July 26

I was aroused early this morning by Major Dillingham, who said the army had moved at daylight. I engaged a hack and went up to camp, but found everything as we left it. We marched at 9 o'clock a. m. for Rockville; passed through the town just before dark and camped for the night about two miles out on the Rockville road. I have called on the Henning, Higgins and Dr. Stonestreet families; enjoyed the visits greatly. These families were very kind to me in the winter of 1862-63 when ill with typhoid fever; splendid people. General Crook's back on the Maryland side of the Potomac again and Early's forces are raiding the country again, too.

July Twenty-Sixth

THE PHILOSOPHY OF MAMMY PHYLLIS

“Hush, Mary Van,” commanded Willis; “you can't crow, you've got to cackle.”

“I haven't neether; I can crow just as good as you. Can't I, Mammy Phyllis?”

“Well,” solemnly answered Phyllis, “it soun' mo' ladylike ter hear er hen cackle dan ter crow, but dem wimmen fokes whut wants ter heah dersefs crow is got de right ter do it,” shaking her head in resignation but disapproval, “but I allus notice dat de roosters keeps mo' comp'ny wid hens whut cackles dan dem whut crows. G'long now an' cackle like er nice lit'le hen.”

Sarah Johnson Cocke

 

 

July 26, 1863

Sunday. Went to church to-day. It was a Catholic church and the sermon was in Latin, so I don't know whether he prayed for or against us. There were a great many Sisters of Charity there. In fact they are everywhere. Black and white people were all mixed up and so far as I could see were all treated alike. I was ashamed of my clothes, but they were my best, and none of them could say more than that.

We drew a ration of flour to-day and had quite a time making pancakes. Lieutenant Pierce took supper with us. I mixed up the stuff and Mitchel did the baking. I got some saleratus for I remembered mother used that, but I did not remember that she also used salt, so I didn't think of it. They didn't look much like mother's, and when we came to eat them they didn't taste much like them. But it was a change, and that is something we are always glad to get.

Our tents have just overtaken us, and we sleep under cover to-night for the first time since we left Camp Parapet.

July 26

July 26, 1853.--Why do I find it easier and more satisfactory, as a writer of verse, to compose in the short metres than in the long and serious ones? Why, in general, am I better fitted for what is difficult than for what is easy? Always for the same reason. I cannot bring myself to move freely, to show myself without a veil, to act on my own account and act seriously, to believe in and assert myself, whereas a piece of badinage which diverts attention from myself to the thing in hand, from the feeling to the skill of the writer, puts me at my ease. It is timidity which is at the bottom of it. There is another reason, too--I am afraid of greatness, I am not afraid of ingenuity, and distrustful as I am both of my gift and my instrument, I like to reassure myself by an elaborate practice of execution. All my published literary essays, therefore, are little else than studies, games, exercises for the purpose of testing myself. I play scales, as it were; I run up and down my instrument, I train my hand and make sure of its capacity and skill. But the work itself remains unachieved. My effort expires, and satisfied with the power to act I never arrive at the will to act. I am always preparing and never accomplishing, and my energy is swallowed up in a kind of barren curiosity. Timidity, then, and curiosity--these are the two obstacles which bar against me a literary career. Nor must procrastination be forgotten. I am always reserving for the future what is great, serious, and important, and meanwhile, I am eager to exhaust what is pretty and trifling. Sure of my devotion to things that are vast and profound, I am always lingering in their contraries lest I should neglect them. Serious at bottom, I am frivolous in appearance. A lover of thought, I seem to care above all, for expression; I keep the substance for myself, and reserve the form for others. So that the net result of my timidity is that I never treat the public seriously, and that I only show myself to it in what is amusing, enigmatical, or capricious; the result of my curiosity is that everything tempts me, the shell as well as the mountain, and that I lose myself in endless research; while the habit of procrastination keeps me forever at preliminaries and antecedents, and production itself is never even begun.

But if that is the fact, the fact might be different. I understand myself, but I do not approve myself.

July 26

July 26, 1876.--A private journal is a friend to idleness. It frees us from the necessity of looking all round a subject, it puts up with every kind of repetition, it accompanies all the caprices and meanderings of the inner life, and proposes to itself no definite end. This journal of mine represents the material of a good many volumes: what prodigious waste of time, of thought, of strength! It will be useful to nobody, and even for myself--it has rather helped me to shirk life than to practice it. A journal takes the place of a confidant, that is, of friend or wife; it becomes a substitute for production, a substitute for country and public. It is a grief-cheating device, a mode of escape and withdrawal; but, factotum as it is, though it takes the place of everything, properly speaking it represents nothing at all....

What is it which makes the history of a soul? It is the stratification of its different stages of progress, the story of its acquisitions and of the general course of its destiny. Before my history can teach anybody anything, or even interest myself, it must be disentangled from its materials, distilled and simplified. These thousands of pages are but the pile of leaves and bark from which the essence has still to be extracted. A whole forest of cinchonas are worth but one cask of quinine. A whole Smyrna rose-garden goes to produce one vial of perfume.

This mass of written talk, the work of twenty-nine years, may in the end be worth nothing at all; for each is only interested in his own romance, his own individual life. Even I perhaps shall never have time to read them over myself. So--so what? I shall have lived my life, and life consists in repeating the human type, and the burden of the human song, as myriads of my kindred have done, are doing, and will do, century after century. To rise to consciousness of this burden and this type is something, and we can scarcely achieve anything further. The realization of the type is more complete, and the burden a more joyous one, if circumstances are kind and propitious, but whether the puppets have done this or that--

"Trois p'tits tours et puis s'en vont!"

everything falls into the same gulf at last, and comes to very much the same thing.

To rebel against fate--to try to escape the inevitable issue--is almost puerile. When the duration of a centenarian and that of an insect are quantities sensibly equivalent--and geology and astronomy enable us to regard such durations from this point of view--what is the meaning of all our tiny efforts and cries, the value of our anger, our ambition, our hope? For the dream of a dream it is absurd to raise these make-believe tempests. The forty millions of infusoria which make up a cube-inch of chalk--do they matter much to us? and do the forty millions of men who make up France matter any more to an inhabitant of the moon or Jupiter?

To be a conscious monad--a nothing which knows itself to be the microscopic phantom of the universe: this is all we can ever attain to.

July 26

July 26, 1878.--Every morning I wake up with the same sense of vain struggle against a mountain tide which is about to overwhelm me. I shall die by suffocation, and the suffocation has begun; the progress it has already made stimulates it to go on.

How can one make any plans when every day brings with it some fresh misery? I cannot even decide on a line of action in a situation so full of confusion and uncertainty in which I look forward to the worst, while yet all is doubtful. Have I still a few years before me or only a few months? Will death be slow or will it come upon me as a sudden catastrophe? How am I to bear the days as they come? how am I to fill them? How am I to die with calmness and dignity? I know not. Everything I do for the first time I do badly; but here everything is new; there can be no help from experience; the end must be a chance! How mortifying for one who has set so great a price upon independence--to depend upon a thousand unforeseen contingencies! He knows not how he will act or what he will become; he would fain speak of these things with a friend of good sense and good counsel--but who? He dares not alarm the affections which are most his own, and he is almost sure that any others would try to distract his attention, and would refuse to see the position as it is.

And while I wait (wait for what?--certainty?) the weeks flow by like water, and strength wastes away like a smoking candle....

Is one free to let one's self drift into death without resistance? Is self-preservation a duty? Do we owe it to those who love us to prolong this desperate struggle to its utmost limit? I think so, but it is one fetter the more. For we must then feign a hope which we do not feel, and hide the absolute discouragement of which the heart is really full. Well, why not? Those who succumb are bound in generosity not to cool the ardor of those who are still battling, still enjoying.

Two parallel roads lead to the same result; meditation paralyzes me, physiology condemns me. My soul is dying, my body is dying. In every direction the end is closing upon me. My own melancholy anticipates and endorses the medical judgment which says, "Your journey is done." The two verdicts point to the same result--that I have no longer a future. And yet there is a side of me which says, "Absurd!" which is incredulous, and inclined to regard it all as a bad dream. In vain the reason asserts it; the mind's inward assent is still refused. Another contradiction!

I have not the strength to hope, and I have not the strength to submit. I believe no longer, and I believe still. I feel that I am dying, and yet I cannot realize that I am dying. Is it madness already? No, it is human nature taken in the act; it is life itself which is a contradiction, for life means an incessant death and a daily resurrection; it affirms and it denies, it destroys and constructs, it gathers and scatters, it humbles and exalts at the same time. To live is to die partially--to feel one's self in the heart of a whirlwind of opposing forces--to be an enigma.

If the invisible type molded by these two contradictory currents--if this form which presides over all my changes of being--has itself general and original value, what does it matter whether it carries on the game a few months or years longer, or not? It has done what it had to do, it has represented a certain unique combination, one particular expression of the race. These types are shadows--manes. Century after century employs itself in fashioning them. Glory--fame--is the proof that one type has seemed to the other types newer, rarer, and more beautiful than the rest. The common types are souls too, only they have no interest except for the Creator, and for a small number of individuals.

To feel one's own fragility is well, but to be indifferent to it is better. To take the measure of one's own misery is profitable, but to understand its raison d'être is still more profitable. To mourn for one's self is a last sign of vanity; we ought only to regret that which has real values, and to regret one's self, is to furnish involuntary evidence that one had attached importance to one's self. At the same time it is a proof of ignorance of our true worth and function. It is not necessary to live, but it is necessary to preserve one's type unharmed, to remain faithful to one's idea, to protect one's monad against alteration and degradation.