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S.A. Bent, comp. Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men. 1887.

Duke of Alva

  • [Fernando Alvarez de Toledo, a celebrated Spanish general under Charles V. and Philip II., born 1508; defended Naples against the French and Papal armies, 1556–57; sent by Philip II. to quell the insurrection in the Low Countries, 1567, where he displayed great ability, but extreme rigor and cruelty; recalled 1573; invaded Portugal, and annexed it to Spain, 1580; died 1582.]
  • Better build them a golden bridge than offer a decisive battle.

  • To Charles V., who consulted him in regard to attacking the Turks; an illustration of his constitutional dislike of fighting when he could accomplish his purpose by strategy. Thus, when the Archbishop of Cologne urged him to attack the Dutch there, he replied, “The object of a general is not to fight, but to conquer: he fights enough who obtains the victory.” The expression, “to build a bridge for an enemy,” is of frequent occurrence. Rabelais says, “Open unto your enemies all your gates and ways, and make to them a bridge of silver, rather than fail that you may get quit of them.”—Gargantua, Book I. chap. 43. The Count de Patillan is quoted in the French Divers Propos Memorables des nobles et illustres Hommes de la Chrestienté as saying of war, “Make a bridge of gold for a flying enemy” (Quand ton ennemy voudra fuir, fais luy un pont d’or). Brantôme cites Louis XII., that “one should not spare a bridge of silver to chase his enemy;” and Cervantes substitutes silver for gold in the remark of the Count de Patillan.—Don Quixote, II. 58.
  • When asked by Charles V. about an eclipse of the sun during the battle of Mühlberg, 1547, Alva replied, “I had too much to do on earth to trouble myself with the heavens.”
  • He preferred while in the Low Countries to capture one important heretic than many insignificant ones; saying, “Better a salmon’s head than ten thousand frogs.”
  • Having been called by Philip II. to account for treasures seized at Lisbon, 1581, Alva proudly made answer, “If the king asks me for an account, I will make him a statement of kingdoms preserved or conquered, of signal victories, of successful sieges, and of sixty years’ service.”
  • Voltaire states that Charles V., having asked who that man was, as Cortez, unable to obtain an audience of the emperor after his second expedition to Mexico, pushed through the crowd surrounding the royal carriage, the latter replied, “One who has given you more kingdoms than you had towns before.”—Essai sur les Mœurs, chap. 147. Prescott finds no authority for what he calls “this most improbable story, which may have served Voltaire to point a moral.”—Conquest of Mexico, VII. 5, note. There is no doubt, however, of the cold reception given to the suit of Cortez, who found in his old age that “the gratitude of a court has reference to the future much more than to the past.”