A Command of French
The Military Experience in the Age of Reason, Christopher Duffy, 1987
'What distinguishes a man from a beast of burden is thought, and the faculty of bringing ideas together … a pack mule can go on ten campaigns with Prince Eugene of Savoy, and still learn nothing of tactics'
One of the most valuable things a young officer could acquire was a fluent command of French, a language through which he could make himself understood in the ruling circles of army and state in all the major countries of Europe, with the possible exception of Spain. The linguistic demands on the Austrian officer were exceptionally heavy, because so many different nations were represented in the Habsburg service, but it was considered desirable for the officer of every army to have some comprehension of the tongue the local people spoke in the theatre of war.
A knowledge of geography, law and history was useful for every man of affairs. Mathematics and geometry were believed to sharpen the understanding, and in addition they provided the foundation for the science of fortification and helped the officer to calculate distance and movement. It is remarkable, however, that Frederick the Great was bad at sums and held mathematics in the utmost abhorrence.
A sense of proportion came with drawing and an acquaintance with civil architecture. Fencing endowed a young man with speed and strength, and dancing brought elegance and dignity to carriage and movement.
"Dancing is most necessary for the man of good education and for the officer. It makes him acceptable or even indispensable at parties when he relaxes in his off-duty hours. It is good for the officer to betake himself to such assemblies, and especially the mixed companies attended by ladies and pretty girls, which are an education for all persons of the male sex." (O'Cahill, Major Baron, Der Vollkommene Officier, Frankenthal, 1787, 41-2)
Wealthy young men completed their civilian education by going on their travels, armed with sheaves of introductions to useful foreigners. They toured the famous sights and collections, they sampled the delights of society, and, if they were of a genuinely military turn of mind, they inspected fortresses, arsenals and battlefields.
By the 1750s the belief was current that experience alone did not enable the military man to progress in his knowledge: 'What distinguishes a man from a beast of burden is thought, and the faculty of bringing ideas together … a pack mule can go on ten campaigns with Prince Eugene of Savoy, and still learn nothing of tactics' (Frederick, 'Reflexions sur la Tactique et sur Quelques Parties de la Querre', 1758, Frederick, 1846-57, XXVIII, 153-4). There was every confidence that men of insight would be able to reduce field warfare to firm principles such as those which had already been established for fortification and the natural sciences, and meanwhile an untutored courage was likely to do more harm than good. The bookish studies could not begin too early, for 'by means of theory a captain may learn what he has to do as a general, and it will be much too late if he postpones this task until he actually takes on the responsibility of field rank (Warnery, 1785-91, III, 115. See also Rohr, 1756, I, xv).