March 1

Commenced hailing about midnight and has continued to alternate with it and rain all day; trees and shubbery ice-covered and the day has been dismal; not as much cannonading as yesterday; relieved from picket about 6 p. m. by the Third Brigade; marched to camp on the pike.

March First

In the deep heart of every forest tree
The blood is all aglee,
And there's a look about the leafless bowers
As if they dreamed of flowers.
Henry Timrod

 

 

March 1

March 1, 1881.--I have just been glancing over the affairs of the world in the newspaper. What a Babel it is! But it is very pleasant to be able to make the tour of the planet and review the human race in an hour. It gives one a sense of ubiquity. A newspaper in the twentieth century will be composed of eight or ten daily bulletins--political, religious, scientific, literary, artistic, commercial, meteorological, military, economical, social, legal, and financial; and will be divided into two parts only--Urbs and Orbis. The need of totalizing, of simplifying, will bring about the general use of such graphic methods as permit of series and comparisons. We shall end by feeling the pulse of the race and the globe as easily as that of a sick man, and we shall count the palpitations of the universal life, just as we shall hear the grass growing, or the sunspots clashing, and catch the first stirrings of volcanic disturbances. Activity will become consciousness; the earth will see herself. Then will be the time for her to blush for her disorders, her hideousness, her misery, her crime and to throw herself at last with energy and perseverance into the pursuit of justice. When humanity has cut its wisdom-teeth, then perhaps it will have the grace to reform itself, and the will to attempt a systematic reduction of the share of the evil in the world. The Weltgeist will pass from the state of instinct to the moral state. War, hatred, selfishness, fraud, the right of the stronger, will be held to be old-world barbarisms, mere diseases of growth. The pretenses of modern civilization will be replaced by real virtues. Men will be brothers, peoples will be friends, races will sympathize one with another, and mankind will draw from love a principle of emulation, of invention, and of zeal, as powerful as any furnished by the vulgar stimulant of interest. This millennium--will it ever be? It is at least an act of piety to believe in it.

March 1

March 1, 1869.--Impartiality and objectivity are as rare as justice, of which they are but two special forms. Self-interest is an inexhaustible source of convenient illusions. The number of beings who wish to see truly is extraordinarily small. What governs men is the fear of truth, unless truth is useful to them, which is as much as to say that self-interest is the principle of the common philosophy or that truth is made for us but not we for truth. As this fact is humiliating, the majority of people will neither recognize nor admit it. And thus a prejudice of self-love protects all the prejudices of the understanding, which are themselves the result of a stratagem of the ego. Humanity has always slain or persecuted those who have disturbed this selfish repose of hers. She only improves in spite of herself. The only progress which she desires is an increase of enjoyments. All advances in justice, in morality, in holiness, have been imposed upon or forced from her by some noble violence. Sacrifice, which is the passion of great souls, has never been the law of societies. It is too often by employing one vice against another--for example, vanity against cupidity, greed against idleness--that the great agitators have broken through routine. In a word, the human world is almost entirely directed by the law of nature, and the law of the spirit, which is the leaven of its coarse paste, has but rarely succeeded in raising it into generous expansion.

From the point of view of the ideal, humanity is triste and ugly. But if we compare it with its probable origins, we see that the human race has not altogether wasted its time. Hence there are three possible views of history: the view of the pessimist, who starts from the ideal; the view of the optimist, who compares the past with the present; and the view of the hero-worshiper, who sees that all progress whatever has cost oceans of blood and tears.

European hypocrisy veils its face before the voluntary suicide of those Indian fanatics who throw themselves under the wheels of their goddess' triumphal car. And yet these sacrifices are but the symbol of what goes on in Europe as elsewhere, of that offering of their life which is made by the martyrs of all great causes. We may even say that the fierce and sanguinary goddess is humanity itself, which is only spurred to progress by remorse, and repents only when the measure of its crimes runs over. The fanatics who sacrifice themselves are an eternal protest against the universal selfishness. We have only overthrown those idols which are tangible and visible, but perpetual sacrifice still exists everywhere, and everywhere the élite of each generation suffers for the salvation of the multitude. It is the austere, bitter, and mysterious law of solidarity. Perdition and redemption in and through each other is the destiny of men.

March 1, 1917

Well, I have been very busy for some time now receiving the regiment, and all on account of the flag. It had been going up in the "dawn's early light," and coming down "with the twilight's last gleaming" for some weeks when the regiment marched past the gate again. I must tell you the truth,—the first man who attempted to cry "Vivent les Etats-Unis" was hushed by a cry of "Attendez-patience— pas encore," and the line swung by. That was all right. I could afford to smile,—and, at this stage of the game, to wait. You are always telling me what a "patient man" Wilson is. I don't deny it. Still, there are others.

The first caller that the flag brought me was on the morning after the regiment marched by it. I was upstairs. Amélie called up that there was "un petit soldat" at the door. They are all "les petits soldats" to her, even when they are six feet tall. She loves to see them coming into the garden. I heard her say to one of them the other day, when he "did not wish to disturb madame, if she is busy," "Mais, entrez donc. Les soldats ne gênent jamais ma maîtresse."

I went downstairs and found a mere youngster, with a sergeant's stripe on his sleeve, blushing so hard that I wondered how he had got up the courage to come inside the gate. He stammered a moment. Then he pointed to the flag, and, clearing his throat, said:

"You aire an Américaine?"

I owned it.

"I haf seen the flag—I haf been so surprised—I haf had to come in."

I opened the door wide, and said: "Do," and he did, and almost with tears in his eyes—he was very young, and blonde—he explained that he was a Canadian.

"But," I said, "you are a French Canadian?"

"Breton," he replied, "but I haf live in Canada since sixteen." Then he told me that his sister had gone to New Brunswick to teach French seven years ago, and that he had followed, that, when he was old enough, he had taken out his naturalization papers, and become a British subject in order to take up government land; that he had a wheat farm in Northern Canada—one hundred and sixty acres, all under cultivation; that he was twenty when the war broke out, and that he had enlisted at once; that he had been wounded on the Somme, and came out of the hospital just in season to go through the hard days at Verdun.

As we talked, part of his accent wore away. Before the interview was over he was speaking English really fluently. You see he had been tongue-tied at his own temerity at first. When he was at ease—though he was very modest and scrupulously well-mannered—he talked well.

The incident was interesting to me because I had heard that the French Canadians had not been quick to volunteer, and I could not resist asking him how it happened that he, a British subject, was in the French army.

He reddened, stammered a bit, and finally said: "After all I am French at heart. Had England fought any other nation but France in a war in which France was not concerned it would have been different, but since England and France are fighting together what difference can it make if my heart turned to the land where I was born?"

Isn't the naturalization question delicate?

I could not help asking myself how England looked at the matter. I don't know. She has winked at a lot of things, and a great many more have happened of late about which no one has ever thought. There are any number of officers in the English army today, enrolled as Englishmen, who are American citizens, and who either had no idea of abandoning their country, or were in too much of a hurry to wait for formalities. I am afraid all this matter will take on another color after "this cruel war is over."

This boy looked prosperous, and in no need of anything but kind words in English. He did not even need cigarettes. But I saw him turn his eyes frequently towards the library, and it occurred to me that he might want something to read. I asked him if he did, and you should have seen his eyes shine,—and he wanted English at that, and beamed all over his face at a heap of illustrated magazines. So I was able to send him away happy.

The result was, early the next morning two more of them arrived—a tall six-footer, and a smaller chap. It was Sunday morning, and they had real, smiling Sunday faces on. The smaller one addressed me in very good English, and told me that the sergeant had said that there was an American lady who was willing to lend the soldiers books. So I let them loose in the library, and they bubbled, one in English, and the other in French, while they revelled in the books.

Of course I am always curious about the civil lives of these lads, and it is the privilege of my age to put such questions to them. The one who spoke English told me that his home was in London, that he was the head clerk in the correspondence department of an importing house. I asked him how old he was, and he told me twenty-two; that he was in France doing his military service when the war broke out; that he had been very successful in England, and that his employer had opposed his returning to France, and begged him to take out naturalization papers. He said he could not make up his mind to jump his military service, and had promised his employer to return when his time was up,—then the war came.

I asked him if he was going back when it was over.

He looked at me a moment, shook his head and said, "I don't think so. I had never thought of such a thing as a war. No, I am too French. After this war, if I can get a little capital, I am going into business here. I am only one, but I am afraid France needs us all."

You see there again is that naturalization question. This war has set the world thinking, and it was high time.

One funny thing about this conversation was that every few minutes he turned to his tall companion and explained to him in French what we were talking about, and I thought it so sweet.

Finally I asked the tall boy—he was a corporal and had been watching his English-speaking chum with such admiration—what he did in civil life.

He turned his big brown eyes, on me, and replied: "I, madame? I never had any civil life."

I looked puzzled, and he added: "I come of a military family. I am an orphan, and I am an enfant de troupe."

Now did you know that there were such things today as "Children of the Regiment"? I own I did not. Yet there he stood before me, a smiling twenty-year old corporal, who had been brought up by the regiment, been a soldier boy from his babyhood.

In the meantime they had decided what they wanted for books. The English-speaking French lad wanted either Shakespeare or Milton, and as I laid the books on the table for him, he told his comrade who the two authors were, and promised to explain it all to him, and there wasn't a sign of show-off in it either. As for the Child of the Regiment, he wanted a Balzac, and when I showed him where they were, he picked out "Eugénie Grandet," and they both went away happy.

I don't need to tell you that when the news spread that there were books in the house on the hilltop that could be borrowed for the asking, I had a stream of visitors, and one of these visits was a very different matter.

One afternoon I was sitting before the fire. It was getting towards dusk. There was a knock at the door. I opened it. There stood a handsome soldier, with a corporal's stripes on his sleeve. He saluted me with a smile, as he told me that his comrades had told him that there was an American lady here who did not seem to be bored if the soldiers called on her.

"Alors," he added, "I have come to make you a visit."

I asked him in.

He accepted the invitation. He thrust his fatigue cap into his pocket, took off his topcoat, threw it on the back of a chair, which he drew up to the fire, beside mine, and at a gesture from me he sat down.

"Hmmm," I thought. "This is a new proposition."

The other soldiers never sit down even when invited. They prefer to keep on their feet.

Ever since I began to see so much of the army, I have asked myself more than once, "Where are the fils de famille"? They can't all be officers, or all in the heavy artillery, or all in the cavalry. But I had never seen one, to know him, in the infantry. This man was in every way a new experience, even among the noncommissioned officers I had seen. He was more at his ease. He stayed nearly two hours. We talked politics, art, literature, even religion—he was a good Catholic— just as one talks at a tea-party when one finds a man who is cultivated, and can talk, and he was evidently cultivated, and he talked awfully well.

He examined the library, borrowed a volume of Flaubert, and finally, after he had asked me all sorts of questions—where I came from; how I happened to be here; and even to "explain Mr. Wilson," I responded by asking him what he did in civil life.

He was leaning against the high mantel, saying a wood fire was delicious. He smiled down on me and replied: "Nothing."

"Enfin!" I said to myself. "Here he is—the 'fils de famille' for whom I have been looking." So I smiled back and asked him, in that case, if it were not too indiscreet—what he did to kill time?

"Well," he said, "I have a very pretty, altogether charming wife, and I have three little children. I live part of the time in Paris, and part of the time at Cannes, and I manage to keep busy."

It seemed becoming for me to say "Beg pardon and thank you," and he bowed and smiled an "il n'y a pas de quoi," thanked me for a pleasant afternoon—an "unusual kind of pleasure," he added, "for a soldier in these times," and went away.

It was only when I saw him going that it occurred to me that I ought to have offered him tea—but you know the worth of "esprit d'escalier."

Naturally I was curious about him, so the next time I saw the Canadian I asked him who he was. "Oh," he replied, "he is a nice chap; he is a noble, a vicomte—a millionaire."

So you see I have found the type—not quite in the infantry ranks, but almost, and if I found one there must be plenty more. It consoled me in these days when one hears so often cries against "les embusqués."

I began to think there was every type in the world in this famous 118th, and I was not far from wrong.

The very next day I got the most delicious type of all—the French- American—very French to look at, but with New York stamped all over him—especially his speech. Of all these boys, this is the one I wish you could see.

Like all the rest of the English-speaking Frenchmen—the Canadian excepted—he brought a comrade to hear him talk to the lady in English. I really must try to give you a graphic idea of that conversation.

When I opened the door for him, he stared at me, and then he threw up both hands and simply shouted, "My God, it is true! My God, it is an American!!"

Then he thrust out his hand and gave me a hearty shake, simply yelling, "My God, lady, I'm glad to see you. My God, lady, the sight is good for sore eyes."

Then he turned to his comrade and explained, "J'ai dit à la dame, 'Mon Dieu, Madame,'" etc., and in the same breath he turned back to me and continued:

"My God, lady, when I saw them Stars and Stripes floating out there, I said to my comrade, 'If there is an American man or an American lady here, my God, I am going to look at them,' and my God, lady, I'm glad I did. Well, how do you do, anyway?"

I told him that I was very well, and asked him if he wouldn't like to come in.

"My God, lady, you bet your life I do," and he shook my hand again, and came in, remarking, "I'm an American myself—from New York— great city, New York—can't be beat. I wish all my comrades could see Broadway—that would amaze them," and then he turned to his companion to explain, "J'ai dit à Madame que je voudrais bien que tous les copains pouvaient voir Broadway—c'est la plus belle rue de New York—ils seront épatés—tous," and he turned to me to ask "N'est-ce pas, Madame?"

I laughed. I had to. I had a vivid picture of his comrades seeing New York for the first time—you know it takes time to get used to the Great White Way, and I remembered the last distinguished Frenchman whom the propaganda took on to the great thoroughfare, and who, at the first sight and sound and feel of it, wanted to lay his head up against Times Square and sob like a baby with fright and amazement. This was one of those flash thoughts. My caller did not give me time for more than that, for he began to cross-examine me— he wanted to know where I lived in America.

It did not seem worth while to tell him I did not live there, so I said "Boston," and he declared it a "nice, pretty slow town," he knew it, and, of course, he added, "But my God, lady, give me New York every time. I've lived there sixteen years—got a nice little wife there— here's her picture—and see here, this is my name," and he laid an envelope before me with a New York postmark.

"Well," I said, "if you are an American citizen, what are you doing here, in a French uniform? The States are not in the war."

His eyes simply snapped.

"My God, lady, I'm a Frenchman just the same. My God, lady, you don't think I'd see France attacked by Germany and not take a hand in the fight, do you? Not on your life!"

Here is your naturalization business again.

I could not help laughing, but I ventured to ask: "Well, my lad, what would you have done if it had been France and the States?" He curled his lip, and brushed the question aside with:

"My God, lady! Don't be stupid. That could never be, never, on your life."

I asked him, when I got a chance to put in a word, what he did in New York, and he told me he was a chauffeur, and that he had a sister who lived "on Riverside Drive, up by 76th Street," but I did not ask him in what capacity, for before I could, he launched into an enthusiastic description of Riverside Drive, and immediately put it all into French for the benefit of his copain, who stood by with his mouth open in amazement at the spirited English of his friend.

When he went away, he shook me again violently by the hand, exclaiming: "Well, lady, of course you'll soon be going back to the States. So shall I. I can't live away from New York. No one ever could who had lived there. Great country the States. I'm a voter—I'm a Democrat—always vote the Democratic ticket—voted for Wilson. Well, goodbye, lady."

As he shook me by the hand again, it seemed suddenly to occur to him that he had forgotten something. He struck a blow on his forehead with his fist, and cried: "My God, lady, did I understand that you have been here ever since the war began? Then you were here during the battle out there? My God, lady, I 'm an American, too, and my God, lady, I 'm proud of you! I am indeed." And he went off down the road, and I heard him explaining to his companion "J'ai dit à madame," etc.

I don't think any comment is necessary on what Broadway does to the French lad of the people.

Last night I saw one of the most beautiful sights that I have ever seen. For several evenings I have been hearing artillery practice of some sort, but I paid no attention to it. We have no difficulty in distinguishing the far-off guns at Soissons and Rheims, which announce an attack, from the more audible, but quite different, sound of the tir d'exercice. But last night they sounded so very near—almost as if in the garden—that, at about nine, when I was closing up the house, I stepped out on to the terrace to listen. It was a very dark night, quite black. At first I thought they were in the direction of Quincy, and then I discovered, once I was listening carefully, that they were in the direction of the river. I went round to the north side of the house, and I saw the most wonderful display—more beautiful than any fireworks I had ever seen. The artillery was experimenting with signal lights, and firing colored fusées volantes. I had read about them, but never seen one. As near as I could make out, the artillery was on top of the hill of Monthyon—where we saw the battle of the Marne begin,— and the line they were observing was the Iles-lès-Villenoy, in the river right at the west of us. When I first saw the exercises, there were half a dozen lovely red and green lights hanging motionless in the sky. I could hear the heavy detonation of the cannon or gun, or whatever they use to throw them, and then see the long arc of light like a chain of gold, which marked the course of the fusée, until it burst into color at the end. I wrapped myself up, took my field-glasses, and stayed out an hour watching the scene, and trying to imagine what exactly the same thing, so far as mere beauty went, meant to the men at the front.

In the morning I found that everyone else had heard the guns, but no one had seen anything, because, as it happens, it was from my lawn only that both Monthyon and the Iles-lès-Villenoy could be seen.