WHAT is happening keeps no proportion with human intelligence, which is overwhelmed by it as by natural cataclysms---cyclones, tidal waves, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions. It is an almost similar letting loose of brutal and irresistible forces, and the fate of the world seems to hang on either a blind fatality, or worse still, on the most unscrupulous brigands. The only thing that reassures us somewhat amidst this bewildering dizziness, is the idea that out of this trial, as out of others, for those who so will, there will come good and a better moral order all the more precious that it has cost so much.
Even that, I own, makes clear but a part of the perplexing mystery; for the rest, we must bow before the law which allows men to make use of their free will to the extremity of virtue or vice, of wisdom or madness.
Perhaps, in putting down what I may see of the catastrophe, I shall understand better the lessons it holds, and shall become capable some day of speaking of them usefully. If I might thus in my small way, help toward the Spring-tide which will follow this rough weather, and let fall into our blood-stained furrows a few seeds of the harvest of the future, I should feel more easily consoled at staying behind when the others go, and waiting doing nothing, perhaps for a long time, for the wounded that I dream at least of helping.
But how can one collect one's thoughts in the midst of such an upheaval ?
Since the day of the mobilization, I have felt myself incapable of settling down to any occupation except material ones. My garden gains by it, but not any real work. The writings I had on hand are abandoned; no more correspondence even; who knows if letters will arrive ? And what news is there to tell, that may not seem insignificant beside graver matters that have happened when it is read ? For it is one of the stupendous features of this unequalled crisis that it seems in some sort to follow a geometrical progression, and each day to grow in intensity as in extent. The upheavals of to-day add themselves to those of yesterday, which still exist, and neither one nor the other will have disappeared when to-morrow's arise.
Let us consider once more the fearful series.
On the 24th of July the Austrian ultimatum to the Serbian Government. On the 25th the German Ambassador proceeds to the Quai d'Orsay, to notify in comminatory terms that Berlin sides with Vienna; panic in the different Bourses; recall of the Austrian Ambassador from Belgrade, notwithstanding the almost complete acceptance of the draconian conditions he presented twenty-four hours before. Between Austria and Russia, which takes Serbia's part, England, on the 26th, hastily proposes a fourfold mediation. France and Italy consent; Germany, who knows what she wants to be at, temporizes; on the 27th, she says yes; on the 28th, she says no, and that same day Austria declares War on Serbia.
On July 29th, Russia mobilizes; all seems lost. Nevertheless, on the 30th, a personal intervention of the King of England between the Tsar and the Emperor of Austria gives some hope to the friends of peace; Russia consents to demobilize on certain conditions which Austria begins to examine.
That is the moment Germany chooses to send, on the 30th of July, the ultimatum to Petersburg and to Paris, at the same time proclaiming her own state of siege, so permitting the secret accomplishment of the final preparations.
As had been foreseen, the Tsar's Government took no notice of this demand, and on Saturday, August 1st, at seven o'clock in the evening, the German Ambassador, in the name of William II, delivered to it the Declaration of War. On that same day the French mobilization was decreed. The next day, August 2nd, the German army invades Luxemburg---a neutral country---and at several points violates our own frontier. France is put into a state of siege.
On August 3rd, Belgium is required---by an ultimatum---to facilitate the German operations over her territory ; she refuses, and, in her turn, sees her neutrality violated. Then Germany officially declares War with France; England declares War with Germany; Austria declares War with Russia. From the Urals to the Atlantic, from the Balkans to the mountains of Scotland, with hundreds of vessels, with thousands of regiments, navies and armies are set in motion. In Serbia, in Belgium, in Russia, on the Algerian coast, towns are bombarded. And while on land the cannon already roar, the ironclads sail the seas, and the heavens are crossed by aeroplanes seeking news or carrying explosives.
Oh! that Saturday the 1st August, when the terrible seriousness of the situation was suddenly revealed to a people still but little anxious! That morning three whole classes, three hundred thousand men, receive individually the order for immediate departure. Heedless of all else, giving no backward glance leaving unfinished tasks begun, taking no precaution for the future, completely absorbed in the solemn present, they leave family, undertakings, business. Veni, sequere me ! orders the Country, without further explanation, and, like those called in the Gospel, they follow; they go to the frontier, to battle, probably to die. The astonishing thing is that not one murmurs and many are enthusiastic; but the women weep, and the children they are leaving. In the streets, in the squares, in the shops to which they are already rushing for provisions, wives, mothers, sweethearts, make moan. At the stations, to which they have accompanied their men, they try, for their sake, to keep a brave front; but when they come back alone . . .
In the middle of the afternoon, at the summons of telegraph or telephone, all the town-halls, all the stations, simultaneously post up the order for general mobilization, which enjoins four millions of men, at the risk of their lives, to help the country in danger. And all answer: "Here we are!" and just consult their time-table to make sure of when they must start.
The night was worse than the day. I don't speak only of the private nightmare that would not allow of a sleep lasting more than five minutes; outside, materially, the War broke the usual silence without ceasing. Over the lines of Montparnasse and the Invalides, between which the point of our plateau juts out, train followed train with intervals but of a few minutes. At the bottom of the garden, heavy carts, motor-cars, shook the ground. Over my head, coming from Buc and Chalais, more impressive than all the rest, the squadrons of aeroplanes hummed. In the darkness it was truly like the sound of a flood, a flood at the height of a storm, but which, instead of waves to the distant sea, was rolling men, men, and still more men into the jaws of the guns.
Next morning, more tired than before this rough night, I went to say Mass for France, for her armies, for the soldiers of all nations who were about to die. The office was that for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, and in the Gospel this is what I read : "When Jesus drew near to Jerusalem, seeing the city, He wept over it, saying, If thou also hadst known, and that in this thy day, the things that are to thy peace ; but now they are hidden from thy eyes."(1) And then comes the picture of the murders and destruction of the war.
O Saviour! Thy message of peace is not yet understood by humanity. Weep with us now, no longer over one city about to be ruined, but over hundreds of cities; no longer for one small people, but for whole groups of nations and races.
God of compassion, may Thy tears console us; may they prevent us from ever doubting of Thy love; may they preserve for us, whatever happens, resignation and our faith in Thee!
In this great confusion, we want to make the words of St. Paul in the Epistle of to-day our support: " Neither do you murmur . . . God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that which you are able, but will make also with temptation issue that you may be able to bear it."(2)
The trial that weighs heaviest on hearts is made up principally of the risk of death to which so many sons, husbands, fathers, will be exposed. The terrible, but necessary wheel draws with it all healthy men from twenty to nearly fifty years old---all the flower and the strength, the best physical and intellectual energies. In Serbia, all those from sixteen to sixty spared by the two recent wars.
From this individual anxiety nothing can free us, and it will last till the end of the struggle, changing day by day for a greater number of families into one accomplished fact, into mournful notifications. There is nothing for it but to accept this great sacrifice like Christians and patriots; for France who has need of it; for God who opens His heaven to the martyrs for all duties.
But the terrible trial is also made up of fears that bring to the minds of many---fatal memory of the last war---a menace of civil troubles and invasion.
It was not so long ago that in case of war a general strike, destruction of post-offices, telegraph and telephone-wires, a compulsory check to mobilization was prophesied. Is not there any one so foolish or so worthless as to dream of it now it has come ? And, on the other hand, what effect will be produced among the Socialists by the assassination of Jaurès, a frightful crime at any time, but monstrous beyond words at the present moment ? How well I understand all that is being done to calm the sorrow of the people! Viviani's proclamation; the President's letter to Mme. Jaurès, and these words of Barrès to his daughter:
"I loved your father, even when our ideas put us in opposition to each other, and I was obliged to resist the sympathy which drew me towards him. His assassination, just when the union of all Frenchmen is accomplished, causes a national mourning."
Will this union really come to pass, this dreamt-of union, the dream but now of so few amongst us, and which the lenient looked upon as Utopian, the others as treason ?
O marvel ! it would seem like it, and that the very death of the Socialist Tribune, which might have succeeded in breaking it, may on the contrary become the shining occasion for its manifestation. At his funeral, no words but those of peace are spoken, and the most eloquent are those of Jouhaux, secretary to the chief revolutionary organization. The man of no country, Hervé, asks to be sent to the Front. One of my friends met the reservist Pataud, of the electricians' strike, carefully guarding a level-crossing near Saint-Cyr. The Guerre Sociale preaches internal peace and publishes the portrait of the Curé of Moineville, shot for having warned our soldiers of the approach of the Germans by ringing the alarm-bell: "Help, France! Here is the enemy!" The railway companies take back their dismissed plate-layers; insubordinate, deserter, political prisoner, all pardoned, hasten to their ranks in the Army.
While the Government revokes its last decrees against the Congregations, sisters follow the troops in the direction of the German frontier, and exiled monks re-pass those of Spain, Italy, and Belgium to present themselves at the recruiting-offices. "Yes, monks," exclaims Clemenceau, "monks we hunted away! "
And the old controversialist, moved by this "nobly simple action," rallies Germany for having relied on our quarrels.
I think truly that she had been too well informed, that she had known of our troubles too well, and that she had too well counted on them. What she did not know was that all that had no hold on the soul of the nation, and that a great shake might, like violent remedies, heal us at one blow.
Where, but a few weeks ago, could be found a more grievous spectacle than the first sittings of the new Chamber ? And where, even in turning over the annals of many Parliaments, could be found a more admirable scene than that it offered on the 4th August; listening, silent as a tribunal of history, to the act of accusation drawn up, with proofs in hand, against those who had hurled twenty-five millions of men on to the fields of slaughter! And in this hot-bed of dissensions, quarrels, selfish desires, boundless ambitions, what trace remained of groups, of rivalries, of hates ? Unanimous the respect with which the Presidential message was received; unanimous the adhesion to the Chief of the Government and his noble declaration: " It is the liberties of Europe that are being attacked of which France and her allies and friends are proud to be the defenders. . . . France did not wish for the war; since it is forced upon her, she will defend herself. We are without reproach, we shall be without fear. . . . "
And, without debate, with no dissentient voice, all the laws of national defence, with the heavy sacrifices they imply, are at once voted. The night of August 4th, just a hundred and twenty-five years ago, saw the end of Privileges; finer 'still this day of August 4th, 1914, which sees the end of our dissensions and our egotisms.
The fact is that we know ourselves no longer; barriers are falling on every side which, both in public and private life, divided us into hostile clans. A head committee is formed to guard the material and moral interests of the country without delay ; to it the Government summons, side by side with those most technically competent, a representative of each party and the best known of its adversaries in the past---Briand, Delcassé, Millerand, de Mun, Ribot. In Belgium it is the same, or even better; the Catholic Government elects the chief Socialist Vandervelde as Minister of State to take his seat beside the venerable M. Woeste. With our friends no more than with ourselves, can political divisions reach the sublime level of patriotism.
But where the union seems miraculous is when, at Westminster, the Irish Nationalists declare that Great Britain may recall its troops from their island, and that they, with the Orange party, will be sufficient to defend it. What a marvellous power of fusion does the furnace of war possess!
It is the same in private life, as I said. The relations between citizens are transformed. In the squares, in the streets, in the trains, outside the stations, on the thresholds of houses, each accosts the other, talks, gives news, exchanges impressions; each feels the same anxiety, the same hopes, the same wish to be useful, the same acceptance of the hardest sacrifices. Even the children say: "Papa is gone; he went to the War to prevent the Germans doing us harm."
The old proudly enumerate the sons, the nephews, the sons-in-law, the grandsons they have with the Colours ; their own age prevents them from going, so they have enlisted in the Civic Guard. The women talk of the anxiety they are feeling for the dear absent ones, of the applications they have made to be admitted as hospital nurses. They tell us familiarly of the precautions against famine they are taking, their fear that milk may fail for the quite little ones; above all, of the possible invasion.
For, next to the field of battle where the men they love are slain, what is most horrible for women in war is the idea of falling into the hands of the enemy soldiers ; the thought that in the absence of husband, brother or son, the house may be invaded, the home outraged by victorious brutes.
A woman of the people, to whom I was speaking of the imminence of the War a few days ago, astonished me by her calmness, all the more because she was aware that her husband would go amongst the first. The explanation was not long delayed..
" Happily," she said to me, "Serbia is far from here!"
When she understood that there was a question of a repetition---no doubt with better chances, but perhaps on the same site---the terrible duel of '70, she quickly changed her note: " Oh! Monsieur, the Prussians here!"
They are not here yet. Neither from within nor without do things take the same turn as in the Summer of 1870.
While our mobilization goes on with the most irreproachable coolness, calmness and order, Germany, who wished to take us by surprise, in the execution of her principal plan comes up against a moral and material obstacle which was the last to be expected. Her famous sudden attack is transformed into a sudden check. By one action she turns against herself the human race and the first chances of the struggle. She begins the war by a crime against a people's rights and by a military loss. The violation of Belgian neutrality and the attack upon Liége may bring about---O justice of history and Providence!---the fall of the German Empire; a fine opportunity for that great law which makes the crime bring forth its own punishment to manifest itself.
The occupation of Luxemburg had given me a false joy; hearing of it about five o'clock on Sunday at the Meudon station, where M. Lasies, our neighbour, had already brought the news, I had rejoiced over it as over a great victory, seeing in it the certain end of the English hesitations and the pledge of universal sympathy.
The news on Monday morning did not wholly justify my hopes, and I spent an anxious day.
Now, when the declaration of War between France and Germany was inevitable and might be made at any moment, England was still silent. I knew on good authority what distress the silence of the Government in London had caused our official world towards the end of the preceding week, and I was waiting, as I had never waited for a political decision, for the declaration promised at Westminster for the afternoon of that day. That declaration, upon which was hung, so to speak, the beating of my French heart and my ancient attachment to Great Britain, was, thank God, going to be such as I wished; but I was not to know it till the morrow.
What I did learn that same evening was the ultimatum of Germany to Belgium, the answer of our high-spirited neighbours, and the invasion of their territory. So then there might ensue the crushing arrival of the enemy on our Northern frontier, a Prussian invasion on the side where we were the least prepared to repel it ? No doubt England must now decide, for the sake of her own vital interests as much as for respect for her signature; no doubt the final chances of the struggle were in our favour. But, for the present, what evils awaited us and what weeks of horrors were to pass over our poor country! That night I slept even less than on the preceding ones.
Oh ! the sudden changes of fortune and of our feeble minds in these stupendous days! From the deepest anxiety we have leapt to the highest hopes. The two days of the 4th and 5th August which witness the confirmation of the glorious unity of all the French, tell us, too, one after the other, of the admirable resistance of the Belgians, and the ultimatum, shortly followed by the declaration of war, of England to the German Empire.
The little Belgian army stops the Barbarians and makes them retreat.
The Barbarians! formerly that name hurt me when I read it in our newspapers and I thought it a polemical insult; but events prove that it said none too much.
What other people in the world would behave like them, would invade peaceable neighbours, would slay them by thousands for the crime of fidelity to honour and duty? And among the four signatures that guaranteed neutrality, stands, dishonoured for ever, the signature of the King of Prussia ! Can you deny it, William the poet, William the mystic, or William the actor? And do you believe that, were you victorious, that infamous perjury would quit your name in the pages of History ?
Victorious! That name is not for him, but for the King of the Belgians, the modest, brave, loyal Sovereign of a small nation of honest folk whom the sense of their rights and of their duty suddenly turned into heroes, stronger in their forty thousand than a hundred and fifty thousand Germans, and more skilful in the business of war than the so-called heirs of Moltke. From the forts of Liége is hurled a little stone that strikes the Teutonic giant on the forehead, and if he is not, like Goliath, thrown at once to the ground, at least he is humbled in a fashion that nothing will efface.
And while, giddy with the blow, he stops short and tries to recover himself, two hundred thousand Davids arise in the Belgian land, ready to die for her if it must be, but confident in their claim and the efficacy of their appeal: " Help us, France! Help us, England! They want to murder us!"
Only those who have never seen the land of Belgium close will be astonished. I had been summoned there this very year, at the beginning of March, to discuss the latest problems of education. I never found an audience more open to generous ideas ; to listen to a speech on a technical subject of pedagogy the crowd was so great that the lecture had to be given twice. And the men I met, in the world of letters as in that of the Government, left on me such an impression of moral worth and largeness of view, that neither their way of acting nor their way of speaking can now surprise me.
The Ministers I saw there were bound to answer the demand of William II as they have done, in words and by conduct for ever worthy of human admiration.
The marvellous resistance of the Belgians continues, and so much is already gained that Germany, has suffered a delay of some days. If Liége falls to-day---how gloriously!---the enemy will find in front of him Namur, with the same Belgian army, maybe augmented by the first troops coming from France, and, who knows ? from England.
I learnt last night that the English, though it is not reported, disembarked two days ago. General French will be able to lead all the more men because the Great Island has no need of a guard at home, Lord Kitchener having yesterday called for the raising of 500,000 men.
Such a Secretary of War in London, such a General on the Continent, and everything agreed upon beforehand in concert with our Staff ! No, Great Britain does not only bring us absolute security by sea, she gives us on land, too, help which is already valuable, and which will continually grow more so.
Long live the country of my preference! Hurrah for Old England!
England did her best to avert the catastrophe; Sir Edward Grey has just proved it, documents in hand, with a frankness at which crafty Germany could not afford to smile. So much did England wish for peace, that, by a sort of double-dealing, excusable if it ever were, she at the same time made the Germans fear to have her against them, and the French that they would have to go on without her. She desired peace because of her horror of the miseries of war. Now that she wills war for the sake both of honour and interest, she will go on to the end; she will not stop short of victory, and her victory will be linked with ours. She will no more yield to William II than she yielded to Napoleon; but, as Mr. Asquith said, this time there is no Napoleon.
I went this morning to the Pavillon de Bellevue, where a hospital has been established by French ladies. The devotion of the organizers of this and all other similar works---the Union des Femmes de France, Association des Dames françaises, Société de Secours aux blessés militaires---is known to all; what is perhaps less known is how it promotes other personal and humble acts of devotion.
While these ladies are talking things over, two women of the people, or of the middle-class, come in, one quite young, the other old but still hale.
"Mesdames, here is our name and address. We are both at your disposal for cooking or any work you like."
"You know," says the Secretary," that nobody receives a salary ? We give nothing but food and a bed."
"That doesn't matter, Madame. I waited on the wounded in '70. There's no need to be paid, so long as one is kept. We have even got some beds at home if they would be of any use."
The Curé of Bellevue, who has the best right to it, has kept for himself the Chaplaincy of this hospital; he has promised me another, and the Curé of Meudon too. The kindness of my colleagues will be pleasant to me; deprived of their curates by the mobilization, they have received the offer of my small services in a very fraternal spirit.
Nevertheless, I think it is as well to go to see the Bishop of Versailles; a visit to Mgr. Gibier always sends one away with a braver spirit. When I arrive, he is taking counsel with the Curés of his town. While I am waiting, the servant first, and then an old priest, ask me if it is true that William is already asking for peace. I explain to them the absurdity of such a rumour; no doubt it arises from the fact that his Army before Liége has, as will be known to-morrow, proposed an armistice to bury their dead. That is the sort of news in war-time; no doubt I shall hear presently in the city others scarcely less probable---that eight hundred Uhlans have passed the Chantiers station, prisoners sent to Brest, and that the French, after a fine battle, have entered Mulhouse. How quickly one believes what one wishes for!
As soon as the council meeting ends, the Bishop receives me. As usual, he is full of life and spirit. After he has willingly given me permissions and powers for any contingency, we talk a little; we rejoice, in spite of our horror of war, that this at least promises so well for our arms. We speak of the Belgians, those perfect Catholics, those model patriots; of the English, "my friends," whose intervention gives final assurance of our success; of the French more especially, whose zeal and discipline and religion have been so rapidly restored by a common ideal-t--his astonishes us less than others; we are old friends of our democracy, and maybe more mindful, perhaps in a spirit of compensation, of its good qualities than of its faults and errors.
The offices of religion, we joyfully declare, will be better looked after in the camps than in the parishes. Not only there will be at the front titular Chaplains and their assistants, but a third part of the Clergy is under arms. Seminarist-soldiers are now priest-soldiers; and Rome, like a prudent mother, has withdrawn all the censures aimed at ministers of peace who are forced to give death instead.
Who could refuse the Sacraments offered in these terms :--
"It's getting hot, comrade. If you like, I can give you absolution."
One 'would think oneself back again in the days of chivalry, the days of the gallant Roland and Archbishop Turpin.
What a clergy it will be that returns from the War! Decimated, even then its influence for good will be ten times greater. Even its going has already had its effect.
"I'm not in too great a hurry to reorganize parochial life," Mgr. Gibier confides to me. "All the worse for those who want for Masses on the first Sundays; they will perceive that M. le Curé is gone to the War."
What fine sermons will be those that were not preached! I am tempted to say.
Versailles, that noble and sleepy town, is not longer recognizable; it is a vast camp, one of our chief points of military concentration. Every day thousands of reservists---peasants, workmen, bourgeois---arrive; every day thousands, equipped, and with fine soldier-like bearing, leave, and the transition is not wanting in picturesqueness; you ought to see this crowd of brave fellows, half-civilian, half-soldier, in a blouse, a great-coat, but all capped with the képi. This variety does not prevent them from briskly setting about their military business, grooming horses, driving the wagons, guarding the munitions.
Near the railway stations, regiments already formed are awaiting to depart; elsewhere, and notably in the enormous barracks and along the solemn avenues leading to the Castle, there seems a confusion, which in reality is order unrestrained, where each one is trying to do his best, to instruct and help his neighbour, the officers mixing with the men and being consulted by them as if they were fathers or elder brothers. A friend of mine, a reservist officer, never ceases praising the spirit of the men ; no one grumbles, nor grudges his trouble, nor grieves at having left everything ; each one accepts his task because he understands the necessity for it. The only mischance of the mobilization, the only point where the Staff find themselves out of their reckoning is that the average of absentees they expected has not appeared, no one having sought for pretexts for eluding the duty of patriotism.
Here we have not to do, as in Germany, with an army that marches under orders; it is a people conscious of its honour and its interests, defending itself against aggressors, determined to get rid once for all of intolerable neighbours, and which, free from the ambition of conquest, seeks but to take back its own property, its Alsace-Lorraine, and to lay down, for itself and for others, the lasting conditions of a truly pacific peace.
In this crisis, the French nation comes out infinitely superior to what was said of it, and to what it thought of itself; everywhere are to be seen voluntary self-sacrifice and spontaneous discipline, those two signs of the highest education. Witness as I am, day by day and in many details, of what is said and what is done among the people and other classes, by those who go and those who stay, I grieve that I cannot proclaim my admiration loudly enough; I should like to possess an almost universal repute, so that I might demonstrate to all foreigners how worthy we are of the sympathy which they bestow upon us, how right is their faith in our compatriots and our Allies!
However rash this declaration at the outset of the War may appear, I assert that to-day France finds herself under such conditions that there is no doubt of her final victory.
9th and 10th August.
So it was really true that report of the day before yesterday, too good to be believed!
The French Army re-enters Alsace and our tricolour floats over Mulhouse. If one may judge by our emotion, our trembling, our tears, what joyful excitement must be down there! How little hold those frontier-posts had on the sacred soil! and in what a glorious fashion the Battle of Altkirch begins the era of deliverance! About equal in numbers, an intrenched brigade, therefore three times the stronger, is hunted out by us; it flies aghast, and the coming of night alone preserves what was left of it from destruction at our hands. It was while pursuing it that we reached and crossed Mulhouse. But for the darkness, but for the prudent order of those in command which was at last heard, where might our troops have stopped ?
I learn the news as I am going to say Mass and can't help telling it first to the devout congregation.
"All our feelings ought to be made holy," was about what I said; "and this is one to reckon with; the French Army is in Alsace, has retaken Altkirch, occupies Mulhouse. With our prayers for the Armies of France may therefore already be mingled the first acts of gratitude. Let us pray that God will continue to protect us. Let us pray for the soldiers who die, our own first of all, but also, as befits Christians, those against whom we are fighting."
The occupation of Mulhouse took place at five o'clock on Friday; how then could it be talked about in Versailles at three and in Paris at noon ? Of course there is the difference in time between the places, but it does not give such an interval as this; and no doubt the plan of those in command might be known a little while before being put into practice ; but it could be but a plan, at the very utmost a hope. Doesn't that look like a good example of presentiment ? Time and space are full of mystery; more than once their barriers between those linked by love have seemed to be broken through, and things beyond and beforehand have been seen. Presentiments! Napoleon III, on the point of joining the Army of the Rhine on July 28th, 1870, felt such a one, that his melancholy eyes, despite himself, filled with tears ; the Sovereign of August, 1914, that is the people of France, feels such as lighten all sacrifices, and reason is in agreement with heart. Different results of different policies : the Emperor, at the last moment, saw his dreams of Austro-Italian help and German dissensions fade away ; the Republic sees the hoped-for support of England added to the certain alliance of Russia, as well as the unexpected co-operation of the Belgians; and on the contrary it is Germany that loses one of its two Allies. And while order and calmness are all on our side, the enemy seems seized with that intoxication of pride with which we were infatuated then.
But have I let myself go too far in optimism, and putting aside the evils inseparable from War, is there really no dark cloud on our horizon ? Truth to tell, I can see but two, and the first was quickly dispersed. The second makes me more anxious.
During the first few days, the popular imagination nearly went astray on the track of suspicion and absurd reprisals. I don't speak of the dread of spies ; that was but too well justified, and if they were often seen where they did not exist, on the other hand there existed many where no one guessed. What was to be deplored was attacks on establishments which belonged, or were supposed to belong, to German subjects. The sacking of the Maggi dairies by some hundreds of hooligans was a blot on the fine uniformity of our conduct during those first days of agitation. Explanations and the just rigours of the law, thank God, soon settled that matter, but it was a very bad departure, and as for me, I found it impossible to undeceive the people here, according to whom three hundred children in Boulogne-sur-Seine had died, poisoned by foreign milk. As a last argument I asked a labourer who had come back from there if he had seen them. He said, yes !
These disorders, thanks be to God, did not go far and nothing is left of them ; police, civic guards, councils of war, restrictions on the sale of alcohol, completed the work of good sense and patriotism; internal peace was never more profound.
My real black spot is therefore not that; it exists where I fear there will be few of us to perceive it---in the imminence of a Japanese intervention.
"Well, but won't this intervention be in our favour, considering the English alliance ?"
That is just why I am anxious ; I fear it may make us lose the precious sympathy of the United States. It is well known that between them and the Empire of the Rising Sun there exists an almost inveterate opposition of social and economic interests; I saw it with my own eyes on the American shores of the Pacific Ocean, and I attempted in my small way to make it known. Others with much more authority have spoken of it in the same way, and an Italian review has just reproduced the prophecy, or rather the prevision, of the Japanese General, Nogi, in which he declares that there will be two more great wars ; one in Europe by France and her Allies against Germany, which will be vanquished ; the other between Japan and the United States on the waters and shores of the immense Pacific. May God preserve us from seeing one of these plagues precipitate the other, and, lightning attracting lightning, the conflagration spread over the whole terrestrial globe !
MY four days of silence do not mean that there has been no news since 10th August, but that the time has been wasted in business, weariness and enervating expectations. Grave as are the events each day tells of yesterday, one guesses that those of the present hour are still more so and foresees that to-morrow may tell of still greater. At times the pen is discouraged by excess of emotion; at others one must yield to the need for expression.
During these last days England and France have both broken with Austria, but at such a time as this and considering the actual situation, that is a mere trifle! The news from Alsace and Belgium is quite otherwise absorbing. Liége is in the hands of the Germans, but its forts are still untaken and continue to interrupt their advance. Will they get through nevertheless ? In any case it will not be without enormous losses, nor now quickly enough to surprise the Allies, for the French have arrived (in what numbers we do not know), and no doubt the English, too. What mystery and suspense ! So many armies in presence of each other, going to kill each other, perhaps doing so already ! And how great the stakes of this formidable fight ! Either our entry into Aix-la-Chapelle, and the invasion of Prussia; or the descent of the Germans on Brussels, and on our own Northern Frontier. . . .
In Alsace, at least, at the other end of this 360-mile line of battle, it seems there is a clearer view, and our success there seems certain. If our entry into Mulhouse was only a sign of hope, a means of frightening the enemy and upsetting his plans, we keep on in Altkirch and take methodically one by one the passes of the Vosges, the villages, the towns of strategical importance. Already we are even beginning to descend the heights and overthrow everything that opposes our advance across the plains. Those little Alpins of ours are rough huntsmen and they haven't belied their name; the foreign birds, the German game that infest the forests of Alsace can't withstand their guns.
Thus begins the realization of the vision my tear-filled eyes saw nearly twenty years ago, when, one summer Sunday in the Church at Orbey after the recitation of the Rosary in our own language, I heard the young girls of Alsace sing to a French air the truly appropriate Psalm: Levavi oculos meos in montes unde veniet auxilium mihi: "I have lifted my eyes to the hills whence cometh my help."
Exactly forty-four years ago, and exactly at the same date---between the 14th and 19th of August, the French and German troops were at grips as they are to-day. But, thank God, with what a difference !
Then we were leaving Alsace, which now we are about to re-enter; then we were leaving shut up in Metz our finest army; now bold and valiant men, supported by strong reserves, are everywhere victoriously withstanding the enemy on a front of 250 miles, extending from Belfort to Liége.
The most egotistic and incapable of all the generals half-heartedly engaged the enemy in the Battles of Borny, Gravelotte and Saint-Privat, on the pretence of getting out of Metz, and when they were half won, he fell back upon the town. To-day, commanders, whose intelligence equals their courage, do their duty severally under discipline, in silence, and self-abnegation, their very names unknown by those for whom they are sacrificing themselves. Who won the victory at Dinant ? Who re-took Altkirch, the Passes of Alsace ? Who directed the slow and glorious march towards Strasbourg ? No one knows. France holds on in Belgium, on the Meuse; France re-occupies the Eastern slope of the Vosges, debouches from la Seille, retakes Morhange, occupies Dieuze and Château-Salins : that is all, and it is enough. It is not the affair of a man, but of a people.
Still we have little news from Belgium, and I don't much like what we had this morning. Very important German forces have crossed the Meuse between Namur and Liége; the Belgian Government, as a precautionary measure, have retired to Antwerp with the Royal Family, but the King himself is with the army.
The German flood, arrested for a fortnight by the dyke of Belgian breasts, has it seems begun to inundate the territory of our heroic neighbours. Repulsed as it will be by them, by the English, by us, what ruin it will spread, and how grievous it will be to see it soil the dear and pleasant city of Brussels! And besides, though it may be of no military importance, the capture of an open capital does not fail to exercise a moral effect; the jeopardized prestige of the German forces will be for the time restored in the eyes of spectators at a distance.
Finally, Brussels is not far from the French frontier, poorly fortified on that side. This is what comes of believing in the honour of a King of Prussia and that he would never violate a neutrality guaranteed by his own signature ! Happily, we have had time to make ready, and Germany will find living fortresses on her path.
The day is given over to sadness. From Rome we hear that Pius X is dying. Already weakened by age and his constant anxieties; easily moved by great emotions, the common Father of the faithful could not get over the grievous news of these last days. How sorrowful a reign has been his, and how well one understands his tears, his refusals, his forced acceptance, over the choice of the last Conclave !
"The state of the Pope leaves no room for hope," says the Echo de Paris ; and in that paper, where M. de Mun is a daily writer, the news takes up only a paragraph. Strange times, indeed, when the imminent death of a Pope scarcely attracts attention. When Leo XIII departed, I was in England; the Protestant papers talked of nothing but him. When Pius X was elected, I was in America ; the press was full of the doings of the Conclave. But whether the world concerns itself about it or not ; whether Europe be in peace or at war, a Pope dies, a Pope succeeds him; the Church, grave and serene, pursues her destinies. And when the nations pay more heed to the Gospel she proclaims, we shall no longer see what we see now.
Pius X is dead. However absorbed in other matters, the world's opinion makes momentary reverence before him whom for eleven years it has respected for his great virtues; it finds time to admire the will which leaves to the sisters of a Pope only a modest pension to enable them to keep themselves; and it says to itself that he had the right to impose disinterestedness on others since. he practised it himself to this high degree.
One wonders who will be his successor. Ferrata, the prudent diplomatist ? Della Chiesa, the friend of Rampolla ? Maffi, the learned Archbishop of Pisa ? These names and the few others that are mentioned with them---Pompili, Gasparri, are all of good augury; and the investigations of the Sacred College, thank God, give evidence of setting towards a wise and opportune choice. Spiritual peace-making hangs upon it, and perchance also, in some measure, the shortening of the actual war. Who knows if the Sovereign Pontiff or the President of the United States may not be taken as Arbitrator of Peace ?
The Head of Christianity, whoever he may be, can never be at war with any one; as to the Head of the greatest of Democracies, I trust it will be the same with him. And yet, I must own, that I had an instant's dread when I read Japan's ultimatum to Germany. It is equivalent to a rupture. The siege of Tsing-Tao will soon follow, and the seizure of all the Peninsula of Kiao-Chau. What will the United States say to that ? Let us hope that wise England will arrange matters with her Ally. Anyhow here is the War carried into the Far-East; where won't it extend to ? The Balkans, Italy, can't well escape.
Some morning we must expect to read that the planet Mars is mobilizing and the Moon has declared her neutrality !
The last two days I have written nothing, having been preparing a lecture I had promised the Curé of Meudon. He has got up patriotic meetings in the big hall of his parish for every Sunday evening. Yesterday there were more people there than I had expected. The subject deeply interested the audience ; I had to speak of the War near Metz, the siege, the capitulation, the entrance of the Germans, the attitude of Mgr. Dupont des Loges in presence of the victors. The ceremony of the Souvenir Français and the protest before the Reichstag evoked much emotion. In the second part of the lecture I was obliged to pause every five minutes because of the tears of the audience and of the lecturer. I came away rather broken-down, but glad to have been able to arouse such sentiments.
The note of hope I gave here and there, especially towards the end, was mingled with a certain anxiety, and was mostly concerned with the final issue of operations. The fact is, one no longer knows what to think. We have re-taken Mulhouse and seem well-established in Haute-Alsace; but the advance into Lorraine has been quickly lost; we were almost at Fenétrange and here we are back at Nancy; the Germans are at Lunéville.
And in Belgium, mon Dieu, what is happening? The great battle has been going on since yesterday. How many wounded, how many dead each minute may bring! And what tremendous stakes! Either the Germans driven back by us and their defeat completed by our Allies at Antwerp, when it would become possible to foresee the near ending of the War at the cost of least evil; or the Germans victorious, France invaded and the War prolonged under frightful conditions till the far-off arrival of the Russians.
Unable to wait here for news I went to Paris about three o'clock. There was great excitement on the boulevards, and I was astonished at seeing so many people there. But there was order and almost silence everywhere ; the newspapers were being read and re-read as they followed each other every few minutes without reporting anything decisive. The battle was proceeding, that was all that was known for certain. From Serbia and Russia the good news was confirmed; Austria appeared to be already in a state where she could do no harm; the Cossacks were seizing Eastern Prussia and taking the road to Berlin. So much the better! so much the better ! But our chief interest is fixed otherwhere; our whole mind reaches out towards Charleroi, the centre of the great encounter. And we can know nothing of the issue! And we must sleep in this horrible uncertainty !
Sleep ! Yes, five minutes occasionally, wornout by fatigue and enervation !
And by morning one is at the station to wait the arrival of the papers:
. . . our offensive in Belgium has not attained its end. Our covering army is intact.
These euphemisms are enough to make all plain. It takes an effort to read in these disheartening terms the details the Government thinks right to give.
What troubles me most is the care that is taken to re-assure us. No doubt the account as a whole is correct: "In a general way we have kept full liberty to make use of our network of railways, and all the seas are open to us for provisioning. Our operations have made it possible for Russia to go into action and to penetrate into the heart of Eastern Prussia."
But we are beaten, we are in retreat, we are invaded; Germany recovers her prestige, and ours, which had re-appeared, is lessened in the eyes of the nations; the enemy's plan, after a delay of fifteen days, will be put into execution; and final success, even if it remains probable, grows farther off and we are separated from it by awful trials. Read under this impression, the official communiqués, in their brevity, seem to me big with the worst menaces. I say Mass overwhelmed with grief, praying for the numberless dead, imploring the Divine Pity for France, and begging that we may at least profit from our misfortunes ; and at the time for the act of thanksgiving I recite the Miserere.
As I leave the Chapel I make an effort to avoid frightening those who question me, and that revives my own spirits somewhat. I re-read the communiqués of the War with more calmness and attention. They show evidently that our offensive has failed and that we must mourn for the hopes it had raised; but, after all, it is not a disaster. Our troops keep their morale and have fallen back in good order on foreseen positions. The enemy has gained no positive advantage by his success ; beaten he would have lost all; victorious he gains scarcely anything. Already there is talk of recommencing the fight at the time that suits us, that is to say, soon, and under more advantageous conditions, please God! And then, it is not correct to speak of invasion. What was seen at Roubaix-Tourcoing was only a mass of cavalry; the Germans are prodigal of Uhlans; their patrols are meant especially to. frighten. Don't let us be frightened.
Where it is impossible to find comfort is in the number of dead and wounded. " Our losses are considerable." One knows what that means. And that the German Army has suffered as many does not make our mourning less. In Germany, too, there are mothers, wives and children. . . .
The duel between our African troops and the Prussian Guards was heroic; heroism that means at once valour and carnage.
Where is my godson and cousin, the sharpshooter from Constantine ? Where, too, is Dr. P-----, assistant surgeon to the 1st regiment of Cuirassiers ; and what shall I say to his wife, who is dangerously ill ? Where are the many other relations and friends whom I saw depart so full of enthusiasm ?
And I am not among the most unfortunate more to be pitied are those fathers and mothers who have one or more sons out there; those wives with young children awaiting tidings that may turn them into widows and orphans.
In fact our Army is holding out ; the Anglo-French troops have kept the adversary in cheek while gaining the positions assigned to them, and already on our right to the East of the Meuse, we shall have taken the offensive. The spirit of our men is in nowise weakened and persists even amongst the wounded. It is not only the papers that say so; friends who have seen some of them unanimously confirm it. On their bed of suffering the dear heroes retain the fire of battle in their eyes, and the fever in their limbs is less intense than that of their souls. One only wish they express---to be quickly healed so as to be at it again.
But the heart-rending thing is to have to evacuate the re-conquered Alsace. Poor Mulhouse! Twice in fifteen days the rapture of liberation, and twice the horror of falling back under the yoke. A more important concern requires it. The fate of France, and thereby that of Alsace, must be decided in the North ; the whole of our force must gather there. So be it! But even so, the popular instinct is right when it makes me hear all about me : "If there are not enough soldiers to protect Alsace. why are men being sent back ? "
And it is true that there are numbers coming back against their will after wasting long days in country towns whither the mobilization had carried them. Both good sense and courage would have made them prefer the Front. What can they do at home with no work and awaiting a sudden recall ? There is something difficult to understand about this.
The news---anyhow the official news---is not altogether bad. Between the Vosges and Nancy, as well as on the Saint-Dié side, we have the advantage, and on the Meuse we have repulsed some German attacks.
But on the North, to our Left, the English, despite their heroism, have had to give up some ground before the crushing superiority in numbers. But Longwy has surrendered, and though it is a glorious achievement for a little unimportant town to have held out, defended by only one battalion, for twenty-four days, it is all the same a proof that the Germans are masters about there, that they are nearing Stenay, one of the points they planned to pass.
And for them to pass is to make for Paris, to prepare to invest it. The papers don't yet talk of it, but the idea is making its way into even the best-balanced minds. It is evident that the preparations for defence are being hastened, and every day sees the entrenchments strengthened.
It is sensible from any point. of view; but to have come to this, in spite of so many favourable circumstances, in spite of all the time wasted in Belgium by Germany, and principally no doubt, because we have no equipment ready for the hundred thousands of men who want to go, is, let us own, a little hard.
Table of Contents