The Project Gutenberg EBook of Letters of a Soldier, by Anonymous

The Project Gutenberg EBook of Letters of a Soldier, by Anonymous

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Title: Letters of a Soldier
       1914-1915

Author: Anonymous

Commentator: A. Clutton-Brock
               André Chevrillon

Translator: V.M.

Release Date: December 15, 2005 [EBook #17316]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1

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LETTERS OF A SOLDIER

         You do not know the things that are taught by him
         who falls. I do know.

         (_Letter of October 15, 1914._)

LETTERS OF A SOLDIER

1914-1915

WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY
A. CLUTTON-BROCK

AND A PREFACE BY
ANDRÉ CHEVRILLON

AUTHORISED TRANSLATION BY
V.M.

LONDON
CONSTABLE AND COMPANY LTD
1917

Printed in Great Britain

CONTENTS

                              PAGE
INTRODUCTION                   vii

PREFACE BY ANDRÉ CHEVRILLON      3

LETTERS                         33

INTRODUCTION

I have been asked to write an Introduction to these letters; and I do
so, in spite of the fact that M. Chevrillon has already written one,
because they are stranger to me, an Englishman, than they could be to
him a Frenchman; and it seems worth while to warn other English readers
of this strangeness. But I would warn them of it only by way of a
recommendation. We all hope that after the war there will be a growing
intimacy between France and England, that the two countries will be
closer to each other than any two countries have ever been before. But
if this is to happen we must not be content with admiring each other.
Mere admiration will die away; indeed, some part of our present
admiration of the French has come from our failure to understand them.
There is a surprise in it which they cannot think flattering, and which
ought never to have been. Perhaps they also have been surprised by us;
for it is certain that we have not known each other, and have been
content with those loose general opinions about each other which are the
common result of ignorance and indifference.

What we need then is understanding; and these letters will help us to
it. They are, as we should have said before the war, very French, that
is to say, very unlike what an Englishman would write to his mother, or
indeed to any one. Many Englishmen, if they could have read them before
the war, would have thought them almost unmanly; yet the writer
distinguished himself even in the French army. But perhaps unmanly is
too strong a word to be put in the mouth even of an imaginary and stupid
Englishman. No one, however stupid, could possibly have supposed that
the writer was a coward; but it might have been thought that he was
utterly unfitted for war. So the Germans thought that the whole French
nation, and indeed every nation but themselves, was unfitted for war,
because they alone willed it, and rejoiced in the thought of it. And
certainly the French had a greater abhorrence of war even than
ourselves; how great one can see in these letters. The writer of them
never for a moment tries or pretends to take any pleasure in war. His
chief aim in writing is to forget it, to speak of the consolations which
he can still draw from the memories of his past peaceful life, and from
the peace of the sky and the earth, where it is still unravaged. He is,
or was, a painter (one cannot say which, for he is missing), and the
moment he has time to write, he thinks of his art again. It would hardly
be possible for any Englishman to ignore the war so resolutely, to
refuse any kind of consent to it; or, if an Englishman were capable of
such refusal, he would probably be a conscientious objector. We must
romanticise things to some extent if we are to endure them; we must at
least make jokes about them; and that is where the French fail to
understand us, like the Germans. If a thing is bad to a Frenchman, it is
altogether bad; and he will have no dealings with it. He may have to
endure it; but he endures gravely and tensely with a sad Latin dignity,
and so it is that this Frenchman endures the war from first to last. For
that reason the Germans, after their failure on the Marne, counted on
the nervous exhaustion of the French. It was a favourite phrase with
them--one of those formulæ founded on knowledge without understanding
which so often mislead them.--Their formula for us was that we cared for
nothing but football and marmalade.--But reading these letters one can
understand how they were deceived. The writer of them seems to be
always enduring tensely. It is part of his French sincerity never to
accept any false consolation. He will not try to believe what he knows
to be false, even so that he may endure for the sake of France. Yet he
does endure, and all France endures, in a state of mind that would mean
weakness in us and utter collapse in the Germans. The war is to him like
an incessant noise that he tries to forget while he is writing. He does
not write as a matter of duty, and so that his mother may know that he
is still living; rather he writes to her so that he may ease a little
his desire to talk to her. We are used to French sentiment about the
mother; it is a commonplace of French eloquence, and we have often
smiled at it as mere sentimental platitude; but in these letters we see
a son's love for his mother no longer insisted upon or dressed up in
rhetoric, but naked and unconscious, a habit of the mind, a need of the
soul, a support even to the weakness of the flesh. Such affection with
us is apt to be, if not shamefaced, at least a little off-hand. Often it
exists, and is strong; but it is seldom so constant an element in all
joy and sorrow. The most loving of English sons would not often rather
talk to his mother than to any one else; but one knows that this
Frenchman would rather talk to his mother than to any one else, and that
he can talk to her more intimately than to any woman or man. One can see
that he has had the long habit of talking to her thus, so that now he
does it easily and without restraint. He tells her the deepest thoughts
of his mind, knowing that she will understand them better than any one
else. That foreboding which the mother felt about her baby in Morris's
poem has never come true about him:

      'Lo, here thy body beginning, O son, and thy soul and thy life,
       But how will it be if thou livest and enterest into the strife,
       And in love we dwell together when the man is grown in thee,
       When thy sweet speech I shall hearken, and yet 'twixt thee and me
       Shall rise that wall of distance that round each one doth grow,
       And maketh it hard and bitter each other's thought to know?'

This son has lived and entered into the strife indeed; but the wall of
distance has not grown round him; and, as we read these letters, we
think that no French mother would fear the natural estrangement which
that English mother in the poem fears. The foreboding itself seems to
belong to a barbaric society in which there is a more animal division of
the sexes, in which the male fears to become effeminate if he does not
insist upon his masculinity even to his mother. But this Frenchman has
left barbarism so far behind that he is not afraid of effeminacy; nor
does he need to remind himself that he is a male. There is a philosophy
to which this forgetfulness of masculinity is decadence. According to
that philosophy, man must remember always that he is an animal, a proud
fighting animal like a bull or a cock; and the proudest of all fighting
animals, to be admired at a distance by all women unless he condescends
to desire them, is the officer. No one could be further from such a
philosophy than this Frenchman; he is so far from it that he does not
seem even to be aware of its existence. He hardly mentions the Germans
and never expresses anger against them. The worst he says of them almost
makes one smile at its naïve gentleness. 'Unfortunately, contact with
the German race has for ever spoilt my opinion of those people.' They
are to him merely a nation that does not know how to behave. He reminds
one of Talleyrand, who said of Napoleon after one of his rages: 'What a
pity that so great a man should have been so badly brought up.' But
there was malice in that understatement of Talleyrand's; and there is
none in the understatement of this Frenchman. He has no desire for
revenge; his only wish is that his duty were done and that he could
return home to his art and his mother. To the philosophy I have spoken
of that would seem a pitiable state of mind. No one could be less like a
Germanic hero than this French artist; and yet the Germans were in error
when they counted on an easy victory over him and his like, when they
made sure that a conscious barbarism must prevail over an unconscious
civilisation.

These letters reveal to us a new type of soldier, a new type of hero,
almost a new type of man; one who can be brave without any animal
consolations, who can endure without any romantic illusions, and, what
is more, one who can have faith without any formal revelation. For there
is nothing in the letters more interesting than the religion constantly
expressed or implied in them. The writer is not a Catholic. Catholic
fervour on its figurative side, he says, will always leave him cold. He
finds the fervour of Verlaine almost gross. He seems afraid to give any
artistic expression to his own faith, lest he should falsify it by
over-expression, lest it should seem to be more accomplished than it is.
He will not even try to take delight in it; he is almost fanatically an
intellectual ascetic; and yet again and again he affirms a faith which
he will hardly consent to specify by uttering the name of God. He is shy
about it, as if it might be refuted if it were expressed in any dogmatic
terms. So many victories seem to have been won over faith in the modern
world that his will not throw down any challenge. If it is to live, it
must escape the notice of the vulgar triumphing sceptics, and even of
the doubting habits of his own mind. Yet it does live its own humble and
hesitating life; and in its hesitations and its humility is its
strength. He could not be acclaimed by any eager bishop as a lost sheep
returning repentant to the fold; but he is not lost, nor is the
universe to him anything but a home and the dear city of God even in the
trenches.

His expression of this faith is always vague, tentative, and
inconclusive. He is certain of something, but he cannot say what; yet he
knows that he is certain, although, if he were to try to express his
certainty in any old terms, he would reject it himself. He knows; but he
cannot tell us or himself what he knows. There are sentences in which,
as M. Chevrillon says, he speaks like an Indian sage; but I do not think
that Indian philosophy would have satisfied him, because it is itself
satisfied. For he is in this matter of faith a primitive, beginning to
build a very small and humble temple out of the ruins of the past. He
has no science of theology, nothing but emotions and values, and a trust
in them. They are for a reality that he can scarcely express at all; and
yet he is the more sure of its existence because of the torment through
which he is passing. He uses that word _torment_ more than once. The war
is to him a martyrdom in which he bears witness to his love, not only
for France, but also for that larger country which is the universe. The
torment makes him more sure of it than ever before; it heightens his
sense of values; and he knows that what matters to a man is not whether
he is joyful or sorrowful, but the quality of his joy and his sorrow.
There are times when, like an Indian sage, he thinks that all life is
contemplation; but this thought is only the last refuge of the spirit
against a material storm. He is not one of those who would go into the
wilderness and lose themselves in the depths of abstract thought; he is
a European, an artist, a lover, one for whom the visible world exists,
and to whom the Christian doctrine of love is but the expression of his
own experience. For a century or more our world, confident in its
strength, its reason, its knowledge, has been undermining that doctrine
with every possible heresy. In sheer wilfulness it has tried to empty
life of all its values. It has made us ashamed of loving anything; for
all love, it has told us, is illusion produced by the will to live, or
the will to power, or some other figment of its own perverse thought.
And now, as a result of that perversity, the storm breaks upon us when
we seem to have stripped ourselves of all shelter against it. The
doctrine of the struggle for life becomes a fact in this war; but, if it
were true, what creature endowed with reason would find life worth
struggling for? Certainly not the writer of these letters. He fought,
not only for his country, but to maintain a contrary doctrine; and we
see him and a thousand others passing through the fiercest trial of
faith at the moment when the mind of man has been by its own perverse
activity stripped most bare of faith. So he cannot even express the
faith for which he is ready to die; but he is ready to die for it. A
few years ago he would have been sneered at for the vagueness of his
language, but no one can sneer now. The dead will not spoil the spring,
he says No, indeed: for by their death they have brought a new spring of
faith into the world.

A. CLUTTON-BROCK.

LETTERS OF A SOLDIER

AUGUST 1914-APRIL 1915

PREFACE BY ANDRÉ CHEVRILLON

PREFACE BY ANDRÉ CHEVRILLON

The letters that follow are those of a young painter who was at the
front from September [1914] till the beginning of April [1915]; at the
latter date he was missing in one of the battles of the Argonne. Are we
to speak of him in the present tense or in the past? We know not: since
the day when the last mud-stained paper reached them, announcing the
attack in which he was to vanish, what a close weight of silence for
those who during eight months lived upon these almost daily letters! But
for how many women, how many mothers, is a grief like this to-day a
common lot!

In the studio and amid the canvases upon which the young man had traced
the forms of his dreams, I have seen, piously placed in order on a
table, all the little papers written by his hand. A silent presence--I
was not then aware what manner of mind had there expressed
itself--revisiting this hearth: a mind surely made to travel far abroad
and cast its lights upon multitudes of men.

It was the mind of a complete artist, but of a poet as well, that had
lurked under the timid reserves of a youth who at thirteen years of age
had left school for the studio, and who had taught himself, without help
from any other, to translate the thoughts that moved him into such words
as the reader will judge of. Here are tenderness of heart, a fervent
love of Nature, a mystical sense of her changing moods and of her
eternal language: all those things of which the Germans, professing
themselves heirs of Goethe and of Beethoven, imagine they have the
monopoly, but of which we Frenchmen have the true perception, and which
move us in the words written by our young countryman for his most dearly
beloved and for himself.

It is singularly touching to find in the spiritual, grave, and religious
temper of these letters an affinity to the spirit of many others written
from the front. During those weeks, those endless months of winter in
the mud or the frost of the trenches, in the daily sight of death, in
the thought of that death coming upon them also, closing upon them to
seal their eyes for ever, these boys seem to have faced the things of
eternity with a deeper insight and a keener feeling, as each one, in the
full strength of life and youth, dwelt upon the thought of beholding the
world for the last time:

          'Et le monde allait donc mourir
           Avec mes yeux, miroir du monde.'

Solemn thought for the man who has watched through a long night in some
advance-post, and who, beyond the grey and silent plain where lurks the
enemy, sees a red sun rise yet once more upon the world! 'O splendid
sun, I wish I could see you again!' wrote once, on the evening of his
advance upon French ground, a young Silesian soldier who fell upon the
battlefield of the Marne, and whose Journal has been published. Suddenly
breaks in this mysterious cry in the course of methodical German notes
on food and drink, stages of the march, blistered feet, the number of
villages set on fire. And in how many French letters too have we found
it--that abrupt intuition! It is always the same, in many and various
words: in those of the agriculturist of the Seine-et-Marne, whom I
could name, and who for perhaps the first time in his life takes an
interest in the sunset; in those of the young middle-class Parisian who
had seemed incapable of speech save in terms of unbelief and burlesque;
in those of the artist who utters his emotion in poetry and lifts it up
to the heights of stoical philosophy. Through all unlikenesses, in the
hearts of all--peasant, citizen, soldier, German schoolmaster--one
prevailing thought is revealed; the living man, passing away, feels, at
the approach of eternal night, an exaltation of his sense of the
splendour of the world. O miracle of things! O divine peace of this
plain, of these trees, of these hillsides! And how keenly does the ear
listen for this infinite silence! Or we hear of the immensities of night
where nothing remains except light and flame: far off, the smouldering
of fires; far up, the sparkle of stars, the shapes of constellations,
the august order of the universe. Very soon the rattle of machine-guns,
the thunder of explosives, the clamour of attack will begin anew; there
will again be killing and dying. What a contrast of human fury and
eternal serenity! More or less vaguely, and for a brief moment, there
comes into passing life a glimpse of the profound relation of the simple
things of heaven and earth with the mind of him who contemplates them.
Does man then guess that all these things are indeed himself, that his
little life and the life of the tree yonder, thrilling in the shiver of
dawn, and beckoning to him, are bound together in the flood of universal
life?

       *       *       *       *       *

For the artist of whom we are now reading, such intuitions and such
visions were the delight of long months in the trenches. Under the free
sky, in contact with the earth, in face of the peril and the sight of
death, life seemed to him to take a sudden and strange expansion. 'From
our life in the open air we have gained a freedom of conception, an
amplitude of thought, which will for ever make cities horrible to those
who survive the war.' Death itself had become a more beautiful and a
more simple thing; the death of soldiers on whose dumb shapes he looked
with pious eyes, as Nature took them back into her maternal care and
mingled them with her earth. Day by day he lived in the thought of
eternity. True, he kept a feeling heart for all the horror, and
compassion for all the pain; as to his duty, the reader will know how he
did that. But, suffering 'all the same,' he took refuge in 'the higher
consolations.' 'We must,' he writes to those who love him and whom he
labours--with what constant solicitude!--to prepare for the worst, 'we
must attain to this--that no catastrophe whatsoever shall have power to
cripple our lives, to interrupt them, to set them out of tune. . . . Be
happy in this great assurance that I give you--that up till now I have
raised my soul to a height where events have had no empire over it.'
These are heights upon which, beyond the differences of their teachings
and their creeds, all great religious intuitions meet together; upon
which illusions are no more, and the soul rejects the pretensions of
self, in order to accept what _is_. 'Our sufferings come from our small
human patience taking the same direction as our desires, noble though
they may be. . . . Do not dwell upon the personality of those who pass
away and of those who are left; such things are weighed only in the
scales of men. We should gauge in ourselves the enormous value of what
is better and greater than humanity.' In truth, death is impotent
because it too is illusory, and 'nothing is ever lost.' So this young
Frenchman, who has yet never forgone the language of his Christianity,
rediscovers amid the terrors of war the stoicism of Marcus
Aurelius--that virtue which is 'neither patience nor too great
confidence, but a certain faith in the order of all things, a certain
power of saying of each trial, "It is well."' And, even beyond stoicism,
it is the sublime and antique thought of India that he makes his own,
the thought that denies appearances and differences, that reveals to man
his separate self and the universe, and teaches him to say of the one,
'I am not _this_,' and of the other, '_that_, I am.' Wonderful encounter
of thoughts across the distance of ages and the distance of races! The
meditation of this young French soldier, in face of the enemy who is to
attack on the morrow, resumes the strange ecstasy in which was rapt the
warrior of the _Bhagavad Gita_ between two armies coming to the grapple.
He, too, sees the turbulence of mankind as a dream that seems to veil
the higher order and the Divine unity. He, too, puts his faith in that
'which knows neither birth nor death,' which is 'not born, is
indestructible, is not slain when this body is slain.' This is the
perpetual life that moves across all the shapes it calls up, striving in
each one to rise nearer to light, to knowledge, and to peace. And that
aim is a law and a command to every thinking being that he should give
himself wholly for the general and final good. Thence comes the grave
satisfaction of those who devote themselves, of those who die, in the
cause of life, in the thought of a sacrifice not useless. 'Tell ----
that if fate strikes down the best, there is no injustice; those who
survive will be the better men. You do not know the things that are
taught by him who falls. I do know.' And even more complete is the
sacrifice when the relinquishment of life, when the renunciation of
self, means the sacrifice of what was dearer than self, and would have
been a life's joy to serve. There was the 'flag of art, the flag of
science,' that the boy loved and had begun to carry--with what a thrill
of pride and faith! Let him learn to fall without regrets. 'It is enough
for him to know that the flag will yet be carried.'

A simple, a common obedience to the duty at hand is the practical
conclusion of that high Indian wisdom when illusions are past. Not to
retreat into the solitude, not to retire into the inaction, that he has
known and prized; to fight at the side of his brothers, in his own rank,
in his own place, with open eyes, without hope of glory or of gain, and
because such is the law: this is the commandment of the god to the
warrior Arjuna, who had doubted whether he were right in turning away
from the Absolute to take part in the evil dream of war. 'The law for
each is that he should fulfil the functions determined by his own state
and being. Let every man accept action, since he shares in that nature
the methods of which make action necessary.' Plainly, it is for Arjuna
to bend his bow among the other Kshettryas. The young Frenchman had not
doubted. But it will be seen by his letters how, in the horror of
carnage, as in the tedious and patient duties of the mine and the
trench, he too had kept his eyes upon eternal things.

I would not insist unduly upon this union of thought. He had hardly
gained, through a few extracts from the _Ramayana_, a glimpse of the
august thought of ancient Asia. Yet, with all the modern shades of
ideas, with all the very French precision of form, the soul that is
revealed in these letters, like that of Amiel, of Michelet, of Tolstoi,
of Shelley, shows certain profound analogies with the tender and
mystical genius of the Indies. Strange is that affinity, bearing witness
as it does not only to his profound need of the Universal and the
Absolute, but to his intuitive sympathy with the whole of life, to his
impulses of love for the general soul of fruitfulness and for all its
single and multitudinous forms. 'Love'--this is one of the words most
often recurring in these letters. Love of the country of battle; love of
the plain over which the mornings and the evenings come and go as the
emotions come and go over a sensitive face; love of the trees with their
almost human gesture--of one tree, steadfast and patient in its wounds,
'like a soldier'; love of the beautiful little living creatures of the
fields which, in the silence of earliest morning, play on the edges of
the trench; love of all things in heaven and earth--of that tender sky,
of that French soil with its clear and severe outlines; love, above all,
of those whom he sees in sufferings and in death at his side; love of
the good peasants, the mothers who have given their sons, and who hold
their peace, dry their tears, and fulfil the tasks of the vineyard and
the field; love of those comrades whose misery 'never silenced laughter
and song'--'good men who would have found my fine artistic robes a bad
encumbrance in the way of their plain duty'; love of all those simple
ones who make up France, and among whom it is good to lose oneself; love
of all men living, for it is surely not possible to hate the enemy,
human flesh and blood bound to this earth and suffering as we too
suffer; love of the dead upon whom he looks, in the impassive beauty,
silence, and mystery revealed beneath his meditative eyes.

It is by his close attention to the interior and spiritual significance
of things that this painter is proved to be a poet, a religious poet who
has sight, in this world, of the essence of being, in ineffable
varieties: painter, and poet, and musician also, for in the trenches he
lives with Beethoven, Handel, Schumann, Berlioz, carrying in his mind
their imaginings and their rhythms, and conceiving also within himself
'the loveliest symphonies fully orchestrated.' Secret riches, intimate
powers of consolation and of joy, able, in the gloomiest hours, in the
dark and the mud of long nights on guard, to speak closely to the soul,
or snatch it suddenly and swiftly to distances and heights. Schumann,
Beethoven: between those two immortal spirits that made music for all
human ears, and the harsh pedants, the angry protagonists of Germanism,
who have succeeded in transforming a people into a war-machine, what
likeness is there? Have we not made the genius of those two ours by
understanding them as we understand them, and by so taking them into our
hearts? Are they not friends of ours? Do they not walk with us in those
blessed solitudes wherein our truest self awakens, and where our
thoughts flow free?

It is the greatest of all whom a certain group of our soldiers invoke in
those days before the expected battle in which some of them are to fall.
They are in the depths of a dug-out. 'There, in complete darkness,
night was awaited for the chance to get out. But once my fellow
non-commissioned officers and I began humming the nine symphonies of
Beethoven. I cannot tell what great thrill woke those notes within us.'

That almost sacred song, those heroic inspirations at such a moment--how
do they not give the lie to German theories as to the limitations of
French sensibility! And what poet of any other race than ours has ever
looked upon Nature with more intimate eyes, with a heart more deeply
moved, than his whose inner soul is here expressed?

       *       *       *       *       *

These letters, despatched day by day from the trench or the billet,
follow each other progressively as a poem does, or a song. A whole life
unfolds, the life of a soul which we may watch through the monotony of
its experiences, overcoming them all, or, again, rapt at the coming of
supreme trials (as in February and in April) into perfect peace. It is
well that we should trace the spiritual progress of such a dauntless
will. No history of an interior life was ever more touching. That will
is set to endurance, and terrible at times is the effort to endure; we
divine this beneath the simple everyday words of the narrative. Here is
an artist and a poet; he had chosen his life, he had planned it, by no
means as a life of action. His whole culture, his whole self-discipline,
had been directed to the further refining of a keen natural sensibility.
Necessarily and intentionally he had turned towards solitude and
contemplation. He had known himself to be purely a mirror for the world,
tarnishable under the breath of the crowd. But now it was for him to
lead a life opposed to his former law, contrary to his plan; and this
not of necessity but by a completely voluntary act. That _ego_ he had so
jealously sheltered, in face of the world yet out of the world, he was
now to yield up, to cast without hesitation or regret into the thick of
human wars; he was no longer to spend his days apart from the jostling
and the shouldering and the breath of troops; he was to bear his part in
the mechanism that serves the terrible ends of war. And the close of a
life which he would have pronounced, from his former point of view, to
be slavery--the close might be speedy death. He had to bring himself to
look upon his old life--the life that was lighted by his visions and
his hopes, the life that fulfilled his sense of universal existence--as
a mere dream, perhaps never to be dreamed again.

That is what he calls 'adapting himself.' And how the word recurs in his
letters! It is a word that teaches him where duty lies, a duty of which
the difficulty is to be gauged by the difference of the present from the
past, of the bygone hope from the present effort. 'In the fulness of
productiveness,' he confesses, 'at the hour when life is flowering, a
young creature is snatched away, and cast upon a barren soil where all
he has cherished fails him. Well, after the first wrench he finds that
life has not forsaken him, and sets to work upon the new ungrateful
ground. The effort calls for such a concentration of energy as leaves no
time for either hopes or fears. And I manage it, except only in moments
of rebellion (quickly suppressed) of the thoughts and wishes of the
past. But I need my whole strength at times for keeping down the pangs
of memory and accepting what is.'

Indeed, strength was called for day by day. This 'adaptation' was no
transformation. But by a continuous act of vital energy he assimilated
all that he drew from his surroundings. Thus he fed his heart, and kept
his own ideals. This was a way to renounce all things, and by
renunciation to keep the one thing needful, to remain himself, to live,
and not only to live but to flourish; to have a part in that universal
life which produces flowers in nature, art and poetry in man. To gain so
much, all that was needed was to treasure, unaltered by the terrors of
war, a heart eager for all shapes of beauty. For this most religious
poet, beauty was that divine spirit which shines more or less clearly in
all things, and which raises him who perceives it higher than the
accidents of individual existence. And he receives its full influence,
and is rid of all anxiety, who is able to bid adieu to the present and
the past, to regret nothing, to desire nothing, to receive from the
passing moment that influence in its plenitude. 'I accept all from the
hands of fate, and I have captured every delight that lurks under cover
of every moment.' In this state of simplicity, which is almost a state
of grace, he enters into communion with the living reality of the
world. 'Let us eat and drink to all that is eternal, for to-morrow we
die to all that is of earth.'

That emancipation of the soul is not achieved in a day. The earlier
letters are beautiful, but what they teach is learnt by nearly all our
soldiers. In these he tells of the spirit of the men, their fire of
enthusiasm, their imperious sense of duty, their resolve to carry 'an
undefiled conscience as far as their feet may lead.' Yet already he is
seeking to maintain control of his own private self amid all the
excitement of numbers. And he succeeds. He guards himself, he separates
himself, 'as much as possible,' in the midst of his comrades, he keeps
his intellectual life intact. Meanwhile he is within barrack walls, or
else he is jotting down his letters at a railway station, or else he is
in the stages of an interminable journey, 'forty men to a truck.' But to
know him completely, wait until you see him within the zone of war, in
billets, in the front line, on guard, when he has returned to contact
with the very earth. As soon as he breathes open air, his instincts are
awake again, the instinct 'to draw all the beauty out,' and--in the
shadow where the future hides--'to draw out the utmost beauty as quickly
as may be.' 'I picked flowers in the mud; keep them in remembrance of
me,' he will write in a day of foreboding. A most significant trait is
this--in the tedium of trench days, or when imminent peril silences the
idle tongues, he gathers the greatest number of these magical flowers.
In those moments when speech fails, his soul is serene, it has free
play, and we hear its own fine sounds. Hitherto we had heard the
repetition of the word of courage and of brotherhood uttered by all our
gathering armies. But here, in battle, face to face with the eternities,
that spirit of his sounds like the chord of an instrument heard for the
first time in its originality and its infinite sensibility. Nor are
these random notes; they soon make one harmonious sound and acquire a
most touching significance, until by daily practice he learns how to
abstract himself altogether from the most wretched surroundings. A quite
impersonal _ego_ seems then to detach itself from the particular _ego_
that suffers and is in peril; it looks impartially upon all things, and
sees its other self as a passing wave in the tide that a mysterious
Intelligence controls. Strange faculty of double existence and of
vision! He possesses it in the midst of the very battle in which his
active valour gained him the congratulations of his commanding officer.
In the furnace in which his flesh may be consumed he looks about him,
and next morning he writes, 'Well, it was interesting.' And he adds,
'what I had kept about me of my own individuality was a certain visual
perceptiveness that caused me to register the setting of things--a
setting that dramatised itself as artistically as in any
stage-management. During all these minutes I never relaxed in my resolve
to see _how it was_.' He then, too, became aware of the meaning of
violence. His tender and meditative nature had always held it in horror.
And, perhaps for that very reason, he sought its explanation. It is by
violence that an imperfect and provisional state of things is shattered,
and what was lax is put into action again. Life is resumed, and a better
order becomes possible. Here again we find his acceptance, his
submission to the Reason that directs the universe; confidence in what
_takes place_--that is his conclusion.

Such times for him are times of observation properly so called, of purer
thought in which the impulses of the painter and the poet have no share.
That kind of observation is not infrequent with him, when he is dealing
with the world and with human action. It awakes at a war-spectacle, at a
trait of manners, at the reading of a book, at a recollection of history
or art; it is often to the Bible that he turns, and, amid the worst
clamours, to the beautiful plastic images of Greece. Admirable is such
serene energy of a spirit able to live purely as a spirit. It is
admirable, but it is not unique; great intellectual activity is not
uncommon with the French; others of our soldiers are philosophers among
the shells. What does set these letters in a place apart is something
more profound and more organic than thought, and that is sentiment;
sentiment in its infinite and indefinite degrees, its relation to the
aspects of nature--in a word, that poetic faculty which is akin to the
musical, proceeding as they both do from the primitive ground-work of
our being, and uniting in the inflexions of rhythm and of song. I have
already named Shelley in connexion with the poet we are considering.
And it is a Shelleyan union with the most intimate, the most
inexpressible things in nature that is revealed in such a note as the
following: 'A nameless day, a day without form, yet a day in which the
Spring most mysteriously begins to stir. Warm air in the lengthening
days; a sudden softening, a weakening of nature.' In describing this
atmosphere, this too sudden softness, he uses a word frequent in the
vocabulary of Shelley--'fainting.' In truth, like the great English
poet, whom he seems not to have known, he seeks from the beauty of
things a faculty of self-forgetfulness in lyrical poetry, an
inexpressible and blissful passing of the poet's being into the thing he
contemplates. What he makes his own in the course of those weeks, what
he remembers afterwards, and what he would recall, never to lose it
again, is the culminating moment in which he has achieved
self-forgetfulness and reached the ineffable. The simplest of natural
objects is able to yield him such a moment; see, for instance, this
abrupt intuition: 'I had lapsed from my former sense of the benediction
of God, when suddenly the beauty--all the beauty--of a certain tree
spoke to my inmost heart; and then I understood that an instant of such
contemplation is the whole of life.' And still more continuous, still
more vibrant, is at times his emotion, as when the bow draws out to the
utmost a long ecstatic tone from a sensitive violin. 'What joy is this
perpetual thrill in the heart of Nature! That same horizon of which I
had watched the awakening, I saw last night bathe itself in rosy light;
and then the full moon went up into a tender sky, fretted by coral and
saffron trees.' It is very nearly ecstasy with him in that astonishing
Christmas night which no one then at the front can ever forget--a solemn
night, a blue night, full of stars and of music, when the order and the
divine unity of the universe stood revealed to the eyes of men who, free
for a moment from the dream of hatred and of blood, raised one chant
along six miles, 'hymns, hymns, from end to end.'

Of the carnage in February there are a few precise notes, sufficient to
suggest the increasing horror. The narrative grows quicker; the reader
is aware of the pulse and the impetus of action, the imperious summons
of duty; the young sergeant is in charge of men, and has to execute
terrible tasks. But ever across the tumult and the slaughter, there are
moments of recollection and of compassion; and, in the evening of a day
of battle, what infinite tranquillity among the dead! At this period
there are no more notes of landscape effects; the description is of the
war, technical; otherwise the writer's thought is not of earth at all.
Once only, towards the end, we find a sorrowful recollection of himself,
a profound lamentation at the remembrance of bygone hopes, of bygone
work, of the immensity of the sacrifice. 'This war is long, too long for
those who had something else to do in the world! Why am I so sacrificed,
when so many others, not my equals, are spared? Yet I had something
worth doing to do in the world!' Most touching is that sigh, even more
touching than the signs of greatness in his soul, for it suddenly
breathes an anguish long controlled. It is a human weakness--our own
weakness--that is at last confessed, on the eve of a Passion, as in the
Divine example. At rare times such a question, in the constant sight of
death, in fatigue and weariness, in the long distress of rain and mud,
checks in him the impulse of life and of spiritual desire. He was
himself the young plant of which he writes, growing, creating fragrance
and breaking into flower, sure of God, feeling Him alive within itself.
But all at once it knows frost is coming and the threat of unpitying
things. What if the universe were void, what if in the infinity of the
exterior world there were nothing, across the splendid vision, but an
insensate fatality? What if sacrifice itself were also a delusion? 'Dark
days have come upon me, and nothingness seems the end of all, whereas
all that is in my being had assured me of the plenitude of the
universe.' And he asks himself the anxious question, 'Is it even sure
that moral effort bears any fruit?' It is something like abandonment by
God. But that darkening of his lights passes quickly away. He comes
again to the regions of tranquil thought, and leaves them thenceforward
only for the work in hand. 'I hope,' he writes, 'that when you think of
me you will have in mind all those who have left everything behind, and
how their nearest and dearest think of them only in the past, and say
of them, "We had once a brother, who, many years ago, withdrew from this
world."' How strange is the serenity of these lofty thoughts, how
entirely detached from self and from all human things is this spirit of
contemplation. Two slight traits give us signs: One night, on a
battlefield 'scattered with fragments of men' and with burning
dwellings, under a starry sky, he makes his bed in an excavation, and
lies there watching the crescent moon, and waits for dawn; now and again
a shell bursts, earth falls about him, and then silence returns to the
frozen soil: 'I have paid the price, but I have had moments of solitude
full of God.' Again, one evening, after five days of horror ('we have no
officers left--they all died as brave men'), he suddenly comes upon the
body of a friend; 'a white body, splendid under the moon. I lay down
near him.' In the quietness, by the side of the dead man, nothing
remains but beauty and peace.

       *       *       *       *       *

These letters are to be anonymous, at least so long as any hope remains
that he who was lost may return. It is enough to know that they were
written by a Frenchman who, in love and faith, bore his part in the
general effort, the common peril, glad to renounce himself in the pain
and the devotion of his countrymen. By a happy fortune that he did not
foresee when he left his clean solitude for the sweat, the servitude,
and the throng, he no doubt produced the best of himself in these
letters; and it may be doubted whether, in the course of a successful
artist's life, it would have been given to him to express himself with
so much completeness. This is a thought that may strengthen those who
love him to accept whatever has come to pass. His soul is here, a more
essential soul perhaps, and a more beautiful, than they had known. It
was in war that Marcus Aurelius also wrote his thoughts. Possibly the
worst is needful for the manifestation of the whole of human greatness.
We marvel how the soul can so discover in itself the means to oppose
suffering and death. Thus have many of our sons revealed themselves in
the day of trial, to the wonder of France, until then unaware of all
that she really was. That is how these pages touch us so closely. He who
wrote them had attuned himself with his countrymen. Through the more
mystical acts of his mind we perceive the sublime message sent to us
from the front, more or less explicitly, by others of our brothers and
our sons--the high music that goes up still from the whole of France at
war. In all his comrades assembled for the great task, he too had
recognised the best and the deepest things that his own heart held, and
so he speaks of them constantly--especially of the simplest of the
men--with so great respect and love. Far from ordinary ambitions and
cares, the things that this rough life among the eternities brings into
all hearts with a heretofore unknown amplitude are serenity of
conscience and a freshness of feeling in perpetual touch with the
harmonies of nature. These men do but reflect nature. Since they have
renounced themselves and given themselves, all things have become simple
for them. They have the transparence of soul and the lights of
childhood. 'We spend childish days. We are children.' . . .

This new youthfulness of heart under the contemned menace of death, this
innocence in the daily fulfilment of heroic duty, is assured by a
spiritual state akin to sanctity.

LETTERS

LETTERS OF A SOLDIER

_August 6, 1914._

MY VERY DEAR MOTHER,--These are my first days of life at war, full of
change, but the fatigue I actually feel is very different from what I
foresaw.

I am in a state of great nervous tension because of the want of sleep
and exercise. I lead the life of a government clerk. I belong to what is
called the dépôt, I am one of those doing sedentary work, and destined
eventually to fill up the gaps in the fighting line.

What we miss is news; there are no longer any papers to be had in this
town.

_August 13._

We are without news, and so it will be for several days, the censorship
being of the most rigorous kind.

Here life is calm. The weather is magnificent, and all breathes quiet
and confidence. We think of those who are fighting in the heat, and this
thought makes our own situation seem even too good. The spirit among
the reservists is excellent.

_Sunday, August 16._

To-day a walk along the Marne. Charming weather after a little rain.

A welcome interlude in these troubled times. We are still without news,
like you, but we have happily a large stock of patience. I have had some
pleasure in the landscape, notwithstanding the invasion of red and blue.
These fine men in red and blue have given the best impression of their
_moral_. Great levies will be made upon our dépôts, to be endured with
fortitude.

_August 16_ (from a note-book).

The monotony of military life benumbs me, but I don't complain. After
nine years these types are to be rediscovered, a little less marked,
improved, levelled down. Just now every one is full of grave thoughts
because of the news from the East.

The ordinary good-fellowship of the mess has been replaced by a finer
solidarity and a praiseworthy attempt at adaptation. One of the
advantages of our situation is that we can, as it were, play at being
soldiers with the certainty of not wasting our time. All these childish
and easy occupations, which are of immediate result and usefulness,
bring back calm to the mind and soothe the nerves. Then the great stay
which supports the men is a profound, vague feeling of brotherhood which
turns all hearts towards those who are fighting. Each one feels that the
slight discomfort which he endures is only a feeble tribute to the
frightful expense of all energy and all devotedness at the front.

_August 25._

This letter will barely precede our own departure. The terrible conflict
calls for our presence close to those who are already in the midst of
the struggle. I leave you, grandmother and you, with the hope of seeing
you again, and the certainty that you will approve of my doing all that
seems to me my duty.

Nothing is hopeless, and, above all, nothing has changed our idea of the
part we have to play.

Tell all those who love me a little that I think of them. I have no time
to write to any one. My health is of the best.

. . . After such an upheaval we may say that our former life is dead.
Dear mother, let us, you and I, with all our courage adapt ourselves to
an existence entirely different, however long it may last.

Be very sure that I won't go out of my way to do anything that endangers
our happiness, but that I'll try to satisfy my conscience, and yours. Up
till now I am without cause for self-reproach, and so I hope to remain.

_August 25_ (2nd letter).

A second letter to tell you that, instead of our regiment, it was
Pierre's that went. I had the joy of seeing him pass in front of me when
I was on guard in the town. I accompanied him for a hundred yards, then
we said good-bye. I had a feeling that we should meet again.

It is the gravest of hours; the country will not die, but her
deliverance will be snatched only at the price of frightful efforts.

Pierre's regiment went covered with flowers, and singing. It was a deep
consolation to be together till the end.

It is fine of André[1] to have saved his drowning comrade. We don't
realise the reserve of heroism there is in France, and among the young
intellectual Parisians.

In regard to our losses, I may tell you that whole divisions have been
wiped out. Certain regiments have not an officer left.

As for my state of mind, my first letter will perhaps tell you better
what I believe to be my duty. Know that it would be shameful to think
for one instant of holding back when the race demands the sacrifice. My
only part is to carry an undefiled conscience as far as my feet may
lead.

[Footnote 1: Second Lieutenant André Cadoux, who died gloriously in
battle on April 13, 1915.]

_August 26._

MY VERY DEAR MOTHER,--I was made happy by Maurice Barrés's fine article,
'l'Aigle et le Rossignol,' which corresponds in every detail with what I
feel.

The dépôts contain some failures, but also men of fine energy, among
whom I dare not yet count myself, but with whom I hope to set out. The
major had dispensed me from carrying a knapsack, but I carry it for
practice and manage quite well.

The only assurance which I can give you concerns my own moral and
physical state, which is excellent. The true death would be to live in a
conquered country, above all for me, whose art would perish.

I isolate myself as much as I can, and I am really unaffected, from the
intellectual point of view. Besides, the atmosphere of the mess is well
above that of normal times: the trouble is that the constant moving and
changing drags us about from place to place, and growing confidence
falters before the perpetually recurring unknown.

_August 30._

. . . My little mother, it is certain that though we did not leave
yesterday, it is yet only a question of hours. I won't say to you
anything that I have already said, content only that I have from you the
approval of which I was certain.

. . . In the very hard march yesterday only one man fell out, really ill.
France will come out of this bad pass.

I can only repeat to you how well I am prepared for all eventualities,
and that nothing can undo our twenty-seven years of happiness. I am
resolved not to consider myself foredoomed, and I fancy the joy of
returning, but I am ready to go to the end of my strength. If you knew
the shame I should endure to think that I might have done something
more!

In the midst of all this sadness we live through magnificent hours, when
the things that used to be most strange take on an august significance.

_September 4, 6 o'clock_
(_on the way, in the train_).

We have had forty hours of a journey in which the picturesque outdoes
even the extreme discomfort. The great problem is sleep, and the
solution is not easy when there are forty in a cattle-truck.

The train stops every instant, and we encounter the unhappy refugees.
Then the wounded: fine spectacle of patriotism. The English army. The
artillery.

We no longer know anything, having no more papers, and we can't trust
the rumours which fly among the distraught population.

Splendid weather.

_Saturday, September 5_ (_at the end
of 60 hours in a cattle-truck:
40 men to a truck_).

On the same day we skirted the Seine opposite the forest of
Fontainebleau and the banks of the Loire. Saw the château de Blois and
the château d'Amboise. Unhappily the darkness prevented us from seeing
more. How can I tell you what tender emotions I felt by these
magnificent banks of the Loire!

Are you bombarded by the frightful aeroplanes? I think of you in such
conditions and above all of poor Grandmother, who indeed had little need
to see all this! However, we must hope.

We learn from wounded refugees that in the first days of August mistakes
were made in the high command which had terrible consequences. It falls
to us now to repair those mistakes.

Masses of English troops arrive. We have crossed numbers of crowded
trains.

Well, this war will not have been the mere march-past which many
thought, but which I never thought, it would be; but it will have
stirred the good in all humanity. I do not speak of the magnificent
things which have no immediate connection with the war,--but nothing
will be lost.

_September 5, 1914_ (_1st halting-place,
66 hours in the cage without being
able to stretch_).

Still the same jolting and vibration, but three times after the horrible
night there has come the glory of the morning, and all fatigue has
disappeared.

We have crossed the French country in several directions, from the
rather harsh serenity, full of suggestiveness, of Champagne, to the rich
robust placidity of Brittany. On the way we followed the full and noble
banks of the Loire, and now . . .

O my beautiful country, the heart of the world, where lies all that is
divine upon earth, what monster sets upon you--a country whose offence
is her beauty!

I used to love France with sincere love, which was more than a little
_dilettante_; I loved her as an artist, proud to live in the most
beautiful of lands; in fact, I loved her rather as a picture might love
its frame. It needed this horror to make me know how filial and profound
are the ties which bind me to my country. . . .

_September 7_
(from a note-book).

. . . We are embarked on the adventure, without any dominant feeling
except perhaps a sufficiently calm acceptance of this fatality. But
sensibility is kept awake by the sight of the victims, particularly the
refugees. Poor people, truly uprooted, or rather, dead leaves in the
storm, little souls in great circumstances.

Whole trains of cattle-trucks, which can hardly be said to have changed
their use! Trains in which is heaped up the desolation of these people
torn from their homes, and how quickly become as beasts! Misery has
stripped them of all their human attributes. We take them food and
drink, and that is how they become exposed: the man drinks without
remembering his wife and children. The woman thinks of her child. But
other women take their time, unable to share in the general haste. Among
these waifs there is one who assails my heart,--a grandmother of
eighty-seven, shaken, tossed about by all these blows, being by turns
hoisted into and let down from the rolling cages. So trembling and
disabled, so lost. . . .

_September 10_ (from a note-book).

We arrive in a new part of the country on the track of good news: the
strong impression is that France's future is henceforth assured.
Everything corroborates this feeling, from the official report which
formally announces a complete success down to the most fantastic
rumours.

_September 13_ (from a note-book).

This is war; here are we approaching the place of horror. We have left
behind the French villages where peace was still sleeping. Now there is
nothing but tumult. And here are direct victims of the war.

The soldiers: blood, mud and dirt. The wounded. Those whom we pass at
first are the least suffering--wounds in arms, in hands. In most of them
can clearly be seen, in the midst of their fatigue and distress, great
relief at having been let off comparatively easily.

Farther on, towards the ambulances, the burying of the dead: there are
six, stretched on two waggons. Smoothed out, and covered with rags, they
are taken to an open pit at the foot of a Calvary. Some priests conduct,
rather than celebrate, the service, military as they have become. A
little straw and some holy water over all, and so we pass on. After all,
these dead are happy: they are cared-for dead. What can be said of those
who lie farther on and who have passed away after nights of the throes
of death and abandonment.

. . . From this agony there will remain to us an immense yearning for pity
and brotherhood and goodness.

_Wednesday, September 16, 1914._

In the horror-zone.

The rainy twilight shadows the road, and suddenly, in a ditch--the dead!
They have dragged themselves here from the battlefield--they are all
corrupt now. The coming of darkness makes it difficult to distinguish
their nationality, but the same great pity envelops them all. Only one
word for them: poor boy! The night for these ignominies--and then again
the morning. The day rises upon the swollen bodies of dead horses. In
the corner of a wood, carnage, long cold.

One sees only open sacks, ripped nose-bags. Nothing that looks like life
remains.

Among them some civilians, whose presence is due to the German
proceeding of making French hostages march under our fire.

If these notes should reach any one, may they give rise in an honest
heart to horror of the foul crime of those responsible for this war.
There will never be enough glory to cover all the blood and all the
mud.

_September 21, 1914._

War in rain.

It is suffering beyond what can be imagined. Three days and three nights
without being able to do anything but tremble and moan, and yet, in
spite of all, perfect service must be rendered.

To sleep in a ditch full of water has no equivalent in Dante, but what
can be said of the awakening, when one must watch for the moment to kill
or to be killed!

Above, the roar of the shells drowns the whistling of the wind. Every
instant, firing. Then one crouches in the mud, and despair takes
possession of one's soul.

When this torment came to an end I had such a nervous collapse that I
wept without knowing why--late, useless tears.

_September 25._

Hell in so calm and pastoral a place. The autumnal country pitted and
torn by cannon!

_September 27._

If, apart from the greater lessons of the war, there are small immediate
benefits to be had, the one that means most to me is the contemplation
of the night sky. Never has the majesty of the night brought me so much
consolation as during this accumulation of trials. Venus, sparkling, is
a friend to me. . . .

I am now familiar with the constellations. Some of them make great
curves in the sky as if to encircle the throne of God. What glory! And
how one evokes the Chaldean shepherds!

O constellations! first alphabet!. . .

_October 1._

I can say that, as far as the mind goes, I have lived through great days
when all vain preoccupations were swept away by a new spirit.

If there should ever be any lapse so that only one of my letters reaches
you, may it be one that says how beneficial, how precious have these
torments been!

_October 1_ (from a note-book).

It follows from this that our suffering, every moment of it, should be
considered as the most marvellous source of feeling and of progress for
the conscience.

I now know into what domain my destiny leads me. No longer towards the
proud and illusory region of pure speculation, but in the way of all
little daily things--it is there that I must carry the service of an
ever-vigilant sensibility.

I see how easily an upright nature may dispense with the arts of
expression in order to be helpful in act and in influence. Precious
lesson, which will enable me, should I return, to suffer less if fate no
longer allows me to paint.

_October 9._

It seems that we have the order to attack. I do not want to risk this
great event without directing my thoughts to you in the few moments of
quiet that are left. . . . Everything here combines to maintain peace in
the heart: the beauty of the woods in which we live, the absence of
intellectual complications. . . . It is paradoxical, as you say, but the
finest moments of my moral life are those that have just gone by. . . .

       *       *       *       *       *

Know that there will always be beauty on earth, and that man will never
have enough wickedness to suppress it. I have gathered enough of it to
store my life. May our destiny allow me time later to bring to fruit all
that I have gathered now. It is something that no one can snatch from
us, it is treasure of the soul which we have amassed.

_October 12._

Up till now your love and Providence do not forsake me. . . . We are
still in the magnificent devastated woods, in the midst of the finest
autumn. Nature brings many joys which dominate these horrors. Profound
and powerful hope, whatever suffering still awaits us.

_October 14._

It is true, dear mother, that some renunciation costs a great deal of
effort, but be sure that we both possess the necessary strength of soul
to live through these difficult hours without catching our breath in
painful longing at the idea of the return we both crave for.

The great thing is to know the value of the present moment and to make
it yield all that it has of good and beauty and edification. For the
rest, no one can guarantee the future, and it would be vain and futile
torment to live wondering what might happen to us. Don't you think that
life has dispensed us many blessings, and that one of the last, and the
greatest, is that we have been able to communicate with each other and
to feel our union? There are many unfortunate people here who do not
know where their wives and children are, who have been for three months
isolated from all. You see that we are still among the lucky ones.

Dear mother, less than ever ought we to despair, for never shall we be
more truly convinced that all this agitation and delirium of mankind's
are nothing in view of the share of eternity which each one carries
within himself, and that all these monstrosities will end in a better
future. This war is a kind of cataclysm which succeeds to the old
physical upheavals of our globe; but have you not noticed that, in the
midst of all this, a little of our soul is gone from us, and that we
have lost something of our conviction of a Higher Order? Our sufferings
come from our small human patience taking the same direction as our
desires, noble though they may be. But as soon as we set ourselves to
question things in order to discover their true harmony, we find rest
unto our souls. How do we know that this violence and disorder are not
leading the universal destinies towards a final good?

Dear mother, still cherishing the firmest and most human hope, I send my
deepest love to you and to my beloved grandmother.

Send also all my love to our friends who are in trouble. Help them to
bear everything: two crosses are less heavy to carry than one. And
confidence in our eternal joy.

_October 15, 7 o'clock._

I have received your card of the 1st. What joy it gives me that we
should be at last in touch with each other. Certainly, our thoughts have
never been apart. You tell me of Marthe's misfortune, and I am happy
that you can be useful to her. Dear mother, that is the task that
belongs to us both: to be useful at the present moment without reference
to the moment that is to follow.

Yes, indeed, I feel deeply with you that I have a mission in life. But
one must act in each instant as though that mission was having immediate
fulfilment. Do not let us keep back one single small corner of our
hearts for our small hopes. We must attain to this--that no catastrophe
whatsoever shall have power to cripple our lives, to interrupt them, to
set them out of tune. That is the finest work, and it is the work of
this moment. The rest, that future which we must not question--you will
see, mother dear, what it holds of beauty and goodness and truth. Not
one of our faculties must be used in vain, and all useless anxiety is a
harmful expense.

Be happy in this great assurance that I give you--that up till now I
have raised my soul to a height where events have had no empire over it,
and I promise you that my effort will be still to make ready my soul as
much as I can.

Tell M---- that if fate strikes down the best, there is no injustice:
those who survive will be the better men. Let her accept the sacrifice,
knowing that it is not in vain. You do not know the things that are
taught by him who falls. I do know.

To him who can read life, present events have broken all habit of
thought, but they allow him more glimpses than ever before of eternal
beauty and order.

Let us recover from the surprise of this laceration, and adapt ourselves
without loss of time to the new state of things which turns us into
people as privileged as Socrates and the Christian martyrs and the men
of the Revolution. We are learning to despise all in life that is merely
temporary, and to delight in that which life so seldom yields: the love
of those things that are eternal.

_October 16._

We are living for some days in comparative calm; between two storms my
company is deserving of special rest. Also I am thoroughly enjoying this
month of October. Your fine letter of October 2 reaches me, and I am now
full of happiness, and there is profound peace.

Let us continue to arm ourselves with courage, do not let us even speak
of patience. Nothing but to accept the present moment with all the
treasures which it brings us. That is all there is to do, and it is
precisely in this that all the beauty of the world is concentrated.
There is something, dear mother, something outside all that we have
habitually felt. Apply your courage and your love of me to uncovering
this, and laying it bare for others.

This new beauty has no reference to the ideas expressed in the words
health, family, country. One perceives it when one distinguishes the
share of the eternal which is in everything. But let us cherish this
splendid presentiment of ours--that we shall meet again: it will not in
any way impede our task. Tell M---- how much I think of her. Alas! her
case is not unique. This war has broken many a hope; so, dear mother,
let us put our hope there where the war cannot attain to it, in the deep
places of our heart, and in the high places of our soul.

_October 17, 3 o'clock._

To write to you and to know that my letters reach you is a daily
paradise to me. I watch for the hour when it is possible to write.

Yes, beloved mother, you must feel a revival of courage and desire to
live; never must a single affection, however good, be counted as a
pretext for life. No accident should make us forget the reason we are
alive. Of course, we can prefer this or that mission in life, but let us
accept the one which presents itself, however surprising or passing it
may be. You feel as I do, that happiness is in store for us, but let us
not think of it. Let us think of the actions of to-day, of all the
sacrifices they imply.

_October 22._

I accept all from the hands of fate, and I have captured every delight
that lurks under cover of every moment.

Ah! if men only knew how much peace they squander, and how much may be
contained in one minute, how far less would they suffer from this
seeming violence. No doubt there are extreme torments that I do not yet
know, and which perhaps test the soul in a way I do not suspect, but I
exert all the strength of my soul to accept each moment and each test.
What is necessary is to recognise love and beauty triumphant over
violence. No few seasons of hate and grief will have the power to
overthrow eternal beauty, and of this beauty we all have an imperishable
store.

_October 23._

MY VERY DEAR MOTHER,--I have re-read Barrés's article, 'l'Aigle et le
Rossignol.' It is still as beautiful, but it no longer seems in complete
harmony. Now nothing exists outside the absolute present; everything
else is like ornaments put to one side until the holiday, the far-off,
uncertain holiday. But what does it matter!--the ornaments are treasured
up in safety. Thus do I cherish the treasures of affection, of
legitimate ambition, of praiseworthy aspiration. All of these I have
covered over, and I live but in the present moment.

This morning, under the fine sky, I remembered the music of yesterday: I
was full of happiness. Forgive me for not living in an anguish of
longing to return. I believe that you approve of my giving back our
dearest hopes into other hands than ours.

_October 27._

If, as I hope intensely, I have the joy of seeing you again, you will
know the miraculous way in which I have been led by Providence. I have
only had to bow before a power and a beneficence which surpassed all my
proud conceptions.

I can say that God has been within me as I am within God, and I make
firm resolves always to feel such a communion.

You see, the thing is to put life to good account, not as we understand
it, even in our noblest affections, but in saying to ourselves: Let us
eat and drink to all that is eternal, for to-morrow we die to all that
is of earth. We acquire an increase of love in that moment when we
renounce our mean and anxious hopes.

_October 28._

This is nearly the end of the third month of a terrible trial, from
which the lessons will be wide and salutary not only to him who will
know how to listen, but to all the world, and therein lies the great
consolation for those who are involved in this torment. Let it also be
the consolation of those whose hopes are with the combatants.

This consolation consists especially in the supernaturally certain
conviction that all divine and immortal energy, working through mankind,
far from being enfeebled, will, on the contrary, be exalted and more
intensely effectual at the end of these storms.

Happy the man who will hear the song of peace as in the 'Pastoral
Symphony,' but happy already he who has foreknowledge of it amid the
tumult! And what does it matter in the end that this magnificent
prophecy is fulfilled in the absence of the prophet! He who has guessed
this has gleaned great joy upon earth. We can leave it to a higher being
to pronounce if the mission is accomplished.

_October 28_ (2nd letter, almost
at the same hour).

MY DEAR, DEAR MOTHER,--Another welcome moment to spend with you. We can
never say any but the same thing, but it is so fine a thing that it can
always be said in new ways.

To-day we are living under a sky of great clouds as swift and cold as
those of the Dutch landscape painters.

       *       *       *       *       *

Dear, I dare not wish for anything--it must not be. I must not even
consider a partial relaxation. I assure you that the effort for
endurance is less painful than certain times of intensive preparation
that we have passed through. Only we can each moment brace ourselves in
a kind of resistance against what is evil in us, and leave every door
open to the good which comes from without.

. . . I am glad that you have read Tolstoi: he also took part in war. He
judged it; he accepted its teaching. If you can glance at the admirable
_War and Peace_, you will find pictures that our situation recalls. It
will make you understand the liberty for meditation that is possible to
a soldier who desires it.

As to the disability which the soul might be supposed to suffer through
the lack of all material well-being, do not believe in it. We lead the
life of rabbits on the first day of the season's shooting, and,
notwithstanding that, we can enrich our souls in a magnificent way.

_October 30._

I write to you in a marvellous landscape of grey autumn lashed by the
wind. But for me the wind has always been without sadness, because it
brings to me the spirit of the country beyond the hill. . . .

The horrible war does not succeed in tearing us from our intellectual
habitation. In spite of moments of overwhelming noise, one more or less
recovers oneself. The ordinary course of our present existence gives us
a sensibility like that of a raw wound, aware of the least breath.
Perhaps after this spoliation of our moral skin a new surface will be
formed, and those who return will be for the time brutally insensitive.
Never mind: this condition of crisis for the soul cannot remain without
profit.

Yesterday we were in a pretty Meuse village, all the more charming in
contrast with the surrounding ruins.

I was able to have a shirt washed, and while it dried I talked to the
excellent woman who braves death every day to maintain her hearth. She
has three sons, all three soldiers, and the news she has of them is
already old. One of them passed within a few kilometres of her: his
mother knew it and was not able to see him. Another of these Frenchwomen
keeps the house of her son-in-law who has six children. . . .

For you, duty lies in acceptance of all and, at the same time, in the
most perfect confidence in eternal justice.

Do not dwell upon the personality of those who pass away and of those
who are left; such things are weighed only with the scales of men. We
must gauge in ourselves the enormous value of what is better and greater
than humanity.

Dear mother, absolute confidence. In what? We both already know.

_October 30, 10 o'clock._

Up till now I have possessed the wisdom that renounces all, but now I
hope for a wisdom that accepts all, turning towards what may be to come.
What matter if the trap opens beneath the steps of the runner. True, he
does not attain his end, but is he wiser who remains motionless under
the pretext that he might fall?

_November 1, All Saints', 8 o'clock._

Last night I received your card of 24-25th. While you were looking at
that moon, clouded from us, you were very wrong to feel yourself so
helpless; how much reason had you to hope! At that very moment I was
being protected by Providence in a way that rebukes all pride.

The next day we had the most lovely dawn over the deeply coloured autumn
woods in this country where I made my sketches of three years ago; but
just here the landscape becomes accentuated and enlarged and acquires a
pathetic majesty. How can I tell you the grandeur of the horizon! We are
remaining in this magnificent place, and this is All Saints' Day!

At the moment, I write to you in the silvery light of a sun rising over
the valley mists; we are conscious of the sleeping country for forty
kilometres around, and battle hardly disturbs the religious gravity of
the scene.

Do love my proposed picture! It makes a bond with my true career. If it
is vouchsafed to me to return, the form of the picture may change, but
its essence is contained in the sketch.

_Mid-day._--Splendid All Saints' Day profaned by violence.

Glory of the day. . . .

_November 2, All Souls'._

Splendid feast of sun and of joy in the glorious beauty of a Meusian
landscape. Hope confines itself in the heart, not daring to insult the
grief of those for whom this day is perhaps the first day of
bereavement.

Dear beloved mother, twenty-eight years ago you were in a state of
mourning and hope to-day, the agony is as full of hope as then. It is at
a different age that these new trials occur, but a whole life of
submission prepares the way to supreme wisdom.

What joy is this perpetual thrill in the heart of Nature! That same
horizon of which I had watched the awakening, I saw last night bathe
itself in rosy light; then the full moon went up into a tender sky,
fretted by coral and saffron trees.

Dear, the frightful record of martyrdom of the best French youth cannot
go on indefinitely. It is impossible that the flower of a whole race can
disappear.

There must be some nobler task than war for the nation's genius! I have
a secret conviction of a better near future. May our courage and our
union lead us to this better thing. Hope, hope always! I received
grandmother's dear letter and M.R.'s kind and affectionate card.

Dear, have you this beautiful sun to-day? How noble is the country and
how good is Nature! To him who listens she says that nothing will ever
be lost.

_November 4, 10 o'clock._

I live only through your thoughts and in the blessings of Nature. This
morning our chiefs menaced us with a march of twenty kilometres, and
this threat fulfilled itself in the form of a charming walk in the
landscape that I love so much.

Exquisite vapours, which we see lifting hour by hour at the call of a
temperate sun; and, yonder, those high plateaux which command a vast
panorama, where everything is finely drawn, or rather is just felt in
the mist. . . .

There are hills furnished with bare trees holding up their charming
profiles. I think of the primitives, of their sensitive and
conscientious landscapes. What scrupulous majesty, of which the first
sight awes with its grandeur, and the detail is profoundly moving!

You see, dear mother, how God dispenses blessings that are far greater
than griefs. It is not even a question of patience, since time has no
longer any meaning for us, for it is not a matter of any calculable
duration. But then, what richness of emotion in each present minute!

This then is our life, of which I wrote to you that not one event must
make of it something unachieved, interrupted; and I hope to preserve
this wisdom. But at the same time I want to ally it with another wisdom
which looks to the future, even if the future is forbidden to us. Yes,
let us take all from the hands of the present (and the present brings us
so many treasures!), but let us also prepare for the future.

_November 5, 8 o'clock._

DEAR MOTHER,--Do not hide from me anything of what happens in Paris, of
your cares, or your occupations. All that you will decide is for the
best. My own happiness, in the midst of all this, lies just in that
security I have in thinking of your spirit.

The weather is still exquisite and very soft. To-day, without leaving
the beautiful region to which we came on September 20th, we have
returned to the woods. I like that less than the wide open view, but
there is prettiness here too. And then the sky, now that the leaves have
fallen, is so beautiful and so tender.

I have written to C----. I will write to Mme. C----. I hope for a letter
from you. If you knew how much the longer is a day without news! It is
true I have your old letters, but the new letter has a fragrance which I
now can't do without.

_November 6._

Yesterday, without knowing why, I was a little sad: what soldiers call
_avoir le cafard_. My sadness arose from my having parted the day before
with a book of notes which I had decided to send to you in a package.
The events of the day before yesterday, albeit pacific, had so hustled
me that I was not able to attend to this unfortunate parcel as I should
have liked. Also, I was divided between two anxieties: the first, lest
the package should not reach you, and lest these notes, which have been
my life from the 1st to the 20th of October, should be lost. The second,
on the contrary, was lest it should reach you before the arrival of
explaining letters, which might seem strange to you, the sending-off
having probably been done in another name, and the cover of my copybook
bearing my directions that the notes should be forwarded to you if
necessary.

       *       *       *       *       *

. . . To-day we are living in the most intimate and delicate Corot
landscape.

From the barn where we have established our outpost, I see, first, the
road with puddles left by the rain; then some tree-stumps; then, beyond
a meadow, a line of willows beside a charming running stream. In the
background, a few houses are veiled in a light mist, keeping the
delicate darks which our dear landscape-painter felt so nobly.

Such is the peace of this morning. Who would believe that one has but to
turn one's head, and there is nothing but conflagration and ruin!. . .

_November 7, 8 A.M._

I have just had your card of the 30th announcing the sending-off of a
packet. How kind this is! how much thought is given to us! All this
sweetness is appreciated to the full.

Yesterday, a delicious November day. This morning, too much fog for the
enjoyment of nature. But yesterday afternoon!

Delicate, refined weather, in which everything is etched as it were on a
misty mirror. The bare shrubs, near our post, have been visited by a
flock of green birds, with white-bordered wings; the cocks have black
heads with a white spot. How can I tell you what it was to hear the
solitary sound of their flight in this stillness!--That is one good
thing about war: there can be only a certain amount of evil in the
world; now, all of this being used by man against man, beasts at any
rate are so much the better off--at least the beasts of the wood, our
customary victims.

If you could only see the confidence of the little forest animals, such
as the field-mice! The other day, from our leafy shelter I watched the
movements of these little beasts. They were as pretty as a Japanese
print, with the inside of their ears rosy like a shell. And then another
time we watched the migration of the cranes: it is a moving thing to
hear them cry in the dusk.

       *       *       *       *       *

. . . What a happiness to see that you are drawing. Yes, do this for us
both. If you knew how I itch to express in paint all our emotions! If
you have read my letters of all this time you will know my privation,
but also my happiness.

_Monday, November 9, 7 o'clock._

. . . We have returned to the wide open view that I love so much.
Unfortunately we can only catch a glimpse of it through mouse-holes.
Well, it is always so!. . .

. . . All these days I have been feeling the charm of a country lying in
autumn sweetness. This peace was troubled yesterday by the poignant
sight of a burning village. It is not the first we have seen, and yet we
have not grown used to it.

We had taken up our observation-posts; it was still dark. From our
height we saw the tremendous flare and, at daybreak, the charming
village, sheltering in the valley, was nothing but smoke. This, in the
silvery nimbus of a glorious morning.

From our mouse-trap we had looked to the distance with its prettily
winding road, its willow-bordered stream, its Calvary: all this harmony
to end in the horror of destruction.

The Germans had set fire to it by hand in the night; they had been
dislodged from it after two nights of fierce fighting: their action may
be interpreted as an intention to retreat at this point. This
proceeding, generally detested by our soldiers, is, I think, forced by
strategic necessity. When a village is destroyed it is very difficult
for us in the rear to make any kind of use of it. All day we have been
witnessing this devastation, while above our heads the little field-mice
are taking advantage of the straw in which we are to sleep.

Our existence, as infantry, is a little like that of rabbits in the
shooting season. The more knowing of us, at any rate, are perpetually on
the look-out for a hole. As soon as we are buried in it, we are ordered
not to move again. These wise orders are unfortunately not always given
with discrimination; thus, yesterday there were four of us in an
advance-trench situated in a magnificent spot and perfectly hidden
beneath leaves. We should have been able to delight in the landscape but
for the good corporal, who was afraid to allow us even a little
enjoyment of life. Later the artillery came up with a tremendous din and
showed us the use of these superlative precautions.

None the less, I have been able to enjoy the landscape--alas! a scene of
smoke and tragedy yesterday. Be sure, beloved mother, that I do not wish
to commit a single imprudence, but certainly this war is the triumph of
Fate, of Providence and Destiny.

I pray ardently to deserve the grace of return, but apart from a few
moments of only human impatience, I can say that the greater part of my
being is given up to resignation.

_November 10, 11 o'clock._

MY VERY DEAR MOTHER,--What shall I say to you to-day--a day monotonous
with fog. Occupations that are stupefying, not in themselves, but
because of the insipid companionship. I fall back on myself. Yesterday I
wrote you a long letter, telling you among other things how dear your
letters are to me. When I began to write on this sheet I was a little
weary and troubled, but now that I am with you I become happy, and I
immediately remember whatever good fortune this day has brought me.

This morning the lieutenant sent me to get some wire from headquarters,
in a devastated village which we have surrounded for six weeks. I went
down through the orchards full of the last fallen plums. A few careless
soldiers were gathering them up into baskets. A charming scene, purely
pastoral and bucolic, in spite of the red trousers--very faded after
three months' campaign. . . .

I am happy in the affection of Ch---- R----. His is a nature according
in all its elements with my own. I am sure that he will not be cross
with me for not writing, especially if you give a kind message from me
to his wife.

The little task confided to me meant walking from nightfall until nine
o'clock, but I occasionally lay down in a shelter or in a barn instead
of getting back to the trenches for the night.

I do not have good nights of reading now, but sometimes when S---- and I
are lying side by side in the trench, you would not believe what a
mirage we evoke and what joy we have in stirred-up memories. Ah, how
science and intellectual phenomena lead us into a very heaven of
legends, and what pleasure I get from the marvellous history of this
metal, or that acid! For me the thousand and one nights are renewing
themselves. And then at waking, sometimes, the blessing of a dawn. That
is the life I have led since the 13th or 14th of October. I ask for
nothing, I am content that in such a war we should have relatively a
great deal of calm.

You cannot imagine what a consolation it is to know that you give your
heart to what concerns me. What pleasure I have in imagining you
interested in my books, looking at my engravings!. . .

_November 12, 3 o'clock._

. . . To-day we have had a march as pleasant as the first one, in weather
of great beauty. We saw, in the blue and rosy distance, the far-off peak
of the Metz hills, and the immense panorama scattered over with
villages, some of which gathered up the morning light, while others were
merely suggested.

This is the broad outline of our existence: for three days we stay close
to the enemy, living in well-constructed shelters which are improved
each time; then we spend three days a little way back; and then three
days in billets in a neighbouring village, generally the same. We even
gradually form habits--very passing ones, but still, we have a certain
amount of contact with the civil population which has been so sorely
tried. The woollen things are very effectual and precious.

. . . We have good people to deal with. The dear woman from whose dwelling
I write to you, and with whom I stayed before, wears herself to death
to give us a little of what reminds us of home.

But, dear mother, what reminds me of home is here in my heart. It is not
eating on plates or sitting on a chair that counts. It is your love,
which I feel so near. . . .

_November 14._

Since half-past eight on the evening of the 12th we have been dragged
about from place to place in the prospect of our taking part in a
violent movement. We left at night, and in the calm of nature my
thoughts cleared themselves a little, after the two days in billets
during which one becomes a little too material. Our reinforcement went
up by stealth. We awaited our orders in a barn, where we slept on the
floor. Then we filed into the woods and fields, which the day, breaking
through grey, red, and purple clouds, slowly lit up, in surroundings the
most romantic and pathetic that could be imagined. In the full daylight
of a charming morning we learnt that the troops ahead of us had
inflicted enormous losses on the enemy, and had even made a very slight
advance. We then returned to our usual posts, and here I am again,
beholding once more the splendour of the French country, so touching in
this grey, windy, and impassioned November, with sunshine thrown in
patches upon infinite horizons.

Dear mother, how beautiful it is, this region of spacious dignity, where
all is noble and proportioned, where outlines are so beautifully
defined!--the road bordered with trees diminishing towards the frontier,
hills, and beyond them misty heights which one guesses to be the German
Vosges. There is the scenery, and here is something better than the
scenery. There is a Beethoven melody and a piece by Liszt called
'Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude.' Certainly we have no solitude,
but if you turn the pages of Albert Samain's poems you will find an
aphorism by Villiers de l'Isle-Adam: 'Know that there will always be
solitude on earth for those who are worthy of it.' This solitude of a
soul that can ignore all that is not in tune with it. . . .

I have had two letters from you, of the 6th and 7th. Perhaps this
evening I shall have another. Do not let us allow our courage to be
concerned only with the waiting for letters from each other. But the
letters are our life, they are what bring us our joys, our happiness, it
is through them that we take delight in the sights of this world and of
this time.

If your eyes are not strong, that is a reason for not writing, but apart
from your health do not by depriving me of letters hold back your heart
from me.

_November 14_ (2nd letter).

DEAR MOTHER WHOM I LOVE,--Here we are again in our usual billet, and my
heart is full of thoughts all tending towards you. I cannot tell you all
that I feel in every moment, yet how much I should like to share with
you the many pleasures that come one by one even in this monotonous life
of ours, as a broken thread drops its pearls.

I should like to be able to admire with you this lovely cloud, this
stretch of country which so fills us with reverence, to listen with you
to the poetry of the wind from beyond the mountain, as when we walked
together at Boulogne. But here a great many prosaic occupations prevent
me from speaking to you as I feel.

I sent you with my baggage my note-book from August 18 to October 20.[2]
These notes were made when we could easily get at our light bags, in the
calm of our trench-days, when our danger stopped our chattering, and I
could let my heart speak. I found a happiness more intense, wider and
fuller, to write to you about. That was a time of paradise for me. But I
don't like the billets, because the comfort and the security, relaxing
our minds, bring about a great deal of uproar which I don't like. You
know how much I have always needed quiet and solitude. Still, I have
excellent friends, and the officers are very kind.

But with a little patience and a few thoughts about you I can be happy.
How kind this first half of November has been! I have not suffered once
from cold. And how lovely it was! That All Saints' Day was nothing but a
long hymn--from the night, with its pure moonlight on the dark amber of
the autumn trees, to the tender twilight. The immense rosy dream of
this misty plain, stretching out towards the near hills. . . . What a
song of praise! and many days since then have sung the glory of God.
Coeli ennarrant. . . .

That is what those days brought to me.

[Footnote 2: Part of this note-book has already been given.]

_November 15, 7 o'clock._

Yesterday the wild weather, fine to see from the shelter of our billet,
brought me apprehensions for to-night's departure, but when I woke the
sky was the purest and starriest that one could dream of! How grateful I
felt!

What we fear most is the rain, which penetrates through everything when
we are without fire or shelter. The cold is nothing--we are armed
against it beforehand.

. . . In spite of all, how much I appreciated the sight of this vast plain
upon which we descended, lashed by the great wind. Above the low horizon
was the wide grey sky in which, here and there, pale rents recalled the
vanished blue.--A black, tragic Calvary in silhouette--then some
skeleton trees! What a place! This is where I can think of you, and of
my beloved music. To-day I have the atmosphere that I want.

. . . I should like to define the form of my conviction of better things
in the near future, resulting from this war. These events prepare the
way to a new life: that of the United States of Europe.

After the conflict, those who will have completely and filially
fulfilled their obligation to their country will find themselves
confronted by duties yet more grave, and the realisation of things that
are now impossible. Then will be the time for them to throw their
efforts into the future. They must use their energies to wipe out the
trace of the shattering contact of nations. The French Revolution,
notwithstanding its mistakes, notwithstanding some backsliding in
practice, some failure in construction, did none the less establish in
man's soul this fine theory of national unity. Well! the horrors of the
1914 war lead to the unity of Europe, to the unity of the race. This new
state will not be established without blows and spoliation and strife
for an indefinite time, but without doubt the door is now open towards
the new horizon.

To Madame C----.

_November 16._

MY DEAR FRIEND,--How much pleasure and comfort your letter gives me, and
how your warm friendship sustains my courage!

What you say to me about my mother binds me closer to existence. Thank
you for your splendid and constant affection.

. . . What shall I tell you of my life? Through the weariness and the
vicissitudes I am upheld by the contemplation of Nature which for two
months has been accumulating the emotion and the pathos of this
impassioned season. One of my habitual stations is on the heights which
overlook the immense Woëvre plain. How beautiful it is! and what a
blessing to follow, each hour of the day and evening, the kindling
colours of the autumn leaves! This frightful human uproar cannot succeed
in troubling the majestic serenity of Nature! There are moments when man
seems to go beyond anything that could be imagined; but a soul that is
prepared can soon perceive the harmony which overlooks and reconciles
all this dissonance. Do not think that I remain insensible to the agony
of scenes that we behold all too often: villages wiped out by the
artillery that is hurled upon them; smoke by day, light by night; the
misery of a flying population under shell-fire. Each instant brings some
shock straight to one's heart. That is why I take refuge in this high
consolation, because without some discipline of the heart I could not
suffer thus and not be undone.

_November 17, in the morning._

DEAR MOTHER,-- . . . I write to you in the happiness of the dawn over my
dear village. The night, which began with rain, has brought us again a
pure and glorious sky. I see once more my distant horizons, my peaked
hills, the harmonious lines of my valleys. From this height where I
stand who would guess that agricultural and peaceful village to be in
reality nothing but a heap of ruins, in which not a house is spared, and
in which no human being can survive the hell of artillery!

As I write, the sun falls upon the belfry which I see framed in the
still sombre tree close beside me, while far away, beneath the last
hills, the last swelling of the ground, the plain begins to reveal its
precious detail in the rosy and golden atmosphere.

_November 17, 11 o'clock._

The splendid weather is my great consolation. I live rather like an
invalid sent to some magnificent country, whom the treatment compels to
unpleasant and fatiguing occupations. Between Leysin and the trench
where I am at present there has been only uncertainty. Nothing new has
happened to our company since October 13.

This is a strange kind of war. It is like that between neighbours on bad
terms. Consider that some of the trenches are separated from the enemy
by hardly 100 metres, and that the combatants fling projectiles across
with their hands: you see that these neighbours make use of violent
methods.

As for me, I really live only when I am with you, and when I feel the
splendour of the surroundings.

Even in the middle of conversations, I am able to preserve the
sensation of solitude of thought which is necessary to me.

_November 18._

This morning, daylight showed us a country covered with hoar-frost, a
universal whiteness over hills and forest. My little village looks
thoroughly chilled.

I had spent the greater part of the night in a warm shelter, and I could
have stayed there, thanks to the kindness of my superiors, but I am
foolish and timid, and I rejoined my comrades from 1 o'clock till
half-past 4.

Curiously enough, we can easily bear the cold: an admirable article of
clothing, which nearly all of us possess, is a flour-sack which can be
worn, according to the occasion, as a little shoulder-cape, or as a bag
for the feet. In either case it is an excellent preserver of heat.

_11 o'clock._

For the moment there runs in my mind a pretty and touching air by
Handel. Also, an allegro from our organ duets: joyful and brilliant
music, overflowing with life. Dear Handel! Often he consoles me.

Beethoven comes back only rarely to my mind, but when his music does
awake in me, it touches something so vital that it is always as though a
hand were drawing aside a curtain from the mystery of the Creation.

Poor dear Great Masters! Shall it be counted a crime against them that
they were Germans? How is it possible to think of Schumann as a
barbarian?

Yesterday this country recalled to my mind what you played to me ten
years ago, the Rheingold: 'Libre étendu sur la hauteur.' But the outlook
of our French art had this superiority over the beautiful music of that
wretched man--it had composure and clarity and reason. Yes, our French
art was never turbid.

As for Wagner, however beautiful his music, and however irresistible and
attractive his genius, I believe it would be a less substantial loss to
French taste to be deprived of him than of his great classical
compatriots.

       *       *       *       *       *

I can say with truth that in those moments when the idea of a possible
return comes to me, it is never the thought of the comfort or the
well-being that preoccupies me. It is something higher and nobler which
turns my thoughts towards this form of hope. Can I say that it is even
something different from the immense joy of our meeting again? It is
rather the hope of taking up again our common effort, our association,
of which the aim is the development of our souls, and the best use we
can make of them upon earth.

_November 19, in the morning._

MY VERY DEAR MOTHER,--To-day I was wakened at dawn by a violent
cannonade, unusual at that hour. Just then some of the men came back
frozen by a night in the trenches. I got up to fetch them some wood, and
then, on the opposite slope of the valley, the fusillade burst out
fully. I mounted as high as I could, and I saw the promise of the sun in
the pure sky.

Suddenly, from the opposite hill (one of those hills I love so much), I
heard an uproar, and shouting: 'Forward! Forward!' It was a bayonet
charge. This was my first experience of one--not that I saw anything;
the still-dark hour, and, probably, the disposition of the ground,
prevented me. But what I heard was enough to give me the feeling of the
attack.

Up till then I had never imagined how different is the courage required
by this kind of anonymous warfare from the traditional valour in war, as
conceived by the civilian. And the clamour of this morning reminds me,
in the midst of my calm, that young men, without any personal motive of
hate, can and must fling themselves upon those who are waiting to kill
them.

But the sun rises over my country. It lightens the valley, and from my
height I can see two villages, two ruins, one of which I saw ablaze for
three nights. Near to me, two crosses made of white wood. . . . French
blood flows in 1914. . . .

_November 20._

From the window near which I write I see the rising sun. It shines upon
the hoar-frost, and gradually I discover the beautiful country which is
undergoing such horrors. It appears that there were many victims in the
bayonet charge which I heard yesterday. Among others, we are without
tidings of two sections of the regiment which formed part of our
brigade. While these others were working out their destiny, I was on the
crest of the most beautiful hill (I was very much exposed also at other
times). I saw the daybreak; I was full of emotion in beholding the peace
of Nature, and I realised the contrast between the pettiness of human
violence and the majesty of the surroundings.

That time of pain for you, from September 9th to October 13th,
corresponds exactly with my first phase of war. On September 9th I
arrived, and detrained almost within reach of the terrible battle of the
Marne, which was in progress 35 kilometres away. On the 12th I rejoined
the 106th, and thenceforward led the life of a combatant. On October
13th, as I told you, we left the lovely woods, where the enemy artillery
and infantry had done a lot of mischief among us, especially on the 3rd.
Our little community lost on that day a heart of gold, a wonderful boy,
grown too good to live. On the 4th, an excellent comrade, an
architectural student, was wounded fairly severely in the arm, but the
news which he has since sent of himself is good. Then until the 13th,
terrible day, we lived through some hard times, especially as the
danger, real enough, was exaggerated by the feeling of suffocation and
of the unknown which hemmed us round in those woods, so fine at any
other time.

The important thing is to bear in mind the significance of every moment.
The problem is of perpetual urgency. On one side the providential
blessing, up till the present, of complete immunity. On the other, the
hazards of the future. That is how our wish to do good should be applied
to the present moment. There is no satisfaction to be had in questioning
the future, but I believe that every effort made now will avail us then.
It is a heroic struggle to sustain, but let us count not only on
ourselves but on another force so much more powerful than our human
means.

_November 21._

To-day we lead a _bourgeoise_ life, almost too comfortable. The cold
keeps us with the extraordinary woman who lodges us whenever we visit
the village where we are billeted three days out of nine.

I will not tell you about the pretty view from the window where I write,
but I will speak of the interior which shelters many of our days. By day
we live in two rooms divided by a glass partition, and, looking through
from one room to another, we can admire either the fine fire in the
great chimney-place or the magnificent wardrobe and the Meuse beds made
of fine old brass. All the delicate life of these two old women (the
mother, 87 years old, and the daughter) is completely disorganised by
the roughness, the rudeness, the kind hearts and the generosity of the
soldiers. These women accept all that comes and are most devoted.

As for Spinoza, whose spirit you already possess, I think that you can
go straight to the last theorems. You will be sure to have intuitive
understanding of what he says about the soul's repose. Yes, those are
moments experienced by us too rarely in our weakness, but they suffice
to let us discover in ourselves, through the blows and buffetings of our
poor human nature, a certain tendency towards what is permanent and
what is final; and we realise the splendid inheritance of divinity to
which we are the heirs.

       *       *       *       *       *

Dear mother, what a happy day I have just spent with you.

There were three of us: we two and the pretty landscape from my window.

Seen from here, winter gives a woolly and muffled air to things. Two
clouds, or rather mists, wrap the near hillside without taking any
delicacy from the drawing of the shrubs on the crest; the sky is light
green. All is filtered. Everything sleeps. This is the time for
night-attacks, the cries of the charge, the watch in the trenches. Let
our prayers of every moment ask for the end of this state of things. Let
us wish for rest for all, a great amends, recompense for all grief and
pain and separation.

YOUR SON.

_Sunday, November 22, 9.30._

I write to you this morning from my favourite place, without anything
having happened since last night that is worth recording--save perhaps
the thousand flitting nothings in the landscape. I got up with the sun,
which now floods all the space with silver. The cold is still keen, but
by piling on our woollen things we get the better of it on these nights
in billets. There is only this to say: that to-morrow we go to our
trenches in the second line, in the woods that are now thin and
monotonous. Of our three stations, that is the one I perhaps like the
least, because the sky is exiled behind high branches. It is more a
landscape for R----, but flat, and spoilt by the kind of existence that
one leads there.

Hostilities seem to be recommencing in our region with a certain amount
of energy. This morning we can hear a violent fusillade, a thing very
rare in this kind of war, in which attacks are generally made at night,
the day being practically reserved for artillery bombardments.

Dear mother, let us put our hope in the strength of soul which will make
petition each hour, each minute. . . .

       *       *       *       *       *

. . . Yes, it gives me pleasure to tell you about my life; it is a fine
life in so many ways. Often, at night, as I walk along the road where
my little duty takes me, I am full of happiness to be able thus to
communicate with the greatness of Nature, with the sky and its
harmonious pattern of stars, with the large and gracious curves of these
hills; and though the danger is always present, I think that not only
your courage, your consciousness of the eternal, but also your love for
me will make you approve of my not stopping perpetually to puzzle over
the enigma.

So my present life brings extreme degrees of feeling, which cannot be
measured by time. Feeling produced, for instance, by beautiful leafage,
the dawn, a delicate landscape, a touching moon. These are all things in
which qualities at once fleeting and permanent isolate the human heart
from all preoccupations which lead us in these times either to
despairing anxiety, or to abject materialism, or again to a cheap
optimism, which I wish to replace by the high hope that is common to us
all, and which does not rely on human events.

All my tenderness and constant love for grandmother; for you, courage,
calm, perfect resignation without effort.

_November 23._

DEAR MOTHER,--Here we are arrived in our shelters in the second line. We
lodge in earth huts, where the fire smokes us out as much as it warms
us. The weather, which during the night was overcast, has given us a
charming blue and rosy morning. Unfortunately the woods have less to say
to me than the marvellous spaces of our front lines. Still, all is
beautiful here.

Yesterday my day was made up of the happiness of writing to you; I went
into the village church without being urged by a single romantic feeling
nor any desire for comfort from without. My conception of divine harmony
did not need to be supported by any outward form, or popular symbol.

Then I had the great good fortune to go with a carriage into the
surrounding country. Oh, the marvellous landscape--still of blue and
rosy colour, paled by the mist! All this rich and luminous delicacy
found definite accents in the abrupt spots made by people scattered
about the open. My landscape, always primitive in its precision, now
took on a subtlety of nuances, a richness of variety essentially modern.

One moment I recalled the peculiar outer suburbs of Paris with their
innumerable notes and their suppressed effects. But here there is more
frankness and candour. Here everything was simply rose and blue against
a pale grey ground.

My driver, getting into difficulty with his horse, entrusted the whip to
me to touch up the animal: I must have looked like a little mechanical
toy.

We passed by the Calvaries which keep guard over the Meuse villages, a
few trees gathered round the cross.

_November 24, 3.30_
(back from the march).

I have just received a letter of the 16th and a card, and a dear letter
of the 18th. These two last tell me of the arrival of my packet. How
glad I am to hear that! For a moment I asked myself whether I was right
to send you these impressions, but, between us two, life has never been
and can never be anything but a perpetual investigation in the region
of eternal truths, fervent attention to the truth each earthly spectacle
presents. And so I do not regret sending you those little notes.

My worst sufferings were during the rainy days of September. Those days
are a bitter memory to every one. We slept interlocked, face against
face, hands crossed, in a deluge of water and mud. It would be
impossible to imagine our despair.

To crown all, after these frightful hours, they told us that the enemy
was training his machine-guns upon us, and that we must attack him.
However, we were relieved; the explosion was violent.

As for my still unwritten verse, '_Soleil si pale_,' etc., it relates to
the 11th, 12th, and 13th of October, and, generally, to the time of the
battle in the woods, which lasted for our regiment from September 22nd
to October 13th. What struck me so much was to see the sun rise upon the
victims.

Since then I have written nothing, but for a prayer which I sent you
five or six days ago. I composed it while I was on duty on the road.

_November 25, in the morning._

. . . Yesterday, in the course of that march, I lived in a picture by my
beloved primitives. Coming out of the wood, as we went down a long road,
we had close by us a large farm-house, plumed by a group of bare trees
beside a frozen pool.

Then, in the under-perspective so cleverly used by my dear painters with
their air of simplicity, a road, unwinding itself, with its slopes and
hills, bound in by shrubs, and some solitary trees: all this precise,
fine, etched, and yet softened. A little bridge spanning a stream, a man
on horseback passing close to the little bridge, carefully silhouetted,
and then a little carriage: delicate balance of values, discreet, yet
well maintained--all this in front of a horizon of noble woods. A kind
of grey weather which has replaced the enchantment, so modern in
feeling, of the nuances of last Sunday, takes me back to that incisive
consciousness which moves us as a Breughel and the other masters, whose
names escape me. Like this, too, the clear and orderly thronging in
Albert Dürer backgrounds.

_November 26._

DEAREST MOTHER,--I didn't succeed in finishing this letter yesterday. We
were very busy. And now to-day it is still dark. From my dug-out, where
I have just arrived in the front line, I send you my great love; I am
very happy. I feel that the work I am to do in future is taking shape in
myself. What does it matter if Providence does not allow me to bring it
to light? I have firm hope, and above all I have confidence in eternal
justice, however it may surprise our human ideas. . . .

_November 28._

The position we occupy is 45 metres away from the enemy. The roads of
approach are curious and even picturesque in their harshness, emphasised
by the greyness of the weather.

Our troops, having dodged by night the enemy's vigilance, and come up
from the valley to the mid-heights where the rising ground protects them
from the infantry fire, find shelters hollowed from the side of the
hill, burrows where those who are not on guard can have some sleep and
the warmth of an Improvised hearth. Then, farther on, just where the
landscape becomes magnificent in freedom, expanse, and light, the
winding furrow, called the communication trench, begins. Concealed thus,
we arrive in the trench, and it is truly a spectacle of war, severe and
not without grandeur--this long passage which has a grey sky for
ceiling, and in which the floor is covered over with recent snow. Here
the last infantry units are stationed--units, generally, of feeble
effective. The enemy is not more than a hundred metres away. From there
continues the communication trench, more and more deep and winding, in
which I feel anew the emotion I always get from contact with newly
turned earth. The excavating for the banking-up works stirs something in
me: it is as if the energy of this disembowelled earth took hold of me
and told me the history of life.

Two or three sappers are at work lengthening the hollows, watched by the
Germans who, from point to point, can snipe the insufficiently protected
places. At this end the last sentry guards about forty metres.

You can picture the contrast between all this military organisation and
the peace that used to reign here. Think what an astonishment it is to
me to remember that where I now look the labourer once walked behind his
plough, and that the sun, whose glory I contemplate as a prisoner
contemplates liberty, shone upon him freely on these heights.

Then, too, when at dusk I come out into the open, what an ecstasy! I
won't speak to you of this, for I feel I must be silent about these
joys. They must not be exposed: they are birds that love silence. . . .
Let us confine our speech to that essential happiness which is not
easily affrighted--the happiness of feeling ourselves prepared equally
for all.

_November 29, in the morning_
(from a billet).

MY VERY DEAR MOTHER,--Yesterday evening I left the first line trenches
in broken weather which, in the night, after my arrival here, turned
into rain. I watch it falling through the fog from my favourite window.
If you like I will tell you of the wonders I saw yesterday.

From the position described in my letter of yesterday, can be seen, as
I have often written to you, the most marvellous horizon. Yesterday a
terrible wind rent a low veil of clouds which grew red at their summits.
Perhaps the background of my 'Haheyna' will give you a faint idea of
what it was. But how much more majestic and full of animation was the
emotion I experienced yesterday.

The hills and valleys passed in turn from light to shade, now defined,
now veiled, according to the movement of the mists. High up, blue spaces
fringed with light.

Such was the beauty of yesterday. Shall I speak of the evenings that
went before, when, on my way along the road, the moon brought out the
pattern of the trees, the pathetic Calvaries, the touching spectacle of
houses which one knew were ruins, but which night seemed to make stand
forth again like an appeal for peace.

I am glad to see you like Verlaine. Read the fine preface by Coppée to
the selected works, which you will find in my library.

His fervour has a spontaneity, I might almost say a grossness, which
always repels me a little, just because it belongs to that kind of
Catholic fervour which on its figurative side will always leave me cold.
But what a poet!

He has been my almost daily delight both here and when I was in Paris;
often the music of his _Paysages Tristes_ comes back to me, exactly
expressing the emotion of certain hours. His life is as touching as that
of a sick animal, and one almost wonders that a like indignity has not
withered the exquisite flowers of his poetry. His conversion, that of an
artist rather than of a thinker, followed on a great upsetting of his
existence which resulted from grave faults of his. (He was in prison.)

In the _Lys Rouge_ Anatole France has drawn a striking portrait of him,
under the name of Choulette; perhaps you will find we have this book.

In _Sagesse_ the poems are fine and striking because of the true impulse
and sincerity of the remorse. A little as though the cry of the _Nuit de
Mai_ resounded all through his work.

Our two great poets of the last century, Musset and Verlaine, were two
unhappy beings without any moral principle with which to stake up their
flowers of thought--yet what magnificent and intoxicating flowers.

Perhaps I tire you when I speak thus on random subjects, but to do so
enables me to plunge back into my old life for a little while. Since I
had the happiness of getting your letters, I have not taken note of
anything. Do not think that distractions by the way make me forgetful of
our need and hope, but I believe it is just the beautiful adornment of
life which gives it, for you and me, its value.

I am still expecting letters from you after that of the 22nd, but I am
sure to get them here in this billet. Thank you for the parcel you
promise: poor mothers, what pains they all take!

_December 1, in the morning_
(from a billet).

I remember the satisfaction I felt in my freedom when I was exempted
from my military duties. It seemed to me that if, at twenty-seven years
old, I had been obliged to return to the regiment, my life and career
would have been irretrievably lost. And here I am now, twenty-eight
years old, back in the army, far from my work, my responsibilities, my
ambitions--and yet never has life brought me such a full measure of
finer feelings; never have I been able to record such freshness of
sensibility, such security of conscience. So those are the blessings
arising out of the thing which my reasonable human foresight envisaged
as disaster. And thus continues the lesson of Providence which,
upsetting all my fears, makes good arise out of every change of
situation.

The two last sunrises, yesterday and to-day, were lovely. . . .

I feel inclined to make you a little sketch of the view from my
window. . . .

       *       *       *       *       *

It is done from memory; in your imagination you must add streaks of
purple colour, making the most dramatic effect, and an infinite stretch
of open country to right and left. This is what I have been able again
and again to look upon, during this time. At this moment, the soft sky
brings into harmony the orchards where we work. My little job dispenses
me from digging for the time. Such are the happinesses which, from afar,
had the appearance of calamities.

_December 1_ (2nd letter).

I have just received your letters of the 25th, 26th, and 27th, as well
as a dear letter from Grandmother, so valiant, so full of spirit, and so
clear-minded. It gave me great pleasure, and brings me a dear hope, of
which I accept the augury with joy. Each one of your beloved letters,
too, gives me the best of what life holds for me. My first letter of
to-day replies to what you say about the acceptation of trials and the
destruction of idols.

You will see that I think absolutely as you do, and I trust that there
is in this hour no impeding idol in my heart. . . .

I think that my last prayer is in fact very simple. The spirit of the
place could not have borne to be clothed in an art that was overloaded.
God was everywhere, and everywhere was harmony: the road at night, of
which I speak to you so often, the starry sky, the valley full of the
murmuring of water, the trees, the Calvaries, the hills near and far.
There would not have been any room for artifice. It is useless for me to
give up being an artist, but I hope always to be sincere and to use art
as it were only for the clothing of my conscience.

_December 5, in the morning._

. . . We have come out of our burrows, and three days of imprisonment are
followed by a morning in the open. It would be impossible to imagine
such a state of mud.

Your pretty aluminium watch is the admiration of everybody.

Is André's wound serious? The mothers endure terrible agony in this war,
but courage--nothing will be lost. As for me, I get on all right, and am
as happy as one may be.

A terrific wind to-day, chasing the fine clouds. Keen air, in which the
branches thrive. Beautiful moonlight on all these nights, all the more
appreciated if one has been cheated of the day.

Dear, I am writing badly to-day because we are bewildered by the full
daylight after those long hours of darkness, but my heart goes out to
you and rests with you.

. . . Let us bring to everything the spirit of courage. Let us have
confidence in God always, whatever happens. How much I feel, as you do,
that one can adore Him only with one's spirit! And like you I think that
we must avoid all pride which condemns the ways of other people. Let our
love lead us in union towards the universal Providence. Let us, in
constant prayer, give back our destiny into His hands. Let us humbly
admit to Him our human hopes, trying at every moment to link them to
eternal wisdom. It is a task which now seems full of difficulty, but
difficulty is in everything in life.

_Sunday, December 6._

I am happy to see you so determinedly courageous. We have need of
courage, or, rather, we have need of something difficult to obtain,
which is neither patience nor overconfidence, but a certain belief in
the order of things, the power to be able to say of every trial that it
is well.

Our instinct for life makes us try to free ourselves from our
obligations when they are too cruel, too oft-repeated, but, as I am
happy to know, you have been able to see what Spinoza understood by
human liberty. Inaccessible ideal, to which one must cling
nevertheless. . . .

. . . Dear mother, these trials that we must accept are long, but
notwithstanding their unchanging form one cannot call them monotonous,
since they call upon courage which must be perpetually new. Let us unite
together for God to grant us strength and resource in accepting
everything. . . .

You know what I call religion: that which unites in man all his ideas of
the universal and the eternal, those two forms of God. Religion, in the
ordinary sense of the word, is but the binding together of certain moral
and disciplinary formulas with the fine poetic imagery of the great
biblical and Christian philosophies.

Do not let us offend any one. Looked at properly, religious formulas,
however apart they may remain from my own habit of mind, seem to me
praiseworthy and sympathetic in all that they contain of aspiration and
beauty and form.

Dear mother whom I love, let us always hope: trials are legion, but
beauty remains. Let us pray that we may long continue to contemplate
it. . . .

_Monday, December 7._

MY BELOVED MOTHER,--I am writing this in the night . . . by six o'clock
in the morning military life will be in full swing.

My candle is stuck on a bayonet, and every now and then a drop of water
falls on to my nose. My poor companions try to light a reluctant fire.
Our time in the trenches transforms us into lumps of mud.

The general good humour is admirable. However the men may long to
return, they accept none the less heroically the vicissitudes of the
situation. Their courage, infinitely less 'literary' than mine, is so
much the more practical and adaptable; but each bird has its cry, and
mine has never been a war-cry. I am happy to have felt myself responsive
to all these blows, and my hope lies in the thought that they will have
forged my soul. Also I place confidence in God and whatever He holds in
store for me.

I seem to foresee my work in the future. Not that I build much on this
presentiment, for all artists have conceived work which has never come
to light. Mozart was about to make a new start when he died, and
Beethoven planned the 'Tenth Symphony' in ignorance of the all too brief
time that was to be allowed him by destiny.

It is the duty of the artist to open his flowers without dread of frost,
and perhaps God will allow my efforts to fulfil themselves in the
future. My very various attempts at work all have an indescribable
immaturity about them still, a halting execution, which consorts badly
with the real loftiness of the intention. It seems to me that my art
will not quite expand until my life is further advanced. Let us pray
that God will allow me to attain. . . .

As for what is in your own heart, I have such confidence in your courage
that this certainty is my great comfort in this hour. I know that my
mother has gained that freedom of soul which allows contemplation of the
universal scheme of things. I know from my own experience how
intermittent is this wisdom, but even to taste of it is already to
possess God. It is the security I derive from knowledge of your soul and
your love, that enables me to think of the future in whatever form it
may come.

_December 9._

DEAR MOTHER,--P---- L----, in his charming letter, tells me he would
willingly exchange his philosophers for a gun. He is quite wrong. For
one thing, Spinoza is a most valuable aid in the trenches; and then it
is those who are still in a position to profit by culture and progress
who must now carry on French thought. They have an overwhelmingly
difficult task, calling for far more initiative than ours. We are free
of all burden. I think our existence is like that of the early monks:
hard, regular discipline and freedom from all external obligations.

_December 10_
(a marvellous morning).

Our third day in billets brings us the sweetness of friendly weather.
The inveterate deluge of our time in the first line relents a little,
and the sun shows itself timidly.

Our situation, which has been pleasant enough during the last two
months, may now be expected entirely to change.

The impregnability of the positions threatens to make the war
interminable; one of the two adversaries must use his offensive to
unlock the situation and precipitate events. I think the high command
faces this probability--and I hardly dare tell you that I cannot regret
anything that increases the danger.

Our life, of which a third part is flatly bourgeois and the two other
parts present just about the same dangers as, say, chemical works do,
will end by deadening all sensibility. It is true we shall be grieved to
leave what we are used to, but perhaps we were getting too accustomed to
a state of well-being which could not last.

My own circumstances are perhaps going to change. I shall probably lose
my course, being mentioned for promotion to the rank of corporal, which
means being constantly in the trenches and various duties in the first
line. I hope God will continue to bless me.

. . . I feel that we have nothing to ask. If there should be in us
something eternal which we must still manifest on earth, we may be sure
that God will let us do it.

_December_ 10 (2nd letter).

Happily you and I live in a domain where everything unites us without
our having to write our thoughts. . . .

The weather is overcast again and promises us a wet time in the first
and second lines.

The day declines, and a great melancholy falls too upon everything. This
is the hour of sadness for those who are far away, for all the soldiers
whose hearts are with their homes, and who see night closing down upon
the earth.

I come to you, and immediately my heart grows warm. I can feel your
attentive tenderness, and the wisdom which inspires your courage.
Sometimes I am afraid of always saying the same thing, but how can I
find new words for my poor love, tossed always through the same
vicissitudes? Now that we are going to set out, perhaps we shall have to
leave behind many cherished keepsakes, but the soul should not be
strongly tied to fetiches. We are fond of clinging to many things, but
love can do without them.

_December 12, 10 o'clock_ (card).

A soft day under the rain. All goes well in our melancholy woods. In
various parts of the neighbourhood there has been a terrible cannonade.

Received your letters of the 4th and 6th. They brought me happiness:
they are the true joy of life. I am glad you visited C----. I hope to
write to you at greater length. It is not that I have less leisure than
usual, but I am going through a time when I am less sensible to the
beauty of things. I long for true wisdom. . . .

_December 12, 7 o'clock._

To-day, in spite of the changing beauty of sun and rain, I did not feel
alive to Nature. Yet never was there such grace and goodness in the
skies.

The landscape, with the little bridge and the man on horseback of which
I have told you, softened under the splendour of the clouds. But I had
lapsed from my former sense of the benediction of God, when suddenly
the beauty, all the beauty, of a certain tree spoke to my inmost heart.
It told me of fairness that never fails; of the greenness of ivy and the
redness of autumn, the rigidity of winter in the branches;--and then I
understood that an instant of such contemplation is the whole of life,
the very reward of existence, beside which all human expectation is
nothing but a bad dream.

_Sunday, December 13._

. . . After a refreshing night I walked to-day in these woods where for
three months the dead have strewn the ground. To-day the vanishing
autumn displayed its richness, and the same beauty of mossy trunks spoke
to me, as it did yesterday, of eternal joy.

I am sure it needs an enormous effort to feel all this, but it must be
felt if we are to understand how little the general harmony is disturbed
by that which intolerably assails our emotions.

We must feel that all human uprooting is only a little thing, and what
is truly ourselves is the life of the soul.

_December 14_ (splendid weather,
with all the calm returned).

We are still here in the region of the first line, but in a place where
we can lift our heads and behold the charm of my Meusian hills, clearing
in the delicate weather.

Above the village and the orchards I see the lines of birches and firs.
Some have their skeletons coloured with a diaphanous violet marked with
white. Others build up the horizon with stronger lines.

I have been strengthened by the splendid lesson given me by a beautiful
tree during a march. Ah, dear mother, we may all disappear and Nature
will remain, and the gift I had from her of a moment of herself is
enough to justify a whole existence. That tree was like a soldier.

You would not believe how much harm has been done to the forests about
here: it is not so much the machine-guns as the frightful amount of
cutting necessary for making our shelters and for our fuel. Ah well, in
the midst of this devastation something told me that there will always
be beauty, in man and in tree.

For man also gives this lesson, though in him it is less easily
distinguished: it is a fine thing to see the splendid vitality of all
this youth, whose force no harvest can diminish.

_December 15, morning._

I have had your dear letter of the 9th, in which you speak of our home.
It makes me happy to feel how fine and strong is the force of life which
soon adjusts itself to each separation and uprooting. It makes me happy,
too, to think that my letters find an echo in your heart. Sometimes I
was afraid of boring you, because though our life is so fine in many
ways, it is certainly very primitive, and there are not many salient
things to relate.

If only I could follow my calling of painter I could have recourse to
these wonderful visions that lie before me, and I could find vent for
all the pent-up artist's emotion that is within me. As it is, in trying
to speak of the sky, the tree, the hill, or the horizon, I cannot use
words as subtle as they, and the infinite variety of these things can
only be named in the same general terms, which I am afraid of constantly
repeating. . . .

_December 15._

One must adapt oneself to this special kind of life, which is indigent
as far as intellectual activity goes, but marvellously rich in emotion.
I suppose that in troubled times for many centuries there have been men
who, weary of luxury, have sought in the peace of the cloister the
contemplation of eternal things; contemplation threatened by the crowd,
but a refuge even so. And so I think our life is like that of the monks
of old, who were military too, and more apt at fighting than I could
ever be. Among them, those who willed could know the joy which I now
find.

To-day I have a touching letter from Madame M----, whose spirit I love
and admire.

Changeable but very beautiful weather.

It is impossible to say more than we have already said about the
attitude we must adopt in regard to events. The important thing is to
put this attitude in practice. It is not easy, as I have learnt in these
last days, though no new difficulty had arisen to impede my path towards
wisdom.

. . . Tormenting anxiety can sometimes be mistaken for an alert
conscience.

_December 16._

Yesterday in our shelter I got out your little album--very much damaged,
alas--and I tried to copy some of the lines of the landscape. I was
stopped by the cold, and I was returning dissatisfied when I suddenly
had the idea of making one of my friends sit for me. How can I tell you
what a joy it was to get a good result! I believe that my little pencil
proved entirely successful. The sketch has been sent away in a letter to
some friend of his. It was such a true joy to me to feel I had not lost
my faculty.

_December 17_ (in a new billet).

. . . Last night we left behind all that was familiar when we came out of
the first-line trenches after three days of perfect peace there. We were
told off to the billet which we occupied on October 6th and 7th. One
can feel in the air the wind of change. I don't know what may come, but
the serenity of the weather to-day seems an augury of happiness.

These have been days of marvellous scenes, which I can appreciate better
now than during those few days of discouragement, which came because I
allowed myself to reckon things according to our miserable human
standards.

I write to you by a window from which I watch the sunset. You see that
goodness is everywhere for us.

_3 o'clock._

. . . I take up this letter once more in the twilight of an exceptional
winter: the day fades away as calmly as it came. I am watching the women
washing clothes under the lines of trees on the river bank; there is
peace everywhere--I think even in our hearts. Night falls. . . .

_December 19_ (in a billet).

A sweet day, ending here round the table. Quiet, drawing, music. I can
think with calm of the length of the days to come when I realise how
swift have been these days that are past. Half the month is gone, and
Christmas comes in the midst of war. The only thing for me is to adapt
myself entirely to these conditions of existence, and, owing to my union
with you, to gain a degree of acceptance which is of an order higher
than human courage.

_December 21, morning._

MY VERY DEAR MOTHER,--I have told you freely in my letters of my
happiness; but the rock ahead of happiness is that poor humanity is in
perpetual fear of losing it. In spite of all experience, we do not
realise that in the eternal scheme of things a new happiness always
grows at the side of an old one.

For myself, I have not to look for a new one. I have only to try to
reconcile two wisdoms. One, which is human, prompts me to cultivate my
happiness, but the other teaches me that human happiness is a most
perishable flower.

We may say: Let us make use of the joys chosen by an upright conscience;
but let us never forget how swiftly these pass.

Yes, the Holy Scriptures contain the finest and most poetical
philosophy. I think they owe it to their affiliation to the oldest
philosophies. There are many disputable things in Edouard Schuré, but
what remains is the divination which made him climb through all doctrine
to the infinitely distant Source of human wisdom.

Do you know that those touching traditions of the Good Shepherd and the
Divine Mother, so happily employed in our Christian religions, are the
creations of the oldest symbolism? The Greeks derived them from their
own spiritual ancestors; with them the good shepherd was called Hermes,
the god of the migration of souls. In the same way, the type of our
Madonna is the great Demeter, the mother who bears an infant in her
arms.

One feels that all religions, as they succeeded each other, transmitted
the same body of symbols, renewed each time by humanity's
perpetually-young spirit of poetry.

_December 23_ (in the dark).

I had begun this letter yesterday, when I was forced to leave off. It
was then splendid weather, which has lasted fairly well. But we are now
back again in our first lines. This time we are occupying the village
itself, our pretty Corot village of two months ago. But our outpost is
situated in a house where we are obliged to show no sign of life, so as
to conceal our presence from the enemy. And so here we are at nine
o'clock in the morning, in a darkness that would make it seem to be late
on Christmas eve.

Your dear letter lately received has given me great joy. It is true that
Grace and Inspiration are two names for the same thing.

If you are going to see the pictures of the great poet Gustave Moreau,
you will see a panel called _La vie de l'humanité_ (I believe). It
consists of nine sections in three divisions, called _l'Age d'or, l'Age
d'argent, l'Age de fer_. Above is a pediment from which Christ presides
over this human panorama. But this is where this great genius has the
same intuition as you had: each of the three parts bears the name of a
hero--Adam, Orpheus, and Cain, and each one represents three periods.
Now, the periods of the golden age are called Ecstasy, Prayer, and
Sleep, while the periods of the silver age are called Inspiration, Song,
and Tears.

Ecstasy is the same as Grace, because the picture shows Adam and Eve in
the purity of their souls, in a scene of flowers, and in the enjoyment
of divine contemplation. The harmony of Nature itself urges them on in
their impulse towards God.

In the silver age, Inspiration is still Grace, but just beginning to be
complicated by human artifice. The poet Orpheus perpetually contemplates
God, but the Muse is always at his elbow, the symbol of human art is
already born; and that great human manifestation of God, Song, brings
with it grief and tears.

Following out the cycle and coming to human evil, Gustave Moreau shows
the iron age--Cain condemned to labour and sorrow.

This work shows that the divine moment may be seized, but is fugitive
and can never remain with man. It explains our failures. People say that
the picture is too literary, but it touches the heart of those who wish
to break through the ice with which all human expression is chilled.

Undoubtedly Rembrandt was the Poet of genius _par excellence_, at the
same time as he was pure Painter. But let us grant that ours is a less
rich time, our temperaments less universal; and let us recognise the
beauty of Gustave Moreau's poem, of which, in two words, you expressed
the spirit.

YOUR SON.

_December 24, morning._

Our first day in the outpost passed away in the calm of a country
awaiting snow. It came in the night.

In the back gardens, which lie in sight of the Germans, I went out to
see it, where it emphasised and ennobled the least of things. Then I
came back to my candle, and I write on a table where my neighbour is
grating chocolate. So that is war.

Military life has some amusing surprises. We had to come to the first
line before two non-commissioned officers found a bath and could bathe
themselves. As for me, I have made myself a water-jug out of a part of a
75.

. . . I will not speak of patience, since a reserve of mere patience may
be useless preparation for the unknown quantity. But I must say that the
time goes extremely quickly.

We spend child-like days; indeed we are children in regard to these
events, and the benefit of this war will have been to restore youth to
the hearts of those who return.

Dear mother, our village has just had a visit from two shells. Will they
be followed by others? May God help us! The other day they sent us a
hundred and fifteen, to wound one man in the wrist!

A house in which a section of our company is living is in flames. We
have not seen a soul stirring. We can only hope that it is well with
them.

I am deeply happy to have lived through these few months. They have
taught me what one can make of one's life, in any circumstances.

My fellow-soldiers are splendid examples of the French spirit. . . .
They swagger, but their swagger is only the outer form of a deep and
magnificent courage.

My great fault as an artist is that I am always wanting to clothe the
soul of the race in some beautiful garment painted in my own colours.
And when people irritate me it is that they are soiling these beautiful
robes; but, as a matter of fact, they would find them a bad encumbrance
in the way of their plain duty.

_Christmas Morning._

What a unique night!--night without parallel, in which beauty has
triumphed, in which mankind, notwithstanding their delirium of
slaughter, have proved the reality of their conscience.

During the intermittent bombardments a song has never ceased to rise
from the whole line.

Opposite to us a most beautiful tenor was declaiming the enemy's
Christmas. Much farther off, beyond the ridges, where our lines begin
again, the _Marseillaise_ replied. The marvellous night lavished on us
her stars and meteors. Hymns, hymns, from end to end.

It was the eternal longing for harmony, the indomitable claim for order
and beauty and concord.

As for me, I cherished old memories in meditating on the sweetness of
the Childhood of Christ. The freshness, the dewy youthfulness of this
French music, were very moving to me. I remembered the celebrated
_Sommeil des Pèlerins_ and the shepherds' chorus. A phrase which is sung
by the Virgin thrilled me: '_Le Seigneur, pour mon fils, a béni cet
asile_.' The melody rang in my ears while I was in that little house,
with its neighbour in flames, and itself given over to a precarious
fate.

I thought of all happinesses bestowed; I thought that you were perhaps
at this moment calling down a blessing upon my abode. The sky was so
lovely that it seemed to smile favourably upon all petition; but what I
want strength to ask for perpetually is consistent wisdom--wisdom which,
human though it may be, is none the less safe from anything that may
assail it.

The sun is flooding the country and yet I write by candle-light; now and
then I go out into the back gardens to see the sun. All is light, peace
falling from on high upon the deserted country.

I come back to our room, where the brass of the pretty Meusian beds and
the carved wood of the cupboards shine in the half-light. All these
things have suffered through the rough use the soldiers put them to, but
we have real comfort here. We have found table-implements and a
dinner-service, and for two days running we made chocolate in a
soup-tureen. Luxury!

O dear mother, if God allows me the joy of returning, what youth will
this extraordinary time have brought back to me! As I wrote to my friend
P----, I lead the life of a child in the midst of people so simple that
even my rudimentary existence is complicated in comparison with my
surroundings.

Mother dear, the length of this war tries our power of passive will, but
I feel that everything is coming out as I was able to foresee. I think
that these long spells of inactivity will give repose to the
intellectual machine. If I ever have the happiness of once more making
use of mine, it is sure to take a little time to get moving again, but
with what new vigour! My last work was one of pure thought, and my
ambition, which all things justify, is to give a more plastic form to my
thought as it develops.

_Sunday, December 27, 9 o'clock_
(5th day in the first line).

It appears that the terrible position, courageously held by us on
October 14th, and immediately lost by our successors, has been retaken,
and 200 metres more, but at the price of a hundred casualties.

Dear mother, want of sleep robs me of all intelligence. True, one needs
little of that for the general run of existence here, but I should have
liked to speak to you. The only consolation is that our love needs no
expression.

Very little to tell you. I was quite stupefied by the day's work
yesterday, spent entirely in darkness. From my place I had only a
glimpse of a pretty tree against the sky.

To-day, in the charming early morning I saw a beautiful and extremely
brilliant star. I had gone to fetch some coal and water, and on the way
back, when daylight had already come, that extraordinary star still
persisted. My corporal, who, like me, was dodging from bush to bush back
to our house, said:

'Do you know what that star is? It is the sign for the enemy's patrol to
rally.'

It was true, and at first I felt outraged at this profanation of the
sky, and then (apart from the ingenuity of the thing) I told myself that
this star meant, for those poor creatures on the other side, that they
could take the direction of safety. I felt less angry about it then. The
sign had given me so much joy as a star that I decided to stick to my
first impression.

_December 30._

Your Christmas letter came last night. Perhaps in this very hour when I
am writing to you, mine of the same day is reaching you. At that time,
in spite of the risk, I was enjoying all the beauty, but to-day I
confess it is poisoned for me by what we hear of the last slaughter.

On the 26th we were made to remain on duty, in positions occupied only
at night as a rule. Our purely defensive position was lucky that day,
for we were exposed only to slight artillery fire; but on our right a
regiment of our division, in one of the terrible emplacements of
October 14th, received an awful punishment, of which the inconclusive
result cost several hundred lives. Here in our great village, where our
kind hostess knew, as we did, the victims, all is sadness.

_Same day._

. . . Nothing attacks the soul. The torture can certainly be very great,
especially the apprehension, but questions coming from the distance can
be silenced by acceptation of what is close. The weather is sweet and
soft, and Nature is indifferent. The dead will not spoil the spring. . . .

And then, once the horror of the moment is over, when one sees its place
taken by only the memory of those who have gone, there is a kind of
sweetness in the thought of what _really exists_. In these solemn woods
one realises the inanity of sepulchres and the pomp of funerals. The
souls of the brave have no need of all that. . . .

_4 o'clock._

I have just finished the fourth portrait, a lieutenant in my company. He
is delighted. Daylight fades. I send you my thoughts, full of
cheerfulness. Hope and wisdom.

_January 3, 1915._

. . . Yesterday, after the first satisfaction of finding myself freed
from manual work, I contemplated my stripes, and I felt some
humiliation, because instead of the great anonymous superiority of the
ordinary soldier which had put me beyond all military valuation, I had
now the distinction of being a low number in military rank!

But then I felt that each time I looked at my little bits of red wool I
should remember my social duty, a duty which my leaning towards
individualism makes me forget only too often. So I knew I was still free
to cultivate my soul, having this final effort to demand of it.

_January 4, despatched on the 7th_
(in a mine).

I am writing to you at the entrance to an underground passage which
leads under the enemy emplacement. My little job is to look out for the
safety of the sappers, who are hollowing out and supporting and
consolidating an excavation about twelve metres deep already. To get to
this place we have to plunge into mud up to our thighs, but during the
eight hours we spend here we are sheltered by earthworks several metres
thick.

I have six men, with whom I have led an existence of sleeplessness and
privation for three days: this is the benefit I derive from the joyful
event of my new status; but as a matter of fact I am glad to take part
in these trials again.

Besides, in a few days the temporary post which I held before may be
given to me altogether. Horrible weather, and to make matters worse, I
burnt an absolutely new boot, and am soaking wet, like the others, but
in excellent health.

Dear, I am now going to sleep a little.

_January 6, evening._

DEAR MOTHER,--Here we are in a billet after seventy-two consecutive
hours without sleep, living in a nameless treacly substance--rain and
filth.

I have had several letters from you, dear beloved mother; the last is
dated January 1. How I love them! But before speaking of them I must
sleep a little.

_January 7, towards mid-day._

This interrupted letter winds up at the police-station, where my section
is on guard. The weather is still horrible. It's unspeakable, this
derangement of our whole existence. We are under water: the walls are of
mud, and the floor and ceiling too.

_January 9._

. . . My consolations fail me in these days, on account of the weather.
This horrible mess lets me see nothing whatever. I close with an ardent
appeal to our love, and in the certainty of a justice higher than our
own. . . .

Dear mother, as to sending things, I am really in need of nothing.
Penury now is of another kind, but courage, always! Yet is it even sure
that moral effort bears any fruit?

_January 13, morning_ (in the trench).

I hope that when you think of me you will have in mind all those who
have left everything behind: their family, their surroundings, their
whole social environment; all those of whom their nearest and dearest
think only in the past, saying, 'We had once a brother, who, many years
ago, withdrew from this world, we know nothing of his fate.' Then I,
feeling that you too have abandoned all human attachment, will walk
freely in this life, closed to all ordinary relations.

I don't regret my new rank; it has brought me many troubles but a great
deal of experience, and, as a matter of fact, some ameliorations.

So I want to continue to live as fully as possible in this moment, and
that will be all the easier for me if I can feel that you have brought
yourself to the idea that my present life cannot in any way be lost.

I did not tell you enough what pleasure the _Revues Hebdomadaires_ gave
me. I found some extracts from that speech on Lamartine which I am
passionately fond of. Circumstances led this poet to give to his art
only the lowest place. Life in general closed him round, imposing on his
great heart a more serious and immediate task than that which awaited
his genius.

_January 15_ (in a new billet), 12.30 P.M.

We no longer have any issue whatever in sight.

My only sanction is in my conscience. We must confide ourselves to an
impersonal justice, independent of any human factor, and to a useful and
harmonious destiny, in spite of the horrors of its form.

_January 17, afternoon_ (in a billet).

What shall I say to you on this strange January afternoon, when thunder
is followed by snow?

Our billet provides us with many commodities, but above all with an
intoxicating beauty and poetry. Imagine a lake in a park sheltered by
high hills, and a castle, or, rather, a splendid country house. We lodge
in the domestic offices, but I don't need any wonderful home comforts
to perfect the dream-like existence that I have led here for three days.
Last night we were visited by some singers. We were very far from the
music that I love, but the popular and sentimental tunes were quite able
to replace a finer art, because of the ardent conviction of the singer.
The workman who sang these songs, which were decent, in fact moral (a
rather questionable moral, perhaps, but still a moral), so put his soul
into it that the timbre of his voice was altogether too moving for our
hostesses. Here are the ideal people: perhaps their ideal may be said
not to exist and to be purely negative, but months of suffering have
taught me to honour it.

I have just seen that Charles Péguy died at the beginning of the war.
How terribly French thought will have been mown down! What surpasses our
understanding (and yet what is only natural) is that civilians are able
to continue their normal life while we are in torment. I saw in the _Cri
de Paris_, which drifted as far as here, a list of concert programmes.
What a contrast! However, mother dear, the essential thing is to have
known beauty in moments of grace.

The weather is frightful, but one can feel the coming of spring. At a
time like this nothing can speak of individual hope, only of great
general certainties.

_January 19._

We have been since yesterday in our second line positions; we came to
them in marvellous snow and frost. A furious sky, with charming rosy
colour in it, floated over the visionary forest in the snow; the trees,
limpid blue low down, brown and fretted above, the earth white.

I have received two parcels; the _Chanson de Roland_ gives me infinite
pleasure--particularly the Introduction, treating of the national epic
and of the Mahabharata which, it seems, tells of the fight between the
spirits of good and evil.

I am happy in your lovely letters. As for the sufferings which you
forebode for me, they are really very tolerable.

But what we must recognise, and without shame, is that we are a
_bourgeois_ people. We have tasted of the honey of civilisation--poisoned
honey, no doubt. But no, surely that sweetness is true, and we should
not be called upon to make of our ordinary existence a preparation for
violence. I know that violence may be salutary to us, especially if in
the midst of it we do not lose sight of normal order and calm.

Order leads to eternal rest. Violence makes life go round. We have, for
our object, order and eternal rest; but without the violence which lets
loose reserves of energy, we should be too inclined to consider order as
already attained. But anticipated order can only be a lethargy which
retards the coming of positive order.

Our sufferings arise only from our disappointment in this delay; the
coming of true order is too long for human patience. In any case,
however suffering, we would rather not be doers of violence. It is as
when matter in fusion solidifies too quickly and in the wrong shape: it
has to be put to the fire again. This is the part violence plays in
human evolution; but that salutary violence must not make us forget what
our æsthetic citizenship had acquired in the way of perdurable peace and
harmony. But our suffering comes precisely from the fact that we do not
forget it!

_January 20, morning._

Do not think that I ever deprive myself of sleep. In that matter our
regiment is very fitful: one time we sleep for three days and three
nights; another time, the opposite.

Now Nature gives me her support once more. The frightful spell of rain
is interrupted by fine cold days. We live in the midst of beautiful
frost and snow; the hard earth gives us a firm footing.

My little grade gets me some solitude. I no longer have my happy walks
by night, but I have them in the day; my exemption from the hardest work
gives me time to realise the beauty of things.

Yesterday, an unspeakable sunset. A filmy atmosphere, with shreds of
tender colour; underneath, the blue cold of the snow.

Dear mother, it is a night of home-sickness. These familiar verses came
to me in the peace:

          'Mon enfant, ma soeur,
           Songe à la douceur
           D'aller là-bas vivre ensemble
           Au pays qui te ressemble.'

Yes, Beaudelaire's _Invitation au voyage_ seemed to take wing in the
exquisite sky. Oh, I was far from war. Well, to return to earthly
things: in coming back I nearly missed my dinner.

_January 20, evening._

Acceptation always. Adaptation to the life which goes on and on, taking
no notice of our little postulations.

_January 21._

We are in our first-line emplacements. The snow has followed us, but
alas, the thaw too. Happily, in this emplacement we don't live in water
as we do in the trenches.

Can any one describe the grace of winter trees? Did I already tell you
what Anatole France says in the _Mannequin d'Osier_? He loves their
delicate outlines and their intimate beauty more when they are uncovered
in winter. I too love the marvellous intricate pattern of their branches
against the sky.

From my post I can see our poor village, which is collapsing more and
more. Each day shells are destroying it. The church is hollowed out, but
its old charm remains in its ruins; it crouches so prettily between the
two delicately defined hills.

We were very happy in the second line. That time of snow was really
beautiful and clement. I told you yesterday about the sunset the other
day. And, before that, our arrival in the marvellous woods. . . .

_January 22._

. . . I have sent you a few verses; I don't know what they are worth,
but they reconciled me to life. And then our last billet was really
wonderful in its beauty. Water running over pebbles . . . vast, limpid
waters at the end of the park. Sleeping ponds, dreaming walks, which
none of this brutality has succeeded in defiling. To-day, sun on the
snow. The beauty of the snow was deeply moving, though certainly we had
some bad days, days on which there was nothing for us but the wretched
mud.

It seems that we won't be coming back to this pretty billet. Evidently
they are making ready for something; the regularity of our winter
existence has come to an end.

_2 o'clock._

Splendid weather, herald of the spring, and we can make the most of it,
because in this place we are allowed to put our noses out of doors.

I write badly to-day. I can only send you my love. This war is long, and
I can't even speak of patience.

My only happiness is that during these five and a half months I have so
often been able to tell you that everything was not ugliness. . . .

_January 23._

. . . As for me, I have no desires left. When my trials are really hard to
bear, I rest content with my own unhappiness, without facing other
things.

When they become less hard, then I begin to think, to dream, and the
past that is dear to me seems to have that same remote poetry which in
happier days drew my thoughts to distant countries. A familiar street,
or certain well-known corners, spring suddenly to my mind--just as in
other days islands of dreams and legendary countries used to rise at the
call of certain music and verse. But now there is no need of verse or
music; the intensity of dear memories is enough.

I have not even any idea of what a new life could be; I only know that
we are making life here and now.

For whom, and for what age? It hardly matters. What I do know, and what
is affirmed in the very depths of my being, is that this harvest of
French genius will be safely stored, and that the intellect of our race
will not suffer for the deep cuts that have been made in it.

Who will say that the rough peasant, comrade of the fallen thinker, will
not be the inheritor of his thoughts? No experience can falsify this
magnificent intuition. The peasant's son who has witnessed the death of
the young scholar or artist will perhaps take up the interrupted work,
be perhaps a link in the chain of evolution which has been for a moment
suspended. This is the real sacrifice: to renounce the hope of being
the torch-bearer. To a child in a game it is a fine thing to carry the
flag; but for a man, it is enough to know that the flag will yet be
carried. And that is what every moment of great august Nature brings
home to me. Every moment reassures my heart: Nature makes flags out of
anything. They are more beautiful than those to which our little habits
cling. And there will always be eyes to see and cherish the lessons of
earth and sky.

_January 26._

Your dear letter of the 20th reached me last night. You must not be
angry with me if occasionally, as in my letter of the 13th, I lack the
very thing I am always forcing myself to acquire. But I ask you to
consider what can be the thoughts of one who is young, in the fulness of
productiveness, at the hour when life is flowering, if he is snatched
away, and cast upon barren soil where all he has cherished fails him.

Well, after the first wrench he finds that life has not forsaken him,
and sets to work upon the new ungrateful ground. The effort calls for
such a concentration of energy as leaves no time for either hopes or
fears. It is the constant effort at adaptation, and I manage it, except
only in moments of the rebellion (quickly suppressed) of the thoughts
and wishes of the past. But I need my whole strength at times for
keeping down the pangs of memory and accepting what is.

I was thinking of the sad moments that you too endure, and that was why
I encouraged you to an impersonal idea of our union. I know how strong
you are, and how prepared for this idea. Yes, you are right, we must not
meet the pain half-way. But at times it is difficult to distinguish
between the real suffering that affects us, and that which is only
possible or imminent.

Mind you notice that _I have perfect hope_ and that I count on
prevailing grace, but, caring more than anything to be an artist, I am
occupied in drawing all the beauty out, in drawing out the utmost
beauty, as quickly as may be, none of us knowing how much time is meted
to us.

_January 27, afternoon._

After two bad nights in the billet owing to the lack of straw, the third
night was interrupted by our sudden departure for our emplacement in the
second line.

Superb weather, frost and sun.

Great Nature begins again to enfold me, and her voice, which is now
powerful again, consoles me.--But, dear, what a hole in one's existence!
Yes, since my promotion I have lived through moments which, though less
terrible, recalled the first days of September, but with the addition of
many blessings. I accept this new life, with no forecast of the future.

_January 28, in the morning sun._

The hard and splendid weather has this marvellous good--that it leaves
in its great pure sky an open door for poetry. Yes, all that I told you
of that beautiful time of snow came from a heart that was comforted by
such triumphant beauty.

In the Reviews you send me I have read with pleasure the articles on
Molière, on the English parliament, on Martainville, and on the
religious questions of 1830. . . .

Did I tell you that I learnt from the papers of the death of
Hillemacher? That dear friend was killed in this terrible war.

_February 1._

MY VERY DEAR MOTHER,--I have your dear letters of the 26th and 27th;
they do bring new life to me.

Up till now, our first-line emplacement, which this time is in the
village, has been favoured with complete calm, and I have known once
more those hours of grace when Nature consoles me.

My situation has this special improvement, that the drudgery I do now is
done at the instance of the general good, and no longer at the dictation
of mere routine.

_February 2._

DEAR MOTHER,--I go on with this letter in the billet, where the great
worry of accumulated work fills up the void which Melancholy would make
her own.

Dark days have come upon me, and nothingness seems the end of all,
whereas all that is in my being had assured me of the plenitude of the
universe. Yes, devotion, not to individuals but to the social ideal of
brotherhood, sustains me still. Oh, what a magnificent example is to be
found in Jesus and in the poor. That righteous aristocrat, showing by
His abhorrent task the infinite obligation of altruistic duty, and
teaching, above all, that no return of gratitude should be demanded. . . .
To my experience of men and things I owe this tranquillity of
expecting nothing from any one. Thus duty takes an abstract form,
deprived of a human object.

An unspeakable sunrise to-day! Another spring draws near. . . . I want
to tell you about our three days in the first line.

Snow and frost. We went down the slopes leading to our emplacement in
the village. The night was then so beautiful that it moved the heart of
every soldier to see it. I could never say enough about the fine
delicacy of this country. How can I explain to you the chiselled effect,
allied to the dream-like mists, with the moon soaring above? For three
days my night-service took me straight to the heart of this purity,
this whiteness.

Tarnished gold-work of the trees. And, in spite of the mist, many
colours, rose and blue.

There are hours of such beauty that those who take them to themselves
can hardly die. I was well in front of the first lines, and never did I
feel better protected. This morning, when I came, a pink and green
sunrise over the blue and rosy snow; the open country marked with woods
and covered fields; far off, the distance, in which the silvery Meuse
fades away. O Beauty, in spite of all!

_February 2._

DEAR BELOVED MOTHER,--Your letter of the 29th has this moment come to
the billet. A nameless day, a day without form, yet a day in which the
spring most mysteriously begins to stir. Warm air in the lengthening
days; a sudden softening, a weakening of Nature. Alas, how sweet this
emotion would be if it could be felt outside this slavery, but the
weakness which comes ordinarily with spring only serves here to make
burdens heavier.

Dear mother, how glad I am to feel the sympathy of those who are far
away. Ah, what sweetness there is!

I am delighted by the Reviews; in an admirable article on Louis Veuillot
I noticed this phrase: 'O my God, take away my despair and leave my
grief!' Yes, we must not misunderstand the fruitful lesson taught by
grief, and if I return from this war it will most certainly be with a
soul formed and enriched.

I also read with pleasure the lectures on Molière, and in him, as
elsewhere, I have viewed again the solitude in which the highest souls
wander. But I owe it to my old sentimental wounds never to suffer again
through the acts of others. My dearly loved mother, I will write to you
better to-morrow.

_February 4._

Last night, on coming back to the barn, drunkenness, quarrels, cries,
songs and yells. Such is life!. . . But when morning came and the
wakening from sleep still brought me memories of this, I got up before
the time, and found outside a friendly moon, and the great night taking
wing, and a dawn which had pity on me. The blessed spring day gilds
everything and scatters its promises and hopes.

Dear, I was reflecting on Tolstoi's title, _War and Peace_. I used to
think that he wanted to express the antithesis of these two states, but
now I ask myself if he did not connect these two contraries in one and
the same folly--if the fortunes of humanity, whether at war or at peace,
were not equally a burden to his mind. By all means let us keep faithful
to our efforts to be good; but in spite of ourselves we take this
precept a little in the sense of the placards: 'Be good to animals.' How
hard it is, in the midst of daily duties, to keep guard upon oneself.

_February 5._

A sleepless night. Hateful return to the barn. Such a fearful row that
the corporals had to complain. Punishments.

In the morning, on the march, and, in order to rest us, work to-night!

_February 6._

MY DEAR BELOVED MOTHER,--After the sleepless night in our billet, we had
to supply a working-party all the following night. So I have been
sleeping up till the very moment of writing to you. Sleep and Night are
refuges which give life still one attraction.

Mother dear, I am living over again the lovely legend of Sarpedon; and
that exquisite flower of Greek poetry really gives me comfort. If you
will read this passage of the _Iliad_ in my beautiful translation by
Lecomte de l'Isle, you will see that Zeus utters in regard to destiny
certain words in which the divine and the eternal shine out as nobly as
in the Christian Passion. He suffers, and his fatherly heart undergoes a
long battle, but finally he permits his son to die, and Hypnos and
Thanatos are sent to gather up the beloved remains.

Hypnos--that is Sleep. To think that I should come to that, I for whom
every waking hour was a waking joy, I for whom every moment of action
was a thrill of pride. I catch myself longing for the escape of Sleep
from the tumult that besets me. But the splendid Greek optimism shines
out as in those vases at the Louvre. By the two, Hypnos and Thanatos,
Sarpedon is lifted to a life beyond his human death; and assuredly Sleep
and Death do wonderfully magnify and continue our mortal fate.

Thanatos--that is a mystery, and it is a terror only because the urgency
of our transitory desires makes us misconceive the mystery. But read
over again the great peaceful words of Maeterlinck in his book on death,
words ringing with compassion for our fears in the tremendous passage of
mortality.

_February 7._

MOST DEAR AND MOST BELOVED,--I have your splendid letter of the first.
Please don't hesitate to write what you think I would call mere chatter.
Your love and the absolute identity of our two hearts appear in all your
letters. And that is all I really care for. Yet they tell me a thousand
things that interest me too.

We are living through hours of heavy labour. My rank gives me respite
now and then; but for the men it means five nights at a time without
sleep, and this repeatedly.

_February 9._

Another breathing-space in which, almost at my last gasp, I get a brief
peace. The little reviving breath comes again. I have had the good luck
to be appointed corporal on guard in delightful quarters, where I am in
command. Perfect spring weather. And what can I say of this Nature?
Never before have I so fully felt her amplitude of life. Hours and
seasons following one another surely, infallibly, unalterably, in
unchanging unity; the looker-on has a glimpse of the immensity of the
force that first set them afoot.

I had often known the delight of watching the nearer coming of a season,
but it had not before been given to me to live in that delight moment by
moment. It is so that one learns, without the help of any kind of
science, a certain intuition, vague perhaps, but altogether
indisputable, of the Absolute. There was a man of science, possibly a
great one, who declared that he had not discovered God under his
scalpel. What a shocking mistake for an able mind to make! Where was the
need of a scalpel, when the joy and the thrill of our senses are
all-sufficient to convince us of the purpose commanding our whole
evolution? The poet watches the coming of the seasons as it were great
ships that will, he knows, set sail again. At times the storm may delay
them, but at their next coming they will bring with them the rich
fragrance of the unknown coasts. A season coming again to our own shores
seems to bring us delights which it has learnt by long travel.

Ah, dearest mother, if one could have again a retreat for the soul! O
solitude, for those worthy to possess it! How seldom is it inviolate!

_February 11._

It may possibly be a great intended privilege for our generation to be a
witness of these horrors, but what a terrible price to pay! Well, faith,
eternal faith, is over all. Faith in an evolution, an Order, beyond our
human patience.

_February 11_ (2nd day in
the front line).

In such hours as these one must perforce take refuge in the extra-human
principle of sacrifice; it is impossible for mere humanity to go
further.

Let go all poor human hope. Seek something beyond; perhaps you have
already found it. As for me, I feel myself to be unworthy in such days
to be anything more than a memory. I picked some flowers in the mud.
Keep them in remembrance of me.

_5 o'clock._

Courage through all, courage in spite of all.

_February 13_ (4th day in
the front line).

BELOVED,--After the days of tears and of rebellion of the heart that
have so shaken me, I pull myself together again to say 'Thy will be
done.' So, according to the power and the measure of my faculties, I
would be he who to the very end never despaired of his share in the
building of the Temple. I would be the workman who, knowing full well
that his scaffolding will give way and who has no hope of safety, goes
on with his stone-carving of decoration on the cathedral front.
Decoration. I am not one who will ever be able to lift the blocks of
stone. But there are others for that job. Yes, I am getting back into a
little quiet thinking. The equable tranquillity I had hoped for is not
yet mine; but I have occasional glimpses of that region of peace and
light in which all things, even our love, is renewed and transfigured.

I am now at the foot of a peaked hill where Nature has brought the
loveliest lines of design together. Man is hunting man, and in a moment
they will be locked in fight. Meanwhile the lark is rising.

Even as I write, a strange serenity possesses me.
Something--extraordinary comfort. Be it a human quality, be it a
revelation from on high. All around me men are asleep.

_February 14_ (5th day in
the front line).

All is movement about us; we too are afoot. Even as the inevitable takes
shape, peace revisits my heart at last. My beloved country is defiled
by these detestable preparations of battle; the silence is rent by the
preliminary gun-fire; man succeeds for a time in cancelling all the
beauty of the world. But I think it will even yet find a place of
refuge. For twenty-four hours now I have been my own self.

Dear mother, I was wrong to think so much of my 'tower of ivory.' What
we too often take for a tower of ivory is nothing more than an old
cheese where a hermit rat has made his house.

Rather, may a better spirit move me to gratitude for the salutary shocks
that tossed me out of too pleasant a place of peace; let us be thankful
for the dispensation which, during certain hours--hours far apart but
never to be forgotten--made a man of me.

No, no, I will not mourn over my dead youth. It led me by steep and
devious ways to the tablelands where the mists that hung over
intelligence are no more.

_February 16._

In these latter days I have passed through certain hours, made decisive
hours for me by the visibility of great and universal problems. We have
now been for five days in the front line, with exceedingly hard work,
hampered by the terrible mud. As our days have followed each other, and
as my own struggle against the frightful sadness of my soul continued,
the military situation was growing more tense, and the preparation for
action was pushing on. Then came the announcement of the order of
attack. There was only a day left--perhaps two days. It was then I wrote
you two letters, I think those of the 13th and 14th; and really, as I
was writing, I had within my heart such a plenitude of conviction, such
a sweetness of feeling, as give incontrovertible assurance of the
reality of the beautiful and the good. The bombardment of our position
was violent; but nothing that man can do is able to stifle or silence
what Nature has to say to the human soul.

One night, between the 14th and the 15th, we were placed in trenches
that were raked by machine-guns. Our men were so exhausted that they
were obliged to give place to another battalion. We were waiting in the
wet and the cold of night when suddenly the notice came that we were
relieved. We could not tell why. But we are here again in this village,
where the men deluge their poor hearts with wine. I am in the midst of
them.

Dear mother, if there is one thing absolute in human feeling, it is
pain. I had lived hitherto in the contemplation of the interesting
relations of different emotions, losing sight of the price, the
intrinsic value, of life itself. But now I know what is essential life.
It is that which clears the soul's way to the Absolute. But I suffered
less in that time of waiting than I am suffering now from certain
companionships.

_February 16, 9 o'clock._

DEAR BELOVED MOTHER,--I was at dinner when they came to tell me we were
off. I knew it would be so; the counter-orders that put off the attack
cost us the march of forty kilometres in addition to the fatigues we had
to undergo in the first line. As we were leaving our sector I noticed
the arrival of such a quantity of artillery that I knew well enough the
pause was at an end. But the soul has its own peace. It is frosty
weather, with a sky full of stars.

_February 19_ (sent off in the full
swing of battle).

One word only. We are in the hands of God. Never, never, have we so
needed the wisdom of confidence. Death prevails, but it does not reign.
Life is still noble. Friends of mine killed and wounded yesterday and
the day before. Dearest, our messengers may be greatly delayed.

_February 22._

We are in billets after the great battle. And this time I saw it all. I
did my duty; I knew that by the feeling of my men for me. But the best
are dead. Bitter loss. This heroic regiment. We gained our object. Will
write at more length.

_February 22_ (1st day in billet).

DEAR BELOVED MOTHER,--I will tell you about the goodness of God, and the
horror of these things. The heaviness of heart that weighed me down this
month and a half past was for the coming anguish to be undergone in
these last twenty days.

We reached the scene of action on the 17th. The preparation ceased to
interest me; I was all expectation of the event. It broke out at three
o'clock: the explosion of seven mines under the enemy's trenches. It was
like a distant thunder. Next, five hundred guns created the hell into
which we leapt.

Night was coming on when we established ourselves in the positions we
had taken. All that night I was actively at work for the security of our
men, who had not suffered much. I had to cover great tracts, over which
were scattered the wounded and the dead of both sides. My heart yearned
over them, but I had nothing better than words to give them. In the
morning we were driven, with serious loss, back to our previous
positions, but in the evening we attacked again; we retook our whole
advance; here again I did my duty. In my advance I got the sword of an
officer who surrendered; after that I placed my men for guarding our
ground. The captain ordered me to his side, and I gave him the plan of
our position. He was telling me of his decision to have me mentioned,
when he was killed before my eyes.

Briefly, under the frightful fire of those three days, I organised and
kept going the work of supplying cartridges; in this job five of my men
were wounded. Our losses are terrible; those of the enemy greater still.
You cannot imagine, beloved mother, what man will do against man. For
five days my shoes have been slippery with human brains, I have walked
among lungs, among entrails. The men eat, what little they have to eat,
at the side of the dead. Our regiment was heroic; we have no officers
left. They all died as brave men. Two good friends--one of them a fine
model of my own for one of my last pictures--are killed. That was one of
the terrible incidents of the evening. A white body, splendid under the
moon! I lay down near him. The beauty of things awoke again for me.

At last, after five days of horror that lost us twelve hundred men, we
were ordered back from the scene of abomination.

The regiment has been mentioned in despatches.

Dear mother, how shall I ever speak of the unspeakable things I have had
to see? But how shall I ever tell of the certainties this tempest has
made clear to me? Duty; effort.

_February 23._

DEAREST BELOVED MOTHER,--A second day in billets. To-morrow we go to the
front. Darling, I can't write to-day. Let us draw ever nearer to the
eternal, let us remain devoted to our duty. I know how your thoughts fly
to meet mine, and I turn mine towards the happiness of wisdom. Let us
take courage; let me be brave among these young dead men, and be you
brave in readiness. God is over us.

_February 26_
(a splendid afternoon).

DEAR MOTHER,--Here we are again upon the battlefield. We have climbed
the hill from which it would be better to praise the glory of God than
to condemn the horrors of men. Innumerable dead at the setting-out of
our march; but they grow fewer, leaving here and there some poor stray
body, the colour of clay--a painful encounter. Our losses are what are
called 'serious' in despatches.

At all events I can assure you that our men are admirable and their
resignation is heroic. All deplore this infamous war, but nearly all
feel that the fulfilment of a hideous duty is the one only thing that
justifies the horrible necessity of living at such a time as this.

Dear mother, I cannot write more. The plain is settling to sleep under
colours of violet and rose. How can things be so horrible?

_February 28_ (in a billet).

DEAR BELOVED MOTHER, AND DEAR BELOVED GRANDMOTHER,--I am writing to you,
having just struggled out of a most appalling nightmare, and out of
Dantesque scenes that I have lived through. Things that Gustave Doré had
the courage to picture through the text of the _Divina Commedia_ have
come to pass, with all the variety and circumstance of fact. In the
midst of labours that happily tend to deaden one's feelings, I have been
able to gather the better fruits of pain.

On the 24th, in the evening, we returned to our positions, from which
the more hideous of the traces of battle had been partly removed. Only a
few places were still scattered with fragments of men that were taking
on the semblance of that clay to which they were returning. The weather
was fine and cold, and the heights we had gained brought us into the
very sky. The immensities appeared only as lights: the higher light, a
brilliance of stars; the lower light, a glow of fires. The frightful
bombardment with which the Germans overwhelm us is really a waste of
fireworks.

I lay in a dug-out from which I could follow the moon, and watch for
daybreak. Now and again a shell crumbled the soil about me, and deafened
me; then silence came again upon the frozen earth. I have paid the
price, I have paid dearly, but I have had moments of solitude that were
full of God.

I really think I have tried to adapt myself to my work, for, as I told
you, I am proposed for the rank of sergeant and for mention in
despatches. Ah, but, dearest mother, this war is long, too long for men
who had something else to do in the world! What you tell me of the kind
feeling there is for me in Paris gives me pleasure; but--am I not to be
brought out of this for a better kind of usefulness? Why am I so
sacrificed, when so many others, not my equals, are spared? Yet I had
something worth doing to do in the world. Well, if God does not intend
to take away this cup from me, His will be done.

_March 3_ (in a billet).

This is the fourth day of rest, for me almost a holiday time. Rather a
sad holiday, I own; it reminds me of certain visits to Marlotte. These
days have been spent in attempts to recover from physical fatigue and
moral weariness, and in the filling up of vacant hours. Still, a kind of
holiday, a halt rather, giving one time to arrange one's impressions, so
long confused by the violence of action.

I have been stupefied by the noise of the shells. Think--from the French
side alone forty thousand have passed over our heads, and from the
German side about as many, with this difference, that the enemy shells
burst right upon us. For my own part, I was buried by three 305 shells
at once, to say nothing of the innumerable shrapnel going off close by.
You may gather that my brain was a good deal shaken. And now I am
reading. I have just read in a magazine an article on three new novels,
and that reading relieved many of the cares of battle.

I have received a most beautiful letter from André, who must be a
neighbour of mine out here. He thinks as I do about our dreadful war
literature. What does flourish is a faculty of musical improvisation.
All last night I heard the loveliest symphonies, fully orchestral; and I
am bound to say that they owed their best to the great music that is
Germany's.

After my experiences I must really let myself go a little in the
pleasure of this furtive sun of March.

_March 5_ (6th day in billets).

I wish I could recover in myself the extreme sensibilities I felt before
the fiery trial, so that I might describe for you the colours and the
aspects of the drama we have passed through. But just now I am in a
state of numbness, pleasant enough in itself, yet apt to hinder my
vision of things present and my forecasts of things to come. I have to
make an effort to keep hold of eternal and essential things; perhaps I
shall succeed in time.

And yet certain sights on the wasted field of war had so noble a lesson,
a teaching so persuasive, that I should love to share with you the great
certainties of those days. How harmonious is death within the natural
soil, how admirable is the manner of man's return to the substance of
his mother earth, compared with the poverty of funeral ceremonial!
Yesterday I thought of those poor dead as forsaken things. But I had
been present at the burial of an officer, and it seems to me that Nature
is more compassionate than man. Yes indeed, the soldier's death is close
to natural things. It is a frank horror, a horror that does not attempt
to cheat the law of violence. I often passed close to bodies that were
gradually passing into the clay, and their change seemed more comforting
than the cold and unchanging aspect of the tombs of town cemeteries.
From our life in the open we have gained a freedom of conception, an
amplitude of thought and of habit, which will for ever make cities
horrible and artificial to those who survive the war.

Dear mother, I write but ill of things that I have greatly felt. Let us
seek refuge in the peace of spring and in the treasure of the present
moment.

_March 7, half-past ten._

DEAR BELOVED MOTHER,--I am filling up the idleness of this morning. I am
rejoicing in the clear waters of the Meuse that give life to dales and
gardens. The play of the current over weeds and pebbles makes a soothing
sight for my tired eyes, and expresses the calm life of this big village
that is sheltered by the Meuse hills. The church here is thronged with
soldiers who possess, as I do, a definite intuition of the Ideal, but
who seek it by more stated and less immediate means.

I am to board for a fortnight in the house in which, nearly two months
ago, our joyous company used to meet. To-day I have seen the tears of
these same friends, weeping to hear of the wounded and the dead.

I received your sleeping-sack, which is quite right. I am worried with
rheumatism, which has spoilt many of my nights in billets these two
months past.

Darling mother, here is a calm in the noise of that barrack-life which
must now be ours. As there are none here but non-commissioned officers,
they are all ordered to hard jobs, and I shall renew my acquaintance
with brooms and burdens. We have been warned; we shall have to work with
our hands. And so we learn to direct others.

_March 7_ (another letter).

Soft weather after rain. Bells in the evening; flowing waters singing
under the bridges; trees settling to sleep.

_March 11._

DARLING MOTHER,--I have nothing to say about my life, which is filled up
with manual labour. At moments perhaps some image appears, some memory
rises. I have just read a fine article by Renan on the origins of the
Bible. I found it in a _Revue des Deux Mondes_ of 1886. If later I can
remember something of it, I may be able to put my very scattered
notions on that matter into better order.

I feel as though I were recovering from typhoid fever. What I chiefly
enjoy is water; the running and the sleeping waters of the Meuse. The
springs play on weeds and pebbles. The ponds lie quiet under great
trees. Streams and waterfalls. On the steep hillsides the snow looks
brilliant and visionary. I live in all these things without forms of
words. And I am rather ashamed to be vegetating, though I think all must
pass through this phase, just removed from the hell of the front. I eat,
and when my horrid rheumatism allows, I sleep.

Don't be angry with my inferiority. I feel as though my armour had been
taken off. Well, I can't help it.

_5 o'clock._

I am a good deal tired by drill. But the fine air of the Meuse keeps me
in health. Dear mother, I wish I might always seek all that is noble and
good. I wish I might always feel within myself the inspiration that
urges towards the true treasures of life. But alas! just now I have a
mind of lead.

_March 14, Sunday morning,
in the Sabbath peace._

DEAREST MOTHER,--Your good, life-giving letters have come at last, after
my long privation, the price I paid for my enjoyment of rest. The pretty
town is waking in the haze of the river, the waters hurry over their
clean stones. All things have that look of moderation and charming
finish that is characteristic of this part of the country.

I read a little, but I am so overtired by the physical exertion to which
we are compelled, that I fall asleep on the instant. We are digging
trenches and trenches.

Dear mother, to go back to those wonderful times of the end of February,
I must repeat that my memory of them is something like that of an
experiment in science. I had conceived violence under a theoretic
formula; I had divined its part in the worlds. But I had not yet
witnessed its actual practice, except in infinitely small examples. And
now at last violence was displayed before me on such a scale that my
whole faculty of receptiveness was called upon to face it. Well, it was
interesting; and I may tell you that I never relaxed from my attitude of
cool and impersonal watchfulness. What I had kept about me of my own
individuality was a certain visual perceptiveness that caused me to
register the setting of things, a setting that dramatised itself as
'artistically' as in any stage-management. During all those minutes I
never relaxed in my resolve to see 'how it was.'

I was very happy to find that the 'intoxication of slaughter' never had
any possession of me. I hope it will always be so. Unfortunately,
contact with the German race has for ever spoilt my opinion of those
people. I cannot quite succeed in quelling a sensibility and a
humanitarianism that I know to be misplaced, and that would make me the
dupe of a treacherous enemy; but I have come to tolerate things which I
had held in abomination as the very negation of life.

I have seen the French soldier fight. He is terrible in action, and
after action magnanimous. That is the phrase. It is a very common
commonplace; our greatest writers and the humblest of our schoolboys
have trotted it out alike; and now my decadent ex-intellectualism finds
nothing better to say at the sight of the soul of the Frenchman.

To Madame de L.

_March 14, 1915._

My mother has told me of the new trial that has just come upon you.
Truly life is crushing for some souls. I know your fortitude, and I know
that you are only too well used to sorrow; but how much I wish that you
had been spared this blow! My mother had written to me of the lack of
any news of Colonel B., and she was anxious. It is the grief of those
dear to us that troubles us out here. But there is in the sight of a
soldier's death a lesson of greatness and of immortality that arms our
hearts; and our desire is that our beloved ones might share it with us.
Be sure that the Colonel's example will bear magnificent fruit. I know,
for I have seen it, what heroism transfigures the soldier whose leader
has fallen.

As for myself, the time has been rife with tragedies; throughout I have
tried to do my duty.

I saw all my superior officers killed, and the whole regiment decimated.
There can be no more human hope for those who are cast into this
furnace. I place myself in the hands of God, asking of Him that He would
keep me in such a state of heart and soul as may enable me to enjoy and
love in His creation all the beauty that man has not yet denied and
concealed.

All else has lost proportion in my life.

_March 15_ (a post-card).

DEAR BELOVED MOTHER,--I suppose that by now you know my good fortune in
getting this platoon. Whatever God intends for me, this halt has given
me the opportunity of regaining possession of myself, and of preparing
myself to accept whatever may befall me. I send you my love and the
union of our hearts in the face of fate.

_March 17._

A charming morning. A white sun swathing itself in mist, the fine
outlines of trees on the heights, and the great spaces in light. It is a
pause full of good luck. The other day, reading an old _Revue des Deux
Mondes_ of 1880, I came upon an excellent article as one might come upon
a noble palace with vaulted roof and decorated walls. It was on Egypt,
and was signed George Perrot.

Yesterday my battalion left these billets. I am obliged to stay behind
for my instruction as sergeant. How thankful I am for this respite,
laborious as it is, that gives me a chance of recovering what I care for
most--a clear mind, and a heart open to the spirit of Nature.

I forgot to tell you that a day or two ago, during the storm, I saw the
cranes coming home towards evening. A lull in the weather allowed me to
hear their cry. To think how long it is since I saw them take flight
from here! It was at the beginning of the winter, and they left
everything the sadder for their going. And now it was for me like the
coming of the dove to the ark; not that I deceived myself as to the
dangers that had not ceased, but that these ambassadors of the air
brought me a visible assurance of the universal peace beyond our human
strife.

And yesterday the wild geese made for the north. They flew in various
order, tracing regular formations in the sky; and then they disappeared
over the horizon like a floating ribbon.

I am much gratified by M.C.'s appreciation. I always had a love of
letters, even as a child, and I am only sorry that the break in my
education, brought about by myself, leaves so many blanks. I keep,
however, throughout all changes and chances, the faculty of gleaning to
right and left some fallen grain. Of course, as I leave out the future,
I say nothing of my wish to be introduced to him in happier times--that
is out of our department just now.

I have written to Madame L. It is the last blow for her. The fate of
some of us is as it were a medal on which are struck the image and
superscription of sorrow. Adversity has worked so well that there is no
room for any symbol of joy. But I think that this dedication of a life
to grief is not unaccompanied by a secret compensation in the conviction
that misfortune is at last complete; it is something to reach the
high-water mark of the waters of sorrow. The fate of such sufferers
seems to me to be an outpost showing others whence tribulation
approaches.

Day by day a new crop is raised in the little military burial-ground
here. And, over all, the triumphant spring.

_March 20._

Our holiday is coming to an end in sweetness, while all is tumult and
carnage not far off. I think the regiment has had a long march.

_March 20._

DEAR BELOVED MOTHER,--After so many graces granted me, I ought to have
more confidence, and I intend to do my best to give myself wholly into
the hands of God; but these are hard times. I have just heard of the
death, among many others, of the friend whose bed I shared in our
billet. He had just been appointed Second Lieutenant. Mother dear: Love.
That is the only human feeling we may cherish now.

_March 21._

DEAR GRANDMOTHER,--As the day of trial draws near I send you all my
love. I can do no more. We are probably called upon to make such a
sacrifice as forbids us to dwell upon our ties. Let us pray that the
certitude of Goodness and Beauty may not fail us when we suffer.

_March 21, Sunday, with
lovely sunshine._

DEAR BELOVED MOTHER,--I think that we may be kept here one day more, and
that we shall leave on Tuesday. I don't know where I shall rejoin my
battalion, or in what state I shall find it, for the action seems to be
violent and long. Rumours are very contradictory as to our gains. But
all agree as to the large number of casualties. We can hear a tremendous
cannonade, and the good weather no doubt induces the command on both
sides to move.

I should have wished to say many things about the noble Nature that
surrounds us with its glory, but my thoughts are gone on in advance,
there where the sun does not see men gathered together to honour him,
but shines only upon their hatred, and where the moon, too, looks upon
treachery and anguish.

The other day, overlooking this great prospect of earth welcoming the
spring, I remembered the joy I once had to be a man. And now to be a
man----

Our neighbour regiment, that of R.L., has returned with a few of its
companies reduced to some two-score men.

I dare not now speak of hope. The grace for which one may still pray is
a complete sense of what beauty the passing hour can still yield us. It
is a new manner of 'living one's life' that literature had not foreseen.

Dear Grandmother, how well your tenderness has served to keep me up in
my time of trial.

_March 22._

A splendid sun; looking on it one is amazed to see the world at war.
Spring has come in triumph. It has surprised mankind in the act of
hatred, in the act of outrage upon creation. The despatches tell us
little, fortunately, of what is happening.

Being now these twenty-one days away from the front, I find it difficult
to re-accustom myself to the thought of the monstrous things going on
there. Indeed, dear mother, I know that your life and mine have had but
one object, one aim, and that even in the time we are passing through,
we have never lost sight of it, but have constantly tried to draw
nearer.

Therefore our lives may not have been altogether useless. This is the
only thought to comfort an ambitious soul--to forecast the influence and
the consequences of its acts.

I believe that if longer life had been granted me I should never have
relaxed in my purpose. Having no certainty but that of the present, I
have tried to put myself to the best use.

_March 25._

Here I am living this life in the earth again. I found the very hole
that I left last month. Nothing has been done while I was away; a
formidable attack was attempted, but it failed. The regiments ordered to
engage had neither our dash nor our perfect steadiness under fire. They
succeeded only in getting themselves cut to pieces, and in bringing upon
us the most atrocious bombardment that ever was. It seems the action
before this was nothing to be compared with it. My company lost a great
many men by the aerial bombs. These projectiles measure a metre in
height and twenty-seven centimetres in diameter; they describe a high
curve, and fall vertically, exploding in the narrowest passages. We are
several metres deep underground. Pleasant weather. At night we go to the
surface for our hard work.

Dearest, I wanted to say a heap of things about our joys, but some of
them are best left quiet, unawakened. All coarse, common pleasure would
frighten them away--they might die.

I am writing again after a sleep. We get all the sleep we can in our
dug-outs.

I had a pile of thoughts that fatigue prevents my putting in order; but
I remember that I evoked Beethoven. I am now precisely at the age he had
reached when disaster came upon him; and I admired his great example,
his energies at work in spite of suffering. The impediment must have
seemed to him as grave as what is before me seems to us; but he
conquered. To my mind Beethoven is the most magnificent of human
translations of the creative Power.

I am writing badly, for I am still asleep.

How easy, how kind were all the circumstances of my return! I left the
house alone, but passing a battery of artillery I was accosted by the
non-commissioned officers with offers of the most friendly hospitality.
The artillery are devoted to the Tenth, for we defend them; and as the
good fellows are not even exposed to the rain they pity us exceedingly.

I must close abruptly, loving you for your courage that so sustains me.
Whatever happens, I have recovered joy. The night I came was so lovely!

_March 26._

DEARLY BELOVED MOTHER,--Nothing new in our position; the organising goes
on. Interesting but not easy work. The fine weather prospers it. Now and
again our pickaxes come upon a poor dead man whom the war harasses even
in his grave.

_March 28_ (on the heights; a grey
Sunday; weather broken by
yesterday's bombardment).

We are again in full fight. A great attack from our side has repeated
the carnage of last week. My company, which was cut up in the last
assault, was spared this time; we had nothing to do but occupy a sector
of the defence. So we got only the splashes of the fighting.

On the loveliest Saturday of this spring I had a distant view of the
battle; I saw the crawling beast that a battalion looks like, twisting
as it advances under the smoke of the guns. The _chasseurs à pied_ go
forward in spite of the machine-guns and of the bombardment, French and
German. These fine fellows did what they had to do in spite of all, and
have made amends for the check we had last week when our attack was a
failure.

For a month past I have been living Raffet's lithographs, with this
difference, that in his time one could be an eyewitness in comparative
safety at the distance where I stood, for the guns of those days did not
shoot far. But I saw fine things in that great plain beneath our
heights; a hundred thousand fires of bursting shells. And the
_chasseurs_ climbing, climbing.

_Sunday, March 28_ (2nd letter).

DEAR MOTHER,--Radiant weather rose this morning. I have been a long way
over our sector, and now the bombardment begins again, and grows.

And still I turn my thoughts to hope. Whatever happens, I pray for
wisdom for you and for me.

Dearest, I feel at times how easy it would be to turn again to those
pursuits that were once the charm and the interest of my life. At times
I catch myself, in this lovely spring, so bent upon painting that I
could mourn because I paint no more. But I compel myself to master all
the resources of my will and to keep them to the difficult straits of
this life.

_April 1._

A sun that lays bare the lovely youth of the spring. The stream of the
Meuse runs through this rich and comely village, which the echoes of the
cannonade reach only as a dull thud, their meaning lost.

We have had to change again, as the reinforcements are arriving in such
numbers that our places are wanted; and it is always our regiment that
has to turn out.

But to-day all is freshness and light. The great rich plain that is
edged by the Meuse uplands has its distance all invested in the
tenderest silver tones.

I am pleased with Gabrielle's letter; it shows me what things will be
laid upon the heart of France when these events are at an end. A
touching letter from Pierre, cured at last of his terrible wound. A
splendid letter from Grandmother. How she longs for our meeting again! I
cannot speak of it.

       *       *       *       *       *

I finish this letter by the waterside, recalling with delight the joys I
used to have in painting. Before me are the sparkling rays of spring.

_April 3_ (post-card).

Only a word from the second line. We are in the spring woods. Sun and
rain at play in the sky. Courage through all.

_April 3_ (2nd letter).

I wish I had written you better letters in these days, every minute of
which has been sweet to me, even when we were in the front line. But I
confess that I was satisfied just to let myself live in the beauty of
the days, serene days in spite of the clamours of war. We know nothing
of what is to happen. But there is more movement--coming and going.
Shall we have to bear the shock again?

Think what it was for us when we were last in the front line, to have to
spend whole days in the dug-out that the odious bombardment had
compelled us to hollow out of the hillside ten metres deep. There, in
complete darkness, night was awaited for the chance to get out. But once
my fellow non-commissioned officers and I began humming the nine
symphonies of Beethoven. I cannot tell what thrill woke those notes
within us. They seemed to kindle great lights in the cave. We forgot the
Chinese torture of being unable to lie, or sit, or stand.

The life of a sergeant in billets is really quite pleasant. But I take
no advantage. As to the front, I hope Providence will give me strength
of heart to do my duty there to the very end. A good friend of mine, who
was my section-chief, has been appointed adjutant to our company. This
is all trivial enough; but, dearest, I am in a rather feeble state; I
was not well after the events of last month. So I let myself glide over
the gentle slopes of my life. Suppose one comes to skirt a precipice?
May Providence keep us away from the edge!

_April 4._

DARLING MOTHER,--A time of anxious waiting, big with the menace of near
things. Meanwhile, however, idleness and quiet. I am not able to think,
and I give myself up to my fate. Beloved, don't find fault with me if
for a month past I have been below the mark. Love me, and tell our
friends to love me.

Did you get my photograph? It was taken at the fortunate time of our
position here, when we were having peaceful days, with no immediate
enemy except the cold. A few days later I was made corporal, and my life
became hard enough, burdened with very ungrateful labours. After that,
the storm; and the lights of that storm are still bright in my life.

_April 4, evening of Easter Sunday._

DEAR MOTHER,--We are again in the immediate care of God. At two o'clock
we march towards the storm. Beloved, I think of you, I think of you
both. I love you, and I entrust the three of us to the Providence of
God. May everything that happens find us ready! In the full power of my
soul, I pray for this, on your behalf, on mine: hope through all; but,
before all else, Wisdom and Love.

I kiss you, without more words. All my mind is now set upon the hard
work to be done.

_April 5, 1 o'clock A.M._

DEAR MOTHER AND DEAR GRANDMOTHER,--We are off. Courage. Wisdom and Love.
Perhaps all this is ordained for the good of all. I can but send you my
whole love. My life is lived in you alone.

_April 5, towards noon._

DEAR MOTHER,--We are now to be put to the proof. Up to this moment there
has been no sign that mercy was failing us. It is for us to strive to
deserve it. This afternoon we shall need all our resolution, and we
shall have to call upon the supreme Wisdom for help.

Dear beloved Mother, dear Grandmother, I wish I could still have the
delight of getting your letters. Let us pray that we may be strengthened
even in what is before us now.

Dear Darling, once more all my love for you both.

YOUR SON.

_April 6, noon._

DEAR BELOVED MOTHER,--It is mid-day, and we are at the forward position,
in readiness. I send you my whole love. Whatever comes to pass, life has
had its beauty.

_It was in the fight of this day, April 6, that the writer of these
letters disappeared._

       *       *       *       *       *

Printed by T. and A. CONSTABLE, Printers to His Majesty at the Edinburgh
University Press

       *       *       *       *       *

Transcriber's notes:

Periods added to a few date-lines to conform to rest of text.

Page 95, A space in the text was replaced with "us as". This has been
surmised. "moves us as a Breughel . . ."

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