December 28

Mounted brigade guard at 8.30 o'clock a. m. as officer of the guard; northeast chilly wind; brigade dress parade this evening; Tenth Vermont worked on breastworks this forenoon; finished my cabin to-day; wrote brother Charles this evening; received a letter and diary for 1865 from Cousin Pert; weather very rough to-night.

December 28, 1863

Monday. I had another talk with Colonel B. to-day and as he gave me several messages to take to his folks in case I do go, I am wild with hopes that he sees a way for me to go. I didn't suppose I could be such a fool. If I fail, I think less of what the disappointment will be for me than for "the old folks at home." But I shall keep right on hoping until my application comes back with that awful word "Disapproved" written across it.

December 28, 1862

We have had a rain and the hard ground made the softest kind of mud. It sticks to our feet and clothes, and everybody is cross and crabbed. The sun came out, however, and our spirits began to rise as the mud dried up. There was preaching and prayer meeting both to-day.

Our chaplain's courage is something wonderful and many of us attend the services out of respect to him when we had much rather lie and rest our aching bones. The captain of the Arago sent word he will be along to-night on his way to New York and would stop for letters. He will find some, judging from the writing that has been going on.

December Twenty-Eighth

In the future some historian shall come forth both strong and wise,
With a love of the Republic, and the truth, before his eyes.
He will show the subtle causes of the war between the States,
He will go back in his studies far beyond our modern dates,
He will trace our hostile ideas as the miner does the lodes,
He will show the different habits born of different social codes,
He will show the Union riven, and the picture will deplore,
He will show it re-united and made stronger than before.
James Barron Hope

 

 

283. John Adams

Paris, 28 December, 1782.

I dare say there is not a lady in America treated with a more curious dish of politics than is contained in the inclosed papers. You may show them to discreet friends, but by no means let them go out of your hands or be copied. Preserve them in safety against accidents.

I am afraid we shall have another campaign; but do not despair, however, of a peace this winter. America has nothing to do but to be temperate, patient, and faithful to her ally. This is as clearly her duty as it is her interest. She could not trust England if her honor was not engaged to France, which it is most certainly; and when this is said, all is said. Whether there should be peace or war, I shall come home in the summer. As soon as I shall receive from Congress their acceptance of the resignation of all my employments, which I have transmitted many ways, I shall embark, and you may depend upon a good domestic husband for the remainder of my life, if it is the will of Heaven that I should once more meet you. My promises are not lightly made with anybody. I have never broken one made to you, and I will not begin at this time of life.

My children, I hope, will once at length discover that they have a father who is not unmindful of their welfare. They have had too much reason to think themselves forgotten, although I know that an anxiety for their happiness has corroded me every day of my life.

With a tenderness which words cannot express, I am theirs and yours forever.

Monday, December 28th.—This trip to Rouen will give us a longer journey up, and therefore some more time. And we shall get another bath.

The following story is a typical example of what the infantry often have to endure. It was told to me by the Sergeant. Three men of the S.W. Borderers and five of the Welsh Regt. on advancing to occupy a trench found themselves cut off, with a 2nd Lieut. He advanced alone to reconnoitre and was probably shot, they said—they never saw him again. So the Sergt. of the W.R. (aged 22!) took command and led them for safety, still under fire, to a ditch with one foot of water in it. This was on the Monday night before Xmas. They stayed in it all Tuesday and Tuesday night, when it was snowing. Before daylight he "skirmished" them to a trench he knew of two hundred yards in advance, where he had seen one of his regiment the day before. This was in water above their knees. He showed me the mud-line on his trousers.

This turned out to be one of the German communication trenches. They stayed in that all Wednesday, Wednesday night, and Thursday, living on some biscuit one man had, some bits of chocolate, and drinking the dirty trench water, in which was a dead German dressed as a Gurkha. "We was prayin' all the time," said one of them. Then one ventured out to get water and was shot. On Xmas Eve night it froze hard, and they were so weak and starved and numb that the Sergt. decided that they couldn't stick it any longer, so they cast their equipment and made a dash for a camp fire they could see.

One of them is an old grey-haired Reservist with seven children. By good luck they struck a road which led them to some Coldstreams' billet, a house. There they were fed with tea, bread, bacon, and jam, and stayed an hour, but didn't get dried.

Then these C.G.'s had to go into action, and the Sergt. took them on to some Grenadier Guards' billet. By this time he and one other had to be carried by the others. There they stayed the night (Xmas Day) and saw the M.O.'s of a Field Ambulance, who sent them all into hospital at Béthune, whence we took them on this train to Rouen, all severely frost-bitten, weak, and rheumatic.

An infant boy of nineteen was telling me how he killed a German of 6 ft. 3 in. "Bill," I says, "there's one o' them big devils (only I called him worse than that," he said politely to me), "and we all three emptied our rifles into him, and he never moved again."

p.m.—At Sotteville, off Rouen. We got unloaded at 1 p.m. and then made a dash for the best baths in France.

December 28

December 28, 1880.--There are two modes of classing the people we know: the first is utilitarian--it starts from ourselves, divides our friends from our enemies, and distinguishes those who are antipathetic to us, those who are indifferent, those who can serve or harm us; the second is disinterested--it classes men according to their intrinsic value, their own qualities and defects, apart from the feelings which they have for us, or we for them.

My tendency is to the second kind of classification. I appreciate men less by the special affection which they show to me than by their personal excellence, and I cannot confuse gratitude with esteem. It is a happy thing for us when the two feelings can be combined; and nothing is more painful than to owe gratitude where yet we can feel neither respect nor confidence.

I am not very willing to believe in the permanence of accidental states. The generosity of a miser, the good nature of an egotist, the gentleness of a passionate temperament, the tenderness of a barren nature, the piety of a dull heart, the humility of an excitable self-love, interest me as phenomena--nay, even touch me if I am the object of them, but they inspire me with very little confidence. I foresee the end of them too clearly. Every exception tends to disappear and to return to the rule. All privilege is temporary, and besides, I am less flattered than anxious when I find myself the object of a privilege.

A man's primitive character may be covered over by alluvial deposits of culture and acquisition--none the less is it sure to come to the surface when years have worn away all that is accessory and adventitious. I admit indeed the possibility of great moral crises which sometimes revolutionize the soul, but I dare not reckon on them. It is a possibility--not a probability. In choosing one's friends we must choose those whose qualities are inborn, and their virtues virtues of temperament. To lay the foundations of friendship on borrowed or added virtues is to build on an artificial soil; we run too many risks by it.

Exceptions are snares, and we ought above all to distrust them when they charm our vanity. To catch and fix a fickle heart is a task which tempts all women; and a man finds something intoxicating in the tears of tenderness and joy which he alone has had the power to draw from a proud woman. But attractions of this kind are deceptive. Affinity of nature founded on worship of the same ideal, and perfect in proportion to perfectness of soul, is the only affinity which is worth anything. True love is that which ennobles the personality, fortifies the heart, and sanctifies the existence. And the being we love must not be mysterious and sphinx-like, but clear and limpid as a diamond; so that admiration and attachment may grow with knowledge.

* * * *

Jealousy is a terrible thing. It resembles love, only it is precisely love's contrary. Instead of wishing for the welfare of the object loved, it desires the dependence of that object upon itself, and its own triumph. Love is the forgetfulness of self; jealousy is the most passionate form of egotism, the glorification of a despotic, exacting, and vain ego, which can neither forget nor subordinate itself. The contrast is perfect.

* * * *

Austerity in women is sometimes the accompaniment of a rare power of loving. And when it is so their attachment is strong as death; their fidelity as resisting as the diamond; they are hungry for devotion and athirst for sacrifice. Their love is a piety, their tenderness a religion, and they triple the energy of love by giving to it the sanctity of duty.

* * * *

To the spectator over fifty, the world certainly presents a good deal that is new, but a great deal more which is only the old furbished up--mere plagiarism and modification, rather than amelioration. Almost everything is a copy of a copy, a reflection of a reflection, and the perfect being is as rare now as he ever was. Let us not complain of it; it is the reason why the world lasts. Humanity improves but slowly; that is why history goes on.

Is not progress the goad of Siva? It excites the torch to burn itself away; it hastens the approach of death. Societies which change rapidly only reach their final catastrophe the sooner. Children who are too precocious never reach maturity. Progress should be the aroma of life, not its substance.

* * * *

Man is a passion which brings a will into play, which works an intelligence--and thus the organs which seem to be in the service of intelligence, are in reality only the agents of passion. For all the commoner sorts of being, determinism is true: inward liberty exists only as an exception and as the result of self-conquest. And even he who has tasted liberty is only free intermittently and by moments. True liberty, then, is not a continuous state; it is not an indefeasible and invariable quality. We are free only so far as we are not dupes of ourselves, our pretexts, our instincts, our temperament. We are freed by energy and the critical spirit--that is to say, by detachment of soul, by self-government. So that we are enslaved, but susceptible of freedom; we are bound, but capable of shaking off our bonds. The soul is caged, but it has power to flutter within its cage.

* * * *

Material results are but the tardy sign of invisible activities. The bullet has started long before the noise of the report has reached us. The decisive events of the world take place in the intellect.

* * * *

Sorrow is the most tremendous of all realities in the sensible world, but the transfiguration of sorrow after the manner of Christ is a more beautiful solution of the problem than the extirpation of sorrow, after the method of Çakyamouni.

* * * *

Life should be a giving birth to the soul, the development of a higher mode of reality. The animal must be humanized; flesh must be made spirit; physiological activity must be transmuted into intellect and conscience, into reason, justice, and generosity, as the torch is transmuted into life and warmth. The blind, greedy, selfish nature of man must put on beauty and nobleness. This heavenly alchemy is what justifies our presence on the earth: it is our mission and our glory.

* * * *

To renounce happiness and think only of duty, to put conscience in the place of feeling--this voluntary martyrdom has its nobility. The natural man in us flinches, but the better self submits. To hope for justice in the world is a sign of sickly sensibility; we must be able to do without it. True manliness consists in such independence. Let the world think what it will of us, it is its own affair. If it will not give us the place which is lawfully ours until after our death, or perhaps not at all, it is but acting within its right. It is our business to behave as though our country were grateful, as though the world were equitable, as though opinion were clear-sighted, as though life were just, as though men were good.

* * * *

Death itself may become matter of consent, and therefore a moral act. The animal expires; man surrenders his soul to the author of the soul.

[With the year 1881, beginning with the month of January, we enter upon the last period of Amiel's illness. Although he continued to attend to his professional duties, and never spoke of his forebodings, he felt himself mortally ill, as we shall see by the following extracts from the Journal. Amiel wrote up to the end, doing little else, however, toward the last than record the progress of his disease, and the proofs of interest and kindliness which he received. After weeks of suffering and pain a state of extreme weakness gradually gained upon him. His last lines are dated the 29th of April; it was on the 11th of May that he succumbed, without a struggle, to the complicated disease from which he suffered.--S.]