East of Paris
Matilda Betham-Edwards

Part 3 out of 3

and take the flooded road to the village. An old, bent, wrinkled
peasant woman, speaking French, directs us for full information about
Frederique--thus is the name written in French--to the auberge.
First, with no little interest and pride, she unhooks from her own
wall a framed picture, containing portraits of Goethe, and Frederika,
and drawings of church and parsonage as they were. The former has been
restored and the latter wholly rebuilt.

As we make our way to the little inn over against these, we pass a new
handsome communal school in course of erection. On questioning two
children in French, they shake their heads and pass on. The thought
naturally arises--did the various French Governments, throughout the
period of a hundred and odd years ending in 1870, do much in the way
of assimilating the German population of Alsace?

It would not seem so, seeing that up till the Franco-Prussian war the
country folk retained their German speech, or at least patois. Under
the present rule only German is taught in communal schools, and in the
gymnasiums or lycees, two hours a week only being allowed for the
teaching of French. At the Auberge du Bouf, over against the church
and parsonage, we chat with the master in French about Goethe and
Frederika; his womankind, however, only spoke patois. Here,
nevertheless, we find French hearts, French sympathies, and
occasionally French gaiety.

Unidyllic, yet full of instruction, is the drive in the opposite
direction to Kehl. We are here approaching friendly frontiers, yet the
aspect is hardly less dreadful. True that cannon do not bristle on the
outer line of the triple fortifications; otherwise the state of things
is similar. We see lines of vast powder magazines, enormous barracks
of recent construction, preparations for defence, on a scale
altogether inconceivable and indescribable. Little wonder that meat is
a shilling a pound, instead of fourpence as before the annexation,
that bread has doubled in price, taxation also, and, to make matters
worse, that trade has remained persistently dull!

A tremendous triple-arched, stone gate, guarded by sentinels, has been
erected on this side of the lower Rhine, over against the Duchy of
Baden. No sooner are we through than our hearts are rejoiced with
signs of peace and innocent enjoyment, restaurants and coffee gardens,
family groups resting under the trees. Beyond, flowing briskly amid
wooded banks to right and left, is the Rhine, a glorious sight,
compensating for so many that have just given us the heartache.

Of Strasburg I will say little. Full descriptions of the new city, for
such an expression is no figure of speech, are given in the English,
French, and German guide books. The first care of the German
Government after coming into possession was to repair the havoc caused
by the bombardment, the rebuilding of public buildings, monuments and
streets that had been partially or entirely destroyed in 1871. Among
these were the Museum and Public Library, the Protestant church,
several orphanages and hospitals, lastly, incredible as it may seem,
the beautiful octagonal tower of the Cathedral. The incidents of this
vandalism have just been graphically described in the new volume of
the brothers' Margueritte prose epic, dealing with the Franco-Prussian
War, entitled "Les Braves Gens."

I remember writing on the occasion of my first visit to Strasburg, a
few years after these events--"There is very little to see at
Strasburg now. The Library with its priceless treasures of books and
manuscripts, the Museum of painting and sculpture, rich in _chefs
d'oeuvre_ of the French school, the handsome Protestant church, the
theatre, the Palais de Justice, were all completely destroyed by the
Prussian bombardment, not to speak of buildings of lesser importance,
four hundred private dwellings, and hundreds of civilians killed and
wounded by the shells. Nor was the cathedral spared, and would
doubtless have perished altogether also but for the enforced surrender
of the heroic city."

Since that sad time a new Strasburg has sprung up, of which the
University is the central feature. A thousand students now frequent
this great school of learning, the professorial staff numbering a
hundred. One noteworthy point is the excessive cheapness of a learned
or scientific education. Autocratic Prussia emulates democratic
France. I was assured by an Alsatian who had graduated here that a
year's fees need not exceed ten pounds! Students board and lodge
themselves outside the University, and, of course, as economically as
they please. They consist chiefly of Germans, for sons of French
parents of the middle and upper ranks are sent over the frontier
before the age of seventeen in order to evade the German military
service. They thus exile themselves for ever. This cruel severance of
family ties is, as I have said, one of the saddest effects of
annexation. Without and within, the group of buildings forming the
University is of great splendour. Alike architecture and decoration
are on a costly scale; the vast corridors with tesselated marble
floors, marble columns, domes covered with frescoes, statuary, stained
glass, and gilded panels, must impress the mind of the poorer
students. Less agreeable is the reflection of the taxpayer. This new
Imperial quarter represents millions of marks, whilst the defences of
Strasburg alone represent many millions more. One of the five facultes
is devoted to Natural Science. The Museum of Natural History, the
mineralogical collections, and the chemical laboratories have each
their separate building, whilst at the extreme end of the University
gardens is the handsome new observatory, with covered way leading to
the equally handsome residence of the astronomer in charge. Thus the
learned star-gazer can reach his telescope under cover in wintry
weather. In addition to the University library described above, the
various class-rooms have each small separate libraries, sections of
history, literature, etc., on which the students can immediately lay
their hands. All the buildings are heated with gas or water.

Just beyond these precincts we come upon a striking contrast--row
after row of brand-new barracks, military bakeries, foundries, and
stores; piles of cannon balls, powder magazines, war material, one
would think, sufficient to blow up all Europe. Incongruous indeed is
this juxtaposition of a noble seat of learning and militarism only
commensurate with barbaric times. A good way off is the School of
Medicine. This, indeed, owes little or nothing to the new regime,
having been founded by the French Government long before 1870. It is a
vast group of buildings, one of which can only be glanced at with a
shudder. My friend pointed out to me an annexe or "vivisection
department." Here, as he expressed it, is maintained quite a menagerie
of unhappy animals destined for the tortures of the vivisector's
knife. The very thought sickened me, and I was glad to give up sight-
seeing and drop in for half-an-hour's chat with a charming old lady,
French to the backbone, living under the mighty shadow of the
Cathedral. She entertained me with her experiences during the
bombardment, when cooped up with a hundred persons, rich and poor, Jew
and Gentile, all passing fifteen days in a dark, damp cellar. Many
horrible stories she related, but somehow they seemed less horrible
than the thought of tame, timid, and even affectionate and intelligent
creatures, slowly and deliberately tortured to death, for the sake,
forsooth, of what? Of this corporeal frame man himself has done his
best to vitiate and dishonour, mere clayey envelope--so theologians
tell us--of an immortal soul!

Strasburg, like Metz, is one vast camp, at the time of this second
visit the forty thousand soldiers in garrison here were away for the
manoeuvres. In another week or two the town would swarm with them.

I will now say a few words about the administration of the annexed
provinces, a subject on which exists much misapprehension.

As I have explained, no liberty, as we understand it, exists for the
French subjects of the German Emperor, neither freedom of speech, nor
of the press, nor of public meeting are enjoyed in Alsace and the
portion of Lorraine no longer French. A rigorous censorship of books
as well as newspapers is carried on. Even religious worship is under
perpetual surveillance. One by one French pastors and priests are
supplanted by their German brethren. A much respected pastor of
Mulhouse, long resident in that city and ardently French, told me some
years ago that he expected to be the last of his countrymen permitted
to officiate. Police officers wearing plain clothes attend the
churches in which French is still permitted on Sunday. There is
nothing that can be called representative or real parliamentary
government. The Stadtholder or Governor is in reality a dictator armed
with autocratic powers. He can, at a moment's notice, expel citizens,
or stop newspapers. As to administration, it rests in the hands of the
State Secretariat or body of Ministers, three in number. There is a
pretence at home rule, but one fact suffices to explain its character
and working. Of the thirty members forming the local Reichstag,
sitting at Strasburg, fifteen are always named by the Stadtholder
himself. This little Chamber of Deputies deliberates upon provincial
affairs, all Bills having to pass the Chamber at Berlin and receive
the Imperial sanction before becoming law. As to the party of protest
in the Reichstag itself, formerly headed by the late Jean Dollfuss, I
was assured that it had ceased to exist. Years before, then burdened
with the weight of care and years, the great patriot of Mulhouse had
said to me, "I no longer take my seat at Berlin. Of what good?" And
were he living still, that great and good man, burning as was his
patriotism, inextinguishable as was his love for France, would
doubtless echo the words I now heard on every lip, "Peace, peace; only
let us have peace!"

Whilst at Strasburg German has crowded out French, at Mulhouse I found
French still universally spoken. The prohibition of native speech in
schools is not only a domestic but a commercial grievance. As
extensive business relations exist between the two countries,
especially near the frontier, a knowledge of both French and German is
really necessary to all classes. Even tourists in Alsace-Lorraine
nowadays fare badly without some smattering of the latter language.
Hotel-keepers especially look to the winning side, and do their very
utmost to Germanise their establishments. Shopkeepers must live, and
find it not only advantageous but necessary to follow the same course.
Sad indeed is the spectacle of Germanised France! Nemesis here faces
us in militarism, crushing the people with taxation and profoundly
shocking the best instincts of humanity.

In conclusion I must do justice to the extreme courtesy of German
railway and other officials. Many employes of railways and post
offices--all, be it remembered, Government officials--do not speak any
French at all, especially in out-of-the-way places. At the same time,
all officials, down to the rural postman, will do their very best to
help out French-speaking strangers with their own scant vocabulary of
French words.

My Alsatian hosts, one and all, I found quite ready to do justice to
the authorities and their representatives, but, as I have insisted
upon before, an insuperable barrier, the fathomless gulf created by
injustice, exists between conquerors and conquered. And only last year
dining with my hosts of Germanised Lorraine in Paris, I asked them if
in this respect matters had changed for the better. The answer I
received was categoric--"Nothing is changed since your visit to us.
French and Germans remain apart as before."

"East of Paris" has led me somewhat farther than I intended, but to a
lover of France, no less than to a French heart, France beyond the
Vosges is France still!



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