January 21

January 21, 1864

Thursday. The day has been warm and pleasant, we are past Cape Hatteras and with good luck will be in New York by to-morrow at this time. Henry is coming round all right but he has been dreadfully sick and shows it.

Thursday, January 21st.—We were not a whole day at Sotteville for once: moved out early this morning and are still travelling, 9 p.m., between Abbeville and Boulogne. It has been a specially slow journey, and, alas! we didn't go by Amiens: the only time we might have, by daylight. Beauvais has a fine Cathedral from the outside. I believe we are to go straight on from Boulogne, so we may not get our six days' mail, alas!

It was quite frosty this morning, but pleasant and has remained so all day; had regimental monthly inspection this forenoon. Company B got the credit of having the best street in the brigade. I am proud of my old Company; it always tries to please me. Nate Harrington and Orry Blanchard of the First Vermont Brigade have been to see me to-day. Lieut. Ezra Stetson has not come to-night, his time being up last Tuesday; no letter from home yet; beautiful moonlight night, but quite cool.

January 21

January 21, 1856.--Yesterday seems to me as far off as though it were last year. My memory holds nothing more of the past than its general plan, just as my eye perceives nothing more in the starry heaven. It is no more possible for me to recover one of my days from the depths of memory than if it were a glass of water poured into a lake; it is not so much a lost thing as a thing melted and fused; the individual has returned into the whole. The divisions of time are categories which have no power to mold my life, and leave no more lasting impression than lines traced by a stick in water. My life, my individuality, are fluid, there is nothing for it but to resign one's self.

January 21

January 21, 1879.--At first religion holds the place of science and philosophy; afterward she has to learn to confine herself to her own domain--which is in the inmost depths of conscience, in the secret recesses of the soul, where life communes with the Divine will and the universal order. Piety is the daily renewing of the ideal, the steadying of our inner being, agitated, troubled, and embittered by the common accidents of existence. Prayer is the spiritual balm, the precious cordial which restores to us peace and courage. It reminds us of pardon and of duty. It says to us, "Thou art loved--love; thou hast received--give; thou must die--labor while thou canst; overcome anger by kindness; overcome evil with good. What does the blindness of opinion matter, or misunderstanding, or ingratitude? Thou art neither bound to follow the common example nor to succeed. Fais ce que dois, advienne que pourra. Thou hast a witness in thy conscience; and thy conscience is God speaking to thee!"

January 21

January 21, 1866.--This evening after supper I did not know whither to betake my solitary self. I was hungry for conversation, society, exchange of ideas. It occurred to me to go and see our friends, the----s; they were at supper. Afterward we went into the salon : mother and daughter sat down to the piano and sang a duet by Boïeldieu. The ivory keys of the old grand piano, which the mother had played on before her marriage, and which has followed and translated into music the varying fortunes of the family, were a little loose and jingling; but the poetry of the past sang in this faithful old servant, which had been a friend in trouble, a companion in vigils, and the echo of a lifetime of duty, affection, piety and virtue. I was more moved than I can say. It was like a scene of Dickens, and I felt a rush of sympathy, untouched either by egotism or by melancholy.

Twenty-five years! It seems to me a dream as far as I am concerned, and I can scarcely believe my eyes, or this inanimate witness to so many lustres passed away. How strange a thing to have lived, and to feel myself so far from a past which yet is so present to me! One does not know whether one is sleeping or waking. Time is but the space between our memories; as soon as we cease to perceive this space, time has disappeared. The whole life of an old man may appear to him no longer than an hour, or less still; and as soon as time is but a moment to us, we have entered upon eternity. Life is but the dream of a shadow; I felt it anew this evening with strange intensity.

January Twenty-First

The following lines are remarkable in that they represent a boy's estimate of Stonewall Jackson before the war between the States. They were written by William Fitzhugh Lee when a cadet under Jackson at the Virginia Military Institute:—

Like some rough brute that roams the forest wild,
So rude, uncouth, so purely Nature's child,
Is “Hickory,” and yet methinks I see
The stamp of genius on his brow; and he,
With his mild glance and keen, but quiet eye,
Can draw forth from the secret recess where they lie
Those thoughts and feelings of the human heart
Most virtuous, good, and free from guilty art.
There's something in his very mode of life
So accurate, steady, void of care and strife,
That fills my heart with love for him who bears
His honors meekly and who wears
The laurels of a hero! This is a fact,
So here's a heart and hand for “Jack!”

 

Stonewall Jackson born, 1824

 

 

La Madeleine Jan. 21, 1881

My letter was hardly posted when yours arrived. Besides what you mention, Arthur Lyttelton would find an important paper in the Pall Mall  of the last week of the year, on the early Warwickshire life of George Eliot, and a letter of hers on the original of Dinah. I fancy it would be worth while to look up some of her Westminster reviews between 1850 and 1854; and the last word of her philosophy is more outspoken in Lewes's scientific writings than in her own.

It is hard to say why I rate "Middlemarch" so high. There was a touch of failure in the two preceding books, in "Felix Holt," and even in "Romola." And it was "Middlemarch" that revealed to me not only her grand serenity, but her superiority to some of the greatest writers. My life is spent in endless striving to make out the inner point of view, the raison d'être, the secret of fascination for powerful minds, of systems of religion and philosophy, and of politics, the offspring of the others, and one finds that the deepest historians know how to display their origin and their defects, but do not know how to think or to feel as men do who live in the grasp of the various systems. And if they sometimes do, it is from a sort of sympathy with the one or the other, which creates partiality and exclusiveness and antipathies. Poets are no better. Hugo, who tries so hard to do justice to the Bishop and the Conventionnel, to the nuns and the Jacobinical priest, fails from want of contact with the royalist nobleman and the revolutionary triumvirate, as Shakespeare fails ignobly with the Roman Plebs. George Eliot seemed to me capable not only of reading the diverse hearts of men, but of creeping into their skin, watching the world through their eyes, feeling their latent background of conviction, discerning theory and habit, influences of thought and knowledge, of life and of descent, and having obtained this experience, recovering her independence, stripping off the borrowed shell, and exposing scientifically and indifferently the soul of a Vestal, a Crusader, an Anabaptist, an Inquisitor, a Dervish, a Nihilist, or a Cavalier without attraction, preference, or caricature. And each of them should say that she displayed him in his strength, that she gave rational form to motives he had imperfectly analysed, that she laid bare features in his character he had never realised.

I heard the close of Friday's debate, and was much distressed at the hopeless badness of C——'s speech. But the situation gained by the result, and still more by what passed on Monday.

The topic of the reason for delay is, as I hinted at my last moment, a very delicate one, and not to be discussed lightly. Suppose there is bloodshed in Ireland before the Protection Bill passes; then a reproach would lie at their door for thinking more of eventualities that regard themselves than of the immediate danger to life, and the heavy strain on families of small means dependent on their own or other people's rents. And there will be this argument to meet, that less severity in October or November would go farther than greater severity in March.

*****

The journey across France was really freezing. So I remained at Paris for a few hours' rest and no visits. Bisaccia came south in the same train, and Goldsmid, who gives me a dinner to-night. I see by the papers that it is still too cold for your pony-carriage.

My whole social philosophy consists in the desire not merely to gratify by civilities, but to bring men into contact with Mr. Gladstone—be it by breakfast, dinner, or small and early, or even by a formal talking to like ——'s—and your best art, together with the due discharge of pasteboard, will be to bring him to bear, directly, on the seventy or eighty men who want it, and are fit for it, and don't neglect Lady Spencer's parties, or Lady Granville's less multifarious evenings. It is the confrontation, not the ceremony, that matters. False believer,[67 ] because impostor, not to say hypocrite. I mean that, beyond his charitableness and a written eloquence that always fills me with an unspeakable admiration and delight, I do not believe in your artful philosopher; that the differences revealed to us by his writings, his conversation at Hawarden, the letter you treated so generously, cut down to the bone, and leave me no space or patience for anything better than a gracious courtesy. Therefore, in abetting your studies in Ruskinese, I am no better than a humbug, which is not a word to be written in books that will live and will irritate as long as the language.

[67 ] This refers to the inscription Lord Acton inserted in Ruskin's "Arrows of the Chace"—"From a False Believer."

January 21, 1915

I have been trying to feel in a humor to write all this month, but what with the changeable weather, a visit to Paris, and the depression of the terrible battle at Soissons,—so near to us—I have not had the courage. All the same, I frankly confess that it has not been as bad as I expected. I begin to think things are never as bad as one expects.

Do you know that it is not until now that I have had a passport from my own country? I have never needed one. No one here has ever asked me for one, and it was only when I was in Paris a week ago that an American friend was so aghast at the idea that I had, in case of accident, no real American protection, that I went to the Embassy, for the first time in my life, and asked for one, and seriously took the oath of allegiance. I took it so very seriously that it was impressed on me how careless we, who live much abroad, get about such things.

I know that many years ago, when I was first leaving the States, it was suggested that such a document might be useful as an identification, and I made out my demand, and it was sent after me to Rome. I must have taken the oath at that time, but it was in days of peace, and it made no impression on me. But this time I got a great big choke in my throat, and looked up at the Stars and Stripes over the desk, and felt more American than I ever felt in my life. It cost me two dollars, and I felt the emotion was well worth the money, even at a high rate of exchange.

I did practically nothing else in Paris, except to go to one or two of the hospitals where I had friends at work.

Paris is practically normal. A great many of the American colony who fled in September to Bordeaux and to London have returned, and the streets are more lively, and the city has settled down to live through the war with outward calm if no gaiety. I would not have believed it would be possible, in less than five months, and with things going none too well at the front, that the city could have achieved this attitude.

When I got back, I found that, at least, our ambulance was open.

It is only a small hospital, and very poor. It is set up in the salle de récréation of the commune, which is beside the church and opposite the mairie, backed up against the wall of the park of the Château de Quincy. It is really a branch of the military hospital at Meaux, and it is under the patronage of the occupant of the Château de Quincy, who supplies such absolute necessities as cannot be provided from the government allowance of two francs a day per bed. There are twenty- eight beds.

Most of the beds and bedding were contributed by the people in the commune. The town crier went about, beating his drum, and making his demand at the crossroads, and everyone who could spare a bed or a mattress or a blanket carried his contribution to the salle. The wife of the mayor is the directress, the doctor from Crécy-en-Brie cares for the soldiers, with the assistance of Soeur Jules and Soeur Marie, who had charge of the town dispensary, and four girls of the Red Cross Society living in the commune.

The installation is pathetically simple, but the room is large and comfortable, with four rows of beds, and extra ones on the stage, and it is heated by a big stove. Naturally it gets more sick and slightly wounded than serious cases, but the boys seem very happy, and they are affectionately cared for. There is a big court for the convalescents, and in the spring they will have the run of the park.

About the twelfth we had a couple of days of the worst cannonading since October. It was very trying. I stood hours on the lawn listening, but it was not for several days that we knew there had been a terrible battle at Soissons, just forty miles north of us.

There is a great difference of opinion as to how far we can hear the big guns, but an officer on the train the other day assured me that they could be heard, the wind being right, about one hundred kilometres—that is to say, eighty miles—so you can judge what it was like here, on the top of the hill, half that distance away by road, and considerably less in a direct line.

Our official communiqué, as usual, gave us no details, but one of the boys in our town was wounded, and is in a near-by ambulance, where he has been seen by his mother; she brings back word that it was, as he called it, "a bloody slaughter in a hand-to-hand fight." But of course, nothing so far has been comparable to the British stand at Ypres. The little that leaks slowly out regarding that simply makes one's heart ache with the pain of it, only to rebound with the glory.

Human nature is a wonderful thing, and the locking of the gate to Calais, by the English, will, I imagine, be, to the end of time, one of the epics, not of this war alone, but of all war. Talk about the "thin red line." The English stood, we are told, like a ribbon to stop the German hordes,—and stopped them.

It almost seems a pity that, up to date, so much secrecy has been maintained. I was told last week in Paris that London has as yet no dream of the marvellous feat her volunteer army achieved—a feat that throws into the shade all the heroic defenses sung in the verse of ancient times. Luckily these achievements do not dull with years.

On top of the Soissons affair came its result: the French retreat across the Aisne caused by the rising of the floods which carried away the bridges as fast as the engineers could build them, and cut off part of the French, even an ambulance, and, report says, the men left across the river without ammunition fought at the end with the butts of their broken guns, and finally with their fists.

Of course this brings again that awful cry over the lack of preparation, and lack of ammunition.

It is a foolish cry today, since the only nation in the world ready for this war was the nation that planned and began it.

Even this disaster—and there is no denying that it is one—does not daunt these wonderful people. They still see two things, the Germans did not get to Paris, nor have they got to Calais, so, in spite of their real feats of arms—one cannot deny those—an endeavor must be judged by its purpose, and, so judged, the Germans have, thus far, failed. Luckily the French race is big enough to see this and take heart of grace. God knows it needs to, and thank Him it can.

Don't you imagine that I am a bit down. I am not. I am cold. But, when I think of the discomfort in the hurriedly constructed trenches, where the men are in the water to their ankles, what does my being cold in a house mean? Just a record of discomfort as my part of the war, and it seems, day after day, less important. But oh, the monotony and boredom of it! Do you wonder that I want to hibernate?