December 17

December 17, 1862

Have explored the country up and down and back from the river to-day. Found much that is strange to me but met with no startling adventures.

Fair, comfortable day; men busy putting up quarters; shall commence my hut when the men finish theirs; good news from Generals Sherman and Thomas this evening; have written Dr. J. H. Jones this evening; southeast storm brewing; cannonading towards Petersburg to-night; nothing unusual.

December Seventeenth

Her every tone is music's own,
Like those of morning birds,
And something more than melody
Dwells ever in her words;
The coinage of her heart are they,
And from her lips each flows
As one may see the burdened bee
Forth issue from the rose.
Edward C. Pinkney
(“A Health ”)

 

 

December 17

December 17, 1854.--When we are doing nothing in particular, it is then that we are living through all our being; and when we cease to add to our growth it is only that we may ripen and possess ourselves. Will is suspended, but nature and time are always active and if our life is no longer our work, the work goes on none the less. With us, without us, or in spite of us, our existence travels through its appointed phases, our invisible Psyche weaves the silk of its chrysalis, our destiny fulfills itself, and all the hours of life work together toward that flowering time which we call death. This activity, then, is inevitable and fatal; sleep and idleness do not interrupt it, but it may become free and moral, a joy instead of a terror.

Nothing is more characteristic of a man than the manner in which he behaves toward fools.

It costs us a great deal of trouble not to be of the same opinion as our self-love, and not to be ready to believe in the good taste of those who believe in our merits.

Does not true humility consist in accepting one's infirmity as a trial, and one's evil disposition as a cross, in sacrificing all one's pretensions and ambitions, even those of conscience? True humility is contentment.

* * * *

A man only understands that of which he has already the beginnings in himself.

Let us be true: this is the highest maxim of art and of life, the secret of eloquence and of virtue, and of all moral authority.

* * * *

December 17, 1863

Camp Dudley. Thursday. I have never thought to tell the name given our camp here at the Cotton Press. All camps have a name, so orders can be sent to camp so-and-so, and some one with the proper authority named the Cotton Press, "Camp Dudley." We are here yet waiting for further orders. The trial by court-martial of Adjutant Phillips comes off to-day, and several have gone as witnesses. The story goes now that Matagorda Island is off the mouth of the Rio Grande River. If I only knew how long we are to be gone, I could tell what to take and what to leave, and would be better satisfied. Dr. Warren has given me a book for keeping up my diary. It is a physician's visiting list, just right to carry in my side pocket and I am just beginning in it, having packed up and sent off my diary up to this date. We had a hard thunderstorm last night, but it is cool to-day, and I have stuck up my stove again and have a good fire in it.

Noon. The court-martial was adjourned and our family is together again. Our marching orders have been changed and now we are to start for Bayou Sara, just above Baton Rouge. We are going to-night. I have been trying to be sick for a day or two, and the colonel says I am just the one to stay and keep house. Dr. Warren came around in a little while and agreed with him, so I am to stay. It is the first time since I came out of the hospital last spring, and I hate to break such a record, but I do feel miserable for a fact. A steamer called the Northerner has just pulled up opposite camp, to take us up the river. She shows the marks of a skirmish with the Rebs, having a lot of bullet holes to show, and a big hole through her wheel house, where a cannon ball went through, taking off the head of a man in the cabin. They say the guerrillas are very troublesome.

At night I had a letter from my sister, Mrs. Loucks, and in it was a picture of her own dear self, looking just as she did a year and a half ago; also a dozen stamps from father; they are all well, and so am I, now that I have heard from home, and have this little reminder of my sister to look at. A part of the regiment has gone, leaving the rest to keep house.

Thursday, December 17th.—Left St O. at 11 p.m. last night, and woke up this morning at Bailleul. Saw two aeroplanes being fired at,—black smoke-balls bursting in the air. Heard that Hartlepool and Scarboro' have been shelled—just the bare fact—in last night's 'Globe.' R. will have an exciting time. We're longing to get back for to-day's 'Daily Mail.'

There has been a lot of fighting in our advance south-east of Ypres since Sunday.

The Gordons made a great bayonet charge, but lost heavily in officers and men in half an hour; we have some on the train. The French also lost heavily, and lie unburied in hundreds; but the men say the Germans were still more badly "punished." They tell us that in the base hospitals they never get a clean wound; even the emergency amputations and trephinings and operations done in the Clearing Hospitals are septic, and no one who knew the conditions would wonder at it. We shall all forget what aseptic work is by the time we get home. The anti-tetanus serum injection that every wounded man gets with his first dressing has done a great deal to keep the tetanus under, and the spreading gangrene is less fatal than it was. It is treated with incisions and injections of H 2 O 2 , or, when necessary, amputation in case of limbs. You suspect it by the grey colour of the face and by another sense, before you look at the dressing.

At B. a man at the station greeted me, and it was my old theatre orderly at No. 7 Pretoria. We were very pleased to see each other. I fitted him out with a pack of cards, post-cards, acid drops, and a nice grey pair of socks.

A wounded officer told us he was giving out the mail in his trench the night before last, and nearly every man had either a letter or a parcel. Just as he finished a shell came and killed his sergeant and corporal; if they hadn't had their heads out of the trench at that moment for the mail, neither of them would have been hit. The officer could hardly get through the story for the tears in his eyes.

December 17

December 17, 1856.--This evening was the second quartet concert. It stirred me much more than the first; the music chosen was loftier and stronger. It was the quartet in D minor of Mozart, and the quartet in C major of Beethoven, separated by a Spohr concerto. This last, vivid, and brilliant as a whole, has fire in the allegro, feeling in the adagio, and elegance in the finale, but it is the product of one fine gift in a mediocre personality. With the two others you are at once in contact with genius; you are admitted to the secrets of two great souls. Mozart stands for inward liberty, Beethoven for the power of enthusiasm. The one sets us free, the other ravishes us out of ourselves. I do not think I ever felt more distinctly than to-day, or with more intensity, the difference between these two masters. Their two personalities became transparent to me, and I seemed to read them to their depths.

The work of Mozart, penetrated as it is with mind and thought, represents a solved problem, a balance struck between aspiration and executive capacity, the sovereignty of a grace which is always mistress of itself, marvelous harmony and perfect unity. His quartet describes a day in one of those Attic souls who pre-figure on earth the serenity of Elysium. The first scene is a pleasant conversation, like that of Socrates on the banks of the Ilissus; its chief mark is an exquisite urbanity. The second scene is deeply pathetic. A cloud has risen in the blue of this Greek heaven. A storm, such as life inevitably brings with it, even in the case of great souls who love and esteem each other, has come to trouble the original harmony. What is the cause of it--a misunderstanding, apiece of neglect? Impossible to say, but it breaks out notwithstanding. The andante is a scene of reproach and complaint, but as between immortals. What loftiness in complaint, what dignity, what feeling, what noble sweetness in reproach! The voice trembles and grows graver, but remains affectionate and dignified. Then, the storm has passed, the sun has come back, the explanation has taken place, peace is re-established. The third scene paints the brightness of reconciliation. Love, in its restored confidence, and as though in sly self-testing, permits itself even gentle mocking and friendly badinage. And the finale brings us back to that tempered gaiety and happy serenity, that supreme freedom, flower of the inner life, which is the leading motive of the whole composition.

In Beethoven's on the other hand, a spirit of tragic irony paints for you the mad tumult of existence as it dances forever above the threatening abyss of the infinite. No more unity, no more satisfaction, no more serenity! We are spectators of the eternal duel between the great forces, that of the abyss which absorbs all finite things, and that of life which defends and asserts itself, expands, and enjoys. The first bars break the seals and open the caverns of the great deep. The struggle begins. It is long. Life is born, and disports itself gay and careless as the butterfly which flutters above a precipice. Then it expands the realm of its conquests, and chants its successes. It founds a kingdom, it constructs a system of nature. But the typhon rises from the yawning gulf, and the Titans beat upon the gates of the new empire. A battle of giants begins. You hear the tumultuous efforts of the powers of chaos. Life triumphs at last, but the victory is not final, and through all the intoxication of it there is a certain note of terror and bewilderment. The soul of Beethoven was a tormented soul. The passion and the awe of the infinite seemed to toss it to and fro from heaven to hell, Hence its vastness. Which is the greater, Mozart or Beethoven? Idle question! The one is more perfect, the other more colossal. The first gives you the peace of perfect art, beauty, at first sight. The second gives you sublimity, terror, pity, a beauty of second impression. The one gives that for which the other rouses a desire. Mozart has the classic purity of light and the blue ocean; Beethoven the romantic grandeur which belongs to the storms of air and sea, and while the soul of Mozart seems to dwell on the ethereal peaks of Olympus, that of Beethoven climbs shuddering the storm-beaten sides of a Sinai. Blessed be they both! Each represents a moment of the ideal life, each does us good. Our love is due to both.

* * * *

To judge is to see clearly, to care for what is just and therefore to be impartial, more exactly, to be disinterested, more exactly still, to be impersonal.

* * * *

To do easily what is difficult for others is the mark of talent. To do what is impossible for talent is the mark of genius.

* * * *

Our duty is to be useful, not according to our desires but according to our powers.

* * * *

If nationality is consent, the state is compulsion.

* * * *

Self-interest is but the survival of the animal in us. Humanity only begins for man with self-surrender.

* * * *

The man who insists upon seeing with perfect clearness before he decides, never decides. Accept life, and you must accept regret.

* * * *

Without passion man is a mere latent force and possibility, like the flint which awaits the shock of the iron before it can give forth its spark.

December 17, 1916

Well, we did not keep our first division of dragoons as long as we expected. They had passed part of their three weeks out of the trenches at Nanteuil, and on the journey, so it seemed to us as though they were hardly settled down when the order came for them to return. They were here only a little over a week.

I had hardly got accustomed to seeing the Aspirant about the house, either writing, with the cat on his knees, or reading, with Dick sitting beside him, begging to have his head patted, when one evening he came in, and said quietly: "Well, madame, we are leaving you in a day or two. The order for the relève has come, but the day and hour are not yet fixed."

But during the week he was here I got accustomed to seeing him sit before the fire every evening after dinner for a little chat before turning in. He was more ready to talk politics than war, and full of curiosity about "your Mr. Wilson," as he called him. Now and then he talked military matters, but it was technique, and the strategy of war, not the events. He is an enthusiastic soldier, and to him, of course, the cavalry is still "la plus belle arme de France." He loved to explain the use of cavalry in modern warfare, of what it was yet to do in the offensive, armed as it is today with the same weapons as the infantry, carrying carbines, having its hand-grenade divisions, its mitrailleuses, ready to go into action as cavalry, arriving like a flash au galop, over ground where the infantry must move slowly, and with difficulty, and ready at any time to dismount and fight on foot, to finish a pursuit begun as cavalry. It all sounded very logical as he described it.

He had been under bombardment, been on dangerous scouting expeditions, but never yet in a charge, which is, of course, his ambitious dream. There was an expression of real regret in his voice when he said one evening: "Hélas! I have not yet had the smallest real opportunity to distinguish myself."

I reminded him that he was still very young.

He looked at me quite indignantly as he replied: "Madame forgets that there are Aspirants no older than I whose names are already inscribed on the roll of honor."

You see an elderly lady, unused to a soldier's point of view, may be very sympathetic, and yet blunder as a comforter.

The relève passed off quietly. It was all in the routine of the soldiers' lives. They did not even know that it was picturesque. It was late last Friday night that an orderly brought the news that the order had come to move on the morning of the eleventh—three days later,—and it was not until the night of the fifteenth that we were again settled down to quiet.

The squad we had here moved in two divisions. Early Monday morning—the eleventh—the horses were being saddled, and at ten o'clock they began to move. One half of them were in full equipment. The other half acted as an escort as far as Meaux, from which place they led back the riderless horses.

The officers explained it all to me. The division starting that day for the trenches dismounted at Meaux, and took a train for the station nearest to the Forêt de Laigue. There they had their hot soup and waited for night, to march into the trenches under cover of the darkness. They told me that it was not a long march, but it was a hard one, as it was up hill, over wet and clayey ground, where it was difficult not to slip back as fast as they advanced.

On arriving at the trenches they would find the men they were to relieve ready to march out, to slip and slide down the hill to the railway, where they would have their morning coffee, and await the train for Meaux, where they were due at noon next day—barring delays.

So, on the afternoon of the twelfth, the men who had acted as escort the day before led the horses to Meaux, and just before four o'clock the whole body arrived on the hill.

This time I saw men right out of the trenches. They were a sorry sight, in spite of their high spirits. The clayey yellow mud of three weeks' exposure in the trenches was plastered on them so thick that I wondered how they managed to mount their horses. I never saw a dirtier crowd. Their faces even looked stiff.

They simply tumbled off their horses, left the escort to stable them, and made a dash for the bath-house, which is at the foot of the hill, at Joncheroy. If they can't get bathed, disinfected, and changed before dark, they have to sleep their first night in the straw with the horses, as they are unfit, in more ways than I like to tell you, to go into anyone's house until that is done, and they are not allowed.

These new arrivals had twenty-four hours' rest, and then, on Thursday, they acted as escort to the second division, and with that division went the Aspirant, and the men they relieved arrived Friday afternoon, and now we are settled down for three weeks.

Before the Aspirant left he introduced into the house the senior lieutenant, whom he had been replacing in the command on my hill, a man a little over thirty—a business man in private life and altogether charming, very cultivated, a book-lover and an art connoisseur. He is a nephew of Lêpine, so many years préfet de police at Paris, and a cousin of Senator Reynault, who was killed in his aeroplane at Toule, famous not only as a brave patriot, but as a volunteer for three reasons exempt from active service—a senator, a doctor, and past the age.

I begin to believe, on the testimony of my personal experiences, that all the officers in the cavalry are perfect gentlemen. The lieutenant settled into his place at once. He puts the coal on the fire at night. He plays with the animals. He locks up, and is as quiet as a mouse and as busy as a bee.

This is all my news, except that I am hoping to go to Paris for
Christmas, and to go by the way of Voulangis. It is all very uncertain.
My permission has not come yet.

It is over a year since we were shut in. My friends in Paris call me their permissionaire, when I go to town. In the few shops where I am known everyone laughs when I make my rare appearances and greets me with: "Ah, so they've let you out again!" as if it were a huge joke, and I assure you that it does seem like that to me.

The soldiers in the trenches get eight days' permission every four months. I don't seem to get much more,—if as much.