January 25

Still another fine night; have been reading the newspaper to the old gentleman, etc. Ain't I a good Yankee? One Johnny, a deserter, came into our lines last night; reports that an entire brigade of the enemy whose time has expired is fighting its way into our lines. Perhaps this may be true but I can't vouch for it. I take it with a grain of salt. It is evident, though, that a great number are deserting to our lines; have finished my Company clerk book to-day. The moon is shining brightly.

Monday, January 25th.—We have been at Sotteville all day; had time to read last week's 'Times'—an exceptionally interesting lot.

Have just had orders to load up at Rouen for Havre to-morrow; then I hope we shall go back to Boulogne. We have not stayed more than an hour or two in Boulogne since January 9th—that is, for seventeen days; but we've managed to just pick up our mails every few days while unloading the bad cases. We ought to get back there for a mail on Thursday.

We have taken down a good many Northamptons lately. They seem an exceptionally seasoned and intelligent lot, and have been through the thick of everything since Mons.

Did I tell you that in one place (I don't suppose it is the same all along the line) they are doing forty-eight hours in the trenches, followed by forty-eight hours back in the billets (barns, &c.) for six times, and then twelve days' rest, when they get themselves and their rifles cleaned; they have armourers' shops for this.

They nearly all say that only the men who are quite certain they never will get back, say they want to. If any others say it, "well, they're liars." But for all that, you do find one here and there who means it. One Canadian asked how long he'd be sick with his feet. "I want to get back to the regiment," he said. They seem rather out of it with the Tommies, some of them.

Just had a grand hot bath from a passing engine in exchange for chocolate.

We shall have a quiet night to-night. Sotteville is the quietest place we ever sleep in; there is no squealing of whistles and shouting of French railwaymen as in all the big stations. Last night they were shunting and jigging us about all night between Rouen and Sotteville. Slow bumping over hundreds of points is much worse to sleep in than fast travelling. In either case you wake whenever you pull up or start off. But we shall miss the train when we get into a dull hotel bedroom or a billet, or perhaps a tent. My month at Le Mans in Madame's beautiful French bed was the one luxury I've struck so far.

January Twenty-Fifth

Ah, only from his golden throne,
Upon his golden lute,
He touched the magic note; then Poe was known,
And so was quelled dispute.
Open thy portal, Fame! Let soar
That sombre bird, whose song is heard forevermore.
Daniel Bedinger Lucas
(Referring to first publication of Poe's Raven, 1845 )

 

George E. Pickett born, 1825

 

 

January 25

January 25, 1868.--It is when the outer man begins to decay that it becomes vitally important to us to believe in immortality, and to feel with the apostle that the inner man is renewed from day to day. But for those who doubt it and have no hope of it? For them the remainder of life can only be the compulsory dismemberment of their small empire, the gradual dismantling of their being by inexorable destiny. How hard it is to bear--this long-drawn death, of which the stages are melancholy and the end inevitable! It is easy to see why it was that stoicism maintained the right of suicide. What is my real faith? Has the universal, or at any rate the very general and common doubt of science, invaded me in my turn? I have defended the cause of the immortality of the soul against those who questioned it, and yet when I have reduced them to silence, I have scarcely known whether at bottom I was not after all on their side. I try to do without hope; but it is possible that I have no longer the strength for it, and that, like other men, I must be sustained and consoled by a belief, by the belief in pardon and immortality--that is to say, by religious belief of the Christian type. Reason and thought grow tired, like muscles and nerves. They must have their sleep, and this sleep is the relapse into the tradition of childhood, into the common hope. It takes so much effort to maintain one's self in an exceptional point of view, that one falls back into prejudice by pure exhaustion, just as the man who stands indefinitely always ends by sinking to the ground and reassuming the horizontal position.

What is to become of us when everything leaves us--health, joy, affections, the freshness of sensation, memory, capacity for work--when the sun seems to us to have lost its warmth, and life is stripped of all its charm? What is to become of us without hope? Must we either harden or forget? There is but one answer--keep close to duty. Never mind the future, if only you have peace of conscience, if you feel yourself reconciled, and in harmony with the order of things. Be what you ought to be; the rest is God's affair. It is for him to know what is best, to take care of his own glory, to ensure the happiness of what depends on him, whether by another life or by annihilation. And supposing that there were no good and holy God, nothing but universal being, the law of the all, an ideal without hypostasis or reality, duty would still be the key of the enigma, the pole-star of a wandering humanity.

"Fais ce que dois, advienne que pourra."

Cannes Jan. 25, 1882

I return the letter of my heroine[161 ] with many thanks. It reminds me of what she wrote to me. If I could find it I would send it to you.... I think there is a piece of truth in Mr. Ottley's remark. Her strongest conviction, the keystone of her philosophy, was the idea that all our actions breed their due reward in this world, and that life is no reign of reason if we put off the compensation to another world. That is a moral far more easily worked in cases of outward, transitive sin than in those which disturb only the direct relations of man with God. These indeed are cases which may partly depend on our belief in God, not only in humanity and human character. Deny God, and whole branches of deeper morality lose their sanction. Here I am preaching against Bradlaugh, after all!

Her genius would no doubt reveal to her consequences which others cannot imagine. But still the inclination of a godless philosophy will be towards palpable effects and those about which there is no mistake. Especially in a doctrine with so little room for grace and forgiveness, where no God ever speaks except by the voice of other men. Defined and brought to book, that is a detestable system. But it is not on the surface—and many men can no more be kept straight by spiritual motives than we can live without policemen.

Still there is a piece of truth in this paganism. Looking at history, not at biography, taking societies, and not individuals, we cannot deal with things seen by God alone; things take other proportions; the scale of vice and virtue is not that of private life; we judge of it by its outward action, and hesitate to penetrate the secrets of conscience. The law of visible retribution is false even there. But it is true that the test and measure of good and evil is not that of the spiritual biographer.

I shall punish Sir H. Maine with your very striking remark about Toryism.

*****

That is a perilous point, about suspiciousness. By all means we should think well until forced to think ill of people. But we must be prepared for that compulsion; and the experience of history teaches that the uncounted majority of those who get a place in its pages are bad. We have to deal chiefly, in life, with people who have no place in history, and escape the temptations that are on the road to it. But most assuredly, now as heretofore, the Men of the Time are, in most cases, unprincipled, and act from motives of interest, of passion, of prejudice cherished and unchecked, of selfish hope or unworthy fear.

[161 ] George Eliot.