April 29

April Twenty-Ninth

Error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.

Thomas Jefferson



It has been warm and pleasant; nothing going on in camp; men seem to be enjoying themselves playing ball; completed Company D muster and pay rolls. Lieut. G. P. Welch relieved me this morning as officer of the day. Capt. E. B. Frost is now acting Major; very dull in camp tonight. Colonel W. W. Henry is division officer of the day.

April 29, 1864

Friday. No fighting here yet. The firing outside is constant now, but what it amounts to we don't know. Was relieved from duty at 8 o'clock and went for a walk before turning in. On a back street a terrible commotion broke out as I was passing a backyard with a high slab fence around it. I peeked through a knothole and saw a shocking sight. An old sow had a little child down on the ground and was trying to eat it. Two women, one with a broom and the other with a mop, were hammering the sow and screaming at the top of their voices, while the old sow was making such a noise as only a hog can make when raging mad. Just as I had taken in the situation, something struck the top of the fence with force enough to shake it from end to end. One of the ugly-looking dogs called bloodhounds had jumped and caught his fore feet over the top and was scrambling for a hold with his hind feet. Just as I looked up he got a toe hold, and quicker than I can tell it was over the fence and had the old varmint by the back of the neck. The women ran in the house with the child, and whether the child or the old sow lived I don't know, but I shall always think well of the bloodhound after this. I went back home and slept the day away.

Thursday, April 29th, 4 p.m.—The weather and the evenings are indescribably incongruous. Tea in the garden at home, deck-chairs, and Sweep under the walnut-tree come into one's mind, and before one's eyes and ears are motor ambulances and stretchers and dressings, and the everlasting noise of marching feet, clattering hoofs, lorries, and guns, and sometimes the skirl of the pipes. One day there was a real band, and every one glowed and thrilled with the sound of it.

I strayed into a concert at 5.30 this evening, given by the Glasgow Highlanders to a packed houseful of men and officers. I took good care to be shown into a solitary box next the stage, as I was alone and guessed that some of the items would not be intended for polite female ears. The level of the talent was a high one, some good part songs, and two real singers, and some quite funny and clever comic; but one or two things made me glad of the shelter of my box. The choruses were fine. The last thing was a brilliant effort of the four part singers dressed as comic sailors, which simply made the house rock. Then suddenly, while they were still yelling, the first chords of the "King" were played, and all the hundreds stood to attention in a pin-drop silence while it was played—not sung—much more impressive than the singing of it, I thought.

We have had some bad cases in to-day, and the boy with the lung is not doing so well.

My second inoculation passed off very quickly, and I have not been off duty for it.

April 29

April 29, 1874.--Strange reminiscence! At the end of the terrace of La Treille, on the eastern side, as I looked down the slope, it seemed to me that I saw once more in imagination a little path which existed there when I was a child, and ran through the bushy underwood, which was thicker then than it is now. It is at least forty years since this impression disappeared from my mind. The revival of an image so dead and so forgotten set me thinking. Consciousness seems to be like a book, in which the leaves turned by life successively cover and hide each other in spite of their semi-transparency; but although the book may be open at the page of the present, the wind, for a few seconds, may blow back the first pages into view.

And at death will these leaves cease to hide each other, and shall we see all our past at once? Is death the passage from the successive to the simultaneous--that is to say, from time to eternity? Shall we then understand, in its unity, the poem or mysterious episode of our existence, which till then we have spelled out phrase by phrase? And is this the secret of that glory which so often enwraps the brow and countenance of those who are newly dead? If so, death would be like the arrival of a traveler at the top of a great mountain, whence he sees spread out before him the whole configuration of the country, of which till then he had had but passing glimpses. To be able to overlook one's own history, to divine its meaning in the general concert and in the divine plan, would be the beginning of eternal felicity. Till then we had sacrificed ourselves to the universal order, but then we should understand and appreciate the beauty of that order. We had toiled and labored under the conductor of the orchestra; and we should find ourselves become surprised and delighted hearers. We had seen nothing but our own little path in the mist; and suddenly a marvelous panorama and boundless distances would open before our dazzled eyes. Why not?

April 29

April 29 (Lancy).--This morning the air was calm, the sky slightly veiled. I went out into the garden to see what progress the spring was making. I strolled from the irises to the lilacs, round the flower-beds, and in the shrubberies. Delightful surprise! at the corner of the walk, half hidden under a thick clump of shrubs, a small leaved chorchorus had flowered during the night. Gay and fresh as a bunch of bridal flowers, the little shrub glittered before me in all the attraction of its opening beauty. What springlike innocence, what soft and modest loveliness, there was in these white corollas, opening gently to the sun, like thoughts which smile upon us at waking, and perched upon their young leaves of virginal green like bees upon the wing! Mother of marvels, mysterious and tender nature, why do we not live more in thee? The poetical flâneurs of Töpffer, his Charles and Jules, the friends and passionate lovers of thy secret graces, the dazzled and ravished beholders of thy beauties, rose up in my memory, at once a reproach and a lesson. A modest garden and a country rectory, the narrow horizon of a garret, contain for those who know how to look and to wait more instruction than a library, even than that of Mon oncle. [Footnote: The allusions in this passage are to Töpffer's best known books--"La Presbytère" and "La Bibliothèque de mon Oncle," that airy chronicle of a hundred romantic or vivacious nothings which has the young student Jules for its center.] Yes, we are too busy, too encumbered, too much occupied, too active! We read too much! The one thing needful is to throw off all one's load of cares, of preoccupations, of pedantry, and to become again young, simple, child-like, living happily and gratefully in the present hour. We must know how to put occupation aside, which does not mean that we must be idle. In an inaction which is meditative and attentive the wrinkles of the soul are smoothed away, and the soul itself spreads, unfolds, and springs afresh, and, like the trodden grass of the roadside or the bruised leaf of a plant, repairs its injuries, becomes new, spontaneous, true, and original. Reverie, like the rain of night, restores color and force to thoughts which have been blanched and wearied by the heat of the day. With gentle fertilizing power it awakens within us a thousand sleeping germs, and as though in play, gathers round us materials for the future, and images for the use of talent. Reverie is the Sunday of thought ; and who knows which is the more important and fruitful for man, the laborious tension of the week, or the life-giving repose of the Sabbath? The flânerie so exquisitely glorified and sung by Töpffer is not only delicious, but useful. It is like a bath which gives vigor and suppleness to the whole being, to the mind as to the body; it is the sign and festival of liberty, a joyous and wholesome banquet, the banquet of the butterfly wandering from flower to flower over the hills and in the fields. And remember, the soul too is a butterfly.