July 17

July Seventeenth


A visitor in the Old Chapel Graveyard, in Clarke County, Virginia, asked the aged negro sexton if he knew the whereabouts of a certain grave, adding that the deceased was her relative.

“Ole Mis' Anne? Why ob cose I knows whar my ole mistis is! She your gran'ma! Jus' to think now, if you hadn't spoke we never would have knowed we was related!”



July 17, 1863

Friday. Nothing new to-day, unless it be a new pair of government pants which I was lucky enough to get, and which I very much needed. A good swim in the river, and the new pants have made me feel like new. The body of a man floating in the river was pulled out here and buried to-day. He had no clothing on and it is not known whether he was a native or a northern soldier. We are a lazy set here. We eat corn and sleep and that leaves very little to write about.

Oh, such a horrid night's rest! Being near the mountains it was cold with a heavy dew, and I had nothing but a rubber poncho for cover, and am not feeling very well in consequence of being so chilled after marching all day in the hot sun. We marched at 7 o'clock and arrived at Leesburg at 8 o'clock a. m., where we rested an hour. We found Col. Stephen Thomas here with the Eighth Vermont Infantry, now of the Nineteenth Corps. The balance of our Corps was about two miles ahead, and we overtook it at 6 o'clock p. m. and are camped in a shady grove for the night. General H. G. Wright of our Corps is in command of this army now, which numbers about 25,000 men. It is composed of the Sixth Corps, two Divisions of the Nineteenth Corps under General Emery, and General George Crook's Eighth Corps of about 7,000 men, which has operated largely in West Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley.

July 17

July 17, 1859.--Always and everywhere salvation is torture, deliverance means death, and peace lies in sacrifice. If we would win our pardon, we must kiss the fiery crucifix. Life is a series of agonies, a Calvary, which we can only climb on bruised and aching knees. We seek distractions; we wander away; we deafen and stupefy ourselves that we may escape the test; we turn away oar eyes from the via dolorosa ; and yet there is no help for it--we must come back to it in the end. What we have to recognize is that each of us carries within himself his own executioner--his demon, his hell, in his sin; that his sin is his idol, and that this idol, which seduces the desire of his heart, is his curse.

Die unto sin! This great saying of Christianity remains still the highest theoretical solution of the inner life. Only in it is there any peace of conscience; and without this peace there is no peace....

I have just read seven chapters of the gospel. Nothing calms me so much. To do one's duty in love and obedience, to do what is right--these are the ideas which remain with one. To live in God and to do his work--this is religion, salvation, life eternal; this is both the effect and the sign of love and of the Holy Spirit; this is the new man announced by Jesus, and the new life into which we enter by the second birth. To be born again is to renounce the old life, sin, and the natural man, and to take to one's self another principle of life. It is to exist for God with another self, another will, another love.

July 17

July 17, 1877.--Yesterday I went through my La Fontaine, and noticed the omissions in him. He has neither butterfly nor rose. He utilizes neither the crane, nor the quail, nor the dromedary, nor the lizard. There is not a single echo of chivalry in him. For him, the history of France dates from Louis XIV. His geography only ranges, in reality, over a few square miles, and touches neither the Rhine nor the Loire, neither the mountains nor the sea. He never invents his subjects, but indolently takes them ready-made from elsewhere. But with all this what an adorable writer, what a painter, what an observer, what a humorist, what a story-teller! I am never tired of reading him, though I know half his fables by heart. In the matter of vocabulary, turns, tones, phrases, idioms, his style is perhaps the richest of the great period, for it combines, in the most skillful way, archaism and classic finish, the Gallic and the French elements. Variety, satire, finesse, feeling, movement, terseness, suavity, grace, gayety, at times even nobleness, gravity, grandeur--everything--is to be found in him. And then the happiness of the epithets, the piquancy of the sayings, the felicity of his rapid sketches and unforeseen audacities, and the unforgettable sharpness of phrase! His defects are eclipsed by his immense variety of different aptitudes.

One has only to compare his "Woodcutter and Death" with that of Boileau in order to estimate the enormous difference between the artist and the critic who found fault with his work. La Fontaine gives you a picture of the poor peasant under the monarchy; Boileau shows you nothing but a man perspiring under a heavy load. The first is a historical witness, the second a mere academic rhymer. From La Fontaine it is possible to reconstruct the whole society of his epoch, and the old Champenois with his beasts remains the only Homer France has ever possessed. He has as many portraits of men and women as La Bruyère, and Molière is not more humorous.

His weak side is his epicureanism, with its tinge of grossness. This, no doubt, was what made Lamartine dislike him. The religious note is absent from his lyre; there is nothing in him which shows any contact with Christianity, any knowledge of the sublimer tragedies of the soul. Kind nature is his goddess, Horace his prophet, and Montaigne his gospel. In other words, his horizon is that of the Renaissance. This pagan island in the full Catholic stream is very curious; the paganism of it is so perfectly sincere and naïve. But indeed, Reblais, Molière, Saint Evremond, are much more pagan than Voltaire. It is as though, for the genuine Frenchman, Christianity was a mere pose or costume--something which has nothing to do with the heart, with the real man, or his deeper nature. This division of things is common in Italy too. It is the natural effect of political religions: the priest becomes separated from the layman, the believer from the man, worship from sincerity.