March 19

March 19, 1863

Poor Crowthers died very peacefully about noon to-day. His cot is next mine and he seemed like one of the family to me. The company has undertaken to raise money to send his body home.

March 19, 1864

Saturday. We found a ball and had a game, which helped to pass the time. Colonel Parker tried to find Colonel Bostwick by telegraph, but did not make out. At night was detailed for guard to-morrow.

The weather was truly fine this morning at sunrise, but about noon the wind blew a gale. Captain Samuel Darrah's Co. D of which I am second lieutenant challenged the regiment to play a game of ball for $50—or rather Captain Samuel Darrah did—which it accepted but lost the game. The regiment goes on picket to-morrow, but I don't expect to go. It looks like rain.

March Nineteenth

Into the woods my Master went,
Clean forspent, forspent.
Into the woods my Master came,
Forspent with love and shame.
But the olives they were not blind to Him,
The little gray leaves were kind to Him:
The thorn-tree had a mind to Him
When into the woods He came.
Sidney Lanier
(A Ballad of Trees and the Master )

 

 

March 19

March 19, 1881.--Distaste--discouragement. My heart is growing cold. And yet what affectionate care, what tenderness, surrounds me!... But without health, what can one do with all the rest? What is the good of it all to me? What was the good of Job's trials? They ripened his patience; they exercised his submission.

Come, let me forget myself, let me shake off this melancholy, this weariness. Let me think, not of all that is lost, but of all that I might still lose. I will reckon up my privileges; I will try to be worthy of my blessings.

Friday, March 19th.—On the way down. Woke up at Bailleul, and loaded early wounded and sick. Not such severe cases among the wounded, but several pneumonias, enterics, &c., besides measles, diphtheria, and scarlet.

Very cold windy day, with snow on the ground and showers of snow at intervals.

Some of mine are from the St Eloi, fighting last Sunday and Monday.

Some of N.'s regiment were badly caught between two ruined houses, each containing Maxims and machine-guns. They had just been reinforced by some young recruits of K.'s Army who detrained that night to go straight into the charge. "They come on well, them youngsters," said an old soldier, "but they got terrible mowed down. We lost nine officers in a quarter of an hour."

It has been a very costly splash altogether.

One officer on the train has fourteen wounds.

89. John Adams

Philadelphia, 19 March.

Yesterday I had the long expected and much wished pleasure of a letter from you, of various dates from the 2d to the 10th March. This is the first line I have received since I left you. I wrote you from Watertown, I believe, relating my feast at the Quartermaster-general's with the Caghnawaga Indians, and from Framingham an account of the ordnance there, and from New York I sent you a pamphlet. Hope you received these. Since I arrived here I have written to you as often as I could.

I am much pleased with your caution in your letter, in avoiding names both of persons and places, or any other circumstances which might designate to strangers the writer, or the person written to, or the persons mentioned. Characters and description will do as well.

The lie which you say occasioned such disputes at the tavern was curious enough. Who could make and spread it? I am much obliged to an uncle for his friendship. My worthy fellow-citizens may be easy about me. I never can forsake what I take to be their interests. My own have never been considered by me in competition with theirs. My ease, my domestic happiness, my rural pleasures, my little property, my personal liberty, my reputation, my life, have little weight and ever had in my own estimation, in comparison with the great object of my country. I can say of it with sincerity, as Horace says of virtue, "To America only and her friends a friend."

You ask what is thought of "Common Sense." Sensible men think there are some whims, some sophisms, some artful addresses to superstitious notions, some keen attempts upon the passions, in this pamphlet. But all agree there is a great deal of good sense delivered in clear, simple, concise, and nervous style. His sentiments of the abilities of America, and of the difficulty of a reconciliation with Great Britain, are generally approved. But his notions and plans of continental government are not much applauded. Indeed, this writer has a better hand in pulling down than building. It has been very generally propagated through the continent that I wrote this pamphlet. But although I could not have written anything in so manly and striking a style, I flatter myself I should have made a more respectable figure as an architect, if I had undertaken such a work. This writer seems to have very inadequate ideas of what is proper and necessary to be done in order to form constitutions for single colonies, as well as a great model of union for the whole.

Your distresses, which you have painted in such lively colors, I feel in every line as I read. I dare not write all that I think upon this occasion. I wish our people had taken possession of Nook's Hill at the same time when they got the other heights, and before the militia was dismissed.

Poor cousin! I pity him. How much soever he may lament certain letters,[131] I don't lament. I never repent of what was no sin. Misfortunes may be borne without whining. But if I can believe Mr. Dana, those letters were much admired in England. I can't help laughing when I write it, because they were really such hasty, crude scraps. If I could have foreseen their fate, they should have been fit to be seen, and worth all the noise they have made. Mr. Dana says they were considered in England as containing a comprehensive idea of what was necessary to be done, and as showing resolution enough to do it. Wretched stuff as they really were, according to him they have contributed somewhat towards making certain persons to be thought the greatest statesmen in the world. So much for vanity.

My love, duty, respects, and compliments wherever they belong. Virginia will be well defended. So will New York. So will South Carolina. America will erelong raise her voice aloud and assume a bolder air.

Footnotes:

[131]The intercepted letters. Mrs. Adams's cousin, who lamented them, had caught the feelings of those about him. The spirit of independence which the letters showed was disapproved by many in England who sympathized with America, and still wished to keep open the avenues to reconciliation.

March 19, 1917

Such a week of excitement as we have had. But it has been uplifting excitement. I feel as if I had never had an ache or a pain, and Time and Age were not. What with the English advance, the Russian Revolution, and Zeppelins tumbling out of the heavens, every day has been just a little more thrilling than the day before.

I wonder now how "Willie,"—as we used to call him in the days when he was considered a joke,—feels over his latest great success—the democratic conversion, or I suppose I should, to be correct, say the conversion to democracy, of all Russia? It must be a queer sensation to set out to accomplish one thing, and to achieve its exact reverse.

Yesterday—it was Sunday—just capped the week of excitement. It was the third beautiful day in the week,—full of sunshine, air clear, sky blue.

In the morning, the soldiers began to drop in, to bring back books and
get more, to talk a little politics, for even the destruction of the
Zeppelin at Compiègne, and the news that the English were at
Bapaume, was a bit damped by the untimely fall of Briand.

The boys all looked in prime condition, and they all had new uniforms, even new caps and boots. The Canadian, who usually comes alone, had personally conducted three of his comrades, whom he formally introduced, and, as I led the way into the library, I remarked, "Mais, comme nous sommes chic aujourd'hui," and they all laughed, and explained that it was Sunday and they were dressed for a formal call. If any of them guessed that the new equipment meant anything they made no sign. I imagine they did not suspect any more than I did, for they all went down the hill to lunch, each with a book under his arm. Yet four hours later they were preparing to advance.

It was exactly four in the afternoon that news came that the French had pierced the line at Soissons—just in front of us—and that Noyon had been retaken—that the cavalry were à cheval (that means that the 23d Dragoons have advanced in pursuit)—and, only a quarter of an hour after we got the news, the assemblage général was sounded, and the 118th ordered sac au dos at half past six.

For half an hour there was a rush up the hill—boys bringing me back my books, coming to shake hands and present me with little souvenirs, and bring the news that the camions were coming—which meant that the 118th were going right into action again. When a regiment starts in such a hurry that it must take a direct line, and cannot bother with railroads, the boys know what that means.

I know you'll ask me how they took the order, so I tell you without waiting. I saw a few pale faces—but it was only for a moment. A group of them stood in front of me in the library. I had just received from the front, by post, the silk parachute of a fusée volante, on which was written: "A Miss Mildred Aldrich Ramassé sur le champ de bataille à 20 metres des lignes Boches. Souvenir de la patrouille de Février 22, 1917," and the signature of the Aspirant, and that was the only way I knew he had probably been on a dangerous mission.

It was the first time that I had ever seen one any nearer than in the air, during the exercises by night of which I wrote you, and one of the boys was explaining it, and its action, and use, and everyone but me was laughing at the graphic demonstration. I don't know why I didn't laugh. Usually I laugh more than anyone else.

Sometimes I think that I have laughed more in the last two years than in all the rest of my life. The demonstrator looked at me, and asked why I was so grave. I replied that I did not know—perhaps in surprise that they were so gay.

He understood at once. Quite simply he said: "Well, my dear madame, we must be gay. What would we do otherwise? If we thought too often of the comrades who are gone, if we remembered too often that we risked our skins every day, the army would be demoralized. I rarely think of these things except just after an attack. Then I draw a deep breath, look up at the sky, and I laugh, as I say to my soul, 'Well, it was not to be this time, perhaps it never will be.' Life is dear to each of us, in his own way, and for his own reasons. Luckily it is not so dear to any of us as France or honor."

I turned away and looked out of the window a moment—I could not trust myself,—and the next minute they were all shaking hands, and were off down the road to get ready.

The loaded camions began to move just after dark. No one knows the destination, but judging by the direction, they were heading for Soissons. They were moving all night, and the first thing I heard this morning was the bugle in the direction of Quincy, and the news came at breakfast time that the 65th Regiment—the last of the big fighting regiments to go into action at Verdun, and the last to leave, was marching in. The girl from the butcher's brought the news, and "Oh, madame," she added, "the Americans are with them."

"The what?" I exclaimed.

"A big American ambulance corps—any number of ambulance automobiles, and they have put their tents up on the common at Quincy."

You can imagine how excited I was. I sent someone over to Quincy at once to see if it was true, and word came back that Captain Norton's American Corps Sanitaire—forty men who have been with this same division, the 31st Corps—for many months—had arrived from Verdun with the 65th Regiment, and was to follow it into action when it advanced again.

This time the cantonnement does not come up to Huiry—only to the foot of the hill at Voisins.

Of course I have not seen our boys yet, but I probably shall in a few days.

March 19

March 19, 1868.--What we call little things are merely the causes of great things; they are the beginning, the embryo, and it is the point of departure which, generally speaking, decides the whole future of an existence. One single black speck may be the beginning of a gangrene, of a storm, of a revolution. From one insignificant misunderstanding hatred and separation may finally issue. An enormous avalanche begins by the displacement of one atom, and the conflagration of a town by the fall of a match. Almost everything comes from almost nothing, one might think. It is only the first crystallization which is the affair of mind; the ultimate aggregation is the affair of mass, of attraction, of acquired momentum, of mechanical acceleration. History, like nature, illustrates for us the application of the law of inertia and agglomeration which is put lightly in the proverb, "Nothing succeeds like success." Find the right point at starting; strike straight, begin well; everything depends on it. Or more simply still, provide yourself with good luck--for accident plays a vast part in human affairs. Those who have succeeded most in this world (Napoleon or Bismarck) confess it; calculation is not without its uses, but chance makes mock of calculation, and the result of a planned combination is in no wise proportional to its merit. From the supernatural point of view people say: "This chance, as you call it, is, in reality, the action of providence. Man may give himself what trouble he will--God leads him all the same." Only, unfortunately, this supposed intervention as often as not ends in the defeat of zeal, virtue, and devotion, and the success of crime, stupidity, and selfishness. Poor, sorely-tried Faith! She has but one way out of the difficulty--the word Mystery! It is in the origins of things that the great secret of destiny lies hidden, although the breathless sequence of after events has often many surprises for us too. So that at first sight history seems to us accident and confusion; looked at for the second time, it seems to us logical and necessary; looked at for the third time, it appears to us a mixture of necessity and liberty; on the fourth examination we scarcely know what to think of it, for if force is the source of right, and chance the origin of force, we come back to our first explanation, only with a heavier heart than when we began.

Is Democritus right after all? Is chance the foundation of everything, all laws being but the imaginations of our reason, which, itself born of accident, has a certain power of self-deception and of inventing laws which it believes to be real and objective, just as a man who dreams of a meal thinks that he is eating, while in reality there is neither table, nor food, nor guest nor nourishment? Everything goes on as if there were order and reason and logic in the world, while in reality everything is fortuitous, accidental, and apparent. The universe is but the kaleidoscope which turns within the mind of the so-called thinking being, who is himself a curiosity without a cause, an accident conscious of the great accident around him, and who amuses himself with it so long as the phenomenon of his vision lasts. Science is a lucid madness occupied in tabulating its own necessary hallucinations. The philosopher laughs, for he alone escapes being duped, while he sees other men the victims of persistent illusion. He is like some mischievous spectator of a ball who has cleverly taken all the strings from the violins, and yet sees musicians and dancers moving and pirouetting before him as though the music were still going on. Such an experience would delight him as proving that the universal St. Vitus' dance is also nothing but an aberration of the inner consciousness, and that the philosopher is in the right of it as against the general credulity. Is it not even enough simply to shut one's ears in a ballroom, to believe one's self in a madhouse?

The multitude of religions on the earth must have very much the same effect upon the man who has killed the religious idea in himself. But it is a dangerous attempt, this repudiation of the common law of the race--this claim to be in the right, as against all the world.

It is not often that the philosophic scoffers forget themselves for others. Why should they? Self-devotion is a serious thing, and seriousness would be inconsistent with their rôle of mockery. To be unselfish we must love; to love we must believe in the reality of what we love; we must know how to suffer, how to forget ourselves, how to yield ourselves up--in a word, how to be serious. A spirit of incessant mockery means absolute isolation; it is the sign of a thoroughgoing egotism. If we wish to do good to men we must pity and not despise them. We must learn to say of them, not "What fools!" but "What unfortunates!" The pessimist or the nihilist seems to me less cold and icy than the mocking atheist. He reminds me of the somber words of "Ahasvérus:"

"Vous qui manquez de charité, Tremblez à mon supplice étrange: Ce n'est point sa divinité, C'est l'humanité que Dieu venge!"

[Footnote: The quotation is from Quinet's "Ahasvérus" (first published 1833), that strange Welt-gedicht, which the author himself described as "l'histoire du monde, de Dieu dans le monde, et enfin du doute dans le monde," and which, with Faust, probably suggested the unfinished but in many ways brilliant performance of the young Spaniard, Espronceda--El Diablo Mundo.]

It is better to be lost than to be saved all alone; and it is a wrong to one's kind to wish to be wise without making others share our wisdom. It is, besides, an illusion to suppose that such a privilege is possible, when everything proves the solidarity of individuals, and when no one can think at all except by means of the general store of thought, accumulated and refined by centuries of cultivation and experience. Absolute individualism is an absurdity. A man may be isolated in his own particular and temporary milieu, but every one of our thoughts or feelings finds, has found, and will find, its echo in humanity. Such an echo is immense and far-resounding in the case of those representative men who have been adopted by great fractions of humanity as guides, revealers, and reformers; but it exists for everybody. Every sincere utterance of the soul, every testimony faithfully borne to a personal conviction, is of use to some one and some thing, even when you know it not, and when your mouth is stopped by violence, or the noose tightens round your neck. A word spoken to some one preserves an indestructible influence, just as any movement whatever may be metamorphosed, but not undone. Here, then, is a reason for not mocking, for not being silent, for affirming, for acting. We must have faith in truth; we must seek the true and spread it abroad; we must love men and serve them.