THE WRACK OF THE STORM
THE WORKS OF MAURICE MAETERLINCK ESSAYS The Treasure of the Humble Wisdom and Destiny The Life of the Bee The Buried Temple The Double Garden The Measure of the Hours On Emerson, and Other Essays Our Eternity The Unknown Guest The Wrack of the Storm PLAYS Sister Beatrice, and Ardiane and Barbe Bleue Joyzelle, and Monna Vanna The Blue Bird, A Fairy Play Mary Magdalene Pelleas and Melisande, and Other Plays Princess Maleine The Intruder, and Other Plays Aglavaine and Selysette HOLIDAY EDITIONS Our Friend the Dog The Swarm The Intelligence of the Flowers Death Thoughts from Maeterlinck The Blue Bird The Life of the Bee News of Spring and Other Nature Studies Poems
The Wrack of the Storm
ALEXANDER TEIXEIRA DE MATTOS
NEW YORK DODD, MEAD AND COMPANY 1916
COPYRIGHT, 1916 BY DODD, MEAD AND COMPANY, INC.
The reader taking up this volume will, for the first time in the work of one who hitherto had cursed no man, find words of hatred and malediction. I would gladly have avoided them, for I hold that he who takes upon himself to write pledges himself to say nothing that can derogate from the respect and love which we owe to all men. I have had to utter these words; and I am as much surprised as saddened at what I have been constrained to say by the force of events and of truth. I loved Germany and numbered friends there, who now, dead or living, are alike dead to me. I thought her great and upright and generous; and to me she was ever kindly and hospitable. But there are crimes that obliterate the past and close the future. In rejecting hatred I should have shown myself a traitor to love.
I tried to lift myself above the fray; but, the higher I rose, the more I saw of the madness and the horror of it, of the justice of one cause and the infamy of the other. It is possible that one day, when time has wearied remembrance and restored the ruins, wise men will tell us that we were mistaken and that our standpoint was not lofty enough; but they will say it because they will no longer know what we know, nor will they have seen what we have seen.
The present volume contains, in the chronological order in which they were produced, all the essays published and all the speeches delivered by M. Maeterlinck since the beginning of the war, upon which, as will be perceived, each one of them has a direct bearing. They are printed as written; and they throw an interesting light upon the successive phases of the author's psychology during the Titanic and hideous struggle that has affected the mental attitude of us all.
In Italy forms the preface to M. Jules Destree's book, En Italie avant la guerre, 1914-15. Of the remaining essays, some have appeared in various English and American periodicals; others are now printed in translation for the first time.
I have also had M. Maeterlinck's leave to include in this volume his first published work, The Massacre of the Innocents. This powerful sketch in the Flemish manner saw the light originally in the Pleiade, in 1886, and may at the present time, to use the author's own words in a note to myself, be regarded as "a sort of vague symbolic prophecy." An English version by Mrs. Edith Wingate Rinder was printed in the Dome in 1899; another has since been issued by an English and by an American firm of publishers; but the only authorized translation to appear in book form is that now added as an epilogue to The Wrack of the Storm.
ALEXANDER TEIXEIRA DE MATTOS.
AUTHOR'S PREFACE 5
TRANSLATOR'S NOTE 7
I AFTER THE VICTORY 11
II KING ALBERT 21
III THE HOSTAGE CITIES 31
IV TO SAVE FOUR CITIES 37
V PRO PATRIA: I 45
VI HEROISM 59
VII PRO PATRIA: II 75
VIII PRO PATRIA: III 89
IX BELGIUM'S FLAG DAY 109
X ON THE DEATH OF A LITTLE SOLDIER 117
XI THE HOUR OF DESTINY 131
XII IN ITALY 147
XIII ON REREADING THUCYDIDES 161
XIV THE DEAD DO NOT DIE 179
XV IN MEMORIAM 191
XVI SUPERNATURAL COMMUNICATIONS IN WAR-TIME 197
XVII EDITH CAVELL 217
XVIII THE LIFE OF THE DEAD 229
XIX THE WAR AND THE PROPHETS 241
XX THE WILL OF EARTH 257
XXI FOR POLAND 271
XXII THE MIGHT OF THE DEAD 279
XXIII WHEN THE WAR IS OVER 291
XXIV THE MASSACRE OF THE INNOCENTS 303
* * * * *
AFTER THE VICTORY
THE WRACK OF THE STORM
AFTER THE VICTORY
At these moments of tragedy, none should be allowed to speak who cannot shoulder a rifle, for the written word seems so monstrously useless, so overwhelmingly trivial, in front of this mighty drama which shall for a long time, it may be for ever, free mankind from the scourge of war: the one scourge among all that cannot be excused, that cannot be explained, since alone among all it issues entire from the hands of man.
But it is while this scourge is upon us, while we have our being in its very centre, that we shall do well to balance the guilt of those who have committed this inexpiable crime. It is now, while we are in the thick of the horror, undergoing it, feeling it, that we have the energy, the clear-sightedness needed to judge it; from the depths of the most fearful injustice justice is best perceived. When the hour shall have come for settling accounts—and it will not long delay—we shall have forgotten much of what we have suffered and a blameworthy pity will creep over us and cloud our eyes. This is the moment, therefore, for us to frame our inexorable resolution. After the final victory, when the enemy is crushed—as crushed he will be—efforts will be made to enlist our sympathy, to move us to pity. We shall be told that the unfortunate German people were merely the victims of their monarch and their feudal caste; that no blame attaches to the Germany we know, which is so sympathetic and so cordial—the Germany of quaint old houses and open-hearted greeting, the Germany that sits under its lime-trees beneath the clear light of the moon—but only to Prussia, hateful, arrogant Prussia; that the homely, peace-loving, Bavarian, the genial and hospitable dwellers on the banks of the Rhine, the Silesian and Saxon and I know not who besides—for all these will suddenly have become whiter than snow and more inoffensive than the sheep in an English fold—that they all have merely obeyed, have been compelled to obey orders which they detested but were unable to resist. We are face to face with reality now; let us look at it well and pronounce our sentence; for this is the moment when we hold the proofs in our hands, when the elements of crime are hot before us and shout out the truth that soon will fade from our memory. Let us tell ourselves now, therefore, now, that all that we shall be told hereafter will be false; and let us unflinchingly adhere to what we decide at this moment, when the glare of the horror is on us.
It is not true that in this gigantic crime there are innocent and guilty, or degrees of guilt. They stand on one level, all those who have taken part in it. The German from the North has no more special craving for blood and outrage than he from the South has special tenderness or pity. It is, very simply, the German, from one end of his country to the other, who stands revealed as a beast of prey which the firm will of our planet finally repudiates. We have here no wretched slaves dragged along by a tyrant king who alone is responsible. Nations have the government which they deserve, or rather, the government which they have is truly no more than the magnified and public projection of the private morality and mentality of the nation. If eighty million innocent people select and support a monstrous king, those eighty million innocent people merely expose the inherent falseness and superficiality of their innocence; and it is the monster they maintain at their head who stands for all that is true in their nature, because it is he who represents the eternal aspirations of their race, which lie far deeper than their apparent and transient virtues. Let there be no suggestion of error, of having been led astray, of an intelligent people having been tricked or misled. No nation can be deceived that does not wish to be deceived; and it is not intelligence that Germany lacks. In the sphere of intellect such things are not possible; nor in the region of enlightened, reflecting will. No nation permits herself to be coerced to the one crime that man cannot pardon. It is of her own accord that she hastens towards it; her chief has no need to persuade, it is she who urges him on.
We have forces here quite different from those on the surface, forces that are secret, irresistible and profound. It is these that we must judge, these that we must crush under our heel, once and for all; for they are the only ones that will not be improved or softened or brought into line by experience or progress, or even by the bitterest lesson. They are unalterable and immovable, their springs lie far beneath hope or influence; and they must be destroyed as we destroy a nest of wasps, since we know that these never can change into a nest of bees. And, even though individually and singly the Germans were all innocent and merely led astray, they would be none the less guilty in the mass. This is the guilt that counts, that alone is actual and real, because it lays bare, underneath their superficial innocence, the subconscious criminality of all.
No influence can prevail on the unconscious or the subconscious. It never evolves. Let there come a thousand years of civilization, a thousand years of peace, with all possible refinements of art and education, the subconscious element of the German spirit, which is its unvarying element, will remain absolutely the same as it is to-day and would declare itself, when the opportunity came, under the same aspect, with the same infamy. Through the whole course of history, two distinct willpowers have been noticed that would seem to be the opposed, elemental manifestations of the spirit of our globe, the one seeking only evil, injustice, tyranny and suffering, while the other strives for liberty, the right, radiance and joy. These two powers stand once again face to face; our opportunity is now to annihilate the one that comes from below. Let us know how to be pitiless that we may have no more need for pity. It is a measure of organic defence. It is essential that the modern world should stamp out Prussian militarism as it would stamp out a poisonous fungus that for half a century had disturbed and polluted its days. The health of our planet is in question. To-morrow the United States of Europe will have to take measures for the convalescence of the earth.
[Footnote 1: Translated by Alfred Sutro.]
* * * * *
Of all the heroes of this stupendous war, heroes who will live in the memory of man, one assuredly of the most unsullied, one of those whom we can never love enough, is the great young king of my little country.
He was indeed at the critical hour the appointed man, the man for whom every heart was waiting. With sudden beauty he embodied the mighty voice of his people. He stood, upon the moment, for Belgium, revealed unto herself and unto others. He had the wonderful good fortune to realize and bestow a conscience in one of those dread hours of tragedy and perplexity when the best of consciences waver.
Had he not been at hand, there is no doubt but that all would have happened differently; and history would have lost one of her fairest and noblest pages. Certainly Belgium would have been loyal and true to her word; and any government would have been swept away, pitilessly and irresistibly, by the indignation of a people that had never, however far we probe into the past, played false. But there would have been much of that confusion and irresolution inevitable in a host suddenly threatened with disaster. There would have been vain talking, mistaken measures, excusable but irreparable vacillations; and, above all, the much-needed words, the precise and final words, would not have been spoken and the deeds, than which we can picture none more resolute, none greater, would not have been done at the right moment.
Thanks to the king, the peerless act shines forth and is maintained complete, unfaltering; and the path of heroism is straight and clearly defined and splendid as that of Thermopylae indefinitely extended.
But what he has suffered, what he suffers day by day only those can understand who have had the privilege of access to this hero: the most sensitive and the gentlest of men, silent and reserved; a man of controlled emotions, modest with a timidity that is at once baffling and delightful; loving his people less as a father loves his children than as a son loves his adoring mother. Of all that cherished kingdom, his pride and his joy, the seat of his happiness, the centre of his love and his security, there is left intact but a handful of cities, which are threatened at every moment by the foulest invader that the world has ever borne.
All the others—so quaint or so beautiful, so bright, so serene, happy to be there, so inoffensive—jewels in the crown of Peace, models of pure and upright family life, homes of loyal and dutiful industry, of ready, ever-smiling geniality, with the natural welcome, the ever-proffered hand and the ever-open heart: all the others are dead cities, of which not one stone is left upon another; and the very country-side, one of the fairest in this world, with its gentle pastures, is now no more than one vast field of horror.
Treasures have perished that were numbered among the noblest and dearest possessions of mankind; monuments have disappeared which nothing can replace; and the half of a nation, among all nations the most attached to its old simple habits, its humble homes, is at present wandering along the roads of Europe. Thousands of innocent people have been massacred; and of those who remain nearly all are doomed to poverty and hunger.
But that remainder has but one soul, which has taken refuge in the spacious soul of its king. Not a murmur, not a word of reproach! But yesterday a town of thirty thousand inhabitants received the order to forsake its white houses, its churches, its ancient streets and squares, the scene of a light-hearted and industrious life. The thirty thousand inhabitants, women and children and old men, set forth to seek an uncertain refuge in a neighbouring city, which is threatened almost as directly as their own and which to-morrow, it may be, must in its turn set forth, but whither none can say, for the country is so small that its boundaries are quickly reached, its shelter soon exhausted.
No matter: they obey in silence and one and all approve and bless their sovereign. He did what had to be done, what every one in his place would have done; and, though they are all suffering as no people has suffered since the barbarous invasions of the earliest ages, they know that he suffers more than any of them, for in him all their sorrows find a goal; in him they are reflected and enhanced. They do not even harbour the idea that they might have been saved by a sacrifice of honour. They draw no distinction between duty and destiny. To them that duty, with its frightful consequences, seems as inevitable as a natural force against which we cannot even dream of struggling, so great is it and so invincible.
Here is an example of the collective bravery of nameless heroes, an ingenuous and almost unconscious courage, which rivals and at times exceeds the most exalted deeds in legend and history, for since the days of the great martyrs men have never suffered death more simply for a simple idea.
And, if amid the anguish of our struggle it were seemly to speak of aught but tears and lamentations, we should find a magnificent consolation in the spectacle of the unexpected heroism that suddenly surrounds us on every side. It may well be said that never in the memory of mankind have men sacrificed their lives with such zest, such self-abnegation, such enthusiasm; and that the immortal virtues which to this day have uplifted and preserved the flower of the human race have never shone more brilliantly, never manifested greater power, energy or youth.
* * * * *
THE HOSTAGE CITIES
THE HOSTAGE CITIES
Thanks to the heroism of the Allies, the hour is approaching when the hordes of William the Madman will quit the soil of afflicted Belgium.
After what they have done in cold blood, what excesses, what disasters must we not expect of the last convulsions of their rage? Our anguish is all the more poignant in that they are at this moment fighting in the most ancient and most precious portion of Flanders. Above all countries, this is historic and hallowed land. They have destroyed Termonde, Roulers, Charleroi, Mons, Namur, Thielt and more besides; happy, charming little towns, which will rise again from their ashes, more beautiful than before. They have annihilated Louvain and Malines; they have but lately levelled Dixmude; their torches, their incendiary squirts and their bombs are about to attack Brussels, Antwerp, Ghent, Bruges, Ypres and Furnes, which are like so many living museums, forming one of the most delightful, delicate and fragile ornaments of Europe. The things which are beginning here and which may be completed would be irreparable. They would mean a loss to our race for which nothing could atone. A quite peculiar aspect—familiar, kindly, racy of the soil and unique—of that beauty which a long series of comely human lives is able to acquire and to hoard would disappear for ever from the face of the earth; and we cannot, in the trouble and confusion of these too tragic hours, realize the extent, the meaning or the consequences of such a crime.
We have made every sacrifice without complaining; but this would exceed all measure. What can be done? How are we to stop them? They seem to be no longer accessible to reason or to any of the feelings which men hold in honour; they are sensible only to blows. Very soon, as they must know, we shall have the power to strike them shrewdly. Why do not the Allies, this very day, swiftly, while yet there is time, name so many hostage cities, which would be answerable, stone for stone, for the existence of our own dear towns? If Brussels, for example, should be destroyed, then Berlin should be razed to the ground. If Antwerp were devastated, Hamburg would disappear. Nuremburg would guarantee Bruges; Munich would stand surety for Ghent.
At the present moment, when they are feeling the wind of defeat that blows through their tattered standard, it is possible that this solemn threat, officially pronounced, would force them to reflect, if indeed they are still at all capable of reflection. It is the only expedient that remains to us and there is no time to be lost. With certain adversaries the most barbarous threats are legitimate and necessary, for these threats speak the only language which they can understand. And our children must not one day be able to reproach us with not having attempted everything—even that which is most repugnant—to save the treasures which are theirs by right.
* * * * *
TO SAVE FOUR CITIES
TO SAVE FOUR CITIES
First Louvain, Malines, Termonde, Lierre, Dixmude, Nieuport (and I am speaking only of the disasters of Flanders); now Ypres is no more and Furnes is half in ruins. By the side of the great Flemish cities, Brussels, Antwerp, Ghent and Bruges, those vast and incomparable living museums which have been watchfully preserved by a whole people, a people above all others attached to its traditions, they formed a constellation of little towns, delightful and hospitable, too little known to travellers. Each of them wore its own expression, of peace, pleasantness, innocent mirth, or meditation. Each possessed its treasures, jealously guarded: its belfries, its churches, its canals, its old bridges, its quiet convents, its ancient houses, which gave it a special physiognomy, never to be forgotten by those who had beheld it.
But the indisputable queen of these beautiful forsaken cities was Ypres, with its enormous market-place, bordered by little dwelling-houses with stepped gables, and its prodigious market-buildings, which occupied one whole side of the immense oblong. This market-place haunted for ever the memory of those who had seen it, were it but once, while waiting to change trains; it was so unexpected, so magical, so dream-like almost, in its disproportion to the rest of the town. While the ancient city, whose life had withdrawn itself from century to century, was gradually shrinking all around it, the Grand'Place itself remained an immovable, gigantic, magnificent witness to the might and opulence of old, when Ypres was, with Ghent and Bruges, one of the three queens of the western world, one of the most strenuous centres of human industry and activity and the cradle of our great liberties. Such as it was yesterday—alas, that I cannot say, such as it is to-day!—this square, with the enormous but unspeakably harmonious mass of those market-buildings, at once powerful and graceful, wild, gloomy, proud, yet genial, was one of the most wonderful and perfect spectacles that could be seen in any town on this old earth of ours. While of a different order of architecture, built of other elements and standing under sterner skies, it should have been as precious to man, as sacred and as intangible as the Piazza di San Marco at Venice, the Signoria at Florence or the Piazza del Duomo at Pisa. It constituted a peerless specimen of art, which at all times wrung a cry of admiration from the most indifferent, an ornament which men hoped was imperishable, one of those things of beauty which, in the words of the poet, are a joy forever.
I cannot believe that it no longer exists; and yet in this horrible war we have to believe everything and, above all, the worst. Now, fatally and inevitably, it will be the turn of the Belfry of Bruges; and then the tide of barbarians will rise against Ghent and Antwerp and Brussels; and there will forthwith disappear one of those portions of the world's surface in which was hoarded the greatest wealth of beauty and of memories and of the stuff of history. We did what we could to preserve it; we could do no more. The most heroic of armies are powerless to prevent the bandits whom they are driving back from murdering the women and children or from deliberately and uselessly destroying all that they find along their path of retreat. There is only one hope left us: the immediate and imperious intervention of the neutral powers. It is towards them that we turn our tortured gaze. Two great nations notably—Italy and the United States—hold in their hands the fate of these last treasures, whose loss would one day be reckoned among the heaviest and the most irreparable that have been suffered in the course of long centuries of human civilization. They can do what they will; it is time for them to do that which it is no longer lawful to leave undone. By its frantic lies, the beast from over the Rhine, standing at bay and in peril of death, shows plainly enough the importance which it attaches to the opinion of the only nations which the execration of all that lives and breathes have not yet armed against it. It is afraid. It feels that all is crumbling under foot, that it is being shunned and abandoned. It seeks in every direction a glance that does not curse it. It must not, it shall not find that glance. It is not necessary to tell Italy what our imperilled cities are worth; for Italy is preeminently the land of noble cities.
Our cause is her cause; she owes us her support. When a work of beauty is destroyed, her own genius and her own eternal gods are outraged. As for America, she more than any other country stands for the future. She should think of the days that will follow after this war. When the great peace descends upon the earth, let not the earth be found desert and robbed of all its jewels. The places at which the earth is beautiful because of centuries of effort, because of the successful zeal and patience and genius of a race, are not so many. This corner of Flanders, over which death now hovers, is one of those consecrated spots. Were it to perish, men as yet unborn, men who at last, perhaps, will achieve happiness, would lack memories and examples which nothing could replace.
* * * * *
PRO PATRIA: I
PRO PATRIA: I
I need not here recall the events that hurled Belgium into the depths of distress most glorious where she is struggling to-day. She has been punished as never nation was punished for doing her duty as never nation did before. She saved the world while knowing that she could not be saved. She saved it by flinging herself in the path of the oncoming barbarians, by allowing herself to be trampled to death in order to give the defenders of justice time, not to rescue her, for she was well aware that rescue could not come in time, but to collect the forces needed to save our Latin civilization from the greatest danger that has ever threatened it. She has thus done this civilization, which is the only one whereunder the majority of men are willing or able to live, a service exactly similar to that which Greece, at the time of the great Asiatic invasions, rendered to the mother of this civilization. But, while the service is similar, the act surpasses all comparison. We may ransack history in vain for aught to approach it in grandeur. The magnificent sacrifice at Thermopylae, which is perhaps the noblest action in the annals of war, is illumined with an equally heroic but less ideal light, for it was less disinterested and more material. Leonidas and his three hundred Spartans were in fact defending their homes, their wives, their children, all the realities which they had left behind them. King Albert and his Belgians, on the other hand, knew full well that, in barring the invader's road, they were inevitably sacrificing their homes, their wives and their children. Unlike the heroes of Sparta, instead of possessing an imperative and vital interest in fighting, they had everything to gain by not fighting and nothing to lose—save honour. In the one scale were fire and the sword, ruin, massacre, the infinite disaster which we see; in the other was that little word honour, which also represents infinite things, but things which we do not see, or which we must be very pure and very great to see quite clearly. It has happened now and again in history that a man standing higher than his fellows perceives what this word represents and sacrifices his life and the life of those whom he loves to what he perceives; and we have not without reason devoted to such men a sort of cult that places them almost on a level with the gods. But what had never yet happened—and I say this without fear of contradiction from whosoever cares to search the memory of man—is that a whole people, great and small, rich and poor, learned and ignorant, deliberately immolated itself thus for the sake of an unseen thing.
And observe that we are not discussing one of those heroic resolutions which are taken in a moment of enthusiasm, when man easily surpasses himself, and which have not to be maintained when, forgetting his intoxication, he lapses on the morrow to the dead level of his everyday life. We are concerned with a resolution that has had to be taken and maintained every morning, for now nearly four months, in the midst of daily increasing distress and disaster. And not only has this resolution not wavered by a hair's breadth, but it grows as steadily as the national misfortune; and to-day, when this misfortune is reaching its full, the national resolution is likewise attaining its zenith. I have seen many of my refugee fellow-countrymen: some used to be rich and had lost their all; others were poor before the war and now no longer owned even what the poorest own. I have received many letters from every part of Europe where duty's exiles had sought a brief instant of repose. In them there was lamentation, as was only too natural, but not a reproach, not a regret, not a word of recrimination. I did not once come upon that hopeless but excusable cry which, one would think, might so easily have sprung from despairing lips:
"If our king had not done what he did, we should not be suffering what we are suffering to-day."
The idea does not even occur to them. It is as though this thought were not of those which can live in that atmosphere purified by misfortune. They are not resigned, for to be resigned means to renounce the strife, no longer to keep up one's courage. They are proud and happy in their distress. They have a vague feeling that this distress will regenerate them after the manner of a baptism of faith and glory and ennoble them for all time in the remembrance of men. An unexpected breath, coming from the secret reserves of the human race and from the summits of the human heart, has suddenly passed over their lives and given them a single soul, formed of the same heroic substance as that of their great king.
They have done what had never before been done; and it is to be hoped for the happiness of mankind that no nation will ever again be called upon for a like sacrifice. But this wonderful example will not be lost, even though there be no longer any occasion to imitate it. At a time when the universal conscience seemed about to bend under the weight of long prosperity and selfish materialism, suddenly it raised by several degrees what we may term the political morality of the world and lifted it all at once to a height which it had not yet reached and from which it will never again be able to descend, for there are actions so glorious, actions which fill so great a place in our memory, that they found a sort of new religion and definitely fix the limits of the human conscience and of human loyalty and courage.
They have really, as I have already said and as history will one day establish with greater eloquence and authority than mine, they have really saved Latin civilization. They had stood for centuries at the junction of two powerful and hostile forms of culture. They had to choose and they did not hesitate. Their choice was all the more significant, all the more instructive, inasmuch as none was so well qualified as they to choose with a full knowledge of what they were doing. You are all aware that more than half of Belgium is of Teutonic stock. She was therefore, thanks to her racial affinities, better able than any other to understand the culture that was being offered her, together with the imputation of dishonour which it included. She understood it so well that she rejected it with an outbreak of horror and disgust unparalleled in violence, spontaneous, unanimous and irresistible, thus pronouncing a verdict from which there was no appeal and giving the world a peremptory lesson sealed with every drop of her blood.
But to-day she is at the end of her resources. She has exhausted not her courage but her strength. She has paid with all that she possesses for the immense service which she has rendered to mankind. Thousands and thousands of her children are dead; all her riches have perished; almost all her historic memories, which were her pride and her delight, almost all her artistic treasures, which were numbered among the fairest in this world, are destroyed for ever. She is nothing more than a desert whence stand out, more or less intact, four great towns alone, four towns which the Rhenish hordes, for whom the epithet of barbarians is in point of fact too honourable, appear to have spared only so that they may keep back one last and monstrous revenge for the day of the inevitable rout. It is certain that Antwerp, Ghent, Bruges and Brussels are doomed beyond recall. In particular, the admirable Grand'Place, the Hotel de Ville and the Cathedral at Brussels are, I know, undermined: I repeat, I know it from private and trustworthy testimony against which no denial can prevail. A spark will be enough to turn one of the recognized marvels of Europe into a heap of ruins like those of Ypres, Malines and Louvain. Soon after—for, short of immediate intervention, the disaster is as certain as though it were already accomplished—Bruges, Antwerp and Ghent will suffer the same fate; and in a moment, as I was saying the other day, there will vanish from sight one of the corners of this earth in which the greatest store of memories, of historic matter and artistic beauties had been accumulated.
The time has come to end this foolery! The time has come for everything that draws breath to rise up against these systematic, insane and stupid acts of destruction, perpetrated without any military excuse or strategic object. The reason why we are at last uttering a great cry of distress, we who are above all a silent people, the reason why we turn to your mighty and noble country is that Italy is to-day the only European power that is still in a position to stop the unchained brute on the brink of his crime. You are ready. You have but to stretch out a hand to save us. We have not come to beg for our lives: these no longer count with us and we have already offered them up. But, in the name of the last beautiful things that the barbarians have left us, we come with our prayers to the land of all beautiful things. It must not be, it shall not be that, on the day when at last we return, not to our homes, for most of these are destroyed, but to our native soil, that soil is so laid waste as to have become an unrecognizable desert. You know better than any others what memories mean, what masterpieces mean to a nation, for your country is covered with memories and masterpieces. It is also the land of justice and the cradle of the law, which is simply justice that has taken cognizance of itself. On this account, Italy owes us justice. And she owes it to herself to put a stop to the greatest iniquity in the annals of history, for not to put a stop to it when one has the power is almost tantamount to taking part in it. It is for Italy as much as for France that we have suffered. She is the source, she is the very mother of the ideal for which we have fought and for which the last of our soldiers are still fighting in the last of our trenches.
[Footnote 2: Delivered at the Scala Theatre, Milan, 30 November, 1914.]
* * * * *
One of the consoling surprises of this war is the unlooked-for and, so to speak, universal heroism which it has revealed among all the nations taking part in it.
We were rather inclined to believe that courage, physical and moral fortitude, self-denial, stoicism, the renunciation of every sort of comfort, the faculty of self-sacrifice and the power of facing death belonged only to the more primitive, the less happy, the less intelligent nations, to the nations least capable of reasoning, of appreciating danger and of picturing in their imagination the dreadful abyss that separates this life from the life unknown. We were even almost persuaded that war would one day cease for lack of soldiers, that is to say, of men foolish enough or unhappy enough to risk the only absolute realities—health, physical comfort, an unimpaired body and, above all, life, the greatest of earthly possessions—for the sake of an ideal which, like all ideals, is more or less invisible.
And this argument seemed the more natural and convincing because, as existence grew gentler and men's nerves more sensitive, the means of destruction by war showed themselves more cruel, ruthless and irresistible. It seemed more and more probable that no man would ever again endure the infernal horrors of a battlefield and that, after the first slaughter, the opposing armies, officers and men alike, all seized with insuppressible panic, would turn their backs upon one another, in simultaneous, supernatural affright, and flee from unearthly terrors exceeding the most monstrous anticipations of those who had let them loose.
To our great astonishment the very opposite is now proclaimed.
We realize with amazement that until to-day we had but an incomplete and inaccurate conception of man's courage. We looked upon it as an exceptional virtue and one which is the more admired as being also the rarer the farther we go back in history. Remember, for instance, Homer's heroes, the ancestors of all the heroes of our day. Study them closely. These models of antiquity, the first professors, the first masters of bravery, are not really very brave. They have a wholesome dread of being hit or wounded and an ingenuous and manifest fear of death. Their mighty conflicts are declamatory and decorative but not so very bloody; they inflict more noise than pain upon their adversaries, they deliver many more words than blows. Their defensive weapons—and this is characteristic—are greatly superior to their arms of offence; and death is an unusual, unforeseen and almost indecorous event which throws the ranks into disorder and most often puts a stop to the combat or provokes a headlong flight that seems quite natural. As for the wounds, these are enumerated and described, sung and deplored as so many remarkable phenomena. On the other hand, the most discreditable routs, the most shameful panics are frequent; and the old poet relates them, without condemning them, as ordinary incidents to be ascribed to the gods and inevitable in any warfare.
This kind of courage is that of all antiquity, more or less. We will not linger over it, nor delay to consider the battles of the Middle Ages or the Renascence, in which the fiercest hand-to-hand encounters of the mercenaries often left not more than half-a-dozen victims on the field. Let us rather come straight to the great wars of the Empire. Here the courage displayed begins to resemble our own, but with notable differences. In the first place, those concerned were solely professionals. We see not a whole nation fighting, but a delegation, a martial selection, which, it is true, becomes gradually more extensive, but never, as in our time, embraces every man between eighteen and fifty years of age capable of shouldering a weapon. Again—and above all—every war was reduced to two or three pitched battles, that is to say, two or three culminating moments; immense efforts, but efforts of a few hours, or a day at most, towards which the combatants directed all the vigour and all the heroism accumulated during long weeks or months of preparation and waiting. Afterwards, whether the result was victory or defeat, the fighting was over; relaxation, respite and rest followed; men went back to their homes. Destiny must not be defied more than once; and they knew that in the most terrible affray the chances of escaping death were as twenty to one.
Nowadays, everything is changed; and death itself is no longer what it was. Formerly, you looked it in the face, you knew whence it came and who sent it to you. It had a dreadful aspect, but one that remained human. Its ways were not unknown: its long spells of sleep, its brief awakenings, its bad days and dangerous hours. At present, to all these horrors it adds the great, intolerable fear of mystery. It no longer has any aspect, no longer has habits or spells of sleep and it is never still. It is always ready, always on the watch, everywhere present, scattered, intangible and dense, stealthy and cowardly, diffuse, all-encompassing, innumerous, looming at every point of the horizon, rising from the waters and falling from the skies, indefatigable, inevitable, filling the whole of space and time for days, weeks and months without a minute's lull, without a second's intermission. Men live, move and sleep in the meshes of its fatal web. They know that the least step to the right or left, a head bowed or lifted, a body bent or upright is seen by its eyes and draws its thunder.
Hitherto we had no example of this preponderance of the destructive forces. We should never have believed that man's nerves could resist so great a trial. The nerves of the bravest man are tempered to face death for the space of a second, but not to live in the hourly expectation of death and nothing else. Heroism was once a sharp and rugged peak, reached for a moment but soon quitted, for mountain-peaks are not inhabitable. To-day it is a boundless plain, as uninhabitable as the peaks; but we are not permitted to descend from it. And so, at the very moment when man appeared most exhausted and enervated by the comforts and vices of civilization, at the moment when he was happiest and therefore most selfish, when, possessing the minimum of faith and vainly seeking a new ideal, he seemed least capable of sacrificing himself for an idea of any kind, he finds himself suddenly confronted with an unprecedented danger, which he is almost certain that the most heroic nations of history would not have faced nor even dreamed of facing, whereas he does not even dream that it is possible to do aught but face it. And let it not be said that we had no choice, that the danger and the struggle were thrust upon us, that we had to defend ourselves or die and that in such cases there are no cowards. It is not true: there was, there always has been, there still is a choice.
It is not man's life that is at stake, but the idea which he forms of the honour, the happiness and the duties of his life. To save his life he had but to submit to the enemy; the invader would not have exterminated him. You cannot exterminate a great people; it is not even possible to enslave it seriously or to inflict great sorrow upon it for long. He had nothing to be afraid of except disgrace. He did not so much as see the infamous temptation appear above the horizon of his most instinctive fears; he does not even suspect that it is able to exist; and he will never perceive it, whatever sacrifices may yet await him. We are not, therefore, speaking of a heroism that would be but the last resource of despair, the heroism of the animal driven to bay and fighting blindly to delay death's coming for a moment. No, it is heroism freely donned, deliberately and unanimously hailed, heroism on behalf of an idea and a sentiment, in other words, heroism in its clearest, purest and most virginal form, a disinterested and whole-hearted sacrifice for that which men regard as their duty to themselves, to their kith and kin, to mankind and to the future. If life and personal safety were more precious than the idea of honour, of patriotism and of fidelity to tradition and the race, there was, I repeat, and there is still a choice to be made; and never perhaps in any war was the choice easier, for never did men feel more free, never indeed were they more free to choose.
But this choice, as I have said, did not dare show its faintest shadow on the lowest horizons of even the most ignoble consciences. Are you quite sure that, in other times which we think better and more virtuous than our own, men would not have seen it, would not have spoken of it? Can you find a nation, even among the greatest, which, after six months of a war compared with which all other wars seem child's-play, of a war which threatens and uses up all that nation's life and all its possessions, can you find, I say, in history, not an instance—for there is no instance—but some similar case which allows you to presume that the nation would not have faltered, would not at least, were it but for a second, have looked down and cast its eyes upon an inglorious peace?
Nevertheless, they seemed much stronger than we are, all those who came before us. They were rude, austere, much closer to nature, poor and often unhappy. They had a simpler and a more rigid code of thought; they had the habit of physical suffering, of hardship and of death. But I do not believe that any one dares contend that these men would have done what our soldiers are now doing, that they would have endured what is being endured all around us. Are we not entitled to conclude from this that civilization, contrary to what was feared, so far from enervating, depraving, weakening, lowering and dwarfing man, elevates him, purifies him, strengthens him, ennobles him, makes him capable of acts of sacrifice, generosity and courage which he did not know before? The fact is that civilization, even when it seems to entail corruption, brings intelligence with it and that intelligence, in days of trial, stands for potential pride, nobility and heroism. That, as I said in the beginning, is the unexpected and consoling revelation of this horrible war: we can rely on man implicitly, place the greatest trust in him, nor fear lest, in laying aside his primitive brutality, he should lose his manly qualities. The greater his progress in the conquest of nature and the greater his apparent attachment to material welfare, the more does he become capable, nevertheless, unconsciously, deep down in the best part of him, of self-detachment and of self-sacrifice for the common safety and the more does he understand that he is nothing when he compares himself with the eternal life of his forbears and his children.
It was so great a trial that we dared not, before this war, have contemplated it. The future of the human race was at stake; and the magnificent response that comes to us from every side reassures us fully as to the issue of other struggles, more formidable still, which no doubt await us when it will be a question no longer of fighting our fellow-men, but rather of facing the more powerful and cruel of the great mysterious enemies that nature holds in reserve against us. If it be true, as I believe, that humanity is worth just as much as the sum total of latent heroism which it contains, then we may declare that humanity was never stronger nor more exemplary than now and that it is at this moment reaching one of its highest points and capable of braving everything and hoping everything. And it is for this reason that, despite our present sadness, we are entitled to congratulate ourselves and to rejoice.
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PRO PATRIA: II
PRO PATRIA: II
More than three months ago, I was in one of the grandest of your cities, a city that welcomed in a manner which I shall never forget the cause which I had come among you to represent. I was there, as I told my hearers at the time, in the name of the last remnants of beauty that the barbarians had left us, to plead with the land of every kind of beauty. Those threatened beauties, our only cities yet intact, the treasures and sanctuaries of our whole past and of all our race, are still reeling on the brink of the same abyss and, failing a miracle which we dare not hope for, they will suffer the fate of Ypres, Louvain, Malines, Termonde, Dixmude and so many other less illustrious victims. The danger in which they stand has no doubt aroused the indignation of the civilized world; but not a hand has armed itself to defend them. I blame no one; I reproach no one; the morality of the nations is a virtue that has not yet emerged from the state of infancy; and fortunately, by the hazard of war, it is not yet too late to save four innocent cities.
To-day I have not come to speak of monuments, of historical relics, nor even of the wrongs committed, of the violation of all the rights and laws of warfare and every international convention, of incendiarism, pillage and massacre; I have come simply to utter before you the last distressful cry of a dying nation.
At this moment a tragedy is being enacted in Belgium such as has no precedent in the history of civilized peoples, nor even in that of the barbarians, for the barbarians, when committing their most stupendous crimes, lacked the infernal deliberation and the scientific, all-powerful means of working evil which to-day are in the hands of those who profit by the resources and benefits of civilization only to turn them against it and to seek the annihilation of all its noblest and most generous characteristics. The despairing rumours of this tragedy come to us only through the chinks of that ensanguined well which isolates it from the rest of the world. Nothing reaches our ears but the lies of the enemy. In reality, the whole of Belgium is one huge Prussian prison, where every cry is cruelly and methodically stifled and where no voices are heard save those of the gaolers. Only now and again, after a thousand adventures, despite a thousand perils, a letter from some kinsman or captive friend arrives from the depths of that great living cemetery, bringing us a gleam of authentic truth.
You are as familiar with this truth as I am. At the moment when her soil was invaded, Belgium numbered seven million seven hundred thousand inhabitants. It is estimated that between two hundred and fifty and three hundred thousand have perished in battle or massacre, or as the result of misery and privation; and I am not speaking of the infant children, the sacrifice of whom, owing to the dearth of milk, has, it appears, been frightful. Five or six hundred thousand unfortunates have fled to Holland, France or England. There remain therefore in the country nearly seven million inhabitants; and more than half of these seven millions are living almost exclusively on American charity. In what is above all an industrial country, producing normally, in time of peace, less than a third part of the wheat necessary for home consumption, the enemy has systematically requisitioned everything, carried off everything, for the upkeep of his armies, and has sent into Germany what he could not consume on the spot. The result of so monstrous a proceeding may readily be divined: on all that soil, once so happy and so rich, to-day taxed and pillaged and pillaged again, ravaged and devastated by fire and the sword, there is nothing left. And the situation of suffering Belgium is so cruelly paradoxical that her best friends, her dearest allies, even those whom she has saved, are powerless to succour her. Isolated as she is from the rest of the world, she would have starved even though nothing had been taken from her. Now she has been despoiled of all that she possessed, while France and England can send her neither money nor provisions, for they would fall into the hands of those engaged in torturing her, so much so that every attempt on their part to alleviate her sufferings would but retard her deliverance still further. Did history ever witness a more poignant, a more desperate tragedy? It is a fact that in the midst of this war we are constantly finding ourselves confronted with events such as history hitherto has never beheld. A people resembling an enormous beast of prey, in order to punish a loyalty and heroism which, if it retained the slightest notion of justice and injustice, the smallest sense of human dignity and honour, it ought to worship on its knees: this vast predatory race stealthily resolved to exterminate an inoffensive little nation whose soul it felt was too great to be enslaved or reduced to the semblance of its conqueror's. It was on the point of succeeding, amid the silence, the impotence, or the terror of the world, when from beyond the Atlantic a generous nation took that heroic little people under its protection. It understood that what was involved was not merely an act of justice and elementary pity, but also and more particularly a higher duty towards the morality and the eternal conscience of mankind. Thanks to this great nation's intervention, it will not be said, in the days to come, that justice, loyalty, honesty and heroism are no more than dangerous illusions and a fool's bargain, or that evil must necessarily, at all times and places, conquer whenever it is backed by force, or that the only reward which duty magnificently done may hope to receive on this earth is every manner of grief and disaster, ending in death by starvation. So immense and triumphant an example of iniquity would strike the ideals of mankind a blow from which they would not recover for centuries.
But already this help is becoming exhausted; it cannot be indefinitely prolonged; and very soon it will be insufficient. It is, moreover, at the mercy of the slightest diplomatic or political complication; and its failure will be irreparable. It will mean utter famine, unexampled extermination, which till the end of the world will cry to heaven for vengeance. It is no longer a question of weeks or months, but one of days. That is where we stand; and these are the last hours granted by destiny to an inactive Europe wherein to expunge the shame of her indifference.
These hours belong almost solely to you, for others have not your power. Whatever may happen, however long you may postpone the issue, one of these days you will be obliged to join in the fray. Everything advises, everything orders you to do so; and I can see nothing on the side of honour, justice or humanity, on the side of the will of the centuries or the human race, nor even on the side of prudence and self-interest, that allows you to avoid it. Is it not better and more worthy of yourselves than all the subtleties, plottings and petty bargainings of diplomacy?
The one hour, the peremptory hour has struck when your aid can break the balance between the powers of good and evil which, for more than two hundred days, have kept the future of Europe hanging over the abyss.
Fate has granted you the magnificent boon, the all but divine privilege, of saving from the most horrible of deaths four or five millions of innocent human beings, four or five millions of martyrs who have performed the finest action that a people could perform and who are perishing because they defended the ideals which your fathers taught them. I know that we are faced by duties which until to-day had never entered into the morality of States; for it is but too true that this morality still lags a thousand miles behind that of the meanest peasant. But, if such a thing has never yet been done, it is all the more glorious to be the first to do it, to make an effort that will raise the life of nations to a level which the life of the individual has long since attained. And no people is better qualified than the Italian to make this effort which the world and the future are awaiting as a deliverance.
But I will say no more. I have been reproached for speaking of matters which, as a foreigner, I ought not to discuss. I believed that these great questions of humanity interested the whole human race. Perhaps I was wrong. I will respect the profound silence in which great actions are developed; and I leave to the meditation of your hearts that which I am constrained to leave unsaid. They will tell you very much better than I could all that I had to say to you.
[Footnote 3: Delivered in Rome, before the Associazione della Stampa, 13 March, 1915.]
* * * * *
PRO PATRIA: III
PRO PATRIA: III
Although nothing entitles me to the honour of addressing you in the name of my refugee countrymen, nevertheless it is only fitting, since a kindly insistence brings me here, that I should in the first place give thanks to England for the manner in which she welcomed them in their distress. I am but a voice in the crowd; and, if my words exceed the limits of this hall and lend to him who utters them an authority which he himself does not possess, it is only because they are filled with unbounded gratitude.
In this horrible war, whose stakes are the salvation and the future of mankind, let us first of all salute our wonderful sister, France, who is supporting the heaviest burden and who, for more than eleven months, having broken its first and most formidable onslaught, has been struggling, foot by foot, at closest quarters, without faltering, without remission, with an heroic smile, against the most formidable organization of pillage, massacre and devastation that the world or hell itself has seen since man first learnt the history of the planet on which he lives. We have here a revelation of qualities and virtues surpassing all that we expected from a nation which nevertheless had accustomed us to expect of her all that goes to make the beauty and the glory of humanity. One must reside in France, as I have done for many years, to understand and admire as it deserves the incomparable lesson in courage, abnegation, firmness, determination, coolness, conscious dignity, self-mastery, good-humour, chivalrous generosity and utter charity and self-sacrifice which this great and noble people, which has civilized more than half the globe, is at the present moment teaching the civilized world.
Let us also salute boundless Russia, with her wonderful soldiers, innocent and ingenuous as the saints of old, ignorant of fear as children who do not yet know the meaning of death. Yonder, along a formidable front running from the Baltic to the Black Sea, with silent multitudinous heroism, amid defeats which are but victories delayed, she is beginning the great work of our deliverance, Lastly let us greet Servia, small but prodigious, whom we must one day place on the summit of that monument of glory which Europe will raise to-morrow to the memory of those who have freed her from her chains.
So much for them. They have a right to all our gratitude, to all our admiration. They are doing magnificently all that had to be done. But they occupy a place apart in duty's splendid hierarchy. They are the protagonists of direct, material, tangible, undeniable, inevitable duty. This war is their war. If they would not accept the worst of disgraces, if they were not prepared to suffer servitude, massacre, ruin and famine, they had to undertake it; they could not do otherwise. They were attacked by the born enemy, the irreducible and absolute enemy, of whom they knew enough to understand that they had nothing to expect from him but total and unremitting disaster. It was a question of their continued existence in this world. They had no choice; they had to defend themselves; and any other nation in their place would have done the same, only there are few who would have done it with the same spirit of self-abnegation, the same devotion, the same perseverance, the same loyalty and the same smiling courage.
But for us Belgians—and we may say as much for you English—it was not a question of this kind of duty. The horrible drama did not concern us. It demanded only the right to pass us by without touching us; and, far from doing us any harm, it would have flooded us with the unclaimed riches which armies on the march drag in their wake. We Belgians in particular, peaceable, hospitable, inoffensive and almost unarmed, should, by the very treaties which assured our existence, have remained complete strangers to this war. To be sure, we loved France, because we knew her as well as we knew ourselves and because she makes herself beloved by all who know her. But we entertained no hatred of Germany. It is true that, in spite of the virtues which we believed her to possess but which were merely the mask of a spy, our hearts barely responded to her obsequiously treacherous advances. For the German, of all the inhabitants of our planet, has this one and singular peculiarity, that he arouses in us, from the onset, a profound, instinctive, intuitive feeling of antipathy. But, even so and wherever our preferences may have lain, our treaties, our pledged word, the very reason of our existence, all forbade us to take part in the conflict. Then came the incredible ultimatum, the monstrous demand of which you know, which gave us twelve hours to choose between ruin and death or dishonour. As you also know, we did not need twelve hours to make our choice. This choice was no more than a cry of indignation and resolution, spontaneous, fierce and irresistible. We did not stay for a moment to ponder the extenuating circumstances which our weakness might have invoked. We did not for a moment consider the absolution which history would have granted us later, on realizing that a conflict between forces so completely disproportioned was futile, that we must inevitably be crushed, massacred and annihilated and that the sacrifice of a little people in its entirety could prevent nothing, could barely cause delay and would have no weight in the immense balance into which the world's destinies were about to be flung. There was no question of all this; we saw one thing only: our plighted word. For that word we must die; and since then we have been dying. Trace the course of history as far back as you will; question the nations of the earth; then name those who have done or who would have done what we did. How many will you find? I am not judging those whom I pass over in silence, for to do so would be to enter into the secret of men's hearts which I have not the right to violate; but in any case there is one which I can name aloud, without fear of being mistaken; and that is the British nation. This people too entered into the conflict, not through interest or necessity or inherited hatred, but simply for a matter of honour. It has not suffered what we have suffered; it has not risked what we have risked, which is all that we possessed beneath the arch of heaven; but it owes this immunity only to outside circumstances. The principle and the quality of the act are the same. We stand on the same plane, one step higher than the other combatants. While the others are the soldiers of necessity, we are the volunteers of honour; and, without detracting from their merits, this title adds to ours all that a pure and disinterested idea adds to the noblest acts of courage. There is not a doubt but that in our place you would have done precisely what we did. You would have done it with the same simplicity, the same calm and confident ardour, the same good faith. You would have thrown yourselves into the breach as whole-heartedly, with the same scorn of useless phrases and the same stubborn conscientiousness. And the reason why I do not shrink from singing in your presence the praises of what we have done is that these praises also affect yourselves, who would not have hesitated to do the selfsame things.
In short, we have both the same conception of honour; and a like idea must needs bear like fruits. In your eyes as in ours, a formal promise, a word once given is the most sacred thing that can pass between man and man. Now far more than the valour of a man—because it rises to much greater heights and extends to much greater distances—the valour of a people depends upon the conception of its honour which that people holds and, above all, upon the sacrifices which it is capable of making for the sake of that honour. We may differ upon all the other ideas that guide the actions of mankind, notably upon the religious idea; but those who do not agree on this one point are unworthy of the name of man. It represents the purest flame, the ever more ardent focus of all human dignity and virtue.
You have sacrificed yourselves wholly to this idea; and, in the name of this idea, which is as vital and as powerful in your souls as in ours, you came to our aid, as we knew that you would come, for we counted on you as surely as you counted on us. You are ready to make the same sacrifices; and already you are proudly supporting the heaviest of sacrifices. Thus, in this stupendous struggle, we are united by bonds even more fraternal than those which bind the other Allies. Our union is more lofty and more generous, for it is based wholly upon the noblest thoughts and feelings that can inspire the heart. And this union, which is marked by a mutual confidence and affection that grow hourly deeper and wider, is helping us both to go even beyond our duty.
For we have gone beyond it; and we are exceeding it daily. We have done and are doing far more than we were bound to do. It was for us Belgians to resist, loyally, vigorously, to the utmost of our strength, as we had promised. But the most sensitive honour would have allowed us to lay down our arms after the immense and heroic effort of the first few days and to trust to the victor's clemency when he recognized that we were beaten. Nothing compelled us to immolate ourselves entirely, to surrender, in succession, as a burnt-offering to our ideals, all that we possessed on earth and to continue the struggle after we were crushed, even in the last torments of starvation, which to-day holds three millions of us in its grip. Nothing compelled us to this course, other than the increasingly lofty ideal of duty held by those who began by putting it into practice and are now living in its fulfilment.
As for you English, you had to come to our assistance, that is to say, to send us the troops which you had ready under arms; but nothing compelled you either, after the first useless engagements, to devote yourselves with unparalleled ardour and self-sacrifice, to hurl into the mortal and stupendous battle the whole of your youth, the fairest upon earth, and all your riches, the most prodigious in this world, nor to conjure up from your soil, by a miracle which was thought impossible, in fewer months than the years that would have seemed needful, the most gallant, determined and tenacious armies that have yet been marshalled in this war. Nothing compelled you, save the spirit of emulation, the same mad love of duty, the same passion for justice, the same idolatry of the given word which, that it may be sure of doing all that it promised, performs far more than it would have dared to promise.
Now, during the last few weeks, a new combatant has entered the lists, one who occupies a place quite apart in the sacred hierarchy of duty and honour and in the moral history of this war. I speak of Italy; and I pay her the tribute of homage which is her due and which I well know that you will render with me, for you of all nations are qualified to do so.
Italy had no treaty except with our enemies. Her first act of justice, when confronted with an iniquitous aggression, was to discard this treaty, which was about to draw her into a crime which she had the courage to judge and condemn from the outset, while her former allies were still in the full flush of a might that seemed unshakable. After this verdict, which was worthy of the land where justice first saw the light, she found herself free; she now owed no obligations to any one. There was nothing left to compel her to rush into this carnage, which she could contemplate calmly from the vantage of her delightful cities; and she had only to wait till the twelfth hour to gather its first fruits. There was no longer any compact, any written bond, signed by the hands of kings or peoples, that could involve her destiny. But now, at the spectacle, unforeseen and daily more abominable and disconcerting, of the barbarian invasion, words half-effaced and secret treaties written by unknown hands on the souls and consciences of all men revealed themselves and slowly gathered life and radiance. To some extent I was a witness of these things; and I was able, so to speak, to follow with my eyes the awakening and the irresistible promulgation of those great and mysterious laws of justice, pity and love which are higher and more imperishable than all those which we have engraved in marble or bronze. With the increase of the crimes, the power of these laws increased and extended. We may regard the intervention of Italy in many ways. Like every human action and, above all, like every political action, it is due to a thousand causes, many of which are trifling. Among them we may see the legitimate hatred and the eternal resentment felt towards an hereditary enemy. We may discover an interested intention to take part, without too much risk, in a victory already certain and in its previously allotted spoils. We may see in it anything that we please: the resolves of men contain factors of all kinds; but we must pity those who are able to consider none but the meaner sides of the matter, for these are the only sides which never count and which are always deceptive. To find the real and lasting truth, we must learn to view the great masses and the great feelings of mankind from above. It is in them and in their great and simple movements that the will of the soul and of destiny is asserted, for these two form the eternal substance of a people. And, in the present case, the movement of the great masses and the great feelings of the people took the form of an immense impulse of sympathy and indignation, which gradually increased, penetrating farther and farther into the popular strata and gathering volume as it progressed, until it urged a whole nation to assume the burden of a war which it knew to be crushing and merciless, a war which each of those who called for it knew to be a war which he himself must wage, with his own hands, with his own body, a war which would wrest him from the pleasant ways of peace, from his labours and his comforts, which would weigh terribly upon all those whom he loved, which would expose him for weeks, perhaps for months, to incredible sufferings and which meant almost certain death to a third or a half of those who demanded the right to brave it. And all this, I repeat, occurred without any material necessity, from no other motive than a fine sense of honour and a magnificent surge of admiration and pity for a small foreign nation that was being unjustly martyred. We cannot repeat it too often: here, as in the case of the sacrifice which Belgium and England offered to the ideal of honour, is a new and unprecedented fact in history.
[Footnote 4: Delivered in London, at the Queen's Hall, 7 July, 1915.]
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BELGIUM'S FLAG DAY
BELGIUM'S FLAG DAY
To-day our flag will quiver in every French hand as a symbol of love and gratitude. This day should be a day of hope and glory for all Belgium.
Let us forget for a moment our terrible distress; let us forget our plains and meadows, the fairest and most fertile in Europe, now ravaged to such a degree that the utmost that one can say is powerless to give any idea of a desolation which seems irremediable. Let us forget—if to forget them be possible—the women, the children, the old men, peaceable and innocent, who have been massacred in their thousands, the tale of whom will amaze the world when once the grim barrier is broken behind which so many secret horrors are being committed. Let us forget those who are dying of hunger in our country, a land without harvests and without homes, a land methodically taxed, pillaged and crushed until it is drained of the last drop of its life-blood. Let us forget those remnants of our people who are scattered hither and thither, who have trodden the path of exile, who are living on public charity, which, though it show itself full of brotherhood and affection, is yet so oppressive to those supremely industrious hands, which had never known the grievous burden of alms. Let us forget even those last of our cities to be menaced, the fairest, the proudest, the most beloved of our cities, which constitute the very face of our country and which only a miracle could now save. Let us forget, in a word, the greatest calamity and the most crying injustice of history and think to-day only of our approaching deliverance. It is not too early to hail it. It is already in all our thoughts, as it is in all our hearts. It is already in the air which we breathe, in all the eyes that smile at us, in all the voices that welcome us, in all the hands outstretched to us, waving the laurels which they hold; for what is bringing us deliverance is the wonder, the admiration of the whole world!
To-morrow we shall go back to our homes. We shall not mourn though we find them in ruins. They will rise again more beautiful than of old from the ashes and the shards. We shall know days of heroic poverty; but we have learnt that poverty is powerless to sadden souls upheld by a great love and nourished by a noble ideal. We shall return with heads erect, regenerated in a regenerated Europe, rejuvenated by our magnificent misfortune, purified by victory and cleansed of the littleness that obscured the virtues which slumbered within us and of which we are not aware. We shall have lost all the goods that perish but as readily come to live again. And in their place we shall have acquired those riches which shall not again perish within our hearts. Our eyes were closed to many things; now they have opened upon wider horizons. Of old we dared not avert our gaze from our wealth, our petty comforts, our little rooted habits. But now our eyes have been wrested from the soil; now they have achieved the sight of heights that were hitherto unnoticed. We did not know ourselves; we used not to love one another sufficiently; but we have learnt to know ourselves in the amazement of glory and to love one another in the grievous ardour of the most stupendous sacrifice that any people has ever accomplished. We were on the point of forgetting the heroic virtues, the unfettered thoughts, the eternal ideas that lead humanity. To-day, not only do we know that they exist: we have taught the world that they are always triumphant, that nothing is lost while faith is left, while honour is intact, while love continues, while the soul does not surrender and that the most monstrous of powers will never prevail against those ideal forces which are the happiness and the glory of man and the sole reason for his existence.
* * * * *
ON THE DEATH OF A LITTLE SOLDIER
ON THE DEATH OF A LITTLE SOLDIER
When I speak of this little soldier who fell a few days ago, up there in the Vosges, it is not that I may mourn him publicly. It behoves us in these days to mourn our dead in secret. Personal sorrows no longer count; and we must learn how to suppress them in the presence of that greater sorrow which extends over all the world, the particular sorrow of the mothers who are setting us an example of the most heroic silence that human suffering has been taught to observe since suffering first visited womankind. For the admirable silence of the mothers is one of the great and striking lessons of this war. Amid that tragic and sublime silence no regret dare make itself heard.
But, though my grief remains dumb, my admiration can still raise its voice; and in speaking of this young soldier, who had not reached man's estate and who died as the bravest of men, I speak of all his brothers-in-arms and hail thousands like him in his name, which name becomes a great and glorious symbol; for at this time, when a prodigious wave of unselfishness and courage, surging up from the very depths of the human race, uplifts the men who are fighting and giving their lives for its future, they all resemble one another in the same perfection.
My friend Raymond Bon was a sergeant in the 27th battalion of the Chasseurs Alpins. He left for the front in August, 1914, with the other recruits of the 1915 class, which means that he was hardly twenty years of age; and he won his stripes on the battlefield, after being twice named in dispatches. The second time was on returning from a murderous assault at Thann, in Upper Alsace, in which he had greatly distinguished himself. I quote the exact words:
"Corporal Bon is mentioned in the orders of the battalion for his gallantry under fire and his indifference to danger. When the leader of his section was killed, Bon took command, rushed to the front and, shouting to his men to follow him, gave proofs of the greatest initiative and courage. He was the first in the enemy's trenches with his section."
That day he was promoted to sergeant and complimented by the general in front of his battalion in the following terms:
"This is the second time, my friend, that I am told what you have done; next time you shall be told what I have done."
To-day men tell of his death, but also of the undying glory which death alone confers.
"At Hartmannsviller," writes one of Bon's comrades, "according to his captain's story, our friend's company was held in reserve, waiting to support the attack delivered by a regiment of infantry. The order came to support and reinforce the attack. The company at once leapt from the trenches, with the captain and Bon at its head. There was a salvo of artillery; and the bursting of a great shell caught Raymond almost full in the body, smashing his right leg and his chest. The captain was hit in the right hand. Notwithstanding his horrible wounds, Bon did not lose consciousness; he was able to stammer out a few words and to press the hand which the captain gave him. In less than two minutes all was over."
And the captain adds:
"Always ready to sacrifice himself; a brave among the brave."
These are modest and yet glorious details: modest because they are so very common, because they are constantly being repeated in their noble monotony and springing up from every side, numberless as the essential actions of our daily life; and glorious because before this war they seemed so rare and almost legendary and incomprehensible.
Raymond Bon was a child of the south, of that Provence which, day after day, is shedding torrents of its blood to wipe out slanders which we can no longer remember without turning pale with anger and indignation. He was born at Avignon, the old city of the Popes and the cicadas, where men have louder accents and lighter hearts than elsewhere. He was a little boxing-master, who earned a livelihood at Nice for himself and his destitute parents by giving lessons in the noble art of self-defence with the good, ever-ready weapons which nature has bestowed upon us. He boasted no other education than that which a lad picks up at the primary school; but, almost illiterate as he was, he possessed all the refinement, the innate culture, the unconscious delicacy and tact, the kindliness of speech and feeling and the beautiful heart of that comely race whose foremost sons seem to be purified and spiritualized from their first childish steps by the most radiant sunshine in the world. One would say that they were directly related to those exquisite ephebes of ancient Greece who sprang into existence ready to understand all things and to experience life's purest emotions before they themselves had lived. My reason for insisting upon the point is that, in this respect above all, he represented thousands and thousands of young men from that wonderful region where all the best and most lovable qualities of mankind lie hidden all around beneath the indifferent surface of everyday existence, only awaiting a favourable occasion to blossom into astonishing flowers of grace and generosity and heroism.
When I heard that he had gone to the front, I felt a melancholy certainty that I should never set eyes on him again. He was of those whose fate there is no mistaking. He was one of those predestined heroes whose courage marks them out beforehand for death and laurels. I but too well knew his eagerness, his unbounded sincerity and single-mindedness and his great heart: that admirable heart devoid of all caution or ulterior motive or calculation, that heart turned, at all times and with all its might, purely towards honour and duty. He was bound to be in the trenches and in the bayonet-charge the same man that I had so often seen in the ring, taking risks from the start, taking them wholesale, unremittingly, blindly and cheerfully and always ready with his pleasant smile, like that of a shy child, at any time to face whatever giant might have challenged him.
I remember that one day in the year 1914, he was training Georges Carpentier, who was to meet some negro heavy-weight or other. The disproportion in the strength of the two men struck my friends and me as rather alarming; and we took the champion of the world aside and begged him not to hit too hard and to spare our little instructor as much as he could. That good fellow Carpentier, who is full of chivalrous gentleness, promised to do what we asked; but after the first round he came back to us and said:
"I can't let him off just as lightly as I should like. The little chap is too plucky and too sensitive; and I have to hit out in earnest. Besides, he overheard you and what he says is, 'Never mind what the gentlemen say; they are much too considerate and are always afraid of my getting smashed up. There's no fear of that. You go for me hard, else we sha'n't be doing good work.'"
"Good work." That is evidently what he did down at the front and what all of them there are doing. It is indeed fine work, the most glorious that a man can perform, to die like that for a cause whose triumph he will not behold, for benefits which he does not reap and which will accrue solely to his fellow-men whom he will never see again. For, apart from those benefits, like so many other men, like almost all the others, he had nothing to gain and nothing to lose by this war. All that he possessed in the world was the strength of his two arms; and that strength finds a country everywhere.
But we are no longer concerned with the personal and immediate interests that guide nearly all the actions of everyday life. A loftier ideal has visited men's minds and occupies them wholly; and the least prepared, the humblest, the minds that seemed to understand hardly anything of the existence that came before the tremendous trial, now feel it and live it as thoroughly and with the same infinite ampleness as do those minds which thought themselves alone capable of grasping it, of considering it from above or contemplating it from every side. Never did a sheer ideal sink so deeply into so many hearts or abide there for so long without wavering or faltering. And therefore, beyond a doubt, somewhere on high, in the heart of the unknown powers that rule us, there is being piled up at this moment the most wonderful treasure of immaterial forces that man has ever possessed, one upon which he will draw until the end of time; for in that superhuman treasure-house nothing is lost and we are still living day by day on the virtues stored in it long centuries ago by the heroes of Greece and Rome, by the saints and martyrs of the primitive Church and by the flower of mediaeval chivalry.
* * * * *
THE HOUR OF DESTINY
THE HOUR OF DESTINY
We are already free to speak of this war as if it were ended and of victory as if it were assured. In principle, in the region of moral certainties, Germany has been beaten since the battle of the Marne; and reality, which is always slower, because it goes burdened beneath the weight of matter, must needs come obediently to join the ranks of those certainties. The last agony may be prolonged for weeks and months, for the animal is endowed with the stubborn and almost inextinguishable vitality of the beasts of prey; but it is wounded to the death; and we have only to wait patiently, weapon in hand, for the final convulsions that announce the end. The historic event, the greatest beyond doubt since man possessed a history, is therefore accomplished; and, strange to say, it seems as though it had been accomplished in spite of history, against its laws and contrary to its wishes. It is rash, I know, to speak of such things; and it behoves us to be very cautious in these speculations which pass the scope of human understanding; but, when we consider what the annals of this earth of ours have taught us, it seemed written in the book of the world's destinies that Germany was bound to win. It was not only, as we are too ready at the first glance to believe, the megalomania of an autocrat drunk with vanity, the gross vanity of some brainless buffoon; it was not the warlike impulses, the blind infatuation and egoism of a feudal caste; it was not even the impatient and deliberately fanned envy and covetousness of a too prolific race close-cramped on a dreary and ungrateful soil: it was none of these that let loose the hateful war. All these causes, adventitious or fortuitous as they were, only settled the hour of the decision; but the decision itself was taken and written, probably ages ago, in other spheres which cannot be reached by the conscious will of man, spheres in which dark and mighty laws hold sway over illimitable time and space. The whole line, the whole huge curve of history showed to the mind of whosoever tried to read its sacred and fearful hieroglyphics that the day of a new, a formidable and inexorable event was at hand.
The theories built up on this point in the last sixty years by the German professors, notably by Giesbrecht, the historian of the Ottos and the Hohenstaufens, and Treitschke, the historian of the Hohenzollerns, do not necessarily carry conviction but are at least impressive; and the work of these two writers, which we do not know as well as we should, and of Treitschke in particular possessed in Germany an influence that sank deep into every mind, far exceeding that of Nietzsche, which we looked upon as preponderant.
But let us ignore for the moment all that belongs to a remote past, the study of which would call for more space than we have at our disposal. Let us not question the empire of the Ottos, the Hohenstaufens or the Hapsburgs, in which Germany, at least as a nation and a race, played but a secondary part and was still unconscious of her existence. Let us rather see what is happening nearer to us and, so to speak, before our very eyes.
A hundred years ago, under Napoleon, France enjoyed her spell of hegemony, which she was not able to prolong because this hegemony was more the work of a prodigious but accidental genius than the fruit of a real and intrinsic power. Next came the turn of England, who to-day possesses the greatest empire that the world has seen since the days of ancient Rome, that is to say, more than a fifth part of the habitable globe. But this vast empire rests no more than did Napoleon's upon an incontestible force, inasmuch as up to this day it was defended only by an army less numerous and less well-equipped than that of many a smaller nation, thus almost inevitably inviting war, as Professor Cramb pointed out a year or two ago in his prophetic book, Germany and England, which has only recently aroused the interest which it deserves.
It seemed, therefore, as if between these two Powers, which were more illusory than real, pending the advent of Russia, whose hour had not yet struck; in this gap in history, between a nation on the verge of its decline, or at least seemingly incapable of defending itself, and a nation that was still too young and incapable of attack, fate offered a magnificent place to whoso cared to take it. This is what Germany felt, at first instinctively, urged by all the ill-defined forces that impel mankind, and subsequently, in these latter years, with a consciousness that became ever clearer and more persistent. She grasped the fact that her turn had come to reign over the earth, that she must take her chance and seize the opportunity that comes but once. She prepared to answer the call of fate and, supported by the mysterious aid which it lends to those whom it summons, she did answer, we must admit, in an astonishing and most formidable manner.