JOHN PLOUGHMAN’S LETTER ON THE WAR.
TO NAPOLEON, EMPEROR OF THE FRENCH, AND WILLIAM, KING OF PRUSSIA.
THIS comes hoping that you are getting better, at least better tempered with one another, though I am much afraid, as the saying is, that you will be worse before you will be better. I beg to send my most disrespectful compliments. Scripture says, “Honor to whom honor is due,” but kings who go to war about nothing at all have no honor due to them. So I don’t send you so much as would lay on your thumb nails. Perhaps you are not both alike and only one of you is to blame for beginning this dreadful fight; but I do not know your secret tricks, for kings are as deep as foxes, and it is safest to lay it on to you both, for then the right one will be sure to get it. I should like to give you both a month at our workhouse and a taste of the crank to bring your proud spirits down a bit, for I expect it is your high living that has made you so hot blooded.
Whatever do you see in fighting that you should be so fierce for it? One would think you were a couple of game cocks and did not know any better. When two dogs fight, one of them is pretty sure to come home lame and neither of them will look the better for it. One or other of you will get a thrashing. I only wish it would come on your bare backs and not on your poor soldiers. What are you at? Have you got so much money that you want to blow it away in powder? If so, come and let off some fireworks down by Dorking and please our boys. Or have you too many people and therefore want to clear them off by cutting their throats? Why don’t you do this in a quiet way, and not make them murderers as well as murdered? I don’t think you know yourselves what it is you want, but like boys with new knives, you must be cutting something. One of you has the gout, and that does not sugar the temper much, and the other is proud about having beaten his neighbor, and so you must needs let off your steam by beginning a murderous war. You are as daft as you are days old if you think any good can come of it. If you think you will get ribbons and flags by fighting, you had better buy them at first hand of the drapers; they will come a deal cheaper and there will be no ugly blood stains on them. If you are such great babies, you should come to our fair and buy yourselves lots of stars and garters, and blue ribbons, and the stall-keepers would be glad to serve you.
If you must have a fight, why don’t you strip and go at it yourselves as our Tom Rowdy and Big Ben did on the green? It’s cowardly of you to send a lot of other fellows to be shot on your account. I don’t like fighting at all—it’s too low-lived for me—but really, if it would save the lives of the millions, I would not mind taking care of your jackets while you had a set-to with fisticuffs, and I would encourage you both to hit his hardest at the gentleman opposite. I dare say if you came over to Surrey the police would manage to keep out of your way and let you have a fair chance of having it out. They have done so for other gentlemen, and I feel sure they would do it to oblige you. It might spoil your best shirts to have your noses bleed, and I dare say you would not like to strip at it, but there are plenty of ploughmen who would lend you their smock frocks for an hour or two, especially if you would be on your honor not to go off with them. Just let me know, and I’ll have some sticking plaster ready, a basin of water, and a sponge; and perhaps our governors will let Madame Rachel out of jail to enamel your eves if they get a little blackened. I’ve just thought of a capital idea, and that is, if you will both drop a line to the keepers of the Agricultural Hall, where they have those Cumberland wrestling matches, they would let you have the place for a day, and give you half the takings, and I’ll be bound there would be a crowd, and no mistake. So you see you could get glory and ready-money too, and nobody would be killed. I like this idea, for then I can get out of my first offer, and can wash my hands of you, and I can truly say, the less I see of two such kicking horses as you are the better I shall be pleased. My good old grandfather set me against the Bonyparts when I was a boy, but I did think that you, Lewis, were a quieter sort than your uncle; however, what is bred in the bone will come out in the flesh, and as the old cock crows the young cock learns. Why you, the king of the Germans, want to go into the butchering line I don’t know; but if you are at the bottom of this it shows that you are a very bad disposed man, or you would be ashamed of killing your fellow creatures. When war begins, hell opens, and it is a bad office for either of you to be gate-opener to the devil; yet that’s what one of you is, if not both.
Did either of you ever think of what war means? Did you ever see a man’s head smashed, or his bowels ripped open? Why, if you are made of flesh and blood, the sight of one poor wounded man with the blood oozing out of him will make you feel sick. I don’t like to drown a kitten; I can’t bear even to see a rat die or any animal in pain. But a man! Where are your hearts if you can think of broken legs, splintered bones, heads smashed in, brains blown out, bowels torn, hearts gushing with gore, ditches full of blood, and heaps of limbs and carcasses of mangled men? Do you say my language is disgusting? How much more disgusting must the things themselves be? And you make them! How would you like to get a man into your palace-garden, and run a carving-knife into his bowels or cut his throat? If you did that you would deserve to be hanged; but it would not be half so bad as killing tens of thousands, and you know very well that this is just what you are going to do. Do you fancy that your drums and fifes, and feathers and fineries, and pomp, make your wholesale murder one whit the less abominable in the sight of God? Do not deceive yourselves, you are no better than the cut-throats whom your own laws condemn; better, why, you are worse, for your murders are so many. Think, I pray you, for your poor people will have to think whether you do or no. Is there so little want in the world that you must go trampling on the harvest with your horses and your men? Is there so little sorrow that you must make widows by the thousand? Is death so old and feeble that you must hunt his game for him, as jackals do for the lion? Do you imagine that God made men for you to play soldiers with? Are they only meant for toys for you to break? O kings, a ploughman tells you that their souls are as precious in God’s sight as yours; they suffer as much pain when bullets pierce them as ever you can do; they have homes, and mothers and sisters, and their deaths will be as much wept over as yours, perhaps more. How can you sit down to eat when you have caused war? Does not the blood rise in your throats and choke you? Or are you only devils with crowns on? Creatures who were never suckled at a woman’s breast, and therefore have no human feeling? It will be hard for you to think of the blood you have shed when you lie dying, and harder still to bear the heavy hand of God when he shall cast all murderers into hell. Whichever it is of you that has been the wicked cause of this war, I say you smell of blood; you ought to be more hated than the common hangman, and instead of being called “his majesty” you ought to be hooted as a demon.
You have both made mighty fine speeches laying all the blame off of yourselves, but the worst cause generally gets the best pleading, for men who cannot walk take to horseback; but all the world knows that wranglers never will own that they are in the wrong, and your words will only go for what they are worth, which is not much. Emperor and king, who are you? Though the great folk flatter you, you are only men. Have pity upon your fellow men. Do not cut them with swords, tear them with bayonets, blow them to pieces with cannon, and riddle them with shots. What good will it do you? What have the poor men done to deserve it of you? You fight for glory, do you? Don’t be such fools. I am a plain talking Englishman, and I tell you the English for glory is DAMNATION, and it will be your lot, O kings, if you go on cutting and hacking your fellow men. Stop this war if you can, at once, and turn to some better business than killing men. Set up shambles and kill bullocks for your nations; you can then eat what you slay, and there will be some reason in what you do. Before the deep curses of widows and orphans fall on you from the throne of God, put up your butcher knives and patent men-killers, and repent.
From one who is no servant of yours, but
A Fighter for Peace,
 Originally published in The Sword and the Trowel, Aug. 1, 1870.
 Infamous at the time, Sarah Rachel Russell ran a prostitution business behind the front of a beauty salon by which she also conned women with beauty products bearing promises of eternal youth and beauty. She in turn blackmailed her clients, and was eventually jailed for her crimes.
 “Bonyparts” is Ploughman’s version of “Bonapartes,” and “Lewis” here is Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, or Napoleon III.
 “John Ploughman” was a character Spurgeon created in order to put his powerful oratory in the person and voice of the humblest of common men.