“Wed. 16 Feb. 1825. Heard the Skylark sing at Swordy Well saw a piece of bayonet & gun barrel found while digging a stone pit this proves the story that superstition tells of a battle fought here by the rebels in Cromwell’s time—it is said were there is smoke there is fire & I often think were superstition lingers with her storys there is always some truth in them–brought home a bush of Ling or heath to plant in the garden” (John Clare, Journals)

“The savage brutality of the populace is proportioned to the arbitrary character of their government” (Shelley, “A Philosophical View of Reform”)

“There is a notion which has a direct tendency to make us unjust, because it tends to make us think God so; I mean the idea which most nations have entertained, that they are the peculiar favourites of Heaven. We nourish our pride by fondly fancying that we are the only nation for whom the providence of God exerts itself; the only nation whose form of worship is agreeable to him; the only nation whom he has endowed with a competent share of wisdom to frame wise laws and rational governments…When the workings of these bad passions are swelled to their height by mutual animosity and opposition, war ensues. War is a state in which our feelings and our duties suffer a total and strange inversion…A state in which it becomes our business to hurt and annoy our neighbor by every possible means; instead of cultivating, to destroy; instead of building, to pull down; instead of peopling, to depopulate: a state in which we drink the tears, and feed upon the misery of our fellow-creatures. Such a state, therefore, requires the extremest necessity to justify it; it ought not to be the common and usual state of society. As both parties cannot be in the right, there is always an equal chance at least, to either of them, of being in the wrong; but as both parties may be to blame, and most commonly are, the chance is very great indeed against its being entered into from any adequate cause, and it ought to make a large part of our humiliations on this day. When we carry our eyes back through the long records of our history, we see wars of plunder, wars of conquest, wars of religion, wars of pride, wars of succession, wars of idle speculation, wars of unjust interference; and hardly among them one war of necessary self-defence in any of our essential or very important interests. Of late years, indeed, we have known none of the calamities of war in our own country but the wasteful expense of it; and sitting aloof from those circumstances of personal provocation, which in some measure might excuse its fury, we calmly voted slaughter and merchandized destruction—so much blood and tears for so many rupees, or dollars, or ingots. Our wars have been wars of cool calculating interest….We should therefore, do well to translate this word war into language more intelligible to us. When we pay our army and our navy estimates, let us set down—so much for killing, so much for maiming, so much for making widows and orphans, so much for bringing famine upon a district, so much for corrupting citizens and subjects into spies and traitors…so much for letting loose the daemons of fury rapine and lust within the fold of cultivated society, and giving to the brutal ferocity of the most ferocious, its full scope and range of invention. We shall by this means know what we have paid our money for, whether we have made a good bargain, and whether the account is likely to pass” (Anna Laetitia Barbauld, “Sins of Government, Sins of Nations; or, a Discourse for the Fast”, appointed on April 19, 1793)

Originally Published: February 22nd, 2006

Joshua Beckman was born in New Haven, Connecticut, and attended Hampshire College. An editor at Wave Books, he is the author of Things Are Happening (1998), winner of the APR/Honickman First Book Award, Something I Expected to Be Different (2001), Your Time Has Come (2001), Shake (2006), and Take It...