nutritious fruits,
Her softest verdure courting human feet,
And mossy grots, beneath protecting shades,
The Stranger's envy, the Possessor's pride;
There, as increasing numbers throng each bower,
Frequent and fatal rivalships arise;
And ruthless War erects his hideous crest.
Soon as Appropriation's iron hand
Assays to grasp the Produce of the Earth;
And youths assert hereditary power,
Propriety exclusive, and in arms
League to defend their patrimonial rights,
Indisputable claim of Fruits and Fields
Contending, oft their massive clubs they raise
Against each other's life: often, alas,
The needy cravings of the unportion'd poor
Provoke their jealous wrath; relentlessly
Tenacious of their store, they shut him out,
'Midst desart Famine, and ferocious Beasts,
To guard his life and till the steril soil;
And thus extend the range of human feet.
Still as Experience, in her tardy school,
Instructs the Shepherd and the Husbandman
To great increase their flocks and herds to rear,
To till the ground, and plant the fruitful tree
In slow progression rising into use,
Nurtur'd by Her the infant Arts appear.
While sage Experience thus teaches Man
The useful and the pleasant Arts of Life,
She in harsh lectures, in the frequent broil,
Enjoins her Pupil still to cultivate
The fatal, necessary Art of War.
The Artizan, who from metallic ores
Forms the sharp implements to dress the glebe,
And prune the wild luxuriance of the tree;…
By him is made the sword, the spear, the shaft,
By Man worn to defend him against Man.
Most bless'd the country where kind Nature's face
In unsophisticated Freedom smiles:
Happy the tenants of primeval days
When young society is in its spring:
Where there is room and food for millions more,
Love knows no check, the votaries of Love,
The happy votaries of Wedded Love,
Know not the curse of peopled, polish'd, times:
The curse to wish their children may be few.
Sweet converse binds the cords of social love;
When the rude noise and gestures that ere while
Imperfectly express'd the labouring thought;
By social concourse are improv'd to Speech:
Speech, reasoning Man's distinguishing perfection;
Speech, the inestimable vehicle
Of mental light, and intellectual bliss;
Whence the fair fruits of Holy Friendship grow,
Presenting to fond Hope's enamour'd sight
The fairy prospect of perpetual Peace.
Advanc'd Society's prudential Laws,
The moral virtues of the enlighten'd mind,
And all the ties of Interest and of Love,
In vain conspire to nurse their favourite Peace,
And banish dire Immanity and War.
Strong Nature's bent, continual increase,
Still counteracts Humanity's fond wish,
The perpetuity of Peace, and Love;
Alas! progressive Increase cannot last.
Soon mourns the encumber'd land its human load:
Too soon arrives the inauspicious hour;
The Natal Hour of the unhappy Man,
Who all his life goes mourning up and down
That there is neither bough, nor mud, nor straw
That he may take to make himself a hut;
No, not in all his native land a twig
That he may take, nor spot of green grass turf,
Where without trespass he may set his foot.
Now Want and Poverty wage War with Love;
And hard the conflict: horrible the thought,
That Love, who boasts of his all-conquering impulse,
Should have to mourn abortive energies...
But in proportion as Mankind increase,
So evils multiply: till Nature's self,
(The native passions of the human mind)
Engender War; which thins, and segregates,
And rectifies the balance of the world:
As thick-sown plants in the vegetable world,
With stretching branches wage continual War;
Each tender bud shrinks from the foreign touch
With a degree of sensitive perception;
Till one deforms, o'er-tops, and kills the other.
Like Summer swarms, that quit their native hives,
The offspring of increasing families,
Who find no room beneath their father's roofs,
No patrimony nor employ at home,
Colleagu'd in bands explore the desart wilds,
To seek adventures; or to seek their food:
If chance they meet with rovers (like themselves)
Whose home is far away in distant vales,
Behind the mountains, or beyond the lake;
Instinctively they war where'er they meet:
The friendly parley cannot intervene;
The unknown tongue does but create alarm:
With jealous fears, stern looks, and brandish'd arms,
They stand aloof: as birds of distant groves
At the strange note prepare for instant War.
At first they skirmishing dispute the right
Of hunting in the unappropriate waste:
But every onset aggravates their hate;
Till each increasing force, whetting their swords,
With purpos'd malice seeking out the foe,
Alternate by reprisal and revenge,
Doubly compensate each discomfiture.
Yet seek not to attack each-other's home,
Where Age, and Infancy, in safety dwell:
They war but with freebooters: private Peace
And Female Covert, Valour scorns to assail.
But when in evil hour some female hand,
Whether by force of Love, or force of Arms,
Is led across the desart by the Foe;
The jealous fury kindles to a flame:
No longer sacred the domestic hearth:
Fire, Death, and Devastation, mark their way,
And all the horrid crimes of savage War.
Now War becomes the business of the State:
The most humane, the most pacific men,
Must arm for War, or lose all they hold dear:
The sorrows of the Aged, Infant cries,
And Female Tears, resistlessly prevail:
Can gentlest natures be in love with Peace,
When Love, most tender Love, excites to War?
No…When some lov'd and honour'd youth distress'd,
Raising his head amongst his arm'd compeers,
Tells that the well-known honourable Maid,
The Virgin Mistress of his dearest hopes,
Is ravish'd from him, borne by force away;
Though pierc'd with grief, yet nobly he exclaims,
'Think not I wish to' embroil you in my fate:
For though not one of you espouse my cause,
I singly will attempt the desperate deed.
Farewell: I go to find my Love, or die!'
Silent and motionless the legions stand,
By looks examining each-other's heart:
But soon a murmur through the ranks proceeds,
Swelling as quickly a terrific roar;
Like heavy waters breaking from their mounds,
A long, and loud, and inarticulate shout,
While every weapon vibrates in the air,
And hisses its fierce vengeance at the foe.
The righteous cause admits of no delay;
No tardy foot impedes the immediate march:
The Enemy, not taken by surprise,
Wak'd by the watchful fears of conscious guilt,
On their frontiers await the coming foe.
Now at the near approach of threatening Death,
Full many a thinking, sighing, aching heart,
Indulges secretly the hopeless wish
For Life, and Peace...Alas! it cannot be:
To advance is to encounter dreadful danger;
But to recede, inevitable death;
His own associates would deal the blow:
Thus led by Fate, behold upon the plain,
The adverse bands in view, and in advance.
Now Fear, Self-pity, and affected Courage,
Speak in their hideous shouts with voice scarce human;
Like that which issues from his hollow throat
Who sleeping bellows in a frightful dream.
More near their glaring eye-balls flashing meet;
Terror and Rage distorting every face,
Inflame each-other into trembling fury.
Soft-ey'd Humanity, oh! veil thy fight!
'Tis not in Rationality to view
(Even in thought) the dire ensuing scene;
For Madness, Madness reigns, and urges men
To deeds that Rationality disowns.
Now here and there about the horrid Field,
Striding across the dying and the dead,
Stalks up a man by strength superior,
Or skill and prowess in the arduous fight,
Preserv'd alive:...fainting he looks around;
Fearing pursuit, nor caring to pursue.
The supplicating voice of bitterest moans,
Contortions of excruciating pain,
The shriek of torture and the groan of death,
Surround him; and as Night her mantle spreads,
To veil the horrors of the mourning Field,
With cautious step shaping his devious way,
He seeks a covert where to hide and rest:
At every leaf that rustles in the breeze
Starting, he grasps his sword; and every nerve
Is ready strain'd, for combat or for flight.
Thus list'ning to ward off approaching foes,
A distant whispering, sighing, murmuring sound
Salutes his ear, and to his throbbing heart
Soft tidings tells of tenderness and love.
For on that fatal day of vengeful ire,
At fearful distance following the host,
From either country came a female throng;
And now beneath the covert of the night
Advancing, guided by the voice of woe,
Where on the earth the wounded mourners lay,
With trembling steps and fearful whispering voice,
Each seeks, and calls him who she came to seek:
And many a fugitive, whom force or fear
Had driven from the Field, steals softly back,
Anxious to know the fate of some lov'd friend.
Mutual fears appal the mingled group,
Starting alternate at the unknown tongue:
They fear a foe in each uncertain form
That through the gloom imperfectly appears.
The mournful horrors of the doleful night
Melt every heart:…and when the morning's beam
Shews the sad scene, and gives an interview,
Resentment, that worst torment of the mind,
Resentment ceases, satiate wrath subsides.
Woman is present: and so strong the charm
Of weeping Woman's fascinating tears,
That though surviving Heroes' unwash'd hands
Still grasp the falchion of horrid hue,
And though their fallen brethren from the ground
May seem to call for Vengeance from their hands,
The impulse of Revenge is felt no more;
No more the strange attire, the foreign tongue
Creates alarm: for Nature's-self has writ
In every face; where every eye can read
Repentant Sorrow, and forgiving Love.
Their mingled tears wash the lamented dead:
On every wound they pour soft Pity's balm:
Ere Sorrow's tears are dried, they feel the spring
Of new-born joys, and each expanding heart
Contemplates future scenes of Peace and Love.
Long, even as long as room and food abound,
They interchange their friendly offices
For mutual good; reciprocally kind:
And much they wonder that they e'er were foes.
Still War's terrific name is kept alive:
Tradition, pointing to the rusty arms
That hang on high, informs each list'ning youth
How erst in fatal fields their Grandsires fell;
Childhood attentive hears the tragic tale;
And learns to shudder at the name of War.
GUNPOWDER! let the Soldier's Pean rise,
Where e'er thy name or thundering voice is heard:
Let him who, fated to the needful trade,
Deals out the adventitious shafts of Death,
Rejoice in thee; and hail with loudest shouts
The auspicious era when deep-searching Art
From out the hidden things in Nature's store
Cull'd thy tremendous powers, and tutor'd Man
To chain the unruly element of Fire
At his controul, to wait his potent touch:
To urge his missile bolts of sudden Death,
And thunder terribly his vengeful wrath.
Thy mighty engines and gigantic towers
With frowning aspect awe the trembling World.
Destruction, bursting from thy sudden blaze
Hath taught the Birds to tremble at the sound;
And Man himself, thy terror's boasted lord,
Within the blacken'd hollow of thy tube,
Affrighted sees the darksome shades of Death.
Not only mourning groves, but human tears,
The weeping Widow's tears, the Orphan's cries,
Sadly deplore that e'er thy powers were known.
Yet let thy Advent be the Soldier's song,
No longer doom'd to grapple with the Foe
With Teeth and Nails.…When close in view, and in
Each-other's grasp, to grin, and hack, and stab;
Then tug his horrid weapon from one breast
To hide it in another:...with clear hands
He now expertly poizing thy bright tube,
At distance kills, unknowing and unknown;
Sees not the wound he gives, nor hears the shriek
Of him whose breast he pierces….GUNPOWDER!
(O! let Humanity rejoice) who much
The Soldier's fearful work is humaniz'd,
Since thy momentous birth...stupendous power.
In Britain, where the hills and fertile plains,
Like her historic page, are overspread
With vestiges of War, the Shepherd Boy
Climbs the green hillock to survey his flock;
Then sweetly sleeps upon his favourite hill,
Not conscious that his bed's a Warrior's Tomb.
The ancient Mansions, deeply moated round,
Where, in the iron Age of Chivalry,
Redoubted Barons wag'd their little Wars;
The strong Entrenchments and enormous Mounds,
Rais'd to oppose the fierce, perfidious Danes;
And still more ancient traces that remain
Of Dykes and Camps, from the far distant date
When minstrel Druids wak'd the soul of War,
And rous'd to arms old Albion's hardy sons,
To stem the tide of Roman Tyranny:…
War's footsteps, thus imprinted on the ground,
Shew that in Britain he, from age to age,
Has rear'd his horrid head, and raging reign'd.
Long on the margins of the silver Tweed
Opposing Ensigns wav'd; War's clarion
Dreadfully echo'd down the winding stream,
Where now sweet Peace and Unity reside:
The happy peasant of Tweed's smiling dale,
Whene'er his spade disturbs a Soldier's bones,
With shudd'ring horror ruminates on War;
Then deeper hides the awful spectacle,
Blessing the peaceful days in which he lives.
Since Peace has bless'd the villages on Tweed,
And War has ceas'd to drive his iron car
On Britain's shore, what myriads of men
Over the Eastern and the Western Seas
Have follow'd War, and found untimely graves.
Where'er the jarring interests of States
Excite the brave to advance their native land
By deeds of arms, Britons are foremost found.
The sprightly bands, hast'ning from place to place,
Gayly carousing in their gay attire,
Invite, not force the train of heedless youths,
Who crowd to share their jollity and joy:
To martial music dancing into death,
They fell their Freedom for a holiday;
And with the Rich and Great 'tis Glory charms,
And Beauty's favour that rewards the Brave.
All the historic Records of the World
Are little more than histories of Wars;
Shewing how many thousands War destroy'd,
The time, the place, and some few great ones' names.
The mournful remnants of demolish'd States,
The Greeks, the Roman, and long-exil'd Jew;
Are living monuments of wasting War's
Annihilating power: and while they mourn
Their Grandeur faded, and their Power extinct,
To every State memento mori sounds.
From age to age the habitable World
Has been a constant theatre of War:
In every land with Nature's gifts most blest,
Frequent and fatal War's destructive rage.
So bland is fair Britannia's genial clime,
So liberal her all-protecting Laws,
So generous the spirit of her Sons,
So fond, so chaste, her Daughters virtuous love,
That human offspring still redundant grows,
And free-born Britons must contend for life.
O! envy not the lands where Slaves reside,
Though their proud Tyrants boast of peaceful reign,
Where hard Oppression, freezing genial love,
Performs the work of War in embryo:
Let not mistaken fondness dote on Peace,
Preserv'd by arts more horrid far than War!…
Let the dull languor of the pale Chinese
Desert their Infants, and their Peace enjoy!
But, O! let Britons still in Love and War
Exert the generous ardour of the soul;
Protect the Fair, and softer Infancy.
By strenuous enterprize, and arduous toils,
Is public safety purchas'd and secur'd.
Negative merit, 'I have done no harm,'
Is an inglorious boast: shall he who sits
Secure, enjoying Plenty in the lap
Of Ease, vaunt his recumbent Virtues?…He
Brand with harsh epithets the Warrior's toils?
While 'tis to them he owes sincerest thanks
For Peace and Safety, that are earn'd in War.…
As well might he who eats the flesh of Lambs,
And smacks the ichor in a savoury dish,
Boast his humanity, and say 'My hand
Ne'er slew a Lamb;' and censure as a crime,
The Butcher's cruel, necessary trade.
In Battle, the chance-medley game of Death,
Where every one still hopes 'till he expires,
Less horror shocks the mind contemplative,
Than where, in slow procession's solemn pace,
Doom'd wretches meet their destin'd fate in bonds,
Who know the moment to expect the blow,
And count the moments 'till that moment comes:
Or where Oppression wages War, in Peace,
On the defenceless: on the hapless man
Who holds his breath but by another's will:
Whose Life is only one long cruel Death!…
Hardly he fares, and hopelessly he toils;
And when his driver's anger, or caprice,
Or wanton cruelty, inflicts a blow,
Not daring to look angry at the whip,
Oh! see him meekly clasp his hands and bow
To every stroke: no lurid deathful scene
In Battle's rage, so racks the feeling heart;
Not all the thunders of infuriate War,
Disploding mines, and crashing, bursting bombs,
Are half so horrid as the sounding lash
That echoes through the Carribean groves.
Incessant is the War of Human Wit,
Oppos'd to bestial strength; and variously
Successful: in these happy fertile climes,
Man still maintains his surreptitious power;
Reigns o'er the Brutes, and, with the voice of Fate,
Says 'This to-day, and that to-morrow dies.'
Though here our Shambles blazon the Renown,
The Victory, and Rule, and lordly Man;
Far wider tracts within the Torrid Zone
Own no such Lord: where Sol's intenser rays
Create in bestial hearts more fervid fires,
And deadlier poisons arm the Serpent's tooth;
In gloomy shades, impassable to Man,
Where matted foliage exclude the Sun,
The torpid Birds that crawl from bough to bough
Utter their notes of terror: while beneath
Fury and Venom, couch'd in murky dens,
Hissing and yelling, guard the hideous gloom.
O'er dreary wastes, untrod by human feet,
Without controul the lordly Lion reigns;
And every creature trembles at his voice:
When risen from his den, he prances forth,
Extends his talons, shakes his flaky mane,
Then whurrs his tufted tail, and stooping low
His wide mouth near the ground, his dreadful roar
Makes all the desart tremble: he proclaims
His ire—proclaims his strong necessity;
And that surprise or artifice he scorns.
Unskill'd, alas! in philosophic lore,
Unbless'd with scientific erudition;
How can I sing of elemental War,
Or the contending powers of opposite
Attractions, that impel, and poize, and guide,
The ever-rolling Spheres: Animal War,
The flux of Life, devouring and devour'd,
Ceaseless in every tribe, through Earth, and Air,
And Ocean, transcends my utmost ken.

From obvious truths my Song has aim'd to shew
That War is an inevitable Ill;
An Ill through Nature's various Realms diffus'd;
An Ill subservient to the General Good.
With sympathetic sense of human woes
Deeply impress'd, the melancholy Muse
With modesty asserts this mournful Truth:
'Tis not in human wisdom to avert,
Though every feeling heart must sure lament,

* Nathaniel Bloomfield, 'Essay on War' from An Essay on War, in Blank Verse; Honington Green, a Ballad . . . and Other Poems (London: Hurst, Vernor and Hood, 1803), p. 1-25. BACK