us imagine that the combatant, who has so sensibly made use of the best and simplest means for the attainment of his object, should be inspired by the traditions of chivalry to try and disguise the real cause of the conflict and should persist in declaring that he had been victor in the duel in accordance with all the rules of swordsmanship. One can imagine what confusion and obscurity would arise from his description of the duel!

The duellist, who insisted on the conflict being fought in accordance with the principles of the fencer’s art, stands for the French; his opponent, who flung away his sword and snatched up a cudgel, did like the Russians; and the attempted description of the duel in accordance with the rules of swordsmanship has been given us by the historians of the war.

From the time of the burning of Smolensk a war began which did not follow any of the old traditions of warfare. The burning of towns and villages, the retreat after every battle, the blow dealt at Borodino and followed by retreat, the burning of Moscow, the capture of marauders, the seizing of transports,—the whole of the irregular warfare was a departure from the rules.

Napoleon was aware of it, and from the time when he stood waiting in Moscow in the correct pose of the victorious fencer, and instead of his opponent’s sword, saw the bludgeon raised against him, he never ceased complaining to Kutuzov and to the Emperor Alexander that the war was being conducted contrary to all the rules of war. (As though any rules existed for the slaughter of men!)

In spite of the complaints of the French that they did not keep to the rules, in spite of the fact that the Russians in the highest positions felt it somehow shameful to be fighting with a cudgel, and wanted to take up the correct position en quarte or en tierce, to make a skilful thrust, en prime and so on, the cudgel of the people’s war was raised in all its menacing and majestic power; and troubling itself about no question of any one’s tastes or rules, about no fine distinctions, with stupid simplicity, with perfect consistency, it rose and fell and belaboured the French till the whole invading army had been driven out.

And happy the people that will not, as the French did in 1813, saluting according to the rules, gracefully and cautiously offer the sword hilt to the magnanimous conqueror. Happy the people who, in the moment of trial, asks no questions how others would act by the recognised rules in such cases, but with ease and directness picks up the first cudgel that comes handy and deals blows with it, till resentment and revenge give way to contempt and pity.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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