June 18

June 18, 1863

Thursday. Another squad of deserters came in this morning. I suppose they come in on other parts of the line just the same. This must weaken the enemy faster than our fighting has done. They all tell of hard times and short rations. The weather is hot, and a horrible stench comes from the dead horses and mules, which the buzzards are tearing to pieces. There is scarcely any firing between the sharpshooters. The lines here are so close the men talk with each other, and have agreed to warn each other when the officers come around. At other times it is more like visiting than anything else. It is terribly hot in the rifle pits. I made the rounds to-day, and had a chat with a middle-aged Johnnie. He said we were not at all like they had been told, and there were some who believed we had horns on our heads, and had feet like cattle. Now that they know better they don't want to fight us, and will only do so when obliged to. Three men were sunstruck while in the trenches to-day.

The number of prisoners captured yesterday by General Smith was only about five hundred, not twenty-five hundred as reported. The works were carried by storm by colored troops, but they couldn't have taken them if the forts had been fully garrisoned, by veterans instead of citizens. We have remained behind our works all day; brisk skirmishing in front, and cannonading towards Petersburg; gunboats have thrown a few shells into the enemy's lines. I got letters from home to-night; all well there.

June Eighteenth

Now, Ham, de only nigger whut wuz runnin' on der packet,
Got lonesome in de barber-shop, an' c'u'dn't stan' de racket;
An' so, fur to amuse hese'f, he steamed some wood an' bent it,
An' soon he had a banjo made—de fust dat wuz invented.

De 'possum had as fine a tail as dis dat I's a-singin';
De ha'r's so long an' thick an' strong,—des fit fur banjo-stringin';
Dat nigger shaved 'em off as short as washday-dinner graces;
An' sorted ob' em by de size, f'om little E's to basses.
Irwin Russell
(Origin of the Banjo on Board the Ark )

 

 

44. John Adams

18 June, 1775.

This letter, I presume, will go by the brave and amiable General Washington. Our army will have a group of officers equal to any service. Washington, Ward, Lee, Gates, Gridley, together with all the other New England officers, will make a glorious council of war.

This Congress are all as deep as the delegates from the Massachusetts, and the whole continent as forward as Boston. We shall have a redress of grievances or an assumption of all the powers of government, legislative, executive, and judicial, throughout the whole continent, very soon. Georgia is bestirring itself; I mean the whole of it. The parish of St. John's, which is one third of it, was with us before.

June 18

June 18th.--I have just been spending three hours in the orchard under the shade of the hedge, combining the spectacle of a beautiful morning with reading and taking a turn between each chapter. Now the sky is again covered with its white veil of cloud, and I have come up with Biran, whose "Pensée" I have just finished, and Corinne, whom I have followed with Oswald in their excursions among the monuments of the eternal city. Nothing is so melancholy and wearisome as this journal of Maine de Biran. This unchanging monotony of perpetual reflection has an enervating and depressing effect upon one. Here, then, is the life of a distinguished man seen in its most intimate aspects! It is one long repetition, in which the only change is an almost imperceptible displacement of center in the writer's manner of viewing himself. This thinker takes thirty years to move from the Epicurean quietude to the quietism of Fénélon, and this only speculatively, for his practical life remains the same, and all his anthropological discovery consists in returning to the theory of the three lives, lower, human, and higher, which is in Pascal and in Aristotle. And this is what they call a philosopher in France! Beside the great philosophers, how poor and narrow seems such an intellectual life! It is the journey of an ant, bounded by the limits of a field; of a mole, who spends his days in the construction of a mole-hill. How narrow and stifling the swallow who flies across the whole Old World, and whose sphere of life embraces Africa and Europe, would find the circle with which the mole and the ant are content! This volume of Biran produces in me a sort of asphyxia; as I assimilate it, it seems to paralyze me; I am chained to it by some spell of secret sympathy. I pity, and I am afraid of my pity, for I feel how near I am to the same evils and the same faults....

Ernest Naville's introductory essay is full of interest, written in a serious and noble style; but it is almost as sad as it is ripe and mature. What displeases me in it a little is its exaggeration of the merits of Biran. For the rest, the small critical impatience which the volume has stirred in me will be gone by to-morrow. Maine de Biran is an important link in the French literary tradition. It is from him that our Swiss critics descend, Naville father and son, Secrétan. He is the source of our best contemporary psychology, for Stapfer, Royer-Collard, and Cousin called him their master, and Ampère, his junior by nine years, was his friend.

June 18, 1914.


That's right. Accept the situation. You will soon find that Paris will seem the same to you. Besides, I had really given all I had to give there.

Indeed you shall know, to the smallest detail, just how the material side of my life is arranged,—all my comforts and discomforts,—since you ask.

I am now absolutely settled into my little "hole" in the country, as you call it. It has been so easy. I have been here now nearly three weeks. Everything is in perfect order. You would be amazed if you could see just how everything fell into place. The furniture has behaved itself beautifully. There are days when I wonder if either I or it ever lived anywhere else. The shabby old furniture with which you were long so familiar just slipped right into place. I had not a stick too little, and could not have placed another piece. I call that "bull luck."

I have always told you—you have not always agreed—that France was the easiest place in the world to live in, and the love of a land in which to be a pauper. That is why it suits me.

Don't harp on that word "alone." I know I am living alone, in a house that has four outside doors into the bargain. But you know I am not one of the "afraid" kind. I am not boasting. That is a characteristic, not a quality. One is afraid or one is not. It happens that I am not. Still, I am Very prudent. You would laugh if you could see me "shutting up" for the night. All my windows on the ground floor are heavily barred. Such of the doors as have glass in them have shutters also. The window shutters are primitive affairs of solid wood, with diamond-shaped holes in the upper part. First, I put up the shutters on the door in the dining-room which leads into the garden on the south side; then I lock the door. Then I do a similar service for the kitchen door on to the front terrace, and that into the orchard, and lock both doors. Then I go out the salon door and lock the stable and the grange and take out the keys. Then I come into the salon and lock the door after me, and push two of the biggest bolts you ever saw.

After which I hang up the keys, which are as big as the historic key of the Bastille, which you may remember to have seen at the Musee Carnavalet. Then I close and bolt all the shutters downstairs. I do it systematically every night—because I promised not to be foolhardy. I always grin, and feel as if it were a scene in a play. It impresses me so much like a tremendous piece of business—dramatic suspense—which leads up to nothing except my going quietly upstairs to bed.

When it is all done I feel as I used to in my strenuous working days, when, after midnight, all the rest of the world—my little world—being calmly asleep, I cuddled down in the corner of my couch to read;—the world is mine!

Never in my life—anywhere, under any circumstances—have I been so well taken care of. I have a femme de menage—a sort of cross between a housekeeper and a maid-of-all-work. She is a married woman, the wife of a farmer whose house is three minutes away from mine. My dressing-room window and my dining-room door look across a field of currant bushes to her house. I have only to blow on the dog's whistle and she can hear. Her name is Amelie, and she is a character, a nice one, but not half as much of a character as her husband—her second. She is a Parisian. Her first husband was a jockey, half Breton, half English. He died years ago when she was young: broke his neck in a big race at Auteuil.

She has had a checkered career, and lived in several smart families before, to assure her old age, she married this gentle, queer little farmer. She is a great find for me. But the thing balances up beautifully, as I am a blessing to her, a new interest in her monotonous life, and she never lets me forget how much happier she is since I came here to live. She is very bright and gay, intelligent enough to be a companion when I need one, and well-bred enough to fall right into her proper place when I don't.

Her husband's name is Abelard. Oh, yes, of course, I asked him about Heloise the first time I saw him, and I was staggered when the little old toothless chap giggled and said, "That was before my time." What do you think of that? Every one calls him "Pere Abelard," and about the house it is shortened down to "Pere." He is over twenty years older than Amelie—well along in his seventies. He is a native of the commune—was born at Pont-aux-Dames, at the foot of the hill, right next to the old abbaye of that name. He is a type familiar enough to those who know French provincial life. His father was a well-to-do farmer. His mother was the typical mother of her class. She kept her sons under her thumb as long as she lived. Pere Abelard worked on his father's farm. He had his living, but never a sou in his pocket. The only diversion he ever had was playing the violin, which some passer in the commune taught him. When his parents died, he and his brothers sold the old place at Pont-aux-Dames to Coquelin, who was preparing to turn the historic old convent into a maison de retraite for aged actors, and he came up here on the hill and bought his present farm in this hamlet, where almost every one is some sort of a cousin of his.

Oddly enough, almost every one of these female cousins has a history. You would not think it, to look at the place and the people, yet I fancy that it is pretty universal for women in such places to have "histories." You will see an old woman with a bronzed face—sometimes still handsome, often the reverse—in her short skirt, her big apron tied round where a waist is not, her still beautiful hair concealed in a colored handkerchief. You ask the question of the right person, and you will discover that she is rich; that she is avaricious; that she pays heavy taxes; denies herself all but the bare necessities; and that the foundation of her fortune dates back to an affaire du coeur, or perhaps of interest, possibly of cupidity; and that very often the middle-aged daughter who still "lives at home with mother," had also had a profitable affaire arranged by mother herself. Everything has been perfectly convenable. Every one either knows about it or has forgotten it. No one is bothered or thinks the worse of her so long as she has remained of the "people" and put on no airs. But let her attempt to rise out of her class, or go up to Paris, and the Lord help her if she ever wants to come back, and, French fashion, end her days where she began them. This is typically, provincially French. When you come down here I shall tell you tales that will make Balzac and De Maupassant look tame.

You have no idea how little money these people spend, It must hurt them terribly to cough up their taxes. They all till the land, and eat what they grow. Amelie's husband spends exactly four cents a week—to get shaved on Sunday. He can't shave himself. A razor scares him to death. He looks as if he were going to the guillotine when he starts for the barber's, but she will not stand for a beard of more than a week's growth. He always stops at my door on his way back to let his wife kiss his clean old face, all wreathed with smiles—the ordeal is over for another week. He never needs a sou except for that shave. He drinks nothing but his own cider: he eats his own vegetables, his own rabbits; he never goes anywhere except to the fields,—does not want to—unless it is to play the violin for a dance or a fete. He just works, eats, sleeps, reads his newspaper, and is content. Yet he pays taxes on nearly a hundred thousand francs' worth of real estate.

But, after all, this is not what I started to tell you—that was about my domestic arrangements. Amelie does everything for me. She comes early in the morning, builds a fire, then goes across the field for the milk while water is heating. Then she arranges my bath, gets my coffee, tidies up the house. She buys everything I need, cooks for me, waits on me, even mends for me,—all for the magnificent sum of eight dollars a month. It really isn't as much as that, it is forty francs a month, which comes to about a dollar and eighty cents a week in your currency. She has on her farm everything in the way of vegetables that I need, from potatoes to "asparagras," from peas to tomatoes. She has chickens and eggs. Bread, butter, cheese, meat come right to the gate; so does the letter carrier, who not only brings my mail but takes it away. The only thing we have to go for is the milk.

To make it seem all the more primitive there is a rickety old diligence which runs from Quincy—Huiry is really a suburb of Quincy—to Esbly twice a day, to connect with trains for Paris with which the branch road does not connect. It has an imperial, and when you come out to see me, at some future time, you will get a lovely view of the country from a top seat. You could walk the four miles quicker than the horse does,—it is uphill nearly all the way,—but time is no longer any object with me. Amelie has a donkey and a little cart to drive me to the station at Couilly when I take that line, or when I want to do an errand or go to the laundress, or merely to amuse myself.

If you can really match this for a cheap, easy, simple way for an elderly person to live in dignity, I wish you would. It is far easier than living in Paris was, and living in Paris was easier for me than the States. I am sorry, but it is the truth.

You ask me what I do with the "long days." My dear! they are short, and yet I am out of bed a little after four every morning. To be sure I get into bed again at half past eight, or, at latest, nine, every night. Of course the weather is simply lovely. As soon as I have made sure that my beloved panorama has not disappeared in the night I dress in great haste. My morning toilette consists of a long black studio apron such as the French children wear to school,—it takes the place of a dress,—felt shoes inside my sabots, a big hat, and long

gardening-gloves. In that get-up I weed a little, rake up my paths, examine my fruit trees, and, at intervals, lean on my rake in a Maud Muller posture and gaze at the view. It is never the same two hours of the day, and I never weary of looking at it.

My garden would make you chortle with glee. You will have to take it by degrees, as I do. I have a sort of bowing acquaintance with it myself—en masse, so to speak. I hardly know a thing in it by name. I have wall fruit on the south side and an orchard of plum, pear, and cherry trees on the north side. The east side is half lawn and half disorderly flower beds. I am going to let the tangle in the orchard grow at its own sweet will—that is, I am going to as far as Amelie allows me. I never admire some trailing, flowering thing there that, while I am admiring it, Amelie does not come out and pull it out of the ground, declaring it une salete and sure to poison the whole place if allowed to grow. Yet some of these same saletes are so pretty and grow so easily that I am tempted not to care. One of these trials of my life is what I am learning to know as liserone—we used to call it wild morning-glory. That I am forbidden to have—if I want anything else. But it is pretty.

I remember years ago to have heard Ysolet, in a lecture at the Sorbonne, state that the "struggle for life" among the plants was fiercer and more tragic than that among human beings. It was mere words to me then. In the short three weeks that I have been out here in my hilltop garden I have learned to know how true that was. Sometimes I am tempted to have a garden of weeds. I suppose my neighbors would object if I let them all go to seed and sow these sins of agriculture all over the tidy farms about me.

Often these lovely mornings I take a long walk with the dog before breakfast. He is an Airedale, and I am terribly proud of him and my neighbors terribly afraid of him. I am half inclined to believe that he is as afraid of them as they are of him, but I keep that suspicion, for prudential reasons, to myself. At any rate, all passers keep at a respectful distance from me and him.

Our usual walk is down the hill to the north, toward the shady route that leads by the edge of the canal to Meaux. We go along the fields, down the long hill until we strike into a footpath which leads through the woods to the road called "Paves du Roi" and on to the canal, from which a walk of five minutes takes us to the Marne. After we cross the road at the foot of the hill there is not a house, and the country is so pretty—undulating ground, in every tint of green and yellow. From the high bridge that crosses the canal the picture is—well, is French-canally, and you know what that means—green-banked, tree-shaded, with a towpath bordering the straight line of water, and here and there a row of broad long canal-boats moving slowly through the shadows.

By the time I get back I am ready for breakfast. You know I never could eat or drink early in the morning. I have my coffee in the orchard under a big pear tree, and I have the inevitable book propped against the urn. Needless to say I never read a word. I simply look at the panorama. All the same I have to have the book there or I could not eat, just as I can't go to sleep without books on the bed.

After breakfast I write letters. Before I know it Amelie appears at the library door to announce that "Madame est servie"—and the morning is gone. As I am alone, as a rule I take my lunch in the breakfast-room. It is on the north side of the house, and is the coolest room in the house at noon. Besides, it has a window overlooking the plain. In the afternoon I read and write and mend, and then I take a light supper in the arbor on the east side of the house under a crimson rambler, one of the first ever planted here over thirty years ago.

I must tell you about that crimson rambler. You know when I hired this house it was only a peasant's hut. In front of what is now the kitchen—it was then a dark hole for fuel—stood four dilapidated posts, moss-covered and decrepit, over which hung a tangle of something. It was what I called a "mess." I was not as educated as I am now. I saw—it was winter—what looked to me an unsightly tangle of disorder. I ordered those posts down. My workmen, who stood in some awe of me,—I was the first American they had ever seen,—were slow in obeying. They did not dispute the order, only they did not execute it.

One day I was very stern. I said to my head mason, "I have ordered that thing removed half a dozen times. Be so good as to have those posts taken down before I come out again."

He touched his cap, and said, "Very well, madame."

It happened that the next time I came out the weather had become spring-like.

The posts were down. The tangle that had grown over them was trailing on the ground—but it had begun to put out leaves. I looked at it—and for the first time it occurred to me to say, "What is that?"

The mason looked at me a moment, and replied, "That, madame! That is a 'creamson ramblaire'—the oldest one in the commune."

Poor fellow, it had never occurred to him that I did not know.

Seven feet to the north of the climbing rose bush was a wide hedge of tall lilac bushes. So I threw up an arbor between them, and the crimson rambler now mounts eight feet in the air. It is a glory of color to-day, and my pride. But didn't I come near to losing it?

The long evenings are wonderful. I sit out until nine, and can read until almost the last minute. I never light a lamp until I go up to bed. That is my day. It seems busy enough to me. I am afraid it will—to you, still so willing to fight, still so absorbed in the struggle, and still so over-fond of your species—seem futile. Who knows which of us is right ?—or if our difference of opinion may not be a difference in our years? If all who love one another were of the same opinion, living would be monotonous, and conversation flabby. So cheer up. You are content. Allow me to be.