February 4

A fine morning, Captain Samuel Darrah has been down; have sent to camp for the mail and more rations; quite a comfortable day. All's been quiet through the day, but to-night there's been some firing both sides of my post along the line; mail has come but no letter for me. The countersign is "Vera Cruz." It's a beautiful night.

February Fourth

What a beneficent provision of the Creator it was, to roll our little planet but one side at a time next the sun, that while one half of the world fretted and stormed and sinned, the other half might repent and sleep.

William Alexander Carruthers

 

 

February 4

February 4, 1871.--Perpetual effort is the characteristic of modern morality. A painful process has taken the place of the old harmony, the old equilibrium, the old joy and fullness of being. We are all so many fauns, satyrs, or Silenuses, aspiring to become angels; so many deformities laboring for our own embellishment; so many clumsy chrysalises each working painfully toward the development of the butterfly within him. Our ideal is no longer a serene beauty of soul; it is the agony of Laocoon struggling with the hydra of evil. The lot is cast irrevocably. There are no more happy whole-natured men among us, nothing but so many candidates for heaven, galley-slaves on earth.

"Nous ramons notre vie en attendant le port."

Molière said that reasoning banished reason. It is possible also that the progress toward perfection we are so proud of is only a pretentious imperfection. Duty seems now to be more negative than positive; it means lessening evil rather than actual good; it is a generous discontent, but not happiness; it is an incessant pursuit of an unattainable goal, a noble madness, but not reason; it is homesickness for the impossible--pathetic and pitiful, but still not wisdom.

The being which has attained harmony, and every being may attain it, has found its place in the order of the universe, and represents the divine thought at least as clearly as a flower or a solar system. Harmony seeks nothing outside itself. It is what it ought to be; it is the expression of right, order, law, and truth; it is greater than time, and represents eternity.

Thursday, February 4th.—For once we unloaded at B. and went to bed instead of taking them on all night to Rouen.

Moved out of B. at 5 a.m., breakfast at St O., where we nearly got left behind strolling on the line during a wait. We are going to Merville in the mining district where L. is.

p.m.—We have just taken on about seventy Indians, mostly sick, some badly wounded. They are much cleaner than they used to be, in clothes, but not, alas! in habits. Aeroplanes are chasing a Taube overhead, but it is not being shelled. Guns are making a good noise all round. We are waiting for a convoy of British now.

It is a lovely afternoon.

The guns were shaking the train just now; one big bang made us all pop our heads out of the window to look for the bomb, but it wasn't a bomb. A rosy-faced white-haired Colonel here just came up to me and said, "You've brought us more firing this afternoon than we've heard for a long time."

We are filling up with British wounded now on the other half of the train. It is getting late, and we shan't unload to-night.

Later.—We were hours loading up because all the motor drivers are down with flu, and there were only two available. The rest are all busy bringing wounded in to the Clearing Hospital.

The spell of having the train full of slight medical cases and bad feet seems to be over, and wounded are coming on again.

Three of my sitting-up Indians have temperatures of 104, so you can imagine what the lying-downs are like. They are very anxious cases to look after, partly because they are another race and partly because they can't explain their wants, and they seem to want to be let die quietly in a corner rather than fall in with your notions of their comfort.

At Bailleul on our last journey we took on a heavenly white puppy just old enough to lap, quite wee and white and fat. He cries when he wants to be nursed, and barks in a lovely falsetto when he wants to play, and waddles after our feet when we take him for a walk, but he likes being carried best.

Some Tommies on a truck at Railhead brought him up for us; they adore his little mother and two brothers.

February 4

February 4, 1874.--I am still reading the "Origines du Christianisme" by Ernest Havet. [Footnote: Ernest Havet, born 1813, a distinguished French scholar and professor. He became professor of Latin oratory at the Collège de France in 1855, and a member of the Institute in January, 1880. His admirable edition of the "Pensées de Pascal" is well-known. "Le Christianisme et ses Origines," an important book, in four volumes, was developed from a series of articles in the Revue des deux Mondes, and the Revue Contemporaine.] I like the book and I dislike it. I like it for its independence and courage; I dislike it for the insufficiency of its fundamental ideas, and the imperfection of its categories.

The author, for instance, has no clear idea of religion; and his philosophy of history is superficial. He is a Jacobin. "The Republic and Free Thought"--he cannot get beyond that. This curt and narrow school of opinion is the refuge of men of independent mind, who have been scandalized by the colossal fraud of ultramontanism; but it leads rather to cursing history than to understanding it. It is the criticism of the eighteenth century, of which the general result is purely negative. But Voltairianism is only the half of the philosophic mind. Hegel frees thought in a very different way.

Havet, too, makes another mistake. He regards Christianity as synonymous with Roman Catholicism and with the church. I know very well that the Roman Church does the same, and that with her the assimilation is a matter of sound tactics; but scientifically it is inexact. We ought not even to identify Christianity with the gospel, nor the gospel with religion in general. It is the business of critical precision to clear away these perpetual confusions in which Christian practice and Christian preaching abound. To disentangle ideas, to distinguish and limit them, to fit them into their true place and order, is the first duty of science whenever it lays hands upon such chaotic and complex things as manners, idioms, or beliefs. Entanglement is the condition of life; order and clearness are the signs of serious and successful thought.

Formerly it was the ideas of nature which were a tissue of errors and incoherent fancies; now it is the turn of moral and psychological ideas. The best issue from the present Babel would be the formation or the sketching out of a truly scientific science of man.

February 4

February 4, 1881.--It is a strange sensation that of laying one's self down to rest with the thought that perhaps one will never see the morrow. Yesterday I felt it strongly, and yet here I am. Humility is made easy by the sense of excessive frailty, but it cuts away all ambition.

"Quittez le long espoir et les vastes pensées."

A long piece of work seems absurd--one lives but from day to day.

When a man can no longer look forward in imagination to five years, a year, a month, of free activity--when he is reduced to counting the hours, and to seeing in the coming night the threat of an unknown fate--it is plain that he must give up art, science, and politics, and that he must be content to hold converse with himself, the one possibility which is his till the end. Inward soliloquy is the only resource of the condemned man whose execution is delayed. He withdraws upon the fastnesses of conscience. His spiritual force no longer radiates outwardly; it is consumed in self-study. Action is cut off--only contemplation remains. He still writes to those who have claims upon him, but he bids farewell to the public, and retreats into himself. Like the hare, he comes back to die in his form, and this form is his consciousness, his intellect--the journal, too, which has been the companion of his inner life. As long as he can hold a pen, as long as he has a moment of solitude, this echo of himself still claims his meditation, still represents to him his converse with his God.

In all this, however, there is nothing akin to self-examination: it is not an act of contrition, or a cry for help. It is simply an Amen of submission--"My child, give me thy heart!"

Renunciation and acquiescence are less difficult to me than to others, for I desire nothing. I could only wish not to suffer, but Jesus on Gethesemane allowed himself to make the same prayer; let us add to it the words that he did: "Nevertheless, not my will, but thine, be done,"--and wait.

... For many years past the immanent God has been more real to me than the transcendent God, and the religion of Jacob has been more alien to me than that of Kant, or even Spinoza. The whole Semitic dramaturgy has come to seem to me a work of the imagination. The apostolic documents have changed in value and meaning to my eyes. Belief and truth have become distinct to me with a growing distinctness. Religious psychology has become a simple phenomenon, and has lost its fixed and absolute value. The apologetics of Pascal, of Leibnitz, of Secrétan, are to me no more convincing than those of the Middle Ages, for they presuppose what is really in question--a revealed doctrine, a definite and unchangeable Christianity. It seems to me that what remains to me from all my studies is a new phenomenology of mind, an intuition of universal metamorphosis. All particular convictions, all definite principles, all clear-cut formulas and fixed ideas, are but prejudices, useful in practice, but still narrownesses of the mind. The absolute in detail is absurd and contradictory. All political, religious, aesthetic, or literary parties are protuberances, misgrowths of thought. Every special belief represents a stiffening and thickening of thought; a stiffening, however, which is necessary in its time and place. Our monad, in its thinking capacity, overleaps the boundaries of time and space and of its own historical surroundings; but in its individual capacity, and for purposes of action, it adapts itself to current illusions, and puts before itself a definite end. It is lawful to be man, but it is needful also to be a man, to be an individual. Our rôle is thus a double one. Only, the philosopher is specially authorized to develop the first rôle, which the vast majority of humankind neglects.