Military Advice, 1783

Grenadier_40th_1776 2Snippets 76.  In Snippets 66 we looked at a slang dictionary written by Francis Grose, a noted antiquarian who wrote a series of books about medieval antiquities. A writer on many themes, he also wrote about proverbs and superstitions and, in 1783, penned Advice to the Officers of the British Army. I should mention at this point that the book was published anonymously but its true authorship is in little doubt. A captain in the army, Grose was “thrown, during camp and garrison service, into constant association with officers of the army of all grades, he was enabled to acquire the knowledge of their errors and habits” (preface to the 1867 reprint). His work stands as an interesting reflection of military attitudes in the 18th Century. I have chosen three separate quotes, relating to treatment of soldiers under the officer’s command, and also how to make a fortune out of a military career!

Remember that ease and convenience are apt to render soldiers effeminate; witness Hannibal’s army at Capua. Never, therefore, let the troops have comfortable quarters; and as money, according to Horace, lowers a man’s courage, be sure to cut off every emolument from your army, to prevent the impediment of a full purse. No persons will behave so desperately in action as those who are tired of their lives; Ibit eo quo vis qui zonam perdidit — and the more you pinch the army under your command, the more you may appropriate to your own use: your country can afford to make you the handsomer allowance…

Should the duties bear hard on any particular corps, never attend in the least to their representations. Remonstrances are the forerunners of mutiny; and it is the highest insult to your rank and command to insinuate that you are not infallible. This rule, however, may be dispensed with, when the colonel or commanding-officer happens to be a peer or a man of great interest…

It will be your own fault, if you do not make a fortune in the course of your command. When you come home, you have nothing to do but to enjoy otium cum dignitate. I would have you build a villa, and, in imitation of the great Duke of Marlborough, call it by the name of the most considerable victory you have gained. If you have gained no victory, you may perhaps have taken some town without ramparts or garrison to defend it; which, if it has but a founding name, the public will give you as much credit for, as they would for Lisle, or Bergen-op-Zoom.

For those interested in the Latin quotes, “ibit eo quo vis qui zonam perdidit” is “he who has lost his purse will go wherever you want” (a Horace quote), and “otium cum dignitate” is “leisure with dignity”.

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About Roger Pocock

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