Rogue Learning: Harry Flashman

A concept that I subtly interweave throughout this website is the idea that we are all “standing on the shoulders of giants”—in other words, that nobody is a perfect font of knowledge, and that any man worth his salt is not only willing to learn from the men who have come before him, but is constantly doing so to improve himself. And in many articles, I cite examples from men better than I.

However, another concept that I discuss a lot on this website is the idea of “negative feedback”—the idea that you can learn just as much from negative experiences as you can from a positive experience. Similarly, one can learn much from a bad person, whether it be just as an “anti-example” (ie: “do the opposite of what this guy does), or in the sense of the archetypical broken clock (ie: the advice may be good, even though the source of that advice is less than admirable)

And so it is in this mindset that I start a new, irregularly updated series of articles titled “Rogue Learning” in which I look at the life and times of rogues: which is to say, terrible human beings (be they real or fictional), and uncover the wisdom that these bad men can nonetheless reveal. In others words, learning from rogues.

(In spirit, my review of Moviebob’s book was an example of “Rogue Learning”, or rather “Lessons from a Wastrel”, as Bobbo is not remotely dangerous enough to be a “rogue”. Either way, I had not created this title yet).

Having gotten the preamble out of the way, let’s analyze the illustrious career of one of the all-time greatest scumbags in the history of fiction, a man who I’ve alluded to many times before and is now getting his full due on my website: Harry Paget Flashman!


Harry Flashman, then known as simply “Flashman”, was first birthed from the pen of Thomas Hughes in the Victorian-era novel Tom Brown’s Schooldays, an archetypal “pip pip” sort of tome extolling the Victorian masculine virtues of fair play, sportsmanship and wholesome virility. Flashman was intended to be the exact opposite of those virtues: a “coward-bully-cad-and-thief” who ends up getting expelled from the Rugby school after a bout of public drunkenness. In the 1960s, George Macdonald Fraser decided to continue the story of this archetypal wastrel, starting immediately after his expulsion from school and into an inglorious, 5 decade long military career that takes him to every inhabited continent and, through a combination of dumb luck and low cunning, into wealth, fame, honor, and high society.

Mr. Flashman has very few redeeming characteristics, his two biggest being a genuine love for his wife and children—after he gets bored with plowing whatever strange comes his way, of course—and very keen powers of observation that allow him to see through the layers of bullshit that are thrown up in interpersonal relations—whether political or merely social, and whether or not they involve himself. It is the latter that provides the bulk of his wisdom.

And so, without further ado, I’ll present quotes from the series that will be relevant to the intellectual louts of the reactosphere, and if necessary explain them:

The Wisdom of Flashman

“Appearances made me look like a hero;who needs more than that? Give me the shadow, and you can keep the substance. That’s a principle I’ve clung to, and it works if you know how to use it”—A major theme of the books is that people will believe whatever they want to believe, and whatever looks good, without further scrutiny. And when people see the tall, muscular, dashingly mustached Flashman in his spiffy Hussar uniform, why shouldn’t they assume he fought to the last at Piper’s Fort? And why shouldn’t they assume that he earned all of those medals? The man looks like a hero, therefore he is one. This is a double edged sword, as while his appearance of heroism has let him ascend to high society, it also has led him get strong-armed into multiple military excursions he’d have preferred to ignore.

“It is a terrible thing to have ideals, and a conscience, and pride in your profession”—Related to the above, having an image to maintain is difficult, and it’s even more difficult should you actually possess ideals and a conscience. The unspoken implication is that having no ideals and a conscience is likely to lead you to success, and a glance around at our societal betters shows that to certainly be the case.

“Small events can have massive consequences”.

“Nobody lays out cash for nothing”

“Experience has taught me you usually don’t need a weapon, but when you do need it, it’s gonna be life and death.”—Any martial arts instructor or firearms instructor will teach you the same: should you ever need to pull a weapon, you better be ready to kill someone with it.

“Whores are whores the world over, and the Parisians were no different”—In context, it was a warning to not take the vapid pillow talk of a prostitute seriously, but those of us in the manosphere can certainly apply it to all women, not just “working girls”. Indeed, in another book Flashman says: “Black or white, savage or duchess, women are all alike”.

“I’ve dined out several times on [briefly meeting Richard Wagner in Bavaria] which shows how stupid people are when it comes to celebrities”—The worship of celebrities is certainly something you can see today, and it also indicates that some of what we hate about modern times existed hundreds of years ago. In a positive interpretation of this quote, one could also argue that those who are interesting and have interesting life stories to tell will have people flocking to them and doing things for them. Which is certainly an incentive to become an interesting person.

“The only safe place to get drunk is amongst friends in your own home”—In general, try to recognize a situation in which you can make ass of yourself and avoid it, and specifically, don’t get drunk amongst strangers (or, you know, don’t get drunk, period).

“Whatever happens, you get used to it eventually”

“There’s no ‘silver bullet’ for women”—For those who are game tyros, avoid anyone who promises you “ONE SIMPLE TRICK” to get women (such as the obtuse seduction flowcharts I occasionally mock, courtesy of Joshua Pellicer and the other blithering jack-offs at the Tao of “Badass), which is why I and my Return of Kings compatriots will teach you a broad framework of self-improvement and “common sense” advice rather than a silver bullet. In several books, Flashman (or the women he’s involved with for the time being) will essentially showcase elements of Game before the term even existed, such as page 67 of Flashman and the Great Game, which essentially subjects Flashman to a shit test in a narrative that’s too long to quote here. In other cases, you have to genuinely be nice (or at least feign it). Again, there’s no “ONE SIMPLE TRICK”, with women or life in general.

“Take my word for it-next time you hear ‘uneasy is the head that wears the crown’, know that royalty do damn good for themselves. I’ve been one-I know”—Like it or not, quotes such as “uneasy is the head that wears the crown” or “money can’t buy happiness” are often used by poor people to make themselves feel better about their poverty. While it may be true that money itself doesn’t make you happy, it’s a hell of a lot easier to obtain happiness with money than without it.

“When the bastards are after you, run in the direction they’d never expect. Sometimes it’s right towards them”

“Like all scoundrels, I resorted to prayer, before realizing it wasn’t going to accomplish a damn thing”.

“Use the weapon you know how to use”—In context, it was literally referring to a duel, which forces Flashman to pick a saber over a more exotic weapon, but out of context you can interpret as “When push comes to shove, use the skills and knowledge that you reflexively already know, rather than trying something new that might fail”.

“A coward with his back to the wall is a dangerous thing indeed”—and Flashman, literally being a coward with his back to the wall, would know.

“The Englishman thinks he is free and pities the foreigners rising against their kings. And our rulers trade on this feeling, keeping the worker underfoot while assuring him that he is no slave”—Just replace “Englishman” with “American” and look around you in 2017.

“Get [women] excited-a fight is best with blood flowing, but any sport or shock will do as long as there is a hint of savagery-and they’ll get in bed with you”—As I’ve said in a previous article, the fastest way to keep a woman’s affection is to keep her on her toes, and demonstrate that you are a man of action and unpredictability.

“Have you noticed that when you convince a man of something incredible, he believes it harder than he would something obvious and simple?”

“Ships biscuits are insurance my boy. Take them; you won’t need them. Don’t take them; you’ll finish your trip eating dead mules—and that’s the truth”. In other words, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, better safe than sorry, and all the other aphorisms you already know. Another relevant quote: “The five most dangerous words in the English language: ‘God Will Provide For Us’.”

“Albion is proud of you-and they’ll proudly let you fall into the poor house real quick, too”—mistreatment of veterans is a long-standing problem of empires. Similarly, Flashman shows concern for the common “Tommy Atkins” when he discusses how the Charge of the Light Brigade—which he participated in—became legendary even as many of the rank and file in that charge were cast onto the streets.

“Try as you might, you’ll never quite ‘become of’ a foreign culture”—as multiculturalism continues to lose face in the world, let’s point out that George MacDonald Fraser was pointing this out in the 1970s.

” When you’re in adversity you shouldn’t antagonize your comrades”

“Half the art of survival is running, the other half is keeping a straight face”—But by straight face, he doesn’t mean what you think; he then clarifies “a poker face is not always sufficient”. The thing would be properly phrased “The RIGHT face” for the situation.

“It’s a remarkable thing where one good quality in a black sheep wins greater esteem than a spotless record from a virtuous man-especially when that quality is courage”. Or to put it another way, people will overlook your flaws if you do something vital for them.

“A half century may lie between cause and effect”—in other words, your past can always come back and kick you in the ass.

“All I hear from politicians and bible punching hypocrites and virtuous old ladies is talk of broken treaties!”—Flashman and the Redskins points out that American opinion over treatment of the Indians was far from monolithic, despite the guilt that is constantly wielded as a blunt instrument in the modern day (I should point out that these historical fiction novels are meticulously well-researched, from primary sources whenever possible). Really, the books reveal that a lot of what we think we “know” about the past is wrong, particularly in the behaviors of the common people. In another book, Flashman talks about how, even in the 1860s, American women are seen as being loud, bossy, and “wearing the pants” of society, which again proves my point.

“There is some natural law that whenever civilization talks to the heathen, it’s through the most obstinate, short sighted, arrogant clown they can find”—look at how America bungled the War on Terror if you need proof.

“I’ve soldiered long and hard enough to learn-don’t monkey with the local gods. It never pays”.

“The time to beware of a woman is not when you have money, because then you know what she’s after. No, the time to beware is when you don’t have money and a woman offers to give you some”.

“Once your essentials are caught in a mangle the only thing to do is ride it out and wait for them to be freed”—In other words, once you’re caught in a bad situation, just ride it out. Especially when you have a glorious reputation.

“That’s the thing about gratitude. You do a favour and often you make an enemy. Folks hate to feel obliged for something”

“In each woman there is a unique charm or magic, and sometimes it’s hard to define. With the Maharani Jind, though,  it was simple: she was simply the lewdest looking strumpet I’ve ever seen. She had lust written into every line of her face-perfect beauty ever so slightly marred by the fleshiness of booze and depravity”—Some women are, to quote Flashy again, “…like statues, beautiful but like cold soup”, and some women are not so attractive, but can compensate with sheer sluttiness. Understand the many types of appeal that women (and men!) have, and the chess game that is human sexuality will begin to make sense to you.

“Never let them get a word in-that’s the best rhetorical device there is”

“There’s no surer way of getting a secret then acting like you already know it”

“When all’s said and done, the most hellish ordeal will end. Either with you dying or surviving”

And the biggest lesson of all, one that does not have a direct quote but permeates throughout the entire franchise: Most of your problems are self-inflicted. Whether it’s Flashman chasing after a shapely bit of tail and ending up in the Taiping Rebellion, or seeking to polish his fraudulent reputation a little bit more and getting browbeaten to go to the Crimea, if he just stayed still and quiet, he’d have avoided yet another situation of getting shot, stabbed, beaten, and tortured in some god-forsaken corner of the Earth. Ironically enough, he never seems to learn this lesson until he is an elderly man with great-grandchildren. Do better than him, and learn his lessons now in your relative youth.

Click here to buy Flashman, which is just the first of 12 novels (if they came in an Omnibus, I’d link to it…)