In preparation for a new introductory digital history course that I’ll be teaching in the fall, I’ve been trying to think about how to share my decades of accumulated computer wisdom with my students (says the wise sage, stroking his long white beard). Since my personal experience with computers goes back to the 80s – actually, the late 70s with Oregon Trail on dial-up in the school library – I’m more of a Web 1.0 guy. Other than blogs, I pretty much ignore social media like Facebook and Twitter (not to mention Snapchat, Instagram, Pinterest…), and try to do most of my computer work on a screen larger than 4″. So I guess that makes me a kind of cyber-troglodyte in 2017. But I think that does allow me a much broader perspective of what computers can and can’t do. One thing I have learned to appreciate, for example, is how many incremental workflow improvements are readily available, shortcuts that don’t require writing Python from the terminal line.
As a result, I’ll probably start the course with an overview of the variety of ways computers can help us complete our tasks more quickly and easily, which requires understanding the variety of ways in which we can achieve these efficiencies. After a few minutes of thought (and approval from my “full-stack” computer-programming wife), I came up with this spectrum that suggests the ways in which we can make computers do more of our work for us. Toil, silicon slave, toil!
So I’ll want my students, for example, to think about low-hanging fruit (efficiency fruit?) that they can spend five minutes googling and save themselves hours of mindless labor. As an example, I’m embarrassed to admit that it was only when sketching this spectrum that I realized that I should try to automate one of the most annoying features of my current note-taking system, the need to clean up hundreds of PDFs downloaded from various databases: Google Books, Gale’s newspaper and book databases, etc. If you spend any time downloading early modern primary sources (or scan secondary sources), you know that the standard file format continues to be Adobe Acrobat PDFs. And if you’ve seen the quality of early modern OCR’d text, you know why having the original page images is a good idea.
But you may want, for example, to delete pages from PDFs that include various copyright text – that text will confuse DTPO’s AI and your searches. I’m sure there are more sophisticated ways of doing that, but the spectrum above should prompt you to wonder whether Adobe Acrobat has some kind of script or macro feature that might speed up deleting such pages from 1,000s (literally) of PDF documents that you’ve downloaded over the years. And, lo and behold, Adobe Acrobat does indeed have an automation feature that allows you to carry out the same PDF manipulation again and again. Once you realize “there’s gotta be a better way!”, you only need to figure out what that feature is called in the application in question. For Adobe Acrobat it used to be called batch processing, but in Adobe Acrobat Pro DC such mass manipulations now fall under the Actions moniker. So google ‘Adobe Acrobat Actions’ and you’ll quickly find websites that allow you to download various actions people have created. Which allows you to quickly learn how the feature works, and to modify existing actions. For example, I made this Acrobat Action to add “ps” (primary source) to the Keywords metadata field of every PDF file in the designated folder:
I already copied and tweaked macros and Applescripts that will add Keywords to rich text files in my Devonthink database, but this Adobe solution is ideal after I’ve downloaded hundreds of PDFs from, say, a newspaper database.
Similarly, this next action will delete the last page of every PDF in the designated folder. (I just hardcoded to delete page 4, because I know newspaper X always has 4 pages – I can sort by file size to locate any outliers – and the last page is always the copyright page with the nasty text I want to delete. I can, for example, change the exact page number for each newspaper series, though there’s probably a way to make this a variable that the user can specify with each use):
Computers usually have multiple ways to do any specific task. For us non-programmers, the internet is full of communities of nerds who explain how to automate all sorts of software tasks – forums (fora?) are truly a god-send. But it first requires us to expect more from our computers and our software. For any given software, RTFM (as they say), and then check out the software’s website forum – you’ll be amazed at the stuff you find. Hopefully all that time you save from automation won’t be spent obsessively reading the forum!
Busy with various projects, including designing a digital history lab.
But I did attend the Joe Guilmartin memorial conference earlier this semester, where the attendees alternated between laughing at our collective recitation of Guilmartin’s many bons mots, and growing contemplative (and perhaps wiping away a stray tear or two) as his former advisees testified to his impact on their academic careers.
My contribution to the proceedings was to open up the conference with a broad think-piece about developing a more precise taxonomy/typology of the levels of war, spurred by JFG’s introduction to the subject long long ago. A few examples of the course materials he handed out in his seminal European Warfare course.
So here’s the revised “strategy” matrix. There are plans for conference proceedings, wherein I’ll explicate the below chart (and much more), and add a few more levels. So feel free to leave suggestions or comments. especially about those pesky column labels.
Because they give us U.S. faculty on a MWF teaching schedule a full week off in the Spring, and that’s before Spring Break. Which, combined with the two consecutive snow days last Friday and this past Monday, mean I’ve had the time to finish up my siege capitulation chapter (okay, 99% done) that I’ve been working on forever. Literally. I wrote a graduate seminar paper on the subject circa 1994.
Why has it taken so long to finish this chapter with a target length of only 12,000 words? Let me count the ways, leaving aside non-project issues: Read More…
Which gives me time to throw a quick blog post up into the Ether – now that we’ve finally gotten our electricity back, after six hours. I’ve been busy with teaching two grading-intensive courses (a senior seminar on the Age of Enlightenment and the Historical Research and Writing course), as well as my European Warfare 1337-1815, but also getting some overdue research done. So I might as well share little bits that are too long to publish in full.
As I’m nearing the completing of my long-delayed siege capitulation chapter, I came across this humorous piece illustrating a lot of the themes I’ve been exploring over the past few years. Without further ado, I bring you another episode in the rarely-boring Country-man and Observator Show, from 1706.
Cm: It pleases me and all good Christian Englishmen, Master, I have a whole Budget full of Victories.
O: What more Victories? New Ones, Roger?
Cm: Yes, Master, all Spike and Span New. Let me see, Master, I’ll lay ’em out before you in Mode and Form. First and foremost I present with the Surrender of Ostend, that’s the Place you wanted to have Taken, and so I hope you are pleas’d for One, especially since it was Taken in less time than you thought for [it defended itself for more than three years during the Eighty Years War].
As soon as my Lord Overkirk began to fling his Bombs on one side, and the English Fleet did the like on the other side of the Town, the French and Spaniards began to Squeak like so many Rats and Wessels between two Fires. Ah, Master, ’tis a sad thing to be Roasted at that rate; and while a Body is turning upon the Spit to be Basted with huge ugly Bombs and stinking Carcasses [an incendiary bomb]; ’tis enough to Fright any Body. I’ll warrant it the poor Frenchmen Drip’d more T—- [Turd] than Tallow; the heat of the Fire shrivel’d their poor thin hunger-starv’d Carcasses.
But there is one thing I observ’d upon the Papers that seems very Chomical, I cou’dn’t forbear Laughing at it: Master Mothe [La Mothe-Houdancourt], the French Governor in the Town, when it was Surrender’d, excused the Bravery of his Men, which he said Was quite lost in Defending a Ravelin; but he did not attribute it to a Natural Cause, but to Witchery and Devildom, and said All his Men were Bewitch’d. Aye, thought I, and so was thy Master Bewitch’d too, when he sent a Mothe [i.e. a moth] to take Care of the Cloathing of such a Town as Ostend. The Notion of Witchery is a poor excuse for Cowardice, and being over-match’d in Bravery and Skill in Martial Affairs.
But, Master, I foresee this Notion of Witchery will spread a great way; Anjou he’s coming Home Bewitch’d and Bedevil’d. Bavaria and Collogn, the two Brothers of Treachery, they are Bewitch’d and Hagg-Riden out of their Country. Prince Eugene he has Bewitch’d poor Vendosme, as I’ll tell you By and By. But the Duke of Marlborough he has Bewitch’d all Flanders, as the Earl of Peterborough has done all Spain. Bless me, Master, was there ever such Witchery, such a parcel of Martial Necromancers ever known at one time in the World? One would think that all the English Forces had been rais’d in Lancashire [the Pendle witches 1612], and were the Legitimate Issue of Teague O Devilly, begotten on Mother Demdyke [one of the Lancashire witches].
But Master, it rejoyces my Heart to see this Witchery as Monsieur Mothe calls it, go on o’the other side of the Water. Dendermond is Bewitch’d already; and a Spell is lay’d upon Newport, that will be actually Bewitch’d in twelve or fourteen Days time; nay, I heard some of our Coffee-House Wizzards say, That before the Campaign is ended Dunkirk will be horribly Bewitch’d. Ha! thought I, will it so? Then the Prophecy that I remember I read, concerning the French King, may come to pass.
Lorrain you Stole, by Fraud you got Burgundy,
Dunkirk you Bought, and you shall Pay for’t one Day.
Obs: He has Pay’d for’t long ago.
Cm: Aye, Master, to a Corrupt Minister that had no Power to Sell it and Receive the Money; and, I think the English Nation were Bewitch’d at that time, that they did not Hovel-Post that Minister. But now, Master, is our time to make the French King pay for Buying Stollen-Goods; and I foresee we shall do it with a Vengeance.
There’s another great piece of Witchery coming on the Stage too: The Earl of Rivers is going to Bewitch a Power of People somewhere or other; and the French King, tho’ he is an Old Wizzard, and has his Familiar, Goody Maintenon, always about him, he can’t tell whether they are going: But they are going to Bewitch some of his People, that’s for certain; because they carry with ’em Mortars, Bombs, Great and Small Guns, and other Instruments of War, the Spells with which the Duke of Marlborough has Bewitch’d so many Towns and People in Flanders. And what is most inconsolable to the French King is, that 12000 of those very Wizzards that Bewitch’d all Flanders are Ship’d off at Ostend, and wait only for a Wind to joyn in this Expedition.
Well, for my part I would give a Pot of October [brew] to see how the French King himself is Bewitch’d at this News. What are become of all his Little Imps that us’d to Creep into the Cabinet of Princes, even thro’ the Little Key-Holes? That when we had an Expedition forwarded, as at this present, could tel him it was to be at Camaret? [Did Tutchin know that Marlborough is traditionally credited with spilling that particular secret?] That when we had sent a Spy to France he was so effectually told of it, that when the Vessel Arrived, his Officers could come to Her side and ask for Lame Puckle? Master, I fancy the French King is Bewitch’d, because his Devils have lost their Power, because our Devils, with whom they held a Correspondance are Exorcis’d, and render’d Incapable of doing us any more Mischief. Tar-box for that.
Obs: Indeed, Honest Country-man, the little Shifts that are made use of by the French King, his Ministers and Generals, to excuse their Bankrupcty of Power, are so very Weak, that none but the Vassals of France, who must have their Eyes put out for Seeing can help Laughing at them. ‘Tis but t’other Day the French Kings Minister at Madrid told the Grandees of Spain, Asembled for that purpose, That his Master would rather call Home his Grandson, the Duke de Anjou, than that such Sacriledges should be Committed in a Catholick Kingdom by Wicked Heretics. This is the specious Pretence for calling Home his Spanish PERKIN; but who can believe the sincerity of the French King in this Point, who has, himself, been the most Sacrilegious Monster that ever Europe Bred? That has spared neither Religious-Houses, nor their Inhabitants, or the Lands Given and Settled to Pious Uses, when it has been his Interest to Seize them; and had he not been Diverted by a War in Eighty Eight, he had Wag’d War upon his Holy-Father, the Pope, at that time.
Monsieur Mothe’s Whim of Witchery is Comical enough. A good Excuse for being Beaten. This strange Reflux of French Valour cannot proceed from any Natural Cause; no, by no means. The French Courage can never be decay’d in its Nature, ’tis some Evil Planet Governs, and the French Troops are certainly Bewitch’d.
I might here assert that ’tis Natural for Men, so much beaten as the French has been of late every where, and in all Engagements, to be Cow’d and Disspirited, that ’tis also Politick for Men when they find the Dice of War run against ’em to leave off Playing at Soldiers. But to attribute the want of French Courage to Witchcraft, is in so many Words telling the World, That the Devil Reigns in the Year 1706, and that his Ancient Alliance with the French King is come to a Period.
Honest-Roger, all this is the Work of the Almighty, he gives Courage and he Disspirits Men; God is against that Wicked Tyrant, that Grizly Oppressor of Mankind, that Bloody Butcher of Protestants, and can he then Prosper? Who can withstand the fixt Resolves of the Eternal Being? Or can Humane Force over-come the Almighty Arm? No, Roger, ’tis Providence, and not Witchcraft has Disspirited the French Forces; and the same Providence may, and will do the same by us, if we don’t own that High Hand by whose Influence we Conquer, and make suitable Returns for such Auxiliaries of Divine Power.
Cm: Now, Master, out of my Budget I pull a Notable Victory, obtained by Prince Eugene over the Duke D’Vandosme. The French Forces in Italy are also Bewitch’d; this Magick Spell fles a great way: I fancy some or other of our Side has got Pandora’s Box, and opens it at every turn when he pleases, and let his Poisons fly to taint the Frenchmen with Cowardice. Master, in short we han’t yet got the Particulars of the Fight in Italy, but of this we are certain, that there has been a Fight and that the French Army is Routed Horse and Foot, and that Vandosme is Mortally Wounded, so that he’ll hardly be in a Condition to Act against the Duke of Marlborough.
And now what wil become of the Something of Orelans that was to have Vandosme’s Post? I fancy Vandosme was a Malicious Fellow, and being Incens’d at the French King, for putting Orleans over his Head, he carried his Bewitch’d Army to Prince Eugene to have ’em Kill’d, and so that Orleans, when he came, might have no Army to Command. Those Frenchmen are Spiteful, let ’em be Bewitch’d or not Bewitch’d.
Obs: That Prince Eugene, the most Neglected of any general, has done the greatest Exploits in War that ever any Age could produce, always out-Number’d, out of time Recruited, Troops Ill Paid, and yet always Victorious. Unrewarded, and yet Faithful to his Trust; and what is yet more Glorious, as Poor now, after being General so many Campaigns, as at first when he held the Truncheon of Honour. Covetousness is the worst Vice a General can have, a Covetous Man can never be so true to his Trust as he that despises Money, and seeks nothing but the Good of his Country in the Service of it; a Covetous Captain is a Rent to a Kingdom, you must purchase his Fidelity at so high a Rate as the Enemy may’nt out-bid you for his Treachery. But Brave Prince Eugene has not sought himself, but the Interest of his Master, and the Common Good of Europe, and has made such a Stand in Italy as future Ages will wonder at.
Cm: Master, they say the Emperor will give him part of the Duke of Bavaria’s Country, and so Reward Fidelity and true Merit with the Forfeitures arising by Treachery.
Obs: If he had all Bavaria I should rejoyce exceedingly. But, Roger, when the account of this Victory comes confirm’d it will prove a Glorious Stroke on Behalf of the Confederates. The Duke of Savoy will by this means joyn the Imperial Forces, the Seige of Turin will be raised, and the Country of Savoy will be cleared from the Vermin that now Infect it; and so, Roger, let us go to Bed with a good Health to Prince Eugene.
God, I love The Observator.
One more bit of background: using witchcraft to (satirically) describe an otherwise-inexplicable military victory was an old trope – see, for example, A Letter from a Trooper in Flanders, to His Comerade: Shewing, that Luxemburg is a Witch, and Deals with the Devil (1695).
Photo of my “drafting space” for this interminable siege capitulation chapter. I mean, I thought my analysis of how garrison capitulations were interpreted was complicated, but sheesh. That’s what I get for trying to be systematic about 49 different sieges (125 if I were greedy), with a few dozen sources on each.
A. iMac with Scrivener for composing (I’m ambivalent about Scrivener’s sidebar chunks – they get out of control too quickly); Zotero for bibliographing; and Devonthink for the database (sources primary & secondary, searching, metadata, research journal…).
B. Printed (very, very, very) rough draft of chapter sections, with edits.
C. Scraps of paper, one sub-argument (with multiple subpoints) per quarter-sheet. Incorporate into the draft and into the recycling basket you go.
D. Tiny post-it notes with single facts/documents/thoughts/prose to include somewhere. (All the quotes, notes and source summaries are kept in DTPO.)
E. File folders with larger miscellaneous notes on the project. Usually stored long-term in case I ever go back to the topic.
The laptop is usually on the right when I need additional screenspace.
And of course hard copy books occasionally make a cameo as well. Still considering buying a book holder, unless Wayne is going to build a book wheel for me.
I’m usually still thinking through various bits at the drafting stage (“start writing before you think you’re ready to write – or at least by the time it’s already overdue”), so I:
- Write down questions and ideas on small sheets of paper – constantly asking myself: “What’s my main point here?” and “Why would anybody care?” and “Who am I arguing with?”
- Common questions for this project: What was the process by which A surrendered? How did X, Y and Z respond to the surrender of A? What did people say about the idea of Q? How was the term W used at the time? What was the context in which they made these statements? Are there patterns (geography, chronology, nationality, winning/losing side, relationship to A…) to these responses? How do the answers of the above questions fit into my argument?
- Collect these slips of paper at the desk, and start doing some searches in DTPO for the answers:
- First skim through documents on the topic I’ve already identified (DTPO topical groups).
- Then search for relevant people and documents that I’ve already identified (person involved with event, specific source that covers the period/place…). Maybe do a proximity search of some basic terms.
- Then skim through documents around the date of the event in question, e.g. search all the documents c. 1708.12.07 for commentary on the capitulation of Lille. Damn, I found something else interesting I have to include.
- First skim through documents on the topic I’ve already identified (DTPO topical groups).
- Interpret my findings (possibly requiring more thinking-on-paper).
- Add my findings (data, conclusions) into the draft in Scrivener.
Still working on a better system: I compose drafts on the computer, but am still old-school enough that I “think” better on paper. There is no substitute for the portability, persistence and spreadability of paper. Just make sure they’re centralized, and ephemeral as well.
Can you tell I’m teaching a research seminar and Historical Research and Writing in a few weeks?
Yet more Xmas gifts. But at a price.
Oh, don’t worry – I’ll spare you the checklist, but I’ll belabor you instead with what I’ve learned (and why I didn’t learn it sooner) over the past year.
But if you’re a busy person, the TL;DR version: there are a lot of French scholars of early modern military history, particularly of Louis XIV’s reign. And I’m giving you a bibliography, for free.
I don’t know if it was true in your family, but in my childhood the final items to be opened on Christmas morning were the stockings, hung by the chimney with care. I never understood why such care was taken, since it was usually filled with disappointing little items: an apple or orange, maybe candy, and usually some kind of cheap little flashlight or something. It was, in other words, never Boba Fett’s Slave I spaceship.
So consider this selection on the French national character from an English newspaper your 2015 stocking stuffer:
The following Letter has been sent by an English Officer, a Prisoner in France, to his Friend in England; dated Jan. 20. N.S. 
Pray let me know how the World rubs on your side, and I here pay you before hand, and give you an Account of Rounds and Squares on this side, and how we fadge [i.e. fare]. Know, then, my Friend, that the Weather is extremely nipping and cold: a mighty hard Frost and deep Snow; which is so severe, that several Poor, both Aged and Children, are daily found dead, as well without as within doors; And what’s yet more remarkable, three Post-Horses are lately arriv’d at their usual Stages, with their Mails, and each has brought with him a frozen Gallican Mummy as cold as Bethel’s Charity, and as dead as Poor Jo. Hains. In one of the Hospitals for Natural Children, there were found dead, this Morning, Nine of ’em, which perish’d by the excessive Cold. There is here also great variety of devouring Beasts, and particularly the four legg’d Wolves I shall here mention, whose ravenous Nature has been very often shewn, since this hard Weather, griping Want having made ’em break thro’ all Bounds of Fear or Respect; for they make no manner of distinction between their two or four-legg’d Brethren, but without any Ceremony, seize on ’em, as they tumble in the Road: Within these four days, they have devour’d three or four of their Brethren, ally’d by Principle, tho’ not by Shape or Number of Feet. In short, Thro’ the miserable Estate of the heavy-burden’d and deplorable Inhabitants, and the Keenness of the Times, we are furnish’d, every Moment, with some wretched Accident or other, that’s capable of moving Pity in any one that has a Heart harder than themselves, if such a one were, possibly, to be found. This is but a very slight Touch of their Sufferings, nor dare I tell you more. but be pleas’d to take along with you the Temper, Manners, and Nature, of the Beasts. They are begot dancing, come dancing into the World, continue the same during their Abode here, and many (tho’ all ought) go dancing out; Gallantry is here in Perfection; for the Husband makes the Wife’s Spark his Friend; and she chuses his Miss for her Confident. Their Children are taught to sing, before they can speak, and to dance before they can walk; and as they grow up, the Boys are educated in the Arts of Gasconading, Blustering, Lying, Cheating, Infidelity, Inconstancy, Levity, Fickleness, Gaming, Swearing, Whoring, Bullying, cum multis aliis, &c.
These are reckon’d Accomplishments and Nice Breeding, among the Generality of them. Honour, Honesty, Truth, Justice, and Sincerity, have been, long since, banish’d this Realm; and they have plac’d in their stead, Baseness, Dishonesty, Falseness, Treachery, and Ingratitude. They have made it Death, without Benefit of Clergy, to any that shall be found with the Five former Principles, in any other Manner or Shape whatsoever, excepting the Name of ’em, and the bare use of them, for a Mask to hide their Villany, as a poor Whore makes use of one, to hide her Ugliness. Their Courage may be justly compared to Snow falling in August, which the warm Sun soon dissolves; or, like a brisk Spark flying out of a Wood-fire, which gives two or three little Bounces, and disappears immediately. Even so does their Courage, at the first Flash in the Pan; it sinks and thaws into their Poster[ior]s. I cannot, however, but highly commend the Wisdom of their State, in forbidding Duelling. ‘Tis a wonderful Piece of Policy, to hide Cowardice, and, at the same time, save their Credit; this takes effect at Home: But, when in the Field, I’ll leave the World to judge, who have often seen their mighty Mountains dwindle into a Mouse T[ur]d. They are all Noise and Emptiness, the just Emblem of a Drum; very Credulous, full of Compliments, Flattery and Lies. The Commonality are very Bigots in Religion, the Gentry have none at all. They all have a might Opinion of their Nation and People, and think none in the World comes near ’em, in any thing whatsoeer; and, if any commendable thing is found in any other Nation, as to Arts and Sciences, &c. ’tis all owing to them; for they esteem all other Nations and People, that arenot educated in, or by theirs, Brutes and Monsters, and hate ’em, tho’ they profess the same Religion, and are principl’d as hopefully as themselves. They all extol and value themselves above the rest of Mankind. They are all Shew and Vapour, and will have a lac’d Coat, tho’ all the rest of the Moveables are not worth a Sous Marque; and a good Shirt on one of their Backs, is as great a Sight, and as hard to be met with, as an honest Man in the City. They make no manner of Allowance in their Apparel, as to Age; for they are as gaudy at 80, as they were at 10 Years of Age. The Girls are exquisitley well instruct in the Arts of Coqueting, Jilting and Gaming. They are taught to knit, but not skill’d in Housewifery; and all naturally throw themselves on their Backs, like a Cat in a Skirmish, and labour hard, Hip and Thigh, to nourish and subsist the rest of the Parts. In fine, From the Duchess to the meanest Peasant, all are Mercenary, and for Cash, will prostrate themselves &c. For there’s a certain wicked Itch or Gaming, that runs thro’ the whole Nation, and makes ’em as mad as a proud Bitch. They all pretend to have a Value for Strangers, and prefer them before their own Folks; But ’tis all Sham, and Cant, and Policy, in order to cull ’em of their Pence.
Ah Traitress! Ah Ingrate! Ah Faithless Mind!
Ah Sex invented first to damn Mankind!
Perhaps, you may guess, by these two borrow’d Lines, that my Mistress is unkind; but I assure you, you must guess again. I need not tell you of their small Faults; as that they are Lyars, Inconstant, Fickle, Frail, Lewd, False, Dissembling, &c. for these are the Grace the Generality of the Sex are endow’d withal. They all pretend to Wit and Criticism; and any one that speaks much, and laughs and sings, they will allow him to have a great deal of Wit; and if he dances and plays at Cards, he’s an accomplish’d Gentleman. Their Dress is Airy and Taudry, and as Frippery and Gugaw [gegaw i.e. trifles] in their old Age as ’twas in their Youth. They are nasty about their Feet and Legs, their Linnen very coarse, and commonly dirty, for in Summer they wear a Shift 4 or 5 Weeks and in Winter 6 or 7. They are extream sluttish in their Houses, as well in their Bed-Chamber as Kitchin. In each Story there’s a Privy, and for the most part at the Entrance, in order to confound the rest of the more odious Stinks; so in short from the Cellar to the Garret, Including Madam, you have a continued House of Office. In brief, they are all Tongue, all Devotes, all Hypocrites, and all Whores, and not a thousandth Part so fair, as they are false, and were my Letter as large as a Book called Theophrastus, it wou’d scare contain the Faults and Vices of the Nation. As for Perfections, know of none they have, except in all I have tax’d ’em with. If I could find but one honest Man in the Kindgom, I’d alter my Tune. What I’ve here inserted, is not by Hear-say, but by woful Experience.”
And then, a week later, a rebuttal to an unidentified objector:
London, Feb. 4
“Having inserted in our Paper of Monday last, a Letter that came lately from France, wherein a Gentleman of our Nation, drove thither by evil Fate, had a mind to divert himself and his Friend with a Character of the French People; it was no Matter of Surprize to us, to see, since, in a certain Paper scarce Publick, and unworthy Mention, the weak Efforts of some Paltry, French Scribbler, to wash the Blackamore white, and vindicate his Nation from a Character due to the Generality of ’em.
The Writer of the Supplement hopes he may be, therefore, excus’d, if, to keep himself out of Idleness, he bestow Two or Three cursory Remarks on the Trifling Reflexions of a Person, whom, out of Love to all true Britains, he can’t suppose to be any better than a Frenchman.
For, Who else, in the Name of Wonder, ever esteem’d it an Honour, to have liv’d, some time, in France? I know, ’tis no-wise injurious to a Gentleman’s Reputation, to say, he has travel’d in, or thro’, France, (nor more, that he has gone thro’ Wales or Yorkshire;) But it could never, certainly, enter into the Heart of a Native of Great Britain, to account it any Honour to have liv’d in France, where wooden Shoes are so great a Fashion!
But yet it might, too since the French King could find out no other Expedient to restrain the Warmth of his Fighting People, than the Law against Duelling. They are so Fighting, it seems, that Foreigners must think it an Honour, that they can live among ’em in whole Skins! – Why truly, I am afraid our Gentleman’s Mirth rows’d your Passion, Monsieur; and that, while your Blood was yet boiling hot, you took upon you to prove the French a Brave People. For, certainly, no Man, at least, no Englishman, that has the Use of his Reason, would ever pretend to do it, at this time of Day!
I must confess, ‘twou’d vex me, to be told, that my Countrymen are effeminate, and less than Women; But more so, to consider that they really are so. I would not be thought to reflect on particular Persons: There are, no doubt, some Brave Men, even among the French; For there’s no General Rule without Exception; But when I call to mind, how the Women at Villingen, in the Black Forest, kept out a little Army of the French, a few Years ago, by throwing Stones at ’em, I am apt to esteem ’em, in my poor Judgment, less than Women. What of the Conquests gain’d by your invincible Monarch, as you call him, in his younger Reign? ‘Tis notorious, that they were owing either to the Power of his Gold, or encroaching Treaties; and not won by Dint of Sword. When was ever the French Courage try’d, and not foil’d? Is it an Argument of the Bravery of the French Nation, That many Ages ago, the English beat ’em in open Field, tho’ the French were almost Three to One, took their King Prisoner [Crécy 1356], and conquer’d the whole Kingdom of France? And, where have they not had the Superiority of late? They were not so often beat, in the last War, I own; But, perhaps it was because they did not so often come to close Battles. And ’tis rather a Tryal of Superiority of Number, than of Courage, for Armies to stand at a Distance, and fire upon one another. It is, therefore, to the immortal Honour of the Duke of Marlborough, that, according to all our Accounts, his Grace has introduced a new Way of Fighting the French; His Soldiers stand the Enemy’s first Charge, but, allowing ’em no Time for a second, fall upon ’em Sword-in-hand: And, whenever the Confederate Troops come at ’em, in this Manner, the French surely run away. Witness the Battles of Blenheim, Turin, Ramelies, Audenard, and Wynendale; In all which they had the Superiority of Numbers, and Advantage of Ground. I am as far from lessening the D. of Marlborough’s Conduct and Abilities, as any Man; And I hope it will not be thought I do so, when I argue, That the French, in general, are not so form’d for Heroes, as that impertinent Writer would persuade People. His Grace has, more than once, seen the Finger of God, in defeating them in Battle; and as we all know the Superior Conduct of our Consummate General, so his Grace never fails to give all his Troops their Share of Superior Courage. To have done, therefore, with the Subject of French Cowardice, I declare That as often as I shall think of their late Defence of the Scheld, after so many Months Pains to fortify themselves on its Banks, I shall conclude, the Gentleman that wrote our Letter, did ’em no Injustice as to that Particular.
As for Monsieur’s Instance of their Courage in the Defence of Lisle; I look upon it to be of no manner of Service to him: For their Courage cannot be fairly try’d, when they are cover’d with Walls, and Parapets, and I know not what. The French King attributed the long Defence of that Place to the Bravery of the Mareschal de Boufflers, and Two or Three more General Officers, and not to that of his Troops, who call the Confederate Soldiers Devils, for Fighting; and his Most Christian Majesty himself lately declar’d, That (for the general) he did not know what to make either of his Generals or Troops. Such is their Martial Ardour!
Nobody will dispute with my Frenchman, but his Country may have bred fine Gentlemen, as well as other Nations: But I am a little in the dark, as to the Improvements the greatest Men in England owe to that Kingdom. No more do I understand, what he means by the Exercises and other numerous Accomplishments learnt by our Nobility and Gentry there. Mean time, I remember to have read somewhere, That ’tis a wrong Notion in our English Gentry, to begin their Travels in Holland, and end ’em in France; and the Reason alleg’d was, because it was the Misfortune of too many,
To bring French Vices and Diseases home.
To charge the French with Levity, would not have been unpardounable, it seems; But our Gentleman has affronted Monsieur, by reflecting on the Fair Sex! I confess, I never was in France, but have the Honour personally to know several French Ladies in England; and, I profess, if I had never thought of such an Epithet as Fair, for that (generally speaking) black Sex.
Thus far I have gone out of my way, to oblige you, Monsieur; for I am persuaded, you took pains enough to wipe off the true Character of your Nation, to expect me to do this Justice to myself, as well as to the absent Gentleman, who design’d you no Affront. For the rest, be assur’d, That hereafter I shall take no Notice of your Impertinence, but leave the Actions of your Nation to justify their Character inserted in the Supplement.”
Too many humorous bits to point out, but if you need more details on policy, cowardice, arrogance, dinting swords, skulking behind walls, and fickle dancing, you might just want to go buy yourself my latest publication.