December 30

Worked all day on muster and pay rolls; mild south wind; storm brewing. Captain G. E. Davis drilled the battalion this afternoon in the manual of arms; muddy brigade dress parade this evening; hardly a gun to be heard on picket to-night; no letters or news; retired at 11 o'clock p. m. tired.

December 30, 1863

Wednesday. Rain all day, and at it yet, 10 p. m. Have been getting my company affairs settled up so as to be ready to turn over in case I go home. Have also been looking up so as to be ready for the tactics recitation to-morrow night.

Wednesday, December 30th.—Still at Sotteville. One of our coaches is off being repaired here, and goodness knows how long we shall be stuck.

Had a walk this morning along the line. The train puffed past me on its way to Rouen for water. I tried to make the engine-driver stop by spreading myself out in front of the engine, but he "shooed" me out of the way, and after some deliberation I seized a brass rail and leapt on to the footboard about half-way down the train; it wasn't at all difficult after all. We had Seymour Hicks' lot tacked on behind us; they are doing performances for the Hospitals and Rest-camps in Rouen to-day, but unfortunately we are too far out to go in.

December Thirtieth

I changed my name when I got free
To “Mister” like the res',
But now dat I am going Home,
I likes de ol' name bes'.

Sweet voices callin' “Uncle Rome”
Seem ringin' in my ears;
An' swearin' sorter sociable,—
Ol' Master's voice I hears.
······
He's passed Heaven's River now, an' soon
He'll call across its foam:
“You, Rome, you damn ol' nigger,
Loose your boat an' come on Home!”
Howard Weeden

 

 

December 30

December 30, 1866.--Skepticism pure and simple as the only safeguard of intellectual independence--such is the point of view of almost all our young men of talent. Absolute freedom from credulity seems to them the glory of man. My impression has always been that this excessive detachment of the individual from all received prejudices and opinions in reality does the work of tyranny. This evening, in listening to the conversation of some of our most cultivated men, I thought of the Renaissance, of the Ptolemies, of the reign of Louis XV., of all those times in which the exultant anarchy of the intellect has had despotic government for its correlative, and, on the other hand, of England, of Holland, of the United States, countries in which political liberty is bought at the price of necessary prejudices and à priori opinions.

That society may hold together at all, we must have a principle of cohesion--that is to say, a common belief, principles recognized and undisputed, a series of practical axioms and institutions which are not at the mercy of every caprice of public opinion. By treating everything as if it were an open question, we endanger everything.

Doubt is the accomplice of tyranny. "If a people will not believe it must obey," said Tocqueville. All liberty implies dependence, and has its conditions; this is what negative and quarrelsome minds are apt to forget. They think they can do away with religion; they do not know that religion is indestructible, and that the question is simply, Which will you have? Voltaire plays the game of Loyola, and vice versâ. Between these two there is no peace, nor can there be any for the society which has once thrown itself into the dilemma. The only solution lies in a free religion, a religion of free choice and free adhesion.

243. John Adams

Passy, 30 December, 1778.

We wait, and wait, and wait forever, without any news from America. We get nothing but what comes from England and to other people here, and they make it as they please. We have had nothing from Congress an immense while. Every merchant and every merchant's apprentice has letters and news when I have none. In truth, I have been so long from Boston that everybody there, almost, has forgotten me. I have expected, every moment for almost two months, my recall.

Carlisle, Cornwallis, and Eden are arrived in England, but bring no good news for the English, or we should have had it in the "Gazette." The two houses of Parliament join ministry and commissioners in threatening fire and sword. They seem to think it necessary to threaten most when they can do least. They, however, show their disposition, which they will indulge and gratify if they can. But be not dismayed. They can do no great things. Patience, perseverance, and firmness will overcome all our difficulties. Where the Comte d'Estaing is, is a great mystery. The greater, the better. The English fancy he is returning to Europe. But we believe he is gone where he will do something. The English reproach the French with gasconade, but they never gasconaded as the English do now. I suppose they will say as Burgoyne did, "Speak daggers but use none." But I believe, however, that they and he would use them if they could. Of all the wrong heads Johnstone is the most consummate. The Tories at New York and Philadelphia have filled his head with a million lies. He seems to have taken a New York newspaper for holy writ. Parliament is adjourned to the 14th January. Of this you may be assured, that England can get no allies. The new secretary at war makes a vast parade of the number of men in their service by sea and land. But it is a mere delusion. They intend to Byngify Keppel to all appearance; but killing him will not mend rotten ships nor make sailors.

I dined to-day at the Duchess d'Enville's. When I saw the companies of militia on their march to fight her husband,[198] I did not expect this. Did you?

Passy, 1 January, 1779.

I wish you a happy new year and many happy years, and all the blessings of life. Who knows but this year may be more prosperous for our country than any we have seen? For my own part, I have hopes that it will. Great blessings are in store for it, and they may come this year as well as another. You and I, however, must prepare our minds to enjoy the prosperity of others, not our own. In poverty and simplicity we shall be happy, whenever our country is so. Johnny sends duty. Mr. Williams waits. I knew of his going but this moment. I think I shall see you this year in spite of British men-of-war. If it should be otherwise ordered, however, we must submit.

Footnotes:

[198]The expedition fitted out by France in 1746, to go to America, was commanded by the Duc d'Enville. The alarm which it caused in Boston is mentioned by Hutchinson.

December 30

December 30, 1850.--The relation of thought to action filled my mind on waking, and I found myself carried toward a bizarre formula, which seems to have something of the night still clinging about it: Action is but coarsened thought ; thought become concrete, obscure, and unconscious. It seemed to me that our most trifling actions, of eating, walking, and sleeping, were the condensation of a multitude of truths and thoughts, and that the wealth of ideas involved was in direct proportion to the commonness of the action (as our dreams are the more active, the deeper our sleep). We are hemmed round with mystery, and the greatest mysteries are contained in what we see and do every day. In all spontaneity the work of creation is reproduced in analogy. When the spontaneity is unconscious, you have simple action; when it is conscious, intelligent and moral action. At bottom this is nothing more than the proposition of Hegel: ["What is rational is real; and what is real is rational;"] but it had never seemed to me more evident, more palpable. Everything which is, is thought, but not conscious and individual thought. The human intelligence is but the consciousness of being. It is what I have formulated before: Everything is a symbol of a symbol, and a symbol of what? of mind.

... I have just been looking through the complete works of Montesquieu, and cannot yet make plain to myself the impression left on me by this singular style, with its mixture of gravity and affectation, of carelessness and precision, of strength and delicacy; so full of sly intention for all its coldness, expressing at once inquisitiveness and indifference, abrupt, piecemeal, like notes thrown together haphazard, and yet deliberate. I seem to see an intelligence naturally grave and austere donning a dress of wit for convention's sake. The author desires to entertain as much as to teach, the thinker is also a bel-esprit, the jurisconsult has a touch of the coxcomb, and a perfumed breath from the temple of Venus has penetrated the tribunal of Minos. Here we have austerity, as the century understood it, in philosophy or religion. In Montesquieu, the art, if there is any, lies not in the words but in the matter. The words run freely and lightly, but the thought is self-conscious.

* * * *

Each bud flowers but once and each flower has but its minute of perfect beauty; so, in the garden of the soul each feeling has, as it were, its flowering instant, its one and only moment of expansive grace and radiant kingship. Each star passes but once in the night through the meridian over our heads and shines there but an instant; so, in the heaven of the mind each thought touches its zenith but once, and in that moment all its brilliancy and all its greatness culminate. Artist, poet, or thinker, if you want to fix and immortalize your ideas or your feelings, seize them at this precise and fleeting moment, for it is their highest point. Before it, you have but vague outlines or dim presentiments of them. After it you will have only weakened reminiscence or powerless regret; that moment is the moment of your ideal.

Spite is anger which is afraid to show itself, it is an impotent fury conscious of its impotence.

* * * *

Nothing resembles pride so much as discouragement.

* * * *

To repel one's cross is to make it heavier.

* * * *

In the conduct of life, habits count for more than maxims, because habit is a living maxim, becomes flesh and instinct. To reform one's maxims is nothing: it is but to change the title of the book. To learn new habits is everything, for it is to reach the substance of life. Life is but a tissue of habits.

* * * *

Balasore, Orissa, December 30, 1842

The ancient house in which I live here is situated, like the rest of Balasore, on a large flat plain, extending north, south, and west, as far as I can see. The vegetation is scanty, and the trees are small. But turn towards the east and the eye is arrested by a most magnificent sight. At the distance of about seven miles rises quite abruptly from the plain a splendid range of volcanic hills, about two thousand feet in height. Judging from their appearance at this distance, they must be composed of reddish lava without any grass, but here and there a stumpy bush. I never saw anything to compare with them before. In England our hills are always rounded at the top; but here there are points and peaks and edges, as if you had been trying to cut a piece of paper in zigzag lines.

About fifteen miles beyond these great hills tower a still loftier range, lifting their deep-blue summits seven thousand feet into the clouds, and forming a background for the nearer and better-defined range.

On Monday we start with a picnic party and tents, &c., to explore these hills. We shall probably be out on our expedition for three or four days.

HILL OF THE LARGE WHITE ANT.

After standing gazing at these magnificent hills, I walked towards what appeared to be the remains of some mud hut: it was about five feet high, and in irregular blunt points at the top. When I came down to it I tried to break off one of the long bits, but it was too strong, and was as hard as a wall. However, on the other side I found a smaller projection, which I broke off by kicking against it, and found it full of round passages perforating it in all directions, the smallest about the size of a quill, the largest as big as my wrist. This was the large white ants' hill. Immediately after I had broken a portion of it there came a rush of the inhabitants from all the passages to see what was the matter. They examined the parts broken, and then some of them ran back. Presently a number more came, some dragging forward the others until they got them quite to the edge, when a bigger ant took hold of each of these prisoners and bit him in the neck until he killed him. I suppose the prisoners were those who had been on guard at that spot, or else those who built that part, and so were punished for my fault. Soon, however, they turned and attacked me, for I found many of them on my clothes and experienced the smart of their bite.

I now walked forward, and the next thing I came to was a human skull. In this part of the country wood is scarce, and therefore, when any poor person dies, instead of burning his body, they wait till evening, and then throw it out of doors, and by the next morning the jackals and vultures have picked the bones quite clean, and the ants then destroy all the fibres, whilst the sun bleaches the bones. I have picked up several of these skulls in the last few days; they appear very different from the skull of an European, being smaller, and very much narrower from ear to ear in proportion to the length from the eye to the back of the head; the forehead also retreats much more. Presently I came to two bamboo-trees; between them on the ground was a pair of doves, much smaller than our English ones, and of a bright reddish purple. They were walking about, whilst out of one of the bamboo-trees poked the head of a great snake, who was quietly watching them. I frightened away the doves, as I guessed the long gentleman's intentions. It is of a kind which does not hurt men, of a dirty-brown colour, about seven feet long.

Turning towards the house again, I was struck by the very beautiful plumage of a bird; its wings were striped transversely with black and white; it was about the size of a blackbird, with yellow neck and tail, and a very long head. It alighted on the ground and opened a most beautiful round crest growing fore and aft on its head, the colour of which, like the body, was an orange yellow, but there was an edging of white and black. It was the hoopoe. The only other striking thing I saw was a great vulture, with its naked red head and its tattered-looking feathers, puffing away at the top of our house, having most likely stuffed with human flesh till he could hardly move; and when I threw a stone at him, he hopped a little way along the roof and grunted.

December 30, 1914

I would wish above all things, if some fairy gave me the chance, to be a hibernating animal this year, during which the weather has almost called an armistice along our front, locked from the Swiss border to the sea.

There is but one consolation, and that is that, costly and terrible as have been the first four months of the war, three of the great aims of the German strategy have been buried too deep ever to be dug up— their hope of a short war is gone; they did not get to Paris, and now know that they never will; they did not, and never can get to Calais, and, in spite of their remarkable feats, and their mighty strength, in the face of those three facts even their arrogance cannot write "victory" against their arms.

I have to confess that I am almost as cold as the boys out there in the rain and the mud. I have managed to get a little coal—or what is called coal this year. It is really charbon de forge—a lot of damp, black dust with a few big lumps in it, which burns with a heavy, smelly, yellow smoke. In normal times one would never dignify it by the name of coal, but today we are thankful to get it, and pay for it as if it were gold. It will only burn in the kitchen stove, and every time we put any on the fire, my house, seen from the garden, appears like some sort of a factory. Please, therefore, imagine me living in the kitchen. You know the size of a compact French kitchen. It is rather close quarters for a lady of large ideas.

The temperature of the rest of the house is down almost to zero. Luckily it is not a cold winter, but it is very damp, as it rains continually. I have an armchair there, a footstool, and use the kitchen table as a desk; and even then, to keep fairly warm, I almost sit on top of the stove, and I do now and then put my feet in the oven.

I assure you that going to bed is a ceremony. Amélie comes and puts two hot bricks in the foot of the bed. I undress in the kitchen, put on felt shoes, and a big wrap, and, with my hotwater bottle in one hand and a book in the other, I make a dash for the arctic regions, and Amélie tidies up the kitchen, locks the doors behind her, and takes the keys away with her.

I am cosy and comfy in bed, and I stay there until Amélie has built the fire and got the house in order in the morning.

My getting up beats the lever de Marie Antoinette in some of its details, though she was accustomed to it, and probably minded less than I do. I am not really complaining, you know. But you want to know about my life—so from that you can imagine it. I shall get acclimated, of course. I know that.

I was in Paris for Christmas—not because I wanted to go, but because the few friends I have left there felt that I needed a change, and clinched the matter by thinking that they needed me. Besides I wanted to get packages to the English boys who were here in September, and it was easier to do it from Paris than from here.

While I was waiting for the train at Esbly I had a conversation with a woman who chanced to sit beside me on a bench on the quai, which seemed to me significant.

Today everyone talks to everyone. All the barriers seem to be down. We were both reading the morning paper, and so, naturally, got to talking. I happened to have an English paper, in which there was a brief account of the wonderful dash made by the Royal Scots at Petit Bois and the Gordon Highlanders at Maeselsyeed Spur, under cover of the French and British artillery, early in the month, and I translated it for her. It is a moral duty to let the French people get a glimpse of the wonderful fighting quality of the boys under the Union Jack.

In the course of the conversation she said, what was self-evident, "You are not French?" I told her that I was an American. Then she asked me if I had any children, and received a negative reply.

She sighed, and volunteered that she was a widow with an only son who was "out there," and added: "We are all of us French women of a certain class so stupid when we are young. I adore children. But I thought I could only afford to have one, as I wanted to do so much for him. Now if I lose that one, what have I to live for? I am not the sort of woman who can marry again. My boy is a brave boy. If he dies he will die like a brave man, and not begrudge the life he gives for his country. I am a French mother and must offer him as becomes his mother. But it was silly of me to have but this one. I know, now that it is too late, that I could have done as well, and it may be better, with several, for I have seen the possibilities demonstrated among my friends who have three or four."

Of course I did not say that the more she had, the more she might have had to lose, because I thought that if, in the face of a disaster like this, French women were thinking such thoughts—and if one does, hundreds may—it might be significant.

I had a proof of this while in Paris. I went to a house where I have been a visitor for years to get some news of a friend who had an apartment there. I opened the door to the concierge's loge to put my question. I stopped short. In the window, at the back of the half dark room, sat the concierge, whom I had known for nearly twenty years, a brave, intelligent, fragile woman. She was sitting there in her black frock, gently rocking herself backward and forward in her chair. I did not need to put a question. One knows in these days what the unaccustomed black dress means, and I knew that the one son I had seen grow from childhood, for whom she and the father had sacrificed everything that he might be educated, for whom they had pinched and saved—was gone.

I said the few words one can say—I could not have told five minutes later what they were—and her only reply was like the speech of the woman of another class that I had met at Esbly.

"I had but the one. That was my folly. Now I have nothing—and I have a long time to live alone."

It would have been easy to weep with her, but they don't weep. I have never seen fewer tears in a great calamity. I have read in newspapers sent me from the States tales of women in hysterics, of women fainting as they bade their men goodbye. I have never seen any of it. Something must be wrong with my vision, or my lines must have fallen in brave places. I can only speak of what I see and hear, and tears and hysterics do not come under my observation.

I did not do anything interesting in Paris. It was cold and grey and sad. I got my packages off to the front. They went through quickly, especially those sent by the English branch post-office, near the Etoile, and when I got home, I found the letters of thanks from the boys awaiting me. Among them was one from the little corporal who had pulled down my flags in September, who wrote in the name of the C company, Yorkshire Light Infantry, and at the end of the letter he said: "I am sorry to tell you that Captain Simpson is dead. He was killed leading his company in a charge, and all his men grieved for him."

That gave me a deep pang. I remembered his stern, bronzed, but kindly face, which lighted up so with a smile, as he sat with me at tea on that memorable Wednesday afternoon, and of all that he did so simply to relieve the strain on our nerves that trying day. I know nothing about him—who he was—what he had for family—he was just a brave, kindly, human being, who had met me for a few hours, passed on—and passed out. He is only one of thousands, but he is the one whose sympathetic voice I had heard and who, in all the hurry and fatigue of those hard days, had had time to stop and console us here, and whom I had hoped to see again; and I grieved with his men for him.

I could not write last week. I had no heart to send the usual greetings of the season. Words still mean something to me, and when I sat down, from force of habit, to write the letters I have been accustomed to send at this season, I simply could not. It seemed to me too absurd to even celebrate the anniversary of the days when the angel hosts sang in the skies their "Peace on earth, good will to men" to herald the birth of Him who added to religion the command, "Love one another," and man, only forty miles away, occupied in wholesale slaughter. We have a hard time juggling to make our pretensions and our acts fit.

If this cold and lack of coal continues I am not likely to see much or write much until the spring campaign opens. Here we still hear the guns whenever Rheims or Soissons are bombarded, but no one ever, for a minute, dreams that they will ever come nearer.

Though I could not send you any greetings last week, I can say, with all my heart, may 1915 bring us all peace and contentment!